Case Files 3: Inhuman Ancestry, Prince Vassago, and the King and Queen of Binhamton’s Fall Court.

Inhuman Ancestry

Yeah, it’s time for that talk. You see, when an eldritch horror and an overly curious human love each other very very much…

I mean, this is going to be a weird one no matter what. Don’t blame me if it weirds you out, but this is a major issue. Humans have a long and illustrious history of attraction to things which are not human. The why isn’t so important. Race memories of breeding with Neanderthals? Humanity’s tendency to use sexuality as a primary method of creating pair bonds? Being a bunch of sick fucks? Well, I’m clearly not one to judge, except in the case of Alfred. Alfred, you sick bastard. (Alfred: Look, I think we both know that this is projecting, based on your disgusting crush on Abe Sapien.) (Atina: Is that a racist portrayal, now? Is Doug Jones the Al Jolson of the modern era, now?)

Inhuman ancestry matters, but not nearly as much as one might expect. Historically, the idea of inhuman ancestry is a big one in stories. You have your demigods, for example. These litter the annals of history. If you look into Greek myth, it’s damned difficult to find a hero who wasn’t the child or grandchild of one god or another. Heracles and Zeus; Odysseus and Hermes; Achilles and Thetis. The imperial line of Japan is supposed to descend from Amaterasu herself. The Egyptian pharaohs were believed to be mortal incarnations of Horus. It goes right back to Gilgamesh, who was one third human and two thirds god, which suggests some weird shit about his ancestry. When it comes to authority, it’s hard to beat ‘my dad is a god’.

Beyond that, we have plenty of other great examples of the half-human hybrid. Wilbur Whately, the titular Dunwich Horror, was a hybrid of a rather shy New England girl, and the Outer God Yog-sothoth, and generally took after his father. Under Christian interpretations, Merlin was capable of magic because he was the son of a nun raped by an incubus. He apparently inherited his libido from his father, which adds an interesting twist to Arthurian legend. Other yths declare him as the child of an elf. … Shit, Alfred, what if you’re Merlin’s reincarnation, not King Arthur’s? (Alfred: Bold of you to assume Merlin’s not still around.)

It goes further! We have the Dhampir of eastern Europe, who notably prey on other vampires, and who have created endless reams of overpowered Mary Sues in the annals of fiction. The Nephilim were supposedly half-human, half-angel hybrids. And don’t get me started on the Seal Wife myth- whether they be selkie, huldr, or kitsune, there’s a long and glorious history of kids losing their mom because their dad just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Li Fang Fen: The thing about half-human hybrids is, they tend to be difficult. Not unknown, but rare enough. For the Undead, this is because of the simple fact of lack of life. The Undead are- well, undead. Our bodies are not, generally speaking, in fantastic working order. The same thing that tends to leave our skin cold and pale means that we are rarely fertile. The only way to generally overcome this is with such a great glut of energy that the body is able to return to a full state of working order. It is not as though most undead are rotten inside- simply in a quiescent state. The same things allow for other proper living functions. The trick for one of the female Undead is keeping that level of energy high through the entire term of pregnancy. A miscarriage is unlikely unless the Undead is outright starved, but it can be… dangerous, for anyone around them, if they are not kept properly fed. You thought pregnancy cravings for human women were bad? This means male Undead are far more likely to have children than female. (Jenny: Another thing to look forward to, I presume.) (Li Fang Fen: Well, just remember to keep a condom on you.) (Atina: You have any kids knocking around out there, Li?)(Li: I’m much too young at heart to be a mother, thank you very much. I still cherish my freedom. Birth control is easy for the undead.)

Eric Grafsson: Among the fae, things are less energetically demanding, but it is still rare. Most fae can be somewhat… self-centered. The effort and sacrifice of having children is not popular among many fae, and those who do find it popular can be- Well, you’re familiar with the term narcissistic parents? A fae tends to treat everyone they meet as a supporting character in the drama that is their life. (Polly: Not always true. My mom actually has always encouraged me to be independent… It might be a court thing.) (Alfred: Indeed. But it is always true that it’s hard to escape from the shadow of your parent in such contexts. My mother, though, was adamant that I not become one of the Fae. I was just as content staying human.)

Atina: I don’t know a hell of a lot about demon reproduction. The simple facts suggest that it should be difficult, but at the same time, my understanding is that demons are no longer, physically, anything but human. There’s nothing I would see to prevent them from being intercompatible with humans, although shapeshifting brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions. I still haven’t worked up the guts to confront Michael Grey and Paloma, my usual contacts for this information. It’s an awkward kind of question. (Li: Yes, and you have such trouble asking those.)

Powers and Weaknesses

So, lots of myth, lots of legends, and the one thing they all share is that the children of humans and nonhumans tend to be powerful. So… How true is that?

Alfred: Not very. As it is in mundane human society, brilliance is so difficult to pass on through genetics, and magic is largely unrelated to genetics. The plain fact of it is that the offspring of humans and nonhumans are… simply humans. No special talent for magical power, no unusual abilities, nothing to make them stand out. They receive prosaic traits from both parents, but the magic doesn’t pass on through the bloodline.

Polly: It’s honestly true. My mom was Lady Wen, and I’m nothing like her, as far as my fae nature goes. I was born as human as anyone. Still, parentage can matter. As has been noted, Alfred had a lot of contacts through his mom.

Atina: And there’s the long and short of it. Wizardry is still based heavily on the apprenticeship system, in many ways. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This means that even if your inhuman ancestry doesn’t make you hugely talented, you’ve got the chance to explore what talents you do have from an early age, and you’re at an advantage in figuring out what you can do. Most wizards rely on running face-first into the supernatural, and there’s little chance for them to experiment and take different partners. While I may tease Alfred about his proclivities, he’s probably gone through more partners than Wilt Chamberlain. (Alfred: It’s maybe sixteen women, at the most, Atina. You DO like to upsell this.) (Polly: Slut.)

Of course, being part of a political dynasty is never all upside. While it obviously comes with connections, influence, and power, you’re also the child of someone who is immortal and who, in all likelihood… You’ll never really live up to. It’s always going to be you in the shadow. And that’s without even getting down to the issue of the enemies your parents probably made. I don’t envy people who were born into this life.

It’s worth noting that the so-called ‘hybrid vigor’- Which is only barely a thing anyway- is probably not a major contributor, here. It seems that, as far as genetics are concerned, the undead, demons, and fae, for all their fancy stuff,  They’re all still just humans. Being inhuman doesn’t express itself in the genes. Though I confess that because there haven’t been any large-scale research studies, it’d be difficult to say that any of this is certain.

Politics

So, politics. This is obviously an issue. You thought the Kennedies had a penchant for bad luck? Imagine how it must be for a supernatural household. Children are a big issue among the fae for a fairly simple reason: Inheritance.

Most supernatural creatures don’t have any intention to need a will. Having kids means they’re always going to wind up in your shadow, and they’re more likely to be competitors if you bring them into your world. Thus, a supernatural creature would prefer to have their kids acting as envoys and fulfilling their will. Not to be rude about it, but both of the half-human hybrids I know spend a lot of time being, essentially, errand-boys.

Alfred: Atina isn’t exactly wrong about this. My mother certainly cares for me, but in the circles in which she travels, I normally would not even register. It’s more like a pyramid scheme than anything else, for some.

Polly: I know that’s definitely the attitude a lot of people have, but… I really feel like you’re being unfair against my mom here, Atina. She genuinely strove to help me become a stronger, more independent person, and she did a very good job of it. Even my working as her hatchetwoman was something that I wanted to do, as a way of building my strength and my connections. And hey, it worked out, and I didn’t even have to kill you to do it! (Atina: I’m never really sure when she’s joking about these things.)

Alfred: Nonetheless, I think it’s unfair to say that the children can’t match up to their parents. Sooner or later, the time comes when every parent- even those who are immortal- finds themselves slowing down, compared to their children. While the fae do not die of old age, they are as vulnerable as anyone to falling behind the times. Children can be helpful on that front. And on the other side of things, there are as many stories of fae parents winding up ousted by their own ambitious children.

Li Fang Fen: You don’t hear about this sort of thing among the undead so much. Most undead aren’t big on having children. I’ve certainly never considered it. It feels faintly odd to desire something that is the bailiwick of the living. Still, it is interesting to hear these perspectives. I wonder if Atina has some supernatural hunk that she’s had her eyes on? (Atina: Don’t even start with me.)

Past Cases

This isn’t so much a ‘past cases’ as ‘future cases’ issue… It’s one of the big things I’ve been thinking about for some time.

One of the big break-throughs in human-Atlantean relations was the conception between Queen Ku-kaili-moko-polemo and her husband. Despite the fact that one is an ordinary human and one is a nine foot tall shark woman, they managed to conceive. It’s being taken as mostly a hoax by the scientific community for the time being, and there aren’t enough human-Atlantean relationships that there’s a lot of research on it. But if it is real, it’s going to have some drastic consequences.

I strongly suspect that the Atlantean’s shape is magical, rather than biological. From the literature I’ve read, it’s a consequence of their pacts with their gods. This brings up a lot of questions for me about the natures of gods- Questions I haven’t been able to get good answers about, because again, no scientific experimentation on these fronts. Mostly, all I get when I ask these questions are blank looks and old stories.

What are the consequences for our society if you can interbreed with an Atlantean? Well, first, it says definitively that they’re genetically human. That in and of itself isn’t a huge change; People are plenty happy with being racist against humans. But it also means that the things that Atlanteans can supposedly do are also things humans should be capable of. Their whole god-whisperer schtick might be learned, rather than genetic.

I really should look through that pamphlet more…

Prince Vassago

If you’re reading this, you shouldn’t be. This information is private.

I’ve had people ask me. ‘Why are you so nervous about demons? They’re not REALLY soul-stealing monstrosities. What makes you so awkward about actually approaching and learning more about them?’

The thing is, demons don’t like people learning too much about them. The only man I’ve met who’s made a pact with a demon is Michael Grey, a rather fidgety meteorologist, and his demon, Paloma, a bald eagle. I’ve met another demon, but they weren’t actually associated with any of the courts. The courts, as a whole, have always come across extremely cagey.

So, the gist is, a demon was an animal. In one way or another, they become human. This can be because of the personal attention of a single human, although that’s very rare because of the amount of power that’s needed. Sometimes it’s because they were a famous animal, who gathered a lot of attention from large numbers of people. Sometimes, it’s because they found a shortcut. Which it’s likely to be is based on their original species. A tortoise can afford to wait a long time; A mouse or an insect, not so much. What these shortcuts are, I’ve never been told.

The rest, I don’t know about. I keep a silver doorknob on my door because I presume it helps in some way. Holy water? Who knows. The Lord’s Prayer? I’ve tried humming it under my breath, but maybe I just don’t have enough faith. I’m going on assumptions. The only thing I can be certain of is, demons are rather alien. They’re not like humans, mentally. This is because they were once animals. The specific ways they may behave differently vary substantially.

There’s just not a lot of information about them. That’s why I don’t get involved with them. I don’t know what the hell I’m putting my foot in, and my policy has been to always try to understand what I’m getting involved in. If the demons don’t want to share their dark vulnerabilities and secrets with me, then fine, I won’t work with them. And if that sounds unfair, keep in mind that they already know my vulnerabilities to getting stabbed or shot in the head. That’s also why I don’t spread their information around everywhere, because I don’t want them to decide I’m some kind of threat. Who knows what they might do.

What I do have is what I can get from myth and legend. Choosing the name ‘Prince Vassago’ tells something in and of itself. From the Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th century compilation of 15th century writings on the summoning of demon’s, Prince Vassago is one of 72 Demonic Rulers who a demonologist can call upon according to the books. He’s noted for having a good nature- what exactly this means is vague and poorly defined- being good at revealing events both past and future, and finding things that are hidden. A pretty tempting array, all things considered. He’s also supposed to have 26 legions at his command.

I think it’s all marketing, myself.

Powers and Weaknesses

When it comes to demons, it seems they all have some degree of talent for telling the future. The specific form this takes is usually based on the individual wizard partner’s preference, but demons have a great talent for telling when things are about to go tits up. I’ve discussed this in other case files, but it causes Michael Grey no end of agony.

In the light of this, I’m rather curious that I haven’t been hearing from him. For all the stories I was given by my sources about how the world is on the verge of ending, I haven’t heard a word from them about this. This entire year has been fairly calm and quiet, according to Michael. Hell, the man’s actually been getting sleep for the first time in as long as I’ve known him. And believe me, if you saw the amount he drinks when he’s been getting the visions bad, you would not think I’m much of a drinker.

This seems to tie in with their preference in partners. Demons seem to focus on people who are trying to predict the future. Economists, meteorologists, statisticians. These are all examples of humanity’s attempt to pierce the veil, and figure out what is coming. We’re kind of obsessed with the future, you may notice. It comes of being a thinking ape, capable of extrapolating the future. And yet, we’re the only animal on Earth that can never fucking figure it out, even when it’s blindingly obvious what kind of pain we’re going to cause ourselves! How’s THAT for your bitter ironies? Regardless, I don’t hear much about them winning the lottery or making killings on the stock market, either. Though who knows? Maybe Warren Buffet is a demon. Or made a pact with them.

The weaknesses of demons are similarly vague. Silver is a no-no for them, though I’m not sure what, precisely, it’s supposed to do. I’ve heard that it tarnishes in the presence of demons, but I’ve also heard that it can burn them badly. But not for everyone. Apparently, you have to have strongly held beliefs. Religious? Political? Conspiracy? What is it about these beliefs that makes it work? Damned if I know.

The other thing is the whole ‘lying’ issue. I’ve been given the impression that there’s some kind of karmic backlash, a ‘bad luck’, that piles up if a demon lies, or breaks their word. This is uselessly vague. How do you tell when it’s bad luck caused by the lie, or if it’s just a superstition? This is the kind of shit I’m talking about, and it drives me nuts.

Politics

I’ve gotten the impression, from the prince, and from Michael, that there are indeed 72 Demon Princes, spread throughout the world. This seems unlikely to me, for several reasons. First, any culture would have to develop in one place and spread out from there. The ’72 Demon rulers’ of the Goetia date back, most likely, to around the 15th century. Unless there was some kind of globe-spanning conspiracy of demons even as far back as then…

Of course, I’ve never heard any of the Native American supernatural folks I’ve met- Megan Smith, or Tadodaho, or Chaac- talk about their encounters with demon courts or anything like that. But then, the demon courts are known for keeping to themselves in most circumstances. For that matter, Binghamton is one of the relatively few locations in the United States that has a Night Court, Fairy Courts, and a Demon Court. This makes it relatively unique in that there COULD be any kind of contact between the three. I’ve never gotten a very clear detail on the order of establishment. The Night Court claims they were here with the first settlers. The Fairy Courts claim that they’ve been here as long as the mountains and the sea, which is absolute horse-shit. And the Demon Courts don’t make any claims at all.

I’ve never seen the demon court of Binghamton get involved in much. They had a small ceremony- that I wasn’t allowed into- when I helped one of Eric Grafsson’s friends hook up with this demon. Since then, so far as I know, things have been going pretty calm for them. I have no specifics, which drives me mad.

What I’m getting at here is the demon courts are big on being insular. They don’t share specifics about their inner workings with me, which is probably wise, because they don’t want that info getting out there. I suppose, to a degree, I can understand that. People might get wiggy. But historically, people haven’t been great fans of anyone who acts insular and discreet, either. I’m suspicious about what the hell the demon courts are up to, even if no one else is.

Past Cases

The one time I ever met Prince Vassago in person was shortly after I successfully defended Li Fang Fen. A few days later, I get a phonecall, requesting that I come to a meeting at Vassago’s office, in downtown Binghamton. I arrived there, and met the man himself. He told me that I had a fairly straightforward choice in front of me. I could make a pact with him, learn the truth about the demon courts, shut down my blog, and never share what I learned, or I could continue on my studies alone. I told him ‘thanks, but no thanks’ with somewhat more profanity, and that was that.

It’s not, specifically, that I want to hurt the demon courts. I kind of understand where they’re coming from. Knowledge is power, and all that jazz. It’s reasonable for them to not want everyone to know what their capabilities are. They’ve probably got good reason to fear humans, and lots of people want to keep their secrets just because that’s how they do things. But I don’t agree with that.

But then, it’s hard to trust people with secrets. Especially when you live a long time. After all, everyone has something to fear from their secrets being spread. God knows what I’d do if anyone found out about my sexual fetishes, and most of those wouldn’t kill me.

One thing worth noting, though. The king wasn’t subtle about what kind of animal he was. He was quite proud of his wings, those orange and black stripes. I looked it up afterwards. The longest a monarch butterfly lives is about six to eight months, and most of that is spent in migration. They’re also exclusive to North America.

I always suspect he was sending me a message. I just wish I knew what, precisely, it was.

King Kuk and Queen Noemi

Part of the reason that I’ve not detailed the King of Fall’s ‘species’ is because- to be quite frank- I don’t know it. The Half-Faced Man is rare in his sheer dedication to obfuscation, but he is merely dedicated in the Fall Court. Keeping in mind that the Fall Court is the court of secrets- both secrets discovered, and secrets hidden. A secret shared is powerful in one way; A secret kept is powerful in another.

It’s important to note that most fall fairies are not out and out obstinate. They’re not going to jerk you around on every single detail. Some secrets are better shared, if only because they encourage the sharing of further secrets. Fall Court fairies, as I have noted, are easily the biggest gossips in a fairy community, and they are the ones who will most happily spread secrets. The key here is that they are strategic about this fact.

Take blackmail. The whole point of blackmail is that few people are aware of it. Once you share someone’s damaging secret, well, it no longer holds any power over them. And you may have ruined their career, their reputation, and their family life, but you can no longer control them. Plus, you’ve just given them no reason to hold back anything they have. Naturally, I understand the point of secrets. There’s a fair few things I hold back from these case files for that reason.

On the other hand, there’s the information that helps everyone. Sure, if you’re the only person who knows how to make steel, when it comes time to cut someone in half, you’ve got a real advantage there. Throughout history, throughout all the times where you had to understand a secret in order to retain your power, you have to make sure nobody else finds it out. Take the process for making steel; Sure, it’s tricky, but with the proper materials and instruction, you could do it within a couple of days. Hell, most of my three years of law school training were more about developing a capacity to retain vast amounts of information and how to search out the information, rather than memorizing specific statutes. Outside of the Bar Exam, it’s much more useful to be able to look up things than memorize them. The point here is that while it’s good for you if you’re the only person who knows that stuff, it’s better for your whole village if everyone knows it. Until a rival tribe is trying to get ahold of the secret, and eliminate your advantage in a war…

We keep secrets when we’re threatened, and share them when we’re trusting. That’s really the whole point of trust. So, it’s not all that surprising that reaching the top of the heap in the Fall Court is all about the secrets you hold back. The throne can only be ceded voluntarily, or at a general vote of no confidence from the nobility of the court. The former is usually the result of blackmail, the latter of blackmail that has been ignored. It helps, for fairies, to hide what kind of fairy they are, because the stories about fairies so often give away that fairy’s weaknesses- Both mystical, and vice.

I suspect that King Kuk is some manner of Horned Man mythos. The Horned Man name itself comes from Neopagan Wicca, but the idea is older than that. The masculine pagan, hunter, impregnator, fighter, killer. Honestly, that’s some pretty strong mojo to be calling on, and so far as anyone knows, he has been the Fall King for as long as there has been a Fall Court of Binghamton. Predictably, nobody knows who he was before then. For all I know, it’s some kind of inherited position, and multiple fairies have claimed to be King Kuk.

The Fall Queen is a housewife who looks to be in her 80s. She apparently became a fairly straightforward knocker fairy at a young age, and took to the Fall Court like a pig to mud. She’s a fairly low-key gnome, whose key claim to fame is her substantial extended family, and a face like a wrinkled apple, the kind that seems to draw the secrets right out of people. She’s an extremely skilled gossip, and has a habit of drawing the truth out of people. She convinced the previous Fall Queen to retire back in the 60s, and considering the kinds of things that were considered acceptable back then, I’ve always wondered what kind of blackmail she was threatening to reveal.

Powers and Weaknesses

Well, it’s tough to say the specific powers that these two have. Obviously, for one thing, the secrets. But they also maintain relationships that makes things… difficult to hammer down.

The Queen’s Man is her husband. The two have been married since they were 20, and he’s terribly devoted to her, as one might guess from the dozen or so children they’ve raised together, and the near-countless number of grandchildren that have arisen. He’s probably very capable, but he’s mostly a stay-at-home dad, and general primary caregiver. So if he DOES have anything special in the way of powers that arise from his pact with his wife, nobody knows what they are.

The King, on the other hand, has the opposite trouble. By all accounts, he’s a charming, masculine, mysterious companion. But every woman he’s ever made a pact with has left him, for one reason or another, in less than a year. He wines them, dines them, offers them fantastic power, but soon enough, they leave him. This is the source of at least one of his powers, though; It appears that the King is capable of binding those who have made a pact with him in order to keep them from speaking his secrets to any who are not similarly bound.

I’m told they apparently have a weekly meeting where they get together, drink mimosas, and reminisce.

Alfred: I once asked the King about his difficulties. He put it down to cultural differences.

The Half-Faced Man: The King is a man with a great deal on his mind. His inability to hold onto one of his Dames is a rather tragic curse. You should not try to inquire in greater depth about his issues, for it can hardly be blamed on him.

Politics

Information isn’t quite as strong a currency as Baubles- it’s a bit more volatile, among other things- But it’s still of great value. The thing is that, in recent years, the value of information has fallen somewhat by the wayside. In the time of the Spring Fae, it’s making things that’s really valuable. Nobody needs to know how to break their way to the deepest depths of the Ice Palace in order to flee the inquisition. People don’t need to know the seven proscribed methods to kill a serpent demon on a new moon. (HFM: How did you find out about those?)(Atina: What?)(HFM: Forget I said anything.) (Atina: ?!)

Just as useful as information sold, however, is information freely given. As mentioned, society can benefit a lot when information is freely shared. The entire intention behind the patent system is to make it easier for people to share information without people getting screwed out of the rightful profits to their ideas. Similarly, in times of emergency, it’s expected that both the Fall and Spring courts will break out their stores of information and baubles, in order to empower. The Seasonal Courts, while often resembling a squabbling group of factional tribes, are known to be capable of impressive acts of independence when the time calls for it.

Of course, the thing is, it’s hard to tell what will happen when a group is pushed. Maybe it’ll lock into place as an iron-hard bastion, or maybe everything will fall apart. What it really depends on is the leadership. Frankly, neither the Spring nor Fall court have that kind of leadership, and it’s likely that if it came down to it, the only person who could lead them to victory would be the Winter King. Let’s just hope it doesn’t reach that point.

Past Cases

As you may recall, one of my first cases that led to my meeting with the Half-Faced Man was for the Fall Court. Up to that point, I’d mostly had experience with summer court cases, and the Fall Court proved to be a very different experience. Far more cerebral, far more congenial, with many fewer murder attempts… By everyone except Earlen Wen, at least. Ever since then, I’ve done several more cases for the Fall Court. And honestly, I like them. They’re my kind of speed, and they’re the kind of contest I’m most capable of.

They’re also, at the moment, the one group that’s not vying for the throne. They’re just trying to make it through this crisis. If I could persuade them to help me, that would be excellent. But they’re also loathe to share secrets.

Still been thinking about how I’m going to deal with a riddling contest. I’ve got one that I’ve kept in my pocket. If I need to put a definite end to things, and quickly… I might not have much choice but to use it.

One thought on “Case Files 3: Inhuman Ancestry, Prince Vassago, and the King and Queen of Binhamton’s Fall Court.

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