Free (V/VII)

Now after the incident with the spider the stress does not relent, but rather piles up like massing clouds in Melanie’s body and her mind. She is not well when she emerges from the web; she is, rather, broken, and it comes to a terrible peak in her when she is found by the steamer’s crew, so that the entire world around her strains through a seething mesh of fear before impacting on her mind.

She can’t grasp that they will not hurt her. She can’t grasp that they won’t do horrible and monstrous things to her, and for ever.

But they don’t.

She’s babbled to them already about the soot-spider. She isn’t sure when that happened. She missed the part where she actually told them. Her first real consciousness of the matter comes when she’s already explained.

The wonder of it is that most of the crew believes.

Did used to see soot spiders, sometimes,” one of the older stokers confirms. “Bloody pests, they were. Kill a cabin boy as soon as wink.”

“No way,” protests a younger seaman. “Aren’t they isn’ts?”

But the stoker only laughs.

“Not out at sea!”

And they might have argued for another round, except, right then, the bo’sun speaks.

“She’s lucky,” the bo’sun rules.

She’s lucky! She survived!

And that’s the end of the matter, because they can make her work, if she’s lucky, but they can’t exactly harass her, or lock her up, or throw her to the sea.

You don’t do that kind of thing to people who are good luck.

It wouldn’t be good practice, on a ship.

So she survives, and nobody hurts her, and you’d think that maybe that would lighten the suffering that fills her thoughts, but it doesn’t, because as it turns out, making an answer to suffering is a difficult thing to do.

She’s tired, right tired, all the way through, and she’s burdened down with fear.

It gets heavier with each passing day.

Then they reach Santa Barbara’s docks.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

They berth at night and she helps unload and then in her corner she goes to sleep.

And there’s something epochal in reaching land, and as she sleeps, the weight that fills her body, mind, and soul cuts free.

It lingers near her at first, but the night has tides, and in the end it drifts away.

She wakes up to realize that the world is sweet and her body aches and the water that drums against the side of the ship is good.

And the rough wood of the docks has a clean simplicity.

And the sky over Santa Barbara—

The sky is right.

It’s like she’s come at last to a fairyland, to berth in this sunny world.

She stretches. She laughs. She walks. She runs. She jumps down to the wooden dock.

It sways—

She sways?—

It doesn’t sway, rather, and so she nearly falls, she nearly goes head over heels, she nearly topples over, like she’d done once or twice in the previous night.

The land doesn’t sway here, and that’s a crazy, unnatural thing.

How can a person stand up in some strange world where the ground doesn’t move and your heart is light and there is no soot, no soot anywhere, to make you fear the endless dark?

She takes a step.

Hm.

She takes another step.

Somehow—

Somehow it’s good. Somehow the terrible alien solidity of the land is good.

She looks around. There isn’t any soot. There isn’t any impending danger that the soot, which isn’t there, will organize itself into theorems and abstract her into a dark, foreboding world.

She sways.

Somehow that’s good too, that she doesn’t have to fear that she’ll stumble at any second into the web of another soot-spider.

Somehow, and this is weird, somehow that’s better than good.

It’s bubbling up in her like joy, it’s giggling out of her unexpectedly, it’s giggling out her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her

“You’re Amiel’s get.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

Back up. That isn’t how this history goes.

She isn’t there yet. That hasn’t happened to her yet. She isn’t hearing those terrible words. Not yet.

She is stumbling down, no, she’s jumped down onto the docks.

And they aren’t swaying.

They’re not like a ship. They’re still. And somehow that’s . . . good.

Somehow the terrible alien solidity of the land is, like we were saying, good.

She looks around. There isn’t any soot. There isn’t any impending danger that the soot, which isn’t there, will organize itself into theorems and abstract her into a dark, foreboding world.

She sways.

Somehow that’s good too, that she doesn’t have to fear that she’ll stumble at any second into the web of another soot-spider.

Somehow, and this is weird, somehow that’s better than good.

It’s bubbling up in her like joy, it’s giggling out of her unexpectedly, it’s giggling out her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her lungs and chest and heart, and she’s shouted out before she’s thought about it any a great shout of love for all the world.

How embarrassing.

Embarrassment loses against the joy. It can burn her cheeks and make her look away but it can’t stop her from laughing, and saluting the seamen on their ship, and jauntily walking towards the day.

She’s seven and she’s lucky and she’s killed a soot-spider and finally she’s gotten free.

Billy and his gang won’t be a trouble to her any more.

Nothing will be a trouble to her any more.

She’s the master of the world.

And her story could have gone many different ways from there, but the way it went is this. She walked from the docks straight to Santa Ynez; straight into the monster’s web.

but there is one more part of this tale to tell, and you shall have to wait a week to hear it. In the meantime, perhaps, you could

* review the Legend of Ink Catherly, or
* everything about her so far;
* enjoy the awesome Visual Glossary of Symbols;
* browse the even more awesome work of Anthony Damiani or Siya on Deviant Art;
* design incredible games using Ren’Py; or
* read about the upcoming third edition of Nobilis at RPG.net!

8 thoughts on “Free (V/VII)

  1. Melanie and the monster are related. Distant cousins at the very least. Of course, I don’t really see that stopping the monster from doing anything to Melanie that he thinks would be useful, or even fun.

  2. If anything the converse appears to be true; monsters appear to treat their family worse than they treat random bystanders.

  3. The writing style of this entire series is really… strange, in a specific, particular way. The way the text keeps jumping back and moving differently as if it’s a depth-first search hitting a fail state and backtracing to the last branch. This is usually accompanied by the “Frog and the Thorn – Prologue” notice, which I imagine as if it’s a curtain on the stage that slams down and then rises to hide the rearranging of the scene from the audience.

    I’m not sure *why* though.

    Also, it is interesting to me that this History is labeled as the prologue to “the Frog and the Thorn,” which I thought was a Jane-written Legend version of the History, “How Meredith Ran From The Chaos.” I suppose that maybe it was Melanie who sent the Starfish Man after Meredith and/or this is somehow the prelude to what happened there.

    In any case, thank you for the new Hitherbys – I love how they make me think.

  4. This is a textual special effect meant to express some of what’s going on in Melanie’s head as she parses Liril’s words.

    Parts V and VII, in particular, are sticking pretty close to Melanie’s experience of things.

    In VII, Melanie’s experience of events stops being “this happened, then this happened.” She isn’t able to process Liril’s words as the next thing that happens; the processing she’s performing on those words is propagating through her broader experiential context instead.

    So you get to ride along near her consciousness as it reparses the past few seconds a few times with scattered bits of “never you, not you” and “you’re Amiel’s get.”

    Then you get to observe, in V, that it’s messing up the story of her life as far back as 1979.

    I am not currently specifying whether:

    * the impact is spreading to random bits in her memories;
    * the impact is literally refiguring the past;
    * the narrator was also pretty shaken up by what Liril said.

    Hopefully that was not too much like explaining a joke. I welcome comments on whether the effect generally succeeded or failed.

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  5. For what it’s worth, I got more or less what you were going for in part VII, but didn’t get what was going on here in part V. I guess that Melanie associates the joy of being on land here with the joy of going-to-be-a-god later on, so that what Liril says spreads from the one joy to the memory of the other?

  6. Yup. Or, at least, the joy of being on land and the exaltation/release of being about to transcend are both implementing a shared underlying class.

    Though, really, it’s also in part an attempt to freak the reader: look, it’s THAT BAD, it’s hitting you in the middle of a different post a week later! Just think how someone who’s actually EXPERIENCING it feels.

    I’m not sure if that’s telling, showing, or just crazy, on my part. ^_^

    Best wishes,

    Jenna

  7. Thank you, Jenna! That makes total sense. I couldn’t quite tell if it was Melanie who was starting and restarting, or if it was the whole world acting like a damaged record player for some reason, or if it was the view of the History itself. As far as I recall, Necessity is kinda still in pieces after the Imago Incident (Imago stands for Item May Accidentally Generate Obliteration she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth).

  8. The lens is in fact still in pieces, many of which aren’t even in the Tower any more, and this is in fact on my mind from time to time in the process of telling histories. It could conceivably produce effects such as that seen in part VII, but I wouldn’t feel obligated to use such effects just for that reason without a different storytelling purpose.

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