An Unclean Legacy: “And As For Montechristien Gargamel”

In the corner of the room are one hundred golden men: one hundred golden corpses, stolen from the world by Montechristien Gargamel.

They were the blue essentials.

They’d lived in peace in their mushroom village, despite a power in them that could shake the world; a power only surpassed, in truth, by God.

They had not used it.

They could have been mighty angels, commanders of the hosts of Heaven, but they had agreed instead to follow in their Papa’s footsteps, to live their lives as fallible, pitiable beings in their mushroom homes. In the end they chose that weakness even over life itself. Now they are dead and made of malleable gold, their power a gift to whoever can bear the weight of it—the weight of blood on the hands of Gargamel who slew them.

“See, if I step forward to claim them,” Tomas says, “I get murdered from behind.”

“That’s what it means,” murmurs Francescu, “that you gave up the ways of our childhood, and I did not.”

Sophie and Christine are watching one another, carefully, while avoiding any overt glances.

“I would do poorly,” Manfred says.

He sighs and lowers his head, releasing an old ambition.

And now and again, her siblings look to Violet, whom they have always thought the likeliest of all to claim them, to use them wisely, honestly, and well.

“You . . . do know that I’d make myself an all-powerful goddess-queen, right?” Violet asks.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, whose suitors and lovers and seducers are yanked from her and threshed by the machine in Gargamel’s tower.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the final installment of the story of that time.

“Eh?” Montechristien says.

“Well,” says Violet, “it’s not— I mean, it’s not that I’m greedy. It’s just, why not? I mean, you have limitless power, it seems like you should make yourself an all-powerful goddess-queen. Unless you’re a boy, in which case some slight modifications to the formula are acceptable.”

“I see,” Montechristien says.

“I can pretend that I’ll be good and just use them for special occasions until you’re dead,” Violet says.

“Heh,” snorts Montechristien Gargamel.

Softly, Elisabet says, “Thresh them.”

Violet looks to her. “Hey,” she says brightly. “You’re awake.”

“Would you really just take them?” Elisabet asks.

“Someone has to,” Violet replies.

Elisabet is half-sitting now, insofar as a protoplasmic shadow-creature can half-sit. She is desolate and alone.

Her protoplasm blows in the wind.

“Is that what the family Gargamel is?” Elisabet asks. “Is it so impossible for us to escape our legacy?”

Snow falls gently around her.

“Are we nothing but killers, brutal men and women, who will live up not to the greatness of Montechristien Gargamel but to his shame? Is there no hope that we may find a narrow and difficult path away from the sins and crimes attendant on our births?”

Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eye shut.

“In these final days,” she says, “every hand has turned against every other; and even I have striven pointlessly to kill. Is that who we are? Is that the family Gargamel?”

The snow is lessening now. Elisabet’s shoulders sag.

She says, “It is unclean.

A short silence follows, as has followed every monologue of Elisabet’s since her tenth birthday.

“It’s not even winter,” Manfred mocks.

An Unclean Legacy


“Finale”

Elisabet blushes furiously. She throws a shuriken at Manfred. He catches and crushes it with one hand.

“Bastard,” she says.

Sophie says, “She’s right.”

Violet frowns.

“You’d wind up killing us, Violet,” Sophie says.

And there’s a terrible truth to that, not the kind of truth that’s certain but the kind of truth that’s scarily possible, and Violet flushes and jerks her head away.

“Fine,” Violet says. “We can thresh them instead of making me a goddess-queen.”

And Tomas comes to the strange realization that everyone is staring at him, staring at him on the assumption that he is the least likely to consent; and his nostrils flare and he looks down and he says, “There are worse outcomes.”

He hesitates.

“Six of them, apparently. So, fine.”

“No,” Montechristien says. He is weak. There is a burden that has been on him for more than twenty years, and it is lifting, but he shakes his head to deny himself its peace. “No. Someone must take them. It is decided.”

And Violet walks forward to the little golden men and gathers them in her arms; and she makes herself defenseless in her heart; and she says, softly, to one and all of them, and with infinite regret:

“Come away with me; for I could love you, I could love you dear.”

And for a moment, the haze of his damnation lifts and Montechristien sees in Violet what the Papa would have seen: a girl wicked and broken, made not by clean blue alchemy but by Gargamel and Yseult; but more, a girl who despite the sinfulness of her origin was capable of redemption, glory, and even a place among the blue; and for a moment, to Montechristien, the limning on Violet’s black hair is gold.

“I could love you—”

There is a churning in the tower. There is a spinning. Tendrils of power seize the little golden men and whisk them all away.

The blades of the threshing machine whine with the fury of their turning.

And coming to her senses, suddenly; desiring to save the gold men, suddenly—Violet shouts, “Wait!”

But it is too late.

Driven by the power given unto Violet by Gargamel, the golden men rise upwards among the blades and the blades shear through them, once, twice, ten thousand times and more.

A series of great levers yank themselves downwards.

“. . .,” sighs Violet.

A great and driving wind blows upwards from the hole in the floor below the threshing machine.

Driven by that wind, the remains of the little gold men rise.

They are a mist now. They are a shimmering golden vapor that rises and hangs over Castle Gargamel in great brooding clouds. And from it the wind cuts away grains of sparkly dust to fall onto the world below: onto the grave of Rachel Saraman, onto the web of the spinach-spider, onto the gallows of poor Meagle and the paths that Santrieste ran; and in every place it lands—from then to now, for the wind still carries bits of it—there are miracles upon the earth.

It is beautiful.

It is magical.

It is something eternal and good.

And as for Montechristien Gargamel, he is damned; and with the breaking of the eidolons the power of blue over red passes away; and his years come down on him like the hammer of the Heavens, and his mortal vessel passes away and into dust and no more does the murderer Gargamel mock the Devil by walking upon the Earth.

An Unclean Legacy: “Whoever Can Bear the Weight”

Manfred is two years old and sleeping in his bed.

“He is already strong enough to wrestle a bear,” Yseult says.

Montechristien says, painedly, “My bear.”

Yseult shrugs.

“You were not using it for anything.”

“I needed that bear,” Montechristien says. “I was going to train it to catch blue—”

Montechristien remembers that he has already caught the blue essentials. He rubs at his chin.

“Perhaps I will forgive you,” he says, clearing his throat. “If you curry well for my favor.”

Yseult sighs. She shakes her head. “Someday, I really must kill you and seize all your power, pookie. Then it will be no more currying and scraping for me—only the immaculate power of a glorious goddess-queen!”

Gargamel scratches at his nose.

“Such sinister schemes,” he says. “You will corrupt the children.”

Yseult punches him on the arm.

“It’s strange,” Montechristien says.

“Hm?”

“He’s already twelve apples tall.”

“Hmm,” concedes Yseult.

Then she grins. “Come along,” she says. “I will make you a new bear. An evil bear! We will train it to kill Kings. Then, when a King visits—bam! Bear!”

“In a moment,” says Montechristien.

Yseult grins, spins around, and walks out.

And Gargamel stares at Manfred, and he feels large, like a man containing galaxies, and light, like a feather, and he thinks for the first time that most horrible thought: Is this what the Papa felt, when he looked upon his children?

And . . .

Once upon a time there was a man who murdered all the blue essentials and became the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Flush with that power, he drew to him a woman who loved the overblown evil of him and he sired on her six (or seven) kids. He became a legend. He became a terror. He became a living god.

Ah! Who would not envy such a man as Montechristien Gargamel? Who does not dream of rising to such heights? Though surely he was damned, his suasion was such that Emperors and Sultans must bow before him; his access to the pleasures of the world was limitless; his glory was unmeasurable! Binder of the Devil, destroyer of the blue essentials, master of every incantation and effulgence—such was the glory of Montechristien Gargamel!

There is silence for a time as Montechristien works with Elisabet in the tower. Then one by one the others shuffle in.

“Is she all right?” Violet asks.

“I don’t know,” Montechristien says.

He pokes Elisabet with his foot.

“She stabbed herself a few times and tried to scoop out her innards. So I scooped them back in and she is as you see.”

“That’s it?”

“I could apply a poultice somewhere,” Montechristien snaps.

Violet frowns.

Manfred looks down at Elisabet.

“She’s just being lazy,” he says.

An eye swims into view in Elisabet’s form. It glares at Manfred.

“That’s what ninjas do,” Manfred says. “They lay around and mope while everyone else fights the Devil.”

“1” mutters Elisabet, too weak even to capitalize the number, and then she passes out.

Montechristien sighs. “Enough.”

“I am going to die soon,” Montechristien continues, bleakly. “I want to give you something before I die. It would be traditional to give each of you a number of little gold men. This would precipitate a bloodbath. Alternately, I might offer them to the eldest, or to the eldest male. Or, as you seem to expect of me, I might pick a child based on arcane criteria, such as ‘who is left alive’ and ‘the weird old madness of Montechristien Gargamel.’ I am going to explain to you why it is not that simple.”

Violet bows her head.

“Your legacy is one hundred gold men, and the near-limitless power that goes with them,” Gargamel says. “Would you consider this a gift?”

“Yes,” Manfred says. “That is a gift. When you give someone near-limitless power, they say, ‘Thank you.’ Often, they write a card.”

“So it is,” Gargamel admits, because Manfred’s argument is irrefutable. “It is a gift. But it is also murder.”

There are one hundred little men, in square array, in the corner. They are three apples high and made of gold, down to their shapeless hats.

Gargamel points towards them.

“I killed them,” he says. “Not peacefully but brutally. Not in anger but with premeditation and after hunting them for years.”

“Blue essentials,” Tomas says.

“Yes,” Gargamel says. “Blue essentials, and not humans. But killing even the blue essentials is not done in peace. It is not a child’s story, where they are alive on one page and dead the next. I hunted them. I hunted them for years, and their fear was real, their desire to live was real, their anger at me was real. And one day after a clash of arms between two kingdoms, when the death of men and horses contaminated the water of the mushroom village, their patriarch and their strongman took ill with fever. And because of that sickness, they could not find the consciousness to fight. My blue magnet dragged them all to me, and while they screamed and while the best of them stared on with delirium-blurred eyes, I broke their necks and turned them all to gold. That is your legacy. That is what you would kill one another for.”

Violet looks down.

She clears her throat.

“Yes?” asks Montechristien.

“That’s a weight to carry,” Violet says. “But there’s uses for it.”

An Unclean Legacy


“Whoever Can Bear the Weight”

“Yes,” says Montechristien.

He looks out the window.

“I let her die,” he says, bleakly. “It was partly for Elisabet. They were entangled. Saving them both would have been hard. And she was going to Heaven anyway. It wasn’t much of a loss for her. But I could have saved her, and I let her die. Because I’d said, somewhere along the line, I’d realized, ‘it isn’t mine. This power—it’s not the power of Montechristien Gargamel. It’s just the blood on my hands.’ I wanted to destroy them.”

Violet makes an inarticulate sound of protest.

“But I couldn’t,” Montechristien says. “Because she left me you. I have been hanging on in madness. I wanted to be good. I wanted to do the right thing and destroy them. I have given up so much for the right thing, and I am still a hypocrite. But you are what I have left of her. I needed to know that if I had to I could save you. That when I’m gone, if the Devil comes for you, you’d have some power that could fight him. That your children, and your children’s children, would have some hope of getting somewhere in this world of walking corpses and pointless horror.”

And Sophie recognizes the imagery in his words and remembers in that instant that her father is long since damned.

“She was a light to me,” Montechristien says. “Even knowing that there is nothing left for me. Even knowing that this world is a trashheap and that shadow is its king. She was a light. And you were a light. Until bit by bit I saw that he’d already won you. That you aren’t any different than the rest. That you’re just more fodder for the beast of Hell. Bit by bit the glamour she left on all of you faded and I knew that there was nothing worthwhile in you and there probably never had been. But I’ll still give them to you. Because that’s what she would have wanted.”

“You don’t have to see things this way,” Sophie protests. “You don’t have to be— You could—”

“Use this unclean power to save me?” Montechristien asks.

“Yes,” Sophie hisses.

“It is all right,” says Montechristien. “I am hanging on. It is just a little longer. Soon I will be in Hell and safe from such terrible choices.”

“Damn it, Montechristien, fix yourself!”

“Shut up, Sophie,” Christine says, in a distant, fey voice.

Sophie stares at Christine.

“You’re hurting him,” Christine says.

And Sophie can’t tell, looking at Montechristien’s face, if Christine is seeing a truth that Sophie can’t or just reflexively taking the position that hurts Sophie the most; so she jerks her head and looks pointedly away.

“So,” says Gargamel, “they’re for whomever can bear the weight of them. I don’t care who. Just, someone who can stand to have their hands covered in their blood.”

There’s a silence.

“See, if I step forward,” Tomas says, “I get murdered from behind.”

What is Elisabet’s special gift?

What would Violet do with near-limitless power?

Whatever happened to Montechristien Gargamel?

On Monday: “How Elisabet Saved Mother’s Day!”

. . . oh, wait, no.

It’s “Finale.”

An Unclean Legacy: “One Hundred Golden Men”

With apologies: there will be two more episodes, because after editing the ‘final episode’ was longer than Tre Ore.

In the west there is a fire.

Montechristien Gargamel descends the stairs. He looks into the room where six of seven children have gathered. He sees the blood; the wounds; the tears; the stares of horror.

He shakes his head sadly.

He is using a cane. He looks very weak, as he walks.

“Follow,” he says.

He is walking towards the Castle door. Mutely, his children file in behind him.

His lower lip is trembling.

“Father,” Violet says.

“It is only sane,” says Montechristien Gargamel.

His robes make a shuffling sound against his legs.

“Who wouldn’t murder for limitless power?” says Gargamel. “Who wouldn’t do anything, however depraved? However empty? However destructive? Why, even to kill your own siblings—that’s not so much. Perhaps when you hold the little gold men you’ll bring them back from the dead, in a more pleasant form. You could give Manfred bunny ears to lighten his somber appearance. Or teach Tomas the jig.”

There is an uncomfortable silence.

“Are you going to tie up the Devil again?” Violet says.

“No,” says Montechristien Gargamel.

Sophie stops in place. The others walk on for a few moments, then Montechristien turns. He stares at her.

“I’m not going out there,” Sophie says, “if we’re not going to fight.”

“Stupid child,” says Gargamel. “I’m not going to give you to him.”

Sophie hesitates. Then she shrugs, looks up and to the side, and rejoins the group.

“So,” Montechristien says, “Violet. To whom do I give the little gold men?”

“Me,” Violet says, without hesitation.

“Heh,” Montechristien says. “And if not you?”

Violet hesitates. Then she opens her mouth. She starts to say a name. Then she closes it. She opens her mouth again. She starts to say a name. Then she closes it.

“Santrieste?” she offers.

“Are your siblings so bad?”

“That’s not it,” Violet says, uncomfortably.

Montechristien reaches the Castle gates. He opens them. He looks out to the west.

There, amidst the terrible fire, stands a blue essential in a red, red cap. He is dead. His eyes are replaced by crosses. His beard is filthy gray. He is three apples high and animated by an unholy life.

He had never had a name.

He’d only had a title.

So we’ll call his walking corpse something unholy and new.

“Hello, Montechristien,” says old dead Papa Scratch.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-seventh installment of the story of that time.

Manfred looks down. His brow furrows.

“You are smaller, sir Devil, than the last time we fought.”

Montechristien coughs, weakly. He holds out his arm to bar Manfred from moving forward.

“This isn’t your fight,” Montechristien says.

“I’m here to free the others,” says old dead Papa Scratch. His head lolls to one side, and he pushes it back up. There’s the scraping sound of broken neckbone against broken neckbone as his head realigns. “I figured, I’d give you a chance, Montechristien, since we’ve been through this before, to give them up now.”

“If I still had an evil cat,” Montechristien says sadly, “he’d leap on you. He was good at scratching.”

He hesitates.

“Do you have someone sneaking into the Castle behind me?” he says. “Or is this going to be one of those things where you throw down an alchemical bomb and rescue them while I’m coughing?”

“Father,” says Sophie, as a gentle reminder. “That’s the Devil.”

“I’ve had people in the Castle forever,” says old dead Papa Scratch.

“Oh?”

“They sit on the shoulders of Manfred and Francescu,” says old dead Papa Scratch. “They crouch on the corpse of Yseult Gargamel. They flit this way and that among the guardian statues and the teeth of the barking dog.”

“Well,” says Montechristien, considering that. “You’ve certainly come out ahead of me in this madcap caper.”

Now Papa Scratch narrows his dead-fish eyes.

“Pardon?” he says.

And Gargamel, ever so creakily, lowers himself onto one knee. He rests his hand under his chin. He says, “It was good, you know. To come back as the one person I couldn’t ever defeat. To come back with the power of a golden eidolon in addition to your own. But if you wanted to beat me, you really should have gone with Yseult.”

“It would have been clever,” the Devil agrees. “But I wouldn’t give you the pleasure of seeing your bitch again.”

And as Montechristien’s face tightens with anger, old dead Papa Scratch gathers himself; and with a bound he flies towards Gargamel’s face, and his hands are claws and his teeth are pointed and there are worms crawling beneath his skin.

Montechristien, with the highly tuned reflexes of a blue essential hunter, catches him.

“Papa,” he says, and he is not speaking to the Devil, but nevertheless the Devil goes still and shuddery in his hand.

“Papa,” says Gargamel, and his voice is broken. “You are not so dead as to allow this abomination to proceed.”

And for a moment the eyes of the thing in Gargamel’s hand are living eyes. For a moment it is not the Devil’s voice that says, “Then let them go. Gargamel, I beg you—”

“They’re gold, Papa. You’re all gold. Gold and dead. Forgive me.”

And the head of the thing in Gargamel’s hand lowers, and its eyes go blank again; and the flames are burning Gargamel’s hand until there is little to it but bone and blackened meat; but there is a blueness that rages through the fire and puts it out and then slowly, slowly, with the infinite reluctance of any power yielding to its death, succumbs to gold.

An Unclean Legacy


“One Hundred Golden Men”

Montechristien straightens.

“Where is Elisabet?” he says.

“Dead, I should hope,” Tomas says.

The glare Montechristien turns on him is terrible; it would inspire legends of devils and of angels; but Tomas simply shrugs.

“I explained to her what she really is,” he says.

And Violet shouts: “Manfred, no!”

For Manfred is in motion.

But it is not Violet but Montechristien who stops Manfred from skewering Tomas; Montechristien who blasts Tomas and Manfred back and hangs them in the air each separate from the other; Montechristien who grinds his teeth together and struggles against his inclination to dance with rage.

“In front of me? You would do this in front of me?”

Manfred does not speak. He simply looks sullen, like a man evaluating whether it’s worth killing his father in order to conduct his other business.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Gargamel.

He lets Manfred and Tomas drop.

“The power of the blue will not hold the Devil away for long,” Montechristien says. “This is expected; I did not plan to live the night.”

He sighs.

“It is time to discuss what we must, the eight of us, discuss.”

“Can you help Elisabet?” Violet asks.

“If she’s alive,” Montechristien says.

Is the legacy of Montechristien Gargamel desirable?

How did Gargamel defeat the blue essentials at last?

These questions, and others, will be answered tomorrow in An Unclean Legacy: “Whoever Can Bear the Weight.”

An Unclean Legacy: “Violet’s Sin”

These are three moments from Sophie’s life.

The first is when Christine’s house reaches the castle. It pulls in its iron legs. It squats there and it rests.

Christine emerges.

“Hey,” Violet says.

Christine doesn’t respond. She walks past Violet into the castle, leaving the door of her house open behind her.

So Violet walks in. She walks to the great furnace at the house’s core.

“Hey,” she says.

The furnace has gone cold. There is a great black lump in it. Violet takes a poker and she prods the lump.

Slowly, Sophie uncurls. The ash on her skin cracks and falls away. She is withered, like a homonculus. Her hair is mostly burned away, but it’s growing again, in fits and starts.

“I brought you some clean clothes,” Violet says. She puts them down.

Sophie has a fingerbone in her palm. She’s been curled around it to protect it from the fire.

“How did you know I was here?” Sophie says.

“Where else would you be?”

Sophie frowns at Violet. Then, slowly, she offers Violet the bone.

“If I keep this,” she says, “I’m going to break it. I can’t let him win. He isn’t worthy of it.”

Violet smiles at Sophie. She pushes Sophie’s hand away.

“He’s your brother,” Violet says.

Sophie stares at her.

Then she lowers her head, hair hanging over her face to hide her tears.

“I’m not good,” Sophie says.

But Violet touches her arm, gently.

Sophie looks up, and for a moment she is naked; but then she dons the clothes that Violet brought her and they walk out to Castle Gargamel.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-sixth installment of the story of that time.

“Father,” Sophie says, not long thereafter.

Montechristien Gargamel does not turn as she enters the room. He is staring out the window. Now and again his neck will twitch, as if he might turn his head, but he does not.

“Sophie,” he says.

“I’m sorry you’re dying,” Sophie says.

“Are you?”

Sophie stands there, hesitant. She wrings her hands. “Yes.”

“It won’t matter,” Gargamel lies. “My soul is already in Heaven.”

“Hell.”

“. . . it won’t matter,” Gargamel concedes. “My soul is already in Hell.”

“It will matter to me.”

“Did you know,” says Montechristien Gargamel, “that I have in my possession only ninety-nine golden eidolons?”

“Pardon?”

“I will die,” says Montechristien Gargamel, “and there will be nothing left for me but damnation, because someone of my kin and blood took from my treasury the eldest golden man. And I must ask myself: who is it that the Devil hunted at night for seven years? Who is it who went out and faced him alone, and fell beneath his will? Because that person would be, you see, the natural suspect in this matter.”

“I didn’t—”

Gargamel laughs. It is bitter.

“There is a little crack in my defenses now, you see,” he says. “A little hole through which the shadow creeps. I should not have let you live, Sophie, or let you in—”

“What did Christine tell you?” Sophie shrieks.

“Be still!” Gargamel says.

He turns on her. There is no air around her. Her words are swallowed up in the void and her eyes hurt and she cannot breathe.

“You were my favorite,” Montechristien says.

Then there is air again.

“I didn’t fail,” Sophie says, her voice as tight as an overwound spring.

“Get out,” Montechristien says.

“I didn’t—”

“Get out!”

And she realizes that she will leave the room or she will be cast from it.

So she backs away, her face as stiff as stone. She says, “I will come back later, when you have recovered your composure.”

Then she closes the door and runs in swiftness down the stairs.

The old man goes to his bed. He sits down. He lets himself cry.

“Don’t lie to me,” he says to the air.

And as he thinks of what she has endured, he adds, “I never thought it was your fault.

An Unclean Legacy


“Violet’s Sin”

Some time has passed; and four of seven children are dying.

Tomas makes protests to Violet. He seeks to stall her. But she is not stalled. She has picked up the scent of blood and death in the air and Violet follows it at a run.

It is not Elisabet she finds.

Violet bursts into the room at the base of Gargamel’s tower; and what she sees there tears a scream from her throat.

Francescu flicks his eyes towards Violet.

Painedly, he says, “Please excuse us.”

Tomas comes. He stands in the doorway. He stares.

Manfred is slumped on the floor, bleeding out his life. His spear has pinned Sophie to Francescu, and both seem dearly hurt.

Violet, after a moment of frantic thought, steps forward. She pulls on the spear Cursebreaker; but it does not move. The outer layer of skin upon Violet’s hands comes off.

“Manfred,” Violet says.

She kneels down by him.

It is hard for her to think because this is an agony room: though Manfred, Sophie, and Francescu are stern folk, still there burst from them at time to time whimpers and sounds in an erratic symphony that no ears should ever have to hear.

“Manfred,” she says, holding herself from fainting by sheer will, “you must pull it out.”

And Manfred gives her a kind of weary, dizzy grin, and he mouths, “No.”

“I will make Francescu heal you,” Violet says, causing Francescu’s mouth to narrow before a spasm of pain distracts him. “But pull it free.”

“No.”

“Don’t you understand?” Violet says. “Don’t any of you fucking understand? You are so dedicated to how important it is to love or hate or kill or save one another and in my entire life I have never seen any of you be right even once about who the rest of us are.”

Manfred peers at her blearily, as if her words are the bleating of a goat. He makes a wretched gargling sound.

Tomas says, “It is enough, Violet. Let them die.”

And Violet turns on him, and she says, “I love them.”

And the words are raw in the air.

Christine is standing in the doorway behind Tomas. She says, softly, “The Devil is coming. There is a great fire to the west. Where is Elisabet?”

“Elisabet?”

Christine is not looking into the room. She is not processing what she sees there at all. Her eyes and ears are closed to it. Her face is pale and her voice is soft.

“If these are dead, then who else can defend us?” Christine asks.

Manfred is slowly rising to his hands and feet. Violet casts him a startled glance.

“Manfred,” she says, “you have cut arteries. You can’t fight the Devil.”

Manfred hits the ground with one fist. The stone floor cracks. There is a faint white light rising from below. Violet startles back.

Manfred sways to his feet.

Manfred seizes the spear in his two hands. With a growl and a gurgle, he wrenches it out. Then he falls half-dead to the floor.

Sophie staggers. She goes down on hands and knees. She coughs up black ichor mixed with little veins of red and blue and gold.

She is gaunt.

Francescu looks distant and calm again, though his wound is unhealed. The lines of pain on his face are gone.

“Not Elisabet,” Sophie mutters.

Manfred nods.

“She can’t know,” Sophie says.

Violet is staring fiercely at Francescu. After a moment, Francescu growls irritably and makes a gesture and Manfred’s throat is whole.

Then Violet sits by Sophie and gently she strokes Sophie’s hair and she says, “I’m sorry.”

And Sophie does not know that Violet is apologizing for her sin; for her secret; for the fact that still after all these years Montechristien does not know that it is Violet who betrayed him.

So she leans into Violet and she cries and she says, “They abandoned me.”

And Violet holds her; and Sophie is, for the smallest moment, weak; and Manfred stares at them like a man would stare at a great black blotch appearing, unexpectedly, upon the sun.

An Unclean Legacy concludes tomorrow.

An Unclean Legacy: “Red”

Montechristien is dying.

In the halls of Castle Gargamel Violet and Tomas meet. Tomas is whistling tunelessly as he walks. He’s happy. But the happiness fades from his face when he sees Violet down the hall.

“Tomas,” Violet says.

“Violet.”

“Have you seen father?”

“In passing,” Tomas says. “He looked me over. He hugged me. It was disturbing and it made my skin crawl. Then I shivered, like this.”

Tomas shivers.

Violet laughs a little. “He is strange,” she concedes.

“I did not want to come back,” Tomas says. “But I am glad that I could see him again.”

“Are we so bad, then?”

“You saved me, Violet,” Tomas says. “You went out there when I would have broken and been damned. You fought for all of us. So I will not despise you. But I will still tell you that this is a house of sin and that father raised us for the Pit. He’s taught black sorceries—”

“And white,” Violet says.

Tomas looks pained. “You say that,” he says. “But there is no good sorcery. For listen: it is possible to use magic to heal, to nourish, to lead people to virtue, but simply to practice sorcery is to open oneself up to the insinuations of the beast.”

“Why?”

“Because it is a temptation,” Tomas says, “for any sorcerer, to start thinking of the Lord as one power among many—one purpose among many, each equivalent. You come intimately to know the desires of the fallen and the elder races, the spirits, the animals, and even the angels, who are inadequate in themselves, like men, to express truly the spirit of the Lord. And you say, ‘These things are not so bad. They are not enemies. They are simply other.’

“The day I quit our family’s ways,” Tomas says, “I summoned up an agapic lepidote; and she hung in the air and she was beautiful and around her rose the fragrance of every thing that is good; and she said, ‘Tomas, you are not whole.’ And she reached for me to fix that flaw, and if I had allowed it then, I would have forgotten Heaven.”

“I see,” Violet says.

She studies Tomas. He grows uncomfortable.

“How many bones are in a finger, anyway?” Tomas asks.

“Two,” Violet says. “In a stub.”

“And is the other one still whole?”

Violet frowns at him uneasily. There is distrust in her, but it is not on behalf of Francescu’s life. “You’re not talking like yourself,” she says.

“There is an inheritance to resolve,” Tomas says. “It is much on my mind—”

Violet’s face drains of blood.

Tomas,” she cries with sudden dread, “what have you done?

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-fifth installment of the story of that time.

It is, perhaps, ten years before Montechristien’s death.

Sophie is fighting the Devil.

She has seen the color of his power, and the color of his power is red. She has answered it in a fashion unique in the history of the world: she has manifested in herself that red power and used it against him. She has flung the Devil backwards through seven trees and deep into a hill; but the Devil is smiling, smiling still.

The red roars in her soul.

“I understand you,” Sophie says.

And she does.

The Devil drags himself to his feet. He walks over to her—one of his legs is broken, but he doesn’t seem to mind—and he squats down, with one fist under his chin. He says, “Oh?”

“A man suffers damnation,” Sophie says. “He says, ‘I am in eternal torment.’ But that is simply that man. What matters the perspective of a man? In the severance of humanity from happiness there is a beauty in the world.”

The Devil smiles.

“Children die,” Sophie says. Her eyes are white with horror. “They die in droves. And they say, ‘I did not want to die at this juncture.’ But what matters the perspective of a child? The world hungers for the deaths of children or it would not mount them up so readily.”

“That’s so,” the Devil agrees.

“We do not tell stories of paradise,” Sophie says.

“No.”

“Everywhere there is horrible suffering but a world without that suffering is the world of paintings, the world of grass, the world of those who cannot look up and bear witness to the truth.”

“Yes,” the Devil says. “And that is why Montechristien Gargamel must die.”

An Unclean Legacy


“Red”

Sophie peers at him. The red is a thunder in her ears. It is tinting the world she sees.

“When humans strive against God,” the Devil says, “and God strikes them down, it is the most perfect of all symmetries. But there, you see, there, still, Montechristien stands.”

Sophie looks around. She has loved the trees, but she does not love them now; they are hideous in the peace of them. There is a robin nesting in the branches thirty trees away. It’s horrible in the mindless service of its life. And all around in the forest and the lands beyond the forest are sleeping children who day by day forsake their grace; and adults pointlessly alive; and kings and bishops who callous, jest at scars.

And it is with a peculiarly sickening sensation that she realizes that nowhere in the world she sees is any sense of higher meaning, or of love; that she is staring on a world of not-yet corpses jerked about by the transient pulse of life; that there is no power to lift her up from utter despair save the Devil’s choice of prizing one’s own damnation.

“I hate him too,” she says meekly.

She does.

It is insane to her that with his soul in Hell Montechristien should still stagger through the castle halls and make the motions of life; that he should snore and wear his nightcap and try, however grumpily and falteringly, to raise the children of his blood. It is laughable and hateful because there is no hope for him. It is as appalling as children laughing and puppies barking on a field covered in wartime dead; as appalling as men and women, forced to cannibalism to survive, who sip their comrade soup and jest about its flavor; as horrid as everyone in the long years of the world who has stretched and smiled at the morning while the diseased cough up their blood in agony and the monsters rape children and the victims gasp for breath in the torture chambers of the rich.

Sophie can taste the hate. She can taste the red hate in her mouth for the damned and still walking Montechristien Gargamel.

“Good,” says the Devil. “Then our business is done.”

He turns away from her, and she sees the shadow of his back, and she thinks: how sad.

But somewhere Christine is smirking.

Somewhere—

If my sister knew what I had become, she would laugh with joy.

And that is not acceptable.

So Sophie lifts her chin. She stares out at the horrid meaningless world. She shoulders the crippling emptiness. And through the weave of red that clouds her sight, she says, “Don’t turn your back on me.”

She’s drawing a dead gold power into her now. It’s the only thing comparable to the red realm that she knows.

The Devil turns.

There are patterns of red and gold twining across Sophie now. The red is living, though full of hate. The gold is dead metal power.

It is the death of the blue essentials that moves in her now. It is the unforgivable crime of Montechristien Gargamel. It is, as the history of Montechristien Gargamel has shown, the stuff of miracles.

“Oh,” says the Devil.

Sophie’s claw tears through his chest and out the other side. There is a terrible gush of red.

The Devil reels.

“This isn’t smurfy,” the Devil says, at a loss for curses more fitting. “This isn’t smurfy at all.”

And Sophie wrenches out her hand, and steps forward to rend him further, and he steps back. First they take one step, then another, then he is turning and running, and she is loping after him. And as they run she is dying, because as she sheds the red power in her she replaces it with gold.

The Devil howls and raises fire and he is gone. The world is empty of him.

Sophie stumbles to a stop.

Then she falls stiff and painfully to the ground.

And that is where she would have died, and given up the world without regret, save that the Devil had made her a bargain; and the red in her twisted, and, so that she might live, showed her under the pattern of gold a single strand of blue.

It is power and life enough to save her.

Ten years later, Sophie stands in the tower of Montechristien Gargamel, pierced through by Manfred’s spear.

Four of seven children stand at risk of death, and Montechristien himself is dying. Driven away once by sorcery, once by bargain, and once by grit, the Devil comes again to Castle Gargamel. Who will live? Who will die? And how will the family Gargamel dispose of their unclean legacy?

Tune in tomorrow.

An Unclean Legacy: “Despair”

In the deepness of the night, Francescu opens a window in the air to look in on Manfred who is his brother.

Manfred is sitting, thinking, in the middle of the void.

The darkness of the onyx realm wherein Manfred dwells threatens to spill out in every direction and fill Francescu’s house.

Francescu frowns.

“I know that place,” Francescu says. “Don’t I?”

“It is the without-purpose,” says Francescu’s demon. “The sans-significance. It is the darkness that hangs around you always. It is the despair that is given unto men, to drown in the emptiness of things that have no meaning. It is the damnation that you have chosen for yourself, Francescu. It is the wet dark tendrils that crowd about your mind.”

“Oh? Is that so?” Francescu asks mildly.

Francescu’s demon sighs.

Francescu stares into the image. “What is he doing there?”

“Becoming one with it,” Francescu’s demon says.

There is a flare of terror in Francescu’s mind. The color of his fear is black and purple and he remembers the night when Manfred betrayed him and let Violet go to the shadow alone. He remembers the power and the victory in the Devil’s voice as it claimed her. Francescu finds it hard to breathe.

“His blood will turn black,” says Francescu’s demon clinically. “His eyes will darken. His skin will grow paler, and damp. He is strong, so he will return to the world, but he will not be human any longer. He will be an elder thing, corrupted eternally from his nature.”

“No,” Francescu says.

He is dizzy.

“You could save him,” says Francescu’s demon.

The angel looks speculatively across Francescu’s shoulders. Then, after a moment, it nods. “You could.”

Francescu licks his lips.

“I can’t,” he says.

“Why not?”

“It’s what he’s always been,” Francescu says. “He was not born to be my knight. He was born to be despair.”

But Francescu is not altogether weak. He carves into the air a spell to clarify his thoughts: *&2->^^

His mind calms. He struggles his way through fear towards reason.

“Francescu,” murmurs his angel, softly.

Francescu sketches an @ under those symbols and stares through it at Manfred.

“You’re right,” he says. “Of course. I should save him. I should try—”

Through his magic Francescu sees that there is nothing around Manfred but the creature of the void. And he sees more: that sluggish and cold black blood is drifting through Manfred’s veins, mixed with the natural blue; that Manfred’s eyes are darker than they were; that Manfred’s mind has ceased its turmoil and found a cold and terrible peace.

“Oh, God,” says Francescu.

He banishes the window. He hides his face against his hands.

“It is too late.”

And slowly his heart calms, and his mind grows easy, and there is the breath of the void on Francescu’s soul.

He closes his eyes.

In the cold wet darkness of his mind he knows the peace of nothing mattering at all.

This is how Manfred breaks his chains, in the place beyond the world, and learns to kill.

This is how, in ignorance and fear, Francescu decides that Manfred must be slain; how, in ignorance and rage, Manfred conceives the desire for Sophie’s death.

These are the stories of “Despair,” the twenty-fourth installment of An Unclean Legacy. They begin here, but here is not their ending. They will end in Castle Gargamel, when Sophie, Francescu, and Manfred meet; in blood and pain, at the base of Montechristien’s tower, beneath the threshing machine and the hundred gold eidolons of Montechristien Gargamel.

Manfred sits in the center of his island of dirt. He does not look at its edges, which are slowly falling away into the void.

He is calm. He is meditative. He is thinking.

“I’m not very good at thinking my way out of things,” Manfred admits.

The void is silent.

“It seems to me,” he says, “that I should take responsibility for my sin, even though I am still unsure why you should call Rachel Saraman my sister. But here is my reasoning.”

A cold wind blows.

“In all my life, Santrieste has shown me nothing but loyalty. He has borne me up when I would have fallen into darkness and he has counseled me—against, perhaps, his own best inclinations—towards the good. And it was my own need and desire that blinded me to his counsel in favor of the Devil’s. It is because I was desperate to take shelter in a mortal thing, a fallible person, a woman who was not a chain to my morality, that I listened to Sophie’s lies and Rachel’s blandishments. I have complained all my life that I am bound to my virtue and so cannot truly be good, but when I had the choice between clinging to those chains and burying myself in the filth of the material world, I chose the latter. So I cannot deny that the fault for this is mine.”

And the void laughs.

“Why do you laugh?”

“That Manfred Gargamel would call a Saraman filth.”

But Manfred, who had scarcely known Yseult and never knew Rachel, only squints and shakes his head.

“So here I am,” he says. “Exiled from mortal company. Tested by my God.”

The void is silent.

“I cannot be as you are,” Manfred says. Slowly, he rises to his feet. “I cannot be as she is. I will not let my sin consume me.”

He looks around him.

The air is not air. It is a screen of blankness over the shifting of endless tendrils of the creature’s flesh. The sand is not sand: it is the grit in the onyx creature’s maw. The seething purple aurora and the points of light above like stars are nothing more than striations in the living void.

It is in him. He is breathing it. He is respiring it through his pores, and suspiring from him is Manfred. He is one with it, the tendrils of its nerves in amongst his nerves, the onyx blood of the void mixing with his blood.

Slowly, he knows, if he remains, he will grow quiet and still and the nature that was Manfred’s will cease.

An Unclean Legacy


“Despair”

“What were you?” Manfred asks. “Before?”

The void speaks its name. And Manfred bows his head, humbled by that word.

“I’m sorry,” Manfred says.

Then along the nerves of the onyx void, entangled with his nerves, runs Manfred’s will. Then through the flesh and blood of the void, mixing with Manfred’s flesh and blood, runs Manfred’s strength.

With the body of the void Manfred seizes the void.

With the great ropey tendrils of the void Manfred grasps the creature that surrounds him. He seizes its eyes, its throats, its heart.

“Since I was young,” says Manfred, as he drags the void down into the void, twists the void about the void, throttles the void with its own substance, “people have feared my strength. But I have never used more than the tenth part of it, because my flesh is too frail and would tear.”

The void seizes him about the chest. It crushes him as he is crushing it. Manfred coughs out red-black blood and for a moment his eyes go lifeless, but then he recovers and shoves the void away.

“I will kill you here, son of Heaven,” Manfred says.

His oath burns on his arms. Manfred slides the slick onyx tendrils of the void under his brassards, his oath, his chains, and he rips them all away. There is an explosion, golden and white, that sears him and the void. All around him it is white and hot for a moment before wet chill returns. The great eye of the void below him is burnt; it is red and black and crisp and screaming.

Manfred crushes the void down to thinness and to hardness.

He can feel himself refracted, present in a hundred places simultaneously, as the world around the world bends down. The tension is too much for anything to bear, and Manfred screams.

Then it is gone.

The void surrenders, with one long echoing exhalation.

There is no void. There is no onyx realm. There is only Manfred.

So he climbs from an ichorous well into the world, naked and coughing out black gunk, with a bent and crooked black stick in his right hand; and the tip of it is iron.

His arms hurt. They ache with fire. They are surrounded by the burning red absence of his oath.

He rubs them with the substance of the onyx realm. It cakes and hardens and turns scarlet, and slowly his arms grow cool.

Overhead, the sun is bright. The leaves of the trees wave gently in the wind. The world is beautiful.

“Come,” he says, and from the well rises his steed.

Manfred looks down at his hands, his arms, his body, at the monster of absence and despair that he holds in his right hand. Almost, he begins to sob.

But he does not, because first he must kill his half-sister Rachel Saraman and take a bath, which things he does.

But what of Sophie, who strove alone against the Devil and his plans?

Tomorrow, a special Unclean Legacy: “Red.”

An Unclean Legacy: “Francescu’s Angel”

Sophie has left Francescu’s house—gone out to face the Devil on her own.

Christine has gone to bed.

And Francescu sits in his favorite chair, sipping a glass of wine, with his angel and his demon on their perches to his sides.

“Will Sophie be all right?” he asks.

Francescu’s angel looks skyward. It thinks. “As long as Christine remains a God-fearing woman,” it says, “Sophie can’t properly be damned. I suppose that she could suffer horrible tortures or some sort of infernal perversion of her will, but material pains are transitory.”

“She’ll lose,” says Francescu’s demon. “She’ll probably turn into some kind of diabolical avatar and eat all the rest of your siblings. That can happen, you know.”

“Oh? Is that how it is?” Francescu asks.

Francescu’s demon shrugs.

“I remember thinking that people could stand up to the darkness,” says Francescu.

He swirls his wine around. He takes another sip.

“I liked thinking that.”

Francescu’s angel looks uncomfortable. “In the grace of the Lord,” it says, “all things are possible.”

“Yes,” Francescu says softly.

“But grace conditions on humility,” the angel says. “This is not something I have found your family to possess in great measure. Only Tomas yields himself to the light, and—”

“And with the fullest arrogance of his humility,” Francescu summarizes.

“Yes,” the angel says.

“I wanted Manfred to save her,” Francescu says.

“What, back then?”

“Francescu,” the demon interrupts, “I don’t think Violet needed saving.”

“I know he has his own angel,” Francescu says. “I wanted him to listen to it. To go out. To fight the Devil instead of letting it destroy her.”

“Had,” says Francescu’s angel.

“Hm?”

“He had his own angel,” Francescu’s angel says. “Broken from my nest. But his is dead.”

“I didn’t know that could happen,” Francescu says.

“Enh,” shrugs Francescu’s angel.

And before Francescu’s angel can react, Francescu has swept it from its perch and is clutching it tightly and possessively to his chest.

It kicks its legs.

It flutters its wings.

It splutters in indignation.

“Hee hee,” says Francescu’s demon, calling attention to itself, which turns out to be a mistake.

“Don’t leave me,” Francescu says.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-third installment of the story of that time.

Manfred is sprawled on a patch of gritty dirt. Above him there are twining purple auroras and scattered stars.

Everywhere around him there is darkness.

He says, “Where am I?”

And his voice echoes back to him: “Where am I? Where am I? Where is the Manfred who slept with his sister and gave himself over to the dark?”

Manfred frowns.

The echo is not entirely exact.

He pushes himself up onto his hands and knees, and then struggles to his feet.

“Santrieste?” he asks.

But the unicorn has abandoned him.

“Santrieste?” he screams.

And the echo comes back: “Santrieste? Santrieste? He gave you his freedom and you spat on the gift.”

“She wasn’t my sister,” Manfred mutters.

He looks around. He walks to the edge of the dirt on which he found himself. It is finite in its extent; at the edges of it, it crumbles away into an infinite dark well below.

Manfred frowns.

In the darkness, far below him, an eye opens. It is larger than Manfred. He cannot judge the distance to it; perhaps it is larger than Castle Gargamel. Its iris is black and the rims of its eyes drip with purple-black ichor.

There is a wet touch upon his back; but when Manfred turns, there is nothing behind him. He rubs at his back; his hand comes back coated with onyx-colored slime.

An Unclean Legacy


“Francescu’s Angel”

“Tell me,” Manfred says, “where I am.”

And all around him he can see that the air is not air but the moving and shifting of dark tendrils and the entire place is one great living thing.

“You have been given a forlorn and dolorous fate,” his own voice echoes back. “You have been cast from the world into the onyx realm. Your voice is loud but it will fall silent. Your movements are vigorous but they will grow still. You will cease to exist in the human fashion, though perhaps a thing named Manfred will rise again from this void.”

“Why?”

His voice echoes back: “Why? Why?”

Manfred sinks down. He strikes the dirt with his fist. “Why would she do this to me?”

And there is silence for a time. Something brushes his cheek, cold and wet; he does not react. Then there is a warmer wetness on both of his cheeks and his nose is stuffed up and his voice is hoarse.

“Why did she betray me?”

Softly, the void answers, “It is not her curse but your sin that brings you here, Manfred.”

The sky above him tears open. There is another eye staring down.

“I thought that I knew better than God,” whispers the onyx void around him. “So I carved open the ichorous wells into the world and sent the elder races forth. And they demonstrated the purpose that I gave to them—their quiet, cold, and simple love for their own nature and their own beauty. But they did vile things with the freedom and the power that I gave them, and now they are forgotten of the Lord; and in this, you and they are alike.”

Manfred looks frantically from one shoulder to the other; but his devil is silent, coated by glistening slime, and his angel is gone.

“When your blood is black,” says the void, “and you are cold and quiet and slow, then you will be free, as they are, and you will not know what you have lost.”

“What will I have lost?”

There is a shrugging in the void.

“I do not know myself,” the echo comes. “Perhaps there is nothing. Perhaps the Lord has lied to me and I am greater than an angel and the elder races are more glorious than man.”

“I won’t give in,” Manfred says.

He clutches at his shoulder and his brassards rattle on his arms and he can feel nothing where once he felt Santrieste.

The dirt is slowly falling from the island on which he stands.

“I’ll be good,” Manfred pleads, empty and abandoned in his onyx void.

And silence.

What blood runs now in Manfred’s veins?

Will Francescu ever trust in knights again?

There’s not that much left of An Unclean Legacy—so tune in tomorrow for the shocking story of Cursebreaker: “Despair!”

An Unclean Legacy: “Grinding Samael”

Once upon a time, the Devil came to Castle Gargamel and Violet walked out to meet him in the halls.

“Hello,” she said.

She was 11 years old. She was wearing striped pajamas, slippers, and a nightcap.

Dead old Baltasar turned to look at her. The shadow moved in him. He hissed at her.

“You’re keeping the children awake,” Violet said. “You’re scaring everybody. What do you want?”

Suddenly he was upon her. The grave-stench of him was in her face. He was pushing her back against the wall. And he said: Montechristien.

But Violet was not frightened.

“He can’t even hear you,” she said. “He’s still asleep in his rooms, and when you loom in the halls shrieking your terrors, he snores, like this: honk, kzhhh!”

You will give him to me.

“Or?”

I will take you instead. I will carry you off to the furthest corners of the world and there visit terrors and indignities upon you.

And Violet sagged in relief and laughed, a bright clear laugh.

Dead old Baltasar loomed in. He hissed softly and the smell of him was horrid.

“No,” Violet said smugly. “You won’t.”

Baltasar’s black eyes narrowed. Then, suddenly, he withdrew. He turned away. He stared down the hall.

It does not matter, he said. I will enter his rooms. I will pluck him up. I will destroy him. Then you will have no father and the children will tear their hair and pluck out their own eyes in sorrow.

“If you could do that,” said Violet, “then you would have.”

It turned.

Then I will eat Francescu, it said, and be satisfied thereby.

Violet stepped into its path, and then winced, visibly, because now it knew what she feared.

Dead old Baltasar reached out with his shadow arms. He lifted her up and held her against the wall. He walked past her towards the children’s rooms.

“Wait,” said Violet.

Wait?

“We’ll make a deal,” Violet said.

Give me Montechristien.

“No,” Violet said flatly.

There was a moment’s silence.

“Give me fifty years,” Violet said.

No.

They stood there, still, Violet pinned by shadow.

I will give you twenty years, the shadow said, for one of the little gold men.

“Twenty?”

Twenty years, and I will kill none of you in that time.

“I can’t—they’re father’s—”

They are stolen lives. Did you think that they were crafted? They were made from living men.

Violet looked sickened.

I need only one, said the sin of Montechristien Gargamel.

Violet was silent.

Very well.

The shadow dropped her. It moved on.

“Wait!” Violet screamed.

And she cut her thumb and pledged with the shadow, and the shadow left Castle Gargamel for a time.

In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.

He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.

Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.

In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-second installment of the story of that time.

Sometime in her twenty-first year, Violet wakes with a start. There is a dampness and a darkness in her room.

A hand comes down over her mouth.

Its fingers are webbed and pale. She bites at the palm but due to the construction of the human mouth does not succeed.

“My name is Samael Saraman,” says the man in her room. “I have come to pay suit to you and bind our houses together in matrimony. But as I have heard that you grind up your suitors into a fine mist and expel them over Castle Gargamel, I do not wish to pay you court by conventional means.”

His fingers press against her neck. They form a magical seal. Violet finds herself unable to move.

Samael scoops her up. He walks to her window. He whistles.

There is a creature below. It is like a horse. It is like a serpent. It eddies its way up the wall and out Samael steps onto its arching neck.

“We will be wed by morning,” Samael says.

An Unclean Legacy


“Grinding Samael”

The beast descends the wall and Samael takes her away to the ruined cathedral by the Castle. There are squamous guards beside the door. There is a priest rousted from his bed by cold white fingers in the night.

Samael’s hand touches Violet’s neck. She is free to move.

“You are in error,” Violet says.

In Castle Gargamel there is a great threshing machine. It is in an isolated chamber and the blades spin lightly this way and that even when it is unpowered.

“Begin,” says Samael to the priest.

Above the threshing machine the Castle is open to the sky. Below it, there is a hole in the Castle’s stone floor.

“It’s a really bad error,” Violet says.

The priest looks uncomfortably between them. “I don’t—I don’t know—”

“It’s all right,” Violet says to the priest. She smiles.

Samael looks sideways at her.

“It is necessary,” Samael says.

So the priest begins to recite from the wedding ceremony. He stumbles his way through; until the guards bring Violet a ring of nickel and iron.

“Alas,” says Violet, as Samael puts the ring onto her finger.

In Castle Gargamel, the threshing machine spins to life. Pedals in a nearby room begin to pump, without feet on them. Levers lower themselves. The blades turn faster and faster.

“Alas?”

“I can’t get married,” Violet says. “I can’t get swept away. I have to take very special precautions if I even want to have sex.”

Samael looks oddly at her.

“Pronounce us man and wife,” he says, to the priest.

The priest says: “I—”

There are long creeping tendrils of eldritch power on the ground. They seize Samael’s legs. He looks down. He looks up.

The tendrils pull.

Samael is whisked away. He is dragged, and his hands come down nail to the ground to fight it, into Castle Gargamel. He thumps past the great barking dog and under the eyes of the watching statues. He passes Montechristien Gargamel, staggering through the Castle in his nightcap to find a midnight snack. Montechristien stares at him.

Samael is of the cold folk, and he does not scream.

The threshing machine reaches its fastest pitch as he enters that room. Samael is flung up among its spinning blades. They cut him into a fine black mist.

A series of great levers yank themselves downwards. There is a puff of wind from the hole in the floor below the threshing machine. The mist that is Samael flies up and out and hangs over Castle Gargamel in great clouds. He disperses; and the crops and livestock fare poorly that year in the lands around.

“Mom always told me,” Violet says, “that someday I’d find a man who would sweep me away. But back then, these horrible brats were always coming to the castle to woo me or Francescu, and . . . well, when my tenth birthday came around, I really hated boys.”

Does the autothreshing of suitors really count as a birthday present?

Who got the better deal: the shadow or Violet?

Tune in on Monday for the next exciting installment of An Unclean Legacy: “Francescu’s Angel!”

An Unclean Legacy: “The Duel”

Once upon a time, the last of the blue essentials returned to the mushroom village and found Gargamel there.

“La, la, la la la—oh,” said the essential uncomfortably.

Gargamel unlimbered his great tall legs and stood.

“Your name is Vanity,” said Gargamel.

“Yes.”

“You are the last,” said Gargamel.

These words struck Vanity like a blow. He stared up at Gargamel blankly.

Gargamel strode forward and his footsteps were like the beating wings of the apocalypse. In his hand was a butterfly net. His eyes were hard.

“Wait,” said Vanity.

“Hm?”

“I don’t deserve to die,” Vanity said.

“You are not alive,” said Gargamel. “You are an alchemical matrix crafted to contain the energy of the blue realm. Where is your soul, Vanity? Where is your humanity? Whence comes the deservingness of life in the mockery that you are?”

“I don’t have those things,” Vanity said.

And he looked down.

“But there is a purpose for my life,” Vanity said. “The deep and surging purpose of the blue. That is why I have admired myself, though I am small and unremarked upon. That is why I claim to virtue.”

He stared into his hand mirror.

“Isn’t that what a soul is?” he asked. “A purpose? A meaning? A reason to exist? Don’t I have these things as much as you?”

Gargamel considered this.

“It is said,” he said, “in A Field Guide to the Blue Essentials, that the blue realm possesses the character of intentionality; and that you creatures are the knifepoint of that purpose’s expression. But tell me, Vanity, why should I value that intention more than I value my own?”

“Because it’s blue,” Vanity stressed. “Blue intentions are more important than just any old intentions.”

“No,” said Montechristien Gargamel, and the net came down.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the twenty-first installment of the story of that time.

Sophie stares thoughtfully at the Devil.

“I’m glad that I can be what you want,” she says. It’s an honest statement. “But I don’t think I will. Because it seems unlikely to be a desirable outcome for me.”

The horned man considers. He rubs his chin.

“I’d never really thought about whether it was a desirable outcome for you,” he says.

He pulls his shapeless white hat down low over the tops of his eyes. He rocks back and forth. He is clearly thinking very hard. There’s even a little bit of smoke.

“I think you would be happier,” he concludes.

“What?”

“I think you would be happier,” the Devil says, “if you lose this struggle, and help me damn the world, than if you win, and go on like you are.”

“Oh,” Sophie says.

She thinks about that.

“Well, I still can’t,” she says. “I mean, you’re the Devil. It’d be bad.”

“Yes,” the Devil agrees solemnly. “It would be a sin.”

He’s mocking her, because Sophie is, of course, incapable of personal sin and grace. This is why the best reply Sophie can think of is “Grarh!” and standing up with her sword in her hand.

“Oh, come on,” the horned man says. “I’m not the one who didn’t give you your own soul at birth. That wasn’t even God. That was just physics.”

“But I’m still supposed to be good!” Sophie protests.

“No,” says the horned man.

“No?”

“What you’re supposed to do,” says the Devil, “as an individual without a soul, is to define your own purpose for yourself, instead of staggering around in a metaphysical system that doesn’t care about you. What you’re supposed to do is take advantage of the fact that you’re not being judged by the standards of God’s kingdom. And if you’re desperate to adhere to His plans and purposes, you should assume that He has good reason for making that exemption—that if you’re not being judged by the same standard, that that is quite possibly intentional. And what I insist is that in this situation you choose my purpose, and remake yourself as an incarnate thereof, allowing me to dispose of this troublesome struggle and free up the energy I spend pursuing you so that I may focus it instead on killing Montechristien Gargamel and subverting the court of Prester John.”

The Devil is standing now. He is facing her. He is intent.

“Oh,” Sophie says.

She’s a bit dizzied by this, having never thought about her life or her position along anything even a cousin to these lines.

“So,” the red thing says, “we’re going to duel. And if you manage to win, I’ll give you some of my power and leave you alone until Montechristien’s dead. And if I win, I’ll remake you as I like and you’ll stop struggling to stay the Sophie that you’ve been. That’s the deal.”

Sophie stares at him for a moment, thinking.

“All right,” she says.

And they are in motion.

An Unclean Legacy


“The Duel”

It is by unspoken agreement that they shelter their power as they begin.

The Devil is in the form of a red youth eighteen apples tall, with a shapeless white hat and white bootied trousers. Sophie is in her human shape, save for the sword of bone growing as an extension from her hand.

She strikes at him. He blocks it with his palm. There is the flare of a spirit mandala as the sword touches him, parallel to his palm; the blade stops as if it were hitting stone. He spins inwards and elbows her stomach. A similar mandala forms; she absorbs the force of the blow by taking for an instant the shape of a jelly, but only by that measure does she keep her innards from rupturing. She pulls the sword inwards to cut his throat. He seizes her arm and applies a constellation of forces. She avoids having her bones splinter in his hands but finds herself off balance and flung through the air to land rolling on the road. She does not bother to roll to her feet; she simply changes herself so that she is standing, one leg extended back.

“That throw was a ninja technique,” Sophie accuses.

The Devil stares at her for a moment. Then he shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Just—just, no.”

Sophie lunges. The explosion of power that goes into her lunge is driven by the strength of a kangaroo’s legs, a falcon’s wings, the long muscles of a dragon’s back, and the terrible force of the bounding bear’s jumpsprings. She is long and lean and the arm that drives forward the sword is the arm of the stone-born giants that walked the earth of old.

With his forearm he blocks it, bringing his arm before his body, twisting it to catch the blade. It is absurd that the blade skitters from this block, that Sophie finds herself off-balance and falling, that the horned man is coming down towards her, falling onto one knee with his red right hand extended to catch and crush her throat. It is absurd and maddening that flesh could block her so.

But Sophie does not despair, for now she knows the source of that ungodly strength.

In the spirit flare that blocked her when her sword touched his arm she saw it: a line of red power leading to some other realm.

And as she skids to a halt she is a wolverine, a grendel, a hungry lizard-thing, and she is a red essential with immortal power in her veins and a strength to match his own.

As her claw touches his chest her spirit flares red and he is flung through seven trees and deep into a hill. His lung is cut and he is bleeding black half-clotted blood from the score marks of her nails.

He is smiling.

“It is possible,” says Sophie, as the red realm fills her, “that that was a mistake.”

That’s not good, is it? But we won’t have the final part of Sophie’s backstory for a little bit longer.

Instead, it’s time for a heartwarming tale of romance and machinery in an Unclean Legacy special: “Grinding Samael!”

An Unclean Legacy: “Sophie and the Devil”

That night as the questing shadow comes Sophie does not run.

She stands there and the moonlight is behind her so she shines.

There is a sword of bone in her hand.

So dead old Baltasar stops and he stares at her through his ruined eyes. She does not move.

Slowly, taut with the pain of moving his broken body, he steps forward.

“Tonight,” says Sophie, in a clear and ringing voice, “I will destroy you. Or I will make you my slave. Or I will force you to leave me alone for all of the days of the world. Or, should I be vindictive, should I be angry for these past seven years, I will strip you of your throne as King of Hell and assign it instead to some lesser evil, such as a malevolent frog or Francescu’s shoulder demon. Then you will have to bow and simper and cower to it for all the days of your existence.”

There is a pause.

“And should I fail,” Sophie adds, in a concession to realism, “then I will try again tomorrow night, and the night after, and each night that follows until I succeed, and I will make you suffer more strongly for each night I have suffered before then. You have tested me and I have not broken. You may hunt me again each night between now and forever and it will only give me another chance to win.”

There is moonlight in her hair.

You are mine, and you will be mine, says the shadow.

But the shadow is hesitating, and it is more than just the ruination of the corpse.

Sophie lowers her sword. She points it at the shadow.

“Do we begin?”

And . . .

Once upon a time there was a seraph who had a different vision for the world than God’s.

He rejected the drive that would lead the world to grace. And God said to him, “Then I shall cast you from Heaven into the blue realm, whence you may strive against me to bring harmony and fellowship into the world even when it opposes the fabric of the greater design.”

“No,” said that seraph.

“Is it the purple realm, then, that calls you? Are you to be a servant of the life?”

“I am indifferent to life,” said that seraph.

“Then you may choose the onyx realm, though it sorrows me, the realm of Saraman and Santrieste; the realm that dreams of silence and the dark.”

“There is a realm of burning red,” that seraph said.

And God hardened his heart against that seraph and cast him down into the fire of the pit; and everlasting damnation decreed against him; and shattered in him forever the understanding of God’s grace.

Now that fallen creature seeks to turn men and women from the path of righteousness. Now he seeks the damnation of the world. As the serpent he broke the Garden of Eden. As the reveler in white he brought the flood. As the red giant he fought with Montechristien Gargamel. As old dead Baltasar he hunted Sophie down the road.

He will not rest while grace exists within this world. He is the architect of sin.

The shadow forces words from dead Baltasar’s lungs. “We will not start yet.”

Suddenly there is a chill in Sophie. Every sense is telling her that behind her there are eyes. Her hackles rise. She casts about with her mind, but there is no physical location sourcing this unease; it is “behind” her in the realm of spirit. The attention grows more strict; more fierce; more painful. There is a flare of red and black in her mind.

Her legs go nerveless and she sits.

The thing in dead old Baltasar sits down opposite her. It writhes inside the corpse. Then it abandons it. The corpse dissolves. Body parts black and blue and rotten fall to every side. Shadow dissipates.

Sophie glimpses a portal to another realm in the Devil’s shapelessness. It is a horror too great for her mind to comprehend. She squints, trying to filter it down to pieces she can grasp, but by that time it is too late. The enemy has chosen its new form.

It has become a lean and elfin man, four feet tall. He has horns. They are simple, curved, and short.

He is shirtless, though trousers hide his shame.

He is red, red, red, and his shapeless cap is white.

“I do not wish to engage you on those terms,” says the horned man.

Sophie forces out these words: “It is beyond your power to change.”

“I am a coward,” says the horned man casually. “It is because I have so much to lose. So we will converse, you and I, and find another way to settle our affair.”

“This is not a conversation,” Sophie points out, struggling even to speak.

“Ah.”

The sense of a predator’s gaze vanishes away. Feeling returns to Sophie’s limbs. She curls in on herself, gasping in breath, shivering, recovering, restoring order to her mind.

“It is not my specific intention to hurt you, though I am perfectly willing to see you in agony,” the horned man says. “You do not find my attentions enjoyable because change is distressing, and I must change you.”

Sophie half-looks up, squinting. “Why?”

An Unclean Legacy


“Sophie and the Devil”

The horned man tilts his head to the side. “Will I gain points with you, Sophie, for answering that question?”

“If the answer doesn’t suck.”

“I disagree with God as to the proper purpose for this world,” the horned man says. He stands up. Sophie notices for the first time that his trousers include pointed booties for his feet, and it is only because she is exhausted and terrified and wounded that she is successful in smothering her laughter. “He directs it like a symphony towards a kingdom of eternal grace. But I find it more interesting to develop its potential for drama and tragedy.”

Sophie is staring at him.

“What?” the Devil asks, irritably.

“You’re still trying to oppose him?”

The red thing laughs. “I would think you of all people would understand that, Sophie.”

Sophie blushes a little. “Yes,” she says, “I mean, sure, but still?

The red thing frowns, just a little.

“In truth,” he says. “I am winning. It is the nature of humanity to count as my victories their sins and their sorrows, these petty things that win one soul at a time away from God’s eternal kingdom. Then they see sorrow and tragedy in the world and they cry out, ‘Lord, why are you cruel?’

“The former may be my work, but the latter is my pride. When God is cruel, I am victorious. When God makes people suffer. When he tests. When he punishes. When he turns a blind eye to pain. Those are the points of my victory. Those are the compromises that he makes with my red purpose to achieve his eventual kingdom.”

“. . . I am not theologically prepared to debate the problem of pain with you at this time,” Sophie says, a little dazed.

The Devil grins.

“That’s so,” he says. “In truth, you are probably best served by listening to nothing that I say. But if you did not, we could not talk, and then I would continue troubling your life.”

“So what do you want?”

“You can be anything I want,” the red thing says. “That is the gift your father gave you, that he never had reason to explain. It is your most marvelous quality: that you alone in all the world can be anything that anybody wants.”

“Anything?”

“The damnation of the world,” says the Devil. “The destruction of Montechristien. You can be everything that I desire. And yet you prefer to be a bunch of animals at once or a girl with a sword growing out of her hand.”

“Oh.”

“It is vexing,” says the Devil, “and we will resolve the matter tonight.”

Time for theology! Can you minimally adjust Pseudo-Dionysus’ hierarchy of angels to include matrices of blue energy in human shape, three apples high, wearing shapeless white caps?

Can proper Biblical exegesis reveal more about these strange creatures? Are there oblique references in Ezekiel 15 to the doom ‘Handy’ worked on Israel? Did ‘Batty’ save Zipporah and Moses from a giant snake?

Make sure to read the first nineteen installments of this story, and tune in Friday for a special Unclean Legacy: “The Duel!”