Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
This is the first thing I've written in a while. It's still alittle rough, but I hope you enjoy it. As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
Valsh had kept her preserved while I was gone. Shortly after I came back to his hut, we traveled through a portal back out into the jungle. I built a litter to drag her back to the village. All the while my anger with Na'Guk grew. I dreamt of bathing in his blood. It's not that I was planning on settling down with Shala, or even that I was in love. She was innocent in this and her death was unnecessary. The Green Mountain Tribe were not to blame. We shouldn't have even fucking been there. That's what fueled my fire. Na'Guk was a rabid dog who was only going to get more of his people killed for no goddamned reason.
I don't think Valsh and I said five words while he was with me. After the litter was made he opened a portal back to his hut and left me alone in the jungle with Shala's body. I was gone for a day, and we had spent most of a day making the litter. I figured dragging her through the jungle would have added at least a half a day to my trip back, so I made camp with plans to leave at sun up. Valsh told me his spell would fade shortly after the sunrise, so I covered her with the hammock she had brought with us to keep the flies off of her. I sat a vigil by the fire, but nothing approached her remains.
The next morning, I started my hike back to the village pulling the litter behind me. Valsh had put me about a half day's hike out, so by the time I broke the tree line the sun was at mid-day. I heard the call go up from the guards at the wall and Shala's group of huntresses met me half way to the gate. They offered to take up the task of carrying her, but after one look in my eyes, they bowed and moved away.
I pulled her all of the way through the village to her hut. Once I had her inside, I moved her onto the bedding where we had spent that first night. I knelt beside her until Valsh arrived with another orc. She was old, probably older than Valsh. He touched my shoulder and said, "Tole, this is Manua. She will prepare Shala for her funerial rite. We should go."
I got to my feet and nodded my head in deference to Manua. She returned the nod and went to sit by Shala's body. When Valsh and I passed through the door, she began to chant and sing. I could hear an occasional break in her voice as she sang. I looked at Valsh with an unspoken question on my face.
"Huh? Oh, she is Shala's mother. She is singing the tales of Shala's honor and prowess to the gods and will ask they allow her into The Hall. Tradition demands that she sing for a day at least without food or sleep. When she is done, the village will gather for the ceremony and then a feast will be held in Shala's memory. After that is done, I am certain Na'Guk will order the attack take place within the next three or four following days."
"Never gonna happen," I spat.
A few steps later a memory pushed its way to the front of my anger. In my mind I saw the dinner in the Great Hall about a week before. Na'Guk had left through a hidden door in the back wall of the room. That needs to be investigated, so I left Valsh's side with a promise that I would be back soon. He gave me a suspicious look, and I simply replied with a smile. Well, I thought I smiled. Valsh looked at my face and said, "Do not do anything stupid."
"Who? Me? I'm the fucking poster child for rational action," I replied as I broke from his path.
The Great Hall was used for damned near everything, so it wasn't very heavily guarded. I stepped inside and took a quick visual estimate of its size. The place was about forty feet wide and sixty feet long. I thought it looked bigger than that, so I went back outside and paced it off. Forty feet wide was pretty much dead on, but the outside was closer to seventy. I walked around behind, but there wasn't anything that looked like a path leading away from the back wall.
Interesting. Must be a small room in the back. I'd bet stairs down into a tunnel. Why would an "honor in battle" leader have a bolt hole? I'll have to check that with Valsh.
The War Leader's hut was about twenty feet away and at a slight angle. I paced it off, stomping my feet to try and hear if there was any hollow space below me. I didn't hear anything, but a few minutes later one of Na'Guk's guards came around the corner of the hut to see what I was doing. He bowed up and snorted at me. I just smiled, waved, and turned and left for Valsh's hut. I saw him shaking his head as he went back to where he'd been.
So, there is something down there and apparently it's guarded. Interesting.
I made my way back to Valsh's hut running some scenarios for putting Na'Guk in a hole in my mind as I walked. I must've looked pissed because no one stopped me or even spoke to me the entire way across the village. There were even a couple of Na'Guk's guards who side-stepped me as I passed. Maybe having a reputation as a jungle demon wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I walked straight into the hut without knocking or even announcing my arrival. I went straight to the keg on the shelf in the back and drew up a mug of that fruity beer he kept on hand. Valsh tried to ask me a question a couple of times, but I waved him off while I drank. After I had taken a couple of good pulls on my drink, I grabbed some cheese off of a plate and sat down on a pillow. I took a bite of cheese and washed it down with the fruit beer. Maybe it was the stress of the last few days or maybe I finally snapped, but a thought that those words just flat don't belong together crossed my mind and kicked over my giggle-box.
It took me a couple of minutes and another drink or two to be able to shove the madman back into his box in my brain. Once I settled back down, Valsh asked me, "Where did you go? You did not start any trouble with Na'Guk did you?"
"Relax man. I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid. His day is coming, and it's gonna be soon. Just not today. I do need some information though if you have some time to talk."
Valsh drew himself a large flagon of beer and grabbed some cheese. He came to sit on a cushion nearby and said, "If it will keep you out of Na'Guk's way, I will talk all day. What do you need to know?"
I spent a few minutes describing what I discovered about the hidden room in the Great Hall and my theories about the buried tunnel. I told him about the guard coming to see what I was doing and my conclusion that there was a guarded tunnel running to the War Leader's hut from the Great Hall. The whole time Valsh sat nodding.
"There is a tunnel. Na'Guk had it put in so that he could leave the festivities without having to walk through a crowded room. That was when I first began to suspect that there was something wrong with my War Leader. I suspect there are more secret ways under the village, but as you said, they are guarded. I have not been able to confirm my suspicions. Surely you are not thinking of using them to gain access to his hut?"
I lowered my mug from my mouth and looked Valsh in the eye. All mirth was gone from my voice, "That is exactly what I am thinking. I can't open a portal, and I can't walk in through the front door. That leaves sneaking in somehow. I'd be willing to bet that there's one, maybe two guards at most in the tunnel. It would be best if I can find a way past them. If not, I'll make their deaths as silent and as nasty as his. Angry gods sometimes smite anyone in their path. Besides, if they're all gonna commit ritual suicide anyway, what does it matter?"
The rest of my day was just kind of grey and boring. I drank and slept, if you want to call passing out sleep, and I dreamt. One dream was of the battle against the Green Mountain Tribe. Dozens of Valsh's people lay in the kill zone in front of that cliff with those goddamned poisoned arrows sticking out of their bodies, and Na'Guk ordered more to their deaths. In the dream I snapped and killed him in front of everyone and then was killed myself.
Another dream was of Shala. She was alive and living her life; because, I had acted sooner and put Na'Guk down before the scouting mission. She and Valsh talked of how I had died attacking him in the Great Hall during the feast. His guards had cut me to pieces, but not before I had put twelve inches of steel through his brain.
The last dream was of me standing over Na'Guk's body in his hut. His face held a look of shock, and I was covered in his blood. I was panting from the exertion of the things I had done to his body, but I still felt like I hadn't done enough. There would never be enough. I reached into his torso and grabbed his heart...
Valsh shook me awake. Well he was holding me up in the air by an arm and shaking me. Never a good idea to touch me in my sleep. There was a red welt on the side of his face that was shaped a lot like my right foot. "You kick hard for such a small creature," he said. "You were talking in your sleep, so I thought I should wake you."
"What time is it?"
"it is near sun up," he said with a sigh. "There will be food at the cook fire soon. Manua should finish her pleas to the gods by midday, and then we will begin the funeral ceremony. There is work to do first, and you have a role to play. Wash your face and then we will go get some food."
There was a communal breakfast in the same part of the village where the party had been the night I met Shala. The food was very good and plentiful. The mood, however, was decidedly less festive.
While I was eating several of the huntresses stopped by and brought me food. One put a wreath of blossoms around my neck. They smelled like shit, but I thanked her. After the last of them had passed by I leaned over to Valsh and asked, "What the fuck was all that?"
"You were the one with her when she was killed. The wreath is to show that you were close to her. Shala had apparently told her team that she was quite taken with you, but any fool...except the one sitting next to me...could see that. If you are finished eating, there is one more task that falls to you and me. Shala's team of huntresses will have gathered the fuel, but we must assemble and sanctify her funeral pyre."
It honestly had never occurred to me that they would burn their dead, but after Valsh mentioned the pyre, I realized there was no burial ground in or around the village. Makes sense if you live in a jungle full of predators. Graves would be hard to keep safe from the animals.
The pyre was not what I expected it to look like. I expected it to look like what I'd seen in the movies. You know. A big pile of logs stood on their end and lashed together to form platform to lay the body on. Then the whole thing is ignited and burns until the fuel is exhausted. Come to find out, if you don't build those just right so that it burns all nice and even, they can and will dump the corpse out of the fire. Then you've got a problem.
This one was basically a brick enclosed fire pit with steel grating for the deceased to lie on with the fire burning below them. Each brick was engraved in orcish symbols that I'm sure were very significant to their beliefs. Valsh lifted the grate and set it aside, so we could begin to stack the wood. We built several layers of wood laying it in alternating directions. After each layer, Valsh would stop me and he would say a prayer over the wood. Each prayer brought a slight glow from the piles of logs.
When we were done, Valsh looked at me and said, "Lay your wreath on the top. It will accompany her to the Hall, so her spirit will remember you."
I laid it out in the center of the wood and left my hand on it while I thought about her. If there are gods on this world that look after the dead, take care of her. If I find out otherwise, you'll answer to me.
I lifted my hand and Valsh put the grate back over the wood.
He brushed his hands together to knock the dust from them and said, "The funeral will be at sundown. We should have just enough time to get cleaned up and eat something before it begins."
I looked at Valsh like he was out of his damned mind. We'd just eaten breakfast. Then I looked at the sky and saw that the sun was well past midday. We'd been stacking that wood for hours and time had slipped away from me. As we turned to leave, Manua stepped around the corner of a hut and walked to us. She laid her hand on my cheek and then went to kneel by the pyre and began to sing again.
At just after sunset the tribe had gathered around the pyre. From the looks of it they were all there. Valsh had told me that they would be arranged so that those who knew Shala best would be closest and it would spread out from there. He had also told me that there would be no conversation, and man it was creepy how quiet this many orcs can be.
When we stepped through into the center of the crowd, one of the huntresses handed me a torch. I really didn't want to take it. This should have been the right of one of her friends, but Valsh had told me the other function of the wreath was to designate the "Flame Bearer" who would light the pyre and send her body to the Hall to rejoin her spirit.
I took the torch and walked to the pyre. There was an opening in the side for the torch to be inserted into the wood pile. It felt like it took a long time for the fire to catch, but once it did, Valsh's magic took hold and the flames leapt into the sky. When they did, the entire village roared as one. The sound of it shook my body.
I looked to the sky and found myself wishing her a speedy and safe journey. Just remember what I said. I've faced scarier things that an orc god.
I turned away from the fire to return to Valsh's hut. As I passed through the crowd I felt a tear slide down my cheek for the first time since I buried my wife back on Terra. Huh. That's interesting. Ok Na'Guk. Time to die.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Monday, June 1, 2020
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
I spent the weekend buttoning up the exhaust on my '84 F150. I had started out with this grand plan to fabricate the y-pipe and weld up my own custom setup. Yeah...that didn't happen.
I gave it some thought and since I'm running factory exhaust manifolds I may as well go back with factory pipes. I found the y-pipe online for about $170. It was $100 higher from Summit, but Google solved that problem right quick. Came with a catalytic converter. Yeah, that's not getting used.
Never heard of the website before, but they shipped it to me for $20 and it fit like it was made to go there. Probably because it was. Interesting bit is that it's actually for a '95 F150 with a 351W. I figured that since the engine and manifold came out of a '95 it should work unless there was some funky difference on the frame of the '84 vs. the '95. It also has a provision for an O2 sensor that may get used at some point to monitor air/fuel ratio but for now an oil pan plug closes that up nicely.
Like I said before, it fits great. Well, mostly. It does rest on the transmission cross-member. I'm gonna notch the pipe and put a small bend in it. A little welding and it'll be good to go. The flex pipe may or may not be temporary will just have to see how well it lasts.
Once I solve the issue of the turn signals blowing their fuse, it's ready for inspection and tags. One interesting thing on this truck though is the factory tool box under the hood. No idea how common they were, but it's the first time I've seen one.
One last thing. In small towns all over the country life is kinda jacked up right now, but some things can bring a smile. One of my trips to the parts store gave me this little moment of zen. The gentleman's wife has taken his keys in an effort to keep him at home because he's on oxygen due to pretty severe COPD. He was determined to take care of an issue, so he did what any red blooded American would do. He found alternate transportation.
Have a good one.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The selector switch that changes from vent to heat to a/c and so on had lost all of its detentes, so it never clicked into position when i set it to anything. Since the climate controls are vacuum driven, I finally decided the leak was inside the car. I had a backup control panel in a drawer in my tool box. I just hadn't had the time to swap it out.
With my weekends pretty well shut down right now I thought this would be a good time to do the swap and track down the leak. I was no prepared for what I would find.
This is the plug that goes to the back of the fan controller. It MIGHT have gotten warm at some point.
Traced the wiring back behind the glove box and found this wonderful repair. Dammit.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
It's an actual urban fantasy story. There's no interdimensional travel, no space/time conundrums, none of the stuff that has been in Tole's saga. It's just straight up Earth...Dallas, TX to be precise. The main character, Trip, is refusing to reveal his last name to me for some reason, so I've decided he doesn't have one.
Other weird bit is for some reason I decided that this one needs to be in present tense and third person.
Hope you like it.
Trip sits at the bar in his usual spot in his favorite dive in the poor section of downtown Dallas sipping at his bourbon. Last week word had come to him through his usual contacts that there is a new coven of warlocks in town. Not that he really cares. Sure, there was about to be an upswing in mysterious disappearances, but people have been killing each other for as long as they’ve been on this rock. Trip really doesn’t worry about it, but it pays to know what's going on in the city
He looks around the bar and takes note of the usual crowd for a Saturday night. There are a few new faces. He notices that unlike his and the other regulars' clothes, their worn jeans and t-shirts are actually new and not worn from wear. Trip turns back to his bourbon and thinks, "Most likely they’re some of the gentrification idiots thinking they can renovate a loft and coexist with us rabble down here in the scummy parts of town. Morons."
A few sips later it dawns on him that Suzanne, the only waitress in this dive, isn’t running around carrying drinks to the tables. He motions to the bartender, Heather, and asks her where Suzanne is. "She’s gonna be late. Been down at Dallas PD filing a missing person report on her daughter. The kid didn’t come home from school today."
Trip lowers his head and stares into his drink thinking, "Better not be those goddamned warlocks. If they stick to homeless adults for their rituals, we'll never have to cross paths. If I find out they're taking children, I'm going to have to get involved. Sonofabitch."
Heather asks, "Everything alright? You look like I just told you your dog died."
"Yeah," he replied. "I just realized that my night is probably going to get more complicated than I wanted. Bring me another drink. Would ya?"
"Sure thing," she says, putting on a crooked grin.
Heather sets the drink down in front of Trip and then goes back to slicing lemons and limes for her bar caddy. Someone comes in the door and Heather looks up to greet them. The distraction causes her to put a deep cut across one finger. She cusses, and Trip feels his blood magic surge in response longing to turn her blood to its use.
Instead, Trip gets up and walks down to where Heather is nursing her finger. "How bad?' he asks.
Heather is cradling the hand in a bar towel to catch the falling blood. "Think it's to the bone. Definitely gonna need stitches. Lemon juice burns like a bitch. Goddammit I hate being a klutz."
"Let me take a look," Trip says, reaching out for her hand. "I used to be a medic in the army. Let me see if I can do anything to save you a trip to the ER. This may feel a bit odd."
Heather holds out her hand to Trip who takes it and looks it over making noises like he's giving her an examination. The cut is pretty deep, but he's healed worse. Trip calls to his magic, and it responds. The blood flow from Heather's finger slows and then stops. The platelets begin their work of closing and healing the wound, but instead of days, Trip's magic accomplishes the work in seconds. He leaves a small superficial cut that will heal of its own accord in another day or so.
After he's done, Trip releases his magic and then Heather's hand and says, "Wasn't nearly as bad as you thought. Just a scratch really. Should be fine in a couple of days. Keep it clean. Wouldn't want to get an infection."
Heather looks at her finger and then at Trip. He can tell she doesn't buy his story, but she won't push it. Magic isn't unheard of and a lot of talented healers make serious money doing what Trip just did. One rule of the world Trip lives in now though is that everyone has secrets, and if they want you to know, they'll tell you. Otherwise, you keep your nose out of other people's business, and you get to keep it on your face.
Trip's particular kind of magic is one best kept out of the public's eye. Blood mages like Trip were all but hunted to extinction out of fear, and truth be told, rightly so. Blood mages are ridiculously powerful, and around five hundred years ago a few banded together and almost conquered and enslaved a third of the world's population. The ones who escaped the hunt have been in hiding since, and they work hard to stay hidden.
Trip came into his power after the purge. Luckily, he was found by another blood mage and taken into hiding to be trained. He was taught to fear and control his power, or it would control him. He's managed to stay hidden for almost three hundred years by living on the fringes of society. His plan has always been safety through obscurity, and it has served him well.
Suzanne comes out of the back room tying her apron around her waist and breaking Trip's walk down memory lane. Her make up is fresh, but Trip can tell she's been crying. "The police aren't gonna to be much help down in this part of town," he thinks. "To them it'll be just another runaway in a long line of runaways. Shit."
"Hey Suzy," he says as she walks by. "Heather told me what's going on. I'd be glad to help look for your kid if you want. I'm guessing the police weren't much help, and it's not like I've got anything else to do."
She stops and takes a deep breath and then she just sort of slumps over as she turns to look at Trip, "They told me Beth probably ran away after a fight with me or something. They said they see it all the time and she'll probably come home when she gets hungry enough. I tried to tell them we hadn't even had an argument and she never goes anywhere without telling me, but they wouldn't listen. I'm scared she got grabbed by some human traffickers or some shit, and I'm never gonna see her again. I don't even know why I'm here, but I couldn't just sit around and hope she comes back, and I've looked everywhere she usually goes."
"It's ok. I can do more than the police," Trip tells her. "The streets have eyes, and I know some of the people who do the watching. Someone saw something, and I'll find out what. People who mess with kids just piss me off. Let me help. I promise I'll make it right... one way or another."
Trip put a little more venom in the last bit than he intended and his magic pushes to be released. He puts the power back in its box as Suzanne takes a step back. Trip can feel Heather looking at him again, so he waves her down and orders another drink. He takes a pull at the bourbon, turns to Suzanne and says, "Sorry Suzy. Like I said, I get a little intense when kids are involved. As soon as it gets late enough for the folks I need to find to start roaming around, I'll get started."
"Thanks Trip," she says, laying her hand on his shoulder. "At least someone in this city gives a shit. You're a good man."
"Bullshit," Trip replies. "I'm a lot of things but a good man ain’t one. I'm just another asshole."
"Sure you are," she says kissing him on the cheek. She walks away to get to work and leaves him with his drink.
Midnight arrives about five more glasses of bourbon later. The police patrols in this part of town really lighten up after midnight which brings out the folks who make the street their home. Nobody to run you off from the dumpsters makes finding dinner a lot easier. There's a hierarchy though and proprieties that must be observed. Trip knows most of the street folk in this neighborhood won't talk to him without the permission of the neighborhood Duke, and permission from the Duke has a price. Probably best to start there.
There are several currencies on the streets. The particular Duke that Trip needs to bribe happens to be partial to chocolate and Scotch whisky. Trip sweets talks Heather into selling him a bottle of Glenfiddich Reserve that he knows she keeps behind the bar for the yuppies and then he hits the corner bodega for a handful of top shelf chocolate bars. The alley behind the bodega seems like as good a place as any to find one of the local urchins and sure enough the sound of a dumpster being sorted greets Trip's ears as he rounds the corner.
He walks up to the dumpster and bangs on the side, and the filthy face of a kid who can't be more than fifteen pokes up and says, "This space is mine by right."
"I'm not after your supper," Trip replies holding up the paper sack with the chocolate and booze. "I need an audience with Duke John. I bring tribute. Finish your hunt. I'll wait."
"Oh, I'm done. There ain't shit in here anyway. Follow me," the little urchin says climbing out of the dumpster and heading down the alley.
A few blocks away Trip is led through the back door of an abandoned warehouse. The building is dark, so the urchin reaches into the rags he's wearing and pulls out a glow stick like you'd get from a carnival booth, her cracks the ampule inside and gives it a shake. The pale, green light from it doesn't extend very far, but at least Trip can see where his guide is.
The sound of shuffling feet is coming from the darkness surrounding him. Trip touches his power enough to raise the sound of heart beats to an audible level for him. There are so many that even he couldn't have given a count which means more than a hundred people are watching him from the darkness.
Just ahead Trip can see light showing under a door way ahead of him, and the urchin has stopped in front of it. Once Trip catches up to him, the urchin knocks on the door in some coded pattern. He looks at Trip and says, "The Duke moves his court every night to keep the local authorities out of his business. Knock pattern changes every night too, so don't be thinkin' you're gonna be able to just walk in here later."
"Wouldn't dream of it, kid. Wouldn't be here now if it wasn't important. Can we get on with it, or do you need to try to intimidate me some more?" Trip replies.
"Hey, it's your funeral," the urchin says as he bows. The doors open and the urchin follows their motion with a flourish of his leading arm saying, "Enter the audience chamber of his Lordship, Duke John."
Trip stands in the doorway of what was probably the receiving dock for the warehouse. There is a tattered red carpet that leads from the doorway into the room. There are tiki torches every four or five feet along the length of it. The torches are stuck in dirt in bright orange buckets from a local home improvement store.
At the other end of the carpet is a dais made from shipping pallets and on top of that rests a huge overstuffed recliner. The fabric on the chair is torn, but it's clean. It leans ever so slightly to the left hinting at a broken frame. The chair is occupied by a mountain of a man his bulk enhanced by the mounds of rags piled on his body as clothes and the beard that covers his face and half of his chest.
Trip remembers when Duke John was just an urchin like the one who had led him here. John had been serving his own Duke at that time, and Trip had tried to help get John off of the streets. It turned out that he was perfectly happy with the life of an urchin and had plans of his own to rise to power over the streets of Dallas, and Trip's help had almost derailed those plans. Twenty years later things are still strained between them. That lingering animosity is precisely why Trip had brought the Duke's favorite scotch and expensive chocolate for his bribe.
The sound of the opening door captures Duke John's attention and he bellows, "Who has the stones to come in here unscheduled? I'm not due to hear reports from my scouts for another hour."
Trip steps into the light of the first set of torches, bows without breaking eye contact with the Duke, and says, "A memory."
At the sounds of Trip's voice Duke John's eyes widen making the whites stand out in harsh contrast to the filth on his face. He comes down off his dais and down the carpet moving at as close to a run as someone of his size can achieve.
Trip had known that coming here meant a fifty-fifty chance of a fight, so he braces for the punch he expects to come when the Duke closes the last of the distance. What happens instead catches Trip completely off-guard. The Duke engulfs him in a tremendous bear hug and laughs. Trip isn't a small man, but the Duke is the size of an NFL lineman, and scoops him up as if he were a child.
Trip manages to pull in enough air to ask, "Does this mean you don't want the scotch?"
The Duke drops him almost immediately and asks, "You brought the Glenfiddich?"
"The fourteen-year-old reserve and that ridiculously expensive chocolate you used to always lift back in the day."
"Come on. Let's sit down and have a drink. You can tell me why you're here. I have a lot to discuss with you too. You're timing's perfect. Something strange is going down on my streets."
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