Like a gaping, Stygian maw, the entrance to the catacombs beckoned me toward its desolate depths. The entrance to the ruins was nothing more than a hole in the ground at the base of a small hill, half-hidden by brush and scrub that concealed its opening. I stood on the topmost step of a winding staircase that lead down beneath the cairn, plunging deeper into the earth than I could see, even with darkvision. I stared down into the twisting pit until a voice behind me caused me nearly to jump.

“Well, here we are again.” It was Osanna. I half-turned to face her as she came up next to me, staring down the spiraling staircase. “We’ve already been through here once. We should just be able to walk in, no?”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I murmured as I turned to look at the others – Sir Thrune, Xander, and Bill – as they came up behind us. “I have no idea what the magics in here might be capable of doing, let alone the Dullahan itself. We know it’s still in here. I’ve dreamed of it.”

“Probably better safe than sorry,” Bill agreed, sounding a little bored as he nodded.

Osanna shrugged. “If you say so.” Continue reading

Happy Birthday

So today is PJ’s birthday, which corresponds with Glenn’s birthday, so I’m posting something that happens on Helena’s birthday. No, that didn’t really make any sense to me either.

Anyway, if anyone ever wanted to know why Helena ran away from home, look no further. I wrote this pretty shortly after I finished Fallen; I was actually going to do a whole other novella about her and what she gets up to while Glenn is goofing off saving Varisia with the rest of the party, but I never finished it. But this particular bit is pretty good and stands on its own, and nobody’s ever gotten a chance to see anything from her perspective, so I thought I’d throw it up here. Enjoy! Continue reading

Where Angels Fear To Tread, part 3 — Vanished Memories

“Sini,” Glenn panted, pausing to hold a stitch in his side, “where are we going?”

“Away from the Daemons,” the kobold replied simply, glancing back over her shoulder at Glenn. “And goblin should call Sini… Chief Sini.”

Chief? Glenn stared at her for a moment. “We’ve been running for hours. Shouldn’t we find shelter, or at least a place to sleep? Won’t it be dark soon?”

“No sleep,” Sini said, shaking her head. “Souls don’t sleep. No dark, either. No night in Abaddon. Hunted now…just run. Always run.” Continue reading

Restless Night

Following the dullahan triumph Bill enjoys his time reading, practicing and eating.  On a whim, he decides to speak with his father and journeys back to Sandpoint, just to find the shop is closed, his father gone and a note.

Unable to travel back to Magnimar immediately, he begins to plan while growing angrier as the night wears on.  Unable to sleep, he tosses and turns, periodically taking walks around the neighborhood.  Eventually, he manages to fall asleep in his father’s chair.  Within a short time, he wakes in a cold sweat and begins preparing his spells for the day in a hasty fashion.  “5 spells and I will make it in time”.

After simple teleport and fly spell, he arrives in Magnimar.  Pushing himself, he rushes from his arrival in the library to Osanna’s temple, making it as the service begins.  Bill sits quietly, eyes dead locked on Osanna as she steps through the morning rituals.  Despite her unmistakably unnerved glances, Osanna continues.  Unable to wait any longer, Bill casts a spell and vanishes.  Those around are surprised, unable to determine what happened.  Sounds from another spell come from the isle.  Heavy footsteps suddenly roar through the temple moving quickly towards Osanna.  Suddenly, a troll appears, picks up the unsuspecting paladin and throws her to the floor.  Placing its foot on her chest, it begins to speak, “If my father dies, so will you.  Get the others and find me in the library.”  Pressing harder on her chest, it speaks one more time before disappearing again. “Do not make me wait long.”

Chocolate Lasagna, aka Chocolate Striped Delight (vegan-friendly optional!)

I’m not vegan. Really. I promise. But I do have a bunch of weird food restrictions (including not being able to eat dairy) and an even weirder stomach disease (that I’m not going to get into in this post.) The end result is that I end up making a fair amount of vegan, or almost-vegan food.

Like this…thing. It has a couple of names. I see it referred to in recent years as Chocolate Lasagna. My mom used to make something pretty similar called Chocolate Striped Delight when I was a kid. Whatever you call it, and however you make it (vegan or not), it’s really delicious. So you should totally make it.

chocolatelasagna Continue reading

Daybreak. Osanna’s Journal Part 21.

Good morning, my friends!  Ular and I are both overjoyed to see you all back here this morning after such an eventful grand opening!  There’s laughter from the attendees.  Now to business.  Ordinarily, I would talk with you all about the goings on in your lives and have an educational piece to discuss with you so that you might consider her teachings for the betterment of yourselves and your families, but today needs to be an exception. 

You all deserve nothing less than the truth and transparency.  The day before yesterday, during the opening ceremony, a man was positioned just there (Osanna points to the high rafters near a corner of the ceiling) with the intent of murdering or injuring as many of you as he could.  (Alarmed mumbles are heard for a moment from the parishioners before Osanna continues)  He was a hired assassin, and he’s been at work here in Magnimar for some time.  I also know that he was in the employ of a darker man that has been plaguing the dockside for some time now.

Friends, yesterday my compatriots and I raided a warehouse on the docks that belonged to this man that was employing the assassin.  The warehouse is now clear, the ruffians are either dead or in the custody of the Hell Knights, and the apparent mastermind behind all of this is dead.  (The crowd cheers!)   I’m not finished.  Now, I want you all to pay attention to what I’m about to tell you, because it concerns your safety.

The assassin is still alive, and it is highly likely that the slain man that hired him was in league with the local arm of the Sczarni crime syndicate.  If the archer is wise, he will have fled Magnimar for good.  If he is not wise, then he’s slept his last peaceful night.  This situation has the potential to get worse before it gets better.  (More whispers and grumbles from the crowd) 

Your first reaction might be to hide in your homes, or to avoid this very building, Her house, that was built for you.  I would counsel against this.  Instead, I advise defiance.  The last church of Sarenrae that stood on this very ground was abandoned some fifty years ago because the clerics were murdered by cowards, and the good people that came here to congregate were frightened away.  That bit of history will not repeat itself. 

So, to all of you, I say walk your city.  Come here to pray and organize.  Draw strength from one another and grant succor to those in need.  Live life to its fullest as you would, for the sun has risen.  Soon, these cockroaches will find that they will not have shadows to crawl and hide in.  As for me, they know now the caliber of their enemy, and they will not find me easy prey.  Now please, I’d be honored if you’d join me in our first prayer together.  (And together they pray)

It comes! Through thy divine grace, O Great and Glorious Sarenrae, The sun of righteous fire rises with healing in its wings! The glory of the Dawnflower shines upon us. More precious than gold, your shining splendor. Sweeter than honey, your radiant forgiveness. Oh dispeller of darkness, shining one, radiant and effulgent goddess of mercy, You banish choking night and the blindness of our ignorance. The Dawn brings new light. Sarenrae be praised.

The Long Walk Pt. 3

The young man woke to the sound of a great peal of thunder and the sensation of dust and small pebbles falling on his head.  He was cold.  At first he thought it was just another round of the chills caused by the hunger, but no, as he opened his eyes even his eyelashes had a thin layer of frost on them.  He struggled to sit up and a shower of snow cascaded off of him and onto the cave floor.  His disorientation lasted several minutes as he cast his gaze around the cave.  It was lit faintly by a blue glow coming from the cave mouth.  Every few seconds a gust of wind would blow in sending clouds of snow and ice over him.  Then it hit him.  All the memories came flooding back.  The fasting, the tests, and what was, apparently, his failure in the end.  He was surprised they had let him live.  Maybe it was the last gift from his master.  He almost dropped to his knees with the sense of loss and failure. He realized how disappointed his master must have been in him.

Rather than succumbing to his sadness he stumbled to the cave mouth.  He took stock of himself.  He was once again in the filthy gown he had been wearing in his cell.  His bare feet were already burning from the cold stone under them.  He had to prop himself up on the wall of the entrance as another tremendous thunder clap shook the cave.  Small clouds of dust and stones dropped around him.  He decided it would be better to die trying to get down from whatever frozen mountain he had been abandoned than to rot in the cave.

He exited the cave onto a narrow stone ridge that stood impossibly high above a deep crevasse.  Its depths descended into only darkness below.  The blue glow came from the cloudy and twilit sky above him.  For a moment he thought he could make out dark and sinister shapes swooping and swinging through the dark clouds above.  Those clouds roiled angrily with pent up energy.  He knew if the mountain didn’t kill him the coming blizzard would.  Clutching tight to the mountain wall he carefully picked his way along the ridge, stopping every few minutes to keep his balance as another clap of thunder shook the mountain.

For what seemed like hours he followed the ridge.  He could see nearby mountains clawing up into the steel grey clouds, but always a deep ravine separated him from them.  His ridge dipped and rose, sometimes he was forced to leap over areas where it had collapsed.  Once he had nearly fallen to his death when he lost his footing.  When he was nearly ready to give up he found something, and it terrified him.  A narrow stone foot bridge rose up from the ridge and over the deep crevasse.  A strong wind blew between the mountains and the foot bridge was surely treacherous with snow and ice.

He stood there for long moments thinking to himself that he had nothing else to loose.  To his family he was dead.  To his master he was a failure.  The gates of power were forever closed to him.  He knew what price he had paid before his failure and so he knew even his immortal soul was not his.  He found the thought strangely freeing.  With nothing left to loose he was truly free.  He set his foot upon the bridge.

He struggled against the wind, desperately trying to keep his footing as he crested the footbridge.  As it descended he could just make out that a shallow cleft had been carved into the side of a mountain.  On it stood the black outline of a roof supported by numerous columns.  A jolt of hope shot through him and he began to quicken his pace.  Maybe he wasn’t dead yet.  Maybe he could find shelter there for the night.

When he finally set foot on steady ground again his hope left him at once.  Snow filled winds swirled amongst the huge columns.  The ceiling of the building rose many yards above him, but was empty.  Empty but for the shape of a solitary figure sitting on a raised dais overlooking what lay beyond the building.  He approached cautiously, but was unable to keep his frostbite blackened feet from crunching on the snow.  Moments later he stood a few feet from the seated man.  He wore the red robes of the monks from the temple of the dark prince.  Next to him sat a worn copper singing bowl.  He stood in wonder as the monk reached over to take the bowl and stick in hand.  He ran the stick around the bowl’s mouth and it began to sing.  Then suddenly he clapped it down silencing it.  Thunder rocked the mountain.

“You have come a very long way indeed my son.  Few that choose this road find their way here.  Most choose an easier path.”  The young man remained speechless.  His mind had simply stopped trying to process all that had happened to him.  The monk continued, “Those that come this far do so to see the truth.  There is a truth that lies at the center of the universe.  It is beyond good and evil, it is beyond hope and despair.  It is beyond grasping and loss.  You have paid much to get here my son, but it is not too late.  You can still choose oblivion.  Once you have seen this truth you will see that it comes with the heaviest of burdens, one not to be accepted lightly.  What do you say?  Will you shoulder this burden in the name of truth?”

It was only now that the reality of what had happened to him sank in.  He hadn’t failed.  The test had continued.  This was his final test.  His master had not prepared him for this and, although he felt there were rules he didn’t understand, he felt certain that answers and truth were exactly what he wanted from this man.  “Who are you monk?  I am to be trained in the sacred order of the inquisition.  Why are you playing philosophical games with me.  What must I do to finish this infernal test?”

The monk chuckled as he slowly turned to look over his shoulder for the first time.  “You know me.  It was to me that your family nearly sacrificed you to as a baby.  It was I that guided the hand of your wet nurse so that my plans for you could see fruition.  I am the black monk.  I am the dark prince.  I am the keeper of secrets.”  As he turned to face the young man his eyes glowed a menacing red.  “Who am I?  Where were you when my brother and I brought this universe out of the swirling chaos of creation?  Where were you when my brother dared to shatter the holy order of the universe?  Mortal, I am your god.  I am the god amongst gods.”  At these words the last strength left the young man and he fell to his knees.

The monk rose from his cushion and glided over to the young man.  “Yes, yes.  I know.  It is all a little hard to take in.”  A small playful smile crossed the monks face.  He placed a hand on the young man’s head.  “Today you died Peter.  The boy you were is gone.  If you wish, I will complete your journey and cast you down into the pit and you will be free from the burden that awaits you.  Is that what you want?”  The young man looked up into the wise face of the monk.  Within his eyes he thought, just for a moment, he could see the very origin and secrets of the universe.  “Good, I thought not.”  Thunder once again shook the mountain.  “Ah! Your burden calls to you.  Can’t you hear it?  It is time to rise and take your place amongst my most holy of soldiers.  You will strike out against corruption and the disorder that threatens to tear this very universe apart.  You will help me hold back the taint that my brother infected this universe with.  Arise and be reborn Samael, Venom of God.” He removed his hand and the young man rose.

The monk gathered his robes up and turned to face away again, but remained standing. “It is time to go.  We have a long walk and a storm is coming.”

The Long Walk Pt. 2

The young man stepped through the door into the swirling smoke.  Around him the arched cathedral walls and ceiling rang out with the clamour of dissonant trumpets and cymbals.  Before him was a path leading to the center of the cathedral.  It was lined by monks in red robes.  Their large headdresses hung down over their faces. They swayed back and forth. Each chanted his part of a complicated rhythm.  The chant rumbled and soothed the young man.  It was punctuated again and again by the clash of the cymbals and the blast of the great trumpets.

In the distance he could make out eight more paths leading from other doors to the center.  He was filled with a renewed strength and strode forward.  His heavy robes no longer seeming to weight him down.  He felt light.  He felt as if at any moment he would lift into the air.  The path ended in a great circle.  It was filled with an uncountable number of symbols.  He recognized some of the writing from the books in his master’s quarters he had secreted glances.  It was infernal.  The first language.  The language the dark prince spoke to drag order out of chaos.  They seemed to writhe with power almost as if they were resisting the petty form they were forced to take carved in stone.  He stared at the complex circles and diagrams they formed. They almost seemed to take on a glow of their own.

In the circle sat monks.  Each sat in smaller protective circles surrounded by the churning power.  The young man now realized it was the very power of hell itself that coiled around the monks.  In the very center of the circle was a last inner circle.  This pentagram he knew represented both the most public of symbols of the dark prince’s power, but was also the most secret.  He knew without being told that few ever saw the symbol in its purest form.  Ignoring his fear he stepped into the circle walking across the outer circle towards the inner circle.  As he walked his head began to sing.  It burned as if he were staring into the sun.  His robe became heavy and hot.  He reached to his collar and unbuckled it.  It fell to the floor in a swirl of silk.  In his nakedness he burned with fire.  His very skin ached.  And yet onward he pushed.

Finally he stood at the edge of the last circle.  As he prepared to step in he sensed a presence next to him.  He looked over to face the figure in the brown and red robes again.  His voice now little more than a whisper he man said.  “The innkeep demands his payment.  His price is high.  Much wine has been drunk.  Much food eaten.  Many will not pay.”  The young man turned to him.  His teeth ground till he thought they would shatter.  The words nearly tore themselves from this parched throat.  “I…PAY…GLADLY”.  “Then today you die Peter.  No living man may stand in the presence of the throne of hell.”  With a gentle push the young man fell forward into the inner circle.

He fell into darkness.  The darkness was like a blanket on a cold night.  It wrapped him in warmth.  And all that he was faded into oblivion.

The Long Walk

The boy lay on the rough pallet of worn straw. His bony frame was little more than angles and taught skin, the result of at least a fortnight of fasting. The green and grey granite of the walls of his cell were moist from his breath despite the oppressive heat from the brazier that burned in the corner. He rolled on his side dragging the worn burlap “blanket” up around his shoulders, desperately trying to control the shivers of fever that racked his body. In haze of his mind he thought back over the weeks leading up to this point. The daily ritual baths, the pungent herbs the masters burned in the brazier, and perhaps most of all the gnawing hunger that burned like a coal in his guts. The things they burned in the brazier sometimes made him sick, sometimes they dragged his mind out of himself and it was all he could do to keep control. It would all be worth it soon. He had lost track of time, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that his master would return soon to take him to his final test and if he passed…well then the gates of power would open before him. If he didn’t, then he would be dead and at least the pain would be over.

As he mulled the appealing possibilities of oblivion he was startled awake by the heavy metal pop of the lock turning in the ancient door. With all of his remaining strength he rolled back over and stared up at rough jawed but sympathetic face of his master.Gentle but firm hands grasped him by the shoulders, lifting him from his nest. He was momentarily ashamed of the reek of urine and feces that rose off of the long and wasted gown that hid his frame.

“Peter, the first test is complete. You are pure. We will now bathe you and anoint you. Then the second test. It is nearly done”. The boy could do little more than nod his head slowly, unable to support himself with his mind reeling so.

What seemed like an eternity passed. He sat at a table in front of a banquet table. He had been bathed and dressed in the heavy ceremonial robes of gold and red. Around his neck hung the heavy iron circle that was the symbol of the one that would soon be his master. He turned his head trying to fight down the dizziness and nausea again. The table was set, and others like him, perhaps eight, sat at the table. The plates were bare. The cups empty.

From the shadows of the dark and huge dining hall a tall shape emerged. He wore only a simple brown and red robe. His hair was covered by his hood, and his face was hidden not by darkness, but by the smooth ivory of a blank mask. Only glittering eyes could be seen beyond the mask. The man’s strong and resonant voice then echoed off the walls of the hall. “The table is bare, the hearth is cold. The feast is ended. The innkeep demands his pay. Who is willing to pay the price?”

The boy’s body was suddenly racked by shivers. It was suddenly too cold. His fever had begun to break and the words seemed to echo in his mind down to what seemed like his soul. Without being told, he knew what must be done. With weak and trembling arms he pressed himself up to stand. Shuddering and barely more than a whisper he spoke, “Though the price is high, I pay it gladly” There were sounds from others near him muttering their assent. Two fell in the process of standing. Dark figures hurried from the shadows and they were pulled out of the hall.

The man once again spoke, his voice firm and calm. “Then let the tables be filled, and the banquet continued. Let those who will eat be merry.  The price is paid in full.” He suddenly turned on his heel and walked away.

Figures stepped from the shadows to lead the boys and girls from the hall, their bellies still empty. Each was filled with a sense of loss they could not fully grasp. They were led into a long and cold hallway their ragged breaths coming in white clouds. The boy nearly fell into his master’s arms as they wrapped around him. The master was a stern man, but he could see affection in his eyes and the thought warmed him.

“Peter, you have done so well. I heard, you were the first to stand. Our prince will smile on you for certain today. You must be strong for the final and most dangerous of challenges awaits you. You mustn’t fail yourself my son. From here there is no turning back. You know what failure means”

The boy wasn’t sure if he nodded or not, his vision was still a haze of pain and hunger. His master released him and helped him down the hallway He could see each of the others that had emerged from the hall was also his own master. The hall reached a junction, curving off to his left and right. Each of the masters lead his pupil in one direction or another, each stopping in front of a door. His own master lead him to a door bound in black iron. The stone frame was carved in the most intricate of runes and symbols of power. A quiet murmuring penetrated the door, deep and sonorous.

“Peter, I cannot follow you further. This part of the journey is yours alone. Beyond this door you will find your destiny. Beyond this door the dark prince will lay bare his plans. All I can tell you is that beyond this door is oblivion. It is your end.”

This wasn’t what the boy had expected. His end? Oblivion? His master must be mistaken. He had done all that was expected of him. He had learned the prayers. He had mastered the anatomy through days of practice. This was to be his end? Panic began to overtake him. He looked frantically side to side looking for a way to escape. He could surprise his master. Maybe, if he could get away, his father would take him back. If he knew what was going to be done to him…

Then it happened. Something inside him screamed “No!” If his doom awaited him on the other side of the door then he would not flinch from it. The table was set for him. It mattered not if the plates were empty. He suddenly realized his shoulders had relaxed and his master’s knowing hand dropped from his shoulder showing only the briefest glint of the blade that disappeared back into the cuff of his master’s robe.

“My child, you are first among them. Step forward to your fate.” With a heavy thunk of a bolt being thrown the door swung open. A thick mist of incense and burning herbs wafted into the hall obscuring what lay beyond. As he stepped through the door his master whispered to him. “The dark prince awaits you.”

End Pt. 1