How to describe the accursed mix of man, machine, and monster we call the Ahntem? I could, like so many others, describe how they are forged in the heart of the Golden City from only the purest metals. I could tell you of the master craftsmanship that goes into each joint, each screw composing their bodies. Perhaps I could relay tales of the demon that rests in the heart of each one to power its evil. But I will not. Such has already been told in my many official works on the subject. If you are so interested in simple academic considerations, read them. More importantly, to simply describe the Ahntem would be an insult to all they have destroyed. Instead I shall tell you a story.
This story takes place when I was very young, more than a hundred years ago, and still had my sight. A friend and I, Isaac, were preparing to take our first journey between the Opal and Onyx Cities. The night before we set out we stayed up telling stories. It started out lighthearted, with tales of our childhood shenanigans. We recounted the time we had stolen Master Lawrence's precious record-book, or defaced the lesser gems surrounding the castle. He told me grand stories about his adventures before coming to the city, and I told him mine, even though we had each heard the other's a thousand times.
As the night went on, our tales began to grow darker and more personal. I cannot say what ensnared us, but soon I was telling him, and he me, secrets neither of us had told another soul. At the end of the night, he told me the secret that would destroy both our lives- that he was bedding the City Lord's daughter. He assured me that no one but us knew, but still the news struck me dumb. The rest of the night my mind was filled with visions of what would happen were he discovered.
Next day we set out for the Onyx City. For weeks we traveled in peace (or as peaceful as one can travel on the Onyx Road), and I believed we were indeed safe. Then the hawk came. It held a scrap of paper with a single word: Prey. Isaac had been marked for the hunt and I, as his Soul-Companion, was just as guilty of his crime. Our carter left us then.
I was terrified. Two young men, barely out of boyhood, with no survival or combat experience, alone on the Onyx Road and hunted by the Ahntem? We would be dead a thousand ways before the next sun rose. I must have made a dozens oaths of location in an hour. Each time had the same result- nothing. We had truly been abandoned.
Fortunately, while I had been making futile oaths Isaac had been thinking. He had reached two conclusions, one obvious, one not as much. First, we had to hide. Second, we could not leave the Onyx Road. He explained this by saying our hunters would assume we would leave the road, and would not be able to find us on it among everything else living there. I agreed. Still, staying on the Onyx Road is not a light endeavor. We made camp on the edge surrounded by plenty of light, and took turns at watch.
What came in the night, I honestly cannot remember. They were horrible to be sure, but that horribleness is overshadowed by what I saw the next day. All I remember of our night on the Onyx Road is that we were attacked many times, and each time defended ourselves. When the sun rose we were alive. That's all that matters.
We started the day with an inventory. Of the 112 bottles of water, 97 bundles of food, and 12 cases of magical supplies we had left, only 12 bottles, 15 bundles, and 11 cases remained. Next we attempted to figure out a plan of action. To replace our lost food and water, I wanted to trade our magical supplies, while Isaac wanted to rob the next passerby. After much arguing and a bout of fisticuffs, we settled on trading.
We never got the chance. When I next saw riders in the distance, I reached forward to call them. Isaac pulled me back. He pointed out something in the dust cloud. I strained my eyes to see what he was talking about: hidden in the black dust was the gleam of gold.
Like all those who encounter the Ahntem, we had only one option. As fast as we could we raced for the edge of the Road and pushed our way past to the other side. For some reason we thought that the Ahntem, inhuman as they were, would not be able to follow us into the true world. A sad mistake, but in the end any course of action was just as foolish. When I looked back and saw the air shatter and our pursuers burst through all hope left me. My knees collapsed. Isaac stopped and tried to help me up, but I would not budge. I could only cry. Then the Ahntem were upon us.
As I said at the beginning, countless descriptions of the Ahntem have been written. As far as I know, these are all from a scholarly perspective. I will attempt to describe the terror one feels when encountering such a beast.
I stared up at the colossus in front of me. Eight feet tall. Five feet wide. Purple, bruised skin. Golden armor that surrounded half the head, the back, encircled the chest and replaced the left leg and right arm. In its mechanical golden limbs I could see thousands of gears and screws and pulleys moving in unison. They clicked and pulsed and rattled against each other to create a symphony only the foulest of men would enjoy. And there was another sound- the sound of the thing in its chest. A glass circle in the center of its torso, through which I could see a smokey green creature with barely discernable eyes and features. It pounded against its glass prison and wailed. I will never forget that wail. To try to describe it here would be futile. The sound clawed at me. It thrust its way through my soul and down into something deeper, more primordial and basic. In the face of that sound death was a mercy. I closed my eyes and waited.
Death did not come. After ten minutes I opened my eyes. The Ahntem in front of me had been joined by another, this one clutching the scraps of Isaac's corpse. Both stared down at me.
“You will come with us,” said the first. “You will work for Lord Jacob in the Opal City.”
I nodded, and they took me. I was brought in front of Jacobi for my verdict. He told me that though I was Isaac's Soul-Companion, he felt it wrong to kill one who had committed no physical crime. Instead, my tongue was to be removed. Instead of traveling to Onyx City, I would remain in Opal as his keeper. I'm sure he thought of this as a mercy.
Why do I write this? Because I want others to understand as well. The Ahntem are not warriors. They are not assassins. They are bringers of doom. You cannot fight or flee. You cannot win. You can only hope for a quick death.
— found in the personal writings of Hadius Moor, Seven Hundred Fifty First Grand Keeper of Opal City