What Is a Spirubus?
A Look at the History of the Character DeLatia
Saturday, August 11, 2018
We've only ever met one spirubus in The Curious Tale, but she is the one who formed them all...
One night, a few years ago, Amy and I were in down in the big town, pulling out of McDonald's after grabbing a bite. As I've often done, my whole life through, I randomly began to sing:
I am everything you want;
I am everything you need;
I am everything inside of you
That you wish you could be.
I say all the right things,
At exactly the right times,
But I mean nothing to you
And I don't know why.
Who knows where it came from? That's part of the wonderful thing about my brain. I often come up with songs that I haven't heard or thought about in years.
Amy recognized the song, because she was clearly impressed and said something along the lines of: "You're not supposed to know Vertical Horizon. I didn't know you were cool."
But I had to confess to her that, indeed, I wasn't cool.
Ages ago, in what historians now call the mists of legend, After The Hero was a younger thing. I was still in regular contact with the core cast members, and we would wile away the hours of many an evening on AIM (RIP). Spirits were high that the novel would be completed soon (oof...sorry about that), and we were generally all high on life and the spirit of youth and anticipation.
The closest friend of mine on the cast was Lee, the original creator of the succubus Lilit DeLatia. He had come to ATH the RPG playing the deep chess game: In his application to join the RPG, he introduced himself to me as Lila, a college student and aspiring opera singer. That's right: Lee was roleplaying the roleplayer roleplaying in the roleplaying game. And he maintained that ruse after the RPG got underway.
"Lila" and I had some great conversations in the earliest days of ATH. She had an attractive mystique to her, a rapscallionous (I don't think there's actually an adjective form of that) ball of energy and sass. It was quite obvious how her personality informed her RPG character, Lilit DeLatia. All of us on the cast had our marquee avatars, after all, though most of us were in various stages of not fully appreciating that.
In particular I remember being really excited for Lila when she told me she'd been invited to sing in a choir at Carnegie Hall. How cool was it to be her! And how cool to be me, finally meeting such interesting people, people I'd waited my whole childhood for, after growing up in the dusty desert.
Well, after a couple months of getting away with it without so much as a hint of suspicion on my part—gullible soul that I am—Lee confessed one night, and introduced himself as the world knew him: as Lee. He had already presented himself to me and the rest of the cast, but with the story that Lee was Lila's older brother. Now, at last, he came clean that the two were one.
I was very impressed. And I was also rather dissatisfied, because Lila had been a truly fascinating person, and suddenly she no longer existed. There would be no finding her ever again. No more conversations. She was gone. I guess, in retrospect, my sense of loss was as much a testament to my own projection as it was to Lee's talents and commitment to the ruse. My whole life I've wanted to meet people like Lila. With Lila the needle had moved in that wonderful direction, only to be set back.
Yet Lee himself was no joke. He was a lot like Lila, except smarter and more suave and intellectual. In portraying Lila, he had created a persona more childish and self-indulgent. Lee himself presented as someone who fancied the finer things, and good learning. We had many erudite conversations: on art, science, philosophy—young, pretentious fucks that we were; oh it was glorious.
Lee was never as happy or open or expressive as Lila was. He had his own pile of junk going on in life, and, as with most of us, that pile only grew with time. But he was delightful company, and a match for me intellectually. I remember him being the first practical application in my life of my then-recent realization that I would never look up to anyone ever again. I would only, at best, look at people as equals. Lee was someone I looked at as an equal, when two years earlier I would have looked up to him as my superior. My ability to instead look him in the eye was a gratifying testament to how much I had grown as a teenager. Rob and Craig were a little more like groupies in the earliest days (though, if I'm being honest, I loved that), but Lee was very much his own person, and I loved that too.
As folks often do, Lee and I inevitably exchanged some music over time, and there are two songs I remember him sharing. One of them (a cover of "When I'm Gone" by Rockell) I can't actually guarantee came from him, the mists of memory being as hazy as they are, but the other one was "Everything You Want" by Vertical Horizon, and that one definitely came from him, because I remember him telling me how much influence it had carried into his interpretation of DeLatia.
Under Lee's imagination, Lilit DeLatia was a buxom, redheaded, loud, egotistical, libidinous, manipulative genius, the perfect general for Galavar's army and a worthy Guard of Galavar. She didn't exactly disrespect her troops or anything so unbecoming, but her mind was very much focused on the big picture, and not so much the footprints of her heavy boots upon those she trampled.
As the RPG evolved, Lilit's story became a much sadder one, involving love, loss, past traumas, repressed secrets, and a sense of loneliness and frustration.
Once the RPG concluded, and everyone else's characters transferred to my control for the novelization, Lilit changed a great deal on the outside, becoming shorter, fatter, black-haired, and older, so as not to appear so similar to the tall, redheaded, young Silence. But on the inside, I always tried to stay true to those two elements that Lee had illustrated in her so well:
On one hand there is DeLatia: the irrepressible, sassy, good-spirited, tough, and ebullient military genius. And, on the other, there is Lilit: the frustrated, vulnerable, incomplete, sad, and longing woman whom Lee had articulated to me so well both in the RPG text itself and when he described the influence of that song.
(I don't usually use gendered terms like "woman," but this is a special occasion.)
In the Prelude, we see the hard-edged, boisterous DeLatia persona, one hundred percent. There's virtually no indication at all of the depth and longing and regret awaiting the reader as they explore this wonderful character. There wasn't time in the Prelude, nor was it suitable to show her full spectrum, for DeLatia was the Guard's great optimist and encourager on that horrifying night. But that other side of her is still there, just as true as the flashy general, and it's something we'll be seeing a fair amount of in the full course of After The Hero.
A few years ago, I came upon a great conceit and the perfect retcon: In the original RPG, DeLatia, being a demon—a succubus—actually had wings, at least later in the story. My great idea was to make these wings a mythical thing in the novel, a legend of her wingless tribe—a deeply-held, aspirational faith that once upon a time their people had had wings. And I retconned her surname to mean "de-alated," or, literally "wingless." (Alate is an adjective that refers to wings or winglike structures.) And I was very pleased about all the symbolism I'd be able to tap into for the character. If life doesn't kill me first, you will eventually get to see those fruits, one day.
So, here's another nod to Lee's creative brilliance. Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, was the first female partner to Adam, created from the same filth as Adam. She preceded Eve, and showcased ancient Judaism's misogyny by demanding that she and Adam be equal sexual partners, with neither lying on top of the other—which Adam soundly rejected, causing Lilith to flee into the netherworld and become the mother of a great lineage of demons, who became infamous for stealing children at night and committing various other atrocities. I'm glossing over a lot of folklore history here, and some contentious evolutions of the mythos, but it is a popular theory—which Lee would have known—that Lilith's demons would become the inspiration for the myth of the succubi and incubi, demons who come and take sexual advantage of sleeping humans.
In other words, Lilit DeLatia was a take-no-bullshit woman who used her sexuality to her full advantage, and had the full weight of Judaic mystical symbolism to back her up.
Here's a clever detail: The literal meaning of succubus is "to lie beneath," and the literal meaning of incubus is "to lie upon." Remember what I was saying about Lilith wanting to have sex with Adam side-by-side as equals, with neither dominating the other? Well, as you may know, succubi are always female and incubi are always male. The terms themselves denote both a sex and a role. In patriarchal folklore, a strong-willed, powerful female character like Lilith never stood a chance. But in our modern era, with Lilit DeLatia, the fury was unleashed!
Lilith, as well as the succubi and incubi, were sometimes also said to consume the souls of their victims after copulating with them. This too carried into DeLatia, who in the RPG was sometimes shown to feast on the souls of her enemies. With her sword and black armor, and her presence that filled a room, she was quite the terrifying lady.
After the RPG, when I was trying to further develop Relancii lore, I ran into quite a few hurdles integrating all of this mythology. What I eventually realized is that the common factor that kept giving me trouble was the sexual distinction between succubi and incubi.
What I came up with was to abandon trying to tweak it to fit my story's needs, and just create a spiritual successor: the sex-neutral species of the spirubi. The shape of that word (and its singular form spirubus) is a call back to the succubi (and succubus), but with a root meaning "breath," cognate to words like respiration. This was because I reinterpreted the soul-swallowing element of the legend quite literally, with a spirubus actually breathing the spark out their victim.
One of the rarest species among the Kindred, spirubi do exist on Relance beyond just DeLatia, but there are very few of them, and many conceal their nature when they are among the viutari, for the two species look alike.
So rare are spirubi that, to date, I have never written another spirubus character in The Curious Tale, although I eventually will, both to canonically establish that DeLatia isn't some weird one-off being and to explore the creative potential of the species as a whole.
To that end, there's another element to DeLatia that I haven't mentioned: In the RPG, Lee wrote her as ageless, like Tolkien's elves, and actually quite a bit older than she looked. I went back and forth on this many times over the years, before settling on something I like very well: The spirubi do indeed have the ability to be ageless, but the price of doing so is—you guessed it—that they need to consume people's sparks. And the price is even greater than you might think, because, unlike eating meat—which is more or less nutritionally equivalent among different animals of the same species—sparks are highly individual, and the quality and nature of the specific spark that a spirubus consumes will directly affect the resulting quality and nature of the longevity they acquire. Consume the wrong sparks, and your immortality will be a hellish one.
Part of DeLatia's backstory that we'll see when The Great Galavar eventually gets there is that her youthful experiences with Galavar (among other things) persuade her to let the prospect of relative immortality slip her by, in favor of deliberately not consuming the choicest sparks, which would be necessary to give her the very best quality of long life. In the novel she does still swallow sparks, but not sufficiently enough to retain her youthful appearance: As described in the Prelude, DeLatia is the oldest one at the Willful Table, and it shows.
That night at the McDonald's in Texas, I explained some of this to Amy. I confessed that indeed I hadn't come to the song on my own musical merits—that it had been a powerful gift from a good friend, a lasting gift, a gift that had made a difference in my imagination, and even in my life.
DeLatia's not the only one who lost the chance to live forever. Passing out of my heady late teens and early twenties, and into the rest of my adulthood, took that sense of immortality away from me as well. I think much the same had happened to Lee, in his own way, years before me, and that this crept into his evolution of the character during the RPG.
In all the years since, I've only ever met a few people like Lila. Actually, Amy herself was one of the closest fits...one hell of a cool cucumber. Alas, that Vertical Horizon song proved to be prophetic for the two of us, and our lives have long since gone in their respective directions.
But, although Amy is gone, and Lila, and those hazy immortal days of long ago, DeLatia is still here.
So is Lee. (Hi, Lee!)
For that matter, so am I.
And that is what a spirubus is.
Out of the island,
Into the highway,
Past the places where you might have turned.
You never did notice,
But you still hide away
The anger of angels who won't return.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!