Author Archives: Dennis

Jim’s Birthday Weekend

Last Thursday, I flew out to Chicago for Jim’s birthday weekend. My flight went through Dublin, which is interesting since you do all the security and customs checks there, so that you don’t have to do it once you arrive in Chicago. Because my initial security check at Schiphol happened about two hours before the American security check happened in Dublin, it was easy to compare the experiences. I made note of it all so that I could compare it to the security check in Chicago on the way back. In short; the American security check was absolutely awful compared to the one at Schiphol.

At Schiphol, unless you’re wearing heavy boots or boots with metal things in it or on it, you can simply keep your shoes on. At the American check, everyone takes their shoes off except children younger than 12, and the elderly past a certain age. At Schiphol, depending on how busy it is, they don’t require you to take laptops out of your bag any longer. At the American check I think that, without exaggeration, I had to show my boarding card to at least three people for verification. And that’s not to mention just how rudely you are treated. In Chicago there was a man who kept yelling at people to stand differently, who was yelling while moving entire rows of people, and giving instructions that, honestly, hardly anyone could understand. It struck me that the American security personnel were rude, disinterested and sometimes even hostile compared to the personnel at Schiphol. It’s strange, since when you compare the service industries between the U.S. and the Netherlands, you’re much more likely to get treated well in the U.S. I don’t understand why your airport experience needs to be any different.

So that was the shitty part of my weekend. The rest of it was awesome.

I arrived in the early evening on Thursday, jumped into an Uber and arrived at Jim’s place, which I hadn’t seen before, in time for a tour de casa, a shower and drinks at The Violet Hour with Laura and friends.

The house is really cool and I really like what he has done with the place. Downstairs he has a spacious kitchen, spacious office, a second bedroom and a nice sitting room with a beautifully framed triptych map of Chicago. It’s lacking in natural light a bit because and it could use bigger windows, but the space itself is amazing. The staircase upstairs does have wonderful light and has a big wall that’s ripe for a beautiful painting or mural. The second floor has these beautiful sky light windows over an open space (which has mats on the floor so that you can do jiu jitsu!) and a spacious master bedroom, which Jim was so gracious to leave to me for the duration of my stay.

We went out to The Violet Hour and met up with Laura and some of her friends. Later we were joined by Kevin, and I saw Sprite and his girlfriend as well but they couldn’t sit at our table because we were completely crammed already and the bouncer wouldn’t let us put more seats around it. We had a few drinks there and eventually left for another place where we met up with Daki, Josh, Lisa and Scott as well as a friend of Jim. It was good to meet up with Josh again, and I was surprised and somewhat impressed with how openly he spoke about the things he had been struggling with since the last time we saw each other. We spoke about Ireland and both of our trips there and he was delighted to hear that I had thought of him a lot while I was travelling through Ireland because of how enthusiastically he had spoken about his trip the last time we saw each other.

I was exhausted by the time I got to bed. Jim’s bed was a delight and I slept very well. The next morning, Jim had to go to work and I decided to do some shopping. Joasia had handed me a few requests and since I had the whole day to kill I took my time. Julie was lovely enough to give me a ride and drop me off near the places I wanted to go to, and I spent some time having breakfast and doing the shopping. On the way back to Jim’s, I took another Uber and was surprised that the lady who drove me started proselytising. A little unexpected and unpleasant. But! I thought it was very clever. You know you have someone for the next twenty minutes without them having a place to go, so under the guise of “having a nice chat” you can start recruitment.

Back home I took some time to read and continued watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which I had started watching on the aeroplane ride over. (Shit, that story is brutal.) When Jim returned we made our way to Aloft where Jim was doing a trapese class. I had never been to their new studio space yet, and it was pretty bananas. It’s a beautiful old church, quite a bit smaller than their previous place, but definitely in a better part of town. I was once again amazed at the casual feats of strength and dexterity that the students displayed. Julie was in the back giving a private class, and the three of us returned home and changed to go out to dinner.

Dinner was at a Greek restaurant whose name escapes me right now. It’s a place that Jim and I had been to frequently to have gyros, only this time it was the scene for a cabaret show, with a band called Brooklyn Britches and the Whispers and several burlesque dancers. The show was awesome. The food was not awesome. Jim and Julie knew the singer, Brooklyn, who turned out to be very charming, so we had a chat with her afterwards.

After dinner we went to The Underground Lounge, a place that became the location of some of the events that used to be held at Neo before it closed down. There I bumped into Laura and some of her friends, Kevin showed up, and I was happy to see Katja was there as well. We didn’t stay very long, just had a few drinks and ended up leaving.

The following day we had some breakfast out. Julie had an appointment to keep that afternoon and Jim had two back to back circus classes that he wanted to attend. I had the ambition of going to the Field Museum, but the weather was so miserable that I decided to relax some more. More Handmaid’s Tale. When Jim was done, we jumped into the car and drove out to Frankfort, which is a southern suburb of Chicago. We were to meet up with a bunch of people and play laser tag.

The ride over took about 90 minutes due to traffic. I didn’t mind because it gave Jim and I some time to chat, hang out and listen to music. The ride took us through miles and miles of strip malls, which I find absolutely soulless places of conformity and misery, but they also fascinate me a little bit. The uniformity, the spaces, the architecture, the signage, the types of businesses that settle there. I used to think all strip malls were Targets, CVS’s, tae kwon do schools and nail salons. I had to amend my list and add yoga studios now, too.

When we arrived at the laser tag place, called CMP Tactical Lazer Tag, I was dreading the upcoming experience a little. The place was filled with faux military stuff and a lot of teenagers. We had to sign up really quickly, but luckily we bought the tickets in the car on the way over so we could get a 50% discount. Jason, Laura, Scott, Lisa were there already, as well as Jim’s father and some people from his life whom I had never met before. Most notably; C. C is Jim’s acrobatics partner, a person who turned out to be as friendly as she is tiny.

We were lumped in together with the teenagers and were divided up into two groups. Our group was mostly complete, but because the group of teenagers was larger in number, some of them were added to our group. We got some awfully realistic looking rifles and some sensors to put on our heads (head shots only!) and we were explained the rules.

No running. No contact between players. You can take three shots before you’re dead. You can respawn in your team’s respawn zone. No spawn zone camping. Your rifle holds 120 rounds before you have to hit reload. Check.

The games that they came up with were kind of cool. My trepidation of the experience had completely subsided by the second game. It turned out to be a lot of fun. We absolutely crushed the other team over the span of six games. Only one of which we lost. It turned out that the teenagers were awful at working as a team, and we actually employed some tactics. The teenagers that we had in our team quickly became addicted to winning and so they were up for the team work as well.

My favourite moment was when we were playing “cops and robbers”, a game in which the robber team had to extract money from several safes (you actually had to punch in a code and open the safe) and place the money in a bag. Then you had to get the bag to an extraction point, which was a very exposed jeep. Lisa, C and I were at the safe’s really quicly. Lisa and C opened all the safes in record time while I stood guard. We immediately went to the exposed jeep to drop off the bag. C was leading, I was trailing. C dropped to a knee behind a crate and covered us. I overtook Lisa and went on a suicide run, blocking Lisa and sniping off anyone who dared to take a shot at us. We dropped the bag off and won the game in record time.

When all was said and done, we had a great time and took a silly photo to prove it:

We drove back to the city. The traffic on the way back was much lighter so we made it back in half an hour and we met up at a Mexican diner. I shared some food with Laura and we went to Lincoln Kareoke to do what Jim loves; sing horrible songs, loudly and out of tune! A bunch of extra people showed up, Gremlin, Ann, Austin and a dude named Mad Robin who walked in carrying his bagpipes and wearing his bagpipe band uniform. He played a birthday song on the pipes, which drew a crowd and proceeded to crush it with the ladies.

I don’t normally sing, but was emboldened by Gremlin’s suggestion that “[I] can actually carry a tune”. Jim and I did Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger and Austin and I did Marilyn Manson’s Tainted Love, which was awesome.

When everyone was good and sauced we said goodbye to everyone and went back to Jim’s place. Two people joined us for a night cap and Jim and I got to drink a bottle of birthday Asti for old time’s sake.

The next morning we met up with Gremlin, Scott, Lisa and Jim’s friend Matt for brunch, which was nice. I had a wonderful pizza which made me feel like winner. I had finished the book that I was reading so when people suggested hanging out at a bookstore for a moment after brunch I ended up buying the first Harry Potter book. I had never really been that interested in the series, but Joasia had gotten me onto the first few films and I watched one on the aeroplane over and decided I would want to know more.

Afterwards Jim drove me to the airport and we said goodbye. Another awful security experience later and I took the flight out to Dublin. I landed at 5 in the morning and an hour later flew out to Amsterdam. I arrived home by ten in the morning and wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. I think it was a very successful trip. And I hope Jim enjoyed it as much as I did.

Finding the Source of the Infestation

Third Day, Third Ride, Summer Light, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Previously, the albino rat-man had just filled up the corridor with a noxious fume, leaving the adventurers coughing and retching, and giving it enough opportunity to escape. When the fumes cleared and the adventurers regained the control over their diaphragms, they found a trail of dark, arterial blood. It was gravely injured and unlikely to have gone far.

They found the wretched creature in the middle of a large, pillared hall at the end of the corridor, softly lit by a row of ensconced torches. It was up against a central, stone bench, struggling to sit up. They approached carefully, remembering the ambush in the last pillared hall. Emma kicked the scythe it had carried away from it and tried to talk to it while Astrid and Marcus made sure to secure the rest of the room.

The albino was coughing up blood and gibberish that nobody understood. Nobody but Luca, who seemed able to understand and communicate with the dying rat man. Luca learned that the rat men called themselves “skaven” but was unwilling to share much more until Luca used an arcane command to compel the “skaven” to speak. Much to the skaven’s own surprise the words tumbled from its bloody maw.

The skaven were there to find the “imprisoned sorcerers”, who had their spirits embedded in the “One-hundred-forty-four Arms of the Senhadrim.” Luca kept pressing the skaven but the arcane compulsion had faded. The skaven remarked that the source of Luca’s abilities were similar to its own, but that it knew that it’s patron, the “horned rat”, was stronger than Luca’s. Luca unleashed a deadly bolt of dark, eldritch energy and killed the skaven.

His action came much to the surprise of the other adventurers, perhaps even to the surprise of Luca himself. Both Emma and Marcus voiced their concern, but before the conversation could start in earnest, a large, heavy object came rolling into the doorway from whence they came and exploded with a deafening boom, collapsing the corridor.

Soon after…

Heavy footfalls can be heard coming from a corridor up ahead. Accompanied with the footfalls is a strange scraping sound and occasionally you hear a low, rumbling screech. The archway remains dark for a moment as the source of the sounds seems to be coming closer.

The first thing to hit the light is a pink, whiskered snout, which appears just below the top of the doorway. It sniffs the air and a giant rat-man appears to fill the archway. It tries to push its way in, but the archway is too small to fit its massive frame. It easily stands at the height of a full grown ogre.

Angry screeching and a sharp crack of a whip can be heard from behind the behemoth. Frustrated, it lets out a terrifying screech and angrily pushes forward, into the archway’s frame. A claw reaches into the door and it pops its head and one of its shoulders through the opening, still stuck with the rest of its body. It strains its legs and with a screeching roar it dislodges several stones from the archway, bursting into the room while behind it more masonry falls to the ground.

It’s body is a mess of scars, pink flesh and sickly tufts of mottled brown hair. Some of the scars seem fresh, with large iron staples holding the flesh together. Its right paw has been replaced by — or fitted with, it is completely unclear — a large jagged spike that extends far past its legs. It must have been fitted with it a long time ago, since the right shoulder seems to have grown considerably in bulk to compensate for the weight.

On its back, seated in a strange, leather harness, sits another rat-man, carrying a wicked, barbed whip in one hand and a hand crossbow in the other. The leather straps that hold the harness in place are fitted around both shoulders, but the bulbous, muscled flesh of the right shoulder has painfully swallowed the straps as it has been forced to grow around it.

Once cleared from the rubble falling on top of it from the crumbling archway, it immediately lopes towards you, spurred on by the its taskmaster, raising that dreadful spike, ready to attack.

While the giant rat ogre and its taskmaster ran into the room the adventurers took up cover behind the large stone bench that the albino had died up against. Lord Marcus took up positions between the bench and a pillar on one side while Astrid did the same on the other side, effectively closing off immediate access to the rest of the adventurers.

The rat ogre ran towards Astrid and immediately engaged her in vicious battle, stabbing and striking at her with that vicious spike attached to its arm. Lord Marcus circled around and started to attack from the flank, while Emma unleashed a bolt of radiant, aquamarine light at the taskmaster who was hit square in the chest, despite being partially hidden behind the rat ogre’s large frame. The others respondent swiftly and made managed to take the task master down quickly while Astrid kept the rat ogre’s focus on her while they did so.

Midway through the fight several skaven scurried into the room, attacking Lord Marcus in the rear and also reaching Luca and Emrys. Emrys managed to make excellent use of the discarded scythe belonging to the dead albino to fling it across the room and into the skaven, while Luca sent bolt after bolt of eldritch energy into them.

The rat ogre continued to fight on ferociously, seemingly swelling up in size, with noxious fumes escaping its mouth and nostrils, and even through some of the fresh wounds that had been stapled together on its torso. Shortly after it let out a billowing stream of noxious vapour which washed over Astrid and Emma.

Eventually, Astrid was gravely wounded and she briefly lost consciousness before Emma stepped in to quickly call upon the merciful powers of Sedna to pull her from the brink of death. Shortly after the big brute was brought down, and promptly collapsed on top of Lord Marcus. In its death throws, its torso swelled up with internal pressure, sending several of the metal staples shoot out across the room. Its torso ruptured and released a dangerous cloud of noxious fumes, injuring some of the adventurers who couldn’t get enough distance in time.

When the calm had returned to the chamber the adventurers decided to take a short rest, recovering from some of their injuries and preparing to continue on their search. The corridor from whence they came had collapsed and so the only way was forward. Emrys used his arcane talents to spread water in the entrance to the open corridor and freeze it solid into a slippery sheet of ice. Anyone coming into the chamber while they rested would not go unnoticed.

Fourth Day, Third Ride, Summer Light, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

After resting, Emma briefly took a moment to inspect the stone bench and the circular well that was set inside of it, while Luca once again inspected the pillars in the room. They were once again decorated with sculptures this time not depicting matters of war, but rather that of community. Emrys once again made himself very useful, putting his arcane talents to use by repairing the damage to Lord Marcus’ chain mail armour. Eventually Luca became impatient to continue down the open corridor and everyone made preparations to leave the lit, pillared chamber and plunge themselves into the dark corridor beyond.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the adventurers that the corridor they entered had a clear, downward slope and eventually they came upon a cross junction. From the right corridor, everyone could clearly hear a curious sound, one that Emma had heard before, like the sound of an everlasting wave. They decided to head in that direction to investigate.

The corridor ended on a partially collapsed balcony overlooking a large room…

The hallway opens up to a large room with a high ceiling. In the middle of the room, surrounded by a halo of electric blue light, shining so bright as to almost approach white, hovers a disc of pure darkness, standing twice is tall as a normal man. Wisps of light emanated by the halo seem to be sucked into the depth of this black maelstrom.

The roiling sound that escapes from the deepest recesses of this pit of darkness resembles that of a wave rolling out from the shore. But whereas a wave comes in, crashes and rolls out again, this wave is ever receding, constant and one directional.

It fills you with a sense of loss and grief.

You see an albino skaven approach the maelstrom and take one last look back, letting out a vicious screech which almost gets drowned out by the sound of despair coming from deep within the center of the nothingness. It steps across the threshold of the rift, and it immediately gets sucked into its depths until it is completely gone. Two cloaked skaven, fussing over something among the crystalline structures, drop what they were carrying and also dive into the rift.

The sheer energy of the portal has caused several of the vaulted archways in the room to buckle and collapse, causing bits of rubble to occasionally fall down around the portal. Some of the stones sometimes enter the portal, and are immediately sucked deep into the black pit.

Strange, multi-coloured, molten slag has gathered in an arc around the base of the portal. Crystalline structures have formed into it, jutting from the slag like vicious teeth from an angry maw.

Among the crystalline structures, you notice the bound and gagged form of a dwarven man wearing a brown leather jerkin, grey breeches and steel tipped, leather boots. His beard is reddish-brown, streaked with grey. His head is shaved down, with a short, brown mohawk. Behind him are several others, all of them bound by leather straps. It’s hard to make out who they are or what state they are in.

The adventurers noticed that two, partially collapsed staircases lead down into the room and that there was another corridor leading onto the balcony from a different direction. Emma was the first to attempt to make her way down the rubble to prisoners below, with the others quick to follow. It was quickly discovered that, among the different crates, chests and barrels of supplies, there was a dwarf, a human, and four orcs, all bound and gagged. Last but not least, they found James, also bound and gagged, but also unconscious.

The first to be unbound was the dwarf, who introduced himself as Brandomiir. Emma asked the orcs if they would cause trouble if she would release them from their bounds, and Brandomiir explained that only Korath could speak and understand common. The others were Kadan, Korath’s brother, Summi and Garr. Bartosz was the human and turned out to be the last missing Sheridan guard. He was very happy to be reunited with Lord Marcus.

Korath was ungagged and explained that they were taken as slaves by the skaven and that they were originally from Kaedwyn. They came to be in the catacombs by arriving through the portal. He said the portals lead to demons and that he had been taken from Kaedwyn by another portal. They were large and strong and possibly not exactly what the adventurers had hitherto associated with orcs.

Brandomiir also explained that James had been brought in unconscious a few hours previous and that it was clear that he had tried to steal from the skaven.

In the meantime, Luca was concerning himself more with the strange portal in the middle of the room, the slag that had formed around it and the crystals that were growing among the slag. He found and collected some strange ore from among the slag and was throwing pebbles into the portal to see how it responded. Emrys was uncomfortable with Luca’s experiment and Luca’s response was… unfriendly.

The five Lyrian knights whom James and Emrys had seen previously appeared through the other corridor onto the balcony. They climbed down and properly introduced themselves. Their leader was Ser Arman de Courtenay, Master Commander in the Order of the Gryphon, dressed in lapis lazuli gilded armour, carrying a sword which Luca later identified as magical.

The two silver-gilded knights, both carrying halberds were Dame Madeline of Ashenvale and Ser Guillaume of Sanségal. The former a tall, blond haired-beauty, the latter a brown haired, mustachioed fellow with a thick, Beauclairois accent.

The two remaining fire-gilded knights, both carrying swords and shields, were Ser David Longstrider of House Longstrider, whom Emrys remembered to be a noble house from Farcorner, and Dame Julie of Lewisham, a woman with a strong, stoic features and a strong Kingsport accent.

It was decided to continue travelling together. The orcs were also invited to come along, though it was unclear what would happen with them once they reached the surface. Lord Marcus suggested that there might be an opportunity to have them sail to Kaedwyn on one of the Sheridan merchant vessels, but that his brother would likely refuse.

The portal would have to be closed somehow. Nobody really knew how to achieve that, so quickly the ideas turned towards collapsing the room in onto the portal. Brandomiir said that he could probably collapse the room if he had access to his blasting powder, which was back at the Sheridan aqueduct. Emma suggested using some of the divine and arcane talents in the group to freeze some water in the cracks in the ceiling, further destabilising it.

An inspection of the chests and crates was done, revealing curious golden coins and a set of identical rubies. Five weapons were recovered, an elegant elven sword, a pair of simple shortswords, a trident beautiful decorated with engravings of waves, shells and sea creatures, and a wooden staff, decorated with pieces of cut obsidian, and a curious gemstone set in the tip, shining like a piece of the night’s sky filled with stars. Luca noticed all these items were magical, but they were in a state of constant flux.

Halloween

I’m not a very big fan of themed parties where you have to dress up. There is something about the hassle of it. I hardly ever think that the squeeze is worth the juice.

This year I had an idea for a costume that I dubbed “Bill Nye the Nitrous Guy” in which I basically dressed up like Bill Nye the Science Guy, but then come in with a bunch of balloons and a tank of nitrous oxide. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a party where someone showed up with laughing gas where the party wasn’t immediately improved.

Unfortunately, while UK law doesn’t explicitly forbid nitrous oxide, and the law that they put on the books to forbid it actually explicitly exempts nitrous oxide from its application, in spirit it’s considered regulated for consumption in that way. So unfortunately, that costume was out and the hunt was on for a new costume that was equally low-hassle.

This is what I came up with.

Return to the Catacombs

Third Day, Third Ride, Summer Light, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

After waking up in their respective accommodations, either in the servants building, or the stables, the adventurers begin their day. It became immediately apparent to each of them that the day was going to be a warm day indeed.

Luca decides to pay Emma a visit, but not before he had taken some precautions by raiding the kitchen for some of their herbs. A portly Beauclairois chef sternly informed him that he was not to raid the larders without permission of the chef himself. In the end Luca managed to depart with some of the overripe wreaths of garlic and bushels of rosemary, which he fashioned into a smell bag he felt would provide him with enough protection against whatever ailed Emma.

Emma, who had awoken by the sounds of Captain Hallis Mollen ordering a search of the premises for someone who had unexpectedly departed, felt weak. She had just inspected and rebandaged her wound when Captain Hallis checked up on her and gave her permission to leave the stables and join the breakfast.

Luca arrived at the stables shortly after that in order to find out what condition Emma was in. Emma shared that Ser Benten had visited her the previous evening and had supplied her with a crystal pendant which would help her fight off the disease. Luca inspected the pendant and noticed the faint magic emanating from it. When inspecting Emma’s wound, Luca once again heard that warm, honey-dipped voice. This time it assured him that he could freely touch Emma’s wound without fear of being infect, and that the voice would never let anything happen to him.

Astrid and Emrys had found the breakfast tables which had been set up between the mansion and the servants building. Two long tables, covered in a simple, clean table cloth, filled with breads, cheeses, sausages, jams and honeys, wines and ales. All manner of servants were breaking their fast and Emrys and Astrid took place among them. The large nordling woman was quietly devouring everything in reach, while Emrys was intently listening to the talk around him.

Emrys found out that one of the servants, during a late night jaunt to the privy, had noticed that James had quietly sneaked out of the servants building and made his way down into the well under cover of darkness. Once reported, Captain Hallis had sent people to scout the mansion grounds, making sure that nothing had been taken.

When Luca and Emma joined the breakfast table, they were given some free spaces at the end of the table, in the shadow of the mansion. Astrid and Emrys took their plates and went to join them. Quickly the conversation turned to James and his possible reasons for wanting to depart. It was noticed that both Lord Marcus as well as Ser Benten were quietly observing the breakfast from the third floor balcony.

After breakfast, Captain Hallis came to escort the adventurers to the study. There, Lord Marcus offered the remaining adventurers another task; to go back down into the catacombs and to incapacitate the rat-men or take away their tunnelling capabilities. He reasoned that as along as they were still down their and were able to tunnel into the aqueduct, the estate would never be safe from threat. Only then could they get dwarven engineers from Ard Thoradun to repair the water flow. Lord Marcus realised that with a man short that the group would require some backup, and he gladly provided it by offering to come along himself.

The discussion on compensation was initially done individually. Emma asked for a reward which would allow her to get the healing she needed at the temple of Pholtus back in Kingsport. Lord Marcus assured her that he would take care of any such expenses upon completion of the task. Luca wanted unrestricted access to the Sheridan library, something which was denied him by Ser Benten, who felt he could only go so far as to allow Luca access to the unrestricted collection. Emrys wanted access to historical information even forgotten by the elves. When Astrid stated that she would require two hundred gold crowns, Lord Marcus promised each of them the same amount of gold crowns, as well as pledge that he would try to aid them in their individual goals.

Lord Marcus also brought up who the gold crowns should be paid out to in the case of their perishing, and Emma bequeathed the coin to Dagmaer at the Sacred Baths of Sedna in Kingsport. Luca, unexpectedly, also said that his reward should go toward Dagmaer, claiming that he had no intention of perishing in the catacombs. Astrid said that she wanted the gold to be placed on her funeral pyre so that she may take it to Valhalla. Emrys, cryptically, named the elf Voriël, who could be found in the woodland community he was from, confident in the assumption that Lord Marcus to knew the location he was referring to.

Once again, the adventurers could take their pick from the supplies on offer and get ready to descend into well at noon. Luca made arrangements with a leather worker to have a leather armour fitted to him, while the rest either restocked and rested. Lanterns, lamp oil and torches were the predominant equipment of choice and everyone decided to take rations and bedrolls in case the adventurers would need to rest below the surface.

When noon came and the adventurers, together with Lord Marcus, descended into the cavern below the well, Captain Hallis tried to reason with her lord one last time, to no avail. The descent was made easy when Emrys went first and swam to the edge of the pool to retrieve the boat. When everyone had been ferried safely to the start of the aqueduct, Emma called upon the power of her goddess to dry out Emrys’ clothing, drawing a remark from Luca about the frivolous way in which she accessed her power.

The trek up the aqueduct went off without a problem. The blockade was as the adventurers had left it and the equipment belonging to the dwarven engineers who had gone missing was still there, untouched. Everyone scaled the rubble and made it to the tunnel leading to the catacombs and the adventurers pointed out to Lord Marcus the marks that they had found on the inside of the tunnel which they argued were either marks of claws or tools. Lord Marcus ran his finger along one of the marks and found a dusting of iron filings which lead him to believe that the marks were made with tools, not claws.

Making their way through the tunnel to the catacombs the adventurers made their way through the vaulted tunnels to the room where they had fought and defeated the rat-men. In order to illustrate to Lord Marcus who they were up against, Emrys conjured up a very detailed illusionary image of the scythe-wielding, albino sorcerer that was leading them. One of the things that stood out were the curved horns that the rat was wearing, as well as the array of grizzly looking spell components.

In the meanwhile, Emma started to investigate the room that they were in. Different from all the other corridors they have been in, she felt that there was a special significance to the room that they simply couldn’t figure out. Luca saw the wisdom in her inquiry and helped her out. Besides some unrecognisable, decayed, organic material there was nothing to be found. Despite her constant dizziness, nausea and headache, she came up with another plan; since the only thing in the room were the two rows of pillars, she decided to clear one of the middle pillars of moss and search for any decorations that might explain the function of the room.

What she uncovered, with a little help from Astrid, were worn and faded engravings depicting battle scenes of groups of disciplined knights against a chaotic horde of evil looking creatures. Some of the knights were mounted, some of the mounted on flying creatures, and some of them on foot. Later examination also showed several small groups of spell casters in their midst. Some scripture could also be found, but the lettering had faded from the limestone to such a degree that only a few words could be made out here and there, one of which being Senhadrim.

Eventually the adventurers moved on through the other corridor connecting to the opposite end of the pillared room. After some time another tunnel was found, this time dug to a chamber which otherwise had no entrances or exits. Inside, they could find a dead rat-man, cloaked and wearing a strange, thick hide armour. It looked like it had been crushed by something heavy.

Luca was positive that the origin of the hide armour was not from any creature that roamed the Verdant Kingdoms, but nobody was willing to draw any conclusions. The rat-man was carrying a crude scimitar and a cat-of-nine-tails with vicious looking barbs at the end which contained bits of torn, pinkish flesh with rough black hairs on it. It also carried several queer looking coins of copper, brass and silver. Luca decided to pocket those. Inspecting the corpse, the creature didn’t have the same whip- or bind-marks that were found on the other rat-men. The conclusion was that this one was likely a taskmaster whose charge had turned against it.

Investigating the room, it was clear from the way the moss was growing that there had been some heavy objects, furniture or items removed from the room.

Upon departing the room the faint noise of battle could be heard. The adventurers decided to take a corridor in the direction of the noise in order to investigate. Soon, they came upon a group of five rat-men, being lead by a sixth; the albino. The corridor was too narrow for everyone to make themselves optimally useful, but Astrid and Marcus stood side by side, cutting down the front ranks of the rat-men, while Luca and Emma were calling upon their powers to send bolts of darkness and light to attack the albino. The rats fought viciously and the albino responded in kind by sending file bolts of green energy into Luca’s chest.

In no-time the ranks of the rat-men thinned and the albino was gravely wounded. It hurled an egg into the midst of the fray, which cracked to reveal the diseased, dead fetus of a strange, slimy creature, which immediately started generating an enormous amount of thick, noxious, green gas. Soon, the adventurers were coughing and retching, incapable of continuing the fight, while the albino and its few remaining rat-men retreated back the way they came.

The Cotswolds

Last weekend, Joasia and I rented a car and drove from Exeter to Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, a beautiful and very posh part of England. The area has quintessential, brocade English landscape, with green rolling hills and moss-covered, dry-brick wall partitions. The villages are, not unlike Bath, characterised by their limestone masonry, which gives it a beautiful, harmonious appearance. We were there right when the leaves were turning yellow and the different shades of colour was incredible to behold. Google “cotswolds autumn” and you’ll see what I mean. We visited many different small villages, and we also went to visit Blenheim Palace, which was amazing, too.

The rear entrance to the St. Edward’s church in Stowe-on-the-Wold.

I wouldn’t want to live in complete isolation in the country side. I would want to have a city near by, and a high speed internet connection. Other than that I could be quite happy living in a more rural area, provided there are some trees around. The thing that would probably become a common occurrence is the commute into work, the thought of which alone fills me with misery. In that sense, our apartment in Exeter is really quite special; it’s right on the edge, quiet and secluded, at the top of a hill with a beautiful view over the entire city. We’re half an hour away from Dartmoor, an hour away from Exmoor, and there are countless beautiful areas to visit, like Snowdrop Valley, the Blackdown Hills, etc.