The Body-thief. The Devourer. The Grand Deceiver. The Twisted Mirror.
– Dictionary of Old Tzyan, Vol. XII, Sixth Scroll
The Lands of Autumn are home to others things then men. Within the secluded valleys and remote plateaus a cryptic horror labours tirelessly towards unfathomable ends. Whether they are race, artifact, contagion or even a direct manifestation of the Weapon itself none can say. That its purpose is sinister and inimical to mankind stands beyond question.
The single most defining feature of the Apex is the Spire. Soaring azure towers like jagged crystal teeth dot the landscape wherever their loathsome influence extends. The landscape surrounding the Spires vitrifies and grows jagged, as though the Spire can bear no shape but its own. The very fabric of the world is twisted and maimed by these constructions, and Sorcerers feel their presence as a loathsome tugging of the spirit long before the physical structure comes into view. To dwell for long in proximity to the Spire without sorcerous protection is to invite a hideous doom, for all things must be turned to the ends and become part of the Apex. To hear the pleas of the half-transformed as they beg for a death that is now forever beyond their reach is to invite madness.
The Apex, when it has attempted communication, does not seem to distinguish between the Spires and itself. They see no difference between their stolen bodies, crystalline devices or the wounds they gash into the fabric of the world wherever they seek to thread. All is an expression of a singular alien imperative, and thus all is part of the Apex.
Some have compared the invasive and transformative nature of the Apex with that of the Weapon, but even this it may have simply copied.
The true nature of the Apex remains maddeningly elusive, for the Apex is above all, a thief and a deceiver. When the Apex seeks communication it will clothe itself in the shapes of those it approaches. Petty barons and would-be kings alike have been approached by the shapes of their father or trusted councilor, stolen from ancient cairns or cast anew in moulds of flesh. If it can it will steal the memories and minds of the ancient or recent dead.
Though the Apex can appear to reason, to bargain and to negotiate, its words are meaningless. Language and speech is merely a tool to the Apex, a thin facade of seeming comprehension stretched across a yawning chasm of hunger. One cannot bargain, negotiate or threaten the Apex.
When men do cut down these blasphemous simulacra, clothe themselves in steel and ride out of their petty keeps to topple the benighted spires with trebuchet and battering ram or smash its crystalline innards with hammer and chisel the Apex faces them in kind. Tales of ordered ranks of infantry, armor grotesquely fused with flesh emblazoned with the heraldry of the would-be vanquishers, haunt the campfires of the mercenaries and men-at-arms of the Age of Dusk. With each confrontation the Apex adapts, sword-talons grow longer, armour or carapace grows thicker and new and deadly weaponry is added to its living arsenal.
If the Apex prevails the village is often captured intact or replicated, populated with strange simulacra beings living out a parody of normality as the influence of the Apex spreads. Seeming merchants jabber meaninglessly as they exchange coins, lumps of rock or still bloody morsels of flesh. Chitinous peasants hack into vitrifying earth with implements of bone and iron. Graveyards vomit forth new shapes to replace those that have been lost.
The Apex is neither invincible nor omniscient. It always needs flesh to steal, materials to expand and knowledge to draw upon. It is a poor innovator and strategist. It steals and it adapts, it corrupts and it defiles, it cannot create. It has a perfect memory, and no single tactic can prevail against it for long.
Beyond its use of the risen dead or the stolen shapes of its enemies, several forms of the Apex have thus far been observed (though the knowledge has mostly died with the men who observed it);
The Whisperers: Encounters with this breed are poorly recollected, if at all. The Whisperer is not invisible but leaves almost no trace on the human mind. Few can make out more then a twelve-foot tall shape with great, rending talons sharp as razors. Its victims feel no pain from their wounds, and even the victims of an attack by the Whisperer are only dimly remembered and seldom mourned by their comrades. The Whisperer leaves no physical trace or tracks but one can detect them by powerful sorcery or sheer willpower.
The Body-thief: The Apex infects the fabric of the world, and those in proximity are slowly but surely invested and consumed. Physical contact, close proximity to the Spire or even communication with its heralds (via memetic transfer, the main purpose of communication), can infect the victim with the Apex. The disease manifests itself both physically and spiritually. As the flesh of the patient becomes subtly glass-like and his blood crystallizes, he falls intermittently and eventually permanently under the control of the Apex. A cure is only possible if the victim removes himself from the Apex’s influence, as the Apex cannot survive in areas of unaltered fabric for very long.
The Stigmata: More akin to an enchantment or natural phenomenon then a being or device, the Stigmata is a festering scar on the fabric of the world, a node of corrupted planar geometry. Its shape is perhaps closer to the true nature of the Apex (if such a thing can be said to exist).
A vaguely spherical distortion that emits blinding flashes of white light that turn men into pillars of salt, the Stigmata has very few vulnerabilities. Its meta-dimensional senses are poor and easy to trick and it can only exist in territory that has been thoroughly co-opted by the Apex. A deiophage, powerful sorcery or the destruction of the geometry-altering infrastructure of the Apex will destroy them, but few other things can.
The Anethema: The Anethema take the form (and at times the abilities) of local deities, mythical heroes, prophets or influential philosophers. They have all the defining characteristics of these individuals, though the rest of their appearance is curiously undefined. They fight by using the credo of their opponent against him, demoralizing him by pointing out his inadequacies when compared with the purity of the logos. If that fails (as it does at times), they tear into him with whatever trappings their stolen forms have granted them, displaying a titanic strength often belied by their almost insubstantial appearance. Their touch is poison and even breathing around the Anethema will infest anyone with the body-thief. Against those who are faithless and creedless, the Anathema merely mirrors their shape, though always subtly more beautiful, healthy and strong.
Some believe the Anethema to be the true leaders of the Apex, its Brains for lack of a better word. Others believe the Anethema are merely another lie, another layer of mindless deception that ultimately hides nothing.
In the Spire the fabric has been thoroughly twisted and invaded, remade to serve an entirely different order of being. The Anethema require the altered physics of the Spire like a fish requires water and will crumble like ancient structures if deprived of it.
The Anathema communicates, but only in cryptic, seemingly disconnected rote phrases. Lesser manifestations of the Apex seem to pay homage to it, but this might be imitation or even a subtle mockery on the part of the Apex. Anyone offering worship to it will receive its blessing (the body thief).
(Woe be to those who penetrate deep into the Tesseract-lair of the Spire, for the Apex has plagued our world since the time of Old Tzyan, and many stolen shapes of ancient, mercifully extinct abominations prowl the time-warped corridors of its innards!).
Spoils of War: In an ironic twist of cosmic proportions, some claim that incorporating the strange, twisted matter of the Apex into one’s self (by means of the chirurgical arts of the Purple Guild or the esoteric mysteries of the Brotherhood of Pan Kra) endows the subject with some small proportion of its transcendantal nature. One should be weary of this process, lest one forget the addage of the Great Sibaran Scholar Yotho-Haedd-Kur, that if “one force cannot be distinguished from another, they are but branches of the same tree.” Woe be unto those who would attempt to take the shape of the ultimate deceiver.
Metaphysical origins: Few hard facts on the nature of the Apex are known and thus only speculation is possible.
– The Sybarrans seemed to have been entirely unfamiliar with the Apex, for no mention of the phenomenon or creature is made in any tome, treatise or encyclopedia on the nature of the divine. A people as close to the divine as the Sybarran Empire (is it not said the Emperor’s praetorians were the spirits of their hero deities?) would have had some encounter with it (especially if the estimates of the size of the Sybarran Empire are true, and it did indeed cover the world at one point in its long history)
– The first mention of the Apex comes from the Tzyanese tract Yn-Sabat-Kuth (i.e The Thousand Thousand Shadows), a bizarre metaphysical tract on planar geometry and the nature of infinity. Its author theorizes the physical world is but a crude reflection of an infinitely larger world Outside/Above/Within. In the penultimate chapter, disturbing speculation is made about the process by which the infinite manifests itself in the mundane. All matter, thus the author asserts, is but a distorted reflection or shadow of the infinite. Because the reflection is distorted, it follows that therefore some parts of the world are a purer/better reflection of the infinite then others. There is disturbing speculation on what would happen if one where to somehow tamper or meddle with this arrangement, amplifying this process of reflection until pockets of space could be created that are an almost perfect reflection of the world Outside. Regardless of intent, such objects, areas or creatures are bound to be inimical to the races of man, for no creature of the vulgar world can come into contact with a sliver of the infinite and walk away unmarked. However, for this to take place, the very substance of the celestial orrey would have to be damaged, a prospect considered unlikely.
– No infestation of the Apex ever takes place near the weapon. Those unfortunates touched by the Weapon are entirely impervious to the subversive touch of the Apex. In addition, the Apex seems unable or unwilling to duplicate or imitate those so co-opted. Whether fear, (super)natural law or merely mindless reflexive aversion, who can say?
Appendix N: You have known the Apex as it has always known you
Bookfagging: Echopraxia by Peter Watts, Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch/Ubik by Philip K Dick and A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (the Perversity)
Animefagging: Knights of Sidonia (the Gauna)
Series fagging: The last episode of the Prisoner (1967)
Artfagging: The Phyrexians from the famous Magic the Gathering card game
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/storm-crypt/