Image is courtesy of Wayne Douglas Barlowe AND EVERYONE SHOULD SUPPORT THIS ARTIST EVEN IF IT MEANS YOUR CHILDREN WILL STARVE.
Glorious and voluptuous was old Nzembar, with its gleaming streets of polished quartz and gilded minnarets that pierced the very heavens. For an age and a day its wealth was the envy of all the lesser kingdoms and its craftsmen so skilled they produced objects of such splendour and beauty as to make men weep. But proud and arrogant too, was Old Nzembar, and it was not long before some hateful thing, driven by malice and forgotten by history, worked its terrible bane upon it.
A bane of hideous potency and fiendish ingenuity it was, that spread through the artificers like a pox, leaving their bodies untouched but filling their minds with poison and filth until all they could fashion was ugliness of the most debased kind. It was said the lands of Autumn resounded with their wailings for three days and three nights when the Bane had been unleashed. So dismayed were the proud Men of Nzembar they took their own lives rather then live to create only foulness. All but a few. For fallen Nzembar would not go unavenged, and history would not soon forget the talent of Old Nzembar.
Taking to their forges and workshops, these bitter few laboured for years on end, creating hideous banes in turn and unleashing them upon the word. Powerful weapons that would lead their owners to ruin. Alluring prophets of glass and clockwork that spread vile and maddening lies. A storm of powdered gemstone that stripped the ability to hear music from all who were touched by it. This was the vegeance of Old Nzembar.
It is said, though you would be a fool to believe it, that not all of the Artificers of Old Nzembar are dead, though it has been many Ages and Nzembar itself is long since buried beneath the sands. Some fools speak of the travellogues of the Darnathian Kings, and the mention of a strange palace they found in the Glass Waste, its exterior covered with bas-reliefs and statuary so hideous all who beheld them closely put out their eyes and walked into the waste, laughing mirthlessly until their vocal cords gave out.
They speak also of the last writings of the astrologer Horandanur of the Iron Tower, who was said to have peered long and hard into the heavens, divining from the movement of the spheres certain nebulous signs and portents that filled him with such dread he foresook his art from thereon out. And some are very interested in a statuette of debased appearance and blasphemous implication recently purchased in a Shadow Auction in Gal’alor.
If the rumours are true and such a man would still exist in the Age of Dusk he must have found some means of circumventing the erosion of long ages. So too must one speculate that one who can carry such hatred across vast epochs of time cannot be altogether sane, or even human. Tireless is the Last Artificer of Nzembar, his heart black and ossified with hate, toiling away the centuries in his ebon forges, crafting trinkets and tools that bring suffering, but never quick death.
If one were to disregard all warnings and set out for the Glass Wastes, in search of the buried riches of Old Nzembar, one would be wise to keep these things in mind:
– Long has the artificer toiled away at his halls, and every inch is covered with bas-relies and statuary of such frightful and debased aspect that one must either be a lackwit or have a soul of adamant in order to look upon them without being overcome with a crushing, all-encompassing revulsion at life itself. Some might employ alcohol or some other means of protecting the senses in order to protect themselves.
– The palace is not without its guardians. Most fearsome are the Corythane, beautiful myrmidons of saphire and bronze. Once they decorated the collonades and boulvards of Nzembar. Now they have been repurposed, given false life by the hand of artificer. The minds of all they slay by ripping out their hearts and anointing themselves with their heartsblood are trapped within their shells, fully aware yet unable to do anything but voice their lamentations and desire for it to end. The Corythane is fully capable of tapping into their memories, thus any adventurers who lose one of their number to these murderous abominations are at a considerable disadvantage.
– Numerous unique constructs, mismatched chimera of masterwork sculptures, each invested with a vicious cunning by the Artificer, prowl the Palace. Boredom is driving them mad, and the tortures they inflict upon those few adventurers the Last Artificer has kept alive through his arts no longer satisfy their debased cravings. All of them desire nothing less then death, but the Artificer has crafted them well, and they can neither be permanently slain nor leave. It is said each one has a unique weakness that can lay it to rest. Finding each unique weakness will take ingenuity, cunning, ruthlessness or inhuman cruelty.
– Those few unfortunates who have attempted to steal Nzembar’s treasures and have failed will not be given a quick end. All those who fall under the Ruby tree, whose soil is fed with carrion, rise once more, unable to escape (for straying far from the tree caused unendurable agony). With each ressurection the body grows more sickly and the mind grows dull, yet the body rises forever more. Several tribes of feral men, driven mad by the statuary, live in the Palace, warring over control of great, empty corridors and silent halls. Since the Palace has neither food nor water, they do not live very long.
– Take heed of the Serrated Choir, nine fair maidens of the finest porphyry, whose angelic voices have been marred by the Artificer so they wrack the body with hitherto unimaginable agonies. They will grant mercy only to those that betray their allies.
– Dare Ye Enter the Halls of Crooked Reflection and face your worst self? Bargain with the Infinite Door of Tun-Shang? Drink from the Fountain beyond Final Night and be transfigured? Impale yourself within the Thorned Vault and gain knowledge of the lost arts of Nzembar for a Year and a Day, before the Eyeless Judge descends from ultratellurian skies and obliterates you and your works from history?
Of Treasures? Feh. Only death awaits you, and all your riches will turn to ashes in your hands. You still wish to continue? Very well then:
-A favoured tool and weapon of the Artificer is the Cold Fire, a substance that burns with a bright green flame that sticks to the flesh and burns but never consumes. Creatures struck with Cold Fire tend to attack anything nearby in a homicidal rage or run towards the nearest exit/water source for several hours before the agony causes them to lapse into a comatose state.
– The Balanced Sword and the Lance of Pestilence are powerful artifacts the Artificer wishes to unleash upon the world. The Balanced Sword will unerringly strike down all but the most powerful creatures (Progeny, Sial-Atrementar, Divine Zombies) in a single blow, but in return it will snuff out the life of an innocent somewhere within the world. The Lance of Pestilence is no less formidable, but the bearer carries with him a virulent flesh-melting contagion to which he himself is rendered immune.
– Cruel is the Artificer, who sprinkles his gold and jewels with the dust of the lambent ores of the far north. All who touch them will slowly wither and die, unless some means of removing the dust safely can be discovered.
– The Curse of old Nzembar has been transfixed in liquid Sybarite. Generous is the Artificer, who grants this boon to any who reach his lair and leave him to continue his work. A single civilisation will fall by its use, rotting from within.
Of the Artificer himself? They say he is tall as two men, with a body of red iron and black glass, face an empty mask of mummified skin stretched in a hateful snarl over a horned skull. Others say he is but a bitter heart that bites, contained in an impenetrable cube of unbreakable glass, attended by nine colossi with tiny, dextrous hands that have learned to interpret his heartbeat. Others say he is no more, the entire temple served by a vast mechanism of gears that somehow perfectly captured his malice and ingenuity.
Come then. If you dare.