“I’ll get the Medic first.”
Levitum’s eyebrows twitched from anger and confusion. “I thought you were the Pillar Flaesc.”
“No. I’m just the new assistant YET to be a Pillar Flaesc,” He specified with a raised finger. He moved to the doors opposite the entrance and knocked on them with the back of his hand. “Syguldr. There’s a new recruit here.”
A muffled voice on the other side responded. “Only one? If there are new recruits, I’m expecting several of them.”
“No. Just one...”
The doors swung open immediately, revealing a giant women with short, brown hair and an aggressive look on her face amplified by her almost-black eyes and bared teeth. She wore a fully white pillar armor with several different syringe needles poking out of her gauntlet wrists.
Syguldr let the doors shut behind her with an immediate slam and walked up towards Killigan, her face judging him rather harshly. “What is this? A runt?” She turned to Levitum and yelled angrily. “Are we desperate to such a point that we need toothpicks to hold up a wooden cabin?”
Levitum sighed and crossed his arms. “This toothpick created the first exoskeleton allowing a regular human to wield uncharged gauntlets of the towers,” he explained.
Syguldr raised an eyebrow. “Really now?” She leaned in towards Killigan. “You did that?”
“Y-yes, m’am,” Killigan stuttered.
She nodded while scratching her chin. Syguldr turned away and gestured the boy to come with her in the next room, although the short trek was interrupted by a sudden stop followed by a stare towards her assistant.
“Get me a vial of mutational genetics,” she ordered sternly.
“As you say,” the assistant lazily replied. He twisted his head to the side and somehow made it seem like his torso was being pulled forward against his will.
“Mutation?!” Killigan repeated loudly.
Syguldr grabbed him by the top of his head and carried him like a doll. Struggle as he might, Killigan was incapable of freeing himself from the pillar flaesc’s grip and felt his skull getting tighter and tighter. He tried using his hands, thinking his gauntlets would pry him free, but soon remembered that he had removed his exosuit
The next room the boy was carried to was filled with oval-shaped, night-blue tables floating above flat podiums on the floor. There were at least a hundred of the tables, if not more. Flanking entrance no more than a few steps forward were several large pods filled with a greenish liquid, pods that could hold a pillar and still have room left. Compared to the previous room, this one was quite clean and devoid of any mess
The dark room was only lit by straight blue lines running along the walls, making it appear as though everything was underwater, kept alight only by the local wildlife.
“There.” Syguldr dropped Killigan on the floor. “Choose any table and we’ll start.”
The young boy chose the nearest but struggled to get onto it, inciting a grunt of annoyance from the pillar flaesc. She lifted her hands and focused on the table, blue mist slowly traveling and enveloping the lines and edges of her hands and fingers. Her magic made the chosen table rotate towards the boy then lower itself at a near ninety-degree angle to facilitate his placement.
The boy looked down after positioning himself and noticed something missing. “If there’s no foot stand, how is it supposed to lift me back up?”
Syguldr ignored the commentary, preferring instead to display her irritation. She clenched her fists then spread her fingers apart at equal intervals, causing all but a small circle of the table to break apart and float around. Only tendrils of blue energy kept all the pieces attached. One of these pieces slammed onto the head of Killigan, inciting a sudden yelp of pain while two more went to the sides of his head, working together to lock it into place. Bands of cloth wrapped around the boy’s forehead, wrists, ankles, and stomach, keeping him still.
A black, cylindrical machine lowered itself from the ceiling after running along a railway akin to those used by the drones in the warehouse. Its form changed when it burst open, revealing thin, silver arms filled with different colored substances and needles of varying sizes at their ends. They all twitched and moved around their patient, the scanners taking in the size and shape of their patient, although the joints of the arms twitched and jittered together as though displaying some form of sentience.
“What’s going on?!” Killigan panicked.
Levitum rolled his eyes and scolded Syguldr, slapping her on the shoulder beforehand. “Stop traumatizing the boy and explain it to him. We don’t need another to ‘fall’ because of your inane need to torture what doesn’t look strong in your eyes,” he mocked.
“Ugh. If you say so.” The medic loosened the grip of the table pieces and approached Killigan. “We’re going to inject you with a genetic mutagen that will turn you into a Pillar Scieldan of the Marma Fissures.” Killigan was about to say something but Syguldr interrupted him. “No. This is genetic material from members of this foundation. Every foundation has its own micro-mutations particular to them and them only.” She fiddled with the arms, verifying their full operation. “As such, we can only take from our own members. However, in order to inject you with the substance, we need to inject it into your bone marrow, your spinal fluids, then finally meld the substance into your body using precision magic.” She took a step away then turned to face Killigan. “That I will be doing myself,” she quickly added.
“Will it hurt?” the boy worried.
Levitum chuckled. “Come now. Do you really think us to be such sadistic barbarians that we’d strap you to a chair and torture you then just call it a day if the procedure fails?” he asked.
Killigan gulped. “It can fail?”
“Yes,” Syguldr answered.
The boy gulped nervously. “What happens if it fails?”
The woman was confused. “What do you want to happen after failure? Extra failure?”
“...Would I die?”
“Ah. That concern.” The pillar flaesc shook her head. “No.” Syguldr lowered the silver arms and started verifying the syringes and their contents after going through the readings on her monitoring table. “So far the procedure is only at about an eleven-point-five percent success rate. Rounded up of course.”
“And failures have simply had the substance removed from their body through natural means. There’s no sort of awry physical disfigurement or death caused by the substance,” Levitum added. “Not anymore at least...” he mumbled to himself. “You simply don’t become a Pillar Scieldan, although that doesn’t mean you might not become one for another foundation. The genetic material is particular and some don’t mesh well with each individual’s particular dna structure.”
“That, and there’s about one death for ever hundred-million pillars,” Syguldr explained. “Or so I’m told by the heads.” She shrugged. “Although, of course, there aren’t many of us let alone a hundred million, so statistics are off.”
“It’s in,” the assistant shouted from behind everyone.
“Good!” The pillar clapped joyfully. “Now we can start by numbing your senses...unless you’re strong enough to deal with pain?” Syguldr raised a brow.
“No,” Killigan replied sternly.
Syguldr sighed and turned back to her console. From Killigan’s perspective, all she was doing was twisting dials and pushing on a few buttons. A holographic display rose from the terminal, showing his body and multiple instances of dna strands, something the boy did not know.
“Alrighty then. Let’s start it up,” Syguldr mumbled in disappointment.
“Stop mumbling and get to work, Pillar Flaesc,” Levitum ordered
One of the silver arms gently poked the side of Killigan’s neck followed by another, smaller arm sealing up the small wound with yellow, biological foam. It all happened in a flash, and with the same speed were all sensations removed from Killigan’s body.
“I can’t feel anything,” Killigan noted. His speech was slurred. “That was...really fast.”
“Good.” Syguldr waited a few moments to let the numbing agent settle in. “Now comes the interesting part.”
A block broke off from the center of the machinery and floated ever-so gently above the ground. It expanded and molded its shape in the air to better fit Killigan’s. It carefully placed itself over him and dug into his skin using sharp cones along its inner-surface.
“This injection will stimulate muscle growth, tissue durability, and bone density,” Syguldr explained as she worked away on the hologram.
An arm descended from the machine and injected its green contents into the ‘second skin’. Even though he shouldn’t feel pain, Killigan could feel the genetic substances integrating, meshing, and melding into his bones and muscles. It felt unpleasant, like worms crawling inside of his skin.
“Your tendons will become stronger to support increased strength and your bones will become denser to allow you to support a few tons in weight, and that’s not including the weight of the armor and weaponry you will hold.”
Another arm came down, separated into three pieces, and injected its cocktail into the rear of Killigan’s head and his spinal column.
“This injection improves your survivability and awareness. Your sight will become far sharper, allowing you to see three times better than a normal human.” The pillar flaesc verified that Killigan’s body wasn’t reacting adversely to the serum. “Your ability to manipulate magic and your ability to retain memories will improve as well, and your spine will grow redundancies throughout your body in case of fracture should the bone density improvements be insufficient.”
More injections occurred around the boy’s stomach and at the top of his head.
“These will grow nutrient pockets in your system, which will allow you to retain much of what you eat, allowing you to go weeks at a time without eating. The final injection allows your brain and body to function with little-to-no sleep, BUT!” Syguldr raised a finger. “Only days at a time. You will still need your slumber, of course, but that should have been obvious.”
The table finally let go of Killigan who, upon being released by the second skin and returned to the floor, couldn’t stand straight. He stumbled about with each step and had to lean back against the straightened table for balance.
Levitum crouched and put a hand on the boy’s back. “The pain will subside in due time, but now is the moment of truth.”
“Shouldn’t I have to wait a while? Because of the injects?” Killigan said between gasps of air.
The pillar flaesc waved a hand down. “It wasn’t a surgery. There are no issues with that.”
Syguldr and her assistant both approached Killigan and tapped his head gently with their palms then stepped back. Red energy seeped into the boy’s skin, causing it to glow like molten lava.
“There we go. If the spell exits his body, then the procedure will have failed.”
Several minutes passed and Killigan’s body stopped glowing. The second skin also peeled itself off of his body and reformed into the brick shape it had prior.
Syguldr put a finger underneath her chin and hummed with approval. “Looks like it succeeded.”
The assistant checked his hands and started thinking aloud. “Putting that spell through the conduits to affect everyone seems to make it less effective. Direct contact increases chances of success?”
Killigan checked his body, seeing the spell gradually vanish from his body. He clenched his fists multiple times and frowned in disappointment.
“I’m not any different,” he complained.
“What? Aha! Of course you aren’t!” Levitum shouted. “Did you really think the mutations would occur immediately like that? We aren’t gods! We can’t force your body to accept such a radical change.” The pillars speech lessened. “It occurs gradually over time,” Levitum clarified.
“How long is ‘gradually’?”
“About two centuries.”
Killigan’s eye twitched and he started clenching his fists in anger.
“When you’re not in a stress-induced environment,” Levitum specified.
The young blacksmith frowned. “What?”
“To allow new pillars to be formed quickly, new recruits forego basic training during their first days and are sent to an area where a battle is occurring. The extreme stress brought about by such an experience accelerates development of the pillar’s body by an astounding percentage, and if you perform enough stressful deeds, you’ll develop in no time, but don’t be mistaken.” Levitum cleared his throat. “The minimum has always been ten Earth years.”
“Oh...” There was a long moment of awkward silence. “I honestly don’t know what to say to that.”
“Now go get your gauntlets then follow me,” Levitum ordered. “We’ll get you fitted with a neophyte’s appropriate armor and weapon set.”
Syguldr stretched then yelled angrily at her assistant. “Now that they’re gone, go get the new genetic essence we discovered. I want to test it and see how it passed the heads.”
The assistant left the room to get what was requested but, some time later, after the flaesc yelled again for it, the man sheepishly poked his head around the door.
“Uhhh...It’s not there...”
Syguldr tore the monitor off its hinges when she ran to the next room, rampaging and destroying everything in the stock held on the shelves, then a thought passed her mind. She calmly went to the many glass pods outside the entrance of the injection room, leaned forward, and removed a small, glass jar from its protected container. Upon looking at its label and the one of the jar next to it, the woman crushed the empty jar in her hands and shot an enraged, teeth-grinding glare at her assistant.
“You idiot. You gave him the wrong genetic essence!” She stomped towards the man. “That was the new one we received for testing!”
Killigan and Levitum arrived in the armory soon after. The armory was nearly as big as the Hangar, although it was more compact. Several walls of black metal imitated a large library with rows upon rows of book cases climbing up multiple floors. There were some old, non-functional weapons and damaged pieces of armor adorning the walls flanking the entrance, showing the foundation’s history. Despite having the size to accommodate multiple vyrdes, most of the area was left to the use of the Pillar Craefts: Pillars trained with extensive knowledge of technology. They weren’t as versed in the knowledge of magic, unfortunately, but very few TechnoMagus existed, and the Marma Fissures were one of the many unfortunate foundations without a single TechnoMagus.
Upon closer inspection, Killigan realized that the rows of ‘walls’ were under maintenance by Pillar Craefts who were either repairing, molding, or otherwise making new equipment for present pillars. Some would drop off damaged equipment at one section of their ‘walls’ and, after a period of wait, pulled out brand new armors, weapons, or other needed supplies. It was all regulated by the machines themselves, although a few pillar craefts were taking care of the supplying themselves. They knew best, after all.
Levitum approached a pillar craeft looking over a large, blue display running along the side of the side of the walls, noting statistics in an electrical notebook built into their left arm. The display was glowing a bright blue blinding the young boy whose eye had grown accustomed to the dimness of the ship.
“Eriee, this is Killigan, our newest pillar scieldan,” Levitum announced.
The pillar looked away from the display, stared Levitum in the eyes, then looked over to Killigan. Her entire face was covered with a black, metal mask etched with sketchings of circuit pathways and pipes. Her eyes were round, glass spheres made in such a way that it appeared as though they had trapped a black smog within them. Her features were eerily similar to Zenith’s, although, unlike him, Eriee’s mouth was still present and fully capable of movement. Her brown hair was let through the mask and dangled behind her shoulders, the varied straps of length caused from fires tapping slightly against her armor with every movement she made.
Her armor was much more angular and crude in appearance than other pillars. The shoulders were larger and more bulky, although they seemed to have multiple slots placed upon their surface, likely to hold a various assortment of whatever tools a pillar craeft used for work. Unlike pillar armor, which was stretched and made flexible with the help of magic infused into the metal, the joints were left bare, showing the flexible, gray material underneath. There were covers placed on the elbows, knees, and around the neck, but they weren’t as efficient as their fully magitech counterparts.
A massive pack filled with visible, spinning gears and flowing electrical current occupied her entire backside. It pushed out at its top and stuck out by a head until curving back around sharply, stopping at half the length of the newly formed cylinder and plummeting down into a straight line and ending at the base of the spine.
“I also see you’re still leaving your hair at long lengths,” Levitum sighed.
“Hm?” Eriee ignored Levitum’s complaint and observed Killigan’s exosuit, tapping it a few times at the shoulders and wrists. “You made this all by yourself? To carry tower gauntlets of...” she leaned in closer to Killigan’s ‘treasures’. “Such an old age?”
“Yes...” Killigan was instinctively inching away from the woman.
Eriee raised herself by using Killigan’s head as a hand support. “Where did you find these?”
“In a swamp on my planet.”
“But the Calaghi system was only just recently colonized...” She mumbled to herself.
Levitum blinked slowly while Killigan was more startled by Eriee’s incessant mumbling.
“Eriee, concentrate,” Levitum groaned. “You’re losing yourself to thought again.”
“So you know about designing armors?” The pillar craeft asked Killigan.
Killigan frowned at the sudden change in behavior. “I’m a blacksmith. I would often design and make things with my father,” he explained.
Eriee tapped her hands with quick pacing. She was overjoyed.
“Oh! Finally, someone who is more interested in technology than just magic.” She picked Killigan up and held him in the air so he could get a better view of its higher points of the display. “We’re trying to design a new, heavy ranged weapon, but we can’t decide if we want it to be magitech or pure technology.”
One of the few other Pillar Craefts looking over the same display on an armory station walked over to further comment on the situation.
“Because magitech weapons are difficult to build seeing as we need both a magus and a craeft working in tandem. It’s easier with machinery made for that, but they’re always more efficient when hand-made.” He shrugged.
“Then why not just go with pure technology?′ Killigan asked. He struggled before drooping down. ” I feel like a doll,” he thought to himself.
“Because it won’t have the same impact power as magitech weaponry,” Eriee complained. “Pure technological weaponry and equipment can work for the regimentaries, but not for us. We’re purely magitech with the few exceptions, but we’re trying to create something that is both easy to maintain on the field without extensive magical knowledge AND that is very strong and sturdy.” Eriee dropped the boy and put a knuckle to her forehead.
Killigan massaged his head as best as he could before chiming in. “Umm...I don’t know much about magitech, but can’t you have special adapters placed around the grip that absorbs the bit of magic within a pillar and store it within cells?” He waited for the response of the two pillar craefts who slowly turned towards him. To him, they didn’t seem upset so he continued on. “I also don’t know how magic works, but I figure that, if it’s like electricity, having the grip absorb and focus the magic while draining about the same amount as can be regenerated would make the weapon efficient without whatever you need to do to use magitech. Plus, without the cells, the circuits wouldn’t even be used and it could serve as a basic technological weapon.”
The other craefts overheard the discussion and nodded while Eriee laughed. “I’m impressed. You already understood the basics of magitech...to an extent.” Her voice changed to a more sinister tone then lightened up. “If we teach you fully, you’ll certainly become a talented pillar craeft.”
“That’s all good and clever,” the previous craeft interjected. “But we were actually figuring out a design for this weapon rather than a way of making it function,” they finished.
“I saw that exoskeleton and was curious to see if you were really the builder of it or just appropriating someone else’s work,” Eriee explained. She leaned in towards Killigan and audibly cracked her muscles. “I don’t like thieves and liars.”
“You doubt my judgement then?” Levitum growled. at her
The woman lifted her hands up as if surrendering and returned to discussing designs with her colleagues.
The lieutenant huffed and turned away, walking towards the free armory station two floors above. Killigan followed suit.
“We’re here to outfit a neophyte.”
The pillar craeft in front of the station leaned to the side to get a better look at Killigan. “No experience?”
“Then it’s his actual first?”
“Aaaaah.” The pillar rubbed her hands together. “I like that. It’s always fun to meet new people. She leaned towards Killigan, letting her helmet scan and analyze everything she might not see. “Hm. I see he already has weapons.” She stood back up and crossed her arms. “I can’t but have thousands of questions pass through my mind, but if you approve however it is he’s using those gauntlets,” she pointed at Levitum. “Then I suppose it’s still necessary to give him his first bits of equipment.
“Will I get an armor?”
“No. The newest rarely ever get any armor because we only have equipment appropriate for pillars and growing pillars.”
“Oh...” Killigan lamented.
“But, you still get a modular ranged weapon and communication equipment.” The Pillar walked towards a pair of large black doors far away from the entrance. “It’s standard issue, after all. No communication? No coordination, no survival, and no success.”
Killigan followed, his nerves still stretched and his body changing with anxiety and eagerness of the unknown. Once the doors opened, they revealed a very messy bunch of mechanical beams and poles. Killigan walked in at the behest of the pillar craeft and found his feet and torso locked in. The ‘room’ turned out to be an industrial elevator for ferrying materials and supplies, and it shot downwards with such force that Killigan could feel his blood rushing to his head. The elevator stopped and opened to a new room, although it took the boy some time to recover from the force.
This new room was full of wall segments moving, rotating, and sliding in all directions, handing out equipment of all kinds to the attending pillars, and there were as many floors as the armory. It was deafeningly loud and busy. Before Killigan could fully regain his bearings, a small drone lowered in front of him. Its face was similar to that of the crane in the hangar, but it was much smaller and had longer arms ending in three digits surrounding a central ball.
The drone spoke in a monotonous and grinding tone, befitting of it. Killigan could just barely retain his mountain anger every time it spoke. “New member of Marma Fissures. Genetic Compound not yet activated. Raw Neophyte equipment authorized. Containing subject for transportation.”
Killigan found himself encased in a box of semi-transparent, blue mana and was taken to the third floor where several pillars were acquiring new equipment or returning damaged ones. The young boy was dropped in front of a blank, black wall and left to his own devices. The drone flew away while another one burst out of the wall to Killigan’s left, causing him to jump back in terror.
This droids, at this point, all had similarities to each other, this one’s being that it was attached to the wall by a single, dexterous beam. The machine itself was shaped like a long rectangle and segmented into several, separate pieces. It had eight very thin and very long, quad-segmented arms sticking out of its sides, and two green scanners in place of optics.
“Raw Neophyte with...” It engulfed Killigan in a bright green light and buzzed almost inaudibly, emitting faint sparks. “Error. Tower equipment detected.” It twitched. “Error. Raw Neophyte present.” It twitched more violently. “Error. Unknown equipment present. Error. Error...Circumventing error.” Its arms and face dropped down while its eyes dimmed and lightened up in quick intervals. “New assessment acquired. Raw Neophyte: Killigan Ghor. Unique status within databanks written.”
The wall in front of Killigan rolled down, revealing an assortment of round plates. The drone grabbed one and spun it, revealing a rifle-type weapon on its other-side. Its barrel, an octagonal shape, was painted with the color of the Marma Fissures: Cherry red. The barrel’s top ended in a sharp point pike while the edges smoothed out towards the end where the stock and triggering mechanisms -both payne’s gray- lay. It wasn’t much different from traditional mechanical weaponry aside from its shape.
“This is a modular weapon granted only to Raw Neophytes and Neophytes.” The drone explained. It grabbed the rifle, twisted off the barrel, then placed a shorter one ending in a bored muzzle. “Previous variant is for sniping. Current variant is an assault rifle. Non-magitech. It can fire ballistic rounds or bore-rounds.” It raised an orange, spike-tipped bullet with holes on the sides of its head, which it pulled from its body. “Bore-rounds: Burrows into the flesh of an enemy and detonates. Bore-S: High-Explosive compound replaced by acidic residue which dissolves tissue. Difficult to make. Core substance fabrication classified. Reserved for encounters with Joros Daman and Puwandese. Restricted for widespread use by Alien Extermination squads of both Regimentaries and Pillar Scieldans.” It placed it back into its body. “Given in limited quantities to regular pillars for emergency uses.”
The drone handed the weapon with one hand and the various modules with the other. Of course, Killigan couldn’t hold them so he placed them on the floor until he could figure out how to hold them all later. This wasn’t left unnoticed, and the drone immediately rolled up the wall to take out a regular sized backpack from an out-of-reach compartment. The pack did was what was needed and was made of a red textile, complete with multiple pockets outside and inside. And yet...Killigan felt a bit of disappointment.
“Backpack used by many humans. Adapted for weaponry, rations, and other military equipment of regimentaries and neophytes.”
The drone handed the bag to Killigan and watched him remove his gauntlets temporarily by having them slide into a locking slot on the back of his forearms. The boy opened the first of two main zippers on the and put the gun in the front compartment. Afterwards, he attempted to stuff the scopes, stocks, and other modular pieces into the compartment behind the gun’s. It was something the drone didn’t like, so it pushed Killigan away aggressively and snatched the bag.
“Hey!” the boy shouted in indignation.
The front pouches were opened and the triggers and scopes were placed within them in an organized manner while the stocks and sniper visors were placed in the second, frontal opening into their respective, inner compartments. It took some cartridges out from a smaller panel and stuffed them in pouches to the outer sides of the bag. The largest ones were stuffed on the right while the smallest were placed in the left. It handed the bag back to its new owner with an aggressive thrust, then returned to the wall.
It now held a device for Killigan to wear on his head, and it looked no different from thin, plastic bars for headphones or mufflers.
“This is your communication device. It will feed off the magic you emanate and power itself.” The drone carefully placed the helmet on Killigan’s head. “The device allows for remote communication, map access, map analysis, and a short-range radar. When you become a full pillar scieldan, it will be exchanged for a better variant.” The machine beeped after ending its sentence and the smaller drone from earlier came back. “Your assigning is complete. May the Terran Expanse become universal.”
Killigan was picked up again by the aggravated drone which took him to another elevator, throwing him inside casually. The boy was disconcerted and rubbed the back of his head.
“I’m not liking this anymore,” he complained. “Everything keeps picking me up and tossing me around,” he added.
Levitum was already waiting in the large, cargo elevator and raised the boy back onto his feet. “Forgetting to put your gauntlets back on?”
“Oh. Right.” Killigan made a brief wrist movement, pulling said itemd back around his hands.
The pillar leaned in and hummed quietly to himself. “I also see you got your new equipment now, and just in time. We’re about to leave to the first system we’re to take care of.”
What Killigan was unaware of was how ships of the Terran Expanse traveled the galaxy. In the bridge, five pillar magus would focus their magic into a field around the ship, distorting reality around it and focusing onto a beacon calculated by the onship ai navigator programmed by a craeft. Once the beacon was found, immense amounts of mana would be spent taking the ship through the realm of Mana Magis, where all mana came from.“I suggest you hang on to something. Neophytes tend to...not hold well when it comes to their first jump.” Levitum grimaced. “Especially with what we navigate through.”