Balance…and Barrier

So, you ask. We’ve shown that the Shenaihu are not the antagonists of the Mendaihu in this universe. And yet…who is?

That’s a very good question indeed, because it took me a long time to figure that out myself. In the Bridgetown Trilogy we learn that the two do not necessarily have a protagonist/antagonist relationship, but one of balance. One exists to balance out the other in some shape or form. Both sides had a reason for doing what they do, whether that action is noble or misguided. But the fact remains that there is balance between the two. It is nuanced and often contradictory, but it’s there and that’s how life is. I thought about this early on when writing A Division of Souls as an extension of the Golden Rule: similarity and difference working together peacefully.

This was the question I’d been asking myself: who wants to upset that balance? Whoever that happens to be in MU4 is the real antagonist. The person or group — or even a belief — must have a reason to ensure that the true balance between the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu cannot hold. Which brings up the next question: why would they want to do that?

It occurred to me recently that the answer to that question will not be found in a goal-oriented way. Maybe they are doing this to gain power, but that’s only one of the end results and not necessarily a goal. I started thinking about how in this current political climate, there are those who see progressive movement as a positive evolution, and there are those who see it as a perversion of stasis.

Thus the drive of the antagonist of MU4 (and perhaps whatever comes after it) could be precisely that: a person or a group — or belief — that sees only the perversion and fights to eradicate it. [Which of course begs further thoughts about the balance between those two. But that’s a bit further into this created future.] They want to create barriers that keep this evolution from taking place at any cost.

So far I have two concrete things for this antagonist: a name for the group, and their sigil. And a pretty good idea of how far they’re willing to take it.

#atozchallenge: U is for Nehalé Usarai

Q: What is his origin?

A: Nehalé Usarai [neh-HAH-ley ooh-SAH-rye] one of the few non-Vigil characters that survived nearly every single iteration of these stories, all the way back to the late 1993 original.  His name and background evolved numerous times over the years, but his role in the entire story remained the same for the most part: a catalyst.  In Vigil he was to be a violent anarchist; in True Faith he was an Edward Snowden-esque whistleblower.  He was a not-so-violent anarchist in The Phoenix Effect.  And finally in the Bridgetown Trilogy, he became the spiritual leader we all know and love.

Q: How is he connected to the Mendaihu Universe?

A: Aside from the obvious connection in the very first chapter of A Division of Souls, he feels he has the role of Reluctant Shepherd.  He’s conflicted; on the one hand he fully believes it’s his responsibility to help usher the newly awakened Mendaihu and Shenaihu towards their own enlightenment…but on the other hand, he doesn’t want them to become blind, passive followers either.  Because of this, he likes to work behind the scenes.  He continues to be a catalyst in this respect, preferring to inspire and instigate changes instead of performing or enforcing them.

Q: He’s an exceptionally strong Mendaihu, given his actions.  What’s that background?

A: I go into it very briefly in ADoS; in his youth he was chosen by Mendaihu Elders to have accelerated training, due to his naturally high spiritual strength.  For a time these Elders would bring the young initiates to a small outpost village west of Bridgetown, where they’d go through various exercises and projects to show how well they could utilize their abilities.  Nehalé not only showed promise, he surpassed all expectations and became one of the youngest awakened Mendaihu of his time.  He chose not to be an Elder, however, instead being a mentor for others who are in the process of awakening.  This is how he met Anando Shalei, and why the two men remain close friends.

Q: Is he based on anyone in particular?

A: Not really, and I think he’d rather like it that way!  His early incarnations had him more talkative and abrasive; I think I may have seen him being played by Denis Leary, who was big box office at the time.  The TPE and Trilogy incarnations are more laid back, more pensive and reserved.  In fact, Nehalé is one of the few characters that I’ve never been able to completely visualize.  I’ve always seen him as a typically tall Meraladian, somewhat gawky; strong but definitely a beanpole sort of guy.  He’s not one to focus on his physical image all that much, so he’d be one of those guys you’d lose in the crowd.  The only reason he doesn’t is that so many others in Bridgetown know him by spirit signature.

Q: Anything else?

A: The ‘i’ at the end of his name denotes that he’s a distant cousin of the Usara clan.  Even the strongest Mendaihu have day jobs; Nehalé, up until the beginning of ADoS, worked for DuaLife as a Re-Gen (reconstructive genetics) Therapist.  He’s a philanthropist who likes to give to local shelters, churches and community centers.  He can be quite stubborn at times, often to his own detriment.  He’s performed quite a few awakening rituals before the one at the beginning of ADoS, but none as strong or as wide-ranging as that, and he’s not even sure if he has the ability to ever do it again…in fact, he feels he may have caused irreparable damage to his spiritual strength after pulling that off.

#atozchallenge: Q is for LGBTQ in the Mendaihu Universe

It took me a bit to think about this particular entry.  I wanted to do it justice, and I definitely didn’t want to make it sound like I was saying Hey, I have [certain kind of person] in my books!  Ain’t I progressive?  Where’s my gold star?

I try to give my characters some kind of depth when I’m creating them.  Some of them pan out, some of them don’t*, but most of the time I’d like to think I give them some kind of unique personality.  Someone I’d run into on a random day, have a conversation with, get to know as a coworker, and so on.  I’m fascinated by the quirks and habits of people, their strengths and their weaknesses, and how they use those bits of their personality throughout their life.

I didn’t set out to include any token characters when I started writing A Division of Souls.  In fact, I was doing my best NOT to do that.  Almost from the beginning my game plan was “Nah, that’s a trope/stereotype, it’s an easy out.  How do I take that one extra step to make it different?”  It’s kind of funny, really; each time I did try to write a stereotypical character, I completely failed at it.  I’d get a ways down the road in the story and get completely bored by this flat-minded idiot I’d created.  It’s the nonconformist in me, I guess…heh.

Anyway, when it came time to write the Bridgetown Trilogy, I wanted to create the most realistic characters I could, so I decided to pick up on various personality traits of people around me.  I was working at the candle warehouse by the time I started A Division of Souls, and it was quite the large warehouse, so I met and worked with a LOT of people of different stripes.  No character is based on a specific person from that time; it was just various traits I borrowed from quite a few people.

Did I plan on Caren and Sheila having a short romantic relationship?  I don’t believe I did…it was just a background thing that I’d come up with when I wrote the Questioning Room scenes in ADoS.  Caren was there to calm her friend down, and I knew they had a long and very close friendship, but it wasn’t until I wrote that scene that it just seemed right; it felt right to have them be very close physically and emotionally just then.  I thought about it for a few moments: what were their sexual preferences?  Sheila’s loud and free-spirited, and would probably be open-minded on that subject, so I felt she should at least be bisexual.  As for Caren…she’s more tense, more reserved, but she’s also quite open and honest with her emotions, so she might not have been truly bi, maybe just curious.  They never show any romantic feelings towards each other in public, but the reader can tell there’s still a deep connection there, even after the relationship is over.

As for Saone and Kryssyna…that was a little more deliberate.  I wanted Saone to be someone who did not fit in at all.  She’s intelligent, but not as smart as her sisters.  She’s Shenaihu, but she doesn’t measure up to her father’s high expectations.  She’s resourceful, but no one bothers to ask her for help.  She has all this great potential, but it seems everyone she’s supposed to impress won’t give her the time of day.  The only person who sees her for who she really is, is Kryssyna.  But why?  Because Kryss is honest, both with herself and with others.  She’s an ARU agent who has no time for judging others by their status.  She sees past Saone’s rank and place, and sees that potential.  This relationship, then, was going to be less about any sexual attraction than it was a personal one.  Kryss loves Saone for her drive and determination, especially when it’s to do the right thing.  And Saone loves Kryss because she’s always there to take care of her; she inspires her to keep going.  I knew then that was going to be a very strong, very long-lasting relationship.

I have no idea how other writers decide how to build their characters, to tell the truth.  I just know how I do it to my satisfaction.  There are a few other LGBTQ characters in the Trilogy, because it just made sense to put them there.  I won’t set out to write a specific type most of the time, I’ll just choose one at random and roll with it.  I’ll admit there is a bit of self-conscious selection: I may deliberately want to have a character be gay or lesbian, but I’m not going to shoehorn that trait in if it’s not true to the character.  Nearly all the characters in the Bridgetown Trilogy came to me at the inception of the scene, really.  I just choose to keep a very long and extremely varied list of possible traits to choose from and go with what seems to fit.  And that seems to work out just fine.


* – My trunked novel Love Like Blood was a good example of flat characters.  I had some neat ideas in that story, but it was my attempt at completely commercial fiction.  Most of the characters ended up all flash and no depth.  It was definitely not one of my best works.

#atozchallenge: O is for the One of All Sacred

Writing a character trope such as a Chosen One can be tricky, because there are so many ways you can fall into the trap of being predictable.  Too often they end up as the reluctant hero (Neo in The Matrix, Katniss in The Hunger Games) or the easily distracted and imperfect person who needs to learn how to ascend in status (Daniel in The Karate Kid, Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone).  But they sell, and readers love them, so I won’t say it’s necessarily a bad thing.

With Denni Johnson, I wanted her to be all of that — a reluctant hero, easily distracted and imperfect.  But I also wanted her to be aware that she was being put into that situation as well.  That’s part of her role as the One of All Sacred: she’s aware.  Which ups the ante with internal and external conflict, doesn’t it?  How do you play the role of deity without being pigeonholed into the role of savior or superhero?  That was one of Denni’s first pronouncements, even as she was entering Moulding Warehouse for the first time: she was a deity, but she was a human, just like everyone else there.  Don’t expect miracles.

The role of the One of All Sacred within the Mendaihu Universe is that of overseer, really.  They don’t necessarily have to change the world or make it a better place…their role is really just to make sure its problems don’t spiral out of control.  The spirit of the One is resurrected every twenty to twenty-five years (roughly once a generation or so) to keep an eye on things, gauge where we are in our evolution, and make a few changes or tweaks if necessary.

Denni Johnson is the Ninth Embodiment on Earth.  [There were many embodiments prior to Earth’s, both on Mannaka and Meraladh, but that’s another storyline entirely.]  Right away she’d decided that instead of trying to play the expected role, she’d change it to something that made more sense to her.  That in turn changed the expectations of all the parties involved.  Her personal choices affected everyone else in the process.  Instead of turning off Nehalé Usarai’s awakening ritual, she kept it going.  She saw it as a way to start with a bit of a clean slate; no one was prepared for this move, so everyone’s on the same page and fumbling a bit, including her.

Giving her the awareness of her situation was quite the trick; in essence, she’s in a constant state of paying attention to what’s going on and having the ability to change events if necessary.  She needed to be able to think on the fly, accept that she may make mistakes, and know when to let nature and/or fate take its course instead.

On a more spiritual level, I had to make sure that she wasn’t exactly seen as The Goddess That Is (an analog to the main gods and goddesses of current religions, and who pretty much runs — not rulesthe known universes).  The One is more of an Earth Goddess, the one in charge of the planet.  The position has been held by all kinds of people; young, old, man, woman, Meraladian, Earther, and so on.  Each Embodiment had their own strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.  What makes Denni different?  Well…you’ll need to read the books to find out!


And then there’s Saisshalé.

As I’d said previously, there’s a yin-yang to everything in the Mendaihu Universe.  Yes, even the Dearest One has an opposing force, one who embraces chaos just as the One of All Sacred embraces order.  More about him on Friday.

#atozchallenge: M is for Mendaihu and Shenaihu

Yin-yang.  That’s the theme of the stories within the Mendaihu Universe.

It’s about balance.  There is both evil and good within us.  We rarely like to admit it, but we are all full of conflicting morals and ethics.  We are driven both by our own emotions and thoughts, and what we are taught or expected to feel and think, and quite often they are all at loggerheads with each other.

I wanted to play around with this idea:  what, ultimately, is the right thing to do?

This question is posited throughout the Bridgetown trilogy.  Every character faces this same dilemma at some point in their arc.  Each character is given some kind of ascension in their spirit, some form of advanced knowledge, and they must choose how to utilize it.

They are also given an advanced awareness as well: they are now conscious of other spirits around them, whether they like it or not.  And ultimately this means that if they are to use their new knowledge, they are acutely aware of how it would affect not only themselves, but those around them.

The Mendaihu are the watchers, the protectors, the saviors.  And what of the Shenaihu?  They’re the keepers of the ethereal: the mind, the heart, and the soul.” — Matthew Davison, The Persistence of Memories

The Mendaihu are often seen as having the upper hand, as they are more physical in their presence.  They are the ones quietly doing their rounds, fully and completely aware of nearly everything and everyone around them, ensuring that every person out there is at peace.  They are the ones willing to lay down their lives for those around them, if necessary.  They may see the Shenaihu as troublemakers, the ones who are too quick to cause problems.

The Shenaihu are acutely aware of how the spiritual realm works.  They are the ones keeping to themselves, uncomfortably too aware of nearly everything and everyone around them.  They wish everyone could find their own peace, but are willing to assist if and when necessary.  They may see the Mendaihu as too quick to involve themselves in everyone else’s problems.

Both are liberal in their thoughts and actions; both are conservative in their thoughts and actions.  Both have faults, both have strengths.  They may be coming from completely opposite sides, but they both crave the same thing: peace of spirit.  Both are driven by the same goal: to do the right thing to achieve that peace.

The only answer, ultimately, is to find a perfect balance of both.  This is the cho-nyhndah [cho-NYEEN-dah] spirit.  Equally Mendaihu and Shenaihu in thought, heart, and deed.


#atozchallenge: J is for Madeleine Jakes

Kathleen Turner

Q: What is Madeleine Jakes’ origin?

A: Even though I had Caren and Denni essentially living on their own, I still wanted to provide them some kind of an elder presence, someone who’s not taking care of them 24/7 but is there as someone to lean on when times get tough.  Originally I didn’t plan to have her in that many scenes, relegating her to a tertiary character, but like Christine Gorecki, she evolved into someone who kept popping up at the most interesting and unexpected moments.  She’ll show up in a number of important scenes in The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light.

Q: How is she related to Caren and Denni Johnson?

A: She’s a family friend from quite a long time back.  She’s a retired Data Research Library archivist and now writes freelance.  She lives next door to Caren and Denni, frequently checks in on them, and occasionally keeps their place clean, especially when Caren’s stuck on a particularly hard case.

Q: That’s Kathleen Turner in that picture.  Is that who Madeleine is based on?

A: Actually, Madeleine’s a character I without a real-life inspiration…I originally created her as a typical older relative.  But the more she showed up, the more I realized that she was someone who might be older in age, but still embraces life as if she was 30.  She’s someone who rarely holds back her words and thoughts, and despite her disability (she lost a leg soon after the events of the Eighth Embodiment and has a cybernetic replacement), she sure as hell isn’t going to let life pass her by.  I can totally see Kathleen Turner pulling that off, throwing shade and putting people in their place.

Q: What is her connection to the Mendaihu?

A: [Shhh — don’t tell anyone, but she’s a Mendaihu Elder.  Nobody, not even any of the main characters, knows this!]

Q: Anything else?

A: She’s got an amazingly sharp memory, which is why she chose to work as an archivist.  She’s a mid-level certificated soulhealer and occasionally performs healings upon request.  She’s also adept at Lightwalking, but she hasn’t done that in at least a decade and a half, for very personal reasons.  She never married and rarely dated.  Caren will sometimes think Madeleine shouldn’t be so overly active because of her age, but she will remind her otherwise right quick, much to Caren’s embarrassment.  Denni absolutely adores her and thinks of her as an aunt, and will visit her apartment all the time.  She will never reveal this to Caren or Denni: she made a promise to Aram and Celine, two days before they died, that she would look over their daughters if they did not survive the case they were currently working on.

#atozchallenge: D is for Denni Johnson

Denni Johnson - Jena MaloneQ: Denni’s got quite the role in this trilogy as the One of All Sacred.  What’s her origin?

A: She was a relatively new character alongside Caren and Poe, but she didn’t really have much of a role until about a quarter of the way into The Phoenix Effect.  A proto-Denni popped up in True Faith in a similar role but with vastly different motives and personality.  Both versions were pre-teens.  When writing the trilogy it made more sense for her to be a teenager and a little closer in age to Caren.

Q: Why the One of All Sacred, anyway?  Where did that idea come from?

A: In a way that came from a subplot in TF.  I was fascinated by the idea of Chosen One plotlines at the time, especially ones with mundane origins that ascend to deity level, either by a ritual or by outside forces.  It was still a subplot in TPE, but by the time of the trilogy reboot it became a major plot point — so much so that her awakening is Chapter 1 of A Division of Souls.  She’s one of the major drivers of the plot of the trilogy.  [More about the One of All Sacred on 4/18 when we hit ‘O’ on the A to Z Challenge!]

Q: Like her sister, she’s got a Mendaihu name as well.  An extended version of it is given in A Division of Souls.  What’s the story behind that?

A: She gives her Mendaihu name as Denysia Shalei si Emmadha si Dhumélis.  In Anjshé, the ‘si’ is a conjunction — in this sense she’s merely giving multiple clan names that her Trisandi soul is tied to.  [Pronunciation: shah-LEYey-MADH-ah, and dhoo-MEY-lees.  The ‘dh’ is a ‘d’ sound with a very slight lisp.]  All three clans are highly regarded on Trisanda as strong in both spirit and in deed.  She purposely gave all three names at the Moulding Warehouse to prove a single point: she wasn’t going to take her role as the One of All Sacred lightly, not if she claimed to be from such an honored lineage.
And yes, this is a lineage for her entire family.  Caren almost never claims all three names as she rarely sees need for it.

Q: That’s Jena Malone in that picture.  Is she the basis for Denni?

A: Yes, she is.  I wrote TPE around the same time the movie Contact, where she played the young Ellie Arroway.  Spunky, smart and self-reliant, yet still relies on the connection of others.  The trilogy version has her somewhat older (maybe her role in Donnie Darko, which was out about the same time I started ADoS).

Q: For a fifteen-year-old girl, she certainly has a hell of a lot of responsibility, doesn’t she?

A: Well, sure, why not?  She shares much the same daily responsibilities as her older sister Caren, especially since they’re living on their own.  Her parents made sure she was self-reliant, as both they and Caren were ARU agents, and they didn’t want her to completely depend on the help of others.  But they also taught her that there’s no fault in asking for it, either.  Whenever she’s performing her duties as the One of All Sacred, she always has that in the back of her mind, and that’s why she nearly always encourages community but also reminds her followers to think for themselves instead of following her blindly.
That’s not to say that she immediately becomes a Magical Girl and her real life is conveniently forgotten whenever she’s doing her magic as the One.  Now that she’s known as the One by pretty much everyone on Earth, she of course feels a bit self-conscious, not to mention feeling a bit weird about still needing to attend school.  She wants to do her best as the One, but she also wants to continue being teenaged Denni.  I actually touch on this theme in The Persistence of Memories as well as The Balance of Light.
In short: she’s willing to take all the responsibility that comes with being a deity, but she refuses to let it go to her head.

Q: What is her relationship with Amna Ehramanis?

A: She’s her best bud, they’ve known each other since they were five.  Like all lifelong friends, they’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs, scrapes and japes, and they’re still BFFs.  Denni always plays the straight character to Amna’s wackiness.  As to why Amna becomes her devoted Protector once she’s fully awakened, well…there are a few reasons for that, which are revealed in TPoM and TBoL.  😉

Q: Anything else?

A: Like Caren, she’s a music fiend and constantly streams stuff from her sister’s collection.  She’s a voracious reader.  She’s a decent student and gets excellent marks, but she’ll admit she doesn’t see the point in trying to be top student.  She loves hanging out with Caren’s fellow agents at the ARU, and thinks of them as an extended family.  In particular she looks upon Alec Poe as a big brother.  She’s had a few school crushes here and there, but nothing serious, and she’s okay with that.  There’s a fifteen-year difference between Caren and Denni, which might lead some to think she was an unplanned pregnancy, but she’s actually not.  Aram and Celine deliberately chose to have another child after the previous Season of Embodiment.  (As to whether they knew her fate at that time is not known.)

And yes, she too has a theme song, Lamb’s “Small”. This is what she thinks about when she’s up in her nonspace.

#atozchallenge: C is for Caren Johnson

Caren Johnson - Kristen ClokeQ:  What is Caren’s origin?

A:  Caren is actually the first new character I created for the trilogy back in 1997 when I started The Phoenix Effect.  I came up with her (as well as Alec Poe) on that first day of writing.  I’ll admit there was a slight inspiration from The X-Files which I was a fan of at the time, as I was looking for two investigators who were put into a situation they weren’t exactly comfortable with.

Q: She’s got a Mendaihu name as well.  Why is that?

A: Her Mendaihu name is Karinna Shalei.  [First name pronounced ka-RINN-nah].  She was given it by her parents, Aram and Celine Johnson, who were high-level Mendaihu adepts as well as agents for the Alien Relations Unit.  The Mendaihu blood runs extremely strong in her entire family.  She takes this name very seriously, and never uses it frivolously.  The same with her sister Denni; she will not call her ‘Denysia’ unless it is warranted.
The giving of Trisandi clan names to those from Earth is not considered appropriation by the Meraladians; they actually consider it a form of incredibly deep respect, as they feel these people are willing to completely embrace their ancient physical and spiritual connections with Trisanda.

Q: That’s Kristen Cloke up there.  Is that who Caren is based on, physically?

A: Yes!  In fact, she was inspired by Kristen’s role as Captain Shane Vansen in Space: Above and Beyond (of which I was a HUGE fan).  Someone who isn’t entirely happy with the role she’s been given, but that won’t stop her from performing it to the best of her ability.  Like Vansen, Caren is also someone who takes her responsibilities very seriously, especially when it comes to those she works with or mentors.  Caren connects personally and spiritually with everyone she meets.
I can even tell you the scene where it dawned on me that she’s definitely Caren: it’s a rare and very personal conversation between her and 1st Lt. Cooper Hawkes in the episode ‘Hostile Visit’, which takes place just before they’re about to head out on a dangerous mission.  This is definitely a conversation she’d have with Alec Poe.

Q: Her relationship with Anando Shalei seems to be somewhat unique.  Has she always questioned her relationships, romantic and otherwise?

A: No, not always.  The death of her parents really took a lot out of her emotionally, and because of that she keeps a specific distance from others, for fear of getting too close and then losing them as well.  She’s fully aware of this decision, and has never let it completely get to her, knowing full well that she has to move past that.
Caren’s connection with others is definitely unique; it was partly based on a few friendships and relationships I’d had where I simply clicked with the person on a deep level in a very short amount of time.  It’s not merely a romantic or sexual attraction she has with Anando, but a spiritual one.  And because of that, Caren is nervous at first, wondering how it could possibly work.  The longer they’re together, however, the more they learn to rely on each other for comfort, affection, and a firm base of spirit.
Her last serious relationship before Anando was with Agent Sheila Kennedy, though they both decided to end it due to their work situation and remain close friends.  They still flirt with each other now and again, mostly for the humor of it.
As for friendships, she is extremely loyal, and will always have your back.  She also has a very thin filter, so she’ll often say what’s on her mind, even if it bothers you.  She takes every kind of relationship seriously.  Especially the one with her sister.

Q: Anything else?

A: She often has trouble falling asleep at night, as she often lets her thoughts run rampant near the end of the day.  She’s been trying her best to fix that.  She has a scar on her thigh from a bullet grazing it during an investigation.  She has exceptionally strong night vision.  She can be very impulsive and impatient sometimes, which has gotten her in trouble now and again.  She’s got a very snarky sense of humor.  She won’t admit it to Poe (who will surely never let her hear the end of it), but she really does enjoy dressing up fancy now and again.  She’s an avid music fan and has quite a large collection; her tastes depend on mood and situation, but she has a soft spot for meditative music, especially when she’s had a taxing day at work.  She’ll always say her happiest moments are when she’s hanging out with Denni.

And yes, she has a theme song:  Lamb’s “Gorecki”.  It’s exactly how she feels about Anando, even if she has trouble articulating it to him or anyone else.

Lamb ‘Gorecki’ from Luke Copeland on Vimeo.

On Peace, Love and Light

In the Mendaihu Universe, a very common greeting between spiritual-minded people is “Peace, Love and Light to you.” It’s meant purely as a blessing of good will and open mind and heart. Depending on the situation in which it’s said, it can either be a blessing (“I wish you the best of worlds”) or as an honoring, such as a follower to an Elder. Its creation was inspired by a similar phrase used in certain new age beliefs I read up on during the creation of the Mendaihu Universe, and its meaning is quite similar. The three elements of this greeting are considered strong energies present in universal life–peace is the balance of energy, love is its strength, and light is its physical and ephemeral existence that feeds us.

Peace is quite possibly the most important in the Mendaihu Universe.  Our alien kin are highly spiritual–that is, their connection to the universe is not just an understanding of their physical place within it, but an understanding of their soul’s ties to it.  Their extrasensory abilities have given them a keen awareness of balance and imbalance within themselves and within others, and as a result they are drawn to maintaining balance.  This is not to say that they avoid wars, far from it; they have had many civil and multi-world wars during their long history.  Additionally, there has always been a tenuous relationship between the two major factions of the Meraladhza…the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu.  There will occasionally be a civil war between the two (the latest of which is part of the main plot of the Bridgetown Trilogy), which has long been thought of as a spiritual imbalance within the Meraladzha race, and these wars are often seen as an attempt to regain this balance.

Love is used as a strength or a source of power in many stories, and it’s seen in many different forms.  I find the most interesting use of love is when it’s used for compassion and strength instead of romanticism. This kind often takes a familial form. At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore mentions that it’s “love” that kept Harry safe from Voldemort’s touch; it was his mother’s selfless protection that formed not just a bond but a barrier. In Naruto, it’s in the form of the title character’s parents Kushina and Minato; their love not only protects him from the Nine-Tailed Fox, it also serves as part of the lock that keeps the unwieldy spirit deep within his body, keeping it safe from everyone. In A Division of Souls, this is seen very early on when Caren’s first reaction to an unsanctioned city-wide ritual is to protect her younger sister Denni from its backlash.  Love is also a driving force within the Mendaihu Universe novels.  The relationships of family, friendship and partnership are strong and important, and serve as the backbone for the Bridgetown Trilogy.  It is often seen and utilized as a spiritual anchor, a reminder of the connection between all living things.

Light is the power itself, and it takes many forms and levels.  Using Naruto as an example again, this could be the use of chakra for offensive and defensive purposes.  In the Mendaihu Universe, it is used both as a tool and as a destination.  As a tool, it’s thought of as the energy behind the Meraladhza abilities such as soulhealing and innerspeak.  It’s also used in forced-extraction form known as Lightwork; both creative (healing, cleansing and moving) and destructive (fighting and shielding).  As a destination it’s the non-space or “Null” between two fixed points.  Only the strongest of Mendaihu and Shenaihu (both Meraladhza and human) have the ability to move in this manner.  The movement entails gathering Light energy to one fixed point–say, the space in front of you–and stepping into the Light.  The sensation is very much like stepping into complete whiteness (usually Mendaihu) or blackness (usually Shenaihu) (I say “usually” because cho-nyhndah–those who are both–can move either way).  The exit point is the reverse–knowing the fixed point one wants to get to, and releasing the same Light energy at that point.

When awakening as a Mendaihu or a Shenaihu, knowledge and use of these powers are essential, and are part of the training soon after the awakening ritual has been performed.  It is not exactly dangerous to avoid or prolong getting trained, but the longer one waits, the harder it is to learn how to wield these powers, and using them without proper training can prove dangerous, even fatal.

Granting or wishing “Peace, Love and Light” to others is considered one of the highest forms of praise, but it’s also a high form of compassion as well.  In giving Peace, Love and Light, one gives a part of their own spirit; one offers spiritual balance, spiritual strength, and spiritual being.

On Spirituality in the Mendaihu Universe: alien and human relations

Many of you have already heard versions of the story as to how I came up with the spiritual setting in the Mendaihu Universe–short version, I was inspired by my own attempts at spiritual enlightenment in the mid- to late-90s, specifically when I started focusing on New Age philosophies. Some of these ideas raised the question as to where souls came from, such as other realities or other planets. I not only found this an interesting twist on spiritualism, but I felt this would be an interesting idea for the basis of a belief system in a novel or a series. That was sometime around 1996-1997, and it evolved over the years between writing the original story The Phoenix Effect (more on that book in a future post) and the finished product. Most of the connections to the original inspiration have gone away, though the general idea remains:

What if the souls of Earth humans really did come from elsewhere?

Which led to many related questions: What is the connection to Earth? Why did these souls choose this planet out of any of the habitable ones in the universe? What is the physical relationship between Earth and this “homeworld” planet? How would it relate to physical, tactile, logical reality?

And lastly, what would happen when we re-established contact with that homeworld?

It took me a good number of years and novel drafts to figure that out.

In the timeline for A Division of Souls, we’ve already been in contact with the Meraladhza for at least three centuries.  First Contact took place in somewhat mundane situations, via long distance communication only. It took nearly a full century before these very humanlike aliens worked with us to facilitate a First Landing. By that time, a few things took place: firstly, the human race on Earth had time to come to terms with The Other Being Out There in the Cosmos to some extent. The cold and true fact that there really are others out there, not to mention that we’d been given proof that we really are all but an infinitely small percentage of all life in the universe, had humbled us deeply. Secondly, these human aliens were just like us in almost every way except for when it came to the inner Self–their inherent spiritualism taught us new ways to overcome (or at least assuage) our Fears of the Other. This was another surprising point in history, considering our own haunted pasts; to put it bluntly, we’d finally had a grown-up put us in our place. [This isn’t to say we finally got rid of wars and extremism and what have you; it’s more that we gradually learned to better chose our fights, and fight them for smarter reasons, with less destruction and fallout.]

The third and the most important point is that, sometime about twenty to thirty years after the First Contact, the Meraladhza explained just who they were: our distant ancestors. [Part of the delayed revelation was rightly and understandably to soften the blow.] There was, of course, a lot of argument and theorizing here: how could the Meraladzha, even when they were so biologically, physically and mentally just the same as us, be our ancestors when we’ve had centuries of Darwinian evolutionary theory to (sort of) prove our own existence? The answer was twofold: physical and spiritual evolution. Physical: the Meraladhza “seeded” our planet quite far back in our history–itself full of holes due to the ravages of time and erosion of known histories–far enough that we had no knowledge nor proof or idea of it. [Yes, that’s a bit vague, but it’s worth focusing on in a later post.] Spiritual: the Meraladhza also instilled a spiritual presence, the human soul, here on the planet. To the Meraladhza, they felt it more important that we be cognizant of our spirit, even if it was the simple “who am I?” question. The remaining seventy or so years before First Landing were spent with alien and human in constant communication, learning about each other like long-separated siblings finally reunited. By the time they arrived, we were all more or less back on the same page.

In the Mendaihu Universe, this spiritualism is one of the strongest traits for both the Meraladhza and the Earth human. By ‘spiritualism’ I mean a deep understanding and reverence for the soul within; it is a Zen of sorts, a highly dedicated and conscious understanding of who we are and our effect on others. Over the years since First Contact and especially after First Landing, many were willingly ‘awakened’ to our ancient Meraladian memories, and with such awakenings came heightening of the senses. To our vision came Veilsight, the ability to view spiritual activity on a heightened level; to our hearing came innerspeak, the ability to hear and subvocalize communication; to our sense of touch came soulsensing, the ability to reach out and “touch” other spirits with our own. Some come into this heightened awareness on their own; others need training and/or awakening ritual; it is a highly regulated and monitored process. Regardless, over the past three centuries it has become an accepted and well-regarded state of being.

More to come:
–On Spiritualism: Mendaihu, Shenaihu, and cho-nyhndah
–On Spiritualism: Levels of belief and practice
–On Spiritualism: the Goddess, the One of All Sacred, and other deities