Back in Part One of this series, I talked about how Unmortal germinated from what was originally a vestigial part of another project. Now I'll dive into the idea itself and how it developed more completely after I broke it off from its original source.
To quote my earlier post:
In Japanese mythology there is the idea of a spirit that can imbue an object with a life of its own. I thought, what if something like that had existed as far back as prehistory, but over time humanity had learned to control the process? That is, instead of just constructing a lantern, you also manually infuse it with a lantern spirit so that it can do your bidding? Light up on command and never run out of fuel? And why limit ourselves to only preindustrial artifacts?
From this I began to spin out an alternate history of civilization.
The idea actually wasn't that complicated. At some point in the mists of prehistory, humanity and the sua, as I called them, co-existed freely. The sua inhabited objects and gave them life, in the same way animals freely inhabit a burrow or dead tree: they come and go as they please.
Then came the discovery: human beings could summon sua from the realm beyond where they originally hailed, and infuse them permanently into objects. What once had been a playful coexistence became a matter of taming and control, and also one of the spurs of civilization generally. Every thing that could be made, could be made as a vessel for a sua.
It would be millennia before civilization advanced to the point where the things that could be made did not always need sua, but the institutions that had come into existence to perpetuate that state of affairs resisted such change. An engine that needed fuel seemed like a step backwards compared to anything sua-powered, which would draw its power from those that rode in it or drove it. Of course, all one had to do was ignore that this came at the cost of the enslavement of a thinking being.
One could change the minds of those who believed sua power was the better deal than human power. All it took the most devastating war in history to do that. And it didn't even persuade everyone evenly. But it persuaded enough of the right people to make changes long overdue — to ban forever the use of sua as weapons of war; to grant them that much more autonomy and agency; to push back against the institutions that profited from the binding of sua.
Still, even those changes only changed so much. It took the demands of sua revolutionaries and radicals, the Banner of the Gold (so called as the word sua was itself an archaism for that color) to deliver freedom that was more than just words on paper. But the Gold went from advocacy to insurgency and violence; the sua found themselves with only what advocates could be found here and there; and the tightening of controls against sua exploitation had the double-edged effect of making life difficult for those who wanted to freely partner with sua as their chosen way of life.
That was the point at which I decided to start the story — the knife-edge between the death of the old, indisputably bad ways, but not yet the birth of the new and truly good ones. Most of my stories, I've found, take place in such an interstice, and that seemed like the ideal environment for a story about the emergence of a push towards the next phase in what humans and sua shared.
In the next installment I'll talk about some of the properties and media that influenced and shaped Unmortal.