The Epic Series

Series have fallen out of favor in publishing. You might not believe it, having read the 342nd Harry Dresden novel, but you have to trust me on this one. It’s rare for an author to follow through on a series with a publisher now, because the sales of a first book make or break a series. There are tales of authors who have lost the ability to write a series because sales petered out. There are also strange tales of authors whose characters sell extraordinarily well, and suddenly a series must be created from a vacuum where no such series existed intentionally.

Well. Here I am, writing a series. The first volume of the series was accepted by a small press, and the second volume was rejected. The press shortly thereafter folded. Those two events are not related, by the way. I was a lucky writer. The first volume’s rights reverted to me, and I could continue the story. However, no traditional publisher would ever want to publish a book that’s already been published, and even if such were the case and I could have the book published by someone else, the chances of me getting to publish seven books of a four-generation family saga were slim, especially in a traditional publishing venue.

So, here I am self-publishing the Klaereon Scroll series, and I am very happy doing so. Writing a long series, however, creates certain special challenges. I am constantly aware of how I am writing one book at a time, but I am also writing one really long book constantly. I have to think forward and backward, especially since one of my characters is a prophet. In early books I place seeds for later books that may seem to go nowhere for observant readers. For very observant readers, the payoff is that these early seeds come to fruition elsewhere in the series. I won’t pretend to be an author who knows everything that is going to happen in this long endeavor, but sometimes you are kind enough to plant seeds for yourself that dovetail quite nicely, and therein you are a lucky author.

The Klaereon Scroll series spans seven books, probably five novellas, and the occasional short story. Every character has the potential to be another story. Alexander Claudian, a support character from The Wrath of Horus gets his own novella. Amanda Welkin, a support character from The Prisoner of Set, may even get a book of her own. Even seemingly throw away references, like those about Leto and Leonides Klaereon moving a house through the Abyss, or Cyril Klaereon writing a book of shadows made of shadows, could get a story.

These are the foundations upon which an epic saga is built, the idea that this story has been going on long before you got here, and that this story will continue once you close book seven. I have no intention of writing only Klaereon books during my writing career, but honestly, there is one other reason I am writing an epic. It is because the characters call the shots, and I have very little choice in the matter.

From The Wrath of Horus: Alexander and Pavan Theorize about the Inferno

The hot air met the cold as Horus reached the eye level of the Titans. Fog and frost coated the skin of the grotesque monsters.

“It’s not possible,” Alexander gasped. “No human being could be so large. It’s not biologically possible. They would collapse under their own weight.”

All of the giants were chained, some more than others. One of them spewed a string of strange syllables at them. Pavan was startled by their size and scope, but in the end, they were prisoners, just as he had been, or Alexander had been. “Why are they here? Do you know?”

“Why is anyone in Hell?” said Alexander. “Sins against God. There’s a story about each Titan where, in their pride and arrogance, they attempted to rise above their station, and so they are tucked away here, if you can tuck away something the size of a continent.”

Horus circled the ring’s perimeter, descending. As they flew deeper, the circles narrowed. The Titans noticed them about as much as Pavan thought they themselves would notice butterflies.

“Can I confide in you?” Pavan asked Alexander.

“I’m not certain this is the best times for confidences,” Alexander answered. The cold was becoming more intense, a wind rising to meet them. Horus pivoted, avoiding turbulence. Large raindrops splattered on their skin. The skin of the Titans was textured and pitted, like bumps on rocks.

“I don’t want to come back here when I die,” said Pavan. “I have already committed the sin which will bring me here, if it is a sin.”

“I see. And you want to talk to me, because I am also predestined to return?”

“No.” The rain intensified. “I don’t think either of us are sinners. If I wanted to end my own life, it is my own business. It seemed a reasonable exchange for my circumstances.”

“I’m listening,” said Alexander, raising his voice above the wind.

“Why should anyone go to Hell because we want to sleep with a woman or a man, or we need to steal to feed our family? Why is violence less of a sin than flattery? These rules make no sense to me,” Pavan shouted.

“I believe religion is shaped by belief. When many people think of Hell, this is what many of us expect. Perhaps the belief takes on a life of its own.” The wind snatched Alexander’s voice away, so he sounded distant.

“We can change our expectations and change our afterlife?” Pavan asked.

“I hope so.” Alexander slicked his wet hair back, sprinkling water drops on Pavan. “I would rather death were nothing at all, rather than have it be these gross injustices.”

“I hoped you would be more comforting,” said Pavan.

“Did you expect me to have an answer?”

“No.” Pavan gripped the slick fur on Horus’s back.

Horus glided to where the giants stood, to the edge of the eighth level. Cold, icy rain slashed at Pavan and Alexander. The rocks beneath them were covered with frigid water, and just beyond the rocks the lake was churning and angry.

“This is wrong,” yelled Alexander. “There is no storm in Hell like this. Cocytus is a frozen lake. Horus, we have to stop here. There will be no solid place to put us down in there.” Alexander and Pavan slid off Horus’s back.

“It must be Greg,” Pavan said. “Everything he has done here has changed the nature of the place.” In front of him, the waters of Lake Cocytus thrashed. “As you said. Change your expectations and change your afterlife, in action.”
Horus landed and transformed from the griffin to the god. “I must continue myself into the storm,” he said. “For the Trial.”

“True. You must.” Erasmus Klaereon raced out of the storm, drenched, water falling in rivulets off his helmet and armor
“You found Greg?” asked Horus. “Is he in the storm?”

“Gregorius is the storm. The storm has melted much of the ice, so conditions are treacherous. Greg fears for all of your safety and advises you against trying to save him. He believes he must stay here.”

“What nonsense,” said Alexander. “Marc would never forgive me if we came back without him. We shall simply have to figure out a creative way to Anchor him and have the Trial in the storm.”

“I have no intention of leaving matters between us unfinished,” said Horus. “Leaving matters unsettled brings madness to the Binder and the god. I have no intention of leaving Gregorius to Set.”

“Erasmus,” said Pavan, “can you keep me safe from the storm, like you could on the Plain of Fire?”

“My purpose was to keep Gregorius safe for the Trial. You are afforded no such safety.”

Pavan sighed. “I think I expected such would be the case.”

“Pavan,” said Alexander, “As someone with Dantes magic, I can manipulate the odds in your favor. Erasmus, give me your cloak.”

Erasmus removed the sopping fabric. Alexander’s fingertips whispered with edges of clear, fibrous magic, strands of probability which sank into the cloak.

“Worthy,” said Erasmus. “Would the helmet help?”

“Wearing the cloak should be enough,” said Alexander. He threw the fabric over Pavan’s shoulders. “I haven’t had a chance to teach you most of what you need to know. The essential aspect of Anchoring is making certain Greg remembers why he cannot leave his family and friends behind him. If Horus wants to take him, you must make it possible for Greg to choose to not be taken, by reminding him of what he has to lose.”

“I might have more practice than you think,” said Pavan. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I have to lose. Will you be all right on your own, waiting?”

“I will have to be, won’t I? Good luck.”

“That carries weight, coming from you.” Pavan threw one edge of the cloak over the other. It landed with a thwap, and water splashed him again. “Are you ready, Horus?”

Horus and Pavan strode forward, Horus pushing against the wind, Pavan following.

Mythology Meld

Would you read a Gothic book in which sorcerer children are paired with Egyptian gods who have been banished to a Dante-like Abyss by King Solomon, who in turn is served by djinn and efrits directly from the pages of the Arabian nights and the Biblical stories of Islam? Or would you just say what the hell?

True confession: This is the book series I’m currently working on. You may ask why I’ve decided to go with so many sources in the piece. Well, I’m glad you asked that hypothetical question. Let’s rock and roll.

When I started these books, the Klaereons were originally partnered with demons who were trying to redeem themselves. Other parts of the book were just there, like Balthazar, the efrit, servant of the fallen angel Lailah, mistress of night. As I started poking around in the stories about fallen angels, I discovered the conception of angels in Islam is different than in Christianity. In Islam, angels must obey God, unlike humans, djinn and efrits. I also discovered the sorcerous King Solomon enslaved the djinn and the efrits. There are important differences in the story of Satan. In Christianity, Satan is a rebellious angel. In Islam, Shaitain is djinn, capable of disobeying god.

Two doors opened for me. First of all, Solomon was not beyond using magic for his own purposes, and perhaps in the service of his religion. Solomon lived in the ancient world where other pantheons were being worshipped. If Solomon and djinn are real, so are these other gods. What if Solomon encountered the Egyptian gods and found them to be a threat to his god and religion, or to humanity itself?

If you’ve read Egyptian mythology, you know about Sekhmet’s bloody destruction of humanity. She wasn’t called the drinker of blood for nothing. There is the usual amount of pantheon unpredictability, capricious, and arrogance among the Egyptian gods. Imagine Solomon meets these gods, and sees them as a threat to humanity, and unworthy of worship. Imagine that he paints them with the same brush as he does djinn and efrits, and he banishes them. Imagine he puts them in the same place his god put the rebel Shaitain, in hell.

But also imagine the other part of this story. Solomon isn’t a total jerk. He frees the djinn after 100 years of service. Solomon gives the Egyptian gods a chance at redemption. He makes them the servants of a family that proves itself worthy, and the gods must choose to subjugate themselves willingly to their human counterpart, or they return to hell. Strangely enough, Solomon thinks he’s making the Egyptian gods better, one god at a time. By learning the lesson humility, they earn their freedom.

Well. That accounts for three of the pieces of this story. What about the fallen angel? The mother of Egyptian gods is Nuit, a goddess of the night. Lailah is the Islamic angel of the night. My theory is that families transcend pantheons, and that all the night deities, often the beginning patriarchs and matriarchs of pantheons, are connected. Lailah banishes herself from heaven to share her sister’s fate. Nuit blames Lailah for not protecting her children. One sister loathes herself but cannot disobey her god. The other sister holds a grudge. And yes, this too must be resolved in the course of the series.

So, can I pull it off, this Gothic novel with Egyptian gods trying to redeem themselves because of an Islamic magician? I’m giving it my best shot.

From The Wrath of Horus: Flavia Fights

The mud squelched as Flavia pulled herself from it. The last person who had killed her strangled her, and her throat was still tender with where his hands had wrapped around it. Around her in the muck and filth, there were people to fight, people who spoke the language of rage just as she did. They ripped her hair, pulling it out by the roots. They clawed her skin, but she grabbed their arms and wrenched them out of their shoulder sockets. Their chests exploded at her touch as she crumbled their bones to powder inside of them. Sometimes they brought her down, like a pack of dogs attacking a bear, but ultimately, she would destroy them, then rest, panting, waiting anxiously for them to revive, so she could massacre them again. She didn’t know who she was. Fury incarnate, maybe. All she could feel was anger. All she could remember was rage.

When an opponent caught her, it strengthened her. Fingernails became razors and sliced with the precision of a surgeon, curling skin and muscle into ribbons. She reveled in screams, howls, and groans, lasciviously dancing in blood and offal. The swamp was full of people she could kill for an eternity, their bodies mending and knitting back into killing machines. She had never been more alive. No one doubted her strength now.

“Flavia! Oh God, no!” A voice from outside the pit. Actual words.

Flavia stopped. Words were foreign now. No one talked to her. They only screamed and shrieked when she attacked.

Her eyes darted to the edge of the swamp. New blood. New lives to take. One was a black demon with the misshapen head of an equine, and his soul called to her, offering her the same opportunity to destroy which was within easy reach in the swamp. She had no desire to tear herself away from certainty to the possible promise of more, although he promised her greater destruction and greater pain. The other one? No one of consequence. A haunted man with pity and horror on his face. Pinpricks of anger made her want to rip off his limbs. Who was he and why did he made her feel this way?

Stopping to examine them was a mistake. A wild man jumped on top of her and plunged her down under the swamp, muddy water filling her nostrils, cloudy strings of vegetation blinding her. She groped, seized her attacker’s hand, and, because of her touch, his fingers fell into the water. Air from her lungs released in one giant bubble. As she surfaced, she plunged her hand through her attacker’s chest, smiling as blood and muscles slithered over her skin. She released his body into the swamp where it fell with a clammy splash.
The demon beckoned to her. Come now. Claim what is yours. She slogged toward them, scooping strands of soggy hair out of her eyes.

“I am here for you,” said the demon. “I have finally come for you.”

“You…” said Flavia. Another memory from the time before the fighting. She knew his voice. She was destined for this god who stank of destruction. Now she knew they were well-suited. She finally knew who he was: Set, the god who should have been her birthright. This man with him, she knew with absolute certainty, had stolen her god like he tried to steal everything else from her. His blood thrummed as it pumped in his veins. She would bore her hand into him and pluck out his heart. She would kill him over and over and she would enjoy it.

A moment of clarity flashed like a bolt of light, memories of her life before Hell flashing in front of her eyes. Her hand flew to the stone embedded in her neck, feeling the anger emanating from it, filling her being.

“Greg?” Flavia tottered on the edge of reason. Could she stop killing long enough to get answers? Why had he stolen her god? Was he hurt? Did she care?

“Run,” said Greg. “Run as fast and as far as you can.”

Set squeezed fingers around Greg’s neck. Greg clutched at Set’s fingers, gagging.

“You’ve been waiting for me your whole life, Princess of Hell,” said Set. “I can give you more power than this. These paltry battles are a waste of your talents.”

Two of the fighting souls pulled her back to the swamp. Flavia eviscerated them, gore splattering her face, her world narrowing to flesh and anger. Behind her, the pull of Set and Greg’s feeble struggles as life drained out of him. It seemed wrong to let Set kill Greg, especially when she wanted to kill him herself.
“Greg,” she said, her voice harsh with exertion, “Set is mine.”

Set dropped Greg into the dirty water. Greg pulled himself up, choking. “Run,” he gasped. “Flavia, I’m begging you. Run.”

“Come closer,” said Set. “My beautiful Princess.”

“No,” said Greg. “I won’t let her.”

The souls behind Flavia, from under the water, from behind and above, all of the darkness drained from the swamp and centered on Greg. The shadows gathered and smothered him, covering him in a giant hill of throbbing nothing. Then the darkness boomed outwards, a shock which shattered her eardrums. In the unnatural silence a circular blade of black cut across the landscape, making the swamp bubble and churn into nothing. There was fiery pain as she was ripped apart. Then nothing.

Until she was remade. When she returned to life again, the swamp was black and charred. Greg sat on the ground, hands wrapped around his knees, rocking back and forth.

Set rubbed Greg’s head affectionately. “Good,” he said. “I will reward you later.” Set motioned Flavia forward with the crook of a finger.

Flavia stood as straight as she could, naked and new, her head clear. This was her god. “You’re mine now,” she said. “I’ve come for you.”

“So you have,” said Set.

She glanced at Greg, who wouldn’t look at her. “What have you done to him?”

“I have Bound him, like I will Bind you.”

“You can’t Bind him,” said Flavia. “He has Horus. Greg, where is Horus?”

Greg would not answer.

Flavia wasn’t afraid. A small voice told her it was foolish not to be, but she wasn’t. “Set, you serve me. I Bind you.”

“You intend to fight me?”

Flavia crouched. She could take him. “I will defeat you.”

A chain rattled in Set’s left hand. “You are magnificent here, like a weapon. You will serve me.”

Flavia studied Set, waiting for him to move. “Greg, where’s Horus?”

“I killed Horus,” said Greg. His face was covered with bruises and tears.

“Like you killed me?” Flavia asked.

“Just like.”

“We can’t die here,” said Flavia. “Can Horus?” Why shouldn’t death for the gods also be temporary in Hell?
Greg stared at her. The recognition of the possibility made his eyes come back to life a little.

Set stepped toward her, the ground trembling. His black chain caught her around the ankles and she fell, clouds of gray ash coating her. As Flavia coughed and choked, Set dragged her toward him.

“Master,” said Greg, “I beg you. Don’t do this.”

Flavia’s nails scrabbled to find something to hold, but there was nothing, only dust. Set dangled her upside down like the hanged man in a tarot set. “You will serve me,” said Set, “as my slave.”

“A slave?” Flavia flushed. “I am no one’s slave.”

“You have always been my slave.” He looped the black chains around her, and they sank into her, under her skin and into her bones. Then he punched her, and she pendulumed back and forth.

Flavia’s head snapped. Her eyes lit up. Violence she understood. She swung her body back at him, her long nails sinking into his chest. Set ground his teeth, dropped her, and kicked her. Blood trickled out the side of her mouth, and her ribs cracked. Her anger tore a savage snarl out of her mouth.

Greg stepped between them, taking one of Set’s kicks. “Stop!”

“She is arrogant,” said Set. “I will not have it.”

“Please,” said Greg.

“You are still defiant yourself.”

Greg knelt and lowered his head. “I’m not. I promise you I’m not. Master.” His blue eyes pleaded.

Set grabbed his hair and pulled him up to his face. “You will pay for this later.”

“Yes,” said Greg. “Anything. Let me make her understand.”

Set nodded. He sat to watch the two of them. Greg helped Flavia sit and he held her back as she lurched toward Set.

“Why didn’t you run?” Greg said. “Why?”

“I didn’t want to run. I wanted what was mine. Now I want to kill him.” Her anger burned hot. There was no fear in her, which part of her found strange.

Set laughed. “You’re not afraid of anything, even me. Truly, you are the Princess of Hell.”

“Princess of Hell?” said Greg.

Flavia swallowed. Adrenaline coursed through her and she brushed off Greg’s hands. “Didn’t you see what I did to everyone in the swamp? I like fighting.”

“You like it?” Greg took off his stained shirt and draped it over her nakedness.

She tied the neck closed with shaking hands. “I have powers and they are infernal. I understand you better now. Since I’ve been here, all I’ve wanted to do is hurt things.”

Greg averted his eyes. “I’ve never wanted to just hurt things.”

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of being what you are! How did you destroy the swamp?”

Greg wouldn’t answer her.

“I want that kind of power,” Flavia said. “How did you do it?”

“My powers are broken!” Greg snapped. “I belong to Set now. All I can do is destroy.” Tears fell.

Flavia knew it. Greg was weak.

“I know it’s hard,” Greg said, “but you’ve got to control yourself. When we kill, Set’s hold on us is stronger.”

Flavia laughed. “You might as well ask me not to breathe. I was so angry I fought Minos. Marc couldn’t stop me. Nothing can stop me.”

Greg grabbed her arms and searched her face. “Marc is here?”

“I can defeat anyone!”

Greg shook her.

Flavia slapped him.

Set laughed.

“Please, Flavia.” Greg looked over her shoulder at Set, lowering his voice. “Tell me. Is Marc here?”
Flavia willed herself calm. “I think so. I’m not sure. I remember seeing him, but everything before Minos is cloudy. I can’t control myself, Greg. I don’t want to control myself.”

Set snorted. “Poor boy. You think someone will save you from me? No one can.”

Greg said nothing.

Flavia stared at Greg. “What is wrong with you? Why are you letting him speak like that to you?”

Greg shook his head as Set watched.

“Coward!” said Flavia
“Time to walk,” said Set. Set pulled them after him, as they stumbled across the landscape, clouds of soot at their feet, dragging them when they stumbled. Flavia thought of all the ways she could hurt Set. She was certain, given the right opportunity, she would win against him.

Should she kill Greg for revenge? Now that he was a coward, doing so seemed a less attractive option.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Greg after some time.

“We fight Set,” said Flavia.

In front of them, Set laughed deeply. “Princess, you are ambitious.”

“I can’t fight him,” said Greg.

“Why not?”

“He is my slave,” said Set. “As you will be. He understands his place.”

Flavia touched Greg’s shoulder. “You’re a force of nature and an ill-tempered jerk. Start behaving like one. He’s no match for the two of us.”

Greg’s shoulders heaved.

“Are you crying?” Flavia asked.

“I never thought, in my whole life,” said Greg, “I would be glad of your company.”