As I alluded to yesterday, I don't really have a whole lot of background information on my Skysworn writing process.
Quite frankly, I don't remember much about the process of writing Skysworn, so I'll just give you a few tidbits and then a deleted scene.
--The Winter Sage was originally going to show up in this book, trying to take Yerin.
--The middle of the book was going to revolve around a Soulsmithing arc for Lindon.
--The book was originally going to start with a Cradle myth coming to life: the Jester Twins.
Jester Twins: A pair of highly developed ancient dream spirits, one white with a black mask that has a white smile painted on it, one black with a white mask with a black frown on it.
The black mask gives gifts, while the white mask sets a price.
On new moons, the gift is cursed.
On full moons, the price is light.
When both masks are smiling, they give a gift for a price and an answer for an oath.
When both masks are frowning, they steal a prized possession and place a curse.
--The Blackflame Empire was going to be visited by these wandering Santa-knockoffs, and Lindon would go to them for a gift in order to defeat Jai Long, but the obligation that came along with that would have complicated his life throughout the book.
I don't remember if I ever came up with the specific nature of that complication, or if I abandoned this plot element as unnecessary too early on.
The Jesters were a device I planned all the way back in Unsouled and kept looking for an opportunity to use, but it felt weird to introduce a new legend and have it come into play in Lindon's life out of nowhere.
So it went unused, but I still like the image.
With that out of the way, here's the deleted scene!
(Click Read More. Click it, I said!)
You FOOL! You've fallen for my trap!
Now that you have blindly followed my instructions, I've caught you in this pointless in-between purgatory space, where you will drift alone for all eternity! There is no escape whatsoever!
(Usual Disclaimer: This scene is unedited and never approved for the book. Consume at your own risk.)
Naru Gwei pulled out another long leaf and slid it into his mouth. "Oh, and the situation's changed. I won't tolerate a Blackflame when we need the whole empire united."
“Of course,” Eithan said smoothly. “I wouldn’t—”
“I’m taking him, Arelius.”
Eithan went still.
The outside world saw the Arelius family as all-knowing, because their senses expanded beyond what anyone else could comprehend. Eithan could watch a fight from half a city away, listen to the conversations of two imperial officials in their office, and read documents sitting on a merchant's desk all at the same time. He had a stronger helping of their bloodline legacy than anyone else on this continent, and even stronger than most in the family's main branch.
And he still felt blind.
The more he could see, the more he realized he couldn't. He could read documents on a merchant's desk, but pack those documents away in a safe, and he was as blind as anyone else. He could overhear a conversation...as long as they weren't in the middle of a noisy crowd.
He could see a fight from miles away, but not as clearly as an immediate observer would--he was watching through a web of awareness, so he would catch a punch here, a Striker blast there, a ripple of clothes, a sweat-soaked face. He had to put the pieces together himself.
Every time, he wondered if that critical detail was escaping him. Maybe the information he needed was on the merchant's desk, but maybe it was in the drawer. Maybe he missed the one, essential line of a conversation that turned it from a benign discussion of the weather to a coded message between one sect and another. Everything he didn't know was a spot of shadow, an unknown threat hidden in darkness, and he could only shine his light on one narrow section at a time.
He felt like he was watching the world through a pinhole. He could only imagine was it was like to work with nothing more than the usual six senses.
The Jai clan ambush in Serpent's Grave had been a personal insult to him. They had engineered an entire attack on his family while his back was turned. If he could have seen just a little more, he would have stopped it.
There was nothing he hated more than running into one of his blind spots. And now Naru Gwei wanted to take Lindon.
Eithan hadn't seen that coming. He had evaluated Naru Gwei as a battle-weary veteran, a straight-thinking civil servant who had spent his life policing the Blackflame Empire while seeing the worst of the populace. It had worn him down; he was tired, jaded, and clung to the law like a drunkard clung to the bottle that was killing him.
He had accounted for Naru Gwei's desire to execute Lindon, or to imprison him. Eithan had preparations in place for both of those.
"Take him," Eithan said carefully. "If you're imprisoning him, then you have to arrest him in the name of the Empire."
Naru Gwei shrugged his wings. "Not imprisoning him. I'm conscripting him."
Naru Gwei was trying to capture an opponent's piece and turn it to his own advantage.
The Skysworn Captain didn't think like that. Who was behind this?
Several names came up as possibilities, but only one had been warned that Eithan had a Blackflame under his command. The Emperor, Naru Huan. Naru Gwei's nephew.
The Emperor was sending Eithan a message: they could work together, but Naru Huan intended to keep the upper hand. They would remain allies, not partners.
Eithan should have seen it coming. He'd been blind.
"Alas, what can I do against the will of the Skysworn?" Eithan asked, forcing a smile. "He will need a replacement for that arm. My family is keeping a Soulsmith as a guest, and she has been treating Lindon as something of a disciple. It would be a mercy to him if she could be the one to attach his prosthetic."
Naru Gwei began to speak, and Eithan could read the refusal in his face. He was going to deny the request as a matter of course, just because of his dislike of Eithan.
"I would consider it a personal favor," Eithan said.
Naru Gwei chewed on his leaf for a moment, considering, before he nodded. Lords didn't leave favors unpaid; not only was it bad for their reputations, enough debts could add up to spiritual damage. Just like a broken oath.
"We'll pick her up on the way."
He turned to go, gesturing for his Skysworn to follow him, but there was one more issue that Eithan needed to resolve. "You were prepared to use Ruler techniques against me. You knew I'd break your madra, and that I couldn't affect natural wind."
Naru Gwei scratched at his hair again. "He came to us the day after your fight. Said it was his duty to give a full report of a battle between Underlords, but he gave that report where anyone could hear him. Everyone knows, Eithan."
]Jai Daishou had spread Eithan's Path around. Eithan had expected this much of a penalty when he realized he'd failed to kill the Jai Underlord on the slopes of Mount [NOTE: what was the name of that mountain?]. It was in the Jai clan's best interests to have everyone in the Empire know what Eithan could do.
That wasn't an insurmountable obstacle. Most sacred artists didn't keep their Paths a secret.
...but most Paths didn't have a weakness as easy to exploit as pure madra did. Eithan could work around this, but it was going to make certain plans much harder.
He had intended to wait for Lindon and Yerin to catch up to him before he advanced, but now he would need to advance to Overlord as quickly as possible. How long would it take him? Another year? Two?
He’d have to speed things up.
...obviously there were quite a few things changed since this version of the scene was relevant, so don't take any of it as canon or anything. I just thought it might be interesting to show you what I was thinking at the beginning of Skysworn.
In a couple of days, we'll move on to Ghostwater, of which I have a much clearer memory. And we can do a deeper dive (heh) into the Ghostwater facility and the development of Ziel into the dead-eyed husk we know and love today.
I will say right up-front that I am pretty embarrassed by some of those Ziel notes and I don't particularly want to share them. This is a cry for help.
P.S. We have a new podcast episode up! It was a surprise to all of us, but Travis performed my Blackflame Part 1 blog to be shared on the podcast! Give it a listen if you're interested. And all hail Travis.
This book has been out forever at this point.
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