Writing Prompt: You, a humble elf farmer, happen upon the lost hatchling of a dragon. You raise it until it is self sufficient and set it free. Centuries later, a young woman with draconic features knocks on your door and claims you are her mother.

Fire light danced across the oak and marble walls of the Eluvian temple as Lireal set the candles for the evening. She has been repeating this same ritual for nearly four centuries, each evening pointedly lighting each of the one hundred and thirty-one candles in the main hall in a succinct procession. This evening however was different when there came a rapping on the front door. The other stewards in the room all paused, surprised at the sound, looks glancing from one to another. Putting down her long match Lireal glided toward the front door, the gaze of each of the stewards following her across the hall. She lifted the iron handle, pulling open the large wooden door, which lurched under its own weight. 

Peering out into the  town of Eglarest, Lireal’s gaze surveyed the square outside the temple. The evening air was soft and quiet. The warmth of the late summer day still clung to the white limestone buildings and the cool air from the Lavalling forest swayed through the oaks outside the city wall. The sound of the rustling wind whispered across Eglarest and Lireal saw a few men across the square finishing closing off the gate for the evening. Besides those elven men though, there was no one else to be seen. 

Stepping outside Lireal looked again, confused about the knock  she heard, when a weak voice caught her attention to her right. 

“Mother.” 

The voice was delicate, but unmistakable. Lireal’s breath caught  at the sound and her hand trembled as she brought it up to her mouth. 

“No, it couldn’t be. It simply cannot be," she thought to herself. The simple desire in and of itself was almost heartbreaking enough as she turned toward the voice. 

Standing to the right of the door was a young elven woman with blonde hair and striking ice blue eyes. Her hair and clothes were a mess, torn and burned. The skin around her eyes held a distinct tattoo, drawn in white ink following the contours of her cheek bones up to her ears and her brow in the design of dragon scales. Her right eye was bruised and blue and dried blood ran from a fat lip which she nursed with the tip of her tongue. 

Lireal’s heart skipped and then sank and the sight of her daughter Adalina. “My child!”, she exclaimed and rushed over to Adalina taking her into her arms. Adalina’s weight pressed into her as Lireal brought her hand up to brush the hair out of her daughter’s face. 

“What has happened to you?” 

“Mother, please I didn’t know where else to turn.”

“Quiet child, let me tend to your wounds”, replied Lireal, her instincts taking over as she directed stewards to grab water and fresh linens

“Mother, please. They are coming. I am sorry, I didn’t mean to bring them here, but they are coming,” said Adalina before she lost consciousness.

It was not until several hours later that Adalina finally awoke. Lireal was sitting at her side. In the course of a few hours Adalina’s wounds had healed remarkably fast. Her lip had reduced in swelling and the bruises across her body had all but disappeared. As she came to, she bolted up in the bed. 

“No, I must leave. I must be gone before they come”.

“Ada, please. What are you talking about?”, asked Lireal. Concern and longing in her voice for the daughter she has not seen in two centuries.  

Before Adalina could respond the ringing of the guard bell from the front gate chimed four times and shouts came from outside the temple. Both women arose at the sound, Lireal surprised at her daughter’s swiftness considering her injuries. 

Before they could reach the front door of the temple a crash rippled through the building as the front gate to the city exploded into splinters of wood and fire.  Lireal threw open the door and ran out into the square. Bodies of elven men and women of the town’s guard lay scattered across the square. An orange glow throbbed like a heartbeat from beyond the city walls as the Oak forest of Lavalling was burning. Through the gate strode Men, borne in iron armor and carrying the magic of fire in their hands. One man in particular stepped forward into the empty square. 

“I am the most holy emissary of the White Cloth, come to bless and baptize this town in the name of his lord. My name is Eringas and we have tracked to this place an abomination of the rightful order. Come, bless yourselves in the name of the White Cloth.” 

Lireal stepped forward raising her hand in a gesture of calming, but before she could take more than two steps, the whistle of an arrow sang through the night finding purchase. Lireal didn’t even realize what had happened before the dull punch in her chest was followed by the pooling of warm blood across her white dress. She stumbled forward another step, before falling to her knees and the hands of two stewards closed around her shoulders. 

Time slowed, the sound of the world dulled to a muffle in Adalina’s ears as she watched the arrow loose from the archer’s bow across the square. With her perception of time and speed she watched in horror as the arrow stretched across the town square and bury into her mother’s chest. The weight of the impact rippled through all her senses as she darted from the door of the temple to where her mother stood, and now began to fall. With each step she took she could hear the weakening beat of her mother’s heart and could smell the fresh blood pouring from the wound. 

Silver tears streaked her face as she collapsed over her mother’s body, cradling it in her arms. Each weakening heartbeat reverberated in her mind in  slow agony as she listened  to the final moments of her mother’s life pass before her. Centuries of time that could have been spent together lost in moments with each beat. 

Lireal looked up into her daughter’s face, raising her hand to caress her daughter’s hair. 

“I always hoped I would get to see you again.”

And she was gone. The last heartbeat died away in Adalina’s mind leaving behind a void of silence that would never be filled again. It was replaced with the beating of her own heart, of her own rage which she had spent so many years culling and learning to control. It rose deep from within her chest, at first only in her mind, but beat after beat growing and bursting forth in a rage and sorrow that would consume the town of Eglarest. 

“Men. Men will pay. Mankind will pay for what they have done.”

Book Review: Blood of Elves

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a very mixed relationship with the Witcher properties. I love the world and the characters in this series. I can't say I am a huge fan of the video games. I loved The Last Wish, and I fell in love with the Netflix series, so coming into this book I had pretty high expectations, knowing that I just sort of finished up the Netflix show.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is a fine book within the Witcher series, but it doesn't exactly come across as the type of book that is #1 in the series and would hook a new reader in. If you are already a fan, then this kicks off right where you want it to. My major issues are that not a lot seems to really happen narratively. The main crux of what I presume we are shown is mostly what Ciri has been up to since she finally found Geralt and was taken in by the Witchers. Having read the Last Wish, seen the Netflix show and then jumped into this book in that order, the three properties all worked well together. The Netflix show's first season sort of ended right where this book apparently would pickup. Perhaps in fact, that is where season 2 of the show will go. As a standalone book however, I can see a lot of readers quickly falling off the series right after this.

I just hope that we get to see more of the actual plot line develop in the second book, because we basically only caught vertical slices of Ciri with Geralt, and Ciri with Yennifer to show some of her training and development.

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Videogaming: Gears 5

Quarantine time has led to me being able to play some video games and catch up on a bit of my backlog. This past week I finally had a chance to get back into Gears 5 and finish off the single player. I have never been a huge Gears fan. I played both 1 & 2 and finished neither of them. They felt a bit too "dude bro" for my tastes. This past fall I decided to give Gears 4 a shot, as it was on Xbox Gamepass and I had a pretty decent time with it. The gameplay seemed fine enough and it wasn't too long, so I played through the story and was at least engaged with it to give Gears 5 a shot. 

I started playing Gears 5 when it was released this past winter, but only got about three hours into it before I fell off. Oddly enough, I did put quite a bit of time into the multi-player. game, namely the Horde mode. It has a nice, mindless element too it, but I didn't realize right away the the 50 rounds of horde mode can take upwards of almost two hours. That is quite a commitment to one game with teammates. 

I jumped back into Gears last week to see if it would hook me again, and I have to say that I enjoyed it about as much as I did with Gears 4. It was a fun romp, but it didn't really spark any passion for me. There was one really nice emotional moment that came near the end of the game, that was a bit of a surprise. So much so in fact that I actually played through that section, completed another hour or so of the game and then decided to go back and play that section over again to change my decision. 

The ending of the game seemed fine, but it did give a nice sense of "hopelessness to the story that I wasn't expecting. Will I played Gears 6 to finish off this section part of the trilogy? Yeah, probably, but only because I am a Gamepass subscriber.  

I'm Beginning the Long, Arduous Journey of Learning Swift Programming

Ok, so here we go. I have decided to jump on in and teach myself how to program in Swift. What is Swift you may ask? In short, it is a programming language similar to Javascript, Pyton, C++, etc. It is one of the newer programming languages out on the market and seems to have its strongest presence in the Apple ecosystem since Apple is a main developer behind the environment. I won't bore you with all of the details around what makes the programming language interesting, but I'll talk a little bit more about why do I even want to do this. 

Book Review: The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not quite sure how to review the book, because I am not entirely sure what I read. I enjoyed, immensely the five stories that were written by Denis Johnson, but having now finished the book, I have trouble recalling exactly what those stories were.

The five stories featured in this book all focus on the fairly mundane lives of the different protagonists. The topics covered cover drugs, lives, obsessions and other such topics. That being said none of the stories come across as dark as you might initially think. Instead they seem banal and the events that occur are told in a sort of matter of fact, "this is the way life is", sort of delivery. In a lot of ways, nothing happens in any of these stories. The characters tell us of these interludes in their lives, almost in a confessional way, and then that is it, the story is over.

For some reason though I was completely drawn into the stories. It was like a look behind the curtain in these people's lives, and the writing was so well done, that I felt like all of the stories were truly believable.

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Music Listening: ALAC/Vinyl - Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex

https://cigarettesaftersex.bandcamp.com

Keeping in the theme of music, my latest jam comes from a random album from Amazon Music. Cigarettes After Sex is a sort of downtempo, ambient rock group? Yeah, I think so. I like to think that this is the perfect sound for a rainy day. It just so happened to be a rainy March afternoon in the office when I put this on and the mood could not have been more perfect. 


The album's opening song "K", immediately brings you into an almost dreamlike state. Is it possible to have a feeling of "happy" depression, because that is what I get when listening to this album. The guitar sounds share a lot in common with "Tycho", but where Tycho is pure pop bliss, Sex After Cigarettes is the immediate counter point. 

The album does get a bit "same" sounding throughout, but that melancholy vibe does satisfy. 

Music Listening: AAC - Diet Cig

I have been listening pretty hard to a band I just discovered called "Diet Cig". They are a alt-punk sort of duo that I heard about a couple of weeks ago. I actually found them completely randomly over at AV Club. While reading an unrelated article the video (below) of the Diet Cig video was posted at the bottom of the page. The song immediately caught my attention and then I found several more of their videos over on Youtube. 

You'll quickly find that they have been featured on everything from KEXP to NPR's Tiny Desk. The song "Harvard" is infectious and evokes and immediate sense of my years in high school. I dunno if it is the sound or what, but I am immediately taken back to summer of being seventeen and listening to Blink 182. I mean, damn, is this not a great summer jam right here? 

I immediately had to go and download everything they have. Go to their Bandcamp and download the music there. https://dietcig.bandcamp.com

All four of their EP's only total to about 38 minutes of music, but damn if it isn't a great 38 minutes. 

Synthstrom Audible Deluge: First Thoughts

I was lucky enough to strike a Synthstrom Audible Deluge a couple of weeks ago off of Reverb.com. The Deluge is a groove box, all in work music production workstation. Most of the music I create is with groove boxes. My E-MU Command Station and Korg EMX are also considered groove boxes. They have a sequencer combined with a synth engine that has multiple voices. 

Since the move in January I have been pairing down some of my gear. I sold off a number of pieces of gear and my core setup is now just the Command Station and EMX. Some consideration of those two have made me come to realize that I was able to accomplish just about all of the sounds and sequencing I needed with those. 

I also wanted to to begin building another music setup. If you recall, last fall I purchased the Novation Circuit and Mono Station. I found out that the Circuit was not a good fit for me, something which I go into detail about over on Youtube

I have had my eye on a Deluge for almost a year now. It is a boutique synth, so rather hard to come by and the initial shipment of units sold out quickly. 

The Deluge has flat out blown me away in these first two weeks, so much so that I am changing how I am putting together some of my music gear. It truly is a standalone groove box. The minimalist grid based interface is remarkably intuitive and there is no hard limit on the number of notes, the length of the sequences or the number of tracks it can produce. I have been often so frustrated with many other synths and their limitation of 64 steps in their sequencing. It also has a built in sequencer and two synthesis types. 

Now, the weakest link right now is probably the synthesis engine on the unit. It is pretty basic right now, but I hope that can be improved with some future software updates. One of the coolest things on the box though his that it is battery powered. It is also very small, about the length and width dimensions of a piece of paper. That means it is extremely portable. I can see myself taking this with me on planes or other long distance travel routes to get some music created on a pair of headphones. 

It is with that in mind that I really want to keep it as just a stand alone, portable box for creating on. 

My Command Station and EMX will continue to exist as they have much deeper sound palettes. The question though is what do I do with the Monostation? Do I keep it? Do I build a modular synth to go with it?   

Book Review: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World

Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World by Robert D. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book sure comes away with a lot of quotable one liners.

I liked the concept that Kaplan was going for here, the idea of chronicling America's geography and influence upon its place in the world. The final execution though seems to be all over the place.

The first third of the book comes across as an almost "Ken Burns style" historical discussion on the history of the country. I found this early section the most interesting, with its invocation of the "Great American Frontier". Bernard DeVoto was mentioned several times (which makes me want to go read his books) and there is an almost romanticized portray of America's growth.

The tone shifts, almost suddenly, to a modern day narrative of Kaplan then driving across America from east to west to describe the importance of the rivers, natural resources and the trade impacts of the interstate highway system. The sudden shift was a bit jarring as was the change from a historical narrative to a more modern one.

The final leg of the book then shifts once again to discuss geopolitical conflicts and the U.S. military and U.S. Imperialism. At times Kaplan infers to the impacts of geography on other nations and I think he was trying to illustrate how their geography has influenced their growth compared to the United States'. He doesn't go into enough detail on other nations' geography to bring the message home though. China, India and Russia are only briefly mentioned, their rivers specifically, but there is no deeper discussion about their natural resources, political divides or varying climates to counter against what he states for the U.S.

The final section also comes across with a pro-imperialist message, describing that the world economy, culture, etc, are the way they are because of America's military might and geopolitics. I don't believe his insights are incorrect, but he doesn't take much time to explore any of the counter points on the imperialist agenda. The message again comes across as a bit altruistic.

Each of these three sections were fairly interesting on their own, and should probably be expanded to their own books. I just felt that they didn't quite come together with cohesion as a single unit very effectively.

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The Salt Creek Bramble

This past Christmas I received the "Road Biking Illinois" book and two weeks ago Megan and I got out to do our first route in the book. We did the Salt Creek Bramble which was a nice ~35 mile bike ride around the western suburbs. The weather could not have been nicer and the ride was pretty great, hitting up some nice trails through the forest preserve and hitting up some nice neighborhoods. I didn't realize when we firsts out from it that we would be going as far north as Oak Park.

The only major complaint in the book is that the street names changed often from town to town, even while staying "straight" on the road, so there was a lot of stopping and referring back to the book to try and get our bearings. We made a nice stop at the "Brown Cow" ice-cream shop in Forest Park to recharge our batteries a little bit. 

The western side of the ride had a nice detour through Fullersburg Woods, which I would like to go back and walk at some point while also hitting up Graue Mill. We tried to find it in the area, but we couldn't and the woods there has a nice crushed gravel path that I think would be great for an afternoon walk. Great ride for anyone in the western suburbs. Hit up my Strava link to get the route and do it yourself.