Kerrigan nodded and squawked in binary. The cherubs carrying the privacy barrier fluttered away as quickly as they came. Daul looked across the room to the distant sight of the Sáclair's throne, grimacing slightly at the prospect of having to wade this way through the well meaning but blisteringly dull noblemen determined to force themselves into his social circle. Just as he was about to sign for Cairn to follow him Kerrigan giggled girlishly, "There is a better way of getting Sácomer's attention you realize."
"You're a psychic aren't you?"
Daul had little to say in response, the solution was blindingly obvious, too obvious for someone as absurdly obtuse as an Inquisitor to remember was at his disposal. He bit back a biting reply and swallowed his pride before muttering a curt, "thank you," that only resulted in more giggles from Kerrigan. Sending a message to another person via psychic means was a relatively simple task requiring little more than a line of sight and a force of will, both of which Daul had. Sácomer would be irked by the intrusion into his mind, but Sácomer was going to be frustrated no matter what. Daul focused his mind on the distant presence of Sáclair and whispered, "Sáclair I would have a word with you at your earliest convenience, which I presume would be imminent."
And then he waited. For a second he was sure that Sácomer had not understood his message or had presumed that it was a flight of fancy, psychic messages often were interpreted as such, but one of the brightly festooned guards of Sáclair approached him carrying one of the absurdly elaborate laser rifles favored on the Endless Bounty in one hand and a cane in the other. The guard stood in front of Daul and waved his cane twice, guiding a floating marble platform to the ground in front of him. The hidden antigravity generators hummed dangerously and created a bight blue pulsing sheen beneath the platform, cracking on the gold embossed onyx tiles of the floor. The guard turned wordlessly to Daul and motioned to the platform.
"I presume Sáclair got my message?"
The guard nodded curtly.
"Then I shan't keep him waiting," Daul headed for the center of the platform trying to ignore the hideously gaudy mosaic of Kitnik the Abjured on beneath his feet, "Come Cairn."
Once the Inquisitor and Skitarii were safely on the platform the guard muttered something into his sleeve, presumably activating a hidden communications bead. The platform began its steady rise to the lofty height upon which sat the throne of Sáclair. Daul grudgingly had to admit that the floating island of ivory and gold that made up the throne of Sáclair was impressive. The Damascus IV shipyards were unique in their ability to weave simple pieces of archeotech together for greater purposes, which is probably why the Biel Tan Eldar had been so keen to destroy them. The shipyards of Damascus now only existed in record but their remaining works were impeccable.
The massive throne itself hung from the ceiling as part of a massive stalactite of archeotech and artwork. Its sides glimmered with the light from a thousand delicate looking silvery filaments, each snaking their way from the chair of the throne up to one of the jade statues of former Captains. The statues and the great seal of the Lion actually covered up the entrances to the funereal vaults for the ships Captains in which the minds of the former leaders of the Endless Bounty were eternally kept in a near death state, sustained by a continuous bath of juvat-restoration chemicals and nutrients. The current Captain of the Endless Bounty was for all intents and purposes just a continuation of the experiences of the former one. Sáclair felt and remembered everything from the previous generations of his family as though he had lived it himself. Some of the former Captains had even taken to marrying the wives of their predecessor, a tradition that Daul was infinitely grateful that Sáclair did not take part in as the position had historically been hereditary. It would have made official gatherings with the Captain awkward.
Sáclair's throne served as a hard line connection to the ship and to the former Captains in the even that his own wireless sub-dermal implants connecting him to the ship's systems were to fail. In a very real way Sáclair represented the living connection between the past, present, and future of the Bounty. The past generations provided advice and council to Sáclair much as he would one day provide his successor. Considering his wide range of historical experience he had to draw from dating back to the Age of Apostasy, Sáclair had a well deserved ego and a vehement hatred of being controlled. Sáclair despised Daul, though an outsider would probably never know it. As the platform finally reached the throne, Sáclair was already jauntily and effortlessly perched upon this throne holding a goblet of wine and smiling brilliantly.
"He's enjoying this altogether too much"
Cairn shrugged and looked at Daul.
"I'm so glad that you find this amusing. I plan put you into an equally amusing situation later."
Even as the platform reached arm's length of the throne Sáclair continued to sit upon this throne, smiling, drinking his wine, lecherously eyeing one of his concubines, and wholly refusing to acknowledge the two meters of power armored psycher in front of him as one might ignore a petulant child. Daul resisted the powerful urge to shoot Sáclair and instead bowed his head as Cairn's vox caster played a recording of Daul's various titles and permissions. An attendant wearing an anti-gravity harness floated down and took Daul's scrolls and seals from Cairn and quickly verified them, disappearing into the ceiling as quickly as he came. Technically speaking security required that anyone presenting themselves to Sáclair provide a blood sample to verify their identity but Sáclair was not so crass as to force Daul to publicly humble himself by spilling blood on the altar used to verify DNA. Such pettiness was beneath Sáclair, not far beneath but still beneath him.
A servitor gave a hollow announcement of Daul's presence and Sáclair perked up in false surprise, as though he had not been staring directly at Daul for the past ten minutes, crossed his arms, and leaned back into the plush leather of his throne, "Well, it would seem that Inquisitor Daul is gracing my humble presence once again. Did you miss me Hildy?"
"We have business to discuss Captain."
Sáclair scoffed and drank deeply from his flagon of wine, "Come now Hildy, you know old friends like us are on a first name basis. I see you more often than I used to see my third wife, Throne rest her soul."
"Captain Sáclair I have no time for schoolyard bickering."
"She was also a nosy busybody with no sense of fun. When was the last time you simply let loose and left the rest of us to our own devices? There will be still be heretics in the morning."
"Not if I've had the chance to kill or convert them all by nightfall."
Sáclair laughed derisively, "Daul can I show you something?"
"If I say no will it make any difference?"
"Doubtful," Sáclair waved his hand at the ceiling of the hall activating a massive hololithic display. A swirling mass of green holographic stars blinked into existence, swirling about the room. The sounds of polite applause and genuine interest emerged from the crowd below. By then fact that the Inquisitor and the Captain were in conference was knowledge and the crew below were wildly speculating on the topics of conversation between the two most important persons they knew of. Sáclair seemed unaffected by the attention, "Beautiful isn't it? Space as far as we know it to be. This wide section is what human's rule."
"An Empire worthy of the God Emperor's dominion."
"Well said, but the Empire is comprised of millions of systems containing countless worlds, moons, outposts, and colonies. Uncounted trillions of faithful and doubtless millions of heretics live and die each day."
"Countless more of the faithful."
"Even so do you plan to catch them all?"
"You know full well I do not," Daul glowered, "A man may only do as much good as he may."
"Or as much evil," Sáclair snapped his fingers and a floating cherub approached him with a platter of meats. Sáclair reached out with a gloved hand and grabbed a pinch of the savory food, "Have you eaten yet Inquisitor? The grox is exquisite."
Daul started tapping his foot impatiently, "Sáclair I have no time for our usual games."
"My dear Hildy, time is always a luxury. It should be spent sparingly. Life is the one precious commodity we all have a shortage of in equal measure."
"And you're wasting mine. What do you know about Belzafest?"
Sáclair smiled wryly as he chewed a bite of the fresh grox, "You have what I know on the subject already."
"Sáclair I need a summary of events not the entire library of geographic and spatial history predicted for the past and present."
"I was being specific."
"No," Daul's voice cracked with a subtle aura of psychic energies, "You were being an insufferable waste of energy and whit. If I had a thousand years I would not be able to pick out the information I need."
"Nonsense you're a bright lad."
"You are hardly capable of judging that."
"IF you were any other man I would call you a presumptuous ass and have you marooned on the loneliest scrap of terraformed earth in sight, Inquisitor."
"And if you were any other man I would have shot you through the head and scuttled your ship on the nearest moon. Fortunately for the both of us we can only be who we are. So once again we find ourselves in the position where I need what you have."
"Indeed," Sáclair settled back into his cushioned seat.
"Do not force me to be so crude as to remind you of your debts owed."
It was a low blow, one that Daul would not normally use. Sáclair's face briefly contorted into a look of pure malice before snapping back to the blustering image of the spoiled prince, "Preston, the data slate please."
Preston, an old and particularly disagreeable looking servant in a spotless white suit approached on a gravity harness carrying a Data slate. Cairn snaked out a mechandrite to take it but Preston seemed unconvinced that he should hand it over till Sáclair waved his hand dismissively at Cairn. Preston shrugged passed the slate over and returned to wherever it was he came from.
"Inquisitor I wasn't lying when I said that I was giving you all I had on the matter. In so far as I can tell Belzafest is, for lack of a better word, gone."
"Gone? How does one disappear a planet?"
"Inquisitor I cannot pretend to guess, this is more your field of expertise. I have no idea what lies at the colony but your quarry has either great power or dangerous allies."
"Both I'm afraid, probably worse that even you fear. We are going after a nightmare. Have you set course for where the planet supposedly was?"
"I have. Though our route is destined to take us through some sections of tormented space rarely traveled."
"That is not altogether comforting Captain."
"It shouldn't be. We are going to be traveling through undercurrents of the Delvian Maw. It's a place of ill will and bad rumor. The oldest of my ancestors tell me tales of the nightmares that lurk within that seem like ghost stores. I can't be sure how much of them are true, the oldest of my predecessors are quite senile, but there are enough similarities between their narratives that it troubles me."
"Any truth to the rumors?"
Sáclair laughed bitterly, "If starships avoided every sector of space with a ghost story and a rumor of evil we would simply fly in circles around Holy Terra. No matter where we go there is always the risk of deamonic incursion or the like. The Jaws of the warp are omnipresent."
"Yes but recent events have shown the wisdom in trusting to rumors and superstition. I was not simply coincidence that the Martirio de los Naufragios was possessed by the warp beast."
"Then it is good that I have an expert in such matters traveling onboard my ship then is it not," Saclair's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Indeed you are," Daul ignored the Jab.
"I do have a matter to discuss with you as well Inquisitor."
Daul was reasonably certain he knew the topic to which he referred. It had been an unspoken point of contention for months, "Do you now? Which matter is that?"
"Our guest in solitary confinement in the detention center. Four fingers, bright yellow, hard to miss."
"I have nothing to say on that matter."
"Fantastic for you," Sácomer sipped at his wine, "I do."
"I suppose I should have expected that."
"He wants to see you. Damned if I know why he is so wildly loyal to you, you got his entire brood killed."
"They were honorable deaths, and it was only the end of a small portion of the blood line. Their bodies were sent back to the tribe to be consumed and absorbed back into their gene pool. He wants a similar honorable death."
"Why don't you just kill him already and be done with it. It's cruel to keep him caged as you have."
"The comforts of the xenos are not my concern, but there is another more pressing reason why I have not."
Daul chuckled, "I gave him my word."
"And that is enough to risk yourself and this entire ship?"
Daul closed his hand and silenced the captain, "If I break my word I am unworthy of my office and a craven liar. In my trade I find that my own honor is more valuable than any other tool I have at my disposal."
Sáclair raised an eyebrow, "There are times where I cannot figure out if you really are that insufferably noble and scrupulously honest or just alarmingly tactical in your speech."
"They are often the same."
"That you had such... Esoteric labor on retainer was something of a shock for me. If memory serves the couple of weeks I spent in your care was for a crime of association much less severe than what you yourself have committed."
"I was supposedly sending them on a suicide mission. My superiors were apprised of my intentions and approved of my decision to do so. Sending xenos to their doom is well within the boundaries of my authority," Cairn shifted to Daul's right, the Skitarii was not especially happy that the xenos had survived, "That any of them at all managed to walk away was nothing sort of a minor miracle and a testament to their field craft."
"But why keep him after he survived? Certainly you could have abandoned him on that moon. Even if you don't kill him why keep the xenos around, especially considering his disgusting appetites?"
"It is foolish to waste such a valuable tool. He is bound to die by my hand or in my service, and as I have denied him the former I am left with the latter."
"I don't like him," Sácomer downed the rest of his wine in a single throaty gulp.
"Nor do I, just keep him under lock and key with those hounds of his. And for Throne's sake warn the guards not to talk to him. We may yet have need of him."
"We reach the planet in ten hours Inquisitor," Sánclair said wearily, "You'd best prepare for the assault."
"Yes I that would be wise," Cairn tapped Daul's shoulder and passed him a dataslate, "Of course Cairn how foolish of me."
Sáclair looked amusedly at the Skitarii, he seemed to enjoy Cairn's silent role as mother hen to the Inquisitor greatly, "And what pray tell are you forgetting?"
"Kerrigan needs to make some modifications to the ship for this assault, your ship is not properly equipped for land warfare so we're going to have to improvise a bit. The details are on the datapad. And I need the Dorn unit taken out of storage, Kerrigan's people can do it but I need your approval to activate an arco-flagellant onboard your ship."
"What drives this obsession of yours to bring such foul things on my beautiful ship?" Sáclair accepted the dataslate and looked over it, his face lighting up with amusement as he read along, "This plan is almost entirely suicidal for you if it doesn't work perfectly."
"Will you do it?"
"I certainly wouldn't want to seem like I wasn't a team player now would I?"
Punishments within the Imperial justice system are often scaled differently from planet to planet depending on the crime, the severest punishment being the process of conversion to a servitor. Most condemned to lobotomy and conversion to a mindless cybernetic servitor are traitors in some way or another, those who embezzled imperial tithes or who sold state secrets to the enemy, but those condemned to the worst crimes of heresy are sometimes punished by a servitor conversion into an arco-flagelant. The process by which one becomes an arco-flagellant is painful and long by design rather than out of necessity, a punishment reserved for the lowest of heretics, traitors, and cowards. A criminal found guilty of egregious crimes against the Empire would be taken from the Cult of the Emperor by the Adeptus Mechanicus and reforged into a weapon. The subject was lobotomized of their higher thought functions and subconsciously molded to accept hypnotic commands. The flagellants spent most of their existence in a near comatose state, pumped full of narcotics and sedatives and forced to listen to soothing songs of praise to the Emperor and condemnation of heretics. It would not even be able to complete basic tasks without constant direction from a user.
Unlike the generally docile servitor however, the portions of the brain capable of memory and anger are left in tact. They remember how to hate, and that they hate, but not who they hate and why. They associate the prayers to the Emperor and Imperial heraldry with the blissful feeling of nothingness that saves them from the all too real feelings of pain and rage that otherwise plague them. On command a flagellant's narcotic drips can be disabled, turning the flagellant into a beast of pure rage and hatred. The flagellant will kill anything in its path, friend or foe, with the exception of its master and anyone bearing his seal. The flagellant is a loathsome creature but an often necessary one.
Dorn-746 was renamed for the Sainted Rogal Dorn for whom the day of celebration on which he was converted was held. In life "Dorn" had been Sotu'an Taka a criminal found guilty of committing a series of ritualistic murders he believed would elevate him to godhood. In life he had been cruel, calculating, and untrustworthy in his near death like state he was a spirit of pure rage. Daul had personally overseen his arco-flagellentation procedures, had watched his eyes glass over as lumps of brain had been pulled out by delicate mechandrites but Dorn still unnerved Daul slightly. Dorn may have had the sentience of a toaster but his thick beard and cruel smile were the same as they had always been.
Daul hated that smile, it reminded him of corpse mounds and sacrificial altars, the cornerstones of Dorn's former life as High Priest of the Zok'nor'oka-tek. Even so the flagellant servitor had proven invaluable, the berserker was dead useful in a pinch and Daul all too often had need of his brutality.
The cell in which Dorn-746 was kept on the Endless Bounty was actually a retrofitted servitor processing cell. A sturdy chair sat in the middle of the small ferrocrete cell upon which sat a man bound tightly with shackles of adamantium. Numerous intravenous tubes and wires dangled down from the ceiling, lazily snaking their way down to the various interface ports that pockmarked Dorn's hunched body. His arms, shacked with triple the chains of any other part of the body, ended in long barbed whip like appendages where his fingers ought to have been.
The room was pitch black and silent save for the slow dripping of condensation off of coolant lines and the soft ragged sound of Dorn's own troubled breath. As the door to Dorn's cell creaked open and light pierced the darkness Dorn twitched slightly.
The sound of men's shuffling feet in the tiny space echoed deafeningly. The two men's well-pressed uniforms seemed oddly stretched in the dim light of a single glow globe. If Dorn was aware of their presence he gave no sign. The taller of the two switched on a handheld lamp and moved towards the construct cautiously, rumors of the unstoppable killing machine of the Inquisitor were widespread on the bounty and he was unwilling to test the validity of just how invincible the flagellant was. The two carefully stepped over the tubes and cords, making their way to the center.
The shorter one eyed the nutrient feed warily and whispered, "It's a standard interface, let's just be done with it and get out of this eerie damn cell."
His fellow reached into a leather pouch, "Are you sure we aren't going to activate it?"
"I doubt it, but if we do at the very least there won't be enough of us left for them to do to us what they did to this poor bastard."
"You're sure of the Inquisitor's orders?"
"Gold level encryption straight from the command deck, I double checked. We come here are start stage one of the ambulatory processes for the servitor."
"Do you even know what that means?"
"I know it means I take this syringe, " he said pulling a long needle out of his satchel, "And plug it into that man's IV feed tube."
"But why isn't a tech priest here for this, hell even a Churegon?"
"Tech boys been commandeered by Kerrigan's lot, and whatever the Inquisitor's got planned has got the Chief Docere freaking out over how many wounded they can deal with at once," he had started to plug the syringe into its place in the machine, "And let's be honest, if this thing goes ape it's probably better to lose two ratings than it is to lose a tech priest or a medic."
"Not really a comfort sir."
"It isn't really supposed to be," the machine had started to absorb the liquid in the syringe into the IV, "Just keep your gun on it."
"Will a shotgun be enough to keep this thing down if it goes pear shaped?"
"Should be enough to give us the time to keep shooting it in the face till it actually stays dead."
"Makes sense I suppose."
"Course it does," the first said as he wiped his hands on his trousers, "You think too hard about these things. It's why you never seem to get a promotion and I do."
"Fine, can we get the hell out of here then? The Inquisitor will be here to pick the damnable thing up soon and I'd prefer not to see the Inquisitor."
"Why, you got something to hide?"
"The guy makes my skin crawl," he shuddered, "He can read minds from what I hear."
"Well if we do see him he won't read anything from me other than a powerful need to eat. To the eye with that bolt magnet of an Inquisitor. We've done what's ours."
"You don't have to tell me twice, the freak's keeps twitching."
The two left quickly and shut the door, once again leaving the bound form of Dorn alone in the darkness, fidgeting.
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