Abominations & acting fast

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

Witchery

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The following story stands alone and can be read without any knowledge of my prior works, but does in some ways serve as a sequel to Bind

It is the job of witches to destroy abominations, and do so with subtlety.

The cats and the newts and the hats and the brooms are tools. Eye catching. Easy to dismiss as glitter and charlatan fripperies. Distractions — although entertaining ones, to be sure.

But power is simple to use, when the time is right.

No one ever expects a witch to act fast, least of all the old men who comprised the Edarebian Akademe.


Afterword

Witchery is a story about an attempt to overthrow the Akademe, a hallowed institution that functions a bit like a university and a bit like the Roman senate. It's the mage college in a county where mages rule outright. It's also a male-only institution in a world where the ability to condense usable magic from the natural world  is inborn and gender-neutral. As described in The Impossible Knife, Akademe mages harvest power from gifted women — and functionally enslave their supersoldiers. During the events of Left, it was shut down by what was then the ruling council.

But the council's control was not permanent. History is not a march of progress, and the Akademe was not so easy to destroy.

One of the things I like most about writing stories in Verraine — and about this newsletter — is that the stories span millennia. I'm a world history teacher whose curriculum spans everything from the role of technology in changing Neolithic cultures from Anatolia to the political and environmental challenges facing modern-day Latin America. My mind is primed to think in terms of broad changes and trends, not multi-book series focused on one character.

I enjoy encyclopedias more than biopics, and enjoy romance series like Psy/Changeling by Nalini Singh specifically because the viewpoint character changes more often than in other genres. It's also one of the reasons I always enjoyed the Pern and Recluse books more than most modern sci-fi and fantasy, and a reason I loved The Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky — the storyline covers the evolution of sentient spiders from a primitive hunting period to the development of ant-based computers (with all the attendant social changes) through a series of sketches of a representative individual's life and conflicts.

But one of the things that naturally happens when you're looking at broad swaths of history is that it becomes increasingly obvious that great nations and cultures and lifestyles and leaders rise and fall. Armies led by famously skilled conquerors barely wait for a dead leader's blood to cool before seeing their newly-conquered empires fragment into pieces. Most modern democracies are less than 50 years old and Athenian democracy only lasted about two centuries. Monarchy, by contrast, tends to be very stable. A single Bulgarian dynasty lasted for over 2,800  years. The Yamato Dynasty of Japan has been going for nearly as long.

Longevity is a useful marker of success — most best-sellers are not one-hit wonders — but I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that it's important to remember that the status of being, for example, a failed state does not actually mean that the experiment under which that state was initially set up (whether it be a monarchy with rule by a particular family, a particular style of representative republic, or even a school with a particular charter) is inherently bad. Change and corruption of purpose are inevitable.

On a long enough time scale, everything dies — even the stars themselves.

One of the core themes of the AP World History curriculum that I'm newly responsible for teaching as part of my day job is the idea of continuity and change. In the Saga of Recluse, the city of Cyad rules over the land of Cyador, until it falls when enemy forces help a quasi-sentient forest escape its bonds. The emperor's heirs flee across the sea to the land of Hamor, where they found a new city and try to preserve as much of their heritage as possible. The people left behind eventually lose track of their heritage, but found a new city centuries later in that part of the world, and  their government runs in critically different ways — but also seeks to reclaim the lost heritage of Cyador in others.

So although Cyad fell, important parts of what made Cyad Cyad live on — the role of the white mages and the importance of infrastructure chief among them.

In Verraine, the Akademe of Edarebia goes through several iterations as internal conflicts raise or lower its prestige and power. But even when it inevitably falls into memory and perhaps not even that, its influence will live on — from the very idea of having a school to train mages in one concentrated location, to the method of creating shapeshifting warriors, to the political concept of a mage council. These ideas will crop up over and over throughout the world, copies and distortions echoing throughout the ages just as arguments over the birthplace of Alexander III of Macedon are still a relevant political question over 2,000 years after his death.

His empire fell to pieces the moment he died, but the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt would never have existed without his conquests. Greek culture would never have woven itself so deeply into Egyptian society without Alexander's conquests. His Empire failed, but that is not the same thing as being ineffectual.

There's a saying: "nature abhors a vacuum." Alexander's conquests and death created a vacuum; in Egypt, Ptolemy was able to fill it. But he did so at least in part by bowing to the trappings of Egyptian culture, and he did not completely upend the way Egyptian governance functioned, even as he Hellenized the region in some critical ways.

The American Revolution may have done away with kings and formal dynasties, but English common law impacts our legal system, and the Magna Carta certainly inspired the the U.S. Constitution. If the witches of Verraine manage to destroy the abomination that is the Akademe — what would they try and replace it with? What Edarebian customs and habits would be impossible or inadvisable to divest themselves of? Given that the Akademe mages are pretty horrible from a human-rights perspective I'm sure the witches can do better — but would they be able to get away from mage rule? Would they want to?

What constitutes success or failure on the part of a revolution or a leader is sometimes difficult to discern, even when the mission seems clear. When contemplating destruction, it's useful to at least try and consider what will continue in its wake, and what will change as a result. Husbanding and exercising power is only the first step.

Destroying one abomination and watching three more grow from its corpse is not success.

Further Reading

  • For a thought-provoking but depressing example of trying to destroy one abomination and watching three more grow from its corpse, check out this discussion of San Francisco slums or this piece about American crime and policing. I'm not endorsing the authors' positions, but I do think they are asking important questions and pointing out real-world phenomena.

Comments

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