* * *
Having reachd the end of the trail, Anders and Inquisitor Thadius roped themselves together and made use of their ice axes to better ascend the steep and jagged sides of the unforgivinf mountain. The bleak, grey sky and snow-flecked wind matched Thadius's deepening mood of looming faliure. Like some emotional leech the daemon bound to the blade of Phaedron seemed to purr along with the Inquisitor's depression, contented by his misery.
Anders too was succumbing to dread. He had fled and left his fellow guardsmen, his friends, to certain death. Only the pressing need to concentrate on the upward climb kept him from descending further.
"The whispering winds," he said, "to think I mocked the stories."
Thadius called down to him. "There's ledge above."
The Inquisitor stood on the small snowy surface looking down.
"We've made good time."
"What? Is that all you care about?" Anders choked catching hs breath.
"My friends are dead, the comm unit is busted, we're stuck on this freezing rock with Ferals crawling around, and all you care about is the time?"
"Don't question me, soldier. You forget I am an Inquisitor on a mission vital to-"
"To save the galaxy? Up a fucking mountain?" Anders shouted cutting Thadius off.
Thadius reached to draw his sword, darkness clouding his eyes. Seeing the sudden change in the Inquisitor Anders stepped back, hands raised in submission. The Inquisitor relaxed his grip and instead reached for his auspex, turning his back to the infuriating guardsman.
"If you wish to make your way back alone, so be it, but we stand a better chance of survival together." Thadius said over his shoulder
For a brief second an object not more than 100 feet away flashed on the auspex.
"Look up ahead!" Anders pointed to a dark obelisk protruding from the mountainside.
Thadius stopped for a moment, catching his breath "could it be?" he rasped.
"This must be it, surely this is our goal" Anders said as he enthusiastically quickened his ascent, forgetting the recent aggression. They hurridly continued climbing, eager to reach the ominous object.
As the two climbers reached the obelisk the slope became less steep and they continued warily on foot without need for the axes.
It was twice the height of a man, roughly hewn from obsidian stone, a defiant spike of black in a landscape of white.
"It's a monolith, a tribute-stone" said Thadius, as he placed a hand on its jagged surface.
"There's some writing, look." Anders pointed to the top of the monolith, "Ba'Kel Draak, what does that mean?"
The Inquisitor looked intently, noticing the daemon blade's whispering becoming more frenzied.
"So, he is dead."
"Who? The person you're looking for?" Anders's curiosity was wearing thin on the tired Inquisitor. His lack of knowledge and respect was insufferable. The whispering grew louder.
"The infamous Chapter-Master of the Sons of Malice, Ba'Kel Draak, disappeared." Thadius stated gruffly.
"It says here; 'from the labyrinth he emerged, first amongst the doomed ones.'" Anders looked blankly at the Inquisitor.
The sword spoke in tongues. It was too much.
"Well, what do y-"
The stroke decapitated Anders with ease, the severed body and head staining the snow red. Realisation slapped Thadius in the face hard, the blade of Phaedron's voice returning to a low whisper.
"What have I done?"
In one of the smoother , more polished areas of the monolith Thadius caught sight of his reflection, dark and twisted.
"I have chosen my path," he said softly. "There can be no turning back."
The slope was less steep up ahead, the peak not so far off. With the wind picking up and sunset approaching, the Inquisitor resumed his climb.
* * *
The cold was taking its toll on his strength, the noise from the strengthening winds battling with the growing moans and groans from the accursed sword. Still he pursued his goal, to which the fragments of the Great Book of Despair had led him, and the research of his fellow Inquisitors had alluded to. The key that linked the pieces of the puzzle of 'the lost god' awaited.
The insane babbling of the daemon blade reached fever pitch. The pressure behind Thadius's eyes made him wretch. He bent double falling to his knees in the crisp snow.
"Unh - Shut - UP!" His trembling, weakened hands wrestled against the weapon's malign power, unable to remove the sheath from his belt.
"Must - must continue".
He crawled upwards, hands numbed, burning with cold and exhaustion. Summoning what little strength he had left, Thadius pulled himself ever closer to the top of the mountain. The roaring wind battered him, the blade of Phaedron screaming in rage and pain. Every step taken felt a mile long, seconds became hours.
Slowly, lifting his aching head, the Inquisitor watched the distant sun descend. Night beckoned and the rapidly dropping temperature would soon claim his life. The wind died down. The screaming sword was suddenly even more terrifying in its silence.
He had reached the top.
Standing up straight Thadius felt a portion of his strength return as his curious mind realised his prize was at hand. The answer, whatever it was, would be here atop the mountains of Scelus. Decades of work and study. The deaths of so many friends and enemies had brought him here to the summit. He looked around at the snowy peak.
There was nothing. Nothing but the cruelty of the homeworld of the Sons of Malice.
"No!" he screamed.
"No, I defy you! Show me the truth!" tears of anguish and exhaustion welled in his eyes.
For an eternity it seemed the Inquisitor stood motionless staring at the empty white snow. Dig. Dig, he thought, feverishly stumbling to his knees.
He gouged at the ground like a maniac with the small shovel from his kit bag, scraping away snow and ice, searching for something, anything.
The clatter of metal on metal spurred him on. A shape began to form. With renewed vigour Thadius dug around the growing object in the snow. It was some sort of cylinder, large, like a torpedo. Bigger even than that it seemed.
Carefully removing the compacted snow from the tube's surface the Inquisitor uncovered what appeared to be a small window.
It was cracked. Inside he could glimpse the impressions of ancient technology and detached tubing, like in some form of stasis pod. Working further down past the window he began to reveal a brass plaque riveted to the surface of the tube.
The tips of lettering came into view, Thadius willed his freezing body to move quicker, to reveal all.
Fully visible, the brass plaque simply read 'XI'.
As the magnitude of his discovery reached him, Thadius's body gave in to the cold.