Character Spotlights were a weekly Wednesday series where I used to talk about characters from the novels I was working on or had already completed, but they kind of fell by the wayside, as these things do sometimes. I’m not actually bringing them back weekly, but I’d like to bring them back semi-regularly because they were a ton of fun, so here we are! These will just be little snippets of their lives so that you can get to know them a little, and hopefully one day read about them in a published book!
Are we actually doing another one so soon? What is this biweekly nonsense? Look, don’t expect this to continue because I’ve got other things planned for upcoming Wednesdays, but I’m feeling extra excited about this character right now, so I thought it’d be fun to talk about her. Truthfully, this short story from Writers of the Mark, which is a project I did with a friend a lonnnnnnng time ago, so please don’t expect quality writing from me, is the first time I ever wrote about Shri, but I could also link you to two other short stories (the second one is a Thursday Thousand from last year, and it’s actually good), plus just grab Andrew from vampire detective, and we’d have ourselves a complicated little web. Oh, let’s get into it, shall we?
She sees the world through opal eyes.
Sometimes, you set out to write a story, be it a short story, a novella, a novel, what have you, and you’ve got all sorts of ideas going in. Sometimes, you have outlines, or you have a character that’s been in your head, or you’ve got something specific you want to say. And sometimes, the weird times, it’s a single sentence.
She sees the world through opal eyes. I don’t know why, but that sentence haunted me back in 2015. I couldn’t get away from it, and every time I tried to write something, it would come creeping back. She sees the world through opal eyes. Finally, I decided enough was enough, and I wrote the line down in a blank Word doc. This is my favorite kind of writing because the second that line was written down, the second that period was tacked onto the end, I totally blacked out. I don’t remember writing Shri’s story at all. Even now, five years later, looking back, I have to go back and reread it to find out what happened in it. It just consumed me.
It was an interesting story to write, and one that I knew would probably end up as a novel someday. It was kind of all over the place because I wasn’t entirely sure what Shri’s story was, and so I was trying to pack a lot into the short story version of it, but, over the years, I’ve come to understand her a little more.
It began with a short story in November 2015, and it took two damn years before I tried to do anything more with it. I know exactly what I was doing in 2017, too, that made me want to try it, because there are so many novels that I started in early 2017, trying to find direction when I was feeling most adrift, and abandoning all of them until I finally stumbled across the Pen boys. I abandoned her story for a year, and when I came back to it in 2018, it was not directly about her. I still remember sprawled across my roommate’s bed as we tried to piece together Andrew Levi’s story, and how it all worked. I still remember suddenly holding my breath as Jen was telling me a story about the last name Levi and how it fit into Jewish lore. When she was done, I looked up and said, “I think Shri is Andrew’s aunt.”
Now, quick disclaimer, Shri is Jen’s favorite character ever, and she’s permanently mad at me that I won’t just write her damn novel, but as you’ll see below, her story is very different from what I normally write these days, and I like the idea of having her entirely figured out before I peel open the layers. Andrew Levi is my vampire detective, and he’s way older than you can possibly imagine. And even though Shri is definitely his aunt, it’s a whole lot of great-great-greats stacked on top of each other separating them. Andrew’s a few thousand years old, but Shri? Well, we gotta go way back for that.
Her dreams were of a sea so red, it swallowed this dark, dead world deep in its belly.
Growing up, Shri understood two things: one, it was damning to be a woman; two, it was worse to be a witch. She tried desperately to follow the rules her parents set out. Cover up your body so that men aren’t tempted. Don’t give them a reason to look at you. Speak only when spoken to. Never go anywhere alone. And, no matter what, do not dance under the moon. Many of them, Shri was capable of following. She didn’t mind being invisible during the daytime. She didn’t mind when people’s gazes skipped right past her while the sun was out. But the moon, the goddess that ruled the night sky–well, that was a different story.
For many years, Shri danced under the moon in secret. She stood by her small window, all of the clothes that normally shielded her from men’s eyes draped across the floor, and she twirled in little circles. As she grew older, she dared to climb out of the window, quiet as a feather in a world of knives, stand in the shadows cast by her house, and sway.
As childhood fell into adolescence, though, and as adulthood crept toward Shri, she started to wonder why, exactly, she had to cover herself from men’s wandering gazes. Wasn’t it their job not to look at her if they weren’t supposed to? Why was she meant to take care of herself and them? This was not a time for questions like these, though, and every time Shri tried to voice them, she was silenced. First, by her mother’s sharp words. Later, with her father’s fierce hand. Finally, with an iron control she was not meant to escape.
Fed up with the rules of her ancient society that said she was the problem, merely by being a woman, and that men must be catered to, Shri slipped out of her window, stomped out of the shadows, cast all her clothes off, and danced freely under the moon. A single night became a week. A month. A year. Shri reveled in the fact that she could be this free, and that no one knew. She would have continued on that way, furious during the day and blissfully free at night. To bathe in the moon’s light was all she needed.
But fortune does not favor the brave, and all it took was one moment, a single sleepless night, someone casting their gaze up at the night sky, exhaustion in their bones, but restlessness in their mind, and Shri was seen. She did not know, at first, that she was seen, and while her parents set in motion something that would forever ruin their family, Shri continued to dance, naked, under the moon’s glow, no shadows clinging to her body, no smallness in her dance.
It was morning when the witch-master came to call.
Rajendra was known far and wide for his prowess as a witch-master. He enslaved those in love with the moon, tortured the magic from their very souls, and left their withered corpses along the road as a warning. Some, it was said, he was able to save, though. It was rare, and it was costly, but not all witches had to die. Shri’s parents prayed for this miracle, that their daughter would one day be returned to them, free from the moon’s hold. As her mother walked Shri through village to her husband’s shop, she told Shri to be silent at all costs, and sweet when she could not be silent. When her father gave the witch-master his pay, he told Shri to make them proud and return to them when she was well again.
Iron was cast around her wrists, around her ankles, around her throat. Rajendra led her out of the village, in full view of the sun, and her parents wept as Shri went, silent and sweet. But when the village was hidden from view, Rajendra loaded her into an iron cage, tall enough for her to sit without stooping, but small enough that she would never forget what had been done to her.
Rajendra had no intention of “saving” witches. He never had, and he simply left some alive, so broken that magic caused pain, to ensure that he may continue hunting witches and ridding the world of their heretic kind. He might have continued on this path, too, might have torn Shri apart from the inside out, if not for little Devika.
Devika, who snuck away from her home while Rajendra was meeting with her parents to see the witch that was kept in a cage, who whispered how beautiful Shri was in full view of the sun, who asked Shri to take her away from this horrible place, who reached through the cage to hold her hand. Devika, whom Rajendra killed in front of a crowd, her father begging the witch-master to rid them of his horrible wretch of a daughter, whom Shri held onto, seething with moonlight in her veins, furious for the first time in years.
Devika, who startled back to life, gasping for breath, Shri’s fingers wrapped around her wrist.
When Rajendra made to step forward, to take Devika away, Shri rose up to her knees, head brushing the top of the cage, a terrible future cast in her opal eyes. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Devika’s father threw a bag of coins at Rajendra and told him to take her away. Shri continued to stare at Rajendra, daring him to cross her again. Finally, Devika was loaded into the cage, shivering and terrified, and Shri did nothing to stamp out the fury in her bones.
A single year passed. In the months that followed, Rajendra created something new. Villages had begun to see Rajendra’s poison for what it was. Their daughters were never returned to them, and now, their sons were starting to show an affinity for magic. They still did not want to live alongside them, witches as they were, but they did not want to see them dead.
“Death is but a step,” Rajendra began to say, “When the soul departs the body, the magic is stripped from it. Slowly, yes, and over time, but death is the way forward. They will die, but they will come back to you as the daughters and sons you have grown to love.” To demonstrate, he would slay Devika, still small and frail, and Shri would bring her back to life. Rajendra was not wrong–this act of murder and resurrection was stripping the magic from Devika’s bones, but he thought that Shri did it because she was afraid, thought that Devika allowed it because she wanted to be pure.
“This may steal you from the moon forever,” Shri had warned Devika that first night.
“With you, I will always feel the moon,” Devika promised, and they set their own plan in motion.
For a year, they whispered to the moon, weakening the strength of the iron cage around them. And though Devika’s magic was nearly gone, when the lock finally swung free, their chains sprawled across the small floor, she was stronger than she’d ever been. Shri, too, was more than just a little girl who danced naked under the moon. She was power given form, and all it took was the whisper of her fingers across Rajendra’s sleeping face, and he never woke again.
Shri had finally come home, and it felt appropriate, that her homecoming should be the end of this world. For this little unborn baby, her grand-nephew, carried the same magic in his blood as that which sang in Shri’s, and together, they would see the downfall of all those who opposed them.
I’ve been excited to write Shri & Andrew’s story for so long, and I can’t wait to finally see it come to fruition next month. Shri will just be a side character in Andrew’s story for a bit, but, eventually, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with, as she was always meant to be. And, someday, I’ll write her story in full, the tale of a powerful woman wronged.