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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Natalie Holden

Tayrel Kan Trever (of Octopus Song, by Natalie J. Holden)

Dear readers, tonight with us is a powerful sorcerer on a mission: to find the elusive, underwater race and secure their help in colonizing one of the newly discovered worlds. He’s here to talk about fast ships, pretty sailors, and giant tentacled monsters.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

When I was born, Dahls was not the superpower it is today. It was just a tiny world, already stretched to the brink of its capacity and connected only with words that were similarly stretched. One of the ways our government tried to save us was by imposing a one-child policy. I guess my parents wanted a daughter, cause they ditched me like an used condom.

I was adopted by Kanven Sandeyron, a corporation that primarily produces technomagic equipment. At that time they tried to branch out into medicine. The problem with it was that they needed to test their inventions somehow. You didn’t think they took me in out of the goodness of their hearts, did you?

So you were something like a guinea pig?

Something. We—there were a few of us—got education, playtime, social contact, even fucking psychologists. None of it meant shit if every day each of us was taken to a special room, strapped onto the chair, and injected with some miracle cure meant to dissolve our brains and remake them to their liking.

Yeah, I know your next question. One of the side effects of their treatment was strong telepathy that I can’t shut off. I know you weren’t going to ask; that’s fine.

You’re already intruding, if you wanted to be tactful you shouldn’t ask about my fucking childhood.

Seriously, did no one teach you to shield your mind?

Yes, that’s better. Thank you.

Anyway, I hated everything that came from them. Their focus at the time was increasing humans’ magical potential, so of course they were trying to get us interested in magic. Everything they gave us, books, toys, etc. was connected to magic-using.

I’d tell them to shove it. Except they didn’t teach me to cuss. Obviously, I made up for it when I left.

What I played with were illusions. I was instinctive, you see. I can use magic as you can use hands, whether it’s because I was born this way or because of Kanven’s bloody experiments. But when I was locked in, surrounded by people I hated, choking on the smell of antiseptic, I could already weave imaginary landscapes around me. Pretend I was somewhere else. Not just in Dahls, but other worlds. Big, open spaces. Organisms other than humans. Animals, plants, all that shit I barely learned about at school. I thought myself pretty clever. Until I actually went outside and realized how woefully limited my imagination was.

As for friends? It was hard to form attachments if you knew that any day one of you could go for testing and not come back. That you could not come back. Yeah, we tried… not to get attached.

No, we don’t keep in touch. We don’t really like anything that reminds us of those times. Put this damn shield back.

You talk about getting out. How did that happen?

If you were imagining some great escape, releasing all of Kanven’s pupils and burning the site to the ground, I have bad news. Once I became an adult they had no legal right to hold me, so I showed them the finger and took off.

What? Dahls is a civilized world. We’re not perfect, but we have laws and even those bastards have to follow them.

And yes, some bastards can do unspeakable evil and get away with it. If you think everyone gets what they deserve and good always triumphs, what bloody world do you live in?

What happened when you left?

At that time Dahls reached critical mass and just when it was about to break, our sorcerers found a way out. A merge between our world and some unknown and uninhabited world we called Sfal. And a couple thousand others beyond it.

But, just like that, we were the only thing standing between the old worlds, all not much better off than ours, and unimaginable wealth. With no way to keep that to ourselves, the geniuses in the government decided to open the way for everyone, no matter their species, culture, or where they were from. All tightly controlled, obviously, but don’t tell anyone that. Anyway, they needed an army of bureaucrats to handle the influx of immigrants and that was my first gig.

How did it go?

Great. My telepathy makes normal socializing painful but allowed me to communicate with people who didn’t speak Dahlsi-é. Or didn’t speak at all, for that matter. Not all of them were humans, did I mention that?

Until my bitch-of-a-boss got smitten and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So she set out to ruin me.

But maybe that was for the best. With nothing to do and a burning grudge against humanity, I set out to explore new worlds. The business was unregulated at the time. There was The Cosmographic Society, using their magic to locate new merges, but after that, anyone could grab the coordinates and set off. A lot of people got themselves killed. Not all worlds are habitable. There are wild beasts, irregular magic, even shitty, inhospitable environments. One world, I shit you not, is completely filled with water, top to bottom.

“Top to bottom”?

Yeah. Like, you know, when a world bubble emerges from the chaos, it starts filling up with the heavy stuff on the bottom until you end up with a world surface covered with sky-dome? So, there is no surface nor sky-dome, just.. world bubble. Filled with water. It’s crazy.

Continue reading “Tayrel Kan Trever (of Octopus Song, by Natalie J. Holden)”

Aldeaith Tearshan (of The Outworlder, by Natalie J. Holden)

Dear readers, tonight with us is a young soldier who left his bucolic world to get a taste of the bigger universe. He’s here to tell us about the people of a thousand worlds, of the technomagic that binds them together, and picking sides when the rebels are people he grew up with.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I was born in Nes Peridion, one of the newly colonized worlds in Meon Cluster. My parents came from Tarviss—well, they were brought by their lord, but quickly realized that away from Tarviss he had no way to keep them under control and got rid of him. So we lived as free people.

My parents were simple farmers and the first people to settle in Nes Peridion. It took them a lot of work to turn it into the fruitful farming colony it is today. The beginnings were especially hard, our crops and stock needed time to adjust to local soil and climate. I was born a few cycles after they settled and I think that by that time, the worst was already over. Some years were rough, though.

What did you do as a child?

There was always something to do at the farm, and we had to help since we were old enough to stand. Not the hard stuff, just keeping an eye on zeeath birds or working in the herb garden.

‘We’?

I have a sister and two older brothers. Well, had. My brothers died as children, taken by the diseases. I don’t really remember them too well.

My sister’s fine. She lives with our mom in Nes Peridion.

Between dead siblings and constant work, that sounds like a pretty rough childhood.

It’s the one I had. Do you think Dahlsian children have it better? They may get their education and their playtime, but they spend their lives locked in. They never feel the sun on their faces, or the breeze in their hair. They never play with living animals. They don’t even eat real food, only this tubed sludge. And when they go outside, they freak out, they go down with allergies, sunburn, and their immune systems are so compromised, a light cough can kill them.

I was never sick in my life. Drop me in a new world and I can survive, I don’t even need any fancy technomagic. I know how to find shelter, make water safe to drink, find food. I could build my own house if I had to. And I’m strong enough to carry a Dahlsi person through half the world—I already did that once, when my colleague broke her leg. She was as light as a feather.

So was it really that bad for me?

Do you have any cherished memories?

Hm. Maybe the times Aeva and I ran to the river to play. I liked making patterns with colorful stones. Aeva was always better at pretending. She also learned to crochet little dolls—I think in old Tarviss they were used for some rituals, but we just used them to play. Although mom would always undo them to save the yarn. Textiles were hard to come by in Nes Peridion.

Just the two of you?

Yeah. We were never good with other people—well, Aeva was a bit better, she even had friends. But most of the time we preferred each other’s company.

It got harder as I grew older and my brothers died. The amount of work to do remained the same, but there were fewer hands to do it. We were a small community, you know, so we had to do everything by ourselves. Not just grow food, but make houses, make furniture, make tools. Travel to the lake to fish or the nearby mountains for salt and lime. Also, there was no iron anywhere nearby so if a tool broke and no trader came, we had to replace it with a flint one. 

Flint?

It’s not so uncommon. All the metals in Tarviss have been mined ages ago; iron tools have to be brought from off-world and if they break, people have to use what they have on hand.

I became quite good at this. Maybe because I could sit for hours hitting rocks until they produced something I was happy with.

What do you do now?

I left Nes Peridion to work for Mespana. It’s a Dahlsian organization, but they accept outworlders. Our primary job is exploring new worlds within Meon Cluster and assessing their usefulness to the colonists. But we also had other duties. Escorting tax collectors or helping colonists with various problems.

Continue reading “Aldeaith Tearshan (of The Outworlder, by Natalie J. Holden)”

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