The Ordos Majoris - Roleplay > In Character

The Ghost Worlds

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Dosdamt:
Recovery

“Forward, ease down... Jaq!”

The eyes of Jaquieline DuBois became focussed, sharp, incisive - and they switched instinctively to the source of the voice. Hound was shaken by the look.

“Sorry... Inquisitor. We’re training here. You just loo-“

“Looked distant. Yes. That observation is fair.”

Her tone did not agree with her words.

It was a few months after her run in with the Magos. Her own Biologis had asked no questions about the wound, though it was clear it knew what had removed her forearm. The teeth marks were unmistakable and the ragged flesh screamed chain weapon - chainaxe. It even looked like the imprint of the damned Mechanicus skull had been left in the flesh it had separated with ease.

At first she had been dismayed by her lost limb. Phantom fingers flickered at her face as she grieved for the lost limb. She had flashbacks of the moment her flesh began to come apart. She came to a start overnight covered in sweat and panting in fear, clawing at a wound that didn’t exist.

For a few days.

She resolved that it was not going to impact her work, and the first step was to get a replacement. She hadn’t spared any expense. It was a sleek, gilded tool no thicker than her flesh arm but with significantly more physical strength through her wrist and forearm and obviously much tougher than flesh. She pulled some favours with an associate from the Ordo Xenos to get her hand - hands? - on some miniaturized Jokaero weapons which slotted neatly into the fingers and knuckles of her new arm.

The replacement wouldn’t be complete until it was indistinguishable from flesh. It took some time to source the fleshy substitute, but it was worth it. Warm to the touch. A virtually imperceptible feeling of oil that only skin had. There was an age calibrated level of tension in her skin to match her flesh hand. It was the tactile sensation that could never be fully replaced. Though she could feel temperature, texture, abrasion and the hardness of a material it never felt accurate. The feeling was distant and alien, as if a barrier of consciousness experienced the feeling first before she did.

She could also crush plascrete in her hand with no effort beyond thought.

“Again?” Hound asked. He offered a salute with his training pick. The brawling room was as spartan square box containing three roped circles ready made for combat. The floor was hard wood, except within the circles where grip was provided by coarse grain sand. The walls were off white, dirtied from the slap of sweating bodies against them and spatters of crimson.

She nodded, rolling a training sword with her bionic hand.

“Forward. Thrust. Good.”

DuBois threw the sword through an arch, neatly following through and moving her feet through a tight pirouette. Hound came forward, matching her movements and stepping to one side, keeping his pick tight to his body. JD kept her momentum, swinging the blade around her in a second spin, stepping into Hound. He didn’t expect the follow through and awkwardly snapped his pick forward, deflecting the blade but stepping off balance. DuBois bulled into him, keeping Hound off-balance as he tried to lever her around. Hound went with his failing balance, allowing himself to fall and snap through into a crouched defensive position. A moment, just between him falling and snapping left his head exposed. Her hand itched.

“Don’t hesitate JD, attack,” hissed the mercenary, coming back at the Inquisitor in her momentary lapse. She blocked a cruel overhand blow that even with training weapons would have brained her senseless, before taking a kick in her guts. Hound didn’t hesitate and pressed his attack, clipping her elbow with a counter blow from the back of his pick, and a fizzed knee into her ribs. She took both and shuffled quickly backwards, regaining her guard as she snorted for air.

“Where are you Inquisitor throne-dammit,” Hound said, stalking round her, “You need to be here.”

He stopped looking for another angle to attack, letting the pick rest in his hand for just a moment.

“You need to be here, Inquisitor. You don’t have the time to re-learn this. You’re a field agent for Emperor’s sake. Perform like this in the field and you’re dead.”

Jacqueline shook her head, breathing deeply to restore her energy. Hound was right. She was off by a few moments. She never hesitated before - never. Even in training, she would’ve smacked Hound round his face for dropping his guard and leaving himself open the way he did. She saw the opening. She knew the cut. She flexed her hand, feeling the itch subside.

“Again.”

Hound burst forward, splitting the air with a whistling blow. DuBois parried the blow aside, landing a forearm across Hound’s ear. His equilibrium lost, she pressed her knee into his lower back with a spin which rattled him. Hound stumbled forward with a grunt that lead into a chuckle.

“Better, JD, better. Come on now, I’ll stop taking it easy.”

DuBois pressed into Hound, knocking aside his pick and grabbing the scruff of his collar with her bionic hand as she flung her him sideways then forward. Hound scuffed into the floor but went with his momentum, leaving the awkward pick behind. He kept his movement forward even as DuBois came after him with an overhead chop that whiffed throw the air he had just occupied. Hound grabbed a loose training sword, weighing it rapidly in his hand for balance and grip.

Better, he thought, now it’s time to see how she really is.

He spun the sword in a quick figure of eight noting her sagging guard, her feet were slightly too close together, and her sternum rising and falling - she was flagging. He came forward, feinting an ugly blow to her left which arced round into a head high shot. DuBois didn’t buy the feint and caught the blade with her own. The power of the blow surprised her, forcing her now clumsy feet to respond. She stumbled but moved quickly, regaining her balance despite a flurry of blows, each one caught by her sword or ducked beneath.

On better footing, she countered, leaving her guard deliberately lowered. Hound was an experienced swordsman and ignored the ruse, throwing a punch at her face instead of his sword which had matched her low assault. Jaq rolled through the punch, letting it clip her shoulder and slip into the air behind her. With his sword down and his other hand sliding over her shoulder, she grinned as she launched a vicious head butt into Hound’s face. His nose burst immediately, reopening an old scar on the bridge of his nose and battering open his long suffering nostrils.

Ruses, in ruses, in ruses.

Hound staggered back, blood leaking down his mount. He waved for a halt, touching his sword hand to his upper lip. Blood leaked down onto the sand. Pain pounded in his ears, and he could feel the blood vessels in his nostrils throbbing.

“For the love of the throne, Jaq, even the juves won’t re-straighten this nose.”

“They won’t make you prettier either.”

“Why were you distracted earlier?” Hound ventured in a dampened tone, seeing the sparring as pretty much over.

“I… It doesn’t matter.”

Hound noticed her flexing her bionic.

“Is it still that?” he pointed. She stared at her hand, then back to him.

“It’s a fair challenge JD.”

“What do you want me to say? Hmmm? Throne dammit, Hound, why are you all treating me like this? I’m an Imperial Inquisitor! I’ve seen you quail at some of the things I’ve faced down. I’ve seen you piss yourself like an estranged child.”

“I didn’t mean to-“

“None of you mean to, but you do. You look at me as your wounded mother. You expect me to look for solace from you all, a maternal embrace. The empathy of children. Do you want that? Do you want me to break down and let you all see a human side? A maternal side? Is that it?” DuBois spat, her eyes furious.

“No, I, ah, -“

“Leave it. Blessings be, leave it. I’ve lost my hand and half a step. I’ve replaced my hand and I’m training. Give it 60 Terran standard and I will be back to my best.”

Hound looked sheepish. He shuffled his feet as DuBois continued her glare. Silence was an uncomfortable guest, and it was busy overstaying its welcome. DuBois let her eyes drop to give Hound an opportunity to exit.

“Yes Inquisitor.”

DuBois didn’t watch Hound leave the brawling room. She spent another few minutes standing in the centre of the rope circle, flexing her hand.


=][=

Restoration

The Configuration was coming together. Inquisitor DuBois had preserved the original architecture in a sequence of scans, picts, vids and technical drawings.  She was overseeing efforts to re-assemble the whole configuration. The accompanying rituals were painstaking. But the beauty - the magnificent scale of arrogance in creating such a thing, was worth the effort. Each piece had to be re-assembled, and due to the tiresome issues with stasis storage some of the components needed renovation, repair or replacing. The backlog of those tasks was building steadily without support from the Mechanicus.

“How many components do we need support from the Mechanicus on?” Asked DuBois.

“Just short of a hundred now, Ja- Inquisitor,” replied Wakhan. He looked ground down. The long days and nights were taking a toll on him. He hesitated for a moment. It was clear he was yearning for another sliver of connection. DuBois knew she was denying him what he truly wanted, a human connection.

“Falid... Listen. I appreciate your support during my rehabilitation, but we need to get the Configuration online.”

“Yes” he sighed, but he started to press on “But I wan-“

“Now is not the time.” She responded without hesitation killing the conversation. Her voice was diamond hard and just as clear.

She wandered the assembly site, pausing to review individual pieces of the Configuration or assembly areas that piqued her interest. The individual pieces were far beyond her capability to understand but the grand vision - ah, the grand vision, the scale of it, the architecture... that she understood. The burning ambition behind such a creation was intense. White hot, even.

“We’re processing the parts through the shell corps and the Guard?”

“Yes Inquisitor. There have been some ..... interesting conversations about just where some of the parts have come from, or that the parts don’t fit an STC approved template. We’ve been able to smooth those over.”

“How?”

Walid sighed before continuing “With great difficulty. The more obviously exotic pieces we process via the Archeotech warrant with Ochre Corp. Our contacts at the Forge on Hiuluz know the deal and are pretty comfortable dealing with anything up to Xeno tech. They just don’t like volume. Some of the pieces are just standard STC tech - I should add, confusing find on a ghost world - we process those via the Lyrran Irregulars. Aligned AdMrch are cheerful if a little bureaucratic.”

Walid finished speaking as he arrived at a table of catalogued parts. Each was bagged and annotated, with a short description and a log number.

“Pieces like this” he waved a crystalline matrix which despite the glossy plastic bag it was in sparkled in the light, “Pieces like this.... they are tricky. The Irregulars won’t ever have tech this complex. We know the rules on the Archeotech Charter and to be frank Inquisitor we need to keep it.”

He placed the matrix back on the counter, before rubbing his eyes then his temples. His shoulders slumped and the usual spark of energy that jumped across his eyes, his hands, his demeanour, ebbed.

“Listen, Jaqueline. Inquisitor. There is an alternative here, if you’ll hear me out.”

His eyes locked in the Inquisitor. Jaq knew this would be serious.

“Go on.”

“There’s stories - a fable, really, of a sect. This sect are really selective in who they deal with. Diligent, slow. They float in Inquisitorial circles, but they’re very much of the Mechanicus. I’ve heard from contacts of contacts that their leader....” Walid slowed, then paused for effect.

“Visionary.” he couldn’t help but express his hands and his arms to their full span. “Rumour has it they’ve built incredible things!”

“Technoheresy?”

Falid furrowed his brow. A flicker of wicked energy played across his eyes.

“How droll, Jaq. No, if there’s a line on that, if that phrase really means anything.”

The energy ignited.

“Progress.” his pause was enough to push emphasis into the next words, “Real progress. Purpose. Experiments beyond our ken, beyond our experience. Steps back into the unknown. Throne, Jaq, it’s why we dig on these damned dead worlds. Our race once looked outward, you’ve seen the records from Veyran-“

“Broken, incomplete records.” DuBois countered carefully.

“Records nonetheless. From the compliance, from the Great Crusade and the enlightenment. Jaq, isn’t that what we dig for?”

She could feel the phantom itch. It gnawed at her, raking up her leg and across her chest, at her eyes and then behind them. Her finger tips - her nails - bringing up her flesh. It abated slowly, leaving her with goosebumps down her artificial limb.

“Get in contact. Delicately. Use Grixos, throne-damned toad that he is. Broach the subject delicately - we don’t know exactly who knows about the Configuration and how we’re planning to use it. We don’t need that attention. Coordinate with the secondary and tertiary cells - have them send the missive, keep the actual message need to know.”

“Thank you Jaq, you won’t regret this!” Walid replied. His choler was up, and he bowed his hands as he quickly made his way to execute her orders.

=][=

Dosdamt:
Revelation I

“You held back you hoary old goat, and damn you for doing so!”

DuBois slammed the door to the cell shut. Several lit candles across the room rippled in the gust of air.

“Glad to see you, Jacqueline.” Grixos said as rose to greet her. His face looked more dischevelled than usual in the flickering light.

“Don’t play polite old scholar with me this time, Grixos, don’t you dare.”

She slammed a datapad down on his desk.

“Sit over there,” she said, pointing to a chair next to his desk. Creaking and groaning he did as he was bid, albeit taking his time. As he settled, Jaq had already sat across from him with her fingers piqued in front of her.

“Read it.”

“What, Inquisitor, there are a myria-”

“Don’t. Play. Games.”

Her eyes locked onto the old man.

Grixos had been ready to retire by the time DuBois had found him, and tempted him with her whispers of lore, of the Horus Heresy, of extraordinary findings out in the Ghost Worlds. His interest stimulated, he agreed to meet her. That was 50, 51 years ago now? Time was difficult for him to follow given the cocktail of juvenants, drugs, and stimulants that DuBois fed him daily. At the time she caught him, he’d resisted. He resisted for two years - against torture, negotiation, even psychic assault. All had failed until he found himself on the bridge of her ship, overlooking one of the worlds housing his network. He could see her lances were pointed directly at his estate on the world. He’d said nothing as she unleashed catastrophe down onto the surface.

The second time, he held firm as well. The world - Arraithon - had housed a full quarter of his librarium and most of his closest staff. His treatise on Inquisitorial factions was housed on Arraithon. His research into the Ghost Worlds and the early days of the Great Crusade. His only relic of Terra, a piece of the Eternity Gate, hung in a stasis field in the laboratory in Arraithon.

DuBois showed him the intelligence reports - it was all still there. She showed him picts of his loyal Interrogator-Archivum, Daivid Bratten, busying himself with a fresh delivery of relics from one of his various cells. They were still operating. That had steeled him, for a few moments. DuBois let her hand drop as his defiant silence filled the bridge.

He still remembered the way her vessel shuddered under his feet. Moments later, the pict-screens showing his old estate live went blank. The explosions sent plumes of dust into the stratosphere.

Still, he stood silent before black took him again.

The third time he found himself on her bridge, they were over DX-488. DX-488 housed his most precious manuscripts - a copy of Sebastian Thor’s treatise on Resurrectionist Fundamentals; the blessed verses of Muundus Vhogart; the last testament of Karius Prelune. He’d preserved the last two in the conflagration between the Puritan Council and the Terran Recongregators that had wrecked the Council and knocked them out of primacy on Terra. The first had taken him 12 years of sole focus to track down. Down beneath the kilometer thick black ice, behind the orbital defences, locked in a vault of plascrete so thick it had taken nearly a year to lift into place - all of it helpless to the seal. His central archive, for Throne’s sake! All of the data he’d accumulated over decades - no, near 3 centuries! - of service with the Inquisition. His own original research.

The place he intended to see out his final days.

His legacy.

It should have been safe there.

And he had tried to hold himself together. Emperor knows, he had tried. He watched the first volley with anxiety twisting his intestines. It arced out from the lances and stuttered through space. Time slowed. He watched on helpless as his servitors and savants milled around on the live pict feed in the base, completely oblivious to the destruction racing towards them. The lances struck the ice.

Both DuBois and Grixos stood for several minutes, waiting for the vapour and static to clear from the feeds. The first volley hadn’t been enough.

“Time for a second volley, Cap-”

“No! No, Inquisitor, no! I beg you….. No no no... “

It broke him. She. She had broken him. He remembered how he had fallen to his knees, how he sobbed. His shoulders had rattled like a bolter. Gouts of tears fled from his eyes. He cried primally, uncontrollably. He had broken enough men to know what came next.

Through the dark, back into cold light, he found himself back in his cell. He’d been furnished with a quill, enough paper to last a lifetime and more besides, and his thoughts straightened. DuBois had been waiting like a spider in a web for him to wake him.

She had given him the same look that day, when he’d come around, when he’d come around from being broken, as she gave him today.

“Read it Grixos. Read it.”

She pointed at the data slate. Grixos hesitated, reading her face. He could see she was very serious - the fury bubble behind her eyes. He’d learned how to read people during his field service and knew how to push DuBois at the right times. This wasn’t one of them. Slowly - not deliberately - he reached for the slate.

His bionic face gurned as he absorbed the report burning on the data slate. He sighed, and returned the slate to the desk. His fingers ran through the remaining whisps of hair on his liver marked scalp, holding out like refugees on a fleshy plain.

“It’s an after action report.”

“Yes. Continue.”

“Inquisitor, ple-“

“Continue. I didn’t say stop.”

She hadn’t been cruel. Not for extended periods anyway. She left it a decade or so before she showed him the truth. Neither DX-488 or Arraithon were ever in real danger. While he had been occupied fighting another one of the Puritan Council’s wars, she had been busy. She had burrowed into each of his hold outs, each of his fortresses, and each of his shell companies carefully seeding agents. She had his own people removed - killed, she regretted - and replaced with people loyal to her. Slowly, she took control, steering his own resources away from him until, without him noticing, she had control of everything. The lack of logistical support had starved him while out in the field - of intel, of materials, and of people. When DuBois caught him, he was on the run from the Recongregator menace with barely enough supplies to last three days and his last interrogator.

To show intent, she had his interrogator flayed alive as they cuffed and bagged him at the rendezvous. He’d been desperate for any support for months.

Once he’d seen the truth, the whole wicked truth, he suspected his last shred of self fell away. He was a grown infant on the teat.

They call me Ampulex, she said with a shrug. Some ancient Terran beast notorious for systematically turning a host slowly against itself and it’s own interests. She had been meticulous and patient. From the husk of his organisation came hers, and in his name, she prosecuted hundreds of investigations. She hung over the complex nest as a ravenous arachnid, consuming data and those children who didn’t - or couldn’t - perform. She needed him for his name and his seal, and to maintain the facade.

He needed her because he was incontinent and a mental ruin.

“It is my after action report, Jacqueline, from Delan’s Point. Some centuries ago.”

“Yes, it is. And what’s funny is this - it is broadly believed that the righteous purging at Delan’s Point was the end of this cell of radicals. But Maltheus has re-emerged. ‘It seems rumours of my death are grossly exaggerated’. His seal was confirmed. Jarrod Hal provided posthumous pardons for Maltheus and Stryde, for Throne’s sake. They weren’t traitors, they never were. Hal paid for that with his life! I’ve trawled your files. I thought this was true - misguided, stupid, a waste of resources, time, effort - but true. And now this. You hid this. You and the whole Council.”

DuBois paused for a few moments.

“The purging was a sham, wasn’t it?”

Grixos had long lost all semblance of resistance. He felt his hold on reality warp for a few seconds. His stomach became a pit and his breathing heavy.

“I wanted my seal. I’d served Muundus for so long, always stuck behind the data, always trawling through evidence, taking statements, prosecuting his trials. I… I wanted freedom, I wanted to lead. I wanted to set the direction. It was my time. I’d been an Interrogator-Cipher for years. When… when we got to Delan’s Point…”

Grixos’ voice began to waver.

“Throne…. when we got to Delan’s…. I’m sorry Inquisitor.”

DuBois let silence linger while Grixos collected himself.

“My… my senses don’t recall. The drugs leave my memory clouded.”

Time folded in on itself over and over as Grixos sought the memories.

“It was a mess, a warzone, a rift of blasphemy. Daemons were everywhere. Of course some of the heretics didn’t escape. We had proof - blood, bodies, armour scraps and weapons. A library of manuscripts and books, thousands of them. There was a slaughter. We waded into it - they, I suppose…. the fighting was brutal. Man fought daemon fought heretic fought xenos. I watched on the vid links, helpless. I watched men wither into dust. I saw daemons cast back into the warp cackling. I saw the face of hatred. It looked me in the eyes and I remember it flaying my will thousands of kilometres away. Bu’Ran. That name is etched into my mind forever.”

Grixos cracked again for a few minutes, weeping openly and softly gibbering.

“I…. I wrote the report, Emperor help me. We all knew it was false but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they were gone. The Mentirians, Sargoth, and the damned mutant. Consorting with Eldar for thrones sake! We knew it was wrong. The fact their compact with daemons had gone awry we didn’t care - who were we to argue with the outcome. The method didn’t matter. It didn’t! They were all dead, or dying, or doomed. We mopped up the remnants as best we could and took enough evidence to justify the rest being dead.”

Grixos shook himself back to normality. The walls were crawling around him again, and for a moment he would’ve sworn in front of the Throne that Bu’Ran’s face leering pushed through the wall like a fist through fabric.

“The message from Maltheus is a fraud. Hal cleared him and Stryde - hah! Rubbish. Nonsense. Check the vaults on Terra where we left their seals, their equipment, their manuscripts - all of it. You’ll find it gone.”

Grixos had perked up. DuBois saw his shoulders square, his teeth gurn and grind as his hands shook.

“Lie with dogs, get fleas. He knew what he was doing. Mentirius, Sargoth, Amaurn - all of them were radical scum, far gone from the Emperor’s light. Aestimus, Aithol, call it whatever you like - it was all false. AmonDull was a fiction made up to justify the worst excesses of those damned Xanthites. A shadow enemy no one saw, an enemy Balkoth-! Balkoth!- birthed for the Inquisition to fight so he could experiment on the child he put a sacred rosette on. Some saw through it, I have the records. But they indulged him and centuries later comes the consequence - the Order Vsmpiris, the traitor Mentirius, then Delan’s Point. We purged that taint out, finally all out, and we were justified at every step.”

Grixos was lucid now and the old fire had been stoked.

“Yes I wrote the damned report. I wrote it for Muundus and I did it to collect my seal. I was trusted as one of the finest Interrogator-Ciphers in the Ordos. I had heft and weight already. Everyone lapped it up - the final death throes of the Mentirians. A death blow for Xanthism, finally! The celebrations on Terra went for days. Better times…. better times.”

Grixos took a sip of water.

“You can sit and you can judge me. You can argue whatever you want Inquisitor. What we did was right - we did it in the name of the Emperor. All of them died. All of them. No one is left.”

DuBois sighed.

“Vhogart is going to be beatified. Since Guilliman’s return the Faith have been itching to ignite a spiritual revival. He’s been lying in repose on Terra for nearly four decades. On a lie. His final year before sanctification passes in… 8 months time. We’d be lucky to make it back to Terra in a year. Maybe 10 months. Astropaths out here? Back to Terra? Not serviceable. This is an unprecedented victory for the Puritan Council, they’ll swing the Lord-Terran vote with it.”

Grixos looked infuriated.

“And? Why should I care? Every man, woman, child, mutant, witch, heretic I flayed, flamed or filleted for that man deserved it. Who cares if they were guilty, innocent, whatever; it’s all the same. Muundus was many things, but chief among them was visionary. He saw the truth of things - evidence didn’t matter, trials didn’t matter, he saw to the core of beings and he was always right. The Emperor acted through him. The man deserves beatification and veneration.”

“I should’ve left you to the Ultramanians.”

“Hah, there’s the spite. It was in you all along, DuBois. Go ahead. Kill me, throw me out of an airlock. Cut my head off. Flay me and leave me alive! None of it matters. Muundus be praised! St Muundus Vhogart! Emperor be praised!”

Grixos began cackling uncontrollably. DuBois signalled for the sedatives to be administered. Almost immediately Grixos began to slump. His bladder emptied and drool ran down what was left of his skin on his face. DuBois clapped her hands on her knees, and with a sigh stood up. She loomed over Grixos.

She grabbed his chin with her thumb and forefinger, bringing his face straight in line with hers as she looked down at him, eye to eye.

“I won’t kill you Grixos. I’m going to let you liv- make you live, for many many years to come. You’ll serve me. I’ll continue to feed you whatever I want, I’ll drug you, give you hallucinations for my amusement - and, when the time is right, I’ll atomise your legacy and your name right in front of you. And then, and only then, will I give you the privilege of death.”

=][=

Dosdamt:
The Seat of Devotion

DuBois moved with purpose through her ship. The full design of the ancient Tomb of Kaires, an Olympia class strike cruiser, was only known to DuBois. She had found the ship out in the ghost worlds, long abandoned and barely held together. The world it orbited had been annihilated by exterminatus and, even after a significant passage of time, was still quite dead. The ship had been a revelation - one that needed to be kept secret. Every other soul who had been there when she’d found it had been mind wiped then ejected into space. The crew who travelled with her to restore the ship went the same way. DuBois let herself linger on the thought that both crews were likely still spinning around that dead world holding her secrets amusing her for a moment. Only DuBois now knew the original heraldry on the ship. She hadn’t revealed that to anyone.

Only DuBois knew about the secrets that wreck housed when she found it.

The bowels of the ship were where she held her deepest secrets. Her footsteps rattled in the lonely bowels, bouncing off the metal surfaces with a tik-tak, tik-tak that echoed throughout the ranging corridors. Only she was allowed to go down into her vaults on the ship. Blindly obedient guards stood at the doors to the sarcophagi. They were intimidating servitors - each of them sat like predatory porcupines, ornery with spines but, underneath the spines, claws made for killing powered by an attitude only interested in propagating death. They were only ever a keyword away from ultra violence. At the edge of the sarcophagi revealed a solitary gate, opened through a combination of her retinal print, her voice, her thumbprint and her seal. It was a ritual now. The Lacus Curtius was the final lock, a unique puzzle of her own design. The consequences for failure were fatal.

She walked the darkened corridors of the sarcophagi, noting each of the stasis fields were active and well maintained. She paused to admire the relics she’d collected, noting the depth of her collection now. Some of the vaults were filled with the ghosts of the past. Others the sins of the present. They would all speak to her through the stasis field, telling her of time gone by, of previous ages, of secrets from another age that were exclaimed fact in their day. Others would play at the edge of her consciousness whispering and tempting her. She flicked through schematic scans and catalogue reports on a portable datascroll, flicking through the latest digs she was orchestrating across a dozen worlds. She consumed data with a voracious appetite at a frightening speed. She flicked her thumb through affirmations and directions as she slowed to her destination.

In the heart of her sanctum she found a familiar pair of golden doors that were perfect replicas of the Eternity Gate. She swept up to the doors. She would notice new details each time she came, marvelling at the craftwork and the genius required to reproduce all of the minutiae from Holy Terra. It was an indulgence, a little something of the throneworld. It had been so long since she’d been home - the grand home of course,  not her home world, and she felt this grounded her in her overarching goal mission. She also had an appreciation for fine artisan work and this was truly exquisite. Above her Eternity Gate, in fine threaded font across a perfectly produced gold scroll were the words

Cathedra Devotis - the seat of devotion.

Embedded sensors in the door sensed her presence. They analysed 48 physical attributes in microseconds, before approving passage. The Eternity Gate swung open.

The revealed chamber was cavernous and woefully dim. As DuBois entered a flock of cherubim awoke and arose from their alcoves, igniting electro candles. Each of the ugly, veiny, pudgy creatures hurtled towards their master to form a grotesque honour guard. The light from the electro candles swirled in waving patterns as a tide across the chamber. At the edge of the wavering border of light a form writhed, then rattled with a metallic chang that echoed for a moment.

Close to DuBois, revealed fully from the gloom, was a fulsome recreation of the golden throne. Few had truly seen the actual golden throne. DuBois had spent considerable fortunes tracking down first hand accounts of the throne. Through this extensive research, she had painstakingly recreated details that she validated through her vast network of contacts. One of her Terran contacts maintained to her that they had spoken extensively with a former member of the Hetaeron Guard who had served his vigil. Another relic in her vast collection was ‘The Final Recollections of St Methusela of Terra, Auditorii Imperator”. St Methusela had dedicated a vast tract of her memoir to her audience to the Emperor revealing in excruciating detail everything she could remember except the few words she received from the Emperor. DuBois tracked down several Inquisitors who had served, even if temporarily, as a High Lord. They were privy to details of the throne that she synthesised and devoured.

And so it was - the functional, wired throne that sat on Terra recreated in obsessive detail. Of course, the aesthetics hadn’t been ignored. Gold gilt was present as an accent to everything. Great spread eagle wings soared above the seat of the large Aquila, intimidating and awe-inspiring in equal measure. DuBois mused to herself that, on a level, it was a shame that only she would ever get to enjoy this fine re-creation. She had pieced the thing together herself, down here in the sanctum. It had taken her an age and more besides, it stretched her technical expertise to the limit, but she dedicated herself to the task and here, assembled, was her throne. The aesthetics of the piece took her months. She was proud of each piece of filigree and every flourish she’d worked through. Everything else spoke exclusively of function. Thick wires, tubes, revivification diodes. Mechadendrites that ended in clutches of needles. Each of them parted as she made her way up the steps to the ascend onto the throne. She placed herself very precisely into the centre of it.

In front of her throne, the chamber began to reveal some of its secrets in the flickering candle light. Hundreds of thin wires came down in a complex web from the ceiling. From each of the wires grew tiny, cruel hooks, and from each of these hundreds of tiny micro fibres disappeared into the darkness. A sparkle of dark lime energy played down the hooks prompting a deep groan from something in the darkness. A single, thick support strut came out of the centre of the room, holding … something in place. Several bionic work arms revealed themselves in the gloom, tending to something in the middle of the room. The arms moved autonomously and gently tended to the package at the centre of the web.

DuBois sat upright and finely poised as the light played over the chamber. A cherub came down with a bottle of amasec, another with a finely cut glass. A third arrived with a bucket of ice - the fourth and final brought a new data pad. Behind her, the throne began to move, slipping needles into the back of her neck, into her arms, down in the seat of her legs and the base of her spine. The routine of it meant the pain didn’t register. The amasec was poured into the glass to her right, then the bottle positioned gently into the bucket of ice. The data pad was placed to her left. She picked both up, drinking a small snifter from the glass.

Ahead of her, something stirred in the chamber groaning.

“Qatya. I wondered when you’d come around.”

=][=
The Host

“Name?”

“Qatya Fanham.”

“Rank?”

“Acolyte Tertius, Most Holy Ordos of the Inquisition.”

Qatya is a generational talent. First in aptitude, intelligence gathering, interrogation, combat, pattern detection, critical thinking, empathy, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. First in gunplay - bolt, auto and las; first in melee - hand to hand, sword, axe, and staff; first in covert operation execution.

Qatya ascends quickly through the ranks. Acolyte Novus, Secundus, Tertius; Interrogator Novus, Secundus, Primus. She works with luminaries in every field in the Inquisition. She applies her keen mind to treatise analysis, publishing several papers on Imperial Saints, effective governance of the Adeptus Administratum, and the reformation of the Imperial Faith under Roboute Guilliman.

“Name?”

“Inquisitor Qatya Fanham.”

“Sector of Operation?”

“Scarus.”

“Ordo?”

“Hereticus.”

“Speciality?”

“Investigation and reformation of governance on Imperial Worlds. Purges of worlds leading to reformation in the Imperial light.”

Qatya makes a name for herself. She serves with distinction across a dozen worlds, bringing them back to the Imperial Light, rooting out deep corruption and restoring order. She builds a vast network of contacts, resources and fortresses throughout the Scarus Sector. Her vast intelligence network is unparalleled in Scarus.

Inquisitor Qatya Fanham is granted several unique awards from the Ordo Scarus. She makes profound advances in the interpretation of scripture, the application of Imperial Justice, and the fight against Chaos in the Scarus Sector.

Throughout all her success. At every step. Watching. Waiting.

Qatya moves further up the chain building a network of political allies across the Inquisition. She makes friends with the Lord Scaran, with the Lord Solar and the Lord Ultramar, with the Lord Obscuran. Her influence grows - she builds a hive of activity at her command, centred in key allies and key alliances. She builds and her roots grow deep.

Qatya diligently investigates heresies across the sector. Qatya Fanham hovers like a harrier over the field of the sector, swooping rapidly in and destroying cults, dissenters, daemonic hegemonies alike with precision. She sweeps through world after world, a burning trail of righteous justice following her.

The unseen hand of an ally helping schemes to succeed where they might not before.

=][=

Dosdamt:
Sighting the Prey

DuBois looked through the reports she’d been provided with for the day. Her full focus was given over to Qatya Fanham. Jaqueline had first become interested in the prodigy when she was made available as an Interrogator in the Scarus Sector. DuBois had multiple interests in Scarus, running expeditions out to the Ghost worlds in the Halo. She had shown interest in Qatya for many years and offered her several investigations under her tutelage. Each time a polite decline had been provided and Fanham had moved on.

DuBois had attempted to reach out multiple times once Qatya got her seal - overtly, covertly. It hadn’t mattered to Qatya. She was single minded, strong willed, and incredibly focused on her work. Jaqueline admired those traits deeply. DuBois had wanted to form an alliance, a strong alliance, that would’ve secured the Inquisition’s hold on the sector for generations and positioned Fanham for the position of Lord of the Sector. In turn, DuBois could have continued to operate from the shadows, tugging gently at the skeins of fate to right them where they might be wronged. Correct course, rather than set the direction, and rightly so. DuBois had the foresight, the influence, the strategic vision to advise and to mentor. She saw Qatya as the perfect extension of that will, able to execute flawlessly. They would be magnificent together. But time and again she was rejected, time and again Fanham knew better or had a better lead, she hadn’t the time to consider it properly. The last few times DuBois reached out, via an intermediary, she wasn’t even responded to personally. It was an acolyte.

The final nail in the coffin had been New Haverford. It had changed everything. And now, DuBois was sharpening her sting.

Fanham’s network was compact but growing. Several small bases of operation had been established on Sarum, Lorwen and Femi’s Major. DuBois had carefully catalogued and begun reconnaissance on each.

Sarum was the central hub. It was within the Inquisitorial fortress - a blessing in disguise she thought to herself - and comprised of a large complex of training rooms, barracks, and research adjuncts. It was here that Fanham came to reflect and coordinate her full network. As Fanham had been active in the field for most of the last decade and was expected to continue, her hub had simply become a data processing facility.

Lorwen was a black site. Each inquisitor knew the value of having a site they could have valuable assets removed to and that included human assets. Be they witnesses central to an investigation, or heretics that needed debriefing, it was essential that somewhere safe, secure and separate from the rest of the network was available at all times. Her facility on Lorwen was at the southern pole, beneath the permafrost and further underground after that. A revolving door of assets came through Lorwen.

Femi’s Major was a trading post world, and in support of that Qatya had befriended a Rogue Trader, Harren von Horst. In return for using her seal to cover the excesses of his trading, Horst provided her with a supply of exotica and fresh intelligence. Horst was known to be a braggart and often risked his Warrant of Trade gambling. So far, so good. The brawling pits on Faraday’s Breach were his favourite vice.

DuBois could see the first patterns forming in her mind.

Data. She needed data on Fanham, on her retinue, on her broader network, on her current investigations, on her deepest interests, on her vices and weaknesses.

An insider. Lorwen would be difficult to infiltrate given its location and purpose. Getting someone inside, either as an asset or as an interrogation expert would give her insight into Fanham and a route to start poisoning her intelligence.

To finalise the scheme, she would need to own someone intimate with Fanham and her broader operation. She needed leverage on that individual. Creating leverage and unfair advantages were her specialty.

She began by sending Falid to Femi’s Major. Wakhan was a consummate operator in trading circles. He would be able to quickly conclude the priorities Fanham was trading after and provide that data back to DuBois. That in turn would enable the next strand of her plan. Hound and Phantom would be dispatched to Faraday’s Breach. It was important each emerging strand of her operation was in motion simultaneously and Hound was a consummate pit fighter. He could move into the fighting championships and begin to gnaw on blood there like a ravenous tick. Phantom would make sure Hound couldn’t lose.

She would travel to Sarum herself. Getting her hands on data was imperative and her hand in the operation was essential. She took with her Havoc, Rapture, Doppel and Taurus. She could pick up agents specialised in subterfuge, sabotage and the digital arts along the way. Positioning herself at the centre of Fanham’s own web of intelligence would allow her to more effectively maneuver pieces around and away from Fanham, as well as poisoning the well. The knowledge gained would give her the profiles of most of the operatives under Fanham’s direction. That was vital intelligence.

DuBois had no doubt this was the riskiest and most dangerous of her intended Ampulex schemes. She would have to be sure she had the measure of Fanham before she executed her scheme. Flickering candlelight haunted the room around her. Ahead of her, her finest creation hung like a monstrous centipede from the ceiling, waiting for its guest.

DuBois took a sip of amasec. She licked her lips.

Her appetite was peaking.

=][=
The Flayed God

+++ Society of Archeotech and Excavatory Explorators +++
+++ Report : For Society Eyes Only +++
+++ From : Jaali Wakhan, Archeotech Explorator Primus Class, Ochre Corporation +++
+++ Subject : GY-139 +++

Executive Summary

GY-139 can be found on a periphery of the Halo Stars, Segmentum Obscurus, Rim-ward adjacent to the Koronus Expanse. It is officially a ghost world - we confirmed through scans and several planet wide sweeps that all human life has been extinguished. Estimates from our excavation suggest the world has been dead for nearly 7 000 years. It is likely the world was first populated during the Age of Strife, though this is largely speculative. Further work will be required to confirm the veracity of the following speculation, but based on the evidence gathered to date we believe there is solid grounding for these rationales.

GY-139 most likely received two waves of settlement. The original settlers likely arrived between 28th and 29th millenium, and built the foundations of a society on GY-139. Here we find the culturally distinct mesolithic ruins - temples built to celebrate deities, large scale festival grounds and huge settlements dominated by a central palace.

The second wave of settlement is speculated to have arrived in the 32nd millenium. These settlers brought with them one key cultural change - the worship of the God-Emperor. It appears to have been integrated into local worship practices creating a unique branch of Imperial Faith. Ratification by the Eccelsiarchy will be required to avoid the requirement to fully purge the full world and all artefacts obtained on the world. The Ochre Corporation has already started the process of filing the relevant documentation and will follow the adjudication of the Ecclesiarchy to the letter, as is appropriate.

The cause of death for the full population of GY-139 is unknown. Usual indicators as to the cause of an extinction level event, such as the use of atomic or other weapons of mass destruction, exterminatus weapons, plague, famine, asteroid strikes, and solar events, have all been ruled out. Full geological and ecological survey revealed the ecosystem to be in full balance with rich flora, fauna and microbial life. No residual or actual climate destruction was detected. The atmospheric balance is within Terran normal balances and is eminently liveable. We will continue to follow up to discern the cause of depopulation.

GY-139 is covered in extensive, lush grasslands. Each of the various types of grass have been catalogued and all samples found within Imperial databases. All fauna native to the grasslands that could be immediately catalogued within the 2 month expedition were catalogued and, again, found to already exist within Imperial databases. It is to be noted none of the species appear to be original and native to this world. There are some suggestions of terraforming - there are extensive atmospheric processors at both the southern and northern poles, but nothing to indicate the requirement to terraform was at tremendous scale or intensity. Deep core soil and icecap samples taken suggest some atmospheric balances that were likely corrected for comfort as opposed to necessity. See Appendix 3 for an extensive breakdown of these samples, including the radioisotope analysis leading to our conclusion.

During our initial analysis of the world, we identified 14 large settlements worthy of further investigation. Further directed sorties to these population centres narrowed the list down to three hubs that warranted detailed excavation. Within 3 Terran standard days we found multiple worthy relics and data sets to examine. We provide a detailed breakdown of each of these as follows in Appendix 1.

+++ Report Continues….. +++

+++ Search command - Le sede k'i'inan devocional +++
+++ Executing….. +++

+++ Section Found - Display? (Y/N) +++


While many of the datastores for the world were Standard Template Construction and should have been eminently salvageable, we encountered significant challenges in accessing and restoring the vast swathes of data available on GY-139. We retrieved all significant stores and will retain them for the society to access in the near future. Of the few we found to be accessible, the most interesting is the treatise “Worshipping the Sun-God - The Seat of Devotion”.

As with many other Imperial subcultures, the God-Emperor is rightly worshipped and, in this culture, is worshipped in His form as a sun deity. This writer passes no judgement on the ignorance of savages, failing to recognise the unending forms of the Emperor as the true method of worship, and instead will focus on the particulars and peculiars of this form of worship.

GY-139 has a large number of moons operating in a perfect set of orbits enabling there to be several lunar eclipses across a year. More bizarre than this is that the two planets between GY-139 and its star, GY-001, are exactly in proportion relative to their position to perform an intra planetary eclipse of the star. This means that the GY-001 star is in a state of constant birth and rebirth across the year (approximately 1.8 Terran standard years). We consider this to be the root cause of the name of the Emperor on this world.

Tlatlauhcax - the flayed god.

Broken data retrieved suggests that the Emperor is viewed on this world has being in a constant state of death and rebirth, striving to provide the surface with life sustaining sunlight despite the best efforts of the others in the pantheon - notably, Cuutláhuac, the prime betrayer; Ahuiateteo, the prince of excess; and Xolotolahuac, herald of disease. Note the direct equivalence with a number of traitor primarch personas.

Further broken data indicates a belief that each of these personas assault the God-Emperor and bathe Him with their evil. To break free, He must shed his skin and become renewed. We find this behavior to be found in a number of apex predators on this world, including the Cutlehuancac Hunting Cat, translating literally as ‘Thunder King’. This remarkable mammal has a cycle of renewal that involves shedding large portions of its skin. This death world species was imported here and seems to have become a roaring success. Further details are included in a separate report.

Given the prevalence of skin shedding in nature and the symbolic importance in the celestial conjunctions above, it follows that the ritualistic flaying of skin could become central to the worship of the God Emperor.

Le sede k'i'i hinan devocional - literally, the seat of agonising worship - was a common practice used on the world to show absolute devotion to the Emperor. The devotee would spend 14 days (local, approximately 14.7 Terran Standard days) ritually cleansing and being tattooed with detailed pictograms showing Tlatlauhcax renewing victory over the other members of the pantheon. Once the period of preparation - kauitli yokoya - was completed the devotee would be brought to the grand cathedral.

At the heart of the cathedral we found a great stone plinth. Around the plinth were great blood stains - ancient blood - that had stained the rock down the ages and settled permanently into the stone. The devotee would be placed upon this pedestal, and a caste of priests, quite similar to the existing ecclesiarchy, would ritually flay all the skin off the devotee. Due to a complex cocktail of drugs, juvenants, anesthetics and medical procedures, the devotee would remain fully conscious and without significant immediate pain for the first few hours. After this, the agony would return. However, due to the technique, medical care, and on-going monitoring most devotees could expect to live for several days after, howling their pain to the flayed god until a combination of shock, exposure, blood loss or infection took them.

Unfortunately, due to severe data corruption, we were not able to retrieve all of the pertinent details for this ritual. What we did find we have provided to the society. In addition, the Most Holy Ordos of the Inquisit-

+++ Report Continues +++

Dosdamt:
The Flayed God II

The Past, GY-139

DuBois took off her facially mounted auspex and mopped her brow. It had taken considerable effort to gain entrance to the Temple of Tlatlauhcax in the main population hub on GY-139. Structural breakdown had started to occur in the surrounding area. Vast tracts of the city were inaccessible as a result. It had taken aerial sorties, numerous scans from her ship in orbit, and a dash of fortune. But now they were here. Falid was struggling behind her breathing deeply under the glare of the ever watching star overhead. The stairs up to the main altar were steep and numerous. Giant frescos accompanied the stairs all the way to the high altar. Each of carvings were clear allegories for the Heresy, played out here on GY-139. The Emperor, in his form as the Flayed God, would shed his skin and be renewed ready for his confrontations with the various traitor primarchs - in particular, Horus, Fulgrim and Mortarion. Though the paint had faded, she was able to see the colours as they would likely have been.

The Emperor would have been a beautiful, vivid-gold yellow. Nearby flowers that grew on the great plains, when crushed, would’ve yielded an outrageously deep pigment perfect to be used for the Emperor. Mortarion - no doubt a deep green, would have shown the danger of disease and illness to the devoted as they made their way to the shrine. Smudged brown earth tones, painful vivid flesh-reds, flushed thin green mucus would’ve hung over the figures of Mortarion. Fulgrim would likely have been a decadent purple or perhaps even brilliant hues of pink. Scouring the fauna and the various compounds available on the planet in her head, DuBois disappointingly conceded it was more likely that the Adeptus Mechanicus on this world would have artificially manufactured the paint. Sad. There was something to be said for the value of creating and applying pigments by hand. Jaqueline closed in on the fresco representing Horus. Stooping down, she noted the smooth, black surface. She picked at the stone, trying to find an imperfection. Nothing. She whipped out her auspex, measuring the surface. Perfectly flat, almost to the micron and perfectly curved.

“We got the data,” breathed Falid, out of breath from the ascent, “On how that was made.”

He breathed deeply while swigging from his hip flask. DuBois looked back at him expectantly.

“Give… give …. Give me a second,” he said, waiting for his breath to return.

“It’s incredible. All of this, really. The allegory, the creation story, this temple. They expose the heart of truth at the centre of the Heresy. And all of the data for this society, perfectly preserved. Unbelievable, really.” Dubois filled the silence with words until Falid was ready to speak.

“Plasma cutter, and a stone only found on the southern continent. They brought the stone here and crafted the frescos of Horus specifically from that stone. The engineering is extraordinary. The plasma cutter was used with incredible heat and precision. That’s what gives the stone its deep onyx hue and the perfect surface.”

“Near perfect.”

“Does it matter JD? Look at it. Indistinguishable from perfection. Feel the sensation of the surface. Look at the face of the arch traitor rendered here. The schematics are incredible, this whole complex is a geometric wonder. Each point of the temple, the way they all point towards the central chamber via specific points in the sky. They tracked the stars for the Sol system, Cadia, Istvaan, Ultramar, Baal, Fenris, Prospero…. All of the key systems for the Heresy. The mechanisms they built into the temple to allow for reconfiguration based on the season, solar conjunctions and light from each of those star systems. Each of the various configurations allows for the sunlight to come into the central chamber from different angles and each of those systems, even if it would only be a pin prick. Each of those angles had a name, and a divine purpose, different festivals, different celebrations. Amazing.”

“Have we examined the central chamber yet?”

“No. Not yet. We’ve excavated all around the temple, and we've found the expected remains including significant Mechanicum remains. Bionics. Bone replacement. Organ replacements and the like. We’ve also found some ceremonial garb, at least the metal and stone that didn’t or wouldn’t degrade. The skeletal remains…” Falid tailed off, his face hardening. He was struggling with the horror of this place.

“No one died easily here, Jaq. They died hard deaths, long deaths, traumatic deaths. This place reeks of it.”

DuBois glanced back to her disconcerted companion. All around them, it hung in the air. She wasn’t warp sensitive, but something about the temple was off. The suffering that had been inflicted here had breached through dimensions leaving a residue that could almost be tasted. She went back to her knees touching the stone stairs. They’d been worn down with the volume of foot traffic, up and down to the peak. She wasn’t sure of the precise volume of people that would be required to wear down the stairs, but it didn’t bode well. The entrance to the inner sanctum was underneath the altar. She was following the same path as thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands, of pilgrims had followed. Maybe millions, through the ages. Falid had finally joined her, as had the rest of her party.

They continued to take their time, examining the detailed friezes. Several of the servitors took detailed picts of each and every detail. Falid’s coterie of adepts documented behind the servitors, assessing deviation to schematics.

“Other than weathering and damage from footfall, this place is perfect to the schematics. Time has barely touched this. The city has withered, rotted, gone to pieces. The temple is immaculate.”

DuBois looked down the stairs.

“Why is that impressive?”

“Because even STC techniques leave… variation behind. Some minor imperfections. The Mechanicum will never admit it, but it's true. The voice of the Omnissiah in the Machine, making the Mechanicum strive for perfection. The STC is deliberately made that way - it was, so the hereteks would have it, a deliberate imperfection to drive the Martians to innovate and build on top of the shoulders of giants. Instead they folded in on themselves, digging deeper into ritual and routine, trying to create the impossible from flawed plans they’ll never understand.”

DuBois shot the look to Falid - shut up, ears everywhere. He relented.

“The sanctum is why we’re here. Keep them moving.”

Overhead the skies were a zenith blue, piercing and perfect. Avian life flocked over head. There were large raptors on this world that patrolled lazily over the city ruins, hunting the tiny mammals and lizards that called the extensive ruins home. Nature had mostly reclaimed the world, barring a few of the cities where, despite the best efforts of the local life, civilization still held strong against the predation of plant life. The temple was such a place. DuBois suspected it was due to the volume and nature of the sacrifices here. Despite the serene skies, despite the delicate distant chirping, there it was again - a presence here, a very disturbing presence. Not just human, not natural, a twist step distant from truly human. Beyond the buildings and the broader city, the artefacts and the data. The spectre metallic tang of blood somewhere on the edge of the senses. There was a poltergeist here, but it dodged the edge of sight and brushed down the spine from the inside. It brought the essential aromas of human tribulation and placed them just out of reach. The spectre danced at the edge of the olfactory, presenting gifts of guts, viscera, dried blood and the putrid sweat of torture. Any humanity that had been here was long gone. The warp reigned here as a hidden ghoul king, presiding over a mountain of long rotted corpses. It had grown bloated on the death it consumed and was now parched and desperate.

DuBois scaled the final couple of stairs and arrived at the altar. Despite the light outside, the innards of the temple glowered with foreboding darkness. Somewhere inside water was dropping in slow drips that echoed through the silence. DuBois could detect, at the peak of her hearing, a distant voice.

For a moment, she was shaken by a vision.

A great centre of suffering. Repeated acts of violence inflicted on the old and the young, the devotee and the apostate. Tearing flesh flicking flecks of hot blood. Cannibalistic acts. Raw human flesh consumed as a delicacy.

Naked men tied to the wall and flogged to death, their bodies ripped and torn. Torn skin sloughing off flesh. Charnel houses with orgies of violence.

Cracked bones are pulled out of still screaming victims, marrow sucked from them even when still connected to the owner.

Kaukasos, the name repeating ever through her mind.

Kaukasos.

Kaukasos.

The name echoed around this temple in veneration, once.

The world spun - she found herself bound to a rock on a mountain side, she was naked and vulnerable.

Above her, swooping, a two headed-eagle. One head blind, one head could see.

It came down, great raking talons piercing the flesh on her navel, her thighs. Hot blood ran down her skin in red tear-like streaks.

The bird found purchase. She could feel more blood running down her side, down onto the rock.

Both heads pecked at her torso. Her flesh was ripped. Torn open like wet paper.

She screamed in agony.

Her flesh gave way. She could feel the eagle digging through her innards, beak finding organ.

Beaks discarding organs, digging to find the right one. She lay in a mess of her organs, blood, scraps of muscle and skin.

All the while, every sensation drilling through the core of her mind.

Consciousness not relenting and clinging on. Not just clinging on, coming back to the moment, existing precisely in the moment. Focusing on this moment, living just this moment.

And the moment was exclusively pain. Profound, white hot, precise pain that existed pervasively through her whole being.

The eagle had found its target - her heart. It plucked it out, both heads bickering over the remains until it tore precisely in two.

Hot arterial blood spattered across her face. The bird, resplendent gold feathers now slick with gore, stared at her with both heads.

The examination bore into the core of her being.

The eagle closed in on her face.

She could see all four eyes staring into hers.

++ Listen ++

“Jaqueline?”

Falid’s voice brought her back from her vision, or at least, back to this moment, or back to reality. Her vision jarred for a few moments.

“Wyrd said the wall between our world and the veil is thin here, and getting thinner with our presence. We should be wary. I’ve called down a second squad from the Tomb. We’ll have numbers if nothing else.”

DuBois nodded, but she had turned a ghostly white. She unconsciously ran her hand over her stomach finding it reassuringly solid.

She opened her data pad.

+++ Search: =GY-139Data//Kaukasos -appn -heur -join.temple -join.sacrifice -join.devotion +++

+++ Working …… ….. …… +++

+++ No references found. New search? Y / N +++

She put the pad back in her pocket. The darkness of the altar beckoned. Three servo skulls with silver bionic arrays adorning the mucky white bone whirred up and past her, over her and through into the darkness. Beams of light came out of their eyes, illuminating the inner sanctum.

She followed the light. Around her, the stone had extensive hieroglyphs from the top of the walls, maybe 5 standard meters high she estimated by eye, down to the floor. Each of the glyphs had been carved individually - even the glyphs that were the same pictogram had slight imperfections. She ran her hand over them feeling the textures from the designs. She could feel herself drawing in the meanings without understanding. The story was permeating her, forming like angry dark storm clouds in her subconscious. She lingered a moment, admiring the dedication that must have gone into each of the glyphs. She felt the hairs rise on her arm, which snapped her back into focus.

She ventured deeper, the air cooling as she moved into the depths of the temple. The air remained fresh and was colder with every passing step. She could feel her skin tighten with the bite of the frost in the air. She followed some magnificently carved steps each with a narrative representation of the Heresy etched into them. Each stair showed a local interpretation of the battle between the Emperor, Horus, Mortarion, and Fulgrim. The scenes became ever more graphic and violent - the Emperor in various aspects, a man, an eagle, a great star with a ravenous maw - consuming, flaying, raping, dismembering his errant sons. Ever more disturbing scenes came with each step into darkness, until she came to the bottom of the stairs.

Here, the flayed Emperor stood over the remains of his sons, each broken and contorted in pain. The unworthy before the disrobed Emperor, who had to sacrifice to find the wisdom for victory. Courage through transformation, knowledge through hecatomb before an adoring chorus of revellers. The Emperor’s skin was suspended with golden hooks and thin platinum ropes that held the skin as great wings at the Emperor’s back. His head was revealed as a great leering diamond skull. His eyes were perfectly cut, vivid golden diamonds.  DuBois’ scans flagged that they were data crystals. There was no blood represented in the fresco, just revealed flesh. She knelt down over the mosaic, feeling the Emperor’s flesh which was inlaid, perfectly cut rubies. The texture in the rubies felt exactly like ribbed, revealed flesh. The servo-skulls hovered overhead helping her see the finest details. The displayed precious materials glistened in the light.

We come here as supplicants.

We came here willingly.

We descend into darkness, learning of the Emperor’s sacrifice.

We come to him clothed in shame.

We make our naked offering.

We show our devotion through transformation.

She shook her head. The voices spoke in a variant of low gothic, heavily accented, spoken rapid and urgent. She caught the broad meanings but not the subtle nuance. The smell of death was tangible now. Not current death, not recent death, but death voluminous and sustained in scope. A genocide here, in the depths of darkness. A gluttonous genocide that demanded more death for an appetite that couldn’t satiated, in increasingly more perverse ways. Despite the volume of footfall on the previous steps that had worn them down, here each of the steps were perfect. They’d been replaced, perhaps, or they had been immaculately maintained. These stairs had meaning and were central to the sacred nature of this place, she concluded.

We came ignorantly with open hearts.

We came lovingly with open minds.

We came hopefully with open eyes.

We present our flesh to Him, so we may know wisdom.

We give of ourselves to fuel His heavenly combat.

We take the seat of devotion to know his suffering.

At the bottom of the stairs a large corridor emerged. Through the twilight, DuBois could see that the corridor didn’t run far, but broadened into a vast lobby. Markers the shape of feet lined the lobby either side of the main central run. Behind the markers were great cyclopean maws. DuBois examined a maw closely, finding dense ash and the charred remains of clothing and other material goods inside in a small cavity representing the mouth of the figure. She ran her hand over the face of the cyclops, leaving behind a trail of ancient ash. These leering faces, she thought, were likely meant to be Magnus. In many variations of the Heresy fable, the sorcerer had become a simple, ever hungering giant who feasted on the finest individuals in society and kept their shiny baubles as his own. His cannibalistic greed sent him insane, making him betray the Emperor. The Emperor charged Russ to pursue him across the galaxy to exact the Emperor’s punishment. He had the Wolf chain Magnus in the underworld, his infinite hunger cursed to never be satiated by the refuse discarded by Imperial society.

We bring our lives in hope of redemption.

We see our failures burn before our eyes.

We lift our eyes in praise.

We are cleansed and renewed.

We see the cycle of life and death transcended.

We are renewed through pain.

Above the foot marks were simple shower heads. They had mouldered and a few had crumbled, but it was clear between those and the subtlety hidden grates around the foot marks that those about to enter the inner sanctum were ceremonially stripped, their belongings burnt, and then cleansed. DuBois knew zealots too well, and she moved between each of the maws. She quickly found every second maw had a chute leading elsewhere. So much for the purging and disposal of worldly goods. The greed of Magnus, it seemed, was a vice that was forgivable, or could at least be understood and indulged. As she turned, a hand groped through the wall grasping at the air she had just occupied.

We are renewed through pain.

We are renewed through pain

We are renewed through pain.

She moved towards the end of the corridor finding a set of colossal double doors. The doors were decorated with a final vision of Tlatlauhcax - the Emperor as Flayed God - skin removed and unfurled behind him in the shape of the palatine eagle. Naturally his skin was gold - his viscera and musculature was perfect and in harmonious balance. His head was anointed with a halo of brilliantly coloured precious stones, accenting a deep rose gold crown. Perhaps this represented enlightenment, she chewed over in her mind, or maybe victory or devotion. The inlay was expertly crafted and besides some dust, perfectly preserved. As she stared at the detail, she was convinced - for just a second - that the jewelled flesh was flexing like muscle fibre under strain. She examined it closer, dropping her auspex over her eyes, seeing it ripple as if blood was rushing through the fibrous flesh. The Emperor’s heart, hidden underneath fine platinum ribs, spasmed with cardiac routine.

“This place chills me to the bone, Inquisitor.”

Falid and the rest of her party had caught up. His skin was prickling all down his neck, down his exposed arms. DuBois noted the cold sweat on his brow, his dilated pupils, his accelerated heart beat, his stuttered breathing and the nervous tap of his heel on the floor.

“We’ve got the data Inquisitor. We have enough data to sift for several lifetimes! I have three teams working round the clock on it, restoring, cataloguing, adding metadata…. We hoovered everything else we could out of the city. We have four partial STC templates to analyze! Four! Throne damn it Jacqueline, what else is here that we could possibly want?”

DuBois looked at him.

“Pain.”

Falid felt his innards churn. His urge to piss was overwhelming. His base animal instincts told him one thing over and over again. Run. He bent double retching bile before jumping to a start as a screaming face pressed up through the stone. The distended floor bent unnaturally as flesh might when under pressure. The face became fully recognisable for a second as human, a human in severe pain. Eyes closed. Brow furrowed. Mouth agape in a scream. Falid stumbled back, shocked and his stomach continuing to churn.

DuBois ignored him and walked towards the door, sliding her hand down the door looking for a latch. Failing to find anything, she switched her focus to the door frame. The servo skulls whirred as they provided her with light. She turned, pointing to the walls and the dark corners. Falid was reluctant but he had the better auspex. He took agonised steps, forcing himself to move into the gloom. Behind him the servitors, flanking Wyrd, stood oblivious simply documenting everything around them.

“Nervous Falid?”

Wyrd had timing and a complete lack of care. Falid had been grateful for his silence and didn’t appreciate the damned witch speaking up at this moment.

“Shushup wretch,” hissed the Archeotech expert, who desperately tried to avoid emptying his bladder as he searched the rest of the corridor. His palms were clammy, which meant in seconds they were covered in dust. Sweat slicked down his brow, down his face, running into his beard.

“I can taste the sweat on your palms from here.”

Wyrd unleashed a thick wet chuckle. To Falid, it echoed for what felt like hours. DuBois glared at both of them, but tore her gaze away as her fingers caught on a hidden handle next to the door. She focused the light from the skulls, then removed a panel from the wall revealing what looked like a lever. Lithe crustacean claws tried to pierce the veil of reality all around them as DuBois fiddled with the handle, trying to move it.

“I …. Can’t…. Throne damned….”

The claws started to become more corporeal. The air around them stretched and warped the light around them, making the room seem to bend with the claws as they tried to break into reality.

“Jaqueline…” Falid’s voice was close to breaking.

One claw sliced into reality, filling the place with a strong stink of ozone and musky human sweat.

“Dammit Falid, bring the auspex!”

Condensation rapidly formed all around the room as if the whole room was sweating. The smell of human arousal permeated the room. The claws retreated, but an intensely sensual musk began to fill the air.

“Inquisitor DuBois, dammit, pay a-fething-ttention!” Falid howled as his body couldn’t decide whether to empty all waste, flee, or find something to feth. The three competing sensations merged and writhed in his guts.

DuBois, who had drowned in her own lake of obsession for just a moment, looked up as the handle she had been fiddling with cracked, clicked, and hissed. The figure of the flayed god began to part as the doorway into the beyond edged open.

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