Incubi Umbraeque

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

Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:47 am

Prelude

913.M41
Jollana Librarium


Ten thousand years was ample time to reflect on past mistakes and mend broken trust.

Or not, not when the individual still believed themselves justified in their deeds. Ahriman had denounced his exile centuries ago, preferring to call it a pursuit of arcane knowledge and understanding. One which lesser beings could not grasp, their feeble minds never looking beyond the next sunrise. He had travelled the length and breadth of the galaxy, across the five zones of the Segmentums, through the remnants of unnamed xenos civilizations. His eyes had born witness to countless conflicts, beholding feats where the mind could no longer comprehend and words paled. On planets where suns never rose and across realms of glass, the sorcerer uncovered primordial lore better left alone. Each piece was a part of the greater puzzle, the intricate tapestry which created and held the cosmos together, in comprehending the machinations of gods.

The orifkanos, acquired from the reclusia of Hellebaum. A shard of bone from the daemon B'Av Sha'Ti'Kdgusa, spirited away from a nameless world in the Eye of Terror. The spirit stone of an Eldar warlock, captured in battle against the host of Zahr-Tann. An Imperial Navigator taken from a broken battle fleet.

Each piece brought Ahriman closer to his goal of complete understanding, but it was never enough. His obsession drove him forward, a mania to outstrip those who banished him from the Planet of the Sorcerers. His quest had taken him into the Koronus Expanse, a region of the Halo Stars, to a solitary planet of ice dubbed Jollana. In the bitterly cold Imperial outpost, the only place people inhabited was the grand librarium, built atop a pinnacle of ice in the middle of the desolate wasteland.

The Jollana Ordo, charged to safeguard manuscripts millennia old, rarely allowed outsiders past its doors. The few rogue traders who braved this section of space acted as merchants for the planet; trusted enough they had been allowed inside the sole librarium and came to know what artefacts it held. Ahriman had uncovered the location from one trader and was rewarded for his efforts. In Jollana's frozen vaults lay a scroll which, when held by those trained in the arts of divination, gave the bearings of psykers whose presence would influence both present and future events. A scroll the Chaos sorcerer could use, and use well.

Ahriman's battle cruiser, the Khermuti, presently hung in low orbit over the world. On the surface lay the librarium, its occupants believing the galaxy had forgotten them. They had thought wrong. With no defences against outside forces or a way to summon aid, Jollana Librarium would fall with ease. Ahriman and his coven prepared for the expedition to the surface, holding council in the ship's strategium. Like many other chambers on the vessel, it was furnished with the trappings of those who delved into the mysteries of magic and illusions. Banners waved listlessly against the walls, stirred by the passing of will-o-wisps. The images inscribed on the cloth minutely changed appearance, never the same. Light bled into the strategium from torches ensconced on the walls, the colour of the flames flickering from a scarlet red to an icy blue.

The Thousand Sons chosen to be part of Ahriman's inner cabal stood around a circular table hewn from black marble flecked with grey. Above the table floated a three dimensional map of the Jollana Librarium, perceived weakened sections of the edifice marked in red against the dominate green. The finer points of the assault were being delegated when an aide hurried into the strategium. The mutated being bowed, well aware his presence was unasked for and unwanted, hurrying to speak.

“My Lord Ahriman, the sensors indicate a vessel has translated from the Warp not far from us.” Conversation died at the aide's proclamation. Twisted and hunched over himself, the servant bowed lower under the weight of so many eyes. “It is a Vengeance-class grand cruiser, transmitting to our ship's encrypted communications channel.”

“What are they saying?” Ahriman, his elaborate armour reflecting the green light of the hololith map, cut quickly to the heart of the matter.

“They desire to speak with you and no one else. The crew is waiting upon your verification before proceeding, my lord, but our weapons are armed in the event this becomes hostile. Our scryer believes the vessel originated from the Planet of the Sorcerers in part to its venerable age--“

“Fool,” Ahriman hissed, his voice low and mocking. “For someone to have access to the Khermuti personal transmission codes meant they had to have come from the Planet of the Sorcerers.”

Covering its hooded face with heavily veined hands, the aide hastily apologized. Ahriman dismissed the menial before turning his attention to the Sons assembled around the table. “We shall continue this after I have dealt with the new arrival. Until then, attend to your duties and prepare yourselves for Jollana's surface.”

Once the Chaos marines had left, Ahriman rose from his chair and, staff in hand, made his way to the command deck of the ship. The sorcerer's pulse raced excitedly. He did not know the meaning behind the ship's arrival, but that would change. Ahriman strode toward the technicians in charge of the voxcaster, one of the Thousand Sons beckoning him over.

“We have confirmed the Vengeance grand cruiser as one commanded by the Thousand Sons,” Kapharon spoke, answering the silent question. One of the few trusted Thousand Sons under Ahriman's leadership, his captaincy was undisputed, having survived for so long with a wealth of experience. “They have matched all codes we have sent. There is no doubting their validity. By your order, we will relay with them and open a hololithic link.”

“Do we have an idea of who it is?” Ahriman asked. Whoever was waiting on the other side was masterfully concealing their psychic presence, and when Kapharon shook his head, Ahriman exhaled quietly.

“Ahriman, is it possible after all this time we could be summoned home?” The hope Kapharon expressed, mirrored by the others on the bridge, pressed against Ahriman's psyche. It was too much to wish for. Ahriman waved him away.

“Have the forward batteries ready to fire should things sour. While this moment may be a turning point, it could just as easily be a trap.” Caution had become a close friend to the Chaos Space Marine in his travels, one which served him well. This time was no different to any other.

Kapharon issued the order and the lower decks broke into frantic activity to obey. Ahriman stood ready at the helm, watching the coils of the hololithic display activate. A low hum reverberated across the bridge, the voxfeed squealing against the feedback. Kapharon signalled to Ahriman that the transference had gone through. The towering display screen flickered. Static hissed as the feeds struggled to align properly, and slowly an image began to focus.

It was the last face Ahriman wanted to see. Ten thousand years could change many things, but time would not change the hostility he held against Osis Pathoth.

The vizier removed his ornate death helm, his familiar ghostly smile present. Time had left the marine untouched; his eyes still judging and seeking out the inherent weakness of others. Ahriman controlled the rate of his breath, containing the anger which flared at the individual who had orchestrated his downfall. Now was not the time to lose himself in a red fury. Carefully choosing his next words, Ahriman deliberately withheld the worst of the verbal barbs.

“Of all the faces to appear and fate chose yours. I was not expecting to see you, Osis Pathoth. I take it is no coincidence you are here and so far from the Eye. What brings you?”

“You are not the easiest sorcerer to find in this universe, Ahriman.” Pathoth's tone was neutral, carefully measured. “I spent much time in tracking you down. Imagine my amazement to find your ship still in working order after so long.”

“I have excellent Mechanicum priests,” Ahriman calmly replied in the face of the insult. He felt the tension rise from all present on the bridge, those waiting for the invisible blade to fall and a battle to break out. “Why is my presence so important that you would seek me out and not one of your lackeys?”

Pathoth wanly smiled. “Our Primarch wished it to be so. None other could be entrusted with such a monumental task.” He kept from saying more, deliberate in the action and at the same moment keenly reminding Ahriman who held Magnus's favour.

“And what is so crucial to be said that you have become the messenger?”

Beside Ahriman, Kapharon groaned quietly. Discreetly moving his fingers, the captain signalled the Master of Weapons to stand ready. If they were fortunate, their vessel could fire off one salvo before being obliterated from the stars.

“Such harsh words, Ahzek. Did you not say so yourself, long ago, we would cross paths once more? Where you would be the wiser of us both? Perhaps you should listen to what I have to say before jumping to unnecessary conclusions.” Pathoth's face dominated the display screen, the unnatural colour of the vizier's eyes arresting everyone's movements. “Lord Magnus has seen the web of the future. Your strand was found to be weaving back into the greater fold once more. Your star is on the rise. In lieu of our Primarch being unable to be here in person, I have come as his proxy. As such, my word is as powerful as Magnus's would be.”

Ahriman gripped his black staff. The desire he had quashed returned, being allowed to return home after so long. The exiled Sons, hearing their sojourn in the universe could soon be ended, looked expectantly at Ahriman. Yet, the caution Ahriman employed rose to the fore. “This is a bold move, not unlike Magnus but surprising. What is stopping me from killing you should I wish to, Pathoth? There's no amicable blood between us.”

The laughter of the vizier boomed across the command deck, harsh and derisive. “My mission takes precedence before my ego. Magnus's word is law. If you wish to return to the Primarch's graces and not destroy the hope of your wayward cabal, it wouldn't be prudent to kill me. I stand here to see to it what my Primarch wishes will be so. If you attack me, he will see it as a strike against his own flesh.”

Bitter acknowledgement swept over Ahriman. The tension eased from Ahriman's gene-enhanced body, but did not vanish. “What are the conditions to Magnus's assessment?”

“Now we are truly thinking alike, Ahriman.” The patronizing smile Pathoth gave threatened to undo the mental calm Ahriman had achieved. “I will watch and observe, and come the time Magnus sees fit to bring you home, he shall inform me. Prior to that, I will join my forces to yours. Of course, you shall hold command. Think of me merely as an... advisor of sorts.”

Ahriman thought he heard a note of derision in the words. Osis Pathoth, the Vizier of the Magus, subservient to his orders? The sorcerer smiled under his helm, considering the power dynamic. Pathoth's presence would be almost bearable.

“I assume these plans from our Primarch will take immediate effect?”

The vizier marginally inclined his head. “Of course.”

“I will require a test of loyalty.”

“Name it,” came the answer, quick and assured.

Ahriman gestured at a point beyond the screen, in the direction where the death world of ice lay. “Break open the Jollana Librarium. Commit yourself to the battle. Allow me to see the truth to your words. As you are so fond of saying, do Magnus proud in your endeavour and you will find a place in my cabal.”

________


Osis Pathoth led the assault against Jollana Librarium, if it was even worthy of being called an assault. Against an unarmed and mortal opponent, it was an absolute massacre. The Thunderhawk the vizier and his warriors were in screamed down through the frigid atmosphere, buffeted by the sheer winds which tossed ice and snow up into the heavens. Dropping through the thick clouds and out of the storms wracking the upper stratosphere, the Thunderhawk made straight for the grand librarium. It sat like a beacon in the middle of a snowy wasteland atop a spire of ice, the mirrored sides of the librarium weakly reflecting the light that glinted off the ice fields.

Inside the craft, Pathoth made ready with his squad of Rubric Terminators and sorcerer-adepts. He hadn't taken many warriors. It was meaningless to bring a company against scholars who had never fought a day in their lives. His helmet, the silver death mask with its mocking smile, was sealed and the jewels set into his power armour smouldered with an inner fire. Pathoth meditated, strapped upright in the vertical harness as the others were, one hand resting on the pommel of his khopesh, the other holding his ornate staff. Ahriman had been no fool to send Pathoth first to secure the librarium. In the event the rumours were false, and Jollana had hitherto unknown defences, Pathoth's marines would be the first to know.

He knew it would not happen. Before leaving the Planet of the Sorcerers, Pathoth had spent countless hours undergoing rituals to strengthen his body and fortitude his mind against the tasks before him. Magnus had been clandestine in his words to Pathoth, mentioning that Jollana was only the first step in the setting of a larger stage, with the galaxy as the backdrop. Use to such insubstantial words, Pathoth had thought no more on the subject. He trusted Magnus and the inherent workings of Tzeentch to show him the way.

“Thirty seconds to deployment,” the pilot's voice crackled over the comm-link. The Thunderhawk banked to its left, angled out, then the craft shuddered as it landed on the large plaza dominating the area before the librarium. Lights flashed inside the vessel, harnesses were released, weapons made ready. The assault ramp dropped, and a bitterly cold wind rushed into the Thunderhawk, bringing with it a whirlwind of snow. With a pulsing thought, Pathoth ordered his Rubric Terminators forward, the five advancing in a diamond pattern across the snow-swept plaza. Behind them, Pathoth and his cohort of sorcerers followed, footprints wiped clean by the ferocious wind.

Jollana Librarium, crafted in the likeness of a grand cathedral from Terra, reflected the light of the world and the images of the invaders alike on smoke-coloured mirrors. Pathoth could not see any outer support structure beyond the reinforced steel gates standing before his war party. Nearly hidden under the snow drifts, the doors could only be opened from the inside, and it looked as though it hadn't happened in a long while.

“Open the door,” the vizier ordered to the foremost of the Terminators.

Striding up to the doors of the librarium, the Rubric Terminator activated his lighting claws. Before the first stroke was finished the defences of Jollana countered. The surface of the mirrored panels bubbled, small orbs rising up from the dull glass. Slitted eyes appeared on the surface of the odd bubbles, locking onto the Chaos marine who was hacking away at the surface of the doors. Pathoth was a fraction of a second slower than the defence system, his mental command unable to reach the marine in time. Cut down by the barrage of powerful lasers, the Rubric Terminator fell silently, crashing into the deep snowdrifts.

The perceived threat dealt with, the eyes disappeared back into the mirrors.

The marine's soul flickered above his cracked and pitted armour, indecisive in where to go before Pathoth stretched out a hand and summoned the spirit to him. He guided the essence of the fallen Thousand Son into a jewel on his gauntlet. Safe there, the soul of the Rubric Marine would be bound once more when his armour was repaired. Gazing at the librarium with new respect, Pathoth weighted his options. For Terminator armour to be overcome so quickly, the technology could well predate Old Night. His thoughts must have been unguarded for one of the sorcerer's was quick to speak.

“An interesting choice of weaponry,” Mhkai, a sorcerer-adept of the second tier, spoke out loud. “It will be a joy to know where this librarium took its security detail from, won't it, Lord Pathoth?”

“Indeed. A more brusque approach will be needed in overcoming this.” Snapping his fingers, Pathoth singled out Bethos, a fourth-tiered mage. “Cover the librarium in currents of lightning. Technology still relies on circuitry no matter its form, and has always been weak to the natural powers of the Warp. If Ahriman hoped to know about the nature of this defence system, he should have come in person and not sent another.”

A scattering of laughter came from the group. Bethos walked forward, careful to stay beyond the range of the librarium's defences and in the shadow of the Rubric Terminator. Blue sparks of lightning crackled from his fingertips, turning into great arcs which rose over the white snow and howling wind. Directing the lighting across the edifice, Bethos enclosed the smoky glass in the rippling currents born of power from the Warp. Piercing through the outer shell of the librarium, the sorcerer-adept forced the lightning into the minute circuitry he saw without physical eyes.

The result was instantaneous. Glass panes cracked; larger panels sheared down the middle and plummeted off the side, into the snow far below. Exposed to the harsh elements, the stone casing of Jollana lying underneath the mirrored exterior, was now undefended. Bethos turned back to his lord, the magic he wielded trickling away. He bowed, taking his place again next to his compatriots.

“Advance. Bring down the gateway.”

Moving forward at the command, the second Rubric Terminator attacked the door with unbending determination. He cleaved through the metal with ease, the energy field surrounding his power fist crackling. A hole wide enough for two marines to walk abreast was created, the remains of the steel gateway curling outwards like flower petals, withered and useless. Without a thought to safety, the Rubric Marine passed through the hole and stepped into the librarium. The other Sons followed, leaving the Thunderhawk to guard the entry point.

Osis Pathoth beheld the majesty of Jollana Librarium for the first time, the beauty of its architectural interior not lost to the sorcerer. Flying buttresses ran down the length of the librarium's grand hallway, their height lost to the shadows where torchlight could not reach. Frescoes painted in gold leaf and silver lined either side of the corridor, the subjects varying from cherubim to hidden geometric patterns overlaying the next. Many scenes depicted the glories of the Imperium, Pathoth sneering at the lies wrought on the walls. Stain glass windows, undamaged from the lightning Bethos had unleashed, cast multicoloured light on the pale marble floor.

Passing down the middle of the grand hallway, the surviving Rubric Terminators flanking him, Pathoth walked quickly to the heart of Jollana. Mindful that by now the inhabitants of Jollana must know of the invaders, he cast his mind's eye ahead, searching the aether for signs of hostility. The sorcerer-adepts, led by Mhkai, maintained a kine shield over the group. Pathoth found no anger at what was happening and no defence preparations made by the people who called Jollana home. Doors to rooms and stairwells stayed closed. After the Ordo had been eliminated, a proper search of the librarium could begin.

“We knew this would happen. It was only a matter of time, the one constant in the galaxy that cannot be bartered for or reasoned with.”

The voice, reedy and thin, came from an old man. He stood at the top of a wide staircase curving down into the atrium Pathoth and the Thousand Sons had marched into. Dressed in thick brown robes to ward off the chill, the elder human did not seem surprised to find the servants of Chaos in his halls.

“If you daresay you knew of our coming and had ample time to prepare, humour me.” Pathoth looked at the man, the blue lens of his visor glinting menacingly. “Why did you not bother?”

“It was all the same, the ending. We looked for alternative paths, prayed to the God-Emperor for His guidance,” the man made the sign of the aquila, “but nothing changed. We knew we were locked in our time. We've come to accept it with grace and humility. The taint of the Warp touches Jollana and all within. I have seen this very ending so many times. I'm glad this will be the last time I shall witness it.”

While the man had been speaking others of the Jollana Ordo, similarly dressed in the same heavy robes, appeared. Grouped around the railing which ran the length of the second floor, half-hidden in shadow and exposed to the torchlight at the same moment, they were calm. Nobody struggled against the inevitable. Each waited passively, heads bowed and aquila rosaries wrapped in their hands.

Pathoth laughed at the sheer absurdity of it all. “Here you all stand, willing to die without a fight. Have you no idea who I am or what master I serve? Of the treasures and knowledge you leave unguarded in your passing?”

“It is unfortunate, but like your Legion was once, we were loathe to destroy the knowledge we have been bound to protect. No book shall be put to the torch, no manuscript shredded.”

“The Thousand Sons still protect the sanctity of knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” Bethos countered, growing angry at the old man's quiet air of superiority.

“You corrupt the knowledge you seek.” The man, obviously the most senior of the Ordo, descended the staircase. His words held a strength to them his frail body lacked. “You serve a slave master but the Jollana Ordo, we serve a higher master who guides humanity and recognizes our sacrifice. Trying to speak common sense to you, Osis Pathoth, is like wringing blood from a stone. It can't be done.” Without fear the old man looked up at the towering form of Pathoth. His presence was mocking, the smile he gave infuriating.

The vizier reached out with his mind, entrapping the elderly human in a psychic binding, and waved his staff ahead of him. A vicious thought was unleashed. In unison, four heavy bolters from the Rubric Marines were brought to bear on the undefended humans of Jollana. The nerves of many failed; they fled down the corridors in the upper levels of the librarium while their brethren died in the atrium. Not many seemed eager to accept death as their leader said they would. Soon the stench of blood permeated the air, the life-giving fluid trickling down the steps and pooling on the floor below.

“Your orders, lord?” Bethos was eager for a hunt, his aura wreathed in red. The Terminators, bolter clips empty and cartridge shells littering the floor, stood and waited for new orders.

“Find the cowards and strip their minds of the knowledge they hold. After that,” Pathoth gazed at the leader of the Jollana Ordo, “dispose of the bodies.”

Mhkai was the first sorcerer-adept to leave, hungering to ravage the unprotected minds of those he caught, adding their knowledge to his own. Bethos found his prey by following their fear and panic, their psychic backwash tangible. Not as bloodthirsty as the followers of Khorne, the servants of Tzeentch enjoyed destroying their enemies in a different matter. Screams of men driven mad by unknown terrors echoed down the marble halls, ending only when their tormentors allowed it to. Through it all, Pathoth questioned the leader of the former Jollana Ordo.

“A dangerous move for you, mortal, for you piqued my curiosity. How did you come to know my name? Not even the Imperium's Inquisition has such knowledge. Did something whisper it in your ear? Or was is a stroke of good luck?” At each question, the invisible bonds holding the man slowly tightened.

Instead of gibbering like an imbecile and begging for his life, the elder kept calm. “A little sprite told me.” Sweat beaded his brow under the bodily assault, his voice growing fainter. “She talked about you to anyone who saw her. It always made me wonder how a little girl will trust a monster like yourself.”

Slighted by the man's impunity, Pathoth gave the human a cruel but fitting death to match his riddling words. Forcing the power of the Immaterium into the man's weakened body, the sorcerer began to change his internal structure. Using his own body as a conduit, Pathoth allowed the powers that be to finish what he had begun.

Eyes erupted from smooth flesh, fingers dissolved into tapered fins, and the elder's face ran like the melted wax of a candle. Dropping the still-living body to the ground, watching the mortal thrash and die in agony as he became change itself, Pathoth activated the comm-link to the Khermuti.

“Pathoth to Lord Ahriman.” He frowned at having to use the title and not being given the same respect in turn.

Static hissed across the channel, then Ahriman's voice, laced with veiled arrogance, spoke. “Has the attack on Jollana gone as planned?”

“It has. The grand librarium awaits your presence.” Pathoth stepped over the now dead form of the old man. Black viscous fluid bubbled from the torn and mutilated flesh. “When will you begin your descent?”

“Within the hour. Have the librarium prepared before then.”

Ahriman's imperious tone betrayed his excitement. The comm-link connection was broken, white noise crackling in Pathoth's ear. He turned the comm off with disdain, regarding the mutated body on the floor. He mulled over the last words the elder had spoken; finding it something to be locked away for contemplation at a later time and place, Pathoth placed it from his mind. There was a librarium to be seen, tomes to be taken for his own before others laid claim to them. Pathoth's footfalls echoed in the now silent cathedral, a slaughter house to the knowledge of the ages.

________


Ahriman went alone into the depths of the Jollana vaults. The grand sorcerer refused the Thousand Sons to follow, knowing the scroll he sought was meant for his eyes alone. Pathoth hadn't contested Ahriman's orders. Indeed, he had led him to the doorway leading into the catacombs. Confident there were no defences in the colossal vaults, hollowed chambers carved from ice and locked with powerful wards, Ahriman's staff rapped in time to his footsteps. Descending the marble stairwell, where stalactites of ice hung overhead, Ahriman's psychic mastery annulled the protective sigils on every vault he passed.

Guided along by the currents of the Warp which ebbed and flowed around Ahriman, the sorcerer arrived at the last vault. He could sense the treasure beyond the barriers, the weight it carried crushing against the seals holding it safe. Not for much longer. Left hand touching the surface of the vault door, a faceless sheet of adamantium with no lock or keyhole, Ahriman flexed his mind. An invisible force impacted on the psychic shield in one swift blow. The holy wards defending the vault door broke amid the sound of falling glass. More blows rained against the metallic surface, weakening the adamantium until the final impact brought it down. Amid the sound of ice sheering and cracking along the walls, the door caved outwards. Ahriman stepped over the crumpled metal and into the vault.

Frigid air flowed into the repository, mixing with the musty air locked away for so long. It was the scent of unopened books left to dust and mildew, of dormant secrets about to be laid bare. Cloying and familiar, the smell reminded Ahriman of other librariums plundered and storehouses ransacked. Endless shelves of books drew back into the shadows, lost from view. On the shelves sat small chests, locked in chains and stamped with the seal of the double-headed eagle. Kept in the vault for so long, the contents within some of the chests were powerful enough to have warped the surface of their containers. Faces twisted in agony were reflected on the metallic sheen of the reliquaries. Ahriman walked past the strongboxes, deaf to the pleading souls whispered promises.

He kept to his path. Ahriman knew what he was looking for. What had been waiting for him.

The marine halted before a chest made of bronze and inscribed with runes of an unknown script. Brushing the dust from the lid, Ahriman cracked open the chest housing the Jollana scroll. He reached in and withdrew the yellowed vellum, bound tightly and capped in silver. The possibilities the scroll could reveal, the powers Ahriman was capable of binding to his will, were limitless. And now his.

“Ill-gotten gains you hold in your hands. A being as seeped in blood and damnation as yourself, even if you took the Emperor's forgiveness, would be cast from His light and into the maws of the Warp beasts.”

Ahriman turned in surprise to the thundering voice. Standing at the opening of the vault was a man clad in black power armour, heavily edged in gold. Gazing down the blade of a force sword, this stranger pointed it at the sorcerer's throat, eyes burning with the affirmation of one who knew right from wrong with no grey between. Slips of parchment covered the warrior's armour, holy litanies scrawled across the white surface. Ahriman glimpsed the despicable symbol of the Inquisition embossed on the armour. Blood thundering, the Tzeentchian prepared himself for a confrontation.

“Emperor's maggots is all you are,” Ahriman hissed. He held the divination scroll in his left hand, transferring the staff to his right. How the Inquisitor's existence had gone unnoticed would be resolved later; Ahriman had to act. “Weak-minded fools who cannot think for themselves, that is what the Inquisition is. You're beholden to a weak mortal who lied to everyone.”

“I have given my oath to the God-Emperor that I will be the hand to slay you.” The Inquisitor's blade never wavered from its intended target, his tone deadly.

“I wouldn't recommend it, Inquisitor. Taking on a Chaos sorcerer is a mission for morons and fools. Which are you?” Ahriman edged into the shadows between the bookcases, gathering tendrils of Warp energy to the focal eyepiece of his staff. From encounters with past inquisitors, Ahriman had learned to wait, letting the mortals make the first move and then counter.

“For decades I have tracked your path, arch-heretic, and I will have your head if it kills me.” The unnamed Inquisitor took a step inside the repository. “The Ordo Hereticus does not suffer the witch to live. You have lived long past your time. Upon my pledge to the Throne, today will find you facing your judgement!”

“Your mind is as jagged as your tongue. I have never seen your face though I know many of your brethren. After I break your bones, I shall take what secrets your sort is so fond of from your mind.” The theatrics of the other was tiring, his words pure madness. Ahriman had never met this lunatic until now.

“Listen not to the words of Chaos for they hide behind falsehoods and under the guise of corruption!” With a voice of a preacher the Inquisitor quoted catechisms. “You took the rightful toll from the Blackships that day, leaving Inno charred in your passing. Your plotting began on that very world, but with His providence, I was sent there to root out your corruption. And now I will finish my duty.”

Ahriman's confusion was short-lived. The lapdog of the Emperor charged, a lance of righteous fury striking at its foe. Facing the Inquisitor's blow with his staff raised, Ahriman unleashed an onslaught of psychic power. The downwards strike of the force sword was rebuffed by an ethereal barrier; an opening in the Inquisitor's guard was made. Continuing his attack, Ahriman manifested lighting in the air to bring against his crazed enemy.

“Blessed are those who keep faith in Him,” roared the Inquisitor. “He who dies in the glory of the Imperium will be forever venerated!” Barrelling past the lightning barrage, armour free of scorch marks and pitting, the warrior crashed into – and fell through – Ahriman. Bracing himself for a crushing blow, the Chaos marine felt the phantom dissipate in its passing until nothing remained. It left Ahriman chill inside with muscles knotted and stomach roiling. The virtuous words echoed in the icy tomb like a bad dream until they too faded.

The most basic of initiates in esoteric lore knew a sending when it occurred. Fooled by the skill its crafting took, and feeding from the confusion it brought about, Ahriman chuckled mirthlessly to himself. He had nearly brought himself to a state of panic by some thing which held no substantial form.

However, the sending's words rang in his mind. Witch hunters and phantoms of the void never unsettled him. This one had.

A sending, when manifested, came with purpose and intent. Hurtled through the seething mass of the Immaterium to Ahriman, the mage would find the reason behind this one appearing in Jollana. No coincidences existed in a galaxy as vast and tumultuous as this. Keeping the knowledge of the encounter to himself was the wisest course of action, Ahriman concluded. If Pathoth were to find out he would have no peace, hounded for what he was hiding. Some secrets were better kept to oneself.

Clutched protectively against Ahriman's chest, the scroll remained unharmed. Now, greedily, Ahriman unwound the cords and unfurled its blank surface. He intently studied the empty parchment, frayed along the edges and yellowed with age. Then, like raindrops of ink falling and caught by the vellum, faint markings began to appear. Weak at first, they grew stronger until writing covered the scroll. Words bloomed along the parchment, twisting its way along, recognizing the diviner abilities of the one who held it. Numbers and the names sprang forth, the locations of planets and their bearings in the universe given in fine detail.

One name kept reappearing, Ahriman discerned, a name perfectly divided into itself and holding the numerological balance of creation and destruction. The spheres of the universe worked of their own accordance, though nothing was cast blindly to chance. Such a thing did not exist. It was the exact name the phantom had screamed at Ahriman.

Inno.

________


He had been right, the former sage of Jollana Librarium. The Warp blessed Jollana with its touch. Pathoth relished being so close to it, almost reminiscent of the Planet of the Sorcerers. Everything in the librarium was infused by the Empyrean, the air rippling with rich colour and sound to those possessing the higher senses to see it. At the corner of his sight, just beyond the faintest whisper and with the assurance of a promise fulfilled, Pathoth knew the power of Tzeentch waited.

The vizier had found a private library toward the summit of the librarium and set to perusing the shelves. Perhaps its owner was the elder lying dead in the atrium far below. One hand idly drifted over the titles of the books, many which Pathoth already held in his collection. The small library, which ran the length of the curving wall, gave a magnificent view of the snowy plains far below the cathedral. Pathoth ignored the panorama, having seen more awe-inspiring scenery in his lifetime. Lumen globes, hanging from fanciful iron cages, cast a warm glow about the chamber. Pathoth's eyes settled on the gold script of a book's spine, Parvala Vicis, the title unfamiliar to the sorcerer. He was about to pull it from the shelf when a child's voice called to the Chaos marine.

“Pathoth! I finally found you.”

Pathoth turned about at the sound of his name, certain there were no children present in Jollana when it was taken. Yet there was one, who somehow knew who he was, carefully making her way down the marble steps leading into the bibliotheca. She was small, as all children were to Astartes, dressed in a multitude of colourful robes with powerful runes sewn into the hemline. Her pale blonde hair was swept back into a tight plait, her blue eyes sharp, and she smiled as she approached the vizier. A Gyrinx was curled in her arms, the xeno feline passively looking at the giant towering over it.

“I knew I would find you here,” the little girl chirped. “You're always here. Is there anything new to read, Pathoth? Another bedtime story?” She spoke without fear, standing alongside the Chaos marine and chatting amicably with him. Pathoth speculated how a mere infant would know his name. The words of the deceased elder were now falling into place. The embrace of the Warp was indeed close. Jollana was a host to gateways to other realms and distant, undefined futures. Sometimes beings appeared.

Pathoth knelt down, removing his morbid helmet to look the girl in the eye. He would humour this child to glean answers. “No, I have found nothing new. You will have to make do with stories of ancient villains and demi-gods until I can find something more noteworthy.”

“Stories with princes? And Eldar?” Her face grew excited and she jumped up, barely grazing Pathoth's knee.

He frowned. “Nothing as simple-minded as that, sprite. Where have you come from?”

“The Khermuti observation deck.” Mistaking Pathoth's raised eyebrow as disapproval instead of confusion, the child hurried on. “I know you don't want me up there but Argos,” the Gyrinx turned its head at the name, “ran up there and I had to get him. He could have gotten lost, or worse, become someone's dinner. Don't tell Ahriman of this, please.”

Pathoth touched his nose. “I will keep this in utter confidence between us.” Her words befuddled the mage. There was no observation deck surrounding them, just bookshelves, and absolutely no children were aboard Ahriman's vessel. He knew little of children, finding himself uncomfortable in the presence of this one. The vizier changed tactics.

“Tell me, sprite, how do you know who I am?”

It was the child's turn to look confused. “Because you have told me. Are we playing the guessing game? I forgot the scorecard in my room.”

“There is no time for games today, child. But tell me, what is your name?”

The girl giggled. “Pathoth, are you being silly? You know my name.” In her arms, the feline began to lick its paws.

Laughing along with the entity Pathoth said, “I suppose I am. Enlighten me, for as you know, I am old. Ten thousand years is a long time.”

“My name's Neferuaat.” She accentuated the last syllable, raising her nose delicately at the same time.

“Neferuaat. That is a pretty name. Who gave it to you?”

“You really are being silly today,” Neferuaat declared. “How could you forget my name? You gave it to me, telling me it was-- Argos, come back here!”

The Gyrinx sprang from the child's arms and sprinted back up the stairs, claws tapping against the stone. Neferuaat took off after her pet, a flurry of violet and indigo robes, racing to catch the retreating feline. A Rubric Terminator entered the library, the automaton barrelling into the path of the child without stopping. Pathoth was about to shout a warning, the words stopped when he saw the child phase through the Rubric Terminator. She vanished, her form and the Gyrinx no more substantial than smoke.

“Lord Pathoth,” the disembodied spirit in the armour rumbled. “Is something amiss?”

“No. The shadows in this place are merely playing tricks on my mind.” Pathoth lowered his arm, unaware he had moved. Dismissing the Rubric Terminator with a wave of his hand, the Thousand Son ruminated at what he had born witness to.

A sending from a future point carved into stone, immutable and unchanging. Such things were rare, seldom happening in one's lifetime. In the course of his existence, Pathoth had been blessed to note five such missives, each leading to a higher plane of understanding. Storing the encounter away in his memory, the sorcerer returned to the bookshelf as if nothing had happened.

Whatever reason Ahriman had in coming to the Jollana Librarium, fate had chosen Pathoth to be present as well. At last, Primarch Magnus's words were beginning to make sense to Osis Pathoth.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Jelboy » Wed Mar 09, 2011 7:00 pm

A good story.

You had the 1000 sons with starships in your story, yet when they fled to the Warp in the novel it was through sorcery, not space vessels. Are you implying that their vessels were also taken by the spell to the planet of the sorcerors? Or that the space ships were created at the planet of sorcerors?
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:32 pm

@ Jelboy - I was always of the mindset the Thousand Sons fleet came with them. If it were to just be taken from the old codex fluff, I always read it in the sense the whole planet of Prospero was taken into the Warp. With the HH novels setting, it comes across as different to the reader, but for having their space craft I'd imagine they were able to secure vessels. The Thousand Sons did make their way to Terra for the final attack.

Continuing from the prelude, the opening half of the first chapter.

________


Chapter 1

999.M41
Inno, Mizar subsector, Syntyche sector


Years later scholars called it the Great Awakening.

The Warp’s energies, turbulent and seeking a way out, ripped forth violently from the Immaterium. Crashing like a wave through the opened rift, the polluted energy spilled into physical space and across countless Imperial worlds and sectors. With its passing, the latent psychic potential of millions were unlocked and with it, a terrible destruction. It unleashed hell to millions more. The holds of the infamous Blackships, already fit to burst, weighed heavy with the birthing of so many new psykers.

Inno, a farming world of no remark and operating within a feudal caste system, was such a world heavily affected. The planet revolved alone in the great silence of space, hanging on the edge of the Segmentum Obscurus, a world where proud lineages and noble histories dated back to the time of the Great Crusade. The Kith lineage, as reputable as any house, was decimated by the Great Awakening, their story a microcosm of tragedy against the backdrop of the greater whole, but one which echoed painfully nonetheless.

Amara and Katea were born on the same day.

Amara in the morning as the sun rose, Katea toward the evening, quiet where the other was loud. Their mothers were sisters, identical twins whose cursed story was well-known. A superstitious belief on Inno persisted; the offspring of twins were fated to a cruel existence where death and discord followed. In most instances, these unfortunate children were put to death. The Kith House, wealthy and influential, paid the midwives handsomely to hold their tongues of the births. The coffers of the Ecclesiarchy were filled; a new church constructed for the newborns baptized in the light of the God-Emperor.

Life, uneventful on Inno, continued without incident. This peace was an illusion, lost when the Warp’s taint rippled over Inno’s surface. Amara and Katea were six when their lives were changed forevermore.

Bells from the Ecclesiarchy churches rang, summoning the faithful to mass while unnatural lights from the Warp storm clashed in the sky overhead. As the tempest covered Inno, the pious prayed, hoping their words reached the God-Emperor. Inside the family chapel on the Kith estate, the family sat in hardback pews with bowed heads and rosaries wrapped around trembling fingers. Scores of candles lit the small building, running wax encrusting the candelabras, the air wavering in the heat. Plumes of incense rose from the marble altar, the smell pungent and heady, a concoction of cinnamon and myrrh. While Father Curasso, a man of portly built and face likened to a pig's, murmured a scriptural passage, Amara and Katea slipped out the servant's door. It was not difficult; their grandfather was asleep next to them.

“I want to see the lights,” Amara declared, running the length of the courtyard to the servants gate. Unlatching it, she waited until Katea passed before shuttering the wooden door behind them. Both giggled in childish amusement at disobeying their grandfather's strict orders to not leave the chapel, following the dirt and stone pathway down to the wheat fields.

“Father Curasso doesn't know what he's saying. I think the sky is pretty, not bad.”

“We shouldn't go too far. Grandfather will cane us if he finds out.” Ever the voice of reason and caution, Katea fastidiously smoothed down the ermine trim of her dress.

“I promise we'll return before Father Curasso's finished.” Amara solemnly replied, crossing her fingers over her heart. Any child knew the importance such a gesture entailed. “I know the perfect place to see the lights.”

Katea followed slowly, more intent on looking at the colourful borealis over the winding curve of the path. Her heavy skirts restricted her movements, and she gingerly raised the hem of her gown lest it get muddy. Amara, unmindful of the expensive dress she was dirtying, continued walking without a care. Overhead, vivid colours wove into each other, the sky a loom with an invisible weaver at work.

Katea tugged Amara's hair. “Tell the truth. You know what happens when you lie! The God-Emperor weeps and bleeds. We always get caught and then we get punished.”

Grinning cheekily, Amara grabbed Katea's hand as green and blue lights mingled above them. “Promise, promise, promise,” she singsonged, racing into the tall stalks.

Expansive wheat fields rippled in the warm breeze, colours burnt gold and bronze, stretching into the distance. An envy to the rival Houses and the pride of the Kith, the cropland was a rich source of income year after year. The Kith estate overlooked the vast tracts of land from the ridge it was built on, an ancient castle jealously guarding its territory. Crunching through the high stalks, ears of wheat tickling her face, Amara walked ahead confidently. Katea had no choice but to follow her adventurous cousin. She loathed being left behind. Even if she were to be punished, she wanted to be included as part the stories Amara told the other children. Their small forms hidden by the fields, Amara led them onwards, racing down hidden paths only she knew. After what seemed an eternity, Amara's cry of delight signalled their arrival.

“Here it is!”

Dropping Katea's hand, Amara excitedly rushed forward and broke free from the fields. She stood in a small clearing, where a towering boulder of granite sat in the center. Standing like a sentinel, its surface flecked with brown and gold, sides weathered from the seasons, the boulder was without remark. Its top was ground flat, offering a vantage point for anyone who managed to scale its rough side.

Amara was already climbing, hands gaining purchase in the small cracks and grooves she found on the rock's face. Crying out in annoyance, Katea joined her cousin in the climb, unwilling to stay on the ground. Throwing her leg over the top and skirts ripping in the process, Amara pulled herself over the edge. She stood with her hands on her hips.

“I won!” Her triumphant shout echoed weirdly in the discordant air. A reddish haze broke across the blue bowl of the sky, Amara framed against the violent colour. So bright was it her wispy blonde hair appeared drenched in blood. The sight made Katea gasp and, a horrible feeling entering her stomach, she refused to climb further.

“We should return to the chapel. Father Curraso's sermon is over.”

“No.” Grabbing Katea's wrist, Amara pulled her up until she stood beside her. “Look at the sky, Katea! This is better than staying in the chapel. Look at all the colours!”

Katea's eyes turned skywards at her cousin's insistence. A veritable kaleidoscope of colours and sparks danced and whirled on high, the flames of a fire leaping in brief and chaotic patterns until they were swallowed up by the whole. Magenta clashed against emerald green, overshadowed by a swath of garish orange, only to be embraced in a midnight blue and their existence snuffed. Each burst of colour was greeted with a clapping of hands or loud exclamations. To the innocent eyes of children, the display likened to the performance of travelling acrobats or a puppet show. Simple entertainment which left smiles on their naïve faces. No sinister undercurrent was seen, and nothing horrid the adults whispered about the storms raging in the heavens.

Both held their tongues when the faces appeared, each believing the other did not see them. Twisted countenances grinned maniacally down at them or glared in cold fury. A few were frozen in heart-wrenching sobs. All drifted back into the flashing lights, insubstantial wisps of smoke.

Katea's eyes slid away from the glowing lights, catching movement in the wheat fields. From her vantage point, the little girl saw tall figures stalking through the cropland, garbed in the livery of an unknown House. They moved as shadows, seven in all, attempting to hide themselves, unaware their presence was noted. Katea reacted by dropping onto the flat top of the boulder, dragging Amara down with her.

“What the--”

“Strangers.” Katea pointed at the unknown men. They wore light black armour edged in red. “Invaders on grandfather's land.”

Amara would have thrown a rock and shouted for them to leave, at first. Her action halted when she spied the lasrifles the men carried. Their faces were cold and merciless, with the intent to cause harm radiating from them. Sweeping the barrels of their lasrifles to and fro in the waving stalks, it was obvious the men were hunting. Perhaps to catch a serf in the fields, a vassal of the estate to ransom or a corpse to leave behind for provocation.

Neither of the girls wanted to be in the fields now. Thoughts of sanctuary behind thick stone walls, protected inside the family chapel, held a glamour which dulled the majesty of the borealis. Their small adventure had come to an end as a harsh reality descended.

Nudging Katea's arm, Amara motioned for her cousin to climb down. “We can run back to the house and warn grandfather.”

Katea shook her head, blue eyes wide in fear and heart fluttering like a caged bird. The boulder was a safe haven, the fields a labyrinth where they could become lost. Hunted to their deaths. To leave the only shelter they possessed was madness. Scowling in anger at the cowardice of her cousin, Amara clambered over Katea and began her descent. Once on the ground, she gestured hurriedly for Katea to follow. Moving awkwardly in her cumbersome skirts, Katea started climbing down when, as a clash of forked lighting burst overhead, she was seen.

“Take your mark! Death to the Kith House!” The leader of the men bellowed across the wheat fields. Sharp pangs of fear charged the girls' bodies as they stood in terror.

Lasfire streaked the air, the stench of burnt ozone following. The boulder's aged surface was scored black as lasrifles targeted the children. A flash of deadly silver light burnt the hem of Katea's dress. She screamed, tumbling heavily to the ground where she did not rise and her vision burst with stars. Hysteria gave Amara's tiny body strength. Grabbing Katea by her wrists, she dragged the girl into the yellow stalks to hide. The hunters moved quickly to the boulder. Finding no one, they spread out and began to search.

Katea's wits were slow in returning. Images faded in and out of focus, her head throbbed, and her bruised body protesting with each movement. Someone was speaking to her, murmuring just beyond the point where syllables became words. Raising a hand to wave the voice aside, Amara grabbed Katea's arm. When she tried to protest, Amara shushed Katea, whispering “We can hide in the fields. I know the way back. I promise.”

It became a mad chase to stay ahead of their pursuers, never certain if a lasbolt would catch them in the back. Katea's eyes rolled back into her skull. Minutes became moments, hours stretched into years. She lost sense of where they were going; many times her mind blanked. Who was she? What did it matter if she would soon be dead? The quiet voice grew louder as another chimed in, posing more questions. Running deeper into the fields, Katea's sweaty hand clasped in Amara's, she let her cousin lead while her eyesight filled with pin-pricks of light.

Amara refused to believe they were lost. But the further she pressed, each direction looked as similar as the next, a sea of amber with no discernible features. Disoriented, unsure where the family estate lay, a cold dread crept into the girl's chest. Her throat tightened. Amara forced her terror into the recesses of her mind, balling hands into fists.

She wiped away the tears and sweat on her face. She refused to cry. She was the elder, she had convinced Katea to come with her to see the lights, and she had gotten them lost. It was her duty to bring them safely home.

Harsh shouts from the men came from all directions. A raucous yell, the crack of a lasbolt whining close by sent Amara jumping, pushing Katea back from the danger. Spotting the retreating forms of the children in the high wheat, one of the assailants signalled the others. The chase ended with the terrified quarry circled. Several barrels pointed at the childrens' heads, fingers on hair-triggers. The leader of the unknown House faction chuckled.

“We're sent to raise a little hell against the Kiths and what do we find? Stumble right across their little whelps. We'll claim a higher fee after we've scalp these two and brought back the evidence.”

His words unbound the fear Katea held. The voices crowed their rage, clamouring for Katea to do something. A nameless pressure had built inside her since tumbling from the boulder. Now it restricted her breathing as it rose through her small body. Katea heaved against the pain it brought. Her eyes watered, those wretched stars continually bursting in front of her. She wanted to claw at her eyes, her skin, her very hair. She needed to set it free. She had to or be crushed by it.

The lasrifles were raised, an ominous sound of metal clicking together.

Huddled in the dirt and broken wheat, Amara's arms wrapped about Katea's shivering form. She whispered a prayer to the God-Emperor, but her words did not reach Katea. Thunderous voices filled the child's ears, shouting at her. They screeched for attention, demanding the young girl listen to all of them. There was so much for her to know, to be made aware of; they could help her. Colour rippled behind Katea's eyelids.

“Leave us alone!” Katea screamed, her voice adding to the millions echoing madly in her mind.

Amara was never certain of what she saw that day.

She remembered the sheet of flames, unnatural in their icy colour, and the chill emanated as the fire immolated the men. The flames ravenously ate the flesh of the men, gnawed on their bones until charred husks remained. Mouths opened in screams brought the fire rushing into their bodies. Painful, soul-wrenching screams came from blackened throats to end in harsh gurgles. One of the hunters tried to run, with his legs buckling under him before he had travelled three paces. Another ran flailing into the fields before collapsing. Blackened corpses twisted beyond recognition were all that remained.

The wicked fire leapt from the would-be murderers and into the fields with horrid speed. Everything touched was consumed by its monstrous appetite.

Katea floated in the center of the azure flames, her long blonde hair whipping about in a silent wind. Dancing a hand's breath above the ground with her head craned painfully back, blinding light poured from her eyes and flitted about her head. Without thinking, Amara lunged for her cousin. A current of power crashed into her as she touched Katea, making Amara feel nauseous. Yet the jolt was enough. Katea fell back to the earth as a dead weight atop of Amara.

“Katea!” Her cousin's eyes were shut tightly, sickening light flickering behind closed lids.

“My eyes burn! Help me!”

Katea's pained wails rose over the crackling flames and oily black smoke. Outstretched arms fumbled until they touched Amara's. Amara held Katea in a death-grip, helping her cousin stand. She began to run with Katea stumbled behind, racing from the fires and the carnage left behind them. The wind rushed overhead, the stalks seeming to part before Amara. Everything was moving quickly, faster and faster until her feet no longer touched the ground and the landscape became a blur. She knew the way now, she knew where to go.

The estate's bells were ringing. Seeing the smoke rising from the fields, the serfs had issued the warning to mobilize aide. Amara followed the sound, the peal of the bells beautiful and discordant all at once. She gasped in relief when she burst out of the maze with Katea, thankful to be free of what nearly became their tomb.

Vassals were running with servitors into the fields, heavy equipment loaded onto pile-beds to douse the flames. In the middle of the frantic efforts, directing every action with force, was Beslan Kith. Not yet a century old and with the vigour of youth still about him, the patriarch of the Kith House was never idle. Dressed in his finery from the chapel with only his wig askance, Beslan Kith hurried to his granddaughters huddling on the edge of the fields. Following him were his twin daughters.

Amara's breath hitched in her throat at seeing her grandfather. She would endure whatever punishment he meted out, so long as Katea was taken care of. She stumbled forward with a smile on cracked lips. “Mother, help--”

“Witches!” Father Curasso's voice lashed the air. The priest pushed through the swirling crowd of servants, scarlet robes matching the hue of his puffing face. He jabbed a meaty finger at the children. “Lord Kith, look to the tainted spawn and see what has become of your House! They are the ill-cause of the fire and storms!”

Amara shrank back from the priest's accusation, not understanding why her mother and aunt began to cry. Father Curasso grabbed Beslan before he touched his granddaughters, swatting the patriarch away. Behind Amara, Katea toppled into the dirt, the last of her strength finally spent. Turning her back on the growing crowd to tend to Katea, Amara heard the hateful words grow in strength.

“Stay back from them,” the priest roared authoritatively. “The taint of the witch lays heavy on them! Stand back lest their pollution destroy the rest of us!”

Father Curasso's voice stopped the Kith family from touching their children. Amara's hair floated in a halo framing her face, but she was beyond noticing. She cradled her cousin's head in her lap, covering Katea's glowing eyes with soot-blackened hands and crying. What was happening? Why was nobody helping?

Above them, the colours in the sky continued to mix and tumble in a wild dance.

“Mother,” Amara screamed out, “Katea's eyes are burning. Help her!”

“Pollution has entered the Kith lineage. We must purge them!” Father Curasso's heavy bulk filled Amara's eyes. He stared down with unmasked hatred at her. Fumbling for the gold aquila tied to his waist, the priest drew it forth. “Suffer not the witches to live. Do not shirk, do not falter. Give them the God-Emperor's justice!”

“You're absurd,” Beslan sputtered. “My family line is pure, corruption does not dirty these blue veins. We stand as pure as any Terran.” Beslan Kith knelt to hold Katea. Curasso hauled the man to his feet, throwing him back with a force only the pious or insane held.

“My Lord Kith, do not touch their stained bodies. They are no longer kin. They are abominations. Is it not written 'Love the Emperor and follow His words, for they alone will save Mankind''? And has not the Emperor decreed the taint of the witch be sought out and purged wherever it is found?” Curasso's words hooked the heart of the patriarch. “We cannot allow ourselves to hide behind the title of family. Humanity itself is a family, and to guard the many we must destroy the few who would destroy us.”

The proud man humbled, Beslan nodded. “What do we do, Father?” Next to Beslan, his daughters sobbed for the future awaiting their children.

Curasso made the sign of the aquila. Those closest to the priest followed his example with heads bowed. “The witches shall be taken to the capital of Inno. The Astropathic Choir will summon the Blackships once these unholy storms past. The names of these children are to be stricken from the family records, their existence denied, and the House of Kith must undergo tests of purity.” His eyes slid meaningfully to the mothers, mindful of the curse twins carried for all.

“I will fetch the Arbites,” Beslan murmured. “They will deal with this matter.”

He left his fields to burn and ignored the wails of his daughters, striding quickly away. Beslan's mind was set, the course would not be altered, and he would accept the punishments given to his House. Behind him, the things once called his grandchildren screamed.

“Mother,” Katea's cries were piteous. “Mother! My eyes, they burn!”

“Help her! Help--” Amara's cry was cut short as a family retainer struck her in the head with the butt of an antique rifle. She slumped to the ground unconscious, Katea screaming as she sensed the rifle butt careening down upon her.

Mercifully, the swirl of colours ended and there was only blackness.

________


The Khermuti waited in the eye of the Warp storm, untouched by the powerful tides which roiled and seethed beyond its sapphire and golden hull. Ghosting alongside the starboard of the Acheron-class battle cruiser was the Meskhenet. Both vessels, centuries old and bristling with armament, fell under the command of Ahriman, even as the latter belonged to Pathoth. Having translated into the Mizar subsector with no issues, the exiled Thousand Sons awaited new orders. While the sinister currents of the Warp covered the surface of Inno, those who came to the planet with a darker purpose planned. In Ahriman's staterooms, the grand sorcerer stood before the scroll plundered from Jollana Librarium. Unfurled across the marble table, the parchment's surface was covered by a multitude of arcane symbols and near incomprehensible writing.

Acting in accordance with the signs the scroll gave, retrieving the psykers whose names appeared, the potential future was unlocked. It was fragmentary work at best. Decades past from one revelation to the next, the time between difficult. Yet now Ahriman had reached his final destination. After Inno's name, the script concluded. No conjuring would bring forth more. No planets or names revealed themselves, the future murky. Ahriman held a mixture of trepidation and exhilaration in himself, knowing a momentous truth would be exposed. Another part of the cosmic puzzle, his to unlock and take once he held the key.

It was finding the key which proved troublesome. Ahriman's concentration was broken when Pathoth spoke.

“What is more fickle, the changing Immaterium or the faith of humanity in their corpse Emperor? I desire this new riddle of mine to spark fierce debates. Even amongst the Word Bearers if possible, for if I can speak with one of their dark chaplains, I believe my logic will supersede his.”

Ahriman turned from the scroll to Pathoth's sonorous voice. The vizier gazed out the stain glass porthole into the Immaterium beyond, and Ahriman controlled his rising choler. How like the sorcerer to be concerned with petty trivialities when something grander was afoot. Drumming his fingers against his black staff, Ahriman subdued his emotions with a calming incantation.

“Do as you wish. Dare not bring your riddles or conundrums into conversation when I am in the same room as those fanatics.” A pause. “What do you see out in the currents of the Great Ocean that demands your attention?”

Pathoth shrugged, the gesture theatrical. “The damned and lost souls. Fate spinning us onwards. The final step in the writings of the scroll.” He smiled cynically. “An underpopulated planet where the people have no idea who is watching them from on high. The storms are a sign from Tzeentch that which you seek is here.”

Each tolerated the presence of the other without open hostility, but it was an uneasy truce. Pathoth kept himself and his own to the Meskhenet unless his presence was required by Ahriman. His advice, while not often sought, was well-situated when needed.

“You failed to mention one thing of critical importance, Osis.”

“I have? Pray tell, what has my precognition failed to warn of?”

Ahriman directed Pathoth's attention to a data-slate recently brought, lying next to the Jollana scroll. Scanning through the contents, the vizier's face remained impassive as he read.

“The Blackships approach. It is a singular annoyance to know they will translate in system just as we descend to Inno.” Ahriman's voice was clipped; he turned back to the scroll and consulted the information. “Time is running out. I need to discern this psyker's bearings before the Blackships come to claim them.”

Pathoth moved to stand across the table, looking at the scroll upside-down with a bemused smile. “Can you find the mortal and escape before the Imperium's arrival? That is the true question. I would hate to lose my vessel to the Blackships.”

Ahriman scoffed, “Nothing is hidden from my eyes.” He spoke with a conviction born of past experiences, of the impossible being but a word. Words shimmered on the vellum and changed. Ahriman traced his forefinger in a complex symbol over the words, and they twisted once more, reforming. The key, hidden inside itself, was unmasked and the bearings of the final psyker were displayed.

“Who will you take to the surface?”

“My inner coven, those beyond the fourth tier. A small force, for this strike will require speed. A Thunderhawk will transport us to the holding cells placed in the capital. Undoubtedly, Imperial Arbites are defending the prison, many who have never seen Astartes. They will cause little trouble. You will take brief command of the vessels.” Ahriman disliked the sudden gleam in Pathoth's eyes. “Should the Blackships appear, I trust you know how to engage a space battle.”

The vizier laughed. “I have witnessed my fair share. The single battleship which protects this backwater world is unlikely to find us. We are too well hidden by the Warp storm to appear on its auspex, and should we encounter it, their eyes will see the void soon enough.”

“Just ensure the Blackships do not block our escape.”

“Do you believe this task will succeed? We skirt the edge of danger.”

“Victory will come from this,” Ahriman replied. “I was meant to go to Inno, just as I was destined to take the scroll from Jollana. I will return with the psyker and fate will show the next step to be taken.”
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:22 am

She woke on a stone floor, cold and uncomfortable and terrified. Her head felt heavy. To move too much brought waves of pain. Dried blood coated Amara Kith's left cheek, having patterned down from her forehead where the rifle had struck. Slowly, her eyes focused and the girl took in her surroundings. Lumen globes shed weak light against the stone walls which loomed overhead, the ceiling wreathed in shadows. No windows offered a clue to where she was, nor gave any fresh air in the stagnant room. The single door of black metal rising up before her was firmly shut, an embossed death's head grinning spitefully across the space.

Amara tried to rise on weak legs, the sensation of pins and needles acutely felt in each hesitant step. A surging pain throbbed against her skull, reminding her of the injury done. Collapsing to the floor, knees cracking against the stone, Amara cried out. Through the hazy pain she noticed the bindings on her; a psy-collar fitted around her neck and cuffs locked her wrists together. The collar emitted soft beeps, a green light winking as the machine spirit diligently suppressed Amara's psychic talent. When she became aware of the sensation, or lack thereof, it halted her tears.

Out in the fields she had felt invincible. Nothing could touch her, the landscape was hers to travel at a whim in the briefest of moments. With the psy-collar locked around her throat, the dog chained to be obedient, everything was now flipped. Colours were muted, the presence of loud sounds dulled to echoes barely registered, and the physical pain amplified more than her body could bear. Yet for how her 'witching' powers manifested, it was nothing compared to Katea's. She had burned those men alive, lifting off the ground as though ready to ascend into the realm of the God-Emperor with her eyes blazing.

“Katea,” Amara whispered frantically, whipping her head about to find her. Pain lashed against her skull without remorse.

The other child was in the cell. Unconscious and similarly bound as her cousin, further precautions were taken with the girl who had mercilessly immolated several men. Katea's head was covered with a dampening hood, only leaving the lower part of her face exposed. Crawling over to Katea, Amara nudged the girl on the shoulder. Katea stirred, mouth drawing back into a grimace.

Amara wondered if she felt sickened and muted with the psy-collar in place, what did Katea feel?

“It's okay,” Amara whispered. A lie, a damned lie. “I think we are somewhere--”

“Not home.” Katea's voice rasped from a dry throat. “Where are we?”

“I don't know.” Admitting made Amara feel powerless. A shudder of fear wracked her body.

“I don't feel good. My head hurts. I feel sick, as though I ate a bad piece of sweetmeat.” A light sheen of sweat covered Katea's pale skin. She pushed herself to her knees, each movement awkward and encumbering without the girl having her sight. “Did grandfather abandon us? He won't come and save us?”

Hot tears pricked at the corners of Amara's eyes. Katea's words exposed a harsh, cold truth. The awful realisation that no one was coming to save them, family abandoning two children in an unknown cell, and not a single soul caring was too much for Amara Kith. If Katea could see, she would have watched the blood drain from Amara's face, her mouth forming a wordless scream. Amara's mind lurched with hands gripping at the edge of the deep ravine, desperately scrabbling for purchase. To plummet into the dark gully below meant madness, an end to everything, leaving Katea alone to fend for herself.

Amara's mind scape titled one way, twisted another until it balanced. She dragged herself up from the pit with the sole foothold she still had.

“I’ll protect you, Katea.” Simple words, innocent words, childish words. Amara would protect Katea. She was the elder of the two. The responsibility fell to her. However their lives would end – and Amara felt it would not be far off – she could keep that promise.

“Do you swear this time? You're not making it up?”

Amara bumped her chained hands against Katea's, patting her sweaty skin. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Without sight, Katea relied on sound to deduce the truth. Amara would hold to those words. She never heard a waver in the girl's voice. Convinced, Katea curled up next to her cousin, attempting to ignore the way her stomach churned. Silence descended, broken from time to time by the distant sounds of boots or the whine of long-slumbering engines brought to life. Amara was jolted from her thoughts when Katea spoke.

“Will we be taken to the stars?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Ships are coming. Big ships to take us away. Father Curasso--”

Metal banged against metal outside the cell. Footsteps were heard, the lock holding the black door shut released with a deafening clang. The door slid open to allow two Arbites entry, faces hidden behind reflective helmets and weapons trained on the children. Behind them, a tall man dressed in the voluminous white robe of an apothecary entered, a medicae kit carried in gloved hands. Just like the Arbites, his face was concealed in a heavy hood, a shadowy face with no smile and no frown.

“We can't have you both awake now. It isn't time yet to move you.” His quiet voice resonated in the cell, sounding too warm and fatherly from a figure whose face was hidden. “This should help you sleep for a time.” Opening the kit he retrieved two vials of clear liquid, fitting them into a metal syringe. Amara backed away from the man, trying to hide Katea behind her.

“I--”

One of the Arbites cocked his rifle. “Speak again and you'll be without a head.”

Katea whimpered in fear at the sound of the weapon racking. Amara closed her mouth, biting her tongue. The apothecary approached Katea first, sliding the hypodermic needle into the base of her neck and injecting the clear liquid in one smooth motion. She never made a sound, slumping forward as the sedative took effect. Amara wanted to struggle, to kick at the guards and gnaw the hand of this so-called healer and as his hand descended on her shoulder, she shivered at the touch.

“There now child,” he spoke with false commiseration, “you will sleep. When you wake again, everything will change for the better.”

Amara wondered for whose betterment it was. The throbbing of her head diminished, the world growing dim around her. She never heard the cell door close, metal shrieking against metal, already lost to consciousness.

________


Ulsan. The capital city of Inno – indeed, the only true city on the planet – was a sprawling warren of streets, back alleys, and prefabricated houses which had seen better days. The heart of Inno from which the arteries extended to the provincial towns, Ulsan did little to dominate the landscape. Only three buildings appeared to fight against the overwhelming vastness; the Ecclesiarchy cathedral, the Governor's palace, and the Arbites ziggurat. The last struck fear into the minds and souls of the populace with its imposing presence and bristling armaments.

Inno's most heavily fortified structure, it held the imprisoned psykers who waited for the Blackships. Rising over a mile into the sky with dungeons plunging just as deep, the grey monolith was a shadow set against the darker night scape. No one could approach the Arbites causeway leading into the compound without a hundred turrets tracking each movement. It was foolishness to assault the ziggurat, a madman's plan doomed from the start. Nothing would survive the cross-fire barrage of heavy shells or deadly lasfire. Should someone try to escape, their retreat would be blocked by adamantium blast doors.

A pity the military architect never gave thought to an airborne strike.

Moving in two-man units, Arbites walked the night patrols. They strode with the confidence of being on just another patrol, walking the same path across the plasteel and concrete ramparts. The ziggurat was secure, and come the morrow the Blackships would arrive and relieve the Arbites of their heavy duty. Two Arbites deep in conversation kept their eyes away from the dark heavens and the waning storms above.

“What happens to the witches? I thought we'd get to kill them. Better off for everyone, and easier on our resources. Too dangerous to keep them here until the-- what're they called again?”

“Blackships.”

“Yeah, until the ships come to take them away. Imagine the security risk we have with so many witches beneath us.” An image of milling psykers who could read minds or kill with a thought under his feet caused the Arbites to squirm.

His friend snorted in laughter. “The last thing we do is execute them. About security threats, each cell in the lower levels – you've been there, but you're too dumb to notice it. Anyway, each chamber holds a psy-dampener generator. It reacts to the bonds the psykers are placed in, stops them from using whatever witchcraft they try.”

“How well do those psy-dampeners work?”

“Works really well from what I've heard. Least that's what the cog-boys say when they go to check the machines. Anyone who has a smidgen of the Emperor's un-blessing won't be able to use their tricks, no matter who or what they are.”

“And if the generators fail?” The uncomfortable stretch of silence did little to support the guard's fear.

The man replied, “God-Emperor damn us all, I guess. But these people get tested by the Blackships. I know armoured shuttles come to bring the witches to the holds. After that, it's no longer our problem. We get paid, the monsters leave Inno alone, and I can go home to my wife and a good meal.”

The night watch stillness was broken by a thunderous shriek of engines. Descending from the upper atmosphere and its storms, a sleek craft caught the Arbites attention. One man pointed, in itself a useless gesture. Everyone could see it from the ziggurat walls and the speed it approached with. Even, one could say, the singular intent it was designed for.

“Speak of the devil. Do you think its one of the crafts now?”

“Looks like it. Sleek, fast, what you'd expect for those Inquisitors. They always get the best of everything. Thunderhawk-pattern, I reckon, which means we might see the fabled Astartes.”

“Astartes, here?”

“Maybe. Some Inquisitors have them on the Blackships. Though,” the Arbites guard pursed scarred lips. “Usually we receive shuttle notification in advance.”

Banking left around the Arbites ziggurat and firing its retro-thrusters, the Thunderhawk's speed cut sharply. Its nose angled upwards, the craft came to land on the top of the compound. Already a captain was striding briskly out from the blast door, his group of officers following. No doubt everyone was thankful the collection team had come. Eyes from the ramparts looked in apprehension to see who would disembark. An Inquisitor, the captain of the Blackships, perhaps a Space Marine.

The Thunderhawk's ramp dropped without ceremony. An armoured figure, majestic and terrible, strode from the vessel. Each human registered the image; monstrous in height and build, the presence radiating from the warrior placed awe into their hearts. Extending his gloved hand in greeting, the captain's words were overturned as a bolt round split his head open like an overripe melon.

Pandemonium descended. Arbites covering the walls yelled orders to raise the alarm, the vox-comm crackled to life as, on the compound's tarmac, the men began firing against the new arrivals. No time to think, only to act, and even the resistance given was not enough. Confusion intensified into outright fear as figures of legend followed the first down the ramp, knocking down mortals too slow to move. Bolt rounds pinged against ceramite armour, lasfire twisted away from its intended targets. Retaliation from the enemy came as lightning hurled from outstretched hands or the bark of bolters.

Ahriman's staff flared with Warp fire, creating human infernos from would-be challengers. Very quickly, the compound was quiet with the tattered corpses of Arbites strewn across the cold tarmac.

“Keep the area secured,” he ordered to the Rubric Marines he had brought. “We have limited time to collect what I require.”

Signalling two of his coven, Ibhar and Noph, to come with him, Ahriman entered the Arbites ziggurat and the maze of halls within. Stepping inside the monolith confirmed his suspicions of psy-dampeners placed throughout the massive complex. The divestment of his powers became a lead cloak wrapping over him, draining his talents. Locating one of the psy-dampeners generators close by, Ahriman's bolt pistol made short work of the arcane device.

His powers flickered too and fro, the weight of the cloak temporarily retreated. No doubt the sorcerer-adepts with him felt the same. For every generator the Thousand Sons came across in the vaulted halls, the machine became a blasted heap of metal. The archaic machines could not drown out everything. Ahriman sensed, between the flareups of his powers, the presence of the psyker he had come for. Out of the hundreds in their cells below, hidden under the multitude of floors, the single psyker's raw talent burned bright.

“Like a lumen next to candles,” Noph muttered, swinging his power sword in one hand, cutting down a group of Arbites who attempted to ambush them. “I would almost want to see the disappointment in the Imperial lapdogs faces when we take this one from them.”

Coming to the first bank of elevators, Ahriman chose a lift to take them down. Going as far as the first lift could, the Thousand Sons continued to move from one elevator to the next, penetrating deeper into the ziggurat. No map was needed. Ahriman let the pull of destiny guide his armour shod feet.

Foolish or brave Arbites created cordons to stop the Chaos marines; brute strength from the warlocks replaced dark spells. Bodies crumpled under ceramite gauntlets splashed red. Ibhar and Noph preceded Ahriman to protect their lord's passage. In moments where Ahriman's powers flared and psy-dampeners were destroyed, he sent shrieking bolts of lightning down metal corridors to coldly murder Imperial lackeys.

From the cells, voices of those who knew they were damned pleaded for their deaths. Or salvation. It was difficult to filter the swelling cries of each person, voices overcoming the next until it they became an indistinguishable mass of humanity crying as one. Hands pounded against the steel walls until the flesh was bruised and bloodied, but the Chaos marines did not stop.

“Should we release them, if only to cause confusion for the guards?” Ibhar glanced at the cell blocks strung with purity seals and holy vials.

“Does a librarian settle for a tome of minor importance when he can take what's the most rare? We have enough sacrificial slaves as it is. Leave these beings.” Ahriman took no untalented whelps under his tutelage.

A central lift brought them downwards, rushing through a tunnel of pitch black amid the shriek of alarm klaxons. The sub-levels were reached, where the most dangerous psykers were kept. Enslaved.

Motioning for Ibhar and Noph to halt at the lift and their only means of escape, Ahriman proceeded alone. He found the psy-dampener generator not far from the elevator lift, making short work of it as he had the others. The lead weight dragging the sorcerer down lifted substantially, returning with it a wave of psychic ability.

Stone corridors where protective runes were carved into the black surface made his skin crawl. Faceless black doors held the most deadly, the most insane, the most gifted of humankind behind their heavy locks. Ahriman's blood pulsed against the holy words bathed in the light of lumen stripes. Here, in the furthest recesses of the Arbites hold, a torrent of flames housed in a weak corporeal form waited.

Ahriman came upon the cell, the door breaking under a touch from his staff. Pushing the door aside, Ahriman found two girl children in the cell. Huddled in the far corner, their young minds did not understand who was standing before them or what was happening in the ziggurat above. Ahriman saw their potentials at once, surprised by their divergence. Where one could hope to delve into the mysteries of the universe, the other might wish to read the minds of others. He saw the grand future of one tied into his own and the short thread of the other.

“Go away!” It was the unhooded girl who screamed. Waving her bound hands at the towering figure, she clumsily made the sign of the aquila. “Leave us alone!”

Crossing the chamber in three strides, Ahriman knocked aside the child who played at being a hero. He easily lifted the other, hooded and passive. Blinded from truth. At the unknown contact she began to scream and kick out. The empathic build-up of stress from the child washed over the room, throwing the space of the chamber to a place between for a handful of moments. Even with the psy-collar and dampening hood in place, the feat was noted by Ahriman.

“Amara, help me! Don't let them take me!”

Channelling a measure of phlegmatic into the girl's aura did little good, the psy-bindings flaring against the intrusion. Mentally reprimanding himself for coming under prepared and without sedatives, Ahriman turned on his heel to leave. His exit was barred by the other girl child.

“Give me back my cousin! You have no--”

Whipping the end of his staff about, Ahriman's blow sent the girl careening into the far wall. Baleful eyes stared down at the child's tiny frame. “I will leave you to your own ends, as short as they are.”

Shrieking child under his arm, Ahriman left the cell. Thrashing in the unknown grip, the girl screamed again and again, each wail ringing against the sorcerer's helm. The air bubbled and compressed once more. Above them, lumen stripes crackled and shattered, their glass raining down to cut the psyker child's exposed skin. Sparks ignited into flames, which rushed down the dark halls to scorch whatever was found. Matted locks of the girl's long hair caught alight, adding further to her terror.

“Curse you!” Ahriman shouted over the gale of fire. He batted at the flames, snuffing them, not wanting the prize to end up a charred corpse.

Rejoining his cohorts, the Thousand Sons ascended the lift. In their wake they left a scene of mayhem, the klaxon howling after them. The weight of the psy-dampeners dropped away and once on the rooftop of the Arbites ziggurat, it felt as Ahriman were taking a breath of fresh air for the first time. Still wriggling in his grasp, the child screamed her voice hoarse. Ahriman could not effectively quell the girl's outbursts without removing the shackles holding her powers in place, and he would not risk it.

He handed the child off to one of the coven as easily as passing a doll from one massive hand to the next.

“We leave!”

Rising over the Arbites compound and the sleeping city of Ulsan, the pilots put the engines into a full burn. Punching through the atmosphere and the gravity well of Inno, those strapped into their harnesses still felt the relentless pull. It was a testament to the Thousand Sons fleeing a world slated for the Blackships.

“Lord Ahriman.” The pilot's voice crackled over the vox.

“Report.” Ahriman gripped the webbing of his harness, buffeted from side to side with the shaking of the Thunderhawk.

“The Khermuti reports of ships translating in system. They estimate seventy minutes until the Imperial vessels reach our position. We also received confirmation of the Imperial battleship defending Inno. It has found us.”

“When did-- Nevermind! Send a communique to the bridge of the Khermuti. They will wait for us, they will wait.”

________


Red lights bathed the command deck of the Khermuti, warning of ships translating at the edge of the system. Linked via the hololithic display, Pathoth saw the same red colour the deck of his grand cruiser. His crew's actions mirrored those on the other bridge; adepts running to relay commands, firing batteries primed, waiting for the inevitable and costly engagement.

From the inbound Imperial forces there were picket ships, fast cruisers and escorts having their engineers run the drives red-hot to make it to Inno. Behind them, the battle fortresses of the Blackships, commanding firepower which could pulverize even the Meskhenet, cleared their Warp jump point. Compounding this unfortunate information and driving anxiety high, the original single vessel thought to protect Inno was confirmed to be a Gothic-class cruiser.

With the Warp storms dissipating the Gothic-class cruiser had found the Chaos interlopers, manoeuvring to engage the hostiles in Imperial territory. Hanging in the void and dangling between two approaching forces, the Khermuti and Meskhenet waited. The option of a retreat had been stripped from Pathoth's hands until Ahriman returned. Pathoth's left eye twitched imperceptibly as he tracked the Imperial cruiser across the auspex screen. It would soon cross Inno's terminator line and be in prime firing range against the Chaos ships. The sorcerer could only imagine the damage the forward batteries would wreck against his vessel.

“What are your orders?” Bethos' calculating eyes looked at the vizier.

“How long until Ahriman returns to the Khermuti?”

“Precisely seventeen minutes, fifty-two seconds.”

“How much time until Imperial forces engage us?”

“The Gothic cruiser will be upon us in less than twenty minutes, another fifty with the Blackships and their trailing pack.” Keeping the worry from his voice proved an effort, yet a slight tremor betrayed Bethos.

Pathoth considered, furtively scrying the future. Muddied aether greeted him and his senses, leaving Pathoth unable to untangle the most accurate path. Not that he would rely on potential futures and disregard logic, but knowing what could be always helped. Running outbound to gain the necessary distance for a Warp jump would leave their broadsides and backs exposed. Having to face an enemy on both sides was an unwilling and costly manoeuvre which could end in the damage of either spacecraft. Either option presented losses Pathoth was not willing to risk. A whisper drifted across his mind.

Another path was open to the dedicated followers of the Great Manipulator.

“We create a gateway. It is the most readily available option.” Bethos blanched at Pathoth's words. A few of the magi-adepts shifted nervously. Osis Pathoth gestured for Mhkai to approach.

“Haste is required to leave this system. Mhkai,” Pathoth directed the second-tiered mage. “Prepare the coven. I require the sacrificial fires lit and my sorcerers to stand ready. The Great Ocean will need to be drawn and parted for this endeavour.”

Bethos interjected, “Vizier, we can run to the edge of the system. Creating a gateway will cause--”

“Dare you to counterman my decision?” Pathoth turned against the fourth-tiered sorcerer, his voice laced with contempt. His will beat against Bethos, pulling him down. “Sacrifice a hundred slaves to the fires, a thousand! I care not! A gateway will be opened. The Meskhenet will precede the Khermuti once we confirm the Thunderhawk with the psyker is safely on board.”

Creating a gateway rent from the fabric of space required time and finesse, neither which Pathoth could give. Keying his vox-channel to the command bridge, Pathoth led his coven into the upper chambers to begin the ritual. The very state of unpreparedness smacked against the vizier's precision. Ceremonial candles were lit and from the oily smoke, Pathoth drew invisible sigils in the air. The first death-screams of the slaves reverberated through the corrupted halls. Pooling their talents into the deep well of Pathoth's abilities, the coven latched onto the souls of the slaves to be used as fuel.

Projecting his astral form above the Khermuti, body quaking with the mental effort, Pathoth raised limbs that were and were not his to the void. Stars vanished and reformed in the haze of the dying Warp storm, the eddies and whorls battering against Pathoth's concentration. A mere slip of thought and he would be dashed against the shoals of the Immaterium. Visualizing a great chasm opening before the ships, a tear in reality to the realms beyond, the vizier poised. Unencumbered by mortal flesh, he could sense the foreboding Blackships approach, the Gothic-class cruiser rearing to strike, a Thunderhawk sweeping under the belly of the Khermuti and to asylum...

“We confirm Lord Ahriman's Thunderhawk has docked in arming bay 38-N.”

Pathoth waited no longer. Plunging psychic hands into the dirty aether surrounding the vessels, reaching through the weakening Warp storm to grasp imperceptible threads, he tore the fabric of space. Fuelled by the sacrifices and supported by his cabal's mental exertions, the vizier created a howling gateway in the vacuum of space. Lighting arced over the metal hulls and into the void, unearthly shrieks gibbering in a soundless blackness. The Meskhenet dove through the hastily constructed rift first, its engines flaring to life. Close on its heels the Khermuti followed.

Ripped back into his enhanced physique coughing blood, Osis Pathoth collapsed, spent. Sweat coated his face as both his hearts beat out of tandem, struggling to find a normal rhythm. The members of his circle fared little better, one sorcerer-adept flailing about as mutation broke over his body. A small sacrifice, all silently considered, for the greater plan.

“Pathoth to Lord Ahriman. Have you the psyker?”

A howling scream cut across the channel. Sounds of men shouting were drowned out by Ahriman.

“As I told you, Pathoth, my victory was assured from the beginning. Where are you sending us tumbling through the Warp to?”

Crashing sounds drowned out Pathoth's answer. Pattering across the floor of the ritual chamber, a mutated familiar informed the vizier his presence was required at once in arming bay 38-N. His well-situated advice was obviously required.

As quickly as they had come, Ahriman's forces departed having claimed their prize. The future wove on and on, a contorted path Ahriman walked without knowing what lay at the end, but prepared for whatever waited for him.
Last edited by Anne Marie on Fri Apr 05, 2013 4:46 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sun Apr 17, 2011 9:59 am

Chapter 2

999.M41
Inno, Mizar subsector, Syntyche sector


“I swear before the Golden Throne and all the saints, it was Astartes who massacred the men! We tried to halt them but there were too many! Good Arbites, lawful men who'd never back down from a fight were burnt by fire and lightning. You'll know I speak the truth after your agents have viewed the security feeds. They weren't tampered with, I swear it!”

He was babbling, raving like a madman. Eager to refute his incompetence, a heavy weight made all the worse by the arrival of the Blackships, the commander could not stop. He winced involuntary at the new arrival's voice. It was the sound of judgement being passed.

“Pray I do find the truth aligned with your version of the events. Nothing is hidden from the righteous servant. The tithe from Inno will be light this time, and I hope it is not because of your gross ineptitude. Who knows what's befouled this place with its passing.”

“There's no mystery here, lord. I wouldn't lie. Space Marines attacked the ziggurat.” Newly appointed after the former captain's violent death, the officer's voice quivered. An Inquisitor's presence terrified even the boldest. A Lord Inquisitor made the officer want to willingly face down a hive gang alone with his bare fists. The Lord Inquisitor's aura nearly broke the captain's fragile resolve.

Garbed in a white cloak and sheathed in black power armour, Euleus Saeger was a man who justified every action undertaken. In his career as a blessed Inquisitor, now a Lord Inquisitor commanding a contingent of Blackships, he was not to be trifled with. Older than he looked, the long decades in service to the Inquisition were written deep; grooves marred his leathery face, a sneer graced bloodless lips, and eyes deeply set in pale skin looked at a world twisted. Saeger's hair was slicked over a high brow, his long face framed by a shock white beard.

In every dwelling of light, Saeger hunted the darkness which hid itself in corners. Across every face, he gazed intently for the monster under the flesh. Under the fine veneer of guarded thoughts, he sought the deep seated desires every being held. A witch hunter through and through, Saeger was the idealized figure of the Ordo Hereticus.

His deviation to Inno was no light matter. Saeger changed his course not due to the desperate pleas relayed from astropathic communiques, but through consultation of the divine Imperial Tarot. A passage from his prayer books spoke to his soul, a deliberation required, and Saeger drew forth the Tarot. Laid out on silk, gilt edges catching the candlelight, the God-Emperor spoke through them.

The Great Eye stared at Saeger, the first card pulled. Warp tendrils crept from the pupil and did little to soothe the anxiety he felt. Crossed over it was the Shattered World, the illustration depicting a barren planet, a great crack splitting it asunder. A world lost to the damnation of Chaos and to the untested powers of a psyker; the third card supporting the latter. The Magus, holding the image of a diminutive psyker with fiery eyes, was inversed. Great power would be contaminated by the vile forces. The fourth card, bringing little clarity to the reading, displayed the Hammer of the Malleus Ordo. It too was inversed. Coupled with the fifth and final card, the God-Emperor, was enough for Saeger to create a new course.

Saeger smelled the corruption when the shuttle doors opened. Setting down before the ruined Arbites keep, Saeger strode onto the planet's surface as though he were its governor. Oily black smoke poured from the massive ziggurat, hampering the recovery crew's work in finding survivors. As the newly-appointed captain from the Arbites met the Lord Inquisitor and explain what happened, Saeger snapped his fingers. He was ready to take action.

The reading of the first card had passed.

“Gren, your skills are about to be tested. Let me judge what you've learned under my tutelage.”

Approaching silently behind Saeger, a plain young man garbed in black waited for his orders. Swirling out from his left temple and patterning down his jawline, a jagged tattoo marred a sharply-lined face. Limpid grey eyes without emotion, a mouth which neither smiled or frowned, tonsured brown hair; Gren, the sole Interrogator under Saeger's harsh tutelage, inclined his head. Behind him, a servo-skull hovered at shoulder level.

“What is required, my Lord Inquisitor?”

“Take the Arbites security logs into custody. Have the servitors immediately begin a detailed inspection into the identities of the attackers. Audit the survivors and their psychic rankings, report to me any thought to be missing. I want to know within the hour who was audacious enough to attack this,” Saeger's embittered eyes glared at the commander. “Supposed stronghold.”

Gren moved to find the hastily constructed command tent of the Arbites, his servo-skull following. Saeger's next course was to personally investigate the ruined interior of the compound. The Arbites captain led the Lord Inquisitor through the ziggurat's halls. He jabbered on about Space Marines wielding fire, speaking of psykers within their cells turning mad in the warriors passing. Many required death as the final sedative, their bodies burnt. Those who could be restrained were and kept in reserve cells before being transported to the Blackships.

Once inside the ziggurat, Saeger wrinkled his nose, placing a hand over his mouth. To breathe the same fouled air as psykers was one thing, to recognize and inhale the taint of Chaos was another. He mentally shuddered at the thought. Great chunks of ferrocrete blocked the wide halls. Melted girders and twisted stairwells testified to the strength of the fires unleashed and which still burned. With the lifts nonoperational, the Hereticus Inquisitor and Arbites took to the stairs, descending into the heart of the ruined structure. Passing down the levels into the thickening acrid smoke, the Arbites commander passed Inquisitor Saeger a rebreather unit, putting his own in place.

“The damage you saw in the upper levels and along here,” the officer pointed out in his muffled voice, “was caused by chained lightning.” The walls, scorched and blackened, were pitted as though someone passed a saw-toothed blade across its surface. “After the psy-dampeners failed on this level, the sorcerers,” he fumbled with the word, “continued down to the lower levels.”

“Who were kept in the lowest recesses?” Saeger ducked under a half-collapsed pylon, keenly noting the bolt rounds embedded in the walls. Across the way and placed in a wall niche, a statue of an angel with its face pulverized to dust tilted at a drunken angle.

“Highly unstable psykers. The ones we're unable to classify and need further Assignment ratings. We ensure they are under the tightest lock and key, but what we do know is the Space Marines came--”

“Corrupted Space Marines. No pure Imperial Chapter would attack a compound,” Saeger corrected the officer.

Visibly paling, the commander nodded. “Uh, y-yes. The corrupted marines made their way to the lowest of the holding cells where the most severe damage was done.”

Grunting in annoyance, Saeger continued down the steps, the metal rattling in his passing. An uncomfortable silence fell. The Lord Inquisitor took note of every detail. Indeed, Saeger had played the game long enough to know what clues to look for, finding them at every turn. A precise lightning raid, careful timed, made him wonder which Legion the Chaos Space Marines hailed from. Reaching the bottom-most cells, Saeger inhaled sharply at what greeted them.

Charred walls where the rock ran like water. Twisted cables sputtering in half melted casings. Red light from the emergency lumen strips flooded the halls, flickering on and off in quick succession. Heavy smoke pooled in craters pox-marking the floor. In the midst of the deep light and choking smoke, prisms of refracted light filled the air, each a mirror multiplying Saeger's image a hundred times, a thousand. In each light he saw his futures, one as different from the other, each a complex weave of what could be. To look into one until it ended, quickly flitting to the next, Saeger saw whole lifetimes pass. Indistinguishable whispers filled the air and came from the refracted motes of light. All decreeing they knew the best course of action, the only way to succeed in this endeavour and knowing who had the gall to attack what the Blackships owned.

With a roar Saeger shouted, “Lead not the faithful into temptation!” Pulling his force sword from its scabbard, the blade shone a blinding white in the presence of the tainted Warp. He swung at the prisms. Connecting with a blinding flash, the sword sent the refracted shards spinning into the walls where they shattered.

The horrid whispers ceased.

The barrier between dimensions was paper thin in the lowest holdings. The slightest misstep, the wrong word spoken or thought left loose, a curious glance from something on the other side, could undo the fragile wall barely in place. What the captain said rang true; the unleashed powers of a psyker had nearly destroyed this level. Saeger turned to the man, careful in dictating his words and thoughts precisely.

“Seal this area off. No one is to enter without my expressed permission. A quick death will be given to those whose curiosity gets the better of them. Am I understood?”

Saluting, the captain relayed the orders across his encrypted command channel through the rebreather comm-bead. Saeger glanced into one of the holding cells. Fire had blackened the stone walls and melted the black metal door. A portion of the ceiling had collapsed, bringing down with it one of the psy-dampener units from the upper level. Harmless dust motes floated lazily in the smoky air.

Having investigated the extent of the damage, Saeger and the Arbites captain returned to the upper levels of the ziggurat and the command tent located not far off. Menials from Saeger's coterie moved around the law keepers, commanding records and other notes of interest, hurrying in their tasks. In the center of the controlled mayhem and noise, overseeing their movements, was Gren. Catching sight of Lord Inquisitor Saeger, the Interrogator approached with data-slates in hand and a grave expression on his face. Dread fell over Saeger. Without a word, the Interrogator beckoned his master to follow. Leading him into an adjacent section of the command tent, Gren's servo-skull raised a falsehood and the background hub of noise cut off.

Gren passed his elder a data-slate. The ash green pict showed a fiercely helmed Astartes bearing an ornate black staff, lightning erupting from the palm of his gauntlet hand. It was a figure any Ordo Inquisitor worth their salt knew, a face of infamy and villainy. Eyes thirsted for dark knowledge behind that helmet, a body holding a soul corrupted by it.

“By the Emperor,” Saeger made the sign of the aquila. “He dared. The filth surfaces after so long, here in this subsector, and he dares.”

“Indeed, without a doubt the arch-heretic Ahriman was here. He led a group of Thousand Sons via Thunderhawk which landed on the ziggurat's roof. We know from detailed reports and other sightings that Ahriman collects a variety of arcana and mystical devices. A powerful psyker is just one of those. Also,” Gren hesitantly produced another data-slate.

“Speak your thoughts, Gren. I refuse any of my acolytes to withhold their views.”

“Yes, my lord.” Gren licked his lips. “A psyker is unaccounted for. I cross-checked with the others kept in the holding cages and viewed the bodies ready for cremation. She is not listed. This psyker is one who was previously held in the lowest levels.”

“You are certain?” Saeger's brow furrowed in anger.

“Without a doubt.” Gren drew up the information from the data-slate and recited. “Number sixty-five-oh-three. Katea Kith, related to the prominent Kith House on Inno. Standard six Terran years old, her latent abilities were revealed during the Warp storm. Immolated a small group of hired mercenaries and set the Kith wheat fields on fire. I believe once the entirety of the security feeds have been examined, we will see the child, too.”

“She was alone in the cell?” Saeger's eyes scanned the readily available information, committing it to memory.

Gren shook his head. He searched the data-slate. “No, another was with her. Both of their powers manifested at the same time, though hers were notably less... prominent. Amara Kith, standard six Terran years old, directly related to the same Kith House and the next heir apparent. She survived the Chaos attack and was pulled from the cell after the fires were brought under control. Emperor's grace, it's a miracle she survived at all.”

Saeger's wizened eyes glinted as the seed of a thought was planted. “You have done very well, Interrogator Gren. Where is this child now?”

“In the holding cages. I will take you to see her--”

The Lord Inquisitor was already moving. He passed through the falsehood barrier and the press of bodies in the command tent, his stride growing until he was almost running. Under heavy watch from armoured Arbites and Inquisitorial storm troopers, the holding cell kept those doomed to board the Blackship penned in. Pass the electrified fence and psy-dampener generators, shadowed and haggard faces stared out at the world. To one side crouched a little girl, shunned by the others. Gren pointed her out to Saeger.

“Amara Kith, my lord. She hasn't spoken or moved since her confinement here, not even when I tried to coax words from her. Whatever she was privy to hearing and seeing when Chaos came, she refuses to be forthcoming. I don't believe she'll speak at all. Perhaps the traitors thought she would burn alive in the cell.”

“What is her exact relation to the missing psyker?”

“Cousins, to be precise. Both were officially stricken from the Kith House records after their psychic powers were confirmed, which isn't surprising, and they were--”

'Few are those who stand before the tainted and remain pure, to leave them without cause is a sin unto itself'.” The Lord Inquisitor clutched his rosette seal. “Do you not feel this moment, Gren? How the Emperor has guided us here for a colossal undertaking? This child survived an attack by the arch-heretic Ahriman. For reasons we cannot fathom, this child is a sign from His Most Holy, a link, and it will not slip from my fingers.”

The Interrogator raised an eyebrow. “I am lost to your reasoning, Lord Saeger.”

“Through this child and her cousin, should she yet draw breath, the path to destroying Ahriman is open. The Imperial Tarot spoke to me, Gren, spoke to me and gifted this vast undertaking into my care. I will end one of the greatest scourges in the galaxy. My name will ring in the halls of ancient Terra itself.”

Speaking with the force and passion many of the Ordo Hereticus possessed, Saeger overrode the Interrogator's cautionary words. Looking at the child inside the detainment cell with something close to pity, Gren knew the monumental moment for Saeger meant something much worse for the child. Ordering the guards to admit him entry, the Inquisitor Lord touched the golden aquila pinned to his cloak. An old habit, a trait he had never broken from in his days as a noviate. The Arbites guards let the Inquisitor enter without contest, the chain-linked door rolling back. The psykers inside looked up with wide eyes and thundering hearts.

Timid and cowed, they moved like a flight of migratory birds upon seeing the great figure in power armour enter. Glancing briefly above him where one of many psy-dampener were placed, Saeger spared a withering look to the untouchables of Imperial society. Weak fools, cursed insipid souls. It sickened Saeger that the Imperium took its strength from people who could not properly control it themselves, thus allowing a deadly contamination to seep into the Materium. For men of his spiritual calibre to ferry these beings to their demise, Saeger felt his purity diminished in close contact to them.

Saeger considered the child he approached. Her skin bubbled and peeled across a red face and thin arms. Who would waste a medicae kit on a child bound to die? Amara Kith still wore the psy-collar and cuffs, soot-blackened with the machine spirit faithfully binding her powers. Her expression was vacant, green eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot. Sweat soaked blonde hair lay plastered to a raw scalp. Hunched over with knees tucked up under her chin and arms wrapped around her legs, she was the picture of perfect misery.

Kneeling down, Saeger was taken aback when the girl lifted her face to look at him fully. Her cracked lips moved.

“I hate them.”

“Who, child?”

“The ones who took Katea away. I hate them.”

The sheer intensity behind those few words assured the Lord Inquisitor of the future personality Amara Kith would bear. He could use such anger, cultivate and bind it to the God-Emperor's will and his personal dogma. “Does your hatred burn bright against the followers of Chaos who took Katea from you? Do you know the cost of the words you use?”

The girl nodded once. “Yes.”

“What would you do for revenge?”

“I want to find and kill them. Each one of them. I want to bring Katea home. I promised to keep her safe.” Wetness pooled at the edge of her eyes. Tears began to spill over. “I told Katea we wouldn't be apart. I promised.”

Resting a hand on the girl's shoulder, Saeger stated, “The God-Emperor knows of your promise. Do you know who I am?” A shake of the girl's head made the Lord Inquisitor laugh. “I am Lord Inquisitor Saeger of the Ordo Hereticus. It is my pious duty, given by the God-Emperor Himself, to hunt down and exterminate the forces of Chaos wherever they hide. My hatred is my shield, my unyielding faith becomes the sword by which I take their lives. I can ensure your revenge against Chaos.”

“I want my revenge,” she answered. The smile twisting her face did not belong to a child. Grabbing Saeger's hands in both of hers, the girl pulled herself upright. “I want to bring Katea home. What do I have to do?”

Saeger held out the small rosette seal of his office. “This is a small thing. Small, but it holds great power. I will teach you how to use this power effectively with your hate driving you on. Tell me your name, girl, so I know who my acolyte will be.”

“Amara Kith.”

“Amara Kith,” Saeger intoned, marking the Imperial aquila on her soot-covered brow. “You will learn the galaxy is a harsh place. The only way Mankind can survive is for us, the servants of the undying Emperor, to be harsher yet. Steel your anger, for it will take you far.”

________


Twilight fell over Ulsan like a grieving shawl. The city was quiet, its people humbled and following the sounds of church bells to their compline prayers. Surveying the capital city of Inno, a mere speck against the landscape, the planet a grain of sand in a cosmos filled by uncounted more, a dark shadow covered Saeger's face. Gren noticed his teacher's frown. His approach was careful, footsteps purposefully loud as he exited the Stormbird.

“What troubles you?”

Saeger turned from the cityscape, eyes hooded. “Ahriman has murdered this world. Stand as my witness to my testimony, Gren, for I swear upon the Golden Throne, I shall end his life.”

“A personal crusade, Lord Saeger?” A cool wind kicked up from the high plains, mournfully howling as it whipped down the streets of Ulsan.

“Consider this, Interrogator. How do we know the taint of Chaos has not been sowed in some cloaked fashion? It could be a year, a decade or even centuries before it boils to the surface like some malignant tumour to spread itself. We can never be certain, not when the Dark Powers have come into play. So many lives yet unborn already cut from the fold.”

Gren's throat constricted. “We can set a watch. This world isn't dead just yet. The people are hardy, diligent and quick to act. Why, we could even set a company of Grey Kni--”

“We cannot. Already the Inquisition's reach is weak in the Mizar subsector. To stretch ourselves too finely invites disaster, disasters we cannot afford to have. The only way one can be truly sure of the Ruinous Powers never laying claim to Inno is through exterminatus.”

Saeger gave the order as though it were a grand proclamation, sweeping his hand across the capital, swatting at it like a fly. Heedless of the lives condemned. The tempest had passed, leaving the air chilled as night fully fell. If the stars heard what the Lord Inquisitor planned for Inno, they could not stop it. Yes, a world of rich resources would be lost to the Imperium, yet compared to have it fall into the claws of Chaos and the souls damned, it was a necessary loss.

“You may be acting too hastily,” Gren countered. “We should wait for a divine sign. Consult the Tarot again, start a purity check of the people, but do not call for exterminatus. It's not required.”

“Once you have seen what I have and fought what I have fought, you will not think I am acting in haste, Gren. Your naivety will be bled out in time. Follow you duty in my service and heed my orders before we depart. Bring my newest acolyte back to the Blackships and give her a sleeping cell. Round up the survivors who came into contact with the heretical Astartes and those who tended to the Kiths. I will rendezvous with you in a short while. May the God-Emperor bless and protect you.”

Saeger appreciated the landscape of Inno one final time before reciting a quiet benediction to the world. He never hesitated in his actions. He never reneged in his words. He never faltered in his resolve. The image of the Shattered World flashed in Saeger's psyche. How long until the other Tarot cards he dealt would reveal their hand?
Last edited by Anne Marie on Wed Apr 17, 2013 4:25 am, edited 20 times in total.
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Anne Marie
 
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:17 am

When Amara Kith set her feet on the plated deck of the commanding Blackship, she was struck by the chill. Even in later years she would never forget the way it radiated outward, as though a lump of ice were forming inside her body. Her teeth chattered involuntarily. She curled her fingers and toes in an effort to make them warm, cold even with the heavy brown cloak given to her to wear. Mechanics in heavy suits and crewmen in long coats walked past the child, seemingly indifferent to the cold inside the cavernous docking bay. Perhaps having travelled for so long on the ship, they had acclimatised themselves. Amara exhaled, watching her breath turn into a white plume which dissipated into the rib vaulting high above.

It was dark on the Blackship. Even with the bright lights from the lumen panels and the sun globes, the darkness clung in the corners and to the edges of the steel walls. Everything lay cast in stark relief; there was little between hard shadow or harsh light. Whether it was because of the nature of the Blackships or something else, it was offsetting. Amara turned to march back into the transport and the familiar security it offered, only to be stopped by Gren's voice.

“If you're done gawking, follow me.” Gren hurried down the ramp of the transport, his servo-skull buzzing after the Interrogator. Holding a canvas bag in its pincer arms the servo-skull clicked in binary at the child. Gren smiled mirthlessly. “Don't get lost. I'm not wasting my time finding you if you do.”

He strode down the long embarkation deck. She followed, not wanting to become lost on the strange vessel. She thought the docking bay was loud with metallic crashes and crewmen barking orders; the halls teeming with servants, aides and soldiers were louder yet. The press of bodies made the girl awkward, the faces of the people unwelcoming and too stern. Hastily, she grabbed the hem of Gren's sleeve and held fast. Glancing down briefly, the Interrogator allowed the girl to cower. Having once been in Amara's position, the young man understood the child's anxiety. But Gren's approach was practical. Better for Amara to be thrown into the deep immediately and learn how to swim. He hadn't been given a choice.

“You are aboard one of the many infamous Blackships which ferry psykers to the Throneworld.” Gren side-stepped a lumbering servitor, Amara darting lightning-quick after him. “This isn't the Lord Inquisitor's personal flagship; he is charged in the safe delivery of this fleet. He will bring the annual tithe to its ultimate end.”

Amara let her eyes wander. She passed black marble statues of long-forgotten heroes in solemn state, looked up as cherubs flew overhead with incense wafting from the thuribles they held, touched the gold filigree patterning the walls. The vaulting ceiling was a criss-cross of iron girders and stain glass windows looking out into the stars beyond. In every nook and cranny, altars to the Emperor and His various saints were displayed. Some people between work shifts knelt in the middle of prayers before the shrines. Gren's voice brought Amara back to the present, her eyes latching onto the bald spot of his tonsured hair.

“Your training will begin immediately. You're Lord Saeger's newest pupil, but don't think you'll get off lightly because of your age. You should rid yourself of any notions of easy living in an Inquisitor's service. Whatever you were use to on Inno, you'll find the opposite here. When Lord Saeger is involved with higher affairs, I will be your tutor. I hope for your sake you learn fast.” Gren smiled. Amara was unsure if he was making a joke or being serious.

Crossing over walkways where the heights and spinning depths underneath left Amara with vertigo, Gren hurried Amara into a lift. It whispered upwards, passing by levels too quick for the foundling child to see what was happening on them but hearing the hubbub so many voices created. The cold from the docking bay intensified. Amara clutched her stomach in discomfort.

“The Blackships are heavily guarded against psychic manifestations from both within and without. What you sense beyond the basic physical,” Gren tapped Amara's head, “are the null barriers protecting the upper levels from what's below. Think of it like the psy-collar you wear, only to a greater degree and ship-wide. Heed my words, don't go down to the lower decks. Keep to the upper levels and where you're designated to go and everything will be fine.”

The lift stopped after an eternity, its doors hissing open to reveal a corridor flooded with light from burning sconces. White and black veined marble pillars flanked either side of the hall, portholes between the pillars revealing the star scape. Embossed in gold on the black granite floor, the Imperial aquila's wings were spread wide, its eyes forever vigilant. Stepping onto the landing, Gren patiently waited for Amara to follow. In the end, the servo-skull gave her a vigorous push to spur her out of the lift. There were less aides and armoured guards in the upper levels, replaced by officers wearing braided storm grey uniforms and figures in power armour. The noise was significantly less, voices never rising above a polite murmur.

“Follow me. We'll soon be at the observation platform. From there,” Gren paused, deliberating in his words. Inno hung heavy on the aft-side of the Blackships fleet. “You can see your home world for the last time. As an acolyte, you only give obeisance to Lord Saeger and the captain of the Blackships. The Lord Inquisitor's retinue will be introduced to you; be polite to them. You don't have to talk with them unless you want to, but it would be to your advantage to get to know--”

A white robed figure knocked into Gren. Arms encircled his waist tightly, the diminutive person a sharp contrast to the tall Interrogator in black. Surprised by the sudden appearance, Gren looked down at the upturned face of Selina, the Lord Inquisitor's personal prophetess. He smiled tightly, almost painfully, and when he spoke his tone was hard-edged.

“Hello, Selina. Did you run away from your keeper again?”

She put a finger to her lips. Why Lord Saeger kept an abomination such as Selina close remained a mystery to many; Saeger's contempt for psykers was well-known. Gren limited his encounters with Selina, fearing on some level of having a prophecy aligned to him spoken. He held little desire to know his future. Saved from the dark holds of the Blackships, her prophecies were curses. Bouts assailed the girl, her voice and mannerisms changing in the span of heartbeats, unsettling the most stalwart in her presence.

“Who is that?” One voluminous sleeve gestured to Amara.

“Lord Saeger's newest pupil. You have your answer, now take your leave.”

Gren pried her loose. Selina, now fixated on Amara, stared at her as though she were an exotic beast. Something passed over her face, a ripple across the skin, a fire lighting the eyes. Gren waved his hand in front of the prophetess' face. When he tried to forcefully push her away, she squirmed out of Gren's grip to sidle up alongside Amara. Aged wrinkles gathered at the corners of Selina's eyes.

“What's your name?” Selina twisted the rag doll she carried. When no answer came, she pressed closer and repeated her question. Amara, expression haggard, looked to Gren for assistance.

Gren sighed. “You might as well answer her. Once she's found someone who interests her, Selina won't leave them be until she's given answers.”

Reassured, the girl answered, “Amara Kith.”

Selina snapped her fingers. “I thought as much. I was travelling the halls and Tasha whispered for me to come this way. I was told to talk with you. Yes, yes, I am doing just that right now. No worries.” Rocking the rag doll in her arms, Selina smiled. “You are sad, Amara Kith, very sad. You shouldn't be. Those saved by the Inquisitor Lord are bound for a better life. Aren't you saved?”

Amara nodded once. “I am.”

“May I see your hand?” The question was abrupt, the subject change sudden. Selina grabbed Amara's hand before she could answer. Selina's body seized up upon contact, eyes clouding over in a filming white substance. “Ah, Tasha was right about you. You are so sad... and angry. Very angry. This isn't good.”

Her voice changed pitch, rising octaves higher. Gren could not step in and forcibly remove Selina; to do so might jarr whatever connection the prophetess held open. Her abilities were wild and, unknowing what could be pulled from the maw of the future, the Interrogator did nothing. Amara was too stunned to do more than freeze in place, looking at the change overcoming Selina. The lump of ice in her gut roiled, pain lancing into her chest.

Gasping suddenly, from shock or revulsion, Selina dropped her rag doll and broke contact. Tears gathered at the corners of her old eyes, the iris and pupil returning to their original state. “Why would you do those things? Such horrible things. They just wanted to help you. They trusted you.”

“What things? What did you see, Selina?” Gren attempted to grab the prophetess. She balled her hands into fists and swung wildly with her rag doll, hitting Gren's arm. He let her go, pushing her back.

“To your keeper, girl. Lord Saeger will be informed of this. If you will not tell me, you will explain everything to him.”

Spluttering nonsense words with a growl, Selina ran down one of the many side corridors and vanished from sight. Amara stood numbly, staring after the crazed being allowed to walk free. Gren led Amara on without a word until they reached the observation deck. Ornately decorated brass rails circled the edge of the landing where, beyond a vast dome, Inno hung in the void. Others were already assembled, people who played instrumental roles on the Lord Inquisitor's staff nodding to Gren. He jostled for a place at the front, pushing Amara ahead of him so she might see the planet. She vacantly stared ahead, her mind elsewhere, unaware that this first view of her world was also her last.

Gren placed a hand on Amara's shoulder to stir her from her pensive thoughts. “Don't listen to her words. Selina has no clue to what she sees or what she says.”

“She's crazy. I don't like her.”

“Neither do I. It might amaze you to know how many people don't want her here. Some think she belongs back in the lower holds.” Beside him, Gren's servo-skull wove back and forth in the air as though agreeing.

“I don't think I can trust anyone here. My grandfather and mother weren't there, and just now,” Amara trailed off without finishing her thought.

“Amara,” Gren said. “Out of all the people in all of the Imperium, you can trust in me. You have my word.”

A familiar litany. What a little girl had promised another in a dark cell not long ago and had been unable to uphold. Amara looked at the upturned palm Gren held out to her, then to the plain face. His smile held warmth, more than what Amara saw in Saeger, or even her grandfather. Amara was unsure in believing the words people spoke. Everything was hollow, nothing transparent. She cast her gaze to the others about the deck; hooded figures, hunch-backed adepts, even members of the Ecclesiarchy were present. People she intrinsically felt said one thing and meant another. No, not to be trusted.

Gren now, he was different.

A snap decision. Would it haunt her in the years to come? Without knowing, Amara rested her hand in Gren's. “I trust you.”

An organ thundered, its pealing notes echoing into the darkness of the Blackships. Through an adjacent door, Lord Inquisitor Saeger appeared. People bowed as the Hereticus Inquisitor made his way through their ranks. Stepping to the fore of the ornate observation deck, Saeger gestured imperiously. A Pontifex Astra of the Ecclesiarchy stepped forward, the scarlet red of his robes denoting his high office, holding a gold-bound tome in liver spotted hands. Handing the book to the Lord Inquisitor, the preacher turned to address the assembled.

“We bear witness to the ending of a world's life. Extinguished from the galaxy, souls to be guided to the God-Emperor's light, Inno's taint will be unable to spread and infect the Mizar subsector. Let us pray for those whose blessed ignorance covers their eyes. Let us pray for those as they are released from these mortal coils.” He made the sign of the aquila. “A spiritu dominatus, domine, libra nos, from the lighting and the tempest, Our Emperor, deliver us.”

The hymnal was repeated in solemnity. Amara Kith's lips moved quietly; she remembered the Kith family chapel and Father Curasso's sermons. Saeger towered next to her, a judge to billions of souls, watching her movements. Discordant notes blared from the organ. The incense weaved through the air, its tendrils heavy enough to choke on. It was a moment where nothing made sense and everything did, the Pontifex Astra's voice rising over the hymnal score.

“Love the Emperor, for He is the salvation of Mankind. Obey His words for He will lead you into the light of the future. Heed his wisdom, for He will protect you from evil. Whisper his prayers with devotion, for they will save your soul. Honour His servants, for they speak in His voice. Tremble before His majesty, for we all walk in His immortal shadow.”

The prayer ended. Saeger's deep eyes bored into Amara's soul and his words resounded to all present. “Watch your home cleansed in holy fire, child. Know you have been saved by the God-Emperor's grace and from this day onward, your debt to Him begins.”

The exterminatus began.

Amara hid in Gren's shadow to watch Inno's final moments. Fiery blossoms erupted across gold and green fields, purging life from the verdant agri-world. Crops incinerated in moments, the legacy of the Inno Houses with their petty feuding wiped away. A slate cleaned with nothing new to be written on it. She averted her eyes as waves of cyclonic torpedoes fell away from the fleet, cracking open Inno's crust, expelling fire from within. Amara's eyes watered at the sight, her fear of fire stemming from traumatic memories. Katea had burnt the men slowly, the fire in the cell had been a scorching inferno, the bodies of the dead psykers tossed onto reeking pyres of death still vivid.

Everything was changing and nothing would be right again. Selina's words, Gren's promise, Saeger's looming presence; a nauseating sensation kicked Amara in the stomach. Bile rose in her throat as a choir sang to Inno's death keel. A planet's annihilation, which should have inspired an apocalyptic opera or a dramatic work of art, only brought out the intense sensation of a nightmare forming in the young child.

Amara Kith retched on the carpeted floor and was ushered away to the apothecary to have her psy-bindings removed.

________


Sequestered in his reclusium, the chamber shaped in the likeness of a pyramid with walls of panelled glass, Ahriman was unable to find any peace. His agitation made it difficult to slip into a trance. The psionic crystals drifting about the reclusium glowed a dull red, echoing to the state of his aura, their colour casting the room in a blood red glow. The sorcerer's concentration hadn't been the same after Inno. He still heard the screams of the child echoing in his mind, panicked and shrill. Her psychic emanation was seeping into the Khermuti even now, disrupting the mental planes of each of the Thousand Sons without thought or care.

Ahriman exhaled sharply. Burning eyes snapped open, his upturned palms closing into fists without realising the motion. In all places aboard the Khermuti, his one sanctuary was no longer his own.

One of the psionic crystals flashed. Irritated, Ahriman waved it aside with a thought, observing its tumbling dance through the air. It continued to shimmer, the light growing stronger. Someone's attempt to contact him was insistent. Summoning his black staff into his hands, Ahriman rose to his feet in one fluid motion, exiting the sanctity of his reclusium to see what was so important.

A single figure waited in the antechamber beyond, balancing a garnet orb across bare knuckles, deftly twisting it into the palm of his large hand before it could fall. Osis Pathoth gave a small nod to Ahriman, his vague smile irritating. Ahriman regarded the other and uttered a single question.

“What is it?”

“The master of the vessel emerges,” the vizier's remark was caustic. “Have you been granted a vision to where we must be led to next? Your idleness is vexing some.”

Ahriman smiled in return, no mirth held in the expression. “For you to be walking so soon after your primary heart's injury, are you unwise enough to not choose a more careful battle? Or will you now be the prolocutor between all the Sons and myself?”

“I advise when it becomes necessary, such as now. Tzeentch takes care of those with designs yet completed. Tell me,” Pathoth spun the orb, “I heard a curious murmuring while the apothecary mended my wound. How loud peoples minds become when their lips are stitched shut. Medicae suppressants to be given to the child?”

Ahriman stalked around the antechamber. “I have my reasons, the least to preserve the sanctity of my vessel. The apothecary is concocting an opiate to bring her to heel. I dare not take off those psy-bindings until she's been properly subdued. Never have I heard a child scream so much, or seen a whelp so poorly-raised. You witnessed what nearly happened in the arming bay.”

“Bless the Dark Gods the Khermuti void shields work as they should.”

“Preparing the cell alone cost me greatly. Triple wards and bindings inscribed into the walls to contain her emotional upheaval, and I can still sense it from here. Her unrefined talent exceeds my expectations, but I won't be caught off guard.” Ahriman's voice grew louder as he justified his actions. “Do not be daft in saying you are above it, Pathoth. A stupor is required for the time being, curbing the child of any impulses until she knows who her betters are.”

“Do you intend to make her life one of drug-induced stupefaction? Who knows what damage will happen to her mind, let alone her body. The child is too frail right now, too confused.” The vizier clicked his tongue. “Allow me to talk reason to a child where your lofty mind fails to reach. Tell the apothecary to flush his poisons. No medicine will be required.”

“Where does this arrogance of yours stem from?” Ahriman stopped his tirade, levelling a hostile gaze at Pathoth.

“To spite you,” Pathoth stated. “Should I fail and die, my body crushed by the untested powers of this psyker, you have the pleasure of jettisoning my remains into the void, no?”

“Your feeble attempt to aggravate is noted. Your endeavour, suicidal as it is, will be allowed. Seeing your brains dashed against a bulkhead might improve my disquiet.”

He ruminated over the image, finding it suited his mood. Ahriman's black thoughts turned inwards. Once properly bound to his service, nothing remained unfeasible for the psyker to accomplish. Magnus would be hard pressed to not admit a mortal of such calibre has its uses. Even without his precognition, Ahriman saw the distant future arranged. Perhaps with the child's powers fettered to his, Ahriman could tutor Magnus to the grave error made in his banishment...

Osis Pathoth abruptly turned in Ahriman's direction. Whether it was Ahriman's words or a slip of his ambitious thoughts rising to the surface, the Vizier to the Magus gave no acknowledgement. Ahriman quickly spoke to mask his sentiments.

“Has our Primarch been notified to my raid against the Blackships?”

“I have not spoken to the Primarch in some time.”

“Now would be an opportune moment to inform Magnus I have reached the conclusion of the Jollana scroll's prophecy,” Ahriman said.

“In the end,” Pathoth's voice slipped into a neutral tone, “it is Lord Magnus who decides your return. Whatever acts you undertake to impress will do little to influence his ultimate decision.”

“Surely,” Ahriman vexed, “he will want to know of this, advisor.”

“Come the next time I engage in conversation with him, he shall.”

“Within the next cycle, of course.” Ahriman's implied command, arrogant and put so blithely, raised Pathoth's choler. Suppressing his ego and reciting a mantra of calm, Pathoth reined in a violence which rose frighteningly quick. He knew the grand sorcerer's personality, knew his lay in direct opposition, and what he had sworn to commit and uphold to in the name of the Crimson King.

“After I see the child and presumably survive the encounter, it will be done, Lord Ahriman.”

Given leave, Osis Pathoth traversed the ever-shifting corridors of the Khermuti to arrive at the threshold of the warding chambers. Beyond the heavy doors where runes ever-shifted in the stillness of the air, Ahriman's barriers protecting the starship, Pathos found Bethos waiting. Nodding in acknowledgement, the Thousand Son wordlessly pointed ahead of him. While the vizier's wounds were being treated, Bethos stood in Pathoth's stead and watched over the confinement of the child psyker.

Kept in the center of a great sunken amphitheatre on bloodied knees, silver chains encircling her tiny body, the child looked anything but dangerous. Inside great interlocking circles, wherein thaumaturgy symbols wove themselves about, the tremendous psychic emanations the child threw off were halted. Likened to a great wall of water held back by glass, the tiniest crack would spell doom if the protective spells were not secure. Her psy-bindings remained on, blackened from the fire. A servant had shorn off a great deal of her long hair, the fire having left great red welts along her scalp.

“Repulsive,” Pathoth murmured to himself.

Dismissing Bethos, the Vizier of the Magus descended the staircase and crossed the expanse until he stood over the child. Transferring his staff into his left hand as he knelt, Pathoth removed his helm with the right, actions mirroring the past in the Jollana Librarium. Close to a century and he still remembered the face of the sprite-child who engaged him in conversation. When the same face looked upwards, eyes bloodshot and fearful, Pathoth did not register surprise or shock as lesser mortals would. He merely nodded his head, pleased in Tzeentch's will to set the future in motion.

“Such a shame,” he began, keeping his tone purposefully low. “Someone cut off your long hair. It will grow back, just as your wounds will heal without scars. How fortunate your burns are only superficial.”

The girl shook her head, a clump of blonde hair falling to the floor. “I want to go home,” she sobbed. Even with the psy-bindings and aegis' in place, her coarse power was barely contained, yearning to rip free.

“This is your home now.”

“I want my mother. I want--”

This is your home now.” Channelling a measure of substantial will into his words, Pathoth's statement stopped the girl's tears. “I am Osis Pathoth, Vizier to Magnus the Red, the Crimson King and Daemon Prince to the Lord of Change. These names and titles mean nothing to you now, but the weight they carry will be one you shall come to know. You do not know of me, or what I am, but I have known of you for a long while, child. Your future was written before your birth.”

Puffy red eyes glared at the sorcerer. “Where's my cousin? She promised to be with me.”

“Your cousin is dead. Your family did not want you. The Imperium and your God-Emperor despise people such as yourself, for the power and potential you hold.” He continued, watching the child shake her head as she grew distraught. “You will be given a new name for your rebirth.”

“My name is Katea!” Her bonds shook. The metal links began to bend.

“There is no more Katea. She died on Inno, taken by flames and death.” Osis Pathoth looked into the child’s eyes, arresting her convulsions. “From this point on, only Neferuaat exists.”
Last edited by Anne Marie on Wed Apr 17, 2013 4:26 am, edited 11 times in total.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Colonel Mustard » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:02 pm

Just read this through from start to finish, and I must say that I've enjoyed this a great deal; it's a fascinating read, and you've got yourself a setup for some very interesting scenarios later on in this, especially the reuniting of Amara and Katea/Neferuaat which I'm guessing will happen at some point (an inquisitor's acolyte and a sorcerer's apprentice. This is going to end in tears...).

Your characters have all been well developed so far, and I've already got a soft spot for Saeger in particular, and I'm particularly enjoying the rivalry between Ahriman and Pathoth as well.

That said, some of the language choice in the dialogue feels a little odd, or out of place, such as:
“I wouldn't recommend it, Inquisitor. Taking on a Chaos sorcerer is a mission for morons and fools. Which are you?”


and

"Do not be daft in saying you are above it, Pathoth"


They're just both oddly informal for a character like Ahriman, and generally jar with the rest of the dialogue going on.

That said, however, the rest of this is a great read, and a fascinating piece, all in all. I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Thu Jul 14, 2011 2:31 pm

@ Colonel Mustard - Thanks for the feedback, and I hope this story continues to perk your interest. It's certainly caused me to write like a woman possessed to get everything out before it becomes lost.

Chapter 3

002.M42
Imperial colony 1034; formerly designated Kianemure, Maiden World


From Lugganath I ran. I fled as the spirits of my ancestors and those within the infinity circuit shrieked after me, howling. Of duty. Of responsibility. Of acceptance to fate. I fled those who attempted to halt my flight, my limbs contorting to escape their clutches. My psyche thundered throughout the wraithbone halls and gilded towers, past rivers where the spirit lanterns bobbed on the waters and the aggressive houses of the Aspects where the warriors trained.

I did not wish my young life denied; I could not see the beauty of treading a Path resigned. Honour is a meaningless word – my youth and impertinence led me. The weight of family duty is crushing. I was not the only son, there were others. Let them be fit to take my stead, their minds strong while mine tarried in the world of far flung adventure. These walls suffocated me.

My name is Taekaedr. I became an Exodite, leaving the shadows of Lugganath behind in a wash of misery.


________


The flesh of mortals is weak, subjective, and ultimately mutable. To resist the pull of Chaos and the changes it brought, the individual’s strength of self needed to be resolute and firm. Psykers were easier to manipulate and turn in Chaos’ favour; consequently the Imperium soul-bound all they discovered or implanted neural inhibitors to blunt their powers lest the Warp overtake them. Those living beyond the totalitarian grip of the Imperium found other means to command their abilities; brilliant teachers taught extraordinary students. The learning curve was steep with no pity forthcoming. To master Chaos and its vicious trickery, the weaker emotions and ideals were purged, the soft mind forged into unyielding steel.

Ahriman’s training brought pain. It left soul-scarring, mind-numbing aches to the body and nightmarish images imprinted on the mind. The telekinetic wave following the mental assault threw Neferuaat to the floor and pinned her to the metal. She would be forced to brace against the attack and attempt a defence, or have her mind flayed again until she collapsed. No pity was given to the child’s age. Ahriman’s views were the opposite. He spoke with dispassion of Neferuaat not being allowed to hide behind her childhood, that time never halted and people grew older. Her powers would be cultivated and her experience with them matured in Time’s march.

Another blistering wave crashed inside the girl’s mind. Neferuaat tried to reflect it, clumsily shouting a word of incantation. The inflection behind the word was wrong and the pain sharpened, the defence battered aside like a skiff on the high seas. Ahriman never relented and Neferuaat collapsed again, all of her powers nothing without the proper training.

“For the greatest attack to succeed, you must first defend yourself. Never underestimate both allies and foes,” he spoke calmly. Neferuaat staggered to her feet, blood dribbling from her nose to stain her white robes. “All the Thousand Sons sorcerers who were, are, or will be, know this cardinal rule – your mental defence must be impenetrable for a victorious strike against your target.”

Thus the first half of the lesson would conclude and Ahriman, apathetic to the limitations the child displayed, would turn to meditation. He carefully showed Neferuaat, who wiped the blood from her nose onto her sleeve, to inscribe and consecrate a circle. Filling a yawning burner of silver with hemlock and sage, the sorcerer ignited the flame. Very soon the air was suffused with a fragrance which eased the transition from one sphere of thought to the next. Not that someone of Ahriman’s peerless ability required aid. Neferuaat did.

“Envision the Enumerations. Focus your mind upon them and let go of other thoughts. Nothing matters but this moment, and as you understand this moment, let time slip away. Hold only the Enumerations in your mind.” Ahriman intoned the words with a quiet reverence. He inhaled and exhaled with the practiced ease of centuries.

Even out of his armour and dressed in the understated robes of a scholar, Ahriman was still a giant to the sprite of a girl. Sitting across the burner with a petulant expression on her face, Neferuaat eased her tired body into a half-lotus position. Her long blonde hair, having grown back, was plaited, framing a cherub face with blue eyes that usually flashed with conceit. Now they held only fatigue. Neferuaat disliked the morning training and rituals, of waking early, of being psychically thrashed, of having to sit perfectly straight, of breathing in air which stank and having to think about not thinking. To a nine year old child, it was all very complex and mystifying.

Half-known shapes came in the new perspective as her mental planes resolved; a little of the past and a little of the future intermingled. Once familiar objects in the chamber loomed in the growing landscape brought by Neferuaat's widening sight. She rubbed at her eyes, digging the heels of her palms against the orbs to banish the sight. It was in vain for when she looked again, the double-images returned. She walked in a dream of what could be and what was, learning to discern which was which.

“Do not inhale like a floundering fish. Breathe properly and sit still.” Scorn dripped from the teacher’s voice.

“It’s difficult.” Neferuaat’s retort held the edge of a whine.

“Concentrate on the Enumerations. Today, I grant you the use of a focus for you to channel with.” A ruby skittered across the floor toward Neferuaat. “Use it properly, achieve the First Enumeration as you have done before, and resolve your visions of the past and future. I might grant you an early leave from our classes afterward.”

“Why is this so important?”

Ahriman spoke with the long-suffering patience of one who oft repeated himself. “The Enumerations accustom your body to channelling the energies it houses from the Warp. To ensure you never suffer a fatal psionic build-up, the Enumerations help you visualize the various chakras until you no longer need to undertake the practice. What schisms you see within the aether are a part of your unique link with the Immaterium, Neferuaat.”

Half of what was told was lost on Neferuaat’s young mind. The promise of class ending early held a higher currency over understanding her psychic growth. She clasped the ruby in both hands, closing her eyes against the nauseous wavering images of past and future. Ahriman watched her aural colour alter from a muddied red to a burnished yellow, the apprentice now at proper study. From the ruby, tendrils of energy were drawn into Neferuaat as she diligently concentrated.

Ahriman regarded her while she meditated. Neferuaat, she was power made flesh. She held the unrefined talent to become whatever her mind could conceive, but she would in no way reach the level of Practicus if she never focused her willpower and channelled. A contemplative silence descended over the room, the master sorcerer guiding the acolyte. Her breathing slowed, her aura flared, the ruby’s energy leeched slowly away.

Three years of intensive training, honing a mind and body in resisting childish outbursts and ripen at an antedated pace was no simple feat. Ahriman pushed the child to learn beyond her years, undeterred by her youth. He refused others to instruct her and taint the child’s mind with their enfeebling comprehension to the inner workings of Tzeentch. Even now, the Changer of the Ways was manifesting certain powers in her; precognition and telepathy. Unnervingly, Neferuaat once displayed the ability to bilocate, talking with Ahriman on the Khermuti while seen down in the libraries under close guard. When questioned under duress how she managed such a feat, the girl broke into tears and said she remembered nothing.

Such was her raw power. But oh, the talent that would come from it all and what could be achieved! If only she focused.

A sharp crack – from the gemstone – destroyed the tranquility of silence. The ruby, bleached white as bone, was held passively in the girl’s grip. She smiled across the brazier at Ahriman, her tired eyes alight. “Lord Pathoth is here. It’s urgent from the way he walks, almost choleric.”

Ahriman was about to remind the girl the viceroy was on the Meskhenet when he sensed the resonance of Pathoth’s psyche. Pathoth, in his actions, was merely being polite by unmasking his presence before entering the meditation antechamber. Neferuaat bounded up in a rush and darted toward Pathoth, her feet kicking aside the dust of the protective circle.

“Neferuaat.” Ahriman’s cold voice halted the girl. Aware of the cardinal error made, the child sharply turned on her heel and returned to her seat, mortified. The arch-sorcerer waved aside her excuses and said nothing. The lesson was over; no doubt this was just one of the many compounded intents Pathoth hoped to achieve by his arrival. The audacity behind it curled Ahriman’s calm.

He rose and trod over the broken line to Pathoth. “What is so urgent to disturb my tutoring?”

“Hail, Lord Ahriman.” Pathoth chose to ignore the quarrelsome tone. “You desired to know the moment we achieved orbit over the Imperial colony. I came to convey the missive.”

“And to use it as a means to interrupt my mentorship.”

“If you wish to see it in this manner, who am I to argue?” Pathoth kept his composure, examining the bland chamber as though finding it the most interesting room in the entire galaxy.

Ahriman followed Pathoth’s gaze to where Neferuaat sat, holding the dead ruby in her hands. “Child, cease your worthless attempts. You have broken the boundary and ruined the warding seal. Make your time useful in other matters.”

Rising too quickly for Ahriman’s liking, Neferuaat hurried over to the two Astartes. Handing the remains of the ruby into Pathoth’s hand with a proud smile, she occupied her free time by looking at the flames from the burner. The Vizier of the Magus looked at what he’d been given, considering his words before speaking. “She must have a focus. Adepts her age on Prospero had one. They aid in mental elucidation, steadiness, to have another shoulder the burden when it became too great alone.”

“We no longer dwell on Prospero, Osis. Look how our Tutelaries turned against us.” Ahriman banished the memory in revulsion.

“I would not propose a Warp-based creature, Ahzek. A more substantial being, something other than crystals she drains so quickly, belonging to this realm.” Pathoth held up the brittle white rock and crushed it. “Foci with a more enduring substance are ideal.”

Ahriman studied the sorcerer. “Are you insinuating a lack of proper education and preparation on my part?”

“Never. You are one of the most reputed psykers in the galaxy, foremost of all sorcerers, aside from the mighty daemon princes of Tzeentch.” Pathoth smiled. “However, the undertaking Magnus gave you requires much time. The quest to understand the nature of Tzeentch cannot be interrupted. Magnus is waiting on the conclusion, one he believes you might soon reach.”

“One I shall reach,” Ahriman vehemently replied. “I haven’t ample time to waste in training, no matter the potential. I acknowledge the time lost in tutoring Neferuaat weighs against me. Hours spent on the most basic of lessons when I could have exercised my mind on higher matters. Time which I do not have that you,” he examined the marine, “conversely, do.”

Time, the key to all things. Ten thousand years brought him the scroll, which gave Ahriman a psyker who could aid in his machinations, then a maddening quiet from the maelstrom. Having been at a standstill for too long, the Chaos sorcerer knew it was time to move forward once more. Pathoth was a wise, if guarded, stand-in for the child’s training. With the vizier’s attendance, Ahriman knew the game of controlling Neferuaat and keeping his influence undiminished could become threatened.

“If your duties require your far-reaching abilities elsewhere, shall I take your words as more than suggestion and say they are orders?”

Both sorcerers watched the girl kick one of the used crystals into the air, suspending it as she levitated another. Slapping her hands together, the gems mirrored Neferuaat’s movements and crashed into the other violently, flying apart in shards of glass. Her simple pleasure in the destruction was… disquieting.

Ahriman dictated his terms. “I require a demonstration every cycle to what is being taught. This is invariable. As you once said, my lofty mind holds grand designs. I lead a quest for the very heart of knowledge and magic. You will direct Neferuaat’s immediate schooling.”

“Does she remain on the Khermuti or will she be moved to the Meskhenet?”

“As long as she is shielded by psycurium in her sleeping cell, do as you see fit.” The Khermuti still echoed painfully with Neferuaat’s psychic shrieks. And her nightmares. The psycurium could only fend off so much; lingering phantasms shifting into being to follow her when the child left her rooms. Let Pathoth deal with nightmares made monstrous flesh in the bowels of his ship. To move Neferuaat might be a dark blessing in disguise.

“Have I the privilege to provide a focus for her training?”

“Do as you see fit,” Ahriman repeated. “She knows who holds mastery over her. Child,” Ahriman narrowed his eyes. “Cease the destruction of the crystals and come here. As of this moment, your studies pass from my watch into the hands of Osis Pathoth. Yet I am still your master in all things. Do you understand?”

Fixed by Ahriman’s ruling gaze and mere presence, the girl bowed to the mage. “Yes, my Lord Ahriman. I understand and obey your orders.” Neferuaat backed into the towering shadow Pathoth cast, chastised and hesitant.

“Some wonder why we are here. What reason do the Thousand Sons make planetfall at a colony poorly defended by Imperial farmers?” Pathoth’s question pried at the unknown.

“The Sons will be told in good time, Pathoth. I have my work to attend to.”

The brazier’s coals were extinguished, the dust from the circle swept away. Ahriman left the meditation cell with a confident air. Neferuaat came alongside Pathoth, drawing a veil of psycurium woven with bands of silver over her head. With it, her mind was hidden against the shadows and daemons capering aboard the Khermuti. She stared at her new teacher through the shroud with something akin to rapt adoration.

“Are you going to the surface of the planet, Lord Pathoth?”

“If I am requested, I shall.”

“Will you bring me something if you do go?” A mischievous light came to her eyes.

“That depends entirely upon your comportment. We shall see the kitchens of the Khermuti and what they have to offer to feed you, and then you will be moved to the Meskhenet. Be forewarned, you will begin as a clean slate under my tutelage.”

Neferuaat nodded. She knew great things were expected of her and how it would not change with a new teacher. What she could hope for was leniency from the vizier which the grand sorcerer never offered.

________


Kianemure. A pristine world. A world of creation. A place where the spirit stone weights lightly against the chest of its owner. Where expectations are not thrust on oneself by the sway of community. I came upon the maiden world from the Webway portals leading from Lugganath and felt my spirit fall into place. Here I would stay and begin anew. The Exodites were few, a handful of Eldar holding the same pioneering spirit of autonomy. I grew in the fold, waking refreshed each morning and going to sleep in the eve without the infinity circuit pressing alongside my mind.

Then the mon-keigh arrived and Kianemure’s idyllic peace changed. They, like ourselves, were pioneers but unlike us, unknowing of our existence. Some thought we should leave them be, others swore to defend what was rightfully the inheritance of the Eldar. I marked myself apart from the commune in wishing to leave the humans to be. I became the oddity amongst the outsiders of the Craftworlds.

Fate in arduous, it follows those who flee. The drums sounded in the halls of the Exodus, calling us to war.


________


“If anything is fractured, your very world will be broken.” The warning rang continually in Magos Krauskopf’s circuit-ridden brain. He experienced no fear but calculated the heightened risk taken working under the Chaos sorcerer. The statistical rates of survival were dismal.

The Dark Mechanicum was excavating. Protected by two mountain ranges to the immediate north and southeast, the vale echoed with the ring of metal against metal. Great earth-rippers powered by daemonhosts, chained inside the rust-coloured machines, tore up swaths of loamy soil. Trees were felled and rock bored into to make way for the deepening pit, a cavernous hole growing wider and deeper by the hour. Surrounding the excavation area, untouched by polluted metal but handled by the festering corruption of the living, Tech-Priests and their Skitarii servants swarmed over the remains of old foundations. The dwellings, their original owners long vanished, worked in harmony to the growth of the forest, built around or within many of the trees and fused together by xenos compounds. Graceful arcs of the structures rose over the verdant tree line in many places. The bleached surface was like bone; the husks of wraithbone, its vitality lost with the psychic severance of the Exodites.

Overseeing the excavation on the ridge was Ahriman and Chief Magos Krauskopf. Auburn robes stained with machine oil draped the Magos’ ample frame. A heavy drill supplanted Krauskopf’s right arm, its point tipped in adamantium. The left side of his body was so heavily augmented none of the weakened flesh despised by the Tech-Priest remained. Indeed, the only parts still proclaiming his former humanity – itself a delicate term – were his liver and intestinal track housed within his armoured chest cavity. Directing his Skitarii via bursts of binary, Krauskopf’s optical lenses whirled and clicked as he changed through various spectra. Grating out of the circular grille replacing his mouth, the Magos’ voice sounded terse.

“Sonar tests indicate the shrine two miles below the earth, set in the center of the Exodite ruins. The earth-rippers will break the surface, then the more sensitive equipment will be brought into place.” A mechadendrite uncoiled along his left arm, idly plucking a rock from the torn earth. “The crust of this planet isn’t as thick as others. The materials left by the Eldar are odd and flimsy. No doubt the shrine is made of the same components.”

“The shrine must remain intact,” Ahriman ordered. “Not even a splinter will be ripped from it. Is my intent clear, Magos?”

“My machines work with finesse,” Krauskopf assured the sorcerer. “They aren’t lumbering colossi who exist only for destruction.”

Watching the earth-rippers at task, the voracious daemon entities housed within clawing the terrain, Ahriman doubted. He left Krauskopf on the ridge, commanding he be alerted once the shrine was unearthed. Away from the clamour of the Dark Mechanicum, the command pavilion was situated on a high bluff overlooking the abandoned Exodite outpost. Past the tent, Thunderhawks and support craft waited, their metal hulls shimmering and wavering under the powerful cloaking spells. A great deal of the vale’s forest lay crushed underneath the massive bulk of the Mechanicum’s vessels, ships which ferried the frenetic earth-rippers and the Skitarii to the arch-sorcerer’s whim.

Greeted by the impassive Rubric Marines patrolling the perimeter, Ahriman entered the command post to find Kapharon regarding a logistics map of the vale. Flickering red points on the hololith map designated where other Rubric Marines were deployed throughout the valley, the ruby light garish against the captain’s gold and blue helmet. He saluted Ahriman before returning to watch the movements of his marines. Rarely away from the Khermuti did the captain relish the chance to lead a task force. A bank of terminal and viewing screens across the tent relayed planetary information and security feeds; plugged into the ancient machine by spinal jacks and an optical visor, the servitor chattered away in binary. Its flesh was a ghastly pallor, wires exposed under sutures ripped open, veering on the point of death with its emaciated frame. One of Krauskopf’s adepts monitored the binary stream it strewed out, set to raise the alarm if the PDF showed itself. In the center of the tent, sitting back to back on a raised platform, Ibhar and Noph held themselves in a joint trance as they directed the movements of the Rubric Marines. Other sorcerer-adepts in Ahriman’s extended coven worked around the mutated cultists and Skitarii Hyspasists – basic tech-guard infantry – sorting the various Eldar artefacts uncovered.

Ahriman struck his staff on the ground. “What news do you have, captain?”

“Presently there are no indications to our activity being discovered. Though Lord Pathoth states otherwise.”

Pathoth, at the very edge of Ahriman’s gathering council, only chuckled. “The Eldar never renounce a planet carrying their mark. Worrying about Imperial lackeys shouldn’t be our first concern, not when you consider the original inhabitants.”

“As it is,” Kapharon replied, “I have been charged to the overall security of this force. If you believe the Eldar will show themselves, let them come, I say. Our magic and guns can stand against them.”

“Halt your petty bickering.” Ahriman culled the rising tension between the Astartes. “We will have departed this world before any show themselves. It is well enough the Eldar haven’t returned to claim what is sunk below the earth.” The grand sorcerer looked over his cabal. “Our last Webway incursion two years ago was not without success. The Harlequin bodies we appropriated yielded their secrets in death. Their memories and emotions recalled this planet.”

“An Imperial colony?” Kapharon sounded unimpressed.

“Before the Imperium renamed this world, it belonged to the Exodites. They called it Kianemure. When the Imperial numbers became too many, the wars too great, the Exodites returned to the Lugganath Craftworld from which they hailed. The Harlequins memories have betrayed their own.” Ahriman’s voice held the smallest ounce of haughtiness.

“Lugganath? One of the Craftworlds travelling the expanse of the Segmentum Obscurus.” Pathoth knew of the Craftworld, though it lay in the shadows of its other and better-known brethren.

Ahriman inclined his head, the movement barely perceptible. “Lugganath, a Craftworld tightly bound to the Harlequins. It’s common knowledge this Craftworld retains ties to these warriors. Thus, it can be assumed through the bond of their former Craftworld, the Exodites who dwelt here have ties to the Harlequin.”

“You believe the Exodites left a trail leading to the Black Library. Or a pathway to return to Lugganath,” the vizier pursed his lips. “If you find a way to the Craftworld, you will exploit the inhabitants into granting you access to the forbidden lore.”

“Not quite, viceroy. Not to such an extent. We are on this planet solely to recover the shrine the Exodites abandoned.” Ahriman smiled. “Somewhere, amongst these ruins, they sunk their precious temple over leaving it exposed to the Imperium. Rather than destroying it utterly, believing they would one day return to reclaim Kianemure.”

“We plunder like filthy pirates.” Even with his helmet on, the distaste radiating out from Kapharon was palpable.

“We do no plunder, captain,” Ahriman admonished. “We openly take what is left behind.”

“I fail to grasp how an Exodite shrine is connected to the Black Library. The aliens have many shrines.” One of Ahriman’s mages, Ishme-Zur, cast doubt with his words. A novice in the Thousand Sons ranks, Ishme-Zur’s gift in the arcane allowed him to create and hold sway over daemonhosts, a talent of significant value.

Turning his back to the row of machines, Ahriman eyed Ishme-Zur. “Less than a century ago the Exodites fled. Shrines are kept on their Craftworlds, rarely on a world itself, noviate. Despite there being no Eldar here, Vizier Pathoth’s words hold truth. We best be on guard. Continue with your surveillance, Captain Kapharon. There is to be no rest until the shrine is in my possession.”

Leaving Kapharon to supervise the tactical reconnaissance, Ahriman returned to the ridge to find Magos Krauskopf absent. Viewing the progressing labour beneath him and without looking over his shoulder, the sorcerer asked, “Is there further advice you need to dispense?”

Pathoth appeared to Ahriman’s left. “What is the true reason for coming to Kianemure?”

“The Eldar shrine. To contemplate what godly mysteries might be within.”

“I find your words lacking.”

“When my force was ambushed in the Webway, it became clear that only finding a direct route to the Black Library will I successfully enter. Kianemure could offer it. This planet harboured Exodites who brought knowledge of their Craftworld with them. Their links to Lugganath can aid in tracing a direct path to a prize denied to me for too long. I will have what I desire.”

“Should you succeed, what is the end result?” A high-pitched squeal in the vale caused Pathoth to turn. One of the earth-rippers caught a cultist skulking too close, and now its hydraulic claws ripped the human in two.

Ahriman was unaffected by the irrational machine’s violence. “To claim the knowledge of the gods and return to Magnus in triumph. Have you allowed yourself to wonder of ages past when gods walked the mortal realm? We saw the might of the Primarchs, beheld the false Emperor, knew the legends behind the power of demi-gods. Yet actual deities who can twist the fabric of the cosmos hold even greater power than they did. To understand the nature of Tzeentch and complete my undertaking, I must understand the divine essence of the Eldar gods.” The focal point of his staff dipped towards the excavation. “Just below the surface, a shrine houses a lockbox. Inside is an artefact, a piece to a larger relic, which even the Eldar fear. You must ask what this means for the Eldar to hold it in terror.”

“And where, Tzeentch be praised, are the other fragments?”

“That is none of your concern. To join it with the other pieces is to invite a god to walk the Materium. To see this transmogrification in the flesh, to see gods walk…” Falling into a contemplative silence, Ahriman digressed. “I believe it was being carried to the Black Library. Before it could pass into the hands of the Harlequins, the Imperium came.”

“Where are the other fragments, Ahzek? Magnus would yearn to know more of this Eldar relic which has escaped his notice.” Uttering the name of their father would have caused lesser beings to bow, but Ahriman remained silent. “Will the shrine be brought abroad the Khermuti? If so, I caution against the move. You border on the sacrilegious. You always have.”

“How does this action influence your theological views? To dread cast-down deities with no power or influence over us?”

“All things are interconnected. You know this best of all and to tamper with a house of the gods--“

Scoffing, the Chaos sorcerer watched the daemonic earth-rippers gouge the black soil. “Keeping the shrine close provides ample time to study its secrets. Pathoth, all thinking men are atheists. Men such as myself, who are wont to be called crazed, it is merely enlightenment I seek. Understanding, the highest truth which drives all Thousand Sons, that empowers Tzeentch. None of us follow these weakened gods. Who will stop me? There are no contenders.”

________


I was careless to move so close to the mon-keigh warriors. My curiosity for the oddities they display in speech and thought was my undoing. My black humour sustained me in my drunken stumble through the forests, still holding the cumbersome blade of the human officer in one hand. He struck first, I only reacted in kind. His blade became my weapon to take his head with – my life or his. The first life I have ever taken, the repulsiveness of the act galled my unusual nature.

His compatriots harried my flight, a bloodied trail easy to follow. I tossed the sword aside and waded into the middle of a river, letting the gods decide what would become of me. The swift current carried me from the fighting, from the savagery, from everything. A muddied embankment accepted my weary body, the pull of my spirit stone lulling my mind.

I woke in a dwelling of the mon-keigh. The blood I had lost weakened my movement; I could not rise from the coarse sheets let alone summon strength to grasp the mug of water right. The other occupant in the dwelling notices my movement; I stiffen at the human’s approach.


________


Mastering the minds of many required the wielder to know their own. Connected to the psyche of others allowed the puppeteer to know their innermost aspirations and dreams, weaknesses and terrors. The greater the willpower of the sorcerer, the finer control he held over the weaker. Noph prided his self-discipline; some perceived it as arrogance. Still, that was the weak-willed ego of others hungering after the strength Noph enjoyed.

Ten sets of eyes, ten different frames of reference, all held under one encompassing thought. Noph could see above and below, behind and straight ahead, to his left and right simultaneously. Others would have been disoriented by the confusing views feeding into their conscious. Noph relished the sight. Without his purpose, the movements of his Rubric Marine brethren would languish in a stupor, lives without meaning. Leading from the safety of the command tent, Noph trekked through the forest in the south-eastern portion of the vale.

Noph harnessed the strength and tactical lore from each of the automata’s minds. Their dusty memories and impulses became his, right down to the sorcerer-adept’s astral form sensing the outer environment against the ceramite shells. Dirt caked his armoured feet from hours of relentless patrol. Overhead the last of the twilight banded the sky red and violent hues. Birdsong pierced the deepening shadows, drowned out by the crashing of machines to the north, where the excavation continued.

Unease flashed across the collective awareness of all ten veterans when the birds fell silent. Noph staggered in the wash of psychic agony when the first Rubric Marine lost his head. The mental link wavered; Noph fought the phantasmal pain as nine sets of eyes swept the forest for his attacker. Noph commanded the Rubric Marines to fire into the forest. Under the power of the inferno rounds, trees became pulp, chunks of wood set ablaze and lighting smaller fires in the gloom.

Wailing screams ripped through the air, rising above the crackle of flames. Lasfire impacted into the Thousand Sons’ left flank. Noph returned fire, suppressing the psychic wound in his mind as he gave the order to the Rubric Marines. He cycled from marine to marine to vainly catch sight of the foe, only seeing dark forest and hearing insane laughter beyond the screen of trees. Firelight caught the sheen of metal arcing toward Noph; it went dark. Unaffected by the mage’s growing torment, the Rubric Marines continued targeting the swift movements of the enemy.

In brief moments of bolter fire, fabrics cut in lurid design and hypnotic colours were illuminated. Silhouettes’ ghosted into the shadows, intangible and deadly as true night fell. Noph peered outward with his mind as back in the command pavilion, others watched his body tremble under the onslaught. The sorcerer-adept was desperate to grasp the form of the attackers; anything to confirm what he believed was slowly plucking out his eyes. His astral body strained to preserve control over his brethren’s dwindling numbers. Noph could have broken the telepathic link at any time and fled but he stayed, watching for what so thoroughly destroyed his squad of Rubric Marines. The psychic anguish was nothing compared to what his master would do should Noph return empty-handed.

Six pairs of eyes became four. Four was whittled down to one.

The last Son fell, ancient ceramite bisected from a heavy weapon’s single projectile. Noph held onto the flickering conscious of the Rubric Marine while his physical body doubled over in misery, clung to the loosening mind long enough to look from the visor and see the warrior who killed him. A Death Jester strode forward, a muted shade of jet black against the burning forest, easily holding a shuriken cannon. Slowly panning the clearing for survivors, the broad form of the Eldar raised one hand in a clenched fist. Behind the Jester, two other Harlequins held their lasrifles ready.

Noph released his hold and let his mind return safely to his body. The physical agony was intense, multiplied tenfold from what the psychic link fed him. Ahriman loomed over Noph’s crumpled body. The grand sorcerer hissed, “What is out there?”

Noph wiped blood from his eyes. “Harlequins, master. They are approaching our location.”

“I require details,” Kapharon ordered the sorcerer-adept. His aura writhed in excitement at the prospect of battle against the Eldar. “The exact numbers, what path they are taking.”

“From the southeast. I only counted three of those aliens before the telepathic link was too weak to hold.” Noph ran a hand across his throat, still feeling the unknown Harlequin’s blade pressed against the flesh. From Ishme-Zur came the affirmation of the gathering war host.

Ahriman tensed, comprehending for the Harlequins to advance without discovery meant a troupe Shadowseer was in their ranks. He gripped his black staff. “Recall the Rubric Marines guarding the vale. Have them stand ready to defend the dig. Magos Krauskopf, deploy the Hyspasists along the excavation front.”

Krauskopf hesitated. “How many do you wish, my lord?”

“Imbecile, I require all of them. The Harlequins mustn’t touch the shrine. I want their corpses littering the earth. Awaken your daemon engines and have them prepared. Ishme-Zur,” an intolerant air whip-cracked through the tent, “go with the Magos and ensure the daemons do not become frenzied before it is time. Let them know Eldar souls are theirs to feast upon given the end of the battle.”

Roused from his trance, Ibhar was commanded by Kapharon to direct the remaining Rubric Marines back to the northeast area of the excavation while the captain, blood thundering, bellowed for the cultists to rally. The las-weaponry of the Hyspasists was arranged along the hills of dirt, the owners of the tech-warped guns waiting. Floodlights were rotated about, the powerful beams cutting into the night, while the first sinister gurgles of the daemon engines echoed. When the Harlequins came, no matter their force – and Ahriman surmised it would be an all-out attack – they could not hide. Beyond the high mounds of muck and past the harsh lumen lights, the whine of jetbikes reverberated.

“Let the Eldar come,” Ahriman muttered to himself. “None will be left on this world by the time the sun rises.”
Last edited by Anne Marie on Tue Aug 06, 2013 10:44 am, edited 13 times in total.
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Anne Marie
 
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Dorian » Thu Jul 14, 2011 7:39 pm

I'm impressed. I truly love your story. I started reading today and was captivated right from the start. I couldn't stop reading until I reached the end. Very good job. Looking forward to more!
Wyrd bið ful aræd.

We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things.

If the world is at peace then it means someone is planning war.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Fri Jul 15, 2011 5:00 pm

@ Dorian - Thank you very much! I'm glad that it drew you in from the beginning and kept you all the way to the current spot. This is the still very much an on-going story and I update whenever I can.

And the remainder of the third chapter is now posted.

________


She is odd. A ‘black sheep among the white’ is the common saying she uses, her lips smiling at the term. She, like I, stands apart from her race. She, unlike I, is an outcast by circumstance. Yet she doesn’t join in the cause of the mon-keigh. Religion does not motivate her. The simplicity of life and the return to solitude from a governing hand is all she wishes.

She is coarse, too forward and her mind unable to grasp the higher echelons of what all Eldar perceive, in the moment, in the hour, in the day. Plain in every sense of the word, her face is not cut from the finest marble and lacking in refined beauty. She holds none of the grace and haunting beauty of an Eldar maiden. But it is refreshing, it is different, and the divergences between us bond.

I fell gratefully into the polarity and knew solace.


________


The Harlequin troupe scythed through the Chaos line with wild abandon. If a design existed to their attack then it was steeped in madness known only to the alien mind. It was a dance of death, a veritable performance where each Harlequin, affianced in their skits, somehow engaged in the wider whole. Their stage was the excavation site, screams and battle shouts the musical accompaniment, the audience none other than their opponents. Leading on one of the two jetbikes from the southeast, the troupe’s Great Harlequin and three Harlequin jesters skirted the edge of the vast earthen mounds. They drew the fire of the cultists and the Dark Mechanicum. It was nothing more than a feint to allow the actual power of the Eldar to crash into the backside of the Tzeentchian company from the northern edge.

The night came alive in violence. Harlequin after-images shattered in stain glass shards, moving so fast the Skitarri could do nothing but die bleeding. They moved like sludge water against the free-flowing currents of the Harlequins. There one moment and gone the next, the merry troupe passed in flecked colour or a howl of laughter to indicate they were even there. Bodies of cultists began to pile the earthworks, the dirt soaked with despoiled blood. The Thousand Sons were only too willing in letting the weaker links of their chain to be snapped. While the Hyspasists forces lured the Harlequins out and bore the weight of the xenos assault, the Rubric Marines stationed on higher ground waited to pick off weakened adversaries. If the Skitarii fell under their inferno rounds, the matter of their demise would be resolved in the gods knowing their own.

Kapharon clashed with the Eldar along the southeast. Drawing energy from the Warp, the captain quickened his gene-enhanced body to flank a Harlequin and match its swiftness. It gaily laughed at the exhibit, bringing its graceful sword up to parry the downwards blow from the marine’s chainsword. Sparks flew, raining down onto the false-face mask that grinned in derision before transforming into a shrieking maw of fanged teeth. The mask radiated simple terror, holding the Son’s gaze long enough for the Eldar to kick out in mid-stride, using Kapharon’s momentum to throw the Astartes forwards. Kapharon rolled with the blow, redirecting the energy and crouching on his knees before leaping back into the fight.

Growling in his throat, the captain circled the Harlequin, letting his anger build. Allowing himself to sink with the weight of his emotions, Kapharon fed off the energy it gave him. Thumbing the activation rune of his chainsword, he charged in with a low sweep of the blade, intending to cleave the Harlequin below the knees. It somersaulted backwards, the flip-belt it wore boosting the height of its jump to leap clear of Kapharon’s strike. Overconfident in its ability to evade, the Harlequin failed to check its surroundings, its dramatic hurdle terminated when the psychic bindings ensnared it. Constricting the Eldar’s body with crushing force, the invisible weaves held against the prisoner’s thrashing.

Ibhar, left hand formed in a complex seal, only laughed at the Harlequin’s vain attempts to escape while Kapharon, chainsword revving, closed the distance to the suspended foe. The false-face moved through a succession of emotions, the last image holding abject terror before Kapharon methodically severed its limbs. Ibhar released his hold on the corpse, a spray of blood and mangled appendages falling to the ground. Kapharon saluted the sorcerer-adept before rejoining the fray and Ibhar, sliding down the embankment, secured for himself the Harlequin’s false-face.

On the brass deck of one of the two daemonic earth-rippers, Magos Krauskopf was phlegmatic to the carnage unfolding beneath the piston-driven legs of the colossal machine. Beneath its crab-like legs it crushed what failed to move from its path, the carcasses disappearing into the blood-drenched earth. Disproportionate in the sheer cruelty the metal-bound daemon displayed, the earth-ripper’s steel claws snapped the air, seeking to rend the jetbikes and their arrogant riders in flight. The holofields employed by the Harlequins hindered the daemon machine’s targeting mechanism, the frustration feeding into the earth-ripper’s agitation. Its movements grew more incompatible to Krauskopf’s ideal designs, and when attempts to calibrate the entity began failing, the Magos turned to the mage.

“Calm it now. Or these gnats will be all over us.”

Standing on a pulpit above the Magos, Ishme-Zur chanted in a guttural tone and prayed the incantation to work. Bound to the brass outer shell housing the daemon-machine’s ‘soul’, Ishme-Zur fought to keep the entity controlled. It drained the sorcerer to guide the fury of the daemon and shield himself from its insidious onslaught. With a soul so close to it, the daemon’s hunger was voracious.

“Leftwards, turn us to toward the embankments!” The Magos’ shouts were lost in the battle’s din, swallowed by explosions and battle cries. “The might of my machines will turn the tide of this battle!”

Above, the high-pitched shriek of a jetbike grew as it made a strafing run. The twin-linked cannons fired accelerated disc into the brass and steel frame of the engine. Rents were torn into the metal, vile steam hissed as it escaped. An unearthly howl vibrated into the darkness, screeching against Ishme-Zur’s aura. Shaking like a wild beast attempting to dislodge ticks from its skin, the earth-ripper raised its gruesome metallic arms into the air. The heavy metal limbs tore over the battlefield, four jointed legs slamming the muddy earth, and Chief Magos Krauskopf lost control of his precious daemon-engine. He gripped the railing with his left hand, mechadendrites coiling around the metal to bolster the Tech-Priest’s heavy body.

The Harlequin jetbike wove and jinxed, the daemon machine’s targeting arrays struggling to match the speed. Roaring in a paroxysm fit, the earth-ripped flailed about.

A lucky blow, the glancing strike from a steel claw; the jetbike and its riders tumbled from the sky. A fireball of debris rained down on the daemon-engine, super heated metal barely missing Ishme-Zur. Yet one of the riders had the impudence to survive. The troupe’s Great Harlequin, throwing himself from the jetbike before its incineration, clattered in a blue-and-red checkered tumble to the daemon machine’s meshed deck. Nimbly darting to his feet, the Great Harlequin’s crested helm was a vivid scarlet hue, its armour gaudy and bedecked with embellishments that hurt the eye. Sensing the unwanted guest, the daemon-engine’s cables punched through the lattice-worked deck, whipping out to capture the Great Harlequin.

Lightning-fast the troupe leader cut through the daemon-possessed cables, leapt over the growing numbers swarming up beneath, and struck at the earth-ripper’s controller.

The force blade erupted through Ishme-Zur’s chest. Gurgling in surprise, the sorcerer-adept slumped forward, held upright only by the chains binding him to the pulpit. A mist hemorrhaged from the body, disappearing into the vents of the daemonic engine, a morsel to an unending appetite. Sliding the blade free with a casual flick of its wrist, the Great Harlequin advanced on Krauskopf.

“Really now,” the Chief Magos intoned with disapproval. He held firm, widening his stance as the earth-ripper followed the next logical course of action.

Freed from the sorcerous tether, the brass and steel body of the daemon attacked the unwanted alien on its back. Blackened girders unbent themselves, the metal flowing as if liquid, hurtling through the air at the Great Harlequin. Somersaulting under the arc of one, hand-springing over another, weaving aside under a third and the roiling mass of cables, the Great Harlequin still attempted to close the distance between him and the Chief Magos.

Defended by the daemon-engine, Krauskopf could afford the luxury to analyze the Great Harlequin’s movements. A sluggish dodge nearly cost the Eldar his head; the ungraceful stumble only stopped from becoming a complete fall by the flip-belt he wore. The Harlequin was weakening, the daemon eating away at his psychic essence and, perceiving it, placed everything into one final, desperate gamble to bring down the altered mon-keigh. A heroic bound, lithe body twisting in mid-air, the Great Harlequin crashed full tilt into a liquid girder that swung in from a blindside. Armour cracked open against the full impact. Crashing into the chain-linked railing, the alien barely pulled himself free before the metal wrapped about him.

“Weak xeno,” the Magos’ vocal processor crackled. “Your suicide mission has--“

Krauskopf shouted out in abrupt pain, tearing his optics away from the Great Harlequin to look at the shuriken disc embedded in his right shoulder. That tiny movement saved the Magos’ mechanical neck. Barrelling forward with the point of his sword thrust ahead, the Harlequin would have taken Krauskopf’s head from his shoulders, had the Magos remained in place and the daemon-engine hadn’t jutted abruptly. Even the Harlequin’s legendary agility was not enough to stop the plummet from the earth-ripper.

Hitting one of the arachnid legs, the Great Harlequin’s flip-belt aided only to soften a bone-breaking impact. The tremendous will of the Great Harlequin kept the leader of the troupe moving, rolling out of the colossus’ path, stumbling toward the fringe of the battle. A trilling note rippled through the night to reach the surviving Harlequins ears. The battle was lost; they were powerless to capture the shrine against the greater numbers. Flight was their only option.

Krauskopf petted the interface control panel of his earth-ripper, crooning praises to the bloodied metal and exposed circuits. The daemon-engine continued its berserk charge in glee. Inspecting the extent of the damages, the Chief Magos unchained Ishme-Zur’s body to let it collapse on the deck. Without a thought, Krauskopf kicked the useless spell caster from the platform of his magnificent machine, glad to be rid of the ineffectual sorcerer.

Not all the Harlequin obeyed the Great Harlequin’s command. His image reflected in the mirror-mask of the troupe warlock, Ahriman opposed the Shadowseer, one fist a writhing storm of Warp energy while the other held his black staff defensively. No chances would be taken against this rival. He recalled the speed and prowess brought against him in the Webway by the warlock. But now beyond the powers of the Webway and whatever advantage the Harlequin arrogantly believed they held on the maiden world, the grand sorcerer would instruct them in a different creed.

Shifting right before darting back and to the left, the Shadowseer’s image cascaded into an echo of chromatic crystals. The feint gave time for the intricate witchblade to swing through the air; Ahriman deflected the strike and made his own. Warp fire seared the air as the molten blue inferno twisted out to burn the Shadowseer. Repelling the corrupted energy to curve around him, the warlock sought an opening in the Chaos marine’s mind.

The alien’s distinctive aura clawed and scratched Ahriman’s mind. He intrinsically knew this Shadowseer was the same he once duelled in the portal on Maharra. Tzeentch’s perverted humour was sharp and refined, indeed.

Ahriman drove back the Eldar’s aura, transmuting the gore-streaked terrain of the northern dig site into a nightmarish reality. Severed limbs latched onto the Shadowseer’s legs and pulled the xeno into the earth. If terror coursed through the alien’s blood, it remained hidden by the emotionless mask. Struggling in the sinking earth, the Harlequin embedded the witchblade in the pliable soil and held fast. Ahriman uttered an incantation, the composition of the embankment changing, hardening about the chest of the Shadowseer.

Pointing the horned-skull of his staff at the warlock, Ahriman channelled the energies of the Warp. Balefire erupted in a volcanic fury out of the churned dirt, scorching flames set to obliterate the Harlequin. Savouring the unmasked anguish from the Shadowseer, the Chaos sorcerer gleaned inner secrets from the alien in its dying moments. He knew the Shadowseer’s lineage and name, witnessed memories stored away; Craftworld halls, expanses of yellow plains under a grey sky, receding shelves in a gloomy librarium—

A shadow of jet black and ivory bone hurtled out of the night and into the wychfire. The strength behind the wrenching blow crumbled the bonds encasing the Shadowseer. He was carried out of the pillar of flame, hoarsely gulping down great quantities of air as the Death Jester guarded him, shuriken cannon pointed toward Ahriman’s chest. The crisp smell of burning flesh rose into the dark heavens. Lower half of his body mutilated, the upper half charred black, the Eldar nonetheless drew breath. Struggling to rise in the mix of dirt and blood, the Shadowseer weakly gripped his intricate blade.

Compressing the trigger on his shuriken cannon, the Death Jester fired a single compressed shot at the arch-sorcerer. Waving a hand at it, the swiftly spinning projectile’s trajectory changed. Turning the deadly shot to one side, Ahriman sent it blindly into the northern embankments where the virulent acid, colliding into a squad of Hyspasists, caused their corporeal forms to expand and burst.

“I know you! I hold your true name in my grip!” Ahriman’s voice boomed through his hellish mask. “I know your like and form. You cannot stand against my might and endure. Tonight you will all perish and I will claim the shrine beneath us.”

Uttering a word in the Eldar tongue, the Death Jester strode to meet Ahriman, but found himself held back. The Shadowseer grasped the hem of the Death Jester’s coat. Something passed between them; Ahriman read the wavering sentiment in the body language of the black armoured Harlequin. Its death mask’s eyes bore into the ancient Chaos marine, and then the Death Jester turned and fled over the earthen works. Leaning heavily on one elbow, mirror-mask tarnished and pennants burnt, the Harlequin Shadowseer began forming one final weave.

Ahriman advanced, a shark sensing blood in the water. Powers stripped from him, the Shadowseer was undone. The Sorcerer of the Red Cyclops struck with the power of a falling star, bringing ruin to his adversary, and finishing what Maharra had begun.

________


“Your return is essential. You will yield to the family’s resolution in this matter.” My brother’s tone is silk-steel, unbending. He strays not a foot from his Path, his mind narrowed to tradition and observances and regulation. He does not drink the water given or partake of the food offered. He refuses to look at my companion.

“I will stay,” I insist. But my resolve is weakening. His methods of persuasion are many and he does not hesitate to use them.

“You stain our family ancestors and descendants-to-be in your dalliance here. Kianemure is to fall. Even the Exodites pull away from this maiden world to let the stinking corruption of the mon-keigh take it.” A wrinkled nose, disdain; he pushes the food away. “Your return is essential. If the weight here burdens you so,” a light touch to the sword at his side, “strands of would-be fate are easily cut.”

“What would you have me do?”

“To tarnish such a noble blade with the blood of offal is not what I crave. I will grant you one custom from Lugganath to your soon-to-be bastard pup, to keep in confidence between us, and then you depart for home. Your fate rewrites itself.”


________


Osis Pathoth hadn’t taken part in the excavation massacre. Not that it was beyond him to join the conflict. He keenly noted how Ahriman failed to provide him with orders and, taking that to mean his being was not required, Pathoth made himself scarce. With no one from the Meskhenet on Kianemure, the vizier was allowed to go where he pleased. Let Ahriman rage when he returned. He would not dare strike Pathoth, not if he wanted to return to the Planet of the Sorcerers and gain Magnus’s favour again.

Dawn light weakly filtered through the haze of smoke and crackling energies of expended magic. Even three leagues distant from the battle, the Warp’s presence hung as a pall over the Exodite settlement. Pathoth followed an old path through the forest to the outlying hamlets, coming across numerous stone and timber foundations reclaimed by the woodland.

Halting before one damaged household, the roof and upper floor partially caved in and the front wall crumbling inwards, the corners of the sorcerer’s lips tugged upwards. Easily stepping across the broken wall into the dwelling, the Astartes scrutinized his surroundings. Like every domicile, the basic amenities were present, though time scoured it of being habitable. Moss and ivy grew unchecked along the damp wood and cracked stone. Pathoth allowed a flight of fancy; who once lived here and why they left. A simple reading of the aether could tell the vizier the truth to the history of the abode, but in this instance he refrained.

An inquisitive mew came from the second floor. Waiting to hear the noise again, Pathoth searched for the source. The high-pitched meow repeated, plaintive in its note. Crawling out from under a sodden timber, a ginger coloured kitten stared down at the interloper, not sure what to make of the armoured creature. It sniffed the air cautiously; tail flicking back and forth before settling on a contemplative gaze. Realising it was not a simple feline, not from the blue luminescence held in its eyes, Pathoth extended one massive hand and made a clicking noise with his tongue.

“Come here.” Curiosity spurred the Gyrinx kitten to creep across the beam. Without fear, the Gyrinx jumped into the open palm. Not yet feral, the Gyrinx would be easily tamed. Used as foci by Eldar, the animals empathically bonded to their owners and inherited their personalities, becoming extensions of the handlers. A perfect focus for a growing Alpha-plus psyker.

“I believe I already know the name you’ll be given,” Pathoth said. Meowing in what appeared to be agreement, the kitten settled as the Chaos Space Marine trekked back to the excavation site. The advisor arrived to witness the raising of the shrine.

Chief Magos Krauskopf intently watched as his great machines maneuvered a fluted shrine of wraithbone to the surface. Great bas-reliefs of the Eldar gods were etched into the organic material, entangled tree roots and clumps of mud marring its otherwise artistic perfection. Plastek cords looped around the shrine creaked as its weight was carefully lowered to the solid ground. Ahriman approached the shrine with movements akin to reverence, more for what was housed in the shrine than what the house of the gods personified. A clawed gauntlet caressed the surface. A spark of life remained in the wraithbone, a faint heartbeat slumbering deep inside.

“Rest now,” the dark sorcerer whispered. “There will be much you will acquaint me with, won’t there? No secrets will be kept as I come to understand you in entirety.”

Weightlessness gripped Ahriman with his contact to the wraithbone. The Great Ocean tugged his body and mind under currents too strong to resist. Psychoactive reminiscences surfaced from the heart of Kianemure, will-o-wisps flickering. Sounds unheard on the Materium’s plane thundered into sharp focus. Gauzy shadows of the past reached out from the Exodites and they walked alongside the present. Many Eldar paused in their work, looking in Ahriman’s direction, sensing but not seeing the grand sorcerer. Sunken by the community amid a bedlam of emotion, the shrine and its lockbox languished in the retreating footsteps of the Exodites, forgotten until now.

The emotional flood stemmed and the images weakened. Ahriman returned to the present with a laugh, its sound filled with dark mirth. Ordering the shrine to be readied for transport, he returned to the headquarters to find the excavators of the dig dismantling equipment, leaving the bodies of their fallen Skitarii brethren where they lay. Cultists packed away the artefacts, servitors lifting the heavy boxes while Skitarii hollered orders in their guttural tongue. Supervising the clear out was Pathoth.

“It is pointless to ask where you hid yourself for I came out the victor, and the temple is now mine.” A note of pride laced Ahriman’s words. “Stored in safety aboard my vessel, its secrets will be uncovered. If you wish to partake in this all you need do is ask.”

Gesturing one cultist to hurry, Pathoth replied, “My obligations as a teacher precede other trivialities now. My student will be expecting her first lesson upon my return.”

A mew from the wire-meshed cage Pathoth held drew Ahriman’s gaze. “What stray did you procure in your travels?” The small ball of fur hissed.

“A focus, and yes,” Pathoth interjected before Ahriman spoke. “Magnus will know what’s transpired on this maiden world. Rest assured, our Primarch will know of everything this day.”

________


We walk the halls of the Craftworld, his footsteps light at the return to strict discipline, mine heavy. The psychic specks of light of those called family, I can sense their approach. They come to praise my return without censure. My brother’s blood oath to never speak of what passed on the Exodite world or of the human and the child I left behind stands firm. His adherence will cost him otherwise. His naming of my daughter is an affront to my personal honour; I am ashamed to call him kin. I am shamed in allowing the name he gave to my child go unchallenged.

High and maniacal laughter ripples the air and tugs along the infinity circuit. Colourful pennants flutter.

“What is that?”

“Tonight the Rillietann come to Lugganath in celebration. As a family, we shall learn the tales of-- Taekaedr! Where are you going? Return here and give the proper obeisance to your kith and kin!”

I throw off his hand when he attempts to stop me. No more. I come before the troupe in the greatest of Lugganath’s domed halls, I watch transfixed as they cry laughing and embellish tales in song with a cadence bordering the absurd. They cavort in circles of exaggeration and wild colour, unhindered in oaths and familial obligations. Those who threw off their Craftworlds as the Exodites; each an individual beyond what is acceptable to the Eldar; treading Paths of their own settlement.

I walk to them and they embrace me, welcome me into their fold.

Fate is arduous, it follows those who flee. We have no choice but to accept it in the end.

My name is Taekaedr and I became Margorach, the Death Jester, leaving the shadows of Lugganath behind forever.


________


“Desecration, defilement! We have lost everything. We should have destroyed it before the arrival of the first mon-keigh. They should never have been allowed to lay one pound of their corrupted flesh on its hallowedness.” The false-face of the Great Harlequin was thrown down in disgust. The usually stoic and quiet warrior keened, an unearthly wail expressing unnamed emotions. The survivors were bathed in ruddy dawn light, bloodied and defeated while in the smoke wreathed vale, their shrine was removed.

“We have the soul stones of our troupe. Isha bless for the family still together. They can be placed in the gardens with the other generations.” Cradled in a woven pouch of synthpsy-weave, the Death Jester looked at the gemstones. They glowed, a grief tingeing their deep light; not all had been saved from the appetites’ of the daemons.

“Do you not mourn for your family?”

“Now is not the time.” Leaning against his heavy cannon, the Harlequin kept level-headed and practical. He suppressed the memory of a woman and unborn, ill-named child. “There’s never a time to practice the mourning rites.”

“Cegorach take your coldness.” The Great Harlequin spat out the curse then remembered himself and breathed. “What did you make of the Chaos spawn? They are the same we met in the Webway not long ago. The sorcerer Ahriman is a plague to our race.” Choking back his misery, the Great Harlequin wiped the soot from his mask which he held in his hands. “How I wish the Eldar was greater in number. How I wish Fidollarin was still with us. You could have saved him.”

“He told me to leave,” came the accusing reply. “I would have brought the warlock with me but he told me to leave. Do you think I do not share the same grief and burden you do, or that somehow it is less?”

“We must report to Lugganath. Let us depart--”

The Death Jester laughed humourlessly. “You must report. I severed my ties to them long ago.”

“We will both return to the Craftworld.” It was a statement, not a suggestion. “I know your stance on this, Taekaedr, but my will is set. You will return. We encountered these same tainted marines before. They fled, and you pursued only to lose them, and now they appear once more. I would not doubt the Seer Council would speak to you. This is not mere chance for them to come here, for you to see them again, and for this to happen.”

“Who is Taekaedr? I am Margorach.”

“Cegorach knows who you are, just as Lugganath knows. Family is all.”

Margorach bared his teeth behind his skull mask. “I have forsaken the loyalties of those once called family. Their blood is damned.”

“Blood is everything,” his companion countered. “You shame yourself further yet by not following my orders.”

“They shamed themselves first. Go and warn Lugganath if you want, Ehidril, I will stay and harry the Sons of Magnus.” He checked the ammunition of the shuriken cannon, adjusted the flip-belt’s gravitational field.

Ehidril gritted his teeth. “For what end do you commit yourself to?”

Margorach laughed. “To hunt for sport. To seek my own death. Who can say? Take our family to safety.” He passed the synthpsy-woven pouch to his troupe leader. “Fate is arduous. We must have merriment wherever we can find it.”
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby 238232 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 5:49 am

Is (part of) Taekaedr's child's name Kel by any chance?
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:26 pm

@ 238232 - You win! Yes, Kel is Taekaedr's child. The only time he ever saw her was during the events in Hypocrite; before then he wasn't aware where she could have been.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby 238232 » Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:11 pm

:D I wonder...

I've liked your writing since Liar, but how you've managed to tie Belail into this is great, enough to get an indicator of things, but not so much that you need to read the other stories to make sense of everything.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Colonel Mustard » Mon Jul 18, 2011 6:37 pm

An update, huzzah!

Very enjoyable once more, and I'm loving the ways in which Ahriman and Pathoth are passive-agressively locking horns with each other especially. The combat was excellent, especially the descriptions of the harlequins; they seem appropriately lethal for what are the most agile and swift of an already very agile and swift people, and they seemed a lot more deadly than their somewhat underwhelming tabletop incarnation (though, to be fair, the tabletop incarnation I was playing against were hit by a tag team of a 50 guardsman platoon and a Leman Russ, so it was slightly different... :lol:). I also loved the idea of the daemonhost powered mining engines, and it seems exactly the sort of extremely cool piece of mechanical-daemonic nastiness that the Dark Mechanicum would use.

The links to Hyprocrite were, by the way, very interesting to see as well. I'll be looking forward to seeing how that plays out.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Tue Jul 19, 2011 3:01 pm

@ Colonel Mustard - Pathoth and Ahriman will be locking horns even more as each tries to keep a hold on Neferuaat's schooling and growth. I'm glad it brings out a chuckle. The combat for this piece was the part I worked over the longest - I feel action scenes are either too short or too long when I write, and finding the balance is tricky. Having the Harlequins kept it going; their flip-belts and the actions they can utilize with them is fun.

I recall there were daemon-engines used in the 13th Black Crusade, or mentions made of their deployment on the battlefield. It's fun to imagine what nastiness the Dark Mechanicum creates; in the Atlas Infernal novel they've cut apart daemons to bind them to specific relics.

Belail will be in this story, though further in its telling, just as Kel will be. Their movements on the chessboard are being monitored by "Big Brother".
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:08 pm

A tiny update under 2,500 words, this starts the fourth chapter and I will post the rest as I finish the editing. Thanks in advance to everyone who has given my feedback and critique.

________


Chapter 4

003.M42
Hyeinsa, Syntychia subsector, Syntyche sector


The rank stench of garbage and feces competed with the stifling heat in the bowels of Monte Iolcus Hive. Mouldy odours rose up from mulch piles as waves of heat rippled in the air. Fresh wind from the upper spires was rare, cooling the atmosphere for blessed moments until the oppressive heat returned. Mildew grew on rusted pipes while flecks of water dripped into pools of slimy filth. Even hive rats refused to drink from the scum ponds formed this far underground. Metal chutes reverberated as trash from the hive cascaded down to join with other piles. A continuous tide of refuse from the world above, scraps from Imperial denizens who never thought of or saw the drama unfolding under their feet.

Perspiration rolled down Gren’s tonsured scalp. In small trickles it tracked down his neck, joining with other rivulets to snake disgustingly down his backside. The weight of the flak armour he wore did nothing to stave off the heat, the heavy fabric of olive fatigues drenched in sweat. He craved a refreshing cup of water; he would have drunk from his canteen if it were it full. Used up hours ago, the man let the bottle bang hollowly against his hip. Passing a hand over tired eyes, the Interrogator looked at the group behind him. Concealed behind one of the larger trash piles, five people waited for a servo-skull to return from its scouting mission. The reek of body sweat rolled off the others, tinged with the stink of fear.

They were being hunted.

Lost in Monte Iolcus’ depths with no map and auspex broken, Gren ordered everyone to move with heightened caution. Bolt rounds were to be fired only if an enemy was openly sighted. Lasguns were to be kept charged and ready. Food was rationed in accordance to how much was truly needed. No one would play the role of a hero to die a martyr. The lives of others depended on Gren’s immediate leadership. It was not a role he enjoyed.

Amara Kith splashed through a fetid puddle to squat next to Gren. Her blonde hair, twisted throughout with braids, was matted by sweat to her scalp. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologizing. You know you aren’t to blame.”

“I lost the map. If I--“

“And I broke the auspex cracking it across Yunus-bek’s brainpan for us to escape. Stop it. We’ll all get out of here alive and make our way to the extraction point.” He smiled, the gesture offset by his facial tattoo.

“If Yunus-bek and his band don’t find us first,” the girl added darkly. “He can sense us. He’s a psyk-thug, built for things like this.”

Gren swallowed his rejoinder by the arrival of his servo-skull, the tiny automaton zipping around the heaps of rubbish on its anti-gravity drive. Its return brought the group out, eagerly waiting for the information it gathered. Hastily, the servo-skull’s clicks and beeps detailed what lay ahead as it wove back and forth in midair. The Interrogator’s usually expressionless face constricted with anxiety.

“We move now. Everyone mark their compass point westward. Don’t stop for anything. The designated landmark you need to find is a mining platform.” Gren rattled off the orders while he checked his lasgun’s charge. “The platform’s disused but its scaffold moves up to the next level. You see it; you climb it to the next hive level where we regroup.”

The urgency in Gren’s voice was unmistakable. The Interrogator’s team complied with speed born of years working together. Amara hefted a duffle bag over her shoulder until Gren tossed it aside. Dead weight, he explained, something no one needed as the group darted, ducked and vaulted over piles of garbage. The servo-skull led the way, scanning areas they raced through. One of their compatriots swore as his boot caught against a jagged shard of metal. Another wrenched the first’s foot free, leaving the boot behind as they continue the death run.

Yunus-bek came from nowhere out of the filth, barrelling into Gren with bone-crunching intensity to drag him to the ground. Half of his face covered in dried blood, Yunus-bek’s bullish features contorted in primal rage as he smashed block-like fists into Gren’s flak armoured chest. Forearm raised to ward off rib-crunching blows, Gren’s free hand scrabbled for the combat knife strapped to his webbing. His mind reeled from the attack’s suddenness. Yunus-bek’s refused his opponent any quarter. Gripping Gren’s face in a calloused hand, Yunus-bek smashed the back of the Interrogator’s head into the tar-black ferrocrete.

Others appeared behind the burly man, a savage gang bedecked in grey fatigues and bristling with weaponry. Whooping in perverse joy, the grunts skidded and jumped down the rusting piles of metal and filth to engage in close combat. Burnt ozone hung in the air as lasguns discharged. The heavier thud of bolt rounds echoed oddly in the depths. Engaged with their survival, Gren’s underlings were unable to assist their leader.

Only Amara saw Yunus-bek brutalize him. Quick enough to escape detection and small enough to hide behind a corrugated sheet of metal, she huddled out of sight with the servo-skull. It bobbed frenetically, powerless to fight off its master’s attacker. The child’s vision turned scarlet. Ignoring the electronic buzz from the servo-skull Amara pushed it aside, wrenching something from the junk pile she passed. It felt heavy in her gloved hands, metal-based, but she was too busy running at Yunus-bek to think what it was. Her body moved without conscious thought. The only truth Amara knew was Gren would die if she did nothing. The unit needed him for all to survive.

She swung her weapon – a corroded pipe – at Yunus-bek’s unprotected backside. Bones crunched. The pipe struck into the left side of the man’s ribcage. He grunted like an animal, massive hands loosening the stranglehold around Gren’s neck to see his new opponent. Chest heaving from her run, Amara raised her arms to swing the pipe again only to have it shot from her hands by a wayward lasbolt. It span uselessly through the air to land in the heaps of trash.

“I remember the first time I saw you. Puked up your whole lunch on the ship’s velvet carpet.” Yunus-bek laughed, his statement punctuated with a fist crashing into Amara’s stomach. She twisted through the air, impacting against a compost heap. Rising from the Interrogator’s prone form, the psyk-thug kept his head low and advanced on the child. “You think you can take down Lord Saeger’s right hand man with a Chimera’s exhaust pipe? Nice try, brat, but maybe you’d stand a chance if you took off your dog collar.”

She wheezed for breath, weakly struggling with the psy-collar locked about her throat. Sweaty fingers dug at the space between skin and metal to wrench it off. She knew to never attempt to remove it – Saeger would lash her – but desperate times created desperate measures. Streaking past Yunus-bek’s head, the servo-skull sharply turned and propelled itself forward to ram into the thug’s cranium with its own. The brutish man snarled, lashing out at the automaton.

“Don’t touch her!” Blood and saliva dribbled down Gren’s mouth. He launched himself at Yunus-bek. Backhanded by the man, the Interrogator stumbled into the festering waste.

“You’re both brats. Time to learn what life’s like outside of the Lord Inquisitor’s security. In the real Imperium, things get a little rough. Thought I was done in with the auspex, huh? Guess what, you little grox turd,” he tapped the side of his skull, “the psyker in me knew where’d you be after that knock. I thank you for that, Gren. How do you want your little playmate to go down?”

The keen edge of a vibroblade caught Gren’s eye. Its wicked curve could slice into ligaments and tendons, carve bones and deflesh the unfortunate under a professional’s touch. A steel-toed boot kicked out, breaking Amara’s right arm before the psyk-thug pressed the blade against her cheek. She smelt his breath; saw too clearly the pores on his skin, the animosity in his eyes. Seized by pure terror, the child only whimpered.

+Unsanctioned fatality in training simulation Verant-6. The simulation will now disengage. Repeat, unsanctioned fatality in training simulation Verant-6. The simulation will now disengage.+

Over the droning alert sweeping through the falsified bowels of Monte Iolcus Hive, a klaxon brayed. The flash of red emergency lights kept time to the deep note. Sub-routines activated. The hololothic panes flickered and died, leaving the gunmetal grey and silver panelled walls of the training deck. Vents issuing noxious smells ceased, replaced by the roar of turbines cleansing foul air and expunging the rest into the planet’s atmosphere. Everything which registered to the five senses had been artificial, everything but the weaponry. The opposing units stepped aside as a medicae team raced through a bulkhead. People were beginning to register the training simulation’s deviation from protocol.

Lying in a pool of widening blood, trickling to congeal in the narrow gaps between the floor panes, agents on both sides had fought and died with grim certainty. The Imperial Guardswoman Gren employed, Mora, died with her throat torn open; not before eviscerating Yunus-bek’s ganger with her bayonet. Nedehv’s sharpened teeth held shreds of flesh from the Guardswoman’s throat.

From the viewing station, technicians monitored the vital signatures of the survivors. Gren hobbled quickly to Amara, the back of his head caked in blood, each step sending a lance of pain spiking behind his eyes. At the Interrogator’s approach, Yunus-bek backed away, still holding his vibroblade. Looks were exchanged; a self-satisfied smirk from the psyk-thug unaffected by the dark intent in Gren’s eyes.

“This is not good,” Gren muttered to Amara, checking her broken arm. She clutched it tightly to her chest, biting her lip to keep from crying out.

“Yunus-bek.” The deep baritone of Lord Inquisitor Saeger rolled over the training deck like thunder.

Right knees touched the deck; hands were splayed in the devotional sign of the Imperial aquila the moment Saeger emerged beyond the bulkhead doors. Behind the Lord Inquisitor came his honour guard, Adepta Sororitas of the Order of the Ebon Chalice, armour as black as a raven’s wing, their cloaks alabaster-white. The psyk-thug bowed low, in time for his forehead to meet the strike from Saeger’s polished black boot. Hurtled back, Yunus-bek crashed onto the deck, another rib broken. A silent howl of pain replaced his smirk. No one dared move or think of offering aid. Yunus-bek forced his body to move and bent one knee to his master, face averted.

“My lord?”

“By what right do you bring a blade against my acolyte? Do clarify for I wish to understand what drove you to take this training drill to such extremes. Come now, your answer.” Met with silence, Saeger beat the ganger across the skull with his fist. “A hundred lashes from the electro-whip and complete submersion until near-asphyxia is your punishment. Consider it a light chastisement. You may be a penitent psyker, and you may do my bidding, but only when I say you will as the lowly hound you are, Yunus-bek.”

Saeger snapped his fingers. Two Sisters grabbed Yunus-bek and dragged him away. Following their squad leader out, Yunus-bek’s underlings bowed deeply when they passed Saeger. The Hereticus Lord Inquisitor did not acknowledge their existence and a silence filled the training bay.

Pacing across the floor with his snowy cloak billowing behind, Saeger bellowed, “’Imperfections and failures in the faithful shame the God-Emperor. We cannot cast these weaknesses at His feet and pray forgiveness for we must strive to emulate Him.’ What I witnessed in this case fills my spirit with weakness.” His shadow fell over Amara and Gren. “Gren, shall I enlighten you to what your failure is?”

“The return of my unit to the extraction point without detection. The failure of the mission in which the God-Emperor deplores.”

“Wrong,” Saeger thundered. “You failed to make the proper choice. You did not purge your foe when the opportunity was presented. The first encounter with Yunus-bek could have ended with his death, yet you fled. Furthermore, Interrogator, you ruined your equipment, bringing about your directionless flight. Never falter; never hesitate to exact vengeance on those who would kill you. ’A man is useless if he cannot act; worse yet to flee by which he exposes himself a coward.’ I expect to see courage in the future, Gren.”

“Gren was keeping us alive! He kept us alive until Yunus-bek tried to kill him,” Amara erupted in anger, refusing to watch her friend be disgraced.

Saeger’s hooded eyes turned on Amara. “Were you given permission to speak, acolyte?”

“Yunus-bek deserves death. He should die. He tried to kill Gren, he almost did!”

“Silence,” the Lord Inquisitor rumbled. “I am judgement in Monte Iolcus Hive. I am law across Syntychia. I am the sole voice for the whole of the Syntyche sector by which others measure their will. Do not infer you know better than I, child. Never infer.”

A collective hush settled on the gathering. Furtive glances were given in Amara’s direction. One of the Sisters quietly chanted a prayer for the child’s forgiveness on her outburst. Let the electro-whip flay her back and let her go without nourishment for a week in penance, Amara Kith glared at the Lord Inquisitor and shook with rage. Her chest hurt from the brute’s punch, her broken arm flared, yet she remained unrepentant.

“Why should Yunus-bek deserve life? He tried to kill Gren.”

Saeger’s eyes narrowed to slits when he saw the damaged psy-collar. It held back the girl’s trivial powers, but the attempt of removing it was not lost to the elder man. Saeger’s deep frown grew longer.

“What are you looking at, Lord Saeger?” Gren gingerly touched his bald pate to stop a flash of pain.

“Nothing, Gren. I am looking at utterly nothing.” Saeger swept from the training bay with his honour guard.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby 238232 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:59 pm

Anne Marie wrote:His shadow fell over Amara and Gren. “Gren, shall I enlighten you in what your failure is?”

“Wrong,” Saeger thundered.


Was there meant to be a line between those?

This part didn't feel right to me, Yunus-bek's actions were deliberate, but how would he not expect Saeger to be (very) angry at him?
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:04 pm

@ 238232 - Thank you for catching that bit, I've edited the line in now. The part of Yunus-bek's actions will be made clearer on in the next training session, but what I wanted to incorporate was the sleight of hand and layers of plot Saeger will go through to have people within his own war band fight with others, often not knowing Saeger has instigated it, as a part of training in an acolyte/Interrogator.

I'm leaning towards a further revision of this section to better explain that if I can't include it toward the end of the chapter.
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby horizon » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:40 pm

Hi,

first of all,
chapter 1:
The Khermuti waited in the eye of the Warp storm, untouched by the powerful tides which roiled and seethed beyond its sapphire and golden hull. Ghosting alongside the starboard of the Archeron-class battle cruiser was the Meskhenet.

It is: Acheron Class Heavy Cruiser.

What kind of class is the Khermuti ?


So, then, now, this:

This is a bloody great written story. Keep it up!
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Re: Incubi Umbraeque

Postby Anne Marie » Sat Aug 27, 2011 10:24 am

@ horizon - The Khermuti is a Acheron Class Heavy Cruiser and the Meskhenet is a Vengeance-class grand cruiser from the Heresy itself. :)

________


Amara kept vigil over Gren. Her broken arm was fixed in a sling, powerful analgesics numbing the pain. The Interrogator slept quietly after his examination. The apothecary, finding no true damage that bed rest could not fix, ordered the Interrogator to remain overnight in the sanatorium. Hovering next to Amara was the servo-skull, its bionic eyes dimmed. Amara knew when she slept it would continue to guard Gren. There was no telling if Yunus-bek or one of his unsavoury cronies might attempt a reprisal.

Stifling a yawn, the girl turned to the machine. “If he wakes up, tell Gren I’m at the baptisterium.”

Clicking a response, the servo-skull floated above the seat the child vacated. She was in dire need to cleanse herself in every sense of the word. After Yunus-bek came at her with his knife, the urge to wash was overpowering. What if his psychic taint infected her? Amara imagined a cloud of filth milling about her as she walked the busy halls, with everyone privy to the sight. Once she crossed the silver threshold into the baptisterium, she grew less conscious.

She went about her business in the silence of the empty vault. The chamber of the baptisterium, hewn from rough granite and free of grandiose artwork, was lit by dozens of silver candelabras. Candles’ light reflected off the water’s surface of the small baptismal font, water reportedly brought from the Throneworld, mined from the icy wastelands and purified in the presence of the highest Ministorum clergy.

Plaguing thoughts turned inwards. Saeger’s voice came to the fore. Why had the Lord Inquisitor decreed her worthless? She hardly had the chance to become anything. Amara knew she was far from ‘utterly nothing’. Being wholly useless and falling out of favour was unthinkable. How would she fulfill her vow to find Katea then? Amara Kith would prove her merit. Unbuttoning her over robe and hanging it on a peg, Amara stood before the sole font, a massive block of black marble, the double-headed eagle etched in gold at the bottom of the deep basin.

Taking the silver grail from the font’s edge, she dipped it into the water and poured the cold liquid over her body. Her smock clung to a rail-thin body and a back lashed by the electro-whip more times than she cared to admit. Gren hadn’t always convinced Saeger to let him take the lashings for Amara’s disobedience. “Nipson anomēmata mē monan opsin,” the child whispered, dousing her face in the holy water again.

The spiritual impurity pooled about her feet, dirtied water trickling into a drain. A second dousing cleaned the sweat and dirt from her face, the third sealing the Imperial trinity. Amara repeated to herself how sorry she was having gotten Gren in trouble, rocking back and forth on her feet before the font’s still water. She clutched the grail, using it to anchor her thoughts. She loathed Yunus-bek. Hadn’t Lord Saeger said she needed to steel her anger to have it take her far? What did she need to sacrifice to prove her worth? Touching the reinforced psy-collar, her restricting leash since first coming under the Hereticus Inquisitor’s tutelage, the child hit her fist against the hard stone in an explosive outburst.

“It’s not fair. Yunus-bek deserves to die,” she nearly screeched into the darkness of the empty baptisterium. Awkwardly, Amara dried herself best she could with her good arm and left the baptismal font. Reciting a final benediction to the God-Emperor she left, only to find a Sister waiting beyond the baptisterium.

The woman curtly nodded before speaking, “Amara Kith, Lord Saeger will see you.” Pivoting on her heel, the Sister of Battle marched away, leaving Amara to follow her quick pace. In the Inquisitor Palace, situated on the tallest spire of Monte Iolcus Hive, its inhabitants were afforded a wondrous view of the world beneath them. Close to the stratosphere, Amara saw space barges lower to the docking yards, viewed stately yachts of the spire nobility, and watched the forming of polluted thunderstorms wrack the lower hive levels.

The Inquisitor Lord held court in the grandest of chambers. Behind doors panelled in gold, emblazoned with portraits of Imperial saints, Saeger waited. Monte Iolcus Hiveguard opened the richly detailed doors, admitting Amara and the Sister of Battle before closing them firmly. Saeger’s offices were palatial in splendour for the people he held audience with. The need to impress upon supplicants’ his power was paramount. Gold veins threaded the highly polished black marble floor, reflecting the people who walked across it. Oil paintings worth more than what many made in a single lifetime graced the walls with Humanity’s pious. Above, the ceiling was a frieze of the God-Emperor battling the Primordial Enemy, Horus’s body crushed under a golden foot.

Upon a thick blood red carpet, Saeger sat behind a grand desk from which he dispensed judgement. Parchments spilled over the table where, quill held in one ink-stained hand, Saeger furiously composed letters on sheaves of vellum. At the same time he dictated orders to one of his scribes. Cherub servitors flew on high, depositing correspondences and quickly removing parchment on the desk, carrying thuribles which spilled incense smoke into the air.

“My lord,” the Sister bowed. “Your noviate’s arrived.”

Saeger placed his quill down. The great windows behind him showed the resplendent night sky of Hyeinsa. The Sisters of the Ebon Chalice flanking the Lord Inquisitor stood at attention. Ministorum clerks and petitioners, Sisters of Battle and servants, all halted and on a silent command Amara never heard, departed the chamber. Saeger’s doom-laden gaze pinned Amara in place.

“Amara Kith,” his voice made her tremble. “The God-Emperor calls you to a higher task. It is an undertaking of vast, singular importance wherein the wheels of justice across this sector will be put into motion. Any weakness in you shall compel the strength of your spirit to grow. The betrayals against you will be paid in the blood of others.”

The girl’s chest swelled. Here was the chance to affirm her worth to the Lord Inquisitor. “What do I need to do?”

“You trust your educator, do you not?” Saeger came round his desk, the hem of his white cloak swishing.

“I do, Lord Saeger. I was in the wrong today, but I see that now.”

Without will we are nothing. The Emperor’s Will guides us. Through His wisdom, we avenge the hallowed blood of innocents.’ The God-Emperor’s chosen you for this unique obligation. No one else can do it, child.”

Amara’s green eyes glittered. “Will it help in my revenge?”

“Certainly, dear girl,” Saeger’s smile was benign, his countenance the opposite of that morning. “Nothing’s done blindly in the service of the Emperor and His Imperium. For what comes next, you must have implicit trust in my actions.”

Someone came through the door. A null-sense hood came down over her head before she saw who it was. Blinded and silenced, the girl instinctively thrashed until Saeger’s heavy hand descended on her shoulder. Stilling herself, Amara was picked up and carried a short distance. She deduced it to be a Sister of Battle when her hands touched curved armour; then something pricked the back of her neck. Sleep claimed Amara, and when she woke, it was to a warm and fatherly voice quietly droning.

“The delicate process of genetic splicing takes much time, effort and various resources. In our work to create weapons against the enemies of Mankind, the Adeptus Astartes rank chief in this fold.” The chirurgeon, face hidden behind a surgical mask and goggles, spoke in unfamiliar terms. “Lesser warriors are made based around the same principles of combining various genetic sequences from tissue samples. For the case of the subject brought before us, she will be the first.”

Amara, blinded by a tripod of light, was held to a surgical slab by metal restraints. The powerful blend of drugs given through intravenous feed stopped the natural process of panic and fear. Her thoughts were muddled. Passing into a soporific sleep, she seemed frail to the arachnid mechadendrites sprouting over the shoulders of the chirurgeon, each point holding a surgical tool with refinement.

“This task won’t be simple,” the chirurgeon continued to the few sitting in the medicae amphitheatre. “We aren’t merely cutting out the innate ability of what makes this child a psyker, we are replacing it with a nullifying facility. In a spiritual sense, we shall carve a hole into the essence of a being, a pure hole devoid of corruption for the Emperor’s work. By the Imperator’s Will, let this undertaking be blessed.”

Surgery began quietly. Saeger’s apothecaries and chirurgeon focused on reshaping the genetic map and manipulations in mind and flesh. They worked a mixture of alchemy and science, a grand machination of two realms meeting as one in Amara’s body. Re-forged on the very atomic level, her blood was vacuumed out of her frail body, readmitted after undergoing its own unique treatment. Her heart suspended in a state of undeath; the finesse lasers of neurosurgery sliced into the white folds of her brain.

In states of abscission, body carved open and her genetic coding modified, Saeger shadowed Amara in protection. The gestation laboratory where he stood sentinel was suffused in a calm blue glow, the readout screens on the databanks and hums of the machine-spirits the only sounds in the enclosed chamber. A hiss of pressurized air from the single entryway admitted the primarius chirurgeon.

“You keep a man of my station waiting longer than he should.” Saeger scowled at the individual. Hidden in the thick red and white robes of his vocation and old beyond his years, the man moved as though he were young and spry. Tapping out rune codes with deft fingers which wielded a las-scalpel with extreme precision, the chirurgeon examined complex charts and numbers. Opposite him and housed within a medicae tank, the young pre-pubescent girl floated.

“She’s come along remarkably well, taking right to the genetic coding. In all intent and purpose, this is a success. The first engineered Pariah, every molecule fine-tuned to her body.” He cross-examined another set of papers. “With training she’ll be able to use the null ability at will. Liken it to a lumen turning on and off, if you will forgive the crude comparison, Lord Saeger. All she need do is focalizing – perhaps a trigger word or a passage which gears her to use the ability without knowing she’s shaping it into being.”

Saeger gazed at Amara suspended in the chemical mixture, breathing through an apparatus as needles pin-cushioned her body. “The passage of Saint Deretimus springs to mind. A long time coming to fruition, these Pariah gene experimentations. We have to establish the ability works before Amara is placed in harm’s way. In my great experience, one needs to see it effectively used to hail it as a result, Caphis.”

The older man tutted. “Don’t look to me. I merely work the flesh, muscle and bone. Do you know how difficult it was to use the limited genetic material for this?”

“Of course I know.” Saeger’s tone was hard ice. “How rare it is to find the Pariah gene in this far-flung empire. To imagine the cost of its extraction from the Culexus Temple...” He touched his golden aquila broach. How many of his agents, seeded with skill, hadn’t returned from their mission? “I need this to work. Such an effective weapon to bring against Chaos, a righteous force unopposed.”

“Similar to the fabled Sisters of Silence and the lore surrounding them?”

“Aye.” Saeger bowed his head at the mention of the once elite sisterhood. “Their blood would have been used but with your consultation, a Blank’s encoding isn’t as effective in terms of brute force as a Pariah’s. Amara will be a hammer to use against the heretic, her body the weapon against worshippers of false gods. She is the path which leads to the arch-heretic and by means which my crusade will render justice.”

Caphis’s liver-spotted hands made the sign of the aquila. “I pity her. I was there, administering her and her cousin, and now to be involved in this... God-Emperor, if she ever knows my involvement--“

“She never will,” Saeger promised. “Remember your oath given as Inno died. You take everything to your grave, Caphis.”

In states of perception, Amara’s sense of time was grossly displaced. Weightlessness accompanied her whenever she walked around the small medical chamber. Four white walls became her world; she never questioned ‘why’ to Saeger’s will in this arrangement. One morning when she woke the sling on her arm was gone. An evening when she opened her eyes, a tattoo inked in gold of the Imperial aquila adorned the underside of her left arm. The greatest thing she noticed was the sudden absence one day of her psy-collar. Her questions to its removal went unanswered by the hooded aides. She never saw their faces.

Each time she slumbered, something changed, noted in increments’ when Amara regained consciousness. Something was being pulled from her with utter certainty. Colours grew flatter and sharp sounds became muted. Even the taste of the nutrient paste grew bland on her tongue, its once pungent odour no longer noted. She traced the surgical scars on her brow and wondered how they came to be there. Other times, her senses returned to a state of normalcy but never to when she wore that hateful collar.

The final time Amara woke in her small cell, Saeger waited at the open door. Wizened features fixed the child. He beckoned her to follow. Amara did, letting Saeger bridge the silence. He explained she was now a human purged of psychic capacity. It its place, twined to her very core, was the rendered opposite of what was vile and hateful to the Imperium. Her test, the Lord Inquisitor declared, was to scrutinize her ability. She accepted the knowledge with the proper devotion of an Imperial servant having purpose. They stopped before a door covered in holy parchments and golden wards.

“Converse with the penitent,” Lord Saeger pressed a simple button on the wall. The door slid open. “Remember the catechisms of Saint Deretimus to vent your wrath into his mind. He shall repent.”

Carved into the psyker’s forehead, blood still drying, the Imperial aquila reminded Amara of the one branded on her. The man was a skeleton held together by old skin and the barest trace of muscles, a too-weak chest rising and falling in ponderous breath. He smelt horrible, of the corruption in all heretics and unwashed for days. Despite the frailty of his body, his eyes burned with fire. Amara remembered the same blaze in Katea’s. Hunched over his sleeping pallet, the abused human twisted his feeble neck upward to greet the child entering his cell.

“They send a child to do the work of men.” He mockingly made the sign of the aquila. “Do you even think for yourself, girl, or do the bidding of masters hidden behind glass and smoke without conscious thought?”

Amara began her catechetic recitation. “The daemon and warp spawn have become your fathers, and you carry out the daemon’s desires...’” The pallid colour of the man drained away when the girl looked upon him. He curled into himself. She no longer smelt him as she had when entering the prison.

“They bring a witchling,” he cackled, head lolling back. “A witchling against a servant of the True Gods! The irony of your actions speaks louder than the screams of the condemned! I know you hear me beyond these walls, I know, I know!”

When the daemon lies, it speaks its native language, for it is a liar and the father of all falsehoods. Because you have rejected the word of the God-Emperor, He has rejected you.’” Blisters appeared on the man’s weathered skin, widening red eruptions he scratched at with dirty fingernails. Amara no longer heard her voice, deafened to sound and the heretic’s wails as he beat his palms against his brow.

“I die in truth, a truth you fail to see!” Froth flecked the psyker’s mouth as his eyes bulged, the light bleeding away in rivulets down his cheeks. Colour leeched from Amara’s vision; the only shade remaining was the burning vitality of his eyes.

Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. In nomine Imperator Rex et spiritus vindicare!’

“It burns, you burn, you damned child you burn everything about me!”

The man’s flesh smoked under the null-pressure. Hands covered his face to hold it together. Amara continued her recitation, watching as the psyker kicked and thrashed and died slowly, burning up inside. It ended when he finally laid still, his body curled into a blackened foetal position. Only then did she fall silent and, sluggishly, her senses returned.

Bits of flesh flaked off the heretic’s corpse as a servitor dragged it away. Amara imagined what she could do to Yunus-bek given the opportunity, and liking the vision, smiled. Her mind considered a grander dream. To turn this ability on the armoured nightmares who abducted Katea and complete her revenge. Her failed promise could be put to rights. She smiled at Saeger when he came. He reciprocated with pride and admiration written on his aged face.

“Another training simulation is underway, Amara Kith. I believe you will be far more capable for this next one.”

________


“Check the Monte Iolcus Hive levels B-64 through E-12. She couldn’t have gone far from the hive. A global scan of Hyeinsa and the surrounding hives shows nothing.” The comm-link in the Interrogator’s ear beeped once in confirmation before going dead. Gren’s contacts, scattered throughout Monte Iolcus, set off in their duties. Exhaling quietly, Gren removed the comm-bead and leaned back in his chair. He stared blankly at the screens before him. Each displayed a live view in the various parts of Monte Iolcus Hive, none which remotely interested Gren.

A solid month of fruitless searches yielded nothing. Last seen in the hospice, Amara simply vanished after that. The security logs brought up nothing. Gren held a healthy suspicion the recordings had undergone tampering. He suspected foul play as the worst case, the psyk-thug being the obvious candidate. Yet the man and his ilk were off-world before Amara’s disappearance. Personal informants confirmed this. If murder was not a probable solution, abduction was the only explanation. Only unmasking the miscreant remained. Once Gren solved who it was, the individual would be very much dead.

Pressure welled up behind his eyes, the beginning of a stress-induced migraine. A specific vox-chime sounded. Automatically reaching out to activate the message, Gren was notified the Lord Inquisitor would see him immediately. A concerned whine from the servo-skull, always close to its master, drew a smile from the man. The Interrogator looked hellish. Dishevelled and with little sleep, dark circles ringed his eyes. Faint scars and discoloured bruises still existed from the psyk-thug’s attack.

“I know what the meeting pertains to and even without sleep, my resolution is firm. I won’t be coerced by anyone.”

Leaving his rooms in the Inquisitor Palace, Gren quickly made for his master’s offices. The swelling crowd of supplicants, barred by the Monte Iolcus Hiveguard, hissed disapproval when Gren threaded through them with ease, allowed entry to the inner sanctum of the Lord Inquisitor. Respectfully, those of Saeger’s entourage let the Interrogator pass until he stood before his teacher. Touching a hand to his forehead, then to his chest, Gren waited. Not many were present; Inquisitors currently on Hyeinsa were in attendance as was the Cardinal Astral of the Syntychia subsector. Witnesses to the moment when Gren would join the fold of the Inquisition.

Gren thought Saeger’s timing was the worst. Gren hadn’t bothered coming dressed in his finest, his simple black habit offset in its plainness by Saeger’s ornamented garb. Wearing a red cape trimmed in black ermine fur, the joints of Saeger’s power armour whirred quietly as one arm rose in benediction. Lord Inquisitor Saeger appeared every inch the regal ruler in all but name of the Syntyche sector.

“Your tenure as an Interrogator under my guiding hand is coming to a close. Your future is bright in service of the Imperium and the God-Emperor’s vision for Mankind. Gren, it will be with pride for the Ordo Hereticus when I ordain you into its ranks.”

“I haven’t decided upon the Ordo Hereticus, my lord.” Spoken without hesitation, Gren met the other’s eyes unflinchingly.

Saeger’s beatific smile vanished under his white beard. “Pray to the saints’ boy, what ordo are you considering?”

“The Ordo Xenos has need.” Whispers swept through the assembly. A knowing look or two passed between Inquisitors while the Sisters of the Ebon Chalice remained stoic.

“The threat within is the greatest faced by Mankind!” Saeger’s open hand balled into a fist, a single finger pointed at his student. “The foul xenos can be purged by the Astartes, by the Guardsmen, by those who openly take arms in vigilantism against their encroachment. You will be a Hereticus man, so I decree it, Gren!”

He expected this. Gren thought of all possibilities to save face, decided against it, and settled on a blunt answer. “You have always allowed me to speak my mind. I will not shirk from it now. My application stands for the Ordo Xenos.”

“I forbid it.”

“Is this anger directed at the fact you would no longer have reign over my actions, Lord Saeger?” The words caused one Inquisitor to chortle before turning it into a coughing fit. Another tisked at Gren’s choice of words.

The Lord Inquisitor’s face became a mask. “We will speak further on this at a later time. This is your last task as my Interrogator. Should you fail, as my other pupils who fell in the line of duty, you will surely be forgotten. Pray you do not, Gren, for the Inquisition will be made the worse for it.”
Last edited by Anne Marie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:12 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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