Ailm was an artificer of good repute within Steamcity Firdon, working hard to produce quality metalwork for use in the rapidly growing steam revolution. Essential to the workings of the new thaumatech was the liquid-magic Ether, and just as essential were the base metal parts of which the devices were constructed. While the arcane symbols Inscribed onto the components strengthened the naturally impure metals of the area, good quality parts were certainly more desirable for steam technology of every sort, and it was this niche in which Ailm was determined to make his living.
Clang! Clang! Pfhssh…
The sounds of the forge were a comfort to Ailm. All throughout his childhood, he had loved to go and sit near the forges, watching the metalworkers turn raw ore into works of both art and wonder. He loved the ring of hammer ‘pon metal, the swoosh of air as the bellows were worked to heat the forge, the hiss of quenching steel; it came as no surprise to anyone when he chose to take up blacksmithing at the age of apprenticeship. Likewise, it was no shock when he hung out the sign on his own shop a few years later.
Ten years later, the tools of his trade were his love. He had never found a woman he could love as much as the craft. No whispers of affection could compare to the sounds of the forge, no warmth of touch could compare to the eternal embrace of heat within his workshop. He didn’t truly desire children of his own, though he made sure to keep a constant supply of iron puzzles at hand to brighten the day of any lonely child. The work of his hands was legacy enough.
The path on which he had set himself was not the path which life would lead him down, however.
When the news of magic fused with metal began to spread throughout Firdon, Ailm knew that here was the opportunity of a lifetime. He latched onto the wave of revolution and rode it with a skillful hand. His profits soared, and soon he even had enough money to begin toying with the new thaumatech, seeing how he might enhance his own works and make them even better suited for the College’s experiments.
As with all new technologies, accidents were inevitable. In the course of his experimentation, Ailm used a bit too much Ether and discovered the horror of magical backlash as the runic Inscription he was using unraveled itself from the metal he was working, tearing through his clothing, arm, and into the wall of the workshop. Quick action to staunch the blood flowing from the stump where his upper arm had been saved his life, but the damage had been done, and permanently. Priests could heal wounds, mend broken bones, and repair life-threatening injuries, but none could reattach or regrow a limb.
He returned to his love, working hard to get past his crippling, and remained an excellent craftsman, but with only one arm, Ailm simply couldn’t keep up with the orders, much less continue playing with the new thaumatech. On the verge of despair after a particularly hard day in the forge, Ailm went to sleep, and Dreamed…
He stood before a vast…something. He could feel with the extra sense of dreamers everywhere that while it appeared in part to be a vast machine, such a label could be applied only in the loosest of terms. He knew, in a way fundamental to knowledge itself, that this device extended far beyond what he could see and feel, into realms of understanding known only to deities and Outsiders.
AILM. The Voice came from everywhere, and Ailm fell to his knees, his lost hand clutching at his chest. The saying of his name had felt like a sledgehammer compressing his torso. It hurt, in a way only those Touched by Power can understand.
Ailm. There it was again, though this time it wasn’t nearly as painful. He was able to raise his head and look at the Machine in front of him. He knew the Voice was that of the Machine. His mind had stopped ringing from the force of the mental touch, and had begun to race. This was no ordinary dream. What was this thing?
Laughter filled the air around him, lifting Ailm from the darkness of spirit that had driven him into the ground ever since his arm had been lost. The sound was an ineffable mixture of whirling, well-oiled machinery and joy at work well done. His confidence grew, and he spoke for the first time.
"What are you?"
The sound he got back was the hum of a machine, vast beyond comprehension and full of purpose beyond knowing. He once again knew on a fundamental level that this was it’s name, and also knew he would never be able to express it properly. For now, though, it was enough.
"Why am I here?"
His mind rocked with visions, of schematics and drawings complex beyond anything he had ever seen. He saw himself at his forge, drawing metal into gentle curves and sharp edges, creating works of art. He mentally corrected the picture, replacing his whole arm with the stump that it now was. The image shattered and fell away, and in its place was the same scene, save that the broken and destroyed arm was changed. Where empty air had touched the stump in his picture, now it was melded and fused with a metal replacement, strong and smooth, even better than the original he had lost. How was such a thing possible?
A scroll of paper appeared with a table in front of him, a schematic like the ones he had used while playing with thaumatech, but one far more complex, with sigils unfamiliar to him. He knew that he was the only person to have ever seen them before, but that wasn’t what held his true attention. The schematic held the shape and form of the metal limb! The sigils, the design, all of it was unbelievable. It would take him months to make such a thing.
Best you get to work, then.
He awoke with a start, and stumbled to the table where he had once fiddled with thaumatech designs, now covered in dust from disuse. He rummaged around, hunting for blank paper. Never did the thought of not building It enter his mind. He had a goal, and was set upon it.
Much time passed, and eventually Ailm finished his work of steel, steam, and sorcery. The day after he finished it, he again Dreamed, and communed with the being he would eventually name Whrrrm. Customers to the smithy were soon astonished to find the former cripple now had replaced his lost arm with one of metal, one that actually worked as a full replacement.
Kecet, as Ailm now called himself, slowly began to attract a following, first among the crippled, then eventually among the non as well. Each had his own reasons for seeking out the Metal Man, but those who stayed formed the core of what others would call Melders.
"The followers of the mechanodemon Whrrrm are strange indeed. Abominations of flesh and metal, each replaces parts of his body with metal contraptions of steam and magic. How they do not die in the process is a secret tightly held by their cult, but death is indeed a rarity during their ritual mutilation of wholesome flesh…" ~Page 54 of
The Rise of Steam Power, And What It Means For Our Faith
In short, Melders are those who incorporate mechanical replacements into their bodies. The designs for such devices stem from Kecet, who claims to receive them from a divine being he calls Whrrrm. The majority of the followers are of a live and let live mindset, seeing no reason to do anything other than give thanks to Whrrrm for (in most cases) replacing what they had thought was lost forever, as well as giving thanks to Kecet for his willingness to help others become followers (by his creation of more metal limbs).
A small minority believe that theirs is a gift that should be spread throughout the world, through force if necessary, but at the moment, they do nothing more than speak and scheme amongst themselves. Part of their problem is that very few can understand the blueprints Kecet draws, much less craft enough limbs to forcibly convert others.
Kecet is occasionally given "blueprints" for devices within his dreams, which he then produces for the other followers. Entirely new designs are rare; only when a potential follower needs something completely different will Whrrrm inspire Kecet to produce a new design.
Most of the designs are thaumatech, utilizing Ether and Inscription to meld flesh and metal into a seamless whole, but an infinitesimal fraction of those most devoted to Whrrrm have devices powered not by Ether, but by Faith (only a few have faith strong enough to power the devices, and there are a bare minimum of such blueprints). The followers of Whrrrm have the only theotech in existence, and could prove to be one of the most dangerous groups known.
- Abominations! The PCs have been recruited by either the government or some religious organization to remove the Melder presence within a city, by force if necessary.
- Kristallnacht: The city has been whipped into a frenzy, and the Melders are the target. If the PCs are Melders themselves, they’ll discover just how horrifying human hatred can be. If they aren’t, they’re stuck with the option of standing back and doing nothing, or taking action on one side or another.
- Urban Warfare: The minority has become the majority within the Melders, and now they’re becoming more and more violent. It starts with roaming Melder street-gangs, then escalates into full out rebellion against the city government. The PCs must defuse the situation somehow, or Bad Things Will Happen.
While at the moment members of the faith are not widespread nor aggressive in their recruiting, that is not always guaranteed to be the case. Kecet has never spoken of his second Dream, nor of any others he might have had since, and thus it could be that a secret army is being produced, composed of society’s outcast and downtrodden.
Indeed, Whrrrm is not guaranteed to even be a proper diety: most other faiths will consider the Melders to be little more than cultists serving some demon, if not simply misguided fools led by a charlatan who stumbled upon the blasphemous technique of merging flesh and metal. I have left much of it open-ended, to allow for various interpretations when finally used.
Lastly, I must extend my thanks to Pieh and Siren for their help fleshing out this idea. It probably wouldn’t have ended up this good without your help.