Dear readers, tonight we listen in on a conversation between the protagonist and his friend. While trained to enforce the rules and maintain the peace in a society with little tolerance for magic-wielding elementals, an encounter with a young boy leads him to make hard choices — and bear the consequences.
“So, where are you from, really?”
Nia and I sat in the shade of a decaying building of unrecognizable historical function on a particularly hot midland afternoon, in a block of abandoned industrial warehouses haunted by the local youths.
Her cold silence was not unexpected and the distance between us, as we sat opposite each other on the stairs, might as well have spanned the continent.
“I’m from Tule myself,” I continued talking, filling in the stifling atmosphere. She kept her eyes forward and pretended that I didn’t exist. “It’s a small town up north by the sea. Not far enough to get much snow in winter, though it’s still cold and the rain never lets up.”
A small huff slipped her lips, telling me she knew exactly where the town was. And that she was listening. So I went on.
“We don’t get as many storms as the west-coast, but fogs develop in a flash in winter and hang around for days, sometimes weeks.” I didn’t know which I preferred less: the gloomy, damp Tule winters or the oppressively hot midland summers. “The summers are beautiful though. It’s warm and clear, and—”
Nia let out a loud, exaggerated groan. “Do you ever just stop talking?”
“I would, if you’d just answer the question.”
She eyed me as if I was lame, with that furrow in her brow and slightly disgusted look that never failed to make me feel inept.
I didn’t let it get to me.
“You could be from the north,” I continued. She had that hint of Elathrian with her coal black hair and the alien sharpness of her features. But there was something of the southern softness too, not to mention the warm tan. Where the steely grey eyes came from was anyone’s guess. “But you don’t strike me as having grown up in the northern crags.” Not just because the borders were closed and true Elathrians rare, but she had the southern farmer dialect down perfectly. Though hints of that high-class capital lingo slipped through whenever she wasn’t paying attention.
“I’d bet on Mithra.” She’d fit right in on the Capital streets with her mixed heritage.
She let out a small snort. Wrong guess then?
“And maybe I didn’t grow up in one place in particular,” she challenged. “Or I come from somewhere you wouldn’t usually think of.”
I didn’t take the bait. Following her line of reasoning always led in endless circles and never got to a straight answer.
“I’m free to come up with my own story then.”
She cocked a brow.
“You grew up on a farm, in the deep south.”
She snorted a laugh.
“Struggling farm probably, family agriculture isn’t as profitable as it used to be.”
She continued eyeing me with that semi-amused, semi-mocking twinkle in her eye.
“It probably got appropriated for the state farm project. You could have stayed, but knowing how much you love conforming, you probably ran. Ended up in the capital somehow, learned to steal—”
“And why don’t you tell me more about your life in Tule,” she interrupted. “Single mother, right? Working in the army? Must have been around so much for all three of you when growing up. But at least she got paid well… Oh, wait. I almost forgot how fair your beloved system is. Why don’t you tell me a bit more about that instead of spouting about the weather?”
I clenched my jaw. My mother may not have been present much, but Kayla was, and she… The thought of my sister always being there for us, entertaining us when there was nothing to do, distracting us when there was too much to handle… She’d make us toys out of rags, games out of common objects, helped us through school. And now she was gone. I shut my eyes, trying not to think of it, trying to ignore Nia’s vicious triumph.
It always amazed me how much personal information she could dig up. And how well she used it to hit right where it hurt. I guess it came with the territory, contracting as a paid informer and all that, always skirting what was legal and what was not, what was right and what was wrong. I should have reported her when I caught her trespassing the academy grounds. Maybe next time I just might, see how smug she would act then.
“At least I make an honest living,” I shot back. “As bad as it got, I never resorted to extortion or theft.”
She narrowed her eyes, an edge to her glare. “Do not presume that you know anything about me.”
“I know enough.” I gave her a pointed look. “And if people cared to follow the rules there wouldn’t be this many problems.”
“Oh, really? How is that working out for you?”
“What about me?”
“We’re not going to address the elephant in the room, are we?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“No? Let me ask you a question for a change,” she sized me up like prey, “how does it feel?”
She was baiting me again, trying to trip me up.
“How does it feel to be stuck? To not have a choice? Did you get used to it? Many don’t, you know.”
“It’s important to follow—”
“How does it feel when soon you’ll be the one forcing people into the streets? Onto those same paths you frown upon. And then you’ll be the one hunting them down, bringing them back in line, all in the name of maintaining your beloved rules.”
I kept my mouth shut, biting back any arguments. She would just twist them and throw them back in my face. What an awfully cynical way of seeing the world she had, focusing on the few parts that didn’t work, and overlooking all of the triumphs — we were strong enough to repel any invasion, be it from the south or the north, starvation was far in the past forgotten by my generation and the ones that came before, and crime had never been this low. If conforming to the Governance design was the price to pay for it, then it was worth it.
“Would you have chosen this path, if given the chance?”
My lips parted to reply, but I realized that I had no answer. I’d known what was expected of me for as long as I could remember, and I’d never given too much thought to any alternatives.
“Why didn’t you report me?” she asked another question, eyebrow raised.
“You surround yourself with empty comforts. Frivolous affairs that never turn into anything long term. A friend you’ve taken under your wing so he won’t leave you. You latch onto any pity project so you can feel better about yourself. But the truth is that you’re just trying to distract yourself because you’re stuck. And you know it.”
“Things are what they are. Entertaining impossible alternatives is pointless.”
“Ah, so you’ve thought about it!”
“This is reality.”
She shook her head. “In all my years, I don’t think I’ve met someone quite as hypocritical as you.”
“I don’t see how I’m being hypocritical.”
“That’s just it, isn’t it? You’re so blinded by self-delusions that you don’t even see it.” She smiled one of her nasty, derisive smiles. “Don’t come begging for help when reality finally punches you in the gut.”
Mary Evans is an avid reader and passionate writer based in Canada. She enjoys musing about difficult
philosophical topics and creating complex worlds in her head. In her debut series Windwalker she
explores themes of antiheroes seeking redemption, marginalized groups struggling against authoritarian
governments, and the social impact of institutionalized discrimination in an alternative world fantasy
You can meet Kal and Nia on the pages of Rising Wind.
Join us next time to meet the prison guard looking over the protagonist at the start of their novel. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.