Emergency runes flashed across his vision, warning him of VSG burnout. He could feel the residual energies crackle over his skin. The overload had been sudden and rapid, and would have cascaded into other systems had he not diverted it to the void shielded generators. Allowing them to collapse had saved further catastrophe. It was a calculated decision, a risk he was willing to take, but one that could easily come back and kill him if he grew careless.
No, not my decision.
He blinked the thought away, instead throwing his will across the manifold and directing what power remained to his locomotors. Pistons groaned as they worked to move his massive bulk across the irradiated soil. These wastes would not be his tomb, he would make sure of that.
I do not recognize this place.
His auspex flared with the victorious chime that signaled hard contact. His foe lay directly ahead. Even with the smoke and war fog obscuring his vision, he could tell his opponent was large, equal to, if not outclassing him. An almost feral growl reverberated deep in his throat. He had never let that stop him before. He would not be cowed now. His right hand tingled as lightning coruscated across it. He drew his fingers together into a fist, anticipating first blood.
This is not my fight.
Proximity alerts suddenly screamed in his ear. Confusion flashed through him. The auspex contact remained well beyond proximal range. Why were the alarms going off? The answer came out of the smoke, a massive ball of spiked iron. It thundered forward, trailing a length of chain in its wake. He tried to react in time, but he was nowhere near swift enough.
This is not my body.
The meteor hammer struck him square in the chest. Pain blossomed as he felt ceramite crack under the impact. The force was enough to drive him back a step. The meteor hammer fell to the earth as a horn blast split the air. A shape loomed through the smoke, finally coming into view.
What in the Omnissiah’s name is that?
It was a titan unlike any he had ever seen. Horns sprouted from the side of its head, sweeping down until they became vicious tusks. The jaw was open in a perpetually silent scream of rage made complete only when the monster sounded its war horns. Its teeth were mismatched, the lengths incongruous, each one filed to a razor sharp fang. The monster snarled, inky clouds of black smoke billowing from its grille. Chains rattled as they dangled from its shoulders, heavy with trophies. The winch in its arm began to spin, reeling in the meteor hammer, while the fingers of its other hand flexed and snapped.
He fired off a snapshot, the plasma barrage going wide as the titan started towards him again. It moved astonishingly fast for its size, long strides chewing up huge swathes of ground. It howled its challenge as it brought the meteor hammer around for another strike. He reciprocated, his own legs pumping faster and faster. He felt energy flow down his arm, charging the power fist in preparation for a blow.
What? No, I don’t want this I-
War horns sounded and chain rattled as the meteor hammer launched again. The titan swung left, sending the massive ball careening towards his cheek. He tried to duck, but he wasn’t nimble enough. His only recourse was to continue his charge and hope the strike went wide.
All stop! All stop!
His panicked pleas did nothing. He continued forward, his momentum all but impossible to stop. They were on a collision course, two behemoths that would shake the earth with their impact. He raised his hand, fingers clenching into a fist, arm cocked to throw a punch. The meteor hammer came in and he extended his other arm to ward it off. Pain flared as it struck, servos groaning and snapping as the force of the blow ruined his elbow. He cried out. His fist connected with his foe’s shoulder, but nothing could prevent the two of them from colliding. He felt the impact shake his bones and suddenly his world was turned upside down. He was falling. He called out for stabilizers, for gyroscopes, for anything to prevent catastrophe but there was no hope. He felt the back of his head strike and his world went black.
As it faded away, a voice that sounded like one million tortured souls screamed a name.
Kinine Falco gasped, eyes opening wide as he sat bolt upright in his bed.
Tick-tick. Tick-tick-tick. Tick. Tick-tick.
Magos-Dominus Belfield Gott sat and listened to the incessant ticking. There were a half dozen chronometers in the room by his count. It wouldn’t surprise him if there were more. Some were mounted on the walls at various heights. Others were large enough to stand freely on their own. Each one was incongruent with the rest, its style of construction remarkably dissimilar with the aesthetic of the rest of the room. To make matters worse, each chronometer was timed to be just a hair out of sync with the others, creating an irritating series of off-beat ticking.
Gott’s fingers balled into fists. There was no need for one chronometer in this room, let alone six. The Magos-Dominus could mark time himself. His internal chronometer was far more efficient, and lacked the grating ticking. Most magi could measure time in a similar fashion. Wall-mounted chronometers were redundant in a Mechanicus installation. So if they were not installed for that superficial purpose, Gott surmised the presence of the chronometers was instead meant to make him uncomfortable.
Tick. Tick-tick-tick. Tick-tick.
It was working.
Gott reclined in his chair, metallic fingers drumming against the table. He tilted his head back, looking up at the ceiling as he did his best to tune out the sound of the chronometers. His optics whirred, focusing on the blurry streaks of light he could see passing overhead. Normally he would be able to read them, but the security measures of the data flow throughout the complex precluded him to such an extent he didn’t even know where he was. He found it frustrating that someone of his stature and rank should be shut out of the noosphere so completely.
On the other hand, it didn’t take a genius to recognize the function of the room he was in. Beyond the chronometers, the only other furnishings was a smooth metal table before him, a single lamp overhead, and two chairs, one of which he occupied. Gott guessed the walls possessed built-in data dampeners and info-proofing alongside more mundane measures to ensure whatever took place inside did not leak out. All that remained was for Gott’s interrogator to show up and begin the proceedings.
The lock on the door clicked suddenly, filling the room with yet another maddening noise before the door swung open on well oiled hinges. A figure stepped in, a man garbed in red robes trimmed with black cogging. His face was obscured by a combination of a rebreather mounted over his mouth and a deep hood that cast the remainder of his face into dark shadow. The figure carried himself with an air of calm authority, as if this was not the first interrogation room he had stepped into today.
‘Magos-Dominus Belfield Gott.’
Hands clasped behind his back, the newcomer read the name from a data slate held in the manipulator of one of his mechadendrites. He stated the name as if simply confirming it for himself. It was not a question. It was not an address. Just a statement of information.
‘And you are?’
The newcomer stopped in front of the table but did not sit in the waiting chair. Red optics peered out from beneath a deep hood, whirring as they focused on the Magos-Dominus.
No doubt committing my signature to memory, Gott thought.
‘I am Magos-Juris Anton Vrax,’ came the reply. Vrax’s voice was short and clipped through his rebreather’s vox grille. Cut off from the noosphere, Gott was unsure if the grille was surgically implanted there, or simply part of a removable rebreather apparatus.
‘You have been apprised as to why you are here.’
Again, it wasn’t a question. Just a level fact.
‘Yes,’ Gott replied.
He knew why he was here even as the Juris-Minoris had escorted him from the landing pad to this interrogation room. The skitarii guard had removed all possibility that this was a friendly visit. Gott was Magos-Dominus and Adept-Senioris of Iben Hive, or rather had been until its recent fall. Abandoning the city to the machinations of one of the worst arch-hereteks to stalk the sector in centuries. Whatever Ziphion Kruel was up to in the ruins of Iben Hive, the ramifications of his plotting would undoubtedly be severe. This Magos-Juris, and by extension Mother Mars herself, would seek a scapegoat to take the blame for Kruel’s success. Gott was under no delusion that responsibility for the resulting malfeasance would be placed squarely on his shoulders.
Gott felt a deep chill creep up his spine and wondered if this was what it felt like for Imperials to be under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. A Juris was the closest equivalent the Adeptus Mechanicus had.
‘Then I will cut straight to the heart of the matter,’ Vrax said. ‘Cooperate, and I will not have to resort to more unpleasant measures.’
He lowered the data-slate and fixed Gott with an appraising gaze. The cluster of optics that formed his left eye gave the Magos-Juris a somewhat arachnoid appearance. The mechadendrites extending from his shoulders only amplified the look. Vrax set the data-slate down on the table before bracing himself against it. He loomed over Gott, his considerable bulk blotting out the light from the lumen overhead, backlighting him so he was little more than a sinister silhouette with glowing red optics.
‘What lies within Primary Vault 009?’
The cafeterium buzzed with the noise of a thousand muted conversations. Some were held in Gothic. Others droned with the measured cant of techna-lingua. All together, they formed a staticky miasma of spoken word that assailed his sleep deprived mind like jackhammers against flagstone. He grit his teeth, fighting off the worst of it while he waited for the caffeine to kick in.
‘You look absolutely terrible. Been sleeping well?’
Falco glared at Seamas Soran over the rim of his mug of recaf. The other princeps had a nasty habit of knowing when Falco was off his game. But perhaps that was to be expected from the man who had basically grown up alongside him within the Legio.
Falco sighed. ‘Is there a point in lying to you?’ he asked.
Soran shrugged. ‘You could try, but I’d just call your bluff. So what is it? Nightmares? Insomnia? Visions of the Princeps-Primaris’ bare ass?’
Falco couldn’t help but snort. ‘No it’s…’ He trailed off. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure what it is. Nightmares. But these dreams feel more like memories. Only I know they’re not mine. Does that make sense?’
‘Not in the slightest.’ Soran sat down across from Falco and plucked two sucrose packets from the container in the middle of the table. He quickly opened and emptied them into his own recaf. ‘When did they start?’
Falco cupped his mug with both hands, staring down into the dark liquid within and the weary reflection looking back up at him. ‘Shortly after the evacuation of Iben Hive.’
‘It’s probably just combat fatigue, then. That wasn’t an easy engagement. For anybody.’
‘Yeah.’ Falco sipped his mug. He hoped Soran was right, but something deep inside him knew he wasn’t. Soran seemed to sense it too.
‘You know you could try to sound a little more convinced.’
Falco’s lips turned upwards in a tired smile.
‘Have you spoken to Sourn about it?’ Soran asked. Princeps-Primaris Alaria Sourn was the most senior princeps within Legio Implacablis, equal in rank to Magos-Executor. But where Rosarius Canberra’s concern resided with the Legio’s engines, Sourn’s concern lay with the crews of those engines. She was a warrior without peer, but also a spiritual guide in times of turmoil and a role model to anyone who had ever sat in a titan’s cockpit. If there was anyone who might be able to shed some light on Falco’s troubles, it would be her.
‘I haven’t,’ Falco said. ‘I didn’t want to bother her with it. She’s busy preparing to get the Legio back on a war footing. I’ve heard she and Canberra have recalled the other demi-legio from Sauraxis and might have even petitioned the Warp Ravens for aid.’
‘So the magi want Iben Hive back, then?’
‘Looks that way.’
Falco glanced around the cafeteria as his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. ‘They really are hiding something there, then.’
Falco looked up at Soran, the silence between them extending just a moment too long to remain comfortable. He leaned across the table, ensuring no one else would hear what he had to say.
‘After we debriefed the evacuation, Canberra pulled me aside and expressed to me his belief that Magos-Dominus Gott had a secret beneath Iben. It made sense to me. Why else would Kruel dedicate such resources to its capture?’
Soran nodded, following along.
‘Canberra was interested in knowing what Gott’s secret was. To make sure it was worth losing engines over.’
‘I see,’ Soran replied. ‘And did Canberra discover this secret?’
‘Not to my knowledge. I know we’ve granted the refugees asylum on board, though. Including Gott. If Canberra wants to know bad enough, he will have ample opportunity.’
‘If the Juris doesn’t break Gott first.’
Magos Elizara Hektaron nodded slowly. ‘Yes. Project Renewal. That is what we called it. At least, what we called it after we discovered it. Beforehand it was just Vanguard Zeta-2251.’
Magos-Executor Rosarius Canberra raised a perfectly crafted eyebrow. ‘Beforehand? You mean this was not something you discovered or created into being as is? It was something else prior?’
Again, Magos Hektaron nodded. Her bionic gaze remained rooted to the deck plating between them. If she had any fewer emotional override protocols active, it was very likely she’d be squirming of discomfort. With her back pressed against the bulkhead and Canberra looming before her with barely an inch of space between them, Hektaron felt like a rat in a trap. And this only mere hours after enduring a grueling interrogation at the hands of Magos-Juris Vrax.
Hektaron had always prided herself as being a strong woman. She did not rise through Iben’s ranks by letting others step on her and tell her what to think. She could assert herself with the most stubborn magi and come out on top, and she could play the political game just as well.
But Vrax had been an unexpected burden. She could still feel the electric pulses racing across her nervous system, setting aflame organic and augmented synapses alike. She fought at first, quelling the pain with neural overrides. But Vrax put an end to that with a neural jack, overriding her overrides before amping up her pain receptors to such a degree she blew out her throat vox from screaming. Vrax paused the torture long enough to have it replaced. The moment the new vox was installed, information started flowing.
Perhaps that was precisely what Canberra had counted on when he pinned her here, in a remote corridor with little hope of interruption. Perhaps he felt she would be more inclined to divulge the same secrets to him as she had to Vrax. It made sense to her, in a base logic sort of way. If Canberra was going to commit more engines to the war and retake Iben Hive, surely he would want to know what exactly they were fighting for in order to justify the inevitable casualties.
‘Vanguard Zeta-2251 came to our attention after the Proxis Reclamation. He was part of the cohort under Magos-Explorator Delphan Zael.’
‘I recall the Proxis Reclamation,’ Canberra said. ‘Our Legio was petitioned to partake, but we could not acquiesce at the time. Zael’s campaign was ultimately successful, but at great cost.’
Hektaron nodded. ‘Iben’s cohorts took seventeen years to reach one hundred percent fighting efficiency again.’
‘I see. And what of Zeta-2251?’
‘Vanguard Zeta-2251 was part of the first invasion wave.’ Hektaron spoke slowly. Despite the conversation being held in techna-lingua, it was clear she was loath to reveal what she knew she would have to. ‘They suffered a 99.99% casualty rate. Zeta-2251 was the only survivor. He had no memory of why that was.’
‘What did you do with him?’
‘At the time we had no reason to suspect anything more than margin of error. We returned him to active duty and assigned him a new unit.’
‘But then it happened again. Only this time Zeta-2251 wasn’t alone. There were witnesses.’
Canberra leaned in. The green light behind his eyes flashed, betraying the level of his interest in Hektaron’s words. The smile on his lips felt slimy and dishonest. Hektaron reckoned that was why she disliked him. Everything about Canberra was dishonest. Instead of wearing the augments and blessings of the Omnissiah proudly like any other follower of the Martian Creed, Canberra hid them behind synth-skin. The excuse for it was logical, of course, and perhaps that was why he and his fellow Magi-Executor got away with it. None of the other Magi aboard Ark of Antilles seemed bothered by it. Not even the refugees from Iben. But Hektaron decided she could not abide by such deceit. If Canberra could conceal his true nature so willingly and so easily, what else might he conceal?
‘What did they see, Magos?’
A mechadendrite unfurled from Canberra’s back and lazily swayed in the air towards Hektaron. Its manipulators were closed, forming a sharp point that Hektaron could all too easily see piercing her throat and draining her of oils and life-blood. She doubted the smile on Canberra’s face, that sickly sweet smile, that fake smile, would so much as flicker as he watched her slowly die on the deck at his feet.
Her optics blinked and whirred as she refocused.
‘What did they see?’
Hektaron took a steadying breath. ‘They saw,’ she said. ‘They saw the Corianton Effect.’
The auspex scanner blinked with a single return, one hard contact off to their right, maintaining a parallel course and constant speed with the maniple. It bore no ident-rune, which meant it wasn’t a friendly engine, and no one had gotten a good enough look at it to concretely identify it as a foe. While probability suggested the latter was the case, the rules of engagement on this sortie specifically stated all identifications had to be positive with no margin of error before shooting was authorized.
‘Can anyone confirm the unknown at grid square 021.303?’ Falco asked.
‘Negative.’ Sedona Vorak’s voice was mildly garbled over the vox link. She and her Reaver Ferrum Questor strode off to Imperator Ajax’s right. Several tall refinery silos hid them from view, but Falco could see her friendly ident-beacon on the auspex.
‘Negative as well. I don’t even have an auspex return in that grid. Are you sure you’re not getting a ghost?’ Princeps Soran and Deus Interfectorrum were farther back, covering the advancing maniple with the firepower of its twin volcano cannons. It made sense to Falco that the grid square in question might be just outside the warlord’s auspex range.
‘I am sure,’ Falco replied. ‘The contact has been too consistent for it to be a ghost. Sedona, are you sure you don’t have it?’
‘Positive,’ Vorak replied. ‘These silos are obscuring returns on anything that isn’t directly ahead or behind me.’
Falco frowned. He did not like being the only one of the maniple able to see a potential threat. Soran was too far away and Vorak too far out of position. That left Imperator Ajax the only titan capable of responding. ‘Moving to investigate and engage.’
‘Wait, Kinine I don’t think that’s a good-‘
Falco cut the message off. ‘Steersman, bring us to heading. Full stride.’
‘Yes, my princeps.’
Imperator Ajax wheeled to the west. Long strides chewed up kilometer after kilometer. Refinery silos disappeared, fading into the distance behind the marching titan. They were replaced by fabricator warehouses, long buildings that were as tall as they were wide. Each one consumed several dozen hab-blocks in both directions. They were the perfect hunting grounds for the god-engine, capable of shielding even the massive Imperator Ajax as it closed in on its target.
Falco kept his gaze on the auspex. The contact had yet to fade. Each sweep of the auspex’s arm reignited it on the manifold as the warlord titan drew closer. His brow furrowed. It had yet to move as well. And that struck him as curious. Surely if he could see it, then it could see him and should be trying to outmaneuver him.
‘Steersman, reduce to one-third stride. Sensori, open auspex to high gain. Make sure nothing is waiting for us in the shadows of these buildings.’
Imperator Ajax slowed its ponderous march, sensorum suite reaching out to try and pick up any tricks that might be at play. None were revealed. None save the single contact that still refused to move.
Falco blinked. The name reverberated in the back of his mind, like a memory trying to surface but unable to find any mental purchase. He forced it away. He knew what Imperator Ajax wanted. Not once had Falco ever let the warlord’s machine spirit take control. He would not break that streak here.
Still it persisted. But it mattered not. The contact was right around the corner, hiding in the lee of the warehouse. All Falco had to do was cross the intersection and they would be in range. ‘Charge Sunfury,’ he intoned.
The tingling sensation Falco had come to acquaint with the power of the plasma annihilator swept up his arm. Moderati Crenshaw fed him targeting data over the manifold without being ordered. Crenshaw was always proactive. He would make a fine princeps one day. The data coalesced before Falco. He smiled grimly. It would be an easy shot to make.
‘Prepare to fire on my mark.’
Imperator Ajax drew closer to the intersection.
‘Three… two… one…’
‘What?’ Falco leaned forward in his command throne, his body physically reacting to the need to so closely examine Sensori Sartek’s auspex display despite the fact he could see the data on the manifold. And the data did not lie. The hard contact that had been there taunting him for the last fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds was gone.
‘No,’ Falco said. ‘No, it is there. This is some trick. Round the corner and fire on its last known location.’
‘But my princeps, we don’t even know if the target was danger-‘
‘Do it now!’
Imperator Ajax stepped into the intersection, torso swiveling to aim its weapons. Its sunfury fired, sending hot plasma screaming down the street. The rounds struck something large and exploded. Suddenly Falco’s vision was filled with roiling smoke.
The beast came charging through the black clouds, evidently none the worse for wear. Its horned helm leered at Falco and it swung its massive meteor hammer over its head. The ball of spiked iron slammed into the asphalt at Imperator Ajax’s feet as Imaxicor sounded a war cry.
Falco’s heart was in his throat and a searing pain bloomed at the back of his head, creeping forward until it rested behind his eyes. He shouted as his world began to fade and narrow, his vision tunneling until all he saw was a blurry pinprick where he knew Imaxicor to be. Warning lights began to flash, and klaxons screamed. All the while, his engine’s machine spirit cried out a single name over and over.
‘Imaxicor. Imaxicor. Imaxicor.’
Then Falco’s world went black.
Anton Vrax rewound the vid-feed and played it again. He had acquired it from Magos-Dominus Gott, a parting gift after their extended conversation about the ramifications of Gott’s failure to secure Iben Hive. Vrax had been briefed before arriving that Iben Hive was of the utmost importance to the Adeptus Mechanicus in the local sector, but he hadn’t understood the scope of what that meant.
Not until now.
He played the feed again. It was one of perhaps a dozen. Each clip was taken during experiments and study sessions for something Iben’s data logs recorded simply as Project Renewal. Gott had stored the logs on a redundant memory system, one intended to function as the backup to the backup if Iben Hive’s main data core ever went offline. There were only a handful of magi with a high enough security clearance to access these files. Of those magi, time stamps on the playback logs indicated only two had ever accessed these video files.
The interrogations of Belfield Gott and Elizara Hektaron could not have gone more differently. Hektaron had done her best to remain strong. She had refused to sell out her peer until the Juris offered her no other way to save herself. Vrax admired her for that, at least. Such loyalty was rare within the Adeptus Mechanicus. All was politicking and backstabbing for the sake of self-interest and advancement. Loyalty could be bought or sold for the right price. But Hektaron, despite Vrax dangling the easy way out before her, had refused the bait and broke only after the excessive application of voltage to her physical form. For all its benefits, metal was just as weak as flesh if you knew where to apply the pressure.
Gott put up a markedly less impressive fight. Vrax had hoped that the Magos-Dominus of Iben Hive might be made of sterner stuff, but Gott had disappointed. The moment Vrax had so much as insinuated he knew what Project Renewal was, Gott had spilled everything. A pathetic attempt at salvaging what remained of his reputation.
Still, it wasn’t a total loss, Vrax thought. Gott’s story lined up with Hektaron’s almost flawlessly and the margin of error was small enough to be acceptable without the need for further investigation. While part of him relished the idea of putting Gott through the same thing his underling endured, Vrax saw no point in wasting the time on the indulgence.
Vrax swiped through videos until he got to the sixth or seventh. This one was of extreme interest, and most clearly showed what both Hektaron and Gott referred to as the Corianton Effect. The subject lay stretched out on an examination slab. Several feed tubes extended down from the ceiling to plug into sockets or impale the subject’s flesh with needles. Vrax could only begin to guess what they were filled with. Suppressants, most likely. Something to keep the subject calm and docile while the tech-menials around him worked.
One of the menials turned to the camcorder. Their face was thin and gaunt, not blessed with the augments that might have been given to one of a higher station. The tech-menial held up a data-slate and scanned it before looking into the camcorder’s lens and speaking.
‘Project Renewal. Corianton Effect trial twenty-two. Subject Zeta-2251.’
The tech-menial turned away, making room for another red-robed figure. Vrax recognized Magos Hektaron immediately from the way she carried herself. The righteous swagger in her walk was no doubt born from the belief what she was doing would change the galaxy. Vrax felt a small twinge of pride knowing what he had done to break that swagger.
Hektaron lifted the table so the subject was raised almost vertical. Several tubes disconnected from their ports and retracted upwards. Zeta-2251 twitched slightly, the lights behind his optics slowly brightening as he gained consciousness.
‘Can you hear me, Zeta-2251?’ Hektaron asked.
The subject nodded.
‘Good. We will proceed as normal. Do not strain yourself too hard. I am aware we have been pressing you much as of late. This last test will be the last for a while.’
She’s lying, Vrax thought. He could hear the markers in her cant. She was doing her best to have proper bedside manners, but she had no intention of upholding her word. Zeta-2251 suspected the same. He failed to react to Hektaron’s cooing. He simply stared at her with a blank look on his face.
‘Bring it in!’ Hektaron called.
Squeaking wheels could be heard from somewhere off screen. Then two tech-menials appeared pushing a flatbed trolley laden with what Vrax could discern only as mechanical garbage. It was simply a large pile of twisted metal with hoses, wiring and gears visible at odd angles and where he presumed they shouldn’t be. The menials pushed the trolley in front of Zeta-2251.
Hektaron leaned on her staff, optics fixated on the subject as the trolley drew closer and closer, as if she were waiting for something. Vrax had seen enough of the other videos that he could guess.
Sure enough, as the trolley drew close to Zeta-2251 the wreckage atop it began to groan and pop, as if the metal had suddenly come alive. Wires receded of their own accord, pulling back into the device’s main body as hoses and feed tubes regenerated and plugged themselves back into operating sockets. Metal panels that had been ripped asunder and crumpled like tin cans slowly unfolded and knit themselves back together with not even a joiner seam to serve as a reminder of that damage that had just been there. When it was over, the ruined lump of detritus that had initially occupied the trolley was gone, replaced with a cogitator station that looked so pristine Vrax might have guessed it had just rolled off the assembly line had he not known better.
Hektaron made a staticy chirp that passed for an expression of glee. She clapped her hands together, further demonstrating her emotional state.
‘Wonderful. The area of effect has increased by one point two-two-four meters since the last test. Progress!’
The Magos began to say more but the video feed ended there.
Vrax placed his data-slate down on his desk and leaned back. Mechadendrites swayed around him, full of pensive energy. The Juris had been skeptical of the initial reports, but now that he had seen the Corianton Effect for himself there was no room for doubt.
Vrax reached for a data wafer and began to scribble out a message. The ramifications of his discoveries were immense. Not only did Magos-Dominus Gott allow a major hive center fall into the talons of the Archenemy, but he also allowed secrets heretofore unknown to greater Mars, secrets that could ostensibly change the very fabric of the Adeptus Mechanicus were they to come to light, fall into those talons as well. What the Archenemy could do with such power was unthinkable.
Vrax finished his message and stood from his desk, crossing the room to the array of messenger tubes on the far wall. He opened the one labeled Astropathic Choir and removed the messenger pill within. He popped the ovular device open and placed his data wafer within before returning the pill to the tube and sending it on its way.
Now all he had to do was wait.
‘You really ought to go see her.’
Falco didn’t look up. There was something in him that refused to meet Soran’s gaze.
‘There’s something going on with you, Kinine. You have to know that now. After… after that. She can help.’
Kinine Falco picked at the thin sheet that covered his legs. The room smelled like antiseptic and the hard white light from the lumen strips recessed into the ceiling reflected off the sterile tile floor. Falco had never needed an extended stay in the medicae before. This was a first.
‘Will you go see her?’
‘Are you going to give me a choice?’
‘You suffered a mental breakdown in the middle of a training simulation. When they pulled you from the simulator pod you began seizing and screaming ‘it’s returned’ and what I think was a name. Imcor? Imacore?’
Soran stared at Falco, the moment heavy with the silence between them.
‘No. I am not giving you a choice. I have already told her to expect you as soon as you’re discharged.’
‘Which is when?’
‘Tomorrow. Start of day cycle.’
He stewed for the next several hours, too anxious to find sleep. He felt like an aspirant again, young and unsure of himself. When the medicae finally came and discharged him, Falco took his time leaving.
Stop being so childish, he chastised himself. You have visited with the Princeps-Primaris before. This is nothing new. So why are you behaving this way?
The walk to Alaria Sourn’s sanctum was long. She resided in the heart of Ark of Antilles, near enough to the titan crew berthing decks to be accessible to them, but far enough away to retain her status. The corridor that led to her chamber was lined with secutari guard, each one standing immobile with an arc lance and mag-inverter shield held ready. Helmets covered their faces to the point where Falco couldn’t even see the glow of optics beneath. They were perfectly stoic. He knew, though, that each hoplite had ident-scanned him the moment he came into view. If there had been anything unauthorized about his presence, they would have closed in and engaged without hesitation.
As it was, they simply watched him pass.
Falco stopped before the pair of mighty doors that capped the corridor. They were decorated with bas-reliefs depicting great moments in Legio Implacablis’ history. Each Princeps-Primaris reportedly added more when they took the position and moved into the room. Falco wasn’t sure if that was true or not. Sourn had been Princeps-Primaris for as long as he could remember. Part of him wondered which sculptures she might have commissioned.
Falco’s reverie broke as the doors jerked and began to swing inwards. Cold mist rolled out from the widening gap between them. Falco waited for the doors to open completely before stepping over the threshold. On cue, they began to grind shut behind him the moment he had passed.
The inside of Alaria Sourn’s room was almost bare. The floor was cold tile and the walls undecorated save for a particularly poignant laurel or award here and there. The lights overhead were turned down to their dimmest. Though bright enough to navigate by, there was no denying the room was unnervingly dark. Combined, the atmosphere was almost dungeonesque. The uninitiated might wonder why the woman who represented the spiritual health and comfort of the titan crews under her care might choose such decor, but Falco knew why.
‘Ah, Kinine. I am glad to see you are up and about.’
Princeps-Primaris Alaria Sourn hung suspended on the far wall. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say her amniotic casket hung suspended on the far wall. Sourn herself resided within, floating in the murky liquid as much as the trunk of cables and feed tubes that extended from the back of her neck would allow. Her body was withered and atrophied, a consequence of disuse. Such disfigurement was made only more stark by the way the amniotic fluid refracted her image.
Falco was acutely aware that amniotic suspension was a fate that awaited every princeps that survived long enough. The rigors of commanding a god-engine simply became too much for the body as it aged. Artificial help was needed. For someone as old as Sourn, amniotics was an absolute necessity.
‘Princeps-Primaris.’ Falco stopped a few feet shy of Sourn’s casket and offered her a respectful bow. ‘I was made aware you were expecting me.’
Sourn laughed, the sound burbling through the speakers mounted into the base of her casket. Despite the vox system’s attempt to refine and clarify her voice, it still carried the thickness of noise submerged. ‘Yes, Seamus was quite incessant. I speak with you.’
‘I’m sure he was.’
Sourn nodded, drifting forward in her casket so that she could press one withered hand to the glass. ‘So here you are. Speak then. I will listen.’
Falco nodded and swallowed hard. Again he found himself wanting to fidget from nervousness. He couldn’t bring his gaze higher than where the casket’s base met the glass that contained the fluid. ‘Ah, where to begin?’ he asked.
‘Why, the beginning of course.’
About the Author
Gregory Williams is a historian by profession. He has been writing for over a decade and has been involved in the Warhammer hobby for even longer. Gregory writes primarily as a hobby, but does have professional aspirations. He has been published previously by the Jack London Foundation and Cold Open Stories.