It’s time to come clean. I’m a bit burnt out with Painting the Mists, so I’ve decided to put it on the backburner so that I can revitalize my creative juices. I’m not a fan of pausing the series, as I’ve promised certain things in my writing, but I feel I’ve given it a good go. Writing 18 books non-stop over the course of 5 years is not a light commitment.
On that same note, I’m pleased to announce my upcoming series, Pandora Unchained, which is currently only available to Patrons. Pandora Unchained is a story about a physician who becomes a poison wielder in his pursuit of truth and revenge. It is set in a world called Pandora, where the gods are dead and Seven Evils seek to destroy humanity. It’s only thanks to the Eighth Evil called Hope that humans continue to exist and push back the demons that have taken over most of the continent.
The series is intended to be much shorter than Painting the Mists, and is also separated into more manageable chunks where I can potentially end the series, thereby avoiding the huge series trap. Better yet, I’ve already written over 85,000 words in second and have developed a sustainable writing system.
I intend to release the series on RoyalRoad starting in December using a rolling Patreon / RoyalRoad / Kindle Unlimited & Audible format. The Kindle Unlimited and Audible format will be taken care of by Aethon, who I will be collaborating with on this series.
Now I naturally can’t make this kind of announcement without a sample for my upcoming work. Here’s the first chapter of Pandora Unchained to wet your apetite. I look forward to officially releasing this series soon.
Chapter 1: The Evil Called Hope
The basis of cultivation is that human potential is unlimited. By unlocking that potential at the various cultivation stages, we inferior humans can bridge a portion of the gap separating us from the unreachable gods.
I have decimated my long career to advancing human cultivation, but my efforts have been stymied by the accidental discovery of locks inhibiting human potential. The deities of Pandora have forbidden further research on the topic, so I can only pursue the answers in secret.
— Sirius Abberjay Kepler, Pandora Medical Research Institute, 42 years Before Cataclysmic Emergence.
Frozen grass and iced-over puddles crackled under Sorin’s feet as he made his way down a winding clay road on the outskirts of the Bloodwood Outpost. It was late autumn, so the weather was finally turning on them.
The Evil called Disease was just beginning to recover its hateful influence over the transition between summer and winter. Violence had faded many weeks ago, and Death was finally beginning to gain strength.
Despite being located outside the outpost walls, the Temple of Hope was lively as ever. There was no shortage of the terminally ill, the crippled, and people who were just down on their luck.
Sorin took note of the ill and listed off their system in his head out habit. The wasting, final stages, thought Sorin as he picked out a gaunt face amongst the beggars and petitioners. Contagious, but the patient is still sane and maintaining mandatory self-isolation.
There was also a man with an amputated leg, a woman with a half-burnt face, and a man crumpled over in pain from a crush injury he’d suffered three months prior. Sorin was very familiar with that case, because he’d been the one to treat him in his clinic. Unfortunately, much like the other cases, there was nothing to be done for such an injury. The man would need to suffer agonizing pain for the rest of his life, assuming he still wanted to live.
“Physician Sorin?” called out a sickly woman holding a bundle in her arms. “Physician Sorin, is that you?”
“You have the wrong person,” said Sorin in a rough voice. He pulled his hood down to obscure his handsome albeit pale face and hardened his heart to the pleading of the common people. Here, in the Temple of Hope, he was just like them: a gambler who’d come to put all their chips on the table for one final bet.
Past the beggars at the entrance of the temple were the people with actual wishes to make. Most were farmers whose crops had been devoured by lesser demons, plagues, and corruption, but there were guardsmen, youths with entirely too much money, and adults looking to gamble away their savings for a small chance at happiness. Whether they were wishing for good business opportunities or begging for heavy snowfall or rain, each of them knew that their chances were slim; the temple granted wishes according to luck and fate, and never in the way one expected.
“Next!” called a young priest. His eyes were bright and filled with prospects. But Sorin knew that this spark would soon fade. He would become like the rest of the temple’s cynical priests, a shepherd that led sheep along a misty cliff to the market, knowing that only a few would make it.
A supplicant arrived at one of two minor altars. He was a baker who owned a shop not far from Sorin’s clinic. Times were hard, so people had been cutting back, even on necessities. Even a fat and successful baker now had trouble making ends meet and could only burn joss sticks to a tricky fox in the hopes that good fortune would carry him through the winter.
“Next!” called a priest at another secondary altar. This one smiled sadistically as a young man set fire to his life savings and muttered a prayer for three minutes straight. In the end, he was just like the baker. The altar remained unmoved, which meant that his prayers had gone unanswered.
Sorin’s destination was the main altar of the temple. According to his late grandfather, the chances of having one’s wish granted were much higher there than anywhere else. But the minimum offering was much higher than anywhere else. Sorin had squirrelled away money for three whole years to be able to afford it.
“Next!” called the seniormost priest presiding over the main altar. A teary-eyed woman pushed past the priest and ran out the temple. “The next supplicant can come forward to make an offering. Remember: The Temple of Hope makes no promises or guarantees. Everything will be done according to the will of the Eighth Evil.”
Sorin’s heart clenched as he realized that he was the next supplicant. Moreover, he had come to offer everything he had. If this offering failed, his short lifespan would run out before he had enough money for another gamble.
Bloodwood’s Temple of Hope was smaller than the ones found in proper cities. But just like the larger temples, it was built of sturdy stone and only minimally adorned. The temple had no need for the wooden pews found in the old world’s cathedrals or for sculptures depicting the triumph of the gods; for the gods were long dead and had been replaced by Pandora’s Eight Evils.
It was therefore these eight Evils that were carved upon the walls of the long corridor leading to main altar. Strife, Jealousy, and Hatred incited war while Violence and Madness dispensed it. Death and Disease followed closely on their heels, while the greatest evil, Hope, fought against all seven of them.
“Present your offering on the altar and state your name and your wish before lighting up the kindling,” instructed the priest. “All wishes made at main altar are private, so I will remain outside the room. I will open the door in five minutes, regardless of your success or failure.” The priest hesitated before offering one final piece of advice: “Your cultivation might be crippled, but your profession is honourable, Physician Sorin. I don’t normally discourage people from making a wish, but in your case, it might be best to count your blessings.”
“Many thanks, Priest Graham,” said Sorin. “But every person has their struggles, and all humans are equally entitled to seek Hope.”
“My apologies for forgetting my station,” said Priest Graham. “I will do penance for three days and three nights as an apology.” He then walked out the door to the altar chamber. A loud click indicated that the door was locked and that Sorin was free to make his offering.
Kindling had already been piled up on the altar by the temple’s staff. Included in said offering were carvings of the seven lesser evils along with a small kindling platform on which the offerings could be made.
Sorin directly upended a pouch containing dozens of one-star demon cores and a single two-star demon core. He’d been purchasing them since his arrival at Fort Bloodwood using what money his parents had left him and hadn’t been taken by his relatives. Added into the mix were three years of his personal wages for working as a physician in the outpost.
“Sorin Abberjay Kepler offers sincere greetings to the guardian god of humanity,” said Sorin, grabbing one of twelve torches on the altar. “My wish is simple: I want to know how my parents died. I want to know if any foul-play was involved in their deaths. And if so, I want to know who killed them.”
Hot white fire spread from the torch to the altar as soon as these words were spoken. It snaked up the kindling and onto the demon cores, releasing powerful mana fluctuations and an acrid smoke that assaulted Sorin’s damaged lungs.
He felt a stab of pain in his chest as unhealed wounds ripped open. Yet he did not dare look away from the carvings of the seven evils as they burnt away into nothingness.
Minutes passed as the fire slowed, and only small bits of wood remained. He kept a hopeful eye on these last embers as they ran out of fuel one after another until only darkness and smoke remained.
It looks like it wasn’t meant to be, thought Sorin with a sigh. But Grandfather warned me: the fox is fickle and will seldom answer even the simplest requests.
Five minutes hadn’t yet passed, but with the wood all burnt out, there was nothing left for Sorin to do. He turned towards the door and made to knock on its smooth, bloodwood surface. But to his surprise, his hand passed through the door as though it were air.
A black mist billowed across his feet, sucking in whatever light had managed to creep its way through the cracks in the doorway. A deep darkness invaded the room, and a chilling cold gripped Sorin by the feet and worked its way up his broken body, lingering briefly on a half-healed scar on his solar plexus where his mana sea had once been.
“Sorin Abberjay Kepler,” hissed a voice form the darkness. “Son of Lorent Abberjay Kepler and Maria Doyen Kepler. Descendent of Sirius Abberjay Kepler, heretic of the church and visionary of mankind. Cultivation: crippled. Organs highly damaged. Life expectancy: 3-4 years. Once evaluated as a genius physician. Blessed with a second stage soul at birth and born under the constellation of the black star. Potential at birth: unlimited. Current potential: uncertain.”
The darkness gathered above the main altar. Two bright red eyes lit the altar and the chamber walls, revealing nine chain-like tails that reached out endlessly. It was thanks to these chains tying down the fate of Pandora that humanity had survived, or so the legends said.
Sorin’s bladder almost gave out, but thanks to his strong soul, he was able to quickly compose himself. He felt the urge to prostrate himself but managed to find his dignity before his knees hit the floor. “Sorin Abberjay Kepler greets the Greatest of the Evils and offers his profuse thanks for the kindness of granting his wish.”
“Kindness?” spat the fox, revealing a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth that could bite through stone like it was paper. “You expect kindness of the trickster fox? The swindler? Kindness is not my business, Sorin Abberjay Kepler. You knew it walking into this room, and now, speaking to my likeness, you haven’t forgotten the warnings of your ancestors.”
Sorin cursed inwardly at his misfortune but counted the fox’s appearance as a good thing. Hope hadn’t outright refused his offerings, which meant that there was room for negotiation. “If my offering displeases you, I can secure additional demon cores.”
The fox snorted. “I have no use for such trifling things. Moreover, you’re a broke wretch that has a half foot in the grave. Your morals won’t allow you to stoop to stealing, which is the only way you’d ever find enough to pique my interest.”
“Then I –” started Sorin.
“No, do not try bargaining,” the fox said, cutting him off. “Do not try haggling. I know you inside and out, Sorin Abberjay Kepler. I know you past, your present, and your potential futures.”
A black mist billowed out from beneath the fox and tightened around Sorin like a giant, crushing hand. It didn’t probe him like the cold mist from before but was actively squeezing the life out of him. “I did not appear because of your offering, mortal. I appeared because your request insulted me. What do you take me for, a shady information dealer? A broker of secrets? Even if I were, your offerings are too pitiful to even scratch at the surface of this mystery.”
Sorin was very close to blacking out, but he resolved to hold on till the last second. Spots began appearing in his eyes when the black mist hand suddenly threw him across the room and onto the temple’s plain stone floor.
Sorin nearly fainted with from the pain of the impact. No fractures, but possible hairline cracks on my ribcage, he instinctually assessed. Stitched wounds have ripped open and will require re-suturing. Internal bleeding will need to be assessed and remedied to prevent excessive blood loss.
His position was quite painful, but Sorin mustered his remaining willpower to pick himself up and stare up at the monster hovering above the altar. He remembered his grandfather’s words about the fox and the many wishes family members had made, and about the kinds of requests the tricky fox liked most.
“My payment is lacking, and I have nothing to my name,” Sorin admitted. “My parents are dead, and my inheritance was taken away. My cultivation was crippled, to the point that I, a physician, can’t even control my hands properly.
“I am desperate. You are the only hope I have. Is it arrogant for me to make a request? Absolutely. But you’re all I can rely on. You’re all that I have.”
His words seemed to pique the fox’s interest. ““It is the desperate I serve,” confirmed the apparition. “And the lost and the vengeful and the broken. So tell me, Sorin Abberjay Kepler: What is your real wish? What hope would you like me to give you?”
“I want a chance to start over,” said Sorin without hesitation. “I want a sliver of a chance at life. I want a tenth of that chance to discover what happened to my parents, and if there was any foul play involved, a tenth of that chance to avenge them.”
As soon as these words left his mouth, the black mists in the temple billowed. Sorin could swear he heard a scream as the nine-tailed fox pulled on his chain-like tails. “Quiet, wretched world,” spoke the fox. “If there’s something I want, you’re not qualified to prevent me from taking it.” He then shoved a claw into a slit in time and space and pulled out a sickly green orb. It was the size of Sorin’s fist, barely a marble compared to the fox’s immense stature. Golden runes floated inside it.
“Your request has been heard and accepted,” said the fox. “By my authority as the Eighth Evil, I grant thee hope. A stream of information surged into Sorin’s mind, severely taxing his powerful souls. The knowledge threatened to slip through his fingers, but Sorin held onto every last bit of it and forcefully incorporated it into his spiritual sea.
“Divine Cultivation Art: The Ten thousand Poison Cannon?” muttered Sorin as he picked himself off the ground. His body shivered as he growled at the Eighth Evil, who was currently grinning ear to ear. “I asked you for hope, not mockery. You dare give me, a cripple, a suicidal cultivation technique?” He’d just briefly looked over it and could immediately tell that cultivating it was the same as seeking one chance at life amongst nine chances at death.
His rage was so great that for a moment, Sorin forgot that he was speaking to a deity. A vicious backlash struck him and thoroughly ripped opened the wounds on his torso. He fell to his side in agony, and barely managed to catch is breath as the fox of darkness leaned over from the altar and growled at him.
“I am the Evil called Hope,” said the fox imperiously. “I am the greatest deity of this world and will not tolerate your petty mortal judgements. You asked me for hope and hope I have given you. Whether or not you can grasp it is little consequence. You can roll over into a ditch and die, for all I care.
Then, as though it had all been a dream, the darkness lifted. Sorin found himself kneeling before the altar and puddle of his own blood. The door to the chamber creaked open. “Physician Sorin?” said the shocked priest as he hurried. “Are you all right? Do you require treatment?”
“I’m fine,” said Sorin, picking himself up. “These are just flesh wounds. I’ll recover in no time.”
He then pushed his way past the priest and made his way down the mural-covered hallway. Upon seeing his bloodied appearance, expectant looks changed to gazes filled with pity.
But Sorin was used to such looks. He ignored these people and made his way back into the outpost. It was morning, and these small wounds were far from enough to keep his clinic from opening.