Keeping and Breaking Vows
In the Black Tail, every time someone breaks a vow, the storyworld runs amock. A vow is like a soul contract. Jason of the Argonauts broke his vows to Medea, the sorceress who saved his ass and chose to be his wife. The Furies punish those who vow a false oath. I don’t have to tell you what Medea did to their children. Are you familiar with Melusine, the classical siren who married her French duke? Melusine made Raymond vow never to intrude on her privacy for at least one night each week. Instigated by friends and suspicious of her fidelity, he intrudes anyway. The mermaid turns into a flying serpent and leaves him, wailing siren songs over the city. Icharus broke a vow to his father Daedalus about not flying too close to the sun. See Virgil Solis’ illustrations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Vows become a central obsession for characters in the Black Tail. When they’re not enforcing vows with the vengeance of Uriel, they’re atoning for not having kept them with the tenacity of Hercules. Sirens get maddeningly angry, monsters appear, characters get put in between rocks and hard places, relationships are put to the test, locations get pretty eerie, sacrifices have to be made, major setbacks happen, valuable things disappear…What a no-no! Living with vows made under duress, or with misinformation, is something like recurring hell for characters here. An analogy would be what hubris is to Greek heroes and the divine retribution that follows.
vow (n). c. 1300, from Anglo-French and Old French vou, from Latin votum “a vow, wish, promise, dedication,” noun use of neuter of votus, past participle of vovere “to promise solemnly…” from PIE root (cf. Sanskrit vaghat- “one who offers a sacrifice;”…)
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Catch-22 situations are infused into the origin stories, plots and subplots of the Black Tail. Characters feel caught between a rock and a hard place. The stakes are raised, tensions run high, decisions are hard to make. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t kind of thing. This lose-lose motif informs the motivational structures of main characters and drives all the action sequences of the Black Tail. Reminiscent of the journey that Odysseus has to take, choosing to pass either between The Clashing Rocks, or between Scylla and Charybdis. It is also reminiscent of the quagmire Medea found herself in when she first decided to help Jason against her father’s express orders.
Catch-22 as a plot device forces characters into fight or flight mode, which makes for compelling scenes. There is something to be said for how resourceful one can get when blood drains from the face, body tenses with adrenaline, jaws harden, eyes shine with alertness and legs get ready to run. Sometimes, not making decisions would be the best decision to take. I mean, what would the Oracle of Delphi do?
Sirens are Chimeras
Chimeras top the food chain in the Black Tail. Characters carrying traits of more than one species thrive. Characters with older genetic code thrive. Each component self allows them to adapt to environments that would otherwise by mortally hostile to outsiders. In a battle of wit, seduction, and sheer brute strength, chimeras who have integrated “component” selves win. ;-). Those who haven’t evolved or accepted “themselves” that way are endangered.
The Minotaur is perhaps the most popularized chimera in Greek mythology. Half-man, half-beast, roaming the labyrinth prison and eating human sacrifices, the Minotaur represented the ancient Greek view of their “savage” neighbors, the Cretans. In the Black Tail, I want to avoid thinking of sirens as bestial. Yes, some of the species have half “human” and half animal parts. But it would be a grave mistake to automatically assign them to “higher” or “lower” parts simply from the point of view of human prejudice.
A little Jungian in nature, these chimeras have light and shadows. They are only blessed with two selves/components at a time. One good side, one dark side. Like Jeckyll and Hyde. One strong, the other vulnerable. Or Castor and Pollux. One beautiful, one ugly. The yin and yang’s of different personas living side-by-side. Potential ingredients for highly strung characters and really outrageous internal dialogue. The real question is, which side is more seductive?
All chimeras are sirens and all sirens are chimeras. Examples of siren species that pervade the Black Tail will be covered on a separate page. The inherent natures of these chimeras can be suppressed through the process of seduction that will be completely PG-13 (this is a story about sirens, after all). The dichotomies inherent in each chimera makes catch-22 situations and keeping and breaking vows deliberately confusing. I mean, characters can choose to see it as a trap or as an escape route. Choosing not to decide is always an option.
Sirens are Alchemy-Colored Creatures
As Ovid was obsessed with transformations in Metamorphoses, the Black Tail is obsessed with transformational chimeras. Chimeras go through four stages of alchemical transformations expressed as colors. These defining colors show up on their “armour”/”anatomy”. Read: mermaid’s tail, harpy’s wings, witch’s hair, etc. They are: black (rotting, burnt, fermenting), white (changing direction, hope, calcination), yellow (powers uncontrolled, a stage to be suppressed, highly vulnerable), red (magnum opus, immortality achieved).
Because of the evident nature of their progression, chimeras essentially establish their order in the pecking hierarchy easily on sight. Some chimeras may want to disguise themselves (and their real accomplishments) to assess the real motivational structures of characters around them. Some may even want to repress growth, or endeavor to regress, in order to carry out their mission, avoid breaking vows, get through catch-22 situations, etc. Each level of transformation is achieved through integration of component selves and expression of them as sirens (in the process of seduction).
Seduction is an Art of War
The Black Tail is a story about sirens’ survival; they survive through means of seduction. The timeline of this story-world is punctuated by epic battle-scenes in a foreboding story-world. It really should come as no surprise to you that seduction is key in the structure of all fight scenes. The Black Tail defines seduction as an art of war (a weapon, a tool, a fighting technique…in a totally PG-13, non-pickup-artist kind of way), that compromises the enemy’s position. Seduction is an invitation to the enemy to destroy themselves or display their weaknesses. Sirens in the Black Tail are the MacGyver‘s of seduction. Think of Odysseus covering his ears with beeswax as he passes the island of the sirens, think of Orpheus playing his lyre in Jason of the Argonauts’ scene with the same sirens, and think of Medea taming the giant hydra-headed serpent that guards the Golden Fleece from Jason. Seduction is like a trance induction.
The art of seduction is not innate. It is very much a learned thing, and highly contextual to plot points. Different species may be born with seductive components, but may not actually deploy everything in their arsenal effectively. Some environments within the Black Tail are more conducive to seduction than others, which influences where battle-scenes take place. That is because external elements/nature in this storyworld have the effect of suppressing seductive abilities. Powers of seduction can be accumulated and stored in a character’s DNA (a part of their mortal-plane bodies). These parts of themselves (feathers, scales, locks of hair, etc) can be offered up as votives (sacrifices, prayers) in order to make amendments or to recall a vow. These votives are highly valuable. The older the votive, the more power it has harnessed. Concurrently, seduction powers get better with time.
NB: References herein to Greek mythology serve to illustrate the thought process behind these recurring motifs; I’m drawing parallels to a rich tradition. They do not represent actual characters or storylines within the Black Tail story world.