Story:Love Can Bloom(Redirected from Love Can Bloom)
It all started so simply....
Love Can Bloom is the title of one of the most
heretical, and tl;dr who let the Ecclesiarchy in here? well-loved, commonly-known pieces of writefaggotry ever to grace /tg/. Once upon a time, there was a drawfag named Miko. She made a comic about a Vindicare assassin falling in love with Taldeer from Dawn of War: Dark Crusade and Dawn of War: Winter Assault. The scene was genuinely well-drawn, so despite it causing nerd rage, /tg/ deemed it worthy of note.
And then, as if to take the above and accelerate it into something more, a skilled writefag drew a fanfic for this. There was a mixture of nerd rage and delight. As the story panned out it told an intriguing and surprisingly deep tale that is widely considered some of the best to come out of /tg/ in the last few years. The story was beloved by the tubernets, who either broadly appreciated it, openly mocked it, or more commonly, both.
The story tells of LIIVI (52.6 in the Roman Numeric system), the aforementioned Vindicare temple assassin, assigned to eliminate a fleeing, critically-injured Taldeer following the fall of the Eldar stronghold in Dark Crusade. Genuinely moved by the sight of the woman and the fact that she is the last of her kind on the planet, LIIVI goes against his orders and becomes Taldeer's guardian, fighting through increasingly-difficult odds in a galaxy determined to destroy them both. The engineered killing machine that is LIIVI discovers his humanity, and Taldeer confronts her inner demons - figuratively and literally. It has spawned at least 2 spin-off works, not the least of which is Core of Brutality and Imber, a continuation of the series. There is also Lofn which is just d'aww.
GeeDubs may or may not be aware of the story. Their business partners, however, know full well about it. Specifically, Relic decanonized the whole thing by killing Taldeer off, though they weren't super callous about it, making the recovery of her soulstone an important subplot. Then, Fantasy Flight Games canonized the name LIIVI as the Vindicare attached to the Kronus Liberators in their splatbook Dark Heresy: Ascension. The book also contains a picture of a Farseer stalked by a Vindicare. Win!
Of course, if you really want this story to still be considered canon, just imagine LIIVI falling in love with a goddamn Wraithseer.
"Exitus Acta Probat: the Outcome Justifies the Deed." -Dictum Vindicare
The Vindicare creed is that enemies of the Imperium of Man die ignoble deaths. No trials for these heretics, no recognition of any ability they hold, not even a record of their order to be killed. A quick, surgical procedure, a reflexive, impassive, reaction to eliminate an enemy that leaves behind only the slightest of blemishes, soon to be hushed up and covered for fear of prompting more invisible, bureaucratic executions. Traitors and rebels may gird themselves for the unlimited waves of guardsmen crushing their towns underfoot, continent disintegrating orbital bombings, and fearless, unstoppable, merciless space marines. Yet, how they quail when oh so casually, their honored leader, god figure, demagogue, idol, chosen one, noble general, great hero, neighbor, friend, mother, father, child, or beloved fall lifeless, a round dark hole in their forehead.
"Do not fail."
Most munitions that this assassin had dealt with previously have been subsonic, quiet, subtle machines that he is expected to keep hidden and assemble on site; other dogmas stated that all weapons had to be popular with those populations that were to be affected, to show the Emperor's judgment came from the people.
And then there was the Exitus rifle.
Tough enough to break a terminator's Tactical Dreadnought Armor, quiet enough to not wake the baby you are using for a fire brace. It is immense, huge and unwieldy, a full one point eight seven meters long when fully deployed, nearly as tall as the man carrying it, weighing eight kilograms unloaded, a full nine loaded.
"One shot is all I need."
By all means, Governor-Militant Alexander should have dispatched a Culexus. Whatever psychic blasphemy the witch unleashed, would have been stifled by the sheer terror generated by it. It was as close to monster a human could get and still be beloved by the Imperium. Only just.
Lukas Alexander hated those things. That's why the Vindicare had been dispatched. That, and a tangible reminder of the consequences of failure.
"Standby for drop order." The sighting array switched through the spectra, finally settling on human normal. The Vindicare enjoyed those brief moments when the targets were confirmed.
Eldar. Perhaps a one and two five meter tall one. Neck doesn't break easy, little bone. Very flexible. The Primary was having trouble with its helmet, and the Vindicare waited. A combat mission was free of the various restrictions, implications, and extenuating circumstances that were far too often glued to it. A swift kill was all that was necessary.
"Appears injured," he murmured into the mouthpiece. Just in case Lukas was listening. He was a paranoid man, the Inquisition playing both sides in the conflict between Astartes and Guard. Better to assuage the Governor that he was following policy.
"All the better. Drop her," The commander had no appreciation for the moment. Orders were orders. His finger was on the trigger-
"Wait, something's happening-"
"What do you mean you can't? Soldier? What's going on?" Lieutenant Ardrin shot a glance at the monitors across the screen, running down the various cryptorunes that festooned the archaic mechanicals, "The Techpriest checked every last one of these things for flaws in their machine spirits, so I KNOW there is nothing wrong with you. What is the difficulty?"
"I say again, assassin, what is the problem? Are you under attack? Is the Eldar dead?"
The glow of the glass machine in front of Ardrin said nothing. He sighed, and then turned to the vox operator next to him, currently relaying status reports on the destruction of a building to Lukas.
"Inform Lukas that the Vindicare is unresponsive." The officer nodded, speaking a word of prayer before entrusting it to the waves on the wind. The response was short in returning.
Dispatch two chimeras fully loaded. Contact the killer's handlers. Pray for forgiveness.
To know the future is to look upon an ocean of possibility. Twisting, turning vast and serene at the distance. What a harmonious blue it seems ahead of you, blended together with but the vague hints of surf and wave edging and bouncing across the way. You approach it, details start to come forth, and for a moment, you can see the lines of tide, the touch of the wind, rocks set in there, and aquatics going in and out of it.
Now you are on the beach, and you can see the future coming at you, then pulling back, a hunger determined by rocks in the sky and the density of particles hundreds of miles away. You stumble over a gewgaw vomited forth by the surf, but you can't stop walking forward. Cold, it seems to push you away at first, but then it pulls, pulls firmly. Suddenly, the possibility and limitless potential you saw a mile back is gone, replaced by green and white and blue pulling you down into the dark.
That's how this battle was. It seemed so simple, so easy at first. Then she stepped in, and suddenly she was in the middle, sucked out and away, her possibilities narrowing and tightening like water running down lungs. In the distance, screams of her kin, valuable every one of them, more long lives dimmed and smothered by a horde of sparks. Quick lived humans.
Then it was impossible. She had gone so far as to charge, for a moment caught on the path of the warrior all those blood obsessed spoke so highly of. And what did she get?
Stabbed through the torso for it.
It was the adrenaline, the tactical necessity, her own fate, to flee. Anything but cowardice. The helmet was stifling. It had to come off, she had to breath- It wasn't the helmet. It was blood, filling her throat. She leaned heavily on her spear, opening her mouth, spit and blood running out like a fountain, that she used to know.
A kilometer and a half under her, she hears grinding.
The tide is coming back to her.
"You had better give me a GOOD reason why in the name of the Throne you gave an order to move out my assassin on your own, Ardrin!"
Lukas was angry. Still injured, with the high of triumph dashed upon the rocks of disappointment, he was hardly pleased. He had had to order his troops that they could not stand down yet, and the reaction had been as expected: Nineteen floggings, one execution for Conspiracy to Sabotage Imperial Morale.
"Sire, I have served you lon-"
"Yes, from Cadia. I had TRUSTED you. Do not dare bring up any terms of friendship, I should have you SHOT for disobedience."
"Well- Look at your condition."
The medicae swam around Governor Militant Lukas Alexander like flies, stitching up wounds and removing broken ribs to replace with new ones. His power packs had burst, scorching a full half of his torso. And unlike Sturnn, mused Ardrin, Alexander tolerated the longer treatment time to heal the cosmetics. Of course, unlike Sturnn, Alexander was to be a governor.
"That, that damn witch unleashed her, her, her witchcraft upon me," Lukas stuttered, as a greater dose of the pain dimmers hit him, "And she g-GOT away, if you had just let me-"
"Let your retinue carry you around, with a mobile med station at the ready, and your soldiers distracted from securing Tyrea? Of course, I'll just invite those Orks next door to share a glass of Amasec sire."
"I have a commissar outside."
"And I know you're smart enough not to execute an honest aide," Ardrin spread his hands, "I was thinking of the greater campaign."
Alexander sighed, nodded slowly, wincing again, "Very well. I'll afford you this luxury. I must admit," He waved the untreated hand down to himself, "I was hardly in any condition to act. Thank the Emperor for unh - the fine medical supplies the men got from those Tau- Not that we need to tell anybody about this."
"Of course sire. And the Officios of the Assassinorium?"
"I expect they're already here."
The Eldar's biology is similar to a human's. They still have sweat and adrenal glands, they have pupils that dilate, lungs that draw in more oxygen in preparation of a standard fight or flight situation. What they do not have are the instincts of a human being. A human being (As was drilled into the Vindicare at the Temple) when confronted by a situation of fear will scream to alert members of its family unit, will attempt to either keep the predator in sight, or flee blindly to shelter or more family units. A sign you have done a job poorly is when the target is allowed to display the fear instinct. Typically, these instincts manifest themselves in the "Secondaries" onlookers, targets of opportunity, and the populace that one is attempting to get the message to. This is considered victory.
However, when it comes to Eldar, they do not follow human instinct. The Farseer in the Vindicare's sights does not scream, she draws her foot back, places both hands on her weapon, lowers her center of gravity. Sweat does not appear on her skin, rather muscles tense and relax, testing each. A moment of sensitivity in her abdominals, then release, as the weight shifts once more. A gloved hand reaches up, pulls back long black hair out of her eyes.
But her eyes, they do dilate. The Vindicare's spymask zooms in on the point to which he already looked; those frightened eyes focusing on a patch of dirt. Sharp metal breaks through dry dirt.
The ocean is around Farseer Taldeer now. She drifts on the eddies, bobbing away from the hungry black below. Whenever death came close, she could feel it tugging, not the ocean tide, but something hungry. Fate mocked her, jeered her, pointing down there, but she had to ignore it, put it out of mind. And the smell of Lameras.
She drifts up, her fingers running down the wraithbone howling spear, runes of victory, rage, Khaela Mensha Khaine, Biel Tan, rebirth, death, and Ulthwe, sliding between her fingers. She breathes in the sharp air of an alien world, one that she always loathed, but now was smelling familiarly of something. On the air was something else, rust, and the innate, repulsive soulessness of the Great Enemy. Her eyes flutter, pale light filtered by eyelashes. An eddy washes over her; voices of dirt and stone and dead bones buried saying, "Here."
She draws her hair back, swallows her blood, and looks at the ground. Wicked knives sprout from dead Earth. Wraithbone whistles through foreign air.
Sweep in low, drag it out so as to finish it, it moves down, dips into the ground, tearing up yellow grass and slamming into the pair of hands, pulling it up, revealing the roots of a vile steel skeleton. Only half out, and her spear is only half through the second hand. The first falls on the ground behind it, rolling and twitching in its search for flesh and blood.
She surges forward, as the hand pulls out of the edge of her blade with unnatural strength. She steps across and in the blink of an eye slams her foot into the thing's face, ramming it back into the ground, revealing the neck. A bare instant before a response was formulated in the thing's brain, Wraithbone severs its head, sending sparks gushing.
Taldeer had to rely upon speed. The only moment they were vulnerable, and even then was just barely was when they came out of the ground. She might have had a chance before, but-
She feels her side. Blood warm, with stray strings of meat snapped with her last exertion. And as if to remind her, pain shot through her body, sending her to her knees. She looks up, the Flayed One uncovered, emerging from the ground, performing what she logically knows to be status checks of their corporum, but what for the life of her seem to be the stretches and aches of predators reawakened. Cracks of stone lodged in their living metal echo across the valley. There was a tomb under here, there had to be.
One comes closer, cocking its head. Insanely enough, she wonders why it hadn't already struck. Was it checking the database against traps and ruses pulled millennia ago? Verifying her against accounts of age old enemies reserved for torture or consumption? Come on, she thought bitterly, gripping her spear, this one line of fate where I don't die, needs you t-
"Windspeed, 4km/hr, distancing, 1.6 km, .67 cm adjust."
Foreign thought. Tasted li-
"Necron. Acid rounds recommended. Shoot the joints."
She blinked, astonished, as the sun was blocked out by a raised hand.
A kilometer and a half away, the slight sound that one could mistake for a finger snap is heard.
Taldeer raises a hand in front of her face as a bullet rams into the center necron ribcage, shards of hypersonic shrapnel nudged by fate and her mind away from her. The metallic horror's spine, set at a one hundred and forty five degree angle, tilts, its claw flailing at where an Eldar used to be in its fevered program, before the acid finishes what a near kilogram round couldn't, and it falls in half.
Three flayed ones look to the horizon, as another finger snaps.
Lukas Alexander stayed where he was, overseeing the incineration of the Eldar corpses, the troopers clad in chem masks and biochemical armor. He turned his head, slightly, to see three men far apart from one another. One was leaning on an ammo dump, having a smoke, the other carefully standing guard in front of an entirely unimportant building. The third, was a man dressed in immaculate uniform who had conveniently forgotten any sort of identifier.
"Soldier," Alexander turned back to look in the pit, promethieum lapping the sides. A weak hand raised, and one of the incinerators yelled, pointing down. All five turned their main jets on the offending motion.
"I need to brief you sir," the soldier blinked carefully, "On the situation."
Lukas nodded carefully, turning away from the bubbling hiss, "And your comr-"
The soldier stepped far too close to the governor in the space of a moment, placing a hand on his shoulder, his pinky sliding along to the Governor's carotid.
"My credentials are all in order, and don't bear mentioning sire. Where and when would you like the briefing?" The pinky slid up to the base of the chin, following the line of the pulse.
There was much the Governor Militant would have said. He would have laughed at the false soldier, threatening with a finger. Lukas would have loved to tell the fake all that Lukas had done in service to the Emperor of Man. He would have struck the man, shot him, and ordered the other two executed. Would have.
"I feel, we should meet immediately. Alone. In my command tent," He whispered, his mouth suddenly run dry.
"Thank you, Governor Alexander," the soldier murmured, removing his hand and turning on his heel. "But I feel that Ardrin should come, wouldn't you say sire?"
"Of course," Said the Governor, turning, following the man, and coincidentally followed by the other two soldiers minding their own business.
Behind him, the smoke drove high into the sky.
"Now," Said the man of the Officio Assassinorum, "You can be candid," he spread his hands, "Forgive me, my lord, but the secrecy of our service holds utmost sway over any respect for command. Do you wish to have me flogged, or denied rations? I believe those are penalties that you may inflict on me."
Lukas had just sat down, and paused, looking up, "Pardon me? Just who ar-"
"Specific ranks, alas, I can not divulge, even within these sound proofed walls, and before you say commander, the Inquisition had the walls soundproofed, just in case of a situation like this. Helps to assure no unfortunate leaks of confidential information. Would like to lock me up in the stocks? They have some stocks on the ship."
"It's a good thing your officer is unarmed," said the man turning on his heel, placing a too clean and soft hand on the Governor's table, "He seems the type to resist, fortunately my two comrades are just the type to take him in with a minimum of fuss, hmm, assaulting a fellow officer, my my, what a time at the whipping post for me!" The man turned, a smile on his face.
"Who ARE you?"
"My name would seem nonsense to you, I'm afraid. Actually, I should rephrase that; names, at least in my temple, are determined by missions completed. I feel that as Governor, at least in this current crisis, you must have some means to refer to me."
"And you would be?"
"Midilv," As Lukas opened his mouth, "I regretfully ask you to puzzle that one out for yourself."
"Why are you speaking so deferentially?"
"Because I am a loyal servant of the Emperor, and the Inquisitor has instructed me to obey you."
"There is an Inquisitor here?"
"He is not... Public," Midilv leaned in, his lips drawn taut across his too symmetrical, pore-less face. "Of this you should mention in thanks to your prayers to the Emperor tonight."
"The Vindicare," Lukas raised a hand before Midilv spoke. "And just the facts, thank you very much. I'm not in the mood for your shame and self mortification, or hints at machinations above and below," Lukas leaned in. "Just. Tell. Me. About. The. Vindicare."
The two casual guardsmen entered, bearing Ardrin between them. Ardrin looked clearly intoxicated on victory amasec. Looked. Midilv continued, heedless of the new company.
"The Vindicare. Right. Where to start: The obvious. He shouldn't be capable of this."
The entirely ordinary guardsmen lined themselves behind their speaker in formation. Lukas stared at the three of them, as he sat back heavily, color draining from his face.
Rebellion was something that happened to ordinary men. It was something that happened in myth to the Space Marines long, long ago. The Assassins were an urban legend. They were a myth. Alexander was unaware of their existence until shortly before the invasion of Kronus. They were said to be inhuman. Machines of flesh and bone and Imperial propaganda. They were ideas, they were mankind's secret monsters, held on short chains and reduced to lives as valuable ammunition.
How can ammunition rebel?
Appeared recently. Date of origin, areas of operation, all invalid and untaught to the Vindicare.
The N20 coolant sheath is cool to the touch. A bad sign. Heat distends accuracy, and it should be freezing through the gloves.
The finger snaps, and the kick rams into the Vindicare's shoulder. A kilometer away, wraithbone spear impales the already fragmented skull, and pulls down, ramming through into the torso, pulling her up. Through the scope, she glitters. She shines. She glows radiant. In every spectrum.
Range has to be shortened, concludes the Vindicare. Naturally, in order to increase accuracy and allow a change to the secondary weapon. Naturally.
The Vindicare stands, and starts moving forward. His eye never leaves the scope. And the scope always seems to find itself back onto her. The finger snaps again.
Farseer Taldeer's hands come apart, and together, the fingers dancing and sliding across the wraithbones, her eyes, following the head of the blade, as it slides, up and away, traces of the bitter living metal following from the body.
Two down, five to go. The tide pulls around her, leaving her untouched where only moments before she was doomed. How?
Heavy footsteps crash into and rise from barren earth, as another silent Necron charges the Farseer from behind.
She feels the shot through the waves before it hits. A bullet, sliding through the machine's equivalent of a right thigh, and ending in it's left knee. She kneels, bringing the blade up, into the falling creature's neck, and then pulling back to impale the one that tried to stab her with claws lost from a bullet.
A human. A human was helping her. She could tell, by the caliber of the rounds. All brute force, no understanding of the harmony of a battle. Not made to end the battle right, but to end the battle now.
She couldn't be more thankful. The abomination in front of her still lived, sliding forward, scratching the wraithbone. She stepped back, pulling her weapon free, and nearly stepped too far before she felt the fates turn down into the dark hunger, and stopped in time to miss the claws of the one behind.
She leaps again, soaring by her will, and glanced down. Three left. One of them damaged. Confidence runs up and down her, as she falls back to earth, bracing herself as the pain in her side reminds her that she isn't unhurt herself, but she still feels so good. The three turn as one to face her.
There is a snap. Two Necron automatically track the third's head as it flies off the already damaged neck, landing on the ground to their right. They turn back to her. Waiting, for something. She couldn't lose the initiative.
She surges forward, low and ready. The one on the left has uneven footing, the living metal slower to adapt to the rocky landscape under it than true flesh. She steps first to the left, fate singing its assurances for the direction, then drives in, spear ahead-
And sees the Necron take it. No reaction. His comrade, is a blur of motion.
The Fates laugh, as the necron metal and her armor emit a symphony of shrieks.
The Necron she impaled looks passively on, it's hands reaching out and holding onto the spear as she attempts to pull it back with her one good hand. No use.
She lets go, twisting, biting her lower lip as the last of her arm guard gave way, giving the slicing talons access to her untouched flesh, she pulls, her bitten lip gives blood, and her arm shrieks in pain as she falls back, injured arm held close, she pulls back.
The impaled Necron stares down at her spear, as the metal dislodges it, slowly shaking and undulating it free. The other, stares for a moment at the blood on its claws, the ragged cloth and skin held, and compulsively wipes and twitches it across itself.
The two turn, diving low, scuttling forward, going on either side of her.
The ocean is gone. There are no tides, no eddies, no drifts anymore in the possibilities. Every way points down.
Ordinary human beings do not hold a rifle in one hand, and a pistol in the other. Much less a rifle designed to pound a near kilogram round across a battlefield to, if necessary, blow apart a monstrosity spawned of nightmares and the unholy vagaries of the Warp. The pistol was little better than a sized down version of the rifle. This is because it might break your arms. A space marine wouldn't do it because it was stupid.
The Vindicare reflected on this as he jumped over the embankment, rifle down his shoulder, and pistol in his hand. His eyes switch between each in the time of a blink, lining them up with two skulls.
This is going to miss, he thought. Two snaps were matched with two unbearably loud reports of metal rammed into. Those bullets aren't even going to kill them, probably. Two metal skulls were reduced to molten, slightly caustic and soggy shrapnel. I'm probably going to end up hurting something.
He landed with grace, next to Farseer Taldeer.
"A Vindicare should not be mistaken for a human being. Contrary to a human being, who is filled with distractions, memories, and connections to others, a Vindicare is a well oiled machine. He was raised and trained, from birth, that the only reason he wasn't dead, raped, ruined, or suffered under any other horrible abuse that we could think of, was because of the Emperor. They were taught that they were selfish monsters, to even think of being different from their fellows. Their vocabulary is limited to only that which they need. Any deviation is punished by torture. They were taught to hide from their teachers and administrators, and to only come out when the mission was complete, and only when they received word from an authority figure that acted the impeccable imperial. Any deviation was punished with torture. The sense of smell is cultivated carefully. We have attempted to teach them to tell the difference of weapons by discharge smell. Any exposure to perfume, or anything pleasant and unneeded in their missions is punished by torture. Callidus require some socialization to blend in. Culexus, with their small pool of recruits have need to take in any they can find. Eversor, their combat drugs do the trick. Never shall you find any more well disciplined than a Vindicare."
"So what happened to this one?"
"We failed to punish him for a botched mission."
"A botched mission? You let him live after a botched mission? And you gave him to me after that? I am responsible for liberating a world-"
"One of a million, sire. And oh so many people want assassins. This was one of them. An Inquisitor working on a world desired to send a message to the governor. The Vindicare was supposed to take out one of the primary's personal secondary's."
"His mistress. The Inquisitor added stipulations. The Vindicare finished the job, but he failed to complete these stipulations."
"How did you manage to defy an Inquisitor?"
"His luck held. The Inquisitor was shortly thereafter purged before he could bring his wrath to bear, and the Inquisition informed us that they would take no action against us."
"He did kill her, right?"
"Then what's the matter now? He was fine earlier in the campaign."
"Combat stress? Machines do wear out, barring proper maintenance. Some machines sooner than others. Does it matter? What matters is that your men out there shall not find him, even with our guidance that we provided them."
"We are not sabotaging them. I'm just telling you that the Vindicare are trained to be a force of nature. They strike as lightning upon the heretic, they are as hard to catch as the wind, and they are as easy to find as a mote of dust in the rainforest. Do not worry though. He will be found. There is always a contingency."
Slaanesh was near.
It shouldn't be like this. She was trusted to come, to guide the lessers to extinguish the threat throbbing rotten in the core of Kronus, and leave them in confusion. Yet, here she was, helpless, losing blood, fallen to fool pride; at the mercy of something. Someone. Someone with a presence at least. She took a small comfort in that, and the soulgem at her neck.
Primary suffering internal bleeding, blood loss severe, the thoughts came through again. Her eyelids flickered momentary glances of a too bright gray sky. Why did they come unbidden?
Pain, pain, currently showing resignation. Job unclean, Primary has high chance of survival. Good mission. How, how, how to clean primary?
The thoughts were jumbled, mashed, rigid iron roads set that his thoughts ran through, but there was something active in there.
She felt a hand touch her. She opened her eyes, and pushed out, pure reaction.
A moment, and she was sitting up, regretting it immediately as fire lanced up and down her. The thoughts came again.
Primary is active. Medical science far easier than expected. Damage to self, superficial. Now... a lengthy pause, then hesitant, uncertain, Converse?
"You're okay...?" A voice flat and muffled came behind her. At first a statement, then a question, as she tottered again. This time, she was caught.
Commissar Daniel glared out of the top hatch of the Chimera.
"This is RIDICULOUS!" he shouted, turning to the poor sergeant down inside the chimera, who was genially standing and listening to the bellicose man.
"How so, sire?"
"The soldiers of His holy wrath should not be prancing about in the middle of nowhere, chasing some worthless incapable who got himself lost! We should descending upon the Orks, take advantage of our victory-"
"Do you doubt Lord Lukas?" The sergeant casually said, looking away.
"If I didn't have all my faith behind noble lord Lukas Alexander, I wouldn't be doing this," Commissar Daniel finished with a glare. The sergeant nodded amiably, a large happy grin on his face.
Local yokel, thought the Commissar, as he stepped back inside the chimera. Probably never even heard of Cadia, much less appreciate what the glorious Imperium was doing, gifting this pathetic dirtball with the grace of His mercy to liberate it. He glanced at the auspex. Five kliks left.
He leaned back, pushing forward his cap. Commander of thirty guardsmen, each armed with the best weapons they were ranked for, with the authority to kill any one of them or any one in their way to recover one missing soldier, and all he wanted was a drink.
"No, get, get, off..." She pulled against whatever was holding her, had to get up, get away from the mon-keigh-- but she was oh so very tired. She stilled, still looking down, tensed, waiting. The seas of fortune were still, she had to reflect that stillness.
"Primary, I, I...I'm, I'm sorry, you're not Primary, you're..." The voice was muffled. She stared up. Faceless. Matte black stealthsuit, a pistol in the holster. Comm mike, dangling by a wire. Compact, hard frame, well formed for a human.
In a purely military sense of course. She had to estimate that it was best to just lay back. She was hardly in any shape to resist him, and he wasn't hostile. Yet. Stay neutral. Clipped. Communicate in their gothic language, but make clear no weakness.
"Farseer Taldeer. Your name?"
"L-I-I-V-I," He had a mind of iron, well trained to keep her out. It was always hard to translate human thought, but she prided herself on her mastery of psionics. Yet, frustratingly, she was on near equal footing with a mere soldier with a gun. All she felt were some whispers of emotion. Autonomous, instinct, identification.
"Do you always spell things out, Liivi?" Liivi? Strange name.
"I think this is my first time." She noted with surprise her captor was rusty in his own tongue.
"Why were you shooting the Necrons?"
"Secondary objective: destroy hostile combatants."
"And the first?"
Liivi paused, looked away.
A whisper of a thought passed through her head, as she stared intently at him. The iron bars of his mind shifted, subtly, until they stuck.
"To protect you."
"A full history of the Vindicare's career, if you please."
Lukas blinked, glancing at the now fully conscious and hurting Ardrin. "History? You're the handlers."
Midilv sighed, leaning back in his chair, opening hands for the "guards" behind him to place a dataslate and quill into. "We do take care of him, keeping him in an isolation cell and maintaining his health, yes; but if you recall, your landing at Victory Bay and the following conquests were chaotic. He was out of our hands and served on the field."
"But," Ardrin said, "he would leave between missions, just disappear. We assumed he was going back to you."
"Mission probability post-combat rejuvenation/isolation, reset and remaintain for next operation in greater campaign." Lukas glanced over at one of the four faux guardsmen.
"Don't blame him, he doesn't know how to speak. Blending with civilian populaces isn't our strong suit; best to avoid only after one's proven his worth. That is our temple's dogma. We have proven success by this. What he meant was that your assassin was probably removing himself from the soldiers, as taught, and to attain a good position with field of fire, and if possible, meditate, insert a food pack to his veins, clean and repair his weapon, and sleep half hour cycles. Not that that matters, I want to know every single thing you ordered him to do in the bare three months he has been out of our eyes."
"Support of soldiers in taking the industrials of Victory Bay," Ardrin wrinkled his nose, "Nasty fighting. We got tipped off about a Tauphile schism. Er, Tau sympathizers were fighting each other."
"And I ordered him to cover fire. Occupants were in the house, I ordered him to clear it. There was a family."
"Hmph. Wouldn't affect him. He understands families to be the smallest and most informal squads, nothing more. He wouldn't care."
"Protect me?" Taldeer realized she had to remain casual. There was a lie in his voice, even if it wasn't in his mind. Some mon'keigh thug hired by one of their damned Inquisitors who wanted to be "enlightened" or to steal technology, just what she needed, "Why me?" She was too injured to argue right now.
"It is a duty." He doesn't know, she realized. And he was very confused about it. Typical idiocy, these humans hadn't even explained the purpose to their henchmen. Guess that's what you get when you are so many with so short to live.
"Perhaps," Farseer Taldeer said, "You may do something about my injuries. And cease holding on to me."
The most important thing at the moment was ensuring immobility. Her men would come soon, she could be evacuated easily, and this one human would. Would.
She would think on it.
She was not expecting that.
"How? Well, shouldn't you know that? I've felt it flash through soldier's minds." When I hack them to screaming pieces with my weapon, let's not mention that bit. "When, they, uh..."
"Are dying? I was taught that was a common response, the call for a 'medic'. It replaces or supplements call of maternal member of the family squad, or paternal more rarely. Nurture, healing, are associated with it. I am taught that if the shot is unclean, and the target is out of sight, all those who bear the common sign of a healer are to be shot," Taldeer stared, and Liivi stared down back at her, then, as if to explain, "To disable any chance of the Primary resuscitating and rendering the mission a failure."
"Perhaps it is best if you set me down. And keep watch for more enemies, while I treat myself."
The surf doesn't chop. The tide ebbs, insignificant, rising and falling, like the ocean was sleeping. Farseer Taldeer sits on the beach of tomorrow and in the Tyrea plains of Kronus.
Three kilometers away, through the rough terrain, wraithbone psychoplastic bubbled as the last of the consecrated promethium burned off of the Bonesinger's arts. The webway was long destroyed, reduced to shards as she had evacuated through it.
A mere kilometer under her, the presumed home of the necrons had turned quiet; for now at least. As she recalled, the nearest possible position of her battlegroup was at least fifteen kilometers away.
And nine meters away was the human. Mon-keigh. Killer. Assassin. Weapon. Savior. He had knelt down, rolling out a plastic canopy which he laid his rifle down upon, and was cleaning it one handed. The other carried a pistol, straightening and pointing at the rustles of wind, and the far off thunder of ordnance. The face mask remained intently focused on the rifle the whole time.
Farseer Taldeer took out her runestones, and after a moment's contemplation, her shuriken pistol. She grabbed a handful of her dice, raising them to her spirit stone. She was injured, cut off from support, alone with a self declared assassin. Time to roll the bones.
Nine rounds used. Eighteen remaining. Hellfire, turbo penetrator, and shieldbreaker ordnance, still in reserve.
Movement at 321 degrees. The arm holding the Exitus pistol snaps over by reflex, the third eye sight unable to clearly catch up. Primary was rolling dice. All of her equipment was beside her. She appeared to be dropping some sort of smaller equipment.
The N20 coolant sheathe emits a small hiss as it slides over the barrel. The Vindicare returns his pistol to the holster, replacing the magazines. Packing together and reassembling his rifle.
They would be tracking him now. The small electronic whine on his person told him as much. The terrain was rougher, the commander had chosen the battlefield to hem in the Eldar, force their hover vehicles to slow and show themselves above cover. Made for a difficult time sending forces out of the base though.
The Vindicare stood up, flicking through the spectra as he glances over a horizon purple, green, pigment streaked, ruined soup of black and white. A concrete heat signature, atypical of a chimera half a kilometer away.
Vindicare doctrine taught that engagement with pursuers should never be undertaken when the targets knew where you were. Misdirection, panic, and dissolution were the three objectives when handling hostile trackers.
The Vindicare placed a fresh three round clip into his magazine, and stepped low among the long grasses, following the yellow white smear of thermal exhaust in the sky.
Lukas took another gulp from the water, sweating from every pore, as the three Officio Assassinorum handlers stood before his table, their poreless faces still. Ardrin was to his left, pale and shivering, still suffering from the chemicals washed through him.
"So, it's very nice that you explained to me exactly how much you think I screwed up in handling your defective wind up killtoy, who apparently was so perfect that he fucked up a job before he came here; but you haven't explained to me how I avoid having to worry about receiving a bullet between the eyes whenever I go outside from the one of the Imperium's finest fallen."
"Napalm the area, a good three kilometer radius should serve to deprive him of oxygen. Deploy the Aeronautica and carpet bomb the area. Break the Obsterm dams up north and deploy a third of your manpower salting, poisoning, and watching the plains flood that'll occur."
"Hyperbole is very charming, and useful in military situations, and not in the least unwanted."
"And sarcasm is a pleasant and original way to respond to statements you do not like. All I have told you are guaranteed ways to eliminate your problem," Mildilv waved his hand, "Of course, we can wait for him to run out of ammo for his Exitus weapons, which would allow you to run normal operations without worrying about officer heads popping, and then for him to run out of food."
"That would actually work?"
"Of course. He is incapable of social contact, and dependent upon the nutritional packs he has been indoctrinated to consume. He might well starve. Barring any civilian assistance, three weeks from now, you won't have to worry about him, if the Orks or Space Marines don't get him first."
Ardrin for the first time spoke, nervously. "And the farseer? What if she intervenes?"
Mildilv raised an eyebrow. "Then he'll die sooner, with an injured parasite clinging to him."
The chimera of the Imperial Guard is about as simple and reliable as a vehicle can get without it being pedal powered. Long lived chimeras in active use soon resemble their namesake, seeming mechanical abominations with piece after piece welded to them. The hatches replaced by doors stolen from civilian buildings, hastily covered in metal roof sheeting. Shorn off track pieces replaced with crudely fitted boiler plates. discarded power pack casings molded into hinges. The machines would run unwell, sending the Techpriests and Enginseers into hysterical fits, begging forgiveness from the machine spirits, and repairing and replacing what they could identify and find at the parts depot. But the older chimeras would get a slow mottled look over them, like a child mixing clays in a creche, it was impossible to separate metals and alloys at a basic level without rebuilding the whole thing. They wouldn't run well, but they would most certainly run.
A chimera, as taught in vindicare doctrine, was a terrible headache to deal with. Tanks were less of a worry, as those deploying tanks against assassins were considered tactically inept, and the vindicare gained some honor in tying up valuable resources. Height, urban combat, and tactical use of screens would put the tanks on even footing. A chimera on the other hand, could always be used.
A sniper holed in a building, the chimera would bash into the ground floor, disgorging soldiers. If the building collapsed, so what? There was always another chimera. No illumination, headlights shot out, smoke screening everything? Just drive. You'll find your way out eventually. As much as anything else the turbo penetrator round was developed to counter these situations.
Two chimera crawled through the bush and over the hills and rocks, as the kilogram heavy, green banded bullet was placed in the chamber.
Commissar Daniel poked his head out of the hatch again. The tech guy had said the auspex picked up something coming closer. Should be in sight range. One MIA, and all this trouble. He hoped that this was really one huge birthdate surprise for one of the soldiers. So that he could then shoot whoever was responsible.
"Got a direction?"
"Should be Cardinal East."
"Left or right soldier, or pass me up a compass!"
"Just a little to your left sir."
The Commissar turned, squinting through the haze of heat at the long grass and lumpy excuse for terrain. A glint of something.
Then a crack, a flash of light somewhere to his right, and something gave a soft *Tink* in the chimera's lower armor.
"ENEMY FIRE!" shouted the Commissar, pulling down the hatch, as the surprised soldiers sat up, the political officer shouting at them, "Move, move, move! A man on every gun, and any gun that CAN shoot to the right, shoots! I want a wasteland I can name after myself, do you comprehend soldiers!" They followed his orders as best as they could, barring what could only be done by consulting with the planet's geographer. A hailstorm of red stabs of coherent light obliterated the area and the rigged flint and rock that had provided the target.
Misdirection. LIIVI holstered his pistol, creeping low through the grass, trying to get himself into a more advantageous position.
"Cease fire," said the Commissar, his day much improved. The soldiers relaxed, standing at ease, hands still holding the side mounted lasguns, venting excess steam outwards. "Driver, park us as near as you can to that suicidal stain, and give cover to the second chimera. Chimera 2, tell your squad to deploy and move in. Investigate the area. If there's a corpse, ID it, if there is isn't, bring me a corpse. Copy?"
It was a risk, yes. Taking a squad of soldiers out of a perfectly safe armored personnel carrier begged for snipers, traps, and a whole lot of corpses. But that would betray targets. Feeling a bit like Ibram Gaunt, the commissar leaned in to the driver, "Stick as close to them as possible, if they bug out, move us out as quickly as possible, then get a bead on who fired on us, clear?"
"Sir," muttered the driver, pulling alongside the nervous squad extracting themselves from the second chimera.
The troops, true to form stayed close to the chimera, practically hugging the tread guard, sweeping in close, led by their lasrifles, eyes peeled for mines or traps. The second chimera pulled up alongside the first, the guardsmen squeezed in between.
The Vindicare watched them, five hundred meters behind. The one at the front, one point six meters, was the leader, the paternal. A soldier from the back, covered in spare las cells, a tear still visible in his sleeve moved forward, with a little undue haste to exchange words. On one helmet, the word, "TEATIME". A man pointed at his boot, hopping forward on one leg, speaking out the side of his mouth. Laughter.
The Exitus rifle fired.
The Commissar was next to the wall of the chimera when he heard the squeal. He fell immediately, laspistol to the ready, facing the wall. Maybe it was the adrenalin, or perhaps it was the initial charge of the rifle failing, and the drill bit activating, but somehow Daniel managed to watch a steel line, occasionally sending sparks and slivers of metal out, raise along the wall, ending somewhere just short of the drivers hatch, shorting out lights as it traveled along, shrieking.
In the dark, he heard the thumps and screams of the soldiers outside, the panicked revving as the driver slammed down the accelerator, the lurch to the right, equipment falling around them, then another, definite slam.
Outside, the Vindicare watched through the scope, watching a track fly free, a joint broken by his shot, hanging for one brief moment before the driver hit the gas, sending the tread whipping at the crowd of soldiers. The chimera lurched left, lacking pull, slamming into the other, doing mostly cosmetic damage, but serving the Vindicare's purpose. Screams, and a commissar and a crowd of soldiers leapt out, weapons brandished and at the ready.
Panic. The rifle was slung, and low through the long grass, the assassin moved forward, pistol out.
The most immediate problem was restoring the squad's rationality, and calming them down before they panicked entirely. A quick glance proved what the commissar had initially thought. Gouges in the side of the chimera, severe damage to the soldiers, and a track torn off on his chimera. The first thing to do in any case is be the first man to set the example.
"Spread out, fire at the first thing that moves," was admittedly a bad choice, but something had torn a large gash through his chimera, and incapacitated a squad, what was he supposed to do? Break out the rations? "You men, left, the rest of you, right, drivers, up to the multilasers- fan anything coming with fire, keep looking, it could be a Carnifex for all we know!" Another bad choice of words.
Buzzing. Clicking insects hopping across. Rustles of eighteen soldiers, rattled, going through the fields, rifles first. A Commissar, standing between two chimeras wedged together, covered by two multilasers.
One of the guardsmen falls with a sudden gasp. A powersword points, an order is given. A confused man, who had the wind knocked out of him by a thrown rock suddenly finds himself surrounded by red searing flashes.
The Commissar, raising his laspistol, catches a glimpse of something sandy, black, darting ahead of him. A pair of useless shots whiz into the undergrowth. Something whizzes by the Commissar's face.
This is it, Daniel thought. Death or glory. The powersword crackles with death dealing life, as the commissar ran forward, the blade held aloft. He had to say something inspiring, he realized.
"FACE YOUR DOOM, foul XENOS!" he hopes one of the troops hear it.
He runs into the grass, waving his blade around. A lack of mandibles and claws key him off that something's wrong. The grass catching fire is the second.
The guardsmen ran. What were they supposed to do?
They were spread apart, something had torn apart the chimeras, their leader had shouted something and disappeared, and now the grass was catching fire? What could they do?
The drivers only had the sense of mind to abandoned the crippled chimera, before they drove off, past the soldiers, relaying the panic and breaking of their unit to the base, heralding their failure and embellishing the story to seem as if they encountered an entire Ork WAAAAGH! in the long grass. In their haste, they forgot the wounded.
Private Gnaeus lay on his back, staring up at the patch of grey sky, rounded by black smoke. He was one of those wounded left behind- perhaps, he considered, the only one.
Gnaeus rolled his head over, to a figure, hazy and blurred against the dark smoke, red flickering across its brow, fire licking away from its feet, ash swirling around it, "What does it mean?" Gnaeus was paralyzed from the waist down and had bone jutting out of his leg like wheat out of a farm. Who was he to argue importance with an angel of death?
"Teatime?" A nod. The smoke crawls off as the shadow steps forward.
"Teatime- It was sarcastic. A joke," far times, on Cadia. "I worked in a house, as a guard for a while. Guy I worked for always had a special time for Benzran Tea," the Reaper cocked his head at this, Gnaeus waited a moment, then launched on, feeling vaguely blasphemous, whispering through the pain. "Never took briefings then, just him and his cup. Serene even during a war, so long as he got that hot flavored water of his. So me and my mate, we said, 'all's well so long as its tea time.' We put Teatime on our helmets, a joke, that we'd stay cool. Serene as a fatman and his cup. Guess bloodloss and brain damage is doing that more for me, huh?" The Angel of Death did not laugh at the joke. Gnaeus couldn't blame him. Wouldn't seem proper, laughing at a dying man.
Flakes of ash fell around the two, smoke drifting over them. The Vindicare considered this for a moment. He shrugged, bent down and took hold of a lasrifle, then reached over to pull two powerpacks from Gnaeus's pockets. Gnaeus for his part did not resist. The assassin rose, half turned, then paused. "Do you require the Emperor's Benediction?"
"No, please," Gnaeus looked up. The gray sky turned blue, even as the window narrowed as the smoke thickened, "Not yet. I don't want to die yet."
"Very well," Again, the Vindicare turned, heading for the smoke.
"Wait," the cripple struggled, turning, crawling after the shadow heading into the dark, "Hold on, I have to ask you," his eyelids were like lead weights, dragging down, but one burning mote was left in his head, "Hold on, please, hold on," It was all dark now, "Please," pain flared anew, even as the world was dark, Gnaeus's hands digging into embers.
"Tell me, will it hurt? Please, tell me?"
The Angel didn't lie.
His body was left still for a time, until eventually, uncertain hands reached over, turning the body to face up, folding the hands over its chest, and shutting the eye lids. Imitation to last respects it had seen time and time again through the lens of his scope.
Farseer Taldeer pursed her lips to suppress a grunt of pain as she probed at her wound. Blood crunched, as she dragged at more of the half crystalline clotting. Maybe I won't die yet, she thought, maybe first I'll turn into a crystal like the other old men. Make an interesting landmark for the Imperial colonists, she reflected bitterly. Then, picked apart by mon-keigh for purposes of romancing each other.
The runestones still lay, bounced across where they were. From time to time, her attention waned from her wounds to glance at them. The ground splits, the mouth smiles, the fall is good. Sweet fruit in dead mouths. The love of the enemy. Walk through fire.
For once, she wondered as she picked off the choice stone from the stone of the blind man seeing, wouldn't it be nice if they would say something like, enemy troop movements, allies position, things that would be practical?
She arose, picking up her helmet, and putting it on.
"That only increases your target profile," she froze, her helmet half on. It was like being snuck up on by your own shadow.
"Aren't you quiet," muttered Taldeer, as she finished placing her helm on, "And aside from that, why should you care what my target profile is like?" It seemed strangely wobbly. She felt along the chin, seeking for the pins that held it in place.
"It is harder to maintain unit integrity and speed if we draw conflict to ourselves," The Vindicare set down the lasrifle carefully, as he approached Taldeer. Taldeer for her part was doing her best to ignore him.
"'Unit integrity'? Forgive me for desiring a little independence, but I'd rather not depend upon a sociopathic mon-keigh," she tapped her helm, "I'm going to need this."
"It has taken damage."
The Vindicare stepped forward, as Taldeer turned around slowly. The sky was turning darker by the moment, not that either of them would care, she mused. Was he trying to intimidate her with his height? Well, she thought, gripping her spear, she was not about to be pushed around by something that hadn't even been born by the time she had killed someon-
The Vindicare reached forward, placing a single finger on the helmet. He pushed it slowly, ninety degrees. She saw the hints of his psychic signature through the wraithbone, as LIIVI stepped back.
"Did your strap break?"
"Very well," said the Farseer, removing the helmet and setting it to the ground to her side, "You don't have to demean me."
"And the... Wings?"
"They stay," She would not toss away her soulstones so easily. Taldeer raised her head, then glanced to the horizon, "Where do we go then... Suppose you hadn't thought of that, did you?"
"I have thought of that. Since I have failed my original assignment, and as of yet the planet has not been secured, standard Imperial protocol concerning Xenos Farseers would result in-"
"They'll hunt me with killteams." A nod.
"Awfully kind of them, concerning everything," Taldeer crouched, placing her palm on the ground, "I wonder if it's Sturnn," she muttered, her hands playing through the cold ground, winding and dancing. She closed her eyes for a moment, and nodded.
"I have a direction," she paused a moment, biting her lower lip before glancing at the assassin, "You are coming with me, right?"
"Good." They'll have a torch to follow.
The dirt was dispersed, the shell casings buried, and the helmet left hanging from the wretched root that watched, the last drops of blood crystallizing upon it.
Mildilv leaned back in the chair, staring at the concrete ceiling. "I estimate half dead." One of his entourage shook his head.
"Standard morale dispersal, sixty three percent break."
"Just the officers, maybe two beyond that--"
"I get it, it was a bad idea to send the men after him, but I thought after all he is--"
The fingers were wrapped around Alexander's eye and gently tugging before the pain hit his brain, and he was face to face with Mildilv's angry eyes set in the emotionless plastic face.
"Do NOT end that sentence. You did more than just kill, maim, ruin, demoralize, or damage equipment and personnel, you have ARMED him. With a LASRIFLE."
Ardrin sniggered. Alexander fell back, his eye watering, his hands snatched over it.
"It's a lasrifle," muttered Ardrin, "Most armors just get a blister. If he's using that, it's an improvement over that bleeding huge exitus."
"What does a laser do?" Mildilv turned to Ardrin, shaking a barrel out of his sleeve.
"Emit-" Began Ardrin, uncertain now as the assassin's attention was turned directly towards him.
"EMIT HEAT, quite capable of vaporizing water by the by, a main component of our bodies, I believe the heat the average militarized laser puts out is 500? Sure, 500 degrees Celsius, we'll aim low," Mildilv scratched behind his ear, producing a small power pack, bits of fake flesh still hanging off of it.
"Now, what do you suppose happens when, oh, ten cubic centimeters of human flesh gets evaporated?" The leads plugged into the barrel with ease, as Ardrin made to move out of his chair, finding two pairs of hands on his shoulders, the assassins at his back.
"Wanna find out?" Said Mildilv taking aim with his ad hoc laser at Ardrin's face, held in place.
"You're right!" Mildilv said, thumbing the powerpack, as the barrel warmed to lethality, "I'm expecting an explosion too, as human flesh and blood is evaporated, with no place to escape to but out! Well, usually. If you're lucky, there'll be a hole in your face for it to fly out of it, or maybe this thing'll disperse across the surface, frying the whole thing. I suppose we won't know until the experiment is completed then, huh?"
Governor-Militant Alexander set his carapace armored arm in front of the barrel.
"I don't recall giving you permission to fire upon my men."
"Hmph," Mildilv flicked the barrel, prematurely discharging what weak energy gathered into the arm. The steel glowed red hot, forming a temporary bubble, before fading away. "True. The lasrifle CAN be resisted by armor, a heavy scarf, or even a particularly bad case of fog. But sometimes it blows through both, in the case of lucky moments of inductive heat, using enough juice, or simple Grace of the Emperor. However, an open joint," Mildilv set the barrel down, returning to his seat as the two face dead associates returned to their ranks behind him, "an exposed eye, a rough patchjob...these can all be broken by a lasrifle. A rare feat for even the most accurate of marksmen, but a possibility. And he will never run out of ammo now. Please," Mildilv bit through his false lip, his teeth meeting with a hard click, looked up, and with trepidation in his eyes, "I'm going to have to tell the Inquisitor."
"You said he'd just starve to death anyway."
"Maybe he'll just shoot any new Vindicare we send down to support you, and take their rations? No, no, this is unfortunate, but I do not wish for this damnation on my soul." He stood from the table, false blood dribbling from his false face.
"Where are you going?" Governor Militant Lukas Alexander rose from his chair, grabbing Mildilv by the shoulder.
"To die, probably." The disguised man brushed off the Governor's hand, and walked out of the command bunker.
"We are heading towards the Ork lines."
"I know," The horizon carried heavy clouds, pregnant with rain and storm, ready to match the distant horizon's flashes of light and distant ordnance.
"Do you have allies among the Orks?" Taldeer gave the Vindicare a look.
"No. I managed to manipulate some Orks, that is true," Taldeer waved her hand in the air, "I can hardly do that again."
Like the noise of stones crashing into each other, the war thunder rolled through them. Softly shaking the ground.
"A mission type in the Vindicare Dictum, is to initiate conflicts between two opposing forces. It will be done."
A deep resonating cry echoed in the distance, as a rock whizzed end over end in inexpert circles over the heads of the pair.
"You have experience in this then?"
"Negat-- No. I mostly dealt with affairs of the state."
"Discouraging sedition and treason. Recently I've been employed in combat support."
Taldeer nodded, and then picked up step to get beyond the assassin.
Ahead the choirs of the battlefield roared its welcome.
The Inquisition of the Imperium of Man is quite possibly the most powerful organization across known space. By its whim, heresy is dictated. By its need, armies march. By its judgment, planets burn. The Space Marines, undisputed, mighty warriors, the grandchildren of the Emperor of Man bow to the whims of the Inquisition, even if they do bite and champ at the bit. Inquisitors step the range of Holy Terra's Throne, to the Black Library of the Eldar, to the interior of the Eye of Terror. What would have a man damned and executed for heresy the Inquisitors engage in. They are the unchallenged and ultimate authority.
A horizontal river fell upon the ten thousand Liberators of Kronus stood to ranks, as the Valkyrie landed on the pad set before them. Full dress, immaculate, even those imprisoned, all stood to their full attention. Not a one wished to be found wanting.
Governor Militant Alexander stood in the front, waiting unwavering as the dropship settled down before him, whipping water into his eyes and coat. He had to look good. Not just his own fate, but that of his world rested upon it.
Cherubim fluttered out, carrying multilasers in their bellies, as the nine foot bulk of sacred, artifice armor stepped out.
Gilded gold wrought across the ceramite plate, inscribed with prayers of benediction and psalms of wrath. At his waist hung a power sword, its wraithbone sheath clacking against the ceramite in the wind of the storm. Lightning flashed, picking out the bionic eyes under the hood. He glanced behind him, as two figures appeared, a techpriest, and someone in a robe--
Who repulsed the Governor. "No," he whispered, staring, as the cowl of the robe turned left, and right mechanically as it proceeded down the steps.
The Inquisitor glanced across the assembled ten thousand veterans of the Kronus Liberators, and turned aside to walk to Alexander, who was frozen in terror. He had felt this before, this terror that sapped at the very soul.
Lukas's reverie was interrupted by the Inquisitor's hand.
"Get rid of them," He grabbed Lukas's shoulder, "And cease your cowardice."
The nausea grew as the abomination drew closer, maintaining a respectful step behind the Inquisitor. Lukas nodded, every hair standing on end, and turned to his Commissar, whispering in his ear, "Dismiss the men."
The Commissar started bellowing out orders, as Lukas led the Inquisitor back to the command bunker, ruing the treachery of the Vindicare.
"It's unprecedented," The Inquisitor said, as he crowded into the bunker, staring at the consoles, the Techpriest having taken a seat and started rattling off the status and location of the rogue assassin, "Well, at least for this temple," the Inquisitor shot a glare at Lukas, who sat in the corner, rubbing his forehead, "You do understand-"
Your life is forfeit if you breathe a word of this to anyone not cleared to know it, thought the Governor Militant.
"Your life is forfeit if you dare to breathe a single word of this to anyone not cleared to know it."
"And the Farseer?"
"No one knows. We had sent out a scouting party, but they have yet to return."
"Hmph. He's heading towards a combat zone," murmured the Inquisitor, ceramite finger tracing the route of his assassin errant on the watch screens.
"Yes, a team of Kasrkin are holed up resisting Orks a little beyond the mountains, I've dispatched some men to--"
"Call them back."
"I'm sorry? I can't see how it would harm--"
"We have the greatest opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, Governor. First, as an Inquisitor, I know well the way the common man thinks; even if you DO save the men, and by some miracle they all survive, they shall criticize you for even leaving them in that situation, and I desire your administration to remain stable without any further scandal. Second, I require that one of the most secret orders the Imperium has ever known to remain a secret, and beyond that, that they can be corrupted must remain a secret."
The baleful, flickering green glow immersed the inquisitor's grin, under the red glow of the bionics. His fingers were playing with the handle of the bolt pistol.
Lukas stared at the Inquisitor, locking eyes best as he could and slammed his fist down on the comm button, "Ardrin! Tell Yoland to recall the men, and that I have rescinded the order. Rather--"
Call out the Basilisks, Mouthed the Inquisitor. "Call out Tennyson's basi-" All of them. "All. All of them. All of the basilisks."
Ardrin's reply cut out with a squawk as Lukas flicked off the button.
"Give me a show, Governor," Said the Inquisitor, as he swept out, his retainers following.
The sea was far off, in the horizon. In the horizon, it was chopping, surf sloshing about, but above it was a storm, thunder and lightning wrapping around and around and around--
This wasn't right. She shouldn't be doing this, she wasn't looking ahead right now, to be sure, she could always feel the ebb and flow of fate running along her ankles in the back of her mind, but she shouldn't be seeing it unless she wanted to.
The hunger. Behind her.
She turned, and beheld the glittering dust of spirit stones. Beneath a burning sun, they danced like embers above the bodies of eldar, common and noble, all with their hands plaintively in the air. The air, beset with gasps for breath and whispered pleas, as under their bodies, roiled the dark and cracked ground, flesh and blood growing under them, mouths spawning again and again, coiling like cancer across and over the bodies. The gasps became screams, and the whispers became cries for help.
Blood shot out in squirts like bullets, staining and stinging Taldeer's face. Drills of flesh and bone, rammed down, again and again in the mass, a sick parody of sexual congress. One, a bonesinger was propped up, an organ set before her, as she was puppeteered to play to the scene, arms wrapped around hers, snapping softly like acorns under foot. Eyes grew like weeds, wrapping and rising, staring upon the grisly scene.
It waits, said a voice that managed to skip her ears. There's no one left, but you. echoed the foreign thought, as the Farseer tried to spin, to turn away, but always found the same scene going.
And you're the climax.
The pink flesh moved on, rolling toward Taldeer, leaving broken, hollow, desecrated bodies, no two the same.
She awoke weeping.
They were maybe nine kilometers away from the Ork battlefront, when the Primary had passed out. She had still walked seven steps more, but the sound of a quick slowdown of heartbeat, change in breathing, and missteps grated on the previous light footed rhythm that she had displayed.
On step six, she was beginning to fall, and LIIVI began to move. He caught her on step seven. Her black hair fell around his hands, as he carefully lowered her to the ground. He felt the minute stresses her breathing put upon her suit. The small strains her muscle went through, as she slowly fell into REM sleep, and her body relaxed control. The warmth of her through his gloves. Her eyes, shut, her lips, twitching, whispering.
He wasn't sure why, but he held her a little more tightly at that moment. For just one moment. Before lifting her to his arms, carefully, and moving on. When water started to pour from her tear ducts, he was six kilometers away. He didn't know Eldar could lacrimate. He glanced around, infrared spectrum. Some small pockets of warmth were out there. Only one within a kilometer and a half. He carefully set down Taldeer on her side, before shooting the rat.
He had seen people comfort others, when they had commenced the standard grieving patterns. He had seen a lot of grieving, rarely before the mission, but often after. He had watched them, cling and cry on one another as their beloved died, or they bore witness to the Emperor's wrath.
Her hand wiggled about, scratching at the ground through her gloves. He reached out, carefully, and took hold of it. She calmed down almost immediately, as the frenzy of motion beneath her eyelids increased.
That wasn't that hard, he thought, as he kneeled down next to her. Her hair was in her eyes, wet and plastered to her face. He reached down, leaning in--
Her eyes snapped open.
"They're all dead."
She knew it. Slaanesh had claimed many, some had been saved, but the fact remained--
She was the last Eldar on Kronus. To be sure, that had been the last stand, the main base and the first landing zone that had fallen to Imperial forces. She should have thought of the practicality of it. But she had held out hope, that there was some pocket that had passed the purges of all the other empires and interests that were on this planet. But they were gone. Had she known that, when she ran off, drawing the humans away from the evacuation, ensuring the safety of the survivors? Or was she still deluding herself to some hope.
Her hand was caught on something. She looked, as LIIVI released his hand from hers, and drew it back.
"Are you," the spymask stared at her for a time, before continuing, "Ready for moving?"
"I'm fine, I," her hand ran down her side, between the ribs, to where her wound had opened again, "I-I could just...Use a hand."
Pathetic. He is an assassin, who disobeyed orders from the people that brainwashed him. Why should he help you, with that plaintive plea for pity?
His hand took hers. Her arm was slipped over his shoulder. She leaned on him. They walked.
He was warm.
The rain killed the smoke, but one could see the black columns spearing the ground across the field. The central bunker, was now nothing more than a mash of concrete, occasionally spattered red. For now, the Orks rested in the only way Orks could, jeering, fighting, yelling at one another to get moving, get fixing, and get fighting again. Taldeer glanced across, sensing the psychic miasma and overwhelming presence.
The WAAAAGH! was upon these aliens. They were set on a hillside, overlooking the lumbering mass of the Orks. Thousands of them. With Emperor knew how many grots, noted the Vindicare as he picked out the scuttling shapes and the noises of the servile orkoids.
"Wish those kill teams of yours would show up sooner," muttered Taldeer.
"What then?" Together, they had been putting off this question. What they would do? And it was they were now, they couldn't help it. She couldn't help it.
She needed him.
"I...I hadn't thought of that," She glanced down, "First, we'll think of these things."
Down in the pit, as Uzgob Nekkstompa, a Nob and a 'ard boy to boot wit' more bullets in 'im than a shoota perked up. A scent was in his nose. Strange to fink of it actually, now that, true to Nob form, a momentary thought went through his 'ead. His nose had been blasted to Gork long ago, replaced by an iron plate to stop the bleeding. Though suspicious, one could not deny the scent, up and through the smoke, he peered, his bionik peeper whirring and sparking as it zoomed with the focus of the nob. Somethin' was up among the rocks.
"OI! LOOKIT THAT!"
As the faces turned, it was like watching a bright green fungal bloom, as shining green faces turned, following the raised claw of one of the bigger Orks.
LIIVI glanced over to Taldeer, as she hissed an inhalation to say something. He sprinted, and pushed her out from behind the rock, and down the hill as it was shattered and pulverized into powder as well over a thousand guns, approximately thirty rockets, six laspistols, a bolter, and three thrown grots rained death upon it.
The Vindicare checked her. No broken bones, but she was bruised, and looked a mite angry, "We need to get lower. To the trenches," advised LIIVI, checking his weaponry.
"Go towards the hail of bullets?"
"CEA- SEEZ- STOP SHOOTIN THAT BIT YOU GROT SWILLIN MAGGOTS!" Shouted a nob, with a loudspeaker implanted in his throat. The bullets swayed, searching and spreading across the hill, knocking down what few stubborn trees grew out of the rock, and eliminating anything that claimed to be more than a foot tall.
"Alright, into the trenches, me in front, you in back, cover me."
They ran like mercury. She breathed a prayer to Khaela Mensha Khaine to guide her through the coming battle, while the Vindicare made several, fatal, statements with his Exitus to what few orks were in the trench they headed for.
"THEYZE COMIN’ STRAIGHT FOR US! READY YORE CHOPPAS BOYS, ITS TIME FOR SOME FUN!" The Orks roared their appreciation.
Mother dirt and father mud embraced the two as they splashed into the trench, a final wave of fire whizzing over their heads.
"Now what?" Taldeer looked to the Vindicare.
"I was following you," The Vindicare reacts to the primary- usually to shoot them, but the assumption in this case that the Xeno knew what it was doing.
"Oh," shit. "Do your bunkers have underground complexes?"
"Depends upon the Enginseers. But they never connect into the trenches."
"Great, well I suppose we're all just--"
Thirty kilometers away, someone shouts fire.
A bare minute later, inside of the valley above the trenches, three hundred incendiary rounds burst, in the air and on the ground. Bright, white, light interrupts farseer Taldeer.
And the world around the two becomes little more than fuel.
The Incendiary: Tactica and Proper Oblations
Honored and hallowed be the Incendiary, most cleansing of the Imperium's weapons. Doled out by holy flamer, delivered by blessed shell, released from our pure skies. In all forms, in all ways, it is the Most Magnanimous Emperor's love that is on display here; to give opportunity long for the Enemy to confess his sins, to be burned free of their taint. How can one not marvel at a God Emperor so kind?
Application and Distribution of the Emperor's Love
Concerning when one desires to give the Infidel forgiveness at a range, one must review these tenets in deploying the Mercy of the Imperator. 1) Proper Prayers and Devotion; to ensure Proper Phosphorus and Detonation! 2) Launch a volley of the Emperor's High Explosive Wrath first; to open the sinful timbers and flammables of the Heathen (For maximum mercy, limit rounds to ensure only injury and immobility for those struck) 3) Send the Emperor's Mercy (Take care in setting the timer; you desire at minimum a seventy percent airburst for a correct Storm of Penance) 4) After fifteen minutes (Enough time for a confession), deploy shrapnel rounds to eliminate any who would attempt to halt the Emperor's Forgiveness with mere blasphemous water.
Depending on the Storm of Penance, your soldiers may have to wait anywhere from one to five bells to deploy and liberate the souls from their accursed shells.
-- Section of Kronus Archconfessor Militade's "The Emperor in the Munitions: A Veteran's Guide to Proper Faith in Artillery", currently subject to Ecclesiastical review.
Ardrin carefully set the roughly tied together, hand written pamphlet down, half fearing that it might spontaneously turn "Merciful" upon him. It was, regrettably, the best text that he had upon this subject with him. He hadn't really worked with artillery all that much until now. Someone had to bear the Inquisitor's whims while Lukas led the army.
Three hundred smoking barrels stared at the sky, sizzling in the dribbling rain. Fifty rounds HE, two hundred and fifty rounds IN. Timers varied from fifteen to seventeen point five seconds. The flashes beyond the mountain range signed success back to the crews of the Basilisks, loading in the next volley.
"Three hundred incendiaries," Ardrin wiped the oil slick water from the pictoslate, trying to glean what was going on from the skull servitor, "And this time, cut the timers to a straight sixteen seconds, I think that's optimum airburst."
A chorus grunted agreement. Ardrin glanced over the command chimera's top again, staring out to the mountain pass far away. No firestorm yet, but this next volley would handle it. He shut the hatch as he went down.
The incredible bulk of the Inquisitor's armor and equipment took up a full third of the passenger space, and the Inquisitor's conscripted retinue filled up the rest of it, forcing Ardrin to stand leaning next to the door to the driver's room. The Inquisitor himself, now that Ardrin got to see, was actually rather scrawny. A humble cassock, far from the glinting lesson in waste covered the man's slight frame, what pieces weren't removed and replaced with gleaming steel.
"I heard the initial bombardment," the Inquisitor said with a fond smile, disturbing beneath the clicking ocular implants, "It sounded like the fanfare of saints. Have they hit?" "Yes sir. The Orks won't know what hit them." "And the traitor?" "If he isn't incinerated in the next volley, he'll wish he had been."
Artillery was supposed to be a non-issue, or an advantage when taught in the Vindicare temples. Admittedly, rare would be the primary or secondary who would stand still when being hit with an artillery bombardment, but at least they would be out in the open, and what was one finger snap in an inferno of noise? Serving as spotters, eliminating artillery crews, timing shots, all these things, the Vindicare had been taught and drilled. Reacting to being surrounded by exploding steel?
Cover ears, open mouth, find cover.
He was in cover, inside a muddy trench that was shaking and spattering all over the place. Already he could feel the tensing of his mask and implants, countering the noises and trying to counter the dizzying amount of shocks. He was fine, so long as nothing hit him. And her?
She was down on the ground, hands clamped over her ears, long hair spattered with muck sticking to her face, biting her lower lip. She was quivering.
His hand slid away from his head, heading for hers, when her eyes snapped open, and she grabbed his hand. Her lips parted, shaping the word 'move' through the thunder.
Their hands held together, they slipped forward, as a white phosphorus shell landed behind them, evaporating what little moisture had been there. Maybe ten more feet, before they fell again, this time into a partial hole that a grot had dug, before forming the wallpaper.
They pressed together in the momentary sanctuary. Dirt and mud slid down in rivulets around the pair, as they held one another, the world around them flying into the air.
It must have lasted maybe, ten, twenty minutes at the most. Ten to twenty minutes of fire and thunder. Of that time, the moments where they were together in the side of the trench must only have been an instant. It seemed an hour of racing hearts. Running fingers. Fluttering heart beats. Warmth through cold mud and napalm heat.
Then it was over. The shaking stopped, the thunder stopped ringing in their ears, and LIIVI reluctantly let slip Taldeer through his arms. Water and sweat reflected phosphorus fires rising on the horizon, as she leaned back, on her knees, looking down for a moment.
The roaring laughter of Orks snapped her eyes back on the Vindicare.
"The shells, again, this time higher."
"Airburst," Assassin again, he took out his pistol, hands running memorized lines of maintenance, cleaning what little made it through the holster, "Fragmentation?" "No. Fire. Lots of it."
He stood, stopping for a moment, and uncharacteristically awkwardly reached his hand to her, a second too late as she stood. "Cover. The bunker," Taldeer stared down the maze of trenches, in her mind's eye, dark storms flashing thunder on the ocean horizon, "We better hurry."
They stepped lightly through the mud, surrounded by dim shapes of Orks waving in the flames. For the moment, the trenches were clear, and the Vindicare's mind focused through the sights of his pistol, a fresh magazine topped off inside.
Above, the sky rained water as a consolation.
"Azrael, loaded." "Sixty guns loaded, my lord." "Hold until they all load," The Inquisitor placed his cowl on his head, and stepped up the ladder to the top of the Chimera. "Belial, loaded." "Uriel, loaded." 300 basilisks. One driver, one loader, one commander. Nine hundred men, at his beck and call. Nine hundred souls saved from damnation. Inquisitor Madek's mouth tightened, drawing his lips back in a crude curve. "Raziel, loaded." "Lightbringer, loaded. That makes all guns loaded. Your orders sir?"
Ardrin waited below, as Inquisitor Madek sat at the side of the Chimera, happily staring across the field.
"Fire," whispered Madek.
Three hundred shrieking packages of flame filled the sky.
Uzgob Nekkstompa wheeled about, bellowing, a squealing grot in one hand and his shoota in the other, trying his hardest to make more noise than a warband of Orks set on fire, and variously hitting and shooting each other.
Needless to say, he was hardly successful. Not even pointing out sum unorky softies running through the trenches roused more than a handful of lazy shots and rockets. Uzgob Nekkstompa, though a 'ard boy, was no Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter when it came to rallying the fractious orks.
So, figured Nekkstompa, him being canny and whatnot, he should go out, and 'unt some 'eads. If Gorgutz could get an army behind him by waving around some skullz, why couldn't he?
The characteristic shriek of incoming basilisk shells only proved to Nekkstompa that his course of action was in the right, as he barreled through the flames after the pair fleeing for the bunker.
The tiniest of taps, a spray of mud, and another step was taken by Farseer Taldeer down the trench. Her lungs ached, and she could feel the scrape of crystal clots inside her armor, but she had to move. A storm would come soon, and she needed to be in port then. An ork stumbled into the trench, fire dripping from him, a gun in his hand. A sharp sound, and a rush of air from behind, and its wrist is reduced to bloody scraps.
Maybe he wasn't as fast as her, she thought hesitantly. Maybe he was keeping her in front of his gun because he didn't trust her. That moment in the trench-
Did not merit reflection, she thought, as the tell tale shrieks of artillery sounded over the hills. The ramp was just bare steps ahead, to the shattered bunker.
LIIVI had already consumed the first magazine when he saw the bunker, and Taldeer moving into it. He was just stepping out of the trench, when his head suddenly felt like not moving.
"Oi fink I can kitch 'er jus' foine, 'oomie," The Vindicare was thrown down into the muck, as the mass of green muscle clanked past him, "You'll just have to siddown there and hannle the heat for a bit, 'fore I come back. Hope you'll have a lil' bit of fight leff in ya."
LIIVI managed to see the Ork nob ram into the bunker, cracking the concrete sides, before the air and sky caught alight.
"No other species in the galaxy has had quite the relationship that man has to fire. The Eldar have used it in war, and left it behind, on occasion to bring it forth, or to refer to it in poetry interchangeably with molten metal. Chaos draws inspiration to fire only insofar as mankind has influenced them; and even then, warpfire is its own entity, something diseased and gnawing, generating none of the warmth of a comfortable flame. Tau barely understand what fire IS, considering it a dangerous weapon; their fire caste serves in duty and shame, not pride. Orks are the second to men when enjoying the fires; but even then, they hold no passion to refine and craft the flames which they like to see and feel.
But man... Man has a love for fire. Napalm, white phosphorus, promethium, oil, gasoline, meltas, plasmas, firestorms, incendiaries, firepower, fireline, flamethrower, fireteam, firefighter, the flames of war, fire, fire, fire. What else could be said to have benefited as much from man as fire? What other element has been defended, nursed, tutored, fed, and loved more than fire? Our cities, our books, our people, our enemies, our friends, our dead, our living, our greatest works and most heinous feats; all of them, fed to the ever hungry flames," Inquisitor Madek chuckled, turning to Ardrin, "And there it is," he pointed to the roiling light beyond the mountains, "Years of brilliant minds worked on that one. For warfare, for country, for humanity? No. We wanted to see what fire, raw unchained flame, could do."
"Yes... Yes sir," Ardrin stared, as a dark angry cloud formed, crackling with thunder, waves of hungry lapping flame roiling and struggling against the rain, spewing ash high.
"Return the basilisks to the Governor. I am happy. Put forth my symbol of office, and take me closer. I'll need to speak to the victors."
Taldeer crawled forward, coughing, eyes watering, as a wind pulled past her and heat radiated at her. She had to get down the stairs, she thought, as she felt for the steps. Ragged, broken. She couldn't breathe. She fell, into the dark and jagged rock. She tried to control it as best as she could, her hands out. Eyes closed. Lungs burning.
By the time she reached the bottom, the sting had left her lungs a bit. Flakes of burnt paper danced in swirls around her as she came to a rest on a bed of shell casings and ash. She glanced up, the steel door far above, the wheel lock handle firmly shut. She reached up, grasping the steel. She closed her eyes, in brief thanks that it was cool to the touch. She heard thumps on the steps, and involuntarily breathed easy. LIIVI survived.
The ocean screamed. Her eyes bolted open.
Her hands shot out, leaving the spear on the ground, grabbing the wheel, pulling with both hands, up, up and away in a swirl of ashes, from the powerclaw that tore up the concrete. She glanced up, bracing her feet against the ceiling, seeing for a moment the murderous red glint of the eyes of an Ork, a grin displayed in what pieces of his face weren't iron.
"'Allo poinny ear," The double barreled, four magazined pistol clacked a challenge, "I loike yer 'ead."
How does one survive a firestorm?
Dig deep. The sizzling of the rainwater hitting the thermal bubble above. The shriek of the cremated orks. The sting of the infrared radiation burning the skin within his suit. Dig until you don't feel it. Mud ran through his fingers and slammed into his rifle. The N20-
He pulled the cover out of his pants pocket, and held it close to himself, ignoring the pain. The Hellfire round, the Shieldbreaker. They'd have to be covered. His pistol was already in the mud that was baking to clay, the rifle halfway after it. He smelled his flesh cooking, as he clung to it, crouched hugging the side of the trench. The red and white waving around him, the shadows of orks rushing this way and that, the ashes shearing across past him.
He would burn or live, based on the whims of thermodynamics.
Through the dim roar of oxygen being devoured, noises could be picked up. Orkish ammunition cooking off. Grots squealing. An argument, laughter.
A lilting voice.
A call. A voice more suited to song than terror.
The fire swept through the trench, greedy and hungry, roaring challenge to dissent. Hairline cracks began to appear in his visor.
Outside, fire whistled. Taldeer was short of breath, and clinging upside down to a steel door bracing herself to the ceiling certainly wasn't helping. The Ork, mass of muscle and steel he was, didn't look the least bit taxed, as he lifted his power claw, clacking the wicked edges together. A spark flew.
"The... the world outside this bunker is incinerating... And you want to claim my HEAD?" She put up a hand carefully, delaying, "Listen, ork, I-"
"Oim Uzgob Nekkstompa, yur PoinnyEar SoontobeNekkStomped, and dat's as much talkin as I can stan'. Gimme a foight!" The Ork lashed out with his powerclaw, as Taldeer folded up, cursing the human who HAD to stab her in the most important muscle group. Sparks flew as steel tore, and the Ork pulled his claw back, lifting his pistol, yelling gleefully as it began to bark and kick.
Ricochet filled the hall, as Taldeer rolled forward, grabbing her spear, her nervous system following the skeins of the warp. She relaxed, her muscles flowing and jerking like a marionette on the strings. Her hair, caught, slipped, and flashed around her. The ocean tide carried her around the Orkish ammunition, as her fingers ran and slipped along the wraithbone runes.
Her spear struck powerclaw. The Ork gripped, and pulled, bringing Taldeer face to face with her enemy.
"HIT ME!" Roared the Ork. He was granted his wish, her foot whipping up into his face, aided by the leverage of her caught spear, her whole body behind the blow, knocking the ork back into the steel door.
The Ork grinned, spat a tooth. Barely phased by her full force. His pistol raised, with a slurred, "Juss' the right distinse," dribbling around its teeth.
Just the right distance to spray her with automatic fire, which she couldn't dodge in the narrow end of the hall. She gave a sad grin. The ocean was calm.
Her singing spear batted aside the blood spray, as the Ork was struck clean in the shoulder untouched by bioniks. The Ork glanced to his right shoulder, as with a crack, his clavicle snapped, sending the arm to the ground.
"Well thass jus’ queer," muttered the Ork.
For a moment, some of the ashes floating in the air were illuminated with a red line of light. A sizzle, as the ork's exposed left knee cap was bathed in photons. Then it exploded.
The Ork fell over, shrieking, as the Vindicare let loose the empty power pack, slapping a new one into the muddy mess of a lasrifle.
"You were expecting me?" LIIVI stepped into the room, lasrifle at the hip, covering the obscenity slinging nob. "I am a farseer. Surely you'd've been briefed on my capabilities," she glanced over, keeping her face still and an eye on the ork. LIIVI looked unharmed. But there was something... "Mmm," The Vindicare stepped forward carefully. The suit, was designed to be fireproof. This did not help the skin underneath it that much. "Are you-" "The door's open," The Vindicare tabbed the lasrifle to ‘Full discharge’, and shot another blast at the Ork's other arm, "You can take sanctuary in there. I'll be along soon, I have to recover my equipment."
The door was a mangled mess, nearly torn off its hinges. But it was insulated, and would serve better than nothing.
"It's still on fire out there." "Most of the fuel in the area has been extinguished, the storm has ended. I should still be capable of being predictable when you're in trouble."
LIIVI crept out, heading for his supplies, when he turned towards the sky. Streaking meteors dropped in the distance. Meteors with atmospheric brakes.
Taldeer stepped for the dark, rubbing her side. At least this time, the blood wasn't clotting crystal. Or maybe that was a bad thing. And LIIVI's comment-
Was he, it upset? It was hard to tell. And more than that, it was hard to tell if she should even care or not.
"I'll be predictable," she mumbled, stepping through the hatch. She received a vicious kick to the shins.
Hopping back, grabbing her leg, she stared down at the ork, who had managed to prop himself up against the door with stumps and a leg, who was giving her the glaring of a life time.
"C'mon poinny ear! See if'n yoo kin take me wivout yer pet 'oomie!"
The wraithbone spear communicated the displeasure with the ork's inability to suffer from bloodloss. The leg flew free, and Taldeer kicked the still yammering torso to the side, and sealed the door shut behind her.
Well, she thought bitterly, soon he'll be gone anyway. And she won't care. Her people's fate depended upon her. Who could care about one mon-keigh when the potential lives of thousands of Eldar, and possibly the galaxy depended upon her being alive?
She sat heavily against the wall, and slid down it. Just keep telling yourself that, taunted a little voice in her head, that you can get another chance to make up for the hundreds lost in this useless mission. Keep lying to yourself.
From his vantage on the hillside, Captain Diocletian could see the Orks were shattered by the Guard's bombardment, mostly, true to the Inquisitor's predictions. No Guardsmen were in sight too, a relief (at least to Captain Diocletian), just as the Inquisitor promised. And the Grey Knights were marching alongside their fellow marines... Just as the Inquisitor promised.
One could ask what they were doing, marching upon mere xenos, but Captain Diocletian already knew the answer that would not be given: they were there to watch for heresy among the Blood Ravens. "For the Emperor," he whispered, before stepping down, to join his fellows in securing the pass. His eyes lingered on the ringing grey armored soldiers, nemesis halberds at the ready.
LIIVI stepped back from the trench, his visor clicking unhealthily as it zoomed back in and reverted to standard. He gathered his things, and sprinted back to the bunker, as Astartes and Ork met in battle.
Brother Onus, of the Grey Knights, cocked his head. The xenos before him fell back on the point of his halberd, spasming and shrieking, before turning into ash. Contemptibly, he flicked the sparking instrument of the Emperor’s wrath. A waste, for this precious blade to be used on contemptuous xenos.
Something… A purity seal rustled on his arm. A rune gently creaked. Through the smoke and vaporized mud, he smelled the foul stench of the warp on the air for a moment. The bunker.
Through the flame and the bullets, Brother Onus starts forward, stalking his prey. A prayer of thanks on his lips.
Light from the fires drifts through what flecks of ash remained disturbed as LIIVI stepped down to the shelter. The Vindicare reaches for the door, then hesitates. Through the gash, illuminated by a single dim bulb above her was the primary. Staring into space, head leaning against her shoulder. A black lock of her hair straying over her eye, down her lips, over her pulsing jugular, the adrenaline crash had struck her, he wouldn't even have to use a bullet, just quick and painless. If he had to kill her.
He shouldn't be thinking this. Some part of him knew. He opened the door.
"LIIVI," she started looking up, "Listen, I have something-" "No time," The Vindicare shut the door behind him, shoving the lock into place, "Evacuation necessary, conflict is starting anew. Space marines are far more thorough than orks," LIIVI took his rifle from the shoulder, and rammed a clip home into the internal magazine. It was still dirty. He had to hope it wouldn't jam.
"At least they'll be distracted by the orks." "Tunnels usually lead to Imperial outposts. Judging by the directions the marines came from, we probably won't come into hostile contacts. Marines don't have the forces necessary to mount garrisons in this province yet." "That's, that's great, LIIVI," smiled Taldeer.
"Come?" LIIVI looked at her, sitting. He reached out his hand, after a moment's hesitation.
She took it, regret filling her mind. The ocean current was pulling her, no matter what she wished..
Captain Diocletian was disappointed. This was a cleanup operation, little else.
"Engage at will, there's no challenge here," the order carried across the combeads, as the marines separated, many putting aside their bolters in favor of monomolecular knives. No need to waste good ammunition on undesirable scum.
Craters, fires still raggedly burning. Little else remained. He had to hand it to the Guardsman, give them artillery, and they can-
His shoulder pauldron shattered. Captain Diocletian frowned, and glanced over. Across the way, he saw a grot duck into a trench. He sighed, and took out his bolt pistol. A tink, and a bullet ricocheted off his arm. And he heard a strange call.
"Mo' dakka." Another voice picked it up, and it became a chant. "Modakka, modakka, modakka, modakka," By this time, Captain Diocletian had eased back, and marines across the field picked up their heads, staring, the voices seeming to come from everywhere and melting together. "ModakkamodakkamodakkamodakkamoDAKKAMODAKKADAKKADAKKDAKKADAKKA"
Across the trench, green heads popped up, one or more guns accompanying each.
Captain Diocletian gave a grim grin. No atonement for idle waste today. “Engage them, meet your foe,” he started forward, pounding across the cracked and dried mud, chainsword lifted, “And sing praise to the Emperor, for letting the enemy wet your blade today!”
Brother Onus stopped in the trench, cocking his head. Orders to charge. He saw several of his brothers obediently marching back, to fight xenos. He did not care. He had come to hunt the Enemy. Not to waste sacred relics on enemies material.
He stood in front of the ruined bunker. The Enemy had been here.
He stepped down the stairs, as the war started anew behind him, and the guns drowned out the thunder of the storm above.
The rain was pouring down the steps like a waterfall when the Assassin and the Witch came to the end of the hall. The door was knocked off its hinges, a guardsman broken on it. They carefully stepped over him, avoiding signs of passing by.
The outpost had been manned by two men, both now dead. The dead ork in the center of the floor, strangled by a wire spoke of their courage.
The rain outside had rallied against the fire, attempting to drown and smother it for defying the weather, even as treacherous lightning aided and abetted the enemy.
This is it, thought Taldeer, sparing a glance for LIIVI. Just a while more.
"Let's head out," she said, "Quickly, come on, we can get moving," She reaches for him when he raises his hand, and freezes.
"Wait. I heard something."
"Back there, in the tunnel."
Clang. Clang. Clang. It picked up speed. Clang.
Like an iron gavel pronouncing judgment. The pair, stepped back and out of the outpost, the Vindicare raising his rifle. The rain and wind swept along, spattering the two in cold, as the outpost glowed with inner light.
Clang. There was a scraping, cracking sound, as something moved against the ceiling. Clang. The light grew closer, and there was a faint hum. Clang. Then it was there.
The Grey Knight stood in the doorway, as LIIVI and Taldeer stared up from the bottom of the hill, blazing and glowing with the light of his manifest wrath.
"FOUL ONE," the voice resonated, deep, echoing through the armor, "THE STINK OF THE WARP IS UPON YOU," The Grey Knight stepped forward, and out of the outpost, setting his halberd behind him. It crackled in anticipation.
This is it.
To her left, the Vindicare, the mon-keigh tensed. She could see it all. His finger touching the trigger, the weapon jam.
A ton of blessed ceramite artificer steel pounded down, one leg slamming into Kronus's flesh after another, tearing great gouts of soil up.
This is it. The Mon-Keigh, he'll reach for his pisto-
"Taldeer!" An unexpected hand shoved her away, a note of panic in his voice, now for this moment bizarrely familiar, "Get away from he-"
The Grey Knight's back hand slash, the halberd, tugging into his flesh, lifting him up into the air.
A disposed toy. Mon-Keigh. "SCUM!" The mon-keigh, it's usefulness expended. Living the moment it was fated. The mon-keigh... falling. The mon-keigh's blood. On her face. The mon-keigh- "M-Mon-Keigh..." She shouldn't care.
"THIS IS THE JUDGMENT OF THE RIGHTEOUS!" The Grey Knight, stood over his corpse. LIIVI's corpse. Raising his halberd.
She shouldn't care. She shouldn't be hurt. She shouldn't look in his vainly struggling form.
"KNOW REDEMPTION IN- *HRNNK*?"
The light blazed, and a keening noise could be heard, as runes of warding, protection, and holiness brightened.
"W-W-WHAT WITCHCRAFT- IS THIS?"
His arm, his arm, it was bending, bending the wrong way. He stumbled back, struggling, to execute the traitor. Something cracked. His middle finger waved, popped out and broken.
"EL-ELDAR?!" His felt lost touch of the ground, and he felt the armor dragging at him. His left arm waved around, as he pulled on the bolter trigger, firing, uselessly somewhere behind him.
He heard his seals cracking. The sacred runes breaking. His arm, broken, in three places. His neck, pulling, pulling. He spun, slowly in the air, and then suddenly fell. Crack, headfirst into the ground. Again. Again, again-
The invisible grip loosed, and he fell, sliding down the hill. A rather heavy, well accoutered mon-keigh ragdoll.
Taldeer stood, stumbling, slackening staring, breathing in and out evenly. The cacophony, the snickering peals of the warp faded away from her mind. She had risked so much, and for what-
"Liivi!" She rushed forward, running over to the fallen assassin, "Please, please, Liivi, get up human, get up!" The blade had entered the small intestine, and worked its way up, searing and tearing as it went. She drew her hand away, and found blood and ashes.
Above, the atmosphere eddied, wrapping and softening the rain, sending snow down as paltry recompense, as the assassin took stuttering gasps.
The rain from the night before had reduced the battlefield to a muddy ditch. The burning Ork corpses left a black smear of smoke across the horizon, as Ardrin sat next to the pilot of the command chimera, waiting. He couldn't stand to be in the same room as the Inquisitor, as his pet Culexus just gave him the heebie-jeebies. If the heebie-jeebies came in nightmare form of endless oblivion.
One of the Grey Knights had gone missing; no sign of any corpses matching the Adepta Orthodontia molar records. The Inquisitor was rather pleasant about it.
A bunker had been discovered, with a tunnel. The marines were too busy, setting up a base in preparation to launch assault against the guardsmen over the hill. The Inquisitor hadn't wanted to go through the tunnel on foot. So, they drove out to the outpost.
The pilot nearly ran over the Chosen of the Emperor.
The APC was pulled over. Faceless gasmasked elite glamour boys stepped out, putting up their hellguns like it would mean a damn to a space marine. The Inquisitor stepped out, flanked by his Adeptus Mechanicus, and Culexus.
Ardrin stayed inside, staring through the viewport. The Inquisitor approaches, pushes over the Grey Knight with his foot. Nothing. Everyone relaxes.
Then they jump, a momentary flash illuminating the armored figure. The Inquisitor leans in. Beckons for the Techpriest. The helmet is pried off. The face... A glance, Ardrin got, but he saw it was flattened, bludgeoned. Whispers. The Inquisitor nods, stands, and waves one of the stormtroopers over. He speaks on the radio. Everyone gets back in the Chimera. Except for the Inquisitor. He stops, and tosses a word over his shoulder to the marine.
The marine's face turns stony. Seizes up. Asks a question. The Inquisitor shakes his head. Steps into the chimera.
"Well," announced matter of factly, "This is interesting." "What did you say to him," it isn't exactly a question. It's an accusation. That face. It was of a man doomed.
Inquisitor Madek glances up, "Did I speak to you?" "No, no, but what," Ardrin gulps, "What did you say to him?" "The truth," the optic units stared, emotionless, "That he was damned, for his failure to apprehend the enemies of the Imperium. When he dies," The Inquisitor looked down, for a moment admiring his boltpistol with a distant smile, "He will be denied the Emperor's Grace."
The chimera goes silent, as the soldiers stop their breathing. Shock, all around, save for the Culexus and the Techpriest, who stare downwards.
"And also, Ardrin? Don't speak back to me," The Inquisitor settled back, staring at the ceiling, the ghostly smile still on his face, "That's a sin."
"Make for the spaceport. There've been interesting developments, and I believe they'll head there eventually. Felix? Contact my barge. Tell them, Psalm, 144:1. Make all necessary arrangements. Now I," whispered the Inquisitor, "To sleep, pure of heart and worry..."
Inquisitor Madek's personal barge is in a little bubble of calm, in an orbit at constant war. Imperial Naval stand off with the Blood Raven fleet, all the while fighting Orks, Tau, errant eldar raids, the Chaos fleets and the occasional, mysterious necron vessel. Their fortunes turn and twist, but always the same: Inquisitor Madek's vessel is guarded, and never touched.
Psalm 144:1, of the Litany of Hate.
The Barge is devoid of human life. But it is filled with abhuman life. Servitors scuttle around, Tau shriek and cry in cages, and the cargo-
Currently, it lies empty. Save for one reinforced casket. No glass faces outside to allow a viewer to look in, for it would be too weak.
Blessed the Emperor, my strength, be.
A grasping metal arm swings out, wraps around it, and drags it, emitting sparks the whole way, shrieks of metal falling on deaf durasteel. The odyssey across the vast and lonely cargo bay does not quiet the hunk of steel. At the end, it is placed before the doors, set on a steel bar.
With loud, shrieking claxons, the doors part, and the Tau prisoners gasp for air again. The doors part a bare ten feet, before with a sliding snap, the bar sends the casket flying with what air pressure couldn't do.
It spins, end over end, as around it thousands of navy men fight and war to hold a place above a planet.
The casket falls towards it.
That teaches my hands to war...
Molten layers of durasteel dribble off as it falls. It was not specifically designed for orbital entry, but it serves. End over end, it falls and falls, and the outer layer slips off. It has a rough aim of where it needs to go. A rough idea, and a rough mission enters the skull.
Vindicare. Farseer. Dead.
A bare ten miles above ground, the outside of it detonates, bits at a time. The fall hiccups, again and again, as layer after layer is blown off.
Ten meters above ground, it seemingly detonates. It manages to arrest its speed, to only half of terminal velocity.
It is driven three meters into the ground, and kills an unfortunate Odewillin that strayed too close.
It hisses, and pops, as the last powder of explosives detonates. The slag runs off, leaving behind a mere steel plate blocking it and the world.
...And my fingers to fight.
A clawed hand pierces through, and tugs off the steel like paper.
Fear me, for I am your apocalypse. -Dictum Eversor
"And call up Governor Alexander, your friend," Inquisitor Madek sways with the bumps, optics still closed, unsmiling. "I want him to explain to me how my asset managed to get tainted by Chaos."
I should have left him there. He had served his purpose.
He owed me nothing - yet he gave himself to me willingly.
Why? I know not.
He is nothing more than a pathetic human.
An inferior race.
But still I broke off my wings so that I might carry him easier.
I took him from that place, into the snowstorm where our tracks will not be found.
He is heavy. And he is dying. And he is slowing me down.
But I will save him.
Why? I know not.
He is still warm. I can feel his blood ebbing across me. For every beat of his heart, another, slight spill of heat. The heat blows away on the winter wind. His blood is still warm. But fading. And I have spilled scarlet myself.
The snow laps greedily at our footsteps and our lifeblood, covering them without a trace as we fade away.
Battle still raged behind them. Far off, in walls of steel and concrete, trenches of dirt and burning promethium, space marine and ork reveled in fire and bolter. Taldeer stopped a moment, breathing in and out, her lungs burning. She held the human over her shoulder, his feet still dragging in the snow. His rifle sheath, with frost covering it. She looked around. Disputed territory. Ork banners held up, some burnt, some empty, some shattered and buried under the snow. Exhortations of war broken and buried under the white blanket. The Vindicare beside her coughed, tensing for a moment, his hand digging into her own- then he slackened again. The blood warmth washed over her side again. She had no need to watch the skein of fate to see that survival was improbable. She was needed elsewhere. She shouldn't die, freezing, clinging to a weaponized man. She shifted his weight again, and pulled forward with her spear, panting again as she passed under twenty meter high declarations of war, pulling through the winter.
"Inquisitor." Inquisitor Madek snorted sharply, blinking away the sleep. He frowned. He was cold. He should have packed more clothes than just a cassock. An idiotic desire to empathize with the guardsmen perhaps. "I've heard tell that cleanliness is one of the signs of divinity,"
Madek roused, sitting up, slipping on an ill fitting gentle smile, "I don't think I have to fear any usurpation here. What is it, Felix?"
"The storm," Felix pointed out to the wall, where some diodes sputtered, "The corpus mechanica would be better served if I-"
"I can barely give a damn, we're on the road to the spaceport, we can get it fixed there."
"That's another thing," Lieutenant Ardrin, resembling nothing more than a big black fly came into the room, holding a buzzing comm, "The city, currently our forces command it and will be reinforced, but, the agents of Chaos are attacking it. They hold the entrance to the city we're heading for." Veteran soldiers. No courage, no faithful bone in their body they. Merely the survivors, benefit of the brave souls of the Emperor's truest servants. A fine degree of cowardice uncaught by commissar, that's all that experience breeds. They that survive are just rewarded for their base desire of living. Disgusting.
"I believe we'll be fine," Inquisitor Madek gave a serene grin, "The Emperor protects."
Sponge Weeds seemed to be an architect's dream come true. Plentiful, verdant, and tough, to early colonists of Kronus, they seemed to be a nightmare, great wide fields of sticky, dark, meter high reeds, choking swamps and rivers, ensuring most of the southern continent was a morass of stagnant water and painful to clear reeds. Chop them down, more would grow from the inevitable chunks that rushed out of the thing when it was cut, the water held within flooding out. They would gum up the irrigation, showing up in every single farm. "Spongeweeds," became synonymous with unwanted guests, and even became momentarily popular as a term for rapists before use of this term was purged and suppressed by the Ecclesiarchy. Until one ambitious young pioneer decided to attempt to use it to make a house.
Foolish idea, was the universal thought at first. The soaking, stinking reeds would make for a great big mess everyone was convinced. At least until lacquer was applied to it. Cyanide, bacteria, toxins, as soon as the living reed felt under threat, it would stiffen up and hold, sometimes for years at a time if the rudimentary immune system sensed the poison was still there.
Furthermore, reeds cut together would eventually mold together, sealing the area with a near vacuum grip. The house would generate warmth in the winters and hold off the heat in the summers, as the still living yet paralyzed plants reacted to the climates. This architectural fad and art material lasted fifty years before a pysker wandered too close and felt pain. Other pyskers had entered houses, but registered no complaints, and the people protested, but to the Imperial Church this was evidence enough to burn the lot of the suspicious, ugly living buildings. They said the fires were responsible for the harsh winter and cold summer that followed. Standard imperial architecture was followed from then on, but on occasion, out in the wilderness, you found the occasional hut. Like this one.
Taldeer stopped, falling to one knee, the weight of the assassin driving her down. Her muscles were stiff cracking against one another, wishing only to lay down and die. She wheezed, staring down at the snow. Little red spatters filled it. Hers and his. She couldn't tell them apart, they were both bright hued and crimson.
Maybe if she stared long enough, she would see one shrivel and crust and the other crystallize and powder. She slapped the ground with her hand, fighting the welcome hands of a sleeping death.
She looked up. A small house. Wooden. Some shelter from the biting wind. Just a few more steps. She bit her lip as she rose to her feet, carrying her savior, blood spilling from her side as the wound broke once again. She dragged forward, heading for the leathery wood flap of a door. Her hand reached for the door knob. She hesitated. A slight scuff of a noise in side. The pistol is steady in her hand as she pushes open the flap with the barrel. The noises getting louder the whole time.
The door turned, squeaking and crackling on frozen hinges, the unfrozen edge flapping in the blizzard wind. Didn't look like there was anything. A gas tank stood in the center of the room, a line running into the cast iron stove, radiating welcome heat. Two doors, one ajar to a chair with the bottom cut out over a bucket, and the other firmly shut.
Taldeer shrugged off the assassin, leaning in to whisper, "You'll be warm in a moment Liivi." She slipped inside, sweeping the room with her shuriken pistol, the singing spear unslung and behind her. The noise was coming from above. She was moving, her gun pointed at the ceiling, when she felt something catch her other hand from behind. Her hand- She whirled around, pistol raising to free her spear hand- The assassin's glove was wrapped around her own, slackening, as it fell down in the door way, shivering. The door opened as the Vindicare was dragged in, a slight trickle of blood running across the absorbent floor. Taldeer leaned next to him, leaning in close. His heart had slowed since last time. An occasional shiver would wrack a part of him. The gash- She gulped down the bile as she something shift and slither through the mess of blood and ribs. He shouldn't die. The door creaked.
Taldeer spun on her heels, spreading her hands and kneeling before the Vindicare, her shuriken pistol and Singing Spear out. Someone stood, stark naked but for a sheet over his shoulder, in the door way, a primitive slug thrower at his shoulder. Underweight, hairy, and yellowed by liver failure. A shivering blue eye held between the bead, pointed at her head.
"I-I-I never thought they would send another, to me, to my nightmares!" The gun rattled, parts scraping and clacking together, "I, I've killed before! I'm a veteran. A veteran of a secret war of soul and damnation. You won't have! Have! Have me! That's not yours to take, I never let you!"
A madman. Dribbling in whatever local dialect that the humans paid courtesy too. She could barely glean the words meaning, much less the order. In all probability, she could move and slice him from jaw to groin before he could fire his pathetic gun in the wrong direction. But- Her brows furrowed together, she whispered in low gothic, "We only seek shelter from the storm, we are but mere travelers," couching her words in a recognized story, she tried to manipulate his mind. The discharge practically deafened her, and the human brought the black smoking barrel up to her eye.
"Manipulations! Orienteering, on basic desires?! Fuck you bitch! No more," He leaned in, eyes furious, "No more. I used to be a good man, before you showed me! Emperor..." He whispered, "Emperor protect, are you my daughter? I can't tell. I thought, I thought I ate you earlier. I can't tell," he stared down, squeezing his eyes shut, yellowed tears leaking out of his eyes. The gun rose, the man inarticulately sobbing into a hand, it wavered above.
"I," am your daughter of course father, don't shoot me, and your son, you had a son didn't you, followed by a shot through the throat. Eminently survivable, reasonable action. "I am not going to play along with your delusion, mad one," Taldeer brought her shuriken pistol up, and into the watery blue eyes. One shot that would be it. "Leave us be. I do not wish infecting his wound with your blood. And for the sake of your family, get a hold of yourself." Stupid. The old man turned, the slugthrower up. She could get off two shots in the time it took him to get aiming.
Whizz. The first nicked his hairline.
"-h is the"
The second cut through his thigh born artery.
"path to redempARRRRRGGH"
The bullet fired, hitting wide, thumping into the ceiling, sending filthy half frozen water across the room. Taldeer moved back, and snapped her spear at his hands. The blunt end of the wraithbone snapped his hands like a carrot, the broken bones held within a sack of meat. The gun fell to the floor, discharging into the wall. The wraithbone blade was held against his neck. "Surrender."
He opened his mouth to speak, and all that came out was blood. The shriveled old corpse fell back. Bullet had entered by way of the esophagus, tumbled through thalamus, hypothalamus, medulla oblongata and cerebellum, then, by his estimates, got lodged in the occipital lobe. His Exitus pistol lowered, the Vindicare let his head drop back to the floor. His mask was full of blood. He panted through it. His eyes closed. He was superficially aware of a presence standing above him. Through the numbness, a cold drop prickled his right arm.
"He was hardly a threat." Primary. Taldeer.
"It was necessary."
"Well," her voice came closer, as hand fell on his chest, "I'm not about to berate the man nearly disemboweled, but somebody's going to have to clean that up if we're going to be staying here more than an hour. "Is there plumbing?" He heard the gentle sloshing of water. "I don't know about your species, or even about you yourself, but amongst my people," Splash. A fire ran down the numb line that the Grey Knight had cut into him, "Cold or no, the wounds need to be sterilized," the assassin, for his part only twitched.
He stared at the pistol in his hand. He had never gotten around to reloading it.
The blade had started at the base of his bottom, leftmost rib, and worked up, ending at the right clavicle. It was a surface cut, the first rib was cut and the second broken, but after that no other bone damage. The muscle had been shorn off, and it looked like that where it had gone, the flesh had fried. The heart was barely visible, thumping and pulsating.
Fortunately, she reflected, humans had a whole lot of space in their body as opposed to eldar. The blood loss was the most important thing. And sterilizing the room. The alcohol would help a little. And the corpse. Of course, the man had to be eating. Why did he shoot him? The damn silenced pistol, it could have been any time during that fight, and she wouldn't have known. But. It was only after she had told him to surrender. His mouth opened. The blood splattered. She shook her head, as she wrapped the body in the sheet it had been wearing, and dragged it out into the snow. He shoots a lunatic who was waving a gun at you. Most people would firmly place that under the pro column. It just means-
She let go of the sheet on the corpse. As if on cue, the man splayed out, a shiver running down his veins and arteries.
Teeth. Teeth on his tongue. And two noses in his hair.
Her eyes widened, and she turned back to the cottage, as the door slammed shut.
Her feet barely touch the snow.
To Eldar, all mankind move clumsily, and slowly, kittens staring about in the dark, their arms blindly reaching to the sky like teetering towers, waving back and forth, unsure nerve and tendon spasming.
Men looking upon Eldar see disquieting grace. Deliberate steps. The care of a surgeon in the movement of a runner. Even the enhanced assassins, and those among the Space Marines unimpeded by their armor seem to have no instinct about them, their speed the speed of a pneumatic press, or an out of control piston. All forcing through the air, no cutting.
But the Vindicare had seemed different. It wasn't speed, as much as being in the right place at the right time. She should've known damn it. She rammed into the door, the half frozen bark, far from its native swamp, dully creaking. She pounded into it again, pulling at the door. It warped and stuttered, held shut by something.
More foolish than a human, she thought bitterly. Her spear was still inside too.
She glanced around, running around the house, as she felt the pull of the sea.
Back, a bare hour maybe, that's when she should have seen. (shortly after the Grey Knight fight)
"Come on!" by instinct, her hand reached up, flicking away the blood on her face. She felt more warm blood smear on. The rain was turning to snow, and his breath had started to turn irregular. Shock? He had to live. From stem to stern it had cut, running more shallow along the way. His bottom two ribs, one was cut clean, the other hanging by a sliver of bone. The metal plating had done little good, still bubbling where the marine's glaive had touched. Fried nerves, cooked skin- Human. Mon-keigh.
There were more of them than the stars. Why should she care. A hand slipped under his head, and another one ran across his back.
She shouldn't be caring.
His body shuddered, as he hacked. The mask. Blood was catching under it. Flooding it. He couldn't breath. Her hands ran up the synskin collar, reaching under it, pulling it up as it went along. The mask fell into the snow, taking a lot of blood with it. It dribbled across the snow, and she gently tipped him over, as he hacked, bloody froth coming clear.
"Liivi," she whispered. His eyes were squeezed shut, as he fell back, breathing, coughing occasionally. Dark hair. Short cropped. His cheekbones stood out. What wasn't a smear of blood was- No. Nothing to think about. The snow was falling quick and fast now. She had to go.
She grabbed the mask, and pulled it back onto the Vindicare as gently as she could, but in the middle, he leaned in. Lips brushed. And maybe. Just maybe. They might have held together, a little longer than was appropriate for a bleeding man's comfort.
He fell back into the snow, immediately, as if by some miracle, calmed. She stared. Through the blood, she could taste something else. Lemara. He tasted like lemara.
She carefully pushed the mask back on his face. Around them, the storm begin to howl. She lifted him to her shoulders, and then fell back. There was a cracking noise. The wraithbone had had enough, evidently. How carelessly then she tore off the other spirit stone mounts. Leaving her with just one refuge, in case of death. She had reasoned, she could come back for them. Isolated place. Wouldn't be that hard. They were just getting in the way anyway.
She hefted his arm onto her shoulder, and he had just barely enough life to push with his legs. She stood.
’"WHY-"’ The hollow roar of the Grey Knight's audio must have been malfunctioning, she heard something else whispered. She probably should have been listening.
"He saved my life."
’"YOU-"’ more hollow whispers ’"YOUR GREAT ENEMY?"’
"No more words," She turned, dragging the Vindicare off into the snow storm with her, "You should die soon out here."
The Grey Knight had sounded confused. She had chalked it up to his ego's breaking at defeat. He had been beaten severely. And his attempt to kill the enemy of the Imperium he had seen had been foiled by another agent of the Imperium. The Grey Knights are the greatest weapon mankind has against Daemons.
In all their years, they have never had one fall to chaos. They are the few to be entrusted with the full secrets of what the Imperium knew of daemonology, chaos, and the warp. Their very presence pains demons, makes them sluggish, ineffective. They hunt daemons, first and foremost, and in this task, they must be expected to be the best warriors that humanity can dredge up.
Taldeer ran around the hut, looking for any entrance, as the wood boards creaked at her presence. Why would he engage a farseer alone? Her fingers ran across boards merged together, one flesh over another, warm and twitching to the touch. Why would he try to finish off the Vindicare, if there was another opponent in the field? The Great Enemy.
"Wake up Vindie," the Assassin blinked the sleep from his eyes. Taldeer entered the door, shaking the dripping snow from her spear, smiling serenely at Liivi.
She Who Thirsts.
"Wake up." Liivi started, sitting up, as a flustered Taldeer approached, with a smile, shaking the wet off of her spear. "How are you?"
"I'm-" the Vindicare tested himself, and set himself back, "I'm going to need a moment. The nerve endings are still broken."
"Good... We'll have to pass the time then, won't we?"
"The inhabitant. I don't smell him."
"I took him out," Taldeer shrugged, setting her arms straight and jamming her hands between her feet as she sat in a position of mock meditation, "Figured we wouldn't like any dead guy laying around here."
"The defecation," the Vindicare turned his eyes towards Taldeer, "The blood."
"Shh, I was just lucky to find a mop and soap in this hick's place," Taldeer placed her ungloved hand on Liivi's shoulder, pushing him gently back down, "Just go to sleep, hmm?" The wood groaned under the Vindicare, as he lay back. A fresh magazine was struck home into the pistol. A nervous system of wires and thrice blessed metals kicked in, as the pistol rose to Taldeer's face. She grinned.
"Do you get off on this?" The pistol made six very good points in reply, while the Vindicare kicked himself back.
Taldeer started, as she felt the ocean kick, before stepping back. Two large, holes burst through the wood, the rubbery sacks burst and making a squealing, squelching noise. The problem with the architecture of Kronus, that caused the Ecclesiastical purge was the pysker's report. The pain he felt was purely sympathetic, a crude intelligence, but an intelligence en masse was inside the homes. The local Arch Cardinal had wanted any reason he could find to burn the homes, as disgusted as he was at the concept of living houses, and he had found it. They were aliens, possibly intelligent aliens. As the homes burned into the night sky, and the reeds, already depopulated by the rapacious desires of the colonists, were uprooted wherever the crusaders could find them, they were nearly driven into extinction. Whether they had gone on this path for centuries and they had somehow managed to keep it in secret, or it was started in response, no one can ever be sure.
But the plaintive, stupid, mewling minds of plants turned their thoughts to Chaos. The shaking reeds vomited forth the filthy, turgid water into the snowstorm, as Taldeer leapt back. They rustled and undulated, swearing and cursing in ways only the grass and wind could respect. They called upon a goddess that had long grown bored of them. The weeds shriveled and shrunk desperate to hold onto what water they could. Taldeer reached with her hands, and broke and tore the twisted remnants of an empire that never was, and broke through.
"Hah... Haha..." The pseudo Taldeer fell back against one of the walls, as it twisted in vegetative joy, she spread her hands, "You wound me."
"That was the intent," an empty mag thudded across the floor, as the Vindicare reached for another.
"Do you like it?" The Taldeer fell forward, her eyes watering, her delicate, pale hands reaching for the hole in her throat, she stared upwards, mouth running blood, at the Vindicare, "Is it better, when you can just kill those that you make the object of your affections? Simplifies the fun parts, I bet?"
"Quiet," The pistol coughed, ramming a bullet through the forehead, blood spattering against his visor. Small lasers immediately evaporated it. The Vindicare stood, hand at his side. He switched through the spectrums. All of them showing the same thing.
"Something wrong?" whispered the heap from the floor, "Would it have been better if I didn't talk?" The visor was in error. The sounds weren't matching up right. The gun was too loud. There wasn't that much blood. He didn't smell death.
"Close," Thermal signatures rose in the shape of a smiling woman, covered barely by black stained leather, "It-"
The pistol coughed too loud again as a round black hole appeared in the forehead.
The house shouldn't be this big. Taldeer stepped forward, her shuriken pistol drawn. A small comfort. The wood walls seemed to pulse and breath, as water passed down the reeds. They pressed in, weak, minds drawn together by some human that wanted a place for the summers. Her ocean was dark. She was in the waves. She was strong here.
The Great Enemy. She had been a fool.
No one falls in love outside of their species. Not without some manipulation.
"So, why are you going back?" Mused a voice. Taldeer held, her pistol raised, her hand squeezing, crackling with energy.
"I have no reason to explain to you, or your ilk."
"She was bored, you know," Something stepped out of the shadows, something that was a color and a smell and a industrial accident, "She has been waiting soooo long, to finish what you started. You can't tease a girl forever," A hand touched Taldeer's shoulder. She shot up. Something hissed and shrieked, and for a blink of a moment, Taldeer was standing in a kitchen, strange, viscous blood dripping across her. Then, she was somewhere else.
"I know you are impatient beast. Your kind always are. When you come back, I will kill you."
"Oh, I will be entertained," The voice had changed pitches, almost recognizable, on surrounding on all sides, "I will be entertained by your other. Your savior, as we jerk him by the chains we gave him and he shoots you full of holes!"
As if on cue, a buzzing noise of a hundred bullets whizzed at Taldeer. She held still, and waited for the thing to get bored.
General Governor Militant Lukas Alexander rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Inquisitor Madek, I do not know anything more than what my trusted officer Ardrin has told you. If you will pardon me, I have a war against those beloved space marines you invited into the pass my men softened to run."
"There is something more, Governor. There must be."
"Your Grey Knight declared somebody reeked of the warp, he was next to an Eldar, he could have sniffed the warp enchantments she used on him."
"It is not the same, neophyte. Tell me again, where you deployed him."
"Initial clearing of Victory Bay, deployment along with Operation Hammerfall as a spotter-"
"He cleared a house, used it as a firing position, dropped hundreds of rioters before they surrendered."
"Inhabitants of the house."
"A family, family of six."
"Hm. Last of the reports on the kill roster for him-"
"Oh good, that makes me ecstatic. I'm so glad you found that out. Beautiful. I'm going to get back to my war, that you helped my enemies with now."
"The weight will be upon your soul if you do not hel-"
"What else can I do? I'm not going to recite records that Ardrin has already told you about all day. Governor Militant, out."
"If you-" Inquisitor Madek stared, stunned as the vox buzzed silent. Then frowned. That would require retaliation. He turned to the Enginseer, "Brother Felix, if I could have a word with you about the newly deployed unit..."
Lukas switched off the comm, panting a bit. That was unwise. He closed his eyes, and sighed, before crawling back into the tank. He stood, taking the third door down the corridor, where the technicians saluted, pointing him to his seat. He gave a nod, before sitting down in the command chair. "This thing is checked right? I don't feel like going through a long checklist of what works and what doesn't."
"All eleven weapons, check, fuel check, tracks check out, everything is good to go my lord."
"Good," Lukas Alexander shifted uneasily in his command chair, glancing across the technicians. He had been a bit rude. He licked his lips, loosening the bolt pistol at his side, "No one in here leaves, no one in here enters, until this battle is over, you read?" A wave of nods, "Good. Set course for the space port." A deafening crunch of ice on steel, as the many engines in the Baneblade roared to life, pulling the tracks forward across the snowing landscape. Eleven guns waved over the horizon, searching for targets, seeing only the flanking forces of the Imperial guard, rolling behind. Greasy black smoke sailed up into the sky joining their brethren above the Kronus spaceport. Strangely, the assurances of Midilv seemed even less comforting, at the end of a tank column.
"It's not going to be of any use," The Daemon stood, shaking her head, blood and brains dripping from two dark red holes.
"True," The Vindicare lowered his weapon, his hand pressing against his side, the adrenaline was fading now, and he could feel something drifting in his body, "Leave me then, or kill me abomination. I shall not be diverted from my duties."
"No, of course not. You have the Farseer for 'diversions' from your duty, don't you?" The daemonette spread her hands, approaching the assassin, "You didn't- You didn't think these feelings were genuine, did you?"
"If we're going to have a conversation, you REALLY must stop shooting me."
The contents of Chapter Nine were deleted by the writer; supposedly, nothing relating to the story was lost.
- Absolutely Unacceptable*
"Of course, you would have known that... If you had looked inside of his head," the abomination's clawed feet tacked on the floor, annoying, precise, like a metronome by five, "Which I assume, you didn't?" Taldeer stayed, kneeled, still. The thing was confusing her, trying to make her distrust, lose focus, but... The soft noise, like leather being drawn taut heralded the monster's smile. "You DID."
"I delved into his mind while he slept. His memories...they horrified me. The things they did to him as a child and even worse - as a man. They twisted his mind and body endlessly. Till there was nothing left. Nothing but a weapon. A tool for the Imperium. Barely a soul in a body, this man, LIIVI, was utterly alone in this world. Even more so than I. He has nothing and nobody to go back to. I broke free from his mind. And after a moment to collect my thoughts, I laid beside him and slept," Taldeer turned, her head tilting up slightly.
Amusement, rippled on the tide in her head. "You were horrified?" Laughter, mirth traveled along the waves, "Horrified? You soft bitch, you delve into his skull while he sleeps, while he TRUSTS you," The voice paused a moment, and for a moment, the utter dark that blocked Taldeer's senses lifted, her, lying on the kitchen floor, the wall above filled with holes, before it returned, "And you dive into his skull?" The daemonette was behind Taldeer. She could feel it. Rasping along her soul, crying out that all that was wrong behind her- Yet she listened to the daemon's words.
"I MASTURBATED to those thoughts, you little innocent bitch," Taldeer's eyes made the lie that the daemonette strutted ahead of her, glittering multifaceted eyes reflecting her a thousand times being tortured, "How couldn't it arouse you?" The daemonette spread her arms, a viscous substance dribbling from her fingers, strands still leading back to her person, "A man, reduced to a machine, single minded, devoted to destruction and eradication, and you, you have him as your servant. Your patsy. The one who adores you,"
The Slaaneshi leaned in, smile playing across her lips, "Without even fucking with his head, or at least doing a damn fine subtle job of it, tell me you don't get a little wet at things you could make him do, wrapped around your little finger."
"I mean, at that as well, with just a single glance, A SINGLE GODDAMN GLANCE, you had him?" The Daemonette shook her head as she walked back, "Lucky, lucky little whore..." The illusion stopped, turned on her heel, staring at Taldeer. "Well? Say something? Anything Juliet?"
"No," Taldeer said, serenely, "I think you've told me everything I wanted to know already." The daemonette narrowed her eyes, snorted, then rounded on her heel. Imaginary tortures sprang anew across her, as Taldeer grinned, fearless now.
In the Temple of the Vindicare, all times were measured by the times of Earth. It took three days, nineteen hours and twelve seconds for the disobedient, alien sun to set. Eighteen hours and three seconds for the blasphemous second star to rise. Eighteen hours of tyranny before it fell. So on. So forth. All attempts to form an unofficial, logical time, were broken by the lash.
Yet, in those first few free months, the assassin kept a new time than the one he had once on his home world. It had been driven out of him. With burning rod and crackling leather, it had been erased. Expunged. With the rest of him, pulled out by the roots, taking great big bloody clots with it.
It was noon, on Holy Terra. The sun was high above Holy Terra. The Inquisitor had always told them that the clock was right. Checked by twins, they were. What light could make through the atmosphere, would be glinting off of the palace right now. The moon looked beautiful, this noon of Holy Terra.
"If you're done ruminating...The mission you fucked." The Vindicare looked down from the moon, to the longlas in his hands. He stood in a field where nothing grew but weeds, tall as his thighs. A flower was growing at his feet.
"Do not fail," intoned, from a year away.
"You're an awful good sport about this," whispered the daemonette across the road. She smiled, sadly, in the lips of Taldeer, sad eyes of Taldeer peering from under the sad brow of Taldeer, in the garments of Taldeer, "If, if you want this to stop-"
Taldeer's long lashes cast downward, covering aged eyes, wet and ashamed- "Yes."
A ground car trundled by, its primitive combustion engine hacking and coughing as it went. When the ton of motored steel passed by, the warp spawned abomination shrugged off the skin of Taldeer, a frown cracking its face. "Guess it ain't vulnerability then," muttered the deviant, dispelling the illusion.
"The target is going to Nightmarket," 12:34, on the minute in Pier delle Vigne, the streets blossomed. Under noon in Holy Terra, under moon of their world. No spymask. Stealthsuit and hood were under his coat and trousers, but he wasn't expected to have to use them. Inquisitor Uberti wanted to send a message. Already elements of the 5th Hastati were moving, securing spots for the Vindicare to fire, securing avenues of escape, securing the proper delivery of the message. A year ago, the Vindicare's hands moved, disassembling the weapon, placing the pieces in his coat. A year ago, he moved off, heading for the night market in full bloom. The red flower, fairer by any other name, a relic from twenty thousand years ago, a genetic miracle, a year ago crushed under his foot.
"Stepped on something," the voice from across the road lilted over. The world had no technology to speak of. The governor enacted dictums and creeds long ago, that forbade the populace from dealing with Imperial traders, "To preserve the culture and lifestyle of the honest folk of Florent." Currently on his two hundred and eleventh year by virtue of Imperial immortality drugs, rumor stated that the governor had gone into seclusion more as a concession to good taste not to flaunt hypocrisy than any sort of secret to hide.
Generations had the same portrait of the governor, smug, a little jowl, the Imperial regalia suiting him. Rogue traders freely tracked back and forth, even as lasgun bearing Adeptus Arbites patrolled the streets, keeping an eye out for citizens bearing too much technology. "You ever felt guilty?" Asked the voice, now on the other side of a building, as the Vindicare stepped along the sidewalk. The longlas disassembled, held in pockets on his person. The assassin did not answer. Night Market was a festive time, a relic of happier days. Night time used to be times of fear to those of Pier delle Vigne, long ago.
But how the city celebrated with gas lighting. They revered it to this day, elevating the hero of the city, Vigne the Gaslighter, with sainthood in their local Ecclesiarchical branch, and with his name upon the town. In celebration of their newfound safety, and liberation from criminals, the Night Market was opened. In recent years, it had become considered practically a form of open welfare for the criminal element, but, a reverence for tradition drove the Florents on to the market, nearly every night they could afford to.
Including one unfortunate young woman.
Third floor. Brick building.
"So nice to be able to see you fuck up something once. Well, this and falling for something that isn't even your species."
The long barrel spins, clicks in place on the main body of the lasrifle. A powerpack is shoved home. A whine, subsonic, pierces the Vindicare's ears.
"Always shooting chicks too, alright, the last lil' scene we played through, she wasn't that good, but this one," The daemonette was leaning on some boxes. Some sort of warehouse, she leaned over the edge, peering out the window, "She's something I'd like to spend a bit of time on, if ya- Oh by the way, good peripheral vision there, that all natural?"
The scope slid down the hollowed line, as the Vindicare stood at the window, his target coming along in peripheral vision. She was a courtesan. She was smiling, her parents had been mixed, one of them belonging to the dominant darker ethnicity with the silver highlight genetic tampering, and the other a plainer, more yellow woman who gained his attention by being an heiress. Somehow, they managed to produce a beauty enough to capture the attention of the planet. And the governor.
"Too high," muttered the Vindicare, words that were in his memory.
"Oh good. After that bad ass, click clang assembling bit, you go down a floor?" The daemonette rolled her eyes, "Real professional."
Vindicare walked by, his longlas fully assembled at his side. "Playin' hard to get," she mumbled. She hated being direct. But bit by bit, it seemed the only way. Canvas flaps crisscrossed the streets, like the product of a manic spider. Within the folds and turns and twists of the Night Markets tent city, merchants established their benches, displaying their wares for all to see. Behind the canvas, the Vindicare waited.
Leather and patchwork cloth didn't hide her from the IR on the scope. It was good enough. He really had no need to reach through, and pull apart a seam on one of the flaps, to see with his own eyes. She stepped lightly, a bag at her waist, over her arm, holding it like the farmgirl she once was distributing seed. Gift from the governor. No stitches. Molded together. Doubtless bought off world.
"X-L-I-I-I, do you have the target in sight yet?" The bored tones of Inquisitor Uberti crackled over his subdermal. For a moment, his skin twitched, set abuzz by the faulty installation just behind his temple. The next module performed much better.
"Good, good, my men will need a moment to get into position, just hold on." She twisted, the shotgun of genetic fate on full display. Coconut skin like her father, mother's fair hair, save for what silver patterned across her, flashing in the gaslight. "We're good, look to your right." The Vindicare glanced out of the corner of his eye. Inquisitor Uberti stood, a good nine blocks away on one of the sprawling balconies of the governor's equally opulent and space wasting manor. The Inquisitor's arm over the shoulder of a quivering, frightened man stuffed with great care into an officer's regalia. "Fire at will."
The cotton skirt blew in the wind, as she turned, the grin at the common folk faded, as she looked down the street, in curiosity at the waving man in the golden armor. Her head, flapped in the breeze, as she spun a last pirouette, a lazy circle falling down. The Night Market, within a moment, emptied, stepping and fighting each other to get away from the signature lasblast. Some of them trod upon their former maiden idol.
"That was it?"
"You're the one picking through my memory."
"And you remembered this as a botched job becau-"
"Pick back through the briefing witch," said the Vindicare, turning and pointing the lasrifle at the daemonette, "I am not in a verbose mood."
"You're going to try to shoot me again?" The Daemonette stepped forward, as Liivi felt her hot breath on the back of his neck, "You do know- I control everything you see. Slaanesh is the god of pleasure, sensation, excess- I, I control everything you can possibly see, hear, smell, touch, and taste, waving a pretend gun at a pretend me and pretend to pull the pretend trigger is not going to do a thing."
The memory faded, pushing LIIVI back into the dark. The gun, dripped and melted away with cinematic abandon. "Just sit tight there miboyo. I'll be back later." The daemonette opened her eyes again. Back to reality. The assassin in front of her had flailed about like a puppet with the way she had to manipulate his every sense before she had gone ahead and tied him up with a belt. The Eldar was at least still, but, at this the abomination felt her side, the wound still raw, "Bitch is tricky," the Slaaneshi murmured. She felt it again. The weak wash of a primitive intellect. The house called again. Noiselessly tunelessly. Begging for feeling once more.
"Barely a step above Tau," the daemonette murmured as she turned from the room with the tied sniper, standing at the precipice to the kitchen. The farseer was still there. Kneeling in the standing water. Fuck she hated that bitch.
"Still caught?" Asked Taldeer. "Well, I would go but-"
The daemonette drudged up a quick dream, a flash of her the head of the assassin in her hand, him naked kneeling in front of her, bound and gagged, "We haven't even gotten into anal yet, so I'm not about to leave this nice coz-"
"Cozy house of an abomination that had an intellect that you could barely sustain yourself off of and you reduced your last guest to a gibbering wreck, leaving you stranded in the middle of a blizzard, left alone-"
"Chaos is on this planet," The Slaaneshi sniffed, "I could just hop into the warp and back out on a battlefield somewhere, enjoying myself."
"I've never seen any of Eliphas's men deploy a single daemonette."
"Oh, so suddenly you're the expert on Daemonology."
"He'll turn," The daemonette turned away, heading back to the assassin, "We have all the world and all the time in it." The claws tacked away, angry. Taldeer waited, the ocean drift in her head whispering. Then, with some care, she crept forward another inch. A bare three inches away from the gun she remembered the mon-keigh had dropped.
Chapter Eleven: A new writefag appears!Edit
This happened on February 2nd, 2016. A Writefag showed up with the intent to continue the story, and so he did with the full support of /tg/
As the daemonette walked towards its prey, Taldeer desperately tried to find LIIVI's weapon. While her head was fighting a battle against the sea of Chaos that battered away at her mind, she barely registered the violent spamming of the mon-keigh.
"Doesn't it make you swim with ecstasy knowing your plaything, will eat out of the palm of your hand with a single thought?"
At this point, Taldeer was doing all that she could to not burst into either tears or anger by the sheer mockery of this, this. THING! Tempting her like some sort of child or animal. That's when she felt a sharp pain on her back immediately stopping her, as if a piece of the house had fallen on her. No, it was the HOUSE ITSELF that was holding her in place. Panic began to swell within her as she felt wooden claws dig into her wraithbone and skin.
"Well even if you aren't into it, I'm certainly excited!" Cried the cackling daemon.
She struggled with what little energy she had, but it was no use.
The daemonette turned around to look Taldeer in the eyes. There was a look of cynical mischief plastered on its face, like it was stolen from another and pinned on. Out of the corner of Taldeer's eyes she saw LIIVI had stopped spasming; he was breathing shallow, slow breaths, like he was dreaming. Or consumed in a nightmare. Taldeer knew the daemon would consume their souls, and soon, if something wasn't done.
She felt the house increase its pressure on her back.
"Try as you might, I can smell your fear. I can see your soul, how it burns with anguish and despair."
"I fear nothing, you disease of Ulthuan!"
Now Taldeer was hearing demented howling, high pitched screams of terror. And the unforgettable stench of Warp-tainted flesh burning. Taldeer could feel hot streams of tears rolling down her cheeks as she witnessed the hellishness unfold before her mind. The screams, though incoherent in the beginning, began to shout at her.
"Traitor!" "Save us!" "Mon-Keigh sympathizer!"
Truly, this was the hell that was awaited her. Then she felt a pain in her cranium that burnt as if the very same energy of the Warp was trying to invade her mind.
"I promise you, this human won't be spared the same fate."
New tears rolled down Taldeer's checks being formed from the pain.
"I will corrupt every single fiber of his being until nothing remains, and you'll have the privilege of watching me work."
"N-no. Please." Taldeer pleaded. Everything was distorted, twisted, and violated. Taldeer could see the twitching fingers of LIIVI. She was scared, scared in some warp-tainted house, and scared that she would die only to be fed to "She Who Thirsts", and she was scared that she might not live long enough to save the soul of the one human who would risk his life for her. She was scared of losing the one person on this Ulthwe-forsaken rock that she loved.
That's when the daemonette turned from LIIVI to watch Taldeer attempt to claw herself out of her wooden prison. To watch this eldar slowly loose control of her emotions and break both spiritually and emotionally was its own satisfaction for the daemonette.
This however created a shift of powers, mostly focused on Taldeer's suffering. This left LIIVI in a position to awaken from his comatose state and for him to tackle the daemon from behind.
With all his strength, LIIVI worked furiously to not only beat the daemon into submission, but also beat the everlasting emperor into the abomination's would-be soul. It was easier said than done; the daemonette, at the height of its power, was stronger than it appeared. While they both fell to the floor, LIIVI wasn't expecting a human sized daemon to give a space marine sized kick. This sent LIIVI flying into and through a wall.
Standing and shaking the stars from his eyes, LIIVI noticed Taldeer confined in wood... and his gun, just a few meters away from her.
"HOW!? How can you resist my influence?" Howled the daemon, moving towards him with a hip-swaying gait.
"You would dare defy my will, you corpse loving loya-" was all it could spout out before LIIVI threw himself straight forward again, fist extended outward and into the hellish being's face. He then followed up with a kick to its Warp mimic knee, that gave way with a satisfying snapping crunch. Before he could continue his onslaught of beatings, the abomination lashed out a punch to his abdomen and howled in rage. Though it couldn't stand, it could still influence the house to do her bidding. Pipes shot upwards from the floor and nearly impaled LIIVI, but did bruise him severely on the back of his head. Fighting through both a wall of pipes and a concussion, LIIVI managed to somehow wrestle part of the piping free and use it to fight off the other possessed items.
During all the insanity unfolding in front of Taldeer, the wood flooring barely began to relax their hold on her. While the daemon focused on LIIVI, Taldeer focused on crawling towards the gun with every fiber of her being. Even though the wood wasn't digging its way into her, it still hung onto her. It wasn't until the steel piping from below burst forth did the flooring's grasp on her slacken. Inch by inch, millimeter by cursed millimeter did she grasp the gun into her hand.
Taldeer stood herself up and, leaning against the wall, aimed the rifle at the living embodiment of her people's sins. Peering through the scope, she found her mark, steadied her aim. Put her trigger on the finger and...nothing. The trigger is stiff and won't budge against her fingers desperate pull. "It must be jammed or on safety," she thought. Taldeer began fidgeting with the rifle, trying to fix whatever the problem was.
"Don't think I'm not aware of you, Taldeer." the daemonette said, each word dripping with malice and filled with loathsome venom.
With renewed vigor, Taldeer found the small finger sized lever. She flipped it and prayed to any gods listening. She exhales and bears the rifle on the daemon. She pulls the trigger and the whole room is shook by the sound of the Exitus. The round found its mark in the daemonette's shoulder and out into the wall. Taldeer fired again, this time the bullet hit the left hip. She fired a third time, only this shot was stopped by a wall of piping six inches thick. Taldeer pulled the trigger in rapid succession in an attempt to fire a bullet into the atrocity. The gun clicked with each pull of the trigger as it ceased to burst another shot.
"HAHAHA!" The daemon was laughing like it was a child being tickled, despite the fact it's arm lay still on the ground withering away with Chaos sorcery. "How desperate. I haven't had a good laugh like that since I invoked the wrath of a Loyalist Dreadnought."
Taldeer hated this thing mocking her, she hated how it persisted, and worst of all is how she hated the damned thing's inability to just die. That's when the pipes reformed into a hole large enough for Taldeer to see the daemonette kneeling on its good leg while the busted one began to fix itself. The daemonette stared at Taldeer and grinned its blood stained grin.
It began to open its mouth as if to speak, only to be cut off by LIIVI's pipe brought down on top of its skull. Then again, and again. Soon matter of warp tainted brains and daemon blood began to splatter in unfashionable spray. The house laid still, silent except for the beating of a long dead being. Before LIIVI could sate his anger, the body began to return to the Immaterium where it belonged.
Mentally, psychically, and spiritually. Taldeer and LIIVI collapsed onto what remained of the floor to let sleep whisk them away.
Taldeer and LIIVI awoke in the ruins of a house in the middle of the swamp, the sun climbing over the far off mountains bringing light to wash over the land. The house showed its true age while bathed in the pinkish orange sunlight. The walls were decrepit at best, mold-lined ponds that formed from rusted piping. Wood creaked from just the weight of either one person moving around. The roof fell onto the ceiling and it sagged incredibly so. While unsaid, it was decided to leave the house as soon as possible.
The air was humid and sickly moist, it clung to skin that exuded sweat in the heat. The bugs were unbearable, constantly biting and swarming around. But the worst was the dehydration, the dryness of the mouth and scratching throats desperate for water left them both feeling light-headed. They would take small swigs from what little water was left from the house, only aggravating their mouths for more. LIIVI would once in a while look at his mapping-chart, to guide him and Taldeer.
"River's close." Exhaled LIIVI, while he wrestled the map away and keeping the Exitus secure on his back.
Taldeer didn't say a word, she was thinking over on the daemonette and how it claimed she didn't care for LIIVI. Surely it was just the daemon trying to cause mischief and lower Taldeer's guard, right? No matter how hard she tried to reassure herself, the pit of uncertainty continued to nag at the back of her mind. She was so wrapped in her thoughts that it took LIIVI placing his hand on her shoulder and a gentle shaking to bring her back to reality.
"You... alright?" His mask was off, held under his arm now, and his piercing eyes stared into hers as she turned to look at him, dazed, but alive. Taldeer wasn't sure what to do other than nod, and continue to the river. When they finally did reach the river, both Taldeer and LIIVI could barley contain themselves to eagerly quench their thirst and clean their gear. LIIVI got onto his knees and threw water onto his face, then drowned his head down into the river drinking as much as he could.
When LIIVI came back up for a breath of air, he could make out a silhouette on the opposite side of the river. Though quick to draw out his rifle and aim, the target moved back into the dense forest. "Enemies. Probably more than one." he thought. Reluctantly, he put away his rifle, but never taking his eyes off of the last place he saw the shaded figure. Then, the foliage began to tremble.
"Unidentified target, eighty meters across." Whispered LIIVI. Taldeer, who was busy washing the sweat and blood from her wraithbone chest piece, looked up to see what LIIVI was seeing. She could already see that there were more than one. They were being followed. Behind them, Taldeer sensed movement. The waves were stirring. LIIVI could barely make out distinct features of the creatures across the river. They were small, quick, and armed as seen from the glint of metal that pass now and again between the brush. Taldeer could hear the ones from behind whispering. It almost sounded like that of a similar tongue the Mon-Keigh spoke, but more aggressive and disoriented.
Green skins. First Gretchens, then Choppah Boyz burst forth from the jungle in front of them, charging Taldeer and LIIVI in a sudden wave of metal weapons, war-hungry faces, and rough dark green skin.
Writespace: Unedited new contentEdit
This contains additional written content from "I Am Become Namefag" that has been transcribed, but has not yet been edited.
LIIVI snapped up onto his feet, rifle in hand. He picked his targets accordingly. Logic dictates to take down the Orks on their side of the river. "Targets. Green skins. Distance, sixty meters and closing." LIIVI steadies the Exitus rifle into his shoulder. He lines up his sight on the closest Ork and with a quick draw of his finger pulled the trigger. The bullet exited the guns barrel and reached not just into a Choppa's skull, but out and into another's jugular. The bullet had found its mark long before the sound of it broke the air. With just the flick of his wrist, LIIVI brought the barrel of his gun onto the next Ork and brought the emperors swift justice onto the foul xenos. He managed to empty his magazine unto nine of the fifteen savages, LIIVI spun on his heels and withdrew his Exitus pistol in one fluent movement, just in time to bring the business end of the gun onto the first Orks beginning to cross the river.
Taldeer could feel the ever changing ocean of fate, the future clash against the seaside shore. Amongst the tides came ripples that charged forth from the larger waves, that's when the first wave of Gretchen tried to claw at Taldeer with daggers of scraped metal. She took her wraithbone sword and hacked away at the child size cretins. It did not take long for the smaller green skins to runaway in total defeat, but the larger, aggressively stupid ones continued to charge forth. The Orks would step on any 'underling' that got Charles's and run into their path, determined to reach their intended targets. Taldeer readied her sword and prep aired a fighting stance that helped her gain speed and momentum against the larger, muscle bound beasts. The Orks charged again, showing no signs of slowing down. Taldeer's mind raced knowing that timing was crucial, the waves of relentless aggression surged towards her, the sky darkening with dread. That's when both her mind and soul commanded her body to strike. Taldeer sprang towards the mob of Orks, cutting them down ,moving through and from Ork to Ork. LIIVI had emptied his clip on the last Ork, and Gretchens that dared towards him. That last three Orks had thrown their cleavers and had resorted to throwing Gretchens across the river. The end result was unsatisfactory in the green skins case, most of the Gretchens just landed in the water and were carried of by the currents. The few that did land on the other side, were kicked back into the river. The Orks on the far side of the river noticed that the Vindicare had not bothered to reload his pistol, this spurred the Orks into a new frenzy. The made a made dash across the river. LIIVI aimed is rifle once more and loaded a cartridge, aimed at the far right Ork. "Three." He said, then... *BANG* an ear snapping shot found its mark in the Orks skull. "Two." Another cartridge loaded, rifle pointed on the middle Ork.
- BANG* another sub-sonic bullet tears through flesh, brains and bone alike.
The last Ork was nearly on top of LIIVI when he dashed to the far left side of the Ork. Loading one last shot leveled the barrel of his Exitus rifle on the green skin. "One, damned xenos." The Ork barley had the chance to register a thought before the gun in the vindacare hands released blessed steel into its cranium.
Blood ran through the river, the Orks spores soaking deep into the mossy stone river. LIIVI watched, satisfied with his work turned around to find Taldeer finishing off the last of the Orks.
Her muscles burned as the adrenaline slowly fading away. Though it was just to Orks, they had managed to some how avoid most killing blows that left them grazed with cuts. And try all she could do, the vertigo was taking its toll. She dodged the Ork boy's strike and swung her sword into a wide enough arc to take the other Orks eye and part of his face and toof.
Howling with rage, the boy staggered, hand over his face. This left Taldeer the opening she needed, taking the initiative and plunged her sword into the wounded green skins collar and yanked it out. Running auto pilot, Taldeer deflected the last Orks strike. Though she and her kin were physically impaired, compared to the green brutes. She managed to stop the ax short of cutting into her scalp. Taldeer tried to twist out of the stalemate, but the more she struggled to move, the closer the metal would to grazing her skin.
The fates in her mind kept getting darker as she tried desperately to wrestle control from the Ork boy. Just as her arms seem liked they would go out, the ever changing fates of the future offered a small, bright light that pierced the what seemed like her certain doom. The small bastion of hope showed her a possible future, she just had to fall. And fall she did, the immediate lose of resistance threw the Ork off balance, when he regained balance he witness the Eldar laying on her back breathing hard. It was a perfect bait, as soon as the Ork took three steps too close, Taldeer, in a flurry of psionic energy had risen to her feet and threw the sword straight into the Orks right pectoral.
Momentarily stunned and just registering what happened, LIIVI watched as this Eldar wytch worked her powers to incinerate the Ork. It was like a dance of death, sung in harmonious choruses that spoke of this xenos.
This was an awefully fast transition. I'll probably add in some very short cleanup to break up the chopped scene change.
Returning from his state of awe, LIIVI returned to land. They needed to get as far away as possible before more Orks showed up. Stocking up on as much water they could, they marched north west and continued to march on and stopped by twilight of the day's end. From the top of the hill the could look onwards and see the lights of the spaceport city. They were so close to what seemed like safety, one could almost forget about the dangers that lurked in the jungles below them.
"sleep" whispered LIIVI as he over watched the immediate surrounding area. But Taldeer couldn't, even if she truly wished for it, her mind never rested on the guilt in her. The same guilt sparked by the daemonette. Sure the mon-keigh trusted her, he had gone through so much to save her. But did Taldeer really trust LIIVI, she saw his memories . What the imperium did... Turning him into a killing machine, with no real personality at all. He had nothing, no family, no home world, no name. He was a weapon designed to put down all targets they aimed him at, never to go against the grain. But he did, the day he could have killed her, or let the necron flayers skin her, he chose to save her.
I betrayed his trust, dwelling in his mind. But what does it matter? it's just a mon-keigh.
A mon-keigh who saved me, and trusts me. I'm a Farseer for Ulthwen sake.
Tossing and turning, Taldeer finally found a small subtle amount of sleep. The kind of sleep where there are no dreams and the mind boarders between conscious and unconscious.
LIIVI stayed awake throughout the night thanks to combat stimulants, and remained vigilant in his overwatch of the Eldar. He made a small prayer to the God Emperor that he may live long enough to understand whatever his feelings for the Eldar meant, and that deliverance be swift.
The night, once a place filled with wild life hunters hunting and exotic birds squeaking, fell silent as the peered into the land set ablaze by war. Though far away in the distance, a three pronged battle of a much larger war was waged. Gorgutz' WAAAHHGG, Eliphas and his dark followers, and the Necrons fought for control of the neighboring land. The sky blazed alive with the fires of war, a consistent reminder to all beings of Kronus that greater powers were at work, but that the world was a mere piece set for a larger scheme at hand. Taldeer's mind could hear the fates sing songs of all possible futures, none of which was better than the last. Death lingered of the planet, a constant epidemic of power that fed power to the cackling of dark gods.
(Chapter 11) Taldeer arose to the sounds of life echoing throughout the jungle. The air smelt of morning dew and smoke, her eyes didn't need to just to view the sun rise. At first it was a mere shimmer of a pale glow, then a fiery orange that soon developed into a full blinding light of energy that bathed the land with its glow.
Where's the mon-keigh. Looking around, he seem to have vanished into thin air. "That's impossible."
"What?" Replied LIIVI
I could sense his presence close to mine, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then out of instinct, I looked up to see a thin outline of a figure hanging onto the tree. It fell of the tree and in front of me soundlessly. That's when the cloaking device became reactive revealing LIIVI. He looked at me still with his stone cold face, but had a touched look of curiosity in his eyes.
"Nothing." Whether he believed it or not, he didn't show signs of his thoughts, just nodded. >(writefag special note, this was just practice on seeing if I'm capable of doing a first perspective narrative. I may or may not keep it, if so the same going to be a lot of touch ups.)
Taldeer grabbed the hip flask of water and took a swig, it looks to be a long walk to the Spaceport. They needed a way into the garrisoned city. As far as Taldeer knew, her kin had been pushed off of the worlds surface. Chaos, Orks and Necrons were still at large. The space marines, if they weren't busy hunting her people down, would become a power on the rise. Taldeer and LIIVI needed a miracle and get to a ship off world.
New chapter writespaceEdit
This contains additional written content from a random Anonymous that has been transcribed, but has not yet been edited. Flash forward content for Chapter 11?
Life in a exodite world wasn't so bad thought Taldeer as she delicately rubbed her belly, she was on the 3rd trimester of pregnancy and the baby growing inside her was already perceptible months ago.
She opened the windows of the small hut LIIVI and her built together on top of a hill, up there it was possible to look the crop fields that feeded the small human village nearby but more importantly it was possible to watch LIIVI work with the locals on those fields.
From trained assassin to comunnal farmer. "not even I could have predicted that!" she said out loud, with a small smile on her face. The pregnancy took it's toll on her, she couldn't stay up for long before she felt tired and necessited to rest again, she walked slowly back to their bed almost drifting back to sleep but the sound of broken plates on the kitchen didn't allow her this possibility.
"Is everything alright, Lydia?" Taldeer yelled from bed.
"I'm sorry lady Taldeer I've got distracted and let a plate fall to the ground." the young and embarassed woman replied as she walked to the room where the soon to be mother was located.
"Don't worry Lydia, if there is one thing I've learned from my all years is that the unexpected is a certanty." The farseer said with a motherly smile.
"Care to help get up?"
"Are you certain madam, wouldn't be better for you to rest?" Replied the nurse
"No, I've stayed in this room long enough! I need some fresh air!" Lydia helped Taldeer to get off the bed, she guide her into the kitchen that her and LIIVI built not so long ago. Although it certainly did not have the same explandour as the place she had in Ulthlwe the little cabin was certainly more cozy.
She could see the pieces of the plate, "Sorry?", the young woman said again, " I will buy you a new one after I get back to the village".
"It would certainly help." Taldeer stopped on the front porch taking a deep breath and with her eyes closed she began speaking again "The people of your village they still don't trust me do they?".
" You have to forgive them lady Taldeer, even though your people allowed us to live here they don't allow us to go near their settlements and they only come to us when it's time for the harvest to collect their share."
Taldeer opened her eyes again and with a sigh took some more steps to get out of the porch, from the view of their frontyard it was possible to see the lush jungles that covered most of the planet, (that's where the exodites are) she thought. Although she hasn't seen one of her kind since Kronus she had no wish to contact with the true masters of this planet.
This contains the transcription of 5 chapters and 2 other sections of content, concluding the (unfinished) Love Can Bloom, set after the final chapter of the original (10). It is not at this time reviewed by the wiki or its staff and is therefore not in any such manner 'official' or 'legitimate canon'. --Woodbundle (talk) 01:57, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
The daemon, still gloating inwardly at Taldeer, walked seductively towards LIIVI, his injured body lying, half sitting up, against a pile of rotted wood and crumbling, rusty pipes.
“You will not be given that which you seek, you festering beast!” Taldeer cried out, her heart hammering in her chest. “You shall-”
“Be quiet, girly. When I am done with him, he will quite happily… submit to me in a most special way. The way you wish that he would submit to you.”
“You think me a, a perverted, a disgusting thing like you? Living for pleasure, for pain, lusting for anything you see?” Taldeer stammered out.
The daemonette turned back towards her. “I will break his mind, I will break his heart, and I will break his soul. The delicious suffering that you will be given by Slaanesh will be nothing to the torture I will grant him.” With a victorious smile, the daemon turned back to LIIVI.
While the monster’s back was turned, he had tried to reach the helmet beside him, but the belt restrained him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his pistol lying only a few meters away. He closed his eyes, recalling his training. It was, ironically, easier, if not less painful, with the daemonette’s violation of his memories. His head pounded, but he could see, dimly, his past, hear distorted voices. His mind clicked. Slowly, he exhaled, and dislocated his thumb bone with a quiet crack. Opening his eyes, dilated with pain, he noticed that it was turning back towards him, slipping his hand out of the belt and closing his eyes. Lost in its perverse thoughts, the daemon did not seem to notice as his eyes flitted closed.
“Hello, sweetie.” said the daemon in a sickeningly sweet voice.
Smiling to itself - rather, hideously grinning - the vile thing bent down towards him.
“Are you awake, vindy? There is so much I have planned for you.”
Taldeer, the room spinning dizzily around her, helplessly watched as the daemon approached LIIVI’s helpless form, across the house. She closed her eyes, feeling the ocean existence surrounding her. With all the grace a wounded Eldar could muster, she hooked the Vindicare’s discarded Exitus rifle with her foot. The disgusting thing, in its arrogance, failed to notice her. When a flash of sudden motion came from Taldeer’s direction, the Slaaneshi creature spun around, its features contorting with rage.
“So you have chosen-” the daemonette began to say, only for the bottom half of its head to be split apart. Taldeer raised the Exitus rifle again, and a raspy gasp left the daemon.
“How naughty, Farseer. Imagine the fun we could have...”
The rifle kicked back again, a hastily aimed shot sailing through the creature’s abdomen. As the vile interior daemon’s interior was pulverized with a loud crack, LIIVI fixed his hand with a painful twinge. Releasing his breath, he slipped his other arm out of the belt. Filled with rage, the daemon lurched towards Taldeer. Pulling back the trigger again, the tiny snap of her finger contracting onto the trigger was overwhelmed by a click from the firing chamber of the rifle, exclaiming its lack of ammo.
“Ohhhhh,” spit out the daemon, “Has the little Eldar no weapons?”
The room around the creature contracted, metal piping and wooden boards from the ceiling collapsing onto the floor in a great cacophony. The whispers of the Great Enemy grew louder in her mind as it approached. The rifle fell from Taldeer’s hands, and she felt weighed down as if by the weight of all Ulthwe. It felt as though the warp itself was trying to rip through her mind, to shatter her skull just as the head of the daemon was shattered. Behind the daemon, LIIVI shifted, but with all its attention on Taldeer now, consumed with rage, it failed to see anything but the helpless Farseer.
“Let me show you the joys of the Prince of Exc-” it began rasping, as the cracked head began to fuse back together, only for a jagged piece of metal piping to be roughly forced into the crack, eliciting a screech from the ruined face.
LIIVI staggered out from behind it, grabbing a thick wooden board. He hefted it above his shoulder, falling to one knee with the exertion, as the daemon turned back to him. With all his remaining strength, he drove the board into the shattered head, crushing it with a bloody spray. As LIIVI fell to the floor, unconscious, the presence of Slaanesh flickered in the house, and the voices in Taldeer’s head faltered. Her arm twitched, and extended towards her enemy. Lightning played around her fingers, and a bolt of psychic energy tore into the daemonette. Its body was shredded, dissolving into warp fire as the daemon was banished once more into the warp. The power of Slaanesh finally gave out, the illusion upon the house faded, and its true form, mold covered walls and crumbling roof, became visible. Taldeer’s vision swam before her, and the threat gone, she joined LIIVI in blackness.
Taldeer was the first to regain consciousness, with every joint feeling as if it had been frozen. Her neck, owing to the inopportune position in which she had fallen asleep, felt like the roof had collapsed on it, and the manipulation of the daemonette had left her with a throbbing headache. Her eyes, half open, took in her surroundings. The building looked as though it could collapse at any moment, with a roof rent by war and walls charred by flames spewed mindlessly by constantly battling factions. There was a form lying among the rubble. Taldeer’s eyes snapped open.
“LIIVI! Can you hear me?” she called.
Struggling to move, she crawled over to where he lay. A gust of freezing air brushed through his hair. While he wore still his suit, it had been torn by the vicious spear of the Grey Knight, and his helmet, visor cracked near the edge, lay amongst the rubble of the house. Despite the freezing air, his skin was still reddened and blistered by the incendiary bombing. His pulse was weak, his skin cold to the touch, but he was still alive. The early morning sun shone with pale light through the building’s hole-ridden roof. Putting her hand under his head, and grabbing him about the waist with her other arm, she pulled him to a largely intact wall opposite the shattered door.
“Wake up,” Taldeer murmured to him. He remained silent and still.
“Wake up!” Taldeer shouted in desperation. LIIVI’s eyes, blinking at the light outside, slowly opened.
His voice, quiet and hoarse though it was, came through clear. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” Taldeer replied, with a hint of a wry smile on her face, “Are you okay? Can you even walk?”
“Primary objective: protect you,” he replied, with more strength.
Taldeer sighed. “I am… unhurt. But you are not.”
LIIVI staggered to his feet, nearly falling onto Taldeer. Clearly in great pain, he retrieved his Exitus rifle.
“I must protect you.”
Taldeer walked to him as he began to stand. Grunting with the strain on his injured body, he lost balance, and was caught by Taldeer, who gently lowered him to the ground. Looking into his eyes, she gently told him,
“Wait here, mon-keigh, I shall find something to help you.”
In a cupboard nearby, mostly clean sheets and a half-looted medical kit lay unharmed. What little salve was left she spread over LIIVI’s face, bandaging him with torn sheets. LIIVI sat up.
“We must leave immediately. The danger in staying in one place is too great.”
“I have been thinking on how to handle that problem. If we are to ever escape, we need some kind of aerial vehicle. We can reach my Wraithship and…” And what? Her heart sank as she considered the enormity of her failure. She had not stopped the Necrons. Most of her army had been slaughtered, and if their soulstones had not been recovered…
“If Ronahn were here...” she trailed off.
“Who is Ronahn?” LIIVI inquired.
“He is my… he is a ranger from the craftworld. He is working with another Farseer, Idranel. They have little contact with Ulthwe, and I… he will not return for many years.”
Using his Exitus rifle as a prop, LIIVI stood up again, and picked up his pistol. The note of sadness in her voice had touched him in a way he could not understand. He put on his helmet, and holding his improvised walking stick in one hand, gently put his hand on her arm. Straightening up, Taldeer turned to her companion, who looked as imposing as any of the mon-keigh.
“We must go to Pavonis. That may be our only hope to escape.”
Under the mask, LIIVI frowned. “I participated in the battle for the city, if for a short period. Pavonis is heavily fortified. It would likely take an army to get in.”
Smiling slightly, Taldeer replied, “Not for an Eldar. And, perhaps, not for a mon-keigh assassin.”
Lukas Alexander mused over the Vindicare situation. It should have been impossible for him to betray the Imperium like this. Whatever training given to such a legendary being should have erased any sense of rebellion, any sense of self. They weren’t people, he reasoned, but weapons, powerful weapons.
How can a weapon think for itself?
That Inquisitor, too… he was hiding something. If he knew something about the assassin, and was hiding it from the Imperial Guard, the blood of any men who died to the Vindicare would be on those hands. Hiding behind his position, behind his organization as he might, he would have the Inquisitor’s head if he betrayed them. In frustration, he slammed his fist on the command chair. Startled, the vox operator turned to the Governor-Militant.
“Don’t mind it,” Alexander replied, hiding his embarrassment, “What is the status of our forces at the spaceport?”
“None of the Blood Ravens’ significant forces have arrived yet, but our scouts reported armored columns, complete with artillery vehicles, en route to Pavonis.” With a worried look on his face, the guardsman added, “We should arrive before they do.”
Two hours later, the Baneblade rolled into Pavonis to the cheering of guardsmen. The Enginseers had done their best to repair the damage done to the city by the Tau, and the battle to claim it from them. However, a lattice of cracks filled the spaceport. Alexander’s vox operator relayed orders to fortify the walls, but the Governor-Militant’s air of brooding thought was almost palpable.
“The battle ahead will be bloody indeed,” spoke Lukas Alexander, as the Space Marines began to pound his fortifications.
Doing their best to support each other, Taldeer and LIIVI stumbled across the cratered landscape. It was, the Eldar acknowledged, less than ideal terrain; though many of the craters were quite deep, it would not be difficult for a scout to spot the pair. Despite the dirt and dust which had settled upon Taldeer’s armor, the white wraithbone stuck out like a titan against the charred, black-brown earth.
“Taldeer. Are you sure that the breach in the wall is still there?”
“We attempted to take Pavonis before. The Imperial Guard… repelled us. Not without cost,” she replied without looking back, “The structure of the city was severely damaged. It is unlikely that they have repaired the breach, even if it were identified.”
“I shall enter first.”
“Why?” Taldeer felt genuinely confused, and though, she hoped, the mon-keigh trusted her, his mind was sealed against any foreign power.
“If there is a guard placed on the breach, they must not be allowed to harm-” LIIVI suddenly broke off, hissing “Down!”
“Xenos!” came the metallic shout, “Perish in the holy name of the Emperor!”
Taldeer’s heart skipped a beat. Had they been discovered? The Imperial Guard could be cowed; the Orks, deceived. An army of Space Marines, however, could only be fled from. Then, a new voice spoke up.
“Yew wan’ us ta do wot, humies? Ya gotta lot of dakka comin’ to yas if yer gunna ‘tack these boyz. Go gettem, lads!”
“Orks,” muttered Taldeer, both relieved and irritated, “And the battlefield lies in our path.”
“Infiltrate behind them and escape?”
LIIVI peered up over the edge of the crater in which they lay, his helmet display flickering. All signs indicated that both flanks were flooded by scouts and Orks.
“If we went through the middle of the battlefield, they may miss us in the crossfire. We would be less fortunate in an attempt to go around.”
“And we may be obliterated in the crossfire instead,” retorted Taldeer. She sighed, and granted, “But this may be our only hope to reach the spaceport.”
The threads of fate twisted, ran into and out of each other, circling around and leading to the same destiny as before. Taldeer looked into that fate, and saw, in a swirling current of fog…
An explosion rocked the ground next to her, and she snapped back to reality as a shockwave behind her pushed her into the ground, with an unnoticed snap at the back of Taldeer’s armor.
“Taldeer!” exclaimed LIIVI, ducking down to her side. She moaned groggily, and, though lacking the vision of Eldar, LIIVI found a path through the charging Ork horde. Breathing deeply and ignoring the searing pain in his side, LIIVI lifted Taldeer in his arms. Almost stumbling with his burden, he rushed across the battlefield. Through some grace of the Emperor, LIIVI felt, the Orks failed to see him, and the Space Marines, more concerned with the oncoming mob, ignored a distant, small figure darting past the Orks.
With the battlefield behind them, LIIVI set Taldeer down onto a small patch of dried grass.
“Are you hurt?” inquired LIIVI, a strong note of concern entering his normally flat voice.
“I am…” Taldeer began, but her voice was cut off as her eyes widened at the beast which stood behind him. “Ork!”
LIIVI twisted around, pulling out his pistol, despite the pain in his side, which now felt like white fire. He raised his pistol and fired at the Ork as its shoota made contact with his shoulder. His bullet penetrated the beast’s knee, eliciting nothing but a roar of pain. As LIIVI hit the ground, he let out an audible groan, nearly losing consciousness with the pain. The Ork threw back its arm to bring down the enormous axe on LIIVI’s prone form, only for the pulsating sound of a shuriken pistol firing to coincide with shards of crystal ripping through the enormous head. The Ork’s momentum carried it backwards, landing with an enormous thud on the scarred ground.
“You saved me,” LIIVI blankly stated, holding his throbbing side.
“Perhaps… perhaps escape is only my secondary mission,” came the Farseer’s reply, brushing a strand of loose hair out of her eye. She smiled. “Pavonis should be close, but if the Space Marines were here,” she murmured, looking into the distance, “They are already there.”
A Blood Ravens Librarian saw a glint on the battlefield, reflecting psychic lightning as it annihilated a cluster of Orks. A psychic echo emanated from it, he realized.
“Brothers,” he called, “There is a… relic… on this battlefield. We must retrieve it. Brothers Martis, Reynold, accompany me.”
As the nob leading the horde was killed, a bolter shot obliterating its head, the Orks fled the ruin wrought by the Blood Ravens, and retreated from the battlefield. The crystalline treasure lay near the edge of a crater, embedded in a jagged piece of Eldar wraithbone.
“Behold, a… lost talisman of our chapter’s lost past!” he exclaimed.
“A chapter relic? Let us thank the Emperor, brother. We shall protect you as you recover it.”
The Librarian smiled to himself. Azariah Kyras would appreciate deeply this offering. Perhaps, even, this Eldar spirit stone would allow him to bring about the final end of those detestable Eldar. The Eldar to whom it had belonged, if not dead, would be soon, torn apart by a clash of Imperial Guard and Space Marine forces.
“Low on ammo,” LIIVI muttered to himself as he reloaded his pistol. Taldeer cast a sidelong glance towards him, and was given the less than comforting reply, “We should not need much.”
The walls on each side of the breach had collapsed inwards, leaving only a thin gap. A network of cracks extended along the length of the entire wall.
“We can still get through, but… it was not so damaged when my forces pulled out,” Taldeer mused. An explosion in the far distance answered her question, “The mon-keigh battle over the spaceport. If we tarry long, we still shall become casualties of war.”
“I will not allow that to happen.”
As LIIVI ducked into the breach, Taldeer stood at the crack, listening for any sound. It was silent for one minute, but as she prepared to go in after him, she heard a whisper from the other side of the wall.
“It is safe, Taldeer.”
Taldeer awkwardly stepped through the gap. Her wraithbone spear, affixed on her back, scraped dust from the stone above her, trickling down into her eyes. She regretfully thought back to her helmet, lost somewhere among the ruins of Kronus. The sounds of battle from the far end of the city grew more intense, a fitting reminder of the cost of war.
“A terminal, Farseer,” LIIVI informed her, stepping carefully to the computer interface. It flickered as power and data lines were disrupted and almost instantly restored.
“I… I think that the space capable craft are in the contested end of the city. To go into that battlefield would risk violating the primary objective,” LIIVI said, still examining the computer screen, “There are small shuttles here, but they cannot reach orbit.”
Taldeer looked down to the ground, trying to not reveal her crushed hopes.
“I think that I can,” LIIVI muttered, mostly to himself, manipulating the terminal controls, “Yes. Tertiary objective accomplished.”
Before Taldeer could ask what his tertiary objective was, LIIVI raised his arm, as he placed the data device he had removed from the terminal into an empty ammo pouch, and pointed to a small structure nearby, “We can procure a small transport shuttle there.”
“Then… we must go now, before the enemy reaches us here.”
The two boarded the shuttle, a disappointing hunk of metal, particularly by the standards of Taldeer, and initiated takeoff procedures. With a whine of protest from its engines, the shuttle raised into the air.
“We have cleared the spaceport, and-” LIIVI began, looking over the many unfamiliar components of the vehicle’s piloting system, only for an explosion outside to throw both Human and Eldar to the floor.
“Governor Alexander, we saw a fleeing shuttle, likely populated by fleeing guardsman,” the vox operator relayed. “Did they shoot it down?”
“They… they fired a krak missile at it, likely a glancing hit. Took out the engines; if they are still alive, they won’t be when the shuttle crashes.”
The Baneblade shook slightly as its armored hull deflected an explosion.
“Sir, Space Marine predator tank, bearing down on us. Annihilator pattern.”
“Destroy it before it can get a shot off,” Alexander commanded, just as the twin-linked lascannon emitted a beam of directed energy. A small patch of the interior hull glowed red-hot.
The main turret swiveled, and tore apart the tank with a single, earth-shaking blast.
“Sir, our forces in the northeast quadrant have been routed, the commissar is dead!”
“Overall status of our forces?”
“We’re… sir, we’re being torn apart by the Space Marines. Our few remaining forces report heavy anti-armor weaponry being moved in.”
“At this rate, sir, we’ll be consigned to the rolls of history before they get here.”
Alexander looked solemnly ahead of him, finally exclaiming, “We cannot allow this world to fall! There must be a new day, a new dawning of the Imperium on this planet.”
“We cannot win if you aren’t here to lead us, sir.”
The Governor-Militant sighed. “Issue the fall back order. This battle… is over.”
As the massive tank rolled out of the spaceport, the vox was flooded with communications. Casualty lists, delivered by the bloody and maimed survivors, requests for reports on the situation status, calls for help from abandoned guardsmen. Lukas Alexander gave no answer, and remained in brooding silence all the way back to Victory Bay. The arrogant Inquisitor, the traitor Vindicare as he stalked a wounded Eldar, bolter rounds shredding his soldiers played through his mind. He came to a conclusion, a way to show that this would not be a failure.
The Vindicare would die, and he would personally crush the head of that arrogant Farseer Taldeer.
A smoking pile of metal hurtled across the sky. Inside, stuttering alarms blared, lights dim through a haze of smoke. Sparks flew out of the wall, and the failing computer registered new damage.
“We’ve lost,” LIIVI coughed out, “We’ve lost our port engine.”
“What does it matter now? We have failed,” Taldeer said bitterly, “What hope do we have now to escape?”
“Survive now. Escape later. I have a plan,” LIIVI said, his flat voice betraying no hint of fear. He had likely been in many situations far more dangerous in his career, Taldeer reasoned.
“Can you land the shuttle?”
“Landing is not an option, Taldeer. I may be able to slow the crash, but the damage is extensive.”
“I may be able to slow the shuttle.”
“Trying to stop the shuttle could harm you.”
“I am a powerful seer of my people, and I do not see that we have a choice.”
Trees zipped past the cracked windows of the shuttle as it neared the ground. Thrusters intermittently fired, making no visible difference in speed. The Farseer closed her eyes and reached out with her mind.
Skullbeata turned from his salvage to look in the direction of a loud roar.
“Wot’s that there?” he said to himself.
A glowing object was falling from the sky. Although partially obscured by the smoke pouring from it, the light coming from it mesmerized the Ork. It grew larger, and came closer to the ground. Dazed, the Ork stood still, fixated upon the rapidly approaching mass of metal.
“Uh oh,” the Ork said, snapping back to reality.
Even cushioned by Taldeer’s abilities, the force of the collision was teeth jarring. The shuttle’s hull, already severely weakened, was shredded as the craft skidded across the ground. As the shuttle finally slid to a stop, having carved a long trench pitted with shards of its hull and engines behind it. The twisted door at the rear of the shuttle, one of the few intact parts left to it, fell open, spilling out a coughing Eldar and Vindicare assassin, surrounded by a volume of thick, black smoke. Despite the racket of the crash, or perhaps because of it, there were no signs of life - no Orks stalked the plains, no guardsmen scurried across it; even wildlife were absent. Though the ground was wet and the heat mild, there was not even the faintest sign of plant life.
“Where is this?” Taldeer asked, not expecting any answer.
“Based on incomplete data from the Pavonis computer system, this is the Pavonian Heartland, bordering the Thur’Abis Plateau.”
The Farseer turned pale. “The… the Thur’Abis plateau? Are you sure?”
“I do not believe that I can verify the current position.”
A disruption in the ocean. Something was coming. Out of the corner of her eye, the Eldar saw the glint of the sun on cold, grey metal. The implacable, silent, soulless army, Taldeer’s original mission on Kronus, slowly lurched towards the ruined shuttle. From their gauss weapons, held firmly at waist height, came a sickly green glow.
“I count at least twenty, possibly thirty Necron warriors,” LIIVI’s voice crackled through his helmet, “Moving slowly towards our position. We are exposed.”
“Then we must flee. Again.”
The ground before the two cracked. Taldeer gripped her wraithbone spear as the first Necron pulled itself from the ground. LIIVI’s pistol discharged its round into the skeletal head, and it slumped into the ground.
“The Necrons?” Lukas Alexander asked incredulously, still brooding in Victory Bay over the loss of Pavonis, “Why are they moving against us now?”
“We don’t know, sir. All of our attempts to scout the Necrons’ territory have failed. Our closest outposts have already fallen.”
With a grim look on his face, the Governor-Militant commanded, “Relay a fall back order to our outposts in those territories. Redirect our forces to key positions around Kronus,” adding, as an afterthought, “Have reinforcements arrived yet?”
“Gebbett is overseeing their arrival now.”
“Very well. Now, there is an… issue that we must discuss.” Alexander motioned Ardrin to close the door.
“We shall eliminate the Vindicare traitor and the Farseer.”
“Sir, the Necrons and Space Marines are assaulting our fortifications around Kronus. Key facilities are liable to fall at any instant.”
“I know. The men need a clear victory to revitalize them. What better than the execution of a traitor, and that Eldar witch?”
“They disappeared, sir, we cannot locate them in any case,” Ardrin offered, hoping to redirect the Governor-Militant to the defense of his forces on Kronus.
“I need you to - discreetly - contact the Inquisition. We need information about this Vindicare. Where he was trained, who was ultimately responsible for his supervision. Keep this from our Inquisitor ‘friend’. He’s hiding something, and I will find out what.”
Ardrin, disturbed by his commander’s seeming fixation, turned to go.
“Ardrin, we will overcome. Kronus shall once more belong to the Imperium.”
Vindicare assassins are trained to stay silent, still, and concealed for weeks at a time in the pursuit of a target. Even if movement is required, stealth is valued over raw speed. Despite this, their enhanced musculature and training grant them incredible stamina. Eldar, despite being in many ways physically superior to the mon-keigh, lack the raw endurance of such enhanced humans. LIIVI, his legs burning and breath short, the injury in his side burning like a wildfire, half carried Taldeer, her breath coming in ragged gasps, skin covered in a sheen of sweat. The group of Necron warriors pursuing the two had been left behind in thickets of bushes and gullies through which they fled. They could not say how far they had gone, though the thin forest in which they found themselves was a far cry from , and could not know if their enemies had indeed been lost behind them, but Taldeer finally had enough. She stumbled and fell to her knees, head spinning, and dropped her spear at her side. Before she could collapse to the ground, LIIVI caught her in his arms.
“We can,” LIIVI whispered, catching his breath, “Rest here for now.”
Taldeer faintly mumbled something in approval, too spent to even sit. LIIVI pulled off his helmet, gulping in fresh air. Placing an arm under her legs, he gently lifted her up and carried her to a tree, against which she could sit.
“Are we still pursued?” Taldeer, her voice hoarse and lungs aching, whispered.
Tentatively, LIIVI took her hand. Leaning close, he quietly told her, “You are safe. If anything attempts to harm you, I shall eliminate it.” Every muscle sore, the Eldar pushed herself into a sitting up position. She forced open her eye, heavy with exhaustion, to look into LIIVI’s face.
“Why,” she asked, a strange note in her voice, “Why did you give up everything for me?”
She felt, almost on the very edge of psychic perception, confusion from his mind. “You are my primary objective. All of my available resources are to be devoted to the primary objective.” He paused. “Everything, for you.”
Their faces were only inches apart. The two leaned in together, only to reflexively flinch back as a roll of thunder ripped through the sky. “We...” LIIVI looked away, embarrassed, “Must find cover.”
“Agreed,” muttered an exhausted Taldeer, struggling to stand up again.
Taking up their weapons once again, the Farseer and assassin wearily slipped into the dark of the woods.
“So,” began Inquisitor Madek, the gleeful, gloating tone in his voice clear, “Now that your forces have been utterly crushed at your ever so important battle, you wish to willingly help me find your traitorous Vindicare?”
Lukas Alexander’s face remained completely placid, though something in his gaze betrayed his disdain. “I will help you eliminate the Vindicare traitor. The Farseer’s death will be my pleasure.”
Madek made a grand gesture, showcasing Alexander’s luxurious office. ”And why, pray tell, do you not direct your men? Your crippling defeats have surely left you with a more important job to do, have they not?”
The Inquisitor was trying to work him up, make him take a move, commit a heresy. “I have questions for you, Inquisitor Madek, concerning the hunt for him.”
“You should know, I have taken some actions of my own to hunt down the traitor, governor. It is you, furthermore,” Madek growled, “Not I, who should be answering the questions. You have failed to explain how one of my Vindicare assassins has fallen to chaos.”
“You are so certain that he has fallen?”
“What other explanation can there be? He has forsaken the Imperium, the God-Emperor, for service to… to a xenos!”
“I have… contacts in the Inquisition, Madek. Friends of friends, one might say.” Lukas might have savored his words if not for the precarious position in which it put him. “There have been other assassins whose training was ultimately supervised by one Inquisitor Madek.”
The Inquisitor’s face turned pale. “You-”
“You have been hiding some… embarrassments from me. A Vindicare who could not make a shot on an Eldar warlock from a scant hundred meters. An assassin who let himself,” as Lukas’ voice took on a derisive edge, “Be captured by the Tau. Shall I go on?”
The gauntleted hand of the Inquisitor slammed down on the governor’s desk. “Do you suppose to accuse an Inquisitor of being responsible for the failure of a few? Do you really think to pin the guilt, for your failures, on me?” His voice rising, anger undisguised, Madek continued, “Going behind the back of an Inquisitor is dangerous, Alexander, more dangerous than you know. You could be ended with a single word, fighting against the Space Marines as you are.”
“I fight in the name of the Imperium, Inquisitor, and of the Emperor. You may accuse me of heresy, but I know that I am pure in His sight.” Resignedly, Lukas added, “Whatever measure you have taken to eliminate the traitor, keep it away from the citizens of the Imperium.”
The Inquisitor turned to walk out, but stopped, and slowly returned to the governor’s desk. Leaning close, he whispered, “To deny an Inquisitor, governor, is to deny the Inquisition. To deny the Inquisition is to deny the Emperor. And to deny the Emperor is heresy. Do not act against me again.”
Lieutenant Ardrin, clearly troubled by the Inquisitor’s abrupt departure, entered the room.
“More bad news, Ardrin?”
“Not as such, sir. Merely… news.”
“Then get on with it,” Alexander grumbled, “I have had enough to deal with in the past few days.”
“A scout squad we sent out to survey the area around one of our outputs discovered a squad of Necrons. Rather, its remains.”
“We have no idea how it happened, but the Necrons were… completely dismembered. A pile of shredded metal, almost unrecognizable.”
“What could have...” Lukas began, and trailed off. “One of those,” he whispered, “The Inquisitor’s solution.”
“Madek said that he took actions to hunt down the Vindicare. The way to hunt down an assassin is with another assassin.”
“You mean that he has deployed an Evers-”
“I suspect so. There is little left in that thing which is a sane man. Pray to the Emperor that it quickly completes its mission, and does not deviate from it.”
“If the Inquisitor even can exert any control over it at this time, then we may be in more danger than you realize, governor.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your contacts at the Inquisition took note of our… inquiries. They have decided to investigate the actions of Madek. If they find nothing, and inform the Inquisitor, I suspect that the war effort will not deter him from exercising ‘discipline’ on you.”
“You have performed your job well, lieutenant. Whatever happens, know that the Imperium appreciates your loyalty.”
“It is my duty, sir, nothing more.”
Taldeer, soaked to the skin through her robe, stumbled into an abandoned house. Surprisingly, furniture in the house was still intact; rough chairs, a wooden desk, even a bed hidden in a corner. LIIVI helped her to a chair, as she eyed the scar visible through his torn suit with worry. He pulled out his Exitus pistol, checking it for functionality.
“I may be tired, mon-keigh, but I sense no beast of chaos here.”
“I cannot permit any such risk, Taldeer.” The Vindicare, even as tired as the Farseer, sat guard in a chair next to the door, watching for anything that could harm her.
The sky outside a shattered window flashed as lightning smote the ground, and a rolling crash of thunder filled the house.
“There is little that could track us in this storm, LIIVI,” said Taldeer gently. Looking down at her scarred and dirty wraithbone armor, the Farseer frowned. Just how damaged had it become? Undoing the armor’s bindings, she removed the chestplate, lighter than her soaked robes. A tear in the robes drew her attention. It had not been so long since her army had been crushed, and she fled, pursued by an assassin. How much the circumstances were different, yet the same. Thinking of the man devotedly protecting her, she allowed herself a smile. What spark of happiness was left to her drained when she turned her chestplate over. Something was missing - her last spirit stone. Taldeer cried out in disbelief, and LIIVI lept up and rushed over.
“What is wrong?” he asked, scanning the room for any signs of life, “What happened?”
“My, my final spirit stone! It is gone!”
“The repository of an Eldar’s soul, should he die, that he not be devoured by the Great Enemy.”
“You shall not die.”
“How can you prevent it?” she cried out, “We have failed to escape already! Pavonis is in the hands of the Space Marines! What vehicle we did have has been shot down, and likely annihilated by the Necrons! What hope do we have left?”
LIIVI remained silent for a moment, then reached into an ammo pouch, pulling out an Imperial data storage device. “Pavonis was not the only place where the Imperial Guard had aircraft, and flight data to penetrate the Imperial blockade was… surprisingly available.”
“You cannot mean...”
“The city is crawling with the mon-keigh soldiers! You would be shot on sight!”
“My life is secondary to the mission. Primary objective: protect you. Secondary objective: Taldeer must escape Kronus.”
The Eldar looked up at LIIVI, her eyes moist, and seized his forearm. “Your life is not secondary to me.”
Slowly, the Eldar and Human drifted together, lips brushing, then pushed together. Arms wrapped around each other, the dangers of Kronus and the storm forgotten, Taldeer and LIIVI sank to the floor.
Interlude: The Dark CrusadeEdit
-- Subject: Imperial Guard and Eldar involvement in the Kronus Crusade --
At the dawn of the Dark Crusade, Farseer Taldeer of Craftworld Ulthwe pursued her apparent mission to stop the Necron threat to the tomb world of Kronus. Furious at the xenos’ betrayal at Lorn V, the Imperial Guard, now commanded by Lukas Alexander, followed her to the planet. As the Eldar erected massive webway gates to transport soldiers, linked to Taldeer’s spacecraft, Alexander’s forces landed at Ironworks Bay and established their base of operations. With the ancient technology and weapon he discovered there, however, his mission changed. Now Governor-Militant, he resolved to capture Kronus for the Imperium, and establish the Emperor’s rule once again.
The highly organized 1st Kronus Liberators, at first, swept across the central continent of the planet. Capturing key territories surrounding the Thur’Abis Plateau, the Imperial Guard created a series of defenses to contain the ancient warriors while more opportune targets were seized. With the Hyperion Peaks manufacturing facilities once again in Imperial hands, Alexander’s war machine drove deep into the heart of the Tau Empire’s presence on Kronus. Imperial Guard forces penetrated the outer defenses of the ancient city Asharis, renamed to “Tash’n” by the Tau, and fortified a forward base. After a long and bloody battle through packs of Kroot and a gauntlet of Tau soldiers on either side of the street, a single Vindicare assassin snuck past tanks and battlesuits, and ended the life of the ‘Ethereal’, the Tau leader on Kronus. The battle of Tash’n ended, and the purge of Asharis began, as the xenos fled the planet. Unbeknownst to much of the Imperial Guard command structure, some Tau medical technology had been ‘acquired’ by Lukas Alexander’s special forces. The Imperial Guard on Kronus collectively turned its eyes to the spaceport at Pavonis.
Occupying Pavonis without resistance, the Imperial Guard forces stationed there began to fortify the city, its ancient fortifications beginning to crumble. Much of the city was already nothing but rubble. Farseer Taldeer, seeing distantly in a vision the weak position of Pavonis’ spaceport, immediately began an offensive to simultaneously stem the expansion of the Imperial Guard and gain a supreme tactical advantage. Victory seemed almost certain at first, as defenses crumbled under the fire of Eldar weaponry, but an armored column, headed by a Baneblade, arrived in support. Despite heavy losses inflicted on the city’s defenders, the now weakened Eldar forces fled to their stronghold in Tyrea. Emboldened, and bound by duty to fulfill their original mission, Alexander’s forces struck in a brutal counterattack on the Eldar stronghold.
Annihilating the Eldar catspaws under waves of men pushed unwillingly into battle by the regiment’s commissars, Alexander’s personal retinue led an armored column into the heart of the Eldar forces. A Wraithlord removed Alexander from the battle when a glancing blow from its brightlance ruptured his power packs, rendering him unconscious. Though their commander had been pulled back from the battle, his forces struck back with a vengeance. With their webway gates annihilated under the fire of Imperial Guard artillery, the few surviving Eldar fled the battlefield. Though an enormous force of infantry surrounded Taldeer, she escaped from their midst, though badly wounded. Having regained consciousness in his field headquarters, Lukas Alexander demanded the death of the Farseer. A Vindicare assassin, designated [REDACTED], was dispatched to track down and eliminate Taldeer.
Mysteriously, the Vindicare disobeyed orders and - in the greatest order of heresy - helped the witch. The Blood Ravens, however, left the Governor-Militant with little time to attend to the situation. An enormous Space Marines force mobilized to capture the spaceport at Pavonis, penetrating the defenses crippled only a matter of days prior by the Eldar. Separating and crushing the platoons guarding the city, the 1st Kronus Liberators were forced to withdraw. In the weeks that followed, the Space Marines captured a number of critical assets, and prepared to invade Victory Bay. The surviving members of the regiment were returned to the Imperium by the Blood Ravens chapter. Details on the battle were lost due to unknown causes.
-- End Inquisitorial report --
Taldeer stood on a snowy plateau, surrounded by her brothers and sisters of Ulthwe. Lost in thought, she gazed out upon the pristine wilderness. She felt an explosion lift her up, sending her flying backwards. As if out of the blue sky, she was surrounded by Imperial Guard soldiers and tanks. All around Taldeer, her soldiers were crumpling to the ground. The mon-keigh approached her, their illusion disappearing, their features contorting into monsters. The setting sun bathed the sky and ground with red as her army’s blood trickled down the hillside, and the Slaaneshi daemons closed in on her, bloodstained, clawed hands raised to strike. She heard a whisper in her mind, and fell to her knees, trying to vain to shut out the warp-tainted voice. A claw swept down towards her.
She awoke trembling. The Farseer was nestled against LIIVI and, despite being covered a blanket taken from the bed in the corner, was beginning to shiver as a gust of cold morning wind passed through a broken window. She realized, then, that LIIVI had at some point woken up. He was looking at her in a way that only one person in your life could, and Taldeer found herself wishing this moment could last forever.
“Taldeer,” he whispered, pulling her closer, “We must go if you are to escape.”
“Yes, we must,” Taldeer replied, with a resigned tone and quiet sigh.
“Get Gebbett over there with reinforcements and an armored column!”
“Commissar Gebbett,” the vox operator relayed, “The Hyperion Peaks require reinforcements. The Governor-Militant has ordered that you take an armored column to support its defenders.”
Lukas Alexander inwardly groaned as Inquisitor Madek walked into the command center.
“Yes, Inquisitor? I am… busy.”
“The Inquisition’s priority is to hunt down the traitor assassin, not your petty little war, governor.”
“Yes, yes. The Inquisition has authority in this matter.”
Madek slightly smiled to himself. “My… field resources have indicated that your Vindicare,” ignoring Lukas’ curling fist as he continued, “Is currently located in the Pavonian Heartland.”
“We have seen your “source’s” handiwork in a pile of dismembered Necrons. Tell me, Inquisitor, what have you released onto this world?”
“I suspect that you already know. Now, I would like guardsmen deployed to the Pavonian Heartland to hunt down the traitor assassin.
“What could be so important to the Inquisition that the resources of a regiment are needed to find one person?” Lukas Alexander asked, suspicious of Madek’s motives, “And we cannot assist you in that manner in any case. All of our forces are needed to hold our outposts. Your own ‘source’ will have to be-”
“You misunderstand me. I was not giving you an option.”
Alexander hesitated for a moment. “Very well, Inquisitor. But do not think that the Emperor cannot see what you are doing to his soldiers.”
“I do not think the Emperor fails to see even a moment of all we do.”
Ensuring that the Inquisitor had left, Alexander turned to the vox operator. “Get Ardrin over here. We must… speak.”
Steadily, Human and Eldar advanced across the plains of Kronus towards the Imperial Guard’s stronghold.
Taldeer halted. “Wait.” She felt the ocean around her begin to heave. “Something is coming.”
The rumbling of Imperial vehicles and stamping of marching feet filled the air. LIIVI, loading his Exitus rifle, peeked over an outcropping at a chimera, surrounded by guardsmen.
“Sir!” a guardsman shouted to a lieutenant standing up in a chimera port, “Boot prints, something has been here.”
“Well, where do they lead?” shouted the officer.
“Well, get the auspex and scan the area!”
Taldeer frowned. “Are they hunting for us even among their petty wars?”
“Eliminating the ranking officer among Imperial Guardsmen should induce a retreat.” A scant fifty meter shot, negligible wind. A simple, quick attack would easily drive off the patrol - for the time. The guardsmen heard loud crack as a sniper shot tore through the spine of the Imperial officer.
“We’re under attack!”
“The lieutenant is dead!”
LIIVI nodded in approval and slung the Exitus rifle over his back.
“Let us move out, Taldeer.”
An hour later, as drops of blood dried on the ground a short distance away, a clawed hand pulled its body over piles of boulders. Here there was a scratch on the rock, where a sniper had fired on cowardly guardsmen. An impression in the dirt marked where the sniper had knelt. The Vindicare’s death had been mandated by the highest - the only - authority to which the thing answered. Here there was a faint footstep, in the direction of Victory Bay.
The Eversor lept after the traitor.
“Sir, we should speak away from the men.” Ardrin’s face was pale. Worried, Alexander pulled him into an empty office.
“What is it? Has the Inquisition told Madek-”
“We were contacted. Discreetly. The Inquisition has finished its investigation of Madek.”
“More than half of all Vindicare failures in the past decade have been trained under Madek’s supervision,” Ardrin whispered.
“Is this mere incompetence on the Inquisitor’s part, or has he-”
“‘Newly’ uncovered evidence, they said, indicates that he has been involved in the creation of weak, faulty Vindicares. More mewling children than weapons.”
“He is a traitor!” Alexander exclaimed. “This, is heresy! Have they requested that we end his miserable life?”
“They explicitly told us to take no action and stay out of his way. Said that an Inquisitorial team would arrive to deal with him.” Ardrin paused for a moment, then continued, “They want the Vindicare captured for ‘evidence’.”
“When did the Inquisition begin to concern itself with evidence? No,” said he, pacing across the room, “They are trying to hide an embarrassment. One that could, at the least, disrupt Imperial operations on Kronus.”
“No victory to encourage the men, then, sir?”
“We shall see to it that there is still something to look to. Assign a unit to - stealthily - survey the Inquisitor. If he acts against us, it will become… necessary to end him. Are they, then, calling off Madek’s assassin?”
“Sir… the Officio Assassinorum denied any approval for the deployment of an assassin to hunt down the Vindicare traitor.”
Broken and overgrown roads dating from the Imperium’s possession of Kronus stretched across the landscape around Victory Bay. Mysteriously, no other Imperial patrols had been sighted. The silence, with a peculiar sensation on the very edge of her perception, left Taldeer on edge.
“How can your people live as they do?” Taldeer finally asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Your lives are short, and your achievements crumble into dust. The mon-keigh live in fear of each day, knowing that it could snuff out their lives. Fiercely fighting over a planet, only to abandon it and return a millennium later.”
“Are the Eldar really so different from Humans?” LIIVI replied, pausing to look back at her.
“No, I suppose that maybe, in the end...” Taldeer trailed off as LIIVI’s visored gaze looked over her shoulder, as his hand reached down to pull out the Exitus pistol.
The assassin, more monster than man, knocked Taldeer to the ground, focused now on a single target. A shot rang out, and a hole was ripped in the Eversor’s leg as it struggled with LIIVI. Its deadly claw hovered mere centimeters from LIIVI’s throat, twitching and inching closer. Acting on impulse, with the grace of an Eldar Farseer, Taldeer seized her spear and thrust it into the back of LIIVI’s attacker. It twisted around, wrenching the spear from the Farseer’s hand and forcing the Vindicare’s pistol to the ground in a single move. Its claw raised, and then, without warning, the assassin sprang away into the brush. LIIVI seized his pistol, scanning for the location of the Eversor with his visor’s spectral imaging. It had disappeared.
“What was that?” Taldeer breathlessly demanded.
“An Eversor. The Imperial Guard know now where we are. We must move.”
Victory Bay, as the mon-keigh called it, was unimpressive to the Eldar. Ancient, rocky fortifications and the skeletons of buildings were of little interest when compared to the beauty and awe of an Eldar Craftworld. Even still, Taldeer found the fortifications imposing.
“Are you indeed sure that their trench system is not viable?”
“Any outlets of that system would be well guarded by at least a squad of guardsmen. Despite their losses, Taldeer, I find it unlikely that the key areas of the city are short on soldiers.”
When considering the abilities of the Eldar to move from one place to another, one may think of harlequins, leaping and dancing around a battlefield, or rangers, leaving hardly a mark on the ground. All Eldar, however, are gifted with graceful movement; trained humans, to a lesser extent. The scarred and pitted wall at the corner of Victory Bay offered a viable sequence of holds to climb, but to be spotted would mean a swift death. As if having practiced it a dozen times over, Taldeer climbed the wall, almost gliding from foothold to foothold. Grabbing the wall’s edge with her arm, Taldeer slung herself over the top. No guardsmen in the immediate area. She gestured to LIIVI to ascend the wall to her.
With an almost comical clumsiness, compared to the Eldar, LIIVI steadily worked his wall over the top. He situated himself on the ramparts so as to scan the area for any signs of life, but felt a pair of arms slide around his waist.
“If we shall die here, mon-keigh, hold me for one last time.”
LIIVI, tenderly, wrapped his arms around her. “I shall perish before I let harm come to you.”
Seconds ticked past that felt like an eternity. Gazing into Taldeer’s eyes, LIIVI murmured to her, “It is time that we go.”
Madek had been tipped off by allies in the Inquisition that he had been condemned as a heretic. It would be most prudent, he decided, to free the Eversor to do what it would in the city, while still targeting the Vindicare - if he should show up. Meanwhile, having sent his Grey Knights to do pointless errands for the Imperial Guard, he departed with haste for the Inquisitorial landing pad. Then he showed up, with a squad of Kasrkin at his back.
Governor-Militant Lukas Alexander.
“Are you going somewhere, Inquisitor?” he said with mock curiosity, “I thought that you wished to oversee the elimination of the traitorous Vindicare.”
“You gloat now in my ruin, governor? I have warned you what would happen if you attempted to stand in the way of the Inquisition again. Think not that you shall be overlooked.”
“I have not stood in the way of the Inquisition, Madek. And you are no Inquisitor.”
“You underestimate my power and influence, Alexander.”
“And you underestimate how deadly Cadian Storm Troopers are.”
“Your Kasrkin are weak compared to what I command.”
Lukas Alexander stepped closer. Madek’s fingers twitched at his side. “Don’t even try to go for your bolt pistol, traitor. Now tell me, where is the Eversor?”
“Oh, here, there, everywhere, naturally.”
“Enough of your games! You yourself admitted the Emperor knows all you do. Repent and-”
“The Emperor can do nothing, to stop me, Alexander. Nothing! He lies on his throne, dy-”
Madek’s words were choked off as a power fist grabbed him by the throat and lifted him into the air. Even on a low power field, he could feel his neck blister and burn. The Governor-Militant let go, and the traitor fell to the ground, gasping in pain. Now would be his only chance. One chance to escape. Fast as lightning, he reached for his bolt pistol, drawing and raising it to kill Alexander. A plasma bolt melted Madek’s arm.
“By the will of the Emperor, by his holy wrath against the heretic,” Alexander told his soldiers, “Execute this traitor.” The final thing that Madek saw was a line of Kasrkin aiming hellguns at him.
Looking on the body of Madek with disgust, Alexander told the squad sergeant, “Contact Ardrin. Tell him of what happened and ensure that he contacts the Inquisition.”
In the back of the squad, a Kasrkin screamed with pain. The soldiers turned to find his chest shredded, and Madek’s Eversor standing above him, blood dripping off its claws.
“Kill it!” shouted the governor.
Shrugging off the hotshot lasgun bursts hitting it, the assassin leaped into the shadows.
“Before that message is sent to the Inquisition,” Alexander ordered the sergeant, “I want every man in the city on the lookout for that, that thing. It could wreak havoc on our defenses.”
“Mon-keigh, how will we be able to access the controls on an Imperial Guard Valkyrie? Surely they have security procedures...”
“This data device contains autopilot data and access codes.”
“And you were able to access those from a single computer terminal?”
“Security protocols must have been disrupted. You think that it is a trap?”
“No, but it still feels very… convenient. For it to be a trap… there is only one man who could, and would, create a plan of such intricacy, and he is on Ulthwe.”
“I do not know of whom you speak, but-”
The sound of marching and voices reached their ears. Why, Taldeer thought, had she not foreseen them coming? The pair dove behind a pile of abandoned, rusted machinery from times long past.
“They say it’s some kind of assassin.”
Behind his mask, LIIVI frowned. They could not possibly know that they were in the city, could they?
“Big skull for its mask, a giant claw on its hand, they said.”
“I heard a story about one of those once. Some kind of assassin. It slaughtered two squads of some heretics before rippin’ off the head of their leader.”
“They hunt for the Eversor,” LIIVI whispered to Taldeer, almost too quiet to be heard.
“Why do they hunt their own assassin?”
“I can think of no reason they would, unless… unless it has gone rogue.”
“That thing? Loose in the city? That does not bode well for an escape.”
“If the need comes, I shall deal with the assassin.”
Eldar and Human, unwatched and unknown, sank into the shadows as night began to fall.
“We have lost contact with three squads. Two of them have been confirmed as eliminated.”
“Do you have any idea where the damnable thing is now?” burst out an irate Lukas Alexander.
“Not exactly, sir, but...” Ardrin trailed off, trying to think of the best way to phrase his next words.
“All its latest attacks have been in the vicinity of our landing zones. I believe that it may be waiting for an Inquisitor to arrive to give it new orders, as Madek is… executed.”
“I want two Kasrkin squads and a transport vehicle, at minimum, by the spaceport.”
“From the data we can access, Eversor assassins do not go down easily, sir. Should we deploy specialized weaponry?”
“Ardrin, I trust you to oversee this operation as you see fit.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The last person - at least to the extent that he was a person - Alexander wished to see at that moment, Mildilv, burst into the office.
“Where is the Inquisitor?” he demanded.
“Madek is dead,” Alexander said, appearing almost unconcerned with the content of his words.
“Dead? In the city? He sent me off to do a menial task, and I come back to find out that your pathetic guardsmen have let an Inquisitor die in the middle of your stronghold?”
“I said Madek is dead, not that an Inquisitor was dead. Madek was a traitor and a heretic. Even the Inquisition let us know when our digging turned them on to his actions.”
“You have killed an Inquisitor? This is treason!”
Alexander slammed his armored fist on the desktop, and stood up to look directly into the assassin’s eyes. “I executed a traitor. He blasphemed against the Emperor. He tried to kill me. He unleashed an Eversor assassin into the city!”
Mildilv frowned. “An Eversor? Let loose on Imperial forces?”
“It has already killed at least three patrols, and I am sure that the number has already grown.”
For the first time, a slight hint of doubt appeared in Mildilv’s eyes.
“I… must contact the Inquisition.”
“You do so. When you have finished verifying the truth of my words, perhaps you will help eliminate a rogue assassin. Perhaps two.”
Ardrin, visibly flustered, entered Alexander’s office once again, just as the assassin was leaving.
“Sir,” he said breathlessly, “Gebbett’s forces were ambushed by Orks while en route to the Hyperion Peaks. We’ve lost the manufacturing facilities there to the Blood Ravens.”
The governor let out a sigh. “Perhaps there are wars the Emperor does not wish that we win.”
Near the edge of the city’s landing zones was a scarred and beaten Valkyrie. Clearly, it had been in combat and had been damaged. Parts of the plating were brand new, and crates of parts lay aside it. It would not have been unusual to see techpriests working to repair it on a normal day, but with the Eversor on the loose, any non combat personnel were hiding in bunkers and habitation shelters.
Inserting the data device from Pavonis into the landing pad terminal, LIIVI uploaded command codes and a flight path to the Valkyrie. Hissing as a thin layer of smoke and water vapor escaped, its doors slid open.
“No munitions, and compromised armor. We cannot risk getting into combat with this. You’ll have to enter coordinates to reach your ship.”
Taldeer smiled sadly at LIIVI. “Do not worry, you’ll be safe on Ulthwe.”
“You matter more than I, Taldeer.”
LIIVI helped her into the aircraft, and inserted the Pavonis data device into the computer system, for course corrections. Then it appeared in the distance, closing fast.
“They may never stop coming.” he said to her, kissing her for a last time, drawing his Exitus pistol and dropping the rifle behind him.
“What are you doing?” she shouted as he jumped out of the Valkyrie. The doors sealed shut and the engines activated as the aircraft’s autopilot kicked in. Below the Valkyrie, LIIVI, holding his pistol, walked towards the Eversor assassin. With unerring accuracy, he raised the Exitus pistol and fired.
“Sir, an unauthorized Valkyrie just launched from the landing zone!”
“Get a message to the fleet, and direct available forces to that position.”
“Yes, sir,” the vox operator replied, as Governor-Militant Lukas Alexander hurried to reach the location before it was too late to stop whatever the assassin.
“Sir,” Ardrin told Alexander as he stepped out from the chimera, “The Eversor is dead.”
“Ah, excellent. So you brought it down?”
“No, sir… we didn’t.”
The governor glanced aside at Ardrin.
“What do you mean by - oh.”
Over the body of the Eversor, surrounded by Kasrkin ready to shoot him for a single move, stood a figure. The visor in his mask had been cracked by some previous battle. His suit had been slashed open on one side; a clear scar was visible through it. The Vindicare’s Exitus pistol lay on the ground beside him.
“You are a traitor.” Bitterness laced Alexander’s words. “You have abandoned the Imperium to consort with xenos. You have murdered soldiers of the Emperor. How do you plead?”
“I have completed my mission.”
“I do not see the dead body of an Eldar witch, traitor. You failed your mission, and when we find her, she will die.”
The Vindicare remained silent, perfectly still.
“The only reason that you are not dead right now is because the Inquisition wants you alive. In their tender mercies, you will reveal all you know.”
Alexander turned to Ardrin. “Clap him in chains and put him in a cell until the Inquisitors arrive.”
High above Kronus, a Valkyrie left the atmosphere.
A tear slipped down Taldeer’s cheek as the Valkyrie ascended ever higher. “Mon-keigh fool,” she sniffed. Its engines struggling to function outside the atmosphere, she fumbled with the Valkyrie’s communication systems.
A light turned on as she adjusted the frequency. Shuddering as she took a deep breath, she spoke into the system.
“This is Farseer Taldeer. Are you receiving?”
A crackle of static answered her.
“Can… can anyone hear me?”
The communications system remained silent.
“Does this even work?” she muttered to herself. Looking out at the stars in the far distant regions of space, she only remembered the distance now between LIIVI and herself. If he even still lived.
A communication crackled in over the system. “Xenos scum, your treachery will not go unforgiven.”
Her fingers flying over the sensor system, Taldeer tried to determine what the ship was. It appeared to be an escort, capable of…
She had poorly functioning engines, compromised armor, no weapons. She was helpless, hopeless. Taldeer stifled a sob.
A barrage from a weapons battery sailed past her, as the ship grew ever closer. An energy beam lanced past the cockpit, and the Farseer realized, with a shock, that it had not come from the Imperial ship. Her massive wraithship loomed over her, and in an instant enveloped her in its holofield.
A swarm of Eldar awaited her arrival, and even cheered that she had survived.
Taldeer had never felt more alone in her life.
Taldeer, sitting in a room alone, realized that she sensed… someone with her. Looking around the room, there was no one; no warlock seeking solitude, no soldier looking to her for consolation. She realized, with a start, that what she felt was something alive within her. Not a parasite, she mused, but she realized that she felt something stirring within her abdomen.
A child, created of a forbidden love.
She felt LIIVI in a vision. An Inquisitor, a cage. A vast ship carrying him in its belly.
“Mon-keigh… you are alive,” the Farseer whispered to herself.
This is a continuation written by "AnotherAnonFinishingLCB." It begins at chapter 8, and continues to chapter 20, with a two part epilogue. Chapters have been noted in the text, but not formatted into the wiki in order to avoid clutter. This is more or less the final draft, to be updated with the final product when editors are located.
If you are interested in editing it or would like to offer feedback, AnotherAnonFinishingLCB can be contacted here: (talk)
There are two notes which should be made about the way I wrote this.
The first component is stylistic - I wanted to emulate the style of the author to the best of my ability, to do it justice. Make it into a worthy continuation. Accord the story with the respect. For better or worse I am a massive faggot who takes his writing way too seriously.
The second component is where I chose to begin, which flies in the face of what I just stated. Xenophon (a much more accomplished writer than myself) had the humility to begin at the very word where Thucydides left off. I had the hubris to choose where I began. I began shortly after the beginning of chapter 8. Come the appearance of the Sponge Weed house, I had a feeling that the author was growing tired of the story. Things started moving fast, and the ensuing events contrasted starkly with the rest of the work. It seemed out of place compared to the rest, and it felt rushed in its construction. As Taldeer said early the story, trying to end it now rather than end it right. By the time I sensed some hesitation in the pen of the author, they had already written themselves into a corner. Perhaps I am wrong to make such assumptions. Maybe I’m misreading the work. Perhaps that outcome was planned all along, and I missed the hints.
But that isn’t my gut sense as a writer. I have done my best to continue in the spirit of the first 7 chapters. The result is longer, and not necessarily in line with DoW canon (or the broader canon of 40k, for that matter - I enjoy taking my liberties with it). If that bothers you, then you probably wouldn’t enjoy it. There are also areas where, like most writers for 40k, I fill in the blanks in lore with my own speculation. I tried to supply sections with similar detail to the original, an example being Bloomwriter's blurb about the Exitus. Some other ways I stretch or violate canon include Eldar that are, in essence, pretty much human.
Another note should be made for what it is that I wrote.
Ultimately, I think most of us want this story to have a happy ending. Given the situation Taldeer and Liivi were left in, their prospects are pretty grim. There are only a few ways they could make it out. To that end, I envisioned a plausible situation where the probability of them encountering a friendly squad of Eldar was very high. Frankly, I struggle to believe that the two of them could single handedly sneak through an imperial spaceport and hijack a ship: thus why I engineered a plausible scenario where they would actually have some support. I determined that, if I was going to add characters to support them, then it would be bad writing to just leave them as 2 dimensional characters who only exist as a means for the escape of the protagonists. After all, I want to create something good, and flat characters are not good. Instead, I tried to create real, human characters that the reader can grow attached to or dislike. This means that Liivi and Taldeer have to share the spotlight a bit, and I'm still exploring how to balance that. I also saw it as an opportunity to have Liivi and Taldeer grow in different ways. If they made it back to Ulthwe, there are a litany of issues they'd have to address. Rather than leaving those for the reader to speculate on, I bring those issues into the story using these additional Eldar characters. Taldeer's loyalty to Liivi versus her people, her guilt for having led her army into death and disaster, the different attitudes people will have towards her and Liiv, among other things. Liivi faces new challenges in terms of social interaction, working as part of a team, and generally just "being a human." Perhaps another fair warning is that the Liivi I wrote is also going to take more time to lose his more "mechanical" features. He's been through a lifetime's worth of training and indoctrination, and he's still a young man. It isn't something that will slip away easily, I figure - another reason why I felt having him socialize would be useful: it would chip away at that training much faster.
In any case, I felt all of that was important to note because LCB originally just dealt with their budding romance and how they overcame their inner demons, literally and figuratively. By expanding on the number of issues addressed or overcome, other things necessarily have to share the spotlight. This might be viewed as a distraction, but hopefully if it is written well, it won't be viewed that way.
It may be that you would rather have the less plausible scenario that focuses solely on Liivi and Taldeer. That's fine. All I wanted to clarify with the above is that, firstly, what I have written was not an oversight on my part (it was intentional), and secondly, I didn't insert my own characters just for the sake of it (I felt getting off world without support was too implausible, and additional characters could help grow the story). I know I can't please everyone, so I'm just going to focus on writing what I feel is objectively the best story (and characters) that I can.
Update: As I near completion (as of this moment, much of what I have written is not on this page), I think I may have discerned my sense of balance between supporting characters and true protagonists. I've tried to give supporting characters enough screentime to give the reader a sense of who they are, and sufficient interaction to provide an idea of how different members of Eldar society may react to the predicament of Taldeer and Liivi. This means the spotlight is shared rather evenly for awhile. Only time will tell if this was the right decision.
Update 2: The main body of the story will be up in a few days, after I edit it and make final tweaks. I will then upload a two-part epilogue shortly thereafter, designed to achieve two objectives - firstly, these will resolve lingering plot threads that I felt would clutter the main narrative, and secondly, they will also give cookies to the observant. For my part, there is some anxiety at this juncture. I've focused on a lot on dialogue and character development. These are treasured characters that I delved into, dear to the heart of many, and I can only hope that I'll meet the quality expectations held by the majority of people. Personally, I'm more confident in some parts and less confident in others. I'll reveal which post-release. For the time being, I don't want people entering with any preconceptions, so I won't say more than that. I want them to form their own opinions. In any case, I said "two months" and for a variety of reasons blew past that. It's time to finish. I refuse to allow this to be yet another unfinished story.
I should have left him there. He had served his purpose.
He owed me nothing - yet he gave himself to me willingly.
Why? I know not.
He is nothing more than a pathetic human.
An inferior race.
But still I broke off my wings so that I might carry him easier.
I took him from that place, into the snowstorm where our tracks will not be found.
He is heavy. And he is dying. And he is slowing me down.
But I will save him.
Why? I know not.
He is still warm. I can feel his blood ebbing across me. For every beat of his heart, another, slight spill of heat. The heat blows away on the winter wind. His blood is still warm. But fading. And I have spilled scarlet myself.
The snow laps greedily at our footsteps and our lifeblood, covering them without a trace as we fade away.
Battle still raged behind them. Far off, in walls of steel and concrete, trenches of dirt and burning promethium, space marine and ork reveled in fire and bolter. Taldeer stopped a moment, breathing in and out, her lungs burning. She held the human over her shoulder, his feet still dragging in the snow. His rifle sheath, with frost covering it. She looked around. Disputed territory. Ork banners held up, some burnt, some empty, some shattered and buried under the snow. Exhortations of war broken and buried under the white blanket. The Vindicare beside her coughed, tensing for a moment, his hand digging into her own- then he slackened again. The blood warmth washed over her side again. She had no need to watch the skein of fate to see that survival was improbable. She was needed elsewhere. She shouldn't die, freezing, clinging to a weaponized man. She shifted his weight again, and pulled forward with her spear, panting again as she passed under twenty meter high declarations of war, pulling through the winter.
"Inquisitor." Inquisitor Madek snorted sharply, blinking away the sleep. He frowned. He was cold. He should have packed more clothes than just a cassock. An idiotic desire to empathize with the guardsmen perhaps. "I've heard tell that cleanliness is one of the signs of divinity,"
Madek roused, sitting up, slipping on an ill fitting gentle smile, "I don't think I have to fear any usurpation here. What is it, Felix?"
"The storm," Felix pointed out to the wall, where some diodes sputtered, "The corpus mechanica would be better served if I-"
"I can barely give a damn, we're on the road to the spaceport, we can get it fixed there." "That's another thing," Lieutenant Ardrin, resembling nothing more than a big black fly came into the room, holding a buzzing comm, "The city, currently our forces command it and will be reinforced, but, the agents of Chaos are attacking it. They hold the entrance to the city we're heading for." Veteran soldiers. No courage, no faithful bone in their body they. Merely the survivors, benefit of the brave souls of the Emperor's truest servants. A fine degree of cowardice uncaught by commissar, that's all that experience breeds. They that survive are just rewarded for their base desire of living. Disgusting.
"I believe we'll be fine," Inquisitor Madek gave a serene grin, "The Emperor protects."
MY WORK BEGINS HERE
Like the forest around her, the ocean was still. Perhaps it too was frozen.
“Is this where it ends?” Taldeer winced, trudging through yet another snow bank. Her path through no man's land had been aimless. The fates spoke nothing to her. Perhaps it was decided at last. The undertow was overwhelming near death in battle. But would she feel a thing, quietly freezing to death in this forest?
A ripple disturbed the placid glass. A thought. Human. And it didn’t come from her human. The Farseer’s exhausted mind struggled to translate it. Warmth. Comfort. Satisfaction. Food.
Taldeer smiled through the pain and, wiping the clot filled hair out of her face, pressed forward with new purpose.
The tiny bunker and command station had been hurriedly abandoned as the tide of battle turned against the Guard. Injured officers were rushed out of the scant medical bay, and documents were left strewn about. No need to dispose of papers when they’d be burned by the illiterate greenskins.
The deserter burned them anyway. The heater was enough to keep a man from freezing to death, but it wasn’t exactly warm. The fire was homey, even if the sod floor and roof weren’t. Of course, now and then, you have to open the door to let out the smoke, which only lets the cold in, which makes you want to feed the fire - a vicious cycle, to be certain.
It was for this reason that he left his wobbly chair and walked towards the door. He opened it gently, and it slammed loudly against the wall as an Eldar witch pushed it aside, forcing her way into the shelter.
Taldeer knocked the injured man to the ground. “Out of the way, mon-keigh.” It wasn’t nice. But she didn’t have time for nice. Another heartbeat. Another bout of warm blood running down her side.
“WITCH!” He shrieked in terror. She kept her shuriken pistol trained on him. His mind was a scarred mess. Easy to influence, in most circumstances. But panicking like this? She gritted her teeth. He bolted for the door.
One moment, the man had a head. In the next moment, he had a stump. Liivi’s arm fell limply to his side. The body fell limply the ground. A momentary pause. All was still.
The vindicare coughed.
She rushed to set him on a gurney.
Shoving the corpse out into the snow, she shut the door, then grabbed the case that Liivi pointed to. “Medkit,” he mouthed, spitting two teeth away from her. She opened the case.
The first things she saw were a set of pouches filled with grey fluid. “Blood substitute,” he whispered. “Carries oxygen. Hydrates. Not much else. Stops brain death.” He held out his arm and pointed to a vein. “Here.”
Human medicine is… invasive. She had seen it before. Abandoned patients, or field medics tending to their wounded. Like all things human, their medicine was crude, blunt, and fast. Tear open the body, excise the problem, and stitch it shut. Those who walked the Path of the Healer could mend a broken body without a pin prick, and make it better than when the injured were healthy.
But she was not a healer.
The Farseer grabbed a needle and tube from the box, fitting the two together, then attached it to the pack. He didn’t flinch when she slid the cold steel into his vein, thin grey fluid invading through the breach. Setting the pack on the hook above, she applied pressure to his still seeping wound. With every movement, her armor crunched with coagulated blood, and pain ripped through her chest. She needed her own medic. But there was no time now.
With her free hand, she tore at the vindicare’s suit, exposing the wound. Singed dead flesh mingled with living tissue, still bleeding. But thankfully, it was shallower than she had thought. It ran from his upper abdominals to his upper pectoral, on the left side. It was deepest around the middle of his pectoral muscle, where the spear had cracked a rib.
Liivi was beginning to flit in and out of consciousness. Unable to find a bandage big enough, she ripped the sheet off a nearby gurney. His shaking hand grabbed a bottle filled with some clear substance. Alcohol. “D-isin-fectan,” he muttered, pouring it on the wound. He blacked out. She caught the bottle, then wrapped the sheet tightly around his chest. The bleeding stopped. At least for the moment.
The fatigue hit like a human battle barge.
The last of her adrenaline was spent. Darkness clawed at her vision as all the pain resurged. But she couldn’t sleep yet. Sleeping now meant death.
She pulled a gurney close. Set blankets on top of Liivi. Fumbled with her armor, took off her chestplate, arm guards. The wounds in her abdomen were covered in crystal, blood oozing from between the cracks. Taking a deep breath, she wiped off the superfluous clots and poured on the alcohol. It burned. Dressing the wound with another sheet, she sat on the gurney. Vague thoughts passed through her blood starved mind. “Human. Eldar. Biology. Compatible.” Blood loss would kill her. The fake blood might not.
She felt for a vein and jammed it in. It hurt. It hurt far more than she expected. But sleep was already numbing the pain. Before the black veil claimed her, she pulled up some blankets, and held Liivi’s hand tightly in her own.
“...And atop the charges of negligence and cowardice in battle” Eldrad said, dryly, “you were saved by a mon-keigh defector?”
The crowd rippled with a mixture of incredulous laughter and scornful glares.
“This is true, Farseer.” Taldeer stood defiantly in front of the Farseer Council of Ulthwe.
“You have brought considerable shame upon our craftworld, young miss. You’ve failed us, but more than us, your kin on the battlefield.”
She choked, remaining silent.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“The shame I feel is all too deep. But I request a chance to right my wrongs.”
“Your wrongs are indelible. A lifetime in service can never bring back the dead. Not from the jaws of the Great Enemy.”
“Be that as it may, I wish to restore Ulthwe’s honor. I may not be able to bring them back, bu-”
Taldeer was taken aback. These investigations were only convened for matters of serious gravity, and to interrupt anyone was a great breach of form. Even Eldrad, contemptuous as he was of rules, was one to respect it.
“We shall hear from another.” A hooded young woman stepped forward out of the crowd. Taldeer hadn’t noticed her before.
“It’s my pleasure to speak, honorable Eldrad.” She bowed.
“What in the… ?” The farseer was stupefied. Her voice was a whisper. “A daemon?”
“Taldeer Taldeer Taldeer. Don’t go labeling me like that! I reject labels.”
She drew closer to the eldar, wearing something approximating a sultry gaze. “You're such a pretty little thing, you know?” The creature licked her lips. “But you’d look a lot prettier with your clothes off. Come on, drop this boring armor. Have some fun with me. I can make all your pain go away. Maybe even make you enjoy it.”
“Will you accept her proposition, Taldeer,” Eldrad asked dispassionately. “Will you bring even more shame to Ulthwe?” There was not even a hint of empathy in his monotone voice, or across his unflappable features.
Confused and furious, the farseer snapped. “Father what is this farce?! Why is a servant of the Great Enemy here?!” But it was too late. Reality began twisting at the seams. The ground broke beneath her feet. Ulthwe crumbled and melted around her, psychoplastic bubbling and cracking, filling with mouths and eyes. The assembly, the council, her father, everyone except the wretched, cackling daemon was stretched and contorted.
“You did this,” Eldrad said, mouth dripping off of his face. Dark vacuous holes stared at her in place of eyes. For the first time, he was plaintive. “How could you?
“I didn't do this! I don't know what's going on! Father, help me! You always have a plan!”
“I can make it go away~” Arms folded, the daemonette whistled and tapped her elbows with her fingers.
“Father!” Taldeer reached for his hand, but the phantasm faded to mist. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she clenched her fist.
“I need- I need- I need-” she dropped her head, watching her tears fall into the void of Ulthwe’s writhing souls.
“You need some sweet, sweet-”
And just like that, he was there. She held his hand tight, bringing herself close to his side. The nightmare gave way to a white clean expanse. A cloudless blue sea was on the horizon. They could hear the gentle tug of waves on the distant shore.
The daemonette rolled her eyes. “Pfft. Oh brother. What a boring guy to fall for.”
“I haven't fallen for him,” she glared.
“Uh huh. Keep telling yourself that, sister. You know he can't save you.”
“I don't need him to save me. I want him to help me.”
“What a line. Man, I can really see it on one of those shitty imperial motivational posters.”
“Get out, daemon.”
“Alright, a girl can sense when she isn't wanted. But I’ll leave you with two questions.”
Taldeer ripped off the daemon’s head.
“Rude. First: can that machine of a man even love you back? And second,” her mouth contorted into a horrifying sneer, “was loving him even your idea to begin with?”
“Later sweetie.” She winked and stuck her long tongue out, fading away.
The farseer looked at Liivi. Liivi looked back at her. She squeezed his hand. He was more than just a machine with an objective. He had free will. He chose to give himself for her. The second question though...
“We’ll figure this out,” she said. “Together.”
They were on the shore. Cool surf washed around their feet, sucking grains of sand away and out to sea.
Hate. Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate.
Images of targets flashed through a drug addled mind. Farseer. Vindicare.
The metal gauntlet of a necron reached up from the ground.
Yanked from the earth like a fresh crop, the Necron’s skull was crushed before it could formulate a response. Its body was discarded with the others in a pile. The crypt was stirring, awoken by the noisy landing a scant hour earlier.
It had taken the better part of the night to crawl out from the earth. Now, it was morning, and other things were emerging from the dirt, as if in pursuit. They were not Imperial technology. But they were most definitely annoying.
The soothing, feminine voice of a machine spirit echoed inside the mind.
Positional data updated. Target located in forest due east, 80 clicks. Ave Imperator, Eversor.
The killing machine broke into a dead sprint, crushing the head of a rising necron under foot.
Seek. Hate. Kill. Hate.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
- Attributed to Saint Condi
The pain didn’t stop him from rolling his head to the right. “Breathing. Still asleep.”
The sensation of touch. He glanced at his hand, wrapped in hers. She fidgeted in her sleep - nervous, anxious actions. But she was alive. This was a source of relief. His hand never left hers as he took in the situation.
The room was cold. His mouth tasted like blood. He was hydrated, but hungry. There was a sheet on his chest, wrapped tightly. And the left side of his torso was experiencing pain. Immense pain.
“Have to treat wound.”
The Vindicare dictum taught that pain was nothing more than a trick of the mind - a psychosomatic sensation not dependent on nociceptors, but instead felt when the mind wanted, where the mind decided, and fabricated wholly within the brain itself. Pain can vanish during mentally stimulating activity, or never appear if one is unaware of the damage. It can seem smaller or larger if the injured area is viewed through a magnifying lens. The brain may perceive pain within itself, a headache, despite having it no nociceptors - the brain confers the sensation onto a region of the body.
Pain is a choice.
So it was that as the vindicare slowly sat upright and hesitantly let go of the primary’s hand, he chose not to feel the pain. While he undid the impromptu bandage with his right arm, he ignored the sensation which screamed in his ear. When he examined the cut that split his pectoral in half, and the broken rib that lay beneath it, he did not fall prey to the delusion that gnawed at his inflexible iron mind.
“Laceration. Deep. Left arm useless. Need to irrigate wound. Need to warm room.”
He fumbled through the medical kit. “Syringe. Where? Need clean water. Stitches. Dressing.”
The kit had all of the necessities supplied. He pulled the silver bag of water from it and twisted the cap at the top, to which the syringe head attached neatly.
Memories of last night were hazy, but even now the bandage smelled faintly of alcohol. “Excessive application likely to slow healing,” he thought to himself, as he sprayed water into the wound. “Preferable to infection.” The cold water ran down his abdominals, chilling him even further.
The Dictum Vindicare taught basic medical procedures. Treatments for dealing with immediate medical problems, in the hopes of surviving long enough to complete the mission, and hopefully even survive after if provided medical attention. Cleaning and stitching the wound were only one third of the path to survival. The second was daily dressing and antibacterial treatment of the wound. The third was mission completion and retrieval. If no serious damage was incurred, then with standard Imperial medical supplies, the vindicare could expect 72 hours of operational time before the untreated wound would cause sufficient permanent muscle damage to require the addition of cybernetics to restore full functionality.
In silence he stitched it shut, first reattaching the muscle, then closing the wound and applying an antibacterial dressing.
The simple act of breathing was still monumentally painful.
“Limited functionality restored. Will have to shoot from right. Cannot rest on left side. Run risk of lung puncture.”
His stomach growled. The silvery water pack reminded him of his nutrient pouches. “Food.”
He looked over to his left. “Rations.” Gingerly stepping down from the gurney, he walked over to the stockpile of crates and pulled an MRE from one of the open boxes. Liivi frowned. His shaking hands brought the package closer to his expressionless face. The cogitators embedded in his visual cortex made reading the trembling instructions trivial. But eating it?
Iron pathways honed by careful use of negative and positive reinforcement were assaulted by visceral feelings of disgust, fed by the psychosomatic fruit of extreme indoctrination. The iron weathered the unpleasant sensations like a breakwater in a storm, wave upon wave crashed against it and sending spray flying every which way.
But it did not yield.
“Must consume. Must survive to protect primary.”
The farseer’s eyes fluttered open. She was alive, miraculously.
Liivi’s weapons, freshly cleaned, sat by his side. He was stitching the massive gash in his suit using a single hand. The wound on his chest had already been cleaned and sutured shut.
She bolted upright. “You should-!” Taldeer winced as pain shot through her entire body. “...shouldn’t be walking around. Where is your bandage?”
“No time to heal. Compression bandages on ribs increases risk of pneumonia. Bad in winter conditions. Are you okay?”
She glanced down at her wounds and sucked in a deep, painful breath. “I have been… better. But I am alive. Thanks to you.” She smiled. His face remained stiff.
“I found rations. I know little of eldar nutrition. But they should be edible. Are you hungry?”
“I- No. I will not need to eat for another week.”
This was, perhaps, the closest she’d seen the vindicare come to surprise.
“There are capsules in my stomach. We take them before missions. They release food when we drink.”
“I understand. Like my nutrient packs.”
He took a bite of the MRE. Liivi was a precision instrument, but in this instance, he was clumsy. Clumsier than the average mon-keigh.
“Did you ever-” she cringed as she leaned forward, “eat anything else?”
“No.” He set the meal down and put a wad of fluffy white into his left cheek. “Do you need help?”
“I can manage. What about your rib?”
“Broken. I won’t be able to shoot from the left. No time to heal. They will find us soon.”
He was right. This was no rest. Merely a respite. The next wave was soon to roll in.
“I can sense as much.” The farseer bit her lip. This was stupid. “But, I may have an idea…”
The Eversor is perhaps the closest a man can become to an unthinking instrument. Servitors are machines with no human left. Techpriests still possess their consciousness. The Vindicare, for all their discipline, still think with a sense of self. The Eversor, by contrast, is reptilian. It does not think or plan like any normal human. Its conscious mind is far too consumed by hatred, wrath, and bloodlust to formulate anything resembling higher thought. It sees a problem, formulates a solution, and acts on it.
To aid this reptilian brain, the Eversor is fitted with a host of sensors. After all, seeing is easy. Discerning is not. Some enemies can stand right in front of you and yet remain undetected. Only by the stench of the warp might you discern their presence.
And the warp was on the wind.
The Eversor looked to its left. City. Smoke by the gates. Chaos. Fists clenched. Muscles tightened. It looked to the woods, so far away. Targets there. Chaos here. Targets there. Hate. Hate chaos. Hate targets. Hate chaos. Hate targets. Hate chaos. HATE targets. HATE.
It clawed at its face and fell to its knees, glancing back and forth between the city and the horizon. The targets were distant. Chaos, it was right here. A machine spirit housed within an augment dutifully began to relay the Eversor’s thoughts to its master.
Kill? Kill? Kill? KillkillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKillKill
Felix glanced at the data slate, noting a shift in the periodic updates of the Eversor. Accompanying the text was a picture. A burning city wall. Agents of chaos surrounding it. It was the same town to which they needed to pass through to reach the spaceport.
“KILL???” The screen prompted again.
“Inquisitor,” he said, the message now erupting every half a second.
“I think you should see this, sire.” He handed Madek the data slate.
The inquisitor watched the requests flash across the screen. The reflection of the soft light in the Inquisitor's ocular implants had a curious effect. The fuzzy white glow reminded Ardrin of too many night time predators, staring defiantly into the light of human settlements. Madek's lips widened into a faint smile.
“Such is the will of the Emperor. The city has fallen. The forces of chaos are distracted by the civilians. Approve the request. They’ll be caught off guard.” He handed the data slate back to Felix. “And order a contingent of basilisks to shell it with promethium in 2 hours. Then search the surrounding woods for survivors.”
Felix dutifully transmitted the data. Ardrin was left wanting to question the directions of the inquisitor, but knew better than that. He cocked his head and frowned, pondering the orders.
“Are you confused, Lieutenant?” Madek’s steel gaze seemed at odds with his pleasant smile, simultaneously disconcerting and condescending.
It quickly brought the haggard Ardrin out of his haze. “Hm- I, um, no sir.”
“Inquisitors are extremely perceptive, lieutenant. We must be, if we are to sniff out heresy wherever it lurks. What was confusing about my orders?”
“Well, Inquisitor, why would the forces of chaos not flee the eversor? How can we be sure that he will only take two hours?”
“Do you know what the most powerful emotion is? Joy and pleasure, they motivate people. Base desires can move humans to betray their beliefs, their love, even the light of the Emperor. But the most powerful base emotion is fear. And make no mistake...” Madek leaned forward. There was something about his voice that made Ardrin’s blood run cold. “Chaos fears the Emperor’s wrath.” He reclined back into his chair.
“Yes, some may flee. So we search the forests. But in the looting, most won’t notice the eversor until he’s on top of them. They won’t have the opportunity to be afraid. Those who survive will be maimed. Those who witness him and escape will be so consumed by fear that they’ll hide. The ones who overcome their fear, the courageous, will warn their comrades. Their comrades will either hide, flee, or seek him out. And most would rather hide.
So we are left with the rats, scurrying in the nooks and crannies, and the maimed, crawling through the streets. Both burn just as well.”
He closed his eyes and settled comfortably in his sleep.
“And Ardrin?” Madek peeked at the man with one eye open.
“Don’t lie to me. It’s a sin.”
<09:22:39> unit: KILL??? <09:22:39> unit: KILL??? <09:22:39> unit: KILL??? <09:22:39> unit: KILL??? <09:22:40> unit: KILL??? <09:22:40> unit: KILL??? <09:22:40> unit: KILL??? <09:22:40> unit: KILL??? <09:22:41> unit: KILL??? <09:22:41> unit: KILL??? <09:22:41> unit: KILL??? <09:22:41> unit: KILL??? <09:22:42> unit: KILL??? <09:22:42> unit: KILL??? <09:22:42> unit: KILL??? <09:22:42> unit: KILL??? <09:22:43> unit: KILL??? <09:22:43> unit: KILL??? <09:22:43> Admin: Request status - Approved. Ave Imperator, Eversor.
The weapon grinned underneath it’s mask.
“It is clear to see that wraithbone is the stuff of miracles. Understanding it should be a priority, as it would greatly simplify logistics.”
- Attributed to a Space Wolf Librarian, shortly before his investigation by the Inquisition
Wraithbone is a special and marvellous substance. Suitable for most any purpose and possessing a tensile strength superior to steel, it can be pulled from thin air and recycled indefinitely. It is notable as one of the few pleasant things to emerge from the warp on a regular basis. Psychoconductive, it can not only transmit psychic energy, but it can also function as a shield generator and communication hub, all without any additional equipment. And of course there’s the oft lauded property of psychoplasticity - it being malleable using only one’s mind. Intricate and delicate works, such as vehicles and weapons, are difficult for the uninitiated to produce. These items require a finer touch that all but the most talented beginners lack. But wraithbone is not so difficult to work that a novice can’t play with it. Being roughly manipulable by any average psychic, performing a field repair on cracked armor is a breeze. It may not be perfect, but it’s sealed. The ease by which it can be manipulated scales with power, while precision… it scales with practice.
Taldeer was not very practiced.
The procedure required the sum of her concentration. Liivi lay on his back, holding his breath. Cool wraithbone flowed like molten metal into a small incision, directly above his broken rib. It was to form an internal cast that wrapped around the bone. If it went well, then Liivi would no longer have to fear puncturing his lung every time he fired a weapon or laid on on the ground. If Taldeer made a mistake, then he could suffer horrendous internal bleeding and/or a punctured lung.
There was nothing to risk which wasn’t already an immediate danger.
An anatomy text Liivi found with the medical supplies made it clear where the tendons attach to the bone, and thus where gaps in the cast had to be. The shape and thickness of the rib was certainly easy to understand, looking at the pictures. But now, as the last dribbles of wraithbone seeped in through the incision, Taldeer was feeling slightly nervous. Of course, doubt was a distraction, and there was no time for distractions. If it was wrong, and the tendons wouldn’t attach correctly, so be it. At least the rib wouldn’t puncture his lung, it would just hamper movement a bit. They could deal with it when they got off world, back to her people.
And if they didn’t get off world, well, it wouldn’t matter then, either.
Fate flowed around her ankles in subtle eddies. She danced an impromptu tango with it, reacting carefully to it’s movements, following it’s lead. She could visualize the shape of the wraithbone. Subtle changes were made to accommodate the shape of the rib, drag it back into place. Optimal possibilities became clearer. Slightly thicker here. Thinner there.
It was then that she felt the ripples of a great splash beyond the horizon. The farseer was uncertain of what it meant. She sighed softly and pressed forward, finalizing the cast.
This was about how Private Scry Shenken expected he would die. Well, former private.
He held his breath, laying flat against the wall next to the door. Sure, the other half of the house was on fire. But better to be with the house fire than with whatever was outside.
The last of the screams was interrupted by a squelching sound.
“Nineteen? Did that thing really kill all nineteen? What the fu-”
“No. No! NOOOO!” The window next to him shattered. Apparently one man was unsuccessful in playing dead. Now, he was quite dead, embedded in the charred wall across the room.
Scry never wanted to surrender to chaos. He also didn’t really want to die, either. He didn’t exactly expect to live long as a soldier in the black legions. But it was better than being handed off to the Slaaneshi cultists. When he saw them for the first time, his gut told him he’d rather be damned than enslaved to that lot. And his week of service in the legions of chaos showed him that his gut was absolutely right. In that time, he learned many things he didn’t know about the world. But there was a rule that held true across the guard and chaos - your superiors will kill you just as soon as they’ll kill an enemy. So stay out of their way.
The flames were really starting to roar now. Sweat beaded down Scry’s forehead.
“Just wait until he goes away wait until he goes away wait until he goes away wait-”
A metallic voice boomed above the growing din. “WHO GOES THERE!” A chaos space marine. A VIP. Somebody who should know who’s who and who’s where. The former guardsmen was suddenly confused.
“It isn’t a daemon?”
Liivi stared at his left fist and clinched it, sending a wave of pain rippling across the left portion of his torso. The wraithbone cast set around his rib was the cause of some discomfort. Aside from the pain, it felt cold. The sum of the sensations was reminiscent of a freshly installed augment. It appeared that the operation was a success.
“Taldeer.” He looked up at the farseer, resting on her gurney, back propped up by the wall. “Thank you.”
“It’s the least I can do,” she replied. Her gaze never wavered from her armor, focused intently on the ritual of maintenance. There was nothing more that needed to be said.
Liivi packed the remaining remaining MRE’s and a field kit into a ruck sack. Crystalline blood glittered as it fell to the floor, scraped from the wraithbone chestpiece. Bandage covered arms brought it to rest on a bandage covered abdomen, where she mended what weak spots it had developed during day upon day of battle.
The two warriors sat like this in silence. The air wasn’t empty for lack of words. On the contrary, it was already filled by the tension of preparation. The surf gurgled uncertainly around Taldeer’s feet as she stood on the shore, staring out to the sea. It was unduly quiet. A sinister, hungry peace.
It was the farseer who shattered the stillness.
“I need to find a way to contact my people. And we need to move fast. They won’t be in orbit for more than a day or two.”
She looked to Liivi. “Do you know of any sort of communication installation?”
His mechanical response was immediate. He needed to no time to reflect. “Two weeks ago, I provided covering fire for the construction of an anti-orbital flak battery due east. It should be complete now. It will be equipped with a vox communications suite that can reach orbit.”
“I see. My people should be listening to human communications. Do you know how well it will be staffed?”
“Depending on how hot the location is, two to ten squads of Imperial Guard, with or without armor support. They will be well entrenched.”
“So stealth is our only option.”
An hour passed. It was time to go. They couldn’t afford to stay any longer.
Waves crashed far away.
The traitor's head sailed cleanly off of his shoulders. It felt good. But it was hardly satisfying. With one arm, the eversor shot the lamp post nearby, killing the man hiding behind it. The eversor’s free hand covered it’s brow as it looked around for more targets.
The eversor half heartedly kicked the head of the dead space marine, tearing it from the shoulders of the corpse and splattering it against the wall. Anybody left was hiding. The supply of fighters had been exhausted. It was nice while it lasted, but it didn’t last long enough. Villages like this almost never took more than two hours. What a pity.
It turned to the horizon, glaring in the direction of the primary target.
The battery was still several kilometers off, but from the forest hilltop they could see it’s great barrel clawing at the horizon. It boomed once, and the edge of the world glowed for a brief moment. Seconds later, the trees around them swayed as the wind fled from the sound. Snow fell from what branches still held it.
They would have to time their approach carefully. Being near an anti-orbital flak cannon during firing was inadvisable, to say the least.
The roar of the steel beast reminded Taldeer of the ocean. There was a storm in the distance. Clouds had begun gathering hours ago. It had yet to reach the shore, but the foamy chop was marching ever closer.
There was some comfort to be found in the situation. The woods would probably be safe. There may be the odd ork, broken away from the waaagh. But the trees were thick enough to hide in, and there was nobody else at present. This much Taldeer could tell.
Liivi twitched. He began looking around. “Liivi, what are y-” Then she heard it. A whistling, shrieking, screaming sound. Quiet, but growing ever louder, closer. The wind of the warp carried a whiff of thought. A mind. A war mask. “Eldar.”
Hope at last.
“I- I think it’s my people.” She beamed. “Maybe I can call out to them, maybe…” There was a faint buzzing now. Autocannon fire. A pop, like a distant firework. The war mask was clearer. Masks. There were many. A warlock. But something was amiss. One was unmasked. And that one was consumed by fear.
The distant scream quickly morphed into a mighty roar. 100 meters to their left, a smoking Vampire Raider struggled to maintain altitude, pursued by three Thunderbolt Fighters. The Fates laughed mockingly as a great breaker met a cliff face, splashing high.
“no no no no no no no NO NO NO!” Taldeer watched in wide eyed horror as the magnificent eldar war machine dipped slightly further, clipping the tree tops, spraying snow and steam. Now rapidly losing speed, it sank into the deep embrace of the woods, rolling and carving a path of destruction. Another precious work requiring ages to grow, all undone by the brutish determination of the humans.
A litany of curses ran from her lips. Tears welled in her eyes. She grimaced and fell to her knees. “Why?”
The farseer stared at the path of fallen trees and sniffled. Sparks flew off the distant wreckage. Her self pity was short lived. She stood up, shaken but resolute.
“There may be survivors. We need to save them.” The waves tugged at her legs, beckoning her out to sea. Thunder of the storm cracked in the distance, echoing like the steam explosions of snow on the engines.
Fire was always less impressive in the daytime.
Madek sipped his coffee as the village burned on the horizon. They had to take a little detour on account of that mess. No matter.
“Sir,” Felix piped from below. “The Navy reports that an enemy troop transport was downed in the area of operations. Eldar, sir.”
“Hm.” Madek sighed. “This changes things. The witch he’s travelling with could use the communications systems to call for help, if they’re still functioning. Worse, there may be survivors.
What was their mission, Felix? Do we know, or have any educated guesses?”
“Before taking evasive maneuvers, their vector was a beeline for an orbital battery, sir.”
“Undoubtedly trying to clear an escape vector for their fleet. The death of the Farseer and the Vindicare assuredly take priority, but we would do well to prevent the escape of the xenos. What men do we have in reserve?”
“None sir,” Ardrin barked, “all troops are currently preoccupied in a mop up operation against the orks. The Governor Militant hopes to avoid an infestation, so he’s prioritizing their destruction.”
“You truly have none in reserve?” Madek scowled as he eyed Ardrin, as though some sort of trick was being played on him.
“I’m afraid they were incinerated last night, sir.” No mirth leaked from Ardrin’s mind and onto his face. But Madek knew it was there.
“Oh for the love of the throne.” The inquisitor massaged his temple.
He had to choose. The orks, or the witch and the traitor? Pursuing the orks was a prudent decision on Alexander’s behalf. A greenskin infestation was nothing to laugh about. Madek sighed.
“Very well. I have no desire to forever sully a world recently saved in the Emperor’s name. Release Terra and her associates from the brig. Dispatch them to the orbital battery as is. It’s less than ideal, but it’s better than nothing.” There was momentary pause. “I will return to the battle barge and supervise operations from there. My personal guard will join the hunt. Have the Valkyrie meet us en route to the space port. And order the Valkyrie to pick up the eversor if it isn’t already close to the targets.”
“It will be done.”
Taldeer was slightly short of breath. Only slightly. Now standing at the beginning of the newfound clearing, she could see hesitant heads poking out of the transport as the thunderbolts departed. The farseer couldn’t help but smile through the pain of exertion. “There are survivors.”
Slowly they stepped out of the wreckage. A Fire Dragon… another. The first Fire Dragon stayed by the entrance, beckoning the others out. A ranger emerged, carrying 2 rifles and what appeared to be the corpse of another ranger. A Striking Scorpion… a guardian… a Warlock… the Fire Dragon gestured towards the Warlock - move to the front of the craft. Was he in charge? Another Scorpion and Guardian stepped out. All told it was a small squad, but this sort of composition was typically what was used for infiltration/demolition. It seems like most of them survived.
Had Taldeer paid attention, she would have noticed a moment’s hesitation in Liivi. “You want to approach them?”
But she was already sprinting.
Of the multitude of sensors attached to the eversor, most are for combat. Few are for tracking. An eversor is to be delivered into the heat of battle, targets positioned right in front of it.
Staring into the burnt out crater littered with ork corpses, it was hard to believe any evidence had survived the fire storm. The trail had gone cold. The eversor leapt into the trench and stamped its foot in frustration, sending cracks ripping all through the baked clay. It sulked as it strolled, eyes following one of the cracks, claws scraping the wall, waiting. Waiting for something. That’s when it saw it.
Foot prints. Not guardsman, not ork, and not space marine. Leading to a bunker.
It took off in a running sprint
The Vindicare temple teaches that there are few standard soldiers as dangerous as the Eldar Aspect Warriors. They may have hundreds of years of combat experience, and can be counted on to perform their role with exceptional prowess. Any emotional instability which could affect their judgment is nullified by their war mask. They are, for most all intents and purposes, perfectly rational killing machines.
In a squad, they are to be avoided, unless preoccupied by forces allied with the vindicare. A single combatant can be dispatched, but the shot must not miss. And these are of course the broader notes. Each aspect must be dealt with differently.
Fire Dragons were simple to deal with. Combat sappers and explosive ordnance experts, they were primarily concerned with vehicles. Snipers like the Vindicare were not their prey, and any attempt to counter snipe using their armament would only illuminate their position. Wait until they are preoccupied with an armored target, or fulfilling their role as a sapper, then take the shot. If one has to engage alone, use misdirection to confuse them - have them focus their fire on false positions while you move from one location to the next, picking them off as you go.
Striking Scorpions were close range melee combatants, with firearms limited to short ranges. They would be easy to dispatch, were it not for their skill in stealth and infiltration. Almost always working in pairs, they could handily exploit the landscape to their advantage. If they were known to be operating in the area, then the vindicare must keep one eye to his back at all times. Leaving false trails and limiting potential flanking routes was essential to survival.
Rangers are a monumental pain to deal with. They may not be aspect warriors, and they may not be as disciplined as the other eldar, but they’re still snipers par excellence. Their rifles are limited only by the psychic power of their wielder. They do not have to reload. Being a warp driven laser, it does not suffer from projectile drop, and enjoys exceptional range for a laser weapon. The aim stabilization and targeting systems make shooting on the move quite easy. It’s a marvellously idiot-proof device that a green recruit could use to great success. Which makes it all the more frightening in the hands of somebody who may have been shooting for hundreds of years. Tactics vary with terrain and situation, but in general, duels can take many days and require every ounce of the Vindicare’s training.
Guardians are little more than civilians disguised as soldiers. A Warlock provides their mask, and without their Warlock they were little better than fodder. The warlock was a potent psyker and not to be underestimated - if a witchblade wielding warlock gets near you, you’re as good as dead, no doubt soon to be incinerated by a powerful blast of warp fire.
Despite their differences, all strategies for dealing with these opponents shared one common feature, a fundamental component of the Vindicare Dictum: maintain range.
This feature was not found in the present strategy.
Liivi was honed not to feel fear. But as he approached the squad of eldar, weapons raised at him, he noted an unfamiliar, unsettling sensation nagging at him. It faded as he drew closer to Taldeer’s side. But only slightly.
“Drop the weapon, mon-keigh.” It was one of the Fire Dragons. He appeared to be in charge.
The surf was rolling in. The situation had to be handled delicately.
“Liivi, do as the Captain says.” Liivi lowered the weapon to the ground and raised his hands above his head.
The officer leered at her out the the side of his eye, weapon still focused intently on the human next to her. “Consorting with the enemy… what’s the meaning of this, Farseer? Where are your troops? Explain yourself.”
She hadn’t been looking forward to this part.
“I… led them to their deaths.” Taldeer tried to put on a brave face. Tried to choke back her guilt and shame. But after days on the run, wounded, fighting the nightmares plaguing her dreams - there were cracks in her facade. She swallowed. Was it blood, bile, or something else? “I’m the only survivor. And I wouldn’t be, if not for him. He saved my life. I owe him a debt.”
The captain leered at the vindicare and hissed. “Why?”
“Captain, he could have killed me many times over.”
“I didn’t ask you, Farseer.”
“I outrank yo-”
“I see before me one of Ulthwe’s finest, broken and beaten, with a particularly menacing mon-keigh following her like a dog. We go nowhere until I know you aren’t compromised. Now I repeat my question, mon-keigh - why?”
There was a brief moment of silence. “Mission: protect primary.” He was reverting to reflexes.
“Really now? For how long? On whose orders?”
Taldeer could feel the iron roads of Liivi’s mind buckling, straining, twisting against a force it was conditioned to repress. “Concern…” Liivi thought to himself, “concern for,” images of her face, flashed through his mind. “Affection… ?” She saw herself viewed through a scope as she removed her helmet. The silence lasted several seconds as a great war resolved itself beneath his expressionless face.
“Until the primary is secure. On my orders.”
“So you’re a rogue?”
He turned to face Taldeer again. “And you believe him?”
There was no hesitation in her voice. “Yes.”
“We have no time for further interrogation,” he noted dryly. “We take them or leave them. Tanlon, is anything amiss?”
The warlock stepped forward. “We were briefed on humans like this. He is an assassin. His mind is nearly impenetrable. For what it’s worth, I can sense straining. Farseer Taldeer I do not sense to be lying, but she could easily fool me if she so desired.”
“Captain,” Taldeer said plainly, “if you shoot him, then I suggest you shoot me as well. Because I won’t come willingly.”
“Interesting, Farseer. Interesting indeed.” He eyed Liivi sternly before finally lowering his gun.
“Very well.” He extended his hand. “I understand this is a mon-... a human gesture of friendship.” Liivi stepped forward and took it, somewhat hesitantly. This was another practice he was vaguely familiar with, having seen it through the scope many times before, typically performed by the target.
“I’m Captain Gilfavor, temporary appointment, leading this mission. You’re Liivi. Now pick up your gun and get walking. We’ve got a mission to complete and we have one day cycle to do it.”
The eversor twiddled its fingers happily. This was one of those rare occasions where the anticipation of killing hated enemies superseded the hate itself. The task had taken some searching, but it had found their trail at last. The snow had almost hidden their passage. Almost. But almost doesn’t count in games of life or death. The headless man sitting outside the command bunker had certainly learned that. He had almost gotten away. But in the end, his head had gotten away from him. That was the work of an exitus round, no mistaking it.
Happy to be on the right track, the eversor joyously kicked in the door, sending it flying off of it’s hinges and into a filing cabinet.
It had hoped that the targets would still be in here. Instead it found only fluttering papers, bloodied sheets, and depleted medical supplies.
Surely they couldn’t have gone far.
Liivi stuck close at Taldeer’s flank. In silence, they marched a winding route in staggered formation. Though he lacked the words to describe it, even the vindicare was able to sense the squad’s grave atmosphere. Perhaps it was rooted in the two bodies they had left behind, entombed in the Raider. Perhaps it was the addition of a disgraced commander and former hostile. Perhaps it was both. The whole situation put the expressionless man on edge. As the snow crunched under their feet, he studied his surroundings with care.
“Anxious.” The guardian, female, a head shorter than Taldeer, marched directly in front of them, helmet open to the cold air. Her armor bore the eldar sign of the healer. She glanced back occasionally, concern and worry written on her face. The primary soon met her gaze with a peculiar smile. While the lips expressed characteristics indicating happiness, the eyes and brow more closely resembled the expression made by some of his previous primaries, when they had realized their immediate termination was inescapable - a peculiar variant of sadness.
She glanced at Liivi and held his gaze for second before turning her eyes to the earth. He had been so focused on the primary that he had missed the reaction of the female secondary. Such oversights were atypical. It was important that the vindicare keep note of the state of primaries and secondaries, to discern their awareness of his presence or likelihood to bolt. Liivi filed this incident away for reflection.
He checked his six. The scorpions and additional guardian marched with their helmets on. Subtle shifts in their direction betrayed glances, or at least what Liivi perceived as glances. The other fire dragon, a figure of intimidating stature, marched directly behind them. He scanned his surroundings ceaselessly, paying the two new arrivals extra mind.
“Still wary.” The vindicare looked forward. The ranger, marching next to the medic, stared right back at him. A curious, scrutinizing look. He exhaled sharply through his nose, smiled, and looked forward. “Amused?”
Tanlon and Gilfavor, marching at the head, never spared a glance to the rear. This was concerning. There was another party that the vindicare had to track the state of, and that was the commander.
A Vindicare may be human ammunition, but the assassinorum did not intend for that ammunition to be spent by overzealous inquisitors, or by micromanaging officers who believed that they understood long range combat tactics better than the students of the Vindicare temple. No, a Vindicare was ammunition intended only to be spent when necessary. It is for this reason that the Vindicare is trained to identify the emotional state of the commander, and evaluate the commander’s orders in terms of their probability of increasing or maintaining the probability of mission success. To be unable to anticipate, placate, or accommodate the commander was considered a very dangerous situation for a Vindicare. To draw the ire of an unpredictable commander was akin to making enemies of one’s own friendlies. So it was that Liivi marched with concern written across his features, studying the captain’s back intently.
“So,” the captain said, “understand I won’t hesitate to shoot you, should you show the least sign of hostility. However, friend or enemy, Farseer Taldeer is alive because of you. Death is a fate I would wish only the most depraved of my kin. Our souls are forfeit to the Great Enemy - without a soul stone, we are damned. So, we of Ulthwe thank you for saving one of our precious Farseers. Each one is worth several of us,” he glared at Taldeer. “Even if that one may be incompetent - even cowardly.”
She considered responding, but she didn’t have the energy. She wasn’t even sure if his accusations were wrong.
“Taldeer did not exhibit fear characteristics in her actions. She fought well, despite fear. A notable achievement was the elimination of a space marine from a chapter unknown to me, most likely a force endemic to the Inquisition. He was using gray artifice armor of a variety unknown to me, and w-”
“Save your testimony for later. I’ll take this opportunity to fill you in.”
Liivi looked at Taldeer. She looked back at him. They both looked at Gilfavor.
“Our target is the anti orbital flak battery. Currently the fleet is performing evasive maneuvers, pricking the enemy with raids to keep them away. But sky is filling with ships, and the humans keep erecting installations like this one. We’ve negotiated a ceasefire with the Tau, and that’s bought us some extra time. But we’re running out of space. This is one of many installations we’re clearing for an escape vector.”
The farseer avoided eye contact. “What about the soulstones of the fallen?”
“They’ll be retrieved. Either through diplomacy or another campaign. If you’re fortunate, maybe you’ll even get to be a part of it.” He let the silence hang for a few seconds. “In any case, the crash wasn’t a huge setback. We would have preferred to do it quietly, about 1 of your ‘kilometer’ further, but Machmes did his best. He got us close to the intended landing position. Imperial vox chatter indicated they were focused on the Orks. We shouldn’t see search patrols for awhile. If we’re lucky, they’ll assume we’re dead.
We’ll make camp once we’re within an hours march of the battery. From there, Taesan,” he pointed to the lanky ranger, tall even by Eldar standards, who nodded, “will scout the location. Our healer, Mellorena,” he gestured to the diminutive female guardian, who smiled nervously, “will tend to your wounds, Farseer. We’ll see what she can do with you, human. Understood?”
3 hours since the crash. The sun had only a 10th of the sky left. It would be another 2 and change hours before it set. The squad had tried to cover its tracks, taking a meandering path through the forest. By Liivi’s estimate, they were now about two clicks from the installation. Their little nature hike had been strenuous, but almost peaceful in a way. The silence of the forest was only disturbed by a Valkyrie flying nearby - the sole reminder that they were not alone in this place. If it was the search party, then they were less than thorough.
Pyschokinesis has its advantages. Taldeer and Tanlon were quickly able to erect a snow bunker nestled in a shaded area beneath a cliff face - sufficient shielding from the explosive power of the cannon. Thick trees, a meter and change wide, helped obscure the structure when viewed on the ground level, though they would offer little in the way of cover if it came to a fire fight.
In one corner of the bunker, Liivi sat with Taesan, who was inspecting his equipment one last time. The ranger turned out to be quite sociable, and was even fluent in gothic. In another corner, Mellorena began her work on Taldeer, tying her short red hair back. The rest of the squad sat on the other side of the square room, meditating or talking amongst themselves.
Sitting on a blanket, the farseer removed her armor piece by piece. “My goodness!” Mellorena’s face was fraught with worry as she surveyed the injuries. “You poor thing. How long have you been like this?”
“About <48 hours>.”
“I’m shocked you haven’t died of blood loss. You’re very lucky. ”
“I had to use a pack of artificial human blood. It worked.”
“Hm. I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”
“You’re the one who deserves thanks.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m just walking my path. I don’t like seeing people hurt. It’s why I’m here.”
“That’s a curious motivation for being a guardian.”
She smiled meekly, rubbing a pyschoplastic protein-nanite salve onto Taldeer’s abdomen. “Well it’s true. Tanlon’s war mask makes the other part of my job easier. It’s dangerous work. But somebody has to do it. We can’t just leave you to die out here.”
Taldeer didn’t respond.
“O-oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t hate you two.”
“That’s sweet. I’m glad somebody doesn’t.” The farseer smiled at the healer.
“Alright, now shush. I’ll have you feeling better than ever, but working on the torso is tricky when people talk.” Runes along the Mellorena’s arms began glowing as she set about her work, and the salve started flowing into Taldeer’s wounds.
“Alright, let’s get the big question out of the way: ballistic, or energy weapons?” Taesan wore a good natured smile as he checked his climbing gear.
“It depends on the situation,” Liivi replied.
“Safe answer. But which one do you like to shoot?” The vindicare pondered the thought. “Ballistics.”
“Same here. Now don’t misunderstand, I love my rifle. But it does so much of the work for me. Ballistics are so much more exciting. But eldar don’t like taking chances, so they give us rifles that aim for us.”
“Vindicare’s machine spirits and cogitator implants are similar.”
“But you still have to do it. There’s a difference.”
He hummed as he worked on his rifle.
“Taesan, you appear more relaxed around humans.”
“Because I am. I know plenty of humans. Not in the imperium. But the humans outside it aren’t all bad. Mostly just stupid, but who can blame ‘em when they’re so short lived?”
A perplexing statement. “Outside of the Imperium?”
“Yeah? Well, guess they never told you. There are human colonized worlds here and there. Some have space travel. Some don’t. Some Rogue Traders report them. Some don’t. The known ones are too far out for the Imperium to hold, so they don’t bother.”
“How did you reach them? And why?”
“I hitchhiked with some other Rangers. The craftworld life, it just wasn’t really for me. I was much younger, you know? Maybe you don’t. But I felt there were some things I couldn’t work through so long as I stayed there. In hindsight, maybe I could’ve done it. But I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for anything. As much of a home as Ulthwe is to me, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.”
Liivi continued his in silence, processing the information. “What ballistics did you use?”
“Oh, I’ve shot it all. I never had the money to buy the Exitus or an M40/A1 - Isha knows how those traders got them - but I did pay for the privilege of firing a few rounds. Favorite gun had to be an Absolution, though. Dinky little thing compared to those monstrosities. Cheap, too. But you get that cheap chunk of lead in just the right spot, and you can cause some really expensive damage.” The ranger snickered as he finalized his preparations. “Used that beauty the longest.”
That chatter was clearly starting to annoy Gilfavor. “Mon-keigh, I don’t need you distracting my Ranger.”
Liivi gave a firm nod. He had not initiated the conversation, but even so, better to appease the commander. Taesan seemed less interested. He leaned in close and whispered. “By the way, just ignore the captain’s jabs. He’s all war-mask. Well, not all, because he gets way too pissy. But that’s what makes him a good captain.” The ranger beamed at Gilfavor as he walked past - the captain responded with a stern glare.
“Well,” Taesan shrugged, “time to go.”
It was half an hour since Taesan left. The exitus rifle had been cared for, and primary Taldeer was almost healed. Only her arm and leg remained untreated. Livii glanced at the farseer before returning to his pistol’s maintenance. Much of the light had returned to her eyes, and she seemed to enjoy the company of the medic. Mellorena, for her part, seemed quite proficient in her art - the scars that ran across Taldeer’s body were barely visible. There was something about the farseer’s body which made it hard to look away. As the Eldar woman performed motor tests, her lean, toned musculature was easily visible. With every flex, long and slender muscles rippled beneath her skin like curving, flowing waves, each one leading fluidly into the next. On a rational level, Liivi understood that this woman was xenos - that it should not be surprising that there were notable physiological differences between her body and the holy human form. Yet somehow he felt surprised by the fact that the body of this warrior, one of her race’s finest, more closely resembled what he would expect to see in a dancer, gymnast, or athlete. An irrational expectation. But it surprised - no, stunned - it stunned him all the same. This was the source of a sensation that was equal parts unfamiliar and confusing, and so Liivi did his best to ignore it.
Taldeer was his primary, and his primary must be protected. Protecting primary Taldeer required that this pistol function well.
The sound of footsteps. Large ones. Liivi looked up. It was the other Fire Dragon. He sat on the ground in front of the vindicare. Even from this position, he cut an imposing figure. He was as tall as Taesan, if not taller - but with significantly more muscle. Entering hand to hand combat with him would be undesirable.
“My name is Ysukin,” the giant said, his voice a low yet resonating rumble. “I do not yet trust you, mon-keigh. But you saved our Farseer. For that I am thankful. But expect no mercy for treachery.”
The eldar put his hand forward.
Liivi looked hesitantly up at the giant before turning back to his pistol. He shook the eldar’s hand while removing the coolant sheath. “Noted. I am Liivi.”
Something twitched in his face. Consternation? “I apologize if my gothic is rusty.” An unwarranted apology. His gothic was impeccable. He even mimicked a Terran accent.
The Vindicare began to disassemble the magazine. “You speak well. Like the others. Many of you know gothic. More than I thought.”
Ysukin frowned and nodded. “It is more common than you might think. Officer candidates typically learn it to enhance their chance of being selected. There is also a not insubstantial portion of the youth that leaves to explore the galaxy. It would be impossible to get around without knowing at least a bit of Gothic.”
“Gothic is widely spoken outside the Imperium?” He set the pins to one side, arranging them as they were inserted.
The giant shrugged. “Spoken enough. I know not what your superiors tell you, but there are many human occupied worlds outside of Imperial space. Most are near the border of the Imperium, but not all. Each has its own language, but Gothic is the language of trade. Most worlds beyond that area are not worth visiting.”
“There is nothing there?” Fingers ran over the magazine spring, cleaning the caked silt that had wormed its way in.
“Yes. Or they are backwards savages from some failed and forgotten colonization. Or they are hostile, undiscovered xenos.”
“You went there?” With all the tenderness of a mother, the Vindicare began fitting the magazine back together.
The brow of the xenos furrowed. “I believe I have answered enough questions. As far as I am concerned, you saved our Farseer and treated her well. So I shall be courteous. But I have a few inquiries of my own. I would like to begin with the most pressing one - why?”
He stopped. Looked up, away from his pistol. Looked into the stern eyes of the xenos. “Why,” Liivi asked? It vexed him. Insufficient data.
“Yes. You did more than just spare a VIP. You defected. For your own reasons. To protect the VIP. Why?”
This was not terribly unusual. It was common for those who assigned missions to inquire about the Vindicare’s methodology or decisions. Why are you there? Who are you shooting at? For what reason? What’s the logic? In short: explain yourself. This was typically easy. The correct course of action, the right thing to do, could be quickly explained by quoting the Vindicare dictum.
“It… was the right course of action…”
“Because?” Ysukin allowed the question to hang in the air.
Liivi re-lived the situation. “...Permission to fire had been granted. The shot was lined up. Primary began movement. Removed her helmet. I was unable to execute. As though it violated the Dictum, but… which part?”
“That is a report,” the eldar stated bluntly, “not ‘why.’”
There was just the slightest hint of firmness in the vindicare’s voice. “It is my answer.” Liivi returned to his work.
The big eldar stared sternly at Liivi before sighing and massaging his temple. “Very well. We owe you a debt. But make no mistake. I’ll keep my eye on you, Liivi.”
As the big eldar stood up to leave, both of the striking scorpions walked over and sat in front of the Vindicare. They had been talking in what seemed to be a heated discussion, with others occasionally chiming in.
“Liivi.” The male pointed at Liivi.
“Barroth.” He pointed to himself. “Elnys.” He pointed to the female.
Barroth put his gun between Liivi and himself, then pointed to the exitus pistol.
Liivi stared in response.
Tanlon piped up from the corner he was meditating, next to the still silent guardian. “They want to look at your pistol for a bit. He’s offering a trade.”
Slowly, cautiously, he pushed the exitus pistol towards them.
“Almost done,” Mellorena wiped the sweat off her forehead. Only Taldeer’s right arm was left. “Then I can get to work on the human!”
“I like your enthusiasm, but don’t overwork yourself.” Taldeer was beaming. She felt better than ever, and the healer’s energy was infectious.
“Don’t worry about me,” the medic replied, reaching into her kit. “I have more than enough energy for this. A <month> ago I processed half an infirmary. Twenty patients. That was a bad night.”
“How did you manage to do that?”
“I don’t really know, being honest. I just had to do it. And I did it. The other medics were incapacitated. Desperation can be a real motivator, eh?” She smiled wryly. “I think I slept for a day after that one.”
After pulling out another pouch of medical psychoplastic salve, she peeled away the bandage and began to examine the shredded skin along Taldeer’s arm. The farseer winced. It burned, being exposed to the air. Mellorena sighed. “I hate flayed ones,” she muttered, and began pouring the salve across the breadth of the shredded arm. The pain receded as the numbing agent worked its way into the flesh. Dead tissue was swiftly broken down. The medic eyed it carefully, inspecting the cleanliness of the wound.
“Is this work anything like what you do on Ulthwe?”
“Hm? Oh, I work the emergency room on Ulthwe, so it’s pretty similar. More accidents though. I work the inner ward, away from the hull. We don’t see violent injuries like this.”
“That battlefield certainly is more…”
“Grotesque? Yeah... The newer healers typically keep their masks up all the time. But if you spend enough time working with people’s insides, you get used to seeing them outside. I only wear my mask into combat. Masks during treatment make it hard to be empathetic, and next to treatment itself, empathy’s usually what injured people need most.”
Taldeer reflected on this in silence for a time.
“You know Doctor, even if you’re just being professional: thank you. This might just be my darkest hour.” She chuckled under her breath. “Farseer Taldeer Ulthran. First she was saved by a mon-keigh after allowing her entire force to fall prey to them, then she walked into an artillery barrage, and now she’s parasitizing a crash landed squad to survive. But you’ve actually brightened it. So thank you.”
“Sounds to me like you’ve had a long run of bad luck. I’m sorry.”
“Well, I’m the common denominator.”
Mellorena frowned. It was less severe than an angry frown. A sort of thoughtful expression. She did not like what she heard. There was something she wanted to say. But all she could do was weigh the question of saying it.
Madek retired comfortably into his seat in the center of the operations room. Here, in the heart of his barge, he could catch up on his sleep in peace, easily awoken by his staff for updates.
Felix piped up. “Everything is clear, sir. Increto MDCLVII and company arrived an hour ago. There is some bad news: Increto’s positional tracker has gone down. However, we are still receiving status updates. The good news is that Accipitro MMMXIV is close on their tail. We should have contact with the enemy soon. Increto and company are moving to intercept.”
“Excellent. I look forward to being done with this chase.”
“Shall I do anything more in the meantime, sir?”
“No, just wake me in an hour with a progress report.”
Motion in the primary. Liivi glanced over his shoulder at the two eldar.
The under armor hugged her body, which now moved with a grace untainted by injury. Liivi could see her tensing and relaxing every muscle, testing them as she stretched. It almost reminded him of the felines he had observed on Terra, or in the company of some officials. Nearby, Mellorena was humming, smiling contentedly with herself as she organized her gear, basking in the afterglow of a job well done. The two exchanged words he could not understand, but the warmth was palpable.
“< I am in your debt, Doctor.>”
“<Don’t be silly, Farseer. It’s my job, and my privilege, to treat you.>” Her gaze lifted to Liivi. “< I just hope I can find the same success with your friend.>”
The medic looked curiously at the farseer, as if weighing some question. But the knowing smile which met her gaze was all the answer she needed.
In truth, Taldeer was only mostly confident. In fact, there was much about which she was uncertain. Perhaps now, before this major undertaking, it was time to consult the skein of fate. Kneeling on the tamped snow floor, she pulled the dice and rune stones from her armor and cast them before her. They clattered, rolled, and slid on the hard icy surface. Making sense of the result was a monumental task. One thing was certain - the repetition of danger. Here, there, and everywhere. In the center of it all was a very large danger. But no inkling into where, what, or when. She sighed and closed her eyes, attempting a more direct communion.
The beach almost seemed serene. The thunder felt more distant. The fates prattled ceaselessly, but spoke in murmured whispers, scarcely audible. She frowned. So skittish had the fates been, these past few days. Now, they were even more quiet. Were they abandoning her?
“What does it mean?”
Madek woke groggily from his comfortable slumber.
“Accipitro has indicated that it has established visual contact. Terra and Increto were hailed with coordinates and ordered to engage alongside Accipitro. Terra was unresponsive, but Increto subsequently confirmed visual contact. However we remain unable to verify Increto's position.”
The Inquisitor was testy. “And you have reason to doubt her?”
“In my time working with her, sir, she has certainly proven… independently minded. Unusually so, for her temple.”
Madek was quick to respond. “I have the utmost faith in her,” he replied, with his typical ill fitting smile. “Are you trying to suggest something about our operative, Felix?”
“No, not all, sir. Simply an observation.”
“Well nevermind it. Determine why Terra is unresponsive.”
Captain Gilfavor paced restlessly. All the while, he had been waiting for Taesan’s report. It would be some time still until he had sufficiently surveyed the installation, but-
“Captain, do you copy?”
“I hear you.” Gilfavor set the sound to broadcast around him. All activities ground to a halt as the squad listened in. “What do you have to report?”
“I arrived about <25 minutes> ago, about <two minutes> before firing. They had three patrols out, and they all marched into the main cannon facility. Thing is, they haven’t come out yet. I’ve yet to survey it all, but there’s a few things you should know right away. Your suspicion about these trees messing with the topographic data was correct - I can confirm that it’s in a basin that the humans cleared. Bad news though. Maybe they got word of the crash, ‘cause something has them spooked. When I arrived, blast doors were already lowered over what few windows there are - mostly the control tower.
There is some good news, though. I was able to lip read one of the soldiers complaining as they walked in - apparently they’re so undermanned they can’t rotate patrols. Didn’t shut the door immediately though. They waited to the last minute for a fourth squad, but it never appeared. That shook them up. Saw some drag marks in the mud leading to one of the main building’s entrances, like somebody was hauling wounded. Or drunks. Some cameras in that area were taken out. Looked like las rifle through the scope, but don’t know. No sign of hostilities. Not sure what to make of it.”
“That last bit is better than nothing. At least it's in line with some intercepted comms. That’s all?”
“Roger. Return with a full report when you’re done.”
So the mon-keigh might be a bit jumpy. But there was only a handful of them, and they were dog tired. Gilfavor breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Screaming. Shouting. Searing white wafted in front of the Farseer’s face. She had pressed herself against the cliff. The hiss of water, still bubbling and boiling, reminded her of the surf.
“Why didn’t I see it coming?” She reached for her spear. The steam masked their opponent as well as themselves.
One moment, everything was still. The next moment, they were about to drown.
Taldeer had saved Liivi in time. Just barely. And she had almost saved Mellorena. Almost.
But almost doesn’t count in games of life or death.
The little medic was still screaming somewhere beneath the steam cloud.
Thoughts rushed to her unbidden.
Extensive, mind numbing pain. It grew fainter as the screaming ceased.
Courage. Or stupidity. She could just barely make out the guardian as he leapt into the mist. All this time, he hadn’t even spoken. She wondered if he would ever speak again.
Liivi’s mechanical mind working faster than usual. Formulating a response. She heard his voice cry out nearby. “Eversor!”
She perceived it all in a flash. The fates, like the thoughts and the mist, swirled and twirled around her in flows and eddies. The foamy surf, bubbles of possibility ceaselessly appearing and disappearing, was high on the beach. Now, it was rushing out to meet the incoming wave.
A strong and sudden current emerged to her front left. A reaching hand. A wounded chest. Death.
“<Get down!>” Somebody in there, whoever it was, hit the deck. The instant her psychokinetic barrier was complete, a fist hit with such force that it was nearly breached.
The tide beckoned out to sea.
Liivi lay against the cliff, half a meter away from Taldeer. The steam hurt his bare chest. Blood again poured from his wound, the crude stitches having given way under strain. Not two seconds ago, the guardian next to him had leapt into the steam, presumably to rescue the medic.
““Melta bomb. No lasgun fire. No shouting. No stomping. Unconventional breaching tactics. High probability of assassin dispatched.””
It wasn’t the only possibility, but...
“Eversor!” He was just loud enough to hear, but not quite loud enough to make his precise location obvious.
“Scanning with IR. Steam obfuscating silhouette. N20…” Hesitantly, gingerly, he kicked the rifle away, and stowed the pistol behind him. “Should distract, buy time.”
His well honed eyes scanned the mist for movement, desperately trying to reveal the situation. But it was to no avail. The cloud was too thick. He was bleeding too heavily. Tactic after tactic poured through the vindicare’s mind. But there were none applicable. Engaging the eversor at this distance would lead to his immediate death and net loss for allied forces - one less gun for little to gain.
He glanced at his wound. The grey fluid leaked alongside crimson. It needed to be dressed, and dressed now, if he was to survive long enough to contribute to the fight and protect the primary.
Maubryn was not an especially brave individual. In fact, he was conscripted to fight this particular battle for Ulthwe. An artisan from one of Ulthwe’s center districts, the young eldar was not particularly cut out for war. He had no fondness of the enemies who would see his race extinguished, but he had no fondness of killing in general. He could scarcely harm a fly. So it was that he rarely relinquished his war mask. It numbed the emotion, the pain. Dulled the memory. He still felt his emotions, of course. But he didn’t care.
Most of the time.
A war mask should leave you as a rational agent. A rational agent would recognize that the squad has already taken one casualty. He did not know who, or what, was in that mist. He did not yet know the location of his squadmates, or how to respond to this threat. There was too little information. And as tragic as one casualty is, two is worse than one.
All of this information flew through his head, and was subsequently discarded the moment her voice vanished from the choir of screams that rang out around him.
Maubryn leapt into the mists, desperately feeling around for Mellorena on his knees. She was no conscript. She had volunteered. Twice now she’d saved his life. She was not going home inside of a rock. Not if he could help it.
And if she was already in a rock, well, he’d make sure it didn’t get crushed by whatever monster was responsible for this.
She was easy to find, resting face down in the steaming snow.
“<Get down!>” He dropped onto the flat of his stomach, the back of his helmeted head landing adjacent to hers. The very moment he hit the ground, a black boot landed centimeters from his helmeted face, cracking the ice beneath it.
“Another one of the mon-keigh's pet horrors.”
The eversor stared at the steaming hole for a millisecond, appreciating its handiwork, before leaping in.
It was finally here.
The end of this long hunt.
So what if the other one left? The eversor didn’t need help. There could be no more waiting. The the anticipation, the hatred, the two felt fit to burst its skull. Which made the IR obscuring steam all the more frustrating. Spittle flecked beneath the mask. No more melta bombs. No more steam. Guns and blades. Only guns and blades. Because they needed to die. Not just die, but die painfully. They needed to die knowing fear of the Emperor. They needed to die screaming, covered in blood. And they needed to die NOW.
Somewhere in the steam, the witch screamed. A hazy outline appeared and vanished. The eversor leapt towards it, hoping to find something to be torn limb from limb.
All it found was hardened air.
Gilfavor was not happy with this turn of events. This was evident from the way he screamed into his comms.
“Eversor!” Unfortunately, the mon-keigh had made it.
"Get down." So had the Farseer.
No response from the guardians.
A litany of eldar curses ran from Gilfavor’s mouth. He already had two casualties from the crash.
Taldeer’s voice bounced around in the steam. “<When I call, run through the breach, weapons ready!>”
The ocean was around her now. With every second, she was losing options, being dragged farther out to sea, the inky depths sucking ever harder downward.
“We can die when the veil lifts. Or we can use it to start our attack.”
It wasn’t a hard decision.
Seizing hold of the fist with her mind, she cast the enemy back through the steam and turned to face the squad.
“<When I call, run through the breach, weapons ready!>” She gritted her teeth and charged forward.
As Taldeer emerged from the billowing steam and into the snowy clearing, she found it empty. There was a clear impression in the snow, the spot where the eversor had landed. But no footprints leading away.
The farseer closed her eyes and tensed her muscles. There was no time for fear or uncertainty. There was no time for thought. Every moment spent thinking was a moment spent on inaction. Precious moments she could not afford, fighting a creature like this. She could only read the ocean of fate and hope for the best.
There was a wave bearing down on her. The wind was fierce.
She did not look up. She rolled to her left, keeping her spear directed right. Fate rippled around her, new possibilities disturbing old potentials like raindrops on the surface of water. “Projectiles.” Taldeer pumped some of her own energy into her suit’s shields, expanding them. It was just in time to meet the rounds from the bolt pistol.
In one second, the eversor would land right where she once stood. The farseer made sure her spearpoint was waiting. Under the eversor’s inertia and the strength of her body, wraithbone flowed like water through sinew, bone, and metal augments. The assassin was parted from its right arm at the shoulder, and with it, the pistol.
Two waves crashed together at her left, splashing water high. The butt of her spear raced to where the neuro gauntlet would be. Contact. The force was immense and crushing, a fiercer blow than any mon-keigh ought to deliver. The undertow grew stronger as the venomous claws closed towards her face. But she could make that force work for her. Moving her head aside and, with a nudge from fate, her muscles, and her mind, she guided the edge of the spear to the ankle of the of the assassin, using her body as a fulcrum. Wraithbone sang a song of war as it cleaved once more through the mon-keigh’s desecrated flesh. The claws fell backward as the eversor stumbled.
Two shuriken pistols and three shuriken catapults unloaded their magazines into the chest of the eversor. Its torso was jelly in a matter of seconds, torn apart by thousands of shurikens. Red splattered the snow around it.
The farseer stepped a bit closer to the body to confirm the kill. Chemical rich blood sizzled as it made contact with the frozen water. It was only then that she noticed the injuries on its arms and legs, wounds inflicted by human “stubbers” and las-rifles from some recent brawl. The corpse spasmed as defibrillators made desperate attempts to restart its heart. Even now, its head craned feebly up at her, sole arm inching towards a melta strapped to its belt.
Her lips contorted into a frown as she drew her pistol. "The durability of this creature..." One. Two. Three. Four. Four bursts of 50 shurikens to penetrate the mask. It finally ceased moving.
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
A whirlpool. Leading deep.
“<Get back!>” She sprinted into the shelter and dove to the floor. The corpse exploded a scant second later.
“It would seem that Accipitro has been terminated.”
Madek was tense. “Blast. What are the other two doing?”
“Furthermore, Terra would appear to be MIA. Increto stated that Terra had been left at the installation for the purpose of ambushing any survivors that may have arrived to complete their mission objective - or finishing off the primaries, should Accipitro and company only wound them.
However, shortly before establishing contact, we lost Terra’s feed. Increto reported that she received a transmission from the cannon. It wasn’t a distress call broadcasting across multiple bands. It was specifically her frequency, and more specifically using the encryption set designated for this mission. Only Terra could have known it, and it only lasted a few seconds. Increto heard Terra’s voice, screaming, and lasfire. She could not discern Terra’s words, but she could discern that Terra’s speech cut off near the end, at which point she seemed to be asphyxiating. Increto departed to investigate.”
“She left her assigned targets?” That was bold. Even for her. A first.
“Yes, sir. I said as much myself. But she insisted that the condition of Terra be verified. I could not dissuade her. She will report for disciplining immediately after this mission.”
Madek sighed, contemplating his next step. Ocular implants clicked and whirred, resonating inside his skull. These too were beginning to fail him. It compounded his frustration.
“Inform Increto’s handler. When asked for severity of punishment, explain what Increto has done. That will suffice. And Felix?”
“Fix these blasted eyes. The problem only returns faster with every tuning you give them.”
Things were a mess. But it could have been worse. Unlike the steaming pile of viscera and augments that lay nearby, at least Mellorena was still breathing. She lay against the wall, unconscious, next to Liivi, who was redressing his wound. The exposed skin on her face and hands suffered what looked like minor burns - Taldeer was able to yank her to the edge of the steam cloud - but that was where the good news ended. Almost all of her calves had disintegrated, leaving her with cauterized stumps. Reconstructive surgery, prosthetics, they could fix her up. But Ulthwe was far, far away. It could easily be a death sentence. For now, the most they could do was cover her face and hands.
The squad was a thrum of activity, but all Taldeer could do was stare sullenly in the direction of the little medic. Yet it wasn’t quite the medic she was looking at. It was past her. She had become another part of the landscape, set against the mountain of fallen bodies that was once the Farseer’s army.
“Another avoidable casualty, unavoided.”
A voice next to her, cold and crisp through the helmet. “<You almost made that look easy.>” It was the first time the guardian had spoken. There was something predatory about his tone.
There was no energy in her voice. “<It wasn’t.>”
The guardian shrugged. “<It only took you a few seconds.>”
“<Those few seconds were harder fought than any battle of mine to date.>” It wasn’t a heated reply. Only a statement.
He exhaled sharply through his nose. “<I bet. Pity you brought that monster to us, didn’t see the melta, and nearly killed our medic.>”
Gilfavor was distracted, talking with Taesan over comms. The scorpions and Tanlon had taken watch. Ysukin piped up. “<None of that, Maubryn.>”
Maubryn shrugged as he faced the bigger eldar. “<Right, sorry. Just, you know, only a little miffed when our leaders nearly kill us.>”
Ysukin’s gaze narrowed. “<Enough.>”
The helmet of the guardian cocked to the side while scratched his chin, as though her were truly pondering the thought “<And what about all the ones she did get killed?>”
When the fire dragon reared up, it give the smaller guardian pause.
His voice was as cold and dry as the air around them. “<I suggest you hold your tongue, conscript. We had to drag you out here to defend your people. Be thankful she volunteered.>”
She could feel the guardian’s leering gaze even through his helmet. “<Well at least one of us had the good sense not to.>”
Gilfavor’s back was turned. The giant of an eldar walked to the smaller guardian, seized him by the throat, and ripped off his helmet. Lifting him off the ground and bringing their faces close, Ysukin whispered something in Maubryn’s ear that made the artisan-turned-soldier grow pale. He released the lad, letting him fall onto the wet ice. Eyes wide open, he scarcely breathed as the bigger eldar returned to his stool of packed snow. She said nothing.
“Taldeer.” Liivi’s voice. He looked up at her, resting against the wall as he tended to his wound. “What’s going on?” Difficult to read though he was, his expression was clearly one of concern.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, sparing him a glance. “A minor dispute, is all.”
“You are worried for your medic?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“This feels all too familiar.”
Warm air disturbed the cold. It was the sensation of the medic’s irregular, shallow breath on Taldeer’s neck. Carrying Mellorena was easier than carrying Liivi. The medic was lighter, smaller. “And missing half of her legs.” That certainly made it easier to carry her. The Farseer bit her lip.
Holding the bottom of Mellorena’s thighs and with the little medic’s arms draped over her shoulders, she trudged through the snow blanketed forest, in the middle of a staggered formation.
“You don’t need to carry her, Farseer,” Ysukin had told her. “It would be a simple task for me.” But she had insisted. “I don’t need my arms to fight. You do. We all need to get moving. Discussion over.” All sensible, practical points, underlied by a motivation both were too polite to speak to. A motivation Taldeer even considered selfish, yet felt that she had to satisfy.
But Liivi lacked Ysukin’s politesse.
“Your plan is concerning, Taldeer. Ysukin could fit her in a harness. Your weapons-”
“I don’t need my weapons, Liivi,” she snapped. “I can fight without them. You know that.”
“<No,>” Gilfavor interjected. His stern expression had all the cold features of a glacier, and he spoke with all the ice of its wind. “<I won’t have you playing fast and loose with the life of my medic. If you intend to carry her, then you will keep her safe. You will not be fighting. You will not be exposing her. You will be giving her shields behind cover. She isn’t a token you can cash in for redemption, Farseer. And if your frayed nerves get her killed, I’d be half tempted to leave you on this world. But I’d settle for doing all that I can to strip you of your title, honor, and privileges.>”
The chill managed to cool her temper. “<If I couldn’t get even one person off this world alive, Captain, then I would deserve it. I accept your stipulations.>”
“<I don’t need you to accept them. Now let's go.>”
Gilfavor had been deliberating with Taesan over comms for minutes now. “<Alright, we’re out of time to ponder. Make the call. Is north or west the cleanest angle of attack?>”
“Attack north,” Liivi said. Gilfavor looked at him with an expression that was at once frustrated and perplexed.
“<I’m thinking north,>” Taesan replied. “<Shortest run to the trenches, and without the men to hold them, they’re just cover for us. Has a few good positions for overwatch, too. But there’s a problem - patrols rotated around <40 minutes> ago. The change hasn’t come out yet.>”
“<Any signs of alarm?>”
“<No sirens. Lowered blast shields over what few windows there are. Dunno what’s going on inside. Worried I might’ve been spotted. Pretty sure a Valkyrie landed a bit before I arrived. If they saw me on thermals, you’d think they’d have shot me. Not like I could shoot back.>”
The captain mulled it over. “Shit. Maybe they heard about the crash and are playing it safe. Maybe they heard about the other raids.”
“<If reinforcements arrive, I’ll need you to take a proactive approach. They design these buildings like meat grinders - can’t afford to be letting more guns in. If a transport shows up, pop their driver, and pop anyone who steps out. If they run, get as many as you can. Try and get them to chase you, if it comes to it. And don’t die out there if you can avoid it. Understood?>”
His voice was warm, almost amused. “<Will do, Captain.>”
“<Good man. Gilfavor out.>” The captain killed his mic.
Somehow, Taesan seemed at peace with this increasingly fucked up situation. Maybe it was an act - trying to fool himself. Maybe it was sincere - he truly was so at peace. The Captain could see it going either way, and he wasn’t inclined to ask which. There was another question, however...
“Have you been able to understand us all this time, mon-keigh?”
“No. Only a few words. Cardinals, orders for action.”
The captain put two and two together. “Lucky,” he said. Liivi nodded.
Gilfavor glanced back at the medic. For once, his eyes betrayed a hint of worry. Taldeer didn’t have to read his mind to know what he was thinking. It was written, however subtly, on his face. “If only she could have had that luck.”
But the problem was bigger than the medic. It hung in the air like the smog of some mon-keigh “hive world,” silent yet suffocating. The unspoken knowledge that any injury weathered could very well mean death. That they could afford no more casualties if they hoped to complete their mission and leave this planet alive.
Some tried to bury it. Others attempted to make peace with it. Few simply accepted it. But all marched with it in mind, to the ever grim drum beat of fate.
“That route is unsafe. Standard Imperial Procedure dictates barracks be monitored at all times for heretical activity.”
“And those are barracks,” Taesan asked?
He put his eye back to his scope. “I don’t see anybody standing guard.”
“They would be inside, to watch the men. An officer. They would rotate every 1-2 hours.”
“I see, I see,” he nodded. “I haven’t seen them rotate yet. We’d definitely be cutting it close there.” If the expression of nearby Gilfavor was anything to go by, he clearly remained skeptical.
“<Think critically about what he’s saying, Taesan.>”
The ranger’s gaze didn’t turn from the scope. “<I’ve got a good sense of mon-keigh, sir. For what it’s worth, I believe him. He’s convinced me. But you’re the one calling the shots, sir. You don’t need to convince me of anything. I’ll do what I’m told.>”
“<I don’t like your tone, ranger,>” Gilfavor leered.
“<Well I know you like honesty, my dear Captain. And while I don’t have much respect for rank, I have enough respect for you to tell you what you may not want to hear.>”
“<You’re out of line.>”
Taesan pulled his face away from his rifle and met Gilfavor’s leering gaze. The ranger’s calm continence and relaxed tone belied the intensity of his hardened stare. “<On the contrary,>” he replied. “<You’re the one who’s supposed to be decisive, and the fact is, you still don’t know what to do with our mon-keigh friend here. And we both know you gotta make up your mind soon. No time to second guess him during a firefight. So: what’ll it be, sir?>”
There was a moment of ominous silence as the captain’s face contorted into a frown. “<A reprimand, Ranger. If we make it off this blasted rock with that mon-keigh at our backs... Continue as you were.>”
The ranger smiled and offered a friendly, respectful nod. “<Thank you, Captain. My pleasure.>”
Gilfavor stomped off and began speaking to Ysukin in hushed tones, each Eldar glancing at the Vindicare.
“He seemed frustrated," Liivi said, staring back at them. "Is there a problem?”
“Nah, don’t worry about the Captain. He’s just learning to trust you, is all. Now, about that other route…”
The foxhole, left behind by some guardsmen, had made a convenient medical bay. It was small enough to warm easily, hidden beneath the large boulder that the others were using as cover, and rather solidly dug. However, if there was one thing it certainly lacked, it was space. It could hardly hold both Taldeer and the legless medic. And if the debate out there got any more heated... well, the fates spoke nothing of violence in the near present, and she trusted them as best she could. Her attention turned back to the task at hand. By the dim light of a human lux stick, Taldeer cleaned the stumps of the unconscious medic.
Clearly, the ice had taken the brunt of the melta’s heat. But what made it through had cooked everything beneath her thighs clean off. The burns on her face were swelling and blistering. Fate was fuzzy as the Farseer tried to trim cooked flesh from the bone and stave off infection. She couldn’t tell if she was making it worse or better.
Taldeer bit her lip.
A cough. Faint. Right into her ear. “Oh no.” Again. And again. A stunned and fearful face turned right, just in time to see eyelids flutter open. Loudly, she gasped for air.
“Mellorena?” The medic didn’t respond. She stared at the stone ceiling, panting, sucking down deep breaths of air. Lips moved, but no sound came out. She clutched her throat, wincing, and stared urgently at the Farseer. Thinking quickly, Taldeer siezed the medic’s shoulder and focused.
“Te-.“ Eyes widened.
Her thought was interrupted as portions of her face, hands, and throat experienced a sudden and persistent sensation not entirely unlike being shoved into a deep fryer. It took every ounce dedication to hold back her surprised scream. Gritting her teeth, she pressed forward.
“Tell me what you need. Just think it.”
Easily done. Taldeer slid it towards Mellorena, and moved her frame slightly, allowing more light in for the medic to work. Mellorena reached into the kit quickly and flipped over a few packs. Pulling out a blue gel filled pouch near the bottom, she popped the cap and began rubbing it into her hands and head. There must have been a potent numbing agent, because the pain Taldeer felt began swiftly receding. Not in the throat, though. The medic capped the pouch and set it aside. Pulling out a small vial with a dropper cap, she placed three drops on her tongue, swished it around, and swallowed. Instant numbness and a cool sensation was greeted with a hearty, relieved sigh.
“Thanks for bearing that, Farseer. What happened to me?”
“Don’t thank me yet.” She sighed. “We were hit by a melta. I tried moving both you and Liivi and… I’m afraid I didn’t get you out in time. Your legs...” It was difficult to even finish the thought.
Mellorena’s eyes widened, taken aback. But she quickly regained her calm demeanor. Gently, she closed the lid of her medkit and set it aside. For the first time, she registered the sight of her missing calves, and the cooked stumps which dangled just below her knees, devoid of feeling. A long sigh passed through her nose as she stared the damage, stone faced and sombre.
“I’m sorry. I should have seen it coming.” The Farseer couldn’t even raise her head to face the medic.
There was a small hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. Alright? I got unlucky. I’ve been injured before.”
She looked at Mellorena with a sense of urgency. “We’re not supposed to rely on luck, Mellorena. That’s why I’m here.” Taldeer sighed and turned her gaze to the ground. “But I’m wondering if I should be. What good am I when my best isn’t good enough?”
The hand moved to her cheek, gently tilting her head up. The medic stared directly into Taldeer’s pained eyes. “You can’t go telling yourself stuff like that. You may not be perfect. But Ulthwe needs you. We need you. And if you can’t forgive yourself for making mistakes, things will only get worse.”
“I don’t think you understand, Mellorena. Do you really grasp how many people can die when I err? I thought I did. But I was too haughty. An entire army. Fallen to the Great Enemy. I led them to a fate worse than death. And it wasn’t their fault, no. They fought admirably to the last. They did their jobs well.” A pause. Only the static of ambient thoughts filled the void between minds. “It was all me.”
In an unusual change of disposition, the medic lowered her gaze to the floor, expression tipping towards something more melancholy. “I think I know how you feel, Taldeer. Believe me I do.” She was quick to rebound, but the sadness didn’t leave her eyes as easily. Her face lifted towards Taldeer once more. “Neither of us can allow this to consume us. Not ever, but especially not now. Go meditate. I think it would do you some good. I can take care of this from here. Okay? But first, if you could please grab a blanket and a brighter light from Tanlon’s ruck.”
“Sure. It’s the least I can do.”
Taldeer crawled out of the foxhole and emerged between Barroth and Elnys, both keeping watch. She quickly got Mellorena what was needed. After a stretch, she went and pulled her spear from the tree it laid against, closed her eyes, exhaled, and focused.
The sounds began to fade away. The cold started to leave her skin. The dim light beyond her eyelids grew even dimmer. Her mind thought of nothing.
Or rather, not nothing. Something. The thought of nothing. She couldn’t clear her mind completely.
She opened her eyes. The flight back to reality was jarring. All the sounds almost seemed to collapse in on her. But it was over quickly. The Farseer sighed quietly, leaned back against the tree, and slid down it until she sat in the snow. She slung her arm around her spear, placing her hand over her knee, and wedging the shaft firmly against her shoulder.
Slowly, she began the process of clearing her mind, discarding every worry and unnecessary thought. Anxiety lowers performance, and she had to be ready for what was to come. She knew that, even as she threw that concern away.
Perhaps it was just a reflex. Her eyes focusing on the two objects in the center of her visual field. As her head dipped lower, she found her gaze focused on the blanket which now covered the entrance, hiding her most recent shame, but moreso, maybe even too much, on Liivi, planning their assault with Taesan.
An errant thought ran through her hazy mind. “What is this wanting that I cannot discard?”
When she awoke, she was sitting on the shores of the sea.
Taesan was briefing Gilfavor on what they had determined was the optimal route. 46 minutes until the operation was to proceed. Another glance to the rear flank. “Primary appears to have slipped into unconsciousness.”
“She’s fine, mon-keigh.” Somehow, the vindicare had missed Ysukin step away from the captain. Now the Fire Dragon stood next to him.
“I did not-”
“I could read it on your face. The Farseer is meditating right now. If you check her pulse, you will wake her. You don’t even know how to find it.”
This vexed Liivi.
Ysukin’s smile did little to soften his scrutinizing eyes. “You needn’t act surprised, assassin. Humans are not so difficult to read.”
“The Dictum Vindicare states that involuntary facial expression are to be controlled at all times, in order to provide no information to the enemy either under torture or in the field.”
“Well,” the big Eldar replied, face turned towards Taldeer, “you already let your target live.” He turned to Liivi again. “How much do you truly value that dictum?”
The Vindicare had no response. He stared blankly into space, mind racing, iron hewn pathways straining and buckling against a growing and long suppressed force.
There was the ocean. There was the wind. There was the sand and the salt spray.
And there was a bird.
A Goldcrest, the mon-keigh trader had called it. It was a gift to her father. He called it Crenovine. Littlebird. He was not very creative.
But Crenovine was. Her childhood companion chittered his songs as he flew round her head in her father's garden, improvising and riffing off of his leitmotif. Sometimes the two would sing a duet. Sometimes he would do strange little tricks. But invariably, at the end of his performance, he would land on her shoulder - always her right shoulder - whereupon she would pet and feed him.
His life was so short. He didn't survive her youth. But she never forgot the beating of his wings. They mingled with the rhythm of the surf, providing a beat for the melody of his song.
"What are you doing here, old friend?" She smiled. It had been long since she had thought of him. Perhaps it was a longing for familiar comforts that had given form to some pleasant memories. Or perhaps it was his little bird spirit, returned to give her cheer in her darkest hour. The possibility of the latter was nil, but she held some small hope that it was him. After all, it was hard to tell what was what in this place.
She reached out to touch the little ball of feathers, to give him a hand to land on - and with that, he was gone.
A sigh escaped her lips, and the farseer did her best to put the wistful melancholy out of mind, resuming her meditation.
“Nevermind that question. You probably can’t answer it yet.” The Vindicare barely heard the the response to his silence. But it did drag him away from his inner turmoil, back into reality.
“I suppose I should make my intentions clear. Liivi, Gilfavor has ordered that I interview you. I cannot force you to answer any of my questions. But the more you answer, and answer truthfully, the better I will be able to help you. I know you can be a very valuable asset to my people, and I am willing to advocate for you - but you have to prove that you will be willing to help us. In exchange for your services, we can harbor you and see to your care. There would be others like you. Most craftworlds have small communities of other races, who offer their services and information in exchange for protection.
Does that sound agreeable? Would you be willing to work with me?”
“Would they listen to a Fire Dragon?”
“Even with my word, you will still have to go through the system. But yes, I have the appropriate credentials, and my advocacy will make a difference. Before I was a Fire Dragon, I was an intelligence analyst and later an interviewer specializing in humans.”
Liivi contemplated the proposal.
The sound of feet walking over sand.
It was coming from her right. A sinister presence. It made her stomach churn.
She didn’t have to look to know what it was.
The Farseer did not turn to face it. She stayed sitting, eyes closed, uttering only a few words in response to its intrusion.
“What was it that I said last time, daemon?”
“Dooooooon’t even know what you’re talkin’ about there, honey. And it’s daemonette, thank you.”
“You will not disturb my meditations.”
“Yeah, about that: don’t you think it’s all just a real fuckin’ laugh? I mean, the only one who showed you the least bit of empathy, and look at what you let happen to her?! Fuckin’ damn Taldeer, oh honey, are you even trying anymore?”
“You can leave, or I can banish you. You have no power here, daemon.”
“Pffffft, banish me? Go ahead and try, sweetheart. I left last time.”
In a fluid and tranquil motion, the Farseer stood to face her enemy, eyes glowing with warp fire. But the daemonette merely smiled. “That supposed to sca-,” she tensed, eyes staring somewhere past the farseer.
The daemonette frowned. In her voice was a level of cold, irate, contempt that only a daemon could produce. “Don’t think I’m afraid of you, bitch. I’m not.” Wearing a leering scowl, she faded away.
“Victory.” Breathing a hearty sigh of relief, Taldeer resumed her seat. The ocean seemed impossible to read. Every kind of potential flickered on the horizon. A honed mind would be needed to deal with this mess. So it was that she closed her eyes, and resumed her meditation.
Somewhere in the distant storm, a rogue wave smothered another.
Ysukin was quick to notice Liivi's internal deliberation. “The Farseer clearly intends to return home," he added. “If you refuse to cooperate, I cannot imagine they would permit you to stay aboard Ulthwe. You saved our Farseer’s life, so we will extract you - we will not leave you to die. But your stay would be temporary. After resolving whatever medical issues you may have, you would be deposited on a rim world. It is possible that the Farseer may visit you, should she deign to. But you would not be able to accompany her.”
“Your credentials are… convenient… but I will cooperate.”
“You bring up a reasonable concern. I will not dismiss it. I want you to trust me. You see Liivi, I was a Ranger once. The Path of the Outcast is not terribly uncommon, and if an outcast returns, military intelligence is usually a natural progression, given his experience with other races. But most of those who become rangers cannot stay satisfied in desk jobs. I could not. I wanted to do something new: so I chose to work with explosives. It is precision work, but in a different sense.
Does that assuage your fears?”
“A more plausible story, at least.”
“Well, just consider this practice for your formal evaluation. Let us begin with your beginnings - where were you born, Liivi? What is your age?”
“Memories before the Handler acquired me are fuzzy. I do not know. My age should be near 25 Terran Years.”
“Understandable. Do you have any reason to suspect you may have been mind wiped at any point?”
“It is possible. Selective memory deletion is likely. Beyond that - no.”
“Tell me about your handler. You had a single one throughout your life?”
“No. I have had three. I have not had contact with the Handler as of three weeks.”
“And your relationships with these handlers?”
“They would supply information, supplies, and discipline as necessary.”
“I am afraid your evaluators will want more detail than that, but it sounds like standard Imperial training methods. All stick, no carrot. I suspect I know the answer, but: what was your last mission?”
“...Primary: Farseer. Objective: Assassination.”
Ysukin paused. The corners of his lips bent slightly into a suppressed smile. “So you are not merely a defector. Nor was your encounter by chance. You have acted in direct violation of your mission objective?”
“You may very well be a case study, Liivi. Who assigned this mission?”
“Lieutenant Ardrin, representing Governor Militant Lukas Alexander.”
“Was there ever a situation where you felt hesitation?”
“Nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.”
- Saint Plautus of Terra
“Huh. You’re dressed like a shadow, mister.” The little girl stared up at him with a cheeky grin. She was bundled up in a coat and hat, with a stubber on her back. It was the same model he trained with at her age. A cheap and archaic ballistic rifle, chambered in 7.62x51mm, ubiquitous throughout the Imperium. Hers had seen better days, but it was undoubtedly still a functional weapon.
The Vindicare registered all this in less than half a second, the same amount of time it took for his hand to reach his pistol, lying at the side of the disassembled Exitus. But the hand froze, nearly about to touch the grip. She twitched.
“Sorry for spookin’ ya.” Nervous. But sincere.
What was this hesitation? How did he not notice her? It must have been the fall a week ago. The medicae detected no cerebral damage, beyond a mild concussion. But their words changed nothing. Something still felt off.
“Don’t talk much?” Concerned.
Liivi struggled for words as his mind raced. “How did you see me?” This place was supposed to be safe. Trees were dense. He hid in the shadow of one. Snow blanketed branches hid him for aerial observation.
She beamed. “I looked!”
“With?” Infrared? Satellite?
“My eyes, ya goof. Pa said I got mom’s eyes. Good thing, too. I gotta do all the hunin’ these days. It’s not hard. I can hit a buck from 500 meters out.” There was a pause. “With irons.” The smile folded into something a bit more smug.
“Acceptable.” The word slipped out. Why? What was going on? That was always the word used by the trainer to signal approval.
The girl snorted. “Gee, ya think? Anyway, I saw you and I wanted to say thanks. We aint seen any greenskins come this far north yet ‘cause of you people, comin’ in the Emperor’s name. So, thanks.” She pulled a stick of jerky from her pocket and tossed it to him. He snatched it deftly out of the air and stared dumbly at it. She shrugged, turned around, and waved goodbye, snow parting beneath her feet with a surprising degree of silence. “See ya.”
No, she didn’t see him. That wasn’t acceptable. Vindicare were neither seen nor heard. She couldn’t be permitted to leave. His hand grasped the pistol and lined it up with her head.
“She could make a good vindicare.” She was obviously too old. An extraneous, irrelevant, immaterial thought.
Liivi attempted to move his finger over the trigger. It was slow to respond. Shaking, twitching. Iron pathways honed by careful use of negative and positive reinforcement were assaulted by some absurd feeling of reprehension. “What is it?” There was something disconcerting about this child. “Why?” The iron weathered the unpleasant sensations like a breakwater in a storm, wave upon wave crashed against it and with spray flying every which way.
Sights shaking, he set his finger on the trigger.
Ysukin sighed. “I apologize. I know that glazed over look.”
“I have my answer.”
“I value parts of the dictum. But I do not value those which demand I hurt her.”
“And hurting others?”
“All secondaries are to be considered potential threats. However, they are only to be treated as threats in extremely volatile situations: when threats cannot be reasonably identified or predicted.”
The eldar frowned, then cocked his head to the side. “Good enough, I suppose. A start. But with an answer like that, I can only promise that they will evaluate you. It is up to you, Liivi, to make it through the process.”
“We shall see. Now if you will excuse me, I must perform final preparations.”
The sound of feet walking over sand.
It was coming from her right. A gentle presence. She almost didn’t notice it.
“Where am I,” asked a faint and familiar voice?
The Farseer’s head snapped right, eyes open wide.
The little medic finally took notice of her. “Farseer?”
The daemon? No, they couldn’t mask their presence like this. But then, how?
It took Taldeer a moment to collect herself. “Is that really you?”
“...yes? Is there a reason it wouldn’t be?”
“Nevermind that. How did you get here?”
“I-I don’t know. The last thing I remember, I took some sedatives. Then I heard the sound of waves. And I woke up here…”
“You never said you were trained in telepathy.”
“Enough to help diagnose brain damage, but why- Oh! Oh… I see… This is your mind. Or a dream.”
“It is where I go to meditate.”
“I shouldn’t interrupt you. I’m sorry. This was an accident. It must be the sedative I took - calms the body, but not the mind. I’ll leave. Excuse me.”
“Honestly, being left alone with my thoughts is the last thing I want right now. I can’t focus.” She gestured to the waves. “The future refuses to wait for me.”
“I guess I’ll stay then.” The medic stared out to sea as she walked to Taldeer’s side. There, she sat. Silence. “So. The future looks like an ocean?”
“It’s one way of seeing it. It’s all just a bunch of data. But it’s easier to read when you find a way to visualize it. There are other methods. Some Farseers use games.”
“Sounds underwhelming. I think this one looks rather beautiful.”
“Don’t be fooled.”
The medic thought to herself for a time. “Taldeer, I’m not really sure what to do. Is there anything I can do to ease your burden?”
“Don’t die. And if you figure out when and why I became useless, let me know.”
“You’re not useless.”
“Your sentiment is appreciated, but I don’t think you understand.”
A sullen look came over her features. Her posture folded inward and she stared at the sand. Picking some up, she let it run through her fingers. For awhile, there was only the sound of the waves.
The sand ran out.
“Every time somebody died,” Mellorena began, “I wanted to blame myself. Especially in the ER. When I had to tell their family that we couldn’t save them. We weren’t good enough. I wanted to crawl home. Cry. And never come out again. Because every time, it seems like there’s some way I could’ve avoided it. If I’d only been better. If I’d only seen it in time. If it was anybody but me, they’d be alive.
That’s what it feels like, isn’t it? That whatever caused their injury didn’t kill them. It’s just something that happened to them. My failure killed them. Right?”
“...That last bit… disconcertingly correct.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not a good place to be in. I would know, believe me.”
“Do you really know? You may have botched operations or had corpses fall into your gurney, but how many? I was their leader, Mellorena. They trusted me. They marched and died on my orders. And my orders got them all killed. Thousands. If they’re lucky, the guard will collect their soulstones and use them as bartering chips. Most likely, they’ll be burnt by some backworld inbreds. Even if the mon-keigh commanders made a good effort to secure the stones, the losses still probably number at least in the hundreds. How do I live with that? How am I supposed to come home, come back to the Seer Council of Ulthwe, and tell them of my crushing defeat and our damned bretheren? Do you really understand? Tell me, how many of our kin have you sent to She Who Thirsts?!”
She tucked in her legs and wrapped her arms around them. “One.”
The Farseer was silent for a time. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I understand.” She took a deep breath, collecting herself. “Officially, I was cleared of responsibility. But I still feel responsible. I should’ve seen it. He was my patient. His well being was my responsibility.
We were fighting some mon-keigh. One of our encampments was shelled. So many wounded and dying. Ten full medevac vamps, and that was just for those in critical condition. I was in the first, busy, trying to treat people as fast as I could. The nurses were supposed to keep the stones stocked. Nobody realized we were out.” A pause. The Farseer looked at the little medic. She was reliving it. Staring back in time. Trying to hold in her emotions. Speaking in a calm and deliberate voice. But the dream betrayed her. Taldeer could see it as she spoke. Fuzzy images and flashes of a memory, tearing into the space around her, only to vanish shortly thereafter.
“His name was Iselon Gonnaer.” It was all visible. The cramped space. Tables upon tables, all holding broken bodies. The smell of blood. Nurses running past. Doctors shouting. They were trying to resuscitate the woman on the next table. It didn’t seem to be working.
“He was a young man.” Handsome features. “Even younger than me. A guardian.” Another bag of blood gone. Tourniquet changed. “He had a gut full of shrapnel and was missing an arm and a leg.” Two pairs of hands tried to seal blood vessels. Elastic bands struggled to keep pressure on the stumps. “I was so focused, I didn’t see the hairline fracture in his spirit stone.” He stopped breathing. No pulse. Needles were shoved into nerves. Shocks delivered. Trying to inflate his chest. Pump his heart. But it wouldn’t take.
“...he passed. That’s when I saw it.”
As light began to fill the crimson gem, a thin line of bright white appeared.
“There should’ve been another.” Frantic looks left and right. “I screamed for another.” Glances from her colleagues. Concern. “But there wasn’t.” Taldeer could see Mellorena’s panicked reflection in silver, red stained tools. Bloodsoaked hands reached to her chest. “When it shattered, I ripped off my own stone.” A firm yank severed the chain necklace. “Tried to use it to save him.” It was shoved into the pile of lightless shards, ground against them, desperately trying to succeed where the first had failed.
She drew her head in, hiding her face behind her forearm. ”But he was already gone… I broke down crying right then and there.”
For a brief moment, all talking in the medevac ceased. All eyes rested on the damned man. She fell forward onto his chest. Darkness.The hubbub and activity quickly resumed. But it wasn’t the same. It was quieter. Muted by the silent sound of eternal damnation, and Mellorena’s violent sobs.
“For a long time, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, crying. Thinking of that moment. And the fact that I couldn’t walk away, after a failure so great - that I couldn’t leave my path - I think that’s when I fully understood I was lost on it. Perverse as it sounds, it’s the fate I’d always wanted, deep down - a healer forever. But that wasn’t how I wanted to find out.”
All Taldeer could manage was a stunned expression. The young woman before her had seemed too much like a child. Too sweet. Too sensitive. Too naive. Now she seemed frighteningly precocious.
“You’re too young,” Taldeer whispered. “Much too young to be here. To have seen that. To be lost. By Isha. You didn’t need to relive that for my sake.”
Mellorena shook her head. “I think I did. Now, you’re not the only one here who’s made mistakes.”
“...How do you deal with these emotions? I thought I was lost on the path of the seer. Yet suddenly, it feels like I can barely read anything when it counts. This… I’ve never failed like this before. I'm afraid to even try anymore.”
“Maybe you can learn not to feel it. I’ve met some colleagues who don’t get broken up by failure. They’ve said to me “it’s not my passion - it’s my job. Sometimes I don’t do well. Most of the time, I do.” Unfortunately, I can’t force myself to be that cold. I think you're similar. Trust me when I say that you can still learn to live with it.
I have friends. Family. Coworkers. People I talk to. Sharing the pain numbs it. When you’re ready to talk about it, at least. Being lost on my path makes it hurt a bit more. It means I can’t run. But I have a clear purpose. That provides some security. As much as it can hurt, I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“Is having that purpose really comforting when you’re questioning your ability? Maybe I’m just being selfish. Maybe I’m not fit for what I want to do. How do I know this won’t happen again? Every missing soul hurts. But there are still acceptable losses. This, however… this isn’t acceptable.” A pause. “At this point, I may have killed more of us than our enemies.”
“We’re not the ones getting people killed. Even if it usually feels that way, it’s usually not true. A lot of our failures are out of our control, no matter how we feel. I can’t help it if nobody noticed that Uncle Elmas had passed out, and now that he’s in my room, it’s too late. If the future is unreadable, maybe it’s just unreadable.
Then, there are those times when it really is your fault.
We’re not perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. We can’t see everything. But you know what? Not many people can do what we do. We can’t just leave them behind because we’re not perfect. We have to find a way to live with our mistakes… It's a heavier burden on the lost, but it’s true for any practitioner. How can you stay a doctor if you allow your failures to consume you, and prevent you from doing good work?
Saying that probably doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t for me. But it helps me focus on what’s important in the present. There’s time to cry later.”
“It’s my privilege, Farseer.”
They watched the ocean for some time.
The primary seemed calmer. Cooler. More collected. Anxious. But in control. Or trying to be.
As they approached the installation, a sense of unease entered the pit of everyone’s stomach. This was it. They could afford no more errors beyond this point. It was more than the normal pre-operation adrenalin. The sort of nausea one only gets from public speaking, or irrational phobias. Perhaps it was the stakes: if even one ship from the fleet was penetrated, there would be little time to patch the hull before they reached the nearest webway entrance. A single remaining battery could cause four digit numbers of good men and women to be sent into the open arms of the great enemy.
Liivi slid into the trench, landing fluidly behind Taldeer. Immense pain wracked his left side. But it was bearable.
Not a second to spare. They rushed forward, footsteps muffled by the hard packed ice of the trench. The scorpions moved ahead of the group. Hunched as they were to avoid detection, they almost resembled their namesake, the chitinous-like wraithbone armor resembling an insectoid carapace. They made it through the trench network in minutes.
“<Tanlon,>” Taldeer said, “<do you detect any psychic auras?>” The warlock shook his head. “<Only one mon-keigh.>” He gestured to Liivi. “<It may be the pesky human wards and seals, dampening the warp. How they love those trinkets.>”
The farseer bit her lip. Whatever human trickery was afoot, something was off. The sea was too calm. The sky was too clear. The storm had grown closer, yet it still hadn’t hit them. How? Where were the swells, the wind, and the rain? All the sensations of fate seemed muted.. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, staring into the water beneath her.
Under the placid surface, violent currents swirled too and fro, aimless and devoid of any discernable meaning.
We’re in the eye.
The mind of the Vindicare was clouded. The well oiled machine was gumming up. There was a sense of anxiety he couldn’t quite place. He had no word for this sensation. He knew the term anxiety - it was a set of characteristics exhibited in primaries and secondaries, identified by the contortion of facial muscles and the adoption of certain behaviors. But the unpleasant sensation he presently experienced had no word. It was an amorphous thing - a negative state which the temple utilized as a tool for honing his training.
“Where are the guards?”
It had him on edge.
He scanned for cameras, servo skulls, as the Eldar sidled along the building. It was strange. Some cameras had been damaged. That wasn’t the work of Taesan’s rifle. It was Las pistol. And there were trails on the ground - men being dragged - but no blood or evidence of gunfire. But no operational surveillance. Until-
“We’re being watched.” Liivi gestured towards the camera.
20 meters away, mounted on the rear of a reinforced pillbox, a camera panned over the group. Liivi could see it clearly. It stopped, lens twisting as it zoomed in.
“It’s looking at you, Taldeer.” Errant thoughts flitted through his mind as he glanced at the Farseer. “I shouldn’t have vocalized. Alerted the enemy.”
Gilfavor trained his rifle on it and fired. Bullseye.
“<Double time it.>” Liivi may not have understood the words. But he understood the gestures. Move. And fast. The vindicare’s heart was pounding in his ears. Why? This wasn’t meaningful exertion. Or was he perhaps more aware of it than he was before?
They began their sprint to the entrance, first ducking behind cover. Autoturrets deployed, but no fire came.
“Damaged,” Liivi said. “Las-rifle. Traitors?”
“Doesn’t smell like chaos,” Tanlon replied.
“It doesn’t smell like anything,” Ysukin said. “So rule out nothing.” He pulled a curious tool from his kit. A detonator? “I’ll get that door open.”
Liivi interjected. “Explosiv-”
“It isn’t,” Ysukin replied. “It’s a hacking tool.” He pulled out a cable and inserted it into the key slot. “Should get this open quickly.”
The assassinorum had such tools. Backdoors, skeleton keys, things they could exploit to get their personnel where they needed to be. But these were closely guarded secrets. What sections of missions that had involved them were mind wiped. The fire dragon glanced at the vindicare. Apparently Liivi’s face must have betrayed his incredulity. Ysukin shrugged slightly.
“Don’t use the same security software for a few thousand years.”
“Keep the primary close.”
Ysukin had been given admin access. It was isolated to the front door, but that was enough to get them into the building. A long hallway, about 10 meters, stretched before them.
They had been expecting resistance. A hail of lasrifle fire. Anything to keep them outside, to make sure they would be incapacitated by the blast.
Instead they saw scorch marks, blood, and the body of a guardsman slumped against the wall at the far end, chest clearly burnt, the open eyes of his shocked face staring into eternity. The two doors - one left and one right - were wide open.
“<Farseer?>” Gilfavor spared her a quick glance before turning his eyes to the body. The old soldier masked his concern better than the others. But she could still read the uncertainty in his face.
“<I don’t know either, Captain.>”
Ysukin shut the door behind him, and the sound echoed throughout the installation. As the noise faded away, they became acutely aware of the fact that the facility had all the stillness and silence of death. Even the whirr of the zooming camera was audible.
It peered down at them from the far end of the hallway, the sole surviving sentinel.
“<Someone’s definitely still alive,>” Elnys mused, shuriken pistol delivering a well aimed burst into the camera housing.
Barroth stood at her flank, watching the doorways. “<Should I stand guard, Captain?>”
Gilfavor’s teeth ground together. He looked at the entrance door and back to Barroth.
“<Taesan,>” he spoke into his comms, “<your recon camera watching the road - IR signatures on the horizon?>”
The Scorpions advanced slowly and cautiously. The vindicare followed closely behind. They reached the end of the hallway soon enough. Each took a door and sliced the pie - nothing. Nothing except more cameras. They each fired a single burst before returning to cover. “<Clear.>”
Liivi, meanwhile, remained exposed. Inspecting the dead man, he was vulnerable sitting between the two doorways. Taldeer hissed loudly. “Liivi!” It snapped the vindicare from his trance. “Sorry.” He grabbed the soldier’s right foot with his left arm, and sprung both himself and the corpse back to safety in a single, pneumatic movement. In cover, he resumed his inspection.
Concerned. She approached the Vindicare, pistol trained firmly on one of the doorways. “Liivi, what is it?”
“He’s not cold yet.”
“All the more reason to be on our guard, then.” She nudged Liivi to get up, but he hardly budged. He peeled back the burnt clothing. “I am-” an alien firmness in his voice, ever so slightly raised. It vanished as soon as it appeared.
“I am almost finished.” His fingers wormed their way through the burnt fabric and felt around. After second or two, he seemed satisfied. He closed the soldier’s eyes, and rested the man’s hands on his chest. With that, the Vindicare stood once more. A vacant stare filled as he stared at the sparking remains of the camera.
“<We need to get moving,>” Gilfavor growled. “<Left door. Loading mechanism is south.>”
Passing through the doorway and, sparing a final glance at the dead man, Liivi noted two streaks of blood in the opposite room. Bodies that had been dragged. Both led to a doorway, towards the center of the installation.
Taldeer paused. A shiver ran down her spine, and cool expression shifted to one of grave realization. Caught in the trough. A breaker loomed ominously overhead, sinister and foaming face leaning deep towards them. They were to be swallowed whole.
“Look out!” She knocked Gilfavor forward with the butt of her spear and, barring Liivi with her left arm, leapt backwards. A steel door, nearly a third of a meter thick, slid quickly from the ceiling with a fierce pneumatic hiss, meeting an indent in the floor. Their toes barely cleared it. The spear was less fortunate - a few centimeters had been shaved off the bottom. Sprawled on the ground, the Farseer worked quickly to get on her feet and turned to face the rear, letting out a long and hearty sigh. Death narrowly avoided. Again.
Heart pounding, she eyed the doorway while the vindicare collected himself.
“<Farseer.>” Gilfavor’s voice, distinctively calm and lacking its usual sourness, emanating from the collar of her chestplate. “<We will proceed with the mission. Ascertain the location of the control room. We will meet you there.>” It was clear enough to understand, but even at this short distance, the interference from all the wards could be heard in the transmission.
“<Yes, Captain. You are okay?>”
“<In perfect condition. Whoever just arranged that soon won’t be. Gilfavor out.>”
She groaned internally. Apparently it read on her face.
“Is something the matter, Taldeer?” Liivi was taking longer than usual to get up. Must have been the injury. The vindicare averted his gaze when they made eye contact.
“The Captain has less-than-subtly warned me that, if he believes I am in league with whoever is in control, he will try to kill me.”
“He will fail. I promise.” Having collected himself, Liivi’s pistol was swiftly trained on the door. “I’ll take point.”
She stared him down, determined. “No, you won’t. You’re already injured. If I limit my exposure, my shields will keep me safe.”
Liivi avoided eye contact. “It won’t stop a beam from a lasrifle. Please use a mirror first. The guardsman should have one.”
The Farseer scowled for a moment. “I should have thought of that.” But her expression quickly softened. “Thank you, Liivi.” The Vindicare didn’t respond with words. A nod, hesitant, yet with an expression of sincere concern. Cautiously, they pressed the advance. Slow and quiet steps.
“What were you doing back there? To the guardsman?” She spoke in hushed tones, eyes never leaving the potential target area.
“Inspecting the wound. Checking for evidence of weapon used.” A calm seemed to sweep over the subtle indicators of anxiety in his expression and posture. He was back in his element. “It was a las rifle wound. Consider that, had this been an open assault, the alarms would have been triggered, and this installation would have entered lockdown. We would have heard them, as that man was shot within the last few hours. Nor was that man in a combat position. His weapon had also been taken.“
Another step forward. “You mean to suggest that this was espionage?”
A sound from behind. Liivi’s pistol snapped to the rear entrance. An uncomfortable amount of time passed.
“Yes,” he said at last. “But they used the guard’s own weapons. ‘Who’ is unknown.”
Her brow furrowed. “So who holds the control room? Clearly they can operate doors. But they haven’t initiated lockdown. Why? If they wanted to keep us out, that would give them plenty of time to prepare. Unless… they don’t want to keep us out.”
She eyed the door back into the entrance hallway - a pneumatic guillotine to the unwary. “A troubling thought.” The camera may have been gone, but she was not eager to stay beneath it for long. The Farseer held her breath and leapt through.
“It seems probable that they don’t want to contain us. They want us to come to them, a few at a time.” Liivi followed suit, landing fluidly, albeit painfully, on the other side.
Content that he was safe, Taldeer stepped over to the man and began ruffling through his clothes. “That seems dangerous. But I suppose locking us in a room just gives us time to entrench.”
Liivi nodded. “Every room is designed to be extremely defensible. And we are dealing with a good marksman. They have every reason to make us come to them.”
“But who is that marksman? Who are we fighting?” Third pocket. Still nothing.
“I can only guess. Do you have any insight?”
“None at all.” At last, the mirror.
“Most likely, chaos sleeper agents. Using the disorder from the Orks and Eldar raids to seize the installation. It would explain the dragged bodies - intended for use in a ritual.” Taldeer finally found the mirror. “Additionally,” Liivi continued, “intelligence suggests some chaos entities can increase the martial prowess of their troops, or manipulate probabilities to their benefit. That could adequately explain the precise aim.” She motioned for him to get behind her.
“Sensible,” she quipped. Peeking around the corner with her mirror, she stayed fast against the wall. “They may just be a bunch of mon-keigh cultists, but I can’t help feeling uneasy.”
She swore she could hear the daemonette laughing somewhere in the distance.
“Are you distracted, Liivi?”
“It’s nothing.” He looked over to her. He didn’t really understand all the emotional noise that cluttered his mind when he did so, but the desire to protect was understandable at least.
What did that really mean though? A dismissive statement of disbelief, or a confident affirmation? He thought he was on the level. But the questions and errant thoughts were becoming dizzying. “Your comrades do not trust me. Do you trust me, Taldeer?”
“More than you realize. I won’t let them hurt you, I promise.”
“What if you had to choose?”
The Farseer froze. Her eyes left the door and, as her head turned to look behind her shoulder, additional power flowed into her shields. He could feel the despair in her eyes weighing down on him. “Don’t force me to make that choice, Liivi.” The sensation was haunting.
Not quite the expected reaction. Misgauged the primary. “I-I won’t. Do you… believe me?”
“Yes. Now don’t give me a reason to doubt you.”
Something was different about his mind now. She struggled to parse it. It wasn’t that it was unreadable, like before. It was still a mind of iron, yes. But it was breaking. The energy destroying the machine which harnessed it, rivets flying as pressure built, pistons screaming, gears roaring. Taldeer could taste the jets of emotion as they spewed out of the growing fissures. Chunks, fragments of a person. Pain. Confusion. Love? Or was it obsession? Reaching through the steam and probing the cracks, enduring the searing heat, she felt her way to the center. The eye. And in it, she found an image of herself - flawless and perfect, a statue carved by a keen hand and a keener eye. Around it screamed a torrent of intense emotions, maintaining a respectful distance as they shouted down reason.
The Farseer snapped out of her trance. It was only supposed to be a glance. “I got too sucked in.” She shook her head slightly, bringing herself back into the present. “Sorry. Thank you.”
He nodded. A gust of steam. She could taste it.
“When this is over… I’ll make sure you get the help you need.” A burst of steam, larger than before.
His reply was calm, but swiftly delivered. “I need only to know you’re safe.” Steam gushed out like a geyser. This was a lie. Though how much he knew it was a lie, she couldn’t say.
They pressed on.
The path was meandering, and the rooms similar enough to make navigation difficult. Obviously prefabricated and assembled here. Yet they could tell they were getting closer. Broken wards only lent credence to Liivi’s theory. Pools of blood occasionally dotted the trail, and the caked blood trail itself only got thicker. It hardly took long for the Farseer to put it together.
“This was the fastest route to each soldier. All on camera. There must have been people in the control room, working with the attackers. Perhaps Liivi was right. But then, what’s at the end of this pathway, that they wouldn’t halt us?” The rituals of chaos cults were widely varied and idiosyncratic. Veneration and the desired objective were more important than set procedure. The objective was typically simple: summon a daemon.
“There were hardly enough bodies here to open a rift, let alone feed a daemon for however long it’s been. What’s their game?” Concern slowly gave way to cautious optimism. “Suppose the majority of them are dead. Perhaps the ritual failed.”
“Possible. The only other chaos ritual I observed failed. They had far more bodies.”
“What? When?” The Farseer, incredulous, stopped dead in her tracks.
Liivi remained unphased. “Circa two months ago.”
She snapped. “Why didn’t you mention this sooner?!”
Now he was confused. “It seemed irrelevant.”
His reaction exacerbated her concern. “Tell me everything.”
“The Handler hailed me-”
Speaking slowly, through gritted teeth: “about the ritual.”
“I did not see the ritual site personally. My partner, a Callidus, infiltrated the facility. She reported the ritual center was covered in bodies. When the final cultist committed suicide atop it, the ritual activated. Warp energy passed through the facility and expanded outward in a roughly spherical shape. I outran the blast, but tripped and fell on my head. No sign of chaos taint was found on either of us, despite her presence at the epicenter. Presumably, our wards protected us against flawed technique.”
“I will be damned if I trust the mon-keigh to detect warp taint - all the power of the Inquisition, and they can’t see what stands in front of them. I’ve not smelled anything on you, but I’ve not looked thoroughly. I promise, Liivi, if I find anything, I will extract it in the most painless way possible. Now, step over here and hold very still.”
Taldeer guided him to a corner of the room, adjacent to the next entrance they needed to pass through. She cycled some extra juice to her shields, and kept her pistol train on the door with the her left hand - better than nothing in case of an ambush. Her right hand hovered slowly over the vindicare’s body, feeling more closely for aberrations in his warp signature or the shadows of internal warp mutations. Nothing in his legs, aside from the protective wards etched into his flesh. A bit worse for wear, they were - they only gave her pinpricks as she probed. Likewise as she did a once over of the torso and- winced. She had forgotten about his injury. Focusing through the sympathetic pain, she found no hint of taint in his chest, nor in his arms or head. He was, as he said, perfectly clean. The wards spread across his body were indeed worn - but that was just evidence that they had done their job. The Farseer breathed a sigh of relief. The two had been in such close proximity for days now - it was highly improbable that she would have missed even the slightest hint of chaos taint. But in that time there had been much on her mind, and it was always better to be safe than sorry.
“You’re clean, Liivi. Thank Isha.” She slumped against the wall as she exhaled. Things had been going poorly. Thankfully not that poorly. After a moment’s rest, they got back in gear.
A crashing sound from the hallway through which they had just advanced. Some metal object had fallen. Liivi jolted for his pistol and trained it on the door.
“The turret,” he whispered?
“We’ll see,” she replied.
The fates were quiet as she waded through the shallows towards the door. They sung no hymns of battle nor moved to rhythms of combat. They all moved in one straight direction - out, with the tide. Nothing in the immediate future was cause for concern, it was all peaceable. But who knew what the next wave would carry with it.
There were whispers. Metallic, monotone, and distorted. But faintly raspy. The voice of a young woman, with a strange accent. It sounded almost like a conversation. Taldeer pulled out the mirror and peeked around the corner. Nothing. If she hoped to get to the bottom of this, she’d have to go further. Beyond the door. She took a hesitant step into the portal.
To say that the wave arrived sooner than expected would be an understatement. The foam slapped her across the face. It seemed so distant, and suddenly it wasn’t. She dived to safety, cursing herself as she slid across the floor. “Falling for the same trick twice. I knew the hook was baited. Why did I think it was worth it?” The sound of doors closing echoed around her. More than one. Two. Three. Four. She was losing count. As her head lifted slowly from the hard floor, she could see some doors remained open.
“It’s not a room they want to lock me in. It’s a path.”
He had noticed it too late. The mirror in the next room. A camera was set at just the right angle to get an image of the doorway Taldeer had gone through. The machine didn’t bother to refocus on him. The attention of its master had been drawn elsewhere. He could feel the doors slamming shut. Remote switches being flipped. At last it shuddered to a halt.
It took a moment to collect himself mentally, but he quickly dashed to the comms panel next to the door. A shaking finger mashed the call button.
“There was a mirror. A camera got us through it. I should have seen it.”
It was supposed to default to the adjacent room, but she didn’t respond. Maybe she didn’t know how. Maybe she was already running. Liivi sighed and released the button. What now? Hacking without his mask wasn’t possible. His eyes were drawn back to the blood trails. The door was still open. The camera still hadn’t moved.
Maybe it would be wise to stay in the same spot. Maybe wait for things to boil over. Taldeer would know where to find him. But if this was chaos, well, chaos was usually sloppy. There were a lot of bodies dragged that way. If they weren’t frisked - and they probably weren’t - then one of them probably has keys. Gamble on being able to find keys and resume the operation, or stay on the bench in this room, alone? Taldeer could handle herself. Probably.
Liivi pondered these thoughts as he looked at his pistol, then at the open doorway.
He stepped forward.
The winding hallways seemed to go nowhere. Vaguely bronze colored walls with simplistic ornamentation, and the scent of incense, appeared to indicate that this was some sort of area for officers. She passed an open door - an officer sat dead at his desk, “stubber” pistol in one hand, a picture of his family in the other. An understandable reaction to an attack from chaos. Taldeer almost felt pity for the mon-keigh. Almost.
Hopefully her mon-keigh was alright.
She picked up her pace. There was no telling where this path led. It probably wasn’t anywhere good. But this situation was going to get worse before it got better. With every step, she listened to the sound of the ocean and the rolling waves, felt the wind and smelled the surf. Ceaselessly reading the data, searching for that next useful thread. Nothing. Loads and loads of nothing. Maybe she was walking to her death. Walking into a trap. A room turned into an oven. She would see that coming, certainly. But wouldn’t she also have seen a melta bomb being tossed practically in her face? Fate had only revealed itself to her jeeringly, when it neared certitude - a giant blazing sign that she somehow missed.
Once again, she shoved these doubts out of her mind. Halting her steps, she closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and tested every muscle. Eyes open. She was ready.
There was no waiting. The squad needed her. Whatever was going on, it was probable that going to meet the enemy would allow the squad to better accomplish their objective. She could draw some fire off of them, tie up some enemy resources. Not that she really knew what resources they had. The faster this could be resolved, the sooner she could save Liivi. All he had to do was stay still. He was smart enough, level headed enough, to know that he shouldn’t run when being searched for. Of course, if they successfully summoned a daemon, and somehow it was still walking around, perhaps he would be better off running.
She tried not to dwell on that thought.
The cameras weren’t watching him anymore. They sat frozen, motionless, staring blankly into empty space. Why did they lose interest? He could only guess.
These tunnels seemed more aged than the rest of the facility. Clearly maintenance for a variety of systems - heating, electrical, air circulation, water. Perhaps it was the dim lighting, or maybe it was the dampness that gave it a more aged look. It could have been recycled from a defunct installation. Or maybe it was the ever thicker blood trail. It almost looked like rust.
He heard a blast not too long ago. Muffled in the ducts. Mission accomplished. Hopefully. But that just meant the clock was ticking further down.
Flashlight swaying across the hallway, Liivi took step after step towards whatever dark and arcane chaos ritual had taken place. It was hardly a desirable place to go. But desire didn’t factor into the equation. He needed those keys. He had to get back to Taldeer. She had to be protected.
And she was right, too. Daemons have a limited time in the materium, extended only by the consumption of mortals. If the ritual was successful, it should have come looking for him. It wouldn’t sit and wait. It was probably safe.
Suppose they hadn’t launched it yet? Perhaps they needed another body. He was walking into a trap. Or maybe that wasn’t possible. Those kills were made awhile ago. The blood isn’t what summons and feeds daemons. It’s the soul. How long do they have before a soul really leaves the body, and their ritual material becomes nothing more than a pile of corpses? A question with no obvious answer. But not exactly a bad question. Likely best to take it more slowly. He decided to hug the wall just a bit more closely. The grungy piping, wires, and hard metal was slippery beneath his suit. Oil mixed in with some condensation, maybe.
He turned a corner. The hallway was masked by total darkness. Shards of glass glittered on the floor. Fragments of the bulbs. The sound of pumps, the thrum of air moving through vents, and the occasional drip of some fluid - their echoes emanated from the placid darkness, met only with the sound of the vindicare’s heart and breathing.
The deep shadow embraced him as he entered, even as the flashlight pierced its heart.
And a knife pierced his chest. It took a moment for the vindicare to register it. “Amateur.” Liivi was even so distracted that he managed to reflect on his error, rather than finding a solution.
With cat-like reflexes, his assailant had emerged from a large vertical crevice between some ducts. But the last of his energy appeared to have been spent on the leap and thrust. Energy wasted, the point of the knife making direct contact with the wraithbone cast. He slumped to the ground, gasping for breath.
The gash on the assailant’s head was large enough to see easily, even in this dimness. But a little more light wouldn’t heart. The man hardly winced as the flashlight was directed at his head. Things were clearer now. Skull was visible - and cracked. The runes cut into his temple were undoubtedly the inscriptions of chaos. Disgusting. And yet, familiar.
Not the marks. The man’s face. No time to dwell on it though. He was getting close now.
Liivi pointed his Exitus pistol at the man’s head.
The quarters seemed to stretch on forever. The double headed eagles and lions that adorned the walls almost seemed to move, looking down from on high, laughing at her as she was trapped in this labyrinthine maze. “How did anybody ever navigate this?”
Door upon door flitted past, all sealed. She passed an oddity - an open one. Inside, an officer lay dead on the floor. His legs were straight, eyes closed, and his hands crossed over his chest. Held in them was a picture of his family. A gun lay on his blood covered desk.
It was the same man as before.
She’d gone in a circle.
Muttering. “Isha help me if I don’t-”
Her glower shifted. Perplexed and concerned. “Who did this?”
Doubtable it was one of the others. Ysukin might in other circumstances, but he was too dedicated to the mission. He wouldn’t stop. Chaos certainly wouldn’t. Perhaps Liivi escaped? Yes, maybe he got a key! She quickly rummaged through the officer’s pockets. Maybe he had one. But she turned up nothing. Either he didn’t have it, or it was taken. It wasn’t on or in his desk. So it wasn’t going to be found. Time to go.
As she paced angrily down the hallway, she passed a peculiarity. An open door, one that she swore was formerly closed. How curious. She had not heard it open.
Stepping carefully into the hallway, she found herself surrounded by the spartan, militaristic decoration of the rest of the facility. So this was a step in the right direction, apparently. Hopefully. Even so, she had to take it slow. This could well be a trap. She advanced quickly down the hallway, never allowing her irons to leave her eye. Her eyes were soon drawn to something else, however. She almost missed it.
At last, there it was, clearly labeled on the door. Command Center. It was not locked. In fact, it was clear that Ysukin had already been there. The door opened graciously, and she accepted the invitation to step through.
The squad was all present, milling about. Gilfavor was on comms, speaking in Eldar. Ysukin and Tanlon were watching the two entrances. The Warlock was more expressive than he’d ever been - he actually smiled with his polite nod. “Farseer.”
Ysukin beamed. “It’s good to see you alive and well. And Liivi?”
“I’m afraid we got separated. I trust he’ll make it here, however. He always comes through.”
“He has at least until Taesan gets up here with Mellorena,” Ysukin whispered. “I can’t say how long the captain will be willing to wait. Probably not long. The mon-keigh know.” She nodded sourly and swallowed, glancing around the room. Something in the corner caught her eye.
A corpse. There was an ear on the top of its head.
“I see you’ve noticed the trash, Farseer.” Gilfavor. “I’d spit on the corpse. But I suppose they’d probably enjoy that. Good thing is, we won’t be here for much longer. We should get to the pad soon.”
She stared at the body as if she was in trance. She may well have been, as far as the others were concerned.“”The scent of the Great Enemy should be strong. Even noticeable. It isn’t. But how? It doesn-”
All stared at one another, aghast. Things were finally starting to make sense.
The door hissed as it closed behind him. Golden light cut a sharp swathe through the inky black. Motes of dust shimmered in the air.
It smelled of iron.
He cast the beam on the ground. Crusted rouge mingled with flowing scarlet. Blood. Far too much for a single body. “Where?”
Light directed to the center of the room. A pile of bodies, arteries exposed. Unlit candles were positioned around them, alongside daemonic runes written in blood. A ritual circle. Purity seals and wards against chaos, smashed and scattered around it. And at its foot…
A familiar face. Half of one.
A Callidus. Slumped on the floor, she had turned her neuro gauntlet on herself. He could only speculate on why. The dead assassin’s face was filled with wrinkles, contorted into a mad grin, eyes bulging in their sockets. Partially transformed at her time of death. In spite of the distortion, the resemblance was uncanny.
It was the Handler.
Liivi’s eyes snapped to the faces of the bodies. Haphazardly thrown into the pile as they were, he couldn’t see all of them. But at least one was recognizable. One of Handler’s auxiliaries. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.
A sound to his right, wet and quiet, like a toe being dipped into a puddle. Nothing living could hide in this 5 by 5 meter room. Yet it put him on edge. He quickly turned the flashlight to the rightmost corner, slowly scanning across the wall. Faint at first, two hazy marine orbs began to glow, growing brighter as the light neared them. At last, the spotlight shined down upon the star of whatever damnable apostasy this room had been a stage for.
A black circle of carbon, burned into the wall she was slumped against, resembled a dark halo around her head. The streak of purple blood, no doubt produced as she slid down the wall, almost seemed like a column of sickly light.
Cause of death was obvious. It was the hole in the center of her chest - about two fists wide. Possibilities flashed through Liivi’s brain faster than words could express.
“Not a lasrifle. Not a neuro gauntlet. What?”
The gears were turning. The flywheel spinning out of control. It was all coming together now.
The daemonette blinked, grinning as the blood poured from her mouth.
“Start running, loverboy.”
With those words, her head slumped forward, dead. But he was already gone, keys ripped from the belt of the Callidus, stubber pulled from the holster of an officer.
The eldar recoiled collectively. Taldeer especially so. It felt as though, some time long ago, the wind had been knocked out of her chest, she had forgotten about it, and now it suddenly returned to her. She became whole again, without ever realizing there was something missing. A hidden tension in the air had been released.
And she could see it all now.
The wind was screaming death into her ear. The smell of the Great Enemy. Wisps of dead human. Where was this before? Where had it all been hiding?
Thick drops of rain fled this place, horizontal on the wind, battering themselves against her. Lightning cracked, illuminating wave upon frothing, rabid wave, each fit to drown them. The undertow was sucking hard enough to drown ships, let alone flotsam like them.
But it was the rogue wave that frightened her. Towering above the rest. Bearing down on them. It was soon to hit.
That was when the sea began to boil.
Clouds gave way to empty void as the ocean slunk away from her, retreating Isha knew where. There was nothing beneath the water, no earth to catch her, no beach to retreat to. There was nothing at all. Not even a void.
It all made sense now. The muffled sense of the warp. The sinking feeling. The quietude of the ocean. Eyes widened as the eldar stared at each other in terror.
Pain. Immeasurable pain. The squad collapsed, writhing helplessly on the ground as their shrieks tore through the installation. Only Taldeer and Tanlon remained standing. His shaking body struggled to hold his witchblade aloft, turning frantically, looking for a target. The flame, suddenly weak, flickered and died. She vomited, her body’s desperate attempt to remove whatever poison she had swallowed.
A fruitless response. She could already tell what poison this was. And it was not a poison imbibed. It was a walking anathema.
She found it hard to see. A hungry darkness gnawed at the edges of her vision, intent on swallowing the distorted image whole. But detail wasn’t necessary. When Tanlon was batted across the room by some invisible force, it came as no surprise. At the end of the long, black hallway, it looked like the whole world was starting to sway and contort. And one patch of air warped a bit more than the rest.
It was moving towards her.
"That which is unknown or unseen always commands the greatest fear."
- The Dictatus Culexus
Of the assassins, none are more feared than the culexus. The fierce claws of the eversor, the well placed shot of the vindicare, the unexpected blade of the Callidus - none of these can compare to the mind ravaging terror of the null aura. To stand near a null is to suffocate and stifle one’s soul. To feel the sensation of being a soulless body, still living. Normal men may feel only queasiness, coupled with a mortifying sense of existential dread. What a psyker suffers will depend on their strength, discipline, and training. An exceptionally talented and well trained psyker may experience extreme pain, seizures, hallucinations, intrusive thoughts, or the cotard delusion. It is nothing less than the violent rape of their soul, the brutal unstitching of the very essence of their being. Sufficient exposure will kill them. It is merely a matter of when.
This is before the addition of the animus speculum. A skull shaped helmet that can not only amplify their aura, but muffle it to near silence. Used in conjunction with synskin, they can become as invisible and intangible as the mind crushing fear that they inspire. But it is not their stealth capabilities that are most frightening. It is the beam which they can fire from the lens of their speculum, a fierce and concentrated lance of negative warp energy, which can tear at matter and soul alike. To confront one is to face more than death. It is to face annihilation.
The rest of the eldar convulsed on the floor, shrieking, eyes bulging as spittle flecked from their mouths. They were helpless now. Taldeer struggled to breathe through the grip of the culexus, throat burning, desperately struggling for every precious gasp. Its hand was wrapped around her throat like a vice. She tugged feebly at the fingers, but they were no more yielding than steel. Was the assassin really that strong? Or was it her own rapidly fading strength?
The synthskin flickered as the massive lens began to thrum, charging. The creature was smaller than she expected, standing a head shorter than her. It had to reach up to grab her neck. But what did size matter for a culexus?
The assassin’s head was cocked slightly to the side, as if it were curious, captivated by its target. Taldeer swore she saw the glint of an eye behind the flickering mask. Probably just a trick of the light.
The grip grew tighter. Eyes watered. Throat filling with bile. Her heart was pounding in her ears. The whirlpool was sucking harder and harder, Fates laughing as they ran circles around her, riding madness into the black depths of the sea. The hungry maw was about to close. Every way pointed down.
She tried to scream.
There was a finger snap. The synskin’s invisibility flickered one last time, then died. The culexus relaxed its grip and looked down at the massive hole in the left side of its lower abdomen.
Again. The back of the animus speculum shattered. It turned to face Liivi, now running down the hallway, but the culexus could yield no resistance. It stumbled backward and into the ceramite wall two meters behind it. The ruined animus hit the wall first, shattering, and splitting down the middle. The helmet rolled off of its shoulders, and face of the assassin was revealed as it slumped to the floor.
The culexus coughed blood and rasped as it laid on the ground. Its null aura was already beginning to fade. It sighed.
The woman looked so young. She couldn’t have been over 25. There was a natural beauty to her pale face, hiding bashfully behind the scars and stitches, the unkempt hair, already white, and the rings underneath her grey eyes. There was no expression of fear, no recounting of her regrets. Her hollow eyes laid out the story of her whole life, plain as day - they looked dead long before she was dying.
Liivi pulled out his stubber and began to walk over, stepping over the still spasming eldar. Soon enough he stood by her side. He looked at her, then at the weapon.
Fingers brushed against his shin. An attempt at a grasp. It wasn’t aggressive. It was soft. Weak.
“Vindicare…” She looked up at Liivi pleadingly, breathy voice rasping barely audible whispers. She struggled to inflate her chest. “Will the emperor forgive me? Will I be alone forever?”
The farseer was hardly sound of mind. Perhaps that was why so much of her revulsion turned to pity. Surely she couldn’t sympathize with this monster, this being that was detested even by the mon-keigh. The culexus - hated, feared, and reviled universally by her people, a blight suffered only for the good of a craftworld. Yet why was it that, as this human’s mere presence brought her to her knees and pushed her to the brink of death, she felt as though she were looking upon the most pitiful creature that ever lived? There were all sorts of illusory sensations atop of the pain - one leg was resting on sand, while her hand lay in a fire, and the whole of the room seemed to be twisting, rolling, and spinning, warping before her very eyes. Perhaps she was feeling a false emotion?
Whatever she felt, Liivi certainly seemed to feel something resembling sympathy. He knelt next to the young woman and put his hand on her shoulder.
“You have served the Emperor loyally. You will be with Him, and all the others. I promise, miss…?”
“Sascha. My parents named me Sascha.”
The eldar couldn’t take much more. And even the woman, obviously accustomed to pain, was clearly uncomfortable. There could be no more delay. “Sascha, I will now administer the Emperor’s benediction.”
“Please.” The woman coughed and feebly grasped at his hand. He gave it to her. She folded her arms across her chest and gave Taldeer one last look. There was something she was wrestling with, something she wanted to say. Sascha settled on a single word. “Sorry.” She closed her eyes. At peace. Liivi leaned her forward slightly, and positioned the barrel exit slightly above where the skull met the neck.
There were two bangs in quick succession. Silence. Perfect silence. All the ambient noise of the control room vanished from the Farseer's mind. Even so, it was still hard to hear the woman's breath leave her lungs for the last time, never to return. No doubt, what Taldeer saw was just as much a hallucination as the enormous dragon and the sinister looking harlequin riding it, both of which managed to sit in the room without filling it. She saw a little bird emerged from the mouth of the dead woman. A Goldencrest, perfectly white. It stared deeply, curiously, at Taldeer as it flew through the ceiling, riding the woman's final breath.
With that last exhale, the null aura flickered and died. The sensations vanished. It was over. Liivi rested Sascha against the wall, finally removing his hand from hers.
She was smiling.
The eldar slowly began to get up, now able to collect themselves. First Taldeer, then the captain. Wiping the spittle from his mouth, he glared at the corpse. His face said contempt, but his eyes said fear.
For similar reasons, the Farseer found it difficult to lift her gaze from the woman. She was shaken up, not just by the assassin, but by herself. All of them were struggling to stitch their psyches together. But time was of the essence, and Liivi’s voice snapped the eldar out of their trance.
“We should go to the pad.”
The Raider was spacious. Very spacious, with so few people. There was room enough for a small medical station, and there, Mellorena was getting the medical attention she sorely needed.
It had been an impressive arrival. The Vampire Raider swooped out of the clouds, accompanied by four Nightwing Interceptors, two on each flank. The aircraft circled overhead as they loaded into the raider, Taesan making in the nick of time with the little medic on his back. At present, he sat next to Ysukin, and the two were engaged in animated discussion. Gilfavor clutched the spirit stones of the departed as he read battle reports. Barroth, Tanlon, and Elnys were conversing in hushed tones, eyes darting to the young artisan, who watched Mellorena’s operation with a despondent stare. Perhaps his comments did not escape their ears after all.
“This must seem strange to you, hm?” Taldeer sat down next to him. “The wraithbone, I mean. It certainly is marvelous.”
“The organic shapes contrast with the hard edges of Imperial architecture, yes.”
“Well, get used to it. You’ll be on Ulthwe for awhile, I expect. Hopefully for a long time.”
Liivi stared up at the lights, oddly golden, exhaled, and closed his eyes.
Sitting in his command chair, Madek massaged his temple. All feeds in front of him were dead. The General Governor Militant wasn’t answering. Felix knew better than to address his lord in times like this.
“Perhaps this is my penance. The loss of all my assassins to a witch and a defective vindicare.”
Felix remained silent.
“I have a confession, Felix.” The inquisitor wore his ill fitting smile haplessly. “I must let this off my chest.”
“You have my ear, sir.”
“I have been collecting assassins for a long while. They’ve proven immensely valuable in my investigations and purges. The results I yielded always led to the approval of another grant. Yet the one I wanted above all others, one that went unapproved for years, was my request for a culexus.” He sighed. “There are many Inquisitors and so few culexus.”
The enginseer nodded.
“I grew tired of waiting. So much heresy, so many xenos, so little time. But I did not act. I sat obediently.
Yet there came a day when I was investigating reports of a daemonhost on a backwater world in the area. I went to the village that the report indicated. Not a sign of chaos or warp taint. It could hardly be cleaner.
I discovered why when I reached the edge of the village. The unwanted child. The pariah. I could feel it well before I saw her.
Frail, she lived in trash, and not even the dogs would go near her. The girl could barely speak gothic. Her face and body were covered with scars.
She was a null, a true blacksoul, and she was exceptionally powerful. Her survival was nothing short of a miracle from the emperor.
I got as close to her as I could - 20 meters, though I could feel it to 60 - and I beckoned her to come with me. I told her that there was a world beyond her little planet. That she was destined for greatness. She could serve the Emperor and find solace in his love. And the most damnable lie was, perhaps, that she would no longer be alone.
She craned her head from the fetal position and accepted.”
Felix nodded in sombre reflection.
“After much deliberation, I determined to keep her for myself. I enlisted a death cult to help train her. I got her culexus gear from a rogue trader. Things went faster with the animus speculum to dampen her null aura. No longer were her trainers slowly driven mad. With my fierce will, I grew more accustomed to her influence. But even I had my limits. She was so potent. She hardly needed training to be as dangerous as the average culexus.”
“It sounds as though you cared much for her, sir. Was she like a daughter to you?”
“Don’t be sentimental. Some beings can never be loved. She was one of them.”
“I see. Such a pity. They probably could have done some amazing things with her.” There was a shift in Felix’s voice.
Madek turned to face the enginseer and watched in horror as the hunched form warped and twisted itself into a callidus. In one hand, she held the symbol of the inquisition, and in the other hand, she held a pistol.
Epilogue, Part One
Cupido summum supplicium sumendi saepe ex invidia aspera et occulta orta est.
Her face wore a bored and disinterested expression. The woman, with her long and wavy raven hair, sat languidly in the throne of the judge. Leaning heavily on the right arm of the chair, her chin rested on the palm of an exceptionally well-crafted mechanical arm, scarcely decorated. Over her heart, pinned to her humble black coat, was the badge of the Inquisition, and in her mouth was a long, thin, and ornate pipe – one of the few extravagances she cared to indulge in. She sighed. The smoke that poured from her nose almost reminded Madek of a dragon. And he was in her den.
“Madek,” she began. “Would you be so kind as to explain how it was you managed to lose the two assassins under your auspices? Or perhaps the fate of Vindicare LIIVI’s handler?”
“I would be delighted to: once you explain what you’re doing, sitting in that throne, Inquisitor Silvahla. Awfully young to become a Lord, aren’t you?”
The Ecclesiastical representative looked back and forth between the two. “You two… have a history?”
“I have encountered Madek before, yes.” Her expression remained unperturbed. “And I would be a liar if I claimed he had not wronged me. However, I have since forgiven him his transgressions. Against myself, at least.” She closed her eyes and let off another long puff of smoke from her nose. There was something about this behavior that the ecclesiastical representative found disconcerting. “Is she… grinning, beneath that?” The smoke faded, and with it, any hint of amusement. Perhaps it was only his imagination.
“Without our dear Madek,” she continued, “I’d have never gotten this wonderfully convenient arm.” Well cared for mechanical digits drummed lazily against her cheekbone. Madek’s mechanical eyes narrowed. “Blasphemy upon the holy human form.”
Her eyebrows raised slightly, as though she had heard something remarkably stupid, and it had left her thoroughly unamused. “Charming though your hypocrisy is, Madek, I am afraid that no attack on my appearance or character will get you a new judge. You would do well to dispense with your hostility and provide to us the requested information.”
He remained silent.
“Very well. I consider myself merciful, Madek. You won’t be tortured. In fact, we already know what happened. The Inquisition has performed a thorough search of the quarters of your Callidus, and we secured her records.”
Another long puff. “Perhaps you are upset she did not destroy those, as you had ordered?”
“Very well. I will allow the evidence to speak for itself. In light of it, I do not believe any of our- ah, my mistake –my fellow inquisitors shall find your subsequent purging wont for justification.”
The former inquisitor snapped. “Did you turn this trial into a public spectacle, you witch?”
“Such an accusation, Madek. I would never do that. This is, I assure you, only a formality. There are those within the Conclave who felt it would be best to broadcast your transgressions to your former associates - to ensure there were no ‘misunderstandings,’ as it were.”
“You actually convened a Conclave just for me?”
“Oh, yes,” her left hand toyed with her hair absentmindedly. “And I am afraid the trial was already held - in absentia. The Lord Inquisitor was not pleased. You were declared traitoris excommunicate. With the verdict rendered, many of the attendants understandably wanted to wash their hands of this matter. I volunteered to deliver your sentence, and ensure there could remain no presumption of your innocence.” As the lights began to dim and the servo skull prepared its projector, the smoke poured from her mouth as she spoke. Madek swore she was wearing a twisted and predatory smile. “And really: witch? Please Madek, watch your language.”
Mission [MMCMII] in the service of [Inquisitor Madek].
“Terra,” said Madek, sitting comfortably in his throne, staring at some artifact in his hand. “The location of a traitor fortress has been identified. You are to eliminate every last occupant. A vindicare will be offering you fire support.”
“That encompasses the second half of the operation. The details will be provided to your shortly. I must understand if you are up to the task for the first. You are familiar with the Handler’s of the Vindicare Temple?”
“Yes, sir.” The camera bobbed down and up once.
“One is operating in the area. I ordered that his vindicare provide fire support for you, and provided the data. He was less… interested, in the elimination of traitorous heretics. They are all of the same mind, the vindicare temple. They look for ‘tactical significance,’ or assess ‘reasonable risk.’ Both are subservient to the spiritual significance of the action. It is our mandate that this heresy be stamped out wherever and whenever it is found. For that reason, I am ordering you to dispatch him for dereliction of duty, and replace him as necessary. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir.” The camera bobbed down and up once.
Inquisitor Silvalha’s face, like the rest of her frame, was masked in shadow. Yet there was a soft glow in the corner of her mouth. Was it the pipe? Or was she sneering at Madek, writhing in his seat?
Truth be told, an Inquisitor was fully within his or her rights to execute anyone at any time. But the Officio Assassinorum did not take kindly to the frivolous execution of its agents. And their opinion was given some weight. The galaxy is a big place, after all. An Inquisitor might go a lifetime without seeing another of their kind. Unfortunate accidents or tactical oversights regularly befell those who wasted the lives of the Imperium’s most valuable tools. And many an Inquisitor who encountered such might be willing to turn a blind eye. The waste of valuable resources for unjust causes is a sin of its own, after all.
The video continued.
No time was spared. Just the important details. The feed cut to a door being opened.
A bedroom. Generic. Probably a room at an inn. Occupied. A man got up from the desk by his bed. “Who-?” Cut.
The man gasped as he asphyxiated, desperately trying to wrench the hands from his neck. The freakish sound of polymorphine sliding within flesh was audible. Cut.
She checked her appearance against his in the mirror. Perfect mimicry should be almost instinctual upon graduating from the Callidus temple, but it was still good form to check. Cut.
“Vindicare L-I-I-V-I.” A hand held the microphone partially out of frame, attached to a suitcase radio open on the desk, tall antenna practically touching the ceiling. “Report to to the south eastern corner of sector 7. An operative will meet you with details. They will carry the badge of the Inquisition.” Cut.
The sun was soon to set. A vindicare emerged from the brush, rifle at the ready. The camera, leaning against something, stood up straight. A feminine shadow separated from the tree’s. A right hand was raised to eye level, the edges of an Inquisitorial badge visible between the fingers and beneath the palm. “You are to provide overwatch while I infiltrate the chaos base over this hill. No survivors.” She tossed him a Long Las. He snatched it out of the air by the grip. “Whisper Bolt-Discharger. Windows and thin walls only. Don’t start fires. If things go loud or you see daemons, use your Exitus. Understood?” The vindicare nodded. Cut.
A neural shredder was pointed a shaking cultist. Boiling brain matter oozed out of his ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. A sentry turned the corner, into the view of a window. Just as his mouth opened to raise the alarm, his eyes glazed over and his skull split with a mild pop, thoroughly cooked. His fall forward was cheered by the tinking sound of glass expanding and contracting from heat. Cut.
“Thermals indicate they are gathering in the courtyard.” Vindicare’s voice.
“Roger.” The camera swerved towards a door in the middle of the hallway. Cut.
“The bodies are falling flat. May be going prone.” The camera turned a corner and sidled against a wall. There was a window nearby. A hand holding a small mirror came into frame. Moving closer to the window, it was raised slightly, reflection clearly visible. All lay dead or dying, save one, looking up at the mirror with a maddened sneer. He slit his own throat and fell to the ground, quivering. Silence. “I think we’re done h-.” The air around the bodies began to arc and crackle as the channels cut into the ground, filled with blood, started to glow. The camera shook violently as it took off, running. “Unknown ritual! Fall back!” A glance over a shoulder. Glowing warp energy raced down the hallway, walls proving no obstacle to the immaterium. There could be no escape. It was upon the camera in the span of a second. Static. The feed flickered before it returned, slowly standing up from the carpeted ground.
“Overwatch, do y-.” Her shadow shuddered as her voice died. Whatever the source of her discomfort, it took a handful of seconds to regain her composure. “Do you copy?”
“Affirmative. Tripped, sustained head injury. Escaped blast radius. You?”
“We’ll find out. Let’s report for inspection.” Cut.
Medicae paperwork flickered across the screen. Bolded portions were accompanied the voice of some woman reading them.
“Callidus.” “Examined at 1900.” “Signs of chaos taint - negative.” “Injuries sustained - none.” “Highly recommend staying out of the field, watching for symptoms.” “Highly recommend Inquisitor Madek acquire an Almoness Advance from the Order Hospitaller for second opinion and further examination.”
“Vindicare.” “Examined at 1900.” “Signs of chaos taint - negative.” “Mild concussion from fall during escape.” “Recommended three days of rest...” “...satellite imagery confirms vindicare to be outside of blast radius.” Cut.
The image went black. The sound of a button being pressed and a mild static typical of cheap, disposable recording instruments could be heard. “Entry 01” appeared at the bottom of the screen.
“I have begun keeping this journal, because I am afraid.”
The voice of the Callidus. Of Terra.
“They told me that I was free of chaos taint. They were wrong. I knew it.” The sound of swallowing.
“After that blast, I was shocked to be alive, unhurt. I thought it was a miracle. But that shocked elation was quickly crushed when I heard the voice. A whisper in my mind.” Her voice dropped to a low hiss. ‘I can give you whatever you want.’
The ensuing silence was punctuated sniffles and irregular breathing. “I should seek the Emperor’s benediction. I know I should. But I fear it. I fear what the voice says it will do to me if I flee it. I fear I am forever tainted. I fear He will reject me. I do not want my soul to fall into the waiting arms of chaos.
I wish somebody could save me. If nobody can, then may this journal document why I became what I did.” Her hushed voice was choked with tears. ”Forgive me.” Cut.
“Entry 09” appeared at the bottom of the screen.
“I have begun dining with the Null. Increto. We must eat together from across the room, but it is still enough. My blood runs cold, and I almost feel ill. But it is the only time when the voice leaves. When I am not compelled to say things I shouldn’t. When I am near her.
She has begun insisting that I call her ‘Sascha.’ Her birth name. How has she clung to it? I do not know. The girl takes me for a friend, it seems. Her attempts at conversation are pathetic, but persistent and genuine. I play along. She is oblivious to my nervous habits.
I feel even more guilty for using her. She’s no assassin. Too well adjusted to be from a death cult. She doesn’t belong here.
But I can’t report this.
Then I couldn’t use her.”
Grainy footage fizzled onto the screen. It was Madek, talking to his callidus. “Felix” must have been wearing a wire.
“It’s been three entire weeks, Terra. Are you well enough for a mission?”
“What is the mission, sir.”
“Non-optional. I need you to impersonate the handler again. Lukas Alexander wants him.”
Footage from some nondescript room.
"Specific ranks, alas, I can not divulge, even within these sound proofed walls, and before you say commander, the Inquisition had the walls soundproofed, just in case of a situation like this. Helps to assure no unfortunate leaks of confidential information. Would like to lock me up in the stocks? They have some stocks on the ship."
"It's a good thing your officer is unarmed," said the man turning on his heel, placing a too clean and soft hand on the Governor's table, "He seems the type to resist, fortunately my two comrades are just the type to take him in with a minimum of fuss, hmm, assaulting a fellow officer, my my, what a time at the whipping post for me!" The man turned, a smile on his face.
Footage from a Valkyrie.
“Hey. In-... Sascha.” Terra stared at the floor of the craft with a blank expression on her face. Her right eye twitching occasionally.
“Hm?” The false culexus looked over at the Callidus.
“Could you take off that helmet?”
“...Are you okay, Terra?”
“I’m fine. I just like you with your helmet off.”
“But the pilot, and your men-”
“They’ll be fine. Just a few seconds. Please?”
“...Okay.” She thumbed some buttons, released some clasps, and slowly raised the helmet from her head. The men recoiled. The Valkyrie lurched. But beyond the cessation of her tic, Terra had no reaction. She stared into Sascha’s eyes, elbows resting on her knees, chin resting on her clasped hands.
“If I do anything strange,” the assassin said, “please. Don’t hesitate to do what you need to. Okay?” Sascha glanced out the window for a moment, wearing a sombre expression of reflection. She pulled her eyes from the treetops and slowly put her helmet back on. The flight became smoother. The men to the sides of Terra relaxed.
“Is something the matter, Terra?”
“Nothing at all.”
The camera looked to the hilltop. A shadow stood behind a tree. The shadow froze, and immediately turned around and began running away. Muffled growls and gnashing were audible. After violently shaking itself from side to side, the camera saw a fist toss a melta charge towards the snow bunker. It retreated behind a tree. When the thunderous sound had passed and the white flash had vanished, it bolted towards the crater and leapt into the steam. What transpired was hardly visible, but one thing was clear - it was flung out, seconds later, landing in the snow, staring at the sky.
The camera leapt from this position and latched onto a tree using clawed hands. They quickly scurried up it with a speed and strength beyond human. It looked earthwards. A form emerged from the steam. Almost human looking. Limbs, a bit too long, a bit too limber. Movement, a bit too graceful. No, this was no human. It was xenos. The Farseer. The target. Her armor and spear were evidence as much.
It leapt down at her. Bolt pistol emerged in frame. A second passed in freefall - lining up the shot. It began to fire. The farseer rolled as the rockets bounced harmlessly off her shield. Spearpoint was raised up. There could be no avoiding it mid air. The assassin landed right on it.
The camera turned to face the farseer, spear blade now covered in sizzling blood. An arm, separated from its body, was visible on the ground. It lashed at her with its remaining arm. She was responding before the movement had even begun. In scarcely the blink of an eye, the grasping hand met the butt of her spear and shoved it violently backwards. Just as the neuro gauntlet seemed prime to touch her pale skin or yank on her foolishly exposed raven hair, the hand began to recede. It fell away, and found itself staring up at the sky once more. The witch shouted something profane, and as it rushed to get up, some invisible force began tearing at its chest. The distinct crack and screech of eldar shuriken weaponry, shattering the sound barrier nearly a hundred times in a second with a constant stream of sharp crystalline projectiles, hinted at the culprit. The battle was decided.
It spasmed and struggled to look up from the ground. The shredded torso was disgusting to look at, the broken ribs and destroyed flesh oozing blood and other strange fluids endemic to the eversor’s system. It attempted to reach for a melta charge, but this was in vane. The farseer stood over it, and so focused was it on its task that it hardly spared her a glance. One burst to the head. The camera was knocked backwards and staring at the sky once more. Another burst. The lens cracked. A final burst. Nothing. The farseer stared down at it with a look of disgust and contempt on her face. It quickly turned to shock. Screaming something else in her profane tongue, she fled the scene. The camera jerked suddenly before the feed was cut.
The control room camera was grainy. But it showed what was necessary. The right eye of the Callidus was looking at the comms panel, while the other was focused on the guardsmen. Her right hand was entering an encryption key. The other was pulling the trigger of a las rifle, directed down the hallway.
There were mutations on her left side.
She tore the mic from its holder and pressed it close to her lips. She was screaming something into it, frantically trying to communicate as tears ran down her face. She stopped. Her left hand tossed away the las rifle and seized her neck. Asphyxiating, she stumbled backwards, right hand clawing at the disobedient arm, before falling over, head out of frame, and convulsing on the floor.
The lights grew brighter. Madek didn’t need to squint. His mechanical eyes adjusted perfectly well on their own. The first thing the saw was the dispassionate face of Inquisitor Silvalha.
“With justification provided for any naysayers, for the following reasons, we have determined to charge you traitoris excommunicate.
1. Poor maintenance of the Emperor's tools, which were under your care. One was killed fighting an opponent it was ill suited to attack. Another fell prey to chaos. And another defected to the enemy.
2. Reckless use of valuable resources. You utilized resources of the assassinorum in order to confirm all kills when conventional bombing would have been sufficient.
3. An inability to identify heresy in your own midst. For three weeks, your Callidus was turning, and you did not see it.
4. Withholding resources from the Emperor’s finest. Not only did you neglect to provide your null to the Culexus Temple, you failed to train her to parity. What should have been an easy mission became her last, and she failed to fully utilize her abilities. Not even basic skills taught by the Culexus Temple were utilized.
5. Misdeeds against your fellow Inquisitors. Not only myself, but others, who are much less forgiving than I.
6. You have achieved no victories to justify these costs. You have proven yourself to be a net loss. Delusional. Dangerous. And above all: negligent.
Your execution will be held shortly. Please do not embarrass your office further by attempting to escape.”
Over the course of the afternoon that the representative had spent with Inquisitor Silvahla, he had found her to be a rather affable character with a dry sense of humor. She was not nearly as haughty as other inquisitors he had dealt with; in fact, she actually demonstrated human empathy, a first by his account. Not only had the woman provided alms to the needy, she even deigned to play a street game with some urchins - offhandedly mentioning that there was a time that she had once numbered among their ranks. It seemed as though, perhaps, she was the sole normal member of the Inquisition.
However, he was beginning to reevaluate that judgement.
There was no doubt in the representative’s mind that Madek was a despicable, contemptible person – and worse yet, a heretic – who perhaps even deserved a grimmer sentence than death; though his death was certainly something to celebrate. Yet even so. Perhaps she was enjoying this too much. Or maybe in the wrong way. For there was something about Silvahla’s chuckle which sent shivers down his spine. It was like the hiss of some pneumatic machinery; cold, airy, and mechanical. The growing amount of smoke that flowed from her lungs only served to amplify this effect. There she sat, watching the back of a defeated man, head hung low, walk out her door, still coming to terms with his impending execution. And her face was adorned with the most joyed expression she had ever worn in his presence.
“Emperor preserve me.”
Epilogue, Part Two
“The deepest love is the child of compassion and forgiveness.”
- Eldar proverb
Taldeer rushed to find something to wear. “Too formal. Too colorful. Too casual… Perfect.” She slipped on the cream colored dress, loose turtleneck gripping her head and settling snuggly around her neck. After running her arms through the long and baggy sleeves, she pulled her hair out of the neck and pushed the dress down to her knees. It was tailored to her, but it wasn’t exactly clinging to her body, either. It fit just right. Casual, civilian clothing.
She put on her shoes, pocketed her ID, and made it out the door. The vactrain would be at the station soon. There was no time to waste.
Being put on leave had its perks. On one hand, she was free to wear what she wanted. She had free time. She still lent her seer powers to the council, but now it was by request: and requests did not come often. On the other hand: there was the reason she was put on leave. A very regrettable one. A sensation she could feel in the stares of those who recognized her - and there were many. Farseer Taldeer Ulthran. Once known in military and seer circles for demonstrating remarkable competence given her level of experience, now a household name for all the wrong reasons. Feeling the weight of their gaze, she retreated into her memories, thinking back to a conversation she had with her father in his garden, not more than a week after her return.
“At first I welcomed leave,” she said, surveying his garden from the small terrace, “but this ‘respite’ is nothing of the sort. I can only think of what I’ve done and how to right it.” The volume of greenery wasn’t large, but it was beautiful, and immaculately cared for.
“And what would you prefer, my dear?” He was on his knees nearby, pruning a flowering shrub.
She paced nervously back and forth across the wooden deck. “To take action! To make sure the sacrifice of my kin wasn’t for naught!”
“What action could accomplish that goal?” After careful consideration, a flower bearing branch fell to the ground with a deft snip.
Her pacing ceased. “I don’t know, but maybe I could find out.”
The man’s eyes didn’t leave his work, but his focus remained wholly on her. “The reality is that the council has only voted to take away a few of your privileges. There remains plenty you can do. Consider helping the people around you. For every moment you spend brooding or scheming in search of redemption, a moment passes where you could have done something for someone else. Even the smallest good act can be put toward the debt you owe your comrades. But no amount of thought can help.”
Her wistful gaze was tempered with a fierce annoyance. “Do you really believe that? That there’s plenty I can do right now? How can I even start to rectify my errors?”
He was the picture of serenity. “Firstly, I don’t just believe it, dear, I know it for a fact. And secondly, the fact is, the most important part of you has made it through all this: your will. I suspect that your mon-keigh friend had a hand in that. Treat him well, for he’s done you a great service.”
Fingers drummed on elbows as she guarded herself. “I know that I owe him a great debt, and it will not be repaid for a long time. But “will?” I can think of many things more important than “will.” Ability, for one.”
“Nonsense.” He actually shook his head. “Will is the most important quality a person can possess. I’ve watched plenty of talented seers waste away for lack of motivation, while their less talented but more willing peers superseded them. When the going got tough and they started doing poorly, they lost interest. They wanted to be the best, but weren’t willing to work for it. You don’t have that problem.”
Her arms parted, exasperated, she implored him. “But dad, how does that help me fix the problem in front of me?”
“It doesn’t.” There was a newfound firmness in his voice. Sincere, comforting, well intentioned, but certainly forceful. “You can’t see the problem in front of you. The problem is that you have your head in the clouds. You need to stop dreaming of what you could do. Focus on what you can do. So that you can discern what you should do, and so others will see you can do it.”
“You are not the bleak portrait of somebody broken by failure, resigned to a lifetime in some harmless career where you can’t hurt, or particularly help, anyone. You want to make things right. That’s a wonderful thing. But you don’t know how yet. You’re still learning to discern what is right. And that’s okay. The only way to improve is with practice. So practice doing what is right, no matter how small. I’m sure what you need to do will come to you: you’ll know it. How about it?”
“Well… where should I start?”
“There’s an old man nearby who could use some help with his garden, if you’d oblige him.” He smiled.
Taldeer smiled to herself. Without even realizing it, she had arrived at the station. She flashed her ID to the guard and was admitted to the administrative levels. Administrative vactrains were for military, government, and medical personnel, so it could be argued she was abusing the system. But nobody was arguing that yet. Less crowded and with fewer stops, she’d soon be near Ulthwe’s aft.
There, she could meet with one of the few people left on this craftworld that still voiced faith in her.
Liivi sat comfortably on the soft, luxurious couch. As his feet rested on the large coffee table, the Cygnus arm of the milky way spread out before him. Truly, it was an enormous window, with a breathtaking view. The whole sight made the lovingly furnished room, with its comfortable rug, couch, and armchairs, seem so small by comparison. Despite this smallness, it didn’t feel enclosed. It felt like laying in an open field, held in the embrace of warm blanket, cushioned by soft grass. Yet this deceptive peace was belied by a subtle reminder of where he truly lay.
A blast door, its outline barely visible in the portal of the window, was to provide additional protection in the event of attack. It had been used once in the three weeks since they had arrived. To defend against the forces which erupted from that damnable place, on the other side of Ulthwe. Out of sight, thankfully, yet forever trapped in its orbit. The Eye of Terror.
This room was for meetings between trusted prisoners and their Eldar contacts, to provide some level of comfort and safety for them both. Yet it was no secret that true safety lay only in the interior of Ulthwe. Though it was a legitimately relaxing when not under attack, to say there were no additional motives for selecting a location so near the exterior would be naive at best. Liivi did not dwell on these thoughts. He had learned to wait. It was all part of the routine. He had emerged from the door to the left. She would soon emerge from the door on the right. They would have their time to talk. To pass the time, he reflected on a conversation that took place earlier today, in this very same room.
“Have you grown restless, couped up in here yet?” Taesan, arms resting over the back of the couch and foot resting on his knee, almost took up half the couch.
“Not particularly.” Liivi sat on the far end, resting on the arm, arms folded as he stared out into space. “I am reminded of long periods I spent, traveling in ships. Sometimes they would put me in cryosleep, but not always.”
“Well, lucky you, I’m pretty sick of it already. It’s too cramped.” He shook his head.
Liivi looked over at the ranger. “What is it that makes it intolerable for you?”
Taesan rocked his head from side to side as he mulled over the question. “It isn’t that it’s intolerable. It’s just… really tedious. And to be completely honest,” he sighed, in thoughtful reflection, “I don’t know why I struggle with it. It’s like I said before. Maybe I could have stayed here. But some rebellious, immature part of me won the rest of me over.”
Eyebrows raised. “You have competing motivations?”
The ranger looked at the vindicare with a hint of incredulity, but swiftly remembered who he was talking to. “Of course I do. You do to.”
Liivi thought on this in silence.
“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that they released me after today’s interview. Not entirely, but mostly. I’m ordered to stay nearby, easily reachable through the webway. I’ll venture out now and then, but I’m planning on serving as a character witness for you: my trips won’t be long. Hopefully you’ll get range privileges soon - it’s a good way to kill the time.”
He nodded. “Ysukin and my other counselor said they would try to arrange that for me as soon as possible. So, maybe soon.”
“That’s good. I hope your meeting hours get extended too. You and Taldeer should spend more time together. You have something special.” Taesan was smiling.
“Something special?” He turned his attention to Taesan. It wasn’t a dumb expression, but he obviously didn’t get it.
“Eh, you’ll figure it out. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put into words, you know?”
“Like what we were talking about earlier?”
“Exactly,” he nodded. “But nicer. Unusual on a craftworld, maybe. But I’ve seen it on some cohabited planets before. Most people here would frown on it, but I’d be a hypocrite to criticize anybody for following their heart.”
“Can you be more specific? What exactly are we talking about?”
“Love… How do you describe love?”
“You’re asking the wrong guy. I’m a big sap. I’d say that you don’t. But, since you’re asking me: it’s just a cheap overused term, created as a substitute for something that can’t really be put into words. It’s a feeling that’s frightening at first, but exciting. And once you fall into the rhythm of it, no deeper satisfaction exists. I’d recommend it, personally.”
The door opened smoothly, and through it she stepped. The two locked eyes. It had been three weeks now, and even though he had grown used to seeing her outside of her armor, it was sill strange to see her wearing different clothing at every meeting. In every arrangement, she still managed to look hypnotizing. He only had variations of the a single outfit - the clothes they made for their human prisoners - a long sleeved shirt that hugged his body, and loose trousers. But as much as he felt uncomfortable without his suit, she didn’t seem to mind. She always smiled when she saw him.
He nodded. “Hello, Taldeer.”
The Farseer strolled over to the couch and took a seat next to him. Close to him, in fact. Resting the side of her lithe frame against his, and laying her head against his firm shoulder, the two of them stared out at the stars. Certain individuals might have found such physical interaction to be scandalous or indecent - but they were not here to observe. She allowed herself to savor the moment, before at last letting out a satisfied sigh tinged with melancholy.
“The investigatory commission was rough today,” she said. “Every day, I’m grateful that they decided not to do a public investigation.”
Liivi’s tone warmed to her. Comforting. “You give their opinion of you much weight. Do you think it shameful to be saved by a human?”
“It’s humiliating.” She drew her arms inward and looked at the floor. “I left that planet only by the fortune of encountering you. My pride as a warrior and a Farseer are both very bruised.” She paused. “But…” her posture relaxed again. “If I had to choose between this humiliation, or never encountering you at all…” She rested her arm against his once more. “I’d much rather have found you than not.”
This made Liivi nervous. But he reciprocated as he spoke. “I struggle to relate, concerning that deference. But I am glad to hear this. I was trained not to respect their orders or opinions, but to follow them. In most cases, I was told, their advice would be terrible.”
“It makes sense though,” she mused, “given the nature of the Imperium. In your craft, you are among the best of the best. Everyone else is less equipped than you. I, on the other hand… I have quite a ways to go.”
“I can shoot well. But,” he stared thoughtfully into space, before turning his gaze to her. “I am beginning to realize that there is more I would like to be proficient at.”
A soft smile greeted his words. But it was the subtle twinkle that her eyes took on that stunned Liivi. “The therapy and counseling are already yielding results, I see.”
He had to look away for some reason. Something compelled him. It was uncomfortable. But not… bad. “Partly,” he replied. “The data from the brain scan was finally interpreted. It seems like the concussion I received helped jumpstart this process. And some lingering questions from a mission shortly after may have led to me sparing you.”
There was a shift in her demeanor, scarcely perceptible even to Liivi’s keen eye. “Lingering questions?” She didn’t need to ask. She could imagine the sort of things he had been through. But she was curious, even if she knew not to press it further than that.
Introspection. He looked inward, away from the world. “Not on a level I understood. I had been questioning what was right without putting words to it. Have you ever done something and only felt revulsion with your actions afterwards?”
“Of course.” “All too well.”
“I did that,” he shook his head and closed his eyes, “and I couldn’t do it again.” He sighed through his nose. It was heavy.
“Well,” she wrapped her arm around his bicep, “I’m glad you didn’t.” Silence. “You can tell me about it, if you would like.”
“I would rather not... It is hard for me to convey and... I do not want you to think what you would.”
“It’s okay. I understand.” She placed her hand on top of his and squeezed it, just a little. “I can only imagine what you have been ordered to do. Or have done. Just know that I won’t fault you, alright? You were brainwashed. Much of you still is.”
“Does that alleviate responsibility?” His eyes opened. He stared into hers.
“Some of it, yes,” she nodded. “Enough for me to forgive you much more easily. So don’t worry about me judging you. I won’t. Worry about how you’ll overcome. You can tell me when you’re ready.”
“Thank you.” He looked back out into space.
“Of course.” Her gaze joined his, both examining the star studded void.
He shifted in his seat. “I saw Taesan, earlier today.”
She was quick to respond. “I heard he got released. Did he say goodbye?”
“No, he intends to stay for awhile longer, though he will make short trips now and then.” His expression had softened back to something blank, though it still carried the image of vague reminiscence.
“That’s kind of him.” Those weren’t just words. Her face read as genuinely happy. “Staying here, I mean. He’s probably quite lonely on this place, even if it is his home. Those on the Path of the Outcast are not exactly trusted. Especially career outcasts, like himself.”
“That was one of the first items I asked him about. How he was doing. He said that the isolation was not bother him much. Even if the average person was willing to talk to him, he finds it hard to relate to them now. They’ve not seen what he has, or been where he has been. Their world is Ulthwe, and it’s much smaller than his. I do not quite understand it, but he said it was difficult to put into words.”
It didn’t take long for her to mull it over. “I think I understand what he means, and I suppose that’s true. Most civilians go through many of your lifetimes without stepping off of this ship. In your short life, you’ve seen things that they, even with all their time, can hardly imagine.”
“Indeed. He did not seem depressed or upset. He seemed quite content, even if he would prefer to be elsewhere. He wanted to visit the range with me, but that does not seem possible given the current situation. It may be in the future. But not now.”
“That’s good. I think you may have found a friend in him, Liivi.”
“Perhaps… You haven’t mentioned Mellorena in awhile, despite your earlier concern. I hope she is well. Or better, at least.”
“Well…” Taldeer leaned back, and crossed her hands as she stared at the ceiling. “She’s still missing her legs. But the other injuries have been seen to. Growing a new limbs takes time, and even though our surgeons have nerve attachment down to a fine art, it goes without saying she’ll need physical therapy. But…” Taldeer frowned and sighed. There was a glint of sadness in her eyes. “There are other, more difficult wounds that need tending. A routine psychological examination confirmed some of my worst fears. She has been treading in very dangerous territory. Routinely exposing herself to that sort of blood and suffering without a war mask… having actively sought to become lost on her path… those are concerning behaviors in somebody so young, especially the latter. For many her age, those are the first steps towards the path of our Great Enemy. She’s coped remarkably well with it thus far, but they’re still worried. They want her for regular examinations. Should she start to show more concerning behaviour, they would bar her from the ER or combat duties. She’d hate that. She’s wanted to be the first to help people ever since she was little.”
“Is that so?”
“Did I tell you?” She looked over at him. “I guess not. She tells the story better, but… when she was still a child, she was caught in an attack on Ulthwe. Her shelter collapsed, and she was trapped under some rubble, critically wounded. A man risked his life, braving gunfire, to dig her and others out. The doctor who treated her, even though he was exhausted, never hesitated to smile when she needed it. That’s when she decided on her path.”
“I wonder what it’s like, having that sort of passion.” He looked wistfully at his hands, then out to the stars. “I was trained to take orders. To execute tasks with dedication. Sometimes I enjoyed it. But passion… well, it still seems hard for me to understand. How do I grasp it? What is it like?”
“Well, in her case, it makes her an idiot. She’s lucky her path allows her to preserve so much of herself. Were she a soldier, there would be nothing left but a war mask. No emotions to speak of. And honestly, that would be tragic. Because we’d lose a lot of what makes her, her. And while her services have value, she herself has a lot of value in her own right.
I think you have value too, Liivi. A person’s value is determined by more than just their utility. It might take awhile for you to believe that, so please just try to trust me for the time being, and open up to those emotions when you’re ready. There’s a lot for you to gain. They enhance your life, and you as a person.”
“Do you really think so? The deeper I go, the more painful it seems. Every day, I feel a little more disgusted with what I did.”
“I do think so. And…” she sighed. “I can’t say anything which will make that easier. But I can promise you that I’ll always be here to help tend that pain. And that braving that pain is worth it. I know what that disgust is like, but…” her open mouth gave way to a sad frown as she looked away, searching for words in the corner of the room. Her eyes returned to him. “It must be harder for you.”
“What makes you so sure?” Liivi tried to be comforting. He could read the signals.
“I can sense that some of your best features are locked in you, closely guarded. And that must make it harder. But they’re breaking out, bit by bit. Your heart, for one. A sense of compassion so strong it broke a lifetime of indoctrination. Remember that, especially when you compare yourself to others who wear their compassion more openly. You had to fight to free yours.”
“I suppose so.” He thought on it for a moment. “I promise I’ll keep trying. Your support, and the support of the others, definitely makes it… easier. But I do not think it will ever be easy. Thank you. I’ll be sure to thank the others. Ysukin especially. He was very helpful today. To both of us.”
“Yes.” She closed her eyes and allowed herself to fall back into the couch, whole body going slack as she thought of the stressful day. “His defense of my character was more spirited than I expected. He puts on a fine professional air, but I suppose he does feel something beneath it all. It’s nice. I can see why he is so interested in working with you. He’s attached.”
Liivi didn’t budge much. Just another day at the office. “His long term request was approved today, today, actually. He’ll be my counselor for the foreseeable future. The committee found his credentials acceptable. But… he did confess that he was not interested in me, initially.”
“Oh?” Her eyes opened and she looked over.
“He was only interested in the data I held. However, after repeated interviews, he has said that he would rather see me aboard than not.”
Liivi may have been nonchalant, but maybe that’s because he didn’t realize it. The news woke Taldeer up a bit. “That sounds like a fantastic endorsement, coming from him. Would you call him a friend?”
“A strong word. I think he likes me more than he doesn’t. I don’t know if we’ll be ‘friends.’ Maybe one day.”
“We can hope.”
“Would you say that you are friends with Tanlon?”
“We have…” she played with her hair as she thought on it, “a professional respect. And I suspect that he has some sympathy for me. Fate is not always kind to seers. Sometimes, we get trapped in things bigger than we can grasp. His testimony was kinder than I expected. Or felt I deserved.”
“Maybe that’s what happened to you. Maybe you deserve better than you think.”
A sigh escaped her chest. But it wasn’t one of sadness. “Maybe.”
“What about the Scorpions? I couldn’t understand any of what they said.”
“Their statements were short and terse. Not really favorable. But hardly positive, either. Nothing more than observations. I get the sense that testifying made them nervous.”
“And what of that guardian? I haven’t seen him yet.”
“I think I know who you mean. Maubryn. His account of events was recorded, but he was deemed unfit to serve as a character witness. He was also placed in the brig for a short while. Only a week or so.”
“For your disagreement?”
“Something like that. His... outburst, didn’t escape the notice of Tanlon, Barroth, Elnys, and especially not Ysukin. They reported it. He was given a week in the brig. Treating superior officers as such is frowned upon.”
“That is all? I would have expected much harsher discipline.”
“Your sense of proportion for disciplinary action is still skewed. But you are correct, it was rather light. I don’t fault them. Nor do I fault him, to be honest. Mellorena meant a lot to him. She was his medic. I looked like a villain, leaving guardians like him to die while I fled, bringing you along…”
“But his perception of you is skewed.”
“Biased, maybe. But I still can’t resent him for believing it. He’s more fragile than you or I.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, everyone can become accustomed to violence, you know? Because there was a time when it was once necessary to live. But if you grow up without it, getting used to it becomes harder. And much, much more traumatizing.” She shook her head, eyes gazing somewhere into the past.
“He didn’t want to be there. He knew he wasn’t fit to be there. But he still went there, because he had no choice. Somebody had to go. On Ulthwe, between chaos attacks, aid to other craftworlds and maiden worlds and other planetary populations, all the interventions in matters deemed necessary by the seer council, and entire campaigns launched by the seer council - we cannot always rely on volunteers. That’s the sad reality of our situation.
If he were altruistic, he would want to serve. But that’s not how most people work. They’re selfish. It’s possible to grow up in Ulthwe’s interior without ever seeing a chaos attack. I can understand why going from that, to a battlefield, would be hard on anyone.”
“Your compassion is stronger than you let on.”
She chuckled. “Do you forget that I’m a leader, Liivi? I need to understand why the people I lead make the choices they do, or what they want. Well, perhaps need is a strong word. When you do, it’s easier to make the right calls for them. I’m supposed to keep them safe, but more than that, I’d like to help them lead happy, productive lives. Understanding them helps. And just knowing you care can get them to like you.”
“I like you. Perhaps because, at times, you seem to understand me better than I understand myself.”
“I like you too, Liivi. If you’re ever questioning something I’m doing or saying, try to remember that. It may not always explain or justify it. But I’m looking out for you. Because I like you.”
“I am grateful, for your concern, Taldeer... I like it... But I still question whether I deserve it. There are many actions I ‘regret.’ Many people I killed. Many of your people.”
“Well,” the farseer stared at the ceiling, “I can say likewise.” She sighed, eyes staring somewhere far beyond the ceiling. Perhaps towards her old army.
“They make it hard to sleep," she paused, thinking on her words. "But while our regrets might mould us, they don’t have to decide our future. We can try again, you and I.”
“Will it make a difference?”
Taldeer looked over at the vindicare, gazing back at her with earnest concern in his eyes. “It will make more of a difference than if we did nothing,” she said. “And when you and I go to rest, that has to be enough. Because it’s all we can do, Liivi.”
“I suppose so.”
“You don’t sound very convinced.”
“It’s a lot to take in at once.”
“I suppose it is.”
The two sat in silence for a time.
“Well Liivi, if nothing else, consider this.” She began resting herself against him. “Suppose they decided to execute you, or perhaps you took your own life. I considered it. I’m sure you have. But think. What will we have been, then? Somebody who got a lot of people killed, then died.”
“To protect more.”
“That’s the motivation. But we don’t know that you would kill more. Suppose you became a gardener instead. Would you manage to kill a lot of innocent people? Probably not… we’ve both brought our fair share of darkness into this world. But that’s helped teach us the value of that light. What little we can add still has value. There plenty of professions which can do that. But in a grave? You can only be fertilizer. Liivi, let’s fix all this. Together. Try again.”
There was a bit of hesitation at first. But slowly, tentatively, his hand grasped hers.
About the EndingEdit
This is just one oldfag's recollection, but I figure it's better than nothing.
The ending exists- or it did for about half a day. It was posted in an obscure way, I want to say a troll-ridden LCB discussion thread that was nearing autosage. No one saved it, apparently.
This is all secondhand, mind you. But it fits my impression of Bloom Writer- he'd always struck me as very shy and self-effacing, possibly to the point of having genuine self-esteem issues. I also recall that he was struggling to keep going; the "final chapter" may not have been very good or actually reached the end. (Or maybe the dude just had a shitty net connection, it's way too easy to read into these things.)
Either way, the anon who did see it gave us the gist of it a day later, and the plot points he passed on are worth sharing.
-The inquisitor was heretical and had been making knockoff assassins, including LIIVI (whose defects were limited to things like love blooming- he could snipe as well as the genuine article).
-LIIVI managed to cover Taldeer's escape but was captured as a consequence.
-Taldeer makes it back to her ship but winds up joining some rogue traders rather than returning to the craftworld. The implication is that she intends to find and rescue LIIVI.
So if you ever hear people talk about Space Pirate Taldeer, just remember: it's totally canon.
(That being said, there is no way to prove that any of the above is true. In the absence of any undeniable evidence to the contrary, the vast majority of /tg/ acts on the assumption that Taldeer and LIVII escaped back to Ulthwé, where they eventually have a daughter.) ((FYI, the ending summary posted confirmed to be true by Bloomwriter. The oldfag's recollection is correct.))
- Love Can Bloom Epub Edition (Chapter 1-10): https://www.dropbox.com/s/gnf2kgvlr8n3e4c/Love%20can%20Bloom%20-%20_tg.epub
Compilation of above writefaggotry
- Love Bloomed In Her Mouth
- Bedroom Infiltration
- A Tender Moment
- Meet the Ulthran, in which Eldrad Ulthran meets LIIVI and decides he approves.
- Sister Sinai, in which we see LIIVI in action before he meets Taldeer.
- Now also in video format https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkj8KmxYpkQ
- And for you Lazy Readers Audio format https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLN-_O6fVeUFTSawAw3UX2MqiHPzNQJpL0
|This article contains PROMOTIONS! Don't say we didn't warn you.|