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Exiled to the Couch
Fic Draft: Alchemy of Souls
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Fic Draft: Alchemy of Souls
A/N: This idea came to me in the shower on Sunday night, when I basically asked myself the same question as Lillet asks here. And I thought it would be neat to show Lillet and the Archbishop getting to meet each other earlier in their careers, before they were professional associates...
~X X X~
"I just don't believe it!" Royal Magician Lillet Blan barked aloud to the empty room. She snapped the heavy volume before her shut and slammed it down on the desk. It was, perhaps, a good thing that the room
empty, because the book in question was the Holy Scriptures, and had anyone been watching her words and gestures would have been rather open to misinterpretation.
It was not. however, a misinterpretation to say that she was in need of spiritual guidance, which quest was what found her stalking through the corridors of the Royal House of Magic and across a courtyard to the main body of the palace proper. From there she proceeded with a stride that was almost a march to the suite of offices adjoining the chapel.
Only when she'd stalked into the outer office and the young secretary-priest was almost flinching at the manner she projected did she realize some of what she was doing.
"M-may I help you?" he babbled, as if he thought the Arch-Enemy was at the gate.
Lillet sighed. She might have only been a girl of nineteen, but she was still one of the most skilled of the Royal Magicians (and frankly, that "one of" was more modest than accurate) and when she got her sails up it tended to be with the confidence of someone who knows in her bones she could back up her will with action. Add that to a churchman who was, despite his ordination, basically a bureaucratic flunky and...
There was a faint, embarrassed blush on Lillet's cheeks when she spoke.
"I'd like to speak to Bishop Beringer, if I may," she said.
"Um...did you have an appointment, Miss...?"
"Lillet Blan. Royal Magician Lillet Blan, if it makes a difference. And no, I didn't. But could you ask if he'll see me?"
The priest rose.
"May I ask what this is concerning? Is it an official matter of the Royal House of Magic?"
Lillet shook her head.
"No, it's personal. And religious."
He looked confused, but went to one of the doors, knocked perfunctorily, and went inside. He emerged a moment later and said, "The Bishop will see you." He showed her in, then shut the door behind him.
"Come in, Mistress Blan, and tell me how I can be of help," Simon Beringer said, rising from his seat. He gestured at one of the well-upholstered chairs facing the rosewood desk. Light streamed through the oriel windows behind him, casting their patterns on the carpet.
Palace gossip suggested that Beringer was being considered for elevation to the Archbishopric when the current holder stepped down, which was expected to happen within the year. Lillet had to admit that he both looked and sounded the part, with his long, patrician features, blond hair heavily shot through with white, and resonant speaking voice. Like her, though, he'd sprung from humble origins; she was the daughter of a farmer and he a cabinetmaker's son.
Lillet sat down and waited for the Bishop to resume his own chair.
"It's a personal matter.
"Yes, that is what Father Sutter said."
"I...I find myself in need of spiritual guidance."
He raised his eyebrows, which brought on Lillet's blush again.
"I know you probably don't hear that very much," she said softly.
He inclined his head towards her.
"It is somewhat unusual, in my present position. The vicar of the chapel and his curates are more used to giving that kind of advice. My own role tends to be administrative and political." He paused, then added, "I must say, I think that it is something that I
do more often. These days, the only one who asks my counsel on spiritual matters is Her Majesty."
"I feel even sillier now, knowing that."
"You shouldn't; on the contrary, I am the one who spends too much of his time on worldly matters and this is a reminder of it. I am curious, though, as to why you came to me rather than to your own spiritual adviser."
"I really don't have a spiritual adviser," Lillet admitted. "Well, other than Father Yarra. He's the rector of the local church in the area where I grew up," she explained. "So I don't really have someone to whom I'd turn to out of habit for these questions."
"I see. But even so, to come to me, and in such an agitated state that Father Sutter was quite taken aback, there must be some reason."
"I...was angry," Lillet said, "and in that kind of state, I think it's a natural instinct to want to take my complaint to the top person."
"Angry?" His eyebrows rose again.
Lillet nodded sharply.
"And you seek spiritual guidance concerning this wrathful feeling?"
"I do. Particularly because it's God I'm angry at."
"With God?" The Bishop seemed more intrigued than surprised at this declaration. "Does this have to do with some of the religious strictures about magic?"
Lillet shook her head.
make me angry at superstitious human beings, not at God."
It was a barbed response, and Beringer felt it, frowning at the implied slight.
"We're taught that God's love is eternal and all-encompassing, aren't we? Then why is it that He
love my lover?"
Beringer stared at her in shock and surprise for what seemed like a long time but was probably only a few seconds. Then he let out a long sigh.
"I thought that your name sounded familiar," he said. "You're the one who was responsible for the destruction of the Archmage Calvaros and the Philosopher's Stone three years ago, is that not so? And your lover is the homunculus."
"You know that?"
"You were a topic of discussion at the highest levels of government at the time. I myself was present when the Archbishop strenuously defended your actions on the ground that the Philosopher's Stone represented far too much power for any human to be trusted to hold, more likely to be a threat than a benefit."
"I understand, but surely Amoretta's nature—"
"No, that wasn't part of those discussions, but Her Majesty was aware of it, thanks I believe to the Third Prince."
"I see." Amoretta's nature was not a secret among the Royal Magicians, though they didn't make an issue of announcing it, either, but she didn't think it ought to be general knowledge. The Queen, of course, was a different matter.
And besides, how was I supposed to discuss this with him without telling him what she is? It's better that he already knows, since I'm not adding anyone to the circle this way.
"But you have been told that God does not love Miss...Amoretta, you called her?"
"Amoretta Virgine, yes. And this isn't something that I've been
, it's something that I
for a fact."
"Because without love, she cannot live." Lillet clenched her fist on the carved arm of her chair. "That's how she came to be with me in the first place. Her creator didn't love her; he only saw her as an experiment, the ultimate work of alchemy. Only, she couldn't endure like that—and I did and do love her. So she came with me when I left the Silver Star Tower to take this position. So, this isn't something that I've only heard as a hypothesis, because she can
it's lack right to the core of her, the absolute fact that as she is not part of God's creation, she is not sheltered by His love."
"If you, or rather if she knows this as a fact, then what is there to explain?"
"I want you to tell me
," Lillet shot back. The temper she'd felt was starting to rise again as she'd started in on the actual problem. "Everything I've heard, everything I've read in scripture, tells me that God's love is infinite. And as a magician, I deal with devils—I know that there is such a thing as pure evil, and of its opposite as well." She paused, then pushed on. "When I was a child and worried about the idea of learning magic, Father Yarra told me that any time theology claims that God is an ass, then it's bad theology." She suddenly realized what she'd said and for the second time since she'd gotten to the Bishop's suite found embarrassment replacing anger. "I'm sorry; he was—is, rather—a man used to talking to plain-spoken farmers in the language we're used to."
A ghost of a smile caught at Beringer's features.
"I was a country curate once myself. Moreover, I fully agree with your local rector's summation. It is a point which some of my more...strident brethren ought to take to heart."
"But I'm not worried about what people are preaching. I want to know about something that's real."
He nodded solemnly.
"Yes, I accept that. And that is one of the Church's primary duties, to explain those of the works of God which we have been given leave to know. In this case, the superficial answer is simple: your Miss Virgine is a homunculus, not a natural life."
"I know that. That's what
told me right from the first. But, I don't understand why that matters."
"No!" Lillet exclaimed. "That entire line of reasoning doesn't make
. Yes, Amoretta was created by alchemy, not by the natural processes of life. But...she didn't come from nowhere, spring into being at a thought. The materials she was made from, aren't they God's creation? Not to mention the laws and principles of alchemy that allowed Dr. Chartreuse to make her in the first place?"
"Of course they were," Beringer agreed. "However, you have mistaken the fundamental issue at hand."
"God loves all of creation, yes, that is fundamental. And yet...do you believe that He cannot tell the difference between you and, say, that chair you are sitting in?"
"Amoretta is not a chair!"
"That is true. A chair cannot think, cannot act, and is not self-aware. Through the art of alchemy, you not only animate matter, but truly give it
. And in the case of a homunculus, you give it sentience. The ability to think, to be aware of its own existence, to feel. All these things you do through magical manipulation of the biological processes of life, the way the heart beats, blood pumps in our veins, our brains work to think and grow. You have reduced life to a series of mechanical actions, and like a watchmaker assembling gears and springs to make a new timepiece you alchemists do the same thing to make your created lives."
He leaned forward, folding his hands on the desk before him.
"But where in this alchemy, Mistress Blan, is there room for the soul?"
"You can create life via magic, but can you create a soul?"
"No, of course not. Souls aren't part of physical law, but part of the mystery of God." There was magic, necromancy, which did deal with souls in various ways, but certainly not to create them. And alchemy was about the physical laws, not the metaphysical. Magic did not mean miracles, however close they seemed to the uninitiated. "But Amoretta
have a soul."
"You just agreed that it is impossible for magic to create one."
"I know, but..." She had to tread carefully here. Beringer had thus far avoided any overt denunciation of magical practices, but Lillet couldn't expect him to just stay quiet if he were to learn that Amoretta's core was an
. "Dr. Chartreuse knew that. It's one of the reasons homunculi can't leave their flasks in the ordinary way. So he used an existing spirit as a core for her creation."
"That explains much, including the notable fact that you said she herself could notice the lack of love in her existence. Without a soul, how could one feel that? But it also explains the point. Her soul does not belong to that life, but to its original existence. She is joined with her new, artificial existence, and yet is not. It is a complex metaphysical issue, I must say. It is more than merely placed
he body, wearing it as if it were a suit of clothes, or else there would be no disunity."
Lillet nodded, easily following his example.
"That would be like corporeal undead, say a vampire—the spirit of a ghost or demon enters a corpse and animates it, taking on a material existence, but there is no real life to it; the body is merely controlled by magic," she said, putting it into words.
"Yes, that sounds very much like what I mean. If that were all it were, your Miss Virgine would not feel the lack. But her body is truly alive, not merely given the simacrulum of it. And a soul has been joined with that living body, but not truly incarnated with it by God. And it is this gap, this discord between the expectation of the soul and the reality of the body, that gives rise to her suffering."
His expression was grave as he looked at her.
"This will, perhaps, sound meaningless to you, who knows her much better than I could, but Miss Virgine has my deepest sympathies. The nature of her existence...to feel but a step beyond reach of God...it is a terrible thing to imagine. The temptation to fall into despair from such an existence must be awful."
Lillet felt a momentary spark of anger. The casual way the Bishop seemed to assume that after a few minutes' conversation he could understand what Amoretta had experienced felt like a terrible presumption. Then the anger died. He wasn't presuming; he might not have had long conversations with Amoretta about the awful hollow feeling, the soul-killing emptiness, that had clawed at her in those first months of her life, but he was proving himself a man of faith in that he could at least picture some shadow of what it would be like. And that shadow was enough to arouse, if not understanding, at least honest compassion for Amoretta's plight.
It was impossible to stay angry at that, Lillet found.
awful for her," she agreed, now thinking not only of what Amoretta had told her but the way Amoretta behaved sometimes, the neediness that in a human partner would be excessive, even disturbing, but that was only natural when one understood the homunculus's circumstances. "And I won't let it be again," she vowed.
She rose from her chair.
"Thank you, Bishop Beringer, for seeing me."
"Not at all. I'm glad that I had the chance. I only hope that I was able to ease some of your concerns."
She paused to think about that.
"I'm not sure that I would consider myself eased, precisely...but at least I have a bit more understanding?"
"That is all, I think, that we can ask."
He rose as well and crossed to the door, opening it for her.
"So what will you do with this new understanding?" he asked as she passed by. Lillet paused on the threshold, turned back, and smiled.
"Go back home and have dinner with the woman I love."
Something bothered me about this fic, and initially I didn't know what it was, precisely - only that it had nothing to do with your writing of it. It took a minute or two to find it: it feels like an omake.
If its point is the soon-to-be Archbishop's and Lillet's first meeting, then that's precisely what it is. It doesn't really explore the existential question posed (and in this world, it might actually be possible to explore it more literally than most) so much as it calms Lillet down from some righteous anger.
So... it feels like an omake. Is it one?
Huh, well this is definitely food for thought! I can completely understand Lillet's outrage... and the plotbunnies are bouncing all over the place with what she might have done had she come across that same thought during her cycles in the Tower.
Mmm, I don't see this as an omake, but spawn does make a point that this short doesn't seem to explain how Lillet comes to perceive the matter at the end.
Well, it's definitely not intended as an omake, but as a single-chapter fic (2545 words) where, basically, Lillet poses a question that raises a point about the way Amoretta's existence has been discussed before. As the A/N was...um...
to indicate, I decided to use the OC Beringer here because I needed a religious scholar here (about the only canon character I can see giving her a straight answer on the point would be Gammel, and I don't see the issue coming up quite so quickly in the timeline) to give her an answer on theology and I figured that introducing him plays well into the mutual respect (if with a certain measure of toe-stepping) shown in the first chapter of the witch-hunter story (if I ever somehow manage to finish that one).
What I'm not following is the key point where this story apparently fails--the issue of the
to Lillet's question. It was supposed to come across as a reasoned-out solution to the problem, provoking an, "Ohh, okay, I follow that!" kind of reaction in (hopefully) Lillet* and the readers (in essence, presenting the idea that the circumstance is not--quite--so much of an injustice** as it might initially appear, and that this is, in essence, one of those "give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change" matters). Obviously, Lillet's reaction didn't really come across that way judging by both of
reactions (and indeed, I'm not even certain that you the readers followed the reasoning in any way).
*The implication from her "I won't let it be again" line and the final sentence is supposed to be a renewed attention to her own role in Amoretta's life; again, obviously something that didn't really come across.
**One might argue that question in the case of wholly artificial life, such as a "normal" homunculus, an android, or so on, but this universe doesn't make us confront those questions.
So...now that you know what I was trying for, what needs to be done to fix these problems, do you think?
Fuyu no Sora
Ah, I got hoisted into a road trip at a bad time. While I was able to read the chapter since I loaded it on my iTouch while I was at home, I was unable to reply due to a lack of interwebs while I was away.
I might be the weird one of the bunch here, but I find that the fic is perfectly fine the way it is. I do not have a feeling of it being an omake nor is the answer that is given to Lillet inconclusive.
By the way, in the following phrase "But her body is truly alive, not merely given the simacrulum of it." I believe you mean "simulacrum". ^_^
As for the more pressing issue at hand, I personally felt that the fic was fine the way it is. The way I understand it, the reason Amoretta cannot feel God's love is because she was not
, in the proper sense of the word, with her current soul. It's a "borrowed" spirit, one that is very much her own while at the same time not, because it did not originate with her, was not originally created
her by God. It was sort of "welded" into her current existence and therefore it is not that she is not loved by God, but that there is interference between her soul and God's love. It is similar to a television with a broken antenna, then. There is nothing wrong with the TV, nor the cable station, it's just that the connection between the two has been damaged and thus the TV cannot receive the airwaves. So the problem and its answer make perfect sense; it's just a question of being able to perceive this.
I was actually a bit surprised and amused at Lillet's righteous indignation, since the question of why Amoretta was unable to feel God's love had never actually occurred to me. The situation
nonetheless sort of an injustice, but there's nothing that can be done about it either.
As for what yui said, how the fic didn't express Lillet's perception of the matter at the end, I believe it is implied that she understands what Bishop Beringer was trying to explain to her and, seeing it was an inevitability and something that could not be fixed, has decided to reinforce what she
do (i.e. loving Amoretta with all her heart, trying to be as supportive as she can, trying to make sure that Amoretta never feels that horrible hollow feeling ever again) instead of wallowing on something that she cannot do anything about. It shows Lillet's pragmatic side and alludes to the strategist within her, as seen in the game.
Anyway, as I've stated before, I think the one-shot is perfect the way it currently is and needs no modification. I seem to be alone in this, though, so suggestions would definitely be good.
Oh! Before I forget:
"So what will you do with this new understanding?" he asked as she passed by. Lillet paused on the threshold, turned back, and smiled.
"Go back home and have dinner with the woman I love."
I think that this last part would actually have a bigger impact if the "Lillet paused on the threshold, turned back, and smiled." were to be a line of its own. Just saying. ^_-
I really liked the fic ^^. It was neat to see this particular issue discussed in detail.
I did follow the rationalization in the story, and the story definitely worked for me there. Something that I did wish upon reaching the end of the story though, was to hopefully see how Lillet is going to
on her new realization. It's not required for the story to work, but I did feel a little let down when I hit the end--I think because the realization was something that is, in theory, quite subtle, yet is a weight off of Lillet's mind. And so I would have liked to see an omake or a second chapter, something, where Lillet goes to Amoretta and thus the reader can see how
may have changed after the end of the fic, overtly
Basically, it was a really "talky" fic, which isn't bad by any means! It just means that I was hoping for some narrative or action by the end, but it ended following the "talky" feel
. Still, I love how the fic is crafted though, it does conclude well and wrapped up all the points that were raised in the fic, so it's masterful that way. I think that the romantic in me just wants to see hugs and snuggles ^_^.
"Amoretta is not a chair!" --> That line made me laugh really hard, but kind of uncomfortably, because I felt really bad for laughing since I agree with Lillet!
I really liked the personal angle of Lillet's conversation with Beringer; it's nice to see that she's not only talking with other officials for official business, but that despite being a powerful mage Lillet still has personal problems that she wants to rant/talk about
Fuyu no Sora
Hm, dc's comment touches on something, though I have a twist to it. Instead of tacking something onto the fic, could we have a second chapter in which Lillet goes back home and just spends some quality time with Amoretta? It would seem like a nice complement to an already wonderful fic.
I meant to reply to this one ealier but got shipped off to listen to my firm's propaganda for a whole week lol.
The reason why I didn't feel there was a resolution to Lillet's outrage was because in the end, Beringer merely rephrased her conclusion by saying that the nature of Amoretta's existence placed Amoretta beyond the reach of God's love.
Perhaps this was what Lillet needed to hear - that somehow it wasn't by
that God did not love Amoretta, but that alchemy rendered Amoretta an subject incapable of receiving God's love? (Or am I reading this the wrong way? ^^; )
However, I did get the point that the conversation reinforced Lillet's understanding of her role in Amoretta's life. That, though, I feel Lillet understood very well from the very beginning.
I guess what bugged me was that the injustice Lillet felt was still very valid (to me at least) despite what Beringer said. You did reflect this in the last few paragraphs so I don't think it was a matter of your writing, but my own bottomless well of bitterness that coloured my perception
Since this fic seems to have gone over like a lead balloon (and not one of those cool foil ones like they created on
), I thought I'd cross-post a question I actually was discussing with Sora in VM, to hopefully stimulate some discussion into helping me try to get this into gear. My main problem as the writer here is that I wanted to accomplish a specific goal (basically, to look at the fact that the "superficial" or "surface" explanation for Amoretta's lack-of-love issues seems rather unfair, and to have Lillet seek some theological expertise in trying to understand the why and how of it--the answer she receives is not so much anything that changes the answer she already has, but helps to explain what's meant by that), with a secondary goal of getting Simon Beringer into a story and showing that a relationship exists between him and Lillet before the witch-hunter story gets finished. Which it might. Sometime. Eventually.
Now, since I trust you folks as beta-readers, if you all agreed that the story needed some specific thing or had some specific flaw, I'd know what I needed to do to hammer it into shape--kind of like how with "The Hollow Heart" a variety of different people had the "it needs an epilogue" reaction, so I wrote one, realizing that they were right. But...um...right now, spawnofthejudge, yuiseppe, Fuyu no Sora, and deathcurse have all offered comments, all found something lacking in the story, and all found something
to be missing/flawed!
Here's what I asked Sora:
"The problem I'm having here is...spawn definitely, and yui seemingly, did not really follow what I was trying to say in the first place, which is obviously a critical issue. As a secondary issue, the problem you attribute to yui is one where the answer is, "nothing." Or, more accurately, getting this issue somewhat straightened out in Lillet's head doesn't cause her to do anything differently towards Amoretta since ultimately it doesn't cause any changes--Amoretta's situation is what it always was, and all that really differs is that Lillet has a better theoretical understanding of what put her into that situation to begin with. But that doesn't change Amoretta in any way, nor does it change Lillet's feelings towards/about Amoretta (which were always, "I love you"), so really there's...not much to explore in a further chapter. Indeed, the most logical course of events is for Lillet to go back home with a reminder of how important she is in Amoretta's life, and Amoretta to ask her if something happened (wives being rather good at picking up when their significant other has something on their mind, especially if it means they're being extra-snuggly), and then Lillet to tell her, i.e. for Lillet to recite the events of the existing chapter, which makes for really boring reading.
One thing that would address that, I suppose, is to construct a frame around the story, with Lillet and Amoretta together (i.e. begin with a scene of them together, Amoretta asking Lillet, then cut to the currently-existing story version, then have the kind of concluding scene afterwards that deathcurse suggested). But that kind of tips the whole thing on its head in terms of what kind of story it is--it basically turns the story into a romance/fluff fic with some theological-theory filler. For one thing, that would make the story begin with "Lillet happy" instead of "Lillet upset," which would immediately cue the reader to expect a positive outcome, which otherwise isn't guaranteed from the first thousand or so words until Lillet defines the problem for Beringer...
...see my problems?
*Off topic* I FINISHED MY DISTANCE ED COURSE!!!!
Now my year-long ulcer can begin to subside while I finish off my other exams!
*Back on topic* Man, poor Dezo! Different commentary on what's lacking from each of us!
Hm, after reading your comments, I think that what I personally would find completely suitable, that hopefully also aligns with your intent, is if you wrote a short little section at the end of the fic where Lillet discusses her realization with someone.
For instance, if we take your example of Lillet going home to Amoretta--maybe Amoretta notices something different about Lillet (she looks more relaxed, etc), and asks if something happened.
, rather than recapping the whole story, maybe Lillet could state some kind of realization or further thought or satisfaction that she derived
the earlier discussion with Beringer? (To use a nerdy English Lit example, it's like how in high school you conclude essays by recapping everything, but in university essays should conclude with a kind of wrap-up, but
a recap and should actually provide something
for the reader to consider)
So while nothing really needs to change dramatically, I still think that Lillet got
out of this whole fic, right? So maybe a small nod should be made towards that
is needed, even if it's just a "I got affirmation about my previous beliefs"?
Honestly, my feelings of "incompleteness" were only because I'm used to a certain convention of how things go in a classic short story--but if you're going outside the box, then by all means, ignore my commentary and go for that new style ^^.
dc, you were doing a distance ed course on TOP of everything else? No wonder you were being mauled o_O;
Back on topic: I can't help but think that Lillet should at least still be a little disconcerted with the reminder and confirmation that Amoretta will forever require someone else's love to live. Following from dc's suggestion of having Lillet go home to Amoretta, perhaps (and I don't know if you share the same interpretation) Lillet can then dispell what remains of her earlier anger with the realisation that it probably doesn't bother Amoretta as much as it bothers
Amoretta's got Lillet, and that's really all she needs.
LOL! So you both agree on the type of cure, i.e. "short epilogue with Lillet and Amoretta," but you disagree as to the tone that best follows the story!
I'm going to be over here headdesking.
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