This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden (Domains of the Chosen #3)
In the first two books readers only encounter automatons as fodder for the Gladiators in the arena. Hephus is the first important artificer and Bastion is the first Automaton with any real ‘character’. In the upcoming Seeds of Ruin we meet another artificer and hear more about Hephus and Bastion, though I am mostly ‘planting seeds’ for book seven and eight with the later.
Vintia was watching Hephus at work; the Artificer was testing one of his creations, a man-shaped automaton more than twice her size. Barrel chested and broad shouldered, with gleaming metal plates for skin, the clockwork golem was working through a kata with a long spear and a huge shield. Unlike other automatons that Vintia had seen in her travels and fought in the arena, Hephus’s creation did not cough smoke or bellow steam, nor was it as noisy. The clanking sound of gears had been replaced by a smooth hum. She could detect some elemental magic flowing within it, but was unfamiliar with the rest of the magical pattern she could sense; artifice was not her strong point.
“What makes you say it is a he?” asked Hephus. “I don’t see how a sexless automaton can have a gender identity.”
“He looks like a man,” said Vintia. “And he moves like a man. Gender identity does not reside solely in the genitalia Hephus. Much of it is in the way we see ourselves.”
Thrusting the tip of its immense spear into a ring barely thick enough to take it, the metal warrior showed impressive precision as it followed Hephus’ instructions. Vintia swallowed a comment about the phallic nature of the demonstration. She was not yet comfortable in her new surroundings.
“True enough,” said Hephus. “I suppose I did model the automaton’s movements on my own, at least unconsciously. I call him Bastion.”
Lazily sensing the strands that made up the automaton’s patterns, Vintia saw a flash of activity as Hephus said the automaton’s name. Hephus did not react, so she assumed it was normal.
“What are you planning on doing with him?” asked Vintia.
“Bastion is an experiment,” said Hephus. “He is one of the reasons why I’m with the Legion. Of the organizations in the Domains that can supply me with the materials and money that I need, the Legion affords me the most creative freedom. As long as I share my research and Bastion can fight, they are happy.”
“Can Bastion do more than fight?” asked Vintia, watching as the huge robot stepped to the side and thrust again, perfect and precise.
“One day, he’ll be able to do whatever you might care to teach him,” said Hephus, “provided he has the proper components installed. I’m working on a cannon and a self-repair module for him, I hope to get them finished before we set sail.”
The First Shield continued. “I am filling in for Nerus until the men can choose a new Legate, as per Marian campaign law. Several of you are new to your duties as well, filling in for the fallen. Being a Centurion in the Legions is often a quick path to the pyre, so make sure to follow the lead of your seniors. This brings me to a slight irregularity. The Eighth Cohort, damned engineers, have recently elected their new centurion: Hephus Krassius.”
Hephus smiled, but for every thankful face in the room, there was a frowning one; by law the Gifted could not command the Legions. Even the Chosen had an established protocol when dealing with the armies of the Domains.
“Technically, the men voted for Bastion,” said Hephus. “And while I appreciate their enthusiasm, I don’t expect I will remain in the position longer than the next battle or two. I would not want to tip the ship.”
“There is precedence for the Gifted commanding in the Legions,” said the First Shield. “But the politics of it are ugly to be sure. Crazy engineers. I accept the Eighth’s choice, but my successor might care more for his or her political future Hephus.”
“Thank you, First Shield,” said Hephus, moustache twitching. “I won’t let you down.”
This little passage is important, as it creates a controversy that begins to come to a boil in the Seeds of Ruin. The Gifted are not allowed to hold command ranks in the Legion, as a check on the power that an individual Gifted or even a Chosen can gain in the Domains. The situation in Ithal’Duin is so bad, however, that the men of the Ninth just push forward the best candidate with no thought to the politics at home, which leads to trouble down the road…