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Content Warning: Miscarriage, Eugenics, and oppressive gender roles.   For Geminites, life can seem a never-ending masquerade. Immediately recognizable by their startlingly beautiful features, Geminites bear the burden of expectation and prejudice in equal measure. Their complexion is perfect, their skin is soft, and their hair is lush and never seems to frizz. Their proportions are as if sculpted and those with extra weight seem always to carry it in just the right places. Their eyes - always two different colors - are mysterious and captivating. There's just something about them that invites attention and jealousy.   Throughout history they have always been low in number, and often found themselves living side by side with other cultures like the Chainlanders and Detrithans. But for them there's never any such thing as just "fitting in". Rarely do people have a neutral opinion about Geminites. Depending on the era's prevailing sentiments, they are either pureblooded nobles to be admired and elevated, or devilish degenerates whose otherworldly seductive wiles ought to be feared and avoided. Never starved for controversy, some Geminites find it easier to hide or even deliberately blemish their own physical appearance so as to avoid standing out.   All of this conflict centers around the claim that they are a divinely chosen (or cursed) people, a claim that may just as likely come from outside the race as from within it. It is not without merit because there is far more to it than just mere looks. Without a doubt, something is going on with the Geminites. Who could dispute it, when they boast a power as magnificent as the Blood Ward?  

The Blood Ward

Geminites are innately gifted with the ability to resist all disease. Of course, they bleed, freeze, fall, and starve just like everyone else. They can be poisoned through alchemical synthetics, and some may become violently allergic to very rare and very specific ingredients. But thanks to the Blood Ward, Geminites never get "sick" per se. No colds, no flus, no fevers, venereal diseases, unsightly growths, inflammations, or infections. Their bodies fight off parasites with ease. Without fear, they can walk amongst the sick, or venture into sewers, or frolic in the woods and blithely play mushroom roulette for a lark. It is a miraculous boon to be sure, even if it makes Geminites an easy scapegoat during times of pestilence.   Tradition within Geminite families stresses the importance of strategic marriages that cultivate the bloodline, for the outside world can be fickle and untrustworthy. The hardship of maintaining the Blood Ward falls especially on Geminite cis-women, because the Blood Ward is only passed down matrilineally. Regardless of the partner's heritage, only a child born from the womb of a Geminite shall receive the gift. The chain must remain unbroken, and so there is great pressure for women to bear multiple daughters. While Geminite males enjoy the benefit of the Blood Ward, they do not pass on the sacred trait to their children unless the mother is also a Geminite. In fact, in relations with those outside the bloodline, the male passes on no traits at all. The child of such unions seems to inherit traits from the mother exclusively, growing up to be her spitting image.   Folklore about Geminites are rife themes of envy, duty, gallant chivalry, and bastard underdogs, blood sorcery, forbidden love, and ancestral supremacy. Debate in academic circles is no less prone to fantastical thinking and extremist rhetoric - mad sweeping declarations about what is owed in return for the gift and to whom, about sin and sickness, and genetic destiny. Some argue that the ward is weakened by marriage to non-Geminites, while others retort that it is diversity that keeps the ward strong. Research yields debates, and the debates turn into wars, and in the end nobody knows for sure. All the bluster and intrigue merely serve as fertile ground for the myriad depravities you can imagine taking place behind the walls of a gilded palace.   A more progressive faction of Geminites argues that the Blood Ward must be preserved in the event that one day, when medicine is sufficiently advanced, Geminites might share their gift with mankind through more rational means. There are many Geminites who commit themselves to servitude or philanthropy, or to a life in pursuit of scientific breakthrough. Geminite nobles boast of their generous donations to The Widow's Guild, and any lowborn would be proud to see their child become a healer or caregiver.   Whether this cultural norm is an expression of compassion or condescension is a small point. Get the average Geminite drunk and they would confess that they actually hate having to know medicine at all, for it seems hardly even a choice. In the hysteria that surrounds any pandemic, Geminites simply stand out too much to not have a survival plan - one that ensures they don't get snatched up by some manic supersititous mob for use in some unspeakable cleansing ritual. Knowledge of the healing arts makes a Geminite more valuable alive than drained of their so-called 'magical' blood. Still, even among perfectly reasonable neighbors, the people around them all know that Geminites can venture where others cannot. To be seen idle in a crisis brings trouble, and so the ever-present expectation to do "the least you could do..." weighs heavily upon them.  

A Dark Passenger

There is also the small matter they prefer not to mention in polite company: The Otherling. Nearly every child born with the Blood Ward is, in fact, a twin sibling to a disfigured stillborn, expelled from the womb on the same day the healthy baby is born. Though no one knows why this dark exchange occurs, it is thought that the Otherling acts as a sacrificial vessel by "absorbing" the original sin of the surviving newborn.   Superstitions abound regarding the order of birth, or about triplets, birthmarks, the father's genetics, and unfortunate deaths during childbirth caused by physical trauma. It is not unheard of for miscarriages to be attributed to the wicked nature of an Otherling who strangles their sibling out of jealousy. Some even say that the spirit of the Otherling lives on within the survivor, and that every Geminite is "twin-souled". Thus it is an oft-cited bit of folk wisdom that they are unnaturally skilled at perceiving both sides of an argument, and are prone to indecision and playing devil's advocate. Other times, they are accused of hearing voices in their heads, acting in emotionally erratic ways, or conjuring up illusionary doppelgangers that are only visible in mirrors and dreams.   Sometimes though, when the stars align just right, and the omens call for the unusual, multiple children arrive healthy to term and there is no visibly recognizable Otherling. That is when things become very interesting, and potentially very dangerous for at least one person in the family.

Cover image: by Michiel Simons


Author's Notes

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Grandmaster CoffeeQuills
CoffeeQuills the Coffee Quaffer
5 Jul, 2020 13:28

That ending is perfect and honestly seems to be a story in and of itself!

Sage cryptoversal
5 Jul, 2020 13:29

Creepy and cool!

Greg R. Fishbone, Author in Residence at Mythoversal, is releasing his young adult mythic fantasy, BECOMING HERCULES, as a weekly serial on Kindle Vella. This diverse coming-of-age drama shares its ancient roots with the Percy Jackson series, Song of Achilles, and Lore Olympus.