Chapter 149: The Wardens / Chapters List

[Please place your palm on the- Authorized. Welcome, Ma*ria&# K*(":]

The pneumatic double doors hissed as they slid apart, revealing a glistening white corridor starkly contrasting the surrounding blackened rocks in the underground cavern. A colder gust blew forth from within, the positive pressure blasting the dirty air particles outside, buffeting against the dark green stripes of a female exosuit.

Her boots clicked in rhythm as she strutted through the corridor, the blinding bright white LEDs strips guiding her down while the doors slammed shut behind her, sealing instantly. She glanced at the two automated turrets that hung from above, retreating slowly into their previously inconspicuous slots.

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In every corner, a tracking camera marked her every motion, the red glare of its lens prominent while she ignored it, continuing to walk briskly past various rooms. Their glass windows revealed clean rooms, filled with humans carefully manufacturing small little electronic chips bristling with arcia energy as automated test chambers ran multiple sequences on them, pushing them to their breaking point.

Another room featured various Galactic Era weapons, with a test firing range even for corvette cannons and point defence cannons, dummy targets made of reinforced aluminium or titanium slammed repeatedly by the automated firing system, with researchers watching scrolling screens of monitors, examining the results on recoil, accelerations and angular momentums imparted onto a simulation of a spaceship.

She was not the only one walking through the corridor, with various other workers moving past her as they ferried cybernetic parts, nerval spines, armour plates and weapons to and fro between the various rooms, all encased in a controlled acrylic container.

"Matriarch, how good of you to finally join us. I was getting bored of being alone with these old farts down here." A young man smiled as he stood in her path, his exosuit far dwarfing that of the Matriarch, with his battle-worn plates having clear streaks of combat and carved marks signifying energy beam hits that seared through the top layer. His shoulders were far higher than him, protecting his head in the centre of the exosuit while his nerval jack controlled the rest of the hydraulics and actuation. "I assume you are here to discuss your recent... disappointment."

"Far from it. Soren will find his place in our society." The Matriarch spoke dismissively, though her voice betrayed a tinge of irritation. "However, regardless of how he has fared, your judgement on my clan members is unwarranted. It's best to stick to your own business."

"Fiery, just like your mother before you. I apologise."


The Matriarch would have much preferred to keep walking in silence, but the chatty young man was not letting her go that easily. "I heard you've also lost the Keru Forest Dungeon in Versia to a rogue user at that. What a shame, that dungeon was quite right for our next generation."

"Don't talk like it never happened to you. Need I remind you what your father decided to do?"

"I take no responsibility over my father's insane acts. His actions are not mine."

"And likewise: Soren's actions are not mine." The Matriarch snapped back. "You can hardly expect a novice user to defend an entire dungeon. Either way, it is not over yet. I plan to ask the Archivist for permission to launch an attack squad."

The young man lost his previously jovial mood. "The Archivist will never agree to such a proposal. It is far too dangerous."

"There is only one user to deal with - the exposure will be limited."

"I assume you have already tried to use the Warden Drones?"

"I stayed within the predefined limits."

"If three Warden Drones were insufficient, then an attack squad would be overkill and expose us directly. The user must be well prepared in that case. Did he come from beyond the Great Waves?"

"I am unsure of his origin. The scouts have reported no signs of infiltration on New Nedrasa."

"The scouts may be wrong - if he is from beyond, then we will have to go back into hiding once more until the Archivist is ready."

Their conversation came to a halt as they reached their destination, a large conference room where there were a dozen seats, all centred around a holographic representation of the continent that loomed over the people seated. Various red marks were highlighted on the area, with each seat having its own personalised view of the continent.

The other clan leaders were all there as well, with only the Matriarch and the old man being the last ones. The two separated, heading to their own seats. The Matriarch saw the visualisation of the underground in front of her, with the multiple attack squads and marked enemy locations constantly changing and evolving.

"The quarterly meeting will proceed as per usual." Another clan leader spoke clearly as she led the meeting, swiping her hands in front of her as a holographic agenda appeared in front of all the members. "First off, an update from the observation department."

An exosuit soldier appeared in front of them in a holographic video, seemingly a recording. [Reporting to the Archivist - no signs of incursions from above, as well as no apparent signs of any movements from beyond the Great Waves. A general sensor blackout curtain is still applied.]

The clan leaders did not show any reaction: this was part and parcel of their meetings. None of them could even remember a time when the observation department had actually reported anything of note.

"Next, a report from the engineering department."

[Reporting to the Archivist - progress on the next launch is going smoothly, and we are taking extra precautions to ensure success this time round. Additional shielding and weaponry are being tested. If this prototype is successful, the design will be mass-produced, and we can begin clearing the low orbits. Estimated time to next launch is two years.]

"Two years?!" The old man exclaimed with clear anger. "I might die before I even see the stars at this rate! Why are we not launching any faster? With the amount of resources we have been monopolising, we should be able to launch in three months!"

"Zarich, restrain yourself." The clan leader who was chairing the meeting glared at him. "Under company protocol, participants in the quarterly meeting shall not interru-"

"Company protocol? Do you know how ancient you sound, Remilia? I thought you would've been better than your father. Now that you mention it, it seems that corporate runs in your blood. Are you sure you're not working with the enemy?"

Before Remilia could retort, a sizeable whirring sound appeared from another side of the room, a large mechanical door creaking open to reveal a towering man, though his body was nearly entirely cybernetic, with only a façade of his humanity left in his face, though his nose and eyes had already clearly been replaced with sensors, along with his jaw completely missing. The cyborg stood two heads higher than anyone in the room, his clawed mechanical feet causing the metal floor to creak slightly under the immense weight.

His red optical eyes swept the room, analysing the various clan members as the gears and pneumatic controls in his body hissed from the movement of his legs and arms, each adorned with Galactic Era combat armour plates and weaponry that could annihilate the entire room five times over.

The clan leaders immediately stood up and bowed, including the originally bickering Remilia and Zarcih. Remilia was the first to address the cyborg. "Archivist, we were not expecting you to attend this meeting."

[I did not expect myself to attend as well. But I have received a message from Matrirach Yue about the enemy returning. You may proceed with the agenda for now.] A ghastly computer voice echoed from his inbuilt speakers as he simply stood around the table. [Do not waste time bickering among each other - there is work to be done. At ease.]

"Yes, Archivist." Remilia shot a scathing glare at Zarich as the clan members resumed their seats. "Next, we have updates on the suppression camp-"

"If I may ask directly, why is the launch of the spaceship delayed?" Zarich took his chance, asking the Archivist directly, much to the surprise of the other clan leaders.

The Archivist slowly turned his body, rotating about his waist as he stared at Zarich, glancing him up and down. [Ah, the son of Zerik. Your genetic line is always fearless, something I must applaud.] A grating laughter burst from the damaged speakers, the voice husky as the Archivist chortled.

Suddenly, the Archivist lunged forward before Zarich could even react, the cyborg's metallic clawed hands tearing into the large exosuit and ripping out one of the arms in a sickening twist, each rotation screeching against the metal within and squeezing the flesh out in a mix of suspension liquid, blood and flesh while Zarich screamed loudly, the pain unbearable.

With a kick, Zarich fell under the feet of the Archivist as the cyborg tossed away the mangled arm, still encased in its metal cage and bleeding profusely, while Zarich continued to scream in pain. [As long as I am alive, the company is alive. Do you understand, Employee Zarich? Your farce as a clan leader is tolerated as long as you follow MY protocols.]

The clan leaders were all rooted in place, reminded of the Archivist's overpowering strength. Even the Matriarch no longer held her arrogant expression, remaining quiet as Remilia continued speaking. "Next on the agenda, updates on the suppression campaign."

The holographic continent view swapped to an underground view, where attack squads were labelled in the hundreds, fighting against what seemed to be enemy marks, labelled with a red danger sign.

"We've been slowly breaking the stalemate at various corridors and are claiming more and more factories back. If we continue to bolster our efforts in pushing back, by our current projections, we will be able to crack the core zone within three years."

[We will not be increasing our resources. The suppression campaign shall only be used for training soldiers. I fear any more pushes and the core may retaliate in ways we have yet to prepare for. My predecessor made the mistake of rushing, and that has cost us dearly. It is in our best interest to gather significant strength in a full surprise attack.] The Archivist remarked.

"Yes, Archivist." Remilia bowed once more. The clan leaders all knew that the Archivist would not make any outlandish moves until his current project was complete. "With that, the agenda of the meeting is now complete. We shall move on to special items proposed by the members."

[Begin with Matriarch Yue.]

Matriarch Yue nodded, standing up and clearing her throat. "One of my newborns have encountered a rogue user. His origins are unknown, potentially from beyond the Great Waves."

[I know this already. Do not make assumptions lightly. The scouts have not reported any incursions.]

"Yes, but we cannot assume the scouts are always right. If the rebels have found a way to sneak in, then it is only right that we figure out how."

[How many Warden Drones?]

"Three, with one destroyed."



[Then it is impossible for the user to be from the rebels. They know all about the drones' self-destruct capability and would have put in measures to capture one alive. It has happened before.]

"With all due respect, Archivist, the last confrontation was over three hundred years ago."

[... What are you proposing?]

"An attack squad. Three of my clan members will capture him for interrogation."

An audible gasp went through the other clan leaders, whispering among each other as the Archivist's eyes flickered, contemplating the plan.

[What is the rogue user doing now?]

"He is currently amassing political and military forces in Versia. It would be fair to say that half of the country is under his indirect rule."

[Has he prominently stated that he is a user?]

"Not yet, no. Preliminary observations indicate that only a rare few know of his system."

[Then the proposal is rejected.] The Archivist declared. [I will not tolerate any distractions or wildcards during the final stages of my project. You are to not retaliate in any form that will expose us to the surface. Maintain observation on him for now. All updates are to be directly sent to me.]

"Yes, Archivist." Matriarch Yue did not try to fight back against the Archivist's decision, though internally, she fumed slightly, being unable to rid herself of the mark of incompetence. Every other clan leader was already looking down on her for being unable to even control a novice dungeon, irritating her even more. However, she did not show it on her face, remaining passive.

The Archivist did not bother himself with the rest of the meeting, retreating to his own personal lab in a separate part of the large underground complex. He marched past large hangar bays, where a modified corvette was being prepared for launch. The various workers immediately bowed when they saw the Archivist, their bodies trembling slightly as they watched the towering cyborg walk past them, a relic of the Heavenly War.

In his personal lab, the Archivist let out a huge sigh as the lab doors closed behind him. His vision was filled with warnings of destabilising components, dropping synchronisation rates and invalid parts configuration. His very own cybernetic body was ailing; the resources, exotics and procedures were no longer available to maintain his specifications.

The power he had demonstrated in the clan leader meeting was to showcase his strength, lest they think him weak and attempt to wrestle control of the company. He needed to keep them compliant until his project was finished.

Any interruptions were unacceptable - the Archivist would not be able to handle a direct confrontation with anyone: the core, the rebels. Not even a rogue user would sway him when he was this close to completing his decades-long project. It would be foolish to start a conflict at this stage, which is why he rejected Matriarch Yue's plan. If anything, that rogue user would only make it easier for me to take over.

At the very centre of the lab were five separate vats, each growing what seemed to be a fetus. However, their veins were brimming with arcia energy unlike anything seen before, yet the body was stable, not disintegrating.

The Archivist jacked a cable into his nerval jack at the base of his neck, the series of biological information and readings from the five fetuses scrolling through his vision. He activated a series of tests, with mechanical arms prodding the fetuses, drawing samples of stem cells and blood for him to analyse.

DNA readings flooded his brain, as the structure of the cell was maximised in his mind vision, allowing him to observe the integration of the ancient Arcian's DNA into the human cell, changing its energy sequence to half rely on arcia energy as well. The Archivist grinned, though his missing mouth did not show the expression.

Finally, I will hold the ultimate power that my predecessors have all sought. I will be free of this metal cage and this accursed planet!