Originally, Civil Station 24 had been a prison, many, many years ago, back when this city was ruled by a duke. The prison itself had actually outlasted the dukedom, and remained open after the following regime, an oligarchy of rich merchant families, took control of the city. It finally closed down after a major incident where most of the prisoners escaped, after which it lay vacant for over a century — mostly due to a fear of the souls of the many people who had died there, said to remain as life-draining ghosts. A notable necromancer had once hidden his army inside, but had the tables turned on him and died at the hands of his own undead horde. Or so the story went; this history was all from before I arrived on this continent, and records from those times are notorious for being mostly fabrications.
Some forty years ago, the masters of this city, currently a council of democratically elected senators, had decided to expand the constabulary — although the language had shifted, and they were calling them “policemen” now, for some reason. Humans can be strange. In any event, they were looking for places to build headquarters for their newly expanded “policeman” force, and some thrifty soul had pointed to the former prison, which had remained city property despite all the civilian development that had grown up around it. Realizing the opportunity to solve their problem and remove an eyesore at the same time, the council quickly had the building renovated, and almost all traces of its former incarnation were removed. With one important exception.
I had once investigated the prison, for entertainment, but I found no evidence that it had ever been used to house an undead army, or any tortured souls seeking to destroy the living. I only sensed the distant echoes of mortal deaths that had occurred long, long ago. What I did find was altogether more interesting. Although the prison itself was a decaying ruin, several cells had been magically enhanced with various wards and seals, and had even been blessed by a god, though I wasn’t certain whether it was a god of justice or one of imprisonment. Normally, the mortal magic involved would have faded in less than a century, but the changes a god can make are almost eternal. Thus, the cells stood proudly, defying the passage of years, and apparently waiting for the day they would once again serve their purpose, to incarcerate the very worst of criminals.
I never expected that, in the future, I would be the one interred within. I certainly hadn’t expected that it would happen twice. But the cells were quiet and safe from interruption, and the various protections felt soothing to my inhuman senses, so I wasn’t upset to be visiting them again.
I sat in darkness, or what I presumed was darkness. The “Historical Incarceration Cells,” as Captain Jack Cross had referred to them, were bound to the premises of the former prison due to a side effect of their design. Even the city’s renovation team had been physically unable to remove from the property, and they were eventually relocated to a basement in the rear of the building, accessible by a corridor lit by a single lamp. The cells themselves had no windows, and the heavy wooden door in front of me had a single, narrow slit to let in potential light. Any past prisoners of this cell would have suffered from near blindness almost all the time; I, on the other hand, could see quite clearly, allowing me to leaf through the binder Metricarisenikai had prepared for me as I leaned casually against one wall.
Captain Cross had offered me a small lamp, but I had rejected it. I did ask for, and receive, a cup of water. It was sitting on the ground next to my foot; I should have asked for a table as well.
I leafed through the papers for a third time, confirming what I knew, and I sighed a little in my mind. Metria had been thorough enough, in his own way, but it was obvious that he was making unwarranted assumptions. Well, his efforts were sufficient for my purpose. After all, if I was unsatisfied, I could only blame myself for not training him properly.
Metria’s painstaking notes painted a picture I had seen a hundred times before, if not thousands. Heavily featured was a single man, by the name of Caiaphas Bellvaunt. Proud, rich, powerful, and very, very human.
It seems the Bellvaunt name was an old one, reaching back centuries to the time of that duke I mentioned earlier; a family of former nobles, in other words. They had suffered a series of ups and downs over the years, as such families do, but more recently the family had fallen on quite difficult circumstances, and the name nearly died out.
Caiaphas Bellvaunt changed that. As an intelligent, driven young man, he went into business to reverse his family’s decline, and over the course of fifty years, he did so with aplomb. Starting as a third-rate merchant, he worked his way up from the bottom, through fair means and foul. He had been arrested for various crimes numerous times, and was even convicted once; but his sentence was overturned on a technicality, and he had wisely avoid being brought back to court since. He was now a great-grandfather, the undisputed patriarch of a large clan, with strong ties to all levels of society, be they government, mercantile, or even the criminal underworld. He was a figure to which humans would admire, and fear, in equal measure.
But nearly inevitably for a human, once he reached those great heights, he grew bitter at the thought of one day losing all he had built. He had fought off the world, and made himself one of its masters; but death would one day inevitably remove him from power. And so, in what must have seen the logical next step for him, he decided to fight back against death as well. I could only shake my head at the sheer hubris.
So, Caiaphas began searching for a way to prevent his own death. Naturally, he first started with an investigation into necromancy, but quickly turned away from magical solutions. In this, he was wise; not only is the process of becoming a powerful undead notoriously unreliable, it was also completely contrary to his objective. He wanted to live, and no matter how an undead being mimicked life, it would never be a truly living being.
He then began funding research into various human sciences, which had made great strides in the past century. He investigated fields like biology, chemistry, psychometry, and the like. Using the strange knowledge he earned, he apparently attempted to build himself a new body. Sadly, I couldn’t follow most of the terms Metria had peppered that section of the report with, things like cloning, cybernetics, genetic modification, and other strange and esoteric terms. I had obviously missed much, in my … rest. I would have to spend a few years catching up on developments, it seemed.
None of Caiaphas’ efforts paid off, however. Rumors and indirect evidence suggested that he was able to create soulless bodies, but he never found a way to transfer himself into them. I couldn’t understand that part of the report at all, but it seemed there was a fundamental barrier involved that prevented the transfer of consciousness through scientific means. This came as something of a surprise to me; I had been in existence through ages where magic was strong enough to cause souls to transfer to even inorganic bodies, though I wouldn’t call the process precisely reliable.
But Caiaphas was nothing if not determined. Since magic was too weak and unreliable, and since science was too rigid and unforgiving, he reached for the solution that would have been obvious from the beginning, several centuries ago: utilize the power of the gods. Caiaphas was well-read, and he had learned about legendary attempts to create Cultivations. Ill-fated, abortive attempts, mind you; I flatter myself that few of the more successful attempts were ever allowed to be passed down, in any form. But enough information remained that Caiaphas was able to form a plan of his own; and so began the Bellvaunt Cultivation Project.
And naturally, news of Caiaphas’ intentions quickly reached the ears of Metricarisenikai.
- Sorry about the heavy exposition. Sorry about next week’s heavy exposition too. But I’ll make Zedda leave his nice, comfy cell after that, and things will start happening again. 😉
- Is my writing style readable? I really wonder sometimes…