[The events of that journal happen between the end of Path of Fire and before the end of LW season 4]

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It twitched.

Among all the things Fiel had witnessed when retrieving the arm, this was what bothered him the most: it twitched. Still.

The metallic limb rested over the little research station the necromancer had set up for himself in a remote section far in the back of the Gilded Hollow, perched above a hidden pool. A secluded area, well lit from the reflected sunlight, perfect for him to conduct his experiments in peace.

Mer was coiled up over a nest of old blankets, gored pillows, broken branches, and the shiny trinkets he had dragged around it. He was staring at the table with eyes as big as coasters, his entire body emulating the stone griffon statue nearby –save for his big fluffy ears which perked and swiveled every time something jumped over on the table.

With a tiny silver prod that sparked magic, Fiel poked at the runes inside the metallic gauntlet, and the fingers curled in response. He jabbed and caressed the inscriptions, then dutifully noted every reaction.

It looked like an armor piece, black, lustrous, one that once upon a time was part of a bigger set, said set forming a flaming soldier that had tried to chop the norn’s head off with a red-hot blade.

Fiel let the silver instrument fall with a melodious clink over the table and rubbed his face with both hands. He was weary. The intricacy behind the inner workings of that arm were hard to grasp, and even in death the soldier was not relenting them.

He shuffled towards his seat next to the improvised nest and the little griffon jumped over his lap instantly, trilling and rubbing his head against the norn’s chest, begging for scratches. Fiel obliged absentmindedly, but if he was, Mer did not seem to notice nor care. He got what he wanted, and Fiel got the mechanical distraction his body required to allow his brain to go over all he had learned in details.

The arm was a magic construct, that much was obvious. Not like the magitech the asura employed, with all their minute calibrations and formulas, but rather something more raw, more organic, and –from what he’s been able to see– very similar to the way the Exalted people were made.

This, at least, would correlate with what he had witnessed upon returning to Elona for the fifth time, this time on official guild business (of course whatever that “business” was, not even the guild commander knew. It was just what he told anybody who asked). By that time, a lot of things had happened in the world:

Mordremoth had been defeated –another dragon tyrant dead. Then feathers got ruffled in the word of Human Politics. Old enemies to the human nation of Kryta had resurfaced, and they and their sympathizers had assaulted Divinity’s Reach. Fiel was far away at the time, and glad of it, hopping between the healing Orr and the blazing Elona. By then he also had officially moved in within the gilded temple, and claimed a corner of it for himself, as far as possible from the others and especially the head of the guild, true to form, allergic as he was to any form of authority above his own –even from those he was amicable with.

The coup had eventually been smothered, the instigators brought to justice, and the whole incident buried under a smothering blanket of normalcy for the sake of keeping spirits up and paranoia low within the kingdom, for another, greater threat rose soon after.

A god.

A human god. The God of Fire and War, no less. Balthazar, one of the six, had once again walked among the mortal races of Tyria.

The world had been in fiery turmoil. The humans were shouting their faith with renewed vigor, falling to their knees with their hearts filled to the brim with the fear of retribution for some obscure blasphemous thought or past faltering of belief. Some had expected a new golden age, where men and gods would once again mingle, others had seen in him the herald of the End of Times, such as only the god of Blood and Conflict would bring.

And so he did, for many across the ocean.

The god had moved to Elona, created an army there, and of course, Fiel had followed. Why wouldn’t he, with a god stepping on mortal soil after centuries of absence? And what he’d seen there was an army of flesh and blood and magic metal.

The soldiers that were still humans then were raving fanatics, taking any disagreement or lack of zealous fervor as a deadly insult — Fiel had, on a couple occasions, had to knock out a few that took mortal offense at him not bending the knee at the ardent utterance of the name of their flaming master, even killed one that wouldn’t relent. And, among the once fruitful lands now scorched black by Balthazar’s conquest, he’d seen something more terrible still.

In the middle of a large altar of fire and black iron, not too far from the temple dedicated to Kormir, he’d seen how the hulking beasts of metal and the steel mages forced a poor soul down, bound him screaming to a red hot shell.

He didn’t know how Balthazar had been able to do it, but somehow the bloodthirsty god had managed to violate Grenth’s dominion and had been using the souls of the deceased, locking them inside puppets of magic metal, turning them into burning zealots.

One of those puppets Fiel had killed. Not an easy task, as he discovered. How do you corrupt the flesh of something that had none? But he also discovered that while their armor were strong, the soul inside was still vulnerable to his skills. He had managed to separate soul and body, and brought bits of his fallen foe back to examine it.

The norn did wonder: why was Balthazar back? He and his followers claimed he had returned to rid Tyria of the dragons, but then why hadn’t the other gods come here with him? What happened to Grenth, his divine patron? Why would he have allowed such a thing to happen?

In the end, those question didn’t matter. Because in the end, even a powerful god such as he was no match for the rising mortal races of the world.

As for his pawns… Just as with either defeated dragon, only the aftermath of his conquest was left to be gradually dealt with, and for the rest of the mortals to live on.

Now the armors.

The Exalted used to be human. They volunteered to have their souls encased in bodies of gold, ones fashioned by that serpentine race, the Forgotten. They were transformed, though not altered. They lost their mortal essence, yet kept their mind, their will. The Forged, however, were just one new flavor of brainwashed thralls among others. One that tasted like blood, ash and despair. Ghost stolen from their eternal rest to meet eternal suffering.

Ghosts.

Souls.

A grim inspiration took over the norn. He gently put the cuddly griffon back into his nest and returned to his table.

All that time he had been trying to stir the awful carcass with physical stimuli, but the answer was just so much simpler, and much more obvious still… really, how could he not have thought of it earlier?!

He took the gauntlet in hand –still somewhat warm, even after all this time, even with the cool proximity of the waterfalls– and gingerly began to slip his own arm inside.

It was a strange sensation, like putting your hand inside the gored circuits of a defunct golem. The inside of the metal hand –rather roomy, even for the norn– was tingling with residual energy. The same energy that made it twitch –the dying throes of the twice-dead soldier.

Despite the uncomfortable stings, Fiel closed his eyes, and concentrated. He let the magic permeate his skin, his mind and perception open to the last spasms of the divine weapon. And then, with a slow and shaky sigh, he invoked in him the essence of Grenth, he welcomed with shivering anticipation the alteration to his flesh, and turned into a wraith.

Mer cried out in alarm and rushed to climb up the potted tree near the bed. Instinct warned the griffon the stay away from the apparition, an entity that seemed to suck in all the warmth and life around it: Death incarnate.

Now wearing his own soul like a cowl, the essence of his life clinging to his skin, Fiel could feel it better.

The gauntlet locked over his arm like a magnet. He could feel each groove and emboss of the sigils inside pulse with his own life like veins would pulse with blood. He curled a finger inside the oversized gauntlet. Slowly, haltingly, the corresponding clawed digit folded. He tried the process again, one finger after the other, then two, then all of them at once. The metal hand responded, and more fluidly as he went on. Soon, the motions were as sharp and instantaneous as if it had been his own hand.

Lifelike.

Fiel dropped his spectral form before it started gnawing at his own life.

Now he had a plan.

The exalted were humans who willfully stripped their own souls from their mortal bodies to inhabit an armor of gold. The forged were stolen ghost that were shackled and forced into servitude inside an armor of dark iron. If he could find a way to recreate that process, but on a smaller scale. To make it more receptive to flesh

But… how would he even get started on doing that here? Would the guild even see the endeavor with a good eye? Especially with the Exalted so close. And what about the Priory?

He had to find someone willing to experiment with metal tainted by godly –evil?– magic. Someone willing, and able, to recreate to runes on a smaller arm.

And, unfortunately, he knew of one. Or rather, two.

Fiel grimaced. He didn’t want to go back there

A loud shrill behind him made him turn around.

Mer was still in the tree. Stuck, and unable –or unwilling– to climb off.

You….” he cooed at the bird-cat as he plucked him from the branches. “You are coming with me.”

Author BluJ
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