Bestiary #2: The Shade
I may not be as knowledgeable a fantasy fan as I'd like to be, but even I know that apparitions, ghosts, and phantoms have a significant place in fantasy fiction— at least in my corner of the genre.
So, with that in mind — especially knowing I have more than a few essential plot points involving spirits in my world — I had to take a stand early and figure out exactly how I wanted these appearances to transpire.
So, enter the term hauntling. I settled on the term sometime back, when I plotted out a much different story with very different concepts at play. While I do genuinely hope that story sees the light of day in the future, it was not yet meant to be. However, a lot of decisions for my world that I made in that venture stuck around for Prince of Azra, and now The Sworn Defender.
My idea was just to group together all the different kinds of spirits that would exist in this realm of magic and monsters. I really enjoyed the idea of putting a solid label/definition to terms that always seemed really loose to me.
With that said, yes, I do have a list of the different types of hauntlings, ordered from weakest to run-in-the-other-direction powerful. I think as of now, there's nine on the page, with a less-than-official tenth member.
Anyway, it's time to move on to the Shade.
To be extremely transparent, Solton did not exist in my first "plotting-out" of Prince of Azra. It just didn't, and so, neither did the shade that called Khora, Lucian, and Jira to action. The choice to expand the story came later, when I was nearly halfway done with my first run-through of the plot, and realized it felt awfully flat, terribly paced, and extremely short. Adding Solton also allowed a look into corners of my world that aren't strictly visited within the pages of Prince of Azra, such as the island of Summerstone and their formidable Wolf Watch.
When considering what obstacle my protagonists had to face, the answer became eerily clear— the Shade.
I personally feel that a recurring theme of Prince of Azra is the concept of the past coming back to haunt you (hehe). It also allowed me to play off Khora's connection to the Norva, a place with a solid history of violence, and their own assortment of runaway spirits.
I also thought it would be cool to tackle an enemy that didn't exactly have a physical presence here, because it kind of mirrors the overall antagonist of both books. The Shadow (sorcerer) character is the reason this whole mission started; it's the threat of his arrival that looms over the protagonists as they march forward. However, and spoiler for those interested, none of the primary protagonists even encounter him in Prince of Azra. He appears only in the prologue, and then briefly in the epilogue. Sight unseen.
So, with all that in mind, what could be better than an angry spirit, and one with a personal tie to the conflict playing our through the chapters?
If I didn't make it clear enough in the text, my intention was for the now-active shade to be the resentful spirit of a Marinian soldier, one slain by Azra's own forces in the past. It may be a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism of it (spirit of the wronged literally coming forth to exact vengeance), but I had a lot of fun with it.
It's also an adaptation of a storyline I had penned for a previous title (before I began writing Prince of Azra). Originally, the protagonist would be sent to a nearby village because their temple had been accosted by a stray spirit. He would have equipped himself with the gear necessary to battle the hauntling they had described, but upon arrival would — sadly — realize that the monster he faced was a much more powerful spirit than anticipated.
It is very different from what ended up playing out between Khora and the Shade, but that's where the idea stemmed from. While I do intend to use a similar plot point in the future (not in The Sworn Defender, no double-dipping allowed here), it won't be exactly like that either, so I feel comfortable sharing the backstory here.
All in all, that was a lot of the thought process that went into including a shade in Prince of Azra. And, just for anyone curious, the unnamed hauntling that Eilon described as also possessing a cursed touch is a wraith.
Just a fun fact for anyone interested, but don't worry! There are plenty of hauntlings, and plenty of ways I plan to use them in the future. You'll just have to stick around and see.