#i need to find my how to become a park ranger post from years ago
A Castle in the Forest
Percy x Vex’ahlia, Chapter 13, 3200 words,
A Modern AU, in which Vex is a park ranger taking over the Alabaster Sierras post, and finds much more than she bargained for.
Read on AO3
Vex steps out of the temple, Vax by her side, and the light of the day feels wrong. It feels like decades have passed while they discussed what to do about Percival de Rolo, not merely a few hours.
Maybe it’s because the inside of the Lady’s Chamber is as barren as the Zenith is desolate. She gets the minimalist aesthetic that comes with the Lawbearer but she wishes there were some colorful tapestries to at least brighten up the room.
It’s midday, which is the only reason it’s this bright out. It’s Duscar 2nd, the shortest day of the year, and it means especially a lot so far North. There will only be a couple hours more of daylight and whatever work Vex had leftover for the day will have to wait until tomorrow.
Keeper Yennen is the only one of the group that stayed behind. Father Reynal is already halfway through the square, walking towards his temple and the cemetery. The rest of them gather a few feet from the door, looking at each other with the awkwardness of recently-introduced coworkers.
They form quite the motley crew. A cleric of an all-but-forgotten goddess, a barbarian, two half-elf twins, and the only remaining alive and safe member of the ruling family of the city. She’s barely counting in the two aging priests that provide mostly support and won’t be let anywhere near the fiend.
This feels doomed to fail. A small part of Vex tells her regularly that she should run away and leave these people to their own devices, that this doesn’t concern her. They should all be lucky her professional consciousness is stronger than that little survivalist voice.
“Vex?” Pike’s voice resounds, soft and light and Vex looks down at the other woman.
Pike looks at her with an apologetic smile. “I wanted to apologize. I didn’t know at the time what was happening. I should probably have warned you once I was made aware of the situation…”
Vex shakes her head. “It’s okay, Pike, it wasn’t your responsibility. You have nothing to do with it.”
It was the priests’ responsibility. It should have been them who warned Vex of what the fiend was. But they’d covered it up. They potentially had lost precious time, because they hadn’t let her do her job.
Pike smiles at her. “I wasn’t lying about the… being sent by my goddess thing,” she points out. “I don’t think I would have left Westrunn if that wasn’t for her.”
Vex raises an eyebrow. “Really?”
“I have family there. My great-grandpa. And I’m trying to bring some sort of Sarenrae worship back, build a new temple. It’s not super easy, even with this guy,” she points at Grog. Grog smiles at Vex, a smile that would have been scary if Vex hadn’t already seen how soft he was around Pike. “Sarenrae was forgotten a long time ago.”
Vex doesn’t know much about Sarenrae, mostly only what Pike has told her. She nods. “I see. Well I hope either way that it will go well for you. It seems like a good goddess to have a congregation of.”
Pike chuckles. “Yeah, she’s no Betrayer,” she nods. “Alright then. I think Grog and I will go get lunch. Have a good day, and see you at the next meeting.”
Vex bids them goodbye before turning back to her brother, who seems in the middle of a conversation with Cassandra.
“It’s Barren Eve,” Vax is saying when Vex settles next to him. “Are you going to light candles for your family?”
Cassandra seems a little taken aback by that. “Probably,” she replies after a small moment. “What happened here wasn’t really a war, but it’s close enough.”
Vex crosses her arms. “I understand you don’t want to relive what happened, but I’d really appreciate knowing the background of this entire story. It might give us some idea of where to start looking for the fiend your brother has elected to make a deal with.”
Cassandra observes her for a moment, eyes heavy with horrors Vex can’t even imagine. She feels a little guilty for bringing this up over and over again but she needs to know. She can’t go out of her way to save a De Rolo without knowing why he’s in this situation in the first place.
“I can tell you the story,” Cassandra nods. “However I’d like… some privacy?” She gestures at the open square around them. “And it will be more comfortable somewhere where we can all sit. I can bring you to my home if you’d like.”
That’s a sign of goodwill if Vex has ever seen any. Vax is already acquiescing before Vex opens her mouth to accept. He seems to like her. Maybe it’s that sibling thing. Cassandra isn’t a twin, but she’s a sister.
They quickly start making their way to Cassandra’s home. They are mostly silent while on the road. They don’t have a lot of things to talk about. There’s a lot of heaviness between them. Vex doesn’t really feel like dissipating it just yet, if she’s being honest with herself. It’s petty, but it feels good.
To Vex’s surprise, Cassandra guides them off into an alleyway and behind the Alcove, the shop Vex visited on her very first visit into town. She remembers meeting Keyleth there, with those strange clockwork machines that she now knows to be the work of Percival himself.
Cassandra opens a door at the back of the Alcove’s building. Behind it is a narrow stairwell. Vax closes the door behind himself as they walk up into Cassandra’s home.
It’s an apartment, Vex can only see the first room she steps in, all other doors are closed. It’s tidy, but lived in. There are many books lining shelves against the walls, a lot that looks like textbooks.
There’s a small clockwork machine on one of the shelves. There’s a picture framed on the wall, a family portrait. Vex counts two adults and seven children of various sizes. There are twins in there.
“You had a big family,” Vex points out.
Cassandra nods sadly. “It’s been strange to be alone,” she replies.
Vex feels like an asshole again.
They settle around the light wooden table in the middle of the room. Cassandra serves them some coffee and they let the silence settle around them, heavy and thick. Vex doesn’t know exactly how to start this, how to ask again, so she just sort of waits.
“So… my family,” Cassandra starts, shifting a little. She seems to be getting comfortable for a long tale. “The De Rolos founded Whitestone in the early seventh century. We came from Wildemount, wrecked our ship on the Shearing Channels. The Sun Tree was already there, glowing in the winter, and we settled around it. As time passed, we discovered the whitestone of the Alabaster Sierras had a few properties of interest to spellcasters. It allowed us to develop trade with the home continent.”
Vex didn’t expect the story to start this far back in the past. She expected a retelling of the last few years, perhaps, but this is much closer to a history lesson.
Cassandra pauses and takes a sip of coffee before continuing.
“Wildemount is not like Tal’Dorei or Issylra. Arcane magic is much more developed and studied there than it is here. They have very important arcane societies. One of those societies is called the Cerberus Assembly,” she explains. “They’re a group of mages, maybe the most influential political power on Wildemount. And they had great use for whitestone. That’s how my family eventually came in contact with Archmage Delilah Briarwood, one of the eight archmages of the Cerberus Assembly.”
She swallows hard, her eyes staring at the table. Vex already knows from this look that Delilah Briarwood is going to become one of the main players of this story. She thinks she’s heard the Briarwood name before… or maybe it was Cerberus Assembly. Perhaps her father has met with some of the members of that assembly before, or they’ve come to Syngorn. The elven society is filled with scholars of the arcane.
Cassandra starts talking again, with a voice sounding almost detached from the story.
“They had mostly business relations with her. She was deeply interested in Whitestone’s history, in the Sun Tree and the Alabaster Sierras’ tale of creation during the Calamity. They weren’t great friends, but they knew each other well enough. So when Lord Sylas and Lady Delilah Briarwood came knocking at the doors of the castle, looking for a place to stay as they had been unjustly driven out of the Assembly, my parents believed them.”
Her voice is clouded with bitterness. So that was probably a lie then. Vex swallows. She can feel the tension in the memories building, can feel the dread wrapping around those words. The longer Cassandra talks, the more she fears the climax of it.
“I don’t know what they said that made my parents believe all their stories. I was about 14 at the time, and I wasn’t allowed in the office when those conversations were held,” she swallows. “But the Briarwoods settled in our home with their personal doctor, Anna Ripley, and then their friends trickled into the city. The doctor took great interest in Percival’s studies, growing close to his tutor, Professor Anders. Unbeknownst to all of us, they were plotting to take over.”
Her hand around the cup tightens, the knuckles white with the tension.
“We held a feast for the anniversary of their arrival, exactly one year after they’d found us. They’d become part of the family. We toasted to them. And then, they started murdering us. Sylas Briarwood was actually not a man but an undead creature, and his strength and seeming taste for blood was the end of my mother and father. And then they hunted the rest of the family, as well as the staff. For some reason, they’d decided to keep the youngest of us alive. Percival, the twins, Ludwig and I. I’m guessing the doctor’s fondness for Percy was his saving grace.”
Cassandra has a soft, bitter chuckle. Vex almost mirrors it. It is strange to think of saving graces when she has seen what Percival has become.
“The details are fuzzy, but somehow I managed to get Percy and I out. We ran through the secret tunnel, the one you probably were in, to freedom. Well… he did,” she looks down again. “They had archers on the wall and they caught me. Percy ran away as I was hit with arrows and… that’s the last time I saw him un-possessed. I think I died there, from being shot through with arrows. Yet, I awakened later on in my very own bed in the castle. They’d cleared out the bodies and styled themselves Lord and Lady of Whitestone, and took me in for… the Gods only know why…”
Pain is now obvious over her face. She’s struggled to keep it in the entire time, but the coldness and detachment she affected before are gone.
“For three years, I was theirs. Eventually, I stopped thinking myself a de Rolo, but rather a Briarwood. They called me their daughter,” she whispers. “The city tried fighting back, but I was playing a game with the rebellion, spying on them for information. I still don’t know if I was doing it of my own volition. But because of me, many of my people died… All their attempts at gaining freedom failed.”
There are tears in her eyes now, her voice is shaking and so are her hands. Vex doesn’t know what to do. She wishes she could comfort her but… She honestly doesn’t believe there is anything she can say that will make any of this better. Cassandra was used and abused by these Briarwoods.
“One day, Percy showed up, with a weapon of his own making, a demon riding his soul and he murdered them all. He murdered the Briarwoods, he murdered Ripley, that he’d loved so much. He murdered his teacher, and the Briarwoods’ friends, and then he turned his gun on me.”
Her breath itches and a sob wracks its way out of her throat.
“His eyes were black, there was this smoke around him, and he wasn’t my brother anymore,” Cassandra sobs. “But he still… he told me to run. He managed to fight the demon and tell me to run and I did. He tried to take a shot at me but missed.”
Run. Please. The man’s voice and his eyes are still carved in Vex’s memory. She can’t imagine what Cassandra must have felt when Vex told her what happened to her, how he let her go but still shot her.
“That’s the last time I saw him,” she leans back against the chair, a bit calmer, as if emptied out of the sorrow for a moment. “Keyleth is the only one who ever gets to go see him. And she can’t tell him where I am. Or he’ll come for me.”
It’s fucking tragic.
Vex’s mind seems to run empty for a long moment. No wonder no one will talk about the massacre. Or the massacres, plural, as it is. There are so many questions that suddenly press to the forefront. Lord Briarwood had been undead with a taste for blood? That’s… almost something out of scary stories for children.
“How long has it been?” Vax asks next to her. He seems to be managing this much better than Vex is.
“About two years?” Cassandra replies. “Something like that. I admit weeks and months seem to blend into each other lately.”
That makes sense. Vex can pretty much say the same about the months of her recovery before she moved to Whitestone. Trying to move on from traumatic events feels like trying to run through jelly. Days repeat themselves until it’s suddenly six months later and you feel just slightly better.
Vex herself isn’t completely out of it. Some days, she barely recognizes herself. She has Vax, and Trinket. What does Cassandra have? A memory, a shadow of the brother she can’t seem to help.
“He taught me all I know about constellations, you know? We’d sneak out onto the high balconies at night and he’d tell me all he’d learned about them in books, before I could read.” She smiles then, bitterness filling her eyes. “I’m never getting him back, am I?”
Vex feels a knot in her throat forming, and this time she can’t stay quiet. Even if the words that come up don’t feel like they fit. She can’t think of any other ones. But she has to say something right? Maybe nothing will ever exactly fit, and it’s either this… almost meaningless platitude or silence.
“We will do our best.” It rings empty, falling flat as Cassandra laughs. “I can’t promise him back, but… we will do what we can.”
“I suppose that has to be enough. If only I had…” She trails off, and it isn’t hard to see where her thoughts have gone.
“Staying wouldn’t have changed anything. You would simply be dead.” Vex doesn’t want to hurt the girl with her bluntness, but she sees her flinch regardless. “It wasn’t your fault. He wasn’t your brother anymore when he came back.”
She looks over at Vax for a half a second, his quiet sad smile that never really reaches his eyes, the comfort he’s so obviously trying to exude, draping his body in the least threatening way, open palms on the table, knowing how to exist in a way that won’t make someone like Cassandra or Vex run away.
He heard what Cassandra said about being trapped. And maybe even more than Vex, he recognized what it meant.
What would she be feeling if Vax had made a deal with a demon to help her get rid of Saundor?
She can’t quite imagine that black smoke around Vax’s golden skin instead of Percy’s much paler one. She can’t imagine it living inside of him. Forcing herself to imagine it makes feel a little nauseous.
“I… know what it’s like for your loved ones to get hurt when they come to save you,” Vex adds after a moment.
The bramble-like arrow shot by Fenthras going through Vax’s shoulder, his face growing paler from the pain of it. He had to get too close to Saundor to stab him but it made him vulnerable. He took the risk anyway. He always took the risks for her.
“If you looked through the file you had on me, then you know a lot about my past. You know I was involved with an Archfey,” Vex whispers. “And you know some of the story of how it ended. But…” She looks down for a second. “Vax had to come and get me. I wouldn’t have made it out by myself. I couldn’t even really think of escaping at the time.”
Vex looks up to meet Cassandra’s eyes. Hopefully she gets why Vex is telling that story. The parallel, if slightly distorted, between Percy and Vax in this situation are easy to see.
“I guess us big brothers tend to be a little reckless when it comes to our younger sisters,” Vax points out with a humorless chuckle.
Vex rolls her eyes. “I’m three minutes younger than you.”
Cassandra’s face cracks in a smile at that.
“Either way,” Vax shrugs. “We really are going to do what we can to make sure this has a happy ending for the both of you. As happy as possible.”
Cassandra takes a sip of her coffee. It’s probably cold now, but Vex understands the need to give oneself countenance. She straightens up a little. “I hope so,” she mutters. “I really do. I don’t want to be the sole heir to Whitestone.”
Vex thinks she can read between those lines. I don’t want to be alone. She gets it. She really does. The past few days have made sure the only person she has is Vax. She wouldn’t want to lose him either.
“If I bump into him again,” Vex starts slowly. “Do you want me to tell him something from you?”
Cassandra’s eyes widen. Vex understands that Percy’s not supposed to know where Cassandra is, but a simple message without location won’t do much harm. It might just help him fight the demon.
For as much as she empathizes with Cassandra and her loneliness, she can’t help but think of Percy too. Two years of nothing but a demon for company. Two years of knowing you might just kill everyone you love.
“Please… If you see him,” Cassandra whispers after a moment. “Tell him I still love him.”
“I can do that,” Vex nods.
Afterwards, it’s hard to find words to end that conversation but they somehow manage. They exchange numbers and Vex makes sure Cassandra’s calls will ring loud and clear no matter what happens or if her phone is on silent. They say goodbye and the twins start their way back to the car.
Vex extends her hand in between them and Vax doesn’t waste a second to take it.
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My Covid Story
Apologies for any spelling errors, I’m on a time crunch. I’m a few hours out from leaving for my first flight since July 2019 (and before that, March 2018). Heading out to Sydney, I’m a mix of anxiety and absolute excitement. In January of this year, our sublet was almost up in Eltham and Cam and I had plans to pack up the car and begin doing workaways around Australia to help rebuild communities devastated by the historic wild fires (doesn’t that feel FOREVER ago?). When our sublet became available for a full lease transfer, we changed our minds to stay in our space, so that was the first instance of travel being knocked out of the picture. Then we had Valentine’s weekend open to go visit some friends in Tasmania, so we booked tickets and upon waiting in the airport, our flights were cancelled due to inclement weather. DAMN. Mid-march came around and it was Cam’s birthday, so we wanted to get out for a weekend of camping in our big bell tent, find a gorgeous spot in the woods out east near Warburton. When we arrived, every camping spot for an hour’s dive any direction was either full or completely not open at all. We picked a spot off a random road and spent one night there, but some rangers came by and said we couldn’t stay there due to the possible danger of logging trucks not seeing us. So that was a bust.
Then as you’re aware, this time frame leads up to the very tumultuous third week of March when Melbourne officially went into its first lockdown due to COVID. I documented this time in journal entries which I will add at the end, but ultimately the lockdown went until June, and the state reopened too quickly/had a fiasco with quarantined cases getting out of a hotel, thus sparking the second wave. We had flights booked to California for June to see my family and then planned to travel around Mexico for a few months, but that dream was quickly squashed when flights out of Melbourne ceased to exist at all. Months later, I had a flight booked in July to go to Sydney where I was to have my eggs extracted for donation. The day before I was to fly out, second lockdown went into effect and the flight was cancelled (thus forcing me to have the procedure done in Melbourne and cause a huge, historic controversy between Melbourne IVF’s CEO and the medical director of IVF Australia about how to transfer frozen eggs over a closed border!).
I’m struggling to comprehend just how important and meaningful my ability to travel today is. To think back to the first time in history, watching borders around the world close, flights become grounded, and witnessing a global pandemic unfold whilst in a foreign country—I remember thinking at the beginning how unfathomable the scale of it was. When people talk about things not seeming real or like it’s a dream you can’t wake up from, that’s exactly how it felt. I questioned whether I needed to go back to the U.S. in fear I might not see my family for years or be with them if they got fatally ill. Would I be able to even go back if that happened let alone would I be able to re-enter AU (the answer was no). And thank god I didn’t go back considering the absolute cluster fuck of a mess Trump made of the pandemic. But also, thank god my family has been healthy and safe. The level of fear for their safety was at an all-time high as civil tensions grew when the riots around the country kicked off in conjunction with the pandemic. I wrote to all of them to have a plan to escape to Mexico and get their passports if Trump won the re-election. This was a genuine fear I’ve never experienced before.
The level of frustration, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, self-hatred for lack of productivity during lockdown, and uncertainty about so many facets of life weighed down on me during this time. But I know how much worse our time could have been. I was immensely grateful for the fact that we had a home and incredibly gracious landlords who were human and understood the financial difficulties of this unprecedented time when so many became homeless as job loss skyrocketed. We were so fortunate that I was able to continue working even 2 days a week through the lockdown as a barista and Cam was able to get government support for six months as a NZ citizen who lived in AU over 10 years when so many other New Zealanders were forced to return to their country because of the time limit stipulation for support. We only had two family members contract Covid and were young and healthy enough to survive when so many families will be without a member at the holidays this year.
And I acknowledge my privilege in that my identity is so closely entwined with the ability to travel, that while it felt suffocating to not even have the choice to travel anywhere outside of a 5km (3mile) zone, I fully empathize with those in parts of the world where they could not walk more than 50 meters from their front door or people who didn’t have windows/balconies in apartment buildings who were going out of their mind. All of that does not diminish the struggles I faced with not being able to travel, but it does always keep my perspective in check. My trip today signifies how a city and a country came together during the most difficult period of our lifetime, followed strict government guidelines, and came out after 120+ days in full lockdown on the other side of a pandemic, now able to cross state borders without isolation or quarantine. To go to a live music show, have drinks on rooftop bars, walk around outside without a mask on, and see people going about their daily lives again on public transport and see a city bustling with energy—the months of mental hardship and growth was all to get back to a post-Covid world. Even though a vaccine is not out yet and we need to be cautious, the level of hopelessness has diminished significantly, and I’m not terrified my trip might be cancelled in two hours. I’m actually going this time!
There is also a whole other facet to my time in lockdown and that of course is the personal development and mutual growth in my marriage! That’s a whole separate post though which I hope to get out soonish. But here’s a bit of something I started a few months ago. Enjoy.
I remember when it first started in the news; like a minor blip of a story flashing at the bottom of the screen: some mutant virus had infected a couple dozen people in some random city in China. I was working solo in a café serving the employees of a major shoe distribution company in the warehouse district of Collingwood, Melbourne. The TV was on in the cafe but muted the first few weeks of January as the main stories were about the most devastating wildfires in the history of the world, and we all just felt a communal helplessness. As the numbers grew in China and the story became a daily headline, the first case was announced in Queensland on January 25th. Everyone stuck around a few minutes longer each day after they were handed their coffee. I think back to the moment when Wuhan, the epicenter at the time, reported 1,500 cases and I thought surely there can’t be much more than that. This is just media sensationalizing something small. This whole story will blow over in another week or two.
It was summer in Australia, and my husband and I were planning what to do after our sublease was up in mid-March. I commuted daily from a suburb 50 minutes north called Eltham, a creative and eco-friendly heritage town. We lived in a triplex made of adobe mudbrick, surrounded by native forest, a communal garden, and enjoyed huge artisan windows that brought in natural filtered light through the towering trees. Our little studio was a quiet haven away from the chaos and constant flurry of people in Melbourne, especially during summer as it brought travelers from every corner of the globe. There was no way we could have possibly known that this little paradise would feel like a prison after six months in the world’s longest lockdown due to a global pandemic caused by that little virus in some random city in China now known worldwide as COVID-19.
As the weeks passed by in February, more and more countries began reporting cases. I did not understand how pandemics worked as the last one I was alive for and could remember was H1N1 in California, and I was about 17—far too consumed with college applications and boys to think about world affairs. The Spanish Flu was never something that was particularly emphasized in our history classes, so it didn’t even occur to me to compare what was happening now to that point in time. Then again, this was incomparable because in 1912, the world was a less globalized economy and there were no commercial flights transporting thousands of passengers across the globe daily. By the first week of March, my daily rush-hour commutes became the first real difference I noticed. The number of morning passengers on the train platforms dwindled from 50 to 25 to 5, and eventually, to just me. As the train stopped at over 30 stops from where I lived to the city, my carriage wasn’t even remotely full at 7 a.m.
There was less foot traffic in the city. Flinders Street Station, one of the two largest hubs that saw thousands of people daily, was eerily quiet and empty. We were two weeks out from leaving Melbourne to go travel, planning to go to New South Wales, AU to help rebuild communities that were ravaged by the bushfires. I was desperate to travel this year, and we were so close to leaving. I had picked up some other barista work in an advertising agency closer to the city. But day by day, office workers were being told to work from home if they were able to. Hand sanitizer became readily available in the café, bathrooms, and around the office. I remember staring out the window of this high rise building that overlooked the lush green stretch of Albert Park and thinking it looks so normal outside. Every day, I looked at the news in Australia, which I had never really done before. Industries were shutting down, and the panic was setting in for thousands of casual workers in the hospitality industry as it was only a matter of time before we would be shut down too.
Melbourne is a cultural hub filled with travelers who typically come here on a Work and Holiday Visa which gives them 1-2 years to work and live in AU. Most find work in hospitality as there are over 40,000 restaurants and cafes in this region. You couldn’t go a single day without meeting someone from another country which is why I fell in love with this city. I worked as a freelance barista through agencies that called for workers to be able to step in if someone called out sick or quit unexpectedly and they found themselves short. But my agencies had gone completely silent in the week leading up to the industry shutting down. There was no more work and travelers were finding themselves stranded. I journaled daily in the lead up to my final day of work in the city as I knew something big was happening, and I wanted to be able to recall when it all began. I also knew we would not be travelling anytime soon, around Australia or otherwise, when national and international borders began closing around the world.
March 17th, 2020
All that’s being talked about is COVID-19. Entire countries are closing borders and going into complete lockdown. Italy has been inundated with patients in hospitals and now have to choose who lives and who dies. AU isn’t taking nearly as intense of measures, but the general atmosphere is not normal. All events with over 500 people have been cancelled. Those who have traveled anywhere must self-quarantine for 14 days or face a huge fine. Some people still don’t take it seriously, thinking/acting like it’s just a normal flu when in reality its ability to be passed on and even re-infect someone a second time is much higher than the rate of a simple flu. In the states, my family says all the restaurants and schools have closed, even the Hollywood entertainment industry has closed down. So many independent contractors, myself included, are without means to live because there’s no emergency government funding in place. It shows what’s truly flawed with the system. Luckily Cam has full time work still, but for those people who have kids and no daycare options? No partner or family? Those who are traveling and can’t get back home? This is devastating for all of us, but them in particular. Supposedly, there are rumors that the virus dies with the warm weather, but AU is headed into winter. It could be why the virus isn’t as big in places like South America and Africa (*note* countries from these two continents are now in the top 10 most infected places as of September 2020) Europe is completely shut down as is New Zealand. I have flights to California in June, so I’m hoping I can still go. For how weak my immune system is, I’m surprised I’m not more concerned because I’ve been continuously reassured the virus only attacks those with underlying conditions, mainly in the elderly population. Even in calm, tight-knitted communities like ours in Eltham, we’re seeing the best and worst of humanity come out with people hoarding resources, but also there are those offering rides for people to stores or grocery drop offs to their homes. I’m very interested to see how the next three months progress all around the world. Right about now, it’d be nice to hide away in a beachside house in Mexico. (*Mexico is also among the top 10 most infected countries now*)
The government should announce today whether hospitality industry will close, potentially putting Cam and I both out of jobs. Luckily our landlord is being highly accommodating. Trump is giving Americans $1,200 and has postponed tax season by 3 months. Only seems he does something decent when it’s to keep the economy from tanking and his money is protected.
Cam and I both have throat annoyances and headaches. We should try to stay home, but can’t afford it. Today, they’ve dropped gatherings of 500 down to only 100 people, yet shopping centers and public transport remain open, which I would think are the riskiest places for transferring infections. It’s been stated this is a once in a decade event that will change the course of history.
March 19th, 2020
Amidst all the chaos from morning to night, people are finally taking time to nurture their interests and creativity. I’m taking two courses on sustainable fashion and fashion in design. I’ve also applied to be a mentor for women trying to gain work and leadership experience at an NGO called Fitted for Work. They have stylists that help women to prepare business outfits and tailor their resumes/do mock interviews. I’ve looked into an MA program I’m interested in at Warren Wilson College back in North Carolina. I think looking forward is the only way to keep the fear down about how long these shut downs may last possibly through June. The world economy is going to see some extremely confronting realities it hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. For the moment I’m looking into teaching English online which I’m already certified to do, just to try and earn some money. I’ll be interested to see all the art that comes out of this period and the photojournalism that captures this historic time.
March 21st, 2020
We went over to Williamstown (Cam’s parent’s house) as Cam had two shifts out that way. Restrictions in cafes are now 1 person per 4 square meters, so in the 100 person limit already imposed, it’s now down to 25. I’m nervous for Cam to keep working and going on public transport. It’s high risk and unethical in terms of coming in contact with people we could transmit it to without knowing (asymptomatic) because it takes 14 days to even show symptoms. We made the choice to start self-isolation come Monday as we can see in the next week or two the same spike will be here in Melbourne as we’ve seen in Italy and most likely soon to see in the U.S. Reading other peoples’ accounts about how they continued life as normal as though nothing had changed in Italy is exactly where AU is projected to head towards.
March 25, 2020
As of Monday, AU took drastic measures to ensure safety and closed many non-essential businesses with a series of daily updates for more and more businesses to shut or only stay open for takeaway. Overnight, nearly 80,000 people in hospitality work were laid off or lost work, Cam and I included. A stimulus package of 66 billion dollars was announced and Cam qualified for government payments through Centrelink because he’s a kiwi who’s been here over 10 years. Other kiwis who haven’t been here that long are completely without any kind of support from the AU government, even though in NZ, Aussies are supported. A very backward, selfish system who told them to go home.
We went to Centrelink on Monday at 7:45am in Greensborough (suburb over from Eltham). By 8:30 am when the doors opened there were over 200 people in line. The government has been terribly confusing with their messages out to the public, highly unprepared. People are confused about what they can and can’t do, what businesses are remaining open, who is eligible… it’s a mess. Why are liquor stores and hair salons considered essential?? There have been spikes in young people getting this virus as young as 18, and they are dying. The virus coats your lungs like a jelly ultimately blocking oxygen. We did what is hopefully our last grocery shop because being in the store is just as contagious as a café. There’s no safety or hygiene measures in place. We had gloves on and people were dancing around each other in the aisles to maintain 1.5m social distance.
The U.S. is becoming the new epicenter with horrific rapid spreading, particularly in New York. Flight around the world, including as of today AU, are being stopped and we can no longer leave the country at all.
To Be Continued…..
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I have been toying around with A LOT of WIP ideas recently and I’m not really sure where I want to focus my energy or which ones I want to add to my WIP list or make intros for. So I figured I’d make a masterlist of all of my ideas that I have a rough plot and character list for so y’all can peruse! If there’s one that jumps our at you, a few you like, or any that you have questions on please please flood my inbox! There’s no better way to get me jazzed about a WIP than to send me asks! I’m putting them under the cut since there’s so many!
NIGHT TWELVE: Vi crashes into enemy territory and is taken in by the army. She's given an assignment: win the heart of the wealthiest woman on the planet to procure war funding. But she's already fallen in love with her superior officer.
DAVID’S PEAK: In the small, Oregon town of David’s Peak people are being mysteriously abducted, and blame is placed on possessed park ranger Diane Atwood. She has a choice: prove herself innocent by finding the real culprit, or say goodbye to the friendly voice in her head.
YOUNG DEMONS: After failing her first spell Cecily Young swore off magic. Her power is building, brewing. The repressed magic is manifesting as a hurricane set to destroy Louisiana in a month's time. She must find a way to expel the magic in time, without tearing herself apart in the process.
THE GODLING TRILOGY: Lea is the firstborn child of Morpheus, making her the most powerful godling in a millennium. Which means she’s the perfect scapegoat for Zeus to send to do his dirty work. Including murdering the ancient being known as Nyx, who’s determined to plunge the modern world into eternal night.
BERSERKERS: Gal pals turned fearsome warriors. When the clique dons their fur coats they gain the strength of the animals they wear. It’s time for revenge on selfish exs, bigoted teachers, and abusive parents,. That is, if the consequences don’t catch up to them first.
THE BLITZKRIEG BREAKER: When Teddy’s clock repair shop becomes both the epicenter of a magical war and the London blitz, he is tasked with keeping a strange device out of the wrong hands. In a world filled with demon dogs, falling bombs, and a mysterious shapeshifting witch it’s hard to know which threat to focus on.
HELL’S EMPTY: Sometimes, the dead get restless. There are a few who manage to slip through the cracks and back into the world of the living. On autopilot, the soul takes the first available body and become a zombie. Over time the body, incompatible with its new soul, will begin to decay. Desperate to live, but falling apart, these creatures seek new fresh bodies to enter, even it means killing to get them. Luckily, hell, like any good business, has a lost prevention specialist. And she’s ready to go hunting.
WASTELANDERS: In a post apocalyptic wasteland, a team of two girls band together to fight to survive. When crossing the desert from ration station to ration station they encounter a man on the side of the road, he claims that his car was stolen with his young daughter inside. The two girls venture to find the lost girl in a no holds barred rescue mission through deadly dive bars, life or death road races, and russian roulette tournaments.
TRAGEDY ANNE: Anne, a bandit known for terrorizing the rich folks of Round Rock, caught wind of the local mine owner’s plan to blow out the dam. Even if it means washing out Round Rock in the process. Anne wants to save her hometown but no one will listen to a lying, cheating thief.
SOUL: SOLD: Six years ago Jac sold her soul to a demon so that she could say goodbye to her mother. But now her contract is up and she only has a week before she becomes a demon herself. The plan: find the family heirloom, use it to barter with the crossroads demon, and avoid damnation at all costs.
AMELIA BRIGHT PETSITTER TO THE ABSURDLY RICH: Amy loves her job: nice houses, free food, and cute puppies. But when she’s accused of stealing jewelry from a rich client everything falls apart and her reputation is destroyed. She has to prove her innocence. Hopefully, before the super hot CEO she’s dogsitting for returns from a business trip.
THE TEMPEST PROTOCOL: Mira’s mission is to study the defunct pleasure planet which orbits a black hole. But the mission is overturned when the owner of the planet returns and kidnaps Mira’s team. Mira has to rescue her crew before they are all swallowed by the looming void or murdered by the psychopathic resort owner.
THE ELECTRIC PIGHT - Winona is an archaeologist that studies the fallen society of the 21st century. When her brother returns home severely injured, she’s determined to use old world medicine to save his life even if she has to travel for days to find it. But the way to the city of old is guarded by militiamen, cannibals, and rabid dogs. Winona’s attempt to save her brother and prove her theories right might kill her first.
WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD - Bee has been demon of the month over nineteen thousand times. She’s assigned a meager corruption mission and saddled with a newbie demon. Now, she’s determined to prove to Satan that she doesn’t need a partner. She has to find a way to kill her ‘husband’ without it looking suspicious. All while corrupting the perfect 1950s suburbia around her.
HELL FIRED - When one of the groundskeepers for the underworld goes on maternity leave her coworker has to find a suitable replacement. So they set up a reality show competition and the last person standing wins the role of right hand man to Hades’ right hand man. Which is sort of an honor.
ARTEMIS AND APOLLO - Agent’s Artemis and Apollo have been working together for nearly twelve years. He’s the impulsive rogue and she’s the one who actually gets the job done. But now that she’s getting married he’s worried the agency will realize his incompetence. Instead of fighting it, he’s determined to make their final mission together the wildest ride possible.
FUN FUN AT THE BOARDWALK - Daniel works at the Santa Cruz boardwalk and knows for a fact it’s haunted. The giant stuffed animals have started to roam at night and recently, one tried to kill him. He has to round up a team to help him fight back but first, he has to make people believe him.
VIENNA - After being exposed to radiation from the sun an astronaut returns to earth to find that she is imbued with starlight. She’s recruited into an organization of mutants and tasked with rounding up others like her. But the more she uses her powers to render outside threats inert the more she risks burning out and turning herself into a black hole.
10 PERFECT DATES - Katherine Day’s website claims she can set up the most romantic date possible just for a small fee of $200. Rory, an investigative journalist, is determined to prove this offer a scam. So they buy 10 and ask Katherine to be the one to join them on these so-called ‘perfect’ dates. Rory thought this would be a disaster worth writing about, but the only problem is Katherine herself seems like the perfect person for Rory.
SOUL SEARCHING - A witch and her disembodied wife search for a body that can house the wife’s soul. The witch becomes a spiritual guide to people in comas, entering their minds and helping them through to the other side to open a space for the wife to have a body again.
CRITICALLY MISSED. After the death of David’s father he invites all of his childhood friends back to his childhood home for a reunion game of dungeons and dragons. When they start to fight they are interrupted as they are pulled into the game. The old friends are forced to fight off giant spiders, ogres, and long buried resentment. If they die in the game do they die in real life? And is an epic takedown worth risking your brother’s neck?
These ones don’t have titles yet so I’m just gonna give some comps so you get the vibe:
WES ANDERSON x THE HALF OF IT - Mindy’s life is going exactly how she wants. She has perfected her waffle recipe, a successful b&b, and no friends. But when her mom decides to get remarried Mindy is faced with the reality that the world goes on without her even when she constructs an eden for herself. So she enlists the help of a childhood friend to teach her how to deal with change.
STRANGER THINGS x PARANORMAN - Ryann drowned, and was resuscitated minutes after being declared dead. Now the kid sees ghosts: unmoving, unblinking figures staring at a singular location. Ryann must discover why the spirits are back and what it is they want that’s in the Courthouse.
TOMB RAIDER x UNCHARTED - The Bloodright Chalice is the last unrecovered piece of known treasure, and Kel is determined to find it. With the help of a tagalong history nerd, she must fight off mercenaries, navigate perilous terrain, and withstand the draw of a magical artifact.
KICKASS x DAREDEVIL - Kimberly Price is trying to be the hero her powers deserve, but her moral ambiguity keeps leading her off track. Upon discovering an underground crime ring, Kim discovers her big break and that the mob boss, a mutant like her, can break any bone in her body with his mind.
INCEPTION x ARRIVAL - Dr. Parson has been having dreams recently of waking up next to a woman who he doesn’t know and she claims to be his wife. His new research partner on the particle accelerator is revealed to be the very same woman he’s been dreaming of since the beginning of the project. He knows more about her than he should and it feels like an abuse of power, but he cannot help but fall in love, or rather stay in love. But how can he be honest when it would paint him as insane and ruin both his relationship with her and his plans for the project?
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Pacific Rim: the Whoffauldi AU. (Don’t make me cry too much. 💙)
4717 words; this is a fairly bizarre mashup of fandoms andidk how this happened anymore; I know I’m probably one of, like, only fifteenpeople who actually liked the sequel so I’m not getting into that territory herejust letting you know; I am knowingly fudging a few things for the sake of thestory but don’t worry it won’t be too bad because I’m only trying to not repeatall the beats; contains remnants of Pinkwald and Twelve/River; PART ONE OFTHREE BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THIS FOR A LONG TIME BUT ALSO WANT TO GETIT OUT THERE SO THAT IT DOESN’T SIT FOR TWO MORE MONTHS IN HIDING
The alarm clock in the center of the room buzzed loudly andwoke four men, one in each corner, with harsh aplomb. It was cold as they allforced themselves from their beds—colder than normal—making them realize thatthe heat was out… again. All sorts of expletives were used as they got readyfor the day, peppered amongst wonderings and ponderings of why any of themsigned up for such a terrible job.
Basil was silent, however, as per usual. No one questionedwhy a man in his early-fifties was out there on the Wall all alone, barelyspeaking a handful of words all week, staying to himself to the point wherepeople forgot he was Scottish, let alone the fact his name wasn’t pronouncedBAY-sulh. There were plenty of people on the Wall who were sending money backhome, who wanted to simply work alone, who were there because it was helping,and no one got in each other’s business if it was clear they were lone wolves.
Yes, lone wolves were for the Alaskan Wall. So many could’vegone to Los Angeles, or Lima, or Gold Coast, or even Dalian, but instead theywere in Alaska—chilly and unforgiving Alaska. Sure, they could’ve gone toSakhalin or Kamchatka, yet there they were.
Breakfast in the dining hall and the men and women from theboarding house all went out to work with the residents of all the otherboarding houses that had hastily popped up in the area. The Wall itself was animposing figure, looking like a decayed husk with its partially-exposed rebarand steelworks unprotected against the mercurial, slow thaw of Spring. Soon, aswith other parts of the Wall, the hollow pillars being built mid-wall would befilled with concrete and reinforced and the surrounding spaces not dedicated tomaintenance tunnels braced and filled in as well until they had the ultimatewall. It was to last longer than any had before and any would in the future,all while protecting as many people as they could from the creatures from theBreach.
Since the first time one of the behemoths emerged from theinterdimensional rift on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean only twelve yearsbefore, the kaiju had seeped into the global populace’s collective culture.Ageing, Soviet-inspired posters of them were everywhere, a visual reminder ofwhy many of them had been there for nearly five whole years. Like something outof an allegorical fantasy, they rose from the deep and destroyed coastal citieswith large populations, drawn to the many dense concentrations of peoplesurrounding the Pacific Ocean. There was already so much death and destructionthat it did not take long to find someone working the Wall who hadn’t lost someone, and it would’vebeen likely more had the Wall not been preceded by the other spectres shown onposters and billboards and artwork displayed everywhere:
It was appropriate, Basil knew, that the large, humanoidweapons were literally called hunters—what best to hunt monsters with, afterall? Piloted by two people via a revolutionary mind-sharing technology, theirdesign, creation, and upkeep were becoming too costly for the Trans-PacificPartnership as time wore on, ultimately resulting in the creation of the Wall.The man-made marvels were monstrous themselves—legendary, even—and the pilotingof them saved millions of lives at great cost to those who took them on. Deathin battle was merciful compared to brain hemorrhages, cancers, and other long,horrific ailments that had befallen many.
‘At least she didn’tsuffer,’ he’d think as he passed by the deliveries supervisor. The woman’snaturally-tight blonde curls would remind him of days gone by, of why he was there, and every day he’d see herwas another day he accepted the stark realization that his life was just ashell waiting to collapse.
Most days, helicopters could come in from Anchorage bringingnew stores of supplies and occasionally fresh workers, utilizing a nearbyformer big-box store’s parking lot as a landing pad. Basil idly crunched onsome potato chips he snuck from the dining hall as he sat on his break thatmorning and watched as a new sort of helicopter touched down. He saw somecoworkers take notice of the strange aircraft and decided to ignore them—therewas only one reason as to why a helicopter like that was around and it was awaste of time.
“Doctor Basil Song?”
He didn’t need to look up from the bag to know it was KateStewart, one of the most senior non-military members of the Pan Pacific DefenseCorps and an old acquaintance. No, he lifted his gaze to look at his old friend, as he didn’t have many of thoseleft anymore.
“Smith—I’m going by Smith again,” he corrected.
“Well then, BasilSmith, you know why I’m here.” She watched as he glanced around her and sawnot only the soldiers standing guard, but his fellow builders looking on inconfusion. “I need a pilot.”
“Those days are behind me,” he reminded her. “I’m not goingback to Sydney.”
“Hong Kong.” It was now her turn to do the correcting.“Idris needs a pilot and I know this place is slowly killing you.”
“It was kind of the point,” he shot back. “I’m a washed-upold wreck… I’m better off here.”
“Call it my final favor, myfather’s final favor, that I’m cashing in right now, because we need you one last time.”
He considered it, silently feeling as though he was toregret what he was about to do.
Thirty-six hours later and Basil found himself on a differenthelicopter coming out of Hong Kong International, touching down near theShatterdome. People were milling about, hauling equipment, kaiju parts, andspare bits and bobs to go onto Jaegers whether they belonged there or not. Theywere in salvaging mode, which did not surprise him in the slightest. Muchlonger and there would be nothing left to scrape together.
“You’re going to have to forgive our system at the moment—wedo not have nearly the same crew we had four years ago, let alone from thistime last year,” Kate said as they walked through to the bays. There they sawthree Jaegers sitting, waiting, being gone over by techs on girders and ropes.The one in the middle Basil didn’t recognize—must’ve been the Mark V builtbefore the Jaeger Program got scrapped—but the one on the left was PaternosterGlory and the one to his right was her… hisJaeger… their Jaeger… Idris Vortex.
Basil could barely believe his eyes when he saw Idris; lasttime he had seen her, she was missing half of her upper body and Conn-Pod. Nowshe was whole again, as though nothing had ever happened. It was such a shockthat he almost let go of the duffle bag slung over his shoulder.
“She’s like new,” he marveled aloud.
“Even better, if I do say so myself,” a new voice saidconfidently. He glanced in Kate’s direction and saw a young woman standingthere next to her. The stranger was disastrously short, even in her heels, withthe largest brown eyes he had ever seen. Her brown hair was mostly pulled backin a ponytail, save for her bangs—they were the same blue as kaiju blood… thesame blue as Idris’s paint job. She stuck out her hand, which he shook. “ClaraOswald; I’ve been overseeing Idris Vortex’s restoration while finishing upRanger training. It’s good to finally meet you, Doctor.”
“I thought they shuttered the Academy,” he noted.
“Clara would have been top of her class had things not beencut short,” Kate explained. “She, along with the rest of the remainingpotential pilots, train under Paternoster’s crew when they can.”
“Are Jenny, Vastra, and Strax all still terrorizing the fishwith that thing?” he asked. Kate nodded. “That’s six Brits between them and us,and I know I heard some similar accents on the helicopter over. Does theMainland know about this?”
“Mainland China is tolerating us, for the time being,” Katesaid. She frowned uncomfortably, suggesting that her words were more than a bitsarcastic. “One of my Mark V pilots is a local man, and one of my mainremaining scientists was born and grew up here despite being ethnically English,having been from one of the few families to stay after the handover. I don’tknow what they’d do if we didn’t have at least them, which is frankly out ofour hands at this point in the game. That doesn’t even mention all the localHong Kongers that we regularly employ on a normal basis… take away theShatterdome and all these jobs are lost.”
“After seeing the economic collapse in Anchoragepost-Shatterdome, you can easily guess why we are the benefactors of more thanone willfully-blind eye,” Clara said. “Doctor, if you will follow me, I canshow you to your quarters.”
Basil bid Kate goodbye for the time being and followedClara. Though he could only stutter a couple phrases in Cantonese (which shedid not need to know whether he could or not), the pictograms on all the signswere still the same standardized ones from when he last stepped inside aShatterdome and all he really followed her for was to figure out which room washis. Even that wasn’t that big a mystery, as it was the same number he lasthad.
“You have an appointment tomorrow with our suit-techs to getyou refitted, though after dinner tonight we have preliminary sparring tofigure out who is to pilot Idris Vortex with you…”
“I’m not replacing River,” he cut in. “Kate doesn’t know it,but I’m only here to observe and coach. My pilot days are behind me.” He beganto make his way inside his room, only for her to touch his upper arm, gettinghim to stop.
“I read about what happened,” she said. “No one is replacingRiver—no one can replace her becauseno human is replaceable—but we are at war. Kate said you’re a good man, thatyou’re one of the best. We need all the good men and women we can get.”
“Pity, because I’m not a good man.”
“I think you’d be surprised,” she replied. Clara smiledgently before turning to walk away, leaving Basil half in the corridor. Hewatched her for a moment before shaking his head and going into his sparseroom.
It was the middle ofthe night when the alarm went off. He and River woke at the first peal, crammedtogether in the tiny bottom bunk in their quarters. Hitting his head on theabove bed, he got off to a cranky start, which seemed to be more frequent anoccurrence as of late.
“Don’t be so cross,sweetie,” River said, patting his backside as he stepped into his trousers.“Save your temper for the kaiju; it looks like a big one.”
Basil glanced towardsthe screen by their door giving a readout of the kaiju specs. It was huge, and headed straight for them.
Everything continuedas normal once they left their room and made their way through the SydneyShatterdome. They suited up and went towards the Jaeger bays—with the others inthe middle of upgrades and repairs, they were the only team available. Soon asthey jammed their helmets on, a voice came over their commlink.
“This might bedeemed a new category level by the time you return,” Kate warned them. Basil knew she was up in the control room,watching over the entire operation. “If you need backup, you need to let meknow immediately and we can get someone in from Hong Kong.”
“We won’t needbackup,” River smirked. She and Basil entered the Conn-Pod and were linked up,performing the neural handshake with ease. Memories and emotions flowed betweenthem easily—her being doted on by her adoring parents, him being one of theleast-loved of his many brothers, meeting in postgrad, their first time, theirwedding, when they found out that they couldn’t…
Basil woke up in a sweat and looked at the clock. It wasnearly time for dinner, which meant that he had slept through the entireafternoon. He changed his clothes and went down to the mess hall, where dinnerhad just begun for most in the room. Taking that as reason enough to get a pileof rice noodles and chicken covered in mystery-sauce (as, again, his Cantonesewas rusty), he sat down at the empty end of a spare table and only got a fewbites in before he heard a voice he never expected to experience again.
“Now there is asight for sore eyes.” Basil nearly choked on a piece of chicken and looked tohis left, seeing that his fear had come true. Although she was a Jaeger pilotjust as he had been, Missy was standing there in her impractical skirt-suit andperfectly-curled hair tucked underneath a pinned hat.
“Is that wool… in monsoonseason…?”
“See? I told you he was a delight, Chang.” Just behind Missythere was a man in a suit and glasses, who Basil noticed was looking at himcuriously. Well, now he knew who the pilots for the Mark V were. He didn’t havetime to tell them off, however, as Missy sat down next to him and attempted tolean seductively against the table.
“Didn’t think I’d see you until we had to gather up mournersfor when the potato-head commits suicide-by-kaiju by going to fight one in arowboat.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Basil scowled.
“What I’m sayingis that it’s been a long time.”
“Should’ve been longer.”
“What cheek—I don’t know how River could standit.”
At that, Basil stood quickly, grabbing Missy by the shoulderof her coat. Neither she nor Suit reacted with anything other than a grin,though others nearby noticed and immediately tensed.
“Smith! McMaster! Stop this instant!” They looked across themess hall and saw Kate approaching them. Basil let go and the tips of his earsburned red—shit. “What do the two of you think you’re doing?!”
“Getting reacquainted—there been more than a few years ofarguing to catch up on,” Missy smirked.
“Stop instigating and be glad I’m not tossing you out on thestreet just yet,” Kate warned. She then turned towards Basil, face still in thesternest glare she could muster. “Take your food and come with me—we’ve gotrecruits to screen and only a couple hours to do it.”
Taking it as a clear opportunity to leave the situation withhis hands clean, Basil took his tray and followed Kate out of the mess hall. Hecould feel Missy’s line of sight on them all the way to the door, afterwardsshe was fully excised from his consciousness.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Thank me once we’ve gotten you a new copilot,” she repliedtersely. “Osgood thinks we’re in for a new event sooner rather than later.”
“Our new numbers whiz, after Alzarius got the sack for goingfrom being a teenaged boy with no self-filter to a twenty-something boy with noself-filter; says it’s down to less than a week.”
“This Osgood found a pattern?”
“I don’t know what she found, but whatever it is, we aregoing to be prepared for it.”
They entered the training room and stood off to the side,watching the recruits as Basil quickly finished his meal. Most of them lookedpicked up from right outside in Tsing Yi, even some showing potential promisefor strong neural handshakes as they sparred, yet his eyes were drawn towardsdeep inside the room where he saw the familiar faces of Paternoster Glorydemonstrating for some of the recruits, including the woman whom he had metbefore. Clara? Yes, Clara.
“I’d say that you have an excellent pool of candidates,” hementioned between noodle slurps. “Idris will have her new pilots before your ‘event’ arrives, no problem.”
“I don’t want her to have two new pilots—I need you in there,” Kate insisted. “I need astable veteran leading this charge, and we both know that Vastra and Jenny aretoo busy handling Strax to do anything close to leading… not leading as they’dlike, anyhow… and McMaster can’t lead to save her life, let alone anyoneelse’s. You? They all listen to you.”
“They listen to no one—don’t fool yourself.” He put down hisnow-empty bowl, shed his hooded sweatshirt and shoes, and grabbed a spare bōstaff leaning against the wall. “Who do I need to fight to convince you I don’tbelong here anymore?”
“I don’t think you need to fight anybody,” a nearby recruitsaid. Basil glanced over and saw the young man, cocky and clearly one whobelieved himself the most important person in the room. “You’re a grey stick ofan old man—what’s Stewart got youhere for?”
It took only a moment and the end of Basil’s staff connectedwith the recruit’s face. The young man cursed loudly, causing the entire roomto halt activity and stare at the scene.
“That’s why,” Basil said loudly. Once he was certain he hadeveryone’s attention, he continued. “Director Stewart believes that my newcopilot’s in this room and I, for many reasons, don’t believe her. Here’s ahint: just see me. Once you do, that’s when you’ll be able to meet me in theDrift.”
“What an entrance, Doctor!” Strax beamed. Basil saw him makehis way through the throng of stunned recruits as everyone else got back towork. “You seem as irritable as ever!”
“You’re the only person from whom that’s a compliment,”Basil chuckled weakly. He looked towards where Jenny and Vastra still were, andwinced when he could see the latter’s glare. “They a bit sore at me?”
“You left the PPDC without word or warning or checking in;there is debate as to whether your disappearance is understandable given thecircumstances, or overdramatic and selfish.”
That hit Basil hard. “What about you? What do you think?”
“You found honor and glory on the battlefield, Doctor, butyou also found sorrow and pain. Those who find such things need time to adjustthemselves, so that they may understand the thrill of war once again.”
“How… disturbingly insightful.”
“Miss Jenny has me reading texts about empathy. I understandthe concept, though I suspect that there is a further point that requiresinvestigating.”
“There may not be one,” Basil replied. He took a deep breathand decided to go talk to the pair of his old friends still across the room.Strax he could talk to once every five years or every five minutes and theirrelationship would not change, yet Vastra and Jenny… he owed them much more.
…or, he would have, had one Clara Oswald not get flung intohis path, landing on her backside right before him. He looked in the directionshe came from and saw a tall, youthful man who seemed much smugger than anyoneshould’ve been following such a match.
“That’s not how you do it,” Basil frowned. He held out hishand towards Clara and she took it, using his leverage as a boost up.
“I was winning,” the man replied. “I won.”
“If you’re concerned with winning against another human,then this might not be your calling,” Basil scolded.
“Why don’t we show Seb how it’s done, then?” Clara offered.Basil glanced at her, noticing that the smile she wore was infectious.
“Sounds like a plan.”
The two of them stood near one another, staffs crossed,looking like the biggest pair of idiots Basil could have imagined. There theywere—he an aging, out of shape, too-skinny Scotsman and she the youngEnglishwoman who was laughably short in her bare feet and looking as though shecould overpower no one. The bōs disconnected and they each took twosteps back, planning their next move.
Lunging towards one another, Clara and Basil were able toland a few blows and parries on their staffs before he was able to trip her.“See? What you want to do is figure out how long you can keep in sync. Thisexercise is about probing for compatibility,not winning. Physicality is not whatmakes a good set of Jaeger pilots, but synchronicity.”
“That’s what I keep trying to tell him, Doctor, but he won’tlisten,” Clara interjected. He helped her up again and they crossed staffsagain.
“He’s clearly got a brain made of low-grade pudding—don’tmind him.”
They separated and immediately went into action. Thesparring went on longer this time, before Clara was able to hit Basil on the forearmfor a point.
“You’re not bad,” she complimented.
“Tell me that again after match is called.” He grinned,which only served to egg her on. They began their bout again, sparring anddodging and mirroring one another blow-for-blow until Kate’s voice ground themto a halt.
“ENOUGH!” she shouted. Basil and Clara stopped and lookedaround—not only had they been the only ones fighting, but everyone else hadcleared room in order to stare at them. Kate stormed up to them, Strax not farbehind. “Smith, Oswald, to my office, now, or there is going to betrouble.” The two watched as she walked away, leaving Strax to take theirstaffs.
“Excellent show,” he nodded excitedly. “That was nearlyeleven whole minutes straight!”
“Wait, what…?” Basil said. “That was thirty seconds, aminute at the most.”
“Run along, or you’ll make the boss-lady angry,” Seb said.Clara flipped him two fingers as they grabbed their sweatshirts and shoes andleft, walking down the corridor together.
“Strong neural handshakes start at three minutes of sparring,”she noted. “If Strax is telling the truth—”
“—which he is; fibbing is not in his vocabulary—”
“—then we have the potential for one of the strongesthandshakes ever recorded.”
Basil let that sink in while they made the rest of the wayto Kate’s office. She was waiting there patiently for them, leaning on her deskwith her arms folded across her chest.
“Ten minutes, fifty-six seconds,” she said. It felt like ascolding, if a scolding could be proud. “I stopped you at ten minutes,fifty-six seconds, and who knows how long you would’ve gone otherwise. This isundeniably some of the highest compatibility I’ve ever seen… the only reason itisn’t higher because Paternoster Glory have had almost a decade to work ontheirs.”
“Kate, I can’t,you know that,” Basil insisted.
“Basil Smith, this is the strongest potential Driftcompatibility any of us have ever seen and you are going to use it to pilotIdris Vortex, do you understand? I don’t make the rules, but I sure as hell am going to enforce them for thegood of this planet.”
Instead of dignifying her words with a response, Basil spunon his heel and angrily stormed out of the room, leaving the two women alone.
“I wouldn’t be forcing the issue if it weren’t for the factI believed in it down to my soul,” Kate mentioned. “You won’t be held backbecause someone got their knickers in a bunch.”
“I know,” Clara nodded. “I’ve never lasted that long in a match—there’snot enough time to search for a connection that strong in someone else.”
“There likely isn’t one out there.” Kate sighed and shook her head. “I wish ithadn’t come to this…”
“I don’t care. I came here to save the world; don’t knowabout the rest of you, but that’s the only thing that matters right now.” Shefolded her arms and stared into the bit of air in front of her, thinking. “Ishould talk to him.”
“What makes you think that you’ll be able to get throughwhen I cannot? He barely knows you.”
“He’s my copilot,” Clara stated. She then bowed her headslightly before turning to leave, stopping only when she heard Kate clear herthroat once she was at the door.
Clara turned around, saluted sarcastically, and grinnedbefore leaving the office.
As if either of them really cared about that.
When she found him, he was sitting amongst a pile of scraptech, soldering away at something she did not recognize other than being amotherboard, goggles strapped to his head and his sweatshirt off to the side.She sat down next to him, watching as he worked. Silence passed between themand the only noise was that of tinkering and far-off Jaeger maintenance.
“Pass me that,” he requested, holding his hand out. Claratook a piece of wiring and placed it in Basil’s hand. He went to use it andstopped, staring at it as though it brought him someplace far away.
“Was it the right thing?” she asked.
“Then what’s the matter?” He went back to his work and shefrowned. “Basil, why are you being so stubborn about this? Don’t you breathethe same air as everyone else? Drink our water? Walk our lands? Don’t you wantto defend that?”
“I thought you seemed more than willing to let me beadvisory.”
“That was before I saw our Handshake potential; this sort ofshot doesn’t come very often. It’s not physical prowess or agility that makesfor good Jaeger pilots, but solid neural compatibility. What are you afraid of?That I’ll be too much like you?”
Basil exhaled heavily and ran his hands over his face; mightas well.
“I can’t do it,” he admitted, the words heavy. “I can’t letsomeone in my head like that again.” He looked at her and saw that she wassilently waiting for him to say his piece—she wasn’t going anywhere. “Insteadof requesting backup, River and I went in alone. The kaiju we were fighting, ithad a secondary brain that we didn’t know about at the time, and as we wereleaving, what we thought was a corpse rose up and ambushed us.”
He kept his gaze on the circuitry before him and attemptedto not shudder at her touch—her hand on his forearm, letting him know she waslistening. “I didn’t just lose my wife that day. Losing my wife would havemeant that the Conn-Pod went down and our Handshake went out of alignmentbefore the attack. We were still fully connected when the kaiju ripped her outin one bite. Have you performed a neural handshake yet?”
“Practice ones, yes.”
“In the Drift, your consciousness is so full and free, sointertwined with the other mind that there’s nothing to make it feel as thoughthere’s actually two of you. That was ripped out, violently, quickly, maliciously. The part of her that hadbecome a part of me was suddenly gone,and that’s something that Kate can’t understand… that you can’t understand…that I wish I didn’t understand as well as I do.”
“You’re not the only one to have lost relatives to kaiju,”she mentioned. “Yeah, not like that, but I was on holiday with my parents andfiancé when a Category Three hit. Dad and I watched Mum and Danny get eaten… do you really think that I wasabout ready to just let that happen?”
He continued working on the circuit board and frowned inthought. “No.”
“Then don’t hold me back; we can be stronger than any teamhas been before, and that is not something I’m going to give up on just becauseyou’re afraid.”
“I am not.”
“Yes you are; you’re too emotional.”
“How am I theemotional one?”
“…because, try as you might, you care a whole hell of a lotmore than you let on.”
He went quiet at that, turning his attention back to hiswork. Not about to let him get off that easily, Clara stayed seated, smiling toherself when he held out his hand again. She placed another tool in it and hecontinued working, not missing a beat.
It was definitely a start.
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I'm A Search And Rescue Officer For The US Forest Service, I Have Some Stories To Tell
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 (Final)
It's been way too long since I posted an update, and I'm sorry about that. There's also been some confusion about the new formatting requirements on the board, which I've cleared up. So these next few stories are going to be posted a little differently! They'll be in chronological order, and I'll do my best to tie them into each other as much as I can so it doesn't skip around too much.
When I started out as a rookie, no one had told me a lot about the job in terms of weird things that could happen. I'm assuming this was largely to prevent me from freaking out and abandoning the park. But a few months into my service, when I was still a rookie, a friend and I were drunk at a party, and he opened up a bit: "Yeah, it can get a little crazy out there, I guess. I think the worst are the ones where people die when they just shouldn't, you know? Or when we find 'em dead like ten minutes after someone says they saw them last. 'They were fine when I passed them on the switchback, I swear!' That sort of shit. Like, take this guy who I found one spring out on a really popular trail. Someone comes into the VC freaking about about some guy who's lying in the middle of the path in this giant pool of blood. So we run out there, and we find this guy dead as a doornail. Which he absolutely should be, because the back of his head is like mashed potatoes. The skull is decimated, brains are leaking out like custard filling, and they guy's old so you figure yeah, he probably fell and hit his head. Old people fall all the time, it's no big deal. Except that this area where he fell doesn't HAVE any big rocks. There's not even any stumps or big branches. And on top of that, there's no blood trail, so he clearly died where he dropped. Now that's when you'd turn to murder, but there were people just out of line of sight with the guy. If someone came up behind him and murdered him, there's no way someone wouldn't have heard. And again, even if someone had, there'd be a blood trail, spatter all over the place. But everyone on the scene said it looked exactly like he'd fallen and smashed his head on a rock. So what the fuck did he hit his head on? And then there was this lady I found in a different park about five years ago, back when I was upstate. We found her in the middle of a stand of big junipers, curled around the trunk, like she was huggin' it. We pick her up to move her, and a fucking waterfall comes out of her mouth, splashes all over my shoes. Her clothes are dry, and her hair is dry, but the amount of water in her lungs and stomach was phenomenal. Unreal, man. Coroners report? Says the cause of death was drowning. Her lungs were completely full of water. This, even though we're in the middle of the high desert, and there isn't a body of water for miles. No puddles, no nothing. No signs of anyone else being out there. I mean yeah, it's possible they were murdered. But why go out of the way to do it like that? Why not just stab 'em and be done with it? I dunno, it just sits weird with me."
Now of course, that freaked me out a little. But we were wasted, and I guess I sort of wrote it off as a fluke. I also assumed there was exaggeration there, since, you know, we were wasted.
Now, I don't like talking about this next case very much. It was an awful one that I've done my best to forget about, but of course that's easier said than done. This happened about six months after the conversation with my friend at the bar, and up until that point I hadn't had a lot of really weird shit go down. A few things here and there, and of course the stairs, but it's amazingly easy to get used to stuff like that when it's treated as if it's normal. This case was a little different.
A guy with Down's Syndrome in his 20s went missing after his family lost sight of him on a major path. That was odd in and of itself, because this guy never left his mom's side. She was absolutely convinced he'd been kidnapped, and unfortunately a Ranger who isn't with the park anymore insinuated that no one was going to kidnap someone... well, with that kind of disability. Not very tactful, to say the least. We wasted a lot of time trying to calm her down enough to get information about him, and then we put out an official missing persons call. Because of the urgency of the situation, him being mostly unable to function alone, we had local police come in and help us. We didn't find him the first night, which was heartbreaking. None of us wanted to think of him being alone out there. We assumed he'd just kept wandering, and was staying ahead of us. We brought out helis the next day, and they spotted him in a little canyon. I helped bring him back up, but he was in bad shape, and I think we all knew he wasn't gonna make it. He'd fallen and broken his spine, and couldn't feel his lower half. He'd also broken both his legs, one at the femur, and he'd lost a lot of blood. He was confused and scared while he was alone, so he'd probably exacerbated the injuries by dragging himself a little ways. I know it sounds awful, but while I was riding in the copter with him, I asked him why he'd wandered off. I just wanted something to tell his mother, to let her know it wasn't her fault, because he was fading fast and I didn't think she'd get to ask him herself. He was crying, and he said something about how 'the little sad boy' had wanted him to come play. He said the little boy wanted to 'trade' so he could 'go home'. Then he closed his eyes, and when he woke up again, he was in the canyon. I'm not sure that's exactly what he said, but it was what I thought the gist of it was. He kept crying, asking where his mommy was, and I held his hand and tried my best to keep him calm. 'It was cold out there.' He kept saying that. 'It was cold out there. My legs was frozen. It was cold out there. It's cold in me.' He was getting even weaker, so he eventually stopped talking, and he closed his eyes for a while. Then, when we were about five minutes from the hospital, he looked right at me, with these big tears running down his face, and he said 'Mama won't see me no more. Love mama, wish she was here.' And he closed his eyes and he just... never woke up. It was horrible, and I don't like talking about it. That case was one of the first ones that really rattled me badly.
Because of how badly it affected me, I reached out to a senior Ranger, and who ended up helping me through it. As time went on, and we got to know each other better, he ended up sharing one of his own stories with me. It was disturbing, but it helped to know that I wasn't the only one affected by the things going on out there. "I think this must have happened before you got here, because I think if it had happened while you were here you'd have remembered it. I know it didn't end up in the news, for some reason, but I think most people who've been here long enough know about it. The park sold off a portion of land to a logging company, and it was a really controversial thing. But it wasn't that large or old of a plot, and it was right after the recession, so we needed cash bad. Anyway, they were felling this plot of land, and we get a call that we need to get our supervisors out right away. I don't know why, but they ended up sending me and a few other guys along with the heads, I guess for power in numbers, to see what was up. We got there, and all these guys are crowded around a tree that they've just cut down. They're all pissed off and freaking out and the foreman comes over and says he wants to know what we think we're up to. "What the hell y'all think this is, some kinda sick joke? You've got a lot of fuckin' nerve pulling this shit, we bought this land fair and square!" Well we don't know what the hell he's talking about, so he brings us over to this felled tree and points at it and tells us that when they cut it down, it was just like this, and they'll be damned if they put it there. The inside of the tree was all rotted out and hollow in one spot, and when they'd cut it down it had exposed that chamber, and inside it is a hand. Like a perfectly severed hand. And looks like it's actually fused with the inside of the tree. Well now we think THEY'RE pulling a joke, so we tell them that we don't like being fucked with, and we start to leave, but they tell us they've already called the cops, and that they'll go right to the media if we don't stick around. Well that gets the heads' attention, so they stick around and talk to the police about it. Everyone is denying that they put the hand in there, and besides, how would anyone have even done it? It's clearly a real hand, but it's not mummified or skeletal. It's brand new, probably not even a day old. And it is definitely fused with the wood, you can see that it's coming right out of it. The loggers, they insist that they didn't put it there. Somehow, this fresh human hand ended up fused to the inside of this living tree. The cops have them cut up that section of tree into a movable chunk. Then they take the hand away, and the area is closed off. There was a pretty big investigation, but I know they didn't find get any answers. Now it's become this legend, and as far as I know we haven't sold any more property for logging."
As you all know, I went to a training seminar recently, and heard some amazing and horrible things there. One of the guys I talked to while I was there told me a story when we were all around the campfire one night. We were both pretty drunk, you'll see a pattern here, and we were swapping stories. He told me this one: "Me and another guy were out on a field search because some campers reported screaming noises at night. So we head out there to look for whatever fucking mountain lion has wandered into the area, and I'm pissed. We've had three of them show up in the camping areas that year alone and I'm getting tired as hell of constantly having to deal with them. Plus, I just don't like them anyway. They're a pain in the ass and they're loud and they scare the shit out of me. Fuckin' cats. Pieces of shit. I'm groanin' about it to the guy I'm with and he thinks it's a real fuckin' riot. So we're seeing all these broken branches and what look like dens and we're pretty sure we know where this thing is. I call in and they tell me to confirm if possible, which you know just means they want to you to step in a big pile of shit and use that as proof. I'm not seeing any, though, so I basically just tell 'em to shove it, I'm done. We know that damn thing's out here somewhere, even if I'm not stepping in its shit or inside its mouth or whatever. Guy I'm with wanders off to take a piss or whatever, and I stay behind watching this little burrow under a tree to see if maybe a fox or somethin' is living under it, 'cause I love foxes, man. They're cute as hell. But anyway, I'm watching this tree and I start hearing branches crackling and it's coming from the direction my partner went opposite of. Now I've got my pistol, but you and I both know that's not gonna do shit against a cat. I cock it and holler for my partner to get his dumb ass back, but he's too far and he can't hear me. I stand up and get my sights on where the thing is approaching, and I shit you not, man, I just about peed myself. This guy is coming toward me, and he's back-flipping through the fucking woods. Like, instead of walking, he's doing these crazy fucking back-flips, and I swear to God he cleared every fucking log and bush in his path, it was like he knew right where he was going. I yell at the guy to stop right where he is, that I'm pointing a gun right at him, but he keeps coming, and I just kinda lost it. I shot at the ground in front of him, and it was a dumb fuckin' thing to do, but man I didn't want this guy anywhere near me. When I fired, he was about fifty yards from me, and as soon as the gun goes off, he whirls around and goes off, back-flipping back into the woods. My partner hears my gun go off and runs back and asks what's up, and I tell him there's some fucking weirdo out here hopped up on God knows what, and we need to get the hell out of Dodge. I let the cops know what happened, and I didn't get in any trouble for firing, but man, I don't know what that motherfucker was on but I've never seen anything like that before. Shit was absolutely butt-fuck crazy."
I think we can agree that there's stuff going on out here in the woods, and while I'm not going to spout off about what it could be, or offer any theories, what I want people to take away from all of this is that it is so damn important to be safe when you're out there. I know a lot of you think you're invincible, but the fact is that you CAN die out there, or be hurt, or go missing. It's easier than you'd ever imagine.
I apologize for this relatively short update, guys, I will do my absolute best to continue this series as soon as possible. Thanks for all your continuing support, it means the world to me!
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A Castle in the Forest
Percy x Vex’ahlia, Chapter 8, 4107 words,
A Modern AU, in which Vex is a park ranger taking over the Alabaster Sierras post, and finds much more than she bargained for
Read on AO3
Daddy issues, emotional breakdowns and rash decisions
Snow falls almost continuously for the next day or so, covering the forest and the mountains in blinding white. Every time Vex goes onto the look-out post over the cabin, may it be to clear the path for eventual work or to actually check on her surroundings, she finds herself unable to tell white stone from snow.
Her eyes meet an endless ocean of white, she’s forced to wear sunglasses when the rays bounce off of the snow and ice and blind anyone trying to watch the surrounding nature. It’s breathtaking.
She spends as long as she can on the lookout post, sometimes alone or sometimes with Vax. The endless white makes her feel incredibly small. When she’s alone, the only thing across the valley from her is the castle, in its white glory. It doesn’t loom the way it does when it rains. It stands, proud and tall.
Whitestone exhales in winter. It chases away the heaviness. The sky is bluer right now than she’s ever seen it here. Syngorn doesn’t get this beautiful in winter, it gets drab and wet and disagreeable. Whitestone thrives in the snow. Vex finds herself exhaling with it, breathing hard and free in the cold.
It’s exhilarating, the way the air almost hurts when you breathe it. She wants to stay here forever.
She’s spent a few early morning hours watching the sunrise on the lookout post, black sky turning to gorgeous colors and the winter sun making the white come to life suddenly. It goes from darkness to light so fast it’s almost dizzying. But she can’t stand forever watching. She’s getting a little too frozen for comfort, and she has other things to do.
She climbs down the almost frozen ladder, careful of where she steps and how she grabs. She makes it back down with no issue. The warmth of the cabin envelops her as she steps into it. It stings her fingers and feet a little as warmth and blood comes rushing back in. She busies herself making coffee in the morning, puts the aluminum pot on the stove.
Vax is still asleep, curled up on himself a little. His hair has gotten free of the tie at some point during the night and it’s going to be a bitch to entangle. She can already hear his whines as she brushes out the tangles. He’s always been sensitive when it comes to his scalp. It would be easier if he cut his hair, really, but he will probably kill her before he does that.
Like this, with his hair covering his ears, he looks almost full-blooded. Vex swallows.
She hates those thoughts. They’re not hers. They’re the ones of the Syngornian elves. They’re the echoes of their comments, of their looks, of their whispers. They’re the memories of their father’s very words when they first arrived. He’d watched them so critically, observed their ears and their hair and their faces, searching for where the human ended and where the elf began. He hadn’t found what he’d wanted, of course.
The disappointment and contempt in his eyes at the moment he’d realized that they would never be mistaken for anything other than what they were is carved into her mind forever.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons Vax never wanted to cut his hair.
No, that couldn’t be it. Vax isn’t her. He was somehow much stronger than she was when it came to their father and Syngorn. He hated them, was clear about it and had given up on their approval years ago. Now he just lives his life and flips them off both literally and figuratively every single day.
Vex isn’t the same. She never could shake the desire to make Syldor Vessar proud. She never could shake the desire to be part of Syngorn, of its society, of the culture. Still now, it comes to her sometimes, the question of whether he cares about what she’s doing. Whether he’s proud of her.
She knows he isn’t. She’s not a full-blooded daughter, she’s not part of Syngornian society, she didn’t take to the education he tried to give her. She was supposed to become part of the courts, to look and act noble-born. She wasn’t supposed to sneak out of the house at night to go run in the woods for hours, sometimes even days. She still could dance well, she could cast a couple of spells, could carve woods and care for leather and saw if needed, she knew how to put her hair up the most appropriate way, knew how to apply makeup in fashion, but she wasn’t noble in any way. She wasn’t a good daughter.
She admits it has gotten easier since Velora, his new daughter, their half-sister, came along. She’s now the full-blooded perfect daughter. There’s no expectation on Vex and Vax anymore, just sighs and demands of good behavior, of not tainting the Vessar name further, as if they were responsible for their own existence, as if he wasn’t the one who conceived them. But Vex doesn’t feel any better.
She feels worse actually. Being discarded can be worse than being a disappointment. When they set fire to the Shademurk Bog and she couldn’t leave her own room for days, terrified and in pain, wounded in more ways than one, all he did was barge into the room and yell at her for endangering an important alliance with the Fey. In that moment, she realized she didn’t matter to anyone anymore but Vax.
And it still hurts, a slowly pulsing, forever seeping, ugly wound, that remains even when the ones Saundor had gifted her with are healing. She knows she’s stupid to care so much about a man that never loved her. But what else is she supposed to do?
The coffee pot starts gurgling and she turns back to it. Vax stirs in the bed, warm and almost soft this early in the morning, when thoughts and memories have yet to come to his mind. Vex busies herself with eggs and bread as he sits up groggily.
“Early riser,” he mumbles. “How long have you…”
“A couple of hours,” Vex shrugs and grabs two of the metal plates and puts them on the table, next to two mugs for coffee. “Did some work and made you breakfast.” She reaches to flip the toast over on the pan. It takes a lot of attention to toast bread that way. She enjoys it though.
Vax huffs and gets out of bed, stretching a little and walking over to the table and the food she’s now putting there.
“What’s the program for today?” He asks, as he reaches for his bag.
Vex follows his arm and raises an eyebrow. “Hmm… We should probably hunt while the weather is pleasant. It could start snowing and just not stop for a while and finding meat then will be a struggle.” She points out.
Vax ruffles through his bag before he takes out a couple of little pouches and a glass vial. The spices and vinegar Vex requested.
“Well that sounds fun. Do you want me to come?” He puts the spices on the table with a smile towards her.
“I’m probably going to need some extra hands to get it back,” she points out. “Unless you want to wait for my text and then come get me, you should probably come along. Besides, some time in nature will do you good.”
Vax puts on a falsely offended hair, hand going from the coffee-filled mug to clutching his chest. “That feels like an insult, stubby.”
Vex reaches over and taps his cheek slightly. “You’re pale. You spend too much time in city shadows.” She shrugs. “They won’t recognize you when you go back home. All tan and full of winter air.”
Vax nods quietly, looking down at the mug. He’s usually not that quiet when she mentions his lifestyle, especially disapprovingly. Something’s up, she can tell. He leans back a little, still staring at his cup. The coffee is steaming hot, and he seems to be fixated on the patterns the steam is making in the air between them.
She leaves him in the silence for a moment. Vax doesn’t like when people push for information, even her. And she had toast to watch. She finishes watching the toast right when the eggs on the other pan are done.
She piles the toast on a plate and turns around with the pan to put the eggs in their plates. Vax has shifted slightly, a hand up to his face, fingers against his brow bones. He looks preoccupied by whatever it is that’s not making him snap back at her.
When she finally sits down, he exhales and looks up at her.
“I can’t go home,” he says quietly. “Not to Syngorn.”
Vex frowns a little, leaning away from her chair a little bit. “Did something happen?”
Vax looks away from her, swallowing. She doesn’t like this at all. Bitter dread starts pooling in her stomach.
“Father doesn’t want either of us around Velora,” he says after a moment. “He’s made sure we weren’t welcome home anymore. We won’t be able to make it through the door of the house. And…” He stops, sighing. “I think he made sure the people I usually hang with would push me away too.”
Vex sits shell-shocked in her chair. The eggs and toast and coffee are all growing cold, but so is her heart, right now.
She should have expected it. She should have known. When she left for Whitestone, she’d made sure to let Velora know that she didn’t have to be what he wanted her to be. That she could run and fall and come back home with bloody knees. That she could punch anyone who bothered her, no matter how highborn. That she didn’t need to be a perfect elven daughter. Syldor had been furious. He’d basically slammed the door behind her.
Vax takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and slides it over the table. It’s cut roughly and the words on it are messy. Elvish. Don’t come back. It’s not their father’s handwriting, nor is it Devana’s, his wife. She guesses from Vax’s pained eyes that it’s from one of his so-called friends.
“What are you going to do?” She asks after a moment. “Do you still have things there?”
Vax shakes his head. “Nothing important. All I have is here, right now.” He points his chin towards the bag next to the bed. It’s small. “There’s some of your things too,” he points out. “I thought you’d want them here… I didn’t know then we wouldn’t be back.”
Vex’s head is spinning. A second piece of paper is put on the table. This time, the paper is beautiful, the handwriting perfect, and it’s signed by Syldor himself. Her eyes skim over it. The gist of it is the same as the other paper. The house next to the tower, the deep green velvet of the bed canopy.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” she asks. She wishes she didn’t sound as remorseful as she does.
“You seemed happy,” Vax shrugs. “I didn’t want to ruin that.”
Fuck, they’re alone now. Truly alone. Their mother is dead, their father wishes they were dead, they have no one and they have nothing and they don’t have a home. Tears burn as they rise in her eyes, as she tries to shove them down.
“I’m gonna stay here a little,” Vax continues. “And then I’m going to go to Westruun and stay with Gilmore until…”
Until what? Until he changes his mind? Until she stops wanting to stay in Whitestone? Until they grab a map, close their eyes, drop a coin and see where it lands, where they decide home will be?
“We’ll be fine,” she whispers, but she doesn’t believe it.
Why did he have to overhear her telling Velora to be rebellious? Why couldn’t she shut her fucking mouth and not try and bring Velora into the terrible path she’s on? Why couldn’t she be the daughter Syldor wanted? She hadn’t tried hard enough, and now, now it was too late.
She’s never good enough for anyone.
There’s a nudge against her leg. She looks down and sees Trinket. He’s making little noises, obviously aware of her distress, but she hasn’t heard them. She hasn’t heard a thing. The egg looks cold and congealed now.
She swallows. “I need to go and get meat for Trinket and us,” she says after a moment. “I need… to go and think.” She points out. “Maybe you shouldn’t come.”
Suddenly, they’re back to being teenagers, grieving and angry. All that Vex wants to do is go and run through the woods until she forgets where she’s from, until she forgets the weight of who she has to be. And Vax nods, the way he did fifteen years ago.
“I think I’ll go to the city again,” he says quietly. “Walk around.”
The same thing he’d do when they were teenagers. He’d stay in Syngorn, sneak around on the rooftops while Vex ran. At the end of the day, they haven’t changed. They’re 28, and yet they’re still the same broken-hearted thirteen year olds that ran out of Syldor’s house that first time.
Vex nods quietly. She stands and reaches for her quiver, strapping it to her thigh. She gets everything else ready, bundling herself up for the oncoming hunt in the cold. As her fingers close around her usual bow, her mind drifts to Fenthras, still hidden under her bed. She shoves the thought away. She’s not worthy of that weapon.
The door of the cabin slams in the silence. She’s greeted by blinding snow. Her instincts yell at her to run and she does.
She takes off running the second she passes the first ring of trees around the clearing. Her lungs burn with exhaustion as well as the icy air. The snow crutches underneath her feet. She runs for a while, until she feels like she’s miles away from the cabin. Her foot catches on a hidden branch and she tumbles down, knees and hands hitting the packed snow.
Her pants are wet and cold and her wrists and knees hurt from the impact but she stays there. She wants to scream and she wants to cry and suddenly, she’s 13 again. She’s 13 and howling at the moon because her mother is dead, her father hates her, and the only person that loves her is as broken as she is.
The moon is not out, it’s the middle of the morning and the sun is shining, but still she howls. Her ears ring with the strength of her own screams. If anyone hears her, they’ll think she’s a wounded animal. It’s fitting.
She’s a wounded animal, hands and knees in the snow, knees numb, face burning with a thousand needles and she screams. Her body is wracked with sobs and screams, she wants to break, she wants to sleep. She’s so tired. She’s so mad. She punches at wet cold snow. It’s packed dense and it hurts her fist as she rages.
She’s ridiculous, isn’t she? She’s an adult woman, and she’s sobbing now because her father won’t love her. Fuck. She wishes her hands were claws in the snow. It’s all so white. She wishes she could stop thinking.
It’s too cold to be out there on the ground, crying. This is ridiculous. Her hands are getting numb, and so are her feet. She lets herself fall into the snow, curls up on herself. She’s still shaking and crying, but she’s not screaming anymore. She’s too tired.
Her sobs eventually quiet, her body stops shaking. She’s just breathing now, harder than before, out of breath from her crisis. She’s cold. The snow has wetted her clothing and the parts of her body not covered by several layers are damp. Her hair is wet too, after she’s just spent gods know how many minutes curled up in the snow.
She doesn’t have any other option than to get up, hunt, and go back to the cabin. And then… She doesn’t know. As long as she can keep her post here in Whitestone, she has somewhere to be. She has a house, she has an income, she has a purpose. As long as she doesn’t find herself in a situation here, she’ll be fine.
Nothing like Saundor can happen again. She doesn’t have Syngorn to go back to anymore, in case something happens. There’s no more emergency exit. This is all she has. She exhales. Fuck. She doesn’t have anywhere to run to.
Gilmore’s nice, but she doesn’t belong there. That’s Vax’s emergency exit. She’ll only take space.
She just needs to be very good at her job. She needs to be indispensable to Whitestone and to the Alabaster Sierras park. She needs to stop making waves and asking questions. She’ll settle there, do her work, and let everyone forget that she’s anything but useful and discreet.
Vex exhales, closing her eyes and trying to calm herself down. Her heart is still pounding in her chest. She needs to shove down the hurt and anger at her father, the panic when she thinks of having to leave Whitestone. She needs to focus on her job.
She forces herself to center, to melt into her primeval sensing abilities. She needs to do her job right.
It’s far from as smooth as the last time. She doesn’t let herself breathe her awareness through her pores, instead, she throws it out of herself in rage, still a little shaky from her crisis. She pushes it out of her skull, out of her body, like she doesn’t want anything to do with it. Her mind tangles with the forest and digs into it, searching, hungry, a predator.
A howling monster of a mind shoves itself through the forest, in search of prey. There’s no fey. Relief floods into her, despite herself. She didn’t think he was a big player in her current state, but isn’t he always? Hasn’t he been a player of her crisis for the past five years?
She tastes ash again. Fiend. No.
She failed. She fucking failed. There were more than one and she missed one. It’s there, it’s violent and it makes her want to scream again.
She snaps back into her body and hits the ground again. Fuck. She failed in the one job she had to do. She’s useless here, isn’t she? She’s useless everywhere, after all. To everyone.
No. Fuck that. Fuck the fiend. Fuck Syldor Vessar and fuck Saundor. Fuck everyone.
She grabs her bow and starts running again, in the general direction of where she sensed the fiend.
She’s out there for what feels like hours, running, hunting. She’s hungry now, exhausted. She’s a little in pain too, and she doesn’t have time for that. She emerges out of the woods and onto a path that she immediately recognizes. She looks up.
Above her stands the blindingly white architecture of Castle Whistestone. She’s on Keyleth’s trail, where she originally found the fiend.
She focuses again. It’s much closer now, and it seems to be straight ahead of her. Except ahead of her is the stone of the rock formation on which the castle was built. There’s nothing there. How can the fiend be in there?
Vex’s eyes scan over the rock, searching for something, anything that will make sense. She’s desperate. She wants to succeed in something, one thing. She wants to find the fiend and kill it. She needs to.
The rock seems to be looser than the rest, smaller rocks shoved one on top of the other in a way that is unlike the rest of the stone around her. There’s a couple bushes in front of it, probably trying to mask the inconsistency. Except in between the two is a space for one thin half-elf druid to go through.
The issue with visiting the same spot every month and being the only one known to use that path is that it’s obvious to see where you disturbed the natural arrangement of wilderness. Vex knows Keyleth went through there. She knows her fiend is close. There’s no other explanation. Keyleth wasn’t smart enough to fool her.
She manages to move some rocks out of the way, though it takes her a while. She’s determined, and time is nothing important to her right now. She’s solely focused on finding what the fuck Keyleth has been hiding from her.
A tunnel opens in front of her. She takes a step forward. There’s not going back now, isn’t it? She waits for a second as her eyes adjust to the darkness.
The ground seems dry, preserved from the weather. A few feet further in, Vex can spot the remains of a small fire. Someone has camped here. She swallows. It doesn’t seem very used. There are some footsteps in the dust and dirt. Vex swallows. Maybe… maybe she should go get Vax. She isn’t far inside and she might need back-up.
But she doesn’t want him to rescue her again. She needs to be useful, by herself. He’s not always going to be by her side in battle, and she needs to do it by herself. She doesn’t want him there. She’s not a damsel, fuck. She’s strong.
She starts walking down the tunnel. It isn’t very long. A few hundred feet at most. The minimal light from outside quickly disappears however, and Vex finds herself walking in the dark. With a quick motion and whisper, she casts Pass Without a Trace. She’s going to surprise that monster.
She eventually reaches a partially crumbled wall, about a foot thick. A large statue has been moved away from the crumbled part. It had probably been used to hide the hole. This is not just a tunnel, this is a secret tunnel, on many levels. Vex looks back behind herself. She can’t see the entrance anymore.
She walks through the hole and into a storage room. Once again, it’s full of dust, with a single path going from the hole in the wall to the door. Whoever is going through this passage - and she guesses it’s Keyleth - doesn’t stop to check the dust-covered crates stacked into the room.
The door itself is closed, but it doesn’t hold to Vex’s skills. She’s learned to pick locks from Vax, and she’s become pretty good at it over the years. The lock clicks as it turns, and she takes a deep breath before opening it.
The room is plunged into darkness. It’s much larger than the storage room, divided into two paths, one going on the right and the other on the left of a central section. She sneaks in closer and she sees metal bars and the glint of chains. It’s a dungeon.
Vex’s breath itches. She shouldn’t be here alone. Fuck, what is she doing? She takes a step back. She’s being stupid. Her fucking pride and her fucking issues are getting in the way. This is not what being useful looks like. She turns around and starts walking back to the door when a light hissing sound reaches her ears.
She was supposed to be stealthy. Fuck, this is where she dies, isn’t it?
She turns around, quietly. Better to be seeing whatever is behind her. She’s supposed to be the one taking monsters by surprise, not the other way around.
A light turns on, deeper in, and flickers. Shadows pool over the floor, waves upon waves of dark smoke. It almost seems to stick to the stone of the walls. It overwhelms the space of the corridor, coming towards Vex. She should be running. Why is she frozen in place?
Footsteps hit the stone floor. They’re light, but Vex has sharp senses. Even with the light hissing of the dark smoke, she can hear those steps getting closer. Two feet, unless some are more silent.
They come out of the smoke like a nightmare. They’re tall and pale, surrounded in black, the smoke seeping out of their nostrils and mouth and eyes, of their hands. It pours out of them, sick and brutal and hissing at her.
A humanoid, with pale hair and glasses and one eye blue and one eye black. Something ugly twists inside of them as they twitch, head tilting to stare at her. The blue eye blinks but not the other one. It’s a deranged sort of wink.
“Well, hello, there. Who are you?”
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book log: a stitch in time by andrew robinson
you guys i’m going to go bullet point by bullet point through all of my ibooks annotations so buckle in if you dare
first of all that first chapter owns my ass. “indulge me if you will i need you as a witness”?? that’s the most. that’s the absolute most. that said, the concept that they Grew Apart after our man bashir, while ... certainly canon compliant.... is a piece of canon i refuse to accept. i have my own canon timeline for these kinds of things
i fucking LOVE pythas lok? i lived for that relationship. in fact the fact that this book is just garak cycling through his exes and the way they were all instrumental to events unfolding on cardassia? in fact i begin now to suspect that gul dukat is the only cardassian from garak’s past whom garak hasn’t fucked AND isn’t related to
i whooped victoriously when garak said he was attracted to pythas. small victories. and then again when garak criticized odo’s uniform.
love that the bamarren parts of the book that don’t involve palandine read like some kind of fucking... edwardian all boys school shit. like am i reading an a.e. housman poem? am i rewatching maurice (1987) dir. james ivory? no i am reading a beta canon epistolary novel about a gay lizard
on that note garak being genuinely into women is something ajr and i disagree on but that’s just like to each his own
garak’s famed volcano dick made me laugh. this book is such a fanfic at times. and then palandine teaches him that IT’S ALL TRUE, ESPECIALLY THE LIES. in fact like ... i didn’t even consider this now but in the garak/palandine stuff at bamarren reads in certain cases like early seasons garashir? but we’ll get to the more concrete parts of alla that later
anyway .... “but i’m also a doctor, garak. and i know which group of people suffers the most. i really won’t take up any more of your time.” he extended his hand, which he rarely did, and i took it. “thank you for the tea.” he turned and went out the door.
i stood there for a long moment, deeply upset. i felt trapped within myself, knowing what i had to do to get out but unable even to begin. yes, doctor, it does sound familiar.” WHAT THE FUCK WAS THIS!! (what the fuck was that whole scene!!!)
SPEAKING of doctors, dr parmak is really something. sorry i know a lot of you love him but i hope you realize he’s a rebound of a mighty order. self care is dating an older lizard flavored carbon copy of your ex bf.
this was like finding out that in ds9 beta canon ro laren becomes SECURITY OFFICER and dates QUARK is a similar experience to this. ro laren and kelas parmak: the only thing they have in common is being quark and garak’s doctor and security officer rebounds.
that said ro is her own person! parmak is a fig leaf. a plot device. andrew robinson winking at you from seventeen years ago. a mirror. god!
anyway then two of garak’s three school crushes hook up, and he’s left with pythas who is the best one anyway.
and there’s the fucking insane sequence where garak goes on lots of hikes with a Privileged Federation Twink whom he’s totally dtf as his first spy mission. and at one point, even though garak does hate his guts along with being dtf he thinks he’s “so concerned, so caring. i took another long breath. [...] i looked hans in the eyes and resisted being swallowed by their immeasurable blue depths.” like i’m not saying garak has a type but garak has a type!
i forgot about this but aside from pythas and that bitchy cousin of lukar, among garak’s classmates turn out to be the asshole from the casablanca episode and a relative of tekeny ghemor. it’s some 19th century lit bullshit and i LOVED it! as if this weren’t enough, there are four lights guy is also in this.
we also briefly meet remara, a totally deadly ex gf of kira’s. idk what garak was trying to do with their relationship but i’m totally interested in fanfic about remara being an asshole ex gf of kira’s.
garak’s battles of conscience are great. again very 19th c . i love how miserable he is throughout this book.
OH AND THEN HE AND PYTHAS LIVE IN THE WOODS FOR A MONTH OR SO AND FEEL LIKE.. COMFORTABLE FOR ONCE IN THEIR LIVES... AND PROBABLY HAVE SEX!
ooh and then we get a rlly spooky sequence where we see the wire IN ACTION
the assassin cover professions we’ve seen in this book and in this show are either Lesbian Professions (gardeners, park rangers) or Gay Professions (the fashion industry). what is it with covert operations and the lgbt community.
i SCREAMED about chapter 19 earlier today. but just to go over it once more
garak has a spooky dream about julian burying him alive ! so he hits him up at six in the fucking morning
“doctor forgive me but i need to see you,” i said as calmly as i could.
“i do apologize but it’s important.”
and then garak hears “another voice in the background. ezri dax. a muffled conversation. the doctor cleared his throat again. “i’ll be right over” he said.” I LOVE THAT EZRI AND JULIAN AREN’T EVEN FUCKING AT THIS POINT BUT AJR COULDN’T RESIST HIGHLIGHTING THE RIVALRY BETWEEN THEM?!
and then julian said “there are more things in heaven and earth horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and i died on the spot. they’re IN LOVE?! ajr i thought you wrote garashir as unrequited but what kind of man quotes hamlet talking 2 horatio at his platonic dude friend while he’s run over to his quarters in the middle of the night after said platonic dudefriend has a nightmare?
“i was also convinced that it was all a dream, and i kept asking myself what you were doing there” like what the actual fuck? anyway they talk the wire and it’s a lot. and of course “you not only saved my life you made it possible for me to live it.”
AND THEN OF COURSE “this is my last trip to cardassia. i’m not returning. you were in the dream for a very specific reason. once again, you helped me remember. thank you, julian.” JULIAN! JULIAN!! i’m DYING OF CARDIAC ARREST! (also this scene finally solidified my headcanons for when they break up for the second time.)
anyway then the palandine shit goes down and garak kills his OTHER old school crush (the one that turned out to be a dick)
one of my notes on here, verbatim: “have garak and quark had sex” i asked myself and then immediately wanted to die
the second time garak said that kelas parmak was “so much like you, doctor” i damn near screamed in frustration. don’t try me like this elim!!
and then we get the last julian mirror who’s that sad federation woman who spills her soul to elim and the line “CAREFUL, ELIM. YOU KNOW PERFECTLY WELL THAT THE SUREST WAY TO YOUR HEART IS THROUGH CONVERSATION”
okay and THEN he meets pythas who’s been Permanently Marked By The Horrors Of War and he’s got a gf who saved his life even though he didn’t want to be saved at first.... so like pythas is special because he’s a garak mirror AND a garak boyfriend at the same time!
and pythas was in the grounds trying to warn garak before all the shit went down with palandine. i’m dying scoob
the fact that the epilogue starts with the line “it’s just garak. plain simple garak.” the flashback timeline ends at the point garak meets julian! i hate this it’s so fucking romantic
and then YOU’RE ALWAYS WELCOME DOCTOR..... like idk about the canon status of a lot of these things but i totally buy this novel as a thing that exists that garak sent. which of course is a great jumping off point for post canon cardassia fic. justice is so sweet.
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Nature is a balm
(CSM) Some people look for laughter in times of stress. Others seek distraction. But in this time of self-isolation, many are finding respite in nature. Beyond the promise of fresh air and a change of scenery, spending time with nature invites a sense of calm. The rhythms of the natural world serve as reminders that life goes on, even as we humans are consumed by uncertainty, says Patricia Hasbach, a clinical psychotherapist. It is a reminder that the world is greater than us and our stress. Even quick trips outside can bring wide-ranging benefits, says Lisa Nisbet, assistant professor of psychology at Trent University in Ontario. In fact, she says, a few brief moments in nature can help restore focus and concentration. So for folks working from home, a quick walk around the block at lunchtime might make for a more productive afternoon.
As life moves online, the offline fall behind
(CSM) As endless social media feeds and YouTube videos emphasize that “We’re all in this together,” a huge swath of the population is finding itself digitally erased from the conversation. Some 42 million Americans, and a quarter of all rural residents, lack access to broadband, according to a February 2020 report from BroadbandNow. Even among those who live in places where broadband is offered, for many, it remains out of reach: Just 41% of households with incomes below $20,000 have broadband at home. As the coronavirus pandemic forces Americans out of their workplaces, classrooms, and social spaces, and into their homes, the internet has become, for many, the only link to society. Amid a steady stream of news stories about teleconferencing, remote learning, and Netflix binging, those without reliable online access are finding themselves shut out.
U.S. Food Supply Chain Shows Strain as Virus Spreads
(NYT) The nation’s food supply chain is showing signs of strain, as increasing numbers of workers are falling ill with the coronavirus in meat processing plants, warehouses and grocery stores. The spread of the virus through the food and grocery industry is expected to cause disruptions in production and distribution of certain products like pork, industry executives, labor unions and analysts have warned in recent days. The issues follow nearly a month of stockpiling of food and other essentials by panicked shoppers that have tested supply networks as never before. Industry leaders and observers acknowledge the shortages could increase, but they insist it is more of an inconvenience than a major problem. The food supply remains robust, they say, with hundreds of millions of pounds of meat in cold storage. There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture. Still, the illnesses have the potential to cause shortages lasting weeks for a few products, creating further anxiety for Americans already shaken by how difficult it can be to find high-demand staples like flour and eggs.
Cities, counties fear losing out on US virus rescue funding
(AP) The $2.2 trillion federal rescue package could fail to deliver badly needed financial aid to thousands of smaller cities and counties where a majority of Americans live, according to documents and interviews with local officials. The coronavirus outbreak has blown holes in the budgets of communities as the costs of battling the outbreak skyrocket and critical sources of revenue like sales and income taxes plummet. The Coronavirus Relief Fund uses a formula based on population to parcel out tens of billions of dollars to the states while allowing local governments with more than 500,000 residents to apply directly to the Treasury Department for cash infusions. But localities below the half-million population threshold are in limbo. Of the nearly 3,100 counties in the United States, 130 have populations of more than 500,000, according to the National Association of Counties. There are 36 cities over the half-million mark, the National League of Cities told President Donald Trump in a letter last week. More than half the country’s population lives in cities, towns and villages of fewer than 50,000 people, the letter noted.
Virus exposes US inequality. Will it spur lasting remedies?
(AP) The sick who still go to work because they have no paid leave. Families who face ruin from even a temporary layoff. Front-line workers risking infection as they drive buses, bag takeout meals and mop hospital floors. For years, financial inequality has widened in the United States and elsewhere as wealth and income have become increasingly concentrated among the most affluent while millions struggle to get by. Congress, the Trump administration and the Federal Reserve have mounted the largest financial intervention in history--a full-scale drive that includes mandating sick leave for some, distributing $1,200 checks to individuals, allocating rescue aid to employers and expanding unemployment benefits to try to help America survive the crisis. Yet those measures are only temporary. And the disaster that is igniting what’s likely to be a deep recession also raises the question of what happens once life begins to edge back to normal. Will the U.S. remain an outlier among wealthy countries in providing limited protections for the financially vulnerable? Or will it expand the social safety net, as it did after the Great Depression of the 1930s but largely did not after the Great Recession that ended in 2009?
COVID and prisons
(Worldcrunch) “What if I never get to see my family again?,” asks Kenneth Hogan, an inmate at Eastern New York correctional facility in a letter to The Guardian. With precautionary measures such as the suspension of outside visits, a grimmer than usual mood is setting in on the U.S. inmate population. Experts say that prison and jails are particularly ripe for propagation, like “petri dishes for coronavirus,” for inmates and staff alike. In California for instance, CNN reports that the number of infections in the state’s prison facilities grew by more than 700% in just over a week.
Bears are having a ‘party’ in shuttered Yosemite National Park
(Washington Post) The global pandemic has been good news for bears in Yosemite National Park, where they are thriving in the absence of tourists, according to park workers. “The bear population has quadrupled,” Dane Peterson, who works at the popular Ahwahnee Hotel inside the park, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. He and the few other essential workers left in the park have also noticed bobcats and coyotes that usually lurk in the shadows are now boldly prowling around employee housing. The animals have always been there, rangers say. It’s just that they’re finally coming out of hiding. With humans gone, the animals are having “a party,” one ranger explained. And instead of going out of their way to avoid large crowds, they are ambling down roads where it’s usually more common to encounter bumper-to-bumper traffic than wildlife.
Venezuela’s Maduro, Used to Crises, Faces His Toughest One Yet
(NYT) Only a month ago, President Nicolás Maduro seemed to be consolidating his autocratic rule. The opposition was fading into irrelevance, international pressure was waning and the country’s devastating economic woes were finally easing, if only a bit. Then, suddenly, a global pandemic shut down what’s left of the economy, the collapse of global oil prices wiped out Venezuela’s main remaining economic lifeline and the United States mounted a determined, new effort to oust Mr. Maduro. The Venezuelan leader now confronts one of the most complex crises of a seven-year rule that has been filled with them. At stake are the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in South America’s poorest nation, who face a seventh consecutive year of economic calamity, a new bout of hyperinflation and the deadly threat of the coronavirus.
European countries slowly begin opening up
(Foreign Policy) Spain made its first step in easing lockdown restrictions as it allowed roughly 300,000 non-essential workers to return to work, mostly in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Spain has dropped in recent days, and on Monday the country recorded its smallest increase in cases since March 22. It is the beginning of a gradual relaxation of strict lockdown procedures in Europe as well as a test of whether countries have succeeded in flattening their coronavirus curves: In Austria, small shops will reopen today, and in Denmark, schools and childcare centers will reopen on Wednesday. France is not following the trend, as French President Emmanuel Macron announced that schools and shops would remain closed until May 11.
Putin warns Russians to brace for ‘extraordinary measures’ in coronavirus fight
(South China Morning Post) President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned officials to brace for “extraordinary” scenarios in the coronavirus pandemic as Moscow tightened its lockdown measures and Russia reported its highest daily infection figures yet. Putin’s warning came as mainland China battled to contain imported cases, especially from neighboring Russia. In a video conference with officials on Monday, Putin said the next weeks would be “decisive” for Russia’s fight against the virus as the situation “is changing practically every day, and unfortunately not for the better.” He told officials that they need to “consider all scenarios for how the situation will develop, even the most complex and extraordinary.”
Ukraine says Chernobyl fire extinguished
(Reuters) A huge blaze that tore through forests around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant has been put out, Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday, saying hundreds of emergency workers had used planes and helicopters to douse the flames. Environmental activists warned that the fire, near the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, posed a radiation risk.
India extends world’s biggest lockdown
(Reuters) India extended a lockdown on its 1.3 billion people until at least May 3 on Tuesday and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said economic sacrifices were needed to save lives as the number of coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000.
Coronavirus Fears Terrify and Impoverish Migrants in the Persian Gulf
(NYT) Qatar has locked down tens of thousands of migrant workers in a crowded neighborhood, raising fears it will become a coronavirus hotbed. Companies in Saudi Arabia have told foreign laborers to stay home--then stopped paying them. In Kuwait, an actress said on TV that migrants should be thrown out “into the desert.” The oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf have long relied on armies of low-paid migrant workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere to do the heavy lifting in their economies, and have faced longstanding criticism from rights groups for treating those laborers poorly. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, as migrants in Gulf States have found themselves locked down in cramped, unsanitary dorms, deprived of income and unable to return home because of travel restrictions. Some are running out of food and money and fear they have no place to turn in societies that often treat them like an expendable underclass.
Libya’s war escalates despite international calls for ‘humanitarian pause’ amid pandemic
(NYT) One year after an offensive was launched against the Libyan capital Tripoli, Libya’s war is intensifying, and hundreds of thousands of civilians are besieged amid increased shelling and massive water and electricity cuts. Hospitals are being targeted just as the coronavirus is threatening an already shattered health system. The United Nations, the United States and other countries have pleaded with the warring sides for a “humanitarian pause” to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Instead, both sides appear to be determined to take advantage of the international focus on the pandemic and try to gain more territory. After initially agreeing to the “pause,” the warring sides returned to combat within days. The increasing violence is raising alarms within the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. There are now 24 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and one death. And Libya’s health system has been decimated by the war.
Life Since Then: The Savannah Experiment October, 2013
As I sit amidst the sound of cicada bugs, and occasionally sneeze from the incredible amount of mold growing on the greenest grass I've ever seen, I approach the end of the "Savannah Experiment."
In 12 days, I will hop in the 18-year-old Ford Ranger AKA The Conservative Wagon, and head west. And much like so many other times in my checkered past, I feel the need to record this moment in the written word and share it with strangers. That's just me.
Just over 7 months ago, I embarked on the perilous journey to write my life's next chapter. I had absolutely no insight into how it would end, or or its plot twists. Nonetheless, I boarded a flight to Savannah, Georgia carrying all I could salvage into two suitcases. I was leaving behind the ruins of a failed marriage, a failed career, a failed life and four beautiful blessings that would serve as constant reminders as to what is important in life.
I also left behind many friends and witnesses to the self-destruction that I'd come to represent. From wearing the wings of silver and putting on a uniform each day, to walking through downtown Dallas trying to find Wi-Fi, so I could use the Magic Jack app on my shut-off cell phone. The only one that hadn't noticed that I was determined to self-destruct, was ME. Until I did.
My words will never convey how grateful that I am to my brother and his family for taking me in without judgement and allowing me the opportunity to gain new perspective. In 1992, it just-so-happened that my "adulthood" began in Georgia, the minute when I stepped off of a blue bus to the cacophony of screaming men. What better way to start life over again, than with the smell of wood pulp and forest permeating through the sticky air.
As an observer of life (read isolationist), after a few weeks of self-imposed house-arrest, I took to the streets of Savannah to discover its history in addition to its nightlife. I would park my brother's big red truck in whatever space I could find, and wander through the streets of Savannah. One night i found myself downstairs in the bar of The Olde Pink House. With candles on candlesticks, and lanterns from the rafters, "Planters Tavern" would become a place very near my heart. While it wasn't a place that I would frequent, it became the kind of indulgence one might consider a 40-year-old scotch.
I attended my first church service with my brother and sister-in-law around that time and I made life-altering decisions. Meanwhile I still reeled from the spinning. I watched from a distance, as the love of my life made terrible decisions and struck out against the world of disappointment that her life had become. I took responsibility for causing that. I also took responsibility for my own decisions and accepted that as long as I kept looking back, I would miss what was coming next. I signed legal papers, not once but twice, mentally and emotionally convinced that she was lost to me forever.
Another night of exploration brought me near the corner of Broughton and Abercorn. As I walked towards River Street to take a photo that I'd likely post to Instagram (for Jessie), I stumbled upon a nightclub that looked incredibly out of place. Naturally, I had to check it out. Inside I met my very good friend and fellow wayward soul, Javi. There is no more accurate description of Javi/Johnny, than the cliche "full of Life" (SIC). Anyone that knows him, (which appears to be everyone) would tell you the same. What most don't know however, is that inside that jolly exterior, is a very introspective and intelligent guy that takes great pride in his art. Maybe that's why he continued to remind me how I was neglecting the talents that God placed upon me.
When I thought my legs started to feel more solid beneath me, circumstances brought me to a new "leg" and I was left alone in southern Georgia. I found a comfortable furnished room and dragged my two suitcases to my new digs. A couple of days before I moved in, I flew back to Dallas and confirmed that I was not yet ready to be back there. The pain solidified my determination, and I learned the value of non-judgmental friendship from Dre.
Meanwhile, I began a new job in a new field and began to enjoy feeling like a useful human being again. I was determined not to spend my forties fat and out-of-shape and hating myself (like I did in my thirties) so I lost about 40 pounds. I started to care about myself again and accepted that l was meant to live for so much more. With a new job and income supplemented by my generous benefactor, I began to let God put Humpty Dumpty back together again. My clothes no longer fit, so I spent what little money I had seeking out the nicest clothes I could find at Goodwill and spending more money than I had to have them dry-cleaned.
Another visit back to Dallas a short time later confirmed the positive direction life was taking. I spent 4 amazing days with my children at the home of an old friend and felt wonderful hugs from little arms around my neck. I sat at a table set for six and caught the first glimpse of hope in her eyes. I spent a couple of nights of fellowship with my great friends in Deep Ellum and realized the importance of taking careful stock in the value of those souls that genuinely care for you. And in metal.
Back in the world of daily rain, I continued the systematic reconditioning of my mind and body and did push-ups every day. One Sunday evening, following my "Mall Rats" shift, I checked my Facebook to discover that a San Antonio band was playing in town that night.
Encountering old musical acquaintances is always good, but most often we are limited to the small glimpses into their personalities, gleaned from the brief moments that we run into each other. Most often the deepest you ever get with guys outside your band, is over alcohol-blurred conversations at obscene times of the morning. Then there are those times where you realize that you have some really talented and like-minded friends and those conversations become memorable. You find yourself smiling while reflecting on them. Not so incidentally, their newest album would become the soundtrack to the rest of your summer and as you watched them climb the ladder to success, you have genuine hope and love for them and pray for their success. With that, I say that you are truly an inspiration; Nothing More.
I got to know my housemates and that my landlord is an amazing chef, the french couple upstairs are beautiful people, and my next-door neighbor is very serious about a full night's sleep. I sat outside a lot while enjoying rich, delicious food in moderation. I played darts, pool and foosball and often my cheeks would hurt from laughing so much.
One night, as I took out the trash in Hinesville, I encountered an owl half as tall as me, standing in the parking lot. A few nights later, there were two of them, howling to each other outside my window. Now and again, I saw my red bird flutter among the trees while I learned to find joy in helping other people. I figured out that it wasn't always important to be right...especially when you are wrong.
I finally started writing the novel and hope that I can get past the first chapter. I worked on the guitar that my brother gave me, bought a pawnshop acoustic and started writing music again. I found the place where my lyrics were hiding, and picked them carefully.
Occasionally, I heard from people that I'd never expected to hear from again. Sometimes it was pleasant, and sometimes it wasn't. I kept doing push-ups and I turned the water to cold for the last 90 seconds of my daily shower. 12 days before I go home and I'm up to 110 a day. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something.
Savannah was my savior and refuge and will therefore always be special to me. I've learned a great deal while here, not by reading books (though I've read quite a few good ones...one very old one especially), but by experiencing life. A city rich with history offers us all a beautiful setting to write our own.
I met new friends with big hearts hidden behind hard candy shells. While dancing one night in a room full of strangers, I discovered the importance of not caring about other's opinions and experiencing a moment of blissful life. One, I might add, that occurs more than once in a lifetime, but if you're aren't paying attention, you'll miss.
I've poured my soul into a song, and felt happy with the outcome wherever that might be. I learned to love to play for myself and the connection I feel to God while I do.
I've gained an appreciation for the opportunities that I've been afforded in my life and blessings with which I've been entrusted to steward and intend to do so more responsibly. I've seen the most beautiful sunsets and nature, architecture and scenery, beaches and palm trees, birds and beasts. I've flown into storms back to places that would wash me clean of the past and give me new resolve for the future. I like to think that I've been loved while standing beneath your Spanish Moss, because I've definitely felt loved while I've been here.
I've concluded that there are friends that are honestly happy for you about your good decisions and your successes, and people that hope to see you fail, and tried to shed the latter.
So as I embark on the road back to Dallas, I am left with the knowledge that I will be back. I know Savannah isn't through with me, as I feel her hands on my heart, molding the soft clay that it has become. But the owners of that heart are at the end of this journey and I have to get home, so that it can start beating and finally stop bleeding. The scars will always be there to remind me of what I've been through, but I've felt her healing and I'm blessed by it.
So I truly thank you for being a gracious host, because in you, I found Grace.