The painter Andretti of Phoenix Rising was the subject of a Historical research commission during the Autumn Equinox 384YE. Vaclav Mladenovich Kosti, the Minister of Historical Research, was particularly interested in "the learnings of the Imperial citizen Andretti, with particular reference to the soul, immortality and reincarnation". An agreement with the Halls of Maykop - a citadel in Axos dedicated to scholarship and magic - allowed a member of the Department of Historical Research to access their archives and libraries in pursuit of more information about the controversial artist. Guillame Summerset di Temeschwar of the League was dispatched by the Imperial Archivist to take advantage of this opportunity.

Haunted Artist.jpg
Andretti of Phoenix Rising was an artist executed for religious crimes during the reign of Emperor James.Some of the expensive recipes for rare colours of paint he is credited with creating are still used by artists today.

Andretti of Phoenix Rising

I'm not sure if you are familiar with the story of Andretti of Phoenix Rising, and his death. I'm writing this in the cramped cabin of the Seagrass on my way to the Halls of Maykop, The weather is dismal. I would like to formally thank Leontes the Scribe for this opportunity to travel all the way to Axos to serve the Empire and it's thirst for knowledge.

Andretti was Urizeni, born around 230YE, and was considered an odd child even before he gained his notoriety. As with many Urizen, he strove to perfect a single skill – to master its arete. In the case of Andretti it was painting. He was considered a prodigy, and by the age of 12 his work was being compared to that of Durmont and Sain Fleetfoot. His parents – indeed his entire spire – encouraged him and indulged him in a way that frankly I consider to have bordered on the unwholesome.

With the precociousness of a teenager, he declared that if he had already mastered the skills of brush and pen so easily, his art should be to look at the world and create things that had never been seen before. I would personally have considered a statement like that a warning of things to come, but apparently the people around him at the time did not share my deep reservoirs of cynicism.

By all accounts, the young Andretti studied ways to combine his art and his magic together. He also clearly studied the alchemist's arts, and is credited with having perfected several rare colours of paint still in use today by those who can afford the green iron, weltsilver, and gloaming needed to mix them up.

During this period he reportedly created art that not only evoked emotional responses in the viewer – a talent sought after by every artist I am led to understand – but could with sufficient effort and expense create works of art that inspired visions in those who touched them, experiencing the sensation of being present in the scene.

I am led to understand that Rebekah on the Cliffs, a large canvas showing a woman standing above the tempest-wracked rocks of the Redoubt Coast, was particularly effecting. Those who embraced it would feel for a few moments as if they stood atop the cliffs, gazing down at the boiling ocean, and feel the sea spray, and the cold rain, and the freezing wind, and partake somewhat of the anguish of the woman depicted. It was by all accounts a very powerful experience, and it was not until after Andretti's fall from grace that anyone made the connection between it and the falling deaths of as many as a dozen art lovers of the time. The painting is fortunately not available to view any more, having been burnt along with most of the rest of Andretti's work after his death.

Andretti was never satisfied with his work, and reportedly explored more and more esoteric magics and techniques. In the end he declared that the true purpose of art was to try and capture the human soul. Obviously critics and art lovers nodded appreciatively at what they believed to be a metaphorical statement;a statement that from anyone other than an artist would, at the very least, cause loud bells to be rung and see threshers and magisters taking a distinct interest in the activities of the one who said it.

When Andretti announced that he had achieved his ultimate goal, he declared he would reveal his greatest work as part of the Empire Day celebrations at the Queen's Head Tavern where the three nations meet, 278YE. There was a certain amount of interest in the announcement, but by this time Andretti's star had declined somewhat. He had, after all, spend several years away from the Empire in Axos and elsewhere. Still, there were enough people who appreciated his work that he was guaranteed an audience for his grand revelation, and was widely tipped to win the annual competition.

One of the “avid” guests was Greta of Cantiarch's Hold, a committed inquisitor, who was one of those people who takes statements about how one intends to “capture the human soul” with the appropriate seriousness.

Predictably, when the unveiling took place the picture was revealed to be a monstrous abomination. He had produced a frame with the skin of a man hung on it, into which he had bound a ghost, trapped, dancing to some inaudible “music” that Andretti described as “the sounds of life's trials.”

Andretti himself did not make it to trial; Greta of Cantiarch's Hold executed him on the spot, and with the assistance of three other Highborn priests exorcised the poor spirit the mad artist had bound. Unsurprisingly, Greta made and received a clemency plea, and went on to live a long and virtuous life of hunting down magicians who overstepped the bounds of virtue in pursuit of power and knowledge.

The Halls of Maykop

Maykop has been described by better wordsmiths than I. The city – and it is a city whatever my learned colleagues of Holberg might claim – spreads across the clifftops and is reached from the little quayside by the most arduous climb you can imagine. But the stairs are preferable to the lifts. I looked at those cranes and decided I'd prefer aching legs to a long drop and a sudden stop.

In one respect at least I would take the Halls of Maykop over Sarvos or Tassato. The Grand Ilarch there has issued several dictums relating to public noise. Silence rules, broken only by the occasional tolling of bells. People talk rather than shout; street theatre is banned; and the whole place has the feel of a single massive library that I found quite conducive to study.

I can't fault my reception either – ten thrones apparently buys a lot of access to the archives of Maykop. I was able to secure apartments with little difficulty, a short walk from one of the libraries, and the Grand Illarch had assigned a research assistant to answer questions, smooth my access to documents, and deal with any problems that might arise from the recent “orc” incident. Not that there were any of those to speak of – the people of Maykop appear to either have short memories or to be glad to be shot of their former slaves.

Oh and of course the research assistant – Egio – was there to keep an eye on me. They admitted as such on the first evening over olives and herb-baked sunfish. You will be pleased to hear that I maintained the best traditions of the Department of Historical Research, and have neither said nor done anything that might be reported and bring us into disrepute.

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This alleged portrait of Andretti was painted by an unknown artist in 274YE. It was part of a collection entitled "heretics and blasphemers" held at the Sottosopra Gallery in Sarvos, and is believed to have been stolen by the Grendel 380YE.

Andretti in Axos

The Halls of Maykop “remember” Andretti, it appears, While his name has mostly faded in the Empire, his sojourn at the Halls of Maykop is reasonably well recorded. It's interesting that Andretti chose to come here – and that he wasn't immediately murdered. In 271YE, when he arrived at Maykop, the Axou were still fairly angry with the Empire for their apparent involvement in the destruction of the citadel of Solokha. Even today some of the scholars get a little passionate when they talk about “your Emperor Nicovar's jealous attack on the Nikitis Axou”.

Andretti however managed to confront the lingering prejudice and somehow gained access to not only the city, but the chambers and counsel of the Grand Illarch of the time, Messina of the line of Maykop. According to contemporary accounts, he did so partly because he was able to demonstrate an understanding of the rudiments of the necromantia – the use of magic to summon and commune with ghosts; partly because he was able to speak at length about the soul and the spirit and philosophical matters relating to death, the creator, and the “lie of the Labyrinth”; and partly by making a gift of three canvases to the Grand Illarch.

These paintings still hang in one of the (many) galleries, but while I was offered the chance to view them I declined. I do not want to end up as another “falling death” even if it will increase the Empire's store of knowledge a little.

Andretti studied in the Halls, under the patronage of the Grand Illarch Messina. He raised funds to support himself – not having access to the limited largesse of the Department of Historical Research expenses account – by painting portraits and landscapes. As I understand it, he became adept at a style called Moments from Breath which involve paintings of the dying or the recently dead that come in and out of fashion in Axos every few years.

As to what he studied, he was most interested in the rituals of Autumn and Winter necromantia that deal with capturing, binding, and creating ghosts. This latter in particular interested him; I was not permitted access to any works dealing directly with the procedures involved – it is considered a very advanced curriculum in Maykop – but I was able to read some commentaries. Some Axou masters of the necromantia can bind a human soul at the point of death ensuring that its essence remains behind in the world and can be called up to be consulted by later generations.

There's a number of heretical and blasphemous reasons this practice is desirable to the Axou, especially the wealthier and more powerful among them which I won't go into here for fear of being investigated by the Silent Bell, but I'm confident given what we know of the Axos religion you can work out why.

While he was popular with Grand Illarch Messina, Andretti was not well liked by his peers. Some of Andretti's Axou instructors were very nervous about the man. “Some try to run before they can walk,” wrote Issedeus of the line of Ulys, a professor at the time of Andretti's visit. “But this Imperial man tries to fly before he can stand.” Another, Tessina of the line of Penep wrote that “He is a knife, with a blade that thirsts” which is apparently an allusion to a well-known Axou warning about the dangers of illicit blood magic, and often used when talking about someone who is widely considered to have “murderous impulses”.

The Axou may have any number of odd ideas by Imperial standards, but they are no more friendly to would-be murderers than any one else. Their arts deal with death and the spirits of the dead, but they are no more likely to actually kill someone in pursuit of their magic than any other magician. Indeed, given their opinions on the Labyrinth that waits beyond death, they take an even dimmer view of intentionally ending another Axou life than the Empire does. At least in Maykop.

Perhaps sensing the growing disdain of his contemporaries, Andretti abruptly left the Halls of Maykop, apparently planning to “spend a semester in the west.” Some of the instructors breathed a sigh of relief, but there is a note in Tessina of the line of Penep's writing that she at least was worried about where in the west the Imperial visitor was going.

Andretti returned to Maykop abruptly, apparently looking like a man who had aged eight years in eight weeks. He refused to answer questions about his “trip to Kaban” and tried to resume his studies. Issedeus of the line of Ulys writes that he was “changed by his journey west, and for the worse, if such a thing could be possible. He sequesters himself in his chambers for days on end, painting, emerging only to eat, to buy more paint, and to demand wine. It is as if something is eating him from within, something that has come back with him from 'Kaban' and none of us really believe that is where he has been – or rather none of us believe that was his ultimate destination.”

Six months after this trip west,Andretti abruptly flees Axos. It is 277YE by this time - a year before his death. Issedeus, Tessina and the political historical Emmanel of the line of Destine all report that he did so hours ahead of a band of Tavos Ageli sent to apprehend him. Three human bodies were found in his chambers, preserved in barrels of brine. He left behind him a single painting, that by all accounts was so shocking to Axou sensibilities it was burnt by order of the Grand Illarch Messina shortly before she was dethroned by her nephew Samul of the line of Maykop.

Her patronage of Andretti – while not the sole reason she was ultimately forced to abdicate – was mentioned several times in contemporary accounts as an indication of her unfitness to rule. Andretti's crime also damaged the attitude of the Maykop people to Imperials, such that they took even longer than the rest of the Citadels to open their gates to visitors from the Empire.

In Conclusion

Andretti studied the necromantia in Maykop, and his main legacy here means that it's unlikely any more Imperial citizens will be studying the necromantia in Maykop any time soon. I found one fragment of his actual writings – a treatise he wrote as part of his studies – that still exists. Quoted in a different text (an essay of a blasphemous and heretical nature explaining some of the flaws in Imperial theology as it happens) it refers to a document that apparently no longer exists or can no longer be found.

“The worth of the soul cannot be counted in power. They are not wanted by eternals, carry no intrinsic power and cannot make you more powerful. So why my quest to find the truth of them? To control them? To bind them? Simple, the Soul and the Labyrinth is the one truth we accept and yet we know nothing, we are as the orc confronted by theatre. It is not enough to just accept dogma, if I had I would not seen those horrors hidden from us for 'our own good', I would not know what I do now and I would not have in front of me the true worth of the soul. That is why I travel, why I haunt ruins and relics. Why I deal with such old horrors as the Eater or the King, not for power, but to know of what came before, of where the soul came from and maybe where it goes too.”

There's nothing from his trip “west” but having read my colleague Eilian Sweetwater's travelogue of his time in Axos I think it is fair to guess that while he may have visited Kaban on the way his ultimate destination was the unspeakably haunted ruin of Solokha and whatever he encountered there completed the work that years of self-indulgent, self-regarding “art” had started.

It's my considered opinion that Andretti was mad as a box of frogs even before he “went west.” Too much time peering at his own feet, and painting alone in his rooms, and dwelling on morbid matters, broke what little grasp on sanity he might have had.

So nothing speaking directly of immortality here, beyond the obvious fact that immortality is the ultimate goal of every Axou due to their beliefs about the Labyrinth. Andretti appears to have been a questor drowned in obsession, to the point where he appears to have casually murdered three people in pursuit of his “art” and “understanding the soul” and all the other justifications he created to allow him to craft abomination and torture the spirits of the dead.

I am minded to remain in Maykop for at least another season, should the Minister (or anyone else) wish to commission any follow-up research. I have made some acquaintance here that I would like to deepen, because they have a remarkable number of books on all kinds of fascinating topics, and because I have developed quite a taste for olives and herb-baked sunfish

Further Reading