Travelling in the 90s: Last days in Rome and Perugia

And so we come to the final post of this epic series featuring extracts of my 1993-1994 travel journal…

We’ve just come from Pompeii and Naples to spend our last couple of days in Rome, including a day trip to Perugia.


[Monday 21 February, 1994] Today we went to the Vatican. It was really funny, but as we got off the metro someone tapped me on the shoulder. It turned out to be this (very cute) Dutch guy and his friend who we’d hung out with at the hostel in Naples. They were also headed for the Vatican museums, so we spent the morning with them.

We all stopped for a breakfast coffee before entering the vast museums. They are certainly very ornate. The entrance was a huge spiral staircase leading up to the ticket office… and there was a student discount!

The museums contained all kinds of artwork, but galleries that stood out were the tapestry gallery, the map gallery, the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but also works by my main man Botticelli and others), and the paintings (particularly some woks by Raphael).

Being Dutch, A&J understood five out of the six languages issuing instructions about the Sistine Chapel: English, German, Italian, French and Spanish. The other language was Japanese – and I couldn’t even understand that, despite having a degree in the language. (It made me feel very inadequate.)

After the museums, A&J left us to our hambon jambons (our nickname for ham rolls) and St Peters Square and Basilica. The Square is very large and quite spectacular, while the Church is quite different from others we’ve seen. It was very “marbly”. Coloured marbles (green, red, ochre, white, black, pink etc) were used to create elaborate patterns on the walls and floor. I really like this effect. There were also lots of statues, including one by Michelangelo happily living behind bullet-proof glass. The ceilings were also very decorative.

After St Peters, we more or less retired for the day (I think we are getting a little tired!).

[Wednesday 23 February, 1994] Well, right now I am somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, as today was our last full day in Rome, and tomorrow we begin the journey home.

Yesterday we took a day-trip from Rome to Perugia, which we wanted to see because it was an Etruscan town. We were there by 12:30pm, daringly caught a bus to the top of the hill, and emerged to a wonderful view.

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The “city centre” of Perugia is camped on the top of a rather steep-sided hill. In fact, there are immense escalators which connect the top to various piazzas further down. We spent the afternoon just wandering the streets – picking out a few sights from a very long list of churches.

perugia_cat

There was an Etruscan well, an Etruscan arch connected to an Etruscan wall, a fountain decorated with relief panels (depicting fables, Roman history, sciences), and a fort known as Rocco Paolina. This last appeared to have been hollowed out under the cliff on the side of the hill and fortified – it now appears to exist solely for the pleasure of housing one of the escalators.

We waited for our 6:30pm train on the steps of the cathedral which appeared to be the local student hangout, amused for a while by the antics of a German Shepherd pup chasing the pigeons.

Today, our last day in Rome, we went “shopping” in the streets around Piazza del Spagna – mainly fashion boutiques, shoe shops and jewellery stores. Rome was a bit wearing today – especially the men on their stupid scooters amongst multitudes of cars and people.

We said goodbye to the Trevvi fountain and threw another coin in since we’d already used up the last one, then headed back to our room to relax and pack. Thrilling stuff for our last day…

[Friday 25 February, 1994] The journey home… (extract)

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Then we had to queue to check in (in Athens). We were momentarily unnerved when it seemed we couldn’t get seats together in the non-smoking section, but it turned out our seats were already reserved because we had come through from Rome. Relief! Either of the alternatives would not have been pleasant, but I think we were both prepared to sit apart to get away from that awful incessant smoking that the Greeks seem to prefer.

[note: Most of the journey home content in my original journal is dull and boring, but I’ve included the above excerpt, because, yep, we were on a flight where smoking was permitted! Only in the 90s…]


So there we have it. Finished!

It only took 22 posts and 4.5 years to work my way through. I’ve really enjoyed reliving the trip after all these years. Thanks for coming along on the retro journey.

All the posts can be found (in reverse order) under the category Travelling in the 90s… I also intend to put a page together with links to all posts in order.

D&D Chronicles: Quest for the Stars

ZILLAH

Every so often I look at my life and wonder how I got here. It’s been not quite a year since I met Alix and joined her crazy quest; around 10 months since we first found the Left Eye of Varrien and came south. Sometimes it feels as though we will never see our homes in the north again.

Our other northern companions are long gone now: Calwyn, Ammonite and my cousin, Schill. Instead we find ourselves travelling with a disparate (and sometimes, it seems, revolving) mix of southerners. Squirrel has been with us a while now. He’s proven himself true to the party, even though he keeps secrets and I’m not entirely sure of his agenda.

Nightshade, on the other hand, has changed in the months I’ve known her: first she suffered from the zombie virus, and now I fear her encounter with the mummy has made things worse. She’s become secretive, almost furtive, and pragmatic to the point of callousness. Once, her mission was to restore the broken forest, but I’m not sure her goals align with ours anymore.

And now we have Blaze, a wealthy young paladin sworn to Nievor, god of the vine. Despite being temporarily killed on his first outing with us, Blaze has agreed to accompany us back to Kham Jhara. Although it is early days, he seems true of heart, although is doubtless motivated by reporting on our activities back to his church.

Sometimes I’m left questioning my own agenda. How did it fall upon me and Alix to save the world?

Onwards…

On the whole, this expedition to Reyim Baal and the Dust Plains has been successful — not counting the body and resurrection toll. We have found the Haft of the Flail of Wind & Rain. We have retrieved the Left Eye of Varrien from Elliana, who stole it from the Church of Elloran.

By rights we should return the Eye to the Church of Elloran, which gave us a down payment for its retrieval. However, on this I am outvoted. Instead, Alix is casting a Sequester spell on it daily. Nightshade, who snatched up the Eye and refuses to let anyone else carry it, is complying, but her reluctance is only too apparent. I sense this is going to become a problem…

The priests of Bahal lend us a barge propelled by a water elemental to take us upriver to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, Master Smith, is frothing at the mouth when we present the Haft to him. It’s clear he yearns to be the one to re-forge the Flail, once the twin Stars have been found. And that is our next mission — undoubtedly our most challenging yet.

Tales of the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain

So where are the Stars? We’ve heard various stories and songs on our travels. In the tale of the mighty giant Horvath Goldenhair, the dragon Ovinha Blackscale took the stars to her lair.

But according to Jialara kar Tethem, the Flail of Wind and Rain lay in the depths of the Khor Sahar mountains until the dragon Yrujik took it to her lair. The haft was rent from the flail when Yrujik’s son tried to steal it — he took the haft, while Yrujik returned to her cave with the spiked flails (stars?).

Jialara also found evidence to suggest the haft was seen in the ruined city Toreth Jhand beyond the swamps bordering the Dharian Hills… and that a young dragon was there, blue or green, with sluggish minions and baleful guardians.

Abhorran (the Vahdrim mage  we met on the island of Mycross) called the ruined city Darham Abras. He also said the haft was there — and that the stars were in an abandoned Vahdrim stronghold in the Dust Plains… (Sounds familiar!)

It seems information about the stars and the haft is confused and conflated at best. But at least we now know where the haft is. Our latest information says the Stars currently lie in a lost city beyond the swamps, guarded by a dragon, protected by a vanguard of vicious Rakshasa (tiger creatures).

Whichever way it goes, it seems there will be a dragon.

dragon

Directions and warnings

To get to the stars, we must travel through the Dharian Hills to an old stone bridge across a river, cross a dangerous swamp, to a great hill (or temple or ridge?) shaped like a horse’s head.

The directions are vague, more rumour than anything. Except for the warnings about certain death. On that, everyone we speak to seems to agree. People claim the Rakshasa cannot be hurt, that a single one could kill eight men. (Which leaves me wondering about the dragon…)

But that is our road.

Thanks to the wizened creature, Oramoot, Astra Khara agrees to re-provision us. And fix all our weapons. And arrange for enchantments to be laid on our primary weapons. I’m sure there’s something — many things — we haven’t thought of. But, after over a week in Kham Jhara, we finally set off on our quest for the Stars.

Into the swamp

A local youth guides us as far as his village, which lies on the river that divides the Dharian Hills from the swamp. The villagers direct us towards the ruins of an old stone bridge; it’s not sufficiently intact for us to cross, but it does point to an overgrown road leading through the swamp.

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We cross and follow this road for a few days — it’s hard going and wet for much of the time, and we’re forced to fend off attacks from a variety of creatures. On the fourth day in the swamp we see something that sort of resembles a horse’s head rising up in the distance. It’s still over a day’s slog away, but at least it seems we’re heading in the right direction.

On the fifth day, we encounter our first Rakshasa.

There are six of them, probably a border guard, waiting on the far side of a body of water submerging the road. They utter some threats (which we ignore) and then lob a fireball at us. We retreat a few hundred feet in order to strategise, then creep back towards them under the cover of the dense swamp foliage. They’ve crossed the river and are sauntering after us, looking overly confident to my mind.

We’ve decided our best strategy is to engage them in close combat, so I charge out of cover and attack. The battle is now on. They’re tossing more spells and no doubt Squirrel is too. All I’m aware of are the three in my immediate vicinity. Blaze is with me, and Alix. I can hear Nightshade swearing somewhere to my left.

Three of the Rakshasa have hit the ground and I’m about to enjoy taking out the other three — arrogant bastards — when darkness smothers us and not even my darkvision can penetrate. It’s lifted a few moments later, but the three surviving Rakshasa are retreating under its cover. We follow the blackness to the edge of the water and watch them go. I guess it’s a victory… of sorts.

Horse head mountain

We cross the water and track the rapidly moving Rakshasa along the road. They’re leading us directly towards the rocky peak, which we can now see is indeed carved into the figure of a horse’s head. The land is rising and, a couple of miles away, the road heads straight up the side of the hill.

Before we get too close and walk into an ambush, we leave the road with the view to circling around the side of the hill. I cast “pass without trace” on the entire party to conceal our movements, should the Rakshasa attempt to track us.

After a while, we reach a river. From this vantage, it’s evident that what looked like a hill from front-on is actually the tip of a ridge line with a cliff face that extends along the river. There’s a bridge back at the road, with at least one guard.

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We head in the opposite direction along the river, seeking to stay out of sight of the guard on the bridge, and begin entertaining ideas of scaling the cliff face using magical means. We want to get onto the ridge without taking the main road.

The next day, however, Squirrel discovers there’s an ancient magical barrier along the cliff face. As far as he can make out, the barrier appears to cancel out magic that passes through it — so there goes our idea of using magic to ascend.

Or maybe not.

Alix talks to the stone in the ancient cliff and discovers there are weaknesses in the ward, caused by an ancient earthquake. If we can find one of those weaknesses… That could be exactly what we need.


Pleased to report no deaths this session; let’s see how we fair next time when we (presumably) go up against more Rakshasa and maybe even a dragon. Yikes!

See The D&D Chronicles Page.

Travelling in the 90s: Naples and Pompeii

It must be time for an actual trip, right? Well, not today… Today I’m knocking off the penultimate post of my Travelling in the 90s series, which features extracts from my 1993-1994 travel journal — complete with bad photos.

I’ve enjoyed reliving this trip, which was my first overseas adventure. (It also remains the longest, at a length of around 12 weeks.)

The previous post took us to our final major destination — Rome. It’s been over a year since I posted that, as I’ve been focusing on the Mongolia trip, but it’s now time to wrap it up. Today’s post is mostly about our side trip to Naples and Pompeii.


[Friday 18 February, 1994] Today was dead, dull and boring. A real dud. It began with rain – that incessant kind you can’t hear until you open your window to witness the endless silver stream, and only then do you hear the gentle patter on the road or the roof top. The kind of rain that makes you slump inside.

Nevertheless, to Naples we were headed, so we shouldered packs – both large and small – and set off to the station. Large packs were deposited into the luggage store at the station, and we set off to find the train.

We missed one by about 10 minutes, and had to wait another 1.5 hours for the next (at 12:05). Not good. How do you fill in time at a train station? We went to Burgy’s for breakfast (King Chicken Burger) and sat around there for about half an hour, then we went and played with train times on the digital machines. We also browsed an Italian bookshop – most unsatisfying! When we finally got on the train, it was a two-hour, uneventful journey, save for the fact that the ticket man tried to tell us that our kilometrico ticket was invalid. It was valid, of course, but I’m not sure we convinced him. In any case he let us stay on the train!

It was, unfortunately, raining in Naples too. We wanted a coffee from our thermos, but there was nowhere to drink it (out of the rain). The tourist office provided a map, and we caught the metro to Mergellina, which is close to the shore, and near the youth hostel. We had a pasta lunch in a small restaurant – yummy.

Then it stopped raining! By this time, though, it was 4:00, the day nearly over, wasted. Oh well. We wandered down to the shore and walked along the beach front. From here, the view of Mt Vesuvius is astounding. Traffic whizzed past – much of it very liberal with the horn. (We had been warned this might happen in the south.)

The traffic in Naples is, in fact, extraordinary. Our LP guide book says that in Naples red means “go” and green means “go slow and carefully”. The amazing thing is that this is TRUE. Even for pedestrian crossings, which we attempted to use. The little green man is positively DANGEROUS if you believe him. I just had to laugh it was so incredible.

Aside from this, Naples apparently has its own guild of thieves, but we have not seen any yet.

[Sunday 20 February, 1994] First I must obviously write about yesterday. Yesterday was Pompeii.

We were up and out of the hostel early, and made it via train to Pompeii by 10:00am (a good thing too, because we needed the whole day). Armed with a guide book, we entered the vast site.

Pompeii is simply amazing.

It is literally an entire city – shops, houses, theatres, stadium, temples – the whole lot. Of course there is no way possible that you could carefully examine each building, so the guide books pick out the ones with interesting architecture, or well-preserved mosaics, statues, paintings etc. With almost no exception the buildings are all without ceilings. World War II caused some damage to walls and paintings, but an incredible proportion of the city still stands.

travel90s_pompeii

Amazing Pompeii

It is almost too difficult to comprehend it all. The paintings seem to be very much Greek oriented, as does a lot of the architecture. However, since Pompeii was Roman for the last 160 years, there are obviously signs of their influence as well.

I simply cannot begin to describe anything, and will have to refer back to the guide book when I desperately want to remember. But I loved it!

It was slightly disappointing that so many of the houses were locked up – very little sign of the so-called ubiquitous guards who could let us in. And even though it was the “off-season” the number of tourists was large. But I suppose nobody who visited Pompeii could fail to comprehend its uniqueness, and respect it.

The completeness of the city is so incredible! Every single shop and house there for us to see. I was very pleased to see a Temple to Apollo – and a quite substantial one at that, including statues of both Apollo and Artemis/Diana. All the council buildings, two theatres, stadium, and numerous baths were also there.

I shall cease writing about Pompeii now, as I fear I shall gush merely to describe what is indescribable. Pompeii is somewhere not to be missed by anybody within Europe!

[I have left this passage about Pompeii largely unedited, because I find my youthful exuberance amusing…]

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Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii

After Pompeii we were quite exhausted. We caught the train back to Naples, and then back to Rome.

Today was Sunday. I’ve decided that Sundays in Italy are generally bad. Museums seem to close at 1:00pm every day, but on Sundays everything else seems to close early too. And the shops are closed! All this left us with a rather vacant afternoon.

But I’d better describe the morning first. Our first stop was the Baths of Caracella. Alas, it was impossible not to compare them with Pompeii, and they just didn’t live up to scratch. The mosaics were very nice though – covering the floors of the palaestra, changing rooms, and swimming pool area.

After the baths we wanted to find the Old Appian Way (via appia antica), which was one of the first Roman roads built. In this we failed. [I am so damned sad we couldn’t find it, because the pics online I’ve seen since look amazing…]

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Rambling past the Palatine Hill (Rome)

Afterwards, we were fairly tired and dispirited, so killed time in Burgy’s for a while, recuperating, trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day. Eventually, we summoned up enough afternoon energy to visit Villa Borghese, which is not a house, but a grassy parkland.

Perched on the top of a hill, Villa Borghese must be the place to go on a Sunday afternoon, for it seemed the entire population of Rome (and their dogs) were there. There were kids on roller skates, bicycles, merry-go-rounds, row boats, Shetland ponies… the list goes on. The view from the top of the hill was pretty good too.


[now] It’s amazing how many people we met travelling who didn’t get to Pompeii, simply because of the extra effort it took to get there. They really missed something amazing. Pompeii was a definite highlight of this entire trip and is yet another place I would love to revisit.

As usual, terrible photo reproduction… When looking through the photos I’m frustrated by a) the poor quality of the prints, b) the small number of photos, because we were frugal with our film, and c) the fact we felt the need to be PRESENT in just about every photo! (Times have certainly changed…)

The next post in this series will cover our last couple of days in Rome and the journey home.

See Travelling in the 90s for more posts.

D&D Chronicles: Temple of Death yields death (and bounty)

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESAnother day, another attempt to clear out the Temple of Death… and hopefully find trace of Elliana and the Eye of Varrien.

It’s a daunting thought, given yesterday’s experiences. We don’t know how many undead priests are left, but the most powerful are undoubtedly yet to come. This could be our hardest task yet.

We have a new plan for today, though, and that’s to make use of a “hide from undead” spell the priests of Bahaal can cast on us. It will allow us to sneak into the temple without them detecting us. Hopefully the element of surprise will give us the edge.

Our first foray into the temple confirms that the first building, the one we cleared out yesterday, remains clear — except for an undead janitor who’s mopping the floor. The “hide from undead” spell appears successful, as he doesn’t detect us until Blaze storms over and tries to kill him. (All he succeeds in doing is alerting the fleeing janitor of the threat.)

temple_death

After replenishing our “hide from undead” spells with the priests outside the gates, we sneak across the bridge to the courtyard where we fought the golem yesterday. We split up and sneak into the rooms on either side, where enemies wait to cast spells through the murder holes, and we take them out swiftly.

Magic and mayhem…

We retreat and replenish the “hide” spells again… then move deeper into the temple precinct, this time entering the second building. It’s magnificent, what we can see in the darkness. I take point, sneaking forward under concealment of the spell and scope out the ambush they have prepared.

There are six of them waiting in the shadows, set up for attack. It’s uncanny to walk up close to our enemy and remain undetected, to describe to my companions what I see and have our enemy not hear or see or smell anything.

We position ourselves within striking distance, nose to nose, and engage.

Those of us who attack lose the protection of the hide spell immediately, and we get the sense this fight will make or break us. Their magic is powerful. Relentless. The hall is rent with crackling energy and pain and screams. I’m fighting creatures in front of me, but I know the real threats are behind. I can’t reach them.

I’m in the middle of melee when I feel Fleet fall. My mind freezes, but fortunately my limbs do not. Somehow I disentangle myself, and Fleet is in my arms and I’m running, running to the gates so I can use my healing spells on her.

I make it in time. She’s not dead. She’s not dead. I bid her wait for me outside the gates.

… and death

By the time I return, everyone is retreating. Hell. Alix is down. And Blaze. Squirrel is trying to haul Alix away, and Nightshade is trying vainly to budge the heavily armoured figure of Blaze. The energy spells keep on coming. I grab Alix from Squirrel and carry her out, but my breath catches because I know she is dead.

A moment later, Nightshade appears alone, breathless and bleeding. It’s just her and me left on our feet. Squirrel fell trying to help Blaze. They’re probably both dead by now and our party is in a shambles.

I pull out the resurrection stone Oramoot gave us before we came down the river. I’ve been saving it for Alix. I don’t know how fast it will work… turns out it works rapidly. She’s back almost immediately, bewildered and bemused as this is the first time she has crossed the veil.

The three of us confer desperately. We need to go back in and finish this, but we’re too injured and weak, Alix barely able to stand. If we wait until tomorrow, when Alix will be able to heal us, we’ll be facing all those enemies again at full strength — and likely our own undead companions to-boot.

We can’t let that happen.

The priests of Bahal can heal us using their terrible death magic. Nightshade accepts without hesitation… and Alix and I reluctantly do as well. The only other choice is to let our companions become undead and fail in our quest to retrieve the Eye from Elliana. It’s a bitter choice, but we need to finish this.

Three versus three

Concealed by yet another hide spell each, Nightshade, Alix and I enter the temple once again. We have no idea how many enemies are left to fight, or what we’ll find. We pass through the ornate hall of the second building, which has been cleared of all bodies, and emerge to find a second bridge leading to a third building.

Three figures await us. I think they are the magic users from before, so perhaps this is the last of them. In the light, we now see that one of them is Elliana. She is clearly dead. (It makes me wonder what happened to Tob. Did we kill him already and not notice?) One of the others has a red glowing stone around his neck, which is likely the Eye of Varrien.

They are clearly waiting for us, although the spell is doing its job and they do not know we’ve arrived. Nightshade suggests we bullrush them, and it seems as good a plan as any.

We knock one of them over and the battle is on. More energy spells crackle the air, sapping our strength with frightening speed and ease. I’m certain I’m going to die, and switch to a defensive fighting mode. One of the enemy drops, but Elliana and the guy with the Eye are still wielding their magic.

Then, without warning, Elliana breaks out of combat and charges the guy with the Eye. It happens so fast. She pushes him to the ground, screaming, and we keep attacking both of them, not having a clue what’s going on. The main guy stops moving and Elliana is shrieking at us to kill her. A moment later, she stops moving too.

Bounty

It’s over. Blessed Emrys, it’s actually over.

I can hardly believe we’ve tracked down Elliana and successfully recovered the left Eye of Varrien (again). Nightshade grabs the Eye from the corpse of the undead priest, who appears to have been controlling Elliana. In the next room, we find the corpses of our companions.

The priests of Bahal are beside themselves with gratitude for restoring their temple to them and freeing the souls of their priests. They resurrect Squirrel and Blaze and bestow us with riches in gold and gems.

There’s a portal here too, and instructions for using it. Perhaps we’ll get to that in time, but right now I’m feeling lucky to be alive.

D&D Chronicles: Temple of Death

ZILLAH

Now that we are returned to Reyim Baal, the Temple of Bahal awaits. It is hard to turn our attention to anything serious while grieving our fallen comrade, but we cannot ignore the fact that one of the Eyes of Varrien could be inside the spectre-infested temple. If the Eye is there, we need to at least try to retrieve it — before someone else does.

But the very thought of tackling the Temple of Bahal — known as the Temple of Death — is terrifying. The clerics of Bahal here in Reyim Baal have already tried and failed to reclaim their temple from the decades-old spectres of its guardian priests. If they cannot succeed, what hope is there for us?

A new companion

Without Blizzard, it seems a mad quest. But there is a paladin here who may lend us a hand if we can be persuasive enough. His name is Blaze and he’s impressively kitted out with armour and a warhorse, of all things. He serves Nievor, god of the vine, and has been sent by his church to find out what’s going on. (As well they might.)

We tell him that if he wants to find out “what’s going on”, he could do worse than aid us in our quest to reclaim the Eye of Varrien for the priests of Elloran, who commissioned us in this task. (A truth.) We tell him we believe the Eye to currently reside in the Temple of Bahal, since Elliana and Tob took it inside several weeks ago, never to emerge. (Also true.)

In return for his aid, we offer him Blizzard’s share of any reward and the loan of his most superior greatsword. Blaze looks understandably overwhelmed by our mission, but eventually agrees.

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Fighting in the forecourt

We’re standing outside the gates of the Temple of Death. The clerics have warned us we’re likely to be attacked the moment we enter the forecourt… which is exactly what happens. There are 12 skeletal figures, all former clerics of Bahal, now the undead guardians of the temple. Alix manages to turn some of them, while Blaze and I lay into them with swords.

Turns out they’re not that hard to kill. Squirrel and Nightshade are lurking outside to work from a distance — one of them produces a flame, and I have a feeling it’s Nightshade. (When did she get that spell?) Then Squirrel’s up on top of the wall.

It’s all over pretty quickly and we drag the corpses out of the precinct for the priests of Bahal to perform last rites on their brethren. That’s 12 fewer undead guardians for us to face later.

One of the major challenges of this place is that most of our spells won’t work inside the temple precinct. So any healing needs to take place outside the gates. Once that’s sorted, we reenter and approach the entrance to the first building.

Ambush in the antechamber

We’re in a large antechamber, a group of shadowy figures at the far end. “Begone or die!” we hear. It figures. We could of course leave, but considering we’re here to find the Eye — and possibly clear out the temple while we’re at it — we’re not backing down just yet.

First a fireball hits us, then we split up and move down two side-aisles, which might provide some cover from similar attacks. Before too long, we’re surrounded by more of the skeletal guardian clerics. Ambush.

Nightshade and I are together on one side of the antechamber, and I have no real idea what’s going on elsewhere. We clear our side and retreat towards the entrance. Blaze and Alix are already there, just outside, and Squirrel rushes past through a fog of some foul miasma… Once we’re healed up outside we return to find the chamber deserted, save for all the corpses, which we again drag outside the gates.

There’s a library in the basement of this building, but not much else of interest. We prise Squirrel away from all the books, because there’s still more to do… plenty more undead clerics and probably worse still infesting the rest of the temple precinct.

Grappling with the golem

Opposite the main entrance to this building is a short bridge over water, leading to a second building with a courtyard. In the courtyard is a statue… hmm.

It animates, of course, as soon as we get close, and reveals itself as a golem. As we’re fighting this enormous creature, hidden magic users cast spells though murder holes, most notably an ice storm. The ice tears into our party, and as soon as we’ve defeated the golem we flee.

Back with the living priests of Bahal, we ask about healing, since we’ve exhausted our supply of spells. But unfortunately these clerics use vile magic to draw out the life force from their lackeys — which is absolutely out of the question for us. Although we’d prefer to finish clearing out the temple today, we’re going to have to wait at least a night to recover. Damn. That gives our enemy time to recover as well.

We do, however, decide it’s worth Squirrel and I sneaking back in under the cover of invisibility to see if we can push the golem into the water — otherwise they’ll doubtless reanimate it so we have to fight it again tomorrow.

We creep inside once more… to find four minions fussing with the fallen creature. Squirrel’s fireball scatters them, giving us a few moments to act before they return. With several giant heaves, the enormous clay figure makes a satisfying splash as it plunges into the water.

Mongolia Journal ~ Genghis Khan Monument

Day 7 of Mongolian horse trek, 2015…


1 July 2015

Morning – Day 7 (Tuul River)

I haven’t climbed out of the tent yet. I hear snoring from the next tent, the ripple of the river, horses munching, birds chirping, the groan of some distant animal, grasshoppers chirruping and smacking the side of our tent.

Late afternoon – Day 7

We’ve spent most of the day at the Genghis Khan Monument. Being the halfway point of the trek, today was designated a ‘rest day’ for humans and horses — boy did we need it!
We all rode to the monument, then Ganaa (our horsewoman) took the horses to the next campsite and David returned at the end of the day with the car to collect us.

trek_day 7_genghis1

The ride to the monument took under an hour, and involved climbing an enormous hill to give us an aerial view of the monument before we got there. I felt a bit sorry for the horses, but mine was a champion and powered up the hill. He just put his head down and went for it in a solid walk. The view out over the valley floor was impressive.

The monument is a 40-foot statue in shimmering stainless steel of Genghis Khan mounted on a horse, all on top of a building housing two museums of Mongolian artefacts.

trek_day 7_genghis2

We spent the whole afternoon at the monument. First we checked out the two museums, which were fabulous. The first exhibition was of Bronze-age artefacts between 4th C BC and 1st C AD. Notable items included bronze daggers, buckles, belts, miniature figurines, bowls, stirrups, mirrors… many/most featured intricate designs of horses (sometimes being attacked by tigers), birds and many other animals. They appeared to be finely cast and impressively intricate. Really beautiful, and indicative of how (wealthy) people even back then liked having pretty things.

The second exhibition was of artefacts from 13th-14th C — the time of the great Mongolian empire. Cool stuff in here too! Items of note included swords, bowls, vessels for wine, gorgeous little stoves for sitting over fires, copper concave mirrors for fire-lighting, mail made of small forged plates stitched onto leather, chain link mail, cast steel stirrups and bits…

After the museums, we ate lunch in the restaurant. We pounced on the menu, keen for anything other than what we’d been eating, albeit with some measure of trepidation. We both ordered “chicken cutlets”, which proved to be some kind of chicken meatloaf with potato wedges and salad. It was yummier than it sounds — although we were probably fairly easy to please after all the stodgy camping fare.

Next we took the lift up inside the statue and climbed out to stand on the horse’s head, from which you get a 360-degree view of the surrounding valley. Apparently the statue was erected on the site where Genghis allegedly found a golden whip, a massive replica of which is held in the statue’s hand.

There’s not much else to do at the monument, other than view a short video about the building of it, which was certainly fascinating from an engineering perspective. The grounds around the outside are completely undeveloped and badly maintained. Like so much of this country it feels as though something was built with huge aspirations then left to fall into ruin and decay. One decided bonus, however, was the flushing toilet in the tourist centre!

We’re currently in our latest campsite — another valley amid the hills of the steppes. It’s another gorgeous location, despite the high-voltage power lines we’re camped below. It’s sunny like it hasn’t been all day, and I have no idea of the time.

trek_day 7_camp

D&D Chronicles: The haft of the Flail (Tomb of Horrors – Part 2)

ZILLAH

The iron men of visage grim do more than meet the viewers eye
You’re left and left and found my tomb and now you all will die

The last two lines of the riddle echo through my head as we contemplate our next move. There are two heavily warded doors before us, one left, one right. We have two keys, each of which appears to fit one of the doors perfectly.

We need to choose.

If the riddle at the entrance of the tomb is to be trusted — and, no matter how obscure, it has at least proven true — we should obviously choose the door on the left.

Not that I’m too keen on the dying part.

The past two days have been hellish, but we’ve survived. Tomb of horrors, indeed. But surely this is the final test. Surely behind one of these doors is the true tomb, in which the haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain is sequestered.

We’ve just passed through the false tomb (If you find the false you find the true…) and battled the iron men, aided by a djinn who emerged from one of the urns.

DnD_TOH

Then a mummy rose from the sarcophagus (because someone couldn’t resist the pretty amulet around its neck) and we were forced to battle that too. Not so easy without the ability to use our magic. Three of our party were struck by the mummy — Alix, Nightshade and Blizzard — and I fear we’ve not yet seen the repercussions of that…

sarcophagus

But first we need to finish this and get out of here. I pray the haft is to be found within.

Back to the doors before us. The correct one must be the one on the left, I know it. Blizzard agrees and volunteers to open it using the tasselled key. We hold our breaths and stand back.

It fits, turns, opens. Blizzard kicks the door in and I flinch. But no explosion — or anything else. One by one we enter.

It’s here!

The haft is actually here. It’s in an alcove behind a statue. Alix and I move as one towards it. She murmurs, “Here lies the haft of the flail of wind and rain,” and I realise she’s reading a plaque above the alcove. Heart thudding, I wrap my fingers around the smooth, wrought wood.

A shimmering figure appears and I tense, because I’ve been waiting for something to attack us, but the figure bows and offers congratulations, tells us we may each take one thing before we leave. I clutch the haft tighter. I haven’t looked at anything else, but I’ve learnt my lesson on that score. The haft will be my one thing.

Alix nudges me, then looks expectantly at the haft. A moment later, she takes it out of my hands. Her message is clear. She wants to carry the haft. Her eyes bore into me, and I yield to her conviction.

A misty grey archway has appeared where the door used to stand. Hoping this means our sojourn in this horrific tomb is ended, we pass through. I’m so weary and desperate I care not where it leads… but it empties us out into the viewing hall, back in the town of Kyam.

It truly is over. The Tomb of Horrors is a mile or two behind us, and we have the first part of the Flail of the Wind and Rain. Maybe we really can do this thing.

Maybe we can truly prevent the rise of Varrien, goddess of destruction.


One week later

Oh, Blizzard.

I stare at his funeral pyre, hardly believing it has come to this. Not even Alix could bring him back this time. We were only a day out from Reyim Baal too, when it happened. Just one more day, and we would all have survived the trek out to Kyam and back — not precisely intact, but not dead.

The dust plains are dire indeed. It’s taken us a week to make it back to Reyim Baal from Kyam. A week in which we faced several different creatures, including air elementals and a lion-headed dragon.

It was also a week in which we laboured to keep Blizzard’s mummy rot at bay. Alix managed to heal herself of the curse, thank Emrys. And Nightshade hasn’t had any of the usual effects, probably due to her stint as a half-zombie. But Blizzard was slowly succumbing…

Not that it was the mummy rot that did for him. No, that was a monstrous earth elemental that pummeled him — pummeled all of us — in the dead of night. Blizzard took the brunt of it, though. He never stood a chance.

We’ve carried him to Reyim Baal to give him his last rites. The flames consume his earthly flesh as we each farewell our companion.

SQUIRREL

When I first met Blizzard, my instinct was to cut his throat in his sleep. His and his mate Abra’s, too. They were clearly plants from the church of Kaltan, intent on hijacking our quest.

But over time Blizzard’s abrasiveness became kind of endearing, and we were united in a common pragmatism. Blizzard knew what it took to get the job done, and was unwilling to compromise on mission or belief. We found ourselves in a few scrapes, just the two of us, and his commonsense and occasional flashes of brilliance were a large part of the reason we got out of them.

And then the god of tree huggers tapped him on the shoulder and pointed him in a new direction; one, sadly, he never got to follow through to its full realisation.

We’ve lost a bold, brash fighter; one whose mouth started many a battle and whose brawn helped to end. A solid and, at the end, dependable companion. His death came through happenstance, a collision of small moments that amounted to little. He deserved better. Let us hope his new god is kind in the next life, if there is such a thing.

I don’t expect we’ll meet again, but I say to him, for all the annoyances and occasional thoughts of murder, it was an honour to share the journey.

ALIX

Another companion gone. Yes, he started off a questionable ally, but he never hesitated to stand and fight for us. Even when he doubted the most. And then that change of heart and deity. Ah, it cost you, Blizzard, but it eased all my heart and mind. I would have hated for it to come to a bloody show-down — and it would have, had Emrys not taken you aside.

This journey has been costly. I do not want to consider if it will cost any more lives. So many come and gone, Lord, so many come and gone. But not moving forward has never been an option. I pray Shadrath welcomes you to his hearth as one who aided his cleric. As one who may have become a friend.

NIGHTSHADE

Blizzard. What can be said about such an unexpected, pointless, futile death? Better to speak of his life, our comrade in arms, our fellow in this arduous quest. He was always ready with his greatsword to defend his friends, and even those of us who weren’t always his friends.

It is odd to think of it now, but I remember not liking Blizzard at all when I first came to travel with the party. I was suspicious of his motives, and found his bluster and impulsiveness very irritating at times. Not to mention his infernal apelike turns! But he changed a lot in the time I knew him, proving himself a loyal and stalwart companion over and over again, and in the end trusted him as I would a brother — though I suspect he still kept some secrets close to his chest.

I will not soon forget how Blizzard was always the first to offer his wrist for blood-letting during those dark days when I came near to succumbing to the zombie disease. The first, and sometimes the only!

How I wish the others had listened to me when I suggested we kill Blizzard and preserve his body for resurrection, in order to forestall the mummy rot which was consuming him. It seemed a very practical solution to me and he might yet be alive now. Or all of us dead, I suppose.

We can never tell what fate has in store for us, and perhaps it’s better that way. I hope you are at rest now, Blizzard, and perhaps have found some measure of peace.

ZILLAH

We were never friends, Blizzard and I.

At first I detested him for his brash posturing and blustering tongue, distrusted him for his service to Kaltan. In time, I respected him for his unwavering loyalty, his fearlessness, his skill with a blade. I even came to rely upon him and value him as a member of our party. But friends… no. Not even once he swore his allegiance to Emrys, my god, for the sake of accord in our party. It is true this eased our relationship somewhat, but there was too much between us by then for us to ever truly be friends.

It didn’t help that I killed him once. And tried my best on another occasion. Both times I was bespelled, but he never truly forgave me. I suppose I cannot blame him.

When all is said and done, though, I will miss Blizzard. I’ll miss our verbal sparring, his never-say-die attitude, his creative and often wild solutions. His personal sacrifices for the good of our quest. And I’ll miss him in our next melee, when his big heart was worth almost as much as his mighty sword.

Farewell, Blizzard. May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Blizzard

The D&D Chronicles page

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade).

Of cats old and new

Today it is a year since I lost my devilcat. A whole year. Really hard to believe.

About a month ago, realising how time was simply slipping on by without me noticing, I earmarked last weekend as the time to adopt a new furry feline friend.

This is Lucia. She’s a three year old black tortoiseshell. Very cute. Very similar, in fact, to our old family cat, Moggie.

Lucia_day1

Miss Lucia, aged 3

Lucia and I have enjoyed hanging out this week. I’m not sure of her full history yet, but I do know she’s been moved around a few times this year, so I think she may see my house as a way station. But she’s pretty chilled out about it.

She’s figured out that Chenna’s old cushion on the sofa by the window is a pretty cool place to sleep — I have covered it with a fleece blanket that’s nice and soft. And she thinks sleeping on my bed overnight is a bit of all right. She also seems to like hanging out with a few soft toys lurking in the bomb site that is my study…

She is most polite in the mornings and actually waits for me to wake up before racing to the kitchen for food (more fool her!). The dead hours of night are her favourite for using her litter tray, because she can dig for five minutes without being interrupted.

So we’re doing all right! So far she’s keeping to herself most of the time, although she does enjoy the occasional “mad minute”, when she forgets she’s not a kitten and bolts around the house with toys, real and imaginary. And she has deigned to curl up on top of me a few times. She doesn’t seem to like being picked up and cuddled too much at this stage, but she hasn’t growled or hissed once… (Although she has drawn blood – heh.)

I’m still learning her habits and she’s getting used to mine. Anyway, it’s nice to have an animal companion again.


Let’s not forget about Chenna, though, my devilcat companion of 14 years, who passed away a year ago. I do still think about her often, and now Lucia reminds me of her as well. I daresay it’s a cat thing.

chenna

Chenna, once a devilcat

Several weeks back, a friend sent me to the following link as the anniversary of Chenna’s death was approaching. It’s a short webcomic by Akimiya Jun about the nine lives of a cat, and it kind of explains why some cats are a bit devilish.

It made me cry.

In fact, it still makes me cry.

It’s so beautiful, and I hope Akimiya will not mind me reproducing it here. (I have tried to ask permission of the artist, but her website keeps throwing errors at me.) It really reminds me of my experience with Chenna, whose eighth life I shared.

I leave you with Nine Lives, as I contemplate which of Lucia’s lives I have been blessed with…

9lives

Mixadventures with banana coconut loaf and risotto

I found an awesome cake recipe in the Thermomix recipe community a couple of weeks ago when I needed to use up some skanky bananas (as you do).

I’ve been telling everyone about this gluten-free banana, raspberry and coconut loaf (below left), because it was so easy and delicious and almost healthy. Basically, it’s made from almond meal, coconut, banana, eggs and berries. And, er, sugar. But next time I’m going to try it with half the sugar, and from now on this will undoubtedly be my go-to banana cake.

I made it for an occasion, but since it half fell apart when I removed it from the tin, I was forced to eat the whole thing myself. Not that I was complaining. (Next time there’ll be baking paper involved.)

Then… I finally got around to making my first Thermomix risotto, in this case a half quantity of the mushroom risotto (above right) from the Thermomix Basic Cookbook.

I used fewer mushrooms (because I didn’t have enough on hand), but included red capsicum (which I had left over) and also tossed through spinach and beetroot leaves. There would have been plenty of room in the bowl for more vegetables using the half quantity of rice — usually I like to bulk out a risotto with vegetables to make it more healthy. The half quantity made two meals, but with extra vegetables it should do three.

The Thermomix has a reputation for being fabulous for risottos, since it does all the heating and stirring. It was certainly easy and convenient — plus I found it seemed to cook more quickly than on top of the stove. Pretty sure I’m sold. This was also the first time I used the butterfly whisk attachment, which was easier than it looked.

Very delighted to have added these two recipes to my Thermomix repertoire!

The lowdown on biodegradable coffee capsules

For the past month or so I’ve been exploring methods of reducing the household waste I generate — both that which goes to landfill and that which needs to be recycled.

Because, while it’s essential to reduce landfill, and recycling is certainly the better option, I believe the best option is to reduce waste all together. Recycling, after all, takes energy and resources that could be better deployed.

So… one of the first areas I’ve addressed is coffee capsules.

I would like to say that I’ve stopped using coffee capsules all together. I wish I could. But now that I’m all accustomed to flat white coffees at home (with my trusty milk frother) I cannot give them up. And my Nespresso machine with its capsules just makes it so easy and convenient and clean. (I simply detest dealing with coffee grounds.)

So I’m not giving up my coffee capsules.

The good news is that Nespresso’s aluminium capsules are recycled by Nespresso if you send them back via their stores (and participating florists). The coffee grounds go to compost and the aluminium is recycled. Excellent. Much better than landfill.

But recycling is a resource and energy-intensive process. There’s the collection and transport of the capsules, the machine to crack them open and separate the materials, then the melting down and reprocessing of the aluminium. All that energy. How much better is that than landfill?

coffeepod#1

As soon as I became aware of ecoCaffe, an Australian company that distributes Swiss-made Ethical Coffee Company biodegradable coffee capsules that are compatible with Nespresso machines, I resolved to give them a try.

According to ecoCaffe’s website, the capsules are made primarily from vegetable fibre and starch and degrade within 180 days in industrial composting. Sounds great, right? That’s way better than 150-200 years for aluminium capsules (if you don’t recycle them) and 500+ years for plastic capsules (which clearly should never be used again).

I ordered a couple of boxes. They came. I drank coffee.

Out of the two different roasts I ordered, I quite liked one and didn’t much like the other. Neither come close to my favourite Nespresso capsules (arpeggio — the purple one, and indriya — the olive one).

Disappointing.

This is not to say it’s bad coffee, but coffee is a personal thing, right?

coffeepods#2

The other thing that disappointed me was the packaging. The capsules themselves are fine — they feel a little plasticky and have a papery filter, but I trust them when they say they biodegrade, because the global standard is very strict. But the 10 capsules were double-packaged in a plastic bag and a cardboard box. With my current mission to minimise soft plastic packaging this was a big black mark.

When it comes to disposal of the used capsules, I have thrown all 20 capsules used so far into my worm farm. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw them all in there (assuming I purchase some more), but I’m interested to see how they go in a home composting situation.

coffeepods#4

Other disposal alternatives include: 1) to put them loose in my general garbage bin, although my understanding is that landfill conditions are not optimum for composting or biodegradation; 2) throw them in my green waste bin (according to their website), but I feel I should check with my council first before I start doing that.

Overall, I still have some things to work out, but I will persevere with another round of these capsules soon. I confess that in the meantime I’ve ordered another batch of Nespresso capsules, which will of course get recycled, but… I would really like to find a viable biodegradable option.


Update 18 July

From discussion generated by this post, I am now investigating stainless steel capsules! There are a few options on eBay can be refilled and reused unlimited times. I figure I might be able to handle coffee grounds on that scale. Will report back in time.