The Artificer’s Tale

Posted: 2023-12-08
Word Count: 1493
Tags: fiction settings

(Inspired by “The Necromaton” by Antonio DeMico.)

I. The Artificer’s Lament

Anaxandre Markiz Paluzarian was the greatest artificer of the Late Third Age.

Anaxandre created many wonders and innovations of the High Tiriondean Empire, including the Moving Walkways of Tirionde, the Clockwork Memory Doll, the Cooling Apparatus of Duke Orthos, the Jeweled Songbird of Mithronde, and the sadly underappreciated Aetheric Long Distance Distribution Engine. Exactly how these devices worked has been lost to the centuries.

Anaxandre was a recluse, an eccentric, and possibly a bit mad. They tolerated only their own company and that of their creations. They hated their flesh: its frailty, its necessities, its excretions, and above all the stinking animal urges that all save Anaxandre fell prey to. Anaxandre admired instead the durability and solidity of metal, the immortality of stone, and above all the occasionally comprehensible enigma of magic. The artificer built other devices, great and small, many little more than toys, always knowing that no matter how solidly built the creations the maker was doomed to nonexistence.

As the inconveniences of age set in Anaxandre shunned society entirely. They sought answers first in medicine, but prolonging life wasn’t enough. They looked for an elixir of immortality in the most obscure works of alchemy, but found nothing satisfactory. (At this point Anaxandre was unwilling to commit serial murder.)

At last Anaxandre turned to the forbidden schools of magic: demonology, sorcery, and necromancy. No devil’s bargain worked in their favor, no other dimension held a cure to mortality for one born mortal, and the writings of necromancers read like the recipies and half-remembered lore of some senile old hedge witch. Still, necromancy offered the most likely answer, so Anaxandre did what they did best: experiment.

First Anaxandre built a refuge at the foot of the Bergarus Mountains. It was near enough to the heart of the Empire to acquire supplies, but far from the demands of Tiriondean officials asking for new conveyances and new weapons and even automaton soldiers to fend off barbarians who were encroaching on the borders. Anaxandre had no time for such things.

Alexandre hunted down necromancers and offered first money then the threat of pain to examine their lesser creations, so-called “skeletons” and “zombies”. Even though Alexandre became a master at reanimating dead, they could already create mindless automatons, so that aspect of the art proved only a distraction. Next they hunted down ghouls, revenants, incorporeal undead, and even the rare and elusive vampire to understand how they maintained their mockery of life. They even considered becoming a vampire, although thralldom to a master did not appeal.

Once Anaxandre mastered necromancy, and found it wanting, a brilliant thought struck them: if even preserved flesh and ectoplasm would not suffice, why not build a body of metal and magical aether? Their experiments yielded abundant if bitter fruit: they could transfer their soul to an artificial body, but only by anchoring it with a pound of their own preserved flesh. Despite that setback Anaxandre completed the project. Like every other artificer-lich-to-be in the multiverse, Anaxandre called their discovery a Necromaton.

By this time Anaxandre had grown old, supplementing their failing limbs with an exoskeleton. The artificer iterated upon and refined the design of that exoskeleton into a sleek skeleton of metal, made from light but durable alloys, the finest crystal aetheric regulators, and a durable inner reliquary where their preserved heart would reside. Rigging an artificial heart to keep them alive while they transferred the alchemically treated heart to their new body, Anaxandre performed the final necromantic ritual, drank an elixir of undeath, and died.

And something not quite Anaxandre awoke.

II. No Rest For The Wicked

All existence is conditional, and the Necromaton discovered new conditions to their existence. First among them was losing simple sensations of a living body: the feel of wind against skin, the taste and smell of food, the subtle sounds of breathing and digestion and heartbeat (or even artificial heart whirring). The silence drove the Necromaton slightly (more) mad, but they recovered their equilibrium. They contented themselves with the hum of an aetheric engine, the slight whisper of well-oiled joints, the twang of orichalcum actuators.

Second, the Necromaton discovered that they could create more bodies for themselves by dissecting and pickling their cast-off corpse. Each new body felt like a new limb, or more accurately a new set of limbs and eyes and ears, and with a slight thought the Necromaton could transfer their soul between them. When the Necromaton ran out of their own flesh, they tried the recently harvested flesh of others and found it worked just as well. Certain specially constructed automatons, including “uninitialized” versions of new bodies, responded to their mental commands but could not house their soul. Over the next decades, however, the Necromaton would discover that even preserved flesh did not last forever. To maintain their existence, they would need to harvest flesh from the unwashed masses.

Third, in the increasingly unlikely circumstances where the Necromaton ventured from their refuge, they needed fewer automaton guards. Even if one body did fall, the Necromaton had others, and distance proved no obstacle. Unfortunately undeath posed other problems. A Canonist cleric or a theurgist could drive them back by calling upon their gods, a feat the priests of other gods could sometimes replicate. Disguising their nonliving nature proved difficult, as well, and the Necromaton had to resort to articulated masks made of an alchemical substance that mimicked flesh; even so, they could not let anyone get too close. (At this the Necromaton had over a lifetime of pracice.) Animals, particularly dogs and cats, could still sense the difference.

It was well the Necromaton ventured out only seldom. Northern and eastern barbarians had conquered several imperial provinces, and the neglected south and west were in open rebellion. Foolish gossips insisted that the elderly emperor no longer ruled, and only squabbling dukes and counts remained to protect the common people. The Necromaton cared little for common people, but the unrest and fighting made finding all but the one most crucial component hard to find.

One year the capitol fell, first to a coup and then to invading barbarians after half the empire refused to acknowledge the new “acting emperor”. Fighting spilled over into previously “safe” regions. Lucky nobles scrambled to consolidate their power and declare themselves sovereigns of their own countries. Unlucky nobles, including many of the magic-using elites, fell to the torches and axes of angry peasant mobs. Libraries and their attendants burned. A fanatical friar blamed everything, including the fall of the Empire, on the use of magic.

The Necromaton decided to wait for a more hospitable age. Using their arts, they decided to freeze their body with a soul in a secret chamber under their refuge. The floors above would remain under the care of the Necromatons automatons, but the entrances would be locked in such a way only another artificer of sufficient skill could unlock. The Necromaton regretted losing time in this way, but conditions outside made acquiring necessary materials, and knowledge to advance the Art, nigh-impossible.

Their only recourse was to use their arts to not merely freeze their body and soul but to hold it in stasis, suspended between one moment and another, in a specially crafted sarcophagus. Thus they would remain unaware of the passing years. Worse, the sarcophagus could accomodate only one of their many bodies, and that body would be the sole repository of their soul. Yet they could see no other way, and thus no other way could exist.

The Necromaton sealed their refuge and set their drones to wake them under certain conditions, including that of intruders into their domain. With a few dozen of their spare bodies around them, the Necromaton lay down in their sarcophagus and slept, dreamlessly.

III. Time Waits For No Monster

As the Necromaton slept, the world or Eordh spun on.

The fall of the Tiriondean Empire took the entire continent with it. Former provinces fell victim to famine, plague, and monsters. Only on the western, southern, and eastern coasts did something like civilization still flourish. Many regard this grim Fourth Age a dark time indeed.

At its height the Great Purist Purge eradicated entire magical disciplines and mystical orders, including sorcerers, theurgists, witches, … and artificers. The Purists consigned the works of Anaxandre to the flames, along with anyone who had read them. For an entire age magic devolved into the sort of ad hoc recipes and lore the Necromaton hated. Even in the Fifth Age magic posed as much danger to the user as to its intended target.

A rockslide buried the entrances to the Necromaton’s refuge. Eventually, atop the rubble, a village formed. After coaxing crops out of the rocky, barren hills the villagers discovered a pure vein of copper, unaware it had once belonged to one of the Necromaton’s lesser toys. Decades later, one of these villagers found a door …