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Book 1: Chapter 29: Coming Together

Madison
I thrust my sword and grunted with effort as I did so.
The new armor that Ragna had designed was insanely heavy, terribly cumbersome, and I was shocked at its poor design in that regard.
Ragna watched me as I managed as best I could before she finally stopped me, “just as I expected.”
“Did you design this armor out of lead, Ragna?” I asked. In private we would drop the formalities.
As monstrous as Ragna was in public, in these private moments, she was almost human. Today more so than usual.
The new armor was thicker than I recalled. I wondered if this was an attempt to respond to the sniper shot that damaged my armor, and shoulder, last time.
The fact that we were now marching against the United States of America probably had a whole lot to do with it.
“For Theodora,” I thought to myself. It brought me out of my self imposed retirement. I knew my old country had been in charge of some fucked up shit.
Deposing fascist dictators left and right, poisoning world leaders, kicking out democratically elected officials who were ‘against the interest of national security’, and so on.
I guess it’s different when it happens to someone who didn’t deserve it, like Theodora.
I had met Theodora plenty of times. She was a wide-eyed and sweet girl. Sure she could be crass at times but I remember hearing her talk about peace plenty of times in the Palace. The girl wasn’t a warmonger. It gave me hope for the future of Penthesil.
But now? I was infuriated as the rest of Penthesil. We had all agreed: the US had their time as a superpower. Now, that time has come to an end.
“Draw your other sword,” Ragna asked.
I frowned, “the chaos blade?” I asked. I had no other word for it.
Ragna nodded.
I drew the blade and, to my shock, everything changed.
I couldn’t help but smile, the sword in my hand seemed to sync up with my armor and the armor became light as a feather. My armor itself changed colors and I felt strange energy surrounding me.
“Oh that’s…” my eyes unfocused and I felt a bit dizzy, “that’s kinda cool.”
Ragna lifted an eyebrow as I grabbed the sword with both hands.
I swung the sword and imagined the violence and destruction I’d reap with this thing. I jumped up into the air as if I was held down by nothing and sliced a dummy in half, my eyes and ears filling with the cacophony of battle.
“Drop it, Maddy, please,” Ragna pleaded.
Without hesitation, I dropped the sword.
I knew better than to skip an order from Ragna. As the sword left my hands I dropped to my knees. I turned to Ragna, “What the fuck was that? I felt…”
“Insane, I’m guessing? It appeared as if a bloodlust came over you,” Ragna helped me up, concern on her face.
I nodded, “I wouldn’t call it bloodlust,” I turned to the sword, “...it was a desire for chaos.”
Ragna nodded, “I see. I suppose that makes sense. Your patron Goddess imbued that blade after all.”
“Yeah,” I flexed the armor, watching the color drain from it and it’s weight return, “What kind of armor is this?”
“Armor that shifts energy signatures and synchronizes with the wavelengths of the user,” Ragna said as she bent down to pick up the blade herself.
“Meaning…?” I asked, hoping to get the layman’s version of whatever Ragna was explaining. She always addressed me as if I too were some hyper-intelligent alien/angel creature, like herself.
Ragna’s normal moment of prideful triumph wasn’t there as expected. Her eyes were mournful as she sheathed the sword for me, gently helping me out of the armor.
“It means,” Ragna began, helping me out of the heavy breastplate, “that if you have a powerful enough aura, the armor syncs with it, draws from it, and helps to evenly distribute that energy.”
Ragna’s eyes were full of concern and stress and I swear I could see the thousands of thoughts rushing through her head through her eyes. I decided to use the rare trump card I had, as she was beyond troubled.
“Sellenia,” I asked, “what’s wrong?”
Ragna’s eyes stopped their million thoughts a second as she fixed her eyes on me, her expression still stoic, “Madison, we have discussed you calling me by my old name-”
“What’s wrong?” I pried further.
Ragna lifted the breastplate off of me and the difference in weight was a relief on my lower back. “Your son, do you often think of his future?”
“Everyday,” I smiled a bit, “and the future of all the reclaimed, to be honest, Ragna.”
Ragna nodded.
“Can I ask you, completely and honestly,” I decided to hit at a softer subject before broaching what was really getting to her, “you got furious when I first explained abortions to you. Why?”
Ragna scoffed, “this again?”
“I’m going into battle and I might not come back,” I pleaded, “I’d like to know what it is that makes my friend act as she does.”
Ragna’s smile didn’t come back as I expected, whatever had her down, it was weighing hard on her. “When I was young, I didn’t put much stock in childbearing,” she heaved a sigh, her hand idly caressing her stomach. “I focused on fighting, killing, and taking what little sexual pleasure I could from the rare enough lovers I could find.”
“Sounds fun,” I attempted to joke.
Ragna still didn’t smile, “for me it wasn’t as frequent. But for Xyphiel, however? Oh, but did he have it easy? Being the ‘acceptable’ sexual orientation meant that he didn’t have to spend half the time convincing some woman to lay with him.” Ragna rolled her eyes.
“Too bad you didn’t find Penthesil sooner,” I remarked.
Ragna nodded solemnly, “it wasn’t long into our conquest of a particular world that it started. A woman came to Xyphiel carrying a child. She claimed the spawn she had created was Xyphiel’s. She said it was cursed because when it was born she tried to kill it and it would not die.”
“Oh,” I gasped, shocked, “okay.”
“At first,” Ragna admitted, “I didn’t think much of the little girl in the woman’s arms. But as she grew up? I fell in love with my first niece.”
“First?” I frowned.
“My brother’s rather virile,” Ragna explained and sighed, “Sume is such a sweet girl.”
“I’ve never met Sume, I don’t think, have I?” I asked.
Ragna shook her head, “she never leaves the library,” a smile finally cracked on Ragna’s face before fading entirely. “The thought that Sume wouldn’t be here, just because the mother was either raped by Xyphiel or because her mother didn’t want her always struck a nerve with me.”
I was surprised the reasoning wasn’t that of science, but emotion. Ragna was normally all science with policy, not emotion.
“By the time Sume was an adult, I had long since passed menopause,” Ragna turned to me, “Immortality for women is quite different. Xyphiel can fuck every woman in the universe and not lose potency, but I only had so many eggs before I ran out. That is why I developed my own method of having children,” Ragna explained. “It took me so long to develop, to the point where I even needed assistance to conquer a scientific roadblock.”
“A roadblock? For you?” I mocked.
“Stop brown-nosing,” Ragna mocked me back.
“Brown nosing? You want to hear brown-nosing?” I bowed low, “Oh Great Empress of Penthesil, what great mystery of the universe halted your great scientific endeavors!”
“Shut up, Maddy,” Ragna smiled at me, shaking her head. Ragna’s smile slowly weakened, “I had an issue with finding a method to encapsulate the split DNA into a multitude of compatible spermatozoa that were capable of impregnation.”
“But you figured it out eventually, right?” I asked.
“Not me,” she sighed, “Moria, a brilliant scientist on Adridia. She was compelled by another reason than myself. While I hoped to make a child for my future lover and I, Moria’s reasons were to show that a same-sex couple could, indeed, bear and raise a child together.”
“And adoption wasn’t possible?” I asked, having recently adopted myself, I couldn’t help but constantly talk about the wonderful feeling of caring for a child. Adonis was a beautiful baby. I loved him as my own and would do anything for him.
“On Adridia you could be hung for being homosexual,” Ragna explained, “Moria’s work, and her sexual orientation, was done entirely underground and I happily assisted.”
I flinched, Ragna’s stance starting to make sense.
“So, Moria and I worked for months to crack this code, to fight for our rights as women to have children however we pleased, with the person we loved,” Ragna sighed heavily, “...so when you first told me that there were women here who just cast aside such an opportunity? Who would kill little children like Sume, who would discard a gift that some of us would claw and fight for?” Ragna’s fist clenched, “it infuriated me.”
Getting this much insight into Ragna was common for me, but at the same time, it was something I was shocked to hear. Ragna would open up so much to me, and while I had opened up to her plenty about my feelings, I had nowhere near the life experiences that Ragna had. Not that it was a competition.
“So that’s why you pushed the Reclamation Project for women who wanted to abort their pregnancy?” I asked.
“Yes,” Ragna looked to her clenched fist, slowly opening it and staring at her palm, “If they didn’t want to be the mother’s of these beautiful children, then I would take on that responsibility.”
“As long as women can avoid unwanted pregnancy,” I reminded Ragna.
Ragna rolled her eyes, “I do so hate when you call them that.”
“It’s what they are, Ragna,” I pointed out.
“Your son is one of those, unwanted, is he not?” Ragna asked, “and you, do you not want him?”
I smiled, “Adonis is very much wanted by me and Hilly, but he was unwanted by his mother,” I argued.
“Well,” Ragna sighed, “now it’s a moot point, isn’t it? Now the women who wish to discard their children can do so,” Ragna looked to the door as I heard it open, “and the lives of those unborn can be preserved.”
I turned to see Zepherina walking towards us.
I had to take a step back.
Sure, I had seen the video of what had happened to Princess Zepherina before. But to be in her presence as she stalked towards Ragna, her eyes full of nothing but violet fire and murderous intent? It sent a chill down my spine.
I hoped the excited and child-like girl that had jumped down into a mosh-pit all those years ago was still in there. Then again, I thought back to that lighter moment, Theodora was with her then.
Theodora and Zepherina were so close, even then.
“Preserving life? Like you would know anything about that,” Zepherina sneered at Ragna.
I saluted, “Princess Zepherina.”
Zepherina’s fiery eyes shifted to me and I shivered as they did so.
“What have you done to poor Madison?” Zepherina said, shocked.
I blinked, “You… remember me?”
“You were with Captain Hillieve at the concert a few years ago,” Zepherina recalled, “you were in the royal balcony with me and…” her face fell.
I frowned, my heart going out to Zepherina as what was once a joyful memory filled her with despair. “Theodora’s memory will be avenged, Zepherina,” I tried to assure.
Zepherina’s normally happy face was nowhere to be found, even her wings had changed. They didn’t even look like feathers anymore but like a series of blades attached to her wings.
Zepherina’s mournful expression shifted to anger once more as she turned to Ragna, “why did you call me here?”
Ragna turned and walked to a large case, she picked it up with a grunt. I recognized it as a similar case that my armor had been housed in, granted this looked far larger. “I have a small gift for you. Consider it a small token of my affection."
As Ragna placed the case at Zepherina’s feet Zepherina sneered at her, "affection? I didn't know you were capable of affection.”
I flinched at the verbal jab Zepherina hurled and I couldn’t imagine the pain it caused Ragna. Ragna had nothing but love for Zepherina. Zepherina had none for her mother.
Though, to be completely fair, I couldn’t blame her.
“Open it,” Ragna instructed.
Zepherina scoffed at Ragna, then looked down at the case and got to her knees, popping opened the locks and opening the case.
The armor was larger than mine, but Zepherina was larger than me.
Zepherina’s hand touched the armor and as it did I watched as the armor pulsed and glowed with incredible energy.
I had to take a step back as the armor activated.
When Zepherina’s hand moved away, the energy died down slightly, “What is that?”
“It will help to evenly distribute your power,” Ragna explained, “it gels with your energy, the armor is as strong as the aura of its user.”
Zepherina looked it over, then without much hesitation, she pulled her shirt off, and began to don her armor.
As she touched each component, I was shocked as the armor shifted from an off-white to a jet black with violet trim. It was as if the armor became a part of Zepherina.
Zepherina clenched her fists and gave a few knocks to the armor here and there, “feels solid.”
Ragna nodded, walking back into another room and returned with a larger case.
This case was huge, even for Ragna, and she moved it with considerable difficulty as she placed the heavy case down on the ground.
“What’s this?” Zepherina asked, confused.
“Too big to be called a sword,” Ragna commented as she flicked open the case, revealing what Ragna described. A massive blade that was as wide as a normal sword would is long, and obscenely lengthy from to boot.
My eyes nearly leap out of their skull as I saw the size of this thing.
Zepherina looked up to Ragna, confusion on her face, “what did you say?”
“Massive, thick, heavy and far too rough,” Ragna continued, “more of a heap of raw iron, though in this case, raw Crystoleum,” Ragna boasted.
Zepherina knelt over the ridiculous looking thing, her gauntlet clad hand moving over the weapon. As she touched it, it turned black like her armor. The hilt shifted as well, a violet light pulsing along it’s edge, the seal of Penthsil was proudly on the pommel, with the old seal sitting prominently at the center of the hilt.
“I spoke to your momma and she told me you had some particular tastes,” Ragna smiled.
Zepherina looked up from the ground, her expression still one of anger, “so, what, now I’m supposed to love you?” Zepherina sneered.
Ragna’s smile vanished, “I don’t expect an ‘I love you’ but a ‘thank you’ wouldn’t kill you.”
“I don’t know,” Zepherina got to her feet, “it might," she snickered.
Ragna’s lip quivered for a moment, “I am trying with you, Zepherina.”
“Stop,” Zepherina snapped, “it’s not worth it because I will never accept that you're my mother.”
I bit my lip, taking a step back from the pair as they clashed.
“So, just using me to get your revenge then?” Ragna narrowed her eyes.
“As long as you’ll let me,” Zepherina’s eyes blazed with a newfound heat, “unless you think you can stop me if I strike out on my own.”
Ragna was glaring at Zepherina, her eyes looking furious, but I knew Ragna wasn’t angry.
She was hurt. Badly hurt.
“I suppose I will just see you tomorrow for your training,” Ragna said as she stormed off.
I heard a door slam as Ragna left the room.
Zepherina knelt by the sword once more.
“...she does love you,” I said softly behind Zepherina.
“I know,” Zepherina said as she moved her hand over the huge sword, gripping the handle and lifting it with ease. She held the sword out in front of her, the thing as long as she was tall. “I’m sure this sword wasn’t easy to make,” she gave a wide swing to the right and I felt the air in the room swirl as she did so.
“So, you won’t let her in at all?” I asked.
Zepheirna turned to me, looking me up and down, “Did you let her in?”
I nodded, “She helped me become a warrior and not just a Hestie.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a Hestie,” Zepherina said, placing the sword back in its case, closing it tightly. “Hesties raise our children and keep our homes while we’re at war. Anyone who diminishes the Hesties and the House of Hestia isn’t a true Penthesilean Valkyrie.”
I smiled, “I bet Launa would be happy to hear that.”
Zepherina frowned, “Launa’s terrified of me.”
“Oh,” I swallowed hard, as I wasn’t necessarily calm when Zepherina first showed up.
“What’s scary about me now?” Zepherina asked.
“What?” I gasped.
“Why are you terrified?” Zepherina turned to me, the fire in her eyes now replaced by soft wisps of violet smoke, rising from her void-filled sockets and over her brow. Her eyes had emotion still, I could see her brow furrowed and the smoke within her eyes was moving in soft, gentle motions.
“I think… we’re just afraid you’ve…” I cleared my throat and steeled myself, ready to take on whatever would come. “We’re afraid that you’ve snapped. That Theodora’s death has pushed you over the edge and that you’re going to destroy anyone that crosses you.”
I figured if she did kill me, she would have at least heard the truth.
Zepherina’s face didn’t twist to anger, instead, her hands shook and she fell to her knees, her face in her hands. Zepherina’s shoulders lurched as she began to sob.
At first, I turned from her to give her privacy as she cried, as was the Valkyrie way. But my heart ached for her pain. I closed my eyes tight. Shit… my passion for Rachel is removed but I must have some kind of maternal love for Zepherina… I turned and knelt next to her, my heartbreaking as she sobbed tearlessly into her hands. “I’m sorry, I should have phrased that differently.”
Zepherina looked up to me, her eye’s smoke looking more like a pair of boiling points of water, “But you’re right! I did lose control and I don’t know what might happen if I lose control again.”
I looked to her armor, placing my hand on her shoulder, “well, Ragna said this armor is supposed to absorb and distribute your strength. Maybe Ragna’s trying to help you focus your strength to help you?”
Zepherina sniffled, instinctively moving to dry her eyes, despite there being no tears, “our training isn't helping in that department.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I don’t have a limit,” Zepherina confessed.

Xyphiel
I flexed my hands and flinched as I felt the pain of my severed body below.
Ragna was going to leave me here, like this? That bitch! I had questioned her judgment before, but now? Now I knew she had lost her way.
The ruthless warrior now thought herself a Queen.
I would have to remind her of her place.
As I lamented my position, I looked out of the cylinder, spotting Bella approaching.
She spoke out loud and I could only hear her voice muffled through the water and glass.
I closed my eyes, speaking directly to her mind, “Speak in your mind Bella and I will hear you.”
When my eyes opened I saw Bella smiling wickedly, “Xyphiel, I’m happy to see you’re alive. I see you’ve run afoul of the Angel Timothy.”
I narrowed my eyes, “You knew of Timothy?!”
Bella nodded, “Timothy, Jason, Father Thomas, Trevor, and Lilith,” she confessed, “all have crossed me at some point or another. Father Thomas first, but Timothy was the angel that helped save that fool priest.”
My anger boiled over and the pain of my severed body was the only thing that kept me from shifting to my Niten form. “Why did you not tell me?” I demanded.
“Tell you? Why would I tell you my life story, Xyphiel?” Bella asked, “Our love is still fresh. How do I know that I can trust you implicitly?” Bella reasoned, crossing her arms and giving me an indigent look.
“Because that information could have saved me from being bisected!” I shouted into Bella’s mind.
Bella’s look softened and she sighed, “Then I’m sorry. Years of having to guard myself have left me with high walls. I rarely let anyone in,” Bella smiled softly to me, “you’re the only man to be so deep inside me.”
The double entendre notwithstanding, I decided to clear the air. “Timothy is my son,” I explained.
Bella took a step back, “Timothy? The Angel Timothy is your son?” Bella asked, clearly bewildered.
“Yes, that’s right,” I confirmed, “Rachel is his mother.”
“Oh, Rachel?” Bella grinned to me, “that harlot? My God Xyphiel, do you know how to pick them…”
I growled, “I assume you’ve seen her hanging off of my sister Ragna at every turn?”
“I see, so that brute of a woman stole her from you?” Bella mused.
“Yes,” I hissed into Bella’s mind.
“What an absolute bitch of a sister you have!” Bella gasped. She looked over the cylinder I was inside, “When is she going to get you back on your feet?”
“She has no immediate plans,” I explained.
Bella’s eyes narrowed, “oh, that will not do…” her grin then came back, more than devilish as her teeth changed to the set of interlocking jaws that appeared sharp enough to bite steel, “I’ll be right back.”
In an instant, Bella vanished in a puff of black smoke. It was only a few moments later that she arrived with a man about my height, who I suspected was one of the colonists.
The man shouted in dismay, turning to me, his eyes widened as he looked to me and cried out in shock.
Bella smiled, “Do you want to be out of there right now?”
“Yes,” I affirmed. I had an idea of what Bella had planned.
Magic often required an offering to be effective.
Black Magic, especially.
“What are you willing to give?” Bella asked, “will you sacrifice this man’s life for your ability to walk again?”
I grinned, “I’d sacrifice the entire lot of them.”
Bella squealed in delight, “I’ll be right back!”
Bella soon popped in and out with a few more colonists, four in total.
I grinned as they all grew more afraid as Bella’s hands started glowing with dark power, “Get me out of here, my Bella.”

Timothy
I was in the vault, going over the items we had in our possession. What could best be used to kill Xyphiel?
I turned to see a spear tip, blackened with blood. I walked over to it and took it in my hands.
Xei’s knife fighting lessons came to mind, and I gave a thrust with the spear. This would help.
“Why are you here taking the Spearhead of Longinus?” Sofia’s voice came from the door.
I turned and saw Sofia standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and her wings spread wide.
“You’re actually going through with it?” Sofia narrowed her eyes on me.
I got to my feet, tucking the Spearhead into a satchel with some other artifacts I had collected, “God says Only the Sundered Child, not The Sundered Child and his soldiers.”
“Am I just your soldier then?” Sofia narrowed her eyes on me, her anger growing.
I approached her, “I am possibly going to die, I’m the one putting myself at risk-”
“I’ve already lost you once!” Sofia shouted, tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m not losing you again!” She shouted. “That’s why I did this to myself, Tim! That’s why I burned my eyes out by looking as deep into Samael’s vision as I could! Because I wanted to be your sword because I wanted to be yours forever!” Sofia shouted, tears now flowing from her milky eyes.
My heart broke as she cried before me.
“Forever isn’t supposed to end! Forever is always, not just a few months! I won’t let you-” Sofia was cut off as I kissed her, pushing her against the wall and holding her tight.
Tears fell from my eyes as we crushed against each other.
Sofia resisted for a second before she pushed back against me, her tongue invading my mouth with passion and desire.
By the time we broke the kiss both of us were short of breath, my forehead was lowered against hers.
For a brief moment, I thought I saw the milkiness of her eyes vanish, “Make love to me, right now, and don’t you dare fucking stop!” Sofia demanded.
I locked the door to the vault, grabbed Sofia’s shirt, and ripped it opened.
Sofia gasped as I tore her shirt off, exposing her bra, “Tim!”
I pulled the shirt down her arms and began to kiss at her neck, causing her to let out another gasp.
“T-this doesn’t get you out of trouble!” Sofia breathlessly defended as I pushed her pants down, eliciting a groan of desire from Sofia. “A-and…” Sofia shuddered as I pressed her against the wall, “you owe me a new shirt…!”
I kissed her again and both of her hands were on the back of my head as we pressed against each other.
Every moment of passion was treated as if each press, thrust, or embrace was bringing us closer together.
I wished I could have laid there with her forever like Sofia wanted. Like I wanted.

After hours, we lay on the floor of the vault, Sofia laying next to me, her arm over my chest, snoring contentedly.
I glanced at Sofia, guilt taking me as what she said sank into me: “That’s why I did this to myself, Tim! That’s why I burned my eyes…”
I kissed her forehead softly, tears leaking from my eyes, “I’m sorry. If I could take it back, I would,” I whispered.
Sofia shifted slightly but didn’t wake.
I wished Sofia was her old self. Then I could at least choose mortality with her, and the two of us could grow old together. I shut my eyes tightly and imagined a world where Sofia and I had a normal life.
I would come home from my tour of duty, and we’d move in together. We’d meet each other’s parents, I would propose. Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined a life we’d never have, never could.
My arm pulled her close to me as my heart skipped a beat, “Maybe in my next life…” I swallowed my sorrow down and took one more deep breath. “But this life’s fate? It’s sealed.”

Ragna
I watched in the observation room as Zepherina practiced her stances with the forcefield golems I often trained with.
“Horse stance and strike,” I instructed through the intercom.
Her strikes were growing more precise, less sloppy. I eyed the gravity readout, it was pinned hard at 24x the normal planet’s gravity. Rage was unable to increase the gravity in the room any higher, we lacked the graviton control power. Sadly, while using seawater to cool the systems was an easy modification, nothing was as effective as using the vacuum of space as a heatsink.
Still, Zepherina’s strength was limitless. This bodes poorly for a few reasons, but not immediately.
“Is this strength just a fluke?” I reasoned quietly. “She can’t be the only one, can she? Is my daughter the strongest being alive?”
Rage interrupted my thought process. “Incoming transmission from Timothy Crestfall.”
“Timothy?” I said, the intercom accidentally still opened.
Zepherina stopped her training, looking in my direction, “Timothy?”
“Rage, end the training system,” I ordered as I headed into the training room, the gravity normalizing.
“How high was the gravity?” Zepherina asked.
“Twenty four,” I explained.
“I didn’t even feel it,” Zepherina informed, disappointed.
“You served under Timothy, any clue why he’s trying to reach out to me now?” I asked.
Zepherina narrowed her eyes, “Timothy didn’t even tell me you were my mother. Why would he tell me any of his plans?”
“Well,” I smiled, “seems you, and I both have some business with Timothy.”
Zepherina walked past me, her attitude not yet softening.
I walked out after her and after Zepherina took a wrong turn down the hallway, I shouted, “The bridge is this way!”
Zepherina turned around and grumbled, “try some fucking signs in this place.”
She stormed past me, and I couldn’t help but smile at her.
I walked behind her, grinning at her frustrations. “What if she doesn’t love you at all?” I thought to myself. Oddly the thought crossed my mind as I came to a stop at the door which led to the bar. I blinked, turning to look inside.
I hadn’t meant to stop here. Was it just a habit?
Zepherina was next to me, giving me an odd look, “...that’s not the bridge, right?”
“No,” I said flatly, “It’s not.”
“No wonder you get lost here,” she motioned, “why is nothing labeled?”
I laughed, “open your mind to Rage, you’ll see the labels clearly,” I explained to Zepherina.
Zepherina scoffed and continued down the hallway.
I caught up with her, walking side by side with her. I, again, could not help but smile being near her.
When we reached the bridge, I saw Timothy’s face appear on the screen.
“Timothy,” I smiled, “I missed you.”
“Zepherina,” Timothy said, ignoring me, “how are you holding up?”
“Fine,” Zepherina said flatly, “can’t you tell?”
“I heard about Theodora, I’m so sorry Zeph,” Timothy offered, sorrow in his eyes.
“It was your government that did it, Timothy” Zepherina narrowed her now fiery eyes.
“Well, thanks to our mother, I’m no longer associated with them,” Timothy said, turning to me.
Zepherina turned to me, “what did you do now?”
“I told the truth, was that so terrible?” I confessed, smiling, “shouldn’t you be asking Timothy your own question?”
“I know the answer,” Zepherina spat.
“Oh?” I asked, “what is that answer?”
“Timothy was trying to spare me the knowledge that you were my mother. Frankly? I thank him for keeping it from me as long as he did,” Zepherina confessed. “I wish I didn’t know!”
I frowned at Zepherina and glanced at Timothy, “I assume you didn’t call just to tell me that you’re upset that I burned your bridges with the US.”
Timothy’s eyes narrowed, “I’m certain you have him on life support. I’m asking you to unplug him. Let him die.”
I sighed, “I can’t kill my own brother.”
“But Xyphiel can kill one of my brothers?” Timothy shouted.
Zerpherina’s attention snapped to the screen, “What? What did you just say?!”
“Elon…” Timothy heaved a heavy sigh, “Elon is dead, Zepherina. Alexis and Syria killed Elon on Xyphiel’s orders.”
Zepherina turned to me, fire burning in her eyes, “You! No!” Zepherina rushed towards me blindly before she was stopped by a field I was more than familiar with.
I spun on my heel and spotted Xyphiel, on his feet, seemingly himself, again! Next to him stood Bella, smiling wickedly.
Zepherina screamed, “You killed Elon?!”
I frowned at Zepherina, “I did no such thing, my fight was with you alone!”
Xypheil, however, merely grinned at Zepherina, “If ‘Elon’ was the undead sniper, then yes, that was done on my order.”
Zepherina roared in anger and charged at Xyphiel.
“Zepherina!” I shouted, “Don’t!”
Xyphiel lifted an eyebrow and in a flash unfurled his cape.
“Don’t hurt her!” I shouted.
Xyphiel hurled the cape over Zepherina, Zepherina vanishing in an instant. “You know where you can pick her up, Ragna. My son and I have some things to discuss.”
I narrowed my eyes to Xyphiel, “the vault dimension, really?”
“Don’t make me shut it,” Xyphiel’s grin grew, “or your daughter will find herself stuck there for the next ten years or ten minutes… time being relative and all.”
Timothy now spoke, “Father, you and I will speak shortly,” he turned to me, “but first I want to speak to my mother, face-to-face.”
I turned to Timothy, keeping a wary eye on Xyphiel. “Rage, open the vault door please, make sure Xyphiel can’t turn on the time dilation.” I sent the order to Rage quickly.
“Confirmed, vault door is opened,” Rage reported.
“Fine, Timothy,” I turned to Xyphiel, “and your father?”
Timothy turned to Xyphiel and Bella, “I’ll meet Xyphiel, alone, at the following coordinates. There he can try, and fail, to convince me to come home.”
“Coordinates received,” Rage announced.
“And where will I meet you?” I asked.
“Come to the Christian Church in Penthesil and you’ll receive further communications,” Timothy informed before the line went dead.
I nodded, turning on my heel and running towards the vault. I came to a stop in the hallway outside of it, finding Zepherina slamming her fist into a very dented wall.
I heaved a sigh, walking towards her, “I’m sorry your comrade is dead.”
Zepherina glared at me, “you killed Elon!” she got to her feet, “Elon was the sweetest man I had ever met! Elon was a good person! And you killed him! How could you?!”
“I didn’t kill him!” I defended, weakly, “Xyphiel does his own thing! I was not there to kill anyone. I was only there to bring you and Evangeline home.”
Zepherina’s lip quivered, “you’re still Xyphiel’s ally.”
“He is my brother!” I shouted, “yes.”
“Until he isn’t…” Zepherina turned her back to me, “I want nothing to do with you.”
My heart sank, “Zeph-”
“Fuck off, Ragna!” Zepherina said, lifting both of her middle fingers to me as she walked away.
I turned, walking down the hallway. I was walking the hallways in a bit of a daze. I finally stopped, blinking the fresh tears from my eyes. By the time I could see again, I realized I was outside the bar once more.
I swallowed hard, my throat feeling dry.
“Timothy is waiting for you,” I thought to myself. “Probably to tell you that he hates you too.
The bar looked inviting.
May any happiness you ever have be tainted by greater sorrow!
I clenched my fist and powered past the bar, heading to Rachel. Timothy would meet his mother. He’d meet with both of us. There was a chance, a slim, tiny chance I could salvage this.
I can salvage my existence.

Timothy
I stood outside of Penthesil, knowing Tasha would take Ragna from the church, to where I stood, waiting.
A pair of guards were standing at the top of the wall, looking down at me.
As the gates opened, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But, there they were, Tasha and Ragna. Rachel was there as well, which put me on edge.
Rachel smiled at me, “Timothy!” she exclaimed as she rushed towards me.
What was she doing here? Did she expect a hug? For what? Ditching me with a megalomaniac rapist that even she was afraid to be around?
I stopped her before she got too close, “I asked for my mother. What is she doing here?”
Rachel stopped, turning to Ragna, “Timothy, she’s my wife and-”
“I was not speaking to you, Rachel,” I spat.
Rachel turned to me, confusion on her face.
Ragna stepped towards me, “Timothy, please, Rachel loves you.”
“Oh, really? I wouldn’t know,” I growled.
Rachel’s eyes grew wet, “Timothy, I don’t… what are you saying?”
“You’re the woman who gave birth to me, but you’re not my mother. You were not there for me,” I hissed
“I couldn’t be!” Rachel shouted in an attempt to defend her actions, “I couldn’t be there because-”
“Because you ran away,” I narrowed my eyes on her, “you ran away from me, but worse? You ran away from her!” I pointed to Ragna.
Ragna narrowed her eyes on me, anger in her voice as I was certain I was about to unveil something she had yet to tell Rachel, “Timothy… no.”
“Do you know what my mother did on the anniversary of you leaving?” I shouted.
Ragna closed her eyes tightly, “Timothy, don’t,” she growled.
“She would drink herself into oblivion! Because she couldn’t handle the fact that you left us on that day!” I shouted.
Rachel turned to Ragna, shocked. “Is that true?” Rachel asked Ragna.
“Yes. It’s true. I drank to run from the pain of being alone. But, Timothy, there’s something you should know.” Ragna whispered, opening her eyes and looking at me with a truly hurt expression, “I drank every single night after the day you left me.”
I gasped, and my heart sank as I imagined Ragna, my mother, slumped over a bar in constant sorrow at the thought of me being kidnapped or worse.
“Day in and day out,” Ragna confessed to us, “because I thought that not only might you be dead, but worse that you might be getting tortured or abused by whoever took you from me. I blamed myself that I had failed my son. Rather than face that terrible truth,” Ragna heaved a sigh, “I climbed into a bottle.”
“Wait,” Rachel cried to Ragna, “Is that why you haven’t drunk a single drop of alcohol since you got here?”
Ragna nodded, “Yes, because when I found you I vowed I wouldn’t go back to that constant drunken existence if you could call it that.”
I had to turn from her, trying to keep my composure, but recalling having to drag Ragna to her bedroom on those terrible days. “Who helped you-”
“No one,” Ragna explained, “Xyphiel would at first, but soon grew tired of me. Eventually, he couldn’t even stand to look at me. My drunkenness was just another constant reminder of my failure to protect our son.” Ragna sighed, “I wanted to escape. Suicide wasn’t an option, so I did the next best thing.”
I steeled myself and turned to face Ragna.
“But you’re alive,” Ragna smiled to me, “alive and well and…” Ragna chuckled, beaming to me.
Was that pride?
Was she proud of me?
Was I pleased by her pride in me? I tried not to show it.
“I wanted to talk, before everything happened,” I said, looking to Tasha.
Tasha turned from me, tears rolling down her cheek.
“I’m here,” Ragna said, “let’s talk.”
“Alone,” I requested.
Ragna pulled out a small device and tossed it up into the air, a gateway opening up before us.
“After you,” I motioned.
Ragna nodded and walked inside.
I followed and she shut the door.
Inside I found a dimly lit room, very nondescript, only a pair of simple chairs.
“The time is dilated pretty extreme here, we can honestly talk for days and only a few minutes will go by,” Ragna explained. “I really wanted to catch up.”
I turned to her and did my very best to hold myself together. “I just… I want to strip our titles away right now. I want just the basics. So while we’re in here, I’m not the Metatron, you’re not the Empress of Penthesil, it’s just you and me… just…”
“Mother and son?” Ragna offered.
I rushed to her and hugged her tight, tears flowing from my eyes.
Finally, my mother Ragna hugged me back. Her hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair comfortingly, “Timothy… I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too,” I sighed as I hugged her tight. After a few moments, I pulled away, looking at her seriously, “Mom, I need to talk to you.”
“Tell me everything, Timothy,” Ragna smiled to me, “We have all the time in the world.”
“Okay,” I relented, “but by the end, I need you to understand that I’m going to ask you for a favor.”
“And what favor is that?” Ragna asked.
“Mom,” I fixed her with a serious gaze, “I need to ask you something. I want you to kill Xyphiel.”
submitted by Zithero to The_Guardian_Temple [link] [comments]

The New Druid (Steelshod 433)

Hey there!
I don’t post these daily anymore, so just in case you’re a newcomer and you’ve never seen a Steelshod post before… click here to start at the beginning
This is the latest chapter out of several hundred, and I don’t think it will make much sense without context. This isn’t an episodic story so much as one long narrative.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you back here in good time. If not, no big deal. But I think if you start here you’re going to be very, very lost.
Table of Contents – includes earlier installments, maps, character sheets, our discord server, and other documents.
First | Previous | Next
Victoria
World map
Here is a general lore doc including character profiles and here is a basic roster showing who’s where, and who is a PC: Steelshod Roster!
Note for Binge-Readers: This is generally live-updated to reflect the current state of the game! Hopefully if you’re binging you can keep better track of who’s going where, because you just recently read about them going there.
Ronald’s Basin, in rural Victoria
Steelshod has been given an offer.
It’s been three days since they slew Partholon, the Druid an Fáinne of the Collar of Thorns
Those days have been an unpleasant example of the kind of reactive war Steelshod generally tries to avoid—lots of boring/uneventful scouting punctuated by occasional sudden violence.
But now, one of the Collar’s war leaders—called the “Laochra,” which means something like “hero” but also appears to be the closest thing to a lieutenant that they have—has come to their fortification at Ronald’s Basin
Osion, the Laochra, is a confident smart-ass with a sharp tongue. He’s been friendly aside from barbed jests, and seems to be the man the Collar’s warchief Dolan likes to send out to parley with Steelshod.
He has come calling on Steelshod, and invited them to a celebration that the Collar is throwing tonight.
Supposedly, a celebration of the return of Partholon himself.
Which is quite a trick, given the state Steelshod left him in.
Zelde reminds everyone that she said they ought to take Partholon’s head. She was afraid people wouldn’t believe them.
Felix flat out doesn’t believe Osion’s claim. Besides that, he gestures to the thick dark clouds overhead and the pouring rain
Says that this doesn’t really seem like the time for a party.
Osion shrugs, and he says that the storm won’t go until Steelshod does.
But they will celebrate regardless.
At this point they leave Osion sitting on his horse outside the walls, waiting, and Steelshod confers briefly about how to respond to this offer.
The obvious concern is that it’s a trap.
Yes, the Collar of Thorns is saying that it will be peaceful, and yes they do take their oaths seriously
But on the other hand, from their perspective Steelshod may not be worth treating with honor. Given that James murdered Partholon at a parley and all
So they can’t rule out a full-on betrayal, and open battle, if they go.
Cara’s gut says that’s not the Collar’s plan here—even if they consider Steelshod oathbreakers, honor is more a matter of oneself anyway. If they violate guest right, break an oath of peaceful meeting, then Dolan or this new Partholon will be undermining their own authority with their people.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some kind of trap. Maybe they’ll attack the Basin while some people go out. Maybe they’ll arrange an ambush to hit them after they leave the party. Maybe they have some egregious offense planned that will incite Steelshod to violate the peace themselves.
Lots of possibilities, lots of ways things could go wrong.
What’s the upside?
Cyril says that while he has no doubt that the Collar will only show them what they want to show, still… any intelligence on the enemy could be valuable
This is an opportunity to learn more about their enemy.
In fact, Cyril points out that they could use this meeting as an opportunity to quietly send out a secondary party, to scout the forest while the Collar of Thorns is busy and distracted.
Cara decides that the risk is worth the possible intel, so they will go.
There’s some question of whether or not they believe they’ll actually be running into Partholon himself, or if it is a title and they will now meet some (hopefully lesser) replacement druid.
Some, like Felix, are skeptical.
Agrippa points out that they’ve seen many strange things, and from the way Osion is talking he thinks they should assume it’s really Partholon.
Normal healing could not save a man from the injuries they inflicted upon Partholon, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t swapped into a new body or used some other strange magic to persist.
Felix smirks and jokes that maybe the Collar just have a better healer than Agrippa.
Which results in Agrippa, without any joking tone whatsoever, telling Felix to shut up.
But, hearing this exchange, Amos gets a thoughtful look. Maybe it’s true, he ponders aloud. He asks if Agrippa has ever actually tried to sew a man’s head back on.
Maybe once every hundred times, it works, and—
Agrippa smacks Amos, both to interrupt his idiotic musings and as punishment for questioning his abilities.
At this point, Cara handpicks a team to go with her and James to the party.
She also picks a small scouting team to search the woods for anything useful they might be able to find.
The scouting team is simple: she appoints Drengi as commander and tells him to take every ulfskennar they have with them, save one. He will take Dagur, Foyr, Knut, and Sigridur.
The final ulfskennar in the party, Gulbryn, will accompany Cara’s group.
That leaves them with no howlers at Ronald’s Basin, but everyone staying behind will be under strict orders to hold position and defend the Basin.
And they have one member that can, at least, interpet howls, if not howl himself… that being Vigi, the vartror bersark and member of Yorrin’s Shadowsteel team. He’s practiced enough to be able to understand most basic howled messages such as “enemy coming” “send help” etc.
For the team to actually go to the celebration (I dub them the “Partying Party” to contrast with the “Scouting Party”), Cara picks a decently sized group.
Her primary interest is in durable warriors to help fight their way out of a trap, with a few specialists for their respective skills.
Felix insists on going, of course, to protect his wife. Agrippa explicitly refuses to go, barring a direct order from Cara that she does not give.
Zelde will go, however. Along with most of the biggest tanks on the team: Bear, Snorri the bersark, and the Victorian axemen Tiny & Lioness
That’s five solid walls of muscle and metal
Levin and Evan will also go—less frontliners than the above, but still both of them are exceptionally brutal warriors on foot or in the saddle, and good scouts in case they flee through the forest at night.
They’ll also bring Cyril, because he could be useful for evaluating the enemy and negotiating. Cyril asks for Prudence to come to watch his back and, if needed, deploy alchemy or poison.
Cara also asks Borthul to go. The old wizard is decrepit, but he is their best bet to counteract Druidic magic or identify the method that Partholon has been reborn, if in fact he has been.
As mentioned, Gulbryn is also going.
Cara picked this ulskennar because Drengi says Gulbryn has been growing… stranger, recently, and some of his talents have manifested accordingly.
Ever since he stepped through the Thaumati Gate last year, he has (like everyone that went through the Gate) had strange dreams and occasionally sensed things beyond the scope of mortal understanding.
Even his howls have grown… eerie, in the way they echo and reverberate and set on edge any that hear them.
Finally, the two that were invited are Cara & James, and they’ll both go.
Agrippa clucks his tongue and sets about securing James’s mangled right arm into a more immobile splint than the current sling he has.
James will be useless if a fight breaks out, but he deserves to be there if he wants to take the risk.
And of course he does.
Cara specifically tells Zelde that she needs to stay close to James if things get dangerous, and protect him. She issues Snorri a similar command, to protect Borthul.
James is wounded, Borthul is old and weak, and she wants them both protected.
She does not assign a bodyguard for Cyril.
Cyril takes a few minor preparations before he leaves.
He asks Agrippa to give him a list of the names of all of the captured Collar warriors, in case he gets an opportunity to ransom their freedom in exchange for soom boon
Agrippa has been slowly but surely winning a modicum of trust from the captive Collars, so he gets their names easily and Cyril records them on a scrap of parchment.
He also passes a few specific poisons to Prudence, both lethal and nonlethal ones, in case she anticipates trouble and is in a position to deploy them.
Before they go, Cara asks for Osion’s oath
That the Collar of Thorns grants peace to Steelshod and their allies.
So long as Steelshod does not raise arms against the Collar, no harm will come to any Steelshod or their allies
Whether they are outside Ronald’s Basin, or within it.
Osion swears to the oath without hesitation, and says he speaks on behalf of Dolan, Partholon, and the Collar of Thorns.
The phrasing of the oath should also include Drengi’s clandestine scouting party, in theory.
By design, of course.
Now that this is settled, they depart.
Cara’s group is escorted across the darkening plains by Osion’s men
While Perrin and the others remain behind to hold the Basin in case of treachery
It’s a long journey out to the forests
Osion pokes a little fun at Zelde when he realizes how simple she is, enjoying how oblivious she is to his nettled words
He asks her if she has a man waiting for her, and she says no, she has Steelshod
To which Osion intentionally misunderstands, implying Zelde lets all of the men of Steelshod use her. He says he expects a strapping lass such as her can probably take quite a pounding.
Zelde is still oblivious, and she enthusiastically agrees.
Osion is having a grand time, his men snickering along with him as he taunts her.
Until finally Cara steps in, and suggests that since Osion sounds so interested they could stop somewhere and Osion can take a shot at “pounding” Zelde right here if he likes.
Osion blinks, and tries to politely decline. Zelde offers cheerfully maybe they can do it at the party, and Osion awkwardly deflects
He’s had his fun, but he’s no fool—he can tell that if he tries to spar with Zelde it is only going to end one very unpleasant way.
So he deflates and leaves Zelde alone for the rest of the ride.
After that, Cyril rides alongside Osion and strikes up a chat
He tries to finagle a bit of information out of him, directing the conversation to his own purposes, hoping to elicit useful info from Osion without giving too much away
It’s a careful dance, the precise opposite of the blunt mockery with Zelde
Osion is in his element again chatting with Cyril, deflecting questions with jokes, poking fun at Cyril’s pot belly, and avoiding giving too much information to Cyril’s questions.
Cyril confirms that the Collar’s goal is to cover the entirety of Victoria’s lands, as well as much of Kirkworth, in their “One Forest”
Osion says that the Silver Woods and the Deer Woods, east and south of Victoria, were once part of the One Forest. He likens these cultivated forests to Middish dogs with their balls cut off, compared to wild wolves.
Osion shows some genuine passion here, obviously despite his fondness for japes he is a true believer of the Collar and a true foe.
Cyril also gets a read on how Osion feels about the Collar’s leadership.
He obviously has immense respect for Dolan… more interesting to Cryil is that he actually begins to suspect that the feeling is mutual. It seems Osion is deep in Dolan’s confidence, and they have worked together for years.
It seems Osion has been sent as the Collar’s emissary each time, not just because he is good at insulting them, but because Dolan trusts him.
By contrast, Cyril gleans that Osion does not have that same level of loyalty and affection for Partholon
He speaks of Partholon the same way he speaks of the Forest itself—a force of nature, an inherent element, something deep and core to the Collar, but not someone Osion personally likes or trusts as a man.
Osion never breaks from his apparent attitude that this really is Partholon though, not a new druid sharing the same name.
It takes a few hours to cross the plains, and more time to navigate the North Forest
Osion says they picked this spot special for Steelshod, as the closest meeting place to where they were camped.
Even so, it is well past sunset by the time they arrive.
They see firelight through the trees ahead, and they hear voices, music, and laughter—the normal sounds of a party, which is at least a little promising.
They are told to dismount, and they tie up their horses. Osion guides them in on foot.
And they enter what seems to be not just one clearing, but a series of them.
Many interconnected groves forming a circle around a central grove.
Each grove has a high canopy providing some cover from rain, coupled with some smaller simple leather coverings.
The clearings at the center of each grove are furnished simply, with long wooden tables and benches made of carved and polished logs. They are lit by large cookfires.
Each grove is open to the nearest groves, almost as if they are a series of rooms—and all of them open to the central clearing
The central grove is the most open to the sky, and consequently has the most man-made structures. Each table in the central grove has a leather or cloth awning mounted over it, and the central grove is lit not just be cookfires but by torches and lamps
In the center of this grove is an enormous, gnarled tree. The trunk is partially hollowed out and blackened, as if it was struck by a bolt of lightning long ago.
They also notice that the high boughs of the tree are covered with a huge flock of ravens. Or a “conspiracy” of ravens, if you want to use the silly term for it.
There is also a small wooden platform constructed some distance up the gnarled, blackened tree, but below the ravens.
The platform is carved with intricate Wncari scrollwork, lit by firelights, and visible from all around. Simple carved steps wind up the tree to it.
Dolan is sitting up on the platform, sipping from a horn.
Across all the groves there are at least a few hundred people here, feasting and drinking and laughing.
They appear to be almost entirely fighting men—this is clearly a meeting place, not a settlement.
The partiers don’t seem too disrupted by Steelshod’s arrival, regardles.
Some of them stare, but otherwise they continue their feasting.
Notably, nobody asks any of Steelshod to surrender their weapons. The Collar are all armed, and it seems they aren’t concerned about it.
Osion directs them to head for the central clearing.
Cyril draws a bottle of wine out of his saddlebags as he approaches.
He heads for Dolan, who climbs down from the platform to meet at the base of the tree.
Cyril introduces himself, and offers the wine.
Dolan stares at him blankly for a moment, then says that he doesn’t expect anyone to speak the tongue of the Daoine, but he at least expects them to speak Middish
Cyril sighs, slows down his speech a little to lighten the heaviest Loranette inflections, and reiterates his introduction.
Dolan sort of shrugs, accepts the wine, and takes a sip. He then passes the bottle to one of his men.
Steelshod take note of the warriors seated around them, at the long tables in the central grove
They are especially grizzled and hardened looking men—battle scarred, tattooed, their weapons and armor showing signs of extensive use.
Each man is also adorned with coils of briar vines… cords of vegetation marked by long, sharp thorns.
They aren’t necessarily all literal collars, though some are. Many are coiled around arms or torsos.
It looks impractical, but the men seem unconcerned.
Still, Felix in particular continues eyeing these men warily, not paying much attention to Dolan or any of the diplomacy to come.
Steelshod take their seats at the table Osion points to, and he sits near them.
The men working the cookfire lay out a good spread for them… roasted meats and vegetables, stews, simple breads, and more. It’s not high cuisine, but it’s a decent spread given the environment.
Cyril complains about the spices, the drink pairings, and anything else he can think of. Osion is close enough to hear, and he argues with Cyril good-naturedly.
They eat for a little while, talking amongst themselves and Osion.
Finally, after some time, Dolan speaks.
He’s back up on the platform.
He calls out to Steelshod.
Says that the Collar got Steelshod’s message… and from the look of James, it seems Afric found them with his own message.
James nods. Dolan eyes him, as if sizing him up, and asks James if he won.
James swallows nervously, and then admits that no, he did not win.
Dolan feigns surprise in an obviously toneless way… he points out that James is alive, and he’s guessing Afric isn’t.
Cara interjects to confirm that Afric is dead.
Dolan nods. He’s not surprised. They killed him after the duel… because they have no honor.
Cara interrupts.
“No no,” she says. “The duel went on fair and square, and Afric won. Then he started eating James, and… well… he was eating James. So we stepped in.”
Cara’s deadpan delivery gets some chuckles from the nearby warriors
Though Cyril also notices that at some of the tables further out, there is less laughter and more uneasy silence.
Cyril doesn’t think the folks out there are doubting Cara’s story, but rather they are just discomfited by it.
Dolan does not laugh, but neither does he look uncomfortable
He comments that the note they left him demanded that he step down as part of the surrender Steelshod requests, else they will go to war against the Daoine.
But he can’t help but notice that they only brought some thirty men with which to wage this supposed war.
Cyril says they brought a bit more than that.
Which leads Dolan to comment on the hired Victorians. Do they really think that some flimsy distinction between “hired” Victorians and Victorian soldiers matters to the Collar?
Cyril says it should, since otherwise Dolan would have several thousand more Victorian troops to deal with.
Dolan shrugs. It’s a silly bit of sophistry, but he isn’t bothered by it. If the rest of Victoria is staying out of the fighting for now, that’s all the better.
He’s happy to face a few hundred farmers with spears first. He’s happy to let Steelshod divide the Victorians up for him, so that his Collar can slaughter them all in turns.
He doesn’t really understand what Steelshod gets out of any of this, though.
Why come here and die for Victoria?
The topic of the dead monks comes up, the ones turned to trees. Dolan scoffs at this… they told the monks they weren’t welcome here, and they didn’t listen.
What followed then was their fault.
This casual dismissal is too much for James, who speaks up.
He hotly denounces Dolan and his people’s treatment of the monks, and Dolan takes this totally in stride.
He comments that he would’ve hoped Afric could have at least knocked a little bit of sense into James, if nothing else.
Out of nowhere, Bear speaks up. He says Dolan must not know James at all, if he thinks this thing.
Nothing can knock sense into James!
Bear, bless him, says this so proudly.
Cyril says that, while James may be hotheaded, he’s not really wrong.
In point of fact, from what he saw of Steelshod’s commanders, the reason they decided to intervene was entirely because of what Partholon did to the monks.
Cyril says this with the air of someone who doesn’t totally understand why Yorrin and Aleksandr care so much, but he’ll deign to explain it to Dolan anyway.
In a rare attempt at Diplomacy, Felix points out that Steelshod’s interest in defending innocent monks is a big part of why they were so invested in the Svardic war, too. This sort of thing matters to them, so of course they’re gonna harp on it.
Dolan seems to just shrug at that. The Svardic war did not touch them here.
Maybe he thought that was a clever rebuttal, but it really pisses Cara off.
She says the Svardic war touched her people plenty.
“It’s funny, you lot are so concerned with the Daoine. Well, the folk from my hills are Daoine too.” Cara calls out, her own Wncari accent unmistakeable.
“And you’re so caught up about defendin’ the forests from invaders, from foreigners,” she goes on. “Yet you’re more worried about ‘foreign invaders’ tha’ve been here for, what, five hundred years? Compared to ones that had just sailed in.”
She glares at Dolan, and then the other Collar.
“You’re more concerned with fightin’ Victorians than you were with helpin’ my folk, your own kin, from true invaders.”
Lots of people at Steelshod’s table seem pleased with Cara’s tirade.
They think she really showed them.
Maybe a few of the Collar at the distant tables look a little abashed, but none of the nearby warriors do.
Dolan just stares at her.
“But you’re not of the Daoine, lass. Are you?” Dolan responds calmly.
Her clan does not keep to the Old Ways, Dolan says. Half the people in the Caedian hills don’t even speak the old Tongue, and instead speak Middish in their own families.
Only one clan there, the Cuig Dorn, even pretend to keep to any sort of Old Ways.
No, Dolan dismisses Cara entirely. Her and her people were not—are not—kin worth defending.
They’ve forgotten their path. They are beyond help.
So yes, the Daoine care much more about Victoria than they did the Svards.
Victoria has raped the One Forest and slaughtered the Daoine for generations.
Victoria broke the Collar of Thorns
He states it matter-of-factly, because it is a fact.
Recall that when James and Oliver first arrived here the Victorians were still calling their local Wncari “the Broken Collar”—as that’s what they called themselves.
It was quite recently that they renamed themselves to the Collar of Thorns
Or more accurately, reclaimed their old name.
Cyril recalls all of this, so he interrupts Dolan to ask about it.
If Victoria did all that—broke their spirit, leveled countless acres of forest, and so on—what on earth makes them think they can win this time?
Victoria's city grows larger each day.
They are as strong as ever.
Won’t the Collar just get broken again?
Dolan grins.
And he calls out to his men, repeating the question.
Asking them what makes them think they can win this time.
The response is immediate.
The feasting men begin pounding on their table, raising a huge thumping beat
And they chant three syllables in the cadence of their drumming.
Par
Tho
Lon
When they chant the last syllable, there is a new sound that adds to the cacophony
The multitude of ravens roosting in the boughs of the tree above Dolan suddenly take to the air
The flapping of a thousand wings drowns out the men’s pounding on the table, and the dark night sky grows a shade darker for a moment as the ravens scatter.
Once they’re gone, the Collar have stopped beating the table
And for a moment an eerie silence falls upon the clearing
The only sounds are the crackling of the cookfires and the sounds of a few of Steelshod—Zelde, Bear, Snorri—still noisily munching their food.
In that moment, there is movement on the platform behind Dolan
A figure steps out of the shadows, out of the hollowed-out heart of the tree.
They did not see anyone ascend the tree, and it doesn’t really look like there’s enough room in there for someone to comfortably wait
But nevertheless, a sturdy looking old man steps out of that shadow and stands beside Dolan on the raised platform.
Partholon, of course.
And he sure fucking looks like the man they decapitated.
Hey all! This post took me a little longer than I intended, not just because it’s pretty long… but because it was even longer than this.
It was about 50% longer than the post you just read when I realized that I wanted to just break it into a couple posts instead. So I went ahead and found the best place to stop it, and sliced it in half.
You can expect another post pretty soon. Not necessarily tomorrow, but definitely sooner than the 2 week pauses of the last few posts.
Also, if you missed it, a fan has begun doing audio readings of the greentexts on his YouTube channel. You can find his announcement here. Looks like he’s posting them 3 times a week right now, M-W-F, so he’s churning through them at a nice clip.
I have minor quibbles with a few of his pronunciations, but overall it seems like a really awesome and polished product! Very flattering, so if you’re into audiobooks you should totally go show him some love.
Next
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Meet The Freak 13

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Discord
Valentine
I woke only grudgingly, resentful of the light streaming through the blinds, and unable to shake the hollow feeling that came with lack of sleep.
I'd been doing it to myself, of course, and I knew that. It was simply that I couldn't bear to let myself fall asleep while Wallace was still beside me. The heat coming off his body, and the reassuring scent of him fresh from the bath made me drowsy, but I'd fight to stay awake, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing and the beat of his heart.
I simply didn't want the moment to end. It was that first night we'd spent here that had made me fall in love with the human inn, but it had been Wallace's remark that we may as well be living in a fortress that made me realize the precariousness of our circumstances.
We were safe, truly safe, for perhaps a few more days. There was always the risk that a group of light cavalry may try to make a suicide run at us, but our foes were not in such a rush. That aside, those with the skills to make such a run would not be easy to convince. No, it was The Long Night that I feared. Each one that passed brought with it the threat of invasion, and in some ways, I found the cure as distasteful as the disease.
The quality and loyalty of any potential subjects was one thing, and there was a particular type of young man I feared inviting into our sanctuary. But that was just it, this was our sanctuary, and I detested the idea of inviting anyone into it.
I had certain juvenile fantasies about the myriad places about our sanctuary that Wallace might have his way if given the proper prompting, and that would be a little troublesome if there were others about. But more broadly, if there were others about, I was going to have to 'behave'.
I couldn't sit out on one of the benches scattered about the park below, snuggled up next to the giant with the squishy heart. I might be trying to sell off my demesne, but even unlanded, I would always be a noblewoman. Unfortunately, there were standards of behaviour noblewomen were expected to maintain. Try as I might to flee from my responsibilities, they always seemed to find some way to constrain me.
It made me realize just how perfect the moment was, and how transient. Even the sound of Wallace's breathing, his heartbeat, made me hold him tighter. His breath came as quickly as if he'd been on a hike, and his heart- Even dead asleep, his heart hammered as if he'd just sprinted up and down the stairs. I knew Wallace would have it no other way, but I felt so guilty that it made me nauseous. Guilty that I was relying on him as a bodyguard, further straining his already overtaxed heart, and guilty that my first thought had been to curse my own luck. To curse the fact that it seemed like everything good in my life was snatched away as quickly as it was given. Wallace was his own person, not some bauble to be given or taken by providence, and it wasn't fair to him to treat him as such. To act as if the confluence of events that had brought him here were the result of some force in the universe seeking to reward or punish me specifically.
Inevitably, my long ponderous thoughts would grow muddled, I would lose my grip on wakefulness, and I'd fall asleep. The first couple of days, Wallace had stayed, letting me sleep on with my head resting on his shoulder as he read quietly. But today, as with yesterday, he'd managed to slip out of bed without waking me.
I sat up and ran my fingers through my hair. I hadn't re-braided it since Wallace had helped me wash and straighten out the tangles, and it had gotten a little messy while I'd been sleeping with it loose.
Wally wasn't in the penthouse or out on the balcony, as far as I could see. I went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face and gave my shoulder a look. The bruising had mostly faded, and while it was still sore, I could at least wash my own hair now. Not that I'd told Wally.
I didn't bother to dress. I had only a few more days of complete freedom and the 'tanktop and shorts' as Wally had called them, kept the relevant portions of my body covered. I was not about to wear a stitch more until I absolutely had to.
All cleaned up and ready to face the rising sun, I huffed and puffed my way up the stairs to the roof. In a day or two I'd be in good enough shape to wear my necklace once again, but I knew from experience not to rush recovery.
I checked the conference rooms outside the penthouse, but neither the office nor storeroom held the big man. I peeked my head into the storeroom and found there were more human treasures than when I'd last investigated.
Though the guests had been absent, we'd found abandoned belongings in several of the rooms, and had slowly been sorting through the collection. Stacked along one wall was the many luggage, along with selected pieces of hotel hardware that Wallace had suggested would be of little use, even if the hotel was powered. Spread out on the immense conference table and against the other wall were the piles we'd slowly been sorting the goods into. There were those things that were useful in and of themselves, that which was fit only to be scrapped for mana, and valuable items we might sell in the city. Dumped in one corner was what remained when we removed the useful, valuable, and mana rich. Much of the pile was clothing, in fact, the human luggage had contained almost nothing but clothing, but none of it would fit Wallace and little would fit myself. I'd chosen a few pieces, cleaned them with magic, and set them aside, but the rest was surplus to our needs. It was undoubtedly of high quality, and would be worth something should we bring it back to Parabuteo or Caniforma, but it wasn't quite so value-dense as say, jewellery.
Wally's office was a little tidier, and I skittered to the end of the room to leap into his big armchair. Notebooks, loose paper, pens, pencils, and a dozen shades of marker were piled in a semicircle around his workspace.
Pushed off to one side was a sheet titled "Enchanting Notes" with his scribblings on what I'd told him of the process, and right in front of the big chair was a leather notebook with brass fittings and a brass clasp. Resting lightly on its surface was a small note that read 'For V'.
I undid the clasp and flipped it open. Inside I found off-white paper with the consistent colour that I'd come to expect of human manufacture. I leafed through the notebook and found that aside from some scribbles on the last page, it was blank. I shrugged, I hadn't asked Wallace to set anything aside for me, but it had been some time since I had the time to draw, and this appeared to be the best pick of the bunch.
I took a few of the pencils and went up to the roof to see if I could track down the so-far elusive giant.
Wallace wasn't up on the roof, but peering over the edge, I could see him down on the hill below near a copse of trees. Judging from his posture, I guessed that he was writing something in a notebook, but it was hard to say at this distance.
Once The Long Night had ended and the tide had come through, the two of us had gone down to find the pickup truck still parked up next to the storm drain, none the worse for wear. It had taken a bit of doing, but we'd fashioned a rope ladder fit to bear Wallace's weight, and the two of us had gone for a walk about the area. Wally had later returned to drive stakes into the ground at various points around the perimeter of the hill, and in so doing we'd got a decent idea of just how large a safe area we had. We'd yet to properly survey the land, but according to the human, there were about sixty or seventy acres of grassland to make use of.
I thought that he might be drawing something, perhaps the trees, and I decided that was a fine idea.
Under a sunshade and beside a tall wicker screen where it would be out of the wind, was a padded lounge chair. I laid down on my stomach and set the notebook out in front of me, and I tapped the tip of the pencil to my lips, wondering what I might draw. And then I was struck by a fit of giggles as I recalled my musings about what a Wallace-owned harem would look like.
I began with Wallace himself. He had this way of sitting- lounging really -leaning back, with his arms spread across the back of the sofa, and an ankle propped up on one knee. I drew him as such, though made the sofa look a little more throne like, with a higher back and gilt up the legs and arms. Gilt rendered in charcoal or whatever these pencils were made of, but gilt all the same. I decided that Wallace didn't need a shirt, and I took great care in carving out the muscles in his chest and arms.
I bit my lip, and tapped the pencil on my chin, admiring my work. Of course, it wasn't much of a harem when there were no beautiful and lightly clad women, so I decided to add some of the girls from The Blushing Maiden.
He'd need someone to maintain order, of course, so at his right elbow, I drew my favourite of the Maiden's governesses. In a corset and tight leather pants, she had her hair in a severe bun, and held a selection of disciplinary implements ready for Wallace's use.
Tucked in close, clinging to his side, I drew two of the Maiden's bustier girls, clad only in a few scraps of fabric that covered even less than my shorts and tank top did. Two more sat at his feet, one clutching at his leg.
Standing across from him I decided would be a pair of elven mercenaries, wearing armour of an impractical design, inspired by several works of art that hung within The Blushing Maiden.
One of the mercenaries held a delicate chain that trailed from the collar of the figure kneeling between them. She was very slim, and facing Wallace, was viewed from behind. She was covered only by her hair, which flowed down her back and over her bound wrists to gather on the ground about her.
I giggled, as I titled the piece "W prepares for intercourse with V, regarding enchantment."
I knew something- likely entertaining in the extreme -had happened when Wallace joined me on the rooftop terrace. He was bright red, from the tips of his ears, right down to his neck. Even his hands were bright red, and he regarded me with some trepidation as I lay lounging with my sketchbook in my lap.
I tapped a finger against my chin, "What could you have possibly found, I wonder. Something scandalous, from the look of you, and why do you smell of fuel?"
"Um-" Wallace began haltingly, "I was siphoning fuel out of the other cars in the parking tower. But that's, uh-" he sighed and sat down heavily on the bench across from me, his head in his hands.
"Oh, this must be good," I giggled, "Come now, what is it?"
"So," he began, his voice muffled by his hands, "You remember how I wanted to experiment with enchantment, now that I have the basics?"
I frowned and furrowed my brows, "Yes, though I can't imagine where this is going."
He sighed again, and went on, "I figured communication was important, so I tried some, uh, things."
"Some things? What sort of things?"
"Things like," he winced, "A pair of linked books, where things written in one book show up in the other."
It was quiet for a moment, and I allowed myself a small smile as I opened the cover and flipped back to my first sketch, contemplating it.
"What's the matter?" I teased, "You didn't like it? I could draw some more pictures for you, if you like."
"You know, I think I'm good," he assured me, "We know it works, I think that's plenty."
"I'm surprised you came up here," I giggled, "I would have thought you'd wait to face me until you stopped being quite so red in the face."
"I tried," he grumbled, finally taking his head from his hands, "Didn't exactly work, besides, something's come up. I was fooling around with one of the other cars, thought I might be able to hotwire us something a little more modern, but I couldn't get the engine started. Immobilizer kicked in and I have no idea where even to begin with fixing it."
I shrugged, "As long as the truck still works, I don't see the trouble."
"Well, it's not 'trouble' exactly," he clarified, "Because even without the engine running, the electronics turned on," he hesitated. From experience, I guessed he was trying to decide how to explain some human concept, "So, the book you appropriated is just Communicate Plant. Brass for Communicate, and the paper for Plant mana, very simple-"
"Simple?" I asked incredulously, "Wally, that's a very complex enchantment, you could make a killing selling such things in the city. Can you imagine how useful something like your book would be in managing scavenging teams, or directing armies?"
"Well, actually I can imagine because humans have something similar, called radio. And I say the little enchantment there is simple, because compared to radio, it is. As far as I can tell, the books just work. There's no carrier wave, no concerns about signal strength, intervening obstacles, or interception. It just works."
"Carrier wave?" I frowned, "What's that?"
He spread his hands, "I only sort of know, I'm a software guy, not a hardware guy-"
"Not too soft I hope," I murmured.
"THE POINT IS," Wallace went on loudly, "The car I was working on has a radio, and on that radio, I picked up a very steady broad-spectrum signal-"
"Broad-spectrum?"
"Radio is complicated," he repeated, "Unlike the book, everyone has to talk in the same," he waved his hands vaguely, "space. If you only broadcast on one frequency, that's sort of like only talking in part of the space. The idea being, everyone finds their own part of the space, their own frequency. This signal was different, I could pick it up on every frequency the car's radio could tune in to."
"Why would anyone do that? I can understand the desire to eavesdrop on someone, but why announce your presence?"
"You wouldn't- or I guess you would," he hedged, "If you were trying to jam up their communications. Just broadcast static with a powerful enough emitter, and you could make the frequencies useless."
"Like screaming in someone's ear while they're trying to have a conversation," I suggested.
"Pretty much, but this wasn't someone trying to jam. This was a constant pulsing, once every couple of seconds. The only reason I can imagine to do that, is as a distress beacon."
"And you want to go chasing after this beacon," I realized, a little tiredly.
"Someone needs help," he said matter-of-factly, "Someone with radio."
"You think they're human?" I guessed.
"Or some other species with advanced tech, might be a bunch of elves with spaceships for all we know. But if they need help, they need help. Besides, I don't think we want Simon to swoop in and scoop up whatever goodies are near the beacon. We also want to get that thing shut off as soon as possible, the last thing we want is him poking around on our side of the mountains."
"You believe Simon has access to this radio technology?"
"I wouldn't put it past him. If he's been here a decade then that's plenty of time to find or make one-"
"Make one? I thought you said these were complex devices."
"Complex in operation. But I know the rudiments of making a simple crystal radio, it'd probably take me a week or two, but I could probably puzzle out whatever I can't remember. I think it's only reasonable to assume the same is true for Simon."
"Where is this beacon then?"
Wallace shrugged, "No idea. I've got signal strength, but no direction."
"Why then conclude that it's on this side of the mountains, or that Simon will fare any better?"
"The signal is as clear as a bell, and all that rock would shield the transmission. Either we wouldn't hear it, or it would be muffled and staticy. As for Simon, if he hasn't already got a radio in each city, just for simple comms, I bet he's going to send a couple out. Neither of us might have direction, but with a little clever math, you can triangulate where the signal is coming from, so long as you can take readings from multiple locations. That'll be easier the further away those locations are."
I nodded along, "Simon keeps properties in Parabuteo and Caniforma, it's fair to assume that if he's keeping in contact with human radio... I see, and if each city receives this same signal at a different strength. Hmm, I think I understand your concern."
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. If you're not quite mended yet, I guess-"
"I am not staying behind!" I growled, "You can't drive the truck, and I refuse to be left behind to wring my hands while you galavant about."
"I'm all for having a galavanting partner," Wallace said hurriedly, "I just wanted to make sure you're in okay shape, you said you couldn't put your necklace back on till your shoulder was healed. I didn't want to rush you."
I gripped my wounded shoulder, squeezing it lightly, "We'd leave tomorrow?"
"Yeah," he replied softly.
"Then I should be in fit shape to go along with you," I assured him, "You said you were siphoning fuel from the other vehicles-"
"Yeah, I filled up the truck. I don't have any jerry cans to throw in the back, but the fuel tank on that thing is enormous. We should be good for a while."
I pushed myself to my feet, and glanced at the sky, "I'll help you gather-"
"Hey, just, you know, relax," he insisted, "I can still see a bit of a bruise, and you're not wearing your amulet. I'll pack our things, you just-"
I opened my mouth to speak, a biting retort at the ready, but held it back as a better idea occurred to me.
I lay back down on the bench and stretched languidly, "Maybe I'll sketch something else," I mused, smiling dreamily.
Wally beat a rapid retreat, and I smirked to myself as I watched him go.
I leaned over to the side and rested my head against the window, giving Wally space to reach in and fiddle with the radio.
It was nearly midday, not that one could tell, looking at the sky. The Father had departed around mid-morning, and shortly afterwards the bank of dark clouds, previously lurking on the horizon to the north, had rolled in. I couldn't catch the scent of rain on the air, and while the odour from the human heating device within the vehicle may have masked it, I guessed it was more a consequence of the chill that was causing Wallace's breath to fog.
And was there ever an awful lot of fog coming out of the big man. It was yet another frustration to leave me feeling guilty, him freezing in the back of the truck while I was warm and toasty at the controls. I was growing rather tired of our wild goose chase, but with Wally unwilling to complain about the cold or discomfort, I wasn't about to raise the issue while I travelled in comparative luxury.
It would be good to know whether we'd made any progress, however. He'd had me take a path away directly away from the hotel and the mountains behind it, not a straight path mind you. Instead, it was a series of wide zigzags, though he'd been shortening the width of each stretch as we drew away from the mountains.
"Anything?"
"I think so. The signal isn't- I don't know, normalized?"
"And that means what exactly?"
Wally shrugged lamely, "That might not even be the right term, point is, the signal's getting louder as we get closer."
"Then why are we zigzagging across these hills?" I insisted, "Just point me in the right direction, and I'll take us there."
"It's not a directional antenna, the zigzags are how I'm figuring out direction. It gets louder or quieter depending on distance, but the change is so gradual that it's hard to tell which way things are going. I don't have a map either, just some sketches from the top of the hotel, and I think we've already cleared the horizon in any case. Might just be the weather, but I can't see the top of our base any more."
I twisted around to look over the back of the seat, and found it hard to disagree.
It was less than an hour before flurries started to fall, and I couldn't help but smile, thinking of the ice cream Wally and I had shared.
Usually in weather like this I'd be all in a rush, getting together with the others to put together a team to gather and compact as much of the snow as possible. It wasn't quite as good as ice, and you'd not want to actually put it in the drink, but when it came to keeping drinks or food cool, ice was awfully hard to come by. Not a problem now though, not with Wally's new spell.
We might not even need to promise mana as payment to any prospective subjects. Offer chilled wine, chocolate, and ice cream, and they'd fall at my feet.
But then a frightening thought occurred to me, like an arrow through the heart.
"Wallace, we're going to run out of ice cream," I breathed.
"What?" Wally called through the window, shouting over the noise of the engine.
I brought the truck to a halt and turned around in my seat.
"Icecream, we're going to run out!"
He laughed "I mean, yeah, eventually. There's a decent amount in the freezer, but you're right, it won't last forever," he acknowledged.
"That simply will not do," I informed him.
He stared at me blankly for a moment before shrugging, "Alright, I'll figure out how to make more."
My eyes widened, and I grabbed the back of the seat with both hands, "You will?"
"Yeah, I think it's just sugar, milk, and whatever flavour you want?" he frowned, "I don't know, I'll need to experiment a bit, but I remember making ice cream in school. It was a while ago, but I remember rolling this can back and forth across the floor. I'll figure it out, I promise."
I let out a little puff of arousal pheromones, and held Wallace's gaze with quiet intensity, "I would grasp you by the collar and draw you into a passionate kiss that would leave you weak in the knees, but I believe it would be a little awkward. The window is not quite large enough."
Wallace went a little pink, though I was rewarded with a sheepish grin, "I'll take a rain-" he began.
It was as if a dozen thunderbolts had split the sky, each one following the last so closely that they seemed to blur together.
The last of the thunderbolts hadn't even finished echoing across the landscape before I found myself laying on my back beside the truck with Wallace atop me. The change seemed instantaneous, in one breath I was sitting in the cab, and the next I was on the ground, all without seeming to move through the intervening space.
It was gunfire, I realized belatedly. If Wally's people could create a pistol such as the tiny one he provided me which fired and reloaded itself as fast as one could pull the trigger, it tracked that what I heard was some similar contraption. Larger though, judging from the noise, a rifle of some sort.
A moment later it was answered by another peel of thunder, this one lacking the bass of the first. It was a chattering sort of noise, and a moment later the bassy thunder rolled again.
"Wally," I urged, patting him lightly on the chest, "I don't particularly mind you throwing me to the ground and leaping atop me, in fact, I'm a little surprised it didn't happen sooner. I'm just not sure now is the best time."
He hadn't settled his entire weight upon me. While he was pressed close, he was still holding himself off of me on hands and knees. So as not to squish me, I imagine.
He grumbled a little, and lifted himself off, moving to crouch beside the front wheel.
"They're not shooting at us," he surmised, "I think they might actually be going after each other."
I rose to a crouch and brushed myself off, "I had understood as much myself," I replied wryly.
He'd been peering over the hood of the truck, but turned back to me now, "Sorry Val. You got shot last time because I wasn't trying hard enough. This time-"
"What do you imagine you would have done last time?" I demanded, "Drape yourself across the front window? I got shot last time because a crazy elf bitch hired by a future eunuch got lucky. You have nothing to apologize for, then or now. This leaves us with a question, do we still want to seek this beacon?"
Wally grimaced and glanced back over the hood of the truck.
"Is there any way to know if we're in a safe area?" he asked finally.
"At the moment? No. I have what I need to sight the Parabueto tower and take a reading, but with the weather," I waved my hands vaguely upwards.
"I'm just worried that if we don't deal with this now, we're going to have new neighbours with firearms right in our back yard. Might be a good idea to help out the good guys, say hi, just generally make a good first impression."
"Good guys?" I repeated, "I'm not certain how we'd determine which is which. Assuming such a distinction exists."
There was another round of chattering gunfire, followed by two quick blasts of thunder before the air went quiet once again. Visibility was quickly worsening as the falling snow grew thicker, but this time I was ready and able to take a reading off my compass.
I gestured with it to Wally, "I've got a fix on them now, we can go after them, I'm just not certain you're dressed for this."
Indeed he wasn't. My jumpsuit lacked gloves or any sort of head covering, but there were ample pockets for my hands, and my hair was thick enough to warm the top of my head and tips of my ears. As for the jumpsuit itself, it insulated quite well against the cold.
Wally was not quite as well equipped, in his blue trousers and a light short-sleeved shirt. We might have prepared more thoroughly, but Wally's coat had been in the pack we'd lost on the way to the hotel, and none of the clothing we'd collected from abandoned luggage had been anywhere close to fitting the enormous human.
"I'll be fine," he assured me, "The cold doesn't bother me as much. As long as I keep my hands and face from getting frostbitten, I can deal with weather a lot worse than this."
"As you wish, we'll press on then."
We took our places once again, and I guided the truck forwards slowly. Creeping up and down the intervening hills, white with snow, though blades of verdant green grass could still be seen poking through in places, I was careful not to feed too much fuel to the engine. I was beginning to understand the way the human machine worked, and keeping what Wally called 'the revs' from getting too high seemed to keep the engine from growling too loudly.
I found a trough between two hills and followed its meandering path as lead more or less in the right direction. Hopefully sticking to the low ground would allow us to get as close as possible without being spotted, but I suspected that such considerations would soon be unnecessary. The snowflakes, big and fluffy, were falling so thick that I couldn't see more than a few dozen yards beyond the end of the hood.
The ground and sky seemed to blur together, and I found my gaze wandering as I tried to keep track of the horizon.
I caught sight of something in the distance, little more than a patch of greyish white among the field of white. I slowed and turned to the side, at first assuming it was a tree or something of the like. But as I drew nearer, the shape resolved itself into a more humanoid form.
She noticed us in the same moment I finally made sense of what I was seeing, and she froze. She stood stock-still as she stared at us, and for a moment I thought she might have been one of Simon's maids, but the uniform wasn't quite right. As if the same instructions had been given, but to a designer with different tastes. More than that, she appeared human, and like Wallace, utterly inured to the cold.
I heard the truck creak, and Wallace stepped out of the truck with his hands spread wide.
"Are you okay?" he asked gently, though he had to raise his voice to be heard, "You need a hand?"
Her reply was utterly incomprehensible, which seemed to bring Wally up short. It took only a moment to gather his wits, and he answered in what sounded like the same tongue the woman used, though even I could tell he was struggling with it.
The woman glanced back over her shoulder several times as she and Wally exchanged words, but the two seemed to come to some agreement, as she began walking towards the truck.
Wally turned back, opening his mouth as if to say something, but he stopped as something caught his eye.
He pointed it out to the woman, and though I couldn't understand the words, the urgency in his tone was plain enough. The woman began to sprint towards the truck, and I finally caught sight of what had alarmed Wally.
The horseman broke into a gallop as he spotted the girl, and Wallace quickly glanced between her and the truck. He realized, as I did, that she'd not reach it in time, and the big man began to stride forwards towards the charging horseman.
Had I not spotted him take up his weapon? No, his hands were empty, and there wasn't time to fetch his axe either. Undeterred, he broke into a run, and the set of his shoulders belied not so much confidence, as indifference at the onrushing foe.
The rider raised his weapon above his head- a rifle I realized -in a clenched fist and bellowed a challenge as he turned the horse to head straight for Wallace.
The giant answered with a roar that seemed to make the very air vibrate, and just as man and horse met, he lunged and threw his shoulder forwards. The two struck with enough force that the impact made the truck shake on its suspension, and the rider went cartwheeling over the front of his horse as the creature screamed and stumbled. Wallace roared again- still on his feet -and struck the horse. He seemed to draw the power for the blow out of the earth itself. His calves and thighs tensed as he swung his hips and shoulders around, driving an arm straight out to catch the horse just behind the jaw. The horse didn't so much as whimper as it keeled over, snowflakes thrown up in a wave as it hit the ground.
Then Wallace turned to face the rider where he sprawled on the ground, his weapon fallen to one side, and I caught sight of Wallace's grim visage.
Oh gods, he's going to kill him.
The rider seemed to come to the same realization and, in a panicked frenzy, threw himself at the discarded rifle. It wasn't to be, but as Wallace bent to retrieve the weapon, a shot rang out, and a gout of white smoke enveloped Wallace's head and shoulders. The rider had drawn a pistol, and even now held it straight out, the barrel shaking as he waited for the smoke to clear.
Wallace straightened, rifle in hand, and with blood streaming from his forehead. His expression as he regarded the rider was utterly absent of emotion, and he glanced down at the rifle's lock- a wheellock -before returning his gaze to the man on the ground.
The man dropped the pistol and raised his hands to cover his head. He screamed something, and Wallace strode forwards. I put my hand on the door handle, unsure whether to intervene, and glanced over to where the woman was huddled by the passenger side door. I could only see her from the eyes up, but that was enough. There was interest in those eyes, fixed on Wallace as they were, but little other emotion could be found in those eyes. Certainly not mercy.
The man screamed again as Wallace neared, but he was spared not a second thought as Wallace came to open the passenger side door for the woman.
She glanced at the man still huddled on the ground, and asked Wallace something, who nodded at the back of the truck. She shook her head, and gestured at his forehead. He nodded, and she clambered over the side of the truck.
"We're going to help Ch-" he hesitated, "Our friend here," he explained, "But she's not the one who set off the beacon," he passed the rifle into the cabin with me, "Prince Joffery here also isn't the guy we heard shooting earlier, so there's someone else out there who needs help. Char-" he hesitated again, "Our new friend is tag along, and she'll patch me up while we put some distance between us and Joffery."
"Wally?" I asked hesitantly.
He reeked of anger, so strongly that I was stunned that rider still breathed. So strongly, that if I didn't know Wallace quite as well, I might be terrified right now. But on the outside, there existed only utter calm.
"There are people out there that still need our help," he said simply, "I'll be okay, Val."
He gently shut the passenger side door, and joined the woman in the back of the truck. I took a furtive look through the mirror set above the windshield and gave a little start as the woman's right hand seemed to break apart. Wally seemed unconcerned as a small nozzle was selected from among the many miniature tools, which the woman used to spread some sort of material on the wound.
I let out a long breath, shook my head, and put the truck in gear. This wasn't the weirdest day I'd had, out here in the wilds, but it was early yet. Maybe we'd find something yet more curious after lunch.
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Documenting my first time through The Challenge Part 9(Battle of the Exes 2)

I'm back and going through Battle of the Exes 2. Long in depth thoughts through each episode with a TL:Doverall thoughts of the season at the end. Ran out of room to add much more preamble to this so check out previous posts if you're interested.
Battle of the Exes II
EP 1:
Going just by the quick intro it looks like their budget went up. Lot of glances at much more involved challenges.
Not Johnny R again. :/
Fucking Knight again with a mullet.
CT saying he shaved his beard since Diem was going to be there is hilarious.
Wes looking skinny these last couple seasons is so weird.
I like John the rookie comedian immediately. Very self aware, which doesn't seem like it'd be good for this show.
CT and Diem pairs again? I mean I didn't assume she'd be with someone else, but seems weird to do the same duo a second time.
"..and she had no gag reflex." Zach is gross and a douche right from the jump.
Sarah and Jordan seem like a good pair.
Nany "I have options" wow, self burn?
Bananas?!?! Damn Nany, literally who don't you go through? No judging but damn, Bananas?!
If Theresa is strong this season, her and Wes could be great. I feel like her perception of a strong challenger came out of nowhere last season though.
This first like 5 minutes seems more explicitly sexual than any of the previous seasons lol Straight up talking about gag reflexes, world class bj's, getting caught in the bathroom. They like pushing the exes and hook up factor super hard?
Wait...so was Dustin just lying his ass off last season? He said he had some "agreement" with Heather but that he was single on Free Agents? So he wasn't and THAT's what Jessica was talking about at the reunion?
Most of these rookies just seem like they were cast by some completely other production company or something. They seem like they were cast for comedic possibilities, rather than actual personalities. It just seems like a huge swing in casting style. I hope this isn't like a shifting in focus?
I love CT, I will try not to say it as often this season.
"Take my dog on the most ridiculous vacation." Wes has his priorities straight
I swear "Shut the fuck up" is the most common words to come out of Bananas' mouth.
OK, these houses are really getting ridiculous. This place looks like a resort.
Dustin seems like he's trying too hard. Like he's trying to pick up on this Jessica/Jay joke/rumor, but he just kind of runs too much with it and just keeps going on. But it seems like it's more to appease the people around rather than like he actually cares? It seems so weird and awkward?
Bus and flying to another bus to just the first comp? They definitely got their budget upped this season. Last season all the comps were in the same damn watering hole lmao
Not to be an instant naysayer, but I hate these kind of comps. They're just boring as hell. Oh, you gotta walk across a big height and you might fall. The effect is more on the cast than viewers, it just becomes boring and repetitive for viewers.
CT seemed to have the best idea, but Diem seemed to not want to do it. Just get a big push and hang on while CT holds her. They did it the first little bit, but it didn't seem like she pushed all that hard.
I feel like a Wes first power couple is the best possible choice for potential drama.
I'm glad Theresa's sketchy ass vote from Free Agents has stuck with her. Purely because it was just so stupid.
"The Banana one"
Johnny just trying to nonchalantly swim over to listen to their convos.
Wes trying to get on the good side of rookies? Seems like a bold strategy. They're a lot more volatile and emotional and probably a lot easier to break and beat down the line. But also more likely to fuck you somewhere along the line.
I feel like sending Bananas in right away is dumb when you know he'll likely stay. At least get an idea for the eliminations before you send him in. So you have better knowledge. Him and Nany are probably automatically in the top 3 or 4 of pairs for the whole season. Sending them against some rookies is just dumb.
Is Dustin on the outs really because of his gay porn? Or is it just because he's awkward and seems to get along with the women a lot more than the guys? I could definitely see a lot of these guys being put off by the dude being in gay porn, but he also just seems like he's trying too hard all the time.
"You threw me in on the ruins." I feel like that is extremely putting The Ruins lightly.
Wes really just seems like he's having fun with this meeting. Like he just wants to scare Johnny.
Yeah, I could literally see that conversation ending with Wes saying "I'm not throwing you in, I'm just messing with you." and that being why Johnny says "Fuck you for even making me have this conversation then." I feel like Wes was having fun with it and editors wanted to use it for suspense.
Dustin and Jessica going in first really does seem like a "random" ass choice... You literally could have thrown in the other Johnny and said he skated by last season and you can't have it happen again. Or anything. Seems weird to say Jessica/Dustin are in the middle so...bye.
This comp looks simple but interesting still. I like it.
Welp, Dustin/Jessica gone. I feel like there was something more going on with this social dynamic in some way.
Drunken Diem dancing. A Diem season staple.
Weird, seeing the people leaving?
The Challenge actually enacting twists? I kind of liked the purity and straight forward aspect of the show! :/
Exes II: Ponderous edition
EP 2:
The Real World Explosion is such a dumb name. Ran out of dynamic locations?
"Get the fuck over it! Something happened you didn't like in the past!" Well, Jordan has a way with words... I think I'm getting the character turn...
Well it seems Johnny has already established the friendship in the house and that everyone is going to have his side.
A suck and blow competition, yeah they're definitely leaning in to it.
Johnny not getting by this season! lol
If Avery and Johnny somehow win, I feel like Avery is an episode away from quitting.
Ok, this ball and bat section is hilarious.
Can you not just spit the peanut butter out? You just have to get it off with your tongue, not eat it? Did I miss that part of the instructions?
Apparently they couldn't just spit it out?
"Vets, vets, vets!" Just really helping Wes and his case of getting the rookies after you aren't you Bananas?
Wes and Bananas going back to back? Will they go for it?
Nany being the one who's wanting to pull the trigger? lol
Nany ain't fuckin' around this season. Damn.
Theresa fucking this up more than anything. You're just being stubborn. Did you learn these habits from Laurel?
"You'd be dumb not to put us in." Theresa, sit down.
Uh oh. Diem not feeling well :( Every Diem moment is just going to be ominous.
They're really just repeating this boring elimination challenge? That definitely seems like a choice.
I would love nothing more than for Johnny to go out his very first elimination.
Damn, Johnny gets to stay. Not a big let down as the other two seem entirely forgettable. I just wanted Johnny out for spite.
Nany just seems to have come in to this season with a mission to be confrontational. Why does Avery being jealous and not ok with with you and Johnny happening have to be addressed? Just give it time and let it try to develop?
This weird Jay stuff is....weird.
It's a bummer with how CBS all access puts up the ads for their site because the Diem and Knight memorial pictures flash on the screen for like a half second before going to a commercial and coming back to the previews.
EP 3:
I figured this, but Johnny seems childish.
CT being pulled by producer?!
Geesh, CT is not having any of this. Killer look to the producer and just puts the phone off speaker lol Good for you CT.
Man, this is heart crushing too watch.
Oh god, seeing Nia actually sucking her thumb is unsettling. Stop it!
God this is sad and soul crushing. I can't do this!
"Only way I usually go home this early is when I hit somebody." Still able to joke lol
Well there went about a third of this seasons competitiveness.
Bananas and Jordan walking in talking about the possibilities of the comp doesn't really seem all that standoffish to me.
Jenna, your face ain't all that cute and you seem to have the personality of a brick wall.
Theresa's hand getting stuck lmao "MY HAND! MY HAND! MY HAND!" It kept you on, count it as a blessing.
I can't wait for Knight and Pennsetucky to go.
Jemmye off instantly, maybe I'll get what I want this episode.
Zach not waiting until the final to start screaming at his female partner...
I'm assuming players must have wised up to the fact that it's not always benneficial to go last? Especially on something like this where it could rain and effect grip. Just put yourself a couple groups back to get an idea but not last in case it does rain.
Simone and John must be gone here. I thought John would be funny and interesting to have in the house but he's had literally zero screen time since the introductions.
"I want Bananas in the final." What in the fuck? What are you smoking Jordan? You're just going past hoping to have yourself in the final, but you want to have Bananas beside you guys to beat him?
"I'm the same way, out of all the girls in the house, I never want to say your name." The unsaid part of "Your partner on the other hand..."
The problem with playing the middle game Sarah is that sooner or later it becomes hard to hide what you're doing because someone expects you to show your hand or make a decision sooner or later.
The good news though, is that this game is better when there is apposing sides politically. One big alliance just ruins the game, just look at modern Big Brother. It destroys the game and makes it not worth watching.
Food eating Elim?
Oh shit...a replacement for CT/Diem? I actually didn't expect that. Hopefully some good competitors.
Well what the shit, why even say shit? Jesus.
Oh shit, they brought back I Can from the duel but with food? NICE! I actually liked that comp idea, but thought it wasn't handled well at all.
Milk on the table makes me think spicy stuff.
Simmone...chick. It's a betting challenge and you go lower...
These guys are completely clowning the Are You The One cast lol
Don't give me weird ass slow mo while he's inserting a damn brownie in his mouth.
These rookies man...
"A little urgency!"
These rookies have no damn drive. Jesus.
The first vet that gets eliminated is going to have an easy ass time with whatever the hell Exile is. Just filling up that house with all these shitty rookies.
EP 4 - EP7 missing. It was probably a lot of celebrating. Knight and Pennsetucky get taken out, then Johnny/Nany. "Groupon pussy" was an amazing line that was said. Rookies still suck. blah blah blah
EP 8:
I'm going to start this episode by bitching about how much the CBS all access app/site sucks. The app is terrible, I constantly get double dose of ads, the app literally needs reset every 2 episodes because the app itself gets bogged down and starts lagging. The website constantly just freezes up between ad breaks and flipping back to the show. I've had times where the episode didn't keep track of my progress on an episode and I had to fast forward through the episode and I then had to sit through all 3-4 ad breaks before it got to where it needed to be.
I'm usually all for the Rookies coming in and fucking up the game and killing the vets gang up mentality, but the rookies this season are just damn terrible. They're not interesting, they have no real killer mentality, they stuck competitively. This cast is booty.
Sarah having to be the one too initiate some kind of team bonding is a damn bummer. Jordan is an asshole and it sucks Sarah wants a win that bad that she's the one to suck it up and feed in to Jordans ego.
TJ telling the crew about the guys having to be on the outside makes think this definitely comes up and isn't just a safety thing.
"Too fucking easy. I hesitated." Yeah, Leroy and Nia probably would have killed that if Nia didn't hesitate so long.
Jonna being able to jump back in time was great. Damn
This is a cool ass comp, but seems more cool than easy.
Zach flipping out for no reason. He just wants to flip out. Chill the fuck out.
Sarah's enthusiasm is kinda getting overboard...
Jordan completely fucked that up. He hugged the wall when coming back and yelld for Sarah to go. I mean, you gotta be the one to stay aware of where you're going and standing.
"Well, you did exactly what they told you not to do, so you need to do a better job of paying attention." TJ laying it down.
Jonna crying, Zach walks up and opens up with "I'm going to explain where all my anger is coming from..." follows up with "What did I blame you for that wasn't your fault?" God damn Zach. You flipped out for no damn reason and there was no blame, you just flipped your shit.
"You give the two black people fried chicken... I ain't even mad. I'm going to enjoy it." and "Surprise, motherfucker." I'm liking Leroy this season.
Zach asking to make Jay tremble. What in the hell is wrong with Zach?
I feel like Wes is completely lying about Zach being his number 1 just to hope he gets him thrown in lmao
"I hope you learned a lot here tonight too." "That you're a fucking snake..."
"It's guy code." Zach, shut up.
Zach instantly knowing Wes did it. I laugh knowing damn well Leroy and Nia probably went straight to Zach after talking with Wes.
I'm actually not sure who Leroy/Nia are throwing in right now. I feel like the smart play would be Zach or Wes if they're wanting to better get to the end and win, but they could easily just throw in Jay/Jenna to not make a move.
I'm guessing Jay/Jenna and all this talk really just gets Zach flipping out more after this.
Also seriously what the fuck is happening with the Exile house? There's four couples after this?
I don't understand them all fawning over Wes being such a great manipulator. He really didn't say much other than "Don't throw me in, throw my biggest partner in so you become my biggest partner." What?! You people are so easily swayed and accepting of just anything?
Going to Jay and Jenna and demanding a thanks lmao wow what a power trip
A sledgehammer elimination...for Jordan. Eesh this guy doesn't get the best luck when it comes to elim's
Oh nevermind, he's killing it lol
Zach is definitely doing this stupidly. He's getting barely any surface area of the hammer on the beam. He's basically trying to chop the damn thing in half by hitting the corner of the hammer.
Jordan walking to the beam and away from it to hand sarah the hammer is just about the same way the rookies have approached these elims.
They're somehow selling the Jonna and Sarah closeness but they seem farther apart than Jordan and Zach were. Editing!
Really hope Sarah gets a win here.
Zach still just whining because Jonna is getting words of encouragement lol
Hey it looks like Johnny and Nany may actually have some competition now.
Seriously if someone isn't coming back like right now this is the most bullshit twist. Ok, there's instantly a tease for it. I was about to say...
EP 9:
Wes getting this far and then getting messy out of fear? Where have I seen this before?
Jordan saying "I'm done wheeling and dealing." Your mark on this season is mostly not making deals lol
Jordan being mad at how Theresa talks to people is fucking hilarious. Wes calling it out. "On the asshole scale you are easily over Theresa."
I get where Jordan is coming from not just wanting to help the biggest competition in Wes. But if he plans on future appearances on The Challenge, it's real damn dumb to just show vets that you aren't open to working together at the end.
Jordan is completely bullshitting lol He started talk about Theresa by saying he didn't want to make the deal because he doesn't like the way Theresa acts and talks to people. Like she's queen of the place and she's a bitch. Why would Wes even bring up Theresa to compare Jordan to if he didn't talk shit first? Just randomly picks his partner to compare Jordan to?
"We're here and now, not ten years ago with roided up Wes." hahahahahaha
I honestly wouldn't say Wes used to do roids, he more seems like the rivals 1 final completely altered how he prepares for these challenges. It's like he died in that final and switched to way more focus on running and endurance and slimmed the hell down. Especially after fresh meat 2 where it seemed like he could get by pretty well on talent and politicking so why not just prepare more for the final?
Wes' heart looks like it's in his damn stomach as soon as he walks in to the dome.
Leroy "What the fuck ya'll clapping for?!"
There's been a whole losers bracket? Where the fuck has that been shown?!
Wes instantly "It's going to be Bananas"
Wes is instantly not enthused. He looks miserable.
I hate that this losers bracket has just gone on and not been shown at all. Was this maybe shown on their website at the time or something?
In Wes' eyes this would just fucking suck. You played a pretty damn good political game. Had a lot of weaker people going just to further help Banana's and Nany to get back in the game with 1 or 2 challenges left before the finals. And they're coming back with a lot of momentum. I'd be pissssssed.
I'm all for it from a tv watcher though, because otherwise this would have been a landslide boring season.
Another elim rehash. I wasn't a huge fan of this one though. At least this time around they aren't having to pull around a fucking 10 inch rope.
Is...Zach and Jonna winning this?
Jordan helping Bananas is like the dumbest twist of fate ever. The guys by all accounts hated each other. Bananas would probably beat Jordan in most challenges and final. Is it solely out of anger for Wes? lol
I am so confused on what happened during that? By all appearances Zach and Jonna had an easier set of rope/knots to work with, were shown well behind multiple times. Then all of a sudden it's like Zach/Jonna made zero progress.
Zach blaming Jonna lmao Fucking Zach
There's Bananas being that "Humble winner" that he loves to tout and bitch about Jordan with...
I think Wes is overstating just how much he's done, but it would absolutely blow to get to this point and just have your worse adversary come back in the game.
Bananas on the fucking high horse all over again... I really don't understand when people say they don't know where the Bananas hate comes from. He talks like he plays a certain way, but then when you actually see him play...it's nothing like how he talks about. It's bullshit. He's a douche. Talking all this shit about Wes making a ddeal with the devil. We can bring up how much shit you've done to get to some of your finals dude. The island, making a deal with Ev to fuck over your own alliance, to only fuck them over again and leave out the girls. The ruins fucking over everyone and passing it off as "fair" and what everyone wants, until it gets down to you and you flip your shit that you're going to go in. You've constantly played like shit all the way up to Free Agents where you actually had to do shit and then you had the constant best partners since then with Frank and now Nany.
Wes trembling.
Hey, I remember this challenge from Fresh Meat... The show has come a long way from throwing balls around while standing on tree stumps to now being elevated above water and doing it.
Nia literally can't stand? lol
TJ advocating for someone to quit?! Who is this man?!?! I've never seen this man before.
Damn! Jordan got a huge ball hit on Wes lol Point blank head shot that apparently Wes didn't see coming at all.
Leroy trying not to jump lol
I feel like everyone should have been throwing that to Bananas. Let him put the blood on his own hands. He has a choice of either going back on his word or give Wes an easy win. See which matters more to him. Ya'll just did his work for him, making sure Wes goes to the dome and then being able to jump out and not have to worry about going in. Ya'll dumb.
Jordan suddenly being a fucking Johnny boot licker is certainly fucking something.
Yeah Leroy, Ya'll are stupid. You can't talk much shit Leroy, you would have been talked in to doing the same shit. You put in Zach instead of Wes only because Wes said not to lol
Apparently people in this game don't view returning players the same way as Survivor or Big Brother. Those mother fuckers instantly have a target on their backs when they come back in no matter what the party lines are(most of the time). How you don't instnatly just throw them back in the dome seems crazy. You already left once, why should someone who's made it this far deal with the risk of possibly going home? At least that's usually the mentality around this type of situation.
Nia is at least calling it true. I'm not saying it isn't the worse of the decisions, but she's definitely calling it true as hell.
This Nany/Johnny vs Nia blowup is my life. Give them alllllllll the shit.
The thing that wasn't talked about enough is how Johnny threw it knowing he'd be safe and knowing Leroy would be going in. Leroy got used and played and doesn't even realize it.
Ep 10:
Theresas smile during this fight is Chef's kiss
Sarah being straight up. "Yeah, I want to make this easier for myself going forward. It's a game." I think Nia is 100% vindicated in what she's saying about Johnny/Nany, but the reasoning behind it doesn't matter.
Fucking Johnny trying to talk fucking shit afterward. Seriously going to Leroy like nothing was done out of line and acting like Nia is insane and ruining everything. Somehow Johnny just keeps being able to play his bullshit politics and act like he's the nice guy afterward.
Crazy to think Sarah's been on 8 seasons already. Maybe because of the early dq's with teammates makes it seem smaller but I feel like it hasn't been that damn many.
I hate the echo chambers that these games create within themselves. Everyone who came up with the decision, who agrees to the decision, and is in no way getting screwed by the decision sitting in a room laughing about the people being upset being insane is just hilariously blind and inept.
I am liking the trend of not showing these elims until the contenders see it.
Hall brawl....Well bye Wes/Theresa. Sucks for you that you played a pretty great game and get fucked over by a twist.
Just for reference it isn't just that it's Nany/Johnny walking back in the game that makes me dislike the twist. I don't usually like twists at all in these shows unless they're known by everyone before hand so they can be played around. Even if CT and Diem walk back in the house somehow I'd still have an issue with it.
I think Wes knows they're already out. He doesn't look in it at all.
Both teams envisioning Nany is pretty hilarious.
Yeah, I'm not sure what that Wes strategy was...
I feel like Wes has a history of quietly quitting when he knows he's already lost. He quit against Ev in FM 2, and now he just lays down and says his head hurts?
"He's fine, he's being a pussy. Karma's a bitch." What in the hell did Wes do? Put you in to get eliminated? lol Fuuuuuck Johnny. "It's a game" "It's a game" "It's a game", but also get killed, karma's a bitch, you're being a pussy.
I literally don't know what Wes is doing lol but man I'm so fucking tired of hearing Johnny talk.
Jordan being an ass licker to Johnny after two whole seasons of Johnny talking non stop shit about him is fucking depressing. What happened to all that pride and ego talk?
It's on one part funny to watch Wes' downfall, but at the same time it's so agrevating watching it come from a twist and at the shit hands of Johnny while he talks shit.
I am not ready for the amount of times I'm going to see Johnny on seasons going forward :/
It was weird hearing shit talking of Nia sucking her thumb and then suddenly seeing it a lot this season. It's fucking WEIRD.
"It was Jordan who did it, you can't blame Bananas." Leroy, you are god damn stupid lol Johnny was talking about this shit before the competition even happened.
Apology tour. Kind of worthless at this point. There's slim pickings and it all doesn't really matter too much at this point.
Seeing the city stuff made me get excited for the idea of a city final again. We were robbed!!!!!
I literally can't get passed the Jordan ball licking of Bananas. What in the holy hell heppened?!
This is kind of a boring challenge to watch leading in to the final...
Why am I still dealing with Jay and Jenna on this damn show?!
At least it seems like these rookies won't skate by to the final and will actually see an elim. I'd rather the vets not have an easy win. The three teams other than the rookies would be a pretty good final as long as Sarah doesn't heat stroke out of this one like Cutthroat.
Uh oh, guess I counted Jordan/Sarah in too soon.
Bananas urging Nany and yelling for her to go and then falling himself is beautiful.
Johnny instantly saying "You know I love you guys" I fucking hate this guy.
They're arguing hahaha Sarah wants to stick to the same damn plan of keeping light weight and Jordan wants to lick fucking boots.
Johnny being upset hahahahahaha
Fuck Johnny. Angry they're not seeing a challenge! hahah Johnny will literally flip every fucking thing on its head when it comes down to him.
Hahahahaha Johnny, if you were concerned about that so much why were you fine with Leroy and Nia going in? Oh because now it's you going in?
I don't get the Johnny love. This dude is 100% fucking two faced. He passes it off like he's this extremely loyal smart player, but all that shit goes out the window when he can say anything against him going in.
Sarah is playing the vet and Johnny's style of game of making their way easier and cutting the fat. He's just mad his arguments are being used against him.
EP 11:
Sarah's absolutely right. "They taught me how to play this way, and now want me to play the nice girl. The nice girl game has fucked me."
Nia mad they don't have the easy elim as well lol
Johnny trying to pretend they would throw in the rookies is fucking hilarious. He talked about it being a game the entire last episode. He screwed over Leroy and Nia and jumped out knowing they wouldn't go in.
I fucking hate Johnny. He's a complete hypocrite.
Nany, Nia and Johnny ganging up on the girl who is the most chipper and least argumentative or confrontational of probably anyone who's been cast ever is definitely something. You guys played too many seasons with Frank.
My favorite thing about the location changes is there is always someone who has to ask where the location is lol
Johnny, I literally don't care if you're excited about something or not. This show is literally your career. You can deal with it.
"Wish I could actually be happy I was here." what a whiny bitch.
I'm with Jenna, down with seafood. Fuck seafood!
The team who hasn't been in an elimination "I've worked my ass off to be here." You're already talking like a vet.
Johnny "I can't deal with anyone else being smart or happy" Bananas
The buddy up between Nany and Nia has surprised me the most. What?! lol How does Johnny just screw people over and ends up best friends again the next day.
Is this Johnny/Evan/Kenny all over again? Sarah already lived through that saga.
Jesus Nia...
"Can we just eat and have one decent fucking day?" Of course Johnny would be the fucking one to say this shit. Talk all kinds of shit, encourage abuse, and then act like you're the victim and just want an easy day. Like you aren't the miserable stupid fuck making is miserable because oh no you have to go into an elimination.
If Nia gets kicked I actually will be bummed. It's deserved, but I wanted to see Leroy/Nia vs Nany/Johnny...again.
"Nia's gone, as if I didn't have enough to think about right now." Oh poor you Johnny. Let's somehow make Nia being taken away about you lol
"I should be able to just relax right now." Mother fucker you should be home. You literally got eliminated weeks ago. You had a twist that got you back in the game and are now going back in to an elimination. You're not owed shit.
I don't want Jay/Jenna in this final even the slightest bit, but fuck off Johnny. Fuck that entitled vet bullshit.
"You've had six eliminations, anything can happen." Of course you'd count the elims to come back in that we didn't even get to see lol you faced some week ass rookies.
Damn you Jay. Nany and Jenna falling in water would have been amazing.
I really don't want Johnny to just have an easy in to the fucking final.
"Nia crossed the line physically with someone and we take that seriously."....now
Do you seriously bring in Leroy another partner right in front of Sarah's face when you pulled her out fucking twice? Once for the same fucking circumstances?!!
Wooooooooooooow
They brought back Theresa to be Leroys partner for just this elim. I'm kind of pissed, but it was also wanted, but also kind of glad? I have so many conflicted feelings.
Fuck this noise in the face of Sarah. Kinda makes sense because she was already there. But at the same time she shouldn't get another chance. But she's going against another team who got another chance. I'm.....kind of ok with it? Mainly because it's against Johnny/Nany, If it was the same circumstance and Johnny/Nany hadn't come back before hand, I don't think I'd be as fine with it. Especially with Sarah sitting right there lmao
Johnny fucking yelling "Owww" Karma's a bitch I think you've said Johnny? Or "He's fine, he's being a pussy"?
Fuck Johnny!
"That's yours Nany! That's your x!" Please get it, because I failed to.
Seriously, when did the perception of Theresa shift over the last couple seasons? All of a sudden Theresa is seen as some challenge threat, where they said she was an upgrade to Nia, they talked her up the previous season as well.
Hahaha I love TJ clearly not standing at a point where he can watch Theresa kick Nany in the face repeatedly lmao he could very clearly just step to that side and watch it all happen, but he decides to keep it as a blind spot hahaha
I would have rather seen Leroy/Johnny both in the final vs Sarah, but god am I happy to see Johnny/Nany gone.
Theresa's first final and yesterday she was at home. Geesh, I am not a fan of twists.
"I would have expected my own mother to screw me over before Sarah." Johnny is such a peice of shit lmao He will literally die on any hill he talks up.
I could honestly see Jay and Jenna quitting lmao
Troll tolls!
They didn't even bother giving Theresa a different jersey lol
"I wanna go out a winner." Sarah talking about being done with The Challenge?
Jay and Jenna are so fucked lmao "We are, of course, going to finish." Yeah....that exact moment makes me think you won't.
I like that TJ still blows the horn as a necessity lol It can't be heard, no one can even see it, but sure let's blow the horn.
EP 12:
Jumping out of a helicopter to swim to a kayak would be fun as hell
"I would shut up a lot of people who talk a lot of crap about me"-Theresa. Have you watched the last couple seasons? People talk you up a lot. You were getting picked first in Free Agents some times over Laurel. In both exes you were considered one of the strongest girls. I know people may not like you but I feel like the last couple seasons you've been considered one of the best competitors for the girls.
Leroy being the one to get yelled at by the girl is hilarious.
"I could buy tons of shoes...a house. I wouldn't have to talk to my family anymore." What?! Jenna why are you still on this season?! lol
Hey, Nia called it. A word puzzle.
Nooooo you left th....ok they ran back and screwed them up. Jesus almost made a rookie mistake of leaving the puzzle there solved.
Hahaha cut back to Jay and Jenna talking about them working so hard to get here.
Flashbacks to Sarah getting DQ'd because of her partners lol in the final where Leroy gets a partner given to him.
What the hell is this path? lol cows now goats.
God damn, Sarah and Jordan take those first glasses like champs. Damn!
Quit calling it flip cup. It's not the same thing! lol
They're talking about Leroy and Theresa being on the heels of Sarah and Jordan when they're just now getting to the cows. They aren't even to the goats yet lol They aren't on their heels at all.
Yeah, Sarah and Jordan are gone and still no Leroy/Theresa
Jay and Jenna fucking walking after the checkpoint lol wow
I could get through almost all sick food things, but this weird half solid liquid would be a damn struggle for me lol
I need a counter for how many times Jenna says "whatever" for no reason
I can not imagine puking multiple times and forcing yourself to jog afterward lmao
"Oh it's a drinking game." Jenna says before seeing whats in the cups
I almost want to puke watching this.
The role reversal with Jenna haha
I will be SHOCKED if they aren't quitting. Shocked
People saying "I've never quit" have almost certainly quit.
"Are you crying? Are you serious?!" TJ, I love you.
Jay/Jenna, I wanna give you shit because you took Johnny and Nany's spot in the final making it a really interesting final, but at the same time. Johnny kind of made his own bed.
"You know how much shit twitter is going to give us?" Flashes twitter handles!!! I am dead. straight dead.
"A TUBE!!!!!!!"
First flip cup, now corn hole.
That's a huge goddamned lead blown. There had to be some struggling that wasn't shown. Jesus.
Theresa acting like she's shocked they're puking because of this caviar.
30 min time limit on this checkpoint doesn't seem to make sense if they have to run back for the rocks. Why even bother running and eating more tubes if you can just sit there and not tire yourself out? You don't even have to make it blatent, just struggle to eat the caviar.
I feel like the editing isn't doing a great job, or just don't have much to work with lol They're trying to paint like Leroy and Theresa are right on the heels of Sara/Jordan, but every time they show Leroy/Theresa they're barely traveling at all, but when they're showing Sarah and Jordan, outside of her having to stop to shit, they have been going fast as hell.
This sleeping situation lol
Theresa talking TRUTH!!!!! Johnny don't give a fuck about you Leroy. You're an idiot.
"What happened to Wes?" He got fucked by a twist...
"So I guess they were a layup." That's fucking right!
Five minute lead is pretty ridiculous. But I hate two day finals anyways, so...
Didn't Leroy have trouble on a climb previously? Or am I just thinking of Zach? I'm not sure.
Happy to see Sarah/Jordan get a win.
I have a feeling this reunion will be really interesting. Hope it has a good host.
If anything, this season has made me like Leroy more. Even though he got played and fails to realize it.
I completely forgot CT/Diem were on this season.
Reunion:
Weird to have Nia on the reunion?
Fucking Nia starting already. Jesus christ.
Johnny is such a whiny bitch. "I have never played that game." What in the hell lmao
Johnny trying to have the high ground here is hilarious.
"She will never win again because she branded herself a traitor." I love LOVE that Johnny has been able to shake off how he played with Kenny/Evan lmao The difference between Johnny and Sarah is that Sarah had the balls to just straight up make the move where Johnny just sits in the back while he convinces others to do it for him.
"Sexual harassment usually does that." Zach with the perfect statement on Nia. Why the fuck is she on the reunion? They just wanted someone on Johnny's side to talk shit to Sarah?
"This is the first season I've ever had any drama with girls." You came in to the house with previous drama. You can't come in to the season and immediately call out Theresa if there already wasn't a past. There may not have been a lot of drama, but that's basically a lie.
"There was a catalyst that got her to that point." Can we cut to an episode before where Johnny was calling Nia a fucking psycho and that she was off her rocker? lmao That's befor the supposed catalyst that Johnny is trying to excuse for Nia.
This is the type of shit of WHY I HATE JOHNNY it's so god damn clear how he plays, but he fucking tries to bitch about how other people play. Johnny outside of the house or on the face of everything he will be loyal as possible. He will defend people, like NIA, he will trash anyone who goes against any of his people, but he will turn around and have Jordan put Leroy/Nia in the elimination and act like it's just the smart move. He catches no fucking shit for it. It doesn't fucking stick to him because he isn't the one doing it. He's a spineless hypocrite.
Fuck this noise of trying to excuse Nia. Nia even being on the reunion is ridiculous but everyone standing up for her is absurd. They're mad at sarah and jordan so they'll excuse anything.
Wes really seems like he leaves the challenge house and just lets go of everything. He comes to these reunions and barely says a word.
Haha Everyone saying the layup was smart, but everyone mad at Sarah for using it. That makes sense lmao
"Everyone got a second chance and I went home. Even her(Theresa) Yeah Wes, you kinda got screwed.
Johnny HATES Wes getting all this praise for playing a great game.
Johnny saying Wes promises everyone everything and then gets them eliminated one by one his hilarious considering CT(I'm pretty sure it was him) said that about Johnny's game in a previous season.
Was really about to wonder if they were going to mention Knight and Diem. They kind of do them dirty only having them at the last 5 minutes and just having the biggest asshole at the reunion talk about Knight.
Overall Season thoughts:
Kind of a middling to lower season for me. Half the cast was complete filler and uninteresting. Rookies weren't only bad they just had no real fight or drive in them at all. I don't like twists in these games at all and to see one handled so poorly made me hate it even more. Nothing was shown of the exile at all, we as viewers didn't even know what was going to happen with them until suddenly Johnny/Nany show up. It also ultimately did nothing but make one episode interesting and get Wes out of the house. Literally every person on the season got a second chance but Wes lol that's just hilarious and fucked up.
That being said, I think Wes' game strategy is boring. It made most of the season boring and likely wouldn't have worked if there was even a little more people on the season who were competent.
I still hate Johnny and I'm still completely mystified when people ask about the Johnny hate or not understanding it. I seriously don't understand how you see how Johnny plays or portrays himself, but then see how he describes how he plays and portrays himself and not see a huge degree of difference between the two. He's a complete hypocrite and two faced. He will yell until he is blue in the face about being loyal and how everyone else is playing a dirty game, but he's also the same person who talks about Leroy/Nia needing to go in to beat Wes and then throwing the comp to not be the one to have to do it. He's a complete bitch and I am so damn tired of him. At least Sarah had the balls to make the move of putting him in the dome herself. She didn't throw the comp so someone else would have to do it. If you were so worried about the rookies not making the finals then why didn't you say the rookies needed to go against Wes? Oh was it because getting revenge on Wes was more important than your fake morals and making sure your alliance is safe?
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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
  1. 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…
  1. 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.
  1. 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:
  1. 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.
  1. 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..
Zing!
"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?
Got 'em!
"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…
  1. Check to see whether the person offering advice has children. How old are they?
  2. 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.
  1. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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!
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Proven Horse Race Betting System - YouTube

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