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An Unlikely Successor


CommodusXIII

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This is the beginning of the background story for my Imperial Knight army, detailed in this Hall of Honor thread.  I was inspired by this discussion on the writing implication of the addition of the Knights to the established 40K canon.  The background of my army diverges significantly from the new Codex, being focused more on the Adeptus Titanicus than on medieval feudalism, so I apologize for any confusion.

 

***

 

The first thing Evander saw when he regained consciousness was the crudely-welded rebar of the cage.  The second were the violent red eyes of the monster laughing at him.

 

The ork was obviously more thrilled at Evander’s waking than he was.  It yelled something in subterranean Low Gothic and hit the cage with the butt of its gun, sending it slowly spinning.  Evander’s head felt too large to move but he took in the scene as his gibbet rotated around.  A sign on the wall located them somewhere in the Thermopylis subsect.  They were in an empty warehouse – empty, except for all of the ramshackle vehicles and the sea of green bodies.

 

With a groan, Evander voided his stomach through the bars.  The ork laughed again, a terrible and vicious sound, and walked off to join its kind around what looked like a fighting ring.

 

“That was about my first reaction too.”  The voice was strong, but carried the slight impediment of one used to speaking binary. A second gibbet spun into view, revealing a man in a dirty green uniform.  Evander recognized it as the livery of the Legio Fidelis, the blessed Titan Legion that called the forge world of Firmamentum home.  He sat cross-legged in meditation and regarded Evander with great interest.  “How did they get you?”

 

Evander attempted to wipe his face with his left arm but was greeted with a charred stump, terminating just above the elbow.  As he stared dumbly at his cauterized flesh the memories came flooding back.

 

“I was on my shift at Rail Junction 0970…”

 

***

 

He had been in the seat of his powerlifter, loading crates of battery packs into the freight cars when the klaxons began to blare.  It sounded like the entire planet was screaming out in alarm.  His fellow menials looked about in confusion, but the metal rain that began to fall silenced all doubt in their minds.

 

Streaks of fire burned across the sky from thousands upon thousands shards of debris.  The vast majority either burned up in the atmosphere or skipped off into the void.  The Forge’s defense batteries reached out to greet those that survived the descent.  The law of averages, however, was not in Firmamentum’s favor.

 

The ground shook as the metal scabs crashed into the mass of industry below.  An unrecognizable chunk of metal the size of a shipping container came down two hundred meters away.  It plowed across eight rail lines, slowed by the freight cars as it crushed them, before finally lodging itself in the reinforced concrete wall of the neighboring Manufactorum.

 

With that, everyone’s minds were made up.  The menials began to run for the cover of the Manufactorum.  Evander took a slightly different track, taking the powerlifter into a smooth run towards the wreckage.  Omnissiah only knows how many people were buried underneath that tangled mess, but if he didn't get there quickly the fires would finish the work that the artificial meteorite began.

 

Working the controls of his modified Sentinel with well-honed skill, he clamped onto an overhanging slab of scorched plasteel with the paired scissor claws.  Hydraulics moaned as the walker strained to lift it from the smoldering hulk.  A pair of eyes came into view from underneath the wreckage.  They were not the frightened eyes of a menial, but the violent red eyes of a monster.  A third eye joined them, the muzzle of a crude blunderbuss.

 

Instinctively, Evander let go of the wreckage.  Shotgun pellets ricocheted off the hull of the powerlifter, followed by a short spray of blood and pulped ork.  He stepped the walker back in surprise, but was quickly brought to attention by another impact about a kilometer way.  And another.  And another.

 

The powerlifter took a step in the direction of the rest of his workteam, but only one.  Evander wrestled with himself for a brief moment before turning his walker and galloping off towards the nearest pillar of smoke.

 

The next three hours were filled with blood.  The workmen were no match for the savage xenos but Evander had an advantage.  The orkish firearms were deafening but unable to penetrate his metal skin.  The powerlifter lacked the weaponry of the combat chassis of the Imperial Guard but it was far from defenseless.  Evander fought back with everything at his disposal, overturning their cobbled-together vehicles and crushing green-skinned savages underfoot.  Through his hardplugged connection to the walker he felt every kick and swipe.  His blood sang with adrenaline and the thrill of battle but his mind was detached, quietly praying to the Omnissiah that the Skitarii would be here soon.

 

A loud ZAAP filled the air and a brilliant blue streak tore straight through the left side of the powerlifter.  Evander reached for the stabilization controls but for some reason his arm wasn't responding.  The walker swayed drunkenly and crashed onto its side.  Green hands reached out for him, but Evander was already falling backwards into a dark abyss.

 

The next thing he saw was crudely-welded rebar.

 

***

 

With a start, Evander realized that the words had been pouring out of him in a steady flow.  The man in green was holding him in fierce attention, an amused look creeping into his stern face.  He pondered for a moment and chuckled – “It looks like you exchanged a walk-on part in this war for a lead role in a cage.  Orks generally don’t take prisoners.  You must have really impressed them.”

 

The chuckle was cut short by a sharp intake of breath.  Evander finally noticed the dark stain creeping across the man’s side.  The man’s face was pale, too pale even for someone who spent decades in a metal shell.

 

Evander moved to change the subject.  “How about you?  How did you get here?”

 

The man in green clutched his side, but with the other arm he pointed over Evander’s shoulder.  “With him.”

 

Evander turned and looked across the crowd of xenos.  At the far end of the warehouse, a huge ork was sprawled out on a makeshift throne of crates and rubbish.  Behind it loomed an even larger beast of green, but the sight of this one filled Evander not with fear but with awe.

 

The Knight Paladin was chained to the ground and dormant, appearing to kneel in supplication behind the makeshift throne.  The magnificent armored hull was covered in scorch marks and the streaks of bullet ricochets, and hydraulic fluid leaked from its pistons.  The hatch had been pried open and Evander imagined his fellow prisoner being dragged out as he himself had been.

 

A Hastatus, a Knight pilot, in the service of the Adeptus Titanicus.  This man commanded a demi-god, and now he’s hanging in a rusting metal cage.

 

“I was running recon for the maniple when I was hit by some kind of electromagnetic weapon from my right flank.  My systems shorted out before I could vox for support.  That ugly brute over there seems to be obsessed with mechanical toys and we made one hell of a trophy.  I was so frakking stupid…”

 

The Hastatus was forced out of his storytelling by a fit of bloody coughs.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand and spat in disgust.

 

“Orks aren’t exactly the best engineers in the galaxy.  Can you fit through any of those bars? “

 

Evander looked around and found a space where the rebar was slightly bent out of shape.  Outside of his powerlifter he was of substandard physical shape, and with a good deal of contortion he might just fit.  “I think so, but I won’t be much use with this,” he replied, waving the charred stump of his left arm.

 

“You’re in much better shape than I am.  Besides, where you’re going, you won’t need flesh.  Looks like the show is about to start…”  The man in green nodded towards to crowd.  The ork boss was gesturing in their direction to his minions, and a group of greenskins began to saunter over.  “They’ll take me first, since I’m relatively intact - sorry.  I managed to get a system restart engaged before they cut me open and it should be ready by now.  You’ll need this.”

 

Evander jumped as the man canted in sharp binary - <SHIBBOLETH> - before another bloody fit of coughing overtook him.

 

The orks reached their gibbets and dragged the blessed agent of the Omnissiah away.  As they carried him to the pit, he yelled back over his shoulder –

 

“Don’t let him boss you around!”

 

***

 

Ugly green faces jeered down at him from all around.  Ugliest of all was the hulking ork boss that lounged upon his throne of heavy stubber crates.  Smaller creatures scurried around, carrying tankards of foul beverages and scraps of meat.  He tried not to look directly at what they were serving.

 

The boss brought the mob to attention by kicking the nearest runt as hard as it could, and then shot the nearest ork when the rest wouldn’t stop laughing.  The Hastatus stood resolute, unfazed and unimpressed by these antics.  Once the rancor died down, the large ork began to speak.

 

“YOU FIGHT GUD FOR A 'UMMIE. DA BOYZ LIKE A GOOD FIGHT. YA DEFF DREAD, LOTSA DAKKA! VERY STOMPY!  IT STOMP MANY BOYZ.  SOON IT STOMP MANY 'UMMIES.  YOU SQUISHIER DAN BOYZ!”

 

The mob broke out in hollering laughter, and almost lostanother member before it quieted down again.

 

"BIG MEK IS SMART BUT 'UMMIES BUILD STUPID.  YOU SHOW HIM HOWTA WORK IT, DEN WE MAKES IT RIGHT PROPA ORK STOMPA!"

 

More cheering erupted from the crowd.  The man stood there unflinching for a moment, dwarfed by the mountains of muscle and weapons surrounding the pit, and then silenced them again as he began to speak.  He only uttered a short phrase, loud and resolute, and it said everything that needed to be said.

 

“Get frakked.”

 

He punctuated the remark by spitting a ball of blood and phlegm onto the floor of the pit.

 

“DAT'S WAT ME HOPED YOU WUD SAY.”  The boss replied with a laugh, before shooting the man squarely in the chest.  The solid metal slug tore a visible hole though his torso, and the marshal of demi-gods collapsed with a defiant spray of brilliant red blood against his dirty green uniform.  The mob lost control, cheering and firing their guns into the ceiling of the warehouse.

 

“BRING DA OTA 'UMMIE, DA BROKEN UN.  IT FIGHT GUD TOO.”

 

But when the minders fought through the crowd and reached the gibbets, they found them both empty.

 

***

 

Evander crouched in the darkness.  The mob was so focused on their first victim that he had been able to slip unnoticed from the gibbet and make his way across the warehouse.  Climbing into the green giant wasn’t an easy feat with only one hand, but the celebratory gunfire had hidden any sound of his clumsy ascent.

 

It was only a matter of time before they noticed his escape and came looking for him.  Evander cradled the remains of his arm and tied to make out his surroundings.  The cockpit was intact, though there were obvious signs of struggle.  The blood of its previous occupant was almost hidden by the dark red leather of the command throne.  A few of the pict screens were shattered.  The air stank of ozone, hydraulic fluid and blood – the latter two not wholly distinct from each other.  But for a tiny green indicator light on the dashboard, no larger than Evander’s fingertip, the Knight was entirely devoid of life.

 

Evander knew that this was suicide.  Command of a Knight took years of preparation and augmentation.  He had only a few hardplug connections, necessary for his work with the powerlifters of the rail yard, and absolutely no training with the Manifold.  He also didn’t have a choice – either he died in the attempt, or he died in the pit next to the holy man.  At the very least, he hoped he might accidently cause the venerable war machine to self-destruct and save itself from an ignoble future at the hands of the orks.

 

With the last dregs of his strength, Evander hoisted himself into the command throne.  He uttered a silent plea to the Omnissiah for forgiveness in treating His holy avatar with such disrespect and began to connect himself.  Some common plugs were instantly recognizable.  Others he could only guess at, and a couple he entire lacked the proper connections for and left hanging over the armrest.  The final connection was for the main shunt at the back of his skull, and with an audible click the bottom dropped out of his mind.

 

Evander collapsed against the back of his seat and reached out into the darkness.  All he felt was emptiness.  He had no idea what to do next, and he was about to call out mentally when the machine spirit gripped him.

 

<UNKNOWN USER DETECTED.  DISCONNECT OR BE DELETED.>

 

Anger.  Evander felt anger – the machine spirit was furious that an interloper had entered its system.  He felt it probing his mind, preparing to burn out his neural pathways.  What was it the man in green had given him?

 

Bellows in broken orkish informed him that the mob had discovered his escape.  Evander reviewed his memory file and replayed the forceful cant - <SHIBBOLETH>

 

The machine spirit withdrew slightly, processing this unexpected information.  Evander felt its anger abate, tempered with what he could only describe as sorrow.  It knew that its previous pilot was not coming back.  Quickly, the anger returned tenfold.  This time it was not directed at him.

 

As if on cue, Evander heard the thud of heavy boots through the open hatch.  Cruel, sharp-edged weapons scraped the surface of the thick armor that surrounded him. 

 

<NEW USER RECOGNIZED.  PROVIDE DESIGNATION.>

 

He took a deep breath.  The machine spirit wanted his name!

 

<Evander Faust. Menial inferiorus, Stockyard Operations, Rail Junction 0970.>

 

<NEW USER CREATED. EVANDER FAUST.  HASTATUS, FRATERRI FIDELIS, ADEPTUS TITANICUS.>

 

Evander didn't have time to marvel at this new title, bestowed upon him by the Demi-God Machine.  Pain tore through his mind as if raw electricity was flowing through his ports.

 

<IMPROPER CONNECTION DETECTED.  SCANNING USER PATHWAYS.  REROUTING MANIFOLD CONNECTION.  STAND BY.>

 

The pain intensified and Evander gnashed his teeth, desperate to hold back his cries.  He broke out in a cold sweat and spots swam in his vision. Then, just as abruptly as it appeared, the pain ceased.

 

<CONNECTION REROUTED.   MANIFOLD ENGAGING.>

 

Evander’s eyes glazed over as the Manifold opened up to him.  It was as if the world had suddenly gained an extra dimension, viewable only to him.  His breathing felt labored and his limbs heavy – the Knight was still off-line, running only on backup power.

 

<Begin log.>

 

<LOGGING.>

 

He wasn’t sure why he said that but it sounded correct.  Evander calmed his thoughts and walked himself through the familiar start-up procedure for his powerlifter.  He was in a different weight class now but he hoped that it would be close enough.  With the prayer still on his lips, he reached out with his mind and began engaging systems.

 

It felt like an eternity, but in reality only a few seconds had passed since his initial connection.  The sounds of the orks outside were growing louder – they’d caught his scent.  Time had run out.

<Drive start.>

 

With a deep, resonating thrum the Knight’s plasma reactor ignited.  The hatch hissed shut against the damaged latching mechanism.  The mob outside howled in surprise and Evander could feel them climbing up his body… the Knight’s body…

<DRIVE START CONFIRMED.  SYSTEMS ONLINE.  FRATERRUS TERTIUS OPERATIONAL.>

 

The Manifold lit up with golden light.  Evander’s pulse quickened and he felt strength return to his limbs.  Fraterrus Tertius.  The Knight’s name is Fraterrus Tertius.

 

He gripped the arm of the command throne and struggled to make sense of the data flowing through his mind.  Unfamiliar symbols raced across his vision.  He attempted to exert control, struggling with against the Manifold to be understood.  He couldn’t make sense of what pathways controlled which functions.  The Knight trembled as actuators fought against themselves and servos misfired.

 

Calm yourself.

 

The whisper had no discernable source.  In fact, Evander wasn’t sure that he had heard it at all.  It was singular, yet seemed to originate from hundreds of human mouths.

 

The interface doesn’t obey, it simply interprets.  You are one.  Don’t fight it.  Experience it.

 

Evander relaxed his grip and closed his eyes.

 

Fraterrus Tertius opened its own.

 

A half-dozen pict feeds began dumping into the Manifold, showing green bodies crowding around his body or racing for their vehicles.  The boss was yelling orders and throwing around any orks in arm’s length.  Evander’s right hand twitched and autoloaders began to cycle, feeding battle cannon and heavy stubbers.  He felt a phantom sensation in his nonexistent left arm and his chain blade, as long as his old Sentinel, roared into life.

 

Evander shifted his weight slightly in the throne as actuators in his legs began to engage.  The Knight was still chained to the concrete floor, but it simply stood up.  Orks desperately clung to his arms or fell from his carapace.  Evander paid them little heed, shaking his arms as if to dislodge stubborn rain drops.

 

The guttural shouting of the mob was drowned out by staccato as they opened fire.  Any orks lucky enough not to be shaken off were shredded by the guns of their kin.  The solid munitions posed little threat to the armor of Fraterrus Tertius but badly-aimed rockets and energy blasts began to perforate the wall around him.  He had to move.

 

Evander felt his body hair raise as static discharge filled the cockpit.  With momentary blue flash and a strong smell of ozone the ion shield flared into life.  Bodies were simply severed as the energy field cut through flesh and bone.  A rocket detonated in mid-air two meters in front of his face and brilliant ripples marked where bullets had impacted the defensive screen.

 

He put one foot forward, crushing an ork to bloody paste.  He took another, swaying slightly as he slowly walked forward.  Adrenaline was surging through his system but he fought back the nervous energy with cold reason.  At that moment, this Knight was the most important thing in the world to him. Either he had to get it back to the Forge, or he had to make sure it was destroyed and unusable to the orks.  If they managed to salvage it, to pervert it and turn it against the Omnissiah his soul would never be forgiven.

 

The chassis was larger than his powerlifter by an order of magnitude, but Evander was gaining confidence.  His next step was turned into a kick that sent an ork flying.  A crude buggy launched a volley of rocket fire in his direction and Evander answered unthinkingly with a short burst from his shoulder-mounted heavy stubber.  He felt a jolt of thrill at seeing the ramshackle vehicle shred.  He traversed at the waist and fired his other heavy stubber, mounted on his right arm, into a small crowd that was trying to outflank him.

 

A tracked ork tank gunned its engines and charged straight at him.  Evander regarded it for a moment before planting a shell from his battle cannon into its armored cab.  The explosion threw metal shards and body parts into the mob, now fighting to get away from the terrifying monstrosity
they had awoken.

 

This was a sense of relief, of release, that he had never felt before.  Evander stalked around the warehouse, firing indiscriminately and hacking away with his chainblade.  Fire raged everywhere and smoke clouded his vision, but the auspex continued to relay targeting information.  A roar of laughter echoed from the cockpit and Fraterrus Tertius answered with a mighty blare of its warhorns.

 

***

 

Evander suddenly snapped out of his bloodlust and bore down on the machine spirit.  The man in green had told him not to let it control him and if he wasn’t careful he’d be lost to the anger of the machine under his command.  He shook his head and cleared his vision.  The warehouse was in shambles and the ork horde had broken, running for whatever doorways and windows they could find.  The roof was falling in small pieces all around him.

 

He located the loading gate and lowered his shoulder into a running charge.  The plasteel door tore like paper and Fraterrus Tertius emerged into daylight.  With a rumble the warehouse collapsed behind him, crushing any orks that hadn’t managed to escape.

 

Evander surveyed his surroundings.  Thermopylis was a small manufacturing subsect about seventy kilometers north the rail yard he had been taken from.  The machine spirit called up a map of the area with a tactical overlay – part of the briefing from its original mission.  A black, six-toothed cog was centered on a storage complex thirty kilometers to the east and appeared to be the Knight’s point of origin.  His long-range communications appeared to be damaged and Evander couldn’t determine the extent of the invasion or the state of Forge.  All he could do is try to make it home, wherever home was, and pray that it was still there.

 

Fraterrus Tertius set out towards the icon, limping slightly from the damage incurred during its capture.  No further orks were encountered but Evander’s auspex occasionally returned signals from nearby buildings.  He didn’t stop to investigate.

 

Twenty-two kilometers from the ruins of the warehouse, alert notifications began to flash across the Manifold.  The auspex was signaling hard returns from multiple signals around him.  Evander was still trying to make sense of the readings when a familiar green shape steppedout from behind a silo to block his path.  Two more Knights came into view to his left and right.  All had their weapons trained on Fraterrus Tertius.

 

After a moment the lead Knight began to blurt in commanding, coded binary.  Evander couldn’t make sense of any of it.  It took another step forward and Evander detected its thermal cannon preparing to fire.  Thinking quickly, Evander lowered his arms and once more kneeled to the ground.

 

The Knight took a step back, surprised by this turn of events.  Evander quickly worked through the disconnection procedure of his powerlifter and felt the Manifold fade from his consciousness.  He was mortal again, and weaker than ever.  Spittle caked the front of his shirt and he had a steady nosebleed.  His left arm, which moments ago was a roaring chainblade capable of cutting battle tanks in half, once again became a charred stump.

 

His charge was safe and his duty was fulfilled.  The Knight was safely back in the hands of the Forge.  With the last of his strength, Evander hauled himself through the hatch and tumbled to the dirt at the feet of Fraterrus Tertius.  Binary imperatives filled the air as he faded into darkness, his last sight being the four giants of green standing over his body.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not sure why this has received so few comments, it's nicely written and a good plot.

 

My only concern fluff-wise would be whether it would actually be possible for a menial to access a Knight, but given that we're talking about a story of giant robots and aliens 40,000 years in the future I figure a certain amount of hand waving is not unreasonable!

 

What happens to the menial? Again, given that we're in the 40k setting, I could see them saying 'thanks very much for bringing it back, but now we'll have to kill you for the presumptuous heresy of operating one of the Omnissiah's God-Machines. BLAM'.

 

That's Grimdark.

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Time has no meaning in the Infirmaria.  The white blankness of drug-induced sedation were punctuated by extremely short, and extremely painful, moments of lucidity.  How long have I been here?  Has it been days?  Centuries?


After an eternity the world began to piece itself back together.  Evander found himself laying in a med-pod, attended by a red-robed Magos Organos.  If he was aware of the consciousness of his charge, the Magos didn’t show it outwardly.  Evander’s mental state did not impact his duties of salvaging the flesh.


Evander blinked to clear his vision and out of habit began to run his post-waking systems check.  His internal chronometer had been reset several times by power fluctuations, no doubt the result of repairs to his haptic pathways.  His biological components were reading in the yellow but within operational range.  New blood and renal filtration units were detected, along with several mended fractures to his limb bones.  Readings of his left forelimb were fuzzy and incomplete…


He looked down and found the stump of his arm, cleaned and sealed with a plain metal cap.


<Damage to left limb was catastrophic.  Neural pathways were shorted out to the primary dendritic junction.  Cause:  Feedback from a close-range energy weapon discharge.  Repair attempted, augmentation was unsuccessful.>


The Magos canted without looking up from his work.  Mechadendrites moved seemingly of their own accord, selecting microtools from the tray before him and adjusting the connection ports on Evander’s scalp, chest and remaining arm.  Evander tracked his progress and estimated completion in three hours.  He canted a chronometer query and was answered curtly by the Magos – he had been offline for almost a week.


He replayed his memory files of the prior events.  The data logs became fragmented and indistinct shortly after his disconnection from Fraterrus Tertius


At the thought of this name, overpowering sensations came unbidden to his mind.  Petrochemical fires and plasma reactors burning brightly like candelabras.  Ghostly regal faces clenched with battle focus.  Hydraulic fluid and burnt propellant, like sweet perfume or incense.  Hymns of warning klaxons and war horns.  Rhythmic pounding, the footsteps of a god shaking foundations of numberless worlds...


Evander shook his head and the foreign memory fragments receded into his secondary buffer.  In their wake he suddenly realized a great emptiness in his mind and a feeling that something important, something terrible, was missing.  He glanced up to find his gaze met by the inquisitive lenses of the Magos Organos.

 

“Am I dead?”

 

<That has not yet been decided.>

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<PRESENT THE SUBJECT.>

 

The platform shuddered and began to rise.  Evander was lifted from the nondescript darkness towards the circle of bright light above his head.  His eyes adjusted momentarily and he once again found himself in a cage.  This time, the bars were gilded plasteel rather than scrap rebar.

 

Evander repressed a shudder of his own.  Before, he feared only for his life.  Now it was his very soul that hung in the balance.

 

The judiciary subchamber was barely a storage closet compared to the grand audience rooms hundred of floors above them, but the Adeptus Mechanicus has always professed a different sense of scale.  Roughly spherical and 250 meters in height, its walls were lined with golden terraces packed with red-robed Magi.  Servo-skulls flew around the room, carrying documents and trailing clouds of incense.  Mechadendrites reached out and retracted like a sea of barnacles.  A massive pict screen displayed scenes of carnage and destruction - Evander knew it was the contents of his own memory buffer, replaying the events that brought him here.

 

One terrace in particular was larger and more imposing than the rest.  The Magister was seated in a great cogwork throne, framed by towering piles of dataslates, and was attended to by a score of Adepts and servitors.  A thousand sets of ocular lenses, and a handful of flesh eyes, stared down at Evander.  The emotions behind them were impossible to read but the din of binary cants were tinted with disgust.  The Magister brought the assembly back to order with a sharp, sparking rap of a gavel.

 

A hunched servitor, its lower jaw replaced with a vox speaker, shambled forwards and announced Evander to the assembly:

 

<SUBJECT:  EVANDER FAUST.  MENIAL INFERIOUS, STOCKYARD OPERATIONS, RAIL JUNCTION 0970.

 

TRANSGRESSIONS:  GROSS MISAPPROPRIATION OF HOLY MACHINE.

FAILURE TO CONFORM TO RITUAL.

FAILURE TO PROPITIATE MACHINE SPIRIT.

PERVERSION OF THE HOLY INTERFACE.

BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE OMNISSIAH.

 

SENTENCE:  SERVITUDE IMPERPITUIS.>

 

The Magister impatiently carried on.  <PROCEED, INDICTOR.>  A red-robed figure to the right of the throne, bristling with quil-arms, stood and canted with barely-contained indignation.

 

<Begin report.  Subject memory files have been decanted and uploaded.  Subject knowingly interfaced with Holy Machine Fraterrus Tertius without training, blessing, ordination or observing correct ritual.  Subject perverted Manifold interface by connecting without proper augmentations.

 

<Attempts to correct and repair interface have been unsuccessful.  Holy Machine Fraterrus Terius will require complete reformatting and overhaul to return to Specifications.  Estimated completion time:  90 Solar Days.

 

<Firmamentum is at war.  All Engines are required for defense of the Forge.  The actions of Subject have removed an Engine from service and jeopardized these efforts.

 

<Recommendation:  Execute Servitude Imperpituis.  End report.>

 

Evander could barely hear himself think over the outburst of vindictive binary from the assembled Magi at this report.  Servitude Imperpituis.  He felt the biofluid drain from his face.  He was to be mind-wiped and converted into a servitor, like the living loudspeaker next to the throne.  It was a fate worse than death - an eternity as an unthinking, unfeeling slave, used and abused until his components finally gave out and then recycled.  A placard would hang from his neck - if he still had a neck - explaining to passersby the reason for this harsh a punishment.

 

Sparks and ozone emanated from the Magister's dais as he (or she) sharply rapped the gavel and brought the assembly to order.  <REPORT UPLOADED, INDICTOR.  SENTENCE APPROVED.  SUBJECT WILL BE REMANDED TO MECHANICUS ORGANOS FOR PROCESSING.  PROCEEDINGS CONCLUDED.  ADVANCE TO NEXT ITEM.>

 

Evander jumped for the bars of the cage and fell back screaming, the electric placation field sending waves of pain up his remaining arm.  No chance for defense, no pleas for mercy and none available to be given.  The platform slowly began to descend with a hiss of hydraulics.

 

Suddenly, the thousand pairs of lenses abruptly turned from the cage to the vast doors opposite the throne.  Skitarii rushed to contain the disruption but parted as five human figures entered the chamber.  Walking with confidence and pride, they contrasted the assembled Magi by being both comparatively lacking in augmentation and clothed in deep green uniforms.  The cog and column symbol of Legio Fidelis hung from their chests.

 

The Magi erupted in harsh binary rebukes and flailed their mechadendrites in anger.  The Magister stood from the throne and slammed the gavel down again and again.  The platform and everything else in the chamber came to a halt.  Everything, except for the five interlopers.

 

<HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT THESE PROCEEDINGS.  BY THE ORDER OF THE MECHANICUS JUDICIARAE, LEAVE THIS CHAMBER.>

 

The heavily-armed Skitarii readied themselves but the green-clothed figures kept walking.  They passed by the cage without looking down at Evander and stood in a line between him and the throne.  The center man stepped out of line, flanked by his own servo-skull, and looked defiantly up at the Magister.

 

<I am Onesimus Rehor, Hastatus Seniorus, Fraterri Fidelis, Adeptus Titanicus.  We do not recognize your jurisdiction here.  You will remand the Subject to our custody and we will continue the defense of the Forge.>

 

The Magister gathered himself up in rage at this direct affront to his authority.  <OUR JURISDICTION IS ABSOLUTE.  IMPERATIVE: REVIEW THE CHAR...>

 

<I have reviewed the charges and I reject them and your jursidiction.  We have recovered the remains of Hastatus Thaddeus Solgrade.  His memory buffer has been uploaded for your review.>

 

The servo-skull at the Hastatus Seniorus' shoulder lifted to the dais and extended a micro-mechadendrite.  The pict screen translated to show the same scenes, from a different perspective.  Evander saw himself bloodied and numb with battle-shock, and listened as the redacted codeword was passed to him.  He watched the ork boss laugh in delight and, as the image rolled backward and faded to black, he knew that he had just relived the last living moments of Hastatus Thaddeus Solgrade.

 

<Subject was granted codeword access by Hastatus Solgrade, in his wisdom.  Subject prevented Fraterrus Tertius from corruption and perversion at the hands of the orks and returned it to the care of the Forge.  You will remand him to us.>

 

The Magister's mechadendrites twisted in frustration.  The gavel repeatedly slammed onto the dais but the crowded Magi were beyond control.  <THIS INFORMATION IS NOT NEW, NOR DOES IT IMPACT THE FINDINGS OF THIS ASSEMBLY.  SUBJECT IS MECHANICUS AND HAS BEEN TRIED BY MECHANICUS.  YOU WILL COMPLY.>

 

With growing understanding, Evander realized that the rhythmic pounding was not coming from the dais but from beyond the gigantic door behind him.  One by one, the Magi ceased their angry canting and turned their gaze.  The Skitarii came to the same conclusion and once more rushed for the entrance.  Before they could reach it, the doors peeled inward against their hinges as a metal god strode into the chamber.

 

Fraterrus Tertius stumbled towards the cage, its movements jerky and uncoordinated.  The machine spirit fought to control its momentum without the guidance of its pilot.  The Holy Machine shakily came to a halt in the center of the room and steadied itself with its mighty battlecannon against the gilded roof of the cage.  The bars protested and began to bend under the immense weight but the Engine stood fast.  The placation field flashed and shorted out.

 

Somewhere in the chamber, Magi began chanting in obeisance to the Omnissiah at this potent.  Others shrieked out in fear at the sudden appearance of the Engine in their midst, guided by nothing but a shard of the Machine God.  Onesimus Rehor turned to face it, seemingly unsurprised, and made the Sign of the Cog as he bowed in reverence.  <Divine Engine, what is your designation?>

 

Vox speakers sputtered like a phlegmatic cough and a deep, rumbling mechanical cant issued forth.  <FRATERRUS TERTIUS.  KNIGHT PALADIN.  MANIPLE CANTOR, FRATERRI FIDELIS, ADEPTUS TITANICUS.>

 

At this, the Magister and the rest of the assembly all likewise made the Sign of the Cog and bowed.

 

<Divine Engine, what is the designation of the man before you?>

 

<EVANDER FAUST.  HASTATUS, FRATERRI FIDELIS, ADEPTUS TITANICUS.>

 

The words came identically as when Evander first heard them, in the bowels of a looted warehouse with a horde of orks climbing his metal skin.  Fear and wonder gripped him, and he would have sworn that the Engine looked down to his face as it spoke.

 

<Understand, Magister, that you do not have jurisdiction.  Subject was Mechanicus, but is no more.  He is now Titanicus.  As stated, the Divine Interface has altered itself to allow this mortal to transcend.  The Holy Machine has spoken, and He has chosen His new master.  Will you deny Him?>

 

The Magister sank into his throne in shock, the gavel falling from his mechanical grasp.  The assembly broke into an orchestrated antiphony and the Hastati turned to leave.  Evander shrank back as the metal avatar of the Machine God hooked the cage with its arm and tore it free.

 

He opened his eyes to find Onesimus extending his hand to lift him free, a stern and stoic expression upon his face.  <Come, young Hastatus.  You have much to learn of our ways and there is precious little time.  The true battle is yet to be fought.>

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  • 2 weeks later...

The six demi-gods of the Fraterri Fidelis strode single-file towards war.

 

The ranks of red-robed and armored Tech Guard parted as the columns overtook them, and resolved once more as they passed.  Evander could hear their shouts of awe and obeisance through his metal skin, even without his augmented senses.  The engines were terrifying to behold, but they were even more potent symbols of the Forge's supremacy.  Their task was just as much about morale as it was about battle.

 

Onesimus Rehor led the first column in Fraterrus Primus, the great banner of the Fraterri fluttering over his hunched back.  Evander followed in Fraterrus Tertius and Fraterrus Quartus at the rear completed Maniple Cantor.  The three Errants of Maniple Antiphon, led by Gregor Lucan in Fraterrus Quintus, trailed ten stride-lengths behind.  Every four steps the columns would blare their warhorns in cadence, and were answered by the jubilant shouts of the hooded infantry surrounding them.

 

They could use all the jubilation they could muster, for the situation on Firmamentum was dire indeed.  The hulk had appeared without warning, the stress of exiting the Empyrean so close to a planetary body shattering it like an infected cell.  It shed a massive cloud of wreckage and drop pods in its death throes as it disintegrated - the two almost indistinguishable and functionally equivalent.  After untold years in the Warp, the orks had found their fight.

 

After the tumultuous conclusion of his trial by the Forge Firmamentum, Evander had been rushed away to the staging grounds of the Fraterri.  The severity of the situation and the unorthodox manner in which he had been introduced to their company necessitated equally-extreme methods of induction and training.  Aspiring Hastati generally spent decades preparing for their first connection, following strict regimens and undergoing perilous trials before ever sitting in the Throne Mechanicum.  As the life of Firmamentum could currently be estimated in weeks, Evander had to make due with direct uploads of primers and histories rather than formal training.  The process took mere days, but left him wracked with migraines in addition to his mounting withdrawal from the Manifold.

 

The blare of the columns' warhorns snapped him to attention.  Evander fought the dissociation of this surreal experience, attempting to bury his own overwhelming awe with resolution on the mission at hand.

 

The heavier battle engines of Legio Fidelis had been moved out of the main Forge to the open wastelands far to the north where the main ork forces were beginning to coalesce, returning to rearm as their thirsty magazines were exhausted.  The Fraterri had been left behind as their smaller size and lighter weaponry were better suited for work in the dense industrial environment.  They were currently on approach to the liquid chemical processing fields on the eastern border of the Forge.  Forces on the ground were reporting sightings of ork warmachines in the area, all sub-engine but still too much for the infantry of the Tech Guard to effectively contain.  His fellow Hastati seemed disappointed to be left out of the larger fray but Evander felt only cold apprehension on the brink of his first true Execution.

 

The engines turned away from the infantry and strode up the main roadway in oppressive shadow.  Storage units and distillation towers, hundreds of meters high, formed an unnatural metal forest all around them.  Sporadic vox squirts and gunfire filtered through the Manifold as uncounted sources of data were actively compiled into a cobbled-together tactical overlay.  The orks were scattered throughout the area in medium to large groups, but their exact number and composition was being masked by the heat blooms and electromagnetic interference of the industrial workings around them.  They appeared to be centered on a major refinery complex three kilometers to the northeast.  Rehor directed both Maniples to assume a hunting formation as they stepped off the avenue and into the man-made jungle.

 

They didn't have to search for long.  Maniple Antiphon was just over a quarter kilometer into the processing yards when contact was made.  Crude contraptions - the prideful Titanicus would not demean themselves by referring to them as machines - limped and staggered drunkingly towards them through the myriad access paths and passageways.  Some were barely larger than a transport car, others just smaller than the Fraterri themselves.  All were haphazardly constructed from whatever scraps the barbaric xenos could rip from their surroundings - chemical reaction vessels with legs and weapons welded into a vaguely xenomorphic shape, each a miniature idol to some blasphemous false god.  About their feet flowed a sea of green bodies, armed with vicious cleavers and handmade firearms.

 

Heavy automatic gunfire richochetted off freshly-blessed ceramic, the air thick with ozone and half-burnt fuel.  His fellow Hastati were in their element and Evander could only do his best to stay out of their way.  The Fraterri carved out a fighting space and began calling targets.  The Paladins of Maniple Cantor took up fire support, shelling the ramshackle walkers as they came into view while the Errants washed over those that broke through with short spurts from their thermal cannons.  Any survivors were immediately and brutally set upon in melee, and Evander wondered if a few were let through on purpose.

 

Rehor walked his engine confidently into the middle of the fray, parrying and thrusting with practiced skill.  Fraterrus Quartus battered aside a brace of weaponized pressure cans with its hydraulic clamp-claw, wielding one of their own comrades by its leg as a club.  Lucan snarled like a wild animal from the cockpit of Fraterrus Quintus, giving in to the bloodlust of his machine spirit and crushing all those around him to scrap with a crackling power fist the size of a Sentinel.  The ork walkers fought back with grappling arms, wrecking balls and other savage implements but they were no match for the strength and skill of the Titanicus engines, clawing for purchase but finding none.

 

Evander shuddered despite himself at the sight and Fraterrus Tertius shuddered again as a poorly-aimed rocket deflected off his shield.  He answered with a salvo from his battlecannon and was rewarded with a red target termination notice across the Manifold.  He acknowledged with an inward thrill of success while absent-mindedly firing his heavy stubbers into the surrounding foot troops.  The rest of the Fraterri barely paid them any more notice - engines only care about other engines, however dilapidated they may be.

 

It seemed as though the wave would never break and each confirmed kill by the Fraterri only adding to the enthusiasm of the orks.  They threw themselves into the melee with reckless abandon until the ground was blanketed with twisted metal, spilled promethium and dark blood.  Then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, the mob began to break and fall back.  The Fraterri found themselves alone at the base of a colossal refinery building, the jeering warcries of the orks fading into the background of clanking machinery.

 

Evander was about to vox Rehor for an explanation when the world went white, and then completely dark.

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Very nice work. It's not often I can be as engrossed in fanfic on the pages of a forum as I might be reading official 40k novels. This really reminds me a lot of Titanicus in the way it discusses the operations of the Knights, which is a good thing IMO. Can't wait to read more, keep up the good work!

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This is quite enthralling, brother. Well written and the characterisation of the Mechanicus, along with a myriad of smaller details, sell this story very well indeed. thumbsup.gif

The one gripe I do have is the use of the word 'feth' in the first installment - as I understand it, 'feth' is native to Tanith and Tanith alone. My advice would be to use more ubiquitous words like; Frag, frak or fug. It's obvious what they're used for and what they substitute so try to be sparing when deploying them.

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Evander shook his head and spat out a mouthful of black biofluid.  He'd been momentarily disconnected from the Manifold while blacked out, every nerve fiber in his body protesting as he attempted to regain control.  Warning lights and red strobes lit the cockpit of Fraterrus Tertius and a shrill klaxon was blaring just at the edge of his consciousness.

 

The stimm injectors implanted in his right arm automatically began delivering anti-radiation drugs.  The rad counter read critical, along with half a dozen minor sub-systems.  Evander sunk back into his command throne and reestabilished connection with his engine.  Static filled his vision, his image processing systems fighting to recalibrate.  His joints groaned and sparks shot from his servo-motors as Fraterrus Tertius groggily rose to its feet.  His ion shield flared for a split second before flashing out of existance, generators shorted out beyond repair.

 

When his visual input cleared the scene was of devastation.  Where Fraterrus Sextus had stood was now only a blackened crater.  His enhanced senses illuminated areas of intense radiation that would be unseen, but certainly not unfelt by mortal men.   Its dying reactor had taken with it not only the engine and its honored Hastati, but several hundred square meters of industrial machinery.

 

Evander had been blessed - he'd been fighting as rear guard for the Maniples and only caught a small taste of the engine's death.  The rest were not as fortunate.  Fraterrus Primus shakily rose from where it had been thrown by the blast, and Fraterrus Quartus' battlecannon arm hung limp and inoperable at its side.  The survivors of Maniple Antiphon lay were they fell.  Lucan tried to claw forward in Fraterrus Quintus under a torrent of obscenities, his legs paralyzed but his spirit unfettered.

 

The pounding in his head continued to grow until Evander could feel it reverberating against his armored hull.  With a start he realized that it was the sound of a hundred savage drums beating in an increasing fever pitch.  He localized the source and turned back towards the refinery building.

 

With a deep sound that was felt as much as it was heard, the colossal metal ziggurat shuddered.  The main loading bay opened outwards as a crude cannon was shoved forward into the breach, welded together from reaction vessels and draped in chains.  Great ventilation stacks and distillation towers fell towards the stricken engines, their guy-wires severed and guided by hinges hidden deep in the structure, having been converted into cruel long-barreled artillery.  Evander continued to look upwards, his stunned gaze finally setting on a barbaric red-painted visage of some unknown ork god riveted at the building's summit.

 

Steel siding and bits of machinery clattered to the ground as the ziggurat tore free from its foundations.  A foot the size of a dropship lifted and fell, taking a single mind-shattering step forward.  Trumpet blasts and steam howled in triumph from the monstrosity's throat and in that moment, Evander knew what it was like for an engine to feel fear.

 

His mind worked feverishly in the background, reviewing and processing his uploaded training in a desperate attempt to make sense of what he was seeing.  A single word returned and Evander recoiled in shock despite himself:

 

Gargant.

 

The second footfall brought Evander to his senses.  The spectacular death of Fraterrus Sextus and the dangerously-unstable powerplant of the orkish behemoth were clouding all auspex readings and long-range vox channels.  The Fraterri were completely outclassed and in no condition to defend themselves.  An engine of this scale was far beyond their capability to stop, and this close to the Forge it would careen onward uncontested into the very heart of Firmamentum.

 

His machine spirit smoldered with frustration.  It knew that this was a hopeless battle and that it was unable to avenge its brother's death.  That didn't make Evander's decision any easier.

 

Summoning up all of the courage he could muster, Evander turned Fraterrus Tertius about and ran as fast as his damaged servos would allow.

 

With the Manifold still clouded by interference, he did his best to orient himself based on landmarks and took a course tangential to the Forge.  The orks, hungering for live game, followed brutishly behind.  While Fraterrus Tertius was much quicker, Evander was forced to maneuver through the maze of outbuildings and infrastructure.  He opened up a slight lead, but it would not be enough.  The monstrosity bearing down on him had no such limitations and simply plowed through everything in its path.  Eventually, it would catch him - Evander could only pray that it wasn't too soon.

 

The gargant left complete devastation in its wake as if an ork god had reached down from the heavens and dragged its finger across the face of Firmamentum. It continued to shed dislodged pieces of its own bulk as it stomped forward, mingling with spent high-caliber shell casings and leaking fluids.  Steam and exhaust filled the sky like an approaching storm cloud, punctuated by taunting calls of brass instruments and the distant celebration of its occupants.

 

Evander didn't bother to try avoiding the mass of incoming fire.  Between the lack of aim and the sheer volume, it was entirely the Omnissiah's will that he should survive.  Explosions blossomed all around him, opening up new avenues for his escape or merely pelting him with debris.  Bullets chewed at his armor and scraped away layers of carefully-preserved paint.  The sacred unguents were completely ineffective in the face of such blasphemous savagery.

 

It took a kilometer before short-range vox communications faded into background static.  The vehement maledictions of his fellow Fraterri were finally silenced but their fiery accusations of cowardice continued to echo in Evander's memory buffer.

 

Three kilometers further, Evander rounded the corner of a supply junction and brought Fraterrus Tertius to a skidding halt.  He stared up at the overbearing face of a Manufactorum complex, towering above even the hulking gargant.  The structure was kilometers long in either direction with no access path through large enough to fit his engine.  It was, quite literally, a dead end.

 

His machine spirit began the disconnection procedure of its own accord but Evander hastily countermanded its operations with a twinge of pride.  He would die in his proper place - the Throne Mechanicum of the engine which had saved his live twice over since their first meeting.  There would be no more running.

 

Fraterrus Tertius turned about to face his pursuer.  Leaning back against the wall for support, Evander rose to his full height and blared his war horns in defiance before opening up with his battlecannon and heavy stubbers.  The gargant answered in kind and continued its unstoppable advance.  Heavy shells detonated against the metal shell of the beast and a few managed to penetrate in weak areas, but the monster's mass was too great.

 

Concrete and shrapnel filled the air about Fraterrus Tertius as the surrounding wall was chewed apart by return fire.  Visual feeds shorted out one by one as deadly metal shards found the delicate pict recorders.  The massive chainsword tore free from its mount and clattered to the ground, hydraulic fluid and sparks pouring from the shredded joint.  Evander felt the loss as deeply as losing his arm a second time, deep red psychosomatic wounds spreading across his body.  The gargant seemed to fill his entire vision, blotting out the sun as it closed the gap Evander had opened up in his northwesterly sprint.

 

Finally, with barrels glowing red hot and his magazines exhausted, Evander spread his arms and closed his eyes.  The pounding of titanic footsteps shook the cockpit in a steady rhythm.  His machine spirit roared in one final challenge and a deep echo of horns reverberated across the nearby buildings.  For that brief moment, he was finally at peace.

 

The horns echoed through his auditory inputs again and he felt his body hair rise with static discharge.  Evander peered down at the back of his hand with dawning understanding and whispered the first prayer he had learned as a juvenile decades before.

 

"Deus est Mechanicus..."

 

Fraterrus Fidelis dropped to one knee, patellar pistons bleeding fluid and giving way, as the wall behind him burst outwards under the impact of 2,500 tons of blessed adamantium at flank speed.

 

Pax Intellectus, Warlord Titan of Legio Fidelis, stepped over the crouching Knight as if it were a small child and charged headlong towards the approaching gargant.  It was freshly resupplied and on its way back to the engine war in the northerly wastes, the appearance of the gargant on its short-range sensors a welcome surprise.  The world went white for a second time as flowing plasma and brilliant spears of las discharge filled the rapidly closing gap between the two god machines.  The orks, caught completely by surprise by this divine intervention, tried to change course but it was far too late.

 

The Warlord Titan pivoted at the waist, putting all of its inertia into the crackling four-fingered power fist at its right arm.  The blow connected with the sound of heaven being moved off its foundations.  Pax Intellectus caught the gargant squarely through the chest, emerging on the other side with a bracer of unrecognizable ruin about its armored knuckles.  The gargant's lower body continued forwards in a single stumbling step before collapsing upon itself, fires touching off as magazines and powerplants ignited.  Its head and shoulders were entirely dislodged and came to rest fifty meters in the direction whence the monster came.

 

Red-robed Skitarii soldiers swarmed through the gaps in the destroyed building and filled the artificial clearing, weapon arms raised above their heads in triumph.  Evander rose to his feet in the midst of the cheering crowd, the tortured body of Fraterrus Tertius erect before the burning corpse of the shattered monster.  For a moment, he had felt peace in the face of death.  Life, unfortunately, would be only war.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'll see your gargant, and raise you a Warlord Titan! msn-wink.gif A great instalment in this story - it pulled me in and just conveyed so much headlong desperation as Evander is pursued by the orks. I can almost see the way buildings and massive storage silos are crushed and smashed aside as the gargant comes lurching through, hot on the knight's trail... excellent stuff!biggrin.png

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