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post #41 of 44 (permalink) Old 08-01-16, 03:07 PM
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CHAPTER NINETEEN

One Terran month later

The barely lit tunnel stretched ahead of Srequi Lantrane, a mix of green and dark gray alloys bounding a corridor with a coffin-like cross-section. Where the earlier paths had branched and weaved, this one was straight and (given that they were in a realm not bound to the same distances as the material) unnecessarily long. Anrakyr even exuded uncertainty over the possibility of a trap.

Lantrane knew there was none. The path to Szarekh had, she recognized, been engineered to induce doubt in those who trod it, even if they were Necron. Still, if pressed, she would have admitted uncertainty. After all, Szarekh’s location was not entirely a secret – the Dragon of Mars, that ancient enemy of the Necron race, had managed to somehow uncover it. And yet there was this interminable corridor.

Over a Terran month of walking, according to her internal chronometer, with some property of the walls inhibiting running, and presumably mechanical transportation. Anrakyr had said, at first, that it was a fitting walk for an audience with the Silent King.

“It still is,” Anrakyr transmitted, and Lantrane recognized she had transmitted that last thought. “If it is not a trap.”

“Five and a half minutes,” Lantrane updated Anrakyr. Unnecessary, but a firm reminder that they were almost there.

To meet the being that had led the Necrons to their destiny. While on quite a few subjects he had insisted on keeping his silence, Anrakyr had told Lantrane of Szarekh, the last Silent King, who had forged the pact with the sinister grandeur of the C’tan to take vengeance on the Old Ones of Terra. Who had led his people to sacrifice their souls, and in many cases their very minds, for immortality, but led them too to victory in an impossible war. Who had, in the end, betrayed his gods and restored the Necrons’ free will. And who had, in the last instant of his undisputed reign, caged the Necrons for sixty million years (sixty-five, if Terran), for reasons Anrakyr did not fully understand.

To awaken at the End, calculated to within a few millennia on a scale of aeons. Lantrane did not need even her Mechanicum augmentations to recognize the implausibility of that being accidental.

Most of the Necrons were still in stasis, and Anrakyr himself had only recently awoken, spending the last decades covertly visiting other worlds and ushering them into this new era. Many had been less grateful than Anrakyr had hoped and expected. Nonetheless, he had thus far come out ahead on resources. But with the situation being as desperate as it was, Anrakyr had decided to sacrifice freedom and summon the Silent King, if Szarekh still lived.

Lantrane, on that, would honor her part of the bargain. Liberty had never been high among the Mechanicum’s values – all Adepts were servants of the Quest for Knowledge, and while there was a certain amount of equalized discretion implied in that, there was also a certain amount of random defiance forbidden by it. And she had sacrificed her life once, to a mad god. Sacrificing her liberty to a reluctant king…

If, of course, Szarekh would listen. And on that matter, she could only trust Anrakyr’s competence and patriotism.

“Forty and a half seconds,” Anrakyr transmitted, and Lantrane allowed herself a concealed crest of irritation. It was strange – her emotions had become subdued, or perhaps more accurately slow, and changed greatly (as evidenced by a month of near-solitude, interrupted only by Anrakyr’s occasional commentary, having little psychological effect), but they had not gone entirely, or at least were not the reason for the hole at the center of her mind.

What was missing was, rather… something she had not known she had. A soul, Anrakyr had dubbed it, and that was as good a name as any. Was it a figment of the Warp? An inefficient twist in neural circuits? Merely the absence of a fragment of hungry C’tan discontent that the star-gods had, accidentally or not, forced upon those meant to be their pawns?

And then the empty space in front of them changed, and what had been a road became a cell.

They stood behind an erratic grid of varying light, arranged as if a stained-glass window, though presenting no image Lantrane could discern. Beyond them, there was a trophy hall filled with crystalline cells holding wildly varying weaponry. Some were straightforward, swords and pikes and tridents, albeit decorated in widely varying ways and in some cases half-camouflaged. Others, Lantrane associated with things besides war: lanterns, cubes, screwdrivers. Yet more were filled with weapons with forms deemed impractical by every race in the Milky Way: taijitus, asterisks, and something that looked vaguely like a Terran hippopotamus. There was nothing resembling a gun, though. Many of the artifacts seemed to Lantrane to be whimpering, as if denied some portion of themselves and stating as much noospherically.

The path behind them was closed, as were their sides; Anrakyr poked the leaden-gray wall with his halberd, experimentally, but it was no illusion. Lantrane was not sure how it had emerged, but she had more crucial points to obsess over.

One of them being the Necron now walking into that hall. He looked not unlike Anrakyr, if slightly hunched where Pyrrhia’s ruler stood straight. Moreover, his skeletal body glowed green, not blue, and seemed saturated with light instead of merely emitting it from a few orbs on his body. He wore a complex article of clothing built up of metalloid strips, with a bright green cloak around his shoulders and a black cylinder that presumably extended into a blade at his belt. His gaze turned to Anrakyr and Lantrane, and both were on their knees without the latter realizing how. It was a look of unfaded memory, across a barely conceivable temporal abyss, and of an unbounded authority undimmed by those depths.

“Anrakyr, Overlord of Pyrrhia,” Szarekh said (in Necrontyr rather than binary), causing Anrakyr’s eyes to twinkle in confusion. “Oh, don’t worry, I am silent no more. Your companion?”

“Srequi Lantrane of Mars, your grace,” Lantrane said, unmoving.

“What have you been up to, Anrakyr?” Szarekh’s tone held only a thin slice of accusation, reflecting that he saw Anrakyr’s cooperation with the C’tan as unlikely; but that slice was stark indeed.

“It was her choice, not mine,” Anrakyr said. “You hid yourself well, your grace; I had to get your location out of a shard of Mag’ladroth, through a mix of intimidation and her sacrifice.”

Szarekh’s face cracked, indicating his worries were assuaged. “Never Necrontyr, yet Necron. Well, Anrakyr of Pyrrhia and Lantrane of Mars, I bid you welcome to the Tritium.”

The bars of their cage vanished, and Anrakyr rose to walk forward. Lantrane followed him.

“An impressive collection,” Anrakyr noted.

“Aye,” Szarekh said, “but little of it is functional, so close to the Milky Way. The Warp confounds some of the mightiest tools, and both its strength and character are profoundly variable across megaparsecs.”

“And some of it is complaining about that,” Anrakyr added.

“Indeed,” Szarekh said. “Come! We may be incapable of food and drink, but I have long run out of worthy opponents in saain-mo. And discuss, in the meantime, whatever your reasons for coming were.”

Anrakyr’s head vibrated at a slightly anxious tenor as he sent Lantrane the game’s rules. He had been considered one of the empire’s best players in his time, but Szarekh had presumably improved over the time he had been awake – a time Lantrane expected was a small fraction of the Necrons’ era of sleep, to be sure, but still.

“It was originally a game of the Old Ones,” Anrakyr transmitted to her in Necron binary. “A symbol, even, of the Necrontyr’s derision for gods who spent months on a mere game. Now we are the only beings to retain it.”

They walked up a set of barely moving stairs, and Lantrane was forced to note that the complex – whether it was indeed a vessel or not – looked truly ancient. Wear that had to have taken thousands of years to engrave itself was left unrepaired; yet regions were built up that implied repairs nonetheless happened. And Szarekh’s mentions of foreign galaxies… Lantrane could actually believe some of those travels had been sublight.

“The great dark of space,” Szarekh said, “smiles with a gaping maw.” But the great maw of time, it seemed, was nothing to him. How many millennia had he seen?

Was even the Emperor any more than an aberration in his heartbeat?

And then they came up to the game table, situated at the center of what seemed a royal bar. No alcohol or water, of course – Necrons mainly kept personal processes from ambient energy, herself included. She had needed to suppress the temptation to tinker with her own body, after realizing that. If she had still been an Adept and discovered such a possibility… but it was far from the greatest dazzling strangeness, in this new world she had entered. If her emotions had not been altered, her wonder would have been overwhelming; as it was, it was modified towards awe, though still abundant.

Anrakyr set down opposite Szarekh; Lantrane took up a position as the designated second, and a bodyguard as Szarekh’s. Neither needed to make significant strategic decisions, thankfully. Lantrane could not expect to meaningfully contribute in that sense.

“First move is mine,” Szarekh observed as the randomizer resolved, entering his first rules into the system, laying the game’s foundation. Anrakyr responded by attacking randomization; Szarekh did not fight on that front, instead acting to speed the match up. In principle, a full saain-mo match could take Terran months; the shortened version Szarekh had here chosen was limited to a day, and with the current rules would be over within three hours.

Anrakyr pushed his luck, but Szarekh cut him off with what Lantrane found to be a clever loophole. Anrakyr’s reaction indicated that it was in truth a well-established part of opening theory. The Pyrrhian pressed on scoring rules, but was once again repulsed, this time through a dagger that exposed weakness in his randomization advantage. Anrakyr responded with quick interplay to make massive gains in rule creation economy, Lantrane assisting, but Szarekh exploited the hole to score his first points and render the victory almost moot.

“Vakhephis’ gambit,” Anrakyr said, head vibrating. “You’re only the third Necron to successfully pull that off on me.”

“Well, since you blocked off Pririz’s….”

Anrakyr nodded. “A rapid match, then.”

Szarekh nodded, entering his next commands. Stars littered the field, the board in information on void warfare. “You’ve still got quite a chance, mind you.”

“I’m aware,” Anrakyr said, illusory cracks appearing on his face to signify calm confidence as ships began to appear. “So where are we, then? You mentioned that it was near the Milky Way?”

“I should be able to reach the galactic east within a few of our years, if necessary,” Szarekh said, Anrakyr winning the first battles, tilting the score in his favor. “You awoke early?”

“And have been trying to awake others,” Anrakyr agreed. “Clocks have somewhat diverged over time, tectonic movements making matters worse.” He radiated frustration, though trying ineffectively to hide it; Lantrane tried to make calming movements, but Anrakyr overextended nonetheless, allowing Szarekh to swoop in. Suddenly Anrakyr’s lead had become Szarekh’s, though Anrakyr regrouped in time to prevent total collapse.

“I had my reasons,” Szarekh declared after a long silence.

Anrakyr let out a rattling sigh, one of the few portions of Necrontyr body language close to humanity’s. “Aye,” he said, “and they were valid. But communication….”

Szarekh gave affirmation, as he failed to press his advantage, perhaps from distraction. Anrakyr sent probing attacks, scoring a few points to start catching up. Both focused on the game once more, as it became increasingly competitive; aside from a few compliments to one move or another, the Necrons were silent. The bodyguard – no, the Praetorian – had remained thus since appearing. Lantrane imitated her hosts.

Then Anrakyr made an attack, adding a crucial rule change in lieu of scoring… only for Szarekh to respond with his own, clearly planned attack, also forgoing the scoring to use a loophole in Anrakyr’s move. A few shots later, Anrakyr’s economic meta-advantage was in ruins, the score even, slightly above three hundred.

Anrakyr’s head shook. “You’ve made that move before,” he commented.

“Yes, in a recent game in Triangulum. Never underestimate the effect of boredom, Anrakyr. But this was meant to be a friendly match, was it not?”

“Yes, yes,” Anrakyr said. The cracks appeared again, though this time they were ironic. “So. How many galaxies have you visited, anyhow?”

“Ones not secret? Six hundred and fifty-eight. Over forty million years of subjective time.”

What.

The shockingly unshocked Anrakyr looked at the board, as he pressed Szarekh’s forces back again, capturing critical freedoms. “We’ll both beat that score within an hour.” A Necrontyr hour, of course, equal to roughly three-quarters of a Terran one. Alien time measurements were a special tier of torture.

“And the game will end soon after,” Szarekh noted. “So, business?”

“Business,” Anrakyr accepted, and there was another long, pregnant pause. “Your grace, we need you to return. To awaken the Necrons and lead our kind to war one last time. The End Times are here.”

“The End Times?!” Szarekh’s troop movements showed no sign of his shock, but his diplomatic ones were a different matter. The Silent King’s forces were quickly surrounded, and suddenly Lantrane saw through the espionage system what Anrakyr must have noticed several minutes ago, a way to go in for a sudden kill. And Szarekh would not be able to realize it, at least not unless….

“The End Times,” Anrakyr confirmed, flipping another star. “Lantrane is from Mars – a world we once knew as Time IV. Her race, from Time III, dominates the Milky Way.”

“Terra?” Szarekh inquired. “Its location in the galactic plane is quite different from Time’s.”

“The humans moved it,” Anrakyr said. “Other astrological prophecies match, too.”

“And you want me to go back,” Szarekh continued. “To renew the command protocols, and lead the Necrons into the final war, to gamble for everything.”

“The gamble is inevitable,” Anrakyr defended himself, even as he attacked on the field. “If we do not play, we merely lessen our chances.”

“Indeed,” Szarekh said, and suddenly the map shifted.

Lantrane took several minutes to realize just how Szarekh had been able to pull it off, but suddenly Anrakyr’s forces were split by a trap, and Szarekh had split the Pyrrhian’s attack. The center could not hold, and the attack meant to end the game was bogged down. Anrakyr still held the scoreboard advantage, but within a few seconds every other advantage went Szarekh’s way.

Anrakyr looked down. “That….”

Szarekh was silent, looking into the space between Lantrane and Anrakyr. Seeing, perhaps, some shade from his eternity.

Anrakyr continued playing, trying to rebuild his economic advantage; Szarekh did not try to hurry the match. The conversation on galactic matters paused, a game taking precedence over galactic fate for several minutes.

“Anyhow,” Szarekh concluded, “I will do as you recommend, with one exception. The End Times… I trust you told the truth, Anrakyr, but my wrath will impress even Mag’ladroth if you lied here. Unless it was a joke?”

“It was not, your grace,” Anrakyr said, and cracks appeared on his face again, for the first time since Szarekh had turned the tide. By now in the Silent King’s favor, after a period of quick scoring.

“Then so be it,” Szarekh said. “I will steer the Tritium back to the Milky Way, and initiate galactic awakening… but the command protocols are gone, Anrakyr. I am king for eternity, but god of Necronkind no more.”

Anrakyr seemed some mixture of relieved and frustrated. “Then the dynasties… there’ll be little to unite them. You are only one being, your grace, you cannot be everywhere.”

Lantrane did not know how she felt, herself. Surely at a moment (on the planetary timescale, at least, it was a moment) as crucial as this supposedly was, Necronkind would come together, even if not literally forced to?

“But it is better than doing nothing,” Szarekh said. “And I would not install the protocols again, even if I could. No… we will find our way in the flaming evening one by one. The Tritium flies back to the Milky Way, Anrakyr; now, with that settled, back to the game?”

Anrakyr acquiesced, though even Lantrane saw that the match was hopeless. She took the moment to look around herself, at the implements she had no idea as to the function of. Absurdly ancient artifacts of a race that had risen from time’s trenches, that would bring... something… back to the galaxy. To what extent it would be somewhat benevolent, or at least beneficial, time would as ever tell. Yet Lantrane expected that they would improve matters, if only because they understood them.

She noted a pinprick hole, in the bar’s wall, and rose to examine it; Anrakyr could manage for a few minutes by himself. To her surprise, when she leaned to observe it, it was a viewport. Through it, Lantrane could see a starscape – no, those fires were diffuse, a galaxyscape. And brightest of all by far, in the lower part of the vista, a great, tilted spiral lightfield, dominating the void.

The Milky Way.

Every empire, every life, every object she had ever known, within that half-steradian. But the space outside… she could see, with her newly enhanced vision, galaxies in every direction except the Milky Way’s halo, no longer blocked out by dispersed starlight. It was not empty; it was full of dream reflections, of paths she could have walked.

And yet they were returning home, to that wheel from which all her paths had sprung, and from the anxiety Szarekh had shown, she suspected it was for a crux that might well matter for more than one galaxy. For a time relevant on a scale well past millennia.

Yes, Anrakyr was a questionable hero, and the race she now belonged to moreso, those ghosts whose lifespan was geologic. And she was most questionable of all, had in a sense been even as a member of the Mechanicum, that sinking ark she had abandoned (with doubt, but without hesitation). But did it matter? The daybreak, from what she understood, would be fragmented….

Its sun would shine no less brightly for it. For knowledge, and for every other value.
And it would shine with the luster of iron.

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post #42 of 44 (permalink) Old 08-02-16, 12:18 PM
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Last chapter, except for the epilogue:



CHAPTER TWENTY

The din of hammers filled Northern Timefell. The art of smithing had changed much over the decamillennia, yet some principles remained parallel to the practices of yore. And so, even in at the dawn of the thirty-first millennium, hammers had their part in finishing weapons, even if they were built of etheric composites and optically woven metamaterials, rather than simply iron.

Though iron had its role, too.

And such echoes were even more common, in all crafts, when a Primarch was involved; and so Ferrus Manus, beating out Arbilent for the last time, was well-aware he likely looked like a sweating artisan of the first millennium and not the thirty-first. Not that it mattered, as after all there was no one there to see him.

The Eldar had a legend about one of their dead gods, Khaine, about how he forced their smith-god to forge a thousand equally enchanted blades, yet that smith-god – Vaul; was there a psychic connection with Vulkan’s naming, there? – could only complete nine hundred and ninety-nine in time, sparking the War in Heaven. If the legend had any truth to it, Khaine had been an idiot. One perfect sword was worth more, to a god, than a thousand great ones.

And Ferrus now served a god; and so, he now completed Arbilent. Another hammer blow, the movement seeming mechanical yet in truth requiring great, human focus. A single blade, for a single ruler.

A month of Primarch’s work, to craft a weapon worthy of its divine wielder, the Emperor himself.

The rebellious Primarchs would never craft its like, not so much due to their position alongside destruction as because none of them were artisans in his and Vulkan’s fashion. Well, perhaps Perturabo. Ferrus had seen the other Primarch of iron as a rival, and indeed far too few had seen him as a friend… had that helped drive Perturabo into Horus’s traitorous arms? All intelligence suggested that the Comrade had thrown in with that Coalition.

The Iron Hands had begun deployment, to the front lines of that war, as the war on Mars transitioned into memory. Ferrus would not join them; he had a separate path. But first, he had a sword to finish.

He turned it over, his hands burning with the effort, nearly beginning to melt. Arbilent was decorated, to the nanoscale, and its core was infused with the finest techniques of millennia of Martian and Medusan technological development, as well as psychic effects the Librarians had assisted him with. And while its true composition was complex, it shone like purest gold. Radiant, untainted… but not naïve, and far from weak.

A weapon with which the Emperor would return, when the time came, to the crusade. A weapon Ferrus knew he was not worthy to wield – and that, perhaps, could mean it was worthy of his father. If any weapon was.

He lay Arbilent down onto a platform, which slowly rotated, pushing it out of sight. His work was done; there were a few hours of temperature treatment remaining, and after that Arbilent would be complete. And Ferrus was far from sure how he would ever create a greater weapon.

And yet, if he survived this war, he would. That was as sure as the stars themselves.

He lifted segments of his ceremonial armor and put them on, one by one. Black armor, for the ideals of the blacksmith, for the inevitable side effect of creation. In the same way that war itself was an inevitable (apparently) side effect. And also black armor for the void of the night sky, and for humanity’s path into it.

And the white hand that crafted both, that had to. It was humanity that created, always. Perhaps there was strength to be found in surrendering choice to the automatic, in giving up emotion and willpower and humanity, but there were goals far more important than strength. He preferred the plain hand to the variant where the hand was contained within a Clan-symbol gear; what humanity had created was clear to see, in the armor itself, and in a sense in the Astartes that wore it. Better the shield-chain, for the Legion’s duty.

Once ready, Ferrus opened the forge doors, exiting the innermost sanctum of Northern Timefell. The forge had been his for the entire war, situated in Mars’s northern basin. A wave of heat rolled out behind him, as Ferrus stepped through doorway after doorway, walking upwards.

For, it seemed, there was a centurion who he needed to see.

Northern Timefell was not undamaged by war, but its scars had healed, at least in its interior. The exterior still looked halfway between the industrial park it had been and a burnt ruin. Ferrus supposed he could make an analogy with the state of his own mind, and the spirit of the Legion. But they were not iron, not at their core.

They would need to remain thus. The Mechanicum, the Imperial sections thereof, as well. Too many had emphasized iron over flesh, and turned to the Dragon through its order, dreams overwhelming common sense and creating fanatics. The new Guardian had confirmed Semyon’s death, and now continued his lonely vigil. Ferrus was unsure if much of meaning had changed, with the guard.

Though one Magos had found escape through that faith. Ulrach Branthan’s blockade had been unable to stop Magos Ahotep’s flight, and somehow Rogal Dorn’s greater Solar System defenses had likewise been evaded. A ploy of the Dragon, or merely the peak capacity of iron? And for what, given that Ahotep would not find allies in the Coalition? Ferrus did not know, and he suspected the answer would not be pleasant.

But he would face it nonetheless. As now he faced the last of the descending set of doors within Northern Timefell, and walked out onto the parapet. Already the Legion was assembling for his address on the metallic plain that served as plaza, at the triumph of war’s end.

Lorgar had chosen to remain on Terra, and he would meet his father privately at a later time. Dorn was here, though. But before his brother, his son.

“Castrmen Orth,” Ferrus said, turning to his left.

“My lord,” Orth said, kneeling. “You wished to see me?”

“Stand,” Ferrus said. “Walk with me, Castrmen.”

He did, as they ambled, peacefully, along wall’s edge. Orth was still not entirely at peace, with Ferrus or with himself. Ferrus Manus was not sure if he could fix that – he couldn’t do so for himself. But other things, Ferrus could do.

“You still worry about the consequences of siding with Branthan,” Ferrus told his son. “Despite understanding his folly, and avenging your error with fire.”

Orth nodded, slightly.

“Don’t,” Ferrus said. “Your service far outstrips your error.”

“Thank you, lord,” Orth said. “Part of my mind… Qevpilum’s death, in Magma City. The knowledge he recovered may have great potential, but he was a personal friend. And with Rochaar in his new role as Firemaster, the sun has set on the Young Squid.”

In truth, while Ferrus mourned Qevpilum’s death, his recent record was directed downhill. Though his replacement, Nusaamnius, an older Astarte… he would, Ferrus hoped, do better. As Strigeus could make a fine replacement for Orth.

“And you alone remain,” Ferrus said with a slight smile. “But not for long, Castrmen.”

The Iron Hand turned to his Primarch, and Ferrus saw Orth’s request for explanation in his eyes.

“The Iron Fathers have done an excellent task maintaining the Legion’s creations,” Ferrus said. “And they have done no worse as inspiration. But it would be far too much to ask them to also lead on matters of the Warp.”

“And I am among the few survivors of Branthan’s cabal,” Orth added, understanding Ferrus’s direction.

“Precisely. I ask you to take on the public role of First Etherspinner, leading the development of a brotherhood devoted to mastering Chaos – without, I emphasize, letting Chaos master them. To develop aetheric technology, to maintain diplomatic relations with Lorgar’s ecclesiarchy, to fight on battlefields affected by the daemonic. And – and this will not be among the official roles of the Etherspinners – to watch for ideological deviance. For times when Chaos worship falls into cults, or when its enemies plot against my authority.”

Orth nodded, and Ferrus supposed he would be looking back to the massacre of Branthan’s cabal. Of his own brothers.

“If you feel you are not capable of the last of that,” Ferrus said, “I will not punish you. You have done enough internal service for a lifetime.”

“But my duty is eternal,” Orth said. “And I will do whatever is necessary.” He knelt, driving his sword point into the path. “This is a great honor, my lord, and I will do my best to deserve it. For Medusa.”

Ferrus smiled. He had expected Orth to accept readily; the centurion was less broken-up than most Astartes would have been, at the incidents of Cassini Forge.

“You will stand opposite Eergabay,” Ferrus clarified. “Chief Librarian and Chief Etherspinner. Go!”

Orth nodded, kneeling for just long enough for Ferrus to pin the Etherspinners’ seal onto his armor. He looked at Orth with a smile as the Iron Hand moved towards his place in the Legion’s order. Orth had responded well, and Ferrus Manus trusted him to lead the Iron Hands through Chaos in calm, rational fashion. He had, after all, already rejected its madness aspect once.

If only Ferrus could be so sure himself. It was the burden of the leader, to know on how thin a thread his work hung. To know, as well, what had been done to achieve that work, and what would yet have to be done.

Ferrus walked on, faster, meeting the bright yellow figure that stood out from the red and gray of the wall; and then he embraced Rogal Dorn.

“Ferrus,” Dorn said. “So that is that, Mars is entirely ours?”

“And it will remain thus,” Ferrus confirmed. “You received my remarks?”

“Indeed,” Dorn said, “although the Emperor seemed less than ecstatic at them. Your role is accepted, but… you walk a narrow path.”

Ferrus frowned. “Surely the Emperor has bigger concerns with the rebellion?”

“He is… not paranoid, not in the sense of irrationality, but the analog for one as far above us as he is. The betrayal has taken its toll even on him, and divinity has not made him happy… the opposite, in fact. I do not think he ever wanted it.”

Ferrus nodded. He would keep the Emperor’s troubles in mind. And Dorn’s own, which were also clear enough. “Good luck on Terra, Rogal.”

And without further words, Ferrus Manus nodded to his brother and walked to the podium.

It looked out over Mars’ northern plains. Forty thousand Iron Hands, including most of the Legion’s command, had gathered to hear their father speak. They stood within their Clans, and as Ferrus took his position every one was at full attention. Before them, the forge’s sides were arranged in titanic steps leading up to the podium, the promontories to Ferrus’s sides hosting the chief officers of the Legion, which now included Castrmen Orth.

“Iron Hands!” Ferrus called. “Today we celebrate the retaking of Mars!”

Slight cheers. As he had planned.

“Aye, the celebration is dim indeed. This was a war we should never have had to fight, against enemies that should have protected our backs. But what is done is done.

“And so Mars, the center of learning and industry, Sol’s secondary heart – Mars is wounded. Wounded deeply, scarred to the bone; but its flesh will recover. Yet the knowledge, the principles of Mars… they have been burned out of the traitorous Mechanicum, yet far too little is left of the loyal one to keep hold of them.

“Aye, the old Mechanicum is dead! And that tragedy far outweighs the victory we have achieved over the past year.

“And yet the Mechanicum lives on. It lives on in the archives recovered from fallen forges and in the armor each of you now wears. It lives on in the cogitator cores in the Imperial Palace and in the might of the Imperial fleet. And it lives on, moreover, in every one of the Imperium’s citizens, who have been blessed by the touch of iron in their lives – and that is every last one of them. Aye, it lives on in flesh – and though flesh is weak, it is also the only true representation of iron’s impact.

“And above all, the Mechanicum lives on in us.” Ferrus swept his hand across his Legion. “We were its wings, and now we have budded off and must replace it. For we are the only ones who can.

“The battle of Mars is over. The reforging of Mars now begins! I am the Futuresmith, and I will not let the Imperium’s grand destiny fall under the attacks of its betrayed present. Many of you will leave to protect the Imperium. Yet the core of the Legion will remain here, to build the future!”

He looked over his sons, a black grid of flesh and iron standing on red ground, stretching towards the horizon. “Flesh is weak, but that does not mean we can abandon it entirely, for it is only from its weakness that true strength arises. Iron can protect and destroy, but is only flesh that can meaningfully build. So let us build! Let this be our duty forevermore, on Mars and on Medusa, and on every other world – to forge as well as to fight, to look into the distance as well as unblinkingly at our foe. Let these be our chains forevermore – faith in the Emperor, duty to the Imperium, and need for eternity. Let this be our second founding!”

And this time, the cheers were deafening. Even Dorn smiled, in the distance to Ferrus’ east, a sentinel invisible from the plaza.

The Imperium was not yet gone. He was not yet gone.

“No,” the voice of Gabriel Santar said, “you are not. But neither am I.”

Renegades Saga contributions
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...tions-cry.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...s-scarlet.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...lesh-weak.html)
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...te-heresy.html)
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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post #43 of 44 (permalink) Old 08-03-16, 10:44 AM
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EPILOGUE: DOOM

Mortarion, Primarch of the Death Guard, looked at the dust the shuttle kicked up as it landed with some disapproval. He had intentionally placed his experiment some distance away from population centers, and the improvised spaceport some distance away from it in turn; yet while the Mechanicum shuttle’s dust would not interfere with the experiment, it was still more than he would have expected from them.

Especially when the owner of the shuttle was the newly-minted Fabricator-General himself. Though perhaps, with the loss of Mars, the Mechanicum simply could not spare the expense for a clean landing.

The shuttle settled, hemmed in close to the orange canyon wall that blocked off one side of the platform. To the other side, perhaps as the reason for Kane’s caution, yawned the Gresseti Canyon, the roaring of its river audible even at this height. In these highlands, it was the only place within fifty kilometers to be suitable for human habitation; and for that reason, humans had not bothered to make the trek, in the time before Mortarion.

They had been losing. Mortarion wondered, sometimes, what could have been if he had arrived to a rising world. Instead, Barbarus before him, or at least the human part thereof, had been a planet of dusk. He had inverted that, only to fail on the last step.

To be saved by one whom he had immediately suspected to be merely another facet of psychic tyranny. The Emperor had convinced him otherwise, in the early years, yet even Magnus had proven to possess more moral fiber – a fair bit more, at that. Though Mortarion was not confident that it would last.

The landing ramp at last rolled out, and Kane of the Mechanicum strode out, shaking Mortarion’s hand with his half-biological one.

“Greetings, Lord Primarch,” Kane said, still standing well away from Mortarion – in particular from his toxic collar. Wise, though Mortarion had to assume Kane had solid filtration systems, and he should have… but what was to gain? All Barbarus was above, and that would be a truer way for Kane to test himself, in the unlikely case that the Fabricator-General was so inclined.

“Greetings,” Mortarion said, softly, as was his way. “Let us limit formalities. Come!”

A cloaked door slid open, allowing Mortarion and the adept into the first tunnel before sliding closed, leaving the two transhumans in shadow.

“Magos Zeth,” Kane said, “asked to transmit her… dissatisfaction… with Rask’s choice to sacrifice Magma City. But she will not go further with her discontent.”

“Understandable,” Mortarion accepted. He was somewhat ill at ease with Rask’s choice to lie himself, even if dropping Magma City had been sensible. “Are we certain as to whether the Forge was indeed destroyed?”

“No,” Kane admitted. “But I do understand the decision itself, Mortarion. My curiosity is as to why the sacrifice of three squads to defend a doomed stronghold, when one Marine could have blown the reactors, and two more defended him.”

“To cause more damage to the Iron Hands,” Mortarion said, though Kane should have deduced as much already. Or – “Do you mean the self-sacrificial aspect? Every one of those Astartes chose that mission.”

“I am not accusing you or Rask of immorality, but... is such readiness to sacrifice oneself Astarte normal?”

Ah. “Somewhat.” They stopped as Mortarion slid another door open, both phasing through the screen before it without problem. “All my sons – all sons of any Primarch – know they are to die in battle. Not as quickly as baselines perish from disease or accident, yet their fate is singular. That leads to… acceptance. Less for some Legions, more in others. Most of all, in a Legion built to endure, to guard both against, and for, the end. Most Astartes do not fear death merely because they do not fear anything. My sons embrace it… they fight in its shadow every day. As do I.”

They passed onto a balcony, on the third floor of a vast rotunda. They walked along that edge, Kane scanning the simply decorated walls. Perhaps seeking hidden messages. He would find none.

Mortarion believed in tactical subterfuge, but he was no Alpharius. And he was quite satisfied with that, though he was glad the Last Primarch was on their side. Moving too deep into the shadows made them little different from light, lost the rippling interplay.

“Your reforging of the Mechanicum is proceeding apace?” Mortarion inquired.

“They will not follow me as unquestioningly as Kelbor-Hal,” Kane said. “But a figurehead would be enough to prevent infighting, given the crisis, and I am no figurehead. Yes, we are an organization again. Some are wondering how I escaped.”

Kane’s voice gave no indication of how weakened the Mechanicum truly was. Even if it did, the iron would mean Mortarion could hardly trust the Adept’s signals. “I trust you told them nothing.”

“Of course.”

They passed into another door, and then into a clean room, weblike systems vacuuming the dust away; Mortarion disabled all active systems in his armor. For five minutes neither was able to speak loudly enough for the conversation to continue over the sterilization’s din.

“So,” Kane said as it was done and they passed to a viewport over an industrial – and entirely humanless – landscape, “what are you making, that you request my assistance for?”

No, Mortarion decided, he was not particularly fond of Kane, no more than he was ever fond of the Mechanicum. But both were trustworthy, and so he would hold ironclad his alliance with both.

“Consider the sulfur component,” Mortarion said. “And combine with an iron-based compound. Inorganic variations of timoline, metallic bonds through the dimensions….”

“Jumbite,” Kane said, awe clear on his face. “You truly believe you can synthesize jumbite?”

“It has been a focus of mine for some time,” Mortarion made clear. “No less than a year remains, but I have replicated Satasir’s results, and gone further.”

“So you have come closer than any Adept,” Kane said with a sigh. “Primarchs…. But why jumbite, Mortarion? The inorganic variant of polymorphine… useful, certainly, but in this time of war….”

Mortarion looked at Kane, wondering whether anyone besides him had worked these details out. Whether Kane would even believe him, if he informed the Fabricator-General of his calculations’ results – they had been a surprise even to him.

But he had desired, at first, a protection against sorcery… and then come to understand. That sorcery was more than merely the psychic arts – it was their pinnacle, or rather their abyss. Their endpoint, in sum. Which even the Emperor could not withstand.

Except that just as the Warp pushed on reality, reality at its most turbulent could push on the Warp.

“Polymorphine alters flesh,” Mortarion said. “Indeed, it is capable of creating flesh, under specific circumstances. But flesh… on the scale we now venture towards, flesh is weak.

“Jumbite… I believe it is not bound to the same limitations. It cannot achieve polymorphine’s diversity, yet in all varieties it warps the fundamental fabric of reality.”

“Like psychic effects,” Kane said, making the connection.

“Aye.” Mortarion turned his eyes from Kane, who stood closer to him and more comfortably now that his armor did not vent toxic gases, and looked at the crucibles of the experimental complex. “The mandatory precision is intense, Fabricator-General, and the consequences of a mistake grave. Because in some configurations, jumbite will be Chaos itself… as it will be, in others, its end.”

Renegades Saga contributions
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...tions-cry.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...s-scarlet.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...lesh-weak.html)
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...te-heresy.html)
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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post #44 of 44 (permalink) Old 08-03-16, 10:52 AM
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To be continued in:
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...tten-sons.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...ll-legion.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...resy-lies.html)
and coming soon, Renegades 13: Nucerian Sands.

That's all! Thank you for reading.

Renegades Saga contributions
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...tions-cry.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...s-scarlet.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...lesh-weak.html)
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...te-heresy.html)
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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