Thursday, October 1, 2020

SoW: Newly Arrivedl

Tamantha stepped down as the cart rolled to a halt. "Thank you," she said to Yelena, the old woman who was driving the cart. 

"'Tis the barest absence of cruelty," said Yelena. "Ye needn't thank me for it. But be a dear and strike the door, if ye would."

Tamantha nodded and stepped towards the manor. True, letting her ride on the cart had required almost no effort on Yelena's part, but it was still more help than her uncle or the rest of the family had given her in the last two weeks and she was almost absurdly grateful. "Thank you, too," she told the mule, and patted it on its head as she passed. It rolled its eyes as if exasperated.

The manor was bright, warm, and elegant: newly-built, and sitting at the western end of a small valley, with farms to the east and the hills rising behind it to the west. The ruins of the old manor sat atop the hill immediately behind, but that one had clearly been misnamed; the heavy walls and  single remaining tower had clearly been part of an ancient fortilice overlooking the valley.

Tamantha put her feet on stone steps and climbed to a wide wooden porch, wondering if she should have gone around the side and looked for a servants' entrance instead. The front door, at least, had a striker; she pulled it back and let the heavy wrought-iron ram fall against the metal plate. The resulting crack! echoed through the house. 

She didn't hear any steps, but just as she started to reach for the striker again the door swung open and Tamantha found herself face-to-face with a young man perhaps a few years older than herself. He was in his shirtsleeves, dark hair tousled and framing an angular face, with pale skin and striking gray eyes that had gone silver in the last of the daylight. "Ah," he said cheerfully. "Have you come about the position?" 

"Which position?" asked Tamantha, caught off-guard. 

"Any of them, actually. Maids, a cook, a gardener or two... Tell me what you can do, and I'll tell you whether we have a place for you." Then he looked past her, and his eyes fell on Yelena. "Just a moment." He turned and called over his shoulder: "Augustus! Mother Yelena's back, and she's brought her cart!" 

He turned back to her, then paused again as an older man -- a bit older than Tamantha's father had been, even -- bustled past them, bowing as he went out the door and down to the cart. Tamantha saw him offer a deeper bow to the old woman on the seat before she turned back to the doorway.

"So," said the young man. "What is it exactly that you know how to do?" 

"Well," said Tamantha, feeling suddenly as if a large hand had wrapped around her chest and squeezed. She held up her hand, forced her mind to focus, and made a tiny, bright spark above her extended palm. 

His expression of surprise was comical, but she kept her face smooth as she let the spark fade. "I'd heard that a wizard lived here. I hoped he might be open to taking on an apprentice." 

"Well," said the young man, and this time his voice held an entirely different note. 

Outside, the older man was talking to Yelena. "Five bricks of tea!? How in the world did you...? Absolutely we'll take it. Yes, the vegetables too, very fresh... and that bread, I could pair that with a soup tonight and..." 

"The bread costs extra," Yelena announced. "'Twas to be my lunch." 

"You're just saying that because it smells delicious and you know I want it." 

"And what of that?" 

The older man laughed. "Nothing! Nothing at all. It's good bread, and it's warm and fresh. We'll pay your extra." 

"All right," said the young man, and Tamantha's attention snapped back to where he was standing in front of her. "Just a moment." He turned away as he had before, and called back into the house: "Augusta! Someone to see you!" 

There was a momentary silence; behind Tamantha's back, Yelena and the older man were haggling over the price of her goods. Then someone moved onto an upstairs balcony and called, "I'm coming. Did she say what she wants?"

"An apprenticeship," he called back. 

The woman who emerged from the balcony and descended the stairs was broad-shouldered and short-haired, straight-backed and graceful. She wore a worn, spun-cloth robe of soft brown, and approached the door with slow, thoughtful steps and a matching expression. "You wish to be a wizard's apprentice?" 

Tamantha nodded. "Just so, my lady." 

The woman laughed. "Have you any skills? Anything you've developed on your own?" 

Tamantha raised her hand and recalled the spark. She could do more than that -- a little more -- but that was enough to make her point. 

"A beginner's trick," said the woman, watching as it faded back out. "How long can you hold it?"

Tamantha considered the question, then called it back and held it. "Over an hour," she answered uncertainly. "I used read by it at night."

"Well," said the woman. "There's no harm in being a beginner. I've an apprentice already, but I've room  for another if you're willing put in the work." She glanced at the boy. "You've no objection?"

 He frowned slightly, then shrugged. "It should be fine."

"Good," said the woman. "Come on in, and let's get you settled."

Tamantha answered with a relieved, "Thank you."

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Challenge: Must-Read Non-fiction

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "the non-fiction book everyone should read and why." 

Easy answer: Sarah Kendzior's Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.

The reason everyone should read this is that it's an accessible, detailed look at the current state of politics here in the United States, in the person of Donald Trump (with references, yet). And it documents in detail the fact that what we have in charge right now isn't so much a political party as a trans-national crime syndicate masquerading as a government. 

It is... not an uplifting or encouraging read, particularly. But it's very, very important.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tavros: Snares

The trail grew harder to follow as it climbed out of the marshland grasses and into the hills, but Olvern kept them oriented. Judging from the way the grasses had been pressed down into the mud, this wasn't any sort of regular path; it was just the way the raiders had come, walking directly overland. 

After a time they turned into a cut between two hills. There were paths here, spreading out from the cut to follow the edges of the grass or disappear into it. The passage through the cut showed unmistakable signs of use, but it was slow going; the way was scattered with gravel and small stones, and looked as if became a stream at the slightest hint of rain. On the far side, the trail led them through a small copse of trees. Olvern led the way, and the paladins followed. 

They were well into the trees and Tavros was wondering how much further they might have to go when Olvern stopped and said, "Shit." 

Then the ground swept up from beneath them, scattering leaves and tumbling them all together. Tavros tried to draw his sword, but the net closed around them and they were caught. 

"Be still," hissed Olvern. "Be silent." 

They waited. Finally Tarric said: "All my blood is rushing to my head." 

Anica answered: "That is not what I wanted to hear with you pressed up against me like this."

"I just meant I was upside down," said Tarric, but then he chuckled. 

"Oh, good," said Tavros quietly, working at the netting with his claws. "So it's not an awkward sex joke, it's an awkward foreplay joke. Much better." A strand parted. 

"Quiet," Olvern said again.

Tavros was still working at the net, but he didn't answer. He could feel the others moving around, but his back was to them and he couldn't move well enough to change that. Likely they were trying to draw daggers or find some way to get loose.

Something stung his cheek and he looked down. 

Below him, off to one side of the trail, was a goblin. It was holding a stick, or... some sort of tube? It raised the tube to its face, sighted, and then puffed a breath of air. 

A second dart embedded itself in the chainmail coif that separated his helmet from the rest of his armor. It scraped against his scales but didn't penetrate. Behind him, his companions fell still. Damn it. He had no doubt that the darts were poisoned, and the only reason he hadn't succumbed was that between his heavy armor and his scaly skin, the goblins hadn't managed to apply it. 

"Well," said a voice, "surely that one could use a rest as well." 

Tavros heard a brief recitation; then darkness closed over him.

Monday, September 28, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 9

Character Recap:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - enthusiastically pyromaniacal Sorcerer/Wizard
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Blood Hunter of the Lycan persuasion
Nil (they/them) - badass Cleric
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Gloomstalker Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - Lore Bard - and Honey (she/her) her homunculus familiar
Perfect (he/him) - Battlemaster fighter
Grey (he/him) - Assassin/Illusionist

Nil has claimed Whelm temporarily; we've taken a long rest; and the next step is to return to Sir Bluto. We've kind of lost track of how long we've been in this dungeon, but we're feeling a bit better. Whelm tugs at Nil's mind: "I see secret!"

Nil: "What's a secret?"

Whelm: "There's a secret in here!"

They play a bit of Hot or Cold, moving away from the door; apparently there's a secret door in here. Once she's been pointed the right way, Nil has no trouble finding the door: there's a slight outline in the stone, and something like handles towards the bottom. Grey tries to listen at the door, but it's very thick stone; there doesn't seem to be anything making noise behind it.

We run a rope through the handles and let Thelmor give it a tug. Perfect leans in to help, but his hand slips and he gets rope burn and yanks his hands back off. Thelmor pulls again, and the door swings open.

We're running entirely on darkvision, so we can see pretty easily. The room beyond is small, a kind of closet; there's writing in several languages on the stone is "Door Operation Lever" and there is, of course, a lever beside it. It's obviously very old.

Whelm doesn't find any secret doors. Also, Whelm thinks the lever could look better; it's got scratches.

Thelmor investigates it; the scratches seem to be in a particular area, mainly on the handle. Probably iron gloves or rings; it would be consistent with the heavy armor the dwarf was wearing, but they're in different places and probably came from a lot of different people. There's no good way to tell how recently it was last used.

Jhuni and Grey coordinate mage hands, and pull it down from a safe distance. Something whirs loudly behind the lever; a lot of little movements, rather than one heavy movement. After a moment the noise stops.

Nothing seems to have changed in this room, so we head back through the geyser room. We had west, now armed with all three weapons. The disks have moved aside; now a shimmering rainbow bridge connects the two platforms. Nil checks it with their staff, but the bridge is absolutely solid. Jhuni starts across. There's a sort of crunch when she steps, and every time her foot comes down little ripples of light flare through the bridge. The footing is firm, and even the eruption of a geyser doesn't touch her.

Nil follows. Perfect steps onto the bridge and holds out a hand to Nil; they cross the bridge together.

Thelmor, to Wave: "You see this shit? Look at this. You see this, right? Can you sing a song that goes along with this?"

Wave starts singing to Thelmor. It's mind to mind, so none of the rest of us can hear it. It's something the Nordic tempest clerics would sing. Thelmor attempts to sing along, and Wave adds feedback; he's surprisingly good at it. The bard and the cleric both recognize the song; they've heard it before, though it's more familiar to Nil.

We cross the bridge, while Nil considers the possibilities of visitation rights for sentient magical artifacts. We make our way back, avoiding the pits and whatnot, and find our way back to the canoe room. Sunrise uses the Message cantrip again to contact Sir Bluto. He's surprised: "You're the tiefling, are you not?"

Sunrise: "How many people do you have whispering sweet nothing into your ear down here?"

Bluto: "Not enough."

Sunrise: "We're coming through."

We climb into the canoes and go through again, they help us out on the far side. Sunrise: "Let me guess, you didn't think we were coming back."

Bluto: "No."

Nil: "Look! Look what we found!"

Bluto regards the three artifacts. "...You have all three."

Nil: "That was the plan."

Bluto: "I didn't think you would do it. But very well, my word is my oath." He still looks surprised.

Nine, by the way, is still with us; we stopped by the ziggurat room and send Nine down a tier or two so Sunrise could put her stormcloud in the middle of the room. Sunrise gave him a firm command to tell us if this hurt him; then she zapped him with lightning. He shivered a little. "FEEL BETTER! DO AGAIN!"

He jolted, and calls for more. We spent the next ten minutes throwing a lightning party for the flesh golem.

Nil noted that all the glass in the room was gone. So were the corpses. The room was empty and clean, except for a couple of puddles at the bottom. "Huh," observered Sunrise. "Housekeeping."

The door on the lowest tier is open; as we watched, a small clockwork beasty came scuttling out. Nine saw it, yelped, and climbed back up to us. "No-no."

It found a chunk of Nine that had fallen off, and disentigrated it. It started trying to scuttle up the wall.

Sunrise: "Lightning!" She blasted it, and it exploded. We left.

Now, Sir Bluto regards the flesh golem and looks nervous. So do his men. Us: "We made a friend!"

Bluto: "What do you mean by 'made'?"

Thelmor: "Found. Found a friend."

They settle, since the thing clearly isn't hostile.

Sunrise: "You said to get the weapons, so we got the weapons."

Bluto: "Usually people die trying to do that."

Sunrise: "That didn't seem like a good idea, so we didn't."

Bluto: "Well, I can take you where you need to go. I can't go past a certain point, and you'll have to defeat some bugbears. If I'm seen where I'm not allowed, I might perish."

Sunrise: "Like, Keraptis would try to kill you? Or like, you'd just magically die."

Bluto: "I might just die; there's a spell, and if I cross its boundaries it damages me."

Sunrise: "Could you do something to lure Keraptis out?"

Grey, Thelmor, and Nil consider this. It's a geas, and the only way we know to remove it would be Greater Restoration or Remove Curse, or Wish. Nil has remove curse, but Bluto suggests we save our spells; he believes we're stronger than him by a substantial margin. We decide to come back and clean up here *after* we've defeated Keraptis.

Still, he can point the way and he can tell us what to expect. He guides us past the doors, where Whelm whispers about all the secret doors as we pass through them. We ask him about any other prisoners; he isn't aware of any. He says most of Keraptis' servitors are goblinoids of some order. Nil asks about the people beyond the spinning tunnel; Burkett and Snarla, it turns out, are known to Bluto and his men. Apparently they drop by to visit sometimes, when Snarla's been cooking. Their situation is complicated, but he thinks they're fairly content working here. Also: don't let Snarla bite you.

One of the men: "I got bit by her, and now I'm a werewolf."

Thelmor: "Well, that's okay then. And if we get you out of here, I can take you back to my order and they can teach you how to control it."

He's totally game for this.

We return to the middle passage of the initial split, and to the point where the water control wheel was. Whelm identifies a secret down in the pit, where Bluto is currently climbing. He seems to grab something that isn't there and pulls it open; there's a an invisible trap door with ladder leading down beneath it.

We go down. Bluto and his men follow. The cave here is dark, but lit by glowing crystals of varying sizes that sprout from the floors and ceiling. This seems like the same general look and feel as the cavern from our vision of the ancient battle. The lighting isn't bright here, but it's no longer dark. Jhuni looks around for loose chunks of crystal, and finds a football-sized crystal that she can slide out of its growth. She puts it in her pack.

Bluto and co extinguish their torches, falling back on the light from the crystals, and we all head down.

As we go forward, we begin to see stonework instead of rough cavern. There's a brick arch, which marks the edge of the area that Bluto can safely travel. We take our leave of him. Bluto: "Be careful. I know that you are facing something terrible. Give it an extra smack for me."

Sunrise: "Bugbears?"

Bluto: "Usually at this arch, but I don't see them. This isn't my usual time, so perhaps they're asleep, or changing shifts, or somesuch."

Nil drops an Arcane Eye. There are more arches ahead as the passage descends. It emerges into a larger chamber, where the crystal clutters are gone and masonry walls have covered the rough stone. There's some sort of weird rainbow light coming through one wall. The room opens into a hallway with a high ceiling, all done in delicate stonework. Not quite high enough for Call Lightning, though. The pillars are carved with dragons wrapping around them. There are three doors on either side, and a passage continuing on ahead. Each of the doors has two suits of armor next to it. There are candelabras shaped vaguely like people in the center of the room. The faint line of light encircles the room here as well, and the doors appear to be swollen shut; none of them have keyholes. Each seems to be carved in its own dragon pattern.

The floor slopes down, and the masonry seems even more ornate; the crystals seem to be growing out of the lines of light taking over the cave again. The hallway starts to widen into a huge chamber (this one definitely high enough for Call Lightning). There seems to be a very ornate statue of a dragon's skeleton, positioned in mid-roar and clutching at the ground around it. There are indentions in the statue which might fit the three weapons. The material is gray, probably stone, but polished. There don't seem to be any exits from the cavern; but the cavern itself is familiar. This is the very like the cave where the three weapons came together to seal away Keraptis' evil power.

We transfer Whelm over to Sunrise, and stop to rest again. Once we're back up to full strength, we continue on and come into the hallway.

It really does look like someone has built these rooms to conceal the fact that they're inside a cavern. The candles really are disturbingly human-shaped, and there are about thirty of them. That doesn't really seem to match the number of former adventurers, despite Grey's rather creepy opinion of them. The suits of armor beside each door are small; halfling-sized, maybe.

Magic is strong here; it's all through the stone of this place. Everything here was built to assist with magic and magic-users; it feels like a magic school, or some similar setting. The residue is so strong that it's hard to tell if the armor is enchanted or not. There's more than one school of magic worked through here; but conjuration is the strongest. Aside from Grey muttering about his findings, it's quiet here.

Jhuni floats one of the candles over to Nil, who looks it over more closely. Thelmor comes over to help them. She uses a knife to shave off a bit; and it seems to be wax all the way through; the candle wick doesn't go down the middle, but follows a line down the back. The fingers and thumbs are distinct. Racking our brains, we come up with the fact that these are some sort of magical artifact which is activated by being lit. Jhuni has them associated with some sort of explodery. Sunrise remembers finally: they're living wicks, which can be brought to life by their enchanted wicks. As they burn down, they lose some of their human appearance. They're generally used to short-term servitors, household servitors, and the like. They're obedient to whoever lights the candle, so they can sold, bartered, or like that. If the master demands it, they can consume their entire wick at once to create an explosion.

Grey lights one, and it relaxes into mobility. He pulls it down from the candelabra. "Walk in a circle around me." It does. "See if you can get into one of those suits of armor." It goes and starts disassembling the armor.

Nil asks the candle if it's capable of speech. It turns out that it can speak telepathically to Grey, but that's it. Its memory extends to the moment it was lit; nothing earlier. How long might it live? "I feel like I could last for a fortnight?"

It is filling the room with candlelight, not bright; but just an ordinary candle. Nil and Sunrise each light a candle of their own. We start sending them over to disassemble the rest of the suits of armor. Grey's puts the pieces laid out in a little row; Nil's just dumps them in piles, and Sunrise's just lets the pieces fall where they may. Sunrise claims a candle to study later, then moves around and starts listening at doors. She hears something behind the southeastern door, the northeast door, and the southwest door. There's something moving behind the southwest door, a slow tapping on the stone. The northeast door might have voices. The southeast there's a faint whirring, and perhaps the sound of paper rustling.

We open the northeast door; the voices are now less muffled, but they aren't close. There seem to be two feminine voices speaking common; they don't sound like they're plotting, they sound like they're reminiscing about home. They sound like captives, not bugbears. Snow sneaks ahead, following the hall; that horizontal light is still here, but as long as she stays clear of it she's fine. There's a room with small stone cells on the far side, closed in by steel bars. Three of the rooms are occupied:
-A very tall orc, leaning against the wall; he looks sad.
-An empty cell
-A woman, dark of skin and hair, dressed in simple clothing. She's pacing and talking, and looks antsy.
-An older woman, short and stout, built like a dwarf; she's lying on her bed, fingers laced behind her head. She's trying to sooth the other woman.

None of them have weapons or armor; they don't even have boots. Snow moves in and inspects the locks on the doors; they're about what you'd expect from a prison cell, heavy and thick. Snow reports back, and we decide to get them out. We ask Perfect about them; do they sound familiar?

Perfect: "There are so many... the Orc sounds familiar. The human could be anyone. But yes, they could be captured adventurers. The older dwarf woman definitely rings a bell."

We proceed into the jail room.

Nil: "Do not be afraid..."

The dark-skinned woman in the middle: "Oh my gosh. Get us out. I'd love it you could get us out."

Nil talks while Grey launches into Detect Magic.

The human woman is Gussalen. She's been here... "Too long." She takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. "A day or two? More?" She gives us a date, and it was about five days before we arrived. A bit over a wekk, then.

The orc is Tulgan. He's been here maybe a fortnight. Got separated from his party; doesn't know where they are. Then the bugbears captured him and put him the cell. He saw a knight, but no wizards. "The canoes, right? Told everyone not to go on those things."

Sunrise: "See, this is why you scout ahead."

Tulgan seems pretty chill.

The dwarf woman has a chain around her neck, with a small hammer sigil on it. She it Turi, a paladin of Thor. She's been here the longest; she's not sure how long it's been. Months, she thinks. Have they seen anyone else? "The people who leave these cells don't come back."

Grey finishes his Detect Magic, but pretty much nothing in the room is magic. The stone itself is still swimming with magic.

Snow and Grey fall to, and Turi and Gussalen emerge. Turi is calm and dignified as she thanks Grey; Gussalen throws herself into her rescuer's arms. Grey moves on and releases Tulgan.

Sunrise asks if Tulgan has any hard feelings about Sir Bluto. He doesn't. Gossalen is stroking Snow's fur in a self-calming sort of way. Snow, unsurprisingly, permits the beautiful woman to stroke her.

Nil: "So... we're about to face off with the wizard who runs this place. Would you like to help? Or just get out of here."

Tulgan: "Gonna go return to my career as a sailor."

Nil: "Be sure to check back with your employers."

Turi: "I'd like to find my stuff; I can watch over the others as they go out the door."

Sunrise: "If you don't want to fight, it might be better for you to stay with Sir Bluto and his friends."

Gussalen: "Our armor has to be pretty close."

Sunrise: "I could maybe locate it, if you can tell me what you're seeking."

Turi had a very distinctive greatsword with a bronze inlay and the symbol of Thor on the hilt. Once Sunrise has a really good idea of what she's looking for, she casts Locate Object; it's off to the west.

The prisoners decide to stay here while we go get their equipment. Tulgan has a sailing pin, basically a club; Snow hands Gossalen a pair of daggers; Grey hands another pair to Turi. Sunrise leaves Honey, her familiar, with Tulgan; Tulgan is very sweet to her. Thelmor offers his greataxe to Turi; she takes it and lays it over one shoulder, and smiles.

We head over to retrieve the armor.

The hall is still empty; we check the door, then pull it open as quietly as we can. Snow moves ahead again, sneaking. There's a large room at the end of the hall, occupying at least as much space as the jail and the cells within. It's piled with captured equipment: a pile of leather armor, a pile of wooden weapons, a pile of metal armor, a pile of swords, and like that. Along the walls, there seems to a lot of clockwork scraps: tiny gears, little levers, and the like. Just before she leaves, Snow sees one of the piles move. It stayed still when she went to investigate it. Snow goes back to report.

Nil suggests giving each of the prisoners a candle, and letting them use the candles to retrieve their stuff. Snow heads back to stand at the door, prepared to retreat immediately if anything moves. Sunrise sends the message, and we equip the prisoners with candles. As the candles approach the room, Snow watches the piles of stuff. Their light makes her briefly visible, but Jhuni is positioned to guard her back.

As the candles work, one of the piles moves. From ten feet away, a mechanical crab-claw shoots out and slams into her by surprise. Snow immediately books it back out of the room. The claw takes the opportunity to attack again as she flees, but it misses. Something like a mechanical hand comes out of another pile as well, but she's gone. Jhuni, who was ready for something like this, responds with a firebolt. There appear to be large constructs hiding in the piles of scrap.

We stop there.

Friday, September 25, 2020

VtM: The Ghost In The Basement

"Mister Lewis! Mister Lewis!" 

Alexander Lewis turned as one of the maids came rushing up to him. "I saw him! I saw him again!"

He took a deep breath and sighed, keeping his expression firm and calm. "There is nothing down there, Yasmin. We have looked and looked." 

Yasmin looked stubborn. "It's a ghost! I told you it was a ghost. That's why you didn't find anything. It has to be a ghost, no child that age would be prowling around in someone else's cellars." 

Alexander looked away. There were no such things as ghosts, but Yasmin had come to them from the theater and appeared impervious to reason. "Very well, Yasmin," he said heavily. "I shall come down with you, and we will look again." 

Yasmin shook her head. "I'm not going back down there. Herself doesn't pay me enough to deal with ghosts." 

Fine, he thought. "Then get on with whatever else you're supposed to be doing," he said, and paused. "What were you doing down there anyway?" 

"Oh, Joel asked me to see if we had any more of the lemon-butter sauce left. It seems he's trying to learn to cook." 

Well, that was something else Alexander would have to deal with. He certainly didn't mind the staff trying to expand their skills, but he should have been consulted about anything that might throw off the stores. Or informed that Joel seemed to be angling for a new position in the household, for that matter.

Frowning, he left Yasmin behind and went into the kitchen. 

The kitchen had been a marvel of modern service space, at least until the night of the Mistress' concert two weeks ago. The refrigerator was still missing, of course; the Master and Mistress had yet to schedule a replacement for it. Without it, they were forced to keep the perishables in the larger walk-in downstairs, in the basement, which was haunted. Or at least Yasmin swore it was, and several of the others were at least half-convinced that she was right. Ever since Mister Grant had fainted down there, and had to be carried back upstairs to recover...

Joel was standing beside one gleaming steel counter, with a cutting board beside him. He appeared to be trying to bread a pair of chicken breasts with panko crumbs, and having some moderate success at it. 

"Mister Jackson," said Alexander. "Practicing your cooking?" 

Joel shrugged, self-deprecating. "Trying, anyway. I wouldn't mind moving over to a position as cook or chef or something, if I can get the hang of this." 

Alexander nodded, satisfied; this was the acknowledgement he'd wanted. Evidently Mister Jackson hadn't felt he was far enough along to broach the topic. "Yasmin claims that she saw the ghost again." 

"Yes, I figured when she came rushing through here. I looked downstairs, but... nothing." 

"Naturally," answered Alexander, though he was actually fairly impressed with Mister Jackson's initiative. "Still, I promised that I would look again." 

Joel abandoned his project and came to stand beside him. "I'll come down with you," he said.

"Very well." Alexander started down the stairs, and Joel followed. 

The room at the bottom was large, and despite its clutter it was clearly empty. Alexander crossed the room, navigating between shelves, and opened the door to the refrigerator; then he closed it again and moved to the freezer. Both were empty of ghosts or other intruders, and nothing seemed out of place. He returned to where Mister Jackson stood waiting at the bottom of the stair. "I fear," he said, "that our Yasmin is perhaps too excitable for her position in our household." He flipped off the lights. "I'll have to bring it up to the Mistress when she awakens this evening." 

He turned to march back up the stairs, but Joel stopped him with a firm hand on his shoulders. Slowly, he turned and looked back. 

There, on the far side of the room, he saw a pair of gleaming red eyes. The room was absolutely dark; he could make out nothing of the face or body that must have been there as well. Hesitantly, he reached out for the lightswitch again; but before his hand could reach it, the eyes blinked out and were gone. 

The room was empty again when the lights came on. 

"I see," said Alexander Lewis, very slowly. "I shall have to speak the Mistress about this, and perhaps the Master as well."

Then he turned and fled, and Joel followed close on his heels.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Whole entire week

I am... 

I am... 

I am not with it right now. I'm not getting enough sleep; I'm not getting enough done on my projects. (I don't even know how much is "enough" at this point, I just know it should be more than "barely anything".) I can't even tell if I'm unwell, or if I'm just exhausted/depressed/burned out by the relentless parade of horrors that is 2020. Maybe that's not even a valid distinction anymore. 

I'm tired of being on lockdown and still having to go to work. I'm tired of my co-workers failing to properly distance and/or wear masks. (They do, but it's... half-assed. Not helpful.) I'm tired of police gratuitously murdering people that they're supposed to protect; I am absolutely sick of the almost complete lack of consequences that inevitably follows. I am tired of watching our federal government studiously ignore climate change and treat our pandemic response as a matter of public relations. I'm tired of seeing people try to normalize the fact that we're galloping further and further into fascism, and I'm desperately tired of the ones who think this is a good thing.

I'm tired of people


I feel like I need to stop, but... Everything just keeps grinding on, you know? The family needs to be fed on  a regular basis. The boys need to be in school, on time, paying attention. Things keep needing to be fixed at work, and if they don't need to be fixed then they probably need to be upgraded. And I don't have the brain cells I need to really work on it, though I keep trying anyway. So everything feels like it's one step forward, two steps back. 

Anybody got an old wardrobe with a passage to another world in the back? At this point, facing off against an evil queen and her armies and magics would at least offer a concrete goal to focus on. A land locked in eternal winter would actually be trading up right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Yesterday was a beating...

So, Monday at work. And by 8:07 I knew it was going to be a particularly Monday sort of Monday because somebody called up to drop a major technical problem in my lap while I was in the midst of trying to deal with a completely different major technical problem that's been going on for a week now. (And that's not to mention the three other major technical projects that I'm trying to get back to!) 

So the new issue tied up the morning, and after all that the best solution is to move the whole thing to a new setup -- a project which we'd originally scheduled for March/April of 2019. It's now rescheduled for next week, and we've slapped a bandage on the existing setup to hold us until then. 

The second issue then ate most of the afternoon; it's a system that keeps kicking everybody off when the IIS service crashes, but there's no indication of why it suddenly started crashing a week before last Friday. We've tried a couple of things, but at this point they're more "throwing darts at the wall and hoping something hits" than actual troubleshooting. And, of course, it's erratic -- which makes it even harder to pin down. I'm hoping that the stuff we did yesterday will help, but it's immensely frustrating to have the system start breaking like this when we haven't changed anything. 

And then a particular document that I was supposed to post on the website came in at the very end of the day (not unusual in itself) at 760 MB (a quarter of a gigabyte, and perfectly ridiculous). So I didn't leave work until an hour after my day was supposed to end. 

I went to bed early, obviously. By the time I got the boys down, I had nothing left. Even reading was too much for me. 

But, I've gotten a good night's sleep and a decent breakfast; here's hoping today goes much better.