Very slight spoilers…
I generally feel with these quiet parts of the Bite Back books that I’m going overboard. Readers generally come back and tell me I’m not. Anyway, I’m going to try out a short section on this blog that hasn’t even been seen by the beta readers yet…
How in such a complex, structured society as the Athanate, could you win an argument? The issue under discussion is this: when the paranormal races reveal themselves to humans, should they agree to abide by human law, or should there be a separate law for them? A very intricate sort of problem and one on which a great deal hangs in the balance.
The Empire of Heaven (China and most of south-east Asia) stood aside from the first Athanate Assembly when it was invoked in the 1920s. The Empire of Heaven is the largest group after the two main creeds of the Assembly, Panethus and Basilikos. As the parameters of the new Assembly are being hammered out in book 5, the Empire arrives at the meeting, in the person of their Emperor’s own Diakon, Xun Huang. What side of the debate will he come down on?
This is a small part, a quiet interlude in the usual rush.
This is Huang’s speech to the Athanate. He may have been influenced by Maya Angelou (paraphrased here): “They may forget what you said but they will never forget what you made them feel.”
Huang walked to the center of the floor and stood still, waiting until the silence spread.
When he did speak, his voice was so quiet everyone had to lean forward to hear.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what came.
“I am old, even as we Athanate count it,” he said.
His words were slow and formal, with a rhythm that seemed to carry me along.
“Many, many years ago, I buried my father in an unmarked grave, beneath a solitary Linden tree on a south facing hillside, near a quiet river. In the heat of summer, the Linden’s leaves are thick and dark and green. They take the shape of hearts, and beneath their shade, the ground is always cool; the air always holds the scent of limes. As winter nears, those leaves turn and fall like a harvest of the richest gold, and make a crown to rest upon my father’s head.
Between the wars that tore our land, I would return there, and lie on that hillside. It eased my soul, and restored my strength in a time of great turmoil.
Then, beside my father, I buried my sons and my daughters, their youthful faces as yet half-formed, unblemished by age.”
Huang paused and looked up and down the ranks of Athanate, and we were silent. The whole auditorium had unconsciously synced their heartbeats with their neighbors’, until we were a creature with a single pulse, waiting, listening.
“No man should bear that sorrow,” Huang continued. “No woman either, and my wife joined them before the leaves had fallen again. I planted the trees that were their only marker.
From that moment, I slept only when exhaustion took me, because on waking, for a moment it was as if I could turn and see my wife again, only for that dream to fade, and the nightmare of life to begin again.
When the Emperor found me, I sought death every day in the face of the enemy. What prize could he offer me, in my despair, that would make me want to become immortal? What reward to become Athanate, and know that sorrow for eternity?
He spoke to me; simple words, words he told me he first heard from the lips of the Kumemnon herself, her own words: This is the gift and the sorrow of the Athanate; to see your loves pass before you like the days of summer, while your heart still beats. To keep your vigil in the shadows, and rise again with every sun.
That part you all know. Many carve it above doors to their hidden sanctuaries, to remind them that as there is light, there must be darkness, and the world turns regardless.
But the Lamentation of Arunne goes on: To be bound upon the wheel of heaven; to toil and toil and never be done. To love without reserve forever, and rise again with every sun.”
He paused, and in the depths of the auditorium the Athanate shivered as the words touched us.
Huang went on.
“That is what he said to me, and I bared my neck to him.
On that hillside now, beside the quiet river, there grows a forest, such that I may not find my family’s trees among those that mark my kin. I return there sometimes for a night. To sleep, to dream, and rise again with the sun.
The war took away my family, and my Emperor replaced it with duty. He offered me no soft consolation, no comforting lies. As one who passes from childhood must put away the easy refuges of youth, to become Athanate is to shoulder a greater destiny. And to achieve that, one may not live as a man or woman may live, under the strictures of their society.
The Athanate people must retain their own laws and customs.”
THIS CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS FOR THE STORY UP TO THE END OF WILD CARD
A fan of the series, Gallandro, posted a list of questions as a comment underneath the recent Clippings post. This has been hugely useful to me to hear which threads a reader has at the ‘front of mind’.
I thought it would be better to make a separate post about the list to answer. It’s turned into a huge post, my apologies. But I’m delighted to field these questions and it keeps my mind straight on the world building!
Gallandro is in favor of some slower scenes which will allow me to wrap up (or move on) some of the many threads I have in the text. This is an important point. Once a thread is up and running, it usually needs a section of dialogue or exposition to move it forward. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my editor is not so keen on scenes that slow the story down unless they’re relevant to the arc of the novel where they occur. All of the threads which are unresolved are, by definition, arc threads rather than novel threads.
Now, many of these threads are significant to the plot of the series or the next book or two, so much of what I’m going to be saying is in the realm of ‘teaser’ rather than ‘spoiler’ for the books going forward.
1. Did Amber’s recent eukori mingling with her kin allow her to re-center on “good” feeding?
Yes, sort of, but that isn’t the end of the issue by a mile.
Even long established Panethus Athanate can slip, and it’s so easy to fall down that slope. Amber’s problem here is complex. What kind of Athanate infused her and how much influence will that have on how she turns out? She spent two years completely outside of Athanate supervision and fighting the infusion, will that have a positive or negative effect? She’s inadvertently fed on Jen’s fear and despair. (That wasn’t strictly a feeding, but close enough that a senior Adept, Ken Weaver, thought it was). Will that influence her? And Panethus Athanate behavior is all about control, while Were is all about instinct – the wolf enjoys being a predator. Will her Were side nudge her the wrong way?
And while the use of eukori heightens the sensations, and allows you to experience another’s emotions, it does not necessarily influence you positively. For instance, the worst of Basilikos use eukori to enjoy the fear and despair of their Blood slaves.
Lots more in Cool Hand.
2. Is Diana going to come back into the picture and help Amber soon?
Amber’s instinct (and the advice from Alice Emerson, Adept to the former Warders) is to trust only Diana to help with her finely balanced crusis and mental state. But Diana’s disappeared.
Cool Hand progresses this.
3. Will the Athanate nature continue to force Amber into relationships of both sexes or was it something particular to Jen that she focused on? I can’t imagine that it is easy to write in any more kin relationships but is this set in stone or will her changing nature continue to ask for more kin?
I could write a whole book on relationships and reasons!
The prevailing theory in Panethus is that an Athanate requires about three or four kin for a stable, healthy, long term relationship. That’s based on pure pragmatism. Kin benefit from the Athanate relationship with enormously improved health, but their bodies still need time to recover from providing Blood. Having four partners for an Athanate spreads the load. The theory also suggests that the kin group should be grown slowly, and the relationship between a Mentor and an Aspirant is designed partly to ensure this. The benefit of growing the kin group slowly comes when one of them eventually dies, the others are alive and able to provide support to their surviving kin and their Athanate.
However… Amber can barely get her head around Jen and Alex being kin. She’s certainly not looking for any more. (And yes, there are underlying reasons for the attractions and the speed of them, both Alex and Jen).
On the general point… gender is irrelevant to the process of providing Blood, and yet hugely relevant to Aspirants because of the pleasure involved. With everything else going on during crusis, Mentors do not want Aspirants stressing about how their sexuality might be affected by becoming Athanate. A good Mentor will not challenge an Aspirant’s sexuality during crusis. And yet, as Athanate develop, they begin to feel a sense of isolation and dislocation from human society and mores, and they begin to feel more identification with Athanate society, where gender is largely irrelevant. There’s no sense that Athanate are forced into relationships with both sexes, and no particular pattern to how they end up, other than older Athanate from Western societies are more likely to have kin-couples of mixed sex. This is partly because those couples would have looked more ordinary to the human society they lived in, and partly because new kin would usually have felt more comfortable in this configuration.
Now Amber is unusual in all sorts of ways. She’s short-circuited the main crusis process and as of the end of Wild Card she would be termed ‘anomalous late crusis’. Athanate theory is that Alex can’t provide Blood for Amber, so she really only has Jen when the Blood thirst hits (in Cool Hand). However, she’s also House Farrell, which nominally entitles her to the Blood of any kin within her House. She’s specifically asked Pia to create a Charter for the House which removes that entitlement, but…
Could she get enough emotional sustenance from Alex and Jen, and enough Blood from Jen and the rest of her House? We will have to wait and see…
4. Melissa’s death has yet to really be dealt with. How will it affect everyone? Will we ever know just how Dr. Nobel lured her out and did he imitate someone to frame them in any way? Will the pack need to make any recompense to Amber for her loss?
Melissa was part of House Farrell, though not anyone’s kin and not bitten. The whole House feels her loss. All witnesses to the way Noble lured her out of the house are dead, but we can assume he took the form of Morales. He would not have been able to be convincing up close, but enough to get her out onto the street.
Despite Amber’s adoption of Melissa, Altau would not formally have regarded Melissa as part of House Farrell. It hasn’t occurred to Amber to take it up with the pack. She doesn’t feel it’s explicitly their fault or responsibility. She’s actually more down on herself for not being quicker to solve the case or put in safeguards that would have prevented this.
5. Just what did Tullah’s parents do when Amber ran over there? Was her breakdown helpful/harmful to Hana (wolf spirit guide)? It seems Hana is her Adept spirit guide but then what are Tara and Speaks-to-Wolves?
It was Kaothos who acted, and what she did was actually render Amber unconscious. In the short term, this feels as beneficial as sleep. In the long term, what Amber’s missing out on is the mental activity of sleep. This is where the brain internalizes the events of the day, and also, for Athanate, the progression of becoming Athanate. More in Cool Hand.
Knocking Amber out doesn’t harm Hana, but the channeling of the immense amount of energy to blow up the factory at Longmont certainly did.
Tara and Speaks-to-Wolves are spirits. Or are they? Keep tuned.
6. Is Amber still in good standing with the Denver PD? Will Ops 4-10 be released from military service? How many Nagas remain after the Denver operation and did they all bug out for Matlal/Baliskos? Was Peterson captured and will the superior officer be identified? Was the 4-10 group able to save any documents and will they release these to the FBI or keep them themselves?
Morales is currently on Amber’s side. However, the Captain’s good standing is looking shakier as he seems unable to control the outbreaks of lethal ‘gang violence’ (Mykayla’s apartment, Longmont, Cherry Creek etc. etc.) that have erupted in the city…
The army has disbanded both the Ops 4 groups and the associated Obs team.
Ops 4-10 and Ops 4-16 (the Nagas) were both ‘short’ battalions, of about 500 people each. The majority of the Nagas survive and have left the country. There are warrants for the arrest of many of them and that will increase as the case unfolds.
Remember Noble left a dead-man’s switch of documents with a lawyer exposing what he knew of the Nagas. Between that and the documents that Colonel Laine provides, the operational levels of the Nagas will be exposed.
There is an arrest warrant for Petersen, but he was not captured. The ultimate head of the Nagas within the DoD has not been uncovered.
There are no legal proceedings against the former Ops 4-10 troops. More in Cool Hand.
7. The former Matlal vamps and toru are still in the city but were seen speaking to Gray? Will that be a problem and just how much longer will House Farrell have before she either needs to produce them or kill them?
Cool Hand. Yes, it’s a problem. 🙂
8. I don’t think Amber got back in contact with her Mom was she aware of the allegations of her being crazy?
In Cool Hand. At the end of Wild Card, Stacy was informed that Kath had Amber committed for her own good, but had no idea what that entailed.
9. Did Amber’s sister Kath successfully get her declared mentally incompetent and will that spell trouble for her business/life?
Yes and no. Nothing Kath managed to do has a lasting effect on Amber’s business. The declaration, without Noble’s presence to confirm it, will be thrown out by Jen’s lawyers. The committal to the ‘Max’, the maximum security mental hospital, was in a false name, so there’s nothing to concern us there.
The ongoing effect of Kath’s behavior on Amber’s life…wait and see.
10. Will Amber ever have time to meet with Pia and David to work on Athanate skills and review the House rules/duties?
Pia has been compiling a House Charter and a document which Amber thinks of as “How to be an Athanate 101”, and Amber’s been reading it when she can. She knows quite a lot, but it’s book knowledge, without context. When Pia writes something like “When meeting, Athanate from different associated Houses might as a courtesy offer the Blood of their kin”, you can imagine Amber has more questions.
Amber is going to continue to make mistakes and challenge rules in the whole paranormal community. I am getting some feedback from one beta reader that there’s got to be a limit to the perpetual mistakes, despite how convenient it is for writing purposes. 🙂
11. Now that Amber has become a wolf and felt the pack call is there anything else she needs to know about being a were?
Lots. She’s only grasped the core of how the Were and the Athanate work.
12. What happened with the charm bracelet that Tullah had given Amber back in the earlier books and is its design similarities to the necklace significant?
Amber still wears the bracelet, and as hinted, the working is sort of integrating with her senses. She’s more alert (when she’s not asleep on her feet) to threats. She doesn’t particularly trust the bracelet for the sort of reasons she’s mentioned in the text.
Adepts’ ‘workings’ and ‘the energy’ are topics which will be explored much more in Cool Hand.
There are similarities between the bracelet and the necklace (the one purported to have been used by Speaks-to-Wolves in rituals that helped the Were change). Both are more from the shamanic side of Adept capabilities, and visually they are both Arapaho bead jewelry. How they do what they do, and what they do… Cool Hand.
13. Did Olivia’s marque change and will that help her with her first shift at all, like the change in David’s marque allowed him better control of his Athanate side?
David received a massive infusion of Amber’s Blood which abruptly changed his marque curtailed his crusis. I’m not sure, in the short term, it could have been said to allow him better control. In the longer term, he is certainly a well-adjusted Athanate. David and Pia’s marque however, is Amber’s from before she started to become an Athanate-Were hybrid. None of them have any idea how David will react when he and Amber exchange Blood now, and his marque moves to match hers. Will he go through another sort of crusis and become a hybrid like Amber? Skylur and Diana are very old, established Athanate, and their marque will not change from exchanging Blood with Amber. Pia and Bian are a bit in between. They’ve both been Athanate for 100 years and have some control over their marque. Bian will be able to remain Altau should she chose to do so. Pia will want her marque to change to exactly match Amber, but does that mean she’ll become hybrid? Alex is a dominant Were, but will he become hybrid if Amber bites him?
Olivia hasn’t been bitten. Her marque is drifting toward Amber’s. Would it help her werewolf change if Amber bit her? Would she want that?
Cool Hand takes some of these forward. Some of them more than others.
14.The question of Dragon Spirit guides to the Chinese obviously caused a stir but will Skylur pursue questioning of Amber over this issue? The Altau Adepts seemed also interested in this development will they be an issue?
The Empire of Heaven (which includes China) are more than just a little stirred up by Amber’s question. Skylur would like to come and find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, Altau’s position is precarious. Skylur’s formally expanded his domain to include USA and Canada, and has implied obliquely that he will claim Mexico as well. He hasn’t got the numbers of Athanate to secure that size of territory. Skylur’s position as head of Panethus and the Assembly will be hugely damaged if Basilikos can prove he can’t hold his domain, so guess what they’re trying?
Skylur wants a conversation with the Empire of Heaven that will, at the least, create an association between Panethus and the Empire. It is urgent and important, but he has to hold his domain first. In the longer term, given how difficult it is to start any meaningful dialogue with the Empire, he is (sort of) delighted to have an opening topic that the Empire wants to talk to him about.
This is background in Cool Hand and the foreground in book 5, and probably 6 as well.
The Altau Adepts are Alice Emerson and her colleague, former Adepts to the Warders, who appeared first in Hidden Trump at the Assembly. Alice is certainly committed to her new House, Altau. She’s aware of how wrong things can go if the Kaothos situation is mishandled.
15. What happened to the Warder organization in the US? Did the show of the secret brain-washing have any other effects on the security issues? Is this an Athanate ability or something cooked up in conjunction with the Naga’s and similar to the experiments done on Amber.
The Warder organization was effectively disbanded by Skylur. Unfortunately, that puts the basis of the Assembly at risk…
Brainwashing and compulsions. Both the Athanate, who call it compulsion, and the DoD, who call it Neurological Programming, have separately researched these topics. Athanate capabilities vary from House to House, and Vega Martine (Matlal’s former Diakon) has an ability which is exceptional.