Mongolia Journal ~ Drama and a “terrible” campsite

It seems the only international travel I’m getting to do of late is virtual… so I’ll have to content myself with some more reminiscing about Mongolia. It’s almost three years ago — geez. Here is the next installment of the horse trek – Day 8!


2 July 2015

Lunch – Day 8

Lunchtime. Hot. Hot. Hot. Sunny. Bit of a breeze. Waiting for lunch to be cooked. Hope it’s not soup.

The full moon last night was beautiful. It rose up over the hill, big and round and perfect, casting glorious moon shadows. After a late dinner, we went for a moonlit walk, dodging the enormous marmot holes.

trek_day7_sunset

Day 7 – sunset before the full moon

Side Note: I’ve decided to call one of the insects we see fluttering about ‘flutterhops’. They’re one of the many different types of grasshopper we’ve seen. They kind of flutter and hover in the air, unlike butterflies, clicking and whirring. Very distinctive sound.

This morning was fairly typical — K & I up first, waiting waiting waiting for our boiled water for coffee, which came with breakfast. We lazed about, packed up… finally rode out late morning.

The horses seemed a little slow this morning, but after about an hour we found them water and then they perked up and actually seemed to want to run. We cantered a bit on our way to this lunch stop, which actually isn’t that far from where we watered them.

trek_day8_lunchstop

Day 8 – lunch stop (humans) and water stop (horses)

In fact, it’s on the same water course and the horses are having a delightful time. My rein (rope) is now very soggy and muddy – ugh.

Evening – Day 8

Drama! We were headed to a campsite with trees on a hill — sounds lovely, right? But we didn’t quite get there…

We’ve been riding the horses pretty hard these last few days. Yesterday they were supposed to have a rest day, but we still moved to a different campsite. Today, Ganaa led us up a steep hill and then around another steep and rocky hill — I couldn’t quite believe we were riding horses there, but it was pretty cool. We went up and down some more and (being a hot afternoon) met the car a couple of times for water. My knees were singing so loud, I even got off and walked for five minutes at one point. It made all the difference.

The last part of today’s ride was across a broad flat area of steppe, heading up to the aforementioned hill with trees. We were tired, trying to minimise the amount of trotting… Then, without warning, Ganaa’s horse simply lowered itself to the ground with her still mounted.

She got him up again and we kept going, but a short time later she pulled up to meet the car, which had gone a little way ahead up a slope towards our intended campsite. She dismounted, hobbled her horse and chucked a tantrum. (Whacked her horse with the rein a few times.) After much discussion in Mongolian, us sitting quietly on our horses, perplexed, horrified, waiting… Burmaa came over: “We camp here.”

trek_day8_camp

day 8 – overlooking our “terrible” campsite

It’s a terrible campsite. Completely random. No shelter or cover for private business. We went for a walk to survey the campsite that was not to be, sniffled disconsolately. We don’t know what the problem was, but assume it was related to her horse lying down earlier. Tension in the camp is pretty high at the moment.

trek_day8_clouds

day 8 – horses grazing at camp

David has just taken the horses for water, although it’s hours after we arrived. We think Ganaa’s horse is really tired — he’s always the one that gets ridden when the other horses get a bit of a break and is the one David is riding now. He must have been feeling pretty bad to have lain down while being ridden. Poor poor buckskin boy.

trek_day8_selfie

day 8 – the great unwashed!

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 3 (Final roundup)

It’s time for the third and final post in my 2017 reading highlights. At this point I will explain that for the past couple of years I’ve been keeping a list of all the books I read, assigning them a rank out of 10. So far my top ranking is 9.

Favourites for the year!

A ranking of 9/10 means I adored the book all round — story, writing, characters etc. It means the book resonated with me and I keep thinking about it and will almost certainly re-read, maybe more than once. A 9/10 generally means it is pretty well written, or at least there’s something I love about the writing, although it may not necessarily be perfect from a craft perspective.

In 2017, I rated the following 12 books and series as 9/10:

  • Spindrift — Amy Rae Durreson
  • Stygian — Santino Hassell
  • Spirit — John Inman
  • Spectred Isle (The Green Men book 1) — KJ Charles
  • Sins of the Cities (series of three) — KJ Charles
  • The Community (series of three) – Santino Hassell
  • Wolfsong — TJ Klune
  • Bear, Otter, and the Kid (series of four) — TJ Klune
  • House of Cards — Garrett Leigh
  • Preacher, Prophet, Beast (Tyack & Frayne book 7) — Harper Fox
  • Locked in Silence (Pelican Bay book 1) — Sloane Kennedy
  • Murder in Pastel — Josh Lanyon

The above list will likely explain why I focused on TJ Klune, Santino Hassell and KJ Charles in my first highlights post, and then spotlighted three “spooky house” stories in my second highlights post.

Here are a few thoughts on the remaining novels in the above list.

house-of-cardsHouse of Cards by Garrett Leigh is one of the multi-author Porthkennack series, which spans both contemporary and historical m/m romances set in the fictitious village of Porthkennack in Cornwall. For starters, I’m instantly attracted to anything set in a Cornish village, and I love all the Garrett Leigh books I’ve read; she writes about broken characters wonderfully well.

Here, a tattoo artist flees a toxic relationship and finds himself staying with a friend (another tattoo artist) in Porthkennack. In addition to the gorgeous setting, it’s all the small details I love: the beloved old-style tattoo machine, the chicken rescue activities, the smuggling(!), the fascinating secondary characters. I’ll be reading this one again soon, so I can dive into the next one by Ms Leigh (Junkyard Heart).

preacher-prophet-beastPreacher, Prophet, Beast by Harper Fox is the seventh in her Tyack and Frayne series. It’s also the only novel-length installment and takes our heroes and their daughter to some interesting and horrifying places, centred as usual around paranormal happenings in Cornwall, and specifically their new family home on Bodmin Moor.

This is a wonderful series that takes Gideon (a policeman) and Lee (a psychic) from their first meeting (in the brilliant Once Upon a Haunted Moor) through dating, marriage, fatherhood… and in this installment they’ve been married for three years. It’s a series (mostly longish novellas) I will re-read over and over again.

locked-in-silenceLocked in Silence is the first in a new series from the extremely prolific Sloane Kennedy. It’s very different in style from her popular Protectors and Barretti Security series — and a level above, I think. This one is more grounded in reality. More poignant, as both men have been wrongfully accused and vilified for different transgressions.

The premise is not earth shattering: a concert violinist returns to his home town broken and in disgrace, only to discover his childhood nemesis suffered a tragedy that broke him and ensured he’s never left… But the journey is layered and complex, with all the feels. I hope Ms Kennedy returns to Pelican Bay soon.

murder-in-pastelFinally, Murder in Pastel is a republication of one of Josh Lanyon’s early works (originally under another pseudonym, apparently). I’m a big fan of Ms Lanyon, whose novels usually revolve around some form of crime to be solved. This one is a whodunnit set in a seaside art colony in California, and involves the usual cast of eccentric characters.

The viewpoint character is a young mystery writer and son of a renowned painter who disappeared a decade ago, along with his masterpiece painting — so, in addition to the person who inevitably gets murdered, there’s a cold case to solve too. It’s kind of timeless, the way it’s written, and it’s probably now one of my favourite Josh Lanyon novels. (The Adrien English series would come first.)

Also worth mentioning

In my personal ranking system, a rating of 8/10 means it’s above average in terms of my enjoyment, and I logged 45 of these. I’m not gonna list them all, but here are some particularly worth mentioning:

  • Hailey Turner’s Metahuman Files is kind of x-men meets military adventure series (3 books)
  • Undaunted by Devin Harnois is a secondary world quest fantasy with vampires and werewolves(!)
  • Anna Butler’s Taking Shield series is excellent award-winning military science fiction set in the far-distant future (4 books so far, more to come)
  • NR Walker’s two-part Imago series is set in Australia with butterflies, her Thomas Elkin series is a three-part May-December romance featuring architects, and Switched is a fabulous standalone novel about a man who discovers he was switched at birth
  • Leta Blake’s Slow Heat is a sophisticated take on the MPreg non-shifter genre (if you can get past the whole MPreg thing)
  • Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt brings 1950s rock n roll to life in a gritty romance with jazz and synchronised swimming
  • Amelia Faulkner’s incredible Inheritance series features ancient gods and psychic powers in San Diego
  • Silver Scars by Posey Roberts is about two scarred men who meet through a work secondment
  • Renae Kaye’s The Blinding Light set in Western Australia is about a guy who takes on a housekeeping job for a blind man

And that, my friends, is the end of my annual reading highlights. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve been very patient.

If you read in the m/m genre, I hope you’ve found a few interesting ones to try. There are certainly heaps of speculative fiction titles listed — both urban paranormal series, classic science fiction and some fantasy.

Thanks for reading this post! I wish you all another fabulous year of wonderful books.

Reading Highlights from 2017 – Part 2 (Spooky House stories)

Three of my favourite individual books from last year were “spooky house” stories. Two were straight up ghost stories — Spirit by John Inman and Spindrift by Amy Rae Durreson. The third was a different kind of paranormal story, although had a similar spooky feel — Stygian by Santino Hassell.

Each of these three novels has lingered with me long past finishing, and I will definitely be re-reading them, probably in the very near future.

Interestingly and coincidentally (I think?), all three are published by Dreamspinner Press, where they’re available in all formats of e-book, paperback and audio — I’ve included buy links.

Spindrift – Amy Rae Durreson

spindriftOfficial Blurb:

When lonely artist Siôn Ruston retreats to the seaside village of Rosewick Bay, Yorkshire, to recover from a suicide attempt, he doesn’t expect to encounter any ghosts, let alone the one who appears in his bedroom every morning at dawn. He also doesn’t expect to meet his ghost’s gorgeous, flirty descendant working at the local museum… and the village pub, and as a lifeboat volunteer. But Mattie’s great-great-grandfather isn’t the only specter in Rosewick Bay, and as Siôn and Mattie investigate an ill-fated love affair from a bygone era, they begin a romance of their own, one that will hopefully escape the tragedy Mattie’s ancestor suffered.

But the ghosts aren’t the only ones with secrets, and the things Siôn and Mattie are keeping from each other threaten to tear them apart. And all the while, the dead are biding their time, because the curse of Rosewick Bay has never been broken. If the ghosts are seen on the streets, local tradition foretells a man will drown before the summer’s end.

Seriously, that blurb alone gives me chills of the very best kind. I adore stories set in English villages. I adore everyday people trying to solve mysteries from the past. The characters are distinctive and complex and endearing. The setting is gorgeous. The atmosphere is dark and brooding.

In short, I adore everything about this book. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press.

Spirit – John Inman

spiritThe cover caught my attention with this book — I am a complete sucker for two guys and a kid. And a spooky basement.

Right, so this one is about a guy, Jason, who agrees to babysit his four-year-old nephew, Timmy, for four weeks while his single mum has a holiday with her boyfriend. Turns out that there’s a ghost in his house and Timmy’s presence seems to activate it. Then Timmy’s uncle on his estranged father’s side comes to visit…

There’s a lot more light and humour in this book (compared to the dark and brooding Spindrift), but the mystery is no less intense and the romance between Timmy’s uncles is sweet.

It all blends into another fabulous ghost story / murder mystery that I can’t wait to experience again! Get it here from Dreamspinner Press

Stygian – Santino Hassell

stygianI pretty much love everything by Santino Hassell, but for some reason it took me a while to pick this one up. Why, I ask myself. WHY?!

Stygian is the name of an indie rock band that has rented out a formerly grand, now dilapidated, old mansion in a secluded Louisiana forest for six weeks to work on new music. Jeremy is the drummer and has a secret crush on guitarist Kennedy, who doesn’t seem to realise…

The creepy old house, half of which is blocked off (for good reason, it turns out), is a major character in this spooky story. Jeremy, who is also grieving the recent death of his brother, doesn’t seem to connect with the rest of the band. Instead, he starts hanging out with their enigmatic (and eerily beautiful) landlord, Hunter Carroway…

There are many weird goings on in the house and the forest around it, usually involving Hunter Carroway or his sex-crazy sister and one or other of the Stygian band members. Although it’s not a ghost story, there are paranormal elements and another spooky mystery to solve.

It’s beautifully written (as usual) and in such a way that it’s not always obvious what’s going on, or who Jeremy should be falling for. It’s deliciously ambiguous for a romance. Loved it. Get it here from Dreamspinner Press


The first post in the Annual Reading Highlights 2017 series looked at three authors I read (and loved) a lot last year:

And there will be more posts to come. Stay tuned!

D&D Chronicles: The lost city of Jhardhemeth

ZILLAH

We’re high up on the forested hillside, looking over the lost city of Jhardhemeth. It lies deep in a valley, drowned and half reclaimed by the surrounding swamp.

Crumbling buildings cluster at the edges of a lake. Stone gleams white in the sunlight, backed by the serene blue of water and the variegated greens of lush vegetation. The air is filled with birdsong and the whir of insects.

DnD_jhardhemeth

It looks to be a tranquil resting place for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

But we know better. Jhardhemeth is not deserted, much as we might wish it were. Down in the submerged city lives a black dragon and its pet giant lizard. Above on the ridge line, several miles around from our camp, is the stronghold of the fearsome Rakshasa tiger people.

Now we have to figure out how to get the Stars and escape without dying.

Skulking in the forest

We arrived here yesterday afternoon, extremely happy that the Rakshasa so far appear to have no idea where we are. After our encounter with them a few days ago in the swamp, we have seen little sign of them.

This is probably thanks to Alix and Squirrel, who successfully located a break in the ancient anti-magic ward that extends along the escarpment on the other side of the ridge. We ascended undetected (we believe) and circled through forest to approach Jhardhemeth’s valley from the side opposite to the Rakshasa stronghold.

In this we were aided by a couple of local furbolgs we met in the forest. It was they who called the city Jhardhemeth (which is neither of the names we had previously heard) and told us of the dragon and its pet. It’s a young adult black dragon, who defeated an older dragon who had been here for thousands of years. Or so the furbolgs told us.

The results of today’s stakeout suggest the Rakshasa do not make a daily habit of descending to the city. We’ve seen glimpses of the dragon’s pet a few times. The dragon itself rose out of the city early this afternoon and we’re currently keeping watch for its return. On the whole, it’s been a rather uneventful day.

Sneaking through the swamp

The dragon returns early in the evening and descends into a round building, shaped like a colosseum. We’ve decided to confront it first, before the Rakshasa. Nightshade is confident she’ll be able to sneak into its lair if we can get close enough. It sounds like a mad plan to me, but we have to do something. Perhaps we can refine this plan as we travel…

Over the next two days we take a circuitous route down into the valley. Eventually the forest gives way to the bog. It’s muddy and wet and hot. Humid. There are giant snakes and other creatures. Not to mention insects. It’s unrelentingly dire. Poor Blaze has ditchd his armour.

We push on into the evening on the second day, driven by the need to find a patch of solid ground for the night. I can sense there’s solid ground on the opposite side of yet another water course, this one 60 feet wide. We’re contemplating how to cross it, when a large multi-legged creature reveals itself on the far bank. It’s purple and has reptilian features. I don’t think this is the dragon’s pet. I think this is something else.

I’m staring at the creature, hoping it will ignore us, since we’re not an immediate threat… when it screeches in fury and breathes out a blast of lightning.

Squirrel curses loudly and flees, gliding atop the swamp with his water-walking ability. Cursing at Squirrel (because I suspect he had something to do with the attack), I’m wading frantically in the opposite direction as well, trying to get out of range. Another lightning blast comes, and then we’re either clear or the creature loses interest.

By the time we find a patch of dry land to camp, it’s late and we’re all exhausted. When a furious Nightshade throws a very nice punch at Squirrel’s face, I’m secretly cheering.

It’s my watch first as usual, and I’m somewhat chilled to observe the distinctive silhouette of the dragon against the bright face of the moon. It looks very much like it’s searching for the source of the disturbance. Oops.

Hiding, watching, waiting

In the morning, we cautiously make our way through the forest to the edge of the river. We’re getting close to the dragon’s lair now and its pet must also be lurking nearby… so we stay put and keep watch all morning.

It’s still fairly early when the dragon appears, dives into the water and surfaces only 100 feet from our position. It’s about 30 feet long. Thankfully it’s oblivious to our presence and launches into the air almost immediately. After a few overhead circles, it flies off.

We breathe out.

We’re still waiting and watching, when we get our first glimpse of the dragon’s pet up close. Without warning, a huge head emerges from the forest to drink in the river about 500 feet away. Its jaw could tear us in two. It’s not a giant lizard at all. It’s a tyrannosaurus. On the same side of the river us us. Just 500 feet away. Oh, god.

Suddenly, I have a great desire to cross the river. But for now we wait, extra quiet, extra vigilant.

Dealing with the dragon

The dragon finally returns not long after midday. It’s carrying something in its talons, and descends not too far away. We think it’s feeding its pet. That’s surely a good thing, right?

Once it’s disappeared into its lair, we decide to brave the river crossing, still hoping to sneak up on the dragon unawares. Utilising our various air and water-walking abilities, we ferry everyone across easily… but almost immediately we’re attacked by not one, but two of the purple multi-legged creatures of last evening. Still, at close range and solid ground, we have a much better chance of defeating them. And we do.

But… gone are our chances of sneaking up on the dragon. The roar of the tyrannosaur rents the air, and the dragon is winging overhead, about to spew acid. Somehow I don’t think hiding among the trees is going to be much help. I have just enough time to cast protection from energy/acid on myself and Fleet.

dragon

The dragon breathes out two spumes of acid. Myself and Fleet manage to evade all damage. I don’t know how the others fair. They look mostly okay.

After the second acid bath, the dragon addresses us. What do we want, it demands. (Oh, god. I don’t think this is going to end well.)

But then Nightshade steps forward and greets the dragon. There’s something… some kind of connection between them. A rapport. She tells the dragon that we want to bargain, that we seek an artefact. (Blessed Emrys!)

The dragon guesses that we seek the Stars, and I fear all is lost. But — shockingly, amazingly — the dragon doesn’t immediately smite us down. Instead, Nightshade and the dragon reach an agreement.

The dragon doesn’t like the Stars, it says. In fact, the dragon will give us the Stars if we drive out — or kill — the Rakshasa and return the treasure they have stolen.

Bargain struck, the dragon flies away. It hasn’t killed us. This is a good thing. But, if we kill the Rakshasa, will the dragon honour this bargain? I think we have no other option than to find out.

See D&D Chronicles | The D&D Chronicles page

Reading Highlights from 2017 – part 1 (Three standout authors)

Here we are again at the end of another big year of reading. The total comes to exactly 200 novels and novellas, of which 30 were re-reads.

I didn’t reach the same giddying heights as last year (242 total), which I count as a win, because it means I exercised a bit more restraint. Still, 200 is an average of around four per week, so… Maybe only a tiny bit of restraint. Heh.

When it comes time to reflect on twelve months’ worth of books, I always wish I wrote more reviews of the books I loved during the year, rather than trying to do them justice at the death. But, you know what? I was too busy reading them. Maybe next year.

As I did for the 2016 highlights, I’m going to write a series of posts over the next few weeks. This time, however, they’ll be arranged by theme rather than month.

To start with, I’m going to reflect upon three standout authors I encountered this year through significant bodies of work: TJ Klune, Santino Hassell and KJ Charles.

Only one of them was new to me (TJ Klune). Indeed, I’ve previously read several brilliant books by each of Santino Hassell and KJ Charles, both of whom consistently stand out above most of the others in the m/m genre.


TJ Klune

How come it took me so long to find TJ Klune? He’s written some of the most iconic works in the m/m genre, and I suspect I’ll be working my way through his backlist for a while.

My first experience of Klune was just last month (November) through one of his newer novels, Wolfsong, which is a beautiful (and beautifully written) wolf shifter story. It’s more sophisticated than most paranormals, with a strong plot about an isolated shifter pack under threat from an evil wolf and a human who becomes part of their pack. It covers a blend of shifter politics and folklore, paranormal fantasy, and a love story — with themes of found family, vengeance, belonging and loyalty. Brilliant. (I think there’s a sequel coming — can’t wait!)

Then I dived into Bear, Otter, and the Kid, TJ Klune’s first novel, which is centred around Bear, whose mother abandoned him when he was 18, leaving his six-year-old kid brother, Tyson, in his care. The premise is heart-wrenching, but the whole series (also comprising Who We Are, The Art of Breathing, and The Long and Winding Road) is amazing and filled with so much heart.

The series takes place over about 15 years, and is about the (fierce) bond between brothers and found family and waiting and fighting for love. The first two books are centred on Bear at 21 as he falls in love with Otter (his best friend’s older brother). Bear is such a wonderful character — completely neurotic with a wild imagination, but so devoted to taking care of his genius (vegetarian, ecoterrorist-in-training) nine year old brother, Tyson. Otter, a little older and calmer, is the perfect addition to their family.

The Art of Breathing is Tyson’s story as he comes of age and finds love; then The Long and Winding Road returns to Bear’s perspective to tell Bear and Otter’s story, no longer focused on raising Tyson, as they grow their family.

I read the four ‘BOATK’ books back-to-back and ended up with a major book hangover. (Just now, reading this over before I post, I feel a little teary.) They are deeply emotional (although hysterically funny in parts) and beautifully written. I laughed (a lot), I cried, I loved. Just fabulous.

KJ Charles

Once again, KJ Charles has produced a wonderful historical series in Sins of the Cities — comprising An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice and An Unsuitable Heir. Set in Victorian London with Dickensian influences, this series features fabulous, colourful characters from different walks of life and an overarching mystery surrounding an aristocratic family.

In An Unseen Attraction, the main characters are a boarding house keeper (who is the half-Indian half-brother of an unlikable duke) and a taxidermist (or ‘stuffer’). Their romance is very sweet, as someone is murdered and the nature of the mystery comes to light. An Unnatural Vice is about a journalist who gets embroiled with a charlatan spiritualist who holds a clue to the mystery; it has a very different feel, and the whole of this novel is imbued with the London fog of 1892.

The third book, An Unsuitable Heir is my favourite of the three. One of the main characters is a gender fluid acrobat, who discovers he’s actually a lost duke. His non-binary gender identity is dealt with wonderfully well — complicated by the expectations of the time, particularly with issues of male inheritance. I also loved the love story between him and the ‘enquiry agent’ (private investigator) who tracked him down.

I deliberately waited until the whole series was released before reading — and I’m really glad I did, since the mystery spans all three books and many of the characters are present in all three as well. Loved it.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also loved KJ Charles’s book, Spectred Isle (Green Men Book 1). This is a historical paranormal spin-off of the Simon Feximal series, set in London after the Great War. This one has demons and archaeology and occult events and creepy things happening. And, of course, a love story, this time between an archaeologist and an occultist. There are more to come in this series, I believe. (Yay!)

(For the record, my other favourite works of KJ Charles are The Society of Gentlemen series, and the standalone novel, Think of England.)

Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell is an author that always delivers. He writes across a few different m/m genres and seems to be getting more prolific.

This year, I particularly enjoyed his paranormal series, The CommunityInsight, Oversight and Sightlines. Set mostly in contemporary New York City, the series is about conspiracy, unrest and mystery within a community of psychics (telepaths, empaths, etc). Once again, I waited until all the books were released and then read them back-to-back. It’s an exciting series (also a little disturbing), with three separate love stories and an overall series arc.

In Insight, a young empath discovers the existence of the Community as he’s searching for answers around his twin’s apparent suicide. Oversight is centred on the privileged son of one of the Community’s founders as he starts to uncover disturbing truths about the organisation. His half-brother, the most powerful psychic in the Community and also the most exploited, brings everything to a head in Sightlines.

The three books in the Community series were the pick of the Santino Hassell novels I read this year (with one exception), but I also enjoyed the third (Hard Wired) and fourth (Mature Content) books in the Cyberlove series, co-written with Megan Erickson (although I think the first two, Strong Signal and Fast Connection, are better books).

I haven’t got around to reading the latest releases in the Five Boroughs series, but I did read the sports romance Illegal Contact (The Barons – book 1) which I liked but didn’t love. The final Hassell book I read this year was Stygian — which I did love. It’s fabulous! But I’m going to talk more about that in the next post…

… which will be about spooky paranormal stories among other things.

 

Mixadventures in the festive season

The summer festive season always seems to inspire people to get creative in the kitchen. So I figured I’d get in on the action this year. Especially since I haven’t attempted too many new recipes since my last mixadventures post in July. (Having said that, don’t get too excited. I’m still sticking to simple things.)

Beetroot relish

I’ve been meaning to make beetroot relish for ages. I love beetroot relish. And the whole chop/stir/cook thing the Thermomix has going on makes it ideal for relishes and jams.

So I searched the Thermomix recipe community for beetroot relish recipes and tried one of them out. I selected one that uses brown sugar and includes Dijon mustard, cinnamon and nutmeg. [EDITED: After sharing it with a few friends, it seems the secret ingredient may have been the rice wine vinegar I used instead of white wine vinegar.]

The process was really simple:

  • Step 1 – chop stuff up (7sec)
  • Step 2 – add more stuff and cook for 30mins

While it was cooking, it occurred to me that I hadn’t organised any jars. (oops) And then it occurred to me that one is supposed to sterilise said jars. Not to mention seal jars (ideally) for preservation purposes.

So there I was rummaging around for appropriate glasses to fill up with relish and googling how to sterilise them while the relish was cooking. Since I wasn’t going to be able to seal them, it was a good thing I wasn’t making a huge quantity.

That’s another thing about the Thermomix. It might be ideal for relishes and jams, but it only makes small quantities. It won’t really suit those who are used to making enormous vats of condiments. But it’s great if you’re happy to make relish semi-regularly (and it’s so easy, why wouldn’t you?).

In the end, the batch filled two glass tumblers (covered in cling film), and I’m just going to have to eat it all before it goes off. I don’t think this will be a problem.

It’s really delicious, and not too sweet. I tried it out first with cheese on crackers. We also had some for our Christmas meal with turkey and this morning I paired it with scrambled eggs. YUM.

Broccoli salad

Our family Christmas was fairly low key this year — cold meat, roast potatoes and a couple of salads. (The solution to not eating too much, I’ve decided, is to reduce the number of things to choose from.)

My contribution to this meal (aside from beetroot relish) was the very simple broccoli salad from the Thermomix Basic Cookbook. This is so simple it hardly qualifies as a recipe… There’s only one step: Put stuff in, chop/mix for about 10sec.

The salad has a yogurt and lemon juice dressing. It’s fresh and healthy and makes a great accompaniment to a meal. I was hoping it would be a salad I could make for a summer meal (with some chicken, say), but I think I need to tinker with it a bit. Also, this salad doesn’t really keep — it was pretty ghastly the following day.

Now I come to think of it, I seem to recall making one of the other salads in the Basic Cookbook a couple of months ago… It was an adapted version of the “Pasta salad with trout and vegetables” (using salmon instead of trout). Didn’t take a photo, but it did me a couple of meals at least.

Chocolate sweet potato slice

This sugar-free baked chocolate sweet potato slice is a fun recipe my sister came across in the recipe community. It contains sweet potato and apple — and led to my first use of the Thermomix steamer (step 1). The steamed ingredients are then blended with dates, cocoa, eggs and stuff (steps 2-4), before baking in the oven.

Yet again, so easy. The texture of the slice is really smooth and velvety and makes for a fabulous guilt-free chocolaty snack. (I made this for an evening with friends back in September, and I should acknowledge that not everyone liked it as much as I do… heh.)

So that’s kind of it as far as “new” recipes go. I’ve repeated other recipes of course (especially soups, cakes, fruit and nut/seed mixes). I haven’t been a total slacker. Now I have a few weeks off… perhaps there’ll be some more mixadventures on the way soon.

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.

perugia1

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)

IMG_0377

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.

swamp-2440663_640

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.

cliff-2414418_640

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…]

travel90s_pompeii-vesuvius

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…]

travel90s_palletine-hill

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.