In Which Amaranth’s Experimental Side Comes Out

One thing in life that is really important is to know your limitations.

Of course, you can never have perfect knowledge of anything, including yourself. If you can’t have perfect knowledge of yourself then you can’t have perfect knowledge of your limitations… and that means, in effect, that you have limitations on how well you can know your limitations.

And obviously, it’s important to know what those are.

But obviously, there are limits to how well you can know the limitations on how well you know your limitations, and that makes everything having to do with the subject kind of fuzzy, and the closer you get to the edge of where your limitations are, the fuzzier they become… because if you tried to figure out what those limitations were, you’d be limited in how well you could do that because of the limitations on how much you can know about the limitations of how much you can know about your limitations…

If that hurt your head to read, then you’re probably about where I was a couple of hours into my brilliant “let’s make a new magic item!” plan.

I knew I could never fly by flapping my arms, not without some kind of serious external power or magical intervention. That sort of thing? Well within the limitations of me knowing my limitations. I could… more or less, mostly, most of the time… walk down an average street without a problem. That was also well within my limit-knowing limit.

But if I had to figure out in advance if I could, say, jump a gap between two buildings, and they weren’t a ridiculously long distance apart or so close that I could practically step across? All I could say until I tried would be that it’s something I might be able to do or not.

And that would be a simple, one-step operation… totally pass/fail.

This? This was multiple steps, most of which fell into the limitations-of-knowing-limitations range, and many of which had their own possibility entirely contingent on the possibility of a previous step. If I could clearly see that it was completely impossible, I’d be able to give it up, but the way things were going it looked like it was going to stay in the maybe category right up until the moment when it was suddenly completely doable or definitely not.

The beginning went really well. This was exactly the sort of thing I was interested in, so I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for and where I needed to look, in my book and on the weave. It was fun, even. For the first time in… ever… I was doing the kind of thing I’d imagined myself doing when I got to college. It had only taken me a year, but there I was delving through books… well, book… and weavesite, ready to try my hand at a bit of serious enchanting.

At first I consciously avoided just going out and looking for something labeled “How To Make An Enchanter’s Ring” because any spell formulations that were general-purpose enough would probably not work for much more than a hobbyist’s toy and any more general discussion of techniques would be assuming knowledge I didn’t have. I figured I’d skim through my textbook to pick up the general gist of what I’d need to know until I got to the part that actually covered crafting and binding enchantment spells for enchanting.

But then I got to that point, and despite having been nodding along at the stuff I’d glanced over thinking that it made sense, as soon as I tried reading the specifics I found myself lost.

So then I decided that it would be best to look for some decent how-tos to use as a guide for what I should be looking at in more detail in the early stuff… and that worked. Kind of. The pages that were useful were clearly written as insiders sharing tips and tricks with each other, and some of them used specialized jargon that didn’t look like the terminology you’d find in any textbook.

I supposed I’d have to learn that stuff sooner or later… it just would have been really helpful to have learned it sooner, or be able to learn it later.

Despite not just learning as I went but learning how to learn as I went, I was able to compile a basic list of what I’d need to do.

I could do most of the spells, at least ad hoc. Turning them into formal spells was probably… a strong probably, even… within my reach. It was binding them into the item as anything other than simple charges that was going to be tricky. The good news was that it wasn’t completely different from the linking that I’d done for Acantha’s class. The bad news was that it was way more complicated, and that was where we got into the infinitely nested limitations of limitations.

A knock on the door interrupted my research. I knew before I looked up that it was Amaranth, mostly because the door was opening at the same time the knock happened and she had the other key. She’d stopped back in early on, around the time that I would have gone to dinner, and if she hadn’t exactly approved of my plan with all of her heart, she’d given her support to my decision and offered to give me the space I needed until midnight.

“Hey, baby,” she said. “I just wanted to see how you were doing, and if there’s anything I can get for you?”

“Well, I probably should have given this more thought earlier,” I said, “but assuming I can get everything worked out, I’m still going to need something to enchant it into.”

“Didn’t you have plans to turn your belt into an enchanter’s thing?” she said.

“Yeah, but… not like this,” I said. “The belt’s got an interesting mesh backing that makes it good for retaining energy, but it would be more of a support item. There are reasons that enchanters like rings and wands or rods for hands-on things.”

“I suppose from a certain point of view it would be a little awkward if you went around a building thrusting your pelvis at it,” she said. “Though… if the goal is to improve your bond with her…”

“That’s what we would call a limited-use application,” I said. “And since whatever I rig up only really has to work for this one thing… though I’d love if I end up with something stable… that wouldn’t normally be a deal breaker. Well, I mean, something that requires me to thrust my pelvis would be, but something that only works for this one time wouldn’t be. But that’s not actually the reason I was thinking of… high-end enchantment is kind of more prone to blow up in your face than a lot of lower-energy magic is. Your face, or whatever part of your body the thing channeling the magic happens to be nearest to.”

“Oh?” she said, then she got it. “Oh… baby, are you sure this is something you should be trying on the spur of the moment?”

“I’m not going to be doing anything high-end, though,” I said. “It’s just, you know, a general safety principle. I’m not sure it would be possible to blow something up doing what I’m going to be doing… in fact, my preliminary test with Gilcrease Tower indicates it’s extremely unlikely.”

“Oh, well, that’s reassuring, I guess,” she said. Since the goal was to reassure her, I didn’t mention that this certainty came from the fact that if it was possible, my head probably would have exploded. “What are you going to do instead?”

“I have stuff I could enchant the necessary spells into… including a bunch of now-blank magic rings,” I said. I’d stopped saving the used rings of protection that were souvenirs of my times with Ian once I reached the point that having a sex life was no longer a novelty, but I still had a bunch of them strung on a chain. “But it’ll work better if it’s something I made myself. My wands would work, but plain wood doesn’t really have the right properties. Professor Stone’s ring is made of twisted metal wire, mostly copper, and I think that’s what would be best. I could twist it around a spent ring, or wrap it around a wand… but first I’d have to have some. Do you know any armoury majors? Or anyone who makes jewelry, really.”

Amaranth silently stuck out her arm and dropped a tangle of bright copper wire of varying thicknesses and lengths on my desk. Some of it looked like it had rubber melted onto it.

I couldn’t imagine why she would be carrying it, but then, being a nymph meant that she didn’t need to actually carry things… and being a nymph the way Amaranth did it meant that there was no end to the things she could find an unexpected use for.

This was… well, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I couldn’t imagine. Some kind of bondage? An attempt at manufacturing fetishwear that went wrong?

“…do I want to know?” I asked.

“Um… you honestly probably don’t,” she said. The fact that she actually sounded a little embarrassed about it meant that I really probably didn’t. “Just… don’t even mention it.”

“Do I need to clean this before use?” I asked, though I didn’t see anything more suspicious than a bit of wire, some of it with rubber stuck to it.

“Oh, no, it’s all been sanitized.”

“Are you probably going to need any of this back?”

“In all honesty, probably not,” she said. “I’m more into, you know, other things these days.”

“Right,” I said. “You have saved my ass.”

“I’m glad,” she said. “I’ve put a lot of work into that ass… I guess I’ll leave you alone, unless there’s anything else you need?”

“Probably not,” I said. “I’ll probably end up giving up one of my powerstones for this… I mean, you probably aren’t carrying any crystals.”

Unusually red-faced, she stuck out her hand and opened it. There were a couple of small quartz spires on her palm. They were small, but jagged. I couldn’t not think about why she had them fast enough. Ouch

“Wow,” I said, accepting them. “That’s… really handy. Thank you. If I can’t pull this off, it won’t be because I didn’t have the right materials to work with. Do you know if… um… I don’t need any details, but do you know if these have ever been enchanted before, or used in any kind of magical working?”

“No,” she squeaked. “Definitely… definitely no magic.”

That didn’t sound very certain at all, but since I could verify for myself whether they carried any residual charges, there was no reason to push it, so I didn’t. There were two very solid reasons it should have been impossible for a nymph to die of embarrassment, but Amaranth was clearly on the verge of doing that anyway. It was probably best to give her an out to leave before that actually happened.

“Thanks,” I said. “You’ve been a lot of help, but that’s really all I need. At this point, I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly help more than you already have.” I put a hand on the textbook, which closed at the moment. “I mean, unless you know someone who could…”

…who could speed her way through several chapters of a highly technical book and then tell me the important stuff… someone who could remember exactly where she’d seen something when it comes up again… someone who could pull together the information from a bunch of different places in her head and spit it out…

“What, baby?” Amaranth asked. “Who could what?”

“Actually… would you mind staying and helping me?” I asked.


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60 Responses to “Chapter 178: Known Limits”

  1. Kaila says:

    I love that last bit. She really does a smart girlfriend – Amaranth just has her ‘blonde’ moments.

    Current score: 1
    • blargrar says:

      I read that as “would you mind….go asking Two to help” at first ha

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      • Zergonapal says:

        Actually given that Two’s previous occupation was as a lab assistant/tool I am surprised Mack didn’t think to ask her.

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  2. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    … I don’t get what Amaranth was trying to do with the copper wire and crystals. I doubt she’d be embarrassed about anal beads, and that’s a really, really terrible material to be trying them with anyway. She could have tried to make jewelry, I guess, but Mack’s internal reactions seem off for that. What am I missing?

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    • blargrar says:

      wires and electrical currents 🙂

      as far as your theory and comment on material choice…if anybody’d want spiky anal beads it’d be this(nearly impossible to actually kill or harm by damage to the body rather than field even when ignoring ready access to healing and being a low level healer herself) nymph who has been known to enjoy pain….

      but this source of embarrassment is more along the lines of having a pocket full of Wicca crap you had tried to make into a *working* talisman when an engineer needs a quarts crystal some wax and a bit of wire.( you take apart the embarrassing attempt at a charm to build a radio)

      only this is a magic world and she tried to build a simple radio

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      • blargrar says:

        also you had taken this specific engineer to your coven when you started dating and she shit all over it which makes this more awkward than normal.

        although in mu engineers are more along the lines of armory majors, enchanters are much closer to programmers.

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        • Elle says:

          Thanks guys, that makes so much more sense. I completely missed that.

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        • Krey says:

          While I agree with armory being similar to engineering (i.e. in the immediate make something aspect), I was imagining enchantment as much closer to our physics or chemistry, especially with the talk of stuff blowing up in your face.

          Though I can see the parallel in writing and formalizing spells to writing code…

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      • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

        Oh. Oh! OH! Ha! Oh, Amaranth.

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      • Greenwood Goat says:

        Perhaps they were trying to measure this new “electrical resistance” thingy that they’d come up with. But whatever balance of forces it is that stands in for electrical resistance in the MU universe decided that it didn’t want to be measured, and started acting up, producing unpredictable and increasingly wild fluctuations in its little friends that handle “current” and “heating effect”. Hence the melted rubber. Or maybe it was their mad “electromagnetic effect” idea, and their makeshift coil decided it was going to make up its own rules… I don’t know. >:=)>

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    • Hollowgolem says:

      Does jewelry count as clothing?

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      • Lunaroki says:

        Depends on who you ask and in what context. It’s sort of a fuzzy gray area. Especially for a nymph, I would imagine. 😉

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  3. Dani says:

    Does a +2 ring of protection provide safer sex than a +1?

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      Heheh. Considering that these ‘rings of protection’ were rings of protection *from* pregnancy… it could well be.

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  4. Olee says:

    Step back I’m about to attempt…SCIENCE!!

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  5. blargrar says:

    typo

    n’t. There were two very solid reasons it should have been impossible for a nymph to die of embarrassment, but Amaranth was clearly on the verge of doing tha

    *shouldn’t

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    • oniwasabi says:

      Actually I think “should” is correct as there are at LEAST two reasons I can think of why a Nymph would by unable to die of embarrassment. Making the “should” into “shouldn’t” would make the sentence a double negative thus saying that there are good reason for Nymphs to die from embarrassment.

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      • blargrr says:

        ah, yes that is correct. I misread it. I was thinking the sentence was supposed to say “shouldn’t be able to” and said “should” but I missed a word.

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  6. Zathras IX says:

    One thing in life that’s
    Important is to know ALL
    Your limitations

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  7. zeel says:

    “…who could speed her way through several chapters of a highly technical book and then tell me the important stuff… someone who could remember exactly where she’d seen something when it comes up again… someone who could pull together the information from a bunch of different places in her head and spit it out…”

    Wouldn’t that be Two? I mean Amaranth likes to read, but I think Two is probably more qualified for this kind of thing. . .

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    • Anne says:

      You know that is very true. Indeed the sort of work that Mack is about to attempt may well be what Two was designed for….

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      • Lyssa says:

        I was wondering that myself. It seems like this would be something that Two would be extremely good at since she was basically an enchanter’s assistant/robot. And I bet she’d appreciate a chance to be useful to her “sister” and spend time with her. But Mackenzie, as much as she’s grown, still doesn’t really think of things that aren’t right in front of her face, I guess.

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    • Just Some Guy says:

      That’s what I was wondering. Doesn’t Two live right next door? In the same suite, even.

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      • Elle says:

        And Two would love to help her sister! But considering Mack didn’t even think to ask for help from Amaranth at first when she was standing right in front of her, it may be up to Amaranth to suggest Two joins them. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Two has helped with something similar before in her past job/life.

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      good catch, she could probably just ASK Two what to do or explain what she is up to and Two would be able to manufacture a standby and insist on teaching her how to do it herself because that would be the sisterly thing to do.

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  8. Ermarian says:

    “I suppose from a certain point of view it would be a little awkward if you went around a building thrusting your pelvis at it,” she said. “Though… if the goal is to improve your bond with her…”

    “That’s what we would call a limited-use application”

    I’m still waiting for Amaranth to send articles to Khaele about the advanced cognitive abilities of buildings. 😛

    *deja vu*

    (Oh hell, I totally said that last year when the plot arc started.)

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  9. cadnawes says:

    While Two may have some experience in this line, Amaranth is here and… holy Chekhov’s skillset… it was meentioned once on like the second weekend of freshman year that Amaranth reads super ridiculously fast. I only know this because I have been doing a reread.

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    • pedestrian says:

      Suggesting bringing in TWO to help the two of them out is a pretty good suggestion as she was created as an enchanter’s assistant.

      At first I thought but TWO is not creative, thereby expressing my own bigotry against the popular concept of intelligent AI’s.

      Then I realized how wrong I am. First, TWO has been reinventing herself for more then a year now.

      And second, what is the difference between a chemist and a cook but that a cook always can eat what they create, even if they don’t want to.

      A chemist might eat what they have created but I imagine there would be a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

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      • oniwasabi says:

        If you think a cook can always eat their own creations you need to be introduced to a wider variety of cooks ^_^

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        • William Carr says:

          I beg your pardon.

          I made buckwheat tortillas last night, sweetened with honey, and stuffed them with chicken, cheese and roasted peppers.

          Fantastic.

          Even the earlier failures were mostly edible. As, you know, crackers.

          Other than the peppercorn incident, I don’t think I’ve ever failed so badly as to make the food inedible.

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        • Ducky says:

          I haven’t eaten a single thing I baked since I realized gluten was a problem. That doesn’t stop me from making brownies for my friends.

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      • Just Some Guy says:

        It all depends on what the chemist is creating. Owsley and friends, in the Sixties, were *quite* enthusiastic about eating their creations…

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      • Seth says:

        There are lots of chemical scientists working in the food industry.

        I have a distant family member who was a chemist, who worked primarily in formulating fruit juice mixtures. A closer relation was a chem-tech who was employed for years doing nothing but verify purity levels on common sugar.

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        • pedestrian says:

          Sorry, I bungled up my attempt to humorously compare cooks and chemists.

          After all, think about that they follow similar procedures, using similar equipment, similar formulas in similar formats, with similar safety precautions.

          So we can all go “Duck? uhhmm, yuhmmm!” or “DUCK!”

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        • William Carr says:

          Sweet !

          Okay, originally I was going to say that was a little boring but I couldn’t pass up the chance.

          My chemistry teacher in college worked every day with caulk. Just caulk, day in, day out.

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      • blargrr says:

        who was that alchemist they think poisoned himself…..he always insisted on tasting any new chemicals, and he had several beakers on the bench in front of him when they found him

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  10. Mike says:

    OMG What does Amaranth have to be embarrassed about? That is a scary thought in and of itself. Also, I thought Jamie was the one who saved his rings, not Mackenzie?

    edit: Amaranth was probably doing science to that stuff, wasn’t she?

    Current score: 0
    • blargrar says:

      wait….yeah, it was jamie wasn’t it

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    • Anne says:

      That was what I was thinking. When someone mentioned building a radio above then I remembered that Amaranth has been known to hang around mechans….

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    • Just Some Guy says:

      Heh. +1 for the Dresdek Codak reference. I assume that was what the “do science to it” was.

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  11. Just Some Guy says:

    In which Mack vanishes into an infinite regress of overthinking…

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  12. miz*G says:

    Okay, Amaranth would be somewhat helpful for the whole consolidating data thing, but she really should just go get TWO now and save herself the trouble of waking her later.

    Edit: And next time I feel the urge to comment I should probably refresh and look at the last 6 hours worth of comments since I opened the page. Save myself the trouble.

    Current score: 0
  13. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom. Amusing reference to Amaranth’s science hobby, and the comments following are icing on the cake of nomminess.

    Current score: 0
  14. Adele says:

    As logical as it is, I find the idea of Mack using Two as an assistant… squicky. And I imagine Mack would, too – Two’s old master’s likely high on the list of people she does NOT want to have more in common with.
    I guess because it’s *so* logical, because it fits Two’s skillset so well, it’d be easy for it to become habit, and… I dunno. It feels wrong to me.

    Plus, pedestrian, I hear what you’re saying (and certainly Two can have startling insights) but I think it’s well-established in the text that Two’s creativity is still underdeveloped at this stage (following recipes instead of making new ones).

    Current score: 0
    • blargrar says:

      Two would probably have fun doing it, she likes having a purpose, would be happy to help and that Mac asked for something important, and enchanting is so orderly once you figure out what rules apply today

      Current score: 0
    • Anne says:

      In a way as long as Two didn’t get in the way of the creativity (tell Mack that something couldn’t be done that way)she definitely would be a good back stop for Amaranth.

      Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Every one in the Party of Mack is still underdeveloped and {hopefully} learning new things.

      As for recipes, I have tried some of my wife’s but I can assure you the results have been disappointing. I do my best cooking casually tossing together whatever is available until it is edible.

      I’m not sure if Mackenzie would even consider herself close to repeating TWO’s creator’s domination. I do not think TWO would think that.

      But then, so far in this storyline, TWO has not been active, so we are probably debating a moot point.

      Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      there is that and that is a valid point

      I can imagine Two giving Mack an earful for NOT asking her though and possibly being hurt also because she didn’t think to ask her.

      Two does know how to say NO now, and also has developed enough I think to where she’ll stand up for herself against being ‘used’. As I said in another post, I could see her saying ‘ok, I’ll help you make something like this once, and I expect you to learn how to do this because I’m going to show you how to do it so this doesn’t happen again.

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Actually that was last year. We haven’t been privy to what Two has been doing in that regard so far this year. For all we know she might have started experimenting with her cooking in the past year, in no small part thanks to the influence of her friend Hazel. Would be very interesting to get some kind of update on the golem girl’s progress in the various aspects of her life.

      Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      Guys…Two has her own homework to do.

      Current score: 0
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        I feel confident that if Two had any issues with assisting, she would make them known.

        Current score: 0
  15. William Carr says:

    She tried building a dymano and using the crystals as a crude radio transmitter.

    Spinning the wires around a magnet created an electric current but the magic backlash melted everything.

    Current score: 0
  16. William Carr says:

    She tried building a dynamo and using the crystals as a crude radio transmitter.

    Spinning the wires around a magnet created an electric current but the magic backlash melted everything.

    Current score: 0
  17. JJ says:

    The truth probably lies somewhere between mechan steampunk jewelry and an actual mechan Working. Kudos to Hollowgolem and blargrar.

    Current score: 0
  18. D says:

    If those wires were used in an attempt to make a radio, then they’d be particularly appropriate for the creation of a _magical_ communications device, I should think…

    Current score: 0
  19. JustMe says:

    I worked as a baker from midnight to 9am, then as a lab tech in a toxicology lab from 10 until 4pm. My boss at the bakery would tell me how baking was a precise science that had to be done just so – like in my lab job – and my boss at the toxicology lab would tell me how our protocols were an art and should be treated like my bakery job. I just nodded my head and did my job at both never telling one what the other said. I think they’re both art and science. Just remember which one uses the arsenic and which uses the almond paste. 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      Please, says the guy brushing the crumbs from his beard…….

      Current score: 0