Category Archives: world building

World Building (7): The Great Houses of the Imperium–House Rendakis

House Rendakis is the current reigning House of the Imperium, and their sigil is a rearing stallion. Despite this, however, it is also a remarkably unfruitful House, as its only current prominent member is the Imperator herself. Her brother, as has been noted elsewhere, was slain in the midst of his unsuccessful rebellion against her, and her father, and his father before him, were the only heirs of their line.

Like the other prominent Houses, House Rendakis can trace its ancestry back to the founders of the Imperium, though it must be said that their heritage is somewhat diluted. Their progenitor Eugenios, the youngest of the nine children born to the founding monarchs, produced a line that seemed chronically unable to produce either a significant number of heirs to continue the viability of the line or to attain the power that it clearly so desperately crave.

Despite that, the descendants of Eugenios have, through careful manipulation and cunning, managed to ingratiate themselves with the other members of their family. They have become particularly well-known for occupying the position of the Chamberlain, the central administrative figure in the Imperium and the Imperator’s closest advisers. This accorded them the dignity of the purple-lined cloak, an acknowledgment of both their shared imperial lineage and their closeness to the throne. So famous were the Rendakisi for this service that the purple-lined cloak became almost a hereditary emblem of their House.

However, it is has only been in the last 500 years that they have been able to carve out a true space as one of the great power players in the Imperium. This came about because of the wily political machinations of one Sakares Rendakis, who managed to ally himself with several other noble clans to take down the reigning Imperator, Timotheos of House Diogenes. Sakares’ acumen earned him the grudging respect of his colleagues–as well as a considerable amount of money–and when the other clans could not agree to a claimant from among themselves, they elevated him, draping the purple around his shoulders and placing the heavy imperial crown on his forehead.

That was roughly 150 years before the start of that story, and at first it no doubt seemed to many in the Imperium that here at last was a dynasty that might just last for a thousand years. Sakares had 5 sons and 4 daughters, a truly fruitful branch of a tree that had already shown some very troubling signs of withering in the decades prior. There was every indication that this might at last be the royal House that would at last return dynastic stability to the seemingly chronically unstable Imperium.

It wasn’t long, however, before tragedy began to strike. It was the misfortune of Sakares to rule over the period of disease that came to be known as the Plague of Sakares. The virulence of the disease was such that it threatened to completely decimate the population of the Imperium. The Alchemists, with all of their training and lore in the arts of healing, were only able to save one out of every five victims, and there was no telling who might be struck down. The disease showed no consistency, striking down the young and the old, the healthy and the weak, the rich and the poor. Indeed, there were many among the Church, the Alchemists, and the nobility who were struck down, and there were many who felt that this might indeed be the end of the Imperium, and some even floated the possibility of appealing to the Shah of Haranshar for political and economic production.

Not even the royal family was spared, as the plague swept through the palace and consumed all but the youngest daughter of Sakares, a youth named Dominika, who would become the apple of her father’s eye and the sole hope of her entire House and all of its fortunes. As a result, she became known as “Dominkia the Deathless.” When her father was also carried away–though by grief rather than disease–she became Imperator.

However, she was deeply scarred by the loss of her family, and she inherited an Imperium that was riven from top to bottom. The common folk frequently rose in rebellion, protesting the class system that they had been forced to labour under their entire lives and demanding better wages. The Church was almost fatally weakened, as fully half of the Council of Prefects had perished and many of those who occupied the upper echelons of the hierarchy were also dead. As a result, Dominika oversaw some remarkable changes the structure of the Imperium, changes that would have far-reaching consequences, particularly as they gave the lower classes a greater presence in the lower house of the Senate (though she was careful to safeguard the interests of the nobility, for she was no fool. She knew where the real power in the Imperium lay).

Even after her death, Dominika would be remembered fondly by the common folk who, for the first time in many generations, had been ruled over by a powerful woman who seemed to have their best interests at heart. It is to her that the current Imperator, Talinissia, looks for a model (though it has to be said that there is a profound sense that she lacks the common touch that has been a key part of her family’s ability to hold on to the throne through all of the trials of the last century and a half).

Though the House’s current seat is located in the city of Aïonis (due to the fact that any House that occupies the throne claims that seat), they still maintain a traditional power-base in the peninsula, as they have for long served as Counts of Melita. This fact will come to have significant consequences for Talinissia as she faces the new political realities that slowly emerge as the Heretic’s War starts to heat up, and the world that the Imperator, as well as everyone who surrounds her, have so far taken for granted.

Time will tell whether the House itself can be saved.

World Building (6): The History and Ceremony of the Imperators

As has been noted elsewhere, the Imperium is ruled over by an autocrat known as the Imperator, whose power is virtually limitless. They are considered the living representative of the Name, and as such they exist in complementarity (in theory) with the Council of Prefects that rules over the Church.

Though the Imperator’s power is, in theory, without bounds, there are a number of factors that frequently influence how much they are able to wield. Foremost of these is the Senate, which is comprised of the various heads of the Houses, both Great and Lesser, that are the leaders of the many noble families, as well as some of the more wealthy and powerful merchants that inhabit the Imperium. There are, however, two “chambers” of the Senate. One, the senior chamber, is comprised of the nobles, including the Counts, Dukes, and Kings of the various administrative units, as well as the aforementioned Heads of House that are not rulers of these large units in their own right. This chamber wields all of the power and serves as the primary advisory body to the Imperator. The other, lower, chamber is comprised of the merchants and guild-masters. The Imperator is in charge of convening the Senate and having her or his decrees acclaimed by both groups. Except in extenuating circumstances in the history of the Imperium, the Senate has largely done as the Imperator wished. They also have the responsibility of acclaiming the Imperator upon his or her accession.

The position of Imperator has, by long practice, been assumed to be hereditary, even though this is not a strict rule. Instead, every Imperator that has established a steady rule has nominated their successor to reign with them as co-ruler, preferably when they are in middle age (as this supposedly cuts down on the possibility that an impatient heir may attempt to do away with a doddering senior partner). This has, for the most part, worked to the advantage of the Imperium as a whole, as it ensures a smooth transition from one ruler to the next. On occasion, however, it has resulted in conflict between parents and children, as the latter grow impatient for their turn to occupy the throne. This was the case with the Bastard’s War, in which a bastard son of Imperator Tiberian V slowly ingratiated himself with his father, thus spurring the ruler’s legitimate son to ignite a rebellion.

Through the years, the Senate has come to occupy a more pronounced and active role in the governance of the realm. Most of the various nobles who reign in their own right have historically treated their territories as their own private kingdoms, with little to no regard for the wishes of the increasingly-marginalized Imperators. Up until roughly 50 years before the time of the novel, this has been the case, and most people think of themselves as following their local lord before they think of themselves as subjects of the Imperator.

However, several recent Imperators have moved back to the model earlier established by their predecessors, taking on an increased role in direct governance. Part of this has stemmed from the increasingly restive and invasive Korrayyin and their allies the Haransharin, both of which have required strong forces. The current Imperator’s father became known as the Hammer for his ability to strike swiftly and without mercy, bringing fear to his enemies, both inside and outside of the Imperium. Indeed, he was well-known for his ability to bring the rebellious and fractious lords of the realm to heel and, unlike several of his predecessors, he took to attending meetings of the Senate, allegedly to make sure that he was aware of the goings-on in his realm but, far more likely, to strike fear into those who might be fomenting rebellion.

They have also returned to a model of court ceremony that had not been seen in several centuries. Now, it is required that all of those who wish to gain an audience with the Imperator, no matter their estate or class, must perform several rounds of obeisance, in order to show the proper humility to the one who is considered the earthly representative of the Name. This has served to ensure that the nobility understands their place in the divine ordering of the universe.

As a result of this semi-divine status, all Imperators are required to be crowned and anointed by the eldest member of the Council of Prefects. This is to ensure that the Imperator is blessed with the power of the Name as well as the acclamation of the Senate. This typically takes place in the Magisteria, the great church that sits at the direct center of the capital of Aïonis. The ceremony, as with all things connected to the Imperium, is intended to remind all of those gathered that the Imperator reigns with the utmost secular and temporal authority, and it is also a day in which the common people are treated to the greatest festival that any of them are likely to know. Recent Imperators have known that it is the common people who wield the true power–though they don’t realize it–and have acted accordingly.

Though coups are relatively rare, they have occurred for various reasons. The Imperator’s person is considered inviolate in theory, but as with so many things this does not always translate into consistency in practice (as the incident of the Bastard’s War makes abundantly clear). There are always those for whom the way that things have always been done are no impediment to their own ambition. It also doesn’t help when Imperators die before ensuring that their successor is secure on the throne, which happened with Talinissia’s father Philophanes, who died while she was still in her 20s, setting the stage for the armed uprising of her brother and the bitter Siblings’ War that nearly toppled the Imperium into utter chaos.

As the events of the novel begin, it remains unclear how much the position of Imperator has been damaged, and whether Talinissia is the one to bring stability. History, after all, has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Character Sketch (1): Antonius

Born into a yeoman family in the western duchy of Aspaña, Antonius was not, at first blush, fated for any sort of prominent position. However, he was from his youth a tremendously ambitious young man, and through sheer ruthlessness and determination he was able to secure himself a position in the local monastery, where he could at last indulge his love of books, knowledge, and the wisdom of the ancients.

It was not long before the abbot recognized his innate potential and began grooming him for a potential career in the highest echelons of the Church. He was sent to the Academy in Aïonis, recognized by everyone as the only sure way for those born into the lower classes to make their way up the ranks. He impressed his teachers, who recognized his intellectual and spiritual gifts and did all that they could to continue cultivating them.

He soon made a name for himself as one of those insufferable types of students who insists on following the rules, despite the fact that this made him tremendously unpopular among his fellow students. He was tormented by those who saw him as doubly a threat, both because of his accomplishments and because of the fact that he was a lower-class person who had risen to a position that they deemed the exclusive purview of the wealthy and the elite.

Though there was much he hated about his time at the Academy, he met the man who would come to be the love of his life, the nobleman Trystane. This youth, who came from the Peninsula, was one of those rare people who, despite their innate privilege, makes a point of befriending those in the lower classes. He was a few years younger than Antonius, but he was also brilliant, though in a different way. Whereas Antonius leans toward philosophy and theology, Trystane is more attuned to science and to the workings of things, including the affairs of nations.

The two began their relationship during their time at the Academy, and they have remained with one another ever since. Given that the Church officially condones same-sex relationships–both among the clergy and the laity–they have been allowed to be joined officially in the sacrament of marriage. This caused no small amount of friction with Trystane’s family in particular, since doing so not only abrogated any of his political ambitions but also sullied the vaunted name. Still, the relationship has persevered through all of that.

Indeed, it has been Trystane’s political acumen that has allowed Antonius to quickly ascend the ranks of the Church. There were, of course, many who opposed him, but Trystane was quite willing to do away with those who stood in the way of his beloved’s interests. Though he may have abandoned his traditional family loyalties, he was still able to use the skills that had been cultivated in him from an early age.

As Prefect, Antonius made it his duty to ensure that the purity of the Church is maintained. He views the stability of the Church as key to the stability of the cosmos, and he is also determined to ensure that the Imperators do not interlope too thoroughly on the interests and prerogatives of the Church. As a result, he has had several tense run-ins with the previous Imperator, and he has also been known to have heated arguments with the current Imperator Talinissia.

At the time of the novel, he has already been serving as a Prefect of the Church for the last twenty years, and in that time he has become one of the most ruthless and relentless persecutors of those who have been found. Unfortunately, he does not enjoy a great deal of support among the population of the Imperium, though the rank and file of the Church find him to be generous. He has made it a particular point to cultivate the talents of those who come from similar backgrounds as himself, including and especially the young Theadra. This girl, the daughter of a butcher, has a bright future ahead of her, though the events of the novel will test her in ways that she would never have imagined.

Further, Antonius has also earned the enmity of several of his fellow Prefects, almost all of whom hail from the nobility and thus view him with no small amount of skepticism and outright hostility. Of particular note in this regard is the Prefect Eulicia, who sees in him a threat to all that she has come to hold dear, particularly the order imposed by the aristocracy and the nobility. The two have spent many years sparring with one another, neither able to gain a definitive advantage over the other. How long that stalemate lasts, and who will emerge the victory in their strife, is one of the major plots of the novel.

Stay tuned for more characters sketches as I learn more about my characters and share that knowledge with you.

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 Ormazdh held by their Haransharin overlords. Unlike the priests of Ormazdh, 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 Helleneia 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 aethyr, 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 aethyr, 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 aethyr, 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 aethyr, 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 Inner Kingdom, 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 Ormazdh 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 Ormazdhites 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 Ormazdh, 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.  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.