So it turns out I've been having so much fun working on "Shadow Play" itself that I haven't had time to write any commentary on it, which I take as a good thing. :) Just wanted to give an update because I've made a lot of great progress since my last post about it!
It's at 23,000 words now, and I'm maybe 2/3 of the way through the story, give or take. I've introduced Zoltan and he is proving just as fun to write as I'd hoped! He really resembles early Isengrim in many personality respects, although a key difference is that Zoltan has always been firmly on the side of good, and is actually selfless to the point of being detrimentally self-sacrificing, while Isengrim was more self-serving until the events of "Worth Searching For". Still, it means that Isengrim can understand and sympathize with Zoltan, and connect with him on a level besides them both being were-pets.
The Defenders of Neopia are still being super fun to write. Hopefully I can find a way to work Kourage Korbat in more, because he's one of my favorites. Judge Hog and Isengrim also turn out to have very similar personalities, but I think that's because they're just both charismatic protector type people, and they do have pretty much identical roles within their spheres of influence.
It's been pleasant writing Isengrim as a 100% nice guy, too. He was great in "Return to Lynwood", and "Shadow Play" is another story where he's successfully overcome most of his past issues, and is able to be the hero and the family member that his family needs him to be. Hopefully, his friendship with Terra will be firmly cemented here--I executed it too clumsily in the first version of "Worth Searching For", but "Shadow Play" takes the revised version of "Worth Searching For" as canon and expects the reader to as well. (Hopefully, anybody who notices discrepancies, or wants a refresher on the family's past adventures, will think to go to my user lookup and be directed to the petpage with the revised version on it.)
One of my other goals with this story is to give Hyren and Blynn more of a chance to shine. Really their last big escapade - chronologically speaking - was "Worth Searching For" (Hyren later starred in "Never Again, Spiced Apple Pie", which was published after "Worth Searching For" but takes place before "Worth Fighting For"), so I wanted to give them another turn to be awesome. Hopefully Hyren doesn't fade too much into the background here, but he's not one to demand the spotlight anyway. I tried to give him plenty of snarky comments to make up for it. And Blynn is just as ridiculous as always. She really writes herself. (They all do, actually.)
Also fun has been figuring out more Neopia Central infrastructure. I'm not sure how much I'm actually going to explain it in the story, but my headcanon is that everything in the city is powered by faerie dust, which is controlled and maintained by sorcerers at a central power station. Any Virtupets technology in the city - unless it's using its own power generator - requires a special adapter mechanism to allow it to run on faerie dust, so Virtupets tech in Neopia Central is doable, but usually not worth the effort for most people. I do love a good bit of engineering worldbuilding. :)
All right--I'm gearing up to write some action-packed parts of the story, and also some swordnerd parts, so I will have more to report later!