The Iron Circle Ch. III

From Magical Girl Noir Quest Wiki
Revision as of 23:14, 3 March 2015 by TwiceBorn (talk | contribs) (Created page with "Chapter III: Mechanicus Few have the fortune to say, without exaggeration, that they were living their dream. In those first minutes, standing there in the metal bowels of th...")
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

Chapter III: Mechanicus

Few have the fortune to say, without exaggeration, that they were living their dream. In those first minutes, standing there in the metal bowels of the Olympia, walking amongst the engines that fashioned bodies of iron, Honoka Iwakura could have claimed such a feat.

She saw Magical Girls gathered around a projected blueprint, arguing fiercely over the merits and demerits of what appeared to be a knee joint.

She saw Magical Girls overseeing performance tests, muttering to each other as they read data off of tablets, another Magical Girl serving as the test subject.

She saw Magical Girls chatting animatedly with their friends as robotic repair arms performed maintenance on them, like a gaggle of teens at a salon relaxing as they were being groomed.

She saw the massive forge-heart of the Mechanicus. The cradle of what made Officio IV what it was, what made it so starkly, utterly different from nineteen others. What gave it its nickname so often repeated by outsiders: The Machines.

“Woah! Watch it, short stuff!”

A hulk of a machine almost ran Honoka over from behind. Distracted, the red-haired Vindicare threw herself out of the way at the last second, tripping over her own feet.

Startled, Barbara hurried over to Honoka. “Oh dear,” she muttered, hauling the prone Vindicare to her feet—which she did with disturbing ease, noted Honoka, who was still wearing her weighty exoskeleton. “Are you alright, Miss Iwakura? I'm afraid I have to ask you to be on watch while we are here in the Manufactorum; it is always busy, and for some of the larger girls, human-sized objects are dangerously easy to trample underfoot.”

Honoka continued to gaze at the retreating hulk. It was...simply huge, there was no other way to describe it. Some fourteen feet tall, vaguely humanoid with a pair of arms and legs, an egg-shaped armored torso. Its trunk-like arms, ending in a set of brutal claws, looked as if they could tear an APC open like a soda can. Every one of its thunderous steps reverberated through Honoka's bones.

“What...what was that?” breathed Honoka, distractedly dusting herself off. “That was a Magical Girl, right?” She paused. “Come to think of it, if that's a Magical you use different sets of chassis? There's the ones that look mostly like regular humans, the big ones, and then that really big one...”

“Ironforms.” This time, it was the Warmaster who spoke. “Almost every Magical Girl in the Fourth has two; Light, and Heavy. Light, for everyday casual use; they're the ones that look mostly human. Every Girl is encouraged to customize her own Light Ironform.” Petra gestured at Barbara's slim chassis.

“We have several variants off of the Lights, too, for specialty jobs that don't need much armor or heavy weapons. Like Barbara's: optimized for diplomacy and human social interactions.”

“And the others?” asked Honoka as the trio wove their way past a pack of repair drones.

“The big one that almost squished you?” said Petra. “Dreadnoughts. And the medium-sized ones are called—”

“—Heavy Ironforms,” cut in a harsh voice, a near-masculine baritone underlined by a synthesized growl. “Our usual choice for combat and construction.”

The Ironform before her was much like Felicia's: thick torso, wide at the shoulders and tapering at the hip; a helmet-shaped head nestled in the torso's center; arms that ended in an entire workshop's worth of tools. As the figure turned towards Petra, however, the jagged mess of tools folded inward, like a flower's bloom in reverse, then sets of metal plates slid into place and formed a pair of silvered hands.

“Warsmith, Speaker,” she grunted, giving each of them a nod before turning to Honoka. “So this is the novitiate?” She extended a silver hand outwards and tapped a finger on Honoka's exoskeleton, each tap rocking the Vindicare like a punch. “Where'd you pick up a pile of scrap like this, novitiate?”

“I made it myself,” said Honoka, her voice and gaze steady. “With minimal funding and a handful of low-grade tools, I might add.”

“Hmph. Excuses. Only a poor craftsman blames her tools.” Before Honoka could respond, however, she continued with a sigh. “But, I guess that's why you're here: to learn. The Warmsith tells me you wanted specifically to study with us in the Mechanicus, yeah? By the time I'm done with you, you'll be having cutting-edge tech coming out of your ears.”

She proffered a hand. “Fiona Mac Manus, Fabricator-General of the Mechanicus and the Warmaster's Equerry. I'm in charge of the Ironforms around here.”

Blinking, Honoka stared at the silver hand for a moment, then up at Fiona's helmet-face. The iron visage was impassive.

“Honoka Iwakura, Ninth Officio Vindicare,” she said, taking Fiona's massive hand in hers.

Fiona pumped her hand once—which made Honoka feel like her arm was getting torn off—then ushered the trio towards a Heavy Ironform standing on a pedestal. Unlike Fiona's, this one had weapons where its arms should have been: a machine built for breaking things, rather than making things.

“Heavy Combat Ironform, Variant I, the 'Paladin'. Basic combat Ironform for Officio IV Vindicares, all newly inducted Vindicares start with this exact model,” grunted Fiona. She began rattling off specs: weapons, armor, auxiliary systems, the works. By the end of the five-minute lecture, Honoka caught herself salivating.

Fiona patted the burly Ironform, like a satisfied sculptor who had just finished her work. “If after a year you still want to stay with us, and with a bit of luck, you'll be fitted inside one of these.” Then she jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Alright, Killian, back to work.”

The Ironform purred into motion, like a statue suddenly coming to life. “Yes, Fabricator-General,” it said, nodding a greeting to Petra before plodding off.

'That...that could be me one day,' thought Honoka as she watched the retreating Ironform. She looked down at her own hands: covered in dark padded leather, already growing numb from jet-lagged fatigue. So fleshy and bony weak. So unlike the magnificent works of engineering she was surrounded by.

She clenched her fists tight.

There was a bark of laughter as Fiona clapped a silver hand on Honoka's shoulder. “Ha! I think she's a little starstruck! That's good.” She turned her gaze down to Honoka, who barely came up to her chest. “The next twelve months aren't going to be easy—you'll need your memories of today to get you going through some of the things you'll be facing later. But that's not for a little while yet.” Then she turned to Petra.

“Now how about we show her a real treat?”

Petra met her gaze. “The 'Terminator' armor?”

“Great minds,” said Fiona. If she had a mouth, Honoka suspected, she would have been grinning.


“Here it is,” said Fiona. She was standing in front of the largest suit of armor Honoka had ever seen, ten feet of armored destruction wearable by even an organic human being. “The Tactical Dreadnought 'Terminator' Armor System.”

The red-haired Vindicare gave a distracted nod as she ran her hand down the plasteel vambrace. A pair of eye lenses, each ruby-red and glaring like that of a remorseless iron god, gazed down at her from a helmet deeply inset into a metal hood. Wide pauldrons, placed at about eye level above the shoulders and with each plate paralell to the ground, made the suit seem even bigger than it otherwise looked. In one hand it carried what appeared to be a flamethrower: in the other, a gauntlet the size of Honoka's torso.

Death in one fist, fire in the other.

“It's beautiful...” she muttered, as her eyes ran over the monster.

“Isn't it?” laughed Fiona. “Our Officio demands all Magical Girl personnel be ready for combat whenever possible, so the Warsmith and I designed an armor system that could quickly and easily be put on by a Magical Girl caught off-guard in her Light Ironform.”

Honoka raised an eyebrow. “An entire suit of armor just for that? I'm assuming it takes too long for someone to switch Ironforms, or something?”

Fiona nodded in response. “Good observation, novitiate. The whole process of changing from a Light to Heavy Ironform can take up to twenty minutes, not including start-up diagnostics and equipment checks, so the Warsmith figured that we needed a stopgap measure in case an attack on the Olympia were to occur and everyone was caught with their pants down. It's also more mobile; the 'Terminator' doesn't need extensive infrastructure for safely removing and re-implanting Soul Gems as our Ironforms do.”

“This one is our prototype 'Cataphract' Variant,” said Petra. “We also had an 'Indomitus' Variant prototype, with all the decals added though the software still had to be calibrated.”

“'Had'?” asked Honoka. “What happened to it?”

“That's the thing,” said Petra with a shrug. “It was locked down for storage and all containment and defensive measures were optimal...and one day, it simply wasn't there. No signs of break in—or at least any we could detect.” She leaned in closer to inspect a seam on the Terminator armor, and continued, “Irrational as it sounds, disappearing into thin air was the best explanation we could come up with.”

“...I see...” said Honoka, nonplussed.

“That was the one with all the winged skulls and tusks, right?” said Fiona. “Who did the decals on that one? Deltria? Hrm, she always did have a thing for creepy things...well.” Fiona clapped her silver hands together, making a sharp clank. “That's all I've got for now, duty calls. Need to start prepping for a trip to the Second, got a shipment of 'Templar' armor to oversee.”

“Understood,” nodded Petra. “Message me when you get to England.”

“Aye, Warsmith.” Fiona held up a hand in farewell. “Speaker, novitiate. No doubt I'll see you all again.” And with that she made her leave, though not before giving Honoka another sledgehammer-clap on the shoulder.

Before Fiona could get very far, however, a cry stopped her cold.

“WARSMITH! Warsmith, we have a situation.”

A group of girls dragged and shoved along another one, not unlike a lynch mob and a victim. The dragged girl, her Light chassis painted red and silver, thrashed and bellowed curses and demands to be let go. Magical Girls in the vicinity began stepping back, murmuring, speculating.

One of the mob thrust Red-and-Silver forward. “We just grabbed a saboteur,” she hissed. Behind Petra, Barbara covered her mouth with her hand in dismay.

“Oh dear.”


The hall was silent, save for the commotion of the accused and the background noises of industry.

“You bitch! YOU FUCKING BITCH! Let me the fuck go already—!”

“Oh shut the fuck up already, Luka. We've got proof right here—”

“FUCK YOU!” A clank of metal-on-metal as Luka struck out, hitting one of her tormentors square in the stomach. The other girl let out a curse and raised a steel fist to smash Luka's face in.


Petra's voice was like a bell's, ringing clear over the din of the mob, cutting through the din like a knife. The Warmaster rose a hand to call for silence, and at once the chamber fell silent.

“Fara,” said Petra, “some context, please.”

Like Luka, the girl named Fara was in a Light chassis. Hers had a green-on-red paint scheme, with a mass of metal on the back of her head done up to look like a hair bun. She had been the one ready to punch out the screaming, cursing Luka.

“Warsmith,” said Fara, “we were having a design contest for the new foot-joint actuator. I got second place, Luka got first. Turns out that happened because our little contest winner here,” Fara punctuated her words with a kick to Luka's torso, “only won because she sabotaged her competitors' blueprints.”

“Facts, Fara, not speculation.”

Fara shook her head. “Not speculation, Warsmith. Exloading evidence package to the”

As one, every Magical Girl in the chamber save Honoka turned away, to look at the floor or the ceiling or a wall, some with a finger pressed to their ear as though trying to listen intently on an earbud. Barbara noticed Honoka's confusion and brought her over to a nearby monitor.

A few swipes and presses of the touchscreen, and Honoka was seeing what the Fourth was seeing: video feeds, access logs into the system database, sworn statements from witnesses and their electronic signatures. Fara had tried her best to cover up her tracks, make sure she'd been unnoticed, but Honoka had enough Callidus training to know the saboteur's efforts were at best clumsy.

“Luka Chrom, come forward.” The Warmaster's tone remained steady, yet the room temperature seemed to drop. The girl in question, sprawled upon the chamber floor on her knees, let go of Fara and made to stand.

“Warsmith,” she muttered, “please, I can explain—”

“Luka Chrom,” repeated Petra. “Come forward.” Honoka cast a glance at the Warmaster; the aventail of her helmet seemed to loom over her iron-cast features, like the hood of a cobra ready to strike. Yet her posture itself betrayed no emotion.

Luka Chrom at last rose to her feet and stumbled forwards. Honoka never knew a robot's legs could tremble in fear, but there it was.

“Fabricator Chrom,” said Petra. Her voice remained as steady as always, but Honoka heard a subtle change in the tone that cast a cold, stark edge to her words. “Why did you sabotage the competition?”

“I...I...” Fear drove the Fabricator into fumbling her words, pointlessly buy time against the inevitable.

“Answer the question, Chrom.”


Petra's voice was calm, yet struck like a hammer blow. “Fabricator Chrom.”

“I wanted to win the competition!” wailed Luka as she sank back to her knees. She pointed a finger towards Fara. “She kept winning the other ones! I tried, Warmaster, I tried to beat her fair and square but I couldn't break fifth place! No matter what I did! I just...I just wanted to know what winning felt like...”

For several seconds, silence reigned. The only sounds that could be heard were the clank-clank of the forge-engines and Luka Chrom's terrified sobbing.

At length, Petra spoke again.

“Do you know why we call ourselves the Iron Circle?”

“W-Warsmith?” stammered Luka, lifting her head out of her hands.

“It's because we're one seamless whole, without beginning, middle, or end.” Petra began pacing around the stricken Fabricator, hands held behind her back. “All of us unified by our ideal, all of us equidistant from our most important philosophy held at our center: self-improvement through mastery of the machine.”

She continued to pace, continued to speak. “But when one mote of that Circle begins to rust, that rust spreads and spreads, until the integrity is compromised and the Circle crumbles to dust. The Dodekatheon, and the contests it holds, is the fire through which we are tempered into becoming something better. Not a place to gain glory. Not a place to weaken trust with petty rivalries and egomania. As soon as it becomes such a place...that's when the rust takes hold.”

By now, the Warmaster had stopped pacing, putting herself in front of the Fabricator. “By betraying your fellow Magical Girls, you've made it that much harder for us to trust one another—who else could be planning sabotage the next contest? Who else is a betrayer?” She picked up Luka off the ground and placed an armored hand on her shoulder, as if to dust her off. “There's only four hundred of us, Luka Chrom, Fabricator of the Mechanicus Order. Four hundred of us, crammed into this walking machine, standing alone, hated and feared by the other Officios we're forced to call 'sisters'. When trust dies on Olympia, we die with it.”


“Vigilance,” said Petra with a tone of finality, “is good. Caution sharpens the mind and the sesnses. Paranoia, however, is counterproductive. By your actions, you injected this poison into our Officio. You'll have plenty of time to reflect on that in Containment.”

Honoka would later reflect that she was the only one to let out a shriek at what happened next. The others—even gentle, demure Barbara—simply watched. Their cold silence was their tacit approval.

Grasping Luka's shoulder with one hand, Petra rammed the other through her chest, then tore it back out, a mass of tangled wiring and metal clutched in her fist. The light in the Ironform's eye lenses faded as the lifeless machine fell to the floor, like a puppet with its strings cut.

Petra wasted little time. “Put her in containment for three days,” she said as she tossed Fara the bundle of metal she'd ripped out. “And Castigate her for a week once she gets out. Rest of you, back to work.”

Ignoring the multitudes of “Aye, Warsmith”, Petra beckoned to Honoka and her liaison to follow. “We're done here. Come.”

As the Warmaster and her liaison strode off towards the exit, Honoka stared at the limp pile of wreckage that was now Luka Chrom. It had seemed so lifelike to her only minutes before, but now...

...looks just like a broken doll, she thought. Not even like a corpse.

Her gaze lingered on the mangled Ironform for a moment longer, before hurrying after the Warmaster.


“That girl, Luka...she's not dead, is she? What happened to her Soul Gem?”

The halls in the Guest Quarters were relatively quiet, situated as they were away from the main factories within the Olympia. Only cleaning drones and maintenance drones walked the corridors, lending a certain solitude to the atmosphere, especially compared to the bustling thunder of activity that was the Mechanicus.

Behind the striding Petra, Barbara turned back towards the red-haired Vindicare.

“Dead? Oh goodness, no.” Honoka got the impression that Barbara was rather amused. “What the Warmaster had...removed was Fabricator Chrom's Phylactery—an armored containment unit that both wires the Soul Gem to an Ironform and also protects it from harm. The end result of such a removal is not dissimilar to imprisoning a Magical Girl in a Silent Room.”

Honoka nodded in reply. “I see. It's just...not to be rude, but to me it almost looked like a public execution.”

“The intended effect was something like that, yes,” said Barbara. “The act was designed primarily to publicly humiliate the subject. As the Warsmith said, trust in this Officio is a commodity we can ill afford to lose.”


At last, they reached a door marked “218”. It opened when Petra approached it, unveiling a small, starkly spartan chamber, furnished with a cot, a desk with a chair and a computer, a small closet, and very little else. There were no windows to let in light, or anything on the wall save the cold grey of Olympia's metal bones. Honoka's luggage and the suit of powered armor she'd received earlier sat neatly tucked away in a corner.

“Here are your quarters,” said Barbara, gesturing with her hand like an airline stewardess. “I must apologize for the...sparseness, but it is Officio philosophy that excessively luxurious quarters is a sign of excess...”

Honoka gave her liaison a disarming laugh. “Ha ha! It's alright, really, my apartment back in Mitakihara wasn't much bigger.” She gave the room a once over which, she noted soberly, took almost no time to do.

With the tour finished and her quarters settled, Honoka bade her liaison and the Warmaster good night.

Petra paused before she turned to leave. “Reminder, novitiate Honoka: report to the Armory at 0900 tomorrow for powered armor training.”

As the liaison and the Warmaster left, the door closed with a hiss, leaving Honoka alone in the cool silence of her new room. She began the laborious process of getting out of her precious exoskeleton.

She sat on her cot: tough, with only a thin sheet between her and the rigid canvas. A second look around her room convinced her that it was more akin to a cell. Reclining on her meager pillow, she lay down and reached over to a small plate filled with some sort of ration bar: dinner, she assumed. Munching on the tastless food, she reflected on the strangest day she'd ever had.

Firefights, assassinations, running battles against the incarnated despair of young women enhanced by unfathomable aliens from outer space...somehow, none of that quite compared to today.

She wondered what this would mean for her next twelve months.