Author Archives: Dennis

The Vault of the Senhadrim

Previously, the heroes managed to defeat Xamael the Dreadlord deep in the the centre of the ziggurat at the bottom of Wyrmblood Lake, where Kalauranthalasis had made his lair. But not without paying the steep price of Astrid’s life.

Third Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Luca’s keen sense of time told him that it was very late in the day, but he didn’t have to tell the rest of the heroes that; the fatigue had seeped into their bones. Each of them felt hollow inside when the adrenaline of the fight with Xamael faded away. There was an added sadness when the death of their friend Astrid descended down on them.

James took out a bottle of brandy, sat down next to Astrid and poured two cups. He sipped the drink in silence, letting the faux-warmth comfort his cold bones. Quentin sat near, shivering from fatigue, sadness and exhaustion; Emrys came to put an arm around him for comfort. The hooded lantern stood close by, giving Quentin just enough light to look upon Astrid’s body.

Slowly, the dreadlord’s body withered away with incredible speed, leaving behind some wet, organic sludge and several items. When the heroes returned from their introspection, they inspected the items. It was a simple, wooden box with a choker inside. The choker was made from blood coral, fastened by a golden lock depicting the banner of house Valois; two angelic warriors holding a shield between them with three lilies, topped by a crown.

There was also a leather scroll case with a letter inside that James retrieved and read. He found the text to be illegible and asked his companions whether they understood it. Luca, who was busy preparing a ritual that would allow him to detect the effects of the weave of magic upon things around him, would later confirm that the letter was written in the infernal tongue of the Nine Hells. It read as follows;

To our most wondrous and resplendent Master,

I am pleased to state that, after a lengthy study of our rivals, I have completed my observations. Please accept this briefing in advance of my complete report, which shall follow forthwith.

We anticipate that certain of our targets will be more challenging to topple than others. But each is prone to manipulation in different ways, and our agents have already woven themselves into their very fabric. Others are being eliminated by our assassins.

This is, after all, the solemn duty for which you sired us. As you are fond of saying: Once a desire is understood, it can be exploited.

Enough prologue. Allow me to summarize our findings.

In many ways, the celestials will be the easiest to manipulate. Their singular goal is to impose structure upon everything they see. Show them a force that opposes their drive for Order, and they will be consumed by their urge to eradicate it. Their choirs, so seemingly united in purpose, is vulnerable to fracturing.

The aberrant lords all but welcome us with open arms. They are so preoccupied with their thousand truths that they ignore the lies we sow in their very midst. I believe we can leverage their vast reach to position them as a foil against our other rivals. We remain wary, though. Since they are observant of multiple outcomes, it is conceivable they could anticipate our coming.

Similar to the celestials, the fey and their keepers are singular in purpose. Their adherence to a linear path is an obvious shortcoming. They savour nothing more than being proved right, so if they believe they have converted one of us to their precious light, they will trust that agent implicitly. The adherents to life are the most insidious of opponents, perhaps because their nature is so antithetical to our own.

Still, we learned much from observing the link between their plane and the Winter Court, and we have high confidence that a vulnerability has been identified. Our operative has already gained the trust of her target. And as previously discussed, our position within the plane of Disorder is proceeding flawlessly. Consuming fel energy is not a pleasant process, but a necessary one.

The deception you have architected will bear fruit in the ages to come.

As ever, we shall serve as your unseen hand. We will poison every cohort foolish enough to invite us into their midst. Despite our setbacks with the Steady Hand, I am confident we will root out the vault of the Upright Man and find his tablets before the Demon of the South Western Winds gets to them.

I remain, as always, your faithful servant.

Xamael

The third item was the whip that Xamael had been carrying and using to deadly effect, while the last item was a large, red gemstone, roughly cut and about the size of a human head. There was a darkness swirling inside of it.

When Luca had finished the ritual he had prepared he found that neither the box with the choker, nor the letter were magical. The gemstone, however, and the whip, exuded strong magic. While the whip was a complicated mixture of different magics, predominantly evocation, the gemstone was a primordial type of magic that Luca had come to associate with the magic of the good sisters.

Besides the items, Luca also noticed that there was a lingering background magic in the Senhadrim hall, left behind by the dragons and Xamael. The crystal pillars on the balconies, however, had gone dormant.

In the meantime, Quentin and James searched the rest of the Senhadrim hall, finding the original key in front of the first portal that gained them entrance. They had also found that the circle in the middle of the hall which had held the trap that caught Azsharastrasza, made from a similar stone as the portal, also had a hole in it that seemed made for the key. When they tried to fit it in, however, they found that the groves and etches along the side of the conical statuette did not line up and James, wise in the ways of locks, immediately recognised that a different “key” would fit this “lock”.

The heroes remembered that Azsharastrasza, while in the guise of lady Asha, had a key in her possession when they met her in Eastray. She had expressed concern for her brood, which the heroes had not found yet, so they reasoned that perhaps the key she had in Eastray fit in the lock they had found. Quentin went to investigate the body of Azsharastrasza and with some help found the key was underneath her corpse.

James cautioned against inserting another Lyrium crystal to power the key and inserting it in the lock. Quentin reminded Luca that Blackstar allowed him to search for any souls around them, and Luca found none he couldn’t account for.

Still, the heroes decided to move to the southern balcony and make themselves comfortable. They rested for a while and with the aid of a healer’s kite, which they had found in the southern chamber where the assassins had stayed, managed to heal some of their wounds.

During their rest, the conversation came up on what to do next, and how long it would take for them to return to Blackbough and report to the good sisters. At best they still had five days left before Dr. Arkenward, the royal abjurer who watched over the queen, would succumb to the curse he was trying to contain, and the heroes simply didn’t know whether they had the time.

Eventually, the heroes ended their rest and Luca conjured an eerie spectral hand which carefully guided the key, activated by another lyrium crystal, to the lock. Once the key slid into the lock the stone of in the centre of the hall began to shift with a shifting of dry stone as a mechanism was spurred into action. As the stone of the floor opened up like a diaphragm it revealed a shaft going even further underground. The floor opened up so much that the corpse of Azsharastrasza limply slid down the side and towards the bottom.

As it turned out, there was a long, winding staircase which spiralled along the side of the shaft to the bottom. The dragon’s plummeting body had caused a partial collapse of the staircase, but nothing that the heroes couldn’t navigate.

All along the side of the wall that the staircase ran along were built-in shelves of books and scrolls; most of which had decayed over time. James, who had been taking point, took a piece of chalk and marked the walls with a simple “x” every time he noticed a book had survived the passage of time. The heroes concluded that had the dragons not opened the vault for their own benefit the books would likely have survived the time of low magic.

At the bottom of the steps there hung a noxious vapour that was so deep that all of them would be submerged in it. Quentin carefully put his hooded lantern in it and saw the vapour extinguish the flame. Seven eggs of an enormous size stood, clustered together, at the centre of the shaft. The outside looked like they were made from overlapping, green scales. Azsharastrasza’s brood, nourished by the noxious vapour.

Surrounding the eggs were untold treasures the likes of which the heroes had never seen. Gold coins of different shapes, sizes, spilling out of chests, barrels and urns. Gemstones with colours matching every shade of the rainbow. Exquisite jewellery of the finest materials; necklaces, armbands, rings and tiaras. Too much for the group to carry.

There were statues and furniture and books and potions and armours and swords. As Luca gazed across the treasure hoard and made note of the different magical items, he marked each with a simple cantrip so that his companions would know what was magic and what was mundane.

But through the magical cacophony of the hoard, two circular, stone tablets, rimmed with a red-tinged metal and inscribed with primordial runes, stood out. Each was about one foot in diameter with a small circular hole in it, along the edge. The heroes judged each tablet to weigh about twenty pounds and reckoned they were two of the Tablets of the Elemental Eye, which were mentioned in Atilesceon’s journal pages.

Using Toruviel, Emrys cast a gust of wind to temporarily dissipate the noxious vapour, scattering coins and gems away from them. Each of the heroes ran in and grabbed the items that had caught their attention. They did this several times and liberated the following items:

Luca
  • One of the two tablets,
  • A conical hat, adorned with stars and moons which resembled the pattern on Atilesceon’s robes,
  • A small globe with a miniaturised scene inside; a river, a water mill, some farms and fields with people tending to them,
  • A fine, golden necklace with a pendant shaped in two hands, made in gold, which hold three rubies,
  • A large, mundane diamond with a flawless cut
Quentin
  • The second of the two tablets,
  • A set of plate gauntlets, decorated with gold filigree,
  • A set of plate armour with pauldrons decorated with platinum depictions of winged warriors,
  • A curious, round marble that is a completely lifelike eyeball,
  • A petrified, red rose on a wooden plate, covered by a glass dome
James
  • A beautifully crafted, icy blue, leather quiver with an elaborate, silver opening,
  • A set of studded leather armour,
  • Coil of hempen rope,
  • A set of light armour, masterfully woven from a single strand of silk rope,
  • A large bottle with a miniaturised galleon inside

And together, the heroes managed to pick up each of the magical potions which they could find among the hoard, on the off chance there would be any healing potions among them.

There were many other items of interest that the heroes had to ignore, like the statue of a winged warrior dressed in furs, which base read “Marduk”. Or the ten by fifteen foot oil on canvas painting of a large, noble family. Or the gilded, wooden throne with an archaic inscription that only Quentin, with the help of his sword, could read; “Whoever holds the Throne of Leshnica is anointed by Deus, the one true god, to rule over all the Plains of Selos.” Or the set of strange statuettes of animals. Or the astrolabe of different planes with a complex mechanism that moved them in and out of conjunction. And many, many more.

Defeating Xamael the Dreadlord

Previously, the heroes had made their way into the sunken vault at the centre of Wyrmblood Lake and made it into the heart where they had found Xamael the Defiler and had confronted him and the enslaved Kalauranthalasis with the help of Azsharastrasza. With great difficulty they managed to defeat both the wyrm as well as the dark priest, only for the priest to transform into its true identity; Xamael the Dreadlord, a devil in the service of the Dark Queen.

Third Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

When Xamael had transformed fully into the dreadlord he stood twelve foot tall, on powerful, hairy legs ending in cloven hooves. His torso was covered in decorative plates of infernal armour and two large, bat-like, leathery wings sprouted from his shoulders. Two curved horns had burst from his head, his mouth had filled with razor sharp teeth and his hands had grown claws. The whip he had carried had lengthened and arcs of lightening were crawling all over it.

Quentin was the first to engage the devil and attempted to use Róisín to summon tangling vines beneath the dreadlord in an attempt to keep him rooted in place, but Róisín, who had been resonating with her flowery side, refused to obey Quentin.

As the fight started, Xamael penetrated everyone’s mind to deliver a warning and a threat:

You poor fools. You are meddling in the plans of the Dark Queen. Your insignificance will be punished.

Azsharastrasza was still trapped in place, but Luca had a plan. He attempted to banish the dreadlord to another plane. It would be temporary, but it might give them enough time to escape the dreadlord, or at the least regroup. He knew he was powerful enough to attempt it both on the dreadlord as well as on the dragon. While he did not want to banish the dragon in order to get away from her, he hoped that it might break the spell that she was under. The result was a mixed blessing; Xamael proved too powerful and refused to be sent away, but Azsharastrasza was too wounded and too weak to resist. Almost immediately after she vanished, she reappeared, as Luca stopped concentrating on the spell. It had worked as he had intended it to; she was no longer incapacitated by Xamael’s magical trap and was free to rejoin the fight.

My life is endless. My death will be but a moment before I return.

Unfortunately, the onslaught of the newly invigorated Xamael, now in his true form, was too much for the heroes, aided by Azsharastrasza to handle. The dreadlord lashed out with his whip over and over, mostly targeting the dragon, who eventually fell under the onslaught, having already been bloodied in her fight against Kalauranthalasis.

Astrid, despite having only just recovered from the stifling influence of the good sisters, had been fighting on the front lines together with Quentin, furiously hacking away with her sword. She had already lost consciousness several times during the fight, always recovering just enough to spring back into battle. But unfortunately, she too fell under the weight of the pressure that Xamael put on the heroes, and this time, she did not get back up.

The heroes were routed and scattered in different directions in order to save themselves, and at the same time the dreadlord vanished from sight. He began to speak to each of the heroes; infiltrating their minds and offering a truce and a chance to work together in collaboration rather than in opposition. He promised he could revive the sick queen, if only the heroes would parley. Whether out of principle or out of fear, the heroes refused to negotiate but instead used the time to regroup.

Cease your attack and let us bargain. You can hve your queen and I can help you stop the largest invasion of orcs this pitiful queendom has ever seen.

During this lull in the conflict, Emrys had found a severely wounded assassin in the chamber on the southern end of the complex as he was desperately looking for anything that would help the heroes tip the scales of the battle in their favour. This was likely the assassin whom they had encountered as they descended into the ziggurat. The man was slumped against the wall, clutching his side. There was blood all around him and he could scarcely register that Emrys was approaching. Displaying an unusually brutal attitude of grim determination, Emrys took out Toruviel or slowly sank it into the wounded man, ending his life. Emrys took a small crossbow, some bolts and another jewelled dagger and regrouped with the others.

Eventually Luca reached out to Xamael and said that the heroes agreed to parlay if he would show himself again. It was a ruse in order to put themselves in a position to pounce on the dreadlord, which they did. The dreadlord fought back viciously, even taking the opportunity to reanimate the corpse of Astrid into a mockery of her former self; a zombie automaton whose only goal was to pursue and clumsily attack Emrys, who had to defend himself against someone he had once called a friend.

Eventually Quentin fell, Emrys fell and James had run out of arrows. Luca was on his last legs and while Xamael was clearly wounded, it would take more effort to bring him down than the heroes still had in them. In a moment of desperation, Luca called out to Aurion, his patron, and beseeched him for aid. And for the briefest moment, there was an answer, as the tall, alien figure of Aurion shimmered into existence high above the battle, carried by wings made of pure light. His light descended down like little droplets and reinvigorated and revitalised the heroes. Quentin and Emrys opened their eyes again, and Luca and James felt less tired and more able.

As fast as Aurion appeared, he receded, and for all the aid he bestowed, only James and Luca were there to witness the strange occurrence. Xamael’s response was one of outrage, screaming; “Not again! You will not deny me, brother!”

The fight was resumed and by the skin of their teeth, aided by Aurion’s energy, the heroes managed to vanquish Xamael. With the fatal blow, the body of the dreadlord jerked and spasmed and the leathery wings beat uncontrollably, lifting him up in the air. His body wracked and twisted as wisps of darkness escaped his body like rats fleeing a sinking ship, and eventually collapsed in on itself, seemingly deflating and withering away. His armour crumbled and disintegrated, and eventually all that was left behind were several curious items.

Quentin found Astrid’s broken body with a small glimmer of hope that he could do something for his long-time companion, but saw that the life had long since left her. He took one of the leather bracers she wore as a keepsake and bound it to his left wrist where once he had worn something else, something important. Though he couldn’t quite remember what, or what its significance was.

Thirteen Years

Lieve mamma,

Het is dertien jaar geleden dat ik je voor het laatst heb gezien, en ik wilde je laten weten dat het goed met me gaat. Ik ben gelukkig in mijn relatie, wat je altijd het belangrijkste vond. Ik denk dat je Joasia heel erg leuk had gevonden. Het is jammer dat je haar niet hebt mogen kennen. We wonen nog steeds in Engeland, en hebben onlangs een huis gekocht. Met een mooie tuin; eentje waarin je waarschijnlijk fijn had kunnen keutelen. Dat idee maakt me blij.

Het gaat ook goed met mijn werk. Het blijft een means to an end, en is voornamelijk zodat ik financieel stabiel ben en de overvloed kan gebruiken voor hulp en plezier, ookal is dat laatste moeilijk geweest de laatste paar maanden tijdens de pandemie.

Ook vriendschappen zijn moeilijk geweest door de pandemie de afgelopen paar maanden. Mensen hebben het moeilijk met de isolatie en ik ben niet altijd een fantastische vriend. Mijn verhuizing naar Engeland heeft het niet makkelijker gemaakt, ondanks dat ik een paar leuke mensen heb ontmoet hier. Jody en ik praten veel sinds ik ben verhuisd, maar mijn vriendschap met Robin is niet zo sterk als dat het is geweest. Hij is met andere dingen bezig, en ik ben er niet.

Ik denk vaak aan je; meestal zonder verdriet, maar dat is wel moeilijk. Soms lijkt het moeilijker met de jaren. Aanvankelijk miste ik je omdat ik bang was, en je was weg, en ik had niemand die me kon opvangen als ik viel. Maar nu mis ik je omdat ik je mis. Bij je zijn, met je praten, je dingen vragen, en dingen leren. Ik heb zo’n spijt dat ik je niet meer gevraagd heb. Ik heb een ouder nodig om me te vertellen wie ik ben. Ik mis zoveel context die alleen jij zou kunnen verschaffen.

Ik zou echt alles geven voor een paar extra jaren. Alles.

And it was cold and it rained, so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk
We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

A Matter of Confidence

Consistently, throughout my life, the people around me have always been more confident about my abilities to accomplish things than I have. I can remember that as far back as high school, where I had a geography teacher who had a very high opinion of me, even though he was not a particularly warm man. It has never boosted my confidence. The pressure of people’s expectations has always been quite daunting.

Ironically, the only period and place where I did not have people around who believed in me more than I believed in myself was during the last few years at my previous place of employment. I wonder whether that is the reason I look back on that period with so much regret.

Family History: A Dream About My Mother

This morning I woke up from a very vivid dream. I had spent the day with my mother, going around Hoorn and visiting the sites. We talked about history, of the town, of our family and of ourselves. She filled in gaps, cleared up misunderstandings, put things in context and explained things that I was sometimes too young to understand. Then we had a meal together somewhere in the harbour of Hoorn. It was a good day.

There are so many things that are unclear about our family, about our origin, about the feuds and the fights and about everything which has had an incredible impact on my personality. So much understanding has been lost regarding the generational trauma which has been passed down. Gypsies, Jews, the war, Rotterdam, Katendrecht, poverty, Hoorn, a big family, a secret, second family, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death…

It’s unfortunate that I don’t have the relationship with the few remaining family members of my mother’s generation where I can go to have conversations about some of the things which have happened during my childhood and what caused them. I miss having someone who can augment, correct, corroborate and validate some of the history; like a tribal elder.