Well, lots going on in this one, then. Where to start?
1. The flying disc thing. Thus far, The Mechanical Crown has been a low-fantasy story, with magic being hinted at but almost always being far away in the background, or in the distant past (if you look past airships and super-extending swords – which could be attributed to being more in the steampunk camp than outright ‘magic’). Even the odd creatures can be explained away either by being mutations of some sort, or simply the unusual native creatures of this world. The one exception, really, is the suit of armour that Queen Anja found and used – although, again, that sits more in the ‘high tech’ mechanical-punk arena of Tranton’s sword.
This flying disc appears to be the first more overt ‘magical’ encounter. As such, it shifts the story into new territory quite dramatically and significantly alters the potential of where the plot could go. Sticking the landing on this was critical, as I didn’t want to confuse readers, or make it too jarring, or a major tonal shift. Hopefully the groundwork has been laid so that this is both unexpected AND a natural next step. Of course, at this point it’s all quite vague and we don’t know the ramifications or even what’s going on.
2. The disintegration of Fenris’ confidence is difficult to write, as he’s always been the stalwart believer urging everyone to keep going, no matter what. At the start of this chapter he’s a broken man. With the ‘royal protector’ personality stripped away – both the literal role and the persona he’d inhabited over the years to disguise his true motivations – there was very little flex left in his psyche. When Aviar turned out to be little more than a burned crater, Fenris’ mind snapped in two.
3. That leaves Tranton to pick up the pieces. This is presented partially as a heroic, leader-defining moment, until Tranton’s inner monologue undoes all of that: he does not want this responsibility. In fact, he loathes it. This archetype isn’t especially fresh – it’s basically Aragorn’s main trajectory – but I’m leaning into it pretty hard with Tranton’s character. There’s no point in Lord of the Rings that you don’t think Aragorn will end up accepting his responsibility and becoming king (assuming he survived the war); with Tranton, it’s never going to be quite that simple. He’s not a ‘ranger’; a loner who is still living an honorable life helping people and serving the kingdom – Tranton is someone who has been actively running away from all those things. Our supposed heroes are all full of doubt, even while Tranton is inspiring the others.
4. I went back and forth for a while one whether to pick up Stryke’s story here, or switch back to Fenris & co. In the end I opted for returning to the crater as it felt like we’d been away for a suitable time, plus leaving the events in Treydolain after ‘The purge’ helps to give it the weight and tragedy it deserves.
5. The end of this chapter is a moment that has always been in the story, way back to the first draft. The specific circumstances of how they all get here, and WHO is here, have changed drastically, though. For starters, the original version of ‘Roldan’ was only encountered during the descent from the mountains. None of the Bruckin gang was there (Bruckin was little more than a town of ruffians and thugs in the first draft – none of the political intrigue was in there).
Given how different arcs 4 and 5 have been to the first draft, it’s odd to suddenly re-synchronise with the original plot, if only for a brief moment.
6. This chapter is called ‘Fantasia’. I rather like using chapter headings to signify what is about to come, especially because Wattpad sends out notifications to readers when a new chapter is posted. Hence receiving a notification last time that ‘The purge’ was the name of the chapter would have immediately raised worries, before readers even got to the text. ‘Fantasia’ is intended to create a sense of intrigue and mystery and excitement, even as the chapter opens on the dreary landscape and the worries of Fenris and Tranton. ‘Fantasia’ is a nod from me that SOMETHING IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN. It’s also an acknowledgement that the story is about to go somewhere probably very unexpected.