(For those who read The Apparatus of Talamira, I’ve decided to bore you.)
The First Apparatus
The “Talamira” in the Apparatus’s common name was not its inventor. To this day, no one knows who created any of the Apparatuses, and no wizard has managed to duplicate it.
At the time she discovered the First Apparatus, Talamira of Riverbend in Tannis Valley was but a journeyman (journeyperson?) sorceress. She discovered the Apparatus while on an expedition to explore ruins of the Tekmal-Ku, i.e. tomb-robbing. Most of what we know about the Apparatus comes from her detailed notes.1
At first she only let her head wander from her body for only a few minutes, and always within sight of it. Eventually she wandered further and further, for longer and longer periods.
Once, she claims, she flew to a colleague hundreds of miles down the coast. The colleague, only called “Ph.” (or Φ. in the Old Script), opened a portal to the Thirteenth Layer of Hell and both he and Talamira’s head journeyed for two months there. Talamira described the entire trip in characteristically meticulous detail in her spidery hand once she returned, and attached notes evidently written by the late “Ph.” in a bolder, less dextrous hand. The details don’t concern us here.
After five more bodiless adventures, Talamira’s head left her body completely behind. Her voluminous records hint at a descent into addiction, and possibly madness. She speaks often of the freedom of flying bodiless, and what a nuisance eating and drinking is when she’s whole. She expresses increasing disgust for her own body – not uncommon in women of the time, but remarkably vehement – and a desire to be rid of it permanently. Her last notes contain disparaging remarks about other people’s bodies, and a disturbing obsession with decapitation. Her final words were, “X. may have the solution. I shall try it tonight.”
Sightings of Talamira’s head, now calling herself “Tala”, remain unconfirmed, but continue to this day.
II. The Body in the Laboratory
Talamira’s body, meanwhile, remained in her tower laboratory for several years, alive but not moving. Talmira owned the property, and even left a trust to pay a maid to keep it tidy until she returned. According to the testimony of Talamira’s maid, Zarina, the body twitched on the third anniversary of Talamira’s disappearance, and for the next three days thereafter. On the fifth, the body’s arms lifted, felt cautiously around the Apparatus, then fell limp again. On the sixth and seventh, it repeated the performance, while shifting positions in its chair. On the eighth, the body stood, holding the Apparatus in place, and stumbled around the chamber.
After that Zarina locked the door and refused to enter again. She moved out of Talamira’s Keep and into the village. On days she came back to clean, she says she could hear the body stumbling around. Finally, seven months after the body began to move, she found the laboratory door “wrenched from its hinges” in her words. (Later examination showed the hinges had been pried off, with several likely tools lying nearby.)
A year later, someone sighted a curious creature: a headless woman with an Apparatus carefully and securely fastened onto her neck with a harness tied to her torso. It moved slowly with its hands outstretched, but the witness said that it didn’t seem entirely blind; its path swerved around a tree from several yards away and resumed a straight-ish path.
III. The Headless Woman
Five years later, after the discovery of the Second Apparatus, apparently the same headless woman led an ogre raid against the village of Kalmore. If it was Talamira’s body, she had traded her conservative sorcerer’s gowns for a revealing leather jerkin, a thigh-length skirt, and sandals, and her staff for a mace. Survivors say that the headless woman seemed to have little problem seeing obstacles and attackers, although she seemed a little deaf and needed her hands to examine small or intricately carved objects. She communicated with the ogres in a simple sign language. The ogres appeared to be uncharacteristically afraid of her, and stopped their usual pillaging and burning at a single gesture. Through an ogrish interpreter with a poor command of the common tongue she indicated that villagers should provide a small “tribute” of food and other items “as required” every month, plus a “tithe” of their yearly harvest. True to her word, the ogres collected their monthly “tribute”, including simple items requested the previous month, and left the village alone. Even after a poor harvest later that year, the ogres took their meager tenth of the harvest with only a few muttered curses. The system broke down three years later, when the villagers hired mercenaries to kill the ogres, which they did. The mercenaries saw no headless woman. (Ironically, when the mercenaries demanded more than the agreed price, the headman refused and the mercenaries slaughtered the whole village.)
Sightings of a headless woman with the Apparatus continued for centuries, until an incident at Mirkvale rewrote the rules. A mercenary company of especially ill repute employed a headless woman with the Apparatus strapped on as previously described. Unlike the sedentary Talamira, this body was tanned, scarred, well-muscled, and outfitted with a fitted breastplate, greaves, and a round shield. The shield bore an unheraldic device of a woman’s head with a dagger through it. At the notorious Green Bear Tavern, a few mercenaries got into an argument with members of an equally unsavory company and a massive fight broke out. It spilled into the streets, overwhelmed the understaffed Mirkvale Guard, and killed dozens of civilians who were in the way. The headless woman, according to several eyewitnesses, fought with both demonic fury and breathtaking grace. She had a preternatural sense not only of all the people and things around her, but where they would be in the next few heartbeat. While fighting mostly with a gladius and shield, she did throw a few found spears with deadly accuracy.
Seeing the headless woman as the biggest threat, three rival mercenaries outmaneuvered her. As each engaged her in battle, the other two cut into the straps that held the Apparatus onto her shoulders. Finally, with a triumphant cry, the leader kicked the apparatus away. Instead of the expected fountain of blood – and the death, wherever she was, of Tala – the woman slew all three, picked up the Apparatus, and fled.
Rumors persist of a headless woman, without the Apparatus but with a carefully guarded crate in her possession, working for various villains unto this day. According to these rumors, she speaks several sign languages, drinks and eats carefully mashed food through a hole in her neck, and has phenomenal spatial awareness and a possibly psychic ability to strike fear into any heart. She’s indicated her name is “Mira”.
The Second Apparatus
The famous treasure hunter Anders Tark discovered the Second Apparatus, and some say he always regretted it. After a few of his own experiments with it, he sold it to Duke Koltan III of Markia. Koltan the Bloody, as history knows him, experimented with the Apparatus using political prisoners. From these horrific experiments we know how not to use the Apparatus.
After forcing even members of his own family to use the Apparatus, Koltan felt comfortable enough with it to try it himself. His head allegedly spied on his as-yet-free political enemies inside Markia, heads of state of hostile domains – essentially all of those bordering Markia – and his own wives and mistresses. The nearby Kingdom of Basilia listed among their biggest security threats the Head of Koltan. The infamous Black Hand of Markia threatened those they interrogated with an audience with the Head of Koltan. Terrified princesses bought overpriced window bars lest the Head of Koltan spy on them undressing. Parents terrified their children with tales of the Head of Koltan.
Thirty-four years into his bloody reign, servants entered Koltan’s randomly chosen bedroom for the previous night and found Koltan’s headless body, blood-soaked and very, very dead. To this day no one really knows how Koltan finally died. Some say a member of his staff, or even one of his wives, removed the Apparatus while the Head was abroad. Others say that survivors of the long-suppressed Council of Barons kidnapped Koltan, held a secret trial, and decapitated him. One tale suggests that one of Koltans concubines was a vampire, and turned him; some anonymous hero decapitated the monster and absconded with its head but failed to burn the body as religious law requires. Some say Koltan simply abandoned his body as Talamira did, except that, being a devil but not a sorcerer, his body died. The tumult of the Peasant Revolution of Markia made detailed investigation impossible. Koltan was not the only noble decapitated that year.
The story of the Head of Koltan spread far beyond Markia, distorted far beyond reason. A popular dark romance, Koltan the Bodiless, became a play, an opera, an epic poem, and a puppet show. In Markia today street vendors sell “Head of Koltan” toys: a grotesquely grimacing head suspended on a stick by an obvious string. The three purported graves of Koltan attract tourists, despite a total lack of evidence that the decapitated bodies belong to the tyrant. Neighboring countries tell ghost stories about the Head of Koltan, although neither the Parliament nor the Peasant’s Committee find them amusing.
The Second Apparatus, battered and blood-soaked, surfaced in a peasant’s attic fifty years later. It sold at a private auction to a collector who wished to remain anonymous.
The Third Apparatus
The Third Apparatus surfaced fifty years ago. In the ancient city of Tannis, the Senate commissioned a massive ten year project to replace centuries old lead pipes with copper. Upon completion of the project, citizens could drink the fountain water of Tannis, and the crime rate in Tannis dropped dramatically.
While excavating the former site of the Temple to the Unconquered Sun, workers broke into a previously unknown basement. Here they discovered several dangerous artifacts including the Head of Baphomet, the Bloodstone, the Cabinet of Rejuvenation, three Eyes of Nephren-Ka, Naboth’s Orb, the Shining Trapezohedron, and (reportedly) the Key of Dahut in the original Aklo. The Senate impounded all objects and kept them in the Black Vault.
Knowledge of the find inevitably leaked. Various groups besieged the Senate and its functionaries, including the so-called Children of Ys, the Disciples of Light, the Society for the Study of Ancient Artifacts, the Grim Brotherhood, the government of Hy Brasil, the Invisible College, and the spider/sorceress Arachne. Each lobbied to possess or destroy one or more artifacts. Arachne’s argument was particularly compelling, especially since she held two of the Eyes of Nephren-Ka in her hands/pedipalps as she made it. Other factions attempted to break into the Black Vault, albeit none so successfully or bloodlessly.
The find perturbed not only Senators and fringe groups, but historians. At the Great Library of Tannis, scribes from the Museum of Ancient History pored through accounts of the Cult of the Unconquered Sun, and records written from the founding of the Temple to its destruction in the Third Interregnum. With mingled regret and glee they consigned centuries-old histories to the Invalidated Texts rack. Perhaps a rash of floating head sightings wasn’t an infestation of owls. Perhaps the decapitation of King Tolus in the Second Dynasty wasn’t simply revenge for the Great Book Burning, as fitting as that seemed. Perhaps the “demons” in the Reckoning weren’t pyromaniac barbarians, the Rending of King Pallas the Sybarite wasn’t a palace coup, and the Undying Goddess-Empress not a succession of women in masks. Or perhaps they were. Scholars are arguing to this day.
Save for two Eyes of Nephren-Ka, and the alleged Key of Dahut which the Disciples burned in a daring raid, the Senate handed all artifacts to representatives of the Invisible College. As expected, the representatives disappeared without a trace.
Like the other artifacts, the Tannis Apparatus currently resides in a secret archive under the control of the Invisible College.
The originals are now locked in the archives of the Invisible College. Historians have only descriptions and transcriptions made prior to the originals’ confiscation, carefully hidden from College agents and Inquisitors alike. ↩︎