Dear readers, tonight with us is an ex-criminal on a mission of revenge. She is here to tell us about a world of magically-enhanced Renaissance: a dangerous world of assassins, alchemists and flying machines, a world where artists and scholars cross paths with feuding nobles and clockwork monsters – and death is never far away.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I grew up in a city-state called Pagalia, in the north of the Astalian Peninsula. Pagalia is the site of the rebirth of man: the greatest flourishing of art and knowledge for a thousand years. It’s produced painters, scholars, authors, inventors… and people like me. All the stuff about the art is true – but there’s plenty of thieves, robbers, forgers and every other type of criminal there.
Did you have any cherished memories of childhood?
Memories, eh? I don’t have many. Sometimes I think it’s best that I didn’t know much about my parents, what they must have done to make ends meet. There is one memory, though, that always comes back to me. It was during the War of Faith, so I must have been five or six. This column of Inquisition soldiers marched through town on the way to fighting the heretics in the north. They wore black cloaks and silver breastplates, and their boots were so shiny. Everyone had to go outside and cheer. But you could tell that people were scared of them. Even then I knew that. Sometimes I wonder if the New Churchers had to go out and cheer for their soldiers, and whether, deep down, they were frightened, too.
What do you do now?
These days, well, some would call me a thief-catcher, but it’s more complicated than that… Let’s just say that I get things done. Sometimes, it’s finding something that’s been stolen, other times people want me to steal it back… and other times, I just plain steal. When I get some time to myself, I train. You see, I’ve been away from Pagalia for a little while, and when I go back, I’ll need all the practice I can get.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Well, this is just between you and me, understand? You see my face, these scars? A man called Publius Severra put them there. It was a long time ago, and I was – well, I was a criminal. But I was much less of a criminal than he was, and he wanted me out of the way. His men got me out of the way all right, but they didn’t get the chance to finish me off. So now I’m going back to the place where Severra lives. And I’m going to finish him.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
That’s hard to say. I’ve met some bad people, killed a few of them, too. Magic puts the fear into me – when you’ve got no skill in it yourself, you don’t know what to expect. But to be honest, the day they carved my face up and left me to drown, that was the worst day. I’ve never been scared like that.
What is the worst thing about your life?
The worst thing about my life? It’s not the scars, actually. I got used to them years ago. It’s the Melancholia. Apparently, it’s to do with the humours being out of alignment. I used to get it all the time. It’s less frequent now, but every so often the Melancholia catches me and I feel like there’s nothing worth doing, that no matter what I do, I’ll never get what I want. I take medicine for it, sometimes. Sometimes it’s bad, but I won’t let it stop me, that’s for sure.
What is the best thing about your life?
For all the bad things that have happened, I kind of like what I’ve become. I’m smarter, tougher, better-trained than I was in the old days. I can fight, pick locks, go without anyone seeing me – and best of all, I don’t rely on anybody else. I’m not proud or happy about the troubles I’ve had – but I am proud of how I’ve learned to fight them.
Tell us a little about your friends.
A lot of my friends bit the dust when Severra made his move against us. But I’ve got one friend left over from the old days. His name’s Grodrin, and he’s a dwarrow from Pagalia. Being one of the fey folk means that he has to live in the Pagan Quarter, and the Churchmen aren’t keen on the dwarrows, but that doesn’t bother me. He’s a good man – well, creature, I suppose – and very loyal to his friends. I guess you’d call him honourable. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
Any romantic involvement?
Romance? Hah! It’s a fine idea, but really, I don’t think so. I’ve tried it years ago and it didn’t work back then. Even less chance of it working now, not with me looking like this. And besides… I’ve got work to do. Maybe once I’ve settled my debts, but – no.
Whom or what do you really hate?
Well, I hate Severra, of course, he’s the reason I got here – kind of the reason I ended up the way I am. But I can’t stand people like him, to be honest. Whether it’s nobles, priests, merchants or criminals, it’s people who think they’ve got a right to lord it over everyone else. People who think they can just sweep you out of the way. That really makes me angry.
What is your favourite relaxing pastime?
I like reading. You wouldn’t think it to look at me, would you? But if you open a book, you can see a whole other world in there. All these people that you’ve never seen, never will – and there they are, set out for you to read about. The Death of King Alba, Forty Days in the Plague House – I’ve read lots of books now, at least a dozen. They used to be hard to come by, but they’ve got printing-presses all over town now.
The other thing I like is plays. Again, you see all sorts of things that you’d never see otherwise, acted out on the stage. There’s one called The King of Caladon. There’s a lady in it who wants to be queen, so she gets her husband to murder all these people. The first time I saw that, seeing her saying all that stuff about taking what’s owed to her – it was like she was talking to me. I used to watch that one whenever they performed it. I can quote bits of it even now.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, once I’m done in Pagalia, I can’t see myself staying there long. For one thing, I’ll have all Severra’s men looking for me! I’d like to see some of the other city-states. I’ve heard that the canals of Averrio are pretty impressive, and there’s always work hunting wyverns for anyone crazy enough to do it.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
I’ve already told you that I mean to get revenge, and that’s pretty damn secret as it is! But yes, there is something. Sometimes I wonder what killing Severra will really do, whether all these years I’ve been preparing for it will be worthwhile. How will I feel once he’s dead? What if… it’s just the same?
Toby Frost is the author of the Warhammer 40,000 novel Straken, published by Black Library, and six science fiction comedy novels about Space Captain Smith, published by Myrmidon Books. Toby has written short stories for Black Library and the collections Sharkpunk and The Immersion Book of Steampunk, as well as articles for the website Fantasy Faction.
You can find Giulia on the pages of Up To The Throne.
Keep an eye out for more SPFBO mid-week fantasy specials! Join us on Friday to meet a man from a Middle-Eastern inspired fantasy world, fighting against the end of days. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.