TEADY AS SHE goes Commodore Hsueh. I admire your eagerness to begin the hunt, but we have waited this long; we can afford to wait a little while longer.”
Standing to the right of the Captain’s throne like a bronze statue from antiquity, Martinez did not physically control the vessel, but he was very much in charge of it.
He was after all, Ferrand de san Martinez, a Lord Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus, the Witch Finder General of the Uranus Circulum Planetarum, The Malleus Haereticus.
He was called The Hammer of the Heretic, and his reputation was justified. Hundreds of planets had been purged of the taint of the unbeliever, and countless thousands of misguided souls had either repented before him, or lay broken and burnt in his wake.
He rarely smiled.
This was partly through choice, but mainly because bio-acid from a Tyranid abomination had dissolved half his facial muscles, and made the biggest smile look like a deaths-head grimace.
“Smiles are a luxury of the content and the oblivious without worry. A smile is the face worn by the simpleton.”
Martinez would only risk a smile when his work was finally finished, and when his duty and debt to the Emperor had been realised.
Serviamus illi usque ad mortem
. I serve him unto death.
Today he allowed himself a brief nod of satisfaction… in private of course.
The signs were unusually good.
After weeks of quiet meditation, he was finally free from his personal Locus Tranquillum
and back among the hustle and bustle of the command deck.
The latest excursion through the warp had been long and hazardous, and he for one was glad to be back in real space.
The next phase of the hunt could now begin.
Though this class of ship was deemed obsolete and assigned to the reserve, Martinez had had her recommissioned for front-line service. He had seen her sitting in dry-dock, wasted and forlorn. He immediately saw her potential. He liked her brute lines, her scars and her awesome presence. He had also seen her battle record and knew that this was a ship that was almost built for an Inquisitor like himself.
The command deck of the Wrath of the Emperor
was built in the old style before the bureaucrats and Adminsitratum meddlers standardised Imperial ship designs. Dark wood panels and brass fittings were the norm and pictures and portraits of stern-looking commanders and heroes lined the walls. An ancient ships wheel, obsolete and impractical, stood in the centre of the command deck, as a symbol of a long, martial past … practica et naturalis
The throne area was built in the shape of a horseshoe with the ends pointing towards a hundred-metre-high arched window in the old Renen style. Tall arched alcoves lined either side reminding him more of a cathederal than the command deck of a battle ship.
Martinez stared out into the void with a mixture of pride and awe. The ships brute, rugged super structure reached out in front of him like a seven-thousand-metre-long dagger aimed at the area of the glittering swathe of space called the Draianus System.
With a ship like this at his command, he could destroy continents and bring populations to their knees.
Aye, with this power, he could bring his hammer down on the heretic and bring them all Absolution.
The Sword of Tizona
and The Anima Nobiscum
sat to either beam like protective children, silent and foreboding. A swarm of fighters glittered and flashed far ahead as they zig-zagged in their bow waves like flying fish of the old oceans. Visiting vessels of all classes and designs cruised by in quiet reverence to the old vessel and its most esteemed passenger. Welcomes and acquiescent protocol messages began flooding in as various captains vied for the Inquisitors attention.
Martinez ignored them all.
Toady’s, sycophants and arse-wipes.
He washed them from his mind.
He studied the crew as they went about their normal duties. For most, they ignored his presence or turned an eye. Some offered a respectful nod, some offered a formal salute or a bow. None of them stood in his path or dared brush by or get in the way.
The Inquisitor tended to have that effect on people.
They operated with a quiet professionalism that came from years of combat and trials.
He was moderately impressed.
For months they had operated without question and always at optimal efficacy, but when their new orders came through to begin preparations for immediate planetary assault, he noticed a new spring in their step, and he saw smiles and camaraderie that he had not seen for a long time.
The crew are like caged beasts. I feel their anticipation. The tension is almost physical.
He stood silent and still beside the captain, Huan Hsueh, as she went about her business as if he did not exist. She had been given the temporary rank of Commodore whilst her ship was the flag and for as long as the Inquisitor retained her ship and the other two vessels. She was honoured and full of pride in the promotion and new assignment. It beat the daily drudgery of perimeter defence and Reaver patrols and the endless dinners and dances in the various officer’s clubs of the fleet. With luck, and with Martinez’s endorsement, it would also bring her back into full front-line duties after a long, enforced period of absence and boredom.
Two small figures moved up from behind the Inquisitor and positioned themselves on either side of him. They were robed and hooded in white and their faces were hidden inside the folds. They were either squats or some small breed of servitor that had been requisitioned by the Inquisitor. No one could get close enough to study their anatomy.
Another of Martinez’s secrets.
One of them held a magnificent, artificer-crafted Warhammer out in front of him, the other a large opened tome festooned with golden chains and small charms.
Martinez raised a gauntleted hand and spread his fingers.
A pale-skinned female glided up to his right side and lowered her head in what appeared to be a sign of submission. There was a flicker of an eyelid in return.
The inquisitor searched the crew for any sign, any thoughts, but they all knew better to even spare her a glance.
Felícia Cortes was his indentured scribe and was there to record everything the Inquisitor had to say for prosperity.
But that did not stop the rumours that they were lovers.
With her elfin features and slender frame, they could all be forgiven. The fact that under the golden wraparound dress, were the reproductive organs of both a male and a female would only inflame the rumours more.
Martinez had neither the time or inclination to dabble in the pleasures of the body.
He brushed some imaginary dust off his left vambrace and then turned his attention to the numerous viewing screens before him.
His exquisitely-carved power armour hummed with hidden power and gave off a faint glow. It had been sculptured by The Fabricator General of Mars himself, in a bygone age when the Inquisition was but young. Martinez had cut it from the cooling body of its previous owner, a brother Inquisitor who had been seduced by the forces of those who shall not be named.
Martinez had judged him and had found him wanting.
, he thought, could it be here today?
His prey had eluded him so many times before, and he had been bested. He had tasted failure and it was a bitter, vile taste.
Perhaps today, Emperor willing, he would finally bring the Arch-Veneficus
Morthen Stroms to heel, and then…?
He glanced towards a solemn-looking man wearing a long, black leather trench coat and gave an almost inconsequential nod.
With his handsome, sharp features and long dark hair, Ingfred Wolf looked more like a singer than an Interrogator, more used to being at the centre of attention at an Iterator gathering than at the ratchets of the rack.
If we get Stroms, I might let the Wolf work on him for a while.
There was a fluttering in the base of his stomach.
What pleasures we will have. What pain and torment Stroms would suffer.
The bridge of The Wrath of the Emperor
was now heavy with silence and anticipation. Even the ship itself, an Avenger Class Grand Cruiser, whose sole purpose was to take the fight to an enemy at short range, with its numerous weapons batteries and planet destroying lances… seemed restless.
Its engines growled a little louder and its body throbbed with hidden power. Built during the dark times of The Great Betrayal, the vessel almost seemed to be a sentient being in its own right, a living beast struggling at the leash.
The normal background noise of voices and the constant chatter and hum of the machines had faded away to be replaced by heavy breathing and the hiss and sighs of body mechanics and augments. The bright lighting, the strobes, and the flashing warning lights all seemed to have been subdued and replaced by an eerie green hue.
The bridge itself was full of crew members from every department and every office. The Captain would normally have demanded it cleared of all non-essential personnel. Today she uncharacteristically relented.
Today was special.
It had been six months since their last confirmed contact with the traitor vessel, and now they had them almost in their grasp.
Even though half her body had been replaced by Mechanicum implants, which included non-essential sensory areas of her brain, she still felt an odd tingling of excitement.
“Come about two points to starboard, full and by” she said in her accented low Gothic.
“Aye Captain, coming about two points starboard”
“Six vessels Captain, possibly a convoy. It is heading into the Draianus System” replied the ensign studying long range sensors. “But there are an unusually large number of other vessels already in orbit around several of the planets. They carry Navy designations.”
Martinez glanced over to the entrance to the command deck and then back to the captain. He raised an eyebrow, which begged an answer.
Commodore Hsueh glanced at her deep space navigational control. Six plugged-in servitors and a single Adept manned the controls.
“There are four planets in this system, one Alpha, two Gamma and a Delta-Tau planet. The fourth is a merger-stage planet, devoid of any life characteristics.” Rasped the Mechanism representative.
“I need a long-range communication with at least one of those Navy vessels.” Said the captain, “Sooner rather than later. I don’t want us stumbling into some war or uprising that we do not know about.”
“Have any of the vessels come through the rings of Otravis Secunda?” Martinez interrupted, glancing sideways at Arch-Magos Flavius Cutov as he glided onto the bridge.
“One vessel, my Lord’ replied the ensign, ‘a freighter, designation…”
“The Peligo Oculto perhaps?” the Inquisitor interrupted.
The ensign turned around to face him.
“Yes my Lord.”
Martinez grinned. For a split second he almost felt a kind of respect for his prey… but only for a second.
What balls. The warlock has no shame.
“Where are Zorich and his ships?” queried Martinez, though he already knew the answer. His orders had been very specific. Anyone who misinterpreted the orders of an Inquisitor, knew their life was forfeit.
“They are in position my Lord” said Arch-Magos Flavius Cutov. “However, the representative of the Praxis Gatania Outer-Rim Flotilla has not been entirely forthcoming with information that,” the Arch-Magos paused “will have a significant comportment on what we do from now.”
* * *