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PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2016 11:01 am 
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Location: Thamad-Katel Empire - continent: Ikarist - plane: Thamirelk

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recommended readings


the Deal (word count: about 1700)


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Last edited by Huey Nomure on Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:46 pm, edited 13 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 06, 2016 11:27 pm 
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I very much like the imagery you've laid out here. The plot is nothing special -- a more graphic retelling of Lady Macbeth's ritual -- but that doesn't mean it's bad. I hope to read more about Kertes in the future.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 08, 2016 8:00 pm 
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It's interesting to see such a very :b:-aligned character have something that she's not willing to sacrifice. I also like the inversion of the stereotypical firstborn sacrifice plot. The mentioned homosexual relationship is well-handled: surprising in-universe, but (potentially) legally valid. And that deep breath at the end reminds me of my own when purchasing a house or car.

Without having gone through the recommended readings, I missed the full significance of the harpy's mark and birth at dusk, but at least understood that the latter meant that the child wouldn't inherit anything.

Grammar notes


The really amazing part here is that I somehow don't see Kertes as evil, though I'm pretty sure I would if I had seen these same actions through another character's viewpoint. Amoral and calculating, yes, but not exactly evil. How many lives will she have to sacrifice before the little touches of humanity are completely overwhelmed?


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 09, 2016 6:08 am 
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Thank you both for reading and commenting!

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I hope to read more about Kertes in the future.

And probably you will; the Bad Blood story was about the crepuscular son at first, but judging by the reaction I may treat it as a twin storyline of mother and son.

Brentain wrote:
It's interesting to see such a very :b:-aligned character have something that she's not willing to sacrifice.

As I see it, it's all about the character's ambition, and Kertes wants her noble house to be very powerful and long-lasting; assuming this point of view, the sacrifice of the first and maybe only heir she'll have (leaving something to chance is not something Kertes is very fond of, especially when her... associates are involved) is almost unthinkable.

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The mentioned homosexual relationship is well-handled: surprising in-universe, but (potentially) legally valid.

If Qagab managed to marry Heri-baset it would be very legal. I'll sum up the social dynamics related to gender, marriage and inheritance in the empire:
-Individuals born during the day are "diurnal": dark skin, dark hair, small stature. "Nocturnal" have fair skin, fair hair and a remarkable height. Due to religion, diurnal men and nocturnal women are "aligned": they can inherit noble titles and have a bunch of legal privileges. "Unaligned" individuals (diurnal women, nocturnal men) are second-class citizens. Humans born during dawn or dusk are "crepuscular" and have a mix of nocturnal and diurnal traits (this phenomenon only shows up in human babies), and because of this they are considered to have been shunned by the gods. This means crepusculars can only aspire to be well-treated slaves, since they can't own property and are little more than property themselves. Marrying an unaligned individual from a noble house (like Astekhu) does not grant titles, but loosely ties a commoner's family with a noble one, and that might benefit the aligned spouse's reputation.
-Polygamy is legal, though not very common; Aligned weddings are equal, unaligned weddings aren't recognized by religion (and religion=law in this empire), if an aligned individual takes an unaligned one as spouse the unaligned is basically considered an official concubine. Nobles often have a harem of unaligned spouses and crepuscular sex slaves.

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And that deep breath at the end reminds me of my own when purchasing a house or car.

Well, if a mortgage is involved I don't know whether a demonic pact would be that bad in comparison :D

Quote:
Without having gone through the recommended readings, I missed the full significance of the harpy's mark and birth at dusk, but at least understood that the latter meant that the child wouldn't inherit anything.

Long story short, harpies are one of the five kinds of patrons that guide people and protect them from demonic influences; a patron can mark her favorite and leave a visible symbol on their skin, a bond in which both the patron and the mortal benefit greatly. This part is harder to deduce from the piece, admittedly, but I don't know whether I'm able to sneak the explanation in without going full Exposition Fairy in a 1500 word story.

Grammar notes


Quote:
The really amazing part here is that I somehow don't see Kertes as evil, though I'm pretty sure I would if I had seen these same actions through another character's viewpoint. Amoral and calculating, yes, but not exactly evil. How many lives will she have to sacrifice before the little touches of humanity are completely overwhelmed?

It depends on your definition of "evil" and "humanity"; I believe arrogance and cruelty are very human traits, and she's got a truckload of both :party:

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 12, 2016 10:48 pm 
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Have you ever seen those boxes of chocolates, where each one is a different flavor, but apart from little difference in shape, they all look alike? And then you take one, and bite into it, and it just leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth?

Well, that was this story.

It's not bad, let me stress, but it's really not my taste. The graphic nature of the sacrifice reminded me somewhat of a snuff film, and that sort of thing has just never appealed to me.

What I do like here is the description of the demon. Very evocative description, and a very creepy image. I was particularly taken by its emergence from the altar and the dual mouths. I wasn't particularly fond of the repeated "my [adjective] child" form, but still, a nice, creepy demon.

So overall, not my taste, but not bad at all. I confess that I don't really find myself invested in Kertes's story, as I don't like her enough to want her to succeed, nor am I invested enough to want to watch her fail, but as an exploration of the world and the intrigue of Kertes's reality, this was interesting.

Thanks for posting!


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2016 9:46 am 
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It's not bad, let me stress, but it's really not my taste. The graphic nature of the sacrifice reminded me somewhat of a snuff film, and that sort of thing has just never appealed to me.

I totally get it; I went for a grimdark piece with very graphic imagery, so a mixed reception was to be expected.

Quote:
What I do like here is the description of the demon. Very evocative description, and a very creepy image. I was particularly taken by its emergence from the altar and the dual mouths. I wasn't particularly fond of the repeated "my [adjective] child" form, but still, a nice, creepy demon.

I'm glad it worked, In a continent where demons have unconventional appearances for a MtG setting a writer can really get wild with unique designs. Did you find the "my child" routine of bad taste and/or dull? It's something purposefully petty Thutmoset says to belittle and annoy the egotistical Kertes, but I could think of something else if it doesn't work.

Quote:
So overall, not my taste, but not bad at all. I confess that I don't really find myself invested in Kertes's story, as I don't like her enough to want her to succeed, nor am I invested enough to want to watch her fail, but as an exploration of the world and the intrigue of Kertes's reality, this was interesting.

This was basically the reaction I expected: Kertes is as callous as a human can be, and the fact that such a character is one of the ascending nobles in the Thamad-Katel empire should say a couple of things about its moral health. This piece was intended as an explanation for certain traits of the crepuscular child and a taste of the imperial nobility.

Should I add a summary to the notes, to help anyone who might be interested in the following chapters but doesn't want to go through the graphic parts?

Thank you for reading and commenting!

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2016 2:36 pm 
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I'm glad it worked, In a continent where demons have unconventional appearances for a MtG setting a writer can really get wild with unique designs. Did you find the "my child" routine of bad taste and/or dull? It's something purposefully petty Thutmoset says to belittle and annoy the egotistical Kertes, but I could think of something else if it doesn't work.

I just found it a bit repetitive. I don't think it was in bad taste at all.

Quote:
So overall, not my taste, but not bad at all. I confess that I don't really find myself invested in Kertes's story, as I don't like her enough to want her to succeed, nor am I invested enough to want to watch her fail, but as an exploration of the world and the intrigue of Kertes's reality, this was interesting.

This was basically the reaction I expected: Kertes is as callous as a human can be, and the fact that such a character is one of the ascending nobles in the Thamad-Katel empire should say a couple of things about its moral health. This piece was intended as an explanation for certain traits of the crepuscular child and a taste of the imperial nobility.

Should I add a summary to the notes, to help anyone who might be interested in the following chapters but doesn't want to go through the graphic parts?

You could, I suppose. It's a matter of taste, ultimately. This sort of graphic depiction just isn't my preferred style. I'm sure others like it just fine.

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Happy to. Sorry it took a while to get to, but November/early December is always my busiest time of the year.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 6:14 am 
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I updated the piece with the description of the room found in Legacy, a more explicit description of Kertes' thoughts and feelings once Astekhu is mentioned, and the following sentence to explain the relevant part of being a crepuscular:

Quote:
Crepusculars weren't fit to be anything more than slaves, and she wanted to have a true heir as soon as she could; Kertes needed to raise her child in her prime, and have a reliable support before the other nobles started to be really afraid of her.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2017 11:47 pm 
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I am sloooooooooowly catching up with this storyline -- sorry for being so behind the curve!

Anyway, I have now read this piece, and I enjoyed it -- a belated thanks for sharing, Huey!

I swear, this is like the fifth of sixth time this has happened now, but, as I was trying to sort through my feelings about this story, I came across Raven's comments, and he has pretty much already said everything that I would have done, only better. So, to some unavoidable extent, I'm just going to be echoing his sentiments.

The thing that really stands out to me as fabulous is the demon and its summoning. It's a very vivid, striking description, between the mouths and the sutures, and the thing that I really like is that this demon feels very different from what we usually see represented in the Magic universe, but its still recognizably demonic, and all the more chilling for it. I confess that the "my child" bit did grate for me after a while -- I can see what you're trying to do with it, and I wouldn't take it out. But I feel like, in this case, a little less might be more. I'd have the demon keep saying it, but just not quite so much.

I also think that the description of the summoning ritual is really chilling. It's brutal, and it makes you want to look away, but that's the intended effect, and it works. It's graphic, and grotesque, but that feels like a feature, and not a bug.

But I think that Kertes herself is the place where I get hung up. Because I actually did read "Legacy" before reading this piece, I have a picture of Kertes formed in my mind. And the vision I have of her does have an edge to it -- I can see that she can be hard, and calculating, and driven.

But, in "Legacy," she didn't read to me as heartless. And the sense I got from her in that story was that she did have a genuine affection for her sister. Kertes was hard, sure. But she wasn't a monster.

So something feels wrong to me when I see her here, now, and she's so ready to sacrifice her sister's life. She makes the choice so quickly, and with so little emotion. If she feels any trepidation about this -- any regret -- we don't see it here. She hardly bats an eyelash.

And that seems very different from "Legacy." I'm willing to allow that Kertes may have changed in the years since, but, wow, this feels like some change.

I can understand how single-minded she's being, here -- she promised her mother that she would do whatever it takes. But this feels like a whole other line to cross. I wish I had a better sense for why Kertes can be so cold-blooded about doing it.

Also, I recall that a piece of advice that Kertes's mother gives her about dealing with demons is to be very clear about what you want, and very clear about what you will give up to get it -- especially when the deal involves someone you care about. So it feels odd to me here that Kertes goes into this interaction wanting one thing -- she's ordering a hit -- only to suddenly make a second deal which involves murdering his sister, and which is at the demon's prompting. Letting the demon set terms like that is the sort of thing Kertes was warned against, so it feels odd to me that she goes along so casually.

Anyway, with all that being said, I do like this piece, and I think it's very well-written. I'm just having a hard time squaring Kertes in "Legacy" with Kertes here.

Thanks again for sharing, Huey!

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 4:40 am 
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Thank you for reading and commenting!

I confess that the "my child" bit did grate for me after a while -- I can see what you're trying to do with it, and I wouldn't take it out. But I feel like, in this case, a little less might be more. I'd have the demon keep saying it, but just not quite so much.

That I can do. I meant Thutmoset to be extremely annoying to Kertes, but having him annoy the readers as well doesn't seem a wise thing :D

Quote:
So something feels wrong to me when I see her here, now, and she's so ready to sacrifice her sister's life. She makes the choice so quickly, and with so little emotion. If she feels any trepidation about this -- any regret -- we don't see it here. She hardly bats an eyelash.

And that seems very different from "Legacy." I'm willing to allow that Kertes may have changed in the years since, but, wow, this feels like some change.

I can understand how single-minded she's being, here -- she promised her mother that she would do whatever it takes. But this feels like a whole other line to cross. I wish I had a better sense for why Kertes can be so cold-blooded about doing it.

I tried to keep the word count as low as possible to make this something quick and sharp, but I'm afraid I'll have to expand more at some points: I don't know if I have enough material to write about Kertes' "descent". I'll try to show her hesitations more, but the main core of her actions won't change.

Quote:
But, in "Legacy," she didn't read to me as heartless. And the sense I got from her in that story was that she did have a genuine affection for her sister. Kertes was hard, sure. But she wasn't a monster.

First thing first, it's clear that we have two very different definitions of "monster". For me, a monster is someone whose mind is either completely alien or so twisted that they long to inflict pain and misery on others, sometimes without tangible rewards. Perrine is kind of a monster: she is ambitious and driven like Kertes, but Madame du Collet feels a perverted pleasure in inflicting "the guilt of her sins" on others, a very interesting turn of phrase that showcases how corrupted her soul is. Kertes sacrifices many things and is very callous, but she feels no gratification from acts of violence and cruelty: they are means to an end.

If I had to define Kertes with a word... she's a mess. She's trying to balance the expectations for her to be the copy of her idolized mother, her smoldering anger for the world, her love for her sister, her ambition, her promises... If you remember the "absolved for a crime she didn't remember" phrase you appreciated, some trace of this conflict is within that sentence too: on a level, she's "absolved" from being a true demonspawn, on the other she reads the letter as a direct validation to commit any heinous act in order to pursue her goal. She's far from considering her sister worthless, but she decides her ambition is more important than her family (an interesting decision, if you think that her endgame is restoring her family name); she takes that decision quickly not because she's cold-blooded, but because her anger toward Qagab is blinding her.

Quote:
Also, I recall that a piece of advice that Kertes's mother gives her about dealing with demons is to be very clear about what you want, and very clear about what you will give up to get it -- especially when the deal involves someone you care about. So it feels odd to me here that Kertes goes into this interaction wanting one thing -- she's ordering a hit -- only to suddenly make a second deal which involves murdering his sister, and which is at the demon's prompting. Letting the demon set terms like that is the sort of thing Kertes was warned against, so it feels odd to me that she goes along so casually.

There is a bit of a jab to the part in Legacy where she says "Kertes read Layla's notes like holy writ"; when certain people idolize something, they tend to interpret and forget parts of that writ to validate their own views and beliefs.
Other than that... Kertes is not her mother, for the reason I mentioned here and in the comments of Legacy, and trying to be someone else ends only in disaster. I'll make sure to picture the struggle with her emotions (and her assumptions) more clearly.

Edits: I eliminated a few of the "my X child", and added more introspection.
Quote:

Kertes pondered the demon's words. “Is there no other way? I’d rather avoid the nuisance of carrying a crepuscular waste of life,” asked the woman. Crepusculars weren't fit to be anything more than slaves, and she wanted to have a true heir as soon as she could; Kertes needed to raise her child in her prime, and have a reliable support before the other nobles started to be really afraid of her. Such a deal would also go against her mother's warnings; still, Kertes couldn't forget the last words on her letter. Whatever it takes, Layla had written. Twice, to make sure her daughter kept that in mind. Qagab deserved a living hell, and Kertes wouldn't rest until satisfied.



Quote:

“Still, that’s my sister you’re talking about.” Astekhu had took care of her for years, before Kertes was old enough to become the head of their house. But she was so close to cut Qagab off the river commerce... She couldn't let him recover, and allowing him to legitimately acquire the last free port could put him irreparably out of her reach. Kertes had to shut him down. She had promised.


“Yes, your unaligned sister that lives in your house, eats your food and does little to repay you,” added the demon.


Kertes bit her lower lip; she had meant to marry Astekhu to some rich and untitled fool, but her older sister’s beauty - while still remarkable - was starting to get tarnished by time. Her older sister had almost been a second mother, waking her gently each morning before Kertes' marriage, grooming her and coddling her... Whatever it takes, Kertes had said when she had promised to bring their name back to glory. She needed Qagab out of the way, and a true heir to raise as soon as possible. Whatever it takes. Kertes tasted blood. Would her mother approve of her decisiveness, or berate her for sacrificing kin?


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 10:55 pm 
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She's far from considering her sister worthless, but she decides her ambition is more important than her family

I just want to go a little bit deeper on this, because I think that this is the thing that I'm sort of stumbling over.

I get that the family name is incredibly important to Kertes, and we certainly get some hints of this in "Legacy" -- we learn something about her single-mindedness from the episode with the doll, and, from her internal narration, we understand that she is determined to restore her family's position. But nothing that Kertes does in "Legacy" sort of gives me the impression that this is the single most important thing that's driving her. In fact, there are instances at the funeral where we see her go out of her way to be kind to her sister, potentially at the expense of the image that she projects for herself and her family -- in particular, I'm struck by your comment in the discussion about the two of them opening the doors together while hand-in-hand, and how this would not have been considered normal.

Whereas, by the time we've caught up with Kertes, here, her concerns seem to have flipped, and in an extreme way. A demon describes her sister in the same terms that you'd use to describe a piece of livestock -- eats your food, takes up space -- and suggests killing her. And Kertes reaction to that isn't an instinctive, visceral "no," which she then reasons her way out of. She's immediately willing to entertain this idea, and only pushes back against it in a deal-making sense. She's talking terms, not questioning the premise.

And that's what feels like a very abrupt departure from "Legacy."

Obviously, a lot has happened to Kertes between then and now. But it's hard for me to bridge that gap without a little more help.

If there was even a line or two about how, over the years, Kertes has come to resent her sister for some reason or other. Or a line or two about some other terrible sacrifices she has already made in the name of family honor, so that we can see how she has been tip-toeing towards this moment. Even just a little more would help to connect those dots.

Anyway, that's just my gut reaction. I keep getting stuck on Kertes in "Legacy," versus Kertes here. It doesn't feel like a simple, preordained evolution. It feels like something important has happened in the interval. And I just need a little thread of what that something might have been, I think.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:03 am 
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As you imagine, Kertes has grown colder with time; from a normal point of view, there's no reason to sacrifice a sister with whom you have been so close to. But I guess Kertes should have at least a token reason, so here we go:
Quote:
While Kertes had spent the last decade working night and day for their family, Astekhu had merely stood there looking pretty...

Astekhu's a really affectionate woman, but she's not suited for the plans Kertes has in mind; and on a level, this happened because Kertes is determined to set the weight of the world on her own shoulders. A threadbare reason, but enough to start considering Thutmoset proposal...

That said, this turn of phrase isn't particularly powerful. I shall look for stronger expressions, to make this sound more visceral.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:57 am 
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"Kertes had spent the last decade working herself to the bone.

Astekhu had spent the last decade looking pretty."

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Solphos: Solphos | Fool's Gold | Planeswalker's Guide | The Guiding Light | The Weight of a Soul
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2017 5:25 am 
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"Kertes had spent the last decade working herself to the bone.

Astekhu had spent the last decade looking pretty."

Very nice, thank you!

New version:

Quote:

Kertes bit her lower lip; she had meant to marry Astekhu to some rich and untitled fool, but her older sister’s beauty - while still remarkable - was starting to get tarnished by time. Kertes had spent the last decade working herself to the bone; Astekhu had spent the last decade looking pretty, and now she was failing even at that... but her older sister had almost been a second mother, waking her gently each morning before Kertes' marriage, grooming her and coddling her. Whatever it takes, Kertes had said when she had promised to bring their name back to glory. She needed Qagab out of the way, and a true heir to raise as soon as possible. Whatever it takes. Kertes tasted blood. Would her mother approve of her decisiveness, or berate her for sacrificing kin?


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