Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 5: The Emperor

Perviously, on Handbook For Mortals: Zade had a vision about someone falling, but couldn’t figure out what it meant until it was almost too late,  and had Zade not pushed her at the last minute, Sofia, the bitchy girlfriend of their boss, would have fallen 50 feet to her death rather than flat onto her back in a pool of water. Luckily, she’s fine. After that, Zade and Mac reconciled and learned that they have a lot in common.

This chapter opens in the third-person italics, and we learn that much of the cast and crew of Charles Spellman’s magic show are gathered at a bar for someone’s birthday.

But right away, as in the last chapter, it seems like Lani Sarem forgot that she was writing a scene in third-person, and we briefly shift to (what is presumably) Zade’s point-of-view (though it’s still written in italics), before mysteriously shifting back to third-person:

I had learned that most shows don’t take their days off on the weekend because that’s when they sell the most tickets to shows and when Las Vegas, itself, is the busiest.

We learn that Charles’ show’s “dark days” are Wednesday and Thursday. We learn about the popularity of the bar at which the cast and crew are gathered, and once again, the point-of-view shifts to Zade:

They give drink specials after midnight just for those of us awesome enough to work in this so- called “entertainment business.”

what is wrong with just writing “entertainment” business why does it have to be the “so-called ‘entertainment business'” why.

We learn about the birthday boy’s name and job and how good he is at it, and I refuse to repeat it because it doesn’t fucking matter.

So Mac is there, sitting by himself. Is he thinking about any of work? About a hobby? About his family?

Nope. As you probably guessed, he is thinking about his conversation with Zade, because The World Revolves Around Zade (#12). But then who should show up but Sofia, the bitchy girl who hates Zade?

Sofia walked up with two glasses and slid one of the new beers in front of Mac right as he finished the last of the beer he had. She then placed her beer on the table directly in front of the empty chair next to Mac and, without asking if he minded, sat down next to him.

What a bitch! She just got her long-time coworker a beer and had the gall to sit down with him! Also, since she’s dating Charles, this shows that she’s a MASSIVE SLUT because only a MASSIVE SLUT would sit down next to a guy she isn’t dating.

“Looked like you could use another one,” Sofia purred as she smiled sweetly and leaned in to him.

MASSIVE SLUT CONFIRMED! Of course now that Mac’s totally down with Zade, Sofia has to swoop in to cause drama. Mac says he was only going to have one beer, but Sofia, being a MASSIVE SLUT tries to convince him to drink it.

The bartender said it’s your favorite. One more won’t hurt, will it?” She batted her long eyelashes and puckered her lips. What a MASSIVE SLUT, I thought, but was still glad I saved her life because I am the best most charitable person.

I am sure that  lip-puckering is not part of anyone’s flirting repertiore.

Also, because I need to clarify these things, the last sentence in that excerpt was made up be me. I figured that if Lani doesn’t respect her own work enough to edit out bits that shouldn’t be there, I shouldn’t worry about it either. That being said, this is the only time I’ll do it, because I want to preserve the integrity of the artwork.

So anyway, Mac relents:

“Guess not? Glad to see you are better already. That was quite the spill you took last night. Hope you learned your lesson about not wearing a harness,” Mac quipped.

It’s good that Sofia didn’t get hurt at all. That way it’s OK if we mock her, even though as the head tech, Mac probably should feel a bit responsible for the controls going out-of-control.

Mac drinks his beer, and

tried to edge away from sitting quite so close to Sofia. He truly wanted to give her a really hard time about not wearing the harness[. . .]but he knew she wouldn’t listen anyway, so why bother?

It looks as though it’s widely agreed upon that Sofia is vain and dumb.

Sofia says that she did learn her lesson, and stares at Mac as though she wants to change the subject. After a long time going on about how awkward the situation is, Mac decides to break the silence:

Where’s C.S.? I thought you didn’t go places by yourself?” Mac questioned.

“Who said that?” Sofia scoffed with an over-exaggerated look of shock on her face.

Mac laughed just a bit, shoot his head slightly, and dryly answered. “You did.”

“Oh, well, I don’t like to, but you know he doesn’t like local bar gatherings”

Mac considers Sofia’s words, and feels really smart as he says this:

“He feels awkward in social settings that are genuine. I get it” Mac observed assuredly.

What do you mean?” Sofia asked, confused as to how Mac had come to that conclusion based off of what she had just mentioned.

Sofia is right. Nothing about not wanting to hang out with your employees after work implies that you feel uncomfortable in ‘genuine’ social situations.

“Premieres, press events–those are fake social settings. Everyone’s pretending, and that’s what he knows how to do. Real friends celebrating someone’s birthday? That’s genuine. He doesn’t know how to do that.

Or maybe he just doesn’t really like bars? That’s possible. I don’t like going to bars, and I’m not even a famous 40-year-old dude.

But after that, his mind drifts once again back to his conversation with Zade. He thinks about how he hasn’t enjoyed talking to someone in a very long time, and is astounded that he used to hate her but now he doesn’t.

Sofia replies to Mac’s comment about Charles:

“Wow. Look how observant you are,” Sofia complimented Mac, even though it was clear what he was saying about Charles had mostly gone over her head.”

Or maybe she was being sarcastic, and was confused by how Mac had gone from “Charles doesn’t like bars” to “Charles is a fakey-pants who can’t handle realness”.

Then, in a show of MASSIVE SLUTTERY, Sofia gets a little bit physical:

She then placed her hand over his hand lightly an began to rub it The physical contact from Sofia jolted Mac out of his mental contemplation about Zade. He started to think that perhaps he was wrong; she didn’t seem to want a favor. She seemed to be hitting on him and–if that were the case–well, he’d rather she had needed a favor. 

Lani just had this poor girl get thrown from a malfunctioning platform, hospitalized, mocked by everyone while she was hospitalized, and now has her hitting on one of Zade’s devoted love interests and getting unambiguously rejected. I really want to know who Sofia’s based on, and what she did to make Lani hate her this much. There’s probably a story there.

Mac thinks for a bit about how gross it is that Sofia is hitting on him. He doesn’t even bring up the fact that she’s kind of cheating on his boss; he just really seems to find her repulsive.

Sofia can’t take a hint, and tries to escalate.

Sophia scooted her chair closer to Mac’s and looked longingly into his eyes. She started to play with his collar. “I bet you understand a lot of things,” she offered, breathing in deeply in the way a girl does to purposely draw attention to her cleavage.”

It’s such a coincidence that the moment Zade and Mac stop hating each other, Sofia randomly starts hitting on him. It’s almost like it’s happening for the sole reason that The World Revolves Around Zade, and Sofia exists just to make her look better by comparison (#13).

So Mac finally realizes that Sofia is in fact hitting on him, and he rejects her.

Sofie, what are you doing?” he asked in a harsh tone.

Sofia denies that she was doing anything at all, and Mac tells him that she’s making him uncomfortable. Sofia says she’s just trying to be friendly. Mac is incredulous:

I’ve been friends with Tad since junior high, and he’s never tried to sit next to me like that.” He sighed, trying to remain calm with her, despite quickly losing his patience. “Loke, Sofia, you’re beautiful and all, but we work together, and you’re my boss’s girlfriend . . . . We’re also at a company function. I know that nothing is going to happen, but people talk around here and rumors get started. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I don’t think you do either.” His words were flat and toneless.

I would like to take a moment to re-affirm that this scene accomplishes nothing, and its only purpose is to show Sofia being a MASSIVE SLUT who isn’t as good as Zade.

“Would it make a difference if I was single?” she coaxed. 

Jesus, how thirsty is this girl? Is she implying that she’s about to break up with Charles anyway, or is she offering to break up with Mac just to get in on that hot Tech Director action?

“No, it wouldn’t. It would only make a difference in how long I would allow you to flirt. And before you ask whether it could  make a difference if we didn’t work together–again, you’re beautiful, and many guys would kill to be with you, but we lead very different lives. You wouldn’t be happy with a guy like me and deep down you know that.”

I guess we’re supposed to take Mac’s word for it. If Sofia’s offering to break up with Charles to be with Mac, though, it seems safe to say that she’s probably not happy with the way her life is currently going, but that’s not addressed.

Mac thanks her for the beer, and finishes it, indicating that the conversation is over. Luckily,

It almost seemed like it had been planned that, at that exact moment, Mel, another girl Mel, who worked for the show, walked around the corner with a large cake lit with candles.

This saves Mac from any of more of Sofia’s strange attempts at seduction. The cast and crew gather to sing happy birthday, and this very consequential scene is over.

Now we’re back to Zade’s first-person point of view. She’s practicing her act:

I had been rehearsing my spot in the show where I get to show off that I can dive from sixty feet into a small area of water.

At least she’s finally not being coy about the fact that she enjoys showing off?

There’s a long description of the dive itself and how much she loves diving and swimming. I’ve stopped bothering to find specific word counts because I’ve used up the publisher’s allowed copy/paste limit (oops, didn’t know that existed), so you’ll have to be satisfied with my testimony that it goes on for way too long.

She dries off her hair, and sees Mac standing there. She notes that they’ve been getting along, and are pretty much friends now. We also learn that a few weeks have passed since the last scene. She also recounts an episode where she bought him red vines, and says that he’s stopped trying to learn about her illusion.

Back in the present, she smiles at him, and he starts talking:

“You like water?” he asked.

“Huh?” I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that and, in the midst of getting lost in his hazel eyes, maybe I’d missed some of his words.

Zade just spent a few hundred words talking about how much she likes swimming, and just got out of a pool. It’s pretty clear what he meant. He meant that he was wondering if she liked water, which is exactly what he asked.

Mac needlessly clarifies that he meant that it looked like she enjoyed swimming. Zade gets it this time, and tells him that she does enjoy it.

Mac asks if she’s ever gone scuba diving.

I could tell that he had tried to ask nonchalantly, but the question seemed to have a motive behind it.

Detective Zade is on the case. She tells him that she likes anything that gets her in the water, but

I wasn’t really sure why he was asking me about scuba diving is Las Vegas, but he still seemed pensive, like he had a purpose.

That really is a head scratcher. I guess we don’t have enough clues to figure out why the guy she’s been getting to know might be asking her about preferred activities.

Tad shows up, and starts looking at his clipboard. Mac glances at him briefly, almost as if he’s trying to get up the nerve to ask Zade something. Zade seems to have worked it out by this point, and tries to appear receptive. Finally, Mac says that sometimes the crew goes camping on “dark days” and sometimes bring their scuba gear to go diving in Lake Mead. As you probably have guessed, he invites her along. He appears to be nervous.

Zade first reaction isn’t to answer his question, or think about if she’s excited to hang out with Mac outside of work. Instead, she tells us that she really likes the term “dark days”:

Every time I heard the term “dark days” it made me slightly excited. I loved the term loved the term dark days as the way to talk about days off for shows. It just made me think about how I was now a part of the show world and terms like that were now in my everyday vocabulary

Zade.exe has unexpectedly stopped working. Is she having a stroke?

Regardless of whatever was going on there:

I had to wonder, though: had Mac just asked me out or not? It seemed more like a “come out on this group outing” sort of ask, but at the same time it also seemed a little like a more personal invitation from him.

It could be both? Butd she forgets she was asked a question while she was pondering if she’s been asked out or asked on a group hang:

I realized he was standing there waiting on me to respond–and even Tad had looked up, realizing that I hadn’t responded.

She finally responds in the affirmative, and asks how deep the lake is.

In retrospect, it had been kind of a dumb question but I had been scrambling to say anything. I had also never been out to the lake and truly was curious how good the diving was.

Why was it a dumb question? It’s not like it’s called “Lake 100 Feet Deep.”

Mac tells her it’s a hundred feet at least, and some spots are even deeper.

“Wow, I didn’t know it was that deep,”

said Zade, who just asked how deep it was. I am now doubly surprised that Zade thought asking about the lake’s depth was a dumb question, but doesn’t think that saying she didn’t know the the answer to the question she just asked was a dumb answer.

Then Mac does some unintentional innuendo:

“Course, I’m always willing to go deeper,” Mac said innocently. I blushed right away.


But just in case we didn’t understand Zade’s exact reason for blushing, we’re told outright:

I giggled and tried to hide my face, pretending to go back to drying my hair. I didn’t think he meant it the way it could have been taken but, either way, it’s where my mind immediately went and what I thought when he said it. I couldn’t help but turn bright red.

Then Mac realizes that he said something sexual by mistake, and avoids eye contact. He’s supposed to be 29 years old, in case you’ve forgotten!

Tad makes fun of Mac a little bit, and Mac continues to look embarassed. Zade reiterates that she’s still down, and the scene ends.

And the  we return to third-person italics, where Tad is still making fun of Mac’s hilarious accidental innuendo:

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask her if she likes being wet!”

Tad keeps teasing Mac, and Mac is still embarrassed. Tad makes fun of Mac for having a crush on Zade, Mac is still in denial.

We learn that Mac has a personal rule against dating performers, and says that Zade isn’t his type, and even if she was, she’s probably already dating someone. Tad calls Mac on his bullshit, and tells him that Zade is single. Mac keeps on denying that he likes her, and Tad, who is also 29 years old, says this:

“I’ll bet you $100 that you end up making out with her before the end of the year.”

How ~scandalous~.

But then Tad retracts the bet, saying that if they made that bet, he thinks Mac would actively not pursue Zade just so win. But Tad’s still thinking it’s going to happen.

And with that, this blessedly short chapter is over.




6 thoughts on “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 5: The Emperor

  1. Oh lord… If Sofia constantly puts herself in danger by avoiding her harness, she should’ve been fired awhile ago. But hey! Charles is willing to let Zade do whatever bullshit she wants on stage, so I don’t think that would ever happen. Of course Sofia doesn’t give a damn. I’m frankly surprised this isn’t more common among the other performers as well. Mac might be a laughing stock for having no real authority. Maybe that’s why he was so angry when Zade appeared… She was simply the last nail in the coffin for him. And no wonder he refuses to date performers, if they’re all such whiny dicks about their own safety.

    Also, I agree so much regarding the points made during the Sofia conversation. Mac is leaping to conclusions, unless he’s an old friend of Charles, and either way, both of his insinuations are pretty damning for the boss. Charles might be our new Christian. ;P

    Incidentally, if Charles actually does have trouble being real with people, maybe, just maybe, Sofia was trying to soothe her recent sorrow with a one-night stand, since Charles apparently can’t comfort her, and she simply picked the wrong guy to hit on. Although, honestly, if they’re all wealthy performers in Las Vegas, why didn’t they pick a nicer venue than just some local bar? Somewhere they could get catering, for a real party, and a better value on their booze maybe. I dunno. It sounds surprisingly low-key to me.

    Also, this should’ve been an important party. What if it was Sofia’s birthday? That’d be a much more interesting coincidence than any of the ones from the previous chapter! Or Tad’s because of the death threat. Or, you know, fuck, go hog wild and make it Zade’s birthday, since she’s already the center of this universe. That might have been a better time for Mac to get to know her, honestly. I’m not sure immediately after the accident was appropriate, in hindsight. Tension would’ve remained high, if they gave a damn about Sofia at all or perhaps that night’s show, considering they’d need another safety check to make sure Mac didn’t miss anything.

    And yeah, Sofia is definitely unhappy with her life right now. Poor woman.

    Dark days… I could understand if Zade just liked the term for how cool it sounds. I like it for that reason, but you’re right. That’s absolutely not the appropriate time for her to gush about it. THIS is another reason that Zade should’ve been at the party and just doing her normal whatever. Or hell, have Mac hear her mention it at random. I dunno.

    The scuba diving is a great idea, in spite of the execution. The innuendo is just meh. It could’ve been better. I think it’d be nicer if Zade was ribbing Mac, instead of Tad. Seriously. Why was he even there? Oh, right… best friends and all. Or something?

    In hindsight, I’m really disappointed that the 3rd person scenes aren’t Zade watching them through a crystal ball… or better yet, on the surface of the pool. It really seems like it’s her own personal thing, at this point. Does anyone else even use it? Apparently a bunch of them can swim, so I’d think so, but I’m surprised she hasn’t discussed this with one of them yet. Or even Mac. This event definitely could’ve happened sooner, so Mac could give less exposition while Zade heard about it from others and simply hadn’t joined in yet, making the group invite uncertainty more justified, I guess. I dunno. I’m sure there’s more organic ways of easing her into the idea, and I find it annoying that she really doesn’t interact with anyone else, unless it’s meaningful (to Sarem, certainly not to the plot.) Unless I’m mistaken, Zade rarely talks to any other crew members off-screen. Definite center of the world.

    With all this focus on water, I’m kind of disappointed that Zade isn’t actually a mermaid, a selkie, or Melusine. They could have magic. Placing one in the desert might be fascinating.

    Shit, come to think of it, Melusine/Melusina would be a more appropriate name for Zade, given the story, and then she could’ve gone by Mel! But Scheherazade is better known, so of course.


    I mean, the red-headed Mel is probably just named Melody or Melinda or something. I’m sure she has a random name.

    Suddenly, I’m assaulted with a groan-worthy idea of calling Mac and Zade by Mac and Cheese, as an inside joke among friends. Eh, it would be better than any joke we’ve had so far.


  2. It does tell us that it’s Drew’s (who is expanded on in chapter 9 before disappearing forever) birthday (although I’m pretty sure he gets no lines or screentime).

    The only other illusion we learn about is Sofia’s “Dance Illusion” which is cut as soon as Zade arrives, and we don’t even know what that was.


  3. Yeah, but what I meant is that Drew is expendable. Better for the birthday party to be about someone who mattered, even if it’s more realistic to have it for someone random. A novel has more room to breathe than a movie script would, but it’s annoying, since the narrative gives these people faux significance when they appear, before dropping them off the face of the earth. I’d like it better if Sarem at least acknowledged that they’re background or supporting characters, instead of blowing a fanfare as they exit stage left.

    Hell, some of them are a surprise in that regard too. Lil should appear way more often, since people might switch costumes to keep their act looking fresh, there might be more than one costume per performer, their costumes need maintenance, or they might have requests if they’re trying something new out. And then there’s the simple fact she’s doing that for a whole bunch of people at once. Hell, when Sofia returned, if she was wearing her costume when she fell, maybe Lil could’ve talked to her about the incident overall, while assessing any potential damage to the outfit. Also, if Lil is really that chatty, I’d be curious to see if she gets along with Sofia, you know? Plus, if Sofia’s dance illusion was like the one in the Sofia POV fanfic, Lil could’ve griped about how much effort she put into making that awesome costume, to match Sofia’s necessary specifications, only to have the act removed!

    Which reminds me, I still need to read more chapters of that fanfic. XD

    I guess I just want goth!Lily (Lily seems way more natural than Lil, and bucks the three letter trend) to be celebrated more than Drew, who was… a non-entity. I don’t remember what he did, if anything. I remember Lily better than that, considering we supposedly learned all about her, even though we didn’t really. 😛


  4. What exactly is a ‘dark day’ in this context? It seems to be mentioned several times but there’s no explanation of what it means.


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