The first book with Farideh in it, Brimstone Angels, came together during a time of serious upheaval in my life (a Sundering if you will)*. I was perhaps a third of the way through the first draft when I was abruptly laid off from my job. Since we had all believed at the time that we were down to a skeleton crew and since the official round of layoffs had already happened, it came as a huge shock.
I spent the first week binge-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and picking at Brimstone Angels. I cannot overstate how much I didn’t feel like writing that week. I can remember particularly the awful scene I was stuck on: Farideh is left alone in a room at a waystation’s inn. Lorcan appears and taunts her as well as giving her a new spell. And then they just sort of stared at each other. I’d squeezed every last syllable of dialogue out of them and the scene had ground to a halt. It was like they were waiting for an interruption.
It was like they were waiting for a new antagonist. They were waiting for me to introduce Sairché.
Sairché, you see, didn’t exist in the outline I drew up for Brimstone Angels, which—if you’ve read that book—seems almost unfathomable considering how crucial she became to the story. But there you go.
I mention Avatar because I don’t think I can deny Sairché was very much inspired by Azula, the Fire Nation princess. While Lorcan is no Zuko, thereI liked the idea of the sibling who sees her brother as an impediment, in a system that’s ultimately going to fail them both. Where Lorcan goes out of his way to avoid getting caught in the kind of power games that advance devils up the hierarchy, Sairché sees her chance to do more than just loiter at the fringes—she can seize her mother’s power for herself.
Plus: seems small and dainty, is actually deadly dangerous.
Believe it or not, this is something which happens to me regularly: I find out I need a villain I don’t have. Sairché, Adolican Rhand, and the one who’s maybe my favorite, coming up in The Adversary. It’s not ideal, but I think it points to the fact that the antagonist is as inextricably part of the story as the protagonist—sometimes you don’t know who they are until the pieces start falling into place around them.
*See what I did there?
One more small anecdote about Sairché: I’ve said before how I don’t really like “casting” my books. If I start picturing actors as my characters, my brain gets gummed up. But Sairché is almost an exception.
While watching Masterpiece Theater, I happened to catch Mr Selfridge. In that first episode is a character called Lady Mae, played by Katherine Kelly. As soon as she spoke her lines I thought, “Huh. Sairché is British. I didn’t know that.”
(The beginning of this clip has a scene of Lady Mae, and is followed by the actress, who seems like a very nice woman and not at all a scheming half-devil, FYI.)
And now an excerpt from Sairché’s point of view.
Sairché let the mirror relapse into darkness, still seething. She liked to imagine it was a gift of her mother’s blood, the blessing and curse of being the cambion daughter of Glasya’s most infamous erinyes. It certainly felt so—a nearly uncontrollable tide on her otherwise calculating nature. She wondered if Lorcan—Invadiah’s other half-devil child—felt the same pull.
When the little bitch had struck her, it had taken all of Sairché’s wherewithal not to return the favor. Not to make her gape and gasp over a dagger like Temerity had. She drew a slow breath, focused on the faint moan of the skull-palace of Osseia that filled the air around her. The fleshy walls twitched, and a thin line of bloody mucus dripped down a panel. Sairché clung to the calm.
Not for the first time, Sairché wondered what would have happened if—seven and a half years earlier—Farideh had taken the pact Sairché had offered her in Neverwinter. Would Sairché have come so quickly under the archduchess’s wing? Would she have been able to broker the pact with the Brimstone Angel, selling her off to another devil quickly enough to make none of this her problem?
Would she have found out about the twin sooner?
Sairché thought of Havilar, of the familiar rage that flowed off the woman, the grief and sadness that seemed to choke her. Promising, Sairché thought, and mine. No collector devil would snatch up either Brimstone Angel, not while Asmodeus’s edicts were in play. She would have time to wrap the other twin up in pacts and promises, to shape her into something useful.
And Farideh, as much as she needed her now, would make an excellent tool to do the shaping. Sairché smiled to herself as she left the scrying mirror’s room and crossed her apartments. By the end of the tenday, Farideh wouldn’t have a single ally left. By the end of this mission, there would be more than enough people determined to kill the warlock and end her treachery. And Sairché’s hands would be clean enough for the archdevils.
The portal Glasya gave Sairché use of took the form of a gaping wound in the wall of Sairché’s apartments. Seven and a half years of it and Sairché still loathed the gift.
“Albaenoch,” she said, and the wound widened, the wall emitting a slow, pained screech.
Sairché wrinkled her nose—all of Malbolge was formed of Glasya’s predecessor’s body, the palace her unfortunate skull. Day in and out the very presence of the devils of Malbolge tortured the lost leader, and Glasya made special efforts to ensure it kept going. The archduchess might have claimed the layer well over a century ago, but what was time to an immortal? What was mercy to an archdevil?
Where is her pity for the rest of us who have to listen to it? Sairché thought, stepping into the portal. The wound and world seemed to close in on her, collapsing Sairché into the space of a fist, and then scattering her in pieces on a burning wind.
When she opened her eyes, she stood in a hallway made of glossy black stone, and Sairché cursed. The fortress had several powerful spells sheltering it, hiding it away. She had told the owner a thousand times to make specific allowances for her so that she went where she intended, but if he had, they didn’t work. Not for the first time she wondered if the wizard was intractable or merely not as clever as he presented himself to be. Likely both. She took another deep breath—now wasn’t the time to punish him.
Like Osseia, the fortress seemed less built than grown. The wizard had done that—acquiring potent scrolls, coaxing the rock out of the ground and shaping it to his liking. A waste of magic, Sairché thought, not the least because it had thrown her timeline into disarray—the time it had taken to raise the tower meant delays in mastering the spells she’d gathered for him, meant delays in finding the best methods to collect specimens, meant that she now had to pull out a piece she’d hoped to save. At least it would be unpleasant for Farideh.
She threw open the door to his study, still simmering. The wizard, a dark-haired man with pale skin and piercing blue eyes looked up, unruffled. If anything, it made Sairché madder.
“Well met, Lady Sairché,” he said. He did not stand. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’ve got your tool,” Sairché said. “I will need a few days to secure her transport. Make the most of them.” He sat, considering her, waiting—no doubt—for an apology. Sairché narrowed her eyes. Seven and a half years of this, and Sairché would be damned if she uttered anything like an apology to the man.
“Better late than never,” the man finally replied. “Though better never late.”
Sairché’s mother would have torn a hand right off the human’s arm, plucked it free like a spring onion from the mud, for that insolence. Sairché ran her tongue deliberately over the sharp edges of her teeth to keep that erinyes blood from replying.
“Charming maxim,” she said a moment later. “In the Hells, we prefer, ‘Don’t forget where you stand.’ Don’t forget, goodsir, that you’re the one who advanced our timeline. You’re the one who went ahead with the experiments I schooled you in. And without my assistance, you’re the one whose superiors will overlook his good works for their lack of progress. So I suggest you reconsider your tone.”
The Netherese wizard looked back at her. Seven and a half years of these visits and still the mortal’s gaze made Sairché’s temper flare—if he thought to cow her with that leer, that skin-piercing stare, she would gladly show him otherwise.
At least, she thought, Lorcan’s blasted warlock will have to suffer it too.
“Your pardon,” Adolican Rhand said. “I will be most happy to receive her.”