When last we left off, Susan appeared, had Harry insist she was being dumb, then saved Harry’s stupid dumb ass by sacrificing a bunch of her memories. Now she doesn’t know who he is! On the one hand, that means she’s forgotten she knows the guy, which will make convincing her to leave harder. On the other hand, it means she’s forgotten she knows the guy is always like “everything is super dangerous and you can’t be involved for reasons I can’t explain and which will turn out to be kind of bullshit later”, which will make convincing her to leave easier.
Harry proceeds to do a bad job of explaining anything to her, but a better job of explaining anything to her than he was just doing, so it’s still kind of a wash.
“Hey,” she said, squaring off against me. “I don’t know you, okay? My name is Miss Rodriguez.”
“Look, Su-Miss Rodriguez. My faerie godmother just stole a year’s worth of your memory.”
See? He’s not exactly hitting this out of the park, but he’s doing his best and he’s being considerate of what she says as he does so.
After nearly getting stabbed when he tries to grab her, he tries to get her to understand that her invitation is faked. I can only assume Lea knows Harry really, really well because this illustrates that this whole thing should’ve barely been a delay.
Yes, Susan doesn’t know Harry at the moment. But he’s her main connection to the supernatural, so he’s pretty entangled in her life, and apparently Lea didn’t/couldn’t replace the memories with something else. She’s only here because she’s someone else’s +1. The fact she can’t remember who doesn’t prove it’s Harry, but it’s either Harry OR it’s somebody who just abandoned her with amnesia in the middle of a vampire party – in either case, it seems like she’s not safe here and needs to get out fast. Similarly, the very fact she’s got amnesia illustrates the invitation was not as protective as she thought. Regardless of the details, she needs to leave now. And she does remember Harry is the dude claiming to be a wizard, which means he’s the only person in this room she can be sure is a fellow human. He’s also standing next to another dude covered in crosses. And both of them will presumably agree to get splashed with holy water or whatever else is in her basket if she wants to be sure. Also, neither of them are wearing red like everyone else, further suggesting they’re not part of the vampires. Also, there’s piles of people lying on the ground, occasionally being picked up by red people. Bad things are clearly happening here.
She’s smart. It should be easy for her to work out most of that as soon as you prompt her to examine any of the situation.
But Harry isn’t smart, so he prefers to say small things and make a big deal of how put out he is about all this.
“At least get out of here. You’re not safe here. You came in on an invitation you had made up. Do you remember that?”
She screwed up her face into a frown. “How did you know that?” she asked.
“You told me so about five minutes ago,” I said, and sighed. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You’ve had a bunch of your memories taken.”
“I remember coming here,” Susan said. “I remember having the counterfeit invitation made.”
See, that’s all that matters. She remembers she’s here on false pretenses and she remembers everyone’s a vampire, and now she’s holes in her memory, but Harry would rather huff about how she just said this! arg!! memory so frustrating!!! And so he continues by trying to poke at memories where she’ll remember him until he confirms the obvious about how Lea yoinked out the him-related memories, like the fact she opened saying she wanted Susan’s love of him didn’t kind of establish that’s the sort of thing she’d do. She knew Harry more than a year ago. The fact she doesn’t remember him means Lea took a year in pieces and made sure to include him. Why is he wasting precious vampire-escape time working this out?
He goes get back on track once he’s verified the obvious, although christ he still sucks at this. Admittedly, poor Susan wasn’t allowed to drop the idiot ball from earlier so she’s not making it easy.
I nodded. “Okay. Then I need to ask you to trust me, Miss Rodriguez. You’ve been affected by magic and I don’t know how we can get it fixed yet. But you’re in danger here and I think you should leave.”
“Not with you,” she said at once. “I have no idea who you are. Other than some kind of psychic consultant for Special Investigations.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Not with me. But at least let us walk you out of here, so that we can make sure you get out okay. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a vampire in here. So let us get you out to your car and then you can go wherever you like.”
This is so generic. It’s like he’s talking to someone he’s never met and knows nothing about, so he can only give her vague assurances that he’s trustworthy. Meanwhile, she is at a vampire party and there is visible evidence all around her that vampires don’t give a shit about hospitality rules. Another human is freaking out. Even if she doesn’t believe in “magic”, that just means the holes in her memory are roofies or something, and hey look lots of passed out people on the ground. Under different, less vampirey circumstances, I could understand a woman concerned she’s been drugged not wanting to go home with two strange men and thinking it’s safer to stay in a public place, but again, piles of people are on the ground. It’s pretty clear that this is not the sort of party where taking advantage of unconscious people is looked down on. (Also, I’m not sure how much Michael’s costume just looks ridiculous, but visible symbols of faith are generally considered a marker of someone trustworthy and moral. Not reliable ones, but if you have absolutely nothing to go on, the guy who at least looks like a paladin is probably the best bet. Also, unlike Harry, I bet he’s made eye contact throughout this conversation.)
Also, remember she isn’t Harry and ought to have a cellphone. She can call a cab and go to the hospital.
“I didn’t get my interview,” she said. “But … I feel so strange.” She shook her head, and replaced her
knife in her picnic basket. I heard the click of a tape recorder being switched off.
IF YOU WERE RECORDING EVERYTHING YOU COULD PLAY BACK THE LAST FIVE MINUTES
WHY DO YOU DO THIS
YOU DIDN’T AGREE TO A YEAR OF MEMORY AND ALSO ALL YOUR COMMON SENSE
Still, at least she agrees to leave, so this whole mess of stupidity can stop.
At which point Michael gamely makes a lunge for the idiot ball – Lea’s here, so the sword’s here maybe, and the mere fact she shut down his attempt to get it and then threatened his family while they’re surrounded by angry vampires is no reason not to stick around and try again!
Harry points out this is stupid and, amazingly, Michael’s just…yeah, now that we’re saying it out loud it does seem a bad idea.
They get as far as the stairs and then it’s back-of-the-neck prickles time.
“There’s someone …” I said, and closed my eyes. I brought up my Sight, just for a moment, and felt the pressure just a little above the spot between my eyebrows. I looked up again. The Sight cut through the enchantment in front of me like sunlight through a wispy cloud. Behind me, Michael and Susan both took in sharp breaths of surprise.
The Hamlet lookalike stood three stairs up, half smiling. I realized only then that the figure was a woman rather than a man, the slender shape of her slim hips and breasts obscured by the sable doublet she wore, giving her an odd, androgynous appearance. Her skin was pallid-not pale, not creamy. Pallid. Translucent. Almost greyish. Her lips were tinged very faintly blue, as though she’d been recently chilled. Or dead. I shivered, and lowered the Sight before it showed me something that I didn’t want to keep with me.
Remember how Harry won’t shut up about how he refuses to use the sight, whine whine permanent unforgettable trauma? And now in the middle of a vampire’s home during a vampire-packed party he flares it and all he sees is oh my god this one lady vampire is androgynous.
She held a skull in her other hand-it was a real one. And the bloodstains on it couldn’t have been more than a few hours old.
Now, I’m not sure if this means that she came in with a cleaned skull and then spilled blood on it or if she’s freshly finished gnawing off the flesh. The former seems more reasonable, but the latter seems more awesome.
The sight doesn’t pick up ANY of this glorious murder. Doesn’t pick up any of the rest of the million things going on. Just turns an ordinary vampire who was invisible to visible.
“Well done, wizard,” she said. Her voice sounded raspy, a quiet, hissing whisper, the kind that comes from throats and mouths which are perfectly dry. “Very few can see me when I do not wish to be seen.”
Yeah, but all wizards presumably can given all he had to do was flick on his sight.
He explains he totally has no interest in if she is visibly murdering or whatever, just leaving. Then, for a glorious instant, we actually get hospitality laws kicking in!
“Oh, but this is the hour for all to mingle and meet. I have a right to introduce myself to you and to hear your names and exchange pleasantries in return.”
The names bit is particularly concerning. We can assume that truenames aren’t required just because it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to enforce that you can’t use them immediately afterward, but it implies that you can’t just not answer, so you have to work out exactly how much of a name the right to hear names requires.
Also, she’s actually got description that isn’t about boning for once – I kept my own eyes firmly planted on the tip of her nose, and tried very hard not to notice that her eyes had no color at all, just a kind of flaccid blue-grey tinge to them, a filmy coating like cataracts. – which is great.
“And what if I don’t have time for the pleasantries?” I said.
“Oh,” she whispered. “Then I might be insulted. I might even be tempted to call for satisfaction.”
“A duel?” I asked, incredulous. “Are you kidding me?”
Okay, this is making me think of that bit in Life of Brian where he has to haggle, only without the part where Harry realizes it’s faster if you just get it over with than if you spend all that time you don’t have time for discussing how you don’t want to do it because you’re just so rushed.
I glanced back at Michael, who had his eyes narrowed, focused on the woman’s doublet or upon her belt, perhaps. “You know this lady?”
“She’s no lady,” Michael said, his voice quiet.
Dammit, Michael! Knock it off already.
Anyway, Michael continues to have the actual education and explains this is the Black Court head honcho. She’s a bit testy about him murdering her kids, he’s a bit testy about those kids murdering lots of other people’s kids, you know how it is.
(Also, Harry is polite in his attempts to escape this conversation! “I’m failing to see anything we might possibly have in common, ma’am. Why couldn’t you have done this with the dragon? The dragon is the only one here who didn’t already have an opinion on you and who didn’t take immediate advantage when you handed him your truename. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “And have you met my new friend, this dragon? You have loads in common okay bye now!”)
Harry continues to be scared into finally acting decent:
“Well,” I said. “It’s been nice chatting, Mavra, but we’re on our way out.”
Can you imagine how great it’d be if the books were inverted? If this was how Harry acted most of the time, and he only pulled out the dickery to people who deserved it? Maybe even right now, dealing with a mass murderer, instead of back with some innocent dragon just hanging out, or every human he ever interacts with?
But for her lips and her eyes, she still hadn’t moved. It was an eerie stillness, not real. Real things move, stir, breathe. Mavra didn’t.
I mean, technically corpses are real things too, Harry. But yeah.
Our new best friend Mavra then points out that that “we” definitely doesn’t cover everyone there, now does it? Because only two people have that invite-protection that lets them out of this slaughterhouse.
Therefore, one of your companions is not under the protection of the old laws, wizard.
So, what we know about old laws:
1) They let you leave.
2) You have to exchange pleasantries.
3) You can’t poison just one person’s food.
She explains that she’s already mad at Michael, so obviously she kills him if he stays, but that she’s mad enough Harry is even standing next to the guy that she’ll kill anyone else in his party, especially since she’s hungry And these little, dazzled morsels the Reds brought tonight are too sweet and insubstantial for my taste.”
Which probably means she eats suffering or something, but it’s interesting that both Red and White seem equally fine with their food being high as a kite but not Black. I wonder if the corpseness is because these are the only vampires that were ever really human, and so they need to actually eat a person who’s whole. Eating someone missing half their brain function means they’re missing half the meal. That might also suggest that they’re also not into “little” in the youth sense. People here because they’re too young to know better, who don’t understand what’s going on, and were first high and then unconscious are probably about as healthy for them as chugging corn syrup.
I took a step back, and turned to Michael, speaking in a whisper. “If I get Susan out of here, can you take this bitch?”
“You might as well not whisper, Harry,” Michael said. “It can hear you.”
“Yes,” Mavra said. “It can.”
Way to go, Harry. Endear yourself to the monsters, why don’t you.
Seriously though this book has been great since she showed up. She needs to stick around.
Michael offers to get himself killed, Susan objects and says that she should get a say in who gets killed here since she wasn’t exactly tricked into the place.
“I’m sorry, Miss Rodriguez,” Michael said, his tone apologetic. “But this is what I do.”
“Save me from chauvinist pigs,” Susan muttered.
Not even Mavra’s powers can save us from this kind of thing, it seems.
But we’re still doing pretty good because Harry’s being observant and notices Mavra seems to be tilting a bit away from Susan despite not giving a shit about the wizard or the paladin of Pelor the Burning Hate. Could it be the basket? Yes.
“Garlic,” Michael mused.
Above us on the stairs, Mavra hissed.
Ah! Evidence that the hissing is indeed a warning bluff, just like cats. Now we just have to figure out what about Harry’s costume was painful for the vampires to see and if we can narrow down the secret weakness of the Red vampires to “godawful fashion sense” or “incredibly stupid pranks”.
“The Black Court was nearly wiped out, Thomas said. I wonder if that’s because they got a little too much publicity.
This could’ve been foreshadowed better. I think it was in the comments I went on at length about how vampires actually can do something about their media depictions, plus if it was being “just like the movies” that killed off the Black, then Red and White should find Harry’s costume equally hilarious. Unless, I suppose, Thomas is just an asshole and Red mourns the unfair persecution of their Black brethren. Regardless, we shouldn’t end up with a situation where the only vampire species who doesn’t care about Harry’s movie costume is nearly extinct thanks to those movies.
He then tosses some garlic at poor Mavra, who blurs out of the way because blur effects are cool but easy for the TV adaption. Apparently that too is not hospitality violating, so I’m going to guess it doesn’t in any way harm her but is just considered SUPER gross.
Modern vampire fiction tends to explain the garlic as because our current superior vamps have superior smell, so anything with a strong smell to a human is overwhelming to them. While Mavra’s invisibility and blur powers make it clear she’s got cool powers, her dead eyes suggest whatever awesome senses she might have are not based on the physical world – if she has any sense of smell, it’s unlikely to be stronger than the bat-vampires and whatever the hell Thomas’ people’s theme is. The origins of garlic are a bit muddier. Obviously it’s a plant and it’s used in folk remedies, but that applies to most things. Apparently it makes mosquitoes go away, so it’s got anti-bloodsucker powers but that would suggest it hurts the Red faction, who I assume are most into blood by the fact they’re named for it. And it’s a bit of a preservative, but any walking corpse shouldn’t mind extra preservatives.
Confusing the question of what the hell the old law is still further:
Mavra spread her hands out to either side, and gathered darkness into her palms. That’s the only way I can explain it. She spread out her hands, and blackness rushed in to fill them, gathering there in a writhing mass that shrouded her hands to the wrists. “Try to force your way past me with that weapon, wizard, and I will take it as an attack upon my person. And defend myself appropriately.”
So you can’t attack people, but you can lay down black holes in places they’re trying to go, and if a weapon gets into your personal space it counts as an attack and allows a free counter-attack, except it didn’t the first time Harry threw it at her.
Also the spell is like cold chain thorn wire.
Mavra was our girl.
So hey, everyone who’s ever been yelled at about how stop calling women girls, and you were like ???? I didn’t mean anything??? Why would it be an insult????? Yeah, that’s why.
“Um,” Susan said. “Why are her hands doing that? Can vampires do that?”
“Wizards can,” I said.
Now, what’s interesting is he just explained that cold chain thorn wire aura feels like the precise antithesis of magic. So, maybe this is what wizardry looks like when you’re dead, or maybe there’s a completely different type of magic available when you’re dead. Either way “vampire did it” should’ve been Harry’s first guess upon encountering freaky magic he didn’t know anything about but felt super dead. It’d have been understandable if he was confused and giving serious handshakes to all the Red vampires while wondering at how their auras didn’t feel like windows into the negaverse, and then oh wait there’s another more corpselike vampire species it was that one okay that makes sense. But instead he does absolutely nothing with all the clues about the magic and only even finds the superghost’s patron by trying to flee the area.
Actually, for that matter – he’s met a sum total of one Black Court vampire. That her magic feels this way only narrows things down. Harry of all people should know better after the whole “the heartsplosion was wizard magic and you’re a wizard therefore you did it” debacle. And she didn’t even offer Harry the option of being the one to stay behind and let his two friends live, which suggests she just happens to hate Michael for other reasons.
Her dead man’s eyes looked down at me, and I had an abrupt understanding of why Michael had called her “it.” Mavra wasn’t a woman anymore. Whatever she was, she wasn’t a person. Not like I understood people, in any case. Those eyes pulled at mine, pulled at me with a kind of horrid fascination, the same sickly attraction that makes you want to see what’s under the blanket in the morgue, to turn over the dead animal and see the corruption beneath.
Wow rude. Harry.
I think this is partly a kitchen sink thing.
In some settings, it’s humans and things that are monstrously pretending to be. The nonhumans are Other in as many ways as can be done. Either there is nothing behind their human mask or what’s there is impossible for us to understand and connect with.
In other settings there are cute little dewdrop fairies you bribe with honeybread and pizza to help you out. There are humans that turn into wolves and wolves that turn into humans who both work together risking their lives to save others, and souls can be born in the wrong body but still be made of otherwise ordinary parts.
You can’t have both. You can’t both say, “This was not a human being, therefore fuck all consideration, it’s a thing and we kill things with fire,” and “Here are these nonhumans who have their own thoughts and feelings and loves and hates and lives.”
Mavra is a person. Not a very nice person, but a person who can care about others and mourn their loss even though she doesn’t care about those they killed in turn. There’s nothing particularly difficult to understand about her, so a statement like, Not like I understood people, in any case. suggests the person was never particularly interested in understanding. And it doesn’t help that last book Harry wouldn’t shut up about how technically it was okay to murder as many wolf-souled humans as he wanted with magic because they weren’t people enough, so insisting someone isn’t a person when it’s convenient is an established pattern with him.
That said – it’s against the rules to kill with magic, and in a situation where Harry knows subconsciously his only chance of survival is to violate that, it makes sense he’d have these thought running in the back of his head about how it doesn’t count, this time doesn’t count, this time it’s okay. His description in the opening of the first book makes it sound like it’s actually mentally damaging to the wielder to kill with magic, and maybe it’s not exactly the killing, maybe it’s what you have to do to will something you recognize as not so different from yourself dead.
This might also explain why Morgan seemed to swing so suddenly to leaving Harry be after spending the book refusing to extend the slightest doubt to him. You can’t afford to see someone you might need to kill as a person. You can’t afford any empathy. If at any moment you look at someone and understand them, you can’t kill them.
Maybe that’s also why the WC is so freaked out by Harry. If he’d told them his old master had gotten eaten by a demon that wore his skin, they’d have said, “Okay, well not exactly, but I mean, if that’s what he was acting like then it’s totally understandable you’d fireball him to death. You weren’t killing a person.” Maybe that’s why Harry even now is still so freaked out by it in a way he’s not by anything else that’s happened. It would also explain his chant all through ghosthunting about not-a-person-not-a-person-not-a-person, the way he keeps seeing screaming agony and dispassionately reporting on it like it doesn’t matter.
(…it also gives another reason why Mort doesn’t want to do any ghosthunting. You probably can’t both summon to speak with and defend yourself from ghosts without amazing amounts of cognitive dissonance. Maybe that’s what broke his magic.)
“Come, wizard,” Mavra whispered, her face utterly without expression. “Let us test one another, thou and I.”
Harry does not snark at the “thou” this time. Instead, he considers his options, and then realizes she’s trying to get him to attack first. So we have our first thing that actually will violate hospitality: kamehamehaing somebody in the face.
At this point he decides it’s time to go big, which, you know, actually reasonable! God, Mavra’s great. See, we know here that Mavra is not willing to engage. We don’t know quite how much is a bluff, but definitely she is trying to bluff him into something other than just running by, so that’s got to be the least bad of their options. If you try to stop us from leaving, if you try to hurt anyone under my protection, you’ll be dealing with a Wizard of the Council, a Knight of the Sword and a girl with a basket full of garlic and holy water.
It’s a bit of a weird brag to say if she attacks people under his protection, the people under his protection will fuck her up, but the second half is pretty cool regardless. I hope the entire rest of the book has Mavra hovering just out of range so things stay on track.
And apparently running is Harry’s best option so Mavra goes to Plan C: frontal assault. Susan shoves a cross at her and Michael shoves a crosslike dagger.
Both wood and steel flared with a cold white light as Mavra closed, and she slammed into that light as if it were a solid wall, the shadows in her hand scattering and falling away like sand between her fingers. We stood facing her, my azure power and two blazing crosses, which burned with a kind of purity and quiet power I had never seen before.
Nice! And we know from Michael’s previous holysplosion of agony that people running into your landmines is fine.
“Blood of the Dragon, that old Serpent,” Michael said, quietly. “You and yours have no power here. Your threats are hollow, your words are empty of truth, just as your heart is empty of love, your body of life. Cease this now, before you tempt the wrath of the Almighty.”
Ah, and now we’re getting quality paladin speeches.
Mavra retreats a bit and then says whatever, time’s up for them. There’s no leaving now.
She continued up to the top of the stairs, and gently shut the doors leading out. They closed with an ominous boom.
All the lights went out. All but the blue nimbus around my hand, and the faded glory of the two crosses.
“Great,” I muttered.
TRY TO RUN YOU IDIOTS
Okay, she almost certainly locked that door, but you can probably blow it off its hinges and even if that violates hospitality, you’ll be most of the way outside so you can just keep running.
The vampires start laughing in their quality spooky way.
Something glimmered in the dark, and Thomas and Justine appeared in the glow of the power gathered in my hand. He lifted both hands at once, and said, “Would you mind terribly if I stood with you?”
Things are still being pretty great. There’s nothing that says you’re completely fucked than an unrelated party who’s better off than you sidling up to you for strength in numbers.
Thomas is also marked on the neck with a lipstick brand and says he got kissed by Lea. So burning somebody on contact is so not against the rules that it even applies if you’ve got to lean over into their space. I mean, possibly Lea managed to get him to give the okay to this, but Thomas actually seems to know what he’s doing here. Harry really missed out by not just covering himself in anti-vampire spikes and then running around shouting TECHNICALLY IT’S NOT ME THAT’S ATTACKING YOU!
Anyway, point is, Stage 1: Light Banter And Snacks, is now over. It’s now Stage 2: Gifts!!! This can only go well.