So I’ve been a participant in a new experiment with my co-author and other actual human Damien Hanson on Aethermarked, volume I. This included Royal Road, skill trees, and a back-of-the-brain idea from over 20 years ago.
For our second stab at a series we wanted to work from a VR game, a super immersive MMORPG. We decided to base the system off Diablo II with the skill trees and the stats in those red boxes. Our magical hand grenade (Jin-ee) would be a VR gamer stuck in the game… or transported across time and space… or both? (Honestly Jin-ee’s push to figure out what’s gone wrong, to get out of the game, and finding out the game is more than she ever dreamed: the readers really liked this almost more than the story of Jin-ee questing about in the gameworld.)
The 20 year old idea? A magical tattoo. Like floating on the skin, touch for mega mana bonus, superpower giving magical tattoo in the shape of a rune of power. It was something I always wanted to use and never had a chance. (and if you’ve played L5R you know how badly I wanted to work with magic tattoos). I’d kicked this idea round in my brain ever since I’d had a brainstorming session with a high school friend, and had never been able to put it into a project.
Damien loved it. Then he hated it, then he loved it again. Mostly he loved it, and mostly it didn’t cause fights with his wife.
Here’s what we came up with: This tattoo given to a girl who’s working as a spy, which gives her power. Well, lo and behold she’s caught, and the spymaster who catches her inscribes her with all the other colors of magical power, which dicks over her magic… and she’s been made functionally a magical eunuch: any time she casts one type of magic the other type reacts with serious backlash. Or perhaps instead of a eunuch, a grenade whose pin has to be shoved back in at the exact moment of explosion so that she doesn’t get killed by her own magic. The question is, now with this weird handicap, can she find a way to succeed, will she end up doing magic nobody’s ever heard of, or give up magic all together, in a land where literally everyone has magic? Like, the peasants make imps out of magic to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them, while spies run around reading each others’ minds and popping back and forth through time.
This confluence of concepts came together between February and July of 2021 or so, laid down once or twice a week on Royal Road. We started shooting up in subscribers, and we landed on a Trending list, which, whoa. The whole experience of writing in real time to an audience who was helping us refine and pare down the unnecessary or annoying parts was a new one. Essentially Royal Road became the book’s proving ground: we sliced off almost a whole novel’s worth of content (it’ll be available as a companion reader), and wrote part of the history of the book as a prequel novella. Call of Destiny is something I’m particularly proud of, because I hadn’t set down that history in any detail, but here we had another moment of serendipity: the story came together to explain the major antagonists as well as the foundation of the shadowy Fisbin Industries.
I think the Royal Road influence really helped spur us along, tighten the book in scope and provide some of the exuberance, the juice that sits an author down at a keyboard for a couple hours just dreaming onto a page. So to all the commenters, especially the ones who just said ‘thanks for the chapter’, thanks for the comments. I got pumped putting chapters up. I hope you did too.
You should have a copy of the final product on your bookshelf (e-bookshelf or real), so click this link right here and buy it.
Volume II and its own companion pieces are also in the works. Damien and I are crossing our fingers that Volume I does well enough that we end up with a Volume III and perhaps IV. Nothing would make me happier than to find out what happens along with you.