For my second character spotlight, I thought I’d go big—and it doesn’t get much bigger than protagonist Kass! So, if you fancy learning a little bit more about Kass’s childhood and history, please enjoy the rambles below!
Edith and Arthur McKenzie were quiet people, living humble lives in the Caetlanican capital city, Eriligh, until the day that Eldred came.
The Caeltanican mainland had been unkind for many years—earthquakes from the west coast and storms from the east wrecked the land, making it almost impossible to make a living—but the McKenzies made do. Edith was a skilled weaver, and despite the sprawling size of the capital, everybody knew the same thing: that if you needed a good, thick wool cloak to stave off the cold, you needed Edith McKenzie.
The McKenzies tried for many years to have a child but were unsuccessful. Arthur couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it was a blessing—who would want to bring a child into such a cruel world anyway, and he didn’t know if his heart could take a child dying from the sickness—but Edith was inconsolable. The only thing she had ever wanted to be was a mother, and to be denied the chance broke her. And watching her suffering broke Arthur.
One night after curfew, on a day of particularly violent storms, there was a knock at the McKenzies’ door. Edith opened it to find a man, hooded and soaked to the skin, carrying a curiously wiggling bundle wrapped under his cloak. Edith brought the man and the bundle inside, and it was then that Eldred introduced the McKenzies to Kass. He told them that this tiny baby was the product of a RESIST experiment, a weapon designed to fight the Futurists. Jinaka had found and vowed to destroy him and his kind—and he, Eldred, had to protect them. Hide them.
The baby screamed in Eldred’s arms. Instinct took over Edith, and she plucked the wriggling bundle out of Eldred’s arms and cradled him to her chest. The blanket fell away, revealing huge dark eyes and clump of sticking up brown hair. A wiggling fist booped Edith on the nose. She laughed, and Arthur’s heart ached. Eldred continued to explain that the boy had been injected with a blocker that when he turned sixteen would run out, exposing him to being tracked down and captured by Jinaka. He told them this baby would have tremendous powers, and all he needed was a family to love him. He then warned that upon his sixteenth birthday, Jinaka would come to claim him.
Edith and Arthur took the baby and named him Kassius. It was against Arthur’s better judgement, but there was just something irresistible about baby Kass. He was a happy baby, prone to easy laughter, and whilst Arthur may have only begrudgingly accepted him in order to please Edith, it only took a few months for Arthur to become equally smitten with the infant.
When Kass was around six months, Jinaka made an announcement broadcast worldwide—he revealed he was hunting for four children, known as Elementalists, and described their dangerous powers. He ordered that anyone suspicious must be reported to the authorities immediately—Edith and Arthur took one look at each other and went to pack their bags. By that night, they were on a boat to the Cloud Islands.
After a few months of hopping between small villages, they finally settled in Quillin and kept their heads down. Arthur invested in a few goats, and Edith wove cloaks from their wool and made cheese from their milk. They kept away from their neighbours, who struggled to understand their strong Eriligh accents, and kept Kass close at all times, fearing, always, that he would display some kind of power, some sign, that would give him away.
He never did.
When Kass was two years old, Quillin experienced its coldest winter in recorded history. The Cloud Islanders were desperately trying to keep warm, but electricity was scarce, the wood from the trees rotten and ineffectual, and children were succumbing to the sickness more than ever. Kass himself had numerous choking fits, once turning blue and stopping breathing—but somehow, he survived. Arthur moved the goats into the house with them, and Edith made more coats and cloaks then she’d ever done before—then handed them out to her neighbours one by one.
This gesture cemented the McKenzies into the hearts of everyone in Quillin.
The winter eventually broke, and Kass was then brought up known and loved by the community—making particular friends with Niven, a boy a couple years older who lived down the street, and Celine, a girl one year his senior, who lived down the valley. The three attended the village school, and whilst Niven and Celine grew into curious, attentive students, Kass lacked the attention span and was quickly bored by an education system chained to a desk. He longed to be outside, climbing trees and playing in the dying forests on the mountain side—but instead, he was stuck indoors, learning about maths and history; about nuclear wars and elementalist threats; about the fall of the Caeltanican empire and a whole host of other nonsense he didn’t give a stuff about.
When he was eight, Edith and Arthur were shocked to find out that they were expecting a baby. They worried Kass might be jealous—but Kass adored baby Kaitlyn from the moment she was born. He would help bathe her, change her rag nappies and wash them out, feed her and play with her—and to Edith and Arthur, their lives couldn’t possibly be happier.
Kass disappointed his parents by dropping out of school at fourteen—his behaviour had become unruly and the teachers were not sorry to see him go. He started work on the farm with Arthur, who at first was sceptical. Kass was flighty, chopping and changing interests from one minute to the next; he lacked commitment and seemed content simply wandering through life with little aspiration. However, Kass proved a diligent worker on the farm, and Arthur began to realise that Kass simply needed a different type of stimulation to his peers; he was a doer, not a thinker. Kass was well aware how he was viewed by his community and was jealous of Celine and Niven’s commitment to their education . . . and increasingly to each other. But whilst Kass was left out of Niven and Celine’s relationship, they were still huge parts of his life; Niven was fascinated with the Cadet programme in Singavere, and pestered Kass constantly about fighter drones, shuttles to Lares, relocation programmes and the like.
To Kass, relocation was just something they prayed for at night. Edith was traditional, and still believed in the old Caeltanican gods, so encouraged Kass and Kitty to pray each night, which dutifully, they did. Niven’s enthusiasm proved infectious, however, and Kass, Niven and Celine made a pact: that the three of them, along with their families, would one day be relocated to Ra, to live in the sky cities and travel in carriages down the triple-layer highways.
That summer, Celine got the sickness.
She became the first person that Kass loved to die from the sickness. Lots of other children had come and gone from his life, but she was the first that affected him deeply. Although, not as much as it affected Niven. Niven was heartbroken and leaned on Kass for support through his grief. The boys became even more inseparable, and vowed that they would still take Celine’s family with them when they relocated to Ra.
Kassius McKenzie grew up sweet, caring, and although highly-strung, beloved by all. However, there was always an innate frustration in him, bubbling under the surface. If Kitty accidently broke one of his toys, he would throw one of hers out of the window in a hot-headed rage (he would then become forlorn and remorseful, fetching it for her and playing with her for hours in return). If one of his teachers scolded him, he might kick his chair over and storm out of the classroom. But it wasn’t until the day that Kass lost everything when the frustration boiled over into something hot, violent and angry—and Kass became somebody that even he didn’t recognise.
It will take a long time for the wounds inside of Kass to heal. If they ever will. Meanwhile, he must continue to struggle to make sense of his new self, his new powers, and to try and claw back any remaining residue of the boy he used to be.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Kass, or any other part of the Elementalist world!