CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

Expecto patronum!

Ever since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was gifted to me, I have wondered which form my patronus would take (should I also be gifted the powers of magic and be taught how to use them by Professor Lupin). Being always fond of cats, I had always said proudly that, like Professor Umbridge, my patronus would be a feline of some kind—perhaps a domestic longhair or a speedy cheetah. However, as the years have gone by, I have come to realise that, far from being a powerful African predator that could take down prey twice its size, my patronus would probably be something a great deal less impressive. After all, we can’t all be stags.

I have suffered shyness for most of my life and the stereotypical animal we can associate with this trait is a mouse. It’s hardly an impressive patronus, is it? I certainly wouldn’t be able to take on a horde of dementors with a tiny spectral rodent, no matter how loud it squeaked! But perhaps I’m not really as mousy as I think I am.

A friend asked me the other day whether I related personally to any of the characters in my debut fantasy epic Equilibrium. At first I said, ‘No, not really, because most of them are brave or strong and seem to kill a lot of people,’ but on further reflection, I decided that this initial answer was not quite true. (Someone call the police!)

Most people cannot wear their hearts on their sleeves or say in life what they truly wish to say, for various reasons—sometimes, we are hindered by the fear of attention, consequences, public opinion, being misinterpreted or even of being tongue-tied. So instead, we stay quiet and keep our opinions to ourselves. But then, which person are we, truly? Are we the person on the outside—the personality that everybody else sees and hears—or the person on the inside—boiling with rage or simmering with passion?

While I believe that, once sketched, a writer’s characters can become their own creation—sometimes making their own decisions or fighting against what the writer would wish them to do or say—I also believe that a writer cannot help but inject a small part of themselves into their work by way of ideals or personality. In my case, Equilibrium has been a project I have agonised over since the age of fifteen. It became a part of my life and grew up as I did. Of course, there would be something of me in there, more than just my imagination.

And, indeed, I do sometimes find that my characters become an outlet, to say the things that I would like to say or do the things that I fantasise about doing. In fact, that is one of the reasons I was drawn to writing fantasy in the first place—that sense of freedom, of no boundaries, of characters that could move beyond the restraints of both my own society and theirs. In the same way that I can find escapism in reading, playing computer games, watching movies or listening to music, there is a perfect doorway in writing fantasy; and as long as I have this outlet, the police have nothing to worry about!

The difference between which and what

Both which and what fall into the category of the ‘interrogative determiner’. Determiners describe information about a subject, such as its number (one, the, two, some, those) or its familiarity (my, her, their, his, someone’s). These determiners are not to be confused with adjectives, which describe attributes (shape, colour, speed, smell, feel etc).

So how are you supposed to know which (or what) is the correct one to use? These two words quite often form the basis of a question and do, therefore, cause some confusion. Figuring out which of the two to use sometimes comes down to specificity.

Which is generally used when the number of possibilities is small in number or the choices for your answer have already been laid out for you.

Which team are we playing this weekend? (Out of a list of X number of possible teams you would ever play, say, in your district or division.)

Which books did you want me to take back to the library? (You would have taken out a certain number of books; therefore, the ones you would want taken back would be from that small group of books only.)

Which city was your favourite on your holiday? (Out of the fixed number of places you visited, you would pick one — unless they were all good, of course!)

Which teacher did you have in Year 2 — Mr Rogers or Ms Cole? (With a selection of only two, you would definitely use which.)

In contrast, what is used in a broader sense, where the number of options could be infinite.

What sort of job does he have? (There could be hundreds in a single workplace.)

What time should I expect you tomorrow? (There are 1,440 possible times each day, a large number of choices. Yes, I did just figure that out.)

What information do you have for me? (Information being something you can’t count, a mass noun, you would use what.)

What breed of dog is that? (With everything from pedigrees to crazy hybrids, the choices are quite vast.)

Still confused? Try this. If asked what your favourite colour is, you have an almost infinite number of colours to choose from. However, if given a choice between only four colours, you would be asked which of those colours you like best, as your options have been narrowed considerably.

With the basics out of the way, what and which are also used in indirect questions:

Do you know which platform our train leaves from?

Does your mum have any idea what kind of car you’re going to buy?

I was wondering which school you went to — Cheltenham, Hornsby or Epping?

I’d like to know what sport you play on the weekends.

However, just when you thought you’d got it, there is an exception. When the speaker believes there is a wide variety of options (when, in reality, that might not be the case), they would use what instead of which. For example:

Which school in Sydney did you go to?

What school in Sydney did you go to?

In this example, imagine the asker of the question is not a local Sydney-sider and doesn’t realise how many schools there are in the city. Both questions are grammatically fine, though you should ideally use the latter, as there are many schools in Sydney.

Contrast the above example with:

Which dress are you going to wear to the wedding?

What dress are you going to wear to the wedding?

This depends on context. In the first instance, the question could be posed to someone who only has a few dresses, so her answer would be limited to a small number of options, hence which. However, if the person had an extensive wardrobe with, say, dozens of different dresses to choose from, the latter what is perfectly acceptable.

And for one final example of determining these two words in a question:

Which language does she speak?

What language does she speak?

Again, context is key. If the subject was a child who had, say, a Romanian mother and an English father, the answer to the question would either be Romanian or English (or both). However, the second question could apply to someone whose nationality is unspecified or a hybrid of many. So while each question, by themselves, is grammatically correct, one or the other would not work in a certain situation.

And there we have it! Long-winded but hopefully worthwhile.

The Golden Cat

The brothel was the only place in that part of the Dunwall where flowers still grew — that was the first thing he noticed when he scrambled over the roof of an abandoned warehouse and looked across the empty square. It was vast, with balconies, courtyards and outdoor walkways on every level. Even the upper floors, where the workers slept, looked grander than most of the city beyond. There was no scent of the plague here, though the surrounding buildings, not only his warehouse, looked deserted.

Corvo Attano adjusted his optical lenses and scrutinised the front doors of the Golden Cat. A half-clothed female worker meandered past the grand double doors and flanking pillars, a cigarette held loosely between two fingers. It was impossible to tell which of the workers were whores and which were mere cleaners at this business. The madame was fascinated with beauty and couldn’t abide the thought of hiring anyone her patrons wouldn’t be delighted to see. The woman sat herself down on a bench near the doors, leant back and blew smoke upwards in a lazy fashion. Sneaking past her would be hard, but even if he managed it, going through the front doors would be unwise. The Golden Cat was an expensive establishment and frequented by the same upper-crust noblemen and officials. New faces were rare, men in masks were even rarer. He would stick out like a creeper at a funeral.

He looked towards one of the gazebos, one tangled in roses and dotted with flowering bushes and benches. A soldier was pacing there with a letter in his hand and a glass of wine in the other. There were other balconies but none offered such a clear path to the attic rooms.

Corvo crept silently to the edge of the warehouse roof and perched there, muscles tensed. He felt the mark on the back of his hand burn hot for an instant and clenched his fist, then he was looking through the air between the roof and the gazebo. To him, there was no air, no space separating the two points. There was no bone-shattering drop to the street below, no impossible leap ahead. He reached through the black smoke of the void and grabbed the edge of the gazebo roof. The man below him looked up from his letter upon hearing the thud of boots on the wooden slats of the gazebo, but then Corvo’s arm was around his neck. The soldier gagged and flailed with his arms. Red wine splashed over Corvo’s mask and slid down his optics, obscuring his vision, but he kept his grip firm and plucked the glass from the man’s fingers.

It took a few moments for the soldier to collapse, and a few more for Corvo to arrange the body in a convincing sleeping position on one of the benches. A moment later, he had heaved himself up onto the roof of the gazebo and leapt across the narrow gap to the Golden Cat’s ornate first floor roof. Keeping close to the wall, he shuffled along the ledge, crouching low as he passed open windows and pausing when he heard voices.

There was a drainpipe at the end of the ledge which he grabbed in both his hands. Before ascending, he paused. Again, the mark on the back of his hand burned slightly and his vision turned black and red. He glanced around, his eyes boring through the tiles of the building to pinpoint the moving bodies of customers and workers. A pair of women were reclining on a lounge just on the other side of the wall, but their steady breathing suggested to him that they were either asleep or close to it. Beyond that room, a man was standing guard outside the door, or perhaps waiting for someone. Further down the corridor, a woman was walking with a tray of wine glasses and humming to herself. Corvo looked up and spotted a large soldier standing on the balcony above, leaning on the balustrade. He swallowed and the black-and-red dark vision faded away.

Corvo quietly climbed the drainpipe and then heaved himself up onto the next floor balcony. The soldier staggered back and reached for his gun but he had no time to make a sound as Corvo’s sleep dart hit him in the neck and a hand pressed over his mouth. He struggled for a moment before the drug took effect and he, too, sagged in Corvo’s arms. Glancing around, Corvo once more slipped back into his dark vision. There was nobody within his power’s reach on that level. Retreating back to the coloured world, he dragged the unconscious man to the corner of the balcony, obscured by the door, and also arranged him into a propped-up sleeping position. Tilting his head downwards to the left, he was able to hide the red mark where his dark had hit him.

Reaching through the void again, he pulled himself up onto the top floor of the Golden Cat and shuffled along the ledge to an open window. The corridor beyond was empty and all doors were open, except one. He knew the door would be locked, yet he tried it all the same. Closing his eyes in frustration, he contemplated breaking it in, though he instantly knew that was not an option. Even in an establishment filled with music and laughter, a loud crash would draw someone’s attention.

He stalked down the corridor towards the stairs, blinking in and out of dark vision to ensure his path was clear. One floor below, the Madame was pacing in her study, muttering to herself about one of her girls who had fallen ill, hopefully not with the plague. Corvo paused on the landing outside her office and took a moment to peer through the keyhole. The Madame had paused her pacing and was now leaning over her paper-laden table. Corvo silently turned the door handle.

The door creaked and the woman raised her head; he leapt across the room and wrapped his arm around her neck before she could turn. She lashed out at his head with her long-nailed hands but he ignored the attempts as they bounced off his mask. She took longer to subdue than any of the men, yet he eventually laid her down on the sofa against the wall and plucked the keys from her belt. Slipping into his dark vision, he checked the route back to the attic and leapt silently back up the stairs. He tried the keys in the lock one by one, finding that the fourth one fit, and then turned the handle, his heart beating loud and fast in his ears.

Emily was lying on the bed, but her eyes were open. As Corvo stood in the doorway, he watched her raise her head and inch back against the wall. Remembering his mask, Corvo reached up and undid the buckles and clasps. He had been wearing it so much over the last week that taking it off felt strange. Yet, he pulled it off and then turned back to Emily. The fear in her eyes fell away immediately.

‘Corvo!’

‘Your highness,’ he said, smiling. My dearest girl, he wanted to add. ‘It’s time to go.’

Dishonored is one of my favourite games and there are many reasons for this. Firstly, the environment is dark, dirty and unforgiving—a Victorian steampunk city wracked by plagued and ruled by the wealthy and corrupt. It’s hard to remain true your morals when you’re also struggling to survive and the plight of the people is seen at every turn. Secondly, the game is full of choice—both in developing your character and also in gameplay. You can be a cruel deliverer of death and exact revenge on all who did you wrong, and go about it with the help of guns, swords, bombs, magic, gravity, rats, water… and much more. Alternatively, you can be as a shadow and traverse the rooftops, sneak into the houses of those you seek and twist their fates in malicious ways to neutralise them without killing them. Another reason I love this game is the fact that the levels are so diverse, including this one—the brothel. Each level shows you a different part of the city and give snapshots of how people live and die. It was hard to single out one level to pose as my favourite, because I legitimately love them all, but I will give a big shoutout to the DLC—as the game gives you the option to not only play as the hero (in the main campaign) but also one of your greatest enemies in the DLC. It’s great to play as the villain for once, but at the same time, the game reveals that he’s not actually as bad as the campaign painted him—or perhaps he is… it all depends on your actions. I love this game.

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