World Building (5): The Art of Binding

At the very beginning days of the Church, when philosophers and theologians were still disputing about the nature of the material world, it became clear very early on that fire and air–as well as the more elusive aether–were the purer elements and that as such they should be viewed as infinitely superior to the baser elements of earth and water. Some of this was residual from the Church’s origins in the faith of the Haransharin, in which fire was held to be a purifying element. However, it also stemmed from the Church’s increasing desire to distance itself from the threads of the world, to assert its independence from the officials in the Ormazdh faith, and to provide a firm grounding upon which to build their new spiritual and political order.

In their efforts to access the transcendence offered by these purer elements, the men and women of the early Church uncovered several strange tracts written by obscure magicians and sorcerers among the Korrayin. These mysterious people, who some recorded had come from across the sea, had also brought with them the technology of Binding, one that they kept to themselves, locked behind walls. However, in the many skirmishes that had erupted in the lead-up to the revolution in which the Imperium gained independence, a number of these texts had fallen into the hands of those in the Imperium.

The practice itself involved a complex series of rituals. The base material to which the daimon would be bound had to be purified, usually through blood (it was rumoured that lifeblood was the most effective means, but that was strictly forbidden by the Church). It also required the use of an athame, a sacrificial knife, forged from a rare mineral found only in the Mountains of Korray. Through the carving of runes in the receptive material–which, incidentally, can include human flesh–the daimon is Bound, subject to the forces of the Binder’s will. The captured spirit can not only provide greater stability to building foundations (one of its most prominent uses), but also be used, albeit carefully, to produce weapons of often unimaginable destructiveness.

Foremost among those who espoused this new practice was the priest Xenoxes, who saw in it an opportunity to both attain the sort of transcendence that his fellow priests had aspired to and, just as importantly, to gain more than a little political power. He knew there were virtually no limits to this technology, and he spent a significant amount of time publishing many treatises about the ethics, practice, and philosophy around it. As a result, he gained an enormous following, and his thoughts on the matter came very close to being seen as the orthodox strain of the Church.

Such was the influence of Xenoxes that he managed to tremendously influence the other Church Elders, and there was a rush to perform Binding. Soon there arose a group of men and women who called themselves the Alchemists’ Guild, and they were determined to exploit this new magical technology to the utmost. The foundations–and many of the buildings–of the new imperial capital of Aïonis were reinforced with bound daimons. While there were some who raised questions about the ethics of doing so, the clear advantages managed to quell most of those. After all, how could it possibly be against the wishes of the Name for men and women to make the most of the accursed physical world to which they had been condemned? Was it not only right and fitting that the spirits that were the closest to the Name in substance should be used for the benefit of the fallen children of earth?

In what what would be called by some historians the First Binding Revolution, the use of this technique would soon become so ubiquitous that it transformed the world. It was, in many ways, a golden age for the Imperium. Though the production of weapons was limited–again via mediation from the Church–the buildings that were made with it were far beyond the scope of anything the world had yet seen. There was even the possibility that the power generated by Binding (and its dreadful twin, Unbinding), could be used as a source of power analogous to electricity.

Unfortunately, the technology also contained the seeds of profound destruction. A century and a half into the Imperium’s existence–after a series of protracted conflicts that became known as the First Korrayin War–a disaffected Korrayin youth, goaded on by those who did not have his own interests at heart, made his way into the center of the Palace of Justice, the administrative heart of the city of Aïonis. Having been Bound to a daimon, he had become a formidable weapon. He essentially set off a chain reaction that brought the entire Palace tumbling into ruin, and a dreadful purge of the Korrayin swept through the city.

The two synods that were convened in the aftermath of the Blaze declared unequivocally, that Xenoxes and his followers were heretical and that the daimons and the Elohim were most definitely NOT to be Bound to the mortal plane. To do so was the gravest form of enslavement, since it was held that the daimons, while they did not have the same amount of consciousness and subjectivity as humanity, nevertheless could not be held in this way. And the Elohim, which were closest to the Name in their composition–and as the servants responsible for holding the Demiurge in bondage in the Outer Darkness–were even more strictly out of bounds.

Unbeknownst to the authorities in the Church, however, there were many in the Academy who continued to conduct research into these matters. A few of these rogue alchemists were eventually betrayed by one of their own kind, however, and a terrible purge swept through every level of the Academy. Anyone who was held to have indulged in these forbidden behaviours was subject to immediate trial and execution, and the road known as Traitor’s Way was soon flocked with the flayed corpses of the heretical.

Since that time, the Art has largely vanished. It was deemed far too powerful and dangerous a weapon, and all traces of it were sealed in the forbidden vaults of the Academy. Even the Korrayin, those who perfected the craft, swore off of its use, for they saw in it the potential for the great powers on their borders to exact even more damaging losses on their sovereignty.

In the era immediately preceding the actions of the novel, the Art has once again begun to be secretly practiced among both the Korrayin and among several rogue Alchemists in the Academy, the latter of whom have discovered in the deepest parts of the archives. The discoveries have the potential to change the course of both the Imperium and, even more importantly, to disrupt the fragile stalemate that has long existed between that nation and Haranshar. Now that there are so few who have actually been trained in its intricacies, it is hard to say what the consequences will be.

It is certain, however, that they will be disruptive and, quite possibly, destructive as well.

World Building (4): The Theology and Cosmology of the (Western) Church–Part One

Much has been written of the beliefs of the Church, which has exercised such complete and unrivaled authority over the rulers and people of the Imperium. Entire books have been written on the matter, and the original set of 29 books has come to be known as the Kalatheia, which translates roughly into “The Good Truth.”

Many of the foremost theologians of the new religion came (and continue to come) from the intellectual powerhouse of Helleniea. Unlike its sister provinces in the region known as the Peninsula, the men and women of this region cared more for the pursuits of the mind than for money and power. They preserved among themselves the traditions of a land that had long ago vanished beneath the angry sea, of a faith that was founded upon the pursuit of transcendence, of an aspiration to escape from the toils of time and the flesh. Through this contemplation of the world beyond, these theologians argued, one could get in touch with the transcendent power of the Name and could evade, if only temporarily, the prison of time and the body.

As they grew in power and as their theology became ever more refined, the men from Helleneia preached a message that was truly anathema to established faith centered on the god Ormazh held by their Haransharin overlords. Unlike the priests of Ormazh, who held that the material world was the site of the good life, that it was the duty of any good servant of the great deity to bring forth the earth’s plenty and to enjoy all aspects of its beauty, the mystics of Helletheia denounced that as at best a delusion at worst a monstrous lie. Their central tenet, which has remained to this day the core of the Faith, is that the material world is hopelessly ensnared in the corruption of the flesh and that it was to the state of the daimons, those spirits of air and fire, that was the goal, for these beings were held to dwell in the innermost sphere, in a state of harmony with the Name. All of humanity, so the Faithful believe, are likewise made of fire, air, and æther that has been sullied and trapped in the world of earth and water, yearning to escape and return to a state of grace with the divine.

Their founding myth is the belief that the Name, the union of the male and female divine principles, had once ruled over all the cosmos, an ethereal, boundless, eternal realm beyond the limits of time and the chains of the material world. They were surrounded by their creations made of the pure elements of æther, air, and fire, the daimons and the Elohim. However, they were not alone, for in their darkest thoughts they had inadvertently conjured up their twin, the befouled creator god, the Demiurge, who grew dissatisfied with the world of light and flame and yearned for something else.

Drawing on the lesser elements, those of earth and water, this entity crafted a a new layer of reality, and slowly it grew, and as it did so the the Demiurge saw the need for companions to populate this realm. For while the Name yearned above all things for solitude and eternal contemplation, the Demiurge craved the art of making and binding and yearned for companions in its relentless solitude. From the beginning, so the Church tells, the fallen children of the Demiurge had within them the pure elements of fire, aid, and æther, but they were dragged down by the trappings of matter, for the Demiurge in its madness believed that it had the power to turn the pure elements to its own ends.

In this blasphemous act of creation were sewn the seeds of a cosmic conflict, for it transpired that renegade Elohim, abandoning their service to the Name, lay with humans and produced a monstrous race, the Anukathi. The Name, in its righteous wrath, prepared to destroy this hideous progeny, but the Demiurge leapt to their defense, igniting a terrible war.

At last, upon the great mountain known as Thell-Megitho–but which was known to many by another name, the Pillar of Creation–The Name and the Demiurge did battle and the latter was vanquished, imprisoned in the Outer Darkness and guarded by the Elohim. The beauty of the world, however, was irreparably splintered, and from one world there were produced many. The Name, along with the daimons and the Elohim, withdrew into the Chamber where, the Church believes, the dead are at last granted solace and sanctuary, the inner pure elements at last freed.

Now, whether this is in reality what actually happened in the earliest days of the cosmos is up for dispute, and indeed the followers of Ormazh in the East and the Anukathi in the far southern continent hold that it is the Demiurge that is entity that is worthy of worship, and that the one known as the Name is the one who ignited the war that ultimately shattered the great unity that once held the spheres together. Indeed, among the Ormazhians the Name is known as the Great Evil, Ehrimakh, the destroyer of worlds. Their sacred texts claim that fire is in particular the special domain of Ormazh, who uses it in an everlasting quest to purify the world but not, as the Faithful would have it, to bring about its destruction.

Whatever, the truth, these two systems of religious thought became, in their respective homelands, so bound up in the identity of their peoples that to think of the Imperium and the Church is to think of one and the same entity, fused and devoted to the  All those who choose to serve in the Church vow to abstain from reproduction, for it is held that those who would seek the purity of the soul by continuing to bring other matter into the world are doing a grave sin.

There is some disagreement even within the Church as to whether the laity should likewise abandon the reproductive cycle, but by and large the consensus has been among several Synods that not everyone is suited to the rigours required of the Prefects and other of the higher orders, and there has been some marked disagreement about whether the lower orders of the clergy should be permitted the same laxity. At the time of this story, however, the vast majority of Church elders believe that reproduction is a necessary evil but that it is necessary for ascent into union with the Name that those who are nigh on to death symbolically disavow their progeny and apologize to them for bringing them into the world.

The Church, in keeping with its origins in Helleneia, has also decreed that the love between those of the same sex is permitted, though only in very specifically defined forms. Though it is sanctioned, and often encouraged, for young men and women to seek out a partner of the same sex as they make their way through the training to become a cleric, the physicality must eventually give way to a deeper, more spiritual love. This is in accordance with the dictates of Quintinos, one of the most famous and prolific theologians and philosophers of the early Church.

The desire to escape from the limits of mortality, time, and the flesh remains key to the Church. It is the hope of every Prefect and devout worshiper that, at some point in the future, the Demiurge and all the earthly world that is its creation will one day be brought to an end in a conflagration that will not only bring the worlds back together but also, and more importantly, abolish time itself.

*Note: This faith is very broadly based on both Gnosticism and Manichaeism (with a bit of Byzantine Hesychasm thrown in), just as the faith of Ormazh is based loosely on Zoroastrianism.

World Building (2): A Brief Description of the Imperium and the Imperators

At the time in which my novels are set, the continent of Aridikh is divided into three political entities: the Imperium in the west, Korray (a patchwork of tribes) in the mountainous middle, and Haranshar in the east.

Founded roughly 2,000 years before the start of the tale described in the novels, the Imperium has remained surprisingly durable. Though the ruling House has changed several times in its long and venerable history, and while it has maintained a long and tense cold war with its eastern counterpart Haranshar, it has yet to fall or suffer any serious territorial losses.

A great deal of this stability has to do with the structure of the state. Though it is an empire with a strong central government, headed by the Imperator, the actual administration of the various provinces falls to the members of the nobility. At the top of this pyramid are the Dukes, most of whom share a portion of the Blood Imperial, and most can trace with exacting precision their descent from the first Imperators. Then come the Counts who, while most do not have imperial blood, nevertheless possess significant territorial holdings and political power, particularly in the south. Together, the various dukes and counts, along with the leaders of a few independent city-states, represent the Senate of Nobles, who serve as an advisory body on the unlimited power of the monarch.

The territory covered by the Imperium is quite vast, though it is still significantly smaller than the territory occupied by Haranshar. To the north are situated the the kingdoms of Svardö, Varsaïs, and Karthûn, while the far west are the dukedoms of Aspaña, Porçal, and Busqel. The southern parts are comprised of the counties of Ferizi, Eniccio, Melita, Sperezo, and Heleniea. The eastern parts of the Imperium (and the administrative center) are centered around seven duchies: Dūrken, Rhoshk, Maïrin, Colïes, Dérange, Ioliérs, and Aïonis, which contains the capital city of the same name (the Imperator is traditionally also accorded the title of Duke of Aïonis). There are a number of other, smaller city-states that have at various times attempted to assert independence but have so far been unsuccessful.

For a real-world analogue, think of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Justinian and his immediate predecessors and successors, combined with Europe in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (something akin to the first iteration of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by Charlemagne, though with a far greater geographic extent). The Imperator is acknowledged as the supreme representative of the Name in matters temporal, but s/he is also forced to accept the judgment of the Council of Prefects on all matters spiritual. This has, of course, caused significant strife in the past, but it has also led to a gradual hardening of the ways of doing things, with the Church in particular emphasizing a rigid adherence to orthodoxy and the Imperator maintaining unlimited power in the body of the ruler.

At this point, there is an almost-constant jockeying for position among the nobles for access to the Imperator, as even the weakest noble realizes that the structures of the Imperium have become ossified over the course of two millennia, and some have even begun to scheme for an opportunity to shatter those ways and carve out a new world. In the years preceding the events of the novels, there have been an increased number of heresies springing up, along with other, less religiously-oriented revolts. The common people have grown dissatisfied with their rulers, and it remains to be seen how far they will go to assert their renewed sense of sovereignty.

The same designation is used for the ruler of the Imperium, regardless of sex. Unlike Haranshar, which allows women political agency but not direct rule, the Imperium practices strict primogeniture, so that the diadem (in theory) passes directly to the eldest child of the current monarch. This has not always been true for a variety of reasons–there have been no fewer than five coups, six childless Imperators, and seven changes of House–but it is the one rule that tends to unite even the most fractious and scheming members of the Senate. Everyone recognizes, at some primal level, that the overthrowing of a monarch by someone not of the Blood (and even by someone of the Blood) poses an enormous challenge to the stability of the state and, by extension, the cosmos itself).

In the time since its founding, there have been 213 Imperators of both sexes. Through careful cultivation and tending to the imperial bloodline, each of the Imperators could trace their bloodlines, no matter how faintly, back to Yishadra and Herakleios, the very first two to don the diadem. That being said, there are now over 300 individuals who can claim mainline descent, spread across five of the Great Houses (and there are rumoured to be several hundred more with far more diluted blood spread among the more numerous Lesser Houses). Not all of them are brave enough to attempt to seek the diadem for themselves, but the continuing childlessness of the current Imperator, combined with their inborn penchant for scheming, means that it is only a matter of time before they turn their avaricious gaze on the throne.

At the time of the novels, the reigning Imperator is Talinissia. Behind her back, she is known as Talinissia the Black due to her father’s unlikely (and unapproved) marriage to a daughter from one of the kingdoms in Haranshar. Her accession to the throne was far from uncontested, for her younger half-brother, the product of her father’s second marriage to a distant cousin, one who was officially part of the Blood Imperial, decided to rebel. He even did the unthinkable, going to the Shah to ask for material and spiritual assistance, even going so far as to promise toleration of the Faith of the Flames in the capital city itself. Though the revolt was ultimately put down, the damage to the prestige of Talinissia’s throne remains, and her brother’s allies still scheme for her overthrow.

The world is poised for great changes. A

And perhaps even greater chaos.