Umojen lay cross legged on the floor of his chamber. He had spent the first four hours asleep in the bunk the elder had provided for him. He had been slightly confused by the slab of what had appeared to be marble in the corner of the room. However, once he had laid down on it, the material had bent and shifted under his weight to fit him like a glove. Once he had gotten up, he had seen the clear contours of his body melt and reform back into a solid block once again. After that, he had walked out into the main junction where Inwé had left them. Sure enough, there were large bowls of fruit, or at least he assumed they were fruit as they were sweet and juicy to his bite. They didn’t, however, look like any fruit he had ever seen. He had then washed and was now in his robe from The Vengeful Spirit
, cross legged.
He had been flexing his mental muscles, reaching out into the void around where they were. He could feel the psychic radiation from most of his brothers. They were like light bulbs in a room already faintly lit by psychic light, bright pockets of psychic power amongst a sea of latent elder psychic talent. Ahriman’s seemed to be the brightest, like a supernova in the warp. As much as Umojen was hesitant about Ahriman and his Thousand Son brethren, they did eclipse almost any Astartes he knew in psychic might. Turagati’s light was like the eye of a storm, always swirling and shifting, but ready to unleash its power at any moment. Kastix’s psychic signature was faint, but almost deliberately. If Umojen tried to peer too deep into the signature, he was aware of both the fact that the weaker observable power was deceptive and that the man behind the psychic presence knew he was being watched. Balsar’s signature in the warp was bright, but not through power, but just radiant splendour, clearly a lesser version of his primarch’s own psychic presence. Guryoi’s was like a jet-engine on a low power. It seemed ready to roar into life at any moment, but less potent at them very moment. Felix’s was the most difficult to discern. His presence in the warp was like a shackled beast, powerful but constrained. Umojen wondered by what. Was it his Primarch who had imposed such limitations, or another?
Rubio’s signature was almost melded with his own, and so Umojen opened his eyes. “How long have you stood there Tylos?”
“7 minutes, 36 seconds sir.” Came Rubio’s curt response. Umojen grunted and nodded in acceptance. He rose to his feet, and turned to face the Epilstory. “We still have 20 minutes before the Farseer expects us.”
“You wish to speak Tylos?”
“Plainly sir.” Umojen knew Rubio was abiding by legion etiquette, but given their situation, it hardly seemed necessary.
“Speak as plainly as you see fit.” Umojen said with a smile.
“We are consorting with xenos. This goes against everything which the Great Crusade stood and still stands for. We are supposed to be fighting for the return of the Imperium, not steeping ourselves in elder witchcraft!” Rubio blurted out, as if Umojen’s command to speak had opened the flood-gates.
“Given any day, any hour, I would agree with you Tylos.” Rubio waited at the door, knowing there was more to come. “But today is not any day, and the hour is not any hour. This could be the closing days of humanity, of the Imperium. The Emperor banned the use of psychic powers, but before this day is out we will be called to use them once again, I believe. Should we not, even if it were to win us the war, simply because the Nikean edict commands it?” The cogs were clearly turning in Rubio’s head as he processed such rationale. He was an honourable marine, dependable. But sometimes his adherence made him to brittle.
“I understand sir.” Was all he could think to say. Rubio could understand the logic, but something about it still felt intrinsically wrong to him.
“At this instance, I would advise you to recall Remark 101 .x “What wins the fight wins the fight…”
“…Ultimately, nothing should be excluded if that exclusion leads to defeat.
” Rubio repeated their primarch’s words of wisdom with his senior officer.
The issue resolved, at least logically, the two Ultramarines left the room and made their way to the chambers where Eldrad would expect them. They were precisely 2 minutes and 37 seconds early by the time they arrived, but were not the first. Balsar and Guryoi were already there, stripped to the waist and sparing with xenos longswords. Neither had a scratch, but both were drenched in sweat. Umojen and Rubio guessed that it was a contest of first-blood, and stood at the side of the arena to watch.
For a few more moments, the two simply traded blows. Suddenly, Balsar quickened his pace, striking Guryoi with a flurry of blows that forced him back. Each one was blocked by the Luna Wolf, but at some considerable effort. Two successive blows forced Guryoi onto his back foot. After three more he seemed to lose his balance. Guryoi fell back, but quicker that he should have done so that Balsar’s slash with the sword missed him entirely. Having chosen to fall and so pushed himself over, Guryoi was already braced to hit the ground, and a split-second later had rolled to the side and slipped his sword under Balsar’s guard so that is pierced his right breast. A drop of blood welled up as the Blood Angel realised he had been fooled into letting his opponent fall. “Dirty trick” Balsar said with a mixture of amusement and disappointment at his loss. Guryoi opened his mouth to speak when someone else spoke up.
“Needs must when the Devil drives, Son of Sanguinius” Eldrad spoke in his cryptic voice as he entered the rooms flanked by Inwé and a second elder they had not seen before. His face was a mirror and a bright cowl hung over his head. His clothes were a multitude of unrelated and clashing colours.
The others had entered the room without Umojen even noticing. They were all now gathered and Balsar and Guryoi were just about finished donning their armour. Umojen noticed that none of them, not even the elder, were without their armour. A few, such a Ahriman and himself did not wear their helmets, but that was all. As far as diplomacy went, the message was clear; we don’t trust you. Yet. “Noble Astartes, this is the Shadowseer of the Harlequin troupe currently assisting Ulthwé. They have agreed to grant you access to their Black Library…” A juvenile grin of glee played across Ahriman’s features as Eldrad spoke to them. Clearly, this ‘Black Library’ was something the Thousand Sons were fascinated or interest in. Already, Umojen could guess what it might contain. “…it contains all the universe’s knowledge concerning Chaos. In the right hands, it would be a potent and deadly weapon.”
Eldrad paused for a moment, and Umojen noticed that the Shadowseer was rolling on the balls of his feet, yet none of the rest of his body moved. He wondered if it was nerves or impatience, but it was hard to tell when the xeno’s face was hid beneath a mask. “However, such tomes contain sorceries and tainted knowledge far beyond your reckoning. Before they will allow you to even glimpse the corner of a single page, you must prove yourselves as not only capable warriors and sorcerers, worthy of wielding such knowledge, but also immune to the temptations of the Enemy…”
“…Which is why we are here.” Kastix finished for him.
“Correct, Son of the Raven.” Eldrad said, inclining his head.
“How are we to be tested?” Tarugati asked.
“You will face me in combat.” The Shadowseer spoke for the first time. His voice was surprisingly jovial. He sounded happy, almost on the edge of laugher. Quite why Umojen couldn’t fathom. But something about him was apart from the rest of the Eldar he had seen or met.
“I volunteer to challenge you first.” Tarugati spoke with confidence which was far more apparent than his nervousness at facing an enemy he knew almost nothing about. The blank mask snapped to him and remained fixed for a moment. He stared into the mirror image for a second and saw himself. Except he was older, with scars he knew he didn’t have. As he blinked in confusion, the image broke and he only saw himself again. Then the mask nodded and the marines and elder moved to the side of the arena in the centre. Tarugati went to remove his helmet but the Shadowseer stopped him.
“Keep your armour on. You won’t be fighting without it against any other foe”
There was a range of human-esque weapons to choose from. Most were swords of varying length and weights. There were also halberds, maces, axes and hammers. Tarugati held one of the halberds in his hands. It felt comfortingly like his force staff, which was good. He knew what he could and could not do with his staff. Plus it gave him additional reach, which was always a good thing. He turned to face his opponent who appeared to be trying to remember a dance. The Shadowseer took slight steps and hops, occasionally twirling. Once he, well Tarugati assumed it was male under the mask, noticed the Astartes was ready to face him, the ‘dance’ became more extravagant. Tarugati readied his halberd and came at him. Then his head violently throbbed with pain, only his latent training as an Stormseer causing it to subside a measure. He should have anticipated a psychic attack, but the magnitude was what had caught him off guard. He missed a step, as he brought his full powers the bear. Even as he swung at the Shadowseer, which nimble danced out of the way, it spoke to him. “You should always utilise every weapon at your command. Never forget that.”
“I haven’t” Tarugati snarled under his helm. He swung again with his halberd, and when the Shadowseer moved he hurled an invisible wall of energy at it. It rode the wall like a wave, landing gracefully on its feet and retaliated with its own psychic attack.
Horrors and fears assailed Tarugati’s mental walls even as the Shadowseer moved with incredible speed to attack him. Every blow was barely met with a parry from Tarugati. Each time the mirrored face drew near, a leering monster stared out at the Stormseer. It had razor fangs which dripped venom and intense, inherently evil, burning yellow eyes. Tarugati lashed out with a jab at where the Shadowseer was. The Eldar flipped over the blade and punched Tarugati’s helm with enough force to flick his head back. Tarugati answered with a psychic attack in tandem with his physical one. His halberd sliced up and down, forcing the Shadowseer to perform more elaborate manoeuvres to avoid its cutting blade. Even as this was occurring, Tarugati began to expand his mental walls, forcing the elder seer back. Faint arcs of lightning sparked between to two as their powers fought for supremacy, just at sparks flew from colliding weapons. With every blow, Tarugati seemed to be tiring. He could not keep up his onslaught forever, and yet the Shadowseer seemed no less tired than when they had begun. His moves did not falter, and each twist was as graceful as the last. After a few long moments, the Shadowseer assaulted him with another brutal flurry of strikes. Tarugati was forced to concentrate more on his physical defence. Even as he started to force the Shadowseer back, a lance of psychic force struck him and knocked him flat on his back. The Shadowseer ceased his dance, and it was clear that the challenge was over. Tarugati stepped up and placed his weapon back. If it was only physical combat, he might have stood a fair chance. But a blend of psychic and physical combat who was at least equal, if not greater, at both was a battle he could not win. As if reading his thoughts the Shadowseer spoke. “You must achieve a balance between physical and mental attack and defence. The foes you face have done so since their inception, and you must learn to do likewise, or die.” The light tone of the Shadowseer only dropped for the last two words. Rubio stood to face the eldar next, and the dance started up again.