Shapers of the World: The Etyni

This is the fourth article in a series on how the world of Isfalinis came into shape. The first article covered the earliest development some twenty years ago. Then, in the second, I discussed the various challenges I faced developing the four races of Bergrist, Humans, Aestari, and Ie’dhae. Last week, I talked about the belief systems of the peoples of Isfalinis in order to set the groundwork for this week’s article on those beings who gave the world its shape: the Etyni.

As I mentioned when starting this series, the basic concepts for the ten Etyni, Cydion, and His Highest Above were formed in approximately the first six months of the world-building process twenty years ago. Before they received their title ‘Etyni,’ they were first called ‘Elder Gods’ and later ‘Archangels’ as I grappled with the level of their authority in the world. Indeed, I’ve used this uncertainty to add breadth to the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of Isfalinis as they likewise must come to terms with who the Etyni were. In the Aestari language, ‘Etyni’ means ‘First’ because they were the first beings created by His Highest Above. His Highest Above himself, is a higher level deity of absolute power who initially bore the simple moniker ‘the Creator.’ The four races have struggled with their understanding of the relationship between the Etyni and His Highest Above. A few argue that they are personifications of His Highest Above, while others view them as independent lesser gods. Most consider them to be something akin to angels in our human lexicon. Regardless of specific beliefs, those who acknowledge the existence of the Etyni all agree that they were involved in the shaping of the world.

To continue my basic starting concepts, the Etyni were capable of error though they were more powerful and, presumably, wiser than the sentient races that came after. They were physical, tangible beings in the world while His Highest Above was separate from it. His actions in creation and the world that follows are mysterious even to the Etyni. The ‘Evil One’, later named ‘Cydion,’ was the eleventh Etyni who betrayed them for his own selfish desires. All ten of the Etyni and Cydion, their nemesis, are dead or otherwise gone from the world by the time of “Tears from Iron.”

Since the early developments in 1999, six of the ten Etyni have remained largely unchanged. These were the ones responsible for three of the four classical elements of earth, water, and wind. Two of the Etyni were assigned to each element, with one representing its physical nature and one its mental. For example, Fenr manifests the physical resilience of earth (endurance) while his sister Itesa represents its mental equivalent (willpower). Similarly, I divided their roles in creation. For example, Henji created the rivers while her brother Lelpfios delved the oceans.

The one classic element that I struggled with was fire. Initially, Cydion created fire and had no sibling. I played with the ways in which fire behaves like life… it has heat, it is hungry, it dies, and so on… and from that Cydion also became the creator of life. As the ‘Evil One’, he was already the source of death and thus he took on the moniker “Lord of Life and Death.” This appellation is still given to him in the final version if with different connotations. One of the challenges I faced with this train of thought, however, was that I already had separate shapers for each of the four sentient races. These ‘Shapers’ were members of the Cyrleni.

The Cyrleni were second-tier supernatural beings similar to the Etyni but of lesser power or, perhaps, greater specialization. Initially they were called ‘angels’. In the Aestari language, ‘Cyrleni’ means ‘Second’ because they were created by His Highest Above after the Etyni. The exact number of Cyrleni is uncertain, though there were many more than the Etyni. Famous Cyrleni include Ainii, the Shaper of the Aestari, and Vaenna, a prophetess who shaped the moon. To bring this back to the Cydion discussion, I resolved the conflict between Cydion as ‘Lord of Life’ and the four Cyrleni Shapers by placing Cydion above them as an overseer. He didn’t give life himself, but coveted that ability and tried to create his own sentient races with flawed results. In a similar hierarchical pattern, I placed Vaenna under the Etyni Niella who shaped the sun. I did the same with the various other Cyrleni who, in interests of brevity won’t be mentioned here.

But resolving the issue of life and Cydion in this way still didn’t solve the fundamental oddities of fire. Looking back with perfect hindsight, I’m not sure why it took me so long to find the solution. The answer came with the aforementioned creator of the sun, Niella. To this point, she had been an individual Etyni unlike the sibling pairs, and represented knowledge and wisdom.

The challenge in my mind was that fire on earth lives and dies while the fire in the sun does not. For you scientists out there, I realize this isn’t strictly accurate. First, the sun is plasma, not fire, and second the sun will die… just in a very long time… but this is long enough for it to work in the cosmological system I was developing. Niella’s sun does not die because she created it before Cydion brought death into the world and it is out of his reach in the heavens. The answer came when I set this mental block aside and combined the two. Once I made the leap, everything fell into place: Cydion and Niella were the creators of fire with Cydion representing its physical manifestations and Niella its mental. They would have been the fourth sibling pair, but for Cydion’s treachery and banishment from the Etyni.

Because of this shift, I also rejected my older idea of Cydion having leadership over the Shapers of the sentient races. He meddled, as was his way, but his meddling was outside of his authority. Following along those lines, I eventually removed the strict hierarchical relationship between all the Cyrleni and Etyni, though for some (such as Niella and Vaenna) it persisted in a less formal sense. This also marked the shift of Cyrleni from ‘lesser’ to ‘specialized’ as mentioned above.

Having resolved the dilemma of Cydion and the four elemental sibling pairs, that still leaves us with three additional Etyni. These were Oltos, the Lord of Balance, Isi the Herald, and Zaris, the leader of the Etyni. Oltos was never a problem. He brings the rest of the Etyni, especially the elements of fire, wind, water, and earth into balance. But what role does a herald have in creation? What does a leader shape?

The solution for Isi was fairly easy. In the early proto-game development period, she represented the trait influence. This, I construed to include music and then by extrapolation, sound itself. Thus Isi created sound.

Zaris, however, was as much of a challenge as Cydion. I didn’t want him to just be ‘in charge’. I wanted him to have an actual specific creative responsibility. I tried out various roles, but it always felt like I was trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. About the same time that I removed Cydion from having direct authority over the Shapers of the four races, I also removed Zaris from leadership of the Etyni. Such a strict hierarchy had ceased to make sense and I always envisioned the Etyni as working more like a council of peers. Only in my final reworking of the cosmology did I find my solution: Zaris is the Lord of Time.

Once I had all the pieces fitting together, I found that I had an elegant symmetry I hadn’t envisioned when I began. While I could talk about the elements of that all day, this article is already on the long side. I shall resist and instead point you to “A Treatise on Creation and the Lost Age” which looks at all of this from the point of view of one of the Aestari who lived through it. In that narrative, I hope you can see the final results. A copy is free for anyone who signs up for my newsletter. I also hope that ripples of this complex world can be felt in the telling of “Tears from Iron” much like significant events in our own world have impacts on our lives.

Building on the ideas of this article, next week I’ll discuss the Magic of Isfalinis, including its basic concepts, its use by the Etyni in creation, and its part in the world of “Tears from Iron.”