First off, the easy stuff.
I started off knowing that I wanted to give Lindon a training arc to get him up to speed with everyone else, and a pocket world arc is a staple of cultivation novels everywhere.
I wanted a pocket world that was distinct from anything I'd already done in Traveler's Gate, and I'm a big fan of the underwater aesthetic, so it didn't take me long to decide on an ocean's floor world as the setting.
However, originally the Ghostwater complex was a lot bigger.
Instead of a series of inhabitable domes at the bottom of the sea, Ghostwater was originally a tower with eight floors. Lindon was going to descend each one, the challenge and rewards increasing as he progressed through.
Every floor had a certain stage of advancement it was designed for, and a color of magical water with certain properties, as well as a theme that determined the nature of its wildlife.
After establishing all this, of course, I realized this was way too much. You could set an entire trilogy in a place with this much detail, so I compressed it down to three types of water and three locations.
Honestly, that was better anyway. Having one type of water that improves your spirit in every way is a lot more digestible of a concept than having five different ones that variously improve madra regeneration, madra capacity, madra purity, madra channels, etc.
With only three locations instead of eight, Lindon can spend longer in each place, and they can each have a more unique identity. Like the dream library where he ends up meeting Ziel.
It's still interesting to think about what could have been, though, so click Read More for the original structure of Ghostwater...and the original design of Ziel.
The following is copy-pasted from my notes:
Tier Structure: Ghostwater, Tomb of the Deep Monarch
It’s a dungeon. Each layer goes deeper into a natural ocean chasm. The top is a dome over the water, but the deeper you go, the more treacherous it is.
Top layer: the Garden on the Waves. Pre-Gold stage.
Floor 1: the Reef. Lowgold. Cyan water, which regenerates madra.
Floor 2: the Forest. Highgold. Purple water, which provides mental clarity and rejuvenation.
Floor 3: the Aquarium. Truegold. Deep blue water, which cleanses madra.
Floor 4: the Caverns. Underlord. Pink water, which increases madra density / potency.
Floor 5: the Oasis. Overlord. Orange water, which increases madra depth / core capacity.
Floor 6: the Underworld. Archlord. Emerald water, which increases life-force / lifespan.
Floor 7: the Abyss. Northstrider’s personal training rooms, sleeping chambers, Soulsmith foundry, etc. Ghostwater.
So you can see what happened. I kept my favorite aspects of the various floors, combined all the waters that improved spiritual function into one, and generally kept everything tighter.
I think it worked out better, but I had a couple of cool ideas that went unused.
For one thing, Lindon was going to have a harder time as he went along. He would thrive on the Lowgold floor, be forced to advance on the Highgold floor, get along on the Truegold floor with a little difficulty, and then get increasingly outclassed as he descended.
I also had some cool ideas for the different aesthetics. The Archlord floor, the Underworld, was effectively a dark prison for an Archlord-level sacred beast who had been awakened now that the world was on the brink of destruction. He would have given Lindon and Orthos both some insight into future advancement.
I liked the Aquarium being a long hall of trophies--both living and not--that Northstrider had collected for various reasons from all over the world, but the collapse of the world had broken the exhibits free of their cages.
That sort of thing.
There's a lot more I could say about Ghostwater, because it probably took more effort to plan than any other Cradle book, but I want to get on to the next section: Ziel's character design.
I had a really rough time with Ziel.
Obviously, the enemies Lindon faces in Ghostwater are representatives of factions he's going to run into later, and I had a pretty easy time with the first three.
I knew I wanted them to be two guys and two girls, and I wanted one of each to be a real villain--as in someone who was never going to ally with Lindon, not necessarily someone who wrote Chaotic Evil on their character sheet. The other was meant to be be...
...I don't want to say "Good," but someone who at least wasn't going to hunt Lindon to the ends of the earth out of pure hatred.
Harmony was pretty easy, as he's basically an "arrogant young master" type with the usual Akura family modifiers: purple eyes, shadow madra, ironic name.
And since he was the villain of the pair, his male counterpart had to be a non-villain.
I started with this:
Ziel - Totally not Red from Pokémon.
Prideful and ambitious (wants to be the very best, like no one ever was?), but unlike Harmony, he doesn't care at all about appearance, reputation, or political agenda. Contracts with multiple sacred beasts, and he cares about them more than anything.
Practices the Path of Many Seeds, a life/dream Path developed by the Beast King, Ziel's Herald master. It's a summoner Path, and let's be real, he's a Pokémon trainer. Gotta catch 'em all.
(Aside: I literally wrote "Gotta catch 'em all" in my notes. I am not making this up retroactively. Take that as you will.)
Goldsign: Green horns.
Uses a spatial artifact created by his master to open onto his Garden, which is a special void key that can store living beings.
Iron body: Diamondstar Iron body. Makes your body unbreakable.
Jade cycling: Tempering Furnace. Makes your madra resilient and longer-lasting, and slightly improves advancement speed through Gold.
--Runt: A Sylvan Mountainseed. Forms a giant body from nearby stone, rocks, sand, metal, etc, and fights like that. Doesn’t speak, but can roar.
--Bloodfist: A Deepwalker Ape hybrid only a little bigger than a human. Uses earth/blood madra for increased ferocity and resilience. Ziel keeps him caged in his Garden, and doesn't know him well enough to actually rely on him.
--Bool: An aquatic water/wind octopus who creates bubbles so that Ziel can breathe underwater. Particularly adept at Ruler techniques for controlling water and air, and drawing air from water. Totally intelligent and can talk, but does so by vibrating water.
--Hull: The nut of a sacred tree with roots that wrap around Ziel’s arm. Force/earth/life madra that specializes in defensive Enforcer and Forger techniques. Combined with his Iron body, this is meant to make him all but invincible defensively.
--Sethiss: A three-foot-tall humanoid Blade Mantis. Its arms have little graspers at the end, and there are blades folded beneath them, but it actually carries a sword. It has the personality of a tiny honorable knight, and it’s a genuine Truegold. Ziel’s most loyal friend.
--Restaroth: A white-and-gold phoenix/dragon. This could be something Ziel gains over the course of the series. It’s a hybrid of a white dragon and a gold phoenix, and it uses a Path based on sunlight and heat. Devastating Striker techniques.
--Silk (deceased): A purple-and-white winged tiger cub that was his first pet. He pushed her too hard, treating her like a weapon instead of a friend, so she ended up dying. Blames himself, so he now pushes himself harder than he pushes his team. He also no longer takes weak creatures with him, and though he cares for his team, he doesn't tolerate weakness in himself or others because it'll get you killed.
Perhaps you now see why I was embarrassed to share this post.
There are a number of problems with that character sheet, of course. For one thing, taking the personality of a character from Pokémon and also giving them a team of summoned creatures is--what's the word--bad.
For another, we have an overabundance of characters who are proud and ambitious and dedicated to advancement above all else.
So I did a few more drafts with Ziel. I kept the Pokéball-throwing powers of this version but changed his personality. I kept his personality the same, but gave him entirely new powers (this time focused around generating indestructible rings of red-hot metallic energy).
Finally, I said to myself, "What if I did the exact opposite of this?"
And thus the Ziel we know was born.
Instead of a bright-eyed up-and-comer, he's a scarred and weathered veteran who used to be the best and lost everything.
With that, I had to come up with a new Path for him, and it had to be something that relied on skills that you wouldn't lose even if you lost all your advancement. I went back to my notes for the Path of the Last Oath (mentioned in Blackflame), which relies on scripting and Soulsmithing knowledge, as well as adaptability and creativity.
I kept the green horns because I thought they looked cooler than the orange horns he had while he was going through his ring-generating phase, but I kept the rings and the force/earth madra because those meshed with his current Path.
And there you have it. The somewhat awkward developmental stages of both the Ghostwater facility and Ziel as a character.
Keep your mocking laughter down, please. You'll disturb the neighbors.
This book has been out forever at this point.
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