I'm locking it in now: Blackflame is going up on Amazon one week from today, on May 1st.
Enough readers have confirmed that Blackflame is ready for release (with only minor tweaks) that I know I can finally stop making big changes. I'm tuning it this week, polishing it up, and sending it out the door.
After that, we have a lot more to talk about, but let's ship this book out first!
If I had been updating you on my Blackflame progress for the last six weeks, it would have sounded like this:
"I've had to make some more changes than I thought, but I'll be done this week for sure."
Rinse and repeat, x6.
This book took me a lot more work than usual, but some books are just harder than others. Part I of Blackflame has a lot of setup, Part II has a lot of training, and Part III is essentially one long scene cutting between like six different fights.
Kind of a weird structure for me, but I just kept playing with it until I was happy with it.
And now I am! Woohoo! Release very soon, unless I see something very wrong with it that I've somehow overlooked until now and requires extensive rewrites, in which case it'll release June 1st.
Either way, ALMOST THERE!
P.S. Abidan Part V is coming next, I've just been swamped with Blackflame. I got up at 4 this morning, and I went to bed at 4 the night before, so I don't even know what a sleep schedule is. ONLY BLACKFLAME.
The Seven Judges of the Abidan Court
(The Wolf, the Phoenix, and the Fox)
Razael, the Wolf
The Way protects, but it also strengthens. The Wolves are the Abidan combat division, and each of them commands formidable destructive potential. While most other divisions are filled up by Abidan from Sanctum and the other core worlds--and thus essentially born into the Abidan--the Wolves pride themselves on taking "wild" recruits.
Most Wolves were renowned warriors in their original worlds, and they carry those powers with them into battle.
As Gadrael is the Court's shield, Razael is their sword. She is the unstoppable force, the heavy artillery unleashed against the greatest of the Abidan's enemies.
Before the rise of Ozriel, it fell to the office of Razael to destroy worlds as completely as possible. Razael therefore considers herself something of a rival to the Reaper.
Ozriel does not return the sentiment.
Suriel, the Phoenix
The power of the Phoenix is the power of restoration. An Abidan of the Phoenix Division can use the Way to return order to a system, restoring it to prime condition. Phoenixes are used as mechanics and engineers as often as healers, and are prized on any battlefield.
Though skilled Phoenix Abidan are rare, and their division small, they are also very durable. A Phoenix is said to be the second-most difficult of the Abidan to destroy (after a Titan), since powerful Phoenixes can regenerate even from total destruction.
The Phoenix herself, Suriel, is the only entity capable of restoring the condition of an entire Iteration at once. This can cause irregularities for both the Spiders and the Hounds, so she is required to notify Sector Control prior to temporal reversion.
Ozriel is well-known as the most powerful Judge since the first generation of the Abidan Court, and possibly of all time. However, he has no ability as a Phoenix. He has made it a point to befriend both the previous Suriel and this one, holding their talents in high esteem.
Zakariel, the Fox
The Way governs space, separating universe from universe, but its branches reach into every Iteration. Foxes use these branches like tunnels, slipping through the Way to reach their destinations without the headache of physical distance.
Virtually every Abidan has some ability as a Fox--at least the minimum spatial control required to enter and leave an Iteration. But only the best and fastest join the Fox Division: the heralds, scouts, and couriers of the Abidan.
Each Zakariel has always been fickle and unpredictable, perhaps as a side effect of the ability to travel anywhere at any time. This generation's Zakariel likes to meddle, as a godlike child with her toys. She tests the bounds of the Eledari Pact with her actions, and the Foxes beneath her have grown unruly and undisciplined. She has been chastised before the Court of Seven many times, but her personal power and ability have kept her from being pressured out of her mantle.
She is also an insatiable collector of anything she finds intriguing. Legendary weapons and rare creatures are displayed in her collection side by side with adorable stuffed animals and interesting leaves.
At last, Suriel makes her appearance! Hi, Suriel!
Next Time: Ozriel, the Reaper
...and Adriel, the Creator.
(Remember, this isn't in the books yet, so I could change my mind on a whim! Don't hold me to this too closely!)
The Seven Judges of the Abidan Court
(The Ghost and the Spider)
Darandiel, the Ghost
Just as the other Judges supervise the life and health of a world, someone must oversee the process of universal death and rebirth. The Ghosts watch over the broken fragments of worlds, guiding the development of new Iterations and protecting them from malign influence during the vulnerable cycle of destruction and creation.
As Hounds tap into the power of Fate and Titans into the power of protection, Ghosts manipulate the force that binds existence to the Way: conscious will. This is an esoteric power that, depending on the situation, can be either overwhelmingly powerful or totally useless.
Darandiel is rarely seen in Sanctum, the headquarters of the Abidan. She and her Ghosts spend most of their time beyond the Iterations, shepherding the birth of new worlds and defending old ones from the chaos of the void.
Telariel, the Spider
The Spiders essentially function as the Abidan intelligence network. They spread their awareness through the Way, sensing deviation and disorder all throughout existence. Spiders maintain the system of Sector Control, through which Iterations are divided into sectors in order to make them easier to manage.
Inter-universal communication between Abidan is also handled by the Spiders, so they have a reputation as the busiest Division. However, they are also known as the weakest in combat, so they are usually left to roles in support and management.
A Spider may be hard-working, but the Spider is lazy, disreputable, and prone to leaning on the perks of his position. Telariel has long ago reduced his personal responsibility to only handling communication between Judges, which rarely requires his personal attention.
When Ozriel vanished, Telariel cast his laziness aside and bent his full attention to the search. He was soon forced to admit defeat. Ozriel took steps to hide himself from the detection of the Way, and the Spider's skill is nothing next to the Reaper's.
(After receiving the blow to his pride, Telariel retreated back into seclusion. To sulk.)
I had all of the information for the Judges long before I began writing Cradle, but it was loose and disorganized. I thought these posts would be as simple as copying and pasting information I already had, but uh...they weren't.
Anyway, I had all these posts about the Judges written before I put up the first post. Took me about 3-4 hours total, which doesn't sound too bad until you realize that I thought it would take me twenty minutes.
I have no ability to accurately estimate how long a task will take me. You should know that about me by now.
Next Time: the Wolf and the Phoenix...and also the Fox.
She snuck in there somehow.
(Reminder: As with all information I share about the future, everything here is subject to change.)
"Always in motion, is the future."
The Seven Judges of the Abidan Court
(The Hound and the Titan)
Makiel, the Hound
The story of each universe is written in Fate.
Fate governs the natural lifespan of each Iteration. It isn't a detailed plan that determines every action of each person, but rather a force like gravity that pushes a world toward a healthy life ending in that Iteration's natural death.
Since humans tie the universe to the Way, people figure prominently in Fate. One individual life is unlikely to affect the destiny of an entire Iteration, but their actions might be a necessary step toward a world's continued existence. Or its end.
Makiel and the Hound Division of the Abidan supervise Fate. They tap into the Way to read the past and the future, and to deal with any deviations that may jeopardize one or more worlds.
Makiel is something of a leader among the seven Judges, though the Eledari Pact technically gives him no authority over his peers. This is a tradition continued from the original Makiel, who first realized the need for such a pact and organized its creation.
He is rigid and inflexible, utterly dedicated to the enforcement of the rules that protect existence. This mindset has led him to clash with Ozriel, who tends to value his own will over externally imposed guidelines. He has tried many times to recover the Scythe and Mantle of Ozriel in order to pass the title to a different, more worthy bearer, but the Reaper has eluded or defeated him at every turn.
Gadrael, the Titan
The Way is fundamentally a force of protection, a barrier against chaos and destruction. Gadrael is the embodiment of that concept.
Titan Abidan are the defenders of the Abidan worlds, raising shields and barriers against creatures of chaos and against the enemies of the Court. Whenever the Abidan need a world quarantined, a weapon sealed, a prison reinforced, or an attack turned aside, they call on the Titans.
This generation's Gadrael was rescued from a dying world, then raised as a son by Makiel. His loyalty to the Hound is total.
He once had a reputation as the weakest Judge, due to his lack of skill in any discipline but his own. Other Judges typically have expertise in more than one area; Suriel, for instance, is an accomplished Fox (who excel at instant travel) and an able Spider (who detect deviations in chaos). Makiel could have inherited the post of Razael the Wolf instead, had he desired to do so, and Ozriel was skilled enough to fulfill the duties of any Judge but Suriel.
Gadrael cannot read Fate, he can barely cross through the Way, and his combat power is lower than many ordinary Abidan.
But his barriers are flawless.
Gadrael is is the sturdiest protector in existence, a one-man fortress, an immovable object, an impenetrable wall. Worlds under Gadrael's protection can rest easy, but there are thousands of Iterations under the purview of the Judges.
And the Titans cannot be everywhere at once.
I really wanted to say more about Makiel, but...well, I don't want to spoil too much.
Next Time: The Ghost and the Spider
(Fun Fact: The original title for Unsouled was The Fox and the Phoenix.)
(NOTE: Like any information about the future, this is subject to change. I created this system for a different story before writing Unsouled, so if I decide I need to alter how the Abidan work in order to suit the story, I will. Nothing is etched in stone.)
(NOTE II: Return of NOTE - Credit for the idea behind this post goes to Reddan, from the comments! Great idea, Reddan! The Judges are coming soon!)
The Way and the Worlds
Iteration: Any universe that the Abidan recognize as capable of sustaining human existence and living out a complete life-cycle.
Every Iteration has a destined progression. A world is born, it lives out its existence, and then it quietly dies, breaking into fragments. These fragments float through the void, crashing and combining randomly until they form into a new universe.
They are called "Iterations" because the thousands of universes currently in existence are thought to be different versions of the same original world or worlds, spun out in different combinations again and again for eternity. Even the Abidan Judges do not know when this cycle began.
On its own, an Iteration should exist for billions of years, except for a certain underlying requirement: each Iteration is anchored to the Way by sentient consciousness. As long as humans* are around, the world is tethered to the natural law and order of the Way. The fewer humans there are, the looser that connection becomes.
When humanity dies, the world dissolves.
The Way: The source of order, the Way is a force that spans all of existence. Its presence protects against the destructive and corruptive influence of chaos, and its nature sustains reality.
An Iteration dying is part of the Way. Death is meant to be the end; this is part of the cosmic order. Only when an Iteration lives too long does it becomes a danger.
When a world's population drops so low that it weakens the influence of the Way, but not so low that the Iteration breaks into fragments, that is when corruption sets in. Chaos seeps into the world, infecting it, subverting the laws that govern reality.
At this point, the Abidan can destroy the remaining population, thus removing the Iteration's last hold on existence. But now the world will break into fragments, and those fragments are tinged with chaos. They might crash into other Iterations, infecting them, or combine to create worlds that are corrupted from the very beginning.
There is only one being capable of erasing a universe from existence entirely, without breaking it down into fragments.
And he's missing.
The Eledari Pact: An ancient agreement between the original Court of Seven that both increases and restricts the powers of the Abidan.
Agreements and restrictions are inherently ordered, so this pact is the tool that allows the Abidan to control the power of the Way as they do. There are many rules in the Eledari Pact, but the most relevant one is this: the Abidan cannot use their powers to prevent the natural progression of an Iteration.
They cannot stop a global war from claiming billions of lives and destroying a planet, unless that war was started by outside forces or by a significant subversion of Fate. Abidan only descend to correct a deviation, though they're granted a certain freedom of action in doing so. This law exists both to preserve the natural balance of existence and to prevent the Abidan from settling down in lesser worlds and ruling like gods.
*(The Abidan definition of "human" is pretty loose, but never too far removed from the humanity we know. When a new Iteration forms that may be able to support life, the Abidan select a new population of human pioneers and send them to inhabit a suitable planet.)
Today, some basic terminology to help you understand the cosmos the Abidan are dealing with.
Tomorrow, the world!
Next time: the Hound and the Titan
EDIT 3/28: Aaaaaaaand comment replies are back up!
EDIT 3/27: Some of you may be wondering why I'm not responding to your comments. It's not because I'm back in closed-door cultivation, it's because there's a bug with Weebly right now that's preventing comment replies. I'll let you know when that's back up, but in the meantime, I'll be beaming you my responses to each of your comments via psychic wave. So be on the lookout for that.
I'm having trouble putting these blogs together while I'm working on Blackflame, largely because all I want to say each week is "It's not done yet, check in later."
Last week, I gave you some extra story information about Cradle's Blackflame Empire. So this week, I wanted to know: what extra story information do you want?
I might as well ask you!
In the comments below, or on Facebook, or on Reddit, let me know what extra background information I can give you. This can be for any of my series--maybe you want to know more about how Kai grew up, or about new cultures in Cradle, or Calder's favorite food. I don't care.
This is just to give me ideas for future blogs...and maybe for short stories as well, since I know I owe you quite a few of those once I finally finish Blackflame.
Let me know what you want to see, and I'll start making up some answers!
Cradle shirts are available now for a limited time!
...well, the time isn't that limited, because I'll be putting them back up for sale later. We just want to see how they sell over the next few days, and we'll adjust from there. They might even stay up, who knows?
And it's only Cradle because the Cradle covers are easy to put on a shirt (titles are on the back). Elder Empire and Traveler's Gate shirt designs are currently in the works!
(This post includes background information about the Blackflame Empire: the setting of Blackflame and the next few books in Cradle. No specific story elements are spoiled.)
The Blackflame Empire was founded by dragons.
In Cradle, dragons are a race of sacred beasts that can...well, they're dragons. You know what they can do. Like all sacred beasts and Remnants, their intelligence is based largely on their age and advancement levels, so many of them have human-level intelligence or better.
A family of black dragons once conquered and ruled half a continent, which is a truly massive amount of territory in a world the size of Cradle. They held their empire against all rivals for centuries.
Until a mysterious disaster killed most of the dragons, crippling their ability to continue the bloodline. As you know, no one in a fantasy novel ever discovers the truth behind ancient disasters, so I'm sure it will remain a mystery forever.
With their rulers dead or dying, a clan of humans stumbled upon a method of harnessing the dragons' power. They abandoned their old Path, instead choosing to develop the same sacred arts used by the dragons.
The Blackflame Empire shrunk in size, the humans lacking the ability to control quite as much territory as the dragons could, though it was still home to over a billion people.*
This clan started calling their main branch the Blackflame family, for obvious reasons, and they stayed in control for almost five hundred years.
But human bodies were not well-suited to the power of dragons. Slowly, the family declined, until even those who lived in the heart of the empire thought of them more as symbols and legends than actual individuals.
More and more of the day-to-day workings of the Empire were left to the Blackflames' traditional servants, the Naru clan. They became the face of the Blackflame empire, with their loyal reputation and shining emerald wings, and the people grew to know and trust them.
Fifty years ago, they quietly ascended the throne.
The first Naru clan Empress has since moved into private seclusion, and her son now rules the Empire. As for the Blackflame family themselves, they died out decades ago, gradually eaten from the inside out by their own madra.
That's the story, anyway.
*(A truly ridiculous number of people live in Cradle. The main planet of Iteration 110 is quite a bit bigger than Earth.)
P.S. I didn't want to share more from the actual document, so I thought I'd whip up a world-building thing. Hope you like it! And if you don't, don't worry, I'll be mixing it up again next week.
Once again, I don't have anything to say besides "I'm working on it, please let me live," so I'm going to do something new: I'm going to give you random lines from the book, out of context! What fun!
If you're especially spoiler-averse, stop now. However, it's not like the spoilers are going to be too heavy. I'm not going to drop any bombshells on you. Just tidbits that you might find interesting.
And as always, please remember that these haven't been edited, so I don't consider myself bound to keep any of these in the book. They might change.
Finally: just to keep things interesting, one of these lines is a complete lie! See if you can spot which one!
Here we go, lines from the current version of Blackflame:
EITHAN: "There will be no forgiveness. To the blood pits with you!"
The dragon advances.
The dragon destroys.
The dragon consumes.
"Path of Crawling Shades," Eithan said, and the red man's shadow flowed behind him until it engulfed the entire back wall. "This is a Path from a more advanced country than this one, but a practitioner once traveled here to be executed. They practice a unique process that essentially turns their shadow into a symbiotic Remnant."
Lindon tore through the wall.
"River doesn't get too far without banks," Yerin said. "Out of control, it's just a flood. Spills everywhere. You want it to go where you want it to go, you have to guide it."
Eithan reached out without looking, seizing an old, worn broom leaning against the side of a house. Its shaft was gnarled but reasonably straight, polished by years of use, and it ended in a tied bundle of straw.
He ran his hands up the broom, not saying a word.
His core flared with dark, bloody light.
Yerin raised her sword, which she had never sheathed. “If this was your mistake alone, I’d let you make it."
A pair of red eyes popped out—first one, then the other—glowering with menace and swirling to stare at Yerin.
She raised her sword.
Lindon bolted for the exit.
"Good thing Lindon didn't live to see this," Yerin said with a sigh. "Turns out all that about Suriel was just one big, trauma-induced hallucination. He never even left Sacred Valley, he just had a heart attack and then died in a coma. This would be a very disappointing story to read about, I can tell you that."
...so which is the lie? Which is the truth?
ARE YOU DETECTIVE ENOUGH TO SOLVE THE RIDDLE?
All of it.
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