Insider 08-24-2015

Hi, all,

Some of you (most of you, hopefully) might remember me as the former editor-in-chief of No Quarter magazine, and, most recently, the publications manager for Skull Island eXpeditions. As of now, I’m a full-time writer, and quite a lot of that fullness comes from writing for Privateer Press.

My first freelance assignment for Privateer, a novelette titled “Unleashed Legends: Sacred Charge,” is available today. It ties into the new Iron Kingdoms Unleashed: Skorne Empire, and since Skorne are one of my favorite factions and I love writing about them, I thought I’d drop by to talk a bit about how this story came together.

The biggest challenge I faced in writing “Sacred Charge” really gets to the crux of the story: writing about the skorne has the same double-edged difficulty that always comes with writing about non-humans. You have to make them feel different and alien while still being relatable to all the humans who will be reading the story. Now, the skorne aren’t wildly alien, but what motivates them is typically far different from what motivates the average human. A lot of this has to do with the skorne caste system and how every skorne is born into a role rather than choosing that role for himself. The castes are rigid boundaries, and all skorne—from the lowliest laborer to the Supreme Archdomina herself—have little choice in what roles they fill in skorne society.

The other major difference between the skorne and most human cultures is their view on the afterlife. For most humans, the afterlife is a good thing, a reward earned for following the tenets of their faith. For the skorne, however, the afterlife is the worst possible thing that can happen to them because it means consignment to the Void, the skorne version of Hell. Every skorne is destined for the Void unless he proves himself on the battlefield in spectacular fashion and is chosen for exaltation, the preservation of the soul in a sacral stone. But here’s the thing: most skorne have little to no chance of being chosen for exaltation, which gives them a very bleak and fatalistic viewpoint on life and death. Most skorne know they don’t have much of a shot at exaltation, but their culture dictates they try for it anyway, and that small hope is enough to keep them going, and fighting, and looking for the most glorious ways to achieve their deaths.

The two elements of skorne society I described above really intrigued me. We’ve seen these subjects covered in the fiction before, but usually it’s from the viewpoint of skorne leaders, who, frankly, have the best shot at exaltation. I wanted to explore these concepts from the viewpoint of the rank and file, the average skorne warrior who fights in the great Army of the Western Reaches, both for the glory of the Skorne Empire and for that one chance, however small, to prove himself worthy of immortality. The skorne caste system, of course, plays a major part in who is selected for exaltation. Certain warrior castes, like the Cataphracts, have a better chance at preservation than the Praetorians or Venators due to their martial traditions, and a much, much better chance than non-warrior castes like the Paingivers. So, when I started writing “Sacred Charge,” I wanted to answer the following question: How does the average skorne take all this pretty awful stuff in stride and keep on going? They’re not robots, and they have individual motivations and fears that color their perceptions of their culture and their role within it. That’s the humanizing element, those doubts and fears that are likely present in a lowly Venator armiger every time he steps onto the battlefield. Is he asking himself: Is today the day I die? And if so, what are my chances at avoiding eternal pain and suffering? Those are questions we could certainly see ourselves asking, and that makes the character relatable despite being a non-human from a culture very different from our own.

So, did I accomplish my goal? Have I written skorne characters that are both alien and still relatable? You’ll have to see for yourself. Privateer Press has, however, graciously allowed me to give you a little preview of the story. If you head over to my personal blog, Rejectomancy, you’ll find an excerpt from “Sacred Charge.” I hope you dig it.

—Aeryn