Shine Cycle Character Profile: Persephone, and Excerpt

Persephone Royal is the third-youngest daughter of the King at the time of An Internal Conflict. In that tale, after she finally realizes that her complacency led to a near-apocalypse befalling the Shine and Wild Empire, she is granted a miraculous chance to live her life again with some benefit of hindsight.

A tall young woman, with thick brownish hair that hangs to the middle of her back. Her limbs are thin, but the rest of her body is well-proportioned, and the lines of her face are soft and rounded. She has resolved to always wear armored clothing, starting with an armored cloak and usually including a layer of chain mail, but she does not always keep this resolution. While in her “former life” she prized fashionable and beautiful clothing, her time under the Dragon Occupation converted her to the “functional above all” school of thought, so at the Academy she wears either her armor (leather or plate, in addition to whatever armored layers she wears as part of ordinary dress) or a functional work-robe. But since she has the means to afford small luxuries, these are all subtly embellished with color and, in the case of robes, embroidery.

Before she entered the Academy, she undertook somewhat extensive arms training, culminating in her appearance at the archery competitions for the Empire’s Cup. In that particularly challenging year, she won the Cup with the crossbow and placed fifth—after a large number of extra rounds to break a perfect-score tie in the open competition—with the longbow.

Perhaps the best way to introduce her is to give you (my current draft of) the prologue to An Internal Conflict:

Everything had gone to pieces.

A mundane member of the Chosen would have put the sentiment in much stronger terms, and most likely aloud, but as the tenth leader of the Imperial Army’s Corps of Mages to bury her predecessor in a fortnight, and the late king’s third-youngest daughter besides, Persephone Royal held her tongue.

Not that the most stringent mental self-control or spiritual certainty could quiet the regrets that kept her awake, staring up at the stars through the haze of brown smoke that had risen inexorably from the ground for the past months. As it had from the ground in the Dragon Empire since mere years, if that, after this universe’s beginning.

From her earliest days, her teachers had coaxed brilliance out of her. As merely the next in a line of prodigies, no one expected any less, but she now wept for her own complacency and, to a lesser extent, that her teachers had not expected more.

She had qualified for and entered the Academy as a teenager—late for her family—and quickly gravitated to what was for her the easiest concentration of study, the Power, though it was allegedly the most difficult even for most mages.

Only a few months from her graduation from the “preparatory” phases of her Academy education, war broke out. Again. Persephone, like every such graduate, was sent out with an older, more experienced mentor—in her case her brother Silas, a newly minted great-mage—to some corner of the Empire that had not received such a visit in a while. She and Silas were sent to the Waste, one of the isolated countries, alone in their universes, that had placed themselves under Imperial protection during the century and a half of her father’s reign to prevent their annihilation or annexation by the Dragon Empire.

When her tour in the Waste was up she had a small nagging feeling that she had left something undone. At the time she had counted her peace of mind after squelching that thought to far outweigh her near-inability to cast even the simplest workings for a week afterward. The last few weeks had caused her to change her mind.

That uneventful return had been the beginning of the end, she was coming to realize. It had only taken a year for the Dragon Empire—the constant enemy of what she always simply thought of as “the Empire” or simply her people—to overrun its traditional borders, retake the free nations that had been carved out of it in previous wars, and similarly roll through as much of the Empire as it could reach, which was everything but the far-flung provinces that required an at least interstellar transit to travel to.

Because it is impossible to *permanently* kill a Vayna with unfinished business, and nearly impossible to kill one in the first place, everyone expected the King, somehow killed defending the Parliament building while that body debated emergency measures, to show up at any time, rally the remnants of his armies, and save the day as they pictured him doing at the end of the War of Power. Persephone had heard the stories from her sister Alex, the true heroine of that war, and knew better than to try to make that parallel, and from the emptiness of that part of her soul she knew that if her father the King was alive, the Lord’s business for him was elsewhere.

She, and the twenty or so other commanders of the Corps of Mages before her, had been trying to scrape together the remnants of the Corps, and any other true mages they could find. It was painfully obvious that the last best hope of what was left of the Empire, and of free peoples everywhere, lay in a rather major metaphysical intervention, whether a joint working in the Power or a miracle, to correct whatever was giving the armies of the Dragon Empire their unnatural success, unprecedented even before Tashere was locked into the metaphysical equivalent of the Abyss at the beginning of the War of Power and was replaced by his protege Gondolor, a mere man. And such a working would have been difficult even with all the mages in the Empire—including Gondolor before his defection—at their full strength before any of this had happened, with the help of a dragon and a Great Fairy thrown in for good measure. She, like the rest, hoped and prayed for a miracle, but miracles by their nature rarely if ever happen at mortal direction.

But as Persephone cast a bleak mental glance over her life, from that very day to her earliest memories, she could see an uncountably large number of points where she could—and, with the benefit of hindsight, should—have chosen, spoken, or acted differently. *Dear God,* she thought as she finally began to drift off to sleep, *if only I could have chosen better . . . if only I could live those years again . . .*

*Count the cost,* said the small voice, in what she now thought was her spirit, that had nagged her for a week after leaving the Waste. *If you could go back, but would no longer be a mage, would you so choose?*

She considered that as best she could given the hour and how little sleep she had gotten since the capital was taken. She couldn’t imagine living without the Power any longer than a month, but part of the point was that the Power was not *hers*; she, like any mage, was merely a bursar for the power that made all the worlds that would ever exist and that raised God’s Son from the dead. *Yes,* she decided at last, *God helping me, I would.* And sleep claimed her.

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