It had hit had come to her on the return journey from the Primus Academy. Elyra had taken out a dataslate and stylus in order to finalise her written report for the inquisitor upon her return to the convent. Something, that had hung in the back of her mind throughout the inspection finally snapped into place.
She remembered looking around the control centre. It was almost impressive. The Stipa, the personal protection force of Dravos’ nobility had the entire Primus Academy covered from this one location. Perimeter walls had been constructed to segregate the facility from the rest of the Hive, including from the levels above and below. They kept a three shift watch pattern with a staff of eighty security personnel on site at any one time. To Elyra’s mind there was only one question that she could not answer.
Dravos had a fairly turbulent history, but still she found it hard to justify any real necessity for the sheer level of protection given to what was more or less just another scholam. The Arbite Sergeant who accompanied her, a woman named Kira Lys seemed entirely unconcerned by it. Just another matter of routine inspection.
“It’s the same on many worlds,” she had said. “The rulers like to flaunt military power and wealth, so we have to remind them that they only possess it by the Grace of His Divine Majesty.”
That explanation seemed suitable to her. Elyra on the other hand considered that the point of flaunting military and economic wealth might well be ruse. A flashy piece of something designed to catch their eye and prevent them from seeing something infinitely more dangerous.
She had seen not a shred of evidence to support the Inquisitor’s line of investigation. She had not expected to. Even as complacent as the Arbites had grown here there was no way the Academy could attempt to train rouge psykers here without someone noticing.
She had toured the Academy facilities, dormitories, gymnasiums; the educational facilities were breath taking. It seemed that in the three millennia of its existence the Academy had been expanded many times, to allow new subjects of intellectual study. She had not even heard of many of the subjects on the syllabus. But that was not her concern.
They had trekked the grounds for nearly three hours escorted by a Stipa officer dressed in a white uniform jacket and breeches with gold piping. He wore white gloves and a pair of brown leather jackboots. An autopistol and a duelling sabre hung from his waist. Aldo Kerch he had called himself, Overwatch-Commander of the 5th Guards Directorate.
The rank appeared to be an equivalent to a company commander in Imperial Guard terms but the organisational structure of the Stipa was unfamiliar to Elyra. From this though she discerned that the officer cadre attached to the Academy could only number three or four individuals. From their inspection of the control room she could also identify only one grade of NCO a Vigilator, a squad or section command rank.
Such a simple chain of command could be effective if administered properly. But her observations concluded that the gap between a vigilator and a watch-commander or overwatch-commander was simply too great to allow a subordinate to effectively take command in a crisis. A point she would mention to Inquisitor Gerro. Taking out the officers would effectively eliminate the Stipa’s ability effectively co-ordinate itself.
It was thinking about their walk through the grounds that had made the jamming cogs in the back of her head slip loose and begin turning. The shrine.
Overwatch-Commander Kerch had been leading them along a permacrete pathway that circled the Academy’s main building. He had been pointing to the guard towers set at intervals of four-hundred meters along the perimeter walls. Both Kira and Elyra had been listening in attentive silence.
“Each contains a two-man team with a mounted .50 calibre autogun. The mount can traverse one-hundred and eighty degrees outwards from the wall. The only exceptions being those slightly larger towers you see at corner-points. Each of those has a two, two-man teams, and thusly, two mounted weapons,” Kerch had an inexhaustible love for the sound of his own voice.
It was then as she looked toward one of the towers he had indicated that she had seen the shrine. A small but well appointed building, quite distant from the other Academy structures. The architecture was exquisite, a smooth white stone with grey-whorls across the surface. Each block seemed to fit together to form a beautiful pattern.
For a moment the sight of the building had enraptured her to the point that Kerch and Kira had moved on several paces before noticing her absence. An exasperated Kerch had cleared his throat loudly right in her ear to get her attention.
“I… I was just looking at the shrine,” she apologised feeling a slight flush at her lapsed attention.
“What? Oh, yes, the shrine. It is a lovely building isn’t it. Until you get up close to the gargoyles at least,” Kerch said laughing as he glanced at the building. Then he turned and marched on back to where Kira waited. The Arbite was looking at Elyra with a look that seemed at one agitated and curious.
With a last look back at the shrine Elyra saw the gargoyles. Prominent appendages, which circled the small dome of the building. As she turned away though, that was when she saw him. Standing just outside the doors that led into the portico.
The man wore the robes of a pastor. Yet to her mind the baring of the man was too martial. His position in relation to the door. He looked more like the doorman than the priest welcoming his flock to the fold. And the alertness of his gaze as he watched her. Even as she hurried to catch up with Kira and Kerch she could feel his stare.
She decided that this too would be worth mentioning to the inquisitor upon her return.
Hail sat along the table from the Tech-priest, Janus Velon. The adept had not greeted him when he entered. Indeed he had given no indication that he was aware of Hail’s return. Such trivialities would not distract him from his own duties. Namely the monitoring of public news broadcasts and the personal vox intercepts of selected individuals.
Velon was a long-time servant of the Machine-Cult and by now his body was more augmetic than biological. Hail wondered how such a thing might alter one’s perspective on reality, of one’s-own-self, even. He imagined that in many ways it would heighten focus. The body and mind stripped of the biological and emotional requirements of human kind. An intellect in a box, free to pursue focused, impartial reasoning for many times the lifespan of an un-augmented person.
He smiled, thinking what his mentor would have made of such a view point. Master Galatae had been a strict, dogmatic and highly introspective teacher. Always he had maintained that the purpose of discipline was not the repression or suppression of fundamental aspects of humanity.
“Wherein lies the use of fully objective reason if you have not the humanity to appreciate the knowledge it provides?” he had once demanded when Hail had talked of emotional suppression as a means of enhancing focus.
“The point is simple. Discipline is not about suppression, or repression, of the human condition. It is about balancing that nature with the objectivity required to fulfil our duty to the service of the God-Emperor,” Galatae had continued. “After all, the Emperor loves his faithful subjects. Does he not? How then can we justify crushing their love for Him in the name of objectivity and reason?”
Such debates, held by an open hearth before bed, were little more than a comforting memory now. Though their import had lost none of their potency in the years since Hail had set out on his own Life Quest. It was the first duty of every Shadow Templar to set out into the galaxy in search of the destiny the God-Emperor willed for them at the moment of their birth.
Galatae’s had led him through a life of battle in the Imperial Guard. Until he was discharged of his duties. The scarred remains of the young man who had set out returned to the Shadow Temple on Firona then. There he took up the rank of master and took to raising the Temple's children in preparation for their own Quests.
Hail wondered if he too would one day return to the world of his birth, or if it would be his fate to find his destiny lay somewhere else. He refused to contemplate the notion that he could die without finding it. The God-Emperor divined a Destiny for every soul, no matter how lowly.
He sensed the motion behind him but did not turn as Inquisitor Gerro swept into the communal area. She did not acknowledge his presence. Her attention was directed towards Velon. The Tech-priest remained apparently oblivious as the billowing robe swooped down on him at his cogitor.
“Janus. I require a communication link with the Taya’s Purge,” she said. The Velon looked up briefly, the mask of augmetics that served as his face regarded the inquisitor without comment. And then he nodded and bent back to his cogitor.
Turning his gaze from Gerro Hail found Trant. The psyker slumped into a chair at his right hand. His distress was obvious, his skin paled, forehead beaded with sweat and his eyes rimmed with the effort of fighting back tears. Trant gave him only a cursory glance before shaking his head and massaging his temples with the heels of his palms.
Thorne stood by the door. If anything his condition looked graver than Trant’s. He was staring at his hands. Turning them over to look at both the backs and the palms. As if he were not sure they belonged to him anymore. His eyes flickered to Hail’s. To his mild curiosity Hail saw a pain there that looked to have shaken the very foundations of the man’s resolve.
Hail said nothing. It was his nature to observe. He rarely offered counsel that was unasked for. What wisdom he could offer, anyone could ask. But he would not preach to anyone. Dogmatic ranting was in his view more often counter productive. A person their true strength within themselves. It could not be given to them.
“Hail,” he turned to the Inquisitor.
“What actions are the Stipa undertaking to find Tania Forrel?”
“Events move quickly, ma’am. They appointed two Investigator-Marshals to administer the inquiry. They have already traced the Tania Forrel to the Arbites Courthouse,” Hail said, not for the first time he wondered what had motivated the girl to turn herself in. She must have known there would be little hope of redemption for her.
Inquisitor Gerro seemed to consider the news for a moment. Then the metallic-masculine voice of Janus Velon broke into the conversation. He said, “Twenty minutes ago an Investigator-Marshal Kaeros placed a call to the Lord Protector, Altair Xant. The call confirms our intelligence. The Lord Protector has ordered the immediate arrest of Ser Antonis and Dame Lucial Forrel on charges of harbouring a mutant.”
“They intend to sacrifice the Forrel family to save the greater conspiracy,” Hail said. Gerro’s cowl seemed to ripple before she spoke.
“Instruct Marshal Primus Ruis to secure the Forrel family for interrogation. If they are left to the Stipa they will be killed,” she said.
“Securing a senior member of the nobility will mean the Arbites will be unable to assist us in any assault against the Academy,” Hail said. The Silent Sisterhood could be relied upon to help them presuming the Black Ship Taya’s Purge could arrive in time but that was unlikely.
“We can’t let them escape!” Thorne shouted the words. “Not after what they’ve done!”
“Calm yourself,” Trant spoke with an effort, his voice hoarse. Apparently containing the anger and resentment of the former Guardsman had taken a good deal of effort. Nonetheless Thorne appeared subdued, though his body still quaked with the contained fury.
“The Order of Saint Valentina conducts military training,” Hail said. He had observed their drills, the doctrine was outmoded by any standard and their weapons mostly obsolete, but he sensed strength in their devotion that could count for much in the direst need.
“It is but part of their devotions,” Trant objected. “You can’t be seriously considering using them to take on the Stipa and the PDF?”
“The sacrifice of Heroes is blessed in the eyes of the God-Emperor. How much more so the sacrifice of the Humble?” Hail countered.