Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Hollow Mountain: The Maenhu

(This is the first in my series of worldbuilding posts for A Hollow Mountainthe second book in The Brightest Shadow series.)

The second book in The Brightest Shadow takes the main characters out of the Chorhan Expanse, exploring the the northern part of the continent. They'll journey across the Sotunn Mountains, a brutal range filled with vicious raiders, and to the nations of the Maenhu.

The northern region of Breilin, bounded by oceans and the vast Sotunn Mountains, forms a distinct cultural region. Though considered the far north by many, it spans a significant latitude, ranging from hot desert in the south to frozen shores in the north. Though the three nations are similar ethnically, they have sharp cultural differences and a history of warfare between them.

In ancient times it was ruled by an empire and fiefdoms controlled by powerful warriors, but for the last several centuries it has been dominated by three nations that continually fight over their borders. Where the Chorhan Expanse is a meeting of countless strangers from across the world, the Maenhu is a firmly established and insular region.

The three nations of Espal, Portant, and Wahleen are each governed by a semi-democratic council. This system has proved remarkably durable over the years, allowing powerful sects to maintain seats while limiting their control. Likewise, the rise of a merchant class was easily absorbed into the council system with the creation of mercantile seats. Overall, the Maenhu has a weakened noble class, spreading authority across more social institutions.

Most warriors in the Maenhu are known as errants, following a wide variety of paths that nonetheless have certain elements in common. The Maenhu has pioneered the use of sein with metal, both when creating and wearing equipment. Sufficiently powerful warriors might be able to cut ordinary steel, but armor forged in the north and filled with an errant's sein takes on far more durable qualities.

Though a few errants operate independently, most operate within a national army, sect, or organization. They are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with a code of respect, though this is often more theory than practice. An errant's status is precisely ranked in accordance with the Maenhu's system.

In ancient times, the mystics of Portant pioneered a technology to precisely measure sein. This was eventually refined into an object called the Wooden Judge, which simultaneously welcomes and resists sein flow: when a person touches it, the wood reaches a certain equilibrium, which can be used as a way to approximate the depth of their sein.

Use of Wooden Judges during the imperial era was rampant, the centerpiece of a campaign to locate peasants who were training and crush their rebellion before it could begin. In the modern era, how much a Wooden Judge reacts to an individual determines their rank, and in turn their position in the Maenhu's warrior society.

Beginners are known as Ironsquires, often weaker than soldiers with sein training, but groomed to ascend higher. Once they have reached the rank known as Ironlord, they are considered errants in truth and gain both privileges and responsibilities.

Each of these ranks has subdivisions, skipped over for our present purposes. Once someone passes beyond the peak of Ironlord, they're considered Steeljudges. Though Steeljudges can no longer be evaluated by Wooden Judges, they have their own methods, eventually leading to the peak rank of Steelmaster.

Unlike the Chorhan Expanse, training in the Maenhu follows a strict order. Ironlords focus almost entirely on their sein, with bodily arts being reserved until Steeljudge. The average peak Ironlord has exceptional understanding of their sein, but physically is no more than an athletic person. By the time they reach the peak of Steeljudge, this has radically changed, and as Steelmasters they explore deeper matters of soul.

Beyond Steel 

Though multiple nations incorporate steel and heavy armor into their sein arts, the Maenhu is unique in how far it has pushed its forging techniques. Its most characteristic technology is bloodsteel, traditionally red but actually able to be forged in multiple colors.

Bloodsteel is forged not just with blood, but with the embodied sein of a warrior. Compared to ordinary steel, it retains a sharper edge for longer, but its true potential is seen when a warrior gives the blood for their own weapons. The steel becomes a part of their body in a spiritual sense, able to carry far more of their sein than it otherwise would. Though others might be able to use it well, or value swords forged by particularly powerful warriors, its true peak is only available to one.

Other techniques abound, from ordinary ways of making lighter steel to mystical arts such as soulsteel. Except for certain complex mechanisms, the forging techniques of the Maenhu are unmatched for their potency and variety.

Friday, June 4, 2021

A Hollow Mountain Release

The new book is out! Please expect a series of three new worldbuilding posts over the next three weekends, but for now, I hope you enjoy the book. ^-^


Description: The arrival of the Hero was worse than anyone could have imagined.

The Hero's mad quest to purge the world continues beyond death, but a journey to the far north promises that knowledge might succeed where power could not. Allegedly there are wise sages who understand the Legend, though Tani fears that they have also been consumed by its light. As the group travels into fearsome mountains, they can only hope to prevent the Hero from destroying new lands.

Though the sage's mountain promises a simple destiny for everyone, it will test the earthly commitments of each individual. Tani will have her moral ideals challenged, Slaten will encounter a strange young woman among barbaric raiders, and Celivia will struggle with the demands of her military superiors. All will need to change as they meet the steel-clad errants of the far north, and their war that has been simmering for generations...

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Brightest Shadow: Mansthein Titles

This is an unplanned bonus worldbuilding segment, due to popular demand instead of part of my series. A decent number of readers have requested that the titles mansthein use be explained explicitly instead of via context, so this post will cover that and add some hopefully interesting context.

When mansthein are speaking formal Futhik, titles should always be used before a person's name, in some cases considered almost part of the name. Dropping titles is considered informal, which can be rude or companionable depending on the context.

Common Mansthein Titles:

  • Naen: Basic polite address, male or genderless.
  • Naena: Basic polite address, solely female.
  • Nin: Military or organizational inferior.
  • Kaen: Military or organizational superior, equivalent to a genderless "sir".
  • Feinan, Laenan, Seinan: References someone's ethnicity, with the implications heavily context-dependent.
Uncommon Titles or Ranks:
  • Catainan: Acknowledges status as a Catai, positive unless used derisively by a superior.
  • Koreinan: Formal title for a societal superior, similar to "Lord"  .
  • Zeitainan: Used solely to acknowledge Zeitai.
  • Amios: Affectionate title similar to "beloved".
  • Senatorios: Formal title for a senator.

Ethnic Titles: An extremely fraught issue. Historically, the term "Feinan" is for social inferiors and "Seinan" is for social superiors. These exactly mirror the names of higher and lower ethnicities, thus reinforcing that social hierarchy, which has led to linguistic backlash among Feinan mansthein. It's possible for two Feinans to use that title to represent brotherhood.

Rarer Ethnicities: The same linguistic rules can be applied to the rare mansthein ethnicities, though actual use is idiosyncratic. The Vear use the title "Vearnan", though that's overcorrection to match the formula and should technically be Vearios. "Berskan/Bersknan/Berskios" could exist in theory, but is not used due to the social status of the Bersk. Feras mansthein are linguistically ambiguous, with "Ferios" gaining prominence even though it isn't grammatically correct.

Neologisms: Any word in Futhik can be modified into a title, but it's uncommon because it's seen as crude in the upper classes, while lower classes are less likely to use full titles. But if someone worked as a farmer, they might be called "Farmerios" as a joke.

Linguistic Details of Suffixes: Older titles end in -en instead of -an (with -ena as a rare female suffix), codified before a vowel shift. Loan words to Futhik or certain neologisms end in -ios. However, this is also dependent on what "sounds right" to mansthein ears. Catainan would be something like "Cataios" if their language followed its rules completely, but only a few stuffy types say this, because most consider Catainan much more euphonic.

Local Slang: What's described above is formal Futhik, as spoken among the educated classes on Orphos. Different populations use them differently, notably the Laenan scorning the old ethnic hierarchy. Another example is name chopping to create nicknames, primarily among certain female populations. For example, "Reina" becomes "Rei" among friends.

There you go, most of my notes on the subject that don't delve into future books. I hope that clarifies things for those who find the number of titles excessive!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Brightest Shadow: Beyond the Chorhan Expanse

(This is the seventh in my series of worldbuilding posts for The Brightest Shadow, leading up to the release of the second book, A Hollow Mountain.)

Alright, it's finally time to talk about the bigger picture. Both in the first book and these posts, I didn't want to just throw a million ideas in everyone's face. But as I hope is obvious, the world I have in mind for The Brightest Shadow is much bigger than what's been seen so far.

Here's the world map, with only the areas seen so far revealed:
I'll be updating that map as future books cover more of the world. I know this probably seems overambitious, but I hope those of you who have followed my past work can look forward to the world I've been working on.

This post will quickly talk about three cultures that appear on the borders of the first novel. They have many internecine conflicts and variations of their own, but for now the story hasn't reached them.
"The Lands of Nol" are actually two large nations with many factions, but since they're separated from the Expanse by rivers and the Nolan Ridge, they're only experienced as travelers. Most Nolese in the Expanse are traders or warriors simply due to being far from home.

Nolese traditional arts take many forms, but most of them are significantly softer than the hard skills found on the Expanse. As such, they're known as martial artists and sometimes mistrusted by those who don't understand their arts.

Nol is the setting of the novella Blades Falling Softly.

To the east lie the Estronese lands. Though the people of Estronn are divided into smaller factions instead of kingdoms, they're a relevant power in the entire continent. To outsiders, they're generally considered the most advanced cultural group on Breilin.

Though the continent has many different groups, the Estronese come from further away than most, their light hair and skin standing out. They have a fundamentally different conception of sein than local cultures and as such develop different abilities. They're renowned as healers and their offensive skills include significantly more explosive skills than most local cultures.

Eraes Tor Yin hails from Teralanth, one of the most advanced nations in the world of Myros. They're currently locked in an ugly conflict with local mansthein, which will be explored in time through a variety of characters. Meanwhile, Teralanthan diplomats, merchants, and occasionally mercenaries can be found throughout the world.

Teralanth is known for crafting excellent weapons and building some of the worlds largest castles. Their warriors are usually set on paths that have been optimized for specific results over years of tradition. Though some know them for their airships, the secrets to that technology actually originate from a nation on Younten Trathe instead.

Yenith is commonly played in Teralanth, but it is widespread throughout the world. Though the origins of Yenith are unclear, most agree that it represents an ancient battle over a critical mountain. Expensive boards feature elevation differences or even carvings of terrain, while cheaper boards simply represent these by color.

Each piece represents a type of military unit, but different cultures have different names and explanations. In the Okeni version, each piece is a type of warrior, whereas the Teralanthan version labels some as beasts or structures. The movement abilities of each piece are mostly consistent across the world, but special movement rules around the center and corners vary.

Victory in standard play is achieved by defeating or trapping all three of the opponent's elite pieces. There is a major game variation in which victory is achieved by holding four of the five elevated positions. Regardless of exact rules, Yenith is considered one of the deeper strategy games.

With the three periphery cultures described, that concludes the introductions of the main groups so far! Though I have a great many other locations and cultures I want to talk about, I'll restrain myself. All of that will be introduced when it's necessary for the story. ^-^

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Brightest Shadow: Three Cultures, Three Maps, One Region

(This is the sixth in my series of worldbuilding posts for The Brightest Shadow, leading up to the release of the second book, A Hollow Mountain.)

I like fantasy maps. Not just grand maps at the beginning of a book that encompass a story, but I also enjoy documents from the world and maps in general. To that end, I wanted to do something a little different for the maps of the first book.

Instead of a single objective map, in this post I present three different maps of the same region. Each takes on a different style and a different purpose, many drawing from the way maps in the real world have been used in different eras.

First we have Tani's map. The idea of seeing the world from a bird's eye view was actually uncommon in the ancient world, so instead many maps served as conceptual aids. This one gives you the Nelee view of the world and their neighbors: they're very familiar with Rhen tribes, but less clear about the differences in groups outside the Chorhan Expanse. If you've read the book, you can figure out why Tani took the route she did to get to Bundlin.

Second we have a "world map" from Corah, taking inspiration from the medieval mappa mundi and T&O maps. This map is even more of a conceptual aid for those focused on Coran matters, the sort of thing that might appear on a noble's wall. Like in the ancient world, far-off lands are places of mystery and the unknown. For those who stay within the Coran kingdoms, this is their view of the world.

Finally we have the map that might look the most familiar to modern eyes, a survey of the region for the sake of military exercises. The mansthein have a branch of Voidwalkers also skilled as surveyors who develop quite accurate maps, if a bit unclear on details that don't matter to their military campaigns.

I hope these maps offer a fun look into the world of Myros. There is a world map, but I won't be hinting at that until the final post in this series...

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Brightest Shadow: Oken

(This is the fifth in my series of worldbuilding posts for The Brightest Shadow, leading up to the release of the second book, A Hollow Mountain.)

The Oken are one of the most insular groups on the Chorhan Expanse, clustering by the western shore and advancing only somewhat into the mountains to the north. Their society is focused on the good of the group, with each person taking a role to serve the greater good.

The Oken are well-known across the Expanse for the quality of their fabrics and brightly colored dyes. They trade these frequently with outsiders, but within a given township, color and fabric are rigidly controlled. Each represents a different class, rank, or family (though the exact meaning varies slightly from township to township).

Traditionally, Oken always wear their mantle in public locations and do not wear it at home. The exact definition of "home" can seem strange to outsiders, as it includes some public markets and squares. Not following these customs is a source of gossip if not anger, though outsiders are generally exempt if they're allowed into a township at all.

Oken eat overall diverse diets, though generally heavy on seafood. This is true regardless of distance to the coast, so in regions where seafood is scarce it is restricted to the higher classes.

The Oken prefer to outfit entire companies with a single weapon, leading them toward generalist forms. Guards commonly use quarterstaffs, while warriors use the traditional Oken sword: a weapon capable of cutting, thrusting, and hacking in the hands of a sein-trained warrior.

The game of Shiil originated on the continent of Fareshel, but the Oken are the main culture that plays it on Breilin. There are several major rule variations, but all forms of the game are a conflict over control of the board.

In the original rules, whole groups of pieces can be removed or replaced if they become captured by opposing pieces. The primary Oken version only allows pieces to be replaced when completely surrounded, which is a rare circumstance. Generally pieces can only be placed in proximity to other pieces, but there is a major variant where this is untrue and the board can swing wildly even toward the endgame.

In all forms, Shiil is a game of strategy that requires long term thinking along multiple fronts. It has been said that the fate of kingdoms has been decided over games of Shiil, though such stories lie in times of legend.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Brightest Shadow: The Rhen

(This is the fourth in my series of worldbuilding posts for The Brightest Shadow, leading up to the release of the second book, A Hollow Mountain.)

Though the outsiders call them the Rhen, in truth they are a diverse collection of factions and tribes. They were a single ethnicity in the distant past, but they have splintered into different niches around the Chorhan Expanse. Their leaders occasionally meet at a Confederation of Tribes, and if they united for war their forces would be formidable, but this has not occurred in centuries.

The Rhen are fiercely individualistic, so the above examples don't capture the full diversity of the tribes. It most directly represents the Nelee (Tani's tribe). War masks are more characteristic of the Kelfaa, however, and archery is most known in the western tribes.

Most Rhen village clusters are self-sufficient, though they freely trade with other groups. Each group has its own particulars, but very few Rhen are proficient in smithing or stonecraft while many tribes are known for elegant woodworking and embroidery.

Maturity isn't counted at puberty, but instead following a ceremony in which the youth affirms their decision to join the tribe and decides on their path in life. The exact rituals vary, but they commonly occur between 17-22 years old and involve a major commitment (such as Tani's Farwalk). Unlike some other cultures, the Rhen train nearly everyone in sein in childhood, though only the talented train beyond their formal induction into the tribe.

Rhen food is extremely diverse and generally eaten as many different dishes shared in a family or small group. Most eat whatever fruits and vegetables are local, though tribes that manage livestock can eat significant amounts of meat in season.

Most Rhen warfare takes the form of raids from which civilians are exempt, thus many favor light weapons. The Nelee are particularly notable for weapons with smaller reaches, given their history of forest warfare.

Each Rhen tribe keeps a closely-guarded set of traditions and techniques. In their own language, the word for sein is "wind". Though significant variety exists, in general Rhen techniques are known for speed and subterfuge. In their view there's no shame in learning techniques from other traditions, so long as the warrior has a clear vision of their path.

The sacred texts of their techniques are generally kept in special cases and held by a respected master of the tribe. Individuals are free to ignore the texts, but damaging the texts of any other group is deeply shameful. For some tribes, intentionally destroying texts is a crime punishable by death.