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Vault of The Starborn Machine

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Chapter 2: The Sea of Margr

Part 1: Training Day

(This correlates Ellomyer Update #4-5)

When a 600lb war machine with a soul of blazing plasma burst into a previously peaceful village house near the crack of dawn shouting, “ITS TRAINING DAY!~” in a singsong baritone, people didn’t tend to ask questions. The human brain simply wasn’t capable of asking things in such a state. At best, one could hope to squeek out a series of incoherent babbles that sounded vaguely like questions as they were hurrily ushered out of their house.

That was simply one of the flaws of the human mind. Human were creatures of expectations, and automatons didn’t give two shins about what was expected. Automatons were beings of programming, not habit.

Right now, Hiero’s programing was telling him to gather five terrified villagers in a field, and give them weapons. Spears to be precise. Some might say that it was a miracle that they didn’t try to run, scream, or attack him. They outnumbered him after all, and he surely couldn’t stop them all if they tried calling for help. Unfortunately, the mechanical knight was stronger, faster, and currently straightening half-molten metal scrap into a sixth spear with his bare hands. No one wanted to speak up when it meant dying first.

Hiero mentally tsked. As predicted, they had all failed the first test.  Hiero glanced down at the pearl and orange mutant face of Ro, the sixth figure standing amongst the villagers. He corrected himself. All but one had failed thus far.

As he finished shaping the final spear, he watched the crowd with a careful expression. Then, with a sudden flourish, he speared the sky and shouted, “Huzzah! Let the day begin!” He was met with a mix of fear, confusion and just the slightest tinge of curiousity. Hiero pointed fiercely towards the one showing the most interest, “You there, heroic soul, what is your name?”

The woman he pointed to flinched back, “My name?” She glanced to her fellow villagers as if asking for help. When none came, she looked back towards the knight. “I’m Belara.”

“Belara? What a wonderful name. I’ve met several Belaras and each one was even greater than the last. You’ve got a lot to live up to my friend, but I’m sure you’ll do just that. I’ve got a sense for potential.” The knight smiled.

Confusion began to overtake fear, “Thank you?”

“You’re welcome! Now tell me Belara, why have I brought you all out here today.”

The woman, furrowed her brow. Moments ago, she was positive that she was going to die, but now the fog of panic was leaving her mind, and the obvious answer was becoming clear. “Training day?” Belara asked.

Hiero clapped his metal hands together and they rung like a bell, “Brilliant deduction Belara! Why you are almost as cunning and intelligent as me! Now who here can tell me WHY its training day?”

Ro, the knight’s mutant sidekick raised her hand, but it was a man who spoke up instead, “Because you’re a crazed machine?” The man had sand blond hair, and was regaining his nerve.

Hiero gave a rich hearty laugh that lasted three seconds too long for anyone’s comfort. “What a ridiculous notion! If I was a crazed machine I wouldn’t have gathered you in this field and given you weapons. I would have just pointed a hand and done this.” The knight raised a single fist to the sky, and the star at the center of his chest stormed. Burning starlight coursed up through his mechanical arm, and his clenched fist trembled with barely contained power, light streaming out from between his fingers. Then, he let the energy release, and with the sound of thunder, out erupted a cone of searing plasma ten stories tall*. In truth, this particular blast was more roar than bite, not even strong enough to kill the average human, but it was a roar that lit up the sky in the morning dusk. It was also a roar that still took enough out of Hiero to leave him feeling drained.

Thankfully, only his sidekick noticed the star in his chest begin to wane. The others stared at Hiero with stunned awe, save for the man who had spoken up. Terror was what lined his features.

Hiero's open palm soon curled so that only a single finger pointed to the sky, "AHA!" He yelled before suddenly leveling the finger at the man that had spoken up. “I forgot to ask your name.” 

A bead of sweat rolled down the man’s face, “L-larrick. Larrick Barro…sir”

“Sir? SIR?! There’s no need for such formality! You can just call me Hiero Sol, Champion of Starlight and Defender of Mankind! It rolls of the tongue much easier!”

Ro, the mutant nodded in agreement.

“Now that mister Larrick has lightened the mood for everyone, I think its high time I explained the real reason why I brought just you five out here today.” Hiero stopped to observe his newest pupils. He now had their undivided attention. He had it before, but it had been the terror kind of attention where people are really just busy trying to find a chance to run away. Now it was the nervous kind of attention where people hung on every word, trying to determine if you knew the secrets they knew.

Hiero gave his spear another flourish. “As I’m sure you all know, a sea of abhumans will soon be crashing against this small village like a foul tsunami of villainly and evil. Unfortunately, in its current state, everyone you know, all the people you grew up with, every person that’s ever helped you…will die. Every teacher that you’ve had. Every friend you have ever made. Every child in this village.”

The air clouded with a guilty silence. A man muttered something in the back row. “Not mine. Not mine. Not mine.”

The automaton narrowed its eyes, and waited for someone else to speak.

It was Belara who did first. Staring at the ground she asked, “Why us?” Her eyes were shut as if to hide from her own question. She asked again, “Why 'just' the five of us?”

Hiero sighed. It was the question he had been waiting for, but he didn't like it. “The truth is that in the few days since I arrived in this town I’ve been watching people. In particular, I’ve had my eyes on you five lately.” He folded his arms, and his voice lost a tinge of its usual hearty mirth, “Belara, Larrick, Arturo, Tressa, and Toth…” He said, letting their now revealed names hang like guilotines in the air as he looked between each of them. There was not a single guiltless face among them. “I know you’ve been packing your bags to leave.”

Tressa began to stumble out an excuse, but was interrupted as the man in the back row snapped, “So what if we are?” He screamed, “Do you think this isn’t already hard enough for me? I’ve lived here my entire life. I have EVERYTHING to lose. I have to leave behind my own mother because she’s too damn stubborn, and would rather die here than live somewhere else!” Tears began to roll down the man’s face as his rage crumbled to desperation, “What do you want from me? I can’t stay. I can’t watch my children die. I’ve lost enough of my family already.” He looked up at Hiero, eyes pleading yet defiant, “I have nothing else left but them. I have to keep them safe. I promised her.”

Hiero stood impassively as stone as the man poured out his soul. “Arturo,” the knight said to the man, “When I gathered you all today, do you know what happened?" The knight paused, "Nothing. Nothing at all. I ran into each of your homes, and bullied you out like yol. No one tried to run for help. No one tried to scream. No one tried to warn the others. Every person here bowed their heads, followed along, and hoped that someone else would take the risk as I separated you from town, and lumped you all into a group that I could hit with a single blast. Had I been a murderous machine, your cowardice would have cost you not only your own life, but the lives of your friends.” Hiero turned his back, and a wind caught hold of his cape as it always seemed to in moments like this.

“There are times when a hero must run, but there are times when he must also make a stand for himself!” Hiero looked back over his shoulder in dramatic fashion, “That is why I gathered you five here today. I did not bring you here to stop you from running. I brought you here so that I could offer you a choice. These past few days, every soul in your village has been working together to protect the only home they’ve ever known, and the people that they care about. Even heroes from far and wide have arrived to protect this village, some of us even risking the lives of those we hold most dear.” Hiero glanced at Ro, “But I understand your fear. None of you are masons nor carpenters. For you to stay in this village is too continue to hang your hope on the actions of others. Because of this, I have decided that the best use of my time here is not the application of my super-metalworking skills, but in passing along my awesome knowledge to you.” The metal man turned halfway and looked directly into Arturo’s eyes. “You want to protect the people that mean the most to you?” A spear extended out towards the man. “I can teach you how.”

As the knight fell silent, a gust blew by filling the empty air with a howl. The five figures, most now with reddened eyes, stared up at Hiero as he stood at the top of the hilly plain. The sun seemed to peak over the horizon behind him in just that moment, casting the knightly figure as a silhouette. It had taken Hiero years of practice to get the timing for that move just right.

“As I said before. I’m not here to stop you from running. I’m merely offering you a choice. Become the hero who can protect what you love, or the villain that leaves it behind." The machine man paused to let his words sink in, "Also, if by chance you still wish to abandon this village,” Hiero pointed over his shoulder and down the other side of the hill with his spear, “At least have the decency to tell its people to their face.”

All at once the five villagers became aware of a sound on the other side of the hill. They shuffled over to the edge where Hiero stood, and found what seemed to be a quarter of the village marching towards them. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Hiero’s beam of plasma had lit the sky like daybreak. It was no wonder people had come to investigate.

“So.” Hiero said looking between the five villagers he had been speaking with, “What will you do from here.”

The five people stared uncertainly at each other.

A small voice spoke up. “I want to be a hero.” Said Ro, with a look of youthful conviction.

The five villagers turned towards the mutant child. Belara was the next to speak.

“So do I.”

..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

A small ring of villagers sat around several others, a mutant, and a mechanical knight. They had come to investigate the strange light that had gone off in the morning, but had instead found a training session in progress. Some went back to the village to work, some sat around to watch, and some even insisted on swapping in. The mood was only slightly killed by the lone, silent, sand-haired man that had crossed their path as they were heading up the hill. Aside from that, things went rather well. Hiero made sure later to thank Ro for tipping him off as to the intentions of the five villagers.

The next morning, Hiero had to bring more practice spears.



*re-skinned "Bolt of Power" with effort added for range.