The ordeal on my father’s estate left me drained physically and emotionally, and the damage to my face was slow in healing. My recuperation in the war-torn Ankh was long and painful. An elderly seamstress tended to me for the most part, and her mundane healing salves eventually healed the scars, but my eye remained lost, and magical healing was ineffective in restoring it. As the war raged on, certain elements had begun scouring the city for outsiders, and it was round this time that Tellema, the seamstress, told me that it would be wise if I found my way out of the city, sooner rather than later, lest I find myself leaving the city facedown in the river.
A stolen skiff proved to be my salvation, and that it belonged to the boatman who had dumped me overboard on my way into the city was pure coincidence. In time I returned to Arrakis and Dagger Deep, where I was reunited with my companions and my wife, who, it turned out, was not particularly bothered by my long, unexplained absence.
While I tried to live without my eye, I gradually came to the conclusion that it needed to be replaced, and set about researching a solution to the problem. Before I enlisted the help of mages in conducting a ritual that would counteract whatever it was the necromancer had done, my friend Hector suggested speaking to the mage Serenity, a gnome with a faculty for fusing magic and machinery, and asking her to craft a replacement eye for me. As it turned out, this was a matter of course for her, and she declined even to take any payment for her work. So it was that on Samhain of the year 5316 I came into possession of a mechanical eye, and saw the other half of the world for the first time in months.
I spent a long, wet few weeks up and down the island of Arrakis, until I heard of an alliance of kingdoms leading an army to crush Northbrook in their stronghold in the Nai Nai Wastes. Seeking an opportunity to earn coin, as well as strike a blow against one of my less favoured enemies, I followed the army northward. Shortly I met with the Hand of the Red King, one Autumn Culley, and offered her my services as both operator and consultant, confident that the tactical knowledge gleaned from my father and his veterans would serve me well in this capacity. It pains me to say that that one nugget of wisdom from my father proved true; an alliance is a fragile thing, and leadership thereof was, at best, ephemeral, as the ego and ambition of individuals will constantly pit them against one another. Autumn’s faith in my knowledge was not shared by the others, and my lack of affiliation with any kingdom left me by the wayside in that regard.
My abilities as a killer, on the other hand, came in handy on numerous occasions; on one, I thwarted the efforts of Northbrook infiltrators to sabotage the coalition forces’ stores of black powder; on another, I discovered one of several nests of saboteurs in a ruined village, intended to detonate a supply of powder and devastate the Red Keep’s forces who were stationed there. I kept out of the battles proper, believing them best fought by professional soldiers, and the campaign ended rather abruptly when Northbrook’s keep, and the entirety of their army, disappeared in a mass implosion, seemingly leaving us victorious. While the campaign gave me a confidence in myself, it failed to pay, as any potential valuables disappeared with the enemy.
As the wet season came to a close, I returned to Dagger Deep, eager to see my old friends and acquaintances. One acquaintanceship I was dismayed to remake was Northbrook returning to attack Dagger Deep once more. Our supposed victory had been hollow, and I later learned that the magical event had been a ritual gone wrong, carried out by one of their Wretched Court, that plunged the forces of Northbrook into the Infernal plane, where they rebuilt their strength and planned to exact vengeance upon the free peoples of Arrakis.
This year, I found myself increasingly interested in politics; the squabbling of the leaders during the Northbrook campaign left me somewhat chilled to the idea of nobility, and I believed a stronger system of meritocracy could have more decisive results in battles such as had been fought that winter. My personal respect for those capable individuals such as Autumn, Caius of Uberland and King Willumarius himself did not, in my mind, endorse the system of patronage and inheritance within which they operated, and at which the common people, such as myself, were at the mercy of. To this end I founded what I hoped would be a force for change in Dagger Deep, the Independent Citizens’ Advisory Council, to represent those who were not affiliated with any kingdom, and thus found their voices falling on deaf ears in matters of state.
The Council started small, and included my friends Zarnor and Rothfur, as well as the paladin Reven and a dwarf friend of his. Unfortunately, it stayed small, as I found myself increasingly struck with weariness and pain in my chest, hauntingly reminiscent of the corruption I’d suffered as a result of my time in the Abyss. As a result, I could not invest the necessary energy to keep the Council growing and moving forward, at least for the time being. Consulting with numerous healers, both magical and mundane, revealed that the corruption had returned with gusto, and I once again found myself staring a painful, slow death in the face.
My energy became devoted to dealing with this, and in the meantime, the civil war in Ankh ended; indeed, the authorities in that odd city claimed that no such conflict had ever taken place. Nevertheless, with Helm’s Deep closed off to me thanks to the continuing suzerainty of my enemies there, I felt Ankh was the best place to find a permanent solution to my illness. One evening, in a tavern, I was approached by the assistant of one who had caught wind of my inquiries, and believed he had a cure. The individual was called Bonkargo Mekkafizz, and considering my lack of success in other channels, I felt this worth at least some of my time pursuing.
So it was that the next night I arrived at the address given to me, to find a closed fish shop. A crude wooden sign hanging on the wall directed “subjects” around the back of the building and to enter the cellar. My hackles rose and I kept a firm grip on my dagger as I proceeded down the dark alley and into the slightly ajar wooden door I found there. The room was dimly lit, but I could make out a number of cylindrical shapes in the gloom.
Just as my eyes were adjusting, a burst of light filled the room, and I was momentarily blinded. While I waited for the spots to clear from my vision, a high pitched voice announced, “Greetings, friend Dar! You find yourself in the presence of Magus Doctor Bonkargo Mekkafizz, Alumnus of Ankhadian University, Traverser of Realms Unknown, Master of Machine and Magic!” There was a pause after this speech, and I got the impression I was meant to fill it with applause or gasps, but I declined to do so. Gradually my vision cleared, and I saw a squat man, even for a gnome, perched on a stool in front of me, some residual sparks still flickering from his outstretched hands. His eyes were mechanical, like mine was, but had a large number of attachments mounted outside the sockets; he had a beard but it was scraggly and looked burned in a number of places. Rather than the robes I normally associated with practitioners of academic magic, he was dressed in ordinary workman’s roughspun, topped with a heavy leather apron that held numerous instruments, some of which looked medical and others that would not be out of place in a carpenter’s toolbox. The room, too, resembled a workshop more than a wizard’s study, and I found my eyes drawn to a heavy wooden table with a stained top.
I stared him in the eye, and his smile faltered briefly, then he cleared his throat and said, “Yes, I apologize for the theatrics, it’s simply that I am delighted to have you offering yourself up for my work!”
As I was about to protest, he charged onward, saying, “The establishment here in Ankh, and beyond, is less than keen to embrace my ideas! Indeed, after earning my third degree at the university, they positively pushed me out! Can you believe they felt my experiments were crossing a line? Indeed! To stifle growth, that is the greatest tragedy imaginable.”
I didn’t bother trying to respond.
He continued, “Your affliction is one I have seen before, yes! The corruption of the lungs, always ultimately fatal, yet I believe I have found the solution. You know what does not corrupt? What does not age?” I simply stared, and he went on. “Metal, of course! Leather! Artificial materials! The bellows of a forge, with care, with the proper enchantments, will last long past the blacksmith’s natural end. It is my belief that this principle can be applied to humans as well! My proposal, my dear friend, is that I replace your faulty, natural organs with devices of my own manufacture, that will not age, will not ever fail except through trauma or misuse.”
I admit, I was somewhat astounded. An eye was one thing, a hand another, but to have my insides replaced with machinery? The magus, as he addressed himself, went on, explaining that he had performed the procedure successfully in the past, and wanted now to experiment further, to enhance the natural body beyond its limits and create better people. He offered to perform the lung replacement free of charge, so long as I consented to his attempting other improvements on me, fusions of mechanical devices and magical energies that would grant me abilities normally closed off to non-practitioners of magic. He would allow me to distort light around myself so as to appear invisible, to interfere through magical currents with the thoughts of others and force them to ignore me, to disrupt the body’s natural flows and render them asleep; less fantastical than these were his offer of reinforced bone and muscle that would increase my strength exponentially, and an internal device that would heal wounds to my flesh and repair damage to the machinery he would fuse with that flesh.
A long discussion of the particulars followed, and I found him becoming much more calm and serious while instructing me on his craft than he had been initially. Despite my reservations, I was interested, and his offer of improvements to my natural abilities in addition to saving my life sealed the deal, as it were. After some weeks of contemplation and consultation with those close to me, I chose to go forward with the procedure.
The particulars are unimportant; know only that it was a success. Indeed, the first test of my newfound strength was to punch a hole through three inches of solid oak. The magus was annoyed with my treatment of his operating table, but we were both more pleased with the results of his experiment. True to his word, he accepted no coin, but gifted me with a device that would allow me to monitor the level of ambient magical energy stored in my reservoir, and instructed me on how to absorb more when that level ran low.
My return to Dagger Deep was punctuated by an attack by Northbrook, which was thwarted in part by their newly redeemed former general Zarek. A ritual was performed trapping the leader of Northbrook, one Morghul, on this plane, and with a special sword Zarek could supposedly kill him once and for all, and then a group of casters, led by Autumn, would destroy the sword. I don’t particularly trust a man who as indirectly tried to kill me on innumerable occasions, as I’m aware of the concept of lying, but I suppose it’s worth the risk.
I’ll stay vigilant and watch Dagger Deep in the event that Northbrook should attack again. I’ll play no part in the destruction of the sword, but I’ll certainly be there, fists ready, to keep Northbrook from preventing that destruction. I’ve fought against these undead creatures from the first day I came to Dagger Deep, and to truly see an end to them would be gratifying, to say the least. When that’s done, I intend to travel to Ankh for the winter, as Helm’s Deep is still forbidden ground to me and the prospect of spending it in a tent again is less than appealing. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even get some coin out of this war.