“We’re getting something on auspex. Suggest you come up here.”
Her eyes glared at the intercom as it buzzed out the man’s voice then clicked off. The bulkhead remained closed on her order; not that the pilots were complaining. She’d only had a few minutes alone with it so far and already there was something else needing her attention. The shard was just so perfect and it would have to wait.
“Patience is the virtue that is rewarded at the forge.” She intoned. “The gears turn, the gears move the shaft, the shaft drives the wheel, the wheel tips the crucible, the crucible pours the metal, the metal fills the mould, the mould forms the item and we worship Him as He gives His blessing on the new creation.”
It was an old chant that she’d spoken since her earliest childhood days in the Scholam of the forge. Normally the comforting chant of her youth was enough to calm her but this was not a normal time. They were so close and now this auspex reading. The servo skull had taken the map she’d compiled from the servitor memory fragment and made an aerial survey of the canyons. It had to be it. The coiled shape of the rocky fissures was just as Thaleos had written. She uncoiled one mechadendrite and glanced at the data screen it held up like the preening mirror of a court lady.
And the blessed artefacts of the great Omnissiah shalt be made obscure unto the faithless. Into the depths of the snaking dragon’s womb we have concealed them and only with belief and diligence shall any after us find them. We entrust this script unto the Cabal of the Noctis that it may remain a warning against the unbelievers and if the true plan of the Machine-God be revealed, then the artefacts can be retrieved and presented in proper humility to the holy Omnissiah. Faith in the purity of the machine.
- Magos Noctis Primus, First among the Cabal.
Now she would be very interested to find out where Thaleos had obtained this writing. His notes were marked below the text and they were disjointed, as though he had scrawled whenever a thought struck him. It was distressingly illogical. She frowned, as she had every other time reading this. One such as Thaleos should have respected the purity of order.
- The writing is cryptic but I know the Omnissiah will guide me to the end.
- The snaking dragon? This could be a metaphor for an artefact. Perhaps the other artefacts are in the belly of a greater one. A limbless titan perhaps? Some great tunnelling creation?
- Could it be a location?
Here was where the notes diverged into showing hundreds of maps, aerial pictographs of the planet and a mess of poor interpretations. She scanned forwards to the point Thaleos had had his revelation.
- The Labyrinth of the Noctis!
- It is perfect, who would think to look there? Who can even get there? I must find a reason to explore. It must be plausible, I cannot risk any getting wind of the prizes.
Then there was some more useless text about his activities. She had wondered numerous times if his mental faculties had been in decline. The amount of wasted information and disjointed writing was not what one expected from one as esteemed as Thaleos.
- I have it! The snaking dragon is a section of the Noctis canyons. Twenty three servitor fliers were expended but the twenty fourth one retrieved the location.
- It is closer than expected. If I take a crawler from the Explorator Fringe Dome and pass the trench (I must ensure there are no firings and as little activity as possible.) it is barely a cycle from the dome. How can it be that such a prize was so close and none found it? It must be the metal hand of fate on me. I am the one chosen to find the prize.
Some more details followed about his preparation. Much as she despised the waste, it had been useful to have Thaleos’ entire records to hand when she’d planned her expedition. She scrolled through the maps and picto surveys. They’d been useful in plotting the route but now the servo skull had confirmed they were on track she had no further use for them. Finally it came to the end, the end she’d read so many times and still been unable to understand
- I have found something. It is beautiful, beyond human creation, it must be the work of the Omnissiah.
- We are in the belly of the dragon canyon. It is dark and the Skitarii are uncertain. The tangle with the rogue servitor earlier in the journey sapped their confidence. It was only an arm their comrade lost and he will be moved closer to the purity of the machine when we return. They are illogical.
- I have found it! I dare not even write of it but the purity of form, the graceful lines, the quiet power in those dimmed eyes. I believe I would even weep if I still had such wasteful human traits.
Then came the fragmented last record. It was a vocal record that had been scribed by a neuro quill directly into the slate.
- It awoke. Not much time. Skitarii cannot hold it off for long. Curses, I’m losing power, reserves down to twelve percent.
- It’s coming for me. All was well until we brought it within the crawler. The artefact I found glowed, then the eyes lit up and it began the killing.
- Mechadendrite feedback is blowing circuits. I will not be able to escape. I am attaching this memory slate to my servo skull. I calculate a thirty two percent chance the grav motor power supplies will last the journey and it will reach the Fringe Dome. Omnissiah, welcome your servant.
It was hardly the most detailed of descriptions but she knew what the prize would be and she knew what Thaleos’ failing must had been. He was a fool who had snatched for the artefact without the proper humility and no wonder he had been punished. Their deity would not suffer improper treatment of its creations without retribution, especially when the creations were so powerful and important enough to be hidden.
“Something is coming into view,” The intercom cut through her thoughts. “Suggest you get a move on.” There was no hiding the sarcasm in the tone.
She stooped by a crate as she moved to the cockpit, yes the oils and incenses were still packed and in good condition. Satisfied she stepped through the door, ignoring the glare from the two men.
“What is it?”
“Don’t know yet but the auspex,” The copilot nodded at the screen poised over his lap by a mounting arm fixed to the console. “Says it’s pretty big.”
“Hold on,” The pilot interrupted. “Something’s there.”
They strained their eyes, bionic and real, and slowly a shape swam from the darkness into the glow of the crawler’s lights. It was like a ghostly mirror. Before them was another crawler. Except for the cold darkness that marked the depletion of its power cells there was nothing out of the ordinary. It could almost be a vehicle waiting in its hangar to be refuelled and recharged.
Except for the scattered bodies of a dozen Skitarii on the ground around it.