They stood in the shade of an old tree —- its leaves were half blackened by the rot of the dreadbeasts, like so much in the Desolate Wilds, but it provided a relief from the sun nonetheless. (Soulsmith, ch 14)
The Desolate Wilds consists of desert wastelands and forest with corrupted black twisted trees and poisoned rivers, which spans across the western edge of the Blackflame Empire, ending with the mountain ranges that hide Sacred Valley. The only good water for a dozen miles around the Ruins is found in Purelake. A small shantytown called Refuge, a gathering place for homeless exiles and refugees, cropped up in the Wilds near the western mountain range.
Almost a thousand years ago, the Desolate Wilds were totally lawless, plagued by beasts and by wild sacred artists no better than animals themselves. Each man considered himself an Emperor, each woman an Empress, and they ruled whatever they could take at the end of a blade. But one day a woman emerged from nowhere with a shining spear in her hands. She united these rogue sacred artists under one name, killing those who resisted, and spreading law and civilization across the Wilds. For the next two centuries, while she lived, all the Wilds remained peaceful under her rule.
- The Jai Clan claim this historic woman is their matriarchal ancestor. They claim her historic spear is the Ancestor’s Spear, and they claim it for their own.
The Desolate Wilds attracts a large population of Dreadbeasts. Humans live in sects out here, a matter of survival. Some denizens of the desert are refugees, exiles, or criminals. Some are just too weak or too ornery to succeed in the competitive big cities of the empire. Some are just locals, who have lived here for generations, and have learned how to survive the dreadbeasts and the rot.
High rates of functional literacy, even total illiteracy. Life is rough and survival is all. “Out in the back end of nowhere, in the desolate wilds of the Blackflame empire, lots of illiteracy.” (-Will Wight e955)
The main locals are the Purelake Temple sect, the Fisher Sect, and the Sandviper Sect. Fishers and Sandvipers are ancestral enemies. Historically, the Jai Clan lived for generations in the Desolate Wilds, their fortunes waxing and waning, until they finally grew an Underlord, Jai Daishou, thus only recently moving to Serpent’s Grave at the heart of the Blackflame Empire.
One inhabited area is around the Transcendent Ruins, near Purelake. Another inhabited area is the shantytown called Refuge. Many exiles live in Refuge.
Five Factions Alliance
When the Transcendent Ruins arose in the Wilds, early in book #2 (Soulsmith), five factions joined together in cooperation to hunt for weapons and treasures inside it, joining forces to fend off myriad Dreadbeasts.
Five Uneasy Allies
The Five Factions Alliance consists of exiles from the Jai Clan, notably Jai Long. The alliance also includes the local Fisher Sect, representative of the Cloud Hammer School, the local Sandviper Sect, and the local Purelake Temple sect. The Purelakes are excellent soulsmiths, maybe even better than the Fishers (Soulsmith, ch 6). We never learn their names, but some years later, Jai Chen mentions her old friends “the Purelakes” (see Bloodline, ch 20.)
In the Five Factions Alliance, Sandviper Kral and Jai Long work well together. Jai Long is more motivated to find the Ancestor’s Spear inside the Ruins, therefore taking on more of the duties and responsibilities of leadership and planning. Despite this collaboration, there is some rivalry and mistrust among the five factions. One of the leaders is Fisher Gesha, an old soulsmith whose clan is always on uneasy terms with the Sandvipers.
The Fishers and the Sandvipers are historic feuding enemies.
There were constructs in the tent to heat what water they brought, but if there existed any constructs that could create water out of madra, only the Purelake might have Soulsmiths skilled enough to build them. Maybe the Fishers, but he couldn't have any dealings with the Sandvipers' ancestral enemy. Not openly, anyway. (Soulsmith, ch 6)
- See also Sandviper Gokren, the sect’s leader
When a powerful Underlord from House Arelius arrived, it sent every clan into a tailspin:
“It’s just a rumor. Some of the Cloud Hammers were talking about it, and I only heard them because I was sitting behind a fence and they didn’t know I was there, because one of them asked the other one if he was sure, and then he said. . .
Jai Long let the boy ramble on excitedly as he worked. Eventually, a point would emerge.
“. . .after he’d stopped, he said — I mean not him, the first one — said they’d have to speed up, because Arelius would take everything when he got here. So the second one kind of laughed, but not a funny laugh—”
When the boy’s words registered, Jai Long stood up so quickly that he upended his inkwell. . .(Soulsmith, ch 6)
In book #2, there are only a handful of Truegold and the only Underlord is Eithan Arelius in the Desolate Wilds. In book #9, Sages are honored, but this level of power seems almost mythological to the refugees. In time, they meet a Sage, and his Twin Star Sect.