Author Topic: A Love Letter to Terran Politics  (Read 1102 times)

Offline Dosdamt

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A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« on: March 07, 2020, 10:47:06 PM »
The Battle of St Vhogart’s Rest


The Most Sacred Birthworld of Mankind; Seat of All Human Power; Throneworld of the Immortal God-Emperor; Most Holiest Terra, M42


=][=

+++ Message Begins +++
+++ Encryption: Mar.Inf.Q-f424 +++
+++ Priority : Omega/Red +++
+++ From : Mother +++
+++ To : Revelation +++


Beatification must *not* occur of codename Frother

Indulge any means. Attached is the evidence you need.

If the event horizon has been crossed, initiate havoc protocol. Contact the Ultramanians. They will know what to do.

Mother cannot attend. Tiresias is close.

+++ Message Ends +++

=][=

Raijner Oebels re-read the message. In his dingey quarters in a squalid corner of the Throneworld, he sighed. He’d been fostering relationships for a decade on behalf of DuBois. He was one of the few who knew of the full extent - at least, he thought it was the full extent - of her networks. Grixos. Fanham. Even the sleeper identities. It was rare she would act with her own hand which meant this was important.

The light flickered as he began to read through the attachments. The latest interrogation of Grixos played on his screen. He watched as revelation after revelation stuttered out of the old man. Raijner grabbed a glass and poured himself a long amasec. It glistened an ugly purple in the ruined light. He downed the drink.

He continued through the attachments. Analysis of the evidence of the assault on Delan’s Point. The vid - apparently fabricated - of the death of First Inquisitor Junious. He watched over and over again as the white eyed Inquisitor fell under a hail of bolt rounds. Reprieve falling over and over from his hand. A small girl by his side disappearing in a mist of blood, guts, bolt rounds and ground human flesh.

Fabricated.

The pictures of Stryde, carved open from hip to sternum, arm-pit to neck, a 30cm gap between left hip and left leg. The gore was intense. Weapons were strewn around her. Empty bolt shells. A discarded power sword. Broken teeth from a chain sword. Her arms were bent unnaturally, indicating they’d been broken - possibly posthumously.

Fake.

Sargoth had faced down Muundus. Eye to eye, blade to blade, blow by blow they rocked the asteroid monastery. They joined in single combat, each of them viewing the other as a hated foe, glowering at each other. Sargoth had been beaten, and on his knees, Vhogart beheaded him. The vid of Lord-Inquisitor holding the still bleeding head of the arch-traitor aloft was iconic in monodominant circles.

Forgery.

The after action report. All of the details! All of it. Each of the reports of epic conflicts between the towering legends of the Puritan Council and the nefarious misanthropes of the Mentirians. Artefact weapon clashing with daemon tool. Faith versus witch fire. Ideological orthodoxy pitted against dissentient radicalism.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Everything was a lie.

He’d been through the Schola on Terra and then into the employ of the Inquisition. He’d been trained on these stories. He had revered them until he found himself in the employ of DuBois. She had righted him, moderated his outlook with a tour of the galaxy.

He remembered the sunsets out in the ghost worlds. DuBois had shown him the treatise after treatise by the deepest thinkers in the Inquisition’s storied history. He didn’t hate Vhogart, or any of the Puritan Council. He’d come to accept their usefulness in the context of their limitations.

This had changed everything.

He opened his own slate, preparing to write back. He rattled the keys with clarity of purpose before realizing the futility. What use was it? Inquisitor DuBois had given him his marching orders.

Oebels glanced back to the glass on his desk. The message had been sent well over a year ago - the cicatrix maledictum be damned! Vhogart had long since passed into the canonization process. The beatification couldn’t be stopped. Muundus, the fraud, the frother, the raging monodominant lunatic. Muundus the liar.

He was now Saint Muundus Vhogart.

It didn’t matter if the canonization was cut short - the beatification was the process which allowed deeds to be claimed as falsehoods. All that mattered now was making a statement.

Oebels slammed his fist into the desk. All they were working for - the continued destabilization of the Puritan Council, marginalizing the Monodominants through easing out the old guard. Reforming the Inquisition - throne, reforming around the ideals of Ultramar and bringing forth real progress! It was so close!

They’d infiltrated the Inquisition’s own halls of interrogation and began to subtly change the curriculum to focus on recongregation. Since Guilliman’s return, it made sense, Emperor bless their action. The Inquisition needed to align behind him.

All of it was going to run short because of this mess. They had to act - they had to make a statement. The canonization of Vhogart meant the star of the Puritan Council was rising again - and they’d had the evidence to stop it all along.

The Inquisition - he; DuBois; all of her network; even with all of their power - simply failed to join the dots.

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

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2020, 10:50:04 PM »
6 months previously

“What a grotesque.”

Oebels stood over the stasis bound corpse of Muundus Vhogart. Next to him, on his left, Inquisitor Lyssa Qi - to his right, Interrogator Yun Garrel. Faint choral chanting hummed all around them, serenading the deceased Lord-Inquisitor. There were few places in the galaxy where a human could be declared a saint, and of course the Throneworld was prime amongst them.

Vhogart had died in some impetuous action on a throne-forgotten backwater. As impressive as the beast of a man had been in combat, not even he could stand against the combined arms of Traitor Astartes and the cult horrificus. He’d been found in a pool of gore, virtually dismembered with a massacre of corpses around him. The hair from his body had been singed away by witch fire. His organs had been pulped by grav guns. He was cut to the bone in so many places he was close to being filleted. Still he’d apparently fought on.

As he lay dying a coterie of his most loyal followers had whisked his body away before it could be further examined. The virtually invincible old monster had died in the efforts to save him.

Lying here, back on the Throneworld, the mutilated corpse of Vhogart had been painstakingly put back together. Up close he was enormous. Not just large for a human - abnormally so, he swallowed the casket he barely fit in. His arms were thick pistons, his legs oak trees. The musculature of his torso looked sculpted. A befitting love letter to this lunatic from the mortician’s hand. No human, even with the best juvenants, at Vhogart’s age looked like this. Gravity alone would’ve sapped the vitality out of his skin.

The Chapel Inquisitoris was virtually empty - not a regular occurrence - leaving him to lie in peaceful repose. All around Muundus’ casket Cherubs floated whispering catechisms and hymnals praising the Emperor. In the dais stood one of Vhogart’s flunkies, reciting the official roll of deeds attributed to Muundus and relevant for canonisation.

“... 14 heretics slain in single combat, in compliance with His Most Holy Ecclesiarchy on Hanoth Primus…..”

Oebels tuned out the noise. He didn’t need to hear anymore of Vhogart’s imprecise path of slaughter. He looked down at the casket. It was in-laid with a fresco of the same deeds being recanted. Kneeling, Raijner could see the same slaughter at Hanoth. The artwork was detailed and intricate, Vhogart represented at the Hand of the Emperor in golden plate and with flaming sword. The flames were vibrant and the crystal used shifted subtlety in the light to appear burning. Fleeing him was Sargoth the Betrayer, anointed with horns, a hunch, and deformed fingers in a traditional Imperial style. He was carved from jet, or an approximate of Jet which abhorred light and made everything around him dimmer for it. If he had time, Oebels reckoned he could follow their path to the infamous - glorious? destructive? divisive?- slaughter at Delan’s Point.

The real crux of Vhogart’s sainthood. The lobbying from the Puritan Council since Guilliman’s return had been ceaseless and the Ministorum, struggling for primacy and relevance, were all too keen to oblige not least because the deaths of several high profile Aeldari happened at the Point. Flicking mud in the eye of a Primarch was usually ill advised but the Ministorum has its own agenda.

“Not long left until Saint Muundus Vhogart,” sniffed Qi. She bore a disapproving look into the monodominant’s brow. She shook her head, rattling her not so subtle Ultramar-U earrings. If he was still alive, he might well have wished he was dead. Vhogart was lying with his armour and his weapons. Oversized all of them. Rumours swirled, of course, about him. Mutant. Abhuman. Post human. Whisper it - Astartes. Nothing was ever proven. Nothing would ever be proven now.

The Puritan Council had their leader, their hero, then their scapegoat, their bloodletter and now, finally, their martyr and saint. Muundus had given them everything.

“Did they say what he’ll be canonized for?”

“Saint Vhogart of the Bleeding Martyr, of the Grand Crusader, and of the Eternal Light,” mused Garrel, “A more and less deserving bastard I’m sure has never existed.”

He tapped the top of the casket, raising the ire of nearly by guard-servitor. It whirred manically as the flock of Cherubim hissed at him. Garrel quickly shifted his hands up, feigning ignorance.

“What have you done!” one of the winged mutants hissed from a mouth-mounted vox speaker. A fat, flapping bishop of the high Terran synod came running out of the sacristy.

“No no no no! What have you done! Did you leave a mark? Did you? Did you?”

The squat man huffed with the exertion of running. Sweat already trickled down his brow. In the baking heat and oppressive musk of the chapel the exertion must have been severe. His tiny limbs contorted with rage as he reached the casket.

“Have you left a mark? Are you stupid, boy? Did you not hear me?”

Garrel turned to face the bishop. He could, of course, have simply had the bishop taken away never to be seen again. A whisper of heresy from the mouth of the Inquisition and he could leave this wretch flayed and reflayed and flayed again for a century. He could’ve hacked him in half with the concealed sword at his back. He pictured himself crushing the windpipe of the stupid Ecclesiarch over the casket, choking the life out of him. The priests spittle would leave a mark. He imagined the bishop goggle-eyed breathing his last before he would repeatedly brain his head against the casket until all that was left was a neck stump. Yes, Yun licked his lips, I will leave a mark.

His daydream ended as the bishop pushed past him.

“Dear Throne, my boy, dear Throne. You’ve left a damned mark. He who must be praised save me! Do you know how long the rite of cleansing takes during the beatification? Do you have any idea?”

Garrel decided his daydream was best left as an idle fiction. The Terran synod had a reputation for making the life of the Inquisition very, very difficult.

“Ah, no, your Grace.”

“A bloody long time, that’s how long. Are you up to date with your confessor?”

“Ah…. Last month your Grace?”

“Confounded Inquisition, always above your dues with He-on-Terra. You always have something better to do, eh? A month! That makes this even worse!”

The Bishop’s face had turned beet red. He turned to one of the cherubs.

“Fetch the unguents, and the priests. All of them! Get me the sanctified vials of Throne blessed water and bring me the catechism of absolution.”

He turned back to Garrel, poking him squarely in the chest.

“You” he poked “Have cost me” he poked, “Several of my own days!” he finished, leaving his finger on Yun’s chest.

Garrel looked down at the offending digit. His eyes locked with the bishops.

“And, for that, I apologise pastor,” Yun began, “But might I humbly request you remove your finger. Before I have to.”

Tension ratcheted noticeably in the room. Qi touched the shoulder of her angered Interrogator. The bishop’s face went from beet red to a very cold pale white. His pupils widened in fear.

“Come on, both of you. Sorry, your Grace, may the Emperor forgive his-our stupid transgression. I apologise for the naivety of my Interrogator. He forgets himself.”

They left the chapel quickly. Behind them the activity of cleansing the casket had already begun.

=][=

3 Days Ago, Most Holy Terra

“We must take action! Heresy! Heresy!”

It wasn’t often that Oebels had heard the passionate declaration of heresy in this room, but it has been a week where norms were being broken. Why not monodominant style rantings in a forum meant for the progressive discussion of the Imperial Reformation under Guilliman. Why not?

“It’s a falsehood, a blasphemy, a damned…. An indulgent devotion to the stupidity of the Puritan Council! This conspiracy must be ended!”

Spittle hung from the lips of the ranting speaker, one Inquisitor Kleeton. A Terran native, elevated to Inquisitor for his work on the throneworld, was an avian faced bureaucrat. Sure, he’d done his time in the field. He’d even been effective for a time. But Terra was - relatively - a small beat and to be frank little happened on the homeworld.

Terra did shape the broader Inquisition. The Lord-Terran was virtually the most important seat in the Inquisition, as with the Lord Solar they were often called to perform as High Lord. And that’s why this debate was important and urgent.

“Jarrod Hal didn’t die for this. Brothers and sisters, I beseech you - the short lived Lord Terran was making meaningful progress and change. He supported the mass removal of several cartas against several notable Inquisitors. He maintained the Terran Privy Council against the wishes of the Puritan Council. He was reforming several of our institutions to be more relevant in this era under Guilliman’s oversight. They killed him - be under no illusions - they killed their own man because he wouldn’t toe their line.”

Qi touched her ear lobe, finding one of her Ultramar-U earrings. They had stolen a pair, or they’d recreated them and placed them at the scene with a page from the Book of Mefisto on stoking conflict. No biological evidence was found from either. Hal himself had been garrotted. The marks on his arms, his neck, and his bulging eyes spoke of a hard death. It was not an ending Qi envied. Of course they worked to pin it on several Inquisitors, notable or otherwise - Qi included.  Of course there wasn’t enough evidence but if their trials on Terra had been the same as in some of the backwater holes the Puritan Council stalked, she suspected she would have burned. Thank goodness for civil Terra she smiled.

“We can’t stand for this! Several decade’s worth of work lost - more for some of you! We can’t let these fools take a step back up the ladder. It’s taken us this long to force them nearly back in their box.”

Rowdy assent echoed around the chamber.

“Agreed.”

Everyone knew who’d spoken and they became silent immediately.

Qi took the floor. She stood as a regal warrior, proud in her thin carapace armour. A coterie of weapons adorned her - a sharp pair of axes across her back; a gilded bolt pistol at her left hip; a rugged autopistol at her right hip. She had sharp features, dyed blonde hair, and a charismatic burning intensity. She paused for dramatic effect - she wasn’t beyond the vain art of dramatic oration.

“Be under no illusions brothers and sisters. This is a dangerous moment. For years - decades, as brother Kleeton rightly mentions, we have worked tirelessly to remake the Imperium to Lord Guilliman’s philosophies. We are reforming all institutions, supporting his proclamations, coming out of the shadows of we had to live in to make real our dreams of recongregation.”

Her face turned to a snarl.

“And where are we now? Hmmm? The Ecclesiarchy in a desperate move to keep themselves relevant have sought fit to lionise a lunatic! They would choose madness over reform, just to reinforce their rotten platform. From the solar  core, from the root, to the branch, to the segmentum extremis their version of the Imperial truth is dead!”

Her hands moved to calm the screeches and cheers.

“No, brothers and sisters,” she moved, “We will not abide this.”

She began prowling the room.

“This. Will. Not. Pass.”

She drew a dagger.

“The time for words and philosophy is over.”

She moved her arms frenziedly, waving the dagger.

“The time for the unseen hand is over.”

She began pointing the dagger at the assembled Inquisitors, Interrogators and Acolytes.

“No longer are we simply going to discuss the future. We’re not going to… pontificate. We are not going to dull our senses with endless debate. We are not going to work through the tutelage required to elucidate the masses on the reformation required under Guilliman.”

She fumed. Her chest rose and fell in time with the deeper breathing required to fuel her rant. Her face grimaced for a moment with barely restrained rage. Her hair had already fallen out of the neat bun it had been tied in, perched on top of her head.

“What are you prepared to do? Not what are you prepared to disclose or debate, or discuss, or any of that drollery. What are you prepared to do?”

She slowed her breathing and kept command of the room. She knew she had them - she could hear their breathing slowing to match hers.

“Now is the time. Now is the time we come out of the shadows. Grab your weapons. Grab your interrogators, your acolytes, grab your colleagues and your subordinates. Show me your hands - show me hands ready to grasp the future!”

She threw the dagger into the floor, where it thunk’d into the plascrete and vibrated steadily.

“It is time. Time to rise up! No more the unseen hand! No more the silent majority! No more shall we, the Ultramanians, hide in the shadows! We have done the theoretical. Now is time for the practical!”

That got a cheer, and some hearty whooping. Now, she thought, now I’ll really drive the point home.

“Death!” she called.

“Death!” they responded.

“Death to the Puritan Council!” she howled.

“Death to the Puritan Council!” they chorused their bloodlust.

The chant took itself up.

“Death to the Puritan Council!”
“Death to the Puritan Council!”
“Death to the Puritan Council!”
“Death to the Puritan Council!”

« Last Edit: March 18, 2020, 02:09:04 AM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2020, 12:30:15 PM »
=][=

+++ Message Begins +++
+++ Encryption:Mar.Inf.Q-e433 +++
+++ Priority :Omega/Red +++
+++ From : Ampulex +++
+++ To : Phantom +++

Ampulex cannot attend the throne world.

Havoc protocol has been initiated.

End Oebels in the afters. The Configuration has spoken.

+++ Message Ends +++

=][=

Present Day, Most Holy Terra

Lyssa Qi looked over those who had assembled. It had to be said - it was a disappointment. Of course they chanted - of course they did. The mild psychotropic incense saw to that. Their bloodlust had been up. It wouldn’t have taken much to tip them over the edge and into conflict with each other. She could have had them gnawing each other’s bones.

Her loyal Interrogator, Yun, was present. Yun was finishing his final checks, going through his catechisms of engagement - she made a mental note of that. He was learning the power of will and thought, and of the written word being vocalised. It would serve him well in his future career.

If he survived today. If any of them did.

They all understood the power of symbolism. A faction of the Inquisition fighting another in the open, on the Throneworld, over a canonization? That would send a message. The Synod would sit up and take notice, as would a dozen other branches of the Administratum. The evidence Oebels had brought forward had been presented at the Ultramanian Caucus. It was what prompted them to accelerate their timeline and resort to this desperate act.

Raijner Oebels had also shown up. He had brought the key evidence to the Conclave and been very clear about why action was required. He was busy checking racks of ammunition in his shotgun and in belts over both shoulders.

There were scant few more. For all his words and cries of heresy Kleeton was nowhere to be seen. His close allies who had also spoken, Rittsen and Adris were also absent. The idle work, thought Qi, as she checked the ammunition in her own weapons was easy. As ever, pontification, debate, moving paper around - those were the priorities! Politics! They’d been given a mandate from Guilliman, damn them! They had the right to strike and set the now radical element back a decade or two by killing a few senior elements.

The Puritan Council had clung on, slinking away in the shadows, leveraging the desperate Terran Synod and their network of allies across the various arms of the Administratum. Always enough resources to get by. Always a whisper ahead of Guilliman’s purges. So it had been until he’d been called away from Terra. Chameleons that they were, they adapted to slink between philosophies and between factions and thus out of sight.

The same undercurrent that drowned the Inquisition in internecine violence, bound the Puritan Council together. Fealty to the old way. Fealty to their self interest. Fealty to the throne, the idealised golden throne. They had maneuvered pieces around the board - the politically adept ones had anyway - and now the Puritan Council once again had candidates lined up for the Lords Solar and Terra. The Ecclesiarchy was battered and bruised but it still had heft and it’s spines dug deep into every institution, the Inquisition included. The Arbites continued their tradition of messing in matters not truly in their remit. It was no coincidence that Chief Justice Macfarlane was also up for canonisation. A lesser priority, Qi mused, but perhaps they could nudge that out of kilter too. Maybe she would swing her seal and demand she be allowed to add to his record of deeds. She chuckled at the thought.

17 minutes until they set out for the chapel. St Methusela’s Mass, an important confirmatory celebration as part of canonization, would attract enough of the Puritan Council to send a message. She knew it was unlikely they were unaware of the action, and while it was uncommon for throne agents to openly carry weapons, it was not illegal or taboo even to bring them to chapel services. Which meant, no matter what their intention - admittedly the initial intention being violence - it would inevitably turn to violence. The only point of narrative importance was which side started it.

“Inquisitor Qi,” an unfamiliar voice called to her.

She looked to the voice, leaving behind her daydreams on the politics of the day.

Kleeton really is a coward, she thought as she approached his band of acolytes and troops. Kleeton wasn’t stupid, which meant these were disposable.

“Name, acolyte?”

“Codenames Volcano and Octet reporting. We brought 12 good fighting persons from Inquisitor Kleeton’s personal reserves.”

Qi glanced at the assembled rabble. No uniform. A mixture of weapons, from decently maintained auto guns to scavenged lasguns. A patchwork of tattoos- ex Guardsmen, gangers and pilgrims. Personal reserve indeed - just enough credits to get them hired and just enough acolyte presence to be in - no personal presence and certainly no Interrogators. That was enough to manoeuvre out if necessary.

Ito ay ano ito, as they’d say in the island forts of her home world. They’d committed now. It is what it is.

“Thank you, Volcano. All hands are valued. Send my thanks to your master. Wear his colours openly - he will be proud of you today.”

Volcano nodded. Well briefed, then, she thought. No colours, no links, get out alive. She would remember that.

14 minutes.

Oebels has started gathering the assembled mob into some semblance of order. Once they were corralled, and approximately together bar some Inquisitorial outliers, Oebels began to speak.

“..... not yielding to their tyranny again! We have an idea….”

Qi approached the outliers, Inquisitors all.

Gleeson was a staunch Terran revivalist, dedicated to the resurrection of the Imperium through Guilliman’s light. A tall man, thickly set, a hard face set over a rectangular neck. A curling keloid scar wrapped around his cheek up to his left eye. He nodded to Qi as they locked eyes. It was no surprise he had come - he was itching for a fight.

Odion offered a hand as Qi finished her approach to the three outliers. Odion enjoyed the patronage of several Lord Inquisitors in the Ultima and Solar sector - that gave him clear license to do whatever he wanted. Somewhat reckless, but known for unerring precision and lethality with the heavy rifle slung over his right shoulder. He was not thickset like Gleeson, instead slight and sleek. His hair was shaved into a tight mohawk, as was traditional with his home world.

Qi shook his hand vigorously.

“Inquisitors, Odion, Gleeson, Ymaar.”

She nodded to each.

Ymaar was an outspoken critic of the Puritan Council. Not strictly a Recongregator, the ever masked Ymaar had fallen in with the Ultramanians out of their hatred for the Council, not out of the ideals. The mask was a distorted mirror, reflecting back the viewer as if through a filthy lens. It was rumoured Ymaar wasn’t one person - they were several, perhaps even clones of the same person. They didn’t speak much - that didn’t matter. Ymaar had come in a suit of power armour and a chainfist. That was enough - and Ymaar couldn’t turn down this opportunity to exact their vengeance, their grudge - whatever the motivation. They had invested too much in their hatred. If the mask could’ve moved, it would have bristled with barely contained impatience.

8 minutes.

“Let’s get this moving, Lyssa. Time to murder some irrational zealots.” Gleeson said, pointing to the waiting rhinos.

“Their engines are running, Inquisitor.”

Qi theatrically glanced at her chronometer.

“7 minutes and counting.” she stated, “Plenty of time for more to arrive.”

Behind them Oebels was wrapping up his rant.

“.... break the chains of orthodoxy! Death to the Puritan Council!”

Some half hearted responses came back.

Maybe it was the way she said it.

Maybe it was the Agit in the incense.

=][=
« Last Edit: March 13, 2020, 10:14:51 PM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2020, 09:43:59 PM »
2 Days Ago, A dark room, the Fortress of the Inquisition, Most Holy Terra

“They will move against us. A couple of days time. At the chapel. Kleeton let me know.”

“Kleeton. That predictably spineless fool. Back in my day-”

“Back before Guilliman, you mean.”

“Yes, throne dammit, before that filthy xeno consor-”

“Careful. The walls have ears. Eyes, I suspect, and mouths too. Let us be clear, about Lord Guilliman’s…. Allies. They have value. For now.”

Despite the dark, the incredibly angry face of the second speaker glowed a heated red.

“Yes,” came the response, clearly through the most gritted of gritted teeth, “Temporary allies that Lord Guilliman has… chosen. Back before him, we’d have rounded these idiots up and flamed them.”

“Times change. We’ve changed with them. We’ve never had to retreat to these locales, to hide in these kinds of places. Worry not, brother. We will rise again.”

“With the help of the damn leech?”

“Careful. Brother Amaurn has every right to a trial and restitution. We’ll… help that along the way, depending on what Amaurn saw at Delan’s Point. There are… narratives that need maintenance. Grixos’ so called confession that the Ultramanian’s are flaunting around needs to be… corrected.”

“And you want the le-, Brother Amaurn to … clarify.”

“Yes, brother. Amaurn has much clarification to provide. Contact him directly. Discreetly. Use intermediaries. Tell him we’ll have a skiff ready for him at the Ganymede Hub-Fortress. It will be busy with another round of supplies, troops, and Mechanicus to send out to follow our Lord Guilliman. Easy for him to ghost through with our help. From there, smuggle him down here to Terra.”

“What about the Ultramanians?”

“Let them have their victory. We’ve already got ours - St Muundus Vhogart. A shining victory for us, and the Ecclesiarchy. Chief Justice Macfarlane is due any time soon too. Cardinal Gan too. What are a few Interrogators and drab, defeated, done members of the Council. About time things were freshened up.”

“I don’t agree. We can’t let them just gun down our brothers and sisters. It’s a crime against the Throne! We are preserving the God-Emperor’s grand plan for Mankind!”

“Then go and save them, if you feel that strongly. Know that you’ll be by yourself.”

“So be it.”

=][=

1 Day Ago, Hive Malliax, Most Holy Terra


Tallus read the message. It was preserved perfectly in stasis on a ream of perfectly white parchment. The parchment itself curved gently in the stasis field where it was held perfectly still. Not even an atom stirred.

Tallus read the writing again, and finished it a third time. So it was true. The instructions were explicit about the conditions and the trigger. Rubbing his eyes, he logged back into his terminal.

His family had been provided with a perpetuity, a stipend for the rent on their small hab-block, and one simple set of tasks. Login to a terminal.

In the terminal, select ‘Search’. 

Press execute.

Wait for the result. When - if perhaps? - when the result comes back as true, press the second login.

Wait for further instructions. Do this daily.

And so, two hundred and twelve years, eight months, and nineteen days since the task was released he logged into the terminal. He executed the command.

Every previous time - all 77,639 days - the result had said “null”.

Today, the result came back “True”.

Tallus had sat back in his seat and breathed out deeply.

No one had ever accessed the second login. He suspected at some point, someone must have tried to access it - but even with his miniscule knowledge of technology, he figured it wouldn’t activate without the first condition being true.

He breathed in deeply and rubbed his eyes, down his face, and down his neck as he let an extended breath blow out and rattle his cheeks.

He brought his hands together, entwining his fingers and cracking his knuckles. It had been made clear to him as a child, and from his father, and the 14 generations previous that had lived in this hab-block - this task had to happen every day. Live your life, enjoy it even! They didn’t have to slave away in the administratum. They were comfortable. The task must happen.

Every day.

He had no clue of the significance of ‘Search’. He had no clue why it had to be executed from his hab-block, and only here, or why it required manual effort to do it.

His wife and children were out, and would be for several days. His parents had recently died, his grandparents long dead. He was the lineal inheritor of this solemn duty, as would, he assumed, his children.

But today… today had been the day.

He hit the second login.

+++ Validating …. +++

He waited patiently. Several minutes passed with his heart racing.

+++ Accepted. Activating. +++

+++ The Emperor Protects +++

The terminal blinked off. A short hiss sounded, followed by thick, black smoke leaving the back of the terminal.

Tallus stared catatonically at the dead screen for several hours.

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

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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2020, 09:45:47 PM »
Now, the Throneworld, Most Holy Terra

Interrogator Garrus Setraakian stood between Oebels and his objective. In a bristling, obsidian line flanking each side of the young interrogator were two lots of five Stormtroopers with las guns primed, hot, and aimed.

“I can’t let you go any further Inquisitors.”

Well, Oebels mused, he’s a brave one. Hal trained him well, he’s got a spine and he’s got courage.

“Let me through little Setty,” said Qi, “I don’t want to kill you as well as the rest of them. You can still follow Jarrod’s path.”

“Inquisitors, I’m not going to ask again. Don’t do this.”

Qi snapped.

“What good do you think eleven more deaths are going to do, Garrus? I’ll kill you all before you move. Ymaar could kill you all single handed. We outnumber you nearly three to one.”

“It’s not about numbers, Qi. We can’t keep killing each other.”

Setraakian held his ground, though he adjusted his feet and his grip on a wonderfully blue power sword. As if on cue, the power field crackled like the tension in the air.

“You’re right! You’re right! Setty, look at me. I didn’t kill your master. We both know that. And we both know that, if that rat Zjiivek is in there that Hal died by his hand. Directly, on the basis of an order of his… it doesn’t matter.” Qi pointed the the chapel, then at the group assembled at her back while she continued.

“No one is right here, but this message - this symbol is important. The Puritan Council cannot be allowed to get away with more murder and more division just because one of theirs got sainted.”

Qi pointed at her force again, then back to Garrus.

“You can try and stop me, but you won’t. You can try and Carta me but it won’t hold. I’ll scalp every single one of them in there and you can try and stop it but you can’t and you won’t and you shouldn’t.”

Qi smiled. She had a decidedly sinister smile. Her two canine teeth were enlarged by a few millimeters, and all her teeth had been sharpened. Her teeth were also artificial and covered in tiny crystalline wire, that ran up through her gums and no doubt up through her skull. Lyssa was a known biochemical expert and everyone assumed that she had various subtle delivery systems.

They had assumed correctly.

With a thought impulse, microneedle pulses of chemicals from her canine teeth flicked invisibly from her open mouth into the neck of Setraakian. The psychotropic was designed to encourage compliance with direct requests. She waited three heartbeats to let it rush around his body.

“Garrus, listen to me. I’m going in there, and I’m going to kill all of them. Every single one. And I’m going to send a message that another member of the Puritan Council as the Lord Terran is not the will of the Inquisition. Garrus, you need to stand down. Now.”

For a moment, Setraakian’s pupils wobbled, then contracted and warped.

“Stand down.”

For a second the Stormtroopers looked at each other, unsure as to whether the order was correct.

“I’m going to repeat his words for you, troopers. Stand. Down. There won’t be a further request.”

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for the troopers to power down and to begin opening the way to the Chapel Inquisitoris. Qi kept walking forward with an air of invincibility.

If Oebels was honest with himself, he was absolutely in awe of her. She came from an aquatic world out on the harsh frontier of the Imperium. The world was riddled with poisonous and venomous sea life of all kinds. Each of the toxins had been meticulously catalogued over time such that each of the compounds had been mastered and manipulated. It was strange how many different variants there had been, but the Emperor had seen in his infinite wisdom to send mankind to every corner of the galaxy to collect such data. He suspected Qi’s obsession with xenobiology and organic chemistry came from her upbringing.

She had come into the Inquisition the hard way - she had been picked up as a specialist in one of Inquisitor-General Tyran’s undercover operations. Her keen eye and sharp mind had allowed her to show her value and Tyran whisked her off world. It didn’t take much for her to transition into the formal ranks of the Inquisition and to work her way up through there. She didn’t speak much of Tyran - they had parted ways as she moved from Acolyte to Interrogator, into the employ of various Inquisitors across the Halo and Ghost worlds. Her work in uncovering and stopping a Drukhari incursion on Galantis IV, a hive world, had been the feather in her cap that saw her receive a seal. Ever since then, she’d operated in the Segmentum Solar.

As Oebels left his daydreaming behind, the front of the Chapel came into view. Inside the Inquisitorial fortress it took on a different hue today. The obsidian stone seemed darker than usual, as if it had tightened itself in anticipation of coming violence. The Inquisitorial I was a repeated motif on the gargoyles and holy haemonculi that adorned the exterior. The motif of I’s glinted in the light like a thudding heartbeat.

Small glints of gold gilt accented the extreme dark. Several celebratory motifs decorated the upper reaches of the Chapel, depicting ancient events ranging from the Heresy through the age of apostasy and up to Guilliman’s return. Oebels couldn’t avert his eyes from the stern visage of the Primarch, sculpted in obsidian, staring down at them as they approached.

Roboute himself had launched significant purges on Terra. They were right - dammit, this was right! He shook off the doubt. His nagging habit to check his weapon was loaded twinged again and he obeyed without thinking. Clunk, click, the satisfying view of a bullet in chamber. The flick, clack of re-racking a full magazine. A quick sighter down the barrel.

Cherubim and anointed servo skulls drifted around the spires of the chapel, each of them repeating the service happening within. The rattling high gothic prose was given a slightly different pitch and timbre by the swarm of creatures, leaving a quite disturbing discordant wall of sound echoing around the chapel and the vast holy grounds surrounding it. On the very pinnacle of the chapel sat a two headed cyber eagle - one blind, one not - as was fitting to celebrate He-On-Terra. Oebels made the sign of the Aquila over his chest, as did many around him, at the sight of the eagle. Someone was obviously very interested in what was about to happen.

Qi approached the chapel doors, and with one great heft pushed them both wide open. They cracked onto their stays, rattling somewhat as they came to a halt.

Each face in the congregation turned to face her. Oebels couldn’t help be impressed by the sheer gumption of it, even as his order to surround the chapel was being carried out. Ymaar stepped forward to be off Qi’s shoulder, a couple of steps back to her left. Oebels occupied the same position to her right.

“What is the mean-“

“Assembled members of the so called Puritan Council. I am Inquisitor Lyssa Qi, Inquisitrix-Primus of the Ultramanian Conclave, Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus,  Saviour of Balmortis, Hero of Galantis IV, Adept-Honorific of the Temple Venenum, and as of this very second Master of the Chapel Inquisitoris.”

She took a step forward.

Her bootstep echoed right up to and through the high ceiling. The chapel wasn’t as full as they’d predicted or, perhaps hoped. Still she spied some very notable faces. These were the disposables, then.

Oebels took a quieter step behind her, as did Ymaar, keeping their distance relative. Behind them came their portion of the force. Oebels sized up their opposition - a few Inquisitors, and a coterie of henchmen and interrogators. They were ready for the fight.

“You come here to celebrate a lie. A fiction. A lunatic and a frothing gurning caricature.”

Qi took a nearly rolled scroll from her hip, letting it unfurl.

“I hereby declare this service null and vacant-“ the rabble began to stand up and turn, shouting their dissent, “-, that this canonization be abandoned-“ her words had really stoked a furious response now, but she persevered “-improper use of the Synod’s authority and holy mission.”

She paused to allow the heckling and the abuse trickle out.

“We know what you want Qi. Screech the rest of your words, so we can start…. the conclave.”

The words came from Inquisitor-General Draavic Grejchev, a hulk of a man in full power armour. He held his disturbingly effective weapon, Liquefactor. A simple looking hammer, the weapon actually housed a complex grav-system that allowed an incredibly powerful pneumatic firing system in the head of the hammer. Upon impact the grav system fired behind the face, leaving the head of the hammer with a potent platform to fire from. The head would then accelerate so fast it created a sonic boom usually liquefying the victim in the process. Grejchev knew what was coming.

“So be it - by the power invested in me, and with the blessings of 8 Inquisitors in good name, good standing and moral certitude, that I execute on this day the 16th day of Tertius, in the year of He-On-Terra M42.120 a carta extremis on all those present for the canonization of the false saint, Muundus Vhogart. In the name of the Emperor I demand you all immediately repent and report for summary sentencing, and where appropriate execution for acts most heretical and vile. Surrender, brothers and sisters.”

She let slip her whip-crack vicious smile.

“And if we don’t,” responded Grejchev, who had become the de-facto spokesman for those assembled.

“Then, Draavic, my associates and I will serve the carta and enforce it with force extremis.”

The chapel was eerily silent. Fingers made micro movements nervously towards weapons. A bead of sweat came down Oebel’s brow and down his cheek. He could feel his back prickling with anticipation expressing as ice cold perspiration. His fight or flight response was pounding adrenaline through his body. The demand was unclear. His breathing became slower, and deeper. His ears rang with rushing blood.

In that moment, he would later reflect, it was clear that the Puritan Council had moved first. A young firebrand acolyte, Rutherford, was the nervous unfortunate. His features were twisted somewhere between horror, hatred and fear. His shaking hands brought up his autopistol and, as quickly as that was brought up, everyone in the room began to move.

Bullets spilled out from every direction. Qi dived forward into cover behind a pew. Oebels scuttled behind a statue of St Thor. Ymaar simply didn’t care as bullets, bolts and lasbolts pinged and pocked off their power armour. The rest of the Ultramanians poured in through the sacristy and through a discreet side door off the back of the shrine.

Odion began to scale the chapel wall heading for the eagle eye view of the gallery above. Hefting over the gallery balcony, Odion found himself instinctively blocking a vicious chainsword slash at his head from a furious chapel attendee in a red, fire and brimstone robe. He used his rifle as a makeshift baton to keep the zealot at bay, watching chunks of his rifles casing being torn away by whirring chain teeth. The broken flow of air from the chain weapon rippled over his face with an oddly refreshing sensation.

Ymaar floated forward, cracking shots off from their bulky autopistol. They simply didn’t care about the fire, or didn’t fear it in the slightest. The nonchalance was fascinating to Oebels. They took down a plucky Interrogator who was trying to flank them with an accurate snap shot, followed with a pair of priests from the choir who were sprinting down to the main chapel door. A full auto burst ended both. Cases from the bullets tinkled as they tickled the stone floor. Oebels locked his sights on a panicked acolyte and emptied his brains with an accurate blast from his laspistol. As the last last chunk of Sebastian Thor splintered around him, Raijner slipped into cover behind a statue of Saint Brannicus the Thrice-Maimed.

“Qi, we need to advance,” Raijner yelled, the likeness of Saint Brannicus offering him refuge disappearing in clumps of rubble around him. Qi nodded.

“Cover me!”

Qi rolled out of cover behind Ymaar’s armoured legs.

Oebels stepped out to greet a hailstorm of fire, returning the best he could with several volleys of his own. Ymaar kept walking forwards as Qi rolled into the shadow of Ymaar, then stood up behind them, letting swarms of bullets bounce ineffectually off the armoured monster.

Oebels flung himself back towards cover finding himself prone. He leapt back at the sound of a body thudding in front of him from above. Without hesitation he shot several rounds into the groaning then dead victim of Odion above. The robe caught fire from the las fire, filling Oebels nose first with the acrid smell of cheap synthetic cloth then the rich, disturbing aroma of burning human fat.

Lyssa glanced at the carnage. Behind the shrine, several Bishops of the Terran Synod were cowering trying to avoid death. She flinched as splinters of stone fell all around her from a stray shot into the ceiling. Several hunched, cloaked figures were emerging from a hidden alcove below the shrine. The lead Bishop was trying to run into the sacristy and out of the chapel.

Gleeson grabbed the Bishop and dragged him into the sacristy. Gleeson shoved the Bishop against a wall, mangling him through a coat hangar and across a table sending a collection of relics across the room.

“Death comes for everyone, priest.”

“The Emperor will not absolve you of this.”

Gleeson nodded at the corpse of Muundus lying in repose.

“You think he’ll forgive you for that?”

He repeatedly stabbed the bishop, knifing him over and over and over again. Blood spattered everywhere. The bishop started to cough up blood. Desperation filled his eye. He brought his hands to his tattered torso as he tried to stop his innards leaking everywhere.

Gleeson dropped the preacher and ran out into the main body of the chapel. He clumsily deflected a downward stroke from a power sword with his knife. The knife splintered in his hand, forcing him to jump back. His assailant, presumably a bounty hunter from the accoutrements Gleeson quickly appraised, was well armed and not interested in savouring his death. The bounty hunter pressed his attack, forcing Gleeson to scramble back. Gunfire was raging all around him rattling his balance with the wall of sound smashing his ears. He fell backwards as he failed to find a weapon he could wield. Fearing the worst he prepared for death as the stroke came down.

Ymaar rudely interrupted this with a clumsy backstroke from their whirring chainfist, laying their intended victim into the bounty hunter in a spray of effluence and vital fluids. Gleeson saw the bounty was as covered as him in the mess but was more disoriented - they had taken more of the spray in bigger chunks than he had. Gleeson swept his leg, clearing the bounty hunter into the air. The bounty hunter screamed as he slammed onto the floor. Odion saw the prone victim and with a grin pierced the bounty hunter’s chest cavity from lung to lung. The bounty hunter choked as his lungs rapidly filled with his own blood.

In front of the shrine, Grejchev was a whirling fury. Several of Kleeton’s irregulars, lead by Volcano and Octet, had converged on him trying to make a name for themselves. Volcano struck first, swinging a vicious sickle. Grejchev blocked with his forearm, letting the sickle run down and harmlessly flow off his elbow. Grejchev stepped through Octet, using the bulk of his power armour to bull him to the floor. An irregular, a Terran ganger wielding a chainsword and a snub nosed pistol, jumped from a pew straight at Grejchev. The Inquisitor-General used his momentum to pivot through with the Liquefier.

The hammer arced upwards connecting with the ganger in mid flight. The grav-barrier ignited at the same instant as the pneumatics driving the face fired, squarely into the chest of the jumping ganger. For a split second, the air crackled with friction and anticipation. A moment later, a gout of blood and splintering bone, chunks of spinal cord and cooking intestine exploded in a full half sphere above the impact point.

Oebels felt himself fighting to stay focused on the carnage. The sonic boom rocked him back on his heels and his mind reeled with the shock of witnessing a human change from corporeal to liquid form in an instant. The odour of flash fried human remains made him immediately retch, even as a frenzied priest armed with a lasgun and bayonet snuck up on him. Caught unaware, he barely managed to dodge the clumsy thrust. Oebels screamed as the bayonet went through his shoulder.

It barely registered above the rat-tat-tat and revving growls of combat. Blood began leaking all over Raijner as he pitched backwards. He ducked a second lunge for his face and managed to catch the lasgun in both hands on the back stroke. Though the two of them grappled, Oebels knew his shoulder was about to give out. Gleeson saved his blushes - and likely death, by using the stub of his knife to stab the priest repeatedly in his neck, severing the spinal column with some effort. Oebels felt the grip on the weapon go slack.

The chapel, previously a serene picture of sacred praise for the Most Holy Emperor above was now a gore soaked charnel house. Qi ran at a stern looking woman with a seal barking out the catechism to drive back the wych. The woman - Qi recognized her as Witch-Hunter Sireena Lechalle - moved like a battleship, breaking an irregular in front of her with a swing of her shock maul, and blast from her hand flamer. Qi dodged Sireena’s opening clumsy swing, twisting close to Lechalle’s body.

Lechalle tensed her quads and drove a vicious knee, trying to separate herself from Lyssa. She was desperate to use the shocking end of the maul. Qi felt her leg go dead immediately and fail below her. She went with the momentum, spinning to grab the shock maul by the stem and half disarming the Witch-Hunter. Lechalle let the weapon go and the maul skittered down the chapel with a metallic klink-clack. She brought her hand flamer to bear, bringing it about to point at the prone Qi. Lyssa braced for the heat until she saw Ymaar, rocked back by an attempted blow from the Liquefier knock into Lechalle and distract her momentarily.

In that moment, with the hand flamer squarely in her face, she could see the pilot flame and the raw chemical smell of promethium hurt her sinuses.  Without hesitation, Qi lunged upwards grabbing at the hand of the witch hunter.

Exposed flesh.

She bit in immediately. Lechalle turned pale in a heartbeat, frothing bloodied spittle flecking on both cheeks. Her eyes went bloodshot, then began to leak blood from the rapidly expanding blood vessels. The same happened with her nose, ears, and tear ducts. Even the veins below her nails began to explode. Lyssa yanked herself up, pulling the rapidly exsanguinating Witch-Hunter to the floor behind her.

With Ymaar staggered across the room, Grejchev moved to stamp down on Octet who hadn’t been able to re-find her feet. Her rib cage was mangled immediately, leaving her crippled and unable to breathe. She rasped for air, trying desperately to live. She wouldn’t last long before the blood loss and oxygen deprivation would kill her.

Volcano sprang off a column, trying to save his colleague. He collided with another acolyte, Davvys Theo. The two locked on each other, sliding through the remains of the irregular recently turned into liquid. They rolled in the filth, trying to get purchase on each other through the blood slick and human waste. Desperation drove both of them, neither gaining the upper hand.

Odion tried to find a clear shot through the splatters of blood and body parts, and the tangle of limbs and weapons. Volcano thrashed his leg, finding the slimmest advantage. For just a moment he had a lever, but it was all he needed. He pulled Davvys off balance, then pushed Davvys away. Oebels saw his opportunity as Odion hesitated. Raijner fired his laspistol repeatedly ending Theo with three neatly placed shots.

Volcano screamed in pain as he saw Octet fade and black out. He knew his sister acolyte wouldn’t come round again.

Behind them, Grejchev swung his hammer again, exploding the final irregular in a shower of human detritus. Sulphurous smoke mixed with the incense in the air to create a noxious mix that set a strong overtone above the reek of . Around the chapel, fighting slowed to a crawl as everyone looked towards the middle of the room.

The obvious conflict between the two titans in the room had now come into full focus.

Inquisitor Lyssa Qi against Inquisitor-General Draavic Grejchev. A battle of philosophy and burning hatred. A battle for Inquisitorial supremacy.

A battle for the Emperor’s soul.

“I’ve killed stronger fools than you Grejchev.”

“And I’ve burnt every wych like you I’ve encountered Qi.”

“No quarter asked,” Qi smiled.

“No quarter given.”

Grejchev ran at her, cleaving pews, prayer rolls and hymnal pads asunder. Splintered wood and vapourised electronics ran as waves at the prow of the monstrous valiant in powered armour. His armour was engraved with devotional cant and ecclesiastic pronouncements that were carved deep in the ceramite painted in purest white. The white was speckled with deep crimson from the various victims of the Liquefier. He roared as he reached Qi, swinging wildly for her head.

She ducked like a dancing cobra, feeling the air above her crackle as the terrifying weapon barely missed her neatly tied bun on the crown of her head. Lyssa drove forward, driving a thin power knife between a gap in Grejchev’s armour between his thigh and knee. Grejchev felt the ligament in his left knee give way and even with the supports in his suit, his leg felt heavy.

Warm blood leaked down his calf and pooled in his greave and boot. Roaring in pain, Grejchev left his hammer in his left hand and clocked Qi with a swift right hand jab. With the power of his armour it burst her nose and broke her cheekbone. Her vision swam as the Inquisitor-General tried to press his advantage by dropping his shoulder to match his crippled left knee, then springing with his right foot to push Lyssa back.

She felt herself lifted off her feet, incapable of stopping herself being bullied back into a pillar. Her back cracked and her breath emptied from her chest even as Grejchev tried to stand on his buckling knee. He stumbled, falling prone and crushing a statue of St Agamemnon the Just on his way down.

Qi tried to breathe through the blood. Her vision swam and blurred dangerously. Grejchev was still trying to rise to strike the death blow, unable to gain traction with his weakened leg. Lyssa let her mind reel for an infinitesimal quantum of time before using sheer force of will to force herself round. Her vision sharpened. Two familiar scars, neat puncture wounds on her hand, begged to be used again.

She drove her fangs into herself, feeling the rush of Slaught and Brut. Her bleeding slowed, her muscles twitched with chemical steel and power. Her brain rushed with thoughts of violence and the animal snarl of adrenaline. She grabbed her power whip, flicking it out to full length. It crackled as it contacted the chapel floor leaving burn marks and boiling the pools of blood that were forming from the slaughter. Ahead of her, Grejchev had levered himself back to his feet opposite her using the Liquefier. He turned to face her, his breathing laboured from the effort.

“Let’s have it, then, traitor.”

Language was lost on Qi. She snarled, cracking the whip out to its full length. The lash cleaved off a vent from the Draavic’s power pack. The final irregular was running at the stricken Inquisitor-General as the vent was sliced away. The ganger was consumed in a plume of thermal waste that melted skin and flesh away revealing bleached bone. He screamed even as Grejchev forced himself forward in a clumsy swing of his hammer. Qi cracked her whip again, flaying a chunk of ceramite off his shoulder, then from his chest. The Aquila on his chest lost both its heads and a portion of wing. The impact of the whip forced Draavic back who failed to find a stable footing between his useless knee and the increasingly slick gore.

Qi began to close in for the kill when the shrouded interlopers around the shrine revealed themselves.

“Purgator,” hissed one of the Bishops.

“Arcoflagellants!” shouted Ymaar.

They set themself in a firm defensive stance, chainfist revving and autopistol emptying. The three flagellants bounded forward, hefting their integrated weaponry as the bloodlust suppressed their slaved remaining humanity drilling home one remaining, repeating thought - kill.

Kill. Kill. Kill.

Kill everything.

Ymaar remained aloof and distant to the danger. The first flagellant flung itself forward, trying to split the Inquisitor in half with an oversized circular saw. Ymaar parried it with the chainfist, it’s powerfield disintegrating the disc. The flagellant fell off balance, allowing Ymaar to slice off a leg with a burst of automatic fire from their pistol. The second and third flagellants - OX-57 and PRG-21 - came on without a care for their fallen cousin.

Grejchev used the few seconds distraction to come again at Qi, this time holding his hammer in both hands and en-garde. He was more wary now, conscious of the dimming power in his suit and the blood that had drained into his armour. He saw the dark tendrils of blood loss pulling at the edges of his vision beckoning him to black out. His hair was singeing from the heat uncontrollably leaving the broken sink on his suit.

“Come on wych!” he screamed at Qi in defiance.

Qi set her feet, watching Grejchev with reptilian patience. Her head stayed perfectly still while she stalked him, keeping her feet precisely shoulder width apart and her knees bent into a lowered stance. She flicked a button on the handle of her whip, revealing fangs all the way down the whip. The powerfield sparked as it adjusted to the new surface area of the weapon.

Both Qi and Grejchev set themselves even as Ymaar and the flagellants tangled.

Tentacular electro flails from OX-57 gripped Ymaar even as he plunged his chainfist through the chest of PRG-21. The flagellant blurted screams of defiance from an oversized vox-unit in its chest which mixed with a distorted wall of static. The death rattle of the flagellant burst Ymaar’s eardrums, sending them off balance. OX-57 gripped tighter, the arcing electricity escaping in bursts through Ymaar’s power armour, frying the flesh within. Ymaar flailed in agony, their chainfist finishing pulping PRG-21 before desperately scrabbling at OX-57. The three of them, locked in death throes became one bio-mechanical chimaera gibbering and screaming in unending pain.

Odion, still high above the chapel in the gallery, lined up his sights on Ymaar’s masked face. Without a second though, he sent a bullet through Ymaar’s head. The screaming stopped. Odion executed OX-57 and PRG-21 in the seconds after.

Qi, settled low as a coiled viper, struck first. She flailed her arm, lifting the whip into an arc above her head before striking forwards, letting it coil and unleash. The barbs caught in the Liquefier and wrapped the whip around it, sparking the powerfield as the barbs cut into the stem and head of the weapon. Grejchev pulled hard, trying to draw her in. She used her steady footing to resist, not accounting for the slick of gore below her. She skidded forwards, off kilter.

Above, Odion re-targeted, landing a bullet into Grejchev’s cheek. He roared as his face was half ripped away, leaving the entire left part of his skull and jaw completely exposed and raw. Qi sensed her opportunity and drove forward, unsteady through the reservoir of spatter but driven by the haze of Slaught. She hurled herself, leaving the whip behind and letting her body weight connect with the chest of the Inquisitor-General. His stricken knee and failing suit couldn’t cope with the weight and momentum sent him onto his back.

The thermal waste leaked into her face and burnt her skin as to charcoal black she knelt over him panting her fury. She was sweating with the exertion, her nose still leaking blood.

She plunged her thumbs into his eyes, raking deep and immediate, shrieking as she made paste of his eyes and drove on into his skull. Qi felt her digits meet bone. Her shoulders locked as she found grip. With a final surge of inhuman strength, she tore Grejchev’s head in half showering her face with meninge and brain.

=][=
« Last Edit: March 14, 2020, 10:15:59 AM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Mentirius

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  • Posts: 145
Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2020, 03:44:16 PM »

M41.697 – Secret’s Hold, [REDACTED], [REDACTED] System


“The difference between a boy and a man is a matter of biology and time.  The difference between a boy and an Inquisitor is measured in Will alone.  When you leave my care you will wield the power of life and death, salvation or the breaking of souls.  You will the spectre who decides.  You cannot hesitate, nor make decisions out of sympathy, nor anger, nor pride – above all you must perceive the chains of consequence that will proceed.  It is never a matter of whether you must kill; it is a matter of whom and how many.  The greater your mastery of consequence, the fewer strokes are needed to achieve your goal.”

“My goal, master?   And what is that?”

“Petulant child, you know full well.  Your goal is identify the beings with the greatest control over the most human lives, and to understand and subvert them.  Ultimately, to destroy them.  Have I not taught you history, prophecy, theology for this?  I see it in you, you want to Choose Your Fate.  But this is not about You.  Mere mortals have few choices in their lives.  Inquisitors have more than most, but you are not there yet.  We exist to spite the eye that watches, to tempt it into wagers that its purse can ill-afford.  You don’t like your fate?  Then tell the gods!  Better yet, finish your training and demonstrate.  But expect no sympathy from such as them, nor me.”

The boy has had enough.

“Who is the girl in the walls, master?  What was your goal for her?  I have heard–”

“Speak of that again, boy.  Cut the string to spite me if you’re really so sick of life, or else be silent.  Today you bind a daemon to your will, unless it binds you first.  Save your defiance for the ritual cell.  I have just the specimen in mind for a lesson in tempting fate.”



=][=


M41.999 – Aboard Futility

“This has gone far enough.  I, we are taking command of this vessel.  Your control over proceedings has ended.  You will surrender or be cut down.  I’m looking forward to it.”

“Put down your weapon, boy.  Do you think I’m the enemy here?  A new god of Chaos is about to rise!  Not just of Chaos, but Hate.  I know how to stop it, I alone, and in your obsessive hate of me you no longer seem to care.  Whose side are you on?  Are you an Inquisitor or not?  Everything I am, everything I’ve done was for this – I exist to defy gods.”

“And I exist to defy You, with equal dedication.  Let gods fight their own battles.  You are not one of them.  Put up your weapon, old man.  I’ll show you what an Inquisitor looks like.”

“We can’t kill him, Amaurn, remember – we need Balkoth alive.  We all agreed.  Amon Dull is still the greater threat.  This is not about your grudge.”

“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve heard that?  How many cursed excuses?  This all began with him!  We’ll see if I can’t damn well kill him.”



=][=


M42.120 – The Hub-Fortress Aquila Adamant, Ganymede, Sol System


“He does not age, he does not sleep and he does not make mistakes.”

He had said that once of the man who had been his mentor, and later his great enemy – not that the transition had changed his feelings towards Balkoth in the slightest.  Fortunately there were few left who would remember those words today, and none of them would dare set foot where Amaurn – where Inquisitor Amaurn, let none deny it – now grimly stood.  This was fortunate, because much of his excuse for standing here derived from a claim to have defeated and killed the man.  That and several other important claims had yet to be verified, or even openly supported by a single Inquisitor beside himself, yet Amaurn was quietly confident it would only be a matter of time.  No matter that they were lies.  It was merely for the sake of expediency he had disguised himself to come here.  The plan was a good one, among his best in fact, although he had allowed several gaps to remain in case he became further inspired...contingencies had been allowed for, though he did not expect to need them.

Preparation and improvisation cannot fight for supremacy; you must achieve full symbiosis in order to maximise control.  Always have a plan, but never expect it to work.  Devote yourself to ensuring you succeed where all your plans have failed.

This was what he learned as a boy, though he rejected it still, even now.  Rejected it and remembered every word.  Lived by those words and others like them without ever meaning to.  Amaurn respected directness, focus, drive…  He despised the convoluted scheming on which Balkoth had so thrived.  Worse, his pretensions towards philosophy, invention, even rhetoric...  Especially rhetoric, he reflected.  The art of elaborate condescension would be a more fitting description.  Perhaps he acquired the interest from one of his daemons.  Centuries of service in the Ordo Malleus had taught Amaurn this much: every daemon loves the sound of its own voice.  He considered himself a man of few words, and yet here he was.  At the precipice of a convoluted scheme, on his way to rhetorical war.  The irony was bile in his throat.

His own vision of an Inquisitor was a soldier through and through, albeit shorn of orders or superiors.  The general of an army of himself.  An Inquisitor’s business was to judge what to kill and how to kill it for maximum strategic effect – and furthermore, to do so.  No time for quiet contemplation with war on every side.  No room for considered debate; no need for a secret laboratory.  Amaurn had never maintained a permanent headquarters.  What original research he undertook had always been done in the field.  But his attempts to eradicate every trace of the force that had shaped him, to remould the granite within until no trace of his mentor’s chisel remained, had always come to nothing.  He was what he was, and he had not been a boy for over four hundred years.  Longer, as some parts of the galaxy reckoned it now.  Or else he was yet to be born...even time itself could apparently no longer be counted on in the so-called Era Indomitus.  Amaurn suspected this had as much to do with the Administratum as it did with the rifts in reality. 

He was in effect, in mind if not in blood, though all his being railed and strained against it, the son of former Inquisitor Balkoth.  The second of three, and the only one left now with even a dubious claim on Inquisitorial status.  And though the tyrant himself might be long gone, Balkoth lived on in every stone of the fortress he had built over that furious child.  The boy that was had been crushed beneath, driven down into the earth, ever deeper past primordial bedrock until he found the magma of his soul.  There he burned and bellowed still, exalting in the heat, and for all the meticulous architecture of the bastion overhead, it could not keep the echoes from its cold and empty halls.  Amaurn was still the fire, at his core.  But the castle was his burden and his home.  He felt its walls around him even here.  Invisibly impregnable.

The end need not justify the means.  The Inquisition is the foulest of means, and still the end demands us.  We are not meant to be virtuous.  We are meant to kill daemons...including one another, if need be.  Let others debate what is just.  The galaxy is a battlefield, and there is no room for compromise in War.

This had always been his guiding creed, or something like it.  Once his means had included a daemon sword called Schaskal that immolated souls; a succession of immortal enemies bound to barely contained hosts and set loose upon their peers.  Vuzuol, Manax, The Snake...horrors all, and all had left their scars on him, each wound more vital than the last.  Like an old, unstable plasma pistol, such weapons always misfired eventually.  He had barely survived The Snake.  Still the end had demanded the means.  Some things a lasgun just won’t kill.  Dying, he had accepted a further corruption, one he had thought irreversible, simply to prolong some form of existence, for the war was not yet won.  Becoming more and yet less than a man. 

Finally he had dealt with Balkoth again, and this the darkest sacrifice of them all – the boy beneath the mantle writhed and raged at every barely civil word.  His lava cocoon had long been a pit of black-hot boiling blood by then.  They had faced Amon Dull, a forlorn hope, until everything changed at the last.  The ninefold daemon had been right about that much, though wrong about all else.  The would-be Lord of Hate had failed to ascend.  An alien god of secret fate had risen in its place.  Shriven body and soul by a power beyond understanding, Amaurn had been remade.  The tentacles of ruin tore free as a hideous parasite, all his dark powers ripped away as if they had never been – dissolved before his eyes, while the irises within those eyes had faded back from red to steely grey.  It had hurt like nothing else, for a moment.  Then he’d breathed.  The rapture of the moment might have moved even him to rhetoric, had Balkoth not been there with him to poison even that.  Merely a man again, albeit it a gifted one, and yet alive and whole, he stood alone in his castle now.  He had done so for all the years since.  Amaurn had returned from obscurity with an end in mind at last...a familiar war perhaps, but the means he intended to win it by would begin with the binding of a wholly different beast.


=][=


M41.742 – Nowhere Good


“For the Emperoaaaaaagh!”

A man explodes before him in a hot wet nova, painting the front side of Inquisitor Amaurn bright red from feet to face.  He exclaims a yelp of wordless, helpless rage, blinks furiously and spits a wad of Guardsman onto the deck.  The back of a hand smears away some of the worst of it, but he has no time for further ablutions.  All around, screaming soldiers charge headlong into a hail of heavy bolter fire, disintegrating man by man in a mono-coloured fireworks display.  He scans the mess efficiently, picks up the least mangled rifle he can see.  It oozes vital fluids down his arms.  The cultists have the high ground; this is a suicidal charge.  Suicidal for all but Amaurn. 

A shell comes point-blank for his face, too fast to see but he feels it coming, knows this is the one – grits his teeth and blinks again, the punishing brightness of the flash hurting even through his eyelids as the conversion field kicks in.  The afterglow fades around him as he accelerates his pace.  The weapon stitches a wavering path, firing wide now, the unseen gunman blinded for a precious moment.  Every muscle is electrified by the pounding thrill of combat.  He took the tiny field generator from a fallen priest.  The man had put too much faith in it, but here it spares Amaurn the effort of showy telekinesis.  Twice more he’s hit, twice more spared by pseudo-miraculous light, before cresting the top of the ramp. 

The dribbling rifle speaks, a miracle all its own, illuminating six astonished faces with an angry orange light.  The biggest cultist, a muscle-bound giant of a man, strains to swing the ungainly weapon around and bring it to bear again.  The first lasbolt passes harmlessly over his shoulder but the second more than makes up for it, burning into his open, cursing mouth and out through the back of his neck.  A pistol slug sets off the field again, a momentary flash-and-flinch.  Amaurn fires thrice, guns down two more before the others can close.  Right behind him, Schaskal hammers at unseen castle gates.  He doesn’t have time left to draw the blade.  They’re at him with axes – axes! – now, abandoning all attempts to shoot him.  He catches one with his rifle, pulls back to disarm the man and drives the stock into his throat.  Drops and rolls as another blade comes scything towards his back.  Swings the rifle low as he comes up, sweeping his enemy’s legs away.  Throws the rifle spinning at the third man’s face, reaches up and back to take hold of Schaskal’s hilt.

A flame trails slowly behind it as the daemon blade comes free.  He brings it over and down as he draws, the motion becoming a brutal chop, coming down on the second cultist who is halfway to his feet.  It goes through him from shoulder to pelvis, an irresistible force.  His blood catches light and flares up like prometheum, great gouts of it dousing his fellows, though not a stray drop dares touch Amaurn.  They will wither to ash in moments.  He does not stay to watch.  Schaskal bemoans the weak taste, entreats him for gamier meat.  He ignores the creature’s whining.  It should know him well enough.  The feast it desires is right around a corner.  A knot of surviving Guardsman have caught up – four soldiers perhaps that crucial bit slower or luckier than their fellows, though one man has a ruined arm in a makeshift sling, holding his rifle one-handed, braced against his hip.  A woman with a silver Mohawk sneaks a wary glance at the sword.  How they didn’t hit her is beyond Amaurn.  He gives her a hard stare. 

“Guardsmen!  On me.  There’s worse than this awaiting us in there.”

And there is.  The host was once an Ogryn, or so he assumes – the size of the beast notwithstanding, it is still wearing a crude suit of welded armour of roughly appropriate scale.  He immediately doubts the inhabiting daemon has the dexterity to operate a welding torch.  Its fingers are serrated blades, over-long and curved like sickles, surely incapable of so much as making a fist.  Its noseless face is a ludicrous rictus of pointed teeth, overflowing from three separate sets of lopsided, distended jaws.  A single oversized eye rises up on a thick stalk from the back of its skull, bends around to track the squad as they advance.  The iris glows with eerie light that polarises everything it touches, reversing every colour and turning black to white. 

A hail of lasbolts, coldly blue, spark off the monster uselessly, repelled by metal and flesh alike.  Amaurn blinks and it’s among them, arms pinwheeling.  A silver-Mohawked scalp goes sailing by and slaps against a wall.  How debased does a man need to be to worship such a thing?  He will not try to bind it.  This mindless brute is no clever sadist’s work.  No attempted psychic domination strains against his will...maybe the barest tickle, a polite request to experience increased fear.  Nothing credible.  It intends to tear them apart.  Disgusted, disappointed, he gives Schaskal its head.

The cyclops whirls and tastes the air as the daemon sword attacks.  Azure fire licks out in a spiral, spinning off the blade in great swathes like a billowing matador’s cloak.  It stripes the host-flesh white with scorch marks but it refuses to take flame.  The daemonhost leaps at him and lands in a pouncing crouch, the Inquisitor clamping down again, training taking over as he dives out of its path.  He goes back on the attack at once.  Schaskal sways like a cobra, a sphere of cool air moving with Amaurn as he executes a contemptuous two-handed feint.  The sequence carries him past the beast; he narrowly avoids being disembowelled and pivots on his heel.  It is already spinning to face him when the sword-point punches home.  Avoiding the obvious target, he ignores the ludicrous bobbing eye and aims for its centre of mass.  With all his will and weight behind it, Schaskal is unleashed.  It buries itself all the way to the hilt and goes off like a volcano.  For a moment the room is a furnace, and the eyeball shatters like a lightbulb as the better daemon wins, a mushroom of sapphire fire turning suddenly orange as it strikes the ceiling. 

Amaurn stands his ground through all this, shrouded briefly in black smoke while flaming debris rains down around him.  The human remains he was caked in have all been seared away, though his clothing and hair are unsinged.  His face has been deeply tanned by the blast, however, and later he will fume at the daemon sword’s impudence for this.  He glowers at the monstrous smouldering carcass as it folds in on itself, flesh sloughing off in great grey chunks, reduced to thin grey dust.  Telepathy tells him without having to check – he’s the only left alive.  When the only remaining light is embers, he slowly withdraws the sword.  Its hilt is warm in his hand but not searing, like the flank of a sleeping hound.  No residue clings to the blade.  Schaskal says nothing, satiated, and he sheaths it without complaint.



=][=


M42.120 – Aquila Adamant


Schaskal was long gone now of course.  The sword on Amaurn’s belt was silent, content to stay smothered in its scabbard until required.  No bucking mount to break and break again.  A good sword all the same.  It had not been easy to come by.  Slung across his broad back he wore a lasgun, M-G Short Pattern, standard issue for the ranks of Astra Militarum grunts who crisply marched on past.  They probably thought he meant something by it, dressed as he was, but he had always liked the weapons, insufficient to the task of daemon-slaying though they were.  They didn’t come with a list of demands.  They worked, always; they did his bidding at once under any conditions, requiring no finesse.  They had no pretensions to them, and were plenty good enough against men.  Yet the rifle was one of his grudging contingencies, for though he expected no daemons here, in his time with Schaskal he had learned to prize a killing sword-thrust most.  This predilection had endured even his unsought-for redemption, and it was the blade he truly hoped to wield when the time for violence came.  It was a heavy blade, for Amaurn was a butcher, not a duellist, though he had butchered master duellists in his time.  He could not draw even a force sword here of course, nor draw upon the warp in any serious way; not without destroying his current facade. 

The column had been passing for three solid hours, pausing only for airlocks to close and military shuttles to blast off, each vehicle replaced immediately in a series of well-rehearsed maneuvers, the hiss of their doors giving chorus to the beat of stamping feet.  Carried ceaselessly from action to action, this transfer window was the closest to a respite the Lord Commander had to offer.  No room for compromise in War indeed.  Amaurn glared with stony malice at the Guardsmen, feigning contempt – he’d seen too many men in similar uniforms die forgotten in daemons’ jaws, defiant to the end, for the expression to ring true.  Much like their ubiquitous rifles, there were few weapons more reliable than soldiers like these.  Veterans all, they knew exactly what they were.  Better a sturdy boot-knife than an ornamental sword.  But Amaurn dwelled in a fortress of ancient design, and his glare was only its shallowest, outermost moat.  It had served him well against daemons, Inquisitors and everything in between.  It served well enough now on the face of an Imperial Commissar sensing weakness. 

He was contemplating keeping the red-lined black greatcoat, though the pompous peaked cap and gaudy epaulettes would certainly have to go.  For now they made the man the marching masses saw, as much as his scowling countenance, and the soldiers marched especially fervently as they approached and passed him by.  None of these men had ever knowingly met an Inquisitor.  The Commissariat was the sword-point they felt at their backs.  It was an easy role for him to play; the tiniest of lies, unlike the grand lies that must follow.

Amaurn was bound for Holy Terra, seat of Imperial power, to challenge his Carta Extremis.  The charges against him were largely true, and he nearly alone in that among the infamous Delan’s Point cell, though he had been a different man then.  Careless of his peers’ regard, he had gladly cast off the ephemeral power of an Inquisitor’s credibility, drunk on the far more literal power coursing through his veins.  Seeing only the battle in front of him.  Determined to bring Balkoth and all his works down, becoming more like him every day.  Every inch the resentful second son.  He was remembered as an Ex-Inquisitor...if he was still remembered at all, for the Historical Revision Unit no doubt persisted in their work, for all Guilliman’s best efforts.  Not that it mattered now. 

The Conclave Archive had been released.  History was already in contention, and the present demanded it be changed.  He could understand the Administratum’s point of view.  The past was a daemon all its own for men like him, but daemons could always be bound.  All it took was the will and a suitable host.  Behind him lay an adamantium crate seven feet by four by three, embossed with the Aquila and covered liberally with purity seals.  Their trailing parchment ribbons flailed wildly, tossed by the constant rush of shuttles landing, decompressing, refuelling and lifting off.  It had not left his sight in weeks.

He’d been with the regiment since he killed the original Commissar, back in the mud and driving rain of a doomed Imperial planet beset by cheering hordes of orks.  The nearest warzone to Terra he could get to in good time.  A dash of biomancy had made him resemble the man, though in truth he’d selected an aged, hardy specimen and the changes had been minor.  The crate had been hard to explain when they shipped back to Sol system, so he’d ended up needing a lot of telepathy too.  After a while aboard the officers stopped asking about it, stopped seeing the thing at all.  The rank and file never spoke to him of course, and he was gratified by that.  Amaurn disliked interfering directly with human minds, especially those of soldiers – he preferred honest violence, psychic or otherwise, but the end had demanded the means. 

You are neither talented nor cursed.  You are merely connected to a power source, and the strength of that connection is a demand to accomplish skill, or else be destroyed by it. It is by no means a guarantee of success.  You were selected for potential, not achievement.  You have no special gifts.  There is only your Will, and the Power.  Mastery of Mind over Reality, and Mastery of Will over Mind – these are the twin foundations of control.  All other disciplines proceed from there, as a fortress is built upon bedrock.  Every stone is an act of will and must be placed in turn.

Balkoth had insisted he learn telepathy, together with telekinesis, before he ever touched a sword.  Insisted was a soft word for it.  Every comfort, even sustenance, had been contingent on continued advancement.  The sword, when it came, had been daemon-bound...The Path of the Living Blade, and so it went.  Biomancy had come much later, when he had his own rosette, and this Amaurn relished by contrast, for he’d chosen to master it himself.  From conception to accomplishment, the psychic control of flesh and blood was a project unsullied by his master’s lessons.  Old as he was now, it was one of the few skills he could say that for.  Not that disguise was his preferred use for it.  He had boiled the blood of the man whose uniform he still wore, broken his neck with an open hand, and that at least had felt righteous.  The Officio Prefectus were the second-lowest kind of scum he knew.  As with the first, they were sometimes a necessary evil.  That affected his satisfaction not at all.  Commissars were an insult to the brave, their presence the mark of weak officers.  No soldier under Amaurn’s command had ever needed one.  If any had ever tried to run, his own comrades surely would have shot him down. 

Somewhere in this Hub-Fortress, a skiff would be waiting for him.  He knew approximately where his contact would be, and the appropriate words to exchange with them for mutual confirmation.  From there he would be Amaurn again – Inquisitorial status to be confirmed, but already a significant step up from this squalid identity.  He would be free to tear off the epaulettes and obliterate the ridiculous cap.  To don his weathered rosette once more, though he doubted it would get him anywhere here.  Perhaps out on the fringes somewhere, where generations could come and go without ever seeing an Inquisitor.  Not on Ganymede, or anywhere in Sol system.  He would wear it anyway, as a statement of intent.  The symbol would get its weight back soon enough.  The skiff would take him to Terra, presumably having cleared its journey with the relevant authorities, and the real work would begin.  He harboured no desire to meet the Solar Watch.

The trouble was, Commissar Scowl was still on duty, and would not fare well if a Lord Commissar, or whatever the vermin called themselves, saw him desert his post in full view of ten thousand men.  They were here to set an example, and to constitute a threat.  They would board their respective transports last of all.  He had seen at least two supposedly senior officers on the move while standing here, identified by the heightened pomposity of their gilded uniforms.  Neither was close to a peer of course, never mind Amaurn’s superior.  He doubted either one were half his age.  One of these men still lingered in his peripheral vision, striking much the same pose as himself.  It was too far to see where the man was looking, but close enough he’d surely notice a subordinate Commissar dragging a sizeable crate away. 

Powerful as he was, Amaurn could not simultaneously deceive the senses of this many soldiers, nor defend himself effectively if someone shouted “witch”.  What a lasgun wouldn’t kill – he still included himself in this category, barring a lucky shot in the head – ten thousand lasguns would at least give pause.  And so he waited at attention while the hours trickled by, wondering idly how many he might bring down.  At least a few dozen, he decided.  A drop in the ocean of helmeted heads, though the offending Lord Commissar would go first.  That much at least he could control.  But it would not come to that. 

When at last the man left, called away by an aide, the day was getting old.  Amaurn waited minutes, no more.  As the shuttle doors closed and the engines fired, he advanced on the head of the next waiting column, barking orders and pointing stiffly back towards the crate.  He applied the glare where required and the officer visibly wilted.  Two Guardsmen were extracted to carry it.  They were utterly terrified.  Nearby Commissars of equal rank looked on in puzzlement, and yet said nothing.  With luck they assumed he had his orders, and had received none of their own about this.  He set off at a brisk trot while his makeshift porters huffed and strained behind him.  Aquila Adamant spanned a moon, and he was running dangerously late. 


=][=


M41.987 – Inquisitorial Fortress, Cadian System


“Damnit Brottenheim, I have evidence!  Balkoth lives, and even now his cults continue to expand.  You asked me to investigate and investigate I have.  Decades I have spent chasing rumours, and these are my findings.  He is alive and serving a daemon, or pretending to anyway.  You cannot allow this report to be published.”

“Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim.”

“Are you serious?”

“It is Lord.  Inquisitor.  Brottenheim.  Consider very carefully where you might find yourself without me before you continue berating me.  How many other extant Inquisitor Lords have even heard of you in anything but the worst light?  You are a nobody, Amaurn – a fighter of unrecorded wars, noteworthy only by virtue of your connection to your traitorous master.”

“And I suppose your connection to him has done you no favours?  Remind me who prosecuted his Carta in absentia?  And who was it again that took the credit for his alleged execution?  Who proved wrong all those who claimed Balkoth could not, should not be hunted down?  How many extant Inquisitor Lords do you think would be interested in the full history of the traitor Balkoth and the celebrated Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim?”

“Are you threatening me, Inquisitor?”

“That’s better.  Respect costs you nothing.  If I wanted to betray you I wouldn’t be here.  I’m asking why it is that You...felt the need to betray Me...with This.”

A data slate clatters on the enormous marble desk. 

“Amaurn, you are the most disagreeable son-of-a-grox I have ever met...or least the worst I haven’t killed yet.  I haven’t betrayed you, I–”

“I’d like to see you try, Lord Inquisitor.  Are you planning to beat me to death with that oversized desk?”

“Let me finish, damn you!  I have squashed no less than four separate attempts to bring a Carta Extremis against You in the course of these ‘investigations’ of yours.  Does that sound like betrayal?  Do you think it looks good to my peers?  Two of those Inquisitors have since been killed in action, burned alive, which is all in the normal course of things...except that I know you, Amaurn!  How many centuries will it take to cool your Emperor-damned temper?  No, don’t answer that – you’re here about the report commissioned by the Lord Cadian, and the very fact you’ve already seen it means heads are going to roll.”

“I’m not surprised.  They all but eulogised the man!  Talked about his Legacy, cited his damn books, put an official stamp on his having been dead for two hundred years – what does the Inquisition think I’ve been doing all this time?”

“To put it bluntly, going off the rails.  Trafficking with daemons, killing our own people, the usual radical nonsense.  You’ve been careless at every turn since I brought you in on this.  Going public now will only tip our hand.  I will not condone your methods, nor ask you what they are – though frankly I have a fair idea, knowing the man who trained you – provided that you Get Him.  I don’t want evidence, damn you, I want the man himself!  Evidence can be falsified, and the last thing we need is a pack of young firebrands going off half-cocked looking to bring him in.  He’s worse than you are for collecting rosettes.  Until the man is before me in chains, this stays between us, and the best I can do is ensure no one takes your seal away.  Get him, and you’re a hero – I’ll say it was all a ruse, whatever awful heresies you might have appeared to commit.  The man who unmasked Balkoth.  A credit to the Inquisition.  Fail, and I’m afraid you’re on your own.  I won’t give the slightest credence to any rumours that he lives.”

“Where do you stand on just his head?”

“Not acceptable.  He must stand trial in person this time.  I will not have anyone question my veracity in this.  According to what you’ve showed me, the man has horns like a beast now!  There will be many who refuse to believe it is Balkoth, until they hear him speak.”

“Including you, I take it?”

“That isn’t fair.  I’ve always backed you, careless though you are.  We share a common enemy in this.  Nothing has changed.”

“What if he kills you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“What if dear departed Balkoth pulls a few strings, and Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim is mysteriously killed in the action of taking a sh–”

“I can look after myself just fine, you damned barbarian.  Balkoth has no friends here, I promise you that.”

“Are you sure about that?  Going by the Official Report, I’d say some in the Ordo look pretty damn fondly on their fallen luminary...my point is that if he and I outlive you, I will have no legitimacy.  Even a desk Inquisitor–”

“Lord Inquisitor, you–”

“–Lord Inquisitor cannot live forever.  This is Cadia, is it not?  We need a backup plan.  If Balkoth does come after you, dead as he is, who else do you think will deliver your vengeance?  Who else will even know?  You can’t tell me it’s impossible.  Let me be a contingency.  Give me something to prove this was your investigation.  If it takes another hundred years, I’ll get him.  But I want the Inquisition to know.”

“You aren’t getting any younger yourself, you know.  And if you are killed–”

“–Then nothing!  I’m a nobody, remember?  Your reputation suffers nothing if I die.  A failed experiment on your part, an indulgence.  If he gets you, I’ll be declared a renegade in weeks.  How many rosettes do you think I’ll take when those young firebrands are all out hunting Me?  Would you deprive the Inquisition of so many?”

An explosive sigh.

“Emperor’s balls, what is it that you want?”

“I want your seal on this.  Official as it gets, same as that damn report.  An assignment from the Ordo Malleus to Inquisitor Amaurn, retroactive to when you first contacted me, to investigate and prosecute the ongoing Carta Extremis raised by Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim against the in-fact-still-living former Lord Inquisitor Balkoth.”

“That title was honorary and you know it.  Balkoth cared nothing for the responsibilities of a Lord Inquisitor.”

“And yet the official report preserves his ‘honorary’ title, does it not?  How do you feel about that, My Lord?”

Brottenheim’s stately jaw is tight.

“If I give you this, how do I know you won’t use it immediately?”

“I won’t need to, because Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim will keep squashing my Cartas and the wider Inquisition will leave me to my investigation.  Provided he remains alive, of course.”

“It won’t get you off a Xanthism charge, you know.  This is not a tolerant time.”

“Xanthism?  Bah!  I never read Xanthus, couldn’t get into it.  Did I come in here waving a daemon sword?  I’m not stupid, Brottenheim.”

“I preferred My Lord.  You can have your sealed assignment, just don’t damn well go around waving that either!  Be discreet on both counts, and not just when you come in here.  The report on Balkoth stands until you bring him in.  You’ll have to make your peace with that because it isn’t going to change.”

“Peace?  You’ve spent too long behind that desk.  Peace is for the dead, if they’re lucky.”

“Oh, how droll...you don’t have to make literal peace with it, Inquisitor.  I don’t care how you feel.  You just have to leave my office.”

“That might take a while, My Lord.  I can barely see the door from here.”



=][=


M42.120 – Aquila Adamant


The interior of Ganymede was an infuriating moon-wide honeycomb of shafts and service tunnels, peppered liberally with administrative stations so Aquila-encrusted they looked ready to collapse under their own weight – the headquarters of the Logisticarum no doubt.  Brand new by Imperial standards, so barely a hundred years old.  The Administratum must have hated the upstarts.  Soldiers, clerks and servitors were milling everywhere he went, and all of them in a hurry.  Amaurn tried to move parallel with the surface, but the layout seemed to draw him ever deeper, trying to avoid bottlenecks with shortcuts that changed direction without warning.  His attending Guardsmen staggered gamely after him, faces flushed and streaming.  He risked giving them a subtle biomantic boost.  They rallied a little, not seeming suspicious, and he picked up his pace again.  All three of them were all but running now.

When he finally emerged onto what he swore had damn well better be the right landing strip, part of him was expecting gunfire.  It was looking to be that kind of evening.  As it happened a squad of black-armoured soldiers did indeed close on him, though they looked set to ask questions first.  The Inquisition’s sigil was embossed on each one’s chest.  Overhead lay the star-brushed depths of the void, marred by the yawning smear of the Cicatrix Maledictum. 

“You there!  Inquisition.  Commissar, what is the charge?”

“It’s Patricide.  I’ll need–”

“Package acquired, let’s go!”

They moved before he could finish, snapping into action, yelling into vox-casters as they piled bodily onto Amaurn.  Somewhere nearby engines fired; he heard that familiar airlock hiss through the press of shouting armoured men.  Then a cry of alarm from his trailing Guardsmen, the sound of running feet – no support for a Commissar, damn it all – and already he was being lifted, carried out onto the landing strip, with jostling carapaces blocking every line of view. 

“Stop.  Right here.  Release me.  Explain.”

Amaurn landed face-down on ferrocrete.  Six soldiers stood frozen, hands open, visors unreadable, as he sprang back to his feet.  He had lost the hat, and good riddance to it.  They all started to shout at once, voices clamouring.  He punched the nearest one right in the visor, fracturing the face-plate and rocking the man’s head back.  It was a testament to his patience that the soldier managed to keep his feet, snapping to attention. 

“Shut up.  Just you.  Talk.  Where is my contact?”

“Sir Inquisitor’s orders sir!  Contact is on the transport, the window is closing.  We need to be in the sky sir.”

“New Inquisitor, new orders!  You wait here with me.  The rest of you, retrieve this item immediately.”

A visual memory of his luggage percolated swiftly through the squad.  The other five sprinted away in pursuit of the Guardsmen.  Seconds slipped by.  The man with the fractured visor shifted his weight.  Distant gunshots echoed from the tunnel mouth.  Damn it all.  The soldier’s vox-caster blared.  Amaurn let him think again.  He jolted as if struck, shook himself and grabbed suddenly at the Inquisitor’s shoulders. 

“We need to go now, sir–”

A shot hit him right at the fracture point and stoved the visor in, cutting him off definitively with a sudden spray of blood.  Bullets and lasbolts whipped through the air in a staccato roar of sound, three soldiers in the middle distance pelting towards Amaurn with the cursed crate swinging between them and eternal war come snapping at their heels.  He had no idea who was shooting; perhaps the Guardsmen had gone for aid.  Whoever killed the closest one had either been lucky or very good.  Perhaps they had a scope.  He grudgingly erected a protective psychic bubble.  This was no time to be healing bullet wounds.  One of the oncoming three went down, shot in the back.  Something heavy enough to go through carapace armour.  The remaining pair came on, swaying in a tangle of torn paper scripture from the purity seals on the crate.  He put up a wall behind them, infected with urgency now.  Points of impact sent ripples through the invisible membrane, but as usual his will held sway.  They had almost reached him when a grenade went off, and the psychic shock staggered the Inquisitor as the force-wall came apart.  Shrapnel ricocheted off the soldiers’ backs, though they had enough distance to escape the worst.

“Keep going!  Get to the transport, I’ll follow you.”

Safe in his smaller, much stronger bubble, Amaurn closed his eyes and extended the inner sight.  A set of tiny candles blinked on in the distance, arranged in the vicinity of where he knew the tunnel mouth to be.  He took each fragile spark between a figurative finger and thumb and with a heroic surge of effort, methodically pinched them out.  When darkness had been restored, he opened his eyes and spat.  His vision swam for a moment, then cleared.  The metallic tang of the warp was strong on his tongue now, like blood.  An over-familiar friend.  No further gunshots came his way.  He hadn’t even seen their faces.  It felt like cheating but he was clearly short on time.  The end had demanded the means.  He sucked in a final draught of energy, feeling his muscles relax.  Then he turned and sprinted towards the impatiently waiting transport, his blood-flecked greatcoat flapping behind him.  It was already rising from the ferrocrete when he flew through the closing doors.


=][=



Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2020, 10:39:03 AM »
Custodes and Consequences

M42.120, the Most Holy Throne World, Seat of Power for the Imperium of Man

The Inquisitorial Fortress, Terra


The golden armour distracted Qi immensely. Every time she met one of the shining plated bastards, it always did. The armour of the Custodian Guard was made uniquely for each occupant and maintained immaculately. Each was an individual work of art, and not surprisingly, the armour of this Custodian was no exception. The gold was deep, burnished and rich. The intricate inlay of the armour spoke of a level of craftsmanship not seen anywhere else in the Imperium. Qi wondered whether they maintained their own caste of artisans or if the very finest of forges on Mars sent their equipment for them. Another mystery the golden guardians kept to themselves. He - it - the Shield-Captain, dominated proceedings. He was enormous, significantly larger than an Astartes and, to Qi’s eye, significantly more agile and adroit in his movements. He moved like every apex predator she’d ever studied, every movement deliberate with no wasted effort. They were always, subtly, in a perfect position to kill every human around them with a short burst of violence.

The Shield-Captain had arrived to much fanfare. Terran traditions died hard, much to her constant chafing chagrin, and the arrival of one of the Custodes to the Inquisitorial Fortress required much pomp and circumstance. Interrogator Setraakian had summoned it, as he stood on watch with the full trooper honour guard formed up to escort the golden giant into the fortress. To his credit, the Custodian politely played his part in proceedings, nodding to the honour guard and commending the stormtrooper captain on the presentation of her troops. Qi had watched the ceremony with some amusement, and if she was being honest with herself, terror. If the Office of the High Lord Inquisitor had to summon a Custodes - and more importantly, a Shield Captain - there was to be a reckoning.

Qi had ridden the initial turbulence from the ‘Battle of St Vhogart’s Rest’ - she preferred the word repose, but who was she to influence the by-line now - with little issue. Everyone knew it was her. She revelled in that. She had sat in the eye of a raging argument-storm in the main Inquisitorial librarium, puritan frothers furiously shouting in her face. But they knew they couldn’t touch her. More importantly, due to Guilliman’s reforms, she was the definition of right - for now. As the most high profile Ultramanian still on Terra, she had virtual immunity to any of the predators on the Puritan Council. She had attended the various Terran conclaves ostentatiously, wearing garish gowns and Ultramanian accessories. Earrings, rings, even a tiara. It had been a game to her and a prime opportunity to profoundly tip the balance of Terran power. The Ulltramanians were in the ascendancy, and they could at any point flex their numbers and their power to enforce the hierarchy with lethal consequences.

Still, the arrival of a Custodian - again, no less than a Shield-Captain - did not bode well for any of them. She was optimistic it would be a dressing down. The worst part of her suspected it would be another purge. Stern words delivered from a golden mouth, that was what it should be. Stop it. It ends here. Unity or death, a lecture on the Imperium under Roboute that she didn’t need and the Puritain Council wouldn’t listen to. She suspected Guilliman didn’t respect the Inquisition and barely saw them as a necessary evil. A point of disagreement with the Primarch of the Ultramarines and the Master of Mankind, maybe.

The slaughter at the chapel had been a direct gambit, but a risk worth taking. She needed to send a message. The Ultramanians were in the ascendancy now, and they had the mandate to reform the Inquisition in their image. Her faction were wild free thinkers, looking at Imperial institutions and seeing opportunity for radical transformation. A better Imperium - more militant, more decisive, striking telling blows against all of their mortal foes. A renaissance of innovation and progress, taking forbidden principles long forgotten and daring to dream again. She remembered those years on her planet, studying the local biology and staring up at the stars, dreaming of something more. Now she had all the power of the Imperium in a beautiful little pendant around her neck.

She wouldn’t give the opportunity up without a fight.

She wore her finest dress uniform - a vivid black satin formal blazer, adorned with gold trim and prominent red twills on the shoulders. She sprayed synthskin down her legs, finishing her outfit with a pair of utterly impractical heeled shoes. In her heels, of course, were enough doses of lethal venom to kill a small army. The sole of the shoes, once the heels had been pulled off, could be flattened into something more practical. Dressed to kill, she smiled to herself. Just a little trick she learned from the time she’d spent with the Venenum. She wore her rosette on the end of a thickset white gold chain, leaving the rosette over the centre of her chest.

Her retinue appeared at her side as she left her quarters in the Inquisitorial fortress. Each of them wore a silver mask, disguising their features and emphasizing her as the core of humanity. They wore the same black satin uniforms, over which their weapons hung - force rods or shock mauls paired with pistols. Qi’s power whip was hung in a tight loop at her side, a neat laspistol at her other hip. She garnished the outfit with a rack of Imperial service medals she had earned before she became an Inquisitor.

A show of fangs, nothing more. Her tail was rattling.

The hall selected was the Hall of Celebration for Malcador the Hero, the spiritual and literal father of the Inquisition. The hall celebrated a host of Imperial Saints with stained glass windows, some as high as twenty meters tall, in beautiful shining details. The room was a long rectangle; at the centre of the longer sides, in perfect shining gold laced white marble, was a twenty five meter tall statue of Malcador the Hero. Steaming and smoking braziers hung every five meters down the full length of the statue, illuminating the statue just enough to show each of the key pieces of Malcador - his face lit reverentially, one hand holding three perfect eagle feathers to represent the union of Terra, Mars and the Emperor and a chain with the symbol of the Inquisition in the other.  A circular table, in three pieces, had been left in the centre of the room. Each table was equidistant from the other. Fat cherubs struggling to hold the placards up, indicating where each Inquisitor summoned was to be seated.

Qi would sit with Ymaar, Odion, Gleeson and Kleeton. The architect, the engineers, and the traitor. Qi knew Kleeton had run to Zjivek as soon as she had announced the action. He would die, and at her hand, sooner than he expected. Today wasn’t the day for further violence. Her retinue fell away, replaced by the four Inquisitors. They lined up behind her, in a loose arrowhead formation. Across the hall, Zjivek arrived flanked by Fass, Tlaxha, G’rinat and Larion. Qi locked eyes with Zjivek. He’d clearly been a hard man at some point, all muscle and fury. His build spoke of his previous strength but now? He was grey at his temples and through the stubble on his chin with a slight roundness of stomach pressing into the shirt below his long formal overcoat. His eyes were a little bloodshot and there were dark bags under his eyes. He wasn’t sleeping well. He hadn’t shaved, which was unusual for the former Guardsman. He’d done it the hard way, as she had, coming through retinues and from a standard background in the Imperium. Both of them were expected to be as grist between millstones. Both had defied their fate. They had grown into incongruous mirrors of each other.

Their tables were positioned opposite each other - the final table between them was clearly reserved for Setraakian and the Custodian. They came through an entrance hidden away under Malcador - as befitting the secret police of the Imperium, a little misdirection and theatre was apt. The Ultramanians and the Puritan Council took a moment to stare each other down, not yielding to move their eyes away from one another. Qi came straight up as a cobra, eyes locked on Zjivek who’s broken step - a wound that didn’t heal and put him on Terra for the rest of his career - didn’t break a beat as he came to a stop. He locked eyes with Qi. She could see the burning hatred there in the searing heat coming out of his glare. She didn’t break her gaze.

“Please, be seated.”

The Shield Captain had spoken. Synchronously, Qi and Zjivek broke their deadlock and sat down.

“I am Shield-Captain Telemachus Achilleon. I have been called from the Imperial Palace to put to rest this …. fractious conflict in the Inquisition. Be under no illusions. If this does not stop - immediately - I will have my Hykanatoi attend this fortress and we will kill every single one of you. We will track your seals all over Terra, and the Sol system, and the rest of the galaxy if necessary, and we will kill you.”

The Custodian hadn’t even bothered to bring a weapon. That was a statement of outright confidence. I wouldn’t even need a weapon to fight my way out of here. I am utterly beyond you all. Silence gripped the room.

“An expectation exists that there is unity and peace on Terra. Lord Commander Roboute Guilliman mandated singularity of purpose from the entire Imperium and that includes the Inquisition. There will be no more violence, except against the enemies of the Imperium.”

Qi bit her tongue. There had been violence against the enemies of the Imperium. She remembered, for a moment, how good it felt to pull apart the skull of that irritant Grejchev. How the warm blood embraced her face. How she revelled with the Slaught dancing through her veins. The memories of the violence excited her. Her pupils dilated, the very ends of her mouth slid upwards.

Setraakian looked around the room nervously as he shifted awkwardly in his chair. Qi sighed, very quietly, and turned her head to the side while rolling her eyes, before moving her gaze to Zjivek, then back to Setraakian.

“Fine. Fine. There will be no more deaths, on either side. No more prosecutions, no more cartas, no more accusations,” she carefully navigated the words, before looking back to Zjivek.

“We only want to serve the God-Emperor’s grand design. We want to see his promise of dominion fulfilled. We will abide by your request, Shield-Captain.”

The Custodian studied both sets of Inquisitors, as a scientist might analyze a microbe. He allowed a full minute of tension, examining them deeply. A look that might have passed for disappointment glimmered at the edges of his face, the gesture lost as sand through fingers. Qi left her eyes on the Custodian, trying to read anything she could.

“Good,” the Custodian began, “I will leave you to… your business. I will not see you all again without a weapon in my hand.”

The Custodian raised his towering form without effort and he placed a humongous paw on Setraakian’s shoulder.

“Thank you for having me, Interrogator Setraakian. I look forward to our next encounter.”

Even when walking towards the statue of Malcador, the Custodian moved like slick lethality personified. He made the secret door before barely three heart beats passed and disappeared beyond it by the fourth. Another awkward minute passed.

“Unity, then, brothers and sisters,” ventured Setraakian, trying to break the deadlock.

“Unity it is,” Lyssa replied, through somewhat gritted teeth.

“A quorum. Unity it is,” finished Zjivek.

Qi wondered if the only sincere words spoken in the previous ten minutes had been the Custodian’s threat of violence.

=][=

The Hidden Hand

Raijner Oebels sat in his tiny corner of the throne world on a simple chair. His desk was just as spartan - a plain flexiplas top and legs, barely big enough for his terminal and data pad. He was still nursing the wounds of the battle at the chapel. He was bruised and exhausted. More worryingly, he hadn’t heard from Mother in weeks. Not unheard of, but since his report on the battle he had expected to hear from her. He’d gone to great lengths to explain the fallout he expected, to detail the deaths and the notable losses on both sides. He flicked his datapad, waiting for the astropathic connection to light up. Minutes past. Nothing.

He stood up to gaze out of his small window. He was in one of the vast anonymous hives on Terra. His view was of other residence blocks in this particular sector of the hive. Each was the same uniform build - grey, drab, rectangular, angular. The palatine eagle was prominent under each of the tiny windows. A constant reminder of the never blinking gaze of the Emperor, here on the Throneworld.

His ribs were aching furiously. He couldn’t remember the precise action that had broken several of them, but he knew it made every breath agony. Every step hurt too. Dark bruises circled his knuckles. He’d broken a few fingers too, but he ignored those. He took a step to his kitchen, retrieving a simple glass and his bottle of amasec. It was cheap stuff, barely fit for cleaning the glass, but it was what he had. His stipend wasn’t exactly a fortune, and until he got his seal, he wasn’t able to requisition anything at any pace. His request for a better hab block, preferably at the Inquisitorial Fortress, had been lost in the Administratum for months.

A rap echoed off his door.

“Enter.”

He hadn’t expected Inquisitor Qi. She was wearing a solemn white suit, cut neatly to her frame underneath a heavy black overcoat. She unwrapped herself, leaving a bag neatly on his desk.

“Raijner. How are you feeling? I couldn’t leave you in this tiny hellhole alone and injured. How are you?”

Raijner motioned for her to sit on his single chair as he took a seat on his bed.

“I’m… I’m ok, Inquisitor. The battle was satisfying. I’m healing up. I… I took a few hits.”

Raijner showed her the back of his hands. His knuckles were skinned and black with bruising. Two of his fingers were crooked with dislocation. Another was a bright burnt red and swollen. Qi nodded to the bag. Oebels opened it, revealing a med-kit and the most expensive bottle of amasec he’d ever seen.

He grabbed a second glass from the kitchen, pouring his gear-grease amasec down the sink. He placed both glasses on his desk. Qi smiled.

“Thank you, Oebels. I’ll pour us a glass. Let me tend to your wounds.”

She took his hand delicately in hers. She took an ointment from the first aid kit that smelled of cinnamon and burnt oak and poured some onto a swab. She then began wiping at the cuts with the swab. She examined his fingers, and with two sharp wrenches corrected both of his dislocated fingers. She took her time making a splint for the third finger. She lined it up with his broken digit, then tenderly wrapped it.

“It’s been a while since I did any first aid. The things we learned - learn - as Interrogators.”

“Do you think I’ll be sponsored soon?” Raijner replied. He looked directly into Qi’s eyes.

“Soon? Yes, I expect so. I’ve not received the go yet, pieces are being re-arranged on the chess board. But, yes, I would expect so. Your actions at the chapel were highly appreciated.”

Qi took her glass.

“To your impending ascension.”

Oebels smiled, picking up his own glass.

“To my seal.”

They both took a deep draft.

At first, Oebels didn’t believe his heart was racing. He couldn’t understand why his tongue had gone numb. As his lungs itched and then began to pound, he still couldn’t accept his current reality. His vision blurred, then spun, then swam back into a distended focus. A thick slop of black blood came out of his nose in one whole piece. Black blood came out in small drops out of his tear ducts. His eyes were confused, then angry, then terrified.

“I’d say I was sorry, Raijner, but I’m not. You were expendable and you served your purpose. Such is the way of things. Why do you think she kept you in this place? She always had more than one agent on Terra.”

Raijner scrambled at the desk choking and hacking. Qi stood up as Raijner cleared the desk with his wild movements, spilling the amasec and the ointment. Oebels grabbed at the amasec bottle. He held it in shaking hands. His eyes, bloodshot with blackened veins, flicked from the bottle to Qi, bottle to Qi.

“Oh, Oebels, I’m not a savage. I didn’t poison the amasec.”

Oebels coughed heavily, spattering thickened obsidian blood all over the floor of his tiny hab-block.

“This really isn’t dignified, Raijner. Control yourself. It’s a shame about the amasec. Maybe we might have been able to enjoy it a little longer. I do love a binary poison though. Even more so when it combines with something as pure as a fine Ultramar amasec. It’s the soil, you see. It pulls out a unique combination of chemicals only found in their grain.”

Oebels convulsed and fought for breath. She could see he was fading.

“The things you learn when you are an Interrogator. If it’s any consolation, Mother said thank you.”

Oebels coughed again, this time liquefied lung tissue came out. He hysterically ventilated, more tissue and spittle came up until, with a final hacking sputter he stopped moving.

Qi knelt down and checked his pulse. He was gone. She took a small dagger out of her overcoat, and slipped it under his ribcage twisting through his ventricular sac. It paid to be certain.

She stood up, brushed herself down, before casually sauntering to the door of the tiny apartment. Outside she found several of her retainers waiting patiently, as expected.

“Clean it. Completely. Erase Oebels from existence.”

=][=

+++ Message Begins +++
+++ Encryption:TerR.Inf.N-e593 +++
+++ Priority : Omega/Red +++
+++ From : Phantom +++
+++ To : Ampulex +++

Consequences applied. Havoc protocol was successful.

Terra is aflame. Temperature down before the next phase.

+++ Message Ends +++
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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

Offline Mentirius

  • Inquisitor
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  • Posts: 145
Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2020, 04:36:03 PM »
[This post was written jointly with Dosdamt]

The Hidden Hand II


M42.120, The Most Holy Throne World, Seat of Power for the Imperium of Man

The Inquisitorial Fortress, Terra



Zjivek watched his old primer slowly rotating in the stasis field. It was one of the few completely ostentatious luxuries he displayed publicly in his office. The gentle light of the generator put a blue hue onto the skin of the Cadian primer. He used his willpower to avoid slipping back to those dark days. Back then, he’d barely been in the employ of the Inquisition for a few years. He and his master, an old hard bastard by the name of Schultgraf, had plucked his unit off the front line. Zjivek was the only one who survived, and from there he thrived. Cadia, in M41.999 was… He had failed to stop his memory wandering. The cracked planet snuck into his vision. The descent of the Black Legion and the horror they’d wrought. He spent days battling in various trenches, passages and underground bunkers trying to hold back even worse calamity. In the end, they’d been forced off Cadia, and he had suffered.

He didn’t notice his hand running down the burns on his chest. He’d lost a finger on his right hand. His jaw and lower teeth were all artificial. The Ultramanian conflict had been taxing but now, oh now… Now he was getting the upper hand. Amaurn – for now, to be just Amaurn – would be tasked with righting the wrongs from the chapel. He would inflict vengeance. That would give Zjivek time to work in the background gathering support. The official line was his advantage. The aftermath of the Point had been a politically lucrative time. Schultgraf, who also survived Cadia, had been swept up in the explosion of political capital. Zjivek had simply needed to stay in his slipstream, meaning the pace of his ascent didn’t surprise anyone. When Roboute returned, Zjivek had seen the writing on the wall. He’d joined the purges with zeal.

Those were the days. The fires had burned bright, the heat from the promethium was soothing – he had revelled in the violence. The acoustics of hive floors were perfect for resonating the screams of burning witches high through the spires. The flames and stench of burning flesh reminded him of burning Tyranid nests when he was fighting Leviathan. He saw the denizens of Terra they had been dealing with as pests, just as he had the Tyranids. Mindless, weak beasts who had been subverted by the pull of the dark powers. Even with the volumes of spire scum they were killing, it had never felt monotonous.

The subsequent century or so had been busy.

As he moved through the bare plascrete of his Inquisitorial quarters, he found himself lingering at his pride and joy. Twenty-seven skulls in a trophy rack. Each skull had been bleached back to shining white bone. He’d taken each one to a master craftsman, who had expertly engraved ‘Heretic’ in each. An Inquisitorial seal had been installed with each skull, completing the display plaque. Each seal was as unique as the Inquisitor who had formerly held it – each was also cracked and smashed, burnt soot black or melted and disfigured.

Amaurn was due today. Zjivek had pulled his file, at least what was available, and studied it robustly in the few days he had free before Amaurn was due to arrive. A student of long gone heretic Balkoth, then Brottenheim. He vaguely remembered Brottenheim from Cadia – he hadn’t really been senior enough to have the full picture during that period but Schultgraf had mentioned him on several occasions. That detail reassured Zjivek. Perhaps somewhere there would turn out to be a sliver of truth in his story, but that didn’t matter – the Ultramanians needed clipping, and Amaurn would be the weapon. If he died, nothing would be lost. If he succeeded, then so be it – Zjivek was confident he could get Amaurn’s seal back and could see to it he then found carnage elsewhere, preferably far away from Terra. He would unleash his own rabid dog, pointed at the enemy with a taste for human flesh. If he had to put it down, so be it.


=][=


“The Lord Inquisitor will see you now.”

This was a phrase Amaurn had heard on many occasions in the course of his career. It always stirred his perpetual irritation on some level, the implied condescension of it. Inquisitors were supposed to be the highest authority there was, in theory. In practice, put an augmentary Lordship in front of any title, sit a man behind a large enough desk and while the power of the seal itself did not change, dedicated field agents like him were left waiting at the bearer’s pleasure, pondering how best to avoid offending their implied superiors.

Worst of all, he genuinely did need to build bridges here, for this was not the office of some toothless old lion long familiar with Amaurn’s eccentricities, but that of the power behind the Puritan Council, still a largely unknown quantity... Unknown, except that the word ‘Puritan’ tended to imply an approach to Inquisitorial politics roughly in line with those of his former peers who had periodically come after Amaurn seeking violence in the past, and found more of it than they wanted. He had not hunted them, yet he had been less careful than he might have in his younger days, and when they had come hunting him, he had made no real attempts to dissuade them. They had deemed his death deserving, while he had disagreed. Combat sorted out whose will prevailed, and that was it. There was no righteousness on anyone’s side. He genuinely couldn’t recall how many avowed Puritans he had killed in the course of his life, and this time he was firmly in their territory. Having ritually given this line of thinking its say, he promptly beat it senseless and locked it in a tiny cell. None of those killings were provable, and that Amaurn had been a different man. Such memories had no place down in the very belly of the beast.

He had visited Holy Terra twice in the past, the first time as a young man, presented for consideration by the Inquisition – a formality of course, his master having trained him for as long as he could remember with no other role in mind. Still in good standing on Terra at the time, in fact a Lord Inquisitor himself, Balkoth had gotten what he wanted with no real argument from anyone. Amaurn had sensed the other Lords were expecting something more exciting in his second apprentice, were even a little disappointed. Mentirius had been a psychic prodigy, a walking ultimate sanction wrapped in a passionate academic, perhaps as radical a thinker as Balkoth himself. The very act of training him was a triumph that had earned Balkoth so much prestige, he might have presented an Eldar next time and gotten them a seal. Instead he presented Amaurn, who was powerful but not beyond reason, capable but not without flaw – Inquisitor material without a doubt, but hardly unique in that. His smouldering temper had been noted.

The talents of Balkoth’s pupils towards dominating daemonic entities were never mentioned in public of course. Mentirius had never needed the ostensibly forbidden elements of their training to shine, yet Amaurn had run the risk of appearing unremarkable without them. The main thing he remembered about that first visit was the looks on their faces when his assessment was complete. “Well, yes,” their collective expression had said, “but we did expect more from your master.” His domineering telepathic gifts had confirmed this impression was accurate. If he’d only had the biomancy then, maybe they would have thought differently. Mentirius had maintained that Balkoth’s Twin Foundations, together with the darker arts, were more than enough for their work. Perhaps they had been for him, but then he was more than a century dead now, and excommunicated after the fact, so clearly he hadn’t been a perfect specimen after all.

The second time Amaurn visited Terra, he had been a full Inquisitor answering the summons of Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim, their first meeting face to face. Brottenheim had been organising a carta against Balkoth, and having heard through Inquisitorial channels that his enemy was on poor terms with his former pupil, had taken an interest in Amaurn’s own career. Carefully avoiding gazing too hard into the shadows surrounding the younger Inquisitor, Brottenheim had made clear through their correspondence that he offered political patronage in exchange for damning testimony. Amaurn had delighted in accepting his offer, more to spit in Balkoth’s eye than because patronage itself appealed. The temples and bastions of Terra had extended from vast gold buildings, through vast grim buildings to even bigger public hab-blocks stacked into unforgiving hives, as inviting as mass graves. The air was filthy with smog that left a grimy layer over everything and blackened his fingertips whenever he made the mistake of touching anything. Every thoroughfare was clotted with crowds. He held little interest in architecture, unless it became tactically relevant. What had struck him most that second time was the people, or more specifically the casual corruption that permeated every social or official interaction he observed.

Bribes were demanded and presented with only the barest nods to discretion. Inquisitors spoke openly of assassinating high officials. Once he saw a member of the Ecclesiarchy tuck an eight-pointed star pendant into his cassock, in full view of several subordinates. Members of the Administratum at every level baldly threatened to irretrievably lose important records, or else to rediscover those thought lost at inconvenient times, for reasons ranging from personal dislike to political or financial extortion. Brottenheim’s Interrogators talked of daemons in the underhives – the very thought of such a thing! This much he had learned, looking on it all with experienced eyes: Terra was not Holy, or else its holiness was carefully concealed, to the point it made no difference. The war for the galaxy raged here as much as anywhere, and from the Inquisition down, everyone seemed to be losing. The glory of the throne-world was a lie for the sake of Imperial morale. He understood this as a military decision, but he had wanted off the planet all the same. Returning to wrestling with honest daemons had been a balm for his soul after that.

Now, for the third and hopefully the final time, he had returned. Even getting here had been something of a struggle on this occasion, requiring murder and subterfuge in equal measure, but he had come expecting such and prepared himself accordingly. Ganymede had nearly been an upset, but the ever-present option of psychic annihilation had served him as well as ever. The Imperial military had seemed alarmingly efficient back there, under the aegis of the Officio Logisticarum. If he hadn’t gotten out quickly, he doubted he would have made it at all. He had heard of Guilliman’s great project to repurpose the blighted moon, and of the accompanying purges that had supposedly scoured the corruption from Terra. He rather doubted the Regent had done more than scrape off a layer or two of filth.

The journey from there had been largely conducted in terse silence, the two surviving troopers blaming their charge for the death of their comrades, while the Puritan Council representative had clearly been an expendable toady, psi-shielded and authorised to say pretty much nothing of interest. The man was pale, bald and soft, like a cave-dwelling amphibian. Amaurn had not asked his name, nor had he offered it. In spite of the shielding, he had however managed to glean the name ‘Zjivek’ from the man’s surface thoughts – a feared superior, and likely the one whose office lay at the end of this path, for it to have been so prominent in his mind. The name sounded uncomfortably similar to an old alias used by The Snake, a daemon he especially loathed, and if this meeting had been somewhere more remote he might have suspected foul play.

As it was, daemons in the underhives were one thing, but their shuttle had landed right outside the Inquisitorial Fortress, and it was apparent at a glance that any such creature would be foolish to the point of suicide to have followed him here. To merely say the outer walls were warded would have cheapened the words ‘walls’ and ‘warded’ considerably. From both a physical and an ethereal perspective, they were surely impenetrable. Amaurn had been rushed in through a remote side entrance surrounded by icy mountains. Even that door was ten feet high and nearly half as deep, if suspiciously lightly guarded by a mere fifty or so armoured storm troopers, whose commander bade them stand aside at a few quiet words from the cave toad. They had brought him directly here then, to a Lord Inquisitor’s office, via a deliberately circuitous route. Cave toad had knocked before entering, leaving Amaurn outside with the pair of soldiers. Minutes later the man emerged and Amaurn was admitted, while his escort walked briskly away down the corridor, taking the soldiers with him.

His first impression of the office was a surprisingly positive one. Where he had expected golden ostentation on every side, he was greeted with a simple, square, almost spartan chamber. The walls were bare grey plascrete, giving every appearance of a military bunker, which in many ways this was. It was evident from several closed doors that this was only the outermost of a suite of rooms, and yet it was where the Lord Inquisitor chose to receive his visitors, and therefore a statement about how he wished them to see him. Over to the right, an open doorway lacking a door to close looked onto an indoor courtyard – what little Amaurn could see of this consisted of more plascrete, part of a running track and what looked like one end of a shooting range, with a rack of familiar Imperial weaponry up against the far wall. A well-scuffed path ran in from the doorway, past the Lord Inquisitor’s desk and disappeared under the opposite door.

The desk itself was sturdy but not overlarge, made of hardwood and built to last. A lasgun hung on the wall behind it, mounted above a polished bayonet and four bulky charge packs. The grip had been worn smooth by use, and both the weapon and its fixtures had been diligently maintained. Amaurn could smell the unguent if he concentrated. He noted the model, a Cadian variant of the M-G Short Pattern slung over his own back, this one an M36…Katreol? Kantrael, that was it. All the Cadian-inspired regiments used them, or the longer variation, though the shorter was more highly prized by the soldiers themselves. Above this display, the sigil of the Inquisition cast in gunmetal grey had been bolted to the wall, the only place it appeared. In one corner of the office, he noted a dog-eared copy of the Imperial Guardsman’s Primer, Cadian Edition to match the rifle, preserved and displayed in a small but surely expensive stasis field. Symbolic or sentimental value then. Going by the rest of his surroundings, Amaurn suspected the former. A proud soldier. Good. That he could work with, even respect. He’d visited Brottenheim in Cadia system more than once, and the Guard there had been as tough as they came.

There was a shelf of religious paraphernalia too, however, including at least one saintly bone – a thumb, he decided, this held in its own stasis field, and what appeared to be several copies of the Imperial Creed. That shouldn’t be a problem as such, so long as he wouldn’t be expected to remember direct quotes. It had been an age since he first read the thing, twelve years old and under protest. Balkoth had insisted he wouldn’t survive long in the Inquisition without at least a passing familiarity. He had re-read a copy obtained from the regimental chaplain on his way to Ganymede, though it had seemed distinctly different from his old recollections. No doubt warring interpretations abounded, especially now with Guilliman returned from the grave. There was a hard wooden chair on either side of the desk. Amaurn removed his rifle strap and slung it over the back of the nearer seat. The Lord Inquisitor nodded slightly to him, as if giving consent. It occurred to Amaurn that he had been allowed in here alone and well armed, and the man had no obvious protection besides the rifle on the wall. If there were guards hidden behind the doors, they were either psychic nulls or stronger telepaths than he was. A gesture of trust, or of strength? Maybe it was a little of both. Soldier or not, this was surely a politician too, so nothing could be taken entirely at face value.

Lord Inquisitor Zjivek – for this was he, as the murmuring gossip of passive telepathy made clear – wore military fatigues in urban camouflage colours. He had plenty of metal behind his face, going by his bioelectric field – apparently reconstructive rather than purely augmentative, though such bionics were usually a little of both. He was also missing a finger on his right hand, which he had neglected or disdained to have replaced. His collar was starched and his cheeks were clean-shaven, in contrast to the day-old silver stubble decorating Amaurn’s own features. He looked to be in late middle age, though Amaurn himself might have passed for a healthy sixty in the right light, with over four centuries behind him. Held back by superstition as it was in many respects, the best of Imperial technology still went a long way towards extending the useful life of its most valuable assets, even without the added benefits of high-end biomancy. Factoring in regular rejuve treatments, this was likely still a younger man than he, though clearly no raging hot-blood in need of a name for himself. Past a certain point of experience, further age ceased to have much meaning, save as a minor mark of prestige. Inquisitors generally neither inquired as to a peer’s year of birth, nor cared overmuch where it fell in relation to their own. War aged people quickly, if it did not kill them young, yet the age of such soldiers was like the age of a slow-growing tree, whose wood only hardens year by year until it finally dies.

Zjivek seemed like he might have centuries behind and before him. His subtly encroaching paunch, not quite hidden behind his desk, spoke to an over-long absence from field service, but he looked otherwise ready for battle in every sense. There was something intense about him, for all his calm austerity. His eyes were tired yet alert, like a suspicious drunk, or an artist gripped with inspiration in the small hours of the night. Amaurn could picture him in a crowded mess hall, regaling green recruits with ghastly tales about the horrors of combat, perhaps over a mug of some engine-fluid analogue drawn from a private still. Likewise he would not have looked out of place leading a squad of those same men from the front, charging fearlessly into the teeth of enemy bolter fire. A Sergeant, that was what he resembled, of the kind men gladly died for. So this was a modern Puritan. He couldn’t help thinking Zjivek might be an improvement on the kind he was used to.

“Is that a Commissar’s greatcoat?”

The Lord Inquisitor’s voice was authoritative as expected, and yet his tone was surprisingly light, almost friendly. Amaurn replied levelly, meeting his gaze.

“This is my greatcoat.”

“I see. You’ve removed the epaulettes.”

“Can’t stand the things. Gaudy, heavy, no practical use.”

Still standing, Amaurn’s eyes moved to the mounted lasgun behind Zjivek. This ought to help him get a feel for his audience.

“Is that a Kantrael up there? Shock Trooper’s rifle. You a Cadian man then?”

“Ah, good eye – not a Cadian by birth, but by service, aye.”

“Very little compares to the perfection of the lasgun. They’re like people though, some worth more than others. Haven’t seen a Kantrael up close since back in M41. May I?”

“By all means.”

Amaurn crossed around the desk and reached up to take down the rifle, hefting it to his shoulder. He sighted down the barrel, aiming into the courtyard, which looked like a safe direction.

“True?”

“As true as they make them.”

Both men shared a laugh. So far, so good. Zjivek continued.

“Only Cadia and Mars make them sighted properly.”

“A Martian Mark III… Now you’re talking. Short pattern only,” Amaurn said with a grin.

“Of course! Goes without saying.”

“Or maybe Triplex...used to have one of those, could never decide if it was better or trying too hard. Dial broke in the end, though it took a skull or two with it. Not easy to find these days anyway. Forget that dreck made on Scintilla or Malfi. Is Mars still making the Mark III?”

“You better believe it. They supply them here, and to Ganymede.”

Still seated, Zjivek grabbed a power pack off the display and brandished it before him.

“The ways I’ve charged these damned things. I’ve spent hours heating them in a campfire. I’ve boiled them in hot water. Can’t go wrong with solar charging of course, but a man can’t always count on that.”

“Aye, no good waiting for sunlight when you’re knee deep in cult filth in the underhive. One time, I had nothing left save a few dead packs and basic rations. I had to rub a pack with my hands! That left a few calluses I can tell you.”

“Hah! How long did it take to charge?”

“Half a day. As good as a fresh pack too. I split a screaming loon's face in half with the first shot.”

Zjivek pursed his lips and nodded knowingly.

“Been to Cadia myself, way back. Ordo business though, never saw proper combat. I heard it got bad towards the end. Were you there in triple-nine?” Amaurn ventured.

“I was.”

An uncomfortable pause ensued.

“I saw the drop pods of the Black Legion falling like black tears. Humans stood side by side, with nothing more than this lasgun in their arms and faith in their hearts. It was a beautiful sight. They charged, the Cadians held. The Black Legion slaughtered soldiers by the thousands, millions even, and still the Cadians held. Abaddon, Emperor thrice damn his name, had to crack the planet and still – Cadia stands. That was the best of humanity, facing down impossible odds, and still holding, still fighting, clinging onto every meter of ground because of duty, honour, the continuation of our superior species. They broke the planet before they broke the Guard. Very few veterans of those days left. A few of us in the Inquisition. Not many people got off Cadia.”

Amaurn nodded with appropriate solemnity. Zjivek seemed distant for a moment, before waving for him to sit down. Amaurn returned the Kantrael to its place on the wall, then crossed back to the far side of the desk to take his seat.

“I hear you had some trouble on Ganymede. Any idea who they were?”

“Hard to say. I was going to ask you the same. I don’t know Ganymede – last time I was in Sol system it was a poisoned wasteland and Roboute Guilliman was long dead. I had to kill some people, didn’t see who they were. Maybe opportunists, maybe someone with an agenda. If it’s the latter I doubt you need to worry. If they had serious resources and wanted me stopped they’d have sent a lot more.”

“I lost four men getting you onto that shuttle. What happened?”

“Ambush. You could easily have lost six. I’m sure you’ve seen an after-action report by now.”

“I have. I think we can leave that aside for the moment.”

“So be it.”

“Tell me about Balkoth.”

Amaurn mentally cracked his knuckles.

“Very well. That’s a subject I can speak on at quite some length.”

“We have time.”

“Right then. To be clear: bringing down Balkoth was my life’s work, literally. I don’t remember who my parents were, or how I found my way into his hands. The first memory I have is of that man locking a cell door behind him. He trained me in his own twisted way, disdaining the appropriate institutions, kept me away from Imperial society until I came of age. Then he brought me here to Holy Terra, presented me to the Inquisition, flexed the influence they had given him – I couldn’t understand why anyone would elevate such a man – and made me his Interrogator. Less than a decade after that, he and his allies sponsored me as a full Inquisitor. I took what I was given. But Balkoth did not train Inquisitors with the intention of releasing them into the galaxy to do the Emperor’s work. He had no interest in the Emperor, or indeed the Imperium, beyond what grew the extent of his personal power. I was to be a puppet, a servant with a seal, like Mentirius before me. One more extension to his network. You know how such things go. With no other allies and no understanding of politics, I had no recourse but to wait, and endure.”

Amaurn’s jaw tightened slightly as he began to reminisce. With effort, he moderated his tone, resolved to keep the telling of his story as detached and factual as it could be. How to explain the root of this to a total stranger with no sympathy for the Radical…for his part, Zjivek waited patiently for his guest to arrive at the point.

“Balkoth was...popular, in his day. He wrote treatises. He gave symposiums. He theorised and lectured and experimented, as his sort are wont to do. Behind it all, he schemed to surpass all the privilege the Emperor had already given him, while paying no thought to the duty it entailed. He bound daemons and experimented on them. He wrote under pseudonyms of how such things can be done, and other Inquisitors read them. Some of them agreed with him, saw him as a loyal servant pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the fight against the Enemy. Many suspected he already was the Enemy, but he had friends in high places, so suspicion it remained. Only I knew the worst was true. One does not grow up surrounded by locked doors and the stink of malevolence without suspecting as much.”

There was nothing else for it, he was going to have to lie now. Or at least to very selectively edit the truth. Zjivek would not want to hear about a teenage boy’s nightmares, or screaming psychic apparitions trapped inside black walls. He would be incapable of understanding the full horror of Secret’s Hold.

“Later, I discovered Balkoth had sacrificed his daughter. That might have been the final line for him. He hadn’t wanted to, at least according to Mentirius. That girl might have been the only person he really cared about, though personally I find it hard to picture. Either way, he cared about the power more, you see? Not to use it, just to know. To stand above us all. Maybe it broke him to do it, and after that there was no going back. Maybe he never had anywhere to go back to. That was before my time, so I never knew if there had ever been a human in there. I only ever saw the monster. I think that might have saved me, in a way. Mentirius always had too much sympathy for the old man, and it damned him too in the end. I had my eyes open from the beginning.”

This whole line of explanation skirted to dangerously close to admissions Amaurn was keen to avoid – and yet there was no avoiding the subject of his youth, if he planned to speak publicly about Balkoth before his peers with a Puritan backing his story. Anyone who had heard of them knew Balkoth had been Amaurn’s mentor. It was a matter of Inquisitorial record, easily looked up. As ever, the greatest obstacle he faced was establishing distance between them, escaping damnation by association. His training had been on his mind frequently of late, for all the distance of centuries he’d thrown between it and him. Not that this was unusual in the context of his current endeavour. Talking on the subject, even so obliquely, was like scratching an itch he’d been stoically enduring for weeks.

“Lord Inquisitor Brottenheim trained alongside Balkoth, in the beginning. I forget their mentor’s name, never met the man myself. Brottenheim at least knew the signs. He was a man of true faith, righteous to the core, and it was he who finally began to gather real evidence against Balkoth. I’d made a public statement condemning one of Balkoth’s pseudonymous papers, on the basis it was clearly written by him and contained conclusions he could not have arrived at without deeply forbidden experimentation. A small gesture of defiance at the time, but my statement found its way onto Brottenheim’s desk, and he contacted me with an offer of alliance. This was what I had spent my life waiting for. A chance to turn Balkoth’s manipulation against him, become part of the real Inquisition.”

He leaned forward as he said this, his own intensity ramping up, knuckles white on the arms of his chair. Let Zjivek see some of the fire, he thought. Zeal was hard to fake, and transcended doctrinal details. Whatever their differences, he could feel the raw conviction sweating off the man across from him, permeating every pore of this place. He had plenty of his own, so let the Puritan see.

“I came to Terra and made a further, more detailed statement in support of the Carta Extremis. It is possible records of those proceedings still exist and could be consulted, if you want to confirm this for yourself. I joined Brottenheim’s cell in pursuit of the Carta. It took fifteen years. I was chasing down a puppet cult when I got the news – Brottenheim had caught and executed Balkoth personally. I met him to discuss the matter and he was certain it was true, that it had indeed been Balkoth he struck down. Yet even as he said it, I knew the Lord Inquisitor had been deceived. The man Brottenheim executed was not Balkoth – in my soul I knew this, for all the evidence insisted otherwise. I swore one day I would find proof. They had found a book among Balkoth’s effects shortly after the Carta was first issued, imaginatively titled ‘The Book of Balkoth’, in which he raved about daemons and prophecies. That was the first official mention of the name ‘Amon Dull’. He invented the whole thing of course. And yet there was a daemon, even then.”

Amaurn hated that he needed this part. How much simpler, how much more gratifying it might have been to focus on Balkoth, to further smear the name of Mentirius alongside him, and doing so to make this about Inquisitorial factions, the condemning of heretics who absolutely were not him, for all that he had known them. In naming Balkoth’s ethereal patron-nemesis, he would make himself a weapon against it, and thence into a pawn yet again. But too much of his story relied on the contents of his luggage, from which he had been reluctantly separated by the cave toad on entering the fortress. He had been assured it would be sent to his quarters, wherever those were meant to be. He made a mental note to ask Zjivek. They would not be able to get it open without Amaurn of course, he had made sure of that, but if it went missing now his strategy would take a serious hit. Assuming the casket was safe as promised, the name would come out at his hearing without a doubt. He might get away with holding that much back for now, yet the reality of the daemon was inescapable. Gritting his teeth momentarily, Amaurn bit the proverbial bullet.

“It took more than a century to find the evidence, but find it I did. Wherever I found heresy, wherever something I killed put me in mind of the familiar stink of my youth, I asked, and I listened. The Magus of a cult calling itself the Ninth Masquerade gave up Balkoth’s name before he died, after a week of questioning. I pulled the thread harder and the scope of his treachery began to unravel at last. Balkoth was in service to a Lord of Change, a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch. In exchange for the knowledge he needed to astound and excel his peers, he had traded his soul to the beast. Through him it intended to subvert, and ultimately to recruit the Inquisition itself, or as many as it could. Having bargained with this daemon, Balkoth’s private and professional networks became valuable resources for its cult. I’m sure you’ve heard the like before. Where this one stood out was the level of its success.”

The next part could be more dangerous for Amaurn, given part of this story hinged on one version of the late Mentirius, while details he would rely on later at his hearing required another. Ignorance was the most flexible defence here, yet he was an Inquisitor, and could never wholly hide behind such a thin wall. The matter of the Conclave Archive had provided him this opportunity, and while many of the Archive’s authors had clearly believed Mentirius a hero of the Imperium, excommunicated or not, Amaurn suspected the Puritan Council held quite different views. More specifically, they did not believe in Amon Dull, in which light the infamous Xanthus himself might have damned Mentirius for the methods to which he resorted in his pursuit of a fictional daemon. With that said, not all of his sympathisers had died in the purges, and not all of those had been labelled radical. In terms of his public speaking, of which there had been a great deal, Mentirius had generally espoused unity and moderation in the later years of his life, and his efforts at factional reconciliation in the wake of the Nexus Schism had been well received by some. Amaurn did not think Zjivek would be counted among them.

“Amon Dull was an invention of Balkoth’s. An ill-defined enemy on which all his master’s more visible machinations could be pinned. He spent much of his career laying groundwork, used the lie to manipulate Mentirius, naive idealist that he was, into aiding the cult directly. I’m not certain how much the other man knew about it, and he certainly seemed earnest in himself, though his changing philosophies were ludicrous and I did not know him well. He was never interrogated, for his Carta was raised posthumously, but I believe the Chief Justice had the right of it – he too was corrupted mind and soul by the end. Balkoth had made a son of him in more ways than one, and a cultist I interrogated later claimed he too was ultimately sacrificed to Tzeentch. However it went down, in the wake of his death, the cult took over his holdings and began to style themselves ‘Mentirians’. The Inquisition was rife with them by then. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you.”

He was wandering away from the point, he realised, beginning to wobble on his tightrope of careful half-truths. Enough about Mentirius for the moment. Without any outward sign of effort, he mentally leaned in close to Zjivek, trying to gauge from the telepathic bleed what might go down best with his audience. Khanor, he decided. That one was even true.

“I took my evidence to Brottenheim, who by then was based in the Cadian Inquisitorial Fortress. He deemed it unwise to reveal Balkoth’s survival to the wider Inquisition, for we knew his agents had infested our ranks, though we did not know all of their names. Thus I was issued a sealed assignment by the Ordo Malleus Cadian and given their mandate to hunt Balkoth down. Meanwhile an official report was published confirming him as dead. That too is a matter of record, but it was a smokescreen for the truth. I crushed one branch of the cult after another, chasing it across the Segmentum Obscurus, and in the process I executed several traitorous Inquisitors serving Balkoth. One of them was Inquisitor Khanor, I forget the names of the others. Him I remember because he had scales and a snout like a damn lizard. I took his head, still had to burn the thing before it would die.”

He let the satisfaction of killing Khanor creep into his voice, together with a hint of the disgust the man’s state had elicited. Amaurn had enjoyed that one, having failed to capture his enemy on several previous occasions and finally decided to draw the line. That the burning of his head had been conducted by the daemon sword Schaskal, an instant after Amaurn inserted it into Khanor’s face, was an unnecessary detail here.

“In nine-ninety I nearly succeeded in cornering Bauchan, Balkoth’s third direct pupil, an insane degenerate who frankly should never have been allowed near a rosette, no matter the politics involved. His own excommunication had been appended to Balkoth’s Carta, and rightly so. Bauchan would have led me to the man himself, of that I’m certain. Instead he escaped with the daemon’s aid, while I was taken prisoner by the cult. It is to my shame that they held me for nine years, locked in a cell once again. Full circle. Perhaps that was the penance for my failure. I’m sure Balkoth found the irony amusing. Every day they offered to release me, if only I would swear to keep their secrets and forsake the Emperor. Every day I spat in their faces, or tried to, for they soon learned to keep their distance. Meanwhile, in my absence, Balkoth contrived to lure Lord Brottenheim away from the protection of our institution and murdered him in cold blood. My captors taunted me with a grainy vid-log of his death.”

Finally approaching the meat of the matter, the place where he would need to plant his flag, Amaurn accelerated his story. Some details might be better decided when he had a more nuanced understanding of the Puritan Council’s aims. The crucial conceit would need to be carefully framed.

“I escaped confinement in triple-nine, when the so-called Mentirians’ daemonic overlord turned on them at last. This was my war. I was born fighting it. Balkoth was my first and most crucial enemy, and by then I’d been chasing him, albeit intermittently, for more than three hundred years. I followed his trail from there, to Delan’s Point and beyond. I killed him on Aestimus; or at least, I wounded him and saw the warp do the rest. In the process I was lost. When the Cicatrix Maledictum opened and threw the Materium into Chaos, I was already trapped on the wrong side of the veil. Only through the Emperor’s mercy did I ever find my way back through the storm.”

Here it was at last then, the boldest claim of all. He mentally steeled himself.

“In course of my pursuit, I discovered how Balkoth had convinced Brottenheim he was dead, in the worst of all possible ways. For the daemon had made other simulacra at his request, and among these was a double of myself. They made it to be everything Balkoth had wanted from me, and that I had rejected. Balkoth’s loathsome master gave him a monster with my face, and he gave it my seal. For nine. Damned. Years. The damage it did… You’ll notice I’m wearing the rosette now, and your agents will have told you I brought a warded casket here with me. I’ll tell you this between us, in the spirit of establishing trust, though I’d prefer it stay between us until my official hearing: the casket contains the body of my Imposter, and the sword I slew him with. His body at least I was able to preserve. This…”

Here he reached into an inner pocket of his voluminous coat, producing a battered cylindrical tube embossed with the sigil of the Inquisition.

“…is an encrypted cyber-scroll bearing the full authority of the Ordo Malleus Cadian, as I recently referred to. It is date-stamped M41.987 and contains my final assignment against Balkoth, to be opened in the event of a Carta being raised against me following Brottenheim’s death. He was aware how my investigation might look from an outside perspective, if he were not around to support me, and provided for that outcome. I’ve carried this on me ever since. Again, I’d like to save its contents for my hearing, but you are welcome to verify it’s genuine. As to the Imposter...well, there were surely other duplicates on Delan’s Point besides my own. As to how many, I’m afraid I could not easily tell.”

So, he’d said it. The trigger had been pulled, and let the conceptual bullets hit what they may. With considerable effort, he resisted the urge to delve into Zjivek’s mind to see how the story was sitting. He had been cheating too often of late and it was becoming a habit. Telepathy was a crutch. He didn’t want to find himself falling over without it on those moderately rare occasions when someone was too highly shielded to get a psychic peep. In this self-imposed lack of unnatural insight, he could not resist reiterating his original theme.

“That’s it. The abridged tale of the traitor Balkoth and my lifelong pursuit of him. I came to draw a line under it and silence the lies of the supposed Archive. The heretic may be dead but the daemon remains. It is past time the Ordo Malleus finished what we started and put an end to it, or it will only gets its talons into someone else like him and start all over again. Perhaps it already has. That’s what they do, these Tzeentchians. Amon Dull might be a lie, but the blasphemy they blamed it for is very real. I’m not looking to be another Mentirius here. I didn’t come to make waves or try to change the Imperium, I came to be its answer to Balkoth. The Imperium is. The Emperor built it, His enemies attacked it, and the war goes on still. Balkoth was one of those enemies. I am not. Alone of his old associates, or of those he didn’t kill, there are no stains on my soul. For all I began my life in their clutches, I remain a weapon against the enemies of the throne. I’ve always done my duty. All I’m after here is a new charge pack.”


« Last Edit: May 02, 2020, 04:52:21 PM by Mentirius »

Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2020, 01:37:45 AM »
[This post was written jointly with Mentirius]

“We’re dancing around the main issue.”

Ah. A sharp one then. Hardly a surprise, considering. If Zjivek had proved an easy mark, Amaurn might not have trusted his competence as an ally.

“We are?”

“Balkoth is important. It tells me who you were, and where you came from. I am sure you have left out details, because no doubt there are things you think I would find distasteful, or outright heretical. You are correct to judge so. A clone is far-fetched, daemonic plans within plans…these details, and the pursuit of Balkoth, the fantasy of Amon Dull, is a fantastic tale. I have cause to doubt some of it, but what value is doubt at this moment? If there is evidence enough to support it, then we play the hand we have and not the hand we think we would like to play.”

Zjivek weighed the metal tube in his hands.

“I have had you vetted, at least enough to allow you in here. I know of Brottenheim, and there is a record as you said. But that is all pretense. We both know the most important truth to maintain at this time is the slaughter at Delan’s Point. Muundus has been beatified for his role at the Point. The Ultramanians allege there is a first hand witness account that dismisses the truth of Muundus’ great victory over the great enemy.”

Zjivek righted himself in his seat.

“Be under no illusions, Amaurn. Whatever the truth of the Point is, remains here between you and I, and I alone. Let me make that clear. The truth of the Point, however, needs to be maintained outside of this room. Am I communicating clearly with you? I don’t care about what any of the idiots with seals we allow to pollute our ranks think, they are pond life and irrelevant. I care that the truth of the Point is maintained.”

The change in pace and timbre was the stark slip between silent meditation and wild, unrestrained berserker violence, and yet Zjivek’s visage remained impassive. Amaurn could see the surface of his mind roiling with barely restrained fury. So, he thought, a true believer too. That made this doubly dangerous, but he’d known coming in he was taking a risk. Anyone corrupt enough not to need at least some lying to would likely have been too corrupt to aid him. He needed some brimstone on side besides his own. So thinking, Amaurn forged ahead.

“Then it is fortunate my recollections of the place not only accord in every way with the official report, but provide a mechanism to explain such inconsistencies as, say, the recorded deaths of certain individuals who have since proved to be alarmingly…extant after all. The purported return of what’s-his-name…Maltheus, comes to mind. It seems to me that were an Inquisitorial court to be forced to accept such a far-fetched explanation as cloned Imposters infiltrating their ranks in the case of myself, they would also have to accept that Muundus Vhogart and his cell might have unknowingly killed such abominations in a few other isolated cases, and reasonably assumed their work was done. Balkoth pulled the same trick on Brottenheim centuries ago, after all, and that claim comes with an abundance of circumstantial evidence. My own case has a physical body to back it up.”

“It had better, if you expect anyone to take this remotely seriously. Even then I have my doubts, on more than one level.”

“Lord Inquisitor...Delan’s Point was a long time ago, and most of the participants are dead. No one but me has the guts to admit they were there, let alone to speak publicly on the matter. Certainly no one in the court will be able to gainsay me. That I was once considered an enemy of the Puritan Council will only strengthen the weight of my testimony. In accepting officially my version of events, it would thereafter be nigh-on impossible to assert any intentional deception by Saint Vhogart, blessed be his works, even if further survivors emerged later. I hope I in turn am communicating clearly with you. It may not be the most elegant tool I present to you here. It is ugly and complicated, perhaps a little difficult to operate. Yet it is versatile, and will work equally well against any enemy we need to use it on. More importantly, it is the tool I have to hand. Were I simply to lie unreservedly, I might craft a prettier story, yet there would be no evidence to support it. The end result of this will be to reconcile conflicting accounts into a single narrative, whose core will be the Truth as you and I understand it. That will be worth a temporary suspension of disbelief.”

“I’m still not sure it’s enough. What if, for example, Maltheus turns up to refute you?”

Amaurn felt an unexpected surge of relief at this question. He should not have cared about the prospect of throwing Maltheus under the landspeeder, despite having known the man considerably better than he let on. Inquisitors were made for sacrifice. And yet he found he did, for it felt like victory to have found a means to keep his old comrade clear of this. They had never been friends exactly, but Amaurn had respected the younger Inquisitor in his own way, for all he had pretended otherwise. Betraying the dead was one thing, but selling out a living man who had never turned on him would have been a despicable thing. If Zjivek realised he gave a damn then Maltheus was probably done for, and maybe Amaurn with him. It was doubly fortunate then that Amaurn had found so much to hate in the course of his long life, for a tone of casual contempt had become his default manner of speaking, requiring conscious effort to moderate, and it was this tone he relied on now.

“Alright, how about this – I saw Vhogart kill Titus Sargoth. Anyone he didn’t kill escaped through a portal opened for them by Balkoth, through which I pursued. It closed before the Puritan Council could see it. That’s all true, and requires no belief in Imposters to accept. It neatly explains any other survivors who were not clones, and damns them in the process. Maybe it wasn’t Maltheus on the Point at all? If it was, he’s guilty. Provided we don’t go after him, he’d have to be suicidal to go on record. To provide a conflicting account would be to throw away the defence of never having been involved. If any of those scum still living want my seal, they’ll have to give up their own to get it. And who would trust the story of a self-confessed traitor?”

“You’re missing the obvious point – that you are yourself admitting to have been there in person. Your whole story depends on it. You were never a member of the Puritan Council, therefore…”

“Therefore I was forced to infiltrate the nest of heretics alone. Having spent years locked in one of their facilities, I escaped confinement and stowed away aboard a Mentirian ship after the daemon turned on its followers. The survivors of the attack took that ship directly to Delan’s Point. I disguised myself as one of them, boarded a shuttle as part of a group, then slipped away into the monastery and concealed myself to observe. I saw my Imposter colluding with several prominent heretics. When Imperial forces attacked, I made my move. Is this really so hard to believe? I’m an Inquisitor, and I’ve been doing it a long time. This is the job. One does not spend centuries in the field without learning to exploit opportunities. Absent a seal or a retinue, I had no resources to call on but myself. Had I never been captured, I might never have made it to Delan’s Point and thence to Balkoth. Remarkable how failure can turn into victory after the fact, isn’t it?”

Zjivek was staring very hard at Amaurn by this point, as if trying to glean some telepathic insight of his own through nothing but an act of will. After a moment his nose wrinkled thoughtfully.

“I suppose it will have to serve. Your story is not entirely implausible, but it remains improbable, and will require no small effort to ensure it falls on suitably sympathetic ears. The problem I have is this: you took your time getting here, and events have progressed considerably. It would be...problematic if further doubt were to be cast on the official record of Delan’s Point, but not entirely insurmountable. The beatification is complete now. It cannot be rescinded. In light of this, it seems the scales of our potential agreement have tipped in your favour. You may be forced to use the single tool you have, but I have a great many at my disposal already. That being said, employing them on your behalf is a lot to ask in exchange for your rather questionable endorsement. What else can you offer the Imperium?”

Amaurn had known this was coming, had almost looked forward to it. He felt it rising like a kraken towards the surface of Zjivek’s mind and seized upon the opening.

“I can kill the Emperor’s enemies. That’s where this is going, right? You have someone you want me to kill. I’ll do it, whoever it is, within reason. In principle. How readily I’ll do it depends on how well you see me coming out of this. I mentioned a Greater Daemon earlier. I assure you I at least am not in the habit of inventing such enemies. The Ordo Malleus is a sacred institution, for all some might try to pervert it. Our duty is not a fantasy. I intend to embark on that assignment the moment my authority is reinstated. Effective as I am in the field, I’ll need real military forces to go after something on that scale. Void ships. Heavy ordnance. I can’t help noticing, Guilliman seems to have co-opted nearly all of the Imperial military around here. You understand the value of military assets. Battles cannot be won without soldiers. Neither yours, nor mine.”

He could tell Zjivek didn’t like this before the man even opened his mouth, easy as he had discerned he was about to become a political hitman. Damn telepathy. An unwelcome friend eagerly delivering bad news at the earliest opportunity. Not that the Lord Inquisitor’s expression didn’t make it plain enough.

“You overstep. I could easily find another soldier. Armies and ships cannot be weighed against the muscle of one man. You should be grateful I’m giving you a chance at all. Many would not have done. I might not myself, under other circumstances. Don’t make the mistake of thinking yourself invaluable.”

Amaurn bristled slightly at this, momentarily forgetting himself.

“With respect, I’ve banished Daemon Princes. I’ve killed Traitor Marines in single combat. I survived Delan’s Point, Aranis and Aestimus. One on one, I doubt there’s a man in this fortress I couldn’t wipe from existence. I only need an army because the Enemy has armies, and I can’t be everywhere. I’ll fight the Lord of Change myself. That isn’t some personal vendetta. I don’t want my seal back because it makes me feel good. I need it to fight a war – The War, on behalf of the Imperium. I also need ships and men.”

“An excess of self-confidence is not a combat advantage!”

A flash of real steel in Zjivek’s voice to match his jaw then, the whites of his eyes visible all around the irises as they seemed to strain in their sockets. Maybe the crack about personal vendettas had been unwise, but old habits are hard to break. For the thousandth time, Amaurn reminded himself to be cordial. After a few tense moments meeting Zjivek’s withering stare, he marshalled his resolve and made himself look elsewhere. His gaze found the wall-mounted bayonet before he swiftly diverted it somewhere harmless, finding instead the reliquary with its saintly digit. With a slow, measured breath, he looked back at Zjivek, made his face a picture of serenity and waited for him to go on.

“If you want me to value you so highly, you will need to prove your worth. For all your insistence, right now you are not a member of your precious Ordo. You are an administrative anomaly, a dead heretic suddenly alive and demanding reinstatement – the very gall of it might well be all that’s kept you alive this far. My patience for your inflated self-importance is not without its limits. What comes after your trial – and it will be a trial, for all you prefer to steal its fangs by calling it a hearing – can be discussed later.”

Amaurn adopted a suitably contrite manner, by his own standards at least. This was clearly the best he was going to get until he’d had a chance to impress with more than words. How he hated politics.

“So long as it will be discussed. Alright, I’m in. So who is the Enemy Within?”

The Lord Inquisitor sat back in his seat as if it were an armchair, for all its stern rigidity. One way or another, the danger in his eyes seemed to have passed, or at least receded somewhere.

“Thank you. I am sure we will find a way. Tell me what you know of the situation on Holy Terra.”

“Nothing. I’ve been away.”

“Roboute’s return has caused up some significant pain. The Council has been fighting a conflict of ideology with a new group who see fit to shape Terra in their image. These…Ultramanians,” – the word was dripping with contempt – “have crossed lines. War has been called, and our kind, Amaurn, we answer that call.”

Zjivek shuffled a set of datapads on his desk. He found the one he was looking for.

“Watch that. There are several important Ultramanian personalities approaching the Inquisitorial chapel. They are deplorable, the lot of them, a rabble of rebellious fools given seals and let loose on this most Holy Throneworld. It is the open nature of their foolishness that dismays me. I wonder – what has possessed them? Have their senses abandoned them? When the God Emperor was interred up the Golden Throne, He had designed a great system of institutions and the Creed logically followed that.”

Zjivek tossed Amaurn’s sealed orders from hand to hand.

“It strikes me that they deem the Emperor’s plan as flawed, reprehensible even. They would pull down all these institutions, the great walls of devotion, dedication, and desire that we use to face down the multitude of inferior enemies that assail our great domain. What benefit do they see to pulling down that wall? It is a sham, a vanity, an outrage. Even Guilliman’s arrogance is staggering.”

Amaurn could see, even on the surface of Zjivek’s mind, that what seemed like a passionate but controlled stream of consciousness was actually the zealous pressing of deeply held beliefs. Zjivek’s mind was furious white hot for a moment, before tempering in the cool ice of discipline.

“We first fought them largely across the pulpit. There have been deaths, of course, on Terra. The previous Lord Terran found his end at the hands of an Ultramanian. That was the start of animosity – they fired the first shot. They felt they were in the ascendancy. Jarrod Hal was our man, and he was working through many compromises that …”

Zjivek paused for a moment.

“Compromises suited to both of the pre-eminent factions on Terra. Jarrod was wise, and intelligent. He consulted with both sides, and he was a good man. I’m sure you’ll agree, that is rare in the Inquisition. They strangled him to death in his own quarters, here in the fortress, because he wouldn’t bow to one of their more outrageous requests. Can you believe the arrogance of executing such an act? Astounding.”

Zjivek took a sip of water. Distorted through the glass, Amaurn could see the row of metallic lower teeth and below, the exposed and similarly metallic jawbone.

“And so we took one of theirs, and they took one of ours, and so we went back and forth. Death mounted on death. Qi came out of nowhere. She came well recommended to Terra, to serve some time in the Archives at the behest of one Inquisitor Fanham – a nobody out in the Obscurus Segmentum. What a damnable mistake. It seems she was radicalised by the Ultramanians, and now she leads the faction. Vain, vicious, voracious; small minded, but capable. Rumour has it she studied in an Assassinorum temple during her time as Interrogator.”

Zjivek sighed.

“The more passionate heads amongst the Council wouldn’t let this stand. Qi was bad mouthing too many of them. Too loud, too visible. We moved against her… But it turns out she is protected. We can’t read by whom, we can’t get our hands on enough but the word came back. No. Not Qi. We were planning our next move until… The scene you’re currently watching unfolded at the Chapel Inquisitoris.”

Zjivek offered Amaurn some water.

“We took a loss. A big one. Grejchev was an imbecile, a wreckage of misdirected faith and fury, but he was effective and more than all that, he was one of ours. There is no re-dress suitable for this, but let me be clear. I want them dead, the rest of them who went to the chapel. I want them all dead and I want them, if possible, to suffer.”

“Oh, they’ll suffer.”

Amaurn accepted the water politely, though he made no move to drink it. He sat in silence for several minutes, watching Inquisitors and their retinues first shout at, then fight, then butcher one another in the increasingly wrecked surroundings of the Chapel Inquisitoris. It seemed he had been right about Terra. In a way it was strangely comforting to find that some things never changed. And here he had feared he might have nothing to do on the planet but makes speeches in his own defence. As to whether these Ultramanians Zjivek was set against deserved their fate, the scene on the datapad suggested they at least were not above taking brutal action for similarly impersonal reasons. Live by the sword… Judging by their recorded performance in the chapel, only two individuals might present a problem, and one of those was Qi, the forbidden fruit. As for the other…

“The one in the power armour. Not Grejchev. Inquisitor...?”

“That’s Ymaar.”

“He’s dead?”

“We aren’t altogether sure he’s a he. But no, not dead just yet. As I said, you’re going to correct that oversight. Ymaar has never attended any other Ultramanian functions, that we know of. Another recent arrival on Terra, an ally of convenience. Some backwater Radical with a grudge is our best guess.”

“Surely you can see the problem? Ymaar dies, right here in this footage. Three arco-flagellants. If whoever they are can come back from that, who’s to say they’re even human?”

“So what if they aren’t? I recall you claiming something about Daemon Princes and Traitor Marines back there. Whatever else Ymaar is, they are a traitor I have sentenced to death. Achieving that end is up to you.”

“Fair enough. And you’re absolutely certain this Qi is off the table? Because if you really wanted to send a message…”

“Absolutely. Stay as far as possible away from Lyssa Qi. The less she even knows about this the better.”

“Very well. This one then. He’s wearing a rosette, yet all he brought to the battle was a knife? He was just killing an unarmed priest. Now he’s lost the knife trying to block a power sword with it. His opponent isn’t even an Inquisitor – I assume, from–”

“No, you’re right. Bounty hunter, if it matters. Hired muscle.”

“–And he’s down. Saved by his comrades, and barely. He looked like a fighter on the way in, but overall I don’t see it. What’s his name?”

“That’s Gleeson.”

“Right. If Qi is off limits we’re going to need everyone on the tier below her to get the same effect.”

“At the least.”

“Well we have three other Inquisitors with bloody hands, so I’ll start with the weakest and work up. This idiot Gleeson seems to fit the bill. Qi and the other two were an effective force, but him I’ll fight barehanded. Does he have any special enhancements?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Presumably if he did, he would have used them when he lost his knife.”

“In that case it won’t be a problem. Really it’s a waste of resources even sending me to kill a man like him, when you have perfectly good bounty hunters on the payroll. Ymaar, sure. But who am I to argue? Just remember, there’s no going back once I do this. You had better hold up your side.”

“Don’t insult me. Just be discreet. It can’t get out this was you. Our enemies will be expecting retaliation for the obscenity at the chapel, as well they should. Holy Terra is watching, and your target will be on guard.”

“He had better be. I am not some assassin. I am Ordo Malleus, whatever my detractors believe. When I lower myself to kill a man, let him see me coming and do his worst. It will avail him nothing. The Emperor is with me.”

“Is He, now?”

“He is. Ymaar last I think, given the regeneration angle – that’s all I can assume from what I’ve seen. Maybe some serious biomancy, though I’m not sure even that’s enough to explain the head injury. I might have to make a mess there, so it could take a while setting up. What about the sniper?”

“Odion. Possibly the most well-connected, save perhaps for Qi herself. A known favourite of Lord Inquisitors Orragon and Namathadendren; Namathadendren is their candidate for the Lord Terran.”

“Ah, then he might turn out to be interesting. I think he could be one for old faithful.”

Amaurn reached behind himself, patting the butt of his lasgun with uncharacteristic affection.

“I might challenge him to a duel, if he goes in for that sort of thing. Or at least use Gleeson’s death to draw him out. He looks like a careful man...maybe that will run to paranoia when his comrades start to die. I think I’ll see how he reacts to Gleeson and go from there. Do you know where the three of them hide out?”

“They each have separate quarters in the Fortress. Where else they might be found at any given time is difficult to predict, besides the more public Ultramanian forums, and I wouldn’t advise you try attending any of those. I don’t need to know how you’ll do this, so long as you get it done.”

“That reminds me, where am I based here?”

“Your own quarters have been taken care of. This is all in the datapad. Your seal has been reclassified from Excommunicat Traitoris to status disputed, pending trial. You have the freedom of the Fortress but that’s it. No second thoughts and no pilgrimages. Carrying that rosette won’t open any doors but neither will it get you arrested, provided you don’t try to leave. Don’t make me regret this.”

“Likewise, Lord Inquisitor. We are agreed then. I accept the assignment. Expect to hear news of Gleeson’s demise by the end of the day.”

“I’m glad to hear you’re eager to get started. Don’t think me entirely unsympathetic. I will set the wheels in motion for the convening of a court, but selecting a suitable panel of judges is a delicate process and will take time. You should have ample opportunity to see this through.”

“It cannot come soon enough. I am no traitor, and I will show you what I do to those who are. Anyone who knew them will wake screaming in the night by the time I’m through.”

The Lord Inquisitor nearly smiled at this, or there was at least a certain lightening of his face, if not a return to the joviality with which he had commenced their meeting. Then a cloud seemed to pass over him again. Frowning, he closed his eyes, inhaling slowly, nostrils flared.

“I’ve always thought that having a sense for treachery is a part of the role. Part of owning the seal. Part of our duty to the Emperor. I have found that that heresy always wants to be seen. It is the nature of the thing. It wants to be visible. And it leaves behind a stench.”

Zjivek stood up from his desk, and waved for Amaurn to follow him.

“I don’t smell anything on you, Amaurn. There’s nothing.”

Zjivek stopped at a pair of double doors. He flicked through a rack of keys at his waist, found the key of interest and then unlocked the doors. The doors opened to reveal a trophy rack of sorts. It reeked of death and the lingering scent of combusted promethium. Twenty-seven human skulls, arranged in six whole rows of four and a row of three, presented themselves with accompanying Inquisitorial seals. Each skull had been polished to a high finish, sparkling almost. ‘Heretic’ had been engraved on each in Gothic script.

“There’s no stink on you, Amaurn, and that concerns me. Each of these twenty-seven Inquisitors, their retinues, their holdings, their endeavours – there was a stink. See fourteen, he stunk of demons. He cavorted with them, and when I cornered him, he knew what was coming. On the way to the pyre he pissed himself like a terrified toddler.”

Zjivek turned to Amaurn. A streak of absolute belief flashed in his eyes. It was dangerous like sparks from a wildfire in a parched brown forest.

“I can still smell it, on their bones. Heresy has a smell. It reeks, it fills a place with rancor and degenerate stank and it permeates the bones. See, you’ve spent centuries in the field and you have the stink of a newborn child.”

Zjivek brought the skull close to his face and breathed deeply through his nose.

“Nineteen here… Nineteen was a young Inquisitor, a precocious mind. She was guided by the hand of some of the most feted Lord Inquisitors. She took their benevolence, she took their patronage and she threw it back in their face. She devoted herself to the ruinous powers. I chased her halfway across the galaxy. When I caught her, she had horns, a great set of ugly fangs. Her skin was purple. I found her in a township on a backwater world, a dusty hole on the edge of nowhere. I dragged her by the hair into the central square of this township. I carved her like the rotten piece of meat she was.”

Zjivek glowered, an animal snarl revealing his metal teeth.

“I am a dangerous man. I kill people, and I am very good at it. Tell me, Amaurn, tell me how one spends centuries knee deep in the filth that inhabits this galaxy, and you come out smelling of nothing.”

Amaurn’s face might have been made of stone. He looked away from the wall of skulls and met Zjivek’s shining, suddenly accusing eyes.

“Discipline.”

After a meaningful pause, he decided to elaborate. This was always going to come up eventually. Zjivek was every bit as sure of himself as Balkoth, in his way. Amaurn’s freshly stainless soul was the first thing his mentor would have asked about. As to how he could smell such things...maybe he was a latent psyker, or maybe it was all in his mind. Best to assume the worst, Amaurn decided. He still couldn’t remember exactly how many fellow Inquisitors he’d killed himself, but of this much he was reasonably sure: it was less than twenty-seven. Not that he didn’t still have time.

“I was born with the Emperor’s gift, and the burden of duty that brings. To be a psyker and a righteous man is no easy thing, much less a righteous Inquisitor. Nor is it easy to explain. With every moment that goes by, I am tested anew. Even my dreams are a war. Chaos is ever waiting for me, should I falter in my faith. Corruption is only a momentary lapse of will away. A man with my gifts can afford no spiritual compromises when he sets out to fight against daemons. There are two types of psyker in the Ordo Malleus, Lord Inquisitor, the devoted and the dead. Some of the latter category merely need reminding on occasion that the spark of life has fled.”

He gestured to the wall.

“There, but for His grace and the strength of our conviction, go I and all my kind. If you ever smell it on me, I implore you to strike me down. A weapon as effective as me is far too dangerous to fall into the Enemy’s hands. Yet I have swum through the warp itself, in body as well as in soul, and by His grace I have yet emerged clean. I do not question the blessings He has given, only who He needs me to kill.”

“I can’t help but notice you mentioned the Emperor somewhat...sparingly until now. Are you a selectively religious man, Amaurn?”

Damn. Better lay it on thick. If he ended up having to kill this man it would all be over for him. Amaurn had come too far for that now.

“I don’t see religion as a contest, brother. Must I answer for a lack of faith, or an absence of heresy? Surely I cannot be guilty of both. Nor can I fail to mention the Emperor when speaking of such matters. He is my shield against the constant threat I have described. As to my habitual demeanour, consider where I came from. I was raised in darkness, and by an evil man. The whispers of the Enemy were thunderous to such an isolated child, for all that I reviled them. While he did own a copy of the Creed, Balkoth only let me read it as a vehicle for his lessons. He liked to hold forth on the supposed failings of scripture, so it pleased him for me to know what scripture he meant. And yet it resonated with me. I knew I could not bear the psyker’s burden alone, and alone I was down there, but for Him. The Emperor was my light in the darkness, even then. Faith is the one thing I’ve always had that Balkoth could not poison. Even my seal is now in question, thanks to him. Had I not learned to keep my faith close and pray in the silence of my head, pretending impiety by reflex, he might never have let me out. I don’t consider that a sin. If it is, then given my survival so far, I must conclude the Emperor forgives the boy who was. Still, His name deserves better than to share my breath with that of Balkoth. I am no preacher – my skills lie elsewhere. Like you, I am one who comes for those who prey upon His flock.”

Zjivek replaced the skull without a word, and closed the door. Continuing the silence, he locked it firmly and then tested the lock. Satisfied it was sealed, Zjivek turned to look at Amaurn.

“I do see similarities between us, Amaurn. Perhaps in better times we would be brothers on the front line, fighting shoulder to shoulder. It pains me that in this dark period we must resort to subterfuge, but the Emperor’s light will see us through the black.”

Zjivek gestured towards the exit from his quarters, and both men began strolling that way. Zjivek offered a hand to seal the deal. Amaurn took it, and they exchanged a solemn handshake.

“Do not fail me, Amaurn.”


=][=


Amaurn was gone. Zjivek slotted himself back behind his desk. He couldn’t decide whether to be impressed or feel patronised by the old Inq– he stopped himself – fool. Something, and Zjivek couldn’t place it, wasn’t right with the degenerate. It wasn’t just the smell. Amaurn smelled like a freshly pressed suit, hanging in an immaculate wardrobe in a beautiful summer flower garden. Zjivek trusted his nose.

Zjivek had summoned several of his better operatives – Garaxev, Usmat, and Tirrey – who were due to arrive shortly. It would be a mistake to think that Amaurn wouldn’t need supervision through this period. Distant, light touch, gentle, but supervision nonetheless. The three of them were capable, well coordinated, and vicious. They were also true believers, men of deep and reverential faith.

Zjivek surveyed all of his problems. Amaurn would tangle with the Ultramanians, and assuming he was as competent as he boasted, that issue would be stymied. Kleeton, the snivelling two faced coward, would be next after those. Kleeton was a despicable coward, a foul subservient squirt who reeked of fear and uncertainty. How the man had ever won a seal was beyond Zjivek. He needed to die – a man who would sell out his colleagues on one side couldn’t be trusted not to sell out the other.

Finally, Zjivek needed to position his candidate for the Lord Terran. It couldn’t be Zjivek; he didn’t want the responsibility yet. He had examined the pool of Inquisitors in the Puritan Council, and found most of them wanting. Not for faith, or dedication, but for savvy and the ability to make the right choices. They needed decently long service, so that discounted another raft. That left a small number that had dwindled on further consideration. That he had ever considered Grixos – he spat the name in his mind, Grixos! – disgusted him. That little rat, that filthy turncoat, all of the resources invested in his schemes, all of the support Terra had provided him down the years, and this was how he chose to repay them all in the end. He made a mental note that Grixos would likely need silencing, and soon.

That left Lord Inquisitor Jarikkoninen, formerly a mighty bull of a man; latterly, he resembled a docile fattened cow growing ready for slaughter. He was dull witted, at least compared to Zjivek, but a true believer. He also liked to think he couldn’t be manipulated, a special kind of arrogance that Zjivek knew he could leverage. He resolved to pay Jarikkoninen a visit before the day was out.

A decent days’ work, all things considered. The Puritan Council’s ascendancy was secured.


=][=


The Hidden Hand III


The press of human flesh in the underhive stank. The unwashed masses of pilgrims were being herded on the streets below, through narrow control barriers. The ever watchful eyes of the Terran Arbites stood on every corner, at each junction, surveying the thronging masses moving through Terra’s streets. High above this chaos, a group of individuals had heeded a call, triggered some weeks ago, to meet. The meeting was a result of a long-sworn sequence of oaths; some sacred, some profane. All roads trodden by the oath-bearers lead to this juncture.

“We have received the sign.”

“We have.”

“Amaurn has come to Terra.”

“Amaurn? Really? We were expecting someone else.”

“Amaurn is who we have. He’s come for a trial and no doubt trouble with it. He’s brought a giant sarcophagus with him. No one is sure what’s in it. He’s guarding it with his life.”

“Who is his sponsor?”

“No one will talk about it.”

“So someone powerful, then. Where was he spotted?”

“Ganymede. There was an attempt on his life. He survived–”

“Not a surprise.”

“Please…don’t interrupt. He survived the assault. We don’t know who got him off Ganymede. Speculation has him on Terra now. The manifest was empty from that hangar, there was no record of an arrival either.”

“No one has access to the fortress manifest.”

“We still have people in the Lord Inquisitor’s office.”

“Good. We can turn that to our advantage. Do we have instructions on how to proceed?”

“For that bastard Amaurn? The instruction will be to burn him. Burn him, everything he touches, everything he interacts with, his sponsor, the whole stinking rott–”

“Let me be clear – what are the instructions, not your speculation? I am sure they will be quite clear.”

“Mercy…” the voice tailed off, in a mix of shock and surprise.

“What? What? Tell me.” This voice was urgent, zealous, as if it had expected some great revelation.

“We have to save him.”


=][=



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Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2020, 10:10:13 AM »
The Hidden Hand IV

The art of poisoning is a simple enough premise. The human body, indeed, the anatomy of any living thing is a biomechanical machine whose limitations can be exploited. There is no perfection in any living thing, contrary to the views of poets and philosophers; even the grotesque posthuman anatomy of the Astartes is not without flaws. A poison simply exposes those imperfections ruthlessly, sometimes painfully, to the desired end goal - be that compliance, disablement, or death. Exploitation is done through the varied deployment of chemical and biological weaponry - the poison. Poison is too simple a term - the various chemicals used in the act can be man-made or natural in origin, they can be simplistic single chemicals, complex ternary or quadrary combinations of compounds that create effects in a specific environment; even genetically engineering viruses designed to cripple a specific biological process.

It is thought that the perfect poison cannot exist. Many poisons are too easily detected - from smell, taste, sophisticated sensors and simple controls such as food tasters. There is also the requirement for physical proximity of some kind - very few highly effective poisons can be delivered at range, even the more exotic xeno poisons. Most poisons delivered via weapons require the wielder to be at arm’s length, or deploy sophisticated - therefore rare and expensive - weaponry to deliver at significant range. Fewer still can be effectively aerosolized to be delivered as gas. Venomous animals are too unpredictable, viruses and bacteria too fragile to direct without the same problems noted previously.

As the problems rack up, it is therefore posited that the perfect poison cannot exist.

This is demonstrably false. The perfect poison is the poison that is not detected until it is too late; indeed, if at all. The perfect poison is tailored precisely to the target. It is of the form and substance perfect to the situation, environment and physiology of the victim. The perfect poisoning is not about the method used, though that certainly aids the process. No, the perfect poisoning is always possible, because poisoning is an art; art is subjective, and art is delivered always in context.

These arguments also infer the premise that an arms race must exist between those who would be targeted by would be poisoners and the poisoners themselves. If this is true, then the Venenum Temple, of the Officio Assassinorum, is the alpha and omega of poison - the absolute truth, the realm beyond poison mastery. You cannot be in an arms race with the omnipotent.

The Venenum have a creed for the act of poisoning - do not let that which is good enough prevent perfection. It is never enough to simply kill someone with a poison. Each killing must deliver a message - a statement so clear and powerful that there can be no doubts about who sent it. The Emperor is here, the omnipresent power of the Imperium can reach you anywhere, and in any method of its choosing. This was the method chosen, this time, in this place. Do not doubt that it can be by any method, at any time.

The most infamous of the Venenum’s acts therefore become legend. The Tyrant of Hugerris IV died of a severe myocardial infarction - a massive heart attack - amidst a bacterial infection that spread through the capital city of Hugerris. The huddled heretic masses sheltered close to their de-facto ruler wailed their misery into the night as the bacterial agent, a pungent skin infection that blackened sub-dermal tissue and ravaged the nervous system, rampaged through the city. The citizens of Hugerris wondered what had been done to offend the Cycle, the chaos pantheon dressed up in new clothes, such that they would choose to visit them with such a nasty and visibly horrifying disease.

This context set the stage for the Venenum assassin’s plot to unfold. Firstly, the assassin infiltrated the household of the Tyrant. A mix of subterfuge, misdirection and murder saw the assassin ensconced on the estate as a lowly serf. The agent used a high powered needle pistol to deliver a vaccine to the Tyrant to preserve him from the plague. The Venenum assassin then introduced no less than four different poisons across his food, his bed, the water supply for the city and the hands of his lieutenants. A sense of invincibility came from the mild hallucinogen his food, such that the old and illegal social rituals; handshakes and a full embrace, were reinstated for his inner circle. The grist for the mill may only become one as they are ground into dust at our behest - we are men! We will embrace and we will shake hands! And so the plot was complete.  Each of these chemicals combined within his body, which reacted with the proteins left over from fighting off the weakened bacterial infection of the vaccine to cause the heart attack. A twelve hour window was left before the attack was due to arrive during which the assassin crept into the room of the Tyrant, who then planted the seeds for the final message.

The cardiac arrest occurred - as his chirurgeons fought to keep the fallen heretic alive by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the pressure on his chest caused the final gift from the Venenum operative to be made fulsome - blood seeped through the chest of the Tyrant which then ignited, forming just momentarily the blazing symbol of the palatine eagle. Ave Imperator.

Crucially, the plague had been planted on the world nearly three months prior by the same Venenum agent to force the Tyrant and his lieutenants to be confined to their palace.

Lyssa Qi had never been a formal assassin of the Venenum Temple. When she graduated into Inquisitorial service, she was too old to be considered for the temple’s full induction process, and would most likely have been killed by the modifications required by the Temple. She had been sequestered by an Inquisitor because of her extensive knowledge of organic chemistry, biochemistry, cytology, molecular biology and genetic manipulation. Her intellect was even more formidable than her physical abilities. Qi had always had physical gifts beyond the average human - it was widely speculated that she had genetically enhanced herself as a terrifyingly brilliant child, though she never responded to any of that nonsense. Speculation bored her, and the tittle tattle that rumbled around the Inquisition was beneath her.

She had tested herself through the Venenum’s Inquisitorial program. Few passed the Inquisitorial trials, which were combinations of poison work, combat and infiltration. Between her enhanced physical talents and towering intellect, she found herself in the inner sanctum of the Venenum Temple learning the truly perfect art of poison.

Of course, poison is a limited, and frankly useless term for what she did learn. Advanced genetic engineering, microbiology, virology, and bacteriology. Pathogens she could never even imagine were now accessible to her. She obtained perfect knowledge of human physiology, psychology and the delicate balance of chemicals, hormones and other biological agents within the body. She lost herself in biochemistry and advanced toxicology. She stayed with Venenum for nearly eight years, absorbing knowledge and techniques like a voracious sponge.

She left the temple markedly changed - physically and psychologically. In many ways, she found herself detached from humanity. She hadn’t operated as a full Officio Assassin, but that hadn’t stopped her taking some assignments. She had pushed herself to her physical limit, and perhaps beyond, taking on-board some of the most advanced techniques humanity knew about infiltration and death. It was often thought the adepts of the Callidus temple were the most proficient infiltrators - but, consider that if one can blend in and look like anyone else with polymorphine, how could they ever be the most accomplished? They effectively had a cheat code for reality.  The Venenum temple, with their push for perfection, had to truly master the art of infiltration. The use of chemicals - psychotropic, soporific, anesthetic - was a similarly essential requirement, but the act of getting into and out of a secure facility, without detection, was another art the Venenum immersed itself in.

Obsession was their real secret, their real art form.

For any infiltration, the first step is learning about your enemy. Who are they? Where do they reside? How many locations do they own and frequent? Which one of these is the least and more secure, and crucially - why? What don’t you see for the location?

Scout out the ingress and egress points. Which of the various points would be best to use to enter, and which to leave? Which one provides the most cover, the most covert approach, and which one is more open? Then explore each of those routes into and out of the target location. Don’t be seen. Don’t be heard.

They must not see you coming. If you can't find a way in without being seen, can you blind the vision of your opponent instead? Can you poison their water, their food, their air?

Understand the schedules of each of the residents, guards and visitors to the target location. Find the window of opportunity.

Qi had all the intelligence she needed for Kleeton’s familial estate. The vast estate had pride of place within one of the vast hive cities of Terra. They lived at the top of the Hive, where the pollution and the dirt broke to leave almost clean air and a view of perfect zenith blue skies.

The two guards who were on shift tonight, Frederickson and El-Haj were sloppy and lazy. They didn’t perform the full lap of the estate, nor did they check the full breadth of their peripheral vision. She suspected she could walk between the pair of them for the full length of their route before they would notice her. She had watched their body language - languid, slow, loping - all the markers of complacency - and no wonder. The criminal element would never make it to these heights without the Arbites or private security killing them hundreds of storeys below they could even see the edge of this estate. The low murmur of conversation between the two of them was the window of opportunity when she knew they had fully paid their attention elsewhere.

Qi silently skittered over the wall of the Kleeton estate. She didn’t make a sound as she followed the route she had identified - a series of cracks and disturbances in the wall that left just enough small shadows in the dim lunar light for her to find a sequence of grips and nicks she leveraged to propel herself up the wall. A more effective pair of guards would have noticed those imperfections in the wall. It was embarrassing.

The estate recreated an ancient Terran style - beautiful tall windows with a perfect curved arch above them, nymphs and frescos of flowers adorned the top of the building, and the grounds were perfectly manicured under the biodome that kept the worst of the Terran pollution away from the plants. The open nature of the grounds made the estate difficult to navigate. Movement across open ground, when the estate had such huge windows, was a prime combination for being caught. Her customary synthskin outfit, coupled with a tight bun on top of her head, would keep help to conceal her, but the supermoon overhead amplified the risk of being seen. Most of the usual residents would be asleep by this time.

She sidled down one of the estate walls, keeping herself concealed in shadow. She could hear the dull foot fall of Frederickson and the more excited clatter of El-Haj. They would take three more steps, and then stop. Precisely when she expected, they stopped and the rummage for lho sticks would start. The small exhalations swirled above the wall and danced up towards the beating moon in manic shaman shimmies.

“My daughter qualified for the Schola subsidy.”

“Nice, very nice.”

“We’re going to send her to the Administratum. She’s got a real talent for numbers.”

“Very good.”

There was a lull in conversation. Lho stick smoke swaggered headily in the air, leaving the unmistakable warm hum smell of the weed. Qi stayed in place, breathing slowed to the scantest of breaths. Her heart slowed, her mind calmed. These were amateurs, but it wasn’t her way to be amateur around them. She maintained her concentration.

Another deep breath. Their ritual was nearing completion.

“Administratum types do well don’t they?”

“Aye. Maybe she’ll get a place like this when she’s older.”

The unmistakable scritching of lho sticks being stubbed out on the floor. Both men grumbled and groaned as they stretched and flexed their bodies.

“Quiet night.”

“Isn’t it always?”

They shared a dirty laugh. Their fat boot plodding told Qi they were beginning their return patrol to the other side of the estate. More than enough time to slip into the estate.

Qi had resolved to not kill Kleeton just yet. His interference in her work on Terra, she suspected, had been going on for some time and she needed to get to the very depths of his betrayal. He was actively giving intelligence on her to the Puritan Council, to Setraakian in the Lord Terran’s office, and possibly to some of the more exotic factions on Terra. That created doubt where Qi needed certainty. The political landscape on Terra was volatile and knowing who knew what was an advantage she could lever.

She waited for a few more seconds, letting the leisurely flat footed meandering of the unknowing guards filter off into the distance.

Qi had watched - herself, no less - the Kleeton estate for days. Some would have viewed it as obsessive, her power and her position providing her with no end of lackeys and misfits who could have done it for her. It wouldn’t have been the same though - her body, perfectly posed, blended into the background; her attention to detail immaculate; like a renaissance master studying their subject. Her body immutable; though she remained still, she used an old technique from the Temple to go through micro tensions in each muscle to full stretching and contorting each strand of tissue down from her head to her toes. The science behind the art of staying very, very still for a long time, and so it was that she would spend much time simply still. She watched as the household lived and breathed - inhalation of visitors, of goods, of servants; exhalation of detritus, of Kleeton’s various vices and of tied ribbons of waste.

She would listen to the deaf and dumb idle-dull foot patter of the guards Kleeton employed, as they ineffectually patrolled the edge of this eeyrie of Terran privilege. It wasn’t hard for her to dislike Kleeton because of his treachery - it was easier to justify gutting his entire genetic lineage - and backwards in time if she could - because of this grotesquery.

Qi remembered the time she’d spent working through the ranks in the Inquisition - knife fights in the back streets of a dozen dank dead worlds, fighting the battle for the Emperor’s Soul! Or, more accurately, keeping herself from being gutted like another bilge rat to bring back the scrap of intelligence that would break the back of another case. She recalled all the times she stood watching hundreds, thousands maybe, of blazing human pyres choking the skies with human ash and filling the air with the larynx breaking caterwaul of men and women and children burning. The planet she’d experienced that on, Wahah IV, was a dusty endless desert. The dawn sky was already deadly red; the dusk sky was black cancer mottled red where the sun dared peek through the carnage.

Kleeton and Qi, they were very different breeds; Kleeton had never, as far as she was aware, set foot of Terra and seen anything other than his own grotesque privilege and Terran realpolitik, the games of the almighty played on the golden world at the centre of all this carnage. He talked about his Ultramanian leanings as if they were petty concerns, as if the return of a - no, perhaps the Primarch was a folly for the front line bayonet wielding fool to sell his life for so we might feel all the more at ease in the permanently blue skied eyrie. The artificial weather might change occasionally - purified sprinkles of the most precious substance on Terra to keep their infinitely expensive array of plant life looking fresh and virile - but the outlook was always the same; overcast and overwrought at minor sleights given over amasec worth more than half a sector’s tithe per cup.

Now was the time for change. Amidst another drenching in water that felt cleaner than the water she showered in at the Fortress of the Inquisition, she shifted between the bushes, past flowers so fragrant it was an assault on her olfactory sense, past a perfect white marble statue of some saint, towards the inner sanctum. She pressed her body against the wonderfully flat outside wall of the tall estate house, subconsciously admiring the delicate hand-wrought plaster on her back. She silently slipped down the wall, ducking under each window as she passed them.

She wound back the bile that flowed through her mind. Now was not the time to let choler induce a mistake or even a simple slip of a finger. Her mind refocused, she let tactility lead her exploration of the window. As ever, Gudnur - a four year old cousin of Kleeton’s - had left the playroom window a few millimeters open, as she could feel from the warm breath of the house down her arm. There was life here, a beating rhythm she could feel like crawling under the skin of a new lover. She let her slender fingers slide, slowly, carefully, into the gap beneath the window which consented with consternation at her forced opening. The sudden jump-start jerk of her lifting the window caught her by surprise, and only the absolute control she had over her micro-movements allowed her to catch the juddering moment before it screamed down the house. The window open, epinephrine flowing, the freak-fraught tap of her heartbeat brought a matte coating of goosebumps down her neck as she entered the Kleeton residence for the first time.

Her mind sprinted through a spring start checklist - firstly, checking the periphery of her vision rapidly and constantly; that dealt with, her senses needed to rise. She let her conscious mind close to stimulus for a moment, elevating through each of her senses - hearing pricking hard to the snoring three… no, four doors down and maybe two, two point five meters from the door itself. She breathed deliberately into her chest, feeling the rush of air in her nose - the iron tang of cold sweat, someone was having a nightmare, most likely the child; dried and aired meats downstairs in the kitchen, sharp and rich; and very rich dozing amasec being left to breathe overnight. Her skin roiled down her muscles, over her bones, down to the soles of her feet. She could feel the carpet, and the old hardwood beneath that in detail under her toes. The air thickened to hard paste round her fingers. An instant later, she let her eyes open again, this time razor focused on tiny details while still flicking from extreme to extreme. She flicked her tongue out, letting air and particulates dance down her gustatory cells.

Fear.

The air was dripping dread, the overwhelming sensation dancing down her tongue and plunging into her gullet was despair and hopelessness. An unexpected complication - she couldn’t ascertain whether it was the child or someone else, but fear meant others had heightened senses, which drove the risk of her incursion up dramatically. She waited another moment, then breathed again.

The amasec was flowing, the delicate sides of a crystal-cut tumbler glass contained and sloughed the thick fluid. Someone was awake, and the fear and doubt came from contemplation. Instinctively she fled to the shadows, feeling safer in the comfort wrap of darkness. She rounded her steps as she sought the corridor hidden behind the door of the playroom which was, somewhat out of routine, completely closed. It seems the tiny beast was learning to close behind itself - that didn’t bode well for return visits. She made a fast mental note that she would need to manufacture herself several methods in for return visits.

She danced her hand across the door to the handle. She rolled her eyes in a silent affirmation to the Emperor, and let her weight press it down. It was smooth, gentle - well maintained. The disciplined house staff didn’t spare any detail. The tongue like bolt slid nicely out of the strike plate and the door was ready to open. The real test of the staff would be the hinges, which as she swung the door it sounded only silence in salute to their dedication.

Her feet made no sound as she came out into the corridor of the regal estate. The corridor was wide, well carpeted, and inconsistently lit by the huge but distant from each other windows. She sped down the corridor, quickly through the light towards notionally the end. As she moved, she noted the flicker warm tell tale light of a fire then heard the crisp crackle of burning logs. Wood! There hadn’t been wood on Terra… She didn’t know. She wondered how she’d missed the sharp burn tang of smoke, but as she came closer the dim light illuminated the room. A figure sat in a large wing back chair; the fan of the amasec. She spotted the reflection of the fire in the cut crystal glass, which was still mostly full with amasec. The lone drinker wasn’t asleep, but she could tell by the slow breathing and the slightly snagged breathing that they were close to unconsciousness.

Sensing no further value from an encounter or exchange, Qi slipped away into the darkness. She needed to extract maximum value from this excursion - it was time to go to work.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2020, 01:39:27 AM by Dosdamt »
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Mentirius

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2020, 03:52:02 PM »
=][=


According to the vid-logs, Inquisitor Gleeson was a distinctly large man.  Towering and barrel-chested, he appeared every inch the capable warrior, at least up until the incidents with the Bishop and the bounty hunter.  Amaurn suspected he lacked a spine.  Nevertheless he intended to give Gleeson the chance to prove his mettle, out of respect for his rank if nothing else.  The only question was where to approach him.  The sprawling subterranean city that constituted the Inquisitorial Fortress seemed to span most of the continent covering Terra’s southern pole, surely a sizeable landmass even before the ancient seas were boiled away.  In some ways it reminded him of Secret’s Hold, the haunted catacombs of his formative years, though here the ceilings were significantly higher, the lights brighter and human beings more populous by a factor of thousands.  Every section he’d seen so far had been frequently patrolled by guards of one kind or another.  There were golden Aquilas embossed in abundance, as seemed to be the current fashion, frequently combined with the sigil of the Inquisition in countless variations.  Amaurn found it lacking in taste.  Inquisitors were meant to be about function over form.  He hated Secret’s Hold, but to his mind its featureless black walls were infinitely more appropriate to the nature of his profession.  However, the sense of constant scrutiny here was entirely familiar.

While the personal living quarters of various semi-permanent residents seemed to vary widely in their locations relative to one another, so he would not be infiltrating some crowded barracks at least, he had no way of gauging the extent of any auxiliary security systems the current occupants had put in place.  Invading an Inquisitor’s private sanctum was a risky business at the best of times, and from the information Zjivek had given him, Gleeson’s current official residence was in an alarmingly central location.  Worse, there were strictly enforced restrictions throughout most of the fortress on how much warp energy an individual could channel at once – a wise precaution with Inquisitors, admittedly, especially in these supposedly more permissive times.  If he exceeded the limit with anything too heavy-handed, powerful psychic dampeners would be triggered, no doubt accompanied by a symphony of alarms blaring in rooms full of dangerous men and women, and this would put a swift end not only to his mission, but likely also his career and his life. 

Ironically, it occurred to Amaurn that if he were starting out as an Inquisitor now, he would probably be able to get away with a great deal of unconventional methodology before tongues started wagging and accusing fingers were pointed.  The astronomic political rise of one Archmagos Belisarius Cawl had apparently seen to that.  In different circumstances, these Ultramanian Recongregators might have seemed like natural allies.  But Amaurn was a relic of a simpler, perhaps darker time.  Certainly a less idealistic one.  He had grown accustomed to a certain depth of shadow when dealing with Imperial institutions, and it was corruption he needed now, for the truth would serve him ill in this endeavour.  He knew from long experience that in looking to identify the secretly corrupt, seek out those who shout the loudest about purity.  Zjivek was exactly what he needed, and the reverse was also true, for he had tailored his strategy carefully to maximise his own value as an asset.  Aside from his obvious combat capabilities, so far as anyone knew he was unconnected, a relative stranger to the modern Inquisition, awaiting trial himself.  He was the perfect man for an ugly job. 

For his part, Amaurn only needed one ally for the short time he intended to spend here, provided that ally had the proper leverage.  There would be no benefit in betraying the Puritan Council, however little their ultimate goals had in common with his own.  For all the status merely visiting Terra theoretically conferred on a man, the mystique of the human home-world was lost on him – just one more battlefield among countless others, proximity to the Emperor’s abandoned husk clearly conferring little in the way of grace upon those who chose to dwell in its shadow.   He would leave here with his seal and with an army at his back, and the day that happened could not come too soon.  With this in mind, it was mere hours after his conversation with the Lord Inquisitor that Amaurn departed his own entirely temporary quarters, and wove his way via a carefully circuitous route towards the den of his appointed enemy. 

Telepathy was a delicate, subtle business at the best of times, and one for which he would have been the first to admit he lacked a natural affinity.  Still, his mentor’s course in the supposed Twin Foundations had brooked no imperfection from his students.  By the time he had broken away from Balkoth, his deficiency was comparable to that of a trained surgeon who had always desired a career in the arts, forced to follow in the footsteps of an overbearing father.  He resented the accomplishment and yet it could not be denied.  Amaurn was an experienced telepath, however much it galled him, and it was this alone which gained him entry to Gleeson’s chambers.  Knowing the absolute bare minimum of psychic suggestion required to steer a mind down well-trodden paths, or conveniently neglect to file away a memory – to whit, very little – was sufficient to avoid being noticed by any guards or triggering any psychic fail-safes, although it was also necessary to disable several monitoring systems in the process.  This he did by mentally suggesting to menial servitors, whose psychological state already approximated a kind of religious catatonia, that the sacred equipment was in fact damaged and needed to be disassembled in order to effect repairs.  When they completed the disassembly, they would fail to find any defects and move on to the catechisms of reconstruction.  Given the inevitable duration of the said catechisms, however, there would have to be a small army of Inquisitors waiting inside to delay him long enough to present a problem. 

Lastly, the formidable single entrance, a fearsome vault-style door rightly belonging on some Ecclesiarch’s flagship, protecting holy relics from boarders.  The nature of the various locks became apparent with the slightest touch of his senses – only Gleeson could open them safely, and he’d need a tank to get through the door otherwise.  They had it all covered, from a DNA scanner to a thirty-five character alpha-numeric code on a one-strike trigger.  At least one of the locks clearly required some portable tech to disable.  He wasn’t sure what would happen if he tried and failed to open it, and his mind could not penetrate the interior.  This being the case, he sought out another team of servitors and set them to work on the door.  Within twenty seconds, one of them was a smoking ruin splattered against the far end of the corridor, while the other two were soon blankly enduring the red-faced fury of Inquisitor Gleeson himself, no doubt roused from whatever he’d been doing when his lethal defences kicking in.  A security team arrived moments later, the shouting expanded and reached a crescendo, then subsided into sullen conversation.  After a minute they dispersed, leaving Gleeson alone outside his door.  This was the crucial moment.

Amaurn reached out from the shadows, rode the Inquisitor’s outrage smoothly, a raging torrent familiar in substance if not in course.  He paddled skilfully against the current until he reached an interior shore.  Moments later, the difficult work accomplished, he emerged from his hiding place and strode openly past the man into his private chambers.  Gleeson did not react, following him in as if nothing were amiss, hanging his blue and gold robe on a hook behind the door.  Amaurn waited three long minutes while his deeply, insufficiently paranoid opponent resealed and reset the great barrier.  There were no stringent requirements to open it from this side, and having observed the process he now felt confident he could recreate it.  He skimmed the alpha-numeric code from Gleeson’s distracted mind just in case, while the option remained open to him.  He’d see what he could do about the key device.  Obtaining DNA would obviously not be a problem. 

Gleeson’s lair resembled a country villa of the kind associated with Ultramar nobility, all marble columns and natural light steaming in – unnatural light in this case of course, but a respectable approximation of Sol’s warming rays considering this was far underground.  Every surface was smooth white stone.  The rooms were spacious and lavishly decorated with triumphal Imperial art; from the requisite bust of Roboute Guilliman, high on his pedestal, to a vast oil painting of the Council of Nikaea with the Emperor holding court that filled an entire wall.  Amaurn noted the presence of a number of hanging melee weapons, all artfully displayed.  Some of these did appear functional, if full of their own importance, though he didn’t intend to use them.  All the same he noted each of their locations as he explored the extensive suite.  Gleeson could not see him and he needed to be thorough.  Recording devices were found and disabled, vid-logs erased, cogitators rendered unable to cogitate as quietly as possible.  He found what looked like a master-crafted laspistol hidden in a desk drawer, removed the power cell and put it back.  Naturally he ransacked Gleeson’s private notes, with a focus an anything recently penned.  By the time the moment to reveal himself arrived, the tedium of it all had him sufficiently irritated he was positively thirsty for violence.

“Inquisitor Gleeson!  The Puritan Council send their regards.”

Gleeson was relaxing in his favourite chair, anachronistically high-backed for these surroundings, reading a book of Expansion Age poetry, when the announcement came.  It was not a voice he recognised, and somewhere in it there lurked a coiled viper of murderous intent.  It suddenly occurred to him that a man wearing black combat fatigues was standing in the middle of his living area.  While he stood with the bearing of a general, the man’s countenance was that of a centennial fisherman, or perhaps a pirate captain at a stretch.  His face, while absent scars, was deeply lined and weathered as if by a lifetime of exposure to some howling ocean wind.  Nearly as tall and broad-shouldered as Gleeson himself, he nevertheless fell short on both counts by a minor measure.  His hair was silver-grey, cropped short in a military cut, and his hands were balled into fists like knotted wood.  He looked to be a soldier, if an old one, though no weapons were immediately visible.  Moments passed and Gleeson realised the stranger had been rummaging around his quarters for nearly half an hour.  He came in when those servitors – how could he not have – and then Amaurn spoke again. 

“Get up, you damned coward.  I’m here to kill you, if that wasn’t already obvious.  I’m no priest but I am unarmed, so this should be about your level.  Try to stop me.”

“Who in the Emperor’s name are you?  Do you have any idea–”

“Death comes for everyone, Inquisitor.  Get up.”

“You tampered with my mind, you…you heretic filth!  Emperor-damned witch son of a–”

“I don’t like it either, but you didn’t make this easy.  I could have boiled the blood in your veins.  Instead I spent all this time making sure I could give you a chance to fight back.  Take it and get up.  Die on your feet like a damned Inquisitor.”

“How dare you…Zjivek will regret sending his dogs here!  Was the message not clear enough last time?  Monodominance is finished, over, done with.  The Glorious Re–”

Already out patience, Amaurn closed the gap with a single bound and kicked him hard in the face.  Halfway out of his seat when the kick landed, Gleeson crashed back into it and the chair went over backwards.  The dagger he had been drawing clattered ineffectually away.  Rising with a wordless roar of outrage, nose bent and streaming blood, he hurdled the fallen furniture and launched himself at his attacker.  The flying tackle connected at waist height and carried Amaurn to the floor.  He landed on his back but his knees came up into Gleeson’s chest, breaking his grip and throwing him over to collide with a nearby bookcase.  Amaurn was up in a fighting stance before the last tome thumped on the marble.  He waited for his opponent to right himself, felt a shift of psychic flavour as the Inquisitor’s rage gave way to the calculus of survival, training reasserted itself and his combat instincts took over.  Gleeson went for the desk first, seeking the pistol – found it, triumphant, then a final flash of anger as he saw the missing cell.  Their eyes met again for an instant, confirming the cold reality – at least one of these men would die now, and it no longer mattered why.  A nearby display incorporated two finely wrought axes, although with what looked to be prohibitively heavy golden shafts.  Gleeson adopted a martial pose, shifting his feet as he tried to circle towards them.  Amaurn moved easily to cut him off and grimly shook his head.  Gleeson charged.

A flurry of punches assailed Amaurn, a melody of crashing overhand swings punctuated by a bassline of brutal uppercuts.  He gave ground as he blocked the initial assault, hands whirling in tightly clipped arcs, swatting each fist aside, the burly Gleeson’s sheer momentum carrying him forward regardless.  His style seemed built on a foundation of familiar Astra Militarum stances and strikes, albeit an elite variation, to which a number of what felt like boxing techniques had been added, evidently aiming to capitalise on upper body strength to keep the opponent off balance.  There was serious powers behind the blows, but most of them were clearly telegraphed to Amaurn’s sharp eyes and the rest his adrenaline took care of.  He could feel his heart pounding and it was glorious.  He could not be defeated, could not even be touched by this overgrown runt.  Then Gleeson clipped his jaw and broke it with an audible crack.  Amaurn reeled, caught a follow-up blow that busted two ribs and went face first into a stone column. 

For a moment the universe was an icy singularity of disbelieving pain.  Then a huge hand spun him about, held him there while Gleeson’s other fist came back.  His jaw was already misaligned now.  This really could not be borne.  Bracing his shoulders against the column, Amaurn brought a bent leg up and kicked the man hard in the sternum, throwing him away several paces and winding him in the process.  Satisfied he had Gleeson’s measure, he spat out blood from a cut in his mouth and adopted a wide, crouching stance.  He landed two fast jabs to the abdomen, went for the leg sweep but his enemy was more nimble than he appeared.  He gave ground to avoid the kick and Amaurn kept up the pressure, firing punches up at his face and neck that forced him to block and let his forearms absorb the punishment.  The fight exploded into the atrium, a large well-lit space especially dense with artworks and statuary, with a square ornamental pond in the centre. 

Noting their surroundings, Amaurn threw a roundhouse kick that sent Gleeson staggering against a life-sized crystal statue of Saint Whoever, which toppled to shatter noisily and nearly took the Inquisitor with it.  With a renewed burst of fury, Gleeson came back at him with open hands, as if to seize his throat.  Amaurn ducked and spun past him, drove an elbow into his lower back.  Getting into the spirit of things now, he seized a surely priceless painted vase from a nearby plinth and pitched it overarm.  It exploded into terracotta shards against Gleeson’s shoulder.  Amaurn flew in behind the missile, one gnarled fist finding his enemy’s nose again and flattening it across his scarred left cheek.  Gleeson caught him by the arms and Amaurn butted him square in the face, shoved off hard with his feet, carrying both of them out across the room and nearly dumping them into the pond.  Avoiding this fate by a hand-span, Amaurn hooked one of Gleeson’s ankles and momentum did the rest.  He slammed his opponent into the floor and kneed him savagely in the gut.  Air huffed out of him with a pained grunt, but Gleeson wasn’t done.

They each went for the throat at the same time, wound up grappling for an advantage, but while Gleeson was the larger man, Amaurn felt sure he contained greater mass.  The adaptation and rejuvenation of one’s physical form was an obvious benefit to practising advanced biomancy, and had he wanted greater stature he could have achieved it.  Instead he maintained what he considered an optimal frame for his body’s necessary functions, which included grappling with anything up to a manifest daemon, and also extended to stamina.  Even without active psychic augmentation, the fruits of his earlier work remained.  At close range his core strength far outstripped his opponent, his breathing remained easy and it quickly began to tell.  He felt the moment Gleeson realised this, and was preparing for the coup de grace when a surge of fear ran through the man and seemed to grant him a second wind.  Throwing Amaurn bodily away, he sent his would-be executioner sailing through the air.  He scraped along the wall, tearing a long strip out of the gigantic painting before crashing down through a delicate white table with a snap of splintered wood, accompanied by a shower of miniature relics. 

Gleeson made a run for one of the wall displays; by the time his enemy had shed the debris he had a gladius in each hand.  The short, wide-bladed weapons would be perfect in a fight like this.  He held them confidently before him as he advanced, emboldened once more, a dragon in its lair.  Amaurn shrugged and picked up the bust of Roboute Guilliman.  It was big enough that even he needed both hands to lift it.  Planting his feet, he hefted the great chunk of marble and hurled it straight at Gleeson.  The Inquisitor tried to leap aside, but the projectile clipped his left arm and that was enough.  The impact spun him round on the spot, the crippled limb trailing uselessly behind him, sword flying from fingers gone suddenly limp.  He went down heavily and lost his grip on the other weapon, metal clanging as it slid beyond his reach.  Meanwhile the bust took a dent out of the wall, bringing a rain of plaster from on high and chipping off several fragments.  It sustained further damage as it fell but largely remained intact.  Amaurn followed its trajectory, before vaulting the tiny pond and hitting Gleeson with his full weight as he tried to rise again.  The man’s head struck the hard floor this time and his eyes rolled in their sockets.  Amaurn stomped down on his right knee, bringing him back to his senses.  It crunched underfoot like so much ruined devotional art and elicited a piercing scream. 

A momentary effort and warp energy trickled through Amaurn’s bones, snapping his jaw back into place.  The hairline crack he also healed, though he ignored the dull pain of his ribs for now, wary of setting off the ever-present dampeners.  Stepping over the howling, cursing man, he avoided a clumsy grab for his leg and went to retrieve the bust.  He inspected it idly as he returned to his fallen foe.  It was still recognisable as the celebrated Imperial Regent, though perhaps after being defeated in some epic duel.  Some of his hair was missing, along with one ear and much of his laurel crown, although these were no great losses.  Turning it to face away from him, Amaurn stood over Inquisitor Gleeson and raised the sculpture above his head.  The man was trying to say something but he’d long ago stopped listening.

“I don’t care about your last words.  Pay attention!  This is what a clear message looks like.”

The last thing Gleeson saw was the Primarch’s approaching face.  The stone head broke on impact with the floor beneath his skull. 


=][=


« Last Edit: May 25, 2020, 04:33:11 PM by Mentirius »

Offline Mentirius

  • Inquisitor
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  • Posts: 145
Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2020, 04:15:55 PM »

Interlude – A Different Man


M42.119, Secret Location, Imperium Nihilus


“Are you sure about this?  Seems like another needless risk to me.  Why not at least have it restrained?”

“The fatal wound has to fit the story and stand up to close inspection, thus it must be sustained in combat.  That and I’m not sure the sword would cooperate with a cold-blooded execution.  Yes, this is a risk, but it’s far from needless.  I understand the danger.  Haven’t I faced far worse before?”

“No, brother, I don’t believe you have.  By definition, if you had, it would have killed you.”

“By definition, there is only one Inquisitor Amaurn.  I’m him.  That is an untrained animal.  It knows nothing of Balkoth or the Living Blade.  I bet it won’t even land a blow.”

“It’s always Balkoth with you isn’t it?  Feth him, you ask me.  Whatever else it is, that thing is faster than you and strong enough to snap your spine with two of its fingers.  It may not have your mind or your memories, but neither does it have your weaknesses.”

“Weaknesses?  Do tell, brother.”

“Oh, so suddenly you don’t need to breathe?  Do you need your organs to function?  Are you concerned about the willingness of a damn sword to do as it’s told?  How about–”

“Remember ‘the Messiah’?  I was just a man then too.”

“And how well did that day end for us?  Ah, feth it.  Have it your way, but I’m not going in there, and if it kills you I’m letting it out and giving it your seal.  There would be a certain irony to that.  I didn’t put in all this time and effort so you could stage a fancy suicide.”

“Fair enough.  If you do come in there you’ll have me to deal with – no interventions.  This one is on me.  You’ve done your part already, now I’ll do mine.  If it kills me it deserves whatever you see fit to give it.  Just don’t let anyone who counts think it’s really me.  I have a reputation to–”

“Like feth you do!  You want to see what your reputation looks like?  It’s in there right now, gurning out at us.  It wants blood.”

“At least it exists.  Have you even heard of yourself?”

“Oh, and how is low-grade notoriety working out for you?  I heard Inquisitor Amaurn was excommunicated for being a damn disgrace.  In fact didn’t he die?  If he had any sense, he’d stay that way.”

“I know you don’t agree with me on this.  But you went along with it anyway, and it’s too late to talk me round now.  We’ve come this far.  Thanks for making it possible.”

“Brother, you sold your soul just to track down Windstrider.”

“Gambled.”

“Against Amon Dull – same thing, and you know it.”

“It is not the same.  I made a wager on a long enough timescale to render the stakes irrelevant.  I am my soul, brother, and I will not be owned.  My spiritual state is better than ever.  Amon Dull can come and take me if it thinks it has the right – or wait, it can’t.  It’s gone.  I’m here.  I win.  The end.”

“Whatever you want to tell yourself.  Point is, I made nothing possible.  I did this so you wouldn’t go to someone else.  You haven’t changed, not really.  Needless risks are your first resort.  Better the devil you know, I figure.”

“Ha!  Now that one I can get behind.  You haven’t changed either.  Everyone I know is some kind of devil, but you’re still the one I go to first.  Well, for something like this.  If all I needed was someone dead…”

“That’s another thing.  You realise if you do get yourself killed here, I’m going to have to put your protege down too?  It’ll be her or me when she finds out.”

“She’s not my damn protege, and you are welcome to try.  If it does come to that, I guess I’ll see you in the warp soon enough.  If I were you I’d avoid letting her find out, or else relocate yourself before she does.  I’d even think twice myself these days – chew on that for a minute and tell me you’re up to the job.”

“Is that a hint of approval I detect?  I take it all back, you’ve changed.  Better not let her hear you talk like that, she’s bad enough already.”

“She was like that from the start, don’t go putting it on me.  All I’ve ever done is point her and let go.  Speaking of wilful associates, you heard from Vatolev recently?”

“Nothing since the last time you asked.  I reckon he’s gone native.  Always was a mad bastard.   Oh, and don’t think you got away with that ‘even I, the great Amaurn’ you threw in just by changing the subject, you arrogant whore-son.  We’re due a sparring match if you survive this – I swear you’ll break your damn neck if I let that head of yours get any bigger.”



=][=


The Beast waits in his cell, an eight-sided chamber with a high ceiling and sheer walls, accessed from above via a heavily bolted, warded trapdoor.  Everything in his limited field of view is illuminated by the same dull red light, projected from on high.  His spectrum runs from red to black, with little by way of gradation.  He doesn’t know how long he has dwelled here, having no frame of reference to employ. 

There have been other, dimly remembered cells, no less limited in scope.  The once smooth stone walls of this one are deeply scarred and pitted, every dent put there by him.  He takes a grim satisfaction in each imperfection.  I was here, say the marks.  My rage was real.  The ceiling entrance is too high for the Beast to leap, for his creator-captor has ever been a fast learner.  It watches him from somewhere up there, through some invisible eye.  Sometimes he imagines the eye in a certain spot, fixes his gaze there and bares his fangs, spits and curses the creator-captor and all its works, screaming a challenge older than words.  Come down, fight fair, says the roar of the Beast.  Let me show you how weak you are.  Let me see your face and tear it bleeding from your skull.  Let me feed.  Curse you, let me FEED! 

Sometimes the creator-captor does send down food, but it’s poor, tasteless fare which the Beast despises.  This food presents no challenge, but merely whimpers and mewls.  Its fluids are weak and watery in the mouth.  The Beast has nothing to compare it to, and yet some primal instinct tells him there is more and better sustenance outside.  His every thought not directly concerned with food or the hate of his jailer revolves around the concept of escape.  This preoccupation does not arise from fear – it is not away from here he needs to run, but towards everything else.  The Beast has always been a prisoner, and yet he knows a free universe of hot, wet life is teeming and pulsing just out of reach, extending beyond his walls in every direction as far as his mind can see.  He wants to touch it, taste it, own it, to dominate and drink it all.  The Beast is not like the creator-captor, not like any other men.  He is infinitely more.  The outside calls to him in a thousand beguiling whispers.  He cannot be kept here forever. 

There was a time when the Beast was not so strong, when the walls stood impervious to his bleeding knuckles, however long and hard he beat them.  Back then he was nothing but a tight ball of anger and despair.  His food had come stodgy and unmoving, with no screaming or struggling involved.  Frequently the red faded into true darkness and he lost himself for a time.  Often on waking, he found himself stronger than before, tempered in black fire that left webs of inky patterns on his skin, but always his fists tore and smeared against the stone. 

He remembers the last time he was lost, how cold and empty he felt as he returned from his curl on the floor.  A rising wave of something between the hunger of the starving and the fury of the damned rose within him, blotting out all else, and he struck the uncaring wall as he had done countless times before.  That time he saw a crack, and his hunger redoubled as the implication took hold – that his cell was imperfect and would degrade, while his own strength would only grow.  This would not, could not be permanent.  Impatience took the place of despair then, though his anger remained undiminished.   Now he stands every day and roars his challenge, smashes splinters from the walls and hurls them up at the invisible eye, daring the creator-captor to come down and answer to him.  The creator-captor fears the Beast, or it would not have started sending live prey while continuing to hide itself.  His senses are sharper, his whole self utterly focused now, a clarity it cannot comprehend.  His body is solid and still.  He is the greater and will prevail.  There is no doubt in his mind.

The name of the Beast is Amaurn, though he has never encountered the concept of names, nor been told what his own might be.  He has never met the man he shares it with, knows nothing of the Imperium or the Inquisition, of Balkoth or Amon Dull.  Maybe his violent nature was inevitable, a prophecy fulfilled, or perhaps he began as an infinity of potential, a tabula rasa, on which experience has written simply ‘Beast’.  His is a small, uncomplicated world, a binary landscape of black and red, and today it will come to an end.  He might look forward to it, if he knew.



=][=


I do not look like that, Ex-Inquisitor Amaurn silently insists to himself.  I have never looked like that.  Friedle must have fethed it up somehow.  And yet he knows this for a groundless denial, and feels sick to the pit of his soul.  His memory stands against him, offering damning testimony of the last years of M41.  Nearly a decade; a relatively short portion of his life, but more than long enough to see permanent damage done.  There are sins of the sort that get an Inquisitor excommunicated, and those Amaurn can live with.  But sins of the sort that now stare back at him from every mirror, and most of all from the awful pit, are another matter entirely.  Where centuries wielding a daemon sword had left his conscience clean, at least by his own accounting, his years as something like the monster in the cell still keep him up at night.  It is bad enough that he can’t remember his time in the Library, worse by far that he remembers every moment of being the Beast.  What was done to him that first time on Aestimus IX seemed necessary in the moment, with warp-tainted venom running unchecked through his veins, yet it made a daemon of him, possessing the shell of the man he had been.  That Amaurn broke secret, sacred laws, written in the fire of his resentful childhood and spoken only in the silence of the fortress within.  He cannot be forgiven, cannot be suffered to live. 

This Amaurn, he who now slides back the bolts, unravels the wards and hauls the trapdoor open, who hooks one end of a chain to a heavy ring and grips the other, is an altogether different man.  Such is his mantra as he slams the heavy barrier closed behind him.  He can hear the bolts locking back into place, feel the hostile tickle of psychic protection re-engaged.  The cell is sufficiently shielded to contain the Beast, and thus perfectly suited to deny the disgraced Inquisitor his own access to the warp.  The creature beneath him can smash stone with its fists, requiring no psychic energy to do so, and it can already see him coming.  That will not do. 

“Dampeners off now, brother.  It won’t escape from me.”

He needs no comms of his own, for there are hidden vox-ports within the cell and Friedle is surely listening.  He half expects an argument, but the suffocating absence of psychic awareness soon withdraws.  Hanging from the chain by one hand, muscles taught, he draws his sword with the other, reaches into the Immaterium and inhales, ramping up his reactions and pouring power into his limbs, putting everything he has into speed.  The Beast stares up at him with wide, blood-red eyes, a feral grin on its face, a twisted caricature of his own.  It’s happy to see him, telepathy whispers.  Sick of eating vat-grown clones.  It wants an enemy to destroy.  It assumes he is the one who made it and kept it here – technically it is wrong in this, though correct in spirit.  Flesh of his flesh it is, though absent all else that defines Amaurn to himself.  He decided it should exist, and so it does.  Its unnatural birth and imprisonment took place at his behest.  For all he did not do the work, he is its father, or its twin, or it is the shadow he casts.  It is right to hate him, and he hates the Beast in turn for all it represents, comparatively blameless though it is.  It is his failure incarnate, the stain he must erase from himself.  Its suffering was a regrettable side-product of this process – the only thing he needs from it is death.  Yet looking down on it now, he cannot help but see himself in Secret’s Hold giving Balkoth that same look, though he was never kept in such a hole as this.  Maybe it’s the sword but something stirs in Amaurn, like a fistful of broken glass in his chest.  Dangling low above its head, he speaks without meaning to as the Beast squats down to spring.

“You and I are the same, Beast.  More than you know.  For what it’s worth, which is feth all, I’m sorry.  There’s one thing you get that Balkoth never gave me: an apology, for what I made you be.  Now I’m going to set you free.”

Then he lets go of the chain. 

His feral twin leaps, a sudden blur.  Amaurn twists in the air, acrobatic, harnessing the Beast’s momentum and sending it on past him to hit the far wall.  He lands in a crouch, stands and pivots to face it, sword alive with psychic flame.  It already stands recovered and yet wary, frowning as it watches the luminous blade.  Opening one clawed hand, it swings hard at empty air, seems to find a purchase there against the odds, then makes a fist and pulls.  In what must be a monumental effort, the untrained monster tears loose a long, jagged shard of blood-red warp energy that hardens in its grasp, edges sharpening themselves before his eyes.  It bares its fangs, distended canines extending past its lower lip, and makes three lazy swipes as if testing the weight of its weapon.  Then it comes at him again, and only the quicksilver speed of Amaurn’s warp-charged state allows his eyes to track its motion, let alone for his body to act in response.  An overhand blow that might have cut a solid statue in half passes by a bare inch from the tip of his nose, tearing a great rent from the floor and producing a minor shock-wave that nearly takes his feet from under him.  He lunges back in over the top of it, but the Beast’s free hand bats his sword away with a sizzle of scorching skin.  It loses half the hand in the process, howls with unbridled rage and makes a wide sweep with its own blade, if the crudely wrought thing can be so described.  This time Amaurn parries, raising the sword two-handed and still almost losing it in the moment of impact.  His skeleton vibrates within its fleshy sheath, and the shock of it slows him just enough to receive a clumsy kick in the chest. 

Amaurn is wearing carapace armour with heavy padding underneath, and yet the naked strength behind the foot nearly propels it right through him.  A reflexive last-ditch psychic reaction generates enough telekinetic opposing force to preserve his fragile ribcage, but his breastplate shatters on contact, caught between hammer and anvil, and even then the kick throws him backwards hard enough to jar his spine against the wall.  His enemy puts its whole body behind a following thrust that nearly pins him there, but he throws himself aside, getting clear in time to see the lance of gleaming red chitin punch deep into the stone.  The Beast yanks it clear in a cloud of rock dust, ugly cracks radiating from the cavity it has made.  It whirls on him again, the eight-pointed star tattooed on its own chest already beginning to glow.  The longer this drags out, the more dangerous it will get, and the more damage will be done to the facility.   This monster might be capable of far more destructive uses of the warp than a makeshift psychic sword, if it only thinks to try.  He needs to put an end to it before – but it has heard him thinking this, and needs no grasp of spoken language to understand. 

An invisible giant’s fist closes around him then, lifts him up and begins to squeeze.  Purple-black fire begins to burn in all eight corners of the cell.  The Beast is smiling ever wider, pointing with its ruined hand.  It advances on him slowly, savouring the moment.  He is weak and it is strong; it believes this with total conviction, making no attempt to hide its mind from him.  It is strong and wise and glorious, and everything else is meat.  This is the reckoning it has always sought, the greatest moment of its life.  It will suck out all his juices, wear his skin.  It will be free at last.  Amaurn recoils from its savage glee.  The familiar taste of it nauseates him and his resolve solidifies.  Banishing all trace of sympathy or kinship, he lets a colder fury take him and unleashes a barrage of psychic images, speaking in primal concepts, a hail of conceptual bullets unloaded deep inside its skull.

“Am I supposed to be frightened?  I lied, we aren’t the same.  What I know, what I’ve done…do you think I was born as I am?  Power is not control, Beast.  Strength is not in blood, and wanting is not Will.  You are a counterfeit of life whose purpose is to die.  Now Release Me.  Drop That.  And Stay.”

For an eternal moment symmetrical forces meet, a staring contest between two mirrors, reflections stretching to infinity.  A stag with two heads stands at war with itself, antlers locked.  Two volcanoes erupt side by side, fighting for every drop of magma in the roiling sea below.  Hammer meets hammer with equal momentum, but where one has been carefully chiselled from diamond, the other stands revealed as cut glass.  Fractures spread.  Chitin clatters.  Boots touch down.  The Beast trembles with effort but otherwise remains frozen in place.  The Inquisitor takes two steps, then a third that turns into a lunge.  His own face looks back at him with a purer, more concentrated hatred than he has ever seen from anyone, daemon or otherwise, as his sword impales its heart.  The creature dies without so much as a grunt, much less a scream, holding his gaze to the last.  It has no final breath to expel.  The body softly catches fire, burning low and smoky as wet leaves.  It shrivels up around the blade, clenching in on itself like a spider, mummified before his eyes.  He waits for the flames to sputter out, leaving behind something still tenuously recognisable as a double of himself, if moderately mutated, considerably blackened and extremely, hideously dead. 

Amaurn allows himself to blink.  The Beast’s reaction to the blessed weapon was more extreme than he’d anticipated, but hopefully this tortured cadaver will serve.  It will have to of course, for there isn’t time to make another.  Its eyeballs have boiled away, yet the after-image of its stare remains seared into his inner vision, burning with accusation.  He could have been a person, sighs the sword.  He could have been you.  In a way he was.  You created a monster to murder, in order to reinvent yourself.  Is this really what you think redemption looks like?  You should have stuck with ‘sorry’…

He lets go of the hilt in disgust, leaves it there inside the Beast, done with the damn thing, unwilling to touch it again.  The dessicated corpse of the false Amaurn keels over sideways, heavy with inherited sin.  A different man grips the chain and begins to ascend.



=][=


In the end they do not spar, for Amaurn is no longer in the mood.  Instead they drink spirits and talk of old wars, ignoring the open trapdoor, and only when they’re good and drunk do they go down to retrieve the Beast.  They haul its carcass up and seal it in a null box, sword and all, working late into the night to complete the wards, which Amaurn insists cannot wait until morning.  Finally he beds down on the hard lid of the box with the bottle still clenched in one hand.  For all his apparent unconsciousness, his friend knows better than to try and take it from him. 


=][=



Offline Mentirius

  • Inquisitor
  • ***
  • Posts: 145
Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2020, 09:12:00 PM »

Fellow Inquisitors


M42.120, Inquisitorial Fortress, Terra


“Brother,

We are betrayed.  I know who killed Romulus.  My evidence suggests he was only the first.  Things are not as they seem – say nothing through the usual channels.  If this reaches the wrong ears it could mean the end of us both.  You will receive a further message containing a time and place.  Come alone and well armed.  Trust no one, especially those above.”


=][=


The note had been simple enough to devise, if somewhat harder to deliver without discovery.  Romulus was of course the late Inquisitor Gleeson, an Ultramanian codename that Amaurn had learned in the course of his psychic invasion and filed away for later use.  The contents of Gleeson’s private papers had sufficed to make it clear that masquerading as any specific member of the faction would be ill-advised, especially mere weeks after the previous assassination.  He had therefore settled on an anonymous message, keeping details vague while implying a personal connection and dropping the codename, intending to isolate the recipient through paranoia while dangling irresistible bait.  This had been discreetly planted on Inquisitor Odion’s person while traversing a public thoroughfare, Amaurn having followed him at a distance and gradually, telepathically nudged a concealing crowd into forming around him.  He had not used his own hand for this, but that of a temporary servant co-opted through more focused psychic suggestion, to whom he had given the note.  The second half, containing the details of the proposed encounter, had been placed at the same time but in a different pocket and by a second puppet, aiming to create an illusion of omnipresence while minimising personal risk.  He had released his unwitting agents shortly after, leaving them mildly confused but none the worse for wear, with no memory of the last few minutes.

The location he chose for their ill-fated meeting was a cavernous tunnel that had once formed part of the underground rail network, now fallen into disrepair.  Every two to four days since he arrived on Terra, Amaurn had found himself uprooted from his private quarters by taciturn, visored fortress security teams.  They had moved him around the complex to new locations in different regions, while fresh sets of cover identities and access codes had been anonymously sent to his data-slate, such that he always embodied at least three fictional people in addition to himself.  In the course of these logistical and bureaucratic acrobatics – presumably part of Zjivek’s own security measures, intended to keep Amaurn under the radar after Gleeson’s spectacular demise – he had become somewhat familiar with travelling by rail.  That was fortunate, for his latest base of operations was so far from the abandoned section of the tunnels on which he had his eye that he had been forced to ride several of the active lines in sequence to get within walking distance of the place.  High-speed conveyance for general use was clearly a necessity in a continent-spanning complex, and he might otherwise have walked for a solid week and only made it halfway there. 

According to official records, this particular line had been derelict for thirty years, following some grievous mechanical failure compounded by the accidental deaths of several Inquisitors.  The line ran between peripheral areas of the fortress that saw little habitation or official activity, and the effort required to correct the fault had apparently been deemed excessive at the time.  The details he’d found had been vague and the specifics of the fault itself entirely redacted, yet he had declined to scope the place out directly before today, wary of being seen loitering in the vicinity of his intended crime.  The records made no mention of the issue being reopened since the initial incident, so he had let himself hope the site remained undisturbed.  To his consternation, if no great surprise, he had found a small team of tech-priests and servitors working in the tunnel on his arrival.  Silently suggesting to the servitors that the colour red signified irreparable malfunctions and anyone wearing it must be deactivated, he found himself alone there shortly after.  Eleven hours had passed without event since then.   

Even if Odion rightly suspected the notes had come from Gleeson’s killer, it seemed possible he might risk the meeting anyway.  According to Zjivek’s data, the chapel sniper had a reputation for recklessness, despite his apparent preference for ranged combat.  Amaurn hoped this purported reputation was based in fact, and that Odion’s desire to know who had so brutally slain his friend – for they had been friends of a sort, according to some correspondence he’d found in Gleeson’s desk – would overwhelm the obvious grounds for suspicion.  His instruction for the man to be armed was partly to offset the suspicious connotations of saying ‘come alone’ to a remote location, an implicit denial that personal vulnerability was the point.  Foremost, however, Amaurn had included it because this time he intended to use his lasgun and wanted a fair confrontation, or as close to one as could reasonably be achieved.  The firm voice of pride – never call it guilt – forbade him to feel at ease with the act of simple murder, despite or perhaps because he found himself forced to resort to it on such a regular basis.  Odion was a marksman, therefore he should die by the rifle, and with his own in hand.  A fight was what Amaurn wanted, a direct test of skill and resolve ending with a triumph of his will over that of a dangerous opponent.  These were his enemies, not his victims, never his prey.  He was not that Amaurn, could never be him, not even in the privacy of his mind.  There had to be a line drawn somewhere between bloodthirsty daemons and men.  So he told himself, as he waited in near-total darkness for the stranger he intended to kill.

He had only moved once since he settled in, a short walk up and down the tunnel to stretch his limbs and answer the call of nature, otherwise remaining motionless.  It smelled powerfully of dust and engine grease down here.  He was already filthy with both, and on one level he was glad he’d left his coat behind and stuck to simple fatigues, since he was tempted to wear the thing in court.  On the other hand it was also bitterly cold in the tunnel, as if all the ambient heat had been leached up to the surface, lost to the howling polar wind.  To pass the time he micro-managed his heartbeat, maintained efficient circulation with a steady psychic trickle, topping up lost energy from the warp to maintain a healthy minimum temperature.  It was still uncomfortable but the conditions would not affect his performance; this he swore.  He would need to react quickly when – if – Odion turned up, though his enemy was more than late and he suspected the gambit had failed.  Maybe not so reckless after all.  Still he waited, unwilling to admit defeat just yet, for all his dwindling patience.  His field of telepathic awareness stretched out all around him, filling the tunnel like an empty spiderweb, a testament to effort made in vain.  But was that a twitch he felt? 

There, another.  Human minds, and not tech-priests this time from the emotional echoes they made.  Coming closer, one forging ahead of the other.  Two quietly angry men.  Not Qi then at least, though it did seem that Odion had brought a friend with him after all.  He certainly hoped one of them was Odion.  One unnecessary collateral casualty, one more Ultramanian to be missed, was already less than ideal – it would be better for the doomed Inquisitor if he died here and now than turned out to have wasted Amaurn’s time.  Forcing aside the threat of premature outrage, he breathed deeply and reasoned it through.  Odion knew his mysterious contact was expecting him in person, so unless he’d gotten hold of some polymorphine at short notice and convinced an ally to assume his appearance, it seemed likely he would be the man in the lead.  Except that he was a sniper by expertise, which would seem to favour hanging back, and he had the favour of two Lord Inquisitors, which surely trumped Amaurn’s uneasy alliance with one.  This being Terra, the Assassinorum’s home terrain, was polymorphine in the hands of such an enemy really so improbable?  Was any level of counter-scheme too cunning to consider?  Loath as he was to admit it to himself, Amaurn really didn’t know.  The Officio might keep it for Callidus Assassins exclusively and police its use with an iron hand, or they might sell it on to the Inquisition at some astronomical price.  He had no experience of such matters, had never even met an Imperial Assassin, as far as he knew.  Part of him had always suspected he might end up on the wrong end of one eventually, though there had come a time when he had ceased to fear even that.  He had been forced to reconsider his own mortality in recent years, or at least to admit the possibility of death existed, though like most psykers it was the leering skull of the Culexus Temple that gave him the greatest pause.  Callidus tricks surely only went so far when you could peer into flesh and soul. 

With that thought, he dismissed his speculation and resolved to cut the knot in half without further hesitation.  Reaching out towards the approaching minds, he telepathically screamed Odion’s name into them both.  Two bursts of alarm, one deep flicker of recognition – got him.  He was in the lead after all.  Releasing Odion for the moment, Amaurn slid smoothly from telepathy into biomancy and zoned in on the more distant man, perceiving his enemy’s comrade not as a conscious being now but a complicated bio-electric circuit.  He traced the circuit’s lines, riding its current from nerve to nerve until his focus found its way into the blazing synapses of the brain.  With surgical precision, he located an appropriate spot.  Then he grabbed, pinched and twisted with a tradesman’s detachment, as far as the clumsy verbs of the physical world can describe such an abstract action.  The man crumpled softly to the ground, all the intricate poetry of a living energy field collapsing into gibberish as his brain began to bleed.  His weapon, whatever it was, clanged noisily against a rail and Odion whirled, his own rifle raised and aimed, apparently untroubled by the gloom.  Amaurn guessed he was wearing some form of auspex array, which certainly made sense in the circumstances.  That further evened the odds between them, which he welcomed – he had always relied on his psychic awareness to compensate for sight in the dark, but he could hardly share that awareness with his enemy, and had neglected to contrive a light source for Odion to shoot at him by. 

Yes, he had just killed another man about whom he knew nothing.  Yet another ugly means to a necessary end, but the death of the accomplice had been unavoidable.  As a fellow Inquisitor, Odion at least had the right to a trial before his execution, and a trial by combat was the best Amaurn could offer.  The little man was no physical match for him, significantly more slender than Gleeson, but rifles were a great leveller and it would have to be enough.  The addition of a third gunman, however, had been a risk too far, and would have demanded more extreme tactics across the board if he had engaged both enemies at once.  Arrogance was in Amaurn’s bones after having lived so long, surviving horrors no sane man should dream of, but his cunning had grown with his confidence, mitigating the worst of its excesses.  He had taken many grievous wounds in his time, and had no great fondness for the memories, though the physical scars had all been stolen from his skin.  His instincts were well-trained in recognising threats that lurked beyond the borders of his control.  Whether the surge-triggered psychic dampeners were even active in here was doubtful, but he had no wish to test that theory without good reason.  Without total concentration of a kind near-impossible in battle, he doubted he could have induced a neural haemorrhage at such a range using so little warp energy.  There was also a limit to biomancy as a cure for all ills – if both men had turned out to be expert marksmen and one shot him in the head while he killed the other, he would have died a fool and deserved it.  Best to head off the problem before it became one, and proceed with the original plan.  That death was on Odion, he decided.  He had told him to come alone.  Alone as they were in here now, he could safely confirm his presence. 

“You’re late, brother Odion.  Don’t bother with him, he’s dead.  My instructions were not suggestions.  The message didn’t lie – I do know who killed Gleeson.  It was me, though I get the impression you already figured that out.  There’s plenty more to it of course – I didn’t lie about that either, but you’ve spent longer around here than I have, so you know how it goes.  Now I’m afraid it’s your turn.”

He delivered the goad telepathically, unwilling to give away his specific position.  Odion could not look every way at once – the first shot could still be a surprise, but after that the probable auspex would lock onto Amaurn and there would be no going back.  A duel fought hand to hand might last minutes, but one fought with guns would more likely be measured in moments.  He needed to get this right.  The range was nearly problematic but fell within acceptable bounds.  For all the ridicule bolter enthusiasts might heap upon the lasgun, against a human target lacking heavy armour, one shot would be enough.  In the event he needed more than one, they were there for the taking.  In the event the cell ran empty and he needed a club…but the time for wandering thoughts was over, the pounding intoxication of imminent combat setting in.  Odion was furious, Amaurn could feel it, but the fire of his anger remain carefully banked and he made no retort, out loud or otherwise.  His expectations, his opinions, had not changed.  He too had come here to kill.  Amaurn would need similar clarity now.  Sighting down his rifle with unnaturally dilated pupils, he followed familiar lines of energy until he found the regular pulsing rhythm of Odion’s heart. 

Suddenly the Inquisitor turned again, with his own rifle still shouldered, pointed unnervingly close to the right direction.  Amaurn was almost certain he hadn’t made a sound.  Odion’s instincts were after him, scenting the air like a pack of hounds, nosing out his trail.  Whatever auto-sensors he had at his disposal were surely only moments behind.  Amaurn held his breath as he adjusted his aim, lining up with the heart again.  Now or never.  With an internal curse on the concept of failure, the closest he ever came to a prayer, he squeezed the trigger.  The muzzle flash was dazzling in the darkness, illuminating everything for an instant, the shadow of Odion’s mohawk inducing a fleeting sense of deja vu…the Inquisitor wore an elaborate headset complete with heavy goggles, though the top of his head remained bare.  He started as if stung as the shot zapped past him, inches wide.  Damn it all.  Amaurn threw himself flat in time for the answering bullet to graze his hip, taking a shred of cloth with it.  It ricocheted behind him and the tunnel rang with the report.  Scrambling into cover behind an abandoned machine whose original purpose he did not currently care to guess, he took stock of his situation.

He was pinned.  An expert sniper had a heavy-calibre rifle trained on his position; one that fired solid bullets and would not cauterise the wounds it made.  Since he had no backup of his own, and Odion’s auspex would surely have revealed that, the enemy was free to flank him and render his momentary refuge obsolete.  There were maybe fifty paces between them.  He probably had seconds to prepare for further contact.  Reasoning that stealth had failed as a strategy, he called out loud to the Inquisitor, heaping all the contempt he could muster – as ever, that was plenty – into his voice.

“Honestly, if it were up to me it would have been Qi!  Now there’s an Inquisitor for you.  She might have been a serious challenge if she weren’t off limits.  She lives while the rest of you die because her connections are better than yours – and yes, I know about Orragon and Namathadendren.  I mean real connections, real leverage where it matters.  Do you honestly think either of them gives the slightest damn about this?  In the eyes of a Lord Inquisitor, you and I are little better than Guardsmen, and our lives are no more precious.  You were always their man, never the other way round.  Just another soldier on the roster.  Now you’re going to die for them, as good soldiers generally do.  Oh, they’ll be put out by the loss, but not too much.  One man’s termination is another’s mild rebuke; that’s how this game seems to work.  I hope it was worth it for you.  You’ll never know what you really died for.”

He didn’t need Odion to believe him.  He only needed doubt.  What if all were indeed not as it seemed, the Ultramanians poisoned by some deep conspiracy?  What if Amaurn had answers that a skilled excruciator might extract?  Palms sticky with sweat now, Amaurn pressed his right side against cold metal and aimed his rifle from the hip, waiting for the enemy to appear around the corner.  His chance for a clean kill was long gone.  He was almost certainly about to get shot, but the wound didn’t have to be mortal, and Odion wouldn’t know he could heal the damage.  If he could give as good as he got and survive, he would win the exchange by default.  The important thing was convincing his opponent he wanted a prisoner out of this instead of a corpse.  Odion’s footfalls were astonishingly quiet, yet his bio-electric field stood out like a sore thumb and his mind radiated professional concentration, a psychic flavour all its own.  He was circling around as expected, careful to take a circumspect route, avoiding dangerous angles.  He knew his work, but that was no surprise.  However far Inquisitorial standards might conceivably have fallen since M41, Amaurn doubted they gave the rosette to just any half-decent soldier who happened by.  Pysker or not, survivor or not, a bullet in the brain brooked no excuses.  He decided a bit more hot air couldn’t hurt.

“Whoever it was I killed over there – that was your fault, you know.  I always planned to give you a fighting chance, but you clearly can’t be trusted.  You’re lucky I didn’t do both of you like that and save myself the bother.”

Odion still didn’t speak, but a hidden spike of anger betrayed his inner thoughts, maybe the response he would have liked to make if discipline had loosened its leash.

If you could have, you would have.  You’ve got a lasgun and that’s it, maybe a blade too at worst, or you wouldn’t be pinned down over there like a rat in a trap.  I’m coming for you, rat.

He was wrong about this of course, and yet also partly correct – Amaurn could not just kill this Inquisitor with a sudden cranial haemorrhage, or step out from behind cover surrounded by a bullet-proof telekinetic shield.  His sense of the man he was and what he sought to accomplish here recoiled at the thought.  If he resorted to pulling evolutionary rank on Odion now, then what was he in the end?  No more than what nature and Balkoth had given him.  No more than the sum of his parts, no better than the Commissar he had pretended to be to get here, sniffing out weakness and punching down with every blow.  He needed to beat each of his enemies wherever they were strongest, in order to earn their deaths.  He needed to struggle with them.  They all had to be found wanting in some undeniable way, or he was just killing fellow Inquisitors without cause, a willing agent of a zealot’s unrighteous wrath.  A mad beast turned loose by his handlers, like Gleeson in the chapel.  The chapel.  Now there was justification for some further scorn.  Odion was almost in position for a clear shot.  Amaurn backed slowly towards the far end of the machine, intending to keep it between them as long as he could.  He needed the fire good and stoked before he made his play.

“On the other hand, knowing what I do about you, I’m surprised you didn’t bring more.  Your choice of weapons certainly suits you, brother.  Snipers are all about staying safe and aloof while deciding who lives and who dies.  Angels of death gazing down at us all, or some such pretentious nonsense.  While braver men risk life and limb for the Emperor’s cause, you find yourself a comfortable perch and begin dispensing His justice.  Now here you are, exposed and in harm’s way.  Did you think so little of poor old Gleeson, to imagine me an easy target?  Or was your other dead friend some kind of super-soldier?  I guess we’ll never know if his help would have been enough to save you.”

Keep talking, rat.  You won’t die easy.

Better, but still not enough.  Death could be hard without needing to be slow.  Some injuries might kill in minutes, or take too much energy to heal before he passed out from the pain.  One final addendum then.

“This isn’t going to be over quickly, brother.  Just so you know.  You’re going to feel a sharp pain, and then we’re going to have a long conversation, and then I’m going to kill you.  By the time I do you’ll damn well worship me for it.  Why do you think I brought us all the way out here?”

This part was all lies of course, but a telepathic flash of Odion stood over an anonymous man in black with a knife in hand, smiling vengefully while his enemy writhed and begged for mercy, confirmed his words had found their mark.  The seed had germinated, and Amaurn grinned in the dark as he ducked around the corner of the machine with another bullet snarling at his heels.  That one had come in low, maybe aiming for his knee or the meat of his thigh.  The dented metal rang like a gong beneath the impact, but Mechanicus tech was built to last and he trusted that it would hold firm.  Imperial machinery generally excelled as impromptu cover from enemy gunfire, to the extent he suspected much of it, even many of the supposedly civilian devices, had been designed with that in mind.  This blocky thing’s intended function apparently had something to do with the rails, judged by its current position, though a comparative lack of dust suggested it might have come in with the tech-priests, or at least been examined by them.  It had served him well enough as a brute wall, but much more of this and he might start to feel like a coward.  Enough postponing the moment.  Time to bite the bullet – a literal bullet in this case of course, though hopefully not a literal bite.  Skirting around the back of the machine to emerge on the far side, he kept his inner sight trained on Odion’s bio-electric field.  Now.  Stepping smoothly out of cover with his weapon already trained, he saw his enemy’s heartbeat burst into overdrive.  The lasgun flashed, Odion’s rifle barked, and a mushroom cloud of agony rose in Amaurn’s guts and blossomed towards his throat. 

He landed on his back, caught a glancing blow from a metal rail in the process and bit his tongue.  Tasting blood, he clutched at his belly with incredulous hands.  Cold, wet condemnation poured through his fingers.  He had dropped his weapon.  The pain was an oncoming tank, rumbling towards him on implacable treads, the worst of it surely poised to crush him screaming into oblivion.  He lay helpless before it as the first of its treads pressed down.  He’d had much worse, he told himself, but the last time he’d been gut-shot – Laternus Prime? – he had neither possessed nor required a functioning digestive system, and few of his nerves had been firing any more.  Had anything ever hurt this much?  How much of his old resilience had been daemonically derived?  A briefly broken jaw was one thing, but a bullet in the damn – Odion!  Where was Odion?  Had he just auditioned as a torture subject, baited an Inquisitor into a righteous fury and then gone and lost a shoot-out with the man?  Battling to modulate his breathing, he willed himself to focus and went looking for Odion’s mind.  The detachment of telepathy was a balm, until he found his target.  Animal pain screamed back at him and he broke the link immediately.  The enemy was down then, and equally stricken.  All Amaurn had to do was stay lucid, remove the bullet and heal his lacerated stomach through carefully controlled cellular regeneration, setting his own pain aside.  If he could accomplish this before its errant juices poisoned the rest of his organs and caused an agonising death, using minimal warp energy in the process, he would be victorious.  If he lost consciousness first he would not only be dead, but a damn fool who deserved what he got.  With a short hiss of invective he closed his eyes, more out of habit than necessity in the smothering gloom, and set to work. 

To say the effort nearly killed him is no exaggeration.  Yet a great many things had nearly killed Amaurn in the course of his long life, and therein lay the source of some of his nearly boundless pride.  A man struck by lightning once might cower before the storm, but a man struck a hundred times over will eventually dance in the rain.  Amaurn had been stabbed, shot, bludgeoned and burned; he had been gored, poisoned and possessed, and still his bitter core endured, still the old fire remained.  He had gotten away with it all.  Age had yet to truly wither him, for all it gnawed at his surfaces as lichen grows over stone.  Even his many scars had been washed away in his last great brush with fate, together with the damn fangs and a patchwork of tattoos so blasphemous they might have given Zjivek a seizure.  Only his excommunication remained to be undone, and that was merely an external blemish, a fault in how he was perceived, in the process of being addressed. 

None of this gave him any comfort now, weaving his freshly torn insides back together cell by cell, working with nothing but the warp and his will while convulsing in the dust, senses whirling, a leaf in a hurricane of pain.  Damn Zjivek, damn Odion, damn the fething lot of them for this.  What was he doing here?  Eleven hours he’d waited.  So many clever reasons to take a bullet in the guts.  What in the Hold had he been thinking?  Locked in a pocket universe of sublime torment, he saw his plans arrayed before him like a deck of cards cast to the wind, and dared to wonder if the whole thing might be folly after all.  Dared to wonder if he might be wrong.  He conquered and bound this daemon of course, as he always did.  Even the strongest must surely be forgiven the occasional moment of weakness.  But one deep truth remained, for all he presumed to ignore it: that nothing stays bound forever, and daemons are vengeful creatures, remembering every slight against themselves.

Finding his lasgun after what seemed an eternity of blindly groping, Amaurn used it as a crutch and dragged himself painfully back upright, his abdominal muscles on fire.  He pocketed the offending bullet – it belonged to him now, as surely as the flesh it had tried to destroy.  His belly still ached but now it merely felt like he hadn’t eaten for a week, rather than shrieking hysterically of his imminent demise.  He ignored the urge to clutch at it, lifting the rifle in both hands as he looked for Odion, re-attuned to his purpose now the immediate danger had passed.  He could tell without concentrating that his enemy still lived.  It was hard to say who had fired first.  Had he gone for the head himself this might have played out far more easily, but having narrowly survived after all, he intended to harvest the fruits of his effort by way of compensation.  Sticking with biomancy this time, he located the fallen Inquisitor’s bio-electric field and walked carefully over towards it, wary of an unfamiliar weakness in his knees.  Going by the field, Odion was suffering from a remarkably similar injury to Amaurn’s own, having taken the lasbolt in his midriff, though naturally the tunnel through his guts lacked a solid round and had been instantly burned and cauterised by the shot.  Not that cauterisation would save a gut-shot man – it was still a mortal wound, and one that might take hours to kill him.  Amaurn did not intend to do any more waiting today. 

The only sounds as he approached were the tread of his booted feet and Odion’s laboured breath.  The sniper had dropped his rifle and showed no signs of trying to retrieve it.  Even without any light to see by, it was clear he was done resisting.  Amaurn had again been aiming for his heart, had hit him nearly a foot too low.  Assuming his prior goading had done its work and Odion had not intended an instant kill, his opponent had been the better shot…or maybe they had both been off their best.  He could have used telepathy to find out for sure while the option still remained, but quickly dismissed this as a petty intrusion.  Let the sniper have the benefit of the doubt.  Amaurn was a psyker first, a swordsman second, a wrestler a close third and a gunman a distant fourth.  The dying Ultramanian could have this one.  Perhaps he even deserved a bit of the truth before the end.  Something in Amaurn wanted Odion to understand, and no one else was around to hear him.

“I’ll tell you this much, brother, for the respect you’ve earned – the Conclave Archive didn’t lie about Delan’s Point.  I’m the liar, or I will be soon enough.  I was there, and Muundus Vhogart…was not.  I never met him in person but from what I heard back then, he was no more a Saint than I am.  He can rot for all I care, and Zjivek with him.  If men like them had any hard authority over the Inquisition, the whole institution would choke on its own tail.  You might be the only person on this planet I can safely say that to.  I’d gladly have backed your side here if things had been otherwise, but Terra remains as it always was, for all your dreams of progress.  Just ask St Vhogart, if you have any doubt about that.  I’m a mercenary in this, by dint of necessity, and might always crushes right beneath its heel.  The difference between your sort and mine is that on some level, I think you imagine yourselves good people.  Heroes, even.  But goodness and heroism have never been what the seal stood for.  Just look at your great statement in the chapel – a bloody slaughter, whatever it was meant to symbolise, and still a moral high point by our standards.  On our own time, we’re merely killers.  On duty, we are destroyers of worlds.  After the heroes have failed and all the good people are dead, we come to eradicate what remains and salt the blasted earth.  From what I’ve seen of Terra, if Guilliman really wanted reform he’d declare Exterminatus here.  Or better yet, he’d ask us to do it for him.”

His enemy gave no response to these bleak pronouncements; had still not spoken a word to Amaurn since their engagement began.  Maybe he was past caring about the reasons, which was surely his right at this point.  Maybe he never had.  Something about this victory still tasted bitter, if victory it was.  Standing over Odion now as he had over Gleeson, Amaurn felt none of the satisfaction that earlier moment had brought.  He had lain in similar circumstances himself a minute ago.  Could this Inquisitor have healed his own wound faster, given equal access to the warp and the training to use it?  Might their disparate origins be all that truly separated conqueror from conquered here?  Somehow, for a moment, he actually considered healing Odion himself.  He could not safely let him live after killing two of his friends, but having come this far to contrive a fair contest, would it really be so ludicrous to put the broken man back together and let him have another try? 

Then Odion stuck a combat knife through his right ankle and reason reasserted itself.  Howling with agonised rage, Amaurn shot him six times from a pace away, hollowing out his ribcage and filling the empty tunnel with the stink of burning meat.


=][=


The plain metal box thumped heavily against the wood as he dropped it on Zjivek’s desk.  The Lord Inquisitor’s gaze flicked from Amaurn’s face – freshly washed and shaved – down to the box and then back again.  He raised his eyebrows in a query.  Amaurn lifted the lid with a finger, revealing a wet glimpse of mohawk, then let it fall.

“Sorry about Gleeson, Lord Inquisitor.  Nothing left but broken eggs…I got a bit carried away.  I figured you might have a use for Odion at least.  I shot him in the gut, let him lie for a bit before I finished him off.  After Gleeson his sponsors will know it was us, but they won’t be able to prove it.  The rest of him won’t be found, same goes for his accomplice.  I reckon they’ll cut their losses.”

“Did I ever demand souvenirs from you?  I don’t recall that conversation.”

“Well I certainly don’t want it.  Keep it, throw it away, it’s all the same to me.”

“Hmm.  You mentioned an accomplice?”

“He had another man with him, pretty well tooled up.  No idea who it was, put one in his head before either of them saw me.  Guilty by association but not on the list, so the lucky winner of a quick death.  Any progress on my trial?”

“Wheels are in motion.  How is your progress as regards Inquisitor Ymaar?”

Zjivek’s tone was mild but the implication was clear.  There was no bending in the man. 

“Alright, I was getting to that…Ymaar will be less of a risk if I’m free to roam outside the fortress.  This one comes and goes, right?  Relatively new on Terra with plenty of secrets to hide, and likely based elsewhere, away from fellow Inquisitors’ prying eyes.  I’ll have to go in hard when it comes to the fight, so the further from here it is, the better.  The last thing we need is a swathe of collateral damage on your doorstep.  I’m going to need a mandate to get through checkpoints, and if the Arbites show up at the end I want them to know the whole thing was Ordo business and they shouldn’t get involved.  Give me whatever leash you think I need, if my word still isn’t enough.  But if you want Ymaar done right then make it a long one.”

The Puritan gave him a hard stare, pulled from what seemed like a limitless range of them.  His eyes spoke a sophisticated language all their own, expressed in countless subtle shades of silent scrutiny.

“Yes, I suspected this might come up.  I agree in principle – I do want this done right, but above all I do need it done.  Showmanship is a luxury we can ill afford.  You can be a Throne Agent while you’re outside the fortress, but it won’t be under my seal and we’ll have to smuggle you out first.  I will arrange the necessary credentials, which you will use sparingly and as discreetly as possible, avoiding the Adeptus Custodes in particular.  Be under no illusions of independence.  Your activities will be closely monitored and I will expect you to keep a corresponding record of your own.  Officially speaking, you will go nowhere until called to appear for your trial.  Unofficially, you will return here when summoned or swiftly be made to regret it, and under no circumstances will you attempt to leave Holy Terra.  This is not about your word.  Everyone has a breaking point, as any Inquisitor must be aware.  There is no unconditional trust.  I can’t afford for you to disappear with what you know.  I will also expect rapid results.  You may have delivered so far, but that only serves to raise the bar.  Ensure that you succeed.”

Declining to bite the hand that fed, though he was certainly tempted, Amaurn displayed a calculated predatory smile.  He let his eyes slide back to the box on the desk.

“I’m pleased you agree with me, Lord Inquisitor.  Emperor willing, I think you know I will.”

And he would, whatever the Emperor thought about it, for all he might quietly be losing the stomach for this work.  Zjivek’s favour was essential to him now, and likely to remain so for as long as he stayed on this cursed planet.  What were a few more ignoble deeds in a galaxy of endless war?  Amaurn was a mercenary in this, by dint of necessity, and might always crushes right beneath its heel.  Damn it all.


=][=



Offline Dosdamt

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2020, 11:54:04 AM »
=][=

The Hidden Hand V

“Tell me again where Odion is?”

“We… We don’t know.”

Qi looked up from the datapad, her eyes narrowing.

“And Gleeson was found dead in his quarters?”


“Yes, mi’Lord. His head was caved in using, well… A rather large and weighty bust of Roboute Guilliman.”

Qi took a moment to take a deep breath.

When she’d been in the depths of the training with the Venenum, she’d found herself doing the same. The Officio Assasinorum trials for the Honorificus posts the Inquisition maintained in nearly all of the temples had been watered down a little, yet were still some of the most brutal, taxing and lethal training any member of the Inquisition, from full seal to novitiate, could be subjected to. Fighting in absolute darkness in zero-g against other candidates; racing up sheer cliffs in full combat gear with one arm disabled; running gauntlets of gunfire blindfolded while being asked to return fire accurately. They were not for the faint of heart or the incapable.

Part of Qi often wondered if the fact she had got through had been anything much more than dumb luck. While on one hand it would remove some of her agency, and her own brilliance, it was more likely than not and she suspected it was close to the truth.

The adaptations she had made to herself, not just as a child but down the subsequent years, had rendered her utterly posthuman. She could move quicker, see further, lift more, hear a pin drop at extraordinary distance and balance complex multiple mental tasks without breaking concentration; Qi had nothing in common with the average human anymore. She broke complex cryptographic ciphers for fun while she performed her investigative work. She was the product of a genius level intellect that had found ways to accelerate itself and the body housing it, and yet she still found the trials extraordinarily difficult.

Still, that had taught her the first lesson she continued to apply - take a breath. Taking action without thinking led to failure. Control your emotions, push them down, pack them away for when they became useful or necessary. She’d watched enough imbeciles, full seal or not, torn apart by wicked spike traps or choking on mal-brewed poisons through her time at the Venenum to know recklessness in a lethal situation would lead to death.

It had become apparent this was a lethal situation.

She knew they wouldn’t escape retribution from the Puritan Council for long, visit from the Golden Guardians or not. She had accounted for this with several contingencies but hadn’t yet activated any of them. She knew Zjivek was many things, vengeful little [EXCOMMUNICATE] included and that meant if nothing else his hubris and pride would compel him to seek vengeance. She had to hope he was acting from irrationality and was off balance as a result.

The Shield-Captain had given them both some time to manoeuvre pieces across the chess board ready for the next exchange. It annoyed Qi that Zjivek had brought a new piece onto the table when she wasn’t looking. That wasn’t part of the game they’d been playing, though if she let herself be more objective she admired the cunning shown by her opponent.

Getting back to Ampulex wouldn’t help in this situation, because Grixos’ seal was poisoned on Terra. Any use of that seal here would raise alarms across a dozen intelligence desks and reports would find their way to Zjivek before she had gotten near achieving her goal. There wouldn’t just be unexpected pieces on the board - Zjivek would flip the game over hunting down Grixos. That outcome was not acceptable. The various surveillance devices she had planted across that worm Kleeton’s estate hadn’t yet borne fruit. The man was a dullard and his life in the estate was worse. The tedious comings and goings of the family Kleeton festered in report after report that Qi would flick through and dismiss.

Frustrated, Qi turned back to her nervous acolyte.

“There’s something going on here. Send word to Setty. I want to see him - now. Preferably sooner. And when he begins that awful wave of his hand he inherited from his abominable master, tell him he owes me a favour and his life.”

“And if he still refuses?”

Qi turned her face to directly address to her the acolyte.

“I…. I will not leave the office of the Lord Terran without a yes.”

Next, Qi turned her hand to the data. She’d learned the scientific method, a little heretical ditty from a lost age, when she was a child digging through the books of her parents as a toddler. Her prodigious mind had consumed each and every piece of data she had been able to get her hands on since, and in this situation she would need to identify the new piece on the table. The Conclave was no help - new arrivals tended not to announce themselves across the pan-galactic communication array and besides, much of the argument there swirled around the emergence of the Archive. Various boasts and nonsense. The relays were drowning in gossip and idle chatter - none of it especially useful. There would be a snippet in there, somewhere, but right now she couldn’t see it. The Archive had been the catalyst for this conflict, though Qi was in no doubt whatsoever that this path was inevitable. The Puritan Council had lost its primacy on Terra - the Ultramanians were ascending and, more than that, they had legitimacy.

She sighed. She was mentally treading old ground.

Refocusing, she came back to the data. The reams of data didn’t speak to her - it took her a few hours to consume a few of the debates floating around on the Archive, on the murder of Gleeson and now Odion. She noted she’d received missives from several of Odion’s sponsors, demanding action. She would file those as correspondence and respond soon. They needed to know she wasn’t being idle; redirecting her efforts now would be fruitless especially if those efforts defaulted straight to violence. Nothing would be solved, as much as the thought amused her, if she walked into Zjivek’s compound and filleted him like a fresh fish, fricasseed and ready to serve. As much as she suspected Zjivek’s hand behind this, she didn’t have proof and, while murders were rare in the Inquisitorial fortress, they weren’t unheard of.

She went back to the fortress arrival and departure data. She wrote a few quick queries, parsing the data by date and subdividing that data into routine patrols, the commuting data, cargo and shift changes, eminent arrivals, and some basic dredging looking for outliers. Very little was available, and even with her skills, it was difficult to get into the inner data sanctum. For now, she’d work with what she had, and that work was frustratingly going nowhere. Dead end after dead end showed up in her analyses. Fruitless search followed redacted details succeeded by data blocked by privacy filters or guarded by data controls. Redacted. Unrecorded manifest and cargo. Blocked by bequest of the Lord Terran’s Office, or the Fortress Castellan, or both.  The messages sang a familiar refrain and nothing she could use kept coming up and back. Exhausted, and frustrated, Qi drifted into bed in the early hours of the notional morning.

=][=

Yun knelt down and ran his fingers through the dirt. The disused crossway tunnels ran for unknown kilometres under the Inquisitorial Fortress. Like most things on Terra, it was too hard to try to reform, reuse and recycle what had come before and instead abandon, ruin, and ignore was the order of the day. Perhaps epoch. They built over and above, on top of and in ignorance of the ruins below. Not the most solid foundations, but the ignorance underpinned the whole Imperium - so it was on Terra, so it should be across the Emperor’s entire domain. Yun glanced from left to right, trying to take in the gloom and the darkness. What in the Throne Odion was doing down here was the matter, and so far Yun was drawing a blank.

A dead drop message had turned up in Qi’s messages, with coordinates and instructions to come and find him. Nothing else. Qi assigned Yun and a dozen Inquisitorial troopers. Yun had sequestered three servitors and a Magos to help him deal with the rubble and mayhem below ground. It had taken them some considerable time to get near to where Odion had given as coordinates. Qi read his message as a plea for help or funerary arrangements. Yun didn’t like that interpretation and preferred to think of this as a rescue mission, though a nagging part of him wouldn’t let go of his master’s view. As nice as it would be to find Odion trapped, maybe even hurt, somewhere down here after the well connected fool had gotten himself into some trouble while exploring these ruins, the truth was that Yun didn’t expect to even find a body, nevermind a live and somewhat sorry Inquisitor.

The tunnels chilled their occupants to the bone. A vicious wind swept through them, acrid and dry, freezing and biting at any unprotected flesh. Yun pulled his leather duster closer and tighter. The skin of the coat was starting to catch a lingering layer of filth and damp.

“Damn this wind.” he muttered, not catching the attention of anyone in his party and, if he was honest with himself, not wanting to lay any further woes of his own on anyone in the party. He could tell they were all tense, even the servitors. Search and rescue down in the tunnels was thankless work, and extremely dangerous. Collapses were common and the cracks in the ceilings and arches above seemed to grow menacingly when no one was looking. The abandoned trains down here were rumoured to jump back to life when power surges from the fortress above sparked them back to life. The Magos, a Martian by the name of Dcaar, twitched and hissed machine cant at every wrecked car they passed.

++ The Machine spirits are angry ++ he explained, ++ Leaving them down here was a profane mistake. The Inquisition does not appreciate the works of the Omnissiah. ++

Yun rolled his eyes and as tempted as he was to engage, he let the comment slide. In a quiet and guarded moment, though, he let himself make the sign of the Aquila and muttered a short prayer to the Emperor. The battle for the Emperor’s soul had taken him to some interesting places while working for Qi, but none as benighted as this throne forgotten place. No light broke the gloom down here. That felt too hackneyed a cliche, yet it still sent goosebumps dancing down his back. The dinge danced a dangerous little nightmare on the edge of his vision in the torchlight.

The track forked ahead. The ruins here were especially egregious. The track had oxidised and in places had bent and distorted rendering the metal into jagged exposed ribcages. Water ran down the sides of the tunnels leaving long dirty streaks. The chemical nightmare that constituted Terran water without filtration and proper treatment had no doubt eaten away at the tracks down here. There was a harsh odour in the air, thick and dense, somewhere between musk and the slow decay of humanity. It ate away at the nostrils until the sense of smell was overwhelmed. These were some of the oldest tunnels beneath the fortress. Yun paused for a moment, causing the Sergeant’s fist to jerk upwards to motion a halt. The Magos at the back let his mechadendrites twitch and flick impatiently.

The oldest tunnels were the haunted house on the hill of the fortress. Tales abounded of the monstrosities that lived down here - Millenia old daemonhosts bound by the original Xanthites long before they took that name; those daemonhosts stalked the tunnels driven by an ever deepening madness at their decaying flesh prisons. Gibbering mutants skittered from tunnel to station complex living off the mould and fungi that grew aggressively in the underground. Cannibals preyed on one another, the mutants, the daemonhosts, and anything else that strayed down here; they were even rumoured to feast on the broken remains of everyone foolish enough to come down here. For a moment, Yun wondered which category he would end up fitting into. He’d even, in the quietest of tunnels and for the shortest of whispers, overheard talk that a number of excommunicated Inquisitors had a holding down here somewhere. A nest of traitors, that had never been found. They practised dark rites to keep themselves alive and their friends did them favours in the Inquisition above to have enough support to keep their experiments moving. As if on cue, the wind in the tunnel sounded a mournful howl.

Yun steeled himself; this speculation wasn’t helping anything. The wind whistled through the tunnel like a bereaved revenant. Yun felt his skin prickle with anticipation and fear; it was involuntary and driven by the deep animal he had trained his whole life to suppress. His heart rate ticked upwards, his mouth went as dry as desert sand while his hands jetted sweat like hot geysers. These tunnels weren’t safe. The thought wouldn’t go away.

“We’re a couple of hundred meters from the event, Interrogator.”

Yun let reality grip him back to the present. He centred his thoughts, shuffled through the data filtering down his augmented eye, and came back to the woman addressing him. The trooper’s eyes and face were hidden by her black helmet and blank reflective visor. Yun took control of his senses and racing heart and let himself nod.

“Fan out. Have we recovered the anomalous servitor?”

“No my lord Interrogator. We’re still searching. We’ve got a track on it. Teams two and three are closing in on it. They are in a couple of tauroxes. The route to the servitor is clear.”

“Thank you Sergeant.”

The inane conversation had helped Yun to re-centre himself. The cadre of troopers the Inquisition maintained on Terra were beyond capable and what they mostly needed was the autonomy to operate. Without the pressure to direct or order, Yun had the time to slow his breathing, bring down his heart rate, let the wave of shaking and shivering epinephrine leave his bloodstream, and bring his mind back to the tunnels. Now present, and mindful, Yun looked around the tunnels with a clear perspective. The mould and creeping damp hid a multitude of details. The frost down here wasn’t just from the cold. Yun recognised the signs of psychic power when he saw it. No matter how masterful the conduit, the warp was too wild for absolute control. Phenomena were inevitable, and this frost was too cold, too embedded in the plascrete walls, to be simply from the bone biting temperature.

Yun ran his hand over the frozen water. It confirmed his thoughts as the faintly disjointed feeling of cold and warm static psychic friction arced over his hand. This activity was a few days old by his estimate. He kneeled down, following the likely arc of the warp energy. The wall was discoloured by the discharge; not exactly blackened, but certainly darkened. The residual energy, powerful, controlled and sharp, played on Yun’s tongue. Whoever expelled the energy here meant it; it was targeted, direct and specific.

“Fan out. Find any more wych sign. We are expecting at least one body down here, possibly two. Keep your lasguns hot and your eyes up.”

The troopers fanned out, spears of torch light flashing into the dark. The involuntary shaking of a couple of the beams told Yun the troopers were nervous. Well they should be, Yun thought to himself. There’s a monster down here.

=][=

“And that’s the point Lord Hal said but what about the lasgun shipment!”

The social detritus that had accumulated around Qi like flotsam and jetsam burst into laughter. She bared her teeth, more violent disdain postscript than the smile of pleasure from a shared joke. The awkwardness hung in the air for a second, before everyone averted their eyes to somewhere else in the room and, after a shuffling of feet and the sharing of pleasant excuses to move to another social group, the mess surrounding Qi dissipated leaving her free to plot her next move.

This was Terran politics, a bloodsport best played bare knuckle rawdog. The victorious got to feast on the toothless, battered remains of the less fortunate and the outright losers; or, at least, their reputations and indiscretions. It paid to be cautious and smart in these circles. Offer what you can, venture slowly into unknown territories, and share safe ground only with those you share common ground. That meant playing the intricacies of Inquisition symbology.

Ritsen, a close associate of Kleeton the weasel, was snaking his way between social groups. Ritsen was an ugly man, a grotesque and natural asymmetry in his face made him disconcerting to look at. His eyes were deep set, almost to the point where his neanderthal brow cast them in permanent shadow. Unkempt hair ran down the sides of his face and his skin, a dreary pale white showed angry red and blue veins throbbing in his cheeks. Qi suspected all of his flesh smelled of the worn in, trodden down sweat of the masses of Terra, and that the oddly translucent tone to his flesh would be all over his body.

“Ritsen,” she said, attempting to be as friendly as she could. She tried to control her reaction as his face turned to hers.

“Inquisitor Qi. A pleasure to see you here.”

Ritsen’s plumage was a deliberate concoction of messages. He wore the Ultramanian U, prominently in a broach on his chest. However, the U was in relief and below the traditional representation of the throneworld as a blue green marble world; the world that promised mankind’s supremacy over all others in the galaxy.

The Terran Revivification. The Great Glory - a step beyond and away from the Ultramanian ideals, a bridge into Monodominance and the deepest of Puritan belief systems. The golden halo and three Inquisitorial symbols, representing each of the major Ordos, suggested that Ritsen’s star was rising and that he was in discussions about his next move between Ordos. The Golden Halo wasn’t presented to everyone - and from Qi’s eyes, it wasn’t just gold plating. It looked solid and pure - that suggested that the talks were advanced and he had a decent post in hand.

“Ritsen. Hunting in these circles now?”

“Kleeton has seen fit to escalate my status.”

Vile, and a dullard. Still, Qi persisted.

“Fully justified, I expect.”

Qi let her words linger before she continued. She noticed Ritsen had beads of sweat building rapidly across his brow and that his previously straight face had cracked somewhat. The fear; the fear an inferior being has when cornered and has found itself utterly out of its depth.

“The hum and rub seems to be focusing on a rather bold proclamation on the Conclave. A trial is looming, the whispers say.”

Ritsen smiled, and tapped the side of his head.

“I’ve heard the same. No one is backing Amaurn, but the talk has him coming here anyway, and can you believe the stones of it?”

“He’ll be annihilated in orbit. He won’t touch Terran ground, at least the flesh of him.”

“Too true. He will look for allies.”

“And where would he find those, do you think?”

“There’s talk. There’s always talk. I’ve not heard much….”

Ritsen was looking to trade. He’d adjusted his posture, just enough to seem open to a trade; Qi could see his slight lean forward trying to use his taller, broader frame to intimidate her subtly. He wanted the trade to be unequal. Ritsen had social skills, true enough, but the damp patches appearing at the join of his arms and chest suggested nerves. The micro-flicker of fear danced across his eyelids again as he tried to keep Qi pierced with his gaze. Qi watched the dance of apprehension across his face. She let her eyes lock with his. His face twitched, and then he broke.

“Amaurn’s an avowed radical, and always will be. No one will believe his redemption story, no one will believe his little screed about innocence. The Castellan’s Office, and the Lord Terran’s office are preparing the case against him. They are…. thorough.”

Qi let her eyebrow raise very suddenly and very pointedly. Ritsen let himself slip into a grin. He’d put his stake on the table.

“Who will lead the trial?”

Ritsen shied away.

“Tell me what you’re doing next about Zjivek.”

A hard gambit, bold, perhaps the flailing death scream.

Qi, a wine glass halfway to her mouth, slowed then in a second, third heart-beat, came to a stop. She adjusted her eyes, from the glass, to lock with Ritsen’s. She didn’t let her face move at all, except her eyes. They drilled into Ritsen, grinding through his visage, tearing at his musculature until only his bare skull was left; snapping bone, crushing cartilage until blood and viscera came out, flaying and flensing away the upper layer of brain until she had reached the centre of his conscious being. She held that core in her hand, weighing and measuring the fullness and weakness of it. Ritsen held her gaze, but she knew he was cracking and melting. In the onrush of her thermonuclear gaze, Ritsen was melting like cheap lead. His willpower struggled to reassert itself as a half dead plant trying to find the sun.

“Nothing,” she said, breaking her spell. Ritsen deflated with relief. He was at the edge of his fingernails, which were tearing away from his digits.

A rumble of thunderous heartbeats passed as if overhead.

“I… I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything.”

Qi adjusted her stance, letting her body open back to her adversary. He let himself relax; he had shrunk into himself, by raising his shoulders and breathing more freely.

“Come now. That’s not accurate, is it? I know you know.”

Qi relaxed her body again, hips forward, right shoulder lowered, taking a half step forward bringing her a few inches closer to Ritsen. She left one hand on her glass, the other ghosted down to her side brushing Ritsen’s arm. Ritsen winked, an awkward and slow movement

“Depends on what the new Castellan thinks.”

Qi’s eyes focused furiously on the face of her temporary companion. His cheeks flushed. Some who were given the seal were entirely unsuitable for the role, be that because of their intelligence or their inability to deceive others. She almost felt sorry for Ritsen, who was floundering in the crashing waves of her attention.

He hadn’t noticed her change in body language, nor twigged to her subtle touch on his arm. His subconscious had, and it was that base instinct that had rendered him barely capable of filtering his speech or preventing verbal incontinence. Ritsen was an incredibly limited individual. She didn’t need anything more and decided to let his comment sit in the air for a few moments. She sipped her drink with a delicate nonchalance, finally a signal Ritsen was able to detect.

“I.. ah… ahhh…. “

“You can go.”

Ritsen scuttled out of Qi’s light like a terrified cockroach. So there was a new Castellan. That gave a whole new context to this gathering. Social events in the Inquisition were regular, and well attended. That hadn’t explained this gala - called out of the blue, with little notice yet incredibly well attended. Now the plumage became more obvious to her. Throughout the room, she had seen many symbols and combinations she’d never seen before. The political scene, and the factional scene, was on full display. Even the few Xanthites bold enough, or well connected enough, to call Terra home had their own vibrant colours and symbols splayed like an amorous bird of paradise.

The upheaval concerned her. The Ultramanians had finally hacked through to the core, then the pinnacle of the great factional pyramid. They were constricting the others, a great dark serpent consuming each of the borderline radical factions until the Ultramanians mutated - feathered wings of the Recongregators, a golden plumed crest of the Thorians, and the fanged maw and venom of the Istvaanians, until the multi-headed winged chupacabra of Ultramanianism curled around and crushed the pyramid of factionalism in the Inquisition. Qi was the eyes, the fangs, the violence of the serpent, and here she hunted to find cracks in the social structure of the Inquisition. Yet the pyramid had held firm, and now it shifted as if it were made of sand slipping between the slick coils of the serpent.

The tectonic shifting only heralded one thing - change at the top of the Terran order. Despite their efforts, and despite their constriction of the pyramid, a temple remained beyond reach to the Ultramanians. The true upper echelons of the Inquisition; the position of the Lord Terran and the Castellan of the Inquisitorial Fortress, other Lord Segementum positions; they all remained just at their fingertip reach but a distance away from their grasp.

She ghosted through the room, those who feared her stepped out of her way and those who would oppose her stared at her as she slipped through their orbit. She took in the complex web of entangled social groups, each of the brooches, medallions and colours in each group. The data composed a model in her head, cascading connections moving quicker now as her neurons formed links and tangents between groups and individuals. Zjivek was holding court with the monodominants and fanatics beyond even his beliefs. Interestingly, he was bordered by several of the obscure factions who had never had any sway - a crippled and scarred member of the Ordo Aegis stood beside an Ocularian from Calixis. So Zjivek was reaching beyond the Segmentum Solar for his allies in an attempt to corral the fringe to take the centre. Qi wondered what he was promising to pay for that support.

The old families, as ever, stood together. The Kleetons orbited Zjivek closest out of all the old families, sub-consciously projecting support. The centre held, emanating its own mass of gravity embedded in old wealth, influence and power. The Newtons stood furthest away, and closest to the seat of power in Setraakian who wore the thick chain of the Lord Terran as the office’s representative.  The juxtaposition was deliberate and aggressive highlighting the divide and perhaps the path of succession. Kleeton himself had aligned his body towards the Ultramanians, though Qi watched his face dally on Zjivek too frequently and for too long.

Qi tutted in disappointment. Kleeton was supposed to be a path into the temple, as few of the elders of Terra had aligned formally with Guilliman’s vision - subsequently, the Ultramanian vision - for the Inquisition. Ascension was impossible without their support. Her mind raced with a thousand different methods for Kleeton’s lengthy and excruciating death.

She savoured each one.

=][=

“We’ve got it back. Fifteen generations; finally, a Newton back as Castellan.”

“He promised it to us.”

“He did.”

“And you know what we have to do.”

“Why? Why do we have to do this? It could be nonsense, coincidence, a confluence of random events. It couldn’t be the hand of Bal-“

“Don’t say his name. Not here. Not on Terra.”

“I-“

“Not. Here. And we do this, because that was what was committed, and we do as asked, and in return we get two full decades of influence over the Castellan position.”

“A distasteful business.”

“It is, but it is business we will conduct and finish.”

“The Castellan doesn’t sit as a judge in the trial.”

“Yes, but they do set the panel of justice, though, and they are expected to oversee the trial. The Castellan will have names so we can… be sure of the outcome. They’ve all been briefed, they know what is expected.”

“Does it need to be unanimous?”

“Typically, but in the case of any split verdict-“

“In line with the Viridian Edict, the Castellan of any fortress provides their own verdict, the deciding verdict.”

“Quite.”

“Anyone from outside the Ordos?”

“We’ll assign MacFarlane’s successor. She will be seen as a fair arbiter.”

“Good.”

“Not as the Lead Justicar of the panel. She’ll get a seat. We’ve got one of the venerable lords from the old houses. A true trial of Holy Terra.”

“And then?”

“The deal is concluded. We send the signal… And we wait.”

=][=

+++ Message Begins +++
+++ Encrypted : YY/D:X0type +++
+++ Subject : Alert +++

Inquisitors Qi, Ymaar

Our investigation in the tunnels is concluded. Two bodies recovered. Odion is dead. We found his corpse hollowed out with Las-fire and decapitated. Wych-sign all around the area of conflict. Several other scorch marks from lasfire and bullet casings. Odion’s rifle has not been recovered. Second corpse found crawling with warp energy, severe cranial haemorrhage. Suspect is a psyker of some power and control. Suggest caution and countermeasures be obtained immediately.

Both corpses were found with rogue servitors, with a third corpse, presumably a Martian Magos. The servitors were ordered to dispose of the corpses but to no avail - as usual with the misbegotten tech on the Throneworld, they got stuck in a loop and failed to deal with a broken tunnel linkage. The resulting damage to the body of the Magos was… unpleasant.

I’ve sent ahead the data log for the rogue servitors. An issue has been identified in the logs of the servitors. We believe this vulnerability may well have been exploited elsewhere. I have assigned resources to sweep the logs of the servitors in the Fortress. We  must do this in the darkness and the window of opportunity is open while the new Castellan is installed.

I have briefed our operations team and we stand ready to open the way to retrieve the data. 

Ave Imperator

Yun

+++ Message Ends +++
It is never too late! - Mentirius

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Offline Mentirius

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Re: A Love Letter to Terran Politics
« Reply #14 on: August 23, 2020, 04:20:49 PM »

The Hidden Sword


M42.120, Inquisitorial Fortress, Terra


“Some of you might still be wondering why we did what we did at the Chapel Inquisitoris.  Let us set your minds at rest now – we did it for Him.  We are proud of what was done, and we would do it again, for history itself remains in violent flux, and never has there been a greater need for Inquisitors of fortitude to take a stand.  Those of you who know us will know we are not an Ultramanian, for Roboute Guilliman is not the Emperor and never will be.  The Primarchs were created to be His servants, not His heirs, though they surely remain closer to Him than any mortal men.  But there are degrees of opposition, and the Lord Commander is no friend to the plague of would-be Vandires that still infests his father’s house.  In that at least we are of one mind.

“Muundus Vhogart was once called an Inquisitor, among other things – let us leave aside the question of whether the man deserved his seal, or the governorship of Tithus, or the Lordship his lackeys contrived to bestow.  He was called an Inquisitor, and now in death he is called a Saint – from one of ours, to one of theirs.  They have claimed him and his deeds for their own, as a famous General’s spoiled son claims a regimental power sword to which he has no true right, nor any skill to wield.  In setting the late Vhogart so far above his peers – many of whom the great man tried, convicted and executed as traitors in the course of his career, let us not forget, often with no more evidence than a philosophical disagreement – so they set the Ministorum above the Inquisition.  They declare themselves our judges; we who answer only to the Emperor Himself!  The Puritan Council of today bend their knees to these overseers of stagnation, just as Vhogart did in his time, only so they might force the rest of us to bend in turn to them.  They are no true Inquisitors but vainglorious vultures, who would sell out the holy Ordos for the sake of their personal advancement.  They sicken us, and they will be expunged.

“Just look at the state of this place.  You all know what we mean.  Are we to believe this is His will?  To believe that His Imperium, that His own world would have sunk into such degradation, if He still walked among us?  Can we believe He will deign to walk among us again, seeing what we have made of His gifts?  We who swarm at his feed like vermin, who lay claim to the scraps from His table, fallen down through millennia into our ungrateful claws?  If you would know His answer, you need only look to the sky!  The open wound there mirrors the self-inflicted hurt done to each of our souls, when we looked upon the decay of His great work and, in our hubris, called it good.  Look again with clear eyes, and the only true virtue you will find anywhere – the only true virtue there has ever been – is His.  Mere humanity can, at best, aspire to a pale imitation, and humanity has failed.

“So, let us cast off our own pretensions.  We are all imperfect, and yet we are His instruments, for His is the hand that takes up the truly penitent and puts us to worthy use.  He has given us His example, and in doing so defined the purpose of our lives – to strive, and to fail, to live up to that ideal.  To Inquisitors it is given to contend with His enemies within, without and beyond.  Flawed as we are, only through Him can we hope to prevail.  Those of us who lack true faith are doomed to death or damnation.  What need have we then of priests?  Who are they to sort Inquisitors into saints and heretics, to grade us on our perceived obedience to their interpretation of His Will?  Is their conviction, their personal experience of the Emperor, any greater than our own?  What can the Ministorum tell us that He has not already shown?  They do not speak for Him, will never know His adversaries as we do.  It is we who are the guardians of His faith, and we do not exist to court the favour of fat old men.  Accept it: their purpose is propaganda!  Their calling is crowd control.  However well they play that role, their opinions are beneath our concern.  The Ordos stand forever outside the crowd, from where their failings can clearly be seen, and so we know the truth: the closest He has to an honest voice down here is ours.

“Fire purifies, this is well established.  Well then, cast your sacred parchment to the flames and see what survives the shriving.  And do the same to all who would deem themselves Puritans, who would sit above their peers in judgement and so usurp His place – if they truly are as pure they claim to be, they surely will not burn!”

That finally seemed to be it for Inquisitor Ymaar’s stentorian address, and a scattering of ayes from the small assembly of masked, hooded or otherwise overtly mysterious attendees indicated it had gone down well enough.  This meeting of self-identified radicals was all a pantomime if Amaurn was any judge, affecting secrecy while screaming for attention.  If it had really been so dangerous to attend, then it would have not have been so easy for him to get invited with no one to vouch for him.  Its setting in the absurdly named Sanctum Circumspeculum, one of the many supposedly forbidden libraries that could be found throughout the sprawling Inquisitorial Fortress, mouldering away behind not-so-secret doors since time immemorial, created the perfect atmosphere in which to court a sense of controversy, while keeping well away from anyone who might take real offence.  It had all the trappings of secret rebellion of course, down to the surrounding shelves of proscribed texts, the flickering candlelight casting deep black shadows into every recess of the room.  This only served to underline how disingenuous it all was, seen through the eyes of a genuine Excommunicate.  Important secrets are never shared with strangers, and real rebellions begin and end with blood – he knew this from experience, as he knew many grim realities.  What he saw now was theatre and nothing more.

Having begun his own career as a binder of daemons and escalated from there, ultimately losing his seal to well-deserved notoriety, Amaurn was well familiar with the sort of Inquisitor who frequented occasions like this.  It was likely at least half of those gathered were spies, including Amaurn himself, and the lengthy, inflammatory speech they had all just sat through had probably been as much for their benefit as for any true believers.  The earnest half of the gathering would probably despise one another even more than their common enemies did, if they ever got to talking freely amongst themselves.  Every one of them would see themselves as the Imperium’s last hope, cursed to martyrdom by the failure of their lessers to cast off ten thousand years of tradition and meekly follow an abrasive extremist in a wholly new direction.  Too unique, too insightful in their own minds to be contained by any factional label not named after themselves, they would each be seeking followers here, not peers.  None of them would entirely agree or disagree with most of what they heard, and few would reveal the fullness of their own beliefs at any price.  This was a game of appearances, a calculated statement of defiance.  Here we are, it said.  Look at how shameless all this is.  Come and stop us, we dare you!  No hint of irony in all the weaponry on display, down to the faceless suit of power armour gesticulating from the heavy lectern that served as a makeshift pulpit.  How brave you are, sibling Ymaar, to bare your throat to the establishment behind mere inches of solid ceramite.  Not that you’re actually safe in there.

Taken at face value, Ymaar’s espoused views on the subject of Puritans were the closest to Amaurn’s own of any he had yet heard spoken on Terra, though it appeared they diverged considerably on the matter of the Emperor.  Having been raised and indoctrinated from early childhood not by the Schola Progenium but by Balkoth, a man who had believed in everything and worshipped nothing, expecting the same of his pupils, Amaurn could never quite find it in him to embrace the Imperial faith in later life, for all his loyalty to the Ordo Malleus and by extension the Imperium.  His desire to reject his mentor’s teachings on principle would only take him so far in practice, and he could not have borne the thought of Balkoth laughing and calling him a fool.  Privately he maintained a somewhat respectful and yet strictly secular view of He On Terra, which had always been a burden to carry in secret, aware his outlook constituted textbook heresy by almost any definition.  Bringing up the Emperor in any context but to offer praise, or failing to offer praise when he was mentioned, was rarely a good idea, even for Inquisitors.  This was doubly true for Amaurn now, being in so deep with Zjivek and his cronies, and so he avoided the subject wherever possible.  Failing that, he lied.

Ymaar’s position, by contrast, apparently amounted to rejecting the Imperial Creed, or at least the Ecclesiarchy, out of an excess of devotion to their god, which made little sense when one got down to it.  What did anyone really know of the Emperor, save for what they were told?  He was evidently powerful, and opposed to humanity’s enemies, when he involved himself in temporal matters at all.  Why could that not be enough?  What did he gain from a person’s self-debasement, or from an Inquisitor rejecting priests in his name, only to become one?  Amaurn wondered whether the sermon had bored the rest of its audience as much as it had him, deciding it probably had.  As with many unpopular men of strong conviction, his own intuition said everyone secretly agreed with him on some core level, and were simply too cowardly to admit as much.  When telepathy occasionally suggested otherwise, he put this down to a deep-seated denial on the part of the offending mind.  His faith was in himself, and in that faith he was as devout as anyone.  When he ignored all the hot air and considered how quickly he had found his way into these circles, gaining virtually anonymous access to Ymaar even after Odion and Gleeson, he suspected they might turn out to have that in common after all.  He had not even needed to leave the premises yet, if the term can be applied to a complex the size of a continent.  It was as if the arrogant bastard wanted to be hunted down.

He could not kill them here of course.  Sparsely attended as the meeting was by Terran standards, when one considered the probable number of armed, paranoid Inquisitors present in the room, together with the psychic dampeners limiting Amaurn’s own capabilities, the prospect of eliminating Ymaar without being identified was non-existent.  He could not kill everyone here at once, and it would only take one survivor for the secret to get out.  Anonymity had served him well on this world so far, and he intended to hold onto it until his trial began.  Tonight was the last and largest hurdle he would face before he got there.  Inquisitor Ymaar did not reside within the Fortress boundaries, of this much he was reasonably sure, and yet Terra was a hive of hives, impossible to search methodically.  He did not have the clearance to go the official route to track his enemy, and getting it would risk raising too many flags.  But sometimes the simplest ways were the best. 

Ymaar had remained socially active in the Fortress even after the chapel incident, coming and going as they pleased.  They were a frequent agitator who liked to be heard by their peers, though they refused to declare for any particular faction and tended to eschew the major societal functions, preferring less formal, more exclusive events.  Have learned this much from Zjivek, Amaurn had quietly expressed, through several of the myriad false identities he had been given, an interest in ultra-radical forums.  It had not come overnight but eventually the fictional Inquisitor Manuel Elebua had received a clandestine invitation.  This was now the third of these events he had attended in as many weeks, always heavily disguised, prudently refraining from acts of psychic trespass and making minimal conversation, merely listening for mentions of Ymaar’s name.  Each occasion had been duller and more pretentious than the last, not to mention a pain to get to with their wandering locations, and yet here his enemy finally was, so he would not have to suffer through a fourth.  His increasingly dark mood had lightened considerably when he set eyes on that unmistakable armoured suit. 

His target was bigger in person than they had looked on Zjivek’s data-slate, but then vid-logs rarely did justice to the physical presence of power armour, and this was among the bulkiest examples Amaurn had ever seen.  He didn’t recognise the pattern, having always been content with carapace himself and tending to scoff those who felt the need of anything heavier.  Currently he didn’t even have that, but it should make little difference.  All that remained was to endure this tedium and then follow Ymaar home at the end, or at least to somewhere beyond the outer walls where he could draw freely on the warp, and the rest would be a formality.  No amount of armour would prevent their blood from boiling.  Corpses could not regenerate, and Odion had provided a valuable reminder of the folly of holding back.  If you needed someone dead then you killed them – he had tempted fate enough already by attempting to fight fair. 

He looked forward to the satisfaction of having done his part and therefore being owed.  It was high time he got a bit more respect from his uneasy ally, and Ymaar had taken pains to advertise how fearsome they were.  Even without all the verbal spear-shaking, their body count in the chapel spoke for itself, to say nothing of surviving multiple electro-flails and a bullet in the head.  Making short work of them one on one, overblown armour and all, would do nicely to underline the value of Amaurn’s contribution and the wisdom of giving him his due.  If they turned out to be a psyker in their own right, resisting him mind to mind, then so much the better – it would change nothing from an outside perspective and he was badly in need of practice at heavy-duty warpcraft, if he intended to lock wills with daemons again.  He could feel all this painstaking subtlety turning him softer by the day. 

As a final resort, beneath his concealing outer robes he wore a force sword, the current backbone of his personal arsenal.  Sturdy and single-edged, it was really more of a falchion than a true sword, wider than his palm at its base and with a total length no greater than one of Gleeson’s gladii, sacrificing some of its thrusting reach for resilience and cutting power.  In the right hand, or Amaurn’s left in this case, charged by the warp and with enough intent behind it, the blade would go through pretty much anything.  It was not half so magnificent as the alternative, which qualified as a sword by any definition, but that would be needed elsewhere and was far too crucial to risk on Zjivek’s vendetta.  It was also too large to hang from his hip without dragging the point on the ground, and wearing a weapon strapped across his back would hardly have been discreet…that and he hated the thing.  He had never given this lesser blade a name, though he was fond of it in his way, for he imagined it a simple extension of his indomitable will and saw no sense in naming his own extremities.  Aware that force weaponry of any kind risked triggering the local psychic countermeasures, he had not so much as drawn either blade since he arrived at the Fortress, but once outside the warded perimeter that restriction would be lifted.  Amaurn had always favoured a sword in serious combat, unreliable as direct psychic attacks could be, and centuries of experience would surely forgive him a few weeks of laxity if it did come down to a fight.  He fancied he might have killed Gleeson without breaking sweat if he had used one then.

Around him the meeting proceeded.  Next up, the obligatory snarling Xanthite railed at the blindness of any Inquisitor who the knew the names of more priests than daemons, or something along those lines, but Amaurn felt sure he had already heard everything that could be said on the subject of Inquisitorial sorcery and made no real attempt to listen.  The bare-faced Ultramanian extremist who had come in with Ymaar then provided some amusement when he dared to suggest Roboute Guilliman might one day sit the Throne, and was shouted right out of the room before he got any further.  Ymaar gave the hapless Interrogator – he’d never get a full seal with that kind of talk – a rough shove in the back on his way out, slamming the door behind him, evidently embarrassed to have let him in at all.  All around the room, weapons were reluctantly re-sheathed.  Amaurn carefully did not laugh, nearly caught off guard by the urge, for it came to him so rarely these days he had hardly recognised it.  Apparently owning multiple daemonhosts was one thing, but some lines were just not meant to be crossed.  In truth the boy could hardly be blamed for holding absurd opinions, and Amaurn wondered what else the others had expected, for his boots surely had more years behind them. 

As the commotion died down, there ensued a bit of ugly muttering about Guilliman being no friend to the Inquisition, never mind the Ministorum, followed by some scathing talk of his associate Inquisitor Greyfax, whose very existence would seem to refute their assertions but who many insisted was a solitary exception.  Then a trembling Istvaanian who had clearly been neglecting her rejuvenat treatments took the lectern.  She suggested, of all things, what would have amounted to a short-term general strike of the holy Ordos within the Ultramar Sub-sector, allegedly so the Regent might receive a vision of an Imperium without Inquisitors and thereby come to understand the necessary purpose they served.  There were a few cautious ayes, a few more angry nays, and then Ymaar spoke up again, politely offering a conservative estimate of many lives might be lost to various disasters in order to make her point.  They questioned how an uncharitable ruler might react to such numbers, citing in particular the ongoing fallout from the recent Plague Wars, a conflict into which Guilliman had personally led Imperial reinforcements following his hundred-year Indomitus Crusade and which could easily flare up again at any time. Did she imagine a Primarch would capitulate to an Imperial institution neglecting its sworn duty in a region of strategic and personal significance, or was it perhaps more likely he might see them as traitors, responding with fire and sword?  Finally they pointed out that such decisions would be the purview of the appropriate regional Conclave, and this after all was Terra, not Talasa Prime.

The Istvaanian surrendered the lectern, grumbling about hard lessons and sacrifice in a familiar refrain, but was allowed to retake her seat without any overt threats of violence – perhaps out of respect for her venerable demeanour, or otherwise for Ymaar, who had spoken civilly enough while they talked her down.  Maybe they had just been eager to balance the mimetic scales against the unconscionable blasphemy of the previous speaker.  Amaurn noticed Ymaar always stopped short of fully endorsing or criticising Guilliman’s primacy in the Imperium, shrewdly maintaining their own mediating and therefore leading role in the fractious empire of this room, which was predictably divided on the matter.  There was always one who ended up taking the chair at these things, and when someone came to a clandestine debate wearing power armour, it was inevitably going to be them.  He got the sense Ymaar was used to positions of social dominance, and wondered what it said about Lyssa Qi that the behemoth had been willing to follow her lightly armoured lead into the Chapel Inquisitoris.  Perhaps they privately saw it all as their own idea, with the Ultramanians merely along for the ride, and Qi as a sort of herald…it might have said much about Amaurn himself that these potential rationalisations for self-aggrandisement came so swiftly to his mind, but he stubbornly ignored the opportunity for introspection.  He still remembered Odion, and this was not the time. 

The final speaker was a Neo-Xenarite, specifically an enthusiastic proponent of a new wave of focused Eldar sympathisers who would probably have their own more specific name by this time next century, if they did not already.  She came complete with wraithbone jewellery, or a convincing imitation.  Amaurn was preparing to tune her out when the dreaded word ‘Aithol’ was spoken, making it clear that this was about the Conclave Archive.  She went on to quote several passages from the document, attributed to the Eldar warrior and ambassador Alundirel Seall’athil at the meeting on Delan’s Point.  They more or less accorded with his own recollections, which further concerned him – if she had found anything in there dealing with Alundirel’s opinions of Amaurn, who had also been in attendance, it would hardly help his dire public image.  The Eldar had hated him with a startling intensity, mostly for the blatant daemonic corruption that had marked him back then, but also, he suspected, for his refusal to offer any hint of deference to an eight-thousand-year-old Xenos who spoke as if to errant children every time he opened his mouth.  They had drawn blades on one another at the previous meeting, back on Laternus Prime, though neither had ended up wanting to use them surrounded by mutual allies.

In truth, Amaurn might even have felt the same if their positions had been reversed, putting great stock in age as he did, but he had been a different man in those days, hoarding all his respect for himself.  That man had revelled in antagonising his detractors, whoever and however justified they were.  The more they threatened vengeance, the more fire he spat their way.  Never had a word been spoken between he and Alundirel that did not contain an envenomed blade, even before Amaurn had summoned the cell’s arch-enemy and wagered with it on the Eldar’s life.  A conceited man might have imagined it was on his own account that Alundirel had left them all to die when the inevitable daemonic army had fallen upon the Point, but Amaurn remembered that Alundirel’s wife, for want of a direct translation, had supposedly been held captive in the blood-soaked Koldoan empire at the time.  He surmised attending to her rescue, or else avenging her death, had trumped risking destruction for the sake of his short-lived human allies.  Some imperatives would always transcend others, and ancient though they were, the Eldar were as mortal as anyone in the end.  In times of genuine crisis, people would look to their own.  Alundirel and his kin had returned to fight on Aithol when it counted, or so Amaurn had been told, but then it was a holy place to them, so that much was to be expected.  The alleged salvation of wretched humanity might at best have been a fortunate side effect in their eyes, or perhaps at worst, a heavy price they had reluctantly paid in the name of their faith. 

With a flush of annoyance, he realised he had just missed most of the Neo-Xenarite’s speech after all, lost in his own reminiscence.  That one might actually have been relevant to him, but this was the trouble with advanced age – sometimes the past was so much more vivid than the present in his mind, beguiling his attention away from his surroundings whenever too much boredom relaxed his guard.  He would never know what most of these modern Inquisitorial malcontents thought about the Conclave Archive, although when he considered that for a moment, he realised he would also never care.  Anyone who would not be judging his trial could despise him or ignore his existence as they saw fit.  The same went for the damn Eldar, for that matter.  Amaurn would never be a diplomat and he had not come here to listen to what was said.  This was about killing Ymaar, and until then killing time.  The rest was background noise.  At least no one had brought up the untimely deaths of Gleeson or Odion, although that did seem strange on reflection, since there had been talk of what some called the Battle of St Vhogart’s Rest.  Perhaps they were avoiding the subject in deference to Ymaar, or simply wary of showing an interest in case they ended up involved.

When the meeting broke up and its variously shrouded delegates began to disperse, Amaurn had intended to wait for Ymaar to leave and then follow, but it quickly became obvious they intended to be last through the door.  Maybe they had some claim or responsibility to this place, in which case their upkeep of it had been sorely lacking.  He therefore tried to leave roughly in the middle of the steady trickle, so as to stand out as little as possible.  Some of the attendees might remember the anti-social Inquisitor Elebua’s brooding presence, but having refrained from interacting with anyone directly this time, they would have nothing to say about him that might suggest a connection to Amaurn.  Keeping at least one body between himself and Ymaar as he made his move, he nodded at anyone who glanced his way and then averted his eyes, leaving it at that.  In this manner he made it clear without incident, though he probably offended more than one Inquisitor who had tried to engage with him and met a solid wall.

Once he was outside the Sanctum, down a lengthy corridor and around a further corner, he sought a nook in which to conceal himself, of which this semi-derelict region offered many.  Then he dug out the well-used datapad and sent a coded message to Usmat, the operations man Zjivek had given him for this mission.  Usmat had lived most of his life in the Inquisitorial Fortress and had all his master’s veiled might behind him.  He apparently knew its peculiarities well enough, and carried sufficient clearance, to track a person remotely as they traversed the halls and corridors, burrowing through the security infrastructure like a worm.  Peering invisibly through distant auspex arrays, he would maintain communication and thus prevent Ymaar from giving Amaurn the slip in the event they realised they were being followed.  Transport would be waiting outside the walls, primed with false credentials and ready to pursue whatever conveyance their target might employ.  When his enemy went to ground the rest would be up to Amaurn, and he hoped their lair would not turn out to be some vast hereditary citadel in the shadow of the Imperial Palace.  The further off the official radar all this stayed the better for everyone, with the possible exception of Ymaar, who would be dead either way.  It didn’t take a local to know there was enough concentrated martial and political force on Terra to summarily erase anyone, however powerful, who courted the wrong kind of trouble.

The Inquisitorial Fortress, he had come to realise, was far from the singular controlled environment it had seemed during his first few tentative days.  Some of the intermediate regions, including this one, lived up to neither the grim martial austerity of the outer perimeter, nor the lavish ornamentation, ubiquitous surveillance and ruthlessly enforced order of the central district where the offices of important Inquisitors could be found.  Each of these grey zones, for so they appeared on some of the maps he had seen, had at some stage been deemed unnecessary or unsuitable for major operations, or else simply superseded by newer facilities elsewhere in the Fortress, and so much of their working population had trickled out.  De-prioritised for maintenance as a consequence of their relative disuse, many were now in a shocking state of disrepair.  As the effort that would be required to fully restore the areas continued to mount up, so their run-down condition rendered them ever-more unsuitable for recolonisation and the situation perpetuated itself.  Amaurn had exploited this neglect to the full when dealing with Odion, for it extended past the efficiency of servitor directives or the cleanliness of walls and floors, and security in the grey zones seemed correspondingly lax, perhaps after generations of Castellans lured into complacency by the all but impregnable barrier protecting their Fortress from the rest of the world.  He supposed there was an argument to be made that the requirement for internal policing was proportional to the density of Inquisitors in any given place, politics being what they were, but with the most of the deepest tunnels apparently considered a grey zone, and Terran bedrock reputedly riddled with sinister catacombs of unknown extent, he did not think much of the current approach.

The truth of the matter was, Terra was about the most densely populated planet in existence, at least in human terms, and yet the bulk of what had once been its southernmost continent, or over two per cent of the planet’s total surface area, had long ago been legally and literally ring-fenced by the Inquisition for their own exclusive use.  Amaurn would not have been the first to note that this placed their headquarters nearly as far from the Emperor himself as it could be while remaining on the same planet.  Maybe that was symbolic of the shadows in which they operated, or meant as a warning to would-be subversives of where any path away from the Emperor’s spiritual light would ultimately lead.  Then again, as a post-Heresy addendum to the Imperial hierarchy, perhaps the Inquisition had simply been the last to choose a spot in which to put down roots, and had grabbed up all they could of what remained. 

Regardless of the rationale, their command of this territory made little practical sense from a global perspective – or, for that matter, from the perspective of any visiting Inquisitor who took issue with the constant creeping chill that permeated the place.  Even counting the legions of scribes, savants, storm troopers and other servants the Ordos employed and therefore housed within their vast estate, including along with those the armies of ancient servitors which surely outnumbered thinking humans by at least three to one, there were nowhere near enough people in the Terran Inquisition to justify the space to which their forebears had laid claim.  Certainly nothing close to two per cent of the world’s population resided there, and yet the Fortress stretched between horizons, its uppermost sentry towers rising miles into the smog-choked atmosphere, competing with the haggard peaks of natural mountains that protruded here and there from the sprawl, as the fingers of a drowning man might have broken the surface of some long-evaporated sea.  The outer wall was as physically monumental as one might expect, putting many of those captive peaks to shame.  In addition to the potent psychic wards, the unbroken edifice towered so high, ran so deep and enclosed so absolutely that inside its boundaries, even the darkest crevices were on the whole an empty, desolate environment, thinly populated by scuttling things that shunned the light but rarely lacked for space. 

Most of the primary defences were automated, with the upper and outermost echelons of the Fortress exterior primarily given over to Ordo soldiers and combat servitors, while most of the inhabited sections were placed far deeper, well below the notional ground level – an oddity in itself on Terra, where a sub-structure’s relative height tended to indicate the status of its occupants.  Ostensibly meant to maximise the difficulty of gaining unauthorised access to closely guarded secrets, Amaurn saw this peculiar humility more as a safeguard against orbital bombardment, should it ever come down to that.  The Inquisition were nothing if not paranoid.  None of it did anything to prevent madness or corruption on the part of Inquisitors or their staff from spilling over into bloodshed, or to guard against sudden tunnel collapses, self-sealing airtight doors, malfunctioning servitors, escaped prisoners and whatever horrors might be lurking in the abandoned lower levels.  Only the Imperial Palace itself was more secure against intrusion, and yet outside a comparatively modest core complex of fearsome, well-lit magnificence, an Inquisitor would have been hard-pressed to find a more dangerous place on the planet in which to go walking alone without a gun in one hand and a reliable map in the other.

Those who still dwelled in the Fortress long-term, turning a collective blind eye to its hidden depths, were fortunate Guilliman’s famous Terran purges had let them be – or perhaps it was not a matter of luck, for he had no doubt the Inquisition would have joined in enthusiastically with that endeavour, never shy of exterminating the less fortunate.  In doing so, they might have earned the right to dig the weeds from their own garden, if they ever got around to it.  Maybe that’s what Zjivek was trying to do now, in his own twisted way.  Amaurn supposed he could hardly judge the Lord Inquisitor at this point, dirty as his own hands now were on the man’s behalf, but he didn’t have to like him, and did not.  Even a daemon could be an ally when all you needed was a sword, provided you had the will to bind and wield it, but the need for such weapons was created by the daemons themselves, and their occasional utility never stopped a man from hating the loathsome creatures.  Neither did he like Ymaar so far of course, which was for the best.  On an individual basis, he wasn’t sure he gave a damn about anyone on this side of the Great Rift, with the possible exception of the Emperor, who he would prefer kept doing whatever he did to keep the Astronomican running, but certainly did not expect to meet.

As it turned out he barely needed Usmat’s input during the initial pursuit, for Ymaar’s clanking footsteps were heavy and Amaurn was able to keep a safe distance without falling too far behind.  To his moderate consternation, he could neither make out any stray thoughts nor see their bio-electric field through the armour, rendering him psychically blind to their movements in all but the most general sense.  He could tell someone else was nearby, and could hear well enough they were heavily armoured, but there his insight ended.  That could become a problem later, but he reminded himself of how much more warp energy he would have access to when they left the Fortress, and was reassured.  Their meandering route avoided major thoroughfares and only the occasional servitor crossed their path.  One dank industrial tunnel was much like another to Amaurn, but Ymaar seemed to know where they were going.  Apparently unnoticed, he trailed the Inquisitor for the better part of an hour, ascending several levels in the process until they cleared the grey zone and arrived at an active transport node. 

Ymaar caught a mag-train from there towards Goldo’s Gate, one of the lesser perimeter exits according to the faded maps, and Amaurn was forced to board it too or else be left behind.  He did so at the last possible moment and onto the rearmost carriage, in a somewhat fatalistic nod to maintaining stealth.  The lights in the rust-dappled carriage were painfully bright in contrast to where he had been.  Still masked and cloaked, he sat in a corner and waited out the ride, which proceeded in short bursts.  His luck continued to hold, for no one paid him any attention and Usmat’s surreptitious messages assured him after every stop that Ymaar remained on board.  Passengers came and went station by station, though the train never reached full capacity.  Most of them looked like scribes and were universally engrossed in their respective scrolls.  If any noticed the telltale bulge of a sword through his robes, they kept it to themselves.  His enemy disembarked at the terminal as expected, by which time the rest of the mag-train was nearly empty, and Amaurn followed them far enough from there to be sure they intended to make use of the Gate itself. 

It wasn’t difficult to keep Ymaar in sight.  Half a head taller than him in their armour, they towered over anyone else they passed like an Ogryn in a Schola, solid as the trains themselves.  No one needed to see their rosette to know it would be there, and wherever they walked, striding with a proprietary air, the lower classes of the Fortress hurried to get out of their way.  This was the busiest Amaurn had seen a tunnel all day, but gradually the patchy crowds peeled off, funnelling down various side passages until Ymaar walked on alone, still heading North.  Either they had been onto him from the start and this journey was an elaborate ruse, or they were using Goldo’s Gate to leave the Fortress.  He would not lose them now, provided he could make his own exit in good time without being identified.  Usmat had repeatedly assured him that would be taken care of and it certainly better have been.  From what he could make out at a distance, wary of being seen too soon, there were scores of storm troopers surrounding the exit, and Amaurn carried no legitimate seal.  They did not seem surprised to see Ymaar approaching, nor threatened by their stature.  Going by their respective body language, Amaurn had the impression these soldiers had either been informed the Inquisitor sought passage ahead of time, or had dealt with them on enough prior occasions to form a routine.  He doubted he would have it quite so easy. 

Retreating a way back down the tunnel, he waited until he heard the grinding of adamantium, then felt a stinking breeze of toxic Terran air brush by, followed by the boom of the titanic portal resealing, which made the floor vibrate.  Apparently lacking any kind of postern, this must have been a minor gate indeed, like the one he had entered through when he arrived on Terra, for its guardians to have gone to the trouble of opening and closing the whole thing like that for the sake of a single Inquisitor.  They would probably be reluctant to re-engage the motors and open it up again for Amaurn, so soon after closing behind Ymaar.  It also seemed likely they might remember doing so later, if the right questions were asked.  Telepathy still told him nothing, for only a fool would try any psychic activity this close to the outer wards.  Then there was that sensory reminder of the worldwide miasma into which he was about to plunge…  Wishing he’d thought to demand a mask with a built-in rebreather, he counted out three more minutes before making his own approach. 

On first sight of him the troopers bristled, with some of them raising heavy hellguns in the direction of the tall, broad, hooded figure who swept towards their checkpoint like some spectre of death with a black cape billowing behind him.  Amaurn did not slow down, certain they would not fire until they knew who he was, approaching from inside the Fortress as he did.  Inquisitors were as fond of disguises as they were prone to lethal melodrama, as these soldiers surely knew well, and they had after all just made way for an armoured giant with a warped mirror for a face.  On the other hand, seeing as they were elite armed forces trained for permanent suspicion, he did not fancy his chances if he made to reach for the sword they must already have noticed lurking about his person. 

“Inquisitor Kilgrin, Ordo Hereticus, seeking passage through Goldo’s Gate with utmost haste.”

“Seal.  Writ.  Guarantor.  And take off the mask if you please, Inquisitor.”

“I do not please – in the Emperor’s name, we don’t have time for this!  I go to attend a grievous emergency, the specifics of which require Magenta level clearance for me to disclose.  Do you have it, Captain?  How about your men?”

“Seal.  Writ.  Guarantor.”

The visored Captain stiffened but did not budge.  Neither did Amaurn.

“That’s what I thought.  You aren’t cleared for an explanation and the gravity of this situation supersedes your standing orders.  Open it up man, the security of the Throneworld is at stake!”

Inwardly he groaned at the words coming out of his mouth.  This wasn’t going to work.  The troopers were scenting blood.  Then the Captain raised a forestalling hand, cupping the other against his helmet where it covered his ear.  Live comms in progress – was this an intervention for Amaurn or against him, or else entirely unrelated?  It must have been Usmat, or some other allied agent, for the officer immediately ceased his demands and in fact took a full step backwards before turning to bark at his subordinates, who dutifully initiated their preparations for the unsealing of Goldo’s Gate.  The hidden hand at work again, and not a moment too soon.  From there the storm troopers treated him as Guardsmen might treat a visiting regimental Commissar, and the suffering motors resumed their lament as they dragged the towering double doors apart.  As soon as there was enough space to admit his shoulders, he strode resolutely through. 

“Emperor go with you, Inquisitor Kilgrin,” they told the back of his hooded head, already reversing the gears.  Amaurn did not turn, nor reply beyond a casual wave of one hand, for he had sucked in a long breath and held it before the first gush of filthy atmosphere leaked in, and was not about to exchange that breath for a premature lungful of poisonous gas in the name of politeness.  There was a time he might just have killed the Captain when challenged and proceeded from there, consequences be damned.  Measured against such a standard he had been more than courteous, although on reflection, not even he could convince himself he would have survived taking that approach here.  He really did need to stop thinking in terms of what he might once have done, and to focus instead on what made the most sense to him now.  Any other road would only lead backwards, or else get him shot in the face, and he still had important deeds ahead of him.  There would be ample need for violence when he caught up with Ymaar again. 

Zjivek’s promised transport took the form of a fat black gunship which hovered like a horsefly within easy sight of the Gate, though Ymaar was nowhere in evidence.  A helpful message from Usmat arrived on the datapad with a dry ping, exalting Amaurn to hurry, as if he needed any more incentive than a lack of breathable air.  Many more storm troopers were waiting out here too, all of these wearing heavy gas masks, but they waved him on past them without delay and showed no signs of alarm when he broke into a run.  The low-flying aircraft was holding position over a gargantuan Gothic bridge that extended straight ahead for what must have been miles, to either side of which an open chasm fell away into yellow-brown mist.  A rope ladder unfurled from the plane’s belly, flapping back and forth in the wind of its engines as Amaurn sprinted to meet it, his robes billowing treacherously around him, his lungs clenching ever tighter as his body’s demands for oxygen ramped up.  The bridge appeared deserted and was too vast for him to make out the other side, wreathed in turning coils of rancid smog.  The cyclopean spires of distant Hives loomed like cloud banks in the distance, perforating and strangling one another in tumorous webs of connecting buttresses as they fought and procreated, forming a claustrophobic skyline that looked ready to collapse beneath its own weight, and in doing so further smother a suffocating world.  Above it all, overlaid by the ominous lights of the planetary defence grid, the hungry daemon smile of the Great Rift broke the pollution-tainted sky. 

Ignoring the ugly spectacle as much as anyone could, Amaurn finally managed to catch the undulating ladder and swung himself hand over hand towards the waiting hatch.  He may have been on the verge of passing out, but having come this far without a breath he preferred to take his chances – for all that he could have purged the toxins afterwards, inhaling the noxious fumes now after holding out so long would have felt too much like defeat.  They had better have a damn rebreather for him up there.


=][=


“You gonna be alright there, operative?”

“In…quisi…tor…damn...you…”

“No, you’re not.  We’ve all been briefed on this.  Right now you’re Operative Bulpit.  I’m Operative Ratsnaig and we are both Throne Agents under Inquisitor Verellist, investigating a lead on a nest of heretics in...well, wherever our target leads us, currently heading North-North-West in Regulated Airspace.  Sure you don’t need a de-tox?”

“M’fine.  Where’s my…a-hem…rebreather?”

“We don’t have a spare on board.  Everyone carries their own.”

“Then I’ll take yours.”

“No you–”

“Give me.  Your damn.  Rebreather.”

“N-n-n-n-here you go.”

“Let me be clear: I’ve been on tight rations recently, but we aren’t in the Fortress any more.  I don’t care how things are normally done or what the cover story is.  I’ve had more false identities today than I have conversations.  Whatever your rank and expertise, right now you’re a baseline human, sealed in a confined space with a psyker of more power than patience.  It’s already taking more effort not to kill you than it would to pop your head.”

Ratsnaig’s eyes widened slightly at that, though his face otherwise remained frozen.

“Luckily for you, I’ve been doing this since before your great-grandfather was born and I prefer not to waste men.  You won’t need a rebreather when we catch up with my target because as the ranking Inquisitor, I’ll be leaving you safe in here while I paint the walls with them.  Until then you’ll do as I say.  Blink if you understand.  Good.  Who else is on board?”

The agent swallowed hard.

“Only the pilot.”

“And where is the second gunship?”

“There’s no second–”

“Where is the second gunship?”

“I don’t know!  Behind us somewhere.  They’ll be tracking our movements.”

Amaurn rifled offhandedly through Ratsnaig’s surface thoughts, pulling back his hood as he did so to hang the commandeered rebreather around his own neck.  The mask he yanked off and discarded along with his expansive cloak, no longer needing the encumbrance of either.  It felt good to be himself again.  Ratsnaig wasn’t the agent’s real name of course, nor even his primary codename, and Inquisitor Verellist did not exist in any physical sense, but it seemed he was otherwise telling the truth.  His will was uncommonly strong for a minion, for all the good it had done him when push came to shove.  Zjivek must have known it would go like this.  Maybe not-Ratsnaig had been getting ideas above his station, and this was some kind of punishment detail from his perspective.  It seemed unlikely he knew anything useful beside what had already been disclosed – in light of that, Amaurn declined to crush his brittle mind to get at the marrow inside.  This utilitarian troop compartment lacked windows but he could feel the plane accelerating as it gained altitude, so the pilot already had their orders and should probably be left alone too.  It was after all the Lord Inquisitor, whose resources these were, who had marked Ymaar for death in the first place.  Assuming Zjivek had chosen his people carefully, they should be up to delivering his secret weapon without any more encouragement. 

Turning away from the sour-faced agent to avoid the man soiling himself, Amaurn drew his sword, igniting the blade with a piercing flare of psychic light, simply because he could.  It had been far too long.


=][=


« Last Edit: August 23, 2020, 04:23:49 PM by Mentirius »