originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/741716...

Time for more flower…

…no, not that flower! ………………………unless…?


  1. Zettai! Ummei! Mokushiroku!
  2. the magical metaphysics
  3. a self-referential quibble
  4. anyway… the Deal with Prosognisia!
  5. so what’s so fucked up about arcanists anyway?
  6. introducing teacher mommy
  7. don’t mention the war
  8. But it’s not all political debates and shagging your teacher…
  9. Religion exists after all!
  10. The fair play interlude
  11. There’s been a mordah!
  12. More suspects! More suspects!
  13. can we solve anything yet?

Welcome back to my liveblog of sorts for web novel The Flower That Bloomed Nowhere by @lurinatftbn! Shout out to the Flower discord for giving me such a kind welcome. You’re making me want to go all out on this liveblog, but, I musn’t…! So I’m going to try to just comment on things that jumped out as especially noteworthy rather than write down everything that went down.

Especially since… a lot happened in these chapters. We have a perfect androgyne tree thing! Magical duels! Questionable student/teacher relationships! Steamed hams! Intense political arguments at dinner! Metafictional assurance of fair play! Prosognostic events! Transgender AIs! And of course……

....... a murder!!!!!

…ok that one was kinda obvious. But the first body has hit the floor! I don’t feel like I have nearly enough information yet to start speculating about who might have dunnit.

That’s a lie. It was definitely Kinzo Ushiromiya. That bastard.

So, from the top!

We’re introduced to a few of the members of the Order, with by far the most screen time going to Su’s mentor and ah, kinda-girlfriend? Neferuaten. And like, damn, lot going on there!

Before I get into the meat of that - first the bit where I search a character’s name on Wikipedia. Neferuaten’s name is most likely a reference to an Egyptian female king/pharaoh (a rank that’s apparently distinct, conceptually, from a queen) variously called Ankhkheperure-Merit-Neferkheperure, Waenre, and Aten Neferneferuaten. Most often shortened to just Neferneferuaten.

Her exact historical identity seems to be a little unclear - she may or may not be the same person as Nefertiti for example. Whoever she was, she apparently reigned for a couple of years around 1334–1332 BCE, and was then succeeded by the famous child king Tutankhamun. Or maybe Smenkhkare came in between them? Seems to be a matter of some debate. Girl really needed to leave a few more vast and trunkless legs of stone so we can figure this stuff out.

In any case, this version of Neferuaten goes way back with Su. Her introduction is to launch a magical attack on our poor girl while she’s contemplating the ‘everblossom’. One of those classic ‘master surprise attacks the student to see how much they’ve learned’ deals. This servers as a fine exposition for the exact mechanics of magical duels.

Zettai! Ummei! Mokushiroku!

Let’s briefly note how magical duels and magic works here, since it seems like it will be very relevant later.

The more we learn about magic, the more explicit is that this system is not some natural property of the universe, but something that’s designed by the mysterious Ironworkers. It seems like it’s kind of an API to the Ironworker admin console. The Ironworkers wanted to make it difficult to do magic on human bodies, and therefore they designed a system for detecting what is ‘human’, based on three heuristics - anatomical, motion and neurological.

Humans, being the freaky little hackers that we are, of course set about figuring out how to bypass this system, and created standardised means, consisting of three spells, termed [x]-beguiling arcana. In a sense the three criteria are something like three ‘hitpoints’: the primary way to win a duel is to get all three spells off, thus making your opponent vulnerable to magic.

To achieve this, you can either speak the words of a spell or sign them by drawing them with your fingers - i.e. one way or the other express the appropriate string of symbols. This is risky because if you’re interrupted at the wrong time, your spell can backfire and blow up, and getting a spell right requires precise pronunciation and also rapid mental maths. So the general ‘gameplay’ of magical duels involves attempting to disrupt the opponent’s focus and aim, while fast-casting the spells that are most familiar to you.

We’re introduced to a few spells that could be useful in battle, such as

It’s clearly a pretty carefully thought out system - I appreciate that it’s approached from the point of view of someone trying to exploit the shit out of the system and figure out what the real meta would be. It does kinda seem like if you got the drop on a wizard and shot them with a sniper rifle they’d be toast, but we’ll see later that much more powerful weapons than mere chemical firearms exist in this world, and presumably in a combat situation everyone would have entropy-denying (or equivalent) shields up, so maybe that’s a moot point.

Anyway, we are later informed by the closest thing to authorial voice that everything we’re told here about magic can be assumed to be axiomatically true, similar to the red text in Umineko. Which pretty heavily foreshadows that this is going to be on the test, if you like!

the magical metaphysics

With apologies to Neferuaten, who will get more detailed comments shortly, there are some other big revelations about magic and the nature of this world that I should talk about while we’re on the subject of magic!

In the last post I wondered whether casting magic is an innate quality or a ‘skill issue’ situation. It turns out the answer is sorta ‘neither’. In fact, it’s something that has to be unlocked, using special equipment and a particular ritual. The cost of this ritual is not yet entirely spelled out, but we definitely get an inkling. It’s rather ominously implied by this exchange in chapter 22:

“We’re supposed to want to save people, to make the world better. To defend a bunch of people who practically committed murder–”
“You’re a murderer too, dour girl.”
I stopped, and blinked.
It took me some moments to process the words.
They’d come from Lilith, who now seemed to have finished with her dessert. Now she was just slowly swirling her spoon around in the last remnants of the chocolate sludge on the plate and, occasionally, dipping a finger into her cream bowl and licking little bits of it up. Her expression was irritated, but disconnected.
“All arcanists are,” she said. “It’s how it happens. So having fights over moral high ground like this is very stupid and annoying. Please stop.”

In the same chapter, Su uses something called an ‘acclimation log’, in which she records her ‘association’ with a series of diary entries from her childhood self. It all suggests that Su’s present consciousness has somehow taken over the body of another character, who we could maybe call original!Su.

A few chapters later, we find out what’s the deal with prosognostic events. In fact we get a pretty extensive exposition. It turns out that iron is magical in this universe, providing access to higher dimensions, FTL and all sorts of shit. However, because the Mimikos and other worlds are running on a ‘substrate’ of iron - sort of like a simulation - we are told this is why they can’t recursively include iron within. And since the human body includes a certain amount of iron (most notably, in the haemoglobin protein in red blood cells), it is not possible to fully realise the human body inside these artificial worlds.

a self-referential quibble

Here’s how Su puts it:

A substrate cannot exist within itself. That sounds awkward when I put it so directly, but it’s not too hard to understand if you think about it in abstract– A foundation obviously can’t support another foundation of equal weight and nature, because… Well, it would make nonsense of the whole premise. A book is a device for storing information, but it cannot contain within its letters everything about itself and what it contains, because that is already more than it contains. A box cannot hold another box of equal size, unless it is bent or otherwise changed. A mind cannot hold another mind…

On the face of it, this seems on the face of it… not entirely true, at least in some domains? You can run a virtual machine program on a computer, representing any particular combination of hardware and software, which is from the perspective of software ‘on the inside’, essentially indistinguishable from a computer running on ‘bare metal’ hardware. The only real difference is that operating the virtual machine has some computational overhead, so it will be slower. The more virtual machines you nest, the slower it gets.

But ‘from the inside’, the only way to tell which layer of virtual machine you’re on would be to refer to some kind of external clock signal (which can trivially be spoofed) and notice that it’s running slower than it should!

We could also mention here the subject of quines, which are programs which print their own source code.

Let’s consider Su’s examples. The book that completely describes its contents might be able to get around this problem in a similar fashion to a quine, by exploiting redundancy and self-reference.

For example, let’s try creating a string that completely describes its own content, using a quine-style technique.

This string begins with a sentence followed by its quotation, and then 100 letter ws; the sentence is: “This string begins with a sentence followed by its quotation, and then 100 letter ws; the sentence is: ” wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

In fact the ‘100 letter ws’ could literally be the entire string that follows. Suppose the length of the ‘real content’ of the book is S, and the length of the rest of the ‘metadata sentence’ describing properties of the book is M; then the total length of the book is 2M+3S.

You can add as much additional information to the ‘metadata’ string as you like, provided you quote it again afterwards. If you don’t like having a book be three times the length it needs to be, you could compress the ‘real content’ string using an algorithm like DEFLATE, and include instructions in the ‘metadata’ on how to decompress it. (Text tends to compress really well.) This is where we run up into notions probably all too familiar to rats, or indeed anyone who recently read Seth Dickinson’s new novel Exordia, such as Kolmogorov complexity.

But… I think this might well be intentional. Given how common notions like ‘stacks of simulations’ and ‘self-reference’ are in rat space, I suspect we may be being misled! The ‘rules’ of the game - more on that in a moment - say that Su won’t deliberately lie to us, and won’t withold information without saying so, but her perceptions could be mistaken. Maybe she’s been given a false explanation of why the world works the way it does.

It’s also totally possible that while the general point (you can’t contain a thing in itself) may have some edge cases, the specific instance - you can’t build a universe on a giant higher-dimensional iron spike and still have that universe contain iron - may still be true. We don’t know the first thing about building universes using magic iron after all.

anyway… the Deal with Prosognisia!

The Ironworkers had a hacky workaround to the ‘no iron’ rule: they had a few tens of thousands of preserved human bodies on board their Tower of Asphodel. Asphodel, incidentally, is a genus of flower, said to carpet the Asphodel Meadows, one of the three divisions of the realm of Hades. (In their game, Supergiant decided to convert it into a lava zone.) It looks rather pretty actually!

A photo of the asphodel flower. It's a complex black and white conical shape.

So, they were able to instantiate these bodies in their rebuilt worlds by sort of making them into a reference to one of these stored human bodies. Here’s Su again, chapter 26:

Some human bodies, or at least the impression of them and the iron within, had been preserved as part of the Tower, frozen in a timeless place. And because of that, it was eventually discovered it was possible for them to exist in the artificed planes as a sort of stable paradox. After all, while a book can’t exist within itself, it can still reference other stuff it does contain internally, even if it makes for somewhat awkward reading. A few tweaks and workarounds solved the problem of the iron associated with that human body staying a part of it, and just like that, human beings were walking something at least akin to the earth once again. However, this only permitted replicas of those bodies within the Tower to exist. The creation of new ones remained impossible, and births not incubated by anima taken by the same mechanism would inevitably fail. And there were far fewer preserved bodies than minds; scarcely more than ten thousand or so for each party.

So every human born in the Mimikos is forked from one of these human bodies. For… mysterious reasons, if you recognise that someone nearby is forked from the same body as you, you both straight up die. If you touch such a person (a ‘contact paradox’) it’s even worse, and all the iron in your body disappears, leaving behind a ‘greenish sludge’, which seems to be a severe enough disaster to cause deaths of nearby people as well.

(This is a little surprising given that the iron in the human body is only about 60 parts per million by mass, but it would kinda destroy your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, so it would definitely be pretty fatal.)

The ‘distinction treatment’ we heard about is able to mitigate the risks somewhat - with quick medical intervention and time magic, it’s possible to allow the people involved to make a full recovery. An interesting wrinkle is that it’s implied either Ophelia or new character Balthazar is trans, because normally people of the same gender can’t share an upstream body.

That definitely leads to a very fascinating fucked up medical emergency scene, but the reason I’m discussing it now is because it’s got bearing on this big-deal question of ‘what’s so fucked up about arcanists anyway’…

so what’s so fucked up about arcanists anyway?

Having finally answered one of the major questions, we can start zeroing in on another. In a flashback scene in chapter 30, we learn that the ‘original’ bodies have innate access to the magic API, but when you’re given a distinct identity at birth you quickly lose it. To have your sv_cheats 1 restored, you have to go through a process that, it would seem, downloads a new mind into your head from one of those original bodies…

The man sat back a little in his chair, crossing his legs idly. “It’s intimidating in concept, but please do understand that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, there are no observable effects whatsoever. Around half of the individuals who go through it don’t even lose consciousness, and of the other, four out of five don’t report any abnormalities when they reawaken. And even of the remaining 10%, the symptoms are negligible for nine out of ten– Fleeting false memories, minor alterations in temperament that self correct, usually in under a day…” “And the others?” I inquired. “The remaining one percent.” He considered this question for a few moments, obviously choosing his words carefully. “The technical term for the rare cases where confusion persists in the longer term is pneumaic assimilation failure. We have a program for treatment, using a combination of various phychological and medical means. It’s time-tested. It brings people back to themselves quickly, usually within only only a few months at most.” 'Confusion.’ 'Brings people back to themselves.’ I wasn’t feeling fond of the way he couched everything in euphemism. It wasn’t helping. “What do you mean by 'it brings people back to themselves’..?” I furrowed my brow. “They just… Forget everything?” “Not immediately,” he said. “But they lose a sense of association with… Well, with anything that shouldn’t be there, and that leads those memories and feelings to fade over time.” He smiled. “The human mind is very adept at excising anything it judges to be out of place. All it needs is a push in the right direction.”

The new mind tends to rapidly adjust to its new context, connecting to the memories stored in the body and assuming continuity of identity. But in rare cases it fails! Nuts! And we can infer poor Su appears to be one such case.

Presumably this is what Lilith is referring to when she says that all arcanists are murderers. It’s not clear if there is continuity of consciousness when you get /mode +o’d - since you (usually) inherit the memories it is perhaps hard to say whether such a thing is meaningful.

In any case, Su’s mega-guilt complex, the reason she seems to want to visit the mysterious egomancer Samium, seems to be at least partly that she’s evicted the previous consciousness to inhabit this body. I don’t think that’s the whole story though! Her grandad seems to be involved somehow too. I don’t think Su is literally the reincarnation of her grandad, because it seems unlikely that he’d be motivated to carry out ego suicide like this.

introducing teacher mommy

All those major revelations aside, let’s get back to the subject of Neferuaten, aka ‘Grandmaster’, Su’s old mentor in entropic thanatomancy. She quickly establishes herself as one of the most likeable of the inner circle of the Order - she’s funny, understanding, generally affable and a little self-effacing. Su definitely puts her on a massive pedestal - though other characters such as Ran find her a little more sussy.

I gotta say, the author is really good at writing old academics. Each one of them comes across as strongly believable, distinctive, motivated and flawed characters. I’ll talk a bit about the others in a bit but first let’s talk age gap yuri! lmao

Anyway, at the end of chapter 20 we get this:

Then she leaned over and, in an impulsive, almost casual gesture, kissed me on the lips. Before turning, heading to the exit.

‘Huh!’ thinks the reader. ‘That sure is an unusual thing for someone’s teacher to do.’

It is quite a few chapters later before Su gets round to telling us a bit more about what’s going on…

After that, we met outside of the university more and more often, her becoming sort of a source of emotional support. At some point, I became aware that what was happening was probably quite inappropriate. It’s not like I was underage, having turned 25 two years prior, but she was my professor. But I’d been bad at making friends in both of… Well, in both my past contexts, and I’d felt so lonely living in Tem-Aphat, away from Ran and any reminders of the resolutions we’d made. And it all somehow felt so natural. Things got out of hand. One day, I’d had a fight with my father over the logic bridge, and had got a little drunk when I was due to see her. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but I did something uncharacteristic of me. Inappropriate. But she didn’t respond in the way I’d expected. To my shock, she didn’t act like it was inappropriate at all. It wasn’t as if we ended up dating. That would never have worked, and I was pretty sure she was past wanting that sort of thing anyway. On some levels, she always kept her distance. But it became something we did together, an avenue of private expression that became part of her support for me - and mine, eventually for her.

Su then expresses a bunch of guilt over the whole thing. (Not least because it’s a ‘selfish’ thing she’s doing in a body that, implicitly, she doesn’t think of as hers.)

The issue of age here is interesting lol. Definitely my gut reaction, and probably the one the story is aiming to elicit, is to be a bit ‘wuh oh’ by all this, maybe think of Makima wrapping Denji round her finger. That said, by vastly expanding the range of human ages, it’s definitely poking pretty hard at our intuitions about what’s ‘appropriate’. The vibes are like… the students are constantly referred to as ‘the kids’ by the hundreds-year-old wizards. I don’t think we’re told Su’s current age, but if she was 27 in this flashback, and in the present she says a 29 year old computer is close in age to her, so I would guess currently early 30s. Neferuaten’s age is not stated at this point but given her position she’s def a few hundred years up there.

The vibe though is that Su is infatuated with someone who has vastly more emotional maturity and experience of the world, not to mention social power over her, and that person is all too happy to encourage it.

The way Su tells it, it sounds like this fling went pretty ok for them? But I definitely feel like things are probably not gonna stay ok, given how clearly the ‘inappropriate’ nature of this relationship has been foregrounded!

Dark yuri is literally one of the things I’m here for, so I’m looking forward to the fireworks lmao.

Anyway, besides that, we get a bit of a sense of Neferuaten’s ideology. She actually shares a lot of Su’s skepticism about the viability of the whole immortality project. She makes a big point of making sure the gang get a sense of the order’s culture and rituals, apparently viewing this as a chance for their project to be judged by outsiders for the first time. On a personal level, she raises the issue of if the project might be able to save only the young - whether they might be the last humans to not become immortal. Nef’s attitude seems to be that she’d be good with that - something she clashes with Kam over.

Otherwise, she’s kinda… world-weary, I suppose you could say. She seems to look at the firey youngsters with an attitude along the lines of ‘wish I still had that’. She does love to perform to an audience, asking leading questions to set up some lesson or another.

She’s a fun character, I enjoy reading her a lot.

Also she seems to have made a sapient AI in the basement! Only everyone says it’s definitely not sapient - it is in some sense not agentic, it can’t change its motivation, allegedly. Still, it definitely has a ‘passing the Turing test’ sorta vibe.

don’t mention the war

Besides Nef, we get introduced to a few of the remaining members of the class, and also the masters of the Order. Of note is Bardiya, the former revolutionary. He’s a very ‘speak his mind without preamble’ sort of character, which can land him in hot water.

So, returning to Chapter 22, we have a really juicy scene in which a dinner conversation gets very heated after Bardiya mentions his role in the war, provoking a political row with Durvasa, a member of the order. It’s a really well observed social dynamics scene - the characters dancing around the topic and the way a row is almost avoided, and then it isn’t - Bard’s determination, Kam’s brown-nosing, Su getting drawn in against her better judgement in a deeply relatable way.

Thanks to this convo, we get a sense of the events of the revolution! So, as @nightpool helpfully informed me, I actually got things a bit mixed up in my rough timeline last time. The ‘gerontocrats’ were not a feature of the distant-past imperial era - rather it’s a figure identified as an oppressor class by a very recent movement, still within living memory for even the youngsters.

The events broadly seem to reflect something like the Paris Commune. There was a famine under the hand of a ‘Meritist’ city council, killing thousands, which led to a popular uprising let by a ‘paritist’ movement. The paritists executed a handful of people and redistributed property based primarily on age, intending to break the power of the ‘gerontocrats’ who had neglected the ‘younger generations’ by hoarding resources. The Administration overseeing the whole world alliance then cracked down hard - deploying a poison gas that, though it was intended to be nonlethal, turned out to have unexpected lethal side effects.

In the aftermath of the revolution, it seems many reforms were made - besides relaxing the rules on what magic is banned, they changed the equation of scarcity so that food could be replicated more readily? Little unclear on this part. Su mentions that the situation is different now than it was when the Alliance was built, with the material scarcity mostly gone, but clearly there was a famine in recent memory.

Anyway, there is naturally a big generational divide over this. The older generations lived through some pretty fucked-up sounding wars, called things like the ‘Great Interplanar War’, and in the aftermath built a political system that was supposed to secure peace. (c.f. League of Nations, UN). Although she broadly sympathises with the revolutionaries, Su seems to extends the older generation a fair bit of understanding for having built this system and fearing what would happen if it were destroyed. Though the most relativist view comes from the mouth of Neferuaten:

“I think a common problem with inter-generational communication is an inability to really convey context and scope,” Neferuaten said. I noted she didn’t actually convey if Kam’s understanding of what her point had been was correct or not. “Someone who lived through the Interluminary Strife might tell a young person from the modern day that they have no understanding of hunger, only for the latter to stubbornly retort that they lived through that Ikaryonic famine that preluded the civil dispute… Except that one was a catastrophe that lasted decades and killed tens of millions, while the other slew less than a thousand.” She sighed. “People try to relate the experiences of others to their own lives in order to contextualize their understanding of the world and how it might be bettered, but those second-hand experiences inevitably become caricatures, conveying no useful truths. It makes me wonder if human beings, both young and old, are capable of learning from history at all.”

Around here is raised the question of a person’s political development - the arc from a young person’s anger at the state of the world and determination to tear it aside for something better, against the resignation of an older person who fears losing what is already there, however flawed. (We might note of course that there exist young conservatives and old radicals. Circumstances have a lot to do with it.)

Of course, with this whole ‘gerontocrat’ business at stake already, the mission of the Order hoping to achieve immortality is naturally cast in a dubious light. Fun conflict. On the one hand we have ‘can immortality be achieved, and what will it cost’, on the other ‘who will benefit from it, if it is’! So much narrative force is obtained by politicising this, attaching it to characters with personal motivations and histories, instead of leaving it up to an abstract ‘living forever good/bad’.

But it’s not all political debates and shagging your teacher…

Over the course of these chapters we get a sense of what the order’s been up to!

Let’s talk flowers. Just prior to the meeting with Nef, Su comes across an enormous freaky plantlike thing. This turns out to be an experiment to create a being that can survive in even the most extreme environments, like the bottom of the ocean - an attempt to demonstrate that immortality is possible at least in principle. This lifeform is termed the Nittaimalaru or ‘Everblossom’. It seems like a pretty good candidate for being the story’s eponymous Flower - symbolically, the underwater immortality-granting plant that appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

It’s worth noting here that ‘indefinite lifespan’ is actually not entirely impossible in our natural world. I was talking about this with a friend who raised some interesting points:

reading the first post i wanna bring up that while the concept of cancer is fundamental to any multicellular organism the presence of cancer as a problem is actually pretty niche. same with telomere degradation, which is a purposeful anti-cancer measurement. like pretty much all perennial plant life is capable of absolute immortality. while the lobster grows forever until it can no longer use its legs to push its great weight along the sand towards food, if a tree overshoots its growth it’s more than happy to break off its unnecessaries, though with both of them at a certain point it’s always good to have help after a while. as mammals we’re very obsessed with the concept of like ending death as this sort of ultimate goal, prime directive, whatever, when that shit was deliberately turned on in the first place (assigning intent to evolution sue me), because in terms of cost benefit it gave us something in return that we as students of medicine or biology are still not fully grasping.

After a little more discussion:

@play-now-my-lord wrote:

even if humans weren’t causing climate change, climactic fluctuations over centuries upend a lot of what is normal in specific areas. if the people on a farmstead in bronze age sweden lived 500 years, the methods and habits they internalized when they were young would habitually be incorrect for the conditions as they existed, the weather, the soil

other friend:

that’s how most trees die in the end the root system operates as a weak parallel to the tree’s neurons, with a more physiological bent than say our chemical one. patterns around balance, nutrient access, hydrology, and wind are ingrained and learned over centuries and the more regular/consistent that cycle is the more a root will grow. if a tree’s roots are built around buttressing from a wind tunnel due to forest conditions and the trees around it fall for whatever reason, it has to relearn what used to be a hundred year old certainty that it needs to lean against the westerly gale every winter, etc. - this is generally a pretty brittle process altogether when it comes to the base of the plant n stuff

some caveats:

should be noted i overlooked a lot of nuance about perennial mortality, like, some plants are more used to investing into survival than others i’m thinking of like how beech bark disease doesn’t affect the roots of the beech, so the trunk dies but new shoots continue to grow out and eventually catch the disease and repeat, so the plant is essentially still immortal but forced into a perpetual state of adolescence. but i think for a great number of trees if the tree falls it just goes “eh the rot consumes us all ” and dies

Among mammals, we could also note the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat, which loves to defy all sorts of generalisations (also one of the only non-arthropod eusocial animals). They’re not exactly immortal, living around 37 years on average, but their chance of dying at any given year is pretty much flat rather than increasing with age.

Of course, longevity and resilience are different things. Nef mentions the resilience of tardigrades as an inspiration. As far as their experiment goes, the ‘everblossom’ is not an entirely successful experiment, requiring twice-yearly maintenance to address an imbalance.

Given how prominently it features, and the invocation of Gilgamesh, it seems pretty damn likely that the everblossom will in fact be a key to immortality, or something like it.

Religion exists after all!

Other parts of the facility are also pretty funky. We learn that it was patterned after the old headquarters of the Order, which was destroyed when they got found out; that headquarters was built in an old church compound. What sort of thing does a church worship in this world? Actually it’s kinda goffic as fuck. Makes Catholicism look downright tame. It’s a polytheistic religion and the deities involved are figures like this…

In the center of the circle was a statue, about 8 feet high, and of the kind of ornate-but-formulaic design that characterized art from the Second Resurrection. It depicted a tall, skinny woman, though her two sides, left and right, were very different in nature. The left was beautiful and youthful in a generic, almost ethnicity-less way, dressed in the most delicate of silk peploi, with long and unrealistically tidy curls falling elegantly over her shoulders. Her lip was curled into a gentle half-smile, kind but slightly mysterious, teasing. Her right… Well, her right, to say the least, was very different. On that side, she appeared to be skinless, although it was hard to tell with a statue; I recalled it being a matter of hot debate among the boys in my class back in secondary school. It was possible she was simply incredibly emaciated, or that there were supposed to be growths - like scales - erupting from her flesh. Her hair was made up of hateful, eyeless wyrms, biting and hissing at each other, and her flesh, which was naked save for a tasteful rag covering one area in particular, was covered in numerous stab wounds, bleeding openly. As for her face, it was grim and wide eyed. Mournful and contemptful both. I recognized the figure depicted at once; I passed one of her temples whenever I went to the distribution hall to pick up groceries. This was Phui, Dying Goddess of Love Given Way To Anguish, one of the eleven deities of the now largely defunct Ysaran-Inotian Pantheon.
In the stories, Phui was the third-to-last of the gods to fall during the end of the world, who attempted to take her own life after the death of her lover. But the breaking of the heavens had left her unable to die, meaning that no matter how she much she cut into her flesh, how much she starved herself of food and drink, reprieve would never come. Only relentless, unceasing pain, and grief for that which she had lost.

Metal album cover ass-religion, I’m into it.

The mysterious Ironworkers seem to have really drummed into the population of their new Mimikos that there was a very nice world once, and they’d better be damn sad about what happened to it. However, religion has waned in the present day, and it seems most characters are atheists of some sort.

What did happen to it, anyway? It’s referred to as ‘the collapse’ with a lowercase c; I noticed an author’s comment where the author says it’s not a case of just a name for the apocalypse. A few people in the comments started speculating about false vacuum collapse. This is a physics thing. Basically, a remote possibility exists in the standard model of particle physics that the existence of matter in our universe could be in a kind of local energy minimum, but it would be possible for it to locally fall into a true minimum, creating a kind of bubble that expands at the speed of light and just deletes everything. We’re pretty sure that isn’t true though. If it did happen we literally would not be able to do anything… at least in a universe without FTL.

(Curiously, Su mentions special relativity at one point. With all the funky cosmology stuff I kinda wondered if special relativity is still real, but apparently it is! Electromagnetism has been mentioned as still being a thing a couple of times now, so rather than being totally absent it seems like the physics is a bit different, with an electric shock being sufficient to cause radiation poisoning.)

The fair play interlude

In between chapters 22 and 24 we get a curious little interlude called Intermission ∞ 1. The introduction presents it as something that is happening on one of the ‘higher planes’, translated into terms we can understand, which is grounds for it to get metafictional.

Two entities, calling themselves the Playwright and the Director, discuss the direction of the story so far before laying out the version of fair-play mystery rules this story will be operating under. They are as follows:


I made them red because it feels like they would be red in Umineko.

Further clarifications and caveats allow that Su can withold information (for dramatic tension or whatever I guess) but she’ll always tell us when she does, and an example of ‘system introduced’ is the magic duel sequence: the characters know accurately how magic duels work.

The two entities are performing this story for some sort of audience, and during their double-act credit themselves with control over the direction of the scenario, sometimes disagreeing. (Another one, the chorus, enters at the end.) Probably best not to think too hard about what that implies for our characters on the ‘main’ level of the story being ‘real’, it’s probably just a cute bit to take the audience aside without completely breaking the fourth wall. Then again… who knows!

What this means is that my concerns about professed liar Su being an unreliable narrator are unfounded. It’s still a limited POV, so Su could fail to notice things or be deceived, but she’s not trying to pull one over on us.

I bring this up because…

There’s been a mordah!

So, in the last chapter I read - strictly the beginning of a new arc - we find someone dead!

Well, this was kinda foreshadowed earlier. The chef disappeared, the assistant chef was knocked out by magic, and some kinda crazy time magic happened in the pantry - with the heavy implication that someone was trapped in some kinda hyperbolic time pantry for many years. At least they’d have plenty to eat..? The characters don’t pick up on the implication of the tally marks and write it off as a stasis field malfunction.

So, it was natural to suspect the cook is dead. Indeed they are: Su finds a mysterious note in the book given to her by an academic at the school as a parting gift, warning her not to trust the inner council - inexplicably written two years prior and warning her to check the archive in a certain position. Investigating this, she and Kam find a secret armoury room. In there is a tunnel, and at the bottom, the cook appears to have committed suicide, leaving a suicide note vaguely implying the Order is up to some seriously sussy shit.

Of course, Kam and Su immediately suspect foul play. But they also both have ulterior motives for coming to this conference, so they agree to keep it hush-hush. This is definitely a great idea that won’t get everyone killed by Beatrice… I mean uh. Whoever the murderer is.

The obvious question is, who dunnit? And why? Unfortunately, we don’t really have alibis for most of the characters. Many of the inner circle haven’t even shown up on screen yet. So there’s a lot of people who it might have been.

More suspects! More suspects!

I haven’t even mentioned several of the characters. We also have Sacnicte, steward of the house - she’s an arcanist, and Su is kinda insanely horny for her aesthetically appreciative, in a way that the other characters notice and are literally like ‘I don’t see it’… which makes me wonder if we have a situation where someone has fucked with her perceptions. She’s very down to earth and casual.

Her name is probably a reference to the Maya princess Sac Nicté, meaning ‘white flower’, who according to legend was involved in the migration of the Itza people from the Chichen Itza. Mind you the article I’m getting this from is kinda horrendous; the sole source is in Spanish and appears to be some random website from 2004.

Among the older generation, we have Theo’s dad, Linos. He is a generally affable chap, kinda socially awkward (he’s responsible for prolonging the political discussion by a botched apology) but otherwise not particularly standing out among the Order members.

Linos or Linus is another Greek name with a few referents.

The Order member who really does stand out is Anna, or in full, Amtu-hedu-anna. She’s the one who’s properly old, having dodged many of the ‘kills people around 500’ bullets of this setting, and not especially inclined to make nice. Very ‘straight to the point’ kinda lady. We meet her fairly briefly - Ran seems to have landed in her good books.

This one really took some digging! It seems to be based on Enheduanna, who was a Sumerian high priestess of Nanna and the oldest named author in history, credited for tablets like The Exaltation of Inanna, although it seems there’s some debate over whether she definitely wrote them. Her rank in Sumerian was Entu, and I could fully believe ‘amtu hedu anna’ is a different transliteration of ‘Entu Hedu Anna’.

As mentioned above, we’re introduced to two logic engines, Sekhmet and Eshmun, built respectively by Neferuaten and (the as yet unseen) Hamilcar. Sekhmet has more biological components and wants to be a human. She wants to be human, and she’s also expressed a distinct pronoun preference and gender id, which I suppose makes her trans. Eshmun is a more traditional logic engine with a lot of cogs; Sekhmet calls him ‘big brother’, so I guess he gets he pronouns from that.

Sekhmet is of course named for the Egyptian lion-headed warrior/medicine goddess. Eshmun is a Phoenician god of healing. Hamilcar was a name used by a number of Carthaginians, mostly generals.

Ezekiel is another one of the student gang. We haven’t seen much of him yet, so I don’t have a lot to say about him. Abrahamic prophet.

Balthazar is a student from another school - another thanatomancer in fact. He’s something like the protégé of Zeno, and his presence is Zeno’s condition for having this whole affair go ahead. He’s got the same eyes as Ophelia, and Zeno failing to do his paperwork and allowing to happen is a big deal. But Zeno’s kind of a bigshot so it might not come to anything. Anyway, Su is kind of suspicious towards Balthazar, but he takes it all in good humour.

Balthazar was one of the three magi in Christian mythology. There were a few Zenos, but the best known is surely Zeno of Elea, who came up with his famous “we need to invent calculus to solve this” paradoxes around infinite sums.

Yantho is a member of the Order staff, who was cooking when whoever did shenanigans in the kitchen… did shenanigans in the kitchen. His roast was ruined, but sadly he was too unconscious to order fast food and pass it off as his cooking. He can’t speak and communicates by writing on his tablet.

The name crops up as an obscure Maya deity, part of a trio of brothers with Usukun and Uyitzin, but I can’t find any source that seems particularly definitive.

Samium is an old egomancer, whose presence is a secret that only Su and Ran are in on. Su wants to speak to him, for reasons that are probably to do with finding out if he can restore ‘original!Su’ into her body, or maybe resurrecting her grandfather, or something?

…is that everyone? I think that’s everyone. At some point I probably need to make an Umineko-style character screen lol.

can we solve anything yet?

Since this chapter is the beginning of the arc, I suspect there’s more info to divulge before we can think about trying to solve this one. And, given the Umineko inspo, the problem to solve probably isn’t simply ‘whodunnit’ but something more fundamental to the nature of this world.

Still, it seems all but spelled out explicitly that current!Su failed to properly assimilate into her body after she became an arcanist. Her grandfather’s final ‘kindness’ is less clear. Her intentions with Samium… I’ve mentioned the obvious theories about already. She’s mega guilty about overwriting this poor girl and has decided the only course of action is to try and restore the mind that inhabited her body originally. But I don’t think we have the whole picture just yet, because I still can’t figure out what her granddad did.

Given her discussion of ‘dragon’ vs ‘phoenix’ resurrection, and of how her meeting with Samium might change the order, I also theorised - before I really twigged the arcanist thing - that she was here to resurrect her grandfather in her own body. Body-hopping is like, the classic immortality strat after all. But… I’m less convinced of that one now? It doesn’t seem like Su particularly liked the old man, she definitely doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps, and ‘saw him die unexpectedly during the revolution’ does not seem like it would inspire the same sort of guilt.

Still, he surely did something to her, she’s definitely cryptically alluded to that enough times.

Besides that?

Obviously really digging this story! Honestly, this one rules. It helps that the author is clearly into a lot of the same shit I am. All the long discussions and beat by beat narration could potentially feel a little dry, but honestly, I’m pretty hooked, it’s definitely pulling me forwards. It’s a fascinating, conflict-rich setting, that raises all sorts of interesting concepts. It’s confident in knowing what it wants to be. Umineko is a hell of a tough act to follow, but this one has a distinct identity of its own. Can’t wait to see what happens now the mystery seems to be about to kick off for real.

With that in mind, I’m sure it won’t be long until the next one of these. I may have to dial back the detail a bit, this is kinda having a bad effect on my work right now. There’s just so many fascinating corners to follow up ^^’

Anyway, I realise these posts are kinda massive for tumblr, so I’m gonna start copying them over to canmom.art soon. <See you next time>.


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