Hiking the Three Capes Track

tct2_munroellenSo, I went hiking a couple of weeks ago. (Yep.) And, despite apprehension about my general fitness, I survived four days of schlepping around the Tasman Peninsula with only a few blisters and a mild case of sunburn.

(I did wonder a few times — muscles burning, lungs wheezing — what the hell I was doing, but that’s enough said about that.)

The Three Capes Track in Tasmania is one of those new hiking ‘experiences’, where you pay some money for the privilege of using a well-constructed track and staying in beautiful new eco huts with kitchen facilities, dorm beds, and other, er, facilities. (Let’s just say, this was a far cry from toileting Mongolian style… They might have been long drop toilets, but there were stalls with doors and everything.)

It had been a while since I’d gone hiking. The last time I carried a full pack was January 1999 for Tasmania’s Overland Track. Then in around 2005 I spent eight days trekking in Nepal — but that time I had porters to carry my gear (thank the stars).

For the Three Capes Track we didn’t need to carry tents or stoves, but we did need to carry other gear and food — and we ate (and drank) extremely well — so it was kind of a halfway deal. I just gritted my teeth and told myself it was yet more research and, as I went up and down more steps than I cared to count, realised that Zillah (my kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons character) I am most definitely not…


Three Capes Track – Day 1

The first day is just 4km, starting from Denmans Cove near the historic Port Arthur site. We took the later scenic boat ride (sea eagles perched in the trees!) from Port Arthur, to arrive at the cove at around 3pm. We then took our time and climbed up through coastal forests to arrive at Surveyors Hut in time for a pre-dinner cup of tea.

The walk is somewhat up and down (and up) to the top of the cliff, but not difficult. It was a good length just to get me into the mood of carrying my pack. And the first sight of Surveyors Hut, as we came around a bend out of the bush, took my breath away. That thing is so huge! It’s beautifully designed, with broad decks and lots of space — not to mention a gorgeous view.

tct1_surveyors-hut

Surveyors Hut

That night we dined in impressive style, thanks to one of my hiking companions: chicken curry with rice, steamed greens and poppadoms. And red wine (decanted into a bladder for carrying). And brownies for dessert. As I said, we ate well!

Day 2

We began the second day in leisurely fashion, taking our breakfast (instant oats with dried blueberries and sweetened condensed milk) and coffee (one of my companions carried a stove-top espresso maker!) with easy conversation. It was so nice to hang out with fellow hikers. We headed off walking at about 10am.

The second day’s walk is 11km, undulating along clifftops towards Cape Pillar, including up and over Arthur’s Peak and Crescent Mountain. The views are staggering — back towards Cape Raoul and Crescent Bay, where dune-surfing takes place, and to Cape Pillar in the other direction.

We again took our time, stopping at each of the marked “Encounters” to read from the guide book about some aspect of history, or geology, or vegetation, or wildlife etc of the place we had stopped at. These encounters are one of the great aspects of the hike — and they are the thing that makes it an “experience”, rather than a simple hike. They are marked most often by some form of creatively designed bench seat, offering a good excuse to rest for a few moments.

More than that, though, the encounters really made us stop and look and think about where we were. They made me notice the changing vegetation and look out for things I might not have noticed otherwise. The little book containing all the information is a really fabulous initiative.

We arrived at Munro Hut late afternoon, and spent the hours leading up to dinner relaxing on the deck and admiring the view (see photo with me at the top). More wine that night, and some whisky I’d been carrying. Plus a Thai vegetable curry with tofu. And Lindor balls. Yum.

Day 3

Lots of good things about day 3 (17km) — including the fact that most of it involved leaving our packs at Munro Hut and taking day packs out to the tip of Cape Pillar, where there is a rocky feature known as The Blade.

You can see from the above photos that we had glorious weather — in fact, it was hot hot hot. Again, it’s not a difficult walk, although there is plenty of up and down (and steps). We clambered up to the tip of the Blade, which overlooks Tasman Island, just to say we’d done it, but the views are better from elsewhere. There’s a lighthouse on Tasman Island and a weather station. And seals frolic in the rockpools at its feet.

The Blade and Tasman Island

The Blade and Tasman Island

After the return trip from Cape Pillar, it took less than an hour carrying our packs to reach Retakunna Hut, which sprawls and nestles in a bushland setting. It’s serene and beautiful there. Finally it was time to eat the dinner food in my pack, and I was glad to get rid of the potato, carrots, snow peas and half a dozen fresh eggs I’d been carrying! This was combined with tuna and couscous and other bits and pieces to form a hiking version of nicoise salad.

Day 4

We rose early on Day 4 (dawn! I swear it’s true!), because although only 14km it’s actually the longest day from a time point of view and walkers need to be finished by a certain time to catch a bus back to Port Arthur at the end. We were on our way by 8am and reached the top of Mount Fortescue by 9am, once the morning drizzle cleared and before the clouds had burnt off.

Once the clouds did burn off, the day turned scorching hot. Day 4 is only 14km, but I admit to being generally fatigued by the final day (unfit, remember?) and this was the hardest day for me without doubt. It’s a gorgeous walk, though. The first climb of Mount Fortescue and its descent is through beautiful rainforest. Then we came out onto the clifftops on the other side, where the views are again stupendous. The geology of this part of the world is certainly striking.

tct4_cliffs

Towards the end of the walk, we all downed packs for a side trip to the tip of Cape Hauy. This was not really too far, but it was hot, I was tired, and there were steps. Steps up and steps down. More steps.

Steps.

And hot.

This was definitely the hardest section of the entire walk for me, most likely a combination of the heat and fatigue. But it was all over in a couple of hours, and then it was time for the final descent to Fortescue Bay, where the bus was picking us up at 4pm. We arrived by about 3pm, which gave us time to relax before getting transported back to Port Arthur.

3CT Map


Overall, the Three Capes Track was a fabulous experience and it was a privilege to see such a beautiful and remote part of the world. We did have some discussions about the model for the hike — the section from the start to Munro Hut can now only be done as part of the Three Capes Track Experience, meaning independent hikers are excluded. However, they can still get to the tip of Cape Pillar, and Cape Hauy is a day hike from Fortescue Bay.

I’m not sure I’m on board with excluding independent hikers, but I do feel that these facilities make it possible for a greater breadth of people to participate. It certainly suited me at this stage of my life. I absolutely love trekking and adventure, but I do not absolutely love carrying a full pack. Moreover, sleeping on memory foam mattresses certainly beats my old and very thin thermorest. (Interestingly, the most popular demographics for the Three Capes Track are 1) over 50s, 2) women, 3) families.)

It was fabulous to explore another corner of my country, but there are still many many walks around the world I want to do. Some of them wilderness hikes, others through more civilised areas. On my radar at the moment are: the Mont Blanc circuit in Europe, the Appalachian Trail in the USA, the South West Coast path in the UK (plus many others), and the pilgrims way through southern Europe.

Which one shall I do next?

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 3

So the final reading tally for the year is 242 novels and novellas, of which 204 were new (clearly I got some reading done in the last week or so, some of them ‘holiday stories’).

I was going to write a single post about my favourites from the year, but I had too much to say it turns out, so it became three posts. This final post covers September to December. (Read part 1 (January to April) and part 2 (May to August) if you dare…)

September

weightoftheworldI spent much of September (and in fact August) re-reading Alexa Land‘s massive First & Forever series (13 books and counting…) in preparation for reading the latest ones I hadn’t yet read (10.5, 11 & 12). Of these new ones, I was pretty blown away by Who I used to be (12), which dealt with themes of heroin addiction and HIV positive status. Both the main characters are introduced in earlier novels, and although it was an intense book to read in parts, it was also incredibly uplifting and accented with many wonderful and familiar characters. This series deals with all manner of issues — some serious as in this novel, some much less so — and it’s like sitting down with a bunch of old friends every time. (The 13th book in the series just came out and is sitting on my kindle…)

The other memorable book for September was Weight of the world, by Devon McCormack and Riley Hart. Riley Hart is one of my favourite m/m authors, so it was pretty much a given that I’d read this. It’s written alternating first person POV (I think, from memory) and is about a guy (Zack) who was talked off the ledge (literally) by another guy (Rob)… who ended up jumping himself half an hour later. Shocked and trying to understand what happened, Zack seeks out Rob’s brother Tommy and the two become, er, friendly. It’s a fairly simply but deep story about dealing with grief and healing and love.

October

overexposedI read quite a few good ones in October… The first I want to mention is The Game Changer by Kay Simone. It’s about a ‘straight’ quarterback who gets injured and has to undergo physical therapy — and the relationship that ensues with his physical therapist. It’s a fairly simple story, but it deals with the issues of intolerance when it comes to sports stars and I really liked the way it was written.

I also really liked Overexposed, the fourth book in Megan Erickson‘s ‘In focus’ series. I’ve liked all the books in this series a lot — this one was set mostly on the Appalachian Trail and made me want to walk at least some of it.

Model Citizen by Lisa Kasey features an interesting main character who is both a male ‘femme’ supermodel and unlicensed private investigator, a bit out of his depth trying to run his brother’s PI business after his brother is killed. It’s both mystery and interesting character drama, with a love story developing with his brother’s friend who helps with the PI business.

Three’s Company by N.R. Walker is about two guys who are running a hotel and invite a male guest, Wilson (who’s just out of a relationship), into their bed for fun… and things get a bit more serious than anticipated. Wilson is a chef, and naturally there’s ample opportunity in a hotel for him to step in and make himself indispensable.

Finally, It was always you is an anthology featuring novellas from several of my favourite authors along the theme of ‘best friends to lovers’. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, but I really really liked this one!

November

daringfateThe fourth book (this time a novella) in Riley Hart‘s Crossroads series was Jumpstart. I love this whole series, especially Crossroads (one of my top 5 for last year). I’ll automatically buy anything Riley Hart (and her alter ego Nyrae Dawn) writes.

I also really enjoyed Megan Erickson‘s m/m paranormal, Daring Fate. This was set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have completely died out, leaving only werewolves (human/wolf), weres (which have three forms: human, wolf and scary beast thing), and zombie weres. I thought the world setup was great, with the weres and werewolves living in pack-based compounds, each headed by an alpha, trying to avoid getting killed by zombie weres. The story itself is your classic ‘fated mates’ trope you find in shifter romances (which I don’t mind), and I liked the way it was handled.

Finally for November, there was Heidi Cullinan‘s fourth book in the ‘Minnesota Christmas’ series, Santa Baby (although it’s a stupid title). I found this book really interesting, because it takes the couple from the second book (Sleigh ride) and adds a third man to their relationship. But it isn’t an equal menage m/m/m relationship. Basically the new addition (Dale) is polyamorous, which seems to mean for him that he prefers to be with men who are already in a relationship. He falls in love with Gabriel… who learns that he seems to be polyamorous too. It takes a bit for Gabriel (who is a fairly conservative librarian) to come to terms with this, but surprisingly his partner (husband?) Arthur is remarkably accepting of this new development. And this may be because Arthur (a dom) recognises that Dale is a sub, so they end up in their own non-romantic D/s relationship. Confused yet? Well, it may not be your cup of tea, but I found the character dynamics really interesting.

December

sevensummernightsMy favourite book in December was Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox. I love love loved this book, which was definitely one of my favourites for the year. Set post WWII, it’s a complex weave of archeological and mythological mystery, the after-effects of war and post-traumatic stress, and a passionate love story between Rufus, an archaeologist, and Archie, a most unconventional vicar. It’s multi-layered and wonderful and I reviewed it in full here.

I was also thrilled to discover Lucy Lennox, who published the first three novels in her Made Marion series. Borrowing Blue and Taming Teddy were swiftly followed by Jumping Jude. Each book is completely different, but each features one of the Marion brothers.

Borrowing Blue mostly takes place over a week at a vineyard where Blue’s sister is getting married, with Blue falling in love with the brother of the groom, who happens to be the owner of the vineyard. Taming Teddy takes place over several months, with Blue’s brother Jamie, a wildlife expert in Alaska, being pursued by wildlife photographer Teddy for a photographic feature. Jumping Jude takes place concurrently with both these books, and is about the relationship between Jude Marion, a country music superstar, and his bodyguard, Derek. These books are sweet and simple love stories, but there’s something about them that elevates them above much of the genre fodder.

Finally, I have just finished The Aftermath by Kay Simone. This was sitting on my kindle for at least half the year, because it’s loooong (>600 pages) and I was admittedly avoiding the time commitment. But I’m glad I finally read it. The central premise is the relationship between a high school senior (Daniel) and his young English teacher (Will). Some of the conflict is derived from fear of discovery, but just as much is the result of Will’s baggage. It’s written from a third-person omniscient perspective, but gets well into the heads of both main characters. I loved all the literary discussions — the novel references many great works in some detail as part of English classes and also general discussions between the two men — and the almost literary narrative style. I do think it’s too long, but overall I found it beautiful.


And that wraps up the annual highlights! From all the novels I’ve mentioned in the last three posts, I thought I’d make a top ten (in the order I read them):

  1. Adrien English mysteries (series of five) – Josh Lanyon
  2. Out of Focus – L.A. Witt
  3. Kings Rising – C.S. Pacat
  4. Broken – Nicola Haken
  5. The Society of Gentlemen (series of three) – K.J. Charles
  6. Absolution – Sloane Kennedy
  7. In the middle of somewhere/Out of nowhere – Roan Parrish
  8. Priddy’s Tale – Harper Fox
  9. Between Ghosts – Garrett Leigh
  10. Seven Summer Nights – Harper Fox

I’m still a huge fan of Harper Fox, Josh Lanyon, L.A. Witt, Megan Erickson, Santino Hassell, Alexa Land, Riley Hart, Heidi Cullinan… and was pleased to discover Sloane Kennedy, Garrett Leigh, Kay Simone and most recently Lucy Lennox (among many others).

And now it’s 2017 and I have kindle full of more books… I wish you all a glorious year of reading.

The other two 2016 highlights posts: January to April | May to August

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 2

Climbing out of my post-Christmas stupor (and read-a-thon), it’s time for the second installment of my annual reading highlights. You can read January-April highlights in the previous post. This post will cover May-August. Once again, all the highlights are from the m/m romance genre.

May

inthemiddleofsomewhereThis month is noteworthy for the discovery of Roan Parrish, whose books In the middle of somewhere and then Out of nowhere are wonderful. The first is about Daniel, a guy who takes a college teaching position in a small Northern Michigan town, where he meets the reclusive Rex, a local furniture maker. In addition to being a gorgeous love story, it’s about Daniel’s struggles to connect with his auto-mechanic father and brothers (who live in Philadelphia), and reconcile their differences. Told first-person present-tense (which I love), this story is not high action drama, but instead deep and soulful and character-complex. It’s a beautiful book.

Out of nowhere is about Daniel’s brother Colin, portrayed as excessively homophobic and vicious towards Daniel in the first book, but who is in fact dealing with his secret developing relationship with social worker, Raphael. (That was probably a bit of a spoiler for In the middle of somewhere, but it can’t be helped — sorry!) This book runs in parallel for much of In the middle of somewhere — and I loved seeing some of the same events from the opposing viewpoint. Set in Philadelphia, much of it around a youth LGBT centre, Out of nowhere a very different book from the first. Colin’s journey is more angst-ridden, and his transformation more profound than Daniel’s. This is also a fabulous book, but I think as a pair these two make more than the sum of their parts.

iftheseascatchfireAnother fabulous book for May was If the seas catch fire by L.A. Witt. (Yep, she’s definitely one of my favourite authors.) This one is high action and high angst, involving the forbidden romance between two hitmen. It’s set in an Italian Mafia-ruled American town in which Dom’s is one of the ‘ruling’ families. Meanwhile, Sergei is a lone wolf assassin with his own quest for vengeance. The two cross paths, fall in love, and although it’s not exactly a Romeo & Juliet scenario, there are plenty of conflicting agendas. Dom is actually a gentle and decent man trapped by circumstances, while Sergei is the victim of past wrongs in need of redemption. The road to these two finding a way to be together involves plenty of assassinations (some of them heartbreaking), plenty of danger (I was shaking in my boots), the highest of high stakes and OMG it is soooo good.

But wait, there’s more! Another memorable read for the month of May included Saving Samuel by Nicole Colville. This is m/m/m about Daniel (a firefighter), Samuel (who Daniel rescues from a burning building), and Milo (a cop who’s in a casual relationship with Daniel… and who is also investigating the case of the burning building). Samuel has a mysterious and tormented past that sees him in need of protection, and who better than a hunky fireman and police officer, who find their difficult relationship just needed the addition of a third to make it work?

June

giventakenMore L.A. Witt in June, this time a paranormal menage trilogy involving werewolves and vampires… The Tooth & Claw trilogy comprises The given and the taken, The healing and the dying, and The united and the divided. The premise of these books sounds so unlikely, and the covers are not so great, but despite all this I decided to trust in LAW and I ended up loving the whole series.

It’s set in a alternative NW America (both USA and Canada), in which werewolves are accepted in human society and hold a fair amount of power, but vampires are hunted and reviled. These books involve road trips and car chases and plenty of werewolves with guns. There are also betrayals and hidden sanctuaries and a vampire turned into part werewolf and a werewolf turned into part vampire… and it’s just so crazy it’s awesome. Not to mention an interesting m/m/m relationship.

My other favourite book in June was Strong Signal (Cyberlove – book 1) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell. This was about two gamers — one who is a reclusive gaming genius with a live feed on one of the gaming channels, and one who is deployed in the Middle East. They fall for each other online, but the second half of the book is what happens when they meet in person. It’s fabulous.

July

priddyIn July I absolutely fell in love with Priddy’s Tale, a gorgeous new novella by Harper Fox. I loved this so much I immediately read it again and wrote a full review. It’s a fantastical tale about a lost young guy who lives in a Cornish lighthouse and falls in love with a charismatic merman. Set in the wild and exciting south-western tip of Cornwall, Priddy’s Tale filled with magical and impossible things, and infused with beautiful language and an abundance of ocean-themed imagery. I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. Utterly beautiful and one of my highlights of the year.

I discovered the English author Garrett Leigh in July. The first I read was Misfits, which I loved. It’s another m/m/m, this time involving a chef and his restaurateur lover/business partner, who have an open relationship that leads to the addition of a guy who turns out to be the missing link in their relationship and partnership.

betweenghostsEven better, though, was Between Ghosts, which is set among a British SAS unit in Iraq during 2006. Connor is a journalist embedded with the SAS unit, who is seeking closure and answers related to his brother, killed in Mosul three years earlier.

Nat is the commander of the unit, and their love story takes place amid the drama and blood and terror of war. I loved the vivid setting — it gives amazing insight into the conditions faced by the British troops. And there’s plenty of danger and intrigue as the SAS unit seek out certain sensitive information and attend to their duties. I loved this book so much.

August

It was a quieter month of reading in August, but one of my favourite books for the month was yet another by L.A. WittRunning with Scissors. This one is set around a popular rock band. I also enjoyed the first three books in Santino Hassell‘s Five Boroughs seriesSutphin Boulevard (which was a re-read), Sunset Park and First and First.


So many great books — I just want to re-read them all right now! I’ll publish the final installment of 2016 reading highlights in the new year.

(Read January to April)

Reading highlights from 2016 – part 1

Gosh. How many books have I read this year? (So far 235 books and novellas, of which 198 were new and 37 were re-reads… and still counting.) My inner bookworm continues to devour and my finger continues to madly one-click. In fact, there’s been more one-clicking, because someone introduced me to bookbub.

Bookbub is a website that sends me emails with daily e-book deals in my selected genres (and authors), with direct links to Amazon. There’s many a $1 (or free) book sitting on my kindle, just waiting for me to get around to reading it… I do realise this still adds up in $ terms, but I just tell myself I’m supporting the authors. And if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to finish it.

I’m no longer trying to kid myself that I’m reading much of anything other than m/m (or m/m/m). I could probably count the non-m/m books read this year on one hand. (Actually, I did branch out and try some f/f this year, but so far that hasn’t captivated me much.)

But one of the fabulous things about m/m is that it spans all genres — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, crime/thrillers, historical, deep angst-ridden drama… even comedy, although that’s not my thing. So I bounce around from genre to genre, depending on my mood.

This year, there have been some fabulous new releases from favourite authors, and I’ve discovered some new authors as well. Over three posts, I’m going to summarise my favourites month by month, with some wrapping up at the end. This post covers January to April.

January

fatal-shadowsThe absolute highlight of January — and maybe the year — was Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series (Fatal shadows, A dangerous thing, The hell you say, Death of a pirate king, The dark tide). I do not have the words to say how amazing, fabulous, wonderful this series is, in terms of the love story arc across five books. Each book is an individual mystery, but it is not until the end of the final book that the relationship between Adrien and Jake resolves — and it’s breathtaking. I was numb the afternoon I finished The dark tide, and poured out my feelings onto the page in a post I never did publish. I was so raw. Nothing I wrote encapsulated what I felt. Even now, 11 months later, my heart still rushes as I remember the ending. Aaaaand, there’s a sixth Adrien & Jake novella due out in mid-January. I will be feverishly re-reading these books and slipping straight into that one. My heart rushes just thinking about it.

coldfusionJanuary was also the month Cold Fusion by Harper Fox came out. This book has wonderfully complex, flawed characters who transcend themselves by the end, Harper Fox’s beautiful poetic language. And, as always with Harper Fox’s books, the fabulous sense of place — in this case the northern wilds of Scotland. Love it. (See my full review here.)

And I also loved Out of Focus by L.A. Witt. This one is m/m/m and deals with a couple of guys who have been together for a decade, and who like to bring submissives into the bedroom from time to time… and they find an adorable guy they decide to keep. It’s not heavy BDSM, and deals more with the relationship side of things. I’ve come to adore m/m/m books where I can believe in all the sides of the relationship. LAW has started a series where she writes the prequels for couples who feature in her menage stories, and I would love to read how Dante and Angel first got together.

February

kingsrisingThe highlight for February was the much-anticipated Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat, third book in the Captive Prince fantasy trilogy. I was so worried this wouldn’t live up to the anticipation, because I adored the first two in this series — which I re-read prior to launching into the third. Aside from a few wobbles at the start and the end, Kings Rising was awesome and I love love love this fantasy trilogy so much. Like with the Adrien English series, I had a major book hangover once I finished. To quote myself: “Damen and Laurent. Oh. My. Fucking. God.” I reviewed Captive Prince/Prince’s Gambit here and Kings Rising here.

Other great reads for February were Shifting Gears by Riley Hart (the sequel to Crossroads, one of my top 5 for last year, and still one of my all-time favourites), Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the Love Lessons series), and Tough Love also by Heidi Cullinan (book 3 in the fabulous Special Delivery series).

March

brokenIn March, the best book I read was Broken by Nicola Haken. This is an example of deep angst-ridden drama/romance, and deals with triggery themes of self-harm, depression and suicide. It’s incredibly intense and well-written. I felt pretty wrung-out at the end, but the wonderful thing about this genre is that the books usually end with hope and healing and the power of love. I will definitely be reading this one again.

I also read Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, which is the sequel to Him. Him was probably one of my favourite reads last year (new adult, ice hockey players). Us didn’t reach the same heights, but I enjoyed it.

April

More brilliance in April! This time from K.J. Charles and her Society of Gentlemen series (The ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh (novella), A fashionable indulgence, A seditious affair, A gentleman’s position). These are English historicals, and not the usual kind. There is a whole host of upheaval going on, with a dash of political activism and class conflict and of course the terrors of discovery. Oh my, this series is brilliant. It’s exquisitely researched and crafted from both a plotting and writing perspective. And each book is completely different. A must for fans of historicals.

absolutionAnother of my April favourites was Absolution by Sloane Kennedy. This was my first encounter with this author, who is a veritable machine when it comes to her publishing frequency. I’ve since read most of her books — Absolution is the first in her Protectors series, another of note is her Barretti Security series — but Absolution is probably my favourite. It’s m/m/m and deals with Jonas (an artist with a traumatic past), who is the target of hitman Mace (don’t hate him; there’s a reason), and Cole (an ex-Navy SEAL whose sister Jonas once knew). The fates of all three men intersect around a thriller-style plot, and… aw, they are so sweet together. This one works for me, because Kennedy takes the time to build the three sides of the relationship and I believed in them.

I also enjoyed Imperfect Harmony by Jay Northcote, not least because it’s set around a community choir, which reminded me of my own singing experiences of the past few years. She’s another new author for me this year, and I’ve enjoyed several of her books.


Stay tuned for Part 2: May – August reading highlights between Christmas and New Year. I’m glad I started writing this early!

If you’re interested, read my Reading Highlights from 2015 post as well.

D&D Chronicles: A prophecy and a falling star

Five must fight with one accord
Ere the lost eye be restored
Ere the drums begin to call
Ere the lost stars shine again
Ere the mighty golem falls
Ere the fighting on the plains
Ere the lost eye be restored
Five must fight with one accord

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe words revolve around and around my mind like a washing stone. A prophecy. A prophecy too closely aligned with our own activities to be mistaken.

My skin prickles, beginning at the base of my neck and spreading down, as it does every time I remember the words spoken by that strange little creature as he read from that ancient and magical book.

And accompanying the words, a drawing, forever imprinted in my memory. A fiery ball rushing towards mountains. A weapon split in two, alongside a forge. All overlooked by two disembodied flaming red eyes.

For the first time in a long time I feel like an arrow flying through the air to its target.

The night is warm and clear, and starlight glints over the barren Dust Plains of Jhevherd Dhar as Fleet and I watch over our sleeping companions. We are some weeks north and west of Kelsen now, our purpose renewed. Our course recalibrated.

This may seem like a fool’s errand — retrieving a star that fell from the sky into the hills somewhere north of here. And indeed I don’t know how we’re to carry such a thing — which, being made of sky-iron, must surely be large and heavy as boulders. But it is written now into prophecy — the drawing is testament — and although I don’t know what part it is to play, the star must somehow be found.

And then we will search for the two halves of the flail that will defeat Varrien, Goddess of Destruction, whose Eyes have by now most likely been found by those who would raise her.

The Master Smith, Astra Khara, clearly has a role to play too. It was he who commissioned us to find the fallen star. And he who took us to see the wizened creature of prophecy, Oramoot. And it will be Astra Khara, Oramoot decreed, who will forge the two halves of the flail into one. It is also Astra Khara who has detailed maps showing the locations of the two components of the flail, based on years of research.

If we must find this star to prove our worth to the Master Smith, to gain his aid in finding the flail, then that is what we must do. Although I believe this mission has an importance we are yet to discover.

The priest in Udral Abbas, Durleth, saw the star fall into the mountains. To the mountains we must go.

But first we must somehow navigate these cursed Dust Plains. We have taken the longer path from Udral Abbas, heading east first and now following the river; but the way is treacherous. Trees that move and attack and devour. A flying terror that almost carried me aloft in its talons. Winged manticores bearing spikes and stings.

They look almost innocent bathed in starlight, deceptively serene spread out all around our camp.

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

Seven Summer Nights – Book Review

seven-summer-nightsSeven Summer Nights is another wonderful novel from Harper Fox — a complex weave of archeological and mythological mystery, the after-effects of war and post-traumatic stress, and a passionate love story.

This book filled me with wonder and fear and horror and joy as we follow the story of Rufus Denby, a celebrated archaeologist and WW2 veteran, whose PTSD and amnesia are giving him nightmares and violent blackouts, leaving his career — and his life, really — in tatters.

The first two-thirds of the novel, which is set in the summer following World War Two, are told in third-person from Rufus’s point of view (Part 1 – Into the Labyrinth). He’s broken and desperate, barely holding on, when he travels to the tiny Sussex town of Droyton Parva to take a look at its ancient church. There he meets the Reverend Archie Thorne, a most unconventional vicar who loves motorbikes and cars, and housing people who have nowhere else to go. Archie is far from the crusty religious specimen Rufus expected to encounter, and the two strike up a friendship based on Rufus’s ability to fix Archie’s Norton motorbike and Rufus’s work at the church.

Rufus’s discovery of an ancient and important artefact in the church, along with his interpretation of some of the murals, set off a chain of mystical events and archeological discovery that are simply thrilling. (Several of Harper Fox’s works involve archaeological and/or mystical themes, and they are among my favourites. For example: The Salisbury Key, the Tyack and Frayne series, even In Search of Saints.) As with all Harper Fox’s work, the setting of Droyton Parva (and its various inhabitants) is fabulously well-drawn and forms the heart of the story itself.

Woven through and around this is another plotline revolving around Rufus’s wartime experiences and a memory he has suppressed involving his deceased brother-in-law. The effect this has on Rufus’s mental health, and the pressure brought to bear on him to undergo shock therapy to retrieve the memory, plays out beautifully through part 1 until Rufus finally cracks. I particularly loved the labyrinthine theme woven through both these plotlines, which binds them together tightly.

And then, of course, there’s the beautiful, slow-burn romance between Rufus and Archie. (Although, since it happens in just ‘seven summer nights’, I guess it’s not that slow.) Rufus is about as openly gay as you could get in the 1940s — which is to say, not at all, but he has lived with a man in the past, and a few trusted people know his orientation. He starts falling for the adorable Archie almost right away, but they are hindered by general bigotry and fear of arrest if such proclivities are discovered. Needless to say, they find each other eventually and Archie’s care and compassion for poor, broken Rufus is heart-meltingly beautiful. Here, I loved the recurring use of one of W.H. Auden’s poems, quoted between Rufus and Archie.

Which brings me to Part 2 – Into the sun, comprising the final third of the novel. Having written such a masterful, tightly woven piece to the end of part 1, I can imagine the author tearing out her hair trying to figure out how the end should play out. And so we switch to Archie’s point of view, first as he charges to Rufus’s rescue, and then as the church mysteries play out.

If I’m honest, part 2 didn’t resonate with me to the extent part 1 did. It’s action-packed, dramatic and eventful… and everything is wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion. And I absolutely love the fact this labyrinthine tale curls around on itself at the very end. However, part 2 somehow lacks some of the magic of part 1. Despite being mostly in Archie’s point of view, I didn’t feel as though I got enough new depth of insight into his character — although he does prove endearingly resourceful and determined and loyal. I think, after experiencing Rufus’s painful journey in part 1, I wanted to be in his perspective as the big events played out and resolved. Rather than the tightly woven tale of part 1, part 2 events played out in more linear fashion… I think maybe the amnesia plotline got a bit too complicated for the story.

But these are minor quibbles, really. Seven Summer Nights is still a fabulous book, even if part 2 doesn’t quite stand up to the marvellousness of part 1. It’s rich in theme and history and language and complexity and character.

It has a large supporting cast of characters, all well-drawn with a part to play. And, unlike many male/male love stories, a huge number of the supporting cast are resourceful and independent women. In fact, this is another theme explored in the novel — the effect of WW2 on the role of women in Britain. Yes, there is a huge amount of stuff going on this book!

I could keep going on about all the wonderful layers in Seven Summer Nights, but it’s probably better if you just go read it. Highly recommended.

Buy at Amazon | Smashwords

Mongolia Journal ~ 3 Getting into the swing of things (with eagles!)

This is the third edited extract from my Mongolia Journal, covering days 3 and 4 of my two-week horse trek. With photos!


27 June 2015

Lunch stop – Day 3

selfie_ellen with Sir PlacidWe’re at lunch in a long flat valley with a train line and a town in the distance. The night was wild and cold, and it rained heavily. I wore a fair few layers, plus dragged out the Mongolian blanket to put on top of my sleeping bag. Since I used that as a pillow the first night, this left me without a pillow, which wasn’t too comfortable. Hmm.

This morning we visited the ger of Ganaa’s friend. They served us Mongolian tea (salt, milk, water, some herb) and a range of homemade snacks: a bread/cake thing, milk curd (not very appetising) and some milk cream/half butter. It was lovely hospitality, but strange, because our hosts wouldn’t make eye contact or even try to communicate with us. We stayed about half an hour.

Since then, we’ve cantered and trotted quite a bit, before watering the horses just near today’s lunch stop. We’ve just watched a herd of horses come up to the shallow waterhole near where we’re sitting. A couple of them rolled in the muddy water as though having a bath; but, since they are decidedly not clean now, they were probably just trying to cool down.

It’s wonderful watching the horses interacting, gaining an appreciation for herd dynamics. The stallion is very much the dominant presence, making sure all his mares are together, actively rounding them up if they wander too far. One of the horses stood in the water splashing it up onto his stomach with one of his front hooves. Another (a chestnut) stood in the water with his head on the shoulder of a beautiful grey. Among the mares, the foals are often lying flat on the ground beside their mothers, out for the count.

Day 3 - lunch stop

Day 3 – lunch stop with freight train

Evening – Day 3 (near the town of Nalaikh)

Our camp is on a sloping grassy hill where the horses are grazing. I’m still temporally challenged. Ganaa (our horsewoman) asked us if we were tired and we said we were fine (perhaps a slight untruth on my part). Turns out it was probably closer to 6:30pm than 4pm as we thought. We continued on to this campsite and have just eaten. It’s after 9pm. (Yes, OK I’m struggling with the time thing. Everything is taking longer than it seems. Apparently we left our lunch stop at about 4pm. I’m just going to try to accept the routine — such as it is — and stop obsessing about what time it is…)

Our post-lunch ride was great. Lots of cantering and trotting. We also had to cross a main road, which was quite scary.

Day 3 - camp

Day 3 – camp

Day 3 - sunset

Day 3 – sunset

28 June 2015

Early afternoon – Day 4 (near the town of Nalaikh)

It’s sometime in the early afternoon and we haven’t left camp yet. But that’s OK… there’s a very good reason.

First up this morning was the dawn. We were both woken by the call of some sort of magpie (we think). Unlike Australian magpies, which have a beautiful call, this did not. Anyway, the light outside looked reddish, and I had the sudden urge to see dawn breaking over the steppes. Unzipping our tent, I found we were perfectly oriented to witness a magnificent dawn display — all pink and gold. We watched it for about 15 minutes, took photos and thanked the magpie (which we dubbed the “tourist bird”, assigned to wake campers to see beautiful dawns). I slept some more after that and I think we woke quite late.

Day 4 - dawn

Day 4 – dawn over the steppes

After breakfast, we went into the nearby town of Nalaikh for a shower. This was an interesting — albeit wonderful — experience. The water was hot, pressure fine; all in all perfectly adequate for getting clean and washing hair. Yay! (It had, after all, been four days since our last shower.) The facilities, on the other hand, were pretty ramshackle. Although they did seem clean. But, contrary to our expectation of a facility offering running water, there were no toilets!

OK, so by Mongolian standards, there was a toilet. Upon asking for it, we were directed out the door into the lane out the back, where we found a ramshackle hut. Inside this hut — which had no door — was a hole.

Yep. A thunderbox with no door. Opening onto a laneway.

No. Just NO.

Sigh.

After our shower, we found a shop with bananas! And then a cafe latte! With our clean hair, banana and coffee, we were pretty happy by the time we got back to camp.

Evening – Day 4 (Tuul River)

After leaving camp, we rode for a while before stopping at a roadside bazaar. (We were asked if we wanted to detour to see a camel. I was ambivalent.) In the end I was glad we went, because, camel aside, the roadside attraction had eagles!

Day 4 - roadside eagles

Day 4 – roadside eagles (L-R black vulture, golden eagle, white tailed eagle, black vulture)

There were a golden eagle (Mongolian hunting bird, approx 8kg), a white-tailed eagle (Mongolian fishing bird, 7kg) and two black vultures (Mongolia’s largest bird, 15 and 20kg respectively). For a modest fee, we could hold the golden eagle — the most beautiful bird, soft feathers. Amazing. (Yes, it was all a bit tacky, and I wasn’t comfortable seeing these glorious raptors tethered on posts at the side of a main road; but how else to get that close?)

Day 4 - Me with a golden eagle. Gorgeous.

Day 4 – Me with a golden eagle. Gorgeous.

The other thing that happened this afternoon involved Ganaa going off in the car with David to “get products for dinner”, leaving Burmaa (our fairly novice guide) leading Ganaa’s horse. Our instructions were to “keep following the road until we catch up”, which we did until we reached a point (a town and a river) at which we had to stop and wait. And wait… And wait.

Day 4 - while waiting, we took photos! This is me with my horse.

Day 4 – while waiting, we took photos! This is me with my horse.

It was a bit uncomfortable, because they’d left Burmaa without a phone and we were waiting for at least half an hour, probably longer. They eventually turned up in the car at around 7 or 8pm, having had their own showers back at Nalaikh. Fortunately our current campsite was nearby. It’s on the side of a hill overlooking the Tuul River, which winds its way through the steps towards UB.

For dinner we had the most delicious thing — a fried noodle dish with spices called tsuiwan. Easily my favourite dish here so far. The sunset tonight was beautiful to match the dawn.

Day 4 - camp above the Tuul River

Day 4 – camp above the Tuul River

As a side note, the steppes are littered with rubbish (broken glass, plastic bags) and bones. We’ve seen many horse skulls and the skulls of other animals, plus severed limbs and heads. In fact, there’s a dead foal on the hillside not too far from our camp. That’s the natural cycle of life, I guess.


In the next post we ford a river and head towards Terelj National Park…

D&D Chronicles: In which we leave Tippa in a tight spot

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe never should have answered the summons from Tippa. She blinded us with gold and an express carriage ride, and I was actually happy to be returning to our house in Kelsen — even though I never wanted to purchase it in the first place. I was also keen to see whether Tippa had managed to unearth some of the magical items we’d requested.

But then she made demands of us, demands I couldn’t in all conscience meet. And everything fell to pieces.

My heart aches for the defeated little girl we abandoned in Kelsen. Gone was the confident young woman heading up the thieves guild, soaring high on the laurels we’d gained for her on our last visit. I remembered too late that her authority still largely depended on our strength. Or the rumour of it.

I do not regret the stand I took. I could never have done the deeds she demanded. Killed people simply as a show of strength. Acted as an enforcer to artisans struggling to feed their families.

But I do regret my naivete about the situation we left in Kelsen the first time, the deal we did indeed strike with Tippa. And I regret not leaving Kelsen as soon as I heard what Tippa wanted. Because I fear by showing our faces there — my recognisable features in particular — we only made things worse.

I have to tell myself that, although Tippa might not survive our recent actions, her life must always have been precarious if she was relying on us to give her credibility. I do not think we will be back this way. Our house in Kelsen is a dead investment. Our path lies north and west. And north.

ALIX

Kelsen. Whose idea was it to buy a house there? What a trap just waiting to be sprung.

I’m glad to be gone. We all have more important things to do than be a little girl’s weapon of choice. Circumstances being what they were last time, there was benefit for us in having Tippa in a position of power in the thieves guild. But she is still a child, with all the tempers and tantrums that go along with being a child.

How dare she whistle and we run. How dare she point her finger and expect us to do damage. As for demanding we attack those leather workers, whose families are starving, simply to set an example… Would coin have magically appeared in their pockets as their blood ran down the cobbles? Foolish, foolish child. I protect homes and hearths, I do not purposefully destroy them.

The others say Tippa is an old head on young shoulders. There is some truth in that, or she would not have risen to head up the guild, but she still has the vanity and insecurity and anger of the young. No matter. About now, I imagine she has no head at all.

And that is a shame. For she was an urchin who dreamed of more, a daughter who loved her mother, a tough girl who got to lead for a short while. But until the end she remained a frightened, vicious child, and perhaps there would never have been a space for her in this city. Not the way she was trying to carve it.

And so we are away. I imagine Tippa’s mother gathering her daughter’s body close, bereft, crying as we ride. As much as it saddens me, in truth I do not see how it could have been another way. Not if she wouldn’t bend when she feared it meant ending on her knees.

Gods! What a mess. How I long for the North.

SQUIRREL

This is all damned inconvenient, I have to say. We were onto a good business in Kelsen. Tippa was keeping the money flowing, even digging up a few handy magical items for us. And all we had to do was slit a throat once in a while to keep her position shored up. Of course our Northern, god-touched heroes paled about that. It’s business, innit? What’s so hard to understand? And now it’s flushed out to sea.

That pair, Zillah and Alix, walking out on us in the face of a couple of dozen het-up leather workers out there on the street; that could’ve gone bad for the three of us with the stones to do the job. We had to cut our losses — and Tippa loose. Didn’t we?

So now poor old Tippa is probably gonna wind up in the sea, and we’ve lost our safe haven (most like) and our income from the guild. All because of a bit of squeamishness.

And, to pour salt in the wounds, I still haven’t had a chance to transcribe the spells that are burning a hole in my backpack. Honestly, is a week of peace and quiet in a well-lit room too much to ask for? Maybe at the Dharian Hills we’ll have some RnR and I’ll finally be able to hit the books, salvage something from this mess. Maybe.

BLIZZARD

I dreamt of Tippa again last night: her face open with innocence, smiling, but then her eyes scrunched up and tears of blood streamed down her cheeks.

Perhaps it is Kaltan punishing me, these dreams. Perhaps he is reminding me that I serve at his pleasure. Or is Tippa herself castigating me for not doing more? She is dead. If not now, then soon. And that knowledge is a boot in my guts. I should’ve done more.

Tippa’s requests were simple. Kill some men who’d been fleecing her. Fleecing us, really, because we left her in Kelsen, managing our affairs. Kill a couple of men and beat up the ringleaders of a guild for refusing to pay their fee. Easy enough.

But then it started: Alix’s and Zillah’s blunt refusals. Their calling on morals. Fuck me – we kill for a living. It’s what we do. But no amount of sweet-talking, reasoning, arguing could sway them. I’ve never seen the party so divided, so fractured. For a while there, I thought this might be the anvil that shattered our steel.

And so it was up to Nightshade, Squirrel and me. We cornered the first upstairs in his office, until he escaped through a trapdoor. Zillah was guarding the backdoor but didn’t give chase. I could’ve knocked the smugness from her face.

Tippa insisted on accompanying us to the next place. I should’ve seen it coming, of course: she’d done it before. But to actually see her, all of fourteen years old, walk right up and open the woman’s throat with her dagger… I was gobsmacked – a little in awe. It was then I recognised her as a kindred spirit, the baby sister I’d never had.

It was the final task that did it. After much arguing, we persuaded Zillah and Alix to accompany us to the guild. This was just a dusting up. Nothing too serious. But these weren’t a people who were trying to subvert anyone’s rule – they were just struggling to subsist. Zillah walked. Alix followed. They left us stranded.

When we returned to Tippa, her eyes went wide and her face blanched. And we knew – all of us – we’d screwed her over royally. This wasn’t just a matter of one guild, but all guilds. We’d snuffed out her authority, as if it were a lantern wick.

Late into the night, we tried but failed to find her a way out. I even lit upon the idea of marrying her. The faces of my party… But if we were married, I could put her under Church protection.

She returned the next day, so brave and so collected. I blurted it out – offered my hand. But she refused. She came across to me, stood on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. “You are a beautiful man,” she said – rather ironic seeing I’d never felt more ugly.

And with that, she walked away, young, poised and radiating a fear she obviously didn’t want to show. And that was the last I saw of her, until she came to haunt me in my dreams.


Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Tracey Rolfe (Blizzard) for the very different perspectives of some interesting events…

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

Journal: Nail art and NaNo

I have always liked colour and fun. I wear bright colours. I have purple streaks in my hair. And now I have little flashes of colour on my fingernails as well.

The craze that seems to be sweeping through my social circles is Jamberry nail stickers.

Look:

Those are my fingernails!

I confess this post is merely an excuse to share the above photos — I’m enjoying the challenge of nail/hand photography (for social media) as much as running around with decorated fingernails. A good photo comes down as much to creative cropping as anything. But it’s also so much fun deciding what I’m going to ‘hold’… And natural light is a must.

The lowdown on Jamberry is this: They are vinyl stickers sold online and/or via individual consultants. I’ve found them pretty easy to put on and take off, and they stay on for up to two weeks. There are heaps of designs. However, I’m not doing a full sales spiel — check out DebK or Kirstyn if you are in Australia. (Both good friends of mine and highly recommended as consultants.)


In writing developments, I am in the last week of planning before NaNoWriMo starts. (This is where writers spend November trying to write an entire novel or 50K words.)

It’s been four years since I participated, and this year it comes at a good time for me. My plan is to spend the month churning out as much as I can of the next book in the fantasy series I’m writing. At best, I’ll have the beginnings of something good. At worst, I will have some words down that can be worked into something useful. Win win!

I’m really looking forward to NaNo actually, because I’m in need of some self-discipline, and this will provide some much-needed structure. I also have a five-day writing retreat in the middle of it, which is awesome!

The planning is coming along OK. I have a starting point at least. And I have a very rough idea of the overall arc. I need to decide whether to trust my subconscious and go with whatever NaNo produces, or whether I’m better to have more of an outline. Today I had something of an epiphany, which could affect some things…

I’ll let you know in a month how I go — plus more Jamberry!

D&D Chronicles: Ghostly encounters

Picking up where we left off, Squirrel has just collapsed after attempting to dispel the ward applied to a border of trees around a strange villa in the middle of the desolated Dust Plains…


ZILLAH

The ghost in the villa

D&D CHRONICLES(18 April) Squirrel takes a huge breath and attempts to dispel the ward again.

It’s the third time he’s tried. The last two times he overcast and wasn’t much use for anything for at least a day. As a result we’ve been stranded outside the villa for three whole days. That’s three days of food and water we’re probably going to need on our journey to and from the Temple of Death.

Three days of keeping an eye out for the monstrosities that inhabit the region. Three days in which some unknown person is ransacking the villa, according to Alix, who has been listening in using a clairaudience spell. Smoke rising from a chimney suggests things are being burned. Will there be anything left for us to find? (And how the hell did said person get past the ward?)

Squirrel suddenly gestures with his arms and grunts, “I can hold it for about 20 seconds.” With that, we’re running through the gap in the trees towards the villa courtyard and its dry and dusty fountain. Squirrel arrives looking relieved and rather pleased with himself.

The door to the villa is open.

We gather near the door, uncertain at the sound of footsteps within. It sounds like someone is pacing back and forth. Blizzard uses a spell and detects high intelligence, seething anger and frustration. The footsteps approach and a warrior appears in the doorway. He’s wearing beautiful full-plate armour, black, bearing the markings of the Church of Elloran. He’s wielding an impressive greatsword and looks as though he knows how to use it.

“Help me, or die,” he says. Then tells us he’s looking for a particular book and gives us exactly one hour to find it.

We decide to oblige him, figuring we might discover other things of interest as we go. The villa itself yields nothing, other than a fireplace with the remains of burnt books. We turn our attention outside, and Alix eventually uncovers a hidden door leading to a tiny cellar. Inside are some items of extreme interest: a ring, a dagger, a box containing a wand, an empty backpack, and a… brick. Hmm.

The brick turns out to be a spellbook in disguise. It’s undoubtedly the book the Elloran warrior wants; Squirrel undoubtedly does not want to part with it.

The Elloran warrior strides up, takes the book out of Squirrel’s clutching fingers and leaves. We follow him around the building, into the villa and up to the fireplace. Squirrel almost swallows his tongue as the man throws the spellbook on top of the charred heap of burned books and kindles a fire.

Peace descends upon the warrior’s face as the book goes up in flames. He explains the Vahdrim mages killed his family… then, in the middle of speaking to us, he dissolves into thin air. His armour and greatsword clunk onto the ground.

Defeated by the Dust Plains

(24 April) In the end we’ve put it to the vote: to continue on towards the Temple of Death, or retreat to Issimbaal.

After the villa, we persevered onward through the Dust Plains for several days, encountering strange creatures and abandoned villages. But by my estimate we’re making much slower progress than we envisaged. The road is hard to make out in places, and although we haven’t encountered another dust storm, I don’t think we’ve come even halfway in our journey.

We simply don’t have enough water and food to get all the way there and back without starving… and, although there’s a chance we may find water in Baal, and a chance there’s a portal we can actually use to leave, do we risk our lives on that? Besides, we still need to find a cure for Nightshade.

We’ve voted and we’re heading back to Issimbaal. It’s frustrating as hell, given the time and effort we’ve invested trying to get there. But I don’t think we have much choice.

(26 April) Another night in this cursed barren waste that is the Dust Plains. We’re camping out in the open, when five swirling air elementals attack us out of nowhere. None is as big as the gigantic elemental that almost defeated us last night, but these five also look bent on our destruction.

The encounter doesn’t start well for me. One after the other, my two weapons fly off into the darkness. Nightshade thrusts the hilt of her longsword towards me, but the battle is rapidly escalating out of our control. One of them is pummelling Blizzard. I can’t see what’s happening to the others, because I have my hands full with the one attacking me.

It seems air elementals are to be forever my nemeses. This one is relentlessly gaining the upper hand and I’m growing weak. A healing potion revives me for a bit, but soon I’m slumping to the ground again and blackness descends…

I’m clasped in the embrace of Emrys, my god. He holds and comforts me, infuses me with love and peace and understanding. And a sense of wellbeing. Is this the end? I didn’t think I’d meet my god again so soon after Issimbaal. He is majestic and great...

When I open my eyes, Alix is hovering over me anxiously. I blink up at her, confused. How am I back here? The night sky is resplendent with starlight and I’m sure we’re still out on the Dust Plains. I was dead. I know I was dead. Who has brought me back…?

“Hush, rest,” Alix says and smooths unruly hair back from my brow.

Fleet snuggles up against my side, purring as she nuzzles my face and neck. I wind an arm around her and draw her to my side.

zillah_death3

A success of sorts

(29 April) Geretam, the cleric of Phanator, greets us warmly when we finally arrive back in Issimbaal. His people have created a potion they believe will cure the zombie virus.

Nightshade has deteriorated considerably over the past few days. She was nearly killed in the same battle that did for me. But Blizzard’s quick thinking saved her (I heard afterward). He force-fed blood into Nightshade’s mouth, which brought her around, but then she attacked him viciously. It seems recent events progressed her disease almost beyond recall, and it was only Blizzard’s ability to control undead that enabled us to bring Nightshade back to Issimbaal with us.

The clerics feed a ravening Nightshade the potion… Gradually the fury leaves her, colour returns to her cheeks, the redness leaves her eyes and she rasps a request for water. Food. Not blood. She realises the truth and smiles in relief.

Cheers erupt among the clerics who have witnessed Nightshade being cured. Then they all start talking at once. Their work here is done, they say. Time to leave Issimbaal and return to civilisation.

(5 May) The city of Toressen is wondrous after all those weeks of dust and decay and death. We arrived with the clerics’ party to the news that armies in the south are disbanding and returning home. There’s an air of joy and hope that the 8-year war might be finally over.

We visit the Church of Elloran to try to get a message to Vamis, the cleric who sponsored our quest to Issimbaal, about what happened with the renegade cleric, Elliana. Another cleric (Mikka) gives us a coded message from her, and we reply that we will continue our mission.

The Elloran priests are extraordinarily excited about the armour left by the ghost warrior. They recognise it immediately as belonging to the fabled warrior Olesh, who disappeared 30 years ago. They ask all sorts of questions. In return for restoring the armour to the church, they’re going to outfit us with provisions and other magical items for the next stage of our journey.

And so it continues. Our quest to prevent the rise of the goddess Varrien. Where will it take us next?


This brings our adventures around Issimbaal and the surrounding Dust Plains to a close (a total of six playing sessions). With four deaths and subsequent resurrections, plus a zombification and revival, it was rather a costly exercise. Next session will see us heading out on another phase of the adventure…

How many more lives does Zillah have, I wonder?

Links to all posts in order on the D&D Chronicles page.