OT: An Unidentified Copse

on January 1, 2013 in Other Tales


There was a stand of trees on top of the hill. Melanie liked to think of it as a copse, because she liked the word copse. Like many words she encountered in her reading, though, she was not fully certain she knew exactly how it intersected with the real world, and so while she was perfectly happy to call it a copse in her head, she would have blushed to say it out loud in case it was actually a grove.

In fact, her message to Jennifer had bidden the other girl to simply meet her in the place in the trees… though she hadn’t used the word “bidden”, as it was another tricky one. She was never sure if it sounded more like a command or an invitation.

Despite all this uncertainty, though Jennifer had come to the place in the trees. She hung back at the edge of it, uncertainly. Melanie saw the smile that lit up her face before she quickly recomposed it. She saw the reflexive movement of the shoulders and arms, quickly suppressed, and in that moment she made a decision… things might always be strange between Jennifer and her, but she wouldn’t let them become strained, if she could help it.

“Oh, give me a hug,” she said, holding out her own arms. “We were almost family, once, and it’s been ages since I saw you.”

“How was the homecoming?” Jennifer asked after they’d parted.

“Oh, it was… muted,” Melanie said. “My family is good at ignoring things, but the thing about ignoring the elephant in the room is that an elephant-shaped void in the parlor is just as conspicuous as the elephant would be.”

“I see your analogies are getting better… now, what is it you wanted to tell me?” Jennifer asked. “And why are we meeting in a clump of trees inside an old cow pasture?”

“It’s where I would always come to be alone, growing up,” Melanie said. “So it seemed like a good place for a private conversation.”

“You don’t have any brothers and sisters,” Jennifer said. “What were you coming here to get away from?”

“Expectations,” Melanie said.

“I can understand that.”

“But I don’t know if you do,” Melanie said. “Or, I think maybe you have your own understanding of it, which is different from mine. I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to escape the life my parents expected from me, just to slip outside the weight of it all for a little while, every once in a while. I’m not… that is to say, I wouldn’t ultimately like to do anything that would be disappointing to them, in the long run. I would like to end up as someone they can be proud of. I just would sometimes like to be able to step off the path they’ve charted for me for a while, though ultimately I have no quarrel with the destination.”

“Well, I have no real hope of living the life my parents would chart for me, but as I’m the youngest of three girls I hardly think they’ll notice when I don’t,” Jennifer said. “But I don’t think you came here to talk about me, or even yourself.”

“I didn’t,” Melanie said. “It’s Samuel I wanted to tell you about.”

“He hasn’t asked you out, has he?”

“No, not as such,” Melanie said. “And not anything you might term the opposite, either. What he said to me is rather unrelated to affairs of the heart entirely.”

“As much as I love it when you talk like old books,” Jennifer said, “I really wish you’d spit it out. The suspense is killing me.”

“I’m sorry,” Melanie said. “I’m working my way around to it, in my head, and it’s making me ramble… but the fact is, Samuel has confessed to me that he’s… he is… that is, he’s not entirely human.”

“He’s elfin, isn’t he?” Jennifer said. “I thought so when I saw his picture, though I’m sure the angle made everything more angular.”

“He isn’t!” Melanie said. “Or if he has some slight degree of elven blood, it doesn’t come to bear on what he told me.”

“Which is?”

“In order to explain this, I should perhaps explain first that he told me because he feared it would come to light anyway, as in order to save his grades he needed to explain why the troubles on campus were particularly troubling to him,” Melanie said. “Which is to say, the strong possibility… certainty, actually, now… that they were being carried out by a demon.”

“That would trouble anyone,” Jennifer said. “Oh, but he’s an orphan… were his parents killed by demons?”

“His father may well have been,” Melanie said. “His mother… was one, or possibly half of one. He doesn’t know.”

“What?”

“Apparently, as demons were made in the images of men, it can be difficult to determine the exact proportion… our kinds blend together in more unusual ways than most races. He didn’t know himself what he carried in his blood until the onset of maturity.”

“He’s part demon?”

“Yes, to some degree,” Melanie said.

“And he explained this to his teachers?”

“Yes.”

“Did they not know?”

“Some of them may have,” Melanie said. “The admissions board knew, but it was meant to be confidential.”

“How can a part demon attend university?”

“Well, he’s part human,” Melanie said. “There are half-elves enrolled in the university as well, and dwarven features are not uncommon in Prax… you wouldn’t expect them so far from the mountains, but apparently underground lakes are common in the region, and so there are clusters of…”

“But actual demons!”

“Actual human, too,” Melanie said.

“And you don’t seem… well, you’re pale and shaking, but you don’t seem… I don’t know what you seem!”

“I’m more afraid for him than I am of him, Jennifer, and that’s the plain truth,” Melanie said. “Beyond that, I can’t tell you what I’m feeling, and that’s not because of any secrecy or falsehood on my part, but because I don’t know.”

“How you feel about a demon?”

“How I feel about a man… a good one, I suppose… who is also, in part a demon,” Melanie said. “If I had known from the beginning, I suppose I would have avoided him from the start and then avoided the whole problem… and a host of other problems that have followed from my association with him. But if I could warn my younger self at the start of last semester… I don’t know. I don’t know that I’d give up what I’ve gained for the sake of avoiding a little trouble.”

“What have you gained?”

“A friend,” Melanie said. “And I mean a real one… why, there were girls I was friendly enough with in high school, and who I would have been quick to name as friends, but who I have not thought often of since graduation, and who I doubt have given me much thought, either. I don’t think I gave much thought to what makes a friend before I met Samuel.”

“You said in your letter that you needed one,” Jennifer said. “If you were being truthful and careful with your word choice, you didn’t just mean someone to listen, then. Not if friendship means so much to you now.”

“It does, and I did… I did mean that, I mean,” Melanie said. “I don’t want to… lead you on, Jennifer, but I’m sincere in my offer of friendship.”

“I’d thought that maybe you just said that because you needed someone to talk to,” Jennifer said. “Since you were so set against seeing me in person before that.”

“Well, I was, and I was foolish to be so,” Melanie said. “But the shock made me reconsider things, and I would like to be your friend in earnest, not just because I thought you were the only one I could possibly talk to about Samuel’s revelation..”

“You’d be even more foolish if you thought that, then,” Jennifer said.

“What do you mean?”

“You already knew someone you could talk to,” she said. “Or at least, you know somebody who already knows the secret. I don’t know how easy he’d be to talk about it with.”

“Who?”

“My darling older brother,” Jennifer said. “How else do you explain his actions, as you described them? His sudden dislike of Samuel, his avoidance of him… and his insistence that you avoid him as well. What else could have caused that?”

“But why didn’t he say anything?”

“Maybe because, like you, he got to know Samuel first as a person?” Jennifer said. “Maybe he liked him well enough to not want to make trouble for him, but couldn’t trust him enough to be around him, or wish to see you around him?”

“Well, Samuel has never been less than honorable around me… I’d trust his company before I’d trust that of any unknown man, and many that I know,” Melanie said.

“I love how old-fashioned and poetic you can be,” Jennifer said.

“I’m from an old-fashioned family,” Melanie said.

“I suppose that’s why I haven’t got a chance with you, isn’t it?”

Melanie paused. This was another moment like the hug one, she could tell. She imagined that Jennifer would respect her wishes if she put certain topics off-limits, but she also imagined that would put their friendship into a different category if she did. How could they trust each other to tell the truth when part of the truth lay unspoken between them?

“I honestly can’t imagine that you would anyway,” Melanie said “I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I don’t think it’s that I’m old-fashioned. I mean, your family isn’t like mine, but you keep your… self… secret from them.”

“It’s called lesbianism, and I’m sure you’ved read the term, even if you haven’t heard it,” Jennifer said a little sharply.

“Yes, I suppose I have read of it, though I’ve never heard it, much less spoken it aloud,” Melanie said.

“You know what? Neither have I,” Jennifer said. She laughed. “It feels strange, saying it. Like standing in your mother’s shoes when you’re just a tyke… I know what I feel, but I think if I looked at myself in the mirror when I said it I’d feel like a kid playing dress-up.”

“You think you might grow out of it, then.”

“No, silly, I think I need to grow into it,” Jennifer said. “It’s a big word. Les-bi-an. I think it’ll fit me just fine, one day.

“Most of the stories I’ve read on the subject, it seems to be a phase,” Melanie said.

“Who writes these stories?”

“Women, mostly… I, uh, assume they… that is, they seem to know what they’re talking about,” Melanie said.

“Who publishes them, then?” Jennifer said. “It can’t be much of a phase if the people who’ve supposedly outgrown it are still writing about it. Anyway, what are you doing reading lesbian romances?”

“I… like old books,” Melanie said.

“Yes, but it’s hardly literature, is it?” Jennifer said. “I can’t imagine there’s many windswept moors or enchanted castles in them.”

“One finds all sorts of things in a used book store, and sometimes I’m in a mood for something I haven’t ever seen before. And one of them said on the cover, uh, ‘LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE!’ It was bigger than the title, even. They all have covers like that. It’s pure pap fiction, really, but, well… it is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere. And… compelling in its own way. Sensational. I didn’t believe a word of it was true, or possible, at first. But once I was aware of the concept, I started picking up certain… oblique references… in more traditional literature. Spinster aunts, that sort of thing. And I’m sure you’ve noticed old Ms. Gretel and her, uh, widowed sister.”

“Oh, yes,” Jennifer said. “You have got to take me to these stores… I think my adolescent years would have been a bit better if I’d known of the possibility.”

“How did you not?”

“Well, it’s hard to know what you’re hungry for when you’ve never tasted it before,” Jennifer said.

“I could let you have the books,” Melanie said. “I mean, I don’t think you’re likely to find a store that specializes in that sort of thing around here, so it’s anybody’s guess when you’d be able to find anything…”

“Really?”

“Jennifer, you’ve been such a friend to me already and I’m afraid I’ve treated you terribly at every turn,” Melanie said. “How else can I prove my friendship to you?”

“Melanie, dear Melanie, you don’t have to,” Jennifer said. “But I appreciate the effort, all the same. And I haven’t been as honest with you as you think.”

“I don’t mind that you didn’t tell me,” Melanie said. “I can tell it was hard, even though you said it was killing you not to.”

“It was, but that’s not what I mean,” Jennifer said. “I… have something that belongs to you. What you might call ‘a garment of an intimate nature’.”

“…I always thought Brett had taken those,” Melanie said. “How did you…?”

“He did!” Jennifer said. “And when I took them from him… liberated, you might say… I had every intention of giving it back. Really, truthfully. But then I kept it for a while, and then a while longer. But I swear they’re in the same condition that you left them.”

“I’m not sure I could wear them again,” Melanie said.

“I don’t think I could keep them now,” Jennifer said. “And, anyway… while it’s a relief to be talking to someone about this, I doubt you’ve said everything you had to say about Samuel. What are you going to do about him?”

“Well, he was afraid that the word would get around… there have been rumors as it is, so certainly someone who knows is talking about it… and he wouldn’t be able to return next year,” Melanie said. “But he said he wanted me to know either way. And it was near the end of the semester, so we’ll be spending months apart either way, and so if I decided I couldn’t stand to be around him anymore I could just come back and not seek him out again. It would just be like we were two people who connected briefly during our freshman year and then grew apart over the summer break, as must happen often.”

“That sounds awfully cold, coming from you,” Jennifer said. “I know you have a mercenary streak in your emotional dealings, Melanie… and I say that as someone who… loves you anyway… but I can’t imagine you taking such a calculating approach.”

“I didn’t,” Melanie said. “Jennifer, that’s what he said to me… he was laying out an escape route for me, in case I didn’t want to see him again. So there would be no scene, I suppose… or perhaps so he could pretend we had just grown apart.”

“I can’t picture you with someone so… practical… about everything,” Jennifer said. “And I know you aren’t ‘together’, but I mean, I can’t see you side-by-side with him.”

“I don’t think he is practical about everything,” Melanie said. “I think he aspires to be, but he has a heart and he has a soul, and there’s plenty of old poetry in it no matter how desperately he tries to obscure it.”

“You sound like you’ve already made up your mind.”

“Well, of course I have,” Melanie said. “I’ve seen him afraid, and I’ve seen him in pain… I’ve seen him in fear of more pain, even, and I would have to be heartless to reject him after that.”

“I don’t suppose he could be so practical as to be counting on that?”

“Jennifer!”

“Well, you know him better than I do,” Jennifer said. “I suppose I have no reason to be jealous of him, though, seeing as we are both nothing more than friends to you.”

“I should say not,” Melanie said. “And even when I return to school and to him, I’ll continue to write to you. More often than before, even.”

“Will you? That seems like a bit of waste, to me,” Jennifer said. “I’d think you’d want to find yourself a different correspondent for next year.”

“Jennifer North, where is this bitter streak coming from all of a sudden?” Melanie asked.

“Who’s bitter?” Jennifer asked, breaking into a grin. “I just mean it’s silly to write letters to someone you might well be sharing a dormitory with… or had you forgotten that I just graduated and will be starting college myself in the fall?”

“And you’re going to Magisterius?”

“Yes, and it’s been set for ages… my parents were all for it, on the basis that Brett will be able to look out for me until my senior year,” Jennifer said. “I’m sorry, I thought it had come up around the dinner table at least once when you were there.”

“It… probably did,” Melanie said. “But…”

“But you didn’t pay much attention to the tagalong little sister,” Jennifer said. “And I’m sure you would have filed it away under ‘tagging along’. It’s okay.”

“I’m… surprised you’re able to admire me as much as you do, Jennifer.”

“Oh, don’t put words in my mouth,” Jennifer said. “I like you, Melanie. I never said I admire you.”

“Well, however I feel about you… I think I could come to admire you very much.”


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47 Responses to “OT: An Unidentified Copse”

  1. Maahes0 says:

    I really like these characters. This is a fun little break from the main story.

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    • Kagedviper says:

      My thoughts exactly.
      You have a whole nice little universe here; you could spend decades fleshing it out.

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      • Hollowgolem says:

        Just don’t go all Tolkien on us and develop needlessly-fleshed-out languages.

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        • rhamantus says:

          This is an old post, but I’d like to add that Tolkien created the books for his languages, not the other way around. His first interest was always language, not writing.

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  2. Zathras IX says:

    Nothing you’ve never
    Seen is quite like nothing you’ve
    Ever seen before

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  3. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom.

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    • Sejemaset says:

      Bad thing to say on a story about a girl who just found out her guy friend is part demon. I really hope it all turns out alright for them but I am a bit worried someone is going to be devoured.

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    • Krey says:

      Great thing to say on a story about a girl who just found out her pen friend is a lesbian. I really hope it all turns out alright for them but I am a bit worried no one is going to be “devoured.”

      ;-D

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  4. Alex says:

    How certain are we that Samuel isn’t The
    Man?

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    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Reasonably certain- in the older letters, Melanie talked about seeing Samuel with someone who strongly resembled The Man.

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    • Krey says:

      If I had to make a guess, I’d say Samuel is either the half demon who started the riot we’ve heard mentioned before and/or somehow related to the airship captain turned hero/dragon-daddy who’s name I can’t recall atm.

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      • Brenda says:

        Or, quite possibly, who the riot was started over…

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      • Lunaroki says:

        That “airship captain turned hero/dragon-daddy” is Mackenzie’s older brother Aidan, nowadays known as Dan. He is The Man’s son by way of Mack’s mother, and thus Mack’s full brother. From the sound of things Samuel is unrelated to any of the above, unless his mother is The Man’s sister or something. Thus far though there is no direct confirmation of any real link between Samuel and The Man. All we know for sure is that they know each other and have spoken face-to-face on campus.

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    • pedestrian says:

      My impression is that Demon Daddy is within the same age demographic{+/- a centennial or three} as Callahan and Mercy?

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      • Anthony says:

        Really? I had the impression that he was much, much older…

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        • Oni says:

          Yeah, he seems to be well into the “mythological” age-bracket, whereas Callahan is more “cold war era”; she is from a distant but measureably-so period in the past, whereas he’s from somewhere between “let there be light” and “the dark ages.”

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  5. Erm says:

    “No, not as such,” Melanie said. “And not anything you might term the opposite, either. What he said to me is rather unrelated to affairs of the heart entirely.”

    “As much as I love it when you talk like old books,” Jennifer said, “I really wish you’d spit it out. The suspense is killing me.”

    And here I thought she only talked like that in letters. 😛

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  6. Amelia says:

    Golly gosh I am falling in love with these two ladies. There is something so very… authentic about the way they connect with one another. Loving this story more and more as it goes on. Thanks for another lovely snippet! Looking forward to more. :3

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  7. Scarlett says:

    I hate to admit this, but am I the only person who accidentally read the title as ‘An Unidentified Corpse’?

    Also, Melanie is… a treasure, if only to try and sort through her antiquated speech. And to find out her ‘almost-sister-in-law’ is a lesbian who has a crush on her is kind of funny.

    And I really like Samuel, so while I’d like to think he’s going to make it out of this story in one piece, something tells me that will not be the case.

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    • DaManRando says:

      No…. your not, I read it that way too.

      And yeah, I am also gettin the impression that something bad is on its way

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    • Brenda says:

      AE usually pulls some kind of play on words with the title. The trick is remembering to look again after you read the story in order to figure out the joke!

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    • PrometheanSky says:

      I also read it as corpse. Though as soon as Melanie mentioned the copse of trees I went back and checked.

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    • Ducky says:

      Solid proof that we only read the word, not the letters.

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  8. Sapphite says:

    Very enjoyable, and characters true to the letters I feel. Samuel was quite a sharper wit than the polite boy described.

    And… off-topic: an all-druid party = Copse & Grovers?

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  9. pedestrian says:

    There is a triangle of involvement between Melanie & Samuel and Melanie & Jennifer plus the shadowy irresolution between Samuel & Brett.

    My life experience has been, that troubles like to congregate in my vicinity. Khersis forbid that I ever have the luxury of dealing with one problem at a time!

    So these four young people have to deal with the internal turmoil of becoming adults. Try and figure out how to communicate their thinking. To what level of association each and all of them seek with one another.

    Plus dealing with all the crap dumped on them by their families and neighbors and the greater society about them. Homosexual women at least can masquerade within socially approved roles. But there would be a very limited and proscribed place for demonkin in this society.

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  10. Doug says:

    Anyone think, depending on how far back this is, that he could be “The man” i.e. Makenzie’s dad? 😀

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    • Lunaroki says:

      To add to what Maragratia says on the subject below, I really see very little chance that Sam is The Man. Start with the stark difference in Sam’s personality in contrast to The Man’s. Add to that The Man is supposed to be a full demon, which Sam is not. Top that off with this puzzler: If Sam is The Man then who is the fellow who dresses like The Man that Melanie spotted Sam talking to in the first set of letters?

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  11. Eris Harmony says:

    Is it just me, or does Melanie talk a lot like Anne of Green Gables?

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    • Maragratia says:

      I suppose it is possible. But, I really doubt it. Mackenzie is a half demon. Samuel is part demon, though not certain how much, and part human. I do not think he could be The Man, as then Mack would be less than 1/2 demon.

      Then, AE is clever, and I can always be wrong.

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  12. N'ville says:

    Hum, from everything learned so far, first a demon can live for ever, second, Sam and Mack are part demon, so a possibility of the Man being father to both, also do not forget that Macks mother had a child by the Man which was taken for adoption, before Mack was concieved. Her brother is likely to be the air craft guy.
    Just my take on it all and could well be wrong.

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    • Lunaroki says:

      There is very little possibility of The Man being Samuel’s father because then he would be more than half demon. Samuel has told Melanie that his mother is the one who is at least part demon, if not all demon. That makes it pretty unlikely that The Man is Sam’s father.

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      • Luke Licens says:

        Flawed logic. His mother is known to be at least part demon, but all we know of his father is that he ‘may well have been killed by a demon’. Which is to say, we know nothing. Samuel could be more than half demon, if The Man was attempting to breed a stronger strain of demon-blood by getting friendly with another half-breed, or even his own progeny.

        He’s a freaking demon, so I doubt he feels constrained by the incest taboo. I’m sure this has been addressed in the ‘What does The Man really want with Mack?’ conversations.

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        • Ace says:

          Not to mention that Samuel may not really know his parentage and be basing it off of what he’s heard about demons. Remember a certain Ms. LaBelle telling Mackenzie that her mother couldn’t possibly human and must have eaten her father because a male demon would surely eat a female human before she could give birth?

          In an earlier, more ignorant time, The Man could probably keep it going–especially if he knows that is children are prone to not wanting to be involved with their demon parent. And considering that demons are practically immortal, he could have a lot of experience with this and use each new generation of children to work on his technique.

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          • philippi says:

            Wait, now we’re taking Puddy’s insane troll logic as a factual basis for anyhthing?

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            • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

              That wasn’t Puddy, that was the annoying girl from Mack’s history class- what was her name? Keri, I think, or something very similar.

              But yeah, I was thinking that Samuel may have followed that logic, or that Melanie might have not asked which parent was the demon and assumed that it was the mother.

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      • SurahAhriman says:

        He could be a quarter demon. Everything suspected would fit if he were The Man’s grandson via a half-demon mother.

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        • Ducky says:

          I have to wonder: if The Man found a half-demon woman who accepted his advances, could he restrain himself when he smelled her? Is that how Samuel ended up an orphan?

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          • Oni says:

            I *think* that this might be a halfbreed problem. Then again, that’s completely unfounded on my part, aside from the fact that Pitchy (the shadow/afterimage of a demon) and The Man (as a projection in her dreams) have never shown any such reactions. Granted, neither of them were strictly corporeal at the time, but I would at least expect *some* kind of reaction.

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            • pedestrian says:

              If I remember correctly it was the human/demon female pheromones? combination that is very attractive to all predators.

              I’m not sure why a species such as demon would have built in a contra-survival instinct to consume their own females in estrous. Perhaps the deity that created demons was trying for a self-limiting mechanism?

              When Our Mack used the day-after flush and started using arcane birth control potions, these seemed to reduce the instinctive attraction to her from predators.

              The mermaids noticed, so did Embries and other hunter types, I think.

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            • Eris Harmony says:

              I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with humans being the natural prey of demons.

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  13. jweese says:

    Sorry to disappoint those who are hoping that Samuel’s related to Mack, but:

    “That would trouble anyone,” Jennifer said. “Oh, but he’s an orphan… were his parents killed by demons?”

    “His father may well have been,” Melanie said. “His mother… was one, or possibly half of one. He doesn’t know.”

    Samuel’s demon-parent was the mother, not the father, unless he lied about something that trivial, after coming clean about being part-demon…
    Edit: It is possible that the Man fathered him, hoping for a slightly purer demon, but if that were the case, wouldn’t someone (a diviner or diabolist, perhaps?) be able to determine something like that (at least to some degree)?

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    • Ducky says:

      That’s if Samuel trusted a diviner or diabolist enough to not kill him on the spot for being part-demon. This obviously isn’t the most progressive of societies.

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  14. Cadnawes says:

    Just to throw a wrench in the gears, it’s possible Samuel doesn’t know much about his origins himself.

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  15. MdRev says:

    I am tipping Samuel is a direct descendant of The Man. If Samuel’s mother was a Demon we can infer that that she was either some kind of Succubi or, like Aidan, trying to live a human life. The Man probably decided to involve himself in his grandsons affairs for the same reasons that he was snaking into Mackenzies head every other night. Also, I am fairly certain previous account of the riots were that it was “started” by a quarter demon, and also it has been implied that the demonblood may well have been the target of a lynch-mob more that the inciter of a riot.

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    • Oni says:

      Since, to use the topical parlance, Durkon’s Hammer states that the young man seen with Samuel is probably The Man, I would also put even odds on The Man being his maternal grandfather. Since he seems to be interested in bloodlines as well as extremely patient, it doesn’t strike me that he would spend time hunting down crossbreeds from other demons when he could just seed his own.

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