Part the Second
“In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”
- Ancient Terran scrivener
Machines chattered quietly, giving rhythmic, beeping reports. A quill scratched a steady sussurus, off-set by an irregular ticking sound. Layered on top of that were the Astartes warrior's heavy breaths and Chirurgeon Mikla's light footsteps.
She glanced at the Astartes again, hesitantly. To look at his massive body—stripped, painstakingly, of its armor, and now covered only by a thin sheet—seemed almost irreverent. The marine's raised contours were decidedly inhuman; or rather, posthuman. His musculature was immensely swollen, and his chest, on account of his fused ribcage, was square and blocky. Armor jacks embedded in his skin left irregular lumps in the sheet. Much of his left half was swathed in bandages. No cot was large enough to hold him, so the inhabitants of the abbey had lain him down on three mattresses on the floor.
Mikla checked the monitors and the automated read-out, to make sure that his condition wasn't wavering, and went back to cleaning her tools in the sink.
She had nearly panicked when he was first dragged in. How was she supposed to operate on so august and sacred a personage? Suddenly her mentor's horror stories about removing a visiting Cardinal's burst appendix hadn't seemed all that humorous. And not only was this sacred warrior her patient, but she had only the faintest idea about what modifications and augmentations had been made to his body.
So she had learned fast. Two hearts. Three lungs. Bones as hard as iron, but more brittle. Thick, tough, leathery muscles. Shriveled, sterile testes that were almost laughably small, when compared to his body's bulk.
At first, she had struggled, working with such massive proportions and resistant flesh—but eventually, she had noticed other things working in her favor. Blood flow clotted within seconds of new incisions—and what blood she actually saw was a brilliant vermillion, the result of an absurdly high hemoglobin count. In a normal human, she would have suspected advanced diabetes. On one hand, The marine's body metabolized and nullified every sedative and immunobooster she injected, but opposing that, he showed no actual need to be sedated. It was a morbid to consider, but she had worked on corpses that twitched and shuddered more often beneath her knife.
Her blind, fumbling emergency triage had sufficed. The marine had stabilized—more on account of his own modifications than her work, she suspected. Plumbing his inner workings had left her even more mystified than when she had started.
Mikla glanced down at him again, oh so cautiously, and froze. His unbandaged eye was open.
he croaked, his voice deep and hoarse. “Quisnam es-”
before his voice broke and he began coughing. She recognized his words as High Gothic, which matched what the men who had brought him in had said.
“I do not know High Gothic, lord,” she said carefully. “Can you speak Low Gothic?”
“Where. Who are...you,” he repeated.
“A sub-Abbey of Kyvol Minor, lord. I am but a humble chirurgeon. Annis Mikla. That's my name, I mean.”
“Brothers?” he asked.
“You've mentioned them before,” she said. “Guias and Aster? I'm sorry, milord. We could only find one of them, and he was, well...”
The marine's gaze left her and traveled across the ceiling. His lips pursed slightly. Perhaps his eyes glimmered slightly. Nothing pronounced. The face's swollen features were an impassive, alien mask to her. All the same, she thought that she could sense a great anguish swimming beneath it.
“With—with all due respect, lord, who are you?”
“Can call me...Ogion. Angels of Vengeance. Brother Sergeant, 5th Company. How are my injuries?”
“Of course, Lord Ogion,” Mikla said, and was once more nearly overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. She was speaking with an Astartes
. She did her best to assume a professional, businesslike mien. “You've survived injuries to kill a normal man three times over. An adamantium spike in your side punctured a lung and ruptured your small intestine, but I've inflated and stitched them, respectively. Nonetheless, it dealt massive muscular trauma to your abdominal wall.
You have various lacerations and contusions all along your right besides that, but your armor took the brunt of the crash. You've also undergone severe stress and blood loss, in spite of your blood's wondrous clotting capability, and have suffered a number of sprains and fractures around your body.
“The left half of your face...well, you'll never look pretty again, but I don't think your duties require that. I'm afraid, though, that you lost the eye. We don't have any augmentics on hand, but-”
His eyes had slipped shut. Perhaps he was still exhausted, and his mental conditioning let him slip into unconscious at a moment's notice. Perhaps he was weary of this litany of ill tidings, and simply wanted her to stop babbling. In any case, she fell respectfully silent.
After a moment's reflection, she slipped away. She would let him rest and inform Abbot Mandose that the Lord Ogion had woken, however briefly.
The vox apparatus wheezed. Peitr murmured a prayer to its elderly, infrequently-used machine spirit and tried to dismiss his nervousness regarding the upcoming ordeal. He leaned forward, putting his mouth to the mic, and depressed the “transmit” stud.
+Honored Astartes frigates, please respond. This is sub-Abbey Castus of Kyvol, bearing important tidings. Please respond.+
He held his breath. The vox console continued to rattle unabated, but no reply was quickly forthcoming.
+Honored Astartes fri-+ he began again, but was cut off by a deep, clipped voice that was only slightly fuzzed by static.
++This is the Nova Frigate Ardent Blade
of the Angels of Vengeance, responding to your hail. Disregarding your lack of vox-protocol and security measures, state your purpose in contacting this vessel.++
+I, ah, yes, honored lords,+ replied Peitr, swallowing down his redoubled trepidation. +We have recovered a fallen escape pod from your battle against the Archenemy's forces, and in it, the good Brother Sergeant Ogion.+
++Ogion?++ came the reply after a brief pause.
+Yes,+ replied Peitr nervously. He wasn't certain what the brevity of the reply meant, so he replied in more detail, painfully aware that he was babbling and unable to stop himself: +The Brother Sergeant and his unfortunately deceased comrades—the Brothers Guias and Aster, he told us—crash-landed a short distance from our abbey. He himself was badly injured. We thought it only fitting that you were informed, so that you could, well, return for them. Before you departed from the system.+
The vox was silent for a stretch of painfully long seconds, as though the speaker on the other end were conversing with a superior officer.
++Very well,++ came the cold reply. ++We will be descending to the planet as soon as we are able. Stand by for further instruction.++
The line went dead, except for the omnipresent static which hissed in fitful waves. Peitr sat back, exhaling. That had been remarkably painless, all things considered.
“Lord Ogion,” breathed Mikla, flustered, “you really must return to your rest. You simply cannot be up and about so soon after-”
“I am an Astartes,” said Ogion, shuffling along the corridor and occasionally resting his hand against the wall for support. He was clad in the garment that had been hastily stitched for him from three sets of robes, and slightly hunched so as not to bump his head on ceiling. “I am perfectly capable of understanding my limitations; far better, in fact, than you are.”
“Nonetheless, lord, you have been through a-”
“And this too: do not call me 'lord.' I am not one of your petty priestlings with illusions of grandeur. You may address me as 'sergeant,' 'Ogion,' or both combined.”
Mikla moaned in overwhelmed exasperation.
The rounded a corner and Ogion almost collided with Abbot Mandose, who was scuttling toward the infirmary as fast as could be considered dignified. Peitr followed in his wake.
“Ah,” croaked Mandose, looking up at the space marine's full, imposing height. “I see that our honored guest is already up and moving about. Far earlier, let it be said, than I expected.”
“He insists that he is capable, Lord Abbot,” Mikla replied. The title burned on her tongue after Ogion's most recent words. “In spite of my...reservations, I suppose that we must allow him freedom of the abbey.”
“But of course! I was coming to inform you—both of you, I suppose—of the good news that Brother Peitr has just imparted to me. Lord Ogion-”
“Sergeant, please,” the Astartes replied. Mikla was relieved that he spoke with slightly more tact—brusqueness aside—than before.
“Of course, sergeant,” said Mandose, clearing his throat. “Whatever you desire. As I was saying, though, we have made contact with you chapter's vessel the Ardent Blade
, above us. They have been informed as to your presence, and shall be coming, soon, to retrieve you!”
Mikla's heart soared to hear those words—but Ogion's response was the opposite of what she expected (insofar as she knew what to expect of him). He flinched and drew back, slumping against the wall as if his wounds had reopened. She rushed forward to make sure that he was all right, but he waved her away.
“No,” he murmured hollowly. “Not now, no.”
“Lor—Sergeant Ogion,” said the bewildered Mandose, “whatever is the problem? I would grant this to be news for celebration, not mourning!”
Ogion snarled and jerked his head, meeting the Abbot's gaze. Mandose skittered back a step from this sudden, violent-seeming intent.
“My escape pod was cast from the Ardent Blade
,” growled Ogion. “I saw it destroyed behind me as we fell toward Kyvol. You spoke to no such vessel.”
A stunned silence followed. Mikla's eyes and mouth gradually crept open as she began to understand the implications of such a statement. She, to sagged in horror.
“Then...who could it have been?” asked Peitr, confused.
“Had its sister ship the Plangent
defeated the enemy” said Ogion, “there would be no such subterfuge. Who, then, can be responsible? Only Chaos. The Great Deceiver. Before now, they had no reason to heed this backwater planet. You have just given them a very compelling one.”