Author: Ellen Gregory

Writing fantasy fiction with coffee or red wine in hand, chocolate on the side, and a devilcat on my lap.

D&D Chronicles: The Colossus

ZILLAH

Despite our so-called victory, it takes a few days for the revolution to build. The quadrant leaders are all reluctant to commit — wanting detailed plans and still more demonstrations of our strength. They are scared and self interested, demanding assurances of victory before lending aid.

But how can we plan a revolution — let alone assure victory — without knowing what our resources are? We are visitors to this accursed city, yet they provide no insights. It’s both frustrating and infuriating.

DnD_Colossus1

Planning the revolution

In the end we decide we cannot depend on anyone other than ourselves. But as soon as we declare our intention to attack the gates, Orral says the tunnel people will lend aid. Well and so.

We will attack in two days time at midday during the Festival of Elloran.


The day of revolution comes at last. The Council has withdrawn all forces behind the walls of the Bastian. The town is holding its breath as we march towards the gates, people joining us as we move through the streets at the head of a growing throng. The tunnel people are carrying large nets and assorted weapons. Other townspeople are joining them.

The steel and coal quadrants hold back, still not committing. Cowards.

We arrive at the gates. All is quiet; the wall crawlers and guards on the wall watch and wait.

Our plan is simple. Attack, defend and await the Colossus. Fen has learnt a new protection spell and cast it upon each of us. Blaze has brewed more healing potions. We are as prepared as we can be. It feels sorely inadequate.

Blaze and I commence by warping some of the crawlers. Alix sets a blade barrier along the top of the wall. Then the gates open and the first wave of Council forces emerge.

It’s a phalanx of automata and elite guards. The guards peel off right and left — I lose sight of them quickly. The automata keep coming, surging towards us, three abreast. Nightshade stands on my right, Blaze on the other side of her. Together we meet the onslaught of these magicked machines.

The automata keep on coming and coming and coming. No sooner do we hack one into oblivion than it gets dragged back to make room for another. And another. These are the ‘guardian’ class automata Orral told us about. The toughest, meanest, hardest to defeat. I know not how many I’ve destroyed, only to face the next.

I cannot see what is happening elsewhere in the battle. Every so often I hear a loud cheer from back in the town and the air is filled with the ringing of steel, the scent of blood. Some of it’s my blood, and that of my companions. None of it belongs to these cursed automata.

They keep at us. I keep swinging until I’m not sure I can take much more. My vision is swimming and my arms feel about to drop off.

But we’ve achieved our first aim. Ahead, still within the Bastian, but lumbering ever closer, is the Colossus. The Eye of Varrien smoulders like an ember in its forehead, casting a reddish glow over the swarm of wooden machines in its path. It moves at ponderous speed, inexorably closer.

FEN

I’ve never seen anything like it. The bodies. The blood. And yes, the heroism.

Alix swept the wall clear of enemy troops with a wall of her own, one of flashing blades. Then the enemy flooded from the citadel, and my compatriots met them in the street, shoulder to shoulder. A constant stream of soldiers and automata came upon them, to be hacked down mercilessly.

I ran my magics down to empty, expended all my healing potions, keeping my colleagues in the fight. My chief offensive act was a fireball, to deter what I perceived to be a mage attempting to raise dead soldiers. I shudder to think of this unnatural act. Stopping it merited the destruction wrought by my spell.

At one point, our flank was threatened, and here I was able to lend support, in the form of a stinking cloud to slow the enemy advance, and then with swings of my club until reinforcements put the foe to flight.

How valiantly the city folk fought. One lane was so covered in dead and wounded, I could not see the flagstones. What an appalling waste.

NIGHTSHADE

I can feel the energy of my goddess running through me. After all the deceit and betrayal on the part of my former comrades – the ranger killed me; she shall regret her treachery – the cleric finally succumbed. Varrien is too powerful for the homely shield of Shadrath to ward against for long. The world shall soon know just how powerful she is. All shall soon know her wrath … and, if they are meek, her generosity.

It was a mighty battle. We marched straight up to the gate of the citadel quarter, full of half-hatched plans and bravado, and the elite guard came out to meet us, in league with the cursed automata as expected. But we held the line, drawing them in twos and threes down the narrow street and despatching them thus. From the bellowing and sounds of clashing iron around us, all of Tel Marrenor was up in arms. The tunnel people had birthed their ridiculous revolution at last, though I cared not for the outcome so long as it kept busy the extra swords and machines which might otherwise be troubling us.

Then the Colossus began to move.

We were still fighting automata and not yet ready to face such a foe and so, as soon as I caught glimpse of it I cast a sleet storm in its path. Thank Varrien for my newly acquired spells!

And thank Varrien too for her tightening grasp upon the cleric’s will. I had seen for days how troubled Alix had been, how carrying the Eye vexed her, and it must finally have proved too much. In the heat of battle, I heard her call my name. A desperate plea!

I turned and there she was, running toward me with arm outstretched and in her hand … the blessed gem. Freely, she gave it to me, pressed it into my palm and closed my fingers around it. It felt like a key slotting home after too long an absence. It felt like my heart could beat again.

I don’t remember too much of what happened next. The Colossus was upon us and we fought, maces clashing against stone. I don’t think I was hit; if I was, my goddess cast her benediction over me and I felt no pain. All I could think of was the second Eye, that bright red beacon in the monstrosity’s head. It filled my vision, and my soul.

Then the Colossus was slain, crashing to the cobbles with such weight the earth beneath us trembled, and I ran. Faster than I ever have. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Zillah move as well, but my feet were swifter. Goddess-touched.

And now I have them both, the blessed Eyes of Varrien. I can scarcely believe it! At long last this ungrateful world will know its end.

ALIX

What the hell have I done?

I suspected for a while that carrying the Eye would have some effect – I had seen it when Cal carried it and couldn’t doubt it after seeing Nightshade altered – but I really thought that having it sheathed in silver would keep me safe.

I didn’t count on the subtle probing every single minute of the day, nor the more direct thrusts at my will as the golem came closer and closer. Shadrath, help me hold! I kept pleading in my head, but someone else was whispering and She was starting to entice.

We had to fight. We had to stop the automata and keep the citizens motivated. We had to back each other and stay up… and all the time, She was calling.

Tickle, probe, thrust. The golem arrived, bearing the other Eye. Another tickle, another probe and bam! My resistance was gone. I had to get to Nightshade. I knew with bone-deep certainty we would all die if she didn’t get the Eye I carried. Rise, Varrien!

I reached Nightshade, screaming “take it!” and holding out the glove. We were both still in battle, but for a second she had room to move. She reached out and scooped up the Eye, just as the golem fell.

As Zillah and Nightshade raced to tear the Eye out of the golem’s head, I couldn’t turn away. Couldn’t decide who I wanted to win. Zillah clambered atop the golem on hands and feet. Nightshade, on the other hand, tripped along its length as if she was skipping in a meadow. Zillah stumbled, slid back, leaving Nightshade to reach the Eye. She bent, prised it out, stood, an Eye held aloft in each hand.

I wanted to scream with glee. Then Shadrath himself smacked me on the side of the head and my mind cleared.

Now… Now Nightshade holds both Eyes. The battles have stopped. There is smoke in the air and blood on the streets and the sounds of people in pain and dying.
And Nightshade has both Eyes.

My God will have to come here now. One day soon, he and his brethren will have to call us to account. I should have let us die. Instead I gave her the Eye. And look at her now. Jubilant.

Oh, my God, what have I done?

FEN

Now the real battle begins. Both Eyes are in the hands of Nightshade, a servant of the dark goddess, and the flail is many weeks of travel away. If the goddess is summoned before we retrieve the holy weapon, what hope do we have of saving the world?

ZILLAH

The worst has happened: the two Eyes brought together. We strove to prevent it; yet somehow it seems as though it was always inevitable. I feel helpless, gripped in a relentless tide I cannot control. At least it is almost over.


One gets the sense this campaign is almost over.

What will Nightshade do with two Eyes of Varrien? Will we be able to stop her from resurrecting the evil goddess?

We are about to find out.

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Fen), Kirstyn McDermott (nightshade) and Lita Kalimeris (Alix) for contributions.

So… geocaching is my new hobby

This past weekend I headed down to my parents’ beach house on Phillip Island (with my cat) to get away from it all. My intention was to spend some time writing, as well as read and walk along the beach and generally relax. Most of this I could in theory do at home, but there’s something about escaping one’s everyday environment (and all the things on the to-do list) that makes the near two-hour drive each way worth it. The wood fire is nice too.

Lucia_PhillipIsland

It wasn’t until I got down there that it occurred to me I could also log some geocaches.

Geocaching is something I have been gradually getting into. It started for me a year ago, when I nagged my friend into finally taking me out for the day. It’s a global (secret-ish) activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden… pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well.

Normal people (who the geocaching community call muggles) have no idea there’s a disguised mint tin hidden under the seat in their local park… or a plastic box shoved in a hollow log. But finding these caches (without being noticed), signing the tiny log inside, and then logging them digitally using the geocaching app or website, is the ultimate goal. There are no prizes as a general rule, no real competition. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

So that’s geocaching 101 (of sorts). For more information visit the official geocaching website, where you can sign-up for free and get in on the fun!

After our first day out a year ago (when we logged 12 along Scotchman’s Creek in Melbourne), I found a few caches on Phillip Island. One took me to the local cemetery, which I hadn’t ever visited in all the years I’ve been spending weekends down there. It turned out to be a real highlight.Cemetery-PhillipIsland_1

Then I didn’t do much geocaching (or in fact any) until my recent trip to Broome in July. Still using the free subscription, I identified three that looked worth finding and, accompanied by a few family members (notably some of my nephews), I hunted them down, including a couple near Cable Beach, where we were staying. It gave me an extra thrill to find some so far from home.

It reminded me how fun it is.

So, when I recently spent a few days in Kyneton with friends, I decided to see what geocaches were to be found in the area… Not many (if any) for the free subscription, it turns out.

Determined, energised, and with a heightened sense of anticipation, I signed up for the premium subscription, which provides access to additional caches. (It’s only about A$50 a year.)

It’s opened up a whole new world. Literally.

The caches in and around Kyneton were fun — they were my first multi-caches, where you have to gather information to decipher a code to find the GPS coordinates of the actual cache (termed ‘ground zero’ or GZ by the caching community). With a few friends, I did three multis all told, plus several others.

My favourite of the weekend was again to be found in a cemetery — the Carlsruhe Cemetery. I loved it purely for the location — historic graves with Hanging Rock in the distance. In the late afternoon sunlight, the place was gorgeous.

I think I will make a point of hunting down caches in cemeteries.

Which brings me back to Phillip Island and this past weekend (when I was supposed to be writing). Turns out there are heaps more geocaches in interesting places on Phillip Island available to premium subscribers. Turns out there are several along the beach west of Cowes, along which we walk every single time we visit.

In truth, I looked at all the new ‘premium’ island caches available to me and nearly hyperventilated with excitement. Check this out:

geocaches-PhillipIsland

The yellow smiley faces are the ones I’ve found so far. There are enough caches here to keep me going for a while — even discounting the ones along the road (which I have little interest in).

I found one along the beach between our house and Cowes, but another eluded me. The next day I headed in the other direction to Ventnor and had a better return of three. It was in fact the first time I’d ever walked all the way around to Ventnor, and by the end of the return hike (in the rain) I was a little weary! But this only highlights what’s good about geocaching — taking you places you haven’t been before.

Ventnor_PhillipIsland

On Monday, I drove down to Pyramid Rock (south coast), where there is a cache, and another a half-hour walk away on Red Bluff — one of my favourite places on the island. There were too many people (muggles) around for me to hunt for the Pyramid Rock cache, but I hiked up to Red Bluff and found that one easily.

RedBluff_PyramidRock_PhillipIsland

That was my last one for the weekend — I found five in total, leaving plenty for next time.

I only just logged my thirtieth cache on the weekend, so I’m still very new at this. But it’s swiftly becoming my latest obsession… I figure it has at least one benefit in getting me out and about into the fresh air, and eventually heading off to places new.

I’ve already been looking at the international options for when I next go travelling. (squee!)

Even though it took me a while to get going after signing up, I have a feeling my geocaching activity is starting to ramp up. I guess the real test will be once I’ve found all the local ones — both near home and on Phillip Island.

But I like to think geocaching will inspire me to take off with intention to new places on a semi-regular basis. I’ve already found (both in Broome and Kyneton) that it adds a new dimension of fun and exploration and adventure.

And those things are what I’m all about.

In the meantime, there are a couple of local caches that currently have me stumped…

D&D Chronicles: In which we start a revolution

ZILLAH

In the morning, we await the fallout of last night’s raid.

I still feel queasy at the memory of throats slit in the dead of night, guards cowering against walls in their sleeping garb. There was nothing noble or honourable about such activities, even if they achieved our objective.

Not long after midday, we’re summoned by Orral, leader of the tunnel people. With her, shouting and spitting, are two of the quadrant leaders from the city above. They inform us the council of mages has retaliated by rounding up 20 of the populace for execution. And not just random city-dwellers: the family and friends and allies of prominent people.

The quadrant leaders are furious… furious and afraid and even more antagonistic than before. I feel awful. Most of us feel awful — except Nightshade who is denouncing them for cowards and fools and asking them whether they want to be free of oppression or not?

Much as I resent it, she has a point. A bloodless insurrection is impossible. If we are to rouse the people against oppression in order to secure the Eye of Varrien, there will be casualties. Many of them. I just wish it wasn’t so.

Nonetheless, we resolve to rescue the captives. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, Orral’s people bring in news: where the captives are being held, how many guards, the suspicious movements of mages. We’re sure there’s a trap involved. Doesn’t matter. We come up with a plan of sorts.

Rescue attempt

Late that night, we go out into the city once more. The tunnel people guide us through the maze of tiny streets to the Old Castle wall. All is quiet, still, as we launch our plan.

Blaze and I cast spells on the castle’s wall defences — magical boxes of wood and steel on rails that hurl missiles at attackers. We warp the wood in an attempt to deactivate them. Meanwhile, Alix uses her magic to build walls across the road, aimed at slowing the ‘automata’ — fiendish machines on wheels that patrol the streets at the mages’ bidding. And Fen… Fen lumbers forth under the cover of invisibility and makes a hole in the castle wall.

It all happens quickly, going more or less to plan, and we’re inside the Old Castle.

The stone corridors of the castle are also silent and still. We’re either being remarkably silent, or there’s no-one here. I fear the latter, but there’s no time to stop and ponder. Every moment we delay gives the automata more time to arrive…

The stairs lead down to the basement. I see the ambush and am ready when they attack. There are only two guards and we defeat them easily enough. Behind a locked door with a grille is a corridor with cells. The captives huddle behind bars, calling for us to help them.

Still no guards have come.

Leaving Nightshade and Blaze, I run up to the first level, past Alix at the top of the steps, to find Fen. He comes when I call softly, and I send him down to use his magic to unlock the door and rescue the prisoners.

Unease makes me stop beside Alix and guard against attack. Why has no-one come? Where is the trap?

Down below, there’s a massive explosion, so huge that a wave of heat slams up the stairs, followed by tongues of flame.

big-bang-422305_640

Oh blessed Emrys, no.

I hurtle down into the smoke and dust and heat and fire. My companions are picking themselves up off the floor, slapping at the flames on their clothes and swearing. A massive fireball. I’d recognise this aftermath anywhere.

Strewn about the cells are the charred corpses of the 20 people we were intending to rescue.

Fighting in the streets

For a moment, I’m too appalled to do anything other than stare, my gut churning. Appalled that we fell so easily into this trap. Appalled at what the mages have done. I don’t know how we’re going to face the quadrant leaders now. They’ll never support us.

But there’s nothing we can do about any of it. We need to get out of here.

Our hole in the wall is now guarded by four automata. Taking a chance these are the same automata previously guarding the two entrances, we run to the back exit. It’s clear and we dash out into the streets of Tel Marrenor.

Of course they’re waiting for us. Missile-hurling wall crawlers drive us into the waiting ambush of guards. Four of them, weapons drawn.

Well, this at least is an honest battle.

My focus narrows to the guards before me. Beside me is one of my companions. I’m dimly aware of fighting going on some way behind. But the guards keep coming. And coming. Alix’s impressive blade barrier carves through an entire unit at once.

The town nearby is on fire. I don’t know how this happened, but the people are pouring out into the streets, yelling and weeping. Children are screaming. Smoke is making the air hazy and hard to breathe.

Some of the wheeled automata glide out of the smoke, bouncing across the cobbles. They bear steel blades that sweep and slice. I switch to twin maces, all the better to hack at these contraptions of wood and steel.

daleks

Based on the DM’s description, we imagine the automata to be something like daleks… Except made largely of wood, with blades. And they don’t fly.

By the time the immediate threat is dispatched, I’m breathing hard. Then Fen rushes over saying some of Orral’s people are nearby, bringing word of a large contingent of automata nearly upon us. It’s time to flee. Looking back towards the castle, I see the mangled wreckage of several automata. Doubtless Blaze’s work.

Bring on the revolution

Orral’s bouncing off the walls when we return. Crowing with excitement, she rattles off the numbers of guards and automata we’ve apparently defeated this night. It seems such a victory has not been seen in many a long year. We’ve made our statement. Convinced the quadrant leaders that we mean business.

The revolution has finally begun, she states triumphantly.

Although she and everyone are horrified about the murder of all those innocents, they seem to apportion no blame to us.

We know better.

FENFAREN

I have seen cruelty. The animal being slowly sucked down by the bog, the crushing death in a constrictor’s coils, the frantic wait for the spider. Firbolg disembowelled in battle by rakshasa claws, burnt by their fireballs. But never have I seen such calculated cruelty as this. The trap, the explosion, the innocents burned to death in their cells. All for what? To send a message?

The message is one that says this reign of terror cannot be allowed to continue.

Unbelievably, the citizens of this place agree. Despite our sense of abject failure, clever politics has pulled a victory from the ashes.

But what cost!

The town alight (my own part in that kept hidden in a cloak of shame and silence), innocents dead. Their faces haunt me. My clumsy frame, my slow wit, unable to save anyone. It’s like I’m back in the swamp again, good for nothing against the forces we face. Not a true firbolg, not a true mage.

Nightshade is right when she says more people are going to die, caught up in this grand quest, a firestorm of destruction. Such is the price of saving the world.

The mages await with their colossus, and I’m consistently reminded that the mage whose place in this party I have taken would have been eminently better suited to the task. What to do? There is nothing else to do, but continue. To the death.


That was certainly an epic raid and battle. More to come from the streets of Tel Marrenor soon… (Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

Mixadventures with poached chicken and other stuff

I’m pretty excited about this latest mixadventures post, because I feel as though I’ve stretched myself a bit. Not in terms of difficulty (not at all — all these dishes are soooo easy). But most of these “new” dishes I would never have attempted (or bothered with) in the past.

In short, I feel as though I am really making progress in my mission to cook more food from base ingredients.

I’ve had a lot more head space (and time and energy) for cooking in the past month (since a large work project came to an end). I’m still doing my experimenting mostly on weekends, because I invariably need to shop for ingredients. But I am slowly expanding my pantry stores and getting a feel for what I need to buy regularly.

And, just to reiterate, I’m still sticking to simple projects — because I’ll never be someone who wants to spend days (or even hours) in the kitchen on a regular basis. And I’m still only cooking for one. But I’m getting such a thrill from producing delicious homemade food when I need to take a meal or a cake somewhere, and enjoying the meals I cook for myself as well.

Here is all the new stuff I’ve produced since the previous post.

Chocolate custard

I’ve become a fan of cooking custard in the Thermomix. Using the automated setting, it’s basically a case of throwing in ingredients and pressing go. It takes just 8 minutes to cook a thick, creamy custard… for chocolate custard you just add cocoa.

mix_choc-custard

Chocolate custard is an awesome option for those nights when you just need a quick chocolate pudding (and you can’t be bothered getting too elaborate). I mean… 8 minutes is all it takes! (Yeah, OK, you still need to wash up, but you can do that later…)

Confession: This isn’t actually the first time I’ve made chocolate custard. It was, in fact, the third thing I ever made in my Thermomix. But it’s so good it’s worth repeating.

Tomato ketchup

I grew up with homemade tomato sauce, but never had any desire to make my own until recently. My mother often makes sausage rolls for family gatherings (the kids, ahem, love them) and now she’s started making sauce again to go with them. I took a look at the recipe in the Thermomix basic cookbook and it looked easy enough, so I began obsessing over needing to make it too. Maybe I got inspired by my successful foray into beetroot relish.

Anyway, I asked my mother to look out for cheap bags of tomatoes. The stars aligned and the tomatoes came when I had a free weekend. A few hours later I had homemade ketchup! Oddly enough, I don’t actually eat tomato sauce all that often, so I don’t know why I was so intent on making it. Nonetheless, it was yummy with (bought) sausage rolls.

Boiled eggs

Told you I was keeping to simple things — and it doesn’t get much simpler than this! Since I work from home, I’m often looking for something nutritious, quick and tasty for lunch. (OK, confession: I’m trying to get into the habit of eating more often at home and not in cafes all the time…) I sometimes cook eggs (poached or scrambled) … then one day a couple of weeks ago I decided to test out the Thermomix method for boiled eggs.

Basically, you throw (er, place) the eggs into the simmering basket and heat/boil/steam them for a time (depending on size of eggs and how hard you want them). Apparently you can easily do 12 eggs at once in the simmering basket (rather just the four), and twice as many again if you put them in the steamer/Varoma.

Although it’s undoubtedly more energy-intensive to cook eggs in the Thermomix, compared with the gas stove top, there are two distinct advantages: 1) I was able to disappear back to my computer for the 13 minutes of heating and cooking, and 2) there was no washing up whatsoever.

Pictured above is a delicious combination of soft boiled eggs with avocado on (bought) toast. Absolutely divine. Today I cooked more eggs and ate them with a smear of avocado on two of my latest batch of potato/vegetable cakes. Noms!

Healthy nut slice (gluten free)

One recent weekend I had three social engagements requiring me to contribute food. My D&D crew got soup for dinner, my mum got the torta caprese as a birthday cake… which left me wondering what to make for the third event. I was meeting a group of women for afternoon tea. Half of them are gluten-free and I’ve made the torta caprese for them before. But this time I wanted to make something new.

mix_nutslice

I thought, being afternoon tea with many things to choose from, a slice would be ideal. So I hit the Thermomix recipe community, which I’ve found very useful for things like this. In the end, I found this healthy nut slice, which turned out to be pretty amazing. It’s simply nuts, seeds, dates, maple syrup and macadamia oil — blitzed and then baked for 20 minutes. It’s delicious and healthy as well. So good!

Poached chicken

I was so excited to try this recipe. I got it from a cooking class I attended last week (more on that in a moment). I’ve never poached chicken before — never even considered it — but this recipe looked super easy and tasty. I often wish I had some cooked chicken on-hand to use in meals. Sometimes I buy a cooked BBQ chicken for this purpose, but making it myself has got to be better.

Again, it’s really simple in the Thermomix. I used rosemary and sage as my herbs (with onion and garlic), and chicken breasts because I couldn’t get hold of thighs. The chicken was cut into chunks and placed in the simmering basket, immersed in the broth. It only took about 20 minutes cooking time in total. And, oh my goodness, did it smell amazing!

Then, when the chicken is cooked, you strain and retain the stock for use in other dishes. I immediately made a vegetable soup using about half the chicken stock, instead of the usual vegetable stock. I served the soup with toast and some chunks of the chicken thrown in for protein. Yummy dinner. I think I’ll use the rest of the stock (now in the freezer) in a risotto… or maybe a pasta sauce.

I think I’ll be poaching chicken fairly regularly. Squee. But I suspect I’ll end up with more liquid chicken stock than I know what do with. My freezer is only so big…

Varoma cooking class

As mentioned, I attended a cooking class last week. This was focused on using the steaming function of the Thermomix, known as the Varoma. Although I have used the Varoma before, it was fabulous to gain new ideas and recipes. In the class, they made a range of different foods, including a chicken tikka curry, a souffle omelet and steamed date/toffee puddings (all yum). I am particularly looking forward to attempting the steamed pork buns!

mix_cookingclass

Also…

As usual, there are a number of recipes I’m making regularly — especially soups and the flourless almond chocolate cake, torta caprese. I’ve also made second batches of bread and potato/vegetable cakes. My second bread attempt was much better than the first, since I used the right flour. Below is just one of my recent soups (left) and my second homemade bread attempt (right) as toast.

I also made my second batch of vegetable stock paste. That’s right, it took me all that time (over a year) to use up the first batch. The vegetable stock paste is a wonderful flavour base for just about anything. So fragrant. So delicious.

And that’s all for this update… If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me through quite a long post. Not sure what’s next, but it’s bound to be yummy!

A week in Broome

Before I went to Broome a few weeks ago, I was secretly wondering what exactly I was going to be doing.

I know plenty of people who’ve been to Broome and they all had a great time; but the focus always seemed to be the beaches. Sure, I like a good beach — for walking along. And I supposed it would be nice to get away from a Melbourne winter for a bit. I was vaguely aware of something to do with pearls… and knew Broome is considered the gateway to the Kimberley (Australia’s stunning northwest). But I still wasn’t sure what there was to actually do in Broome.

Obviously, if left to my own devices, I probably would never have gone to Broome. (Which would have been a huge mistake.) But, luckily for me, my parents generously arranged for us all to go on a family holiday — all my siblings and their spawn — and they picked Broome.

I should have realised there would be loads of things to do, because this was my parents’ sixth visit.

By the time we headed over there, though, I didn’t care what we would be doing. The weather apps said it would be 30 degrees C in Broome and I was ready for a break, having just finished four months of a big work project. Frankly, I had images of lying beside the pool in the shade, sipping gin and tonics, while reading.

Needless to say, this did not happen.

Some readers might be wondering at this point why I didn’t simply do some research. But I’m not a huge pre-planner when it comes to travel. I like to discover a place when I get there, allow it to unfold around me. This adds to the adventure and helps me stay in the moment, rather than try to do everything.

Having said that, it’s fortunate my sisters did some planning on my behalf. There are a number of day trips and half day tours you can take for various activities, but you need to pre-book these early to get a spot. In the end, I rocked up with two things pre-booked, and that turned out to be perfect.

So… what did I do (I hear you ask)? I’m going to have a go at including everything in one post. It’s probably going to end up long, with lots of photos (hopefully not too many words). Let’s go!

Cable Beach

We stayed at Cable Beach, which is renowned for being long (Wikipedia tells me 22.5km) and white and beautiful, with amazing sunsets. I visited a few times (but not to swim) and found a couple of geocaches stashed in the dunes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Horizontal Falls

One of my pre-booked trips was a day trip to the Horizontal Falls, which are in the beautiful Kimberley region of Australia. They are a natural geological and tidal phenomenon, where the tide level changes faster than water can flow through two narrow channels. This differential results in abrupt changes of water level on either side of the channel — and makes for a fun ride in a boat! On this day we travelled by 4WD “bus” up to Cape Leveque, seaplane and boat. To cap it off, I splurged and went up for my first ride in a helicopter too. Awesome day!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hovercraft ride to dinosaur tracks

The second of my pre-booked excursions took us by hovercraft to view some dinosaur footprints — or tracks (I’ve just read on an expert site). Apparently Broome is a fantastic location for dinosaur tracks and all the global experts go there to study them. The ones we saw are in fact a dinosaur trackway — multiple tracks — of an adult and a junior sauropod. Really interesting. (Read more here.) The hovercraft ride itself was a highlight for me… We later saw different dinosaur tracks at Gantheaume Point — these were three-toed therapod tracks, where are completely different.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pearls

Most people probably know (or are vaguely aware) that Broome evolved around the pearling and pearl shell (for buttons) trade. It was established in the 1880s — which is pretty early for Australia. There’s plenty to learn about the early pearling industry and, of course, pearls to buy. I had no intention of buying anything pearl-related, I truly didn’t. But by the end of trip a pearl somehow appeared around my neck. Oops.

pearl

Family bonding

Because my entire family was all together (all 17 of us), there were many opportunities for sharing adventures and experiences — such as visits to a crocodile farm, night market and Broome’s famous “picture garden” (open air cinema). Some of my nephews were introduced to geocaching too. We stayed in four self-catered units in a low-key resort, allowing the kids to come and go between units and many shared meals.

Random pics from Broome

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stuff to do next time

There’s still PLENTY to do if I ever make it to Broome again. I didn’t spend a great deal of time in the town of Broome. I didn’t make it to the museum, or on a whale watching expedition. As for the Kimberley… I didn’t even scrape the surface. I think you need a slab of time to do the Kimberley effectively, but otherwise I can see myself taking another week in Broome, when July in Melbourne gets all dreary and I need a dose of sunshine.

D&D Chronicles: Into Tel Marrenor

Oh, the excitement! This picks up a few minutes after the previous post left off. Nightshade has been a bad bad girl and Zillah is pissed…


ZILLAH

Nightshade’s corpse lies broken at my feet. Red eyes stare blankly out of her pale, leathered face that looks months dead rather than minutes. I try remember what she used to look like — before the zombie virus, before the mummy rot, before the Eye. Back when she was my ally, if not my friend; a fellow ranger of Emrys pledged to heal the forest. It’s almost impossible to recall.

dead-1205269_1280

She was easier to kill than I expected. But I suppose with three of us laying into her… I shudder, rub at my face with the backs of my hands, not willing to sheath my weapons just yet. Blessed Emrys forgive me.

Alix does sheath her weapons and drops to her knees. I leave her to retrieve the Eye from the intimate place Nightshade has been keeping it. She has silver gloves for the operation.

Fen is cowering over by the wall, understandably horrified at what we’ve just been forced to do. But then he says something and I realise there’s a hole in the brickwork… and another brick is wobbling amid puffs of dust. A voice comes through the hole — words I don’t understand — and Fen is talking to it.

It’s not sounding hostile, but we can take no chances. Fen seems keen to stay and chat, but as soon as Alix is done I sling Nightshade over my shoulder. I have one last thing to try before I will give up on her completely.

We head back through the portal and close it behind us. Oddly enough, the unpopulated city of Reyim Baal has started to feel familiar, secure, safe. It’s somewhere I can pray to my god without being interrupted.

Kneeling beside Nightshade’s corpse, I pray to Emrys. I beg him for forgiveness at taking the life of a companion. I entreat him to forgive Nightshade, once his daughter, for turning from him. I ask him to save her soul, cleanse the darkness from it, to make her his daughter once again.

And, after a time, Emrys speaks to me. I hear his voice in my head and heart, telling me gravely he cannot command Nightshade’s soul.

My head drops.

But, he says, he will bring Nightshade back to us, if we desire it, for he believes we will have need of her.

Now I am crushed.

This was not a circumstance I foresaw… That we would need her despite everything. She’ll be angry, antagonistic. It’ll be worse than before. Our terrible actions and her understandable rage, all for nothing.

But at least she won’t have the Eye any more.

Taking a deep and despairing breath, I nod and give him thanks, trusting my god to know what is best.

Beside me, Nightshade stirs, her red eyes flashing.

Tel Marrenor is not what we expected

[Several hours later…] We’ve returned through the portal to Tel Marrenor. For forty years, the city has been cut off from the rest of the world, lost in the midst of a magicked, impenetrable forest. No-one in. No-one out.

Until now.

To our astonishment, it is not an abandoned, overgrown city of undead, but a bustling city oppressed by a tyrannical council of Vhadrim mages. Far from being secreted in a dragon-guarded chest somewhere, the Right Eye of Varrien casts its fiery glow over the city from the forehead of a giant golem (known as the Colossus), which stands upon a tower known as the Bastian. The Eye’s power is controlled by the council.

We’ve allied ourselves with the “tunnel people”, who live beneath the city and seem to have formed some sort of resistance group. They have a few renegade mages among their number, along with established channels of communication with the leaders of the various quarters in the city. They are excited to see us — the first visitors from outside in decades. Naturally, they see us as a route of escape, so they’re being helpful, if cautious.

tunnel-899053_1280

They know why we’re here. Their oracle predicted our coming. In fact, according to the oracle, many of our assumptions (and dilemmas) have proven unfounded. It seems we’re going to need the Left Eye to obtain the Right, and it seems that Nightshade is probably the one who needs to wield it.

It figures.

Nightshade is now all smirking and smug, while I feel distinctly chagrined. She would have been more cooperative, I’m sure, had we not killed her and removed the Eye from her possession. Especially if we’re simply going to return it to her… eventually. (Since Emrys brought her back, she has been mouthy and obnoxious as expected, but so far the geas Alix placed on her is holding.)

Probably not the best plan

[Midnight…] We get our first good look at Tel Marrenor under the cover of darkness. Gil, a youth with the tunnel people, poles us down canals lined with close-packed buildings of three or four storeys, the whole bathed in the scarlet glow of the Eye. Creepy.

TelMarrenor_map

We’re headed for the city’s “old castle”, now a barracks for the human forces of the council. We’re going to creep in and kill as many as possible before reinforcements arrive. The aim is to send a message to the rest of the city that we are serious in our intent. We hope to win support from those living in the city and organise a rebellion.

I don’t know if this is a good plan. Certainly we need to start whittling away at enemies, but I’ve never been one for slitting throats of my fellow humans while they sleep.

It starts off well, if you could call it that.

Gritting my teeth, I remind myself I’m trying to save the world… but surely there’s another way than this? Too late, it’s done. My dagger drips with blood.

I’m actually relieved when they wake, alerted by a fumble or a clank of armour. I care not. A scream, and sounds start to come from the chamber across the corridor. Others arrive and there is fighting in the hallway as well.

In all, we kill at least ten of the guards, maybe more, before the gong sounds. We take that as a call for reinforcements. There’s a lot of yelling among us. Fen looks distraught as he stares at the corpse of a child sprawled in the corridor. Nightshade is yelling something about not wanting anyone to see us. In the end, we flee before reinforcements can arrive.

Gil is waiting at the place we specified and we escape without further incident. But my heart is heavy, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve done more harm than good this night.

FENFAREN

There is a bog in the swamp not far from our settlement that we know to give a wide berth. It’s deceptively placid. Dangerous. Occasionally, we would hear the cries of a trapped beast, and if wholesome, some of the hunters would lasso it and try to pull it clear. It wasn’t unusual for the flesh to yield before the morass would give up its prey.

I know how those trapped beasts must feel.

When the humans arrived in the forest, it was as if a season was changing. They put flight to the rakshasa, they slew the dragon. Lo, we were unchained! And I, barely a member of my own people, saw a chance to be something more than the “mumbler” of ineffectual magics. These humans were trying to save the world! Could there be any greater purpose? I was humbled to be counted worthy to join their number, even though I realised, for perhaps the first time in my life, that it was my magic that was valued.

But now…

They are a fractious lot. Two from the north with many deaths of friend and foe behind, and so many horrors weighing upon their shoulders. The paladin, trying to find his black-and-white way in a world of grey. And the undead, slain by its companions, then brought back, all because of a gem.

I feel the confusion dragging me down. How I long for the forest, where at least I knew my place, even if it was not much place at all. Better than this mire, surely.

Oh, this night, this midnight raid on unsuspecting soldiers as we try to find a way to recover the second gem from the face of the colossus. It will be bathed in blood. We will be bathed in blood. If we survive.

To do my part, I thought I should wield the knife. Creep into that darkened room filled with the unknowing breaths of the sleeping guards. And strike.

I shudder still.

Perhaps it was that voice of Emrys, god of forest, who sent my blow astray? Some zephyr of conscience.

And then … and then the child. The noise, the fear, the confinement and the darkness. So far from my world. A strange land, and now I feel I am a stranger, too. An instinctive reaction was all it took. I look at my hand in the moments when I am alone and recall the feeling of the power it unleashed. A word, a gesture, a concentrated thought. And the child running for the door, to raise alarm, I thought, as though alarm had not already been raised. My power, unrestrained, devastating on one so young, so innocent. And her blissfully unaware mother, still sleeping on the other side of that door as her child lay slaughtered…

I am aware we are fighting for the fate of the world. I understand this is war. But at what point do we become that which we are fighting? Or are we fated to take upon ourselves such soul blight, in order that the world can continue to sleep lightly? And not a one here in whom I can confide. Who I can ask to provide me with clarity. I am not the firbolg for this job, and yet, I am the firbolg that finds himself here. Emrys save me. Emrys save us all.


Poor Zillah — so conflicted. And poor Fen, so out of his depth! (Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Fen’s perspective.)

Things are starting to come to a head. I have no idea what’s going to happen next…

D&D Chronicles: The treachery of Nightshade

ZILLAH

I’m going to kill that red-eyed, zombie bitch, Nightshade.

My fury and frustration are like a hot wind. I want to scream and yell. I want to storm out of the temple and never return. I want to ram my sword through Nightshade’s throat.

We’re in the Temple of Death in Reyim Baal, staring at the portal Nightshade has just closed from the other side. She’s locked us all out of Tel Marrenor, the lost city where the other Eye of Varrien is believed to be hidden.

portal-454462

All of us except Fen, that is. Maybe he can talk some sense into her on the other side. Alix and Blaze are wearing expressions similar to mine. Since Nightshade is carrying one of the Eyes already, this leaves her free to find the other without interference from us. Then she’ll have both of them. Fuck.

We’ve known her allegiance has shifted. The Eye of Varrien has corrupted her and the Goddess of Destruction has Nightshade in her clutches. I fucking knew she was going to do something like this, but we still couldn’t stop it. This is shit.

Hindsight

It’s not like we even wanted to go through the portal to Tel Marrenor yet. We’re not ready. Since losing Squirrel we’re lacking someone who can detect traps and unlock doors. We’re going to need a rogue to survive Tel Marrenor, which is the city in the broken forest no-one has been able to reach for over two decades.

The plan was not to tackle Tel Marrenor yet. The plan was to stop by Reyim Baal and check whether the portal to Tel Marrenor actually worked and then seek more information about Varrien at Terras Arnor — and a rogue.

Hindsight is brilliant, right? In hindsight, we should have:

1. Told the cleric of Elloran and his cronies who came for the Eye in Kham Jhara exactly where Nightshade was carrying the cursed stone and let them retrieve it. We were supposed to hand it over to them anyway. In one of the great ironies, they resurrected Nightshade months ago as downpayment. We should have just let them have it and trusted the Elloran/Kaltan/Phanator/Testerris posse to defeat the group from Varrien, who somehow managed to track down Nightshade and declare themselves her protectors. Besides, I never wanted to take the Left Eye anywhere near the Right Eye.

2. Enlisted the services of a rogue in Kham Jhara. So what if we’d ended up paying them for a whole bunch of extra weeks? It was naive of me not to realise the prospect of Tel Marrenor being right there would prove too much. I can sense some of the others want to go through now and get Tel Marrenor and the Right Eye over and done with — despite the fact ‘we’ are still carrying the Left Eye and have no idea what will happen when they’re brought into proximity. Oh yeah, and we have no rogue.

3. Not let Nightshade anywhere near that portal. In fact, we probably should have brought things to a head in Kham Jhara when it became clear she’d corrupted by Varrien (see point 1). But I thought between us we’d be able to… manage the situation. It is, after all, four against one. Until Nightshade actively acted against us, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Blessed gods, I am so stupid.

This is it

I’m staring so hard at the dull, not-glowing portal, I’ll probably give myself a headache. If Nightshade doesn’t open it, we’ll have lost Fen as well. We’ll have to leave here, go to Tel Marrenor the long way, hack through the forest, most likely die…

The portal changes, glows like it’s been activated again from the Tel Marrenor side. I’m not sure whether Blaze or me reacts first — we’re both through that portal quicker than a sneeze, Alix close behind.

The underground room is unchanged — dim, brick walls, no doors or windows. Musty with moisture and moss.

Nightshade waits, sword drawn.


Sigh — not sure what’s going to happen next, but it’s likely to be exciting!

Mongolia Journal ~ Just another day on the steppes — with video

My next trip (July) will be a week in Broome with the extended family. In the meantime, let’s return to Mongolia…


3 July 2015

Breakfast – Day 9

Breakfast seems earlier today. Not sure why. It’s maybe 9-9:30am?

It’s sunny. Crickets or grasshoppers are chirping. A bumblebee came to visit – it landed for a few seconds on my hand. Soft and furry. A butterfly landed on my foot yesterday afternoon too. There are loads of butterflies. Other types of insects too — flies of different sizes, including large ones that bite; long, thin, iridescent green things with spindly legs; grasshoppers of all different sizes, colours and types; beetles that crawl; giant mosquitoes…

And so many different kinds of vegetation. There’s tussocky grass, single thin green blades, small clumps of flowers (many different kinds), ground-coverings with feathery fern-like foliage, bare earth… and it varies in bands in the same valley.

trek_day9_1

Day 9 – water drawn from a well for the horses

Lunch – Day 9

We’re sitting with shoes off on the grassy banks of a little stream. A cute little baby goat came to visit us just now. He was all on his own, looking at us, taking a few tentative steps closer… He looked so cute stumbling onto his front knees to drink at the stream with his tail in the air.

Then David (our driver) picked him up and joked “Mongolian BBQ!” and then Burmaa (our guide) picked him up for a cuddle, and that’s when we saw he had an injured leg. There was an ugly gash, semi-healed. We were anxious, debating what to do. About five minutes later, an oldish man turned up on a motorcycle with his granddaughter and picked up the baby goat (kid). Turns out the kid belonged to him and they’d come to take it for doctoring, so there’s a happy ending to the story.

We’ve seen eagles and cranes (and more kites) wheeling above us in this valley. Aside from the roadside tourist eagles, these are the first eagles we’ve seen, we think. Pretty cool. I’ve lost count of the number of kites we’ve seen, though. They are everywhere.

trek_day9_3

Day 9 – Lunch stop with some locals thundering past

We rode for at least two hours before stopping for lunch. It was mainly flat and the horses really wanted to trot the whole way. Really tiring. I had to get off for a bit, just before lunch, to walk for five minutes and stretch my knees out. My knees are really fatigued.

Late afternoon – Day 9

We stopped early again today, this time in another valley. The post-lunch ride was nice — walking and trotting mainly. Only a couple of hours, I think. I’ve just taken a video on my phone for uploading to my blog — exciting! I think it’ll be a nice way to bring the steppes out of a photo. [see below]

My horse had a pretty good day today. I’m getting better at getting him to do what I want him to do. In fact, everyone seems in a better mood today. I don’t think anything has happened to make us stabby. Lunch was a Mongolian rice and milk dish — kind of like porridge. Right now I’m craving wine and cheese as we sit in the shade at the front of our tent, writing in our journals.

trek_day9_4

Day 9 – Just another herd of horses on the steppes of Mongolia (This is from our campsite)

DAY 9 VIDEO

Mixadventures in bread, potato cakes and apple crumble

Potato cakes

The next thing I made in my Thermomix were the potato cakes from the Basic Cookbook. I’d had my eye on these for a while as a potato rosti/hash brown kind of thing for breakfast. I figured I would cook a up a batch, eat a couple and freeze the rest.

The recipe essentially involves throwing everything into the Thermomix (potatoes, onion, egg, other stuff…), blitzing then shallow frying in a pan. I found I didn’t need to use too much oil, and I cooked them kind of like mini pancakes. I suppose it took about half an hour to cook them all, but the whole thing was extremely easy.

I made 12 in total and they froze extremely well. I’ve found the best means of re-heating is to grill them from frozen. They go great with eggs and my beetroot relish.

There are only two left in my freezer, so I’ll need to make another batch soon. Might try a variation with different vegetables (maybe some carrot? sweet potato? Broccoli?). Yum!

Bread!

Others in my family have been baking bread for ages, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve never been particularly enthused about getting my hands dirty, so the whole Thermomix-doing-the-kneading thing was fairly attractive.

I like grainy bread, so I headed straight for the five-seeds loaf from the Basic Cookbook. (The basic cookbook is rather comprehensive!) I already had linseeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds in the pantry, so I headed out to buy pepitas (pumpkin seeds), poppy seeds and… yeast.

Oh, the excitement! The Thermomix kneaded for a whole two minutes (as per the recipe), then I transferred the dough into the tin, sprinkled seeds on top (as directed) and waited for it to rise… (I should mention I set aside an entire Sunday afternoon for my bread-making venture.)

When I couldn’t wait any longer, I threw it in the oven to bake. It could maybe have risen more, but I was still fairly ecstatic with how it turned out.

I mean… LOOK!

This is pretty much what the picture in the book looked like. Not bad for my first attempt. Right?!

As far as the eating goes, it was maybe a little sweet, most likely due to the inclusion of honey. It was also very dense and crumbly. To the point that pulling it out of the toaster can cause it to break. Not sure how to counteract that.

Because I don’t really eat all that much bread at home, I sliced it the next day and froze it in my reusable bread bag. This works for me, since I always eat it as toast. (It’s way too dense for sandwiches, anyway.) I still have a couple of slices left, and then (maybe even this weekend) I’ll make another loaf of bread — not sure which recipe I’ll use next time.

Baking bread is ticking two of my current boxes: 1) making food from scratch and 2) eliminating single-use soft plastic (although once I get into the act of buying bulk foods, this will be even better). Onwards!

Apple crumble

Last weekend I was doing some vegan catering. I had some apples I needed to cook up, so I decided to make apple crumble.

For this recipe, I hit the recipe community and picked one that 1) was vegan (or could be made vegan) and 2) could be made from ingredients residing in my pantry already. The one I ended up making was this ‘healthy apple crumble‘.

Usually, I cook up apple in the microwave, but this time I cooked it in the Thermomix (10 minutes), and I blitzed it briefly once cooked to chop it up a bit. (The ability to do this might have converted me.)

The crumble recipe contains walnuts, almonds, coconut, oats and honey. I wasn’t sure whether honey was OK for vegans, so I substituted brown sugar instead. Once again, it’s a case of blitzing all these together and sprinkling on top of the cooked apple, before shoving in the oven.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take any photos, but it tasted yummy, and got the thumbs up from my vegan friend. She, alas, did not get to eat it with cream… but I did and it was good. (And there were leftovers.)

I can see me making this apple crumble for myself, because it is actually really healthy. Especially if I add yogurt rather than cream. Heh.

Then again, we’re coming into custard season…

D&D Chronicles: The Stars

We pick up the tale mid-battle with a treacherous black dragon, who is kicking our collective butts…

Zillah, Alix and Nightshade are cowering inside a building. They have no idea what has become of Blaze and Squirrel. (The story started here.)


BLAZE

We’re fighting the dragon – well, four of us, anyway: Squirrel, that cowardly snake, having slunk off to hide. Things are going well. I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. I’m wreathing myself in glory, all for my god, through whose grace I draw power.

And suddenly I’m not.

The dragon’s teeth snap around me. Burning. A wrench jolts me from middle to shoulders, and I’m dangling, airborne.

My fault. How could I lose concentration like that? Thinking of glory — fool!

The dragon’s wings push through the air, all strength, power. Thump, thump, thump. We rise. The ground jerks with each wing-beat, and nausea spills through me.

The tightness around my chest releases, and I’m plummeting, down, down. There’s water below. Rushing up. My armour – I’ll be dead weight.

But then I’m floating, still aloft. What? How? Of course! Feather fall. Squirrel’s spell.

I cast around. There. Squirrel! I do a double take. Surely not. But it is. This is no coward’s act.

He’s flying, cloak billowing around him, and he has never looked more magnificent, more brave or noble.

A screech pierces me. The dragon. Air gusts as she flies at me, talons outstretched. I still have my sword and swing at her, and we tussle, but Squirrel keeps coming as if to intercept me.

I’d never have guessed at such courage. Then the dragon seizes him, and there’s a spray of blood.

My back hits the water and I’m sinking, fast. I flail but go down. Nearby, something splashes into the water.

No air. Can’t breathe. Have to get this armour off. Can’t. Sunlight glimmers through the water’s surface, the last thing I’ll ever see.

No. Wait. I have an idea. Tree shape. I summon enough calm to perform the spell, and I am bobbing up and floating, a giant log. All I can see is blue sky above. Harsh sunlight.

No sign of Squirrel, but I know he’s dead. That spray of blood. There were limbs too.

It hits me hard. He died for me. He gave his life for me. The world is backwards.

The dragon blots out the sun, and I see a shape, limned against the sky, falling, walking. Squirrel – is he…? No, that’s Alix. Mercy, that dragon-bitch will have us all by the end of the day. The dragon screeches again, but I’m bobbing about with no control. If only I could stay still and see what’s happened to Alix.

Then I hit something. Solid. The bank. Only it’s the wrong one. I release the spell and haul myself ashore. Everything is in ruins. How can I get back? There. A lump of wood. I transform it to a small and not very stable raft, and carefully, quietly, launch myself back onto the water and propel myself to the other side.

In the middle of the square, her back to me, the dragon is focused on something; I sneak ashore…

tree-shape


ZILLAH

After a quick discussion, we down healing potions and get back outside to confront the dragon again. It’s all we can do. I want the Stars.

I take a few deep breaths then step outside, where the dragon waits. I get in some great blows! The dragon roars, spews acid (which I dodge)… then flies away.

All we can do is stare as it soars then descends into the middle of round building a couple hundred yards away. We’ve chased it off! We actually made it flee!

Now we have to finish the job before it recovers.

Blaze arrives as we’re scooping up the contents of the treasure chest left abandoned in the middle of the square. (So many coins and gems!) I’m enormously relieved to see him, but then he tells us what has happened to Squirrel.

My chest tightens with shock and grief — but I can’t let that overcome me now. Not until this is over. Not until that dragon is dead and we have the Stars in hand.

I’m still wrestling with the swirl of emotions when a stranger appears in the square. I stare at this decrepit little old man. Fenfaren he is called. I don’t have time or energy for him now. I don’t know where he’s come from, or why. I don’t care.

All I care about right now is killing that dragon.


ZILLAH

Nightshade and I stand side by side in the stands of an ancient stadium, magic, fire-spelled arrows nocked. Waiting.

Below, the arena is flooded and (we suspect) concealing the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Our plan — suggested and implemented by Fenfaren, who is full of surprises — is to drain the stadium to drive the dragon out.

The water starts moving, swirling, a sign Fen has begun the drain. Then, with a roar, the dragon bursts out of the water.

Nightshade and I take aim, launch the magic arrows.

They work beautifully against the dragon, which hovers nicely in range while it attacks Alix and Blaze, who fight back with gusto. We have no defence against this dragon. We can only hope to wear it down first.

Each arrow explodes into flame as it hits. I’ve never enjoyed my longbow so much.

flaming arrow2

Still, the dragon is fearsome and vicious. It munches on Blaze and tries to carry Alix away again. My heart jolts at the thought of losing another companion, especially Alix. But, just as I start to fear the dragon was not as injured as we’d assumed, it finally falls.

It crashes onto the lower stands, broken. Defeated. Dead.

I suppress the euphoria trying to sweep through me. First we must locate the Stars. Then we can celebrate. Then we can mourn.


ZILLAH

Fen is not a decrepit little old man, it turns out. Once his illusion died, he was revealed as a furbolg. Taller than an average human (nearly two feet taller than me). Bright red hair with some grey streaks. Strong. He says he’s been camped out on the hill, watching the dragon and the Rakshasa for a while.

He assists Nightshade and me to wade into the dragon’s underwater lair. Our attempt to drain the depths of the area succeeded in rousing the dragon, but the water has levelled. We’re going to need to swim.

We use the water breathing potion I’ve been carrying for a while. Two doses. Just enough for me and Nightshade, who is the strongest swimmer of all of us. Fen uses his mage senses to confirm the location of the dragon’s treasure.

The chest is made of stone, and heavy. There are six water-logged sacks as well. We grab those first, take them back to Fen and the others. Then we carefully carry the chest out of the water.

The chest has a complicated lock on it. A grid of stone buttons. Somehow we know that if we press them in the wrong order we will die.

Alix arrives at the solution. Alix, who often seems to come up with the right spell at the right time. She casts ‘stone tell’ and talks to the stone, asks the stone for the right combination to press. And it works.

We open the chest. No-one dies. And there they are… the Stars. The Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain. (And treasure…)

The hour is late, but it is done.


ALIX

Poor Squirrel.

That foolhardy, light-fingered, ‘turn sideways and where-did-he-go’ young man who always seemed to be right next to me. Except for one time. The last time, when maybe it would have made a difference. And now he is gone.

He reminded me so much of Cal that I trusted him without thinking about it. I would even welcome the fights we will now never have. He backed us all up as much as he could and took some stupid risks. Oh, and he liked to throw fireballs and then ask questions. If there was anyone left alive.

Damn it, Squirrel, this whole thing has cost so many lives. Why did it have to cost me another mage who was my friend?

Oh, and don’t be throwing balls at the Gods, Squirrel. They probably won’t like it. And the shiny-shiny? Don’t be picking that up either.

BLAZE

Squirrel’s death sits heavily on me. I misjudged the man: thought him a sly, conniving and cowardly thief, not to be trusted, someone I could never call friend. And yet, in the end, he was the noblest and most selfless man I have ever met, and he not even a paladin.

How can this be? I thought I knew the world and its workings, but I know nothing. Now, I must atone for Squirrel’s death, but how to make amends? A donation to his church? Reparations to his family? Raise a statue in his honour? Offer my services to fight in his name?

Right now, prayer and solitude are what I need: I trust Nievor to give me guidance.

NIGHTSHADE

Damn everything, Squirrel is dead. Not just dead but EATEN by the traitorous Dragon’s water-dwelling pets, if Blaze saw it right.

At least the Dragon is dead as well now, which I’m sure would make Squirrel very happy were he here to know it. Imagine the magical ingredients he could have harvested from the corpse! He would have kept us here for days, stripping and preserving dragon parts.

I need to convince the others to retrieve Squirrel’s body from the water, even if it means catching and cutting open the belly of whichever beast ate him. Surely the Cleric will be able to resurrect him, if he is not too badly chewed? And his gear! The magic books, the maps and notes he was always scribbling down – we will be lost without them, our strength as a party severely diminished. I don’t see we have any choice but to look for him.

One other thing is certain: I will miss Squirrel sorely if he cannot be returned to us, not least because he was the last remaining member of the party I could count on to have my back. The other three – Zillah and Alix, and the oh-so-shiny Blaze – are such squeamish do-gooders they refuse to do what’s needed even when it’s pointed out to them at the tip of a sword. Squirrel, along with dear fallen Blizzard, understood that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The do-gooders bleat about the end of the world but think they can prevent such a thing without having to wring too much blood from their clothes afterwards.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I even belong in this party anymore…

ZILLAH

We will miss Squirrel sorely. He was smart. Crafty. Braver than he knew. His skills, forethought and fast thinking helped us navigate many a challenge and got us out of many a scrape. Yes, we will miss him.

I counted him a friend, even though I often felt I never really knew him. Not all his faces. But he was a true companion, as he showed at the end.

Farewell, Squirrel (or whatever your true name was). May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Squirrel


ZILLAH

The master smith, Astra Khara, greets us with wild, bright eyes on our return to Kham Jhara. His fingers twitch as he reaches for the Stars, desperate to join them with the Haft we brought him weeks ago.

He says it will take several weeks to re-forge the Flail of Wind and Rain.

Astra Khara manages to mostly hide his surprise that we prevailed over the Rakshasa and the dragon, but it is there. The round trip has taken over a month. I think we’ll be recounting the tale in taverns for many months to come.

After slaying the dragon and obtaining the Stars, our return trip was uneventful. We managed to retrieve Squirrel’s pack from the depths of the lake the following morning, thanks to Nightshade’s swimming and magic from both Alix and Fen. The maps and documents he carried are vital for the success of our quest.

But Squirrel’s corpse was lost to us. I have no doubt those water monsters tore him to pieces and feasted. A sad end for our companion and friend.

Fen has accompanied us back to Kham Jhara. It will take some time for us to rely on him as we did Squirrel, but he has already proven a worthy companion.

Now we turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: the Right Eye of Varrien.


The DM says we’re ‘nearly’ finished… Considering we began in May 2012, it feels a long time coming! Let’s see what happens next.

Thanks to Tracey Rolfe (Blaze), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade) for their contributions to this post.

The D&D Chronicles page.