A Teacher's Lament
This fic began as something I wrote spontaneously in String Storm's Youtube comments while somewhat drunk. It is a WIP and will in all honestly probably stay that way, though the first chapter is complete and I do have some scattered ideas for it, I don't know if and can't promise that I'll ever finish it. So I figured I'll just post what I have here since people liked it enough to put up to begin with. I did not come up with the title, but don't have any other for it so it stays for now.
It is late in the evening, the sun drawing low across the walls of Imperator High, the grounds nearly deserted save for two peculiar figures engaged in even more peculiar activity. Ahzek Ahriman and Fabius Bile sit amid a small rooftop garden that the latter has used to cultivate a number of plants for his experiments and research. Tonight is not one for academic pursuits, however. Instead, the odd couple are enjoying a bottle of fine Prospero wine and smoking some of the more stimulating specimens that Bile had raised clandestinely.
“What the fuck happened to us, Bob?”
Ahriman sighs, having drained most of his glass almost as soon he'd poured it.
“It seems like just yesterday I was a demigod, striding fearlessly across the face of the universe, destroying the enemies of man like an angel of death, gathering lost wisdom from the far-flung extremes of time and space. There was nothing I couldn't do, Bob. Do you remember that feeling?”
Ahriman's companion took a long drag from his joint, giving no reply. He knew the aging Son was going to keep rambling on like this regardless of what he said.
“Do you know how I spent my day? About half of it grading the Warp Theory exam from yesterday, and the other half trying to convince Magnus' sobbing offspring that making an A- on it isn't the end of all life as we know it.”
Ahriman takes another healthy swig from his goblet.
“I swear before the Emperor, given the choice between a rabid Carnifex and a hormonal teenage girl, I'd take the Carnifex any fucking day of the week.”
Ahriman deftly poured himself another glass. Bile gives no sign of interest, instead simply staring out over the darkening horizon.
“At least Miranda is actually interested in what I have to teach. Some of those other little harridans… I'd be doing the Imperium a favor by launching them into the Eye without a Gellar Field.”
This elicited a chuckle from Bile.
“Do you know what I found in my staff case as I was about to leave? A tampon. A used tampon.”
Ahriman now took a long drag from his joint as Bile slowly turned to face him.
“Do you think the Emperor might be convinced that this whole thing was a horrid mistake? Because I'd sure as shit make the argument.”
Bile ineffectually blew some smoke in Ahriman's direction.
“I don't know, Ahzek, but stop calling me Bob.”
It was late the next day when he got the voxcall from Bile. Ahriman was gathering his papers and preparing to leave. He would drop by his colleague's lab on the way out, and take measures to ensure that no one could listen in on their conversation. The day had gone by uneventfully, and that was all he had wished for it. Some of his more sensitive students, particularly Miranda, could no doubt detect he was on edge today, but he gave away nothing about what bothered him. Fabius was the only one he had told about what he'd discovered nestled in the red velvet lining of his ornate staff case, and that's the way he would keep it, at least until he knew more.
Bile's lab was tucked discreetly away behind a nondescript door in the back of his classroom. He had gone out of his way to make it look more like the lair of a mad scientist than a place for teaching children. Specimens from his wide-ranging travels lined the shelves, preserved in jars of fluid at various stages of development and mutation. Surgical tools and equipment from his time as chief apothecary were mounted on the walls, looking more like instruments of torture than healing. Bile had told him once that no student had ever been late to his class, nor was his homework ever handed in late. Ahriman believed it. He had glimpsed the thoughts of the students entering and leaving this particular class, and though Bile was not particularly stern as a teacher, the ambiance he cultivated was enough to keep them rigidly in line. Ahriman was certain Bile would never face a dilemma the likes of what he did now. The door to the private lab was ajar and within it Ahriman found Fabius sitting at his ornate, bone-embossed study desk. Ahriman closed the door behind him as Bile continued tapping at a dataslate he was holding. He spoke without turning to face his visitor.
“The test results were conclusive. The blood is a near-perfect match to the sample on file for the Ultramarines' primarch.”
“It… It's what!?”
Bile had an eyebrow raised as he turned to meet his colleague's expression of utter shock.
“...With elevated estrogen levels and other hormones one would expect to find in an adolescent girl.”
Ahriman's face slowly shifted from abject horror to confusion as Bile gave him a condescending smirk.
“The primarchs' offspring are not truly their children, they're clones the Emperor created using the original genetic templates. You didn't honestly think the blood was his, did you?”
“Biology is your department not mine.”
Bile chuckled at Ahriman's irritation.
“It is an odd result, though. That Guilliman girl is always so quiet and studious, didn't think she had it in her to do something like that. Still, people can surprise you.”
“She doesn't have it in her.”
Ahriman had turned away and his tone had lowered. His mind was traversing a number of contingencies that might explain this development. His gifts gave him a far more intimate knowledge of his students and their dispositions than any of the other faculty. Even their surface thoughts exposed much of who they truly were at this vulnerable age, more even than they themselves knew. Roberta Guilliman would not have put a used hygiene product in his staff case even if warp entities had possessed her. She would have sooner leaped from a window than disgrace herself and her name so. No, someone had planted it there to slander her, and that made things even more troubling.
“Still think they need to be scrapped?”
Fabius was giving him a coy smirk.
“You said so last night, didn't you?”
“You know I was drunk, Bile.”
Memories of his tirade began to come back to him, and the leaden weight of shame and embarrassment entered his gut. This job had provided him with more frustration and fewer outlets for it than any he had ever taken before. He dreaded to think what might happen if there had been anyone else listening.
“You didn't seem that drunk to me. You know, I think I'd endorse it if you presented a formal petition just to see the looks on the primarchs' faces. That would be one for the ages!”
Bile began to chuckle to himself yet again. Ahriman turned his back to him and started to leave, there was no reason for him to put up with this as well. He turned his head in parting, making sure to set the record straight.
“What the Emperor chooses to do with the life he creates is his prerogative and his alone. What to do about this matter, however, is mine.”
“Ha, such drama! Been taking lessons from Lorgar?”
Though he had become his ad hoc confidant as of late, Ahriman didn't understand Bile. Of all the members of Imperator's faculty he had no doubt lost the most in coming -or rather, being sent- here. Bile was one of the foremost experts in genetic engineering and flesh-shaping not merely in his legion but in the Imperium at large. It was said only the Emperor himself had greater knowledge of the subject, but Bile would soon be poised to catch up. Rumors of unethical conduct and illicit dealings surrounded him, however, and as the Great Crusade drew to a close he was removed from his post and effectively forced into retirement here. He displayed a remarkable degree of grace under the circumstances, which Ahriman grudgingly envied. He was dutiful in his teaching responsibility, and apart from his sardonic quips seemed to feel little bitterness towards his situation. Ahriman wondered just how much time he spent smoking his rooftop specimens.
She strode alone down the high-arched halls, willfully aloof from those around her. Many noticed her but few gave her more than a passing glance. She was one of the chosen, the scion-daughters of the primarchs and so she was set high above the teeming throngs of humanity. This did not earn her love or affection, but only deference from the cattle who populated the Imperium. She sighed and quickened her pace. Some of her cousins were coming into view, she returned the smiles they gave to her, though none of them were genuine. Stiff, formal, pantomime; they thought she didn't know the difference? They were not her friends, none of them. They did not know who she really was, and they didn't care to. She came to a cluster of them gathered around Isis, the first among them. She was never alone, always surrounded by fawning clingers-on, disgusting. Isis saw her and gave her the closest thing to a real smile that any of them did. She returned it. Isis had great authority and sway over the others, and so it was useful to cultivate their relationship, but she was not worthy. She had her position only because of her father's illustrious career, that and no other reason. The bell tolled. It was almost time for class. Just as she turned, a flowing mane of red hair and a strange headband collided with her shoulder. As she was about to exclaim something vulgar, her mind shut like a steel trap. It was Miranda, the psyker. Her eyes closed, she had walked right into her. She had to suppress another barrage of exclamations.
“Oh, I'm very sorry, I wasn't paying attention.”
She didn't immediately respond. This was a dangerous one. What absolute lunacy had convinced the Emperor to tolerate these mutants was utterly beyond her. She managed to contort her face into a smile nonetheless.
“It's no bother, sister, none at all. Come now, we'll be late for class.”
“Ah, yes of course.”
The mutant followed her lead. So predictable. Everything was going as she hoped, so far. This class would be most interesting. She was not about to miss it.
Ahriman stood atop the well-worn dais as he had every day for the last decade or so. He watched the students file in predictably as they always had. He had seen this room even before the massive central building of the academy was complete, just a concrete skeleton with wet, raw earth beneath to receive the shape of the future order. This image reminded him of the students before him; wet, raw earth, waiting to be shaped by a greater hand, only with an occasional jagged shard of ceramite buried in it.
The bell rang, class was in session. He began slowly, striding across the stage and allowing his senses to sweep over those present. Everyone was accounted for. Good. He couldn't read any unusual thoughts from the students, save from Miranda who seemed to have picked up on his change in demeanor despite his best efforts. She had spent more time around him than any of the others and was supremely talented to boot. He doubted there was much he could hide from her. This would hopefully all be resolved soon enough. Before starting the lecture, his eyes fell on Alpharius' twin girls as they whispered to one another in the back of the auditorium. Out of all of the primarchs' children there were none more reviled by the faculty, and by him in particular. Furia, Hana and Freya might get into brawls in the hallway from time to time, but that at least was an honest, open kind of delinquency. The Alpha twins seemed enjoy nothing more than mischief, scheming and backbiting, and not once had they ever shown a modicum of remorse for it. He had caught them drawing a picture of Freya performing an obscene act with a wolf on his blackboard once, and despite catching them red-handed they would not admit that they were the ones who had drawn it, making excuse after excuse. And they actually thought that he of all people would fall for it. As far as he knew, their father had taken no disciplinary measures with them, despite such incidents occurring on a monthly basis. He didn't think even they had the audacity to do something as outrageous as what had happened a day earlier, but there were no others who would have. No doubt it was their idea of comeuppance for the detention he had given them last time. He proceeded with his lecture at a brisk pace, keeping both his students and himself occupied. He could feel tension rising in him but brushed it aside with a flourish.
Miranda tried to focus on Ahriman's lecture, but couldn't keep her attention on it for long. Something was very wrong. Since yesterday's class, something had been bothering him and today it was like there was a storm gathering at the front of the classroom. She had never seen him like this before. It was reminiscent of her father after he'd been in meetings with the Council of Terra, only this was much more focused, and driven. There was something dark that she couldn't name hanging over her mentor, and it scared her. For just a moment when she saw him in Warpsight, it looked as if a great black bird was hovering over him.
“We'll stop early today; enjoy some extra time to yourselves.”
Suddenly shocked out of her reverie, the students around her promptly gathered their belongings and began heading for the exit.
“Except Alpharia and Omegan, please remain here.”
There was a slight murmur from some of the girls. It wasn't unusual for them to be taken aside, they were always getting into trouble. Miranda was almost afraid to leave them alone with Ahriman in this state. What could have happened? Freya caught her shoulder, gesturing in her straightforward way that they should go. Miranda complied, but still she was worried. She made up her mind that she would monitor what went on here. It would be easy enough.
Ahriman strode rigidly up to the bench where the identical pair were reluctantly seated. He never could tell them apart and didn't particularly care to. They were two interchangeable parts to one vexatious whole, always together, always up to something. This time they had stepped far over the line, and he had them cornered.
“What ever could be the matter, professor?” “Surely you wouldn't want to keep us from our studies.”
The two spoke with mock courtesy. They had no psychic potential that he could perceive, and yet were linked by some inexplicable bond that eluded even his senses. He gave them a smile that was just as insincere as the ones they offered him.
“I think you both know why you're here, ladies.”
The two gave each other an inscrutable look.
“Let's skip the games this time, shall we? You did something yesterday that was truly profligate, even for you. It seems that all the punishment you've been given for your other transgressions failed to imprint anything on you. You've also not considered the fact that I do have enough clout here to expel you permanently from this institution, provided I have suitable justification.”
The two began to shrink, giving each other a look that was this time unambiguously fearful. He was beginning to enjoy this.
“What are you talking about? We haven't done anything!”
Alpharia (he thought she was the one on the right) exclaimed. Once again they were underestimating him, thinking him a tottering fool. They would not get by with a simple reprimand this time, not after what they'd done.
“Lie to me again and you will explain to your father that you've failed the training the Emperor demanded of you. You are a disease upon the sanctity of this place, and I will not bear it any longer!”
He rose to the height that his power could bring him and made full use of the energy that he could muster. The air crackled and light dimmed as a vortex of air and plasma coalesced above him. The two girls shrank further but still a defiance burned within them.
“What proof do you have that we've done anything wrong!? This is preposterous!”
The stronger of the two yelled. He was forced down from his place of certainty. He would return to their level, but only briefly.
“You defiled my personal belongings, and you expect me to think that someone else could have done this!? You think me a fool, something to be toyed with?!”
The two merged their gazes again, longer now, and with eyes full of trepidation. At last Alpharia spoke.
“What proof do you have that it was us who've done this to you?” “Yes, where is the proof?” The other stammered.
He seethed, but at the same time there was reason to their pleas. He would humor them, if only to satisfy his own sense of justice.
“I will offer you this, if you confess your wrongdoing now, and promise to never ever give myself or any of the other professors any trouble again, I will forget this offense. Do you understand?”
The more quiet of the girls whom he assumed was Omegan looked to the other, disbelief and fear in her eyes. But she would not accept this, would not acquiesce no matter the conditions, it seemed.
“You have no proof, do you? I don't even know what you're accusing us of! But you still insist that we've done it? What kind of justice is this?”
Omegan became visibly more distressed, but Alpharia boldly glared at him. The sheer insolence! The sheer absurdity of this! He, Ahzek Ahriman, First Captain of the Thousand Sons Space Marine Legion, living instrument of the Emperor’s wrath, champion and hero to all humanity, was reduced to enduring the infantile impulses of these misbegotten little imps, these parodies of the beings who had forged the Imperium with virtue, honor and discipline. No more. He would not have it. He would show them, in the truest way he could, the cost of defiance. The air polarized, the scent of ozone filled the vicinity and in a blink energy flew from his hand and struck the wooden desk before his two errant pupils with a shattering crack. For a time impossible to measure with human senses, all was silent and still. The two girls clung to each other in abject terror, eyes fixed on the great black welt in the desk top before them. Omegan slowly raised her head and looked up at him, tears welling in her widened eyes while her sister just continued to stare in shock. The enormity of what he had done, the extent to which he had allowed himself to lapse, was just starting to dawn on Ahriman when a voice thundered through the imposing space of the classroom.
“That will be enough, sorcerer.”
Though it was calm and even, the voice still carried enough sheer force to demand immediate attention from any who heard it, and it carried with it the bristle of barely-restrained contempt. Ahriman turned and saw its source looming in the doorway. Standing next to his daughter, who was utterly diminutive by comparison, was the towering, unmistakable form of Leman Russ.