|Publication date||March, 1987|
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THE WAR FOR SURVIVAL CONTINUES...
A generation after a global nuclear war, Louisiana is a fetid, sullen landscape of impenetrable swamps and grotesquely mutated wildlife. Above the gnarled bayous, radioactive red dust clouds race across the sky on nuclear winds; below, thick mud sucks at a man's boots. Now and then a biting acid rain falls, swept in on the boiling winds from the Gulf.
In the reeking swampland that was the Mississippi basin, neutron bombs have left barren cityscapes the territories of small groups of bitterly opposed survivors. Ryan Cawdor and his companions Krysty Wroth and J.B. Dix come upon one such group who are striving to revive life on earth the way it was before the bombs fell. But they're up against a post-holocaust feudal lord who's just as determined to wipe them out.
In the Deathlands, the world blew out in 2001.
The story begins with a woman named Mother Midnight performing a ritual. She takes a blackbird, pierces its eyes with a dagger, then sets it free; it falters and falls into the fire, burning up. She goes into a trance and starts screaming, "They come!" Later, she goes to Baron Tourment to tell him that strangers are coming, but that she knows nothing more. He is angry at her lack of knowledge and kills her.
Meanwhile, the companions arrive in a new gateway. After recovering, they leave the redoubt to find themselves in a vast swamp. They stumble across the remains of an Audobon Nature Trail, which they follow to a road. Across the road is a river, and a path. They follow the path for a bit and stumble across a swamp wag that someone's left there. They steal the wag and drive off, but Henn is shot and killed by one of the Cajuns. The others bury his body and continue on on foot.
They soon reach the outskirts of West Lowellton, and not soon after that run into a group of swampies, which they kill with some effort. They hear more swampies howling nearby, though, so they flee into the swamp.
They eventually come to the village of Moudongue, where they are welcomed and given food and drink - it's Mardi Gras time. They go to the local inn to dance, and a man from Ryan's past named Harry Bochco shows up. He tells Krysty all about how Ryan was almost killed by his brother and forced to flee Front Royal. He also tells Ryan about current events and asks if he'll go back, but Ryan isn't interested.
Later that night, Krysty hears swamp wags near the ville, and Ryan sees men with knives moving around outside. They wake the others and make ready to leave. Finn is spending the night with a local woman; JB is going to kill her, but Finn says she can guide them through the swamp, so they take her along.
As they're heading through the swamp, they hear a drum and see a large bonfire. A group of Cajuns are dancing around it, preparing to sacrifice a goat. One of the man standing guard is the one who shot Henn, so Ryan sneaks in and kills him for revenge before the group moves on.
The woman gets them to West Lowellton as promised, and Ryan is prepared to let her go, but she pulls out a straight razor and he's forced to shoot her. The group heads into Lowellton, seeing nothing but skeletons and empty buildings, but they soon find some painted messages on the walls. When they find one that says "Ten more paces and you dead", they decide to retreat to a Holiday Inn and hole up there.
The next day, Finn, Krysty, and Lori go scavenging for food while the others remain at the hotel. Tourment's men ride into town and capture the women, but Finn escapes to inform the others. Not long after, Jak (who is finally convinced they're not working for Tourment) shows up to talk to them. He wants their aid in rescuing his father and killing Tourment, and he and his people can help them rescue the women.
After a lengthy planning session, Jak's and Ryan's people agree upon a plan: the rebels have a swamp wag and several barrels of napalm, so they'll load the wag up, drive it into the front gate, and light the napalm with some grenades. As a backup, they also have some flamethrowers. They plan to leave at midnight.
Krysty and Lori are taken to Tourment's base and tied up in a storage room. After the baron leaves, two of his men come in and try to rape Lori, but Krysty calls on her Gaia power, breaks free, and kills them. Toward sunset, Tourment takes Krysty and Lori outside to a lagoon behind the hotel. He has Jak's father there; he has his sec chief cut off the man's fingers, toes, hands, and feet, feed them to a huge alligator, and cauterize the stumps with tar to keep him from bleeding to death. He eventually dies from shock, and they string his corpse up on a flagpole as an object lesson to others.
While everyone else is resting, Ryan and JB go out to take a recce of the area, to see things with their own eyes. On their way back, Ryan finds a hatch in the yard of a house. They break it open and find it leads down to a small fallout shelter inhabited by two corpses - a man and woman who used to live there. The man left behind a video journal, a chilling account of the days immediately after skydark.
They get back just in time for the raid to start. Everything goes off as planned - the wag crashes into the gates, and they're forced to light it with the napalm, but the place goes up like a torch. The rebels crush Tourment's forces, and Tourment himself flees into the swamp. Ryan and Jak chase after him to a small island; when he runs out of ammo, Jak shoots him in the shoulders and knees, then they tie him up behind the boat and drag him through the lagoon back to the hotel. He is eaten by the alligator before they get halfway.
A few days later, after everyone has rested enough, the companions make ready to leave. Jak wants to come along - his father is dead, and all he knows is killing, so there's no place for him there. Ryan agrees, and he joins the group.
- This book was authored by Laurence James, it also introduces Jak Lauren to the companions, and Ryan's mysterious past is finally revealed.