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Thread: [M] Penitence - IC

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    Default [M] Penitence - IC

    Rated M for violence and distressing themes.
    Potential strong language and drug references

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    Ad Mech Waystation 9794
    2 weeks after the Saros Station incident


    The dreams of an ordinary man can be a mysterious and occasionally frightening landscape. The dreams of a madman, more so. On a desolate plain of scarred, rust-coloured rock, two figures stood side by side next to a tomb of cracked and greying marble. Together, they looked towards a glassy, red-tinted horizon obscured by a haze of smoke and windblown ash. One of the figures was hunched and misshapen; blue-skinned, horned, barely human. The other was horribly scarred across one side of his face, his ragged cheeks drawn tight in a broken-mirror smile. He was looking at something beyond the plain of smoke and ash, and what he saw amused him.

    "She's coming." said the Smiler. "Tenacious, isn't she?"

    In the waking world, they had thought themselves safe after they had made their jump into the warp, in complete defiance of the mechanicus defined separation zones. The etheric backlash as they had torn their way out of reality had destroyed two docking transports, and bathed Jupiter's upper atmosphere in a warp flare that would have scoured a continent clean of life on any inhabited planet. They however had survived, the Changer smiling on them right up until the point that Alicia Tarran had somehow followed them through the breach in her own commandeered fighter, riding out the ectoplasmic shockwaves and hanging tight on their tail until she had been able to ambush them as they broke back into realspace. Instead of simply reorienting themselves at the waystation and diving back into the warp, they had been forced to make an emergency docking. The five tech priests and three astropaths crewing the station had been easy pickings, but the inquisition agent pursuing them would not. No doubt she was lining up for her own docking even now.

    "Why did you tell Marc we were on Marioch?" the Blue Devil snarled. His voice was the jagged screech of sandpaper dragged across metal. "Did you not think he'd pass it along to her?"

    "Marc amuses me," the Smiler shrugged by way of answer. "And so does Alley."

    "We have to kill her!"

    "The third might not like that." said the Smiler, and his rictus grin wavered a little as he glanced towards the decaying tomb beside them.

    "It's too dangerous to do anything else." the Blue Devil argued.

    "Perhaps. But she can be broken first, I guarantee it. She has information we need."

    The Blue Devil exhaled in a menacing hiss. "Very well. You will have your chance. But if we have the shot, I will kill her."

    The Smiler gave a high, cold laugh. "You won't get the chance."

    + + + + + +

    Inquisition Fortress, Holy Terra
    10 weeks after Saros


    For the private study of an inquisitor quartered within the vast conclave on Holy Terra itself, the room was surprisingly austere. Crenshaw knew that this was the product of preference rather than design, because there were naked hooks on the walls where fine pictures and tapestries had once hung. Only a bronze Aquila idol remained as ornament, and even that had been removed to the sill of one of the diamond-grated windows. Beyond the window were great pyrocumulus thunderheads, thrown up by Terra's cracked and bleeding plates. They lashed down at the wounded landscape outside the fortress with intermittent whips of white lightning.

    The furniture in the room was purely functional - cabinets of files, a table piled high with dataslates and info-crystals, and a free standing holo-projector that was currently cycling through possible warp routes back to the Malfian sub in Calixis. A man and two women stood studying the hololith. One of the women wore simple trousers and a tunic belted with Ovigor hide, and had a stern, exotic face with a square jaw and perceptive, almond-shaped eyes. An interrogator's rosette was proudly pinned at her chest. The other woman was taller, sandy tanned, with her long hair woven into a pleat. She was dressed in simple void-crew's overalls, as if she had just transferred down in a shuttle, though she was wearing what looked like a ministorum skull-and-sunburst around her neck.

    The man was tall and sparsely built, and he dressed in nondescript grey, accentuated by his thinning grey hair and the grey stubble that shadowed his hollow cheeks. His eyes too were grey, but sharp and hard, like chips of flint.

    "How long did D'Lane say we had?" the man asked in a flat, gravelly voice, seemingly ignoring Crenshaw's entrance.

    "He wasn't sure." answered the woman with the priest's necklace. "The Tarot indicated a month, perhaps two. Not long."

    The man hissed through his teeth, still glaring intently at the hololith. "Not long, right enough. Let's hope he was also right about the tribunal reconvening soon."

    "D'Lane's usually trustworthy with his predictions." offered the stern-faced interrogator.

    The man's cheek twitched. "I trust the Tarot. I don't trust him. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that that psyker has a soul to channel the Tarot with is his one redeeming feature." He turned, folded his arms, and regarded Crenshaw for the first time. "No offence to present company."

    The two men regarded each other for a moment. Crenshaw had heard a few things about inquisitor Feyd Lucullis - some from Machairi, some from other agents scattered about the Malfian sub, and little of it pleasant. An occasional colleague of Sidonis and his protégés, but otherwise stubbornly independent, Lucullis' insular mode of operation left a vacuum of details that had been filled with rumours of varying likelihood. Some said that he was secretly a psyker; others that he was just preternaturally good at detecting lies. Some said that he had executed thousands of heretics but never an innocent; others that he had raised a penitent into his service but declared her damnatio memoriae on her own homeworld. Some said that the steel-grey eyes that were looking at Crenshaw now were not his but those of an executed cult leader, which he had implanted so that he could observe the universe from a heretic's point of view. Others insisted that it was not the eyes he had taken from the heretic but his right hand, so that it could do good in death as it had never done in life. Others still maintained that the hand was just a clone graft he had had made, after burning the original to remove any possible taint it had contracted from once picking up a daemon weapon. If there was any surgical scar on the inquisitor's wrist, however, it was hidden by the cuff of his jacket.

    Lightning flashed, and for a moment the windows on the west side of the tower blazed white. The thunder came a moment later, rolling like a distant drum.

    "I know why you're here, major Crenshaw." inquisitor Lucullis said neutrally. "Alia sent you ahead to poke around the Telepathica databanks on Saros Station, and then here to try and find out what I'm going to do with her old master's agents."

    Crenshaw cocked an eyebrow. That was, almost exactly, what he was here for. The Saros incident, occurring as it did so close to Holy Terra, had been subject to almost total information lockdown. Alia Machairi had only been informed about it several months into the investigations that followed the incident, and even then only because the conclave wanted to task her with something that had come to light after her former mentor's death. When she had heard that some of her former operatives were among the accused, she had panicked about the Necron chip lying dormant in agent Sonder's head and had contacted Crenshaw - the only person outside her own circle who knew about it. Luckily for her, Crenshaw had already been in the segmentum Solar, albeit dodging mechanicus reprisals after that debacle on the Ampoliros.

    "I could deny that." Crenshaw said mildly, "But I feel it would be more productive to ask how you came to that conclusion."

    The corners of the inquisitor's mouth twitched slightly. Crenshaw wouldn't have called it a smile, because Lucullis did not seem the sort of man who took to smiling often. The lightning flickered again, throwing long shadows across the bare walls.

    “I know you’d come," Lucullis said, "Because Alia never does anything the straight and honest way. That's not a criticism mind, but it is a recognisable pattern.” He paused. "You throwing your weight around with the telepathica on Saros didn't go unnoticed, and you wouldn't have asked to see me if she hadn't put you up to it. She believes I owe her a favour, no doubt."

    "Most people seem to." Crenshaw observed dryly.

    The right conclusion, but the wrong deductions. the blank major thought. Lucullis had apparently guessed that Machairi wanted her agents spared, or at least given a reprieve until she arrived, but he seemed to believe that her motive was simple sentiment. Or perhaps possessiveness - Crenshaw would not have been surprised if Lucullis held the same skeptical opinion of Machairi as her long-dead rival, Schafer.

    "Although for now," he continued, "I would settle for knowing what you are going to do with the accused agents."

    "The trial is still ongoing, major." Lucullis replied.

    "Then I would ask what you want to do with them."

    "What I want to do with them doesn't really matter, major - at least not enough to swing the difference. The vote also rests with four other inquisitors, who I'm forbidden to talk to until we've finished analysing the evidence and made our separate verdicts. And before you ask, no I cannot delay the verdict until Alia arrives. Even if I could, I have business to attend to that does not involve her accused agents."

    He turned back to the hololith for a second, and cancelled the display by swiping his hand back and forth through the image. It flickered and died, and the projector whirred as it ejected a data wand that Lucullis handed to his interrogator.

    "Alia will have to pray that the warp tides favour her and bring her to Terra in good time." Lucullis said, his voice low and even. "I can't and won't subvert the fair justice of this tribunal on her behalf. But."

    He wheeled slowly around to face Crenshaw once more.

    “I do have an idea of what the conclave plans to task her with when she arrives. As such, I’ll tell you what I can do."

    Crenshaw remained studiously silent, his hands clasped behind his back.

    "There was another survivor from the station, who was deferred to me for sentencing two days ago." Lucullis revealed. "He has information that I suspect Alia might need in the near future."

    Crenshaw's eyebrow flickered a second time as Lucullis' flint eyes switched towards the woman with the priest's necklace.

    "Raeden?" the inquisitor prompted, and the sandy-skinned woman nodded once before crossing to the table and pulling a cardboard dossier out of the mess of dataslates and memory crystals. She carried it over to Crenshaw and handed it to him with another nod. Crenshaw delicately flipped the folder open with his fingertips, and spent a handful of heartbeats silently skimming the contents.

    "Just let me be clear on one thing, major." Lucullis broke in. "Make sure Alia understands that if she does not have him executed at the end of the investigation, then I’ll seek her out and do it myself. This man does not deserve to live.”

    Crenshaw raised his gaze. "I have to ask, inquisitor. You count a soul as a redeeming feature, but what use is a soul that belongs to a man like this?" Crenshaw had seen souls attached to some of the worst abominations man could imagine. Have you ever heard of a replicant, inquisitor?

    He saw the priestess frown, while Lucullis himself gave another twitching un-smile.

    "I said my astropath's soul was his redeeming feature, major. I never said it was yours," His eyes dropped to the folder in Crenshaw's hands. "Or his."

    Crenshaw gave an ambiguous grunt, and flipped the dossier closed once more, looking at the name stencilled on the front of the rough paper binder. The name read Merle Carson.

    + + + + + +

    Holy Terra, 3 months after Saros

    The vaulted hall was made of cold, unforgiving stone; the air full of cloying incense and the whir of grav-suspensors as mechanical censor-cherubs covered in synthskin flitted between the walls. Quill skulls with golden callipers weaved between them, hovering like grinning spectres above the heads of the assembled tribunal. Dozens of inquisitors from the ordos Solar, Ixaniad and Calixis were arrayed with their attendants around the chamber, though only five formed the panel of judges. Those five sat in a wood-panel box atop a high plinth, their hands resting on the bannister rail. Golden aquila flags hung down the front of the plinth, almost brushing the floor. In a separate pulpit set below and to the right of the inquisitors, a grey-bearded confessor with a black cloak draped over his red robes sat mumbling prayers, reading from the book before him with a silver rod shaped like an accusingly-pointing finger. Lower still and directly across from the inquisitors was an armaglass dock, surrounded by a ring of guards in ceremonial plate armour. Inside the glass cage were six figures, chained to each other and to steel rings on the floor by heavy linked manacles. The six wore brown penitents' robes, their foreheads marked by crude aquilas formed from streaks of ash - a simple V for the heads, and a horizontal line beneath for the wings.

    Marcus Black stood with his head bowed, his vision almost obscured by the outgrown, unwashed hair that fell into his eyes and over the ash aquila burning his forehead. He could feel three months of grease and grime smothering his face, and a straggling growth of beard itched his jawline. He stared down at his hands, and at the acid-etched hexagrams that covered his manacles. His wrists were bruised purple beneath the heavy iron cuffs. His fingernails had barely begun to grow back, the beds still raw and red beneath their simple antiseptic bandages.

    Although his work in the inquisition had covered investigation and interrogation, Marc had never conducted anything beyond Second Action processing. Now he knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of the Third Action, and that was more than enough. To think that the inquisition had nine Actions that they could call upon for prisoner processing. Nine! Marc had only been witness to the higher Actions twice before: the first time, he had been too busy pulling Kally up off the waterboarding table to deal with the people responsible. The second time, after seeing the vivid recordings of what magos Brunswick had done to McKenzie, he had crushed the tech priest's larynx with his own hands - and that had been before they had discovered he was an informer for Emerald's rainbow.

    On the slab himself, however, he had seldom felt anything beyond a pathetic sense of fear. They had questioned him, beaten him, then questioned him again to see if he changed his story. Eventually, subject by subject, the tortures had stopped - except for one. Every time he admitted to not knowing where Arcolin was, the hood had come down and the water had flooded his nasal passages even as he instinctively tried to close off his airway. Who knew that water could burn like fire?

    Despite everything, he had been lucky. Some of his companions had been subjected to even higher Actions.

    On Marc's right was Ella Seren, her own head bowed in meek surrender. A psychic null collar was fitted around the young astropath's neck, which had rendered her blind and forced one of the guards to pull her by the arm up the steps to the dock. On Marc's left was his sister Kelly; dark haired like him, empathetic, calmly rational - and, right now, shivering. Marc would have held them both, as much for his own support as for theirs, if only his hands hadn't been manacled. Kally and Vincent were seemingly a world away on Kelly's other side. Vincent was silent, the fight seemingly gone from his single baleful eye. On Ella's right, Gavin was the only one of their group who had been granted the luxury of sitting, and even then only because he had no legs to stand on. He had been manhandled up onto a hard wooden stool by the guards, where he now sat trying to curl himself up to the point that he might disappear.

    A break in the confessor's droning prayers and the sudden silence that followed caused Marc to tentatively raise his eyes. Looking up at the judges' plinth, he saw that one of the inquisitors had stood up. The inquisitor was a lean, grim man in his late fifties, with a shadow of stubble darkening his ascetic face, and thin grey hair that was beginning to recede around his temples. He held an unfolded scroll in his hands and he was dressed in black, white and grey - all the colours of truth.

    "The court recognises inquisitor Feyd Lucullis of the ordo Ixaniad, who speaks for this tribunal." boomed a robed adept who stood at the foot of the Aquila-draped plinth. The silver vox grille in front of his mouth sent the words echoing around the vaulted ceiling of the chamber, scattering the censor-cherubs. Marc's chest tightened, a sick lurch dropping through his stomach as his heart pounded against his throat.

    "Of treason against the God Emperor," the inquisitor called Lucullis read out in a strong, toneless voice. "We find the defendants...not guilty."

    Marc blinked in shock. For an awful moment, he thought that he had misheard.

    "Of sedition against His holy Imperium," the inquisitor continued, his face neutral. "Not guilty."

    Marc felt his shoulders sag, and he didn't particularly care who saw it.

    "Of insubordination to your lord inquisitor," the inquisitor's voice rang out once more. "We absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo." intoned the confessor sitting below the plinth, raising one hand towards the dock and marking the heads and wingtips of a holy Aquila in the air.

    "Of the murder of Imperial servants, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of the theft and destruction of Imperial property, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of consorting with xenos, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    Marc found that the inquisitor on his high plinth was blurring away from him, and he realised that he was crying. He looked left towards his sister, who was standing with her lips parted in numb shock.

    "Of sheltering an enemy of the Imperium," Lucullis read out. "We do not absolve you."

    In that instant Marc was pulled up short, his trembling sense of relief quashed as the hard, cold spike of fear returned.

    Inquisitor Lucullis continued to look down at them expressionlessly. "Sidonis, Irons, the heretic Emerald, and the creature known as Juno are dead." he elaborated. "The heretic DeRei, however, is not. We therefore reinstate you as agents of the Emperor's inquisition and task you with the penitent duty of hunting down this heretic. When DeRei's soul is rendered to the Emperor for judgement, your own souls shall be released. You are to be put into the trust of the late Immanuel Sidonis' former acolyte, inquisitor Alia Machairi. She will oversee your penance and grant your absolution upon its completion."

    Marc dared to look up once more, and saw a familiar olive-skinned face, with a blade of a nose and sharp, dark eyes, looking back at him from among the ranks of watching inquisitors.

    "You are free to go." he almost didn't hear inquisitor Lucullis say.

    + + + + + +

    Alia Machairi was almost as surprised by the decision as the six poor wretches in their armaglass cage. She had known that something more than the division of her late mentor's assets was afoot when she received a personal summons to Holy Terra, but she had not expected to see so many faces that she recognised. Some like De Shilo and Lucullis she knew from the ordo Calixis; others by reputation as formidable players in the segmentum Solar. Javaer, Reiker, Corbold...there were some influential names here.

    It was a testament to lord Sidonis' massive political power that so many of his colleagues from the northern arm were here, even though they stood on Terra: the very heart of the imperium and the God Emperor's own soil. Indeed, the new lord inquisitor who had replaced Sidonis in the Ixaniad sector had set to breaking apart his predecessor's assets so that others couldn't accumulate the same kind of power. But if Machairi had raised an eyebrow at the names on the panel of judges, she had been shocked to find out the names of the six accused. Five of them had served with her before, several years ago when she was still aspiring to her current rank. That seemed to be the logic behind the final and greatest shock: that they were now her responsibility.

    Alia Machairi hadn't gotten to where she was today by letting her discomfort show easily. Standing just over six feet in flat heels and a floor-brushing gown made of silver and blue gossamer, she turned briefly away from the six penitents towards her own retinue to weigh their reactions. Machairi had a network of contacts, informers and favours numbering in the hundreds, but her own permanent staff was small and close-knit. Dependable, grizzled Tomas Prinzel and soft-spoken Solvan Belannor had been with her from the start - the one trenchant and erudite, the other patient and eloquent, both tirelessly dutiful. Beside them was investigator Hybrida, another resourceful old hand, and it was a testament to the gravity of the situation that even he wasn't cracking jokes. Beside him was sister Sapphira in her dove-grey robe, a permanent attachment to Machairi's retinue in all but name. All of Machairi's core henchmen knew the penitents from their grueling mission together on Hercynia, but it was Sapphira's reaction that Machairi was watching most closely.

    No, Machairi reminded herself, not quite most. Standing apart from the others, by choice as much as by the unsettling aura he projected, was major Martin Crenshaw. Machairi had worked with the relentless Telepathica commander many times since Hercynia, and he had been invaluable in prising information about the incident on Saros out of his own colleagues, who owned half of the station. But this was the first time that the major and Kally Sonder were back in the same room - and under the worst possible circumstances.

    Machairi had called in other favours besides Crenshaw before her three-month pilgrimage to Terra. She had had a feeling that she would need their influence to sway the various warring institutions that kept humanity's cradle wrapped up in red tape. Josiah Wuziarch - a broad-featured, almond-eyed arbitrator who had been her contact to the adeptus arbites during her previous work on Marioch - was her link to the trial's evidence files. Secutor Vizkop, an old and valued ally from past days, was her link to the mechanicus.

    There had been other survivors of the Saros Station incident, and some had not been involved as deeply as the six penitents. One had been trialed and sentenced a month before the others, and Machairi had pulled all the strings she could to get him remanded to her custody. Machairi had expected the new mission, even if she hadn't expected the six penitents to be a living part of it. The seventh penitent was Merle Carson, formerly in the employ of the traitor Emile Emerald. A condemned heretic twice over, Merle was still alive because of what he had seen in his former master's employ. He knew Arcolin DeRei - and perhaps he knew what the escaped heretic would do next. Machairi did not look forward to meeting him.

    Gauging her agents' reactions, Machairi offered them all a silent nod. Simultaneously, the armaglass cage was opened, the warded shackles clicked apart, and the armoured guards stood back to allow the six penitents a clear path towards Machairi and her retinue.

    + + + + + +

    After the verdict

    Crenshaw made his way down the ribbed arches twisting away from the judgement hall, being careful to keep his stride even. Alia had been tactful in her suggestion that he should retrieve the penitents' equipment, but he was not inclined to give away how glad he was of an excuse to be elsewhere after the verdict. Kally Sonder was of course one reason. The other was the murderous look that Jenkins had been giving him as Kelly Black helped him down the steps. That the scrawny machine empath had developed a spine over the last few years was neither good nor bad in itself, but a psyker who suddenly showed no fear of his former handler was an extreme warning sign in Crenshaw's experience.

    As the corridors curved away through the warren of the inquisition fortress, bringing Crenshaw past silent statues and judgemental carved skulls, he eventually found himself in the atrium of the vault levels. Alia would have sent word ahead, and so he was not surprised to see one of Lucullis' two primary agents waiting for him. It turned out to be the missionary, Raeden - conspicuous in the cargo trousers and thick-soled boots that were visible underneath her belted ministorum robe, as if she expected to be dumped outside in the Terran wastes or some other wilderness without notice. She was toying with the skull-and-starburst icon that hung round her neck as she contemplated a painting that dominated the atrium wall. The painting showed the Emperor and his winged angels at the Council of Nikaea, passing the judgement that would set ten thousand years of imperial policy.

    "Suffer not the witch to live?" Crenshaw commented as he stopped next to the painting.

    The priestess turned her head to acknowledge him, dropping her necklace to link her thumbs in the sign of the Aquila. "Only if they can't be saved. Good to see you again, major Crenshaw."

    Crenshaw inclined his head. "Raeden."

    "I'd rather not the surname." the sandy-skinned woman replied, twisting her mouth at some memory that Crenshaw was not privy to. She hitched up a slight smile, despite the nearness of Crenshaw's blank aura. "Kim or Kimmie is fine."

    "Kimmie then." Crenshaw nodded, choosing the more colloquial of the two to test the veracity of her attempt at warmth. "Am I being snubbed?"

    The missionary cocked her head to one side. "Excuse me?"

    "I would have expected the inquisitor's second to keep his appointment. And I would have further assumed that that second would be his interrogator."

    "Erdene is briefing the rest of the team for the journey back to the Malfian sub." Kim replied. Her tone was still soft, but Crenshaw could see that he had nettled her slightly. "Breathing time is something none of us get very often."

    She was being vague, and Crenshaw could approve of that - after all, who knew who might be listening even in the corridors of inquisition headquarters on Holy Terra. Especially in the corridors of inquisition headquarters on Holy Terra. Still, it wasn't difficult to surmise that their mission was urgent, given Lucullis' impatience to be away the previous week.

    "I will not delay you further, then." he said with the tiniest of nods, and together they turned towards the adamantium blast doors that barred the doorway. As they approached, a pair of guards in identity-stripping suits of power armour smashed the butts of their halberds against the ground. The powered blades at the tops of the weapons sparked into blue-white life, and a pair of bolter turrets mounted above the door arch ratcheted in their direction.

    "Clearance." one of the faceless guards snarled through their vox grille.

    "Kimberley Raeden," Kim answered for them. "Authorisation level blue, agent tag seven-two-nine-six-lambda, retrieving equipment from holding bay twenty-two eta, on behalf of inquisitor Feyd Lucullis."

    The guard turned their helmeted head slightly, Kim and Crenshaw's faces reflected in its ruby eye lenses as verifications were fired back and forth through the vox net.

    "Proceed." the guard said after a handful of heartbeats. "You are also clear to release subject xi two zero."

    Crenshaw knew who subject xi two zero was. Of course Lucullis wouldn't officially release Merle Carson into Alia's custody until after the verdict; it would look too much like showing his hand on the judicial vote, and the grey bastard seemed to be nothing if not a stickler for the rules.

    "Ave imperator." Kim nodded as the guards stepped back. The hiss of their power halberds deactivating was lost against the squealing grind of the blast doors swinging open.

    "It must have been a relief." Kim said a few minutes later, her dark eyes on Crenshaw as she pressed her palm up against the gene-lock that had been temporarily programmed to accept her prints. The metal locker unbarred itself with a thud that reverberated down the long rows of storage lockers. "The verdict, I mean."

    Crenshaw rubbed his tongue against one of his back teeth, and delayed his answer on the pretext of looking round for eavesdroppers. Their only companions in the aisle were a blank-faced transport servitor and a hovering servo skull. The skull had two bulbous cameras in place of eyes, but no audio recorders - designed to monitor the agents' progress inside the vault rather than to snoop on their masters' secrets.

    "I have to confess a certain satisfaction that mine and Alia's time here was not wasted." Crenshaw said at last. "And what were your feelings, Kimmie?" he added, to arrest the knowing smile that was threatening to creep up the young missionary's face.

    Kim nodded. "From what I read, I thought they deserved to live." she said frankly. "I knew that I was right when Lucullis decided he would vote that way. He's nothing if not impartial."

    "Do you believe all sins can be forgiven?" Crenshaw probed as he pulled out the rail-loaded tray within the locker. Kally's signature bolter lay disassembled on the rack next to a bullpup lasgun and a brutal-looking Tallarn autopistol. He brushed his fingertips lightly over the stock of Kally's bolter.

    Kim considered. "Almost all. Some only the emperor can judge."

    She picked up a synthetic eyepiece with pict stealers and anti-psychic circuitry woven behind the lens; the false augmetic that Marc had used to complete his tech-menial disguise on Saros Station. She turned it over in her hands, looking at the device with interest.

    "I haven't seen anything like this before." she said. "Who made it?"

    "And what about blanks like me?" Crenshaw pressed, smiling as he ignored the change in subject. "As your lord Lucullis astutely pointed out, I have no soul for the emperor to judge. Does that then mean that I am free from morality?"

    Kim put down Marc's eyepiece and frowned at him. "No. And you don't believe that either, otherwise you wouldn't be where you are right now. But for the sake of argument..."

    She stepped back and allowed the transport servitor to gather up the released prisoners' equipment, using delicate metal callipers to transfer them into a set of six foam-filled briefcases.

    "We leave an imprint this side of the grave too, on the people we know and the people we serve. Our duty to the Emperor extends to them as well."

    Crenshaw could not be sure, but he thought that somehow Kimmie Raeden wasn't quite matching the kind of quiet assurance that father Bellanor was so good at. Either his blank aura was still unsettling her, or she didn't quite believe what she was saying. Strange, to think of a priest who wasn't certain of themselves. Especially for one of the young ones, who in Crenshaw's experience were usually the most firebrand, before the weight of the galaxy wore down their enthusiasm. Then again, on the other hand, Crenshaw had seen his fair share of overly-certain fools, across the ministorum, the inquisition and his own adeptus telepathica.

    "An interesting argument." he admitted, cocking a dark eyebrow. "Especially if you were unlucky enough to serve someone like Carson." He got the put-out expression he was hunting for, as Kim realised that he was more interested in testing her than genuine debate. Knowing he would get no more valuable insight from this tack, he added, "Who I suppose we had better go and fetch."

    If the vault was softly, clinically lit, then the holding cells had the aggressive brightness of a dissection theatre. They had to travel twenty levels below ground, through two more checkpoints and a crackling psyoculum gate, before they reached the level they were searching for. The rooms were soundproofed, but every now and then the crash of an opening door was accompanied by incoherent screams and pleading as a prisoner was dragged into an interrogation cell, or by a wet, muffled sobbing as they were dragged out again. Having served on the black ships Crenshaw was long inured to the sounds, though he noted his companion's pale face and taut neck muscles with interest.

    "I will still be lobbying inquisitor Machairi to have Carson terminated as soon as he is turned over to our custody." he commented as they continued down the white-tiled corridor.

    "I can understand that point of view." Kim replied, neutrally.

    "Obviously you can not, Kimmie, otherwise you would be asking your own inquisitor to do the same. This man's continued existence is dangerous."

    "Lucullis still thinks he might have some intelligence value to your lady Machairi. Grant him that chance for redemption, at least."

    Crenshaw fixed her with a sceptical look. "Based on the file we have both read, I do not see much chance for redemption for Carson."

    "If you'll forgive the presumption, major, is your opinion biased by the fact that he nearly killed Kally?"

    Crenshaw ran his tongue along his back teeth a second time. Kally again - this was getting tiresome. And this time she was only partially correct.

    "Actually no." he said, half truthfully. "In the main, my concern is for lady Machairi."

    That part wasn't a lie. Beware the daemon at your back.

    A door was hauled open by another guard in faceless black armour, and Kim and Crenshaw looked upon a tiny cubical cell that was nothing but bare hexagram-etched steel, spotted with rust and the occasional spatter of darker red. The only furniture was a reeking slops bucket, although the corners of the ceiling mounted black vid-recorders and contrasting white punisher sirens. The dispassionate eyes of the vid-recorders were trained on a waxy-skinned figure dressed in filthy overalls, who sat slumped against the walls with his arms wrapped around his knees. The arms were muscular, and criss-crossed with faded ganger tattoos. His square jaw was covered with scraggy salt-and-pepper stubble, the same colour and length as the hair that was receding from his weathered head. He was rubbing at a scar on his left palm when the door squealed open. Despite old scabs and the dark circles of sleep deprivation that ringed his eyes, Merle Carson somehow managed to grin as he raised his gaze to the door.

    "Well shit." he smiled, his eyes flickering over Crenshaw before shifting to roam up and down Kim. "What do we have here? I don't suppose this is a threesome?"
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 03-02-2016 at 12:18 AM.
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  2. #2
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    +++Kally+++

    Kally was ready now. She was ready to die.

    Kally lay on the floor, curled into a ball. The cell was cold, and her robes where thin, and in this fetal position, the pain ebbed slightly. The door opened and she roused herself, not wanting to be lying down when they pulled her out for interrogation. That led to beatings, or worse. The light outside her dark cell was nearly blinding, and she raised a hand reflexively to her eyes.
    “We do not have much time, Agent Sonder”
    The figure was wearing red robes, edged in a black cog design. His limbs hissed as he moved into the room, and he shut the door behind him as he entered the cell. Kally got an impression of weight, and restrained power, from his quick, efficient movements.
    “Your message, via Tech Priest Zerlinda Ghast and other interested parties, reached us. I am Agent Rho, and I serve the Lords Dragon. The code word is ‘Miscreant’. What do you have to say to the Mechanicus before your death at the hands of the Inquisition?”
    Kally told him everything. Everything she was meant to say. Every location, every world, every tomb, everything. Even as she did, she felt a weight on her shoulders, a weight she had borne since Makita hive, a weight she didn’t even know she had carried, lift from her shoulders. At last, the message had been delivered to one meant to hear it.
    The agent had offered her a clean death, a paltry reward for her service, but the only one he could give. She had refused. She wanted to be there for the others, at the end.
    When he left, for the first time in a month, she had slept well. The interrogators never asked about her visitor. She assumed, like Vizkop, he had his own tricks to get in and out of Inquisitorial fortresses as needed. Or maybe she had hallucinated the whole encounter. After what had happened a few weeks ago, it was a distinct possibility.


    Kally was ready to die. She didn't look at the others, she just kept her eyes forward, her shoulders back. She breathed through her nose, and out through her mouth, doing her best to calm her thundering heart. The collar that dampened her powers bit into her throat with every breath, every slight movement. It had been set that way, another torture. A constant reminder she was within their power, completely. Her feet ached, her shoulders ached, her eyes ached. Her hair clung to her head, limp and filthy, three months too long. At least she still had her nails.

    More than anything, at that moment, she wanted to hold Marcs hand.

    "The court recognises inquisitor Feyd Lucullis of the ordo Ixaniad, who speaks for this tribunal."
    Kally closed her eyes, and bowed her head. At last. She was ready to die.

    "Of treason against the God Emperor," the inquisitor called Lucullis read out in a strong, toneless voice. "We find the defendants...not guilty."
    Her eyes snapped open in shock. She looked up, then to her fellows in the box. Marc was stunned, Kelly was agape.
    "Of sedition against His holy Imperium," the inquisitor continued, his face neutral. "Not guilty."
    Kally wavered where she was standing. She forced herself to breathe.
    "Of insubordination to your lord inquisitor," the inquisitor's voice rang out once more. "We absolve you."
    Was this really happening? Was this a dream, a stunt to trick them? They had done similiar things to her before. Her eyes darted around the room. She couldn't believe it. But it seemed real enough.

    "Of the murder of Imperial servants, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of the theft and destruction of Imperial property, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of consorting with xenos, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."


    Kally felt weak, her knees nearly giving out from under her as the wave of relief washed over her. After everything they had pulled out of her, every indignity and torment, they were getting off the hook. Maybe the Emperor gave a frak about them after all. She realised that she may have been ready to die, but she was damnably willing to live as well.

    "Of sheltering an enemy of the Imperium," Lucullis read out. "We do not absolve you."

    Kally snapped her head up, and swallowed hard, feeling the collar bite.

    Inquisitor Lucullis continued to look down at them expressionlessly. "Sidonis, Irons, the heretic Emerald, and the creature known as Juno are dead." he elaborated. "The heretic DeRei, however, is not. We therefore reinstate you as agents of the Emperor's inquisition and task you with the penitent duty of hunting down this heretic. When DeRei's soul is rendered to the Emperor for judgement, your own souls shall be released. You are to be put into the trust of the late Immanuel Sidonis' former acolyte, inquisitor Alia Machairi. She will oversee your penance and grant your absolution upon its completion."

    Kally looked to the others, and then followed Marcs gaze.

    “Holy Throne.” She muttered. A few familiar faces waited in the gallery.

    One in particular had been on her mind for nearly three months.

    "You are free to go.”

    +++Tomas+++

    "Looks like the family is about to grow a few members." Tomas offered. He didn't envy the poor bastards. Three months in Inquisitorial custody was enough to break almost anyone, barring a few legendary exceptions. They certainly looked broken. Marc and Kally had looked close to collapsing as the sentence was passed. Poor Gavin barely looked human, curled up as small as he would go, missing his legs. Ella and Kelly looked pretty bad, and even Vincent looked like he finally had had the fight beaten out of him. He looked to Alia, and realized she was as surprised as he was at this turn of events. Some significant strings had been pulled here, but to what end?

    "The old bastard has left a hell of a mess. With your permission Inquisitor, I'll arrange for a lighter to get us and the. . . penitents to the Tiercel as soon as possible. Most of them would probably appreciate medical attention, and being shot of this damned place."

    He cast a glance over at Solvan and Sapphira. Those two would have their work cut out for them in the weeks ahead. They would be key in helping the agents put themselves back together after what they had been through.

    And there was still the matter of Merle and their own new additions. He would have sooner flushed Merle out an airlock than put up with his foul mouth a moment longer. He was glad the talkative scummer wasn't here right now, because he doubted he'd have much of anything to say that he would want to hear. Josiah, an Arbitrator, had been a new addition to the team, and one that Tomas had not really approved of, though he hadn't raised it with Machairi. Glabrio was a good man, once you got past his quirks, and he thought that two Arbitrators on the team was one too many.

    That left Vizkop, back after years of hunting his elusive heretek enemies. Vizkop had a different face, different armour, and that had unnerved him. He was almost a new person, until you talked to him. He had been wondering what could have caused such a drastic change. Was it injury, or part of some new attempt to get closer to his marks?

    Going to be interesting with that many personalities on board.

    He fell into the front of the rough group as they left, shield at his side and sword belted to his hip. As oathsworn bodyguard to Machairi, he had been allowed some considerations in his attire for attending.
    Last edited by dakkagor; 08-25-2015 at 10:45 AM.
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    Solvan had prayed many times in his life; too many to count in fact. Early in his career he had slowly began to pray as an exercise in routine and repetition, forgetting about the significance behind the act. Empty words from an empty soul, he would later say. The incessant, monotone vomiting of scripture from the court's confessor reminded him of such times. But Solvan had changed, and for the last twenty years he had developed a fervor he had never experienced before. But very few times in those years had he prayed like today.

    Perhaps it was the setting, a déjà vu of his sister’s trial. Tribunals would always carry a mixed concoction of emotions for the old priest. He believed he had grown accustomed to them; his duties to Machairi often brought him inside such halls, to the point of almost forgetting the root from which his unease sprouted. But today, unlike many times before, he cared for the defendants kneeling in the penitent’s cage.

    He had fought beside them; shared the scars of a grueling mission in which many good people had died. He had counseled and provided spiritual guidance to some. He considered them, as any confessor worth his salt would, part of his flock, despite not seeing them for years - and despite one of them being a hard-headed, insufferable, cynical blasphemer - it didn’t release Solvan from his duties as their confessor.

    But deep down he had faith that the Emperor’s Justice would prevail. His eyes remained fixed on the former agents as his lips moved, emitting barely a whisper while his right hand clutched the Golden Aquila on his chest, its wings against his palm almost drawing blood.

    ------

    "The court recognizes inquisitor Feyd Lucullis of the ordo Ixaniad, who speaks for this tribunal."

    Emperor may you bless with wisdom the minds of those about to dispense justice in Your name, so that they may speak with Your voice.

    Of treason against the God Emperor," the inquisitor called Lucullis read out in a strong, toneless voice.

    Take away the veils that their imperfect humanity may have brought to their eyes, that they may see the evidence before them with Your divine clarity.

    "We find the defendants...not guilty.

    May the innocent be granted freedom, may the guilty be granted mercy through repentance and contrition, may the unrepentant face Your eternal wrath and be cast into the fire.

    "Of sheltering an enemy of the Imperium," Lucullis read out. "We do not absolve you."

    May Your will be done this day, oh Emperor, though sacrifice and sorrow it may bring I shall accept it, for my faith in You is stronger.

    Inquisitor Lucullis continued to look down at them expressionlessly. "Sidonis, Irons, the heretic Emerald, and the creature known as Juno are dead." he elaborated. "The heretic DeRei, however, is not. We therefore reinstate you as agents of the Emperor's inquisition and task you with the penitent duty of hunting down this heretic. When DeRei's soul is rendered to the Emperor for judgement, your own souls shall be released. You are to be put into the trust of the late Immanuel Sidonis' former acolyte, inquisitor Alia Machairi. She will oversee your penance and grant your absolution upon its completion."

    "You are free to go." he almost didn't hear inquisitor Lucullis say.


    Imperator Vult

    ------

    Now that Solvan could finally take his eyes away from the penitents, he glanced at Alia. He could tell she wasn’t expecting any of this. There had been no time between the trial's notice, their arrival and the verdict to perform much of the string pulling, information gathering or favour collecting that his mistress had been hoping for. Even if there had been, with the seriousness of the charges pressed against Kally and the others there was very little they might have been able to do.

    As the cage opened and the shackles were removed, there was an awkward silence in the tribunal. Hardly used to scenes of absolution, and much more prone to different forms of immediate and exemplary punishment, there was a mix of unresolved tension in the air from the anticlimactic ending. But the ones most clearly taken aback were the now-released penitents, who were staring doubtfully in Alia’s direction.

    Solvan stood up, wearing his bishop’s ceremonial robes in rich red and white, all silk with embroidered details in gold and silver. It was his usual clothing in such official instances. He gave a knowing look at Tomas, who was already preparing transportation, then gestured for Sapphira to follow him if she wished. The spectacle couldn't have been easy for the Sororita. The bishop walked towards the penitents, descending from the gallery where Machairi's retinue had sat overlooking the trial. On his way there he grabbed the arm from a court staff attendant.

    “I will need your cape, my son.” the bishop said, startling the man who was still gazing at the wretches in the cage.

    The man looked puzzled. Clearly his first thought was to tell the priest to sod off, since the old bugger had enough clothes to be comfortable despite the cold that permeated the stone hall. But after quickly realising the bishop’s rank, he decided that it was more prudent to just pass the cape and go about his business. Solvan took the garment and continued his way to the group of malnourished, dirty and beaten human beings.

    When he reached the group, Solvan didn’t share any words. What could words hope to achieve against months of torture, of defilement, of humiliation?

    The bishop went to Kelly first. She stood so still that if not for the trembling one might have thought she was a statue. Solvan removed the burning ash from her forehead with the palm of his hand as he whispered.

    "You have recieved the Emperor’s Justice, let no other judge you but Him."

    Kelly Black blinked, seemingly focusing on him for the first time. Usually so erudite and perceptive, all she managed was a shaky nod. Solvan wrapped the guard's cape about her shoulders. Facing the teary-faced Marc, he silently nodded and offered a sad smile as he repeated the process to take away his ashes. Marc mumbled something too faint for the bishop to hear and dropped his gaze.

    Solvan pointed at the collars around Kally, Gavin and Ella, addressing the guards. "You heard the verdict, they are free. Remove those as well."

    The one with the keys grumbled something containing the words unnatural freaks, but nonetheless began taking off the devices as Solvan removed Kally’s and Gavin’s ashes. Kelly, who seemed to have recovered enough to move, quietly disengaged herself from underneath her brother's arm to help the two of them down the steps.Kally took the key from the surprised goaler once Gavin and Ella where unlocked.

    "Can't take it off yet." She croaked. She looked at Gavin and Ella. "For them. I can manage."


    The bishop smiled at her with a hint of admiration in his eyes and patted her shoulder.

    As Solvan faced the astropath girl named Ella, he reflected that she was the only one he didn’t know. But nonetheless she had been given to Machairi to reach absolution, and by extension he was now her confessor. The young woman was scrawny and almost albino-pale, and she looked especially fragile and disconnected after being released from her null collar. Solvan could see she was trying to gather her wits, though the way she clutched blindly to the handrail told him that she wasn't yet in a condition to regain her psychic sight.

    “Can you walk, child?” he asked softly, to warn her of his presence before removing her ashes. Her blind eyes switched in Solvan's general direction, and she nodded weakly. Solvan didn’t have another cape, so he decided to take off his own and placed it on Ella's back.

    "I'm sorry." the astropath said as she shuffled a half-step along the handrail, "I can't see you..."

    "I've got you." Marc said as he appeared beside them, although he had to cough and repeat himself before his voice was strong enough to be heard. Ella evidently recognised it because she reached out, her hand groping the air for a second before finding his arm.


    Solvan turned to the group once more, hesitating for a moment.

    "I'm sorry we couldn't meet again under happier circumstances. But the worst is now behind you." He said finally. "Now, follow me."
    Last edited by Thrannix; 07-03-2015 at 01:37 PM.

  4. #4
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    Inquisition void-runner Tiercel, in orbit above Marioch
    Six months before Saros Station

    The legend went that Marioch had been brought into the Imperial fold during the Angevin Crusade, after St Drusus had rid the planet of a vast three-headed serpent. The planet had made precious little progress towards civilisation since then, but from orbit it certainly looked like a realm fit for a monster: all ice-locked mountains, dustbowl deserts and sweltering jungle. The only imperial authority to speak of existed in the starport capital that had expanded as far as its island fastness would allow, and the rest was all quasi-independent fiefdoms carved out by various rogue-trader prospectors over the centuries. This decentralised model had nearly cost them dearly, when the megalomaniacal rogue trader Melredius Nibenay had declared Marioch his own personal empire and swept through the uncoordinated defences of his fellow lords. Nibenay had been both powerful and ambitious, with the ear of the subsector governor and even a hand in the creation of the subsector's elite rapid reaction force. Now however he seemed to favour new allies, because several Chaos cults had risen up in his support, and one of Nibenay's last acts of the war had been to summon a daemon. Unfortunately for him, the daemonhost he created then went on a rampage, killing Nibenay and most of his senior staff. Reinforcements led by the very RRF he had helped to create did the rest.

    Machairi and her former mentor Sidonis had responded to the daemonic incursion simultaneously, though Sidonis had only stayed long enough to spirit away the possession victim for processing before leaving his protégé to conduct the rest of the post mortem. Unfortunately, the daemon's efficient coring out of Nibenay's organisation had left Machairi with fewer leads than she would have liked. So, she had turned to the ordo famulous for the histories of all the trader houses on Marioch, to her inquisition contacts on Tephaine for the precise nature of Nibenay's relationship with sub governor Tierce, and to the small arbites precinct on Marioch itself for all its records of local cult activity. The latter was why she stood waiting now at the airlock of her personal void runner.

    With Solvan, Tomas and Sapphira all already planetside, it was Glabrio Hybrida who stood beside her, his bulky regulator's armour contrasting sharply with the inquisitor's layered indigo gown. Glabrio's roguish features were oddly taut. The ex-regulator, usually full of cutting sarcasm and self-aggrandising one liners, seemed almost nervous at the prospect of meeting a still-serving member of his former organisation.

    "Don't worry Glabrio." Machairi reassured him with a flicker of a smile. "He's only our arbites liaison. No-one's replacing you."


    Or so she says. This new man. Their new team member. Wuziarch, a man with almost as many years of field experience as Glabrio had been alive. It left an odd feeling in his stomach. Despite his ongoing service to the Inquisition, those five long years of his life, he still hadn't forgotten his roots.

    Perhaps it was time to let go. He shouldn't worry. Local liaisons were apart of the job, temporary allies. A necessity to their investigations and a tool in case it went hot. Yet, there were odd familiarities, a sense of Déjà vu. Red flags (at least to him) had appeared all over the mans profile.

    Wuziarch's missions, were all strikingly similar. Be it coincidence in the fact that they both once shared the same parent organisation, or his Ladies meddling.


    In Machairi's experience, the arbites made for great riot police but poor investigators. Their methodical, highly visible method of investigation was excellent for policing Imperial institutions, but less so the slippery underground networks that the inquisition often had to deal with. When Glabrio still didn't smile, Machairi cocked a teasing eyebrow at him.

    "Besides, even if he does stay I'm sure you're the better dancer."


    "Oh, is that the way of it? Just another one of the Lady's playthings?" returned Glabrio, with feigned accusation.

    A small smile managed to creep across his face and a sense of relief flushed over him. It was a small thing, though he was entirely thankful for it. He shook his head; pondering the thought. When was the last time they danced? She had seemed so surprised the first time she saw him, when he had managed to draw information out of trader Veiss.


    The airlock cycled, the panel by the door turning green. With a hiss of equalising air pressure, the airlock door rolled back and admitted a short, compact man in heavy carapace emblazoned with the fist and scales icon of the arbites. He still wore his helmet, so that Machairi and Glabrio saw themselves reflected in his night-black visor.

    + + + + + +

    The walk through the airlock felt like the longest walk Josiah Wuziarch had ever taken. He was walking away from the last 30 years of his life, a life he bled for. To say he was wracked with emotions was an understatement, but he was an Arbiter, a personification and executor of Imperial Law, emotions always had to come secondary. Though, the physical pain was much harder to suppress. He was walking with a visible limp, and only up and moving because he had an auto-injector under his armor keeping him dosed with painkillers. But the medicae told him he'd make a full recovery in a few months, so at least it wouldn't be like this forever.

    "Arbitrator Wuziarch." Machairi greeted the new arrival, stepping forward and holding out a long fingered hand for him to shake. "I'm inquisitor Alia Machairi, and this is one of my chief investigators, agent Glabrio Hybrida."

    Josiah limped toward her, holding in a wince as he shook her hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Inquisitor. Agent Hybridia.

    "Pleasure's mine." Glabrio welcomed, before he too extended a hand.

    "So, you're a regulator." began Wuziarch as he took Glabrio's hand, before he added: "It's reassuring to see a fellow arbiter among the welcoming party. Your job is an important one in the service of the Law. Men and women like you head into the monsters' nests and dispense justice directly. I served in that manner for many years before I joined the inquisition. I'm sure we can swap stories over recaff and fried dough rings later."

    Wuziarch dropped Glabrio's hand, brushed past the investigator and winced as a sudden pain lanced through him; an old ailment. At the corner of his eye he could see Glabrio track his every movement. He had heard it.

    "Was a regulator." corrected Glabrio. More for himself than Wuziarch - he needed the reminder. "I'd rather not have the sweets, it'll go straight to my thighs! Jellybean?"

    He produced a packet of brightly coloured sweets from a webbing pocket, and a tolerant smile from the inquisitor told Josiah that this was apparently some sort of in-joke.

    "Yes, thank you." Josiah said. He took one when it was offered, and then ate it. "It's quite good, perhaps you have just turned me on to something new."

    He paused, shifting his weight on his weary legs.

    "But if I may make a request, mayhap we can move this discussion to somewhere where we can sit and eat something more substantial? I haven't eaten in twelve hours, and have been on my feet for almost as long."


    Machairi raised an arm to indicate the short section of grey steel hallway before the transfer corridor joined the void-runner's spinal hallway. "Of course. This way."

    The Tiercel had the same muted gunmetal and ceramic interior that was typical of imperial ships, but instead of hard angles the interior hallways were rounded, and the door portals curved. The primary deck held navigation, data uplinks and conference rooms, while the deck below consisted of a small galley, training hall and enough cabins to quarter 20 agents. It was down the polished stairway that Machairi led the two men, towards the mess hall. Behind them, towards the stern of the ship, a heavy thrumming indicated the engines, fuel cells and power generators that took up nearly half of the vessel's length. There a lone, insular tech-priest tended to the ship's systems, and above that an even more insular navigator held his quarters, with its vast transparisteel iris dome that looked out over the running lights and falcon-shaped Gellar projectors.

    "They sent you straight from a duty shift?" Machairi inquired, raising an eyebrow at Josiah's obvious fatigue as she spun open the bulkhead lock that led into the mess hall.


    "Yes, a requested shift, though, that was only about eleven of the hours. The rest of the time was spent in physical therapy. I felt I was losing my edge; idle hands, and all that." Josiah followed Machairi into the galley.

    The hall was empty but not spacious, even though the chairs and the self-service cooking equipment had been tidied away. The wall of the galley facing the outer hull was curved and painted in smooth white ceramic, broken by a row of flat screens and occasionally by a circulation grate or the nearly invisible outline of a maintenance hatch. Behind the wall was a crawlspace full of pipes, cable flats and fibre-optics, and beyond that solid armour, but the vid-screens were linked to cameras on the outer hull and alleviated claustrophobia by providing the illusion of windows.

    "Help yourself." Machairi offered, indicating one of the compact kitchen units. "Don't worry, the selection is actually better than it looks. I don't coop my agents up in here for week-long warp journeys without at least some decent food to compensate."


    "Thank you." Josiah quickly threw together a sandwich, some potato crisps and a glass of water, into which he dissolved some electrolyte powder from a tear-pouch stuffed into his webbing. It turned the water a greenish yellow.

    "I can understand," he said as he finished. "No one likes being in the warp with only ration blocks. It's hard enough to eat them when you're not having warp-related nausea."


    Glabrio had brought over chairs for them all, and Machairi had already smoothed her gown under her legs sat down. After getting his food, Josiah joined them at the table and belatedly removed his helmet. He ran a hand over his revealed head - square-jawed, wide-cheekbones, with dark almond-shaped eyes. The surgical scars on his scalp were still visible, but his hair had been growing back, and stood about a quarter-inch in length.

    "Throne, it feels good to finally be off that planet." He began eating, but stopped after he swallowed his first bite. "I assume you have questions. So please, do not let me stop you. I may be tired, but as agent Hybrida can attest, the Law never sleeps."

    Inquisitor Machairi delicately crossed her legs and laid her hands in her lap as she regarded Josiah.

    "Very well. As you know, the daemon annihilated Nibenay's inner circle so effectively that it's difficult for my team to find witnesses to the real scope of his activities. The one subject who might have been of use to us is in the custody of Lord inquisitor Sidonis, who is otherwise uninterested in my investigation."

    Glabrio knew that his mistress was severely chafing at her former mentor's actions - heading on to the next big crisis now that the perceived threat was passed, and leaving others like Machairi to pick up the pieces - but she kept all trace of it out of her tone as she spoke.

    "So, I'm starting with Nibenay's cult allies. I need the arbites records of any and all heretical activity on Marioch between Nibenay's first arrival and his uprising."


    "Well, I'll make sure to put in a request for them. With what I pulled not that long ago it shouldn't be too hard." He ate a bit more. "We should find out as much as we can about this incident as we can before the trail goes cold, even now it cools. Cultists are like vermin. They can and will hide in every crack and crevice they can find."

    "True enough." Machairi agreed neutrally. "What were your personal experiences during the rebellion?"

    At that moment, a chime sounded from the vox receiver that Glabrio had placed on the table. It was a link to Machairi's agents on the surface, whose own long wave vox was beamed to the Tiercel's sensor mast, decrypted, and then by the magic of mechanicus engineering streamed straight to their personal communicators.

    "Inquisitor," sister Sapphira's voice sounded clearly from the projector mic. "Sapphira here."

    "Go ahead sister." Machairi replied, holding up an apologetic hand towards Josiah.

    "Ma'am, a sister superior is requesting the pleasure of your company."

    "The Famulous? Already?"

    "No ma'am. She's from the order of the Silent Vigil."

    Machairi's eyebrows flicked upwards at the unfamiliar name. "I'll be right there." She tapped the terminate rune and rose gracefully to her feet. "Sorry gentlemen, if you'll excuse me. Glabrio, I'm sure you can take it from here."

    Offering Josiah a brief nod and a smile, she glided out of the mess hall.


    +++++++

    It had been several months since then, and Josiah had grown accustomed to his new position, making new allies, and generally continuing to learn. Prior to the case, he had gotten the files for the penitents that used to work with Alia, and he read them thoroughly. It surprised him that loyal servants would do something so clearly treasonous, but, upon receiving the whole story, he realized that they had been doing what they thought was right, and personally, he could not fault them for that. Professionally, however, of course he could. However, the extenuating circumstance could not be denied, and, seeing as how they are his fellow employees, having them executed would not do well.

    After the procession had passed by him, he had gotten up, and stood with his shotgun in his hands, though pointed down, taking up the rearguard. In most cases, holding a weapon in a house of law was odd, or outright illegal, but an Arbiter was allowed to open carry anywhere, as they have Authority over everyone in the Imperium...other than the Inquisition, so an Inquisitorial agent who is an Arbiter has even more authority. Josiah was silent as he walked with the procession, it was not the time to speak then, maybe afterwards.

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  5. #5
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    Standing on the sideline to the tribunal, Vizkop had time to reflect on the past years as the opening sermon droned on and on. A lot had happened in the five years since Hycernia. To all of them. For Vizkop, those five years of hunting had done a lot. More than ever, his official records had a lot of sealed, redacted, or just straight omitted details. Killing cyborgs, hunting hereteks, almost finding a lost treasure trove of ancient technology. All in all, he had no complaints. Certainly none when he initially received the message from now-Inquisitor Machairi, a deserved promotion if he had ever seen one.

    It had been four weeks ago, still several days before Machairi would be prepped and ready to leave Marioch for Holy Terra, and the frustration had been evident in her tightly pressed lips. It had been the better part of a year since Machairi and Vizkop had spoken, nearly five since their separate masters had set them on diverging missions, but the inquisitor had changed little. Now in her early forties, she was showing little sign of fatigue on her long oval face save the slightest crow's feet at the corners of her sharp brown eyes.

    Vizkop on the other hand had a new face. That had made his initial meeting with the Inquisitor quite the moment. The tech-assassin's sharp and noble visage from Hycernia had been replaced with hawkish features, respectable lines, and deep set eyes that cast a permanent shadow over his bionic gaze. Needless to say, the inquisitor had not exactly recognized him when he removed his helmet at their meeting.

    "Throne!" he remembered the inquisitor cursing mildly, as her arched eyebrows raised in surprise. And then she had smiled. "How are you?"

    How are you? A rather inane, human question. A more efficient one might have been to ask about the progress of his latest mission, and a more pertinent one to inquire about the story behind his radically altered features. Both might have seemed more appropriate when dealing with the average member of the mechanicus. But instead, how are you - the kind of thing an unaugmented baseline human would ask of an old friend.

    It was considerate, and calculatedly so. Very Alia Machairi.


    “I can't complain,” Vizkop answered, a small smile playing over his features for a brief moment. There had not been a lot to smile about the past few years. “Well, I can. But I won't. I wouldn't want to bore you with the details of my hunting trip.” Hunting trip. That was one way to put it, to be sure. It seemed he still had to adjust to holding normal conversations with a trusted person. He was thankful that he was at least speaking plain Gothic and not the Xanith ganger slang he had grown up using, and tended to default to when he was alone for long periods. Returning to something familiar in the absence of anything else. His peers would likely label that as “quaintly baseline.” But, baseline humanity was something Vizkop had always attempted to preserve in himself.

    “And I would return that same question to you, Inquisitor,” he said, trying out her new title. It did not leave an unpleasant mouth feel. A good sign.

    Machairi's smile turned wan. "I'm afraid it could be better. I've just received an astro that lord Sidonis is dead. There was some sort of incident on Saros Station over Jupiter, and the suspects are already on trial."

    "And that isn't...good?"

    "Not really." Machairi fished a file folder out of the sheaf of papers on her desk and handed it to Vizkop. "Look at the names."
    Vizkop did so, and saw five that he recognised - charged with treason, sedition, and a host of other serious crimes.


    The names were troubling immediately. Vizkop had worked with all but one of them before. “I get the feeling there's more to the story than just these files.”

    Vizkop had been doing his job for the majority of his life and had developed what he considered a healthy distrust for the “official story” when it was handed to him. He was not making a decision one way or another as to the guilt of the accused, he just wanted as many of the facts as possible.

    “More so when considering the fact that they still live." he mused. "I wouldn't have expected field agents to be given anything resembling a trial. Especially with these kind of charges against them. So how can I help?”

    Machairi smiled again, approvingly, but it melted off her face almost immediately.

    "There's little to no chance of me getting there in time to affect the outcome. I need your help, and I need the Lords Dragon."

    The inquisitor exhaled a slow breath and threaded around her desk before sitting down in the high-backed chair. She gestured for Vizkop to take the seat opposite, then laced her fingers together.

    "I'm about to tell you something that only three people in the whole Imperium knew before today. Since the incident on Solomon, Kally Sonder has been carrying something in her head. Something very valuable."

    Vizkop's eyes narrowed. "Like what?"

    "A map. Pembroke put it there when he still had some control over the C'tan shard possessing him. A map of every Necron tomb world in the galaxy. That's the kind of information that could either save the imperium or damn it, and I didn't trust it in Sidonis' hands. The inquisition doesn't know about it." She pressed her lips together. "Or at least they didn't before her arrest."

    The inquisitor sat back in her chair, her fist pressed against her mouth.

    "You need to understand, Vizkop - there's every chance they're going to execute her. I need someone to get to Terra ahead of me - if we can't save Kally, then perhaps we can save Pembroke's map. But I need someone I can trust to keep the information - someone who's far removed from Imperial politics. Someone like the Lords Dragon."

    She studied Vizkop gravely, rubbing a fingernail against the ball of her thumb as she gauged his reaction.
    Vizkop blinked and adjusted in his seat slightly.

    “That's...” he let out a heavy sigh and shook his head, “that's a lot to take in, Alia.” His tone was grave and the assassin took a few deep breaths as he processed everything.

    "I'm sorry for only telling you this now, but it was too dangerous to have it any other way."

    “But it does answer a few questions too perfectly,” Vizkop admitted with a smirk. “You are what we'd call in my days running in gangs back on Xanith a dedlas. Best translation I can give into Gothic is 'dangerous one' - we used it to refer to those types you didn't underestimate or screw about with.”

    A smirk tugged at the corners of Machairi's lips. "I'll take that as a compliment."

    Vizkop's own smirk turned into a genuine smile for a moment before melting back into neutrality. “And here I was hoping for a nice little catching up chat. Well, I don't work for the Dragons any more, but I do know an agent of theirs who owes me a favour, who regularly operates beyond the Calixis Sector. I don't know his name and he doesn't know mine - it's better that way - but I can reach him through a proxy via a third party by way of...well you get the idea. What exactly does he need to do? Assuming the map is implanted on a data chit, does it need to be removed? And what does he do once he has it? Deliver it or dead drop? Whatever you need, he will do.”

    "It's...not a data chit - at least not in the traditional sense. It's a xenotech microchip, almost too small to show up on bioscans. Hopefully Kally still knows how to access it. If not..."

    Machairi left the alternative of having to cut the device out of her former agent's head unspoken.

    "I get the feeling that the more instructions I give, the more I'll restrain your agent when he reaches Terra and finds out what's actually going on. But I can tell you a way to let Kally know he's a friend. If your contact can get there in time, Kally and I agreed a code word just before she delivered her final report on the Hercynia operation. Tell your agent to tell her that the code word is miscreant."

    Machairi leaned forward in her chair, her eyes fixed on Vizkop's own.

    "Once he has the information...or the chip itself...tell him to store it in the securest vault he knows of. We'll figure out what to do with it then."


    The weeks since his meeting with Machairi had been a tense period of waiting. An hour after he had sat down with her, Vizkop had sent the message to his contact's web to get the operation moving. The next day he received a confirmation ping. He had lucked out and the agent was already in the Sol system. He heard nothing else for three weeks until he got a message confirming the package was secured and containing the encoded coordinates of the location it was locked in. He was able to rest easier after that, until it was time for the tribunal.

    He stood in his most ceremonial red robe trimmed in gold tread for the occasion. He was not normally one to stand on ceremony, but such a tribunal with such powerful people present was an occasion that warranted a bit of dressing up. With his new face, he needed a way for the penitents to recognize him. He settled on his previous generation helmet, knowing they would recognize the cross-shaped vizor. The interface was no longer perfect, but he did not need it to be to witness the verdict.

    "The court recognises inquisitor Feyd Lucullis of the ordo Ixaniad, who speaks for this tribunal."

    Vizkop's breath caught in his chest. The moment he had been anticipating and dreading was upon them.

    "Of treason against the God Emperor," the inquisitor called Lucullis read out in a strong, toneless voice. "We find the defendants...not guilty."

    Vizkop let out the breath he had been holding slowly rather than in a gasp of shock.

    "Of sedition against His holy Imperium," the inquisitor continued, his face neutral. "Not guilty."

    His breathing came easier as the words began to sink in.

    "Of insubordination to your lord inquisitor," the inquisitor's voice rang out once more. "We absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo." intoned the confessor sitting below the plinth, raising one hand towards the dock and marking the heads and wingtips of a holy Aquila in the air.

    "Of the murder of Imperial servants, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of the theft and destruction of Imperial property, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."

    "Of consorting with xenos, we absolve you."

    "Ego vos absolvo."


    'This is almost too good to be true,' Vizkop thought, checking some internal diagnostics to make sure he was still of sound mind.

    "Of sheltering an enemy of the Imperium," Lucullis read out. "We*do not*absolve you."

    'Never mind. There it is.' Vizkop closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, his entire body relaxing from its rigid state.

    The rest of the tribunal passed in a blur of noise, Vizkop's senses righting themselves when the prisoners were properly released. He watched Bishop, a man aged before his time by monstrous xenotech, stride toward the penitents and be as a balm to the abused and shaken human beings. He remained as impassive as ever, offering those he knew a small yet reassuring nod of his helmeted head. When the retinue moved out, he moved among them with his arms folded within the billowy sleeves of the ceremonial robe.
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  6. #6
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    THREE WEEKS LATER

    Prospect, House Vaeger fiefdom
    Marioch


    The wind had picked up, driving a blinding assault of dust and sand down the main street. Most of the windows had been shuttered for the evening; closed eyes in the weathered, scarred faces of the prefabricated buildings that made up the frontier town of Prospect. The hum of generators and the chugging of the vast hydrofrac derricks, each one stamped with the silver gryphon of Trader House Vaegar, was still audible despite the wind.

    Sister Shirin, of the order of the Silent Vigil, pulled her light fabric chador closer to protect her face from the dust. As she crossed the street, hunched against the wind, she looked like any other cloaked serf hurrying home before the storm hit. Her sisterhood was of the militant orders, though over time their modus operandi had adapted beyond the battlefield. Trading their enamelled power armour for the clothes of common citizens, they went among the masses to watch for the long-awaited Enemy whose prognostication had spurred their order's founding.

    Shirin knew that she was being followed. She could hear the men's footsteps through the wind, even though all three were trying to move quietly. Her sororitas combat training was enough to handle three. As they followed her into a cramped alleyway between two habs, she stopped and turned as if only just noticing them. She was confronted by the sight of three tall men bundled up in dust cloaks, their faces half hidden so it was difficult to tell if they were members of the Librarian Cult she had been assigned to watch. They appeared young - it was possible that they were simple street thugs. Prospect and the surrounding towns certainly did not lack for such.

    The sister gasped and let one tanned hand flutter upwards to her throat. "Leave me alone!" she implored the three men, deliberately affecting a stammer. "I'm a loyal servant of the Emperor!"

    The three men regarded her coldly. "And that's why you have to die." one of them growled.

    Shirin took a deep breath. Not common thugs. But did they know who she was, or were they just out for an opportunity to indulge the base violence that their evil gods craved? She would need to leave one alive to divine the answer.

    "Look," she quavered, groping for the purse on her belt and stumbling a few steps towards the men to move herself into position. "Please...I have money..."

    The sound of boots crunching against hard-packed dirt made her snap her head round to look over her shoulder. Three more of the cultists had appeared, blocking off the opposite end of the alleyway. Six - the odds were no longer in her favour. Her heart rate began to rise for the first time. This was not a fight that she could win. Slipping a hand into the pocket of her robe, Shirin squeezed the tiny activation rune of her signal transmitter.

    A spiritu dominatus, Domine, libra nos. she prayed silently as the six men rushed towards her.

    + + + + + +

    Inquisition void runner Tiercel
    In orbit above Baraspine, Adrantis sub-sector


    Ella Seren awoke with a start, gasping down a ragged lungful of air. She had been dreaming of a red-lit corridor on Saros Station; of the force gladius in her hands leaping upward of its own accord to catch the warp lightning of three Gnosis guardsmen, of her hands feeling like they were blistering and peeling into charred husks as bolts of overpowering force coiled and lashed around her blade. She remembered the blade turning outwards and the bolts rushing back upon their own casters, their vivid red soul auras bursting into white shards as they were agonisingly burned from the inside out. Ella tried to sleep as little as possible when they were in the Warp - it always gave her horrible dreams, usually based around her own worst memories. After three weeks of that she had been almost dead on her feet, but even here in realspace the nightmares had found her.

    Her world was black now, even with her eyes open, and she fought down a twinge of fear until she calmed her mind and brought her warp-sight back into focus. Slowly, the familiar misty shapes of her cabin furniture resolved out of the darkness - dimly glowing where they had recently felt the warmth of human contact; faded grey and almost invisible where they had not. Ella was glad to see the shapes. For weeks now, she had thought that she might never be able to see again. It had taken her three days to get her warp sight back even after the null collar had been removed, and she was afraid to lose it again at any moment. Perhaps it was vanity - after all, an astropath didn't need eyes of any kind to send or receive their psychic messages - but she would be unable to read the Tarot without help, would be next to useless in a fight even with Suffolk's force gladius, and more personally she would never see her friends' faces again. She had gotten so used to simply knowing their feelings through their auras that she feared for how little she might glean from just their voices.

    She could not have been asleep long, because the battered old music caster beside her bed was still playing, reeling through the hymns of Terra's own ministorum choir stored on her plugged-in data wand. The choir's arrangement of Parthamen's First was interrupted by a discordant buzz as someone outside her door mashed the caller rune. The terse sound went on for slightly too long, suggesting that it wasn't the first time that the visitor had pressed it. Perhaps that was what had woken her.

    "C-" Ella croaked, and found her mouth too dry to speak. Feeling around for the almost warp-invisible glass which sat beside the music player, she swallowed water and tried again. "Coming!"

    She pushed her recently-sheared hair across her head to stop the strands from tickling her blind eyes, and grabbed the brighter haze of the astropath's robe that she had folded over her desk chair. It was green, she knew, although its warp-echo appeared gold as she bundled the garment over her head. The soft fabric was comforting against her skin. Shrugging her shoulders until the robe sat properly on her skinny frame, she cinched the belt around her waist and then groped for the door control wand.

    "Come in!" she called as the door lock disengaged with a click.

    A figure made of yellow fire tinged with hard grey ducked through the door portal, an aura that she recognised instantly as her former handler Marc. His aura flared with momentary amusement as he looked at her.

    "Come here." he said, not unkindly, before wetting his hand under the sink tap and flattening down the short hair at the back of her head. Evidently some of the white-blonde strands had been left standing up from her accidental nap.

    "Thanks." Ella said, feeling her cheeks flushing slightly. "Are you alright?"

    She regretted the automatic question almost immediately, as she saw Marc's psychic avatar turn dark blue and then blazing red, laced with white. His aura had been full of destructive emotion lately; always in the same pattern - some unseen memories triggering shame, and that shame almost immediately flashing into anger, over and over again. It was getting better with the intensive counselling that Machairi had insisted that they all attend, but Ella could only hope that it was enough.

    Marc was standing close enough for her to see the rippling flames that made up his face bite their lip. "I've been better." he admitted, in what Ella hoped was enough trust to tell her the truth, rather than simply because he knew she could read his emotions. His head turned towards the music player on her bedside table. "Sorry, do you mind if I turn that off?"

    Ella shook her head, brushing her hair across her forehead again. Marc crossed her cabin in three long strides and cut off the song in the middle of its swelling chorus of ave, ave Imperator.

    "I haven't heard that song in a while." he admitted as he removed Ella's data wand and carefully replaced its cap.

    "Why not?" Ella asked, sitting down on the bed and hoping to distract Marc away from whatever dark thoughts kept haunting him.

    "Parthamen's home planet went dark about a decade ago." Marc replied as he took a seat of his own in the chair by Ella's desk. "When the Navy arrived to investigate, they found 95% of the population dead."

    Ella, who had been completely oblivious to the news, winced. "What happened?"

    "No-one knows." Marc shrugged, his voice grave. "Apparently almost all the survivors had something in common in that they were either deaf or sufferers of amusia, but every last one of them was too insane to explain. The song fell out of favour pretty quickly after that."

    Ella considered for a moment, picking at the cuff of her robe. "Just because it's associated with something like that, doesn't mean the song itself is tainted."

    Marc paused reflectively. "I hope that's true."

    Ella guessed that his thoughts had wandered back to the trial, and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She decided not to avoid the issue for a second time, and instead she said, "I knew they'd let us go."

    Another brief ripple of humour danced through Marc's aura. "I envy you sometimes, Ella. You're always so certain about everything. How do you do that?"

    Ella hesitated, slightly thrown by the question. "I..." she began, and decided to return the same honesty that Marc had offered her. "I guess it's because I'm soul bound. I've seen the Emperor."

    Every astropath she had spoken to described the binding differently, but none came out of it the same. It was oddly personal, and not something that Ella had shared with many people who hadn't also undergone the trial. She wasn't even entirely sure why she was sharing it now. But they had been through hell since Teleostei, and she wanted to help Marc - just like she wanted to help his sister Kelly, and Gavin, and Vincent. She even wanted to help Kally Sonder, if only she could come within three metres of the woman without feeling like her heart was being ripped out of her chest. Every one of them, everyone who was left from the group who had treated her normally enough to throw something as simple as a birthday party for her on the way to Saros.

    "It hurt." she went on. "Well, no, it was agony - but somehow it was beautiful too. And it was like he touched my mind and left something there. Some sort of connection. Whenever I read the Tarot I can sense him there, behind the astronomicon. I can't fail Him when he's right there watching me."

    Marc listened silently with his chin resting on his clasped hands, his subdued aura indicating that he understood something of the gravity of what she was telling him.

    "You've never failed yet." he said quietly, in a tone that suggested he wished he could say the same of himself. His aura flared red again. Before Ella could think of a reply, Marc pushed his hands into the arms of Ella's chair and rose. "Come on, we need to find Kelly and the others. Machairi wants us up top."

    + + + + + +

    Above the wide arc of the viewing window, the dirty brown globe of Baraspine shone in the reflected light of the system's distant sun. That light in turn reflected off the inner faces of the ugly, lumpy ring of steel and adamantium that formed the planet's orbital hub. Clusters of sensor masts, solar collectors and docking ports stuck out at irregular intervals like the cancerous growths of a diseased tree, while fat wallowing trade vessels and smaller system shuttles flocked and pecked around it. It gave the distinct impression of being soldered together from scrap and broken-down satellites, and perhaps that was even partially true. Built, rebuilt and extended over who knew how many years, the mismatched orbital ring was known as the Agglomeration, or more often simply the Glom.

    One of only two hive worlds in the region, Baraspine was the jump-point hub that linked together much of the Adrantis sub-sector. It was a strategic position that generated steady profits for the oligarchs of the Glom, though precious little of it trickled down to the planet below. Now that a Baraspine-born lord held the sector governorship, various traders had even lobbied to have Baraspine designated the new subsector capital more than once - something which sat extremely poorly with the current rulers on Tephaine. Inquisitor Machairi was no stranger to the Glom, having used it as a staging point several times in her career. Busy and poorly regulated, it was the easiest place in the galaxy for someone to arrive in-system, jump ship and quietly disappear into any part of the subsector they chose. Arcolin DeRei might have smuggled himself aboard a sprint trader, gone to ground on Baraspine itself, or he might even still be on the Glom waiting for them.

    Beware the daemon at your back. Machairi thought grimly, remembering her conversation with Crenshaw as she unclasped her hands from behind her back and returned to the cabin's conference table.

    "More wine?" she offered her guest, indicating the ornamental carafe that sat alongside a water jug and several pots of recaf.

    "No, thank you." came the low, slightly gravelly reply. "The Emperor did not intend me to indulge myself while my sisters are going missing."

    Machairi inclined her head respectfully, resumed her seat and folded her hands, facing the older woman who sat across from her. The canoness commander had a square, saturnine face with thin creases between her eyebrows and at the corners of her dark brown eyes, but no smile lines. Machairi could not see the colour of her hair, because it was hidden beneath a black rousari headscarf edged in white, but she imagined a similar age-streaked colouration. The sister's cloak was black and white too - the heraldry hinting at her order's origin as a branch of the Valorous Heart sept.

    A penitent order, Machairi recalled, and a suspicious one. They still considered themselves to be paying off the blood debt of the Apostasy, and were firm believers that no-one could be trusted with too much power. The Silent Vigil order had been wary of lord Sidonis, and it was not until she had earned her own rosette that Machairi had been able to establish a rapport with them - and even then it had been largely sister Sapphira's intervention that had swayed them.

    Once contacted, however, the Silent Vigil were no mean ally. They were based on the medieval world of Coseflame; purity in simplicity, or so they said - Machairi knew that it was more a case of making their small commandery easier to overlook. Their titular vigil took the form of scores of sisters working covertly across the Adrantis sub, smuggled offworld every year alongside Coseflame's ore tithe. A local intelligence network that maintained a healthy distance from Adrantis politics was a godsend to any inquisitor who could earn their favour. Machairi had first worked with the Vigil proper during the Marioch inquiry, where the order had mobilised its fighting strength too late to help with putting down the uprising, but had seeded agents on the world to guard against any future heresy.

    "The sooner we find this heretic the better." the canoness observed, steepling her thin fingers. "My sisters are reporting rising tensions across the sub. Rumours came out of the Glom of a serious security breach in holy Sol itself, and faith in the imperium has suffered as a result. The Famulous have called in additional advisors for the government, and the Hospitaller have increased security at their facility on Reth."

    Machairi could guess who might have started those rumours. Her lips pressed together in a thin line as the doors to the observation deck whispered open and her agents filed in. The Black siblings looked subdued, although the penitent Merle was grinning nastily as Josiah shoved him into his seat.

    Beware the daemon at your back. Machairi thought as her hard brown eyes met Merle's furtively darting ones. She resisted the urge to rub her arm where the dead man's switch for Merle's collar nestled, monitoring her own heartbeat in case she wasn't fast enough to trigger it manually. She wasn't about to telegraph to the heretic where it was.

    "Agents." she nodded to the group, serious where once she might have offered them a warm smile, "This is sister Kiana, canoness of the Silent Vigil."

    "Imperator benedicite." the canoness intoned solemnly, signing the cardinal points of the Aquila before sweeping her hand outwards in blessing. Her slightly narrowed eyes appraised the team over the steam rising from the untouched recaf pots, lingering for a moment on Sapphira, then on Solvan. She cocked an eyebrow at Machairi.

    "May I assume that the new faces know of our work?"

    Machairi nodded. A primer on the Silent Vigil had been among the documents she had given the Saros survivors to read during their journey, in between the intensive counselling sessions she had mandated with Solvan and Sapphira.

    "I'm afraid I have bad news for you." sister Kiana told the group. "I understand that some of you were acquainted with Alicia Tarran before you were separated during the Sarus Station incident."

    "That's right." Marc spoke up. His jaw was clenched tight, telling Machairi that he had picked up the significance of sister Kiana's words. Were acquainted, not are acquainted. He knew what was coming.

    "Her ship's been found." Kiana went on gravely. "The one she fled Sol with when she went chasing after DeRei. It was docked at a mechanicus waystation on the edge of the Ixaniad sector."
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 07-28-2015 at 07:58 PM.
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    Inquisition void-runner Tiercel,
    En route to Adrantis sub-sector, sixth day of Warp travel


    There were no truly quiet places on a starship, but the conference room at the ship's prow was the next best thing. Here, the noise from the engines, generators and coolant circulators at the rear of the ship were minimised. The vid screens that served as proxy windows were disconnected for warp travel, but instead they were projecting a panorama of a breathtaking nebula. Marc and Kelly Black had taken up two of the seats near the bottom of the long, polished conference table, opposite the high-backed chair usually occupied by inquisitor Machairi. Fresh from the Tiercel's training suite, they had slung their kit bags over two more of the free chairs, Marc's with his used gym towel poking out of the open zip. They sat in silence, keeping each other company while they tried to read through one of the primers that inquisitor Machairi had given to them.

    Kelly looked up from her dataslate to see Marc still staring at his own, one hand tapping the scroll runes while his head slumped against the other. Clean again and with his hair cut, her brother almost looked like his old self. Almost, but not quite - the grey hairs that speckled his jawline had been shaved away, but there were still flecks of white at his temples, and removing the beard only served to highlight the fact that he had lost weight around his face. He spent a lot of his spare time in the ship's variable-gravity gymnasium now, trying to regain his former strength. Kelly expected that he felt vulnerable; she knew that she did. She had been almost shocked at how badly her own health and fitness had deteriorated over three months in the cells. Of course, getting their bodies back into shape was only attacking part of the problem. You didn't just bounce back from three months at the mercy of inquisition explicators.

    Don't think about it. she told herself sternly, but of course it was no good. Once the memory surfaced it stuck, going round and round in her head like a destructive feedback loop. Her usual ability to rationalise always seemed to desert her. Solvan had told her to focus on something external, which wasn't always easy, and Sapphira had told her to ping her comm if she ever needed her, but she had done that once today already. Gavin and Kally needed Sapphira's time too. On her better days, when she could muster some perspective, Kelly had tried to be her friends' rock as well. But at times like this she didn't feel much capable of helping anyone.

    Almost subconsciously, Kelly raised her hand to her mouth and started tugging at one of her already-ragged nails with her teeth. Marc looked up, and saw her doing it. "Don't." he told her quietly.

    Kelly's first impulse was to snap at him for the unnecessary reminder, but she managed to fight it down.

    "It'll get better." her brother reassured her. "We're safer now, and I know how strong you are."

    The rational part of Kelly's mind believed him, but somehow her nod was still apathetic.

    "Have you seen Kally lately?" Marc asked, changing tack.

    "Not since breakfast." Kelly admitted. He was trying to distract her with something else, she knew, and what's more he had worked out that she responded better to other people's problems than her own. You're a sleekit bastard. But thank you.

    "If she's no out and about, she probably wants to be alone." she said reasonably. "We already check in on her often enough. And she's got Sapphira and Solvan looking out for her too. We've just...we've got tae believe that she'd talk to us if she needed to. You ken she doesn't like to be crowded though. You shouldnae smother her."

    Both of the Black siblings started slightly at the noise of the sliding doors whispering open. A strike of steel-capped shoes against the deck announced arbitrator Wuziarch stepping through into the conference lounge.

    "Hiya Jo." Kelly greeted the arbitrator, slipping back into standard Gothic and managing to smile, but keeping her mouth tightly closed. She didn't like showing her teeth any more - her gums had receded slightly after three months without proper attention, and they still had a habit of bleeding no matter how carefully she brushed them.

    "Sorry." Marc added as he let his dataslate flop down onto the conference table. "Do you need the room?"


    "Well, not really. If you're busy." Josiah replied as he stepped in. "Though, in a way, it's good that I bumped into you both. I haven't really had time to get to know you."

    He sat down in one of the unoccupied seats.

    "Lady Machiari spoke very highly of you, and since we're to work together, I find it's always beneficial to interact before the bullets start flying. So, is there anything you'd like to ask?" he finished, as he clasped his large, weathered hands on the table.

    Kelly glanced at her brother, agreeing with the sentiment but surprised to hear it coming from a usually-aloof arbitrator. She saw that Marc's face had gone oddly blank.

    "Yes, I think I have one." he said, his voice low. "Whose idea was it to take that Carson bastard with us?"

    Oh hell. Kelly thought.


    Josiah laughed. "Fok me if I know. You seen that spugg's file? If it were up to me, I'd have put a bolt in his brain years ago. In fact, I had a hard time finding laws he didn't break, do you have any idea how hard that is? There are over forty thousand laws, not counting planetary, system, subsector, and sector ones. Honestly, being near him sickens me, and it's not just because of his poor hygiene. I mean, Throne, I've seen full-blown heretics with shorter rap sheets."

    Josiah rested his head in one of his hands.

    "But he has information that the Lady thought would be useful. So, he has a stay of execution." He rubbed his eyes. "Be honest, has the Lady employed anyone like him before?"

    "I wouldn't know." said Kelly, carefully. We haven't worked with her in four years. And people can change in that time - especially if you give them a rosette.

    "Not if she had any sense." Marc added, his voice a low growl. "Let me tell you about an interrogator called Van Der Mir, who kept another useful heretic around because he believed in always honouring his deals. This heretic's interference was partly responsible for our home hive getting burned to the ground. Four years later he was involved in the uprising on Marioch, which killed a quarter of a million people including the family of someone I called a friend. Not long after that, he worked with a possessed rogue trader who nearly made it to Holy frakking Terra. Along the way he murdered a friend of mine and a commander I respected. Van Der Mir forgave him all that, and after the frakking idiot got himself killed, the heretic paid him back by making a run for it, killing another one of our friends in the process." His voice had risen. "Just so you know, this is the heretic we're chasing now!"

    "Marc!" Kelly hissed, raising her eyebrows sharply at her brother.

    Marc paused, swallowed. "So forgive me," he said thickly, "If I'm a bit frakking sceptical of keeping Carson around. For all we know, he was part of the force that stormed the Mooncalf and butchered Walt's family. And exactly what useful information could he possibly have on Arcolin?"


    "Because he knows how Arcolin thinks. He may also have overheard what Arcolin is planning, but he hasn't mentioned that."

    Of course he hasn't, Kelly thought. Then we'd have no more use for him.

    "My condolences for the loss of your friends." Josiah said. A complicated expression passed over his face. "I know how you feel. In my thirty years in the arbites, I have buried more friends than I can count; many died pointlessly. On my world we have a saying, 'set a thief, to catch a thief', which might be justification as to why Machiari would work with scum like Carson. If it's any consolation, I am not as forgiving as Van Der Mir, and if Carson steps a toe out of line, I will not hesitate to blow his fokking head off." Josiah said, hopefully reassuringly.

    "Good." Marc said, flatly.

    "Things seem to be getting a little heated. How about we go back to my quarters? I've got a bottle of something strong that might help."

    "Thanks," Marc said, pushing back his chair and picking up his kit bag, "But no."

    Kelly fought the urge to curse as her brother offered Josiah a curt nod and swept out of the room. "Some other time, perhaps." she offered the arbitrator conciliatingly as she grabbed her own rucksack and followed. Lengthening her stride, she caught up with her brother in the arterial corridor.

    "You shouldnae have done that." Kelly warned him.

    Marc exhaled down his nose, in what might have been bitter amusement. "There's a lot of things I shouldnae have done. I shouldnae have told Alley about Arcolin being involved with her family's deaths on Marioch. I should have known she'd go rampaging after him. Emperor only knows where she is the now."

    He flexed his hand, forming a fist.

    "I shouldnae have decided against putting a bullet through Arcolin's face, regardless of what Van Der Mir said - then Kepler might still be alive. Frakking hell, if I'd kept looking for him properly after Solomon then Frank and Kadath might still be here as well, and Alley might still have her parents. It might even be that whole shit-storm on Teleostei never happened and none of you had to go through that."

    He bit down savagely on the end of the word, then swallowed as he realised that he had gone too far.

    "Sorry."

    "It doesn't matter." Kelly said, although it emphatically did. She sighed, trying to order her thoughts. Why can I do this for someone else's problem but not mine? "Look...what might have happened doesn't matter. We cannae bring Frank and the others back, but we can do this in their memory."

    Marc shook his head. "I wish I could say I wanted something that noble. All I want is revenge. I'm sick of letting traitors live." His fist clenched again. "And that includes Carson."



    +++++




    "Well, isn't that good, then?" Josiah said. "At least, then you have an idea of where she might be, if you were looking for her." Josiah had had his hands full watching Merle for the past few hours. Not that Merle had tried running off, but rather, it was simply frustrating to be around him, and more than once Josiah had had to smack him across the back of his head with the butt of his autogun. Josiah had dealt with my criminals in his time, but Merle just had to be smug about how Josiah couldn't arrest him. It was enough to drive a man to drink. "So," Josiah continued, "Where do we go from here?"
    Last edited by Cfavano; 08-04-2015 at 09:13 PM.

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  8. #8
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    At the meeting, present

    "Well, isn't that good then?" Josiah said. "At least then you have an idea of where she might be, if you were looking for her?"

    "Unfortunately they didn't find your friend." the canoness replied, looking solemn. "Only her armour, and a lot of blood - some of which the magi identified as having Tarran's gene markers. The station's control hub had been gutted by fire, and the stores were ransacked."

    "Alley wouldn't leave her armour behind." Marc murmured.

    "They found no bodies - Tarran's or the crew's. Our working theory is that your heretic," Kiana's mouth pinched up slightly, as if the very word tasted wrong. "dumped them in deep space, or something worse."

    Something like anger passed across Marc's face, and next to him the astropath Ella seemed to flinch in sympathy, her blind eyes twitching towards him.

    Across the table, Kelly Black winced. "Alley deserved better than that." she said.

    "I'm sorry for your loss." Sister Kiana laced her thumbs in respect, forming the sign of the Aquila, and inquisitor Machairi silently followed suit. "The martyr's blood is purest of all, and I will pray for captain Tarran to find her way to the Emperor's table."

    "The best offering we can make in her name is DeRei's head." Marc growled.

    "Who was all the way out there looking for her?" Vincent asked in a rasp, squinting down the table at sister Kiana. His augmetic hand was flexing in response to restless nerve impulses - open, close; open, close.

    "A Grey Knights task force out of Titan, hard on the heels of your friend. The justicar contacted us before dispersing his men to comb the system. Unfortunately, the astro didn't reach our convent until two days ago."

    Despite the null halo still stubbornly secured around his neck, Gavin's eyes seemed to flash as Kiana mentioned the Grey Knights. His pale hands clenched into fists. Kelly Black was the first to notice - she whispered something to the scrawny psyker, and put a hand gently on his wrist. Slowly Gavin's hands uncurled, revealing bloody crescents where his ragged nails had dug into his palms.

    "The waystation lies astride one of the primary jump points between Ixaniad and Adrantis." Machairi put in, elaborating on Sister Kiana's report. If she noticed Gavin's reaction, she elected not to comment on it with the team and the canoness present. "If DeRei didn't double back towards Sol, then it's highly likely that he headed onward to Baraspine."

    "I have sisters undercover on the Glom." sister Kiana added, folding her hands. "They are looking to trace his movements as we speak, although the trail is likely cold by now. But I've recently been given reason to believe that your target may have returned to his old haunts on Marioch."

    She raised her clasped hands to rest them under her chin, causing her loose black sleeves to slide down towards her elbows. Her arms were a faded tan, and crossed with what looked like faded scars.

    "There has been a spike in suspicious activities around the Vaeger fief. Specifically, potential Tzeentchian activity." She unlaced her hands and signed the aquila again, warding off the bad luck of speaking one of the Great Enemy's names aloud. "I understand that your target once owed his allegiance to that ruinous false god. I had three sisters in the town of Prospect, monitoring the cult. One of them transmitted an emergency code yesterday, and neither I or her sisters on station have heard from her since."

    Kiana signed another aquila, and again Machairi followed suit.

    "So," Josiah continued, "Where do we go from here?"

    "It's a possible lead." Machairi frowned, rubbing a nail against the ball of her thumb. "But I don't have many agents left on Marioch. With the main perpetrators of the uprising dead and all the dead-ends since, it's losing priority. But me and the Tiercel are still relatively well recognised there, and any cult that just uncovered a spy will be on the lookout for any kind of official Imperial authority. We might have to arrange for an alternative transport."
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 03-04-2016 at 02:14 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Inquisition void-runner Tiercel
    En route to Baraspine


    A heavy sigh, almost a growl. "What do you want, Alia?"

    With frown lines prematurely carved into his terracotta skin, interrogator Schafer looked older than his 41 years. Sapphira recalled that some of Sidonis' personnel referred to him as the Old Man, though never to his face. His crinkled eyes and pressed dress uniform in no-nonsense black gave him an instant air of authority, and his rough voice commanded respect.

    Interrogator Machairi cocked her head. "Can't I wish a partner well before they head off on assignment?"

    Machairi was the taller, her height emphasised by the elegant fall of a fern-green, bias-cut gown which brushed to just below her knees. The heels of her long boots brought her up to a full head higher than Schafer, and Sapphira wondered if it was deliberate that she stood close enough to force him to tilt his head back to look her in the eye. She was four years younger than Schafer, olive skinned and vital, with her dark hair twisted info an elegant pleat.

    "We're not partners, Alia." Schafer said, shaking his head. "Even you should know better than to try and bullshit me with that one."

    Machairi shrugged her shoulders, her face hardening. "If two interrogators can't come to each other with information, whose fault is that? I didn't come here for the pleasure of your company, Javid. I came to warn you."

    Schafer folded his arms, his booted feet firmly planted on the grey metal of the hanger deck. The two interrogators formed a rocky island in the middle of a sea of crewmen, servitors and tech-priests, who surged to and fro preparing for the transfer to the Navy frigate
    Excubitor.

    "What kind of warning, Alia?" Schafer asked guardedly.

    Machairi exhaled down her nose, looking down as she ran a thumb over the tips of her fingernails before raising her gaze back to Schafer. "Don't tell me that you didn't find it strange that Lord Sidonis remanded no less than four of the Makita set to your team, when he normally doesn't give a damn about keeping agents who know each other together? When one of them has only just been released from extended interrogation on the Sons' battle barge? Didn't you think it was odd that he assigned a sister and a mechanicus secutor, both independent authorities, to your Venatora squad at exactly the same time? Don't you sense that Sidonis might be playing some sort of political game here?"

    Schafer didn't move. "Political games are your trade Alia, not mine. Sidonis has given me four new agents to watch, and that's all either of us need to concern ourselves with. If they aren't suitable, I'll send them back. If they learn the ropes and prove themselves, then I'll accord them the same respect as the rest of my team."

    "Are you sure you can trust the rest of your team?" Machairi pressed, her eyes narrowing in disapproval. "When you'll be swanning off to Sancta Heroica before you head back to Venatora and even meet half of them?"

    Schafer scowled at the jibe. Everybody knew that Machairi preferred a small, close-knit team; investing personal time in her agents until she could trust them implicitly and had their staunch loyalty in return.

    "I already know Sapphira." he countered. "And I respect her. She's already had contact with Black and Sonder. And as for
    swanning off," His lip curled back into a snarl. "I'm supervising a net across four systems to try and sting this bastard xenotech-smuggler. I'm focused on the mission instead of trying to score political points, Alia. Maybe that's why Sidonis picked me for this job and not you."

    Machairi looked at him as if he had physically slapped her. "You always were a blunt fool, Javid."

    Schafer terminated the conversation with an angry jerk of his head. He stiffly signed the Aquila. "Hail to the Emperor, Alia."

    Machairi crossed her own hands, returning the devotional gesture without warmth.

    "Don't look so worried, sister." a warmer voice suddenly spoke behind her, as Lord Sidonis' two protégés went their separate ways; Machairi moving at a brisk, agitated pace, Schafer practically stalking.

    Sapphira turned to see the welcomely familiar smile of Arval Clement, Schafer's favoured void pilot. Clement was a wiry man, with a shaven head and face, his white smile contrasting against his nut-brown skin. Standing in his dark grey crew's overalls, the pilot's stance was easy even as he watched his interrogator's stormy departure.

    "I get the feeling that interrogator Machairi doesn't trust me very much." Sapphira observed.

    Clement shrugged, waving an airy hand. "All interrogators are like that until they get to know you." He brushed his hand lightly against Sapphira's back as he nodded towards the primary airlocks leading to the cargo and crew decks. "Come on Sister, the
    Excubitor won't be on station for another six hours yet. Take your mind off it and come and have dinner. I'll pay."

    Sapphira chuckled, as she often did when Clement's easy-going conversation lifted her spirits. "Is this a date now?"

    Clement flashed another one of his easy smiles as they began to walk, leaving the ringing industry of the docking bay behind them. "Well, first and foremost it's to make sure that you eat, which I haven't seen you do since you got back from the Sons frigate with Sonder and Black. But I will admit that it's been on my mind for a while, and this seems like as good an excuse as any."

    Sapphira opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again.

    "Oh." she finally said.


    There was a knock at the door.

    Perched on the end of her bed with her chin in her hands, Sapphira twitched in surprise as she was jolted out of the memory. Her fingertips probed her throat, where the lathe blade now wielded by Kally Sonder had left a thin, fading scar. Being back with the penitents had gotten her thinking about old missions and the long-dead people she had fought alongside. Not all of them were memories she really wanted to dwell on.

    She rubbed her face with her hands as the cabin fell back into focus around her, with its small bookcase and its ornate little shrine at the foot of the bed. A silver menorah stood beneath the idol of the Emperor, some of its sockets empty, others filled with incense candles with carefully-carved initials on each. J.Sc; A.C; J.Sh; S.T; A.E.S; A.S. Javid, Arval, John, Seb, Aleks, Abdur. She had considered adding more - for the casualties of Saros, for the penitents' sake.

    She pointed her control wand at the cabin door to de-magnetise the lock, and a moment later it slid open to admit Glabrio in casual trousers and shirt, unbuttoned to his breastbone. The Shift 3 bells had chimed less than five minutes previously - he clearly wasn't wasting any time.

    "You ordered room service?" he said, leaning one arm against the doorframe and offering Sapphira a rakish grin.

    Sapphira rolled her eyes, but she smiled. "You look good out of uniform." she complimented the investigator.

    "I'm insulted." Glabrio quipped, with a mock frown, "I try to look good all the time."

    Sapphira smiled again and jerked her head to call the ex-arbiter over to the bed where she was sitting, pointing her control wand to lock the door behind him. What she and Glabrio had was much shallower, much more rigidly defined than what she might have had with Clement, but she considered that an advantage.

    "Oooh, you're tense." Glabrio commented as he settled down behind her and began working his thumbs into her shoulders through the thin material of her dress.

    Sapphira wriggled her shoulders and settled into a comfortable position. "So do something about it." she challenged him.

    Glabrio gave a confident chuckle. Sapphira closed her eyes, tilting her head to the side and letting out a soft mmm as Glabrio traced a line of kisses down her neck. She snapped her eyes open again as the pager on her bedside table buzzed, rattling loudly against the glass surface. She pulled away from Glabrio, who gave a grunt of surprise, and groped for the pager to turn it over and look at the name on the liquid crystal display. It said Kelly.

    "I'm sure it can wait." Glabrio said airily.

    Sapphira pressed her lips together. "No it can't." she told him sternly, and tipped the pager screen towards him as she stood up.

    "Ah." Glabrio said as he saw the name on the LCD.

    "Sorry. Are you free at the end of shift 3?"

    "I've scheduled PT with Tomas and Josiah." Glabrio replied, with a mild grunt of irritation.

    Sapphira shrugged. "I'm sorry. It's important."

    The investigator pushed his hands into the mattress and levered himself up to follow Sapphira out of the door.

    "Alright," he nodded, squeezing her shoulder. "Go and do what you do best. I'll see you later."

    After they had parted ways, Sapphira headed down the Tiercel's spinal corridor to Kelly's cabin near the stern. She took a moment to check her hair in the mirrored chrome of the door, pushing a few wayward strands that Glabrio's nuzzling had dislodged back into place. The secrecy was ironic, given that Kelly had been the first one urging her into something like this, all those years ago on Hercynia. Machairi knew of course, and so did Tomas and Solvan - she wouldn't have concealed a conflict of interest that big from her close team-mates - but she had not thought it prudent to tell Kelly and the other penitents just yet. She didn't want to give them even more to deal with.

    Kelly's door wasn't locked. Inside the small cabin was brightly lit, and immaculately tidy, as if the younger Black had wanted to impose order on her surroundings, or simply to distract herself with some mundane task. The desk was clear and the bed neatly turned down, but Kelly herself wasn't sitting at either of them. She was slumped against the wall next to the bed, dressed in simple void overalls and with her black hair slipping out of its ponytail. Her eyes were red against her pale face, and her hands were wound tight together in front of her mouth. Even clasped, Sapphira could see that they were shaking.

    "I'm sorry, Saph." Kelly said as soon as Sapphira entered the room. Her voice was a dry croak. "It's just..."

    "It's alright, don't apologise." Sapphira said earnestly. "I told you to page me if you ever needed me and here I am. You're alright now, I've got you."

    She offered Kelly a hand and helped her up onto the bed before sitting down next to her. She noted that the other woman's hands were icy cold, and that one of her nails was bleeding again. Oh, Kelly.

    "Another flashback?"

    Kelly nodded stiffly. "The frakking shift-change alarm set it off. The chimes are exactly the same as the ones they used in the cellblock on Terra."

    Sapphira shook her head sharply, annoyed at herself that they had wounded her friend by missed something so basic. You idiot, Sapphira! Such an obvious detail! She felt a sympathetic pain in her stomach, and a familiar sensation of guilt.

    "I'll speak to the inquisitor." she said at once, with a nod of understanding. "She can have the tech-priest change them. You should have said something earlier."

    Kelly sighed, rubbing at the bridge of her nose with one hand. "I didn't want...I hate being helpless, Saph. Plus, you know, I'm always supposed to be the logical one..."

    "These things aren't rational." Sapphira soothed. "You're not doing anything wrong, and it's not weakness."

    "I just want it to stop, Saph." Kelly whimpered. "Like I said, I hate feeling so bloody helpless. That was the whole reason I went into verispex; give people some closure they wouldn't have otherwise gotten, some control."

    "I could spend an hour listing off the names of all the people you've helped." Sapphira said. "And my name would be first. I know you're stubborn about accepting help; I've seen you react when the other lab-techs tried it, or Emperor forbid your brother."

    Kelly took a shuddering breath, pressing her hands together as if in prayer and resting her face against them.

    "I'm worried about him too, Saph. The first few days he was breaking down in tears, but now he's just angry. Like, constantly on edge. And Gavin as well, he's..."

    Sapphira cut her off gently. "I'm not here to worry about Marc or Gavin right now, Kelly. I'm here for you."

    Kelly nodded weakly.

    "I can't help worrying about them." she said after a moment, haltingly. "In the cells...the explicators always made a point of telling me what they were doing to the others. Sometimes they'd play back vox records." She shivered at the memory. "You never expect to lose people - Sandra, Frank, everyone on Saros...it was so sudden I almost didn't have time to process it at first, but when they keep it hanging over you like that...bloody Throne, that's different."

    "They're all safe now." Sapphira reassured her friend.

    "No they're not." Kelly shook her head, and twisted her hands in her lap. "We're still not absolved. Which means the conclave is still watching us. I think Wuziarch is too, whether Machairi knows it or not."

    "She doesn't." Sapphira said firmly. "Because I don't. I'll let her know."

    Kelly sighed, and sat in silent thought for a moment.

    "I was 3 years old...12 standard," she said eventually, her voice quiet but calm. "When the plague made it up the spire, into the planning office where mum worked. She came home with a cough, but we didn't know anything was wrong until the next morning she couldn't get up. She took two weeks to die after the plague set in." She shook her head. "That was about the average, once it got into your lungs. Long enough to know it was coming and start dreading it; not long enough to come to terms and accept it."

    She went quiet for a moment, staring at her hands.

    "You know Saph, one of the things losing a parent when you're young teaches you is that people make empty promises. Everyone says if you ever need me or if there's anything I can do, but most of them don't follow through with it. It helps you to recognise the people who do - the ones that matter."

    She raised her head.

    "You've always been one of those people, Saph, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. Especially how you carry on with us as if it hasn't been 4 years...and as if we hadn't been up in front of a frakking inquisition tribunal."

    Sensing the change in her friend's mood, Sapphira shuffled closer and pulled Kelly into a hug. Kelly returned it, holding Sapphira tight.

    "You would not believe how much a bit of normality can help." the sister answered after a moment, then exhaled a quiet chuckle. "As far as normal applies to our job at any rate."

    Kally took another ragged breath. "See, it makes sense when you say it."

    "That's because I'm outside your head." Sapphira replied, seriously. She drew back from the hug, but kept her hands on her friend's shoulders. "Stay focused, Kelly. One day at a time, one little task at a time. You'll beat this. I know you will."

    Kelly nodded, with a flicker of a smile. "Alright, I'll do something normal. I'll go find Kally and see if she's up for kickboxing."

    Sapphira briefly closed her eyes in glad relief when she saw the smile. "Are you sure?"

    "Certain."

    It was Sapphira's turn to offer an earnest smile. "You know what, I'll come with you."
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 09-19-2016 at 02:35 PM.
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  10. #10
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    It was rare form for Vizkop's door to be unlocked. Normally, he valued complete privacy to prepare himself mentally and spiritually but the past years had...altered his thinking a bit. In the middle of meditative exercise, the last thing on his mind was entertaining any visitors. His mind was clear, helped by a mix of the methodical motions he was going through and the perfectly tuned chords of Holtzmann's Seventh Movement. He was not dead to the world, though, and his ears were open for the buzz of the caller rune.

    The room itself remained as spartan as when he arrived, holding none of his personal belongings aside from a large travel bag and a long, metal case. The large weapon cabinet and full wardrobe he had possessed on his last outing with Machairi were missing and safely stored in one of Vizkop's safehouses. He had come straight from his last hunt and there had been no time to change his gear. After the pronouncement of the penance, though, he was relieved his hunting gear was still with him. Though this time he was helping in the hunt of a man instead of a cyborg.

    Josiah was originally unsure why he was paying a visit to Techpriest Vizkop, but, regardless of affiliation, he was still a member of his team, and he should be at least become acquainted. Maybe they could even get along. Lady Machiari only had good things to say about him, after all, so, only time could tell.

    When he arrived at Vizkop's quarters, he stood in front of the door for a few seconds, and psyched himself up before he pressed the call rune. "Here goes nothing."


    Vizkop paused in the holding of his pose at the sound of the door buzzer. He lowered the volume of the music box and walked over to the door. Opening the door, Vizkop certainly did not look like a typical techpriest. The only red on him was the bright red sash around his waist as he was only dressed from the waist down. The bionic arms he wore were clearly military-grade augmentations to someone of Josiah's experience and a good deal of the flesh on his torso had the waxy look of synthetic skin. At such close range, the bionic nature of Vizkop's outwardly natural-looking eyes was visible in the way they glimmered. “You are...Josiah, yes,” Vizkop said. The man stood in a particular way Vizkop had come to associate with Arbitrators and they had been briefly introduced before going to the tribunal. “Come in.”

    The assassin decided that being polite was the best course in such confined space. He stepped away from the door and over to a table, pouring some water from a metal pitcher into a bland metal cup.

    "I apologize for appearing with such little notice, Techpriest Vizkop, but I was...'in the neighborhood', as they say, and thought I should pop in." He entered at Vizkop's motion, and sat at the table where the water was. "Thank you." He said.

    Vizkop nodded and poured the cold water over his head before grabbing a towel and giving Josiah a proper look over as he dried himself. 'Well he carries himself like an Arbite,' the assassin thought.

    Josiah was dressed in exercise attire, as if he recently came from the gymnasium, yet on the clock it was approaching what was supposed to be midnight. "We were only introduced briefly, but before we truly work together, I feel we should get to know each other better, wouldn't you agree?" Josiah gestured to the table's other chair for Vozkop to sit down.

    "Lady Machiari spoke very highly of you, in fact, ever single member of her retinue, even the penitent, got nothing but the highest praise." He as as he tilted his head slightly to the side for a second, and then drank some of the water after absentmindedly sniffing the cup. Vizkop would have been able to tell that this was just an automatic reaction, something done subconsciously. "That means one of two things. Either you are all really that good, or she is just really easy to impress. Honestly, I believe it is the former."


    “Praise, huh,” Vizkop said with a slight smirk tugging at his lips. “Well I can say, from my own observations, that the team is good at what they do. Though I can't say anything for how they've performed in the last five years. I'm an on and off member. Though you probably already know that from records that Inquisitor Machairi keeps.”

    Vizkop tossed the towel aside and walked his things. He returned to the table with a series of cases and a large revolver, the cylinder popped out to leave no question that it was unloaded. “So is that all you wanted?” Vizkop asked, sitting at the table. “Or were you more looking for a one-on-one about my previous activities?”

    He produced a squared piece of cloth from one of the smaller cases and rested the gun on it. Intoning a small binary prayer, he dripped a small amount of a clear and pleasant scented oil on the trigger and hammer of the weapon.

    "Well, I'd like to know more about you and what you do. Certainly, you are no normal Techpriest, none like I have ever encountered, always crying 'tech-heresy this' and 'praise the machine that', with more metal than flesh, speaking only in binary, even doing so during open conferences with non-Mechanicus allies." He said, as he put down his glass. "And also I have something for you." He took out a small device resembling a flashlight, with a mount that allows connection to a rail on a weapon. "As you are the team's only Techpriest, I thought it fitting that you got a new piece of tech first, so you can give it the a-ok from the Mechanicus that it is able to be used, considering it is not an STC-based device. I made it myself."

    Vizkop raised an eyebrow, gaze flitting between the device and Josiah. “I'm gonna politely decline. I have no use for such a device with any of my equipment. Such small things are too basic and innately unoffensive enough to worry about people crafting them and I've never been one to do much ordaining or other of the more...overtly spiritual aspect of my faith. My path took a few different turns which don't include giving flashlight attachments the 'a-ok.' As for what I do... I am a weapon of the Omnissiah, to put it in the simplest of terms. I hold the militant rank of Secutor within the priesthood, though my activities are generally more akin to assassination and covert operations. Lately I've been on a...hunting trip of sorts. I was finishing up my last outing when I received the message from Inquisitor Machairi asking for my help. Tell me, investigator, have you ever hunted a cyborg?”

    Josiah thought for a moment, "Yes, I have. On my homeworld, one of the major gangs were the 'metal heads', and their thing was that they were addicted to augmentation, so there'd be guys with more metal than flesh, with chainsword arms, shoulder mounted lasguns, sub-dermal armor, you name it. Because of their...proclivity, they were rather violent, and for nearly two decades, they had an iron grip on floors 23-32 of Hive Delta. We were finally called in when a group of them attacked a schola progenium and kidnapped several students to hold for ransom. We eliminated them to a man, or we believed to. By then, the membership was nearly a thousand strong, large enough to be classified as a 'rebellious element'. It was not an easy fight, mind you. We had to bring in a bunch of heavy weaponry, and even then quite a few Arbitrators died." He said, finishing his story and putting the device away. "We never did figure out how they got all their augs, and they weren't the cheap ones, these were really good, however, the serial numbers were filed off. Some of my superiors suspected the local Mechanicus priesthood, but we were never able to prove it." He finished his water and put the cup down. "So, an assassin, no wonder you keep yourself so fit. I've interacted with a few Death Cult Assassins, and my old boss once used the services of a Callidus. Strange, she was."

    “Not quite what I meant,” Vizkop said with a wry smile. “And I can say with confidence that I am unlike any death cult. What else do you want to know, investigator?”

    "I'll be frank," He said, sitting forward. "I'd like to learn from you, if I can. Not that I'm not already very good at what I do, but one of my Instructors at the Schola told me that 'the true master is the eternal student'. I have seen helmet and servo-skull vids as well as read after-action reports of your missions with the Lady. It is without a doubt that I say that you are the most skilled and lethal combatant that works with her. I'd like to learn some of that. Is that a request you can fulfill? I promise I am a very apt student."

    “I will also be frank,” Vizkop returned. It struck a wrong chord with the assassin the way Josiah simply discounted the extreme lethality of the rest of Machairi's team. “I have no intention or desire to teach anyone anything. The skill set I have is not something for an outsider to know. Now how about we re-direct from these dangerous waters and return to a safer topic in which we discuss, in more detail, the suspicions leveled against the Mechanicus branch on your homeworld.”

    "Alright then," Josiah said, backing off. "Well, after it was taken down, we, of course, examined the bodies and the augs. Now, we expected these guys to have low-grade augmentations sloppily done by back-aley surgeons, which is what is normal for gangs, but these..." Josiah shakes his head and remembers, "These were of a whole different league. Sure, there variations, some were of the type I described, but, well...I'm going to assume you know the different grades of augmentations; basic, alpha, beta, delta, with delta being extremely rare and of very high quality. On average, the bodies had mostly at least alpha, with quite a few having beta, or even delta, and of types not commonly available like refractor field generators, and whole arms replaced with flamers and I even personally took down one that somehow had a multi-melta. You can't just buy this on the street. When we reached the inner sanctum, we took down the leaders, and what freaked me out was that all of their augs were delta grade." He stopped for a second to remember some more.

    "Now, as I told you, the serial numbers were all filed off. That is a crime in and of itself, but what lead us to suspect the Mechanicus was the skill that the augs were implanted with. I'm sure you've seen the work of street docs, the nerves clumsily connected, the joints having a tendency to lock up, but...I shit you not when I say that these augs couldn't have been implanted any better, if not for the obvious difference between flesh and metal, you would not have been able to tell where one ended and one began, and in action, they moved with the fluidity of natural joints. When we brought this to the local priesthood, suffice to say the Magos was indignant and extremely offended that we would even think to make the connection. I wasn't in the room, but from what I was told, he ranted for nearly a half hour, before telling my Commander and I to leave. This, obviously, was very suspicious, and the very next day, a representative arrived to collect all the evidence we gathered, as the Mechanicus was launching its own investigation, and we should go back to tracking down petty thieves."

    "Officially, that was when the investigation ended, but what really stood out was a manifesto that was found in the inner office of the gang's leader, a man named Albertus. It detailed a shipment that arrived not a week previously, and other papers detailed a trade that occurred. Instead of names, account numbers were used, and they were traced to off-world bank accounts, and were linked to several notorious smugglers. These smugglers were notorious for their suspected involvement in the smuggling of xenotech. Do you see where I'm going?"


    “I'm not big on guessing games or assumptions,” Vizkop said. “Please continue.”

    "Now, as I stated before, we never could prove this, but before the AdMech shut us down, the most logical theory was that someone, or a group among the local priesthood was working with this gang to procure xenotech, and in exchange for this heretical contraband, were supplying the habit of these aug junkies with, well, augments. Furthermore, add with how vehemently the Magos defended himself, and likely, this went all the way up to him. But we could never prove it. I was not around when the priesthood released the results of their 'investigation'," He continued, making air quotes, "But I did manage to contact a friend, years later while working under another Inquisitor, and the Magos's investigators had declared that there was no connection and the Magos had Lobbied for the sealing of all of the files and the ship that was carrying the Arbite investigatory team bringing the evidence back to the vault just so happened to be attacked by pirates, and the entire ship was destroyed and all hands were lost, this also resulted in all the evidence being destroyed." Josiah steepled his fingers as he stared ahead. "I don't know about you, but I don't believe in coincidences." Josiah looked at his chronometer "Oh dear, I've been talking for nearly three-quarters of an hour. I'm sorry. If you're busy, I can leave."

    “That would be best, I think,” Vizkop said with a small nod. “We've taken up enough of each other's time.”

    "I apologize for taking up your time," Josiah said standing up and preparing to leave. When he got to the door, he turned around. "One more thing, Vizkop. I like you, you seem very open-minded. I have told that story to four tech-priests before you, and each time they flipped their lids. You however, did not. Either, you have a better grasp on your emotions, or, and I believe that this is true, you are capable of thinking beyond what the AdMech says to think. It will be a privilege to work with you. Goodnight." He left after he finished, and the door shut behind him.

    “Absolutely ludicrous,” Vizkop said with a roll of his eyes once Josiah was out of his room. With a sigh, he lit some strong smelling incense and moved to the next step of the cleansing ritual. He had not believed a word of Josiah's story.

    Meeting Room of the Tiercel, At Present

    “It might be worth it to look into any surveillance footage from the waystation,” Vizkop offered. “Mechanicus waystations, especially, are generally notorious for what most call an overabundance of security. There's a chance they got something that can give us some clue.”
    Hit me up on discord: Mags#3126
    I'm just easier to get a hold of there. Just lemme know who you are

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