Evran, Master Artificer and Servant to the People, congratulated himself for his forethought. From the appearance of the patients and the tired, overworked, poorly-groomed staff, the hospital would be a place rife with aromas which Evran had no interest in smelling. The cloth mask covering the lower half of his face filtered out all smells and replaced them with the pleasant scent of citrus carried by a fine ocean breeze.
For a man of his talents, the creation of the mask had been relatively simple. As an afterthought, he had also worked into it a protection from other dangerous things that might be floating through the air. He was educated enough to know that disease could be spread by inhaling another’s exhalations or other expulsions. He was strong and healthy, so he felt he had little to fear, but when it came to his own wellbeing, Evran spared nothing.
He smiled at a nurse as she passed by him. She couldn’t see his mouth, of course, so he made sure the smile reached his eyes. He knew he had great eyes, so when the nurse pursed her lips and turned away from him in displease, he made a rude gesture at her back.
The staff here didn’t seem to be nearly as happy at his presence as he might have hoped, even after he had explained to them his purpose. With Gleam’s now constant insistence that Evran attempt to use his considerable talents to do some kind of good for the world, Evran had decided to conduct an experiment he had been pondering for quite some time.
For once, he sought someone willing upon whom to test his idea.
Gleam stood outside, watching over Beast and Evran’s supplies. Beast could take care of himself, of course; he was practically impossible for someone not versed in magic or carrying a sledgehammer to harm, and besides that, he scared most people away. No, Gleam simply tended to put people off when Evran was trying to get them to agree to something. Besides, Evran was annoyed with him.
Evran found the room to which he had been directed by a reluctant doctor. The hospital, while obviously made by professional builders, had obviously been constructed on a tight budget, for even the individual rooms had no doors, only curtains. Evran swept the curtain aside dramatically as he entered.
“Greetings!” he said. “I am Master Evranelen, Whose Benevolence Impresses All, Whose Artifice Serves the People.”
The man in the bed, whose knees were lifted as he sat on and defecated into a pan, looked at Evran in horror. “What in Hivara’s name…”
“I’m here to help you!” Evran forced himself to keep his eyes on the man’s face, so as not to further embarrass him. His eyes watered slightly, and he found himself grateful once more for his filtering mask.
“Nurse!” the man called. He reached to the side, his arm trembling, and grabbed a bell. He rang it.
Moments later, a broad-shouldered man wearing nurse’s robes entered the room. “Who the shit are you?” he asked, his hands on his hips. The short sleeves of the robe cut off at just the right length to highlight the ample curve of his biceps.
Evran raised an eyebrow appreciatively. “I am Master Evranelen, Master Artificer, pleasure to all who meet me.”
The nurse snorted. “Sure you are. What are you doing in my patient’s room?”
“Can you make him leave, please?” the man in the bed said. His voice carried a slight tremor. Evran could tell it took an effort for him to speak.
“For your decency, I will step outside for a moment,” Evran said. “However, I’ve been sent here by the Head Medician. I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say.”
He brushed past the nurse on his way out, restraining himself from giving an “accidental” touch to the man’s posterior. The nurse, who had bright brown eyes beneath thick eyebrows, glared at him.
When the nurse departed several minutes later, carrying something Evran didn’t want to think about, he jabbed a thumb toward the door. “He’ll see you.”
“I know,” Evran said. He winked at the man. “You could see some of me too, if you like.”
The nurse scowled, which somehow made Evran even more determined. “No thanks.”
“Your loss,” Evran said. He ducked into the room.
“What do you want?” said the man in the bed. He lay reclined against a mound of pillows. Despite the heat of the last weeks of Éthau’s passing, a thin blanket covered his legs.
“You are not going to live much longer,” Evran said. “The doctor told me you’re quite hopeless.”
The man swallowed. “I don’t think he’s supposed to talk about that sort of stuff with strangers.”
“When you ask questions the right way, people answer whether they’re supposed to or not,” Evran assured him.
“My family sent me here out of discretion,” the man said.
The hospital sat on the outskirts of the city. There were other places of care, especially for those as affluent as this man, but this hospital had the advantage of being ignored by most of the wealthy. Evran had already pieced the man’s story together. He had a disease which was caught in an embarrassing fashion. His family had sent him here to die so that the story wouldn’t spread quite as far.
“I see,” Evran said. “Remind me of your name, if you could.”
“Tenner,” he said. “Qen Tenner.”
“Well, Mr. Tenner, I have come to be your hope.”
“You’re hopeless, right?” Evran said, exasperated. “I’ve come to be your hope.”
“Are you a doctor?” Qen asked.
“No! Much better.” Evran gave him a broad smile, revealing his white, straight teeth. “I am an artificer.”
“Yeah, I think you said that already,” Qen said. He blinked. His eyes moved slowly, as though it took him a great effort to reopen them. “I just don’t see what that has to do with me.”
Perhaps the man’s disease slowed his cognitive function as well as his body. Or perhaps he had always been this slow. It was hard to say. It would be difficult to fight the temptation to try to improve his intelligence, should Evran get the chance to attempt what he desired.
“Well,” Evran said, “as an artificer of impeccable talent, I know a great deal about the workings of the soul, the spirit, and the body, as well as the three essential energies and their interactions with those components.”
“Okay.” Qen closed his eyes. He sounded quite bored.
Evran frowned. He made sure the frown was evident in his voice, since Qen wasn’t looking at him, and Evran’s mask covered it, besides. “I have a great deal of experience crafting and animating golems.”
“What is a golem?” Qen asked. Evran caught something in his voice, something beyond the deadening exhaustion of his disease. Was he… humoring Evran?
Somehow, this irritated Evran further. “Surely you already know. A golem is an animated construct that imitates life in form and function.”
“Ah, okay,” Qen said. “So you’re going to make me a golem? And that’s somehow going to help me?”
“Yes!” Evran said. “I’m going to make you a golem. Or rather, I’m going to make you into a golem.”
“Wait, what?” Qen’s eyes opened again, frantically searching out Evran’s. “You’re going to do what?”
“I’m going to turn you into a golem,” Evran said. “Or at least, I’m going to try. By all accounts, even trying is better than what you’ve got going on now.” He gestured, his hand fluttering in Qen’s direction like a bird.
“Is that… is that possible?” Qen asked.
“We’re going to find out!” Evran said excitedly. “I mean, I’ve simplified my description somewhat for your benefit. I’m not going to turn you into a golem in a transformative sense. What I’ll actually be attempting to do is to sever the connection your soul and your spirit have to your body, while keeping them twined together. Then I’ll form a new connection between them and a body I’ve created for you.”
Qen, to Evran’s bemusement, looked horrified. “Is that dangerous?”
Evran considered lying. Then he remembered Gleam’s insistence that he attempt to be a better person. “Yes. It might not work, in which case one of two things might happen. You will die, and your spirit, soul, and essential energies will disperse into the aether. Or I will fail to properly form the connection to the new body, and you will exist for a time as a wraith — a being with no body, but with a functioning soul and spirit — before fading into another sort of death.”
“Neither of those sound great,” Qen said. He looked sick in a way he hadn’t before.
“Actually, there’s a third possibility that I nearly forgot,” Evran said. “There’s a small possibility that I might create an imperfect soul document. However, it’s literally been years since I made that sort of mistake. I don’t even consider it anymore.”
“What would that mean?” Qen asked.
“Well, you wouldn’t die,” Evran said. “Not really. Your body would, of course, since I’d be taken the essential energies and the spirit and soul for the new body. Your spirit and soul would remain ‘alive,’ in a sense, but the would be twisted and torn by the imperfect soul document. They might also accidentally incorporate components from the other guy. You wouldn’t really be you, anymore.”
“The… other guy?” Qen asked.
“I created a body for you,” Evran said. “Since this is my first time attempting to actually preserve a soul, rather than forging a new one, I made the body out of wood. It’s much easier to get life to cling to something that was once living, after all.”
“Yeah, but the other guy,” Qen said. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m getting there,” Evran said. He jabbed his finger toward Qen. “Have some patience. I’m explaining things far outside of your knowledge, I’m sure.”
Qen sighed. “You are.”
“Turning something into a full being takes a great deal of energy,” Evran said. “Because of the masterful nature of my soul documents, some of it will be pulled from the ambient. From the aether. However, not all of it will be. There’s plenty of ambient magic, but vital energy and mental energy are harder to come by though unnatural processes. We’ll need a bit more of each. Additionally, because of the way I made the body, it will require more than just your vital energy to animate it. A regular, organic body puts in a great deal of effort to function on its own. A constructed body, regardless of the material, does not.”
“So you’re using another person’s?” Qen said. “Will he be okay?”
“Oh, no,” Evran said, frowning. “He’ll die, of course.”
“Hivara’s breath,” Qen whispered. “I don’t want anyone else to die.”
“He’s like you,” Evran said. “Only worse. He might as well be dead already.”
“Then why aren’t you saving him?” Qen demanded.
“Well, he has less money, for one thing,” Evran said. “He was a homeless man the hospital took in as one of their mandated charity cases.”
“You’re horrible,” Qen spat.
“No, I’m not,” Evran said. “I’m hurt that you would say that, when I’m attempting to save your life.”
“You just want to conduct your disgusting experiment,” Qen said. “I’ve met people like you. You just want to know if you can do it. You don’t really care about me.”
“While that may be try, I’m trying to be a better person,” Evran explained. “I don’t really care about you. You’re right. I don’t really care about anyone but myself.” He held up a hand to forestall Qen’s next reply. “However! It doesn’t matter if I care, or what my motivations are, so long as the result is beneficial to more than just me. If it is, that makes me a good person.”
“That’s wrong,” Qen said. He sounded drained. Exhausted, even.
“That’s a debate for the philosophers,” Evran said. “Anyway, would it make you feel better to know that the fellow whose energies will be using is, by some philosophical metrics, already dead?”
“Yes,” Qen said. “What do you mean, though? I don’t think I trust the way you perceive reality.”
Evran shrugged. “I think the way I perceive reality is less twisted than most.”
Qen shook his head. “Whatever.”
“His spirit has decayed,” Evran said. “It’s the result of an illness, the medicians tell me, one which people are born with. His body and soul remain intact, and small wisps of his spirit remain, but he’s nonfunctional. He lives on as a being, in a sense, but there’s no intelligence in him. There’s less to him than even a tree.”
A long silence followed. Evran began to wonder if Qen had fallen prey to exhaustion and gone to sleep. Just when Evran was considering giving Qen a sharp jab, he spoke.
“Okay,” Qen said.
“Okay?” Evran asked.
“Okay. You can use me for your experiment.”
“Excellent!” Evran said. He clapped his hands together in excitement. “I’ll go inform your doctor.”