I remember my creator crafting me.
Strictly, this should be impossible. I was not even animate, let alone sapient, prior to the Mindforge. I began as stone and metal and wood. Crystals were a focus for the energies which would animate me and give me what biocentric scholars call the “illusion” of thought. Marble formed a skeleton around which living wood was grown—accelerated with druidic magics. The living wood acts like muscles, aided by the energy which animates me. In place of skin, I have metal plates covering most of my body. My head is more like a metal skull than skin and muscle above bone.
Before I was sent to be animated in the magical engine known as the Mindforge, I was purely a conglomeration of objects. I could not experience what went on around these objects, in the same way that a human child cannot recall his parents in the act of conceiving them.
Yet, I do remember. I see the pieces which would become my form. I remember my creator crafting a face which he hoped would be able to strike fear into the heart of the enemy, but be human enough for the living soldiers to consider one of themselves. I remember him cursing in the names of various gods when his commanding officer told him it had been decided we would wear helmets of thinly plated leather—we didn’t need steel helmets—for the former purpose and our heads should be crafted purely for the latter. I remember him spending a day cursing about a day of work wasted, which was really two days as he spent that day swearing and drinking and trying to read rather than work, and had to reforge my head with a hangover, every hiss of hot metal in cold water stabbing through his head, the bright furnace making his head throb even through his smoked glass goggle lenses.
I remember him cutting himself, time and again, as he wired together crystals, sculpted marble, fumbled with wood when it splintered and shattered from an overload of magic he only barely understood not being a druid, and hammered and filed metal. His blood is as much a part of me as the crystal in my helm-head, or the wood on my stone bones.
The first time my optics flared to life, I saw a blank, grey metal wall, which slowly slid open, revealing a clear night sky, far from the arcane explosions and bloody shouts of the war leagues away. I tracked the progress of comets and the positions of stars as they etched paths and shapes in the sky.
I stepped out of the Mindforge, and was given my designation. I opened my mouth for the first time, steam hissing through the sudden escape, and a sputter of alchemech fluid flying from my metal mouth, spattering onto the attendants and the floor, and said–
“Unit A3982 reports … I have been named Rilesh by my creator.”
The Mindforge attendants did not give me my name, merely my unit designation. They glanced at each other, I could see worry in their eyes, but I’ve since learned that I was far from the first construct soldier to exit the Mindforge with a name. Not all do, in fact many I’ve spoken too went through the entire war with only a designation, and perhaps a nickname given by the living soldiers, but some I’ve spoken too—and many I’ve heard of—have memories like mine.
It is not known what causes these experiences. The current thinking of living scholars is that it’s a side effect of the Mindforge. The device requires life energy, which is syphoned from a plane of such, and it is thought that some souls go to this plane after the death of the body. It is believed that those of us with these memories are picking them up through having a piece of one of these souls in our animating force.
Our own scholars—which we do not mention to the living scholars who would ignore them anyway—have another belief. Almost all of us with these memories also remember our creators cutting or otherwise injuring themselves during our creation. Those few who don’t remember this do remember their creators being very ill, frequently coughing. On requesting the personnel files on these creators, it’s been found that they were sick with an illness one symptom of which is coughing up blood. We believe that our memories come from the blood of our creators.
Our creation was outlawed after the war, thus we cannot test this.
My door opens, Beruk, the lizardman I travel with as an adventurer, pokes his green mottled brown head through the door. I raise my glowing eyes from this parchment and remove my spectacles.
“Rilesh, Kane has a job- you wear glasses?” he says as he sees me set them down on the parchment.
“I do when I am contemplative. My optics function at the intended clarity, and are not augmented or impaired by the lenses, so for me they are more of a psychological prop I use to focus my mind in thought.”
The scaled druid in rough-stitched hides looks at me in the expression I have become familiar with on the faces of the living. The expression which is always surprised by my artificial nature, even as it bases its entire interaction with me on that same nature. It is the look of a person who has just ignored another being’s right to privacy because it considers that being an object, and is then surprised when that object speaks like a man in words that simultaneously confirm and reject its objecthood.
“What is the job Kane has found for us?”
The lizardman flicks a tongue over his lips, rumbling in the reptilian equivalent of a human saying ‘um,’ “A local hedge wizard is fucking with the wildlife, mixing animals, creating new creatures. We have to go stop him.”
I peer at him. If I could smirk I would. “How wise they were to hire an artificial lifeform to stop this horrid crime.”
Beruk makes the same face he did when he saw my glasses, tinged with embarrassment—a fine look on a saurian face—before rumbling again, “we need to head out in an hour. Do… do you need some light in here?” he says gesturing to a lamp on the wall.
“No, the glow of my thoughtcrystal suffices for writing. An hour? Very well, I will be ready.”
“I-“ he rumbles again, longer, tongue flicking again, “sorry.” He closes my door and I hear him walk down the hallway unsteadily. Again, I’d smirk if I was able.
An hour later, my heavy steel clad feet thump down groaning steps. Kane, a thin-framed dwarf, beard carefully trimmed, clad in leather armour, pouch of lockpicks on his belt, and Beruk sit at a table with Shand, the long haired, fair skinned, pinion-eared fae wizard of our company.
Kane looks me over. He long ago became accustomed to my habit of wearing my warhelm on missions. The fearsome plated leather is much like the glasses. I wear it as a psychological prop. When I wear it, I once again become the contained explosion of violence I was crafted to be. At Kain’s direction, I engage a foe, and tear into them with efficient detachment. My wrist blade often makes short work of most opposition even though I am a less than skilled warrior. I was created to be an Artifice Soldier, to use artificer magic to create my own armament and augment it.
Humans discovered the artificer’s art long ago. It has its uses, mostly in the creation of large numbers of magical items and turning unwanted items into more desirable items. But in the hands of a constructed soldier, it becomes as much—if not more so—a weapon as the sword they carry. Living races have their clerics which can accomplish many of the same feats. They are as able to temporarily enchant weapons and armor, as able to increase their own or an ally’s strength or stamina, as able to produce light with a gesture and a word where needed. But they are also expected to provide healing, to be the party’s primary answer to undead, and to stay out of the fight. A living artificer would be too. A constructed artificer is a warrior with his own healing and augmentation in the palm of his hand.
“Glad to see you’re ready, Rilesh,” Kane says. “I didn’t think about your personal feelings on the matter of the job, I apologize.”
Kane, mercenary thief though he may be, treats me as a fellow living being more than most. Many understand, at least on a basic level, that we constructed soldiers are sapient, that though we are artificial we still think and feel and live, but that understanding seldom entirely translates to their treatment. It’s still not natural to Kane. He still thinks of me first as a machine of war, and second as a person. But the fact that he thinks of me as a person at all is important to me. “I understand, Kane. We do the jobs that come to us.” I reply, now closed with my group. I whisper it to Kane.
He nods. “It’s not the fact that they’re artificial. They’re really wreaking havoc on the woods and the farmers outside of town.”
“It’s also the fact that they’re artificial.” I say. I cock my head to the right, left eye glowing brightly a moment. With the immobile nature of my face plate, I’ve had to work out equivalents to expressions. This is the closest I’ve been able to come to cocking an eyebrow. “People are uneasy about such. I know, and you know, Kane.”
He looks down at my feet. “Yeah.”
Beruk is looking away, intently going over the instructions for safely retrieving his alligator companion from its stall with the porter who already wrote them down the first time. Shand places a hand on my shoulder. It took the fae woman a long time to become accustomed to living iron, and she still has difficulty with my nature. Nonetheless, the fae know what it is like to have one’s nature feared and mistrusted wherever it may be used.
“Is it possible that some of the less dangerous creatures could be captured, Kane?” Shand says, trying to build a middle ground between our task, and my “race’s” burden.
Kane looks past our faces and up at the ceiling, breathing through his teeth. “They want all the creature’s destroyed. Part of our pay depends on it.”
“I can’t imagine they know how many creatures were created,” I wheedle.
Kane’s eyes lower to catch mine. “We’ll try. You take responsibility. If you can find a way to capture them safely, and hold them until we figure out what to do with them, then we’ll do it. If any of them pose a danger—to us, to civilians, or to our ability to complete our job to the satisfaction of our employers—we can’t let them live.”
“They are my responsibility. I will find something to do with them. Which way is the hedge wizard’s hut?”
“It’s to the north of town.”
“Perfect. As we leave, allow me a moment to stop at the library. I need to speak to another construct there. I believe artificial creatures would be quite popular with my people.”
Kane cocks an eyebrow and sighs. “Yeah, five minutes. We could use a look at some maps at the library anyway.”
Gender is a curious thing to my fellow mechamagical constructs. We were created to serve as soldiers. There is of course a slight tendency in the men of armies to characterize combat as a man’s trade, but the not-inconsiderable number of female warriors shows that’s just self-centric thinking on their part. We were built to fight, not to catch the eyes of mates, thus we are broad shouldered and muscularly-sculpted, or sinewy and slight-framed for speed and stealth while scouting. Not a single mindforged was created with broad, child bearing hips and a slender waist, or an ample chest mimicking a mammal’s breasts. We are all either broadly masculine, minus of course the organ of male function, or completely androgynous. For this reason, we are often treated as male, when we are treated as the living beings we are at all. Not a few mindforged have taken this treatment and the actions of the biological men around them and crafted a male identity. But it’s also not uncommon for mindforged to sit on the opposite end of the biologicals’ spectrum, taking on the mannerisms of the biological females around them, and affecting a higher pitched voice (a simple manner when your voice is a purely magical effect and does not involve vocal chords). There are also those mindforged who eschew the whole matter, or take what mannerisms suit them from across the spectrum. We are artificial, and so is gender, why not create our identities to suit our needs just as our bodies were constructed to suit functions of war?
It sometimes distresses me, but Kane does evoke a certain… feeling in me. His treatment of me has been the best I’ve ever received from a biological. This doesn’t say much, but it says everything to me. I keep myself carefully ignorant of what he does when we return to town. I fear that if I knew too much about what he looked for, I would not be able to keep myself from creating an identity that is his desire, not my own… soul.
“What do you think, Ulim?”” I asked the mindforged across the library’s desk from.
“It is certainly possible that our people would be interested in the creatures. Do we know what has been created? I fear that they may well be dangerous, and you know as well as I, Rilesh, that a created animal is entirely different from a created person.”
I tilted my head upwards as my optics dimmed along the bottoms—a mindforged’s approximation of rolling their eyes—“Yes, I am aware, Ulim. The biologicals took wolves and tamed them into dogs, great cats and tamed them into house cats. Dangerous beasts can be trained and domesticated-“
“Over centuries, Rilesh!” Ulim interrupted me. “At least!”
“Talk to other mindforged. You are the center of our community here. Let them know, and I will see if this can be done safely.” I glanced over my shoulder, “perhaps I can simply find the wizard’s methodology, and we can try with rats and lizards for a start.”
Ulim looked past me, and lowered his voice as they leaned in. “That would perhaps be best, so long as you do not get adventurers on our shiny metal asses for the same thing you lot are about to clobber this wizard!” Ulim hissed.
“Talk to the others. Get their input. I won’t endanger-“ Kane flashes in my mind a moment, “-the town or our people.”
I hear a thin throat clearing itself behind me, and turn. Shand is standing a few feet away, pack over her shoulder. “Kane’s made his notes. Are you ready?”
I nod. “I’m sorry, Ulim. I feel this is important for us.”
They nod. “I know. Even in the war we thought your maker had accidentally put a biological’s heart in your chest.” His optics dimmed at the bottoms in semicircles, creating the glowing arcs of a mindforged’s smile.
I slip my warhelm on, my passive, immobile face suddenly replaced with a snarling scowl from which my blue thoughtcrystal glow seemed more icy than inviting. I’ve heard that before. I don’t take it well.