The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Skin

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Skin: Darius survives the gnomes and contemplates the stories told in scars. Amelia tries to make a well-trodden point. March waves a spoon. What do their words matter to Darius, though, when all he hears is the choking, insufferable envelopment of safety?

Chapter count: 10 500 words

Content advisory: Ongoing depiction of depression, grief, suicidal ideation, self-hate and hallucination. The belt being … well, the belt. The ableism in hating one’s self for not appreciating one’s formerly less-disabled body (see below). The word “broken” used frequently, and with a score of edges at that, by a multiply disabled man to describe himself. A little more description of the violence wrecked on Efe Kadri. Discussions on self-care edging around the fine line between blood magic and self-harm. The impact of hearing the word “suicide” voiced aloud. References to suicidal ideation. Amelia and March at loggerheads. Amelia’s spoon revenge is meant to be a nasty and horrible act wielded at an obsessive autistic, even though neurotypicals may not understand why this is so cruel.

Note the first: Darius’s self-hating “why didn’t I…” monologue only exists, to such an extent, because of the ableist world in which we live. It’s a construct of ableism. It’s also every part of me that looks back at everything I used to do with my hands, so unthinking, and wonder with grief that isn’t dead after six years why I took it for granted. (Why? Why didn’t I write then when it’s so hard for me to write now?) While it can be argued that, like Darius, I’ve been disabled from birth (autism), I’ve also become disabled in an entirely different direction as an adult (chronic pain) and I know the sheer gut-wrenching grief of having ability unexpectedly stolen from you, especially an ability that ties deeply into the person you were. I know, too, like Darius will realise, what it means to stare into that pain and knowingly do as much of it as you can anyway, because anything else is unthinkable. That can be difficult and dangerous for ourselves and/or the people around us. But to do otherwise is unthinkable.

Note the second: Oh, this chapter. This chapter. Ten drafts. I wish that were in any way hyperbole; I’d like to be exaggerating about the amount of times I’ve tangoed with this wretched thing. If I had more spoons available to me (read: weren’t trying to blog and write with unmanaged chronic pain) it wouldn’t have been such a problem, but since I have a chronic spoon shortage, it was.

Understanding isn’t the same thing as forgiveness, but it is, sometimes, enough.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Consequences

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Note the third: The species of caterpillar Tes calls “spitfire” bears no relation to the actual spitfire sawfly larvae (which aren’t caterpillars) and are very likely some variety of Chlenias moth (I think Chlenias banksiaria, but this has proven difficult to confirm online, despite these caterpillars and moths being exceedingly common in regional western Victoria). Knowing this, these “spitfires” (I was unable to find a colloquial name) are very likely harmless in addition to being incorrectly named. However, locally, I’ve always known them as spitfires and my classmates (I think knowing they were safe, for they cheerfully handled the caterpillars themselves) spoke of how much they’d hurt before tormenting me with them. The actuality, here, is rather irrelevant, although my intent is for Tes to later learn that speaking of a harmless creature as dangerous is another form of bullying.

You’ve the ability to dare a tower and dare magic. Dare this.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Shadows

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accountrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Aren’t human lives the shadows of the stories we share?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Homecoming

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Homecoming: Darius Liviu arrives in Greenstone to take up March’s offer of a teaching job, only for the belt to betray a certain confidence involving the dead Efe Kadri.

Chapter count: 9550 words

Content advisory: Hallucinations, at least in the eye of the protagonist, that play with the line between auditory hallucinations and fantasy genre conventions of the talking dead/spirits. A protagonist who has a less-than-helpful relationship with previous healthcare providers, has undergone physical and emotional trauma and expresses his grief through guilt and numbness and depression. A protagonist who uses the words “crazy” and “madman” to describe himself because, like most of us, he suffers from internalised ableism (and lacks a suitable language). A narrator who experiences a partial seizure: I experienced dissociation/aura writing it. Lastly, Darius’s approach to food from here on in is reluctant and disordered at best even allowing for SPD/autism-related taste, scent and texture repulsion, and his narrative (speaking as someone who experiences just this) after this chapter colours food in a negative light. This could be extremely triggering, in multiple ways, for a great many people.

Note the first: We first meet Darius in Certain Eldritch Artefacts and later in The Adventurer King. Fourteen years of study and adventure have passed since he met the belt in the Great Souk of Rajad, and seven since he met Efe and Aysun Kadri. The belt and Efe (later, Aysun) are fairly important in his life/narrative.

Note the second: I’ve lived the position of having to come back home in failure with the consequent feeling that that I’ve come back home only to be the person I was in that space before I left it. I came home feeling far less than I’d found myself to be, and that’s a peculiar, adult kind of despair. This is a character arc explored more in literature than in genre writing, but since the beauty of this story is exploring different adult character arcs, Darius, however bleak and depressed, lets me play with this narrative (and the truth that this is one of the many lies depression likes to tell us).

Note the third: I can only speak to my own experience, and I’m aware that my experience isn’t universal, but after some time my experiences with hallucinations shifted from “There’s a horde of spiders swarming all over me! PANIC!” to “Man, here’s the spiders nobody else sees again. What are the fuckers going to do this time?” I don’t tend to see this kind of relationship to hallucinations in fiction, so it’s important to me to write a character whose approach is one of awareness and annoyance—to the extent that it’s actually an exercise in tedium, one that wouldn’t be half so problematic most of the time if only other people didn’t notice.

You come through my doors battered and lost and alone, and I watch over you.

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Certain Eldritch Artefacts (A Kit March Prequel)

Alliterative magician and College graduate Darius Liviu has travelled half the world in search of the rarest of rare magical artefacts: a tolerable talking sword. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy quest, but, after a year of failure, one last rumour sees him risk Rajad’s chaotic, cluttered, terrifying Great Souk. The noise, the smells, the people and his inability to move without provoking disaster make everything difficult, but Darius dares the nightmare in hope of an item that just might draw the eye of the man he loves.

The sword he finds may or may not be tolerable. It may not even be a sword. It has other ideas on the matter of being a lover’s token, however: ideas that make Darius ponder the reason he travelled at all…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Next: The Adventurer King

Word count: 10, 530 words.

Content advisory: Darius is seventeen, and young for a magician, but—being short and transmasculine in a time and place where medical transitioning is less of an option—not so young as he appears that the ageism others display is justifiable, if it ever is. (Personal experience time.) “Normal” used to mean “allistic” but, I hope, in a tone that is meant to be snide-leaning. Depictions of anxiety/social anxiety provoked by being a dyspraxic autistic having to navigate a world (a crowded, chaotic, noisy, busy, smelly, cramped world) truly not designed for him. The behaviour of the stallholders is an exercise in unthinking ableism. The belt is a pushy, demanding, frustrating entity who is nonetheless somewhat ideal as a mentor for an autistic teenager because it isn’t an easily-offended allistic neurotypical human. Whether or not the belt is being transphobic, deliberately provocative or both is open to question. Since mainstream autism portrayals tend to be light on the SPD aspects of autism, I wanted to show both the Sensory Hell of the setting and what Darius does to try to survive it.

Note the first: Yes, this is a rewrite of something I’ve already written. I thought I’d do PDF versions of Kit March so that people (like me) who don’t love reading long-arse chapters on backlit browsers have an alternative. If I’m doing that, well, I should throw in the prequel short stories for context, because the problem with making one of your protagonists a thirty-one-year-old magician with history is that he has history. If I’m doing that, though, I should rewrite this in light of worldbuilding and character development (mostly that Darius is knowingly autistic instead of accidentally so) and make it a proper introduction to knowingly-autistic-Darius and the belt. And if I’m making those changes, well, I should post it on the off chance somebody is interested…

Note the second: Aside from missing sensory realism and deliberate stimming—and Darius’s frustration feels so much more natural to me when accompanied by flapping hands!—the original story’s conclusion strikes me as a direction to learn a set of skills to better mimic Real Neurotypical Adults. As someone learning how to move more in tune with my actually autistic self after a lifetime’s pretence (being the kind of person who falls going up stairs and has destroyed my ankle by tripping over a tennis ball), I’m desperately uncomfortable with this, even knowing that someone who doesn’t know that they’re an autistic author writing an autistic character isn’t like to avoid ableism. So this story has suffered quite a drastic reframing toward an autistic man having the opportunity to discover how he might learn to move, as a Real Neurodiverse Adult, in ways that both serve his needs and see him less abused by the neurotypical world. I don’t want Darius to learn how to be another neurotypical soldier (yawn) who gains great proficiency in the combat arts—he’s here to learn something else entirely, and the belt knows it, even if Darius doesn’t.

Note the third: In societies where pansexuality is the default, which is everywhere seen/referenced so far save Astreut, exclusive monosexuality is a little bit weird. Not so weird that it results in oppression and restriction, but weird enough that that the terms used to describe it by most pansexuals are unthinkingly not-quite-positive.

I don’t think they taught you how to move as you are in a world that isn’t for you, but why can’t you learn that?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Connection

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Connection: Tes meets hir new roommate Holly Naoko, learns from the chattering historian Iris Edmé and discovers ze does, in fact, possess a valuable trade.

Chapter count: 7080 words.

Content advisory: Casual mention—and casual handling, deliberately akin to the way we talk about the latest character to die on Game of Thrones—of the fact Darius ended the Lord of Mul Dura’s life with no small amount of violent, even torturous enthusiasm. Ableist slurs like “stupid” used by a non-verbal autistic woman to describe how people regarded her. A salutary lesson in matters of trans characters’ access to gender-affirmative clothing. An aro-ace protagonist who thinks of hirself as frigid because nobody ever told hir ze’s fine and real and perfect as is. (This will happen.) Also, the word “strange” may not be an in-universe neurodiverse-specific slur to Tes, but given that Efe uses it in such a way and Darius considers it as such, I’ll note that Tes uses it, in moments of despair, to describe hirself as well.

Note the first: Why, yes, a trans narrator ends up at a school with a trans headmaster and is introduced to a trans teacher and then to two trans students who introduce hir to a third trans student related to the trans headmaster (and we haven’t even met the second narrator yet, who is, well, trans). In fact, I’ll mention that there’s one cis staff member, and most of the named students are, ye gods, trans. I don’t see how this is remotely unrealistic, but, if you feel that way, I’ll mention that, thus far, nobody’s commented on the unrealistic walking corncob. (Who objects to humanity’s habit of forcibly opposing notions of gender on a sapient species that doesn’t require it.)

Note the second: A lord is a noble of no specific gender. A Lord is a noble, magician, mage, ruler or other personage of note, also of no specific gender, who practices certain dark arts and often seeks to live out dreams of global domination. Efe Kadri assassinated several of them.

I want to know. I want to know things. History and magic and talking with my hands. Is it hard?

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The Adventurer King (A Kit March Prequel)

Seven years ago, alliterative magician Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk of Rajad. Since then, he trained as a swordsman and now works as a mercenary guard. He picked up a few jobs with merchants who don’t mind the loquacious belt, but he is yet to find the work—or the employer—that gives his training and his life purpose. In truth, he’s not sure he shouldn’t just pack up and return to Greenstone. The impulsive, forward and insulting Efe Kadri, or at least his sister Aysun, just might have the answer, if Darius can survive life on the road with the king of Siya…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Previous: Certain Eldritch Artefacts

Story count: 10 245 words.

Content advisory: Efe has a moment of being a casually/unthinking transphobic (and ableist) arse, but he doesn’t get away with it. The belt is still the belt (a pushy, demanding, frustrating eldritch object that cares way too much about sex and will try anyone’s patience).

Note the first: This takes place seven years after Certain Eldritch Artefacts and seven years before the beginning of The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March. The more I came to know Efe Kadri through Darius, the more I wanted to write about how the awkward Darius I first knew came to ride the worldroad with a king who abandoned his throne (and then came to be the harder man who returns to Greenstone). Since Efe and Aysun are so big in Darius’s world, it seemed absurd to not meet them, if only for a story here and there.

Note the second: The major literary problem with being an undiagnosed autistic was my tendency to write characters who are autistic with hindsight but aren’t written in such a way that their autism is acknowledged and centred. (How do you do that when you don’t know what you are?) Darius, more than anyone, is a character who should have been centrally autistic and isn’t. So I’m sure the reader will note the jarring dissonance between the approach in ‘Certain Eldritch Artefacts’, where Darius is just awkward and clumsy and odd, and the approach here, where Darius knows he’s autistic and more of his experiences unique to being so are written into how he experiences his world. That dissonance absolutely exists: the difference is that I now know who I am. Not to mention the fact that a world I created for the sole purpose of a single short story is now the home of a novel. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it…

Similar people have the power and structure of society behind them, but March’s divergents are magicians: knowledge can’t be surrendered.

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