The Boundary Between Liril and the World (II/VII)

“I give to you — life!”

Micah giggles to himself. He extends his arms upwards. He whines, inadvertently, from the pain. Then he giggles again. His hair hangs down over his eyes. It’s matted with some nameless horror’s blood, or possibly a delicious lime-flavored Slurp-like beverage.

The monster sighs.

He unlocks Micah’s shackles. He heaves Micah up. He carries Micah up the stairs. His nametag raises a red welt on Micah’s skin, practically burning him. Micah leaves a black smudge on the nametag in his turn.

The monster tosses Micah into a chair and, after a few minutes, throws him a towel.

“Ah, geez,” Micah says. “I can’t possibly.”

“You’re strong enough to be alive,” the monster says, “and to make jokes.”

“That’s true,” Micah concedes, after a moment.

He picks up the towel. He tries to clean himself up. It doesn’t really help. He’s ten. After twenty or thirty seconds his shoulders and elbows stage a rebellion and his arms go limp.

“My arms are limp,” Micah says.

“I’m going to send you home with her,” the monster says. “Rest up. Get some strength. Then you can come back by in a week or two and we’ll see just what you are.”

“Me?”

Micah looks horrified.

“Maybe you’re useful,” the monster says.

“I do have a gift for surprisingly relevant historical trivia,” Micah says. His world reels a little. “I actually get to go home? I have a home?”

He can’t help laughing.

The monster’s eyes are on him. The laughter drains away. It becomes crying and Micah tries to blow his nose into the towel but he doesn’t have the strength.

“Don’t worry,” the monster says. “I’ll make you into something good.”

“Why don’t you hate me?” Micah asks. “You’re supposed to hate me. I’m supposed to be your enemy.”

“Are you?”

“Aren’t I?”

“I’m afraid that I won’t let you be,” the monster says.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 25, 1995

Micah’s life is lived staccato.

There are good hours and good days. There is ice cream and there is running in the park. There is home, complete with Liril’s mother Priyanka and her tenuous but loving welcome. There are fish sticks and french fries and cheese which you can divide into arbitrarily many sub-cheese strings. There are times when he can lie on his bed and talk to Liril about the stringencies of their world.

Then between the beats of his life it becomes painful.

It’s like Liril and Micah are two rats in a dinosaur’s cave. Their lives are interrupted, again and again, by the great blundering atrocities stumbling around them in the darkness. It is an inexpressible condition. He will sit in the corner of their room for hours, trying to find a way to put it into words. Liril doesn’t even try.

He’s good with the trivia but she knows everything.

She knows the secret language of the grass and the names of the bats that live on the dark side of the moon. She tells him how the kingdom of magical bears fell from grace, and what Melanie has done to bind the grangler, and the secrets of the lurkunders, and the threat that power line proximity can pose to a person’s health.

One day it is raining. It is pouring down through the branches of the trees. She tells him the name of a bead of water on the glass and he watches Vassily the Raindrop slip down to the edge of the window of their room and break.

On another day the monster is choking him with a belt around his neck.

One day he tries to learn how to skateboard.

“Watch,” he tells Liril. “This will be my real magical talent. Not spitting out seawater or dead fish or historical trivia, but skateboarding.

He doesn’t have a talent like that, and it wouldn’t be skateboarding if he did.

On another day the monster smiles beatifically to him and says, “I have found it.”

Micah leans forward. He looks at the monster. His eyes are bright and maddened, like a bird’s.

“I have seen through all of this at last.”

The monster reaches into Micah. He turns over his hand. He pulls forth a great gout of the fire, a newborn god, educed from Liril straight through Micah, who stands between that crucible and the world. The god sits in the monster’s hand, a snowflake fractal, its edges a drift of shape becoming real; and its eyes are as a bird’s, and seven sacred seals hang all about it, and it is lovely, tame, and sweet, and the monster will name it Aspida, his treasure, his first city-building god.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

“No,” Micah mutters.

He can’t accept it. It is a perversion. It makes him pointless. His heart cries out, I will not lose!

He stares at the monster. His mouth twitches.

I will have didn’t lost.

It isn’t right. That isn’t what happened and it wouldn’t be the way to phrase it if it had. He stares at Aspida and marvels at its hundred eyes and the interlocking formica and steel and glass that is its flesh. He thinks it’s beautiful and appalling and he has to admit that pretty much he has lost, but for the sake of this child he tries again —

I haven’t any longer lost?

He laughs until he chokes and suddenly he is leaking and there is seawater all around him and the monster actually looks alarmed. “You mustn’t do that,” the monster tells him.

That doesn’t help.

Micah flails inside his heart for some remedy or some ounce of strength. He can’t actually find any. He is gurgling brine out from his mouth. He hacks out a fish bone. His eyes widen and he sputters. Aspida looks hopeful. Aspida opens its baby mouth.

It’s too much. Micah starts to rip open. There is a thorn stuck through his hand.

“It’s all right,” the monster tells him.

His hand is on Micah’s hair. It shouldn’t make anything even close to being all right; but then the monster makes it so.

“She has raised you up to be her Christ,” the monster says, “and suffer in her place; but as you wish to defend her, and stand between her and the world, that doesn’t have to be so bad.”

Micah leans forward.

He is crying.

His will collapses in him. The monster telling him that Liril could have wanted this destroys what little fight he was beginning, again, to have.

He is a fragile, permeable membrane between the world and his insides.

He reaches after Aspida but the god and the monster both are gone.

9 thoughts on “The Boundary Between Liril and the World (II/VII)

  1. I can’t help feeling sorry for Liril, and I don’t think anyone can read this and not feel sorry for Micah, but why do I have a perverse urge to make an Utena or conversely, Terry Goodkind reference? Is it an embarrassment of cultural riches, or is it just the monster’s fault?

    Well, if it could be “just” then the monster would not have needed to say, “I’m afraid” before “I won’t let you.” And without the english word “Child” there could have never been a movie entitled, “End of Evangelion.” So it is almost, almost enough not to hate the darkness, or not to envy Micah’s staccato, or not to want to re-enact “Mai-HiME.”

    (You don’t need to tell me that it’s already been done, in every sense. But the beauty keeps us here, and so I write, and somewhere within my words, if a monster lurks, maybe someone is forgiven, somewhere else. That would sort of balance things, if the monster has become truth, and if truth is real.)

  2. I certainly feel sorry for Micah. The one thing that makes making him okay, I think, is that Liril didn’t have any choice in the matter.

    I can’t really comment about the anime references, not having seen any of the relevant ones….

    I notice that we have another instance of Micah becoming connected to the sea when he laughs. This looks to me like one of Chekov’s guns being placed on the mantelpiece — surely this power of his will become relevant at some point in the present-day storyline. Maybe Liril and Micah and Truth and his crew will all be able to somehow use it to sail out of besieged Elm Hill and out to the ocean and freedom.

  3. Even if it was a conscious decision on Liril’s part to make someone else to suffer for her, that’s still real Room 101 stuff she was dealing with at the time. Even to the extent that she had volition and knew what she was doing, she was under an awful lot of duress.
    -Eric

  4. The main problem with that analysis: It gives what Liril has called “the monster’s ideology” entirely too much credibility. He may say things like, “Liril is a phenomenon,” and to the extent that she chooses the “liberty” of remaining ignorant, those words can bind her. But Micah, himself, found the counterpart to that liberty: Powerlessness on the monster’s part. His own subjective feeling was that Aspida made him pointless. I have to disagree. Micah isn’t Liril’s volition and he wasn’t made in order to suffer. Both Micah and Liril are the victims of a monster caught in his own web — but we’ve known that since day one of Hitherby. The stakes for Liril, Martin, Micah, Bob and Jane? Well, let me say this: They all have futures. I can’t say that about the demons Liril let the “Michael” copy destroy, and I don’t need to. The stakes for Jane, and the reason that Martin’s words cannot answer suffering, are all as clear as they can be without interference. Melanie too is a power unto herself. I mean, would “Volition” or “Abandon” give recourse to a Muse? What if I asked which Muse, as if there could only be a single one? Binary answers, and false questions, do nothing but empower the ignorance that refuses the emptiness quarter — and beneath the smile-mask gaze of that ignorance, Central maintains its trespasses.

    One more time, a reminder of the stakes: “If you do, you’ll prove Liril wrong.”

    Aspida, the Unforgivable Dominions, and the fate that Melanie seized: They all stem from the same source. And that source does obey predictable rules, inasmuch as any tale can be predicted. The stories that end have been written, and that is why “The Frog and the Thorn” as now expressed can find only its first chapter.

    There is plenty of room in the Futhark runes, or in the Bible prophecies, or in Tarot for an alternative and still-unfolding variation of the symbols that underlie the myths. The only reason some are more easily predictable is that the tales overlap, and of course, there is one forgotten cause remaining. The dragon?

    The poetic justice that would claim “Jane is the Dragon, the only one left herself and complete?” That is the justice that nullifies, with no word to say to Melanie, no quarter for Micah and no recourse for Djinn. If I believed that any of that was inevitable I might as well either play Polaris as an ideologically satisfying homage to (redacted) or else take my balloon and go home. But this storyline is about the home — about the covenants that are sealed with blood, about the monster’s cruelty, and in an extremely important way, about the list of answers Micah himself is able to give to the monster’s continuing cruelty. The rest is effectively window dressing.

    Eric, we know the stakes and we know the myths that can be predicted. You and I know (and the other fans can at least find out) the nature of the Unforgivable Dominions, exactly what about them cannot be forgiven, and the reason why the most recent legend about Melanie included the word “muse.” That all sets the stage, so there are stakes. There are reasons. And the tales that end, “The rest, we cannot know?”

    Those are prelude, establishing shots. They establish Micah’s character. They give due weight to the assembled lies of the monster.

    The solution for Jane, that satisfies her questioning nature? The wisdom Martin denies in his quest for knowledge-as-certainty through decidedly unmonsterlike arrogance? The precise reason for gods? I’m reminded by the tale of Melanie’s fall which provided Liril her single thread back to sanity:

    “There are monsters, and there are truths, and there is misdirection, and all of these possess a lethal resemblance to commands.”

    None of the certainties are ever right. Anyone who doubts it, reread The Seeress of Kell. I’ll say it again: Certainty is deceptive. And now I look back and double-check my post, and see a paradox: Bob appears in the list of those who have a future. So that will be my final clue tonight.

    Just because there is no future for Bob that has not already become the past, does not mean that Bob himself no longer exists. Something that remembers Love, has been spun. Someone who remembered Spiders, has been snuck. There are dreams and nightmares and even Platonic goods left in the world without the gods, and there are beautiful reasons to deny the monsters quarter. There are even a smaller number of those reasons that need not become monsters themselves, if given free rein. (I am reminded of the revision of Judgement’s Archangel’s Choir. Does anyone think that it would have been better the other way around? It wouldn’t have been Hitherby, if she’d died then. I mean Daimonique.)

    There is more to write, but I feel that I’ve given enough force away from my own end of the situation. Jenna needs a bit more time for the reasons to cool. Then the inversion of the hourglass can begin.

    I am sincerely looking forward to whatever reasons that snake with the staff, in Monday’s Chibi-Ex, gives for his own attitude. After all, there is a limited list of graces. To the best of my recollection, not a single one of them bears the name, “Kyon.”

  5. Your comment, Aetheric, sounds interesting, but it is elliptical and allusive to the point where I find it almost completely opaque. Just to take one example, you seem to find that the invocation of the Muse has great significance — for my part I thought it was just a bit of whimsy, and you have not made your reasons for thinking it significant at all clear. (And just what does the phrase “give recourse to a Muse” even mean?)

    I will also say that you lost a good deal of credibility with me when you invoked David Eddings. I mean, sheesh, the man was a hack who milked his readers for a second five-book go-round and laughed at them all the way to the bank.

  6. To the extent that it sounded like I was fishing for credibility, one of us has completely missed the point. The initiative, sir, is naturally yours, and I will say no more on that.

    “Muse” is pertinent given the other media (non-Hitherby media) by the same author wherein Melanie’s name appears. That is my final word on that subject, for this week.

  7. Oh! Haha. Awesome.

    I’d wondered where you were getting your data about things that haven’t come up yet. But yeah, I guess that you could make some solid deductions by looking at my other works.

    Bear in mind, though, that I don’t actually expect that. It works because I only have one brain and it’s extremely, extremely cross-referenced. Current Hitherby is complex because I’m trying to pull off something crazier than Island of the Centipede while low on mental resources, not because I’m trying to drive people off into comprehensive reviews of canon.

    (Island of the Centipede was long ’cause I had to sell people on “someone changes their mind” plus “and then a miracle occurs” as a story worth reading. Buckle in, folks, ’cause this time I’ve got a much tougher pill for you to swallow . . .)

  8. (P.S. Letters Column soon. I was going to try to get it done today but stuff happened, so instead you get the next part of this story. ^_^)

  9. To the extent that my putative deductions have brought a smile to the author’s face, my work here is done. (As for the recurrent names — my favorite is “John.” That one sitcom concept spoof, entitled “Issues?” Pure genius.)

    Sure, nothing says that this Melanie is that Domina — but they are both “beloved of the gods!” Or maybe I’m the one putting that there. In any case, the whole point of pretending it’s obvious is to stir things up and see what develops. (Is Liril weak against Stirring-elemental attacks? Is Martin immune to these attacks? To paraphrase the third-to-last Manual of Exalted Power, “Some mysteries might be best left unsolved.”)

    Full circle from the crucible thing would be to be directly compare Melanie and Liril to Beleth and Blandine, then asking whether Blandine is more like Melanie or Utena Tenjou. On the other hand, the Confucian influences here regarding who is whose sibling and the whys of these interrelationships… might or might not again be my own imagination.

    I have to decide whether to break thermodynamics by Thursday night, so my thoughts will take a breather.

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