Writing a story for Tales of the Crimson Keep was something we bandied about last fall and committed to at Farpoint, meaning it would be my first fiction of note since becoming a fulltime English teacher. And sure enough, the idea of the Master, the ageless wizard teaching the kids how to wield magic, testing his charges was the first idea that occurred to me.
Initially, I wanted to call the story “Field Test”, sending two of the characters out of the Keep and into the world where the Demon War was still a serious threat. My idea was to take two teens that had been trained to practice magic and challenge them by having them complete an assignment without using their power.
Magic, like any weapon or tool, can become a crutch and a sign of how well people have learned is to take that away and see what happens. The Master, though, has seen to it the goal is fraught with obstacles that will force them to act or be injured. It is also a test of trust. Since, after all, this is a test during wartime where the conditions are vastly different than during periods of peace. Sometimes trust is the different between life and death.
With that in mind, I needed two students and it seemed fairly obvious that it had to be two of the three we introduced in “Demon Circle”. There was Belid, boastful, overconfident and the students’ BMOC (Big Man Of the Castle). Or there was Athis, a little bit of a doofus, a little awed by how east Belid makes things look, but a dedicated student. Then we have Klaria, perhaps the most accomplished of the current class but haughty, knowing she is better than most.
I decided to take the extremes, Athis and Klaria, and see what happens when they need to rely on one another’s skills, competence, and basic humanity. It was clear that Athis was smitten with Klaria so I wanted to see if that would get in the way or not. I then changed the title to “Assessment” and began thinking of the goal and backtracking, adding in the obstacles. The very first one was a true test of trust between the two, before they even leave the Crimson Keep, inspired to a degree from Martin Caidin’s Cyborg but under less extreme circumstances.
Once the beats were in place, the writing, largely done over a few sessions spread weeks apart, fell into place fairly quickly. What proved challenging was the tone, keeping it light at times, heavy at others, matching the prime story of our collection. Since I am editing the overall volume and crave others’ critical eyes, I asked Paul Kupperberg to give it the once over. And as you read this, he’s still at work so we’re all awaiting the results of my personal assessment.
Tales of the Crimson Keep will be available in print and digital formats on August 1.