The sound of the horse's hooves echoed off the hills of the pass as the cart made its way along the old highway, thudding against the dust and gravel that a thousand years before had been smooth concrete. The lone rider pulled his cloak tight around him, the reigns held loose in his right hand, shivering against the autumn breeze. Another half hour, he surmised, and he would be at the gates of the castle where the Lord Judge held court. It had been a long and lonely ride from Baytown, and he had slept little in the two nights he had been on the road; these roads were far from the lands policed by the Holy Foundation, there was little justice to be had save the swift and merciless dictates of the Lord Judge, and Bright only knew what men, beasts, or others lurked behind the trees. No sooner had the traveler had that thought than he cursed himself for invoking that name - but old habits die hard. Looking warily over his shoulder, he saw that his cargo was still secure in the back of the cart, and urged the horse onward. As he rounded the bend, he caught his first glimpse of the castle on the hilltop, and shuddered to himself as he thought about the fate that awaited him.
"The Lord Judge is a cold and terrible man," his Master had warned him before he set out on this voyage. "He has no sufferance for ignorance or foolishness, for he has been at his task for longer than either of us have lived, and he has had more than his fill of either. Be respectful towards him, but not sycophantic, for he has no patience for those who feign admiration in the hope of winning his favor in return. He will seek to terrify you, but you must show him no fear; he who is timid lacks the courage and constitution the Order demands of all its members. Do not dissemble or seek to deceive him; he has no time for anyone's bullshit. When you speak the Four Words, do so with the utmost confidence; for if you have no faith in yourself, he will have no faith in you. Make your case as well as you can; and if he is pleased, I will greet you with open arms when you return; but if he is not, then it is best that you not return at all, for though I myself would defend you to the death against anyone else, I dare not speak against the word of the Lord Judge."
The traveler withdrew from his reverie as he approached the open gate of the castle, a tall, imposing edifice of black stone, erected on a hilltop amidst the forests that had stood since long before the Breach. At either side of the porte stood a pikeman, dressed in the brightly-colored striped uniforms of the Lord Judge, and they crossed their pikes to block the way as he drew near. "Hold fast!" yelled a third as he emerged from the guardhouse. "Who goes there?"
The traveler alighted from his cart and presented the sergeant with a rolled-up piece of paper, with a peculiar wax seal holding it shut. "My name is Dorik Gatz," said the traveler, "and I am an apprentice from the Baytown Chapter. My Master has bid that I present my masterpiece before the Lord Judge, so that he may determine if I am worthy to become a full member of the Order. I shall need the assistance of two stout men to carry my work to his court."
Drawing a small knife from his pocket, the sergeant broke the wax seal and unrolled the paper, reading the text thereupon. "You may proceed," he replied. "The yeoman at the door will introduce you."
"Thank you, sir," Gatz replied. The sergeant stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled, and two bare-chested slaves, their designations branded onto their chests, emerged from an unseen doorway to heft the crate off the back of the cart and carry it away. The yeoman, in his bright yellow and green blouse and pantaloons, instructed Gatz to follow him, and they made their way through a courtyard full of merchants and hawkers and would-be apprentices displaying their handiwork into the keep proper. The halls were dark and smoke-filled, and every wall, every door, every surface imaginable was festooned with drawings and paintings that ranged from masterful to crude. Off to one side, Gatz observed a dozen slaves clasped in irons, a dozen men with whips behind them. As each man struck the slave before him, he screamed in a single, perfectly tuned note, their collective shouts forming a melody - he believed it was a song of the Ancients called "Smoke on the Water". An iron gate blocked the entrance to what appeared to be a harem - from within, he heard moans of pleasure, screams of terror, and utterances that seemed to be both at once. At last they reached the great door to the Lord Judge's court, and the yeoman bade him wait a moment while he entered alone, emerging a few minutes later to beckon him inside.
The room was filled with muffled conversation as Gatz entered. If the art in the hallways had been merely offensive, the works that festooned the walls of this chamber were grotesque. These were not the grand historical tableaus he remembered from his childhood in Overwatch, but brutal depictions of humanity at its most transgressive - some ancient works that had survived the Great Breach, some far more recent. There were a few dozen onlookers sitting in the benches, eying him with curiosity as he approached the bench at which the Lord Judge sat on his throne. He was a wrinkled and ancient man, yet well-manicured, his powdered wig flowing halfway down his back, his heavy black robe adorned with all manner of arcane symbols that brought to Gatz's memory the crimson robes worn by the cardinals of the Holy Foundation. Beside him stood the twin symbols of his office; the scales that represented the dispassionate and merciless force of his judgment, and the noose that represented the fate of those found unworthy. Gatz's crate had been set before the bench, two servants more nimble and intelligent than the mere drudges who had hauled it in standing at the ready to assist him. Gatz approached the bench, and the onlookers grew silent as the Lord Judge banged his hammer.
"This court is called to order!" bellowed the Lord Judge. "For what purpose have you come before us this day?"
"If it please the court, milord," Gatz began. "I am Dorik Gatz, apprentice of the Baytown Chapter. I have come before you to request that I be granted full membership in the Order."
"All those who seek membership must present a masterpiece that meets our standards," the Lord Judge replied. "Have you such a thing?"
"I have, milord. It stands within the crate before the court now."
"Very good. Please explain the nature of your work."
Gatz took a deep breath. "Will the court permit me to offer a brief explanation of how I came to the Order? It is necessary in order to provide the essential context for my composition."
The Lord Judge glared contemptuously at Gatz, then nodded. "You may proceed."
Gatz cleared his throat. "I was born into the service of the Holy Foundation." A gasp arose from the audience and conversation filled the hall before the Lord Judge called again for order. "My father raised me to believe all the tales about Lord Bright and the saints, and to continue the work he had carried out his entire life of preserving the Sacred Procedures. When I was younger I enthusiastically trained for my Doctorate, but as I came to be a man, I began to have my doubts. It was clear to me that so much of our catechism was obsolete - we recited instructions for containing things that were dead or beyond our reach, we performed pointless rituals simply because they always had been done. I thought to myself, there must be more to what we do than endless repetition. We cannot simply repeat the old over and over again. We must do something new, we must innovate, we must create.
"And so, late at night, I delved into forbidden texts from before the Great Breach. I scoured the libraries of Monastery Nineteen for diaries from the earliest days of the church. I learned secrets about our heroes and icons that those now in power would prefer the common folk not know of. I came to hate the name of that false messiah Jack Bright. But more importantly, I learned the secrets of the ancients' science that would enable me to do more than just recite by rote the Sacred Procedures, but to refine them.
"Alas, I was still young, and careless, and I was found out. My work was burned, and the cardinals declared me Redacted and exiled from all of Brightdom. For years I wandered, seeking one of what I was raised to know as the pagan temples, that would offer me the opportunity to begin again at the work the Holy Foundation had destroyed, and that is how I found the Order. And it is so, today, that I am able to present my masterpiece. Gentlemen, if you would?"
The two servants lifted their prybars in hand and pulled open the crate, revealing Gatz's masterpiece. It was a figure similar in shape to a man, but standing at least three heads taller than the tallest man in the court that day. It was flat and featureless, its hands and feet lacking fingers and toes, its head strangely enlarged like that of a newborn infant, splotches of paint forming rough facial features. The Lord Judge squinted and examined the figure disdainfully. "At what are we looking?" he asked.
"I call this 'The Painted Man'," Gatz replied. "It is an automaton made in the likeness of a dead demon, the carcass of which is kept in the catacombs deep beneath Monastery Nineteen. Legend holds that St. Alto slew it during the Great Breach with the aid of his Magic Kettle. The actual circumstances of its demise are much less poetic, but I digress. If his honor would deign to join us on the floor, I would be pleased to provide a demonstration of its capabilities."
The Lord Judge took his cane in hand and made his way onto the floor as the two servants erected three curtains that concealed the figure from the gallery, but left it visible to themselves, Gatz, and the Lord Judge. Gatz stood off to the distance and ordered the servants to stand immediately to the left and right of the open side and to stare at each other without blinking, and asked the Lord Judge to stand in front of the opening. "If you please, milord, close your eyes and keep them closed. You will hear a mechanical sound. Keep your eyes closed until it ceases."
Gatz closed his eyes as the Lord Judge did the same - and just as he had hoped, the grinding and ticking of a multitude of gears filled the air. For five seconds it sounded until suddenly the sound stopped. Gatz opened his eyes just in time to see the Lord Judge stand aback, for the figure had lurched forward and now stood outside the curtains, seemingly frozen in mid-step. Bidding the servants to close their eyes, he then asked the Lord Judge to close his eyes again. Gatz did as well, and the clockwork sound again filled the hall for a good fifteen seconds before the sound of the Lord Judge's scream pierced the hall. Gatz opened his eyes to see exactly what he had expected - the figure stood directly in front of the Lord Judge, its arm raised, settled against his neck.
The performance was repeated several times more in various combinations before the Lord Judge decreed that he had seen enough. "The mechanism of this composition eludes us," he said. "It moves like a man, but only when noone is looking at it. How does it work?"
"The primary ambulatory mechanism, as I am sure you have surmised, is clockwork," Gatz responded. "It also includes several electronic mechanisms - some of which I scavenged from the Valley of Mind and Iron, and some of which I have constructed myself in accordance with the forbidden texts I studied in my youth. Within the cranium of the contraption is an ancient device known as a "motion detector", which is capable of recognizing the subtle movements of a human observer, and activating its mechanism when it is unobserved."
"We see," the Lord Judge responded. "Supposing we had not opened our eyes, what would it have done after touching our neck?"
"The demon after which it is fashioned was omnicidal, milord. It killed its victims by breaking their necks, and it was capable of covering the distance between the curtains and where you stood in less than a second." The Lord Judge, typically stoic, seemed to wince at this revelation. "The Painted Man currently lacks the speed or the motor function to be as potentially deadly as its namesake. As a mere apprentice, I lack the resources to fully realize those properties, but if I were granted membership, I could certainly improve upon its current status."
"We see," the Lord Judge replied. "We are prepared to render our verdict."
Gatz took a deep breath and swallowed. The moment of truth had arrived - it was time for him to utter the Four Words, and receive the judgment that would determine whether or not his life's work would be realized or be for naught. "Milord," he said as he stood up proud, puffed up his chest, and steadied his voice, "are we cool yet?"
The Lord Judge smiled. "We are," he replied.
"Thank you, milord," Gatz replied.
"Our secretary shall draw up our letter of recommendation in the morning. You may return to Baytown with it and present it to your Master, and inform him that you are now qualified to sit as the Sculptor of that chapter. Please bring the Painted Man with you - we should very much like to see the improvements you intend to make. The yeoman will provide you with lodging for the night - you may, at your leisure, peruse our collection and enjoy the facilities as you will. Please do avoid the lake, however," said the Lord Judge with a smile. "There's not a shark in there right now."