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post #1 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:10 AM Thread Starter
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Default The Circle Must be Broken

Inquisitor Daul is hunting down the dangerous heretic Soren Faust on the planet of Belzafest. Faust, the supposedly long dead traitor Inquisitor Lord, infamous for close to a century for his wild genetic experiments and insane philosophies, has taken world hostage and is planning something insidious. Aided by the former Skitarii Cairn Thross, the Magos Kerrigan, the elite soldiers known as the Lionhearts and reluctantly aided by the Rogue Trader Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair Daul is about to discover secrets far beyond the scope of what he was prepared to manage and is going to have to find his place in a wider world than he had ever believed existed in a war for the fate of humanity long before even the Dark Age of technology. Babylon five is a haven for warriors, idealists, dreamers, and wanderers. How much damage can one more ship of fanatics do in the long run?

I own nothing.

Daul's perennial nightmare had not changed in decades, his terrifying fever dreams as inevitable as the act of sleep. He would close his eyes and find himself in the home of his youth, as unchanged and welcoming as it had been in childhood. It had been decades since he'd last been to Metzik, it had never been the same after the imperial purges but his childhood memories of the world would always be of a place that was green and full of life. Throne help him how he missed the smells of cooking meat from his mothers kitchen and the smell of curing wood in his father's workshop. His father.... His father, it all came back to his father in the end. Daul was perhaps the only child in existence who's greatest desire was his father die and stay dead.

His father never stayed dead. His father could never stay dead.

Usually Daul would avoid the dream by self-medicating with a compound that granted dreamless sleep. It was an effective substance but not without side effects and Daul could not afford to dull his whits in the following morning. So it was that he was once again in his dream, a small and helpless boy fleeing a gore-soaked effigy of his parent. Daul knew that he was within a dream, knew that the monster was long since dead, knew that by force of will and by the strength of his own hands he had crushed stronger fores in a heartbeat but in his dreamful state the only facts that seemed to hold sway were the need for safety and the furious beating of his own heart.

Daul's childhood home was exactly as it had been in his youth, a large center hall house of the traditional Metzik fashion. A tall house made out of the dark wood of the forest that blanketed most of the planet, a warm place of the smells of spices and cured meats. It was a simple place, a place of plenty and relative calm in the grand empire of mankind. A world untouched by the wars and conflict that raged through most of the galaxy, a paradise by all accounts.

It was also the place where Daul's father would kill his entire family.

It had been an accident in the mines that killed his father, or so they said at first. Some fool hadn't properly shored up the supports and the whole tunnel collapsed. It was a tragedy for the entire community of miners. Efforts were made to dig survivors out of the cave and some were saved but Daul's father was not one of the ones unearthed by the rescue teams. In the following days Daul sat with his mother and this three sisters in the chapel the Emperor, ostensibly praying wisdom and salvation. Daul did not pray for his father's salvation, he prayed for his father's resurrection. If the great saint Daufn Por had been raised at the will of the God Emperor then why not a man as good and true as Daul's father.

It was not the emperor who heeded Daul's prayers for resurrection but his prayers were answered, after a fasion.

Daul's father came back. He emerged days later from a shaft on the southern ridge, covered in soot and looking like death warmed over but alive as any man. It had been heralded as a miracle of the God-Emperor when Daul's father had come out of the southern mineshaft unhurt some two weeks later. A curse cloaked as a blessing.

For in the days that followed his father would become more distant, laugh less, eat more, and be prone to capricious bouts of fury. Sven Hilder had never said a cross word in his life before but rapidly became the worst sort of man. Something in that shaft had changed him something that he had found in the darker pits of the earth. The colonists had no way of knowing this but man was not the first creature to colonize Metzik. There were xenos of the worst kinds imaginable in Metzik's distant past, monsters who could drive a man mad simply by gazing upon their warped visage. Beneath the surface of Metzik lay remnants of great evils long past. Creatures of spite and craft had once lived on Metzik and had left artifacts of twisted powers and false promise to tempt the unwary.

In life he had welcomed his father back with open arms but in the dream he was wiser. He would try to convince his family that the thing that visited them nightly was not his father, to warn them of the danger that this twisted mockery of a man represented, but they didn't listen.

Please, Emperor help me... Please make them listen... I can't let it happen again!

His mother would cry and embrace the father-thing and his sister would praise the God-Emperor for his grace. It waited for the end of her prayer to change, the blasphemy of corrupting a child's prayers too tempting to resist. No longer was it the hale and healthy image of his father but a twisted and malevolent abattoir beast wearing his father's face grinning a chelsea smile. Then it would begin, and he would do nothing.

What could a child be expected to do? But he was not a child was he? Was he not a grown man? No.. not in the dream... never in the dream...

Daul would watch his family being butchered by the chaos spawned xenoform father-creature. In Daul's own life the creature was slain many years ago by his mentor Inquistor Martin Gaal but there would be no power-armored rescuer in the nightmare. He was alone to fight off his father. What boy can fight his own father?

He's not my father, not my father. My father could never be you! Please don't be my father...

He was alone with the cruel mockery of his father's love, forced to listen to its insane cackle and listen to its fleshy chewing. For the icon bound to his father's flesh could only be paid for its boons of power and madness in flesh and blood, the universal currencies of sacrifice.
He would try to trick himself into believing that his father had not killed him out of love, that he would take all he needed out of the others and leave Daul alone but love was a boon his father could no longer grant, another sacrifice to his blasphemous icon. The room would spin as he stood, spindly young legs shaking with panic and sorrow. It made no sense for it to be happening and thus must not be true.

Please let it not be true.

The soft and almost seductive voice of his father whispered hollow words of comfort and love to Daul, “Come now child never fear, you are safe, you're always safe around your father.”

Daul would stand still, wishing to believe it but knowing it to be false. He would sit and listen to the creature's platitudes and promises till it started to scoop out the soft contents of his mothers head and start pawing chunks into a distended maw. The urge to flee overpowered all his other conflicting emotions.

Daul's child mind was frustratingly uncreative, the protection of a blanket and a stuffed bear seem as powerful as any void shield. No matter how many times he fled to his room his secret place in the hollow space in the wall between his bed and where his chest of toys sat did not protect him but he still ran there to clutch his favorite stuffed animal as though the misshapen and thread-worn bear could provide sanctuary. As though the overstuffed face held a reliquary of the Golden Throne itself.

Clutching the bear he would pray to his mother for guidance, a weak child sending impotent prayers sent to the dead. The ancestors could not save him from the predations of chaos spawned xenotech.

Ragged breath and shambling bow-legged footsteps caused by something large caused him greater and greater panic with every passing second. The softest creaks and echoes of the shifting of floorboards sounded thunderous in Daul's ears.

Daul tried to hide himself in the friendly face of the overstuffed bear, hopping to muffle the sound of his frenzied breathing and the furious tattoo of his own heart.

The creature's hands made wet noises as they slapped on the frame of his bedroom door. It grinned it's twisted skeletal grin, stretching out the skin of his father's face and cried out, “Daul... are we playing a game now Daul? Daddy likes games?”

Daul squeezed himself into a tighter ball.

“Why don't we play a game Daddy likes? Do you want to play the game Daddy and Mommy just played? I promise we'll only do it once,” It cackled to itself as it tore the clothes in Daul's closet to shreds.

“Or do you want to play a game of hide and seek? Oh what a naughty child you are hiding from daddy,” its voice darkened, “remember... Daddy loves you doesn't he?” More laughter followed.

“Ok, new rules to the game. Daddy finds you and we play a game he likes, Daddy doesn't find you and you get to leave?” Liar... he would never escape. Daul choked back a sob, Damn, had it heard?No... emperor almighty let it not have heard.... please.

Seconds passed that felt like an eternity, the creature stood in the room ranting and raving to itself till it grew bored, there was the sound of footsteps then silence, glorious silence. It might have left after all, perhaps tonight was the night were “daddy” lost the game.

Daul dared not check, but what other option was there?

Daul shifted his weight and looked out the hollow. In the darkness there was nothing, a great void of emptiness. No, not nothing, throne help him not nothing, in the darkness there was a still darker shadow shuddering with silent laughter.

The last memory of his dream was a wicked taloned hand grabbing, twisting, and clawing at his flesh.


Daul shot out of bed, roughly clipping the crown of his head on the alcove above. His fears and worries about the dream were numbed by the throbbing pain in his now swollen and throbbing head. Lights blinked before his eyes as he made his way to the washbasin at the side of the room. The rooms provided for Daul by Captain Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair were spacious by naval standards but poorly suited for the broad form and tall stature of the Metzik native. The only larger spaces were either poorly placed in terms of security and privacy. It would not do to either leave himself wide open for an attack or to allow a member of the crew to witness a member of His Majesty's most glorious Inquisition reduced to tears over a bad dream.

But it wasn't just a dream was it?

It was a memory of things long past, things that might have been and ought not be allowed to pass in future. Most people feared the demons of their past, the Inquisitors simply had the luxury of being able to put names and faces on those who haunt the recesses of dreams and nightmares. Many in his profession either ended their own lives or went mad from the pressure, the sacrifices of uncensored knowledge of the universe. Daul's discomfort was well deserved but difficult to explain, better to maintain the anonymity and privacy expected of his position. Daul was not long trapped in such dark musing however, the massive form of Daul's attendant brushed through the door to his private chambers carrying a strong drink in one hand and a data slate in the other.
Daul smiled, “Cairn you're a saint.”
Cairn Thross served as bodyguard, attendant, and confidant to Daul. He was a large man, larger still than Daul himself, posessed of a stoic manner and a cloaked frame bulging with augmentic implants. Cairn had once been a member of the Skitarii, the special defense forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus before his assignment to Daul in payment for services rendered in defense of the Daskal Forge. Cairn was as unwavering in his duties to Daul as he was in his devotion to the omassiah, completing all tasks in silent efficacy. He was also an alarmingly good cook and bartender who had long since given up solid food and strong drink for the intravenous nutrition drip favored by the Skitarii.

Exactly how one of the augmentic soldiers of the machine god had become so proficient in the various domestics, dalliances, and duties of an inquisitorial attendant was something of a mystery to Daul, a mystery that Cairn was unlikely to ever resolve. Though all of Daul's earthly oaths of loyalty and fealty were bound to Daul his spiritual oaths to the omassiah were unchanged. All members of Cairns legion took an oath of silent obedience, swearing only to speak in the secret binary tongue of the machine. Cairns brief bouts of speech were invariably in a garish and whirring tone of garbled screeches and clicks. Binary, the secret language of the machine worshippers was totally alien to most of the universe, some members of the Inquisition attested that it wasn't even translatable by mortal man and could only be bestowed by the curious machine sorceries of the Admech. After over two decades of listening to the garbled warbling speech and Daul was tempted to agree.

There were a number of mysteries to Skitarii Thross' name. Even if Cairn were able to speak Daul doubted that Cairn would betray the honor of his order and reveal their secrets nor would Daul be able to ask for them in good faith. Daul would have to survive on the silent service of his faithful aide without knowing every secret, a privilege rarely given by an Inquisitor.

“Thank you Cairn,” Cairn made the symbol of the cog, his universal symbol of thanks, welcome, and greeting used in lieu of speech.

Daul shook his head, someday he would learn that small-talk was wasted on his impassive metallic acquaintance. He accepted the drink and the data-slate and proceeded to partake in both. The drink transpired to be less mind numbing than the data reports on the slate. There was only one conclusion to be drawn from the voluminous facts and figures, “Nathaniel Sáclair despises me.”

Sáclair hated Daul for the same reason that he was honor bound to aid Daul in times of need. Daul had saved his life and his honor. Sáclair would never be able to properly repay Daul for the debt he owed, a fact that galled the notoriously willful and violently independent captain of the Endless Bounty. Sáclair would never be so uncouth as to leave a debt of honor unpaid but his puckish and theatrical nature demanded that he rebel as much as honor allowed. Childish pranks were how Sáclair allowed himself to maintain his own sanity and sense of control. In this instance the status report that Daul had requested was not a simple summary of the past eight hours and an estimated time of arrival but rather a complete historical log of both the travels of the Endless Bounty and the Belzafest outpost. Without spending months or years sifting through the data it was useless.

Daul looked up at Cairn, “No chance this makes any sense to you does it?”

Cairn nodded.

“Yeah, that figures,” it wasn't as though Cairn could exactly explain the tablets, “Goes with my luck so far.”

Daul flipped the data-slate upside down and shook it, vainly hoping that it would jar some morsel of knowledge from the recesses of the data. Or at least change it into a language he could understand, the scribbles were as incomprehensible as the numbers, “What language is this written in anyway? A dialect of proto-gothic?”

Cairn nodded.

Daul looked frustratedly at Cairn, “None of this data is even remotely useful to me if I do go through the effort of having a logic engine run this through its machine spirit and collate the data?”

Cairn shook his head.

“Sáclair is going to make me walk up to the bridge and talk to him while he's sitting on that gaudy excuse for a throne isn't he?”

Cairn nodded.

“The universe hates me doesn't it.”

Cairn nodded and shook his shoulders, the closest thing to laughter he was capable of. Clearly he found the situation to be as amusing as Sáclair no doubt did. Humor was not a characteristic emphasized by the adepts of the machine god but in spite of this Cairn seemed to have gained a healthy sense of irony and sarcasm that he used to the best of his ability. It was just as well that the Skitarii would never be in the service of the Admech in the future, they would probably consider a jovial Skitarii to be some grievous form of heresy.

The throne to which Dual referred sat in the middle of the command deck in a high ceilinged hall with wide banks of data-screens and vid-banks arranged around the room like the multicolored glass of a cathedral window. The room was a physical representation of the opulence and temporal powers to which Sáclair had access. The Endless Bounty was a city of its own packed into four miles of starship. It was a community of thousands for whom the command deck represented the epicenter for king, country, and God-Emperor. Though none of the crew were so craven or so bold as to deny the Emperor the base of Nathaniel's command chair was probably the closest most of them would ever get to reaching the Holy Throne of High Terra. The crew of the bounty were, with few exceptions, void-born folk. Entire generations would be born, live, and die without ever having entered an atmospheric shuttle or left an airlock. Every deck and sector was a city of a greater nation flying the livery of the Lion of Sáclair.

Like any other nation the Endless Bounty was steeped in tradition and governed by custom. Since the ship first left the Damascus IV shipyards and went to the stars the de-facto center of society and culture was always the grand hall of the command deck. The ship's command structure was ostensibly a meritocracy the majority of Sáclairs court of officers had gained their positions hereditarily. Like any oligarchy it suited them to structure government in such a way that they could primp and pose for the lesser members of their world, showing their superiority. One could always expect a queue of deckhands, gunners, ratings, and merchants petitioning the magistrate for marriage, divorce, or any number of other legal matters. It would be rare for either a member of the command staff to be involved in such matters but they always occurred under the watchful gaze of Sáclair.

Daul was a man of status and would not have to queue up with the crew but a meeting with Sáclair would require him to obey the protocol else risk insulting Sáclair and freeing him from his debts. It was unlikey that Sáclair expected such an obvious ploy to work but it would amuse Sáclair to no end to force Daul to operate within a social structure that he dominated. Sáclair would obey the whims of Daul but in order to get him to do so Daul would have to maintain the image of amiable servitude to a benevolent captain.

It would be a small price to pay but it was no less annoying.

Such byplay was all well and good, Daul supposed but custom dictated that he wear full inquisitorial livery bearing all the seals of his office and his signed inquisitorial mandate, which was frankly more of a hassle than he wished to deal with for a relatively simple status report. He would have to do it. He needed the information Sáclair was withholding.

“Still, if Sáclair insists upon me arriving in full livery I will do so,” Daul smiled wickedly an amusing idea popping into his head, “Cairn, how quickly can you get my formal livery out of storage?”

Cairn looked at Daul confusedly, one of the tentacle like mechandrites that dangled from where his mouth used to be lazily raised and pointed in the direction of Daul's armoire.

“Not that one.”

Cairn nodded to the laundry hamper.

“No Cairn my other suit.”

Cairns mechandrites shifted excitedly and his shoulders shook as comprehension dawned on him. Sáclair was not the only one with a sense of irony.

Last edited by Todeswind; 10-29-10 at 07:00 AM. Reason: Adding a summary
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post #2 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:35 AM Thread Starter
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Is there a character limit? Turns out yes!


Daul had no issue in navigating the bustling halls of the great market that led to the transport tubes. The crew was in shock and awe of the Inquisitor at the best of times, now that he was garbed in the full robes and powered armor of his complete battle raiment they were terrified to be within arms reach. One particularly unprepared crewman actually jumped back and knocked over a table of fresh fruit, causing the vendor at the stand to fly into a fit of epileptic rage that was cut shot upon seeing the skull like face of Daul's helmet.

“Even the pious and mighty fear the wrath of His Majesty's Inquisition,” his former master had once told him, “We are the things of nightmare and of greatest hope, often at the same time.”

It stood to reason that people as guilty of minor heresy as those on the bounty would be gifted with a special mistrust for the inquisition. The Endless Bounty had a record of trading with people and species who were off limits to the traders of the empire, a fact that Sáclair historically chose to forget in light of potential profits. They were heretics but there was more use in their lives than in their deaths, a fact that Daul had put to good use. He was lucky that the looks were only of fear and not of hatred, even the thickest of the crew seemed to realize that their survival was by Daul's will alone.

Cairn lightly tapped on Daul's sholder, augmentic fingers clinking loudly on the ornate adamantium shell. Daul looked around and smiled. A group of five armed security officers were following them at a discrete distance. Daul smiled behind his mask, “I see Sáclair still feels the need for us to have our entourage.”

Cairn squinted and nodded. This was not the first time he had caught members of the crew following him at a distance. The security chief of the ship was determined to ensure that there was no incident with the local criminal element and the Inquisitor, he had a great fear of Daul that was well earned. The obviously placed guards were an olive branch to help make him feel at ease and to demonstrate the chief's willingness to comply with the any inquisitorial efforts.

They needn't have bothered, the first thing Daul had bothered to do after moving to his quarters was to track down the leader of the largest crime syndicate onboard and assert his dominance. Hess, the underboss of the largely deserted section of ship nearest to the engines plasma reclamations, had proven to be quite reasonable and compliant. Watching the best of your guards flayed alive by psychic energies before being held down by a Skitarii who injects you with a remote detonator tends to engender a more agreeable attitude. The criminal element onboard the Endless Bounty was by and large unwilling to risk being within line of sight of the “psychic terror,” though there were always some fools in the bunch no doubt. The submission of the ships criminals had probably been overkill but it helped enforce his own image of omnipotent control.

“If I can take out a Hive Tyrant what hope does a mugger have?”

Cairn looked back impassively at the blue uniformed security officers in apparent mild frustration. There had already been several attempts on Daul's life in the past months, the last of which Cairn had nearly failed to avert. Cairn's professionalism demanded that he allow the security officers to follow them but his pride demanded that he treat them as an equal threat. The look he gave Daul spoke volumes.

“Thross I would not worry about the security staff, they need me alive for the next fifty years or the whole of the Imperial Navy will be at their throats,” Daul was confident in the loyalty of Sáclairs crew. They may not like the Inquisitor but they liked living more than they feared him.

The Endless Bounty had come within a hair's breadth of annihilation. Some ten years ago the ship was seized by imperial forces at the border of Tau controlled space en route from an imperial world who had recently defected to xenos control. The ship, its cargo, and its crew had been seized by the magistrate on charges of treason and heresy. While the standard procedure in such a situation was generally summary execution of the crew and destruction of the ship to avoid xenos contamination the magistrate had apparently decided that caution was called for, he could not be sure if the Captain had been aware of the planet's defection at the time he left or even as they were trading. A rarity in the empire for sure, the magistrate wanted absolute proof of treason before he ended thousands of lives. In light of this Daul had been called in to investigate the situation and determine the legitimacy of Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair. Sáclair was potentially guilty of trading with the heretics but Dual was to discover the truth.

Nathaniel was guilty as sin. He had been regularly doing trade with various institutions at the fringes of space that were questionable at best, but it seemed strange that Sáclair's trading guild was not trying to stop Daul's efforts to root out the truth of Sáclair. They were, in fact, providing him with a plethora of damning information. It was all too easy.

Daul didn't like too easy, it often meant that someone was hiding something far worse and trying to get rid of him, so he started researching the Amon Sui Trading Guild and discovered a far larger issue than a single errant captain. Further investigation revealed that the arrest of Sáclair had less to do with heresy and more to do with simple economics. An astounding amount of trade was ongoing between the supposedly blockaded border worlds and the various trading guilds of the sector, so much so that it would be only a matter of time before a massive imperial retribution would be taken out upon the entire guild. As a way of preserving their image of proper behavior the guild had offered up Sáclair to the magistrate as a sacrificial lamb, someone to point at and say, “here is what we do with heretics in our guild,” while still committing greater heresy in secret.

Sáclair was an easy target, he was the last of his house and already had an infamous reputation for breaking the rules and laws he felt were too restrictive for someone of his status. Obedience to authority was anathema to Sáclair, he would rather die than be cowed under the yolk of someone else's control. The evidence provided to the magistrate to convict Nathaniel proved to be enough rope for Daul to use to strangle the guild. The disloyalty and subterfuge of the guild disgusted Daul, Sáclair was far from a perfect man but he seemed to be a good and loyal man or at least as good and loyal as one can expect a pirate to be. Moreover, in spite of his many heresies, Sáclair had a faith in the power of the Emperor that was second do none. True faith was in short supply as of late.

The lowest pits of the malevolent eye were reserved for traitors and deserters, the center of hell itself the home of the great dragon that sits in place and rips the flesh off the greatest traitor of all, Horus thrice damned. This was what Daul's mentor had raised him to believe, an unusual philosophy for an inquisitor perhaps but one that Daul believed wholeheartedly. Such a cold and calculated dismissal of someone so pious and loyal made the Inquisitor's blood boil.

By the time Daul had finished with them and their holdings the once proud and prominent Amon Sui Guild was broken. It's members who had not been declared an excommunicate traitor killed were stripped of property and titles. Daul had bound Sáclair under imperial mandate and commandeered his ship for fifty years and a day, technically making the Endless Bounty an inquisitorial ship and thus beyond the jurisdiction of the Magistrate. Sáclair's heresies would be absolved by doing great works in His name.

The process had worn Sáclair physically and spiritually. His great laugh was less wholehearted and his famous smile no longer seemed to reach his eyes, but then how does a man who's jailer is his only ally react? Sáclair would probably hate Daul for the rest of his natural life. Daul had interrogated him, tortured him, violated the boundaries of his mind, heart, and soul. He had destroyed Sáclair's history and pride, tearing to shreds the guild to which he was bound to service by blood and honor. Then Daul had the unmitigated gall to save Sáclairs life, his crew, and restore his honor in the eyes of the imperial administration. Sáclair would never forgive Daul for saving him or himself for needing to be saved.

The decisions he made in that investigation were not popular ones, the Amon Sui Guild had been well connected even within the inquisition itself. Its members though bereft of title were not without resources and influence. Already there had been several unsuccessful attempts on Dauls life by guild trained assassins bearing the mark of Ska'ra'xo, a death cult devoted to the god Slaaneshi from the hive world of Kag-Gal. They were like most death cultists, insane, uncreative, blood thirsty, and dangerous beyond belief, the Ska'ra'xo had nearly destroyed the Kag-Gal some two centuries earlier. Exactly how they had survived the ensuing imperial purge was unclear but it seemed more than likely the Amon Sui were guilty of having harbored them. The cult was only one in a series of dirty secrets unearthed by Daul, sadly far from the most damming one.

“We are causing as much of a stir as I had hoped,” Daul said to the eternally silent Cairn as he flipped the call switch on for a transport tube. A merchant had just walked into a doorframe in his frenzied efforts not to make eye contact with the Inquisitor. “Lets hope we don't actually scare any of the crew to death then.”

Like most of the ship the doors to the transport tube were gaudy and overbearing. In the center of a number statues in relief depicting the works of the Emperor and his Primarchs was a truly heinously ugly paining of Sanfal the lesser. Sanfal was a saint known for his fondness of seafarers and mariners who most starship crew in the sector prayed to for guidance. It made sense to have the images in such a well traveled place, it forced the uneducated and illiterate masses to be exposed to their history daily. Daul did however wish that the custom for painting Sanfal the lesser did not call for painting him dying as excruciatingly as the artist could stomach. Seeing Sanfal in pain seemed to comfort the crew, it was as though they believed that the worse pain that Sanfal had gone through on their behalf the less pain that would be in their own life. It was not equally comforting to Daul.

Daul was convinced that this particularly heinous paining of Sanfel the Lesser had been placed on the nearest lift to his quarters intentionally, “He wants me to be off base when I see him, needs me to be off base.”

Cairn looked at Daul nonplussed.

Daul laughed, “Honestly how he expected this to offput me I have no idea. We have seen too much you and I. How many years have you been in my service? Twenty... no twenty five isn't it? And we still have a long time to go before either of us is fit to retire.”

Cairn's optics refocused confusedly and his shoulders began to shake. The idea that either the Skitarii or the Inquisitor would retire to some resort community for the wealthy, elderly, and infirm with the aging nobility of the core worlds was quite amusing. The Daul, Inquisitor Lord Interrogator and “Cleanser of Boros VII,” was an unlikely choice for a life of convalescence and games of regicide with other retirees, as unlikely as a celebration of Horus' birth in the lands of High Terra.

“Oh shut up and get in the lift you augmentic terror.”

The lift was already crowded with crew members when the two massive men entered the lift and only continued to fill up more as the lift headed towards the command decks, a sea of the scarlet and gold uniforms of the crewmen of those under Sáclair's command. Noon signaled the end of second shift and the start of third, no amount of fear of the Inquisitor would stop the crew from reaching their duties on time. Like any ship worth its salt the Endless Bounty had strict punishments for the shiftless and the lazy, not the least of which was flogging a man once for every minute late he was to his duties.

Daul and Cairn were not the only non-crew on the lift. There was color scattered in the sea of crimson and gold, a ship of the Endless Bounty's size and prestege invariably picked up merchants, pilgrims, travelers and wanderer's over time. Cairn was eyeing them sternly, the Skitarii had never forgiven himself for allowing an assassin near Daul and was prone to extreme mistrust. It was far from uncalled for but this particular group seemed innocuous enough. He doubted that the couple in their full dress formalwear in the corner would be a particular threat, they seemed to engrossed in discussing wedding preparations. Daul followed the direction of Cairn's gaze, smiled, and telepathically whispered, <I very much doubt that the couple on their way to ask Sáclair permission to marry are about to attack two men in full armor Skitarii Thross.>

Cairn waved a mechandrite dismissively, ignoring the psychic intrusion entirely and simply continuing to focus on the other people on the lift. Daul closed his eyes and focused on the sounds round him. The language of the crew was a flowing form of low gothic combined with some native speech patters from the worlds on which Saclair's ancestors had mustered the crew. Daul had learned the some of the language in his past months on the ship but his mastery thereof had proven difficult as there was no written equivalent to their spoken language. Anything important enough to be written down would be done so in High Gothic rather than the ship's native speech. He could communicate with his own Metzik variant of Gothic, which was similar enough to the High Gothic of the command staff to be understood, but he missed a lot of the subtext of the conversations going round him. His own psychic talents allowed him greater insight but it was far from enough to allow him to have a conversation with the largely illiterate crew.

Still he could understand the gist, though the crew were wont to assume otherwise. The topic of the day seemed to be the last round of So'go'ol, a common game on starships based upon the speed at which members of a team could traverse a maze of cargo crates and score a point by tossing a ball into the opposing team's goal. Each team was distributed shock pistols capable of temporarily disabling a member of the opposing team, a team would win by getting the most points possible before all their team members were disabled. The game had started as a way of training the starship crews to defend against boarding actions but had since evolved into something wholly unrecognizable.
The crewmen were arguing about some bizarre technical terms to do with how one ought to oversee a game properly. There was some contention over if the most recent match had been refereed poorly. The losing team was petitioning for a rematch.
Sporting discussions varied little from planet to planet, the universality of human behavior astounded Daul. His musings on the subject were interrupted by the stopping of the lift. A lean and narrow man wearing purple robes with an orange fringe entered the lift and leveled a look of abject disdain at Daul.

“Zorn Calven,” Daul spat out the word like an oath under his breath, “Just perfect.”

A navigator of great pride and status, Zorn was one of the three men on the Eternal Bounty responsible for guiding her through the eddies and currents of the warp. His gaunt and pinched face echoed generations of inbreeding between the various families of the Navis Noblitie, the imperial houses of navigators. As a rule navigators were unnerving and off-putting, their appearance bore an etherial air of unnaturalness. They were warp-touched, though they lacked the talent to manipulate its energies but could traverse its currents with grace and ease. No ship in the Empire could navigate without at least one, a fact that Zorn believed grated him a seat a the right hand of the golden throne after death. Basic social courtesy was something that lesser mortals needed to worry about, not navigators.

“Greetings Inquisitor.”

“Good morning to you Navigator.”

“Inquisitor you know as well as I how useless the idea of day is within a starship. It is always day inside this ship and night sleeps eternally outside our second skin of adamantium.”

Smarmy Bastard, thought Daul, “And yet I see that the clock is set to the time on Terra, if day and night suit the will of the Emperor I assure you they are good enough for me.”

“I'm sure they are Inquisitor.”

“What is that supposed to mean.”

“Only what you wish for it to,” his face turned up in a grin that look stretched and wrong on his face, “We are just making friendly conversation after all.”

Zorn reached a hand into his pocket and Cairn tensed imperceptibly, the Skitarii's hand reaching into the fold of his robes where he hid a high powered laspistol, but Zorn only pulled out an elegant snuffbox and sniffed a pinch between two gaunt fingers.

“Sáclair feels he is bound to you Inquisitor.”

“Does he now?”

“So it would seem, though I wonder if we truly are. A less pious man than I might harbor hatred for you in secret.”

“Would they now?” Cairn's had buried itself in his robes, covertly aiming his pistol at the Navigator. The bulge of the pistol was hidden in the various irregularly shifting bulges of mechandrites and augmentics on his body.

“Indeed most honorable Inquisitor, you have caused the financial ruin or death of some of the noblest and influential families of the sector,” Zorn tucked the snuff box away and rubbed his nose delicately.

“Even a navigator must answer for crimes of heresy. A ship doesn't reach a xenos core world or a Chaos planet without the consent of the navigator or foul sorcery,” Daul rearranged his cape in a gesture of dismissal, allowing him to cover the left hand that now grasped the blade at his side, “Tell me Navigator do you have anyone in mind who would hold such a grudge?”

“None in particular Inquisitor, you left few enough alive after your vendetta and fewer of the great houses were left blameless in your eyes,” he brushed back his hair. His bulbous eyes and ill defined features scrunched on their narrow frame, “Even I lost family to you and my house lost fewer than most.”

“I doubt a guiltless man will suffer Navigator.”

“How can they be guiltless when innocence is no excuse? The Inquisition is not know for its delicate methods.”

Daul scowled at the Navigator but did not answer. The two stood starting at each other expectantly, neither willing to be the first to break the silence. The rift rumbled and shook, echoing with the cheerful talk of the crew who continued on oblivious to the power struggle happening before their eyes. It was a good half hour before the lift reached level 56 and Zorn was forced to back off the lift. As the lift doors closed behind the navigator he stated in a cold voice, “The next man who has suffered at your hands is unlikely to mince words with you in a place where your clockwork man can protect you beneath his skirts.”

The doors shut with a resounding clang. Daul turned to Cairn, “Throse help me but I detest that man.”

Cairn shook his head frustratedly.

“I know, I know, the part that annoy me isn't that he's an ass, though he is one. Its that I can't tell if he's threatening us or warning us.”

Daul sighed, “When we get to Sáclair we're going to have to get him to take Dorn out of storage.”

Cairn garbled something off in binary, that Daul was sure had been rude.

“Yes we will. I find him as distasteful as you do but we need someone who lacks loyalty issues.”

The rest of the trip passed in silence.

It will be at least three chapters before this story reaches the crossover. I plan to update this story on tuesdays every other week.

Reviews as always are welcome.
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post #3 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:38 AM Thread Starter
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Security was tight at the entrance to the great hall. Sáclair feared for his own life, an not without good reason. The Amon Sui blamed Sáclair for their fall as much as they did Daul. Daul was not aware of any attempts on Sáclair's life but it was foolish to presume that there had been none. The captain was unlikely to inform the Inquisitor of any breaches in security lest he be left with no other resource. The last attempt must have rattled Sáclair; even Daul was stopped by security.

Daul almost didn't notice that the guard at the diplomatic entrance was flagging him down till he noticed the purplish glow of the portable void shield covering the entrance.

"I'm sorry sir," said the security guard at the checkpoint, "I know who you are but protocol demands that you verify your identity before I allow you through."

Daul eyed the guard exasperatedly. Only a Lionheart, a member of the elite guard in Sáclair's employ, would have the courage to force an Inquisitor to play by the rules. The guard stared stonily at the Daul, face betraying no emption other than mild boredom as he brushed some lint off of the golden embroidery on the silk strap of an elegant but deadly looking hellgun. Daul shook his head. "I really have no time for this Sergeant."

"Not for me to judge sir. Either you verify your identity or you get the slag off this deck," said the Sergeant. Daul glowered at the rudeness and he hastily added, "Sir."

"If I must," Daul shook his head wearily and removed his helmet, cool air brushing his face. The additional security was frustrating but probably necessary.

The Guard nodded and turned to a sleek panel on the wall. He placed his hand on the control console and whispered softly. A faint green glow ran over his hand and a podium shot up in front of the door. The podium was a masterwork of the Adeptus Mechanicus, concealed in what appeared to be a pillar carved from purest marble was a complex network of logic engines capable of unraveling human genetic code. Daul plucked a hair from his head and placed it into the stone bowl on top of the pillar, "Will this take long Sergeant?"

The Lionheart shrugged, "It takes as long as the machine spirit decides it takes sir. I don't make the machines sir, I just baby-sit them."

After a brief period the hair burst in a puff of smoke and the podium shot back into the floor after chiming briefly. Daul turned to the Sergeant who simply shrugged and tapped his comm-bead twice, notifying the guard on the inside to deactivate the shield, "Never doubted it sir, please wait a second for the weapons detector to be shut off before you enter."

"Of course. Come Cairn," the command deck employed a sophisticated piece of ancient technology capable of detecting weaponry. It was of course not without its limits, it was only capable of detecting firearms and metallic weaponry but lacked the sophistication to look for knives or poison, but it provided an effective countermeasure for the sort of hold-out pistols and needle weapons preferred by heretics and assassins. Weapons were normally not allowed into the great hall but Daul was something of a special case.

The security detail not only allowed Sáclair to have obvious weapons on hand, they relied upon it. The entire point of having an Inquisitor was to give him the ability to disobey marked rules and customs in the search of justice, that duty required the use of covert weaponry regularly. Security Chief Auguste had a healthy respect for an inquisitor's capacity for conceal any manner of dangerous and deadly weapons on his personage and had come to the conclusion that the easiest way to avoid violence around the Inquisitor was to simply allow him to keep his weapons as obvious and deadly looking as was possible. There were plenty of officers who still resented Daul's involvement with Sáclair but they tended not to be the sort prone to attack a well armed man in a public space.

The Chief was also relying largely upon the frustratingly correct assumption that if Daul were foolish enough to start a fight that the Endless Bounty would have the manpower to take Daul down eventually. Daul looked around the room, subtly assessing the security staff. They may permit him to carry his weapons with impunity but they were most certainly not leaving him unwatched, "Cairn I suspect that we could kill, what… twenty of the Lionhearts before they managed to take us down if it came down to it."

The skin at Cairn's cheeks stretched in a vestigial smile, pulling at the puckered skin leading to the thin cluster of tentacle like mechandrites hanging from his face, and he shook his head.

"What do you think we could take more of them? I'm spry Cairn but I'm not that good."

Cairn's shoulders shook and he pointed up to the ceiling above them.

"Ah... that might complicate things if it ever came down to it," installed in the ceiling, partially concealed by the hanging crystal of the chandeliers they were mounted inside of were a number of wicked looking cannons. "The workmanship is fantastic. Kerrigan's work you think?"

Cairn nodded emphatically. This was the work of a xenotech expert Magos to be sure; the plasma weaponry was too sophisticated to have been done by someone focusing purely on STC designs. They were elegant and deadly without losing the ostentation that Sáclair adored.

"Remind me to speak with her later," Daul sighed and fixed his helmet firmly on his head, steeling himself for what was to come, "Throne help me but I hate this part."

Given the choice between defeating an armored assault by heretics on an imperial fortress and navigating in the social circles of the rich and well to do of the empire Daul would probably chose the armored assault nine times out of ten. After their public announcement by the Master of Protocol Daul and his adjunct were forced to fight their way through crowd to make their way to Sáclair. The various families milling about in the command deck were hell bent upon engaging with him in long and vapid discussions of tariffs, wine, and rumors.

Far be if for a suit of power armor to get in the way of gossip, thought Daul bitterly.

"Inquisitor have you met my wife?"

"Inquisitor will you be accepting our invitation to the range?"

"Where did you get that fantastic hood and cloak inquisitor?"

In spite of Daul's best efforts he was waylaid by the corpulent and boisterous Master of the Watch, Étienne Sácomer. Like all the senior command staff his face was noble but warped around the temples wherein two augmentic sockets were seated. High-ranking officersregularly underwent augmentic enhancements to allow them to better commune with the ship's systems directly. Usually such connections were sub-dermal and placed along the spine but Sácomer spent days or even weeks at a time immobile at the sensor banks of the ship. Over a period of decades this immobility had taken its toll on Sácomer and forced him to augment his body as his legs became unable to support his own weight. His back was already implanted with the control systems for the spidery augmentic frame he used to suspend his considerable girth.

He was not an easy man to sneak by in the best of times. Upon seeing the inquisitorial livery of Daul's armor Sácomer's wide face curved into a smile, "Daul! My old friend!"

Sácomer based his own personal worth upon the connections he made with powerful people; the more powerful someone was the more excited he was to network with them. Sácomer was under the impression that Daul's decision to save the ship was, either in part of wholly, on his behalf or influenced greatly by his magnificent powers of persuasion. Daul couldn't remember interviewing Sácomer or even having requested his name as part of his investigation but Sácomer was not one to let a little thing like facts get in the way of his own self-image. There was little hope that Daul could duck out of a conversation with the Master of the Watch quickly but there was nothing to be lost by trying, "Indeed Sácomer but I have no time for pleasantries..."

Sácomer laughed boisterously, his girth shaking gelatinously underneath his well pressed uniform, "Nonsense, I'll hear none of that talk. There is always some time for diversion, even for His most valued servants. Come I want you to meet them."

Daul was reasonably sure that statement counted as heresy worthy of a crusade in the Thorian inquisitorial doctrine and briefly regretted not having joined their orders as his protestations of, "really I must insist," and "I have duties to attend to," were totally ignored by Sácomer.

"Inquisitor I insist, I swear if you don't relax eventually you're going to pop," Daul's arguments fell on deaf ears. Daul was too powerful and too controversial for Sácomer to be able to resist dragging Daul along. Even in power armor Daul was not strong enough to fight off the combined strength of the augmentic frame and substantial mass of Sácomer as the fat man pushed him forwards in an adamantium frog march.

Cairns shoulders were shaking so hard with laughter Daul wondered if he was going to do permanent damage to the delicate servos that ran his shoulders. He could hardly blame his attendant, the sight of an inquisitor being led about like a show grox by a puffed up nobleman was comical to say the least. He was one of the deadliest men in the sector and he had been waylaid by the blubberous Master of the Watch without having thrown a punch. Insufferably personable talk and impossibly exuberant cheer are not traits that the Inquisition trains its members to fight off. God help me if the forces of Chaos ever figure out that we have no weapons against politeness and helpfulness.

The "they" to which Sácomer referred transpired to be a trio of mid level officers, the Chief Docere Medicus of the aft sectors and two officers who's uniforms indicated that their roles on the ship were primarily ceremonial, all of whom looked as displeased to be dealing with the Inquisitor as he was to be dealing with them.

Docere Faest Nor was a droll man with a forgettable face and a fondness for the sound of his own voice. He gave a curt nod of acknowledgment that Daul returned in turn. The medicus disliked the Inquisitor as a matter of principal for a number of reasons that Daul grudgingly respected him for. Faest viewed the crew with a fiercely paternal nature, ensuring the health and well-being of the crew was not simply his profession but rather his calling in life. Daul's method of coercing information from suspected heretics was effective but inelegant. Faest had been responsible for helping heal those who were under suspicion once a subject's questioning had gone dangerously far. The process had not endeared Daul to the medicus in the slightest.

In spite of this the Endless Bounty was not without expectations of formality, Faest's professionalism was stronger than his dislike of Daul. Were Daul any other man he might have missed the subtle undertones of scorn in the man's otherwise inscrutable expression, "Greetings Inquisitor."

"Greetings Docere Medicus. It has been a long time since we last met."

The Medicus narrowed his eyes, "And if I had my will it would be longer still."

"What brings you to court today?"

"I was not aware that I needed to have a reason to seek out the company of others," he motioned to the well dressed crowd, "Is not conversation with the best and brightest a goal in and of itself?"

Sácomer chuckled unconcernedly; he was apparently unaware of the history between Daul and Faest. His wide form shook gelatinously with his every giggle, "Come now, Faest! Every time is a good time to have a meeting between friends. Do you not agree Inquisitor?"

Daul opened his mouth to give a pithy reply but Sácomer interjected, "Of course it is! But one bound by duties such as yours must have great reason indeed to grace us with his presence. It is rare enough for you to send up a messenger from your medical ward let alone to come in person. You've made your belief that you should never be farther than an arm's reach from your charges well known."

Faest's smile hardened and some of the forced politeness left his tone, "My business is my own and I will discuss it with Sáclair and no other."

Sácomer jerked as though he had been slapped. He was clearly unaccustomed to being treated this way by the Medicus. The conversation had already gone on far too long for Daul's taste and he could see that it was not heading in a constructive direction. Prolonging this discussion would lead nowhere productive, "Sácomer, if the man wishes to keep his matter private one I have no vested interest in violating his privacy."

The officer on Faest's left snorted in an undignified manner, "Inquisitor, simply by existing you are destined to violate the privacy of others."

Daul turned to face the narrow faced officer and felt a vague sense of recognition. His features were vaguely familiar but that meant little among the upper class of the Endless Bounty. Generations of inbreeding had long since homogenized the gene pool making it difficult at times differentiate between the grey eyed and raven haired faces of the various nobles. Still the distaste in the man's voice sounded more personal than professional, "What is your name boy?"

The young officer glared defiantly at the visor of Daul's helmet, "Bertrand Germaine Gauge, brother of Dominique Isabel Gauge."

That accounts for the boy's defiance then, Daul's interrogation of Dominique had been more thorough than most. The girl had been hiding a secret in a deep corner of her mind, one that she was concealing from Daul with every fiber of her being. Though his master had been elegantly skilled to the mental arts Daul's own psychic gift was ill suited for delicate work but he made up for it with force of will, his method of garnering information from a subject's mind was dangerous and brutal. So determined was she to keep her secret that the only way to discover the truth of her shame was to strip her mind of all protections. Daul had left her alive, though killing her would probably have been a mercy, a useless act of hubris that had done the girl more harm than good. Hours wasted on a stupid girl wasting energy on being fearful that her husband might discover her lover. Petty fools actually believe that the Inquisition gives a damn that they are adulterers.

"The Inquisition provides a necessary service by rooting out the worst of the heretics among us, of that there is little doubt," the man's words were slow and deliberate. He was foolish enough to criticize an Inquisitor to his face but apparently not so foolish as to seem a heretic himself, "Your profession demands that privacy and secrecy be torn away. I have witnessed you pursue a man with a secret in his mind and a half truth on his lips with equal fervor as you do for the darkest of heretics."

" The innocent hardly need fear my dismissal of half truths and lies," Daul said witheringly, "I very much doubt that the Medicus is guilty of any crimes that require my attention. I am only interested in truth that may conceal heresy or betrayal. Keep your mundane secrets, my interest is in traitors, not fools."

Sácomer blustered and sputtered, the situation had clearly spiraled beyond his initial plans, "Come now men, we're all friends here. All servants of the Golden Throne and whatnot?"

The officer standing between Faest and Bertrand spoke in a hesitant tone, he at least had the common sense to realize the danger in provoking an Inquisitor, "Are we? I mean no offense but as of late we seem to be more devoted to serving the will of His most honorable Inquisition."

"Your ship was conscripted for such duties if you recall correctly child. I have the right to call your ship to duty whenever the Empire requires it."

The officer, apparently bolstered by Daul not having smote him on the spot, continued nervously, "Of course sir, what I mean to say is that we've been ferrying you around on your missions with increasing regularity as of late."

Daul tilted his head impassively; usually the authority of his position was enough to suspend this sort of dissent, at least to his face. Cairn was perhaps right that he needed to either spend less time with the officers on the ship or summarily execute someone in a public place, he was becoming too approachable, "Are you suggesting that I am not acting wholly in the service of His will?"

"No sir, its not that at all," the officer was nervously biting his lower lip, "It's just that, well, sir we are a merchant ship not a ship of the line. Admittedly we are a well-armed merchant ship but you've got us going one on one with things that I'm still not sure how we survived fighting. Wouldn't it better serve your interests to use one of the Black Ships."

Yes boy they could work but they would only do so if my goal was to declare to the universe about me that I was an Inquisitor, thought Daul bitterly.

The Black Ships were intended to be well armed and intimidating; they were also massive, cumbersome, and obvious. The Black Ships military applications were secondary to their psychological ones. As the naval arm of the Inquisition they were equipped with munitions and technology beyond the scope of all but the greatest of Imperial Warships. Moreover the Black Ships were designed with the intention of rapidly deploying an exterminatus-extremus solution if such mandate were deemed necessary meaning that every planet being orbited by one was only a hair's breadth from Armageddon. The ships were effective but lacked subtlety. Daul's methods were often direct but he preferred to move in secret when possible. One of the Black Ships raised red flags the second it arrived but a simple rogue trader, no matter how well armed could often pass by unnoticed.

"Boy it is not for you to decide what is and is not necessary for the job of an Inquisitor. This is not your duty and I would prefer you stay silent rather than open your lips and prove your ignorance. "

Faest cleared his throat, "It is, however, mine to see to the health and wellness of this ship. Tell me Inquisitor, do you know how many of the crew died in your last errand?"

"Medicus I have..."

"Three hundred and twenty six souls dead Inquisitor."

"And if we hand not been there to slay the beast how many more souls do you believe it would have sent to the next life? Six hundred? A thousand?" Daul had not shouted, had not even raised his voice but there was a dangerous edge to every word that sharpened with every curt syllable, "I can not plan in advance for every potential outcome Medicus. The warp beast possessing an Imperial ship was unforeseeable but destroying it was our duty. Their deaths were unfortunate but the task was necessary."

Bertrand's anger got the best of his common sense, "We are a merchant ship, we should be hauling cargo not traipsing about the galaxy on some foolish quest. There must be other ships suited to your needs."

Daul smiled behind his mask, "Certainly none as conversant in dealing with xenos as this ship."

"Now see here," Faest had given up all pretense of civility and was staring at Daul in Fury.

"No Faest, I will talk and you will listen," Daul allowed a subtle aura of intimidation to seep into the minds of the three officers, it was perhaps overkill to add the psychic energies but he was in no mood for back talk from any of them, "I am not some Noble Lord on holiday booking a ship looking for adventure who can be bargained with or traded off. I am an Inquisitor. I do not explain my motives to you because I haven't the will, the means, or the time to run every decision I make by committee. I am fighting to preserve the soul of the Empire. If doing so means that I run afoul of your moral sensibilities so be it. Sacrifices have been made and many more will be made before I am through.

Faest opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by the gentle but firm pressure of a mechandrite on his shoulder. Cairn looked him in the eyes, his augmentic optics glowing ominously beneath his cowl, and shook his head firmly, cowing the rage of the Medicus. Nothing good could come from further argument.

Sácomer's round form swayed backwards and forwards on his spidery augmentic frame, struggling for word, "Inquisitor I... that is to say that we..."

"Nothing need be said Sácomer," Daul nodded curtly and motioned to Cairn, "If you'll excuse me I have business to attend to."
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post #4 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:39 AM Thread Starter
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Daul had not lied about having business to attend to, though he was grateful for the excuse. In a far corner of the hall stood a half circle of figures in deep red capes and robes, the retinue of Searcher-Magos Kerrigan Frist. Frist was the former head xeno-archeologist and xenotech expert of the Oita Forge at the edge of Tau space. The Magos herself stood in the center of a semi-circle of servitors, attendants, and experts all of whom were taking notes and passing her data-slates as she fiddled with a hololithic display in front of her. The Magos was an old associate of Daul's with an interesting past and a questionable set of security clearances for the information she was regularly able to access.

The specifics of her history remained a mystery, even to Daul, but after discrete questioning and some choice interrogation he had been able to discover the circumstances leading to her exile. About a half century ago the Magos had proposed the incorporation of elements of reverse engineered xenotech gained from the Tau Empire into Imperial technology, specifically into dangerous and often unstable plasma weaponry. Her paper on the matter had been worded carefully and well prepared enough that it was not outright heresy, a wise choice that had probably saved her life. Her suggestions had raised the hackles of the more conservative elements of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Continuing her position at Oita Forge was impossible.

The Forge Lords had given her four choices, to return to Mars to undergo psychological re-evaluation and re-education, to be condemned to death, to be stripped of her implants and exiled from the order, or to devote the rest of her life to searching for a universal STC. The choice had seemed pathetically simple to the Lords of Mars, death was unacceptable, to be stripped of augmentic was unthinkable for a devotee of the machine, and the search for the universal STC was a fool's errand.

The STC, Standard Templates of Construction, were archeotech from the Dark Age of Technology. Ostensibly a complete STC would contain the entirety of technological knowledge gained at mankind's peak, great and powerful knowledge that could be used to bring the universe to heel. What little STC knowledge had been discovered by the Adeptus Mechanicus had been fragmented and corrupted with time. The discovery of a complete standard template of construction was unlikely if not wholly impossible.

When Kerrigan Frist had chosen the quest it had no doubt been a shock for the Lords of Mars, it meant that until the Magos discovered one of the STC she would not be allowed to step foot on a Forge World till the end of her quest. The Lords of Mars had forgotten one crucial detail of the duties of a Searcher. Any Searcher would be granted wide powers in what technology and resources could be employed in search of the STC including otherwise forbidden technology. In her persecution Kerrigan had gained everything she ever desired.

The search for the STC was a fool's errand but she was no less dedicated to her task in spire of this, her love for her broad authority was only matched by her desire to prove her own validity. In her mind discovering the STC would prove to the universe that she had been correct about the application of xenotech and her theories were favored by the Omassiah.

She could not, however, make use of any ships bearing the cog of the Adeptus Mechanicus. She had spent years traveling from ship to ship and world to world before Daul caught wind of her exile and proposed an alliance between Kerrigan and Sáclair. Sáclair provided Kerrigan with transport to the far reaches of space in search of any clues as to the location of the STC and Kerrigan provided Sáclair with her own unique technological knowledge and skill. The Magos' relationship with Sáclair was far more amiable than Daul's own, the Captain found the exchange of favors and services more acceptable when the exchange was equal. Daul was a bit envious.

Daul viewed the semi-circle cautiously; it was unwise to approach the Magos unannounced. Her enthusiasm for her job often overwhelmed her awareness of her surroundings, including where her mechandrites were waving. Her attendants jumped, ducked, bobbed and weaved around Kerrigan. Years of service to the Magos had trained them with the acrobatic skills necessary to survive working in her service.

"No. No. No. That will not do at all. The power ratio is all wrong," one of her mechandrites swooped down into a bag carried an attendant and ripped out the slim form of a data slate, "The calculations ought to be correct, work you piece of slag."

Daul approached her as slowly and quietly as his power armor would allow, trying to ignore the shaking of Cairn's shoulders in response to a series of derogatory epithets screeched in binary, "Magos Frist. Do you have a moment to talk?"

Daul's next words were cut short as the blurry form of a servo skull whipped by his head, carrying a scroll of some sort to the irate Magos. Kerrigan snatched the scroll without looking at it and tossed it onto a pile of similar scrolls haphazardly piled on a silver plate carried by a particularly beleaguered looking servitor. Daul looked at Cairn who simply cocked his head and looked right back.

"Well do you intend to give me a hand here?"

Cairn's brow raised in amusement.

"You have got to be kidding me. Still?"

Cairn shrugged, if Daul was going to be foolish enough to try and get between a Magos and her machines he could damn well do it without his help. Magos Kerrigan continued her frenzied argument with the hololith, blissfully unaware of her attendants and servitors ducking and weaving round her furiously flailing mechandrites, "Work you useless over designed piece of Cadian junk! You are well within acceptable limits of functioning."

After the third time Daul tried to approach the Magos but was buffeted back by a stray mechandrite, Daul lost all pretense of politeness and simply superimposed a psychic suggestion upon his speech. Daul's voice reverberated ominously as he shouted, "Kerrigan if you do not stand still for ten seconds I will blast that hololith into a pile of smoldering slag. Stop now."

Startled by the overpowering psychic suggestion the Magos jerked to a halt, her mechandrites flailing in the air. Then, just as suddenly as she had frozen Kerrigan relaxed and turned to Daul smiling as her many snaking mechandrites relaxed and coiled over her shoulders and around her waist, "Daul, subtle as always I see."

"I find my job is often served though directness."

Kerrigan laughed, the vox caster through which she spoke was tinny and hollow but maintained a distinctly feminine tone, "How long were you standing there?"

One of the squat attendants to her left popped up, "The better part of ten minutes mistress."

Kerrigan scowled at her attendants, "The Inquisitor was here for that long and none of you thought to announce his presence? I expect more of you."

"Of course mistress," parroted back the attendant. His voice sounded sure but the look in his eyes betrayed his doubts about interrupting his mistress in the future.

Kerrigan cracked her neck with a resounding pop and shifted her attention back to Daul, "Now Daul, what is it that you need?"

"You actually, not to put too fine a point on it."

The Magos tittered, "How forward of you Daul."

Daul smiled bemusedly behind his mask, Magos Frist was about the least feminine creature in the universe. Having long ago sacrificed the majority of her biological parts in lieu of mechanical ones it was quite possible that the flesh of her face and brain were the only organic parts left in her body.

"You know what I meant Kerrigan. I need your technical expertise on a matter best discussed in private."

"Is there any reason to keep this matter a secret from my staff," Kerrigan begun to motion for her staff to organize the various scrolls, seals, and data slates lying haphazardly behind her.

"None in particular, they'll end up having to know in order to assist you but I would prefer not to discuss it in such a public setting. The Amon Sui still have agents in Sáclair's crew and sabotage is not beyond them."

"I shouldn't worry too much about it," Kerrigan waved her hand dismissively.

"Magos Frist," Daul started exasperatedly, "You know as well as I that the walls have ears."

"If they do I can assure you they'll go deaf," Kerrigan screeched a long string of binary in to the air. A dozen cherub like servitors fluttered down from the ceiling in a wide circle on paper thin wings. Stretched between them they carried a web of golden filaments shining with a dim silver light. The cherubs swooped round the half circle of Kerrigan's staff and draped the web like a spidery tent.

"A privacy filter?" Daul looked up at the silky strands of gold, "Dear Magos you've been holding out on me. Where did you find one this elegant?"

"Ah ah ah," Kerrigan waved a single finger with every ah in front of Daul's visor, "That would be telling."

Daul snorted in an undignified manner and was immediately grateful for the privacy filter.

Kerrigan's mechandrites twisted from her waist and shoulders and planted themselves on the ground, weaving themselves into a makeshift seat upon which the Magos perched, "And I believe that you are the one with a story to tell me."

"Indeed," Daul's voice darkened, "Are you aware of Soren Faust."

"I presume you refer to the Inquisitor who went mad about a century ago? Yes I do...only in the vaguest of terms mind you, it's difficult to figure out which stories told about him are true and which are gross exaggerations," Kerrigan smiled and rubbed at the vox caster jutting from her neck, "And quite frankly his destruction of the Arturus VIII forge is enough that I need know little else except that he earned every bit of hatred the Lords of Mars felt for him."

"Yes, that would be the one. He got it into his head that the only way for the Empire to service was to start incorporating Xenos technology into the empire."

Kerrigan gave Daul a pointed look, "So did I Daul."

"Magos you can hardly compare the two points of view," Daul shook his head, "You wished to allow us to use the weapons of the enemy to help destroy them. Faust went... farther..."

It was a gross understatement; Soren Faust's crimes were heinous in the extreme. Only a handful of crimes could be proven to be the work of Faust but that was only because worlds touched by his hand often needed to be purged with virus bombs and cyclonic torpedoes before an investigation into the cause of the problem could even be considered. The prohibition against the use of xenos technology often confused the more liberal minded members of the Administratum Imperialis, at least till they were granted security clearances sufficient to view the aftereffects of unrestricted access to xenotech. In the case of Faust, the only universally verifiable fact that they had been able to determine was that he was trying to bind human and alien biological traits, creating nightmarish half-breed creatures.

Kerrigan's tone became abruptly businesslike, "Cairn I have aided you in fighting the greatest of Heretics if you wish my aid do not insult me with the use of such obvious euphemism. 'Went farther' my hat."

Daul raised his left hand to his chest, "Kerrigan I mean no offense but honestly I'm not entirely sure what his crimes are."

Kerrigan paused for a moment, "Were, you mean were Inquisitor."

"No Magos," Daul tapped his gauntleted hand on the armor of his chest plate, "I do not."

Kerrigan made the sign of the cog over where her heart had once been and hissed, "The bastard lives!"

"It would seem so, it's either him or someone who has taken up his mantle," Daul pulled a data crystal out a pouch at his side and handed it to Kerrigan, "Either way I intend to ensure that the mantle ends here. He's holding a world on the southern rim hostage."

"The whole world?"

"It's Belzafest Kerrigan. There is hardly more than an outpost on that scrap of rock. But the colonists claimed that Faust is on the rock with them."

Kerrigan sighed, "If it is him you know what happened to the colonists after they send their warning."

"Yes, Faust is not known for his forgiving nature. He cannot engage in his favored tactic of destroying the settlement and moving on however," A measure of sad pride leaked into his voice, "The damned fools on the colony used the station's void shields to cut Faust's ship in half as he was entering the docking bay. The arrogant bastard was so sure he could scare the colonists into submission that he never saw it coming."

"Did they destroy his cadre of half breeds?" Kerrigan said hopefully.

"Sadly no," Daul winced, "Some of them perhaps but I suspect the majority of them survived. Foul creatures they may be but exposing them to the vacuum of space has only proven to be marginally effective in killing them. For the moment we will have to settle for them being confined to a set space."

"Damn," Kerrigan leaned back on her makeshift seat, "And I suppose that the void shield on the outpost is strong enough that we won't be able to take it out directly?"

"A dome shield, powerful enough to take a single shot from a nova-cannon," Daul smiled half-heartedly, "One of Oita design actually."

"I suppose that that is simply par the course."

"Kerrigan I need to ask you for a favor but I fear I ask for too much."

"Daul ask and you will have it."

Daul leaned in and whispered.

Kerrigan laughed, "You don't ask for much do you Daul?"

"And still I ask," Daul stared pointedly, "Can you do it?"

Kerrigan nodded pensively, "I can but I'm going to need you to convince Sáclair to give me two boarding torpedoes, and power from the shields. I mean a lot of power from the shields."

"I will ask."

"Daul," Kerrigan started in a low voice.

"Yes Kerrigan?"

"I want him dead."

"That would seem to be the consensus on the matter."

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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."

"Indeed Magos?"

"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."

"Which is?"

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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The transition from warp-space to real space is not often a pleasant one. There is a cold sensation and a shifting of pressure along the edge of ones senses. The transition at the edge of the Belzafest colony space was smooth, alarmingly so. The physical sensations felt during real space reversions were there for a reason, the laws of physics were different in warp-space than in real space. The gellar field around a starship could limit the effects of the altered physics, but never wholly eliminate them. That Belzafest's surrounding space was so saturated enough in warp energy to negate this, an ill omen of things to come. Whatever means being employed by Faust apparently relied more on obscurity and misdirection at the moment but Sáclair shuddered to think of the raw power needed to shift the currents of the warp.

The bridge, usually teeming with people, had been vacated with the exception of active duty crewmembers and Sáclair's own personal staff. The sounds of footfalls echoed ominously off the onyx floor as ensigns, ratings a tech priests shuffled between the various interface-chairs into which the command staff were hard wired. There was a dull hum from the rapidly shifting arrays of faux stained glass hololithic readouts and a watery throbbing noise from the coolant tubes heading to the base of Sáclair's own throne.

Belzafest itself was a relatively unimportant scrap of space. It held no tactical or mineral resources worth speaking of and was incapable of yielding vegetation. It would be a wholly dead world were it not for it's archeological value. Beneath the poison skies of Belzafest lay the remnants of an ancient xenos civilization that supposedly had contact with Holy Terra during the Dark Age of technology. In spite of their apparent modernity the species had been utterly destroyed, wholly wiped from the annals of history. Now only their crumbling cities and mummified bodies gave any hint to how they had lived or why they died. It was a matter of academic curiosity but ostensibly little else. It's importance within xenology and theoretical xenobiology circles it had been provided with a number of simple defence systems to defend it from pirates and raiders. The vast majority of Belzafest space had been mined with plasma charges and stationary gun turrets to ensure that the only safe approach to the planet was along a single corridor of space between the two moons, placing approaching ships directly in the line of fire of an ancient and oversized point defense array. An array that was no doubt under Faust's control by now. Most Captains would want at least a heavy cruiser or a star dreadnaught to break that sort of blockade.

Sáclair was not most Captains. Breaking that sort of a blockade with the lightly armed and armored Endless Bounty was the sort of challenge he lived to meet. Like his fathers before him Sáclair was linked into the minds and memories of his ancestors, granting him the wealth of their knowledge but condemning him to constantly measure his own worth against that of his predecessors. Each member of the collective had competed some great act that made him "worthy" of joining their ranks. He could think of no greater hell that joining their ranks in either shame or obscurity. Frustrating though it was to admit, the Inquisitor was probably Sáclair's best route to an act that none of his predecessors or successors could hope to match. The assault on Belzafest would not be that act but it would be wonderful practice. Sáclair licked his lips in anticipation as he closed his eyes and folded his mind into the ship's systems.

This was going to be fun, "To the Eye with this miserable scrap of rock."

Rather that taking the safe corridor between the planet's two moons Sáclair gave the orders to enter the minefield around the planet at full speed. The mines themselves were of Oita design, activated by the ambient energies of a ships shields. An unshielded ship could theoretically pass through the field unharmed provided that it did not trip one of the various proximity sensors imbedded inside the mines. The proximity sensors were less accurate than those detecting void shields, the only ships larger than a cutter that were either armored enough to not worry about taking damage from the mines were of Orkish or Chaos design, substantially larger and better armed than the Bounty. It was a terrible gamble but Sáclair had always been a betting man if only in part because he preferred to play games in which he knew how to cheat properly. In this case his ace in the hole had come from Kerrigan, who's knowledge of Oita made mines was second to none.

"Ten seconds till we enter the field sir," Illrich, head of the triad of Navigators, stood to Sáclair's left with his eyes closed as he listened to the seemingly insane ramblings of the astropathic choir.

"Good," He flipped a switch on the left arm of this throne, activating the ship-wide intercom, "All hands prepare to enter the minefield. Close all bulkheads and blast doors. I want full decompression safety procedures in place we're turning off the shields."

The Endless Bounty's engines burned brightly as the ship swam forward towards the bright orange ball of Belzafest. It's shields flickered briefly then died. "This will work," Sáclair said to one of his more nervous looking concubines. Then to himself, "Thishad damn well better work."

The ship lurched forwards elegantly into the night, it's matte black hull and golden prow reflecting the pales orange glow of Belzafest. Its movements were slow and painful, it was a ship designed for speed and thus ill equipped for the sort of delicate maneuvers that Sáclair had planned. Sáclair would gladly gut anyone who suggested his ship would not be up to the task, this would just be another story of the Endless Bounty spitting in the eye of fate to be told over wine, women and absinth in a years time. Still, it was best not to tempt fate and Kerrigan's intimate knowledge of the spacing and design would prove to be essential.

Sáclair breathed deeply and pulled the neural interface cable from the arm of his chair. The sliver cord felt cool in his hands and Sáclair had to labor to hide his excitement, directly interfacing with the ship's machine spirit was bracing. As the cool metal of the interface locked into the sub-dermal connection at his neck his body began to twitch and shake, his mind struggling to cope with the myriad of new sensations. His physical body now only felt like a small part of the greater body of the ship, his urges of the flesh dwarfed by the rushing cold of the void whipping at the ship's sides.

He abruptly close his eyes to stop himself from being overwhelmed by his mind trying to overlay the images from his own eyes and those being fed into his mind by the sensors. The minefield was all round him, so close he felt like he could reach out his arm and touch them.

"God I love that woman," Kerrigan's alterations tot he sensors were perfect; the electronic countermeasures of the Oita mines were wholly ineffective. The most sophisticated of Oita cloaking technologies laid naked before him.

"Sir, your orders," it was all Sáclair could to stop himself from just shooting the rating in the head for interrupting his moment with the ship. Sáclair shook his head, he was letting glorious sensations of space overwhelm his judgement. There was work to be done, "Mark three Z access, rotation six. Fire left thrusters on my mark."

"Yes sir."

Navigating through the field of mines would be a delicate task. The ship would have to navigate through the narrow passages between the explosives and make hard turns at exact moments. Sáclair felt the soft caress of microscopic space debris as the ship rushed forwards.

"Turn in three, two, one, now!"

The Endless Bounty swerved right at the last moment passing by the mines and leaving a whistling sound in Sáclair's ears. The proximity sensors showed the ship to have passed dangerously close to the mine. "Perfect," Sáclair muttered to himself before yelling, "Next turn ten seconds full burst down-thrust."

It was exhilarating to navigate through the field. Every last second brush with death had Sáclair's blood pounding in his ears and his body pumping adrenaline, heightening the already sensational feeling of swimming through the stars. God Emperor help him he loved every moment of it he wanted to just lose himself in the ship forever. He licked his lips and bit down on his tongue as he became more daring with every pass, waiting longer and longer between each turn, taunting death.

"Fantastic!" Sáclair cried out as they past the halfway mark, "Faster! Faster!"

"Sir?" His second in command Donat Enzo pursed his lips in frustration, "Is it wise to take such risks? Is there not danger enough for your needs already?"

"Ship thirty degrees more y access in ten seconds," Saclair shouted jovially then to Donat he whispered back, "We are safe enough old friend."

"One does not cheat death when it is not needed."

"My dearest Donat, if one does not cheat death on occasion one robs him of satisfaction when he finally comes for us. Who am I to rob him of a challenge?"

"I question if you are giving him a challenge or presenting him a gift. Yours is not the only life at stake."

"Bah, no sense of fun at all," Sáclair smirked, "Enjoy the ride."

Donat looked unconvinced but was too occupied with giving the distribution of work orders to the deck chief to respond with much more than a grunt. He would have to simply trust in Sáclair's judgment for the moment, which suited Sáclair just fine. There was still work to be done and fun to be had. It took some thirty minutes to pass through the minefield and another five for Sáclair to be convinced he was far enough from the mines to safely activate the void-shields of his ship.

"Tell the Inquisitor we're ten minutes from Showtime," Sáclair snapped his fingers to the servitor responsible for supplying him with wine, "And he'd better appreciate how... bloody..."

Sáclair blinked nonplussed, as a message appeared oh his HUD from an ID that he did not recognize, "What now?"

The chief astropath was flagging him down over the interlink. The chief astropath never flagged anyone down over the interlink, the chief astropath was rarely sane and coherent enough to remember his own name. The stress of the soul binding ritual and the constant psychic stresses of directing the astropathic choir of the ship usually kept him babbling meaningless strings of logic and data that would be subsequently interpreted by the sophisticated machines interpreting his brain patterns. It had been four generations since Head Astropath Dorae had even been able to recognize his own name. His message over the link was not his usual bizarre ramblings, "There is a missing section of space grid three epsilon on the port side."

"A what?"

"There is a missing section grid three epsilon on the port side."

"What is it?"

"There is a missing section grid three epsilon on the port side."

"….you aren't going to be more specific on this are you?"

"There is a missing section grid three epsilon on the port side."

"Mad as a hatter I swear," there was a section missing? That didn't make sense to Sáclair. The astropathic sensor-servitors of the Endless Bounty were not military grade but they were sophisticated and unlikely to fail without outside interference. The Lionhearts themselves were guarding the servitors so it couldn't be an act of sabotage. So what could it be?

"Sir, would Kerrigan's alterations to the sensors to allow us to see through the Oita stealth measures prevent us from seeing through other measures?"

"No it shouldn't. Anyhow he's not supposed to…. supposed to have any ships. There aren't supposed to be any," Sáclair's eyes widened in horror as he screamed over the interlink to Sácomer, "Shields to full!"

"Sir is that wise, we're at the edge of..." Sácomer's words were cut short by the warning klaxons indicating a sudden impact of a bright green lancing bolt of energy shooting out of the "empty" section of space flying just missing the bounty by a few hundred yards to the stern, "What the blazes? There weren't supposed to be any ships here!"

Sáclair chuckled as the phantom pain of the impact on the ship shot up his spine, "We can ask them to leave politely if you think it would work."

Donat's dour voice came over the interlink, "It would seem that the absence of ships was a gross misrepresentation of facts.

"These heretics just have no sense of fair play," Sacomer whined.

"Luckily the Inquisitor has even less, try to keep us out of range of whatever the hell that thing is so we can make a pass on the outpost. I'm not risking atmospheric craft while that thing's there to shoot them out of the sky," Sácomer winced as a second shot flared on the ship's shields causing a dull throb from the ship interface's feedback, "Now get me my shields to full and a damned firing solution."
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post #7 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:43 AM Thread Starter
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Kar'kan'tal could not remember where his own mind and memories ended and where the ship's began. He had been a beggar and a cripple when the master had found him. Or had that been the pilot before him. The master, the master was a good man. He a great man. He was the best man. He had promised Kar'kan'tal a new body and a new life as long as he obeyed him. He was pretty sure he had been a man.

Now he was the ship, a ship, wasn't he? It was hard to think, it hurt, it always hurt but it wouldn't hurt forever. It hadn't hurt in the before, in the before things had been better. They would be better. The master said they would be better. They had to get better.

The master was trapped on the ground where he could not go, there was no master. He needed a master. Without a master there was no one to sing him songs and tell him tales. And the pain, he could only remember the pain.

It had been months since they had gone down to the ground place on the master's ship and he hadn't heard from the master. Did the master want him to stay or to go down? He didn't want to do what the master didn't want him to do. The master would make the pain worse, but it wasn't the master's fault that he hurt Kar'kan'tal. Kar'kan'tal should listen to master, Kar'kan'tal had always listened to master. Didn't he?

Too many thoughts, too much pain. Why can't he remember? Time in silence, time alone, time without the master, there was too much time. And then there was a new thing on the horizon. It was a new thing a strange new thing thing. Not like what the master said should be coming. Not what the master promised, not the old times with the before masters who made the ships. No this was an enemy. Something that would try to stop the master, stop the before times, stop what needed to come, what had already come and what would never come to be. The stop, the time, and the winding pain were there. No, Kar'kan'tal was not going there.

Blood, yes he remembered blood. He liked blood, that's why the master picked him, that's why the master changed him, and that's why the master crippled him. Wait, what? No the master found him crippled the master was good and he was bad for questioning the master. All leaders must be questioned shouldn't they? Not the master.

Pain, pain, too much pain.

The ship, strange ship. Blood, he wanted blood, needed blood, needed to taste blood again and the ship needed it to. The ship worshipped different gods than he, or maybe they both worshipped no god.

Was there no God?… no it was not the absence of God that troubled him… God, there had been a god once a god on a throne of skulls and gold, he had loved and reviled him and a god on a throne of brass and love that he had hated. Now they were one, now they were gone.

The strange ship fired back? Pain, yes he felt pain. No matter. The ship would die.

And the blood would take away the pain.

Like the before time.

"Either shoot so you hit the damn the damn thing or don't bother shooting at all," Sáclair screamed over the coms to the gun batteries. This unnatural piece of xenotech filth dared to fire on his ship with impunity? He would not have it. It would die, honor demanded as much, " Andrews what in the hell is going on?"

Mister Andrews, a portly balding man who ran the ships sensor links to the main gun batters, appeared on a hololithic readout to Sáclair's left. The dull green glow of the display only emphasized the unnatural pallor of the void born gunnery sergeant hard wired into the ships mainframe. A piece of shrapnel from an exploding power relay had cut an angry gash into the man's face but his expression was more of rage than of pain, "We can't hit the damned thing with our targeting sensors. We're going to have to target the bastard manually."

"I don't care if you have to use the will of the Emperor alone. I want that abomination dead as quickly as is possible." The ship's sensors barked angrily as another lance of energy shot out from the inky black nothingness in the distance and the ship lurched left, "Damn it! I want more power to the shields, now! Donat make it so."

"Sir we can't put any more power into them than we're already doing. We had to refit the ancillary plasma generator as a dedicated power source for Kerrigan's..."

"To hell with the Inquisitor's pet project, we can put it back together once we're not dead!"

"I'll try sir," Donat responded professonally.

"No, you'll do Donat," the ship lurched again and Sáclair screamed as a feedback of pain shot up his spine, "Will somebody get a throne damned firing solution on that blasted ship"

The fuzzed voices of the fighter wings launched off the bounty shouted out random warnings and encouragements to each other other the com-net as they charged at the enemy ship, their little green blips indicating allies showing their great looping movements about the missing section of space where the enemy no doubt was hiding.

The Endless Bounty was no stranger to battle even before its service to the Inquisitor, as a cargo ship specializing in exotic and often wholly illegal materials and cargo it was often the victim of attempted piracy. The hull of the ship had once been as ornate and opulent as the interior but centuries of blasting and laser-fire had left the sides of the ship pockmarked and twisted with scorch-marks and dents. Still with every bleeding rent of molten gold caused by the spidery black nothingness Sáclair found himself going mad from the indignity of it, he was not about to let some creature defeat his record of puissant mastery of space.

Strange thing, strange little thing. Angry little thing trying to hurt it like it was of the before times in the great wars. It was not from the before time, or the after, or was it? No matter it would try to kill but it would fail. The strange thing would die.

The strange thing ran, swooped around and fired at it. It was in pain from their weapons but it was a pain of the flesh, only a pain of the flesh. Their weapons were dangerous but it was a thing of the dark, a creature of hiding and strife. It would crush the creature.

Shields, all the young things now had shields. Foolish young things to rely on force and fire instead of guile and forbearance, the would learn in time. But they wouldn't would they? They would die like the rest.

Pain! More pain. The ship was hitting with greater accuracy, how? Feeling... what am I feeling? I... was there an I... no the machine only the machine. Tendrils, tendrils grasping in the dark. Little bright minders, the before one's brother meddling at work. No, it would not work this time. The machine would feel their reach but the man way immune. The work of darker powers than the before ones. Tampering with the human gene making dark ones to silence the mind voices of the shining ones. They would find the ship, but not the void in which they met in silence. They could not listen.

But they could look, couldn't they? Yes there was more pain, more suffering. That would not do!

Damn it's safety, damn it's life, death was a blessing and master was a God-king to be!

"Of course actually shooting the blasted thing only managed to make the bastard mad. Just bloody fantastic," thought Saclair to himself as the bounty twisted to evade another angry bolt of light, "Andrews tell me you've got good news!"

"Sir," the sour face of Andrew's responded over the interlink as he tried to ignore a servo skull attempting to cauterize and bandage his nasty looking head-wound, "We've started manually linking in some sanctioned psychers into the control interface but it was never meant for this sort of implantation into someone without years of preparatory chemical conditioning. As it stands now I think we can manage to use them for about ten more minutes before their bodies are no longer able to hand the stress and they expire."

"Then you'd best make those ten minutes count then shan't you?"

"By your command sir."

The ship rocked again, "Donat, the damned shields! What about my throne damned shields! We're going to be down to only the hull soon if I can't get them more power."

"Sir Kerrigan cannot re-integrate the ancillary plasma generator without disabling the primary systems. There is nothing she can safely do till we're out of battle."

"What can she unsafely bloody well do."

"She can do little more than redirect life support energy."

"Pull it from the deeps, the only people living that close to the plasma reactors are servitors, criminals, and the insane. We can afford to lose them we can't afford to lose the ship."

"And Magos Kerrigan herself."

"Donat, a lack of air is hardly an issue to bother a bloody Magos."

"Her attendants might object to it quite strongly sir."

"Her attendants will have to simply tough it out with their survival air tanks. They were intended for rad-bursts so they only cover a thirty minute period but if this blasted thing gets its way that won't be an issue."

"Sir," it was the voice of Andrews over the

"What is it now Mr. Andrews?"

"The lances aren't having much of an effect but the broadside guns are doing some damage to it when they can hit it," Andrews bit his lip pensively, "There's something odd about this thing Sir."

"About the spectral apparition of a ship blasting the hell out of my port side shields? Whatever could you mean," he rounded angrily to a maintenance crew of tech adepts trying to repair a shattered mural attached to the bulkhead, "Get the damned shields working first you twits, I don't give a tinkers damn what they're doing the bloody décor."

He turned back to Sgt. Andrews with a look of barely controlled rage, "What exactly is odd about this ship."

"Well the fighter wings are reporting that damn thing is bleeding when we shoot it."


"Like a stuck grox."

"It's organic... the damned thing is organic... if it bleeds..." Sáclair looked to the readouts displaying failing shields and systems and entered a new heading, "If it bleeds we can kill it. Order the fighter wings to move out of our path."

Sácomer's corpulence wobbled nervously, "Sir?"

"I'm turning the damn ship around. We're going to ram the bastard."

It wasn't dying. Odd, most things died quicker than this. It would only be a matter of time, Kar'kan'tal felt sad for the ship in a way. The dead god would not approve but he was a servant of a glorious past not a long failed future.

Stranger still it was coming towards it. The ship was confused but Kar'kan'tal was afraid... why was he afraid? The ship knew that the logical tactical decision was to surrender or retreat. Defeat was obvious. Kar'kan'tal remembered something different, something strange, something human.

It was not going to reatreat.

The ship reacted in horror. Such a decision was insane, it had no hope of succeeding, Kar'kan'tal must be mistaken. Kar'kan'tal must be mistaken... by the old ones Kar'kan'tal was not mistaken! The ship tried to leave, tried to pull itself away but it was too late. Its confusion and indecision had sealed its fate. The strong armored prow of the Endless Bounty was not strong enough to destroy the ship in a head on collision but it's forward gun batteries were hard pressed to miss the ship from point blank range.

Kar'kan'tal's last thought as he felt the ship being torn into so much ichor and viscera was and odd one.

If the ship was Kar'kan'tal then who was he?

Sáclair spat up bloody phlegm as the ship came to a halt just beyond the crushed ship remnants. Killing that blasted ship wouldn't be the act that earned him his place with the fathers but Emperor willing it wasn't far off from it. Sáclair yanked the connection out of his arm wincing it's presence went away.

"When this is all over remind me to call the blasted Inquisitor and tell him about re-defining what he considers "need to know" information about a job. And that by the Saints as my witness the cost of repairing my ship is coming out of his Inquisitorial expense account."

"Of course sir."

"Fire the damn breaching torpedoes at the central dome."
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post #8 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 06:44 AM Thread Starter
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Cairn warbled with frustration as he tried to buckle into the crash webbing on the retrofitted boarding torpedo. The seats were properly sized for a man of Damascan origins wearing combat grear but ill fitted for someone of the Skitarii's unusual size and girth.

"Cairn we drop in ten minutes we haven't the time for you to be mucking about. Now if the bloody Dorn unit can fit into one of these things than you damn well can," it was a half-truth at best. The Dorn unit had been painstakingly strapped into place under Daul's supervision by a couple of tech adepts. Daul hated lying to Cairn but implying that the non-sentient servitor had manged to accomplish a task the Skitarii had not was galling enough to silence the binary whinge.

Daul didn't really have the heart to blame Cairn for being frustrated but he couldn't afford to look weak in front of the Lionheart assault teams. To them he must be a paragon of leadership and excellence. The Lionhearts, the highly trained and fiercely loyal personal army of Nathaniel Sáclair, were as full of bluster and bravado as Sáclair himself. Like Sáclair they backed up that bravado with a dangerous edge and martial acumen keen as a Kasarkin blade. Unlike the rank and file security forces of the bounty the Lionhearts were usually trained by sending them into active warzones to hone their skills, it wasn't unheard of for an unruly soldier from one of the more strict regiments like the Mordians or the Kriegsmen to "accidentally" end up coming back with the Lionhearts as a partisan soldier bearing he heraldry of Sáclair.

It also meant that Daul had been forced to seem as humorless and unimpressed by the battle between the Endless Bounty and the xenos ship. Maintaining a look of grim frustration was easier today than most days. Ignoring the near brush with death against the enemy ship the boarding torpedoes of the bounty had never been intended to be used as part of an atmospheric entry. Belzafest's atmospere was negligible but of the ten torpedoes it was likely that three would not make it to the surface. It was suicide but there was no better way of avoiding being tracked by the anti-aircraft weaponry of the colony. The pods would ostensibly drop faster than anything bigger than a lesser flak gun could track and the chances of that shooting down one of the boarding torpedoes.

The bulky suit of artificer made powered armor helped to both intimidate and conceal Daul's own severe fear of flying. The leering skull mask of his helmet did a fantastic job of hiding Daul's ardent desire to be anywhere but dropping out of space in an adamatium tube. Better still the mag-locks in his boots would allow him to stand upright in the center of the pod in lieu of strapping himself down as though even gravity itself couldn't intimidate him.

Throne but he hated heights.

The thunderous bang of the initial launch yanked at Daul inside his armor as his body was thrust between the artificial gravity of the ship and the weightlessness of space. If the Lionhearts found the transition between to be as sickening as Daul did they showed no signs of discomfort. Daul briefly wondered if they too had taken supliments to help with grav sickness but it seemed more likely that the veteran spacers had simply become used to rapidly changing gravity. Cairn, who lacked a digestive tract was of course blissfully unaware of the shift.

Daul turned his head to the palefaced man in the corner of the tube humming to himself and caressing his gun lovingly. Colonel Danzig, leader of the Lionhearts, smiled back at Daul, "You take me to the best parties Sir."

"Parties Colonel?"

"You get us all dressed up to socialize with heretics in traditional Imperial fashion. Why you even brought me a friend to play with," he patted the high powered Cadian made lasgun on his lap, "It's her first time but I bet she can sing like an angel when she puts her mind to it. We're in for a fun night sir."

Daul said nothing. Responding would only fuel the rant and he knew this was the way that Lionhearts let off steam before a battle. The colonel continued, oblivious to Daul's silence, "I just want you to know that a night out on the town might won't be enough to get me to put out on a first date."

Danzig pursed his lips mockingly, "I'm not that kind of girl."

"Indeed you aren't," replied his second in command Sergei, "but that is out of a lack of options rather than a lack of desire. The mind is willing, but the flesh is pale and flabby."

And so it continued, each man in the squad tossing insults at their superior officer till the line got to he lowest ranking man who simply insulted himself. It was a ritual with a simple purpose, the Lionhearts believed that a man with a grudge had unfinished business and could thus not allow himself to die until he had properly resolved the matter of honor. Every insult bound them all together by their own chain of grudges forcing each man to survive and make sure the man above him survived so that they could resolve all grudges one day.

The Lionhearts were not ones for silent contemplation before entering the fray. The squad sang cadences as the torpedo plummeted to earth. The private language of the Lionhearts was an ancient pagan tongue from before the coming of the Emperor from the old Damascan holy books. It prevented their enemies from breaking their communications and protected their ancient cultural heritage. Daul hadn't learned their language yet but their cadences were simple enough to follow and had a common refrain. Based upon the thrusting motions that the Colonel made every once and a while it seemed best to simply appreciate the beauty of the song without putting too much thought into the content. The Lionhearts may be elegant and cultured soldiers but they were still soldiers.

The heat and friction of re-entry shaking the torpedo wildly only made the soldiers sing their cadence louder and prouder. The squealing angry sound of the inertial dampener slowly failing was deafening but they paid it no heed because the song was not finished. Daul found less comfort in the uproarious chanting about whatever Danzig had been pantomime thrusting towards in light of the plummeting torpedo. His heart was in this throat and threatening to flee out his lips were he to open them.

"Imperitor Deux Est..." The imperial mantra and prayer of forgiveness and guidance was long and complicated but focusing on the words would help clear his mind. He chucked to himself as he saw Cairn, the only man who hated heights more than Daul himself. The towering mechanical man had long since given up on the buckles and simply snaked his mechandrites through the ship's crash webbing and grabbed onto the bulkhead with his heavy duty augmentic arms. Cairn scowled at Daul and sputtered something curt and no doubt rude in binary, the fine tentacle like mechandries twisting nervously.

The tube tube jerked loudly and abruptly, a metallic bang resounding through the torpedo. Danzig turned to Daul, the cadence now silent, "Sir, exactly how long have they had to prepare?"

Daul shifted his neck, frustratedly cracking his vertebre, "Long enough to improve the anti-aircraft weaponry it would seem."

Danzig smile manically, "Good Sir, wouldn't be any fun if it were easy."

Daul disagreed wholeheartedly, facing an enemy who was as entrenched as the gates of Cadia was hardly practical but it was a waste of time to say so, "It would seem that Faust seems bound and determined to give you the challenge you seek."

Danzig smiled and turned to his men yelling out, "You hear that boys, we're in for a real scrap. No more fighting off candy arsed pirates for us." He punctuated it with a loud whooping cheer that his men responded in kind.

The tube bucked and bobbed as the anti-aircraft fire tried to track them. It seemed that they would get clear of the danger at first but the bangs and pops rapidly became deafening. Eventually someone got luck and blasted a wide hole in the side of thetorpedo bursting the left wall and two unlucky Lionhearts into shrapnel and smoking charnel. The bright orange smoke of the toxic Belzafest atmosphere began to seep into the tube in thick bilious clouds.

Someone screamed "Rebreathers!" and the Lionhearts rushed to put on the masks before inhaling too much of the natural paralytic caused them to asphyxiate. The man on Carin's left struggled with the straps on his mask as the methane rich air caused his mind to cloud and his eyes to fog up with tears. A slender but agile mechandrite shot out and grabbed the mask, pulling it over the man's head and clipping the air hose firmly into place. The Lionheart ceased to flail in pain, gasping in bliss. He wispered out words of thanks that Cairn seemed politely unaware of in light of the rapidly approaching ground. Cairn often seemed to be unaware of what his mechandrites did on his behalf. Daul braced himself with the crash webbing on the ceiling, even with the mag locked boots and powered armor this was going to hurt if things went further wrong. This was going to hurt a great deal.

The torpedo collided with the ground tail end first, crumpling under its own massive weight and pulping three Lionhearts and a servitor that had been hard wired into the guidance systems. The Lionhearts, bruised and battered though they were remained silent and ready, waiting for the end. The tube creaked and tipped over flipping the passengers upside down. A man screamed as his saftey harness failed and he was tossed headfirst into the bulkhead, his neck twisting at an odd angle, his eyes twirling in agony. A well placed shot from Danzig saved the proud Lionheart from a life of paralysis and indignity.

The process of safely untangling themselves from the combat webbing and harnesses was an indelicate one, slowed only by a healthy desire not to end up as the first man had. Daul's own extraction had proven to be the most undignified of the lot, once his mag locked boots let loose his body fell to the ground with a resounding clang as his even ton of mass collided with the ground. Cairn's descent proved to be somewhat more graceful. He descended with his spidery mechandrites twitching shoulders indicating his mirth at Daul's predicament.

"Just help me off the damn ground."

One of the Lionhearts nearest to the door called out, "Colonel Danzig, sir. The breaching doors seem to be damaged, shall we burn through?"

Danzig nodded, "Haziz, Falkan, Bornat to the front to the front with the meltas."

"Sir," yelled a voice from the back, "Haziz is dead sir, him and the damned melta, Falkan and Bornat too. We had them in the back because we thought the anti-aircaft was most likely to hit us head on."

Danzig swore loudly, "What the hell are we supposed to get through that slagging door without a bloody meltagun, we pop detchord, grenades or meltabombs in here and we'll be as fragged as the damn door."

Daul cleared his throat, the sound reverberating metallically through his vox unit and lifted an oversized gauntlet, "I believe I may be of assistance."

Danzig nodded and bowed out of the way. The servo assisted power-fists of the Adeptus Astrates were designed with the intention of tearing through armored bulkheads and vehicles. His mentor and felt that it was necessary to use such weapons of terror in the apprehension of heretics. The perceived omnipotence of being able to rip through solid ferrocrete was often an effective intelligence-gathering supplement. As his left hand grasped at the door the powerful disruptive energies of the gauntlet flared blue and screeched angrily. As his fingers grabbed, twisted, pushed, pulled, ripped and tore at the door the dancing blue arks of electricity bursting off the agitated subatomic matter flared blindingly bright.

"I am the sword of the Emperor," Daul yelled, "I am his strength and his sigil, by my hand the evils of this galaxy shall be smote and I am not about to be stopped in my righteous quest by a broken blasted hatch!"

Daul roared and ripped the adamantium door off its hinges with a resounding clang. The Lionhearts rushed out before it had even hit the ground and dove for cover, ready to fight for their lives. The ridge they landed on, however, was quite abandoned. According to Daul's autosensors had gone some five miles off course from the expected landing zone and would have to catch up with the other three torpedoes worth of troops.

"Danzig we need to move south as soon as possible. We won't be there in time be with the main assault force but if we are to catch Faust we'll need to reach the southern dome within the hour."

"Yes sir," Danzig's voice squawked out, garbled by the microphone in his breathing mask.

Daul and Cairn let the way, towering figures of adamantium making the Lionhearts look squat and pinched by comparison. The bright orange toxins of the fog billowed and shimmered as they waded though it. The path was slow and treacherous, deep gorges and sharp rocks lay hidden in the smog waiting to snag the unwary. Belzafest may have been beautiful once, the petrified fauna hinted at a past of lush forests and green grass, but the modern Belzafest was sullen and stretched. The dark sod of the earth beneath their feet had long since given up on life and simply slid into death.

It was a terrible dead place, silent except for their own footfalls and the distant booms and cracks of battle at the domed structures of the colony. The group only stopped twice to remove Dorn from where he had gotten himself stuck in the ground when Daul had forgotten to give him the necessary command to avoid a sudden drop or ravine.

Every few minutes or so one of the Lionhearts would swear loudly as they caught their foot on a jutting shart of razor sharp sharp rock or thick knot of petrified root hidden beneath the orange smog. Bright green geysers of molten hot smoke shot up from waist high geysers along the path, randomly bathing them in sickly light and reflecting against the gold leaf trim of the Lionhearts flak armor.

It was some twenty minutes of treacherous ground and hidden paths before they reached anything resembling civilization, the remnants of what was once the main street of some alien city. Towering spires of crystal cut out of the very mountains themselves glinted in the dull light, their dark windows ominously presenting convenient cover should Faust have placed snipers. Danzig whistled and tapped the side of his head and lifted two fingers. Daul's radio was apparently tuned onto the wrong frequency.

"Yes Colonel?"

"Sir? Is there something I'm missing? Our mission report said that there was only one settled part of the planet. This," Danzig waved to the wide street, "Is a bit more developed than advertised and clearly not human."

"It also hasn't been habitable for close to ten thousand years. We aren't really sure who made the cities, it's why the Belzafest colony is here in the first place," Daul squinted and pointed at something far down the street visible only to his own enhanced senses, "The main dome is at the end of this street built over the main excavation site, we're going to need to work our way there. Now is hardly the time for a history lesson."

Danzig raised his hand and signed at this men, the Lionhearts rushed forwards, "I think you'll find that we have time for both or neither. Something stripped this world bare and I find that highly unnerving."

"Your hardly alone on that," yelled out the voice of his Sergei, "The whole bloody place just screams trap."

Daul sighed, "Possibly but we're going to have to take that risk. Come on."

It was unsurprising that Danzig should feel the need for a better explanation for the disturbingly well preserved empty cities of Belzafest. The supposedly extinct indigenous peoples of Belzafest were a common topic of myth and speculation in Xenologer and Xenobiologer circles. No physical remains of the natives of Belzafest had ever been recovered though plenty of non-functioning technology had. Belzafest, or "Xenos-prime" was in the center of some half dozen planets with similar crystalline architecture and total ecological holocaust. Every planet had been wholly scourged of life and history either by some unknown enemy of days past or by the aboriginal Belzafast xenoforms.

The only universally agreed upon facts were that there had once been some form of bipedal xenos living in Belzafest and its surrounding systems. Had Faust come purely to unravel the secrets of Belzafest or for some darker purpose? Daul did not know but he could not allow for Faust's goals to succeed, no matter the cost. Fausts involvement with this world was enough to convince Daul of the danger of the planet. He was a twisted madman by all accounts, the sort of monster who would use a mass grave like Belzafest as a fortress.

Faust would die by his hand, it was the only acceptable outcome.

The sky continued to flash in bursts, anti-aircraft batteries struggling to fight off the air wings of the bounty. Daul smiled wryly, Sáclair was committing more military resources to this assault than he had initially promised. The boxy shapes of the heavier marauder bombers and their thunderbolt escort fighters danced and weaved around the smaller wedge shaped fighters of the Belzafest colony spitting out iridescent green bolts of death from their lascannons. In the distance the bright bursts of cyclonic explosives flashed off the dull purplish glow of the void shield protecting the domed settlement.

"Where the hell did Faust get series six Soral Interceptors?" mused Sergi, "No PDF has those freaking things. Hell we don't even have those freaking things."

"Faust's efforts are well financed. He has a great deal of support from groups like the Amon Sui and centuries of personal wealth amassed to support himself," Daul fidgeted with the thick chain that held a large tome in place at his side.

"Why the hell don't we have weapons like them backing us up? Or the freaking Space Marines? Isn't this chap some sort of major heretic?"

Daul sighed. His own resources were considerably more limited as of late, the planet his own personal estates and holdings were based on had been destroyed utterly by the Imperial Navy in order to deny a splinter fleet of Hive Cancer the biomass necessary to advance into the Empire. He had been offworld to deal with the Amon Sui when news reached him of the Exterminatus of Verzan. Now his network consisted of Cairn and what few possessions he had with him on the Endless Bounty, "The Adeptus Astrates aid when they chose to and whom they chose to. I have not endeared myself with the local chapters and I doubt I could gain their assistance in time, though I have sent a plea for aid."

The group slowed as they approached the central dome and the signs and sounds of fighting became more prominent. The Lionhearts fanned out hugging what little cover they could find, eyes straining to see though the fog. Daul's own senses, augmented by his own augmentic and psychic enhancements were less dulled. It was he who noticed the first sign of enemy movement.

Daul grabbed Galan, one of the youngest Lionhearts by the sleeve and yanked the boy behind him as a waning klaxon began to blare from his helmet's HUD. He barely had time to yell, "incoming" before the whistling death of mortar shells impacted into the rocky ground of the street flinging razor sharp shrapnel and debris in a wide arc. Several of the Lionhearts were tossed by the blast and landed flat on the ground some five feet from where they had been standing. Someone outside Daul's field of vison screamed a wet cry as a shard of crystal lodged itself into the thin mylar of the breathing tube and into the soft flesh of their throat.

"Damnit Dorn get out of the middle of the blasted street!" The servitor was standing in the middle of the street, blissfully unaware of the danger around him and grinning stupidly. A long gash was bleeding steadily where he had been clipped by shrapnel. At his master's command the servitor ran towards Daul at a brisk trot, uncaring of the whistling sounds of an imminent second shelling.

The now two dozen men sat unmoving, bellies to the ground in cover. Not daring to speak or even breath for fear of missing the sound of incoming shells.

Minutes passed like hours.

"Where the hell are they?" Danzig yelled over the com-net after a while, "Who has the damned auspex? I want to know who the bloody hell is shooting at me and I want to shoot them in the bloody bonce."

"Genrin and Tayvlin were sir."

"Thone take me, is anyone who isn't dead carrying the damned gear?"

"Mine was taken out by the shelling sir," responded a nervous Falon.

Danzig flexed his hand and resisted he seemed to struggle with the urge to throttle the nearest person till Cairn chirped an affirmative response while fiddling with some boxy piece of admech technology at his side.

"Of course the damned mute has the auspex... why not..."

"The damned mute," responded Daul tersely as Cairn fed data directly into his helmet's infolink, "Is more than adequately communicating with the rest of us. They aren't shelling us, apparently the Belzafest PDF forces that have been in hiding since Faust took over the colony have decided to assist us. There is an armored column assaulting a bunker some half mile southwest of us, those were presumably stray shots."

"I don't like my men being dead as a result of collateral damage Inquisitor."

"I don't like your men being dead at all," Daul squinted into the distance, "It would be best for us to avoid the PDF's armored division, they are as likely to shoot us as Faust's forces in this damned smog."

"Where to then?"

"We need to get closer to the domes, there ought to be underground entrances to the excavation sites. We just need to find one and follow it back to the main dome."

"Sir that just screams trap to me."

"I prefer a trap to mortar rounds. They're damned inconvenient."

Danzig paused before responding in a deathly serious voice, "Sir did you just make a joke about our imminent deaths?"

"It's possible."

Danzig laughed heartily, "There's hope for you yet. Men move out, we've got a hole to find."

Kerrigan sat in the center of the great machine chanting the rites of purification and computation for the fifth time, inhaling the scent of the perfumed lubricating oils that her adepts were gently massaging into the delicate gears and servos along the wall. The machine was as ancient as the Endless Bounty itself and it's machine spirit was fragmented and confused after centuries of disuse. Such a flagrant abuse of one of the children of the Omassiah was unacceptable but symptomatic of the loss of knowledge following the Age of Strife and the Age of Apostasy. Even a magos of Kerrigan's quality could only hope to fix and mend the machine, the creation of such wondrous technology was beyond her ken.

The tactile sensors in her augmentic limbs allowed her to feel the ridges and bumps in the dark obsidian aquilla placed in the middle of the floor as she prostrated herself in front of the icon of the great cog. With love and care she repeated the sacred rite of cogitation, slowly lowering her slim computer interface mechandrite into the port in the eye of the left head of the eagle. The machine was near mad, it had gone too long without a user and had gone quite rampant.

She sang it soothing words as she helped it to reach solutions to it's rampant loops of incomplete logic and inane trails of computations. The machine would be ready for when Daul needed it. It was her duty, it was her honor, and it was her pleasure to contribute to the death of Soren Faust.

She would not fail.

Such an out come would be illogical.

Sorry for the long gap between chapters and the suddent rush of them. I wanted to make the first elements of B5 fit within the warhammer 40k setting properly. The next chapter will be done by next saturday.
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post #9 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-29-10, 01:06 PM
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awesome story

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post #10 of 159 (permalink) Old 11-01-10, 11:30 PM Thread Starter
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Any input at all would be useful.
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