I run the book club at H.A.T.E. (Hackney Area Tabletop Enthusiasts) Club which started over lockdown. We were lucky enough to host Dan Abnett as he talked us through his seminal novel Xenos, and then Ian invited me onto his Arbitor Ian YouTube channel to talk all about it!
My third article for Dragon+ in their Issue #36 is here!
Dragon+ assignments are always dreamy. Matt Chapman gives great guidance and the interviewees are such a pleasure. Kyle Newman, Michael Witwer and Jon Peterson have deep geek levels of D&D knowledge and are so passionate about their projects that the interviews are a delight. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
The lovelies at Lush asked me about my thoughts on Art!
I got to namedrop a few of my favourite things including Phonogram, Thamesmeerd & Cameron Crowe, and of course, talk about *me* a lot.
Thamesmeerd got a mention in The Sunday Times today (following a feature in The Independent in the week!)
Have you watched it yet? Thamesmeerd website
I decided to add another string to my bow.
(That makes three strings.)
I’m acting alongside the band Dream Themes and a raft of lovely talented London peeps in Thamesmeerd. This is an exciting new soap opera written by Paul, the Dream Themes band leader. I play Maria the barmaid.
If you’re interested to see my fumbling attempts to say a script and appear to embody the emotions of said words, please check out the official Thamesmeerd Facebook page and like it.
Recovered from Dain’s sticky mess, we once again gathered around the teleporter.
Time to choose another button and continue our exploration of this tower. The teleportion device was a marvel, and the Tower itself was a gorgeous construct. Such a shame it had fallen into the hands of the cultists.
“The star!” I insisted this time, and so we gathered together and were whooshed upstairs to a brightly lit room with a huge glass lens for a roof and a large telescope.
“Ah the observatorium!” observed Malkanis incorrectly.
Unfortunately we were also to discover that the observatory was already occupied. “Here we go again” I sighed as more dragon cultists and mages began attacking us.
Lorog hurled a javelin and everything went crazy. One of the cultist mages remained expressionless as he threw a frost cold attack spell at us, Baltazar parried with a ray of frost and then we were all fighting for our lives.
Finally, we beat out the bad guys and I scampered up a nearby ladder to investigate the glass ceiling. Malkanis followed me and touched his charmed sword to the lens. I looked at him disbelievingly as it shattered all around us. We slowly descended the ladder.
Back on solid ground I was delighted to see that Baltazar had somehow been reunited with his faithful familiar Athena. I took this as a good luck omen as I picked glass splinters out of my clothes.
Someone had rifled through the belongings of our defeated foes and discovered an hourglass key! Ahh! The way to the elusive hourglass room? We picked our way through glass to the teleport pad and were off again.
The candle grows low as I write this, so I shall have to cut short the details of our derring-do..suffice it to say that in the hourglass room, we were confronted by terrifying fire and earth elementals.
Lorog threw himself recklessly into the fray, and Dain was inspired by the blood lust and followed his leave. I see everything that happens in these battles but I am sure our barbarians just see red mist.
Turook our orc doesn’t like fire. “NOT LIKE FIRE!” I hear him yelling from across the room. Some of us are actually set on fire, but we managed to extinguish each other thank goodness.
From one battle to another, and MORE elementals. The details blur, but I remember Malkanis stepping from the teleporter with a pillow in his hand. I took it gratefully something to smother flames if I was ignited again..! I know I can’t have dreamt that he showed up with a pillow because I have it with me even now as I write…but that was weird.
The last fire elemental we encountered, I believe Kerranin took down..he smote that hot headed enemy and extinguished all light from the flame of his existence. Although he is a bit brainless when it comes to his Dragon Rage, he is a very clever cleric. I think him stopping the mages from casting spells on us by casting a holy silence upon them probably saved our skin!
Ahh the candle is fluttering out..I must end.
– excerpt from the journals of Fickle Silvershield, 1st day of Highsun
After the trials of the maze, our elation at finally finding the tower was short lived as we came across a gruesome sight. Our contact from within the Tower, the Zentharim agent, had fallen to his death and his body lay shattered in a bloody pool, bits of guts and brains had splattered out on impact and one lonely eyeball glared up at us balefully, violently removed from it’s socket.
It is no secret that a bard such as myself will follow a group for adventures and glory to sing about ever after. The gory and scary stuff however, never gets any easier to stomach, and after emptying my guts involuntarily and discreetly around a corner, I was relieved to see the group settling to rest after the trials of Xonthal’s twisty maze. Our heads had finally stopped buzzing from the magical illusions and tests that had plagued us and we were able to sleep soundly.
On awakening, we circled the tower to try and find a way in. No doors to be seen, but we found what seemed to be a teleport device. I have a very limited experience of teleportation, but as all nine of us gathered together on the teleportation circle I felt a little braver, even when the spinning, whirling sensation came and we saw stars.
Blinking on arrival in the new destination we seemed to be in a dark chamber. The decor was eerie and gloomy, decorated with hissing dragons and snakes. People who make these kind of interior design choices are never fun to meet in person. Especially when you’re intruding on their property.
Venturing forth into the room, we came across another bloody sight. A woman, stabbed in the back with a dragon tooth dagger, lying face down in a pool of blood. The orc and the halfling were quick to search her body for clues and spoils but I feared a reappearance of my hastily gulped breakfast so turned away. She seemed to have been a high ranking member of the Dragon Cultists. What was going on in this tower?
Turook, our celebrated half orc fighter quickly took stock of the room. There were two balconies overlooking the circle, and we were prime targets were archers to appear up there! He swung himself up onto one and spotted some buttons, and yelled to us to take a look. Balthazar, our wizard was busying himself inspecting the many bookshelves that lined the walls and slipping anything that looked suitably arcane into his many bags and deep pockets. Mim was pulling and prodding at the bookcases, seeking out traps or hidden rooms, whilst Kerranin our cleric had also spotted buttons and described the sigils carved onto each of them.
Teleport buttons to other rooms we surmised? But what did the symbols mean? Why wouldn’t you label the buttons with words over pictures I bemoaned as we ummed and aaahed over which button to pick. I fancied the star shape. “Typical bard” someone muttered, “Head in the stars while the rest of us try and keep her alive”
Eventually the paladin Malkanis and the cleric decided on a button, sometimes it’s sensible to listen to the vessels of the gods, even bloodthirsty vessels such as these two. We all gathered together again to be transported.
This time we arrived in a room of worship. We could tell because a grotesque altar made of dragon’s claws dominated the centre of the room, and six worshippers were gathered around it moaning and chanting. They had the slack jawed look of the mindless, weak, over indulged dragon cultists that we had seen before. Nine of us and an owl versus only six of them I though? Easy pickings!
Before we could sneak to surprise them, Kerranin roared with the fury only those fanatical dwarven dragon haters can muster “DRAGON LOVING SCUM!!!” and charged at them. We all leapt into the fray, confident that we could quickly dispatch our enemy.
It always looks easy at first…until the spellcasters arrive. First they blasted us with freezing cold ice and then the whole room lit up when they launched a mighty fireball that left me reeling.
The room began spinning as the blast blew me off my feet and smashed me against a wall. Glancing over at our wizard as I flew past him I saw him lying on the ground in dire condition, Athena circled his body, crying out and screaming for him before I saw another mighty flame incinerate her, and she disappeared in a flash of feathers and ash.
“NOoooOOOooOoo!!” I heard Balthazar cry weakly, as he saw his faithful familiar destroyed. Euraliar our sorcerer screamed in rage at his fellow magic user being hit and released a scorching ray at the evil foe who crumpled to his death. The whole party realised our avian friend had gone in the same moment it seemed and it galvanised us into even fiercer fighting.
I saw Dain club one cultist to death, Malkanis quickly slew another one, and Balthazar, rallied by Euraliar’s scorching ray revenge managed to summon a deadly firebolt to our cause. Kerranin, ever the extremist when dealing with dragon lovers, summoned a pillar of flame which smote and dispatched the last of our foes.
Finally the room quieted and we came together to mourn our lost friend Athena and heal. Most of us stood talking softly and consoling each other.
All of us, that is except Dain, the barbarian dwarf, who raged at the altar and smashed at it again and again! “A owl! A owl!” He howled. “Stop! Don’t!” We warned him. He didn’t listen. “To the transporter circle!” I cried, unwilling to share in any punishment that Oghma the God of Knowledge would decide to mete out to him. We all ran to safety to watch what would happen.
The learned Oghma did indeed seek to show him the error of his ways and punished him by encapsulating him in stone so he couldn’t breathe! “I’m sorry I’m really sorry!” he cried until he was released.
He rejoined us on the transport circle. After Kerranin had seen to our injuries and we had recovered somewhat I entreated the group “Let’s be careful next time! We can sneak in on people remember!” I sang a mournful song for remembrance of Athena and we pressed another button…
The now familiar whoosh!! And we were in a corridor. There were many doors to pick from, and we listened at one, hearing voices behind. I heard the paladin whisper to the cleric, “They’re probably cultists in there too”. “No!” I said but it was too late! Kerranin surged in full of renewed fervour, “DEATH! To all dragons!!” he roared and kicked the door in and raced in.
“Oh boy” I gulped, “What’s wrong with these dwarves?! One’s just tried to beat up an altar and the other is crazy with bloodlust!”
This time, we had the jump on the foes we discovered, but I was worrying about Euraliar. His wild magic is unstable at the best of times, but I could see he was still emotional and angry from the vicious attack on Balthazar and our loss of Athena. More worrying, as I ran past him I could smell ozone and the forest and rain and lava, a sure sign that an excess wild magic was gathering around him.
Euraliar was a hermit when we stumbled across him, and he always held himself slightly apart, but he and the equally introverted Balthazar had slowly and quietly bonded over a love and fascination of all aspects of magic. The hurt and loss that his friend had suffered was hurting him deeply now too.
I fired my crossbow, our cleric wielded his warhammer laughing manically as he smashed at our enemies and all was chaos. I saw Mim fix his hunter’s mark, I could see Rads thumping and stomping but I’d lost all sight of Dain. That demented, drunken dwarf, where was he?! I would later hear that he had headed off on his own..why!?
As soon as the room was cleared of enemies, we just had enough time for a collective breath of relief before we all sighed it out again at the inevitable. Once again, Kerannin had barged through into the next room with a battlecry, his face wearing a beatific expression of blood lust. More cultists, more fighting, more blood. As we finally dispatched what I prayed would be the last of this scum, I looked warningly at the cleric, ready to plead with him, PLEASE no more charging, but before I could, we were all stuck in place, completely immobilised by a silvery grey goo that seemed to come from nowhere…
What Did Dain Do?
The barbarian dwarf had bored of our fray and had run off to barge open more doors. These dwarves will be the death of us! He’d found an empty barracks and ransacked it of its meagre contents then barrelled into a broom cupboard where he’d discovered a silver grey potion in a bottle. The fool had tried to drink it, but it had turned into the sticky, goo that now stuck us all in position…
A Blink of the Eye and a Banishment Amid Chaos…
Stuck in the goo, all we could do was struggle, and I was concerned to see Euraliar thrashing and struggling as if something had taken ahold of him. I tried to call out to him, but at the same time something magical and noxious hit me and I screamed in pain instead. I saw Balthazar disappear into another dimension with a blink, and the cleric realising that Euraliar was losing control of his spells banished him to another realm…
All was quiet.
The goo disappeared, and we heard Dain’s voice greeting us all, “Guys, wait til I tell you what I found!”
A second later, Euraliar and Balthazar popped back into existence. Balthazar looked fine, if battle weary. Euraliar had a relieved look in his eye but his entire skin was bright blue..
Ignoring Dain, we crowded around our cerulean friend, “What happened to you?” I asked admiring his new brilliant tone. “You are as bright blue as a berry!”
He shook his head looking at all of us in turn and laughing. “What didn’t happen?!” he asked.*
– excerpt from the journals of Fickle Silvershield, 26th day of Summertide
What Happened To Euraliar
Taken over by his chaotic, wild magic, Euraliar cast a necrotic curse at all of us before our fast thinking cleric banished him to another plane. While there he remembers being more confused than he had ever been, feeling himself casting fireball spells, aging rapidly, being surrounded by flumps and a monster, teleporting again and then finding himself back in the room with us, as bright blue as a peacock. Quite the eventful sixty seconds!
NB. He didn’t tell any of us this at the time. I myself would hear this story many years later when we met in a quiet tavern in The High Forest, which I think was very wise as if we had known all of this, we might have wished he’d go back to being a hermit again!
Our group was weary from wandering through the maze. Following the direction that the sundial was indicating or just following a straight line didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.
Bored and restless, I leapt onto the sundial in frustration and was astounded when I seemed to fall into space and out of existence for a moment, seconds later I stumbled out of the hedges to the surprise of my confederates who all turned around to survey me.
“I fell through the sundial!” I said
“Yeah, we saw you” they replied
In the time I’d been falling through dimensions a strategy for conquering this maze had been agreed on, and as we progressed, it seemed we had finally figured things out. Malkanis threw his greatsword at the ground in disgust. “I said we should try this from the beginning of the maze!” he grumbled. When he retrieved his weapon, the grass where it had fallen was white with ice.
We wandered into a charming grove where a we came across a pagoda surrounded by a moat with a quaint bridge leading to its entrance. The monk beckoned us in, tempting us with soft cushions and a boiling kettle. He was dressed in yellow silken robes decorated with gold and red fish and he bowed deeply to us. We were enchanted by the faint music playing all around and a few of us ventured within, to avail ourselves of his comforts. Alas! This comfy haven turned out to be a trap and the monk transformed into an evil dao, the kettle turned out to be full of poisonous fumes and a wall flew up trapping us inside!
While we engaged the dao in combat choking from the poison, our faithful companions outside vigorously attacked the wall to try to come to our aid. After a frenetic melée inside during which Malkanis was knocked unconscious, and those trapped suffered much damage our friends efforts to smash us free concluded with a mighty fireball cast by Euralyre. The wall was sundered and once our party was able to act in force against the duplicitous dao he was soon bested. Dain struck the killing blow and we cheered with relief before Okran tended to our wounds. We found a gem in the accursed kettle and Mim added it to our collection. This maze is good only for near deadly encounters and gemstone aficionados it seems…
We slept in the pagoda, but restlessly and woke up feeling out of sorts and not at all refreshed. The evil effects of the maze haunted us even in our dreams.
The next time we chanced across the all too familiar sundial we leapt through it together. When Dain seemed reluctant to follow, Turook grabbed him by his helmet and dragged him along. Gasping and laughing we emerged to find we were at the foot of The Tower…
What lies ahead we can not tell, although I for one shall be quite happy if there are no sundials or hedges in our immediate future.
– excerpt from the journals of Fickle Silvershield, 19th day of Summertide