Vault of The Starborn Machine

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Chapter 3: Growing Up

Part 2: The Return

They say it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.

Wise words in theory, but anyone who ever said such a thing had never experienced atmospheric reentry.

Hiero, the mechanical knight, could attest to this. The normally black and silver trimmed plates of his armored body burned a bright red as the air around him rose to temperatures that could melt steel. Had he been alone, the plasma spitting thrusters along his back and feet would have been enough to slow his descent to nonlethal levels. Unfortunately, he was also currently beneath and trying to slow the fall of a 20’ crystalline meteor. Inside the crystal were the forms of a bald mutant child with skin like a mottled orange and white seskii, and a brown skinned woman with blue pupiless eyes.

The reason for their situation had been due to a clairvoyant’s warning, a teleportation machine, and a failure to consider the curvature of the world.

Hiero normally did his best to ignore the words of soothsayers as they were often far too keen on telling him the odds, but the brown skinned woman within the crystal known as Rasava, the clairvoyant, had spoken with a specificity most false fortune-tellers avoided. If that hadn’t been enough, the land she had spoken of being in danger was Ellomyr, and even now, roughly a year later, Hiero could still remember the ominous feeling he had felt hanging over the town. According to the seer, the reason for that feeling was that the town was doomed to be annihilated by a force known as the Iron Winds. It was swarm of maddened nano machines that roamed the world mutilating everything in its path.

Unfortunately, before they could save Ellomyr, they would first have to save themselves.

Hiero let his thrusters roar and pushed up against the fiery diamond with all his mechanical might. He could feel the meteor slowing. “Don’t you worry everyone! It will take more than a little falling rock to take out the likes of I, Hiero Sol, Champion of Starlight and-”

Hiero nearly lost his grip when he flinch, “What the heck?!”

The brown skinned woman previously standing in the crystalline machine had dropped to the floor and slammed her face into the floor of the sphere as if she had been trying to headbutt the knight. She had only succeeded in bloodying her forehead. She continued to press against the crystal surface until her face was awkwardly smushed against it. The woman’s empty eyes stared at Hiero in a way that almost felt like she was looking through him and as something much further away. Her voice entered the knight’s mind. It had a distant and airy tone to it, like that spoke by someone lost in a pleasant dream. “The stars tell me that you’ll fail, and that we’re all going to die horribly.” Somehow, the woman managed to convey amusement without moving a muscle, “Would you like to know how many pieces you will break into?”

The knight grinned in defiance, “Oh yeah, well THIS star, says that your stars are liars!” Hiero ‘said’ while gesturing to the pearl of plasma housed inside his strongglass chest. “What do you think of that?”

“I think that your light has withered to a third of its strength already, and we have many thousands more feet to fall.
A third voice joined the telepathic conversation, “Hiero, is that true?” Apparently, the clairvoyant had allowed Hiero’s mutant sidekick, Ro, to listen in.

The knight did his best not to curse the seer while they were all mentally linked, “Have no fear Ro, for I have a most ingenious plan up my sleeve!”

The woman lifted herself back up, and raised an accusing finger at the knight. “Lies, he has no sleeves. The knight’s only plan is to fool us into believing ourselves safe so that our last thoughts of him are kind.”

Ro scowled and puffed out her cheeks at the woman, “Hiero would never lie, especially not to me!”

“Is that why you do nothing to help him?” Rasava asked blankly, “You must trust him very deeply to leave the entire burden to him.”
Ro looked as if she had been punched. The girl wondered briefly how, out of all the wonderful people the she and Hiero had met in Lostrei, they had ended up having to take someone as cold-hearted as Rasava on as Ro’s magic tutor. Unfortunately, the answer was simple. Rasava had been the only competent “spirit-talker” they had met that was also capable of fluently speaking the same language as the people of Ellomyr, and thus had been the only one willing to come with them on their journey back to the village. The seer had proven herself to be many things, flighty, vindictive, and arrogant were merely the first few to come to mind, but in the moment she was the one thing that mattered most: right. Ro had learned, just barely, to channel the ancient energies of the world. She could, and should, be helping Hiero.

The young mutant knelt down and stared at automaton, “I’m sorry Hiero, I’ve always let you do all the work. You always manage to save the day so I didn’t stop to think about how…you know.”

“How I am literally on fire right now?” The knight offered helpfully.

The girl winced as she realized how obvious it should have been for her to try to help him. “Yeah, you aren’t in too much pain, are you?”
Hiero managed to convey a telepathic laugh, “Don’t you worry about that, my pain sensors overheated minutes ago. Besides, a little pain is nothing to a hero like me.” The knight looked Ro in the eyes, “However, if you want to help me I won’t be insulted. I know you already believe in me.” The knight flashed his protégé a half molten smile.

Ro felt a weight lift from her. Unknown to even her, she had been worried that in helping Hiero, she might in some way suggest to the knight that she didn’t believe he could do it without her. It was a silly childish thought, but, to be fair, she was a child. Feeling lighter now, Ro knelt down and placed her hands on the crystal so that they mirrored the knight’s. She closed her eyes and reached deep within herself for the spark of energy she had been taught to find. She recalled another woman, a kinder gentler woman she had met in Lostrei, guiding her. Though Rasava, had helped to translate, it had been the gentle woman who had first taught Ro to use ‘magic’. Prior to that, the mutant had struggled to wrap her head around the beliefs of the people of Lostrei, the Gaians. They believed that everything, even concepts, had a spirit.

The idea of words and rocks having souls had sounded silly to the child, until the gentle woman managed to convince the girl that she had actually believed it all along. She had explained that, to Ro, words like hope, hero, and justice were alive. The words had a purpose, a meaning, a power, an energy, and a spirit. It had made things make sense for the child. She had always felt as if some sort of powerful emotional energy had radiated from Hiero. A large part of Ro had always just assumed it was a presence Hiero carried simply because he was Hiero. Now, she was starting to believe that it was not some unique aura only Hiero could possess, but the overwhelming presence of the ‘spirit’ of heroism. She liked that interpretation more. She could never, be Hiero, but she could be a hero.

It was these very kinds of spirits that Ro had first learned to call to that she now sought out. She reached deep within herself and felt the fiery spirit of courage wrap around her, and called also to the warm glow of hope. She let them gather within her chest, and let them grow until she felt as if she were shining like a beacon. Then, she pushed the energies out through her arms and into Hiero.

The automaton felt a warm and familiar energy flowing through him. As if pulling the child in for a hug, he drew the energy to his chest and held it there. An ancient science transmuted the child’s ‘energies’ into raw plasma, and Hiero’s starlight heart burned with renewed vigor. The machine knight smiled. The power she had been able to share was a drop in the bucket in the knight’s reservoir of energy, but it was another great leap forward on her path to becoming the hero she wished to be. With the little extra energy he had, Hiero put on a show of slowing the meteor enough so that its stopped being on fire. “Thank you for the help Ro. I can handle the rest.”

The knight’s sidekick gave a tired yet beaming smile at Hiero’s words, and moved to lie down. “Don’t worry Hiero, we believe in you.”
The lady gasped, “My belief has been stolen from me by the sticky fingers of a child. What a barbarous and ungrateful beast. Was I not the one who helped teach her the very magic she used.” The woman raised the back of her hand to her forehead in what would have been dramatic fashion where it not for her doing it so slowly that dew could have formed on her. “Alas, unless you have suddenly found a sleeve upon your person, we are still falling far too quickly to survive a landing. Whatever shall we do.”

Hiero reveled in the moment he pulled a small and ancient device from beneath the cuff of his vambrace ‘sleeve’. It was a device known as a mass distortion cypher, that would reduce the weight of an object once for roughly ten seconds. He looked the woman dead in her empty eyes, “What now witch?”

The woman placed a hand against the surface of the crystal, seemed to focus for a moment, and all at once four prongs swung out from the side of the diamond colored sphere. Reality distorted around each prong, and Hiero felt the weight of the crystalline machine decrease tremendously.

Hiero growled. The only thing worse than a cocky seer that liked to tell you how you were going to fail, was one that liked to also lie about what she foresaw.

Seeing the look on the automaton’s face, the seer gave the closest thing to a smug grin her trance-like expression would allow.

The rest of the ride down to the town was quiet and gentle. Hiero still needed to burn starlight to slow there landing, but had little trouble with the crystal machine’s reduced weight. The knight struck the earth in the middle of the village square, and landed in a pose like Atlas lifting the world. Body still steaming, he raised his head to the crowd of people that were now staring at him. “Have no fear citizens, for we have-OH SHOOT!” The knight leapt aside to avoid being crushed as the crystal suddenly returned to its original weight. Hiero rolled back up to his feet, struck another pose and tried again, “Have no fear citizens, for we have-Oh come on!” Hiero had to jump backwards on to his butt to dodge a sudden glassy staircase that had unfolded from the crystal machine.

“oops." Remarked the seer as she glided down the stairs.

Ro was next to climb out of the crystalline teleportation pod, holding her head and staggering. She reached into a bag she was holding handy, pulled out a fistful of confetti and glitter, and threw it into the air. “Have no fear citizens, for we…” Ro missed a step in her weary haze and tumbled down the stairs. Hiero caught her before she hit the last step, but by then she was already unconscious.

Hiero winced, and looked out towards the people in the plaza. “-have arrived to help you. We have arrived to help you against the Iron Wind.”

For some reason, the town didn’t erupt into cheers.