Rumours of Darkness
In Locastus, City of Mirrors, the dark wizard named Izal Apt is a legend and a boogey-man tale. Even though his name is now used mainly as a curse, and the tale of his rise to power used to frighten children, Apt was, and perhaps still is, a very real menace.
Those who remember, those old enough to have been there when the Puritan walked the streets, refuse to say his name aloud and talk of him only in guarded whispers. Even though Izal Apt, the Puritan, has been dead and gone for close to twenty years, his presence still casts its inky shadow over the dark corners of the city and his name strikes fear into the hearts of men. Even though the man himself is gone, an evil of that magnitude fades slowly, a stubborn infection lingering in the body of Locastus.
It is said that he was a necromancer of unsurpassed power, able to raise the dead to learn their secrets or to act as his soldiers and that he, in time, gathered to his banner a secretive following of the like-minded, the disgruntled rich, elitistic mages and supremacist Acitans, that called themselves the Apt Caucus.
It is whispered that Apt at this time donned a crown of bone, wore a cloak made from human skin and began to submerge himself in his own evil and depravity. At the Caucus's meetings acts of cannibalism, ritual murder and necrophilia were common and it is rumored that these late-night orgies were attended by the dead themselves, whose rotting remains rose from the ground to join in the festivities.
Apt's power grew as he delved deeper and deeper into the darker aspects of the Arts and he became a power behind the scenes, a dark, insubstantial shadow who wielded great political power through the intermediaries of his Caucus. Those who opposed his racist, totalitarian agenda were swayed by bribery, blackmail or threats, at least those who didn't disappear or were found dead under mysterious circumstances.
In 179, the Apt Caucus finally found themselves powerful enough to make their final move; a coup d'tat against the Locastrian government itself. All over Locastus carefully staged riots flared up, aimed at government key installations,dignitaries and offices. The Caucus, playing on racist undercurrents in Locastus at the time, sent enraged mobs on minority ghettoes and settlements within the city, triggering a climactic series of events that has gone down in history as the Reckoning.
At the height of the battle, with a multitude of small skirmishes and minor massacres occurring all around the city, the Locastrian cemeteries spat out their dead en masse to do Apt's bidding and elements of the Locastrian forces fought each other in the streets.
It is thought that Apt, aided by his followers, intended the Burning of the Maul to be the final climax of their coup, the dark centrepeice of their Reckoning. However, the pogrom against the Old Blood was the event that finally goaded General Titus Hinge - who on unfounded charges of questionable loyalty had been ordered to wait outside the city walls - to march upon his own city, eventually saving the sitting government and foiling the Caucus's coup attempt.
It is said that the taking of the Black House, the headquarters of the Secret Police, where General Titus Hinge himself duelled and killed Asmorin Morr and his assassin-mages, was the turning point of the uprising, quickly followed by the surrender of the insurrectionist forces and the renegade generals on the stairs of Castle Locastus.
It is unclear exactly what happened after that, but when dust settled, Izal Apt was gone, never to be seen again and his army of the walking dead simply collapsed wherever they stood. While a few members of the Apt Caucus was caught, tried and executed, most just melted back into the shadows and returned to their old lives.
Some of Apt's foremost supporters, among them Isardi Kain and Finiteus Scorn, were tried on charges of treason, but, even though their guilt was a matter of general knowledge, were later released from lack of evidence.
On the few surviving images - photographic or painted - of the young Izal Apt as he looked at or around the time he joined the Institute of Experimental Thaumatology, he appears as a tall, slim man dressed in neat, spartan academician's robes, handsome and young-looking, his hands long-fingered and sensitive. His hair is glossy black and neatly parted down the middle. However, the image of a handsome young academian is somewhat spoiled by his eyes, filled with a dark hunger and something else, something sinister, a seed of evil and a promise of what was to come.
In later depictings, when Apt had begun his campaign against ethnical minorities in Locastus, he appears a changed man, with little resemblance to the young man he once was. These later pictures show a more mature man, more heavy of limb than before and with a suggestion of a receding hairline, although the hair retains its raven hue. He is usually shown dressed in a spartan, vaguely priestly robe and dark gloves. His most striking feature, however, is still the eyes, although the dark thing that could be glimpsed in his youth has now flowered. Even in the oil painting that survive to this day, the look in his eyes send chills into viewers, like shards of soot-stained ice or the passionless, remorseless, empty orbs of a shark.
"I thought I was born to show people the error of their ways, but I was wrong. I was born to murder the world..."
Nix, Lord of illusions
Izal Apt was born in poverty and misery, the spawn of an Old Blood prostitute who herself died at the hands of an abusive customer when Apt was barely four years old. Forced to fend for himself at an early age, working the streets of the Old Maul first as a child prostitute and later as a thief, gang member, drug dealer and pimp, the young Izal early on began to show an uncanny talent for magic.
Although he recieved a smattering of thaumatological training from various alcoholic hedge-wizards and wax-witches and was even, for a time, an apprentice at the Hall of Warlocks, such tutelage was always short-lived, always ending when the teacher realized the depth of the young mage's madness, a darkly smoldering, repulsive sadism, an unquenchable thirst for power and a total disregard for the suffering of others.
A turning point in the young Apt's life was when he, by chance, met and became apprenticed to the renegade Old Blood Warlock Isiah Fenn, who taught him the dark and forbidden arts of necromancy and demonic summoning. While one might think that the old, evil Warlock took the disturbed young man in as an act of mercy, but it is much more likely that he was more motivated by a chance of thwarting his former kin, the people responsible for his own exile.
What is known, however, is that once his training in the Dark Arts was complete, Apt showed his true nature when he killed his old tutor using his new-found skills. It is said that the horrible, twisted old man died with a smile on his face and a tear of pride in his eye, even as the bone golem Apt had summoned tore his fragile frame to shreds.
Rise To Power
Apt's path of destiny bagan when he managed, though subterfuge, blackmail and cunning, to achieve a position at the Remus Maal Institute of Experimental Thaumatology - one of Locastus's most renowned magical institutions.
During his time at the Institute of Experimental Thaumatology, Apt, with his prodigious skill in necromancy, was instrumental in developing the Deader technology, one of the economical cornerstone of Locastrian industrial development then and now.
A few months into his tenure, he met and began an affair with one of his peers, a brilliant, beautiful, middle-aged woman of Earthroot descent named Ahura Naar, and it seemed, for a time, as if the troubled young man might finally have been led onto the path of normality and peace.
If events had played out differently, Apt might have stayed at the Institute, gathering fame and standing and eventually going down in Locastrian history as a beneficient Arch-Magus, the most powerful and skillful since Remus Maal himself.
But fate had something different in mind for the promising young Magus. During his rise to fame, he had come into contact with certain fringe movements of the Locastrian elitÃ©, discreet, informal groups of the exceedingly rich and powerful who harboured an agenda of political power and a craving for physical immortality, and within Apt, the old thirst for power stirred anew.
With the accidental and tragic death of his lover, Ahura Naar, towards the end of his tenure, Apt, once more found himself unfettered by any societal pressure or pretence of normality and, from there on, devoted himself utterly to his final goal; Purging Locastus of those he considered to be "indesirable" or "subhuman", i.e. all non-Acitan races, but primarily the Old Blood, in spite of his own blood ties to that race.
Using his great personal charisma, charm and presence, coupled with his great magical power, Apt formed around himself a cult, within its ranks some of the richest, most power-hungry and ambitious people of the city. In exchange for their loyalty, he delivered to them life eternal - a small effort indeed for a Magus of his skill and power.
Among those flocking to his banner was Asmorin Morr, psychopathic Commander of the Locastrian Secret Police; the dowager Duchess Isardi Kain, one of Locastus's richest women and herself an accompliced Magus; Mogora Lyth, the cruel, ambitious headmistress of one of the more powerful schools of magic in Locastus: the Academy of Taking and Changing, and finally, Finiteus Scorn, a young Acitan aristocrat who would later become Mayor of Locastus.
On each of his followers, Apt placed an invisible mark, a sigil of power that bound their souls to his, a forging that increased his own power and in return granted them immortality - after a fashion.
This arcane binding involved unspeakable orgies of cannibalism, human sacrifice and necrophilia that served to turn the members into creatures as twisted of mind as their mentor and leader, Izal Apt, who now called himself "The Puritan" and would attend these rites dressed in spartan, priestly robes and wearing a crown made from bone, calling up the repulsive, decomposing husks of the dead from the ground to dance or copulate with the living.
At these clandestine, torch-lit meetings, to a rapt audience of the extatic, near-psychotic living and the silent, rotting dead, Apt - flanked by his harem of undead courtesans - would preach passionately of the beauty of death and of the purity of suffering, and deliver long, rambling monologues on the necessity of purging Locastus of those he deemed "weak", "undesirable" or "unfit to live".
Through his intermediaries, his henchmen and acolytes, Apt let his reign of terror spill out onto the streets of Locastus. Death-squads comprised of Apt's lowliest worshippers moved through the dark, night-time streets abducting, raping and killing Old Bloods, Hill Tribesmen and people of the Earthroot and among the circles of power, among the movers and shakers of the Locastrian government, his politically connected followers nurtured a sense of Acitan supremacy, of profound racism, that slowly, but surely, began turning Locastus's ruling body to Apt's cause.
The Year of Gathering Shadows
When, finally, Apt's agenda had been firmly implanted within the Locastrian rulers, there began a year of terror, violence and prosecution that has gone down in Locastrian history as the Year of Gathering Shadows.
Apt, with the help of Asmorin Morr and his army of secret policemen, began a systematic pogrom of all non-Acitan magic users, aimed at purging Locastus of all opposition to their cause.
Over the course of a single year, hundreds of people vanished without a trace, spirited away by the death squads and Morr's secret police. As the year wore on, the dead began to walk the streets of Locastus, intent on slaying the living. Among these minions of Apt's were found the withered, decomposing features of people taken by the night-time sweeps, never to be seen alive again.
In late winter of the year 179, the Apt Caucus made their final move on taking complete control over Locastus. Apt, through a complex and unspeakable ritual, drawing on decades of studies of the dark and forbidden Arts, invoked a necromantic summoning on a magnitude never before seen in the world.
Over the course of a single, fraught day, the cemeteries of Locastus spat out their dead. Thousands of animated corpses, some decomposing, some embalmed, some almost fossilized, clawed their way up through the frozed ground and spilled out onto the streets of Locastus, filled with mindless bloodlust and rage against the living, sparing only members of the Apt Caucus, the wearers of his dark mark.
In the factories of the Witherdowns, the automaton-like Deaders turned against their foremen and living co-workers, swinging wrenches and sledgehammers against anyone slow enough or foolish enough to get in their way, and unspeakable, formless entities, tentacled, nameless monsters from an age before man, rose from the ground at Apt's calling to join in the slaughter.
Under the direction of the Puritan, the hordes of undead laid seige to Militia barracks, police headquarters and even to Caste Locastus itself - the seat of the Locastrian government - effectively delivering the City into the hands of gangs of Apt worshippers spearheaded by teams of thugs and assassin-mages from the Locastrian Secret Police, under the command of Asmorin Morr.
In the late afternoon, as the Reckoning drew towards its climax, a mixed force of Apt-loyal Army regiments, Asmorin Morr's agents and the shambling undead marched upon the Old Blood enclave of the Old Maul and began a wholesale slaughter every man, woman and child on the island.
A massacre of unspeakable magnitude ensued, broken only when General Titus Hinge, disobeying direct orders to stay outside the city, ordered his battle-weary regiment into the Maul to save what it could of its inhabitants.
With the densely packed wooden huts of the Maul burning around them, massively outnumbered, Hinge and his soldiers managed to beat back Apt's forces and save a fraction of the people of the Old Blood.
Rallying to his banner remnants of the Old Blood, isolated pockets of loyal Locastrian soldiers and a smattering of armed civilians and street thugs, Hinge then led this motely army in a brilliantly excuted counter-attack, clearing the way to Castle Locastus and breaking the seige.
Forged in the fires of the Maul and quenched by the fighting in the streets of Locastus, that day the Maul Rats were born.
Meanwhile, with his minions wreaking havoc on the streets of Locastus, Apt himself was pursuing a more personal goal. Apt, having clevely timed his rebellion to coincide with the Bloated Moon's annual tour of the city, were planning to keep the powerful sorceress occupied while he himself could lay claim to her source of power, the Well of Dreams.
While the Moon and her entourage were under siege at the Hall of the Seven Captains, held in place by a concerted attack of over a thousand undead - reinforced by an elitÃ© cadre of lich sorcerers - Apt himself led a small team of crack troops and thamaturgic specialists to the Moon's hilltop palace in an attempt to seize control of the Well himself.
However, unbeknownst to Apt, two Old Blood warlocks - Igar Finch and his apprentice Torodak - had survived the pogrom and, having sensed Apt's plans, had taken upon themselves to seek Apt out and exact revenge for their murdered kin.
Deep beneath the Moon's lair, right at the lip of the Well of Dreams itself, Finch and Torodak fought the Puritan in a cataclysmic battle of magic and willpower, while the spirits of the Aether rose from the Well and screamed their support in reedy, whispering voices.
Unknown to Apt, the Well itself stirred at his presence and leached off some of his power, allowing Finch and Torodak to close in and deliver the killing blow. It was by the hand of the young apprentice the Puritan fell, struck in the heart by the young man's Maul Shank.
Mindful of Apt's claims to godhood and immortality, when Apt lay dying and helpless, master and apprentice summoned great power from the spirits of the Well to bind the dying Puritan and invoked complex rituals and incantations, wove intricate skeins of containment over his corpse to keep him from ever rising again.
Finch then took Apt's body away, to hide it forever in a place inaccessible to man and left Torodak on the Moon's hill. The two men should never see each other again.
"You and me, Schwann, the way it was intended. Once we are done with the world, we can keep each other company in the darkness..."
Nix, Lord of Illusions
With Apt gone, his army of the undead simply collapsed where they stood, leaving their human allies to find themselves suddenly, massively outnumbered. The insurrectionist leaders, the rebel generals and Lords surrendered to Hinge on the stairs of Castle Locastus early the next morning.
Hinge, having learned of the involvment of the Secret Police, personally duelled Asmorin Morr and killed him in his own office.
However, apart from Morr and a handful of others, the inner circle of Apt's supporters had kept their identities carefully hidden and simply melted back into the shadows.
Although accusations were thrown left and right, the vast majority of Apt's more prominent followers were never tried and so remains to this day. Isardi Kain, one of the few to actually be put on trial for her involvement in the Apt affair, spent several years in prison but were later aquitted through political machinations and legal subterfuge. She never renounced her faith in Apt and remains openly supportive of his agenda to this day, her money and connections rendering her untouchable.
Torodak Deal returned to the remnant of his people and joined in the rebuilding of the Maul. Soon, however, he encountered the fire-spirits of those that had died in the Reckoning and dedicated his life to keep them pacified. He built Earlobe's Tavern on the site of the old Warlock Temple and remains there today.
Several years later, Finch, marked by his long, ardorous quest to hide the body of the Puritan, joined the Maul Rats and serves there still, masquerading as a common soldier. Grief and guilt has turned the once proud warlock into an alcoholic, a shadow of his former self, but he continues to make great contributions to the regiment.
"What am I? I am a man who wanted to be a God, but changed his mind..."
Nix, Lord of Illusions
Even with Apt himself removed from the picture, much of his agenda lives on in the Acitan mindset and their oddly mindless pursuit of racial purity. Also, many of his followers remain to this day, their youth and vigour maintained by their mystical bond with the dead Puritan.
Although many are mere shadows of their former selves, psychotic wrecks consumed by darkness, guilt and unspeakable memories, a handful remain functional, hidden in the shadows and keeping low while continuing to further the Puritan's agenda. Not many in Locastus knows that the current Mayor was once one of Apt's disciples.
Apt himself, regardless of his claims to immortality and godhood, is probably dead and gone, or if not, so far removed from the world of the living as to make no difference. Even so, his surviving disciples and other people with the appropriate Talent have claimed to have recieved visions and premonitions of the Puritan, so one never knows - perhaps, just perhaps, the last word has not been said on Izal Apt, dark wizard of Locastus.
Apt is more of a thought experiment than an NPC. I wrote this when I wanted to explore the background and explanation for a good villain.
I really admire Rowling's Voldemort for being, if not exactly believable, at least equipped with a REASON for being a villain - and I wanted to draw a bit of that theme, that people become evil or twisted for a reason.
This is as much a backstory as it is an exploration of the themes I want to include in the Locastus saga. The inspirations are many: Rowling (as mentioned), Steven Erikson and China MiÃ©ville. I even think I managed to get a bit of Jedi influence in there as well.
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? Responses (16)-16
Hmm, I intended to add this to the current quest. Is there any way of doing that after the fact?
Wow, that is a whopper. Updated to quest for you!
Thank you, Strolen!
A truely diabolical villian. 5/5
The evil muse rides again....well done and took You long enough....*L*
Very nicely done Ouroboros!
I would call your experiment a success, I found myself enjoying reading about this manipulative necromancer and his cult of personality. Kudos to you sir.
Yes, certainly a success. I actually was a bit confused as to the structure until I read your end-note. I would say that Izal Apt is certainly captivating, but not nearly as captivating as the world and details swirling all around him!--if that makes any sense. Great use of links, and great job overall! Its long, but doesnt bog down. A fine tale, and rest assured bits and pieces will be stolen for my own games. :) Very nicely done indeed!
A question arises. How exactly did Titus Hinge's forces prevail? It sounds like the odds were quite against him...necros, Asmorin Morr, undead hordes, etc. What did Hinge have? Just curious :)
Let me say again, Locastus rocks, David!
It is neat that it seems the true strenght in this one is the legacy he left behind. His motivation spawned the ability to develop any range of "villians" based on their involvement with the entire Reckoning and they can have any number of twisted reasons all loosely associate with Apts.
Loved all the interwined links that took you deeper into the entire scenerio, added an extra level that was just awesome. I couldn't read them all and the question that might have been answered was the powers of the city wanted immortality and Apt's ability to offer that was glazed over "after a fashion." Was looking for that to be explained a little and was hoping for some lasting after affects.
I have followed the forging of Locastus for quite some time now and always enjoyed the appearance of new submissions. I guess this villain comes to his full right when you have read the rest of your Locastus material. I did read this post some time back but did not have the time to make a proper comment.
I concur with Murometz in his statement that Izal is not nearly as captivating as the world around him. In many was your setting makes him, as he makes the setting. Locastus is growing and all the branches cross each other. I am pleased to conclude that Izal is good as a villain in his own right, as he is as a piece of a larger puzzle. Namely Locastus. Gothic and it does not bog down in minatue.
Thank you, my friends! Your reflections, thoughts and criticism takes what I write out of my hands and turn it into something better than I could achieve on my own.
Congratulations to Ouroboros for this first place quest winner!!
This is amazing. I cannot think of a single submission that matches this one. The depth and scope of this piece, to say nothing of the amazing prose, is astounding. Kudos for you, you most definitely deserve the First-Place this piece was awarded.
Regarding inspiration and the feel of the character, I had gotten a Voldemort vibe near the end, but mostly the name that came to mind was "Hitler".
Wow, thanks guys... Im a bit surprised this came out on top, since there were so many excellent subs in this quest, some which I consider better than this one. Not that I´m complaining, mind you, Im deeply thankful that you like the stuff my oddball brain keeps throwing up..:-)
Well, well.. It seems my suggestion for a steampunk quest were heard. Now I might just have the thing for that...
Thanks again, friends.. Oh, and if you have the opportunity to watch the directors cut of Clive Barkers "Lord of Illusions", do so.. You might see where the idea for good ol´ Izal came from.. it really is an excellent movie..
Just keep em comin' mind you;)
I wish my villans were this interesting.