Sunday, August 30, 2020

At the Seraphic Gate


Deep within the Nachtmahr Mountains, Sable, Devanya, Khamad, and Casimir encountered the inhuman minions that Malak had positioned to keep his ritual of apotheosis from being interrupted. Formerly men and women belonging to the army of the Ustalecht Empire, these minions had been transformed through foul sorcery into nightmarish demons crafted from human flesh fused with infernal black iron. 

Through stealthy avoidance, cunning distractions, and unrelenting violence the four were able to gain precious ground as they made their way toward Malak and the seraphic gate.

At last, they beheld their quarry and the fiery gate secreted within a ghastly cavern festooned with carved gargoyles and fresh occult markings. Malak gestured toward the foursome and snarled "Stop them at all costs! All I need is a few minutes more and my great undertaking will be complete!" His remaining minions snarled and began to advance. Malak rushed forward and disappeared into the seraphic gate.

"We'll hold these demons at bay, you two stop him," Casimir yelled over the horrific dim emanating from the seraphic gate. He and Sable drew their swords and ran to meet their approaching foes.

Devanya and Khamad skirted the fray and plunged into the seraphic gate.

And were promptly separated.

Devanya found herself wandering a road paved in ancient stone that wound up a mountainside. At the mountain's summit was a grand walled city. She had never beheld this city before, but she recognized it from her religious training as Vatra Solis, the fabled city of the gods--a city that had remained sealed shut ever since the gods' disappearance in times of legend.

Khamad found himself steps behind Malak, his brother. His brother was running up a different path that led to a tower surrounded by a lightning-hurling tempest. He charged after Malak. Malak turned, his eyes empty of brotherly affection.

They fought, spell versus spell. The clash between brothers ended with Khamad impaled on a sword conjured from shadow. 

"I really thought I'd be the one to kill you," Khamad said as he closed his eyes one final time. Malak ran on to the tower's door. A key glittered in his hand. He fitted it to the lock and began to turn it.

Devanya stood at the gate of Vatra Solis. A key glittered in the lock the kept the walled city shut fast. She reached her hand out and turned the key.

Two keys, turning. Devanya was faster; she opened the gates of Vatra Solis before Malak could unlock the tower's door.

Back within the cavern, Sable and Casimir put up a desperate fight. Casimir was felled by fangs and claws, his lifeblood running out on the cold stone of the Nachtmahr Mountains.

Devanya's mind burned. She could hear voices, voices that belonged to divine beings, voices that nearly drove her mad. Her head was swimming with possibilities she dared not dream of. And then, an explosion of light. She found herself stumbling back toward the seraphic gate. In the distance, she saw a tower she had not noticed previously crumble into ash.

Malak was first to return through the seraphic gate. When he emerged into the cavern he saw that all of his minions lay dead. One of his pursuers was also dead. But the other, the blonde woman with the eye patch, was waiting for him. Sable removed her eye patch, letting Malak see the horrible wound he had inflicted on her.

"Remember me? I owe you one." Sable drove her rapier through Malak's eye, killing him instantly. 

Devanya emerged from the seraphic gate and fell to her knees. Sable cradled her, but saw no sign of injury. Devanya's eyes fluttered open.

"The gods have returned. I've let them loose on the world again," she said.

Her eyes fluttered close.

* * *

Friday, August 28, 2020

Best of the First Half of 2020

Best of the First Half of 2020

Jack and Kate look at what they've read and watched in the first half of 2020 and make some recommendations in the world of books and beyond. The rules of engagement are simple: the hosts each choose one movie, album, TV show, book and "wild card" from any category that was the best experience of its kind encountered during the first half of the year.

Ranging from hideous cinematic abjection to music for The Toughest Of The Goth Kids to various ghosts that may or may not require busting, your hosts meander through the high-brow, the low-brow, and everything in between.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Forgive Me Father, Morgana Effect, Raise Your Banner

A few howls of the damned to close out the week:

Cradle of Filth, "Forgive Me Father (I Have Sinned)"

Theatres des Vampires, "Morgana Effect"

Within Temptation, "Raise Your Banner"

Monday, August 17, 2020

In Thrall to the Dragon of Regicide

Photo by Clint Bustrillos
Sable, Casimir, Khamad and Devanya awaited the return of one of the Knights of Lilith so they could learn the results of the interrogation of the Skarnstein plotters and be on their way in pursuit of Malak. The last person they expected to step through the door and address them was Queen Alcesta von Karlok herself.

Following Sable's lead, the rest of the party made a show of alternating between awkward curtsies, bowing, averting their eyes, and taking a knee. Alcesta laughed at them and bid them take their seats.

Alcesta looked scarcely older than an adolescent; her red hair and gown were arranged hastily, as if she had no care for her appearance...or, perhaps more accurately, as if she knew that no one would dare comment on her appearance. It was a provocation to mutiny. Despite her apparent youth, she was surrounded an aura of death that dropped the temperature within the chamber.

She took a seat and propped her feet up carelessly. "At ease, gentlemen and ladies," she said. "The man you seek, this Malak," she gestured dismissively, "struck a deal with the Skarnstein traitors. They have told him the location of the thing he seeks and have given him a key to unlock it. I will tell you what it is and where to find it...and thereby locate your quarry, with a little luck."

"It's a weapon he's after, isn't it?" Khamad asked.

"In a manner of speaking. He's not after anything so tangible as a sword or a pike. What he seeks is godhood. He wants to be the weapon."

Stunned silence.

Alcesta continued: "He is in search of something called a seraphic gate. If he finds it, and breaches the barrier between this world and the plane of the godhead, he will be transformed into a vessel of divine power. He will still be something less than a fledgling god, but a god nonetheless. I'm going to tell you of a shortcut through the Nachtmahr Mountains, so you can make up for lost time and, perhaps, stop him."

"But why would you care?" Devanya blurted.

The Queen smiled, revealing the sharpest incisors any of the group had ever seen. "Well now, I can't have anyone becoming more powerful than I am, can I?"

Her point was taken.

Later, in the mountains, fell creatures were fought and slain, biting winds were endured, and paths were obscured and found again. The route provided by Queen Alcesta proved efficacious. However, she neglected to inform the adventures that her shortcut would put them down in the caves of an ancient dragon named Thronzeker.

They never really saw the entirety of the beast. Its scales were a dull blood red, but shadows clung to its immense bulk, hiding it from view. However, the shadows were no protection from the horrid fear the creature instilled in them. Each was assailed by visions of bloodshed and fire.

Running from Thronzeker provided futile. It was everywhere they turned in the caves winding their way underneath the mountains. Worse, Thronzeker was content to toy with them. A half-hearted slash of a claw here, a mostly benign bite there, until they were at last exhausted and cornered.

Their lives could be there own, it said without speaking, if they would seek the heir to the throne of Krevborna and slay her. A simple task to be undertaken, surely. In return, they could pursue the ends that had brought them to the Nachtmahr Mountains before turning their eyes to Thronzeker's humble task.

They agreed, seeing no other way. And then, like shadows receding with the coming of dawn, the dragon was gone

* * *

Sunday, August 2, 2020

In the Court of the Vampire Queen

Photo by Josipa Juras at
Photo by Josipa Juras
As they rode through the imposing iron gate that served as an entrance to the walled city held in thrall by Alcesta von Karlok, Casimir asked Denvanya, "So, how do you propose we get an audience with a vampire lord who can tell us where Khamad's brother might be going?" "Simple," she said, "we're going to drop my name at castle and they are going to admit us."

As they approached Siebenhurst Castle, it quickly became evident that the the court was currently abuzz with activity. Great wagons bearing provisions and casks of wine wheeled to and fro, servants scuttled about underfoot, and perhaps most tellingly, black carriages displaying the coat of arms of Lamashtu's noble houses had begun to line up in a long, serpentine queue. Khamad stopped a serf and asked him what was afoot. The man replied, "The Countess has broken the will of the nobles who opposed her. She has their consent to be raised to a Queen! Our Queen! Long live the Deathless Queen! May her sanguine majesty rule forever!"

When they reached the gate of the castle they were confronted by four Knights of Lilith who eyed the group suspiciously and asked to see their invitation to the queen's coronation. Devanya leaned forward in her saddle and declared, "We have no invitation. I am Devanya de Francesca-Almordante, and I am here to offer the Church's blessing to Queen von Karlok on the day of her coronation." 

The knights exchanged troubled glances. One of them stepped away briskly. 

Khamad whispered to Devanya, "You know that your religion is outlawed here in Lamashtu, don't you? You may have just signed out death warrants."

Devanya smiled. "No, I've presented them with a curiosity. They're going to let us in on the off chance a priest of the Church is prepared to bend the knee and give praise to an unholy monarch."

"Aren't you worried about being defrocked if your precious Church hears about how casually you toss around the authority you assume in its name?" Sable asked.

"I'm not on particularly good terms with my Church," Devanya replied.

Sable suddenly grabbed at Devanya's shirt, pulling the garment down at the back to expose a brand that had been burned into the other woman's flesh. "I knew it. A heretic's mark. You're a priest, all right, but not of the Church as we know it."

Just then, the knight returned and whispered something to his compatriots. The group were asked to dismount; then they were led to a private meeting with Vrey von Karlock, a minor member of the noble House of von Karlok. Vrey listened patiently as their ruse was explained. They told him that they had reason to believe that a vampire lord of Lamashtu had given Malak, Khamad's brother, a magical weapon of unimaginable power.

Vrey offered them a slight correction. He was aware that an object had traded hands between a member of House Skarnstein and Malak, but that object was not the weapon itself. The object in question was a key to unlock the sought after weapon from some hidden place of imprisonment. Only the Skarnstein know where Malak has gone with the key. But Vrey had an offer for the group: the Skarnstein vampires were the last to concede to Alcesta von Karlok's desire to be crowned queen, so they must be reminded of their place. If the party would help Vrey entrap a few members of the Skarnstein family in a situation that revealed their dissidence, Vrey would see to it that the information about Malak's destination would be disclosed to them so they might continue their pursuit.

The trap was baited: Devanya approached an enclave of suspected Skarnstein rebels as a cleric willing to use her divine power to thwart the queen's coronation. The small group of nobles she was negotiating with were caught out agreeing to what amounted to a treasonous plot. Hidden Knights of Lilith, as well as Casimir, Sable, and Khamad, leaped out of concealment as soon as the treachery was uncovered. A fierce battle ensued as they rebels attempted to escape, but the Skarnstein betrayers were either slain or taken captive. Those who still possessed their lives--or unlives--would be made an example of, sacrificed as part of the pomp and circumstance of the crowning of Queen Alcesta von Karlok.

* * *