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Lamia - Chapter 15

Published at 4th of August 2023 05:34:36 AM


Chapter 15

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“I did some research on lamias,” Christian said. “There isn’t very much in witchy sources.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least.” Neither did Christian bringing it up just as they were finishing supper.

“Folklore associated with the name is sort of weird. Do you want to hear it, or would that be offensive? Some of it might be.”

Mark ran a finger along his plate to get the last of the cheesecake—a perfect end to a meal well worth its considerable price—and shrugged. “I looked it up years ago, but I don’t remember most of it. And in-depth research isn’t one of my skills. Go ahead.”

“There are a bunch of different stories, and they’re all sort of confused and not very consistent. Supposedly there was this queen called Lamia, who was maybe a daughter of the major sea god Poseidon, and Zeus, that’s the king of the Greek gods and, y’know, Poseidon’s brother, loved her or at least got the hots for her, which never ever turned out well for the women involved because his wife Hera always got mad. Hera kidnapped Lamia’s kids by Zeus, and Lamia went crazy and started killing other children and degenerated into an ugly monster. For some reason, Zeus gave her the power to take her eyes out and put them back in again.”

“Okay then. Lamias don’t kill children. And my eyes stay right where they are, if that needs saying.”

“That’s good. I didn’t really think you would. That one supposedly had kids that survived, including a sibyl, a kind of oracle or seer, but not with Zeus as the father. Unless there were actually two of them that got put together, and one was Poseidon’s daughter who had a thing with Zeus that ended badly and one was Zeus’s daughter who had a thing with Apollo and had the sibyl, because it’s not clear, and also ew, because Apollo was Zeus’s son. That was the Libyan lamia. There was a Corinthian lamia who was a ghost who attached herself to a handsome young man and pretended to be a very rich and beautiful woman, and a philosopher called Apollonius spotted her for what she was, maybe he had witchblood? He was supposed to have done some rather witchy things otherwise. Anyway, Apollonius told the young man that she was a snake, and that all the wealth the lady had was an illusion, and that they’re hedonists who eventually kill and devour their targets. Despite the eating-human-flesh thing, the snake reference seems to have been metaphorical, because nothing mentioned her as being anything but a beautiful woman.”

“I have never in my life eaten human flesh.”

“There’s also a more general use of the term, lumped in with a couple of other Greek monsters, all of which turn into or make themselves seen as beautiful women to seduce handsome young men and feed on their blood and flesh. One of them had donkey legs, or one brass leg and one donkey leg, which seems like an odd combination. They all seem to have been believed to have some shapeshifting ability, though. I can’t find any primary mention of lamias as being snakelike, but for some reason I keep finding later claims that they always were. There’s an old description of woman-snakey-maneaters in Libya but the author never calls them lamias, that got added later, I guess on the grounds that snake-women who eat humans are lamias, but that gets used to claim that lamias are snakey, which seems sort of circular. It’s all very confusing, because apparently ‘lamia’ literally translated meant a large solitary shark.”

“Fairly sure I’m neither a snake nor a shark.”

“Although those ones, to be fair, attracted men as prey by making them want sex, but it also points out the allegories to sin very explicitly so it was probably not meant to be literal at all. One play by Aristophanes might have gotten some gender ambiguity right, because he referred to the lamia’s testicles, but he was pretty insulting about it, too. Hm. And there was something called Sybaris which was also sometimes called a lamia, which was just described as a giant beast that killed people and livestock around Delphi. Doesn’t seem to have much connection to the others, unless you think it was a godawful big snake or something and you accept that Apollonius was being literal instead of metaphorical. A poem called ‘Lamia’ from the early eighteen hundreds really strongly emphasized the whole snake thing. But in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, it just meant ‘witch’ in the bad sense. And in the early sixteen hundreds in one book, someone described a lamia as having a woman’s head and breasts and a goatlike body all covered in scales, and large male genitals, and smelling terrible.”

“So what I’m hearing is that humans have attached the name ‘lamia’ to a lot of different things that they consider dangerous and predatory.”

“That’s... probably a good way to see it.” Christian didn’t look particularly worried about that, Mark observed, despite sitting at the kitchen table with a lamia. “I think people started to equate ‘lamia’ with ‘Lilith’ because Lilith was also supposed to kill babies and seduce men, and she got equated with the serpent from the Garden of Eden. I didn’t look all that deeply but I found a couple of references to versions of the Bible translating ‘Lilith’ as ‘lamia’ for some reason. Beats me. It’s just a mess.”

“Can’t really expect much more, if they don’t have concrete information to go on.”

“That’s true. There’s a reason I don’t put a lot of faith into the details when it comes to folklore about liminals. Even when there’s a core of truth, it gets distorted. Sometimes it gets close but it’s never quite accurate.” Christian grinned. “Kind of a relief that you aren’t into killing babies or eating humans, but I never really thought that was very likely. So, is the node under us why you wanted to live here? I mean, most human witches can figure out how to gather up ambient life energy, and a minority can use the streams, which gets fewer as the rivers get larger, and apparently a really small handful can use the nodes. But lots of liminals use that same energy partially or completely to survive, right? Like humans living next to a regular river with water in it.”

“No. I know it exists but the node is completely useless to me.”

Christian crossed his arms on the table, expression intrigued. “Then where do you get all that power? That’s not coming from nowhere. Although I have no clue how you can turn it on and off like that with absolutely no trace. But where does it come from?”

Mark wondered fleetingly whether he might not have been better off with Christian hesitant to ask questions, but he squelched it. His witch needed information. Reliable information.

“Energy is useless to me by the time it becomes part of the environment and up for grabs. I have to get it directly from the source.”

“Huh?”

Mark sighed. “Some of that folklore is metaphorically correct. Alexandra needs to feed on living energy, preferably heightened and intensified and flavoured by strong emotion and sensation. Sex is best of all and the presence of a lamia, even if she isn't doing anything, will automatically make all human men focus on her and on that. At least, it will if they're at all interested in women.”

He saw Christian blush, and decided that it would not be a good idea to dwell on that too much. The witch was, after all, a human man, if a young one, and he’d already said that he was flexible as far as the subject of his attraction.

“Now and then it affects women who are interested in women, but less consistently—female sexuality is complicated. A mouthful of blood basically just creates the connection I need to reach it, it doesn't really do anything on its own. I’m not a vampire. Under normal conditions, there are no long-term effects, and even the short-term effects are mostly being tired with somewhat flattened emotions and a temporary loss of interest in sex. And it's not a question of doing it to raise power, like death magic. It's just what a lamia is.” He smiled. “A tiger is more effective protection than a tabby-cat.”

“Assuming one is safe from the tiger.”

“I think I could consider being offended by that. Do you honestly think you're in any danger from me?”

Christian considered that, then shook his head slowly. “No, I don't think I am. Although I'm not a hundred percent sure how you define danger.”

Mark laughed. “Clever witch. Seriously, in case you hadn't figured this out yet, that bargain with your grandfather became irrelevant a while back. I’m not going to consider you prey.” He grinned at Christian and winked. “Unless you ask nicely.”

Christian blushed.

Mark laughed again. Of course he was attracted to Alexandra.

There was really no need for Christian to know, at this point, just how uncommon the inverse was, that Mark was beginning to genuinely care what happened to Christian. He wasn't quite sure himself how that had happened.

Thoughtfully, Christian frowned, nibbling on a thumbnail. “How much of that do my mom and grandfather know?”

“I suppose it depends on what Vadin told them. There aren't many people, human or otherwise, who really know much about lamias—you just proved that by your research. That actually includes most lamias, who would rather just hunt and fight than think. A fairly old, fairly strong naga has a pretty good chance of knowing more about us than average, but I don't know how much more.” His original assumption, that Vadin was aware only of the basics that were common knowledge among liminals, had been gradually changing to a nebulous suspicion that Vadin might even know something about lamias that Mark didn't, and that the naga might be somewhat older and more powerful than he chose to express.

If nothing else, he had done an impressive job of making the city uninviting to liminals that were potentially dangerous to his favoured human family. Alexandra had found nothing to confront except opportunistic recent arrivals.

“Then something doesn't make sense. It took weeks of living together for you to start really talking to me, and I know there's still a lot you aren't telling. They know you a lot less well than I do, I'm sure of that much, but they were willing to trust you to keep your word and, well, not consider me easy prey? They didn't even feel any need to warn me. Oh, they didn't. Tell me they didn't.” Brown eyes fixed on Mark intently, searching with a witch's other senses. “They did, and I missed that! Why didn't you tell me? You know how I feel about bindings by now!”

Well, having that out in the open was going to be a relief.

“I promised not to mention it. I did not, however, promise to lie if you asked. Chris, Alexandra is probably the most dangerous thing you'll ever meet, regardless of vilas and glaistigs and nagas and trolls and whatever-odd else. Don't mistake what shows for what is, and don't forget that you have unique status. A very limited binding was a perfectly reasonable and sensible condition. And a lot less surprising than being willing to consider a lamia at all. There are reasons you've never heard of a witch with a lamia friend, ally, whatever, and that there is next to no information in your library. There are reasons that other non-humans get nervous around lamias.” Nervous was, in fact, an understatement in most cases.

“What terms exactly?”

“That while I'm living in this house, I will not knowingly do you any harm and will not knowingly allow any harm to come to you. The full bargain is what you already know: pay half the bills and back you up in anything witchy if you need it. Chill out. I agreed to it. I wouldn't be sitting here otherwise, and I'm glad I am.”

“Fine, they had reasons, whatever. They aren't here. I am. Next project is identifying that exact binding and figuring out how to remove it.”

“Keep in mind, you don't yet understand lamias. You might regret undoing it.”

“Why, are you planning to turn on me?”

“No.”

“Did you ever?”

“Plan to? No. Accidents aren't impossible, but there are ways to minimize the chances. At this point, even an accident is unlikely. And on purpose will never happen.”

“Then I'll regret leaving it in place more than I'd regret undoing it. Bindings are not fair. I trust you. And I'm not making you live with that.”

Mark had already seen exactly how Christian felt about bindings. There was no point in arguing. Christian’s sense of fair play wouldn’t be easily overruled.

Not that he entirely wanted to. He had to admit that it would be good to be rid of it. He'd gotten used to it and could mostly ignore it, since it created barriers that neither he nor Alexandra had any desire to cross anyway, but the awareness of it lingered, an irritating unscratchable itch somewhere in the back of Alexandra's mind, always. Christian’s family had, sensibly and optimistically, hoped for more, but Vadin had pointed out that a lamia permitting any restrictions at all was unusual enough, and had recommended accepting her promise on the rest.

“All right. I still think that you'll eventually wish you'd left it alone, but it's not going to make any difference in what I do, so it's up to you.” He shrugged and stood up to gather the dessert dishes. “Anyway, as for what you originally asked, no, the node was irrelevant. Being in a city of reasonable size, near downtown but with enough privacy, was more of a consideration.”

“Hm, I suppose so.” Distracted, Christian's mood shifted instantly. That was something to remember. “Any predator would need to be near a concentration of prey.”

“I rather like the university, when I'm not in the mood for a challenge. Students are generally easy to get into bed, and if they notice anything unusual they just assume they drank too much. Fish in a barrel. Or the out-of-town businessmen looking for a night's entertainment. And so you know, I don't need to feed often. I get a lot from dancing at Kitty Corner, and the rest from hunting once or twice a week, under normal conditions.”

Of course, fighting and getting hurt and needing to hunt more in response actually were normal conditions for a lamia, but it hadn't been a significant issue here yet and he saw no reason to get into it.

He deposited the dishes in the sink with the others, and turned on the tap.

“Kitty Corner? Isn't that the stripper bar?”

“Yes. Also where I get my share of the household expenses.”

“Huh. I've never been in there. I'll have to come watch you sometime. If you’re okay with that.”

“If you want. I don’t mind in the least. You're being very calm about this.”

Christian shrugged. “Yeah, so? You already know I've had liminals and elementals around me for as long as I can remember, some of them capable of being seriously nasty if they're crossed. Although other than the vili, most of what I'm familiar with is less solidly part of this plane than you are. They're mostly around when they need to be and otherwise they're elsewhere. I don't think I've ever seen Vadin eat, and I'm not sure how much Iambe needs to and how much she just likes it. I’m trusting you that you aren’t actually regularly killing humans to eat or as a side effect of stealing all their energy. All things considered, I'm more curious than shocked.”

“Mmm. There is that.” He echoed the shrug. “Don't you have some demons to summon or a virgin to sacrifice or something? Shoo, I have things to do.”

“Going, your exalted lamianess.” Christian rose, bowed teasingly, and fled an attack by wet dishtowel, laughing.

Good, he's not scared. That would've been just awful.

How on all the planes did I get so fond of a human? And what's going to come of it?

Prysmcat Unless anyone objects, and please tell me if you do, starting on Monday I'll be posting chapters every weekday. This means we won't be wrapping up in mid-November! I hope you stick with me and that you're enjoying the story.





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