Heat, it was the first thing he felt, even wrapped in the shimmering cloths in his pod. The First Sensation he felt in his existence, was Heat, and he knew it was heat. Subconsciously, subliminally he understood what the new sensation washing over him was. It was heat unlike any other, beyond the simple fact his pod was burning through the simmering atmosphere, the world he was hurtling to was Hot. It was covered in heat so pure and simple, that its surface was more molten than solid. Rivers of liquid metal flowed down towering mountains of simmering gold. Yet it was not gold, it was Brass, Titanium, Aluminum all of these were glinting in the bright light of the Red Giant this world called its Sun. He could feel it, even protected as he was, the Heat.
The Heat, it was comforting. He felt its warm embrace caress him to his core, and it caused him to slumber deeper even through this hectic scenario. His pod was wrapped in fire, hurtling towards an unforgiving world wrapped in flame and metal, its ground caked with charred stone and vegetation so brutal its bark was partially metal as well. The lakes he passed over were perpetually boiling, sending plumes of white steam into the air like great pillars. His pod swerved, veering due to the drag, or something else entirely, sending it rocketing down into the crevices of the burning world into the cooler shadows.
His burning pod swerved once more, dipping into a Golden City, carved into the very walls of this great canyon. Gleaming marble, coated with decorative golden brass and filigreed silver Aluminum. The buildings style called back to the older Greco-Roman architecture of Terra's forgotten past. Great Palisades rising into the air, walls meant more for containing the citizenry than preventing an invasion. Yet the people that walked the streets seemed no worse for it all, nor for the heat. Their skin was like Pale Ash, deepening in color with some, with others being even paler than the majority. His pod passed over large Vending Areas, over guards and commoner alike. Shooting across this gleaming city, towards a pristine building situated at its center. Passing over the outer walls, his Pod finally crashed. Sending dirt and Stone flying in all directions as the pod finally was pulled from its great journey to rest at last.
He still slept, and yet even as he did so he could feel his blood shifting, his skin changing as his body adapted. As if it knew that the world he had landed on demanded a different sort of person to survive its intense climate. His skin became ashy white, the tone deepening only slightly. His veins swam black, then highlighted with a Brassy tone, and his eyes darkened with the whites bleeding to black and his pupils burning to that Golden Brass. He was aware, he could feel them coming, and so could the pod. Its covering retracting as voices whispered, swords and spears rattling even as the cock of guns and the whine of lasguns could be heard in the back. Yet they were silenced with a shout, as a Man and a Woman approached the pod. Covered in pure white vestments, with purple and gold embroidery along the edges. His Golden Eyes took in the first sight it had truly ever saw, the man and woman he would come to call Father and Mother. He was silent, he did not cry nor make any sort of sound, as he examined them and they examined he. The woman broke into a bright smile, reaching down she lifted his small form from the pod and held him aloft, as if to look at him more closely. He soon found himself buried in her bosom, her now revealed stomach with a slight turn of a curve revealing she was with child. He could tell, she was going to take him. To make him her child, yet he did not have the words for this, he simple understood it as a feeling.
They spoke hurriedly, as the Man dismissed the guards minus those they had take his pod back to the home. The woman cooing relentlessly at him, enraptured by him, drawn to him in ways she couldn't understand as her matronly instincts took over full force. "Baramidius, what shall we call him. He has come from the heavens, sent as a gift to us by the spirit beyond the sky." she said with a full smile bright and gleaming. The male came over, running an hand over the short hair on the childs head looked thoughtful for a moment. "Kargon, we shall call him Kargon. After the Great Hero of old, the one who captured star fire for his forge." he spoke, with a deep resounding voice.
The newly named Kargon looked at them both, before one of his hands reached up and pat against his mothers cheek, softly stroking it as he committed her and his fathers face to memory. He would always remember this moment.
Though night had fallen, the full moon had allowed her to pick her path carefully. Still, were she not an experienced tracker than she’d likely be cursing the consequences of her choice all the fiercer. The rest of the tribe was already packing up, having been disturbed from their current campsite by the falling star. When she had voiced her interest in seeing the star for herself, most of the tribe had disagreed. Quite loudly at that. Still, she insisted. It wasn’t often one got to see a star up close, after all. And she was curious as to what could bring one down.
The rest of the tribe was waiting for her. But she would have to make this quick. They indulge her because she was the top tracker, and just that very night the tribe had been preparing to feast upon the fallen beasts she had slain. But their patience would not last forever, and rightfully so. Between the full moon and the pillar of smoke, her destination was clear, even if her path was not. The smoke, while a marker, also worried her somewhat. It had rained recently, but even then the fire might have spread. And if it did so too quickly…
Well, regardless of her own curiosity it may still be a good thing that the tribe was packing up.
She ducked under a branch, cursing the way it had nearly snapped into her face, and the spray of water it had slapped her with. The sound the falling star had made was loud. Very loud. Most beasts would be scared away by it, which helpfully accounted for the easy time she was currently having on her lonesome. Still, she kept her spear ready just in case. She didn’t get this far by not being duly cautious.
The transition was as jarring as it was sudden.
One moment she was using her spear to shove aside a particularly large batch of leaves she knew for a fact secreted a slime that wasn’t quite poison, but still itches painfully, and the next she was stumbling over an overturned dirt mound, then falling into a crater. She adapted quickly, turning her fall into a roll, before snapping up into a jump, spear held at the ready. Even as her hard green eyes did a quick, instinctive scan she couldn’t help but gasp at the sight before her.
It was like an angry god had slammed its fist down onto the jungle. Everything had been blown away, trees and grass, plants and animals. Whatever had existed here before was simply eviscerated. Only churned dirt, smoldering from the force of the blow and broken into a crater, remained. Fires burned here or there, small things: Far from the inferno she had feared. Rain would see them gone in quick order, if they lasted that long to begin with. But that soon filtered from her mind when she saw what lay at the center of the crater.
Some sort of giant metal ball smoldered there. It was in the unpainted gray of the Uplanders, the parts that weren’t marred by vicious scorch marks at least. Steam wafted up from it, hissing from the force of impact still. Something was on the side of the pod, some sort of symbol, but the blackened metal only deigned to reveal that something had once existed there, and had ruined far too much to tell what, exactly, it was. At the center was a pane of glass, and Malsa couldn’t help but marvel at the fact it was still intact. Only Uplanders could create that kind of hardy glass, but even with her limited knowledge of them, she doubted they could make something as sturdy as that surely must be.
Yet for all the strangeness of the ball, Malsa couldn’t help the rising disappointment that stung at her. This is what a star looked like? For all the grand beauty and bounty of navigation they provided her people, she was expecting something…grander. Brighter. Foolish of her, because it was dangerous to hold assumptions about anything, but she couldn’t help it.
She jumped, smashed from her thoughts by the ball hissing open. She held her spear at the ready before she even realized what she was doing. Though she was far from the ball, at the edge of the crater where she had stumbled upon it, a rising thought popped into her mind. That, perhaps, it may have been foolish of her to come in search of the fallen star. Especially all alone. She shoved that regret out of her mind as quickly as she could. Perhaps it was. But she was here now, and there was little time for regrets of any sort.
So she stood at the ready, to fight or run as needed, and watched the ball carefully.
All the monsters she had fought, which now swirled in her mind at what terrible creature that must surely inhabit the stars, was chased from her mind by what actually crawled from the fallen star. She almost lost her grip on her spear when the baby plopped to the ground.
Bigger than any child she had ever seen, the baby was exactly that: Just a baby. It looked around curiously, apparently unbothered by its rough landing. She stood there, paralyzed by dumbfounded disbelief, as the child worked its way to its feet. Bare of any hair save for a few wafty black tuffs, the baby stood with an assuredness that looked somewhat ridiculous on a child, especially one so young looking. Suddenly feeling foolish, Malsa lowered her spear. The motion caught the child's eye, and it looked at her with an awareness that should have been beyond a baby.
They considered each other for a moment, before the child smiled.
As Malsa stared at that wide, sloppy smile, she knew there was only one thing she could do.
Malsa sat by the fire, rubbing her sore shoulder.
Around her the Bodan tribe gathered, drawn by the tales of a star-child. No tent was big enough to hold the whole tribe, and so the elders decided to hold the gathering around the great fire pits that were always the center of the tribe's encampments. The low hum of chatter filled the area, a stark contrast to the grim, hurried silence that had suffused the camp only hours earlier. Beside her, the star-child sat staring curiously back at the score of eyes that observed it—him. Him. Not it. The star-child had been heavy, not really more than she had expected. But between her spear and the child she was a little sore. She was a tracker and a hunter, yes, but she wasn’t ashamed to admit she was not the strongest out there. Physically, at least.
The star-child had refused to leave her side since they had entered the encampment, even when she tried to coax him to stay with the elders, so they may properly decide how to interpret this omen from the gods. But he had refused no matter what was tried. And so, to her own great embarrassment, she was dictated to sit by the elders by the Chief-Warlock, so that the star-child could be properly examined without him squirming from the elders' wrinkled hands. Many looked upon her with some jealousy, to be granted the honor of sitting by the elders when they gathered was great indeed, even for a tracker such as her.
The only one the star-child didn’t seem to squirm from was the Chief-Warlock, the wizened sage hummed and hemmed as he poked at the star-child, meeting those gold-flecked gray eyes with little surprise at the intelligence that lay within. The star-child examined the Chief-Warlock in turn, as ridiculous as it was to say. His poking's with those pudgy fists seemed random at first, but she could start to parse out a pattern to it. The star-child was drawn to the Chief-Warlocks guardian tokens, random pieces of the world that had been attached to his robes, and thus him, that had apparently gained some significance or another.
The low hum of conversation died out when the Chief-Warlock raised a hand. The old man cleared his throat, rising up from his examination and turning his gaze to the elders. “He has the touch.”
A ripple went through the crowd. Only Warlocks held that touch, that gift of nature which allowed the Bodans to survive the increasingly harsh wilds in ways few other tribes could match. It was dangerous as it was beneficial, and while some days Malsa was bitter she had not been granted it, she was equally glad that Nisha’s touch had passed her. With proper training, the touch was a powerful tool. But without it…
Well, there was a reason that everyone who had the touch must become a warlock.
“What do we do with him?” A voice shouted from the crowd. “We barely have enough food as it is! Look at the size of him, he can’t stay.”
A murmur filtered through, and before she knew what she was doing Malsa was on her feet, hands clenched into fists as her red hair snapped through the air at the force and speed of her rise. “And what are you going to do about it, Jor?” She snapped. The crowd parted, revealing the hunter. Tall and powerfully built, his was a frame of corded muscle and scars. His own reddish-brown hair was pulled back into the ponytail of all hunters and trackers. Despite his size, he looked vaguely put out at the crowd shuffling out of Malsa’s way. Though he stood his ground still.
“You know we’re struggling.” Jor said, crossing his arms. “This ground is bad. We were moving already, and your damn curiosity has brought us another mouth to feed. We could-”
“Could what?” Malsa snarled with such ferocity that she surprised herself. At her feet the star-child shifted uneasily, sensing the tension in the air. “You don’t have the balls. In fact, you try anything and I’ll make sure of that.” With that, she spun away from him, turning to the elders imploringly. “I’ll hunt for him myself if I have to. Cook for him, clothe him. Everything. But we…we can’t just leave him here. He is a gift from Nisha! He has the touch! He is no ordinary child, he could be a great warlock one day.” She paused, less so because she was out of things to say and more to do with the soft hand that had clutched at her leather pants.
Looking down, she saw the star-child shuffling close to her, and smiled despite herself.
Silence greeted her words, and the elders shared glances. Children were not often raised solely by their parents. There was too much to do, and the demands of the tribe weighed heavily on them all. So children were passed to those most available at the time, and learned at the feet of the whole tribe more often than not.
One man grunted, leaning forward. A giant of flesh, Chief Harlo was a great warrior, and even in his autumn years he was something to behold. Barrel chested and littered with scars, his grand white beard flowed down to his stomach, and great bushy eyebrows made his gaze hard to see, almost like he was squinting.
“You’ll go that far? Even when your duties call you away from the tribe?”
Malsa shivered under that old gaze despite herself, but stood tall still. “Yes.”
The old chief grunted, staring at her. Around him the elders whispered to each other. For what seemed like an eternity that muttered to one another, conferring in quiet. Then, one by one, they stopped. The last one to speak was the Chief-Warlock, who shuffled over to Chief Harlo and whispered into his ear.
The Chief nodded, bringing a massive hand to his bead and stroking it. “A noble sentiment.” He rumbled. “But we Bodans are not so poor to each other to force such a thing. You will be his primary caretaker…but he will be a Bodan, and will be raised as such. He is a gift from Nisha, as you say. Who would we be to refuse such a thing?”
The relief almost toppled her. She could barely hear the words spoken behind her, Jor’s angry stomps little more than a distant flicker of imagination. She had barely known this child for a few hours, but already she cared so deeply for him. It was astounding. She had never thought she would be a mother, everything involved seemed far too painful. But now…
She smiled down at the star-child, laughing softly at the way the boy tried to copy her.
“Come, my fallen star.” She said softly. “We must pack up.”
It was a night like any other and although the planet is no stranger to meteors and comets but from the dark and heavy clouds forming a blanket under the night sky, a single sphere of bright pure light descended onto the earth at a speed uncharacteristic of a falling star. However, the landing remained violent and dinning for the inhabitants unfortunate enough to be too close to the vicinity. Yet, any would-be witness would have seen the unadulterated glory of the impact site. A circle of shattered trees, splintered stones, and pulverized dirt. What should have been the shattered remains of rock from space were instead a pod forged of metal and polished to perfection. The shape and material were completely alien to the human settlers on this planet.
The first people to discover this artifact was a small retinue of nuns, armed with holy scripture and blessed weapons made of metal and wood, who approached the landing side with anxious wariness. After an eternity of fighting undead horrors, strange objects falling out of the sky indicates extreme boons or curses. But much to the relief of the human women clad in habits and armor, the pod opened, and after the smoke and steam dissipated, revealing a small baby girl. Healthy and untainted by mutation and corruption alike. They took it as a blessing from their god, a sign of deliverance.
A small lock of raven hair was already growing on the babe's head as the women took turns examining her. After the moment of respite, the nuns wasted no time taking the baby home with them with her pod in tow. Once arriving at their sacred church and home, the youngest members returned to their beds after storing away the pod while the eldest nun and leader of the expedition party offered one more prayer of joy and resolution before retiring for the night. In her aging mind, she called for a name from her god for the child delivered from the heavens. Looking over at the side to see the child sleeping peacefully and undisturbed in the crib, one name immediately popped into her head:
But in the back of her mind, the elderly nun also felt a tinge of pity and remorse. This lost child was cast onto a dying world where men and women hide behind tall stone walls, where towns and cities were islands waiting to be swallowed by the flood, and where death was never too far away...
A few hundred sirens blared in the deep pit of the Fabricator General, a similar count of screens suddenly lighting up to provide all sorts of readings. An extraterrestrial threat was approaching, the velocities and relatively small mass failing to vapourize in the atmosphere suggesting this was no ordinary celestial object. Air defence systems activated, the first stages of emergency response protocols were activated and thus hundreds of multi purpose servitors were mobilized for any contingency imaginable to one of a machine mind.
Yet the crash heard outside of Olympus Mons seemed rather innocent given the great stir it roused. No earthquakes from tectonic munitions were brought forth, nor were any viruses dispersed into the atmosphere.
What the Serberys cavalry arriving upon the scene relayed was something wholly unexpected. A child, humanoid in the wireframe display but otherwise quite alien. Skin flowing like mercury, and it was as tall as any of the machine cult’s warriors on their steeds. Borrowing the visual feed of one of the cavaliers Salkor witnessed the child reach out towards one of the Mechanicum’s warriors with almost curiosity. Yet the raider mistook it for a threat, and fired its revolver at the pecuiliarity. The bullet seemed to bounce off of the fluid skin like a rock skipping off of water and a soft exhalation came from the Serberyte whose vision Salkor had borrowed. With a panic in the remaining human parts of the Martian brains they reared their steeds to try to flee upon witnessing the child sprint and bisect the offending rider with a downward swing of its arm; the event occurred in a single frame of the visual feed.
Curiously, the child seemed wholly not intending on further violence, instead crawling back to the crater it had crashed in where it curled against one of the walls in a fetal position.
Somehow, something in the interaction reminded Salkor of his own arrival on Mars more than a thousand years ago. A hiss of hydraulic gasses came as he disconnected thousands of cables and supports from himself, the sequence of separations long mastered to ensure no failures of programming happened nor excess datafeeds would enter him. At last in his nominal for, he hovered off towards the scene of the crash. Above, a whole flock of archaeopters and pteraxii flew both ahead and behind him as vanguard and rearguard respectively.
Seeing the arrival of the Fabricator general, the silvery child went from a fetal position to a crouch as if to spring upon him or as far away as it could depending on if fight or flight was the selected way forward.
With an emotion as close to greed as the cyborg could manage, Salkor hovered over the rim of the crater and into it. One of his many mechadendrites more resembling a human hand was extended and raised up and down in a motion that he knew was considered placating by the outdated patterns of humanity. At the same time dozens of scanners for every wavelength of light sound and otherwise measurable energy emerged from his body, taking in the full physical measure of what was before him. Almost nonchalantly, another mechadendrite extended a particularly powerful vacuum to suck up the ricocheted bullet to be analyzed.
Child and Archmagos stared upon one another for an entire minute, the silence eventually broken only when the Archmagos had made a decision. He adjusted his voice synthesize for a kindly accent and voice, and thus spoke.
The concept of heaven is a place where those above look down upon those walking upon the Earth. It is a concept, many cultures and religions have their own forms of heaven and they have different meanings, different trials to reach, and different names, titles, and depictions. It's where the gods look down upon the mortals they guide, it's where souls go to rest. In some cultures, it is the opposite of hell. A perfect place where souls rest after their praise and lives have been fulfilled to the best of their abilities. People live, fight, love, and die. When a soul goes to heaven, it knows it has lived life to its best and has chosen a pathway guided by belief.
But what happens when the sky above you is flames when the heavens have decided to throw wroth and hate? Is it something you have done, not likely, but priests, demagogues, prophets, and all of the other loud voices may say that it was you, or it was your neighbor, the next town over, some barbaric tribe; blame is all that it is, for sometimes it is nothing but meteors falling from the sky.
But over the skies of Belivahnn, they were alight with fire, rock, dust vaporizing and high speeds as it entered the planet's orbit, burning up in the atmosphere. Still, there was one object that was as bright as a star in the pitch-black sky, it trailed around the planet as it had made several orbiting loops around the planet before getting caught by gravity and bringing a portion of the planet's rocky ring down with it. It circled the planet for an entire day before it began to speed up, and when it finally began its final approach to the surface of the planet, it and the dust it dragged with it began to form wings in the sky as it made its way towards one of the planets few forests in the midlands.
The Knegh forest is a relatively small forest, but it was surrounded by one of the few areas north of most of the kings' reach. Some two hundred people lived there in relatively peaceful lives, but for in beasts, random bandits, or sometimes even a taxation party from one of the southern kingdoms. But tonight, it was a fire. At first, when the artificial sun had died out for a minute after, the wings of death descended from the heavens. The meteor shower had ended, and an older vagabond was yelling about how the son of the planet was born, one who would become a king, a warrior lord, a crusader, a horse rider. The man spoke a thousand words, used through the orders, the tribes, the kingdoms, and the wanderers for terms of endearment that could possibly be used to quell an angered god. Many thought of him as crazy; only a few traders that were in town that night would believe him after that night. Johannesburg was soon to be a grave memory for them, as fire would broil their dreams into nightmares each night after.
When many of the villagers had arrived home, and the vagabond was seen leaving the town, an echo came from the small hills to the east overlooking a lake that separated the village from the forest as a light began to appear. It turned into a thunderous boom as a flash lit the sky back up for a minute and the towering trees of Knegh turned into torches in the night. Next, the creatures of the forest began to flee; those that had made their homes there, those that lived all of their lives under the leaves of the canopy, fled in droves. Heads bobbed in the crystalline reflections in the water as they tried to swim the cold lake water towards the nearest shelter, many of these creatures would drown, but those chose that over being suffocated in smoke or burning in the charnel house of their once home. The town's lights flickered like the safety of a warm sun. There were others that fled from the treelines into fields of grain and vegetables churning the tilled earth like the season had started, but their goal was to run as far as possible from their burning homes.
The villagers not within a gated area or their homes were trampled, cut down by hordes of animals fleeing and searching for shelter. Those that opened their doors in confusion had similar things happen to them as creatures ranging from large quadrupedal beasts to small creatures the size of small dogs and large birds sought a way to hide from the blaze across the lake. As soon as the beasts came, many of them were gone, many others were hiding inside homes, barns, or any shelter they could find. Most were too scared to eat upon the dead carcasses of other animals, people, or stockpiles of grain and food that littered barns and granaries throughout the village. But that only led to something worse because as the edges of the forest began to burn, so did the fields beside it. The thin wooden fencing acts like the wire connecting fire to fields, the bright red paint made from berries known to grow the larve of a local pollinator acting like the promethium fuel inside an engine. Fields went up in flame, the buildings closest to the forest became infernos, and those inside fled to the best of their abilities before being choked out of air, as screaming turned to deaf cries of agony as charred hands scratched for throats. Few made it to the road, but they almost all collapsed, only those who were strong, and those who were loved by the strong made it farther.
Next, the first grainery was caught in flames, and it set off like a bomb as the grains dust set off a low-yield explosive. Debris and fire spread quickly across roads, more fields, and homes. Several tried to take pumps to flood their fields; in hindsight, it was a good idea but done far to late in the catastrophe that was taking place. Buildings burned, screams rang out, people fled, some stayed and tried to fight, tried to save their homes, but they were soon consumed by fire, and by the end of the night, as buildings went up in fire. But even once the buildings, the people, the fields, and the trees were charred, they stayed alight. This fire burned quietly without fuel, but it persisted and burned.
Johannesburg burned, and many of its people lay charred in ashe-covered streets, hugging each other in beds, closets, or underneath the hooves, paws, and claws of beasts that hid with their corpses from their eventual downfall of being trapped inside a burning hut. Out of the inhabitants, maybe thirty survived, five traders and an old man who was found nearly crushed outside of the village. The survivors began to migrate when they found him. They once thought he was delusional, but now they saw that he likely spoke the truth, and they were ashamed at whatever misgivings they gave a maligned god. A small camp was set up in stony soil, it was one of the areas they could reach that night that was not alight with the wildfires that were spreading at random through the grasslands. And that next night, they saw the forest that still burned and raged with a firestorm the likes that had not been seen in likely a hundred years of the planet. Here in these camps, they sent several people back to collect whatever they could and search for food. That, though, was nearly impossible as the fires reached out and protected themselves and the lands before them like a child lashing out, or reaching out for something. The fires created wails as the winds blew past those who stared into what used to be their homeland, now it was home to something else. Within several days, the first orders arrived along with a caravan of soldiers from the nearest kingdom of Ukrye. They saw what was happening, and began to cordon off what was left of the forest and around the still-burning areas of the grasslands.
First, a Seargent at arms, along with several of his soldiers were asked to scout and enter the area, they were padded thick with metals, and damp cloths. They were tasked to search for survivors within the village, should there be any, to find any sign of what was happening. They also sent for both a seer, and for one who uses the wyrd. Those that entered the zone, were gone for days, beyond the sight of the veil of flames, but they did come back, and several short. There were three instead of twenty, and one was not of the party, but of a living girl covered in burns, and for most they would think of her as a charred corpse, if not for the screaming.
Once inside the tents and away from the screaming girl, the two men reported that the forest was still alight as if it had only started to burn. The lake would be one of the safest options for approaching the forest, but they would not have protection from the fire as they would likely have to swim, as wood and anything flammable grew hot and would start to burn without warning or reason. By that time, several orders had arrived, and many others had begun to journey to the firestorm, both to see it, and to begin building a wall to protect from it. It was as if hell had come to earth, and it spread a plague that had only started when it landed for the beasts had began to drive across the plains rapidly, and almost unchecked if it was not for the tribes, the orders, and walls that were built to help contain and control the flow of grazing animals in the south lands. They were a threat, but this was also one, but it could be contained whatever it was until the beasts were dealt with or at least partially dealt with.
The first part of the wall was built in two months; while a deep trench was made, a wall was needed to contain the firestorm, considered the Johannes line, and the first gate Johannesburg after the town that once stood a mile to its west. It was functional, there were three buildings, two to tend to those who get too close to the fiery embrace, and one to store supplies to keep them out of the weather. They were all built of stone, everything had to, or else it would burn; even the seasoned wood was not enough to keep flames from enveloping it. They had learned that the hard way several days into the construction of the trench as a barracks of southern laborers was killed in minutes by a flame that hugged the ground around it. It took three days for the fires to be brought down around the building, and by then all that remained were the flakes of that inside.
Several more excursions were made inside the storm, most of them returning similar to those that came prior; even a seer entered, only to be doused by flames moments later. But those who returned alive said it sounded as if there was a child wailing in pain or from lack of attention. The death cry of so many sounded like a haunting reminder of life and death. It was a dreary thing.
"Marek," Aleksandr said, "the storm's cries are growing louder; could something be coming?"
"I do not know, but whatever it is, I bet it is heading to finish off that girl... do none of the villagers know who she is, have any recognition of her?" Marek had replied, looking back at the younger noble. "One of them has to; it's a small town, maybe once she's calmed down and her voice has had time to rest, someone can tell who she is, or she can tell us her name."
"I don't think anyone could, her screams are filled with agony and pain... I hope the officer's barracks are made soon; my betrothed is coming from the south. As much as I would like to walk several leagues to the wall each morning, I would rather live beside it in stone; that way, I don't have to replace my tent again." Aleksandr finished. "Maybe the mender will be able to help her regain her voice... but right now, I think she won't survive much longer."
From the edges of the fire came a whimper as if someone was out there, crying. It did sound like crying as if someone was far within the depths of the firestorm. The two men stared and took deep breaths.
"I will have someone come up in a minute to replace us and start watching over this part of the line. Right now." Aleksandr said, listening to the wailing; he hated that noise, and it reminded him of a child dying of some illness. He wanted to get to somewhere he couldn't hear it. "Tomorrow, after my wife should be here, and I will head off into the firestorm..."
Marek looked back at him, "it's finally your turn; at least you get to see your wife one last time."
"Oh, I'll survive, just a touch of fire, and I have the family mage coming with me... What could possibly go wrong?"
The next day, Lady Thelis of House Aleksandr arrived with a caravan of fifty armed men, and a young man, maybe the age of twenty, but possibly younger, around his head was a round cage, and through his palms were spikes of lead. His head twitched, and he moved his hands to the cage as the spikes barely touched his head.
"Screaming... all I hear is screaming, want, need... It is like a child born to a dying mother who can't hold up a babe." the psyker dropped to his knees, moving his hands to rip the spikes out of his hands and then begin to scratch and tear for the cage around his head, "Please take it off... Take it off!" the man screamed as he went into shock, his body spasming as he jerked, blood gleaming from his slick hands, and his head stuck in the cage protecting the vital bits.
Two men were atop him, holding him tightly to the ground so he could not hurt anything else, but behind them the fire started to rage and burn. They were trying to keep the mage alive, and trying to keep others around him to stay alive as well, the elder seer who had come had perished in a ball of fire that immolated thirty men who were walking by him when the firestorm last surged.
Aleksandr ran over with a small contingent of men, Marek and several others tailing behind with their own retinues from the hierarchies of different orders that had come to stop the firestorm and whatever was inside. This time, the camp and those around the mage were lucky. The fire on the opposing side of the wall died down for a moment.
"Thelis... I am glad to see you..."
"And I am glad to see you alive; what is on the other side of the wall, a deamon?" the woman asked her husband, "No... I do not know, I was going to set out inside with the magi, but... I will wait for him to be calmed before I enter the fire. It gives me time to see you once again... Marek will look over this, but I wish to show you what I will be walking into. You can see a farmhouse, but that is as far as you can see... It was owned by a man named Tom."
When both of them arrived at the top of the wall, the woman stared at the veil of fire that slowly made it's way towards them, it was watching them, it was alive. Aleksandr did not realize that until his wife was up with him, and he took a deep breath turning towards his right. He stopped in horror at what he saw, the woman's hand was up raised towards the fire as it reached out for her. It touched her, and the fire dissipated entirely from the land and the stream of fire that reached her. The glow was gone to the forest in the distance, and only the early morning sky was alight.
Behind both of them was an old man.
"Go... find the son of our world... for he will bring our world into a new age one day, one that none of us will have ever thought of..." the old prophet said, "Go together... he will reach out for you..." An old clouded eye seemed to turn towards the woman, "But soon, he will need someone to raise him to be a warrior... and he will become one... the warrior our world needs... A king..."
Ryza was in a festive mood, or at least as close to that state one as a world belonging to the Omnissian faith could be. Dignitaries had arrived from a small human realm, the Grellae Hegemony it had called itself. After a brief encounter with an Ark Mechanicus, they had decided they best attempt diplomacy and convince the Heirophant Technis that the exchange of fire between them was wholly a misunderstanding. Of course, Patrimonia knew they were lying. But at the same time their realm had little that warranted true conquest, and thus more value would be found in simply having them as a partial buffer between Ryza and WAAAAAGH Fire-Skull.
The men and women of the Knight House and Titan Legions were of course the most eager for the event. Bearing more or less the sum total of what could be “personality” in the Forge, they made the best use of it they could. Drinking and carousing, flirting with the foreigners. If Patrimonia cared, then the concession would be made that it indeed was a damn fine party. But even the most self indulgent hedonists present would be solemnly aware that if it did not go well, a shooting war would erupt between the two civilizations that neither had a grand interest in.
At last the ambassadors of the Hegemony were assembled at dusk, together with several representatives of the Forgeworld for a united signing of a clear treaty of not only peace, but also further non-aggreession and indeed trade.
Patrimonia looked upon this with satisfaction, a flick of a finger activating a laser to finely engrave the characters “GHVM” to the satisfaction of the Grellans. The ceremony of departure began, the Grellan envoys all smiling as they headed towards their landing craft whilst flanked on either side by a grand honour guard of Skitarii. It was just as their Chief Ambassador turned to bow to the Ryzans that the sky tore upon, and a whole five of his party turned to vapour from a crash. Shocked, the ambassador looked between the death of the party, and then the Mechanicum, before tapping a device on his wrist several times to activate a teleportation system in an effort to bypass the wasted time of getting upon the landing craft.
In a similar hurry the flyer also raised its ramp in an effort to flee as quickly as possible. But the entire honour guard that had been placed had not been idle in this brief period. Their servo limbs moved in unison as they went towards the impact crater, surrounding it with weapons at the ready. Heirophant Technis Ghum looked on with interest at the being that arose from there, the creature about the same size as the Forgemaster. “Identify yourself!” hundreds of mechanical voices demanded as a choir.
There was no reply from the figure that simply gazed upon the machine man with a ponderous glaze to the silvery eyes. As one, the Skitarii fired their galvanic rifles. Hundreds of servitor-assisted bullets flew upon the standing figure. About half met their mark, but it was enough to discharge sufficient electric charge to destroy many mighty vehicles in the Mechanicum’s arsenal.
The figure they targeted however, seemed to yet live. It lay in a quickly growing pool of its own blood but by some sort of miracle was able to push itself upright. The thing wailed louder than many a Titan’s horn, collapsing to its knees, and then drooping down again. But Patrimonia knew that the thing lived, many a scanner indicating different signs of life.
“Every single Genetor on-world is to report to Prosperity within an hour.” came the binharic order from the Heirophant, an order given to cease fire shortly after with a summons for many servitors to carry the thing away to the labs of Prosperity. While awaiting the arrival of the expert biologians, Patrimonia had to think long and hard on how to try and salvage the diplomacy with the Grellans.
Kargon stared at them, watching them closely, the quickly growing youth understood what they were doing almost instinctively. As they poured over charts and ledgers, they spoke of quotas and logistics all to the end of supplying another of the Crevice Cities a few leagues away after a Molten Flow burst from the wall and cut off one of the underground railways. It was inane babble, far to much discussion about unnecessary topics but it seemed to put their frustrations at ease, and that helped him understand them better. They were complicated, delicate beings despite the hardiness of their form and lives. Even at his young age of 4 he understood that in order for people to live and work together amicably, you must ensure that they felt comfortable with you, and that involved conversation and pointless diatrade.
He stood at the table, and looked over the papers himself, while his father and his servant spoke he made short concise changes in schematics for a new tunnel to be dug. He listed ways to carve the stone, natural ways to improve weakpoints to better prevent unexpected molten flows in the future, as well as ways to temper the stone to further reinforce it. It was all so simple in his mind, things that flowed to the forefront when confronted with a problem. He did not question it, because it was simply that simple, and he saw no difficulty in helping his father with his work. He finished quickly, the work his father had been contemplating for 3 days was finished in ten minutes. He tugged at his fathers robe, drawing him from his conversation. Yet even as the man looked at his son, in order to address him, he saw the altered schematics and started to pour over them with his worker. They spoke in hushed tones, disbelief in their voices, and the servant questioned the veracity of anything designed by a child.
Despite this, Father saw fit to give his son's work a bit of trust, because he felt it would work. It took three months rather than the full year they thought, the tunnel was simple and strong and the finest engineers in the city complimented the man's ingenious design. Yet he knew, his son was gifted, and he began to bring him to more and more of the same issues. His son designing clever ways around them, and as the years passed the issues he dealt with only grew and yet were solved as simply as before. It didn't matter, be it city planning or reconstruction, each was dealt with swiftly with precision planning and revolutionary designs. The City became a modern marvel, and the planet benefited from the advanced designs and better logistical planning offered.
Soon however Kargon found himself drawn to other pursuits, most importantly, he found himself drawn to the Forges. It was here he truly shined. Soon, from the Forge of his home, he crafted truly remarkable things. Things that had not been seen in many, many Centuries. Things he knew he could not have known, yet he knew instinctively. It would bare later thought, but for now, he simply needed to forge what he could. He felt things changing.
Vion 5 was a planet filled with technology from before the Long Night and matched only by the willingness of its inhabitants to wage brutal war amongst the archaeotech fortresses that lined its surface. Yet, despite the great religious upheaval that occurred below that threatened the temporary peace, Hox could not bear to think of such conflicts or war. The station was serene, the cold of space brought with it an eerie peace that was utterly unseen on the planet below, even as tech-thralls patrolled the station or the servitors mindlessly performed their duties. The budding tech-priest looked down upon the umber planet, taking in the brief peace from a life filled with hardship and strife. Despite this, the grim reality of his purpose was setting in as the monitor he gazed from zoomed in upon the planet and brought a hive into view. His hands clutched the hems of his white and red robes, peace giving way to anxiety as calculations instantly ran in his mind.
Peace was never a factor, a worthless prerogative that the Mechanicum had long learned to cope with on this planet, yet even then peace had shown through intermittently. Could this not yet be another time for such peace? Robotic words echoed in his mind as another of his kind spoke from another part of the station, “Solar Arrays less than 45% charged, awaiting target confirmation, Enginseer.”
The green hue of his retinal replacements merely looked upon the hive that he was to doom, a hive of Hereteks to be sure but a hive nonetheless - filled with people who knew nothing outside of their homes for the hive was their world. And Hox was to damn them before the heresy took root, condemning them to an irreversible fate that would only be met with an equal attack should any other hive know of what happened. His logic emitters told him to confirm, echoed that his emotional dampeners were not functioning properly, but Hox ignored it, instead listing out the reasons to not proceed with this. The first and primary being the stark cost of such a task, losing such potential labor. Precious milliseconds passed without an answer to his other, servos whirling as Hox’s third arm moved back to grasp onto a flat, data-storage device - a start-up sequence for the weapon - and positioning it over a slot in front of him.
Sweat pooled on the flesh of his brow, nerves overtaking him with the gravity of the situation as the Lingua Technis filled his auditory receptors once more, “Enginseer, proceed with targeting confirmation immediately.” The words were no solace in Hox’s mind. They echoed in a hesitant mind, one furious with his own sense of morality that the disk hovered a mere breath away from condemning millions to a quick death.
Hox did not have the time to deliberate the course of action, to destroy or not to destroy, to damn or to bless. It was a simple question but a hard one to answer. Yet, fate would decide for him as an alarm blared as the screen he watched turned red.
A warp signature appeared.
A torpedo sped towards the station.
Point defense activated as servitors scrambled to senselessly gun down the foreign object. Hox ran to the nearest viewport, mechanical legs slamming into the floor. He looked out into the vastness of space and focused his optical lenses on the rapidly approaching object. It was not a large ordinance, but torpedoes would set their whole operation behind more than his own hesitations had.
“Hox,” his compatriot’s voice started, unperturbed by the sudden alarms, “Confirm target, NOW!”
This order drove Hox from the viewport, feet slamming into the metal flooring. He would not have time to insert the drive with the proper rites but time was desperate.
Yet, he was far too late. The torpedo impacted the station, sending Hox to the floor in front of the console. The sound of broken metal and the horrid screeching of alarms filled his senses, even before he could get his bearings, he knew the station had been knocked free of its orbit. The entire station rumbled as Hox got to his feet to check the status of the station and the sight brought a primal fear into his heart. The torpedo had ripped straight through the heart of the station and out the other side, breaching the reactors and the targeting array.
“D-Dominus?” Hox called. No response came.
There was nothing left to do as the thoughts of his failure roused his mind. The Enginseer looked to the viewport once more and there he saw the red outline of the station begin its re-entry into the planet’s atmosphere. He looked to the screens once more, the image frozen of the torpedo that had damned him. Yet, as he stared upon the death of himself, Hox realized that the torpedo was not what it had seemed - no it was no torpedo. Within it bore the image of a child, his killer and destroyer.
No. His savior. Having saved Hox from the guilt of destroying countless lives - even if it meant his death. It was the will of the Machine God.
He activated what he could of the communications array and spoke of his death - his heralding, “It is the will of the Machine God that we are destroyed. Praise him. Recover his avatar from the pod. Praise be the Angel of the Machine God. Praise be the Angelus Machina.”
//2 Hours After Destruction
The destruction of the battle station had heralded a great movement amongst the upper echelons of the Mechanicum, still keeping Hox’s decree a secret. It was his death cries that usher the throngs that made up the Holy Synod to convene and discuss the apparent arrival of the “Angelus Machina”. Yet, they were not the ones mobilizing to meet the coming divine, for it was instead a local scavenger who had motioned to the pod. He thought nothing of it at first, believing it to be a piece of debris from some ruined satellite. Yet, scrapped metal was always in demand in Vion 5, from use constructing the Mechanicum’s automata to great towering spires. Luckily for him, it was a lucrative enough business - supporting his family for who knows how long.
It was for this reason that Nirek was more than happy enough to travel between the many redoubts and fortress networks to get there before anyone else could. His speeder was certainly fast enough, bobbing between valleys and killing fields - all while hoping some rogue tech-priest or some automated turret didn’t decide him to be a threat that day. Yet, it all seemed that the day had blessed him with being clear and even then he could see the smoke stack from far away. Nirek rapidly closed upon the crash site, the speeder listing to the side as it careened around an old sensor tower - knowing that his activities would be viewed by some being out in the rocky wastes. The speeder screeched to a halt, the decrepit grav pupulsion coming to a swift stop and the bottom of the vehicle scraping across the ground in a lesser mimicry of the salvage that he was so keen upon collecting.
Rock and metal scraped against one another before it finally halted itself, leaving Nirek not even ten paces from the crater. Swinging his legs out of the speeder, Nirek grabbed a scanner before he made his way to the assumed debris - the smoke billowing in such quantities that he could not see with the naked eye. He held the scanner close, using it as a better pair of eyes to penetrate the thick smoke before he was right on top of the crash, quickly he pulled out a fire retardant from his belt and began to douse the source of the pillar. Yet, the sight of what he would come to see would astonish him - for there was no debris, instead what had landed looked to be an intact artifact. His scarlet eyes twinkled as numbers ran through his head, knowing that the tech-priests would find great value in this for the data-hoards.
So, Nirek knelt down looking over the pod before noticing a singular viewport that was now partially covered by the flame douser. He assumed that it was a screen, assuming that this must have been some interstellar probe that perhaps belongs to times before Humanity’s fall. Again, Nirek would be surprised as he found that what he found inside was a child - no, an infant. The scavenger let out a gasp, instantly pushing the pod over so that he might pry open the transport. His muscles strained against the door, synth muscle flexing as his fingers drew blood. Eventually, the pod’s door flew off and Nirek instantly swooped up the crying infant, holding it close. He looked around as if the child’s parents were near.
There was not a soul in sight, not that there would be out in the dead wastes of the planet. Nirek would not leave the child to die, knowing that the pod might not be able to support him for an indefinite time and who knew how long it would be before another would come to this site.
For a moment he pondered how the child survived atmospheric entry.
He wondered where it had come from.
Inevitably, he wondered why.
Nirek sequestered the child back to his speeder, the prospect of scavenging had now been abandoned in his mind. The grav engines hummed to life before Nirek sped away from the crash site, as if he had just committed some great crime of abducting this infant rather than potentially saving its life. Through mountain valleys and titanic fortress-ruins, Nirek raced back to his home, attempting to comfort the child all the while. The grav speeder had to swiftly turn, lurching to the side before stopping a hairs length away from a metal wall. The scavenger held the steering wheel with both hands, breathing heavily but allowing himself a moment to recollect himself. This brief respite was enough to bring order back to his mind, calming himself.
The man let out a sigh before looking over the child, who had by now stopped crying though, perplexingly, staring at Nirek like Nirek had been staring at the child. Nirek’s scarlet eyes gazed into the deep blue of the child’s and, for a moment, the two seemed to hold an understanding. Despite being below any age of comprehension, the child looked around his surroundings, his gaze holding upon certain architectures or pieces of scenery as if he was absorbing the sight and locking it away. The infant’s eyes wordlessly darted back to Nirek as he spoke, “You’re an odd kid.”
There was a toothless grin as if it was a true response to Nirek’s words, but the scavenger allowed himself to relax as the child began to act its age. He wondered what to do in that moment, thinking of the possibilities that he might be able to do. “One-One would never allow you,” Nirek commented to himself, the baby cocked his head earning an explanation from the scavenger, ”She’s this grumpy old hag known as a wife. Though you might just be charming enough to get through to her, kid.”
The baby laughed, earning a more and more curious gaze from Nirek as he tried to piece the kid together. “How do the Priest Orphanages sound?” Nirek asked off-handedly, earning a rasp from the baby as if he understood the question. Nirek chuckled to himself before speaking, “Well, I guess One-One might just have to bear with you for a bit.”
With those words, the speeder started on its path again, diving through the countryside as Nirek began to think of ways to charm his wife into allowing the temporary adoption. He figured that it wouldn’t be too hard but as he approached a redoubt, armed to the teeth with turrets and other such automated defenses, Nirek couldn’t help but feel a pit of dread within his stomach. The child gave a concerned gaze, sharing Nirek’s worry as the turrets followed the craft as it came closer and closer to the ancient, independent fortification. Though, Nirek’s worry was not for his own but for the prize that he had decided to bring for he knew One-One was not bound by the same human morals as he. In fact, he could see her form looming over the precipice of the redoubt, glowing optical blue tracking them as the speeder approached, swiftly coming to a stop.
A feminine, synthetic voice quickly called out, “I have detected two life signatures. Explain.”
Nirek slowly got out of the speeder, raising his hands as if surrendering to a militant force, before he spoke, “A guest. One-One.”
“Elaborate,” the monotone voice barked back. He could make out the hood of her white robes, even more threateningly, Nirek could see that she had two servo-arms pointed downwards - one at the child and one at himself.
“I found the child in the wastes, love. I could not leave him. You know what would happen if the Mechanicum found him, Machine God forbid if the Cult did,” Nirek said, allowing silence to follow as One-One seemed to steep herself in momentary thought. Eventually, the two robotic-arms lowered themselves, leaving Nerik to let out a sigh of relief before leaning into his vehicle and grabbing the child, swaddling him in a light rag that he normally used for scrap.
He held the child close as he approached, the door shifting open for him and revealing the comforts of his home. Nirek would have let out a sigh of relief to be back home, but One-One came into his view, still bearing her axe. Her hood was lowered and so he gazed upon the graying skin of her face, at least what was visible under the respiratory mask that was now melded where her mouth and nose should be. The scavenger braced himself.
“Was it impossible to notify me of this intrusion beforehand?” The synthetic voice chided, setting her axe against the wall.
Nirek let out a silent thanks to the Machine God, “I wasn’t thinking. I am sorry.”
“You ought to be,” One-One growled, moving into a different room almost dismissively to her husband who closely followed behind. She walked to a screen, gazing upon its information.
“Listen-“ One-One raised a finger, silencing her husband without meeting his eyes.
“You said you had found it in the wastes?” The tech-priestess questioned, continuing to gaze upon her screen. Nirek gave her the affirmation with a light grunt, keeping still behind his wife. One-One turned her head in brief acknowledgement, her monotone voice speaking briefly inquiring more, “Where exactly?”
“In a pod, past the Antioch Array,” Nirek answered.
One-One was upon him, swiftly grasping her husband's throat as if he were one of her many thralls. Her audio-drivers strained themselves, “If you were seen you have doomed us! Do you know what it is that you have brought into our home?!”
Nirek continued to hold the now screaming child in a desperate attempt to not drop him. “One-One…” he choked out.
“The Angelus Machina! Did you not think when I said I wished to distance myself from that accursed order! Dispose of it,” She ordered, dropping the man on the floor.
“I can’t,” Nirek said in defiance, earning One-One’s baleful gaze as he scrambled for his balance. He spoke out against her once more, “No one will come for us! Abandoning a child to an unknown fate is not something I can do, my love. You wouldn’t do it either, at least, not while we still lived amongst the forges.” This wording had seemed to disarm the priestess, her stance shifting and relaxing as the weight of her own mind was crumbling. Nirek rested a hand on her shoulder, “We wanted to start a new life, away from that cult. That doesn’t mean we must abandon our morals. This child - this ‘Angelus’ - has no one to go to. At least none that would treat him as a child, we can give him that home.”
One-One looked away from Nirek, contemplating before speaking softly, “Why must you be so insistent? My emotional suppressors strain against your words.” Her gaze shifted to the babe, “Does the Angelus have a name?”
Nirek shook his head, before offering the child to his wife and she took him into her arms, holding him as any mother would. She knew that she could not be a true mother to this child but even as she gazed into its deep blue eyes, she felt the phantom tears well behind her blue optics. One-One leaned her head into her husband's chest, feeling the warmth of his embrace around her. Perhaps, this would be the way for her mind to be at peace, to perhaps gain some control after it was so brutally ripped away from her. With a synthetic sigh, One-One spoke, “Then may I name the Angelus?”
“Anything, my love,” Nirek confirmed, resting his chin in her blackened hair.
“Then, let it be known to all that I shall name him after my father and your family…
Let it be known. Let it be known, that he hath come.
Usriel Andreadth, the Angelus Machina. Our new beginning.
Salkor pored over the vast readings from analyzing the child he did not yet know to be a primarch. It was related to humanity in some way. Not just by the aesthetic, but a sample of genetic material relayed that inevitably it was a distant cousin of the homo sapiens. But it had been optimized. Stronger, faster, and clearly far more intelligent. It had apparently not known neither High Gothic nor binharic upon first arrival to Mars. Yet in a mere day it had mastered both of the languages as a student of many years might. Though confined to a glasscrete cube, the creature seemed strangely understanding and compliant with its situation once fully understanding it. Indeed, it went so far as to correcting a warped hydraulic in one of the servitors that had arrive to take its genetic material. Indeed, once the concept of a dissection had been explained it had even assisted in the examination of its own internal organs!
Much to the Fabricator General’s surprise, the creature had made for a good conversational partner. It had queried why the genetic samples would be needed, what they would be used for, and if the projects to use the information were successful then what that would mean for Salkor, for Mars, for the future, and for itself. Truth be told, Salkor himself didn’t even know what would happen if he could manage to clone the beautiful child. For one, that largely depended on what exactly this thing would mature to, assuming that indeed it was simply a child for now. But there was also the question of how simple would it be to make more of such beings even if the Priesthood did manage to wrap their minds around the biology of the synthetic person.
That was what it was, Salkor decided. Such a thing could not simply evolve. Not over millennia, likely not in billions of years. Such a thing needed the guiding hand of intelligent design in its origin. The Mechanicum sought to augment itself with plasteel and adamantium where it could to surpass the boundaries of mere humanity but whoever manufactured this particular individual had managed to do so much better with mere meat. To what extent it could, this angered the Archmagos. The thought that all of the thousands of years of careful improvements on the human form with machine could be so thoroughly surpassed with flesh was just wrong to him. Jealousy, that was what he felt. The bit of him yet human screamed and wailed that it was unfair that he had to sacrifice all of himself save a few grams of brain whilst this creature was already born with perfection!
Though initially he mostly visited the thing to personally take new readings and observe its growth to an even more herculean form, he found eventually that he was coming to the laboratory it was held in simply for the sake of being there.
It was at one such visitation that he was disturbed by a servitor demanding his attention. It reported atmospheric great atmospheric disturbance, and initially Salkor was excited. Was he to get even more such subjects to study? If he had two, that would certainly allow him to be more… callous with the tests on one of them. Alas, he was to be disappointed.
“Thousands of missile signatures. Countermeasures.”
Salkor paused for a moment, floating over to a cogitator in a wall and plugging into it. Looking upon Mars from a satellite he could even now see the crashing of vessels from orbit down onto the red dust. It had come to Salkor’s attention that in his new obsession he had neglected his domain, and if anyone else had noticed this fact they would be sure to bring it up when this sudden outburst of violence across the red planet would be inevitably discussed. His frustrations quickly grew when data reams would come that the sites of the missile barrages had all been rather close to Fulgurite temples. He knew for a fact they would leave behind no proof that they were the ones striking the vessels which he was now almost certain would be full of corpuscarii priests or their ideologues. Shame quickly replaced the frustration, for he had so long tried to maintain the fragile peace between them and now had failed. There was only one thing left for him to do, and that was to summon the Martian Parliament to discuss how to proceed.
Jonatan Rhen liked to think he was a simple man. He owned quite a bit of farmland, sure, and was one of the wealthiest in town because of it. But that didn't mean he was afraid of some honest work. Which was why he found himself knelt down, working away at his crops by hand. He'd been told the town would be getting some new tools he could buy to help with this. They'd told him that last year too. And the year before. By now, Jonatan had consigned himself to simply whittling away at it on his own. He sighed, looking up from the dirt to wipe his brow. Maybe he could-
His thoughts were cut off by a thunderous roaring from the sky, and a sharp glare catching him across the face. He looked to see what looked to be some sort of falling star careening off across the horizon. And it was headed straight for his fields several acres away. He stood, and quickly began to sprint off towards his farm home.
"Marthe, Marthe, come quickly!" he shouted as he ran, calling his wife to come outside. She did, startled look across her face.
"What is it, Jonatan? Why are you shouting, is something wrong?"
"I don't know! Something strange just came falling from the sky! It crashed in the field a ways away! Grab some water and come look with me, I don't want it to burn the crops!"
As Jonatan rushed away from the home and towards the object's landing site, his wife hurried to fill a pair of buckets from their well, rushing after him.
Marthe arrived heaving a bucket in each hand, nearly dropping them from shock at what she saw. Jonatan stood there too, eyes transfixed upon what had fallen into their world, changing it forever. A large, shimmering metal object, looking unharmed from the impact and partially burrowed into the ground. The strange thing opened with a hiss, and what was inside shocked them even more. A baby, the largest either of them had ever seen. The couple looked at each other before both carefully stepped towards the object, reaching in and hefting the child out together. Silently, they carried him to their home, both contemplating the bizarre situation they'd found themselves in. The baby looked up at them both, emerald eyes glinting in the daylight, hands reaching out to them.
Bringing the child inside, the two quickly worked to make up something they could set him on, as they figured out what to do.
"What do you think it could mean, Jon? A baby, falling from the sky? Its like something from out of an old fairy tale!"
"Well, this definitely isn't a tale. We've got to deal with this somehow. We need...we need to take him in."
"What if he's dangerous?!"
"We can't just abandon a baby out into the wilderness, Marthe! The right thing to do is to take him in and...see if anyone comes looking for him."
"Who would come looking for him? He fell from the sky, Jon!"
"Well maybe there's people out there. People like him. He's big, far bigger than he should be, he's definitely no normal man's son."
"So we're raising him then? Adopting a baby from the stars... Not at all how my mother would've expected her first grandchild."
"Well, if we're raising him, he'll need a name. Got any ideas, Marthe?"
At his, Marthe knelt down to look the child in the eyes, letting him softly grip one of her fingers in his hand.
"Wolfram, after my grandfather. People said he was a strange man, and I have a feeling they'll say the same about this boy here."
"Wolfram it is, then." Jonatan said with a small smile, kneeling down as well to gently rub the boy's head. Then he stood, heading back for the doorway. Marthe gave him a concerned look as he did, standing up.
"Where are you going now?"
"To bury that thing he came in. Last thing we need is people flocking from all over to oggle at the strange thing crashed into our farmland."
Wolfram grunted as he hefted several sacks of grain onto a cart in quick succession. He gave his father a smile as he dusted off his hands. The boy had grown incredibly fast, almost inhumanely so. He was already almost twice as tall as Jonatan, and seemed to have no sign of slowing down. He was strong, insanely strong. In the time he'd been helping around the farm he'd already made the job far easier than it could be. And that wasn't mentioning just how smart and gifted the boy was. When he'd heard about some of the new tools his father had been expecting, what they were supposed to help him do, he'd gone out, examined the crops for a while, then gone into town, and come back having built them himself. Standing here now, Jonatan couldn't help but be equally awed and startled at the way Wolfram was progressing.
"Thanks again, son. I can do it, it just goes by a lot quicker with your help."
"You're welcome, father. Is there anything else I can do to help?"
"Why don't you ride into town with me? I've got some stuff I need to tell you, and I think you're ready to hear them."
Wolfram stood in front of the mirror, examining what he could of his massive body within the frame. He was barely large enough to fit into the room without needing to duck down, much less the whole mirror. Nonetheless, he looked over the well-tailored outfit he'd been given, designed to fit his large size. It didn't bother him too much, being so large in comparison to those around him. Not after what his father had told him, shown him. He knew he wasn't a normal person, wasn't really his father's son. That strange object he'd been found in, buried at its crash site years ago, was still something he dwelled on from time to time. Its part of the reason he was doing what he was now, preparing to leave his hometown for the first time, to head to the largest university in Korstel, his homeland.
He'd gained more and more of an interest in machines, cities, and people as he'd grown. Learning how people grew their food, built their homes, traveled, and protected themselves. And eventually, he'd reached the limits of what he could learn in the town, and the neighboring towns. He knew he'd need a proper education if he wanted to learn more, especially if he wanted to learn about the object he'd come from within. And this was why his father and mother had been kind enough to give him a large amount of their savings, to help him see out his dream by attending the Vohenburg University for Science and Engineering.
The large man gave his parents one last hug goodbye, taking his things and loading them onto the cart they'd prepared for him. Guiding the animal and the vehicle out onto the road, he looked back at his home, and then forward towards his future. He didn't know what was in store for him, but he knew he had much to learn.
Darkness, writhing and scaly, surrounded his visage in a whirlpool around him. A tempest built of slithering, serpentine creatures that flowed as liquid in an unending torrent. Incorporeal bodies that hissed rhythmically in a bizarre dance, capering to an unknown tune. Their movements obscured any conceivable source of light, permeating even the sky above from his sight.
He is their focal point.
Despite this, their darkness was as welcome as one’s own home. Their encircling dance posed no form of malice. Each one of their ethereal bodies swam through the air to protect him. Every one of their slitted, orange eyes never faltered from staring directly at him. Their predatory gazes held only a silent warmth.
He is under their protection.
He reached out to touch their scaled forms only to find his fingers shorter than he had ever imagined before. Not since the earliest days of his being had he seen such a small hand. The writhing cyclone responded to his wishes, enclosing around him in a slow, deliberate manner. His tiny digits brushed against the beautiful, umbral scales of the serpentine masses. Each of the ethereal serpents pushed against one another to be acknowledged by their protected one. He felt his lips turn upward as they rushed to his hands.
He is their master.
It dawned upon him that they reacted to his will as if puppeted by invisible strings through an unknown nexus. He let out a laugh, a bubbling and incoherent sound. The writhing mass chortled in a flurry of hisses and snorts uncharacteristic of their apparent forms. He moved his hands in random patterns, watching as the obsidian torrent moved and flew to his desires. He clapped his hands together in appreciation of their efforts. Inhuman, predatory smiles revealed rows of fangs as they responded to his acknowledgments.
He is something more.
His visage swiveled to the land before him and beheld black sand that was unknown to his gaze. Slowly, he picked himself up from his seated position in the midst of the tempest. He turned his attention upward. The swarm acquiesced to his demands, unveiling the sky above to their protected one. An eternal dusk greeted his gaze, darkened even further by rows of bloated clouds. Across several patches, the sight of the greater beyond peaked through to reveal the twinkling abyss. He understood what they were without any further consideration. A smile, toothy and wide, broke across his lips.
He wishes for the abyss beyond his gaze.
A handful of enormous, celestial objects curved across the sky in a slow orbit. Illuminated globes of incomparable size shone through the perpetual dusk of the outstretched land in his view. He basked in the light of the abyssal globes. A hand raised to wave apart the writhing swarm. They hissed and roiled in protest to keep their precious prisoner within their fold; however, he would submit to their will. A sound emitted from his lips, an attempt at communication that reverberated several times over as if echoing into a small chamber. Instinctually, the serpents parted away to reveal the landscape that stretched out before him.
He will claim everything for himself.
The black sand beneath his feet continued on for an incomprehensible length, interrupted only by pools of aetheric liquid. Across the landscape, large stones of crackling energy floated in the air through powers unknown to him. Enormous, tidal dunes stood as mountains that separated what he could and could not view. Immediately in front of him, an enormous pool of the unknown liquid coagulated. Those slithering, hissing forms continued to emerge from the fluid. Behind him, a casket made of unknown metal lay broken and destroyed by an unknown assailant. Hanging in the sky, far beyond the rocks, flew a gargantuan structure of impossible engineering.
He will create things beyond imagination.
He marveled at the impossibility of the structure for only a moment before turning his attention back to the aetheric lake. He walked forward towards it, the writhing mass following him as if he were the center of a storm. His knees sunk to the ground as he gazed into the depths of the liquid. It offered his reflection as a sublime reward. A tanned, youthful face with orange, serpentine eyes stared back at him. Internally, he began to panic as he realized that he was not staring at his own face. The reflection tilted it’s head in confusion before reaching out with one of it’s small hands. He felt an incomprehensible pull towards the reflection, reflecting the movement to touch the outstretched hand.
He is the Promised One.
Suddenly, violently, his vision distorted into a whirlpool of darkness unlike that of the writhing masses. Yanked from the abyss, he drowned with an inaudible scream. He felt a bewildering pull as if his very existence was drawn through the fabric of reality. Fortunately, within the realm of his mind, it was only a short trip. His eyes snapped open to behold the sights around him. His old body shot up in panic, a hand suddenly grasping the apparatus attached to his face for verification. Cold, shaped metal greeted his draconic, tanned hands. A sigh of relief escaped his lips, passing through the automatic filtration system installed into the facial device.
Muahad, the name his people had given him, pushed his body from the slab that he called a bed. His eyes fervently scanned each meter of the room, quickly verifying that he was not stuck in the vision that he had witnessed. Satisfied, his legs brought him to the closest window in the chamber. Environmentally sealed from the black deserts, the Old Man gazed into the eternal dusk of his homeworld. His dreary reflection confirmed his identity. A tall, lanky figure garbed in a dark, compressed scale robe appeared before him. A skeletal mask covered his facial features, interrupted only by a pair of unnaturally incandescent azure eyes.
He turned away from the window as he heard the quiet steps of his asasiyuns approaching the door at the furthest edge of the chamber. The sound of groaning, hissing mechanics announced their arrival. A single individual entered, garbed in the traditional robes of compressed scale and dark hues natural for their culture. Beneath the attire, however, the entity wore an impressive suit of extremely lithe powered armor covered in a variety of hairline piping. The guest clasped his hands together and dropped to one knee before Muahad.
“Muahad, I apologize for interrupting your rest. Pandjoras knows you require your rest, but I come bearing news of our scouting ventures beyond Neu Alamut.” The man spoke in a rhythmic voice, a tone filled with the natural trill of the Pandjoran language. His features were hidden beneath a smooth, scaled cowl; however, Muahad could easily see his orange, serpentine eyes bare to the world.
“You’ve arrived adeptly, Nakim.” The Old Man spoke, his voice as gravely as the oldest chunk of rock on Pandjoras. Each word was spoken deeply and intently. His tone projected decades of wisdom and draconic knowledge. Only the apparatus stuck to his voice added a faint staticness to his words. “A vision has become clear.”
The final words confused the arriving asasiyun, Nakim, who picked himself up from the ground at the mention of a vision. He knew that the Old Man of the Mountain held insights into inspirations beyond their capacity. The prophetic dreams from the Unifier of Pandjoras had always been heeded. So too would this one. He dared not speak to interrupt Muahad. The elder, noticing the silence, continued.
“From beyond the cosmos, he shall come. He speaks in words spoken from the aetheric tides. By right of his existence, he claims the black sand and dominates the void serpents of Pandjoras. He bears the marks of eternity. He is promised to us, but we shall hold no sway over him.” The Old Man of the Mountain spoke, closing his eyes to reminisce on the vision that he had awoken from. Nakim felt the air grow still from the revelation gifted to him. His breathing became sharp at the thoughts of a ‘promised one’. A gauntleted hand reached up to his face, covering his mouth in thought.
“Then it is fated, Muahad. I’ve come bearing news of a child found out in the black sands, nearest to the Aether Lake. The void serpents encircled the child like a storm. He appeared to the command it with his voice alone. Several of the hassan felt compelled by the child’s enunciations.” Nakim spoke in a rapid voice, relaying the information as quickly as possible. To Muahad, the man appeared to be unraveling at an unprecedented rate. He released a sigh of disappointment, crossing the distance between them to lay a hand on the asasiyun’s shoulder.
Nakim visibly deflated as his breathing calmed to the point of silence, his eyes closing to the world around him. The erratic air around the asasiyun disappeared as if it had never appeared. Wordlessly, the Pandjoran turned away from the Old Man of the Mountain to exit the room. There was no need for excessive words between the two as Muahad followed after through the corridors into Neu Alamut.
Muahad stepped out onto the orange, serpent-silk carpets lining the gravitic stone structure that was their citadel. The duo continued to pass beneath arches decorated with sculpted forms of void serpents and roiling dunes. Each corner held carefully sculpted, ophidian pillars with archaic glowglobes attached to the top. Black sand, coarse and rough, remained scattered in spontaneous amounts no matter the destination. Passing hassan dipped their heads in respect to the Old Man, offering a short salam before attending to their duties. Every Pandjoran they passed, despite their role, wore the traditional dusken robes of compressed serpent-silk.
The pair of Pandjorans stepped out onto a balcony overlooking an atrium fit to house a hundredfold men. A domed roof hung over their heads, ornately decorated with an intricate map of Pandjoras’ known regions. Glowglobes chandeliers lit each corner of the spherical chamber, while penumbra stalk incense lingered in thick wisps from ceramic censers. At the center of the room stood a handful of black robed hassan with a single, quickly garbed child in the midst of them. Their armored boots, minus the child’s, were planted over a wealth of black sand that covered the carefully laid brick of Neu Alamut.
“As it was fated, wished upon a thousand and one grains of black sand.” The Old Man of the Mountain spoke quietly, despite his intensely deep voice threatening to shatter the ears of Nakim. Muahad felt himself perspire as he and the other Pandjoran walked down the ascenders to the ill-fated child and his escorts. He felt nothing short of awe at the sight of the child; however, he claimed a face of neutrality beneath the skeletal mask. The hassan dropped down to their knees as he closed the distance between the ascender and the anomalous adolescent.
“You have traveled far, dreamer.” Muahad stepped closer to the child, who raised their hands up in an effort to be hoisted. The elder offered a single, deep chortle before acquiescing to the demands of the adolescent. Each hassan began to shift, approaching to take on the role offered, but Muahad waved them off. Lifting the child from the black sand of the atrium, the Old Man beheld the sight of his envisioned ‘promised one’.
“What should we do with him, Muahad?” Nakim voiced the concern of every Pandjoran gathered around him.
“He shall become hassan.” The answer was simple and resolute. The tone of the Old Man of the Mountain’s voice was unflinching as he stared into the orange, serpentine eyes of the child in his hands.
When I was young, my father spoke of titans, gods, and giants. Beings that controlled the world we lived on, shaped it, and created it. Some were good, some were evil, and the titans were primordial. Those who came before the gods were kind, but most have long since been dead. To warriors with long ears and heads, they were gods, and they still worship those they believed to be alive. The gods, those my husband's people worship, and to them, well, most of them, benevolent, but some of the clergy have fallen upon dark ways. Jihad and conviction have made these priests bloodthirsty. When I look to my husband's land and then my homeland, that is why so many of my people are now gone. His father, jihad, and ritual death are a corruption that spreads across the lands, and if it were not for larger kingdoms, it would encompass the world. I was lucky he found me, but now I am a part of a game I do not like.
When I look back to when I was young, I remember stories, many of them of these gods, titans, and giants fighting. The three had been around since the beginning of time, and many other divine beings spread out, but those three were the most important, for they controlled the world. They controlled the universe; they allowed time to flow and to be something. But they work in mysterious ways.
The titans and the gods have always been in a battle, and they sing to those like the witches, the wizards, the priests, my father. They sing to those who listen, and I've tried to listen, but I cannot hear them. I cannot hear anything besides emptiness; those who use the wyrd, or magic, had a rough time with her, some screamed when near her, others just got headaches, and a lot of people got headaches around her, but my husband saw me and believed I was his savior. I changed him, he was supposedly cruel, but I changed him. He saw everything and needed it. It was everything, and he believed that I was the deceiver of his faith, but he believed something besides that. In my faith and in his, several events are similar. One is that of the son of the giant; one is that of hope, and one is that of destruction.
His father, the priesthood of his father's lands, they called me the deceiver. Maybe I am; maybe I am the mother. Tonight, I talked my husband and my guard into walking with us. There is a gap in the line where my husband's guard is holding, and they will let us slip in through. The fire didn't touch me, and I won't let it touch them. We have reinforcements should anything go wrong, but it shouldn't; prophecy dictates this happens either way. I must do this, and I have heard his wailing since I came here. Few have, now I shall stop it.
It was dark three hours after the sun dropped down below the horizon. We went out in leather and dark cloth, hidden in the clouded ash sky from what little the moon shined down upon the world. When we reached the wall, we passed underneath a stone archway that was to have a door emplaced eventually on the outside, while the inside facing the fire would be a blanket of flat stone slabs, but those weren't there yet. We entered the fire zone, and it was as if a tunnel was formed in the fire, but it was for me alone. Those behind me walked through hell, they all would, but they would regardless of what would happen.
My husband, and our retinue that marched out with me heard the screams of the dead, and they saw ashes; they saw death and destruction. All I saw were ash statues littering the ground, running, holding each other in fear. They saw much more in flames, hounds were heard all around us, and tiny flickers of light followed us like wolves prowling. Maybe we were being hunted, or maybe they were guardians but were they protecting the wailing child or us? We went through as quickly as we could into the wood; the heat got intense, and I felt it, every moment of it. It began to burn, it began to feel like I was walking through hell, but they continued to move forward toward the crying.
Then it hit, fire hit us, it felt like an inferno, and the screaming stopped. I looked around and saw everything, and the firestorm continued around us, but we were also flames. We were walking flame. We continued to move forward, and we were flame. It was nothing before seen. The fire couldn't touch me, I was more of a walking ball of flame, but the others were flame; their armor and life were flames. They saw all in the world; all I saw was my son. I reached out forward, and I saw him, a perfect son. He had thick brown and red hair like he was born out of the fire. He was a large babe. I took him in my arms, and the crying stopped. I looked into my son's eyes and felt my child inside me kick, a family at once.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and we had to go. I turned, and we started running. The fire subsided around us, and we burst like phoenixes through the forest. We continued to move swiftly, quicker than we came in. We got to the town and started low to the ground; I was thankful that the boy was no longer crying. We would be heard across the fields, but we continued back to the wall. I heard fighting, so much fighting. We were caught; the prophecy was broken by her and the others. Then the crying began again, and my husband's soldiers lit up like warriors of the night. The night was lit by fire. I listened for hours as a fight raged; those sixteen soldiers and my husband were warriors like nothing. They were fast, and their blades cut through steel and iron like it was nothing. The soldiers of his father, of his faith, were nothing against just those seventeen men.
The men protecting the wall were good warriors as well, and others joined in. It became a battle of the ages as my husband fought and bled for our family. Hours went by, it seemed, and I was standing there listening to crying. It died down sometime around noon, with the firestorm, and with so many men. Two thousand, maybe two and a half thousand, were dead. Plenty more were dying; almost every order and army lost men, and almost all were gone. There were around sixty left in total. When the orders from the north came, they joined the reconstruction. A new fort and city are to be built in the north.
Belivahnn would be the name of this settlement.
The name of her fathers house, it was a fitting name. But, there was a new house born with her son.
Rows and columns of thousands of ocular lenses gazed upon the strange silvery youth. Servitors typed away at keyboards or even wrote on vellum, every test done upon the creature being a morsel of information each Genetor and other sapient member of the Mechanicum present was eager to digest.
The thing was truly a marvel, its musculature having broken through dozens of different attempts to restrain it until eventually a system involving the hydraulics of small titan models was made into an impromptu means to hold it down. The creature still thrashed, which admittedly made the study of its biology somewhat difficult. They flooded its system with enough sedatives to kill many larger things yet its reaction was to simply expel all of the chemical through projectile vomit. It was a truly fascinating thing, made all the more interesting when a sample of its blood revealed that it had some sort of relation to humanity. An abhuman of course, nearly as far from homo sapiens as an ape on ancient Terra. But this was no mutant. Whatever this was had to be stable, simply because of the fact it was undeniably an engineered biology.
Theories spread in the assembled ranks of the Techno-Clergy ranging from suggestions that this was the manifestation of archeotech from the past, to this being the project of some Techpriest present, to being the result of some sort of manipulation of the human biology by a xeno race of some sort. The most concerning however, was that this was some sort of weapon of the Grellans. Their technology had always seemed inferior by and large to that of the Ryzans outside of a few instances such as their cameleoline production methods and their abundance of plasma weaponry, but if they could produce such things then they most certainly eclipsed the Ryzan realm of the Mechanicum’s Empire in the field of biology. To think that with flesh could be crafted something so much more perfect than machine gave odd thoughts to many within the chamber.
Ultimately, no theory had any real proof to it. The thing was clearly more than just its impressive physiognomy of course. The rigorous tests on its musculature, bones, skin, and so much more certainly proved that - what most conceded seemed to be a pre-pubescent gene-warrior of some sort - could destroy entire formations while in the nude. Yet what of its mind? Opening its skull clearly elicited a pain response, though unsurprisingly it seemed the life-support provided to ensure it wouldn’t perish in the event of an accident was redundant.
But the most surprising was yet to come. The thing was clearly capable of speech based on the sheer variety of sounds it made from the pain it suffered. But, just before the probes of the Mechanicum could reach the bottom of the thing’s skull it spoke. “Please stop.” was the simple utterance. It started off quiet, before becoming extremely loud, but at least settling on a powerful but nonetheless soft timbre that echoed through the room. The words somehow were commands, but also clearly not threats or demands. They did not intimidate, but nonetheless gave the impression of this individual being one’s master. The servitor received no such input to make it cease as ordered, yet it did. The Genetor in control of it could not muster any will to countermand the seeming malfunction.
The silence that overcame the onlookers eventually came to pass. At last the Heirophant Technis spoke, the force of mind to not simply be in awe of the speech a clear demonstration of why Patrimonia held the rank. “That can be arranged. Who are you, and why did you crash into my Forge?”
“I do not know.”
“I cannot answer the query, I do not know the truth.”
“To the former or to the latter?”
There was a brief pause, before the Heirophant stated bluntly even for a Techpriest: “Lie.”
Another brief pause, before the celestial arrival replied. “No. I can predict why I am here, there was a failure of some sort. I am out of place, I should not be here. Something very, very important failed for me to be stranded among you. Beyond that I do not know. Who you are, who I am, what this place is. I am unaware.”
Almost as if on queue to make the truth or lie of the child’s words hold greater stakes, the Archmagos’s HUD showed a message. The Grellans had declared war on Ryza for what they claimed to be a cowardly backstabbing. As the message spread among the most senior of the Genetors present, hundreds of Ocular lenses zoomed further on the creature.
As the Heirophant was thinking on how to proceed, another message came warning of a warp-storm to the Galactic West of Ryza. There would be no support from Mars, and no sending of the data learned from this creature to the Mechanicum’s homeworld.
The midday sun stood perfectly aligned above the massive pyramid of obsidian and limestone, the blazing ball of light and power reflecting dazzlingly off the massive edifice, the center of life in the city-state of Ocotepec.
The temple itself was an imposing pyramid made of finely hewn obsidian and limestone, the work of three generations of laborers and the finest artisans in recent memory. The obsidian stones were shining a deep purple in the glow of the afternoon sun, the dazzling effect serving only to highlight the great disparity between the color of the pyramid's finely carved four faces and that of its hazardously steep central staircase. An ominous streak of rusted brown wound its way down the white limestone steps from the flat top of the temple to the plaza below where it ended in stained stone.
“Our allies to the west leave us for dead!”
The wails of thousands of people washed over the plaza like a wave, an entire city mourning the words of their High Priest as he lamented atop the Temple of the Sun. Their cries were amplified in the plaza, the sounds bouncing off the surrounding lesser temples and structures before flowing out of the plaza into the greater sprawl of Ocotepec as a tumultuous wave of noise.
The sobbing masses ceased their lamentations at the wave of a hand from their High Priest, a single movement enough to sway the thousands in the plaza out of their distress and into utter silence. The High Priest stood, his elaborate headpiece of brightly colored feathers swaying in the soft breeze atop the pyramid’s top with the masses utterly enthralled by his gaze as he stood reticent before them.
“They believe us already lost! They believe that the Easterners will crest our walls and take out every last one of us to the blade!”
The crowd took up a furious howl at the horrible revelation they were being made to understand; that their allies had abandoned them.
“But they are wrong! For Ocotopec, for all of you, are stronger than they could ever understand!” the High Priest raised his hands in a sweeping motion across the crowd beneath him, “Our allies to the west do not understand our struggle! To them, the Easterners are a problem far from their walls! But to us! To us it is real!”
The crowd began to quiet as around them the shadows began to grow long. The dazzling intensity of the pyramid began to dull, the light dancing around as the Sun seemed to waver. Whispers began to pass through the crowd, a growing discontent at the sudden waning of the Sun.
The High Priest brought his hands up above him, reaching out toward the Sun with open palms, “Our Lord will protect us!” he began as the shadow of the moon began to cross in front of the blazing star, “He is always with us! He has not abandoned us!”
The crowd began to wail once more as the Sun’s light shined weaker and weaker, before plunging the whole of Ocotopec in twilight.
“Do not fear! He shall deliver us!” the Priest called out to the crowd as he brought a hand down to his heart in a dramatic display of emotion for the holy man.
The crowd had been quiet up until this point, but began now to call out in surprise as around them the world shifted from darkness to something far more sinister than the night. The obsidian pyramid, dark as the abyss began to glow a scarlet hue, the sickly red casting out from the pyramid in ever more vibrant reflections across the crowd as the source of the light seemed to grow in intensity.
There was a yell from one of the High Priest’s assistants atop the pyramid, and the retinue of holy men and soothsayers turned as one to face the source of the assistant’s distress.
Above the pyramid the moon seemed as though it had been split asunder by the appearance of a streaking red comet. The light from the pyramid glowed ever brighter as the comet seemed to creep across the sky of Ixhun, growing larger as it fell from the heavens.
The holy man attempted to take up some chant at his place atop the pyramid, a hymn of protection or deliverance perhaps, but his words were drowned out by the crowd as they called out in horror as the red comet streaked across the sky above them and disappeared over the eastern horizon.
As the comet disappeared the pyramid seemed to glow its brightest, almost too bright to look upon. It cast the entire city in scarlet, as if the heavens themselves had rained blood upon all the land.
There was quiet once the comet was lost over the tops of the trees, the shocked milling of thousands of people the only noise as they all kept their eyes focused on that unseen object. Above them the moon began to slip its position in front of the sun, and slowly the bloody mess of Ocotopec became the shining city once more, the Sun creeping its touch into every corner of the land as it once again became the dominant force in the sky.
The stars around the Vestige of Hope are hostile, alien. Where the materium and immaterium merge together, the Maelstrom near the galaxy’s heart bares its teeth. The stars here hunger, home to Daemons and beasts warped in their image who hunger for humanity’s lost children, clinging to life aboard fragile worlds, and fragile stations. On this day, a day like any other where the station lights flicker and the monsters lurk outside of the corner of the eye, a star falls upon the Vestige of Hope, but nobody cares. The enormous space station turned space hulk Vestige of Hope drifted through the void, its inhabitants going about their normal, day to day routines, living their normal lives. Somewhere in the station, someone cooked a breakfast for numerous others, carving thin slivers off of a massive leg of some indistinct creature surrounded by jury rigged glowing red coils. Elsewhere, a man polished a large knife fashioned from a scrap piece of ceramite cladding. Elsewhere still, the staccato thunder of gunfire in an enclosed hallway echoed as bullets and lasfire tore into a swarm of onrushing monstrosities. A dozen people crouched behind makeshift barricades and defenses, taking turns firing on the attacking monsters. Further in the hallway, several mutilated bodies of what had once been people sat beneath hunched over figures, both humanoid and insectoid, that ripped and tore voraciously at tender flesh as their fellows pressed the attack further. Acid spit and poisoned spines flew through the air preceding the gnashing jaws and whirling claws of their owners. The defenders sheltered behind what they could, firing and reloading in turn as the bodies of the horde piled up.
Amidst those people sheltering in the outpost further in, a mother and father tried to hush their squalling child. Others simply prayed as, one by one, they heard the defenders slowly become overwhelmed. Half of their number fell back to the next defense point, bringing whatever ammunition they could from the previous point. Behind them the triumphant beasts busied themselves tearing into the dead or too-wounded-to-move defenders who still lay where they had fallen, the screams of those still alive echoing down the hall as the gunfire resumed from a new defensive point.
A heavily augmented woman charged into the fray, carrying a gun that would normally have been mounted on a tripod, and firing long bursts into the onrushing crowd of mutants. Explosive rounds tearing bloody holes in flesh and bone as they carved a swathe through the onrushing horde. The others around her opened fire again with renewed vigor, and the battle raged on, as did a thousand others like it.
Through the empty void of space, a curious object hurtled towards its destination. Oddly shaped. Myriad wires, tubes, readout displays, and more adorning its form. No rock formed in primordial nebulae or long decayed archaeotech. It was foreign. Abnormal. It did not belong here on the cusp of the Maelstrom.
The infant within the pod looked up at the sigils in idle curiosity. Suspended in the cushioning fluid of the chamber, numb to the cold and the soundless void that lay barely separated from her now. She pondered - what did they say? They meant something to someone, obviously, or had at one point wherever she had come from.
… where had she come from? She felt vague, indistinct shapes move in her memory. Dim recollections of muted sounds… voices? She had been brought here somehow. For some purpose. Memories bared themselves, floating up from the morass of her mind. She remembered looking out through the tank and seeing similar such symbols. She remembered other people looking in on her and her watching silently, half formed but aware. But she knew those eyes and those people would not have sent her here. Something else had.
Though she doubted the strange symbols that blinked in red a short distance from her eyes held the key to unlocking such mysteries.
She focused in closer on the symbols, they seemed similar. Familiar. And then - ah, of course. They were displayed on the outside of her world. For someone from abroad to look in. To survey her. They displayed vital readouts, developmental information, and more. Information for the white suited scientists to read, to look in on her with faces obscured by respiratory masks and cleansuits, sterile laboratory gloves. She was their creation, she remembered - created for something, even if she did not know what. And the flashing symbols were important for that. Important to ensure she came out right.
They flashed again, and with her new understanding she saw clearly now their meaning.
ALERT. ALERT. CRITICAL FAILURE OF VESSEL INTEGRITY IMMINENT. THREATS TO FIFTEEN DETECTED IN VICNITY. ALERT. ALERT.
Those words were certainly disconcerting. She did not know how she understood their meaning, and yet they slotted into place within her mind as easily as did everything else around her. She craned her neck forward, looking out through the small viewing window and beheld the looming bulk of the space station afore her as she sped rapidly towards it.
The horde of mutants continued to pour in. An inexorable wave of meat and flesh, blood and bone, whirling teeth and gnashing jaws that bit and tore and devoured whole. They continued on, heedless of bullets and lasfire that blasted great rents in flesh and sent them stumbling or collapsing into limp piles. There were more. There were always more. And they smelled blood. Hugging the walls, crawling along ceilings with sharpened talons gouging into plasteel, they came on in droves.
Another defensive position fell, the wall of the things pressing ever onwards as the augmented woman and her autocannon were forced back, taking down dozens of the monstrosities. Behind her her comrades continued the withering hail of gunfire. A mutant crawling along the ceiling dropped down in their midst, landing atop one defender and bisecting him in a shower of viscera, jagged jaws shearing through armor and bone. Beady brown eyes hauntingly like those of a human being’s looked out in hate and fury as a torrent of bullets tore the thing and what remained of its victim apart.
The battle continued on, reinforcements from further within joining the defenders and pushing the mutants back a ways - before all were jolted from their positions and thrown to the floor as an enormous impact shook this section of the station. Emergency lights flicked on overhead as mains power failed, bathing the grisly scene in an eerie red glow.
The mutant swarm picked itself up too, but instead of resuming the attack, it skittered off back into the bowels of the station - towards the point of impact. They left behind a trail of blood and viscera, slick blood and shattered bone in their wake, though many dragged their dead behind with them. The shocked defenders were left to stand in silence.
Somewhere, nearby, something had gouged a massive hole from the structure of the station. Ancient armor plating was rent asunder. Water lines, power connections, abandoned living quarters, warrens and dens of unspeakable abominations and transgressions against the human form - all had been pulverised into unrecognizeable rubble and debris in the span of a second and now only a smoking crater remained where melted steel glowed and slowly resolidified.
The atmosphere of the station was kept intact as numerous redundant void shield generators kicked into gear, still functional even after the time spent in disrepair, sealing the breach and preventing the decompression of the area. Already, the crater had attracted attention and visitors. Even as melted slag dripped down in sizzling metallic stalactites, eyes both human and decidedly not peered in cautiously.
The same argument erupted among the dumbfounded erstwhile defenders. Some, including the augmented woman, wanted to investigate - others insisted it was too dangerous, and that they had to remain behind to defend against another possible attack. In the end, those who wanted to investigate set out on their own, heavily armed and outfitted with plentiful ammunition, picking their way through familiar halls and passages towards the impact point.
No mutants accosted them on their way. The ancient tunnels were almost preternaturally still, as though something had drawn the horrors that lurked away from them.
When they finally reached the crater, they too peered down among many others at the smoldering remains of what had impacted their home. A strange… pod, burnt and blackened on the outside, some sort of unusual fluid having been evidently drained from it. Around it lay a swarm of mutants, violently dismembered by means that only the imagination could devise. And nobody else.
The world was silent now. Silent except for the hiss of steam and the dim blaring of the alarms still muted by the walls of her chamber. Silent compared to the all consuming maelstrom of noise and violence that had engulfed her world for a moment as she crashed into this new, larger one. She extended a hand, instinctively, and the pod opened on her mental command.
She stepped out into this new, larger world, and beheld her welcoming party. She looked out on them - beady, once-human eyes, fanged maws that gnashed and bit as they crept closer to her. She crouched low, instinctively, infant legs already strong and capable.
One of them lunged at her, only to freeze midair as she looked at it with disdain. She looked away, and the mutant crunched into a bloody pulp. Another leaped at her, and another, forcing her back from her pod and towards an exposed duct. With a mental pulse of energy, she killed or pushed away the remainder, and took a breath, surveying her surroundings.
She felt new presences approach. Discordant thoughts and feelings. Confusion. Alarm. Anger. She hadn’t felt these same things from the monsters. Were these different monsters? She caught a dim, blurry glimpse of one. It walked on two legs and made strange sounds, sounds that sounded like human speech. It and the others carried something - she pulled back further, into the shadows, into the ducts. Away from here and towards safety. Whatever she had been brought here to do she would not let herself be taken by monsters, no matter how familiar they seemed.
They had done the calculations. Gone through every possible scenario with the data and information that they had access too... and even ran a few 'What if' scenarios on top of that if the search for anything that might change the outcome that they kept reaching. Defeat=Certain no matter what they tried, provided that 'Defeat' stood for the continued free existence of humanity on the planet of Pentious.
Even with the most generous of calculations, the death of Target: Warboss Kracker'Laker would cause a period of infighting among the remaining greenskins, but the greenskins conquest had already gained enough momentum that a new Warboss would simply come to power before the infighting reached the critical mass to break the Orkish force up. It would buy time but... nowhere near enough for them to recover enough to change their outcome.
Once human survival was removed as a requirement through, the situation started to look a bit less grim... for a given value of grim.
So it was that Arch-Explorator Gifonadis Friedeg found himself standing before the core of the final human held Forge on Pentious. Once, it had been the heart of the capital ship of their fleet before it had been repurposed to give life to a new bastion of technology and scientific progress. Now, he performed the rites that would cause it to consume everything that himself, his loved ones and friends had worked so hard over the years to build as it died forever.
Even as he performed the Rites, Gifonadis felt the need to suppress his emotions to a more manageable level; It would be an insult to his peers if he messed up the process by not being professional enough to avoid slipping up something this important due to being overwhelmed by his emotions. Yet... he allowed himself to feel them all the same, even if in their suppressed form. It felt... right to acknowledge them in what was likely going to be his final hours.
The Greenskins had not yet began their final assault. Sensors indicated that they were celebrating the battle to come in order to boost their already high morale. But if the fall of Forges Gamma and Delta had taught anything, it was that the rites of self destruction took time in order to be properly initiated.
In the case of Forge Gamma, it's loss held a more personal pain then most. Forge Delta hadn't been finished when the Orkish tide struck, but Forge Gamma had been... and because of that fact, Arch-Magos Cykand van Ci's faith in the power of human technology to stand against the xeno tide caused him to insist that the Forge Gamma could be held. That the Orks could be broken against the bastion and driven from the world. Cykand had always been an inspiring figure as the original leader of Explorator Fleet XXXIV and his unshakeable conviction that the Orks could be defeated had been something to rally behind...
It was such a shame that his faith ended up being misplaced in the end. By the time his leader had discovered this harsh truth, it had been too late to fully perform the Rites of Self Destruction. Granted, the damage he was able to do in the short time he had almost certainly brought them a number of decades, but even now the ruined Forge Gamma had been twisted and brought back to 'life' in a mockery of the Omnissiah's vision and will by the vile greenskins. Forge Alpha would not suffer the same fate.
In different parts of Forge Alpha, Archmagos Prime BH-885 was overseeing the final preparations for the battle to come. What remained of the skitarii that had endured the long war with the greenskins were performing final rites of maintenance on their gear while the surviving Enginseers and Myrmidons made peace with the Omnissiah in their own ways as they prepared for what was going to be their final stand. The remaining machines of war were being awoken for one last fight as the tech-thralls were being positioned to meet the greentide first when they charged the defenses and soak up both the charge and bullets.
The battle plan, such as it was, required fighting the Orks for every inch of ground. They would bleed the greenskins dry and when, at last, the Orks began overrunning the Forge, Gifonadis would complete the final part of the Rite and take as many of the xenos with them as possible. Since the Warboss and some many of his bigger orks were committed to this battle, the hope was that as many of them as possible would be caught in the blast and wiped from existence, cutting the head off a depleted horde and causing their forces to splinter and fight each other rather then press on to attack other planets.
A black box had been prepared and hidden away from Forge Alpha that would transmit a signal should another Explorator Fleet arrive. A history of their Fleet, their forgeworld... and why it was cut short. Gifonadis could only have faith that it would one day be found and their story known to Mars. It would be a disservice to those from his fleet that had died during this campaign and those who had taken up the mantle in their absence if their names and deeds were completely lost to history.
Thoughts of his friends and peers caused Gifonadis to reflect on his suppressed emotions, even as his body continued the process of the Rite. Sorrow was consistant, as being the last living techpriest from Explorator Fleet XXXIV meant that there was a lot of memories of loss to process. Friends, peers and loved ones who had given their all to get to them this far, both prior and after planetfall... only for it to not be enough in the end. Bittersweet memories surfaced from the pools of sadness and Gifonadis took what comfort from them he could.
Rage was also competing for his attention. An unending fury at the lives lost, their mission compromised and their works being taken and twisted by the brutish, stupid half fungi creatures that were called greenskins. It was insulting that the bane of Pentious was an ork with the utterly stupid name of Kracker'Laker. The only balm was that if all went well, he would die with Forge-Alpha and no planet would ever again suffer the indignity of being victim to Warboss Kracker'Laker again.
And this was the moment in which the Forge itself seemed to shake as something big impacted... somewhere.
For a moment, pure terror gripped Gifonadis's heart and tempted him to trigger the destruction of the Forge... but logic and reason managed to restrain him as he opened the vox channel to the Archmagos. "[What is going on up there?!]" He barked in binary.
"[Trying to work that out.]" The much younger BH-885 answered back. "[We're getting mixed reports but...]" There was a pause of four seconds. To a normal human this would be something to note, but for the speeds at which the followers of the Omnissiah could share information it was a literal lifetime and a matter of great concern. "[...You're not going to believe this.]"
The final moments of Warboss Kracker'Laker were, in fact, captured by a servoskull that was spying on the orkish war camp to alert Forge-Alpha when the assault would begin. While the skull itself would be destroyed, the footage was recorded and kept both for important historical reasons... and because it was hilarious for those who had endured the horrors of the Warboss for years.
The footage starts with Warboss Kracker'Laker seated at the center of the orkish festivities when an Ork whose name was unknown but its appearance suggested that it was an orkish psyker (or 'Weirdboy') of some age due to its size. The start of the conversation is lost due to distance and the general noise of orks, but both those problems disappear as the Warboss suddenly slammed down a fist onto his table, shattering it as he shouted "W'AT DID YOU JUST SAYS TO ME?!"
While the other orks were stunned into silence by their suddenly loud and angry boss, the pskyer ork didn't seem phased in the slightest. "I SAID, YOU DEAF GROT, TAT WE JUST HAD A VIZION OF YOUR IMMPENDING DEFEAT! TAT STAR IN THE SKY-" and there was a pointed gesture skyward "-IS A OMEN OF YOUR DEAT'!"
As the Warboss rose to his intimidating size to clearly beat the living shit out of the orkish psyker, one of the bigger orks (or a 'Nob' as they are called by their own kind) was looking towards where the Psyker had pointed before saying loud enough to be heard in the silence "...Is it just me or is tat star ting getting bigger?"
In the four remaining seconds of footage, all the orks in view look skywards... before a bright, burning light enters sight and the footage ends. Slowing down the footage and using techniques to clean it up/dim the brightness of the light, it is possible to see what is clearly some kind of advanced, man made pod enter the line of sight of the servoskull, wrapped in the flames of reentry. One can also see the dumbfounded look on Warboss Kracker'Laker's face as it slammed directly into his head, taking it off before impact ends the footage.
In the intimidate aftermath of what could only be the direct, divine intervention of the Omnissiah itself, it was as if a great weight had lifted from the atmosphere of Forge-Alpha. In part this was metaphorical in the sense that death was no longer hanging over the forge and everyone inside of it, but there was a literal element to it was well: Orks generally weigh a lot individually and a great deal of the greenskinned xenos bastards had ceased to exist in a very short amount of time.
While Forge-Alpha currently wasn't celebrating the surprise victory and the death of its long hated enemy, this was due to the fact that there was a lot to do and suddenly time to do it in, what with not being dead and everything. The impact explosion had largely missed the Forge complex, but some of the outer defenses had been damaged, alongside some servitors and tech-thralls that had been positioned in the area that now needed to either be patched up or recycled for parts if they were too badly damaged. Jobs and maintenance for the Forge in general that had been put on hold now needed to be attended to.
Outside, squads of skitarii were stalking the areas around the impact zone on a seek and destroy mission for any ork or greenskinned related that was still alive. Logically, this operation should have been a waste of time but experience had shown time and again that Orks didn't really understand logic and were generally too stupid to realize that something should have killed them. The Skitarii were calulated and professional of course, but their handlers could tell in their communications that there was a vindictive joy in their solders at being able to give any greenskin they came across a remedial lesson on 'dying'. So far two shell shocked orks had been properly educated and the tracks of a third were being followed.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
One of the first tasks to be taken was to send out a salvage crew in order to locate and see what could be recovered of the object that had offered them deliverance from the greenskin. The footage that had been sent back by the tragically destroyed servoskull was evidence enough that it was a man made object in nature and if any of it survived the crash then it was their intention to enshrine it as a holy relic.
The salvage team had not been expecting to find the pod mostly intact... or the badly hurt, screaming child within.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
So it was that the Metasurgeon stood in their medical bay, gazing with utter fascination at the child that had been pulled from the pod. The tests she had run on the infant had revealed a masterwork of genetic engineering with base materials of such fine value that her machines were simply not up to the task of identifying them properly. As a genetor it was truly humbling to bare witness to what was clearly the best and brightest of humanity and its knowledge dedicated to the act of creating a physically perfect human being...
...And to see that work marred and damaged so badly broke her heart, almost as much as the fact that her patient was barely a toddler.
Early reports on the pod that had contained the child, which she was keeping tabs on as they were updated, revealed that while the majority of the pod had survived the crash landing, it had been damaged in the process. It was unclear if it was caused by the angle of decent combined with the speed of entry, if it was some flaw in the other masterfully craft pod that had only been revealed due to the extreme conditions of entering atmosphere and smashing into a planet... or the third and horrifying theory that the damage was some final laugh from the dead Warboss Kracker'Laker, who's dense skull might not have been enough to make him an unmovable object but might have still damaged the unstoppable force that hit him.
Regardless of the cause of the critical damage, the machine spirits of the Pod had acted to safe guard their charge swiftly and effectively. Without the measures it took, even such a genetically enhanced child like this wouldn't have survived. Unfortunately, it hadn't been enough to stop a considerable amount of harm to be inflicted on the child to the point where her calculations on the matter clearly stated that if the child hadn't been as amazingly genetically crafted as they were, they would be dead.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The damage they had endured was intense. The left leg had been gone with just a tiny, burned stub near the hip remaining, while the right leg had suffered such terrible sixth degree burns throughout that it had just been dead weight that was draining both his patient and her resources and threatening the child's life. She had been forced to amputate it at the knee in order to stabilize the situation. The left hand was gone, having been cut off as the pod's internal shielding had kicked in to try and shield its charge from harm and their hand was considered an acceptable loss considering the damage that would have occurred if it hadn't.
There were also a degree of other burns covering the child's body; A result of a terrible moment of exposure to the forces outside of the pod as it failed before the internal systems snapped into action. The worst was a fourth degree burn running along his belly, but it and the lesser burns that covered a great deal of his remaining flesh were manageable.
Recovery was going to take a great deal of time and she didn't know how the damage of the child's arrival would effect his growth and development but... he would recover from this, she had no doubt. He would also need mechanical replacements and enhancements; Considering the degree his genetic engineering, it seemed like a crime to even think such things but... they simply didn't have the resources or know-how to recreate the pieces of his body that were lost.
But she watched as the boy hung suspended in a fluid designed to keep his burns clean and speed the recovery of the lesser burns as the skin grafts were being grown from his dna, she couldn't help but listen to the study, strong heartbeat of the sedated child on the monitors. There was something... reassuring about it.
A fog lifted over the mind of the infant, like a curtain pulling free from her eyes as she floated aimlessly in the confines of her world. She pressed a hand against the edge of all she knew, watched as the muscles in her hand and forearm tensed, undeniable strength pulsing beneath her too-small hand, and pushed herself away from it. Spinning in the opposite direction she had once been, she brought her other hand out and moved it slowly before her, the fluid surrounding her playing gentle lines through her vision as she made aimless hand motions.
Had she known of this before? Of her body? She opened and closed her fist as she swirled, brushed her fingertips against the edge of the world, and relished the sensation of the cold steel beneath her fingers. She was unsure of the answer to her own question, for she knew all about her body, but could not remember a time before that she had learned such things. She wondered a moment, for what had come before?
She could remember lights flashing through her world. A great flash like lightning, whatever lightning was, had filled her vision long ago, but how long? She had vague recollections of a multicolored world, strobing reds and pinks, purples and yellows. How did she know the names of these colors? She was unsure, but she knew that the edge of her world was white now, clean, sterile. These things she knew. Just as she knew the strobe of colors that had been her world for… she could not tell how long.
She thought about this now, felt her brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to remember. She grew frustrated. Why did she know what lightning was despite never seeing it before? Why did she know of colors and her own form? Why did she know the complete molecular structure of the edge of her world?
Her memory lagged behind her too fast mind as she attempted to decipher the passing of time in a timeless world. Becoming impatient, she began to wish for the scratching that had lulled her to sleep during that unknown time, she ached for the familiar tapping from outside her world.
She started in her fluid, her eyes opening wide as she spun herself on instinct, and found herself staring out into a world of soft yellows and vibrant greens. The window before her was scarred, as if a great tiger of ancient myth had been attempting to enter, but it did not bother the infant for she could see beyond just as well.
Her world, she decided, was not all there was to know. She could make out uncountable flora of unknown origin beyond her world. No, she knew better, for she knew some of these plants. Good. Her world had taught her something useful after all.
Her eyes narrowed as a pack of quadrupedal creatures darted, vaguely ape-like but with limbs that were far too long. Her mind did not remain on the creatures for long as she knew immediately that she wished to test herself against them.
The infant brought her hands to the glass, and recoiled as it lit up blue at her touch. Text scrolled across the window in long flowing lines. She felt her stomach churn as she took in the too-familiar characters and her mind swam as she suddenly found herself reading a language she knew disturbingly well.
XVII STATUS: VIABLE. POD STATUS: UNHINDERED. RECOMMEND: RECONNECT LIFE SUPPORT POD TO POWER SOURCE. 967.M30
Strange. Her world was only a fraction of the world out there, yet her world wished her to stay? She pondered it for a moment, pushed herself away from the window and allowed herself to float idly in the fluid she had known since forever. She liked her world. The warmth, the quiet peace, the safety of those sterile walls. Her eyes closed and she felt her consciousness slip away to something other than this newfound wakefulness, something more familiar to what had been before. She woke with a jolt, hands scrabbling along the walls of her world with surprise as she twisted and spun in the fluid. Her hands steadied on the familiarity of the cold walls, and her hearts began to beat slower as she recognized the comfort of everything she knew. She wondered for a moment why she had awoken, and turned to her window.
Her hand brushed over the glass, noted the floral growth that now obscured her view of the unknown world beyond it, and focused her attention on the text as it scrolled by.
XVII STATUS: VIABLE. POD STATUS: DETERIORATED. RECOMMEND: IMMEDIATE RETRIEVAL OF XVII. 968.M30
The infant thought about these words far longer than the last time she had, and decided that they held no sway over her world. For how could they? She was comfortable, content. So there could be no issues with her world. The text was simply wrong. She allowed herself to slip away as she took comfort in her world once more. The infant was torn from her sleep as her world evaporated around her. She screamed as the familiar liquid bubbled away and drained through previously unseen holes in her world. She hauled herself upright, her hands clasping at new edges in her world as she wretched vile colored liquid from her lungs.
She looked up to reach for her window, only to find it was gone. In fact, that entire side of her world was gone, laying some distance from where she sat now, the lower half of her body still within the only world she had ever known, while the upper half was in that world she had glimpsed when she had first gained understanding of herself. She stood up, the liquid of her world swirling around her feet as it drained by some unseen mechanism, and she took her very first breath of air. She turned her head slowly, surveying her new surroundings. Massive trees stretched into the sky, obscuring her view of what lay beyond. Vines hung low all around her. Smaller flowers and bushes grew along the earth. She knew this was known as a jungle, though she knew not how. Quietly she thanked her old world for this knowledge, and climbed down out of her pod.
Her feet sank into the unfamiliar world’s edge and she was surprised it was not solid like her old world’s edge. Her toes dug into the cool soil as she took a tentative step toward the edge of her world that had left her open to this unfamiliar new one. No, she knew this was a hatch, not the edge of a world, just a piece of machinery. She walked towards the hatch, noting the obvious signs of an explosive separation in the burn marks at its edges. She hoped dearly that the window still worked.
The infant knelt before the hatch. She ran her fingers anxiously along the window and breathed a sigh of relief as it lit up in that familiar blue.
She drank in the last text she would ever read from it.
XVII STATUS: VIABLE. POD STATUS: COMPROMISED RECOMMEND: REAWAKEN XVII. FREE XVII. 969.M30