“You mean to tell me you failed?” the Archmechanic asked in a calm tone. Mericus was kneeling before him, with his hood covering his face; he was back in the Gear Church, in the same dark hall in which he was appointed as a Mechanic.
“I beg your forgiveness, Master.”
“You know, had you not challenged Caius in such a way, I would probably have stripped you of your title and discarded you. But this is turning into quite the exciting case. You shall be forgiven, my child. You can rise, now.”
Mericus obeyed and stood back up, his eyes fixed upon the massive structure that was the Metal Throne. The tubes that were latched onto it were still filled with the same green fluid. The Throne was making a deep, humming sound, as if it were alive and listening to them.
The Archmechanic rose, albeit with difficulty, and grasped the young Mechanic from his shoulders. “My child” he said with his ever-soothing voice, “your bravery could cost you your life, but it could also be the catalyst in our battle against the rebels. I have one more mission for you. Are you ready?”
“I am, Master.”
Ambrakus nodded in approval. “You shall travel to Eris. There, you will find one of our brothers, a Mechanic called Keiran. He will provide you with a file that contains the names of the instigators located there. He could not give the list to the authorities there, so I can only assume that some of the higher-ups are among them. You must bring the list back, as it is the final piece I need. Then, I will comply with Caius’ demands, and go to the Assembly myself.”
Mericus looked at the Archmechanic, aghast.
“But, Master… you cannot simply leave the Gear Church! The Metal Throne…” he began saying, but Ambrakus simply raised his arm and stopped him.
“It is my duty to protect all these things my predecessors worked for. The Empire is the embodiment of what we have achieved in the centuries past. It is the Order’s sacred duty to keep the Empire safe. I shall go, even if it is going to be my last journey. Please, do not try to stop me, my child.”
“I… I will not. I shall obey your every command, as is expected of me.”
Ambrakus smiled, his steel teeth forming a hellish grin. “Well said, Mericus. Now, you should start preparing for your journey. Eris is far away from here and it would be unwise of you just travel there, without precaution. You will stop by the Armory. I have already told them you are to go there. They will welcome you with open arms!”
“The Armory, Master?” asked Mericus.
“You will be given weapons, of course.”
“Isn’t that against the teachings?”
“Desperate times, desperate measures. We are the only ones who know of this. I have told them that an Imperial officer required a new blaster and a few other things. This reminds me… you will need to don new clothes.”
“I understand” Mericus responded, feeling a bit worried. It was forbidden for any member of the Order to carry weapons, save for the ritualistic sword that the Archmechanic possessed. It was a sin, what he was about to do. Yet, the situation was so dire, that even Master Ambrakus was willing to bend the rules…
“You will leave for Eris the day after tomorrow. Go now, child. You should rest well.”
“I shall, Master.”
As Mericus was exiting the Gear Church, another member approached him. It was a human, he could tell. He felt slightly irritated, though he could not really explain why.
“You should take this, Master” he said, looking at his feet. He extended his arm and presented Mericus with a small cube.
“Why should I…” Mericus began while studying the cube, but when he turned to face him, person had vanished. Mericus looked around, terrified. The man was nowhere to be found. Just as Mericus prepared to go back to the Archmechanic’s chamber, the cube started to throb in his palm. He raised it and looked expectantly, as the cube was now glowing with an ominous red light. Mericus had but mere seconds to absorb what was happening, when a voice started talking.
“Do not report anything to Ambrakus. Do not go attempt to find Keiran. He is marked for death. Trying to find him will only drag you down with him. You should look for Laura. She’ll tell you all you need to know.”
And the voice dissipated, just as the cube started to overheat. Mericus threw it away, as he knew it was about to self-destruct. He looked at the exit, uncertain. Should he go back to the Archmechanic and tell him? That voice… it sounded awfully familiar, somehow. And how did that man disappear without a trace?
Mericus turned back, determined to speak with the Archmechanic, when suddenly that same man appeared again.
“I suggest you state your name, human” demanded the Mechanic, glaring at the man before him. All of his senses were peaked, as he was looking out for any sign of danger. The man simply smiled and reached for something from inside his robe. Mericus knew what he was about to see, and sure enough, a gun was pointed at him a moment later.
“Did you not hear the message? Do not go back there. You should follow me, Master. For your own sake.”
Having no means to defend himself, Mericus had no choice but to quietly submit. He raised his arms in surrender and the man approached him, with the gun always pointed at the young Mechanic. Mericus felt nauseated the moment he was touched by the man, but managed to bear it.
“Where are we going?” asked Mericus.
“You will see. You are to witness something great, Master Mericus. I can assure you that your life is not in danger. So long as you do as you are told” the man responded, emphasizing the last sentence. The two exited the Gear Church and turned left, where a narrow street was stretched for a few meters. The man nodded, and Mericus went on to enter the street. In his mind, he was surprised to realize that he was not afraid, not in the slightest. In fact, what he felt as he walked between the buildings was annoyance. He knew no one would find them there, as he was being forced to walk through the slums, the most neglected part of the city. A segregated place, home to many vile figures, the slums were, in the young Mechanic’s mind, the perfect place for criminal activities. He could not help but crack a smile, as he remembered his trials; he had to stay in that place for a whole year, before he was accepted back in the Church. A trial meant to teach him humility. He smiled, amused, as he knew that this particular lesson had eluded him, somehow.
“We’re here” the man said, when they arrived in front of an old, almost ruined building. The dark grey walls were full of cracks. It had no windows, no functional front door, nothing.
“Let me guess; this is the lair of the rebels, is it not?”
“Shut up and move along. You will find the answers once inside” the man responded, irritated.
They paced through a dark corridor, which Mericus could see was very wide, thanks to his robotic eye. He could see the drops of water fall from the ceiling to the floor, which looked almost flooded. How do they live here? he wondered.
At last, they reached a lit, open space. It was a circular hall, and two sets of stairs stretched to his right and left. The man went on to the left set, and pointed the right one to Mericus.
“Go. You are not to enter here yet. You could try to leave, of course. If you know where you came from, that is.”
And the man disappeared through the opening in the wall, leaving the young Mechanic completely baffled.