Fabricator-General Kane of the remnants of the Martian Mechanicum looked down from the battlements silently; but inside his mind, there was a constant buzz of frustration and borderline fury.
It had been bad enough that, exactly when he had redeployed his forces in anticipation of the Order of the Dragon’s help, they had abandoned him, in favor of a charge towards Noctis Labyrinthus, the place where their supposed god was supposedly buried. It had been worse that Captain Viranuar of the Tenth Legion’s Seventy-Fourth Clan-Company had chosen that exact moment to strike.
Kane’s frontal defenses had fallen in a matter of hours. The Iron Hands were almost within range of effectively bombarding his forge. The Mondus Occulum would fall; it was only a matter of time.
But Kane would drag out that time, in hope that some unforeseen confounding factor would enter the otherwise hopeless equations. Several more weeks, he believed.
Lantrane had sent him a regretful, but useless, apologetic message. Her forces had joined the push towards the Dragon; she herself had not, in protest at the war’s conduct. The rest of the Order hadn’t even so much as apologized to their supposed leader. Kane knew he was no Kelbor-Hal, but he also knew he was more competent than the situation implied. It was simply that his position, to the Order, was irrelevant; they placed more emphasis on being the first to embrace their faith. Which, of course, meant their leaders were the greatest fanatics among them.
Kane watched, from far above, the flames on the horizon. They spiraled upwards, and subconscious routines calculated the properties of the wind their motion implied. The routines gained him nothing, of course, but he nevertheless noted that the wind was predominantly northerly, with significant westerly gusts.
The Iron Hands would come, the wind behind them. Kane, out of sheer curiosity, decided to calculate how much sooner Mondus Occulum would fall if this wind continued. He concluded the difference was approximately five seconds.
Kane could try to accomplish something beyond survival in the weeks he had left, but there did not seem to be anything better to do than to fight, or rather to strategize, and take as many Astartes as he could down with him along the road to oblivion.
He wondered about Lantrane’s earlier words, about the Dragon being the only logical explanation that still allowed hope. He would, however, hardly call the dogma of the Order of the Dragon logical. It was a curious mix of mythology and obsession. But perhaps there was still some truth to it, perhaps the dash to Noctis Labyrinthus would unveil something that could turn the war’s tide. The dreams were certainly real, after all, even if there were a million less esoteric explanations for them. In that case, too, Kane’s time was best spent surviving.
The Fabricator-General of about three forges realized his mind was slipping into disorder. He shoved these thoughts aside, aligning them like blocks on the hallway of his mindstream. He had decided on this path, and there was no reason to change it unless new factors came into play.
Resolve, like shining steel, pierced the fog that had grown. He connected the noocables to the watchtower ports and took in a map of the battle. What he saw caused a jolt of dopamine. Viranuar had overcommitted to the center, almost as if he was unaware of Kane’s victory on the western flank. If the Iron Hands kept making strategic mistakes like this one, Kane could actually hold out indefinitely. At the very least, it would allow him three extra days. Kane ordered his forces to cut off Viranuar’s rear guard.
Yes, the Tenth Legion was fighting with endless devotion; and though Kane was a competent military strategist in the Mechanicum’s wargames, he had far less live-ammunition experience than Viranuar certainly did. But – the Fabricator-General suddenly realized – the Iron Hands were decentralized, each of them focused on winning their own small theater, with only a few (like Orth and Rochaar, driving towards Argyre) seeing the bigger picture. They had even been unable to take advantage, in any way, of the Order’s desperate dash for Noctis Labyrinthus. The Iron Hands were fighting, in sum, as though Ferrus Manus was asleep.
Kane dreaded the day the Gorgon would awake.