Morning Routines

I was just looking at my basic Twitter feed, and amidst the Salesforce and Mass Effect and election posts, there was a Promoted Tweet from the Wall Street Journal –

(I’m sure you’ve all seen the article in the journal, but I want to stress that it’s all conjecture. 

My feelings journal?

Michael, he means the Wall Street Journal.

Oh. The Wall.)

– interviewing the CEO of Slack, and the first question they asked was “What is the first thing you do in the morning?”

It just got me thinking about causality, causation, correlation, all of those fun C words that are similar but different. (Connotatively speaking, but also concretely.)

I seem to see a lot of things like this. People want to measure success by common threads of habits, and while there is likely something to that – successful people tend to work hard, sure – it also contributes to imbalance of power.

Because here is the thing.

I work hard. Absolutely. I don’t even have time to update this blog so often anymore because my job keeps me busy. But I ALSO worked hard when I worked at Geek Squad, and most people would not want to interview me when I was in that job to capture the things that made me successful. Strictly speaking, at that point in time, most people would not have seen me as successful. The way people spoke to me when I had that job definitely made that clear.

I am not even close to being the first person to point this out, and I won’t be the last. But asking a white guy what he does in the morning, and correlating that to his success in the tech industry, just isn’t meaningful.

I honestly don’t know how he answered because I really didn’t care. Most of the answers are irrelevant. Because what they do in the morning isn’t what makes them successful.

A working single mother who isn’t leading a Fortune 500 company probably has more on her plate in the morning. If she made enough money, sure, she might meditate or read the paper or whatever, but she doesn’t. Her morning probably starts just as early, and maybe she makes lunch for her kids, and then she gets them ready for school, sees them off, and then goes to work. Or maybe she has to be at work so early that she can’t do those things for her kids.

Asking an already successful person who started life on Easy mode is like asking a native language speaker how they managed to get those pesky verb conjugations right. Sure they had to practice and learn, they probably made mistakes, but since most everyone around them was speaking the same language, it made it easier.

I don’t begrudge the guy his success. And I’m not implying he doesn’t work hard. I AM saying that morning routines mean less than I think people give them credit for, and I’m also saying that I am just really tired of seeing those things come up on my Twitter dashboard.

Live from Dreamforce

It’s Wednesday – halfway through Dreamforce, and I’m returning from a day and evening of volunteering, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and having dinner with some of my absolute favorite people.

I look back on my first Dreamforce, and I look at where I am today, and I still can’t believe it. How is this my life? How did I get so lucky?

Not to say that it comes for free. I work hard, and I work a lot, but I enjoy my work, and part of my career is experiencing this event (and others like it) every year.

One of the first things I was asked to do this year was fill out a gratitude card – what am I grateful for?

This. All of it. I’m just grateful.

Travel as a metaphor

I got back into Michigan from New York on Saturday afternoon, only about 13 hours after my originally scheduled time. Other at Arkus were far more delayed than I.

It was all of the storms – crazy thunderstorms and a few tornado watches all along the Eastern coast that had flights coming in cancelled, which means no planes to carry us all home. I was holed up in the Delta Sky Lounge, courtesy of Coworker, when my phone buzzed with the cancellation notice.

Cut to about an hour in line, with a lot of other tired non-passengers, hoping to get something other than a three leg journey through Syracuse, then Atlanta, and then home just shy of Sunday morning.

These kinds of things are exhausting and anxiety-inducing to me, but they’re not something that makes me mad. The poor saps behind the counter can’t do anything about Mother Nature’s wrath against her ignorant children, so I’m not about to scream at them.

“If weather could be controlled, Delta would have bought it by now,” was my favorite line from the helpful attendant who patiently refreshed his screen to see if he could get me to Atlanta (impromptu family visit?) or Minneapolis (daily flights back to Michigan).

The wait (and my volunteering to sort some info cards for them while I did so) was worth it. I got on a flight to Minneapolis that night, stayed with Coworker for free, and hopped back on a plane the next morning to come home. Cue celebratory Electric Hero sandwiches, cocktails, and blessed sleep.

Travel, man, am I right?

Sam, you haven’t posted in months, and now you’re going on about travel, and you mentioned a metaphor, but…?

Allow me to use your question as a convenient transition and take you back in time about 4 months.

Another Coworker made the decision to move on to other things after some life changes, and so I took on a few extra projects that needed to be closed out. I also got a promotion – not sure I’ve mentioned that? Anyway, yeah. So I had the experience of onboarding an employee.

Things were kind of crazy. A lot of pressure systems moving around, as you can imagine, and accordingly, a lot of things were delayed, some things were cancelled. But during that time I learned a lot – got hands on with some new things, got creative with some other things, and also just did a lot of work.

Skies have cleared. I got a lot of things off my plate, and not a moment too soon, as we enter Dreamforce season (already?) and very soon after that, holiday season. I still have some behemoths hanging around, major projects that are ramping up, but it’s so good to just breathe. I feel in control again – finally, after months of feeling like I was on a loop, digging and digging and digging but never seeing the surface.

And isn’t that the thing that’s so frustrating about travel issues?

 

 

GTD: One Year Later

I wrote, just over a year ago, about discovering GTD…that’s a misnomer. I didn’t discover it. It was required reading. But…I mean, it’s kind of discovering?

Not the point.

A year ago I wrote about being new to the concept, new to the practice, and now, with little time to write these days and even less capacity for new ideas for this blog, I am reviewing my last year in GTD. In my typical fashion, no less.

First, my confession. I royally sucked at All The Things for most of the last year. It’s a hard thing to learn. Especially for someone who has random thoughts throughout the day, some of which might be worth capturing, but the vast majority of them not really…tangible or worth making not of. I swung wildly between extremes. I wrote everything down, but then I would exhaust myself going through all the stuff. So then I scaled back, but I scaled back too far. And frankly, after Zoe passed, there was about a month of me just trying to stay above water at all.

Even through the struggle and the sucking really bad at following the really clear directions provided, I adopted small things that worked really well for me. Organizing ideas, to-do’s, etc. by project? Super helpful. In a way that I thought would be overblown, but it made it clear just how dis-organized my prior organization had been. What is a project? Anything that is more than one task. Well that makes it really simple to identify a way to categorize projects. That and…you know…managing projects as my job.

I tried not to beat myself up about it too much because, from conversations with others who had started out with GTD brand new, there’s often a time of off and on again.

 

But I did beat myself up about it. A lot. And frequently. Like anything else, it’s something that I knew I needed to devote more time to, devote more energy to, and so I would try, but when I failed, I failed hard. Or at least I thought. I was trying to mimic, in every way, other people’s processes.

And then in November things kind of clicked into place. I wish I could say there was a sudden shift or some specific thing that happened that made it all clear, but there wasn’t. I just realized that I couldn’t do things exactly like other people. Even the book makes it clear that there are levels and different ways of doing things – the concepts are what matter, not the tactics.

So I gave myself one goal. Every day I needed to review OmniFocus. I put no restrictions on myself in terms of when that happens or in what context, but each day, I need to review OmniFocus.

What a difference that made. Instead of trying to force myself to do X, Y, and Z, I just said “do this one thing.” The rest sort of fell into place.

Because I knew I would be checking OmniFocus, I started entering important things there. Sometimes as a generic capture-to-inbox thing, and sometimes as a go-to-the-project-and-spell-it-out thing. No pressure. And if I was in between back-to-back things and didn’t put it in immediately, that’s ok because I’ll be checking it later, anyway, and I can add all of those little extra things then.

That’s really the point. It’s not about following the “rules” or step-by-step instructions. It’s about freeing yourself of having to remember all the things. I don’t have to remember all the things. I just have one goal, every day, and if I’m consistent with that, the rest falls into place.

Still not perfect. Still forget some days. But it’s better, and I think that’s all we can ever ask for.

Online Proctoring: My Horror Story

I enjoy my creature comforts. I like working from my couch some days, with blankets all bundled around me, feet propped up, and a cup of coffee nearby. Most importantly I like all of those things in my own house. If offered an opportunity to get coffee at a fancy coffeeshop or make myself a cup of Chock Full O’ Nuts at home, I’m going to pick home. Every time.

So when I learned that certification could be done from home, those many years ago, I signed up immediately. The first online proctored exam I took was not actually for Salesforce. It was my Marketo Certified Expert exam, and I took it in December after signing up for a training course that came with a voucher. I figured it couldn’t hurt. And given that December is prime time for crap weather, I was excited, despite the “it’s not awesome” warnings available online. How bad could it be?

Well…

First my webcam just stopped working. It had been fine, doing its thing, and literally just before it was time for me to sit down and show my stuff, it stopped.

Kryterion was super chill. Their support team rescheduled my exam for an hour later, and I ran out to get a new webcam. Done.

Fun fact: new webcams are better than old webcams. The resolution on my new one was too good, in that it couldn’t match my face because the old picture I had on file for facial recognition didn’t have as high a resolution.

No worries. Super awesome support team reset that. Face recognized. Typing recognized. It was time to take the test. Aced it.

When it came time to take my first Salesforce exam, I figured I had worked out the kinks and could handle anything.

Well…

I just couldn’t log in! After about three or four attempts, calling support, and still not being able to access my exam, we discovered there was a server error on their side. They told me they would reschedule my exam (for free, again, thank you super awesome support team!) and call me when I would be able to log in.

I made myself a drink and watched an episode of the Office. I was halfway through my vodka-cran when they called and said I could get started. Aced it.

I took a few onsite exams after that. Switching it up, I guess. But the testing location was not a huge step up from the headaches I’d had at home, so it was back to online for me.

Testing with a Mac is different. Testing with the new MacBook Pro (with its nearly universally despised Thunderbolt 3 ONLY connections) is actually impossible. Literally. If your external webcam (which you have to use) is connected via a dongle (which is has to be), the feed won’t go through.

For my Pardot exam, it took us about 2 hours to troubleshoot. If not for the super awesome support team at Kryterion, I would still be in the fetal position upstairs. I ended up needing to use the gaming computer to take my exam. Sweet graphics, anyway. I still had to stop like five times to adjust where the camera was or the microphone volume, or whatever.

I’m really not trying to scare you off. Legitimately not my purpose here. But I want you to KNOW what you’re getting into, if you go the online route.

First of all, your test may go way smoother. I had at least two that went off without a hitch. But just in case, keep these things in mind:

  1. If you have a brand new MacBook Pro, just plan on taking the exam onsite or with a cheap-o PC you pick up at Best Buy for like $200.
  2. When they say that you should buy their specific webcam…consider it. I didn’t. I had to buy one last minute, and I just wasn’t going to reschedule. But they have one that works, so you might as well.
  3. Download Sentinel and do your “biometric scan” in advance but not TOO in advance. Like two or three days beforehand is fine. But if you sign up for the exam in June to take in November, just wait.
  4. Be prepared to spend some time getting INTO the exam.
  5. Be prepared to be interrupted DURING the exam to fix something.
  6. Lean heavily on the support staff there. They really are awesome, really patient, and they have the answers.
  7. Be NICE to the support staff. Their job sucks. They just watch a bunch of under-dressed, maybe showered, work-from-home people take exams and get mad all day. And they can help.
  8. Maybe make a drink beforehand?
  9. Definitely eat beforehand – it might be HOURS before you get another chance.
  10. Be prepared to retake the exam. After fighting with computers and getting interrupted and feeling like NOTHING YOU DO IS WORKING, you might not be in the best place to take an exam…so be patient with yourself, too.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’ll probably continue doing the online proctored exams. That is how much I hate driving in snow.

 

DnDF17 Episode 3: To the smithy

Previously on DnDF…AKA better late than never

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 8.37.57 AM

The temple district was in disarray, but the members of Bacon Ipsum had to continue their work. Dwarves were moving out of the streets, and while the team wanted to know their destination, Trailblazer had a bad feeling about the growing glow near her former mentor’s blacksmith forge. They were, of course, not in the same direction.

“There’s some work to be done tonight, and I think it’s on us to stop the invasion. I don’t see anybody else,” Datatello began, “maybe we should move to the fight? That’s what we do – as Bacon Ipsum!”

Kriv sighed, “So you’re saying…for free? You want us to resist for free?”

“Not for free! For the experience!”

“I can’t spend experience-”

“It’s more valuable! It’s invaluable…kind of like infamous. More famous. More than.”

“Resisting for free is futile,” the wizard argued.

Trailblazer watched the argument for a while. She tapped on the wrist device that they had received, putting her ear to it, hoping for something. No sounds came.

Datatello stared down at his new medallion, then thoughtfully at Kriv, “Hey that reminds me! Kriv, let’s do one of your funny jokes. I need an owner’s manual for this cool medallion that Erikuhl gave me.”

“An…owner’s manual? For the medallion?”

“Well, yeah. Documentation should exist for anything with a specific use, right?”

With a sigh, Kriv reached into his beleaguered cloak and pulled out a brown pile of rubber. He dropped it, rolling his eyes, then waved the half-orc closer, so he could study the medallion. It was old – older than any existing civilization, back to pre-history.

“It’s old. Ancient.”

It was a puzzle medallion, the magic reliant upon the shape of the puzzle, but more than that he couldn’t quite put together.

Hearing the conversation, Bakaryu looked over, and something about Kriv’s remarks sparked a memory. She recognized the shape, the icon itself, and from what she knew of the Nameless Generation, this was a symbol of their royalty, of a great deed. She shared her memories with the duo.

Bristled, either from not knowing more or just his natural impatience, Kriv grumbled, “Just wear the thing and let’s go.”

Trailblazer, for her part, was still concerned about her mentor – was he still there? Had he been turned into one of those…things? After confirming that there was no further support coming, the party set out, moving swiftly toward the smith’s shop.

The streets were empty, smoke hanging low in the air, as they made their way toward the water. Their journey went uninterrupted, though the heat became oppressive.

The forge itself was not on fire, the stone of the building naturally absorbing heat, but the buildings nearby were likely close to collapsing, not to mention the blacksmith’s home itself.

As they approached, a figure came into view, prone on the ground. Checking her concern and speed, the dwarf moved forward to investigate the figure. He twitched, an arm moving to push itself up. When his hand contacted the floor, the stone beneath was absorbed into his skin, moving and breaking up to cover pieces of himself. His other hand landed on a nearby anvil for support, the metal then melting away and similarly slithering up his hand. Stone or metal that he touched simply became him.

Datatello grunted in concern, “Trailblazer, maybe you should get away.”

At his suggestion, the dwarf backed away, calling out uncertainly, “Jarl?”

The blacksmith cocked his head, then turned, one eye now replaced with the angry red of a ruby. The eye that remained was glassy, almost unfocused, as it landed on her, “Can fix you.”

At those words, his blacksmith’s apron shifted, then opened on his back; a series of metallic arms extended, four in total, each with blacksmith tools or weapons at the end.

Cloudy panicked at the sight and ran forward, head down to ram into their attacker. One of the arms swung out to bat her away, making Trailblazer grunt in anger.

Datatello then rushed forward, striking out with his bo staff. Two of the arms lashed out to block the blows, as Jarl’s attention focused intently on Trailblazer. The half-orc struck out with his hand, at that point. He landed a solid blow, but with the metal and stone covering him, it did little to the dwarf.

Bakaryu was hot on the monk’s heals, raising her hand in the air. As she did, vines erupted from the ground around Jarl, wrapping tight around him and his arms. While the sight was impressive, Brunhilde’s eyes were pulled repeatedly to his worktable, where a beautifully crafted short bow was sitting. What was it doing there?

She sprinted toward the table and grabbed the strange item. It felt….right, like an extension of herself, as though it had been made for her. She knew the name of it immediately. Thunder. It was powerful in a way she couldn’t pinpoint yet.

She was closer than she’d like, but she took the shot. The arrow vibrated, almost shook, against her hand. Despite the strange vibration, the arrow soared straight, hitting its intended target. Jarl clearly recognized the bow because he visibly steeled himself, bracing for impact. A resonating BOOM followed the release of the arrow, and for a moment, his eye cleared, “Brunhilde?”

It was a short-lived return to normalcy.

Two bladed arms swung out at Datatello, each of them slashing him. A third, vice-like arm, reached down to grab Brunhilde, pinching her elbow in a way that set her nerves on fire. She gasped in pain and dropped back, unable to move.

Watching all of this was Kriv, becoming increasingly agitated. He muttered to his cloak, “I know this isn’t how it works, but we have to stop this dwarf. We have to do something.”

He reached into his robe and removed a strange, metallic wand of some sort. It was a cylinder, with wrappings on one end that may have been a handle. Unsure what else to do, he pointed the end of the wand at Jarl, and they all watched a beam of light erupt from the point. The light burned through two of the arms, as well as the wall beyond it. The wand drooped, and smoke began to pour out of the cloak. But damage had been done.

Cloudy saw her own opportunity, as the metal arms fell away. She cried out and bolted forward, head down, and pummeled into the dwarf’s side. Jarl grunted and fell, all of the metal arms going limp.

After a moment, Brunhilde moved forward. She deftly grabbed the needles that sprang out to infect her, and Cloudy bit them clean through. She turned him over, relieved to see that his eye was clear.

“Brunhilde,” he coughed, “you came back.”

“Of course! Of course I did. So…what’s going on?” Her guilt leaked out as awkward nonchalance.

“Oh, you know, just…”

“Oh, um, one second. Bakaryu, can you do that…thing…again?”

The dragonborn smiled and stepped forward, again channeling the power of her deity and cleansing the foulness from the dwarf. The metal and stone did not disappear, but his color returned, and with it, clarity. He reached out to grab Brunhilde’s shoulder, “Your father. Your father came.”

“Oh?” she frowned, “About?”

“He did this. I don’t know…what’s compelled him, but he came, and he was commanding the others.”

“Where did he go?”

“When I refused to answer, to give him your whereabouts, he did this to me. I did not see where he went. He did say something about a distraction.”

“Are you…will you be ok?”

“I will…make it.”

After a moment’s consideration, Brunhilde looked to Bakaryu and Datatello, “Can you help me? We can get him to the temple district.”

The paladin and monk helped the dwarf up, holding some of his weight, as they made their way through the abandoned streets. Jarl and Brunhilde continued their conversation about her father, as they went. He wasn’t himself. He was using big words. None of it sounded right.

At the temple, they got Jarl settled and got themselves healed.

“Be careful,” Jarl offered before they set out again, “I can feel the call still. Whatever it is…it’s powerful.”

Brunhilde smiled, “It’s alright. We’ve got some great magic users in this group.”

She pointedly ignored Kriv’s desperately shaking the still-spent wand and burning his foot with a randomly spouted flame. They had great magic users. Thinking it enough would make it true.

“We need a plan,” she sighed.

As if on cue, the bracer on her arm lit up. She looked down, then waved to her companions, “Hey! We have contact.”

Garbled sound came through for a moment. After a couple of a seconds, a clearer, “Who’s  there? Is anyone there?” came through.

The ranger blinked and started poking at the bracer, hoping to respond. At contact with the bracer, it began to vibrate, and she leaned in, “Bacon Ipsum is here, reporting in.”

“This is Captain Wolverton. Who is this?”

“It’s Trailblazer! Bacon Ipsum. Datatello, Kriv, Bakaryu, Flash-”

“Oh. Oh yes,” the captain responded, though her enthusiasm seemed diminished.

“We happen to know what’s going on,” Brunhilde muttered, as others checked in.

Wolverton gave her own update – fires were centered on the Exchange, and everyone was to report there.

“So…this is the distraction, right?” Trailblazer turned to her own crew.

Bakaryu nodded, ‘The dwarves were heading in the opposite direction.”

“We have to convince them.”

All eyes turned to the dragonborn, who had proven time and again to be the most persuasive of all them, and Trailblazer and held her arm up as high as she could to capture her words.

“Listen,” Bakaryu started, “we know what’s going on. We’ve had intelligence in the field; we have an insider who knows what’s going on with the dwarves, that there is a distraction. This seems like a big distraction. We saw dwarves going the other way. This is obviously a trap.”

“Who is this?”

“Bakaryu.”

“Who?”

“Bacon Impsum!” Trailblazer shouted.

“I am a paladin of noble birth.”

“And where do you suggest we go?”

“In the direction of the dwarves.”

“And where is that? Are they traveling South for the winter?”

Brunhilde frowned, unamused.

“Toward the Scrum.” It was a guess, but it was the only major landmark in that direction.

After a pause, “Ok. All forces except for Bacon Ipsum, head to the Exchange. Bacon Ipsum, I will meet you there.”

Kriv near sprinted toward Trailblazer, shouting at her bracer, “Will we be paid?”

But the line was dead.

“Don’t worry,” Brunhilde reassured, “we’re going to a dwarven structure. There’s going to be so much loot.”

With nothing more to do except go, the party headed in the direction of the Scrum.

DnDF17 Episode 2: Everything must be dwarf

Previously on DnDF17…

The members of Bacon Ipsum stared in growing horror at the flames consuming Moscone.

Datatello’s concern heightened with each area he recognized, but his eyes focused on his own neighborhood, wondering if his sister, Erikuhl, was safe.

Bakaryu had to use all of her mental discipline to stay put, seeing the glow and smoke from the Temple district.

Trailblazer turned away to seek Dirk in the crowd. Their handler had his head held down to his wrist, shaking it and prodding it, his visage one of consternation. She approached, waving vaguely at the door, “Where do you need us?”

“What?”

“I assume everyone’s scrambling at this point, but what are our orders?”

His eyes narrowed, “I’m not getting anything. What are you talking about?”

Perhaps just as confused as he clearly was, she pointed out the still-open door, hoping that the fires raging through the streets would be indicative enough of her question. His eyes widened, and he looked back at her, “They must have hit Site 14. Where are you going?”

This felt like some terrible comedy bit, and the timing was awful, “I don’t know! Where do you need us?”

He shook his head again, considered a moment, then reached into a pouch and tossed her a wrist brace similar to his, “Here. Take this. When Site 14 is back up and running, you’ll need to know what the plan is.”

He approached the prone, metal dwarf and leaned down to inspect. To Trailblazer’s horror, two needles rose from his chest and struck Dirk in the hand. Her years of surviving in the wilderness made it clear that this was poison, but no matter her abilities, she couldn’t pinpoint it.

“I’m fine! Go!”

With a frustrated shout to the patrons to look after him, Trailblazer joined the others, “The system is down. We have no orders.”

Even as she said it, as she listened to her companions’ reports, she saw the glow in the distance and knew that her mentor’s shop was, if not already burning, in danger of doing so soon. She focused on the reports, and nodded, “We need to get to the residential area first. The Temples have more power to stop this. We’ll go around in a loop.”

Datatello had already hopped onto his magical, rolling board and was heading toward his home, the others following. Erikuhl, his sister, was waiting, waving frantically when she recognized him.

“Are you ok?”

“Fine, I’m fine.”

“What about the kids?”

“They’re…” she trailed off, her eyes unfocused, as she tried to think – there were flames and children, and the children needed to be…led away from the flame. She had done that, yes. She nodded, “Yes, they are safe.”

“What happened here?”

“Dwarves! Large dwarves,” she started, rummaging through a pack and shoving things into his hands, “Take these!”

He looked down to see a pair of bracers and a necklace, a kind of upside down triangle with something carved into it. He had barely any time to don them, for lack of a place to put them otherwise at least, before three dwarves, large and covered in metal like the one Master of Coffee, turned in unison and began stalking toward them.

Things swiftly fell to chaos. Coming up swiftly behind Datatello, Kriv summoned fire and hurled it at the oncoming monstrosities. Either unprepared or unconcerned, the dwarves seemed to simply walk into the new flames. Bakaryu sprinted forward, first to ensure that neither Datatello nor Erikuhl were similarly engulfed in flame, and to open her maw and breathe a rolling ball of energy onto their attackers.

Datatello had retrieved his juggling balls, spinning them through the air; they gained momentum, as his companions attacked, and when he knew they were clear, he made his attacks, “You guys shouldn’t play with fire! You could get hurt that way!”

One of the weighted spheres flew directly at the dwarf closest to him, knocking into its head. It turned to stare quietly at him, and the half-orc moved closer to attack, punching him in his jaw. The dwarf had no reaction, but there was a definite sting in his own hand.

Trailblazer, astride Cloudy, came up behind the party. She took aim with her bow, the goat’s added height making it possible for her to use her longbow. The arrow shot out, whistling through the air to bury itself in the eye of the dwarf Datatello had just angered.  In the time that it flew, she drew another arrow. Before it cleared Cloudy’s head, the goat twisted and caught the arrow, chewing on the wood thoughtfully. Trailblazer stared at her, feeling betrayed.

Arrow still in its eye, the dwarf still stared at Datatello, its hand starting to shudder, opening and closing with a strange regularity, as if on a spring. The dwarf behind it, prone, lifted back to standing, like a fulcrum. Once straight again, he reached behind, drawing a battle-ax from its back. The axe grew, extending both the handle and its blades – blades that started to spin wildly.

The dwarf took a step and swung the spiraling blade at Datatello, slashing into the half-orc hard enough that the monk stepped back, inadvertently dodging the second blow.

The third dwarf standing near Bakaryu held up his arm, his hand popping down, as if on a hinge, and a circular blade came out, spinning menacingly. Before he lunged, he turned, seeing Trailblazer. He turned and started toward her.

Kriv’s eyes narrowed, seeing the change in direction, and lashed out, a blast of electricity arcing through the air toward their attackers. All but the potential leader, wielding the battle-ax, seized suddenly, then fell unceremoniously to the ground.

The leader turned toward his attacker and began stalking toward Trailblazer, a well. Bakaryu acted immediately, stepping in front of him and driving forward with her sword. The dwarf looked at the sword, taking a step forward, still staring at Trailblazer.

Another step.

And he fell slack on the blade.

The team looked around, Bakaryu looking over at her dwarf companion, who was muttering about nightmares, “Maybe you should wear a disguise or something.”

“So Ryu, ask me if I have anything that would work as a disguise for Trailblazer.”

Datatello grinned, “This is a joke he’s been telling lately. I don’t really get it, but it is pretty funny.”

The paladin smiled, “Ok. Kriv, do you have something that we could use as a disguise for Brunhilde?”

Kriv reached into his cloak, digging around a bit, before pulling out a large cloak. It was clearly too large for the dwarf, but it would most certainly hide her from view. He handed it over, “Try this on. If it’s too long, maybe Cloudy will hem it up for you.”

Datatello watched all of it joyfully, “I don’t know what you’re paying for your magic classes, but it’s worth it.”

The others looked at him, but he went peacefully into a meditation. He twirled then brought his quarterstaff down, shouting his holy cry, feeling his body start to heal.

“Maybe you should ask if the wizard has a health potion,” Kriv offered helpfully, frowning when his cloak came into view. The corner snapped him in the face.

“It was a genuine ask,” he grumbled. The corner snapped him the other way.

Bakaryu, realizing that her companion was still injured approached, reaching out to offer him healing.

With the battle over, and the healing done, the group looked around to see the fires creeping in. Kriv cleared his throat, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had some sort of hose and a never-ending supply of water to help put out this fire.”

Datatello smiled, “Ok. Kriv, do you have a hose that we can use to put out this fire?”

The wizard sighed, “It’s not as useful if we don’t have water.” He gestured, as he spoke, a tube started falling out of his robe, and with each gesture, more fell out.

“I recognize this! But listen, Kriv, this isn’t a time for joke.”

Trailblazer shook her head, “Datatello, you live around here – do you know anyone who can help us put this out, so we can continue on?”

A grunting sound, followed by hands waving, became apparent, as Erikuhl started to shout, “I can help!”

She grabbed the tube coming out of Kriv’s cloak and began to run, pulling it. It continued to flow until, finally, the end popped out.

“We need a water source,” Kriv sighed.

Datatello made his way to a nearby entry to the aqueduct below them, while Kriv’s cloak dropped another hose out, as if annoyed. They connected the hoses and, after some additional work and questions, they had a pump to bring water out of the sewer and toward the fire.

They took a moment, breathing deeply and centering themselves, trying to not think about the city burning around them. At some unspoken agreement, they headed out again, Trailblazer gesturing, “Let’s get to the template district.”

A little over halfway there, they came across a dwarf sprawled on the ground, black, spiderwebbed marks on his face, as he struggled to breathe. Datatello called Trailblazer over, and she approached, recognizing him immediately as Wuric, a traveling merchant who had the displeasure of being in town.

“Kill me,” he begged, through harsh breaths, clearly unable to move otherwise, “Please. Please. I don’t want…this.”

She could see the black poison in his skin spreading, the same as Dirk, and Trailblazer waved to Bakaryu, “I need…I’ve seen this before. I don’t know what kind of poison it is.”

The dragonborn approached, holding her holy symbol in her hand and kneeling. She channeled the power of the storm through her, focusing it and shaping it, as she reached down to place her hands on his chest.

Before Trailblazer could shout, to warn her, two needles whipped out, just as they had in the Master of Coffee, but they stopped, evaporating. The black lines on Wuric’s face began to recede; his breathing returned, even and steady, and finally the only indication of his previous condition were two pinpricks on his cheek.

“What happened?”

“Dwarves. Some dwarves attacked,” he muttered, sitting slowly, “focused on dwarves, but they attacked everything. I fend them off as best I could, but something got me with some poison, I guess. I couldn’t do anything. I felt my mind retreating, like I was losing grip of it, like I was being pushed to the back. And there was…this voice. So loud. It just said…all things must be dwarf,” he finished, shaking his head.

Kriv approached then, hand raised, “Still want us to kill you?”

The dwarf blinked rapidly, “No! No, no. I’m ok now.”

As her companions spoke, Bakaryu concentrated on the poison that she had just cleansed. It felt…like power of the undead. Her sense of the divine made it clear, the clawing sense of evil dissipating, along with the poison in the dwarf before her.

“Were the dwarves strange looking?” Trailblazer asked, rubbing her face.

In answer, Wuric began gingerly removing chainmail, asking her for help. While the black had receded, there was already metal plating across his chest. She nearly recoiled but steeled herself, leaning forward. It looked like iron. The aura itself was faint, and growing fainter, but it was there.

“When did this start?” Trailblazer asked.

He shrugged, “Never had it before.”

“How long ago were you attacked?”

“Hard to say when all you know is pain. Every moment is an eternity when you’re in agony.”

No one said anything, and Trailblazer looked bemused.

“Was that too dramatic?”

Datatello scaled a building, feeling that he needed to watch for any further bad news. The fires seemed to have died down, or at least not spread, much to his relief. As he scanned, he saw pockets of dwarves, all heading in the same direction – not speaking, not showing signs of camaraderie, simply…marching.

Trailblazer helped Wuric up, eying the abandoned cart of TaskRays and nodded toward it, “You should get out of town.”

He nodded, taking up his cart, and waving, “Thank you. I, uh, I owe you.”

As the dwarf retreated into the distance, Trailblazer turned back to the party, “So let’s get you to your temple,” she grinned at Bakaryu.

They were close, so it wasn’t long before they entered the courtyard of the temple district, all centered on the towering statue of a flower, multi-colored with the stones and metals that made it. Many of the temples were untouched, but damage had been done to both the Temple of the Maker and Temple of the Storm. Puddles of water surrounded them, clearly the work of magic.

The Temple of the Maker was razed to the ground.

Bakaryu approached the Temple of the Storm, where Longshore, a bronze dragonborn that she knew through the temple was finishing some work.

“You made it, Ryu,” she breathed.

“Yes, I made it. What…happened here?”

“You knew? The dwarves. They came. They did not bring the love. They brought only pain and poison. You’ve seen the poison?”

“Yes – we healed one of them, on the way here.”

“How so?”

“Restoration,” she shrugged, unsure how else to explain it.

“Oh? Good to know that something so simple can do so much good. I will send word.”

“It seems to be undead in nature.”

Longshore nodded, “Yes, we sensed that as well.”

Trailblazer approached, then, “Are they attacking non-dwarves”

The other dragonborn frowned, “They focused on the dwarves. They came and went directly to the temple of the maker. One of them called them traitors, called them…undwarfish.”

Kriv nodded, “A very short conversation.”

Longshore said nothing to the wizard, “He said they were…bringing down, or, no, taking away from dwarves society by trying to allow others to be equal to dwarves. That dwarves were superior, and that if others could not live up to their standards, then they should live in the dirt.”

Datatello pointed, “Did they go in that direction, when they left?”

Longshore nodded, “Yes.”

The other party members turned to look in the direction, trying to determine what they could be headed toward. No one could put their finger on what they could be headed toward – it seemed innocuous. But they knew, at least, that that was the direction they needed to head in.