Acolyte - Novel - NEEDS CRITIQUES - updated 19/6/12

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Acolyte - Novel - NEEDS CRITIQUES - updated 19/6/12

Postby Carlos Estevez » Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:57 pm

So, I promised myself that if my first foray into 40k fiction wasn't accepted I'd write some additional material and serialise it.

I'll post new sections as and when they get finished or a certain number of folk read them. Comments would be very welcome.


Acolyte

A Brother Anso Novel

By Steve K Cole




‘My honourable ladies and gentlemen, from the beginning you will see a false man, a charlatan, a deceiver, a heretic user of unclean xenome learning. A monster, who through his reckless disregard for the holy strictures of the Imperium brought death and destruction to a peaceful world.’

Extract from the opening statement of Prosecutor Giancarlo Mancusi at the trial of Brother Robert of Bastille


Chapter 1

UNDER THE FLOWERING kadamba trees, near the top of Batram hill, a beautiful peacock with perfect emerald green tail feathers thrashed in a rusty snare. Its shrill cry echoed down the hillside to Anso Eliason. The thin, brown haired thirteen year-old paused from picking the rich yellow globes of kadamba blossom and moved cautiously towards the sound. Soon his electric blue eyes could make out the bird; its slender neck convulsing as it tried to free its over-decorated body. Anso walked towards the snare, reached out with sun kissed hands and snapped its neck in one movement.

‘Kara, bring the rope - we got one.’ He shouted over his shoulder.

Shaded by dark green leaves of the kadamba trees, the undulating hump of Batram Hill formed an oasis against the burning heat of the planet’s massive sun. Beyond the hill lay the Maru plains; a burnt stubble encrusted swathe of prairie. Anso loved the view out into the plains, his home was set low in the foothills and Batram Hill was the only vista he knew. It was always clear and always boiling out there and he could see for miles in every direction. Anso scanned the dried bed of the river Murmark looking for a glint of water, a sign the rains were coming and that his family would have crops rather than peacock feathers and kadamba flowers to take to market next month. At the far end of the river, something shifted beneath the swollen blood-red ball of the planet’s sun.

Anso shielded his eyes with the palm of his hand and stared hard. Something dark was rising into the air, discolouring the blue sky. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his grandfather’s magnoculars, noting with pride the Imperial Aquila stamped on the side; military issue from his grandfather’s time in the guard. He brought them to his eyes and focused on the disturbance. A dust trail: he panned along the dirty brown haze for its source and refocused. The magnoculars whirred and bleeped as they adjusted to provide a crystal clear image of something eighteen kilometres away. Three men wearing brown dust jackets sat astride heavy set motorcycles. Their eyes were shielded by strange black bug-eyed goggles and behind them came two half-track pick-ups filled with men wearing wide-brimmed rancher hats. Kerchiefs and scarves were wrapped around their faces to keep the dust from their mouths. Every one of them was armed; shotguns, pistols and long barrelled hunting rifles were clearly visible. The low insect like drone of engines sounded faintly in Anso’s ears. Swallowing the saliva building in his mouth he panned back to the bikers. The middle one had a strange mark on his head. Anso hit the autotrack rune the lenses blurred, refocused and locked on. Covering half of the man’s face was a blood red tattoo of a skull, it followed exactly the lines of the man’s bone structure as if outlining his own skeleton. Perspiration coated his leathery skin. He reached up and swatted a bloodfly on his cheek. A deep red haze with a black centre seemed to emanate from him.

‘What is it?’ Anso span round reaching for his small hunting knife and found himself face to face with a straw haired girl wearing a flower print summer dress. Like her three year older brother she was covered in sap and petals from the kadamba trees.

‘Emperor save you Kara, you scared the hell out of me. Maw, told you till she was blue in the face not to go sneaking up on folk.’ He shouted.

‘What is it?’ She repeated, ignoring his tantrum.

‘There’s men out on the plains, near twenty of them. I think one of them’s Bill Vance’

‘They’re coming to visit?’ Asked Kara doubtfully.

‘No-one comes to visit us Kara, least of all across the Maru Plains in dry season, in the middle of the darned day, with twenty armed men. This is bad Kara, real bad, we gotta get home now.’

Kara nodded and turned on her heels, Anso pulled a polycloth hat from his overalls and placed it square on his sister’s head.

‘Get-off, bovine brain’ She squealed.

‘It’s for your own good girl. I knew you’d forget yours, you always do.’

The slender siblings disappeared into the scented deep green sea of the forest heading towards their home. Out in the blazing heat of the Maru Plain the dust trail turned to follow them.


Chapter 2

The drop bay doors of the star junk Hephastus creaked open leaving twenty year old Inquisitorial Acolyte Brother Anso of Maru staring down at the chemstained atmosphere of Breugaal Prime.

‘Teleport drop in ten.’

He was suspended, arms and legs splayed like Vitruvian man, in a lead hoop. Gold cabling ran from pressure pads on his skin to the black drop bay ceiling.

‘Nine.’

Beside him, a brown helkhair habit concealing his face, Inquisitor Brother Robert of Bastille hung from an identical lead hoop. A glistening satellite on a lower orbit swung silently beneath them.

‘Eight.’

Anso saw the servitor Diomedes making last minute adjustments from behind a crackling void shield. Reams of glowing fibre optic cables spewed from his once human mouth connecting him to every circuit of the drop bay leaving him no need for his burnt out black eyes. On a plinth below Diomedes, two skeletal astropaths studied a tiny painting of a white cupola dome titled The Gates of Paradise. The co-ordinates 1-11-47 flashed on data slate before them. Halos of white light pulsed between their trepanned skulls.

‘Pray with me Brother.’ Came Robert’s voice, as calm as the moon in a clear night sky.

‘Seven.’

‘All father’ Anso began his breath turning to steam as the temperature dropped sharply.

‘Six.’

‘Who art in Terra.’ Robert joined him.

Electricity crackled around the hoop. Anso’s tonsured hair began to stand on end.

‘Five.’

‘Emperor be thy name’

The sickly sweet smell of incense filled the shuddering drop bay as holy braziers were lit to placate the machine spirits.

‘Four.’

‘The Imperium hast come.’

Needles of fire and ice stabbed into Anso through the pressure pads. Tears streamed from his electric blue eyes.

‘Three.’

‘Thy will shall be done’

A sound like a thousand mirrors shattering as one roared in his ears, the smell of burnt ozone stripped the hair from his nostrils.

‘Two.’

‘On Earth.’

The universe disappeared in wave of pure white fire.

‘Mark. Teleport drop: now, now, now.’

‘As it is in the heavens.’ Screamed Anso as every atom in his being was blasted apart.


THE LIGHTS WENT out on the Hephastus, and it disappeared into the blackness of the universe. Slowly a nimbus of golden energy coalesced around an ancient antenna array on its hull before streaming toward the world below. Silently, the skeletal astropaths directed their thoughts towards the energy manoeuvring it through the atmosphere.

The particles passed swiftly though the stratosphere and mingled with the milk white cirrus clouds above the planet’s capital Breugaal Hive. Luxurious pleasure blimps, their dampened engines humming, skimmed the surface of the cloudbank. Breugaal Prime’s aristocracy gazed through the crystalline portholes of their fat blimps’ ornate gondolas taking instapics of the delightful ruby red high altitude song birds that weaved around their craft. Wealthy cousins laughed and waved from gondola to gondola drawing each other’s attention to golden light which suddenly flickered past them. Here and there impossibly smooth tapering white spires, the pinnacles of the single monolithic tower of Breugaal Hive, pierced the cloudbank. The particles swirled around them racing downwards.

Through an imperceptible architectural trick condensation ran into grooved channels along the spire’s surface emerging below as chattering water features in the ornamental gardens of the blimp set’s palatial homes. Servants bustled amongst the magnificent blurs of flowers and fruit trees housed in the geometrically perfect curve of five acre balconies jutting impossibly out from the spires. Amid the luscious perfume of cyclomenia blossom women in angular pearl dresses clinked glasses with richly jewelled men and laughed at the latest scandalous news from Breugaal Prime’s luxurious polar resorts. Pedigree off-world felines, each more valuable than entire planets padded amongst the luscious shrubs, their diamond collars glinting as the golden particles passed them.

Far above in the command bay of the Hephastus banks of decrepit calculus processors chattered as the empty eyed Diomedes, at the command of the astropaths, adjusted their programmes. The skeletal men focused their unnatural power on tracking the descent of the particles that had been Brothers Anso and Robert.

In the blink of an eye they passed beneath the gardens, following the white tower’s spires as they coiled around each other like a layer of sleeping snakes before finally forming the first full storey of Breugaal Hive. A single building housing an impossible city; a hive of over a billion people built in a series of nine, kilometre high, concentrically circular levels. On the eighth level one hundred metre high glass windows ran around the tower. Beyond them banks of holo-projectors and vid screens showed the entire world’s life to the planetary governor and chiefs of its civil service. Aluminum winged cherubs floated outside the windows constantly clearing them of water and tar build up. Tiny sea blue flutterbirds trilled around them until the cherubs threw handfuls of caraway seed from concealed pouches. As one, the bustling flock dived after the seed, darting through the constant hum of engine noise ringing up from shuttle craft ferrying signatories, merchants, generals and astropaths to the great watchroom. The golden particles raced past the birds and the graceful tower grew stout beside them. The stylish personal transits of the middle classes swarmed like flies around the next level carrying important people to important trade meetings. Smaller taxi-fliers delivered bored housefraus to another delightful new restaurant where they whiled away the days comparing the success of their wealth funds and children with their equally bored friends.

A kilometre below, stressed out corporation officers ran across open air walkways downing packets of stim-tabs to keep them awake for another couple of hours work. In one of five thousand open-air public parks on the fourth level ten thousand workers looked up from their exercise ration as the golden light fell past them like rain.

Next, the particles smashed into the smog layer. An inky sea of cumulus clouds stained with millennia of petrochemical burn off, targas and airborne effluent. By this point Breugaal Hive’s tower was four thousand metres wide but there were no longer any external parks and gardens. Lithium tinted light glowed from the crucifix shaped windows of the Universitat. Behind them, safe from the ravages of the smog cloud, a million students busied themselves over data slates, info-tablets, yellowing parchments, vellum-bound encyclopaedias and decaying transcorders; grappling with the great issues of the city, the planet, the Imperium and the universe. Outside, the grasping fingers of monumental black chimney stacks strained into the sky. Each was one hundred metres in diameter and several kilometres tall, an unceasing toxic cloud belched from them blanketing the lower levels. The ever widening tower grew grim and heavy set. Warning lights flashed out across its massive girth as its walls began to disappear beneath a mesh of communication antennas and satellite receptors.

On the bridge of the Hephastus Diomedes was losing track of the particles in the smog bank. The astropaths were sweating heavily; tears of blood began to run from their eyes as they pushed forward with their minds.

They saw more and more traffic fill the air around the spire as heavy loader craft with industrial strength smog lights ferried crates of iron ore, cobalt, and rockcrete powder between factories. Mag-lev lines punctured the Hive’s exterior snaking across its surface, transporting thousands of workers from their homes to the production line. By now the spire was twenty kilometres wide, and like a mighty sea-leviathan its skin was coated with a billion barnacles; precarious steel staircases led out of the spire to the doors news kiosks, tabac-stick stalls, butcheries, bun-dim restaurants.

Further down a massive explosion in one of the manufactoriums had blown a hole in the spire a kilometre wide. Beneath the gaping wound was a sea of devastation; fire teams struggled to contain week old blazes, robed members of the Ecclesiarchy chanted prayers and swung incense braziers as lumbering dozers pushed hundreds of mutilated bodies into a pyre. Beyond the ruined factory lay an endless honeycomb of production. The unceasing rhythm of a million factories manned by a billion people manufacturing at an impossible scale sounded day and night. Ventilation shafts spilled the heat of the hive’s furnaces into the air outside. Finally, the spire’s bloated walls reached their limits. In a moment of clarity, the astropaths saw through the smog bank, perceiving that Breugaal Hive sat, like an egg in a cup, in the bowl of vast extinct volcanic crater. The igneous walls of the crater were unrecognisable beneath massive plascrete fortifications. Pod mounted blast weapons leered from the thirty metre thick walls, jutting towers sported volcano cannons, and vortex missiles. Thousands of infantry marched along the battlements defending the hive from the machinations of a hostile universe.

Here the visible face of the hive vanished from view, but, like an iceberg, it did not cease. Where earlier the Diomedes and the astropaths had been able to follow every millimetre of the particles’ descent now they could see only glimpses. A kilometre below surface the Breugaal Hive was densely populated, families of factory workers squeezed into overcrowded dorms. The astropaths locked onto the particles as they surged through the five storey bunkbeds of a workers’ pensione. Weary men, with tired eyes gasped in wonder as, for a moment, their overcrowded room glowed like the heavens.

Two kilometres down the particles swam around black carapace armoured arbitrators as they advanced like a wave of vicious beetles firing shotgun rounds into crowds of emaciated food protestors. Three kilometres, and electricity became like gold-dust, people moved by lamp light and portable generators were sold at every kiosk. Four kilometres down, in the flickering candle light of an opara den glassy eyed addicts threw spoonfuls of the hallucinogenic drug into a fireplace, breathed in deep draughts of the sweet scented fumes and fell into narcotic dreams filled with visions of strange golden light.

Five kilometres down and for a heartbeat the astopaths felt the presence of the particles as hive gangs battled for their turf but at six down they lost them.

In an endless cavern, thousands of slate grey pools of water rolled out around a knotted web of plasteel piping. The peripheral pools were little more than cesspits for the effluent and chemical backwash of Breugaal Hive’s billion citizens. The stench was an overwhelming combination of methane and sulphur, the shores were burnt white, leached of any nutrients by the acidic soup. Moving inwards a series of soil filters, reed beds and slender stirring arms gradually cleaned the water as it neared the cavern’s heart. Ancient ironwork pumps forced the purified liquid through the thousands of spindly clear plasteel pipes glowing with blue, green and yellow phosphoresce before joining the main supply lines pumping billions upon billions of bioluminescent plankton into the water supply to feed on the last traces of toxic elements before the water is returned to the surface.

On the Hephastus the astropaths strained; the veins of their necks ruptured, the distance, the smog bank, the depth, the interference from generators: it was too great. Their eyes boiled in their sockets as they tried to keep the particles and the target, co-ordinates 1-11-47 the white cupola named The Gates of Paradise, in their mind’s eye. Steam vented from their trepanned skulls, as one they screamed and died. Diomedes failsafe tripped, he punched the runes to abort the teleport drop before short circuiting in a blue flash of flesh and flames.

Six kilometres below the surface of Breugaal Hive, among the low cardiac throb of the sanitation pumps a series of higher pitched sounds, echoed through the cavern. Small flashes of light and fire flared in the darkness. Bullets ricocheted off fifty centimetre thick pipes. Occasionally, screams filled the air. By a hefty generator marked with the ostentatious Geldcorp logo two hive gangers, a woman with a shock of blond hair and a man with black hair shaved to his temples wearing matching cadvan leather jackets run through with iron studs worked their way forward. They signalled each other with hand gestures and clipped whistles before pushing onto a series of pipes leading towards the central tower. Something crackled in the air. The hair on the gangers’ heads began to stand on end. Sparks of golden electricity stuttered between the pipes. There was a violent crack like a tree falling, followed by an intense smell of ozone and finally a flash of blinding white light.


THE GOLDEN PARTICLES smashed together, knitting into bone, blood and muscle. A slender body with brown skin emerged. Tonsured hair and electric blue eyes were enveloped in a monk’s brown helkhair habit. There was a bang and Brother Anso of Maru, Acolyte of the Intergratio Sect of the Ordo Xenos, materialised before falling to his knees and vomiting. Wiping his mouth on sleeve of his habit he stood up utterly confused. Capillaries had burst in his blue eyes. His head was pounding as if he had drunk a cask of uisge and his vision stained with globules of iridescent light. The thump of pumps filled his ears. Breugaal Prime’s enhanced gravity, eighty percent stronger than Terra’s pulled at his limbs. He rubbed his eyes and saw endless networks of piping, blue light. This wasn’t the white cupola. He checked his locator; not 1-11-47. Something had gone wrong. Out of the corner of his eye he saw and a good-looking couple in matching jackets raising weapons to fire on him.

With a flash and a crack twin firing pins struck cartridge primers. Anso threw himself to one side as shotgun rounds tore chunks of damp ridden rockcrete from the wall behind him. He sprang to his feet and ran keeping his head low. The staccato chatter of autogun fire flared up, streams of bullets cut through the air, driving him back on his heels. He ran blind through the blue phosphorescent light. Behind him the gangers rattled their weapons against the head height piping creating a cacophonous clanging rhythm. They whooped with the joy of the hunt. Fat black vermin with wormlike tails scattered ahead of him. Desperately trying to throw them off Anso jinked left and right, he forced himself through a narrow gap between some pipes only to find himself facing a grey rockcrete wall. Without breaking stride he leapt. The high gravity caught him short and he fell to earth with a thud. Dusting himself down, Anso tried again. His fingernails cracked against the wall as he struggled to for a handhold. For an instant his legs kicked out in the air before he got a firm grip and heaved his body over. Jarring his knees with his unexpected weight he hit the ground running.

His pursuers must have known another route, as they were on him in an instant. The noise of their drumming told Anso their general direction but masked their exact position. Realising the gangers were driving him into open ground where they have a clear shot he took cover behind a corroded metal pipeline. The musty smell of damp was everywhere. Water burbled up from the rusted rivets linking the sections of pipe. The 1.8 gs were taking their toll. His breath was coming in heaves and gasps as the alveoli of his lungs struggled to rip oxygen from the air. Lactic acid burned in his limbs. His chestnut brown hair was matted with sweat and his brown skin was powdered grey with rockcrete dust. He was totally disorientated. Something had gone very wrong with the teleport drop. Where was Brother Robert?

He focused his thoughts away from the chatter of small arms fire and onto the low churning noise of thousands of gallons of water pulsing all around him. Its rhythm was steady, exactly what his heartbeat needed to be. Anso took a deep breath and poked his head out from behind the pipe. A blast of gunfire drove him back. Making the sign of the Emperor on his chest he fired two wild laspistol shots in reply. Remembering his training he focused on the situation at hand. There could be no doubt he was suffering drop lag, a form of mental lethargy brought on by the reconstitution of the brain after teleportation. The medical briefings had been thorough. He knew the rules: avoid complex thought for twelve hours. Keep his plans and actions simple or his neural pathways could crash sending him into a coma.

Assess the situation. He was pinned down by at least two hive-gangers, small arms fire echoed throughout the pumping station, somewhere in the distance he could here the heavy rounds of a bolt pistol booming. Help was not coming anytime soon.

A cursory scan of the carapace armour he wore beneath his robe proved reassuring. A few shotgun pellets had embedded themselves in it but everything was intact. The poorly maintained ganger weapons lacked the punch to penetrate his high spec Imperial kit. Anso considered this: could he simply trust to his armour and rush them? A fine idea but he didn’t fancy taking a full magazine from the autogun the girl was carrying, or a shotgun round to his unprotected head for that matter.

Someone whistled nearby, a reply echoed to his right. The gangers were approaching from both sides in a pincer movement. Why were they attacking him? Had someone leaked details of their mission? Were the gangers waiting to ambush him and Brother Robert? Remembering the latter’s words, ‘The simplest solution is usually the right one’, his heart sank. This was no well-orchestrated trap. Like many of Brother Robert’s possessions the teleport drop apparatus was fantastically old and unreliable. Their target, co-ordinates derived from a drawing of a cupola no living person had ever seen was nine kilometres beneath Breugaal Hive’s ground level. It was always a gamble that the astopaths could direct them there with only the co-ordinates and a battered painting to focus on. Emperor knows, the place may not even exist. They had missed the target and what was worse, they had landed in the middle of a gang war.

Another whistle like the cry of a predatory bird was answered by an atonal clang, they were getting closer. Anso poked his head out from behind the pipe, again autogun fire streaked out driving him back into cover. There was no way out.

‘Here kitty, kitty, kitty.’ Came a mocking voice from the darkness.

‘We’re gonna pull your claws out pretty kitty kitty.’ Echoed a woman’s voice.

‘You’re in a dead end little kitty cat. Why not come out and play with us? You’ll find we’re ever so nice.’ A gun clicked.

Everything fell silent. They had stopped banging the pipes. Anso realised he knew where his pursuers were. He pulled a thin disk from his belt, thumbed a rune on it and waited, breathing softly. Someone whistled. Anso threw the disk over his shoulder towards the noise. It clinked against a pipe.

‘What the fa?’

The blind grenade detonated in searing flash of white light. The joints of Anso’s armour creaked as he sprang with surprising speed from cover drawing his laspistol. In front of him one of the gangers fired blindly towards his former hiding place. Anso could see the gleam of platinum plate ear chains beneath her bleached blond hair. The yellow of fear blurred with the grey of confusion in her aura. He offered a benediction and fired. The ancient weapon, a gift from Brother Robert, was so well crafted that there was no kick as the pulse of orange light flashed towards the ganger struck her on the forehead and blasted out of the other side of her skull. She collapsed, her temple replaced by a black star-shaped scorch mark, her ear chain fused by the heat of the las round to what was left of her skull.

Anso winced at the sight of the smouldering black star. This was his first execution. Not a heretic, a demon possessed psyker or a terrible predatory xenome but a poverty struck girl no older than himself. He paused to offer absolution, making the sign of the Imperial cross on her brow, pardoning her for her uncertain crime against the Emperor. As he completed the ritual exhalation, banishing heresy from girl’s body there was an ear splitting bang. A shotgun round struck him with the force of a bull pachyderm smashing him from his feet into a vertical phosphorescence tube. It cracked sluicing him in luminous green water. Vermin raced out of the darkness, their paws spattering through the liquid as they began to lap at the plankton rich soup.

He felt a chipped tooth with his tongue and splashed the tepid water onto the smoking black hole in the side of his robe, his ribs below the blast mark screamed in pain. He praised the Emperor for his body armour. The laspistol lay in the water next to him, a scrawny vermin’s pink tongue licked at the algae coating it. Anso shooed it and reached for the pistol. A steel toe capped boot, stained green with phosphorescence kicked the weapon away. The second ganger stood over him, dropping cartridges into a breach loading shotgun. He wore the same earchains as the girl, the same studded cadvan leather jacket over pieces of scavenged body armour. His brown eyes were filled with hate. His aura was blood red, flecked with flashes of orange rage. A deep, bottomless black was settling on it. Black meant murder, Anso had seen it before.

‘You killed her! You fragging killed her!’ He screamed.

There were tears in his eyes and something more primal beneath the black and red rage of his aura. His emotions throbbed with the purple of fresh bruises, raw and tender in his consciousness. Anso could read him like a book. He knew instantly that the gangers had been in love, that they’d come up through the hive together, looked out for each other, kissed when no-one was looking, some nights they had looked up at the lithium light globes in the vaulted ceiling far above and whispered to each other that one day they would look up together and see real stars, but now, because of him she was dead and, Anso realised, her lover was going to join her.

Muscle memory took over: lying prone, a hostile combatant preparing to finish him off, he raised his hands surrendering. The ganger stared at him in disbelief.

‘Frag you coward. No mercy, you know the code.’ He spat and raised the shotgun.

Holding his right arm in front of him, a last gesture of fear and penitence, Brother Robert’s voice sounded in his head, words from his first day as an Acolyte:

‘Trust nothing an Inquisitor says, nothing an Inquisitor does. All our actions are fabrications to cover our true intentions. The Imperium is all that matters, deceit and misdirection are vital for its survival.’

Anso was truly sorry for the hive ganger, for his lost love, but not sorry enough to jeopardize the years of work he had put into Brother Robert’s mission by dying. He focused his thoughts, gathering energy around his palm. The situation was not ideal; the drop lag, the chase, the higher gravity, shooting the girl these things had left his mind out of balance. The safeguards of his psyche may not hold in this weakened state. But Anso was a practical young man, there was no other option.

Power whispered through his body, he screamed in pain as a beam of fire erupted from his upraised palm and slammed into the ganger. His clothes burst into flames, his skin blackened into charcoal, his eyes burst. The man’s aura flickered

yellow with fear and vanished. A carbon lump fell to the floor and shattered spraying smuts of dirt skyward. For a moment, the stale air smelled of burnt meat.

A wave of tiredness washed over Anso, he felt as if he had run a marathon. The psychic fire required too much effort, too great a feat of concentration. The barriers of his consciousness had not been strong enough.

His head began to sway, blobs of blackness appeared in his vision they became waves and then a pool of darkness opened up before him inviting him to dive right in and rest. He swayed towards it. There was no shouting, no gunfire, the pulse of the pumps ceased. It reached all around him, caressing him, whispering softly. Every part of it was luxury, his ribs ceased to ache, the feeling of nausea left him, the harsh gravitational grip slackened. The world made sense down here in the quiet darkness. He would stay here, safe and sound, the mission did not matter, nothing mattered, he was tired, so tired and now it was time to rest. If only that rustling noise would go away. What was it, leaves falling from the kadamba trees in autumn? Someone calling to him? His father whispering his name?

‘Anso … Anso.’

No, he was comfortable where he was, he need not get up. Need not go back to the discomfort of the world, he could just stay here in the deep quiet of the prairie night on his parents’ farm.

‘Anso, brother.’ The voice was deep and sonorous, filled with a lifetime of knowledge, always probing, always seeking to know more, conveying both absolute certainty and total doubt. He knew the voice, but could not place it.

‘Anso…’ It was not his father, his father was … no… back to darkness, the serene darkness, no need to think of him or of Bill Vance and his red skull tattoo there.

‘Your dream cannot be so comfortable brother.’ What was it talking about, it was as comfortable as a well made bed in winter. There was no pain in his side and hands, no cold damp clothing.

‘You want for nothing brother? A good book? Something to eat?’ Maybe he was hungry. He hadn’t been allowed anything for forty eight hours before the teleport drop. Perhaps just a morsel a little snack, well maybe something larger than that; a damsk steak or a slice or two of mooton. By the Emperor, he was ravenous. There was no food there in the darkness, where could he get some?

‘Your mouth is watering brother.’ He knew that voice, a voice that could cause you to doubt everything.

‘Acolyte Brother Anso of Maru, you are apprenticed to me by the will of the God-Emperor Himself. In His name I order you: get up now!’

He smelled cordite, blood and sulphur; he tasted bile in his mouth; there was a sharp stabbing pain in his side and his hand felt like he had pushed it into a naked flame. Gunfire chattered in the near distance. The ground was phosphorescent green, vermin skittered around him, the sky was peppered with distant glow globes. A face looked down at him, it was a man with kind hazelnut brown eyes and a thick grey beard. Deep ravines of age ran across his forehead. Like Anso, he wore a helkhair habit. Beneath this Anso could make out ancient armour of alien origin. A heavy silver spearhead of exquisite design hung by his side. His aura was the blue of clear winter sky. Holy relics adorned every inch of his clothing; the finger bones of the seven saints of Carpal were fused to his right gauntlet, intricate gold rosaries of warding from before the age of The Emperor were soldered to his chest, alien charms from humanity’s pre-history were sewn into his sleeves. The right side of his thickly muscled neck was adorned with a tattoo of the enthroned Emperor. It was so lifelike that when Anso had first set eyes upon it he had assumed the tattoo was a holovision. The left of the man’s neck showed hundreds of men and women in astonishing detail offering prayers to the heavens. Anso stared at the tattoos and remembered.

‘The Emperor’s strength resides in the people and in ourselves.’ He whispered.

‘And ours rests in faith in our fellow man and the God Emperor.’ The man replied.

‘Brother Robert. Am I glad to see you.’ Laughed Anso, before passing out.
Last edited by Carlos Estevez on Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:50 am, edited 5 times in total.
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
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Carlos Estevez
 
Posts: 97
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel

Postby Carlos Estevez » Tue Feb 21, 2012 10:29 am

Ok, when the view count exceeds 50, I'll post the next chapter (whether anyone is interested or not).
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
User avatar
Carlos Estevez
 
Posts: 97
Joined: Mon Jun 20, 2011 2:41 pm


Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel

Postby Carlos Estevez » Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:41 pm

Spectacular, 57, Chapter 3 to follow. Would love to know what any of you think.
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
User avatar
Carlos Estevez
 
Posts: 97
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel

Postby Carlos Estevez » Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:42 pm

Chapter 3

ANSO LAY SOMEWHERE between waking and dreaming.
‘Your mind Brother? How is your mind?’ Came Robert’s worried voices. ‘What do you remember?’
Inky globules swam across Anso’s vision. The drop lag had almost ceased him. Praise the Emperor he was alive but he had damaged the neural pathways of his short term memory. Now with Robert’s guidance he was piecing back together the steps he had taken to arrive in the bowels of Breugaal Hive.
‘Look at me Anso, I am part of this. Trace the history from me.’
Anso’s lungs seemed stuck between breathing out and breathing in. He focused on Brother Robert on the Inquisitor’s deep brown eyes. Their edges were flecked with pale green, there was a black mark like a beauty spot in his left eye. The colours were familiar, the mind behind them kind yet inscrutable. He knew both well. They had considered and appraised him for years now.
They had looked on him hours ago, in the bay of the Hephaestus - before the teleport drop. Why had he been in the bay? He could not remember. That was alright, work back further, retrace the thought pattern that led him there. Before the bay? Brother Robert’s chamber; the brown eyes were creased with happiness, looking on him with pride taking in what Anso had brought him. Yes, he had done well, he had it in his hand. He had a … blank space, a void. What had he brought him? No the memory was gone. Ask a different question. Not what had he brought but where had he found it?

IT WAS HIGH summer and the air was scented with flowering thyme. The brown eyes were set in green leaves. Anso faced them across an oak table in the monastery’s physic garden. A steaming pot of blossom tea and two handleless clay cups sat between them. He was eighteen and had longed for this for five years. At last he had been summoned by his saviour, the man who had rescued him from the ruins of Maru. The first stage of his apprenticeship was complete.
‘What do you need Brother’ asked the Acolyte eagerly.
‘I had the dream again.’ Began Robert his voice calm and sonorous. The tattoos of the Emperor and his people on his neck flexed as he spoke. ‘I was in a room, no a warehouse. You were there as were several others who are unknown to me at this time. The place was filled with unworldly objects of wondrous design. Light streamed from a strange doorway at one end. In front of the door was the shadow of a presence, it whispered to me but I understood nothing. There was a labelled cabinet beside me, I stared at it.’
‘What did it say?’ Asked Anso
‘That was the strange thing, it said ‘Sub-Sector 615: Official Documentation’.’
‘That is strange?’
‘Most certainly, don’t you see?’
‘You mean it should say something so dull?’
‘No, not that, that it said anything at all. Have you ever tried to read a book in a dream Anso? It’s impossible. Words are the imprint of consciousness onto the universe, and they are bound to the conscious self. Words are by their very nature the stuff of waking, not dreaming. In sleep writing is always quite unreadable, illegible gibberish even. Neither I, nor any person I have ever known have ever read a single word in a dream. It is not possible.’
‘But you read this?’’
‘Exactly.’
‘So?’ Said Anso, feeling confused.
‘So, there can be only one conclusion, that it was not a dream.’
‘Then what? A prophecy?’
‘Perhaps so, we may find ourselves in that place. Maybe, for a moment we were even there. Particles can exist in more than one place, why not people. There is a final possibility, one which is both more wonderful and more troubling, someone has seen this place, and shared it with me through my dreams.’
‘Who could do such a thing?’
‘A psyker of great power, maybe. A daemon of great enemy, certainly. If I am truly blessed it is a vision granted by the Holy Emperor himself. Whoever it was has both strength and purpose. We must know why this happened, and where this place is.’
Anso felt his pulse rise, this was it, a mission, a task: uncovering an unknown psychic on a far off world a chance to prove himself at Brother Robert’s side.
‘What can I do Brother?’
‘Excellent Anso, I knew I could count on you. I have something which will tax you to your very core.’
‘Yes.’
‘The scriptorium.’ Anso’s brow furrowed, the scriptorium was an ancient gargoyle encrusted tower at the north end of the monastery, a warren of parchment and data whose walls held information on every subject an Inquisitor may wish to learn of, which of course, was every subject in the Imperium.
‘In there’ Robert continued ‘Is all the official documentation for Sub-Sector 615, correspondence from fourteen inhabited worlds including the capital Breugaal Prime. Search it Anso, search all of it.’
This was lunacy, an impossible never ending task. At times like this he wished his sect, the Intergratio, used savants but, for historical reasons, their rules held that Inquisitor should have no support but his Acolyte so Anso would have to do this alone.
‘What do you want me to find brother?’
‘Oh, you know, something unusual.’ Said Robert rising from his chair. ‘Now, I must leave you as I have other business to attend to. Contact me as soon as you find anything, and Anso …’
‘Yes.’
‘This is vital work. I give it to you because I trust you, my Acolyte, over everyone. Do not fail me.’
Anso nodded solemnly, Brother Robert strode from the room. His heart was racing. ‘His Acolyte’, trusted ‘over everyone’. He was now a key part of the Imperial Inquisition, a ruthless servant of the Emperor who would hunt down His enemies no matter where they hid. Admittedly rummaging through the files of an entire sub-sector was not what he had imagined the life of an Imperial agent being, but it was a start. Brother Robert had entrusted this to him and he would not fail.
For two years he lived a life of unceasing tedium. Every morning he woke at sunrise, drenched in sweat, the room rank with his stale breath. He dressed in the coarse helkhair habit he slept under, consumed his morning repast and ran for an hour among the cherry trees of the arboretum. Next, he climbed the creaking spiral staircase of the scriptorium and opened the books. The dullest, most tedious books in the universe; cargo manifests, settlement development programmes, the minutes of a thousand pointless committee meetings filled his life. He ate a dry lunch of bread and fruit and watched the seasons pass on the trees outside. In the afternoon he read security reports, judge’s verdicts and medical inquests. After evening repast he practiced swordsmanship and marksmanship alone. He retired to his cell at sunset, washed with cold water and recited the Imperial Catechism. He slept in a straw cot using his habit as blanket. It itched terribly. Each night he prayed he would dream of the books. Instead he dreamed of his parents’ farm burning and of Bill Vance’s laughing face shrouded in smoke and flame. Every morning he woke at sunrise, drenched in sweat the room rank with his stale breath. He dressed in the coarse helkhair habit he slept under, consumed his morning repast and ran for an hour among the cherry trees of the arboretum. Next, he climbed the creaking spiral staircase of the scriptorium and opened the books. Every hour of every day was the same. The only thing that was different were the books.
Then one night, after falling into bed exhausted in mind body and soul he dreamt of his sister Kara. Her blonde hair was tied in braids and she threw stones leisurely into the dry bed of the River Murmark. The pebbles clacked as they landed. She turned to him and waved, Anso could see that she was laughing.
He woke smiling, the room rank with his stale breath. He dressed in the coarse helkhair habit he slept under, consumed his morning repast and ran for an hour among the cherry trees of the arboretum. Next, he climbed the creaking spiral staircase of the scriptorium and opened the books. The dullest most tedious books in all the universe. He scanned the margin of one. His blue eyes blinked. Their pupils dilated in incredulity. There was something out of place.

ANSO’S MEMORY RACED forward. It was the proudest moment of his life. He was sitting on a cast iron bench beneath an autumnal oak tree. Brother Robert paced up and down holding a battered leather bound tome as if were the key to eternal life. He sat down beside his Acolyte clapping him on the shoulder.
‘Oh Anso, this is marvellous. I knew you would find it.’
His strong brown finger traced the margin of page four hundred and sixty three of Balthar Calvinius’ Illustrated History of the Second Millennia of Breugaal Hive. The text was in a flowing golden hand and both margins were ravishingly illuminated with caricatures of the typical activity of each level of Breugaal Hive. Concealed within each image was a witty piece of high gothic text commenting on the scene. The top of the page, tagged Heads in the Clouds showed the aristocracy cavorting in their blimps, the middle, tagged The Great and the Good displayed gaunt faced workers trudging through factory gates. At the bottom of the page there were two pictures showing the ninth kilometre below the surface. One, titled The Gates of Paradise, showed a perfectly formed white cupola dome with Doric columns flanking a door at one end. Marked above it were the geolocational coordinates 1-11-47. It was as if the artist was showing them exactly where the cupola was. The second illumination was stranger still. An alien figure in white robes faced two monks; one was elderly with extraordinary tattoos, one skinny and young with a quizzical expression on his face. The alien was waving, the elderly monk, unmistakably Brother Robert returned the gesture. Lurking in the background were a group of indistinct figures, one had oddly black eyes. The caption read The Brothers Greet the Traveller. In nearly imperceptibility small writing was a date. It was fifty three days away. Breugaal Prime was four weeks’ space travel from the monastery.
That was why they had come to Breugaal Hive. Balthur Calvinius whoever he may be, had seen their destination just as clearly as Brother Robert had dreamed of it

ANSO OPENED HIS eyes. The blackness was gone, he felt as if he had come up for air from the bottom of the sea. Breugaal Hive came back to him, a seething mass of creeping pipes and blue light.
Robert was sitting with him in the shadow of the central filtration tower, its perfect cylindrical form ran like a glowing column of light into the darkness overhead. Far off in the blackness Anso thought he could make out a vaulted ceiling. The stench of sewage was far less here, the air felt clean and oxygen rich. All around pipes shuddered and clanked under the pressure of their contents. Running underneath all the surface noise was a deep regular thump like a heartbeat, the sound of millions of gallons of recycled water being pushed through the central tower back into the inhabited levels above.
‘You remember Brother?’ Asked Robert, his face pale in the blue phosphorescence of the hydro tubes.
‘The illuminations; on page four hundred and sixty three, I found them on my seven hundred and ninety seventh day of study. The date was fifty three days away. All prime numbers. All capable of holding significant psychical energy.’ Said Anso breathlessly, the elation of his great discovery returning afresh to his memory. ‘The Emperor guides brother.’
‘Yes, though in this case we do not follow as well as he leads. We are lamentably delayed and well short of our target.’
‘How much time remains?’
‘We have five days, but the journey may be difficult.’
‘Where are we?’ Asked Anso pensively.
‘Six kilometres down.’
‘But, six to nine down is the dead zone, it’s uncharted. The data files have decayed irreparably. The whole point of the teleport drop was to use the coordinates in Calvinius’ text to avoid this. To land directly in the cupola hidden in nine down. There are four kilometres of uncharted shanty hive between us and a target we don’t even know is there. What do we do now?’
‘We must make haste to the so-called Gates of Paradise as quickly as possible. As we do not know the route what we need brother is a guide, someone who knows the territory. Now it just happens, that while you were absent, I made an interesting new friend.’ Anso looked up in surprise.
‘Triffon, are you still here?’ Robert called.
Anso smelled him before he saw him. The odour was obscene. Anso had cleaned hog-pens on Maru but this was worse, much worse. A pale young man whose face seemed to comprise entirely of white scar tissue appeared from behind a bulkhead. He wore scraps of scavenged clothing. His muscular body, perhaps a head shorter than Anso’s was well suited to Breugaal Prime’s high gravity. His rifle was more a rusting length of pipe attached to a piece of plywood than a weapon. As likely to misfire and kill its owner as take down the enemy. Anso made a mental note to stand well away from the man should he ever fire the thing. Actually, he decided, he would just stand well away from him at all times.
‘Allow me to present Triffon Kostadinov.’ Said Brother Robert, as casually as if they were meeting at a summer tea-party. ‘Triffon is a hive ganger, your gang is called the Orphans, isn’t that right Triffon?’
The ganger nodded in agreement, his eyes had an odd glazed look like a domesticated canine. His aura was a strange grey hue. Anso looked more carefully and saw that the beneath the grey was black, the black of murder and violence. Concentrating on the balance of colours in the aura, he realised that black was the true colour of the man’s thoughts, this grey was something else, a layer of plaster covering the brick work of a wall. He focussed on the grey, unpicking the component particles, ordering them, separating the dark from the light. The ganger shuddered.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you Brother.’ Said Robert. ‘Triffon, is not normally the friendly soul you see before you.’
Looking closer at the white light which greyed the black in Triffon’s aura Anso realised it did not belong to the ganger at all, instead it flowed, almost imperceptibly from Robert’s own pale blue field.
‘I’m constantly amazed by your ability to perceive such things Brother, but we need Triffon’s help and without a little gentle persuasion from myself, I assure you he would be a most recalcitrant individual.’
Anso nodded. Mind control, aura washing, psychical character transference, whatever the theosphers and psychodiognosticians termed it, in practice it was an uncomfortable thing to see done. People took days, sometimes weeks to recover from the experience. In the fictions he had read as a boy, the heroes always snapped free of mind control and were themselves again in an instant. In reality, many never recovered even the briefest moment of psychical transference left people confused, ill and disorientated for days. It was no simple thing to have your soul bent to another’s will, it left the individual malformed and damaged. Every second Robert kept Triffon under removed part of his own personality. It was a ruthless thing to do and, despite his kind scholarly air, Anso knew that Brother Robert, like all Inquisitors, was a ruthless man.
‘Now, Triffon,’ began Robert ‘you told me about Khadija, is she the head Orphan?’
Triffon nodded slowly and happily, like an old man being asked whether he wanted a second helping of dessert.
‘We need to find her Triffon, I have a proposition for her.’
‘Follow.’ Mumbled the ganger, who proceeded to lift a decaying sewer grate and climb down into the pungent darkness.
‘We’re going looking for a hive gang?’
‘We need guides, Triffon doesn’t know the way. But apparently his boss Khadija does. Anyway, I like gangers they’re always rich in human bafflement. This will be an educational experience for us brother.’
A few months earlier, back in monastery of the Intergratio Sect, after one to many glasses of uisge, the vulnerable abbot of the order had confessed to Anso that that, more often than not, Brother Robert’s idea of an ‘educational experience’ left him wanting to run away screaming.
Last edited by Carlos Estevez on Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

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Carlos Estevez
 
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:23 pm

I've read the first chapter (sorry, it's all I really have time for, atm). It's not bad, but there are things that need addressing. You go a bit mad with the adjectives for a start (easily done with this kind of thing, I know), trying to pack in far too much too soon. Also, your paragraphing is off (which is the same as saying the pacing's off):
UNDER THE FLOWERING kadamba trees, near the top of Batram hill, a beautiful peacock with perfect emerald green tail feathers thrashed in a rusty snare. Its shrill cry echoed down the hillside to Anso Eliason. The thin, brown haired thirteen year-old paused from picking the rich yellow globes of kadamba blossom and moved cautiously towards the sound. Soon his electric blue eyes could make out the bird; its slender neck convulsing as it tried to free its over-decorated body. Anso walked towards the snare, reached out with sun kissed hands and snapped its neck in one movement.

That last sentence could have had much more impact if it had been on its own.

You're getting the basics more or less right, but you've yet to develop a real style. It's good that you've managed to write so much - treat itpractisetice and start thinking about the next one. Perhaps a short rather than a novel? You'll get more feedback quicker, that way.

As John Maclane once said, 'Welcome to the party, pal.' :D
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Chun the Unavoidable
 
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel

Postby Carlos Estevez » Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:40 pm

Chapter 4

‘NINE DOWN DOESN’T exist, old man.’ Spat Khadija Mahfoaz, gang boss of the Orphans.
Her black eyes were filled with fury, the dark brown skin of her oval face was poc-marked with tiny white scars and her burnt orange hair was cropped into a short mohawk. She wore a frayed camouflage jacket, black oleaginous leggings and steel toed jack boots stained with phosphorescence and oil.
The air was putrid with the scent of offal and death. Around them were the corpses of twenty gangers, most of whom wore, minus the studs, the same cadvan jackets as the couple Anso had fought. Some of the corpses looked like they were simply sleeping, others were little more than smears of pulverised flesh. A dozen of the hungriest, toughest looking men and women Anso had ever seen rooted through the corpses’ possessions, extracting gold teeth with vicious looking knives and looting choice weapons and ammunition from the dead. There had been a battle here. The Orphans had won. The gang in cadvan jackets had lost and to the victor the spoils.
They were near the very centre of the filtration plant, the heat from the generators was intense, everyone was caked in sweat and bathed in the eerie blue light of the central tower.
Anso thought of himself as someone who was not easily phased but Khadija was frightening. His mind whirred trying to think of ways to reason with her, of common ground to negotiate from but nothing was coming. He could think of nothing he could offer that she would want. In many ways she was the most alien creature he had ever met. Like her, Anso had always been poor, but everyone on Maru was poor. The dirt was infertile, the bovine died of dehydration in summer but there was always hope; crops grew as winter turned to spring, in summer travelling fairs settled in nearby towns, children laughed at clowns and ate sugarfloss, young men courted teenage girls and the farmers and their wives danced and drank late into the night. Here in the depths of Breugaal Hive there was nothing but darkness and mind bending violence. There was nowhere to call home no place of safety. Anso could not imagine what that would do to someone growing up there.
‘And what the fa have you done to Triff?’ Khadija barked pointing a slim but powerfully muscled arm at the scar faced ganger.
‘Nothing at all.’ Replied Robert
’Nothing boss.’ Triffon nodded his head slowly in agreement.
‘Nothing boss?’ Khadija mocked. ‘For the first time in his life Triff here decided he’d rather have a chat with somebody than paint the floor with their brains and root around in their corpses. Shit, that’s about the tallest tale I’ve ever heard. Now once more, before I get annoyed: what the fa do you want?’ Her aura steeled a cold blue. She was a natural leader, too strong to brainwash like Triffon, they would have to negotiate. Robert concentrating on his puppet signalled Anso to lead.
‘We’re truly sorry that we have strayed into your domain.’ He began following the Adeptus Inquisition hostile encounter guidance he had studied on the four week voyage to Breugaal Prime. The abridged version of the five hundred page text would simply have read ‘play dumb’.
‘We are travelling priests, on a spiritual journey to the ninth level below the surface. We appear to have lost our way. While we are not wealthy, we are certainly able to make recompense to anyone who could help us with our travels.’
Cool as ice, Khadija pulled a heavy barrelled revolver from her pocket.
‘Pilgrims?’ She laughed. ‘Does body armour come as standard with holy orders these days?’ She pointed at the hole torn in Anso’s robe earlier by the cadvan jacketed ganger’s shotgun round. His black carapace armour and holstered laspistol were clearly visible through it.
‘There are many dangers in the universe, even for the best of us.’ Replied Anso hastily.
‘So let me get this straight, you have little money, no influence, in short nothing I want. You want me to take the time to go to nine down, which still doesn’t exist. Every now and again some idiot rich boy reads about it in some obscure text and sets off on a quest to find it. Most of them don’t make it back, wealthy folk have a way of disappearing in the downspire. Those that do return. Ha. They most they see are a few odd lights among the oh-so-solid foundations of the downspire. But, despite this, you want me to waste my time nurse maiding you down there when I still have the leaders of this fa-eating rabble to find and dismember.’ She flicked the pistol in the direction of the cadvan coated corpses. ‘Not much of an offer really.’
Something flashed in Anso’s memory.
‘The leaders, what do they look like?’
‘Petra and Sobakevitch, the love birds?’ Said Khadija in surprise. ‘Handsome I guess, as ruthless as their damned matching ear chains are stupid.’
‘They wear cadvan jackets like the dead gangers here’ Said Anso pointing at one of the corpses.
‘Yes, but …’ Began Khadija
‘With matching metal studs in them.’ Finished Anso.
‘How the hell do you know?’
‘They’re dead.’ Said Anso, scarcely believing himself. ‘I killed them.’
‘Rubbish.’ Spat Khadija
‘She has blond hair, he has black, they whistle to each other when they’re fighting, he has a shotgun, she has – had’ he corrected himself, remembering the burnt star on her forehead ‘an autogun. I imagine, not many people from off world find these things out and live to tell the tale?’
Khadija, stared at him hard. Not believing him, but not quite disbelieving him.
‘Well’ declared Robert ‘As it seems Brother Anso has freed you of your pressing obligation, perhaps I can encourage you to help us with ours.’
‘Thirty thousand credits.’ Said Khadija blithely, her aura flaring a more accommodating orange.
‘Two humble pilgrims have thirty thousand credits?’ Replied Anso sticking to his story.
‘No, but two members of the Imperial Inquisition might?’ Said Khadija without flinching.
‘How …’ swallowed Anso, ‘…how do you know that?’
‘You just told her brother.’ Said Robert sternly. Khadija laughed her aura bubbling with satisfaction. Anso lowered his head offering penitence to Emperor. A psyker should never be caught out by a blunt. In his overconfidence he had walked into the simplest of traps.
‘Fifteen thousand in advance,’ Said Robert reaching into his robe. ‘Fifteen more upon arrival at our target location.’ He tossed Khadija a bundle of crumpled thousand credit notes.
‘Deal.’ Still laughing she plucked them from the air one-handed. Anso was surprised how small the bundle looked, he had always thought that much money would need to be carried in a transcase.
‘Though a little part of me wonders why we don’t just take the rest of the money from you right now.’ With the smoothness of any well practiced action she thumbed back the hammer of her revolver. The rest of the Orphans turned towards them with a predatory leer.
‘Brother Anso said we were lost, not defenceless.’ Replied Robert pulling back his habit to reveal the vicious head of his force spear.
‘Now you might take us in a rush, but not before I cleave you in two.’
The gang boss’s eyes widened. Her heavy booted feet braced themselves for a fight. Then, slowly, she lowered her weapon and a smile lit up her face.
‘Fair point. We’ve done well today. Don’t want to go wrecking when I don’t need to. The mythical nine down it is then. Ivanov!’
A huge bearded man, with a sweat soaked mane of brown hair padded towards them. His nose had been broken more times than he had eaten hot meals. A half metre long shock maul freshly prised from the fingers of a dead ganger hung from his fist. A bulky thumb squashed a rune and a streak of purple lighting flashed around its bulbous head. Ivanov grunted and brought the maul down on the corpse’s head in a crackling arc. The skill exploded spraying him with blood and brain tissue. Anso flinched. The bearded ganger smiled. Anso was not surprised to see he was missing several teeth.
‘Did you see that head boss – woomf.’ He chuckled mimicking brains being blown out with his massive hands. His deep set eyes hadn’t seen sleep in days
‘Stop fragging around Ivanov. We’ve got business, big money. These two want to go to nine down. The scrawny one claims to have iced the love birds.’
Ivanov whistled admiringly.
‘Nicely done God boy, they were a ruthless pair of fas. Would’ve like a go at them myself. Shame nine down doesn’t exist though. There’s nothing below eight except myths and ghost stories. Perhaps you and grandpa church got all dressed up for nothing.’ His breath was thick with liquor.
‘Ghosts?’ Asked Anso
‘Some fools; scavengers, desperate gangers, opara fiends go down there. Some never come back. My guess is they starve to death. Those that do make it back into the salubrious confines of five down tell us of weird lights in the never ending darkness.’ Replied Ivanov.
‘Can the bullshit you old drunk.’ Snapped Khadija. ‘They’ve got cash and co-ordinates. We’ll take them as close as we can to 1-11-47. If they can’t find their own way from there to fa with them. And old man.’ She turned to Robert. ‘Release Triff, or we might get so lost you never see sunlight again.’
‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ Replied Robert as the bands of his aura withdrew from the scarred ganger.
In the corner Triffon leaned against an industrial packing crate, shaking his head as if drunk.

IN FORTY MINUTES the Orphans were ready to move. Anso and Robert were checking their providiond, while Triffon and the other gangers fiddled with flarelamps. Khadija, pulled Ivanvov into a darkened corridor.
‘What do you think?’ She whispered.
‘Fa, now you ask? When I’m sobering up and you’ve already sealed the deal? Inquisitors, nine down, thirty-thousand credits and that scrawny little thing claiming to have wasted the love birds: shit, they were two of the hardest bastards in the whole downspire. It’s hot boss. Maybe even out of our league. What happens when we get to eight down and they see there’s nothing further down? If that little runt really did waste the love-birds I don’t fancy going up against them.’
‘We’ll take them as near as we can. If they get tetchy, well you know the drill, we’ll waste them, rob them and leave their corpses down there in the gloom for the vermin to chew on.’ Replied Khadija.
‘Those bastards upspire are bound to get involved and fa knows who else. Mark my words, this will get out of control. It’ll get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.’
‘You think I should’ve turned it down?’
Ivanov laughed bitterly.
‘I didn’t say that. You know I’m always with you boss. Thirty thousand is big time, it could change everything for us. If the star crossed are dead I’m not complaining. If any of those upspire toffs come down here, well I’ve got a new toy for them’ He flashed the shock maul on and off. ‘I’m with you boss, and who knows, it might be fun to play with the big boys. I just wanna live to tell folk I did.’
‘I’ll see you through tough guy. I always do.’

THE JOURNEY DOWN took five days and was every bit as unpleasant as Anso had feared. The Orphans spat, drank and took the Emperor and all the saints’ names in vain in ways he’d never dreamed possible. Triffon, now his normal lunatic self, spent the first day telling every member of the gang that Anso and Robert were daemons from the warp come to lure them into hell with promises of easy wealth. He was only silenced by Khadija threatening to castrate him if he didn’t shut up.
On the second day, Ivanov got into an argument about the route with a heavily tattooed fifteen year old called Penko. The big ganger punched Penko so hard several of the rivets in his forehead popped out leaving bloody circular weals in his skin. Khadija and the others just laughed. What made it truly unbearable for Anso was when he went over to help the ganger, Penko’s eyes welled up as if he was staring into the gates of hell. He spat blood at Anso and formed a crude Imperial crucifix with his fingers. From out of nowhere Triffon, his aura flaring with rage, stepped between them the barrel of his ramshackle rifle leering.
‘Stay away from him daemon.’ He cooed, thrusting the barrel into Anso’s gut. Triffon had just about recovered from Brother Robert’s brain washing. He didn’t know who, or how they had done it but he knew the Inquisitors had done something and he would be damned before they tried it on anyone else.
‘Easy Triff.’ Whispered Ivanov grasping his comrade by the shoulders. ‘These two are a big payday, the boss wants them delivered in perfect condition’
The scar faced Orphan lowered the rifle and slunk into the darkness, his good eye never leaving Anso.
‘Thanks.’ Said Anso.
‘He was never that stable to begin with.’ Replied Ivanov, turning his back on him. ‘If I were you pretty boy, I’d give up sleeping for the next few days.’

BY THE TIME they bedded down among some rotting packing crates on the second day Anso was beginning to realise the sheer extent of the lower levels, or as the Orphans called it the downspire, of Breugaal Hive. Yes, the target was only a few kilometres beneath them, but the dowspire was a labyrinth; the forgotten foundations of the monstrous city above. Every junction ran off in a dozen different directions. There were no landmarks, just occasional ganger symbols spray-stencilled onto dilapidated rockcrete walls. Now and then, they came across the wretched dwellers of the downspire. Anso smelled them before he saw them; beneath their mouldering rags their twisted bodies were barely recognisable as human. Normally, they slunk out of sight as soon as the Orphans’ flarelamps lit them up. The brave ones would shuffle towards them mouthing half remembered prayers and begging for food. Anso always obliged. It was sheer dumb luck he had been born to a loving family on Maru, and an even greater fluke that Brother Robert had been there to take him in when they died. But for the Emperor’s grace, who knows where he might have ended up?

ON DAY THREE they came a dead end. At the head of the group Khadija and Ivanov conferred in hushed voices. The haughty gang leader wandered over to a galvanised plasteel pipe some three metres high, rummaged in a kit bag she carried slung over her shoulder and emerged with two small L-shaped pieces of metal. They were grey, finely crafted, with black rubber handles. Snapping a pair of bug eyed black goggles over her eyes Khadija thumbed a tab on the grey metal devices and six inch jets of white hot flame spat from their tip. Keeping her head as far from the pipe as possible she placed the flames against the plasteel and expertly she traced a man-sized hole in its smooth surface. Showers of glowing mangnesium sparks leapt from the contact point lighting up the darkness. They landed on Khadija’s cheek singing the flesh. Anso recalled the little white scars that poc-marked her fine features and realised that years of blowback from welding without the proper equipment were written on her skin as permanently as any tattoo.
‘Industrial, blowtorches.’ Whispered Robert over Anso’s shoulder. ‘They extract oxygen directly from the air and mix it with magnesium to use as fuel. No needs for propellant tanks. But they’re usually only issued to high level engineers. How pray tell, did our guide come by such a thing?’ Anso did not miss the note of curiosity in his voice.
After a few minutes Khadija flicked the torches out. In the wake of the searing glow of their flame the darkness was deeper and more total than anything Anso had ever known. For a moment the group stood in silence listening to the wounded metal bubble and cool. Then Khadija’s silhouette kicked out at the pipe, with a resounding clang a near perfect circle of metal gave way. Something shifted inside. The beam of Triffon’s flarelamp shone into the gap revealing thousands of white ghost crabs each the size of Anso’s hand. Their bulbous heads streamed forward like a row of helmets emerging from a trench. Spindly legs clicked and clacked against the metal floor like a tap-dancer’s shoes. The swarm of pinching phantoms swirled around the group’s legs nipping at any exposed flesh.
‘Sweep ‘em up, nice and tidy, but keep a few for supper’ Yelled Ivaonv blatting the crabs with his shock maul. ‘There’s good eating on em.’ Following Ivanov’s example Anso, Robert and the gangers fielding their weapons like brooms swept around them and cleared a path through the throbbing white tide.
‘This is an old service tunnel.’ Khadija shouted over the clacking of the crabs. ‘Maybe fifteen kilometres long. The crabs like it because its dark and things get lost and die in it. Leaves them plenty of carrion. The good news is it leads to very base of eight down. Right on top of your coordinates. Nice and direct.’ She saw Anso’s despairing face grinned.
One, by one they climbed through the crab tide and into the tunnel. A trickle of tepid brown water ran along its floor, the thinning tide of the ghost crab army pattered through it. Wearily, Anso followed the gangers into the dark.
That night, when he had finally finished swatting aside crabs who advanced on him with their enlarged right claw raised as if saluting, Anso, not for the first time, dreamt of the veranda on his parents farm. Of his mother bringing him and Kara iced lemonade as the crickets sang in the cool desert night and the breeze was scented with the sweet smell of kadamba blossom.

FAR ABOVE THE dreaming Acolyte in the council chambers of the eighth level above the surface of Breugaal Hive a haughty man in a midnight blue suit argued with the planet’s aristocracy.
‘Inquisitor Auguste Cauchon of Oreleons, expects us to give up money, time and resources to track down one of his own colleagues?’ Repeated the jocular voice of Guildmaster Midas Geld for the fifteenth time that afternoon. ‘The cost of this venture to redeem the failings of his own order cannot be born by Breugaal Hive’s treasury alone, the Inquisition must foot the bill for its own ventures. Especially as our esteemed guest has not even seen fit to tell us why he so desperately needs our help.’
Inquisitor Cauchon could have ripped the fat guildmaster’s heart out and rammed it down his blubbery throat. Time was against him, his augeries informed him that Brother Robert had made planet fall four days ago. Thankfully Robert’s astropaths had failed with their teleport drop. Cauchon had been on the Hephastus and interrogated the surviving crew. He had personally torn the illumination of the Gates of Paradise from the dead astropath’s fingers. He had seen the co-ordinates, he knew where he needed to go, knew that Robert would have landed wildly off target, but still he, the Ordo’s finest Scalp Hunter, was four days behind. He had spent too long politicking with up here with the idiotic aristocracy; rotund red faced men with sneering wives half their age. All trace of their childhood selves buried beneath an avalanche of cosmetic surgery and gene-washing. He needed transport and troops and he needed them now. He would have to bring these braying pigs onside. Simple, he realised, he would just tell them what all rich people feared to hear.
‘I was secretive about my mission because I hoped to conduct my business here without upsetting or alarming you good people. I know how difficult it is to sleep at night with a lunatic on the loose and did not wish to alarm you unnecessarily.’ Cauchon began. ‘I am sorry to tell you that Inquisitor Robert has gone rogue.’ Midas Geld’s porcine eyes widened as. ‘He despises the decent and natural order of things. He feels the ruling classes have no mandate for their power on Breugaal Prime.’ Shocked gasps filled the auditorium. ‘Do you know what the motto of his order is? Omni sont comunia. “Everything belongs to everyone.” Brother Robert no longer accepts his place in the universe. Right now he is indoctrinating the downspire rabble with this wicked creed. He believes the people of this world should rise up and share the wealth of the planet between them all’ He paused for dramatic effect ‘EQUALLY.’ Screams of outrage filled the room. ‘Worse than this, he is plotting with xenome insurgents to have you all exiled into slavery under his xenome collaborators. I have come to deliver you from this monstrous evil but my noble friends time is of the essence. I have only twenty four hours to stop this maddness and for that I need men and transport. ’ For a moment Cauchon worried he had gone too far with the talk of slavery but the room was in uproar. Several members of the committee had fainted others were apoplectic with rage. One garishly dressed merchant was screaming at his man servant to get him off the doomed planet.
Sweating profusely Midas Geldbekker pounded his gavel repeatedly into the lectern in front of him to restore order. His voice trembled with fear.
‘Noble Inquisitor Cauchon, you shall have everything you need and more. Transport will be ready in an hour, our elite spire guard led by my son Captain Tel Geld will accompany you. They have some experience of combat downspire. Dealing with uprisings and such like…’ Cauchon scoffed as he bowed in gratitude. He knew that like many aristocratic families the Gelds broke up the boredom of their luxurious existence by descending to the lower levels and hunting hive gangers for sport. Well, now they would be hunting again but this time the prize was far greater.
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel - ongoing - updated 22/3/12

Postby Rahvin » Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:38 am

This... is actually really good. There are some fairly common issues with grammar - separating clauses properly is a big one, and crops up in almost every paragraph. A few extra punctuation marks may do wonders. It's a minor, basic thing, and it really lets the story down more than it should.

Aside from that, I do have to agree with Chun's comments about the overuse of adjectives. Unless they're really needed, you don't really need them, to use a silly but true guide.

Aside from those, though, bladdy good show sir. Do continue.
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel - ongoing - updated 22/3/12

Postby Carlos Estevez » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:08 am

Another update for this, thanks for the comments and feedback, all very much appreceated, please keep them coming. :D
Last edited by Carlos Estevez on Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
User avatar
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel - ongoing - updated 10/4/12

Postby Carlos Estevez » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:09 am

Chapter 5

‘YOUR BOSS IS getting nervous’ Said Khadija, a note of concern in the back of her voice.

Anso glanced at Robert, his aura was its usual balanced silver hue.

'Nonsense. I don’t see anything.’ Said Anso.

‘You don’t see anything? Aren’t you meant to be an Inquisitor? Every hour we spend down here the old man fidgets and twitches more and more and you don’t see anything? Fa, does being psychic make you blind to body language? The old man’s strung out. He knows something we don’t pretty boy.’

Anso felt embarrassed, it was true. Robert looked gaunt, his eyes were set deeper in their sockets than he had ever known. In fact they had been that way ever since he had returned from an ecumenical conference earlier in the year. Anso knew there had been a great dispute there, but Robert had assured him that was the nature of such occasions; various sects squabbling to promote their view of the universe as orthodoxy. Why had Anso simply accepted this without question? The Acolyte knew the answer: he had grown lazy with his power. Robert was well aware that Anso could read his aura so he made sure to keep it consistent. Instead of paying attention to other features of his master Anso had simply accepted what Robert wanted him to see. If he ever wanted to leave the rank of Acolyte he would have to do better. He had grown up believing the universe was a simple place of good and evil. In his heart he still believed this, no matter how often Robert had told him that everything was shades of grey. Perhaps, this was why he had avoided probing Robert on the conference, why he had not paid more attention to his master. If Robert said everything was fine then the universe stayed simple. If there were other factors at work, if as Robert said the workings of the universe are a game of regicide played by unknown powers, then who knew where right or wrong lay. As preacher Maggid used lecture back on Maru, ‘when you don’t know where evil lies, you’re up to your knees in it.’ Anso shuddered.

The Acolyte resolved to pay more attention to all his companions’ physical traits in future. The first thing he noticed was how Khadija’s hands shook almost continually.


JUST WHEN ANSO thought he could not spend another minute in the tunnel they emerged into an ancient cobbled square. Nothing moved. The dark was deep, black and endless. The gangers’ flarelamps were as effective as trying to illuminate the void of space with matches. The quiet was all pervasive. Anso slowed his breathing to make less noise. The Orphans, normally so rowdy, communicated in hushed whispers.

Khadija turned to Robert.

‘End of the line old man. Coordinates 1-11-46. The base of eight down, there is nothing deeper.’ Her voice was low and tremulous.

‘It would seem that way.’ Robert mumbled, swinging his glowlamp around. Anso saw a stringy spider the size of his hand scuttle into cover.

‘So why the service tunnel? Why run a service tunnel all the way down here?’

Robert was dancing his thumbs across the tips of his right hand. Since his conversation with Khadija, Anso was increasingly sensitive to Robert’s near constant fidgeting. The way he checked and rechecked his weapons and armour, his fingernails chewed into battered stubs. At first Anso thought it was simply more of the same but looking closely he realised the movement was regular, methodical even. Three touches on the ring finger, five on the little finger, one on the middle and seven on the index. All single digit prime numbers thought Anso. All indivisible except by themselves, strong unbreakable patterns which can be used to control psychical energy. A barely perceptible nimbus of light gathered around Robert’s right hand. The bones of the saints fused into his gauntlet bleached white.

The veteran Inquisitor placed the palm of his hand firmly on the ground and the energy earthed into the floor. Most of it vanished immediately but in other places it coalesced and pooled giving off a faint hint of moonlight. A low susurrus hum filled the air. Robert tapped his index finger against the floor seven times. The pools of light broke into streams along the ground and flooded away into the darkness. Anso was reminded of the strips of landing lights which guided shuttles into the hangers of interplanetary vessels.

‘Ghosts.’ One of the Orphans muttered in the gloom.

‘This way.’ Robert beckoned them. ‘People have been here, thousands of years ago. Their psychical echo still stains the ground.’

They had travelled barely two hundred yards when like a mountain stream tumbling into a crevasse the light vanished into the floor. The cobbles had given way to paving as smooth as glass. Robert fanned his helkhair habit out and knelt down. He pressed his face against the ground. Brown eyes darted across its flawless surface, searching. A wall of sheer rock rose a few metres ahead of them. Dewy moss clung to its seemingly endless surface. Robert sniffed the air, Anso copied involuntarily and smelt nothing but damp. His master returned to the floor drumming gnarled fingers along it, placing his ear to the ground and listening. Occasionally he would mutter to himself in the delicate iambic pentameter of high gothic. The gangers tapped their heads and smirked knowingly.

‘Anso, you see that.’ He said, suddenly pointing to the floor. Anso stared hard. The ground was blank, as featureless as an event horizon. He shook his head.

‘Look harder.’ Growled Robert. The young Inquisitor closed his eyes, breathed deeply and tried again. This time he saw it. A tiny swirling blotch, of psychical energy no more than a few centimetres wide. It looked like…

‘A fingerprint.’ Said Anso.

‘Very good.’ Said Robert pressing his thumb to it.

There was a sibilant whisper of something superbly engineered sliding. Beams of light streamed from the ground before them as the paving segmented into metre long strips and started to sink gently away from them. After a few moments they were facing a semi-circular marble staircase nearly thirty metres wide which led underneath the massive rock wall. Light shimmered from lamps hidden in the steps.

‘Fa, Nine down.’ Ivanov whispered.

‘Here be ghosts.’ Replied Triffon ominously.

The group descended with weapons raised. After a few minutes they emerged into from a ten man wide doorway into a pristine alabaster cupola which Anso guess to be one hundred metres high and three hundred metres in diameter. The flooring was a series of interlocking monotone marble sets. On the far side of the cupola flanked by two broad Doric columns another set of doors, wide enough for twenty men. Above it, in matt black lettering were the words PARADISE HEIGHTS, with the strapline ‘for all your worldly, and off-worldly needs’ in a friendly blue font beneath it.

‘What the hell is this?’ Gasped Ivanov.

‘The illumination!’ Shouted Anso, unable to suppress his joy.

‘Yes brother. Exactly as Balthur Calvinius painted it. The white cupola at the gates of paradise.’ The elderly Inquisitor produced a brass pocket chronometer, tapped it a few times and smiled. ‘We still have three hours to find the Traveller. Make haste.’ He began to jog forward across the room.

‘Wait.’ Snapped Khadija, raising her hand.

‘What?’ Asked Anso. A flicker of fear sounded in his skull. Had they been fools to think they could buy the gangers. He reached for his pistol. Khadija’s face blanched, but not at Anso’s aggression. A tiny trickle of dust, like the grains of sand in an hour glass descended from the ceiling.

‘Hear that?’

Anso made out a faint, low frequency rumbling.

‘A filtration unit?’ He asked hopefully.

‘Not deep enough’ Replied Ivanov.

The rumble grew loader, deepening into a threatening growl.

‘Oh FA!’ Khadija screamed her panicked voice cutting through the ever increasing rumble like preacher Maggid’s nails on the school chalkboard. ‘Tunnlers, upspire tunnlers! They’re going to blind breach. Get back against the walls, get the fa back!’

The Orphans sprang towards the walls training their weapons at the alabaster ceiling. Robert and Anso braced themselves against one of the Doric columns. The whole cupola shook violently, the columns quivered and alabaster dust fell like snow. The roar became ear splitting. Anso realised the tone was unnatural, something mechanical was whirring behind it. A chunk of masonry two metres wide broke free from the roof and, with a crack, shattered the pristine marble paving. A series of irregular lines appeared in the ceiling, followed by a huge growling roar like some pre-human predator sighting its prey. A massive, flat faced, gunmetal grey drill five metres in diameter and plastered with independent disc cutters sheared through the ceiling spewing debris in every direction. The drill head punched through the roof then stopped. For a moment Anso glimpsed the cylindrical yellow body behind. The drill wobbled, and began to rotate counter clockwise, as if trying to back up. The cracks in the roof widened, whatever was behind the drill was too heavy for the wounded cupola to support. With a groan like a steel bridge buckling the roof caved in. A two hundred tonne Yarrick class Imperial Mole, its snub drill attached to a twenty metre cylindrical body, nosedived to the ground. The drill buckled on impact, smashing through the mole’s body crushing the front end of its core like a can. The dome reverberated like a bell struck with a hammer. Shrapnel sheared through the air, Anso heard men scream amongst the roar of the crash.

Everything was still. Thick grey dust filled the air reducing visibility to an arms length. People moaned horribly. The roof groaned under the damage the mole had wrought. Masonry fell to earth with a thunk. A flash of light on the stricken tunneller preceded the popping bang of a controlled explosion. The dust began to settle. A door was spat outward. Loping silhouettes emerged from the crumpled hull. Amongst them was an imposing figure with a cocksure walk. It advanced drawing what could only be a sword. The silhouettes formed up around the figure raising what Anso guessed were lasrifles. The blue pilot light of a flamer ignited. Soon, Anso could make out a man, no more than thirty years old, with slicked back blond hair and a narrow predatory face. Every part of his eyes had been dyed. In his left hand he clutched a pulsing power sword. His perfectly tailored midnight blue suit was criss-crossed with hundreds of signs of psychic warding that hurt Anso’s eyes to look upon. Most shocking of all, pinned to his chest was the red rosette of the Imperial Inquisition.

‘Inquisitor Brother Robert of Bastille.’ He roared, his aristocratic voice filled with venom. ‘You know me. I am the scalp hunter Inquisitor Cauchon of Oreleons, by the order of High Inquisitor Guillame Bernard of the Inquisitorial Ordo Xenos; I pronounce you and the Intergratio Sect heretics. You will surrender to me, or I kill every last one of you.’
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
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Re: Acolyte - Inquisitor Novel - ongoing - updated 16/6/12

Postby Carlos Estevez » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:36 pm

Chapter 6

THE RUNIED CUPOLA shook. A gaping wound in the ceiling revealed torn steel reinforcement bars which jutted like fangs from the battered alabaster façade. A whale cry noise of metal under too much pressure reverberated through the dome. Scores of muscular powder blue armoured troopers, the infamous spire guard of Breugaal Prime, poured from the wreckage of the mole locking their weapons onto Robert and Anso. Red target markers from two dozen perfectly calibrated lasrifles danced across the Inquisitors’ hearts and heads. They were trapped in the doorway to Paradise Heights, metres from safety. Khadija, Ivanov and the rest of the Orphans had taken cover behind the Doric columns, weapons drawn. It was plain to Anso that they were outnumbered and outgunned, if it came to a firefight there would only be one winner.

‘I assume you will come quietly, heretic.’ Said Cauchon cracking his gloved knuckles.

‘Heresy?’ Anso could not believe his ears. Brother Robert was the noblest man he had ever met, the embodiment of everything righteous about the Imperium. A student of a thousand human and xenome cultures, a man whose only goal in life was to safeguard the future of the human race. Yet, here was a fellow Inquisitor accusing him of the basest of treachery. Surely, there must be some mistake. He looked to Brother Robert, confident that his master would quickly and calmly resolve this.

‘Cauchon you piece of vermin.’ Robert roared, his brown eyes filled with loathing. His voice like thunder. ‘You backstabbing little upstart, you dare accuse me of heresy? You dare interrupt my work with your trivial politicking?’

‘I have a warrant from Guillame Bernard himself.’ Bellowed the black eyed Inquisitor, waving an officially sealed parchment in the air.

‘You you damned lapdog. I’m sure your odious sponsor Bernard was only to happy to sign it. Like your nursemaid you are only interested in promotion and rank. You would arrest your own mother if it would move yourself and your master up the career ladder. One day he will learn that the Inquisition is not his personal plaything and I will see you in hell before I give Bernard the satisfaction of appearing in his kangaroo court on these trumped up charges.’

‘That can be arranged Brother.’ Mocked Cauchon, his aura flushed with triumph as he signalled the Spire Guard to attack formation.

Reaching for his side arm something caught Anso’s eye; behind the column to his right Khadija was tampering with a small black box, sparks flew from a series of silver wires she was coiling together. A sturdy metal spike appeared in the box’s back and she rammed the device into the column, fastening it firmly in place. Her aura showed signs of immense physical strain, but the task involved no great exertion just pressure and dexterity. The orange haired gang boss glanced at Anso and made a talking gesture with her hand. The Acolyte just stared at her, what on earth did she mean? Angry now Khadija pointed to Cauchon and made the gesture again before returning to tamper with the box.

By now the Spire Guard had spread out, making a grenade to catch them bunched up around the mole. The ruined ceiling groaned. Cauchon and Robert, eyes filled with hate, stared each other down.

‘Last chance Robert.’

‘The Inquisitional Council will have you hanged for this Cauchon.’

The Spire Guard surged forward.

‘Wait!’ Shouted Anso finally understanding Khadija’s gesture. ‘If Brother Robert is accused then as his Acolyte, I am accused, and I wish to know what of.’ Keep them talking. Khadija wanted him to keep them talking.

‘So’ laughed Cauchon ‘the prodigal son speaks. You hear, Brother, your protégé wishes to know the full extent of your treachery so he too can renounce you.’

Robert turned his glare on Anso. His eyes were pools of fire and his furious aura loomed over him like a storm cloud. Anso willed his master to understand, but if he did the grave Inquisitor gave no sign.

‘I wish to know.’ Said Anso so meekly he could barely make out his own voice.

‘Your master’ cackled Cauchon as if he were revealing a winning hand in a game of baccarat ‘believes that the arch traitor Horus was a superior being to the God Emperor.’

Anso’s jaw dropped. Everyone in the cupola, even the Orphans, crossed themselves at the mention of Horus Lupercal, the God Emperor’s favoured son who turned into his greatest enemy. A monster who ten thousand years ago made pacts with the dark Gods of the Immaterium, who brought about a galaxy spanning civil war which was only ended by the Emperor Himself striking down his treacherous progeny. Who wounded the Emperor so severely that he had been confined to the life-support systems of the Golden Throne for the last ten thousand years.
Robert just laughed.

‘The head of a pin! This is about the head of a pin debate?’

Cauchon nodded gleefully.

‘That debate took place in front of the entire Ecumenical Congress of Chalcedon. It was an open forum blessed by the High Lords of Terra to better guide the doctrine of the Inquisition. You come here because of this?’

Anso breathed a sigh of relief. The Ecumenical Conference had been a prestigious event. Following their success in the Orgoglian Campaign, Robert’s invitation to the conference had been a sign of the rising star of the Intergratio Sect. Respect for their learned approach to the great issues of the day was growing. Still this did not mean that Anso was any the wiser about what had actually occurred at the conference. Once again he felt angry that Robert had kept things from him.

‘What was the head of a pin debate?’ Asked Anso.

‘You master’ began Cauchon ‘believes that Horus had powers beyond that of the Emperor. That Horus could do
things that He could not.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like dance on the head of a pin.’

‘Because he was a daemon and an abomination.’ Screamed Robert. ‘He had abandoned all the humanity that was in him and could do the unnatural! The Emperor’s body is a vessel for his divine spirit and, as such, was fundamentally human: flesh and blood. It would be unnatural for him to be able to contort his physical self as the daemon Horus could.’

Cauchon clapped his hands together in triumph.

‘You cannot control yourself blasphemer, by your own damned voice do you denounced yourself once more!’
Robert’s eyes welled up with fury. His aura boiled.

‘My view was endorsed by the congress as a sign of the Emperor’s divinity and love for the mortals he rules.’

‘Guillame Bernard has ruled it as heresy and, as you know Brother, he is responsible for the purity of the Ordo Xenos in this sector. His word is law. You are a traitor.’

Anso was dumfounded. His thoughts riven in two. The part of him that was still a puritan boy from Maru, who held his mother’s hand as they entered the whitewashed church and sang the Emperor’s praises knew that no good could come of discussing the nature of the arch traitor. The universe was simple, divided into good and evil; the perfection of the Emperor, the abomination of xenomes and daemons. Back home the mere mention of Horus’s name was enough to have a man lynched. Why would Robert want to involve himself in such matters? Wrestling with this fundamental truth, the new part of him, the Inquisitional Acolyte, knew that this was empty rhetoric perverting good men from their true course. The Imperium was constantly imperilled from all sides, humanity must work together to survive. But Cauchon had pursued them to depths of Breugaal Hive over whether Horus or the Emperor could dance on the head of a pin? It was preposterous, immaterial, who even cared? He looked into their pursuer’s oil black eyes and realised Cauchon cared. He truly believed it mattered. Like the preachers on Maru, he was a zealot, and no matter how much one reasoned with him he would never change his point of view. There was no way out. Anso did not want to take arms against a fellow Inquisitor but although he was beginning to doubt Robert, his loyalty lay first and foremost with his master. While Cauchon was clearly a blunt, lacking any psychic power of his own, his midnight blue suit was coated with runes of psychic warding, it would be impossible for either Robert or he to brainwash him. A rustling sound returned his attention to Khadija. A tangle of wires hung from the black box on the column. She held one in each hand, the plaspolymer coating peeled back to reveal its copper innards. Her eyes flicked from wire to wire. Her head spasmed awkwardly on her slender shoulders, for a moment Anso thought she had been shot. Then, with a showman’s timing she winked. For the last few days Anso had found her unflappability intensely irritating but right now, he was delighted to have her on their side.

‘Cauchon, you are a fanatic and a fool.’ Continued Robert coldly. ‘My comments were made in front of a thousand members of the Ecclesiarchy. I will do nothing to give you savour.’

‘So be it. Captain Geld.’

‘Sir.’ Came the haughty voice of the Captain Tel Geld. Even by the standards of the steroid fuelled Spire Guard he was a big man. His strawberry blond hair was slicked back beneath his cap. In his right hand he held a bejewelled laspistol. In his right, a bulky steel toothed chainsword.

‘No mercy.’

‘Fire!’ Roared Geld.

Anso closed eyes. The world went black. There was no sound. He heard his heart pound in his breast.
Nothing happened.

He opened his eyes.

His brow saturated with sweat, Robert’s thundercloud aura snaked around the spire guard, muddying their thoughts.

The muscles in Geld’s neck tensed like hawsers.

‘Run!’ Cried Ivanov, pulling the Inquisitors through the doorway between the columns.

‘Fire you fools!’ Screamed Cauchon drawing a boltpistol and letting rip. High explosive rounds pounded the columns ripping their perfectly sculpted surfaces to pieces. Spent cartridges ejected from the sidearm and pattered gently on the floor. Geld and another trooper with sergeant’s stripes on his shoulder joined him. A bolt round blew apart a slight black haired ganger’s hip, lasfire fizzed past Anso’s ear liquefying sections of the wall beside him. Coming to their senses the rest of the soldiers opened up, blanketing the cupola with white hot energy rounds. In response Khadija, her aura still a turmoil of physical strain, sparked the copper wires together and ran. Her heavy boots crumped through the alabaster dust leaving a procession of disorderly footprints in her wake. The charges on the columns detonated, ripping through doorway bringing a twenty metre section of wall crashing down behind them sealing Cauchon on one side, Anso and his companions on the other.

Ivanov ground to a halt. Anso’s heart was pounding like a taiko drum. The trio stood among the grinning gangers. Even Triffon seemed pleased. Coated in a ghostly layer of white dust Khadija emerged, a beautiful smile lighting up her scarred face.

‘Well, that should keep them busy for a while.’ She laughed. ‘Now, how the hell do we get out of here?’
Anso couldn’t help but notice that her hands were shaking worse than ever.

---------------

AT FIRST THE group could see nothing except three dark corridors leading into who knows where. Slowly, strip lights began to flicker on revealing a pale oval boulevard with perfectly smooth walls and gleaming floors. A soft synthboard interpretation of the great composer Emmanuel Ax piped from hidden speakers. Three inoffensive yellow chevrons lit up in the floor prompting them to follow the central route into Paradise Heights.

‘Well’ said Robert as bemused as the others ‘we might as well do is it says.’

Following his lead the motley group pushed on. Anso couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be less of them. He recalled the screams as the mole had crashed into the dome and the fleeing gangers being cut down by the Spire Guard. He and Robert had already led several of them to their death. Would there be more? It was alright for him. He had elected to serve the Imperium and had no illusions that he would most likely die doing so. But the Orphans were citizens of the Emperor, admittedly not the most virtuous and law abiding, but none the less they were His people. Should Anso not be protecting them? Of course every human being had a collective responsibility to their race, to protect their people. But this was now a power struggle between Inquisitional factions and Anso was not even sure he was on the right side. What right did he and Robert have to ask the Orphans to die for them?
He picked up his pace to catch Khadija. She was spitting into her hands and using the moisture to wipe the dust of the explosion from her face. Her bug eyed welding goggles were perched in her fiery hair. Her hands were shaking like a leaf but her expression was calm and her aura was free from fear.

‘What?’ She said surprised to see Anso next to her.

‘I wanted to thank you, you saved us. I don’t know what got into Brother Robert; he’s normally so calm. I really think he’d have fought them all if you hadn’t intervened.’

‘Welcome to politics.’ She replied shrugging her shoulders. Anso felt his temper rise. They had come moments from being killed. Brother Robert had lost the plot and all Khadija could do was make cryptic comments.

‘What do you mean?’ He asked testily.

‘Politics, it’s enough to drive anyone over the edge. Even hive gangs have it. My first few years in charge of the Orphans, all I did was politics. People trying to discredit me, whispering behind my back, trying to cut my throat in my sleep; you know, the usual stuff.’ Khadija replied in a bored tone of voice.

‘That’s normal?’

‘It seems the more I learn about the Inquisition, the more it seems the same as the downspire. I’ve met plenty of Cauchons, ambitious self-righteous types. He’d slit your throat without a second’s hesitation, it’s in his eyes. You know the reason we didn’t just give you up back there?’

‘Why?’

‘It isn’t in your eyes Anso, it isn’t even in the old man’s. Don’t get me wrong, he’s killed more people than I’ve had hot meals, but I doubt he ever took pleasure in doing so. I don’t imagine you ever will either. I can trust people like that.’ She smiled winningly. Not wanting to find if she was joking or not Anso tried to change the subject.

‘All those people trying to blacken your name, the gossip and the malice did it get to you?’ He asked.
‘Fa yes, you try to build something, others just want to tear it down to look good. The universe is divided that way, between the builders and the wreckers.’

‘Which are you?’

‘I’d like to be a builder, like my father was, but I’m probably a wrecker. Fa, I just wrecked that dome pretty good.’

‘To save us, to save the Orphans. Well most of them’ Said Anso lowering his head. ‘I’m sorry about them, the ones Cauchon got. We’ he corrected himself ‘I didn’t know they were coming.’

Khadija looked over at Ivanov, remembering his warning that people would die.

‘It’s not your fault God-boy, it was those faing upspire troopers. If they hadn’t got Desi and Hristo this time they’d have wasted them later. There’s not really what you educated types would call “a long lease of life” down here.’

Desi and Hristo, the dead Orphans, at least now he knew their names. He tried to picture their faces but couldn’t, other than Triffon, Ivanov, Khadija and the teenager Penko the gangers all looked alike; malnourished, dirty and angry: a homogenous product of difficult lives.

‘What do you mean they’d have got them later?’

‘Those up-spire bastards have been tunnelling down for years now. They train for urban combat by taking down gangers, claiming it’s part of their civic duty. Of course they outnumber us and have vastly superior weapons. So it’s more of a hunt than a battle. They’d have come for us eventually, and they’d have got us too; just like they got the Z-lines and the Quills before us. I‘m just glad we had a chance to teach them a lesson back there. Plus we wouldn’t want you two leaving without paying us that other fifteen thousand would we?’

‘No, you wouldn’t.’ Anso smiled ‘You more than earned getting us out of that one. We should pay you extra. Call it danger money or something.’

‘Danger money – fa! I knew you two were danger the moment I set eyes on you.’

For the first time in days Anso laughed.

-------------------

AS THE DUST from the Khadija’s breaching charges settled, Captain Geld turned towards a battered sergeant, the only other member of his company who had opened fire on the gangers. The blast had thrown him clean across the cupola.

‘You’re alright Aafke? Nothing too serious?’

‘Cracked a few ribs Captain, and that psychic attack, I’ve never felt anything like it, thought for a moment I was paralysed,’ Wheezed the bloodied soldier. The right sleeve of his uniform had been torn away revealing a mass of purple bruising and lacerations. Biting through the pain Aafke raised it and saluted Geld. ‘But I’ll live thank you sir.’

The burly Captain unholstered his sidearm and shot him through the head.

‘No.’ he said removing his cap and wiping sweat from his beetling brow. ‘You won’t.’ He turned to the rest of his squad Aafke’s corpse lying at his feet. ‘Let that be a lesson to you all.’ Gobbets of spit flew from his thick lips. Afke’s ruby red blood pooled at his feet. ‘Sergeant Aafke failed to lead you properly. He is dead because of your failings. I do not want them repeated. For every further lapse, I will execute the man responsible. Nobody jeopardises Inquisitor Cauchon’s mission. Do I make myself clear!’

A chorus of ‘Sir, yes sir’ welled up through the battered cupola.

‘Now where is Boeman?’

Two soldiers led a hulking ogryn from the wreckage of the mole. The beast cradled a 400 kilo Multi-Melta in his ape like arms as if it were a child’s toy. Nearly twice the height of Geld and built like a bull Boeman crossed the room quickly. The pachyderm stomp of his tree-trunk legs reverberated through the floor. A metal strut was protruding from the sandbag of muscle that formed his shoulder.

‘Sorry sir.’ Said one of the troopers, lowering his head. ‘The handrail in the mole tore lose in the crash pinning him in. We only just cut it lose.’

The captain dismissed them with a wave. Boeman’s bald Easter Island statue of a head looked down at Geld and grimaced as a ham like fist pulled the gore spattered pole from his flesh. Boeman eyed the offending object as a fishermen would a particularly pathetic catch before tossing it to one side.

‘There!’ Screamed Geld pointing his still smoking pistol at the rubble the gangers had brought down on the Doric columned doorway. ‘Clear it and quickly. We must catch them.’

The behemoth rolled towards the debris raising the Multi-Melta. As Geld walked away something growled behind him. He couldn’t tell if it was the weapon or the beast. The acrid magma stench of molten rock stung his nostrils.

On the far side of the cupola Inquisitor Cauchon was venting his frustration by kicking in the lifeless skull of a female ganger. His thin lips stiffened to what Geld guessed was a grin as the ganger’s head came apart with sloppy crack. Bone and brain tissue clung to Cauchon’s stylish chestnut coloured boots.

‘Apologies for the delay sir, but I assure you this won’t take long, we always bring plenty of mining gear in the event of such a misfortune. I estimate we’ll be on the move in fifteen minutes standard.’

‘We’d better be.’ Snarled Cauchon as the roar of Boeman’s melta-melta drowned out all other noise. ‘For your sake.’
Woop, woop! I finally have some fan fic on the bolthole.

Some of my non-SF/Fantasy stories and criticism in Slashstroke Magazine

Extract from my novel 'Off Season'
Top 10 Inside Out Novels
'Anticline' A short story

Come find me on twitter as well
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Carlos Estevez
 
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