The Iron Circle Ch. I

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In a field of iron and circuitry, she dreamed.

She dreamed of cogs, of gears, of works wrought of stone and metal. Images of a finely-crafted rifle, a gilded clockwork wolf, a suit of armor surpassing any in existence whirled through her mind, each one a masterpiece waiting to be made real. Eventually, she chose the rifle; an appropriate gift, she reasoned, for the newly instated Warmaster in Japan.

The image of the rifle was replaced by an emerging blueprint, and like a loom weaving together a garment, the blueprint spun into being. First the base structure of the firearm, then the finer mechanisms—the trigger assembly, the system of operation, the safety—down to every last detail, until she was at last satisfied. A fine gift for a—

Hmm? Is that a present? For...*gasp* for Homura-chan!

The dreamer paused at the interference. The blueprint continued to float on the sea of circuit boards and silicon transistors.

No! No, no, no, no, no,! YOU don't get to give Homura-chan anything! Only I do! You-you GEARHEAD! You COGBRAIN! RUST BUCKET!

Ignoring the stream of childish curses, the dreamer thought-started a program.

[Initiating Memopad application. Loading...]

To her right in the electronic dreamscape, a white notebook-like image materialized. On the blank pages appeared writing formed of neat print.

<Personal log, timestamp 5395.94111. Fifty-sixth encounter with unknown entity.>

Are you listening to me?! She's MINE! Got it?! You can't have her! I—

<As with all previous encounters with entity, fifty-sixth iteration occurred within neuroscape. Multiple anti-virus scans and diagnostic cycles do not detect any unknown foreign software in data drives.>

The entity, apparently tired of hurling abuse, resorted to floating between the dreamer and the notepad and making silly faces.

<Entity continues to exhibit intense frustration with my reactions to her provocations, as it had done since fifth encounter. Current episode of aggressive behavior appears to have been triggered by my idea of crafting a gift for the newly promoted Warmaster of the Ninth Officio. Entity, however, appears to assume gift is designated for “Homura-chan” (analysis: Japanese origin, plus diminutive honorific indicating emotional bond between speaker and subject).>

Heedless of the entity and its attempts to provoke her, the dreamer continued to take notes.

<Observation: Entity believes “Homura” is the new Warmaster of Officio IX. Inference: “Homura” is an alternate designation for new Warmaster of Officio IX. Hypothesis: Entity is associated in some way with new Warmaster of Officio IX. Must contact new Warmaster of Officio IX on this subject, along with presentation of rifle.>

As the dreamer continued to ignore the entity, the latter began wringing the hem of its dress and snarled.

Fine. FINE, you dumb cogbrain!- It twirled around, crossing its arms and sticking its nose in the air with a pouting *hmph!* -If you're not gonna listen then I'm just gonna go away! I never should have given it to you! <No further relevant observations made for entity. Shutting down neuroscape.>

As the dream-fields of metal and electronics faded away into reality, the entity turned and gave the dreamer a smile. As always, it was a smile dripping with blood, leaking from crimson lips down to a pink and cream-colored Magical Girl costume.

Well...maybe it wasn't SUCH a waste. Pitch-black eyes closed as the smile widened. Because now, one day, I'll get to see Homura-chan take it from your cold, dead hands! Hee hee hee! Then the giggling pink figure faded into nothing.




Then reality made itself known again.

There was a slight buzzing sensation in her head, heralding a message.


She paused. Then sent her own reply.

<Receiving, go ahead.>

<We've got contact from 12-Sigma-5. They'll be arriving in 30 minutes.>

<Acknowledged. I will be ready to meet them shortly.>

Now fully awake, the dreamer stood in one smooth motion, the servos in her limbs purring to life as she rose. There was a visitor today, an exchange student of sorts from the infamous Ninth Officio, and decorum demanded she go out and meet the new arrival. She noted the apparent coincidence between the timing of this visit and trigger for today's encounter with the entity.

As she headed towards the doors to her personal quarters, she took up a weapon that hung on the wall and slipped it into a sheathe at her back. It was a two-handed hammer, with with two killing faces pointing perpendicularly away from the haft. On each mallet face was etched the Roman numeral “XVI”.

The hammer was made of gold.


She awoke with a start.

She blinked, groping about, trying to either figure out where she was or remember it. The sketchpad on her lap clattered to the floor as she flailed around.

Something gripped her arm.

“Ms. Iwakura? Are you alright?”


She blinked some more, shaking sleep and fatigue from her eyes, and she realized her arm was held firmly in place by a hand made of metal.

“Ms. Iwakura?”

“Oh, uh, ha ha! Sorry about that, I'm awake...”

Honoka Iwakura laughed sheepishly as she picked up her fallen sketchpad. On the sketchpad were illustrations, designs for an artificial left hand made of steel and servos.

She was sitting in an armored gunship, a propeller-driven VTOL airplane that was a heavily modified Osprey airplane. Two rotors and a pair of engines made a steady hum as the gunship plowed the air currents. Inside the plane with her was the pilot and co-pilot—whom Honoka had yet to see—and her liaison, Barbara Falko.

Honoka herself was a taller girl, with bobbed red hair, bright blue eyes, and a shapely athletic figure. She was wearing her powered exoskeleton for the occasion; the culmination of three years of non-stop work and every bit of robotics knowledge she possessed, with metal and ceramic plates installed in strategic places for protection and hydraulics that dramatically increased her strength, she'd figured it would be her way to dress to impress. Doubly so, considering that today was the day she was meeting the masters of engineering: the Fourth Officio Assassinorum.

Despite wearing her best, however, upon seeing her liaison Honoka felt she might as well have been wearing rags.

Barbara Falko's body was covered from head to toe in metal, as though she were made out of it. Certain parts of her body were obscured by what looked to be armored plates or protrusions, such as her chest, head, shoulders, and hips, forming metal imitations of a low ponytail and a blouse-and-skirt combination. The plates and protrusions were painted a soft baby blue, while the rest of her was a bright alabaster. Her face, like the rest of her body, was metal, consisted of a pair of blue eye-lenses and barely-defined features resembling that of a blank fashion mannequin. Lines where the joints of her body lay were stark against the white alloy body. Overall, the liaison's metallic body cut a lithe, slim figure.

Either Barbara was wearing the most advanced (and tight-fitting) armor of all time, or Barbara was literally some kind of robot. Given what Honoka heard of the 4th, the latter seemed somehow more likely.

“Did you have a nice nap?” asked Barbara. Her voice sounded almost natural, with a touch of synthesized quality, though her mouth didn't move when she spoke. Honoka wasn't entirely sure where the sound emanated from. Despite the liaison's inhuman appearance, however, Honoka noted she could still read her body language: calm, measured, unfailingly polite. Rumors said the girls of the Fourth were universally cold and were assholes, but Barbara seemed to defy expectations.

“Hai! Er, yes!” said Honoka. She remembered just a second too late to speak in English rather than her usual Japanese. “It was just a tiring flight, that's all, ha ha...”

“It was, wasn't it?” said Barbara, though she didn't seem the slightest bit fatigued. “I do apologize for that, flying from Japan to our headquarters in the Sahara can't be easy...”

Honoka glanced out the window. The rich brown sands of the Sahara Desert gazed back at her, a line of nomads interrupting the endless expanse of coffee-colored dunes. She'd heard the headquarters of the Fourth was mobile, and happened to be traversing one of the biggest deserts in the world when Warmaster Matsuda approved of her sabbatical. Idle thoughts crept into her head: was the headquarters an armored convoy? Perhaps a ship capable of sailing on both land and sea? Or maybe it was a giant floating carrier, like the headquarters of the Sixteenth. She flipped a pencil back and forth between her fingers to ease her excitement.

“Speaking of which,” said Barbara, “the pilot tells me will be reaching headquarters in about half an hour. I'm sure you'll want to be out of that combat armor as soon as possible.” The metal liaison nodded pointedly at Honoka's exoskeleton, and once again Honoka felt ashamed of her best work.

“May I ask how you came across that armor?” asked Barbara. “I wasn't aware that the Ninth regularly issued powered armor to its personnel.”

Honoka let out a sheepish laugh as she waved her hand. “Oh, this old thing. It was just, uh, something I cobbled together a few weeks before I got here, you know. Felt it was...appropriate. Yeah.” She paused, and decided she never would have made it as a Callidus.

For her part, Barbara merely stared at Honoka for a moment before saying, “I see.” The mannequin-like face was impossible to read.


The conversation went on from there, to Honoka's great relief, to idle talk about their respective Officios. Honoka found herself talking much more about the Ninth than Barbara did about the Fourth, and she wasn't entirely certain if that was just by coincidence.

“...and what is it like, working alongside Venenum and Vanus girls?” asked Barbara.

“Well, we don't work alongside them, per se,” said Honoka, “not in the field, anyway. But they're handy, it's always nice to go into a firefight knowing you have good intelligence and good medical support.” She cocked an eyebrow. “But what about the Fourth? I'm more surprised you don't have Venenum or Vanus clades yourselves...”

“We in the Fourth believe all of our Magical Girl personnel must be fully combat-capable,” said Barbara. “So it's not so much that we don't have Venenum and Vanus clades—though that is technically true—as much as our Callidus, Vindicares, and Eversors divide the usual Vanus and Venenum roles between them. As for how this is done, we have a system that we call the Dodekatheon...”

Barbara proceeded to explain the Fourth's unique organizational structure: the Dodekatheon, twelve departments that doubled as support mechanisms and places for the girls of the Fourth to hone various skills. The liaison didn't get far in her explanation, however, before she abruptly stopped and looked out the window.

“Oh. We're almost here.”

Honoka followed her gaze. In the distance was what appeared to be...a person? Or at least, it looked vaguely humanoid, with two legs, a pair of stubby arms, and the biggest shoulders she'd ever seen. As the plane flew onwards, however, Honoka realized it wasn't a person at all.

The legs were like castles, each of them a stout cylinder bristling with hundred of guns. The arms were not only by far the largest cannons Honoka had ever seen, but also, she suspected, the single largest weapons ever constructed in human history. The right arm-cannon itself was so long that a small runway sat atop of it. The head, itself the size of a five-story building occupying a whole city block, gazed back at her, its form like that of an iron knight's helmet of with void-black circular eyes and a grille for a mouth. The impossibly broad shoulders held an entire fortress-complex, barracks surely large enough for a small army and enough guns to render an entire city to ash. A part of Honoka, a very small part that wasn't enraptured by the colossus standing above the desert sands, estimated the whole thing to stand at about 2000 feet and about as wide at the shoulders.

If machines could have a goddess, thought Honoka, this is she.

“This,” breathed Honoka, “is your headquarters? You live here?”

“Yes,” said Barbara. If she was amused at Honoka's dumbfounded look, she wasn't showing it. “This is not only the nerve center of our Officio, but also our primary research, design, and manufacturing facilities of the technology that makes us the Fourth Officio.”

Honoka shivered in delight as she mashed herself up against the glass to get a better look. She realized she was probably looking very silly in front of the liaison, but she couldn't bring herself to care. “Have you guys ever fired one of those things?” she asked, pointing at the oversized arm-cannons.

Barbara replied, shaking her head, “Not since I've joined the Officio, no. In fact, I don't recall any mentions of the primary armaments being fired in any Officio record. I suspect the weapons are largely there to deter attackers. The 'big stick', as it were.”

Honoka wasn't sure who would want to assault a walking fortress like the Fourth's headquarters. People with death wishes, maybe. Madmen, perhaps.

Eventually, the gunship landed and Honoka and Barbara disembarked. As they walked towards a huge metal gate leading into the headquarters, Honoka asked Barbara a question.

“So...who built this thing?”

The doors before them groaned as they approached. “The Fourth, of course, back when the Officio system was first enacted. The two people who designed it are still with us, one of which was our own Incubator.”

“And who was the other designer?” asked Honoka.

“The other designer was—”


The voice boomed from the threshold of the entrance. Like Barbara's, it seemed mostly natural with the slightest synthesized quality, but there the similarities ended. It was deep for a girl's voice, bordering on masculine, and despite the brevity of the one-word statement it brimmed with authority and confidence.

Honoka turned her gaze to the speaker. She couldn't make out fine details since her eyes were adjusting to the bright midday sun, but from the looming shape she could tell the being was about eight feet tall and made entirely out of metal. Despite the light, she could still spot a golden glimmer behind the figure's right shoulder, looking something like the head of a very large hammer.

“I'm Petra Dammekos,” said the figure, “Warmaster of the Fourth Officio Assassinorum. The Fourth calls me the Warsmith.” Petra gestured at the iron colossus they were standing on.

“Welcome to the Olympia.”