Is this what my bloodline has become?
Irena Vorthax woke with a gasp. Her eyes snapped open, and she was greeted by darkness. The first thing she noticed was the pain and tightness in her chest were gone, and the red warning runes in her system diagnostics were gone. Her breathing began to even out and her vitals returned to more manageable levels. Irena brought a hand up and placed it upon her chest, feeling the thrum of the heart beneath her skin.
‘Omnissiah…’ she breathed.
Irena pushed herself upright. This was not Contemptor Mortis’ cockpit. She did not know where this was. She could see nothing beyond herself, but whatever was beneath her felt solid. Irena pushed herself to her feet and looked around. ‘Hello? Who is there?’
A man appeared in the darkness. Irena noted with some unease that the man did not seem to step into view so much as he melted into it, like a spectre manifesting itself for mortal eyes. She recognised him instantly. How could she not? His likeness was rendered in almost every portrait, painting, and sculpture that adorned the Blueridge Keep. He was her ancestor. Contemptor Mortis had been built explicitly for him.
‘Charlemagne,’ Irena interrupted. She clapped her hand over her mouth, her eyes apologetic.
Charlemagne Vorthax smiled wryly, and inclined his head in polite greeting.
‘Why are you here?’ Irena asked.
‘I am here because you need guidance.’
‘Yes. Do you remember what transpired before you arrived here?’
‘I was… trying to bond with Contemptor Mortis.’
‘Yes. And not performing well, by the look of things. I believe you had a panic attack.’
Irena folded her arms across her chest and puffed her cheeks out. ‘I was trying, okay? I don’t understand why the machine spirit rejects me. Am I not good enough for it? I have the augments. I follow the tenets of the Omnissiah. I have your bloodline. I-’
‘You talk too much.’
‘And you try too hard. Contemptor Mortis is an ancient machine. It remembers a time before our House bent its knee to the Mechanicum. It remembers when our knights defined themselves by courage and honour and the oaths they swore. Not by the number of augments they impressed upon themselves.’
Irena looked down at herself. Her steel hands and arms, her iron heart and lungs, her reinforced spine and skull, suddenly felt heavy with the lead weight of vanity.
‘You think your bionics make you worthy. Contemptor Mortis disagrees. You must prove to it that you are a true knight. Show it that there is humanity in your heart still, and not just cold steel. Then, perhaps, will Contemptor Mortis cease rejecting you and permit you to sit astride the Throne Mechanicum.’
‘How do I prove myself?’
Charlemagne placed his hands on Irena’s shoulders. ‘Stop thinking you are better than it. Just as you are a warrior, so is Contemptor Mortis. It is not a beast to be tamed or a sword to be wielded. It is a companion to fight beside. A companion with its own experiences, its own victories and losses, its own opinions and understandings. Open yourself to those things. See them for what they are. Do not treat them dismissively. You want the same things, you and the machine spirit. There should be no cause for enmity between you.’
‘And this worked for you?’
‘Yes. It worked for me. And it worked for everyone who came after me. Everyone who has ever sat upon Contemptor Mortis’ Throne Mechanicum.’
More faces suddenly began to manifest out of the darkness. Two, then five, then ten, and then forty. The warriors of millennia past. A chain connecting Irena and Charlemagne not just through blood, but through the shared bonding of man and sacred machine. Irena recognised some. Failed to identify more. Yet even if she could not place a name to a face, she felt as if she knew them all, and they all knew her.
‘Heed our advice,’ Charlemagne continued. ‘And you will find success. This I promise.’
‘But what if I don’t?’
Charlemagne did not answer. Charlemagne was gone. They were all gone. Irena was alone again. Nothing but darkness and her own tumultuous thoughts.
Suddenly she was falling. Or at least she felt like she was falling. It was hard to tell without any frame of reference beyond the dropping sensation in her gut. Somewhere in the darkness she could hear a distant alarm.
Irena woke and that alarm was suddenly right in her ear. Her vision swam with alerts and warning runes. She blinked them away out of instinct, silencing the alarm and bringing a measure of silence back to Contemptor Mortis’ cockpit. Irena took a slow breath and exhaled. She could feel the castigator’s machine spirit growling at the back of her mind.
‘I know,’ she said. She opened her eyes. ‘And I understand. How about we try it one more time?’
Contemptor Mortis pushed in on her, but not in the dominating way it always did. She had asked its permission, something she had never done before. And it gave it.
‘Okay…’ Irena’s grip on the Throne Mechanicum’s armrests tightened. ‘Okay, here we go.’
About the Author
Greg 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. Greg writes primarily as a hobby, but does have professional aspirations. He has been published previously by the Jack London Foundation and Cold Open Stories.