A Delicate Process

3.25/5 (1)

A daemon engine was a strange creation, a melding of opposites, a constantly waring mix of metal and daemon. The tension inherent to that combination made them machines of terrible purpose, well suited to tearing down the works of the corpse Emperor.  

To forge such a machine was a delicate process and required precision, lest horrible consequences result. But every process, even one as potentially deadly as this, became routine if done for long enough. Magos Kerrigan Sulyvahn had forged hundreds of daemon engines and now left most work to her acolytes. She still supervised them, of course, both to intervene if something went wrong and avoid difficult questions from her Iron Warrior masters. But supervising didn’t mean she couldn’t read. And the book she was reading today was particularly good.  

Like all books that existed within the Eye of Terror, this one looked menacing. Its thick pages were bound in a cover of deep red leather and verdigris brass fittings. In the centre of it, a large reptilian eye looked out unblinking. But no book of daemonic lore had a title like this. No, The Commissar’s Favourite, was a romantic fiction. Kerrigan loved books like this, though acquiring them during raids before the Iron Warriors shelled the libraries and stores to rubble was always a challenge. 

As she read, her acolytes completed their preparations and set to work. They circled around the metal body of a Venomcrawler lying limp in a chalk summoning circle and lit in the flickering blue light of copperwax candles. They began a rhythmic chant, causing green daemonic flesh to manifest along its limbs and body. The machine bucked and changed with the chant.  Its bronze fittings grew spikes, and its exhaust stacks warped into screaming faces. At the climax of the ritual, a fanged maw burst from the front of the machine beneath blazing oculars.  It roared in new fury.    

Kerrigan looked up from her book as one acolyte looped a chain around the stumpy neck of the spiked and growling engine. The machine stared down at the acolyte and sniffed at the chain with a noseless face. After tense moments, the machine settled itself. With a gentle tug, the acolyte led the engine out of the forge by the chain like some enormous canid.  

Kerrigan smirked at the ridiculous sight and returned to her book while her acolytes prepared for the next summoning. She was so absorbed in the story that she didn’t hear the soft footsteps of the approaching slave until his bony hand tugged on the hem of her robe. The action scared her half out of her skin and sent her mechatendrils flailing. She managed to maintain a modicum of dignity and not scream.  

‘What is it?’ Kerrigan snapped at the slave, covering her embarrassment with anger. 

‘Apologies Magos,’ he whispered, ‘The Warsmith wishes an update on your production.’

Kerrigan resisted the urge to hit the man. After all, it wasn’t his fault she hadn’t been paying attention.  She gestured to her acolytes as she answered him. ‘We are currently at work on the sixth engine.  Eight should be done by the end of this cycle.’  

‘Splendid Magos.’ The slave looked up at the body of the Venomcrawler being craned into place. ‘May I observe the summoning?  Just this one?’

‘Sure,’ she said dismissively. ‘Stand by the lockers and don’t touch anything.’ She pointed him to the lockers at the back of the room and returned to her book.  

This summoning went as smoothly as the previous one. After some time, another Venomcrawler stood ready, fanged mouth wet with drool. The acolytes were chanting the final words when Kerrigan heard the slave speak behind her. ‘Magnificent,’ he said with hushed awe. 

Kerrigan felt her stomach drop at the sound. In her haste, she’d forgotten to tell the slave not to talk. Stray words voiced during a summoning had all kinds of ill effects on a newborn engine, but words of praise or awe had a very particular consequence. She stuffed her book into a pocket of her robe and hurried towards the lockers. She was going to need her hammer.  

As expected, the Venomcrawler twitched strangely as the acolytes finished chanting. It rose up on clawed limbs and began to sway slowly. The acolytes recognised what was happening and backed away slowly to cluster at the lockers. The machine watched them. It spread its clawed forelimbs wide and raised its mechatendrils high in the air.  

With a scream, the Venomcrawler began to dance.

The nine-ton engine bobbed and swayed its bulbous abdomen while its mechatendrils waved in the air to some silent rhythm. The sight would be hilarious if not for the fact that the machine could kill one of them with a stray limb, and do terrible damage to the forge. Kerrigan had to stop it before that happened. She was annoyed, both at the slave for speaking and herself for not impressing on him the importance of silence. But the situation was fixable, and the solution would help her mood.

‘What is it doing?’ the slave asked as she approached the lockers, his voice cracking with panic.

‘Dancing,’ Kerrigan said, shoving him out of the way. ‘I thought that was obvious.’

‘Does this happen often?’ the slave pestered on.

‘More often than I’d like,’ she growled.

From one of the lockers, she grabbed her forge hammer.  The weapon was two meters of heavy black iron backed by a power generator and runes of unbinding.  Huge as it was, it felt light in her hands, its spirit eager for the coming violence.  Kerrigan grinned as her mood lifted.

‘Stay back here,’ she ordered the slave. ‘This will get messy.’ He nodded and scurried to take refuge with the acolytes. 

Kerrigan thumbed the activation rune on her forge hammer, shrouding the weapon’s head in arcs of blood-red lighting.  With a grin, she turned around and advanced to fix the problem.  

About the Author

Kyle been a fan of the Warhammer 40k setting for about 25 years and recently got back into writing fiction for this and other worlds.  He currently lives in Colorado with his wife, four cats, four chickens, and numerous plants.  His favourite army is Asuryani, specifically Saim Hann.