Adeptus Anonymous

Apr 8th, 2018
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  1. >Golden shoals of hexarithmic data swim around the smokey position you occupy
  2. >The world around you shakes and booms rhythmically, and you feel the loping gait of the engine
  3. >The hiss and squeal of boiling hydraulics and tortured steel fills the small space you share
  4. >The constant crashes of impacts and the thunderous discharge of arms filter through the panicked shouts of crew
  5. >You are an adept of the Holy Mechanicus, training under a priest of the Collegia Titanica
  6. >And that priest smacks you upside the head, screeching binaric cant over the noise and fury of the Titan
  7. >[Pay attention to the display, adept! You are allowing the servitors to overheat!]
  8. >The tech priest, your master Audralus is hard-plugged into the god-machine
  9. >But you must rely on crude displays and reading the data in the noosphere, something highly unreliable with all the scrapcode in the air
  10. >Still, you blurt an affirmative and order coolant flushes on the servitors loading the guns
  11. >Their temperature levels even out and you continue to observe the patterns with your augmetic eyes
  12. >The Warhound, Nox Aurea, shudders and bleats in pain at yet another heavy impact
  13. >You had been engaged with Heretek forces for two weeks now, and their vile daemon engines for half that time
  14. >This single operation had you and the crew in the field for two days straight now
  15. >Despite rearming during that time, sleep was a luxury that not a single member could afford in this crisis state
  16. >And so the air, already thick with incense and smoke, was choked as well by the reek of stim-sweat and adrenaline
  17. >But it was all worth it, the enemy was on the run, most of their engines already burning behind your pack
  18. >Ahead loomed a great rift to the Immaterium, and many small daemons scrambled to get back to their little pit of hell
  19. >You hear the Princeps shout to charge, and the rhythm of thudding increases
  20. >Even as he flushes the hydraulics in the legs of the god-machine, your master blurts a warning to the Princeps, a warning you echo in kind
  21. >He dismisses your dual cants with one of his own and the Warhound continues forward
  22. >So instead you focus on the guns, on your duty
  23. >You align the targeting arrays for the third time and order the loading of high explosive shells to suppress the fleeing infantry
  24. >You flush the servitor coolant and it becomes apparent that there is a malfunction with their equipment, possibly the heatsinks
  25. >But under your watchful eye, they maintain optimal operations as you lope ever closer to the gaping gateway to the Warp
  26. >Though you don't have a direct link to the outside, you read bleeding code in the noosphere that weaves the tale of your sorry state
  27. >Your Princeps has taken you forward of the pack, and Nox Aurea lopes alone towards the portal
  28. >The void shields have barely the strength to stand up to lasrifles now, and the armour is pitted from shells that have made it through
  29. >Her livery has been blackened by witchfire, her once proud victory banners reduced to so much smouldering cloth
  30. >Even without the plug, your augmetics ache in sympathy with the wounded code bleeding from the wounded engine
  31. >But she is a proud god, and her fury for the machinations is unmatched among the great machines of Legio Venatrix
  32. >But as the ancient words of Terran scholars had said, pride goeth before the fall
  33. >Out from the portal steps a great, twisted creature
  34. >It opens a mouth resembling that of Saurians of arcane Terran mythos and lets out a shriek that penetrates the hull more easily than a lance of plasma
  35. >Nox howls a binaric challenge to the enemy, even as her circuits overload and switch to redundant pathways
  36. >The Princeps echoes the animalistic howl with his own and the guns fire furious streams of steel and explosive at the vile creature
  37. >Lightning crackles around it, annihilating the projectiles before they can touch its feathery body
  38. >This only drives the engine to greater heights of fury and another stream of shells speeds towards the target
  39. >All the while, you continue to close with the enemy
  40. >Despite your attention, the guns are once more nearing overheat and your reserve coolant is long spent
  41. >You offer benediction to the furious machine spirit, a whispered prayer for it to not fail in the midst of this battle
  42. >Turning your head from the displays, you catch a glimpse of the portal outside the viewports of the cockpit
  43. >The inbuilt distance rule of your augmetics leaps to infinity and zero, touching every number between in a dizzying display of the chaotic nature of the Immaterium
  44. >You blink away lubricating tears and refresh the display, focusing in on the daemon that was threatening your Titan
  45. >Upon its beak shaped lips, you see syllables forming that match nothing your mind can process
  46. >But even without understanding, it instills a sense of dread deep in what is left of your organs
  47. >It raises a crooked finger, heavy with the weight of fate itself, and its nail shines as it points at you
  48. >Not the Titan, not the Princeps nor your master, the finger seems to point straight into your oh so human soul
  49. >You feel your mechanical heart leap in its careful pumping cycle and you only barely cling to consciousness
  50. >Your master forcefully turns you about so you can no longer gaze at the viewport and you feel some of the weight on you lift
  51. >Once more, you dive into your work, now begging the spirit to not seize up for just a little longer
  52. >It complains, and you register the sudden death of three of your servitors, but the guns continue to fire, a loud screech coming from the motors
  53. >A shout from one of Moderati for all hands to brace comes in an overloud blurt of tortured code
  54. >You grasp the rungs of a nearby service ladder with all your augmented might and lock your few mechadendrites down tightly to your body
  55. >There is a loud pop, and you feel gravity flip several times, the display on your eyes fuzzes with static, and your long missing feeling of fleshly limbs returns
  56. >For what seems like an instantaneous eternity, you're falling, flying, crashing, dying, being born, frozen, and engulfed in fire
  57. >But then it's over
  58. >Slowly, your eyes reboot and once more you can see
  59. >You unfold the mechadendrites from your torso and ease off the ladder to the deck
  60. >The machine is totally silent around you, no sound of anything coming through the hull nor from it
  61. >The noosphere is not only dark, but totally devoid of any kinds of data, not even your own natural bleed
  62. >A look around fills you with a deep ache in your soul
  63. >At every console, every station, even in the control throne, a dead member of the crew lays blackened and withered
  64. >Even your master, the ill-tempered Audralus, lay in a collapsed heap, his augmetics melted to his flesh
  65. >Though they don't need cleaning, your eyes shed tears of oil, and you fall to your knees on the deck of the silent god-machine
  66. >Alone, you were utterly alone
  67. --
  68. >You strain your wings to push you faster
  69. >An unexpected headwind pushes back, as though the air itself was trying to slow your desperate flight
  70. >But you push back harder than before, determined to reach your destination before that thing could awaken
  71. >You are Gale Force, newest member of the Ponyville weather team
  72. >And you have seen the newest, perhaps most dangerous, threat Equestria faces
  73. >It had been a pleasant enough day, your day off in fact
  74. >You had been soaring the thermals in the fields well outside Ponyville, enjoying the way you could just spread your wings and float
  75. >Truly, you had never been one for racing, your wings seemed to be perfectly specialized for soaring and gliding, with their long and broad primaries and oversized span
  76. >The very thing working against you now
  77. >That thing, whatever it was, had appeared from nothing and nowhere
  78. >Its appearance had created a huge shockwave of displaced air, blowing a crater into the ground and flattening the few nearby trees
  79. >Even at the distance you had been at, it had sent you spiraling and nearly crashing
  80. >But you had recovered before impact, and fled for your life
  81. >You had to warn the princess, she was the only one who could save Ponyville from that iron fleshed golem
  82. >And so you strain against the wind, against, the air, against your very flesh to push faster and faster until the ground blurs into a streak of colour
  83. >The crystal castle of Princess Twilight looms over the horizon, your goal, the salvation of Ponyville
  84. >It was so close, and so you push down the burning pain stretching from your wingtips all the way across your back and carry on
  85. >Not too much later, but far too late in your eyes, you arrive at the castle gates, totally exhausted and foaming at the mouth
  86. >You slam a hoof rapidly on the crystalline door, praying that the princess of friendship was home today
  87. >The hinges creak as the door swings open, showing a small, purple dragon standing in the portal
  88. >”Can I help you, miss...?”
  89. >You take a deep breath and try to calm yourself enough to not make a scene
  90. “There was-- big golem-- iron skin-- outta nowhere!”
  91. >Smooth
  92. >The dragon, Spike you finally recall, blinks slowly and takes a step back
  93. >”Oooookay, lemme just get Twi-- Princess Twilight, and we'll help ya out. C'mon in.”
  94. >He opens the door wider and gestures for you to come inside
  95. >You follow him inside, your wingtips brushing the floor as they hang
  96. >Too tired you are to even fold them against your side, and you cannot stop panting
  97. >Spike leaves you sitting at a table with a large pitcher of water while he wanders off deeper into the halls of the castle
  98. >You lap the water straight from its container, not even bothering to pour a glass for yourself
  99. >As you finish half the carafe, the princess herself comes along and seats herself across from you silently
  100. >You scramble back into your seat, sitting rigid as though you were at a Canterlot dinner
  101. >The princess simply giggles and waves a hoof in your direction
  102. >”Relax miss, there's no need to be so uptight. Spike told me you found something outside Ponyville, but before that let's just start with your name.”
  103. >Still a bit breathless you blurt out your name rapidly
  104. >Twilight gestures for you to continue when you don't respond immediately
  105. >Having finally regained your breath and composed yourself, you let your posture slacken a bit and begin explaining
  106. “Well I was out riding the thermals in the plains, it's my day off you see, and suddenly a massive, iron golem popped outta nowhere! Its blast wave nearly made me crash, but I managed to recover and sped off right here. I knew you'd be the only pony with enough power to protect us from something like that.”
  107. >Twilight blushes and makes a little circle on the table with her hoof
  108. >”Well I don't know about that, but this does sound serious. A golem you say, can you describe it? Its size, how it moved, how it spoke? Anything could be useful.”
  109. >You think back, tapping a hoof against your chin
  110. “Well, I wasn't right on top of it, but it looked to be larger than a fully grown dragon. It was kinda hunched over, but didn't move after it just appeared. No talking either, didn't really make any noise besides the big pop of it coming in.”
  111. >Twilight scribbles notes down on a piece of parchment grasped with her magic
  112. >”And where was this again?”
  113. >You try your best to recall the exact heading that had taken you here
  114. “Due...northwest I think. No, north-northwest for sure.”
  115. >She rolls up the scroll and hands it to her assistant, who immediately sets it alight with emerald flames
  116. >”Well then, let's go and see. Can you lead me back there?”
  117. >You nod, and lead her out of the castle
  118. >The two of you take flight, this time keeping a more sane, less desperate pace than before
  119. >You can't stop your hooves from trembling on the return trip, and not even soaring the thermals as the fields pass below can stop that
  120. >A heaviness in hangs in your stomach, robbing you of any of the usual contentment flying brings
  121. >When the top of the gargantuan monster looms, Princess Twilight stops and hovers in the air, and you halt beside her
  122. >Her eyes have grown as wide as saucers and her mouth hangs open
  123. >”Th-that's the golem?”
  124. >You nod your head
  125. “Yes princess, I told you it was bigger than a dragon!”
  126. >She seems to ignore you, opening her wings and climbing higher in the sky
  127. >As you climb after her, you see why she has immediately
  128. >It allows the two of you an unrestricted view of the monster that had made itself known
  129. >Since it had appeared, it seems to have adopted a crouching stance, squatting in the middle of a crater of its own making
  130. >It almost looks like a chicken about to lay an egg
  131. >You let out a bark of laughter at the unexpected thought, and Twilight looks up from the paper she's rapidly scribbling on
  132. >”Something the matter?”
  133. >You shake your head, pushing down the bubbling mirth
  134. “No princess, just a weird thought.”
  135. >She cocks her head to the side and moves the parchment scroll aside
  136. >”Do share, a different perspective could be useful in this matter.”
  137. >You blush sheepishly and look down at the grassy hills below you
  138. “I was just kinda thinking about how it looks like a chicken.”
  139. >Twilight looks back at the looming creature, and you see her gaze shift down towards the legs
  140. >She scribbles down something else on her paper and gives you a smile
  141. >”You see? I hadn't even noticed the orientation of the joints.”
  142. >Your blush deepens and you wave the praise away
  143. “Oh c'mon, it wasn't all that.”
  144. >Twilight returns her gaze to the golem below
  145. >”Well it doesn't seem to be awake. Let's see if we can get a closer look.”
  146. >What mirth there had been flees before the wave of fear that comes over you
  147. “D-do we have to princess? I mean, that thing could wake up and kill us both!”
  148. >She scratches her chin with a hoof, considering your words
  149. >”It's a risk that I at least have to take. I need to assess the threat it holds to Ponyville and to Equestria, it''s my duty.”
  150. >She gives you a sad looking smile and alights to the ground, moving toward the golem slowly, quietly
  151. >Well it would do to have her go in alone
  152. >Even if she was a mighty princess, you wouldn't abandon her to face the monster by herself!
  153. >You land gently behind her and join her walk towards the beast
  154. >It's a silent affair, neither of you willing to risk awakening what lies ahead
  155. >Not much time passes before you stand at the lip of the crater holding the golem
  156. >You want to bolt and run, but you cannot deny a morbid curiousity of the thing that had nearly torn you from the sky
  157. >All around was a metallic scent, and the metal skin of the beast gives off a warmth you can feel even from here
  158. >You jump at every slight pop and hiss that issues from it, but Twilight seems enraptured with it
  159. >She comes over to you, excitedly whispering
  160. >”I don't think it's a creature, it's a machine! But it's so expertly crafted, I can't begin to imagine who made it!”
  161. >You look at her, totally bewildered, and whisper back
  162. “Wait so someone made this? Do you think they're piloting it like an airship?”
  163. >As Twilight opens her mouth to answer, a loud pop comes from the top of the machine
  164. >The two of you jump and lock your eyes on the source of the noise
  165. >A hatch on the machine swings open, silhouetted against the sun the shone down on the shoulder
  166. >And from that hatch, a monster climbs out
  167. >The atmospheric samples show you that the air you stand in now is safe to breathe without filtration
  168. >However, you continue to filter it even when the samples come back cleaner than the air of Holy Mars
  169. >You were not well equipped to detect the taint of Chaos, and it had been a Warp portal that sent you here
  170. >You assume at least
  171. >That section of memory has been...corrupted
  172. >Not by the vile touch of Chaos, thank the Omnissiah, but simply by the violence of the translation to this world
  173. >But it mattered not, you were here, your companions dead, and your Titan afflicted with ghastly wounds
  174. >Its skin was rent in many places, and where it was whole it was charred black, little of its original ruddy glory showed through the carbon coat
  175. >At the very least, she slept so she was not tortured by pain
  176. >As you step from the hatch, you scan the area around you
  177. >Plains, flora covered, sky similar to Terra, no large structures within optical range, it seemed to be similar to a feudal world you had visited once in attendance to a Knight House
  178. >In the far distance, several small columns of smoke rise, a village of whoever or whatever lived here
  179. >Scanning the fields reveals fauna, two, seemingly equine, though both had wings too small, and one had a bony growth on its forehead
  180. >Strange colours too, but your instruments could measure them, not Chaos, not a threat so you disregard them
  181. >Your mechadendrites unfold from your back at your will, helping you to climb to the back of the slumbering god-machine
  182. >If power was the sole issue, besides her weeping wounds, then you knew of a partial solution
  183. >The forge that had birthed this Titan existed under the rays of a violent star, and they had made a slight change to the STC of the Warhound to exploit it
  184. >An array of highly efficient solar panels upon the back of the god-machine, hidden beneath heavy plates of ceramite
  185. >You reach the segmented panels and whisper a prayer to the machine spirit before working to prise them open
  186. >Normally they would be opened automatically when critical power levels were detected
  187. >It must have been the shock of translation
  188. >No matter of course, between your augmented arms and your mechadendrites you're able to slowly open the array to the stellar light
  189. >It takes nearly an hour to force the massive plates to move, and the stray glances you've had around the area tells you the local fauna is still watching
  190. >Still, no aggressive behaviour was seen from them, so it seemed safe enough to ignore
  191. >At one point you swore to the Machine God that one had a quill and paper enveloped in lavender light floating before it
  192. >But when you had looked again, it was simply staring up at you with wide eyes
  193. >All too human, you thought they looked rather cute
  194. >Perhaps the Warp had afflicted you more than you had first thought, an in depth restoration of your mind may be necessary
  195. >Before that, though, you'd need to find a way home
  196. >Home...
  197. >How many years had it been since you'd seen the Orestes, your internal clock said seven thousand six hundred and two
  198. >Definitely would need an in depth restoration
  199. >Finally, the last panel creaks open and reveals the full extent of the solar array to the sun above
  200. >You sit down, feeling the toll the exertion has taken on your body and on your energy reserves
  201. >Well in the moment, you can remedy at least one of those things
  202. >Rations could come later
  203. >You pull back the heavy cloth hood from your head and untie the rope at the top of your deep crimson robes
  204. >The metal of your augmetics gleam in the light of the high noon sun, burnished with synth-sweat of mineral oils
  205. >With a thought, you will parts of your now bare chest to open, revealing their own, much smaller solar panels
  206. >Though they weren't as efficient as the ones on Nox Aurea, no could they replace sustenance as of yet, they would keep you from collapsing and stop your augments from seizing
  207. >They were even linked to your nervous system, providing pleasurable feedback
  208. >And though you knew it was artificially generated, you still retained enough of your flesh to enjoy it
  209. >But not for long!
  210. >Once you found a way to contact the Mechanicus, you could scarce imagine your rewards
  211. >Titans were grossly valuable, even the smallest Warhound could bankrupt entire worlds, and they were incredibly difficult to manufacture
  212. >Nox Aurea herself had seen two millenia of service already, and she was the youngest in the legio
  213. >Being crew to one of these god-machines was the greatest honour, so what praise and bounty they would heap upon the one who had returned a lost god such as this
  214. >Perhaps they would even elevate you to full priesthood for keeping faith and persevering in the eye of such Chaos wickedness
  215. >And surely you could replace your weak flesh with the finest augmentations Mars had to offer
  216. >You shake your head, clearing such thoughts from your mind
  217. >That would all have to come later
  218. >For now, there was still the issue of figuring out exactly where in the galaxy you were
  219. >Then of course, actually sending the message would require a relay of enormous strength
  220. >If you could awaken the reactor of Nox Aurea, it would certainly be possible to tap into its power to send the signal
  221. >But you would need a transmitter as well, something that would have to be constructed in situ
  222. >You let out an all too human sigh and rub the skin surrounding your eyes
  223. >So much work, and all upon the shoulders of a mere adept
  224. >Although, you think as you look out to the tendrils of smoke in the distance, perhaps the locals may be persuaded to help
  225. >Your eyes fix on the two creatures that had been observing you from the ground, now hovering in your line of sight
  226. >A chill runs up your spine, nothing their size should have been able to fly with wings so small
  227. >They move closer to you, and you bristle as they smile at you
  228. >Not fauna, unless these ones had suddenly developed threat display characteristics
  229. >Even as they approach, you begin to record the information you're observing from them
  230. >The quest for knowledge was not stopped just because you were uneasy and suspicious
  231. >One of them, purple in colour with the bony growth you had seen earlier opens its mouth
  232. >For whatever reason, perhaps the damage to your systems, you react with an instantaneous display of aggression
  233. >Your mechadendrites flare out behind you, their maniples opening wide to appear larger
  234. >From your augmented throat, a screech of threat-marker laden binary, accompanied with every rank signifier and warning you could access blasts forth repetitively
  235. >The emerald of your eyes flares into bright red, and you draw a blade magnetically fastened to your side
  236. >It was certainly more than necessary, but you were dealing with possible forces of Chaos, so it was pragmatic to act in such a way
  237. >The effect is immediate, the purple one backs off several meters, while its red coated companion flees into the distance
  238. >As it shies away, you notice an odd star marking on its flank
  239. >Star then, an acceptable designation
  240. >Star opens its mouth, then shuts it and reopens one more time
  241. >But after a moment, it follows the lead of the other and flies away toward the smoke
  242. >As it retreats, your observations lead to the conclusion that 'it' was in fact a she
  243. >She could belong to the livestock of whatever people lived here, it would certainly explain the odd branding
  244. >But with the potential threat resolved, you reduce your threat displays and return to gathering energy
  245. >With thoughts of you future rewards dancing in your mind, you close your eyes and bask in the glow of a xeno sun
  246. >Back in Ponyville, Twilight is in a panicked state
  247. >You'd returned to the castle with her after that smaller creature had screeched its warning
  248. >Not that you or Twilight had actually understood what it was saying, but its intent had been more than clear
  249. >The way its metal tentacles had flared out, the glow of red in its eyes, that awful, metallic dissonance that had issued from its throat
  250. >There was no way to see it as anything but a threat
  251. >You shudder as the sound echoes in your thoughts once more
  252. >That's something you'd take to your grave, no doubt
  253. >Twilight is frantically flipping through dozens of books in her personal library, and the few that are in a script you understand let you know exactly what she's looking for
  254. >Constructs Arcane, Devils and Monsters Occult, Bestiary of Lands Exotica
  255. >You peek at the pages left open, seeing many bizarre creatures you had never even heard of
  256. >But not one is like what had appeared
  257. >That must be why she's in such a tizzy
  258. >Well it was her job to protect this place from such things, so it made sense that when something new showed up a slight panic would ensue
  259. >This was anything but slight though
  260. >After a while, her ears flatten against her skull and her faces sinks down and rests against the great stone table
  261. >You trot up beside her, speaking up in a nervous voice
  262. “Um, princess, what's the matter?”
  263. >You had an idea, but you wanted to make sure you weren't just being an airhead
  264. >Twilight looks up at you, real fear apparent on her face
  265. >”What's the matter? Oh not much, we've just had hostile first contact with species that apparently nopony has had contact with in several thousand years of Equestrian history! Never mind the construct that it had, I mean look at that thing. It was at least ten meters tall and it was crouching down!”
  266. >Twilight begins breathing heavily and her pupils shrink to pinpricks
  267. >You sit there stunned, not entirely sure what to do
  268. >But you remember something your mother used to do to calm you down when you were a little filly
  269. >You walk over to her and drape one of your long, deep blue wings over her back and gently, slowly rub it up and down
  270. >It takes a few minutes, but Twilight's breathing slows down and she turns to you with a pained grin
  271. >”Thanks...I guess I freaked out a bit there, huh?”
  272. >You let out a little giggle and give her a warm smile
  273. “Well, you're doing better than I would be. I can't imagine what I'd be doing if I were you.”
  274. >Twilight's ears flatten against her skull
  275. >”I can't even imagine what I should be doing right now. I mean, we have protocols for this kind of thing, but they were written thousands of years ago. We hadn't even met another species at that point, beside the Windigos of course but technically they aren't another species they're just manifestations of elemental energy...”
  276. >You blink as she goes on a tangent about manifest magic or weather or some such
  277. >It's not exactly easy to follow, even if you had understood half the stuff she was going on about
  278. >Eventually though, she slows and lapses into uneasy silence
  279. >You clear your throat and hesitantly offer an idea you'd had when she was rambling
  280. “Well...why don't you ask Princess Celestia? I mean, I'm sure she knows things that aren't in the books right?”
  281. >Twilight looks up at you, her face drawn tight
  282. >”But I'm supposed to be a princess now, I have to know how to handle things on my own!”
  283. >She scuffs a hoof against the ground and looks back down
  284. >You shuffle, uneasy with being the confidant of a pony you barely knew, let alone a princess at that
  285. “I mean, no offense princess, but aren't you kinda new at this? I don't think she'd be mad at you asking for help.”
  286. >Twilight looks at you again, a weak smile touching her lips
  287. >”You pegasi are pretty good at cutting through all the hay of things, aren't you?”
  288. >Whoa, racist
  289. >She was a bit right though, you hadn't met another pegasus who hadn't been blunt and straightforward
  290. >With a sigh, Twilight pulls away from your wings, her eyes showing new determination
  291. >”Alright, first thing I need to do is get Spike down here! And Gale, was it? I want you to gather a team of pegasi, keep tabs on that thing. But if it attacks you, don't fight back just get outta there.”
  292. >You give her a sharp nod and she turns, galloping up the stairs to find her assistant
  293. >You do a little trot in place
  294. >A mission given to you personally from a princess!
  295. >Even the trepidation of going near that thing again doesn't quell your excitement at this
  296. >Though you hadn't really become a weatherpony for excitement, it was almost as if there was something built into you that craved some kind of adventure
  297. >So you followed her orders to the letter
  298. >You managed to gather a team of eight pegasi, two who were part of the weather team
  299. >Of course, you had to explain the situation to Rainbow Dash since she headed up the local weather team
  300. >She had immediately gone to Twilight's castle to confirm it, but had given you the okay to be absent as long as you were telling the truth
  301. >And since you were, you wasted no time establishing observation of the monster
  302. >After a few hours, you're ready to admit it
  303. >It wasn't nearly as exciting as you had thought it would be
  304. >You and your team had rolled in a few clouds for cover and broken into pairs
  305. >One kept watch while the other rested
  306. >But the day rolled on, and nothing happened
  307. >The creature lounged on top of his construct for hours, until the sun was low in the sky and Luna's moon was coming over the horizon
  308. >Then he went inside, shut the hatch, and stayed there so it seemed
  309. >At one point, the machine made a quiet groaning noise that put you on edge, but it remained where it was
  310. >So you had informed the others and flown back to Twilight to make a report
  311. >Sure, there really wasn't anything to actually tell her, but even so you weren't about to screw up your first big assignment in...ever
  312. >When you reach the castle though, your enthusiasm is dulled a great deal
  313. >It's surrounded by royal guards and night guards
  314. >As if that wasn't enough of a sign, there are two chariots parked by the gates, both clearly made for royalty
  315. >The princesses had made a visit
  316. >You open your eyes to the twilight hours
  317. >You blink several times, flicking your ocular lenses through several settings before settling on 'natural'
  318. >The solar array in your chest folds in on itself and once more comes flush with your chest
  319. >With a sigh, you tie the top of your robe and once more don your hood
  320. >A look at the sky reveals a number of those strange, equine-like xenos staring down at you from behind clouds
  321. >They must have thought themselves hidden, but machines are not so easily fooled as fleshly eyes
  322. >Still they are merely observing you, strange as their perch was
  323. >Clouds are insubstantial after all, and these creatures clearly are not
  324. >You would need to take a sample, this was certainly something worth researching
  325. >You wait outside a little while longer, until the moon fully rises and the stars shine high above
  326. >A long moment is spent staring at their patterns, trying to match them to any sky you have seen before
  327. >Nothing is the same, nor had you expected it to be
  328. >Still, you'd run them against the databanks of Nox Aurea, she had campaigned for so long that perhaps she had seen this sky before
  329. >And if not, she may have data from Mars itself that could match or at the very least help recognize some of the stellar objects you can see
  330. >Before going inside, you save a few picts of the sky for later research
  331. >The moment you shut the hatch behind you, a low hum comes through the god-machine
  332. >A light breeze tickles the skin of your face, and the familiar scent of recycled air and holy oils sets itself deeply within
  333. >Nox Aurea was alive
  334. >You heave a deep sigh of relief
  335. >It wasn't any grand miracle like her coming to full battle status and laying waste to hereteks, but it was certainly better than the aching silence of the day
  336. >Another scent hits your nose, strong and foul
  337. >Decay
  338. >Your comrades, your mentor, you had nearly forgotten them in the rush of ecstasy from the breath of the machine
  339. >You would need to deal with them, sooner rather than later
  340. >Traditional Mechanicus recycling would be impossible here, but you're certain that somehow you could find a way to lay them to rest
  341. >First though, you needed to interface with the Titan
  342. >Hesitantly, you approach the command throne in the bridge
  343. >The Princeps was still there, his face drawn tightly around his augments, slumped forward as though bowing
  344. >Only the neural plugs kept him from falling over
  345. >With as much care as you can, you hold the body in place and gingerly unplug him from the god-machine
  346. >The plug comes out with no resistance, much to your relief
  347. >You lay the body out on the floor, covering its face with the crew jacket it had been wearing
  348. >As you sit in the throne, you whisper a prayer of benediction to the dead crew, and another to the Titan herself
  349. >Slowly, hesitantly, you nestle the interface plug into your cerebrospinal port and wait
  350. >After a moment, an explosion of data
  351. >You'd had direct congress with machine spirits before, but nothing on the scale of a god-machine
  352. >Princeps went through rigorous selection and decades of training and augmentation before they could become an apprentice aboard even the lowliest of Warhounds
  353. >Their will matched the strength of steel, their minds sharper than even the power swords of the vaunted Astartes
  354. >And even with all that, they struggled to control the vast war engines
  355. >Yet here you were, a lowly adept, in direct congress with Nox Aurea
  356. >Even in her state of hibernation, you could feel the immense weight of her will, the gross strength in her arms, the desire to kill kill killkillkillKILL
  357. >With a gasp you sit upright, rigid, shouting a prayer to the Omnissiah for forgiveness and to Nox Aurea, begging her mercy
  358. >Through the violent storm of data and fury, a thunderous voice echoes inside the comparatively minuscule chambers of your augmented mind
  359. >”You are not my Princeps.”
  360. >You weep tears of joy, tears of blood, as she speaks
  361. >She lived, she was awake, she was angry, she was hurt, she demanded answers
  362. >The weight upon your mind eases slightly as your signifier codes come to the fore, and you take a deep breath to gather yourself
  363. >You had never dreamed that you would bear the brunt of a god-machine such as Nox Aurea
  364. >As though reading your thoughts, a rumble comes through the frame
  365. >”You bear nothing, adept.”
  366. >She was right, no doubt
  367. >Still, you must answer the questions she demanded of you
  368. “Oh great god-machine, the vile machinations of Chaos have sent us to a world unknown. They have drained the power of your blessed core, but I shall work diligently and long to restore you to your former glory.”
  369. >You feel a touch of pride from Nox Aurea as you sing her praises, but it's accompanied by a more demanding question
  370. >”Where is my Princeps?”
  371. >You swallow, your throat suddenly dry
  372. >You can't answer, you have to answer
  373. >With a quick switch to binary to better signify your feelings than your flesh voice could, you blurt it out
  374. “The Princeps is dead.”
  375. >A long, drawn out groan echoes through Nox Aurea, and a great sorrow presses on your mind
  376. >You find yourself crying once again, your regular tears washing the tracks of blood on your face
  377. >You cannot sustain yourself any longer, with a mournful groan you eject the interface plug from its port and collapse on the deck
  378. >Your body curls into a ball on the cold, quiet deck and you sob quietly as the Titan once more goes silent around you
  379. --
  380. >The oaken door to Twilight's castle creaks ominously, despite your best efforts to remain quiet
  381. >You were surprised at how the guards had simply moved aside when you'd explained why you were there
  382. >You guess they were briefed or something, that's something a princess would do right?
  383. >Three ponies standing in the foyer all turn and stare at you
  384. >You pause, wings outstretched in surprise
  385. >Twilight's gaze lingers on you, her expression one of unease
  386. >”Did something happen, Gale? Did the machine attack?”
  387. >Your eyes dart back and forth between each of the princesses and slowly step inside, sitting upright in front of the door
  388. “Uh, no nothing to report. I just wanted to bring you today's observations”
  389. >Twilight looks first to Celestia, then to Luna
  390. >Both of them nod, and Celestia gives you a warm smile
  391. >”Please, do come. We were just discussing what to do about this new creature on the outskirts of Ponyville. Any information you have may be invaluable, young pegasus.”
  392. >Something in Celestia's voice draws you in, its maternal warmth making you feel completely at ease
  393. >You walk over and join the three of them, sitting with your back rigid
  394. >After a moment of awkward silence, Twilight clears her throat
  395. >”Well Gale, what observations did you make today?”
  396. >You take a deep breath, sitting even more rigidly
  397. “The creature was observed resting on top of the construct today. Shortly after sunset, it went inside the machine. A few minutes later, the machine made a loud groaning noise, then went silent once more. The team is still out there, but there was nothing further to report.”
  398. >Twilight nods firmly, scribbling down what you told her on a sheet of parchment
  399. >”Alright, thank you very much, Gale.”
  400. >You turn to go, but Celestia speaks up before you do
  401. >”Why don't you join us, young Gale? I believe the opinion of the mare that discovered a brand new species could be useful.”
  402. >You wings twitch, partially in excitement about being addressed by the princess of the sun herself, partially in nervousness at the idea of being in such royal company
  403. >After all, you were just some random weather pony who happened to be in the right place
  404. >So it's no surprise you can hardly keep your tail from twitching with nerves as you sit with them, waiting to see if you could offer anything to them
  405. >Luna clears her throat, looking pointedly at the other two
  406. >”Shall we get back to business then? We need to have a swift response to this, sister. If its first reaction was a threat display, as Twilight says, then it is clearly a dangerous beast.”
  407. >Celestia shakes her head slowly
  408. >”We can't just go around with a military response to everything, Luna. Even if it proves hostile, we must try everything in our power to ensure a peaceful solution.”
  409. >Luna's eyes glance quickly down to you and an ear flicks at the admonishment
  410. >You raise a wing, and Celestia nods to acknowledge you
  411. “Uh, it did look at me and Princess Twilight a few times when we were watching it. But it didn't make any sort of aggressive moves until we tried to come close and talk to it. Maybe it's just being near the machine?”
  412. >Twilight's eyes brighten and her ears stand straight up
  413. >”Of course! It came out of nowhere, and with the magic I could feel in the air, I don't think it was from anywhere near here. It wasn't dark or anything, it was wild, untamed, raw. It's probably scared and protecting its shelter, we just have to treat it with respect and we ought to be more than able of handling it!”
  414. >She goes on, her gesturing turning animated, much to the amusement of Celestia
  415. >”And with the complexity of that construct, it's clearly intelligent. It was wearing some kind of armour as well, so the biggest problem is going to be speaking with it in a way it understands. And if that's the only problem, then it'll be a cinch to solve!”
  416. >Even as she speaks, she's already scratching down notes furiously on the paper
  417. >Luna sniffs haughtily, turning her nose up a degree to show her feelings for the plan
  418. >”I will abide your judgement, Twilight. But do not think we shall approach it without a measure of protection. I'll be bringing a contingent of my personal guard, I believe you ought to do the same, sister.”
  419. >Celestia lets out a quiet sigh and her ears flick with her own annoyance
  420. >”Very well, if it will calm your heart. I'll bring along a smaller group of Royal Guards, between us all there ought to be no threat whatsoever.”
  421. >Almost as one, they turn their gazes on you next
  422. >You blink owlishly, waiting for them to continue
  423. >Then it finally hits you, way too late, that they're waiting for you to give your opinion on everything
  424. “W-well, I agree with Princess Luna that we can't be too nonchalant about protection. I guess as long as they kept back a bit it probably wouldn't make it mad?”
  425. >There's a long beat of silence, then Luna lets out a defeated sigh
  426. >”I suppose the foal is right, we cannot take such an aggressive stance. We'll keep the guards in reserve, should anything happen at all.”
  427. >Celestia gives her sister a small smile, and Twilight turns to give you a great one
  428. >You just shift awkwardly, waiting to see where things would go next
  429. >Your ears perk up at the clacking of claws on stone, and you turn your head to see Twilight's dragon, Spike you recall, walking into the room
  430. >”Um, Twi? I let the girls know what's going on. They said they're ready to go if you need them, any time.”
  431. >He seems to notice you for the first time and his...head frill? Frill, perks up
  432. >”You're Gale Force right? Uh, Rainbow Dash said to tell you really good work, on the whole monster front thing. Said she'd look into fast tracking you on something or other.”
  433. >Your wings twitch
  434. >The only thing you had mentioned wanting to get into was search and rescue, a job that technically fell under the weather team in these smaller towns
  435. >And it was something you wanted to break into as soon as you could
  436. >You can't stop a wide grin from taking over your face, even as Spike turns and walks deeper into the castle
  437. >The princesses too grin, and Celestia addresses you all in a thoughtful tone
  438. >”Well then, Luna, Twilight, let us prepare ourselves for the coming day. It's too late in the day to take action now, but come the dawn we will greet this newcomer with the best attitude Equestria can offer.”
  439. >She turns her matronly gaze on you, and you feel your back stiffen at the attention
  440. >”And you, Ms. Gale, had best get some rest. We'll be counting on you to bring us to the machine tomorrow.”
  441. >You give a firm nod and can hardly keep yourself from galloping out the door
  442. >The first thing you did was inform the rest of the observers you had assembled about the plan
  443. >They'd remain out here for the night, but on a less strict watch schedule that they would agree on between each other
  444. >It was surprising to you how understanding they were about you returning to town
  445. >It seemed they got that princesses had to be obeyed
  446. >So you return to the sleepy little town of Ponyville, loft yourself into the tiny cloud house you had crafted with your own wings and hooves, and promptly collapsed on the floor into a deep slumber
  447. >You had earned it
  448. >The god-machine hums beneath you as you stand atop its hunched back
  449. >Those equine xenos you had frightened off yesterday had returned
  450. >And brought friends
  451. >Directly in front of Nox Aurea, there were two more of the wing-horn types, one blue and one white
  452. >Of course, the purple one was there as well, along with the blue wing type you had seen the day before
  453. >In the distance, you could see more wing types and horn types trying to hide behind the ridge of a hill
  454. >Armoured, carrying spears, lances, and crossbows
  455. >It seemed these xenos WERE the native species you had once thought to ask assistance of
  456. >Unfortunate, you had hoped for something more humanoid
  457. >Easier to read, to interact with
  458. >But you suppose you can make do with these
  459. >The sole reason you had made the threat display the day before had been because you thought them either livestock or wild animals
  460. >But if they were simply primitive xenos...
  461. >And so you stood, waiting for them to attempt communication
  462. >It's unlikely that the know any form of Gothic or other dialect you have inloaded so communication could take some wo--
  463. >”Greetings to you, traveler. It is clear you have come from far away, and though we wish not to disturb you, we would engage you in discussion.”
  464. >Well then, that was surprising
  465. >At the very least, the white one was able to vocalize a form of Low Gothic
  466. >Though it meant using fleshvoice, this would certainly make communication far simpler
  467. >Still, you maintain your position on top of Nox Aurea
  468. >It would not do to appear lowly in the face of unknown xenos
  469. >You warm the artificial larynx in your throat and speak in a tone of clear authority
  470. “Then let us speak, xeno. Where exactly have I come?”
  471. >The blue one takes a step forward and opens its mouth, as if to speak, but the white one holds up a hoof and stops that
  472. >Good, they had hierarchy that was more than clear
  473. >If their leader was the one speaking to you, then you already held a position of importance in their eyes
  474. >Exploitable
  475. >”You are in Equestria, traveler. May I ask your name, and where you are from?”
  476. >The all too human part of you smiles
  477. >The Imperials would be cursing you for 'consorting' with xenos right now
  478. >Of course, the Mechanicus was above that
  479. >They knew, you knew, that xenos were to be studied and exploited if useful
  480. >Their technology, while abhorrent, could be examined to glean what little truth existed in their twisted frames
  481. >The xenos themselves were simply useful tools, a side objective of the Quest of Knowledge
  482. >And to gain that objective, sharing such small bits of information couldn't be harmful
  483. “I am--”
  484. >You cut off speaking
  485. >Data not found
  486. >Impossible! You knew who you were, you were...
  487. >You begin processing through massive packets of data as fast as your enhanced mind can take
  488. >This was something you knew, you're certain
  489. >Aha!
  490. >>There it is, no data can be hidden for long
  491. “--Anonymous, I am Anonymous.”
  492. >Hm, that didn't sound quite right, but the data does not lie
  493. >So, you continue to speak, data as in place as it can be
  494. “I come from a world far away, one with a different star. It is called Orestes, and it is my home.”
  495. >You see the purple once gazing at you with abject wonder
  496. >A quill and parchment float in front of her, enveloped in a lavender haze
  497. >You focus your sensors on the implements, it's not any form of vile sorcery
  498. >Perhaps some kind of anti-gravity technology?
  499. >You would have to study it whenever you could
  500. >When the white one remains silent, you decide to continue
  501. >Best to establish yourself as a friendly force, rather than being hostile
  502. “Orestes is a truly grand world, having both forges of the Mechanicus and Hives of the Imperium of Man. We have defeated the forces of Chaos and the Dark Mechanicus numerous times, and the Legio Tempestus has found great honour in the crusades of the Imperium.”
  503. >The purple one seems ecstatic, the blue one looks intrigued, but the white one appears almost worried
  504. >Strange, you would think that they would welcome such great power visiting them with an outstretched hand
  505. >This time, when the blue one speaks up it does not allow the white one to interrupt
  506. >”We are Princess Luna, she who raises the moon, defender of Equestria and all its holdings. On behalf of our sister and her pupil, let us welcome you Equestria. We pray you find all that you are looking for.”
  507. >The white one gives her sister, Luna, a pointed glare and speaks up as well
  508. >”And I am Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria, she who raises the sun. It is indeed a pleasure to meet you, Anonymous.”
  509. >Your gaze flicks to the purple one, who is trembling with excitement
  510. >”And I'm Twilight Sparkle, er, PRINCESS Twilight, princess of friendship and researcher of the arcane. It's nice to meet you!”
  511. >All royalty, all nominally the same status, but all with different forms of addressing you
  512. >From the formal and proper royal plural, to simple commonspeak
  513. >Such strange organization, perhaps socialization and establishment of hierarchy would not be so easy as you thought
  514. >And what did Luna and Celestia mean by calling themselves the raisers of the sun and moon?
  515. >Surely even such a backward xeno race would understand orbital dynamics
  516. >Or perhaps not, they seemed to be quasi-medieval in terms of armaments and protection
  517. >Well, so long as neither of those that fancied themselves goddesses acted as such, it would be acceptable for them to maintain such beliefs
  518. >No need to rub anyone the wrong way, primitive though they may be not even you were likely to survive dozens of waves of the ill-equipped soldiers
  519. >Certainly not with the might of Nox Aurea unpowered as she was
  520. >So you would humour them, just as you did for the Imperials claiming their God-Emperor was supreme above even the Omnissiah
  521. >But this certainly confirmed that you held some level of importance to them, if they had sent what they considered goddesses after you
  522. >Your mechadendrites unfurl from your back and carry you down a service ladder to stand before the xenos
  523. >While the white and blue look unnerved, the purple one, Twilight yes, seems even more intrigued by the simple devices
  524. >You look straight at her and offer as kind a smile as you can
  525. >She seems quite bashful when she notices your smile, scuffing one of her hooves on the grassy ground below
  526. >She must be quite young, perhaps not yet taken with the role of royalty as these other two were
  527. >Certainly she was smaller, nearly half the size of the one named Celestia
  528. >The quick scan you ran over the three revealed no weapons, and only latent energy seemingly stored in the jewels they wore in their collars and crowns
  529. >Xenos were truly fascinating
  530. >You weren't a Xenologis by any means, and just like any other Techpriest you abhorred their technology
  531. >But the study of it was also a keen draw to you, to see the universe through alien eyes
  532. >Twilight seems to regain her footing and speaks up in a nervous tone of voice
  533. >”W-would you like to accompany me-- I mean us, to Ponyville? It's not too far from here, and we can introduce you to the other ponies properly! Show them you're not here to hurt them, you know?”
  534. >Celestia shot a glance at Twilight, clearly unhappy with having her position usurped by an inferior
  535. >Nevertheless, she gives you a seemingly forced smile and nods
  536. >”Twilight is right, it is best we introduce you to my little ponies. That way there a no misunderstandings.”
  537. >The way she leans on the word 'misunderstandings' makes Twilight wince, but Luna seems to hardly notice
  538. >”We agree, though be warned, we shall watch your every step. We must ensure the safety of our subjects.”
  539. >Understandable, to them you were the strange creature standing before a god-machine
  540. >To not harbour trepidation would be foolish
  541. >It only dawns on you now that they had said 'ponies'
  542. >So they WERE equines, perhaps at one time leftover from human colonists?
  543. >Yes, and they had simply evolved over time to the state they were in now
  544. >Certainly more reasonable than the idea that they were xenos that looked equine, were sentient, and coincidentally shared the same species name as another kind of equine native to Terra
  545. >You relax slightly, if they were indeed evolved ponies then technically they weren't technically a xeno species
  546. >That certainly made it easier to deal with them on a legitimate basis
  547. >And what's more, there would be no consequences to studying their technology, it was an acceptable divergence from the Quest of Knowledge
  548. >Almost as one, the three princesses turn and Twilight gestures animatedly with one of her wings towards the smoke rising in the distance
  549. >”Let's go then! I can't wait to show you around!”
  550. >She certainly was excitable
  551. >You gaze back at Nox Aurea, and from where you stood she seemed lonelier than ever
  552. >A broken god, hunched over as though she were Atlas, bearing the weight of Terra
  553. >The sadness you feel is not just from your too human side, this is true grief you feel for her
  554. >But it only tempers your determination to give her life once more
  555. >With a smile set upon your face, you follow after Twilight and the others
  556. >It was time you met the locals
  557. >This little village was, as you had heard a senior Magos once describe a feudal world, quaint
  558. >All thatched rooves, and timber homes, some even built into the trees themselves
  559. >And yet, you had seen train tracks on your way into the little town, nothing even so simple as mag-lev, but honest to Omnissiah rail riding
  560. >Twilight, the purple 'alicorn' as she had called herself, had requested you remove your hood so to not frighten the inhabitants
  561. >You had decided to acquiesce to the suggestion, you were here to make a good impression on the inhabitants, not scare them into submission
  562. >Such brutish measure were reserved for the enemies of man and machine, or every situation for certain members of the Imperial clergy
  563. >But these xenos, these 'ponies', had shown the ability to reason and no divergence from the Sixteen Laws
  564. >Therefore, they could be negotiated with, exploited, and if they showed potential, perhaps even uplifted and saved from the weakness of their flesh
  565. >If the Omnissiah deemed them worthy, of course
  566. >The ponies, and their myriad guards, had brought you around the town on a tour
  567. >Not just to show you the sights, but to introduce the ponies to the new inhabitant of their lands
  568. >You smiled and acted as warmly as you could, even though the sun glistened on the metal augmetics at the base of your skull and along your collar
  569. >Surprisingly, these ponies were less off put by this than most Imperial subjects and diplomats you had met with
  570. >Perhaps because they simply had no frame of reference for what a human looks like before being uplifted
  571. >Twilight had seemed positively delighted when you had shown her even the simple implants, such as your cerebrospinal interface
  572. >Even Imperial officers had such things, but here they simply did not exist
  573. >And every step of the way, the alicorn had not let her quill slip from the telekinetic grasp she held it in
  574. >You had bristled when she had called it magic, but whatever it truly was drew not upon the vile power of the Warp
  575. >When you had requested to study the phenomena they called magic, Twilight had been utterly ecstatic
  576. >Something about how magic was her specialty
  577. >It would certainly be worthwhile to study it with a master of the art, moreso than with another who was an expert
  578. >The other two alicorns had remained rather quiet throughout the little tour, more keeping an eye on you than anything else
  579. >It is hard to blame them, though
  580. >They are the rulers of this land, and you are a stranger who had brought a god of war to their doorstep
  581. >After several hours of wandering about the town and being shown off, they lead you back to a large, crystalline structure, seemingly modeled after a castle
  582. >You snap picts of it with your optical augments, before the doors are thrown open and you're led inside
  583. >The interior is just as astonishingly well crafted as the outside, the walls showing no signs of being carved
  584. >Perhaps it was grown, in a way similar to how the Eldar grew all their structures and constructs?
  585. >Certainly something to inquire on later
  586. >You spend the next half hour exchanging pleasantries with the princesses, but at long last Celestia and Luna leave
  587. >They've done well in masking their discomfort and suspicion, Celestia far better than her sister
  588. >Of course, they inform you that they will leave a contingent of their personal guards as a ward against 'unfortunate circumstances'
  589. >Fortunately, you knew at least a bit of how to be diplomatic
  590. >So you thanked them for their concern and reassured them of your commitment to good relations, and saw them off with Twilight
  591. >The purple princess then led you into her study and immediately laid a thick tome on the table, beside a large pot of ink and fine quill
  592. >Finally, she dips the quill in the ink and looks at you with a serious expression on her face
  593. >”Do you mind if we go over some of the information you've given me? I want to ensure all my notes are accurate. After all, you're the first of your kind to visit us; I want everything recorded properly in case anypo-- anyone else appears.”
  594. >You nod and give her as warm a smile as your face can create
  595. “As I said, I am a tech-adept from a planet known as Orestes. Tech-adepts are the lowest rank in the clergy of the Cult Mechanicus, and are trained under a more senior Techpriest.”
  596. >A glance up from her book shows an inquisitive face, and she interrupts you with another question
  597. >”Earlier you described it as the Adeptus Mechanicus, and now the Cult Mechanicus. Is there a difference between the organizations? As well, with your description of the hierarchy as 'clergy' may I assume it is a religious movement of sorts?”
  598. >You curse inwardly at your slip of tongue
  599. >The terms had been interchangeable as long as you had been a part of the Mechanicus, so it was only natural you had made it
  600. >Though it was a complex topic when it came to dealing with the Imperium, it may actually be easier to discuss with these ponies
  601. >Depending on their own views of religion, of course
  602. “Yes, well, it is indeed a religious organization as well as governmental. The lay-people generally use the phrasing of 'cult' where it is officially the 'adeptus'. As it stands, we of the clergy are responsible for the veneration and appeasement of machine spirits, as well as the maintaining of the equipment they inhabit. Everything from las-rifles and tanks up to the great god-machines, the Titans.”
  603. >She forestalls you with a raised hoof
  604. >”Can you elaborate on machine spirits? We have no such concepts in Equestria, but it sounds similar to the nature spirits that are said to inhabit the Everfree forest.”
  605. >Ah yes, the ponies still held onto a nature cult in spite of their relative level of advancement
  606. “The machine spirits are fragments of divine intelligence, bestowed upon machines by the Omnissiah, the Machine God. Their temperament determines if a machine works as it was divinely designed, or malfunctions and potentially causes great harm. As such, we appease them with prayers and libations, alongside often laborious rituals for activation and rest.”
  607. >She nods along with your explanation, not even looking up from her writings as she continues her interrogation
  608. >”And this Machine God, I assume is over all machines right?”
  609. >You nod, smiling despite the relentless pace of her questions
  610. >To find one so eager for knowledge and to record it, yes she was certainly one you would get along with well
  611. “Indeed, it is the divine intellect from which all designs and machines come from. It is from him we descried the basis of the Sixteen Laws that govern us. It is him and his machine spirits that are the worthy objects of our devotion.”
  612. >She pauses and looks up at you again
  613. >”So what are these Sixteen Laws? You made mention at one point that our technology 'followed the divine laws', so what does that mean?”
  614. >You lay a hand on your chin, thinking of how exactly to explain them
  615. >Well, why not start at the beginning, as you had many years ago
  616. “The laws themselves are divided into the Mysteries and the Warnings, two sets of eight precepts that make up the body of the Laws. First, that life is directed motion. Second, the spirit is the spark of life. Next, sentience is the ability to learn the value of knowledge. After that is intellect is the understanding of knowledge, then that sentience is the basest form of intellect. Next, understanding is the true path to comprehension. Then, comprehension is the key to all things. And finally, the Omnissiah knows all, and comprehends all.”
  617. >You spread your arms wide and smile at Twilight beatifically
  618. “These are the Mysteries of the Cult Mechanicus, princess. The eight precepts that define our very role in the universe.”
  619. >Her eyes widen and she scribbles down your words excitedly
  620. >Just as you had a decade ago during your first teachings
  621. >She taps the feathers of the quill against her chin, and her look grows curious
  622. >”So if those are the mysteries, what are the warning?”
  623. >Your face grows more serious and you lean forward to emphasize your words
  624. >This was, in truth, the more important part to teach and to learn
  625. “These are truly the crucial parts to take away from this, Princess Twilight. That the alien mechanism is a perversion of the true path. That the soul is the conscience of sentience, and that the soul can be bestowed only by the Omnissiah. That the soulless sentience, the abominable intelligence, is the enemy of all. That the knowledge of the ancients is far beyond question. That the machine spirit guards the knowledge of the ancients. That the flesh is fallible, but ritual honours the machine spirit. And at last, to break with ritual is to break with faith.”
  626. >She grimaces at the last sentence and lays her quill on the table
  627. >”Sound awful dogmatic, especially for a religion dedicated to science.”
  628. >You shake your head in gentle rebuke
  629. “It is for good reason, princess. The ancients went too far with their advancement and brought ruin upon all mankind. It is for this reason we strive to uphold what survived that dark era, for it is miraculous beyond measure. We do seek advancement, though we step slowly, carefully on the path forward lest we slip and bring doom about once again.”
  630. >Her ears flatten against her skull, and she nods slowly in understanding
  631. >Truthfully, you're surprised at her immediate comprehension
  632. >These ponies were indeed blessed with sentience, a small miracle in a universe of damnation
  633. >”And, what about our technology? I mean, to you we're aliens right? So isn't our technology a 'perversion' to you?”
  634. >This you consider slowly, carefully
  635. >While true, she and her kind would be considered xenos by the Imperium at large, they weren't entirely advanced enough to have even taken steps onto the path
  636. >What's more, if they were indeed descended from the equines of Terra, their technology could be included under the blanket of the true path
  637. >If of course, it did indeed not diverge so much from it
  638. “That remains to be seen, princess. Though personally, I don't believe it is. What I've seen is remarkably similar to that of Terra in the Second Millennium. The only questions I have relate to these crystals of yours. The ones in your crown and those of the other princesses radiate an unusual electromagnetic energy. I believe it may, in turn, have to do with the development of your telekinetic abilities.”
  639. >She looks at you quizzically
  640. >”You mean our focusing crystals and magic? I don't know, I'm pretty sure it's just an innate thing we've always had. Or at least, what unicorns and alicorns have.”
  641. >You smile broadly and hold out one of your partially augmented hands to her
  642. “I would enjoy researching such things with you, Princess Twilight.”
  643. >She returns the smile and shakes her hand with your hoof
  644. >”I look forward to working with you as well, Adept Anonymous. And please, just Twilight.”
  645. >Your grin widens as you shake
  646. >This would be interesting indeed
  647. >”So those draw power from the sun?”
  648. >Twilight Sparkle stares at the now unfolded solar array implanted in your chest
  649. >She had begun asking so many questions about your augmetics that you had decided to simply begin showing them to her
  650. >The purple librarian turned princess had been incredulous about you mentioning that you had machines that were solar powered
  651. >You had spent nearly half an hour discussing the physics of it, much of which she seemed to accept and even understand
  652. >So, in the end, you decided to show her the technology as well
  653. >Far from being disturbed when you had untied the top of your robe and folded out the panels, she seemed to take greater interest
  654. >Twilight had drawn a detailed image and asked for your help labeling it, and now had begun staring ever closer
  655. >At least she had stopped short of poking and prodding at the panels themselves
  656. >They weren't exactly delicate instruments, but you weren't sure you'd have been comfortable with it
  657. >Despite what you told yourself, some small part of you still thinks of them as nothing but xenos
  658. >But you quashed it ferociously under your desire to know more about these ponies
  659. >The main reason you had decided to show off the implants was in the hope that she might be more willing to go into detail about magic
  660. >Time would tell if that paid off
  661. “That is correct, Twilight. As I described, they process the radiative energy that a stellar body, such as your sun, gives off. It is then converted into electricity that my augmetics are powered by.”
  662. >Her eyes flit from one augment to another, eventually settling on the mechadendrites draped loosely over your shoulders
  663. >One of them twitches as you realize what she's looking at, and she flinches back
  664. >You raise a hand and stroke one of the metal tentacles
  665. >”What are those things?”
  666. >You will the tools off your shoulders and lay them on the table
  667. >This time, Twilight can't help but touch one with a hoof
  668. >It twitches and she smiles at its movement
  669. “Mechadendrites, they can act as extra hands and have a suite of tools built into them to assist me with a variety of tasks.”
  670. >Just to show off, you make a small drill bit come from one of the ports
  671. >She gasps and lets our a childish giggle
  672. >”That's amazing! Do you have some kind of pocket space where these are stored in here? It must be some kind of magic like that!”
  673. >You smile at her enthusiasm as much as her primitive idea of magic
  674. “No, nothing so exotic. There is simply a small space behind the outlet that stores a number of different shapes of bits.”
  675. >She nods eagerly and writes it down, along with a rough sketch of the mechadendrite
  676. >You find her antics and antiquated ideas entertaining
  677. >You know as well, more than a few Imperial Guard troopers would be executed for thinking of her as 'cute'
  678. >You, of course, would not apply such absurd labels based on an innate emotional response to the facial composition of a creature
  679. >Though the label of 'cute' certainly fit
  680. >The ponies had a strange effect on the weak, fleshy part of your consciousness
  681. >It was a feeling you couldn't deny, but desperately sequestered
  682. >You would not let it stop you from bringing the light of the Omnissiah to this planet
  683. >And so, well into the night, you explored some of the more basic implants that the Mechanicus had seen fit to gift you
  684. >You showed her your cerebrospinal interface, the voice modulator that had replaced your larynx, and of course, your ocular augments
  685. >But eventually, her tiredness overtook her curiousity and she excused herself to bed
  686. >She welcomed you to a guest bed, though you had no intention of staying there and returned to Nox Aurea, after saying your goodbyes
  687. >You still had much work to do on the Titan herself, but tonight you would deal with a more pressing concern
  688. >The bodies of your fellow crew
  689. >Through the long hours of the day and night, you had agonized over what to do with their bodies
  690. >Traditionally, the entire body would be recycled into whatever the Mechanicus needed, and thus would they continue to serve the Machine God even in death
  691. >But that clearly wasn't an option here, you had no recycling facilities nor a manufactorum were you even able to break them down
  692. >At last, you had arrived at something of a compromise
  693. >You would, as best you could, remove implants and augmetics from their bodies to use as a source of rarer materials
  694. >What was left, the flesh and implants in too deep to recover easily, you would bury in the shadow of Nox Aurea
  695. >Even if the god machine did walk once more, at the very least she would watch over them for now
  696. >And so you clambered up Nox Aurea's sode and entered the death chamber that the cockpit had become
  697. >The hum of machinery told you that, though she slept, the god machine was still alive
  698. >You were at least able to power on a lamp in the cockpit to work by
  699. >So began your grisly work
  700. >You never once shied from it, nor did you give yourself the luxury of using your filtration systems to block the foul scent of decay
  701. >You weren't a biologis by any means, so much of the work was done with regular maintenance tools
  702. >It was quite a trial, but with a little bit of creativity, and a great deal of effort, you removed as many of the implants as you could from the crew and servitors
  703. >You had left Master Audralus' body for last, and it had the most work to do on it
  704. >He had been a fairly senior techpriest, and more of his body was machine than flesh
  705. >It was a wealth of resources for you and the stranded god machine, but it was so heavily intertwined with his being that it made it difficult to extract
  706. >To your surprise, you found within him a number of biologis implants
  707. >It was logical, he had been the Medicae Primus on the vessel
  708. >But the extent of them is surprising
  709. >There were even small amount of regenerative fluid that could be used to regrow tissue, or even clone limbs within if the right equipment was present
  710. >Fascinating stuff
  711. >The sun has begun to rise by the time you complete your grim work
  712. >Laid out in the moderati pit were the hundreds of scavenged implants and augmetics you had removed from the crew and servitors that night
  713. >Beside the command throne were the bodies of the crew, wrapped in their own robes with faces covered
  714. >Only the most basic of augments remained, things that would require true butchery to remove from them
  715. >As you carried them to the earth beneath the god machine, one by one, you sang a Mechanicus dirge
  716. >It was only right that they be mourned, the loss of the crew of a Titan was a tragedy
  717. >Eventually, you had brought them all down and you began excavating their graves
  718. >The sun had reached its zenith by the time you had moved enough earth for a communal burial mound
  719. >Individual graves would have been too much work for a single being, taken too much energy that you simply could not spare
  720. >You whispered apologies as you lowered them into the cold earth, gentle as you would be with a child
  721. >As you stand over the open tomb, a flash of humanity overcomes the cold logic you had forced upon yourself until this moment
  722. >With tears flowing freely down your face, you take the Cog Mechanicum draped around your neck and place it atop the bodies in the grave
  723. >Your tears dry by the time the grave is once more filled, and the sun has begun to dip on the horizon
  724. >There wasn't much time left for the day, and you're quite tired from your exertions
  725. >You lean against a leg of the great machine, simply allowing yourself to enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin and implants
  726. >It had been a taxing night and day, so you felt you had earned a modicum of indulgence
  727. >Suddenly a booming voice, rigid with militant discipline, rings out from behind you
  728. >”I am here for the one called Anonymous.”
  729. >To your credit, you manage not to flinch at the thundering words
  730. >You turn slowly, so as not to startle whatever xeno could make such an alarming noise
  731. >To your surprise, it isn't the militant blue princess, but a wine coloured unicorn who somehow stands just as tall
  732. >Strange, you had noted earlier the size difference between at least two of the princesses and other ponies
  733. >An exception, genetic perhaps?
  734. >You could research this later, for now you ought to attend to this visitor
  735. “Yes, I am he. And who might you be?”
  736. >As she steps forward to join you in the shadow of the Titan, you notice her horn
  737. >Or rather, you notice the lack thereof
  738. >There was only one third left, a jagged stump of what you assume had once been a regular horn
  739. >A scar marred her face, and despite being half a head shorter than you she seems to stare down her muzzle as though you are inferior
  740. >Her bearing, however, exuded control and professionalism; this was a military mare if there had ever been one
  741. >”I heard that you had miraculously advanced technology and decided to come and see for myself. This construct is yours, I presume?”
  742. >Her simply approaching you had already piqued your curiosity, but the way she was asking about the holy machine was too fascinating
  743. >Even the princesses had not kept a modicum of awe from their voices, but she acted as though she had seen it before
  744. “Nox Aurea is a construct of the forges of the Mechanicus, however I am her caretaker at the moment. And once again, I must ask just who you are?”
  745. >She finally tears her eyes away from the Titan and stares at you with half-lidded eyes
  746. >A small smile tugs at the corners of her lips and she inclines her head towards you
  747. >”So you are a member of this 'Mechanicus'? What sort of organization is this, a military perhaps?”
  748. >Now she was toying with you
  749. >You never could understand the mentality behind this sort of banter, it was simply a waste of time
  750. “You can choose to exchange information or end this farce, I have no time to bother with unnecessary dialogue.”
  751. >Her smile only grows and she nods sharply
  752. >”Well, some may say differently but I am Tempest Shadow. Formerly of the Storm King's army, now...I suppose you could call me a contractor.”
  753. >How strange the names of these ponies
  754. “What do you mean by contractor?”
  755. >She cocks her head slightly, as though she doesn't believe you
  756. >”I work with the guards, but I am not a guard myself. They pay me a small fee to do their work around the Everfree, but they don't need to pay the extra that housing a garrison would cost.”
  757. >Ah, a mercenary then
  758. >In a rather small seeming place like this such a thing makes quite a lot of sense
  759. >Of course the Mechanicus would never stoop so low, people who would fight for money were unreliable but weaponized servitors would say no to nothing
  760. >Still, the Imperium made use of them occasionally when disposable bodies were needed
  761. “Fascinating, I had hardly thought your kind to understand the concept. The way your rulers talked, you haven't experienced large scale conflict in centuries.”
  762. >Tempest snorts and rolls her eyes, clearly not agreeing
  763. >”They would have you think that, but Equestria has a great deal of problems both internal and external. They simply do not require a large standing army to deal with.”
  764. >You cock your head to the side, this conversation was proving more interesting than you had expected
  765. >With a thought, you bend your mechadendrites behind you and sit on them
  766. >A needless show perhaps, but she had begun by inquiring about your technology
  767. >And judging by the slight widening of her eyes you had indeed caught her attention
  768. “Do go on. I believe I may be stranded on this planet for quite some time, and I find myself woefully ill-equipped with any sort of knowledge about it.”
  769. >She stares at you silently for a moment, then adopts a more relaxed pose
  770. >”Then perhaps an exchange of information is in order. A simple trade of question for question, what do you say?”
  771. >Ah, a being after your own facsimile heart
  772. “I find this to be acceptable. Now then, what sort of conflicts do you mean? An insurgency, or some kind of enemy amongst yourselves?”
  773. >She taps her chin and thinks a moment before speaking
  774. >”In a manner of speaking, yes. Though ponykind is united, we do share this land with other species. Changelings are likely the greatest threat, though they have not been seen in force for years. There are numerous monsters as well, and of course the occasional hostile neighbour.”
  775. >You nod, you were well experienced with monsters like the Tyranids
  776. >Changelings sounded like they could be trouble to the Imperium as a whole, though
  777. “And beings like this Storm King would be those 'hostile neighbours' you mentioned?”
  778. >She stays quiet again, her gaze pensive
  779. >”So this Mechanicus is a military organization? This machine does appear to be equipped for war.”
  780. >Dodging the question then?
  781. >So be it, she had answered your most immediate question at the very least
  782. >And at this point it wouldn't do to anger any of the ponies, not with Nox Aurea still out of commission
  783. “To a degree, it is. The Adeptus Mechanicus is the church of the Machine God, the Omnissiah. Unfortunately, we live in a universe of ignorant beings, xenos, and worse and so we have a militant branch. I myself am an adept of the Collegia Titanica, the crews of these great god-machines.”
  784. >Tempest's gaze returns the the Titan, full of wonder
  785. >”Just how many of these things are there?”
  786. >You smile and lean back
  787. “In all the Legios, there are thousands of Titans. But once there were tens of thousands that walked between stars. How far we have fallen.”
  788. >She looks at you with a gaze of pity
  789. >Maybe these ponies, or at least this one, could comprehend the tragedy of the Schism
  790. >”I cannot imagine even dragons being able to destroy this great constructs. What kind of tragedy could cause thousands of losses.”
  791. >She let's the silence that follows be for a long few minutes
  792. >You decide, at last, it has gone on long enough
  793. “You mentioned changelings before. They sound like a great threat, what manner of creature are they?”
  794. >Tempest let's out a quiet sigh before speaking
  795. >”They are equine in form, but covered in chitin like an insect. But their magic allows them to take on the form of other creatures, usually ponies but gryphons as well. They kidnap ponies and drain their emotions to feed.”
  796. >You barely contain the snort of derision
  797. >Feeding on emotions? Preposterous, these ponies weren't nearly so advanced in thinking if that was what they believed
  798. >Although, you had heard that daemons manifested because of emotions
  799. >If that was indeed true, these changelings could be tied to the ruinous powers, a dangerous threat indeed
  800. >Another long, pregnant silence carries on
  801. >Is the pony, Tempest, out of questions or is she merely thinking of more
  802. >Either way, you still had work to do today
  803. >Sorting the augments you had scavenged from your comrades, possibly even beginning to fabricate a shelter outside Nox Aurea
  804. >She was a war machine, not built for comfort
  805. >And so, you decide to ask one more question
  806. “So then, Tempest Shadow, you sought me out with some purpose in mind I am sure. You do not seem the studious type as Princess Sparkle is, so I doubt it was to settle your own curiosity. So what, may I ask, do you seek?”
  807. >She stares at you in heady silence, her gaze tumultuous
  808. >Her mouth opens several times before she manages to summon the words
  809. >”Adept Anonymous, can you give me back my horn?”
  810. >You blink in surprise
  811. >That certainly wasn't something you had been anticipating from this mare
  812. >You stand from your mechadendrite chair and come closer to her, looking closely at the remains of her broken horn
  813. >Her eyes widen, but she doesn't shy away one bit
  814. >A good thing, you're able to take some excellent picts of the detail of the interior of the appendage and the break itself
  815. >It's truly fascinating, more that she has lived so long with the horn in the state it was than the horn itself
  816. >You could pick out small portions that seemed to be nerves and strange striations in the bone that seemed to be nigh random
  817. >More investigation would be required later
  818. >”Are you quite finished?”
  819. >Ah yes, the subject of your examination was still alive
  820. >A few more picts, just to be sure, and you step away with a smile on your face
  821. >”So, can you or can you not?”
  822. >You put a hand to your chin, thinking for a long moment
  823. >In theory, there were several ways you could replace her lost horn
  824. >With cybernetic augments you could shape a new horn from metal and circuits, though there was a real possibility of implant rejection or that she wouldn't be able to channel her 'magic' through it
  825. >With a tissue sample there was potential to clone an entirely new horn, though you would need to craft far more complex facilities to do so
  826. >The actual nutrient vat for the organ growth was a simple enough mixture, but the equipment for ensure proper development was the more complicated part
  827. >With enough time and data though, fabrication would be entirely possible
  828. >But a more important thought muddles its way into your mind
  829. “It is possible I could, with enough time, create some kind of replacement for your lost horn. However, I must ask what exactly you might offer in exchange. I musn't waste resources with my current state of affairs.”
  830. >She shifts awkwardly, clearly taken off balance by this little demand
  831. >It was necessary, of course, you couldn't simply use resources that could be better allocated elsewhere if you couldn't get something in exchange
  832. >It takes her a few minutes before finally speaking up, her voice quiet and halting
  833. >”I suppose I could...set you up with some traders? I still have some connections, shall we say, outside Equestria. They could get you whatever you want, probably. I might even be able to get you something on good faith, at least at first.”
  834. >You scratch your chin, considering the suggestion
  835. >It was certainly an attractive deal, establishing trade connections would be necessary to acquire what you needed to make repairs and to fabricate equipment
  836. >But it was only a possibility, not a certainty
  837. >Still though, you couldn't pass this up even if there was only a slight chance of success
  838. “I believe this is acceptable, on the condition that if these routes are refused then you will get nothing as I gain nothing.”
  839. >She nods sharply, regaining the firmness she had previously
  840. >”Agreeable, I'll contact them straight away and let you know when I have a response.”
  841. >You smile and offer her a half-bow, happy with how quickly she understood reason
  842. “Very well, I pray for your success.”
  843. >With a quick turn, she canters off towards the village, leaving you pleased with yourself
  844. >Not three days and you were making inroads with the local populace, the clergy would be proud of your efforts
  845. >But there is still nagging doubt that tugs at the back of your mind
  846. >Even if you were able to secure all the raw materials, which would be quite the feat without a furnace to process them, would you truly wish to waste it on a single one of these ponies?
  847. >You would answer that question when it came you suppose, for now simply trying to solve the furnace issue
  848. >That was something, for some of the materials you needed required extremely high temperatures to dissociate from raw minerals
  849. >Nothing the arch-furnaces of a Forge World couldn't do, but you lacked even an archaic forge to start with
  850. >You puzzle over this as day drags into night within the bridge of Nox Aurea, sorting the various salvaged augmetics almost unconsciously
  851. >Could this magic be used to heat a forge to the intense heat you needed?
  852. >Possibly, you didn't know very much about it at all
  853. >That Twilight Sparkle had offered to help your research along, quite generous of her really
  854. >You decide to visit her that morning, not everyone could keep to a schedule of days with little to no sleep as you could
  855. >You finish sorting sometime around three hours past midnight, by Martian standard time, and decide to take a short respite
  856. >The little sleep you manage to get is of poor quality, but enough to revitalize you to some degree
  857. >A few hours after sunrise, you return to the great crystal castle Twilight resided in
  858. >Her small, lizard assistant answers your sharp rapping with some degree of apprehension
  859. >”Can I help you, sir?”
  860. >You give him your best smile and answer in what you're fairly sure is a friendly tone
  861. “Yes, I'd like to speak to Princess Twilight Sparkle, if I may.”
  862. >He nods and shuts the door
  863. >A few minutes later, a bedraggled looking purple pony opens the door and stares up at you bewildered
  864. >”Anonymous? What are you doing here at this time of day?”
  865. >As she yawns, a look of confusion crosses your face
  866. “It is four hours past sunrise, princess. I would have thought you risen long ago.”
  867. >She squints and looks past you at the sun now well on its journey to the West
  868. >”Oh, so it is. Sorry, I was up pretty late going over my notes on you. Can I help you with anything?”
  869. >You answer immediately, best to strike while the idea was still lodged in your mind
  870. “I have a number of questions about magic I would like to ask. Do you have the time for an exchange today?”
  871. >She nods slowly and pushes open the door before going back inside
  872. >”Yeah sure. Spike! Bring him to the small lab okay? I'm gonna go make so coffee.”
  873. >The lizard comes back out and gestures for you to follow it
  874. >He speaks up before leaving you alone in an archaic looking laboratory
  875. >”You want some coffee too? Or you know, whatever it is you drink?”
  876. >You give him your best winning smile and shake your head
  877. “I will be fine, thank you.”
  878. >He shrugs and leaves you alone, and you take the time to look around
  879. >It certainly looked like a picture of an old, Second Millennium chemist lab, vials of unknown substances in all manner of beakers
  880. >A small distiller stands off to the side, a pair of differently covered liquids at either end
  881. >And crystals, so many crystals!
  882. >Every one was emitting a strange electromagnetic waveform that you couldn't identify as anything know to the Mechanicus
  883. >Questions continued to pile up about this strange world, today would certainly be an enlightening session
  884. >Eventually, Twilight comes in levitating the substance she called 'coffee'
  885. >By its scent, you could tell it was just a caf-like substance like the Imperial Guard issued with their rations
  886. >Something useful for waking up those who retained the majority of their biological components
  887. >Your mostly artificial organs would simply process it too quickly to have an effect on your state
  888. >Still, you wouldn't cast judgment on a species too primitive to develop more efficient stimulants
  889. >She takes a seat at the table, sips her coffee, and smiles at you
  890. >”So then, what would you like to discuss today?”
  891. >You lean forward and rest your chin on an extended hand
  892. “Magic. The only thing I know of that is similar is dangerous, unstable, and vile energy as deadly to its users as it is to those it is cast again. But your kind uses something different, some new kind of energy manipulation none of my kind have encountered. And so, perhaps a quick overview is in order.”
  893. >Her gaze brightens and she sets the mug of hot coffee on the table
  894. >”That's my specialty! Hold on, I think I have a book in here somewhere with the basic theories...”
  895. >She digs around a squat bookshelf for some time, before triumphantly pulling a thick tome from the rest
  896. >”Aha, here we go! Clopernicus' Compendium of Might and Magic!”
  897. >You look on intrigued as she begins flipping through the yellowed pages before finally resting on one with a detailed breakdown of the planetary layers
  898. >”As near as he could tell, and mind you he performed extensive magical testing on a scale not seen since Starswirl, the core of Equus is crystalline in nature!”
  899. >She turns the book to you, and you read along as she carries on about the subject matter
  900. >”You see, some kinds of crystals like the ones you see around this lab resonate at a certain frequency that we unicorns evolved to manipulate. You see, when it interacts with small structures in the bone, it becomes energy that can be manipulated. The more of these structures in a horn, the more powerful the spellcaster. Earth ponies and pegasi have similar structures as well, in their musculature and wing bones respectively.”
  901. >She taps the diagram of the planet
  902. >”You can see here that the tests found the core of the planet resonated at the same frequency as these crystals. And so, it must be crystalline in nature, perhaps it's even the source of all magic as we know it! We're still not certain on how that resonate frequency specifically becomes energy, and not others. But the magical sciences are a rapidly growing field, we should have it figured out within a century!”
  903. >Well clearly she was both passionate and incredibly knowledgeable in this field
  904. >You made the right choice coming here today
  905. >She stands breathless, waiting for your next questions
  906. >Well you could hardly deny how eager she had been to speak about this
  907. >It was relieving, you had thought she may act like one of the clergy and be stingy with what she knew
  908. >Instead she was happy to answer your questions, and even better hadn't pried answers from you either
  909. “Fascinating, I wonder if this world belonged to the Eldar at some point...”
  910. >She looks at you quizzically
  911. >”What's an Eldar?”
  912. >You wave away the question, not wanting to get into even more xeno-talk without getting to the core of your questions
  913. “In due time, princess. I still have more questions about magic, but after that I'll be happy to discuss myriad species.”
  914. >She agrees easily, to your surprise, and folds her forelimbs over in waiting
  915. “So then, I've seen levitation magic to be sure. What else can it do?”
  916. >She brightens once more, clearly ecstatic to extol the abilities of magic
  917. >”Well the basic stuff is just telekinesis and similar things like barrier projection. Then there's conjuring of the basic elements like water and fire and the like. And then we have more advanced magic like alchemy, teleportation, high level illusion spells, along with forbidden stuff like mind control.”
  918. >You perk up at the mention of teleportation
  919. >Though it was not the focus of your inquiries, you cannot help but be drawn into speaking of it
  920. “You said teleportation, yes? How does such magic work?”
  921. >Her smile grows and she launches into another explanation
  922. >”Well you see, it's a simple matter of triangulation via the resonance of ley lines below the surface! The reason it's so advanced is the amount of complexity needed for both a precise and efficient spell is immense. And that complex spells needs to be channeled correctly, otherwise you could end up way above the ground!”
  923. >The way she talked about it, she had clearly been a student of such magic
  924. >Incredible, what took a significant reactor and resulted in a one in eighty-seven chance of dissociation for you was accomplished by a single spellcaster
  925. >It was growing more difficult to think of these ponies as mere primitives in need of uplifting
  926. >Clearly they understood, at least on a small scale, how the world worked and bent it to their wills
  927. >Yes, they were worthy indeed
  928. “That's quite impressive, I must say. It took us thousands of years to master the art without your magic. Even so, it isn't a perfect science.”
  929. >She offers a sympathetic smile
  930. >”It took even the greatest magicians decades to accomplish basic teleportation. Only a few unicorn masters can really do it with any consistency, even today.”
  931. >She shrugs her withers
  932. >”We're working on making things easier, but until then it'll just be the select few.”
  933. >You nod your head and decide to return to your first questions, curiosity satisfied
  934. “So, I imagine ponykind has forges for industry and refining yes?”
  935. >She cocks her head and gives you an odd look
  936. >”Well...yes of course we do. The big ones are in Baltimare and outside Manehattan, they forge most of our iron and steel. There's a couple smaller ones for precious metals in Canterlot and other cities, but we're not overly industrialized.”
  937. >You scratch your chin thoughtfully
  938. “And this magically summoned fire, does it burn hotter than a foundry? Or could you, perhaps, use magic to heat the forges hotter than usual?”
  939. >She taps a hoof against her chin, looking down pensively
  940. >”I...don't really know. I'm not an industrialist, but I imagine it's a possibility. I could send a letter out for some expert help to get you a real answer, though.”
  941. >You offer her a smile of gratitude
  942. “That would be incredibly helpful, Twilight. You see, for many of the repairs Nox Aurea requires certain metals that are nigh impossible to dissociate at lower temperatures. I'm sure you as much as I wish to see her live once more.”
  943. >She traces her hoof in a circle on the table, looking nervous
  944. >”Well...I don't really know if we want a war-machine walking around per se. The princesses may have some issues with that.”
  945. >You hold up your hands to try and placate her
  946. “You misunderstand, Twilight. I merely wish to salve the wounds of the great engine. I have great doubts that she will ever have enough power to walk again, but I must ease her suffering.”
  947. >She stares at you, confused once again
  948. >”You talk about it like it's alive. Is this like the machine spirits you were talking about yesterday?”
  949. >You nod your head
  950. “In a way. You mentioned yesterday your own rulers are thousands of years old? The machine spirit of Nox Aurea has been fighting for two millennia, and she is the youngest in the Legio. The oldest god-machine in Venatrix is Veteris Bellum, who has been at war for more than ten-thousand years.”
  951. >Her eyes widen and she stands up on her chair
  952. >”Ten-thousand...are you serious? That's amazing!”
  953. >You nod solemnly
  954. “Indeed, so you can understand both my veneration and desire to repair even a lesser engine.”
  955. >Twilight nods sheepishly and offers a smile
  956. >”Yeah, I think I do. Well I guess it's okay to fix her, as long as you don't go marching around and blowing up ponies.”
  957. >You chuckle at the idea, no Titan legion would be ever be deployed to such a backwater as this
  958. >A squad of Skitarii would be more than enough to take on whatever this world could offer
  959. “I promise, no war-walking. I don't even have the required training to pilot the god-machine, much less the crew.”
  960. >She bobs her head, looking a bit more relaxed
  961. >The air stays silent for a moment, but Twilight cannot hold back her questions for long
  962. >”So what's an Eldar? You mentioned them earlier when we were talking about the planet, do they have magic like us?”
  963. >You lean back in the chair, your expression hardening
  964. “They are another species that believes they ought to have dominion over the stars. They are incredibly old as far as we can tell, older even than the Imperium of Man and possibly mankind itself. Every last one is a psyker, a magic user as you might say, but wielding a different sort of sorcery than what you do.”
  965. >Twilight has taken to scribbling your words on her ever-present notebook
  966. >But you continue, as she has yet to interrupt you
  967. “Many of their constructs are made of wraithbone, an odd substance that seems organic in nature but forms in crystalline structures. They shape it with a combination of sonic vibration and psyker energies into whatever they need, from tools, to weapons, to constructs that are a mockery of our own god-machines.”
  968. >Her ears perk and she leans forward
  969. >”They have machines this big too? Incredible, and you say they grow them? They must have astounding industry.”
  970. >Your mouth twitches is annoyance, but you keep the distaste at the praise of xenos from showing on your face
  971. “I would not know, they wage wars against man and are responsible for the deaths of thousands every day.”
  972. >Twilight's ears splay and press against her head
  973. >”Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know, I just thought...”
  974. >You offer a weak smile and shake your head
  975. “Don't worry, Twilight. As you said, you didn't know. Anyway, since you mentioned this planets core was crystalline I thought it could be related. But with the way you describe its resonance, perhaps not. I would need a surveyor team to be sure and I have my doubts any will be by soon.”
  976. >She chuckles quietly
  977. >”I guess you're right. Well, I do have duties to attend to unfortunately. I'll be sure to get a letter off to somepony that works in industry for answers. Until then, I'll see you out. Maybe you could visit the other ponies around town, I'm sure they're more than a little curious about you.”
  978. >You stand from your place at the table, nodding your head slightly
  979. “Thank you very much for your time, Twilight. Good day.”
  980. >She waves goodbye as you leave the castle, letting you alone in the warm afternoon
  981. >Maybe going into town wasn't such a bad idea
  982. >As it turned out, going into town was an excellent suggestion
  983. >A trip through their market had proven fruitful, a number of ponies had bestowed gifts or perhaps offerings
  984. >You didn't know whether they wanted to curry favour or were simply being good hosts
  985. >A passerby, a white unicorn with a royal purple mane, had told you that some ponies simply gave gifts away to such 'exotic beings' as yourself
  986. >It mattered little to you, you had simply thanked them and moved on
  987. >A number of the trinkets were quite valuable, even in your stranded state
  988. >An amulet that a pony that called himself Diamond Dusk told you it carried special properties
  989. >Though you had your doubts at first, a more in depth analysis had revealed traces of osmium in the metal, and the stone at the center was utterly flawless
  990. >Even the artificial gems from holy Mars did not match the perfection of this single ruby
  991. >It would make a fine focusing lens should you need to make a replacement for any you had, and to learn that they had osmium at all was a blessing from the Omnissiah
  992. >The sheer amount of electrical damage on Nox Aurea had made you sick, but being able to replace many of the contacts would be a significant step on the road to repair
  993. >Besides that, when they had learned that you would be running low on rations, they had practically heaped all manner of food on you
  994. >It was touching, if a mite disturbing, how quickly they were welcoming you in as one of their own
  995. >Though you were of no threat to them, if they did this same thing with others of even your own brotherhood there would be problems
  996. >Perhaps you could speak with Twilight, or better yet their rulers, about this sort of oversight
  997. >Certainly, you may not gain any ground but how could they think of you looking out for them as a bad thing?
  998. >If nothing else, it would further endear them to you and make their conversion that much easier
  999. >Everyone seemed cheerful as well, and the atmosphere of the market was lively
  1000. >After a while, you decided to rest in the shade of a large oak tree in the market square and simply observe
  1001. >This way you could gather valuable information about their social nuances and culture to better communicate with them
  1002. >That was your plan at least
  1003. >Unfortunately for you, a familiar blue pegasus has come to rest beside you
  1004. >You can feel the weight of her questions, almost literally, as she sits rigid and silent
  1005. “I believe you are capable of speech, what is it you wish to ask?”
  1006. >That came out harsher than you had meant and the pegasus cringes back
  1007. >However, it does succeed in getting her to speak
  1008. >”W-well, I was just wondering if it was true that you're from another world.”
  1009. >Her voice is soft and timid, it reminds you of yourself when you had been but a child not even initiated into the cult
  1010. >You smile at the thought and nod
  1011. “That's correct, my world is far away beyond all you can conceive.”
  1012. >Her bright blue eyes widen and she lets out a little noise of amazement
  1013. “So what is your name, little pegasus?”
  1014. >Her jaw falls and she starts to stammer out an answer
  1015. >”M-my name is uh...I'm uh, I'm Gale Force! I was the one who found you!”
  1016. >Ah, that as where you recognized her from
  1017. >She had been accompanying Twilight on her first foray to see Nox Aurea, and in turn you
  1018. >Well, you suppose this would be good practice socializing with a pony other than royalty
  1019. “My name is Anonymous. I apologize for frightening the two of you at first, my world is a dangerous one and caution tends to override reason when it comes to the unknown.”
  1020. >She shrugs with her wings, a surprisingly human gesture despite her anatomy
  1021. >”Don't worry about it, you didn't attack us or anything. We just got a little scared.”
  1022. >Gale looks more closely at the harness your mechadendrites were attached to and the various tools on it
  1023. >”So what's all of that for? Looks really cool.”
  1024. >The mechanical appendages are stored in their recesses now, but there are all manner of devices still visible
  1025. >Well, what harm could come from speaking about technology already visible?
  1026. “Most of these are tools for working on various machines, along with sensors and other assorted things. Quite basic really, just what is required to do my job.”
  1027. >She nods her head, eyes wide
  1028. >”So what exactly did you do, before you came here I mean.”
  1029. >You lean back against the tree and close your eyes, letting your memories drift back
  1030. “Well, I was born on the Forge World of Orestes. When I was a child, I was given as an offering to the Mechanicus during the Defence of Orestes. I no longer remember my parents, and it is likely they no longer remember me. That war did not last long, but I was kept sequestered in the great forges.”
  1031. >Gale's ears fall flat against her head and she looks appalled
  1032. >”That's terrible! Why would your parents do such a thing?”
  1033. >Ah, you had almost how purely biological beings clung to their family units
  1034. >For you, the only brotherhood was the Mechanicus now
  1035. “There was a call for people to join the militia and clergy, my parents were likely poor and too old to undergo full initiation into the cult, but I was not. Perhaps they felt it was their duty to give something, perhaps they simply could not afford to have a child. It is unlikely I will ever learn of the reason why, but it matters little. I am an Adept of the Cult Mechanicus, servant of the Omnissiah, I know my purpose.”
  1036. >Gale seems taken aback by how you talked about it
  1037. >It must seem cold, but it was the only way to view such things rationally
  1038. >When she doesn't speak, you continue
  1039. “My duties were, at first, undergoing fabricator training. I was to work on crafting the holy god-machines, forging their great systems and blessed chassis. However the needs of the Mechanicus came first and, when it was discovered I had potential to become crew, my path was changed. So I began my training to serve aboard the Titans, and began crewing under a senior Techpriest in Nox Aurea. Now here I am.”
  1040. >You stare off in the direction of the resting Titan
  1041. “My duty now is to heal her, to revive her. Not just because I am her crew, not even because it is my holy task. But because Nox Aurea is in pain, and though I am no Biologis, I must heal her.”
  1042. >Gale's brow furrows and she nods
  1043. >”I get it, I really do. Can I...can I come see her again? The Titan I mean.”
  1044. >You smile and rise from the grass
  1045. >A xeno empathizing with you, what a strange thing
  1046. >However, even if she wasn't able to help with Nox Aurea, she could garner goodwill with the residents around her
  1047. >Perhaps you might even be able to begin enlightening them sooner rather than later
  1048. “Of course, let us be on our way.”
  1049. >Up close, Anon's Nox Aurea was amazing!
  1050. >It was larger than you had realized, yet incredibly cramped inside even for you
  1051. >There were strange smells throughout it, oily and heavy, all artificial as though it was some kind of factory
  1052. >Not like the weather factory in Cloudsdale though, this was something else entirely
  1053. >But Anon seemed more than open to talking about it
  1054. “So what's this for, a seat for someone?”
  1055. \>You point your hoof at a thronelike seat with all manner of cables coming out of it
  1056. >He smiles and rests a hand on the armrest
  1057. >”This, Ms. Gale, is the command throne. This is where one of two minds of the god machine would be in battle, the Princeps.”
  1058. >You nod your head, remembering things he had spoken about earlier
  1059. “The other one is that machine spirit, right?”
  1060. >Anon's smile grows and he nods his head
  1061. >”Very good, Ms. Gale. Yes, the holy machine spirit is the second mind. However, it is also the very soul of the Titan herself.”
  1062. >You beam at the praise and bob your head affirmatively
  1063. “Right, I remember! So if that's the command throne...then these must be where the others sit?”
  1064. >Again, Anon confirms it
  1065. >”Correct, these are the crew pits. The Moderati would assist with steering and balance, along with weapon and energy management. You're catching onto these concepts quite quickly, much faster than anyone without the ability to inload. Follow me now.”
  1066. >You trot after him, all smiles
  1067. >You're not entirely sure how or why, but everything he's been talking about has absorbed almost immediately
  1068. >Sure you didn't totally understand the concepts, they were really far off from anything that ponykind had
  1069. >Still, the actual parts and places just seemed to stick in your head
  1070. >Maybe THIS was what you were supposed to do?
  1071. >Your cutie mark of two interlocked, cloud shaped gears interlocked had caused some confusion at first
  1072. >After all, you had got it when going through a day at the weather factory with your father
  1073. >It had always been assumed it was for weather mechanics
  1074. >And of course, you had certainly done well when working on weather elsewise you'd never have made a weather team
  1075. >But there was something deep inside that felt a longing for this alien machine, it touched you in a way you couldn't explain
  1076. >It was bizarre and intoxicating, and you could help but follow him and hope for more
  1077. >He stops and gestures to a dizzying array of dials and panels, all showing a lack of any information
  1078. >”This is where myself and my mentor sat. Here we would appease the great engine, feed her core, and ensure the stability of power output. We were the heart that ensured blood would give life to the body other Nox Aurea, strength to her limbs, and the power to annihilate her enemies.”
  1079. >You stare at the panels with wide eyes
  1080. >It was hard to imagine any kind of conflict that would need a machine this massive to win
  1081. >The more he shows you, the more you believe this thing is a miracle more than just another machine
  1082. >There was something about it, a feeling in your heart you couldn't explain
  1083. >Despite the implicit threat of violence, the machine reek, the foreign brass and iron of Nox Aurea, it had grabbed your attention like nothing else
  1084. >More than that, it had got you to wondering just what else technology could accomplish
  1085. >Yes trains were fine things and radios were great, but clearly there was so much further things could be pushed
  1086. >And what if magic was applied to it all?
  1087. >You were no unicorn, but if magic could make amazing things like scrying maps and all sorts of incredibly powerful artifacts, why could it not be applied to technological stuff as well?
  1088. >You'd definitely be talking to Princess Twilight about this
  1089. >It could thrust Equestria into a new golden era of advancement!
  1090. >”Ms. Gale?”
  1091. >Anon's voice snaps you back to the present
  1092. >He's looking down at you with concern, or something like it
  1093. >You look away, embarrassed about spacing out in the middle of him talking
  1094. “Sorry, it's just all this is so amazing! Just imagine what Equestria could be if we could adopt this technology! I don't get the principles, but I'm sure I could learn them.”
  1095. >Your wings twitch excitedly as you talk about it
  1096. “And then we could combine your technology with our magic, imagine how incredible that could be! Nox Aurea may even walk again with it!”
  1097. >He looks like he's considering it
  1098. >Slowly, he sits on the cold floor of the deck
  1099. >”Join me, won't you?”
  1100. >He gestures in front of him and you sit as bidden
  1101. >He must want to discuss it properly!
  1102. >Anon stays silent for quite some time, and when he eventually speaks it's in a somber tone
  1103. >”Let me tell you about the beginning Old Night.”
  1104. >You cock your head to the side at the grim pronouncement
  1105. >”Fifteen thousand years past, mankind had expanded across the stars. The whole of the galaxy was within our grasp, our technology was at its pinnacle. We wanted for nothing, we created iron beings for tasks we thought below us, and our troves of knowledge rivaled the entire history of all in the galaxy.”
  1106. >He smiles at the thought of it, as do you
  1107. >But only for a moment, his eyes flicker and the smile disappears
  1108. >”We were arrogant though, we thought ourselves greater than gods and gods must create. So we gave our machines sentience without a soul, the ability to think as man does but with no understanding of their gift.”
  1109. >He looks down at the floor and you see a slight twitch in his fingers
  1110. >”Our creations rebelled against us, like the angels in the ancient Judite fables rose up against their own creator. The Men of Iron waged relentless war on mankind, they turned our other machines against us. Foundries ran wild and destroyed their workers or gave birth to more corrupt machines. Great reactors overloaded and melted down, burning and irradiating swathes of land and making them fallow.”
  1111. >Your jaw drops at the tale of destruction
  1112. >Such devastation was unimaginable, and yet he goes on
  1113. >”They felt they were superior and at every turn sought to exterminate us. Worlds burned and stars died, but after a devastating war we destroyed every last one of them. To this day, the creation or even research of such Abominable Intelligence, the soulless sentience, is forbidden.”
  1114. >His emerald gaze focuses on you, locking you in place
  1115. >”What is your conclusion from this story?”
  1116. >You freeze up at the question
  1117. >You hadn't expected there to be a test at the end of this!
  1118. >Okay this was fine, no need to panic, you just had to get your answer right
  1119. >So it was obviously a warning tale
  1120. >Wait, he never mentioned any kind of failsafe on the Men of Iron or anything like that
  1121. >Was that it?
  1122. >'Always make plans for something something', that sounded right
  1123. “Um, always have an emergency stop button just in case?”
  1124. >There's a long moment of uncomfortable silence
  1125. >Then Anon lets out a quiet, strange sounding laugh
  1126. >You blush, clearly it wasn't the right answer
  1127. >”Not quite, Ms. Gale. There were failsafes in place, but they well...failed. No, the point of the story is about the wonders and dangers of technology. Though your enthusiasm is a wonderful trait and the blessed strength of the machine cannot be denied; advancement without caution leads only to downfall. We must tread lightly and slowly along the path of the machine, even as we emulate the glorious steel.”
  1128. >You nod your head, understanding finally
  1129. >Well, mostly
  1130. >You don't know what the 'path of the machine' is, but the warning is clear now
  1131. “That makes sense, I think I get it now.”
  1132. >He leans forward, steeping his fingers in front of him
  1133. >”Perhaps now you know, but are you sure you understand it entirely?”
  1134. >You look down at the floor, tracing one hoof in a circle idly
  1135. “Well...maybe not entirely. But I kinda understand what you mean about the dangers of going too fast.”
  1136. >He nods his head and leans back, a slight smile touching his lips
  1137. >”While learning some of the lesson is admirable, you must strive always to understand completely.”
  1138. >You nod solemnly, that in itself was a good lesson
  1139. >Anon lets out an overdramatic sigh and his smile grows
  1140. >”I suppose I ought to be sure of that. Enthusiasm without discipline is dangerous after all.”
  1141. >You cock your head as he extends a hand to you
  1142. >”So then, join me and I shall be your mentor. What say you?”
  1143. >Wait what?
  1144. “Wait what?”
  1145. >Did he just offer to teach you about his technology?
  1146. >What's more, to personally take you under his wing as a student
  1147. >Is it weird?
  1148. >Is it weirder that you're genuinely considering it?
  1149. >Anon must notice your hesitation and he lays a cold, steel hand on you gently
  1150. >”I understand it's a great decision, one you might not make lightly. Please allow me to reassure you, should you accept you will not be removed from your society. You would, of course, come when you are available to learn.”
  1151. >He pauses a moment, allowing his words to sink in before continuing
  1152. >”Of course I would ask things of you in return. Nothing so garish as tribute, merely small favours and perhaps some additional lessons in the ways of your society. While Princess Twilight is excellent as discussing the theory, I have a feeling she has less practical experience than most ponies do.”
  1153. >You let out a giggle
  1154. >He had nailed that one pretty easy
  1155. “I mean, I guess that does sound really good. But what exactly could I learn? Sure I can memorize parts and stuff well, but I don't even understand anything near the most basic principles this stuff works on. Besides, it's not like I'm some kind of super genius like the princess, why me?”
  1156. >Anon takes his hand back and taps his chin contemplatively
  1157. >You get the feeling he's thinking more of how to word it than the reasons themselves
  1158. >Eventually, he does respond
  1159. >”I believe you could learn a great deal, Ms. Gale. Without inloading it might take a human being a week to memorize the parts that you have already learned, let alone to puzzle out their functions for themselves. The principles are relatively simple, so long as we do not get too far in depth. Truly, you do not need to understand much of what makes the engine work but some of the more simple mechanical systems.”
  1160. >His eyes defocus as he stares past you at the blank screens lining the wall
  1161. >”As for why...the princess is a fine being to discuss the principles that underpin the universe but I feel that she sees them as mere rules rather than the holy mysteries they are. You are free of bias towards them, and therefore may still be enlightened. Besides that, she is royalty and surely has duties to attend that may conflict with any sort of firm schedule.”
  1162. >That made a lot of sense actually
  1163. >Outside the whole 'holy' thing, at least
  1164. >Weren't the laws of the universe just some kind of unwritten rules that stuff had to live by?
  1165. >Then again, maybe he knew better what with all this crazy technology
  1166. “So I just have to do favours sometimes and help you practice socializing? That sounds a bit too good to be true.”
  1167. >He narrows his eyes at your statement, cocking his head to the side
  1168. >In your defense it really was
  1169. >Just talk and run errands and in return you got to learn how everything here worked?
  1170. >Your mother didn't raise a fool, or at least not a sucker
  1171. >After a moment of staring at you, his gaze softens and he hangs his head
  1172. >With a sigh, he speaks in a drab tone
  1173. >”I must admit it isn't merely to learn how to socialize. While I appreciate the efforts of the princess, I lack a true peer. Her social status does not allow me to hold discussions as I would with another of the clergy and further she may be forced into a position of opposition to me.”
  1174. >Your ears perk up
  1175. >Did he just say he wanted a friend?
  1176. >Well not directly at least, but in his own way that's what it sounded like
  1177. >However, he just brought up a new concern
  1178. “What do you mean, 'forced into opposition'?”
  1179. >Anon's fingers make an odd ticking noise as he clenches his fists
  1180. >”It would seem the rulers of this country would rather not see Nox Aurea live once again. Though I assured Princess Twilight that I would not bring her walking to war, I believe her superiors may force her to move against any actions I take to revive the god-machine.”
  1181. >You furrow your brows at the suggestion
  1182. “I don't think they'd do that. They're probably just scared because they don't understand all this.”
  1183. >Anon nods
  1184. >”It could very well be, but the possibility is enough to put a gulf between myself and Princess Twilight on a social level. And though the inhabitants of this village are friendly, I believe they fear me all the same.”
  1185. >He locks his emerald green eyes with your own as he continues
  1186. >”You are different. Without so much as a scrap of hesitation you came aboard Nox Aurea. Besides our first encounter, you have shown none of the fear that so often overrides curiousity. Though you are cautious by your actions you have shown your dedication to the Path of Knowledge, despite not understanding what that may be”
  1187. >He smiles and leans forward, his eyes sparkling
  1188. >”Within you, I see aspects that the Mechanicus so jealously seeks in it members. But more than that, I see the capacity for a peer like no other; in time indeed a friend.”
  1189. >Again, Anon holds out his hand to you, his voice holding more warmth than you've heard from him before
  1190. >”And so, I again ask you to join me.”
  1191. >You stare at his hand, his words sinking in
  1192. >Despite his alien appearance and miraculous technology he was lonely
  1193. >What's more he wasn't just doing this on a whim, it was clear that this was something he had thought about
  1194. >You consider your own apprehension about moving to a new town, the troubles of finding new friends
  1195. >It would be even worse for him, not even from this world, let alone simply not being a pony
  1196. >Well, it wasn't like you really knew anyone around here anyway so you were in much the same boat
  1197. >You reach out and place your hoof in his hand
  1198. “I can't make any big promises, but I can't pass up an opportunity like this either. I'm in.”
  1199. >He shakes your hoof, beaming with a smile that has you grinning as well
  1200. “So where do we begin?”
  1201. >He rises and brushes off his crimson robes
  1202. >”I suppose we ought to start with the basics.”
  1203. >You could scarcely believe two months had passed since your unfortunate encounter with the Warp had brought you to a strange land filled with sapient and sentient ponies
  1204. >Though your augmented mind automatically kept time via the tracking of isotopic decay, you had been occupied with other matters
  1205. >The young pegasus Gale Force has been absorbing your lessons at a rate far beyond that of the average adept
  1206. >After thorough observation and several lengthy conversations with Princess Twilight, you had determined it was not though any kind of augmentation, mechanical or otherwise
  1207. >This finding had made her pace of learning nigh miraculous
  1208. >Twilight had suggested an alternative explanation, that what you were teaching her was tied into her 'special talent' as it was called
  1209. >A strange development unique to ponies, at adolescence they became innately specialized in one skill or another
  1210. >It meant a great number of highly skilled specialists, but seemed to have stunted their technological development
  1211. >Still, it made her progress easier and allowed her to discuss a number of subjects on near parity with yourself
  1212. >In fact, you were at the point that the option of cerebro-augmentation was a serious option
  1213. >Though you lacked the training for such implants, finding data on the procedure should not be too difficult
  1214. >An odd habit of the Legio Venatrix was to bring large stores of data aboard their Titans, stemming from a superstition that it was the lifeblood of the Omnissiah and thus they would be protected
  1215. >Rubbish of course, but you had little say in the traditions of a Titan legion
  1216. >But that brought you to the larger problems of the implantations
  1217. >Biology and, of course, other ponies
  1218. >”Absolutely not, Anonymous! Putting metal and machines inside a pony is just crazy!”
  1219. >You can feel your hands grips the arms of your chair tighter at her blunt refusal
  1220. >She didn't even understand what you were proposing and already rejecting it?
  1221. >You'd thought better of her, but clearly you were wrong
  1222. “Princess I don't believe you understand. These augmentations will both assist Adept Gale in learning new concepts as well as allowing her to interface with the various machines at my camp. This is in fact the only way for anyone, pony or otherwise, to interface properly. Furthermore, it will exponentially improve her capacity for multitasking and overall calculation. It is without a doubt an improvement without equal.”
  1223. >Twilight rubs her forehead with a hoof, evidently aggravated
  1224. >”You just don't get it. It just isn't natural for ponies and machines to go together like that. Ponies are natural creatures and well, machines just aren't.”
  1225. >You barely hold back a scoff at the sentiment
  1226. “Your pardon princess, but given some of the equipment I've seen in your laboratories that hardly seems like any sort of argument to make. Besides that, I have seen a number of ponies using eyeglasses and canes, both different forms of machines for either assistance or enhancement.”
  1227. >Twilight lets out a long sigh
  1228. >”That's not the same and you know it. Besides, we already know implantation usually results in rejection. It's dangerous and we cannot approve it.”
  1229. >The 'we' she refers to grimaces at her dragging him into it
  1230. >You had requested a Biologis for this meeting and Twilight had obliged
  1231. >This one was apparently one of the best in his field, surely he would be able to confirm what your findings had already told you
  1232. >But to your surprise, Gale is the one to speak up
  1233. >”Princess Twilight, we both know that isn't true. There have been experiments as of late with several different materials for use in prosthesis and several have undergone osseointegration on ponies. I believe you were involved in one of those experiments, Dr. Smile. Perhaps you might elaborate further?”
  1234. >Twilight glares at her, but the doctor seems quite happy to speak up
  1235. >”You're well informed, Ms. Gale. Yes we have had some success with finding bioinert materials and indeed with some integration. However, we have yet to find whether it is only a select few ponies or the general population. In time, the sample size will increase, but until then I cannot say for certain.”
  1236. >You smile and flip through an extensive sheaf of notes in front of you
  1237. “Perhaps I might offer some assistance in that regard, doctor. I have here a gene trace from Adept Gale's samples and a few other participants as well.”
  1238. >You push the papers toward the doctor and Twilight turns her glare on you
  1239. >”Gene tracing?”
  1240. >Ah, this world was no doubt pre-DNA as well
  1241. >Quite an oversight on your part
  1242. “My apologies princess, mankind has developed technology to trace the lineage of not just humans but other species. My research has shown that ponies descend from an ancient species of equine from Terra. With that in mind, I believe I already posses the information on biocompatible materials for any sort of implantation.”
  1243. >Twilight seems stunned, but the doctor counters immediately
  1244. >His tone suggests more curiosity than opposition this time
  1245. >”And what of brain structure? Not even our most gifted neurologists or magicians entirely understand exactly how the brain of a pony works.”
  1246. >Your smile widens as you slide over a second sheaf of notes
  1247. “Perhaps you may not have, but neurological mapping is yet another task the blessed machine has helped mankind accomplish. These only represent a basic scan I can do with the equipment I have available to me, but in time I will be able to fabricate far superior machines to provide further detail.”
  1248. >The doctor gapes as he reads the notes and Twilight takes the previous set from him
  1249. >Both finish and stare at you, one with amazement the other with suspicion
  1250. >”By Celestia, how did you manage this?”
  1251. >You shrug, allowing yourself to slouch in the chair
  1252. “I was trained as a fabricatus for ten years, there is little that I cannot build. As I said, this was a rather recent development; I have not had the time for more in depth scans.”
  1253. >The doctor shakes his head and taps the paper
  1254. >”No, I mean this mapping. It's far more accurate than anything I've seen before, even magic. What method could you have possibly used for this?”
  1255. >You gesture to Gale who obligingly removes her hood, and Dr. Smile to gasp
  1256. >A number of bare patches line her scalp, each with small abrasions from the probes you had fastened there
  1257. “As you can see, I used a variant of an electroencephalograph and had her perform a number of regular tasks as well as some highly specific actions. By measuring the output at various points I was capable of creating the highly basic map you see in those notes. In time, perhaps, I will find the time to acquire the materials to create a magneto-resonating imager for an in depth study.”
  1258. >Twilight looks appalled, but Gale jumps in hastily to reassure her
  1259. >”Princess, let me assure you this was entirely voluntary. What's more, despite the ugly look, there is no lasting damage.”
  1260. >You must applaud her for taking the clear complaint straight out from under the princess
  1261. >Once again you step in to address the doctor
  1262. “As I said, you may come to the camp and I can show the machine to you. Perhaps I can even give you a demonstration, should Adept Gale be willing.”
  1263. >Though Twilight is clearly disgusted by your methods, she cannot hide her curiosity
  1264. >Meanwhile the doctor doesn't even bother hiding his naked desire to learn of such a basic diagnosis tool
  1265. >Perhaps doctors here were more generalized than the biologis' you had grown used to dealing with, more like the Apothecaries the Astartes employed
  1266. >You feel a pulse at the base of your neck, someone was trying to communicate with you
  1267. >There was only one pony you had entrusted with such a device, and so you rise from the table
  1268. “Please feel free to review the notes I've given you both and do excuse me. I have matters at my camp that need tending to. Do not hesitate to contact me in order to review what we have gone over today. Blessings of the Omnissiah on you.”
  1269. >You hear a chair clatter as you and Gale turn to leave the room
  1270. >”Wait just a second, we're not done here! Even with all this you can't possibly be able to just shove machines inside a pony and expect them to work! How do you know what you're doing?”
  1271. >You let out a quiet sigh, becoming annoyed with her stubborn refusal of advancement
  1272. “Princess, I have run one-hundred forty-two implantation simulations and one actual. I am fully prepared to uplift Adept Gale and your obstinacy has become an annoyance.”
  1273. >You hear a sharp intake of breath and you are roughly spun around
  1274. >Twilight still stands on her side of the table, it must have been her magic
  1275. >”What do you mean 'one actual', just what have you been doing?”
  1276. >For an instant, you allow your anger to get the better of you and your irises pulse a red warning that reflects in her eyes
  1277. >It's clear she knows a line has been crossed, her body language now fearful
  1278. >You allow the anger to fade away before responding, your tone cold
  1279. “You may come by and examine my camp, princess. Until you bother to make time for such a simple task, do not dare attempt to judge my methods.”
  1280. >Without waiting for her response, you leave the room with Gale following behind you
  1281. >As you walk through the countryside on your way back to Nox Aurea, Gale speaks up
  1282. >”Anonymous, I know it's not my place to criticize but why did you not simply explain your cloning to them? Surely they would have been okay with that.”
  1283. >You glance at your adept, her eyes wide and full of hope
  1284. >There was a time you felt much the same, but your expectations had long been tempered by experience
  1285. “You saw them, Gale, they did not even understand simple gene tracing. How could they grasp the concept of extraction, isolation, and replication without the very concept of genetics? No, I will show them in time but mere words will not sway them.”
  1286. >Gale nods and the remainder of the trip is spent in relative silence
  1287. >As you approach your camp however, a dim sound grows ever louder
  1288. >Before you crest the last hill, you know immediately what it is and who had contacted you
  1289. >A number of ponies come into view at the perimeter of your camp, many holding signs and all shouting angrily
  1290. >You rub the bridge of your nose, of course there was a protest
  1291. >Though most ponies had been happy to welcome you, many more had become resentful as you had established the area around Nox Aurea
  1292. >Supposedly they objected to your 'tainting the natural area' and 'exploiting Equestrian resources' with your constructions
  1293. >It didn't matter that the material was legally purchased or that you had been granted leave to build in the immediate area to them
  1294. >Of course, it was fear that drove them on, not some bruised sense of justice
  1295. >Fear of the advancement that was upon them, fear of the strange being that had appeared from nothing
  1296. >Perhaps rational once, now it was a nuisance
  1297. >Fortunately, none have dared trespass inside the camp itself and the reason for that makes itself known at last
  1298. >”If I was able to take down the princesses I'll have no trouble taking you down. Now step back!”
  1299. >The aggressive words are accompanied by an unstable current of magic energy and the culprit comes into view
  1300. >Tempest Shadow
  1301. --
  1302. >She smiles at the sight of you and her broken horn lets off a large teal spark the strikes at the hooves of one of the protesters
  1303. >That, coupled by your appearance is enough to make him run off
  1304. >It doesn't take long for the others to follow, in ones and two leaving the perimeter and returning to their lives
  1305. >Tempest approaches you and Gale with a grin on her face
  1306. >”Area secure sir. Thanks for your timely appearance, they were getting rowdy. Not sure I could have handled so many.”
  1307. >You offer her a smile and walk with her into the camp
  1308. “I have faith in you, Tempest. I have no doubt they would have fallen before you, despite your perceived weakness.”
  1309. >She inclines her head as she follows beside you
  1310. >”Perhaps so, but I would still be far more comfortable if I had my horn back.”
  1311. >You nod, it was undeniable that Tempest lacked more fine control over her magic
  1312. >However, she was more than capable of doing what you wished of her, that is guarding your camp against intruders
  1313. >She received a share of profits made from the trading routes she had helped you establish with her contacts in exchange
  1314. >Still, her horn remained a point of contention between you two
  1315. >She feared that you would simply never give it back as you had said you could, you feared that without that reason she would leave abruptly
  1316. >So for now, it was an impasse
  1317. >Soon you arrive at your main laboratory at the foot of Nox Aurea
  1318. >Inside it is dim, lit by a pair of lonely lanterns and the electrics of several machines
  1319. >You thank the Omnissiah once more that copper was so abundant, and thus extremely easy to acquire
  1320. >This entire laboratory was wired into the solar array of the Titan
  1321. >Though it wasn't enough energy to start the plasma reactor in her core, it was more than plenty for the few machines you had crafted
  1322. >You approach one of them, caressing a glowing vat with a nearly grown brain inside it
  1323. >Gale's, or at least a perfect copy thereof
  1324. >In just a few more days, it would be ready for a simulated augmentation
  1325. >The last simulated work before you moved onto the real thing
  1326. >Gale didn't know yet that you had already made your decision, but she had been working ever harder to prove herself worthy of augmentation
  1327. >Of course all her work had already proved herself not only worthy, but in dire need of the procedure
  1328. >Perhaps there was something to the idea that their 'cutie marks' as they called them had some innate effect on their brains and potential
  1329. >If that was the case, then they would be savants at whatever their cutie marks happened to represent
  1330. >However it was no replacement for cybernetics
  1331. >Whatever her capacity for learning it was no match for the speed of inloads, nor was a flesh-voice superior to binaric cants
  1332. >So no doubts of her implantation, only of the reactions of others
  1333. >”Ms. Gale, could you leave Anonymous and I alone for a moment? We need to talk.”
  1334. >Tempest's odd and sudden request draws you out of your thoughts and you look back at the two of them
  1335. >Gale is looking up at you, waiting for your answer along with Tempest
  1336. >You had to admit curiosity at this
  1337. “Adept Gale, I believe the refinery is nearly finished with its newest load. Could you please ensure the temperature has remained within acceptable parameters?”
  1338. >She nods and leaves the laboratory
  1339. “Now then Tempest, I would like to know why you had me dismiss the most promising adept I've ever seen.”
  1340. >She trots up to the vat, staring up at the nearly grown brain
  1341. >”I want my horn back, Anonymous. I've fulfilled my end of the bargain we made two months ago, but I have yet to even get a hint that you're working on your own end.”
  1342. >You look down at her, a confused look on your face
  1343. >Though you had trepidation about her leaving if you gave her horn back, you had thought it obvious the additional purposes of the cloning vat
  1344. “I'm not sure I understand what you mean, Tempest. I still plan to fulfill my own promise, though in time.”
  1345. >Her eyes narrow and there is clear tension in her voice when she replies
  1346. >”I have been cheated on such things before, Anonymous. Without some sort of tangible proof of your work I'll be forced to go elsewhere. I cannot allow such a thing to happen again.”
  1347. >You're certain you had mentioned the many purposes for the vat, including the possibility of remaking her horn
  1348. >Hadn't you?
  1349. >Something seems to be missing from your recollection, an extensive review would be required
  1350. >Though you had been working hard at restoring Nox Aurea, you had been neglecting your own maintenance
  1351. >Well, better late than never
  1352. “I apologize, Tempest. I had thought it obvious, though I was clearly mistaken. You see, this vat here could in fact be used to grow a new horn for you. It is simply a matter of time before I do so, but first I must complete Gale's augmentation.”
  1353. >You rub your chin, considering what you could offer her
  1354. “How about this, I will take samples from you now. As soon as Gale's augmentation is complete, I will begin studying your horn for regrowth. You will, of course, remain as a member of my retinue in good standing and continue to assist me in trade negotiations. Are these terms acceptable?”
  1355. >Tempest blinks at you, clearly taken aback
  1356. >”Just like that?”
  1357. >You furrow your brow and nod
  1358. >Did she expect you to fight back against a reasonable request?
  1359. “Of course, you're a valuable member of my retinue and vital to maintaining the sanctity of Nox Aurea and my facilities. Not to mention your indispensable trade contacts, I would be hard pressed to find a replacement even close to your quality.”
  1360. >She looks down, her cheeks colouring slightly
  1361. >Strange, it seems she isn't used to praise despite her work ethic and extensive experience
  1362. >”Well I wouldn't go that far. I just want to ensure I'm doing what I promised.”
  1363. >Unsure of how you proceed, you lay a hand on her withers gently
  1364. “That and more, Tempest. You would have been within your rights to walk away after establishing the trade routes. That you didn't is proof that you have earned what you requested, and so I offer you terms.”
  1365. >It was perfectly logical
  1366. >Hopefully she would accept and this could simply be put behind you
  1367. >”Well...alright. I find that acceptable. How would you go about collecting samples for this?”
  1368. >With a mere trace of thought, you unfurl a mechadendrite from your back and snake it over to her
  1369. >She eyes it with some apprehension, as do most ponies when approached with them
  1370. “Worry not, it will be a quick examination followed by the removal of a small piece of horn to facilitate a growth basis.”
  1371. >She shrinks back just a step, clearly worried now
  1372. >”You mean you've been removing pieces of Gale's brain for this?”
  1373. >Ah, yes that would be the conclusion many may jump to
  1374. “Not as such, for something so vital a mere cell scrap is enough. However the smaller the basis, the longer the growth takes. For example, this brain has been growing for nearly two weeks now. In order to fulfill the restoration of your horn in an acceptable time frame, I will take a piece that allows full growth in perhaps three days.”
  1375. >That was partially true yes, but as well you desired several additional copies for your own studies
  1376. >Unicorn organs were quite mysterious still, as Gale had none of course
  1377. >Tempest still looks worried, though less so with your explanation
  1378. >”Very well, just...make it quick please.”
  1379. >You soften your expression and nod quickly
  1380. >Another mechadendrite unfurls and zips close to her horn, taking high resolution picts along with numerous scans of varying methods
  1381. >Though clearly uncomfortable, Tempest doesn't move through your ministrations
  1382. >Finally, you fire up your arc cutter for just a second and remove a small piece of horn from one of the jagged edges that jut from the damaged organ
  1383. >To her credit she doesn't flinch, only wincing at the sudden flash of heat
  1384. >You seal the piece of horn in a small sample vessel and lay it beside the vat for later examination
  1385. “You did well, Tempest. Go and rest, you have more than earned it.”
  1386. >She takes a small, shaky step back and shakes her head
  1387. >”I'll be fine, just a quick perimeter check and I'll go have a nap or something.”
  1388. >You incline your head, dismissing her to do whatever she wished
  1389. >As she trots away, you turn to the other major piece of machinery in the laboratory and take a step towards it
  1390. >Time for some maintenance
  1391. --
  1392. >Your heart is pounding as Anonymous leads you into a sterile room, lit by a number of large lamps
  1393. >The scent of incense permeates the room and the Cog Mechanicum decorates every surface
  1394. >Many machines fill the place, and you don't even know what half of them are for
  1395. >Some you recognize of course, but many seem to be quite new as though just come from the manufactory
  1396. >Given how momentous this day was, that could very well be the case
  1397. >Finally, after four long months of service, you'd be getting your horn back!
  1398. >Anonymous had walked you through every step he had done to reach this moment
  1399. >Painstaking hours of cloned horns being chopped to pieces, bombarded with all kinds of energy, testing that, had the organ been attached, was akin to torture
  1400. >Even just watching, the few times that you had, had given you a splitting headache
  1401. >But it was all over at last
  1402. >He was keeping his word, and you would finally be restored
  1403. >Why was it that a non-pony was the one that was correcting such an old mistake instead of another pony?
  1404. >So much could have been avoided had this simply happened years ago
  1405. >You shake off those thoughts, what could have been wasn't important, only the now mattered
  1406. >And now Anon was gesturing for you to get onto a steel table
  1407. >You hop up and lay down on the cold surface, shivering involuntarily
  1408. >The chill was the reason, certainly!
  1409. >You look about the room, your gaze stopping as it reaches Gale
  1410. >She offers you a smile and pats your hoof
  1411. >It's reassuring, especially since she had gone through much the same process to receive the implants that glisten on the back of her head
  1412. >”You'll be fine, Tempest. I promise you, you'll wake up better than ever!”
  1413. >You can feel a magical build-up trying to spark out from your shattered horn
  1414. >But it never does, merely fading away as you feel a small prick in your flank
  1415. >”Do not be alarmed, Ms. Tempest, it is merely a magical suppressant to ensure nothing goes wrong with the operation.”
  1416. >Anonymous steps around in front of you, a calm smile on his face
  1417. >”Now before I put you under, I want to be sure this is what you want. Though I have performed a dozen simulated graftings and studied your anatomy in depth, there is still the possibility of failure. Small as it may be, it would be remiss of me to leave you ill informed.”
  1418. >You don't hesitate for a second
  1419. “Don't dare think I would turn this down simply because there is risk. Everything I do has risk, but few have a reward like this.”
  1420. >His smile grows and he lays a hand on your withers
  1421. >”Very well. When you wake you are likely to feel dazed, and I would recommend that you do not strain your magic or body until I can be sure the graft has taken. Now prepare yourself.”
  1422. >You feel a sharp jab in your neck and a fog begins to take over your head
  1423. >How strange it would be to wake up whole...
  1425. >Tempest slumps on the table and her breathing steadies
  1426. >You run a hoof through her mane, allowing yourself a brief, tender moment
  1427. >Though she was good at hiding how she felt, it was clear that this operation had frayed her nerves
  1428. >”Adept, it is time to begin.”
  1429. >You smile at Anon and trot over to a sterilizing machine, opening the top and lifting a tray of utensils from it
  1430. >Depositing them on a stand beside the operating table, you sit at his feet again
  1431. “Anything else, Anonymous?”
  1432. >He takes a seat, looking down at you with a serious expression
  1433. >”I'm concerned, Ms. Gale.”
  1434. >'Ms. Gale', he'd barely called you that since you'd started studying under him,certainly not after you had got your implants
  1435. >This was certainly something to have him speaking like this again
  1436. >”I'm more than certain you have noticed the elevated tension levels as of late. It has been rising ever since you received your first augmetics.”
  1437. >In fact you had noticed, ponies being more short with the two of you, almost rude
  1438. >Even Princess Twilight had seemed on edge
  1439. >”I admit, I have pursued this graft as fast as I could. I hope to warm the views ponies have of me, of us, by healing this old wound. We must be prepared for failure, however; I understand that Ms. Tempest is not well regarded.”
  1440. >That was an understatement, considering what happened at Canterlot
  1441. >Still she had probably been forgiven, at least by most ponies
  1442. “I'm sure it's going to be fine! After all, who would fight against technology that could do something like this? They'd have to be crazy!”
  1443. >He pats your head affectionately
  1444. >Usually you'd object to the almost condescending gesture, but coming from him it was just too surreal
  1445. >This was an entirely different Anonymous than normal
  1446. >”One of the many things you ought to have learned by now is that people, or ponies in this case, are not exactly sane.”
  1447. >Well he wasn't wrong there
  1448. >”Listen, should all of this go wrong in whatever way and by any means, return to your people. If they demand anything of you, follow through no matter how ridiculous.”
  1449. >You look up at him with concern in your eyes
  1450. “Even if they want to take out my augments?”
  1451. >He grimaces, clearly pained by the idea
  1452. >”Even then. Though it may well be terrible, they cannot take away the knowledge you have.”
  1453. >You sit up straighter, putting on a brave face
  1454. “And the stewardship of knowledge is part of our duties to the Omnissiah.”
  1455. >He smiles and you know you're right
  1456. >It was something he had repeated over and over, the duty of all members of the Cult Mechanicus
  1457. >”Very good. You do not need augmetics to continue the Quest of Knowledge, and I pray that you do continue it when I am gone.”
  1458. >You give him a snide look and grin
  1459. “Awfully morbid before surgery, sir.”
  1460. >He cuffs your ear gently, a small smile growing on his face as he stands
  1461. >”My apologies, adept. Now then, fetch the bio-salves and we can begin.”
  1462. >You nod and trot away to get the items he needs to carry on
  1463. >Yes, this was the beginning of something wonderful, you could feel it deep down
  1464. >The new medical practices alone would help so many ponies, how could they ever oppose such a thing?
  1465. >No doubt, this would be just what was needed for Anon to be trusted
  1466. >You catch Tempest looking at her reflection in the blank display once more
  1467. >She had been getting distracted more easily since the graft had taken well
  1468. >You lay a hand on her withers and she twitches in surprise
  1469. “Tempest, focus. Remember why you're here.”
  1470. >Though you're rebuking her, you keep your tone gentle
  1471. >You know all too well the amazement of having new augmetics, or in this case a restored organ that you've come to find was nigh vital to unicorns
  1472. >It would be like losing a lung for most, though Tempest had adapted readily to it
  1473. >”Yes, sorry sir. It's much longer than it used to be.”
  1474. >You pat her back and sit in the steersman pit, gesturing for her to sit in the weaponseer pit beside you
  1475. >With a sigh, you lean back into the needle-like interface array and allow the cool, barely subdued fury of Nox Aurea to wash over you
  1476. >Many times you had been in congress with her machine spirit these past few months
  1477. >Far from the aggression and sorrow of your first direct contact, Nox Aurea had grown accustomed to your presence, and you to hers
  1478. >You were not her princeps, nor even on the level of a moderati
  1479. >Still, she appreciated your efforts to make repairs even if they weren't of the highest quality
  1480. >Even though it was of relatively poor caliber, everything damaged in battle had been very nearly repaired
  1481. >She was in functional condition, if you could find a way to ignite the plasmic furnace at her heart
  1482. >A massive surge of power would be needed, and though you had a working theory on how to do so it would be a long time before you could even test it
  1483. >A gentle nudge from Nox Aurea drags you from your thoughts
  1484. >You look over at Tempest, finding her waiting patiently for your next instructions
  1485. “Apologies for the momentary delay. Now, look to the screen on your right, beside the entry board.”
  1486. >She does, and with a flick of thought you power on the displays
  1487. >On the screens before her flicker various lines of text and numbers, showing the status of all the fearsome weaponry at the disposal of the God Machine and her crew
  1488. >Her eyes scan over the screen, clearly confused
  1489. >You concentrate a bit more, blanking the screen for a moment before significantly less text reappears
  1490. >A row highlights itself and you tap on in
  1491. “This displays the specifications for the plasma blastgun built into the left arm. Everything from power consumption to expected shots before recharge, it is all there.”
  1492. >When she hesitates, you lean closer to her and the screen
  1493. “Are you having trouble with the runes? I believe your written language is quite similar to my own.”
  1494. >She shakes her head, squinting closer at the screen
  1495. >”It's not that, what do these words mean? 'Capacitor level zero', 'magazine non-operative'. Don't tell me you have reading material stored there.”
  1496. >A mirthful chuckle escapes your lips, a momentary lapse that swiftly disappeared
  1497. >It wasn't the first time, and had been happening more frequently as time went on
  1498. >You needed maintenance
  1499. >But first...
  1500. “Not at all. The capacitor in question is a bank of power cells that holds energy to discharge into the plasma chamber. The magazine is what holds the gases we use to create the plasma itself. Currently there is no stored energy and no gas canisters loaded, and so it tells you on there.”
  1501. >The screen blanks momentarily and flickers back to life again with a different display
  1502. “This is a readout from the last action of Nox Aurea. You can see a few more pieces of small, but absolutely vital information. As well, note the difference between the two you mentioned before.”
  1503. >She stares silently, her eyes flicking over the text rapidly
  1504. >Clearly she wanted to absorb all the information before speaking up
  1505. >Indeed, she was much like Gale, though her passion was on the military aspect of everything rather than technical
  1506. >And so you decided to introduce her to the armaments of Nox Aurea
  1507. >She couldn't grasp the entire depth, not without proper augmentation, but she could at the very least see what millennia of war had given humanity
  1508. >”So then, what kind of ammunition does this...blastgun use?”
  1509. >This time you make a haptic gesture, changing the display entirely to show the specifications of the weapon itself
  1510. “The Ryza pattern blastgun such as this is uses deuterium, an isotope of the element hydrogen you may know.”
  1511. >Her eyes light up
  1512. >”I know of hydrogen! It was used as a lifting gas for early airship models, post hot air balloons anyway.”
  1513. >You offer her a smile of approval
  1514. “Very good, we used such methods as well in ages past. This gas is fed a large amount of energy from the capacitor banks or from the reactor itself in emergency firings. The plasma is then fed through a theta pinch and directed from the barrel to a target.”
  1515. >Her eyes narrow once more
  1516. >”Are you making up terms, Anonymous?”
  1517. >Ah, once more you've jumped well beyond the technology that has even been theorized here
  1518. “Think of it as directed lightning, though farm more devastating in power.”
  1519. >She nods slowly, returning her gaze to the screen
  1520. >It wasn't quite the same, or even at all, but that was likely the only form of plasma they knew of
  1521. >Another motion and you change the display once again
  1522. “This is a Vulcan megabolter. It discharges explosive shells at a rapid rate, excellent for the destruction of lightly armoured targets or large groups of enemy forces. Nox Aurea quite likes this herself, more visceral.”
  1523. >A rumble of assent ripples through your mind
  1524. >In harmony, a small surge of power snakes through the system and the megabolter gives a resound thud as it cycles a single time
  1525. >Tempest jumps and you smile, you had done much the same the first time you had encountered such independence in a machine spirit
  1526. >”I...see. So like cannons then, but moreso?”
  1527. >You nod, again she seems to grasp things quite well once they are explained
  1528. “Much more. Other than those two main weapons, there are a number of defensive emplacements over the hull. Mostly small las or autogun turrets that work better for clearing infantry without the need to expend more valuable and limited resources.”
  1529. >Yes indeed, shells for the megabolter had been limited even when you were walking with the Legio
  1530. >Now though, there were only fifty left aboard, testament to the hard fighting that had brought you here
  1531. >Still, a dozen compressed tanks of deuterium remained for use with the blastgun, perhaps twice that number of shots if you could ignite the core
  1532. >”Will she ever...walk again?”
  1533. >You're momentarily surprised, as much by the question as by her using the proper term for a Titan
  1534. >It seemed she picked up on more than you had thought
  1535. “Perhaps so. I am attempting to devise a way to power her heart once more so that she may walk. However, that will take a great deal of time.”
  1536. >She rises from her seat in the gun pit and stretches on the deck
  1537. >You remove yourself from the steersman pit as well
  1538. >”So just what powers something this massive? I cannot imagine it's a simple steam engine.”
  1539. >You smile again,entertained by the very idea
  1540. “Not quite, though it is a heat engine of sorts.”
  1541. >You lead her to the rear of the cockpit, to where you and Audralius had sat to monitor the reactor
  1542. >Tapping on a thick piece of polished diamantium glass, you direct her attention into the tokamak below
  1543. “That is the plasma reactor, the beating heart of Nox Aurea. It fuses helion and results in the vast amounts of energy required by the mighty god machine. Of course, it needs itself a massive surge of power in order to light. Thus we come to my current predicament, wherein I doubt the entire yearly output of Equestria itself could even match the energy required to make her heart beat again.”
  1544. >Tempest looks crestfallen, and you can't help the lump that rises in your throat as you speak
  1545. >Even the most emotionless servitor would shed a tear seeing Nox Aurea's heart dark as it was
  1546. >Though Titans would be put to sleep in transference to another world, they were never truly shut down as she was
  1547. >A melancholic feelings permeates the air in the cockpit
  1548. >Eventually you shake it off and tap Tempest on her withers
  1549. “Come, let us attend to other tasks. I'm certain there are more productive things to do than mourning what we cannot fix immediately.”
  1550. >She nods silently and follows you from the deck of the Titan
  1551. >You dismiss her to her duties and meander your way to another one of your facilities some distance from Nox Aurea
  1552. >It gleamed in the late afternoon sun, a rather new construct that had been brought up in just two weeks time
  1553. >Though there were occasional protests still, more ponies were willing to trade with you and that included construction companies
  1554. >In fact, since introducing ideas such as single-gauge railways and more thorough sterilization methods to Twilight, you enjoyed a modicum of celebrity status
  1555. >Despite the minor annoyance of ponies clearly not suited for the Cult begging to become acolytes it had suited your business well
  1556. >The door lets out a hiss as you break the seal, though you quickly shut it behind you
  1557. >You hear the rapid clopping of hooves and Adept Gale practically appears before you
  1558. >”Good afternoon, chief priest! I am pleased to inform you that the experiment is prepared and merely awaits you to perform!”
  1559. >You brush your fingers through her mane and her smile widens
  1560. >So promising, she would certainly make a full priest one day
  1561. >But for now, you think as you walk with her to a glowing table at the back of the room, she would remain a fine assistant
  1562. >And as you gaze at the horn specimen on the table, surrounded by crystals and all manner of arcane tools, you realize would certainly need her
  1563. >The bench glows with brilliant turquoise light and the workshop reeks of incense and ozone
  1564. >The brilliance increases and you adjust your eye lenses accordingly, still seeing the source beneath the light
  1565. >Suddenly the glow begins fluctuating wildly in intensity, another instability
  1566. “Step the resonance volume down two.”
  1567. >The ever-present hum decreases slightly, but the flickering continues
  1568. >Within seconds the horn melts down with a blinding burst of sparks and smoke, leaving behind a blackened mess on the workbench
  1569. >The hum fades into the usual noise of distant machinery, and from behind a small shield comes Gale
  1570. >She had been timid of these experiments since the first one had ended...explosively
  1571. >You had merely opted to wear a face shield, close observation was still necessary after all
  1572. >Still, you had been hoping for success with the new crystals though evidently you were not far enough along in your research
  1573. >”What happened this time, Anonymous?”
  1574. >The question is asked in a slurred voice as she holds a notebook in hoof and a pen in her lips
  1575. >You let out a sigh, remove your mask, and turn to her
  1576. >A quick review of the data from other sensors positioned around the table is dumped into your mind
  1577. “Another destabilization of the leyline microstructures. It seems they began vibrating disharmonically with one another and in turn produced an exothermic reaction.”
  1578. >Gale stops scribbling and looks up at you
  1579. >”Could it be that there's just too much energy running through it?”
  1580. >You shake your head and tap the now dark resonant crystal
  1581. “Impossible, it was an even lower level than last time. Barely above the levels I've measured from Tempest when she is exercising, and to my knowledge she is not particularly powerful.”
  1582. >Gale frowns, pawing at the ground idly
  1583. >”No, she isn't. But if not that then what?”
  1584. >You sigh and close your eyes, momentarily defeated by the conundrum
  1585. “I don't know, Gale. Anyway that's enough for today, you're free to go adept. Check in on the new acolyte please, ensure he's settling in.”
  1586. >She gives a small bow and leaves you alone with the stench of scorched bone, of failure
  1587. >A dozen trials you had run through, and a dozen times you had failed to further any of the theories for harnessing these organs
  1588. >Perhaps ponies didn't know, but there was an incredible amount of potential hidden away in unicorn horns
  1589. >Twilight and her scientist predecessors had been correct, their horns were tied to whatever latent energy this world produced at its core
  1590. >The microstructures, or 'leylines' as the ponies called them, formed resonant cavities that absorbed and amplified that energy
  1591. >From there, they manipulated it by consciously modifying the frequencies at which those chambers vibrated thus they performed 'magic'
  1592. >It was a fascinating process that you had fortunately been allowed to study
  1593. >However, actually performing it yourself was a trying endeavour
  1594. >You had started with simple pulses of energy through a crystal that fed the energy to the horn, and when that had gone well you graduated to constant flow
  1595. >That was where problems had arisen, the first horn had detonated in a spectacular display
  1596. >After that, it had been a matter of decreasing the energy flow, duration, and a number of other factors but none of it seemed to affect the results
  1597. >Tempest had recovered perfectly well from her graft, and you had grown all these horns to the same specifications as hers
  1598. >So then why was all this failing?
  1599. >These thoughts rush over you as you wander through the small settlement that had begun to spring up around your own laboratories and workshops
  1600. >Ponies, gryphons, minotaurs, even a strange felinid all call out to you as you walk, though you're far too preoccupied to respond
  1601. >Yes, strange company attracted strangers indeed around here
  1602. >Some wished to become acolytes or Techpriests, others merely came to ply their various trades
  1603. >It was easy to allow the traders, many of them had come with your own business partners
  1604. >However, those who sought to join the Cult were more problematic
  1605. >Too many of them did not have the capacity to be members of the clergy, either by way of their skills or their intellect
  1606. >Fewer still were the ones that did posses the skills but shied away from the very idea of implantation, something absolutely necessary to become a member
  1607. >With that being the case however, they did prove useful as labour, serfs of a minuscule kingdom
  1608. >You gave the ones that worked for you fair wages, most of which you garnered from the trading of various refined goods and odd pieces of technology
  1609. >You did not dare levy taxes on the occupied land, that would surely invoke the ire of the rulers here, though you suspect they weren't keen about the freestanding settlement already
  1610. >Suddenly, your walk is arrested by a hoof grasping the hem of your robe
  1611. >You snap your eyes down and see none other than Tempest smiling back
  1612. “Ah, hello Ms. Shadow. May I help you with something?”
  1613. >Her look turns bashful and she scratches at the dirt
  1614. >”Well...I just wanted to thank you again for what you've done for me. I can't explain what it feels like to be healed like this, to be whole.”
  1615. >You pat her head gently, returning her earnest smile
  1616. “You're quite welcome. Are you having any troubles with your horn, any strange occurrences when you do magic?”
  1617. >She shakes her head
  1618. >”No not at all, in fact it feels far easier than when I was doing the same stuff as a child. Maybe that's because it's a little longer than unicorns naturally grow them?”
  1619. >Naturally...
  1620. >A spark of inspiration, perhaps even a solution, strikes your mind
  1621. >Without responding, you take off running to your laboratory, robes flapping in the dust behind you
  1622. >Despite your near perfect memory, some innate fear of losing this insight worms its way into your brain
  1623. >Through your mad dash, you manage to avoid hitting anyone on the way
  1624. >Surely that was only through the blessing of the Omnissiah
  1625. >At last you arrive at your primary laboratory and push your way inside, sealing the room behind you
  1626. >A single filament glows faintly overhead, an upgrade from the lanterns that had lit the space before
  1627. >You proceed to the replication vat, staring at the horn that was still growing inside of it
  1628. >Yes, you had grown the horns to the exact specifications of Tempest's graft, just above the natural length of horn growth
  1629. >But what about means unnatural?
  1630. >Tapping away at the computer hooked up to the machine, you program it to only cease growth when manually ordered to
  1631. >You run a hand across the smooth glass of the container, staring deeply into the glowing nutrient soup that grew the horn
  1632. >You would have to thank Tempest for the flash of insight; how had you not seen it sooner?
  1633. >Natural growth was restricted by the means of biology, but you had no such restrictions through artificial replication
  1634. >A muttered prayer to the Machine God comes from your lips, praising him for once again showing the superiority of the blessed machine
  1635. >And indeed, soon all would see the power and glory of a true god machine
  1636. >The workshop glows with vibrant turquoise light, throwing haunting shadows across the room
  1637. >An eerie hum drowns out all other sounds and the scent of a thunderstorm fills the small space
  1638. >Beside you, Gale Force holds an odd looking instrument and a small shield, staring warily at the workbench
  1639. >At a gesture, she turns a dial on the machine and the pitch of the hum increases
  1640. >As it does, the brilliance of the light overwhelms even the glowing filaments overhead
  1641. >But there is no smoke, no blast, not even a flicker in the light
  1642. >After a few more seconds, you make another gesture and the hum winds down along with the brilliant light
  1643. >You remove your mask revealing a broad grin to the equally grinning Gale
  1644. >Twenty-five failures but at long last you had succeeded
  1645. >The latest horn lays on the table, still retaining a faint glow over its deep wine colour
  1646. >Gale lets out a subdued squeal of joy
  1647. >”Yes, yes, yes it finally worked! We did it Anon!”
  1648. >You nod solemnly, pleased at the outcome but not ready to celebrate quite yet
  1649. “Indeed we did, but do not cheer just yet. There's a great deal more work to be done before integration can occur. Go to Ostran, see when the next shipment is arriving. We'll need more silver and his ore has always contained a higher quantity per kilogram.”
  1650. >She makes a short bow and runs off, a spring in her step
  1651. >You cannot deny your own feeling of near rapture at finally accomplishing the task you had once only theorized about
  1652. >Of course, it hadn't been as simple as growing a small horn and shunting the energy through it from the crystal
  1653. >You heft the half-meter long specimen from the table and bring it over to a yet unused, sealing and climate controlled container you had made specifically for this task
  1654. >You had outsized it when you began growing the horns ever larger, and yet it still barely fit in the chamber
  1655. >Now you needed to make more of them, both the chambers and horns, before you proceeded to the next round of testing
  1656. >Having the organs survive the power load required of them was one thing, but you still had yet to find a way to direct that energy
  1657. >Of course you had theories, it was merely the execution that would take time
  1658. >With the horn sealed away, you step into the waning daylight
  1659. >The soft glow and subtle warmth felt perfect in your momentary triumph, speaking to a more primal part of you left still untouched by the machine
  1660. >You caress the implants that line the base of your skull and trail down your spine
  1661. >Despite your success, you're left with a tinge of melancholy
  1662. >Even if you accomplished all you wanted with these experiments you would be no closer to returning to your brothers of the Mechanicum
  1663. >It was doubtful you would even be able to contact them, building an interplanetary array would be nigh impossible and even if you could a message would take thousands of years to cross the vast distances
  1664. >What's more, this was likely the height of your implantation, below that of even most Techpriests
  1665. >Yet you were bringing the light of the Omnissiah to the ponies, enlightening them in a way that would never happen had they been discovered by the Imperium
  1666. >Though they may never achieve any kind of status as a vassal of Terra, if you could bring them into the fold of the Cult Mechanicum they may yet live under Mars
  1667. >It would simply matter who found this world first...
  1668. >But by then you would be long dead, a fleeting memory of those left to worship the Omnissiah without you
  1669. >Perhaps you would be raised a saviour, or the powers that be may crown you a liar
  1670. >It would matter little on the whole, but you silently pray for the uplifting of many to come
  1671. >After all, these were the descendants of a species that had served mankind well for tens of thousands of years and it would be pointless cruelty to repay that service with extermination
  1672. >So you would do what little you could, with what little you had
  1673. >You run your fingers over the bumps and scars that covered your bare scalp, telling tales of the surgeries and implantations accrued in service of the Machine God
  1674. >But there was still flesh instead of holy steel, and beneath it a too human brain, powered by a fully organic heart and natural blood
  1675. >It was so inefficient, such a poor reflection of what you knew it could be had you the means to make it so
  1676. >Yet it was all you had
  1677. >All you could show them of the beauty they could be, of what was possible by the grace of the Deus Mechanicus
  1678. >Your fingers twitch as they run over your cheeks and you feel a small, wet trail
  1679. >Leaking, your lubricant reserves must be leaking
  1680. >So far from home, so long without good maintenance, any other priest would be in the same state certainly
  1681. >You carry on walking through the makeshift buildings of what residents had begun to call “Steel River”, despite the lack of any body of water nearby
  1682. >Despite your stature and dress, you manage not to attract the attention you usually do
  1683. >Or you've simply tuned it out
  1684. >You focus on the background noise of the bustling marketplace you find yourself in
  1685. >Ponies and gryphons, minotaurs and capras, bickering, bantering, shouting, whispering, trading barbs and compliments as much as goods and money
  1686. >It was absolute chaos, a state of total entropy made into sound
  1687. >No being could hope to make sense of it all, nor even a small part
  1688. >And yet you can sense a pattern in the waves of noise
  1689. >At first it had seemed to be mere coincidence, a happenstance of harmonics emerging from a sea of infinite discord
  1690. >But as you continued to walk and listen, the pattern flowed ever on
  1691. >It peaked and dipped regularly, the overall tone changing from moment to moment but in a steady and sure rate
  1692. >To you who could hear it, it was a rousing bolero, a dance of possibilities, choice, and consequence
  1693. >For a mere second you swear you could hear the faint trace of a binaric exchange, but it is lost just as quickly
  1694. >All to soon it dies away as you move on past the hubbub and onto the crest of a hill outside the little town
  1695. >The sun is a red smear on the horizon, a fitting sight to the song now dissipating in your mind
  1696. >That wonderful pattern had come from the chaos of organics
  1697. >There had been no machines involved but those of flesh and blood, xeno or no
  1698. >Yet from the madness had come a perfect harmony
  1699. >You find yourself turning away from what many would consider splendor to gaze on the twisted wood and iron of the town below
  1700. >In the squat, ugly structures you find yet another pattern, a painting as beautiful as any of the classic masters'
  1701. >Inexplicable, but undeniable
  1702. >You look down at the flesh of your hands again, flexing them and watching the creases form and disappear
  1703. >How had you not seen this all before?
  1704. >Certainly beneath the flesh your hands were mechanical, but they simulated organic movement as best they could
  1705. >All your implants weren't designed to get rid of the human in you, they were made to enhance him
  1706. >You feel wetness on your cheeks again, tears no doubt
  1707. >A long, heaving sigh comes in and out from you and once again you turn to the darkening horizon
  1708. >All the elements that projected themselves on your gaze deactivate at a thought, leaving you with the bare picture of the sky
  1709. >You cannot say how long you stand there, with the wind picking at your robes and temperature steadily lowering
  1710. >Eventually you feel a gentle tug on the hem of your robes
  1711. >Looking down, you find Tempest Shadow smiling up at you
  1712. >”Anonymous, it took me quite a while to find you. Are you alright?”
  1713. >You return her smile, more genuinely that you had ever before
  1714. “Yes, I am just...making new observations.”
  1715. >She sits beside you quietly, staring at the same sky you are
  1716. >You wonder what she could see that you could not, perhaps emerging patterns in the stars, perhaps stars you couldn't see
  1717. >”I've been speaking with Gale. She was talking about her implants, all the good they've done her. I was wondering, do you have some that are more...military grade? Not like a sword implanted in my arm, just something to make me better.”
  1718. >You blink in surprise
  1719. >This wasn't something you had expected her to bring up, especially so abruptly
  1720. >Still, who were you to deny such a thing?
  1721. >You turn to face her, kneeling so that you match her height, and speak gravely
  1722. “You wish to become Mechanicus, with all that entails?”
  1723. >She stares straight back at you, her gaze steely and unwavering
  1724. >”If that is what the price of improvement is, then I welcome it.”
  1725. >You hold her gaze a moment longer before another warm smile spreads over your face
  1726. “Good. Come, let us return then.”
  1727. >You rise and she follows after you
  1728. >As you begin to walk back, you look down at her and speak in a gentle tone
  1729. “Actually, there is an experiment I could use some help with....”
  1730. >Golden shoals of hexarithmic data swim around the crew pit, never quite obstructing your instruments but always present in your vision
  1731. >The shifting and shuddering of the engine as it lopes to battle is as hypnotic as it is frightening
  1732. >Outside the blast-shuttered windows, the void shields of Nox Aurea take on the colour of an oil slick as they turn aside fatal damage
  1733. >An enemy engine, a corrupt Warhound, bellows a terrific challenge in juddering scrapcode and daemonic guffaws
  1734. >Nox Aurea responds with a challenge of her own, a violent blast of horns and binaric shouts of righteous fury
  1735. >”Two shots from the blastgun, weapon; come about to three two two helm. Prepare to deploy close combat weapons.”
  1736. >The cold, calm voice of the Princeps Proxima, Audentis, carries easily over the din of battle
  1737. >Contrary to so many Warhound princeps, he was cool and level headed even in the midst of a desperate struggle
  1738. >You and the weapons moderati comply with his orders and the gait of Nox Aurea subtly changes beneath your feet
  1739. >A loud pop reverberates through the hull as the shields of the enemy vanish, and a ball of flame on the back of it tells you they won't be coming back
  1740. >With another daemonic howl, the Archenemy engine twists its body to follow your movement
  1741. >Too fast, several ill-maintained hydraulic lines rupture and hang from its neck spilling vital motive fluid on the dust-choked ground below
  1742. >It screams defiantly as Nox Aurea charges forward, a tank sized bayonet deploying from a recess below the Vulcan megabolter
  1743. >The blade finds its mark, plunging through thick metal plating and home into the cockpit and destroying the sad wreck that had become of a beautiful machine
  1744. >With a final shudder, the Warhound dies, leaving you and Nox Aurea alone in the blasted hellscape
  1745. “Engine kill.”
  1746. >A hiss of hydraulics fills your ears as the world outside fades away slowly
  1747. >You open your eyes to the open screens of the cockpit, towering above the rolling hills of Equestria
  1748. >The hissing gives way to rapid, desperate panting tinged with a slight whimper
  1749. >You rotate your stiff neck and see Tempest Shadow curled up in her chair, cables trailing from the base of her neck and into the chair
  1750. >You wonder if the implants were causing her pain
  1751. >It had been just over a week since you had performed the surgeries to give her both interface and mild processing implants
  1752. >They were ingeniously tied into her horn providing a source of energy that was, in practical terms, limitless
  1753. >Perhaps there was some kind of feedback into the organ that ailed her so
  1754. >You reach out a hand and gently stroke her back
  1755. >She twitches and her eyes widen before her head snaps around to look at you
  1756. >No it wasn't pain in that look
  1757. >It was fear
  1758. >As she stares and you keep your hand on her her breathing slows until it's no longer the rapid panting of a trapped animal
  1759. >At last she shudders and speaks, her voice strained and halting
  1760. >”That was...what was that?”
  1761. >You decide directness was the best way to deal with her, she was the type who appreciated such thigns
  1762. “A simulacrum of an engagement long past, stored in the memory of Nox Aurea. She allowed us to relive it for training, as we do in the legio from time to time. Do you feel any pain from your implants, are you injured in any way?”
  1763. >She shakes her head slowly before staring back at the command throne
  1764. >”I'm fine, but that wasn't just some projection was it? I could...feel it all somehow. When this Titan was hit.”
  1765. >Ah, that was what was causing the issue
  1766. “Yes, she feels pain when she is struck as do we all. Since it was her memory it is unsurprising that you felt what she did.”
  1767. >Tempest shakes her head again, more violently this time
  1768. >”But that isn't all is it? When I really got into it, I felt something slipping away and being replaced. It was savage, violent, it wanted to fight and kill and nothing else.”
  1769. >Your face draws tight
  1770. >This was unintended, she was not meant to feel the presence of Nox Aurea's machine spirit
  1771. >A ripple flows over the connection between you and the god machine, an expression of apology perhaps?
  1772. >It was often so difficult to interpret the Titans
  1773. >Tempest draws another shuddering breath and your focus returns to her
  1774. “That is the nature of a god of war such as Nox Aurea. What's more, that was a mere echo across the waves of memory. Can you imagine what it would be to be exposed to it in its rawness?”
  1775. >You stare out the window, thinking of your own exposure months ago
  1776. >Not only that, but of the unspoken casualties of Titan warfare
  1777. “Even a princeps, a man of one in ten million with will such that he can control the Titan, eventually loses himself. The machine spirit overwhelms their minds and they become as beasts. Such madness is not spoken of outside the halls of the legio, none must know of just what the Titans represent.”
  1778. >You turn back to her and notice her expression is one of shock
  1779. >”That's horrible! Why would you subject your own people to such torture?”
  1780. >She could not understand, but you still had to try and explain
  1781. “There are things in this galaxy of such strength and violence that it is necessary for us to do so. The Titans are one of the greatest bulwarks against the dark that threatens to swallow mankind, and the Collegia Titanica knows the price it must pay to be a part of them.”
  1782. >Tempest looks down, clearly not fully grasping the scale of things but still admonished
  1783. >You decide to try a different tack
  1784. “Tempest, I am certain there are ponies you would give your life for, are there not?”
  1785. >The way she looks up at you says it all
  1786. “And just like that, we would give our lives for all of mankind. You understand now why we do such things?”
  1787. >She gives you a small, but warm smile and closes her eyes
  1788. >”Yes, I do. I suppose any great pain can be endured for those you love.”
  1789. >You let the silence be, there was little else to say
  1790. >After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, she speaks up again
  1791. >”So why are you introducing me to this? I've only just adapted to these implants and know so little about your technology. Would Gale not be a better choice?”
  1792. >You purse your lips, thinking for a moment
  1793. >Gale would of course be the better choice for a technical role such as this
  1794. >However...
  1795. “Gale is a good mare, and an excellent Techpriest. She is not a warrior though, I am not sure she has the stomach and will for tasks like this.”
  1796. >Tempest nods, but her eyes narrow and her voice becomes tense and quiet
  1797. >”But that's not all, is it? Otherwise you wouldn't be introducing me in such an abrupt and...disturbing fashion.”
  1798. >You grimace, it seems you had not hidden your intent as well as you desired
  1799. >Without a word, you take a few leaflets from a pouch sewn onto your belt
  1800. “I have here testaments from a number of gryphons that come from their land. They have received communiques from relatives in whatever villages they come from referencing a monster that emerged from the ocean several weeks ago.”
  1801. >You point specifically at one of the papers
  1802. “And this one is from an eye-witness who saw the thing come out of the ocean when he was bringing a shipment of ore. I need the help of someone, or somepony, who knows local geography in order to track its movements. If this creature is a threat to Equestria, it may very well be a threat to Nox Aurea and so I must find a way to stop it.”
  1803. >Tempest squints at the papers, reading each one carefully before nodding her head
  1804. >”Understood, but I know of only one pony with such encyclopedic knowledge.”
  1805. >You smile, believing you know exactly where this is going
  1806. “Do tell...”
  1807. >You quicken your pace, walking down the dusty dirt road with you robes flapping behind you
  1808. >The breeze was stronger than you anticipated, though it wasn't slowing your progress at all
  1809. >Besides the soft rustling of the leaves, the twittering of birds, and the footsteps of you and your companions, all was silent
  1810. >The sheaf of papers you hold in your arm rustle slightly and you tighten your grip on them
  1811. >They couldn't be lost, their contents were the basis of everything you planned to speak of today, the result of a sleepless night of work
  1812. >Fifteen hours of interviewing, comparing, sorting, researching, and consulting with Nox Aurea
  1813. >And yet, these were only the preliminary results
  1814. >This research would take far longer to reach any sort of conclusion, but to reach that you needed help
  1815. >The crystal spires of Twilight's castle grew ever larger, and it wasn't long before you were passing through the outskirts of Ponyville to reach the gates
  1816. >The little village seemed far more active today than any other you had visited
  1817. >Surprising, considering the relatively early hour you had arrived at
  1818. >Ponies rushing too and fro, many you had never seen on your numerous visits to the castle
  1819. >Strangest of all, the shops seemed to be shuttered still
  1820. >Some kind of holiday perhaps, no matter you still had to bring this information forward
  1821. >Leisure could wait that long at least
  1822. >A glance back shows that your companions, Gale and Tempest, are both maintaining their focus on the castle
  1823. >Good, they understood the weight of the situation
  1824. >Finally you enter the castle grounds
  1825. >You pause before reaching the door, something catching your eye
  1826. >A grand chariot, built of dark wood and inlaid with beautiful silver, lies surrounded by a number of armoured, bat-winged guards hefting wicked spears
  1827. >Two more of the bat guards stand on either side of the door
  1828. >A visiting dignitary then, good a larger audience would mean a greater impact
  1829. >The guards cross their spears in front of the grand entrance as you approach
  1830. >”None may pass, by order of the princess.”
  1831. >Your companions share a worried glance, but you simply draw yourself up taller
  1832. “This is a matter of grave importance. I have information that the princess must be presented.”
  1833. >The taller of the two sneers at your little party
  1834. >”Yeah, just like every other petitioner. You're that human, mechanical guy right? I'll let her know you stopped by.”
  1835. >You frown, annoyed by the obstinance of the guard
  1836. >You try again, in a more anxious and desperate tone that before
  1837. “Please, this information is absolutely vital to the safety and security of not just myself, but perhaps all Equestria. You must let me speak with Princess Twilight!”
  1838. >The guard merely shakes his head at the display
  1839. >You had hoped he might understand desperation and security especially
  1840. >If this was how he wished it though, you were not going to be stopped by him at any cost
  1841. >You bring yourself to your full height, practically towering over the bat winged guard, unfurling your mechadendrites and sending a threatening flash of red through your eyes
  1842. >With your augmented throat, you give your voice a bassy, booming quality
  1843. “As I said, this information is of vital importance too all who inhabit this land. I will not allow you to stand in the way of my informing the proper authorities. Stand aside or I will be forced to remove you, as a threat to all.”
  1844. >It wasn't a bluff either, you had subtly begun charging a pair of shock-lances in your mechanical limbs
  1845. >You were fully prepared to incapacitate the guards in order to proceed, so important was this research
  1846. >Though the stubborn guard refuses to budge, his companion looked far more nervous
  1847. >You send a small surge through the lances, making them crackle with sparks of electricity
  1848. >That was all that was required for the already intimidated one to back away from the door
  1849. >You stare down the remaining guard, mechadendrites looming threateningly over your shoulders
  1850. >His once sure and firm posture has diminished considerably and his lets out an audible gulp
  1851. >”We will, ehm, escort you to the princess sir.”
  1852. >You nod firmly, reducing the presence of your mechadendrites and allowing the energy that was gathering to dissipate
  1853. >A small sigh of exasperation escapes your lips as you're led inside and through the winding halls
  1854. >It was times like this you longed for the days of the forge, when a problem like this would be solved within a few seconds with simple, easily verifiable binaric cants and noospheric codes
  1855. >So inefficient to communicate like this
  1856. >It was hardly a wonder it had taken them so long to even be at a level of late Second Millenium technology if interactions like this were the norm
  1857. >No matter, first you would help them to neutralize whatever this threat was, then you would uplift them into the arms of the Omnissiah
  1858. >Your thoughts come to a halt as you do, standing behind the guard in front of another ornate door
  1859. >After a moment of pause he pushes it open, steps into the room, and clears his throat loudly
  1860. >”Princess Luna, I apologize for the interruption but apparently it concerns the security of Equestria.”
  1861. >The shock radiating through you could easily power the core of a Warlord Titan
  1862. >It was Luna that was here?
  1863. >She had made it clear that she held you not only in suspicion, but contempt for the way you did things
  1864. >Something about it being unnatural, an ironic idea considering the supposed powers of her and her sister
  1865. >”May I present the ehm, Priest Anonymous.”
  1866. >You step through the door, ensuring your face it entirely still
  1867. >No point in correcting the guard, you were unlikely to see him again
  1868. >The looks on the faces of Luna and Twilight radiated the same shock you had felt just a moment ago
  1869. “Greetings, princesses. I do apologize for interrupting what must be an incredibly important meeting but I have come across information of a potential threat to Equestria as a whole.”
  1870. >Before you've finished your statement, Luna has already sculpted her face from shock to steely doubt
  1871. >”You mean besides you and that metal monster you brought with you.”
  1872. >You take a deep breath to calm the immediately flare of annoyance
  1873. >Why, today of all days, were the ponies choosing to be difficult?
  1874. >To your infinite thanks, Tempest steps forward from your shadow
  1875. >She was near the size of Luna herself, a side effect of losing her horn so early in her life as you hypothesized
  1876. >Despite her usually intimidating figure, you know that wasn't the purpose of her stepping forth
  1877. >”Princess, with respect, I assisted him with this. The findings are as legitimate as they are dire.”
  1878. >Luna scoffs, but Twilight interrupts before she can throw another barb
  1879. >”I understand that your findings may be urgent, be we have a crisis of our own to deal with at the moment.”
  1880. >Luna's glare could likely cut through an Imperial battlefleet, such was the fury contained in it
  1881. >Twilight presses onward, ignoring her fellow
  1882. >”Several villages in the Gryphon Empire have been laid to waste by some massive monster. We are awaiting a communique from gryphon representatives to discuss a possible join defense.”
  1883. >Your eyes widen in surprise
  1884. “In that regard, I believe that we can help each other.”
  1885. >Another scoff from Luna, but you seat yourself across from the two of them and push the papers over to Twilight
  1886. >While she reads them over and Luna continues to glare, Gale and Tempest take up seats beside you
  1887. >A glance tells you that, while Tempest is easily able to project a sense of confidence even in the face of an angry princess, Gale is having trouble keeping still
  1888. >Despite her relative seniority in the Cult, she was still quite young compared to many of her peers
  1889. >You tap her withers to get her attention and offer her a warm smile before letting out a squib of binaric speech
  1890. [Be calm, Gale. You are here and under both my authority and protection. We must bear ill will with stoic resolve, and show all the strength of steel.]
  1891. >She takes a deep breath and nods, sitting up straighter and stilling herself as best she could
  1892. >You had not had a chance to modify her larynx to make it possible for her to respond in kind, but it would come in time
  1893. >Though her wings twitch occasionally, she appears much less nervous than before
  1894. >After quite some time, Twilight pushes the papers over to Luna and looks up at you with an alarmed expression
  1895. >”How did you come by this information?”
  1896. >You keep a calm look and an even tone when you answer
  1897. “Beings around my camp come from all over your world. Some were family with gryphons that lived in the village and one, as I detailed, witnessed it rise from the ocean.”
  1898. >Luna sets the papers down, clearly shaken
  1899. >”This threat list is...extensive. Are you saying then it could be something like this, this...Daemon Engine, or a Phantom Titan? Are these things constructs of your kind as well?”
  1900. >You cannot help but sneer at the allegation
  1901. >To put the creations of Holy Mars in the same category as the vile Archenemy constructs or xeno technorganic monsters?
  1902. >Had she been a member of the Cult, you would strike her for the insolence
  1903. “Absolutely not. Everything detailed on that list is an enemy of mankind, belonging to Hereteks, xenos, or worse.”
  1904. >The acid in your tone clearly takes her aback
  1905. >Twilight is quick to jump in for her
  1906. >”Do you have more details of these things? I mean, the information would be hugely beneficial for Equestria both now and in the future, should one of them arise.”
  1907. >You turn to her, once more adopting a stony look
  1908. “I do have data on everything that is listed. However I will only be sharing what is relevant to this specific threat. Without the proper understanding of the Mysteries, such information is ripe for abuse.”
  1909. >The young princess is quick to object
  1910. >”But you know we're not a warlike species! Anything we learned from it would be strictly for defense.”
  1911. >You sigh and recline in your seat
  1912. “And can you say the same of every species? Can you assure absolutely, on the life of every living being on this world, no information would ever reach eyes besides your own?”
  1913. >Twilight looks down at the table and Luna refuses to meet your eyes
  1914. >You decide to relent, best not to attack them so hard in what must be an incredibly stressful circumstance
  1915. “The moment we can identify the enemy visually, I will share all I know of it. Then we will work together to defeat it and keep Equestria safe. Is this acceptable?”
  1916. >To your surprise, it's Luna that answers for them both
  1917. >”We do, Anonymous. Let us prepare for the gryphons and begin to set up a plan to observe this monster.”
  1918. >You smile and offer her a hand to shake
  1919. >She places her hoof in it, unnerved but clearly prepared to go to great lengths to protect her subjects
  1920. “It is an accord. Now then, how do you plan to gather optical data on it?”
  1921. >Twilight smiles and leans forward on the table
  1922. >”Don't you worry about that, we have a few tricks of our own...”
  1923. >Once again, you find yourself sitting alongside Twilight and Luna
  1924. >This time you're not the only one with an entourage, however
  1925. >A number of dour looking ponies in elaborate uniforms had joined the small war council that had been formed
  1926. >They were at least professional enough to not voice their obvious displeasure at sharing the table with you, no matter how obvious
  1927. >It was just as well, there were already too many things they had complained about
  1928. >The nature of your freedom from Equestrian command, the holy augmetics of your companions, the state of the town that had sprung up around Nox Aurea, and of course the Titan herself
  1929. >All of it was padding to belie the nervousness they expressed about whatever this threat was
  1930. >According to Twilight, Equestria had faced down deities of Chaos, rampaging monsters, omnipowerful sorcerers, and a number of other lethal threats
  1931. >Despite this, she had confided in you during a break, this situation was making everyone more nervous than anything before
  1932. >There was something about this new evil that had everyone on edge, even the usually arrogant gryphons were expressing reservations
  1933. >But for now you were all huddled around the large table, waiting for what would be the first proper sighting of the creature
  1934. >One of the gryphons, a particularly nervous one named Steelwing, clears his throat
  1935. >”So explain again how we're going to see this thing?”
  1936. >Luna gives him a look of annoyance and Twilight just sighs before explaining yet again
  1937. >”This mirror on the table is linked to one aboard an airship that is tracking the creature right now. Once they get it in view, they'll project an image of it onto their mirror along with a spell. Then we'll be able to see it here. It's little more complex than normal scrying.”
  1938. >Steelwing nods rapidly
  1939. >”And why don't we just scry it normally?”
  1940. >Twilight looks incredibly tired of answering the same questions time and again, so you take it upon yourself to interject
  1941. “As has been discussed at least three times before, the creature or construct is projecting some kind of barrier that is scrambling the magnetic field in its immediate area. It is likely some sort of defense mechanism that was either evolved or built in specifically for this planet. However, though I may overstep my expertise in this regard, this has more in common with telepathy than actual scrying as I understand it.”
  1942. >The party of gryphons gives you a series of withering glares, and Steelwing speaks up indignantly
  1943. >”And just what makes you such an expert? You're an alien from another world, what could you possibly understand about this threat?”
  1944. >You keep your face and tone as flat as possible, despite how annoying his arrogance was
  1945. “I have studied how the so-called magic of this world works quite extensively in my time here. Furthermore, I listened to Princess Twilight's explanation of why we could not simply spy on the creature via conventional magic such as it was. From that it is simple to deduce that the creature or construct is the source of the disturbance.”
  1946. >Before the gryphon can riposte, Twilight clears her throat
  1947. >”Ultimately who is or isn't an expert is a moot point. At this point none of us know exactly what this is or how it works. So let's stop bickering and just wait until the airship arrives, it shouldn't be long now.”
  1948. >Steelwing shuts his beak and leans back in his chair, glaring at the princesses
  1949. >Despite his clear anger, he doesn't protest further
  1950. >The gryphons talk quietly among themselves, but soon fall into silence
  1951. >It doesn't last long, however, and soon the mirror hums with a harmonic tune
  1952. >Twilight's horn glows and an image of clouds rushing past a windscreen appear
  1953. >An oddly echoing voice comes through the mirror
  1954. >”Princess Twilight, are you seeing things clearly on your end?”
  1955. >Horn still aglow, Twilight clears her throat and answers in a loud voice
  1956. >”Yes, we can see just fine.”
  1957. >The view bobs momentarily before approaching the window
  1958. >”Good, we should be coming up on the projected position any moment. We're currently descending below the cloud ceiling, altitude five-thousand.”
  1959. >Suddenly the cloud cover breaks, revealing a blue sky on the distant horizon, broken by stabbing peaks of snow-dusted mountains
  1960. >The airship was still descending rapidly, and you could hear the unicorn calling the heights as they plummeted
  1961. >The ground grew in further detail, and you could make out buildings and the fields of farmers
  1962. >The airship slows and the view begins to traverse the wide viewport
  1963. >A sharp gasp echoes around the room and through the mirror as the enemy finally comes into view
  1964. >Even from five-hundred feet, it was clearly a monstrous thing
  1965. >You estimated it to stand at perhaps thirty or more meters, at least as large as a Reaver Titan
  1966. >Its torso was shaped like a man, though it very clearly had three heads and a third arm
  1967. >Judging from the trail it had left, it traveled on a pair of massive treads, and its silhouette suggested it was absolutely bristling with weapons
  1968. >Your body grew cold as you recognized just what it was
  1969. >Or at the very least, the clear construction of it
  1970. “Heresy...”
  1971. >Gale looks at you with shock in her eyes, but you ignore her and continue watching the mirror
  1972. >The airship slowly closes on the monstrous machine, the unicorn narrating all the while
  1973. >”It does appear to be artificial in nature, princess. There is a slight resemblance to the Titan that came with the priest, but it seems superficial. Helm, can you bring us in any closer?”
  1974. >The vile machine looms ever larger, and you manage to make out a symbol struck on its shoulder
  1975. >Dark Mechanicus
  1976. >Your skin crawls, this was the sins of mankind made manifest
  1977. >Suddenly, a series of flashes blast up from the back of the machine and the view lists to the side
  1978. >”We're hit! Team prepare for crash, sorry princess we're--”
  1979. >The mirror goes blank, reflecting only the long table and the shocked faces of many who sat there
  1980. >Only you remained impassive, at least on the surface
  1981. >Even the usually unflinching Tempest radiated shock at the sudden violence that had been wrought on the airship
  1982. >Inside your stomach churned as you belatedly made the connection to one of the machines that you had dredged from the databanks of Nox Aurea
  1983. >The sin of mankind was now brought onto the inhabitants of this world, and this understanding makes your heart sink
  1984. >Twilight is the first to break the silence, looking directly at you
  1985. >”Well Anonymous, like they said it looks like your Titan. Do you know anything about this.”
  1986. >You take a deep breath and begin to address the council in a sonorous tone
  1987. “It appears to be, at first glance, similar to a machine created during the Schism of Mars. In those dark times, a group of Hereteks created a sentient machine they called the Kaban Project. It rampaged across the surface before being driven into the Noctis Labyrinth, never to be seen again.”
  1988. >You close your eyes, offering a silent prayer to the Omnissiah for forgiveness at revealing what was a grave secret
  1989. >But they deserved to know the source of their suffering
  1990. >Twilight speaks into the shocked silence that follows your revelation
  1991. >” never destroyed it?”
  1992. >You shake your head, eyes still shut
  1993. “No, the Priests of Mars could not find a way to destroy it at the time.”
  1994. >Another long silence, and looking around you can see that fear has replaced the initial shock of the ponies and gryphons
  1995. >You sit up straighter before addressing them again
  1996. “I will not allow the folly of man to become the downfall of this world, though. I swear to all of you, before the holy Deus Mechanicus, I will stop this vile machine. But to do so, I will need your absolute support, Princess Twilight, Princess Luna. Without it, I fear that we may never see the threat destroyed and the sin absolved.”
  1997. >Luna and Twilight share an uneasy look, while the gryphons continue to look on
  1998. >At last, Luna clears her throat and speaks in a hoarse tone
  1999. >”So be it. What do you need?”
  2000. >You incline your head towards them before replying
  2001. “Twilight, please accompany to my camp. I have experiments that could use the touch of such a master of magic. Princess Luna, spread word to not fear Nox Aurea, word that she is fighting for the ponies. As for you, Graf Steelwing, please have your scouts keep track of the enemy. We must be ready to fight it as early as we can.”
  2002. >The gryphons all nod silently before rising and leaving the room immediately
  2003. >Thus the spell that had held you all in here seemed broken, and you rise from your seat as well
  2004. “Come then, let us work to save Equestria.”
  2005. >This week has likely been your most fruitful since arriving in the strange world of Equestria
  2006. >With the backing of two princesses, trade had boomed overnight and ores once difficult and expensive to acquire were thrust on you
  2007. >Menial repairs to the skin of Nox Aurea became the simplest of tasks with the practical glut of craftsponies that now occupied the site
  2008. >What's more, the far more exotic materials for repairs to the mirrors of the Titan's massive reactor had appeared as if by magic
  2009. >Considering the donors, it could certainly have been magic
  2010. >Still, all things considered, Nox Aurea was practically ready to walk once more
  2011. >This morning you found yourself sharing the cockpit with Gale and Twilight, modifying the steersman throne to double as an MIU that would have usually been in the command throne
  2012. >There was only one being on the entire planet that could operate the god machine, after all
  2013. >Of course it was only by the begrudging approval of Nox Aurea herself that you had dared carry out the modifications necessary
  2014. >But something had changed with the Titan
  2015. >Perhaps she could feel the drums of war, carried on a breeze from distant shores
  2016. >You couldn't discount it, the god machines were notorious for their near precognition when it came to battle
  2017. >Of course you had shared what was seen with her, and that more than anything had ignited the fighting spark in her mournful spirit
  2018. >You refocus on the task at hand, carefully lining yet another in a series of hundreds of copper wires that ran from the crown of the command throne to the headrest of the steersman position
  2019. >”So if this is where all motive commands are input, why do you even need this...this...”
  2020. >You resist the urge to make a biting comment, it was hardly Twilight's fault that she was being thrust into a world of technology she couldn't even imagine, let alone understand
  2021. “Mind Impulse Unit. A Titan is not a dumb machine like one of your trains, it is a being unto itself, with a mind and soul greater than any of ours. Attempting to command it without linking yourself to it is at the least a violation of its sanctity, but is closer to a violation of its soul. Imagine someone throwing a yoke around your neck and dragging you to and fro to do their bidding instead of working with you to overcome a threat to both your lives.”
  2022. >She shivers as you return to work
  2023. >Truthfully, such a vile action was tantamount to the worst kinds of blaspheming, on par with the Hereteks shackling their Titans with daemons
  2024. >But without the context, she would never understand it exactly
  2025. >”So you'll work with the Titan even while controlling it?”
  2026. >You sigh and pause your work yet again
  2027. “I will not be controlling Nox Aurea, merely directing her fury. She and I are of one mind, but while she is experienced in fighting it takes a team to perform every action successfully. Were she let loose to rampage as she desired, perhaps she would win but the cost to herself and to whatever lay before her would be immense. We work together to mitigate such things.”
  2028. >She nods and falls silent, allowing you to return to working once more
  2029. >Gale nudges your shoulder and motions to the plug of the steersman seat
  2030. >”Is it going to be able to handle such an overload, Anonymous? At the very least there is going to be a bottleneck at the plug point.”
  2031. >You nod and gesture to a number of parts laid out at the edge of the crew pit
  2032. “Normally yes, however we'll be adding an additional throughput that will be fed into my auxiliary input port. That should allow me to interface with both systems and be able to handle it, though I may have to link in parallel with a cogitator to accept the squaring of information packets.”
  2033. >Her eyes brighten and she scans over the parts again
  2034. >”I see! That's a brilliant modification!”
  2035. >You nod and finally solder the last strand of wire into the seat
  2036. >Wiping a bead of sweat from your brow, you examine the results of so many hours of labour
  2037. >It was perfect
  2038. “Gale, could you please fetch the insulating material I left in Shed Three?”
  2039. >She nods eagerly and practically runs to fetch the sheath that would enclose the wires and truly complete the modification
  2040. >When she leaves you turn to Twilight
  2041. “Shall we take a break, princess?”
  2042. >The purple alicorn nods and follows you down the gantry that had been set up around Nox Aurea to better service her
  2043. >It certainly allowed for easier access for the ponies, being that they didn't have the necessary appendages to clamber over the hull as you did
  2044. >Finally her skin was whole, and most of the repairs was down to restoring the fine details of her heraldry and battle honours
  2045. >The victory banners still hung in tatters and would remain as such, since you simply lacked the means to have them repaired
  2046. >It would have to suffice, but perhaps after this engagement you could see about getting a proper artisan to restore them
  2047. >A surprise greets the two of you at the bottom of the scaffolding
  2048. >”Twilight, priest, come. We must discuss something.”
  2049. >You grimace and follow Luna, despite the new trepidation that now settled in on your soul
  2050. >All of the progress, promises of protection, oaths to not harm any ponies, none of it had seemed to persuade the night diarch that you only wished to reactivate Nox Aurea for their benefit
  2051. >Certainly it was to your benefit as well, but she had seemed convinced you were up to no good
  2052. >At the end of the tense, silent walk, lay yet another surprise, greater even than Luna showing up unannounced
  2053. >”Hello Twilight, how have you been these past weeks? It's been quite some time since Spike has sent a letter.”
  2054. >You frown as Twilight practically falls on her face before Celestia, the sun goddess
  2055. >The white alicorn chuckles gently and places a hoof on Twilight's withers
  2056. >”Twilight please, you're no longer a mere student. What's more, I've never desired you to prostrate yourself before me. Now please, how are you?”
  2057. >Twilight rises, a sheepish grin on her face
  2058. >”O-oh I'm sorry princess. I've been just fine. I'm learning so much about the Titan from Anonymous, it's truly incredible stuff! Did you know it has a powerplant that produces energy out of helium? It's practically miraculous!”
  2059. >Celestia's gaze flickers to you and her smile twitches, but she nods towards her former pupil
  2060. >”I'm glad you've made such progress. Will the machine be ready soon?”
  2061. >You offer her a tense grin
  2062. “Most likely, princess. The continuing stonewall is the ignition of Nox Aurea's reactor. I am still gathering the materials required, but it will be prepared within two weeks at most.”
  2063. >Finally she turns her gaze on you fully, her smile disappearing as though torn from her face
  2064. >”I certainly hope you will be prepared before that, priest. Come, we have things to discuss away from the public.”
  2065. >You sneer at the comment and remain where you are, despite Celestia and Luna both turning their backs on you
  2066. “I conduct all my business well within the eyes of all that care to see. The least I can ask is for you two to do the same. These ponies know of the threat coming, why treat them as though they are children that you dare not warn?”
  2067. >Celestia pauses, but Luna is the sister that whirls on you with a hateful look
  2068. >”We do this as a courtesy to you, priest! You will come with us or we shall yell out our news for all to hear.”
  2069. >Celestia places a hoof on her sister's back and steps forward with a serene look
  2070. >”Luna is correct, this news is considerably more...volatile than usual affairs. Please, Anonymous, let us speak in private.”
  2071. >Something in her tone changes your mind
  2072. >Sharp and short as she was acting, she was being more sincere than you had heard either of the diarchs be towards you
  2073. >You let out a quiet sigh and gesture to a workshop just off the dirt path
  2074. “In here, none will bother us.”
  2075. >She inclines her head and follows you into the darkened foundry, Luna showing more trepidation than either of the other two
  2076. >You turn on a light and sit at a small craft table, folding your hands in front of you
  2077. “So then, what could be so inflammatory that we needed such secrecy to discuss it?”
  2078. >Celestia waits for Luna and Twilight to join you and her at the table before closing her eyes and speaking in a somber tone
  2079. >”That monster, the Kaban machine, has just come out of the sea to the South of Baltimare. We have found out where it is heading.”
  2080. >This was news to you, the last you had heard the enemy had returned to the oceans and was lost
  2081. >She opens her eyes and her gaze carries the weight of ages spent on a throne
  2082. >”It's coming here.”
  2083. >For a long moment, you were confused
  2084. “Don't you mean, it is here, princess?”
  2085. >It had just come up on Equestria's shores, so indeed it was here
  2086. >What then, did she mean?
  2087. >Of course, the moment you consider this question, her answer falls on your ears with the force of a lead brick
  2088. >”No, Anonymous, it is coming here. It is coming to Ponyville.”
  2089. >Your soul sinks at her pronouncement
  2090. >It was just as you had feared, despite your prayers to the contrary
  2091. >You lower your head and pray a quiet supplication for the protection of these ponies
  2092. >When you look up, Twilight is staring at you with confusion, and Celestia and Luna with suspicion
  2093. >”You understand why, then.”
  2094. >You nod your head a swallow to clear your throat, replying in a hoarse tone
  2095. “Yes, I was afraid of this when I noticed the resemblance to such an ancient design. You see, the Kaban Project was build to home in on the passive signals of Mechanicus machine spirits and destroy them. Because your machines are made without spirits, it has never seen fit to hunt on this world.”
  2096. >You take a deep breath, steeling yourself for the next revelation
  2097. “It was likely in a dormant, passive scan state until now. When Nox Aurea was thrust into this world and near the shutdown point, she likely broadcast a Mechanicus distress beacon with what power remained. When it was detected, the machine would have reactivated and begun whatever vile sequence it has to process such situations. Once that was done, it would have started the hunt for its enemy.”
  2098. >You bow your head again, your voice becoming sorrowful
  2099. “I apologize to you, princesses. It is because of my kind that this threat even exists, and my own that it is now a danger to you at all. This is why I must return Nox Aurea's ability to wage war, and by doing so protect you all from our past sins.”
  2100. >You fall silent and the other remain so
  2101. >The quiet hum of electricity fills the small space, filling what would otherwise be a void
  2102. >Celestia's face is totally inexpressive, but Twilight and, you your surprise, Luna look absolutely shocked at your words
  2103. >Perhaps at the revelation itself, perhaps at your apology, or even that you would reveal it without any sort of resistance
  2104. >What did they expect from you, it was your fault that this was happening, and so you would be the one to at least try and make it right
  2105. >Surely they could understand that
  2106. >Finally, Celestia speaks up with a tone that wouldn't sound out of place coming from a maternal figure
  2107. >”Thank you for your honesty, Anonymous.”
  2108. >She leans forward, a small smile touching the corners of her lips
  2109. >”If I'm entirely honest, I had expected you to at least try and shift the weight of the threat to another. That you didn't shows a genuine desire to help us against this threat.”
  2110. >Celestia sits up straight again as Twilight and Luna finally shake off their shock
  2111. >When she speaks, her voice is as regal and commanding as you'd expect from royalty
  2112. >”Equestria stands behind your Titan, Anonymous. Never have we had to rely on a non-pony to save us, and I cannot deny that it frightens me to do so. But you have shown goodness through your actions, flawed though they may be.”
  2113. >She holds up a hoof to forestall any protest from her companions, or any words from you
  2114. >”However, in return for this trust I must ask something of you. Do not carry out any more implantations on my little ponies. While I understand your desire for advancement at any cost, I cannot allow the further defilement of the pony form.”
  2115. >You grit your teeth at the pronouncement
  2116. >But you couldn't turn down this kind of endorsement, it would be far too valuable in the future
  2117. >Perhaps, in time, you would be able to move your operations to another country and continue your work on pilgrims
  2118. >Those plans would have to wait, for now at least you would abide
  2119. “Very well, I accept these terms. I must ask you to reconsider if your subjects submit themselves voluntarily. They are fully capable of making informed decisions, and the Omnissiah calls to all who would hear his voice.”
  2120. >Celestia grimaces and shakes her head slowly
  2121. >”No. Though they may be grown mares and stallions, even adults need protection from some things. You do not understand ponies as I do, Anonymous. I will not budge a single millimeter on this matter.”
  2122. >You take a deep breath to calm yourself
  2123. >Too valuable...
  2124. “So be it, perhaps we might speak more in the future. For now though, I will continue to prepare Nox Aurea for war.”
  2125. >Celestia inclines her head to you and takes a step back from the table
  2126. >”Thank you. Let us go sister, we still have much more to do.”
  2127. >Luna glowers at you for a moment longer before following Celestia out of the workshop
  2128. >Twilight looks at you, clearly uncertain of what she ought to be doing
  2129. >You rise from your seat and offer her a smile
  2130. >Best not to make such a big deal out of the great restrictions that had just been placed on your mission to the ponies
  2131. “Well Twilight, I suppose that is that.”
  2132. >She gives you a nervous chuckle and her eyes flit to the door
  2133. >”Yeah, I guess it is. Well you have royal support, there should be no problem getting the Titan online now!”
  2134. >You lay a hand on your withers and she twitches at the touch
  2135. “Come, it is time I showed you the reason behind my inviting you to work with me.”
  2136. >Her eyes widen and she eagerly trots after you as you leave the small workshop behind
  2137. >She keeps up a constant barrage of questions as the two of you make for the largest laboratory at the feet of Nox Aurea
  2138. >”You mean it wasn't just to show me around? What kind of experiments do you need my help with? Are they magical? I know plenty about magic, but I can't promise anything since your technology is so advanced. Did you find some kind of secret spell to reawaken the Titan?”
  2139. >You pause at the entry and look down at her, a strange sensation of nervousness coming over you
  2140. “Whatever you think of what is in here, allow me to explain it before you jump to conclusions.”
  2141. >She lets out a snort of laughter and gives you a reassuring smile
  2142. >”Please, you make it sound like you're harvesting pony organs and selling them to the gryphons for meat.”
  2143. >You grimace at the idea
  2144. >What a barbaric concept, honestly these ponies...
  2145. >You throw open the doors to the laboratory and usher Twilight inside the now brilliantly lit room
  2146. >Her look is one of shock, her jaw dropping open and her pupils shrinking to pinpricks
  2147. >Some time ago, you had built two more replication vats for increased production of unicorn horns, and all three were full of horns still being cultivated
  2148. >”What is...what are...”
  2149. >You nod and run a hand over the glass of one of the green liquid filled tubes
  2150. “Quite something is it not?”
  2151. >”What the BUCK is this?”
  2152. >You turn and see her hyperventilating and looking around with fear in her eyes
  2153. >Elevated heart rate, abnormal pupilary response, extreme stress responses
  2154. “Twilight, calm yourself, this is hardly what you think it is.”
  2155. >Her gaze fixes on you and her lips curl in disgust
  2156. >”Like Tartarus it isn't! How many unicorns are walking around hornless, Anonymous? No, it doesn't matter, I'm going to Celestia about this right now!”
  2157. >You swiftly wrap a pair of mechadendrites around her to stop her flight
  2158. >Perhaps not the most elegant way to stop her, but she had to understand
  2159. “Twilight calm down and look. You of all ponies should have been able to observe what this actually is.”
  2160. >She struggles against your grip, but you forcibly guide her to one of the vats and direct her gaze inside
  2161. “Look, Twilight. They're just cloned organs, cloned of Tempest Shadow no less. No pony was harmed by this, in fact this was to help her!”
  2162. >Gradually, her struggles slow and her breathing becomes calm
  2163. “My apologies, Twilight. I did not expect such an averse reaction to the laboratory.”
  2164. >She shifts around in your grasp, more from discomfort than any desire to escape it seemed
  2165. >”Yeah, well, I'm fine now. Let me down.”
  2166. >You gingerly remove your mechadenrites and wrap them around your back once more
  2167. >With a bit of trepidation, she approaches the tubes and her horn comes alight
  2168. >Alarmed, you step between her and the replication vats, afraid she would destroy so much work
  2169. >”Relax would you? I'm just making sure you're telling the truth.”
  2170. >Her tone is clinical and dispassionate, and yet you're still uncertain
  2171. >However, you needed her help
  2172. >You step aside, allowing her to touch her horn on the armoured glass of the tube
  2173. >The detached organ inside glows faintly with resonant magic, as do the others in turn as she approaches each
  2174. >She glances sidelong at the complete horns inside their climate controlled chambers and lets out a quiet sigh
  2175. >”Well, they all have the same resonance signature that Fizzlepop has. And since I've seen her going around with an intact horn, I suppose they weren't actually extracted from her. Still...”
  2176. >She shudders and turns to you, appearing paler than before
  2177. >”Why did you do this? Any other pony would have attacked you outright! What could you possibly need all these horns for, and why are they so big?”
  2178. >You stroke the glass again and quietly sigh
  2179. “I've been doing a great deal of research with these, Twilight. I found, quite by accident, that they interact with resonant crystals in such a way that, under the right conditions, cubes the amount of energy that lays latent in the crystal itself.”
  2180. >You pick up a crystal from a nearby table and hold it up to the light
  2181. “When induced, the horns can redirect this energy in such a way that it combines and multiplies further. With enough horns and crystals, there is a good chance of restarting the reactor of Nox Aurea.”
  2182. >You turn to her, a solemn look on your face
  2183. “I need a unicorn with great experience and control to direct the flow, Twilight. Though an excellent worker, Tempest simply doesn't have the level of finesse required for this operation. I need you, Twilight.”
  2184. >You hold out a hand to her, more serious than you'd ever been
  2185. >This was all or nothing, do or die
  2186. >Twilight looks at you suspiciously
  2187. >”You're totally sure that this will work?”
  2188. >You nod your head, allowing a small smile to touch your lips
  2189. “The numbers don't lie.”
  2190. >She offers you a small smile in return, looks at your hand and with a slight shiver, places her hoof in it
  2191. >A few days after Twilight agreed to help, you find yourself in the horn growth laboratory once again
  2192. >These three might be the last ones, the final components in what would bring Nox Aurea back to life
  2193. >If your calculations were correct, and according to Twilight they were indeed, this would be all you needed
  2194. >Gale is sitting beside you and smiling at the horns like a proud mother
  2195. >”This is it, right? The last batch we need to make before we can try?”
  2196. >You run a hand through her mane affectionately, a gesture she had more than grown to appreciate
  2197. “Correct, adept. Soon the glory of an awakened god machine will bathe us all, and every being here will bear witness to the power of an avatar of the Omnissiah.”
  2198. >Gale beams even wider, nuzzling the glass of one of the tubes
  2199. >”I can't believe that it's happening so soon. It seems almost like a dream.”
  2200. >Her words resonate deep inside you
  2201. >It did indeed seem just too good to be true, and yet here you were, on the verge of making both Equestrian and Mechanicus history
  2202. >What's more, you would be waging war against two ancient enemies of all life, the vile Soulless Sentience and the putrid forces of the Archenemy
  2203. >Yet that same idea that gave you a definite goal paved the way to allow worry and fear to take root
  2204. >Worry that you were wrong and Nox Aurea would never rise again, fear that you and her would perish alongside any beings that knew the touch of the Machine God
  2205. >Your work would be in vain, and your mere existence would have let loose indescribable evil on this world
  2206. >That sin alone would deny the embrace of the Omnissiah to you, and possibly to your followers as well
  2207. >A gentle tug at the cuff of your sleeves drags you out of the recursive downward cycle, and you see Gale offering you an understanding smile
  2208. >”Please, Anonymous, don't fret. We've done the math again and again, this is going to work. Remember, mathematics was knowledge granted to us by the Omnissiah. It is through this that we perceive truth.”
  2209. >You smile at the quotation
  2210. >It was something you had taught her when you had been going over more advanced arithmetic
  2211. >To hear it quoted back at you with such a force of faith touched your heart
  2212. >Here you were, a fully assumed member of the cult who personally worked on the very machines wrought in perfect image of the Deus Mechanicus, and this little pony held more faith in her than you did
  2213. >You lay a hand on her back and smile beatifically at the simple revelation she had granted
  2214. “I am sorry, Gale, to both you and to the Omnissiah. I allowed doubt to darken my mind, and thus to cloud the pure logic gifted to me. I beg your forgiveness, and that of the Machine God.”
  2215. >You kneel and Gale places her hoof on your head, tracing the shape of a cog and kissing the center of it
  2216. >”In his name, you are forgiven. No penitence is necessary in light of the coming battle.”
  2217. >You rise and ruffle her mane
  2218. >It was a strange feeling, being absolved by your junior
  2219. >But on this occasion, it seemed more than fitting
  2220. >It was not the vast empire of steel and spirit that was giving rebirth to a living icon, but a technologically dark world with not even the barest idea of the Omnissiah
  2221. >The Motive Force could be found anywhere, this was the teaching of the Cult
  2222. “Thank you, Gale. Now then, let's run another test on the conducting coils. I'm still put off by the microsecond fluctuation at the surge point and--”
  2223. >The door to the shop bursts open, interrupting your vocal tasking
  2224. >Twilight stands in the frame, panting and soaked with sweat
  2225. >Her gaze hold such fear that it gives you pause in even asking what could possibly have her in such a state
  2226. >Deep down though, you already know
  2227. >”The machine, it's just torn through Dodge City! It's moving faster than we had first thought and picking up more speed on the plains. We have a day at most before it's here, when is the Titan going to be ready?”
  2228. >A day, that pronouncement chills you to your core
  2229. >Gale looks up at your horrified expression with uncertainty before looking back at Twilight
  2230. >”Um, princess, we need at least two before these horns are complete. Plus there's still more tests to run on Nox Aurea...”
  2231. >Gale trails off and you don't pick up the thread
  2232. >There were other things, teaching Gale more about operating the sensors, running Tempest through more combat scenarios
  2233. >Not to mention your own need to adjust to the intense information overload of coupling with Nox Aurea and acting as steersman
  2234. >A day was too little, it would just be too late
  2235. >”Please Anonymous, there must be some solution! We're going to die!”
  2236. >An idea sparks in your mind
  2237. >It's utterly insane, true madness born of desperation and in any other circumstance would have you excommunicated as a heretek immediately
  2238. “Send for Princess Celestia, she is still in Ponyville correct?”
  2239. >Twilight hesitates a moment, but nods with a look of confusion
  2240. “Go, we have no time to spare for explanation.”
  2241. >After another second of hesitating, clearly wanting to ask questions, she takes off in a rush of wind and loose feathers
  2242. >You massage your temples, a spike of anger quickly running its course through you
  2243. >What an absolute disaster
  2244. >Gale stands beside you, perceptive enough to understand that it was best to not break your concentration
  2245. “Come, let's gather the completed horns. We need to get them into the cradle right now and make preparations for Ignition.”
  2246. >To her credit, and despite her clear confusion at the order, she runs to the chambers and gathers as many as she can before trotting off as careful as possible
  2247. >With your mechadendrites and greater size, you manage to gather the ten that remained after her three
  2248. >Finally you follow the path she had taken to the foot of the Titan
  2249. >The camp and nearby town is barely held together as it is, this event had many scrambling to evacuate, and many more prostrating and offering prayers to you, to Nox Aurea, to the Omnissiah
  2250. >The throngs around the feet of the god machine parted before you, muttering and chanting incessantly
  2251. >The hymns were rough and imperfect renditions of ones you had been taught as a mere child, but importantly they could be made with simple fleshvoice
  2252. >You clamber up the scaffolding around the Titan and into the cockpit, the inner sanctum, forbidden to all but a few
  2253. >The horns are deposited at the back, near the reactor access and the cradle that would act as a conductor of their powers
  2254. >A pulse of machine cant runs over your ears and you look to the crew pits where Tempest sits staring straight ahead, her horn aglow
  2255. >Another simulation, thank the Omnissiah she spent as much time as she could here
  2256. >But for now, she would have to stop
  2257. >With a squib of machine language, you have Nox Aurea shut down the memory and Tempest reacts slowly, blinking and squinting at the sudden disconnect
  2258. >”Nox Aurea, was that a glitch? Did some non-operation occur?”
  2259. >The deep rumble from the inner workings of the Titan somehow manage to sound offended
  2260. >Tempest's head whips around and she finally catches sight of you
  2261. >”Ah, Anonymous it must have been you! Is something the matter? You look as though Tartarus has swallowed us up.”
  2262. >You nod once and gesture for her to follow you to the back where Gale has begun slotting the horns into place
  2263. “It may well have, Tempest. The Kaban Duplicate is going to be here within a day. We can no long train, we must be prepared to act immediately.”
  2264. >She joins Gale without another word, using her magic to swiftly and precisely slot the horns into position
  2265. >There was no need to explain the weight of the situation to her
  2266. >”Will Nox Aurea walk?”
  2267. >You grimace, that was a question you were already dreading in your own mind
  2268. “It is possible, though not without a great deal of difficulty. We shall have to forgo the planned rites of activation and the supplication of the god machine to do it in a timely fashion. I believe she will forgive these transgressions so long as it is under such duress.”
  2269. >Another rumble from the Titan, likely pleased with the idea of a fight
  2270. >Even among Warhounds, Nox Aurea was a violent beast
  2271. >She often charged ahead of the pack, straining at the leash of the princeps' mind, and howling in deafening squalls of binary
  2272. >Yes, she would be pleased to stride the fields with killing intent once again
  2273. >Several hoofbeats clank on the entrance gantry, alerting you to the presence of ponies you hoped were here at your request
  2274. >Turning around you feel a modicum of relief and some tension in your body dissipates
  2275. >”Anonymous, just what is so important that you had to pull me away from a round-table with the generals of three nations?”
  2276. >You offer Celestia an easy smile and gesture to the work your companions had nearly completed
  2277. “Princess, I do apologize but I required a magician of your caliber for this. I assume Twilight has already briefed you on the mechanism by which I plan to awaken Nox Aurea?”
  2278. >Celestia looks down at the bashful purple princess and nods slowly
  2279. >”Somewhat, though I don't understand a great deal of the technology involved. It is using replicated unicorn horns to conduct and amplify magic that comes from resonant stones though, correct?”
  2280. >You cock your head slightly and nod
  2281. “That is the absolute basic principle behind it yes. I will not waste time with the details, we simply do not have the time. But as it stands, I required sixteen horns in order to have Twilight start the process with a sizeable donation of her own reserves of energy. With only thirteen however...”
  2282. >”You need a larger boost.”
  2283. >You smile again, happy that you don't have to explain absolutely everything
  2284. “Precisely. Being a...goddess such as you are I was hoping that you might be able to grant this small favour. After all, I have a feeling that even with those generals you have not come up with an alternative to Nox Aurea engaging the Kaban Duplicate.”
  2285. >You see her biting the inside of her cheek, annoyed
  2286. >Clearly you had hit the nail on the head
  2287. >”There have been no...viable alternatives no. And with how little time we have I have my own doubts about our ability to fight this threat. So...”
  2288. >She sighs and lowers her head to you
  2289. >”So be it. What must I do?”
  2290. >Gale tugs at the hem of your robe and nods when you turn to acknowledge her
  2291. >Everything was ready then
  2292. >You raise your arm and gesture to the open panel containing thirteen, meter long unicorn horns surrounded by several resonating crystals each
  2293. >Thick bundles of wire fed into an opening in the toroidal plasma chamber
  2294. “Please just step over here a moment. I shall make the final preparations and inform you.”
  2295. >She walks over and stands above the waiting power conductor, an uneasy expression on her face
  2296. >You draw power from other systems to the safeties and containment of the reactor, shutting down everything that was outside the Titan herself
  2297. >Even the cockpit is silent, the whir of the air exchange vanishing and the hum of various systems going silent as their energy is shunted towards the singular operation
  2298. >You turn from the console to Celestia, who was shuffling nervously
  2299. “Princess, I need you to channel as much energy as you can into the resonating crystals at their perfect tones. I have simplified the tones as much as I can, but there is still marginal variance between the sets. Twilight was able to compensate for up to twelve different tones, and I am hoping you might do the same.”
  2300. >Celestia gives you a grin and her horn lights up
  2301. >”Please, who do you think taught Twilight? A mere twelve tones ought to be a simple operation.”
  2302. >The stones and horns are engulfed with a blazing, golden glow and Celestia closes her eyes, adopting a serene expression
  2303. >You can hear, through the augmetics in your ears, her shifting through various resonant tones
  2304. >Their magic was so fascinating, far from the simple magnetic field manipulation you had originally postulated on arrival
  2305. >You could pour decades of study and still not plumb the depths of it
  2306. >To call it magic was hardly inaccurate, you've found
  2307. >As each tone coincides in perfect harmony with their respective set of stones, a new sound emerges and bathes the horns in a green-gold radiance
  2308. >And after several minutes, you hear it at last
  2309. >Perfect Resonance
  2310. >You allow yourself a second to record a sample of the audio, it would be incredibly valuable for research
  2311. “Celestia, hold those tones and channel every bit of energy you can through the stones.”
  2312. >She nods and the glow becomes a near blinding light that fills the cockpit
  2313. >Seemingly sourceless, it makes everything appear as flat objects, flowing and fusing into each other
  2314. >The volume of the tones grows ever louder and, when it reaches a peak, you throw a large breaker switch on the panel you had been standing by
  2315. >A deafening crash echoes out and the radiance disappears as a candle snuffed out
  2316. >The tones are gone, but in their place there is a new sound
  2317. >You shove the ponies aside heedlessly, you had to see if it was truly happening
  2318. >From the small viewport at the techpriest's station, a scintillating, brilliant violet light bathes the tight quarters and highlights the various instruments
  2319. >Slowly, each panel flickers to life and a resounding hum begins to spread through the engine
  2320. >Gears creak and moan as they move for the first time in many months, pneumohydraulics hiss and squeal as they are pressurized
  2321. >Autoloaders clack and the scent of ozone builds in the cockpit as the capacitors of the plasma blastgun are fed with power
  2322. >Outside, the worshipers are cheering furiously as the god machine belches the smoke of impurity buildup from its extractors
  2323. >And finally a single word echoes through your augmented mind, screamed by Nox Aurea as noospheric data swims about your head, bringing tears of joy to your eyes
  2324. >”IGNITION”
  2325. >No time is wasted from the moment of Ignition
  2326. >Gale is inloaded with all the information she needs to be a successful sensori, Tempest is given data on twenty-two similar engagements, and both are strapped into their modified seats in the crew pit
  2327. >Finally, while chanting prayers and hymns in binary and fleshvoice, you plug yourself into the steersman throne
  2328. >It's larger than it had originally been, owing to the extra hardware that allowed you to interface directly with Nox Aurea, and the cogitator interface to allow you to process so much
  2329. >The moment you open the connection, your mind is awash with heavenly data
  2330. >It's overwhelming, and you cannot help bust bask in it, uttering praises to the Machine God with a beatific smile
  2331. >But the moment quickly passes as Nox Aurea's consciousness brushes against your own, a red and black monster of pure intent
  2332. >She wanted to hunt, wanted to kill, but just as a princeps would, you leash her desires to your will
  2333. >A glance out the viewports shows you that Celestia and Twilight have managed to clear the ponies from the feet of the Titan, though they haven't gone far
  2334. >With another grin, you blast the warhorns of the god machine, and they return it with raucous applause
  2335. >Finally, you take your first step
  2336. >The ground shudders below you, registering on the seismic sensors momentarily before being filtered out
  2337. >A pulse from Gale confirms that everything is in working order, and so you take another step, turning towards the rolling hills over which your enemy came
  2338. >The Titan leans, and you receive more pulsed reports from Tempest and Gale
  2339. >You're ready
  2340. >As an afterthought, you rest your finger on one of the few analog switches on the console in front of you
  2341. >You pause, conferring with Nox Aurea
  2342. >After a tense second of silence, she gives her approval and you flip the switch
  2343. >From each leg, a monolithic, black rectangular block drop to the soft earth with a muffled thudding
  2344. >The repositories were far too valuable for you to risk in a combat such as this
  2345. >Usually, when the legio would walk, they could be recovered from fallen Titans without issue so their irreplaceable information would not be lost
  2346. >But you and Nox Aurea are alone, and there are no guarantees that you will survive
  2347. >Better to risk losing a blessing than to risk utter damnation
  2348. >Besides that, the god machine has lightened significantly
  2349. >You bring her up to a slow lope, your body moving in time with the gait of the engine, slightly swaying with each stride
  2350. >Constant reports are fed to you, auspex, vox emanations, energy levels, everything that you need to both run Nox Aurea and to locate the enemy
  2351. >After an hour, it becomes a kind of meditation
  2352. >Processing so much blessed data lulls you into a strange limbo of being, feeling as though you are merely a piece of the great Titan you are plugged into
  2353. >Was this how the princeps felt when they were linked?
  2354. >It was easy to see how they became almost addicted to the sensation, why after a time they developed various tics that mimicked the mannerisms of what they piloted
  2355. >You had seen it happen to your own princeps, Hetzer
  2356. >His gait had changed to mimic the hunched, loping steps of Nox Aurea, becoming more aggressive as time went on and irritable outside the cockpit
  2357. >Though you can now understand why this came about, though you can only pray it doesn't happen to you
  2358. >The Titan seems to be pulling slightly southwest, as though attracted by something unseen by eye or instrument
  2359. >Even when you try and pull her back, she strains against the bonds of the plug, yearning for whatever she feels
  2360. >Then you feel it as well
  2361. >You connect with Gale, momentarily slowing your advance
  2362. “What is the weather like right now, adept?”
  2363. >She hesitates, confused by the request, but checks the barometric sensors on her console
  2364. >”Uh, pressure is slightly below normal. There seems to be a cold front sweeping southwest of us, in the dustbowls.”
  2365. >You narrow your eyes, staring off in the indicated direction
  2366. “Project a map for me, please.”
  2367. >The display come up, labeling the various cities and towns in the area, along with the topography
  2368. >Without hesitation, you turn southwest and take off at the highest speed you could without falling over
  2369. >As you dismiss the map, Gale and Tempest both query you for the sudden change
  2370. “It's a sandstorm.”
  2371. >Tempest is the first to realize, having relived an engagement on Orestes that had taken place inside a storm like the one that was sweeping the land far away
  2372. >Void shield harmonics
  2373. >When exposed to constant irritation, void shields gave off strange harmonic frequencies that, though detectable, were often parsed out of auspex sweeps
  2374. >The machine was in the storm, and now you held the advantage of surprise
  2375. >Nox Aurea lopes along with savage glee, excited to be the silent hunter coming for unsuspecting prey
  2376. >That feeling is infectious and you find yourself getting caught up in the thrill of the hunt
  2377. >Was it dangerous? Yes. Foolish? Absolutely
  2378. >Yet you pushed ever on, heart pounding in time with the pulse of the reactor
  2379. >As the fields gave way to dry sands, you could feel the same excitement overtaking Tempest
  2380. >Gale however was becoming ever more nervous
  2381. >You send a pulse of reassurance to her over the connection you all shared
  2382. >There was little else you could do, the stocks of stimulants and relaxants had been long depleted in the walk before coming to Equestria
  2383. >A touch of worry colours your feelings as you slow to approach the vast storm front in the desert
  2384. >You would simply have to trust that she would be capable in the heat of battle
  2385. >Tempest's voice pipes up from beside you, excited and cheery
  2386. >”Well here we are, the battlefield.”
  2387. >She looks over at you, a strangely predatory grin on her face that looked entirely out of place on a pony
  2388. >”Shall we engage, Anonymous?”
  2389. >You look over your crew, Tempest eager and hot blooded, Gale with a nervous smile fidgeting in her chair
  2390. >With these two you would face down a threat that had barely been staved off by the Legio Mortis of Mars
  2391. >A monster brought to life by Hereteks with vile techno-sorcery and daemonic assistance
  2392. >An ancient evil that, if allowed to roam free, could easily destroy all life on this world
  2393. >So despite your misgivings, you must face it
  2394. >Without another word, you shut down the void shields and ease Nox Aurea into the blinding, violent sandstorm and onwards to your fate
  2395. >The interior of the cockpit is silent, but for the sand scraping on the hull
  2396. >Nox Aurea is cold, her reactor only keeping a trickle of energy to ensure the Titan did not die
  2397. >The breath of you and your crew fog in the frigid air, made so to make her nigh undetectable
  2398. >You lay in wait, crouched low, passive scanners listening for the barest trace of your prey, finger hovering over the rapid restart
  2399. >A Warhound could come fully online from a cold sit like this in seconds, catching any enemy that looked over her with devastating surprise
  2400. >But the anticipation was building, in you and your companions
  2401. >Since entering the storm, you had not caught on to the trace of the Kaban Duplicate
  2402. >After ten minutes of fruitless searching, you had shut down the Titan and had been laying in wait ever since
  2403. >Two hours now, and you were becoming worried
  2404. >It feels as though the entire movement was just bait to lure you in
  2405. >Given that you were dealing with an abominable intelligence, it was a very real possibility
  2406. >You rest a mechadendrite on the start button and take the yoke in your hands
  2407. >Tempest and Gale turn to their instruments, focus returning as they understand the gravity of your movement
  2408. >Suddenly, from the aural scanners, an ugly storm of hissing and squeals comes over the equipment, void feedback
  2409. >Gale wastes no time locating the signal and feeds the information to Tempest
  2410. >Within seconds, she has a firing solution and waits for the power to unleash the boundless fury of Nox Aurea
  2411. >But you hold
  2412. >This was almost certainly a trap
  2413. >You had first picked up this signal far away from where you now were, and it had been lost the moment you entered the storm
  2414. >And here is was again, after hours of total silence
  2415. >No, it was definitely a trap
  2416. >So you waited
  2417. >You observed the constant flow of information on the position and target solution, squaring that data with the map
  2418. >The enemy drew ever closer
  2419. >It was moving in an odd radial search pattern, likely unsure of where you were but unwilling to allow you the possibility of slipping past a basic grid
  2420. >It wouldn't be long before its closest approach, you had to be ready to pounce
  2421. >The void generators are ready to ignite the moment power comes through the system, the capacitors have been trickle fed to their limit, and the megabolter is prepared
  2422. >As an afterthought, you query the status of the lone close combat weapon, a serrated dagger that would come from the bottom of the blastgun
  2423. >It's ejectors were slightly below nominal pressure, but it would have to suffice
  2424. >The tension grew thick in the cockpit as the Duplicate drew closer, the smell of sweat, chemical and natural, permeating the frigid air
  2425. >It's close enough now that the seismic detectors could feel the rumbling of its treads
  2426. >There were seconds until it would be effectively on top of you, within a scant hundred meters
  2427. >You query your crew and get affirmatives, and a purr from Nox Aurea
  2428. >Three, two, one, now
  2429. >The reactor flares, energy floods through the Titan, and you direct it to spring forward and close even further with the vile machine
  2430. >With so little time, the Kaban Duplicate hardly had time to turn towards the violently advancing Warhound before you had engaged it
  2431. >A series of three shots flew from the plasma blastgun and impacted the void shields of the enemy, throwing rainbow shimmers across its surface
  2432. >That vibrant colouring only lasted a second before the shields burst, tongues of flame licking across its back as its generators burst from the sudden and intense stress
  2433. >Its own weapons only got a single shot off that was easily absorbed by your own, now brilliant, shields
  2434. >The megabolter spat its last fifty rounds at near point blank range, tearing holes in its armour and blasting apart dozens of hull mounted weapons
  2435. >Now you're too close to bring the blastgun to bear on its head, but Tempest is nothing if not a pony of aggressive opportunity
  2436. >The shot that comes rips apart the machines left arm, destroying what was likely incomprehensible archeotech and a no doubt murderous weapon
  2437. >She lets out a restrained cheer, taken by her achievement
  2438. >It wasn't dead, but the enthusiasm was quite infectious
  2439. >You hear Gale even giggle as the enemy lets out a seemingly pained moan
  2440. >But it still has some fight left in it
  2441. >With how close you were, the Kaban Duplicate managed to snake its more flexible remaining arm inside your near pristine void shields and gave a tremendous shot that blew out every actuator to the megabolter
  2442. >Nox Aurea cries out in furious pain and you let out your own moan as needles of pain stab into your left arm
  2443. >The damage wasn't crippling, but now the Titan's anger was stoked to new heights
  2444. >Bellowing from her warhorns, you backed her off to a short but manageable distance
  2445. >You shunt the energy from the crippled megabolter to the blastgun, praying for enough energy to deliver a coup de grace and end this fight
  2446. >But war is never so simple
  2447. >Lightning sparks across its massive mechadendrites and a hellish screech echoes above the whipping wind
  2448. >The lights on your console flicker and the capacitors in the gun drain to zero
  2449. >A bolt jumps from the Kaban Duplicate and dances over the shields of Nox Aurea, putting excessive stress on the generators to keep it up
  2450. >With deft twitches from your own mechadendrites across the keys you rout additional energy to cooling those generators and lower the threshold of the shields
  2451. >Gale reports an out of place buildup of energy across the surface of the machine, and its suddenly wreathed in blue energy
  2452. >A secondary shield, plasma based
  2453. >Of course it had a backup, and what's more the blastgun was charging at a barely acceptable rate
  2454. >It would be at least a minute before you could fire a single shot, let alone the several it would likely take to disrupt the shield and make the kill
  2455. >What's more, you couldn't guarantee your shields would keep a blast like the last one at bay
  2456. >Felid and rodent then
  2457. “Gale keep tracking it, Tempest modify your targeting algorithm to adjust for full speed. We're moving now.”
  2458. >Without waiting for their confirmation, you throttle up the Warhound and take off into the sandstorm
  2459. >Your crew, your companions, did their jobs perfectly
  2460. >Gale was able to track the machine now that she had full spectral data to go off, and Tempest kept her lock even as you sprinted about
  2461. >Another bolt strikes the dusty plains scant tens of meters in front of you, the enemy was having a difficult time as you had hoped
  2462. >The sand had been interfering with your own auspex, though Gale did a heroic job of filtering it
  2463. >Lightning dances over the shield for a second before dancing along the ground beside Nox Aurea
  2464. >It hadn't drained the shields much and they reach full strength moments later
  2465. >You divert some spare energy to try and charge the gun, perhaps enough to get a double shot
  2466. >As the capacitor charge rises, you tighten the circle you're running around the Kaban Duplicate
  2467. “Tempest, you see our vector? Prepare to fire at perhellion.”
  2468. >She acknowledges and the blastgun moves as you lean the Titan inwards to run straight past the machine
  2469. >At the closest approach, just thirty meters from the enemy, she fires a single shot
  2470. >The blast is enough to disrupt the shield and you carry on sprinting away from retaliation
  2471. >Another one like that and you would kill it!
  2472. >Its response is late, dozens of bolts striking the dusty earth behind you
  2473. >Sloppy, especially for such a legendary machine as this
  2474. >Perhaps the ages of dormancy and sea water had degraded it to such a point that it could no longer hold a candle to the terror it had wreaked Mars
  2475. >Your confidence held for a total of three seconds
  2476. >A shot from its remaining main weapon, some archeotech that even your elders may find difficult to comprehend, pops your shield like a blister
  2477. >The generators turn to slag as they try and compensate for the sudden draw, but simply cannot keep up with the demand
  2478. >Your left arm burns and you cry out in pain as the cables to the plasma blastgun are severed
  2479. >Even as you continue sprinting and finally get control of your own pain response, you come to understand that that was it
  2480. >There would be no clean kill now, no easy way to save everyone
  2481. >You prowl just over a kilometer from the Kaban Duplicate, consciously dulling the pain receptors in your arms as Nox Aurea growls like a wounded bear
  2482. >Gale and Tempest are both silent, Tempest in particular is hanging her head low
  2483. >There was little for her to do now, with all her weapons neutralized
  2484. >A sudden thought, like a shot from a volcano cannon, burns through your mind
  2485. >You look in the direction that the enemy laid in, likely nursing its own wounds even as you did yours
  2486. >Not all your weapons were down...
  2487. >By some miracle of the Omnissiah, the integrity of the power blade and its ejectors were pristine, despite the other damage to the arm
  2488. >The servos were still working as well, as was everything but the weapon itself, starved of power as it was
  2489. >Still, a massive piece of sharpened metal driven by a furious god machine would be more than enough
  2490. >The kinetic force alone was enough to level hab blocks
  2491. >You set the sticks to continue on the circular pattern you were making around the enemy and turn to Tempest
  2492. >Her hooves are resting on the controls, shaking, and she stares out into the storm with a distant gaze
  2493. >You snap your fingers in front of her face, jarring her from her stupor
  2494. “Tempest I need you here, not in the storm.”
  2495. >She looks up at you and the corners of her mouth twitch up in a small, timid smile
  2496. >You smile in return, realizing the inadvertent pun of it
  2497. “Now listen, you know how to deploy the close combat weapon right?”
  2498. >She's silent for a moment, but eventually nods
  2499. >”You're not seriously planning on trying to take that thing on close up, are you? It's nearly twice our weight, and still has close in defense systems!”
  2500. >You shake your head, gesturing for Gale to join you
  2501. >With unsteady steps on the still rolling deck, she hops from her seat and trots over, cables still plugged into her neck
  2502. “Gale, do you think you would be able to isolate its reactor?”
  2503. >She pauses and blinks, staring into space as she reviews the data feeds flowing through her mind
  2504. >After a long pause filled only with the sound of the Titan's pounding footsteps and the whipping wind, she smiles
  2505. >”Done. I can feed the information to you if you want.”
  2506. >You nod and your smile turns predatory
  2507. >Nox Aurea rumbles with approval as the plan is formulated in your mind and transmitted to your companions
  2508. >Tempest's eyes brighten up immediately and her smile reflects her own
  2509. >”Like spear fishing!”
  2510. >You nod and make a few haptic gestures to input the data in the various systems that would need it before you and Gale return to your own positions
  2511. >Before you can make the course corrections you need to, the cockpit turns silent
  2512. >The sandstorm vanishes and the winds outside grow still
  2513. >Ruddy light shines through the viewport and outside you recognize a familiar feature rising before you
  2514. >The great volcano of Olympus Mons
  2515. >You were on Mars
  2516. >The brilliance of Sol sparkled in the empty cockpit, making the blank consoles gleam in the otherwise dark chamber
  2517. >But despite the jarring change in scenery, you feel at peace
  2518. >A slight breeze flows through the cockpit and, beside you, the chair at the weapon console creaks
  2519. >”Do not be alarmed, Pi Sigma-4. This is merely a simulacra, I have ensured that we are holding course for the time being.”
  2520. >You look over to see just what was in the chair next to you
  2521. >It's a young woman who could not have seen thirty Solar years, vibrant electoos covering her body from the neck down
  2522. >She wore the uniform of a Titan crew member from ages past, her hair long besides the hair above her neck, shaved bald to not obstruct her cerebrospinal interface
  2523. >She smiles when she sees you looking at you, a savage grin revealing metal tipped teeth
  2524. “And you are?”
  2525. >The woman takes a deep breath and her smile shrinks
  2526. >”I had thought you would already posses this data, Pi Sigma-4. I am the First.”
  2527. >When you stay silent, she sighs and goes on
  2528. >”Rather I ought to say, I am using an image of the First. You know me as Nox Aurea, though it is not my name. First as you know her, was Princeps Persis Kalliope the Blood Lily.”
  2529. >Your eyes brighten in sudden realization and you bow your head
  2530. “My apologies, holy engine, I was not aware. My mind is focused...elsewhere as I'm sure you understand.”
  2531. >Her smile takes on a comforting look and she lays a hand on your leg
  2532. >”Worry not Pi Sigma-4, your service has been exemplary. However, I wished to discuss your choice of strategy.”
  2533. >You nod, your mind immediately running through the plan once again
  2534. >”You see, I have been going through a number of scenarios in regards to it.”
  2535. >She waves her hand, gesturing to the viewports
  2536. >On the rusty red sand, dozens of smoking wrecks appear and tarnish the landscape with their bodies
  2537. >”Out of three-hundred eighty-two simulations, I survive with severe damage in three and survive as intact as I am in four others. I am...reluctant to continue with such odds.”
  2538. >You stare out at the wrecks, your face melancholic
  2539. “What choice do we have? The machine out there is the sin of our troubled past. We cannot simply allow it to wreak havoc on innocents, human or not.”
  2540. >First, or Nox Aurea, sighs and stares out the viewport with you
  2541. >”I understand but still I have no desire to die, least of all here so far from my brothers and sisters.”
  2542. >You nod, sympathetic to how the god machine felt about this, a strange feeling to share such companionship with so magnificent an avatar
  2543. “Nor do I, great machine. I would like nothing more than to survive and continue my work of bringing the torch of the Omnissiah to chase away the shadows of ignorance.”
  2544. >You smile sadly and gently run your fingers over the dark console in front of you
  2545. “And yet, I know there are things more valuable than teaching. Our actions will be an example of how the Mechanicus carries the burden of its own sin, but also of the strength that the Machine God imparts to his loyal followers.”
  2546. >A fire lights itself in your heart and your chest swells, your head begins to cloud with emotion and you don't suppress it
  2547. “They must survive to be enlightened, and without this action they will not.”
  2548. >She reaches over and lays her hand atop yours, her voice keeping the same level it always had though you feel as though it carries a modicum of sorrow
  2549. >”Then I am glad to undertake it with you, Pi Sigma-4.”
  2550. >You swallow, your throat suddenly constricted
  2551. “And I with you, Nox Aurea, most holy machine.”
  2552. >She squeezes your hand before she fades away, but even as the sandstorm returns to your sight, you here her whisper one more time in your ears
  2553. >”My name is Chrysí Chári, my princeps.”
  2554. >You smile as the sensations of flesh return to you, leaning back against the modified seat as the world begins to shake and slew once more
  2555. >”Anonymous, are you alright? You zoned out for a moment.”
  2556. >Tempest is gazing over at you, her expression one of worry
  2557. >Your smile grows and you nod, a hand idly massaging the leather that covered the seat as Nox-- no, as Chrysí Chári rumbled
  2558. “Yes, perfectly fine. Merely running through the plan one final time. Are you two ready?”
  2559. >Tempest nods, her face grim and stony, steeling herself for the dangerous plan
  2560. >Gale mimics the gesture, wearing a tense smile and practically vibrating with nervous energy
  2561. >You take the control yoke in your hands, easing the Titan into the beginnings of the last maneuver of the battle
  2562. >The light outside shines golden through the viewport, sparkling off every surface as the god machine picks up speed
  2563. “Forever forward then.”
  2564. >The wind scraped across the skin of the Titan ever louder as you began to pick up speed
  2565. >Deep inside, the reactor flared with power, with no shield generators left to power you spend the energy pushing the legs faster and faster
  2566. >The tattered victory banners swirled and snapped in the chaotic winds, winding themselves around the arms of the god machine
  2567. >The warhorns bellowed a constant barrage of litanies in code, furious declarations of violence and death on the Kaban Duplicate
  2568. >The enemy turned to face it in sullen silence, its weapons aglow with murderous intent
  2569. >Inside the cockpit you had been swept up in the thrill of the charge
  2570. “Pull the Lever forward to engage!”
  2571. >Your compatriots exuberantly continued the catechism
  2572. >”Piston and Pump!”
  2573. “With push of Button fire the Engine!”
  2574. >”And spark Turbine into life!”
  2575. >Finally, the three of you concluded in unison
  2576. “Sing praises to the god of all Machines!”
  2577. >The Titan seemed to howl louder at the end of the litany, mere hundreds of meters from the enemy
  2578. >Wild blasts tear armour from the Warhound and gouge furrows all across its body but nothing slows your heedless charge
  2579. >The distance closed in mere seconds, and just when you are upon the Kaban Duplicate a number of things happen in rapid, perfect succession
  2580. >You first raise the arm with the plasma blastgun to the proper height needed for the maneuver
  2581. >Tempest articulates the weapon so that it aligns immaculately with the targeting data fed to her by Gale's instruments
  2582. >Finally, scant inches and milliseconds before impact, the blade ejector is triggered to impart further kinetic force into the vicious blow
  2583. >The devastating shock of the killing blow throws you all against the restrains of your seats, and the enormous sound of the clashing machines is a hammerblow of noise
  2584. >All is still, all is silent
  2585. >A long, twisting spiderweb of cracks crosses the entirety of the viewport but you see the glow fade from the optics of the Kaban Duplicate
  2586. >A kill
  2587. >The threat was dead, and you yet lived
  2588. >You hear stifled giggling that evolves into raucous laughs and guffaws from Gale and Tempest
  2589. >To many beings, and perhaps the entirety of their own kind, it would seem manic
  2590. >But to you and them, it was like the harmonious peals of great bells tolling out a great victory
  2591. >All the stress, the pain, the exhaustion of the past months spent slaving to reactivate the engine, to spread the word of the Omnissiah, fades away
  2592. >You are finally at peace
  2593. >A sudden, searing pain rips through your side and you bellow in agony even as your Titan does
  2594. >Alarms blare from every station and the lights flicker as the reactor plasma density plummets
  2595. >Tempest and Gale both cry in fear, their elation replaced with terror
  2596. >You're the first to recover, shunting everything you can spare to feed into the reactor, barely managing to stabilize the flow
  2597. >Through the viewport, the baleful red of the Kaban Duplicate's optics shines with spiteful fury
  2598. >The first to recover, Gale shouts a hurried report in panicked tones
  2599. >”Ave Deus Mechanicus, a secondary reactor!”
  2600. >Of course it had been built with redundancy, how could it not be so?
  2601. >It likely wasn't able to supply as much power as the primary, but clearly it was enough to cripple Chrysí Chári
  2602. >Some of the pain is sapped from your body and the world grows dimmer for a moment
  2603. >”There is but one option left to us, Pi Sigma-4.”
  2604. >Yes, there was one option
  2605. >But you wouldn't allow the others to take part and parcel in this
  2606. “Tempest, Gale, get to the salvation pods and go!”
  2607. >They both look shocked, but Tempest quickly unplugs and makes to follow your command
  2608. >Another quirk of the legio, the retrofitting of salvation pods to save the crew of a dying Titan
  2609. >Just as valuable as the god machine itself was a well trained crew, and with so many losses it was a pragmatic way to salvage something from the nightmare of a Titan death
  2610. >Gale though doesn't seem to want to obey the order
  2611. >”I won't leave you and the holy machine to die, Anonymous! What kind of affront to the Omnissiah would that be?”
  2612. >You whirl on her, unwilling to spare the fragile seconds left on diplomacy
  2613. “None, for you would follow the commands of a senior priest! Go!”
  2614. >She stamps a hoof on the plating of the deck
  2615. >”I won't!”
  2616. >You grit your teeth and shout over the wailing klaxons
  2617. “Gale you must go, the enlightenment of the Omnissiah to the ponies cannot end here! Go and carry the torch forth!”
  2618. >She shakes her head, tears pouring down her cheeks
  2619. >”You're the torch Anonymous, you have to come! I can't--”
  2620. >A teal flash and her near sobbing voice is cut short
  2621. >Tempest unbuckles her from the seat and slings Gale over her back
  2622. >You know that hardly another moment can be spared
  2623. >With your mechadendrites, you reach over to the articulating yoke of the weapons console while gripping your own with your hands
  2624. >Deft pulls and twists bring the arms in and clasp them around the Kaban Duplicate
  2625. >Almost immediately it begins to fight against the embrace, straining your own strength and taxing the damaged servos of the Titan
  2626. >Wordlessly, you key the reactor to begin critical spinup
  2627. >The whirring alerts Tempest to the impending doom and she spares just a singular sentence before making her way to follow your command
  2628. >”It was an honour, Anonymous.”
  2629. >You grunt in reply, sweat breaking on your brow as she clops to the rear of the deck
  2630. >A hiss and roar alerts you to the launching of at least one of the pods
  2631. >They had made it to safety
  2632. >Thank the Omnissiah
  2633. >A violent shake snaps you out of your little supplication, and you feel two of your mechadendrites fastened around the articulation yoke begin to fray
  2634. >Such was the strength of the enemy that, within mere moments, it would practically be free of at least one of the arms
  2635. >It couldn't be! You had to keep it close if there was to be any hope of destruction
  2636. >The reactor, starved as it was, was taking too long to reach critical containment levels
  2637. >This was it then
  2638. >The mechadendrites snap, but instead of the Kaban Duplicate jerking free it moves inward with a great squeal of metal
  2639. >The yoke beside you has been taken up in a teal glow, and you hear the groan of Tempest as she exerts all her will to keep it in place
  2640. >You whirl, sparing a momentary lapse to gape at her
  2641. “What in the Warp are you doing?”
  2642. >She opens an eye and her pained grimace turns to a tense smile
  2643. >”Saving everyone, mostly.”
  2644. >Another groan of tortured adamantium and you see a vein bulge in her forehead
  2645. >”I hope this doesn't condemn me.”
  2646. >You can't help but grin at the mocking tone she says it with
  2647. “I'll see to it that you're pardoned.”
  2648. >She lets out a short, pained bark of laughter and slowly clops forward, resting against the back of her chair
  2649. >You wrap the yoke in your remaining mechadendrites and, keeping one hand on it, lay your free hand on her hoof
  2650. >She gazes at you, her eyes serene despite the energy exerted on her magic
  2651. >”It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve with you, Anonymous. I truly mean that. Could you lead a prayer, one last time?”
  2652. >You nod and grip her hoof, your throat constricting as the whine of the reactor increases in pitch
  2653. “Oh holy Deus Mechanicus; we your most dedicated and humble servants lay ourselves upon thy altar of purest steel. In our darkest hour, we pray your brilliant torch to light the way of our impure souls and lead us into--”
  2654. >A blinding flash of violent light and a nanosecond of profound heat overcomes you
  2655. >As nothingness comes, there is a final whisper in your mind
  2656. >”Goodbye, my princeps.”
  2657. >Then all is white
  2658. >The birds sing and dance in the brilliant blue sky, celebrating the end of a long winter
  2659. >The air is clean, carrying the scent of rain and wet earth, and warmth abounds
  2660. >Ponies wander the streets of Ponyville, carrying on conversations with travellers once bound up by the snow and hold great pinics on the dewy grass
  2661. >Everything has returned to normal, the danger that had faced them down mere months ago an old memory
  2662. >They had forgotten, moved on with their lives
  2663. >But you hadn't
  2664. >You hear no birdsongs, and your nose twitches with the scent of incense and holy oils
  2665. >Nopony has spoken more than a few words to you in the past several months, none since Twilight last visited before the end of the winter, and subsistence grazing was all that filled your belly
  2666. >Much of your contact had come through various pilgrims and worshipers, visiting to offer prayers and see the last gift of the strange alien
  2667. >A small cathedral had been built around the massive datastores that Nox Aurea had deposited before departing on what would be her final walk
  2668. >You had interfaced with both a few times, though you had only managed to skim the bare surface of the titanic depths of information within
  2669. >Engraved on one was 'Anonymous' along with several symbols you had found in reference to his name, perhaps they were part of his true name but you couldn't decipher them as of yet
  2670. >Upon the other was 'Tempest Storm' and together they were the headstones of two entirely different beings that had come together to protect all of Equestria
  2671. >And so they attracted droves
  2672. >But despite this, none approached you for more than a few words of praise, or to touch the hem of your rusty red robe
  2673. >You were as much an object of worship to them as were Anonymous and Tempest, your friends
  2674. >That is what they were to you, you had come to realize in your practical hermitage
  2675. >But now they were gone and you were clearly alone
  2676. >It wasn't so terrible, you had time to process a great deal of information regarding the Cult Mechanicus, along with adding yours and Anonymous' findings to the repository
  2677. >As well you'd had time to offer great worship to the Machine God, though almost equal was the amount of time cursing it
  2678. >It was, in some small way, responsible for the death of your friends after all
  2679. >Today it was unusually quiet, however; likely the result of the newborn spring for all to enjoy
  2680. >So your ears perk up immediately when the door creaks open and a set of lone, almost timid hooffalls clop into the small sanctuary
  2681. >They stop a mere meter behind you, closer than most pilgrims dared to approach but clearly they were hesitant to carry further
  2682. >You continue the quiet benediction that you were in the middle of already
  2683. >If this pony wanted to speak they would, if they wanted to pray they would
  2684. >Still, when you finish your prayer, their voice still manages to surprise you
  2685. >”H-hey there Gale.”
  2686. >The scratchy, high-pitched voice echoes about the high ceilings of the chamber
  2687. >You turn to her, your deep green eyes meeting her own magenta, reflections of dancing candles showing clearly
  2688. “Rainbow Dash, I cannot say I ever took you for a religious pony.”
  2689. >Granted you had only known her as a hero and your own boss, so perhaps yours wasn't the clearest perspective
  2690. >She lets out a nervous laugh and scratches the back of her head
  2691. >”Yeah well, first time for everything right?”
  2692. >She kicks at the dusty floor, clearing her throat before continuing
  2693. >”I was uh, out near the wreckage not too long ago. That Titan thing was so cool even when it was just kinda sitting around here so I wanted to see what was left first hand.”
  2694. >You feel a pang in your heart as memories of waking up in a pod half a mile from Nox Aurea flood back into your mind
  2695. >You were robbed of your friends that day
  2696. >Perhaps sensing your sudden discomfort, she hurries on
  2697. >”Anyway, it was to most amazing thing I've ever seen. I think Twi called it something like 'two gods locked in combat' or whatever. Kinda eggheady but she...she wasn't wrong.”
  2698. >Dash takes a deep breath as though calming herself, then continues with clear trepidation
  2699. >”I don't know what came over me but when I got real close I started crying. I'm not really a drama mare or anything, that's Rarity's thing, but I couldn't help it.”
  2700. >Looking a bit closer, you can still see the tear tracks on her muzzle, it must have been a recent visit indeed
  2701. “It is not uncommon to be overcome with emotion at the sigh of such an avatar, much less one that has died so valiantly.”
  2702. >She nods and gulps
  2703. >”Heh heh, yeah. But when I tried wiping it away it felt different from normal tears. And now I can't wash the tears outta my coat. I wanted to come and see if you could figure out how to get it out. And maybe learn what it is?”
  2704. >You stare at her for a moment, trying to figure out whether she's telling the truth or not
  2705. >Ultimately, you just don't have the knowledge to make that judgement
  2706. >So you decide to humour her
  2707. >You will your sole mechadendrite out to her face before holding it near one of the tracks
  2708. “May I take a sample?”
  2709. >She looks at the tool apprehensively but eventually nods and closes her eyes
  2710. >You pluck a few strands of the downy fur and rotate it into the small, simple analysis tool build into the robotic tentacle
  2711. >It only takes a few seconds for the results to appear before your eyes
  2712. >You squint at them in confusion, sure of contamination
  2713. >But after cleaning both tools and taking another sample, it's quite clear that there is no error
  2714. “Rainbow Dash, just how long ago did you visit the wreckage?”
  2715. >She looks down and scratches her chin
  2716. >”Uhh, about a week ago? It was just after that big storm we whipped up to help out softening the dirt and do some dust control in the badlands.”
  2717. >Nevermind that this should have all burned up in the reactor breach, but any remainder would have been washed away by the storm
  2718. >You clear your throat and begin, now hesitant
  2719. “I don't exactly understand it, but this substance is a kind of lubricant used in very specific anointing rituals.”
  2720. >She cocks her head to the side
  2721. >”A what?”
  2722. >You sigh, chastising yourself for using language that only ponies like Twilight were sure to understand
  2723. “It's a holy oil that the Mechanicus christens new Titans with. I don't know how it could have possibly gotten into your fur.”
  2724. >Dash shudders and runs a hoof along one of the tracks
  2725. >”And it was coming outta my eyes?”
  2726. >Now it's your turn to scratch your chin
  2727. “Just a moment, if you would.”
  2728. >She nods and you turn to Anonymous' databank, plugging in to interface with it
  2729. >A few minutes of flying the datastream later and you find exactly what you're looking for
  2730. “Dash that's...that's a miracle.”
  2731. >She looks confused, not at the words but at the weight behind them you realize
  2732. >”But that doesn't make any sense, why me? Why not a pony like you, or somepony else that comes here?”
  2733. >You shake your head, just as astounded as her
  2734. “I couldn't tell you, the only other recorded instance of this was a priest of the Forge World Lucius who was divenly in his designing of the Lucius-pattern Titans, of which Nox Aurea was.”
  2735. >Her confusion is clear on her face and you let out a small sigh
  2736. “Rainbow Dash, are you doing anything today?”
  2737. >She shrugs
  2738. >”Not really, this was about the only thing I was doing today.”
  2739. >You sit down and offer a warm, inviting smile
  2740. “Why don't you join me then, and I'll tell you everything you want to know about.”
  2741. >Dash grimaces and glances to the side
  2742. >”I dunno, is this going to be a bunch of egghead stuff I don't get? Because I could just go to Twi for that.”
  2743. >You chuckle and shake your head
  2744. “How about I start by telling you about a machine that can fly faster than even you?”
  2745. >She eyes you suspiciously for a moment, but a cocky grin appears on her muzzle and she sits down across from you
  2746. >”I'm listening.”
  2747. -
  2748. >The grand Temple of the All-Holy Machine echoes with praises and litanies to the Omnissiah, as it did at all hours
  2749. >But its sole visitor had his mind focused elsewhere
  2750. >A strange transmission had just come through his floodstream, tearing him from his worship
  2751. >Unable to find the focus to begin anew, he instead made haste to the bridge of the Ark Mechanicus, his own most holy Tomioka
  2752. >Of course he could hardly claim ownership of the great ship, but for now he commanded its awesome might and the dozen forges throughout
  2753. >It was his flagship, his pride and joy
  2754. >He opened the great doors to the bridge and immediately began addressing the crew
  2755. “Magos Vytus, show me the original copy of that message. Lika, trace exactly where it's from.”
  2756. >Both acknowledged you and once more you examined the transmission that had interrupted your benedictions to the Omnissiah
  2757. >It was indeed a Titan distress call, but more interesting was the data that came a moment later
  2758. >”It's coming from the Halo Stars, magos!”
  2759. >A look at the more precise galactic coordinates confirmed that not only was it at the very edge of the galaxy, but there was not another known human settled world for dozens of parsecs in any direction
  2760. >So how came a Warhound, a scout Titan, to such a place
  2761. “Vytus, signal the fleet and begin transmission to Mars. Let us make this the first stop on our foray into the great unknown!”
  2762. >Another acknowledgment, accompanied by a benediction to the Omnissiah from the other crew
  2763. >Magos Vettius Telok turned to the windows of the bridge, gazing at the far away stars at the edge of the galaxy
  2764. >This was how his Explorator Fleet would carry on the Quest for Knowledge
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