The one where I talk about Saint Seiya, the problem with the Gold Saints and my own novel setting issue.

Whoah, that was a really looooong title.

*Warning: spoilers for a 30-year-old anime show… and my own novel.*

If you were a kid from Mexico in the early 90s’, odds are that you woke up early every Saturday to watch the legendary anime “Los Caballeros del Zodiaco”, the original name “Saint Seiya” (for the purists) and known in the US as “Knights of the Zodiac” after a bastardized adaptation. And odds are that if you are Mexican kid that grew up in the early 90s’, is that Saint Seiya is your favorite anime -or one of them-.

Me? I’m a fan, not a big fan as some of my close friends (one of them even has every single figure released since the heyday of the show), but I would lie if I say I’m not a fan. The concept is pretty simple (the video below gives a remastered, succinct explanation for the visually inclined): every 300 years, ancient gods return in the shape of avatars to take over the world, so Athena (yes, that one), reincarnates in a human body**, calls forth her Saints or Knights, who wearing special armors inspired by the 88 western constellations, will face these gods -Poseidon, Hades- to protect humanity. The Saints are divided into the humble Bronze, the flashy Silver, and the godlike 12 Gold Saints -that follow the Western Zodiac-. However, this time, something went wrong, Athena and a few of her ‘weaker’*** saints are in the run of the most powerful ones and have to face them in a grueling marathon to uncover the truth, the traitor and fix everything before Poseidon, Hades and their armies return.

The show has a favorite character for everyone, especially if your zodiac sign had a cool representative among the Golden Saints, the top of the cream of warriors in the show. Really 10 out of 12 signs had a great character representing it-unless you are a Cancer or a Pisces, then I’m sorry your respective saints suck big time-. My wife has Shaka, Virgo Saint, the closest man to God and basically a buddha* with the power to traverse every single hell and heaven from anywhere. And is more dangerous when he actually opens his eyes.

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Mine, is this man:

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Dokho, Saint of Libra, custodian of the 12 sacred weapons of Athena, watcher of the Rozan peaks where the specters of Hades are trapped, having lived for 243 years and trained an old incarnation of the Pegasus Saint and the current Dragon Saint, Shiryu (my other favorite character). Dokho, who is the Yoda of the show that -spoiler- when the time comes and things get dire near the end, returns through a special technique to his peak form, that looks like this:

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The shortest, hot-tempered, goofball Gold Saint ready to take names and kick ass. In this form he is… well, the Obi-Wan of the show, even to the other Gold Saints. And even if he looks like a hyperactive teenager (which he technically still is).

But I digress… the show is entertaining -if a bit repetitive as older anime usually is-. The music is superb (think a rock group playing with an orchestra waaay before Metallica did it). And you grow fond of the characters -unlike they are Pisces and Cancer, seriously, they need a better PR spokesperson-. And I really enjoy it, to the point that I’m addicted to the new mobile game. But there is an issue here… I get that Seiya, the Pegasus Saint and titular character, and friends are the main heroes. And the show is about their growth into heroes. But the thing that most of my friends and I agree is that as much as the show sells you the idea of the Gold Saints being these beastly, godlike beings capable of facing gods when they show up in the show… they barely actually show up.

Yeah, I have the same expression as you, Dohko.

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Don’t get me wrong, some of the battles between the 5 Bronze Saints -Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki- and the Gold Saints are nail bitters, especially those between Ikki and Shaka, Hyoga and his master Aquarius Camus, Shiryu vs Cancer Deathmask**** and Capricorn Shura, and the last stand of Seiya against the evil side of Geminis Saga before Athena dies -look, it’s really complicated to explain-. But the rest are… a mixed bag. Aries Mu is an ally of the heroes. Taurus Aldebaran is convinced by the heroes that they are right, Dohko is busy being a Yoda, till Hades returns in Season 3. Scorpio Milo gives a good fight but he is a good guy and changes his mind and Pisces… he is so damn annoying and his fight with Shun really drags on. Aiolia Leo is being brainwashed by the main bad guy so he has to be freed from his control and Saggitarius Aiolos has been dead for 13 years. And when the Poseidon Chapter comes, nothing happens with them. The Hades chapter was meant to redeem them, but it only worked for Dohko and Kannon, the evil twin of Geminis Saga that now is the good twin -that family has ISSUES-. Then came Soul of Gold that tried to redeem them but the animation did them no favor at all. And Lost Canvas, which is not canon, did use well ALL the Gold Saints, but they were from a previous incarnation, taking place in 1743 and the only known character there is Dokho who is kinda a rookie then (this Obi-Wan in Episode I).

And here is the thing that bothers me: they are not that awe-inspiring when they appear, aside Saga whose power set is broken (which makes him a good villain).  I get that the animation techniques back then (the series started in the 80s’ even if it arrived at this side of the world in the 90s’) didn’t allow for much spectacle and thus the powers seem subsided, reduced. But when I was a kid I remember dreading the day the 5 Bros were about to face the Gold Saints because of the show’ propensity to sell you the idea that the later were nigh impossible to defeat. That their powers were earth-shattering -literally in the case of Capricorn-. But when the fights came about, they were not that different from the main 5. Which led to a sense of power escalation in later seasons -as many shonen***** anime do- that never allowed the Gold Saints to show their prowess against feared rivals like Poseidon’s Marines or Hades’ Specters. They were punked.

Which leaves me a sour taste in the mouth, because the Gold Saints should be downright terrifying. The kind of guys that inspire myths because what they can do is off the charts: create tears into the space-time continuum, freeze things to atomic level reaching absolute zero (the show plays fast and loose with physic laws), cut through the Earth itself, move at the speed of light, send your soul to the Underworld, crash a planet on your head… you get the idea.  They are the stuff of nightmares, even if they are, for most of the part, the good guys.

Rather, they are not so spectacular.

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Yes, it’s kinda sad, kinda amusing, Dohko.

This is a particular issue of concern for me while I work in the sequel of Tempest Blades. Fionn -and really, any of the Gifted- is known as a powerful warrior whose abilities are way beyond the ken of mortal men. But due to the peculiarities of the villain in the first book, he had to fight with a literal hand tied to his back. Same for Gaby and Alex. Now, for the sequel, they have free reign, more training, and more experience under their belts to show off all that they can do. However, I know the risk of power escalation, which can destroy the suspension of disbelief within the setting, making the Marty/Mary Sues, if I just give them more power. That’s a serious problem.

So that left me thinking…

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The solution is already set in the first book. In the POV of the only regular character of my cast: Harland. And others like him.

I don’t need to increase their powers. There is no need because they are already that powerful. What I need is to show how the powers they have, without the restrictions, posed by the plot of the first book, look to others from the outside. Namely, for Alex, manipulating energy might seem normal after 10 years. But for Harland, who is a regular human, it might be downright scary. And what about when Fionn truly let go. So far he has barely shown his full potential, for fear of collateral damage. But if the restriction is lifted… Gaby… well, you will see. That’s why in the new book I’m introducing a couple of characters that will give the perspective of how is like to watch a Gifted with a Tempest Blade in hand, going full out. Because while for my main cast, Harland aside, doing what they do is part of their daily lives, for the people watching from the sidelines, what they do, is the stuff of nightmares. Even if they are the good guys.

I just hope Athena can guide me to make it work.

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*Well, not basically a buddha, he is actually a reincarnation of Buddha.
**She is like the Christ-like figure of the story. Seriously, Saint Seiya is a hot podge of myths, religions and everything between, but seen through the greek mythology glasses and anime tropes.
***Weaker, sort to speak. While the 5 main characters: Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki are Bronze Saints and thus the lower step of the stair, they -in very shonen fashion- grow to be more than a match for the Gold Saints and assorted deities.
****No, really, that’s his birth name. Kurumada has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
*****Shonen is anime aimed for male audiences, think Dragon Ball.

It’s been a long road… the stories within the continuity of Tempest Blades.

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.
It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near.
And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky…

I think “Where My Heart Will Take Me” lyrics encapsulate the way having my novel published and released in a few months. But the world where it happens, the inhabitants living there, the main characters, have a history. And I’ve been working (and publishing) on bits of that history, connected one way or another to the main series.

This is a short list of stories already out and how they connect with the novel. They are ordered in chronological order, within the universe, rather than in publishing order in our universe.

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It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near…

Asherah’s Pilgrimage (8,000 to 10,000 years before present day):

It’s the ‘true’ story behind the legend of the foundation of the Freefolk first kingdom and the source of most of their major cultural beliefs and customs. It is also the story of how modern Freefolk came to be as they are now in the times of the Withered King. It will be published in Tales of Magic & Destiny in a few months, this year.

Silver Horn (around 152 years before present day):

My very first published story actually. It’s the folk tale -not the actual events- of how a young man undertook a quest to return a dangerous item deep inside a mystical place related to the Freefolk. Being a folk tale, it is more comedic and takes liberties about the actual events, but it’s the kind of tale a father would tell his son about his own exploits, to inspire the kid to become an adventurer and a hero. The young man in the story? It was the father of Fionn, the main character of my novel. It was featured in Tales from the Tower.

Buried Sins (around 110 years before the present day):

Around the world, there are multiple events taking place. Some are of no consequence, others have repercussions across space and time. And major wars always have different fronts, different battles. Some are big scale, like the Longhorn Valley battle at the start of Withered King and some are more personal. Buried Sins take place around the same time as the first chapter of the novel, across an ocean in a different land and is a tale about a man haunted by its inner monster, trying to stop mercenaries that are trying to dig up a weapon that could change the War portrayed in chapter 1 of the novel. And the events of this story will also affect the potential sequel of the novel. It was featured in Tales from the Underground.

Cosmic Egg (around 50-80 years after the present day):

Part sequel, part spin-off, it’s the tale of the first space expedition from Theia to explore the rest of the galaxy. None of the characters of Tempest Blades. The Withered King appears here, but most of the story’s characters are related to them in one way or another. Also, in the novel, you can see the technological precursors of the Fireraven, the ship featured in Cosmic Egg and the mention of a legend connected to a character from Asherah’s Pilgrimage. It was featured in Tales from the Universe.

So there you have a current list of stories tied to my novel.

Writing stories to flesh out the world of my novel has been helpful, not only for putting down historical events that can’t be included in the main series without bogging it down; but have also helped me to practice my writing skills and improve them. Bear in mind, and I’m being honest here, that the style has changed over the years. And I hope it has changed for good as I aim to be a good writer. Thus, the stories vary somewhat between them. Nonetheless, I hope you like them all as well as I hope you like my novel. That’s more than I can ask.

The world of Theia. Part 1: Ionis.

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Every story, every adventure needs a place to… well, take place. So this is Theia, the world where Tempest Blades takes place. Actually, it’s just one of the continents in Theia, where the story of this particular arc of Tempest Blades takes place.

But first a few data on Theia: it’s a planet similar to Earth, orbiting a sun within the habitable zone. It has two moons: one is round like ours, the other is a smaller, elongated one (no one really knows what the hell it is) that appears only when something on the mystic side takes place. It also has a thick ionosphere, with the result of massive storms rolling over the continents, and affecting the development of telecommunications and high altitude flight. Thus they have developed differently. Weather is mostly the same, but a bit more extreme and has both similar species to Earth (and from two other planets) and endemic ones. It also has a highly stable magick energy field atop the magnetic one.

Ionis is the central east continent of the planet, the most densely populated despite being the second or third ‘colonized’. It’s part of a larger landmass, divided by mountain ranges such as the Jagged Mountains and inner seas on the south. The Grasslands is where the most eastern continent starts. Nowadays the continent is organized under the rule of the Free Alliance, a coalition of city-states and small kingdoms and republics that formed after the Great War took down the Old Kingdoms. There are no nominal borders within its territory, although each city-state has under its protection the smaller ones, as well as towns.

The freefolk nations shares space with humans with relative peace and their settlements rule themselves but in an alliance with the city-states as formal members of the Alliance. Freefolk and human intermingle with such frequency that it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from another (unless someone uses magick). Samoharos are a rare sight in the continent, only visiting ports such as Portis, Saint Lucy or the Seven Watersnakes.

Weather and vegetation are similar to that of British Columbia. There are still cultural, economic and sports-related rivalries within its regions, which sometimes can spill into minor conflicts. But for the most part, Ionis has endured a century of peace since the war ended. Think the European Union or the Carolingian Empire.

The map, for the sake and brevity, only depicts places that are mentioned in the actual story or are really important (such as the three main cities). There are more places there, but it would have been madness to fit all in that space. So this is a primer on the places marked there. In alphabetical order.

Belfrost: the short name of Belger’s Frost, in honor of Belger, the famous explorer that mapped most of the continent and founded the city as last stop before going into the Grasslands, where he would get lost forever. Now is considered the “city of spies”.

Carffadon: important commercial and touristic town in the Emerald Island due to its key location on the banks of the river Breen. Home of artists, poets, merchants, and pubs.

Emerald Island: the major power of the region, it coalesced into a single rule under King Castlemartell the leader of the Alliance during the war and now ruled by his daughter, Queen Brenda ‘The Long-Lived’. It has the largest overall population of freefolk outside the regions neighboring the World’s Scar.

Lemast: tiny town in the shadows of the Jagged Mountains. Only memorable for their particular architecture, the strange mausoleum in the middle of a cemetery and the regiment posted there to guard it.

Longhorn Valley: the place where the war was won by the Alliance and where the Light Explosion took place.

Manfeld: the oldest city in the continent is now a major commercial, cultural and industrial center. Its high walls, location upon a hill and easy access to water made it the perfect defensive spot and was the only mainland city to don’t fall during the war, although the siege that took place did a number on the city. It also has the largest population of city freefolks.

Maze, The: a  most peculiar region of the World’s Scar. It is said that it’s the exact spot where a certain goddess entered the world the first time. As such, is a place with reality warping properties, gravitational waves and endless roads that can get you lost. Also, it has dangerous predators there. It is the most important place for the freefolk nations as it is considered the location of the birth of their culture and where they discovered how to use magick. Visiting the place at least once in their lives is a significant goal of every freefolk on the planet.

Mercia University: one of the many universities on the continent. Recognized by its advanced programs in arcanotech –first of its kind-, design & engineering and freefolk-human relationships. It has an exchange program with Ravenstone.

Portis: the merchant city. It controls all the islands and maritime trade routes from and to the continent (think Venetia during the Renaissance). Famous for its legendary swordsmen and swashbuckling escapades that inspired hundreds of novels. Rumored to be founded by sailors that worshipped a strange sea deity. Most megacorps such as that from the Galfano Family have their main offices there.

Ravenstone: THE place to learn magick. It’s a mostly an only-freefolk school, although it does take human students with an aptitude for magick. Reaching it’s hard, but that’s on purpose, given that housed students of all ages, it needs to be a safe place for them. Located deep into the Maze region of the World’s Scar, it’s the perfect place to practice magick without blowing up the neighborhood.

Saint Lucy: capital of the Emerald Island and one of the three main cities. Founded on the remains of an ancient capital by King Castlemartell and named in honor of his deceased wife. It’s also known as the ‘city of blinding lights’. Queen Brenda rules from there.

Samheil Mountain: tallest peak in the Emerald Island. It is said to be haunted by fey –will-o-wisp creatures- and it’s the place where Fionn decided to settle after his return.

Sandtown: Its original freefolk name is lost, but it is believed that it was the location of the capital of the freefolk Kingdom of Umo (or Ulmo, spelling varies from tribe to tribe), before its fall almost a millennia ago due to a terrible catastrophe. Nowadays it’s a small town that houses Queen Brenda’s secret retreat and the nominal seat of the Free Alliance ruling council. Although nowadays the council rotates location between the Three major cities (Portis, Manfeld, and Saint Lucy).

Seven Watersnakes: a most fertile region on the continent, home of farms, cities, and ports. The region was in ancient times home to three quarreling kingdoms whose inhabitants’ exploits formed the basis for the Romances of Monstegur, a popular series of books, movies, and video games.

Skarabear: town located in the extreme north of the Emerald Island. Hometown of Fionn, it is the prime example of human-freefolk friendly coexistence, thanks to its legendary daughter and son and their exploits during and after the Great War. While part of the Emerald Island, it’s a town that tends to consider itself independent of the main rule from Saint Lucy and while friendly to outcasts, its inhabitants keep to themselves for a mysterious reason.

Thunder Pass: the nominal south-eastern border of the continent. Known for the endless thunderstorms that take place there. Currently the home of the power farms that provide energy to the continent.

World’s Scar: it’s a canyon… that crosses the whole planet (yes even under the ocean it’s rumored to have walkable spots. The place with most magick energy. In older times it was considered the geographical northern border of Ionis, but with the inclusion of the northern freefolk settlements of the Boreal Forests & the Mistlands, that became part of the past, with now the start of the Tundric lands the new frontier. Legend says that it was created when a certain goddess entered the world in her full form.

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Creating the map of your setting is not an easy task. Coming with shapes, names and geologically coherent structure is an intricate work of love. Thankfully I have a great illustrator -who is also a science buff- on my corner: Mr. Marco García.

He usually draws dinosaurs, cryptozoologist guides, and storyboards, but he agreed to help me with this, providing we stuck to geology and geography rules, with one exception (which is a magical place that violates the laws of nature on purpose). His input has been invaluable and even helped me to reexamine how some bits of my worldbuilding should go on.

The image above is the result of such collaboration. It is the location where the adventures of my characters from Tempest Blades takes place (at least the first novel-arc) It is not a complete map of the world (there are like 3 more continents still on the works) and of course the places pointed in the map are not the only ones in existence, just the ones used in the novel.

I have to say, I love the little details and the coherence between rivers, marshes, and mountains. Even the little, unnamed islands and the waves. As a first approach to this, I can’t be any happier. And if you want to see more of Marco’s work, go to his DeviantArt page.

The Trickster Goddess.

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The Trickster Goddess from the Tempest Blades universe is an odd creature. Yes I know, is a deity and is bound to be inscrutable. But as the author, I’m privy to what goes behind the curtain regarding my characters. And yet, she does honor her sobriquet in a way, because no matter the story I write in that setting, she finds a way to get in it. She doesn’t appear that much in my novel or related stories… yet. But the very question of how to create a somewhat relatable deity without resorting in a deus ex machina was on my mind when I created the backstory of my setting and the character of the Trickster Goddess. While her character doesn’t appear per se, she has a considerable impact on the world.

I won’t reveal the name she goes by these days as it would be a spoiler for the novel, (I’m still working on publishing it). But I can reveal a few tidbits on her and if you read the novel you will understand who she is right away.

-She is a deity (obviously), but not a creator deity. She works for one and is related in a way that’s not entirely clear.

-Time runs differently for her than for a mortal. Not necessarily at an accelerated pace (e.g. a year for us is a day for her), nor she can see what’s in the future (she has visions of multiple futures though).

-She is older than THIS universe (the Tempest Blades ones) but not necessarily older than the entire creation.

-She was part of an ancient civilization of deities.

-Being as old as the universe (even if time works differently for her kind) tends to make one a tad unhinged so she (or at least her avatar that is the one doing the rounds in the novel) relies on a few tricks to remain relatable to the mortals she is watching over

-She likes technology, but prefer to do things by hand.

She keeps a library with the records of all that happens in the world and replicas of all inventions, but instead of a highly advanced computational system to keep track of everything (which she could create with ease), she likes to do it by hand, painstakingly classifying every bit on her own. After all, she has all the time in the world.

-She can’t enter directly into the mortal world or Realspace in her full form as the mere presence of her kind in that form is liable to break things: glasses, mountains, planets. The Wolrd’s Scar is the prime example of her doing that. I took her a few planets to learn not doing it. So now she uses an avatar -a female girl-, that’s part of her but not entirely her. The avatar has most of her memories (the rest are tucked in her library which is an avatar of sorts too) and a decent chunk of her power, but most of it and her true conscience is kept at the Overspace. That doesn’t mean the avatar is independent. It’s actually her without being her. You know, metaphysics. It also means that the avatar is indestructible.

-She likes to take the form of a red and black Raven. Mostly because the feeling of the wind caressing her feathers feels nice. Also because she likes to gossip and a raven used to go unnoticed.

-She likes to make the same pilgrimage that a whole of the Freefolk does from one point of the planet to another once in their lives (it was her idea originally). But she does in her avatar form and on foot every decade or so.

-She likes the company of mortals, mostly Freefolk.

-Once she fell in love with a human, during the Dawn Age of Theia. From that love she had two children, twins that are the ones forging the Tempest Blades from their hideout, so she is trying to emulate a family. They are still alive (they are demigods) but no one has seen them and have to follow some strict rules. Nothing is known about her partner.

-She finds mortals inspiring in a way. That’s why she aids those that become heroes. In a way.

-She doesn’t like to intervene. She can fight, but won’t do it. Don’t ask her for miracles. She expects mortals to be able to do their thing and only helps in indirect ways. And only when she is in the mood. She is a Trickster after all.

-Which means that her aid will be indirect and in the form of a pep talk, or scolding someone. Only a universal level of threat might compel her to act directly. And any favor she does to you will have to be paid back with interest. She is the strict teacher of the school.

-She likes to take on a student of the magical arts from time to time, mostly to have someone to talk about and go to the cinema. The said student might know the true identity of her avatar, but that won’t help him/her. There is a reason behind their selection.

-And she likes to annoy the hell out of a hero or two (mainly Fionn these days) under her several disguises, living different lives through her avatar.

-She had one mortal friend once, Asherah of the Freefolk, the First Magi and the first DragonQueen (that was back then when the Freefolk were still humanoid shapeshifters without a defined appearance).

-She has at least six other known siblings, but she doesn’t see eye to eye with them since she is the one taking a bigger interest in mortals and the Realspace. The rest are usually busy keeping eldritch beings (such as the Golden Emperor and the Crawling Chaos) away from creation.

-However, she argues that their duty would be better fulfilled if her siblings took the time actually know what they are fighting for rather than just following an ancient order. The point she makes to her siblings is this: how can you claim to be a guardian of the mortal world if you don’t experience it to understand it. So far the only one that has followed her advice is her older brother the Jailer.*

-As result of the above, the Jailer is, ironically and given their opposite functions, purviews, and points of view, the sibling she actually gets along. In a way. Their arguments about philosophy can be epic and last for centuries.

-She doesn’t demand worship. She doesn’t care and certainly doesn’t need it. In reality, finds it embarrassing. And yet she is the patron of Freefolk, magi, rogues, babies, and heroes. She is the one having faith in mortals.

-Used to play the bagpipe, but she lost hers.

-She hates being called a Goddess because she doesn’t feel she is divine, just is what she is. It’s complicated. But most mortals will call her that way rather than her one of her actual names, so after a while, it doesn’t bother her as much. She just ignores it.

-And she likes candies.

*Only when he can escape his job of keeping the evilest beings trapped in Hell, known as the Infinity Pits. He is the equivalent to Lucifer in the sense of being a punisher of evildoers, rather than the source of evil.

Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 4: Freefolk religion & lost beliefs.

For Part 1: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 1: an introduction

For Part 2: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 2: Samoharo religions.

For Part 3: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 3: Human Religions.

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Freefolk religion.

After the fall of the last great Kingdom, the Kingdom of Ulmo, most of the organized religion of the freefolk fell into disarray, becoming a varied collection of ideas. It’s the less organized of the religions but probably one of the oldest if not the oldest. However, all the clans believe in certain core beliefs:

The Eight: the main gods and goddesses of the freefolk, of which the Trickster Goddess is the main one, not in terms of power but because she has bestowed her full attention on what she calls her children. Of her, we will talk later in detail.  The Eight are considered the first generation of the children of the Great Maker, the being that expelled chaos (as in entropy) from the universe. The Eight are the leaders of the Children –whom according to some legends from the Grasslands are the akeleth themselves- and each represents certain aspects and in turn, is represented by a mythical creature. This will be expanded in future posts, but of the Eight, the most revered are the Guardian, the Trickster, the Seer, the Healer and the Jailer.

Magick: is the gift from the Great Maker to the freefolk people, it is the blood of the planet and the stars and should be used for neutral or good aims. Magick is the innermost connection a freefolk can expect to achieve with the world itself. When it is corrupted then it calls upon the Eternal Ones, the eldritch beings living in the deepest of the Infinity Pits, or Hell.

Pilgrimage: Every certain number of years, a freefolk, a family or even a tribe is called into the Pilgrimage, a journey of self-discovery that makes that person or persons to walk the earth inside the World’s Scar from the Yumenomori Forest in the westernmost peninsula of Auris to the easternmost hill in the Grasslands of Ionis  and Balakef. In that journey, they are often tested by the Trickster Goddess herself in order to learn something about themselves and thus enhance their connection with the world –understanding that as reality itself- regardless if they possess or not the ability to channel magick.

The Tempest: the conflux of energies that separate the astral or spiritual plane from the living plane. Basically, the astral plane is where souls go after death but before choosing a final destination. The Tempest is that manifestation when the Veil that separates both planes is ruptured and travel between both can be done. The Samoharo dreamwalking is similar in that aspect.

The communion: the main goal of the freefolk religion is for its adherents to be in communion with the world around them so when they die, they go to the spiritual plane of the world, joining a network of memories that can be accessed through the Tempest and said plane.

The Long Moon: the mysterious object that orbits around Theia in conjunction with its moon. The freefolk believe that their erratic apparitions are omens from the Eight warning freefolk of events of magnitude.

The religious leaders of the freefolk are shamans that claim to commute with the world or reality itself through the use of special powder, storytelling, and riddles.

Lost beliefs.

The beliefs of the Akeleth and the Montoc Dragons:  Little is known about the religious beliefs of the Montoc Dragons or the Akeleth. It is plausible, based on the few records left behind in the Grasslands that they shared beliefs about the Great Consciousness of the Universe that begotten them. The Montoc Dragons claimed to be born from the stars themselves, while the akeleth apparently believed to be stars themselves in mortal form. Both mention the struggles against the Great Enemy, the Original Sin or mistake born from the same event that created the Universe.

Some scholars believe that the ancient religion that both species followed was the source for the rest of the faiths in Theia.  Each species -or individual groups- took elements that fitted their vision of the universe. This discussion comes from the fact that higher and lower dimensions are not only shared between all religions in the world, they share the same names and experimental proof that they exist. They are called Last Heaven and Infinity Pits. They are real and people have glimpsed them through history. The most common version is when an ‘incursion’ occurs. An incursion is when a creature from the Pits, usually through magick, materializes into the world to unleash havoc. Each religion and science as well have found ways to deal with them, with more or less success. But they all agree that the spiritual plane, Heaven, and Hell exist, even if no one can be sure what they actually are.

 

Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 3: Human Religions.

For Part 1: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 1: an introduction

For Part 2: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 2: Samoharo religions.

 

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The religions mentioned here are the current, modern ones and with more adherents. Or the one that has caused more mayhem through time. Others have existed, long gone or with little clusters over the populated world.

Universe’s Consciousness or Universality: The mainstream, modern religion in most human territories, particularly in Ionis and the Free Alliance. It has several branches and temples all over the world. Their core belief is that mankind can aspire to be one with the Universe Consciousness through acts that improve the Universe’s plan. Universality preaches that being parts of the legacy of the Universe it is the duty of a person to help others and create a balance of good acts that counter the evil or corrupt acts of others, often promoted by the Discord, the enemy of the Universe and source of evil. It preaches what it is called RAKs or ‘random acts of kindness’ to balance the scale. This balancing of the scales has the aim of cleansing the soul of the person so it can rejoin the Universe after learning about the reality. The main teachings were developed by the Wise Students, twelve followers of the two Great Masters that taught humanity about the universe in the past.  While the actual teachings of the Great Masters are lost to time, it is considered that the teachings of the Wise students codify enough of them. It is rumored that one of the Master later crossed the Core Ocean and developed the Kamisava of the Kuni, making it a distant relative.

The two mainstream versions of Universality are Gaian and Cosmo. Gain focuses their teaching in taking care of the planet where humankind lives, talking about some mysterious past that cost humanity’s their first world or paradise. This is the branch that has been more influenced by the Paths of the samoharo. Cosmo takes a more orthodox approach of balancing the scales in a general sense. Some scholars see a parallel between the Wise Students and the Eight of the freefolk. Other scholars conflagrate them with the so-called ‘Founding Fathers’, a mythological group that led humanity from their original land into Theia and from which most human nations arose.

The Kamisava of Kuni Empire: the official religion of Kuni Empire and the second most organized in the world. Similar to Universality in a few core concepts, the Kamisava preaches that living beings are already part of the universe and thus attaining ‘godhood’ is possible. In fact, they believe that some lesser gods walk among them as we speak. In ancient times, when the so-called ‘Mortal Gods’ -demigods of unclear origin- ruled Theia and mortals rebelled against them with the help of the akeleth, the Mortal Gods of the Kuni Empire sided with mortals. As such it is rumored that a few ones –including the Empress- live hidden lives with them. The most famous of such gods is the folk hero Storm God that lives in the God’s Eye volcano right in the middle of the Auris Gulf. Kamisava is also the religion with a more open approach to dealing with ‘incursions’, through the ‘demonhunters’*, warrior-priest that walk the land destroying any creature from or influenced by the Infinity Pits. Kamisava also believes in reincarnation although unlike Universality, in what one can reincarnate is more varied, the ‘Wheel of purification’. As result, they are more prone to carry out rites of the animistic kind as ancestors can exist as any part of nature, given that souls are already part of the universe and need only to be purified. There has been some overlap between Kamisava and the Paths of the stargazers due to the proximity between the Empire and the Hegemony.

The Straits’s religion: it doesn’t have an official name as in theory is a branch of Universality, given that the region was originally colonized by people from Ionis. However it is a very syncretic religion that adds elements from the Kamisava –the reverence to ancestors- and the Paths of the stargazers –mainly the dreamwalking-  and even the Tempest concept of the freefolk religion and mixes it with a peculiar outlook of the death –a few people from the Straits have the ability of ghostsighting- that makes them celebrate it during the days of the year when the Tempest manifest. Their approach to life and death mostly comes from the fact that the Straits are a dangerous place to live –due the extreme weather and the proximity to the Wastelands.

Assuran religion: in old times was one of the most important human religions. Now it is only followed by the inhabitants of the Western Wastelands and the Cursed City of Meteora. At its apogee, it was highly organized, with thousands of warlock priests carrying out rites in front of multitudes. It was polytheistic in structure and many of its deities have been compared to what other religions call creature from the Infinity Pits but the Assuran called the Great Gods. Major gods include the Crawling Chaos and the Golden King while minor ones included the Bestial and the Narsubanipal. It was the main human religion that granted its followers magick channeling abilities through the use of drugs such as the murcana. At some point in history, its priests called on a sacred war against the freefolk that caused a transcontinental war, which ended with the fall of the Empire from which Meteora was capital and transforming its territory in a wasteland full of buried cities, unforgiving deserts and mutated beings. Outside the wastelands, the religion is found in small clusters of cultists such as the Brotherhood of Gadol or the Cult of the Deep God in the catacombs beneath Portis.

Other humans beliefs: There are other religions, such as those from the people of the Chains across the Core Ocean or the strange animistic religion of the people from the Grasslands or the lost religion of the Iskandar, however, those will be explored in another entry under minority religions further down the road.

Interesting fact(s): in Universality, the Universe or the consciousness that created it and maintains it is referred as ‘Her’, ‘Mother’ or ‘Kaana’ and considers it an actual being. It also preaches reincarnation and rebirth into a second or third human life as a way to balance the scales across ages.

*Universality has their own version of clerical exorcists, but they usually work undercover rather than in the open as demonhunters and usually are less ‘physical’ in combat.

Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 2: Samoharo religions.

For Part 1: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 1: an introduction

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The samoharo, secretive as they are, live their reptilian lives mostly within the territory of the southwestern continent of Genis, naming their land ‘The Hegemony’. Few is know of their religious beliefs, but the generalities can be talked about.

Paths of the stargazers: the main religion (but not the only one) of the Samoharo Hegemony. It is deeply entwined with the magical beliefs of the samoharo and as such, their religious caste is as well their main –if not only- magical practitioners. It combines aspects of their more tribal customs such as pathfinding, dreamwalking and stargazing with the teachings of that who they call ‘The Prophet’ that in a far flung past united both samoharo races in a single nation in order to avoid extinction. Samoharos believe that they came from the stars, like the dragons before them and their destiny is to join the universe and the stars.

The prophet they follow, ‘the Child of the Wind’, also known as the ‘Feathered Dragon’ taught them the ‘Paths’, mostly composed of solidarity, honor and patience and communion with the planet as they see taking care of Theia (or any other planet) as part of the Path to reunite with the stars. Stars then take the role of deities, the ‘godstars’, of which the samoharo have several that represent certain aspects of time and space and thus have their own Path, explained by the Prophet. Some variants of the Paths found within the Hegemony practice bloodletting sacrifices -as in an individual offering a few drops of their blood to a particular star- as to empower certain spells.

Each samoharo tribe or clan tends to follow a particular Path of a godstar, each representing an element of nature. However, the Paths are flexible and individuals are welcomed to follow more than one. The Path or combinations of them tend to affect life’s outlook of a particular individual.

The Windstar or Star of the Morning: mostly followed by the royal clan, teaches flexibility, wisdom, and leadership.

The Rainstar: teaches foresight, healing, and cleansing.

The Firestar or Sun: teaches honor, combat prowess, and personal improvement. Most warriors tend to follow this path.

The Grassstar: teaches the value of handcraftsmanship, taking care of the land, fertility, and family.

The Ghoststar: teaches dreamwalking, lore keeping, respect to the death, the ancestors and the spirit plane. Most priests follow this path, mixed with the one of the Rainstar.

Cult of the Smoking Mirror: samoharos are by nature very secretive and reclusive, thus there is little information on what this religion practices, it is believed that most militaristic samoharo follow it, believing that blood sacrifices will awaken some hidden power within the samoharo genetic code. It is said to be taught on the principles stated by the half-brother of the Child of the Wind and a godstar by himself by the name of the Mirrorstar. It started as a Path unto itself, but a schism separated it and made it a secret cult.

Interesting fact(s): The Paths have influenced the religious beliefs of the humans living in the Straits, specifically the Ghoststar path, evolving in a celebration of the death.

Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 1: an introduction

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Talking about faith is always a tricky proposition, even if we are talking about fictional settings. However, I think that how a society relates to the greater mysteries of their world is a key element of world building because it affects how a character might react to certain events.

In the Tempest Blades universe, usually, there is little mention of religions and spiritual faiths, despite being a constant mention of a particular goddess. Even characters that don’t follow her cult mention her, but that is because she has been quite active in history. Other than her and perhaps the beliefs of fringe groups such as those sponsoring the villains, religion plays little to no role on how my characters act. There is a reason for that.

In most parts of Theia, religious beliefs tend to be a personal matter rather than something bigger. Religion is thus one of many defining characteristics but not a major one. There are, of course, organized religions and faiths. But in a world where magic can be used, where there are verified accounts of ‘demons’ & gods’, and certain degree of certainty about the existence of Hell & Heaven, religion takes a different role: instead of being used to explain random phenomena, it is used as a mean to find the place of a person of the universe or conversely, the relationship between a person and the universe. It doesn’t mean it has been always like that, in the past religious groups had a bigger impact in life, remnants of them can be seen in groups such as the Sisters of Mercy. However, by the time the stories take place, religion has become what I said, something more personal, even if a given person belongs to a particular congregation.

What defined the way a particular region or civilization of Theia developed a faith and later a religion depends on of a few factors: their ‘arrival myth’ & species they belong*, their relationship with the precursors known as akeleths**, how they fared during the age of the ‘mortal gods’*** and a few other factors as cultural mores, extradimensional incursions and the use of magic. In the following weeks, I will briefly explain a few of the major beliefs in Theia.

For Part 2: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 2: Samoharo religions.

For Part 3: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 3: Human Religions.

For Part 4: Faith in the Tempest Blades Universe Part 4: Freefolk religion & lost beliefs.

 

*Unlike our world, most of the species have arrival myths on par of creation myths. That is, along their myths on how the universe came to be, they have (and it plays a bigger role in certain sectors) an arrival myth that explains how that particular race got to be in Theia, as most recognize or at least begrudgingly suspect that none originated on the planet, but instead were transported there somehow, probably by the akeleth aeons ago.

**The akeleths (more on them in another post), are the mysterious precursor race that inhabited Theia in times beyond recording. It’s  fact they existed because their ruins still pepper the surface of the planet and some of the current technology the species have is derived from it. Freefolk believe they are as the forefathers, almost lesser gods related to their main Eight deities, with their ruins being sacred places for them; while humans find them an inscrutable mystery to be solved -especially when it comes to appropriate their technology-. Samoharos for their part find them strange and on par of the oldest beings in the universe.

*** The mortal gods is an age when certain individuals, probably demigods born from the younger species and the akeleth or the Eight of the freefolk, with the aim of protecting the younger species at the Dawn Age. However most became corrupted and regular mortals, helped by the Montoc Dragons and a few good Mortal Gods, hunted and killed them. The only mortal gods rumored to still be around -mostly inside Kuni territory- are the Storm God, the Shadowbreaker, the Twins of the Forge and the Makin.

Welcome to (insert name)! On how places get named

Valendale. Courtesy of Freemaps.org

I’ve been thinking lately about how names of places come to be. It’s an especially jarring task when you are world building either for a book or for your role playing sessions.

Most authors (and DM at that) try to go for the Tolkien route: create bombastic sounding names to put in their locations, buildings, even family names. I have done that. But it usually reads and feels hollow, forced, unnatural. It feels like a tacky label glued onto something. The other route is to create a weird sounding word and use it. This is the method I usually use (taking advantage of the frequent misspellings I have by typing too fast on my phone). While useful for minor things, it sounds forced as well with bigger things, namely location names.

I’m not saying this a diss to anyone, as I said, I have done it myself, both in my D&D sessions and in the first drafts of Tempest Blades (when it had other names like Curry -don’t ask why-, Wings of Thunder and so on). But lately, while I’m revising and editing the novel I find myself pondering more on the topic.

The thing is that Tolkien could get away with it because before being a writer he was a superb philologist that had read, translated and studied several old texts such as the Kalevala and the original Beowulf. He studied how the words came to be before doing it himself. It is said that Middle Earth came to be from the need to give a home for the languages he was creating. Thus every elvish word he used had an etymological origin within the language and context of the LOTR universe. That’s why places like Rivendell or Mordor feel like real places. While we are not Tolkien, the process he followed is not different from what happens in real world.

That made me realize something: most location names in real life are not created that way. Regardless of how they sound now, most of them are not all were derived from ancient words used to describe to others where you lived. It was a way to tell your address in a time where there was no concept of addresses or maps. Rivendell has a meaning like The Shire for their inhabitants not related to any mystic word, but usually coming from a descriptor of a place, like ‘clear water’ or ‘under the waterfall’ or ‘mud city’. There are some names that came from real or legendary persons, usually the ones that founded the place such as Alexandria (Alexander the Great) or Rome (Remus), or where people believed their deities communicated with them or were blessed by them, like Athens and Athena. A few of them come from actual events, legends of what happened there. Names reflect either the place or the history of the people that dwelled there. Even humorous confusions can be used for that.

Let’s take a few examples from real life. In Mexico, there is a state called Yucatan (where Cancun and the Mayan Ribera are located). There are two theories about the actual meaning of the name ‘Yucatan’: one that means ‘yu ka t’ann = listen how weird they talk’, which was said by the locals when the Spaniards arrived and the later thought it was the name of the place. The other says ‘Ci u t’ann = I don’t understand you’, again the locals trying to explain the Spaniards that no, not everybody spoke Spanish back then (kinda what happens now with some English speaking tourists, but I digress).

Now take a look at the home of the Bard: Stratford-upon-Avon. Let’s examine it by parts. Stratford is the result of the combination of the Old English strǣt, meaning ‘street’, with ford, indicating a shallow part of a river or stream, allowing it to be crossed by walking. ‘Upon’ is the relative position of the place with respect to the nearby river the Avon. In turn, Avon comes from the Celtic ‘abona’ (or so I have read, please correct me if I’m wrong). So a literal translation of the name would be ‘Street upon the shallow part of the river’ or something like this. There are plenty locations around the world that sound exotic to us Spanish or English speakers but that to the original inhabitants of the place were common descriptors to explain the place where they lived and which words, with the pass of time became nouns by themselves.

Now, writers in the science fiction, fantasy and science fantasy genres tend to get very ‘imaginative’ with the names of the places and institutions, even the last names (more on this one later) but there are truly a few memorable ones. Everybody knows that ‘King’s Landing’ is the nominal capital of Westeros in ASOIAF. But the name has its history explicit on it. It is the place where Aegon the Conqueror settled from Dragonstone to start his campaign to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. That little piece of world building makes the place feel more real for the reader and not just a wild invention to get out of the issue fast. It can happen that the name was quickly created, but so many things happen there through the story that the name becomes ‘solid’. Which is arguably what happens with most names in Star Wars. Regardless, if you are going to use a locale for more than a passing reference, then dedicating a bit of thought on how that name came to be can help to make the place feel ‘real’ and even get plot points across.

This has changed my approach to how I name places in my stories, mainly in the Tempest Blades universe. I go with the descriptor route, with the memorable event/person or with something inspired in my real life.

For example, in Tempest Blades one of my characters studies at a university that has ‘Mercian’ as a name, because it is located in the Mercian region of the Emerald Island. Yes, it sounds weird, but I chose it for a reason. Mercian comes from Mercia, an ancient 6th-century kingdom in England. I obtained my Ph.D. at Loughborough University, whose coat of arms includes the Offa of Mercia´s cross, and whose current location falls withing the old borders of that kingdom. So while the name sounds weird, it is, in reality, a veiled reference to my alma mater which now has a counterpart in my setting (which in turns facilitates describing the place in the novel). Yes, it is a bit of projection, but I want to see it as an homage to a place that has importance in my life. Some places in my novel are derived from real world places that have captivated my mind.

Then there is Saint Lucy’s, the capital of the Emerald Island and the place where the final battle of the first novel takes places, which was named after a saint that blessed the war effort. You have Ravenhall and Ravenstone, both places named after the Raven, aka the Trickster Goddess (the main deity of my setting) or The Maze, which got its name due to the weird spatial configuration of the place that makes people get lost inside it.

Finally, I have Belfrost, the city of spies. This place will appear in later stories (since it was cut from the first novel). Its name is a contraction of ‘Belger’s Frost’. It’s a city on a mountain range that separates the Ionis continent from the as yet unnamed continental mass where the mysterious grasslands are. It was founded by Belger the explorer on a frosty peak and was the last place where he was seen alive before leaving to explore the grasslands, to never been seen again. Thus the name of the city is a homage to its founder.

I think for the most part this has helped me to give the cities of the setting a little bit more of personality and a connection to the characters and the history of that world. I don’t know if this method will help anyone, as often worldbuilding tends to distract from the actual writing, but at least in my case, it has helped me to solve the issue of naming places while writing without making them feel empty or unreal. They feel more tangible (at least in my head). It has also helped to move plot points in way I didn’t expect but now make sense within the story and have as well allowed me to think on more ideas for future stories.

Before closing this post, I want to mention the last name issue. Most last names in the world were created as descriptors of an animal totem, a  work the person was doing like Archer for example; from the place where they lived (most Spanish last names); derived from first names to denote ancestry (again like most Spanish names or nordic names, e.g. Johansson = son of Johan) or to denote important events on the originator’s life (e.g. my last names comes literally from victory, as my great, great grandfather changed his mouthful of last name to Victoria, to celebrate a battle he won against the Spaniards during Mexico’s Independence War). It’s not a rule of course, but it could be a good guide when it comes to giving last names to your characters.

The Montoc Dragons

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 “The Montoc Dragons.”

In ages before, dragons were common, as diverse as the species of toads and frogs or as different as human, freefolk and samoharo. There were the smaller ones from ponds, of course. There were those too that gnaw at the innards of the world, in search of treasures to use as nests. They roamed fields and forests alike, dragons of lesser size, but no less impressive when they unfolded their wings and took to the skies from where their forefathers came.

But the most impressive ones were those born out of a star’s heart, in the vast expanses of the Montoc region beyond our constellations, creatures that descended upon our world to watch over the younger races as older brothers. Or so it says in the Statues of the Montoc Dragons.

Blessed were those in foreign lands that managed to bear witness of those majestic dragons, crossing the oceans and dancing feverish amidst magical chants of the Great Will inspiration, around storms or mountains; as the members of such prodigious race were scarce remnants of wisdom that choose to stay on the fertile land of Theia, waiting for more of them to be born out of the dying stars were the Akeleth tended them, or leaving towards the realms beyond imagination that now they rule. Or so they say, the Statues of the Montoc Dragons.

No, dragons have not gone extinct, they just moved out into a realm of the mind where their mythic figure can surge the skies, leaving us with a few portentous memories. Or so they say, the Montoc Dragons.”