Squad Kon’tu arrayed itself before me in good time at the rest of their brothers made ready their preparations to depart on their next campaign. The stench of corruption hung around them like a noxious gas. I was surprised even the Gorgon’s ailed mind had failed to spot it. Abruptly my vox chimed. Iapetus was wondering where I was. Obviously his ‘discussion’ with Lugerev and the Lion had terminated quicker than I expected. Fine, this could wait. “I want these men stripped of their armour and weapons, bound and sent to the Ferra Perpetua. I will resume this there.” With that I left. I could antagonise the half-breed more later, and he would obey my orders, or he would feel the consequences.
I made my way quickly back to my quarters. The librarium was quiet now, all of its charges gone to various companies to investigate them. I entered my chambers and found Iapetus waiting. I wagered he had been here longer than he would have liked. “Brother, we must talk. But not yet.” I closed the door behind me and poured my consciousness into the walls, waking the sleepy hexagramic wards that would keep out and unwanted ears. Iapetus nodded shallowly.
“You have my ears, Coeus.
The walls hummed with warp energy. They smothered our thoughts and words. None outside this room would ever know what was said or done here. “First, the good news. Pelegon denied any further investigation into the 2nd Company…” I let that hang for just long enough. “…until I reminded him that would only allow such a taint to fester. Following my advice, he ordered a Grand Company-wide inspection.” I leant in, a vicious sneer on my face. “I have the Warsmith’s authority to investigate every single mangy, festering half-breed and discover any taint they’re hiding.”
”And there will be taint?” Iapetus asked, pursing his lips.
Iapetus was hungry for blood, of that much I was certain.
“Yes brother, I am certain there will be taint in their midst.” This went beyond simply prejudice.
”Who? The Second? Kunzhardt?” Impurity was something neither he nor I could forgive, let alone tolerate. “Certainly the Gorgon’s men harbour taint. Of the others, I’m not certain yet…” I stressed that. I would know all soon enough. “…but I’m sure once we set fire to the base all the ants will start crawling out.” Iapetus raised a gauntlet and clenched it into a fist.
“Reveal them and I shall crush them… He rumbled. ”These will not be the first, Coeus, and they will not be the last. I nodded slowly, approvingly.
“Oh I will. I’ll drive them from every warren and dark corner they try to hide in. There is nowhere they can hide from me. You know that this means I’ll have to investigate the 7th as well though Iapetus?”
The Shipwright smiled, coldly, and waved his hand.
“Do what you must, Coeus…” He said, his eyes never wandering from my own “I have nothing to hide, and neither do the Seventh.” I chuckled lightly.
“I know that brother. Almost a quarter of my Librarian’s call the 7th Company home. I would be surprised if they had left any taint unaddressed in my absence…”
“I would not let a taint go unchecked.” Iapetus asserted, the insinuation that there may still be taint wounding him. I nodded and continued.
“…But, you understand, I must be seen to investigate everyone with equal scrutiny.” I was certain my brother’s men would be without taint, least of all because true Iron Warriors would never bow before such powers as the Pantheon.
“However, I did not call you down here and bind us in secret wards to discuss a simple investigation.”
“Speak openly. Why am I here?” Even we could snap at each other from time to time, and the notion of there being a taint amongst his men had certainly railed Iapetus. He was the only one who could speak so candidly, with such ill-reverence to me and I would tolerate it.
“I called you here because Pelegon may possess psychic powers.”
“What?” Iapetus hissed, stepping closer. “How has this gone unnoticed?”
I gritted my teeth. I wasn’t sure if it was an accusation or not, but it may as well be. It was the same question I had been asking myself. “I am certain he is not a psyker…” That was about all I could tell with absolute certainty. “…I would have known that. Up until now, I thought his ability to shield his thoughts from me was some innate talent he possessed, rather than any psychic skill. But he was able to identify another psyker out on the training fields. What else he is capable of…” It galled me to admit this. “…I can’t be certain.”
“Then be certain!” Iapetus snarled. “If Pelegon is a psyker, then that changes everything. How many of our brothers, half-breed or high-born, would follow a witch?” Iapetus laughed. It was true, as much power as one could obtain as a psyker, it was a path you walked alone. I knew that very well. I would never be the leader of men that he was. “The Warsmith should not be exempt from your hunt. Have him searched for taint, publicly, and if found wanting...” He smirked. “You understand.”
I understood perfectly. “Pelegon is not a psyker!” I spat the words in indignation. The Warsmith did not wield the power I did and certainly did not know what it was like to pay the price for it. “It may be nothing more than a phenomenon born from Warp exposure…” My thoughts coalesced. I met Iapetus’ smile with my own, seeing a way this could play to our advantage. “…a mutation, you might say. Whilst the psyker gene is a stable and useful deviance, if the warp had seen fit to bless our leader with another means of perceiving the Immaterium then who is to say where such a ‘gift’ came from?”
I was not convinced that it was definitely proof that Pelegon was himself a slave to the Dark Gods, but it was certainly a possibility and that was enough to worry me. The other was it being a simple random mutation. That was what time in the warp did, it changed you. Whether you wanted it to or not. “I am almost certain…” I said after a little while “…that his powers are passive. I have never felt his thoughts paw at my own defences, nor I imagine have any of my brethren. I will monitor him and look for any other clues as to what powers he possesses.” I rolled my tongue over my teeth again. “I will purify the rest of the Grand Company first. Then I will call for his public investigation in a council of the Captains. He would not refuse me then, and then we will know the truth of the matter.”
“This is worrying, to say the least…” Iapetus admitted. “If Pelegon has patrons amongst the Warp, then this taint has spread deeper than expected, into the very bones of our Company.” That was certainly a worrying thought I had to admit. If this was not a benign quirk, but indicative of some deeper taint, then plans would have to move faster than I would like. Planning was everything here, we could not afford to rush. Iapetus and I stayed, barred from the rest of the world for a while still, talking whilst everyone else frantically made preparations for their own bloodletting.
Many long hours later, we eventually emerged. We would not speak openly of what had been said there and Iapetus had enough rough mental training to be able to resist most determined psykers for a time. I joined him on the Strom Eagle back to the Wandering King. The 7th was already in orbit. It was rare that they stepped foot on Medrengard, they were a legion born and raised with the steel of ship decking under their feet. It was not idly that they were called Asterionae.
My brother had ordered a parade inspection in the main hangar of the Wandering King. It was a chance for me to gauge them, try and spot any immediate taint, but it was more than that. It was a show of force like no other. We arrived, Tirgivil and I flanking the Shipwright, I on his right and Tirgivil on his left. The scene that greeted us was one of magnificent splendour. They men aboard the Wandering King were divided into four Phalanxes, each a hundred men at least. The first few rows were occupied by terminators and I saw seven of my Librarian’s spread throughout. Iapetus had even brought the Dreadnoughts out of their slumber. My heart beat a little faster. This was what the IVth legion was. This is what Pelegon and those half-breeds had forgotten.
Iapetus launched into his speech. I didn’t know if he had prepared it or the words rolled spontaneously off of his tongue. I could probe him and find out, but I didn’t want too. I preferred it like this. I had a towering ego of my own, but this moment was about Iapetus, and I was content to let him soar. His men began to beat their fists, their shields, their weapons. It began slowly at first, with a murmur of his name. As the speech went on though, the tempo increased and they began to shout. My librarians looked to me and I joined in, as did Tirgivil. Iapetus had to almost roar to be heard over the cacophony that bombarded us.
As the speech reached its climax, the pitch of the hangar approached hysteria. It rolled off of his men in waves, their adoration as audible for me as their voices. This was what it was like to not be feared, but loved. These men would travel the farthest reaches of the galaxy and face down any obstacle as long as Iapetus stood at their head. The exalted him with every name they could think of. They called him by name, they lauded him by his titles. Every praise dripped from their lips, but only those of us who could hear their thoughts heard the single phrase that they all thought, but dared not speak. It was a delicious blasphemy, one I would never speak of but I heard it all the same. They all as one lauded him as Warsmith.
I didn’t stay much longer after that. Iapetus had his duties to attend to aboard his ships and I had my duties elsewhere. After the ceremony was through, I briefly spoke with my Librarians. In their time, they had not detected any taint, but they would be sure to investigate thoroughly. I was certain that the 7th was Unbroken, but I wanted to be sure. Empty boasts of purity did me no good, but verified proof would infuriate the half-breeds to no end. After that, I excused myself and took a Storm Eagle to the Ferra Perpetua. As impressive as the iron behemoth was, I still preferred being aboard the Wandering King or the Lonesome Queen.
I didn’t rest once I had arrived aboard the Warsmith’s capital ship. Immediately I sought the manifest to see if Kunzhardt had sent up his men yet. Fortunately he had. They were held in the bowels of the ship, in separate cells. At least the half-breed could execute commands, but then so could a servitor. I made my way below and interrogated each of them in turn. At least two I ruled out. Their only crime was ignorance. Two more had no sign of taint themselves, but had felt something shift in the squad. They didn’t know enough to punish, but they knew enough to confirm that there was taint.
That left Brother Hadrius. From the moment I first saw him, I felt something foul clinging to him. I questioned him and he denied any taint. When I probed deeper into his mind, he still denied it. For an hour, he continued to deny my accusations and resist my searches. It was all lies. I saw memories of shadowed meetings with a small group of shrouded figures, their faces deliberately obscured from one another. They knelt in a heptagon and the buzzing of flies could be heard around them. They drank foul liquids siphoned from the 2nd’s poison stocks. All the while, a scab on Hadrius’ shoulder continued to weep, staining his tunic yellow with pus.
That was enough for me to condemn him for heresy and taint, but it would do for me to have a separate opinion to confirm my suspicions about his wound. As I lead Hadrius to the Apothecarion, the man seemed to hope, which I found amusing. Perhaps he believed he had fooled me, somehow managed to his taint from me. I wanted to set an example, but an example that was irrefutable before the Warsmith and the Gorgon. To be tainted so would surely irk the man who was already arguably unstable.
And so I left Hadrius with Lugerev, asking for his opinion on his wound. In truth, it could be a simple infection. Such things did happen, albeit rarely, and it might just be an unfortunate coincidence for Hadrius. I did doubt that though. More than likely Lugerev would confirm what I already knew and then he or I would end the Astarte’s miserable existence. Then we would see how much his God favoured him. The diagnostic was not long in coming, and it was as I had predicted. Lugerev had taken his life and destroyed his gene-seed, but I didn’t mind that. The Primus Medicae had the right to keep or destroy whatever gene-seed he saw fit, and ending the taint from one man would no doubt be cathartic for him.
So it was that I walked into the briefing with a mixture of joy and disgust. My suspicions were validated. How long would it be before the others began to realise how inferior these half-breed were when compared to genuine Iron Warriors. I was careful to keep my face passive though. My orders were simple enough. I was to continue my investigation as much as I could. Other than that, it appeared Pelegon was hardly concerned with what I did during the actual battle. Not that it mattered. This was more of a culling anyway, and a seemingly fruitless one at that. Pelegon barked on about how his exacting plans had to be met, but it hardly seemed like the most challenges of sieges the XIX had ever participated in.
If I didn’t know better, I would have said this was a staging ground for some greater event. This was made even more apparent by Pelegon’s focus in my orders on the mission after this, where “purity would be paramount”. Because at any other time it was optional? A nice addition if we could manage, but otherwise don’t bother? I wondered if Pelegon was being deliberately obtuse, or trying to play some political mind game with them. If so, he was very poor at it. I could run circles around him. I watched him though, wondering if he would use whatever powers he possessed as a flashy ‘show of force’.
It wasn’t long before the half-breeds were mewling about their lots in life. Kunzhardt complained that his commands entailed little more than target practice, although quite what he expected to be doing when he commanded a siege company other than target practice bemused me. Then it was Tyberus’ turn to whine about not his company not being suited to taking prisoners and that perhaps it would be better to leave the Imperium nothing more than a dead husk of a world. Wanton slaughter made as much sense at this point as any other command Pelegon had given, which was to say very little. However, such thoughts of mine were guarded well enough that no one would know them.
It was time for Pelegon to step in. He couldn’t let dissenting voices go one for too long. They were slipping their leashes. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to laugh or vomit at Pelegon’s empty praise of the 2nd Captain. It was abhorrent to watch a half-breed be lifted so high, especially one who commanded such a cancerous company. Pelegon’s rebuke of Tyberus was endlessly amusing though. But then so was Pelegon’s assertion that every man in the Grand Company served him alone. I knew that was false, and felt many others suspect the same thing. What amused me even more was that his own honour guard turned on him without a moment’s consideration. Whatever hold Tyberus thought he had on the 1st company, it clearly wasn’t enough to protect him.
Then Aldriun made his own request, which was amusing to me in a sad, pathetic way. One of his subordinates had sent him to petition for the Space Wolf gene-seed for experimentation, which Pelegon blithely granted. I wondered if he had so easily forgotten the machinations of Fabius Bile and how one man had turned a legion into slaves to excess. If Pelegon was content to let the cancers of ruin fester, then he was even less competent that I had previously thought. The other request was a plea to spare the children. It was common knowledge that the Master of the Forge himself was slave born, but I could forgive him that because he was one of the few commanders here who still held the Iron Warrior gene-seed in their breasts. Pelegon denied this, apparently content to let Astartes of the IVth legion blood themselves against every obstacle rather than let thralls take the worst of the beatings.
The meeting was interesting to gauge the responses of each of the captains. As Tyberus slinked away, I drove a spear of thought into his mind. *Looks like there is still a great deal of weakness in the 1st company, Tyberus.* He would feel my disgust and pleasure at his reprimand, but I didn’t mind. It was no secret that I had no love of the Night Lord and he should know that he was beneath me.
Far more pressing was Kunzhardt threatening Lugerev, apparently incensed by him killing Hadrius. Aldriun stepped in and tried to persuade the Gorgon-spawn to let him go. The techmarine’s mechandrites slithered into serpentine life. This was not his battle to fight though. It was mine. An outstretched hand sent a rolling wave of telekinetic energy barrelling into Kunzhardt, forcing him to stagger and drop Lugerev. “How dare you, mewling wretch!” My voice was dark and fearsome. I had sundered men’s souls with it. Eternal Schism was in my hand, ethereal energies cracking along its length and the runes etched into it glowing brighter. Insatiable Hunger burst into life too, the talons becoming wreathed in a deadly power field. They lenses of my helmet glowed brighter as I readied my powers in case Kunzhardt was even more of a fool than I suspected.
“Your man Hadrius was tainted and I sent him to Lugerev to confirm as much. He did what was necessary where you would not…” I stalked forward putting myself between Lugerev and the 2nd captain. “…Worse still, the taint is not restricted to one man. There are at least six others in your company who kneel before the God of Decay. And you dare to accuse Lugerev of taint when your company is rotten with it.” It was a grave accusation indeed. “The Primus Medicae acted on my orders, and my orders are to purify this Grand Company of taint, wherever it hides. If you are so motivated to protect those in your midst who are corrupted, it is me you should challenge. Let us see if your Gods will save you now.” My sixth sense opened up, gazing down the possible paths of the near future. In several, Kunzhardt attacked me. In none of those did it end well for him…