Out, damn spot...
I am washing my hands as my Master’s voice interrupts me. “Acolyte Abelard, report to my office at once.” I acknowledge, dry my hands and go to him.
His office is dark and squalid as always, piled with trophies, ancient books, scrolls and the rests of meals. Sometimes I don’t know if a bone I carefully dislodge from the carpet is the remains of some fowl he ate or something foul he destroyed. He knows what everything is. He doesn’t tell me. He likes me unsettled as he squats behind his desk like a vulture, black cloak with high collar almost hiding his withered, pale face.
He is toying with something as I enter, and with a sinking feeling I recognise a black feather. Almost as long as my forearm, asymmetrical, it is a flight feather of some large bird. Or not a bird.
I bow before him. “Inquisitor.” No greeting, he merely gestures for me to sit in the deep armchair standing opposite of his desk.
The upholstery is faded and stuffy, smelling of mold and rancid blood. There are rumours about this chair. All different, all insisting on something lethal hidden in it. I wouldn’t know. So far, I always rose from it again, all my appendages intact.
Behind my Master a holoscreen blinks frantically, showing nonsensical characters scrolling upside down. It paints my face and hands green. It can’t erase the black stains on my fingers.
Blue eyes bore into my own. “What is treason, Acolyte?”
“To turn against the Imperium.”
The answer comes by rote, hammered into me during my training. My fingers - proof of my guilt - tremble.
“And what is Treachery?”
This one is harder. It isn’t a crime in the catalogue I learned. It is much more personal. “To turn against someone to whom you owe loyalty”, I try.
My Master nods. He dips the black feather into a pot of ink and begins to write. My fingers start to itch.
“Do you owe me your loyalty, Acolyte?”
His tone is smooth, purring, idle. His eyes are anything but. They are searchlights, boring into my soul.
“Yes, my Lord. I do.”
He nods and continues to write. His desk is so cluttered I cannot see what he is writing. My mind sees my death certificate, written out in the inklike blood of the creature I killed. The creature at the root of my treachery. The creature whose tears still stain my hands.
“You are washing your hands a lot.” A casual observation.
“Yes, my Lord.” Another twine for the noose to string me up.
“It has been said that this is a symptom of internalised guilt. Are you feeling guilty?”
What would I give now for a poker face. For the ability to tell a blandfaced lie. To smile and answer ‘What would I have to feel guilty for?’ I can’t do that. He would see right through me. Even if he doesn’t know of my foolishness yet, he would know then.
“I am not sure, my Lord.”
Am I feeling guilty? My hands are stained since I touched the tears of that mutated beast I caught and killed on my Master’s orders. I shouldn’t have done that. I should know better than to touch something tainted. It was stupid but it was not treachery. I betrayed nothing. And yet, there is this pervasive feeling of ... something. Of having sinned.
“Explain.” He has stopped writing and turns the quill, so perfect, so dark, in his fingers.
I raise my hands. I know better than to hide them. “I am washing them because they are dirty.”
“Those look like ink smudges to me.” Why is he offering me excuses? I know better than that. I know lying, even lying by omission, will damn me in his eyes. “Ask the scribes for a better soap.”
I close my eyes. I see my life flashing before my eyes. Once again, I see the moment of my fall. Of my betrayal. I stand over the mutilated body of the chaos thing, this unholy mixture of bird and man, armoured in plates of ceramite. I trapped it and now I kill it, firing sanctified bolts into its chest, turning its innards to mulch. I feel again the compulsion to look into the dead things eyes, black-in-black eyes, so old, so empty, so sad. I see the trails its black tears have painted on its face. Tears of sorrow, shed while it was living still. And I close its eyes. Stain my fingers, stain my soul. To this day I don’t know why I did this. How I could feel pity and respect for something damned.
“It is not ink, Master.” I drop from the chair to my knees. A little furry thing disappears under my Master’s desk. I see the litter of centuries on the ground, and bury my hands in dead things.
“Get up.” The disinterest is gone from his voice. Now it is sharp like a whip. My body obeys before my mind even registers his order.
“I ask again: are you feeling guilty?”
My voice is a broken whisper as I admit my failing, finally purge it from my soul. The consequences will come later, the punishment. Now, I confess.
“Why?” He uses the tone he reserves for the heretics, for those who turned from the Emperor’s light. Sharp, unforgiving, cold. Although everyone who abandons the Imperium is a serious blow to him, they would never hear it in his voice. Or see it in his face. Neither do I as I cannot look at him anymore and watch my feet and the worms crawling over them.
“Because I showed pity to the enemy. Because I felt curiosity and sadness and fascination instead of hatred and revulsion.”
He is silent and in the silence I hear his soft breath. And feel my own tears, painting trails on my face.
“Ah, Abelard... So young. So romantic.” Now he sounds wistful, even sympathetic. “Of all my Acolytes I knew it would be you to betray me like this. Not with your actions but with your heart. A heart... The most dangerous liability for all of us...”
I hear the sound of a bolt pistol being cocked. I know it well; it is my own. The first shot tears through my chest. I don’t feel the second shot as I collapse among the dead. I cannot breathe. My vision, my hearing fade as do my thoughts.
A hand, spotted with age and clawed with arthritis, wipes away my tears.
Last edited by Liliedhe; 05-26-13 at 05:14 PM.