The Coven- Part XXIX


I stayed in my pew as courtiers arrived for the morning service, and then sang the litany with everyone else. After the service was over, I waited until most of the courtiers had left before standing, but as I did, Monsignor Pius caught sight of me, and motioned for me to stay.

I waited while Monsignor Pius spoke to Lord Taris, and then he approached my pew.

“Good Morning, Lady Frey. I am glad to see you at this morning’s service. I hope your husband is well.”

I smiled and curtsied as I worked out a response. Why would Monsignor Pius point out his fellow witch’s impiety?

“My husband is rarely well this early, but he always recovers before noon.”

Monsignor Pius laughed. “A common affliction! Soon after I am coronated, I plan to add evening services for others who suffer as your husband. In the meantime-”

“Grace! I do hope you aren’t bothering the Monsignor,” my father said, sidling up the aisle to my pew. “He’s a very busy man.”

“The Lady isn’t bothering me at all- quite the contrary,” Monsignor Pius replied. “Your charming daughter and I share a common interest in the sciences, and I was hoping that we could continue our discussion of astronomy.”

Monsignor Pius turned back to me with a slight, gallant bow, and my stomach dropped. Monsignor Pius had already destroyed a treatise I’d written on the motions of planets- a work that had turned out to be both unoriginal and heretical. Monsignor Pius had told me that it was forbidden to suggest the earth went around the sun, and forbade me from discussing my ideas with anyone else.

Had he discovered that I had taken my ideas to the oculist guild, I wondered. Did he know I’d kept my original notes? What would a priest, who was secretly a witch, do with a more common heretic?

My father cleared his throat. “Monsignor, His Royal Highness sends you his  regards, but he is unwell this morning. At this moment, he is in private prayer.”

“May the prince’s recovery be swift, and may he continue in good health. I suspect he will. A mysterious affliction has been going around the court, but everyone seems to recover. Lady Frey and I have just been discussing it.”

I choked.

“Dear Lady Frey, I hope you haven’t caught the affliction, too. Come with me to my office, and join me in my prayer for the health of His Royal Highness.”

My father nodded solemnly, and I continued to cough as Monsignor Pius led me away.

Monsignor Pius lead me to a chamber above the chapel and shut the door. We were in a small but comfortably-furnished room, fitted with the same shining wood as the chapel, but with less ornamentation. There were two full bookshelves, a desk, and two chairs pulled up to the hearth.

Monsignor pius gestured for me to take one of the chairs, and he took the other.

“You are an interesting young woman, Lady Frey- perhaps more interesting than you realize.”

“Everyone is most interested in themselves,” I said.

If Monsignor Pius noticed my obvious evasion, he did not show it. “You are a young woman who has gained the trust and love of Lord Frey, which is no small feat. Experience has made him a guarded man.”

“I did not charm him; I have no such arts. If Hope does trust me, then I hope I have earned his trust.”

Monsignor Pius nodded as though to himself, and then stood, going to his desk and returning with a chart.

“Tell me- what do you make of this?”

I took the chart carefully. It was a star chart, which was neatly done and beautifully illuminated with intricate scrollwork around the perimeter.

“Here is the sun- so this is midwinter?”


“The last star in the cat’s tail is off by several seconds of arc. I’d have to check Sir Boromir to confirm the positions of the Red Moon and Tigris. What year is this?”

“It is the year of His Royal Highness’s birth. If you corrected the positions of Tigris, the Red Moon, and the Cat’s tail then all three would be in conjunction. I had to make small adjustments to each; the conjunction is an ill omen.”

“If you say- I can’t begin to understand what the stars portend.”

Monsignor Pius lifted a lofty eyebrow. “How strange- you study the stars with an expert’s eye, and yet you ignore their purpose?”

“I’m not wise enough to know the stars’ purpose. I can see many uses. The stars guide mariners, the sun’s procession through the constellations assists farmers in their planting, and -dare I say- a woman is very familiar with the timing of the red-moon’s phases.”

“Then you must see the bigger picture; there is a pattern to all of your observations. It is the stars’ purpose to guide us, and show us what will be.”

“Perhaps. The methods I just mentioned are imperfect, but consistent. When it comes to seeing signs and omens, however, I can’t see any logic. For every example I read in history of an omen fulfilled, I see another not fulfilled.”

Monsignor Pius took his star-chart from me. “Your observation is quite correct, but not everyone is as observant as you. As long as people believe in omens, the omens will have some power over them.

“I have prepared this star chart as a horoscope for the Prince, and I shall present it to him at my coronation. You can see, now, why I’ve altered it.”

The fire crackled as silence stretched between us. A thousand questions I dared not ask fought for precedence as Monsignor Pius regarded me with keen, dark eyes.

After a time, I swallowed and spoke, though hesitantly. “Please forgive my impertinence, but surely as the new high priest you could council the Prince and the people against superstition.”

“You are still young, and you see the world through a lens of idealism. When you are older, you will understand that some people cannot be reasoned with, and must be guided in subtler ways. This horoscope is one of the ways in which I mean to guide the Prince’s conscience.”

Monsignor Pius smiled at me with gentle superiority, and I cast aside subtlety.

“Why have you shown me this?”

Monsignor Pius leaned back, running his fingernail along the velvet cushion on his chair’s arm.

“I wished to see how you would react to the revelation. You may be young and naive, but you also have a good deal of potential. You are surrounded by intrigue here in St. Blanc. Many people wish to use you as their pawn. You seem innocent of it, but I wonder how much you really perceive.”

My blood ran cold. I was certain now that he knew I’d discovered the coven.

My first thought was that Hope and I must tell Monsignor Pius about the blood oath, so he would not perceive me as a danger. And yet, Monsignor Pius still radiated power and danger. Caution stayed my response, and it occurred to me  that Monsignor Pius might have another intrigue in mind.

“My father told me ‘you will serve your purpose in time.’ Do you know what he meant?”

Then, as though on cue, Brother Lux opened the door without ceremony and entered the room, followed closely by Miss Taris.

“I beg your pardon,” Brother Lux said, though his smile did not waiver. “I did not mean to intrude.”

“Nonsense- my door is always open to my dearest brother.”

Brother Lux blushed and bowed.

“Miss Taris,”Monsignor Pius said gently to the girl who stood half-hiding behind Brother Lux. “Do you seek my counsel?”

“I… I do, but…” Miss Taris’s eyes flickered toward me.

“I was just on my way. My husband will be expecting me,” I said.

Miss Taris smiled a little, and mouthed, “thank you.”

I stood, curtsied, and took my leave.


Part XXX

Wednesday Link Party

For everyone who feels exhausted, demotivated, and stressed, here are some links that may help you.


  • I’m not often too tired to play games, so here is a link that will help you approach life in the spirit of relentless grinding… for XP! Level Up Life
  • If you work best with the help of others, here is a study room where you can work on your projects during quiet times and brag about them during not-so-quiet times. The site can also help you track your progress. Less Wrong Study Room
  • Finally, there can come a time when only a threat of potential loss can break through your demotivation. If you need extra help getting your butt in gear, this is a site where you put money on the line. Meet your goals, or lose it! beeminder

I also have compiled a list of methods I personally use to beat akrasia.

  1. Pre- commit to your goal. Don’t say, “I might do this.” Say, “I’m doing this.”
  2. Visualize success.
  3. Create artificial restraints. For example, put your alarm clock across the room to force yourself out of bed.
  4. Use immediate rewards to supplement long-term rewards. “If I start my homework right now, I can listen to the new album at the same time.”
  5. Build habits through a consistent schedule.

Wednesday Link Rundown

I don’t think I’ve done a link rundown on Wednesday before. Neat!


Radiolab: Hello

I’ve always loved dolphins, so this episode of Radiolab was a special treat. The highlight was a piece on the infamous Lilly experiment where a woman, Margaret Howe Lovatt, cohabitated with a dolphin named Peter while she attempted to teach him to vocalize in human speech. I’ve always seen this experiment described as not only a failure, but a disaster, so I was shocked when radiolab played Peter’s tapes and I heard how much he was able to learn, and how far he came from the beginning. Margaret also described a fascinating behavior, in that Peter would practice his vocalizations alone, without the promise of reward.

It’s a shame that the project was not planned better. If the working conditions had been better for both human and dolphin, and if the study had been more rigorous, I think some interesting findings could have been published. Dolphin communication is still a ripe field, and we are treading slowly to ensure we do it properly.
This is How Your Hyperpartisan News Gets Made- 10 Reasons Why You Should Be FURIOUS

In other news, the news is terrible. Get off your high horse, Buzzfeed, you’re just as bad as the rest.

It’s still clickbait, even if there’s a fake-out to prove a point.

You too, The Guardian.

NASA Lights the Sky for Solar Eclipse

A Mass of Viscous Flow Features

And yes, I know I post a lot of NASA stuff, but it’s all so wonderful!

World Building- Part 1

From Writing to Reality


I’ve always loved world building. There’s a certain magic to creating a place for my characters to live, and an almost godlike power in setting up and controlling an entire universe for them to inhabit.

I use world-building to write stories with a rich environment for my characters to explore, but why should we leave world-building to fiction? Societies and communities develop almost organically- each part are built in a patchwork fashion and problems are solved as they arise in the process. However, I prefer to look at things from the top down- to envision the society I want and then make it a reality.

When I was young, I would often write stories or create shoebox dioramas of the worlds in my imagination. As I got older, I became better at it, and I’d often have opportunities to practice at school. Several of my teachers, in different grades and all teaching different subjects, would give a similar assignment: build your own world and describe how it will work.

Sometimes this world would be a city-state, like in my History class. Sometimes it would be a country, like in my Civics class. One time, in art class, I even got to build my own space colony. Funnily enough, though I hadn’t yet read about Carolyn Meinel and Keith Henson, my colony involved mainly goats and hydroponic vegetables.

These assignments were mostly free-hand. The teachers didn’t want to give us the framework, but rather, for us to discover what was needed to build a society for ourselves. In this spirit, I’ve sketched out my own framework.

  1. The Environment. Where do people live? Is this a city, a space station, or a forest tree village? What resources does the environment provide? Is it stable?
  2. The People. What is the culture, religion, language, education level, and class structure of the people?
  3. The Economy. What resources do the people need and value? How are these resources distributed?
  4. The Infrastructure. This will include all of the mechanisms that help the other systems function, such as buildings, roads, electricity, water, education, hospitals, emergency response, etc.
  5. The Government. How do you create and enforce the rules that help all of the systems work properly? How are the rule-makers and the enforcers chosen?

Keep in mind that this is only a rough sketch, and that the systems are far more complex in reality. In fact, many of the systems are so intertwined that it’s difficult separate them. For instance, the economy can be a type of infrastructure, and infrastructure shapes the environment, as well. In the second part, we will look at this framework in more detail, and see how individuals can affect all of these systems once they get ideas about what sort of system they want.

Tuesday Link Rundown

Today, we explore actual advances in the field of science.


I’m a little late to the party, but this is still fascinating. Nasa has discovered 7 exoplanets orbiting a dwarf star. They’re calling the system TRAPPIST-1. I don’t support Neil deGrasse Tyson’s proposal to name them after the 7 dwarfs. Imagine: planet Grumpy.


NASA’s Explanation


Here’s something else I’ve seen popping up here and there- a new theorized quasiparticle.



And this is pretty cool- a new primate has been discovered.


Primate Teeth

Dear Readers

Instead of part XXIV of The Coven, I am writing to tell you that I’m working on a special project, as well as editing the existing posts in this serial. The project will enhance your enjoyment of the serial, I hope, and clarify everything that has happened so far. I will still update The Coven, but until my project is complete, the updates will not be as frequent. Thank you for your patience and support.

Rules for the Effective Hero

While reading the Evil Overlord List, I was inspired to create its counterpart- a list of rules for any aspiring hero to avoid the most common, cliche’ mistakes. My resolve to write this list was strengthened while watching a certain terrible anime.

This list is dedicated to anyone who is the hero in their dreams- may you make your dreams real. Please read, and if you think of any rules- add them in the comments!


  1. Do not play a game the villain has stacked against you, even if he calls you a chicken or uses a mean voice.

2.If the key that you’re protecting will destroy the world if it falls in the wrong hands, just go ahead and throw it in the nearest volcano.

3. Don’t turn down rewards to appear noble. Saving the world is a worthy cause that needs funding.

4. Give weapons and combat training to the beautiful damsel as soon as possible. Give the same training to the cute kid.

5. Don’t leave the ailing king in his obvious, poorly-guarded palace. Don’t wait until the palace is under attack to spirit him away through a hidden passage.

6. Don’t pin all of your hopes on the power of love. Superior technology, strength, and political power are pretty cool, too.

7. Don’t leave your friends in a misguided attempt to protect them.

8. If a villager mentions a legendary item, you will have to find it. If all of the villagers warn you not to go into the mysterious forest or cave, you will have to go.

9. The old adage is true- never split the party.

10. Don’t trust the beautiful, mysterious princess that you just happened to rescue from the dungeon.

11. Give alms to every old woman you come across. If you sneer at her appearance, don’t be surprised if she curses you.

12. Listen to the mysterious old hermit- especially if he sounds crazy.

13. When everything seems to be going well, you are unwittingly working for the bad guy. When everything goes wrong, assume the same.

14. When you face the bad guy, don’t just sit and listen as he gloats about his evil scheme. Use the distraction to attack or escape.

15. Don’t waste your time with the bumbling minions. They mostly exist to give the boss a chance to escape.

16. Don’t assume the villain is gone for good. Double tap.

17.When you enter the villain’s lair, look for the quickest escape route first. Look for the self-destruct button second.

18. If you find yourself spending an unexpectedly happy, peaceful day with your long-lost loved ones, you are really in a dungeon under a spell.

19. Work out a reliable code with your true love ahead of time, so you can shoot the real doppelganger.

20. Collateral damage is bad PR.

21.Don’t throw away the guard’s uniforms as soon as you infiltrate the castle. Keep your mask on.

22. Asking the villain, “why did you do it?” is usually pointless.

23. Maybe, deep down, you and the villain aren’t so different, but least you aren’t trying to destroy the world. That still counts for something.

24. If there is a very good reason to disregard any of these rules, do so- especially this one.