“Is Modest a boy or a girl?” Thats the question I hear most often from new readers. I think that Modest is refereed to as “she” and “her” often enough that by the time you read through the first season of the comic the answer becomes apparent. But the response to a strip late in Season 1 put an idea into my head and made me start thinking about what Modest’s species actually is and how it works:
- Modest and her sisters are the juvenile form of a magical species of multi-headed serpents called Hydra. Young Hydra look very much like human children (but with tails and snakes for hair), which is a defense mechanism to allow them to live near human and humanoid settlements.
- Hydra are birthed in litters and all have the same “generation name”. Modest and her sisters are all named Medusa. The Gorgon and her sisters are all named Gorgon. Auntie Naga’s full name is either Naga Gorgon or she’s from a different generation as her sister (or possibly her adopted parents gave her a different name). There are about 45 traditional generation names that are used over and over again, all based on mythical snake monsters.
- Young Hydra are dumb as sticks. They don’t seem to learn anything at all until they leave their mothers. Traditionally Hydra will find a safe home for their children where they can grow up and hunt. Usually this is in isolated wilderness areas where they’ll be safe form all Yeld’s horrible crap, but sometimes young Hydra will be given to families of other species to raise. For example, Naga was raised by Fairies in a village that also contained other kinds of people. Hydra mothers don’t live too long normally after they have kids, but while they do live they’ll visit their children and help them learn and grow. The Gorgon’s mother brought her books to read and dolls to play with. Hydra sisters will write and visit each other if they can (Modern Yeld has an okay mail system, and ancient Yeld had a system of Serpent Temples).
- Eventually Hydra will begin to transform into their adult form. Sometimes this happens when they’re young (like with Xbox), sometimes this happens in their late teens or even early adulthood (like with Gorgon). The transformation usually takes weeks or months. The snakes that make up their hair grow larger and larger while the juvenile body starts to wither away. One of the 4 snakes will become dominant, and that snake will grow much larger than the other three. As the transformation continues the Hydra’s personality and intelligence is centered in the dominate snake, and the juvenile body eventually dries up and falls off like a husk. The newly grown Hydra retains her personality and intelligence, although the trauma of transformation and the perspective they gain from their new form can cause their personality to dramatically change. The Gorgon seemed to change pretty dramatically, but Xbox seems to be mostly the same (although we didn’t really get to see what she was like before). Adult Hydra still have three smaller snakes growing from the mid point of their body. Naga does not appear to still have her snakes.
- Hydras probably only live about 40 or 50 years, and die a few years after having their final litter of kids (Naga implied that not having children allowed her to live longer, although the nature of her longevity is still a mystery). In ancient times (way before the Prince and the Old Kings) Hydra were respected as the children of the Serpent God and some were worshiped in temples as the god’s Oracles. Modern Yeld doesn’t see to have a religion and no one cares about serpent temples anymore. Modern Hydra are pretty rare and most live deep in the wilderness. Many spend their entire lives sleeping in deep caves or underwater. A few, like Naga, do interact with Yeld’s society, become War Serpents or study magic.
- The Prince revealed that Hydra can extend their lives and possibly live forever by eating their own young. This is not a natural practice, is totally repulsive and almost certainly involves some pretty serious Black Magic. The Gorgon may not have been able to do it at all without the Prince’s help (and the Prince indicated that he was trying to “make monsters”).
- The transformation from juvenile humanoid to adult snake allows Hydra to lay eggs and hatch children. Not all Hydra go through this transformation. A small percentage of Hydra have “boy hair” (meaning that the snakes growing form their head are male). These Hydra will grow into adulthood and live their entire lives without undergoing the transformation that their sisters experience. Traditionally adult Hydra with male hair are introduced to non-related adult female Hydra for breeding purposes. I haven’t put a lot of thought into whether these pairings are traditionally romantic or sexual at all. Hydra have been around long enough as a species that anything is possible. I think that the Serpent Temples, in addition to being places of worship, were probably where female Hydra came to breed with Hydra with male hair. Female Hydra can also breed with non-Hydra males. I have no idea how that works, but the results are always more Hydra. The children always look the same.
- Adult Hydra have their own magic, passed down from Mother to daughter. Many Hydra become very powerful spell casters. Hydra with male hair aren’t more naturally inclined to magic than their sisters, but traditionally they were more likely to interact with the other peoples of Yeld in their role as Oracles of the Serpent Temples and had a greater chance to learn a wider variety of magic.
So by the time we met Modest’s sisters at the end of Season 2 I had pretty much worked all of this out. If you look back through the comic you’ll see a few instances of Modest referring to her hair as “He” or “Him”. Readers regularly ask if Modest has brothers, and many of you were convinced that Hole was a boy when she first took the bucket off her head. And of course the question I hear more than anything else is “Will Modest REALLY turn into a giant snake?” I hope this finally clears everything up.