Advancement Level

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The sacred arts are Cradle’s “magic” system. This page provides a detailed and extensive description of the advancement levels or ranks within this system.

Editing Notes

  • In the books, ranks or levels are capitalized. Example: He is just a Copper.
  • However, the words madra, aura, sacred artist, sacred arts, revelation, and soulfire are not capitalized. Example: The sacred artist can cycle vital aura into madra, of a specific aspect.
  • In the books, it’s written Lowgold, not Low Gold. Highgold, not Highgold. Truegold. And soulfire.
  • This page has been edited but there may still be errors. Please feel free to fix ‘em up all bright and shiny.
  • Keep things succinct and stick to known facts, not speculation, or the page will get too long. Gratitude.

Gravity

Advancement is a survival skill on Cradle. Humans need vital aura and madra — at birth, it’s pure madra — because in this mythos, the planet is just incredibly large, increasing the gravity, the G-forces on the human body. Madra helps strengthen the body enough to withstand these forces. Author Will Wight isn’t too concerned about the “physics of fantasy” but he explains it on his Archives: [Archives]

Advancement: Humans vs Beasts

Humans, some beasts, and even the occasional tree might engage in the sacred arts, albeit differently. Following their chosen Path, sacred artists develop their spiritual power or madra by cycling vital aura. The sacred arts are structured in such a way as to naturally lead to advancement. However, humans advance differently than sacred beasts or sacred trees.

At a Glance

Highlights of each advancement level, in brief. Details are copious in the sections further below.

  • Foundation: At the Foundation level, young sacred artists can cycle pure madra to very slightly strengthen their body or activate scripts.
  • Copper: The sacred artist develops Copper Sight, an awareness of vital aura in the surrounding environment, and begins to cycle aspected madra.
  • Iron: At the Iron level, sacred artists gain an Iron body that increases physical endurance, or flexibility, or speed, etc.
  • Jade: The sacred artist develops Jade senses, which is spiritual awareness. This is also the last stage to prepare ahead for the Gold Realm and beyond by developing an excellent cycling technique and beginning to really push the madra channels throughout the entire body.
  • Gold: Power up! Typically, at Lowgold, a sacred artist will adopt a Remnant and gain a Goldsign. Or else, contract with a sacred beast. Lindon advanced from Jade to Lowgold using an infusion of Blackflame madra from Orthos, his contracted soulmate. He lacks a true Goldsign but when channeling his Blackflame core, his eyes turn red. The red eyes are not a Goldsign. They are the hallmark of a contracted / bonded partner.
  • Underlord: Revelation: Why did I first decide to engage in the sacred arts? Create a soulspace. Reborn in soulfire, body and spirit, with an even more advanced perfect Iron body. Aging process slows down. Ability to create soulfire and activate Lord-level weapons, to limited extent. Increased spiritual and physical power.
  • Overlord: Revelation: Who am I today, as a sacred artist? Reborn in soulfire again. Your soulfire gains a greater depth and potency. Can access more advanced weapons. Increased spiritual and physical power.
  • Archlord: Revelation: Where am I going, as a sacred artist? Washed in soulfire a third time, strengthening the body and the spirit even more. Can employ Archlord-level weapons. Increased spiritual and physical power. Aging slows significantly.
  • Sage : Authority. Will. Grow in spiritual power. Manifest an Icon. Spatial shenanigans. Touch the Way. Aging stops. Ascend.
    • Ordering of Sage/Herald order could go either way
  • Herald : Merge body and spirit. Achieve superior strength. Leap tall buildings in a single step. Aging stops. Ascend.
  • Monarch: Can fart out big fat blobs of hunger aura. Ascend.
  • Ascension: Sages, Heralds, and Monarchs are advanced enough to ascend from this iteration into The Way and The Worlds. Simply step through a portal.

Advancement Intro

A sacred artist may progress through realms of advancement, with clearly defined ranks in each realm. Advancement comes when physical and spiritual development and understanding is ready, and not before, unless it’s forced with expensive elixirs. The known realms are the Foundation Realm, the Gold Realm, and the Lord Realm. Additionally, beyond that, there are Sages and Heralds and Monarchs.

Every child begins at the Foundation level with pure madra. Then, at Copper, the child may gradually begin to cycle a specific madra aspect, or in rare cases, keep a pure core. (See Madra) Only the rarest and most committed sacred artist might possibly advance to the Lord Realm, or even beyond, to Sage or Herald, typically after they reach Archlord —- but not always. The highest advancement level on Cradle is Monarch. (Unless the monstrous and nearly immortal Dreadgod is counted as a level.)

The Foundation Realm

In childhood, typically. The main effort and role of the Foundation Realm is to set and create the very foundation that a Sacred Artist will use for the rest of their life. A weak foundation will limit their future advancement, while a strong one can carry them far beyond Gold.

Foundation Level

All citizens of Cradle are born at the foundation stage. Outside of children, the only people that remain at this primary stage are the spiritually crippled. This level grants the individual the ability to sense their own core and madra. Compared to all other sacred artists they are spiritually weak and have the bodies of normal humans. They are capable of activating weak scripts and can employ simple techniques, though doing so quickly exhausts them. Foundation stage artists can cycle but are not yet able to cycle the vital aura of the world.

Copper Level

Most sacred artists naturally advance to Copper as children. To do so, the first step is to build up a certain amount of pure madra. This can be done over time through simple or advanced cycling techniques. Alternatively, spirit fruit, elixirs, and constructs such as parasite rings can be used to artificially increase the amount of madra one has. Once a critical mass is reached, one encapsulates their loose core in a barrier/sphere of their own madra. The individual then uses their madra to squeeze their core until it can be compressed no further. This process is uncomfortable at the start and slightly painful in the last moments as one feels a great pressure bearing down on their very spirit. The individual may lose consciousness for a time at the end of this process while their soul advances. This process changes an individual's core from a loose collection of madra, to a small but bright star of madra within themselves. Condensing one's core gives one several benefits.

Strengths and benefits of Copper:
  • The primary ability gained is what sacred artists call Copper Sight. This sight allows one to see the vital aura in the world around them. The seven most commonly cycled kinds of vital aura in the world are fire, earth, wind, water, force, blood, and life. They are not necessarily the easiest to find, but they are the easiest to cultivate. Depending on the density of that vital aura, its appearance when seen with Copper Sight can vary from dull and limited to intensely bright and overwhelming. It is important to note that some varieties of vital aura are far harder to see than others and may take time and training to see (one such example being death aura). Copper Sight varies by Path and individual; one artist may see the world and the vital aura around them very differently from another artist on a different path. Generally, the aura an artist gathers will be the most prominent in the surrounding environmental, especially as they advance and learn to find aura in different places.
  • Conjoined with Copper sight is the capability to begin cycling vital aura into themselves and their core. Over time, as one cycles the barest amount of aura through their core, the core will eventually take on these aspects and begin to produce that madra on its own.
  • With the condensing of one's core comes a potency and quantity of madra that was previously unachievable. An individual can now use a more varied selection of techniques and power more potent scripts.


Note, following Eithan’s instructions, Lindon began to cycle the Heaven and Earth Purification Wheel at this stage, and to use the parasite ring, rather than waiting until Jade, as more typically done. However, he was on the verge of Iron, and his core is pure madra. (See book 2, Soulsmith)

Iron Level

(Note — in the books, the word body isn’t capitalized. It’s written Iron body.)
Achieving Iron can be a very painful endeavor, and some handle it better than others. There are three distinct types of Iron bodies, and the type of Iron body an artist achieves will have a significant effect on their future advancement. To reach the beginning of Iron advancement, one must first stretch their core to increase the amount of madra they can hold at once. Eventually, they will reach the point where their core will feel like it is about to overflow. To reach this point an artist may use varied cycling techniques as well as a variety of other methods, elixirs, fruits, and constructs to aid their growth. A simple and inexpensive way to do this is to have the artist forge their own scales, and then once their core is full again, they consume their scales to push the boundaries of their core and force it to stretch and grow. At this point, a sacred artist's next steps will determine the type of Iron body they will have.

Iron body

Regarding terminology, the author says: “There are actually grades of Perfect Iron body, so of course they're not all perfect. The terminology I regret, but I'm stuck with it now.” (Will Wight, conversation)

  • See Iron body for a list of Iron bodies by character

Grades of Iron

  1. Basic Iron Body. To achieve, once the artist's core feels like overflowing, they allow it to pour through their body as it reforges their body with madra. The artist will enter a trance during this process while their body is purged of impurities, and their body is remade. While this body grants great strength, speed, and durability, it will inhibit the artist's future advancement. If a prodigy, the artist may reach Truegold in their old age. But an imperfect Iron body would never be able to endure the soulfire transformation required to become an underlord/underlady.
  2. Perfect Iron Body. To achieve this Iron body, a sacred artist must first reach the same threshold as required by the basic Iron body. However, before the artist allows their core to overflow, they must first use a cycling technique to infuse every inch of their body with madra. If they allow their core to overflow and begin the transformation before the process of infusion begins, they will be limited to a basic Iron body and will never reach the heights that a Perfect Iron body may allow them to achieve. On top of having a strong foundation for future advancement, a perfect Iron body is physically superior to a basic Iron body.
  3. Advanced Perfect Iron Body. The highest and greatest Iron bodies give advantages and abilities beyond that of a perfect Iron body. To achieve an advanced perfect Iron body a sacred artist follows the same process required for a perfect Iron body, with an extra step added between infusing ones body and allowing their core's madra to wash through them. There is a great variety of advanced perfect Iron bodies, with each having its own requirements and granting certain benefits and abilities. Most of these abilities even develop and increase as one advances in the sacred arts. Methods of achieving an advanced Perfect Iron body vary depending on the specific outcome one is trying to achieve. However, different methods include repeatedly breaking every bone in one's body, repeatedly burning all the flesh one has, being bitten by a sand viper while simultaneously drinking its blood, and being wrapped in cloud-like silk while being suspended in the air for days on end. Additionally, as one advances, elixirs can further strengthen an already advanced perfect Iron body. For example, the Arelius cousins Veris and Altavian gave strengthening elixirs to Yerin and Lindon, at the 18th Uncrowned King Tournament

Character Examples

Characters with advanced Perfect Iron bodies:

  • Lindon has the Bloodforged Iron body, which increases resistance against poison, and grants increased self-regeneration
  • Eithan has the Raindrop Iron body, which increases one's reflexes and reaction speed
  • Akura Mercy has the The Puppeteer’s Iron body, which grants perfect control of one's own body
  • Yerin has the Steel Forged Iron body, which gives the user increasingly overwhelming strength the further they advance in the sacred arts

Iron Benefits

  • Achieving Iron grants a sacred artist a core that has an increased capacity to hold madra, and a strength of madra beyond that of Copper.
  • A body that has been remade by madra and purged of impurities. The body of an Iron artist is without a doubt superhuman. They are faster, stronger, and more durable by far than any normal human being. It is said that it takes ten coppers to challenge an Iron, and ten Irons to challenge a Jade. This has not been shown to be strictly true, but the saying serves as a rough guide and helps to illustrate the strength that is granted by an Iron body. (The inaccuracy of the statement is mostly due to the fact that the beginning and the peak of any given stage can have vast differences in power. This becomes more true at the height of the rank.)
  • The last benefit is the varied abilities an advanced Perfect Iron body can give.

Jade Level

At Jade, the sacred artist develops Jade senses, which is spiritual awareness. This is also the last stage to prep for the Gold Realm and beyond by developing an excellent cycling technique and beginning to really push out the madra channels throughout the entire body. Just as Iron renews and reforges the body, Jade has a similar effect on the Spirit. The base steps of reaching Jade is twofold. The first, like advancing to Iron, is to reach beyond the capacity of one's core. This is done slowly and over time. At each different advancement, the core is also able to grow until it reaches a certain threshold at which point it approaches the limit. The second critical step is to create a spiral in one's core through a cycling technique. Once the artist’s madra reaches a certain threshold of concentration and power while holding the Spiral pattern, they reach Jade.

The process one takes to reach Jade has a significant impact on the quality of the Jade soul and the likelihood of future advancement. The key factor in the Jade advancement process is the cycling technique one uses. If one does not have a strong enough Jade cycling technique, the spiritual foundation will become shakier and shakier with each advancement, until their spirit is no longer strong enough to advance. Techniques that grant firm spiritual foundations are rare, powerful, and highly valued. Such techniques have long and complicated histories, and some are closely guarded secrets. The Heaven and Earth Purification Wheel (HaEPW)developed by Eithan Arelius is one example. Every path has its own Jade cycling technique that focuses on a different field. Some focus on processing aura efficiently, others help you recover your madra in a minute, and the HaEPW focuses on deepening one's core, increasing its density.

Jade Benefits

  • The spiraling motion of a Jade core condenses the quality of one's madra, increase receptivity to spiritual forces, speeds up madra recovery, and increases control over one's madra.
  • The greatest benefit of Jade is the gaining of a spiritual sense that allows an artist to sense madra and the madra of others. This sense can greatly increase with practice, skill and cultivation rank.
  • The spiral pattern of Jade is what allows for the containment of enough power to reach Gold. Eventually, the suction force of one's spiraling core will be strong enough to contain a Remnant.

Gold Realm

While the Foundation Realm is dedicated to setting a strong physical and spiritual foundation for advancement, the Gold Realm revolves around the accumulation and refinement of power.

Lowgold

The rank of Lowgold can be obtained in one of three ways, and they all involve increasing power. Regardless of the process a sacred artist takes, the primary difference between Jade and Lowgold is a mountain of power.

Three ways to reach Lowgold:
  1. One way to reach Lowgold is simply gathering power over time: “It would take you hundreds of years and a ridiculous amount of unnecessary work, but you could do it.” One could also increase power through costly elixirs and pills. Or one could do both. This slow and/or expensive process is likely how sacred artists achieved Lowgold before the process for using a Remnant was discovered. In modern times it is likely only used by those with pure madra.
  2. The second and most common path is taking a compatible Remnant into one's core. This Remnant is a spiritual remainder made of madra. It can come from either a human or a sacred beast and usually breaches the power gap between Jade and Lowgold. Adopting a Remnant comes with a Goldsign. Goldsigns come in two categories. The first type alters a physical characteristic. Examples include metallic frozen hair in the Jai Clan, a mouth like a serpent, and limbs covered in slick shadow. The second category are those that add on to one's form. Such Goldsigns include the addition of Yerin’s bladed limbs, Naru wings, etc. When one takes in a Remnant, one must learn to control and absorb it, and some are very powerful. If the Remnant is not carefully selected for compatibility, it could cause great damage, as seen with Jai Long.
  3. The third way to reach Lowgold is to quickly increase power by contracting with a sacred beast of greater power and advancement. This is done via a spiritually binding contract where the sacred artist and sacred beast swear to share cores and power. See Orthos and Lindon. Also, as Eithan stated in book 10, the universe itself recognizes the unity between spiritually bonded individuals. This unity allowed Lindon to extend his mantle of protection over his bonded turtle Orthos and his bonded spirit, Little Blue, in the Labyrinth.

Lowgold / Gold Benefits

  • The first and major advantage is actually entering the Gold realm of the sacred arts, wherein the potency and power is far beyond that of any Foundation realm sacred artist.
  • As one's madra is stronger, their Iron body is also reinforced and grows more potent.
  • One's spiritual sense increases in potency
    • This pattern of increased strength and spiritual perception repeats when advancing from Lowgold to Highgold and from Highgold to Truegold.

Highgold

To reach Highgold, there are different steps depending on which process a sacred artist took to reach Lowgold, adopting a Remnant or not. Regardless, the basic requirement is for the artist to grow such a great quantity of madra that it will naturally and rapidly be drawn into their core, like a drain had opened in their core. Basically the great 'mass' of their madra causes it to condense and become far, far more dense and potent.
The Paths:
  • For those who accrue madra naturally and/or by contracting with a sacred beast, they must cycle, stretch and grow their core until they can hold the quantity/density of madra that causes the condensation and advancement to Highgold.
  • For those that take in a Remnant, the path includes the above and a few more steps. They may just do as above, but it is quicker and more productive for the artist to digest and master their Remnant. An artist can not reach the peak of Truegold and advance beyond unless and until they master it. To reach Highgold, an artist must learn to use more than the excess energy the Remnant provides. This is normally done by breaking down the Remnant and digesting its skills, abilities, and power.

Truegold

Truegold is the highest level within the Gold Realm. For the vast majority of the people of Cradle, Truegold is considered the limit of what one can reasonably achieve. Of course, among the most powerful clans, achieving the Lord Realm is a possibility. Even still, it is only the strong, brilliant, and utterly determined who may reach these heights. Unlike the Gold Realm where one may jump from Lowgold to Truegold in just two pills, there is no elixir or spirit fruit that can take one into the Lord Realm. To venture into the Lord Realm there are requirements beyond pure power. It is here that the foundation of one's body, soul, and character is truly tested and reborn.
Before one may advance beyond the Gold Realm, a sacred artist must first achieve the 'Peak' of Truegold. To reach beyond these extreme limits and to have one's body and soul remade in soulfire is the very essence of stepping into the Lord Realm. A sacred artist has achieved the Peak of Truegold when they have masterful control of their own spirit and madra, to the very limit of what a perfect Jade soul may allow.

The Lord Realm

Soulfire is the Hallmark and Signature of the Lord Realm. But the demarcation between Truegold and Lord is not cast in concrete. For example, an exceedingly powerful Truegold who has actually woven a little soulfire can even challenge a new or weaker Underlord.

Having reached the peak of Truegold, there are three steps to advancing to the Lord Realm, but these steps are beyond the simple accumulation of power and require insight into oneself and the world. It is for this reason that Truegold is often the last step on a sacred artist’s journey. There are many who attempt the work, but for one reason or another become stuck and never enter the Lord Realm.

Soulfire

Soulfire is the hallmark of the Lord Realm. It is purified vital aura, with no impurities or imperfections. When created, it is stored in one's soul space and may be used by the sacred artist in a variety of ways. By its very nature, soulfire does not consume, but rather burns away impurities as it refines physical vessels and empowers madra. Underladies and Underlords often use soulfire to imbue both items and techniques, vastly increasing their strength and power. As a sacred artist possessing soulfire has mastered the world around them, they may also use it to control the vital aura of the world. This process is generally not as powerful as ruler techniques and is thus not often used in battle. It is, however, very useful in daily life. And it’s of tremendous importance when Soulsmithing advanced constructs, including weapons.

Excerpt: Madra, Soulfire, Will

Eithan stroked his chin. “Picture, if you will, a building with many floors. Each floor is higher than the last, and each supports the one above it. These floors are the laws that govern our existence. At the bottom, the foundation, are the physical laws.” He clapped his hands together. “It’s no less complex than the other systems, and it forms the basis for all of them, but it is superseded by the level above it.”
He spread his palms apart slightly to reveal the blue-white coin he’d Forged. “Madra.” A snap, and the madra disappeared. “With madra, we can break and bend and overrule the physical laws that would have bound us otherwise. Within certain rules and limits, of course. If we continue this analogy, soulfire is the staircase between the madra system and the next level up. At which we exert our wills to control the world directly.” (Bloodline ch 4)

Underlord & Lady

There are three steps to reaching Underlord & Underlady, all cumulating in a personal revelation that looks backward in time: Why did I first begin to follow the sacred arts? What pushed me forward? When this insight resonates within, one reaches outward, to the vital aura all around, and is then washed in soulfire, reborn, rejuvenated, body and soul. This is detailed below:

  1. Master yourself. Using the power of a peak Truegold and masterful control of one's spirit, a sacred artist must open a space in the very center of one's spirit, the center of their being. At that very point, they must flex their spirit, like expanding an invisible lung. There will be a strain, like pulling in a breath of mud, before the sacred artist will feel space open in their soul. This opening is called a Soulspace and may be used to store a single item in one's very soul. When first opened this space is small, barely large enough to hold a bean. With time and effort, a sacred artist may expand this space until they are able to hold a much larger and more powerful object.
  2. Master the world around you. A sacred artist begins by learning to sense the unity of aura. All vital aura is connected, and power flows from one aspect to another. Once one can sense this unity, they can begin to weave soulfire from the vital aura. In order to train one's self in this, a specific mantra can be used to guide the process. "Follow the unity of Aura. Each aspect links to the next. Vital Aura has no beginning and no end, it is all one." Once the artist begins to feel the unity of aura flowing in the world around them, they can 'pull' on that aura, bringing it into themselves and distilling it into soulfire. This process is far easier when one weaves soulfire from powerful natural treasures but can be done from the loose vital aura of the world as well.
  3. Connect yourself to the world. Once a sacred artist has opened their soul space and filled it with soul fire, they connect themselves to the world around them by calling upon their soul fire and the vital aura of the world to reforge their body from soul fire. Igniting the transformation is quite difficult. Many Underladies and Underlords can not themselves say what it is that began their transformation. As mysterious as this step is, the truly wise have passed on their wisdom to their disciples. To begin the soulfire transformation, one must have a true and deep understanding of themselves and have a personal revelation that causes the soulfire within to resonate with the vital aura around them, activating the advancement. Over time this revelation has specifically been discovered to be the true reason one pursues the sacred arts. The mantra from above continues "Follow the Unity of Aura. Soul Fire is Vital Aura distilled, it is the power of the world condensed. Feel how it resonates with everything around you, drawing you closer to nature. Now follow that sensation back to yourself, deep into your soul, into your mind. Now, why do you practice the sacred arts?"

One strategy of finding this personal truth was shared by Akura Mercy, "follow your fear". Rather than asking what goal one travels to, what is it that drives one from behind.

Once this revelation is achieved, the transformation will begin. One's personal revelation connects them to their own spirit and then soulfire carries that resonance to the outside world. That then draws on the aura to fuel one's soulfire and burn away one's body and spirit, leaving one reborn as a Lord or Lady. The more soulfire one has, the easier it is to trigger the resonance. Some find their reason but don't have enough soulfire to trigger the resonance.

Overlord & Lady

In Sects and Kingdoms outside of a Monarch's direct family or clan, Overlords and Overladies are Kings and Empresses, the peak of their people's power. The fate of whole nations and peoples are decided by the life and actions of such a one. For example, Emperor Naru Huan of the Blackflame Empire is an Overlord, as is King Dakota of the Seishen Kingdom. Both are vassals to Monarch Akura Malice.

The advance from Underlord to Overlord is easier than from Truegold to Underlord. One has to accumulate power and gain another personal insight. “One had to be at the peak of Underlord to trigger the advancement to Overlord, at least if you ever wanted to advance again, and peak Underlords were almost always older.” (Wintersteel ch 6)

The Overlord revelation is who you are now, in the present. This is different from the Underlord revelation, which was what got you started on your journey into the sacred arts, in your past. What pushed you forward. What fear drove you on? But the Overlord insight is concerned with the present, not the past.


Eithan gave Lindon some tips for advancement. It seems they overlap with Sage insights, but then, Eithan is prescient and perspicacious:

“Think about the will behind each of your three types of madra. The significance. The intentions. What do they have in common? Is there one purpose that unifies everything you can do?” Lindon paid rapt attention, but the portal was starting to physically pull Eithan in. It looked like he was struggling against a strong wind. “Also, think of how others see you. What are you to them? This perspective will help you understand your revelation!” (Wintersteel ch 7)

As for himself, Eithan advanced rapidly and easily to Overlord:

He stepped into the natural treasure storeroom, feeling his soulfire resonate with the surrounding aura. He stretched out to the treasures he needed, striking a balance, and held his attention on them as he focused on his Overlord revelation. He had discovered it long ago, and it hadn’t changed. “I. . .see.” It wasn’t as simple a statement as it sounded. It described who he was. Eithan was one who saw. He happened to know that Cladia’s Overlord revelation had been very similar. He thought about that as his chosen treasures evaporated and Overlord soulfire passed through him in a breath, refining and strengthening him. The advancement to Overlord wasn’t as dramatic a leap as the one to Underlord, and he easily controlled the reaction to avoid losing his clothes. A good thing, too. He was fond of this outfit. Seconds after he entered the storeroom, he stepped back out. (Wintersteel, ch 7)

Archlord & Lady

The Archlord revelation is looking into the future. It is who you are going to be, what you are moving towards, with respect to the sacred arts, as we saw in Lindon's Archlord advancement in book 10, Reaper. So, to recap:

  • The Underlord revelation — the past. Why did I first begin to practice the sacred arts?
  • Overlord revelation — the present. Who am I today, how do others see me, vis-à-vis the sacred arts?
  • Archlord revelation — the future. Where am I going, who will I become, as a sacred artist?

With the vital aura in resonance, Archlord soulfire sweeps through the sacred artist, refining and strengthening both physically and spiritually. The advanced sacred artist now has even more power than at Overlord rank, and far, far more than when an Underlord:

The difference between Underlord and Archlord was like the distance between the lowest valley and the highest stars. There was no Archlord in all the Blackflame Empire. (Bloodline ch 9)


Even in the great families of Monarchs, many view Archladies and Archlords as the peak of what can be achieved. Known characters at Archlord level are Akura Justice and Ziel, provisionally.

Archlords, steeped in great power, are not yet capable of ascending beyond Cradle, but aging slows to a crawl.

Lord Realm Benefits

One obvious benefit to advancement into the Lord realm is the increase in spiritual and physical power.

Another benefit of advancing to the Lord Realm is the use of soulfire. No sacred artist employs soulfire better than did Eithan Arelius during his duel with Sha Miara in the 18th Uncrowned King Tournament.

A Hollow Spear suffused with soulfire pierced her lower abdomen as black scissors flashed into his hand. He couldn’t safely activate the Archlord binding within, but he didn’t need to. The weapon was a perfect conductor for madra and soulfire. He Enforced the weapon and drove it through her temple. No sooner had he pierced the skin than she dissolved into white light. Eithan sent one more pulse of pure madra into the device in his pocket: a stopwatch. Nine seconds. (Wintersteel chapter 3)

An additional benefit is the ability to form a soul space and place items inside it, if only tiny beans at first.

Plus, for every level one advances into the Lord Realm, one’s spirit and body is washed and reborn in soulfire. This rejuvenation is powerful, increasing physical and spiritual strength. When this happens, the individual doesn’t need as much sleep and the aging process slows down more with each new level. Archlords can live for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Iron body becomes more resistant to poison and impervious to assault. By the time Ziel reached Archlord, he’d been washed in soulfire three times, resulting in a guy who looks 18, when he’s actually 35.

Also, with each advancement into the Lord Realm, one can better employ weapons forged with advanced bindings.

Netherclaw “swept down with an Archlord’s power. As with all the bindings in these weapons, Netherclaw’s technique would be more powerful when Yerin was an actual Archlady, but it was still a devastating blow.” (Wintersteel chapter 21)

Beyond Archlord

Archlord is just an amazing achievement. Only a handful of sacred artists achieve Archlord, and only the rarest and most dedicated advance beyond it.

Sages, Heralds, and Monarchs are advanced enough to ascend from this iteration into The Way and The Worlds. Someday, they could possibly even join the Abidan forces and maintain order and the Eldari Pact. Or — they might side with the Vroshir, and possibly even merge with a Fiend, as did The Mad King

Aging stops for Sage, Heralds, and Monarchs.

The advancement order here is flexible, but to advance to Monarch, it seems that one must first go through Sage and Herald levels. One could skip Sage and go on to Herald, and vice-versa. For example, Akura Fury, at the time ranked Herald, manifested Sage Authority and immediately after that, an Icon appeared overhead, the Fist, thus advancing him to Monarch. It all happened together at once, but he’d been waiting with his power to advance, to attack Xorrus and three more dragon Heralds.

That’s called the Strength Icon, or the Fist Icon, or the Symbol of Bodily Power, depending on where you’re from.] An Icon. Fury had broken through. He was ascending to Monarch. (Wintersteel ch 25)

Sage

A Sage is usually — but not always — a peak Archlord or Archlady who has manifested an Icon of Authority and is able to touch The Way. It’s a spiritual power. Though being an Archlord makes becoming a Sage easier due to the boost in power it provides, one only has to be an Underlord in order to do it — in Lindon’s case. It is possible that it is more difficult to become a Sage than it is for one to advance to Herald.

“Becoming a Sage takes mostly individual insight and accomplishment, so there’s only so much that can be taught or trained.” (Wintersteel chapter 21) Becoming a Sage requires deep insight, vast reserves of willpower, and embodying a concept thoroughly enough to be recognized for it by something greater. Sage rank is usually achieved by those who forge their own Paths.

A Sage’s Icon is a powerful symbol unique to the Sage — like no other in the universe. Unique. One Icon could be similar to another’s, but it cannot be the same. It is a signature of Authority, bestowed by the mystical.

"To become a Sage, you have to contact a greater power, a symbol of a greater concept of reality. We call that symbol an Icon.” (Wintersteel, ch 7, Min Shuei the Winter Sage, speaking to Yerin)

“In the past, the concept of a Sage was much more. . .fluid. . .than it is today. When manifesting an Icon, it is very important to understand the significance of your madra and to sense it deeply. Equally important is some kind of technique to regularly train your willpower. For years. An exercise that pushes your focus and concentration ever further, and that most people would give up or abandon for easier trails…. . . “Now, the specific Icon you manifest depends not only on the nature of your madra currently, but on a concept that has always been core to your identity. Even in childhood." (Wintersteel, ch 27, Eithan speaking to Lindon)

Sage Benefits

Advanced spiritual perception. Greater will. With enough practice, ability to create rifts, void spaces, teleport, etc. The ability to place your mantle of protection over your bonded partners. It is speculated that Sages are the lowest stage capable of touching/sensing The Way. This is commonly called Authority and allows the direct manipulation of the world around the Sage through an application of Will. The Abidan are said to prefer Sages for ascension because they are already able to access the Way.

Though the aging process for Archlords is very slow, Sages, Heralds, and Monarchs do not age at all. Also, Sages, Heralds, and Monarchs are capable of ascending beyond Cradle.

Herald

The rank of Herald is usually achieved by peak Archlords. Advancement occurs typically by fusing with one’s own Remnant, thus becoming half physical and half spirit. The spirit that’s been forming within the sacred artist is now made complete. Being half spirit, Heralds are no longer limited by their physical capabilities or madra channels.

Herald: Yerin+Ruby

In Wintersteel(Cradle #8) Yerin Arelius becomes a Herald at Overlady. “There is no such thing as an Overlord Herald,” Northstrider said. His stony face quirked into a small smile. (Wintersteel ch 25)

Yerin did so by fusing with her spirit, Blood Shadow, Ruby. Ruby is, at her core, a hunger spirit, with hunger madra as well as blood madra (Wintersteel ch 22). Yerin and Ruby both agreed to combine, mutually, but it was still very difficult to do:

She gripped Ruby’s robe with renewed intensity. “We should combine.” Ruby narrowed one eye. “You cracked in the head?” “Like Heralds do with their Remnants!” Yerin insisted.. . . “Bleed and bury me,” Ruby said, “I’m in.” .. . They clasped identical hands. Yerin opened her spirit and focused her will, pulling the Blood Shadow back into her spirit. Where she belonged. Ruby didn’t melt and flow back into Yerin’s spirit, but while Yerin was pulling, Ruby started to push. Her own will flowed into Yerin, trying to take over Yerin’s body as Yerin fought to take her spirit. It was so much harder than Yerin had expected.. . After a few endless seconds of intense struggle, their wills snapped into place. They wanted the same thing, after all, they were just coming at it from different angles. Red madra began to flow through Yerin’s channels in reverse. And her silver madra let it happen. (Wintersteel ch 25)

The Sage of Red Faith, founder of the Dreadgod cult Redmoon Hall, is obsessed with Yerin. He wants to examine her, find out how she succeeded with her Blood Shadow while his own shadow decieved him.

Herald Benefits

Like Sages, Heralds do not age and can ascend from Cradle to The Way and The Worlds.
They are exceedingly powerful. They have been known to raze cities and destroy vast forests. Their power is legendary and far beyond the vast majority of the billions who live on Cradle.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, illustrates the strength of Heralds. While Sages focus their willpower outside of themselves, to make changes to the world directly, Heralds focus it inwardly. They enhance their own power beyond all limitations.” (Bloodline ch 4)

Heralds can shift between physical and spirtual form:

Northstrider reappeared before her. “A Herald’s spirit and body are one. You can use your power freely, and your own body can shift to spiritual or physical form. Like sacred instruments that can be stored in a soulspace.. . You will not be a true Herald until you advance to the peak of Archlord the traditional way, but you can think of yourself as being. . .more than any other Overlord.” He looked into the black orb as though checking something. “It’s fascinating. The Blood Sage will do anything to examine you. I would advise you not to let him.” (Wintersteel ch 25)

Many Heralds never advance to Monarch. Instead, they ascend, leaving Cradle behind them. Akura Fury ascended within days or advancing to Monarch.

Monarch

Monarch is the highest level of advancement the sacred artist can obtain without ascending from the iteration. Their power is just ridiculous. They do not age, often living for centuries but looking quite young. For example, Reigan Shen was a young Underlord more than 500 years ago, during the Dread Wars.


Monarchs can hear their name spoken from anywhere on Cradle, it seems.

He had heard repeatedly about the Monarch ability to hear their name spoken. He still didn’t fully understand it —- Monarchs were figures of myths and legends, so surely there were too many people talking about them all over the world to pay attention to everyone. (Wintersteel ch 2)

Obviously, a Monarch has even greater Authority over reality than Sages or Heralds. However, capabilities with certain aspects of Authority still vary from one Monarch to another, or from a Monarch to a Sage or Herald. Though the power differential between Monarchs and Heralds /Sages is not verified, it is said that one Monarch is roughly equal to at least four Heralds or Sages combined. Consider the Eight-Man Empire, which operates as a functional Monarch even though all eight members are Sages or Heralds.

Advancing to Monarch


Advancing to Monarch from either the Sage or the Herald level is explained as focusing on opposing ideas:

As it turned out, there were reasons beyond the mystical why Heralds found it difficult to comprehend Sage techniques, and vice-versa. They required almost entirely opposite training methods. To become stronger as a Herald, Yerin had to push herself to the limit and accumulate power. It took a mind-boggling quantity of resources to push one to the peak of Herald, which was the way to maximize the chances of a successful advancement to Monarch. She had to cycle diligently, take every elixir she could afford, and fight often. Yerin found that an easy road to travel. But to advance as a Sage, Lindon had to meditate on his Icon, and take actions to “align himself conceptually to its deeper meaning.” (Reaper, ch 6)

This next part is unclear, based on inference from info thus far revealed: It seems that to advance to Monarch, one can either fuse with one’s Remnant or manifest an Icon. Still unclear, but it seems that one can only advance to Monarch when he or she has both obtained Herald, and Sage, immediately advancing to Monarch. This might mean one has to manifest at least one Icon and merge their Spirit with their Body, though this does not have to be done in any particular order. See example when Herald Akura Fury advanced in Wintersteel, book 8.

Northstrider’s Advancement

When he was a Sage, Northstrider advanced directly to Monarch. He did this by meditating for hours, manifesting his own dragon Remnant in front of him — it looked like black flame and seemed to be made almost entirely of blood madra — and then drawing his spirit into his flesh, merging with it, fusing spirit and flesh together

Northstrider draws his Remnant into his flesh, and his Remnant resists. Their wills clash, the spirit trying to consume him even as he does the same. Though it involves no sacred techniques, only a straightforward competition of focus and resolve, it is the deadliest fight of his life. Being a Sage makes this harder. His Remnant has power and authority beyond what an ordinary Archlord’s spirit should. If he fails, he can’t simply try again. There’s a real possibility that his very existence will be erased. But his will is steel. He weaves his own Remnant into his body, spirit becoming flesh and flesh fusing with spirit. For the final time in his life, his body is remade. Reality itself quakes at the birth of a Monarch. (Wintersteel chapter 2)

Known Monarchs

Cradle is huge, with hundreds of billions of people on at least five huge continents. One or two Monarchs rule on each continent. A few Monarchs are Sacred Beasts. One is a sacred tree. Following is a list of the Monarchs at the beginning of the Cradle series:

  • Akura Malice of Western Ashwind continent
  • Seshethkunaaz the dragon-king of Eastern Ashwind
  • Northstrider of the Trackless Sea
  • Emriss Silentborn, the sacred tree Remnant of Everwood continent
  • Sha Miara of the Ninecloud continent
  • Reigan Shen lion king of the Rosegold continent
  • The Eight-Man Empire —- the eight armored warriors are all Sages or Heralds, but collectively they harness the power of a Monarch. They are typically based on the Iceflower continent

Monarchs at War

Monarchs do not age, as already stated, but they are known to die in combat. A few years before the Cradle series begins, Monarch Reigan Shen killed Monarch Tiberian Arelius. The battle ravaged the land. During the first book (Unsouled), the Sha Monarch died because her lifeline was cut short when battling nasty plague-spirits, which left her daughter, young Sha Miara, on the throne. Long long ago, the ancient tree Herald Emriss Silentborn was murdered by a few Monarchs because she was too eager to make an open-information, global learning community. But she reformed from the many Remnants of her ancient leaves, becoming the current Remnant Monarch.


Monarchs have obscene amounts of power, but as we learn in Reaper, they are the source of hunger aura, as they refuse to ascend, and the world cannot contain them. They generate corruptive hunger aura. They are the reason that Dreadgods exist. Then they must battle the beasts. More than five hundred years ago, during the apocalyptic Dread Wars, billions of people died and only two Monarchs survived. (See also hunger madra)

Ascension

Sages, Heralds, and Monarchs are advanced enough to ascend from this iteration and travel into The Way and The Worlds. It is just a step through a portal into the blue yonder. Someday, they could possibly even join the Abidan forces and maintain order and the Eldari Pact. Or — they might side with the Vroshir, and possibly even merge with a Fiend, as did The Mad King. Perhaps they will find the missing Reaper, Ozriel.