Chapter 39: The Ring of Truth

on October 20, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Goes By The Book

Amaranth had a sort of pleased, knowing smile on her face all through dinner. She didn’t say anything about the book, though, and I didn’t ask. It would have taken too much explanation to everyone else.

Not that I had any interest in keeping the whole thing secret… I just didn’t have it in me to do a whole recap so soon after Callahan’s class. An hour of thinking on my feet, pushing myself past my normal boundaries of behavior… it took a lot out of me, more mentally and emotionally than physically.

Amaranth was in no obvious hurry to speak up on the subject. In fact, she seemed to be in no hurry to do anything, including eating. She took her time over her salad. Ian raced his way through his hamburger, but then lingered at the table after the others started to drift away. There wasn’t anything unusual about him wanting to hang around… especially on a night we intended to stay together… but I got the feeling that there was more going on than that.

“So… Amaranth said that you did go see Bohd, but I should ask you about it,” Ian saideventually, after everyone else had excused themselves and it was just him, Amaranth, and me left at the table. “How’d it go?”

“Weird and… inconclusively,” I said.

“Sounds like it’s complicated,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “A little more complicated than I really want to get into, if that’s okay.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” Amaranth said. “I thought you would probably be able to tell him better than I could, since you were there… is it okay if I explain it, or do you just not want to talk about it at all right now?”

“No, it’s okay… I’m just a little burned in the brain after melee class. Feel free,” I said, and she gave him a quick version of what I’d told her.

“That is so weird,” Ian said. “You’re sure she was afraid?”

“Everyone keeps asking me that,” I said. “Yes. It wasn’t a subtle and understated thing. She looked like she thought she might have to fortify her office against some kind of mystic siege, honestly.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Ian said. “It’s just… I really can’t picture Bohd scared.”

“Yeah, I guess you said that.”

“I was just thinking social anxiety bullshit,” Ian said. “Now you make it sound like she thought Twyla was there to kill her or something.”

“I really can’t picture Twyla threatening anyone,” Amaranth said.

“I can’t picture Bohd being threatend,” Ian said. “I’ll always be convinced she eats rock and breathes fire.”

“She probably could do both of those things, if she wanted to,” I said. “I mean, breath leaving the body has been warmed by heart’s fire, so it’s not a complicated tweak to push that to the surface. Eating rocks would be more complcated, but most mundane earth, including stones, has dormant nutrition in it so she’d just need to draw that out while softening it…”

Amaranth cleared her throat.

“Sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay, baby,” she said. “Anyway… I have been looking at the book and doing some research, and I do think I’ve made some progress, actually. I don’t have the full picture of what might have been going on in Professor Bohd’s head, but I think I have a theory that explains both Twyla’s horns and her reaction.”

“Ooh, I want to hear this,” Steff said, slipping back into her seat.

“Didn’t you leave like twenty minutes ago?” Ian asked her.

“Seventeen, but who’s counting? Anyway, my feet travel faster than my ears,” she said. “So, what do you have for us, Amy-Doll?”

Amaranth dabbed her napkin around her mouth, a thoroughly unnecessary gesture… if anything, the napkin came away cleaner for it… and then started clearing some space off the table. She produced a terrycloth towel and laid it out, then placed the enormous book on top of it.

Ian let out a low whistle, which I kind of envied. I couldn’t whistle at all. If I pursed my lips and blew I could sometimes make a blowing sound with a kind of high-pitched overlay, but that was it.

“That is what you call serious book,” Steff said. “Though I’m more impressed you were able to fit it in your nymph-pocket.”

“She did have a whole bed in there before,” Ian said.

“There isn’t any there for things to be in,” Amaranth said, and I would almost swear that she was blushing.

“Hey, I’m not making fun. I’d kind of like to be able to do that just so I didn’t have to haul my books between classes,” Ian said. “Though it would have really been handy in high school. We only had five minutes between bells, so you were pretty much stuck carrying the books for every class you were taking all morning or afternoon.”

“We only had two minutes,” I said. “It wasn’t a big school, but that pretty much only gave you time to get from one door to another without any margin of error. I don’t know how the people who had social lives managed it.”

“Of course, the fifteen minutes they give us here doesn’t seem like a lot when you have to book across campus,” Ian said. “The people who have classes on west campus have got to be freaking zephyrs.”

“That’s why I don’t get classes in a row, when I can help it,” I said.

“I never have a problem getting where I’m going,” Steff said.

“Why don’t you show us how it’s done, then?” Ian asked.

“Honestly, isn’t anyone interested in knowing what I found out?” Amaranth asked.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Steff said.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Okay, so… I knew an hour wouldn’t be enough time to make a serious dent in reading it,” Amaranth said. “It probably would have been plenty of time to go down to a ballroom and do some gazing around the ethernet… but it seemed like such a shame to ignore such a big, beautiful book to just go off and read about the book… so I decided to start with one story from the book itself, to get a sort of feel for it. The only question was which story to pick? I couldn’t think of any story about a djinn being foiled by anything other than another djinn, or a tricky human or elf… but then I remembered that there was a story about a boy who got lost in the desert and encountered a demon, so I decided to start with that.”

“But we know that Twyla’s horned parent or ancestor wasn’t a demon,” I said. “Apart from demons not having horns, she prays to Khersis. That’s not something anyone infernal could manage.”

“I know, baby,” Amaranth said. “But I had to start somewhere, right? I wasn’t expecting to find the answer the first time I opened the book. The funny thing is that I couldn’t find that story, or at least I couldn’t find it in the form I remembered. ‘The Demon in the Wastes’ apparently doesn’t exist in the Nights of Fire and Wonder… it’s ‘The Ghul in the Wastes’ in the original. Same story. The boy runs away from his evil uncle, gets lost, encounters a hungry and intelligent predator, they have the same wager, he tricks the predator, the predator is impressed so instead of just honoring the wager he gives him a basket full of jewels… but it’s not a demon in the original, it’s a ghul.”

I’d heard that story, too, and as I thought about it, the rather inexact translation didn’t seem too surprising. Nothing I knew about ghuls would require any change in the story I knew to swap out the antagonist… only my mental image changed.

“That makes sense,” I said, “but… I’m pretty sure that Twyla’s not part ghul, either.”

“They can reproduce, though, can’t they?” Ian asked. “I mean, ghouls are supposed to breed in the wild. I’d assume the Maravayan version can, too.”

“Yeah,” Steff said. “Zombies and skeletons animated by outside magic are dead-dead, but
ghouls are technically living dead. I’ve never studied ghuls, but most corporeally intact self-willed undead are close enough to life to breed, even with the living. That’s where you get your angsty half-vampires and stuff. It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone breeding with a ghoul, but the desert ones are probably a bit less… squelchy.”

“I wish it were harder to imagine,” Ian said. “Thanks for that mental image.”

“Still not seeing the connection here, though,” Steff said. “Twyla’s a little… robust… for a demidead. And it still wouldn’t explain the horns.”

“Well, I’m not saying that I think she’s part ghul,” Amaranth said. “But it got me thinking. Most versions of that story that are told in Pax make the antagonist a demon because if they translated ‘ghul’ to ‘ghoul’ it wouldn’t make any sense to us. The story works with a demon, but it’s no longer the same story. That’s exactly the kind of detail that might have sent Professor Bohd looking for an older, less watered-down translation. So, after that I started looking around for complete listings of the tales, but I specifically tried to find different versions that showed conflicting titles for the same stories… more modern or Paxified ones versus ones that were more of a straight translation.”

“So, what did you find?” I asked her.

“Well, interestingly enough, the ghul/demon substitution only seems to occur in that one story,” Amaranth said. “When it’s a horde of ravenous ghuls, or a single ghul haunting a necropolis and not actually having much in the way of conversation, they tend to either translate it as ‘ghoul’ or leave it untranslated.”

“That also makes sense, but since I still don’t see how it gets us closer,” I said.

“Well, it’s still interesting to consider the way trying to reconcile the story to fit a specific cultural lens alters it,” Amaranth said. “I mean, we could read a story about a group of starving ‘ghouls’ and just see it as normal, while someone with a cultural understanding of ghuls would see a theme of desperation and want in the circumstances that reduced them to that state… but you’re right, it’s not directly relevant. What is relevant is that they’re not the only kind of being to get this sort of treatment.”

I could tell from the way she was grinning again that she was pretty sure she’d solved it… but however proud she was of that, she was also pleased with the learning that had brought her to that point. So instead of asking her to get to the point, I asked her, “What other beings got mistranslated?”

“This is where it gets really interesting,” Amaranth said, “because this could actually explain where the whole demon/horns thing comes from.”

“That doesn’t really need explaining, though,” I said. “Horns are just like common iconography for evil or bestial or scary.”

“That’s certainly the most popular theory,” Amaranth said. “And it may be why the image of horned demons is so wide-spread and easily accepted. Or if demons were already thought of as horned for other reasons, it might have influenced the way these stories were adapted…”

“You’re saying that there’s a horned creature in Nights of Fire and Wonder that got depicted as a demon in our versions of the stories,” I said.

“Sometimes,” Amaranth said. “When it was fulfilling a ‘demonic’ role. But in other stories… well, you know the story of the ring and the bottle?”

“Yeah,” I said. “The two dueling djinn with the same master.”

“Yes!” Amaranth said. “That’s the story I was thinking of when I was talking about djinn thwarting each other… except they aren’t both djinn. They’re both called ‘genies’ in every adaptation I’ve ever seen, but this is what the bottled one looks like in the original.”

She flipped open the book a the page she had marked, and it showed the tiny figure of the story’s thief cowering down in front of a towering being of billowing orange smoke. It looked about like I would have expected a powerful and frightening “genie” to look in a story about how powerful and frightening said genie was, except for one detail that had been left out of every version I’d ever seen: the small curved horns that jutted from his forehead.

“The genie of the ring is a djinn,” Amaranth explained. “But the one in the bottle is an ifrit.”

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32 Responses to “Chapter 39: The Ring of Truth”

  1. Alyxe Barron says:

    Ooooh… and ifrit are traditionally linked with Fire!

    I really liked how Amaranth was nearly chortling to herself at her discovery, eager to share with the others. Amusing. Good chapter.


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  2. Zathras IX says:

    One’s breath leaving the
    Body warmed by one’s heart’s fire
    Accounts for heartburn

    Current score: 2
  3. Burnsidhe says:

    Heheh. They’re more alike than not, both getting a little sidetracked around a subject. It’s nice to see, though. It *definitely* explains that apparently odd reaction on Twyla’s part; an instinctive dislike for and antagonism to Prof. Bohd’s djinn heritage.

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    • Sarah says:

      Oh man, I squealed out loud and then had to explain to my husband (“you see, the half-demon girl’s nymph girlfriend figured out…” LOL) I feel like I shoulda thought of it a while ago, but that just goes to show how clever Alexandra is!

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  4. forum solipsist says:

    Heh heh heh…
    heh heh heh…

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  5. Jennifer says:

    So, not a dragon after all? Interesting!

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      That was my first thought. My second being, what do ifrits have to do with Khersis. My third, if one takes the Wikipedia article into account it lists Ifrit are an infernal creature much like demons.

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        They’re neither demonic nor infernal. In the original sources, Ifrit are “beings of smokeless fire”. Later, they were “interpreted” by some traditions to be beings that stood aside when Lucifer rebelled, siding with neither heaven nor hell.

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  6. Dave says:

    Typo watch: Ian saideventually needs a space.

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    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      “I can’t picture Bohd being threatend,” Ian said.

      Should be “threatened”.

      “That also makes sense, but since I still don’t see how it gets us closer,” I said.

      The word “since” seems extraneous here.

      She flipped open the book a the page she had marked,

      Got an “a” where a “to” belongs.

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      • Zukira Phaera says:

        a could be at rather than a to. that is how I read it.

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  7. Zukira Phaera says:

    Loved the chapter. Especially the bit about how translations can include a change in antagonist depending on various things. So true.

    A part of me wants to mutter about a particular aquatic creature of a certain primary color though. It almost feels a little to ‘pat’ at the moment.

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    • Brenda says:

      I agree. Either the dragon hints in the history lecture were a false lead, or this is. Maybe Twyla has dragon heritage, but here elemental affinities are similar to those of an ifrit. It seems that Bohd jumped to a hasty conclusion; it’s kind of ironic that someone with her background would instantly assume that Twyla intended to harm her merely because of her ancestry…

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        This is a fantasy world. Elemental affinities are not just “Oh, I like fire”. They’re “I am in touch with the essence of fire, the Platonic Ideal of fire. All that fire is, I am. All that fire is affected by, I am.”

        The enmity of the Djinn and the Ifrit is instinctual and deep, based on opposing affinities, from what AE wrote. This isn’t just, “Oh, I think she’s an Ifrit, therefore she must want to hurt me.” And looking at Twyla’s irrationally angry reaction, where she blames Mack for sending her to Bohd.. she reacted like Mack was deliberately sending her to her worst enemy.

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  8. Brenda says:

    I noticed one typo:

    Ian saideventually (needs a space)

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    • Brenda says:

      Gah! I even refreshed before posting this and still managed to get in behind someone else!

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  9. Central Void says:

    I think it’s actually more plausible that her ancestry is Ifrit, she doesn’t exert the same fear we see in more mentally powerful monsters, there have been no hints thus far that she would actually be some part dragon, even small portions of dragon blood seem to be able to use a certain force of will, Twyla doesn’t have this.

    This makes me think that a dragon might have a little more control over what they’re doing, as opposed to randomly sneezing fire, that seems well beyond what she would be doing as even small portions would start showing themselves at puberty, would they not?

    The dragon fear is obviously instilled in Mack’s being at this point, so its only natural that she’d jump to conclusions that way after having such a bad run in with a powerful dragon.

    If the actual story of how the Ifrit gets the upper hand on the Djinn is explained, I think it’ll sit a little better with everyone.

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    • Luke Licens says:

      If I’m remembering my Arabian Nights correctly, the Genie of the Ring (the Djinn in this case) was the one who got the upper hand, despite the Genie of the Lamp (or Ifrit of the Bottle, I suppose) being much more powerful.

      I think that would make Bohd nervous about retaliation, especially as she’s a much smaller fraction of Djinn to Twyla’s Half-Ifrit. Twyla’s anger might also be subconcious race-memory, as her potential ancestor was outfoxed by a clever Djinn, who’s (potential) descendent she was just sent to for help.

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      • Adele says:

        Where did you get Half-Ifrit from?

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        • Burnsidhe says:

          There’s nothing saying Twyla is half-ifrit. She might only be a quarter-Ifrit.

          Either way, that’s considerably more than Bohd’s very small percentage of Djinn heritage.

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  10. Month says:

    Oh man! That is a facepalm moment if I ever saw one.

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  11. Bolongo says:

    Well, of course. Everyone knows the difference between a Ring of Djinni Summoning and an Efreeti Bottle, don’t they? 😉

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  12. cnic says:

    If MU has an equivalent of Islam is it conflated with Christianity? I ask because in the Qur’an, Muhammad converted some djinn to Islam, so I find it interesting that Twyla is a strong believer in Kherstianity. For all we know strong Kherstianity goes back over a thousand years in her family.

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  13. Erm says:

    Do ifrit and jinn have a racial enmity like dwarves and kobolds?

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      No. They have a racial enmity like fire and ice. Or like matter and anti-matter. Or Sodium and Water.

      You can’t bring the two together without a violent reaction.

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      • Brenda says:

        It must have been quite a shock for Twyla to experience that reaction and not know WHY.

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  14. Krey says:

    This and Final Fantasy are the only places I’ve seen this as ifrit and not efreet.

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  15. Minty says:

    This had me staring with my mouth open going “That is SO COOL. So cool!” over and over. I love this reveal. I never would have guessed anything like this, but it makes perfect sense.

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  16. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nommy nom! Nice mislead, then reaveal here. Twyla’s ancestry possibly revealed. Very interesting. Also may explain the “powerful being” blocking scrying for Twyla’s ancestry.

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  17. That Dave Guy says:

    Ooh, ifrit are fun!

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  18. Apollo says:

    ‘The Ring’ of Truth, eh? ‘And in the darkness, bind them.’, perhaps? ;3

    Love the twist – an ifrit!

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  19. Khazidhea says:

    “Ian saideventually”
    Missing space

    “I can’t picture Bohd being threatend,”
    Missing an ‘e’ in threatened

    “Eating rocks would be more complcated”
    Missing the ‘i’ in complicated

    “That is what you call [a] serious book,”

    “Zombies and skeletons animated by outside magic are dead-dead, but
    ghouls are technically living dead.”

    Could just be my browser, but there seems to be a break in the formatting between ‘but’ and ‘ghouls’

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