Thinking Out Loud

In honor of The Kingdom of Gods finally being out in all markets, I decided to share this: an old post from my other blog, which was originally friendslocked because it contained early thoughts on the latter books of the Inheritance Trilogy. Thought it might be fun to share because it’s a look inside my head during the earliest development phase of the book you can now hold in your hand and read, and because it contains one of my “eureka” moments — the kind of thing that led me to name this blog “Epiphany”. The “we” that I’m referring to below is, well, me and my muse, for lack of any better description. I don’t actually know. It’s just the way I tend to talk to myself when I’m thinking like this.

Beware profanity; my muse is vulgar. There are spoilers here, for those of you who haven’t read the latter two books. And note that a lot of things changed along the way, so don’t regard this as “canonical”! It was written after I’d finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but before it sold, while I was noodling up the worldbuilding of The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods.

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Magic should have rules, conventional fantasy-writer wisdom says. You’re not supposed to have omnipotent beings running around being all omnipotenty. So even though the trilogy is about gods, I’m supposed to limit them. I need rules.

Eff that. Dungeons & Dragons thinking. Everything’s so mechanistic, quantitative; we’re too wedded to that. Somebody somewhere is going to want me to roll up Nahadoth’s damn stats even though by his very nature he can never have them — no. No. These are gods. If you can’t write them in a way that transcends game mechanics and the usual genre expectations, go write wizards like everybody else. Or become a better writer.

Must consider these gods qualitatively/holistically.

They are human gods, yes. They love and hate, make stupid decisions and regret them; they laugh and cry. This establishes an obvious and natural limiting factor: emotion. Human motivations. What should an immortal, insanely powerful being fear? The things that make eternal life a torment rather than a pleasure: loneliness, boredom, confinement, pain. What does an immortal, insanely powerful being want? Purpose. Other immortal, insanely powerful beings to share the good moments with. And when you have enough immortal, insanely powerful beings together, all motivated and limited by similar human impulses, reliant on each other to fulfill them, you get: a family.

OK. So the “rules” must emulate those of human social interactions. This creates automatic plausibility because we understand human motivations. At least, we understand them as well as any of us understands our fellow human beings. Gods with unlimited power who are detached, incomprehensible, of course that wouldn’t work. But gods who are like us to some degree — not completely! just enough — that makes sense. They must be people, not archetypes.

Let’s walk through what we know so far.

In the beginning there was the Maelstrom, which is just this churning lump of raw WTF. The thing before the Big Bang. And just as a million monkeys typing a million words on a million typewriters will someday crank out Shakespeare, every so often Big M spits out a god. Thus far it’s done so three times, thus resulting in:

-Nahadoth, a god of entropy; the Maelstrom’s truest child
-Itempas, a god of organization; so organized that he tends toward entropy too
-Enefa, a god(dess) of life — life being the result of a balance between entropy and organization

Enefa has the peculiar ability to die and be reborn, so she has become Yeine — different personality, same power. Irrelevant to this analysis, just noting for completeness.

The Three are a unit which just happens to exist in three parts. Individually, each acts as a check on the others’ powers. They are only omnipotent — Maelstrom-equivalent — when they work together; any other time, their power has an upper limit. Let’s call their power Ridiculous-level, because they can do just about anything short of destroying the universe, and they can mess it up pretty good regardless. So powerful, really, that trying to measure their power makes no sense. So let’s stop with this “level” crap. I just said I didn’t want to be mechanistic about this, what the hell, brain.

Each of the Three can, in theory, kill a fellow god if they’re very lucky and/or clever. Power = force, conceptualization. Forces can be negated, countered; concepts can be warped until they cease to have meaning. In actual practice, though, when a fight between two of them gets too vicious, they reach stalemate or the third steps in on one side or the other to end things. They need each other, and they know it. The two-on-one alliances shift constantly, amounting to an aggregate “balance” that is actually stronger for its flexibility. This balance has been broken only once, and the imbalance quickly (in immortal timescales) corrected itself.

Nahadoth came first: the Big M using itself as a template. He isn’t as chaotic as the Maelstrom, so his very existence tamed things enough to allow Itempas to come into being. Overlappyness; must remember that Naha’s first universe, while inadvertent and largely unsuccessful, was still his attempt at organizing things. But Itempas probably looked around at this protoverse, sniffed haughtily, and set to work tidying up reality. Naha took exception, being Oscar to I’s Felix — he thought it was plenty organized already, at least the dirty socks weren’t in the dishwasher — and after a number of sibling squabbles that caused the repeated destruction, rebuilding, and refining of the universe, they reached a point of mutual agreement. This prompted (allowed?) the birth of Enefa, who looked at both of them and decided they were ridiculous, oh but hey thanks for making a universe for me to play in.

Enefa could not have existed without Itempas laying the groundwork for her. Itempas could not have endured without Nahadoth making something for him to react to; order is not spontaneity but action & reaction, cannot exist on its own. (Huh: CANNOT EXIST ON ITS OWN.) Nahadoth could and did exist without either of the others for a long time, but this was not a healthy state for him.

The Maelstrom. Did it create them in such perfect interdependency out of some sentient unknowable will? Or did the million monkeys just keep at it ’til they repeated the miracle three times? Is the interdependency an illusion? i.e., Are order and chaos truly opposites? Or has the universe simply arranged itself to fit the fact that its creators happened to be orderly and chaotic? If the Maelstrom had spit out a god of cuteness and a god of melodrama, would the dominating philosophy and physics of the universe be shaped around kittens and Monday Night wrestling?

OK, what. No.

Their designation as masculine, feminine, etc. is irrelevant. (The etc. covers Nahadoth. Experiments with depicting “his” flexible gender/biology in 100K did not go over well with test audiences. Need to figure out how to depict, going forward.) Appearance as physical entities is misleading. They are fundamentally incorporeal, though they can take corporeal form when they want. They can all be anything; they just tend to pick favorite “looks”.

This is important — not to the story, but to my understanding: any member of the Three can do what the others do, to some degree. They are complete beings. All the same standard features, wildly different options packages. Nahadoth can create light and be orderly if he needs to; he did it throughout 100K, actually. Enefa can create universes too, but hers are small (microcosm vs macro), unlike the boys’. Itempas can bring small things to life — he can’t design a functioning ecosystem, but he could construct a living species or two. (Maybe viruses are his doing — debatably “alive”, dangerously orderly, elegantly vicious in their design.) This would exhaust him, however, and he would dither about it for ages whereas Enefa could do it in the blink of an eye. And Tempa would consider it deeply, offensively wrong to do. Wrong in the way that cannibalism feels wrong to most humans; we’d only do it in great extremity, and with much weeping and gnashing and maybe vomiting and self-flagellation.

Is the Maelstrom trying to replicate itself? Does it have human motivations? Can never answer this; something must remain mysterious. Uncertainty principle. Maybe it’s trying, but it doesn’t know how; can only create partial likenesses. Likewise Enefa/Yeine may one day figure out how to create more gods like herself and her siblings. Thus far, she’s only managed to create several classes of lesser beings, including:

GODLINGS

Much less powerful — less able to effect reality, less aware of the “big picture” — than their parents. They too are complete beings, but their specialties are more narrowly defined: “battle” instead of all forms of chaos; “childhood” instead of all stages of life. There’s also a scale issue, if we must mechanize: the gods are Ridiculous-level, but the godlings are merely Holyshit!-level. Ridiculous is to Holyshit as galaxy cluster is to solar system. Like the gods, the godlings are weakened/injured when they attempt to go against their nature, but they can do it if they have to, up to a point. Unlike the gods, the godlings are not omnipotent even when they work together. (Maybe there aren’t enough of them yet? And when there are, they can form like Voltron?) Any of the Three can kill any godling with ease, but it takes several dozen godlings, working together, to give a god a bloody nose. Several hundred, however, might give a god a run for his/her money.

The gods are aware of this. Possibly because of this, there have never been more than a couple hundred godlings, ever. At present their numbers are down to maybe sixty or eighty because a lot of them died in the Gods’ War. As of trilogy end Yeine hasn’t gotten around to making more yet. (OR HAS SHE?! ::dundundun::) She’s only 100, still a child as gods go, and has stepmom issues to deal with besides. Makes no sense for her to have kids yet.

That said, the older the godling, the more self-awareness they tend to possess. Comfort with one’s own skin: self-actualization is the key to strength. A very old, actualized godling is maybe HolyFUCKINGshit-level. Younger godlings offend elders at their peril, unless the young ones are very introspective.

Thus the top of the godling hierarchy is responsible older folks, and the bottom of the hierarchy is kids who don’t do what they should. Just like mortals.

Most godlings are the children of Enefa with one or the other of her god siblings. A handful are the children of Nahadoth with Itempas — Itempas would never “stoop so low” as to give birth, but Naha will try anything.

Important: godlings have all the stuff of their parents in them. That which can grow may eventually grow up. Can also go horribly wrong, grow like cancer; must noodle further.

DEMONS

At some point Enefa experimented with crossing immortal beings with mortal ones. The result was demons — beings very like godlings in power, but mortal. They live only slightly longer than their mortal parents. The shortness of their lives puts the demons at a distinct disadvantage to the godlings; they may not live long enough to truly understand themselves.

Demons are different from gods or godlings in two main ways. First, they are baseline-corporeal. Gods and godlings can choose to be physical/flesh-and-blood; demons default to it. They have to really work at shapechanging, teleportation, or any of the things gods and godlings do naturally. They can enter the gods’ realm, but they can’t stay long; like holding one’s breath underwater. A god would just grow gills — or become the water.

Second, demons’ blood is poisonous to gods or godlings. Acts as a virus when introduced into the body of an immortal: it attempts to rewrite their immortality with mortality, thus resulting in existential rejection, sickness, metaphysical breakdown. (Hmmm. Not all mortals die of poison/viral infection; some are more resistant. So some gods might survive the poisoning… but the impairment is still mortality, so even if they don’t die immediately, they’ll die eventually.) Speed and ease of death varies depending on the potency of the demon’s blood, and god’s resistance.

At one point the demons were as numerous as the godlings, but now there are few left. Itempas, barely willing to tolerate the existence of life, considered the creation of the demons the straw that broke the camel’s back. He convinced Nahadoth to help, and they went on a genocidal spree, wiping out every demon they could find. (It’s possible some godlings helped, possibly to curry favor, but I suspect any godling with sense kept her head down, aware of how easily the godlings could be targeted next.) Enefa was furious about this, but could do nothing; one of the Three can never stand against the other two.

However, a few demons managed to survive. These would be third-gens, maybe, or those first-gens weak enough to pass for human, or those whose talents ran in the direction of stealth (these may have been quite powerful). In the aftermath these surviving demons interbred with humans, producing children who were also demons, but lesser in magic and also with less-lethal blood. Eventually the “godly” traits would breed out completely, but there would occasionally be throwbacks — humans with random bizarre magical abilities and physical traits, usually paired with the lethality trait in some measure.

During the years of Itempas’ rule, he made sure these throwbacks were rooted out whenever they were found; the Arameri have outlawed any magic use outside of authorized channels (which amount to pretty much just the scriveners and the Arameri). Fear of demons is why they fear illicit magic — though by the present of the trilogy no one remembers this. They still appear, however, and those lineages which tend to produce demon throwbacks have learned to recognize the signs early, and teach their children how to hide themselves.

MORTALS

Also creations of Enefa, but no “pure” mortal possesses innate magical abilities. Almost no mortals are now “pure” of godly genes at this point. Some can learn to use the gods’ magic through various methods — e.g., speaking the gods’ language (dangerous; the gods’ language is a combo of syllabic, tonal, temporal, contextual, and spatial. Speaking the same word twice can have different effects, because the speaker has moved to a different point in spacetime in the interim); writing the gods’ language (less dangerous; similar to hieroglyphs/Adinkra/hanzi. Can be hand-drawn, context matters, but in this case poor penmanship often has fatal results).

For the rare pure mortals, life itself is their only magic. They are the only ones who can wield the Stone of Earth (or theoretically any artifact belonging to the other gods), though it’ll kill ’em. Unlike gods & godlings, they can die easily — not a boon in the eyes of mortals, but something gods envy when their lives become too miserable. Gods cannot self-terminate.

“God-hybridized” mortals, maybe because the seed of it lies in most of them, crave magic. Some godlings are willing to sell their blood to mortals; ingested, it confers temporary magical power. Addictive, and dangerous because a) the blood works/feels better when injected, but tends to trigger clotting/immune responses more easily, and b) addicted mortals get stupid and start pestering godlings for blood, eventually prompting said godlings to smite them.

Ah!!!! PLOT PROBLEM RESOLVED!!! This is Madding’s business. He and his gang of godlings run the trade in immortal blood in Shadow! Let’s see. The blood is less effective, but safer, when ingested orally (or some other way? absorption through mucous membranes? Could people snort blood, or do blood suppositories? glargh, yuck). So maybe Madding’s people only sell to oral users; when they see someone who shows signs of having gone intravenous, they refuse to sell to them. But there are other, less scrupulous gods in the city who will. Madding usually tries to catch them and run them out of town.

Yes. There is Potential here.

OK, enough of this for now. Next time, I must examine the demons — physical variants possible? Throwback frequency? What is a demon who knows herself capable of?

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6 Responses »

  1. I love this! I’m even more inspired now. =D

    The blood suppositories cracked me up, although having an addiction like that is pretty sad. The snorting would be awful too. I imagine it’d be like scratching your nose after chopping hot peppers. Something tells me god(ling)s’ blood wouldn’t go down(or up) easily no matter how it got into the person.

  2. Hi, have read your first two wonderful novels and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the third. I write fantasy (not published) and have found your through processes and dialogue with your muse to be interesting, amusing and informative. Thanks for sharing this entry with us :}
    Melinda from Australia

  3. Tiffany,

    I ultimately decided not to get into the deets of the godsblood trade, or its various dark sides. Oree begins to get a clue when she wonders what Madding does with people who renege on their obligations to him, but given her PoV (peripheral to the trade), there wasn’t a natural way I could work it into the story.

    I also decided not to get into the whole issue of mucous-membrane absorption, mostly because I was afraid it would open a whole can of Unfortunate Implications worms WRT sex. Blood and semen and vaginal secretions aren’t all that different, biochemically speaking — and the vagina, anus, and mouth are all mucous membranes too. Given that gods in this trilogy tend toward the horny side, that means a whole lot of mortals walking around high as skyscrapers, once they recover from the whole metaphysical orgasm thing. :)

  4. Melinda,

    You’re welcome!

  5. I love this!

    But I am also glad I am not the only one who talks to herself! :P