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World Building (10): The Tragedy of the Zervan Dynasty

In the annals of the Imperators, there is one dynasty whose fortunes have never recovered from their time upon the throne. While the Zervan Dynasty was, in origin, from the lands of Haranshar (the province of Eshurya, to be precise), they had moved to the West in the hopes that they could establish their fortunes by hitching themselves to the wagon of the first Imperators.

As a result, they were able to marry themselves into the powerful first dynasty, with the favoured daughter Dominysa marrying Kavaros, the fifth son of the first two Imperators. They would go on to have two sons, Karaktus and Gratian. Meanwhile, Dominysa’s sister Martinya was consolidating the family’s wealth, building a powerful base of support that, she thought, would ensure that her family remained enthroned for a thousand years.

Kavaros, at his wife’s insistence, managed to displace the children of his elder four brothers. Their Houses would come to have a significant part to play in the downfall of Kavaros’ descendants and successors, but at the time of his accession they were far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to really do much to prevent his seizure of power, and still less so when it became obvious that this stern man and his equally indomitable wife (to say nothing of her ruthless sister) was in fact a very capable ruler in his own right.

Under Kavaros, the Imperium was able to exert its sphere of influence over larger portions of Korray, and there were even a few successful incursions into the territory of Haranshar. Unfortunately, Kavaros was stricken down while he was still in his prime, a man whose reign would for several generations come to be seen as the height of imperial accomplishment. While it might have seemed to many that the throne should pass to either the children of his elder brothers or to one of his sisters who were still living, that would not be the case. Such was his popularity among both the other Great Houses and among the commons that the throne was passed peacefully to his twin sons.

They, unfortunately, were not cut from the same mold. Karaktus and Gratian were notorious for their mutual loathing, and they went at each other with a vengeance as soon as the diadems were placed upon their heads. Though their mother Dominysa tried to broker a peace, she was unsuccessful, and Karaktus, always the more ruthless brother, had his brother assassinated in his mother’s arms. Dominysa threatened to go into seclusion and take the veil of a nun, but her son threatened her with further reprisals if she dared to do so, and so she was forced to become an unwilling partner in her son’s reign. In fact, it was largely as a result of her still-sterling reputation that he was able to hold onto the reigns of power at all.

Karaktus was not a well-loved ruler, however, and despite the fact that he offered full citizenship in the Imperium to the conquered territories, he was roundly repudiated and the Korrayin declared their renewed independence. As a result, the commons and the nobles began to turn against him, and it was only a matter of time before he was assassinated, reputedly while he was relieving himself at the side of the road.

There was a brief interregnum, when a brutal commoner known as Sokophanes seized the throne for both himself and his son. He had failed to reckon with the remaining dynasts, however, and both Dominysa and her sister Martinya rallied the troops to their cause. Though Dominysa would die in the midst of this, Martinya would continue on her younger sister’s mission, and with the aid of the legions and the Church she was able to elevate her eldest grandson to the throne. Though he had, technically, no connection to the blood of Kavaros, she was able to convince enough people of the lie that the youth, Varyus was in fact the product of a liaison between Karaktus and her daughter Vassiana.

Things at last seemed to be going well for thedynasty. The family matriarch, Martinya, was a canny strategist, and she had averted catastrophe by elevating her grandson Varyus to the throne. Her daughter, Vassiana, was now the most powerful woman in the Imperium. She even had another daughter and grandson lined up, should some unforeseen illness strike the first two.

Then, things began to go horribly wrong.

Varyus, seduced by a sun-priest from the lands of Korray, decided that it was time for the old Church to be thrown down from its lofty perch. He declared that the faith of El-Garvel be the law of the land and, to demonstrate his scorn for the Church, he forcibly took a Prefect as his wife. He then embarked on an orgy of unrivaled scope, taking both men and women to bed and caring nothing for the strictures and cycles of celibacy that were a key part of the Church.

His mother Vassiana was a willful and often spiteful child, and she had spoiled her son to an extraordinary degree. She did nothing to rein him in, and in many cases she was even seen to encourage him. She wanted to be the one wielding all of the power in the Imperium, and she did everything in her power to sideline her mother and to delegitimize her younger sister and her son Exkandros, who she rightly saw as a threat to her own hegemony.

Ultimately, Varyus’ own grandmother turned against her grandson and her daughter, neither of whom were capable of ruling and who would clearly destroy the dynasty if they were not stopped. She bribed the Imperial Guard to betray their charges and, in the orgy of bloodshed that followed her daughter and grandson were brutally killed, their bodies thrown into the river and never recovered. Though this may not have been what Martinya intended, it was the unfortunate fruit of her own sowing.

All was seemingly not lost, for she ensured that her other grandson Exkandros came to the throne, though once again it was mother, Yvita, who wielded most of the power. Though he restored the Church and was, seemingly, a corrective to his cousin, he was still seen as less than brave on the field of battle, and the death of his grandmother early in his reign removed a potential source of strength and stability.

Matters came to a head when he offered humiliating peace terms to a rebellious tribe of Korrayin, who had made incursions into the western borders of the Imperium. It was no secret that they had been funded and encouraged by Haranshar, and the Imperator’s caving to their demands was seen as the worst sort of weakness. The soldiers with whom he had surrounded himself rebelled, and he was assassinated, along with his mother.

With the death of Eskandros, the dynasty came to an ignominious end. His body and that of his mother were thrown in the River Tiver, as had been the case with his aunt and cousin. His successor, the usurper Maxhimos, had all vestiges of his predecessors utterly obliterated, before he too was overthrown and one of the legitimate heirs of Kavaros’ elder brothers claimed the throne as Claudianus I, the first of the Claudian Dynasty.

The Chronicler Arodius, one of the chief sources for this troubled period of Imperial history, had this to say of the Zervan Dynasty: “Never has a dynasty so quickly risen to power, and never has a dynasty flared so brightly. Yet with such glory comes great despair, and so it proved to be for the Zervani. Let them be a warning to all who would let greed and avarice cloud their judgment.”

Bitter words, indeed.

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World Building (9): The Great Houses of the Imperium–House Terrasi

The lords and ladies of House Terrasi are the hereditary rulers of the city-state of Sperezo. As such, they have many financial dealings that have given them the ability to buy influence where they could not otherwise attain it. They are all descended from the third son of Yishandra, Johannes, who changed his name to Joachuim in order to better fit in with the local nobility of the city to which he moved. He would take to wife the daughter of the local Caracci House, one Giovana. All current members of House Terrasi are descended from them.

Like all of the Great Houses, the Terrasi have been able to seize the position of Imperator at several points in the history of the country. In all, there have been 8 members of the dynasty, none of whom have been particularly well-regarded by subsequent historians, who largely view them as a grasping, avaricious dynasty that cared more about its own aggrandizement than about the well-being of the Imperium.

The 5 Imperators of the first instantiation House Terrasi were as follows: Frederico I, Frederico II, Joaquim, Iago, and Frederico III, followed by a period of 15 years in which several usurpers held the city of Aïonis and the entire province and thus could be said to control the Imperium as a whole. The last of them, Gratian, was eventually defeated on the field of battle and the last 3 Imperators from Terrasi ruled. They were: Frederico IV, Giovana I, and her daughter Giovana II. The last of their House, Giovana, was overthrown by her distant cousin Daniel I of House Vananov of Rhoshk.

Frederico was one of the most infamous of plotters and schemers, and he managed to make himself the Chamberlain to the last Imperator of House Zigurd. There were rumours at the time that he was responsible for the death of his predecessor, though when the diadem was placed upon his brow there were very few who would have been willing to challenge him. After his death the throne passed two two of his sons, Frederico II and Joaquim, only the latter of whom produced an heir, Iago, who was the father of Frederico III, who was deposed and died in prison, leaving it to his young son Frederico (later the IV) to scheme to regain the throne.

House Terrasi has proven to be a remarkably fecund house, and they have managed to plant their own members in most of the great cities of the Imperium. As a result, the former head of the House, Sofia, was known as the Grandmother of the Imperium (there are even connections between House Terrasi and House Rendakis). Sofia was known for playing a very long and complex game, the contours of which are as of yet not fully known.

Their sign is a golden hawk in flight, a symbol (they claim) of their prominence in the succession. There are still members of the House to scheme and plot to regain the throne that they feel was rightfully theirs. The fact that their dynasty was so short-lived and so unsuccessful has left a substantial chip on their collective shoulder, and they yearn for a chance to regain their family’s lost prestige.

They have been known for their extremely contentious relationship with the Archbishop of Sperezo, one of the foremost primates of the realm. As with so many other powerful figures in the Imperium, there is an eternal conflict between the powers spiritual and temporal. The current Archbishop Sergio, however, has begun to scheme with the current leaders of House Terrasi, seeing in them the opportunity to attain the position that he yearns for the most: that of Prefect. It remains to be seen whether their scheming will bear fruit or whether it will meet the ignominious fate that has so often greeted their efforts.

The current head of their House is one Irisa who, upon the death of her husband Cesare, has come into an even larger amount of money, with which she continues to amass an army of mercenaries and others that she thinks will be useful for her in the conflict that she sees seething on the horizon. With her two sons, Juan and Alexander, she seeks to gain advantage in whatever way she can. She is known by her enemies as the Eternal Widow, given her penchant for marrying rich men who die under mysterious circumstances and leave her a great deal of money (her last husband was her fourth).

Juan and Alexander are both the best and the worst of the house, for while they are both handsome, charming, and artistic, they are also infamous for their malice and their cruelty, and there are dark rumours of the evils that they perpetrate on the younger members of their own House, to say nothing of the common folk of the city.

World Building (8): The Faith of the Blessed Ascendant (Known by Some as the Arkadian Heresy)

It probably seemed to many that the man who would become known to his followers as the Blessed Ascendant was the most unlikely sort imaginable. He did not come from the great or noble Houses, and he did not have any particularly great skills as a leader or even an orator. He merely wandered the streets of various cities of the duchy of D’Erange, asking questions of those he encountered and forcing them to examine their own biases and blind spots when it came to the faith.

Hailing from the poorer regions of that province, history has forgotten what his actual name and most of his biography has been similarly erased by the passage of time and the efforts of the authorities to expunge him from the record. To those who subscribed to his beliefs, though, he was to become the most important person to walk the mortal world.

Ultimately, as he wandered and questioned those he encountered, he began to postulate a theology. Unlike those who had already established the Faith, he did not believe that the world was fundamentally and irrevocably corrupted, only that it was contaminated because of its increased distance from the Name. Human beings, enfleshed as they were, were not totally lost, for they were surrounded by

Note, however, that the Blessed Ascendant still believed that it was the attainment of union with the Name that was the ultimate goal of the devout. Where he differed from his colleagues in the upper echelons of power was in his belief that one could enjoy the world, that it was indeed through the perfection of it and in the creation of future generations that humanity could itself could achieve the closeness to the divine that was the purpose of all life. In his schema, the fiery spirits that inhabited humankind would be reunited with the Name at death, but it was possible to bring humanity itself closer and closer to the transcendent fire nature that was its fundamental nature.

This, of course, went against everything that the Faith had proposed, as it seemed to suggest that the material world could be perfected and, even worse, that it was through the awful act of sexual reproduction that humanity could be saved. The authorities were horrified, not least because they recognized that it was possible that this theology, with its encouragement of sex, would certainly prove to be more palatable to both the common people as well as the nobility and even, in the worst-cast scenario, the clergy themselves.

While the Ascendant preached a message of peace and prosperity for all and disavowed arms of any kind, the authorities in the Imperium, both secular and spiritual, saw him as the gravest sort of threat, and they immediately planned to remove him. However, they were somewhat stymied in their efforts, for they realized all too well that his popularity among the masses would make it exceedingly dangerous to try to take immediate armed action against him.

Eventually, however, they were able to infiltrate the close set of men and women who surrounded him–they called themselves the Acolytes–and had one of them betray him. He was then taken to Aïonis, put on trial before both the first two Imperators and the newly-seated Council of Prefects, and sentenced to death. At this time, it was still customary for the people of the Imperium to gather to witness these executions in a public arena, where the condemned would be torn asunder by wild beasts. So it proved with the Blessed Ascendant, who was subjected to flaying before being thrown, alive and screaming, to the embrace of the beasts.

What happened next would be a source of conflict and confusion for centuries to come. While the Imperial authorities would claim that the Ascendant died an ignominious death, the followers of the Ascendant claimed that he was instead purified and returned to the bosom of his eternal parents, the Name. From this claim would also come the key part of their theology, which claims that the Name were the actual parents of the Ascendant.

After the Ascendant was killed, the Imperium swept through all of the Imperium and even into Korray (many of whom had converted to the Ascendants way of thinking) and stamped out the heresy with a cruelty and ruthlessness that would echo down the centuries. They consigned many people and books to the flames, determined that they would be forgotten. They saved their particular ire for one called Arkadios, who was the Ascendant’s chief Acolyte and, at the end, the one who survived the longest. His death was similar to that of his master’s, as he was thrown to the beasts for the delectation of the masses.

Since his death at the hands of the Imperators and the ruthless persecution of the Arkadian Heresy, the only pocket of those who espouse that faith is in the lands of the Haransharin, particularly in the capital Tafshin. There, they continue to produce their own theological tracts, working from the bits and pieces of the past that they have been able to cobble together. They still believe that the Ascendant was the trueborn son of the Name, and that it is through an embrace of the material world that one can attain closeness to transcendence.

As a result of the steadfast mission of the Imperium to eradicate all traces of the heresy, there are very few documents left from the earliest days of the faith. All copies of the Gospel of Arkadios were destroyed, with the only bits left being those scraps that were mentioned by orthodox theologians in their resolute effort to refute the (admittedly quite popular) teachings. While some of Arkadios’ disciples and their work managed to escape, the Imperium is prone to sending agents into Haranshar to sabotage the libraries known to contain these heretical tracts and even to conduct assassinations of the leaders of the Church in the East.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the men and women of the Church of the East see themselves as the One True Faith rather than their companions in the west. They have their own hierarchy, headed by the Episkopos, the titular leader of their faith. She is advised by her own council, comprised of Prelates.

The Shahs have long understood that they can use the splinter of heretics that live in their nation to stir trouble for the West. While they are forbidden to proselytize, and while they have been at times persecuted by both the Ormazdhian priesthood and the Shahs, as a rule they are too valuable to be swept away.

At the time when this story takes place, the Church in the East has begun to shrink, as the upheavals of the last three decades in both Haranshar and the Imperium. However, there is still great potential for them to seize power, and so it may well prove with the discovery of a palimpsest in the very heart of the Imperium…

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.

World Building (6): Haranshar

The empire of Haranshar is without question the leading political power on the continent of Aridikh and possibly the entire world. Featuring numerous peoples, geographies, religions, and traditions, it is without question an empire without rival. It is precisely because of its titanic mass, however, that it has remained stymied in its attempts to bring either Korray (in its entirety) or the Imperium back under its aegis. The Shahs have enough to do to keep their own provinces under their control, and they simply do not have the resources or the manpower to make a concerted push of reconquest.

Haranshar is a remarkably diverse nation, with many different races and ethnicities living in an uneasy peace. While there have been, at the start of the novel, at least two decades of relative stability and prosperity, there are still rumblings, both among the great powers of the native Haransharin (which are the dominant ethnic group), as well as among their various subject peoples, many of whom want to assert their own form of independence. The example of the Imperium is a powerful one, and there are many that would like to form their own sovereign states.

Foremost among these is the Kingdom of Eshkum, which has rebelled several times under the leadership of their powerful queens, known as Kidakia (from one of whom the current Imperator Talinissia is descended). Like the Korrayin, the Eshkumites claim a type of foreign descent, claiming that they come from the lost lands of Larkoness beyond the farthest horizons of the ocean. They yearn for a deliverer, one who will lead them to independence.

Despite the polyglot nature of the empire, since the rise of the semi-mythical Xaryush in the far-distant past it has remained the policy of all Shahs to subscribe to the faith of Ormazdh. For them, the material world is one that should be celebrated and embraced rather than abandoned or disavowed (as is the case with the Church). Thus, the trappings of the good life are to be embraced and cultivated assiduously, rather than disavowed (as is the case with the Church, as we have seen). As a result, the quality of life in Haranshar is quite high, particularly in comparison to the Imperium. This is not to say that the culture is an egalitarian one, since that would be against the hierarchical ordering of the universe that is key to the Ormazdhian belief system.

Governmentally, the empire is divided into four xhusts that are aligned with the four cardinal points. Each of these is under the administration of a powerful noble general, a svateth. These four enormous provinces are: Shakastan (the north), Kusharstan (the east), Pishapur (the south, and the traditional homeland of the ethnic Haransharin), and Hamarkhan (the west). These are divided into numerous smaller provinces, each of which are headed by great noble families, all connected by often complicated bloodlines.

Although the many powers in the empire frequently clash with one another, they all owe at least nominal allegiance to the Shah, who as the King of Kings is both the god’s divine representative on earth as well as the central part of the government. While this may be true in theory, it is not always so true in practice, and it is not uncommon for the various potentates in both the royal family and outside of it to attempt to seize the throne. While the bureaucracy of the state may ensure that Haranshar as a whole continues to function, ever man who ascends the throne of Haranshar knows that his life will be at constant risk.

The military is a powerful presence in the empire, and they frequently provide the muscle. Of particular importance in the military are the armoured cavalry. These soldiers always come from the nobility, particularly those of ethnic Haransharin stock, and it is this core of shock troops that has enabled this ethnic group to maintain its hold over its fractious empire. However, it is also a source of possible rebellion, as the events of the novels will make clear.

Women in Haranshar occupy a complicated but generally empowered position. They frequently circulate in the highest halls of power, and there is no law that states that they cannot assume the title of Shah should the need arise. Indeed, thre have been several women who have managed to secure a reign in their own right, though it must be noted that Haransharin law does demand that if a son is born his claim to the throne shall surpass that of any sisters that he might have, regardless of their birth order. Women can own property in their own right, and they can occupy the position of head of House. However, there are bans preventing them from occupying positions of authority in either the Ormazdhian Church or in the army. This does not mean, however, that they cannot influence those spheres of life, merely that they must do so on the sly.

Unlike the Imperium, which can trace the bloodline of its ruling house back to its very origins, Haranshar has been ruled by a number of dynasties, most of which are not related to one another by blood. Indeed, it has only been by a supreme effort of will that the Shahs have managed to keep the entirety of Haranshar from breaking apart altogether, and it is for this reason that there has long existed a measure of cooperation between the rulers and the priesthood of Ormazdh. For both of them, the stability of the religious and the worldly ensures that the cosmos itself remains stable and perpetual.

Indeed, as the events of the novel will show in some detail, there are many who are still quite resentful of both the House Nirhan (to which the primary character Arshakh belongs)   their successors the Harqashiri. Many of the other great clans still seek an opportunity to claim hegemony over the lands that were once theirs. The scheming and plots that will emerge among these powerful families will come to have dreadful consequences for the entire world that they have sought so assiduously to maintain.

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 (3): On Korray

There are many competing legends and myths about the origin of the Korray, certainly one of the most intractable groups to inhabit the continent of Aridikh. Some say that they began life in the searing sands of the regions east of the Zakrus Mountains (their current home), but fled into the mountains when the Shahs of Haran began to expand their empire. Others say that they came over the Encircling Ocean, fleeing some unnamed Cataclysm. Still others–among them the more mystical members of the Korrayin priestly castes–have gone so far as to suggest that they are not from this world at all, but are instead visitors from some other world that is beyond this one.

In any case, by the time they enter the histories compiled by those in both Haranshar and the Imperium, they had become so much a part of their mountain homeland that it is part of who they are. They have built a number of small cities and forts in the towering peaks, though some have also taken up residence in the fragrant and fertile mountain valleys as well, and it is there that one is likely to find their largest dwellings. Fiercely independent, they refuse to offer obeisance to any foreign power (and it is often a struggle to even get them to obey their tribal chieftains and kings).

In the wake of the rebellion that split the Imperium off from Haranshar, the tribes that comprised Korray have become a buffer zone. By that time, they were already known for being an independently-minded group, living as they did in the Zakrus Mountains, and so they were the perfect ally for both of the great hegemons that sought to own the world. Members of one tribe will frequently make raids on one or the other great powers and will also use their allegiance with one of the powers to justify their own wars against one another.

Culturally, the Korrayin are loosely united by a sense of identity, though ethnically there are many different divisions and groups that comprise them. Mostly, they are united by their independent streak and by their belief that, despite their differences, they are the true chosen of the god (whichever one that happens to be, as they are as divided in religious adherence as they are in most things).

Despite their mind-boggling heterogeneity, they can be loosely identified along the lines of 4 different confederations, which are comprised of 15 different different tribes. The four confederations are listed below. These tribes are in turn divided into innumerable clans. It does not necessarily hold that members of the same confederacy will be ethnically related to others who are a part of it. Instead, they are usually bonded together through their adherence to one of the four major religious groups (the Faith, the Ormazhites, unaffiliated polytheism, and the Yishurim). However, it should be kept in mind that the first loyalty that any given Korrayin has is to his clan, then to his tribe, and then to his confederacy. There thus exists a complex network of alliances and allegiances that outsiders often find as bewildering as it is infuriating to deal with.

The following is list of the various Confederacies, as well as their constituencies. This list does not include the innumerable clans that make up each of the tribes.

Ivnu Khava Confederacy (The Faith)

Comprised of the following tribes: Harikh; Ghifar; Quarish; Ashakh

Ivnu Ghavaz Confederacy (Ormazhite)

Comprised of the following tribes: E’bash; Kharaj; Lakhim

Ivnu Lakrum Confederacy (various unaffiliated polytheisms)

Comprised of the following tribes: Ashath; Qu’uda; Shutayra

Ven Naftali Confederacy (Yishurim)

Comprised of the following tribes: Vishkar, Zabîr, Shimon, Davith; Bet’yamin

Though the Korrayin are well-known for their skills in warfare, they are also renowned for their devotion to scholarship and for their devotion to their various religions. Those seeking out the most ancient versions of given texts may hope to find them in the hilly fastnesses of the Korrayin. No matter what faith they adhere to, the Korrayin cling to a very conservative model, and they are certain in their belief that it is only in their mountains that the truest, purest form of their respective faiths can be found. While this has rankled no few feathers in the capitals of their larger neighbours, they seemingly do not care. The satisfaction of knowing that they are superior to anyone more than makes up for any political losses.

At the time of the novels, matters have been largely settled for over a century. No significant conflicts have emerged, either among the Korrayin or between the Korrayin and either Haranshar or the Imperium. However, there are already ominous signs that not all is well. Ibrahim, a relatively minor prince among the Vishkar Tribe, has begun to make a name for himself as the Poison King. Dosing himself with poisons, he has assured that he is proof against assassination, even as he has also begun to make designs on becoming the Great Chief of the Ven Naftali Confederacy. More ominously, there are disturbing rumours that some of the mystic priests of the Tribe of Ashath (who have always been known for their strange and unsettling affinity for the occult) have begun to seek out ancient scrolls regarding the lost Art of Binding. The wise know that it was precisely this weapon that almost destroyed the world in the Time Before, but it is not always wisdom that governs the affairs of men, particularly when there is power to be gained.

For real-world historical parallels, think of the status of the kingdom of Armenia as the pawn between the Roman/Byzantine Empire and the Parthian/Sassanid Empire or the similar relationship that existed between those empires and the various Arab tribes that they used in their proxy wars. However, there are also a lot of similarities between these groups and the various Semitic groups that inhabited and continue to inhabit the Middle East, including the various Arab groups, the Jewish people, and others.

Needless to say, the people of Korray will come to play a very significant, indeed a pivotal, part in the events about to unfold.

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.