Fiction: The Adventurer King

Cover image for The Adventurer King by K. A. Cook. Cover features a red leather-bound journal sitting on a wood panel background, like that of a tabletop or floor, with the text sitting on top of the book image in a gold fantasy-style handdrawn type. Objects sit on top of the book cover: a blue pen with a gold nib dripping ink, a screwed-up piece of white paper, a cream scroll with a green seal, a cream and silver compass, and a piece of rope. A grey single-edged sword blade sits underneath the book, and black handdrawn type atop the blade reads "an efe and darius story". The images have a cartoony, vectory feel.Seven years ago, Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk, an eldritch being who changed his life forever. In that time, he has learnt something of the sword, mastered strange magic and survived dangerous jobs, but while he has friends in Rajad, he still feels out of place—too divergent to be welcomed and accepted as mercenary and magician.

When an unexpected meeting with potential employers goes wrong, his first instinct is to flee. But a wandering monarch, Efe Kadri, has an offer that might provide the certainty for which Darius has been searching, if only he has the courage to say yes…

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

Length: 11, 350 words / 40 pages.

This is the last of the Marchverse rewrites, aside from, eventually, Kit March itself. At the moment, I have the bones of a story that comprises the first half of Darius and Efe’s doings in Ashad, and an earlier story, now called Blood and the Ravens, that will cover Darius’s beginnings with Eren Adalet and show his connections with the Ravens, because that is going to become more important later on. There’s a wealth of story material in Darius’s years with Efe and Aysun should I ever find myself at a want for more to write, but I see The Adventurer King as the first in a rough trilogy of novelettes that form the beginning of Darius and Efe’s relationship, and then I’d like to stop for a little while.

In terms of timeline, The Adventurer King takes place seven years after Certain Eldritch Artefacts and seven years before Tes arrives at the College. Darius has been six years a student and one year a mercenary.

My biggest focus with the rewrite has been been giving Darius a sense of community and place in Rajad. If I’m writing a world where he struggles to be accepted as an autistic by the school, why would he stay if all he knows is hate? What keeps him there, working towards something so difficult? He’s stubborn, but that isn’t quite enough; I wanted to suggest at the reasons he stayed, that he does have people looking out for him, community. That we autistics can be valued and cherished, even by allistics–that we can have connection even in places where we don’t quite belong. I feel like it’s a shade more revolutionary to show autistic characters being supported by allistics than autistic characters proving themselves as good as allistics–even in a society where the former isn’t normalised. I don’t want a “one good allistic” story, even in a setting so ableist that Darius often uses his unwillingness to perform allism as a way to disguise his talents.

The other thing, perhaps the reason I feel unusually positive about this piece, is that I’ve cut my awkward attempts at sexual interest and tension–at least from Darius’s perspective. (Being the recipient of someone else’s sexual interest, on the other hand, is not unfamiliar to me.) I’ve been trying for years to write sexual tension because … that’s what I’m supposed to write, right? When characters have sexual relationships, there’s tension between them in the beginning, right? And if you’re writing a protagonist who doesn’t mind sex when the sensory processing gods are on board and there’s been a lot of conversation beforehand, isn’t it right to have tension between the characters? At least that’s what allosexual and heterosexual society taught me, but even when it’s well written I find it the inverse of interesting. Not only do I dislike writing it myself, I don’t write it well. I don’t mind sex scenes if they’re characterisation-heavy, and I’m fine with sexual references and the having of sex generally in fiction, but sexual attraction and tension doesn’t speak to me.

I could work on this, of course: feeling is not a prerequisite for writing well about something. The truth is that I don’t want to. Why do I have to write it? Over the last eighteen months I’ve left many expectations for what I should write and how I should write in the dust, so why not this one, too? If I am making every single narrating protagonist aromantic-spec just because I can, why not write stories that are low on sexual tension, just because I can? Why not write stories that focus on the interpersonal relationships and emotional connections I prefer to read about?

It’s more than that, though, if you’ll allow me to be personal for a moment.

The “asexual equals sex repulsion” narrative kept me from realising that I am ace for so long, because I’m not repulsed by sex. I’m somewhere between neutral and favourable with a side element of sensory processing complications and a dose of autistic-given uncertainty as to what constitutes sexual attraction anyway–is a lack of sexual attraction the same as not connecting to sexual tension, or should they be treated separately? Who knows? Sexual tension is where the narrative loses me, that I know. I feel I’m ace or ace-vague (and aro) and the narrative that makes sense to me is sex with a friend who understands because sex can be fun but with no particular pull or tension about it. No focus on looking at people through a lens of sexual attraction, when I don’t understand it and don’t know what it feels like. And that’s what I want to write here. Two guys who become friends and then have sex, sometimes.

Darius makes so much more sense to me as an aromantic person who sits in the space between pansexuality and asexuality, and once given a little time to grow up and away from what he’s been told to be, favourable towards the having of sex at times but not feeling sexual attraction by its presence or absence as an integral part of his identity. (I surely know what it feels to throw myself into something, thinking it was what I felt, when it was just what society told me that I should be.) It’s why I have him refer to his attraction as he does (no direction). And when I write him like that, he feels so much more real and natural to me in his current and future interactions with Efe–but at the same time, it makes me a little more real, too, as someone who feels ace but doesn’t always feel that I fit the popular narrative of being ace.

Forgive me for the tangent, but this is the first time I’ve felt empowered as an ace in writing ace or ace-spec or ace-and-pan-both characters–the first time I’ve felt, as an ace, what I feel as an aro when I write my horde of aro-spec characters. And I think that’s worth mentioning.

So, yes, book. I quite like this rewrite; I hope other people find something within it.