Dear readers, tonight with us is an a young mage from the distant occidental land of Avrale – one of the smaller, more secluded nations of the former Empire.
She’s here to give us a unique view of life on her world.
Could you tell us your name? Seems someone forgot to include it.
Oh, sorry about that. Probably just Mercu being clever. He likes to make opportunities for me to introduce myself. I am Katrisha, daughter of the moonlight and the winter frost, mage of Avrale, and a woman of…a certain faith. Sorry to be elusive, it’s oddly problematic. I am however a little weary of these games, and you seem like the sort who might appreciate the truth of things, even when hidden in plain sight.
Is that a title? The bit about moonlight.
Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s Sylvan in origin, and something my father used to call me when I was very little. I don’t quite remember the Sylvan phrase for it. ‘Lunka,’ I think might be their word for moonlight, but that’s about all I can remember. Father would call Kia, ‘daughter of summer glades, and the passing storm.’ Mercu loves to encourage us to use them like titles. Says it sounds properly mystical for young twin mages in training. Which is a bit silly really, mages don’t generally care for mysticism as a rule. Still, it reminds me of father, so I guess I have my own reasons.
Tell us about where you grew up.
Avrale is very…tall. Not just the tower on a high cliff part, where I’ve spent most of my life. Look out any window, or off any rampart on Broken Hill, and you are surrounded by mountains that loom over everything. That’s how most of the nation is, except along the borders. There are places around Avrale where you can stare out over the lowlands of our neighbors for an awful long ways. I’m used to it after all these years, but I still remember what it was like the first time, coming in through the northern pass, seeing the mountains that had always been out on the horizon rise fair and tall all around, just like in the song.
My sister and I weren’t born in the vales proper. Not that I remember the north all that clearly. Mother, father, gran’pa, Kia. That’s about it, unless you count old Mister Tree. Ha. Kia used to insist that silly old ash our family is named for actually spoke to her once. Father said some trees might, but I think he was just humoring her. Just a little girl looking for more friends than just her twin, and so making one up. The north is quite the opposite of living at court. Lonely. Lots of space, very few people. Rolling prairie farmland as far as the eye can see in most directions. A forest we were chided for even looking at too long, that stretched to the horizon in the east, and beyond.
I don’t think we met anyone outside the family till we were two, but who can remember that young. I had my sister, my parents, and gran’pa. Maybe that sounds lonely, but I remember being happy. Nothing lasts forever though. Into every life a little rain must fall, or so the saying goes. Though the little part sometimes can be a problem. One that started well before I was born.
I do remember gran’pa arguing with the King’s men the fall before. That we were quite capable of weathering the drought, and thank you, we were staying. ‘An Ashton always returns,’ is supposed to be on the family crest, but he wasn’t inclined to leave in the first place. He never did… Sorry, sore subject.
Oh it is. I mean it must be – objectively speaking – given a sunset out over the western ranges can still hold my eye, even after well over a decade on Broken Hill. When I was ill they gave me a strange kind of comfort. The mountains have a way of making everything seem so secure, and idyllic. Even if you know that illusion is just a comfortable lie.
Go about twenty miles north to Midrook, and you’ll see how little strong walls and lofty mountains really matter. Not since dragons came into the world. Not since the days of the Empire, long before our modern age. It always comes back to dragons. Creatures so powerful that they burned the very land to black glass, and cut a mighty city and its formidable wall clean half. If clean is even the right word for it.
Three centuries later they still haven’t rebuilt all the damage. I think partly because no one wants to be the one to bury it. That scar is a reminder of the world we really live in. One where they did all that as a show of force, after, destroying the old castle on Broken Hill. Flew over mountains all but impassable on foot, in the dead of night, and burned it to the ground.
Hardly the beginning or end of the troubles in this world, filled with inequities.
Seems rather cynical for a girl who grew up in a grand castle on a hill.
Yes, well, that will happen when you get there being orphaned through a long series of largely preventable tragedies. My grandmother died when my mother was still a child. Died defending her daughter from a rogue drake, and became a folk hero. My gran’pa, he died trying to defend his family from my father’s people, who dragged said father away, leaving mother, Kia, and me alone at a young age. Then mother died bringing poor little Wren into the world.
Sorry. I’m good. You would think after all these years, after what I’ve seen, and been through, that it wouldn’t still hurt so much, but it does. There it is, how we came to be orphans, and the last of our family line.
I have seen the scheming, and even corruption of members of the court all my life. Caught royalty trying to frame innocents. Watched pious men persecute pacifist healers for their faith, or lack there of. I have also read my history books, at length. They paint an even bleaker picture of what the world can be. This era of peace, that I have been born on the seeming end of, was bought with the blood of more thousands than I can imagine, and I have a pretty good imagination.
This peace. Everyone knows it won’t last forever. Not with the endless shadowy moves of Osyrae in the north. Not with the second dragon to encroach on our lands in a century. No one knows their game, except perhaps their King Vharen. The Council seems inclined to deprive us of Laurel, our Court Mage, rather than show any real support. One doesn’t need a prophecy hanging over their head to worry.
You can call me cynical if you like, but this smile I put on, it doesn’t change the past, just the future. I said one takes comfort where they can, and I do. For all the hateful people in this world, there are some good ones. Ones worth doing anything for. Worth fighting dragons for. Even if they never forgive you for trying.
What was it like to fight a dragon?
Terrifying of course. Even if it was only a feral minor one. There are reasons behind the rumors you might have heard, which are mostly true, by the way. Something that big and powerful can tear through almost any defense. Defense was – well – strange as it sounds, a liability. Just something to hold me back. That was the theory any way. Make of it what you will, I’m through being embarrassed about it.
What is it like being a mage?
A mage specifically, or having the gift? They are not the same thing.
With the gift, or at least one as strong as mine, I can feel the world around me, almost like…spots of warm, cool, texture, other things. People, particularly gifted people, have presences that can feel like almost anything. Wind, water, air, old leather, paper. Sometimes it’s something, sensible, almost poetic. Other times it just is, and you can’t even put it fully into words. It can even vary with their mood, or through practiced skill.
I’m not even really sure what some things might feel like to those without the gift. I think it’s probably different. Some of it is like sight, but in outline. Even in places you can’t see, to the side, a bit behind. It’s usually easier with my eyes open, if I squint, or blur my vision out of focus, but sometimes closing them can help. Distance gets fussier though, even if the picture grows clearer. It’s all very slippery, easily missed unless you focus on it.
Magic, on the other side…
Well, past being a lot of work to learn, it comes with a great sense of power. Particularly living in a nation without much in the way of other mages. The basics were easy enough, easier I guess for me than most. Each spell becomes almost rote with practice. Some eventually do become automatic, instinct, second nature. In theory you can even teach your body to do simpler spells with a gesture, and a little will. I’m still working on making that reliable. The first time I did it was by accident, to…well, it didn’t do any harm, thankfully.
Magic isn’t the only practice of gift out there. There are druids, a few lingering shamans, healers like my brother, others I’m sure I’m not thinking of. You can also channel your gift inward, train it martially to move faster, hit harder, learn to sense the moment ahead. In theory one can master it all, but most get caught up in one thing or another. Mages generally don’t think highly of the older practices. It’s not that mysticism is entirely nonsense. There are…things out there. We all sense them sometimes. Some study them with an analytical mind, others consider that to be not unlike an ant studying a bear. Impractically out of scale to amount to much of real use.
Even magic itself branches into various disciplines. Mages, enchanters, shapers, alchemists, maybe some others, that’s just off the top of my head. All of those though are spellcraft, a core principle of designing magical constructs to extend your will. To do things too big, complex, or lasting to use brute gift to accomplish.
Such powers, the gift itself…is responsibility. That’s what I was raised to believe. I think a lot of that comes from a need to makeup for the abuses of those who came before. There is a reason mages don’t rule the world, not any more at least. It ended badly. It ended with dragons, and a devistating war.
What’s the worst thing about having the gift?
In battle, precognition can give you an edge, let you feel the moment ahead, and respond before an opponent even moves. In practice I think that means you really win your battles by losing them – over and over – until you don’t. Yet there are not so many do overs on the long game.
You get maybe a glimpse or two of what might happen if you never saw it, or what will happened because you did. Either self defeating, or self fulfilling. You don’t know which. Free will becomes a painfully open question. It can make enemies out of those who should be allies, and make you confident when you shouldn’t be. You live your life desperately trying not to second guess everything. From first impressions, to the way you wear your hair.
You would think it’s a warning, but it’s a trap. Now that’s cynical, but I’ve reason to be.
What is up with the hair by the way?
This glorious shimmering, silver mop? A flowing head of hair most likely worth more than my weight in gold? Long story. One apparently wrapped up in prophecy I’ve spent my life trying to ignore. More pedantically it’s the source of my illness, extracted from my body with painstaking care, and stored, at first on a whim, where it wouldn’t do me any more harm. Now I keep it in defiance of the world, and what it might mean. I won’t let prophecy dictate how I live my life.
Mage blood. Filament condensation in a quasi-stable form, to be overly precise. No one is entirely sure why it happens to some mages, or why such a severe case happened in someone as young as me. The hair is unique, because, well, so far as I know, no one has ever had this much. If you think that’s bragging, then I’ll accept that I am very exceptional at poisoning myself. This isn’t even all of it. I sold some, and had Laurel tuck the profits away with the rest of the family wealth. Probably not what it was worth, but the buyer is the trouble, and there aren’t a lot some places.
Does your twin have similar issues?
It would be great to know that, because then I’d know if she’s alive. She went missing, probably thinking me dead. I think she is trying to chase after our father, who might be dead himself. It’s all a mess.
Laurel tries to be reassuring, and I try to believe him. Kiannae was always stronger, and maybe the prophecy says it. The dragon lied, I lived. Seers. Even when they try to help, what good does it do? Prophecy can rot.
Who are Laurel and Mercu?
I think of each almost as a father, I guess. With mine missing since I was a child, they raised me, along with a few other members of the court. By law Laurel adopted Kiannae and myself, to protect us from getting caught up in the curiosity of the Council. Half Sylvan’s are, rare, to say the least. He probably could have left us with our brother in the cloister at Highvale. It probably would have worked well enough the same. Honestly, I’m not sure why he did it – taking us on as apprentices, and wards, in addition to his responsibilities as Court Mage.
Mercu is…well…Mercu. To call him any one thing might be overly generous, and a bit pale. He’s a very good artist, an enthusiastic storyteller, a terrible musician – I think he fakes being bad at it – and a surprisingly effective player in court politics for an outsider that wormed his way in with the right skills, the right words, and the right help. He’s a very delightful kind of trouble, and I take after him a bit too much for Laurel’s tastes.
What is a Sylvan?
A tall people with pointy fur covered ears, and cat like eyes. They are native to the vast forest north east of Avrale, though there is some ambiguity with other peoples of similar description around the world. All very reclusive, mostly keep to themselves. Why my father left his people, I don’t know. Why he was dragged away violently, and against his will I have even less of an idea. Actual useful information on Sylvans is terribly hard to come by. I’ve looked.
As a Half-Sylvan my siblings and I have eyes a bit brighter in color than normal, slightly oval pupils, and the tiniest points to our ears. Our gifts are also stronger than normal. Sylvan’s have very strong gifts by all records, and to the best of anyone’s knowledge without mages they have fended off armies, dragons, and mages since before the days of the Empire. Osyrae barely made a dent in their territory during the Dragon War, and they took it all back by the end.
There are some records they have their own gifted practice, but scarcely little is known of it. Weaving is supposedly the best translation, and according to the Maji at least, it was not magic, though like it in some ways. Not many have seen it and lived to tell the tale, no outsider has ever been trained in it. Some books imply weavers have hair like mine, so perhaps I’m not so unique in my gift and curse.
Given your feelings about prophecy, would you rather not talk about the future?
Intentions, rather than predictions? Sure.
Assuming Osyrae doesn’t come marching over our borders, or riding in on the backs of dragons? I think I’d like to see the world. Avrale is such a tiny nation, at least from looking at maps. Sure doesn’t feel that small, which gives perspective to how big the world really is. There is so much out there to see. So many things I’ve read of, or heard Mercu tell stories about, from his time on the road. As a mage I can write my own ticket on any caravan I like, and yet as a mage, I feel my duty is to Avrale.
What do you hate?
People who think they know better how others should live their lives. Spend yours how you will, but leave me out of your faith. I won’t be blamed for another’s humanity showing through, or no, you know what, I will, and be proud of it. I’d be a hypocrite for trying to force my world view upon anyone else, but if how I live my life inspires some above what I feel misguided, and spiteful, then all the better.
Any romantic entanglements?
Uh. Sorry. I’m really very much not squeamish about it. It’s just a little, fresh, and complicated. Closely related to your former question too. Yes…lets say a few. I fell in love with, well, someone who was a surprise to me as much as anyone else. Others would prefer I hadn’t, and it only gets more…involved from there. Much as I have to say on the matter, probably best to move on. I may have a taste for trouble, but a girl needs her secrets, and some of us more than others.
How about another secret then? One you haven’t told.
That prophecy chasing me… The one everyone else seems to catch glimpses of. I don’t. I never have. That scares me more than the prophecy itself. It’s like knowing there is a cliff out there somewhere, and not being able to see it.
K. Quistorff started earnestly trying to write novels at ten. It took him about twenty years to actually manage to get all the way through a first draft of a book. It took him at least another five to six years to bite the bullet and start publishing as an online serial. The original draft having become two books as long as the original, and the second book mid publication threatens to overtake the first.
You can find Katrisha on the online serialised novels at Order & Entropy.
Join us next week to meet a young woman from the forgotten colony on Luna. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.