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Workplace Hazards
A switch in power.
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Another ear-splitting bolt ripped through the gray afternoon sky. Chasem watched as it zapped a nearby mesa, just missing the copper-coiled arrays that made up the easternmost sector of the lightning farm. “Woooo, that was close,” the snapper whistled. “Dib, you get a reading on that one?” He looked over to the unmanned monitoring equipment designed to log the daily energy stored by the farm.

On the other side of a maintenance drum, the high pitch trill of a spiral called back, "Oops! I missed it! I'm over here watching Flick make a fool of himself. Pretty great. You gotta come see this!"

Chasem begrudgingly got to his feet and lumbered over to Dib’s location, where he could clearly see Flick clinging to the side of one of the many rocky plateaus supporting a lightning rod at its peak. The two dragons both watched as the precariously perched Ridgeback took swipes at the end of a disconnected cable just out of reach.

"Flick knows he's got wings, right?" Chasem asked. "That he could just, like, flap them and be done with it?"

They both watched again as Flick made a narrow swipe for the cable, only to wobble and slip. Dib snorted. "Oi! Flick! You know you got wings, right!?" the spiral shouted at the struggling ridgeback. An ominous rumble of thunder from above followed.

Flick glared back at his companions, "Oh no. Not this time. Last time you told me to fly in a storm, it gave me the jolts for a week. I'm fine doing it this way, thank you very much." Another swipe, another miss.

With an exasperated sigh, Dib stretched and rubbed his front claws together. Pushing off from the ground, he unfurled his long body and took off toward Flick. He pulled to a stop just above the young ridgeback, roiling like a ribbon in the breeze. "Look, it's easy! See?" He reached out a slender claw to grasp the frayed cable.

Flick wasted no time. Leaping past Dib, he landed his back legs squarely on a large power lever that had been concealed from their view. Without hesitating, he pressed hard on the switch with a maniacal grin. A shower of sparks erupted from the machinery and the cable Dib grasped in his claw lit up with arcing electricity. With a maniacal laugh as the powerful electrical current shot through his body, Dib grabbed the second cable and grounded the current. Just below the writhing spiral, Flick let out a whoop, “SHOCK SWIIIIIITCH!” Chasem stared on bemused.


--



“You’re being reassigned,” said the pile of parchments and blueprints laying on the desk before the three engineers. The trio blinked at the unexpected announcement from the paperwork.

The voice came again. "Did you hear me?"

Dib tapped a parchment in front of him gingerly, trying to create an open space with which to see the source of the voice. Despite his efforts, the entire pile of parchments and scrolls fell off the wooden desktop, revealing a mottled and bitter looking fae glaring at them. "Uh, yeah, we heard you, chief. Back to sector fourteen?" Chasem cut in.

Chief Storm Engineer Craklinne leered over her goggles at them."Sector fourteen? Oh my, no. Every time we put you with a larger team, it’s a disaster. You may be among the most brilliant electrical engineers in the guild, but you also have the highest numbers of complaints lodged against you by your fellows,” she smiled wanly. “Instead, you three will be put on a special project perfectly suited to your particular skill set.”

Chasem’s eye widened. Every time they’d been teamed up with others, arguments and conflicting orders had halted work production entirely. For this reason, they were often assigned to the lowest level labor where they didn’t have to interact with anyone directly. But if the Chief had an assignment they could handle all by themselves, this might be their chance to prove to the guild their true worth! And maybe get a long overdue pay raise.

"Not only do you know your stuff, you three have been zapped by more storms than most of our veteran engineers combined and come out unscathed every time,” Chief Craklinne barked out a laugh.

Dib snorted. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Look at Flick here-” Crakkline slammed her small claw on the table, cutting him off with a tiny thwap. “It just so happens we need that..." she struggled to find a word, "...capability on our new team."

Flick beamed but Chasem and Dib shared a troubled look. Craklinne wasn’t one to give them compliments - ever.

"So what are we building, boss?" Flick asked.


--



The following day, Flick, Chasem, and Dib arrived at the coordinates listed on their instructions. As they reached the top of a sand dune, they spotted a small stone tower. A single cyan jewel floated lazily above it, surrounded by an impressive array of lightning rods. "There’s the Sanctum, let’s go say hello!” proclaimed Dib.

The trio trudged through the sand, towards the building, fighting against the powerful wind whipping grit and dirt into their goggled faces. The storms in this area were frequent and intense, but the team’s penchant for working through such harsh weather was one of the reasons they’d been selected for the job. This particular sanctum of the Oculus of the Eleven had a single wooden door, inlaid with the crest of the lightning dragonflight. “Well, let’s find out what kind of cranky old man the Oculus keeps secluded out here in the middle of nowhere,” Chasem said, giving a knock.

After a moment, the door creaked open to reveal a thin, bespectacled, ice-colored pearlcatcher, clutching a large book under one arm. She blinked back at the group, her long mane cascading down over one shoulder. Chasem’s pleasantly shattered expectations resulted in an awkward pause on his part.

"Oh, you must be here to fix the power! I've been sending letters for weeks. It’s absurd and more than a little insulting that they’ve ignored help requests from Stormcatch Sanctum. You’d think the Oculus of the Eleven would command a little more respect!"

Chasem looked back at the others. " I suppose we ... uh .. could look into the power. What's the problem?" He peered into the cramped living quarters, scattered with books, parchment, quills, and several delicate-looking instruments of unknown purpose. Of particular note was an overly complex mechanism adorned with several large polished lenses, glowing brightly with a rainbow of color in its center.

She dropped her book on a small table beside the door. "I'm having quite a time getting a steady stream to my lights. Considering some of my most important work is at night, it's been more than a little difficult conducting research by candlelight,” she said. "I'm Gertrude, by the way. Apprentice magister of lightning." She offered a claw, and Chasem smiled dumbly as he bumped her delicate talons with his broad paw.

“Flick, why don’t you and Dib check on the power cables running to the sanctum? I’ll, uh, stay here and bring Gertrude up to speed on our assignment.” Flick and Dib smirked as they headed off to investigate the power outage.

Gertrude cocked her head to the side, ”Sooo, you didn’t come to answer my letters?”

Chasem smiled sheepishly, “Err, I’m not not actually sure? We weren’t told about any letters, but this may be related. We’re on special assignment to construct a new sanctum in cooperation with the Oculus of the Eleven. The new building is going to be constructed around the current sanctum.”

Gertrude looked overjoyed and Chasem’s heart melted a little. “That sounds INCREDIBLE! You have no idea how frustrated I’ve been working in this cramped little building! Considering I’m monitoring the primary ley line of the Shifting Expanse, specifically the energy spikes underground. The construction shouldn’t affect my work. So...can I get you a cup of cactus tea? I just put a kettle on,” she said, moving over to her cupboard for a mug.

“Oh, that sounds fantastic!” Chasem exclaimed with entirely too much enthusiasm. After a moment of embarrassment, he went to ask Flick and Dib if they’d like some tea, too.


--



Over the following weeks, representatives of the machinists guild came and went, delivering materials and instructions. Most days, the shipments came with a very brief, very specific blueprint of the section to be built that day - but nothing more. It was explained to the trio that this new sanctum contained machinists guild trade secrets, and had to be constructed piece meal to avoid any unintended leaks, which the three would be held personally responsible for, of course.

It wasn't all grueling. If they exhausted the day's work plans, they would spend time with Gertrude, and they all became accustomed with brewing cactus tea. Over the course of the project, the small mage's initially standoffish demeanor relaxed into a bubbly curiosity and a penchant for oversharing. She was undeniably interested in the work happening outside her humble quarters, and seemed genuinely pleased to have other dragons around. Chasem occasionally walked with her if the opportunity presented itself when breaks from work and the storms coincided, listening to her talk about her job as an Oculus assistant magister.

As construction continued, the new sanctum came to form a large domed structure with multiple rooms and corridors leading to the tiny, older stone building in the center. Gertrude didn’t know what to do with all the space, spreading her equipment and effects throughout the various rooms. Many of the larger chamber's blueprints were accompanied with notes referring to unspecified machinery that would be installed later by other, specialized teams.


--



As they entered the fourth phase of the project, Chief Engineer Craklinne arrived, making her first appearance since she’d given them the assignment. As she approached, they could see that she had commandeered an army of hundreds of workers, many of whom were starting to assemble tents and temporary habitats on the outskirts of the sector.

“I thought this was supposed to be a secret build,” Dib mused.

“Maybe it’s past that stage,” Chasem suggested.

The chief hopped excitedly towards the site, which was not a behavior she typically exhibited. With a flick of her wings, she took off, surveying the construction. Her goggles glinted in the sunlight and as she flew around the giant copper dome, inspecting the multiple great drums which formed a sprawling circular array around its base.

Satisfied with the inspection, Craklinne landed in the doorway of the new sanctum. She impatiently greeted Gertrude before turning to Dib, Chasem, and Flick.

"My, you boys have done well... I'll admit I didn't have a lot of faith, but this is some expert work. My crew will have a very easy time taking over from here," she chirped.

Flick grinned, “Hey thanks, boss!” but Chasem and Dib exchanged a long look. Chasem leaned forward, “The gang and I, we worked hard on this project. We were hoping we could be a part of the final stage of construction...”

Craklinne clapped her claws. "Sorry boys. This next phase is the real top secret stuff. But you can expect a few steps up in your pay grade come next salary cycle. You may go now, take the rest of the week off. You can expect your next assignment when you return.”

Flick and Dib were overjoyed by the news of a raise, but Chasem wasn’t as enthused. He turned to Gertrude, who looked like she was trying very hard not to be upset. He gave her a smile, “I’ll be sure to visit on my unscheduled days.”

“You’d better,” she said, and gave him a quick hug. Chasem turned and left, hoping no one noticed his blush. As he and his companions made their way past the machinists guild workers the chief had brought to the site, he couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t recognize a single face amongst them. That seemed...strange?

Gertrude followed Craklinne as they made their way back to the small stone tower sanctum at the heart of the new building. The Pearlcatcher closed the door, smiling awkwardly at Craklinne. "So...may I offer you a cup of cactus tea? I just put a kettle on when your new team arrived,” she said, pulling a mug from her cupboard.

"Oh, dear. I’m afraid not. You see, we’ll need you to leave, too," the fae stated simply, running a small hand along the rough edge of the stonework at the tower's base, not even looking up.

Gertrude dropped the mug she was holding. "I'm sorry, what? I live here!"

Craklinne's goggles obscured her eyes. "Not anymore, you don't. We'll be removing the stone sanctum at the center of this building. It's impeding completion of the project."

Gertrude hissed. “Does the Oculus know? Did they okay this? What project could ever be important enough to warrant the destruction of an elemental sanctum?"

The fae slowly removed her goggles, folding her fins down in a perfect display of cool indifference, as two ridgebacks entered the sanctum. "Ah, there you are." She turned back to the pearlcatcher. "Assistant Magister Gertrude, my associates will see you out. I encourage you to go along quietly, they'll be sure to see to your every need." As Gertrude was escorted out of her home, Chief Storm Engineer Craklinne resumed her inspection of the sanctum.

"This will be the most grand reactor ever constructed."







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