Character Interview: Azriel

Here’s the Character Interview I’d promised a while back. Sorry it took me so long. As with all interviews, this is technically non-Canon. It also contains potential spoilers for nearly all currently released Book of Deacon stories, and my just hint at things to come. I also decided to try something else with this one, and write it in second person, present tense. So YOU are the interviewer. Enjoy!

Image by Bri Mercedes

Ahead lies a door, built from stout wood and aged to a pleasant gray color. Mounted in its center is a heavy brass knocker. You grasp it, feeling the cool metal in your grip and let it fall. The crisp, sharp knock prompts a muffled stirring from within.

As you wait, you take in your surroundings. It is a gorgeous glade, idyllic. The sun is warm, but lacks the harsh bite of the deep summer. The grass is a rolling carpet of feathery blades, extending to the mountains in the east and plunging down to a forest to the west. You stand barefoot upon a pathway of cobble stones, smoothed by the centuries. And before you, the cottage, wholesome and cozy, its thatched roof the playground of chirping birds and scampering squirrels.

The door opens to the dim, flame-lit interior of the cottage, and a woman steps forward to great you. She is at once matronly and grand. Her face is creased with the lines of many years, and yet strangely ageless. She looks upon you with a knowing, welcoming gaze and gestures for you to enter. In sweeping her arms to invite you inside, she spreads her billowing robe, jet black and embellished with white flame that shifted as though it truly burned.

“Welcome,” she says. “I have been expecting you.”

“You have?” you say, stepping forward and trying to take in the cottage’s interior.

Your mind is slow to place the strangely unsettling feeling the place gives you. There is nothing terrifying or foreboding about it. A small side table stands before the crackling fireplace. It is set for two, simple clay mugs waiting to be filled from a teapot, steam curling from its spout. Slices of brown bread and dishes of butter and jam lay upon a tray, waiting to be served for the forthcoming chat.

It isn’t until you turn about and take in the rest of the cottage that you realize the source of your unease. It is large. Larger by far than it would seem from the outside. Doors lead to rooms filled with book cases, and others offer glimpses to things that look like art galleries or trophy rooms. There is motion within one of the rooms, the half-heard turning of pages and thoughtful murmurs of someone deeply in study.

“Sit,” she says. “I have some time for a chat before I continue with my duties.”

“Yes… Yes, of course,” you say.

You take a seat on one of the chairs. She sits in the other. With a gesture, the pot rises of its own accord and pours out a delightfully aromatic herb tea into her own cup. When it shifts to fill your cup, you find the warm liquid has changed. It looks and smells precisely of the precise warm drink you’d been craving for ages.

After a sip confirms she’d somehow plucked a beverage from your memory, you glance down to find notes upon your lap. They are the notes you’d gathered from your own curiosity of her life and history and from others like you. Though you remember jotting the notes down, you don’t remember placing them on your lap.

“When you’re ready,” she says sweetly.

There is no threat in her words, but you feel oddly compelled to avoid further delay.

“I suppose a good place to begin would be your name.”

“Azriel,” she says. “Arch-Mage Azriel, if we are being formal.”

“Is that your full name? Do you have a family name?”

She sips her tea. “No. No family name. Not a permanent one, at any rate. It is difficult to say I truly have a home—I traveled quite a bit in my upbringing, but my parents spent much of their lives in a village in the Eastern end of the Daggergale Mountains. They had something of an odd tradition, one that I’ve grown quite fond of in the years. They felt that you do not belong to anyone or to any place at the time of your birth. Though you may have a family, and though you may love them, and though you may take great pride in the land of your birth, as a child you are not who you will become. Only time can uncover who you truly are, and where and to whom you truly belong. Thus, your proper name is earned, it is revealed by the choices you make and the things you achieve.”

She took another sip. “I am told it is a tradition that comes from the dwarfs of those mountains. It shows, I suppose. Half of them are Ironhammer this and Copperworker that.”

“Then what name did time uncover for you?”

“Ah, yes, of course. I’d wandered a bit there, didn’t I. The mind tends to travel a few extra garden paths when I think of the old days. It can be fairly said that Entwell is both my home and my greatest achievement. Azriel of Entwell then. Again, more formally, Arch-Mage Azriel Num Entwell Num Garastra.” She shook her head. “A terrible mouthful, that.”

You spread some jam on a piece of bread and take a bite. It is startlingly good, once again like the most delicious breakfast from your memories has been plucked free for you to relive.

“I seem to remember Deacon having a similar reply regarding his own name,” you say, doing your best not to spray crumbs as you speak.

“He has a good head on his shoulders, that one.”

“You… you aren’t his mother, are you?”

She chuckles. “No. I’ve not been terribly interested in dalliances of the sort that might result in children for some time. Well before his birth.”

“I see. I wonder, would you care to share what your upbringing was like? Your teenaged years?”

“My teenaged years? Odd to focus on those. Aren’t we all little more than animals at that point? Excepting, of course, fairies. By their teens most of them are as wise as they are likely to get. But, if you must know, those years were spent much as the rest of the first thirty years or so of my life were. My parents had seen in me an aptitude for magic, and so I was sent to apprentice to the best practitioners in the world.”

“So you were always as powerful as you are today?”

“I was born with the potential, certainly, but if I’d not been pushed to pursue it. I might have ended up sweeping alleys or cooking stews if the keen eye of our local conjurer hadn’t seen a strength in the spirits of my family. We had the means to develop it, for my sister and I, so off we went.  Kenvard, Vulcrest, Tressor. I was even lucky enough to spend a few years working my way up from the tip of South Crescent and back. By then I was in my twenties, mind you.”

“How did you manage that?”

“I was a court wizard for the King of Kenvard at the time. Situated as his kingdom was on the wrong side of the continent to have any contact with the Crescents, he decided I should represent the kingdom and financed my trip. Quite a forward-thinking man.”

“And you’d mentioned Tressor. Was that not problematic, with the war?”

Again she chuckles. “It is delightful to have one’s age so thoroughly underestimated. This was over four hundred years ago. Well before the Perpetual War.”

“Ah, that’s right. It is easy to forget that, since. Well… a word, if it isn’t to bold, about your appearance?”

She raises an eyebrow. “So long as it is diplomatic.”

“As a wizard, as ancient as you are powerful, surely you are able to choose how you appear.”

“One need not be particularly ancient or particularly powerful to achieve that. Manipulating one’s appearance can be learned quite early in one’s career if one is not so foolish as to turn one’s nose up at the treasure-trove of Gray Magic.”

“What I mean to say is, though I have seen you appear both young and old, why do you prefer to look as you do?”

“As you see me is as you see myself. When my feelings change, so too does my appearance.”

“But why not always appear young?”

“What, precisely, makes a youthful appearance preferable? And more to the point, if one is not limited by the whims of nature to one’s appearance, why limit oneself to a single appearance?”

“I hadn’t thought of that…”

“Few young people have.”

“I’d like to speak about when you first entered the cave of the beast. What were you seeking?”

She sighs. “Ah… I wish I could tell you it was something more complex or noble, but I came seeking the same foolish nonsense that most others did. I sought to earn the glory of defeating the Beast of the Cave. I felt it would establish to all, and perhaps most importantly to myself, that mine was the greatest power, the greatest knowledge. A waste of time, honestly. But again, the greatest trick our creators played upon their children was to curse us with so many, many years before we finally reach the age of reason.”

“And what age is that?”

She smiles. “I am not entirely certain I’ve reached it yet.”

“And the beast, it existed even then?”

“In so much as it ever existed. Dozens of the greatest warriors had sought to do as I had done. None had returned. If the cave’s treacherous nature can truly be considered the beast we all believed we were braving its depths to find, then I imagine I can rightly be called the one who finally bested the monster. When I dragged myself, barely alive, to the place we now call the belly of the beast, I could see that I was the first to discover it.”

As you listen, you enjoy another slice of bread, this one spread with the most delightfully creamy butter you’ve ever tasted. You almost hate to pause long enough to ask your next question.

“You have had an eventful life. Seen many sights, met many people, encountered many creatures. Some have been good, others evil.”

“Most assuredly.” She sipped her tea.

“If it isn’t too forward to ask, where do you stand on that spectrum?”

“On the spectrum of good to evil?” She sets down her cup. “That is a matter of perspective, don’t you think?”

“From your perspective, then.”

“From our own perspective, we are all on the side of good. I suspect I am a good deal nearer to the center than most would prefer.”

“Why do you say that?”

“My focus can be quite narrow. I seldom feel compelled to inflict my considerable will upon the world, in one direction or the other. For those who feel the weight of justice upon their shoulders, I am sure my inclinations can be frustratingly neutral.”

You take a breath. The hesitation must be showing on your face, she prompts you.

“Please. Despite what you may have heard of my temper in the past, you are not a student of mine.” She rolled her eyes. “I am between students at the moment, thanks to a minor disagreement with the Elder. Regardless, I know not to show my claws to the uninitiated.”

“Where, on the same scale of good and evil, do you feel your sister stands.”

“Ah… And so I understand your hesitation. Turiel is a rather sore subject at present, isn’t she? And where does she stand on the scale of good and evil. A good deal further from the center, I would say.”

“On which side?”

“Again, that depends upon from which side she is being viewed. But I believe she is good.”

You sit forward, disbelief evident on your face. “Good? You honestly believe your sister is good.”

Azriel’s face becomes stern. The world outside the windows dims, as though a dark cloud had rolled past the sun.

“I am always honest, and quite certain of my beliefs.”

Your next words are hasty, and drenched with nerves. “I meant no offense, but… Azriel, you claim you consider yourself to be largely neutral. If I understand you correctly, you consider Turiel to be more virtuous than you are.”

“I absolutely feel that way.”

“But… Turiel summoned the D’Karon. She battled the chosen!”

Azriel shuts her eyes. “She has made regrettable decisions. But good and evil are about intention. There is no denying she brought a blight upon the world. But it was all in the aim of learning, of bettering herself, and to my great shame, the aim of that improvement was to bring closure to the great unanswered question with which I had left her. She wanted, like me, to defeat the beast.”

“But why do you believe she is better than you? Why is she further from the center?”

“Because my own thoughts through most of my life have, as I have said, been largely focused quite narrowly upon myself. Turiel’s thoughts have always been focused upon others.  The darker results of her efforts were hidden from her for most of her life. Her more recent decisions were shortsighted, but even then she truly believed she was bringing about a great good, not a great evil.”

“Her behavior… Azriel, she had no regard for innocent life. Surely that is evil.”

Azriel shakes her head slowly. “Not so. Turiel is a necromancer. Not only does she know the precise value of life, in terms those less versed in her arts could never hope to understand, she comprehends how thin the line is that separates life from death. And she doesn’t view life to be superior to death. This view, I will admit, is a view that pushes her a bit further from pure righteousness than most would prefer.”

“Did you have any clue what she’d done with her misguided anger?”

“Her anger was directed at the creature she believed had killed her sister. In my opinion it was misguided only in that she was mistaken about my fate.”

“But… you say she didn’t see much difference in life and death. Why would your death affect her so?”

“Because she could not feel me. The mountains hit my spirit from her, and hers from me. She should have been able to commune with me, even in death. That she could not, in her mind, could only have meant the beast had imprisoned my soul in some way, or perhaps destroyed me utterly. This was a fate she could not abide for her sister, or a crime she could not allow to go unavenged.”

“Did you have any idea what she was doing on your behalf.”

“In the earliest days, the ones just following my own arrival here, I was barely alive. And in the years that followed, Turiel was barely alive. And as Entwell grew and its possibilities blossomed, it shames me to say my thoughts seldom drifted to her. Again, she is far further along the line of virtue than I, even if her dedication brought about terrible results.”

“That brings me to my final question, and it deals with those very deeds. The arrival of the D’Karon. Why, after they arrived, after you finally learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were present and what they intended to do, did you remain behind and do nothing to stop them?”

“Didn’t I? You’ll recall I helped deliver Deacon.”

“Certainly, but you didn’t take any direct action yourself.”

“Didn’t I?”

“… Did you?”

Azriel topped off her cup of tea. “It, I think, is a tale for another time. But for now I shall leave you with this. There are some questions of the Chosen and their victory that have yet to be answered. And for some of these questions, the answer is Azriel.”

“But what does that…”

Before you can finish your question, the world seems to shift around you. The cottage wafts away like colored smoke. The only thing that lingers, and only for a moment, are Azriel’s grinning eyes. For a few seconds you exist in a void of black, then slowly the world resolves again and you are precisely where you had been before you resolved to question the Arch-Mage. You shakily take a seat, and lick your lips, where the flavor of her refreshments remains.


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