Amidst the sky of Axia, above the poisonous cloudline that stretches from horizon to horizon, floats the mountain of Summit. Upon its peak sits the city of Sparkstone. On the steps of the old city stands the College of Inventors, a bastion of history, science, and ancient secrets. And down one of its subterranean halls ran Scribe Neglen, the bottoms of his silk shoes slapping the stone with such force that his footsteps echoed throughout the classrooms, laboratories, and libraries.
To see Scribe Neglen out of breath was no normal sight: A young man who took pride in his physique, he was in much firmer shape than his academic comrades. However, his breathing was haggard as he careened off walls, looking through door after door, until he finally found Havish, First Pedagogue, teaching a class on advanced chronotics.
“First Pedagogue!” Scribe Neglen gasped.
The lesson came to a halt. Havish turned to face the doorway in a rage. She was not one to be interrupted. Upon seeing Scribe Neglen’s expression, her anger turned to concern.
“We are in danger!” Scribe Neglen blurted out. “We require a copper box, large, thick, for the safety of the students, the faculty, the college itself!”
Havish blinked. She excused herself, and walked quietly over to whisper in Scribe Neglen’s ear. “This is not the first you’ve stormed pell-mell into one of my lectures to chatter of some final reckoning.”
“No,” Scribe Neglen said, sheepishly. “But without taking my aforementioned precaution, it could be the last, truly.”
Havish looked deeply into the scribe’s eyes, felt the heat of his breath, heard the drops of sweat tapping the floor as they fell from his brow. She turned to the students. “Class dismissed. And if one of you acts happy about it, I will assign you lessons until wisdom itself takes physical form and slaps you with knowledge in your old age.”
Neglen led Havish through the college, down the labyrinthine hallways and winding stairs into a subterranean archive. An enormous steel door stood before Havish and Neglen, along with a single guard behind a desk.
“College role and class of superiority, please,” she asked.
“Guard Helda, I was here two minutes ago, just let me back in!” Neglen said.
Havish stepped forward. “Helda, we have urgent business in the repository. And if you don’t let us in, I’ll pull you back into classes for so long that wisdom itself—“
“Fine, fine,” Helda said.
She turned to the entryway, placed the ancient key in the ancient lock, and pulled the door open. Helda then began to recite the repository instructions in the monotone of a thousand repetitions. “Whatever you find in the archive, leave in the archive.. All requisitions of sciontic materials must be approved by the Riftkeepers. Don’t touch the—“
But before she could finish, the two had pushed past, diving into the depths of history long, long since sunken.
Every shelf in the college’s vast repository contained untold curiosities. Odd mechanisms. Crystals of impossible shapes. Tomes of long-forgotten branches of arcane study. Multi-bladed weapons with no handle or hilt. Many had been pulled from the Droneworks—an ancient system of tunnels once used by long-since-defunct automata—by intrepid scholars before the Riftkeepers cleared out the tunnels, confiscating any technologies or magics which they deemed dangerous.
When they were so far back in the repository that there was little light with which to read the organizational ciphers, Neglen stopped.
“Here.” He pointed up to a shelf.
Upon it lay numerous identical spheres, each cast in gold, roughly the size of a skull, with three emerald glass eyes.
“These… baubles?” Havish said, rubbing a finger along the edge of one orb. The dust was so thick it could barely cling to her finger.
“They look like nothing, I agree, but I was transcribing some texts, and found several pages tucked away…”
He pulled a thin tome from within his robes and passed it to Havish, then held aloft a small crystal to provide light to read. She opened it to the marked page, and scanned its contents. She snapped the book shut, pushed it into Neglen’s breast, then snuffed the crystal light.
“Boy, if the Riftkeepers discover you are researching sciontic technology again, there will be nothing I can do to save you from plummeting down towards whatever lies below this mountain.”
“I’m aware, First Pedagogue, but we are not teachers if we cannot guarantee the safety of our students.” He held out the book for Havish to read.
She eventually took the book back and began to read Neglen’s scrawled transcription, which became more erratic as the story went on.
In the 32nd year of [title illegible]’s reign, there occurred a collapse of the P’Tichua reservoir. This trapped many workers, and when the king heard of the accident, he demanded all guards and servants of the palace to his court, that they may free their brethren.
“But king,” said the workers, “the stones are too heavy. No warrior can lift them.”
“Then send the handmaidens,” said the king. “For they are slight, and may fit between the rocks.”
“But king,” said the workers, “the stones are sharp. They would surely bleed.”
“Then send the message-runners!” said the king. “For they are children, and can bend as no grown man or woman can, and will heal from their injuries.”
“But king,” said the workers, “how will children who know nothing of the reservoir’s labour navigate its depths? For it is dark, and the tide shall shift, drowning them should they lose their footing.”
“Ay, bigash!” shouted the king to his court. “I am beset with cowards! Are there none present who love their brethren as I? That would risk their life to bring sunlight back to the reservoir’s depths?”
Yeu’tutle, fabricator of the golems and beasts, stepped forward, for his son and his family worked the reservoir. “O king, give me ten strong hands and all the gold in the court, and I will free my brethren.”
The king granted his wish without question, ordering all the servants to retrieve from their homes any gold and provide it to Yeu’tutle.
So Yeu’tutle designed his spiders. They were orbic in form, the strongest shape to withstand the weight of the stones. They were as large as a child’s head, small enough to squeeze between the rocks. They walked on four legs, to balance on any surface. Their feet concealed drills, to pierce any obstruction. They were gold, to catch any light that might be in the tunnels. They could detonate, destroying any wall that came between Yeu’tutle’s son and his family’s freedom. And their eyes shot whitefire light which could melt even stone.
While Yeu’tutle worked, the king summoned every architect that had built the reservoir. He demanded an explanation for how the reservoir could collapse.
“And for those who cannot answer, you will suffer under the weight of your sin, and will be crushed to death!” he promised.
The architects were as creative with excuses as they were with designs, and the king executed half the architects that worked in his kingdom in the time it took for Yeu’tutle to complete his creations.
On the evening of the fourth day, Yeu’tutle brought his spiders to the reservoir. His fellow workers carried them, as each required the back of a labourer to lift. Each was placed to form Hadabra’s concentric circles, to ask the blessing of Xjejel’te for their labour.
“Excavate,” said Yeu’tutle, and the spiders set about their work.
Certainly were they immaculate diggers, for Yeu’tutle did not break the pace of his stride, walking forward as the rock was cleared from before his feet. Their drills pierced boulders, their bodies crushed stone, and their eyes melted the very air with whitefire light. They worked tirelessly until their excavation was complete. The king’s servants watched with trepidation as Yeu’tutle continued on, lost in grief for the need of his son and grandchildren.
However, the collapse was only as deep as the entrance, leaving the rest of the reservoir pristine. The workers called to Yeu’tutle to stop, but he was beyond the reach of their voices.
His machines reached the bottom of the reservoir. Every worker that they had come to save lay dead in the reservoir’s pool, wounds on their chests and limbs staining it red. Fifty soldiers of the Jotuk kingdom revealed themselves from the darkness, blood on their blades.
“Workers of metal,” they said, “tell your king that the reservoir of our people will no longer serve as your nursery, giving life to such monsters that come from no womb, that kill without knowledge of life.”
Yeu’tutle ignored their words. “Where is Yeu’totol?” he asked of the barbarians. “Where is my son?”
“Lifegiver, save your tears,” they mocked. “For do you not give life to even the rock? Pull him back from the clouds and place him back in his own chest, if you see yourself a god.”
The barbarians knew not whom they mocked, as Yeu’tutle was indeed a god of metal. However, he fell to his knees and wept. Then he raised his head, pointed to his enemies, and commanded his spiders to excavate.
The barbarians looked to the spiders. “Are we children, that you seek to placate us with toys?”
The spiders went to their work, though flesh offers less resistance than rock. Their drills pierced limbs, their bodies crushed bone, and their eyes melted skin with whitefire light. They worked tirelessly until their excavation was complete, ignoring the sword that slashed at their bodies as easily as the screams that filled the cavern.
In Yeu’tutle’s grief, he had made them without any cause for cessation. Thus Yeu’tutle was the first of the king’s servants to perish to his own inventions. While many of us ran, I was the only one to escape as the spiders entered into the reservoir’s many tunnels, destroying them one by one.
The king sent many servants into the tunnels attempting to halt the spiders’ progress, but it was soon clear that Yeu’tutle’s grief could fuel an army for the length of moon to moon. The spiders went about their work no matter what stone or warrior stood before them. They worked without sleep, and in time the reservoir itself was reduced to the point of dust. It was only then—when their work was completed—that they dug themselves to the surface, curled their legs within their bodies, closed their whitefire eyes, and slept.
While the king publicly wept for the loss of his chief artificer and those lost in the reservoir, he ordered that I retain their schematics and write of any memory I have of the spiders, that a new artificer might uncover the secrets of Yeu’tutle’s final design. I include them here, knowing they were built with a father’s grief, one that would work tirelessly until their work is done.
Havish thumbed the last page, then unfolded an ancient schematic. While the logic of the design followed some ancient thinking that was lost to her, the illustration was undoubtedly of the orbs that sat on the shelf before her.
“Indeed… terrifying,” she said, rolling up the schematic and pressing it back into the book. “It is a good work that you happened upon this. I will discuss with my fellow pedagogues. However, I find no reason to worry.”
Neglen reached for his notes, but Havish tucked them into her robes. “First Pedagogue, I know that I have in the past… overreacted to revelations I have encountered. But what if they were to activate?! What guard could we possibly put forward that would stop them if the account were true?”
Havish considered the panic across his brow, and considered her words carefully. “Well for one, we have a mighty door made of finer metal than anything they could have devised in that era. Then, we have a very fine Helda guarding the front desk who, as we’ve both witness, has no trouble standing her ground when needed. And they may have had every advantage in a cave, but I read nothing that would save them from falling however many leagues into the clouds below Summit. And moreso, there’s none left to activate them. You know better than I that the Riftkeepers have made sciontic knowledge a near heresy in Sparkstone. I’m sure even they wouldn’t know.”
Neglen took in her words, his breathing slowed, his eyes centered on her own. In a moment he was calm. He even smirked. “I am terribly sorry, First Pedagogue. It is in my nature to panic, I suppose.”
“It is in your nature to weave brilliant stories,” Havish said to him, clapping Neglen on the shoulder. “The stories sometimes get away with you. I’m certain you wouldn’t be half the scribe you are without this one aspect, even if it interrupts a class from time to time.”
Neglen smiled. “Thank you First Pedagogue. I will be sure to—”
The air snapped in two, a Rift appeared at Neglen’s back, and he was pulled by his collar into the shimmering portal without so much as a chance to scream. After a moment, a Riftkeeper appeared through the door, staring at Havish in silence.
“How was I to know he would come across something so potent?” she said. The Riftkeeper said nothing. The silence became as consuming as the darkness that surrounded them. The golden spiders on the shelf glimmered in the soft light of the portal.
After a moment, Havish inhaled. “Do whatever you will to him,” she said softly, “but I ask that his hands and eyes be left intact. He is a truly gifted scribe, and can still do great work for us.” The Riftkeeper nodded, walked through the glimmering veil, and after it closed, the hall was returned to an impenetrable darkness.
Havish walked in the direction of Neglen’s quarters to collect whatever other transcriptions he had been working on. She failed to notice that schematics counted the total spiders created at fifteen, though only eleven sat on the repository shelf.
This week’s Lore Archive entry is brought to you by Caleb Caswell. Caleb is a writer from Edmonton Alberta, Canada. His writing career has taken him from cocktail reviews to developing lore bibliographies for BioWare, though he splits his current scribblings for travel writing and DMing homebrew campaigns.
Art by William Liu. Will is a freelance artist from Toronto, Canada who is passionate about designing and illustrating creatures and approaches life with a calm, curious demeanour.