Filled with an immense cruelty born of corrosive apathy and boredom, the True Lords are the immortal clockwork tyrants of a dying land. From the centers of the ruined cities which where once their domains as mortal kings, they command armies of insane fanatics who supplicate them with blood sacrifice and hope to be gifted in their dying hour with entombment as part of the vast engines which sustain their deities and compose their throne rooms. These fanatics enforce the reign of the soulless machine masters over populations of cowed, bent slaves, victims of the death of the land around them with no choice but to seek the protection and aid of the True Lords.
The True Lords vary in appearance as they did in mortal life, and many, having now modified and reshaped the baroque mechanical armors that keep them alive for eternity into myriad terrifying forms to amuse themselves, bear little resemblance now to anything that they once seemed. But what is true for all is that, first, the withered mummies which remain of their true mortal forms are entombed in these Godcradles (originally made in their own mortal image); and that with centuries of time, and the death of their mortal bodies, and the gradual identification with the machine-gods that they have become, they have been stripped of anything that was ever real or human about them. Their emotions have died away, except for a feeling of deep emptiness, which they attempt to assuage through extreme expression of supposed passions, engaging in desperate drama of rage, joy, and sorrow in an attempt to inspire some kind of feeling inside their souls; or, sometimes, echoes of a bitter and sardonic mockery for the slaves who serve them; or boredom.
They have enormous physical and mental capabilities. They are stronger than any mortal, their strength coming from steel, steam, and pleroma rather than animal exertion, and most have outfitted themselves with bizarre, freakish weaponry (for no other reason than their own amusement). They have vast knowledge of magic, but rarely employ it, being more interested in augmenting their mechanical bodies to incorporate new functions.
Centuries ago (perhaps more than a thousand years, though only the god-kings know for sure and are now too tired of the question to answer) the land now known as the Toghan Traighath, the Plateau of Dread, was a flowering land, watered by three great rivers which descended across it from the Shritanic Mountains in the north. In this land dwelt the Thauns, living in city-states ruled over by mortal kings.
There was in particular one of these kings, called Shrir Maheg, He Of Effulgent Grace, that was wise beyond all other Thauns. A great philosopher, Shrir Maheg believed that the creature called Man had been made by the Gods more perfect in mind and spirit than any other creature, the closest to the Gods of all living beings. Poring over the works of ancient Thaun thinkers, and the scriptures of the deities worshiped in the various Thaun cities, Shrir Maheg came to believe that the Gods of the Thauns had once been mortal men, achieving immortality and eternal power through further perfection of their mortal selves, that is, through the defeat of death. But try as he might, the King could not devise a way to make his body eternal. Though he propositioned the Gods, ate special diets, engaged in exotic exercises from barbarian lands, he knew that his aging continued.
And so it was that the Sage Burubuuz Subhaar came to Shrir Maheg. The Sage asked the King: "Oh king of Thauns, what is it that you wish most of all?" To which Shrir Maheg replied: "To live forever, in truth and perfection." Then the Sage said to the King: "Choose wisely. I offer you two cups. The first draught shall lead you to a full, good life. You shall be satisfied in your wants and you shall know peace of the mind. And you shall die a good death. The other cup shall give you knowledge, and this knowing shall lead to immortality."
Without hesitation Shrir Maheg spoke to the Sage, and said: "I choose immortality, for in that road lies perfection."
And the Sage Burbuuz Subhaar said: "Know this, then, king of mortals, that your immortality shall cost you more than you know, for the perfect is a dream that passes like a leaf in the water," and with these words, disappeared from the royal palace.
Scoffing, Shrir Maheg dismissed the Sage as a weak-minded ancient.
In those days, the Thauns had achieved a great mastery of the magic of mechanical arts. Using the power of the spirit of steam, and other sorceries, they created great wonders of theurgy that astounded visitors to their kingdoms. Observing these magics, Shrir Maheg experienced a great epiphany. His eyes were uncloaked, and he realized that the way to immortality, and to perfection, were these magics.
Thus, he commissioned a great project. His entire city was shut, and the gates barred, and merchants and messengers from the other Thaun cities were turned away. For months the entire city lay under a curfew and every sage and wizard in the entire district was laid under the ban of the King if they would not dwell in his palace and work on his project.
Spies from the other Thaun cities beheld great clouds of steam and storms of crackling pleroma exploding outward over the plains.
It was to the great surprise of the other Thaun kings (who expected a great weapon or perhaps defenses for his kingdom) when Shrir Maheg revealed the truth of his project.
After months of silence from the city, its gates were opened with vast fanfare. The streets were bedecked in flowers and banners, the noble clans had gathered upon the plaza in front of the temples in all their finery, and all of the other castes had gathered in the streets with their caste-banners unfurled. Then, with a blaring of trumpets and a thunder of ritual kingdrums, the gates of the palace swung open and Shrir Maheg descended the Royal Stairway between the terraces of the temples, to the stunned silence of the crowd.
Gone was the aged but handsome king they knew. No mortal flesh strode the pavers, no human eyes surveyed the crowd. A glittering image of the perfected monarch, cast in bronze and gold, black steel and bright silver; its motions wheezed and moaned and hissed, gears and discs spinning beneath rune-marked plates of steel, bolts of eldritch pleroma racing up and down its joints. He spread his arms before the silent crowd and a crackling ring of pleromatic energy swept forth from him like a halo of lightning. And he said to them: "I am endowed with the power to create for you a new world, a new society, of peace, of prosperity. I will bring you your dream. Now truly, I am your lord."
For a time, after they overcame their astonishment, the people of his kingdom welcomed the new state of their master. For indeed, he was a greater lord than ever before- even the natural world around them seemed to be at his command, and he bent the earth, plants, and beasts to his will and they reaped the plenty. The city exploded in size as massive monuments and huge structures were built, vast temples and entire neighborhoods erected.
And among the cities of the Thauns, for the first time in four hundred years, there was peace. For Shrir Maheg sent messengers to each king and, unexpectedly, rather than demand their obeisance (as it was sure that he would do, given his new mighty powers) gave unto him the gift of an immortal body as well. A new race of kings, encased in endless metal bodies, arose to take the throne of each polity. Soon, every Thaun city flourished beyond the wildest dreams of the inhabitants, served by the might of their godlike machine-kings, aided in their daily business by wondrous devices powered by the spirits of steam, their megalithic cities filled with whirling gears and crackling pleromatic arcs.
But it became clear very presently that the gifts of eternal life and true lordship were not what they seemed.
The first symptoms of the great evil which would soon overtake that land were seen in the slow dying of the land. As the new mechanisms given the Thauns by the True Lords made the harvesting and utilization of the environment of their garden plateau more and more efficient, it was progressively stripped more and more bare. In the time of the 3rd generation who dwelt under the immortals, it was clear that they no longer dwelt in the flowering land of their grandfathers. Soon, the great rivers which flowed south from the haunted Shritanic Mountains were slowing and dropping- where once they were roaring torrents, now they flowed sluggish and brown with sediment over the bones of the riverbed. Fields and valleys once carpeted in lush grass became hot, dry places where only tough weeds grew. The forests slowly perished to the depradations of beetles or burned in great conflagrations as they dried out and died. In time, even this moribund landscape withered, and there remained only a hot, stony wasteland, interrupted with occassional stands of dead, skeletal trees. The marshy lakes of the southern Thaun lands dried up and became cracked mudbeds, hard as cement, that stretched for miles. Thousands of farmers, formerly enriched by the steam-powered technologies given them by True Lords to help feed the cities, migrated within the walls, unable any longer to support themselves or anyone else within the parched landscape. The pleromatic overflow of the True Lords' sorceries began also to take its sinister effect, wracking the landscape and bringing forth freakish beings from distant worlds to pollute the waste with the ichors and screams of their death-throes or to hunt and consume in horrible alien ways.
Likewise, over the centuries, as the landscape turned to dust, the cities, too, changed. Becoming more and more populous, they also slowly decayed, the works of the True Lords seeming to become corrupt over time, as the True Lords themselves slowly dissolved in mind and spirit.
As this dissolution progressed, the people of the cities mistook their Lords' emptiness for divine grace and separation, and the cults of the machine gods were born. Soon, it was not simply groups of deluded misfits who hailed the True Lords, but the entire society, either through shrieking fanaticism or cowed terror. There was nowhere to flee- the cities remained as isolated outposts dotting a dead, waterless wasteland roamed by deformed alien monsters. The dream brought by the True Lords had become a nightmare.
Even the True Lords themselves faced their own dissolution, discovering that Shrir Maheg, He Of Effulgent Grace, was not, after all, correct: they were not immortal. Tremendously long lived, yes, but not immortal. Their machine bodies had been sustained by the brilliant fires of their spirits for hundreds of years, but the crumbling of their personalities led them to realize that their powers, too, were being weakened. Only one thing could quench the emptiness which grew within them- a mortal soul.
Thus it came to be that the palaces of the True Lords slowly became filled with the mechanisms of vast engines. Designed in extreme detail in the shape of powerful pleromatic sigils, these machines came to occupy all parts of the True Lords' palaces. Every room was stripped bare and given over to the clattering machinery which kept the True Lord alive. Powered by incandescent boilers the size of small forts, worked constantly by slaves, with artificial lakes for water and coolant, the engine-temples became the symbol of the True Lords' nightmare. Within these enormous machines, huge gears and clanking beltwheels whirred alongside banks of pleromatic runes, glowing silently in the darkness off the palaces' former splendor. Mazelike passageways all filled with pistons and chains breathed like living things. And connected to this enormous machine by a silver cable, the Cord of True Life, are the True Lords.
These vast Engines are the constructs which keep the True Lords alive. Supplied by their cults, the Engines require living human sacrifice to function. However, through some fluke, perhaps a scrap of remaining humanity or perhaps simply a desire to keep populations high, the True Lords require that all sacrifices to the Engines be willing. Thus, the fanatics of the machine cults which worship them are the source of the True Lords' lifespans, hoping to be rewarded through service in life with entombment at the instant of the final breath in the Engine, where they believe their soul will be consumed and join with the True Lord in godhood. They are correct that the soul is consumed, but in a rather baser way- as sustenance to keep alive the soulless machine which is their deity.
Thus, the paradise of the Thauns has become a fearsome wasteland where each day the fanatical cultists of the True Lords decimate each other in mindless wars or are devoured by strange star-progeny. Though in previous centuries the True Lords supposed that there was some hope of finding the secret of True Life to make themselves immortal, they have since each come to know that there is no hope for them. They will become empty machines with no soul, performing meaningless puppet actions for eternity in the increasingly-deserted streets of their ruinous cities as they exterminate the last of their followers. And even this moves them not.
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? Responses (10)-10
Oh, yes...Immortal clockwork tyrants? Godcradles? Lovecraftian steampunk with a dash of Terry Brooks and a sprinkle of Miéville? I´m EXTREMELY curious what this´ll be when its finished. It´s quite thought-provoking as it is, but then, most of your subs are..
Definitely quite an interesting concept in the making here, Cap. Not many people can do the Lovecraftian component in things; it either gets overdone and either silly or grotesque rather than subtly horrific, or underdone and often fails to be noticed. You do a good job of striking the balance.
Well concieved and written. I will comment in greater detail when I have more time, but in the meantime: Great job!!
Rule by fearsome mecha-monarchs. 5/5
Sublime and baroque at the same time. I am in awe of this monstrous creation you have made Captain.
What they all said. Fascinating material!
Ye Gods! What a vision. Nicely done Captain!
I could see this land being an excellent location, especially if it has completely collapsed and died. The True-lords, mere shadows of their original forms, hungering for any life that should arrive. Lesser machines perhaps patrolling looking for fuel for their masters, and the immense ruins that seem meaningless for dark-age technology adventurers.
Dang. Really well written, a dark and interesting concept.