Ink Inapplicable (VI/XVI)

The hunger that woke Riffle from the sleep of the rats still burns in him today.

He is surrounded by the dead.

He is holding a sword at the throat of the imago, and trying—so very hard, with muscles that are not very strong—to drive it home.

All around him is Riffle’s crew, that ragged lot that build up scaffoldings towards the ceiling of the cave. They do not build for longevity. They build for speed. All around him there are the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing, tumbling wood.

He is hungry to be more than a rat. That is why he has grown to nearly four feet in height and developed a human brain. He does not want to be a rat.

He wants purpose.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Minister Jof’s hand closes on Riffle’s arm.

The room has gone deathly still.

Where did Minister Jof come from? Why is he here? These questions remain unanswered. But he has enough decency to him to do this: to grab the arm of the rat and stop the sword.

And suddenly Ink sees a thing, and her fear dissolves.

“Do you happen to know the history of this sword?” asks Ink Catherly.

Her voice is dry and confident, like a pedant’s right before it strikes.

Riffle looks at the sword.

He shakes his head.

Ink steps back. She rubs at her throat. She looks at her injured hand. She says, “A long time ago, there were men and women and children who believed, more than anything else, that the crust of the world was evil and that they had to destroy it. They had to destroy it so that the storm that surges below could rise to reach the mortal world.”

Riffle struggles against Minister Jof’s grip.

“We’re losing valuable scaffolding time,” hisses the rat.

But after a moment he spreads his free hand conciliatorily, and adds, “If you leave aside this distraction of my crew and depart then I will let you live.”

There’s a crash behind them. Minister Jof starts. It’s one of the rickety scaffoldings coming down.

“They were formed,” says Ink, “like all of you were formed, from the substance of the world. They were worms, or bugs, or rats, that developed over the long courses of their lives into something better. And they understood their holy mission in those terms. But they were not alone.”

Riffle drops the sword. He pulls away from Minister Jof and turns his back.

“The matter has no relevance to our holy mission to maintain as many height-amortized scaffold-inches as we can,” he says.

“There were those, O Riffle,” says Ink Catherly, “who believed more than anything that righteousness was to preserve this crust, this sanctuary, this seal that severs world and storm.”

Riffle puffs up his cheeks.

He exhales.

He says, “Very well.”

Another pair of scaffoldings crash down.

“Go home,” says Riffle.

He shoos his crew.

“Go home; go home; I’m calling this year’s break.”

And there is one of his crew with long thin legs and a carapace covering its face and a long thread-like bifurcated black tail. It skitters along the corpses and is gone.

And there is one of his crew that is like a heart in a nest of veins, save that it may stand on some of its veins and others have been split to form fingers, thumbs, or spines. This one skulks back to the corpse of a badger-creature and ducks into its mouth; mechanically, the corpse’s throat works and strains, then swallows it and it is gone.

And in that fashion one by one they disperse.

And Ink is saying, “And they worked for a time, each under their own direction, until they came to appoint a man named Riffle as their leader and charged him with the maximization of their effective goals: that is, from the one side he found employment to organize them towards their ends of speedily destroying the crust, and from the other in leading them in its salvation.”

A scaffold crashes.

“I did my job,” says Riffle.

Minister Jof stares at his back.

“It was a devil of a project,” Riffle says. “Reconciling those aims. But then I figured, well, they can’t very well both have what they want, so I could serve one of ’em tautologically, if I just figured out which one it was. Turned out t’be both.”

“In darkness,” says Ink, “in a cave of ivory where centipede-elephants would crawl to die, a woman made this sword to serve her in this glorious cause. And she came here to the war and used it to cut open one man, one woman, and one vaguely genderless bat-creature. Then she tripped on a spear and died.”

Riffle says, “You’ve made your point.”

“I had a point?”

“You can obviously interfere with my work any time,” Riffle says. “Can’t let my workers hear that kind of talk. So it’s all down to this: is it more cost-effective to placate you, or to escalate the violence? Right now, you’ve got an edge on the violence, so I figure, you should tell me what you want.”

“I’m actually just passing through,” Ink says.

Riffle says, “There’s nowhere to go.”

“I’m going to find whomever’s sitting on the throne of the world and kill him,” Ink says.

Riffle turns. He looks at her.

“Why?” he says.

His voice is different when he says that. Everything up till now has been a little distant, a little detached, pouty at the most. Now it’s hungry. Now it’s got urgency to it. It’s like he’s thinking: She could have a cause. She could have something worth doing. She might need competent management like me.

But:

“I’m a destroyer,” Ink says.

And Riffle shrinks.

It’s like he’s deflating beneath his skin.

He says, “That’s not a reason. That’s a resource.”

“It’s exploiting an untapped niche!” Ink Catherly protests.

  • Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting chapter in the histories of the imago:
    THE DOCTOR OF THE DEEPS

5 thoughts on “Ink Inapplicable (VI/XVI)

  1. Hi, Rebecca. This isn’t related to this entry, but I’m curious whether you have any thoughts on it. Other Hitherby readers are welcome to weigh in as well.

    I’m trying to put together a Hitherby tarot deck for my own personal use. Here’s what I have so far:

    The Major Arcana (canon entities):

    The Fool – Jane
    The Magician – Martin
    The High Priestess – Maya
    The Empress – Mrs. Schiff
    The Emperor – Mr. Schiff
    The Hierophant – Central
    The Lovers – Sid and Max
    The Chariot – The Angel Four
    Strength – Ella
    The Hermit – Siddhartha
    The Wheel – The Treasure Wheel/ Wheel of Karma
    Justice – Belshazzar
    The Hanged Man – Mylitta
    Death – Dukkha
    Temperance – Mr. Kong
    The Devil – the monster
    The Tower – Sukaynah
    The Star – Cyane
    The Moon – Mei Ming
    The Sun – Iphigenia
    Judgment – Ii Ma
    The World – Ink Catherly

    The minor arcana (legends)

    The suit of swords – House of Saints/ Standing in the Storm
    The suit of coins – An Unclean Legacy
    The suit of wands – The legends of Ink
    The suit of cups – Legends about Jane and Martin

    N.B.- I tried to work Liril and Micah in with the major arcana but I couldn’t figure out where they would fit. I’m not sure, but I think this might because their story encompasses the entire Fool’s Journey, and therefore they can’t be said to embody any of the stations.

    Any thoughts of yours on the matter (including “stop that at once, you depraved wench”) would be most respectfully received.

  2. It’s a good idea, I think. Certainly the first two really seem to fit, and many of the rest seem very well chosen. I’ll just write a bit about the ones that don’t seem to fit as well.

    I’m not sure about Central for The Hierophant. The Hierophant is not always so negative, right? Also, it’s replacing a person with a building, or a group.

    For the Tower, I’d just the Gibbelin’s Tower, rather than Sukaynah.

    Also, Ella as strength — I’m not sure. Perhaps it should be Sebastien? As The Hero, he seems like a more major character.

    Belshazzar as Justice I’m not sure about either, and Cyane is one of the Angel Four, if I remember rightly. That suggests that perhaps Micah could be Justice and Liril The Star. Belshazzar might be better than Dukkha for Death.

  3. For the Tower, I’d just the Gibbelin’s Tower, rather than Sukaynah.

    But that’s replacing a person with a building, too! :P

    Yeah, the traditional Hierophant isn’t necessarily evil, but I can’t really think of an example of hierophancy in Hitherby that isn’t. I’d definitely be open to alternative suggestions, though.

    I sort of got around Cyane being a member of the Angel Four by saying that Cyane is not Magic A, but who Magic A used to be before she became Magic A. And I liked the water nymph/Star connection. I’m not sure about Liril as The Star, or Micah as Justice– those two cards don’t seem as linked to one another as I’d like Micah and Liril to be (I actually considered making Micah and Liril the Lovers because of their bond– in that paradigm Sid was the Wheel [of knives] and Max was Justice, weighing Sid in the scales, but then I ran out of room for historical canon figures), plus both of those characters read to me as way more empowered than I think we’ve yet seen Liril and Micah to be.

    I wanted to fit Sebastian in somewhere, but the more I thought about it, the less significant he seemed, in himself. He’s sort of the breakdown of the whole hero paradigm, and Ella (who was the first hero, wasn’t she? am I remembering right?) seemed like a better example of both what a hero does and does not do. Also, she had a lion. :P

    I guess for the Belshazzar/Justice link I was thinking of the card more in terms of the Thoth “Adjustment” connection. Not so much “all is now morally right with the world” as “all is now in balance.” Belshazzar does seem to work to balance the universe (he eats his mother’s hero nature, and then he eats his father’s monster nature) though since he does it through destroying everything, maybe Death would be better for him.

    Thanks for all your suggestions, and for thinking it’s a good idea! Certainly it’s fun, and inspiring me to reread Hitherby canon, which is always a good thing.

  4. Hmm. I don’t think that any of the large-H Heroes in the story are really stronger than Sebastien. Yes, he represents the breaking-down of an ideal — but it was an ideal that always was in trouble, and may not have ever really existed. In other words, I don’t think that there ever was a historical moment in the Hitherbyverse when a hero saved the day.

    Perhaps the Hierophant could be Zeus, sort of standing in for the whole Greek pantheon. Wiki informs me that sometimes the card was called Jupiter, so there is precident of sorts.

    I like the idea of Micah as Justice because he is named after the Biblical prophet, after all, and because he does try to win justice of sorts for Liril. (He defies oppressors for her, at least.) Liril, I think, works as the Star because she’s somehow otherworldly. She’s also the focus of regard. Also, that would complete the pattern of having other female characters who appear to be linked to Jane in some way all be sky entities, with Iphigenia as the Sun and Mei Ming as the Moon.

    But, obviously, whatever you think is right for your deck.

  5. Yeah, I agree that Ella isn’t necessarily stronger than Sebastian, or more effective at actually saving stuff or making it right– I just think she exemplifies hero-ness more effectively. For me personally, anyway. Like, the fact that the heroes are a part of the people of salt is somewhat obscured by the fact that Sebastian himself doesn’t make gods for the monster– the “god-making victim” and “can kill monsters” roles are split between him and his sister– whereas Ella, like Mylitta, is both victim and hero, fighter and god-maker, and I think “was a hero but failed to keep herself [and her hero-nature] whole” is more interesting in an entity than “was a hero but failed to save his sister.”

    I dunno. Maybe I am just irrationally partial to Ella and determined to make her a more Major Figure than I can actually justify. :P

    I think you have sold me on the Liril/The Star idea, though… I like the heavenly entities connection, and the more I think about it the more I could see Liril in the role. I also like the Zeus as the Hierophant idea– or maybe I could just go whole hog and call card 5 Olympus, although that’s substituting an institution for a person again…

    Maybe Micah could be Strength (representing Liril’s creation of him as a protecting god, with an symbolic link to Ella and her lion god) and Sebastian could be Justice. Hmm.

    Thank you again for the suggestions and discussion… this is exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping for. :)

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