Worldbuilding: Martial Arts, Magic, and ‘An Account of the Dyer’

I’m working on a new story about a character I’ve had in mind for several years, called ‘the Dyer’. He’s meant to be a mage who mixes martial arts with magic, and he gets his name from the bruising he leaves behind on his opponents, which is actually subcutaneous bleeding. The bleeding is so dark and persistent that it ends up ‘dyeing’ the skin black.

I wanted to write a non-fiction piece about the Dyer, sort of like Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings, but told from the point of view of another martial arts master. I came up with the character of Ryu-Ito, who interacts with the Dyer and writes down observations about him.

Here’s what I have so for her book, An Account of the Dyer:

Introduction by RyU-Ito

I write an account of a figure who has no need for words, whose style transcends description, and whose genius demands firsthand experience, not ink on pages. He has read this tract with bemusement and forgotten it as quickly as he was told of it. He never learned his movements from books, and regards scholarship with bewilderment; why would one write about a style, instead of practicing it?
When putting this account to pen, I was faced with these questions and more. But I am committed to the belief that while words cannot bring us to the summation of understanding, they can help us take the first steps. Where words’ usefulness end, experience takes us by the hand and leads us on down the path, which I have learned has no end.

The hand that can break bones moves with strength and speed; the hand that can split the sky does not move at all.

Chapter 1

The first time I met the Dyer, I was taken aback. I had heard of his strange appearance, but I was not prepared to find a man like a scarecrow in the meeting-room. What struck me were his long fingers, wrapped in bandages, and his white porcelain mask, which is unsettling to anyone who is not familiar with his gentle nature.

The Dyer is notoriously shy, but it is well-known that he has a special discomfort for being alone with women. In our meeting, he kept his gaze rooted firmly on the floor, only raising his head when one of the students knelt to fill our cups. It was at that point that I decided to dispense with all the trappings of a formal meeting and challenge the Dyer to a duel.
The cups were cleared away and I shed my outer robes, leaving only my gi. I took my stance and waited. The Dyer stood up abruptly and stood awkwardly for a moment or two, then bowed. I practiced the breathing my masters had taught me and prepared to advance. A thousand subconscious thoughts ran through my head like fish below the surface of the water, gauging his reach, his inertia, his movements. I led with my right hand, leaving my left to block in the wu position, and moved into his range.

And then I stopped. The Dyer, at some point that I had not noticed, had completely relaxed. He was leaving himself completely open to attack from any angle, but seemed absolutely untroubled by it. Gazing at his mask, I searched for a trace of his eyes to give me insight into his thoughts or emotions, but I found myself hypnotized. The harder I tried to look past his mask, the more I saw myself through his eyes. I found myself cycling through a thousand different potential mindsets to explain his serenity, a thousand different images of the Dyer behind the mask, but all of them fell away in the face of him. Suddenly, his great height seemed to grow even taller, and his presence filled my world. He was simultaneously everything I could imagine and none of it, at once peaceful and overwhelming. I knew in that moment, while I stared into the twin eyes of his mask, that I could never defeat this man.

And then he did something surprising: he raised his right arm and held it in the same position I had mine, so that our wrists crossed. He mirrored my stance, and he gently pushed his wrist against mine, so that my arm rotated a little. I instinctively pushed back, and his arm gave way, at which point I ceased applying pressure. He repeated the gesture, and we went back and forth like that for a long time. Slowly, he brought his other arm around, and I met it with mine. We began pushing with both our hands, and I began taking steps forward, which he mirrored, until we were dancing.

It was then that I understood the heart of the Dyer’s style and the secret to his invincibility: no one fights the Dyer himself—his opponents only fight themselves.

Worldbuilding: Martial Arts, Magic, and ‘An Account of the Dyer’

My New Post on Magical Warfare Is up on Fantasy Faction!

Here are the opening lines:

“Fallout taught fans that war…war never changes. Military historians, however, argue otherwise. Case in point: the stirrup.

Before firearms dominated the battlefield, it’s generally agreed that the stirrup was the most important innovation in warfare for a couple centuries. Fans of the Rohirrim will recognize why: cavalry is fast and maneuverable, and the stirrup allows the rider to swing swords, carry lances, and fire arrows with ease. Anyone who doesn’t have an army equipped with stirrupped cavalry is doomed to be dominated by those who do. As a result, the stirrup changed the way armies waged war and (arguably) the very face of medieval Europe. Keep in mind, the stirrup is a piece of leather that’s attached to the saddle.

With that in mind, what would magic do to warfare?”

You can read the article on Fantasy Faction here!


Programmer Spells: The Two-Ton Punch

I’ve spoken a bit about how spells would work in my world, but for a long time I’ve struggled to figure out the details of the nuts-and-bolts mechanics. I’ve drawn inspiration for my spells from computer coding, but I don’t know how to code or the syntax of any programming languages. So with that in mind, I decided to do some research on Python this weekend and see if I could use some of the basic elements of programming to write a rudimentary spell, as I imagined it.

The spell I decided to write out is a draw-redirect spell, one of the first spells I ever came up with. It was originally inspired by Soto’s magical abacus in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time, which allowed the monk to move around kinetic force stored in falling bodies (namely, the protagonist Lobsang Ludd). I liked the idea of a spell that could absorb force and redirect it, and after researching martial arts like Aikido and Judo, I thought it’d be a great technique for a martial artist-mage.

The character I had in mind was the Dyer, a mage who had little to no muscle mass, but could topple much stronger foes by absorbing the kinetic force of their blows and redirecting it into his strikes. Here’s what I came up with for a sketch of the spell:

The Dyer’s Basic Draw-Redirect Strike Technique

Part 1: Intercept and absorb kinetic force (Draw)


Part 2: Store kinetic force (Draw)

[DEFINE tolerances: 0 PSI to 120,000 PSI]
[DEFINE shape: bound to caster’s physical dimensions, 1-inch radius around skin surface]
[DEFINE internal structure: triangular tessellation]

Part 3: Release kinetic force on a trigger (Redirect)

[WHEN][1 OF FOLLOWING CONDITIONS=TRUE][Execute respective functions]:


[TRIGGER 1= Caster says the word “release”]
[TRIGGER 2= Caster’s right palm takes designated form MANTIS HAND and makes contact with non-caster living entity]

[CONDITION 2: Sea reaches maximum capacity]
[EXECUTE: dissipate amount of stored energy equal to most recently absorbed energy amount]

The desired outcome of this spell, as it’s structured here, would be to absorb the full force of a punch or strike and dump that force into a magical space I termed a “Sea of DIrac”, which is an actual scientific phenomenon, but pretty much unrelated to the concept of kinetic energy. I first heard the term in Neon Genesis Evangelion, when Shinji encounters an Angel that can suck objects into its shadow, which is actually a Sea of Dirac. I just wanted a shorthand term for a space that existed outside of the material dimension, where energy could be stored indefinitely.

Once the kinetic energy is stored in the caster’s sea, that energy can be released again in conjunction with a strike, depending on one of two triggers: when the Dyer says a trigger keyword, or when the Dyer’s hand conforms to a predetermined shape (in this case, a mantis strike) and meets an opponent’s body. Activating one of these triggers will dump all of the kinetic energy the Dyer has stored into the inertia of his right arm, which, if he times it correctly, means that his relatively weak strikes could become incredibly powerful.

According to this article, the amount of force some elite boxers can put into their punches can range from 776 pounds to 1,300. After receiving only five punches at 800 PSI, the Dyer would be able to redirect roughly 4000 PSI into one strike (if I’ve done my math right). That comes out to about 2 tons.

The next step with this spell is translating it into its own symbols and notation–a magical language. That’s going to be much more difficult, because it means creating a whole set of symbols that correspond not only to programming tokens (like “and”, “or,” or “true”), but to nouns and concepts, like kinetic energy and the Sea of Dirac. Then again, it might be fun to start creating a pictographic language like Chinese or Japanese, especially for small projects.

Programmer Spells: The Two-Ton Punch

I Have a New Monthly Worldbuilding Column at Fantasy Faction!

It’s called ‘Worlds Within Worlds’! The first article is an adaptation/revision of my OTL post on the Nokizi, titled “THE NECRONOMICON TO THE NOKIZI: CREATING TEXTS FOR SECONDARY WORLDS“. Here’s the banner for the column:

Worlds Within Worlds

Apart from giving the background on how I wrote the Nokizi, it gives some advice for writers looking to write their own secondary world texts:

  • Write out as much as you can
  • Always Write for Two Audiences
  • Pay Attention to Medium, Style, and Mode
  • Include References to Other Books, Events, and People

Check it out on Fantasy Faction!


I Have a New Monthly Worldbuilding Column at Fantasy Faction!

New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”

I’ve said this before: magic should not be science. Magic can be systematic and internally consistent, but it shouldn’t be reduced to a human tool, like astronomy or chemistry. A lot of writers and worldbuilders don’t seem to understand the difference–didn’t Arthur C. Clarke famously say that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?”

But there is a difference. That’s what my new essay is about.

In this essay, titled “Frodo is Dead” I wanted to show how basing magic off of science, ration, and the Enlightenment philosophies that informed them inevitably leads to a breakdown of its fantasy world by turning it into a mirror of our world.

You can read the essay here on Clarkesworld!

New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”

The Nokizi: A Fictional Necromantic Manifesto, Part 1

I was playing through TES III: Morrowind recently, and I came across three books in a necromancer dungeon: Darkest Darkness, Arkay the Enemyand N’Gasta, Kvata, Kvakis. I remembered these from years ago, and was excited to see them again: these are necromantic books you can actually read in-game–they’re short, and they give you a bit of insight into the beliefs and ideologies of the black mages you’re going up against. My favorite was A Game at Dinner, which was a sort of epistolary novel from a spy to their dark lord.

I’m writing a new story about the necromancer Yute, who I spoke about in my last post about the psychopathic mind, and one of the main plot points of the story is his own manifesto, The Nokizi. The Nokizi is meant to be a book similar to Arkay the Enemy: something to be passed around and read by the initiated members of the necromancer community.

But ever since I first conceived Yute, I wanted his necromancy to be at odds with the popular ideas of the day–I imagined him as an unorthodox figure, a radical other necromancers would be wary of, like Malcolm X or Timothy Leary. As soon as I imagined him, he needed an establishment to rebel against.

The Nokizi is Yute’s critique on the current state of necromancy and the major figures whose work has influenced it. These figures include Amassad, Togorun, and Banasail, all three of whom have achieved a different kind of immortality and huge followings of acolytes. These three are sort of like Hindu gurus who promise their followers eternal life and enlightenment if they follow their teachings. Yute, meanwhile, is based off the Bodhidharma, the iconoclastic founder of Zen in China.

I imagined that Yute brought all of his new ideas before the gurus first, expecting to gain praise and recognition from the masters and cement his position as a new master. It would be a sort of “look at me, I found a new path that is undeniably better than all of yours, and now you must admit it.” Instead, he was laughed and jeered out of their temples and abodes and derided by all their students, one after another. Yute, not one to take humiliation well, devised his Nokizi as a critique of the establishment that rejected him, and a manifesto for his new method and philosophy.

The actual critique is a blend of mathematics, paradoxes, parables, German philosophy, and Rinzai Zen, with the goal of showing that 1) Amassad, Togorun, and Banasail are all going about immortality in the wrong way, 2) the current conception of time and the self are wrong, and 3) that immortality seekers should employ mathematics, not body-modification or other techniques, to achieve immortality.

At the very end of the Nokizi is an encrypted portion, along with the promise that anyone who solves the cipher will gain the secret to his new method. The idea is that, though the necromantic community rejected him before, he is willing to allow converts into his new method if they are clever enough. But it’s all a trick–the insanely complicated cipher encrypts only a bunch of gibberish and nursery rhymes, as a giant, spiteful fuck-you. “You had your chance to be my acolytes, and you laughed me down,” is Yute’s internal reasoning. “So I’ll show you what you’re missing, offer you my secrets, then laugh at you.”

Yute’s a twisted kind of character.

You can read the first part of the Nokizi here.

The Nokizi: A Fictional Necromantic Manifesto, Part 1

My New Grimoire

grimoire-1 grimoire-2

I love this book. I picked it up from Poetic Earth’s booth at New York Comic-Con this year, and it’s got a hand-tooled leather cover. Last night, I made the first entry in it on the title page (see above).

The triangle-tesseract design is the same one that came to me in a dream several years ago, after a night of reading too much about fractals. If you place each letter of the word “OROBORO” at the right vertices, the name should repeat perfectly across the whole design, meaning you can read “OROBORO” forever in three dimensions.

Beneath that is the phrase “ONE THOUSAND EYES OPEN.” This is the same phrase I used for one of my artists books, which used origami and an eye design to create an interactive little book that read “ONE THOUSAND EYES OPEN” no matter how you folded it.

At the far bottom, I drew the symbols of the three gods in my canon: Erroth, Sol, and Ormun.

I’m planning on using this book as a reference document for my worldbuilding, especially magic systems. Right now, I’m thinking of including diagrams of the Sephiroth, Qliphoth, Eightfold Path, the Five Skandhas of Existence, Pascal’s Triangle, and the Sierpinski Gasket, along with notes from my notebooks. This way, I’ll have all my notes and inspirations in one convenient tome.