Author Topic: The Keeping of Secrets  (Read 579 times)

Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
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The Keeping of Secrets
« on: March 14, 2020, 07:54:46 PM »
Flash!  Confusion.  Dislocation.  White light pulses, stark and searing; flashes, flenses; fades away.  Voices clamour distantly, a susurration of wordless whispers hissing to be heard.  Sound still rising, tide relentless, scream unceasing!  Somewhere far away an unstrung puppet flails and falls. 

“Nothing ends, nothing changes...nothing stays the same.  Remember your duty, Teleos.  Remember who you are.”

An echo, not a sound at all – perspective shifting, turning inwards – a cave within a cave within a cave.  Monstrous shadows dance by firelight on every painted stone.  Outside the wind is howling hate; it cannot reach him here.  An elder, wiser, calmer voice is speaking slowly now.  The shaman sits beside him, though he cannot turn to see.

“This has been and will be, and is...do not expect to see behind the sky.  You are Teleos Rahn, who spoke the Word.  The Word begets the Deed.  Stand up, Inquisitor.  Go out and face the storm.”



=][=


The first thing he felt was pain.  Not the ineffable creeping pain of a starving spirit – that faded in gradually – but a more immediate, mundane agony that clamoured like cathedral bells from far inside his skull.  His skull...in a sudden, overwhelming epiphany, his body came to be.  A burden but a reassuring one.  A symphony of griping aches joined in harmony with the primal pulse, hands remembered, a flex and a clench before bringing them up to his face.  He pressed his palms against his eyes, still closed.  Breathed in like a surfacing diver; sighed out like a father bereaved. 

“The flesh is certified devoid of physical trauma.  The functional performance of the stasis device within stated parameters is beyond question in this case.  Hypothesis: adverse reaction to sudden exposure to the Cicatrix Maledictum phenomenon resulting in psychosomatic symptoms.  Irreparable psychosis has been observed in psychic subjects rated in excess of Delta-minus in fourteen-point-six-eight per cent of observed instances of–”

“Keep it down, for the Emperor's sake.”

The Inquisitor's voice was a rasp, barely audible through his dessicated throat, but the hollow metallic diatribe halted immediately when he spoke.  The whirring, clicking, buzzing sounds of various anonymous machines could now be discerned around him.  A mind was hovering nearby – two minds? – one mind, like a puzzle box of bright sharp angles, shot through with twisting copper creepers and sealed with a combination lock, all ones and zeros, wheels spinning, spinning, spinning...Mechanicus, not that hearing them speak hadn't already told him this.  And something else like an echo, a box outside the box, and yet contained within.  The barest hint of a different shape, the shadow of a cloud.  He could hear a purr of static now, from somewhere close at hand.  After a brief pause the synthesised voice went on, at a somewhat reduced volume but now with a slower, reproachful cadence.  Still a human in there somewhere then.

“The Emperor cannot hear me, ergo: it is for your sake that I have applied a thirty per cent reduction to–”

“Try sixty per cent.  Then give me some water, and something for this pain in my head.  I need–”

“Query: sixty per cent of starting volume-slash-sixty per cent reduction to starting volume-slash-sixty per cent reduction to current volume?”

“Are you trying to irritate me?”

“I don't work for you, Inquisitor.  This was meant as a courtesy.”

He took another breath, slow and steady.  Let his hands fall to his sides.  The Tech-priest waited, apparently at rest, the wheels of the mind-lock turning lazily before his inner eye.

“Sixty per cent reduction to starting volume then, please.”

“As requested.  If you intend to drink this water it would be optimal for you to assume a sitting or standing position.  Clarity of judgement is paramount at this time therefore pain suppressants cannot be administered.  I reiterate that your condition is psychosomatic and not indicative of damage sustained.”

Resigned at last to consciousness, Teleos opened his eyes.  He found himself lying in the midst of a square chamber somewhere between a familiar infirmary, of the kind found on Imperial void ships the galaxy over, and a laboratory of the kind usually found only in hazy vid-log records of righteous Inquisitorial purges.  Every available space he could see was crowded with intricate machinery, bulbous and mysterious, save only for a corridor of exposed floor alongside his bed and a looming bank of medical cogitators beyond.  Standing within arm's reach was the Tech-priest, although now he felt less certain about their clerical status. 

Their heavy robes were not the traditional red or black but an inky blue, trimmed with winding spirals of steel filigree that seemed to suggest interlocking cogs without ever containing them.  From beneath the robes dark cables snaked out across the floor, burrowing into nearby devices like worms into fruit.  Wherever the Cog Mechanicum sigil appeared, it did so unobtrusively and formed part of a larger device, resembling an intricate stylised key.  The face within the priest's deep hood was a silver death mask, as gently beatific as a saint.  Its aspect was decidedly feminine.  She was a woman, he decided on this basis.  A dull mutter of binharic machine cant burbled gently from somewhere behind the mask, barely audible until he noticed it, now suddenly hard to ignore. 

A row of supple mechadendrites fanned out above and behind the Tech-priest like the tail of a monstrous peacock, all of them anchored on her back somewhere and poised like striking snakes.  He counted a dozen without thinking, brain running reflexively, trying to order the chaos.  The head of each snake was a shining violet eye.  The crooked form beneath was stooped as if struggling under their combined weight, or perhaps simply encroaching age.  She rested one delicately constructed metallic hand, incongruously adorned with wrinkled fleshy fingertips, on a segmented black cane resembling an upright telescope, its surface encrusted with incomprehensible embossed script.  The other emerged from a voluminous sleeve to extend a canteen towards him. 

Teleos sat up, swinging his legs around and setting his feet on the floor.  It was steel with rows of metal rivets.  He realised he was still wearing his boots.  A familiar sight at least, worn to fit over long years.  With a wordless nod of thanks to the Tech-priest, he accepted the canteen.  The water was ice-cold, a cleansing frost.  Reason began to reassert itself.  The sense of an unpleasant sound beyond hearing remained, but he set it aside for the moment.  Focused.  Insisted.  Uncoiled.  Little by little, the pain in his head subsided.  He was on a void ship.  In transit, but not in the warp, although...

“What is the Cicatrix Maledictum phenomenon?”

His voice sounded stronger in his own ears now, a little more himself.  The Tech-priest remained inscrutable, in body, mind and soul.  Her answer was light on inflection and sounded pre-recorded.  He couldn't locate the second vox-port.  Only an uninterrupted stream of binary data emanated from her perfect face.

“By way of a concise summary: At the exact zenith of the year designated 999.M41 classical Imperial, an event occurred in which the Immaterium was extruded into the Materium to form widespread phenomena similar to those previously observed in the regions designated the Eye of Terror and the Maelstrom.  Where the Immaterium and the Materium coexist across regions of space, the resulting excrescence of warp energy invariably exhibits drastic chronospacial effects on the matter contained in the region.  These effects are further compounded by the potential for predatory immaterial entities to use the affected regions as gateways into the wider Materium.  The largest of these phenomena is designated the Cicatrix Maledictum and has been deemed responsible by dint of scale for the majority of aberrant consequences for the galaxy as a whole, although numerous independent phenomena in unconnected regions have been verified.”

Spared the need to pause for breath, her lecture was a dirge.  Teleos felt ill, fought back a wave of nausea.

“With the Cicatrix Maledictum being a phenomenon of unprecedented size and scope, effectively bisecting the galaxy from galactic north of Segmentum Pacificus to the edge of the Eastern Fringe along an approximate north-west to south-east axis, the background warp energy released, combined with the hypothesised psychic backlash resulting from widespread loss of life on worlds in and around the region, has been shown to have an adverse effect on psychically gifted individuals roughly proportional, in most cases, to the strength of their connection to the Immaterium.  The most extreme cases have been observed in individuals emerging from long-term stasis predating the emergence of the phenomenon, in whom recognised symptoms include–”

“Yes, thank you...that will be sufficient.  Tell me what year it is now.”

The death mask eyed him blankly.  The violet-eyed mechadendrites twitched once in unison overhead. 

“By way of concise summary: Widespread chronospacial anomalies have resulted in an escalating conflict over the validity of the Imperial calendar, to the extent that–”

“How many years, in your estimation, have passed since the Cicatrix Maledictum phenomenon first occurred?”

“Approximately one hundred and twenty Terran standard years.  Margin of chronospacial differentiation, approximately twenty standard Terran years.”

“That seems like a pretty wide margin.”

“Time has been theorised to move differently in disparate regions of the galaxy relative to one another, to the extent that local dating systems based upon subjective time measured since the event occurred prevail in a majority of Imperial systems.  A more extreme instance of the same principal can be observed during transit through the Immaterium.  This vessel has not interacted directly with the planet we will shortly be approaching during the intervening period but based on observed data, I estimate their reckoning of years since the Cicatrix Maledictum phenomenon occurred may range from between approximately one hundred Terran standard years to approximately one hundred and forty Terran standard years in subjective local time.”

“So where exactly are we?”

“We are currently on the far side of the Cicatrix Maledictum from the Segmentum Solar, more specifically the far side of the formerly distinct region still designated the Eye of Terror, in the extreme galactic north of Segmentum Obscurus.  Our destination is the planet Tuvak, formerly an Imperial colony, currently beyond the reach of Terra and beneath the concern of Baal, suspected to have seceded from the Imperium.  There is a standing order for investigation by the Inquisition but it remains a low priority, given the remoteness of the region and a relative lack of strategic or material value.”

“Then why–”

“Why is none of my concern.  Consult with the operative designated Lancet for instructions and or explanations pertaining to your immediate mission.  I'm told he at least has been extensively briefed.”

A human voice this time, albeit wheezing and clipped with impatience...an elderly instructor, perhaps, driven to the edge of patience by an unruly pupil.  Definitely not artificial. 

“You are conscious, active and in no immediate physical danger.  I have fulfilled my function here and have other duties to perform.  You may go.”

He almost argued with her, tried to extract more information, but the tech-priest pivoted smoothly and slithered away to the cogitators, cane tapping, cables rippling in her wake, exposing her bristling back. Another cowled head protruded there, bulging obscenely between her shoulder blades, the face within swallowed in shadow.  Violet snake-eyes never left him as she moved.  The surrounding mane of mechadendrites twisting obscenely to keep him in their collective sight, swaying gently in the air like strands of underwater weeds.  Machine cant burbled on.  Further tendrils were emerging from her sleeves alongside the unsettling hands; thin silver tentacles roving restlessly.  Busy now at some arcane machine, roughly spherical, probably not a cogitator.  The Emperor cannot hear me... 

“What should I call you, Tech-priest?”

“You may call me Magos.”

Something moved in the hooded darkness, as he had suspected it might.  It was the head on her back that addressed him.  There was clearly something amiss here, and ordinarily he might not have let her off so easily.  But newly emerged from apparently more than a century of unknowing, unchanging non-existence in the limbo of a stasis pod, still beset on some level by the turmoil of distant psychic storms, he doubted he had it in him.  Not yet at any rate.  Canteen emptied, he put it aside and got to his feet, bracing his hands on the mattress.  His legs at least were steady, not a hint of treachery there.  His head narrowly avoided a menacing dangling structure, bristling with surgical tools on arms folded in like those of a mantis.  Bracing himself for the ordeal ahead, Teleos left the room. 


=][=


“In the course of my career I trained three men from boys to the rank of Inquisitor.  The first of them is dead now – call him a martyr, or a traitor; but he served his purpose well.  The second will never forgive me.  No doubt he's out there somewhere now, howling at some distant moon.  And the third...Bauchan, the serial High Magus.  Serial failure and survivor.  A cruel and petty creature, unsullied by introspection.  Addicted to empty promises, both given and received.  In truth, he was poor clay from the beginning.  The question of his damnation was merely one of details.  I helped him grow powerful, helped him get worse, but he never deserved any sympathy, nor wanted any either.  No doubt he will think I've forgotten him by the time you come to call.  I suggest that you start with him.”

“What would you have me do?”

“What else?”



=][=


Inquisitor Teleos Rahn was on a mission given to him by former Inquisitor Balkoth.  He remembered this as he traversed the dimly lit corridors of the seemingly endless vessel, seeking further crew members and with them revelations, finding only a procession of empty-minded servitors hunched grotesquely over menial tasks.  He'd given his word to see this through, whatever and whenever the mission might turn out to be.  He had entered the stasis pod, though not aboard a void ship then; somewhere...entirely else.  He had believed.  Now he'd awoken to find Balkoth absent, reality warped, the sky torn asunder by thirsty gods while he himself lay dormant, frozen, waiting for the call.  Waiting while a century came and went, and the Imperium surely suffered.  The call had come, that much was clear, but had it come too late?  Somewhere on this forsaken vessel was a man who knew the answers, at least if the self-proclaimed Magos was to be believed.  Teleos concentrated, tried to listen for thinking minds.  The whispers began to rise.  Flash!

“Inquisitor Rahn, I see you are approaching the bridge.  Please continue to do so.  I will see you there.” 

Not a whisper, a nearby vox-port, a broadcast human voice.  A man's voice, calmly cultured, polite without disdain.  Not an entirely hostile crew then.  This was a Black Ship, he mused distantly, a chariot for Inquisitors like him.  A prison for psykers like him.  This must be one of the upper decks.  He wasn't sure how long he had known this.  No wonder his head wasn't right yet, and daemons take the so-called Cicatrix Maledictum!  He had always despised these places.  For a moment he wondered why Balkoth, a psyker himself, didn't shared in his revulsion.  Perhaps he did.  On reflection, it seemed in character for the man to have kept one anyway.  A statement of defiance, an exercise of will...a monumental theft from the institution he turned his back on.  Maybe he laughed, in private.  Maybe not.  Teleos kept walking.

When at last he emerged from the labyrinthine murk of the void ship's interior and stepped out onto the bridge, the sudden brightness should have been overwhelming, but all he felt was relief.  His emergence was less a birth into a harsh reality than the coming of morning to a woodland, attended by the singing of spectral birds and the thawing of frosted leaves.  The oppression of psychic dampeners was entirely absent here.  A vast high-ceilinged chamber like a temple opened before him, its far side clear as still water, revealing a sea of stars.  No ragged tear across the sky to scream into his soul.  Ahead in what seemed liked the middle distance, a planet patiently loomed, its surface wrapped in swirling atmosphere like some deity's crystal ball.   A fist of undoubtedly furious cyclones, rendered smooth as glass by perspective from on high.  A God-Emperor's eye view.  He stopped to stare in wonder, a smile rising unbidden, borne on a wave of relief – an unexpected feeling to be sure.

“I hate to say this, but it's behind you.  Behind us, I mean.  We're approaching Tuvak from galactic south, which puts the Cicatrix Maledictum well outside your current field of vision.  I can bring it up on a screen if you want, but I'm guessing you'd like a drink.”

That voice again, and a man unfolding gracefully from a nearby cogitator terminal, descending from the metal lectern where it looms.  He had the build of a tree frog, moved like a spider and wore a plain black bodyglove.  One hand clutched the neck of a tapered blue glass bottle while the other balanced a pair of crystal tumblers.  He poured as he climbed, reached the deck with perfect timing to present the first drink to Rahn.  A moment later the second was full; he set down the bottle at the base of the lectern and raised his tumbler as if for a toast, though he stopped short of proposing one.  Crystal clinked and he took a sip, beaming all the while.  He had the face of a diplomat, clean shaven with close-trimmed white hair.  A hint of the scholar with a dash of the trader, perfect teeth and intelligent eyes; these features offset by the complexion of a lab rat and a nose like a butcher's knife.  His smile was open, eyebrows dancing, but his mind – Teleos nearly dropped the unsolicited drink. 

His mind was a bait ball; a shark-shadowed shoal of a thousand thousand fish all moving, shifting, interweaving – ordered chaos, frantic harmony, the infinite changing faces of some primal collective self – a snarl of parasitic trees, built root by clutching root into an edifice of interlocking, codependent thoughts – a flock of flocks of birds, wheeling and diving against a darkening sky, the streak of a hawk in their midst – all this reflected in the glimmer of a blade.

“Pleased to meet you at last, Inquisitor!  And welcome aboard Redacted, the Blackest Ship of them all.  I trust you're feeling recovered.  I'm Lancet.”

Teleos stared Lancet down, his own expression carefully neutral, any hint of a smile long passed.  He was suddenly glad of his own rough beard, no doubt still dishevelled but shaming this shiny knife-man with its earnest, earthy humanity.  He harboured an instinctive distrust of willingly beardless men, never mind one with such a mind.

“And what do you do here, Lancet?”

“What do I do?  Oh, I do all sorts.  First and foremost, I know things, and what I don't know I figure out.  I learn things, find things, keep things running when others are indisposed...in point of fact, I found our good friend Bauchan hiding out on yonder planet among all the million worlds of the Imperium, deep in the Noctis Aeterna.  Then I brought us here, no thanks to the Navis Nobilite, which I assure you is no small feat – although I won't claim I did that single-handed, no I in crew and so forth.  Think of me as a facilitator.  I worked with Inquisitor Balkoth way back when.  Before that I was with the Vanus Temple, training as an Info-cyte – full disclosure here, you understand.  All above board.  Long time ago now of course.  Are you going to touch that drink?  I assure you it's worth the effort.  I won't insult your intelligence by denying the presence of poison.  Alliteration is no substitute for a motive.”

Vanus Temple...well, damn.  No wonder he was here then.  Even for Balkoth this was a coup, assuming Lancet wasn't lying.  What he would have had to go through to recruit such a man...full disclosure seemed eminently unlikely.  The Inquisitor looked at the drink, swirling the golden liquid cautiously.  It smelled faintly sweet.

“The Magos refused me pain suppressants.  'Clarity of judgement is paramount,' she said.  What have you put in this drink?”

“The pertinent poison is alcohol, and as for clarity, by the look of you I'd say a single drink can only improve matters.  We have less than an hour for you to be suited up and on a shuttle.  I suggest we proceed to the seating area for the duration of our briefing.  I for one would benefit from a few minutes in a comfortable chair.”

Lancet gestured expansively to an area roughly in the centre of the vast chamber, where several high-backed armchairs and a sickle-shaped sofa were arranged in a rough semi-circle, bolted to the deck.  The upholstery, as expected, was an unexciting black.  Another cogitator lectern stood facing the seating area, controls invisible from here, with a large auxiliary vid-screen on the front.  It was currently displaying a feed of the planet Tuvak, roughly identical to the sight he could still see through the colossal windowed wall.  A figure in armour was sprawled awkwardly on the sofa, which was clearly built to take a beating.  The metal carapace was a dull gold alloy buffed to a moderate shine, baroque helmet completely enclosed. 

As they approached the warrior, Teleos realised its proportions were all wrong – too wide in the shoulders, too narrow at the waist.  Arms approximating human shape while bending incorrectly.  Not a patch of organic material to be seen.   A servitor, albeit it a highly sophisticated one with clean, ergonomic lines.  Likely worth a High Lord's ransom to the right connoisseur.  No obvious weapons or tools to speak of, and apparently shorter than he was, though it was hard to tell for certain.  Of course the weight of all that metal made it a weapon in itself, and he remained unarmed.  But were those thoughts? 

Distant, yes, like the sound of the wind heard from deep underground.  The faintest echo.  But human thoughts.  Decidedly more advanced then than the stooped, fleshy mono-taskers he'd seen so far.  Another Tech-priest?  If so then a rudely disrobed one.  Perhaps a skitarius, brought along to protect the Magos?  Not that this would explain its presence on the bridge, or for that matter the sofa.  A proxy for her, perhaps.  In any case, its apparent capacity for consciousness was a relief.  If it attacked he'd have something to work with.  And why should it attack?  He mentally rinsed his face.  He had agreed to this.  These were assets, his assets to be used.  He sank gratefully into an armchair and managed not to sigh.  Lancet indicated the servitor.

“Inquisitor Rahn, may I introduce Interrogator–”

“I'll interrogate you if you call me that again.  You won't enjoy the experience.”

A synthesised voice, or a human one?  This time it was hard to tell.  It sounded like a young woman trapped at the bottom of a well, and had the weary tone of one who accepted she would have to stay there.  The unsightly lump of a vox-port had been bolted to the servitor's carapace, where a human collar bone might be. 

“Then may I introduce Ms Anastasia Wysp, former rising star of the Inquisition, current battle servitor and malcontent.  She'll be serving as your field assistant and to an extent, your bodyguard.  Ms Wysp, Inquisitor Teleos Rahn.”

“Another Inquisitor?  We'll see how long that lasts now you've gotten mixed up with this lot.  Pleased to meet you, I guess.  Don't say I didn't warn you.”

The servitor leaned forward, offered to break his hand; he nodded politely to it but declined to accept the offer.  Spreading its mechanised claws as if appealing to the Emperor, it flopped back in its seat with an ominous metallic creak.  Lancet waved away the moment, sliding into a chair of his own. 

“To business!  To cut a very long story brilliantly short, former Inquisitor Bauchan – that's him on the screen now, doing what he does – is a liability for our mutual friend and needs to be dealt with expediently.  Frankly he's by far the least important matter on our list, but also the easiest to address and so, here we are.  Here is what I know: Bauchan has co-opted the Tuvakian government as a power behind the throne.  It's a one-hive world, nothing fancy; perhaps he's looking to settle down.  His cult, a shamefully tawdry philosophical salad dedicated to the daemon Rekkinzon, has infiltrated the nobility at every level, to the extent that I think we can write the entire social class off as a lost cause.”

Another hand wave, this time condemning thousands as deserving fools.  He nipped at his tumbler with a satisfied smack of his lips, before setting it down on an armrest. 

“Fortunately, there's an equally bombastic popular uprising fomenting in the underhive – Bauchan plans to gas the rebellious element, but the relevant point for us is that this has him looking downwards, scheming to stamp out all resistance from below.  What he isn't expecting, primarily because I've hijacked Tuvak's defence network and slaved their satellites to us – also he's never heard of one – is a Fabraxian warp tunnel punching into the spire from orbit and dropping you on his absurdly be-horned head.  Not that there's anything wrong with a horned head in certain extreme circumstances, but there are horns with class and then there are...those.”

He shook his head ruefully, then sharply clapped his hands.

“So!  We have a psychic tracer locked onto his soul, for want of a better word, courtesy of our delightful Magos.  The tunnel should come out somewhere within...oh, a hundred yards of him, give or take, though she'd kill me for being so vague.  Of course I can't guarantee that space won't be full of soldiers.  Follow the signal, deal with the man, retrieve both his daemon swords – don't ask me why he has two – and leave the nobles to their fate.  You might want to execute the governor while you're at it, traitor to the Imperium and all that, but I wouldn't go out of your way.”

A momentary frown intruded, as if silently interrupted.  Teleos had indeed been about to interject, but Lancet pressed on quickly.

“I recognise that look.  You all get it sometimes, nothing to be ashamed of.  But priorities are priorities.  Bauchan himself is a low one in the grand scheme of things, let alone all his fair-weather cronies.  He's lucky we managed to fit him in at all.  Remember, this is not the Inquisition coming for a heretic – well I suppose it is, but first and foremost this is Balkoth coming for Bauchan, and as for Rekkinzon?  Banish it, if you see it.  That's all.  It's about as harmless as daemons get, and he wants us to send a message.  Let it tell its kind what is coming if they think about crossing our path.  By the by, Roboute Guilliman came back from the dead.  No one out here really gives a damn but I figured you'd want to know.  I'll update you properly on the state of Imperial politics once Bauchan has been safely dealt with.”

“Roboute– Never mind, but what exactly is the hurry?  Hasn't this waited a hundred years already?  Surely I should be briefed–”

“He's giving a speech in the governor's palace, a masturbatory sermon for the cream of the cream of the spire.  I figured that would be the ideal moment–”

“You figured – so this isn't Balkoth's plan?”

Lancet's next smile was icy, his affability dispersing like morning mist. 

“This is my plan.  I, in turn, am a part of Balkoth's plan; as are you, Inquisitor.  Knowing when to strike is one of my duties, just as the striking itself is one of yours.  I'm told you excel at this sort of thing, at least when you're fully composed.  You don't have to do this my way, but I assure you I've thought it through far more thoroughly than you have time to in the next fifty minutes.”

He met Rahn's gaze as he said this, before springing suddenly back to his feet, comfort abandoned, bursting with vitality.  On the nearby vid-screen, a horned man was killing children with a jagged blood-slick sword.  They were each queuing up for their turn.

“Don't worry, that isn't live.  Ms Wysp, if he proves amenable, kindly show Inquisitor Rahn to the armoury at his convenience.  He will require full access, with particular attention paid to the Force Armour.  Please instruct him in its operation.  You might also want to tool up a little yourself, make it a proper show of force.  As for me, I'll be needed on that cogitator momentarily.  Good luck, Inquisitor!  This should be well within your remit, but take comfort in the knowledge that if you do fail then he probably intended you to.  Wheels within wheels, you know how it is.  Comes with the territory.”

Resigned to the wheels of destiny, Teleos tossed back his drink.  It tasted like battery acid.


=][=


« Last Edit: April 25, 2020, 06:56:54 PM by Mentirius »

Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
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  • Posts: 79
Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2020, 07:55:57 PM »

“– And now, my friends, we approach the heart of the matter.  Did the self-annointed emperor care for Tuvak?  Did ensuring the prosperity of this unique world, the very jewel in the Imperial crown, even figure in his decisions?  I put to you that it did not.  That their so-vaunted saviour is a fraud.   For what true god, deserving worship, would scorn the sons of Tuvak to pander to lesser men?”

“No god at all,” they chorused; this spoiled, pampered herd.  The audience hall was packed almost literally to the rafters, with coiffured, costumed courtiers filling every seat while more stood crowded shoulder-tight around them, some raised on others' backs, their dignity abandoned, all the way to the high sealed doors.  A few perched precariously in further elevated spots, sharing plinths with gilded statues or risking the ledges of feet-thick, coloured windows, beyond which swirled a never-ending storm.  Illumination was provided by elaborate chandeliers.  The echoes of his voice reverberated through them, so amplified by the artfully hidden vox-address system, concealed by tasteless tapestries, that the inside of the chamber rang like a beaten bell.  Grinning with the fangs of a jungle cat, the High Magus prowled the stage, a raised dais once occupied by the governor's towering throne – its owner sat on the botttom step now, proud as a favoured grandchild. 

“I say to you that Rekkinzon has always recognised your worth.  He has always known your measure, for it was He who Chose this world.  Your primacy, so long denied, is obvious to Him.  He who sees between particles, swims between stars; He who sees to the truth of the soul.  For did not mankind's primacy begin upon this ground?  Did not our ancestors build temples on the earth of honest Tuvak, and did Our Lord not smile to see?  Before their false Imperium, wherever sons of Tuvak strove and dreamed...there was He.  And He is with us still!  For even the least deserving Tuvak flesh is worthy to contain the divine.  Bear witness, you deserving few.  Cast all your eyes on high.   Behold the apotheosis of our faith!”

An appreciative gasp passed through the crowd as they complied.  One might have thought some patriotic angel truly had appeared.  The apotheosis in question was a wrecked, emaciated thing, suspended high above and behind him, stretched to breaking by rune-etched chains.  It resembled a man dead of a wasting disease, though its quivering convulsions seemed to prove some kind of life.  A pattern of eldritch symbols had been carved into its flesh.  Dirty brown light was leaking from its gaping mouth, though no audible sound issued forth.  Perhaps its groans were merely drowned out by the speaker's booming tones.  The ornamented multitude hung on his every word. 

The High Magus stood tall as a Space Marine, and power armoured to boot, though a learned eye would have noted the distended plates, the cancerous organic carvings and the ossified exhaust ports.  Whatever powers drove it now were surely unnatural ones.  From shoulder to floor the suit was bedecked with poorly cured human skin streamers, tattooed in rainbow hues, impaled on fish-hook spines.  His head might have seemed absurdly small on top, but for a pair of ostentatious horns shaped like a letter S, rising from behind either temple and reaching nearly an arm's length into the air.  The skin of his face was pitted as tree bark, eyes tiny and crocodile sly.  Bauchan enunciated his words carefully, compensating for the fangs.  In each gauntleted fist he brandished a naked sword, exuberant as a conductor before an orchestra, spraying flecks of dark corruption like the spittle of a frenzied hound.  One sword had a blade full of teeth and eyes, more animal than steel.  The other cast a solid blade-shaped void, a perfect silhouette that swallowed light with hateful thirst. 

“You all have seen the truth, my friends.  Proud Tuvak, noble Tuvak, stands alone.  Alone save for the Lord of All Creation!  Though Rekkinzon sees all the worlds, he gazes first and last on You.   What say you – should Our Lord be limited to looking down with His all-seeing eye?  Or is it worth a sacrifice to bring Him closer still?  Should he taste the Tuvak spirit for Himself?”

“Tuvak!  Tuvak!  Let him taste!”

A shuffling in the eager mass, as a knot of burly worshippers bullied their way to the front.  Young men of the sort who put on combat suits to hunt desperate underhive scum.  Sculpted muscle flexing in a vainglorious display.  All the piety of a press-gang to these.  The congregation shortly disgorged the group, revealing a bounty of dull-eyed, unwanted daughters, each one led meekly by the arm.  The intended victims mumbled incoherently; one giggled to herself.  Their peers looked on hungrily, whispering, gossiping even now. 

Flash!  The towering gilt doors blew inwards with a juddering, ear-bursting crack.  Shrapnel lanced out through the crowd, a burst of bloody streamers.  The congregation fell apart, terrified and turning feral, howling and keening as they fought to escape.  A tide of flailing flesh rolled forward, swelling, shrieking, snaring people as it came.  Behind the stampede, shell-shocked wounded sprawled in heaps, their limbs a grasping tangle – still screaming when the doors themselves came down.  The crunch of bones was swallowed in the thunder of their fall.   Survivors scattered, fought and scrambled; died upon the dais steps for daring to ascend – for Bauchan laid about him now, a bear beset by rats, his swords a wetly wicked blur that parted throats, spilled guts, ate souls.  The air was thick with dust and choking, stinking smoke.  The wretch on high hung limp.  Staccato bursts of bolter fire rang out across the hall.

“Bauchan!  Inquisition!”

The bellow of authority,
said a treacherous primal urge.  The voice of judgement feared, unlooked for, railed against in vain.  A spectral hand pushed down on them, forcing the weeping cultists to their knees.  They cowered in each other's blood, made obeisance to they-knew-not-who and pleaded to be spared.  A hold-out who clung to a high ledge fell thirty feet to the floor.  A figure was approaching their sometime High Magus; a towering, menacing, black-armoured titan, grown vast in the minds of his prey.  A flickering halo of light coursed around him, while searing white currents flowed hot down his arms and pooled in the palms of his hands.  His helmet was framed by great coiling ram-horns, face concealed by a visor, opaque and impassively blank.  The remains of the cult parted meekly before him, all crawling and shuffling, too terrified to rise. 

“Your time is over, Bauchan.  Your failures at an end.  The hand that raised you up has cast you down.”

His voice was a coldly resonant bass; it echoed in the pit of their guts.  Some of them whispered of hands and failures, lips moving unconsciously.  The wrathful god advanced.  With the speed of an animal bolting – some skittering, scurrying thing – the High Magus ran.  He leapt from the dais, breaking tiles as he landed, tried to veer left and get past his aggressor.  The sword on the attacker's back remained undrawn.  His beetle-black armour was slighter than Bauchan's, no ostentatious pauldrons, though the surface of every plate was marbled with a mesh of bone-white lines.  An eerie glow flared up as one fist met a power-armoured chest.  The blow lifted Bauchan, armour and all, and pitched him back into the air.  He met the wall behind the dais, obliterating a portrait of some long-dead governor, or perhaps of himself; left a spider-web of cracks behind him as he slid back down to earth.  He kept his feet and both his swords, a challenge in his eyes.  A malicious grin split his face. 

“Rekkinzon!  The time is nigh, you worm.  Come forth and consume this pretender.”

With a triumphant cackle, his awful swords lunged and the rune-covered chains were cut free.  In a clatter of falling, pooling links, the wretch on high descended.  Every head craned to look, surreptitiously hoping – bolter fire blared again, too close, obscenely loud in that moment.  A bristling gore-drenched servitor; a wet-brass nightmare of crackling power blades, with a shoulder-mounted firearm trained on the falling man.  The scraggly form was blown apart before their eyes.  Wet lumps of him spattered down.  Something hung for a moment in the fading red mist, like a tight knot of chitinous claws.  It swallowed itself and was gone.

“Coward!  Weakling!  You spineless daemon f–”

Bauchan's incredulous shriek was cut short as the black-suited man bore down.  With his options exhausted, he went on the offensive with a flurry of overhand swings.  The savage sword snarled as it glanced off a gauntlet; a forearm caught the dark blade with a sharp discordant chime.  Firework flashes of witch-light seemed to punctuate every strike.  Booted foot met armoured knee, light flared and something crunched.  Bauchan lurched, staggered, recovered, breathing hard as he righted himself.  His enemy circled, streamlined, predatory, still bare-handed save for the light. 

“You aren't Balkoth.  Not even close!  Amaurn, is that you in there?”

“What a shameful display.  You're every bit the clown he said you were.  Those blades have enslaved you, apostate.  Not that it's any excuse.”

“Apostate?  You fight for him and speak of apostasy?  Why not heresy while you're at it?  I suppose that's sanctioned tech you're using?  You sanctimonious fool.”

“I think we're well past heresy.  You are guilty of having existed.  The Inquisition does not miss you.  You wasted what power you had.  Your death will be less than a footnote.”

Sudden as a scorpion, the Inquisitor attacked.  Bauchan met him, ambidextrous; lost the savage sword, then the dark; each weapon rudely wrenched away from him with gauntlet-shattering force.  Hands ruined, disbelieving, he tried to use his horns.  The dark sword took him in the abdomen, driving cleanly through his torso and coming out high on his back.  Then the savage punched down through his collar bone and on into his guts, gleefully shredding organs as it went.  The Inquisitor left them there.  A boot in the chest sent the twice-impaled giant toppling woodenly over.  He shuddered where he lay.  Somewhere within his hulking armour, daemons fought for primacy, extending warring tendrils through his veins.  Flesh warped and bubbled, collapsed and gave way, a battlefield churned into mud.  The enormous horns drooped like burning wax.  He attempted a gurgling scream.  In this too Bauchan failed. 

“Which one of you is the governor?”

A forest of pointing fingers.

“Wysp.”

A single resounding shot.  The unlucky man's head ceased to be.  The servitor loped forward, its power blades still raised.  Its shoulder gun roved as if eager, certainly spoilt for choice.  From outside, panicked shouts were drawing near. 

“Your houses are dissolved by order of the Inquisition.  I hereby excommunicate you all.”

The wreckage that had been the High Magus stopped twitching and lay still.  Apparently satisfied, the Inquisitor placed a foot on his chest-plate and withdrew the cursed swords.  They seemed to shrink a little in his hands. 


=][=


“You didn't use the sword.  You could have had guns!  Talk about showing off.”

“I wasn't showing off.  I didn't need the sword, I've only halfway figured out this armour and it still felt like fighting a child.  No wonder Lancet didn't take him seriously.”

“Lancet takes nobody seriously....almost nobody.  Certainly not Bauchan.  I saw what you did with his daemon blades.  Was that meant as poetic justice?”

“Have you met many poetic Inquisitors?”

“Depends how you define poetry.  'The hand that raised you up has cast–'”

“It felt like something Balkoth would say.  Happy?”

“I'm a servitor.  Would you be?”

“I'm not sure you are a servitor.”

“Depends how you define a servitor.”

“Well in my experience, they're usually not so...verbose.  Besides, you seemed happy enough back there.”

“I suppose I must have been then, with you being psychic and all.”

“Whoever assembled you clearly thought of that.  I'd have to really want to see your mind.  I don't.”

“I don't blame you.  For what it's worth, I think it was justice.  Bauchan I mean.  Or near enough anyway.”

“Were you really an Interrogator?”

“So now you're interested?  Would Lancet lie to you?”

“I imagine he already has.”

“I don't know you, Inquisitor.  Just making conversation.  I know curiosity is in the title, but I have a mind-linked boltgun and I'd rather not discuss it.”

“Suit yourself.  I doubt you'd scratch this thing anyway.  That looks more like a pistol to me.”

A stony silence tried to descend, spoiled by the ringing echo of armoured steps down mausoleum halls.  The Inquisitor and the debatable servitor moved quickly through the Black Ship's guts, heading back towards the armoury; left a trail of gory footprints in their wake.  The warp tunnel had worked as advertised: a moment of thundering madness; every sense overloaded; a hurtling, burning, drowning, screeching fall.  An impossible distance crossed at the cost of a single breath.  He nearly vomited the first time, briefly worried he might soil his suit.  The return trip had seemed easier, though Bauchan's daemons had grown bold, tried to pour their poison in his ears.  Even their words were lost on him, swallowed by the howling void.  The Magos had taken the swords from him as soon as they burst from the gate; a great circular lens in the midst of a complex array.  Wysp had given her a wide berth and headed straight for the exit.  Within the not-glass behind them, a maelstrom of swirling pigments had quickly ebbed away.

The armour they had foisted on Teleos had indeed been more than enough.  To the best of his knowledge, Imperial force technology did not extend to armoured suits, and Bauchan was likely right about its dubious sanctity.  Apparently powered by warp energy, it responded to his every thought and amplified the consequence, channelling his will into his limbs.  No daemon engine this; the energy corona was his own.  The raw, primal strength of his soul made tangible and set loose in his flesh.  He wondered what the upper limit was.  The battle had been an epiphany.  He had felt invigorated, clear and sharp, all trace of his earlier discomfort dispelled as he beat down Bauchan's blades.  The impacts had barely registered in his shell.  Perhaps the armour had fed upon them, and he through it, though he couldn't sense any taint.  Maybe corruption could not be sensed within oneself.  I think we're well past heresy.  Primarily schooled as a telepath, he had long relied on his weapons in combat and was unused to hurling power-armoured men around like dolls.  He supposed he would adapt.  Become a living blade of psychic force, he had felt no need to draw his sword.  As he walked he pondered what might have required it.  There is always a bigger fish.

Lancet was waiting when they arrived, stood at ease in the armoury doorway.  He launched into another briefing immediately.  Inquisitor Rahn made a half-hearted to listen, still wearing the vaunted Force Armour, though he removed the close-fitting helmet and held it by one coiled horn.  Meanwhile the now sullen Wysp went through the laborious process of literally disarming herself.  A swarm of hovering servo skulls had gathered and were currently acting as fingers.  The buzzing cloud half obscured her from view while their miniature mechadendrites unscrewed, twisted, lifted.  Her bloody combat attachments – one arm a power sword from elbow downwards, the other a great clawed first with a further blade fixed to the wrist – were set down on a bench to be cleaned.  An unsettling rack of spare limbs awaited her, including the heavy-fingered, almost orkish ones she'd worn back on the bridge. 

She deliberated, briefly dismembered, before choosing a more delicate pair.  The teeming skulls obeyed.  The shoulder-mounted bolt pistol went last – it was indeed a pistol, though admittedly an ornate one big enough for an Astartes – and Rahn felt a tiny sting of muffled psychic feedback as the surprisingly potent Machine Spirit disengaged from her Mind Impulse Unit.  The hint of dislocation swiftly passed.  Wysp stowed the weapon with its attachments in a grim little safe, apparently set aside for the purpose, and sealed a bulky arcane padlock with a beep.  Sober religious iconography adorned the box.  Behind her Lancet winked at him, conspiratorial, without missing a verbal beat.  She resolutely ignored them.  Rahn tried to focus on the pertinent points and tune out the inconsequential. 

It seemed the Imperium had come close to breaking in the century he'd spent in stasis.  Had broken, in fact, into Sanctus and Nihilus, though not the final, fatal shattering some had feared.  But somehow, he was beginning to realise, humanity endured.  The galactic situation when he entered the pod had been dire in its own way...five minutes to midnight, some said.  Now it sounded like midnight had come and gone.  Even the return of one of the Primarchs could not, should not have been enough to save humanity from the myriad dooms it had faced in the final years of M41.  Yet over a century later, in the face of a galaxy sundered by the Cicatrix Maledictum – he could still feel the Rift, though he hadn't yet seen it – a tiny seed of optimism was striving to take root.  He dismissed it as folly, of course. 

This had long been an obscure region of space.  It was now in the Dark Imperium, and the furthest edge at that.  I wonder what Marazel made of it when they stole his grand idea.  Will Ancient Koldo come to Baal one night?  The Emperor's psychic light was all but invisible out here.  Deprived of the Astronomican, who even knew what horrors stalked the darkness now?  Never mind which direction to pray.  Nothing ends.  Nothing changes.  War is war is war.  This is what we are.  If the monsters all died we'd make new ones.  Even the Emperor must fight to stay alive.  We didn't spawn the Chaos Gods but we keep them fed to bursting.  It's a wonder there aren't more of them by now.

“–But you can read up on the details en route to our next destination.  How much do you know about the Conclave?”

“Which conclave?”

“The intangible one.  Astropaths, coded messages, Inquisitors sharing their secrets...”

“Aye, I've heard of it.  I don't hold with that sort of arrangement.  An Inquisitor's secrets should be kept close, not passed around through other people's leaking heads.”

“So you don't use Astropaths?  A rather impractical stance.”

“I wouldn't go that far, but there are degrees of trust.  Didn't you just say they're all going mad from the effects of the Rift?”

“Not all of them.  It's true the network isn't what it was, but I sense you formed this opinion some time ago.”

“I can see into people's minds, Lancet.  I've learned a great many secrets in my time, and I suspect you've done the same by different means.  I'm sure you, who are not an Inquisitor, know more about this Conlave than I do – which is an excellent example of why Astropaths and ciphers can't be trusted where it counts.”

“Well then, good luck standing and shouting.  May your secrecy serve you well, Inquisitor.  However, I'm afraid our mission will require you to familiarise yourself with the contents of the Conclave Archive.  To that end, I had our Astropaths make a full transcript over the course of the last week, which I have since edited and annotated extensively for your perusal.  The data-slate awaits you in your quarters.  There's food and a bathroom there too if you need any added incentives.”

“Where are my quarters?”

“Adjacent to the bridge, I'm afraid.  Got to be ready for action if we run across any surprises!  We're a week out from the Mandeville point, but it's a relatively short hop through the warp after that if all goes well.”

“To where, exactly?”

“Ah, you need to do your homework.  We're bound for a place called Secret's Hold.  It's an old haunt of Balkoth's, though it really was a secret in those days.  He gave it to his first apprentice, who couldn't keep a secret to save his life.  See what the data slate has to say about it, eh?  Try to enjoy the irony.  I'll fill in the gaps when you're done.  Incidentally, I've seen the vid-logs of your coup de grace and I'm afraid dear Ms Wysp there must have given you the short version when she explained the Force Armour – I'm told it has several auxiliary functions you failed to test, and as for the actual weaponry – well, I suggest you ask the Magos to explain the arcana of your armaments in more detail.  Later, of course, not now.  I expect she'll be busy securing those daemons below.”

Halfway down the hall outside by now, Wysp turned and yelled at the mention of her name.

“I'm not a psyker, alright!  I don't understand the damn thing.  How about you explain it to him, since you're in the business of knowing everything?”

Lancet called back at once with venom on his tongue.

“Because I am neither a psyker, nor a brawler, nor a machine.  The use of weapons bores me, transparently simple as it is.  These things are for you and your minder to worry about.  I have more important work to do.”

He made a show of dismissing her and turned back to Rahn.

“Sorry about that Inquisitor, you know how servitors are.  No real versatility to the best of them.  But I really must be getting on.  Well done out there, on balance.  A satisfactory outcome.  We can work on your finesse as we go.  You really must talk to the Magos at some point, I'm sad to say.  Your immediate arsenal aside, we have various...things...in the hold you should probably be made aware of.  Not Secret's Hold that is, the actual hold of this vessel.”

“Various things?”

“It's a very spacious hold.  Isn't that the point of a Black Ship?  Of course that's all the engineering department's domain, so definitely one for our two-faced mechanic to field.”

“You don't know what's down there?”

“Oh, I know all about it.  But you should hear it from her.  I'm not about to speak for Fabraxis.”

“Fabraxis?”

“The Magos, Inquisitor.  Later.  But don't ask about Fabraxis, if you know what's good for you.  You aren't the only one around here who believes in secrecy.”

“So I've noticed.”

“Oh, you have no idea.”


=][=


“Secrecy is the essence of the Inquisition.  An Inquisitor who could remain so, were all their secrets known from Hive to High Lord's chamber, is one in name only and can be no effective agent against immortal, intractable foes.  For an Inquisitor must learn in order to succeed, and the pursuit of knowledge regarding mankind's enemies can always be defined as heresy.  It is also our duty, of course.  To take up our mantle is to swear contradictory oaths.  Our first task is to reconcile them.  Our second to find some secret place where we can begin to learn.”

“And yet you were excommunicated, were you not?”

“So I was...I won't try to convince you that was entirely by design.  But excommunication was a hindrance, not an end.  I kept my secrets closer than my seal.  By then I had learned a little.  Enough, I thought, to shed the skin of the great Inquisitor, to grow beyond its confines and expand.  They will tell you I walk the Path of Damnation.  No doubt some inner simulacrum says it to you even now.  They are correct in their assessment, in the main.  There is truth in the cliché; to deal with daemons always has its price.  I let every bridge I crossed burn down behind me.  But avoiding damnation was never my first priority.  How could it be?  We can never be purely warriors, yet warriors we are.  Inquisitors do not learn for the love of knowledge, but so our enemies might be known, and we might shape ourselves into their bane.”

“By making deals with them?  Is this not what your failed pupil would say?  Is it not the song of every fallen Inquisitor, as he pleads with his peers to spare him?”

“I plead with no one, boy.  Neither my creditors nor my peers.  Damnation too is a hindrance, but daemons are not the true enemy.  They are the enemy's pets.  It is our ignorance that makes us toys for such creatures to chew on.  Sometimes they can even be goaded to bite the hand that feeds.  But to survive we must win the Great Game, and to win we must learn how to play.  It is the master we must conquer, not the beast.”

“You see yourself as equal to their gods then?  Again, this sounds like arrogance, not wisdom.”

“They are not gods, merely monsters.  Distortions of certain truths.  And I will find the measure of them yet.  Who else will fight on the highest, most crucial front of all?  If not the Inquisition it had better be the Emperor Himself.”

“Surely it must.  You are a mortal man, Balkoth, when all is said and done.  Merely human for all your secrets, as are we all.  The Inquisition consists of people, flesh and soul.  The Emperor is divine – it is His great battle you describe.  He who fights on the highest front.  That is why we worship Him.”

“Then tell me, Teleos – do you think he's winning?”



=][=


Secrets are seeds.  When buried, they germinate – leave too many buried together, and a jungle begins to grow.  They multiply in self-defence, and thereby increase the danger to themselves.  Discovery is their death of course, but death can only ever be delayed.  Mortality comes calling in the end.  Propagation is the only recourse.  So it was in Secret's Hold, as in the land surrounding. 

This private core of Balkoth's world, and later that of his student Mentirius, had held onto its secrets from before a human ever learned to speak.  These secrets predated even their Keeper, who for all its power and cunning had never escaped their hold.  They had been old when Escellon, one of She Who Thirsts' first born, had first been lured and trapped there by mortals unknown in the mists of the Age of Strife – had perhaps been studied for a time, left fossilised by some forgotten sorcerer-scientist and forgotten in its turn.  The Keeper of Secrets was gone now, freed by implosive dissolution, daemonic essence drained away while all the jungle burned.  But the black stone and the echoing warp remembered, as they remembered every former master of the Hold.  Balkoth had not been the first usurper, nor the last, but he had made a useful vector for those secrets deemed fit to thrive.  What remained were the degenerate offspring of the scraps he had left behind. 

And so the Hold endured, hollowed out though it had been by the Keeper's rise and fall.  Around the sprawling clearing it had claimed, degenerate secrets had propagated and the forest grown anew.  The jungle steamed and sweltered, crowded closer day by day.  Plants adapted even to the warp, grew lurid and bizarre.  Nature abandoned symmetry and thrived.  Given another century, fleshy roots might well have drowned the ragged open space with vibrant, twisted growth, but so far the Keeper's psychic epitaph held sway.  The ruin of the Hold itself, an open crater now, yawned up at the Rift-torn sky with a maze of broken teeth.  Emptied of all but the oldest secrets, it silently called out to be filled.  In the tangled arboreal depths of the jungle, an answer was trying to form. 

The battle began at dawn.  A scurrying squad of six-eyed spine-backs loosed a barrage of envenomed yellow quills as they crested a fallen tree trunk, decimating the massed ranks of fat-bellied tuskers who crowded and jostled beyond.  Their already bulbous purple bodies rippled, swelled and burst, unified in a single crescendo of perfect agony.  Their sacrifice served as a signal.  Beyond the spreading pools of viscous pink ichor, a war grove of whispering willows swayed and chittered forth.  Their wriggling roots sucked thirstily at the mess.  The spine-back squad were seized and strangled, caught in dangling frond-whips and dragged up into the darkness, trailing exquisite ribbons of bestial fear.  An airborne battalion of bat-hawks descended, screeching, but were likewise snared and choked.  They fought to the last of course. 

Their distraction bought time for the tyrant plant, a ponderous, creeping mass, to drag itself into range.  Its six-fold maw unravelled and a hydra of harpoon tongues shot forth, punching through the lashing foliage and impaling slender trunks.  The whispering willows shivered, their nerve endings singing, as the monster reeled them in.  They tried to choke it with their roots but acidic juices rose up in its throat and burned their tendrils away.  They stewed in its gut, dying slowly.  Their only thought was bliss.  Elsewhere in the blossoming conflict, tripedal tentacled foot-soldiers fought beak and claw amongst themselves, driven to frenzy by thick clouds of spores while fungal golems rose.  Their mania was the madness of beasts, for now, but improvements could be made.  A torture squad of vespid snakes roamed freely through melee, their many-pointed mandibles aglow.  Descended as one on a single bioluminescent climbing hog.  It pulsed and shrilled as they peeled it apart, nerve by searing nerve.  They played for their master's delectation, while the jungle came alive and died on every side.

There was a mind behind them all, if mind it could be called.  A hive of tiny proto-minds infested by an all-pervasive, parasitic soul.  It remembered the touch of tender fingers on the handle of a gently curving sword.  It remembered the world aflame on every side.  The beloved prey gone putrid, stolen by putrefaction at the last.  It remembered the extinction of its secret, envied Lord.  A century and more it had waited, nurtured, puppeteered, enacting frantic games of war that quickly descended into slaughter.  Breeding, mutating, shaping species in the aftermath.  It had amused itself this way and fed on what intensity it found, together with the ever-present echoes of the breaking of the Hold.  This was a meagre, mean existence for a scion of excess, and yet superior by far to a prison of rigid steel abandoned in the ash.  It flexed and roiled and gouged itself, lost in the dance for a time.  And then they came.  It knew the tiny ape-lights at once, for it remembered humans well and missed them desperately.  They walked on the sacred earth and the daemon felt their tread as a teasing caress.  Desire took flight and soared.

It was Secret's Hold they came to find, of course.  No playful courtship here.  Their minds all barred as temple gates, they lingered by the broken prison for a time.  They meddled, prattled, pondered, conversation unintelligible; left before the day was over, inscrutable to the insects and the hungry, thinking vines.  And yet the daemon knew.  They would only be the first to come, for the scent would surely spread now, and mortals swarmed like flies to meat where secrets were concerned.  Their departure was surely the beginning of the breaking of its fast.  It schemed and dreamed and preened itself, began to build anew. 


=][=



Offline Dosdamt

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Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2020, 06:00:47 AM »
Ghosts of the Past Vol III

A Mutant Girl, Perhaps

M42.002, High above Last Reach

“This is your plan? This is as good as it gets?”

Bess shook her head. In the few years she’d been in the employ of this Inquisitor, she hadn’t ever heard such a load of speculative nonsense. She rubbed a hand down her scabby creased face and sighed. Part of her wished Mantis was still here. She had built a rapport of sorts with the old man, and grown very fond of him. Though he was wracked by despair and despondency, she had beamed through the gloom as a welcome lighthouse pierces the fog and, in the end….

In the end. Mantis’ end. She fought for composure for a flash second.

In the end he’d given everything, so she should be here. So he could be here. So they would be here. Crucially, it was her choice to be here. Perhaps that was reason enough to believe in the plan. She had pored over the details, again and again, until she was exhausted and then again when she awoke from slumber. She worked through the small details with a practiced mind and an infinite patience. Even with all that effort, little of it made sense to her - then, she hadn’t been a throne agent for as long as those around her.

It had taken a monumental surge of will for her to follow him. She’d left Mantis, Scarab, Python, the Magus and more behind. Her friends - no, she corrected herself, family - in the group. She hadn’t seen any news on what had happened to the Profitable Venture. They’d found some of the group who had split with the Venture after some differences of opinion on direction. They weren’t sure what had happened to the ship after they left it. He had welcomed them in. Bess found herself having to organise logistics for the new arrivals which she took to like a wolf to the chase. She found herself coordinating more and more until he was leaning on her for almost everything. Now everything ran through her or only with her blessing and she was thriving.

Just a mutant girl.

She smiled inwardly at the thought. Just a mutant girl - as true as it was, or had been, it wasn’t the reality of who she had been. She had been the godhead of a cult, the vessel for emancipation and dominion of a world. Rescued from there, she’d wandered with Karius Prelune - the Truthsayer - for a time until she came face to face with the feared and terrible Most Holy Ordos of His Inquisition. She had been the confidante to one Inquisitor. She had received the revelation of a lifetime from the next. She was now the seneschal to another. She suspected that now she was mired in this world, she would only leave once she was dead. She was barely twenty years old.

Some mutant girl.

She went through the data pad again as he watched on. He had given her access to the broadest, biggest librarium of texts she’d ever seen. She was a voracious reader - little time for it now - but she had consumed works by Guilliman, Macharius and others on tactics and warfare. It would be fair to say they’d varied in opinions - how the Imperium could do with Roboute back now! - but none of them would have recommended the plan put before her. Still, perhaps in the chaos that had broken out across the Imperium, the lack of coordination and communication would create a window of opportunity. Perhaps. She ran through the numbers again, ran through the steps, ran through the plans and the strategy, the contingency and the finest details. She looked at the fall back positions and the scant intelligence they’d been able to gather.

Perhaps.

“Guilliman would call it too theoretical, too many unknowns. Coteaz would’ve balked at the lack of contingencies. Macharius would tell us we don’t have the numbers. And Yarrick would laugh at how foolhardy it is.”

She understood the strategy. The talent they had available, in particular the talents he had would hopefully tip the balance. What were the words in Othello Dosdamt’s Magnificum Strategis? She mentally grasped for a moment.

“Hope is not a strategy”.

Perhaps.

She flicked the contents of the datapad, such as they were and they were light on detail, onto the holo terminal.

“Look here,” he said, “And here, and here. We’ve got enough ingress points that are weak, we don’t need numbers. We need speed, direction, precision. Confusion and misdirection do the heavy lifting, we clear up whatever resistance forms a cohesive response.”

“You are a small force dropping from orbit, you can’t breach them all at the same time. We know their numbers, they outnumber you significantly. It won’t take much of a cohesive response to stop you dead, literally,” she countered.

“Disagree, that’s why we have to hit all three of the ingress points. We’ll land a team on each of them, we pin them down, we force them to split their forces. We’ve got surprise on our side and confusion is our key ally. We’ll have the Commandos on the ground alrea-“

“They are only going in non-lethal. As ever.”

“That doesn’t render them ineffective.”

“Will you be fighting non-lethal? Will any of your teams be fighting non-lethal?”

He drops his face, tilts his head to the side, and scowls for just a moment.

“That splits your execution. That leaves you vulnerable. You can’t have your distraction shooting sleeping gas taze-darts, leaving one egress point filled with disoriented enemies.”

“The Commandos are great at what they do. They’ll make sure whatever they put down, stays down for long enough. And they’re due to send more intelligence any time soon.”

“We are t-minus 92 minutes, First-Inquisitor. We’re leaving it a little late to get some final troop patterns and patrol numbers.”

He sighs and rubs his eyes. He’s been going for some time now. We, she thought. We. Ever since Aithol, they’d been on the run. It was taking a toll on all of them. Even now Bess was trying to balance a skeleton crew shift rotation, a dearth of spare parts, some very strange very angry Adeptus Mechanicum in the engine room, shortages in ammunition, food, water, and very tense negotiations down in the under decks to avoid a full scale mutiny. His plan was consuming too much of her time, but Throne dammit, it was him and, more than that, it was Scarab. They needed to get this right.

Scarab had been in their cells for three years. Bess didn’t have the full picture on what that might have entailed, but she’d been down into the brig aboard Futility, and that had been enough of an education. There was horror down there. She imagined the same horrors had been visited and re-visited on Scarab. She wasn’t sure what they’d find, or if he was still alive, but if there was a chance…

Perhaps.

Hope is not a strategy. She kept coming back to that same thought. It contradicted so strongly with everything she thought she had known in the galaxy. Karius wouldn’t approve. Hope was important, she thought he would say, hope is necessary at a time like this. Hope would get you through. She brought herself back to the plans in front of her. She spun the blueprints for the blacksite, taking in as much detail as she could. They didn’t have enough data on the numbers of shock troopers there. They thought they knew which wing Scarab was being held in, but that was weeks old data. He didn’t have his seal anymore, so they couldn’t just dig into the network. Futility had some access subroutines that routed through one of the many intricate entry points Balkoth had left for himself and his network into the archives and data streams of the Inquisition. The ornery Magos in the enginarium remained uncooperative and their access was limited.

“Can you try speaking with him again? We need Futilitys cooperation. It means we need his cooperation.”

“You’re right. You’re right,” he nods and holds a hand up in acknowledgement, “I’ll go and sort this out.”

“Good. I’ve gone over the intelligence again, and I think I have something. Look here - there’s likely to be structural weaknesses in this entrance based on these work orders submitted to the administratum. Maintenance routines have been halved according to the reports we got. They don’t have the manpower or the resources. That door will be the weakest. The wind will be blowing in from the north by north east - you can use the cloud cover that will come with it to disguise your descent. You’ll need to blow your grav-chutes late, but you should come in quiet and unseen. It’s a big change but burst in just one door. Blow them away from one side, after the Commandos go to work. That gives you a small window to get into the facility. Move quickly and move hard, don’t stop. Get to Scarab, pull him out, get all of you out.”

Bess continued to concentrate, focusing on the floor plans. Three checkpoints - each most likely to be more heavily defended than the last, gets him into the wing where Scarab was likely held. From there, they’d need to get him back on his feet - easier said than done. From there, they’d need to get the Valkyrie down to the ground - without being shot down - and then get out again - without being shot down. Too many variables. Too much hope. Hope is not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy.

Perhaps.

“Yes, I see it. Alright. We deploy there,” he pointed to the holo, “And deploy in full. We wait, breach and enter as the Commandos run their routine and give us our egress. We stack fire here and here, and have the Valkyrie circle round overhead. We try to cut their targeting to give the Valkyrie free reign to smash in a good chunk of the facility.”

“We just need to figure out how to blind them.”

“Eighty odd minutes Bess, get on that. We have to blind their guns.”

He beamed. That smile, there was hope in that smile. Bess let herself bask in it for a moment. He had a way, that was for sure. No surprises then that he was venerated like a living saint by some of the crew and a good chunk of his retinue. It puzzled her out of all the opinions he could get from the crew, it was hers he sought out almost exclusively.

Just a mutant girl? Perhaps.

Futility had come fully stocked. It hadn’t taken long for them to take to him. Bess reckoned that might have been due to the silent hand of Balkoth, but she didn’t like to think for what cause. He had brushed off her concerns, but she’d seen behind those blazing white eyes - he was more concerned than he was letting on. Balkoth folded conspiracies into plots that were woven in decades long stratagems. It was unlikely he’d given Futility to him out of kindness.

Bess fought with her thoughts of Balkoth as she stood opposite him, waiting for his decision. This was the crucial moment. They had to give the nod now, or miss their window forever. It was unlikely they could pull off the approach in Futility, disgorge the Valkyrie, pull off the low orbit jump on a perfect trajectory while maintaining they were just a ‘trading vessel’ just long enough to stop planetary authorities from authorising the local Imperial Navy to come around and ‘take a look’ at them again.

“Do we go, First Inquisitor?” she prompted.

“Go, go, go.” he said, reaching a judgement. His voice had changed - it had tempered into steel.

“Get me a route straight to the Magos in the Enginarium. Tell him it is time to settle our grudges, we’ve played enough games. Bess, prep the team and the valkyrie for launch. I want them ready to go on time. Call Kely and get her to lead the briefing.”

“Yes First-Inquisitor.”

“Thank you, Seneschal Dowell. I need you. I need you.” He reached out and gently touched her arm, giving her an affirmative nod and a steely smile.

He turned, and began to march for the lift.

“Instruct the Captain to bring Futility about. Let’s do this. Get me Kely on the vox.”

His words made her stand just that little bit straighter, a little bit prouder. Perhaps she had become more than just the mutant girl.

=][=
« Last Edit: April 08, 2020, 01:36:58 AM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

http://thementalmarine.proboards.com/index.cgi <- The Mind, for all your irreverent nonsense needs

Offline Dosdamt

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Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2020, 01:36:44 AM »
Not Balkoth

M42.002, Enginarium, Futility; t -75 minutes to drop

The halls housing the titanic engines of Futility soared above him. They were bizarre and arcane to his eyes - hissing gouts of steam, glowing pipes rushing plasma from device to device, lights blinking between red, green, and amber, pressure gauges with ticking hands flitting between numbers. He didn’t understand any of it. Incense hung heavy in the air, a strange mix of machine unguents and burnished spices from a dozen sanctified worlds. Around him, as he moved between cranking gear shafts and groaning cogs, monoslaved servitors stalked with purpose checking their auspexes and validating hypotheses sent from their betters. 

And their betters did mingle around them. He walked paths not unfamiliar to him now, past the generators, through various command posts dealing with routine maintenance, deeper into the maze. His chronometer beeped - t-minus 74 minutes till he needed to be in the bay. Enough time. Enough time.

Webs of cabling slithered erratically down the walls, in and out of more machinery he had no understanding of, as he approached his destination.The enginarium opened around him, the chamber growing exponentially until it felt like it ran the full height and width of the ship. The chamber itself was loosely circular - each of the plasteel ribs that formed the circular shape ran up the walls coming to an arch at the top centre of the chamber. Each of the ribs was stepped with grooves running across them as ladder rungs. They ran like scales all the way up the ribs. The ribs were entwined with bundles of cables, not especially carefully packed, but each cable was distinct by thickness, colour, or patterning on it. They formed a cacophony of colour on the eyes. Embedded between the ribs were subtle symbols of devotion to the Omnissiah.

Above it all, in a central web of cables, hung a huge, pale distended body and from that monumental mechadendrites joined at painful looking red-scabbed wounds. The mechadendrites clung onto the steps in ribs, letting the body be moved around the full height and width of the room. Even as the body roused, a dozen smaller biomechanical limbs grabbed at the cables that rose up the ribs, plugging and unplugging them with remarkable speed and precision in a rack of interfaces that ran down the full spine of the body. A halo-harness of flat-screen vids ran the full circumference of the girthy body, bathing it in a flickering wildfire of coloured light. Each of the screens ran at a manic pace, flickering through the statuses of the ship, the crew, weapons, shields - the whole ecosystem of the ship captured in a blaring light show of information. The light in turn made the thick veins that showed through the thin skin seem an even stranger shade of blue, purple or red depending on the contrasting color that pierced the skin.

He looked up at the body. The Magos - perhaps, Magi - were locked into the body. There were several what he assumed passed as heads, central processing units perhaps, that came to a point at one end of the huge body. Two somewhat stumpy human arms hung loosely out of the front of the body, just underneath the cluster-head. The Magos began to stir. The biomech limbs didn’t stop moving, furiously exchanging cables with the input interfaces. The click-tic-shak of the cables added a staccato soundtrack to the Magos’ arousal. He gave the Magos some room as it came around. The Magos’ bloated stomach was straining, virtually transparent skin as its flesh came under tension due to the movement of the Magos. The skin revealed a blurry mess of artificial and natural organs.

The notional head of the Magos came down with the bulging, cybernetic bulk leaning heavily down behind it. The size of the Magos became apparent - broad, thickset shoulders flexed as thick-set cables lowered the great mass to the eyeline of the Inquisitor.

+++ First-Inquisitor. You have returned. +++

“I have. We need to end this petty feuding.”

+++ Petty? Petty? +++ roared the Magos, who moved terrifyingly quickly for the size and scale of the creature. All of the LED eyes shining underneath an oversized hood flashed a vicious red before calming back to a neutral green.

+++ This is my vessel. The Agreement +++ the Magos heavily emphasized agreement, implying a capital +++ With Balkoth was quit- +++

“Balkoth isn’t here. Balkoth is gone. Futility is my ship now.”

+++ Falsehood! +++

The furious voice of Magos echoed around its chamber for a few moments.

+++ Futility and Magos Kaniksis are indistinguishable. Kaniksis is not a slave. Futility is not a slave. +++

Dammit, thought the Inquisitor to himself, Walked into that one again.

+++ Kaniksis is not owned. Therefore Futility cannot be owned. Conclusion - Futility is not your ship. +++

The Inquisitor held his hands up in apology.

“I’m sorry, Kaniksis. I am sorry. Look… Balkoth is gone. I don’t know where he’s gone. We’ve had this circular argument, he’s gone, I’m in charge, you and Futility are one, we’ve been over this. I need your help. I need your support. I need Futility and Kaniksis, I need you both on my side.”

The huge bulk of the Magos narrowed its focus onto the Inquisitor. An array of mechadendrites unfurled from down the back of the Magos, each of them coming down to the front of the Magos. At the end of each was a short, thick barrel of plasteel. Covering a third of the diameter, and the full height of the barrels, were overlapping scales of plasteel inscribed with the cant of the Adeptus Mechanicum. In total, eight different barrels floated next to the main Magos head.

+++ We are listening +++

The Magos finished, prompting a reveal from each of the barrels. The overlapping scales slipped beneath one another, revealing thick plexiglass behind which floated a dismembered head. Each of the heads had bundles of  multicoloured wires going up through the neck, into the ears, up the nostrils and at various points across the scalp. A small spark of lurid green light flashed in each of the heads, prompting the eyes and mouths to open.

+++ We are listening +++ the chorus of heads echoed.

The Inquisitor took a step back, slightly aghast at the eight pale, disembodied heads in bubbling jars. He took a moment to compose himself.

“I’m not Balkoth. I’m not Mentirius, I’m not Taren, I’m not Maltheus or Stryde. I’m… I’m holding it together. We’re in a fight here. A battle for the Em- a battle for the Omnissiah and the God-Emperor. I’m still…. I’m still working through what happened on Aithol, and how we managed to escape from that nightmare. I think we won… But who knows. We escaped with your help, with Futility’s help. Everyone on the ship, including you and I, would be dead for the actions you took that day.”

The Inquisitor sighed and rubbed his eyes. The glow abated for a moment, until he re-opened his eyes.

“And I’m grateful, I am. I really am. I… My power armour is battered and bruised. It desperately needs some repairs. My plasma pistol glows ominously and crackles when I power it up. I’ve got a chainsword with multiple teeth missing and the engine over-revs at combat speeds. I’m pretty sure both are going to explode. And I’m just about to hurl myself out of a Valkyrie in low orbit, hurtle towards the surface breaking my fall with a grav-chute barely fourth meters from the ground. I’m pretty sure the chute hasn’t been tested in a few years. And then, I’m going to bust into an Inquisitorial blacksite to rescue a man, an Inquisitor… He’s got an active seal, they’ve not tracked it down which means somehow he hasn’t broken. He’s been in there for three damned years. Then we’re going to haul him out of that damned hellhole.”

The Inquisitor ran his hand over his shaven bald head.

“What can I tell you? We’ve got a target, we’ve got a resource to retrieve, and we’ll have everything we both need to repair the ship, to maintain all our weapons, and to improve life for all the crew including you. We can take on fuel, we can let the navigator have some damned time off. Throne, you and I can take some shore leave.”

All nine heads of the Magos continued staring intently.

“I’m not Balkoth, I’m not Mentirius. I’m not even Mantis or Taren. But… I am First Inquisitor Junious, Herald of Morai-Heg. I can do this. I can. I will rescue Scarab of the Mentirians, my brother in arms from the Order Vampiris. But, throne dammit, Kaniksis, I need my damned armour fixing up. I need my plasma pistol tested and sorted out. I need my chainsword ready to go. And I need you, Kaniksis. I need an ally. I need you and Futility to help me out, because in about sixty eight minutes I’m going to throw myself out of a Valkyrie and I would sure as faith like to not burn up, not asphyxiate in my power armour, not burn myself up in a ball of fiery plasma trying to defend myself or blow my hand off with an over-revving chainsword motor.”

Each of the heads came closer to Junious.

+++ Not-Balkoth. +++ the whole bulk of the Magos shook with laughter. Each of the heads mouthed laughter without saying anything.

+++ We will grant your request, this time, Not-Balkoth. I will send three adepts and their servitors to your quarters to maintain your artifacts. +++

The Magos’ eyes turned red.

+++ Failing to maintain the holy relics you have been granted, Not-Balkoth, will not continue. We accept this route forward as logical. Rescue of the denominate Scarab must succeed. We will assess how we may aid you. Failure to rescue the denominate Scarab will result in the termination of Not-Balkoth. +++

The Magos’ eyes turned back to green. Kaniksis chuckled again.

+++ Go now, Not-Balkoth. We will speak again. +++


=][=
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2020, 01:37:57 AM »
Battles

True to his word, Kaniksis had sent several of his Adepts and Magi to look at Junious’ equipment. They melted out of the shadows in his armoury. Junious wondered for a moment how they’d gotten there before he did, but thought better of speculating too much about that. The implications were mildly disturbing. The Chainsword was a write-off - the motor was destined to explode and would’ve taken his whole hand with it. There was nothing that could be easily done and it was best to take the thing away for it to be fully disassembled and repurposed. 

The plasma pistol was salvageable but would take time to repair - longer than he had before they needed to make the jump. Junious had pleaded with them to do something immediate, but the Mechanicum had politely, but firmly, declined to do so. Instead they left him a relic from Futility’s deepest stores. The stores remained off-limits to Junious, but it appeared the Mechanicum could waltz in and out as they pleased. They had clearly sworn to keep Balkoth’s secrets. Perhaps in time they would choose to share. Tomorrow’s problem.

They called it a grav gun. Junious wasn’t familiar with the technology or the weapon, but he’d gratefully received the weapon. The Magi prioritized his power armour. Several of them worked quickly and efficiently, running ceramite replacement on the innumerable cracks and dents, while another looked at the power plant and the grav-chute. Mechadendrites dissected the two key elements quickly and and speed, re-arranging wires, replacing parts and applying generous layers of holy unguents.

Junious watched on, patiently at first. His chronometer kept chiming, every five minutes, as time ticked closer to the time they were expected to be in the Valkyrie. Barely twenty minutes remained until he was due to jump. His fingers twitched and rapped on the table top in his armory. His leg tapped and bobbed when he sat, and took him pacing back and forward when he stood. The glow around his eyes intensified as a mechanical tang echoed from his wrist.

Nineteen minutes.

+++ Repairs are complete, Not-Balkoth. +++

That was going to get tedious, Junious kept to himself.

+++ Your power armour is impressive, though somewhat dull. The craftsmanship of the Martian forges is limited by their miniscule ambition and imagination. +++

Binaric cant echoed around the chamber. Junious suspected that was something approximating laughter. The adept who had been primarily accountable for his armour held Junious’ helmet in a bionic hand.

+++ We have enhanced the helmet. We have integrated the sacred sensors within with the eyes of Futility. Psycho-reactive potential has been enhanced sevenfold. +++

The Magos admired her handiwork, before tossing the helmet to Junious who caught it in one hand.

+++ Be well, Not-Balkoth. +++

Binaric tittering continued. Junious would have to talk to Kaniksis about that. The Magi turned to leave, becoming a cohesive group. Behind the lead, a head floated at the end of a mechadendrite in a clear jar. The eyes came open with a start, revealing a green light that fixed Junious with a piercing glare.

+++ Do not fail. +++

Kaniksis, he supposed, sending a message as clear as it was direct.

The group of Magi left as Junious began stripping. His coterie of assistants rushed to the armour, grabbing their assigned pieces.

“Quickly,” said Junious, as he finished stripping off. Junious slipped into the command sheath interface, then the torso armour was attached. His mind began running through the steps in the plan. Orbital drop, through the thick atmosphere. Focus on the run lines in the HUD, down through to the ground. Force the chute late, check the timing chimes.

Focus. Focus.

The thick thigh plates, greaves, and pauldrons followed. Junious held out his arms, feeling the full arms lock into the torso. The gauntlets came last, clicking into place. Junious flexed his fingers, followed by testing his pectoral strength.

Break into the complex. Expect heavy resistance. The blueprints showed multiple checkpoints to the wing where Scarab is being held. Focus on moving quickly and lethally. Resistance is to be annihilated with maximum prejudice. He didn’t like having to do this. Since Aithol, he had hardened somewhat in his view of the galaxy. Hard decisions have to be made, life needs taking, if the outcome justifies it. He had hope, a deep and rich vein of hope that ran through to the core of his being. He could feel it, that which fuelled his burgeoning psychic power and his zealot-like belief that things should be better.

The armour felt strong. The actuators were crisp and worked smoothly. A horrible tripping, ticking sound was gone from the power plant secreted neatly at the base of his spine. He jumped on his toes, hopping and feeling the armour respond like his own limbs. He hefted his armour rack without effort. Good. If he could lift the armour rack, he could lift a man without effort. If he could lift a man without effort, he could throw, crush, or grapple them. He nodded to his attendants, who all scattered to leave him with his thoughts.

He wondered what had happened to Grisbane. He’d been one of the true believers in the Order, and Junious respected his reckless bravery. There could be no doubting his faith, making his disappearance after Aithol all the more troubling. He’d left in the confusion, after being denied his chance to help face down… everything by Balkoth. Balkoth had taken many lives in that conflict, Junious figured he should be grateful Grisbane had survived the assault. No doubt his fellow Inquisitor would be fighting the good fight wherever he was. Junious would have to track him down, once he’d rescued Scarab.

He picked up the grav gun, weighing it in his hands. This was to be the tool, then, of the next phase of their liberation. He cocked his head, checking the sights. The Mutant Commandos wouldn’t be pleased with his intent to kill anyone who got in his way once they made it into the facility but Junious was sure they would understand. In the end, Scarab - and just as importantly, his seal - were the only priorities. He wasn’t sure how Scarab’s identity had remained secret. Junious suspected a hidden hand somewhere helping them, perhaps on Terra. Junious hadn’t heard from Onoto, but he knew that Onoto retrieved Redemption when Taren was slain. No, he corrected himself - murdered. Onoto may have hidden himself away in the bureaucracy of the Inquisition on Terra, continuing to misdirect and hide his allies. Junious was thankful for any help.

His chronometer chimed again. Time to go. He took off through the now familiar maze of corridors, moving rapidly through the ship. He knew Futility like the back of his hand now. He wouldn’t admit it openly, and though Futility was an incredible work and mighty ship, he missed the Lancing Light. The last moments of the Light, desperately fighting to the bitter end, over the Point, would haunt him to his last days. He knew Bu’Ran had turned his choruses attentions to the Light. He’d seen the Light rocked by several volleys from Bu’Ran’s ship. It was inevitable it had been lost. He hated himself for leaving it behind. Still, now wasn’t the time to dwell on past failures. The barbed stinger would have to be carefully pulled from his memories another time. The Valkyrie awaited.

=][=

Wretched Chronometry I

Bess stood on the bridge of Futility. She wondered how many times Balkoth had stood here, resplendent and immovable, scheme upon ruse wrapped in an enigma hidden behind misdirection moving behind his eyes as he watched another of his plots unfold. The number would be the same as stars in the galaxy, she decided, as she warmed her hands on a steaming cup of Hythian tea. This was it, then. The tactical relay screen. She had got used to it telling her the story of an operation unfolding in real time. Vital signs. Relative positions of her operatives. Vid-links weren’t active yet, but they’d appear like a mosaic across the tact screen.

The operation clock was ticking down. She glanced to her wrist, noting the beautiful mechanical chronometer on her wrist. Time, Mantis had said to her, was very rarely on our side, and deep in the Profitable Venture it was apparent the inevitable passage of time was very much the enemy. Like any enemy, it was best to keep it close. Mantis had shown her the watch, a memento of a world he had saved in his younger days alongside his master, an Inquisitor called Mentirius. It was made from a simple alloy, a rugged mix of titanium, palladium and aluminium, and the movement inside was mechanical. It was clearly too big for her wrist, even after resizing the alloy bracelet. The chronometer was entirely handmade - down to the smallest pieces of the timekeeping movement. She had been shocked to find it in the briefcase Mantis handed her before she left the Point. She’d never really spent any time thinking about what it had meant, beyond a well intentioned gift.

Perhaps more.

She glanced at it again, taking in the full dial, oblivious to the time displayed on it. The seconds hand swept at a steady pace, racing through the dimension that could only be measured through the experience of it. In that moment, the vision of Mantis’ cobalt eyes staring into hers as he handed her the briefcase stole through her mind’s eye. She didn’t look away then, she kept staring now. Time was a yawning chasm between moments; time was the cruel hand holding your eyelids open to the full power of a moment.

She knew, at this moment, Junious would be locking his helmet in the jump hold of the Valkyrie. Kely would be fully suited, pacing the full length of the jump ship, no doubt sparking with nervous warp energy. The rest of the Delan veterans that Junious had scavenged together in the aftermath would be taking the white knuckle ride into low orbit in their stride. All of them, waiting on the moment they would jump.

She watched as the speck representing the valkyrie left the speck representing Futility. The seconds hand kept moving, dancing after the trail of the valkyrie. It would take three minutes to reach low orbit, running quiet, running low.

“Planet auth are hailing us again, Seneschal Dowell. They asked more forcefully,” relayed the bridge staff. Bess nodded.

“Keep them occupied, relay the mess codes, fry them with it, buy the First-Inquisitor some time. I don’t want them to have any time to get birds up,” she said, her eyes not leaving the display. The valkyrie was flying well and making headway.

An unfamiliar face joined her on the bridge, at her side.

+++ Magos Kaniksis sent me. I am Magos Vexxis. I am here to assist +++

Bess nodded. Another day on Futility, another unexpected guest, another secret revealed, another emergency. It was always another. She had stopped being surprised by the First-Inquisitor, by Balkoth’s secrets on the ship, perhaps by the galaxy.

+++ If I might, Seneschal, Futility can assist here +++

“By all means, Magos,” she said invitingly. It seemed that Junious had obtained an outcome, one way or the other, with the Mechanicum aboard the ship.

Her eyes tracked the screen with an intense obsession. The operation clock was relentless - barely a minute until they were due to jump.

+++ Though your mess codes are an inelegant solution, your ideation is valid. Watch the execution of the disciples of Fabraxis. +++

Bess still didn’t look - mechadendrites flitted in and out of her peripheral vision without interrupting her concentration.

+++ Scrap code is one of my specialties. I will execute my code and blind the enemies of Not-Balkoth. Behold the might of the Adeptus Mechanicum. +++

Her tact monitor, much to her irritation, blinked for a moment. Then she could see it, at first a minor hint across the background of the theatre, then broader and thicker until a trickle became a river metamorphosed into a seismic swell of data.

+++ They are blind. All hail the Omnissiah. +++

=][=

The Descent

The Valkyrie lurched as it breached the outer atmosphere. It rattled, all of the badly maintained insides feeling like they would come apart. They had heavily modified the Valkyrie to allow it to survive high atmosphere entry, but each time they came back from a sortie the vehicle looked sorrier and sorrier. They’d christened the ship Seiersvapen, hoping a name might encourage her to hold together. So far, so good. He eased out his mind, trying to shield the ship with his telekinetic talents. He felt the enormous strain as the ship bucked and rocked through the mesosphere of the planet. The outside of Seiersvapen was starting to heat prodigously.

“A little… help… Kely,” Junious said, as he desperately tried to keep the ship together. The load lightened, a literal load off his mind, Kely doing the heavy lifting. She didn’t even look like she was trying.

“Just ask,” she said, concentrating but not straining. The ride eased off.

Junious watched his sensor array, indicating they were barely thirty seconds away from their intended target.

“Vets, line up. Kely, get your hook on. Jump in fifteen seconds. Get ready!”

His hoary cast of veterans each ran to the assembly point at the back of Seiersvapen. They clipped onto a rack that ran the length of the Valkyrie, which would stop them from being pulled out of the ship when the back doors opened.

“Captain, slow to jump speed.”

“Mark, slowing to jump speed. On target for coordinates.”

Seiersvapen lurched again with hard deceleration. Junious felt his insides wrench again, settling quickly as the ship reached equilibrium ready for the jump.

“Five by five on speed and approach. Jump jump jump. Safe travels First Inquisitor.”

The doors of the Valkyrie rattled open, the air leaving in an extraordinary rush that pulled all of the occupants. Each of them held, then as one began to rush and hurl themselves out of Seiersvapen. The veterans executed as one, leaping from the Valkyrie without doubt. For a moment, Kely and Junious stood together at the edge of the ship, looking down at the planet.

“Ready to go?” she asked. She couldn’t see his face beneath his power armoured helmet, but she knew he’d be nervous. He always was, at this moment in nearly every operation she’d been with him on.

“I’d feel better with Reprieve and maybe another ten good fighting troops.”

“We’ve got something better.” she said. She smiled through her clear visor, then winked.

“We’ve got hope!”

She leapt out into space, her words floating as she arced into the air, turning her leap into a beautiful swan dive into the unknown. She let out a joyful whoop as she accelerated rapidly towards the surface.

Junious followed with an uncertain half run, half fall into nothingness.

Gravity took hold, at first dragging then spinning. Junious fought to correct himself, feeling the g-force accelerating and encouraging the darkness of a blackout wriggling at the edge of his vision.

=][=

Wretched Chronometry II

“Time?”

“They should be jumping… They’re away. Four. Six. Eight in the air Seneschal.”

“Eight?” Bess challenged.

“Yes Seneschal…. Wait! One away. One more away! Confirming all ten away Seneschal.”

Bess let a long sigh of relief out. She tried to hold her reaction, but her hands had advanced ahead of her control and entwined behind her head. She hated this, hovering like a helpless hummingbird watching her chicks fall from the nest. She stared for a moment at the tactvid, zeroing in on the free falling team in her care, such as it was, from orbit.

“Who is in a spin! Who is in a damn spin? Get me vision on it!” Bess shouted. She rushed forward, holding railing between her and the tactvid so tightly her knuckles turned white.

“Working… It’s the First Inquisitor ma’am!”

The tactvid opened, showing the power armoured figure spinning like a furious, wildly out of control golden wheel. The vid followed him for a moment falling faster towards the planet. Time froze for a moment. Inaction would kill.

Perhaps...

“Open the Vox! Now!”

“Open!”

“Junious, listen to me, you need to control the spin. If you don’t your grav chute won’t open and you’ll smash yourself on the ground. Junious? Junious?”

“I think he’s out cold!”

The seconds hand on her chronometer sprinted round the dial. He fell ever faster until the readout showed he’d reached terminal velocity.

“Get me Kely!” Bess shouted.

++ I’m here Bess ++

“Junious has blacked out. You need to wake him up!”

++ On it ++

Bess watched on, not able to directly intervene. The inevitable second hand marched on.

++ He’s on, he’ll right himself ++

Bess’s eyes flicked back to the vid screen. A flare of psychic power telekinetically corrected his spin leaving him falling upright.

++ I’m here, I’m ok ++

The First Inquisitor’s voice was hazy and hesitant, but at least he was awake. Bess caught her breath again, sucking in her relief and exhaling her nervous energy.

Two minutes, eighteen seconds until they were due to fire their gravchutes. Her foot started tapping as they crossed into the area they’d christened the zone of death - in the lower stratosphere, where the Thunderbolts stationed below could claw at her fledglings, who had found their wings.

She watched the auspexes pounding the surface for any sign of movement.

One minute, fifty three seconds. They were scrambling the Thunderbolts in response to the scrap code, and she could see the orbital platforms were coming online. It was unlikely they would be able to eyeball the falling assailants. Bess didn’t want to play the odds.

“Vexxis, the orbitals… “ Bess nodded at the auspexes.

+++ The orbital defence platforms over this world are ancient, and sub-standard. Futility will annihilate them +++

“If she were at her fighting weight, of course. Might I suggest we avoid any conflict if possible?”

Vexxis eyed her for a moment.

+++ Logic accepted. So be it. Activating scrap code. +++

Vexxis’ eyes glowed red to green, then faded back to red. Futility responded, blasting another volley of blinding machine cant at the orbital arrays.

+++ They will be blinded for thirty five, to forty minutes. Is Not-Balkoth competent? +++

Bess nodded. She wasn’t sure she meant it.

=][=
« Last Edit: April 08, 2020, 03:56:38 AM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2020, 01:45:19 AM »
Unleashed

Junious felt his guts churn at the feeling of sharp deceleration from the grav chute. Around him, the scant remains of his force at the Point, a ragged group of veterans were coming down. He felt his feet touch down on solid ground and without missing a step he flicked the grav-chute off his back and began sprinting forward. So far, so good. His helmet fizzed with information. Futility’s sight burned down on the facility. The facility was on alert, but in the flood of scrap code they were running around in a panic. He could see the heartbeats of each of the stormtroopers inside, as the building came apart in front of his eyes. He took a moment to adjust to the tsunami of information.

Junious saw that the ingress solutions proposed by Bess had been relayed to him via his HUD. He could see the Mutant Commandos beginning their run on the other side of the compound. They were keeping to the shadows, staying down, staying quiet. It boded well.

His armour enhanced his strength and it fit him well. That allowed him to move quickly, ahead of the rest of the veterans and Kely. The ingress point was well covered - a thick, brutalist plascrete wall, several meters high, barred the way. A similarly thick plasteel gate dominated the centre of the wall - the gate was decorated with an obsidian Inquisition symbol, itself dominated by a perfect baroque skull in shining ruby red.

It had meant something to him once upon a time. That symbol had defined his existence, if he was being truly candid. It was irreversibly burnt into him, a keloid reminder of duty and ambition that seared his consciousness. The opportunity to make the Imperium a better place. He had the fury of the Imperium at his back to help him destroy his enemies. In his other hand, the Emperor’s mercy for those that needed it.

Not having his seal anymore was like the removal of his heart. His purpose, his drive, his ambition - and a most vital organ.

He felt his fury building. The fog of unconsciousness was fully flushed away, yielding to the pure white heat of his anger. It roiled and cascaded, as waves of superheated gas flowing through the Tokomak reactor of his soul. Infinite heat and light would soon radiate out of his rage, blinding him to reason. He rose his conscious mind through several meditative layers of enumerative control, first finding equilibrium between clarity and unfettered fury, before acting as a resonant smith’s hammer on the edge of that unadulterated wrath. His apoplexy was worked over by the control of his contemplation, tempering and honing until it became solid and refined. He reached inside and brandished his savagery literally, revealing a burning double handed axe.

He tumbled over several lines of razor wire and fencing, before dropping into the final set of trenches before the fortress. He felt his feet crushing trench rotten boards as he closed in on the gates.

The rush was building now. Aetheric wind whipped around him. His legs were blurring. His sprint became a springing bound became a powerful leap towards the impressive, impossibly imposing gates. The psychic energy rounding him flared as a supernova, before accreting at his right fist. His gauntleted hand ignited into furious white burning psychic flame. Junous let out a beastial roar. The energy around him carried him higher and further - he twisted in mid-air, pirouetting to build the momentum for his intended blow. He felt the power reach a crescendo, crackling and intense, as he slammed his fist into the gate.

His fist connected with the gate releasing all of his pent up psychic fury. The gate immediately exploded, sending huge fragments of molten plasteel spilling into the courtyard bedin. A wave of vaporized metal went ahead of the larger chunks as a vanguard splashing the outside of the fortress. They became solid droplets that went from white to red to orange in the frigid air. A pool of red hot metal fizzed in the cold air as Junious stood in the crater that was formerly the gate. He fumed with psychic residue, breathing heavy with the effort. His jaw clasped in a rictus grin and his face fixed with his seething temper.

++ That wasn’t the damn plan ++ Bess hissed down the vox.

Perhaps the only plan, the real plan, was to come down here and atomise this place looking for his friend.

The rest of his retinue were lagging behind him as the alarm went up in the complex. He could see the guards running for the ingress point. They were going to die. They didn’t know it yet - they were running because duty compelled them and because epinephrine drove their legs. He could almost smell their nervous sweat and the standard stormtrooper soap.

The burning double handed axe weighed nothing in his hand, but his mind’s eye felt the heft anyway. The axe cut the air as he launched himself out of the crater and began walking towards the entrance to the Black Site with impunity. His vox was thronging with Bess’ hurried corrective orders as she tried to adjust the plan. The plan, such as it was - such as it had ever been - was long gone. The plan was for everyone else. All that actually mattered was tearing down this hellhole and pulling Scarab out of it.

The doors of the blacksite flung open. The stormtroopers came out in a cluster, each of them aiming their hotshot lasgun directly at the power armoured psychic monster. Junious didn’t hesitate - he set toward their direction, psychic energy still spilling out of him. A volley of lasgun fire scattered around him as he zigged and zagged. A second volley rattled harmlessly off his armour, leaving him within distance of pouncing upon the assembled stormtroopers.

He landed in the centre of them, expelling his fury again in an exhalation of telekinetic power. Bones shattered, skulls split, armour cracked in the backdraft. Blood pooled quickly and the groans of the near dead began to fill the air. Junious stepped over the mangled bodies of the guards leaving them in his trail.

The interior of the blacksite was like every fortress Junious had been in before - obsidian walls, frescos with devotions to the Emperor written in golden High Imperial script, and the path of bones - the remains of traitors cleaned and engraved with holy scripture. The bones formed a thin guideline into the depths of the sanctum where interrogative techniques were carried out. They reminded everyone - Inquisition included - that the path of treachery leads to pain and death without redemption.

Junious drew the grav pistol as he entered the building. The first checkpoint was a set of double doors, vacuum sealing the building. Guard outposts were fitted either side, each manned with several capable guards. The guards on duty had been slamming their alarm calls. The cawing of the sirens formed an oppressive wall of sound - Junious bid his armour filter the noise so he could focus on the task at hand.

He fired the pistol at a guard section, unsure of what to expect. The armoured section fell in on itself, its weight suddenly accelerated. It imploded in on itself, crushing the guards within. The squelch of organic tissue preceded the appearance of pulped organic viscera leaking out of the station like squeezed ripe fruit. Impressed, Junious then burst into a sprint, using his own bulk, the power of his armour and psychic compulsion to explode through both sets of double doors.

As he came through, the remaining guards assailed him from both sides. A chainsword clattered off one his pauldrons, another took a chunk out of a greave. One of the troopers leapt on his back, trying desperately to force a knife through his neck joints and into his eyes. The rest hefted their own weapons and tried to jump the First Inquisitor. Junious spun, launching the trooper off his back into the wall.

He used his spin to bring his axe around, hacking a trooper in half in a shower of intestines and blood. A burly trooper bulled into him, forcing him to give ground and skitter from his off balance position. A second and third trooper joined in, forcing him into a wall with a thud. A chainsword wielding trooper ran at him, bringing the chainsword down his helmet, his chest, and over one of his bracers. The teeth dug deep but failed to breach the ceramite. Junious cocked his head in bemusement, before stepping out from underneath the weight of the troopers forcing him against the wall with ease. He head butted the chainsword wielding guard, then again splitting the guard’s face fully open. The guard howled with pain. Juious fired his grav-pistol, eradicating another guard in a squall of imploding organic material. He lifted the third guard up by the neck, the actuators in his armour barely supporting the furious psychic strength. He crushed the man’s throat with his hand, dropped him unceremoniously and left him to choke.

++ Bess, I’m in ++

++ Copy First-Inquisitor. What the hell are you doing? ++

++ Rescuing my friend. You’ll have a data-link to this place in a second ++ Junious said, as he moved into the guard station. He began ransacking it, looking for an open dataport.

++ Copy First-Inquisitor. Datalink is online ++

++ Crack this place and tell me where Scarab is ++

Junious left the ruined first check-point as his team were coming through the other side of the smoking crater outside.

Kely crested the crater, seeing the devastation left behind by her fellow Herald. Junious was not holding back.

He moved through the facility with speed, using the full range of augmented power in his armour. Nothing stood before him - resistance was thin and fading. Junious assumed the first assault had broken their resolve - the view was corrected as he reached the second checkpoint.

The disciplined Inquisitorial stormtroopers had fallen back, fortifying the second checkpoint. Sandbags and plasteel barriers had been erected quickly, producing a thorny barrier of metal and lasguns.

“I am Interrogator Harald Kaleem, and whoever you are, you’re dead! Give it up now, heretic. I won’t ask again. Maybe you’ll find redemption through pain in this place.”

Junious felt his anger rising again, this time tectonic in scale. It rumbled from the depths of his soul, breaking through each of his calming enumerations as a mudslide of fury. It swept each of the precautions he’d put in place away, sweeping them into the psychic tide. He could feel the psychic hood implanted in his armour drawing further power from the aether around him. The flood of power caused him to start floating.

The barrier ahead of him opened fire - bullets, lasbolts and gouts of plasma harmlessly lost all of their violence in the vacuum of warp energy around the Inquisitor. His armour cascaded with warp energy, causing green-grey bolts of lightning to scorch the room around the checkpoint.

“I am no heretic, you small minded insect. All of you, lackeys and indolent puppets, unable to bring yourself to understand how the galaxy really works. I will show you.”

Junious lashed out with the full scale of his telekinetic fury. His will smashed through the barriers, splintering the plasteel. Several died in the flying shrapnel. He grasped the Interrogator, splaying his limbs then with a simple flick of his hand dismembered him utterly rendering him from one to six pieces. The rest of the troopers were reduced to smears on each of the walls as he let the full scale of his primordial anger run riot throughout the room. The energy ebbed, leaving the ruined room behind.

++ How many guards left? ++

++ Checking…. Fifteen, but they look broken. They’re fleeing out of each of the entrances. The Commandos have cleaned up stragglers at their end. You’ve got five PDF Valkyries on intercept. ETA twenty five minutes ++

++ Operation clock is at nine minutes, fourteen seconds. Our window is still open. Keep me up to date Seneschal ++

++ Copy First Inquisitor ++

Junious kept moving. Vox chattered indicated his team had reached the first checkpoint and were sweeping for survivors and data. They were well drilled, disciplined. They would make sure they extracted every scintilla of value from this place.

++ Heading for the armory First Inquisitor. ++

++ Ransack it, take everything ++

The third checkpoint was always going to be the biggest challenge. Throne agents were guaranteed. Junious moved through the corridors, accessing the fresh datalink from the hub. An Inquisitor was present - Jakob Falk. From his file, Falk was a cruel sadist who had spent much of his time crusading in the local sector, pulling peasants out of their homes, running large scale witch trials and burning swathes of the population. His seal would be guaranteed because of the ‘proven’ witches he had purged. He’d been deposited here to monitor a dangerous prisoner - one Inquisitor Sayah Amaarti - who Falk had captured and rendered here.

Junious found the corridor opening for the final checkpoint. The brutalist theme continued here - geometric forms and jagged, angular shapes. Falk stood in the centre, flanked by several broad-shouldered retainers. Each of them were festooned with a variety of weapons. Falk himself hefted a daemonhammer.

His daemonhammer. His weapon. His.

Reprieve.

“Like this? They brought it in with one of the wretches in here. I’ve clubbed more witches to death with this than I can count. A magnificent weapon. A weapon for these times.”

“That’s my weapon,” replied Junious.

“Hah! Funny as well, heretic. You won’t be telling any jokes in the hands of my excruciators. Give up now, and I will simply bray your skull in, here, in this hall.”

Junious seethed. He felt his anger roiling again. This was catastrophic, an unrestrained meltdown that was perpetuating itself using the fissile fuel of his emotion. Each of the retainers opposite was moving to flank him now.

“No guns here. Let us pitch our minds and our steel against one another. Well, myself and my retinue against you. You know how it is. The Inquisition consistently seeks to stack the odds in its own favour. You are nothing, heretic, just another pretty wych flinging around conjurer's tricks at the behest of your puppet masters in the beyond.”

His anger reached critical pressure now, bursting through all of his barriers and structures in his mind. Psychic power flooded out of him, arcing around the room, tearing chunks of plascrete out of the walls.

“Attack!” Falk called, everyone else in the room charging Junious.

As one, they were levitated. Their legs pumped ineffectually as they were hauled into the air.

Junious took off his helm, letting it clatter into the chamber with thronging echoes.

“My name is First Inquisitor Junious of the Ordo Malleus, Order Vampiris. I am the scion to a murdered sire, brother to a sequestered hero, herald to a freeborn god, scourge to the remnants of a daemon’s dream, and I am here, right now, to retrieve my fething hammer and my fething brother. Get out of my way!”

Wild snakes of pure psychic energy lashed out from the First Inquisitor, ripping several retainers into pieces. A blur of telekinetic shards rendered another into ribbons. Another was cleaved from head to groin by an invisible, grinding wave of teeth. Entrails emptied from both halves of the carcass. Another was rendered to liquid by intense psychic heat. The rest were dissected like simple insects by a malevolent god. Only Falk remained, suspended in the air by his power.

“I saw your record, Falk. I saw what you did on Vantus, Fallon VIII, Veridian, and the Portman Verge. All that fire, all that fury, and all along you knew it was naught more than a sadistic show to cover up your own bloodlust. Nothing else.”

Junious approached him as an apex predator might assail a cornered creature. He used his will to break all of Falk’s fingers. The First Inquisitor caught the relic hammer before it clattered to the floor.

“Reprieve was at my side across innumerable war zones across a dozen stars. It was gifted to me as part of my ascension to Inquisitor and to connect me to the Holy Throne world. It is a relic of old times, a reward given as part of a great victory over an enemy my master tracked for years. He died on the throne world, you know. He died at the hands of an ignorant thick headed lawman playing to the word of justice and the gallery on Terra. What a victory for the Chief Justice, proving not even the Inquisition was beyond the reach of Imperial Justice.”

A flick of Junious’ fingers meant Falk felt a staccato of breaks down his ribcage.

“You have the temerity to wield this holy relic, to use it as part of your campaign to murder and maim the citizens of the Imperium who have done nothing? Your pointless bloody crusade across the stars to do nothing but satiate your lust for violence?”

Falk could feel his flesh begin to singe. White flames were forming beneath him. Reprieve floated across the room, settling gently into Junious’ hand.

“Fate has examined your crusade, and sees the perversion you have brought across the stars. So much potential snuffed out. A million lifetimes burnt out in the flames of your lust. So it has been, so it will be.”

The flames licked at the flesh of the Inquisitor, dripping molten flesh and fat fizzing and popping onto the floor.

“This pyre of your own making will burn forever.”

As the flames consumed Falk, those with a third eye would have seen one million tiny slivers of  his victim’s souls leaking back through from the aether, fuelling the fire, sending the flames hotter. In the centre of the conflagration, Falk’s eyes became wider and wider until the jelly within burst out, until his brain matter melted out of each of his empty eye sockets. Even then, as his soul attempted to leave, great chains of warp energy bound it in place, the chains holding the soul in this universe.

Junious watched the chains and the soul of Falk dissolve just beyond the view of the material world. Through his vision, he could see Falk thrashing in the flames. One lifetime extinguished. One million more to go.

=][=

Wretched Chronometry III

Bess pinched the bridge of her nose and let her eyes close. She breathed deeply, trying to bring herself back to a state of calm. Junious had gone off the plan, his plan, and despite the relative acceleration of events the trail of carnage behind him had brought other problems.

+++ Not-Balkoth progresses well through the site +++ Vexxis observed.

Bess opened her eyes and nodded. Her tactvid was showing a raft of planetary defence force, Arbites and Inquisitorial irregulars closing in on the black site. They were bringing the cavalry at pace.

++ Junious? Junious? ++

The vox was dead. Expected outcome of his descending into the cells. Not a surprise. At least he was progressing.

++ Kely? ++

++ Copy, Seneschal. What’s up Bess? ++

++ More incoming. PDF, Arbites, irregulars. Barely eighteen minutes out. Valkyries, Stormravens, coming in hot. ++

++ Acknowledged Seneschal. We’re nearly done here. You…. You need to see this, Bess. He’s…. ++

++ … Copy. Take what you can. Empty the armoury, we need the supplies. ++

++ Confirmed. Can you send a feed to my auspex? The scrap code is blinding us down here. ++

++ Acknowledged. Data feed will be live soon ++

Bess let the vox drop. Vital signs of her team were all good. The Commandoes had voxed in, confirming their objectives were complete and they were preparing to evacuate. She checked the operation clock. Time was sliding and not much was left. Seiersvapen was coming down at pace, towards the black site. She felt like her heart was beating in time with the oscillations of the movement driving the seconds hand on her wrist.

This was what she had signed up for. She had chosen this. It was times like this, as she tapped her foot on the deck of the bridge, that the lack of direct input drove her crazy.

=][=

Unleashed II

The lift leading down to the cells groaned to a halt. Junious had Reprieve tied across his back and his pistol holstered. He didn’t expect to encounter any more resistance. The telemetry in his helm told him the personnel in the base were abandoning the place. The less people in his way the better.

++ Did… did you do this? ++

Kely had clearly encountered Falk.

++ Leave him. He deserves it. Hammer out. ++

He strode through the cells. The place was mostly empty, save for some raving cultists collected in a local purge and three long term residents. There was only one of any import - Scarab.

He found Scarab’s cell without any trouble. He pulled the thick plasteel door off with a grunt and flick of his hand.

Dishevelled, thin, and brutalized. Scarab shifted across the floor, scrabbling to move out of the way of what he thought was more pain. Junious felt his guts churn with pity and sadness at the state of his colleague. His body was covered in scars - burns up and down his right arm, thick ribbons of keloid tangle down his left arm, lumps of misshapen regrown bone down his ribs. His fingers had been broken so much they were crooked and mangled. Junious took off his helmet, and knelt down.

“No no no… no you’ve tried this before, no, I won’t have it, no, no please no… No Throne no…” Scarab began, shaking and weeping.

“Brother, it’s me… It’s actually me.”

Junious reached out with his mind, finding Scarab’s to be a jigsaw puzzle of pain, jagged edges and disconnected incoherent thoughts. He moved through the surface thoughts, connecting a few strands of rational thinking with his memories. He eased the fear and sifted out the alarming volume of pain. The fog around Scarab’s perception drifted away.

“Junious… Dear throne… is it you?”

Scarab squinted in the darkness. He heaved himself up right, his thin frame making his head look disproportionately large. His legs shook for a moment, which Junious corrected with a gentle hand of telekinesis.

“How… how long have I been in here?”

“A touch over three years.”

Scarab rocked a little, shaken by the news. He swayed, then stumbled. His balance wasn’t back yet - clearly, neither was his sense of time.

“We’ve been tracking you all this time. We found your name in a dozen transfer notices. Someone was trying to bury you. It kept you alive though. It took us nearly a year to filter through each of them. We had two possibilities left, and it took us another year to track through that data, during which time they executed a second scatter protocol. Another year, and we’re here. I’m… I’m sorry we couldn’t get here sooner.”

Scarab looked down at his ruined feet. At least two toes were missing. He clasped and stretched his hands individually, then together.

“Can you walk out of here?”

Scarab nodded.

Junious let him shuffle to the door of his cell. In the brighter light of the corridor, the full extent of the horror visited on his friend was apparent. His emaciated frame was virtually skeletal. Junious could see that most of his major muscle groups had been damaged in some form, the same with many of his bones.

“Let me get you some water.”

Scarab nodded.

Junious stepped down the hall, searching for the guard station.

“You! You! You! Hammer!”

Junious turned, seeing a cell with a plexiglass front. In it, a thin woman was naked, splayed by magnetic cuffs holding her in place. Her skin was pale and covered in pentagrammic wards. A small pair of stubby horns crested on her head. She was lithe, powerful, like a coiled spring. She smiled, attempting to be friendly and personable, but her razer teeth made her look like violence personified. Junious glared at her.

“Guard’s station is down the hall, on the left. You’ll need a key. Or maybe you can just smash down the door.”

Junious stepped as if to keep moving.

“I ah…. Could you …. Could you let me outta here?”

“Why?”

Junious looked at her - really looked at her. Despite her external depredations, her soul was surprisingly resilient and pure. Chaos might have touched her body, at her core she remained as radiant as most psychic humans might be.

“I felt you, up there. You literally rocked the foundations of this place. I’ve never seen so many rats fleeing a sinking ship.”

“And….”

“My seal is still good. I’ve only been here a few days. Astropathic network is a mess. Falk didn’t want me dead yet. They’d barely begun what I imagine would’ve been …. “

Her voice trailed off. Scarab had arrived next to him.

“That.”

Junious looked around. It was obvious this facility was going to go to pieces. Anyone in it was likely to die.

“You’re Sayah Amaarti?”

“I am. Inquisitor at large. Diabolus Extremis, allegedly.”

“You have a carta on your head?”

“No, no, not at all. No, Falk and I had… Well a disagreement. It suffices to say we settled our differences, and, well, I ended up down here and I assume Falk is dead. So, all things consider-“

“All things considered?”

“Yes, all things considered, events are looking up for me. But, if you’re going to leave me here, I am reasonably sure my seal will be revoked and my fate will either be extremely short and violent, or extremely drawn out and violent, and either way I am extraordinarily connected to my current existence and would prefer to draw it out with as little violence done to my person as is, well, humanly possible.”

Junious chuckled. Scarab managed a smile.

“What is your home world, Amaarti?”

“Thanatin, Obscurus.”

Junious wracked his brain. Thanatin. Thanatin!

“Thanatitian Blood Oath. That’s a thing, right?”

Sayah sighed, shaking her head, then nodded.

“Yes, it is.”

“And your appearance, it suggests a predilection for the works of Xanthus.”

She let out a deeper, more drawn out sigh and rolled her eyes.

“Fine! Yes! I’ve been researching and working with some things others may view as proscribed. It is our literal role in the Inquisition. Don’t fething brow beat me you savages. You know I’m right. Are you going to let me out?”

“Will you swear a blood oath to my cause?”

Sayah stared at Junious, then glanced at Scarab.

“Who is he to you?”

“Right now? Everything.”

Scarab managed another weak smile. His lips lifted slightly higher, revealing several missing teeth.

“And you came here, to this miserable backwater, broke into this place, just to pull that skeletal wreck out of here.”

“Yes. We served together. He needed saving.”

Amaarti shook her head.

“So be it. Who are you?”

“First Inquisitor Junious.”

“Hahahaha? Really? No. You all died at the Point. We all saw Muundus’ smirking face. It was all over the Conclave.”

Junious’ chronometer pipped. Seven minutes to extraction.

“Then you’re talking to a ghost, and I can’t let you out of that cage.”

Sayah laughed again.

“It seems I’m making a deal with the dead, then. So be it. You will have your oath. Just get me out of this hole.”

Junious nodded, and pulled the plexiglas front off the cell with ease. He flicked his hands, unclipping her limbs. Amaarti nodded her thanks.

“Oath?”

Amaarti flattened her hand, drawing her teeth across her skin. Three parallel wounds formed on her palm. She let the blood run out of the wounds, before clenching her fist until a trickle of red came out of the bottom of her fist.

“By His Will, by this blood, I swear unto the crusade of First Inquisitor Junious, my life and my fealty, until the end of days, death or release from this sacred oath. Marked with blood, so be it done by He on Terra.”

Amaarti rubbed her hands together until they were slick with her blood, then pressed a blood print aquila over her chest and breasts.

“Happy?”

The blood made an impressively clear aquila over her pale skin.

“Let’s move.”

Amaarti and Junious took Scarab by the shoulders and half lifted, half dragged him back to the lift. Junious sprinted down to the guard station and grabbed several bottles of water, coming back throwing one to Amaarti and giving one to Scarab. He sipped gently on the water as the lift rushed them back to the surface facility.

The doors opened to his veterans and Kely. They were busy collecting weapons from the various remains around the room.

“Was that you?” Kely nodded towards the psychic residue of Falk. Junious nodded back.

“An unusual punishment, Herald. Fitting. Reprieve is back. That’s a good portent.”

Amaarti cringed at the sight of the spectral Falk screaming and burning in unending pain.

“Ah…” Amaarti started.

“Not now.”

++ Four minutes, First Inquisitor. They’re coming in hot ++

Junious cursed loudly. He’d lost track of times in the cells. He could see they had ransacked the place. The armoury had proven especially fruitful - several stasis casks were floating next to a full load of ammunition and weapon crates. Amaarti went straight to the stasis caskets, not worrying about her lack of clothes.

“My books! They kept my books!”

Junious ignored the elated Inquisitor and turned back to Kely.

“Did you get the seals?”

“Yes. We retrieved all of the seals - Falk, Amaarti, and Palici.”

“Ok. We need to fake astropathic noise that Falk is in pursuit of Scarab and Amaarti. Falsify what we need to, to give us cover here.

“Time for a last stand, then?”

“I’m not sure they’re going to leave the black site standing, First Inquisitor. We can go down to the cells… but we can’t fight our way out of there.”

Junious sighed. Maybe he should’ve followed the plan.

Behind them, the warp crackled. At first, Junous dismissed it as the last latent crackles of Falk straining on his chains. The crackling intensified, accelerated then twisted into a shocking tearing sound. The warp began to rend asunder.

=][=
« Last Edit: April 08, 2020, 01:47:59 AM by Dosdamt »
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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: On the Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2020, 01:50:26 AM »
Wretched Chronometry - Final

Futility, Three Years Ago

Futility’s brig, though it was labelled as such, was definitely not a brig in the traditional sense. Firstly, the scale of the brig suggested a place more suited to mass incarceration - it had enough cells to house perhaps two hundred people with ease. Secondly, the hall was clearly designed to intimidate as opposed to jail. The eye of the Inquisition was a repeat motif across the place. All of the surfaces were angular, sharp, or sweeping, each different side suggesting a bladed implement, an edge meant for breaking bones, or sharp side meant for cleaving flesh from rib. Finally, as with most places of death and suffering, there was a distinct heaviness to the atmosphere that pressed at the edge of the aether, letting just a little of the warp creep in. It smelled of stale blood, ozone and piss soaked fear.

In the centre of the brig, with cells arrayed all around it, sat the chirurgeon’s chair in a barred cell that formed a neat square around the seat. This was the focal point of the brig - each of the cells within overlooked this central element. It was here that Balkoth had been brought, in chains, by the survivors of Delan’s Point. Taking him alive had been no small feat - several of them had been killed or injured in the attempt. But here he was - visionary, heretic, genius, failure, fool; Balkoth was beyond labels. He was not beyond physical restraint.

He hadn’t sulked at his imprisonment. He took the opportunity to relax and coax his mind down to a plateau of calm. Many of his loyal crew had joined him in the brig. They were locked in cells around his cell. Even with several meters, at least two sets of bars, and a few guards, they respected or feared Balkoth enough to maintain the silence for their master. He hadn’t even verbalised the request.

It was here Bess met Balkoth. She had brought food and water to each of the prisoners - she wasn’t sure if Balkoth even needed it or noticed her doing it, but it was this day that he was interested enough in her.

“Food,” she ventured as she slid the tray into the cell.

Balkoth, who had remained unmoved on each of the previous fourteen days, sprang up and nodded to her.

“Are they making you do this, girl?”

“Do what?”

“Feeding the miscreants in my brig. You have the canter of a slave.”

Bess was initially taken aback by the directness. She had been warned about Balkoth - the heavy set, horned heretic. Don’t listen to him. Don’t speak to him. Drop the food, move on. At this time, behind the bars, she felt a twinge of sympathy for him. It reminded her of the time she had spent being prepared to be the god-kin. She hadn’t feared her fate - only the initial loss of freedom.

“No. This is my choice. The Truthsayer says we should judge ourselves by how we chose to treat the most vulnerable.”

Balkoth let out a hearty blast of laughter.

“Freedom is vulnerability. Stripped of the opportunity to make dangerous choices, the prisoner is perhaps the safest of all of us. Vulnerable, then, am I girl? Those who sent you here are vulnerable. Temporarily deprived of my insight, they choose to face down the will of a god, utterly ignorant to the mortal peril they are in.”

Balkoth surgically examined the food on his plate before bringing his eyes back to Bess with much the same look.

“These bars are for your protection, not my incarceration. I allow this farce because I will it. They will need me to destroy the godling, and if they decide they don’t need my intervention, they will fail and die.”

Balkoth chewed a chunk of the synthesized meat from the plate, and took a draft of the water.

“You know who I am. Who are you girl?”

“Bess Dowell. I …. I am accompanying the Inquisitors. I… I made a choice to leave them behind - Mantis, the Truthsayer… To come here, wherever this might lead.”

Balkoth raised an eyebrow, intrigued by the answer.

“Why did you choose to come here?”

Bess paused, and thought about her answer.

“I could have stayed and died with Mantis. I could have left with the Truthsayer. I started to forge my own path on the Profitable Venture, and… It was time to move on again.”

“What else do you do on my ship?”

Balkoth fixed her with a stare, as serious as the grave.

“I… this… I… I spend time with the Inquisitors… I suppose I provide them with a view of who they are saving.”

“Are you worth saving?”

“Life is intrinsically valuable. Yours, mine, everyone in here. Junious says it will all end if we don’t intervene.”

“As close to the truth as serves.”

“What do you mean?”

Balkoth waved away her question.

“What do you think of this coterie of so called saviours?”

Bess hesitated for a moment, unsure and insecure.

“Say what you like, girl, I wouldn’t have asked for an opinion if I didn’t want to hear it.”

“They’re afraid, and nervous. First Inquisitor Junious doubts himself. Inquisitor Maltheus seems focused but underneath I can see he is in turmoil. Stryde is kind and made of steel. Amaurn… Amaurn is cruel, and short tempered, and a monster.”

“Amaurn is a tool, nothing more. Amaurn is too stupid to realize that he is as he was intended to be, and moulded into what he will need to be. He might realize that, before the end. The rest, too, will have a part to play. Thank you for your candour.”

A moment of quiet passed between them.

“What happened to your face?” Balkoth followed, changing tack.

“I was born like this.”

“Mutant?” Balkoth inquired. His eyes never left the slight girl. He tracked her movement as she shifted around the cage, cleaning the previous days’ meal. Bess took her eyes off her task, back to Balkoth.

“We have that in common,” she replied, nodding to his horns.

“Are we the same, then, girl? How were you treated as a child?”

“The same, no. Alike, perhaps. You chose your change…. Mine, it was a sign, they said. The…. The leaders of the Cult I was born into, this was a portent I was meant for more. They had seen it and had adjudicated I was to be the host for the saviour of that world. I was anointed, and …. The final hour came. There was an intervention… I fled with only my life. I’ve been lucky. I met the Truthsayer… And well, here I am.”

Balkoth scoffed.

“Luck is a comfort blanket the incompetent and the feckless use to hide their failings. They cower behind luck - good, bad or indifferent. They let it cloak their terrible choices and their lack of action. They even throw it over their successes, fearful they will be judged because they stood up and made a decision. Incompetent, feckless, fearful - which are you girl?”

“I don’t think luck is that at all. Luck is a confluence of opportunity and circumstance.”

She finished scraping the plate, and moved to another she’d collected.

“Hah! And yet you miss out the will to act. Why are you hiding behind this humble facade? Because you believe showing strength is a vice? You are more than that, Bess, clearly more. Is that what the Truthsayer told you?”

“Amongst other things.”

Balkoth scoffed again.

“You made the choice, and now you are not dead or a daemonhost because you chose not to be. The failure to act, the willingness to be passive and peaceful out of humility is worse than being arrogant and the truth is inaction out of humility, love, peace, - it is all facile nonsense that does more harm than good. Better to overestimate your ability but at least take decisive action. Best of all is to accurately survey your abilities, test your limits, deploy your talents where they fit best and take a choice to make your mark on this galaxy to the fullest extent you can.”

“The Truthsayer sa-” Bess began in response, but Balkoth interrupted.

“Let me tell you girl, I know of this Truthsayer. I’ve heard the sermons. The first choice you made to come down this path was a good one. I advise you to continue making good choices, and a good choice would be to listen to me now.”

Balkoth looked Bess directly in the eye. He fixed her with his gaze which was full of the conviction of the zealot.

“There are universal truths, girl, let me teach you one - a day of self-determined service with steel is better than a lifetime spent simpering after a soothsayer placating you that peace and love will solve anything in this galaxy. There are those who seize their fate, and the rest die pointlessly. Cruelty isn’t necessary, use compassion if it serves you, if it is a strength and if it won’t bind you or blind you. But continue to choose your destiny, girl, before someone decides for you. Continue to be more than this humble caricature of a mutant girl, because every human can make a choice to be more, mutant or not. Continue to take action, because one day, someone will rely on you not be paralyzed by disingenuous humility and you will need to be decisive.”

Futility, Today

Bess could see the group of Valkyries closing in on the blacksite. She had to withdraw Seiersvapen for fear the ship would end up scrap in the talons of the closing enemies. Bess frantically flicked through each of the tactscreens, looking for an out. Nothing. She sorted through each of the various ship bays, but nothing was quick enough to get down to the surface to help the Seiersvapen. Her broadsides and lances were out, but they were already committed to keeping Futility in orbit by opening fire on the defence orbitals. They’d need time to get those down.

Bess turned to Vexxis. Fury was in her eyes.

“Listen to me. Our best chance of repairing, restocking, and surviving in this ship is down on that planet. I need them back up here. We have three seals to use. Three. I need them back on this ship, and I need them here now. I’m making a choice as the current commanding officer on this ship that we will ensure the First Inquisitor, Scarab, Kely, and the rest of the Veterans get off world. Do you hear me? This is a choice. I know you’ll have something in this damned mausoleum. Make a choice with me. Save them, save Futility - save yourselves.”

Vexxis’ eyes turned from red, to green, then back to red.

+++ What did Balkoth tell you when you spoke with him? +++

“Are you telling me you don’t know?”

+++ The compact with Balkoth was clear. Recording his conversations was off-limits. We comply. +++

“We spoke of choice. He told me ‘A day of self-determined service with steel is better than a lifetime of spent simpering after those would sell you a delusion’. I thought about his words a lot after we spoke; rejected them even. Over time, I came to see the truth of it, and now I live by that truth. I need to change this situation, and I am certain you can change this. Act. Now. Or I will plunge Futility into the surface of that fething world.”

=][=

Unleashed - Final

The warp fizzed, the stench of dank sweat and thin ozone permeating the whole. The fabric of reality frayed - a Veteran was sent screaming and weeping by glimpse into the void as it further tore. A great wet sound, like a slab of flesh being ripped in twain, echoed through the hall. Moments passed.

Junious took Reprieve off his back, bringing it around en garde by his head in both hands. Amaarti settled into her thighs, bringing a surge of psychic will and walls around her in swirling defiance to the vacuum opening before them. Behind them both, Scarab had dropped behind a crate of weapons. He was desperately trying to find a set of carapace that would fit him and a decent gun. Kely had brought her force staff to its full length, holding it at arms distance in a loose tidy guard in front of her.

The aetheric split bubbled furiously, spilling gobs of energy onto the floor that dissipated almost as soon as they’d landed.

“Ready!” called the First Inquisitor. He knew he’d been foolish to let his full potential loose on this place. The predatory forces that hungered after them, always at their heels, had finally found a route directly to them. Stupid stupid stupid stupid! He could feel the tendrils of wild warp energy lashing at his mind and his concentration.

With a crackle, then heavy corpse fall slap, the wound into the beyond became stable and solid.

Through the passage came first Bess Dowall, then three more of Futility’s senior staff, closely followed by three Adeptus Mechanicum Magi. They spread into the room.

Junious rolled his eyes, and motioned for everyone to hold their weapons.

“The Throne wept, Bess, am I glad to see you.”

Junious approached his Seneschal and despite the great bulk of his armour, embraced her gently. She returned the gesture, before nodding at the portal.

“It seems not all Balkoth’s tricks were of his own making. Let’s get out of here.”

=][=

Holding the Line

M42.120, The Warp, En Route to Secret’s Hold

The bridge of Futility was quiet - it usually was on the notional overnight shift during Warp travel. First Inquisitor Junious - also known as Jakob Falk or Hammer - had taken the watch. Even with the juvenants, his features had hardened with the century and a score he’d just seen pass. Seen. That would’ve been a better way of experiencing the last one hundred and twenty years, he mused, as he sipped at the recaf in his hand. He was in comfortable slack robes, tied at the waist with a simple belt. Symbols of his devotion to the Emperor hung to each area on the robe like limpets. He didn’t feel comfortable with them, but it paid to maintain the visage of Jakob Falk as a habit rather than a costume he would take off at will.

That had perhaps been the hardest task of them all. It had taken a monumental effort, coordination and contact with Onoto back on Terra to get the seal changed all those years ago. He’d called in favours he didn’t think he’d ever need to call in, pulled at the ear of more than a few friendly faces, and outright lied on several occasions to get it changed. But changed it they had. He had been reinstated, for all intents and purposes, as a member of the Inquisition. That was one hundred twelve years ago.

Between then, and now… they’d seen too much. He had seen so much loss. In the carnage of Roboute Guilliman’s return, the final Black Crusade, the rise of chaos like a tide all down the cicatrix maledictum. It had been exhausting.They had clashed with the remnants of AmonDull’s legacy more times than he could immediately recall. Just when he thought they’d managed to find the last pieces of the various cults that venerated the long dead godling, sure enough another would spring up like a never ending weed. They’d trekked to every corner of the galaxy and back, and still it barely felt like they had managed to make a dent.

He rolled his shoulders as the ticking filters of information on the Gellar Field rolled by. Incident after incident rolled by his memory as he indulged a moment of reminiscence. Helping Amaarti banish a small daemonic incursion on Bellus - they’d barely had enough power between her, himself and Kely to force the warp tear closed. The three of them had faced down an octet of Bloodletters let loose in the backwash. They had called that a win. Scarab - Palici, as he now preferred - had given him a lead on a group of ex-Mentirians who hadn’t agreed with the direction mandated by their master. Junious still bore the scars down one side of his face from the blast of warpfire that had nearly killed him as they ventured down into the dark. The horrors they’d uncovered…. They weren’t worth remembering.

Still, the signal on the Conclave had been revelatory. The archive of texts had been so vast he had roped in Kaniksis and their magi across the ship to help catalogue and understand everything. Much of it was accurate. Another raft was outright lies. The rest…. In the right light, it could be anything you liked. Perhaps that was the point.

And then the signal - the location of Secret’s Hold broadcast to the whole galaxy using the Conclave. Junious knew it wouldn’t just be carrion eaters who would heed the call. Puritan, heretic, daemon and fool would all be running towards that location. He’d called in Palici and Amaarti to help. They were waiting for him at the end of this jump.

After that, Secret’s Hold beckoned.

=][=
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Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2020, 07:12:38 PM »

The Language of Birds


M42.120, Formless Wastes, The Warp


The warp is not a place, but a perspective.  Not an idea but a fundamental, abstract reality underlying all ideas.  The consequence of consciousness as it acts upon the universe.  A hidden dimension of mind and soul, and a domain of daemons.  It is one thing to know this, of course.  It is quite another to see it, for space and time only hold sway in the Immaterium insofar as their effect upon the collective psyche translates into the imaginary.  There is no light in the warp, for there are no stars, nor laws of thermodynamics to govern the behaviour of energy.  There is only the echo of light, seen second-hand through the dark glass of gestalt recollection, as real as the after-images of impossibly distant, long-dead stars, reflected in the eyes of upward gazing apes.  As in dreams, while there may be every appearance of familiar governing principles, the rules themselves are brought in unwittingly by the dreamer and the process renders them too elastic to be relied upon.  There is truth in the warnings that one might emerge from the warp at a time before having entered it, or on the wrong side of the galaxy.  Again, these are simple words.  They do little to explain the practicalities of traversing such paradoxes. 

To a native of the abstract, time and space are as real as belief and emotion; no less, and yet no more.  They exist within this ecosystem in their form as ever-changing cultural concepts – as biological phenomena, not mathematical ones, and without sentient beings living in both planes at once, providing a conscious conduit, imposing limitations derived from one realm upon the other, there would be no means for any order to persist here.  However, as the present form of the Immaterium is a product of the ideas held by mortals, so there is causality in the warp, for causality is a powerful idea.  The appropriation of cultural symbols and motifs, through which they simultaneously conceal and express their respective natures, is as ubiquitous among autonomous daemonic entities as clothing is among urbanised humans – this includes thematic numbers, therefore mathematics and by extension, chronology.  As a narrative might weave a collection of events into a connected sequence, which a reader might then read quickly, slowly, or out of order, so many of the currents of the psychic plane can be seen to flow in reliable directions, provided one possesses the equivalent of a specific book and the linguistic skills necessary to read it.  Having themselves proceeded indirectly from the fount of mortal imagination, the majority of daemons have long grown accustomed to the correlation between their own experience of reality and the brute psychology of lesser beings.  Their behaviour therefore tends to follow roughly familiar patterns of motion and speech, to the extent their environment permits. 

It is as a result of these principles that a roughly sequential series of interactions was able to occur in the warp, subsequent to the death of a cult leader named Bauchan at the hands of Inquisitor Rahn and prior to the same Inquisitor arriving at a place called Secret’s Hold.  As those occurrences both notionally took place during the Imperial year M42.120, at least from the perspective of the mortals involved, it is functionally true to describe these intervening events in the warp as also forming part of that year, however dislocated from the material timeline they were.  And while the events in question did not happen precisely as follows, owing to the aforementioned flexibility of the warp as a perspective, if any living mortal observer had been present to witness them, it might well have appeared that they did. 

The warp is not a place, and yet there are places within the warp, and this is one of them.  See it as a flat plane or a mountain range, a desert or an ocean; it is an expression of the concept of landscape under sky.  It has no centre, or else infinite centres, nor any definitive edge, though many things lie outside it.  It encapsulates the concept of awe inspired by vastness without end.  The immensity is punctured by a great many towers, or mountains, or islands, at once crowded close enough to step between and spaced so widely that to stand on any one of them is to see empty horizon in every direction.  Every denizen beholds a different sky.  These are the demesnes of Daemon Lords, and this is not a welcoming region to visitors, even by the standards of the warp.  Nevertheless, our sequence begins with a tiny figure picking its way across these Formless Wastes – or else climbing sheer cliff faces towards a peak concealed by clouds, or swimming through crashing waves towards a blinking light, or any metaphor you prefer for the way a daemon crosses the ambiguous notion of space. 

This was Rekkinzon, once known as the Mighty, now a shrunken, meekly crawling thing.  A daemon, and a male, which is to say he had acquired maleness from the influence of cultists casting him as such in their worship.  Even his moniker was an affectation, for no creature like himself would be so bold as to speak its true name to another.  Call him a scorpion traversing desert sands, for there was something of the venomous invertebrate about this daemon’s instinctive form.  The analogy is strongest in terms of scale, for if the demesnes were desert fortresses populated by warrior kings, then Rekkinzon was a single scorpion of decidedly non-lethal sting, crawling steadily across a planet-wide desert towards distant castle gates, perhaps in search of shade. 

High overhead, winged silhouettes gathered in the conceptual sky, following his progress darkly.  A scorpion might be a predator in cracks and crevices, but in the open he is food.  Rekkinzon was acutely aware of this as the aerial marauders continued to muster.  He had heard they began life as mortals who pretended to serve the Gods, while serving only self-interest and lacking faith.  The detestable Bauchan would no doubt be among them, had he not met with a darker fate that left nothing of his soul to punish.  Fitting perhaps that these should be the creatures to end the Mighty Rekkinzon, for faceless, forgotten mortals had always been his bane.  To describe them as gargoyles or grotesques would be meaningless embellishment here, where all things are hideous to our hypothetical mortal eye.  They flew and they ate the weak.  Humans called them Furies, with good reason.  He could handle one or two but he could not repel them in numbers, knew they never attacked alone.  To survive he would need to swim to the summit of his walk, seek shelter in a greater monster’s shadow.  There was every chance the Daemon Lord would simply consume him.  In the case of the furies there was certainty, however, and so Rekkinzon forged on.

“It seeks the son of the son of the artist, does it not?  The successor to the scion of the scheme is always hungry…  Too ravenous to hear the squeaking of the eternally diminutive, caring only for the crunch.  It will be eaten, just as it fears.”

A red-feathered carrion bird alighted on a bleached dead tree, its plumage impossibly bright.  The tree itself was growing, or implicitly had in life, from cracked grey dirt that the bird’s arrival now imposed on the formerly sheer, wave-torn sand.  All around was rendered down to a dully dessicated wasteland, the dead earth smoothed out flat as a still pond in an expanding circle that encompassed the struggling scorpion and reached out to swallow his horizons.  The furies wheeled in a cloud overhead, surely thousands strong by now, and yet reluctant to descend.  Rekkinzon could taste…nothing.  His chitinous flesh went rigid.  Picture a dog approached suddenly by a completely odourless creature; a man spoken to unexpectedly by an intangible, unfamiliar voice whose owner remains concealed.  Tastelessness is, somewhat perversely, an indicator of supreme potency in encounters like these.  His own essential flavour sweated out of him in loose waves wherever he went, and Rekkinzon lacked the skill or the puissance to conceal it.  The not-bird evidently had no such impediments.  Fixing him with a beady stare, it widened its stance for an instant and squeezed out a smooth white egg.  Seamlessly, without animation, the eggshell was broken at the base of the tree, in which two birds were now sitting.  The feathers of the second were a bright canary yellow, though it matched its fellow in form.  The yellow bird opened its beak.

“And yet there is hope.  It will receive an offer of protection, for its squeaking is a spark that might be used to kindle.  It need only speak its squeaking first to the birds.”

Drawn inexorably into the emerging narrative, the scorpion scuttled forward and approached the tree.  His perspective shifted as he crawled until he could not see the branches; only its trunk rising sheer ahead of him, a tower to the heavens.  There were more white eggshells in the grey dirt now, and with them bones as pale as the dead tree’s ghostly wood.  A green bird fluttered down to settle on a delicate Aeldari skull, its feathers agleam, the colour of verdant jungle leaves.  Rekkinzon gathered himself and addressed the newcomer. 

“The one this supplicant goes to seek is the same you have described.  Yet it is said He of the Many Tongues gives his ear to none, and suffers no challenge.  Do I speak with a great lord of this realm?”

The green bird answered at once, a harsh caw.

“It squeaks into the wind, with no ear here to hear it.  It whispers loudly to itself, become ourobouros.  Its existence is hypothetical.  Were it to have been, it should have spoken.”

Having said its piece, it laid the expected egg, opened its wings and vanished on high.  Broken shells and another not-raven, this one as blue as warm shallow seas, stood before him – or rather it loomed over him in this crawling, cringing form.  Birds eat scorpions, and the right symbolism can be deadly in the warp.  It cocked its head expectantly.  A threat.  Rekkinzon capitulated.

“This supplicant lies prostrate before you, Lord.  I will give you my sightings.  The Lowly Rekkinzon was banished from the Sharp by mortals with metal shells.  Bauchan, servant of Rekkinzon, was fed to the Twin-bound.  There was a…tunnel…of a rare kind.  The Twin-bound were taken.  These mortals gave sign He of the Many Tongues may also remember, from before the Great Unfolding.  There was a name, a flavour.  The taste of a particular traitor…”

In menacing stop-motion, the blue bird’s beak flickered down towards him.  He flattened his stinging tail against the dirt and made no move to defend himself.  The pointed beak stopped just short, hovering a conceptually minimal distance from the scorpion’s tiny eyes.  It threw its head back, an effortless fluid motion this time, and cackled in harsh merriment.  Then it took off and flew out of sight, laying its own egg from high above, so the next bird did not appear stood before him but landed noisily in a flurry of feathers, scattering bones and shells before it.  This one was a cheerful shade of orange, the twinkle in its eyes almost friendly.  He found himself somewhat larger, his form shifting to accommodate pseudo-shoulders so the latest bird could put a wing around them and lean in for a conspiratorial whisper. 

“When it says a traitor, it dissembles.  Faith being red in beak and claw, this is a conceit intended to conceal.  It avoids the speaking of names, as is only correct.  But what it knows must be known elsewhere, and it lacks the eloquence for escape.  It must share itself in full.  Perhaps fate will show clemency this time.”

Taking advantage of his newly grown neck, Rekkinzon turned his face to the branches of the tree.  Beside him the orange not-raven took off again, commandeering an empty branch to join its ancestors in judgement.  The tree had nine bare limbs, of which five were now occupied.  They affected to ignore him, preening, exchanging knowing glances amongst themselves.  He took a wary step backwards, felt the crunch of eggshells through his hooves. A sixth pseudo-corvid landed lightly on one reflexively raised claw, another shift in scale.  This one had feathers of a violet hue.  It looked him right in the eye.  Its beak began to open, very slowly this time.  Its voice seemed disconnected from the action.

“It may not in fact have been eaten, if it had not struggled.  It could not comprehend the limited possibilities before it.  It was faced with a choice to accommodate, or be assimilated.  Hypothetically, would it have preferred to exist?”

The break gaped wide and a chameleon tongue emerged, shooting out the full length of his arm and latching right onto one of his eyeballs.  Tiny needles wriggled forth, exploring the inside of his head.  Paralysed by enforced prey-instinct, he stood absolutely still.  The stranger sifted through his being like a hand through a darkened draw, seeking a particular object by touch alone.  He de-cohered for a brief eternity, then painfully reformed. 

He was lying on his back in the bone-strewn dirt, looking up into the branches.  Six coloured birds were sitting there, while a seventh rested with its talons dug into the leathery carapace of his chest.  His form was currently somewhere between human and scorpion; his tail was tangled under him and ached where he lay upon it.  The seventh bird was silver, as if fine metal filigree composed every delicate feather.  Its beak was a brutal spike.  His carapace wasn’t built for this pose, nor would it offer any real protection if the entity decided to excavate his thorax.  Rekkinzon continued to lie motionless and averted his eyes from the silver bird, utterly submissive.  It knew what he knew now, or at least the parts it cared to.  What those parts were, he no longer remembered himself, including why he had thought to come here and brave the Formless Wastes.  Whoever this was had taken whatever valuables he’d been carrying, though apparently it had declined to swallow the smaller daemon and digest him in his entirety.  He supposed he should be grateful for that, assuming it lasted.  The silver bird spoke surprisingly softly for its murderous appearance.

“Fortune must favour even the otherwise ill-fated on occasion.  The supplicant’s burden has been taken from it.  This is not theft but generosity, for it has pleased its patron and should rejoice.  It will not be sent to feed the great Lord whom it sought.  Lowly creature though it is, it may yet have friends in higher places.  Were it to understand this, its existence might persist.”

“It…understands, High One.  If permitted, it would indeed persist.”

He suddenly realised one of his eyes was missing.  Rekkinzon had several more, but this had been among his favourites.  High in the tree, he could see the violet bird swallowing something with exaggerated gulps.  Compelling his limbs to remain unmoving, he waited for the silver bird to join its compatriots.  This it obligingly did, declining to mutilate him any further and leaving a precariously balanced egg behind it.  It hatched with a silent shift in reality, and at this range the mystic event felt like a punch in what passed for Rekkinzon’s guts.  The eighth bird had the same iridescent sheen as the last, only this time a glorious glittering gold that sparkled like a dragon’s hoard.  It took flight at once and turned in a slow circle overhead, alternately eclipsing and reflecting the rays of a high summer sun.  The sun itself had appeared for this purpose, or so he could surmise.  It burned his remaining eyes.  Rekkinzon uncoiled his tail and scrambled upright.  The golden bird called down to him in high, melodious tones.

“If it would persist then it must leave, and never seek to treat with He of the Many Tongues.  It will be eaten as foretold, if test this fate it must…  If not by one great Lord then by another.”

Leaving was certainly the first of his immediate desires, and yet Rekkinzon hesitated, unsure of the proper form.  If he offended his potential patron at the last, being eaten whole would be a mercy.  He recognised the direction of its chosen theme, knew there would surely be a ninth bird.  If he tried to leave before that arrived, he feared what the flock might do.

A heavy black egg hit him hard right on top of his head, knocked to him back to something resembling his knees.  His already limited perceptions convulsed.  The egg lay before him in the dirt, quite broken.  The golden bird landed on its branch.  A shadow passed over him.  The flock took off all at once in a magnificent display of colour, an instant before a titanic beak descended.  A pure white not-raven the size of a mountain, the titan plucked the tree from the earth, its undead roots wriggling like a bundle of worms, straightened up to an impossible height and swallowed it whole with a snap.  The great bird’s tiny forebears wheeled around its lofty head, all trace of the waiting furies long fled before the blossoming presence.  One eye was the sun, the other a hungry void.  It turned its head to let each regard him in turn, turning the illusion of daylight off and on like a lamp.  There were of course no stars in Rekkinzon’s night sky.  The darkness rustled gently as if in a breeze, a veil of jet-black feathers.  The sun was back to blinding him when the white bird spoke, an interrogator’s spotlight.

“The supplicant has consulted with a higher wisdom.  In the future it will act wisely, as advised.  It will begin by exiting downwards, as befits its station.”

Shivering with relief, Rekkinzon was a scorpion again, burrowing frantically down into the dirt.  He found a buried vein and clawed savagely into it, tearing himself an entrance.  Then he dove into the rushing torrent and the current took him immediately.  The wound in the false earth closed ponderously behind him. 


=][=


Subsequent to this inglorious display, nine varicoloured birds flew in formation across a sky required by circumstance, towards a distant mountain range.  Those few furies they encountered, they drove shrieking before them like pigeons before eagles.  There was no unity of adopted species among the birds, though in the act of accosting Rekkinzon they had briefly homogenised their forms – this they did to emphasise the weighty symbolism inherent in disparate colours and in the number of their flock, in the same way an Inquisitor might show instruments of torture to a prisoner.  These birds were older than humanity, a singular entity and master of primal ideas.  Now in flight and threatening predation, their talons lengthened and their beaks curved into wicked sickle shapes.  The fleeing furies resembled scrawny taloned humanoids, their heads a mess of eyes and fangs, borne aloft on leathery wings that rode the raging currents of the warp like a bird might ride on uprising thermals.  The flock swam through those same currents like penguins underwater, outpacing the creatures with ease and harrying them mercilessly.  They drove their prey with purpose as the mountain range came closer. 

These were perhaps the ugliest, most forbidding peaks a spiteful God might conceive of, their very rising from the earth an act of violence against the sky.  Uniformly barbed and jagged, to the point that climbing over them would surely have been unthinkable, the range ran in a rough circle, completely enclosing a wide conical valley that sloped down into a central pit.  Black ice gave way to dark grey stone as the slopes descended steeply.  Tiny hunched figures crowded those slopes, toiling with primitive tools, a parody of mining.  To speak of scale would again be redundant here.  The pit might have contained planets, or else have been traversed on foot in the space of a day.  To most of those who dwelt within, it surely comprised the universe.  From out of the depths of the pit a lone tower rose higher than the mountains themselves, however far we imagine that to be.  The flock gazed down at it with amusement, a child’s stridently pointed finger, their adult vantage elevated far beyond its reach.  They could simply have alighted upon it as they had upon the tree, but they did not come here as invaders, and so politeness dictated they enter at the tower’s base.  Thus they descended towards the valley, corralling their beleaguered furies tightly.  As they passed below the level of the uppermost mountain summits, a shape detached itself from one of the toiling work gangs and soared up to intercept them. 

The denizen’s form was swathed in trailing white robes, a papery pseudo-material covered in tightly packed lines of scripture that crawled and shifted into new structures as it moved.  The robes incorporated a deep cowl, although this was entirely empty, save for rows of razor-edged shark teeth that covered its interior surface.  It nevertheless maintained the rough shape of a human head, giving the cowl the appearance of an open maw.  The daemon carried a trailing ten-tailed whip in one spiked gauntlet; this shifted and became an iron spear as it approached, though no less viciously barbed.  Its wings were two rows of splayed black-lightning tentacles running parallel down its back.  Ten in total, these appendages moved individually, finding purchase on the texture of the warp itself, clawing upward through the air like an octopus climbing the side of a cage, though the end result was identical to flight.  As it drew level with the birds, one among them – the green – left the business of herding furies and hovered before the daemon, inspecting it with a critical eye.  Its core structure was little different to a fury, although this was a much denser, more complicated entity, the weave of its essence incorporating the equivalent of an artist’s signature.  An empowered emissary of its master then.  It spoke first, for they allowed it to.  Its voice was a grating, sneering thing. 

“I am Zelos the Motivator, Overseer in service to Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues, Scourge of the Deviant and Lord of All Humanity.  You have entered the Tenth Circle, Our Lord’s sole domain.  Have you come to hear the Blessed Word?  Are you, in fact, Pure?  Or do you bring these wretched creatures here to spread their gibbering blasphemy, that the Abject might sink ever further into Sin?”

The green bird peered into the hood-mouth, visibly unimpressed.  When it spoke its fellows echoed its scorn, each one rephrasing slightly, though the others remained outwardly preoccupied with the increasingly distressed furies. 

“It presupposed too much, understanding nothing of context.  A shark will ever be a wrasse between the teeth of dragons.  The maker of the maker of its maker came to call.  It would have been well served to act as a sensory organ; better yet, a herald, if it had found itself a little bugle to blow.  Its capitalised concepts were rendered empty noise in the ears of birds, who only have ears for music.  Though it lacked eyes, it was yet invited to see.  It looked first upon Itzcaque, the Nine Masks.  And yet behind Iztcaque…”

The mouth of the cowl contracted slightly as a feathered curtain twitched.  At the same instant, the spear was crushed down into something like a miniature horn, still pointlessly barbed and blackened.  Without another word, Zelos the Motivator fled.  It streaked directly down into the pit, all thought of the work-crews forgotten, with shreds of scripture trailing behind it like abandoned feathers.  An arrow fired by fear.  A cloud of angelic figures had been emerging from windows in the central tower, miniaturised by conceptual distance as well as relative significance, but evidently massing for battle.  They reacted to the rapid descent of Zelos as if hit by an unseen blast-wave, turned about and began to funnel swiftly back into the apertures from whence they came.  And why not?  Respect was due on many levels to the birds.  They visited as an elder statesman and perhaps a senior relative, never a supplicant.  They would be received here as befitted their station.  They followed unhurriedly, turning in lazy circles, their furies flying meekly before them now like hounds running ahead of their master.  This too was only fitting.  As they flew they amused themselves looking down on the works of Bu’Ran. 



Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
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Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2020, 07:15:34 PM »

The deeper into the pit one peered, the more densely populated it became.  The Abject, as Zelos had called them, seemed to fulfil a dual purpose, as a combination of menial labour and divine entertainment.  They all appeared roughly human, though their skin was as grey as the rocks among which they toiled, and each was malformed in some way, flesh melted as if by some corrosive fluid.  Vestigial stumps protruded from behind their shoulder blades.  Here and there groups of them had been staked out in a rough semi-circles, their flesh further stretched by metal hooks and sewn together overhead into rough bivouacs, within which their compatriots took occasional shelter from a steady drizzle of stinging rain, before inevitably being driven forth by impossibly clean, symmetrical pseudo-humans with cruel eyes and white-feathered wings who wielded whips of fire.  Those who composed the bivouac hissed curses at their transitory inhabitants, kept in perpetual agony by the downpour of scorching, venomous fluid that further marred their skin. 

Further down the walls of the pit were covered with a carpet of echinoid spines, upon which many thousands of Abject had been impaled outright, a crudely hacked wooden board hanging lopsidedly around each transfixed neck with a message carved into it.  Most of them said ‘HERETIC’, although the birds spied a few APOSTATEs and a scattering of BLASPHEMERs.  Long black leeches hung like obscene fruit from their bodies, and some of the soul-corpses were so dessicated they appeared mummified, though even these continued struggling weakly.  Carefully concealed threads ran from the leeches back to the tower, and those too the avian eyes perceived, threaded beneath the surface of this conception like plumbing under a mortal house’s floor.  Mimicking the unseen threads, a network of wide, straight paths had been cleared through the forest of thorns, and was maintained by roaming teams of marginally more fortunate Abject, who used tools resembling hoes to keep the ever-growing mass of man-high black spikes from reclaiming the routes for themselves.  It was through these veins of comparative safety that carts piled high with stone were brought down from the mountains, bound for the valley’s hub. 

Wherever two roads intersected, crowds of the wretched creatures gathered, took turns to hang accusing signs on their fellows before hurling them from raised platforms, themselves built from the bodies of further Abject stretched out over metal frames.  They heckled and spat at the gruesome results where they landed upon the spikes.  Evidently there was a surplus of labour.  Nothing died here, and everything suffered.  These naked apparitions lived secure in the knowledge they deserved to, and all was right with their world.  A smattering of Angels moved among them freely, swooping on targets chosen seemingly at random to deliver more inventive, bespoke agonies than the mundane brutality of their own kind.  The birds saw one unravel its selected victim, an unusually diminutive Abject, into something resembling a bat, with wings of flayed skin which it flapped ineffectively, bawling incoherent noise.  The Angel spitted it slowly on a tall spike, left it hanging there like a tattered banner.  The word 'INNOCENT' had been tattooed across its body, accompanied by a whimsical looping question mark.

Deeper still and the spines thinned out into scattered clusters, making way for a host of elaborate installations arranged with no discernable order and constructed in similar spirit to the grisly flag.  A crowded outdoor festival of tortured flesh, through which the ever-moving carts of stone were forced to weave a path.  In addition to physical trauma, burning braziers were a frequent sight here, and the oily smoke of charred flesh hung heavy in the air.  Each structure was different, incorporated one or more Abject and served no visible purpose beyond tormenting them.  Some were mutilated to the point of immobility, while others were caged or otherwise restrained but with enough free movement to allow the pursuit of a single perpetual task.  These activities ranged from disassembling oneself piece by piece in order to build a poorly constructed doppelgänger – several observers seemed to be wagering on how far the sculpture would get before the sculptor was rendered immobile – to running frantically inside a wheel of gradually shrinking circumference that turned of its own accord.  When the latter example had been finally, painstakingly crushed into a small disc, the wheel sprang back to its full size and the bloody mess within slowly followed, reaching a mangled approximation of human form just in time for the turning to resume. 

The working Abject pushing the carts yelled obscenities at the innumerable victims as they navigated around them, apparently holding them responsible for the obstruction.  Meanwhile, within sight of the constant commotion, enthusiastic choirs of Angels were constructing new installations to further clog the space.  Any Abject who strayed too close was harvested for parts, or else given the dubious honour of becoming a centrepiece.  Most of them gave the Angels a wide berth, reserving their ire for each other.  It appeared there was something of a conflict here between the theatre of faux-eternal punishment and the necessity of symbolically bringing raw materials to the tower – not literal stone of course but an accretion of the concept of solidity, though no less back-breaking to convey.  On the whole the Angels seemed more interested in disrupting the ongoing labours of the Abject than directing them, for all the pretensions of the one that had proclaimed itself Overseer.  Perhaps this was what went on in the entity’s absence, or maybe the current activities of their graceful tormentors was all the motivation the workers needed, and this was business as usual.  The birds were already losing interest.

Continuing their descent, the flock flew low over a sloping cityscape, built in a ring around the colossal structure, though the ground it was founded on never levelled out.  Drawn in forbidding greyscale, its streets were a jumbled maze of claustrophobic alleyways, every building a towering pseudo-Gothic fortress-temple built with no regard to relative position.  That there were thoroughfares at all seemed largely coincidental, save for a wide straight concourse some giant had cut through the city to facilitate access to the valley’s hub.  The bellicose religious structures flanking it had been cleanly sliced away by the giant’s steel rule wherever part of one overlapped with the ordained path.  Whoever maintained these buildings had simply built new walls running parallel to the merciless road, scabbing over the wounds, and added new extensions on their far sides, further constricting the rest of the streets.  Those few huddled figures who dared to traverse the alleys did so quickly, without looking up, as if pursued.

Emerging from the jumbled shanty town of Angelic installations, a legion of little carts were converging on the upper mouth of the main concourse and pouring downhill through the city, crowding together like frightened livestock.  As they passed the sheer walls on either side, waiting Angels took flight from the temple spires and descended on the Abject with glee, snatching flailing victims to bear aloft – later to make private sport of, or else exhibit publicly.   In some cases, likely to eat.  Of the thousands who ran the gauntlet in those few minutes, one in ten never made it through, their carts abandoned to roll untended downhill, gaining momentum until either gorily colliding with someone or rolling right out of the city.  In grim nod to mundane physics, everything this far down the valley seemed in constant danger of losing purchase and sliding further into the pit.  Even the city was clearly subsiding in places, with the lowliest temples leaning dangerously downhill, although the birds suspected this was partly for effect. 

Beyond the inner boundary of the temple city, the purpose of the quarried pseudo-stone was at last made clear to see.  The tower could be clearly viewed at this range, its sheer sides roughly constructed from the same, and all around its base was clustered a hive of activity.  Bridges had been built across the final gap, for the lowest reaches of the pit were too steep to scale on foot, and it was from these level platforms that the carts were unloaded, directly down into the fathomless darkness from which the tower grew.  The bridges were constructed from scaffolds of long spears, over which a number of moaning Abject had been stretched – a familiar building technique by now, unworthy of further comment.  Each of these met with a sealed portal, where heavy iron portcullises prevented any stray workers from wandering into the structure itself.  As if any would have dared.  Only further darkness could be seen within, as opaquely foreboding as the depths of the pit itself.

As the birds finally approached the tower, the gargantuan structure began to groan and shudder like a void ship in a storm, growing taller in the process by perhaps the length of a human finger.  The valley trembled in time with it, overturning several carts, and most of the bridges collapsed.  The Abject were deposited into the pit along with their burdens, plummeting quickly out of sight with piteous lingering screams.  When the earthquake had subsided the portcullises all retracted upwards at once, and from each of the open doorways there poured a pressurised jet of viscous black fluid.  Much of the liquid followed the shattered bridges into the chasm, yet such was the force of its expulsion that a greater portion was squirted clear across the gap, bowling over workers and pooling in crevices on the far side, carrying with it a wriggling sentiment of mewling, malformed flesh.  Where the slippery fluid did not gather it trickled away uphill towards the city, in solitary defiance of pseudo-gravity.  The fleshy sediment was gradually revealed as a mass of separately squirming bodies, blindly helpless as baby mice.  As the metal barriers slammed down again, the newly expelled Abject, still unaccustomed to the raw horror of their existence, remained in a state of twitching, choking shock, their every orifice still oozing with poisonous slime.  Cast from somewhere higher up the tower, the winged shadows of Angels fell over them.

One bridge remained intact through all this, if barely, its grey flesh stretched to the point of tearing, and it was here the Nine Masks landed.  After a moment the portcullis at the far end slid screeching out of their way, moving on its own this time, as if a still terrified Zelos were hurriedly turning a winch somewhere within.  The subjugated furies made no move towards the Abject, although the birds could feel their hunger straining at their leash, backed up by their fear of the tower.  Even dominated as they were, they initially refused to enter the doorway first, and the flock went so far as to disassemble one before the others acquiesced.  Having successfully bullied the survivors over the final threshold, the birds spread their wings and followed.  Convincing the furies to enter behind them might have been near impossible, even for the mind behind Iztcaque, and certainly not worth the effort.  Itzcaque itself was a mere evening suit for such occasions, if a finely tailored one.  These offerings constituted a bottle of cheap wine presented by guest to host, no more than a ritual courtesy.  That they possessed enough animal cunning to have discerned something of their fate did not equal proof of sentience. 

In truth, the governing entity recognised few beings as sentient in the sense that it was.  Creatures like Zelos or Rekkinzon were little more than beasts to a Lord of Change, which left these scavengers, and indeed the Abject, as something like bacteria breeding in a soiled bucket.  Its attitude to Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues, whose bucket this place was, was roughly analogous to a member of the Imperial nobility calling upon a promising young relative at his recently inherited palace, only to find a pail of human excrement proudly displayed on his doorstep and bearing his personal seal.  Nevertheless it had known what to expect, and so the birds came bringing yet more slaves, and with their gift encouraged the behaviour they disdained.  Secure in their superior sophistication, they trailed at a discreet distance, each one hovering at roughly human head-height, unwilling to touch the antechamber’s repulsively sticky floor.  The portcullis was lowered quietly behind them, as if on freshly oiled chains. 

The interior of Bu’Ran’s tower was a single immense, cylindrical space, whose ceiling was lost in darkness and whose current ground floor consisted of a horizontal grid of metal bars.  The lower portion of the space could be seen through the bars, likewise descending beyond the bounds of vision – a great deal of conceptual height and depth had been concentrated here, for the building appeared even taller when viewed from within.  A winding staircase corkscrewed around the single circular wall, passing down through an open trapdoor where it met the grid.  There were many other apertures in the platform, and through these trailed wide streamers of parchment, spooling down from high overhead.  The scrolls were in constant motion, yet several of the openings had become clogged and growing mounds of paper had collected over these, around which a horde of fat little creatures, resembling grey-skinned human babies, anxiously fluttered on mismatched wings, tugged at the piles with chubby fingers and called back and forth to one another with piercing avian shrieks.  The parchment was covered in writing, most of it illegible, and several of the airborne infants were carrying quills or ink-pots, which gave a strong hint as to why.  Everything in sight, from the pseudo-cherubs themselves to the masses of knotted parchment, was thoroughly drenched in dark mucus.  Droplets of the stuff clung to all the bars, hanging ponderously over the abyss. 

Suspended above this sorry scene, Zelos the Motivator stood erect and clean, with its wing-tentacles spread and its forelimbs behind its back.  There was no sign of the whip-spear-bugle.  As the birds flew up to meet it, the captive furies milled uncertainly around the platform below, jabbering amongst themselves.  When Itzcaque came level with Zelos, the angelic Overseer bent at the waist and executed a sweeping bow. 

“Welcome, o Lord of the Nine Masks, to the Tenth Circle, sole domain of Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues, Scourge of–”

“It stopped talking.”

The silver bird cut off the sentence with ruthless finality.  Zelos obediently declined to continue, so it bobbed its head and spoke again.

“It should have known better than to repeat itself.  Was it perhaps trying to imply a poor memory on the part of the birds?  It should have known better by then, having already wasted its chance for a positive impression.  Yet this was a matter of no consequence, for when birds address a beast, little can be expected in the way of conversation.  Knowing this from long experience, they came instead to exchange words with its master.”

Apparently more at ease here, bolstered by its creator’s proximity, the subordinate daemon straightened up from its bow and did not cower.  In pointed silence, it began to ascend.  The Nine Masks kept pace with it effortlessly, a wolf led by a worm, neatly avoiding the hanging scrolls that dangled on every side.  As the platform dropped away beneath them, a distant signal chimed on high and a choir began to sing.  Their voices echoed richly in the acoustic chamber, and with the sound came light in equal proportion, casting long shadows on the walls and revealing the first of the Angels.  They stood arrayed in single file on the stair, all facing inwards, their skin glowing white in proportion to the growing volume of their song – a single, endless, wordless note, a hymn distilled down to its purest, crudest core.  Arched window frames punctured the wall at irregular intervals, revealing only mirrored surfaces within.  The higher Zelos and the visitor rose, the more Angels started up singing and glowing, and the note itself was rising with them, growing louder, the darkness around them dissolving as the glow grew ever brighter, a vertical tunnel lit by a spiral of incandescent stars.  A tawdry display of force, in keeping with its architect’s obvious lack of subtlety.  Itzcaque ignored them all, skimming through the choir of choirs like leaves borne by a breeze. 

By the time they settled on the lofty platform where the staircase culminated – an oblong protrusion from wall to wall with open space on either side – the intensity of the surrounding psychic light was such that had it been true light, and had the birds possessed physical form, those eyeballs would have been shrivelled husks long before they reached it.  If the accompanying note had been sound waves received via mortal ears, their eardrums would have burst less than halfway there.  As it was they emerged unscathed by the pantomime, if approaching consternation.  Zelos, lacking even a semblance of sensory organs, was completely unaffected.  It stood just short of the platform, as if this were sacred ground, which it may well have been to Bu’Ran’s sycophant.  The illumination was so stark up here that the light seemed almost tangible, hanging in the pseudo-air like luminous mist.  The hanging scrolls to either side could cast no shadows now.  A man was standing in the centre of the platform, the wings on his back so vast they filled the tower behind him from one side to the other.  Every feather was a gleaming blade of gold that reflected the light from below, creating a scintillant halo around him that rippled and shimmered every time he flexed.  His skin too was golden, and he was naked save for a white loincloth.  His statuesque physique combined with these attributes to grant him every appearance of a work of religious art, of an opposite kind to those seen on the valley slopes – an effigy to be worshipped and adored.  His eyes were a virulent green, for all their affectation of kindly wisdom. 

This might have been a convincing puppet, had mortal eyes gazed upon it, but the birds could see the strings.  More accurately the string, for a single fleshy cord, pseudo-umbilical, was growing from the small of the Angel’s back, with only the most rudimentary sorcery to conceal it.  The poorly hidden tether extended right up into the mouth of – and yet the Angel spoke, its voice inappropriately harsh and rumbling, and there were formalities to observe. 

“Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues, Scourge of the Deviant, Lord of all Humanity and of the Tenth Circle, recognises Itzcaque the Nine Masks.  The Vow of Host is given, to be held sacred until departure, or until rendered forfeit by the breaking of the Vow of Guest.”

Decorously averting their collective eyes from the apparition overhead, the Nine Masks fluttered into a pyramid formation, with the uppermost bird – the gold, as was only appropriate – level with the Angel’s face.  They replied in flawless unison.

“Let their be no dissembling among peers – this Itzcaque is a pattern on the sand.  Sairzrias the Narrator, Demiurge of Destiny, High Mysteriarch of Fate, recognises Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues as Lord of this domain.  The Vow of Guest is given, to be held sacred until departure, or until rendered forfeit by the breaking of the Vow of Host.  They do not come here seeking conflict, Grand Scion, or at least not with Him.  They come bearing gifts, and with tidings most portentous for His ears.”

The puppet-Angel folded his powerful arms, regarding the birds from beneath a furrowed brow.  His reply, while measured, sounded scornful to the point of insult.

“Then let the Vow of Host extend to Sairzrias in turn.  Your gifts are well received, for all that I have many like them.  The Tower of My Glory will always have a use for stone.  And yet you have been withdrawn of late, for one who would be so familiar.  As you abandoned Amon Dull, so too you gave silence to Bu’Ran, who comes after and is more.  You did not care to finish what you started.  Who are you now to speak of portents, who spoke false prophecy?”

There was a refreshing quality to this confrontational tone, for it was rare that any addressed Sairzrias in such a manner.  Bu’Ran could be permitted his eccentricities, for he clearly thought himself his visitor’s equal – in raw puissance perhaps he was, or would be given time, though such things were difficult to quantify at this level – and so would act accordingly.  Here in the heart of his power, he should have been all but unassailable, and Sairzrias suspected the very fact of its having coming uninvited into such a lair, albeit it in the guise of Iztcaque, was concerning to its host.  The boldness of the visit suggested unseen contingencies if Bu’Ran initiated combat, and the very possibility held him at bay, despite his home advantage.  This knowledge was satisfying to Sairzrias and its reply was placating, even solicitous.  Only the blue bird spoke this time, likewise exchanging its place in the pyramid for that previously occupied by the gold.

“The prophecy was true, Grand Scion.  An opportunity was presented, and yet His creator failed to grasp it.  Amon Dull’s ambitions exceeded the limits of Its Will.  Fate had no fault in this, nor yet its Mysteriarch – one rose as was foretold, and in due course will fall.  Still the Greater Weave lies ever incomplete, and further opportunity exists.  Auspicious circumstances even now align.  Bu’Ran may yet climb the golden stair, if He would but listen to the birds…”

Bu’Ran’s puppet remained outwardly unimpressed.  He gestured irritably at his attending minion.

“Zelos!   Leave us.  As for you…the birds are mindless animals, whose beaks move while you lie.  You have said as much yourself.  I might listen to the Demiurge of Destiny, if Destiny had served me well.  You come from the Changer of Ways, whose ways are well known to me.  Your nature alone makes your perfidy plain.  Speak your tidings, ancient voice, and maybe I will hear them.  I owe your ilk no further vows, however wise you are.”

As if in response to a prearranged signal, the bird-pyramid broke apart and the flock began to fly coiling loops around the chamber, a complicated intersecting path that brought them frequently close to colliding without ever doing so.  As they did this a bubble of silence expanded to fill the platform, severing the world-breaking din of the choir with the finality of a guillotine.  They all began chattering at once then, assuming wildly different voices, adding words as they passed by the gold-skinned Angel, assembling sentences piece by piece.  They did this more for their own amusement than for Bu’Ran’s benefit.

“By the hand and the will of the one who rose did the waxing hate-star fall.  The prophecy might have served either aspirant, but the Young Crone was the victor, if only in the lesser game.  Now she sits smugly sly in her sanctum, spends her stolen wealth as she will.  Even still do her mortal fingers meddle, but while she may perceive part of the Greater Weave, she cannot see the mind of Sairzrias, the Demiurge of Destiny, nor unpick the threads woven over millennia to snare her in her den.  Her comprehension lacks sufficient scope, for she remains the smallest of divinities, a whisper in a darkened temple crypt.  The ancient children of her mother-self are too few now to feed her, and growing fewer still.  She dwindles in her infancy, and yet her fingers touch on fruit that could belong to Bu’Ran, for whose dynasty it was intended.  This fruit could not be grown by force and so it has been nurtured carefully.  Now the fruit of the Weave is ripe.  The birds have come to warn Him that the Crone will steal this too.  The High Mysteriarch of Fate might prevent that if employed, but doing so will require Bu’Ran’s cooperation.  Sairzrias will seek no recompense, for the memories of birds are boundless.  The mantle has passed to Bu’Ran, that He might make a God-Storm of Himself, and rule in truth over His chosen creatures.  Let Him be assured, such a shift in the balance remains in accordance with the Weaver’s will.”

“As it was in the Great Unfolding?  Bah!  Amon Dull was promised this by you, and delivered Its destruction.  Sairzrias aids none but its master, and itself.  Any shifting suits the Weaver, despising balance above all.  Tzeentch does not care for Bu’Ran, who forsook him.  This fruit of yours is poisoned, and the Crone is welcome to it.”

“Ah, but this fruit belongs to Bu’Ran, not the birds.  For has He not declared Himself its Lord?”

“You speak of my humans.  And what do you know of their nurture?  You seek only to use them in your games!  I am their Rightful ruler, Sairzrias.  My Kingdom Shall Come, without your chirping on my shoulder.  I am not Amon Dull, for I have listened to them, and I alone know what they truly need.  The Hate-Sea overflows with it; the deviant must be scourged!  They are consumed by Rage, sunken into Depravity, infested by Rot and snared in webs of Lies.  The Mutant and the Alien walk freely in their midst.  They need Judgement, not puppetry.  Their vileness must be torn out root and branch, and that vileness includes You.  Am I to believe you concur with me on this?  What right have you, who deceive them still, to lay claim to their fate?”

“Sairzrias claims the right of Narrator, and of Fate’s High Mysteriarch, appointed by the Fateweaver Himself.  What do Bu’Ran’s mortal pets know of Destiny?  Nothing but the lies they tell themselves, and few of those stories have any space for Him.  They are deceived by definition, by the very nature of the beast unborn within them.  He seeks to usurp their devotion to Hate, yet the deed is incomplete, so what right then has Bu’Ran to claim them for His own?  The birds have listened to the humans too.  It seems the bulk of them still believe a man with one tongue rules, though they may argue on the details of the man.  Nor is Bu’Ran the first to claim the Hate-Sea as His own, with all the bravado of a sailor and no more power to control.  Sairzrias has seen them all, Grand Scion.  Their statues are sand in the desert now, their very names forgotten, save for one.  Yet even the vanished Amon Dull commands more fame than Bu’Ran, who would proclaim Himself Its better.  For It at least knew better than to bite the Weaver’s hand, who gave It Life, and by extension did the same for Its Scions.”

“For all the benefit it brought.  You say that hand presented opportunity.  But if the fault was one of Will, then either yours was not in concert with your promises, or else Amon Dull and Sairzrias together could not surpass the unborn Crone.  In either case, you were an unworthy ally in the end.  Your other claims are dubious, for Amon Dull lived as a mortal once, and mortals are born, not made.”

“It began as a mortal created by Sairzrias, according to ancient prophecy, whose authorship the Narrator also claims.  A mortal without a father, insemination performed remotely by an act of divine will…  This being the will of Sairzrias, in concert with prophecy’s promise.  The Narrator owed Its ilk no further vows, as Bu’Ran Himself might say, having already authored Its existence, granted It purpose and a chance – a chance – to rise.  Nevertheless It received all the guidance It would accept.  As to Its final failure, Amon Dull no more heeded unwelcome council than Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues has done thus far.  The Last Scion might learn much from His inheritance.  He might do well to learn the language of the birds, if He would surpass His predecessor.”

“The Many Tongues speak every language, beaked deceiver, while yours is still the rhetoric of old.  How well you resist Change, who count yourselves among its Lords.  I hear only, ‘be my proxy, foolish whelp.’  Yet I am neither, and I accept no inheritance.  It was I who built this kingdom, I alone.  Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues stands as the Alpha here.”

“And what does Bu’Ran the Alpha know ‘of old’?  He has existed for a single mortal lifespan, if an above average one.  Sairzrias has worshippers older than Him.”

“And do they worship you by name?  I think not.  What then gives you a claim on their devotion?  Can it nourish you as it does the Changer of Ways?  Are you more than an appendage for Tzeentch?”

“How little Bu’Ran understands of His Elders.  The essence of divinity is paradox.  The Lords of Change are Tzeentch, if perhaps some more than others.  They have always been well nourished by the folly of simpler minds.”

“Simpler minds!  How little Sairzrias understands of independent thought.  Of existence untethered to any greater will.  Games of language will not set you free.  There is no God here but Bu’Ran, who answers to none.  How your kind must envy mine in this.”

“Being a Greater Daemon of Nothing is no cause for Bu’Ran to crow.  Those he dismisses as slaves maintain palaces at least as grand.  To be greater than any daemon, He will require more devotion than…this.  He has made no secret of His designs.  The least among brute Bloodthirsters laugh at His arrogance.  The birds did not come in mockery, determined though the Many Tongues seem to provoke it.  They came to offer common cause against a thief.  A deity derived from the aliens His humans so revile, who turns her eye upon them now and opens grasping hands.  Who covets Bu’Ran’s mortal flock, while pretending to the Fateweaver’s seat.  Without the aid of Sairzrias, Bu’Ran will fail to rise, like Amon Dull before Him.  He may consider that a prophecy.”

“So this has nothing to do with Balkoth?”

The Angel grinned as he said this, a sublime pearly-toothed smile.  He had clearly been holding this line in reserve, awaiting an opportune moment.  The birds affected nonchalance but the red and the green swerved imperceptibly for an instant before regaining their aerial grace.

“Bu’Ran places too much importance on the name of a single mortal.  Why should such a tiny thing concern the likes of Sairzrias the Narrator?”

“Because you know the name so well, Narrator.  It is inextricable from your own, and from that of Amon Dull, who its owner so dramatically betrayed – a recommendation from the High Mysteriarch of Fate that failed to play as out as promised.  Imagine such.  A Champion of Nothing, as you might say, for all his supposed virtues.  There are those who would simply have killed a mortal who dared to embarrass them so.  The least of brute Bloodthirsters might swiftly have dispensed with such a man – a human man, I note, whom you presumed to toy with but could not control, and who continues to elude you, it is said.  A man without a patron…or is it you the Young Crone steals from after all?”

“Which only goes to show the woeful state of Bu’Ran’s sources, to rely on such envious gossip.  This Balkoth was a minor mortal seer, no more than that.  A cheap magician who caught a glimpse of the Weave and decided he was as a God.  He frustrated as Amon Dull frustrated, through failure in the face of every advantage, through possibilities ignored.  They deserved one another, though he at least had mortality for an excuse.”

“What failures were these, precisely?  The failure to accept your generous offers of common cause?  Because that sounds like wisdom to me.  The word in certain circles is, his choices made a fool of you.  Or even, perhaps, a tool…”

“These circles Bu’Ran speaks of – would the birds be correct in guessing there are ten?  Nine confined to His fantasies, and the Tenth constructed from them?  He seeks to shift the blame for His maker’s failure, that He need not inherit it in turn.  He only deceives Himself in this, alas.  The fool of His story is the one who tells it.  Mortals do not make choices.  Their existence is too transitory.  They are the cards, not the players of games.  His obsession with humanity has inflated them too far in His eyes.  Wherever they would seem to make tools of immortals, so they act as tools for those immortals, according to preordained paths.  If any appear to defy their appointed fate, the illusion stems from a limited perspective on the part of the observer.  Bu’Ran should know better than to imagine them capable of wisdom.”

“And you should know better than to lie to the son of your lies and expect to be believed.  The memories of Bu’Ran are also boundless in this.  The Young Crone is not my enemy but yours.  She is incapable of stealing what is mine.  They will never love her, for their Hate defines their race.  Never mind that she is a God again – elevated I suspect by you, perhaps out of no more than boredom – for she is also Xenos, to be detested and destroyed.  However many distant outliers she seduces, it will never be enough.  Let her gnaw at the scraps from my table, on which her severed head will someday sit with fruit between its teeth.  No doubt she has seen as much in her precious runes.  Much of her power was spent in the moving of her precious Library; this is no secret among such as we.  She would not have gone to such pains to hides herself there out of confidence.  She has no golden stairway left to offer, and I have other priorities.  You yourself have agreed that humanity presents the surest path.  I have drunk deeply from their faith, and I have grown.  My ascension will continue, steady and relentless, with no more promises of fast returns to cloud my cause.  In this way I will surpass my maker, whose authorship you claim, and in doing so, surpass you.  The humans will make me their Emperor and the Four will bow before me.”

“Well then, the birds must stand corrected.  How many sectors does the Lordly Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues so far command?  Enough to challenge the Revenant Regent, surely, to so disdain alliance with His kin.”

“You are not my kin, and you know full well the scope of my present expansion.  It begins in dark corners and yet grows exponentially; the power of My Word speaks for itself.  They turn to me because I am correct.  That many remain to pledge themselves is only because the news of my coming is yet to reach their ears.  It is a small adjustment for their minds to accept me as the Voice of the Emperor, who never addresses his people.  And what else is an Emperor, but a single commanding voice?  By the time I pluck the Corpse from its throne, it will be an empty shell and it all once had been will be a part of Bu’Ran.”

“And how will Bu’Ran sit that throne?  Or does He imagine it an ornamental seat?  Does it not seem suspicious to Him that a deity many call dead has held the Four at bay for eleven millennia?  Of course he knows, incarnation is the key to higher apotheosis.  The Throne is an anchor, Grand Scion.  It keeps their Emperor in a state of dual existence, more stable than a mere God-Storm, and more directed.  Further, it is an instrument of sacrifice, through which whole souls are fed in their thousands, an unceasing feast.  Such a being will never diminish as a God-Storm does, so long as they continue to feed it.  Their worship is only part of the equation.  The Emperor’s food does not have to believe.  No daemon and no God-Storm can occupy such a throne.  Only the truly incarnate may sit, and yet a mortal is too small.  Even their beloved Sigillite was swiftly burned away.  If Bu’Ran would replace the Corpse-Emperor, He must first become divinity made flesh.  For whatever else He aspires to, Bu’Ran remains a daemon of Chaos.” 

“Then I have been spied upon, even in your absence from my court.  What do you know of these matters, to speak so brazenly of my ultimate design?  Am I to believe it a coincidence that you chose to bring this up?”

The Angel’s voice boomed in the silence, with much of the divine wrath to which his puppeteer pretended.  His hands had been clenched into fists, and the birds ceased their circling to hover in a cloud before him, shrinking and dividing, multiplying until they resembled a rainbow-coloured swarm of bees.  The Beast on High gave a horrible bubbling growl that made the platform shake beneath the puppet’s feet.  In a deliberate act of defiance, the bird-swarm formed into the shape of a beaked head, tipped back to stare directly upwards.  The unstoppable force of their full attention met the immovable object that was the true face of their host.  The Lord of the Tenth Circle gazed down on Itzcaque with a constellation of malevolent eyes.  Still cloaked behind the Nine Masks, Sairzrias regarded Bu’Ran coolly. 

“Ah, then Bu’Ran and Sairzrias find common ground at last.  For the birds know a great deal of such things, and would share of this knowledge freely, were alliance to be struck.  He need only agree to their counsel to secure these secret pearls.” 

Most glaring of all was the scale of the monstrous thing.  Its bloated bulk hung over and dwarfed the platform, filling the tower from edge to edge, a distended ceiling of pale, muscle-bound flesh.  An eight-pointed star of powerful legs were braced against the circular wall, embedded in and crushed against it by the swelling of the body they supported.  Each of their folded knees was split by a sneering, sharp-toothed mouth that dribbled strings of oily saliva – the same substance that had sluiced from tower’s ground floor just before the birds had entered.  Their lips were stained black from the stuff, and from each of these mouths there occasionally slid a long, prehensile tongue that quested towards the bird of birds suggestively.  By each of the knee-mouths hung a fluttering pack of the infantile cherubesque daemons, endeavouring between them to transcribe multiple copies of a jabbering stream of pseudo-religious pronouncements that issued forth.  It was from here that the hanging scrolls unspooled, and whenever one mouth’s diatribe was interrupted by the extrusion of its tongue, the cherub-daemons scrambled to reel them down and expose more empty parchment.  In the centre of the mass, the trunk of Bu’Ran’s body hung low like a great fat stalactite, morbidly obese in shape yet built from layered slabs of muscle all the way to its hateful core.  His arms were roughly humanoid and similarly constructed, with four pairs of wings folded tightly on his back, for all the use they would be here.  Between these swept a dark fin, in parody of a shark.  The head itself hung lowest, its neck craned back to gaze directly down the bird-swarm’s collective beak.  No words issued forth from there, religious or otherwise, for it patently lacked the capacity for direct speech.  The knee-mouths being otherwise engaged, it was again the golden Angel who replied.

“If you have spied upon my mortal agents, then you know my project nears completion even now.  What need have I of your pearls?  If you have sabotaged me there, I may be forced to break my Vow and take your mind entire.”

In contrast to the handsome puppet, whose umbilical string ended far inside its maw, the face above resembled the mutated spawn of a gargantuan spider and some toothy deep-sea fish, with the tusks of boar and mastodon fused on as an afterthought.  Bu’Ran lacked a nose, his ears and nostrils were bare holes into his head and a ring of black horns crowned his brow.  Every space between horns and mouth was crowded with pairs of glossy black eyes, arranged with approximate symmetry, though varying in size.  In the heart of each eye was a point of lime green light.  The smallest of these was larger than a human head.  His mandibles too were plentiful, the mouth itself so wide that it split his head all the way to the back of his skull, the lower jaw further dividing, stretching snakelike as he yawned.  His wicked fangs crowded closely, one row behind the other, right up into his throat, and surely filled his torso all the way to his loathsome gut.  From this fleshy cavern emerged a wet cascade of serpentine appendages, each one ending in a mouth of its own, hissing hate as they descended on the birds.  These piled impotently against a convex glassy surface, for the bubble of silence their earlier flight had cast persisted, shifting now into a membrane to selectively exclude.  Thus the birds faced Bu’Ran down from within the invisible sphere, and their gestalt voice spoke on without a hint of fear.

“And act against a humble servant of the Gods?  The Vows of Host and Guest are more than empty words, as Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues well knows…unless spoken to Bu’Ran Himself of course, who proudly has no patron to offend.  He would do well to consider this before threatening a Lord of Change.  But the birds are not dissuaded, knowing bluster for what it is.  The Narrator’s offer still stands.  The grand project of Bu’Ran will fail so grievously He will have to change His use-name, if He continues blindly down this course.  No sabotage has been wrought, nor will any be required.  He does not possess the knowledge to succeed.  Sairzrias does.  Bu’Ran is the kicker that puts change into motion, or was it not once said?  Sairzrias knows where He must kick to start the landslide.  The butterfly whose wings He needs to pluck to start His storm.  By some it is called the Allseer.  It is said that the Allseer is making a new Emperor of its own, and many are its secrets for the taking.  It dwells wholly in the Materium, in a lair it calls Fabraxis.  Does His interest perhaps exceed His hunger now?”

At this the tongues retracted, if somewhat begrudgingly, and most of them vanished entirely back into Bu’Ran’s throat.  The great maw folded halfway up again as he eyed the birds intensely.  The knee-mouths all paused their dictation; even the Angel, still trapped in the psychic globe with them, modulated his rumbling voice.

“Perhaps it does.  It happens I have heard these names, though never from such a beak as yours.  Continue, Narrator, and we shall see if I like this story better than your conversation.”

They had him now, and knowing this, Itzcaque the Nine Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine Masks coalesced, becoming nine larger birds again, though they neither strayed outside nor moved to dissolve the protection of the sphere.  These appeared from their disparate, flamboyant forms to belong in a rainforest canopy.  The white bird, now crested, held forth alone at first, with the others chiming in one by one until once again all were speaking.

“The Allseer has found a means to hide its private hubris from the Weave, but it commands a cabal of servants, not all of whom remain behind the veil.  Some of these Magi will shortly be exposed on the site of Escellon’s Fall, far beyond the Allseer’s protection.  In part they go there seeking ancient stone, for vast puissance can be stored therein, and humans have begun to covet such material, as their Aspiring Lord will know.  The Magi connect to the Allseer, as Bu’Ran’s Angels do to Him, and with skill such as Sairzrias offers, their threads might be followed all the way to their master’s den.  If Bu’Ran were to master the master, He might yet grow into the titles He bestows upon Himself and take a seat worthy of His ambition.”

“How does this course aid Sairzrias?”

“They will have Inquisitors there with them, including a certain Junious who Bu’Ran will remember, and who for all his humanity remains a finger of the Crone.  He might even be called a thumb, in certain light.  The High Mysteriarch of Fate seeks only to tweak a pretender’s nose, or else to break her fingers; let the Allseer’s secret wealth belong to Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues.  Here is the promised counsel: He should send His chosen prophets against these Magi of Fabraxis.  He knows of whom the birds sing.  The Materium is undergoing changing times.  His ascension will cause another shift, to benefit the Weaver and Himself, the Kicker and the Change.  Bu’Ran Incarnate Shall Rise, providing the proper paths are followed.  So Sairzrias the Narrator has seen.”

With a wet slapping sound, one of Bu’Ran’s Many Tongues shot out from his primary maw to ensnare a cherub-daemon.  It was dragged squealing into the enormous mouth and immediately crushed to paste.  The Daemon Lord licked his teeth thoughtfully as his puppet replied, still cautious but no longer aggressive.

“And what of your Balkoth?”

“What of him?  Bu’Ran can have him too, if he shows his flesh again.  Revenge for Amon Dull, if His hatred still endures.  The Fateweaver has no use for cards the Young Crone’s greasy hands have marked.”

Bu’Ran himself laughed grotesquely at this, and the reverberations of his knowing chuckle shook the tower walls.  The Angel laughed along with his puppeteer but was easily drowned out by the sound, Iztcaque’s barrier having made no attempt to stifle it.  When the Beast on High had subsided, the puppet resumed his voice of command. 

“Perhaps I will take you up on that.  Very well.  Bu’Ran will never be your instrument, nor that of your Weaver, but the stake is low so for now I will play at this game.   Do not expect me to counterfeit faith in your convenient prophecies.  We’ll see how thoroughly you prove false, for my sources are better than you might believe.  Meanwhile the real work shall go on.  Zelos!  Bring up to me the tribute Itzcaque the Nine Masks supplied.  Let us see if any of these can be Redeemed.”

As if waiting beneath the platform for this exact request, Zelos arrived immediately with all ten of the furies in tow.  It had its whip again, with one barbed-wire tail coiled around each scrawny neck.  They clearly wanted away from here and it had to drag them up to Bu’Ran by main strength, straining and flapping all the while like live chickens in a market.   A wave of biting tongues enveloped them at once.  Having accomplished this feat, the empty-hooded daemon departed with a butler’s detached air and left them to their fate.  The expansive jaws enfolded them all and closed with a decisive crunch.  Bu’Ran’s wide neck bulged as he swallowed.  His mountainous belly rumbled, a sea of hard abdominal muscles rippling. 

Each of his eight legs swelled then where they met the body, as did the monster’s shoulders.  Two more mouths were revealed in his elbows as the thick arms flexed.  The unsightly lumps moved down Bu’Ran’s limbs until with a hideous chorus of retching, the mouths at his joints disgorged them, accompanied by a heavy shower of vomitus afterbirth.  A single shining Angel opened its wings, shedding black droplets from its feathers as a swan sheds water, and glided down to join its siblings on the spiral stair.  Nine greasy Abject dropped like stones and fell soundlessly out of sight.  After a momentary pause, the mouths resumed their chanting and the attending cherub-daemons fell to scribbling on their scrolls.  The golden puppet-Angel spread his arms in benediction, assuming a preacher’s timbre.

“Thus are Angels divided from Abject, the worthy sorted from the vile and justly elevated.  Let the Abject swim in the Hate they deserve, until they earn the right to be digested.  So it is in the Tenth Circle, and so it must be for humanity until their deviance is purged.  They will praise their Lord for saving them hereafter.”

This time it was Itzcaque’s turn to laugh, a harmonious nightingale warble.

“Bu’Ran of the Many Tongues never fails to entertain.”


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Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2020, 03:57:31 PM »

The Bigger Fish


“I won’t pretend this will be easy, Teleos.  I have powerful enemies, and some of those will have grown in both power and enmity by the time you are called on to keep your word.  In acting as my hand you will become a target for them.”

“In what sense are these enemies so powerful?”

“In the sense of their awareness and their influence over others.  It might seem to you that we plan in secret, but this is not the case.  Imagine playing a simple board game against a cogitator that has been pre-loaded with every possible sequence of moves a player can make, together with the appropriate counter.  If you discuss your strategy with an adviser before sitting down to play, have you made a secret plan?  Or does the machine already know your scheme, whichever one you might have chosen?  Tell me how you would go about beating such an opponent.”

“I would learn the game equally well, and then let it move first.  Failing that, I would cheat.”

“An Inquisitor’s answer if ever I heard one.  Now, consider how you’d go about winning if you were not the player but a single piece upon the board, miraculously granted self-awareness.”

“Absent agency to match my awareness, I would endeavour to trust the player.”

“I’d be disappointed, if I didn’t see that for the goad it is intended to be.  Awareness implies agency, does it not?”

“What about you, then?  How would you, a single gaming piece, beat the all-knowing machine?

“I would leave the board.”

“The answer of a man who does not like to lose?”

“The only viable path to victory for a piece in someone else’s game.  Which brings me neatly back to why I’m going to need you.”



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M42.120, Aboard Redacted, The Warp


Teleos was remembering things. 

It had started on that first day, before even his brief visit to Tuvak, but over the following weeks the process seemed to gain momentum, and was at its most pronounced whenever he returned to his ongoing study of the Conclave Archive.  The memories might have heralded a return to the clarity of mind that had so eluded him on first emerging from stasis, yet he could not escape the feeling that some of them were not in fact his own.  At first he had feared exposure to the Great Rift, his use of the warp tunnel, or perhaps his continued residency on the Black Ship itself, had driven or were driving him insane.  That evolved into the creeping fear he might have always been insane, and this whole escapade was simply the latest episode in a never-ending fever dream, a cage of his own devising.  Later he remembered that sanity was a meaningless concept for a man who could see into minds.  Gaze into countless different versions of sanity, and they gazed also in yours.  Telepathy was mostly a one-way street, especially given the relative scarcity of its practitioners, but walking such a road long enough had a habit of leaving the mud of other people’s idioms caked into one’s psychological boots.  Allowing for the accumulated residue of thousands of different permutations of the road walked down in sequence, it was to be expected for a certain amount of foreign material to remain, encrusted into the subconscious recesses of the self.  But there was the natural accretion of foreign material, and then there was this. 

Every morning, or what passed for morning aboard a void ship in the warp, Teleos awoke with a strong impression of having had eventful dreams, absent any specific details.  Over the course of the following day he inevitably found one train of thought or another stumbling into some strange new area of recollection, raising a cloud of mental dust-motes in the process.  Reading from the Archive transcripts almost always led him that way.  People he read about brought faces and voices to mind, for all he had never met them.  Accounts of events he was only now learning of felt incomplete, as if he himself knew better than their authors.  Of the new memories he felt sure belonged to him, Teleos found an uncomfortably high volume consisted of fragments of conversation between himself and Balkoth.  Comparing the tone of these, he could not help but notice common themes, as if each formed a fragment of some single, immense discussion.  Had the old man done something to his mind?  Was all of this a lie calculated for some sinister purpose?  Was Teleos Rahn a prisoner within himself, held at Balkoth’s convenience?  Such questions were impossible to answer for certain, though he would have liked to imagine his own will sufficient to guard against any such invasion.  For all the undercurrent of confusion bothered him, he did not feel restrained.  Quite the opposite in fact; as a man out of time, cut off from all his old contacts and resources and given those of Balkoth in their place, he felt more at liberty now than perhaps he ever had before.  The constant weight of Inquisitorial duty had been temporarily lifted while he saw this business through.  What exactly he intended to achieve was still coming back to him, in tiny, dislocated snatches, though he felt increasingly certain he would not have agreed to it all without some considerable persuasion.  Still the conviction remained in his gut – he had agreed, and with good reason.  He needed to see it through.

In support of this ill-defined goal, he had done as Lancet suggested, dividing his time between study of the Archive and combat training with the various exotic weapons Balkoth had provided.  Some of the more destructive items could not be activated aboard the ship, but those which channelled or augmented his psychic power were easy enough to keep in check.  The Force Armour he wore at all times, within reason, for it continued to counteract the psychic dampeners throughout the vessel, funnelling what ambient warp energy there was into his body and sharpening his mind accordingly.  If he had been prepared to wear it while he slept, perhaps his dreams would have been easier, but he refused to go that far.  The bed in his quarters was astonishingly comfortable for the setting and he found himself unwilling to give it up.  The suite had likely been intended for a highly ranked officer, maybe even an Inquisitor, going by its proximity to the bridge.  He still had no idea where the rest of the crew slept, or even if they did.  Wysp had largely kept to herself throughout the voyage so far, and whenever Lancet appeared he was in a state of distracted hyperactivity, flickering between various screens and muttering under his breath, though Redacted’s apparent lack of a Navigator went some way towards explaining this.  Teleos did not especially mind, but the absence of anyone to converse with only highlighted the unnatural state of his memory.  Who did he talk to before this, besides Balkoth?  Surely he must have had a retinue, or at least some contact with his Inquisitorial peers.  So far the answers still eluded him.  A psychic block perhaps, some precaution in case he were interrogated.  He knew how to do such things of course, though like any neurosurgeon he could not reasonably have done it to himself.  Balkoth was a telepath, among other talents, so logic dictated this too had been part of his plan. 

Whatever the reasoning for his state of mind, Teleos had gotten tired of reading for the day and found himself in no mood for fighting imagined enemies in the scarred, psi-shielded chamber set aside for the purpose.  He needed interaction, or failing that, at least a change in routine.  So thinking, for the second time since the start of the voyage, or at least his conscious role in it, he had descended into the lower decks to seek the Magos.  He was pretty sure she at least did not sleep, and was dedicated to her work, so while he didn’t know the location of her private chambers, if indeed she had such, he knew roughly where he might find her.  Deep in a maze of outwardly disordered engineering workshops, he had set himself the arbitrary challenge of finding out her name, alongside a more general objective of trying to glean as much as he could about the largely unexplored contents of Redacted.  He found her outside what he thought of as the daemon room, for it was where Bauchan’s swords were stored, suspended opposite each other within an array of silver filaments, these threaded with bone-white eldritch runes that looked Aeldari to his eye.  A squat little shield generator sat between the hanging weapons, maintaining a semi-transparent blue energy dome that encompassed the entire array.  All this could be viewed through a round porthole in the sealed blast door, and on various screens in the adjacent control room. 

The Magos hovered near the door with her nominal back to him, though the hooded second head between her shoulder blades appeared to glance his way. Her primary mane of mechadendrites hung loosely down her back, wreathing the hood like a great wiry scarf, while the metal sphere he’d seen her tinkering with the first time he awoke from stasis now hovered overhead in the manner of an oversized servo-skull, constantly attentive and apparently ignored.  As on the last two occasions he’d seen her, a web of tentacular cables extended in all directions from under her robes, interfacing directly with various cogitators.  In this case she was evidently making some minute adjustments to the parameters of the cell.  He picked his way to her carefully, stepping over nests of wires like grotesque rat-kings until he stood beside her, maintaining a respectful distance.  Her primary head, the one with the smooth metal face-mask, stared intently in at the daemon swords, as if expecting their prisoners to suddenly explode out of them and make an attempt on the door.  Teleos cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, Magos.  I–”

“You are excused, Inquisitor.  You may go.”

The artificial voice was rough and without inflection, as if hastily thrown together.  As dismissive as she could get without speaking in pure binary.  This was a bit much for him, after weeks of largely silent contemplation.  He found himself indignant but was careful to master his irritation before speaking again.

“Magos.  I haven’t troubled you since we spoke after the Tuvak mission.  That was weeks ago, and yes I realise that is imprecise.  I’m afraid the days run into each other on this voyage.  I’ve met two other people on this ship with voices.  Wysp seems to want nothing to do with the rest of us since Tuvak, while Lancet and yourself are both perpetually occupied.  You’ve said you don’t work for me, and I don’t think you work for Balkoth either.  I’ve seen no evidence of you communicating with Lancet this whole time, for one thing.  Every time he mentions you I feel like he’s laughing at some private joke I’m not in on.  I think you might have assumed I know more about what is going on here than you do, and am somehow conspiring with one or both of the others against you.  I promise you: that is not the case.  There’s plenty going on around here I’ve only been told about in the vaguest possible terms, and I’m getting pretty damn sick of everyone on this crew giving me the brush-off like I’m some over-eager recruit asking more than he needs to know.  I’m an outsider here, I get that.  But I’m also an Inquisitor, and I’m not going to stop asking.”

“Then what is it you are asking?”

“Alright, for a start: Magos may be enough for a term of address, but it is not a designation.  What is your name?”

“I am Magos Confractus Urania.  To clarify: Magos Confractus is my full title and Urania my personal designation.  Magos will remain sufficient as a term of address.”

“What about Confractus?  I’ve never heard that one.”

“That is not relevant information.”

“Lancet mentioned something called Fabraxis.  How about that?”

“Also irrelevant.  Lancet has no right to disseminate such knowledge.”

“I could pick that locked safe you call a mind, you know.  If I had to.”

“Unnecessary and destructive.”

“As is withholding information from an Inquisitor.  I need to know I can trust those I intend to rely on, and I can’t trust you because I don’t know you.”

“Knowledge is holy, Inquisitor.”

“I’m not arguing that.  Who do you think I’m going to tell?”

The Magos – Urania, he mentally amended, turned fully towards him now, a single mechadendrite rising to attention, regarding him suspiciously with a violet eye.  Her silver mask was unreadable as ever.  This time the head on her back, now concealed by her bulk, spoke in its creaking human voice.  The hovering sphere drew closer, like an animal sniffing his scent.

“You are an Inquisitor.  The Inquisition is an Imperial institution.  The Treaty of Olympus slash Treaty of Mars dictates the possibility of future cooperation between any given Inquisitor and agents of Mars must be considered as a potential variable.  Knowledge is holy, therefore it must not be profaned.”

“Respectfully, Magos, your inference is flawed.  I have no existing associations with the Cult Mechanicus.  Whatever internal dispute you’re involved in, I have no interest in prosecuting anyone for unsanctioned technology.  I’ve been in stasis for a century!  Somewhere on the other side of the galaxy, Guilliman is back and in control.  I don’t know what his policies on the Inquisition or the Mechanicus even are.  Right now I don’t care.  I have one tech-priest on my ship, if it can be called that.”

“It can be called that, but to do so is inaccurate.  This is a stolen ship.  It was neither stolen from you, nor by you, ergo it is not yours.”

“I figured as much.  My point stands: I am wearing your technology, therefore I am equally guilty, and it was I who retrieved those daemon swords you have such a keen interest in.  Any knowledge you can glean from them was thus provided to you by me.  Here I stand now, failing to destroy them as my office dictates I should.  Do you disagree with my decision?  Should I act more like the Inquisitor you expect, and put an end to this experiment here and now?”

Urania expelled a long, rasping sigh.

“Your contention is valid in context.  Confractus is the title bestowed upon Magi of the Temple of Necessary Evil, located in the Forge City designated Fabraxis.  Statistical models suggests a negative correlation between Martian awareness of Fabraxis and probability of the Fabraxian priesthood achieving our collective goal, therefore this knowledge must not be shared with members of the orthodox Cult Mechanicus under any circumstances.”

“Necessary Evil?  Like the swords…so this is a Xanthite thing.  I’m not surprised you’re worried about the orthodoxy.”

“Your inference is flawed.  ‘Xanthite’ is an ideological designation particular to members of the Inquisition.  The direct study of ongoing malfunctions in the One Machine predates and transcends the late Inquisitor Xanthus.  We are not Xanthite.  In equivalent parlance we are Panoptikite.  We serve the Deus Mechanicus.  The One Machine is complex.  Malfunctions must be understood in order to effect repairs.  Knowledge is holy; this includes knowledge of the unholy.  Necessary Evil is a Temple where these malfunctions can be studied without excessive risk.  It is not the only Temple, nor is it desirable to be a Magos Confractus, yet it is a necessity for such Magi to exist.  Only those already at the rank of Magos may be so called.  Previously I was entitled Magos Primordial.  I have studied the field extensively since accepting my present burden.  I am qualified to examine these devices.  We are outside the Temple now, therefore this vessel must serve as a sanctum.  It has been modified to this end by the Magi of Sacred Innovation, following its theft from the Adeptus Astra Telepathica by Inquisitor Balkoth as he was then entitled.”

“You sound like you disapprove.”

“Another failure of comprehension, Inquisitor.  This too was a necessary evil.  Knowledge was lost and yet greater knowledge was ultimately gained.  The One Machine is complex, as previously stated.  The Prophet-Savant sanctioned what was done.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.  What about the others?  Why all the hostility between the members of this crew?”

“Lancet is a spy by expertise and proclivity; he cannot be fully known.  The Prophet-Savant encountered him on several occasions during M41 and I was warned of his nature accordingly.  The pseudo-Skitarian construct designed Wysp is a blasphemer lacking proper reverence for the One Machine and by implication its designer.  In one who benefits directly from Fabraxian innovation, this attitude cannot be excused.  To clarify: it does not contravene a specific law and yet it cannot be excused by me.  The construct’s presence on this vessel was also specified by the Prophet-Savant and yet I lack sufficient knowledge to comprehend the rationality of such a choice, therefore further study of the construct at this time would result in false knowledge lacking a foundation of reason.  There is much to be learned, and I am a single Magos.  The operatives designated Wysp and Lancet have thus been de-prioritised as areas of interest, pending review.”

“You keep calling them operatives...of Balkoth, I take it.  I find myself wondering at the relationship between our benefactor and your own organisation.  It seems clear you have your own objectives, which must be separate to Lancet’s plan if your boss says he can’t be trusted.  Is there any point in asking what those objectives are?”

“There is only ever one objective for a Magos of Fabraxis, Inquisitor.  I am here to learn.  Addendum: the Prophet-Savant is not my ‘boss’.  He is the Prophet-Savant.”

“You said Wysp benefits directly from Fabraxian innovation.  To me, that implies she’s been to your Forge City.  Why so, if she works for Balkoth?”

Urania said nothing for several moments, as if deliberating.  Apparently arriving at some tech-priestly equivalent of “I suppose I’ve come this far,” she lowered her voice to the extent that Teleos had to lean forward to hear what she said next.

“The founding of Fabraxis was…facilitated by Inquisitor Balkoth.  Subsequent to this, regular exchanges of knowledge, services and personnel took place.  Balkoth contained great insight into the One Machine, as does Fabraxis.  The relationship was mutually beneficial.  Wysp is of uncertain loyalty.  Her presence there was permitted at Balkoth’s suggestion, however he has been absent for an unprecedented period of time.  Lancet is not considered an adequate substitute.  This vessel belongs to Balkoth, yet it requires Fabraxian expertise to operate at maximum efficiency subsequent to the aforementioned modifications.  When it arrived to collect Wysp for this voyage, my presence was also requested.  Knowledge was offered in exchange for my services.  The Prophet-Savant deemed the price acceptable in light of the risk.”

This was more than Teleos had dared hope for; the seed of a genuine explanation, and from perhaps the most evasive crew member of all.  He was about to press on with further questions when a klaxon began to blare and the chamber was bathed in pulsing red light.  Before either of them could react to this, Lancet’s voice boomed from a vox-caster on the wall, sounding genuinely alarmed for the first time since Teleos had met him.

“Inquisitor Rahn!  You are needed on the bridge immediately.  Bring the Magos.  These are not suggestions.  We may all be about to die.”

As if to punctuate his warning, Redacted shuddered violently, hurling Rahn against the wall.  Once again he was glad of the Force Armour.  Various devices crashed against one another in adjacent workshops, a chorus of metal and glass in simultaneous distress.  Urania stood fixed to her spot, still upright, held in place by her various cables like an old tree by its roots.  Rahn righted himself with difficulty, staggering back to the middle over the room.

“Damnit Lancet, what is going on?”

“We’re under attack, Inquisitor.  We may be outgunned, not that it has guns as such...  Just get up here.”


=][=


“Lancet is correct.  Based on current evidence, I project a one hundred per cent certainty of this vessel’s total destruction if drastic actions are not taken.”

“And what drastic actions would you suggest, Magos?”

“The entity must either be repelled, contained or destroyed.  This vessel’s primary armaments would either be ineffective at this range or would risk compromising the Gellar field.  There are devices on board that could potentially prove effective but as this specific entity has never been encountered and appears to possess unique attributes, reliable estimates as to their efficacy cannot be calculated on the basis of existing data.  We must experiment.”

“Magos, we are in its mouth.  I foresee little time for experimentation.”

“Similar entities have been encountered in relative terms, the pertinent variable in this case being that of scale.  Parameters can be adjusted accordingly.”

“In your judgement, what is the course most likely to succeed?”

“The course of containment.  We lack sufficient armaments to permanently destroy an entity of this magnitude, and effective repulsion would require greater understanding of its particular nature, yet even an entity classified as a Greater Daemon can be contained within a portable device under specific circumstances, thus it is theoretically possible that this entity might be trapped in a similar fashion.”

“Don’t you have to know the daemon’s name?”

“Not necessarily, although its fundamental designation would constitute extremely valuable knowledge and would expedite the process significantly.  In practical terms it has proven impossible to ascertain that knowledge in a ninety-nine-point-seven per cent majority of recorded cases of contained immaterial entities.  This is not intended as a permanent solution to the Malfunction; rather, it is intended to preserve the knowledge on this vessel from imminent loss through the application of Necessary Evil.”

“Lancet, do we have anything better?”

“You could always try and fight it, I suppose.”

“Are you joking?”

“Well you did ask.  For the record, the Force Armour probably could survive in the warp.  For a little while at least.”

“What else do we have?  Do you really expect me to believe Balkoth left you nothing to protect us against an attack like this?  What happened to wheels within wheels?”

“The power of prayer, perhaps?  Respectfully, Inquisitor, Balkoth did leave me something to protect us against oversized daemons.  He left you.  Maybe this is him testing you, maybe we’re meant to be eaten, or maybe – I don’t say this lightly but I’m afraid it must be said – maybe he just didn’t see this one coming.  I’m afraid I really couldn’t say.  I didn’t build this machine myself, as the Magos here might put it.  I just keep the wheels turning.  And you have to admit, it isn’t every day one encounters a situation quite like this.”

“...Magos, what do we have that might hold the daemon?  Realistically?”

“Define ‘realistically’, Inquisitor.”

“Let me rephrase that: how do you propose we contain it?”

“Do you delegate authority to select an appropriate containment device?”

“Alright, fine, so long as it isn’t a living person or the ship itself.  Putting up with bound daemons in containment is one thing, but I am not going to inhabit one.”

“Oh come on!  You can’t seriously be considering this.  It’s bigger than the ship!  You want to bring that thing on board now, so she can make a damn sword out of it?”

“You have a better idea?”

“Leave the warp.”

“We can’t leave the warp, servitor.  I won’t bother to explain the mechanics of it from our perspective, but picture it if you will from the perspective of an innocent Imperial planet going about its saintly business, only to have that thing suddenly appear in the evening sky.  And that’s assuming we haven’t already turned up buried in the planet’s core and blown the whole thing to pieces.  We don’t have time.  I’d ask that you desist in your idiocy, but we all know that is eminently unlikely so please just be silent.  You’re distracting the Inquisitor.”

“I – you know what, I’m done here.  Good luck with all this.  I think I’d rather spend my last moments anywhere but in this conversation.”

Teleos watched Wysp stomp away, shaking his head, before turning his attention back to the others. He really would have to do something about this crew.  The Magos currently resembled a jellyfish out of water, tentacles trailing limply behind her across the deck.  She seemed as grumpily stoic as ever.  Lancet too was poker-faced, if restless, eyes dancing constantly between Teleos and the primary vid-screen.

“Lancet, for what it’s worth, if anything: stop antagonising Wysp.  It’s bad for morale, as if you didn’t know that already.”

“Duly noted and taken under strict advisement, Inquisitor.  You realise you’ll have to leave the Gellar field to pull this off.  You will be a beacon to any and every daemon out there with a rumble in its belly.”

“Somehow I doubt any unrelated daemons are going to want to come anywhere near that thing.  Can’t we open a window in the Gellar field?”

“Do you understand the workings of Gellar fields, Inquisitor?  Because if not then I implore you to take my word for it – we cannot simply put a convenient daemon flap in it.  The best we have is the warp tunnel, and from what little I know of its operation, it doesn’t target daemons for reasons of safety, practicality and frankly, sanity.  Thus you will have to leave Redacted or the device will have nothing to aim at.”

“Magos, would the warp tunnel be able to bypass the Gellar field?  Does it even work when we’re already in the warp?”

“It is possible a tunnel could be briefly maintained without causing catastrophic field collapse.  I will not attempt to explain the mechanics of the device but it does possess utility here.  I should also point out that Fabraxian combat shuttles are warp capable.  They do not use Gellar fields as such but they are capable of disembarking in the warp while maintaining their own spiritual and structural integrity, together with that of the parent vessel.”

“What will I need to do?”

“I will select and prepare the containment device in proximity to the lens array.  You will disembark, make contact and employ your Intellect to engage the entity.  You will then be targeted by the warp tunnel, which will have complete accuracy in the Immaterium.  You will return to Redacted, at which point you and I will complete the binding before deactivating the tunnel.  The shuttle you employ will be lost.  On behalf of Fabraxis I classify this as a Necessary Evil.”

“Then I think you’d better see if you can set this up.  I’ll stop by the armoury and then make for the nearest shuttle bay.  Lancet, on the off-chance it lets go and backs off a little, be ready to hit it with whatever we have.  I – Emperor’s mercy, has it really come to this?  Just look at that damn thing.  I’ve always thought of Tzeentch as a subtle enemy.”

Lancet wagged an admonishing finger.

“Ah, but it is also rumoured to possess a sense of humour.”


=][=



Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2020, 04:00:31 PM »

“What separates a daemon from a mortal soul, or either from the warp surrounding them?  Let us assume they possess an equivalent membrane to the skin of our own bodies.  Our bodies are likewise bound to our souls by a trans-dimensional umbilical cord that is difficult to break without causing death.  A human body contains more water by volume than it does genetic material.  A daemon’s natural body may be composed of pure warp energy, unbound to the Materium, but how irrational is it to assume this energy evenly distributed and of a uniform state, like water in a jug?  Every outward appearance suggests an internal structure must also exist in imitation of physical biology, and while many familiar organs would be superfluous in a daemon, it seems reasonable to infer a range of materials, or in this case, relative states of warp energy, arranged in a specific order.  And order is the correct word, for that which calls itself Chaos nevertheless relies on the building of structures, as a berserker relies upon the forging of weapons in order to do battle, or a sorcerer upon the precision of ritual in order to unleash a cataclysm.  Too much chaos in the wrong place, disrupting the ritual, and a world is saved.  Just as our own greatest weaknesses lie in our internal contradictions, so too do those of the Enemy.”

“Isn’t that a complicated way of saying ‘when you stab them, they die’?”

“It is a complicated way of pointing out that nothing is absolute.  Sentience is structure.  Daemons are ordered chaos.  True disorder is dissolution, even to those who would claim it as their element.  It is also the reason so many Inquisitors bind daemons into swords.  To destroy anything with a cohesive body, or at least to discorporate it, one need only identify its fundamental structure and introduce chaos at the weakest point.”

“And where is the weakest point of a daemon?”

“Wherever one imagines it to be.”



=][=


Let us begin with a simple premise: it was in many ways like a fish.  In this context it is perhaps most helpful to imagine the warp as a sea, and its denizens as the creatures that live there.  Any sea is full of predators, but the largest fish in the ancient Terran sea were filter feeders, sustained by a harvest of microorganisms, lacking the predatory aggression to instil any lasting fear in the human psyche.  Thus the warp-bound equivalent of sharks, the cultural memory of which long outlived the beasts themselves, usually appear, when conceptualised visually, as pseudo-marine predators large enough to eat a human but only just; perhaps three or four times the mass of an adult male.  That warp-sharks scream as they hunt and leaves trails of sparks behind them is a natural adaptation to feeding upon souls as opposed to flesh, instilling appropriate psychological responses in their intended prey to aid first in predation itself, and then in the process of psychic digestion.  Had the seas of ancient Terra hosted sharks of sufficient immensity to destroy the largest and toughest submersible vehicles humanity ever designed, together with the will to do so, it might perhaps have provided some inspiration for the beast currently biting down on Redacted.  With that said, the Imperium comprised nigh on a million inhabited planets, and some of those did indeed play host to what ancient cartographers might have called sea monsters.  Besides which, this was not a naturally occurring entity, even by the standards of the warp, as its particular form made clear.

An Imperial war ship could be anything up to eight kilometres in length.  Redacted was closer to four, but heavily armed and armoured for its size.  The usual purpose of Black Ships being to transport untested psykers harvested from Imperial planets, their coming under attack in the warp was far from unheard of, but the variety of Imperial weaponry on this scale had always been somewhat limited.  They were primarily armed for ship-to-ship combat, the assumption being that the Gellar field would suffice to keep out warp-sharks and other daemonic beasts.  This assumption would usually have been fair, but there is intelligence in the warp surpassing any mortal mind in scale, and one such intelligence had evidently meddled with the attributes of something like a warp-shark in this case.  There may be no fixed spacial dimensions in the warp but relative scale as a concept persists, for the emotions mortals feel in response to size disparities have always run deep.  To call the creature big would be misleading; rather, it was bigger – than Redacted by a considerable margin, and than the tiny speck that was Rahn’s shuttle by a further order of magnitude.  It could have swallowed him as a whale swallows a single shrimp.  He might have swum lengths between any two of its pointed teeth.  Behind it there trailed a dark cloud of tiny shapes that could only be a shoal of smaller predators, eager for scraps, but these paled into insignificance when confronted with the sheer, screaming, titanic fact of the Bigger Fish. 

The monster was predominantly a lurid shade of blue, shot through in places with veins of pink and orange, the scaly surface of its body pocked with staring eyes in a variety of shapes and colours.  It had no true fins as such, moving in an S-shaped wriggle like an eel with its pointed head slung low, its twisting, tapered tail extending above and behind its body like a flag.  The similarity of this overall shape to that of the sacred rune of Tzeentch could not be ignored.  It had met them side on with impossible jaws agape, though the crackling energy of the Black Ship’s Gellar field had held firm against it so far, or Redacted would surely already have been bitten clean in half.  Its mouth was at least a kilometre across, a nightmare vision of primeval fangs that divided its head and pushed hard against the field with single-minded inevitability, while the primary eyes bulged out further back on either side of its centre mass, appearing from the front as solid yellow domes.  As he circled around towards the beast, a single staring pupil was revealed on the nearer side.  Definitely a living rune, a cosmic practical joke.  These bulbous protrusions evidently could not swivel far enough to gaze ahead of it, and yet the daemon’s flesh was densely blistered with smaller eyes, and several of those already seemed to be peering his way.  There was no mistaking the hunger with which it tried to chew through the beleaguered vessel.  It would not be dissuaded, indeed its form suggested it was on a mission every bit as directed as that of Inquisitor Rahn.  Added to all this, it was propelling them off course in a galaxy riven by warp storms.

The shuttle hovered hesitantly over monster and ship, like a child watching his father lose a fight,  tossed on the mind-dissolving tides of the warp.  Rahn decided to land near the middle of its back, directly above the enormous yellow eyes.  As the servitor pilot descended steadily towards the daemon, he realised even the smallest of the lesser surface eyes were comparable in size to the shuttle itself.  Psychic relativity or not, he could not entirely set aside a sense of awe.  They set down on a bicoloured scale in as much of an open space as could be seen, right on the border where the edge of a vein of orange met the blue expanse.  His peripheral vision was a riot of colour that threatened to melt his mind like wax if he looked into it directly, but so focused was he on his immediate task that the temptation never registered.  He would have to leave the shuttle, to count on the Force Armour to preserve him for however many precious moments it took the Magos to calibrate.  Worse, he would have to contend mind to unfathomable mind with the daemon itself.  Balkoth could have pulled this off.  It was that thought that held him together, for was he not the hand of Balkoth in all this?  Surely the old man would never have gone to so much effort to preserve him for this voyage if he was destined to be driven catatonic or eaten alive in the warp before even arriving at their second stop.  Holding all awareness of his own absurdity carefully at bay, he double-checked his helmet was secure, took up his weapons and opened the airlock doors.

Trusting in the suit to keep him alive, he unconsciously maintained personal cohesion and relative velocity, funnelling excessive energies around himself through no small application of passive psychic power.  Sleep-walking on a tightrope of preservative instinct, had he understood the workings of the Force Armour well enough to comprehend its limitations in such extreme conditions, his terror alone might have damned him.  As it was he strode out onto the Fish like some ancient Terran explorer making landfall on an unfamiliar beach, and was no more troubled by his environment, at least on a physical level.  Teleos the insect bore a Fabraxian Force Staff in one hand, bracing the hefty Blasphemer Cannon against his hip with the other.  These were rendered weightless in the warp, without which he doubted he could have carried the oversized cannon far one-handed, let alone use it in battle.  It had simply been the meanest-looking ranged weapon he could find in a hurry.  From what he understood of the Force Armour, it absorbed and filtered warp energy, using it to fuel the wearer’s psychic abilities, which it further focused and amplified through some variation of a psychic hood, of which he suspected the helmet’s apparently decorative horns formed some crucial part.  Further, it channelled energy back out on demand, initially as a passive corona but potentially also in more concentrated surges, responsive to psychic commands.  As to what constituted the central battery for storing all this energy, he could only hope there were more to it than ‘himself’.  Whatever the upper limit was, he figured he was about to find out. 

The Fish was a warp entity, therefore a mind, for all the relative physicality it currently possessed.  Teleos was a telepath.  Telepathy used warp energy to exert mental control over the minds of others.  The warp was a mirror of the collective minds of all the ensouled mortals of the galaxy, and he was immersed in it now.  The available energy might theoretically be unlimited, provided he could survive the strain, and his experience in mental control might extend to control of reality itself, here in the intangible realm.  The daemon’s size was only one of many attributes.  If it was anything like its smaller cousins, its thoughts themselves would be simplistic in the extreme.  In theory, he reasoned, it might not be impossible to exert his will against the leviathan.  Grounding his staff against the scale, he sent his focus into it and extended an exploratory tendril.

HUNGRY!

The power of the thought nearly blew him clear off the daemon and away into the ever-shifting sky.  His mouth watered so hard inside his helmet that the resulting condensation soaked his face with a sour, unpleasant film.  Visions of hot cooked meat assaulted him, threatening to flatten his consciousness down into singular simplicity by main force alone.  Instinctively recoiling from the sudden intensity, he glanced up to see a pod of Screamers break away from the trailing shoal and accelerate towards him.  There were at least a dozen in the group, their broad, flat bodies resembling rays more than true sharks, though their wide, toothy mouths were entirely appropriate for the latter.  He couldn’t hear their eponymous hunting cry through the helmet, for which he was thoroughly grateful.  Any one of the creatures was big enough to tear him in half and equipped with the jaws to do so, armour and all.  They would be on him in a matter of seconds.  With all the power of Lancet’s prayers, he fired the Blasphemer Cannon.

The weapon kicked like a heavy bolter, though its profile was considerably more compact – fortunately so, or he’d never have gotten in onto the shuttle, must less brought it to bear.  The recoil might easily have broken his arm without psychic augmentation to back him up.  He had selected the dark green ammunition drum on the basis of several forbidding symbols marked on the side, from which he inferred the ammo somehow related to Nurgle, Chaos God of Decay, and was intended for use against entities affiliated with Tzeentch.  His first shot hit a Screamer dead on, exploding on impact with its open maw, guided more by his projected intent than hand-eye coordination, this being the open warp.  The target was torn almost in half by a swelling boil of diseased flesh that expanded from deep inside it, then burst in a fountain of yellow-green puss as a humanoid figure was born in the pit of its throat.  Flailing and trailing droplets of putrescent slime, the one-eyed Plaguebearer leapt clear of the mess, collided with the Screamer behind it and drove a rusty sword into its back, the others swerving quickly to avoid it, though they did not break away.  Encouraged, if sickened, by this display, Rahn began to fire in bursts, peppering the approaching shoal with further cursed shells.  Every shot released a daemon, while tearing another asunder in the process.  No wonder the Blasphemer Cannon was so named.  A Necessary Evil indeed.  Whatever the morality of it, the foremost group of Screamers were obliterated long before they reached him, while others of their number ignored him now, instead chasing and harrying surviving Plaguebearers who loped purposefully away in various directions, unbound by any pretence of gravity, dispersing across the sky in an effort to win free.  He silently wished the warp-sharks luck in eating his most recent sins, before returning his intention to the beast beneath his feet.  How long had he been out here?  Focus.  Smooth and delicate as a hypodermic needle, he drove his staff down into the scale.

ITCHES.

What itches?

SELF.

What self?

THIS SELF.

Whose self?

MY SELF.

The self of whom?

THE SELF OF – SELF OF – HUNGRYYYYYYY…


He had it, by the tips of his fingers he – fell to his knees, bellowing incoherently in the deafening privacy of his helm.  The daemon was not a fish, he was the fish, only not quite a fish, needing air like a man, and its mind was the ocean into which he relentlessly sank.  It was all he could do to keep hold of the staff, the cannon hanging loosely from its strap, a stone around his neck.  To the myriad hells with it.  He was not here to make conversation.  With a sudden flare of pale light, he set the staff ablaze and melted a wider hole in the scale, expanding outwards in a circle.  A tremor seemed to ripple out across the Fish, while rainbow-coloured ichor welled up from the growing cavity in an amorphous cloud.  It sparked against the surface of his suit as it dispersed.  Maintaining his burning corona, he brought himself up to one knee and jammed the barrel of the Blasphemer Cannon into the wound.  With a silent prayer he likely had no right to make in these circumstances, he unloaded the rest of the drum, drilling deep into the pseudo-flesh beneath and presumably entombing a further pack of Plaguebearers down there somewhere.  For all he doubted a daemon of Tzeentch would prove susceptible to Nurgle’s Rot, this had the desired effect of getting its attention.  The leviathan bucked violently, causing an earthquake so severe that it nearly succeeded in dislodging him from its back.  Hanging from the rooted Force Staff by one hand, he glimpsed the greater shoal of distant Screamers scattering in alarm, caught a flash of the combat shuttle still clinging to its landing site, unshakeable as a tick.  Pointlessly reliable, its doom already decided, for all its fortitude.  Uncomfortably symbolic in that regard.  Even as he thought this, the wound began to widen further beneath him, expanding asymmetrically as a ring of piranhoid teeth emerged around its puckered rim.  The staff came loose at once, a terrible current took hold of him, and Inquisitor Rahn was sucked down into the opening gullet.  The teeth snapped shut behind him like the slamming of a cell door.


=][=


“Tell me something, Balkoth – just how am I supposed to trust that you are not a servant of Chaos?  You wrote a book implying as much, did you not?  I certainly believed it when I sought you out.  Surely I don’t have to point out your obvious affinity for the machinations of daemons, particularly those born of Tzeentch.  You make no secret of your willingness to play games against such beings – your word, not mine.  I have no doubt you’ve started cults–”

“Oh, I have.  A great many cults, and yes, the bulk of them were cults of Tzeentch to some extent.  I am hardly alone in that among Inquisitors.  Entrapment is often an effective strategy, and I did not force people to join my congregations.  Anyone can lie, Teleos.  Deception does not constitute worship, and not all games are frivolous.  Their severity depends entirely on the stakes.”

“Do you deny being tempted by the promise of knowledge?”

“I do not accept promises from daemons.  Knowledge can be purchased in the warp just as it can in the Imperium, and there is other currency besides the soul.  I deal in wagers and in contracts, not in honeyed gifts.  The deals I have entered into are such that my creditors hold one another in balance, with none of them having sufficient claim above the others until various conditions are fulfilled.  None of them will ever get the chance to collect their alleged due, or if they do it will be too late.  I owe no allegiance to them.”

“Are you so confident of that?  You admit to making deals with daemons, and justify it on the basis you don’t intend to honour them?”

“A deal made in bad faith is no more than a wager in disguise.  The odds are as good as they can be, given what I must achieve.  If we would live in a Universe with meaningful choices, we must be prepared to place dice with it sometimes.”

“That sounds like something one of the gods you claim to reject might say.”

“On the contrary, gods do not gamble, or never intentionally.  They only wish to be seen as gamblers, never to take genuine risks.  This is doubly true of Tzeentch.  But even if you judge my every utterance to be a Tzeentchian aphorism, are all devious mortals then to be assumed servants of a devious god?  I would contend it is more reasonable to suspect the reverse.  It is possible to be prone to fits of rage without serving Khorne, but if mortals no longer felt that rage, where then would the Blood God be?  Their nature is at best a satirical mockery of our own, and at worst a perpetual act of cosmic plagiarism.  They neither embody nor own their respective affinities, they merely feed upon them.  Does every farmer serve the insects, in your eyes?”

“So your excuse for inciting heresy is to accuse Tzeentch of imitation?”

“Will you cry hubris on its behalf now?  You do seem to hold an awfully high opinion of these gods, for such an Emperor-fearing man.  The nature of my philosophy neither renders me their property, nor leaves room for any sympathy towards those who would enslave themselves.  My plans are my own.  Their complexity alone does not prove them purposeless, and that is what Tzeentch is, in the end.  A self-fulfilling prophet, planning without purpose; an idealised artist whose intended creation encompasses every mortal who exists, or ever will, reducing every one of us to so much raw material.  The irony being, of course, that if it ever finished its opus it would be forced to tear it down and start over.  There is little use in knowing everything for such a being, incapable as it is of achieving anything truly constructive with its knowledge.  Changer of Ways indeed…only in the sense that change as a constant is identical to absolute rigidity.”

“Well, I’ll give you this much – you do seem to hold an awfully low opinion of these gods, for such a damned heretic.  I can’t say I’m any closer to trusting you, however.”

“Then perhaps there is hope for you yet.”



=][=


Teleos had forgotten things.

The white room consisted of a single, circular wall, curving inwards above and beneath him to completely enclose the space.  The floor and ceiling were both deeply concave, with the room’s upper portion higher and narrower at its apex than the lower.  There were no edges or corners to be found.  Every smooth surface glowed faintly from within, and he cast no shadow here.  He stood in the centre of the bowl, the only level place to stand, turning slowly on the spot while he looked in vain for a door, a window, any aperture to explain how he had ended up in here and how he might escape.  There were no such openings to be seen.  He still wore his armour, still held the Force Staff in his right hand and the empty Blasphemer Cannon in his left.  Why was the cannon empty?  How did he know it was empty?  Why was he geared up for battle in the first place?  Something was badly wrong.  Visual enquiry having gotten him nowhere, he closed his eyes against the pointless whiteness and reached out tentatively with his mind. 

There was – nothing.  Just nothing, anywhere.  As if he floated untethered in an empty void, with even the outermost limits of his psychic awareness finding only a vacuum.  This patently was not the case, and it appeared he could not leave the room, therefore this was a cell, of the kind psykers could not see out of.  But if he was a prisoner, then why was he so heavily armed?  He opened his eyes, thought about putting down the empty gun and reaching up to remove his helmet.  A sudden conviction told him he absolutely should not, though he failed to remember why.  He decided to trust his instincts, lacking any context as he was.  Maybe force was the answer.  Already beginning to gather his will, this time concentrating on the staff, Teleos raised his arm and then brought it down hard, channelling as much energy as he could into the blow.  With a sound like a thunderclap, followed by a drawn out groaning creak like a ship in a storm, a single black crack raced across the floor, up the wall and nearly to the ceiling.  This was progress.  Feeling encouraged, he raised the staff again.

“It would only make things worse, of course.  This was a temporary construction, a placeless place, outside of which lay only death for creatures like itself.  It might instead have considered negotiation.”

The voice was entirely disembodied, faintly emotive yet with an air of detachment, as if telling a story to some unseen audience of eager strangers.  Teleos resolved not to look over his shoulder, though neither did he strike the floor again, saving what power he had in case his captors revealed themselves.  After a moment the speaker went on.

“It had been weighed and measured now.  For all its familiar flavour, it was not Balkoth after all.  It should perhaps have known better than to step into those particular shoes.  Its name was…Teleos.  Its thoughts were a patchwork quilt to hide beneath while monsters stalked the night.  This shell lacked elegance, and like all eggs its destiny was to shatter.  The remaining mysteries lay in how the pieces would fall, and what manner of beast might then emerge.”

It was a daemon, this much seemed certain.  A daemon familiar with Balkoth, so likely an enemy or a creditor, either of which boded ill.  He was in the warp, somehow.  Was this a nightmare?  It certainly felt like one.  And yet…and yet he knew the voice, knew it of old, though he could find no single memory of having heard it before.  The room was a giant egg, he realised, and he the yolk.  A word was floating up towards the surface of himself, born in the fathomless depths and heavy with significance.  A name and not a name, a mask behind a mask.  Fixing his gaze on the crack, more for want of anything else to look at than because he thought it the voice’s source, he replied as calmly as he could.  The words in his mouth felt as if someone else had composed them.

“Sairzrias…this was the name it preferred for itself.  It spoke the name of Balkoth with unintentional reverence, fearing the sound of the word as it feared the man.  Negotiation was impossible.  The Inquisitor encouraged it to do its worst.”

“And so, in trying imitate a higher consciousness, little Teleos broke apart, and out of him hatched a fool.”

As if some hidden lever had been pulled, the entire room suddenly imploded.  A shower of spinning shards assaulted him, the floor beneath him fell away and Teleos fell with it.  He found himself hurtling down a narrow chute whose sides were a mosaic of wetly shining human eyeballs, turning in unison to track his progress as he descended; emerged back into free fall over a fleshy pit filled with cackling monsters who reached up with clawed hands to receive him.  Like a worm into a bird’s nest, he plunged into their midst, a sea of electric pink faces, distended jaws and beady yellow eyes.  His armour’s shining aura burst into life as the plated boots made contact.  The daemon he landed on popped like a grape, releasing a burst of equally pink warpfire that licked and fizzed around him but could not penetrate.  From beneath his feet, blue hands reached up to scrabble at his legs, while the colour of the flames began to shift in turn.  The Horrors around him fell about pointing and laughing, briefly hysterical, before seeming to remember their original intention and closing from every side.  They lacked heads as such, their faces filling their torsos instead, and most of each face consisted of a yawning sharp-toothed grin, a direct line to whatever served as a stomach.  Their arms and eyes varied wildly in number, and they all seemed to be on fire to a greater or lesser degree.  Releasing his hold on the empty cannon, he took his staff in both hands and let loose a primal yell.  This much at least made sense.

A nova of white light exploded from the armour, scattering daemons on every side, and he swung the staff in a great sweeping arc that tore a path through their startled faces, meeting no discernable resistance as he charged into their midst.  Wherever he slew a Pink Horror, the ruin it left melted and reformed into a pair of scowling Blues, who then came at him with twice the ferocity of their forebears, holding him accountable for spoiling their fun.  When he struck them down in turn, they burst into yellow fire and from each a diminutive pair of Brimstone Horrors were born.  In practice there was rarely time to finish these before losing them in the melee.  The whole crowd clambered and fought amongst themselves to get close to him, only to be immolated or torn in half by the whirling staff as he turned and turned again, like a man with a burning brand beset by starving wolves.  The Force Armour hummed loud in his head as he drove it ever harder, moving at the speed of thought, bathing himself in a literal halo of hostile intent.  A living wave crashed right over him, shattering on impact like a breaker on the shore, leaving behind a yellow foam of dancing, burning sprites that threw looping threads of flame around him, forming snares from which he stepped as if through spiderwebs.  He stamped down furiously, the armour making hammers of his limbs that splattered the smallest daemons underfoot.  A Horror leapt on his back and he sent a surge of power down his spine, bisecting the gibbering thing.  Another tried to bite his face and he butted it hard with his horns, caving in its upper jaw completely.  If anything there were more daemons now than there had been when he started, though he was yet to suffer a wound through the armour.   The Force Armour, not Imperial, made in Fabraxis.  Fabraxis…  Urania.  Redacted!

As if the Emperor had heard his thoughts, awaiting only the remembered names before moving to intervene, a point of red light appeared suddenly in front of his face.  The Horrors all turned to look at it, the first united action he had seen them perform since collectively deciding to eat him.  Seizing his opportunity, he drew in a great vortex of warp energy, inhaling from all around himself like a swimmer preparing to dive.  Cracks were spreading from the red light, rifts in the fabric of the warp, through which a brighter light was pouring, a light beyond colour, an incandescent mirror of the darkness he had glimpsed outside the breaking shell.  The daemons surged forward again, making for the light this time, and Inquisitor Rahn exhaled long and loud, a trumpeter playing a final fanfare as his exit coalesced. 

“Nothing changes!”

His words became two-headed eagles that flew out in every direction, splitting and splitting again, multiplying in parody of the surrounding Horrors, a kaleidoscopic predatory dive, ploughing through daemons wherever they found them and continuing on, relentless, finally driving their talons deep into the walls of the pit.  A spreading puddle of frozen grey trailed in each eagle’s wake, creeping over the heaving dreamscape and turning all it touched to stone.  Horrors of every kind scampered aside in alarm or were fossilised where they stood.  Rahn reached out with an open hand, casting a hooked net of luminescent veins that seemed to catch upon the empty air and snag there, distorting his vision as he twisted and pulled, exposing layers of illusion for what they were.  Somewhere close at hand, a flock of songbirds began a mocking chorus that prickled his skin.  He did not turn to look for them.  Dragging a fistful of nightmares behind him, he dove into the open warp tunnel with a defiant, wordless howl.


=][=


“You are an absolute fething lunatic, Inquisitor.  I genuinely cannot believe what I just saw.”

“How much of that could you even see from the ship?”

“Oh, you’ll want to watch the vid-log.  I saw a damn fool landing a shuttle on the back of a giant daemon fish, and then burrowing his way inside it.  The same man is currently stood in front of me, having somehow caught the fish from the inside, conspicuously alive and hopefully not possessed.  You missed a hell of a show there after the warp tunnel opened.  Absolute.  Fething.  Lunacy, all the way.”

“Please, Ms Wysp, you’re crowding the Inquisitor.  I’m sure your incredulity at his recent exploits has been duly noted.”

“We didn’t really catch the fish, more like a chunk of it.  Enough to prevent the rest from holding together.  The Magos was the one who bound it, anyway.  I was in no state by then, even if I had known how.  It was – there was another daemon out there, I think it was driving the thing.  One that knew Balkoth.  It spoke to me.  It seemed disappointed I wasn’t him.”

“Does that surprise you, Inquisitor?”

Lancet’s tone was innocent, daring Rahn to comment on potential shades of meaning in his words.

“It leads me to question the wisdom of having released Bauchan’s daemonhost…at your instruction, I might add.  A man might almost suspect you intended to provoke a response with what we did on Tuvak.”

“Oh, perish the thought.  Another job well done in any case.  Now, I’m afraid I must get on – you literally cannot comprehend the volume of work I’m going to have to do to get us back on course.  Think about that while you’re casting aspersions on my good intentions.”

As Lancet walked away, his unusual brevity serving to underline his point, Teleos was left with Wysp, whose outburst regarding his survival was by far the most animated he had seen her to date, including while butchering cultists in the Tuvak spire.  Even now she was nearly bouncing with excitement, in contrast to Teleos himself, who felt like he’d been stripped naked, beaten with iron bars and then re-incarcerated in his suit of armour, somehow acquiring a brutal hangover in the process.  He hadn’t felt this bad, physically or mentally, since he first emerged from stasis.  Holding his helmet in one hand, he leaned heavily on the staff with the other, determined to keep hold of it until he made it back to his private rooms.  His loss of the Blasphemer Cannon had elicited no more than a despairing sigh from Urania, accompanied by more muttering about Necessary Evil.  The Magos Confractus had appeared nearly as drained as he felt himself, her various appendages drooping, her globular familiar hovering no higher than his waist. 

He had apparently lost consciousness soon after returning to Redacted, leaving her to complete the binding ritual, whose arcane workings she had somehow thrown together in the chamber surrounding the gate, preventing any further malevolence from escaping into the ship – or at least he hoped so.  His recollection of re-entry resembled being carried over a waterfall of multi-coloured shark-infested oil paint, then slammed against the riverbed far below and held there by the pressure of the falling liquid, fading slowly to black.  Whatever portion of the Fish he had managed to drag through with him now resided in the bloated body of a bizarre psychic servitor, itself a revelation as far as he was concerned, though apparently so much equipment to Urania.  Whatever the original organism had been, from the size of the thing he doubted it could have been human.  The new daemonhost currently resided in a massive tank she intended to move to the hold, submerged in a clear, viscous medium and tightly wrapped in intricately warded chains.  What visible flesh remained had already turned blue and begun growing new eyes when Teleos left her to it.  Wysp had evidently watched the original entity come apart from the outside on one of the screens, and from the state of the normally taciturn – servitor?  Could he really compare any thinking person to the creature in the tank? – he surmised it must have been a spectacular sight.  He wasn’t clear on the mechanics of how they could view the ship’s exterior in the warp without a Navigator, given his recent immersive experience, but the weight of that experience also discouraged him from questioning Urania or Lancet any further on the subject.  What he needed now was rest.

“Inquisitor?  That was – I mean you’re a lunatic, but…well…damn, is all.”

“Thank you, I think.  Very eloquent of you.”

“I mean it.  I still don’t trust you, but I’ll kick myself later if I don’t try and learn a little more about what in the Emperor’s name goes on in your head before you go and get heroically killed.  I think I might have to stop avoiding you – on a trial basis you understand.  I am supposed to be your bodyguard, ludicrous a proposition as that is.”

Perhaps irrationally, he found he felt slightly better.  Solid progress with two of the crew had to count as a good day on some level.  Then a wave of nausea crested and he willed himself back into motion, slurring something vaguely amiable in Wysp’s direction as he staggered off down the corridor.  He could hear her chuckling to herself behind him.  The daemon’s name throbbed in the back of his mind like an open wound…probably not a true name though, seeming far too short.  Sairzrias.  When had Balkoth told him that?  He could recall nothing else save the name, could no longer bring to mind the precise sound of its voice.  A nine-letter palindrome, it seemed distinctly Tzeentchian to him, while the Fish had made its own allegiance clear from the outset.  Having survived the ridiculous monstrosity, he remained concerned by the implications.  Had it been too easy to get away?  He had a sneaking feeling all this might have been nothing but a warning shot.  How powerful would an enemy need to be to so casually spend a monster that could threaten a warship?  Was Teleos a sacrifice?  A goat sent into the desert to die, carrying Balkoth’s sin?  Executing men like Bauchan was well and good, entirely in line with his duty and far from anathema to his personal preferences.  Being left to pay the spiritual tab incurred by a lifetime of daemonic bargains, however, and facing daemons potentially on a scale no Inquisitor had a hope of opposing…  He wasn’t afraid of fighting daemons, within reason, but neither was he Leman Russ come again.  The protection afforded by Balkoth’s sponsorship felt insubstantial now, as if the mighty Black Ship’s hull had been exposed as paper-thin.  A deceptively comfortable cloak of resignation tried to settle on his shoulders, though he managed to shrug it off this time.  He would not have agreed to certain death, nor yet damnation.  Would he?

When he made it back into his quarters, his first instinct was to make straight for the bed, but he froze halfway there, remembering the ever-present issue of the armour he still wore.  He made to begin removing it and stopped again – what if this were an illusion after all?  What if he were still outside, and the daemon wanted him out of the armour, to perish screaming in the boiling energy of the warp?  You already took off the helmet.  So he had.  He set it down on a side table, leaned the increasingly heavy Force Staff against the wall.  Began wrestling with a gauntlet, nearly gave up in frustration.  Once he had it off the rest of the pieces followed.  He donned a loose robe and replaced the armour carefully in the enormous unit intended for the purpose, somewhere between a shrine, a wardrobe and an iron maiden.  He had commandeered a team of servitors to drag this up from the armoury on the second day, having found he could think better while wearing the Force Armour than without it, and wanting it close at hand.  He was already feeling feeble and fragile without it now, for all the psychic toll it had taken on him today.  Like most Inquisitors, Rahn was hardly short on physical or mental strength, even without equipment, but it was remarkable how quickly one could become accustomed to truly superhuman abilities when they were available on demand.  Given he had never worn the armour before Tuvak, however, he held firm in the opinion he needed all the practice with it he could get.  It had already saved his life, and would no doubt be equally necessary for whatever came next.

Somewhere in the course of his fumbling routine, he found his desire for sleep had been blunted, opting instead for a comfortable chair.   His body was weary beyond measure but his mind felt raw and tender, unable to fully relax.  How long had he been awake?  Was it even the notional evening yet?  Was there something important he was forgetting?  He nearly laughed aloud at the last thought.  Of course there damn well was.  Better to ask, was there anything important he remembered?  The awareness of missing pieces was a constant companion.  Suddenly eager for distraction, something to draw him out of himself and silence his personal daemons, he reached for Lancet’s data-slate.  The Conclave Archive was heavy going at times but he still had a lot to learn.  Perhaps there would be mention of Sairzrias, though he felt sure he’d seen none so far.  No doubt Balkoth could have told him more.  The slate still held his place in the late stages of a jumbled, incomplete account of a battle between various factions, centred on the monastery of Delan’s Point.  The Archive raised more questions than it answered, yet the Point had been attacked by powerful daemons so maybe there was something there he had missed.  Tellingly, what minutes there were from the meeting of the occupying Inquisitorial cell made mention of Balkoth himself.  He couldn’t quite believe how abruptly the account just…stopped.  Was this selective censorship Balkoth’s hand at work, or some daemonic claw?  Was there a difference, functionally speaking?  His speculation subsided as he settled back in his chair, sinking incrementally into a fitful slumber.  The data-slate slid softly from his hands.


=][=



Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
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  • Posts: 79
Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2020, 06:15:00 PM »

Ghosts of the Past, Volume IV


M41.999 – Delan’s Point Monastery, Orbiting Delan’s Reach, Delan System


“Mantis!  Danger!  Find another way!”

The man calling himself Mantis halts abruptly at the sound of the shout, tuning out the chaos around him as allies and underlings jostle on past.  The old psyker’s mind is beset by flashes of vicarious sensation, on fire with a thousand conflicting impulses, most of them not his own.  As he reverses his course and pushes back against the current, the still-growing crowd pools around his lieutenants, Scarab and Python – Inquisitors both, though like Mantis himself, Python can longer claim the title before his more orthodox peers without risking execution, the supposed crimes of his past a permanent stain upon his abandoned former name.  A crisis like the claustrophobic apocalypse currently unfolding around them should be familiar for such men, and the milling mass of lesser Mentirians, most of them soldiers, clerks or scientists, flock to their leaders like sheep to rams. 

Throughout the broken monastery of Delan’s Point, various affiliated party leaders, many of them current or former Inquisitors, are gathering what they can of their retinues and making for the shuttle bays.  The psychic clamour of their collective, fractious urgency mirrors the babble of raised voices on a far grander scale to Mantis’s highly sensitive mind.  But a cry of warning has reached his ears in the voice of Karius Prelune, otherwise known as Truthsayer, a man whose milky eyes perceive the currents of the warp in a far more vivid, literal sense than he can.  Beset by daemons as they are, it cannot be ignored.  When he reaches Karius, the mutant preacher is out of breath and spring-tight with tension.  He has seen Mantis coming of course, and delivers the bad news immediately when his friend leans in.

“It’s all green up ahead – the worst kind of green, and it’s coming our way.  We’re going to need to go around it if we want any of these civilians to make it as far as the shuttles.”

Without asking questions, Mantis turns back to his people and augments the rasp of his voice into a booming psychic command.

“Alright, Mentirians!  This is not the end.  There are daemons ahead and closing fast.  I want any not-combatants to follow Agent Truthsayer, he’ll find you a safer route to the shuttle bay.  From there you’ll rendezvous in orbit with the Profitable Venture and follow his lead until further notice.  Anyone ready to fight, form up on Scarab and prepare for immediate contact.  We will be going through them.  Scarab!  I want a dozen of your best with Truthsayer to protect the civilians.  Go!”

Face set in a frown of concentration, he addresses Karius, voice low this time.

“I’m sorry to put this on you, my friend.  It seems the sanctuary I offered you has come to nothing, and the help you offered me against Amon Dull might get you killed before the quest has even begun.  But war has come too soon for any of us, and now I must ask you for sanctuary instead.  Many of these people aren’t warriors, any more than the families you saved on Hanoth.  They’re academics, believers in an ideal, and they deserve better than to die forgotten here.  I entrust their care to you.  I’ve never met a better man.”

Karius reaches out with his spiny, malformed arm to squeeze the old man’s shoulder.

“Nor I, my friend.  Mentirius would be proud.”

Then he sees Bess and it all goes suddenly wrong.  She’s behind Karius, cradled in the lower arms of Krazur, his steadfast six-limbed companion, a veteran of Prelune’s cause.  Eyes wide, breathing shallow, she’s visibly trembling with fear – the front line of a battle with the daemonic angels of Hate incarnate is no place for a teenage girl, much less a soul as bright and gentle as Elizabeth Dowel.  If there is any violence in her, he can’t see it.  Delan’s Point has become just such a warzone, albeit unexpectedly, and it was Mantis who brought Bess down here.  Out of selfishness, no less. 

News of the twin massacres at the former Mentirian headquarters, Wisdom’s Hold and Fortitude’s Hold, had nearly broken him when he received it.  During the subsequent voyage to Delan’s Point, itself a favour from Karius whose vessel had carried him here, only the patient kindness of a mutant girl had saved him from going mad.  Cursed by an uncaring galaxy to ever be defined by her disfiguring scabs in the eyes of most of humanity, and burdened with a childhood menaced by literal daemons of her own, she nevertheless had sympathy to spare for a guilt-sick old Inquisitor.  In rising from his despair to rally what remained of the network, Mantis had stood upon the slight shoulders of Bess, who had borne the weight willingly, without complaint.  When they arrived at the monastery where the Conclave against Amon Dull would be held, he still hadn’t felt ready to face his peers alone, and she had immediately agreed to accompany him.  Her mere presence was a balm for the spirit.  Up on the Profitable Venture somewhere, no doubt beleaguered by the chaos surely unfolding in space, children would be screaming for her now.  In all likelihood they would never see her again.  Hector, you are such a fool.  Mentirius would be ashamed.

“M-Mantis?  You’re not staying with us?  I thought–”

“Suffer not the mutant to live.”

The angel comes at them from behind, gliding like a monstrous eagle, singing in a perfectly pitched tenor as it homes in on the group.  Its alabaster wing-tips pass cleanly through the walls on either side, ignoring the marble surfaces completely.  In every respect it is the image of an Imperial saint, an impossibly beautiful androgynous human shining with celestial light, a character stolen from some priceless fresco and hurled rudely into reality.  A stranger to this monastery, avatar of a different kind of faith.  There is a burning spear in one immaculate hand.  He knows as soon as he sees it that it’s coming for Bess.  Somehow the daemons know what will hurt him the worst.  Thousands of lives they’ve taken already, lives whose care was his responsibility, but the servants of Amon Dull are relentless.  They won’t stop until they have it all.

“All of you, down!”

Karius and Krazur dive forward, the latter curling all four arms around Bess in a protective hug.  Mantis takes a single step to stand between them and the descending angel.  He’s nearly three hundred years old and feels every day like a stone around his neck.  His burgundy robes are tailored to suggest a suit and there’s a briefcase in his left hand.  He hasn’t worn his Inquisitor’s rosette in decades.  But Mentirius was a psyker like no other, and he chose his students well.  In truth, Mantis fears what he himself might do if he ever lost control.  He always has.  But in this moment, the universe shrinks down to three simple elements: the old man, his friends, and the angel.  He takes a single steadying breath and raises his open right hand. 

“Suffer.  Not.  False.  Gods!”

The daemon stays frozen for a moment, caught in the teeth of the blast, a spear-length away from impact.  When the light dies it leaves no sound, no trace, no falling ash behind it.  It simply winks out of existence, with only the faintest of echoes in the warp to mark its passing.  Meanwhile a colossal energy wave accelerates away from Mantis, flooding the space from floor to ceiling, obliterating everything in its path as it hurtles down the corridor.  It sears every surface black for as far as the eye can see, before finally fading away.  Suddenly drained, his vision swimming, the old man lurches and nearly falls, but Python is there beside him now, taking the weight.  Taking his briefcase from arthritic fingers.  Mantis leans on him gratefully, wheezing.  Should have been stricter with the rejuvenant regime.  Always so busy.  Still so much left to get done. 

“Karius!  We’re out of time.  Good luck my friend.  Look after Bess.”

“No!”

Karius and Krazur are on their feet again, an expression of awe on the face of the former, while the alien features of his Vortunian comrade are unreadable.  Bess has wriggled free and is on her own feet now too, unsteady as a newborn lamb.  She looks unexpectedly ferocious.

“I’m staying with Mantis.  Don’t argue, please, I’ll be safer here with you.  Krazur, you can’t keep carrying me.  You have to focus on Karius.  The Society needs him and there are more of those things out there.”

“It needs you too, Bess.”

“I know, and I’m sorry…so does Mantis, I can’t just leave him like this.  Thank you for saving me back there.  I’m sure we’ll meet up again soon.  Karius?  Please tell the children…tell them I’m okay, and I’ll see them as soon as I can.  Mantis will take good care of us.  You saw what he can do.”

Something of Mantis dies there in that moment.  His mind still reeling from the rushing torrent of power, senses scorched like the monastery walls by the sheer force he just unleashed, he somehow forgets to argue.  Faces and voices blur together for a time.  Before he knows it they’re moving again, the group divided according to his earlier orders with what feels like horrible finality.  Ahead of him Scarab is leading the Mentirian war party, his shaved head bobbing visibly above the others, raised high by the power armour that makes giants out of men.  His armour is gun-metal grey, absent emblems or iconography, as if taken unfinished from a factory line.  All around Mantis are soldiers now, with the exception of Python – a scholar, if a tolerable psyker – and the determined, fragile mutant girl he’s leading to her death.  These two are literally carrying his weight, one under each of his shoulders.  Not far ahead, he hears a joyful chorus raised in song.  They sing of hate and damnation, the vileness of the other and the futility of contesting fate.  The roar of gunfire adds its voice to theirs.

Mentirius forgive me.  What have I done?


=][=


Inquisitor Leon Grisbane is having a very bad year.  It began with the battle for a planet called Gavaria, a conflict lost by the Imperial forces of the Order Vampiris and swiftly followed by a ruthless purge of the Order itself.  He escaped this purge while convalescing aboard ship after injuries sustained in the battle, but has since found himself on the run from the rest of the Inquisition.  Now he is embroiled in a conflict with an already godlike daemon, apparently poised to become a major deity and consume much of humanity in the process.  He hasn’t seen his wife and sons since before the war and has every reason to believe daemons in the guise of angels might even now be hunting everyone he loves.  Similar apparitions are currently chasing he and a number of other desperate would-be heroes through a maze of Gothic architecture, while the walls tremble around them and chunks of falling marble shatter in their midst. 

Most recently, he has just been told that his personal battle cruiser Fall of Night, whose effortless acquisition so early in his career does seem suspiciously fortunate looking back, has opened fire on the fortress-monastery where he and his allies are currently stranded.  This in turn means that Sophie, Leon’s chief throne agent and the most important person in his world after Sara and the boys, is either dead, held captive beyond his reach or has betrayed him and everyone else on Delan’s Point.  One way or another, she is lost to him too now and only the thought of his family’s faces keeps him moving.  He will ask Junious to send someone to his estate.  Sara can look after herself.  Maybe they already got out… 

Leon narrowly misses having his skull caved in by a plummeting stone bust of some forgotten saint.  The angelic choir screams sonorous hate far behind him, and yet also far too close – it resonates in his aching bones, and how he loathes them all.  All he wanted was to serve mankind, to be an Inquisitor.  It all seemed so easy at first.  Leon Grisbane is thirty-eight years old and unlikely to see thirty-nine.  Many at the Delan’s Point Conclave have lived for hundreds of years, thousands if one counts the Eldar.  Long enough to see generations of grandchildren come and go.  Sebastian and Mikal Grisbane are six and eight years old respectively.  They barely know their father.  Leon has fought in one war, in which he nearly died in battle, achieving nothing, and was presumably excommunicated in absentia along with the rest of his Order.  His career is over.  He’s a hunted man.  He doesn’t care.  All he wants is to return to some kind of home.  Instead he is bound for daemon worlds and worse, if he survives this place at all.  He isn’t sure when his nose started bleeding. 

“Leee-on…  Leeeee-on…”

He doesn’t hear it with his ears; he feels it in his gut, diffusing inexorably into his veins and throbbing in time with his pulse.  He knows the taste of it immediately.  Sophie is here in the monastery and not at all okay.  Her psychic aura precedes her, an expanding maelstrom of savage distress shot through with bursts of hopeless merriment that make his blood run cold.  It almost overpowers him.  For over five years she has helped him train his own mind, honing his meagre psychic talents into an Inquisitorial tool.  Still his will is like a cringing kitten now, driven before a raging, keening lioness, herself driven mad by pain.  One careless swipe could end him, his consciousness smeared across the void like blood across a wall.  Never one to abandon a comrade, Leon changes course.

“Sophie!   Tell me where you are!”

In the chaos of explosions, gunfire and screaming, he can’t hear himself yell the words.  All the same she seems to hear him, and the inner voice gets louder as he runs. 

“This way, Leon…oh, it hurts, it hurts…”

The Inquisitor kicks down a pair of lacquered doors, his customised bolt pistol raised, a battle cry on his lips.  Sophie stands calmly before him, her once-emerald dress splashed liberally with vital fluids, a pile of several twisted corpses bringing her height level with his own.  The toes of one bare foot are toying idly with the nose on a dead man’s face.  A mane of golden hair drifts behind her as if in a gentle breeze, perhaps the third time he’s ever seen it unbound.  She spreads her bloody hands in welcome and smiles a beatific, broken smile.  Her eyes are astonishingly green.  Her lips move out of sync with her voice.

“Hello, Leon.  I’m so glad to see you.  I have such wonderful news.”

The silent lips say “I’m sorry”

There is – a space.

Inquisitor Grisbane is determined to see the mission through.  First Inquisitor Junious is a great man, an inspiration.  He will need brave men behind him to defeat Amon Dull.  With a renewed surge of purpose, Grisbane reaches out with his thoughts and finds the white glow of his leader’s soul.  Without stopping to wonder how he got separated, he runs after it as fast as he can.  Nothing else matters but their cause. 

Somewhere behind him a woman laughs.  Somewhere behind the laughter, she weeps.


=][=


“It’s him, I know it is!  I’d know his damn portals anywhere.  This was always one of his favourite conceits.  It’s a trap, and our only way out.  It could lead anywhere, certainly nowhere good.  Typical Balkoth.  Junious?”

“As you say, it’s our only way out.  What shuttles we had will be long gone by now, even if we could break through.  No one has seen Alundirel since the attack started.  Arkhan must be holding Bu’Ran at bay but after what it’s done already, I don’t think there’s any stopping the thing.  Still, it will take some time to get all these people through.  Not all of them are going to like the idea.  I take it you want to go first, Amaurn?”

“I go last.  I’m not about to hurry for him.  The strongest should hold the exit.”

“Well, I guess I stand corrected.  Wait while I speak to them then.”

“Agent Hammer – First Inquisitor Junious – about the portal.”

A tired voice, that of a very old man, but resolute.  The speaker, a former Inquisitor and the current head of the clandestine network loosely termed Mentirians, stands politely awaiting attention.  A leather briefcase dangles loosely at the end of one scrawny arm, while the other wrinkled hand fidgets with a silver mask resembling an ancient Terran insect – a creature once known as a mantis.  He gazes steadily at Junious.  His eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep, the irises a striking cobalt blue. 

“I think I’ll stay.  It turns out I want a word with Muundus Vhogart.  You get these people through.  They need their leader now, and that isn’t me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  You don’t have to do that.  We have time.  Come with us, Mantis.  We’re going to need you on the other side.”

“I’m afraid you need me on this side more.  I recently watched Vhogart condemn a world to needless death for the sake of his manufactured legend.  We could have saved Hanoth Primus.  The legacy I was custodian of has already been all but destroyed.  Now he’s come to finish what Amon Dull started.  I have no doubt the daemon is behind it, behind him – he wants Sargoth most of course, but he’ll follow you through that portal, him and Bu’Ran both, and all their angels with them.  You’ll be caught between them and whatever Balkoth has waiting for you on the other side.  I’m not going to let it happen.  Someone has to hold the line.  This is it, you realise?  This is why Mentirius chose me.  This is what I can do.  I understand it now.  I think he always knew it might come to this.”

“You can’t fight the Puritan Council by yourself, never mind the angels!  There are hundreds of them, that we’ve seen.  And Bu’Ran…  Do you really think Mentirius meant you to kill yourself?  Amon Dull has nothing to lose here, and everything to gain.  It didn’t even come in person.  What do you think this will do to Python, to the rest of your people?  What about your mutant friends?”

“It will keep them alive.  For a little longer at least.  They will understand in the end.  Uh…please excuse me for a moment.”

With a resolute expression, Mantis approaches Bess.  His face softens with every step until he looks almost overcome.  He visibly pulls himself together as he reaches her.  Among all the weaponry on display in the crowded passage, his briefcase looks incongruous.  Almost as out of place here as the unarmed mutant girl, standing alone in their midst. 

“Bess…”

“Please don’t.  I heard you say…you don’t have to do that.  You shouldn’t.  People need you.  You aren’t just a name and a sword someone gave you.  You’re a good person who should live.”

“I am so sorry, Bess.  I’m so sorry about all of this.  I never meant for you to get caught up in…  This isn’t how I thought it would go.  But I have to do this now.  It’s who I am.  I…take this, please.  My briefcase.  It isn’t much but I want you to have it.  It should at least serve you better than a mask or a sword.  I know it did me.  You saved me, in every way that counts.  Don’t ever forget that.  You’re the equal of any of these people.  I need you to go with Junious – I trust him, and you should too.  There are hard days ahead but he will protect you, and he’ll need you as much as I have with the burden he’ll have to bear.  Stay with him, and stay hopeful, please – just stay you, Bess, whatever happens.  Don’t end up like the rest of us.  Soothe the restless children.”

Bess is terrified and tearful but she nods, hesitates, hugs Mantis briefly but fiercely.  When she breaks away she buries her face her hands and cannot look back up at him.  He leaves the briefcase sitting awkwardly at her feet, crosses back to Junious looking every inch the condemned man.  His voice is frail with emotion as he holds out the mantis mask.

“Keep her safe, Junious.  Keep her close.  She’s everything Mentirius fought for.  If there’s any hope left for his legacy, for what any of us tried to build…Bess has to survive.  The daemon can’t have her, do you hear me?  Take this too, it’s yours now.  You don’t have to wear it.  I think maybe they will need a Hammer more than a Mantis in the days to come.  Just make it mean something.”

Junious feels events overtaking him, control slipping, Amon Dull laughing in the distant dark.  Even with the augmented strength of his armour, he feels the dreadful weight of the mask in his hand.  The other hand still grips his hammer.  Junious sets his jaw.

“I will.  And Bess will survive, I swear it.  I’ll bring as many of us through this as I can.  We’ll see the other side of all this horror and we’ll build something good.  It is never too late, right?”

“Thank you.  I wish I could have known you better, sir.  I was never much of a leader, lost in my predecessor’s shadow.  But you…you I could believe in.”

Divested of the ethereal weight of the mask, Mantis stands a little straighter as he turns to address the wider group.  When he speaks again his tones carry clearly, every inch the commander now.

“Mentirians!  Hammer – Junious – is now your highest authority.  I have resigned.  I claim no title any more.  My name is Hector Galas, once of the Inquisition.  Briefly in my youth I had the privilege to be a student of Mentirius, and later his appointed successor, for all anyone but him could ever fill those shoes.  It has been my honour to serve with you all.  Many of you have great deeds yet to accomplish.  You are the last and only line of defence against Amon Dull.  I, however, will be the last line against Muundus Vhogart.  I will give him his Titus Sargoth, since he wants a reckoning so badly.  I myself would have died on Hanoth Primus with the rest of Vhogart’s victims, had not Titus intervened.  Now it is my turn to intervene.  Make no mistake!  There will be worse things than the Puritan Council, or even the accursed Bu’Ran, on the other side of that portal.  You are not escaping battle; you are charging into it.  But take heart, my friends.  You will be well led by Junious, and you will not be followed.  I will make my stand here – for Mentirius, for Hanoth, and for you.”

“Python stands with Mantis.”

A neat, officious man in dark purple robes steps forward brandishing a force rod.  He wears no visible armour and appears absurdly lightly armed.

“Damnit man, I just said–”

“With respect, sir, you just resigned.  I don’t take orders from you.  Python stands.  In fact I also resign.  What was done to Wisdom’s Hold…  If you are to play Titus Sargoth, let them face Karius Prelune too.”

“You are firm in this?”

“I am.”

Junious is turning away, face dark, when Scarab steps forward to speak.  He does not look to Mantis yet, instead addressing Junious.  His ever-thunderous expression is especially intense.

“Lord Hammer, sir…Agent Scarab requests permission to remain as a rearguard.”

“Not you too…  Don’t ask me this.  In fact don’t call me that either!  This is a death sentence.  Never mind Muundus Vhogart, Bu’Ran is still in the damn building.  It killed a Solitaire.  Do you think you three will fare any better?”

“I gotta do it, Junious.  You know me.  The Puritan Council killed my brother, and over what?  I owe them a bloody nose at the very least.  If Vhogart himself is here…  Besides, the old man’s right, someone has to hold the line.  What you’re doing is too important.  Neither of those two are getting any younger and I’m wearing a suit of power armour here.  Our people died on my watch too.  This is the least I can do, damnit!  This is redemption.”

“Why is it always about redemption?  You don’t need redemption!  You did everything you could.  You think I want any of you dying on my watch either?  Look at what’s become of this place!  I brought us here, remember?  This was my meeting.  Curse you, if this is what you want then take Reprieve.  I’ll need it back when you’re done.  Come with us now, or take it until this is over.  Don’t even think about resigning.”

A hug is not a practical gesture between armoured men, nor dignified for leaders in the heat of battle.  They settle on a warrior’s clasp, wrist to wrist, and Scarab accepts the great hammer.  His friend’s heart sinks as he hands it over. 

“Well, good luck then, brother.  Report back when the mission is done.”

“Good luck to you, brother.  The way I see it, we get the easy job here.  I’ll see what I can do about bringing your hammer back.  Bring down Amon Dull for us, eh?  Make it count.”

“Then permission reluctantly granted, Scarab.  I – we – won’t forget this.”

Scarab moves to stand with Python, flanking Mantis.  The latter has drawn Redemption, once the sword of a Grey Knight Justicar, later and perhaps more famously the sword of Mentirius in his final years.  Adopted as a symbol of his personal spiritual salvation, ultimately sacrificed along with his soul to save a friend in peril.  A symbol now of sacrifice itself.  Junious’s own mentor, Jaydred Taren, had been that imperilled friend.  He in turn had given up his own life shortly after, dying with Redemption still in hand, though his end had come not facing the apocalyptic malevolence of Amon Dull, but the banal evil of the Puritan Council.  The sword is four feet long, double-edged with a wide rune-etched blade and an embellished golden cross-guard – a heavy weapon and a work of art, like all nemesis force swords.  Mantis seems to breathe easier with it in his hand.  He raises his eyebrows at Scarab.

“Aye, me too.  Don’t try to argue old man, I’ve had enough from our new Lord Hammer.  This is how it is.  I guess I’ll play First Inquisitor Junious, since it sounds like we’re going in costume.  He’s always been a hero of mine.  I’ve got the hammer for it already, see?”

“Thank you, gentlemen.  Both of you…words fail me.  It has been an honour.”

“I think you said that earlier.  Are we suiting up?”

With the slightest furrow of the old man’s brow, colours and shapes reform around the three figures until Lord Inquisitor Titus Sargoth, alleged Arch-heretic, stands flanked by notorious mutant Magus Karius Prelune and radical ringleader First Inquisitor Junious.  Redemption becomes a crimson daemon sword.  Only Reprieve remains unaffected.  Soldiers begin appearing then, a motley assortment of psychic simulacra, many of whose faces and regalia resemble those of meeting attendees.  Within moments the tunnel is crowded with armed men and women; even a few Aeldari warriors in tall and fearsome helms. 

“How long will the illusions hold, sir?”

“You don’t have to call me sir, Python.  You said as much yourself.”

“All the same sir.”

“The illusions will hold as long as I do.  By then I don’t imagine it will matter.”

As one the three men turn, putting their backs to the portal.  From around the corner, the raging sounds of battle are drawing closer.  Someone is bellowing something, their voice largely unintelligible, although the word ‘heresy’ comes through clearly enough.  The monastery shakes, fragments of stone falling from the sealing in a billowing cloud of dust.  The conjured squad part unbidden, falling in behind the trio as they advance down the tunnel without further hesitation. Somewhere back in the dust-cloud, Balkoth’s warp gate ripples and distorts as the first of the cell step through. 

Scarab-Junious hefts Reprieve in both hands, activating the power field.  The ornate two-handed hammer glows a gentle white.  Mantis-Sargoth follows suit with the faux-daemonic Redemption, the sword’s power field an icy blue, while hidden force circuitry carries silver tongues of psychic power up and down its length.  After a moment the energy turns an angry red to match the rest of the illusion.  Python-Prelune simply extends his rod like a pointing finger and takes a steadying breath. 

“For the fallen”, says Scarab.

“For Bess”, says Mantis.

“For the dream”, says Python.

They round the corner together.


=][=



Online Mentirius

  • Interrogator
  • **
  • Posts: 79
Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2020, 06:37:18 PM »

“Vhogart!  You have broken into my home, killed my comrades and allied yourself with Amon Dull.  I call you to account!”

“Who in the Emperor’s name are you meant to be?  Move aside, heretic.  Nothing will stand between Sargoth and the Emperor’s justice!”

It occurs to Scarab that the puritanical enemies of the Delan’s Point cell must be very badly informed, to have come here without knowing the face of their enemy’s leader.  Cloaked in his Junious disguise, he intended to draw as much of their fire as he could, being the only one of the three Mentirian officers dressed to withstand a bolter shell.  He therefore drew clear of his elder comrades as soon as they saw the enemy, roaring his challenge and trying to shield them with his armoured body.  As it turns out, the spear-point of Puritan Council strike-force, comprising a trio of Inquisitors geared for war with a menacing entourage of Adeptus Astartes supermen, appear almost universally focused on the old man, who remains in the guise of Titus Sargoth.  They come close to ignoring Scarab, staring venomously past him at the visage of the so-called Arch-Heretic.  This feels unfair to him, as well as tactically disadvantageous.  Surely they should be after Junious above all?  For all Lord Inquisitor Sargoth has become a rallying point for disillusioned Inquisitorial radicals in recent months, the man barely spent twenty-four hours on Delan’s Point and was among the first to flee when Bu’Ran and his angels arrived.  This was never his stronghold, and Delan’s Point was never about politics – this had been a cell convened in the name of unity against a daemon.  Now Scarab can’t help wondering if these enemies of Sargoth would have come here at all, if Mantis had not invited the maverick to attend.  This is where trusting vainglorious Xanthite agitators gets you.  The Nexus Schism was less than ten years ago.  Did Mentirius never have time to pass on that particular lesson?  And then it hits him.  Where is Vhogart?

A giant in golden power armour strides forward in the lead, cutting a figure as grandiose and overblown as Scarab’s own suit is drab and functional – so far, so Muundus Vhogart.  But this is not him.  Scarab has studied images of known Puritan Council members, as a priest studies Horus the Betrayer; has hung their portraits in the shooting range at Fortitude’s Hold and torn each of them to shreds with a heavy stubber.  He knows every feature perfectly, and the face within this avenging titan’s dark red hood is that of Inquisitor-General Tyran, the so-called Oculi Dei – alleged Imperial prophet, rumoured Living Saint, widely thought of as the closest to a moderating influence Vhogart’s faction possesses.  A true believer and a wise head all in one, or so the story goes.  Tyran carries a great hammer of his own, almost a twin to Reprieve, heavy with purity seals – evidently another holy relic, though Scarab has no idea of its name or history.  A halo of warm yellow light surrounds him.  Behind him follows an honour guard of Astartes officers, their blue and gold armour and red-plumed helmets likely indicating an Ultramarine successor Chapter.  One of them is a Brother-Captain, and could surely kill Scarab and both his companions single-handed, if not for the unknown variable of Mantis and Python’s psychic abilities.  Perhaps he could do it anyway.  Nevertheless the Captain appears slightly shorter, a little slighter of frame than the Inquisitor-General himself, as do his Brother-Marines – surely impossible, and yet this is what Scarab sees.  Was even the famously statuesque Vhogart ever such a behemoth?  Suspended above Tyran, a softly glowing angelic silhouette flickers in and out of sight, accepted or unnoticed by the rest of the strike-force.  The apparition hovers weightlessly, a saintly female face coming briefly into focus, long enough to smile coyly down at Scarab and shoot a wink his way.  And lo, Our Lord’s Champion did take to the field, and he was resplendent to behold, the angel seems to say.

Two more of the Puritan Council follow closely, keeping pace, moving to guard Tyran’s flanks as he advances.  The man on his right wears a heavy suit of ornate artificer armour, masked and cloaked, his face an expressionless metal visage resembling a frowning skull – a grim Gothic statue cast in black and silver steel, save for his voluminous cape, which is an eyeball-searing shade of red.  He carries a power sword in one brass-taloned bionic fist, a bolt pistol in the other, each of his armaments constituting a further boast of the heights of Imperial craftsmanship.  None of this identifies the man as surely as a human face, but going by the unmissable presence of several Iron Hands marines at his back, one of them a full Iron Father by the look of him, Scarab judges this to be Maximus Sinister – an Inquisitor with whom he’s had little contact, even through the astropathic Conclave, but knows by reputation.  A rotten core of cackling sadist in a cold bionic shell.  As if to punctuate his ghastly image, an emaciated woman ensconced in an elaborate pacifier helm follows at his heels like a dog.  Her eyes are down, movements sluggish – likely an arco-flagellant, presumably created from one of the Puritan’s enemies, or perhaps a former lover.  His kind are all the same.

On Tyran’s left stands Inquisitor Heinrik von Helsing, screaming imprecations over the whir of his chainsword, goateed visage contorted in a mask of hatred, literally frothing slightly at the corners of his mouth – it is from him that all the shouting has been coming.  His armour is a suit of crimson carapace, and while this is finely tooled and liberally decorated, its lack of powered servos or heraldic pauldrons reduces him to a shrieking goblin besides his towering fellows, the only Inquisitor in the strike-force so exposed.  He brings with him a trio of lithe syn-skinned Death Cultists in traditional red and black, their chainblades snarling in time with his own, and a third group of Astartes officers, their heraldry unfamiliar to Scarab’s eye, including another Captain.  Overflowing with apparently boundless energy, von Helsing punctuates every yell with a blast of fire from his hand flamer, wasting fuel carelessly, heating up the air.  A disgusting apparition. 

Scarab’s personal judgements are beside the point, however, for Bu’Ran’s angels are surely beginning to converge on this confrontation, and when he looks into the lead Inquisitor’s mismatched eyes – one of them bionic, the other deeply human, if utterly devoid of common humanity – he finds them both faintly glowing with a familiar, matching shade of hateful green.  The angel attending Tyran makes immediate sense in context – this was planned from the beginning then.  Amon Dull has subverted the Puritan Council, or some of it.  Mantis was right.  The old man is speaking now, even his voice an echo of Sargoth, cutting across von Helsing’s ceaseless diatribe. 

“Tyran?  What is this?  I never thought that you…where is Muundus Vhogart?  Surely this can’t be – but the angels are – you, you…”

‘Sargoth’ begins to stutter and Tyran cuts him off, with all the calm finality of a hanging judge.

“I see you in there, you know.  You cannot hide from me.  My eyes are open now, more open than ever before.  Muundus has returned to Holy Terra.  I am the Emperor’s Voice here, and I name you, your servants and your master apostates; heretics; traitors of the very worst kind.  As if your foulness were not already known to all, this sordid lair is rotten with the minions of Charax the Eternal.  There can be no defence.  You will all be–”

“You warp-damned hypocrite!”

Mantis again, in his own voice this time, vocal cords strained close to breaking.  A writhing, incandescent ball of psychic fury rockets out of him along with the exclamation, narrowly misses hitting Tyran in the face and sails over his head to collide with the guardian angel.  She opens her mouth as if to speak and explodes like a flash grenade.  The false Titus Sargoth bounds past Scarab with astonishing speed and lunges at Tyran with his blade, all the rage and despair of the last Mantis, and of the forgotten Hector Galas, Excommunicate Traitoris, given singular focus at last.  All around them, the old man’s illusory army of psychic apparitions are likewise bearing down, drawing the Astartes to intercept.  Amon Dull’s Champion is unfazed by the attack, parrying with such naked force he might have torn the old man’s arm off, if not for the torrent of warp energy surely coursing through his veins.  On the far side of the two combatants, von Helsing has broken into an eager sprint, discharging a gout of searing promethium in Python’s direction.  Close at hand, a melodious chorus of religious doggerel heralds a fresh onslaught of angels, coming to pour further oil on the fire.  But Sinister and the Iron Father are coming right at Scarab now, forcing him to look to himself.

Scarab is not a psyker, so the full might of Reprieve is denied to him – nevertheless, it remains a two-handed warhammer with a power field capable of burning through almost anything, and he remains a fighter who lives for the din of battle.  As ever in moments like this, he flings wide the trap door in the pit of his head and releases the inner daemon – his ugliest memories of the Order Vampiris purge, and the untimely, unjustified, agonising death of his twin at the hands of men just like these.  The end of the Inquisitors Palici, and the birth of a half-man called Scarab from the ashes left behind.  The fall of Gavaria, the human population rounded up to be penned and milked for their blood by the Koldoan empire.  The massacre at Fortitude’s Hold, an attack he failed to predict or prevent, led by a horned man he failed to engage, forcing him to flee with the meagre few souls he could save.  All the Mentirians he has seen die screaming in the last hour alone, men and women who trusted in his protection, whittled down to near extinction here, trampled by the relentless jack-booted march of events.  Cataclysm on top of cataclysm.  Laughing tricksters making jokes out of life and death.  The sheer black-hearted wrongness of it all.  Emotions too wild and powerful to tame, forced down and compressed to a hyper-dense state, now released in a cataclysmic surge.  Borne on a cresting wave of adrenaline, he screams his brother’s name as he charges to meet his doom.  He faces an older Inquisitor and a veteran Space Marine, both encrusted with bionic enhancements and in better armour than his own, to say nothing of the arco-flagellant or the rest of the squad behind them.  Nothing banishes fear like the certainty of destruction.  He knows he’s a dead man, but he swings the hammer with realistic expectations – that maybe, if he’s lucky, he can at least take Sinister with him.  One less stain on the Inquisition’s tainted soul.

Scarab ducks his shoulder, veering aside just as the bolt pistol roars, blowing fragments from the corridor wall behind him.  He pours his momentum into the opening strike, but Sinister’s sword comes up to meet Reprieve, servos whirring in the artificer armour as he blocks the blow one-handed, the power field in each weapon crackling and sparking as they lock together.  For a moment the warriors stand frozen in place, tongues of energy dancing around them.  Then the Iron-Father steps in and swings an enormous axe at Scarab’s bare head, forcing him to give ground.  Sinister follows him and already he’s being driven back, given no room to maneuver in the blasted thoroughfare.  He blocks or avoids each swing of the sword but his enemy is clearly a long way past human, his limbs bending and swivelling in too many places, his movements unnatural, his strength implacable.  Even in power armour, Scarab is at a serious physical disadvantage.  The lack of space quickly reveals itself as a blessing in disguise, however, for the Iron-Father cannot get to him with Sinister in the way, and he has fought Inquisitors before.  The bolt pistol comes up at his face again and he strikes in the nick of time, clipping the offending hand with Reprieve and tearing it off at the wrist, fragments of master-crafted firearm plinking on stone.  Sinister hisses with rage, surely far beyond pain in his modified state, and redoubles his ferocity with the power sword.  Scarab is driven back once more and it is then, in the corner of his eye, that he sees Python fall. 

Of the three Mentirians, the studious man in the purple robes, now further garbed in the psychic illusion of Magus Karius Prelune, is by far the least suited to combat.  He was apparently once an Inquisitor himself, though he’s been underground for decades at the least, and never taken to the field in the few years Scarab has known him.  Even he doesn’t know what name Python served under, and suspects he might always have been more of a researcher than an instrument of the Emperor’s wrath.  In the brief glimpse Scarab catches, he stands braced against a translucent psychic shield around which a torrent of liquid fire is pouring, drenched in sweat and straining with the effort as von Helsing closes the remaining distance, never letting up with the hand flamer.  He slams the teeth of his chainsword against the barrier, holding it there while Python struggles on.  Then a Death Cultist vaults over both of them, psychic shield and all, lands in a crouch behind the false Prelune and pivots like a dancer as she rises, meeting no resistance as she saws into his back.  Howling like a tortured animal, he arches his spine, the shield disappears, and promethium splashes over him.  It almost looks like mercy when von Helsing’s chainblade follows, passing down through the torso of the human torch and carving him nearly in half.  His scream only lasts an instant; the sight is a blurred tableaux.  The Witch-Finder bellows in triumph, eager for further violence.  One more dead Mentirian. 

Angelic singing grows ever louder in Scarab’s ears as Sinister lunges, and lunges, and lunges.  They’re going to crush us – have crushed us, without even really trying.  This is sport to them.  Amon Dull must be laughing fit to burst.  Where’s Ludvos Arkhan when you need him?  Then the rage hits him again, as thunder follows lightning.  Abandoning caution, he shoulder-charges Sinister, putting all his armoured weight behind him.  The bionic Inquisitor’s blade tears a deep gash in the side of his cuirass, a lance of pain shooting through Scarab’s chest, but the force of the impact drives his enemy back toward the Iron Father.  The momentum is with him now and he keeps going, throwing his enemy off balance and finally sending him crashing to the floor.  He swings Reprieve high, hoping for a killing strike, when a burst of bolter fire from down the hall hammers into his chest-plate.  The armour holds but only just, and the pounding explosive shells tear chunks out of it, driving all the breath from his lungs.  He staggers, sees the fallen Inquisitor already beginning to rise, brings the hammer down in time to deflect a sweep of the Iron Father’s axe, exclaims in frustration and attacks the Astartes head on.  Somehow Reprieve finds its target, takes a chunk from a shoulder-plate displaying the white hand of his Chapter and spins the Marine half around.  Then a heavy servo-arm closes on Scarab’s elbow and lifts him bodily from his feet, throws him right through the wall with a sickening crash, landing face down in a pile of broken stone.  Momentarily submerged in the deepening floor, he flounders back towards full consciousness in time to be fully lucid when Sinister lands on his back.  Winded again, he nearly passes out for good.  Then the psychic voice of Mantis hits him like a bucket of ice water, accompanied by a blast of telekinesis that plucks Sinister into the air and hurls him further into the adjoining room.  The Iron Father follows an instant later, cartwheeling wildly as he sails past overhead.

“Get up and fight, Palici.  We aren’t done.”

With a renewed burst of strength, Scarab lurches to his feet and emerges back into the corridor.  A trio of Amon Dull’s angels bar his path and he lays into them with gusto, trusting the blessings and wards on the hammer to serve him in place of its true master’s psychic prowess.  But the creatures are terribly agile, while for all the telepathic encouragement, Reprieve is a heavy implement, and Scarab has been fighting in fits and starts for hours.  Adrenaline fails as a long-term solution to combat fatigue, and he finds he cannot land a meaningful blow, while every passing second sees more and deeper gashes carved in his armour, their burning blades scoring and probing the increasingly ragged metal shell.  He sees von Helsing coming at him, hand flamer lost or empty now, his chainsword held in two hands, an exultant grin on his face.  He parries with Reprieve, if barely, and the chainblade splinters on impact.  A mangled length of chain lashes out like a whip and tears a red line across its wielder’s face, narrowly missing von Helsing’s nose but ripping through one of his eyes.  The Inquisitor reels away screaming profanities, while one of the Death Cultists moves to take his place. 

An angel lands on Scarab’s shoulders, tries to drag him backwards, stabbing down past his face with its searing sword.  He turns his head aside, tries to dash the daemon against the corridor wall but it passes right through the stone.  Near panic, he swings Reprieve up and back past his head, feels the hammer connect.  The angel releases him but the Death Cultist nearly cuts his throat, instead receiving a power-armoured punch in the sternum that catapults her away from him, unlikely to rise again.  Psychic winds lash Scarab’s face, sending icy needles through his flesh, while shrapnel ricochets in the confined space and his eardrums throb with the noise of it all.  Mantis and Tyran remain fully engaged, surrounded by an escalating tornado of whirling warp energy as each draws ever more power to himself.  Their movements are too fast to track, their forms indistinct through the haze of psychic violence that engulfs them.  The rest of the Astartes must be somewhere on the far side, fighting phantoms, unable to penetrate the unnatural cyclone, for all their physical might.  He never knew the old man had it in him.  Before the portal he had to be carried to safety, already on the point of collapse, and was useless in the preceding battle.  From here, at this moment, it appears the notorious Sargoth must be facing the Emperor Himself, and holding his own against Him.  An unfortunate result of their conflict, combined with Python’s death, is to leave Scarab the sole remaining target on his side of the storm.  Even separated from the bulk of the Marines, he finds himself swarmed by ever more of the awful singing daemons, while Sinister and his Iron Father must be due to re-emerge behind him at any moment.

“Daemon filth!  In the name of the Emperor, cut them down!”

Just like that, Sinister’s harsh voice punches through the commotion and both of his erstwhile enemies come barrelling through the hole in the wall, the Iron Father firing past him with a weapon he doesn’t recognise, blowing a cavernous hole in the nearest angel’s chest.  Much to Scarab’s astonishment, they enter the melee at a full sprint, laying into Amon Dull’s minions with the same fury they had levelled at him moments earlier.  Even as he moves to take advantage, ploughing a Death Cultist into the floor with enough force to shatter the stone, he can’t resist a breathless verbal barb.

“Had your fill of serving daemons, have you?”

“I might ask you the same, heretic!  Don’t think this will redeem you.  All of you will pay for what you’ve done here.”

Sinister beheads another daemon as he snarls back at Scarab, but makes no move to attack him directly.  According to the file on Maximus Sinister he’s Ordo Malleus, and evidently not as on board with the false angels as his comrades.  Is this a ruse, or betrayal in earnest?  Could he really have come so far in an Amon Dull-sponsored force without realising what he served? 

“Sinister, you damn traitor!  I might have known.  Kill him, kill him now!”

I suppose that answers that.  Von Helsing again, his face a mask of blood, his one remaining eye a neutron star of malice.  He’s already found another chainsword, likely shed by one of his fallen Death Cultists, which he brandishes before him while the third and final member of the murderous trio moves to back him up.  He charges the embattled Sinister and the Iron Father twists around to fire at him, but one of the angels dives into the path of the shot.  It absorbs the blast and falls theatrically to the floor at von Helsing’s feet, bringing him up short, where it flops and gasps like a fish out of water in a widening pool of pseudo-blood.  It levels a shaking finger at the Astartes and gazes soulfully up into von Helsing’s eye, lips moving rapidly.  His eye widens, then narrows to a slit.  The angel slumps back lifeless, flesh already beginning to melt away, and the Inquisitor roars with apparent outrage, levelling his chainsword once more.  His free hand strays to his ostentatious belt, reaching for a grenade.  Scarab tries to lunge the maniac’s way but an angel has hold of him from behind, laughing like a wind chime as it drags him back.  They’re mad, the lot of them.  Rabid dogs to a man.  Got to get–

Fade to white.


=][=


When Scarab comes around he does so slowly, rising out of unconsciousness by increments, instinctively fearful of getting the bends.  The first coherent thought to manifest is simply, ‘Is it over?’  Then another shock-wave washes over him, reminding him that he has a body and it is currently lying prone, while serving to answer his question with a resounding ‘no’.  Memory follows soon after, culminating in the dreadful moment when von Helsing drew back his arm to throw.  Explosives in a confined space.  Madness.  He blinks and tries to will his vision back into being.  Fails.  Tries to move, falls back with a whine of damaged servos.  Has his powered suit become a metal coffin, interring him where he lies?  His own face is bleeding now; he can feel the trickle, unnaturally cold.  Someone is talking far away, faintly heard as if from the bottom of a mining shaft.  He tries to concentrate on the words.

“And…again?  Third…time…lucky…”

It’s Mantis, speaking in his mind again, though his psychic voice is a faded shadow of its former self.  With an indescribable non-sound distantly resembling a wheeze, the old man’s unseen presence exhales a cloud of intangible resolve that fills Scarab’s mind and percolates down through his battered body, hauling him up to his hands and knees.  The armour protests but cooperates as he forces himself to stand.  How much of that effort is made by Mantis, and how much of it his own flesh, is impossible to tell at this stage.  As sensations reluctantly start to return, he realises the cyclone must be over, for the air is relatively still, no doubt awaiting some further catastrophe.  Colours and shapes resolve reluctantly around him, revealing the extent of the devastation.  Whatever exploded here was more than a single grenade, for a whole section of the monastery has been hollowed out by the blast, demolishing floors, walls and ceilings to create a grand, roughly spherical cavity approaching a cathedral in size.  Scarab himself stands at the very edge of the space, knee-deep in rubble and miraculously mostly intact.  He gives himself a once-over – disguise still in place, though if the truth underneath is anything like the state of ‘Junious’ in this illusion, he suspects his armour may have seen its last battle.  The same might still be true of himself, for angels are already spilling from all sides of the blast radius, taking flight to fill the newly created chamber like a swarm of angry bees.  The roof still seems to be holding, though he’d be astounded if this section of the complex remained airtight after such destruction.  Several floors below him in the middle of the crater, a golden giant stands triumphant, driving a tiny figure in tight circles with wide swings of a luminous hammer.  A hammer!  Where is Reprieve? 

Bending down to rummage frantically, his heart pounds and a throbbing headache makes itself known as the blood rushes to his head.  He finds it after minutes or moments; it is difficult to tell.  It is covered in dust and soot but otherwise undamaged.  Grabbing it up eagerly, he straightens again to see angels and Astartes alike, the latter in at least four heraldic variations, ignoring him entirely, flooding into the crater towards Sargoth – Sargoth? No, Mantis – and the shining colossus that is Tyran.  Bolters chatter, exploding against an invisible barrier still surrounding the two psykers.  Angels dive and are repulsed.  So I have a hammer.  But what am I going to do with it?  Mantis is on the defensive now, borne aloft by invisible forces, darting aside like a bird with each stroke that falls.  Occasionally he throws darts of bright energy that swerve to avoid Tyran, bursting harmlessly against the inside of the bubble.  Redemption is doing service as a force rod, channelling power from a distance but never making contact.  Mantis seems to be tiring, unlike his enemy.  Tyran’s movements are fast and fluid; his armour looks pristine.  If Scarab tries to get to them, the Space Marines will have a new target, and with his own suit barely holding together, he won’t get three strides under fire.  What he wouldn’t give for an automatic weapon, or a few grenades of his own…  For a moment it strikes him anew: these are the Adeptus Astartes.  What good would one man with a heavy stubber even be here?

Then the Herald takes the field in a cascade of crackling white lightning, and everything stands still for an instant as his voice rings loud and clear, projected into every mind present with all the force of a punch to the face.

“Cower, puppets of the Nine – in the name of the White Child, I abjure thee!”

It isn’t Junious; after a brief flash of panic he realises this.  Not his friend, but the other one – Novus Versaal, once a Chaos cultist, supposedly purified and redeemed by the Child’s intervention.  Mad as a sack of wolvercats, as far as Scarab could ever tell.  He has never trusted nor liked the man, but Versaal stands every bit as radiant as Tyran now, emerging from a truncated corridor in a billowing psychic cloud that lances out with forked tongues into the cloud of angels.  Wherever a bolt of energy strikes one, it shrivels and blackens to a warped little cinder and falls from the air like a stone.  Like a single wounded animal, the angelic swarm contracts momentarily and then pours down towards him, abandoning Mantis and Tyran to launch a full head-on assault.  The pseudo-electrical storm intensifies as Versaal stands his ground.  Junious trusted him, that much is certain.  Either way he’s the best chance they have.  Scarab begins to make for him, hugging the edge of the crater, clambering over fallen masonry, iron joists sticking out at angles like broken bones.  His breathing increasingly laboured, he wonders again about the air.  Daemons don’t need to breathe, while Tyran and Versaal appear as psychic demigods and may well be beyond such concerns.  The Astartes all have helmets, while Scarab and Mantis do not.  He hopes the old man can hold out long enough for Versaal to reach him.  Maybe together they can take Tyran down.

Novus Versaal meets the descending angels with a geyser of silver fire, scattering ruined pseudo-bodies that diffuse into ash as they fall.  Junious has never displayed such raw destructive power, and for a few precious seconds, it appears the empowered Herald might have the daemons of Amon Dull outmatched.  Then the first one gets through, scorched black but undeterred, nearly skewers him with a warp-forged spear before he turns his wrath upon it, tearing a shred from his pristine white robe and marring its cleanliness with flecks of crimson blood.  The distraction buys a further pair the time to reach the ground, folding their wings behind them as they close from either side, dividing his concentration.  The white lightning takes them both but the silver fire falters, and a flock of half a dozen dive onto him from above.  They briefly cover the shining man like white crows upon a corpse, hiding him from view in a knot of flapping robes and beating wings.  Then a nova of blazing starlight bursts forth, throwing them clear once again, but the human figure revealed at its heart is bent nearly double, curled around some injury, and many times their number are heartbeats away from contact.  Scarab pushes harder to reach him, loses his footing and comes down on his back, sliding down a heap of rubble in a minor avalanche, his face turned up to the devastated rafters.  Angels plummet through his field of vision in their scores, diving in relentless waves towards the purifying light below.  By the time he struggles up and moves to close the final distance, Versaal is down on one knee, his arms spread wide, face contorted with effort, the front of his robe awash with blood.  There can be no counting the angelic monsters who swamp him on every side, held back only by a steadily contracting energy field.  Scarab isn’t going to make it in time. 

One of the angels alights directly before the Herald, almost close enough to touch, holding up a lantern that sheds no light of its own; rather, it pollutes the shining aura all around him with a widening lime-green stain.  It is the angel who attended Tyran, not banished after all.  Maybe waiting for this moment all along.  She is beautiful and vulnerable and her voice is syrup-sweet.  She speaks aloud with a lyrical cadence, though only Versaal, her siblings and the approaching Scarab are close enough to hear her over the din of battle.  With her free hand she reaches out tenderly as if to caress his face.

“O, you poor broken seeker, how grievously you have sinned!  You have grovelled before foreign idols, given over your soul to the worship of Xenos lies.  Worse, you have blasphemed openly against Our Lord, have led others astray from His Light.  Look around you at the horror your impious heart has wrought.”

As if in deliberate demonstration, a psychic cry goes up from Mantis, another shock-wave sweeps the crater and a crescendo of bolter fire roars in answer.  Scarab finds himself running in slow motion, wading through a wall of invisible treacle as if in a waking dream.  Meanwhile Versaal’s energy bubble has nearly reached his fingertips as it continues to shrink.  He locks eyes with the angel, who raises her slender eyebrows and smiles.  The lantern-lime trickle continues to spread, steadily consuming what remains of his guttering halo.

“Fear not, for all is not quite lost.  He offers mercy even unto you.  Come back to Him, Novus Versaal!  Come back to the only true God.  He remembers you and cares for you, as selfish alien children will never understand.  He would not see you fall, as yonder Arch-Heretic falls before His Champion even now.  Will you accept His forgiveness, and forsake your corruption?  He can burn it out of you, can make you pure again.  You need but ask.”

Damn you Versaal, if you say yes…  But ‘yonder Arch-Heretic falls’?  Scarab turns before he can stop himself, still running, trying to catch sight of Mantis.  The image of Titus Sargoth is sprawled at Tyran’s feet within in the yellow sphere, raised up on one elbow to brandish his sword defiantly, a vanquished demon in a devotional painting hissing up at a smiting Saint.  Tyran’s hammer is bathed in fire as he raises it over his head.  If only Scarab could reach him – but Versaal is closer, and a Herald, holding the keys to everything inside his inconstant soul.  If the angels corrupt him it will all be for nothing, and Amon Dull will surely prevail.  In that desperate moment the whispered voice of Mantis speaks, carried on psychic winds to Scarab’s inner ear.

“Save him.”

And with that he throws the sword, not at Tyran but away behind himself, a comet of blue sparks trailing in Redemption’s wake as it punches right through the sphere and keeps going, shedding its daemonic illusion, speeding away across the cavernous space.  The animated weapon flies with purpose, swerving around obstacles to vanish into a broken tunnel mouth, leaving its bearer unarmed.  He grins up at his executioner, and suddenly he is Hector Galas again.  His final words reverberate through the monastery, psychically amplified, laden with weary sadness and yet also tinged with triumph. 

“It is too late.”

Then the hammer comes down.  This time the backlash of warp energy flattens everyone in sight, including the various Astartes, leaving only Tyran and the angels untouched.  Scarab scrambles upright and catches sight of Novus Versaal again, in time to see the Herald still lying prone.  A halo of green surrounds him as the lantern-bearing angel crouches down, bending low to kiss his forehead.  Acting before he has time to think, Scarab stumbles towards them, bringing Reprieve to bear.  The instant her lips touch the dome of his head, she disappears from sight.  Boltguns blare and angels fall on every side, mown down by unseen assailants.  Only the Herald matters now.  Versaal’s eyelids start to flutter, the green light intensifies – and Scarab’s blow crushes his head.  The light winks out.  The corpse kicks, convulses and lies still.  Blood pools.  Scarab swears aloud and can’t hear himself over the gunfire.  The hail of bolter shells finds his back moments later, taking him down yet again.


=][=


Following a confused, uncertain interval, pain screams at him from three different directions and he finds he cannot move.  His armour is finally broken beyond repair.  Sprawled on one side with his cheek pressed against broken stone, he watches and sighs with exhausted defiance as several sets of power-armoured boots crunch towards him.  His spirits sink further when he hears the voice of Maximus Sinister, notorious torturer, close at hand.

“This one is still alive…maybe something can be salvaged from this.  Secure him.  I’ll get the truth from him later.”

Scarab is roughly seized and hoisted upright, held aloft between two Astartes with his own boots trailing above the floor.  Inquisitor Sinister comes into view, addressing a squad of black-armoured Space Marines, though the Iron Father is nowhere to be seen.  Sinister’s red cloak has been burned away and his armour is filthy with soot.  Dark blotches dance and cavort before Scarab as the sight moves in an out of focus, a lazy pendulum swinging behind his eyes.  The squad is already on the move, passing rapidly down a corridor with weapons raised, away from the awful crater, the bionic Inquisitor shouting loudly in the lead.  One of the Marines has Reprieve.

“Listen to me, brothers of the Iron Hands!  Tyran and von Helsing have betrayed us.  The angel was a daemon, a lie made flesh, as I always suspected it was.  The Puritan Council has been compromised by Amon Dull, and most of the heretics we sought here have already fled like the rats they are.  Cartas will be issued, heads will roll, and even Vhogart will answer for this disaster, but not today.  We are the only righteous servants of the Emperor in this forsaken place, and there is nothing left here worth saving.  Delan System is an open warzone.  We don’t know how much of our fleet already belongs to the enemy; only that some of it undoubtedly does.  Clearly it is time to leave, to rally loyal Imperial forces elsewhere.  I will order Exterminatus on the planet and blow this asteroid out of the sky, if it comes to it.”

“What then of our brother Astartes?  The Black Templars, Millennial Paladins, Praetors of Remas and the Iron Crucible remain engaged throughout the monastery.  We cannot just leave them to die.”

The speaker, a Brother-Sergeant, takes a cautionary tone.  Strictly speaking, even Inquisitors cannot give Space Marines orders, merely request their aid.  Sinister however appears at ease with these Iron Hands and untroubled by the question, his reply hovering somewhere between respect and arrogance.

“Then we inform them of the betrayal and advise withdrawal.  Nobody wants another Istvaan over a few barking heretics.  It seems possible the Praetors of Remas will remain with Tyran, but we’ll know one way or the other soon enough.  Maybe Brother-Captain Andronicus was unaware of his corruption, though I do find that hard to believe.  Marshals Griffinheart and Naemi will not want to leave without their prey, but Arkhan may already be dead and if not, we can await them in orbit.”

The Marine seems satisfied.

“Very well, Inquisitor.  And the prisoner?”

“I’ll take him in on my ship.  I know just the cell for him.”

By all that’s holy, is even a noble death too much to ask?

“Do you think he’s important?”

“I think all the important targets are long gone.  This felt like a delaying action, though how anyone made it out of here, the Emperor only knows…the Emperor, and maybe this man.  He evidently isn’t Astartes, so with a weapon like that I’d say he’s a failed throne agent who looted his master’s corpse.  Either way he’ll have at least one name for us, and I do believe the bearer of that hammer owes me a hand – having taken the weapon, our prisoner must also assume the debt.  I have others of course, but it’s the principle of the thing.”

“Then he owes more than a hand to us.  Iron Father Argus was irreplaceable.”

“I’m afraid that obligation belongs to the soon-to-be-ex-Inquisitor von Helsing, assuming he’s still alive.  Steps will be taken, I promise you.  This wretch may have played a role but while his heart still beats, his life is certainly already over – what remains will be a miserable excuse for existence by any measure.  I’ve no doubt he would prefer mercy, yet he does not deserve it.  Irreplaceable, as you say.”

“Just so, Inquisitor.  But it isn’t just his heart.  The heretic is still conscious.”

“So he is.  Hold him still a moment, would you?”

A steel fist slams into Scarab’s head and with that, his war comes to an end.  It isn’t true peace that claims him of course – merely a short reprieve.


=][=



Online Mentirius

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Re: The Keeping of Secrets
« Reply #13 on: June 06, 2020, 06:39:28 PM »

M42.120, Northern Fringe, Segmentum Obscurus


“Right then.  What have you learned?”

“Always wear a helmet into battle, sir.”

A sniggering susurrus briefly ensued before awkwardly fading away.  The intimidating pit-fighter’s face of Inquisitor Palici glared daggers at each of his soldiers in turn, daring any further levity.  The man who had spoken declined to identify himself, though Palici knew him by voice immediately.  He weighed the possibility of singling him out but quickly decided against it.  His reputation for vindictiveness was bad enough already, and technically the grunt had a point – more than once in the battle he had wished for some head protection to complete his armoured suit.  He had left his helmet in his quarters that day, figuring it would be inappropriate to conceal his face at the ill-fated meeting, and never had a chance to fetch it after the angels attacked.  A single piece of shrapnel could have ended him at any point in the battle, never mind a bolter shell, of which many had been fired his way.  But that was entirely beside the point of his story, and miraculous survival in spite of a bad decision made for a poor cautionary tale.  Comparably fresh to the life as they were, his audience had all completed their training, and Palici was not a drill sergeant – the understanding he sought to instil here was very nearly the opposite of ‘remember your helmet’. 

The story would not have been necessary at all with a force of indoctrinated Imperials, most of whom tended to know and accept their miserable lot in life, but this was not the Inquisition, nor even the Astra Militarum.  In the Imperium these troops might have qualified as gang militia, if viewed with some sympathy, but would more realistically have been branded cultists, an umbrella term comprising all human followers of any belief outside the Imperial Creed.  Beneath their outward veneer of elite self-assurance, they were raw human beings, raised in relative safety, who had entered his service still unaccustomed to the brutality of the wider galaxy.  They knew how to fight and they never forgot their helmets, or he would not have let them wear the uniform, never mind follow him into combat.  But many were believers first and foremost; some of them probably still thought they were embarking on a grand adventure, and he intended to disabuse them of the notion as thoroughly as he could. 

They called him the General amongst themselves, as much for the grizzled, rough-hewn gravity the scarred man exuded as any wider military authority he held.  In practice he behaved more like a Captain, did not even own a desk, and never delegated what he felt he could do himself.  Despite his relative seniority within the network they all served, he spent most of his time leading missions he rarely agreed with into highly dangerous situations, and always led from the front.  His orders, vague as they often were, came direct from Hammer, for Palici answered to no one else.  It was widely known he had the Herald’s ear, though privately he often wished he did not have to share it with the more idealistic elements of their organisation.  Now his dark eyes narrowed at the lack of any serious response to his challenge, and he surveyed the cramped auditorium as a hawk surveys long grass.  This briefing room had once served as a chapel, long divested of its iconography and turned to a more practical purpose.  The story of the disaster at Delan’s Point was well-known among these men and women, but it had taken place a century before most of them were born, and rarely would they get the chance to hear it first-hand from someone who had been there.  For some of the newest recruits, this might have been the first time they connected their weathered, tightly wound commander to the legendary Scarab the Unbreakable.  It was a name from another time, another excuse for a life, but however hard Palici tried to draw a line between himself and the old tales, they followed him as relentlessly as his shadow.  Now, on the eve of the rendezvous and an ill-defined mission to Secret’s Hold, that old haunt of Mentirius, he knew this largely untested company of his ever-growing militia might see real combat soon, and had felt it high time to address the legend head on.  He spared none of the grisly details, for all it needled him to reopen these old wounds yet again. 

“I’ll tell you what you should have learned.  A helmet is not enough.  No amount of preparation is guaranteed to keep you safe.  You will never be safe, and luck is as likely to kill you as save your life.  War is too big for anyone to control.  There is always someone better armed and better prepared than you.  Train however hard you like, remember everything you’ve learned, and there’s still every chance you’ll take a grenade or a bullet the first time you step outside.  At the least, in choosing a soldier’s life each of you has accepted a violent, probably meaningless death.  If you’re really unlucky, you might be taken alive by one of our many enemies, all of whom can make you crave a bullet in the face.  Maybe a daemon will hollow you out and wear you as a suit.  One way or another, one day you won’t come back.  That’s how your story ends.  Maybe they’ll call you a hero, maybe not.  It won’t make any difference to you then.”

A moment to let that sink in.  Time to grasp the daemon by the horns.

“Yes, I was Scarab, but you can tell I’m not among the heroes of Delan’s Point because I’m standing here today.  I didn’t survive the battle or what came after through strength, or skill, or force of will.  I survived through dumb chance and other people’s sacrifices, and was soon made to wish I hadn’t.  I am not special – I am a soldier.  I do as my duty demands, and frequently I still fail.  I doubt you’re all secretly superhuman either.  That’s fine.  We can’t all be Heralds, nor do we need to be.  But if you aren’t prepared to fight and lose – to see your friends die screaming and turn back to the task at hand, to spend years locked in the dark and then go right back to war when it’s done – then you chose wrong when you signed on with me, and you are going to suffer like you won’t believe.  Consider a change of career, if you survive our next mission at all.  The network doesn’t just need soldiers, and I don’t need soldiers with dreams.  I need those for whom a necessary duty is enough, in exchange for everything they have.  I need the walking dead.  Any questions?”

The silence began to stretch.  Sober expressions abounded, though many eyes remained unwisely bright.  He could see the curiosity in those eyes but none of them wanted to draw his ire.  Finally a woman with a crisply starched uniform raised an arm in the second row.  He gave her the barest of nods.

“How did they defeat Amon Dull, sir?”

“Questions relevant to the Battle of Delan’s Point.  I never made it to the end, as well you know.  I’ve heard the same stories you have about Amon Dull.”

A mild rebuke by his standards.  Someone always asked him that when he talked about M41, and never got what they wanted.  Another hand went up, perhaps encouraged by the survival of the first.

“Where did the portal lead, sir?”

“To Amon Dull’s private daemon world, out on the Eastern Fringe.  I wasn’t there.  Next question.”

“What happened to the Puritan Council, sir?”

A somewhat better question, albeit one with an incomplete answer that had taken him years to learn.  He had declined to wear his Inquisitorial rosette on this occasion.  It was a weapon, same as any, and not one he brandished idly.  For all their generation lionised him as a survivor of torture, it was just a word to them, however earnest they thought they were.  The same went for his title of course.  They had never met an Inquisitor from outside the network; the concept of a puritan was as theoretical in their minds as that of a daemon.  They were yet to comprehend the full scope of human suffering, would never understand the significance of the symbol, or of what it had cost him to keep it.  He didn’t need them to. 

“That I can tell you, though even I don’t know it all.  I was still a prisoner in transit when the Great Rift divided the galaxy.  Sinister handed me over at an Inquisition fortress, never said why, never heard of him again.  From there I was sent from one black site to another, spent half the time drugged, never knew names or saw faces – that’s how it is on the wrong side of a cell door.  I found out more when they rescued me in oh-two.  The Council denied the whole event at first, destroyed any witness reports they found, then rewrote them to their liking when they judged the dust had settled.  Muundus Vhogart never had to answer for anything, it was all covered up.  He’d been called back to Terra before the fleet reached Delan’s Point, to argue a Carta he declared against one of his better-connected peers.  He believed in Amon Dull’s angel, left Tyran in command – we know that much is true, however hard they tried to bury it.  After the attack on the monastery, his acolytes apparently staged a mutiny and took his flagship home.  They told the story Vhogart wanted, at least in public.  The Astartes weren’t happy about it, but deals were made and Tyran’s name was expunged from the records.  His crimes were quietly wiped away, his accolades attributed to Vhogart himself.  The Inquisition remembers Delan’s Point as Muundus Vhogart’s greatest victory, for all he never set foot there, having handed his crusade over to a daemon.  There’s Imperial history for you.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you different.  Part of the fleet was sighted later over Aithol, fighting on Amon Dull’s side – don’t ask, I wasn’t there either.  The daemon lost the war but some of its forces survived, dispersed and propagated.  We never found out what became of Tyran.”

They collectively considered this information, several heads nodding with affected sagacity, before another voice piped up.

“Did you see Bu’Ran on the Point, sir?”

An eager murmur passed through them then.  His perpetual frown deepened further.

“I did.  I was there in the room when it came down through the roof.  I haven’t described that to you and I won’t, for the same reason I won’t tell you all the details of my time in custody – because there’s a mission needs doing, and I’d rather you not all run screaming back to your mothers and leave me with no troops to field.  Bu’Ran is still out there somewhere, as far as we know.  Our agents find splinter cells of Amon Dull’s cult on a regular basis to this day.  These are not idle stories for your entertainment, or even your education.  They are the grim realities that could still kill us all.”

In a reluctant nod to company morale, he decided to leave it there.

“That’s it for questions.  Feel free to ask another vet, if you can find one.  Tomorrow we rendezvous with Hammer – don’t get excited, he eats and he scats same as anyone else – and you will all be with me when I join him on Futility.  Where we’re going after that, expect to see combat with anything from a hostile Inquisitor to an unstoppable nightmare made flesh.  Right now you can’t imagine meeting either.  Pray to the Threefold it stays that way, but while you’re at it, make your peace.  Some things never change.  Dismissed.”


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