Today, we enter the world of Melissa Berg, author of the Shifting Balance Series.
Melissa Berg is the author of the Shifting Balance Series, which has been her passion for the past ten years. She also works as an illustrator and studied art and design at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. When she isn’t writing or painting or entertaining her son, she is pursuing the art of 3D computer illustration/animation, as a side project and to feed her fascination in the ever-expanding medium used for storytelling. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, young son, and a crazy Border Collie.
Now, prepare yourself to enter Ahrune!
The Shifting Balance Series takes place in Ahrune. In creating this rich land, I wanted to keep it simple; familiar and relatable. It is a character driven story of love, hope, and sacrifice, where I explore the world we live in, human nature, and how all things are connected. Everything is effected by the choices we make. Because of this, I wanted Ahrune to make sense to the reader so that one could easily go there in the space of their mind, and wouldn’t have to stretch the imagination too far to see such a place. Each of the locales within the story could be compared to places in our own world, not just for reasons of the familiar, but for the overall structure of the story, which is explained later on in the series.
Geography and Nature: the big picture
Overall geography: Ahrune is a continent, much like Middle-Earth or Westeros, where the lives of its people are connected directly to the land. There are small towns and large, beautiful cities. Epic landscapes filled with majestic mountain ranges, rolling hills and plains, mysterious and ancient forests, and deserts almost too dry and far reaching to cross. An ocean surrounds the land, and though they have great sailing ships, they have yet to gain the technology needed to cross far into such unknown waters.
The south has a warmer climate, and does not experience snow or deep freezes. Most of the great cities were built along the southern shorelines, where the trading of goods by the use of ships was easily accessible. Those who live in the north tend to be a hardy group of people, they rely on the land and weather a lot more, and are very close to the Anwhars, a mountain range that is too high and too vast to cross. Very few have ventured through them and stories have been written about those who tried but never returned. The north is also far removed from the south, as an ancient forest, the Aesilvah, rife with stories of spirits and dark creatures, stretches across the land west of the Kehnell River. This river acts as a natural divider, and to the east lies the Dohelyn Desert, where lost tribes, like the Nyah`vees, used to roam; strong wielders of blades were they, who moved like shadow and light.
Magic and how it is defined in your world:
In creating the magic for this world, I wanted it to be drawn from and connected to nature, and to make sense in a logical way. It shouldn’t be available at all times, and should not be a convenient plot device thrown in to save the characters in any situation. Magic really is just science that we don’t fully understand, and it needed to have its own set of rules. If they gained the technology, then maybe one day they could understand where it comes from. It is actually a type of energy that permeates the rock , the water, and even the air. It is, essentially, the power of life, and the four elements needed to create it is an energy that moves through and feeds off of every living thing; Fire (Ihgnis), Air (Ahrae), Water (Ahquae), and Earth (Terrah). Yet one element, more ethereal and mysterious, is here too, and it is bound to all other elements. It is what allows these elements to work together and helps to keep all of life in balance. It is the energy force Ahmereh, which we call love.
It is this energy that is wielded as a power. Though every living thing has this spark of life, it is only the Sceleste who have the power to wield it. The Sceleste can only be women, as it comes from the place where all of life begins, and it is women who have the power to sustain and nurture life. The men of the Sceleste also have a large part to play in how this power is sustained through the generations. Most notably, the Life Bond, which is formed by linking two souls together before a couple is married. There is a lot more to it, with its own long history and symbolism. Much of their power derives from the life giving energy of the Stars and coincides with their positions on given days of the year.
Races and cultures: your world and its people
Races or dominant species:
Diversity and culture is much like are own world, including species of animals. Here, diversity is due to the different environments of the ancient cultures, and eventually, as civilization grew, and trade was established, the people began to intermingle. Yet there is no racism the way we see it in our world. They have more issues with class, and whether you come from a small town in the north, or a large city in the south. Where the story begins, most feel they have a common enemy, and the fear of the Sceleste has become something akin to the witch hunts of our own past. I have several characters that are dark skinned, and a few that could be considered Asian. Everyone speaks the common tongue, as most of the older cultures have lost their ancient languages.
Dragons and phoenix, even mermaids and fairies are used in their storytelling and as symbols, but they don’t truly believe they exist. One animal, once thought to be just a creature from nightmarish tales, has been extending its territory further away from the Aesilvah Forest. The Scrabtz are wolf-like in the way they hunt, but are closer to that of a Grizzly bear in size and appearance, and they are hairless. They don’t kill for food, they prey on the souls of those who have allowed darkness into their hearts, yet they also destroy those who live within the Light, because they abhor goodness and innocence. In other words, they destroy everything, and in doing so, they shift the balance further toward Darkness.
Politics and origin: how the world is knit together
What is the overall history on which the present world is built?
When our story begins the world is in a dark place. The Balance is shifting, possibly even to the point of no return. Up until twenty years ago, the land had been ruled by the Sceleste. It was a time of peace and prosperity.
There are eight cities in all and each had their own Councils, with two Sceleste to lead and
represent them. When needed, or when issues were not just over their own city and surrounding territories, the Sceleste would take their cases to the capital city of New Ehlfeimr (taken from the Icelandic name Álfheimr, which is the home of the ‘Light Elves’ in Norse Mythology). Here was where the Eldest Council sat, to hear and issue decrees. While the High Sceleste presided over all affairs with her personal advisors.
Things started to change, and some believed the Sceleste were growing too powerful, and too far removed from the needs of the common people. A man, who somehow, had gained the ability to not only steal the power from a Sceleste, but to control and wield it, came and started to destroy their world. He turned the people against the Sceleste with lies, and the war with the people began.
One by one, Kaell Vitios Kahrus, killed the Sceleste, and after, he named himself Emperor. Now he rules the land with fear and force, yet people still believe his lies, that the Sceleste had become corrupted by their power. He uses the people to do the job for him. If a Sceleste, or someone aiding them, is found, they are usually killed. Yet this has caused many other problems, as most tend to be innocent victims of greed or personal vendettas. Many have lost their lands or their livelihoods while corrupt and greedy governors and magistrates have taken control. The south has become filled with homeless refugees of the system, and no one seems to want to do anything about it. They are on the verge of change, and only one spark is needed for a new uprising to begin
Religions, language, and recreation: expressions of your world’s people
What are your dominant faiths, beliefs, and religions?
The Sceleste were not only the leaders of the land, but were held sacred among the people because of how they came to wield the power of life. They were created by the Ehl`vesah. A race of beings who came from the Stars. They are similar in appearance to the Elves of Middle-Earth, but they do not have pointed ears. When they arrived in Ahrune they found a primitive form of humans and loved them like their own children. Wanting their children to be able to understand and know the world as they did, they gave these people awareness, and the Age of Man began. Yet with this awareness and the ability to create and love, the laws of Balance took effect, and its opposite was born; hate and war.
There were Seven Ehl`vesah in all, and each of the great cities were named after them.
They taught the laws of Balance, how it was sacred and must always be protected, for everything relied on this, from the smallest blade of grass, to the whole of the stars in the sky. Because of where they came from, the common belief is that the creators or the Gods, are in the Stars, and this is where a soul goes when someone dies, into the light of the Stars. It was these Gods who created the Seven. The people pray to the Stars, and worship the Seven. Yet there was one God who was angered by the creation of the Seven and the gift of Life that was given to them. He started a war with the Gods that he could not win, and left to create his own place to prove he was just as powerful as they. He was Loethyan, and he is ruler of the Darkness. Because of the Laws of Balance, all souls who follow the path of darkness, go to his realm of Dehorc. Dark forces are constantly pulling at the Light. In fact, there is one place, that is introduced in Book 3, an island where one side is pure in the Light and the other is Dark, and where these two forces meet, pulling on one another, nothing of life can exist. Eventually the place will tear itself apart by these two opposing forces.
What are you major languages? How extensively have you worked your languages out?
Language plays an essential part in creating the world of the Sceleste; the exotic and sacred nature of their mystique. Many sayings are commonly used in the ancient language of the Ehl`vesah. Scelestial ceremonies are still spoken in Ehlveh`esh. In creating this language I wanted something that sounded open and airy and light on the tongue. I like the sound of Tolkien’s Elvish, which was based on Welsh. I looked at Icelandic, Sioux and Lakota, and even Irish Gaelic, and the sound qualities they all share. In the end I decided to use something familiar that would be easy to read, so I used Latin as a base, and reworked the words from there. Because it is not spoken by everyone all the time, I did not create a full dictionary. I create the words as needed, and add to the list as I write. It is an easy language, with a few simple rules for pronunciation. ‘Eh’ and ‘Ah’ are dominant sounds, and an accent marker sets a break in the word as it is spoken. Here is a list of the basic sounds:
a – as in “able”
eh – this sound is directly between a long a as in “able” and a short e as in “enter”. When you see these two written together they are always pronounced separately, “A-eh”.
ah – is pronounced the same as in the common tongue.
e – without the h is sometimes pronounced as a short e as in “enter”.
i – almost always pronounced ee. In the few exceptions, it is pronounced ih as in “tickle”.
o – a very round and full sound, as in “oh”.
u – is pronounced as an ü sound, which phonetically spelled is like the e in “ew”.
A few examples
This is what is written on the sword in the prophecy:
Ahmereh de Naeturah en Lehoht hen Verahs—‘Love, the Essence of Light and Truth’
The battle chant of the Scelestial guard and the Lehoht Tu`horena (Light Guardians). It is chanted in a guttural and rhythmic way much like an ancestral war cry called a Haka, used by the Māori people of New Zealand:
Peh`aht en tu`eh Macherah… Lehoht
Coh`aht en tu`eh Ehcruhe… Ahmereh
Tu`hor en tu`eh Aehnehm… Sceleste
Defend with your sword—Light
Shield with your blood—Love
Protect with your life—Sceleste
I love digging deep into setting, but it’s not always practical to do this, depending on the scene. It’s the quiet moments that seem to get the most attention, when sounds and smells will be noticed by a character a lot more.
I have several settings that are my favorite, most outdoor settings are similar to places I have been. The land, trees, and rock around Mahren’s (the main character) home in Serhena Valley looks, smells, and feels like the North Shore of Lake Superior (one of my favorite places). The rock is rich in iron and almost black, the forests are thick and filled with birch, pine, and Tamarack, which all offer a feast for the eye in terms of color; even the sounds are different.
My favorite setting though, is on a sailing ship called the Ahstra Cursoh (Star Runner). Many great scenes happen on this ship throughout the series. I love the richness in detail that this setting can create. The creak and groan of massive timbers, the flap of canvas sails, the sailors talking, joking, and singing, heard from below the deck boards. The sway and rock of hanging cots, the jingle of chains, ropes and pulleys in the hold. The barely heard hiss of an oil lantern, and the quiet clucking of sleeping chickens used for food and eggs. Even the happy nicker of a horse being ferried to their destination. The smell of pitch and resin, or the baking bread in the galley. A violin might be playing, with its bow a bit too dry. And further in the depths, the long mournful singing of a whale might be heard; the wind in the sails, the water against the hull. So much can be put into every scene until we are there with the characters, and the whole world comes alive.
The world is a backdrop, the starting point that serves the characters and the action of a scene. Sometimes it comes into focus as a person sits near a campfire, worrying on the battle to come, while trying to distract himself from the fact that it might be his last night. Yet in the heat of that battle, it will fall away in a haze, and won’t even be noticed unless it becomes an obstacle or a tool of survival. Just like in the real world, we pay attention to the details if we are out for an evening walk, but if we are talking to someone, or worrying over a personal problem at work, we hardly notice what is around us. So too is a world built this way. It is the characters—their emotion, their conflicts, their loves—who bring balance and meaning to each element of their world, and it is the love and nurturing care we give them that is the glue, which binds it all together. In the end, it is the love of the story, and the need to share it, that brings it to life.
Want to know more about Ahrune? Why not enter it by ordering a copy of the book:
After finding out the truth of her past, Mahren must leave everything behind and embark on a journey through love, betrayal, and sacrifice, while her fate may already be written in the Stars, for the Prophecy states: ’She must die, so all may live’.
“Beautiful writing and deep emotions. Melissa Berg forges a connection between her readers and the story’s characters within the first page. Definitely worth a look for any fan of fantasy!”
— Craig Munro
“Right off the bat we’re treated to wonderful description in short, clear sentences. The story is filled with emotion, and begs to be read. I’m really enjoying this bit so far!
— Dave Barrett, author of It’s All Fun and Games
“Berg draws you in with a skill that is beautiful and tragic. From the very beginning, the reader is drawn into another world of magic, love, destiny and sacrifice. There is an urgency in her writing that moves the plot along swiftly. Look for an unusual female character who will face trials in a world that becomes real from the very first page!”
— Janna Grace
Behind her was the horrific sound of heavily armed men running through the trees in pursuit. She did not want to look back and see how close they were. She imagined at any moment she would feel them at her neck. Shadows flickered along the tree trunks ahead. Many had brought torches and were using them to try to find her in the woods.
“Mahren!” Sam’s voice called ahead of her.
Mahren could just barely see his shape in front of her. He was carrying her sword.
“Sam, they found us, we have to run!” Mahren called out breathlessly.
They almost ran into each other and Sam caught her up in his arms. He saw blood on her shirt.
“Mahren, are you all right? What happened?” He asked, out of breath, confusion mingled with fear in his voice.
“I don’t know,” she replied. Looking down at herself, she was horrified to see the spray of blood on her shirt. “It’s not mine, I’m all right. But Bastilla has found us.” She looked back the way she had come—the soldiers were getting closer. Shadows running toward them among silhouetted trees in the torchlight.
A sound came from the darkness nearby. A guard who had been close behind, suddenly lunged at them.
“Duck!” Sam shouted.
Mahren ducked and Sam deflected the blow that was aimed at both of their heads. He countered with a strike of his own, throwing the man off balance.
“Mahren, run!” Sam shouted to her. The guard blocked Sam’s attack.
Mahren backed away, afraid to leave Sam to fight alone. A second guard attacked from the right. He had not yet seen her, and instead he went for Sam. Mahren jumped in front of the man, deflecting the blow that would have cut Sam in half as he struggled with the first guard.
The second guard laughed when he saw her, thinking he would win easily. He brought his weapon down. It was not a sword, but a large axe. It caught on the blade and threatened to pull it out of her grip. Mahren spun around and kicked the man in the groin, yet his leather armor protected him and the kick did not disable. He laughed at her again, but she was already swinging; it caught him in the side and he howled in pain as she pulled her sword up and out of his stomach as he fell.
“Run!” Samuel shouted.
Mahren turned to see that Sam was just pulling his blade from the fallen guard. She immediately began to run for the beach. The rest of the soldiers were getting closer. She could hear Sam just behind her.
She made it to the beach and took a moment to orient herself to where their camp was. It was still a hundred yards to her right. The moon was out, making it easier to see. Her bare feet aching, she started to run. She turned once to look for Sam, hoping he had seen where she was, hoping he was still just behind. He burst out of the trees, further back than she had expected him to be—and he wasn’t alone.
Sam paused to look for her. When he saw the sudden fear on her face he spun to look behind. A dark mass of men were rushing out of the trees. Some carried torches making it impossible to see their numbers. They were only fifty yards away. Sam began to run and so did Mahren. It was a race to make it to their camp, grab their packs, mount their horses, and hopefully outrun the Imperial soldiers.
Mahren was halfway to their camp when she turned to see where Sam was. He was still about thirty feet away, yet his behavior gave her pause. He had stopped and he appeared confused. He held her sword nearly forgotten in his hand as he looked down at himself. And then Mahren saw why. The light of the full moon glinted off what looked like metal protruding just above his waist. Behind him, the soldiers were slowing down. General Bastilla was mounted on a large war horse, his hand raised high in the air.
“No!” Mahren screamed, horrified as she realized what was happening. She had to help him. Mahren started to rush back to Sam. The General’s hand came down.
Sam looked up at her, shock and pain in his eyes. Blood was on his hand. As he forced himself to start moving forward an arrow flew passed him, closely followed by a second, and then a third. The fourth arrow suddenly hit Sam in the back of his right shoulder. He was jolted by the force of the impact, the sword flew from his hand. Almost instantly, another arrow hit him from behind when Mahren was just feet away. The point, ripping all the way through his body, appeared just below his ribs.
“Sam!” Mahren screamed as she caught up to him.
Sam reached out for her, and then collapsed. She caught him and they both fell to their knees in the sand. Mahren held onto him, keeping him from falling.
“Hold your fire!” Bastilla bellowed.
Mahren was no longer aware of anything the General said. Sam was gasping for air, his blood, his life, was running down his chest, soaking his shirt.
“Mahren… run,” Sam sobbed, “Please… Take the sword… You have to… leave me, just run…”
“No, Sam, no,” Mahren cried, “I can’t leave you. I won’t leave you!”
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