Author Archives: Dennis

Life is Pretty Good

As we’re rolling into March I find that I’m further settling into my work rather well. It’s been a good few months for my professional self esteem because the change of scenery has allowed me to realise what it is that I can offer to a company, how fast I pick things up and make it my own, and how well I can be up and running and contributing. I’m learning a lot, which is very nice.

Having said that, things have not been without its struggles. My biggest support at work recently departed the company, which is a real shame, since I think they had a lot to offer, professionally but also as a friend and I fear that we’ll lose touch. The company is also quite a bit bigger and quite a bit more political. The culture is different, too, which I have to get used to.

I do miss Amsterdam a little bit, or rather, the life that I had there. The contrast between the workweek and the weekend is much less extreme here, and I’ve found that I miss that. Work days are quiet and comfortable, and weekend days are usually quite similar. I don’t have that many friends yet here, and those people that I’m friendly with are considerably more settled down than my friends in Amsterdam.

But, flying back once a month for a weekend of fun has been going well. I’ve agreed with my work that I can depart midway on Friday to go to the airport, giving me another evening to go and see people and act like a moron, without jeopardising my ability to have a fun D&D session on Sunday.

My relationship with Joasia has flourished, I think. Initially, being apart as much as we were helped make it really special when we saw each other again. But now, I feel like we’re both at an age where it’s just really nice to be able to rely on each other’s presence. Perhaps even learn how to take each other’s presence for granted just the tiniest bit.

The only thing that’s still not well for me is my lower back. It’s gotten considerably worse after coming back from Brazil, at a time I was hoping that the extended break would get rid of the tension in my back, but going back to work has made it worse, not better. The last week or so things have been a little better. I’ve stopped going to BJJ and I haven’t been running, trying to give my back a break. It’s making me anxious, though. I’m trying to watch my diet a bit so that I don’t get too heavy in the meantime. It’s been three weeks since I went training and hopefully it won’t be much longer.

An Inevitable Confrontation

Previously, the adventurers, still stuck in the recurring nightmare of Old Llygad, hatched a plan to ambush and defeat the flying demons before the cursed crusaders of the Silver Crusade went to battle. They fought and managed to defeat Baraxxis the Balor, who was leading the flying demons, but not without a heroic effort. It was, however, enough to tip the scales of the main battle squarely in the favour of the crusaders, breaking the curse and liberating them from their torment.

Second Day, Third Wik, Æftera Līþa (Pasture Mōnaþ), 736th Year of the Crusade

After the battle was over and the consequences and ramifications of their win had slowly settled in, most of the crusaders made their way back to camp. When the sun had set over the hills to the west, the crusaders celebrated. Cautiously, around big bonfires with cups of wine. The darkness of a night they hadn’t seen in thousands of years was unsettling and the firelight and wine gave them courage.

The heroes came together to talk about the next steps, confident that the curse had been broken the moment they crossed the middle of night into the next day.

Third Day, Third Wik, Æftera Līþa (Pasture Mōnaþ), 736th Year of the Crusade

The heroes spoke at length about what to do next; about whether they should depart from Old Llygad by themselves or find a way to return the crusaders who were now free from their curse.

They quickly decided that it would be best for them to rescue the crusaders from Old Llygad, but the logistics of that decision proved a complication. While the ritual that they had found in the study on the second floor of the Crimson Tower allowed for very powerful arcanists to return large groups of people, Luca was only able to return a dozen or so people. Even if he were to preform the ritual repeatedly, it would require a volunteer to sacrifice themselves each time, which might be a very high price to pay in order to return more than five hundred people.

Eventually, everyone decided to either join in the revelry or get the rest they deserved. As it became later in the night and the wine kept flowing, some of the revelry turned pretty grim as the fragile sanity of the crusaders began to buckle under their intoxication. Emrys, who had remained awake, used the opportunity to perform a rousing speech to the troops in his guise as Prior Benedict, which calmed some of the more volatile emotions and kept the situation in the camp from spiralling out of control. It was very deep into the night before Emrys would find his bed in the commander’s tent.

When morning arrived, James went out to the battlefield only to find that the apothecaries of Pholtus were there to collect the bodies of the fallen and send them off in large funeral pyres. As James was surveying the scene, he was joined by Ser Estienne, who told him that he had kept an eye on the tower and could report that there had been movement spotted on the balcony. Due to the continued shimmering dome it remained unclear who, or how many people were in the tower, but the tower was definitely not dormant.

Another interesting and unexpected development was that the camp had started to wake up and was getting ready to depart and march north towards Gryphon’s Roost. Now that the battle was over and the curse had ended, the crusaders were eager to depart and put as much distance between themselves and that dreadful tower as they could. It seemed that they were unaware that they were in an alternate reality and that there was no departure; at least by means of conventional travel.

With all of that news it was decided to gather everyone at the commander’s tent and wake up Emrys. Soon, the knights started to gather outside of the commander’s tent, eager to get their orders from their Prior. Inside, however, a discussion was ongoing on how to proceed. The choices were thus;

The heroes could go towards Isobel’s Vale and use the Fey crossing to depart Old Llygad. Another option was for the heroes to ask each of the knights to find a volunteer among their men who would sacrifice themselves so the rest could be returned using the ritual. Lastly, the idea of assaulting the tower and using the portal at the top floor was also on the table.

None of the plans seemed to be ideal. When talking to the knights gathered outside the commander’s tent, the heroes explained the predicament that everyone was in, and why it was not possible for everyone to simply march for Gryphon’s Roost. Consternation and confusion went through the knights. As the hope and optimism died in the eyes of the knights, it became clear that only the thinnest veneer of civility and composure held the group together. They were about to crack and break down. Emma called upon the Sedna, goddess of waters, and a fine mist descended upon the group, soothing and calming their fears. It gave Emrys an opportunity to give another speech to reassure the knights.

It became clear that the troops would be incapable of assaulting the tower. It had been the source of all their dread for such a long time that the overwhelming majority was incapable of overcoming their fear to move against the place. It was also deemed cruel to ask the survivors to step forward as volunteer sacrifices, and so the plan was hatched to infiltrate the tower and see what state the portal was in and whether it could be used to teleport back to the material plane without performing the ritual and without incurring such a heavy price.

Besides, first one of the elementals powering the protective dome would need to be defeated in order to gain access to the tower, and Emma was only capable of enchanting so many people to be able to tread on water and engage in that fight. A group was formed, consisting of the adventurers, Ser Estienne, Gorden, Ser Fulton and Connal, a priest of Pholtus.

The group was significantly smaller than they had hoped they’d be able to take to assault the tower, and as such, special attention was paid to the gear distribution. Now that there was no coming back in case of death, Emma asked whether anyone would have a pristine diamond for her so that she may attempt to bring someone back to life. James rummaged around in his bag and retrieved a collection of precious stones he had liberated from Atilesceon’s study in the Crimson Tower, among which they found a suitable diamond.

The heroes and their companions departed for the tower, leaving instructions for the crusaders to start breaking camp and to await further orders. When they reached the shore, Emma performed the prayers to Sedna allowing the group to tread on water as if it was a solid surface. They approached one of the elementals and engaged it in combat. The elemental sank into the water and disappeared from sight, only to reappear right on top of Emrys who was captured inside and began his fight against drowning. Everyone attacked the water elemental, including Emrys from inside it, until the water dissipated and the golden bracers sank into the dark depths of Lake Llygad. Emrys coughed up enough water to fill a bucket, but luckily was okay and eager to continue.

The heroes and their companions made it to and up the causeway, confronted by the grizzly scene of broken bones and decomposing entrails of the crusaders previously nailed to the tower walls. Like previously, the door to the tower could easily be opened, and the scene inside was much like the ones the heroes had previously seen. The only real difference was that previously, they had seen a large portrait on the mantle above the hearth depicting Atilesceon, which now was nowhere to be found. James quickly investigated the cellar by going down the trapdoor, but found it much the way he had seen it before.

As the heroes started to get ready to go up to the second floor, Emrys noticed that they weren’t alone and began suspecting that someone or something was observing them while remaining hidden from sight. As they moved through the trapdoor leading up, they quickly shut the door behind them, locking whatever it was that was following them on the ground floor. They heard a thump as something tried to open the trapdoor, but with Astrid standing on it, whatever it was that tried to get in, was not strong enough to lift the tall Helmarker.

A whimpering voice could be heard on the other side of the trapdoor, begging for them to open up. When the heroes eventually did, it revealed a small fiendish creature, with the body of a kobold, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion. He introduced himself as Sadwick, and claimed to be Atilesceon’s familiar. He and Atilesceon had a love-hate relationship, and Sadwick was eager to help the heroes mess with his master. He was sick and tired of being in Atilesceon’s service and wanted to be released so he could travel the Astral Sea.

After talking with Sadwick the heroes came to the conclusion that he was relatively harmless, but decided to keep an eye on him. Sadwick managed to reveal that the artificer was in the tower and that he had several “tiefling” followers with him. These tieflings were discovered when they moved to the next floor, Atilesceon’s bedroom, where they found several of them engaging in a strange, morbid orgy. The heroes decided to attack and cut several of them down before the rest fled to the next floor up. When the heroes pursued, they found themselves in Atilesceon’s laboratory, together with several tieflings, as well as Atilesceon himself, who had been looking out over Old Llygad from the balcony.

Atilesceon did not look like the man they had once seen on the portrait, but instead of a tall, grotesquely attractive man, dressed in lavish, opulent clothes. Everyone readied themselves for the confrontation.

Urinal Cakes

A while ago, I saw a video online of a drunk man at one of those metal, men’s room urinals shaped like a trough. He was so drunk that he thought it was the sink where you could wash your hands. He couldn’t figure out how to turn on the tap, so in frustration he used what he thought was water at the bottom of the urinal to wash his hands, using the urinal cakes as soap.

I think about that man a lot. I always feel as if I’m only two steps removed from being that man.

Broken Curses and Cycles

Previously, the adventurers investigated the crusader camp, finding out more about the situation they found themselves in and possible solutions. They spoke to Gorden, one of the guards in Lord Destan’s retinue, to Lauriel Skycaller, the Senhadrim priestess, and to Ser Estienne, the legendary knight whose sanity had stayed somewhat in tact because of his mythical sword and its magical powers. The camp revealed some other interesting parties, like the apothecaries of Pholtus, or the dwarven scribes under the leadership of Ser Kadagar Ashbeard. The adventurers also rode into battle together with the cursed crusaders and managed to analyse it before being overwhelmed by the demon opposition and dying another horrible death. When they woke up again, they had a plan to preempt an attack on the demons in the hope of taking away their aerial domination.

Second Day, Third Wik, Æftera Līþa (Pasture Mōnaþ), 736th Year of the Crusade

James hatched a plan to coordinate the griffon riders in a preemptive attack against the demons flying around the tower. Luca and Quentin helped James organise an ambush by convincing the leader of the artillery crew, Ser Wentworth, to get prepared to support the griffon riders, and while Luca convinced a squad of infantry to take up a bow, Quentin convinced Ser Estienne to commit his infantry as archers as well. James ordered half of the griffon riders to hide high in the air, protected from sight by flying against the sun, while he took the other half of the griffon riders to lure the flying demons from around the tower, which worked out splendidly.

The demons eagerly followed James and the griffon riders, but the largest of the demons, Baraxxis the Balor, a huge brute wreathed in dark smoke and a fiery aura, with the head of a bull, the wings of an enormous bat, carrying a fiery whip and an electrified sword. The brute charged ahead and crossed the enormous distance between the demons and the griffon riders in the blink of an eye, suddenly appearing perilously close and hot on Tourbillon’s tail feathers.

The archers and artillery had been set up in the treeline using the cover of the trees as protection. When Baraxxis arrived he immediately summoned two scores of demons who came crawling out of demonic circles which appeared on the ground in front of the archers. They were small and spindly, like a bipedal cross between an insect and a kobold. Without hesitation they fell upon the archers, and Luca was also set upon.

The fight between the adventurers and Baraxxis was violent and long. Early, James was riding Tourbillon, but quickly dismounted the griffon to help Luca and Quentin fight the brute, while Tourbillon went to help the archers by attacking the demons they were fighting. Luca sent bolts of eldritch force into Baraxxis and Quentin kept making charging passes on his horse, while James darted in and out of the battle to strike the enormous demon in vital areas. For a while it looked as if the demons was going to be unbeatable, especially considering that every time one of the adventurers came near the demon, they were burned by its fiery aura and at risk of being entangled bit its whip, or cleaved by its electric sword.

It took everything the adventurers had, including several of the magical potions they had received from Barnaby in Bournemouth, to keep them going long enough. Several of the adventurers were on the brink of death, only to be rescued by the daring interventions of their companions.

The fight saw more than its fair share of miracles. Once, Luca was snatched up by Baraxxis and both of them disappeared, only to appear high up in the air, where the wicked Balor let Luca drop to his death down below. Luca still has no idea how he survived the fall; likely due to a combination of memory-suppressing terror and a possible concussion he received from smashing into the ground. The biggest miracle of all was that through sheer will and determination, the adventurers managed to bring Baraxxis to heel. With one final charge, Quentin rode into the blaze surrounding the nightmarish demon, pierced its body with the lance he had been gifted by Ser Estienne, and brought the demon down.

Unfortunately, the demon had one more trick up its sleeve. As it went down, its demonic life escaping back to the Abyss, it exploded in a roar of fire. Quentin and James were nearly killed if it wasn’t for the fact that Luca was far enough away from the demon to escape further injury and could administer more of Barnaby’s restorative potions. Quentin’s horse, sadly, did perish in the attack.

With Baraxxis out of the fight and the archers having had help from Tourbillon in defeating the wave of smaller demons, the remaining flying demons were no match against the griffon riders and their support. Once they were all defeated over half the griffon riders were ready to fight in the main battle later on. Some of them were wounded but would be capable of engaging. Only a few of the griffon riders didn’t survive the battle, as had a few of the archers.

Soon after the fight, after Emma had seen to the remaining wounds of the adventurers who had engaged in the fight with Baraxxis, the bells started to toll and the expedition moved out towards the battlefield. Emrys ordered the griffon riders to support the cavalry and for the artillery to do the same; after each of the cavalry’s charge, the artillery could fire at will and the air cavalry could swoop in afterwards. Two-thirds of the infantry was to focus on the incoming demonic ambushers, while one-third could move out onto the shore of the lake to support the cavalry.

Crucially, Luca decided to place a magic circle on the location of one of the five portals which were about to open in the woods. It’s powers of abjuration would prevent anyone inside the circle from moving out, effectively nullifying one of the portals. Lauriel Skycaller, priestess of Sehanine Moonbow, used her powers to inflict a magical slumber on the demons coming out of two of the remaining four portals, further stemming the tide. The apothecaries of Pholtus were among the infantry to immediately apply healing and provide support where necessary. Astrid had gotten a hold of Dame Josephine’s flaming sword because James was uncomfortable using it, and she was ready to charge into the oncoming wave, while Emma was ready to unleash her waves of water to keep the demons at bay.

When the battle started Quentin was riding side by side with Ser Estienne in the cavalry. The first charge was a success and as he wheeled the cavalry around, the artillery, air cavalry and infantry engaged, giving the cavalry plenty of time to turn around. The second charge was a success as well. Meanwhile, in the woods, the precautions that the adventurers had taken together with Lauriel Skycaller had almost halved the rush of incoming ambushers. Unfortunately, Lauriel was only half successful and she urged Emrys to come forth and enter one of the remaining portals before the demons came out. Hesitantly, he jumped into one of the open portals and collapsed it.

The strategy had been a great success. The continual charges by the cavalry brought the demons on the shore of the lake to heel. The infantry stemmed the tide of ambushers coming through the greatly diminished portals. Of course there were casualties, many casualties. Infantry, sergeants, squires and knights. Chief among the casualties was Lauriel Skycaller, who was attacked by the demons that managed to break through the enchantment she had placed on them. She was viciously torn apart.

The adventurers all survived, though not without their own cuts and bruises. But more importantly, hundreds of the crusaders survived. As the battle came to its end, many of them did not quite know what to do with themselves. Some of them cried. Some of the laughed. Some of them walked into the lake until the water took them. Many of them just sat there as the sun crept across the sky and started sinking in the west; a sight they had not seen in countless years.

The curse had been lifted. Everyone who was dead would remain so. The battle of the Crimson Tower had been won, and the crusaders would never again be nailed to its white walls.