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On Spells and Society, or how 5e spells completely change everyone's lives.
Today i have a confession to make: i'm a little bit of a minmaxer. And honestly, i think that's a pretty desirable trait in a DM. The minmaxer knows the rules, and exploits them to maximum efficiency. "But wait, what does that have to do with spell use in society?" - someone, probably. Well, the thing is that humans are absolutely all about minmaxing. There's a rule in the universe that reads "gas expands when hot", and suddenly we have steam engines (or something like that, i'm a political scientist not an engineer). A rule says 1+1 = 2, and suddenly we have calculus, computers and all kinds of digital stuff that runs on math. Sound is energy? Let's convert that shit into electricity, run it through a wire and turn it back into sound on the other side. Bruh. Science is just minmaxing the laws of nature. Humanity in real life is just a big bunch of munchkins, and it should be no different in your setting. And that is why minmaxing magic usage is something societies as a whole would do, specially with some notable spells. Today i will go in depth on how and why each of these notable mentions has a huge impact on a fantasy society. We'll go from lowest level to highest, keeping in mind that the lower level a spell the more common it should be to find someone who has it, so often a level 2-3 spell will have more impact than a level 9 spell. Mending (cantrip). Repair anything in one minute. Your axe lost its edge? Tore your shirt? Just have someone Mend it. Someone out there is crying "but wait! Not every village has a wizard!" and while that is true, keep in mind any High Elf knows a cantrip, as can any Variant Human. A single "mender" could replace a lot of the work a smith, woodworker or seamstress does, freeing their time to only work on making new things rather than repair old ones. Prestidigitation (cantrip). Clean anything in six seconds. Committed axe murders until the axe got blunt, and now there's blood everywhere? Dog shit on your pillow out of spite? Someone walked all over the living room with muddy boots? Just Prestidigitate it away. This may look like a small thing, but its actually huge when you apply it to laundry. Before washing machines were a thing housewives had to spend several hours a week washing them manually, and with Prestidigitation you can just hire someone to get it done in a few minutes. A single "magic cleaner" can attend to several dozen homes, if not hundreds, thus freeing several hours of the time of dozens of women. Fun fact: there's an interesting theory that says feminism only existed because of laundry machines and similar devices. Women found themselves having more free time, which they used to read and socialize. Educated women with more contacts made for easy organization of political movements, and the fact men were now able to do "the women's work" by pushing a button meant men were less opposed to losing their housewives' labor. Having specialized menders and magic cleaners could cause a comparable revolution in a fantasy setting, and help explain why women have a similar standing to men even in combat occupations such as adventuring. Healing in general (1st-2nd level). This one is fairly obvious. A commoner has 4 hit points, that means just about any spell is a full heal to the average person. That means most cuts, stab wounds, etc. can be solved by the resident cleric. Even broken bones that would leave you in bed for months can be solved in a matter of seconds as soon as the holy man arrives. But that's nothing compared to the ability to cure diseases. While the only spell that can cure diseases is Lesser Restoration, which is second level, a paladin can do it much more easily with just a Lay on Hands. This means if one or two people catch a disease it can just be eradicated with a touch. However doing that comes with a cost. If everyone is instantly expunged of illness, the populace does not build up their immune systems. Regular disease becomes less common, sure, but whenever it is reintroduced (by, say, immigrants or contact with less civilized humanoids) it can spread like wildfire, afflicting people so fast that no amount of healers will have the magic juice to deal with it. Diseases become rare, plagues become common. Continual Flame (2nd). Ok, this one is a topic i love and could easily be its own post. There's an article called "Why the Falling Cost of Light Matters", which goes in detail about how man went from chopping wood for fire, to using animal fat for candles, then other oils, whale oil, kerosene, then finally incandescent light bulbs, and more recently LED lights. Each of these leaps is orders of grandeur more efficient than the previous one, to the point that the cost of light today is about 500,000 times cheaper than it was for for a caveman. And until the early 1900s the only way mankind knew of making light was to set things on fire. Continual Flame on the other hand allows you to turn 50gp worth of rubies and a 2nd level spell slot into a torch that burns forever. In a society that spends 60 hours of labor to be able to generate 140 minutes of light, this is a huge game changer. This single spell, which i am 99% sure was just created as an excuse for why the dungeon is lit despite going for centuries without maintenance, allows you to have things like public lighting. Even if you only add a new "torchpost" every other week or month sooner or later you'll be left with a neatly lit city, specially if the city has had thousands of years in which to gather the rubies and light them up. And because the demand of rubies becomes so important, consider how governments would react. Lighting the streets is a public service, if its strategically relevant to make the city safer at night, would that not warrant some restrictions on ruby sales? Perhaps even banning the use of rubies in jewelry? Trivia: John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in history, gained his wealth selling kerosene. Kerosene at the time was used to light lamps. Gasoline was invented much later, when Rockefeller tasked a bunch of scientists to come up with a use for some byproducts of the kerosene production. This illustrates how much money is to be had in the lighting industry, and you could even have your own Rockefeller ruby baron in your game. I shall call him... Dohn J. Stonebreaker. Perfect name for a mining entrepreneur. Whether the ruby trade ends up a monopoly under the direct supervision of the king or a free market, do keep in mind that Continual Flame is by far the most efficient way of creating light. Gentle Repose (2nd). Cast it on a corpse, and it stays preserved for 10 days. This has many potential uses, from preserving foodstuffs (hey, some rare meats are expensive enough to warrant it) to keeping the bodies of old rulers preserved. Even if a ruler died of old age and cannot be resurrected, the body could be kept "fresh" out of respect/ceremony. Besides, it keeps the corpse from becoming undead. Skywrite (2nd). Ok, this one is mostly a gag. While the spell can be used by officials to make official announcements to the populace, such as new laws or important news, i like to just use it for spam. I mean, its a ritual spell that writes a message on the sky; what else would people use it for? Imagine you show up in a city, and there's half a dozen clouds reading "buy at X, we have what you need", "get your farming supplies over at Joe's store" or "vote Y for the city council". The possibilities are endless, and there's no way the players can expect it. Just keep in mind that by RAW the spell can only do words, meaning no images. No Patrick, "8===D" is not a word. Zone of Truth (2nd). This one is too obvious. Put all suspects of a crime into a ZoT, wait a couple minutes to make sure they fail the save, then ask each one if he did it. Sure its not a perfect system, things like the Ring of Mind Shielding still exist, but it's got a better chance of getting the right guy than most medieval justice systems. And probably more than a few contemporary ones. All while taking only a fraction of the time. More importantly, with all the average crimes being handled instantly, the guards and investigators have more time to properly investigate the more unusual crimes that might actually involve a Thought Shield, Ring of Mind Shielding or a level 17 Mastermind. There is a human rights argument against messing with people's minds in any way, which is why this may not be practiced in every kingdom. But there are definitely some more lawful societies that would use ZoT on just about every crime. Why swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth when you can just stand in a zone of truth? Another interesting use for ZoT is oaths. When someone is appointed into an office, gets to a high rank in the military or a guild, just put them in a ZoT while they make their oath to stand for the organization's values and yadda yadda. Of course they can be corrupted later on, but at least you make sure they're honest when they are sworn in. Sending (3rd). Sending is busted in so many ways. The more "vanilla" use of it is to just communicate over long distances. We all know that information is important, and that sometimes getting information a whole day ahead can lead to a 40% return on a massive two-year investment. Being able to know of invasions, monsters, disasters, etc. without waiting days or weeks for a courier can be vital for the survival of a nation. Another notable example is that one dude who ran super fast for a while to be the first to tell his side of a recent event. But the real broken thing here is... Sending can Send to any creature, on any plane; the only restriction being "with which you are familiar". In D&D dead people just get sent to one of the afterlife planes, meaning that talking to your dead grandfather would be as simple as Sending to him. Settling inheritance disputes was never easier! Before moving on to the next point let me ask you something: Is a cleric familiar with his god? Is a warlock familiar with his patron? Speak With Dead (3rd). Much like Sending, this lets you easily settle disputes. Is the senate/council arguing over a controversial topic? Just ask the beloved hero or ruler from 200 years ago what he thinks on the subject. As long his skeleton still has a jaw (or if he has been kept in Gentle Repose), he can answer. This can also be used to ask people who killed them, except murderers also know this. Plan on killing someone? Accidentally killed someone? Make sure to inutilize the jaw. Its either that, being so stealthy the victim can't identify you, or being caught. Note on spell availability. Oh boy. No world-altering 4th level spells for some reason, and suddenly we're playing with the big boys now. Spells up to 3rd level are what I'd consider "somewhat accessible", and can be arranged for a fee even for regular citizens. For instance the vanilla Priest statblock (MM348) is a 5th level cleric, and the standard vanilla Druid (MM346) a 4th level druid. Spells of 5th level onward will be considered something only the top 1% is able to afford, or large organizations such as guilds, temples or government. Dream (5th). I was originally going to put Dream along with Sending and Telepathy as "long range communication", but decided against it due to each of them having unique uses. And when it comes to Dream, it has the unique ability of allowing you to put your 8 hours of sleep to good use. A tutor could hire someone to cast Dream on him, thus allowing him to teach his student for 8 hours at any distance. This is a way you could even access hermits that live in the middle of nowhere or in secluded monasteries. Very wealthy families or rulers would be willing to pay a good amount of money to make sure their heirs get that extra bit of education. Its like online classes, but while you sleep! Another interesting use is for cheating. Know a princess or queen you like? She likes you back? Her dad put 400 trained soldiers between you? No problemo! Just find a 9th level Bard, Warlock or Wizard, but who am i kidding, of course it'll be a bard. And that bard is probably you. Now you have 8 hours to do whatever you want, and no physical evidence will be left. Raise Dead (5th). Few things matter more in life than death. And the ability to resurrect people has a huge impact on society. The impact is so huge that this topic needs topics of its own. First, diamond monopoly. Remember what i said about how Continual Flame would lead to controlled ruby sales due to its strategic value? This is the same principle, but a hundred times stronger. Resurrection is a huge strategic resource. It makes assassinations harder, can be used to bring back your officials or highest level soldiers over and over during a war, etc. This means more authoritarian regimes would do everything within their power to control the supply and stock of diamonds. Which in turn means if anyone wants to have someone resurrected, even in times of peace, they'll need to call in a favor, do a quest, grease some hands... Second, resurrection insurance. People hate risks. That's why insurance is such a huge industry, taking up about 15% of the US GDP. People insure their cars, houses... even their lives. Resurrection just means "life insurance" is taken more literally. This makes even more sense when you consider how expensive resurrection is: nobody can afford it in one go, but if you pay a little every month or year you can save up enough to have it done when the need arises. This is generally incompatible with the idea of a State-run monopoly over diamonds, but that just means different countries within a setting can take different approaches. To make things easier, i even used some microeconomics to make a sheet in my personal random generators to calculate the price of such a service. Just head to the "Insurance" tab and fill in the information relative to your setting. With actual life insurance resurrection can cost as little as 5gp a year for humans or 8sp a year for elves, making resurrection way more affordable than it looks. Also, do you know why pirates wore a single gold earring? It was so that if your body washes up on the shore whoever finds it can use the money to arrange a proper burial. Sure there's a risk of the finder taking it and walking away, but the pirates did it anyway. With resurrection in play, might as well just wear a diamond earring instead and hope the finder is nice enough to bring you back. I got so carried away with the whole insurance thing i almost forgot: the possibility of resurrection also changes how murders are committed. If you want someone dead but resurrection exists, you have to remove the vital organs. Decapitation would be far more common. Sure resurrection is still possible, but it requires higher level spells or Reincarnate, which has... quirks. As a result it should be very obvious when someone was killed by accident or an overreaction, and when someone was specifically out to kill the victim. Scrying (5th). This one is somewhat obvious, in that everyone and their mother knows it helps finding people. But who needs finding? Well, that would be those who are hiding. The main use i see for this spell, by far, is locating escaped criminals. Just collect a sample of hair or blood when arresting someone (or shipping them to hard labor which is way smarter), and if they escape you'll be almost guaranteed to successfully scry on them. A similar concept to this is seen in the Dragon Age series. If you're a mage the paladins keep a sample of your blood in something called a phylactery, and that can be used to track you down. There's even a quest or two about mages trying to destroy their phylacteries before escaping. Similarly, if you plan a jailbreak it would be highly beneficial to destroy the blood/hair sample first. As a matter of fact i can even see a thieves guild hiring a low level party to take out the sample while the professional infiltrators get the prisoner out. Keep in mind both events must be done at the same time, otherwise the guards will just collect a new sample or would have already taken it to the wizard. But guards aren't the only ones with resources. A loan shark could keep blood samples of his debtors, a mobster can keep one of those who owe him favors, etc. And the blood is ceremoniously returned only when the debt is fully paid. Teleportation Circle (5th), Transport Via Plants (6th). In other words, long range teleportation. This is such a huge thing that it is hard to properly explain how important it is. Teleportation Circle creates a 10ft. circle, and everyone has one round to get in and appear on the target location. Assuming 30ft. movement that means you can get 192 people through, which is a lot of potential merchants going across any distance. Or 672 people dashing. Math note: A 30ft radius square around a 10ft. diameter square, minus the 4 original squares. Or [(6*2+2)^2]-4 squares of 5ft. each. Hence 192 people. Getting hundreds of merchants, workers, soldiers, etc. across any distance is nothing to scoff at. In fact, it could help explain why PHB item prices are so standardized: Arbitrage is so easy and cheap that price differences across multiple markets become negligible. Unless of course countries start setting up tax collectors outside of the permanent teleportation circles in order to charge tariffs. Transport Via Plants does something very similar but it requires 5ft of movement to go through, which means less people can be teleported. On the other hand it doesn't burn 50gp and can take you to any tree the druid is familiar with, making it nearly impossible for tax collectors to be waiting on the other side. Unfortunately druids tend to be a lot less willing to aid smugglers, so your best bet might be a bard using spells that don't belong to his list. With these methods of long range teleportation not only does trade get easier, but it also becomes possible to colonize or inhabit far away places. For instance if someone finds a gold mine in the antarctic you could set up a mine and bring food and other supplies via teleportation. Major Image (6th level slot). Major Image is a 3rd level spell that creates an illusion over a 20ft cube, complete with image, sound, smell and temperature. When cast with a 6th level slot or higher, it lasts indefinitely. That my friends, is a huge spell. Why get the world's best painter to decorate the ceiling of your cathedral when you can just get an illusion made in six seconds? The uses for decorating large buildings is already good, but remember: we're not restricted to sight. Cast this on a room and it'll always be cool and smell nice. Inns would love that, as would anyone who always sleeps or works in the same room. Desert cities have never been so chill. You can even use an illusion to make the front of your shop seem flashier, while hollering on loop to bring customers in. The only limit to this spell is your imagination, though I'm pretty sure it was originally made just to hide secret passages. Trivia: the ki-rin (VGM163) can cast Major Image as a 6th level spell, at will. It's probably meant to give them fabulous lairs yet all it takes is someone doing the holy horsey a big favor, and it could enchant the whole city in a few hours. Shiniest city on the planet, always at a nice temperature and with a fragrance of lilac, gooseberries or whatever you want. Simulacrum (7th). Spend 12 hours and 1500gp worth of ruby dust, and get a clone of yourself. Notably, each caster can only have one simulacrum, regardless of who the person he cloned is. How this changes the world? By allowing the rich and powerful to be in two places at once. Kings now have a perfect impersonator who thinks just like them. A wealthy banker can run two branches of his company. Etc. This makes life much easier, but also competes with Continual Flame over resources. It also gives "go fuck yourself" a whole new meaning, making the sentence a valid Suggestion. Clone (8th). If there's one spell i despise, its Clone. Wizard-only preemptive resurrection. Touch spell, costs 1.000gp worth of diamonds each time, takes 120 days to come into effect, and creates a copy of the creature that the soul occupies if the original dies. Oh, and the copy can be made younger. Why is it so despicable? Because it makes people effectively immortal. Accidents and assassinations just get you sent to the clone, and old age can be forever delayed because you keep going back to younger versions of yourself. Being a touch spell means the wizard can cast it on anyone he wants. In other words: high level wizards, and only wizards, get to make anyone immortal. That means wizards will inevitably rule any world in which this spell exists. Think about it. Rulers want to live forever. Wizards can make you live forever. Wizards want other stuff, which you must give them if you want to continue being Cloned. Rulers who refuse this deal eventually die, rulers who accept stick around forever. Natural selection makes it so that eventually the only rulers left are those who sold their soul to wizards. Figuratively, i hope. The fact that there are only a handful of wizards out there who are high enough level to cast the spell means its easier for them organize and/or form a cartel or union (cartels/unions are easier to maintain the fewer suppliers are involved). This leads to a dystopian scenario where mages rule, kings are authoritarian pawns and nobody else has a say in anything. Honestly it would make for a fun campaign in and of itself, but unless that's specifically what you're going for it'll just derail everything else. Oh, and Clone also means any and all liches are absolute idiots. Liches are people who turned themselves into undead abominations in order to gain eternal life at the cost of having to feed on souls. They're all able to cast 9th level wizard spells, so why not just cast an 8th level one and keep undeath away? Saves you the trouble of going after souls, and you keep the ability to enjoy food or a day in the sun. Demiplane (8th). Your own 30ft. room of nothingness. Perfect place for storage and a DM's nightmare given how once players have access to it they'll just start looting furniture and such. Oh the horror. But alas, infinite storage is not the reason this is a broken spell. No sir. Remember: you can access someone else's demiplane. That means a caster in city 1 can put things into a demiplane, and a caster in city 2 can pull them out of any surface. But wait, there's more! There's nothing anywhere saying you can't have two doors to the same demiplane open at once. Now you're effectively opening a portal between two places, which stays open for a whole hour. But wait, there's even more! Anyone from any plane can open a door to your neat little demiplane. Now we can get multiple casters from multiple planes connecting all of those places, for one hour. Sure this is a very expensive thing to do since you're having to coordinate multiple high level individuals in different planes, but the payoff is just as high. We're talking about potential integration between the most varied markets imaginable, few things in the multiverse are more valuable or profitable. Its a do-it-yourself Sigil. One little plot hook i like about demiplanes is abandoned/inactive ones. Old wizard/warlock died, and nobody knows how to access his demiplanes. Because he's at least level 15 you just know there's some good stuff in there, but nobody can get to it. Now the players have to find a journal, diary, stored memory or any other way of knowing enough about the demiplane to access it. True Polymorph (9th). True Polymorph. The spell that can turn any race into any other race, or object. And vice-versa. You can go full fairy godmother and turn mice into horses. For a spell that can change anything about one's body it would not be an unusual ruling to say it can change one's sex. At the very least it can turn a man into a chair, and the chair into a woman (or vice-versa of course). But honestly, that's just the tip of the True Polymorph iceberg. Just read this more carefully: > You transform the creature into a different creature, the creature into a nonmagical object, or the object into a creature This means you can turn a rock or twig into a human. A fully functional human with, as far as the rules go, a soul. You can create life. But wait, there's more! Nothing there says you have to turn the target into a known creature on an existing creature. The narcissist bard wants to create a whole race of people who look like him? True Polymorph. A player wants to play a weird ass homebrew race and you have no idea how it would fit into the setting? True Polymorph. Wizard needs a way to quickly populate a kingdom and doesn't want to wait decades for the subjects to grow up? True Polymorph. Warlock must provide his patron 100 souls in order to free his own? True Polymorph. The sorcerer wants to do something cool? Fuck that guy, sorcerers don't get any of the fun high level spells; True Poly is available to literally every arcane caster but the sorcerer. Note: what good is Twinned Spell if all the high level twinnable spells have been specifically made unavailable to sorcerers? Do keep in mind however that this brings a whole new discussion on human rights. Does a table have rights? Does it have rights after being turned into a living thing? If it had an owner, is it now a slave? Your country will need so many new laws, just to deal with this one spell. People often say that high level wizards are deities for all intents and purposes. This is the utmost proof of that. Clerics don't get to create life out of thin air, wizards do. The cleric worships a deity, the wizard is the deity. Conclusion. Intelligent creatures not only can game the system, but it is entirely in character for them to do so. I'll even argue that if humanoids don't use magic to improve their lives when it's available, you're pushing the suspension of disbelief. With this post i hope to have helped you make more complex and realistic societies, as well as provide a few interesting and unusual plot hooks Lastly, as much as i hate comment begging i must admit i am eager to see what spells other players think can completely change the world. Because at the end of the day we all know that extra d6 damage is not what causes empires to rise and fall, its the utility spells that make the best stories. Edit: Added spell level to all spells, and would like to thank u/kaul_field for helping with finishing touches and being overall a great mod.
27th September – Lady Vago’s Malediction by A.K.M. Beach
In the blackened heart of a cursed forest, a banshee haunts her crumbling castle with lethal screams. Lady Vago is trapped in this place. She cannot fulfill her purpose as a banshee: to warn her loved ones of their deaths and watch over them while they pass. To solve the mystery of her imprisonment, she must sift through the rubble and ruin that surrounds her. By communing with old paintings, broken furniture, and even the stones themselves, she rediscovers who she was in life. Before she was Lady Vago, she was Rovena Stoddard, a sharp-witted horse merchant’s daughter that caught the eye of a charming baron. Lord Kalsten Vago’s life as a wandering knight was over, but it inspired visions of a better life for his most vulnerable subjects. Rovena was far less afraid of bold change than his staunch and loyal steward, who saw her presence as a threat to Lord Kalsten’s success. Love and shared dreams alone wouldn’t overcome the controversy of the couple’s hasty and unequal union, as well as the trials of governing a fledgling barony—Rovena knew that. What she failed to recognize was the deeper darkness taking root in Vago lands and hearts… Every memory of what Rovena loved is a reminder of what she lost, but she cannot let grief halt her search. Devoted spectres of ash are begging their lady for an end to their torment, and she will not let their agony–or her own–go unanswered anymore. Check it out on Goodreads. --
30th September – The Devil You Know ANTHOLOGY by Various Authors
These heroes might not be angels, but you know what they say…it’s always better to trust the devil you know… Looking for a typical hero tale? Keep looking. These twelve tales explore the grittier side of what it means to make life’s hardest choices and let your reputation pay the price. From back-alleys and ancient cities to graveyards and castle walls, these trouble-makers are out for themselves…or are they? Check it out on Goodreads. --
30th September – Mage Prince (The Mage Born Chronicles #3) by Kayleigh Nicol
Following the fall of the mistress mage and the untimely death of the old king, King Vanikolanestra and Mage Prince Jereshin work tirelessly to end the slavery of the mages of Zarapheth and restore magic to the realm. Old noble families are restored, the mage guild is revived and reparations are made against the old king’s crimes. All seems peaceful as Reshi seeks to set aside his crown in favor of Niko’s child and the upcoming heir ceremony. But as ambassadors from foreign nations flock to the capital to witness the ceremony, latent foes begin to emerge. A band of rebel mages vow to wage war unless a monarch of magical blood sits on the Zaraphethan throne. A foreign delegation from a mysterious kingdom arrive with a hidden agenda of murder and magic. And ancient beings stir beneath the very stones, gaining strength from Laurana’s final bargain. Enemies within and without seek to set Niko and Reshi against each other as the rhythm of war threatens the kingdom once more. Check it out on Goodreads. --
1st October – The Second Expedition (A Thousand Li #4) by Tao Wong
Even the great may fall. Wu Ying’s idle winter, one filled with training and recovery, is throw awry when his Master and Elder Yang return, injured. The Three Seasons poison fills Master Cheng’s veins, slowly killing the powerful Elder. His only hope – a rare antidote. But the ingredients for such an antidote are scarce and located in the deepest wilds. Together, Wu Ying and Elder Yang take it upon themselves to embark on a Second Expedition to acquire the necessary materials. It would be a dangerous journey through the State of Wei normally, but in the shadows, enemies await to finish the job. Wu Ying is once again pitched against dark forces as a Sect war looms. Check it out on Goodreads. --
1st October - We Men of Ash and Shadow (The Vanguard Chronicles #1) by HL Tinsley
Amidst the gas lamp shadows former soldier-turned-mercenary John Vanguard hunts criminals at the behest of his corrupt employer, Captain Felix Sanquain. Shamed by his deserter past and seeking to make amends for his many misdeeds, a chance encounter with Tarryn Leersac – a skilled young would-be-assassin fallen from the graces of high society – leads Vanguard to become an unlikely mentor. Charged with hunting down the killer of two guards left washed up on the banks of the canal, the further Vanguard delves into the underbelly of the city the more he finds himself entangled in a web of secrets and lies. A prominent aristocrat is missing. Crime lords, con men and harlots run amok and the city teeters on the brink of another revolution. With his already precarious reputation hanging by a thread, Vanguard must piece together how and why the last war came to pass, find a way to earn redemption for his mistakes and come to terms with the past in a city where few survive, and even fewer can be trusted. Check it out on Goodreads. --
1st October - Arcanist (Spellmonger #12) by Terry Mancour
A Belligerent Spring Being the most powerful wizard in the world can be a challenge. After defending his fledgling realm against the undead lord Gaja Katar all winter long, Count Minalan of the Magelaw faces a new threat in the spring: the Nemovort Shakathet, favored of Korbal, leading the mighty hordes out of the Penumbra. This time Minalan faces a real strategist, who drives his armies with purpose and efficiency. This time, the road to war leads through Megelin Castle and the vulnerable lands to the south of Vanador. This time, old enemies become allies, and old friends become valuable assets. Just another month in the life of the Spellmonger. War, however, is not what is preoccupying Minalan; the knowledge of the end of the world is. As he broods on existential issues and debates with various goddesses and Alka Alon about Calidore’s fate, he must overcome his own fears and anxieties and impose order on the situation before everything goes into the chamberpot. The solution? Hire an Arcanist, a specialist in the obscure and trivial, to organize and investigate the many matters Minalan has to manage and bring them to order. A busy wizard needs good organization to get it all done, after all, so Minalan hires Heeth the Butler to dive into the details while he prepares to fight the darkness. That buys the Spellmonger time to hunt down spies, taunt the Count of Nion into invading the Magelaw, lend aid to the sister realm of the Wilderlaw, who face their own war against the darkness, indulge his wife’s desire for cheesemaking, make staffing decisions, ferret out a plot to betray him by one of his vassals, and occasionally lead a special forces squadron of high-powered warmagi into battle, which is convenient. He also gets help from a wisecracking bard with a talent for espionage, an ancient intelligence who is suddenly mobile, and an insistent cow goddess, but each new ally is fraught with problems of their own. An obsessive know-it-all with a rare talent for obscure trivia is the right man in the right job. Who knew that the Spellmonger just needed an . . . ARCANIST! Check it out on Goodreads. --
3rd October – Children (The Ten Worlds #1) by Bjorn Larssen
Magni never wanted to be like his father, a murderous, absent, cheating alcoholic: Thor – the feared and beloved God of thunder. When Thor destroys everything and everyone his son knows and loves, Magni vows to stop the violence. His dream is to bring peace and prosperity to the Nine Worlds, then settle down with the man he loves. But is it possible to remain good in a place this bad? How do you escape cruelty in a universe built on it, or the shadow of your father when everyone calls you by his name? Maya knows she’s a failure and a disappointment to her foster-parents. How could a child raised by Freya and Freyr – Goddess of love and God of sex – have no interest in the greatest of pleasures? Obviously, it couldn’t be the torture they subjected her to, or treating her as a tool that might someday be useful. Maya, her rage at their games more powerful than she knows, wants freedom to pursue her own destiny. But how do you forge your own life away from your God-parents when you’re nothing more than human? Check it out on Goodreads. --
5th October – Plight of Madness (The Madness Wars #3) by Jesse Teller
The Drine legions achieve their greatest victory since launching the war, and Tienne seems out of heroes. Simon Bard has fled, the ancient Despelora is missing, and Peter Redfist’s men have scattered. Just when it looks like Rextur will win this war, rumor of an old legend surfaces. Tienne has protectors who should be long-dead. The Sons of Despelora have risen, and the Madness of Drine is not prepared. Check it out on Goodreads. --
6th October – A Wizard’s Sacrifice (The Woern Saga #2) by A.M. Justice
Conquering Fate Takes Sacrifice. Victoria of Ourtown believes two things: that the bright, wandering star in the heavens is an abandoned spacecraft which brought her ancestors to this world and that destiny and the will of gods are nonsense. Vic used to scoff at stories of wizards too, until she acquired their powers. Once a warrior, now a secret wizard, she just wants to live an ordinary life and find a way to atone for the mistakes she’s made. Ashel of Narath knows that the wandering star is the god who created humanity, but this difference of opinion doesn’t stop him from loving Vic. All that keeps them apart is a thousand miles and a tragic loss. Lornk Korng needs Vic and Ashel to execute his plans for conquest. The fact both want him dead is but a trifling snag in his schemes. A bigger problem are the world’s indigenous aliens and an ancient enemy whose victory could wipe out humankind. As plots and counterplots clash across time, Vic and Ashel must choose their allies carefully, or risk losing not only each other but everything they know. Check it out on Goodreads. --
6th October – Wintersteel (Cradle #8) by Will Wight
As the Uncrowned King tournament reaches its final rounds, tensions between the competing factions are higher than ever. The outcome may determine the power balance throughout the rest of the world. Each Monarch schemes to seize any advantage they can…while far away, a Dreadgod stirs. When the tournament ends, the Dreadgod will rise. Whether it will be driven back into the sea or allowed to rampage depends on the Monarchs. And on which of them is left standing. Check it out on Goodreads. --
9th October – Truth and Other Lies (The Nine World Chronicles #1) by Lyra Wolf
The Destroyer is coming to Asgard. All will fall. All will burn… Loki thrives on danger, but when he’s struck by a painful vision of ash and death he knows his fun has run out. The Destroyer is real and isn’t taking prisoners. Refusing to have his life obliterated by some stuffy prophecy, all Loki wants is to save Asgard. But the gods stand in his way. They don’t trust the “Trickster.” To prove himself, he must return to the side of the man he wanted to forget. Odin, his blood brother and a first rate con. When he meets a mortal woman, his plans hit a snag. Sigyn is delightfully stubborn and quick with a blade. She also, inexplicably, possesses a divine element found only in a god. As Loki falls for her, he never expects it to fulfill the prophecy threatening all their lives. Forced to choose between betraying Odin and protecting the woman he loves, Loki must face all he never wanted. …But the truth changes everything. Check it out on Goodreads. --
9th October – Seer’s Light (Tales of Tuatha book 1) by Whitney McKinnon
A phantom rider in the night. A magic bracelet hidden below the earth. An alabaster throne in a fiery palace. If you stumble upon a well-kept secret in the woods, you can bet that life is bound to become…well, otherworldly. Sage Sallow is a quiet girl with a mission. Determined to solve her brother’s mysterious disappearance, Sage soon discovers more than she could have ever dreamed of in the off-limits woods behind Manorport Academy. But when a seance goes awry one stormy Halloween night, dark forces arrive with an agenda of their own. And portals that were once closed are now open. It’s up to Sage and her magical new friends to find her brother— and to save more than just one world. Magic? Easy. But when you’re the owner of a powerful torc with godlike powers, things can get a little complicated. Check it out on Goodreads. --
10th October – A Ritual of Flesh (The Dead Sagas #2) by Lee C. Conley
As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone. Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son. Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more. In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night. The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead. Check it out on Goodreads. --
15th October – Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar
They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers. Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry. To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing. When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars. Check it out on Goodreads. --
19th October – The Thunder Heist (Twisted Seas #1) by Jed Herne
A relentless thief. An impossible heist. Meet Kef Cutmark. Pirate, monster-slayer, scourge of the Twisted Seas. After a lifetime of running from her past, she’s returned to Zorith – a tangled jungle of a thousand boats, all lashed together to make a floating city-ship. Zorith is powered by a device that draws energy from lightning. Mysterious, unique, and locked in an unbreachable tower, it’s the envy of Zorith’s rivals. And Kef? She’s here to steal it. If she can take the device and cripple Zorith, maybe she’ll find justice for all the hurt the city has caused her. But with an unreliable thieving crew, hunters closing in, and her past bearing down upon her, failure looks more likely. And if she fails, she’ll never find peace again. Check it out on Goodreads. --
20th October – The Chanter’s Blade (Bakunawa Rising #1) by A.A. Lee
The moon-eating serpent is coming. Tasked to complete the seven blades, Makanas has traversed many lands, spending countless gold and waging wars. But when the last chief he has to face isn’t blinded by gold nor fear the blade, Makanas employed his last weapon—deceit to infiltrate his household. Just when he thinks his plan is going well, colonizers who now rule the land uncover the chief’s traitorous plan. Lin-ay, the chief’s secluded daughter awakens the blade to protect her family—something Makanas has trained for and failed. To defeat the giant moon eating serpent, he must get Lin-ay to the bolo warrior village, but first, she must trust him. Check it out on Goodreads. --
20th October – Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau
Jaaros Oonai, magnate, visionary, and master of coin, doesn’t muse about whether the glass is half empty or half full—only about ways to fill it. Jespar Dal’Varek, drifter, mercenary, and master of avoidance, doesn’t muse at all. He’d rather just drink the damn wine. Two lives that could not be more different intertwine when a strange contract leads Jespar to the tropical island empire of Kilay, the wealthiest nation of the Civilized World. The mission turns out to be as bizarre as it is lucrative: Jaaros Oonai, the country’s merchant king, knows a secret that could stop a catastrophe, but he has fallen into an inexplicable coma. Together with an ex-priestess and a psychic, Jespar must enter Oonai’s dreams and find this secret. What should have been a fresh start quickly turns into a nightmare, as Jespar slides into a spiral of disturbing dreams, political intrigue, and clashing ideals, where not only the fate of Kilay but his own sanity are at stake. It’s not long before he learns that sometimes only a spider’s thread divides the sleeping and the awoken. And that there’s no greater enemy than one’s own mind. Check it out on Goodreads. --
22nd October – The Soul’s Curse (Astrarose #1) by Cole T. Adams
In the land long forgotten, many secret plots of cultists, Kings, and Gods now cast long shadows across the four great kingdoms. Broken treaties and assassinations will only be the beginning as dark magic creeps beyond sight. Enraged beasts are being manipulated, while others cast curses and steal the very essence of life. As these schemes begin to come to fruition, Aeric – a young warrior- becomes entangled in the web of misfortune and adventure. Now he must train in the way of the elites of old to challenge the evil within. Joined by new friends, Aeric will travel the lands of Astrarose, battling many of the foul creatures and enemies that plague the world around him. He will soon find out that unraveling the king’s plans has dire consequences. Check it out on Goodreads. --
26th October – A Queen’s Command (Legend of Tal#2) by J.D.L. Rosell
The legend of Tal Harrenfel lives on, and a new song spreads across the Westreach. But as a devil inhabits Garin and old enemies and old flames haunt Tal, their victory promises to be short-lived… Tal, Garin, and their companions survived the traps of one Extinguished at great cost, but their troubles have only begun. Garin having learned why Tal took him under his wing, the secret has broken them apart, even as circumstance and need force them to travel together. The roads to the elven realm of Gladelyl, once the safest in the Westreach, are rife with danger. And Tal is bound to the commands of the Elf Queen he cannot trust. Upon reaching Elendol, the capital of Gladelyl, they find their troubles go further. With the gates to the East open, Elendol is in turmoil. The nobles strive for greater power, while the underclass and Eastern immigrants seek new rights. And all the while, an ancient enemy strives to turn them all against each other… Now Garin must come to terms with his devil, and Tal with his challenges both past and present, before civil war tears Elendol apart… Check it out on Goodreads. --
27th October – The Alchemyst’s Mirror by Liz Delton
Petra and Maisie Everturn just want to run their family’s tea shop, but when their explorer brother Jiordan goes missing while looking for an alchemycal artifact, none of them are safe. The sisters must enlist the help of another explorer in order to find Jiordan or the artifact—before the mysterious alchemyst society finds them first. However, when one of the sisters stumbles into the clutches of the most dangerous alchemyst in the city, the race to unravel the clues becomes desperate. And when they discover the truth about the artifact, their quest to infiltrate the alchemyst’s secret society becomes a matter of life and death. Check it out on Goodreads. --
28th October – Past Legends: An Arthurian Fantasy (The Camelot Immortals #1) by A.F. Stewart
An immortal witch of Camelot. A looming magical crisis. A destiny she’s willing to reject. All Nimue wants is a peaceful life, but her past won’t leave her alone. And when her friend Iseult brings news that her old rival Morgawse has been abducted, an impending catastrophe lands on her doorstep. And worse, the wizard responsible is Nimue’s ex, Nostradamus. Dragged into another adventure, Nimue confronts her former flame as he wages a desperate quest, only to be thrust deeper into an escalating crisis. As Nimue struggles to unravel what is happening, she discovers dark secrets that threaten the heart of magical energy. Now it’s her fate to rescue magic for every witch and wizard, including her friends. Trouble is, she wants no part of being magic’s saviour. Will Nimue step up as a champion? Or will she let the magical world die? Check it out on Goodreads. --
31st October – A Darkness Beckons (Hollow Fate #2) by Todd Herzman
A seeker has a holy mission, to cleanse the Kharleon Empire of magic—and then the world. On the island of Gailopas, Ella wakes from a coma to find that not only has her sixteenth birthday passed in her sleep, but she’s also lost her powers. She has her family back, and together, they defeated the God King. But without her magic, she feels lost. While Ruben and Jesriel sail to the Albion Dominion, to defeat any blood mages left over after the God King’s demise, Ella and Marius journey to the Tahali mountains. They travel to the monks in search of aid, and—Ella hopes—a way to get her powers back. On their way, they pass through Hirlcrest, the capital of the Kharleon Empire, where they find a peaceful monk being attacked by a seeker. The seeker vows to wage war on the Tahali monastery, and it’s up to Ella and Marius to save the monks. Check it out on Goodreads. --
31st October – The Devil’s Day (Lucky Devil #3) by Megan Mackie
You can always find help at the Lucky Devil. Rune Leveau—emerging Talent and one-time corporate prisoner—knew that better than anyone. She’d rebuilt her life at the Lucky Devil bar, with her Aunt Maddie’s help. Now, in her aunt’s memory, Rune continues that legacy. But when it is time for the Devil to collect his due, Rune could lose it all… With the days counting down until she must defend her claim to the House of Magdalene—including the bar—Rune and her partner, the cyber-spy St. Benedict, hunt for a way to defeat her challenger, the fire Talent, Abraxas. Instead, they uncover long-kept secrets. But do they hold the key? No matter what, the Devil will have its Day… Check it out on Goodreads. -- Space for more…
Reiterate Q2 '22 EPS Est. $0.88 vs $0.38 concensus
The Intel news just confirms what has long been suspected. Now that Intel has come clean that 7nm is delayed until 2023 (at best) here are the consequences:
Forgot to mention, this is Intels Bulldozer. Its going to be very rough for them going forward. But unlike with AMD and Zen, we are too close to the end of Moore's Road for them to make a comeback.
Customers will be flocking to Epyc. Datacenter CPUs get recycled every 3 years and with Intel 7nm coming out in 3 years at best, datacenters will switch to Epyc NOW to the extent possible. THERE WILL BE A SHORTAGE OF MILAN CHIPS. YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. It will be far cheaper for them to make the switch now into Rome and know that with the coming Milan and Genoa they will be on the leading edge for the next 3 years. Rome is better than any Xeon for the next 3 years and Milan even moresso. The only think holding Epyc back right now is covid. But hopefully that passes in early 2021 with the vaccines and 2021 should be gangbusters.
I hope Lisa is smart and prices Milan based on the demand not "to be nice." Don't get cocky and engage in monopolistic Intel level pricing, but targeting 33% operating margin (up from 25%) is very reasonable. AMD should be rewarded for the risks of betting the firm on Zen and having the foresight others lacked. You will soon have to pay taxes again so ultimately that leaves 23% net margin (intel is running at 28-30% net margin).
The future looks even brighter. In 2023, TSMC 3nm will be targeting 300mtmm2. This compares to INTC 10nm at 100mtmm2 and 7nm at 200mtmm2 (if they can even get them yielding). It is likely that 7nm won't even be ready in 2023. 200% density advantage. Let that sink in.
AMD has its sights locked squarely on NVDA by integrating x86 CPU and GPU (not just a tiny APU but big fat GPUs). There is not much NVDA can do to stop this. For the guy who said "AMD will never be a threat to NVDA" lets revisit in 2 years.
Radeon will go from red-headed stepchild to a crown jewel. Genoa will be the catalyst.
Radeon gaming will become dominant. Not only will Radeon sport a superior node over Nvidia and hence have equal or better performance, the consoles ensure that games will be optimized for Radeon.
At some point in the not too distant future, AMD will make $5 EPS. They will be the only manufacturer of leading edge CPUs. There will be a shortage of their chips. OEMs will invest heavily in AMD systems. The horse is about to leave the barn.
For those of you who say Lisa should not be given so much credit I think you are great Monday morning quarterbacks. Everything looks easy in hindsight. But as a manager you get faced with thousands of decisions a year, most very small and a few are very big. You need to get the big macro decisions right and most of the small ones as well or else they accumulate into big problems. But the big ones are the most difficult. I can make a separate post about how Lisa has guided AMD into making the right big decisions over the past 6 years and how she could have easily made the wrong ones. But you just need to look at the stumbles of INTC and soon to be apparent NVDA to see how difficult it is to be a great leader. NVDA have really screwed themselves with arrogance (very common downfall). Their behavior has left them few, if any, friends and many will enjoy their comeuppance. I suspect Jensen rules by fear which is fine as long as the stock price goes up as he will retain loyalty of his employees. But once the stock price heads south, the knives will come out. As long as Lisa & Co stay humble and united (looking at you Raja), they will simply execute and soon come to dominate silicon.
Next big decision for Lisa is to reinvest some of those profits aggressively into software to support their hardware. First class hardware demands first class software (on launch day).
I Read It So You Don't Have To: Little Kids, Big City (by Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen)
Inspired by the overwhelmingly positive response to my previous 'book report' on Ramona Singer's Life on the Ramona Coaster (seriously, thank you all -- truly supporting other women 🙏🙏), I decided to try my hand at writing up yet another of the embarrassing number of Housewives books in my personal collection: Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen's Little Kids, Big City: Tales from a Real House in New York City with Lessons on Life and Love for Your Own Concrete Jungle. After reading just the title of this book, I'm already exhausted. It's pretentiously long and awkwardly phrased while somehow still managing to be entirely devoid of meaning. In other words, a perfect encapsulation of Simon and Alex. The summary on the back cover describes the pair as the "breakout stars" of RHONY, an assessment that I would charitably call 'debatable,' before going on to inform me that I can look forward to "informative and often hair-raising stories of life in the urban jungle," and that "Alex and Simon use their own hard-won experience as a springboard to discuss a host of parenting topics." I anticipate that this content will be quite useful to me, the guardian of four cats that I spoil endlessly and treat like my actual children. One of the pull-quotes on the back cover allegedly comes from our very own Bethenny Frankel. I say 'allegedly' because I refuse to believe that the following passage would ever come out of Bethenny's mouth (or keyboard or whatever):
Alex and Simon don't take themselves too seriously, which seems to be essential to parenting. Their fresh 'he said, she said' perspective on parenting is both humorous and insightful!
Please, take a moment and do your very best to picture mention-it-all, betting-on-horse-races-at-age-five Bethenny unironically using the phrase "fresh 'he said, she said' perspective." To describe Simon van Kempen and Alex McCord. Right, didn't think so. My experience reading Little Kids, Big City started on an unexpected high note when I opened the front cover to find that my copy (purchased used through Better World Books for the low, low price of $5.31 with shipping) had been signed by Ms. you-are-in-high-school-while-I-am-in-Brooklyn herself, Alex McCord! Truly a gift I do not deserve. Samantha and Debbie (whoever and wherever you may be), thank you for your service. I am forever in your debt. Unfortunately, as would soon become painfully clear to me, after starting off on such a promising note, I would have nowhere to go but down. The book, which is written in alternating passages from Alex and Simon, begins its introduction with a chronicle of Alex's "fashionably nomadic" early adulthood. Ever the proto-edgelord, she recalls, "I did all those things our mothers warned us about and had fun doing them." We switch to Simon's perspective to hear the deeply embarrassing story of the couple meeting through a dating app while Simon was on a business trip in New York City. No, there is absolutely nothing embarrassing about meeting someone on a dating app. But there absolutely is something embarrassing about using the profile name "Yetisrule" to meet someone on a dating app. To clarify, this was apparently Alex's username, and I remain hopeful that we will get a more thorough explanation of her connection to the elusive Yeti as this book continues. Alex tells us that, while she and Simon hadn't initially planned to have children, they eventually started to have "clucky feelings." I have never heard this phrase in my entire twenty-five years of life, but based on context clues and also a Google search, I learned that it means they wanted to have a baby. Don't worry, though! As Alex tells us, "You can be eight months pregnant and wear a leather miniskirt." Personally, this is life-changing news -- I had always believed that I couldn't have kids unless I was willing to compromise my 90s goth aesthetic! Maybe I'll rethink this child-free thing after all. The next bit of advice seems like it actually could potentially be sort of helpful. "No one is a good parent all the time -- nor is anyone a bad parent all the time," they reassure the reader. "You can become a parent without losing yourself." Unfortunately, as soon as I catch myself nodding along, the modicum of goodwill I'd built up is promptly trashed by a gag-worthy line from Simon: "If you take nothing away but a wry smile after reading our little tome, then we've done our job." I immediately vow not to smile until I'm finished reading this book. Excuse me, this little tome. The book starts in earnest with Chapter 1: "Does a German Shepherd Need a Birth Plan?" To be perfectly honest, I was not expecting a riddle at this juncture, but I am nevertheless excited to hear Simon and Alex tell us "why childbirth is not an intellectual activity." First, however, we get a passing reference to "Park Slope, home of the ParkSlopeParents.com message board made famous in 2007 with a so-ridiculous-it-got-headlines discussion on gender-specific baby hats and where feminism can be taken to extremes." And despite the lame alarmist allusion to ~*XTREME feminism*~, this line did manage to lead me down an interesting Internet rabbit hole, so thanks for that, I guess? Jesus Christ, I am on PAGE 4 and I am already so done with Simon. Presented without comment:
With the Park Slope OB-GYN, we had the first sonogram and saw the little blip on the screen -- our child-to-be. They say seeing is believing and as nothing was happening inside me, seeing confirmation on the video monitor that indeed my spermatozoa had penetrated and infiltrated one of Alex's ova made me aware that my days as a footloose and fancy-free guy might be coming to an end.
Y'all, I am currently working on my PhD in Molecular Biology. Which, if you were not previously aware, gives me the authority to decree that Simon is never allowed to use the word "spermatozoa" ever again. And so it is. I was about to say that Alex's passages are at least more tolerable, but it appears I spoke too soon.
The stats they quoted referenced a 40 percent cesarean section rate in the city, and I wonder how that can be acceptable? Are we heading toward Brave New World, where babies are scientifically created in petri dishes and gestated in artificial wombs? Oh wait, we're already there. Are we heading towards a Wall-E existence, where we ride around in carts everywhere and do nothing for ourselves so that our bodies break down and we're all fat, oozy blobs drinking protein from a straw? Somebody slap me, please!!
Truly, Alex, it would be my pleasure. As a Type-A person, just reading the story of Alex's first pregnancy and delivery gave me anxiety. She says that she just never really "felt the need to establish a birth plan" and that she "gave in to any craving [she] felt." Don’t worry, though -- "If I had suddenly craved chalk, ecstasy or Elmer's Glue, I'd have thought twice." I feel like there is some symbolism here to unpack (Could the Elmer's Glue be a metaphor for the childlike spirit of connection and unity???). Simon describes himself as "a learn-on-the-job guy" and tells us that he and Alex "failed to attend the last couple of [birthing] classes as by then we both just wanted to let instinct take over when the time came." As someone who has never trusted my instincts even once in my entire life, I cannot relate. Twelve days after his due date, baby François is born. Except it turns out that he actually was born right on time, but Alex "didn't keep regimented track of [her] periods" and miscalculated. What a bummer that modern medicine hasn't advanced to the point where doctors can guide you about that sort of thing. I don't even know what to say about this next bit, but God help me, I still have 215 more pages of this book to go.
Although the final stages of labor were very, very painful, I [Alex] never used our code word (tin can) for "game over, give me drugs." I definitely recommend using a code word, because it was kind of fun to scream, "I want drugs, give me drugs" through a contraction and have the midwife, nurse and Simon all know I wasn't serious. Once he [François] was finally out of my body, I experienced a tsunami of endorphins that was almost orgasmic, and I understand completely the stories other women have written about ecstatic birth. Simon was sitting behind me at the point of birth, and later when we untangled ourselves he discovered he'd actually ejaculated though hadn't felt any of the normal lead-up to that. It may seem distasteful to some, and definitely neither of us was thinking of sex at the time, but with the rush of emotion and my lower nerve endings going crazy, it's not too far a stretch to say that it's a profound experience.
Johan is born two years later, although it's unclear from the text whether either parent reached orgasm during the event. The chapter ends with a top-ten list entitled "10 Things We'll Remember That Happened During Pregnancy." These include useful tidbits like
Best advice I heard: men's genitals grow and change shape regularly, then go back to the way they were before. Don't worry about your female delicate bits being able to retract.
Which is…a lovely sentiment. But one that is slightly undermined by phrasing the first part in the grossest way possible, as well as by the use of the phrase "female delicate bits." I do like the idea that they "retract," however, because I think it's very cool to imagine the vagina as an SUV sunroof. By the grace of God, Chapter 1 comes to a close. In Chapter 2 (titled "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn, What's My Name Again? and Who is This Alien?" -- seriously, were they padding their word count with chapter titles?), we get more questionable parenting advice from the McCord-van Kempens. They glibly dismiss concerns about co-sleeping ("Simon and I both slept with cats and dogs our whole lives without squishing them"), which I honestly would be more annoyed about if I hadn't immediately gone on to read Simon's account of "the midnight race to the 24-hour pharmacy to buy a breast pump as Alex's breasts were seemingly engorged with too much milk and she thought they were about to explode and fly off her chest." As it stands, I'm truly too defeated to care. Again, just to be perfectly clear: no shade to having issues breastfeeding, all shade to using the word 'engorged.’ And also for giving me the mental image of Alex's breasts desperately struggling to flee from her body (though to be fair, who could blame them?). Proving that she does not inhabit the same world as the rest of us mortals, Alex tells us that she expected that her state of sleep-deprivation as she raised two young children would "spur [her] creativity with graphic design." For some reason, this does not seem to be the case. Alex is puzzled. Finally, we've come to this chapter's top ten list ("Top 10 Memories of Random Things We Did While in the Post-Birth Haze"). While these lists have so far been utterly irredeemable, they also mean the chapter is coming to a close, so I can at least take some solace in that. This particular list ranges from the irritating…
We subversively took sleeping babies to as many non-child-friendly places as possible to prove the point that children can be seen, not heard and not bothersome, such as dinner at the Ritz in London, the Sahara Desert, shopping on Madison Avenue, Underbar in Union Square and film festivals.
…to the truly unnecessary.
While changing François' diaper on day one or two, we both stood mesmerized by the changing pad as meconium oozed out of him. It was really the most bizarre and fascinating thing I'd seen to date.
With the couple's general backstory and credentials now under our belts, Chapter 3 ("The Screaming Kid on the Plane is NOT Mine! (This Time)") focuses on advice for traveling with children, which Alex admits "can be a complete pain in the you-know-what." I cannot describe the rage I feel at the fact that she has -- in no fewer than 50 pages -- forced me to read about both her newborn son's excrement and her husband's ejaculate, but cannot bring herself to use the word "ass." Alex, we're really far beyond that at this point, don't you think? Not to be outdone, Simon shares a conversation he had with François that is remarkable not for its content, but for the fact that one of Simon's nicknames for his son is apparently "F-Boy." Thanks, I hate it. This chapter's list ("Alex's Top 10 Travel Memories") includes the entry:
Both boys charging down Saline Beach in St. Barths like something out of Lord of the Flies.
So, like a horde of primal sadists? I'm wondering if Alex and Simon have inadvertently confused Lord of the Flies with the hit 2007 reality show Kid Nation. I really hope that's what's going on here. Chapter 4 ("'Mommy, Johan is Gone!'") promises to teach us how to handle accidents. I'm not sure how comfortable I feel taking emergency advice from the authors of this particular book, but (in large part due to the fact that I have slept since reading the previous chapter, giving the pain a chance to dull somewhat), I am willing to at least hear them out. After relaying a story of François needing emergency surgery after a foot injury, Alex tells us that at one point, she and Simon realized they had spent "nearly $5000 on Indian takeout" in the past year. For the mathematically averse, this works out to a monthly budget of roughly $100 worth of Indian food per week, making my quarantine Uber Eats habit seem downright quaint by comparison. The chapter-ending list walks us through the "Top 10 Things We Do in a Crisis," and fortunately, the tips seem pretty benign.
Knowing what calms the children down, such as making silly faces or reciting Shel Silverstein poetry backwards.
Wait, hang on. What?
reciting Shel Silverstein poetry backwards
I'm sorry, please forgive me if I have missed some recent, paradigm-shifting development in the field of early childhood education, but what?? As in, "ends sidewalk the where?" "Sdne klawedis eht erehw?" I am truly befuddled. Maybe the next chapter ("'Is Today a Work Day or a Home Day, Mommy?'") will have some applicable wisdom for me, as I will, in fact, be working from home every other week for the foreseeable future. And, I cannot stress this enough, I am a psychotically overinvested cat mom. Alas, we are instead treated to an unnecessarily detailed breakdown of how important it is to delegate, and specifically that Simon cleans up vomit and Alex cleans up "feces in the various forms that come out of children's bottoms at appropriate and sometimes inappropriate times such as the middle of Thanksgiving festivities." As if we needed another reason to consider Thanksgiving problematic. The chapter takes a brief commercial break…
When an everyday product can do double duty such as Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay Beauty, a dish soap that seals in moisture while I'm tackling cleanup, sure, I'll buy it.
…before closing out with a list of the "Top 10 Things We Do Because We Were Here First." I am happy to confirm your worst suspicions and tell you that item number one is indeed "Have passionate sex." In Chapter 6 ("I Saw Your Nanny…Being Normal?"), I find myself actually sympathizing with Alex for the first time in this book. Which is mostly just because the chapter starts by talking about all of the awful, catty parental competitions that seem endemic to a certain crew of white Manhattan moms, and it makes Alex come off at least slightly less irritating in comparison. That is, at least until a few pages later, when she starts to complain about a previous au pair:
She was sullen, melodramatic and kept a blog about how she hated Americans, hated France, hated us and the children but loved New York. I think she must have thought we were idiots, and when she asked us to leave early we were only too happy to get her out of our home.
I would love to meet this woman. I think we could be great friends. This chapter's list is even more difficult to parse than previous ones, because while it's titled "Top 10 Things Caregivers Have Inadvertently Done to Amuse, Annoy or Thrill Us," it's not at all clear which descriptors apply to which points. When a babysitter "accidentally used a household cleaning wipe when changing a diaper," were the McCord-Van Kempens amused? Annoyed? Thrilled? The world may never know. In Chapter 7 ("'Putting To Death Is Not Nice,' a Duet for Two Boys and A Guitar"), Alex and Simon share some of their hard-earned childrearing wisdom with us. Which basically amounts to Alex telling us that, while normally misbehavior from the kids incurs a warning followed by a time-out, she has also developed an ingenious new strategy where she actually steps in to intervene when the stakes are higher. Let's listen in:
A third permutation is when there's a behavior that has to stop immediately, say if Johan has a big blue indelible marker and is running through a white hotel suite. I swoop in and grab the marker as to risk a three count [warning] would be to risk decoration of the sofa.
Take the marker from the toddler immediately instead of trying to reason with him? Groundbreaking. Side Note: At this point in my reading, I am incredibly satisfied to report that I have discovered my first typo in the book, and in one of Simon's sections no less! ("These toads secret [sic] a poison…"). This is wildly pedantic of me and proof that I am a deeply sick person. We run though a list of "Top 10 Things We Never Thought We Would Have To Explain" ("10. Why hot pizza stones do not like Legos.") before moving right along into Chapter 8, "Don't Listen to the Well-Meaning Morons." Strangely, I have a very vivid memory of Alex saying "I have a chapter in my book called, 'Don't Listen to the Well-Meaning Morons" in some distant RHONY episode or reunion. I guess she was telling the truth. The chapter opens with a series of passages in which Alex and Simon respond to various comments that have been made about their parenting over the years. I think this device is supposed to be a bit of lighthearted snark on overbearing strangers, but instead just comes off as weirdly defensive and passive-aggressive. A few examples:
"My daughter is perfect. Her table manners are excellent, she never speaks unless spoken to and we've always had white sofas at home since she was a child, with no staining." -A woman with one preteen daughter, no sons Your daughter sounds boring. I wouldn't want my sons to date her..
"Why are you outside?" - A bagel seller in Montreal, in February I'm hungry and the stroller is well protected under the plastic cover. Johan is warm and cozy, the others are asleep in the hotel and I'm going stir-crazy. Is that enough, or should I buy my bagel from someone else?
"Excuse me, your baby is crying." -- Someone said to Simon as they peered into the stroller to try and determine the cause of said noise. You don't say! Do you think, you stupid idiot, that I don't hear that? Do you think I think it's just loud music? Do you think I don't want him to stop and that I like it???
Sorry, did I say 'passive-aggressive'? Let's change that to just 'aggressive.' But despite bristling at being the recipient of unwanted advice, far be it from Alex to shy away from giving her opinions on the shortcomings of other parents.
There was a mom at another table who wore all black and told her hyperactive daughter that they had to have a family meeting to decide what to do next. The type of woman who might ask her daughter to "process her feelings" about which color to choose. The type of woman who wanted make [sic] a big huge hairy deal about including her daughter in the decision-making process and "negotiating" the next best step for the family to take in the pottery shop. Pardon me while I shoot myself.
I'm sorry, but I just cannot respect this take coming from a woman who calms her sons by reciting comedic children's poetry backwards. We next learn that there are "many websites out in cyberspace," some of which offer child-rearing advice. Simon summarizes their useless "vitriol" as such:
They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, whereas for the 21st century surely hell no longer hath fury, as it's all been hurled at the belittled and scorned Internet mom.
I'm honestly not entirely sure what this is supposed to mean, and my confusion continues all the way through this chapter's "Top 10 Ways We Make Ourselves Feel Better When It's All Getting To Be Too Much." We begin reasonably enough…
Check to see whether the person offering advice has children. How old are they?
Do they have a point? Are they right? It is entirely possible.
…before quickly losing all sense of self-awareness and flying completely off the rails.
Will we ever see this person again? If not, can we get away with unleashing our fury on them? Note, if you're reading this and decide to try it for yourself, go big or go home.
The last few chapters have been a bit Alex-heavy, but never fear -- Simon pops back up in Chapter 9 ("If I Wouldn't Eat That, My Kid Won't Either") to tell us a charming story about how the family refers to his Bolognese sauce as "Dead Cow Sauce," and this is because his children are incredibly enlightened and understand the circle of life and where food comes from. Or something along those lines. This chapter also provides a lot of really incontrovertible proof that, even though you may swear that your kids say the most hilarious things all the time, you are wrong. I love kids. I can play cool aunt with the best of them. But this "recipe" for "Johan's Concoction" tries so hard to be cute and funny ("whisk violently -- making sure to spill a little out of the top") that I could barely stifle my groans. For anyone who happens to frequent RebornDollCringe, I am strongly and inexplicably reminded of Britton. A list of "Top 10 Things We Don't Like About Children's Restaurants" culminates with
Where would you rather be? A bistro devoted to race-car driving, with 1950s toy cars on the walls, or T.G.I. Friday's?
Excuse me, ma'am, you must be unfamiliar with the concept of Endless Apps®. The title of Chapter 10 is "You'll Give in Before I Do!" and although the subtitle lets me know this is referencing "the art and warfare of bedtime," it's hard not to take it as a personal taunt from the authors. Most of this chapter is just transcriptions of 'cute' things François and Johan have said to try to avoid going to bed, but we do get this gem:
Slaying the dragon is our family euphemism for using the toilet (drowning the dragons that live in the sewer) and is fun for the boys to talk about, though probably not forever.
Before giving us a chance to adequately process this revelation, Alex goes on to reflect:
Hmm, perhaps I should delete this -- I don’t want obnoxious classmates getting hold of this book in 10 years and asking the boys if they need to slay the dragon in the middle of geometry class.
Alex, I assure you, you truly have nothing to worry about. Any self-respecting bully will be far too focused on the fact that Simon ejaculated at the moment of his son's birth to pay this comparatively trivial factoid any attention. The authors shake things up and end this chapter with lists of both "Top 20 Bedtime Stories" and "Top 10 Lullabies," both of which are thankfully inoffensive. In Chapter 11 ("Children Like Shiny Objects"), we follow Alex and Simon as they purchase the townhouse we see them renovating on RHONY. Although other (read: lesser) parents might store breakables out of reach or limit children's toys to playrooms and bedrooms, Alex and Simon were blessed with two boys whose aesthetic sensibilities are already quite developed:
One kind of funny thing that I noticed recently is that the toys the boys tend to leave upstairs in our red and black living room often tend to be red and black as well. I'm not sure whether that's intentional, but it's funny that the room always seems to match regardless of its contents.
The list of "Top 10 Craziest Places We've Found Objects" is mercifully absent of any orifice-related discoveries. After reading just the title of Chapter 12 ("Raising Baby Einsteins"), I'm bracing myself for the self-satisfied smugness to come. This preparation turns out to be duly warranted. Baby sign language is dismissed as "a scheme dreamed up by ASL experts who wanted to sell classes to easily influenced new parents," Mommy and Me classes are "not really for teaching anything," and we learn that Alex and Simon have instituted a bizarre family rule that "if a talking toy came into our house, it had to speak a foreign language or speak English in an accent other than American." We learn that Simon apparently does not know what antonyms are (for the record, Simon, the word you're looking for is homophones) and that New York City is replete with "wailing, nocturnal, type-A obsessed harridans willing to sleep with persons not their spouse if they think it will help their child get into THE RIGHT SCHOOL." Uh, yikes. After a tediously long description of François' pre-school admissions process, Alex informs us:
As a former actor, I've always gotten into play-acting and dressing up with my children. Perhaps a little too much. But I've taken the opportunity to show off a few old monologues, complete with bounding around like a puppy. If you have knowledge, why not share it? If you happen to know Puck's speeches from a Midsummer Night's Dream by ear with tumbling and staged sword play, why the heck don’t you share that with your boisterous boys, who love it and run around shouting, "Thou speakest aright!"
I am suddenly compelled to call my mother and thank her profusely for never making me put up with anything like this. Maybe I'll also get her thoughts on one of the tips listed in "Top 10 Favorite 'Developmental' Things To Do": "if they want something that you want to delay giving them, make them ask in every language they can before giving in." To me, this seems like an effective way to encourage your children to learn how to say "Fuck you, mom" in French as early as possible. In Chapter 13 ("Urban Wonderland"), Alex and Simon promise to share their unique perspective on "taking advantage of raising a child in the urban jungle." But mostly, we just get a rant about how everyone thinks their kids have weird names, and that makes Simon mad. This chapter's "Top 10 Reasons New York is the Center of the Universe to a Kid" list reminds us what truly matters: "there are more songs with NYC in their titles than any other city." Immediately after telling us how great it is to live in a city (excuse me, urban jungle), Alex and Simon switch tack and spend Chapter 14 ("'Daddy, a Cow! And It's Not in a Zoo!") expounding on the importance of exposing kids to nature. Sounds great, I'm on board. Unfortunately, we almost immediately take a hard left turn into a story from Simon's childhood where he and his brother are "befriended by this old guy, Dick, who lived on the outskirts of town in a small tin shed." We hear that Dick "occasionally pulled out an early Playboy magazine back from the days when the lower regions were airbrushed out," and that "there had been pretty strong rumors of pedophilia," before promptly returning to the main narrative with no further explanation. I can only describe the transition as 'jarring.' I can tell how exhausted I am at this point in the book by how hurriedly I skimmed the list of "Top 10 Differences We've Noticed Between City Kids and Country Kids." To be honest, I'm almost annoyed when a particularly bizarre quote manages to catch my attention, because that means I have to think about it for the full amount of time it takes me to transcribe from the page. I'm beginning to think that my initial hope that I could glean some useful cat-rearing advice from this experience may have been overzealous. Chapter 15 ("You're Such a Great Parent, You Should Be on TV (LOL)") is the only chapter to directly address the family's time on RHONY. It starts with this (attempted) comedy bit in which Alex and Simon pretend to be hilariously self-aware and self-effacing (Alex: "Look up 'Mommylicious' in the dictionary and you will see a photo of me in a ball gown, breast-feeding an infant while making Osso Buco and directing carpenters to build a bookcase for my Dickens and Shakespeare."). This posture would be infinitely more believable if I hadn't spent the previous 205 pages watching these two take themselves deadly seriously. But rather than share any juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits (or, indeed, convey anything of substance at all), Alex and Simon spend exactly 3.5 pages blustering about how it wasn't harmful for their children to be on TV before giving us a list of "Top 10 Hilarious Things The Boys Have Done While Filming or at Photo Shoots." Spoiler alert: none of them are 'hilarious.' Chapter 16 is literally titled "The Light at the End of the Tunnel," which makes me feel like this whole experience may have just been Alex and Simon playing some sort of twisted game with me. Alex tells us this is "the chapter of hope," but given that she then tells us about a time when she "spent one full hour discussing why magic markers cannot be carried around with the caps off, particularly in a hotel suite with white couches and walls," I'm not sure exactly where this hope is coming from. Also it seems like this markers-in-a-hotel-room thing happens weirdly frequently. We are then treated to Alex and Simon's "Top 10 Moments of Getting It,'" which includes
Apropos of nothing, Johan said, "You give us time-outs because you are teaching us to be good grown-ups."
This is a thing I'm sure Johan said completely organically and not in response to hearing his parents say "we're giving you a time-out so that you learn to be a good grown-up" approximately seven zillion times. This brings us to the book's Epilogue (a mercifully short two pages) featuring the line "If you made it to the end of this book, we salute you." Honored to accept this hard-earned accolade, I can finally close the book and start figuring out a way to erase the memory of Simon busting a mid-childbirth nut from my aching brain. Wish me luck!
How to Survive Camping: Senior Camp Rule #8 - don't make us throw you down the hill
I run a private campground. While I’m not safe, life has at least been better now that Jessie is dead. Again. The horse-eater has been quiet so I’m not too worried about its presence on my land yet. I mean, it’s a problem, but it’s not an urgent problem. I’ve been able to relax a little and enjoy the holiday weekend. The old sheriff even invited me out to his place to shoot off some confiscated fireworks and if you're like wow, dick move there, yes, that's the sort of company I keep. Anyway, if you’re new here, you should really start at the beginning, and if you’re totally lost, this might help. We have people that have been camping here for a long time, especially for our big events. I’m not sure where the senior camp stands in relation to the entire campsite during these events, but I believe they are one of the oldest in their area. Their seniority isn’t just age, however. Some of our problematic camps have been here for a while, after all, and that’s resulted in an unfortunate tendency to think they’re above the rules. Not the rules. The other rules, like digging a proper fire pit or what time we close check-in for the evening. You know, the ones that just annoy me instead of anything supernatural. The senior camp may argue with me every year about the incline at the front of their camp, but for a long time that was about it. Not causing trouble and following the rules is not enough to warrant being placed next to the thing in the dark, however. That sort of proximity to something so dangerous requires an understanding of the unnatural, a sense of the larger patterns, more than what I lay out in my rules. I moved them to their current location shortly after I took over as the manager. Their area was growing crowded as camp sizes grew and I needed to either move someone out (which would make people unhappy) or move a camp into the area next to the thing in the dark’s lair. It’s a nice spot. There’s shade from the trees for most of the day, but it’s still open enough for a breeze and close enough to the road for easy unloading. We’ve had people try to move into that space without permission in the past, with predictable results. Most of the nearby camps were content to stay in their assigned land as a result, but I knew it would be an issue if I started moving people around without utilizing that land at all. We get enough new campers in a season that someone would cause trouble. I contacted the senior camp’s land representative and asked if they’d be interested in moving to a better location. Still in the same area, I said, just a bit over. Next to where the thing in the dark lived. And I explained what that was. Their representative was quiet for a bit and then said they’d talk it over. A few days later they got back to me and said they’d agreed. It’d keep other people out of that space and besides, it was a really nice spot. And it wasn’t like they had no experience with unnatural things. For a long time, they were unremarkable from any other returning camp. Then, during my freshman year of college, something happened to change that. We have transient things pass through our land. The ancient creatures come and go as they please, of course. There are lesser creatures that are able to leave, however. I think there is something about their nature that allows this. Perhaps they roam as a rule and thus cannot be bound to one location. Or perhaps their hunting grounds are larger than my campsite and they can pass through boundaries easier. The one in particular that came to the campground that year was the sort that attached itself to one person in particular, until they were dead, and then moved on to another. I think that is why it could come and go. It didn’t hunt in a particular area. It hunted people with no regard to where they were located. To merely call it an incubus would be inaccurate, but that is a good starting place. It is called a lidérc. It is drawn to those who have recently lost their spouse or lover, a devil taking on the form of the lost beloved. It sneaks into the victim’s room while they sleep, removes the one boot that it wears on its human foot and sets it by the door, and then sits on the person’s chest and drinks their life away. They do this until their victim is wasted away to death and then find another. Similar to an incubus then, in that it causes nightmares and the feeling of suffocation at night. Different in its powers, in the victims it seeks, and its appearance. Keen readers may notice that I specified singular when I said it removed its boot from its human foot. What, then, is the other? Lidérc are shapeshifters. They have association with one animal in particular. The chicken. Their other foot is a chicken foot. The inhuman world has always been a little weird. This is only one form of the lidérc. The other can be created. Don’t try this. It is a useful thing but… it will destroy you unless you are clever enough to escape doom, and in my experience, none of us are nearly as clever as we believe we are. The summer of my freshman year was when the lidérc came to our land. Someone in the senior camp broke up with her boyfriend within the first two days of their two-week trip. Bad timing, I know, but I guess when you’re done, you’re done. Now, at the time the senior camp was up against the hill. They’re still close to the hill, but it wasn’t as handy as it was at their old spot. My campground isn’t in a mountainous location, but we’ve got some variable terrain and there’s a few areas where the hills are especially steep. The children with ice wagons will rope themselves to the wagon like oxen with two pulling in front, two pushing from the back, and two stabilizing on either side to get up this hill. Seriously, tip them, they work hard. One of my parent’s staff at the time responded to reports of a commotion in the area one night. They took a golf cart (we only had a handful of four-wheelers at the time and the family used them) down that way to see what the problem was. They arrived just in time to find the boyfriend being forcibly ejected from the campsite. Her campmates were carrying his stuff out of the camp and dumping it on the road. When he tried to re-enter their area despite this subtle clue that he wasn’t welcome, they threw his belongings down the hill. The camp employee decided not to intervene in what was clearly a properly handled domestic dispute and left. Near the end of their trip, the camp representative stopped in to drop off their “yes we cleaned up after ourselves and filled the fire pit back in” paperwork. (I only require it for the big events where we have a lot of people) They told us about what had happened after that break-up, thinking it was best if my parents knew about it in case the thing came back. They didn’t know what it was, but my father was able to identify it later once he had his books and notes. The senior camp has perfected this particular story. I do not think they’ve embellished it as much as my uncle did to his stories. I think they just have a flair for telling it that they’ve honed through repetition. It’s a useful story, after all. It teaches camp newcomers one of their own, internal, rules. I don’t remember the full text of the rule. Some stuff about trying to get along and resolving arguments, getting an intermediary if you have to, and not being a “flaming asshole”. I know how it ends, however. Senior camp rule #8: Don’t make us throw you down the hill. I’ll tell the story as I heard it when I was a freshman. The boyfriend didn’t try to come back after spending most of the night picking his socks and underwear off of tree branches. Some other camp was dumb enough to take him in and the senior camp lost track of him after that, because who really cared? But a few days later, the lidérc showed up. No one realized anything was amiss, as it came late at night after everyone was asleep. The young lady was exhausted during the day and attributed it to not sleeping well at night. She had nightmares, she said, and it felt like she was suffocating. She hadn’t suffered from sleep paralysis in the past, so while this was worrisome, she wrote it off as being a result of a nasty break-up. As the days passed, she grew steadily weaker. Her campmates noticed and began to theorize what the problem could be. Stress, perhaps, and suggested she take more naps. Maybe she was having a bout of anemia and someone drove into town to buy red meat and vitamins. Finally, near the end of the trip, she was so lethargic she could barely rouse herself during the day and fell asleep in the middle of dinner. Her campmates decided she should go home early and contact her doctor. They’d break down her tent and pack up for her in the morning. She’d go to bed early that night and get enough sleep to make the long drive home. Then, once she was out of earshot, the camp agreed to take turns periodically checking in on her through the night. They didn’t know what was happening. They just felt that something was amiss. Some of the people in the nearby tents were having nightmares too, after all, of a dark presence that settled over them and made it feel like they were being crushed under the weight of their own blankets. They didn’t have the sort of knowledge my family does, but we have all heard stories, and the sense of being prey for something dark and terrible is etched into the human subconscious. None of them wanted to admit it out-loud, but they felt the unease of being hunted. The lidérc didn’t come until the 2 AM shift. The person that took that shift usually got back to camp around that time, so it was no issue for her to check in on their campmate before going to bed herself. She arrived back to their camp just in time to see a large black chicken approaching the tent. She paused where she was, bemused by the absurdity of the situation. A chicken. There was farmland nearby, so perhaps it’d wandered off and made its way here. Should she catch it? Try to get it home in the morning? Then the chicken stopped at the front of her campmates tent and its body began to grow. Its torso swelled, its head inflated like a balloon, and the feathers rippled and melted together and became clothing. Its skin grew pale and smooth and its comb deepened to crimson-black and became hair. It was a man, dressed in plain clothing and wearing a single cowboy boot on one foot. Its other foot was still that of a chicken. The claws gleamed in the moonlight. The camper crouched down between the tents. She was well hidden from view, but still she trembled in fear, for even where she stood she could feel the malice coming off this creature. An aura that gripped at her throat and made her blood run cold, nearly paralyzing her in fear. She felt her heart would simply stop if it turned its gaze on her, so she could only watch helplessly as it quietly unzipped the tent and crawled inside, pausing only to remove its one human boot and set it just outside the tent. She didn’t know what it was, other than it was something unnatural, and surely to blame for her friend’s growing weakness. This was before smartphones. There was no way for her to quickly google “chicken footed monster” and hope the search results provided a solution for her predicament. She didn’t dare wait until morning to go searching for answers, either, as her campmate’s growing weakness suddenly had an explanation and she wasn’t sure if the young woman would survive until the dawn. She decided to create a distraction and then hopefully wake her friend up and get her out of there before the lidérc came back. Carefully, she stole over to the tent. The tent flap had been only half-zipped back up, leaving a slit barely wide enough for her to see the lidérc kneeling on the young woman’s chest. His hands were around her neck and her skin was pale and sweat beaded on her forehead as she tossed and turned weakly, struggling to breathe. The sight of her friend’s suffering strengthened her resolve. She crept close, trembling with fear. It felt like she was pushing through a cold fog, one that repulsed her and crawled along her skin, making her nerves scream that she should run, she should flee, she should abandon her friend to her fate and save herself. Then, she stretched out one hand, and carefully grabbed hold of the cowboy boot and dragged it towards her. If an unnatural thing leaves behind anything, assume it’s important to them. That’s just how these things work. She retreated as quickly as she dared and hurried over to the edge of the hill. The road was close by and to either side were trees, the underbrush rife with thickets and poison ivy. “Hey asshole!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, waking up most of her nearby campmates. “I got your fucking boot!” Then she yeeted the boot down the hill. God I love that word. The lidérc burst out of the tent and his eyes blazed like fire in the darkness. His hands were curled like claws and he dug his chicken foot into the earth, scoring it deep. Then his gaze fixed first on the hill where his boot had been thrown and then snapped to the camper. She realized she’d miscalculated. As her fellow campers stirred, sleepy and confused, she realized that the creature wasn’t going to go after his boot first. It was going to go after her. She turned and ran. Down the road, veering off at the bottom and into the woods, aiming for some thick trees that grew in a cluster. She dove behind them as the lidérc came stalking down the hill, walking with a limp as it dragged its human foot behind it. The gravel cracked under its claws as it clutched at the dirt and stones. “Where are you?” it hissed. “Come out and help me find my boot. And then once it is found, I’ll tear your heart out and eat it.” Its words were spoken in a low voice, beguiling. The camper’s legs stirred before her mind could realize what was happening, stretching to rise, to bring her out of her hiding spot. Entranced by the lidérc’s request. She clasped her hands onto the tree she hid behind, digging her fingers into the rough bark, the muscles in her arms straining to hold the rest of her body still. The lidérc paused. Only a few feet away now, his back half-turned towards her. There was a soft sound, the inhalation of air. He was trying to catch her scent. Hunting her out. She remained where she was, heart pounding so loudly she felt he’d be able to hear it soon enough. Then the sound of a vehicle’s engine hummed from the top of the hill. Headlights flooded the road, painfully bright in the darkness, and one of the camp staff golf carts turned down the nearby road. The lidérc let out a soft cry of surprise - and anger - and his body collapsed in on itself in an instant. Gone was the human frame, gone was the clothing, and gone was the bare human foot. In its place stood a small black chicken that quickly trotted away through the underbrush, flapping its wings and squawking with dismay. The golf cart drew to a stop. “Did I hear… a chicken?” the driver said to himself in confusion. Only then did the camper rise from her camping spot. She waved to get his attention. “Sure was,” she said. “It went that way. I was trying to catch it as I thought it belonged to a local farm.” “Well damn. Probably does. I’ll see if I can round it up.” The camper didn’t know what became of the lidérc after the camp employee left, but they like to tell the story that it spent the entire night being chased by people on golf carts, intent on corralling and dragging it back to some random farm, until they finally cornered it near dawn and carry it off by its legs to dump in a random chicken coop. The truth is that the employee radioed in to keep an eye out for a chicken and no one saw it and assumed it eventually found its way home on its own. Or was eaten by something unnatural. It’s awfully hard to see a black chicken in the dark. The camp stayed up the rest of the night, after their campmate told them what had happened. A handful took flashlights and went searching along the hill until they found the boot. The lidérc thankfully wasn’t willing to confront a group of people. The young lady was able to get a full night’s rest and went home the next morning. When she came back the next year, they set watch for the first few nights until they were convinced that the lidérc wasn’t coming back. My father stopped by as well, to tell them what he’d found out from his research and assure them that the theft of its boot was enough to keep it from ever returning. Then, after my parents died and I took over, I realized that they had the instincts, the cooperation, and the willingness to deal with these unnatural things. I offered them the campsite closest to the thing in the dark and they accepted. I wouldn’t say I’m friends with them. I check in periodically to make sure everything is okay and then I have to hear about how the incline at the front of their camp isn’t actually campable (it is) or complaints about their neighbors, but honestly, that’s a small price to pay for having someone competent taking up that plot of land and keeping people out of it. As for the lidérc… I think it’s still out there. It’s never been seen again on our land. There were a few sightings from the locals after it vanished, but it didn’t seem to be hunting anyone. It was searching. Trying to find its boot, limping through the fields, leaving behind a trail of footprints with one bare foot and one foot being the imprint of a chicken. I know where the boot is hidden. One of the senior campers took the boot home with them and buried it in the backyard. My campground is an eight hour drive for him. I don’t think the lidérc is going to be finding his boot anytime soon. I’m a campground manager. I feel it’s important to elaborate on the senior campers this time because I’ve asked for their help. You see, if I’m going to rescue and/or stop the lady in chains, I need to know how. Cutting off the chains is a risky endeavor and I’d like to know it’ll even work before I try. For a while I’ve been at a loss, but then I thought back on my previous rescue attempts and realized there was a source of help I haven’t consulted yet. The dancers. The senior camp is going to help secure their aid. It’s not without a price, however. They demanded that I mark that damn incline at the front of their camp as ‘uncampable land’ and I grudgingly had to agree. I’m sure it’ll cause problems when I tell their neighboring camp that they’re getting shifted a handful of yards, but the senior camp really is my best bet for this. They’ve got a great cook who also brews and she’s “got 10 kegs and can run 4 taps” and they’ve got enough manpower to man the bar and then some. That’s right. I’ve asked the senior camp to throw the dancers a party. [x] Read the full list of rules. Visit the campground’s website.
He would do it. Stalin would force the collectivization of Soviet villages and nomadic steppe inhabited by more than 100 million people between 1928 and 1933, a story taken up in volume II. At least 5 million people, many of the country's most productive farmers or herders, would be "dekulakized", that is, enclosed in cattle cars and dumped at far-off wastes, often in winter; some in that number would dekulakize themselves, rushing to sell or abandon their possessions to escape deportation. Those forced into the collectives would burn crops, slaughter animals, and assassinate officials. The regime's urban shock troops would break peasant resistance, but the country's inventory of horses would plummet from 35 million to 17 million, cattle from 70 million to 38 million, pigs from 26 million to 12 million, sheep and goats from 147 million to 50 million. In Kazakhstan, the losses would be still more staggering: cattle from 7.5 million to 1.6 million, sheep from 21.9 million to 1.7 million. Countrywide, nearly 40 million people would suffer severe hunger or starvation and between 5 and 7 million people would die in the horrific famine, whose existence the regime denied. "All the dogs have been eaten," one eyewitness would be told in a Ukrainian village. "We have eaten everything we could lay our hands on--cats, dogs- field mice, birds--when it's light tomorrow, you will see that the trees have been stripped of bark, for that too has been eaten. And the horse manure has been eaten. Yes, the horse manure. We fight over it. Sometimes there are whole grains in it." Scholars who argue that Stalin's collectivization was necessary in order to force a peasant country into the modern era are dead wrong. The Soviet Union, like imperial Russia, faced an imperative to modernize in order to survive in the brutally unsentimental international order, but market systems have been shown to be fully compatible with fast-paced industrialization, including in peasant countries. Forced wholesale collectivization only seemed necessary within the straitjacket of Communist ideology and its repudiation of capitalism. And economically, collectivization failed to deliver. Stalin assumed it would increase both the state's share of low-cost grain purchases and the overall size of the harvest, but although procurements doubled immediately, harvests shrank. Over the longer term, collective farming would not prove superior to large-scale capitalist farming or even to smaller-scale capitalist farming when the latter was provided with machinery, fertilizer, agronomy, and effective distribution. In the short term, collectivization would contribute nothing on net to Soviet industrial growth. Nor was collectivization necessary to sustain a dictatorship. Private capital and dictatorship are perfectly compatible...nothing prevented the Communist dictatorship from embracing capital--nothing, that is, except idees fixes. Nor did an adverse turn in the world economy compel collectivization. Global deflation in commodity prices did hit the Soviet Union hard, reducing the revenues from the sale abroad of Soviet grain, oil, timber, and sugar, but Stalin, in his grand speech in Siberia on January 20, 1928, made no mention of such conditions as a factor in his decision. If the global terms of trade for primary goods producers had been favorable, would Stalin have said in Novosibirsk that day, Let's develop large-scale privately owned kulak farms with privately hired labor? Look at these high global grain prices, we'll never have to collectivize the peasantry! If the Soviet Union had obtained abundant long-term foreign credits in 1927-28, would Stalin have said, Let's double down on markets at home? So what if we risk the party's monopoly! The pernicious idea that global capitalism caused Stalin's resort to extreme violence and erection of a brutal command system, in order to exercise control over the export commodities needed to finance industrialization, ignores the vast trove of evidence on the salience of ideology, including ideology's role in worsening the USSR's international position in the first place. There was a debate inside the USSR in the 1920s about how to modernize the country, but it was a remarkably narrow debate in which important options were closed off. For that reason, it will not do to simplify collectivization as just another instance in thew Russian state's infamous strong-arming of a predominantly peasant country because its agricultural season--in its northern climate, on a par with Canada--lasted a mere 125 days, perhaps half the length in Europe, where yields per acre were higher. The image of a Russian state through the centuries as a cruel military occupier at home is one-sided: Alexander had emancipated the serfs and Stolypin's peasant reforms were voluntary. And Stalin was motivated by more than competition with more fortunate European rivals. Like Stolypin, Stalin wanted consolidated, contiguous farms, not the separated, small strips of the commune, but he ruled out the Stolypin route of betting on independent yeoman farmers (kulaks). Critics of Bolshevism abroad had urged old-regime professionals to work for the Soviet regime precisely in order to transform it from within, toward a Russian nationalist order and a full capitalist restoration. Such hopes were Stalin's fears. Collectivization would give the Communists control over the vast countryside, a coveted goal no regime in Russia had ever had. But still more fundamentally, collectivization, like state-run and state-owned industry, constituted a form of ostensible modernization that negated capitalism. Thus did Stalin "solve" the Bolsheviks' conundrum of how, in the words of Lenin's last public speech, "NEP Russia could become socialist Russia." There are always alternatives in history. The germane question is, was there an alternative within the Leninist revolution? ...Sokolnikov agreed with Rykov's and Bukharin's insistence on a version of industrialization compatible with market equilibrium, but he went much further and explicitly rejected the vision, alluring to almost all Communists, of achieving comprehensive economic planning in practice. (Sokolnikov allowed for the lesser possibility of coordination.) Of course, almost all non-Bolshevik specialists in the finance commissariat and elsewhere were saying this, but Sokolnikov was a member of the Central Committee. He had not argued in favor of capitalism--it is hard to see how any Bolshevik could have done so and survived in a leadership position--and implementing his market socialism would not have been easy. The Soviet party-state lacked much of the institutional capacity necessary to regulate market economy skillfully (Sokolnikov excepted). This was especially true of the mixed-state market economy of the NEP, which required a subtle understanding of the effects on the country's macroeconomy of price controls and use of state power against private traders. Nonetheless, acceptance of the market and rejection of planning as a chimera were the sine qua non of any alternative path to the one Stalin had proclaimed in Novosibirsk in January 1928. ...Had Stalin not only caused the mass loss of the country's most productive farmers and half its livestock in collectivization but also failed to finagle the machinery necessary for Soviet industrialization, including tractors for agriculture, his rule would have risked the destruction of the Leninist revolution. But a fortuitous event rescued his reckless gambling. On September 4, 1929, stock prices began to fall in New York and on October 29 the market crashed. A host of structural factors and policy mistakes transformed the financial dislocation into a Great Depression. By 1933, industrial production would drop by 46 percent in the United States, 41 percent in Germany, and 23 percent in Britain. Unemployment in the United States would reach 25 percent and still higher elsewhere. International trade would drop by half. Construction would come to a virtual standstill. The world's misfortune was Stalin's great, unforeseen fortune. Of course, in Marxist thinking this was no accident: Capitalism was seen as inherently prone to booms and busts, a market economy produced depressions, misallocation of capital, mass unemployment, for which planning was supposed to be the answer. But there had never before been a capitalist crisis on the scale of the Great Depression (and there had not been since). The timing of the Depression, moreover, could not have been better for Stalin: right after he launched collectivization and dekulakization. The upshot was a windfall. More than one thousand factories would be newly built or overhauled from top to bottom, and nearly every single blueprint and advanced machine came from abroad. The Depression afforded Stalin unprecedented leverage: suddenly, the capitalists needed the Soviet market as much as the Soviets needed their advanced technology. Without the Great Depression would the capitalists have developed such overwhelming incentives to pursue the Soviet market no matter what? Indeed, the capitalist powers not only sold their best technology to the Communist regime, they continued doing so even after the Soviets were found to be violating contracts by purchasing designs for one factory and using them for others, trickery that was amply recorded in indignant internal foreign company records; the capitalists had no other customers for massive capital goods. Scholars who write of Moscow facing an "uncooperative world economy" have it exactly backward. Ideology and the party monopoly were the constraints; the global economy, the enabler. In fact, the global economic crisis was a double gift. Nothing did more to legitimate Stalin's system. But Stalin had no idea that a Great Depression was around the corner, and that it would bring the foreign capitalists on bended knee. If Stalin had died, the likelihood of forced wholesale collectivization--the only kind--would have been near zero, and the likelihood that the Soviet regime would have been transformed into something else or fallen apart would have been transformed into something else or fallen apart would have been high. "More than almost any other great man in history," wrote the historian E.H. Carr, "Stalin illustrates the thesis that circumstances make the man, not the man the circumstances." Utterly, eternally wrong. Stalin made history, rearranging the entire socioeconomic landscape of one sixth of the earth. Right through mass rebellion, mass starvation, cannibalism, the destruction of the country's livestock, and unprecedented political destabilization, Stalin did not flinch. Feints in the form of tactical retreats notwithstanding, he would keep going even when told to his face by officials in the inner regime that a catastrophe was unfolding--full speed ahead to socialism. This required extraordinary maneuvering, browbeating, and violence on his part. It also required deep conviction that it had to be done. Stalin was uncommonly skillful in building an awesome personal dictatorship, but also a bungler, getting fascism wrong, stumbling in foreign policy. But he had will. He went to Siberia in January 1928 and did not look back. History, for better and for worse, is made by those who never give up.
-Stephen Kotkin, Stalin Volume 1: Paradoxes of Power (New York, 2014), pp.724-727, pp.729-730, pp.733-734, pp.736-737, p.739
First | Prev | Next Discord Valentine The pain in my shoulder kept rousing me from sleep, and damn did I ever need the rest. I'd get an hour or so of sleep, and then something would happen to tweak my shoulder. I'd roll over, or move reflexively to brush away an itch, and I'd be brought reluctantly to wakefulness. It's not that I was uncomfortable. In fact, this 'hotel' as Wallace called it, might be one of the most luxurious buildings I'd ever set foot in. The furniture down in the restaurant, for example. The quality there, in just one of the pieces, was astounding. It was difficult to get fabric to take dye consistently, to achieve a uniform colour. As such, it was often the upholstery that was of particular prestige, making quality pieces often the centre of a noble's living room. Not only was every piece of furniture in that restaurant of such quality, everything matched. It was as if some sort of perfect automaton had fabricated each piece. And that was to say nothing of the carpentry and metalwork involved, which were similarly astounding. Then there were the sheets I'd wrapped myself in. It wasn't quite the same as silk, silk had a more sultry quality, and this felt somehow more wholesome. It was more like a warm hug than a- well, than any of the sorts of things I usually got up to when tangled in silk sheets. And with Wallace sleeping nearby, his long steady breaths providing a comforting rhythm, and his scent lingering on the air, I found that I felt safer than I had in a very long while. Not safe, there was a reason I still kept a pistol nearby, there remained a long way to go for true safety, but I was safer. I only wished I could enjoy it, to bask in the warmth from the pile of blankets, and luxuriate in the feeling that I didn't have an immediate looming threat breathing down my neck. The problem was, my gods damned shoulder would not stop hurting. I tried to find a position that wouldn't aggravate my injury, but despite my best efforts, still couldn't stay asleep for more than an hour at a time. Finally, angry, bored, and still very tired, I kicked off the blankets in a fit of pique. Of course, that only hurt my shoulder more, and I grit my teeth to keep from waking Wallace with a pained gasp. I frowned, the steady rhythm was gone. I snatched a sheet and held it to my chest. With some difficulty, I sat up and peered over the edge of the bed. Wallace had left. Which meant he'd woken up. Which meant he'd noticed me sleeping on the floor next to him. I sighed. I had been hoping to be gone before he woke, though I wasn't sure what I was trying to hide. That I trusted him? He probably figured that out about when I was huddled naked in the bath. I wish he'd woken me, we could share breakfast, and I'd follow his explorations, but damn I was tired. I slithered into the bed, still warm from his presence. I curled up in the middle of the bed where the warmth was the greatest and settled in among the blankets and piled pillows. By some magic, the mattress shaped itself to fit my body, and I quickly found a position that didn't set my shoulder aflame. The heat made me drowsy, and in renewed comfort, saw little reason to fight it. I had little idea of the time that had passed when I finally woke once more. I only knew that the hollow and tired feeling had abated, and the sun still had not yet risen. I considered laying there for a while longer. Perhaps I'd doze off again, but thought better of it. I was curious about what Wallace had been doing, had he returned to the room, only to leave me to sleep in peace? Perhaps, but it was a large building. Likely he wasn't finished exploring. I pushed myself up, found my torch and pistol, and wrapped myself in one of the sheets. So covered, I slipped back across to my room and dressed in the sleeveless shirt and legless trousers I'd worn to dinner. I'd worn the ensemble to dinner out of exhaustion, after all, getting into the flight suit was a bit of a bother at the best of times, and I didn't feel like attempting it with one arm. I'd expected Wallace to make some remark, maybe blush a little. I'd even had a biting retort ready for the occasion, but he didn't protest my lascivious dinner wear. It seemed not to register to him. I found I quite liked Wallace, which was quite the novel experience. I'd always seen company as something to be avoided unless I'd paid for their time. How strange it was then, that I hoped Wallace would stay once I'd finished teaching him what magic I knew. With him possibly anywhere in the massive building, I intended to track him by scent. Sleeping several hours in his bed had made that tricky, however, and I had difficulty separating the scents present in the environment from those clinging to me. I could get an idea of where he'd been, but was unable to tell how long ago it was. As it seemed he'd spend the hours I was asleep searching the entire building, I found myself doing the same. I struggled to find a single room that did not have at least a trace of his scent within. It made me regret leaving my necklace behind, but it wouldn't be safe with my shoulder still healing. That said, I'd only checked the first floor, and I could already feel myself growing faint as I gazed at the door to the stairs. I am going to make that man carry me back down here. Just pushing open the heavy metal door- the humans take security seriously it seems -made me feel dizzy. I put my hands on my knees and took a few deep breaths to steady myself before continuing. I woke to the taste of blood in my mouth, a brutal headache, and the reek of fear. I shifted a little and blinked my eyes open, and I heard a sigh of relief. "Oh thank god, please, just don't move." I came to realize that Wallace was holding me in his arms, a little too tightly, as he was making it difficult to move my head. "Wallace," I grumbled drowsily, "Let me go." "Valentine, just- please, for fuck's sake." I met his gaze, and my anger softened as I saw the concern in his eyes. He looked like he'd just seen me die. "Okay, okay," I soothed. Wallace calmed a little as the sickly scent of fear was gradually replaced by the musky scent of my pheromones. With so much skin uncovered, the effects should have taken hold much more quickly than they did, but at the very least it didn't appear as if his heart were about to stop. Wallace took a deep breath, "In first aid- for humans -the number one thing, the most important thing unless someone is gushing blood, are head and neck injuries. " I placed my palm gently against his chest, "It's okay," I finally understood what had him so shaken, "Fey are different, we're not so vulnerable to getting bumped on the head." "You're-" he began, but I put a finger to his lips before he could interrupt. "I know a thing or two about treating injuries, Wallace," I insisted, "I learned all sorts of things about head injuries, but us fey are not like anyone else. If we were, every noble house would have a pile of dead servants who fainted trying to carry the lady's tea up the stairs." Wallace gently took my hand away from his lips. He held gently onto my hand, our hands clasped loosely across my chest. "I thought you were dead," he said flatly, "I pushed open the door, and here you were on the landing, limp as a corpse and white as a sheet." "This isn't the first time I've fainted trying to climb the stairs," I sighed, "I just need a little air." I gave a little yelp as Wallace gathered me up and rose to his feet, and quickly threw an arm around his neck to steady myself. I squirmed around until I was in a more or less sitting position. The motion made my head throb, and I rested my head against Wallace's chest while I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain. I'd made it almost to the roof, following Wallace's scent, but that was damning with faint praise. It had been easy to figure out where he'd gone off to once I was in the stairwell, as his scent was present throughout, but the climb had been brutal. To any other fey, my ascent through the building would seem supernal. But to the humans who'd constructed the building, doubtless to Wallace as well, I must have seemed pitiful. Wallace elbowed the bar across the door, which shifted slightly, and he ducked out onto the roof. I shivered as the cold air brushed across my exposed skin, and tried to press closer to Wallace. It got awfully chilly during The Long Night, and I was a little underdressed. The roof was altogether more pleasant than that of the 'gas station', as Wallace had called it. There were several cushioned benches scattered about, some small trees here and there, and a few flower beds set against the low wall that ringed the rooftop. Someone, indeed, likely several someones, had gone to some effort to make the space as pleasant as possible. "What happened to your jewellery?" Wallace asked, his voice low, though I could feel the bassy reverberations in his chest. "It's not safe to use while I'm healing," I shivered, "So I'm useless until my shoulder is mended." "You're plenty useful," Wallace insisted, "You teach me magic, and I'll carry you around wherever you want to go," he promised. He carried me over to one of the benches and took a seat. He let go of me, but I didn't take the opportunity to slide off his lap. Instead, I snatched a nearby blanket and pressed it into his hands. He took it, an amused expression on his face, and helped me settle it around myself. With it trapping the heat, it felt like I was sitting with my cheek resting against a furnace. Between his natural scent and the all-encompassing warmth, I felt myself growing drowsy once again. I pulled the blankets tight around myself and peered up at him, "Maybe I'll ride you around like a horse," I giggled, "Did Temerity get to ride you around too?" He immediately turned red, his lips set in a thin line as he tried not to break out into a guilty smile. "Oh, she did, she did!" I hooted, "Were you face up or face down? The girls at The Blushing Maiden have given it to me both ways, so I can see the appeal in either case," Wallace turned, if it were even possible, a yet darker shade of red, "Now that I think about it, Temerity does seem the sort to take the initiative. Face down then." Wallace's guilty smile turned to a grimace, but there was grudging mirth in his eyes and the twist of his lips. I prodded him in the ribs, "You're not even the tiniest bit angry," I asked incredulously, though it was more of a statement. I pressed my nose against his chest and inhaled deeply, "I can't smell a whiff of anger. If I were a servant, anyone else would be having me flogged right about now to correct my mark against their honour. Or as a noblewoman, they'd be looking for a father, brother, or husband to duel." He sighed, a wry, grudging smile on his face, "Humans used to be like that," he admitted. I frowned in thought, "Now that I think about it, I don't believe Simon has ever challenged anyone to a duel. And gods know people have tried to goad him into it." "Why, to try to get rid of him?" Wallace guessed, "Seems like a losing proposition if it's fey versus human, even if he doesn't go all Super Saiyan on them." "Super Saiyan?" I inquired. Wallace covered his face with his hand, "The body magic thing he does." "Oh, well, you're right. Magic isn't allowed, though that can be hard to enforce. But it's the privilege of the challenged party to opt for a champion to take their place. Usually a sprite, or now that there are other races in the city, a goblin or elf. But it matters little," I explained, "Simon seems genuinely ambivalent to even the most grievous insult made against him. At first, it led to him losing a great deal of respect within the city, but once it was clear he didn't care about that either, I think he was able to turn it into a strength. That said, it's not as if he doesn't get even with those that oppose him. Typically when a nobleman of the city goes after Simon, he'll find that a wife or daughter will have mysteriously fallen for the human interloper," I thumped Wallace on the chest, "Simon's playroom isn't quite as well soundproofed as Temerity's though, I understand that most of the manor, along with anyone out on the street, can hear when Simon is taking the initiative with a new paramour," I put a hand to my chin, as if in thought, "Now that I think about it, that must be some serious soundproofing in Temerity's place, I mean, you must be awfully lou-" Wallace, very gently, but very firmly, put his hand over my mouth. "Shhh." I shrank inwards a little and nodded. At first, I'd been needling him just to see what it would take to get him to strike me. Humans were still an enigma to me, and I found that people were generally easier to deal with if I knew where the limits were, but now I realized that the greater risk would be making the big mushy goliath feel hurt. He took his hand away, and I pulled myself up to plant a kiss on his cheek, before sinking back down to nestle against his chest. "You're an okay bodyguard Wally." "Thanks, Vally," he replied wryly, "Have you got your daily allotment of teasing me in? Can we get to adult stuff?" I rolled my eyes, "Val will be fine, and what is it?" "Well," he began, pulling down the blanket a bit so I could see out into the night, "I picked this bench for a reason, are you able to make out that light in the distance?" "No, can you-" Wallace covered both the torches, and I waited as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. "Maybe?" I said finally, "I might just be seeing what I want to see though. I take it you're more confident?" He nodded, "It's a campfire. It's way the hell out there, but it's a fire." "Probably surveyors from Caniforma," I guessed. "Are they going to be a problem?" "Perhaps," I admitted, "They might eventually find a route here, but surveyors tend to guard their discoveries jealously. Unless you know who to ask, it's not easy to even learn where to buy such information, and that's to speak nothing of the price. No, they're not likely to pose a threat. That said, if someone is truly determined to come after me, they likely could reach us." "You mean someone might pull the same stunt we did," Wallace realized. I pulled the blanket back up over my head and relaxed against the big man. "Yes. And while we had to spend a day getting through the pass, the proximity of the mountains offers possibilities to the determined." "You mean someone might try to make their own little rest stop by climbing up far enough? Would that even work with horses?" "Doubtful," I replied, "But if it came to it, they could abandon the horses to the tide, and sleep out the night partway up some convenient cliff." "Hmmm..." he rumbled quietly, "Just trying to think through the timeline here. So the horsemen, horsewomen, horsepeople?" "They were riders, not centaurs," I huffed. "Whichever, point is, they left late. After all, we left late, and they left even later after that. So we'll assume whoever comes after us has time to prepare, and are down the ramp from the city at first light." "Not a simple task," I interjected, "There are special carriages that carry horses down, and even if they've planned to have those ready, the descent is yet slower than it was for us." "Okay, fair," Wallace agreed, "But it does mean that, compared to the riders we ran into, they'll be further along at any given point in time." "Fair," I agreed. "Which pushes their point of no return forwards, I don't know, six hours?" he guessed, "That might be a bit generous, but we should prepare for a best-case attempt from them." "They also won't have spent several hours searching an alien neighbourhood for us," I added. Wallace nodded, "Which means they get even further. Now include the fact they've got a safe return that's a lot closer... yeah, I bet they could make it. Fuck they'd be tired though." "I wouldn't worry about it for now, Wally," I assured him, "I have a hard time conceiving of a more defensible position than what we have now. We'll have time to ready ourselves. Besides, they know not what they face at the end of their journey. I don't expect to see them in the next Long Night, perhaps the one after next at the earliest," I peered up at him from beneath the blankets, "Plenty of time for you to learn some magic." Wallace beamed and seemed to tremble at the mere word, and it gave me a little thrill to see him smile like that. I thumped my hand against his chest again, "Carry me inside, feed me some breakfast, and we can get started." Wallace pursed his lips, "What was that you said, something about protecting you but not taking care of you?" I narrowed my eyes, "You're not taking care of me, you're pampering me. "As you wish, your highness," Wallace replied wryly. Still bundled up in the blanket, Wallace brought me back inside through a different staircase. Rather than functional metal railings and hard stone steps, this staircase was thickly carpeted, and the hardwood railings were stained a rich dark brown. Wallace shouldered his way through the door at the bottom of the stairs, and I somehow found myself in a room that was even more luxurious than what I'd seen below. Now that wasn't to say that every surface was engraved, gilded, and studded with gemstones as it might be in a royal's palace. The humans who'd built this structure seemed to have a preference for understatement, and instead of displaying wealth with precious metals and rare stones, it was with quality materials. Again, I was astounded by the uniformity with which the carpets and furniture upholstery were dyed. The elves could do work that was nearly this good, but it wouldn't be uniform over such a large area, and the reagents they used to fix the dyes had an unfortunate scent. It looked to me that the top floor of the entire east wing was dedicated to this single set of chambers. Well, perhaps not 'chambers', as the designers seemed not to have believed in walls. Where they were needed, they were either glass, as the exterior walls were, or did not rise to reach the ceiling, and served simply to break up the sightlines and provide a little privacy. Oddly enough, the kitchen seemed to be displayed proudly, rather than being out of sight, hidden back in some servant's area. I wasn't happy to see the harpsichord, in what would be the sitting room, had it been a separate room. There was also another of those black glass slabs that humans always arranged their furniture to face. There had even been several in the restaurant below, arranged so that no matter where one sat, a slab could be seen. This one was the largest I'd yet seen and was nearly as wide as I was tall. The deference shown to the objects suggested some religious significance, and it occurred to me that there had been something similar in the house we'd looted before leaving the human neighbourhood. The materials hadn't been quite the same, and the glass slab at the front had bulged outwards rather than being perfectly flat, but there as well, the furniture had been arranged to face it. "This is the penthouse," Wallace explained, "I wanted to wait until you were up to ask your thoughts, but I think we should start moving our stuff up here. The stairs are a problem-" "It'll be fine once my shoulder is mended," I assured him. Wallace shrugged, and set me down on one of the wide upholstered and high-backed benches in the sitting room, "There's also some conference rooms through there," he went on, nodding towards the central spine of the building, "so there's space for us to work if we need it." I stretched out on my back while Wallace went over to the kitchen to root through the cabinets. "Is that what's atop the other wing?" I yawned. "No, the conference rooms are near the elevators, probably for fancy people to have fancy people meetings," he called back, "The other wing is a presidential suite, so I guess this is an American hotel." "American?" "Uh, it's another country from Earth," he explained, "But the language is the same, and I'm familiar enough with the units they use to measure things that it's not a problem," I heard the cabinets shut. A moment later, Wallace was peering over the side of the couch, "I'm gonna go out on the balcony and cook, you stay out of trouble till I get back." "I'll try, no promises." With both of us properly fed, I had Wallace join me in the sitting room and drew him down next to me on what he called a 'couch'. While he'd been busy cooking, I'd poked around the penthouse, looking for something to use for our first magic lesson. I'd found what I'd needed in the bathroom- a bathroom that was larger than some commoner's homes -a box of hairpins. I took out just one of the pins and handed it over to him. It seemed comically small in his enormous hand, and he held it between forefinger and the odd not-quite-thumb, not-quite-finger that was his extra digit. "I can do magic with just this?" "Yes and no. The first thing to understand-" I began. Wallace beamed, and threw his arms up in the air, "First law of magic!" I sighed, but couldn't help but share his smile, "You're just a child on the inside, aren't you." "We're all children on the inside," Wallace replied, "and we're all just pretending otherwise." My smile turned to a smirk, as I considered what I might do if I wasn't trying to keep up appearances as a noblewoman. And the truth was, it wasn't as if I put much effort into such appearances. "Are you going to let me teach you magic," I prodded, "or are you going to keep sharing your philosophy?" "Alright, alright, what's the first law of magic?" "From a single object, you can only get one type of mana," I recited, "There are exceptions, but for the time being, one object, one type of mana." Wallace frowned and stared intently at the hairpin, "That doesn't exactly make sense." "What about it troubles you?" "The exceptions. Physical laws don't tend to have them." "Wally, which one of us is teaching and which one is learning right now?" "I know, I know, but I also spent two decades in one type of school or the other," he insisted, "Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, Euclid's postulates, they mostly don't have exceptions." "Mostly?" I repeated, "So then they do have exceptions, why is it so strange then-" "That's just it," he exclaimed, "Thermodynamics, that's sacrosanct. Pretty sure even magic doesn't violate that no matter how hard you try. But Euclid's postulates and Newton's laws of motion, those are different. Euclid had five postulates. The first four are simple. I mean simple enough that they're a single sentence that a kid could understand. I mean, the first one is that you can draw a straight line between any two points, really simple stuff. But Euclid was trying to explain the very fundamentals of geometry. His problem, and hell, mathematicians worked on it for hundreds of years after him, was his fifth postulate. He was trying to describe the fundamentals behind parallel and non-parallel lines, and it was kind of clumsy. He couldn't quite get the phrasing to be as neat and tidy as the other five postulates. And not just him, like I said, plenty of genuine geniuses worked on the same problem, and couldn't figure it out. See, the truth was, there was a deeper understanding that wasn't known," he paused, I think he'd noticed that my eyes were starting to glaze over, "Um, remind me to tell you about non-euclidean geometry some time. The point is, the way he was trying to describe how parallel lines worked, didn't always apply. But he couldn't even conceive of how it didn't apply. It was as if he was blind to it." "And you think the same is true for magic?" I said slowly, as I digested his speech. "Yeah, and you know what," Wallace said confidently, "This is exactly the sort of thing Simon would recognize as well." I felt a sudden tightness in my chest, not fear, but excitement. Wallace had already been able to provide some hints, but now it felt as if I were finally starting to draw the curtain aside. "This Newton, what was his mistake?" "Well the thing to remember about Newton, is that he was a genuine genius. I mean, he couldn't figure out the equations necessary to track the motions of planets, so he invented a new type of mathematics. He was one of the first guys to lay out a set of laws that could begin to describe the way the physical world worked. It's more complicated than that, and others added to his theory to build Classical Mechanics, but there's a reason that Classical Mechanics is sometimes referred to as Newtonian Physics. The trouble was, there were areas where his theories broke down. But like Euclid, it broke down in ways he couldn't conceive of. It worked for apples falling from trees, and planets orbiting stars, but not, for example, black holes, nuclear weapons, and spaceships trying to travel faster than light." "I feel as if I say this frequently in your company," I told him tiredly, "but pardon me?" "Newton's theories worked at the scales that most people can conceive of. From the very smallest bit of dust, all the way up to the most very massive stars. As for velocity, it covered the stationary, all the way up to objects travelling more than a hundred thousand times faster than a speeding bullet." "What else is there?" "Exactly!" he exclaimed, "It took another two hundred years for a guy named Einstein to come along and invent General and Special Relativity, which explained how things smaller than motes of dust, larger than the largest stars, and nearly as fast as light worked." "I still don't think I understand quite what you're saying, but I take it, that it is enough to know that there was more to know than Euclid and Newton could fathom." "Exactly," Wallace agreed, "So, what are these exceptions to the 'one object, one mana type' rule?" "Gemstones, air, and liquids. Raw gemstones can be cut in such a way as to provide two of the available mana types at once. Garnets, for example, provide four mana types, Metal, Body, Strengthen, and Protect. When it is faceted, the jeweller selects any two of those, and from then on, those are the only two mana types that the garnet may provide. Indeed, the caster must use both types, for any spell that includes the garnet. As for air and liquids, neither can be said to be a single object. With liquids, typically one must use the entire container unless it's something like a spellcaster dipping their hand in a lake or river. That's typically only something experts can do though. Most spellcasters will simply scoop some up in their hand or the like. Air presents the same difficulty, experts can simply use it directly out of the space around them, but most Air magic users will carry glass bottles of various sizes." "So say I wanted to use this bobby pin," Wallace suggested, "I'd need to use the whole thing, and only for one of its available mana types?" I nodded, and then Wallace bent the pin until it broke into two halves, "And now this is two objects, so I could use what was a single bobby pin, for both mana types in a spell?" "Yes, that was the puzzle I'd intended you to solve," I admitted, "I sense you're unhappy with this answer?" "I am," he agreed, "I don't know how the 'one object one mana type' rule is wrong, but it's wrong. What if I had two pins, or let's say I just use both these halves. These are metal, so they've got Metal mana? Okay, so could I use both halves for Metal mana, and then some third object for the other mana type I need?" "Yes," I said slowly, "I suppose that's the second rule. Controlled magic always takes two types of mana, attempt it with a single type, and only the gods know what will happen." "Alright, well I'm gonna think on rule one. It feels kind of like a 'blind men and the elephant' situation." This time I just threw up my hands. Wallace grinned sheepishly, "Sorry, have you ever seen an elephant?" "Yes," I replied, more than a little exasperated. "Coles notes-" he began, and I gave him a dangerous look, "Sorry, simple version is, one blind guy puts a hand on the leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree. Another feels the trunk and says it's like a big snake, so on and so on." "You're clearly very intelligent, very learned. It's a shame you hide it behind a veneer of utter madness." "We can argue about who's crazier later," he chuckled, "So we've got the first rule, 'one object, one mana type', and its exceptions, and the second rule, 'one or more verbs, and one or more nouns, or bad things happen'." "Then there's the final rule, and it applies to the case you suggested, using both halves of the pin for Metal mana. Steel is a Greater source of Metal mana. It doesn't matter how much steel you have, it will only ever be a Greater source. The quantity of steel instead determines how long the Greater source persists." "Is there a number for greater?" he asked, "What's the scale?" "I've yet to hear anyone use numbers to try to describe the difference between various mana sources, or at least, try and succeed in coming up with anything that makes sense. No, the scale is Minimal, Lesser, Moderate, Greater, and Significant." "Hold on. Actual metal is only the second-best source of Metal mana? How does that make sense?" Wallace demanded. I shrugged, "Only gemstones are a Significant mana source, metals are typically Greater, not just of Metal mana itself, but of whatever other mana types that metal provides as well. Copper provides Greater Fire, for example." "Hmm, seems kinda weird that it's the most powerful sources of mana that are best known," Wallace mused, "I would have thought it'd be the other way around." "There are commonly known rumours about colours and herbs both supplying either lesser or minimal mana of a great many different types, but I've yet to hear any specifics." "How are new types discovered then? Even if most people get the info second-hand, someone would have had to be the first." "It's tricky," I warned, "And I don't even know if the method I know of is the safest way to do it, but typically one takes a material with a known mana type, and the material they want to understand and attempt to cast a spell. Either the caster can guess at what mana might be present in the unknown material, in which case things proceed as with any normal spell." "And if they get it wrong?" Wallace grimaced. "If they get it wrong," I continued, "Or simply try to cast a spell without trying to guess what mana types might be present, then nearly anything can happen. The proto-spell uses the selected mana from the known material and a random mana type from the unknown material, and chaos generally ensues." "I'm guessing it's generally a good idea to use small quantities then?" Wallace offered. I nodded, "Anything to limit the potential damage. Transformation magic and Body magic are the worst. Fire magic, to be sure, may cause severe burns if the caster is unlucky, but Healing magic can correct something as simple as an injury. But a body, malformed by magic, is nigh-impossible to correct." I took his hand in both of mine. It was soft but strong, and large enough that my thumbs didn't quite meet in the middle. "Promise me you'll listen, and promise me that you won't go experimenting on your own," I urged him, "This is dangerous, and there's only so much I can do. If I were any good with healing magic, I would have fixed my shoulder already. I understand your excitement, but before we continue, I need your word that you'll listen when I warn you something's dangerous." "Alright, I promise," he assured me, "If I come up with anything crazy, I'll talk to you first." "Thank you, the other thing I should warn you about is that this isn't going to be easy. I don't want you to feel discouraged if it doesn't work right away." I didn't want to sabotage him by telling him just how hard it was to cast a spell for the first time, but I also didn't want him giving up. I'd seen both extremes in my time. Some would give up after trying and failing for weeks, while still others would hear such tales and internalize the assumption that they'd never be able to do it. I was by no means a magic tutor, but those I was familiar with had spoken of striking a balance. It was essential to warn would-be spellcasters of the difficulty, without making it seem insurmountable. Magic was a science of the mind after all, and if someone got the wrong idea in their head, it often made their magical journey a great deal longer, if it started at all. "Everything is hard until you figure it out," he replied, "I'll be patient." "First," I began, speaking softly, "Close your eyes, once you get more familiar with magic you won't need to, but for now it can help to focus the mind." He did as I asked, and I let go of his hand to pick up the box of bobby pins. "The spell you're going to cast will give you an invisible hand, that can pick up only metal. Steel contains Earth, Fire, Metal, Movement, and Protection mana. You're going to use the Metal mana from one half of the pin, and the Movement mana from the other to create this hand," I shook the box so he could hear the pins rattle, "Then you're going to use that hand to pick up some of these pins." Wallace nodded, an oddly tranquil expression on his face. "Now. Magic requires you to hold two different understandings of the world in your mind. First, there's the world as it is now, where you're holding two halves of a broken pin in one hand. Second, there's the world as you will it to be, where the halves of the pin are gone, and you have an intangible hand, capable of only manipulating metal. Now I understand that might not make much sense," I admitted, still speaking softly, "But think of it as there being two worlds. There's the mental world as it exists within your mind, and there's the physical world, as it appears to everyone else. Take your time," I said soothingly, "Don't rush yourself, the important thing is to-" There was a metallic rattling, and then the pins were floating above the small box, as if cupped in an invisible hand. I leapt to my feet, astounded at what I saw, "Wally, that's amazing!" I exclaimed. Wallace was not so enthused. He had his eyes open now, but there was an unexpected sadness in them. "Seems I'm uniquely suited to this," he muttered dourly. "What's the matter?" "Nothing, just the universe reminding me that I'm a freak." "Who cares?" I demanded, "What you just did takes most people weeks or months, you're a freak? Wallace, I would cut off my arm to be a freak like you. You're an enormous slab of muscle with indestructible bones, a supernatural talent for magic, and this is just a guess, but someone your size is also probably hung like a horse." He immediately turned red and brought a hand to his face, but I went on unabated, "Who cares, if I had a body like yours, I would revel in it. The strength, the power, I would need to run from nothing. And what you said about your body making muscle no matter how lazy you are? Gods, I would eat as much as I wanted, drink whatever I liked, and bed whoever I fancied," I shook my head slowly, "But you don't conduct yourself like that. I would have searched out some shapely elf noblewoman, one that was easier to handle than Temerity, to act as patron and paramour while I ate and drank and fucked the days away," I spread my arms, and gazed down at my scrawny frame, "But instead you're here with me, because I need you, and because you have a good heart." "Well," he said slowly, "Thanks, I guess," he said with a bland shrug. I growled and prodded him in the side. I wanted it to hurt, but I think my shoulder ended up worse off than his ribs. At the same time, I bore down on my pheromone glands, forcing out as much of the rage pheromone as I could muster. "You don't think I know you get angry sometimes? Really really angry?" I demanded, "When we lost that pack, gods, I didn't think the scent of anger could be that thick. And then in the tunnel when you were trying to get through that metal cover, the smell was so strong I thought I was going to faint." I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. It wasn't sweat. Instead, I was giving off so much of the pheromones that it was beading on my skin, and making my clothes and hair damp. "But you didn't lash out at me, or anyone else. Who cares if you get angry? It happens, what matters is what you do with it. You're a good person, with a good heart," I informed him, "But time to time you need someone to slap you upside the head and get you on the right track, that's all." He chuckled at that. There was enough rage pheromone in the air now that he should have long since bashed my head in, but instead, he was laughing. He raised his hands, "Alright, alright, you've made your point. Now could you please tone it down? If I have to put up with this for much longer, I'm gonna burst a blood vessel." I switched to the opposite pheromone, and couldn't get much out before my glands ran dry, but it was enough to neutralize the rage pheromone in the air. I put my hands on my knees and took a deep breath, I don't think I'd ever pushed myself that hard, and I was surprised to find it left me so exhausted. My legs felt like jelly as I stumbled back over to join Wallace on the couch. "If you're done feeling sorry for yourself," I huffed, "I can finish explaining magic," I offered. "Go ahead, what's left?" he asked wryly. Continued in comment
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