Footsteps, followed by a door opening, reached Iapetus's ears. He turned, armour groaning, and locked eyes with his brother. Their eyes were so alike, green and vaguely almond-shaped, and yet so different.
'Brother, we must talk,' The Seer said. 'But not yet.'
Iapetus nodded shallowly. 'You have my ears, Coeus.'
'First, the good news. Pelegon denied any further investigation into the 2nd Company,' Coeus said. 'Until I reminded him that would only allow such a taint to fester. Following my advice, he ordered a Grand Company-wide inspection,' He leant in close, his breath washing over my face, rancid and stinking of witchery. 'I have the Warsmith's authority to investigate every single mangy, festering half-breed and discover any taint they’re hiding.'
'And there will
be taint?' Iapetus asked, pursing his lips.
'Yes brother, I am certain there will be taint in their midst.'
Iapetus grimaced. Taint, whilst uncommon, was not unheard of. When one of the Grand Company was discovered to be touched, Coeus and Lugerev's hatchet-men moved in. 'Who? The Second? Kunzhardt?'
'Certainly the Gorgon’s men harbour taint. Of the others, I’m not certain yet
,' Iapetus's witch-twin said. 'But I’m sure once we set fire to the base all the ants will start crawling out.'
Iapetus raised a gauntlet and clenched it into a fist. 'Reveal them and I shall crush them,' He rumbled. 'These will not be the first, Coeus, and they will not be the last.'
'Oh I will,' Coeus nodded, slowly and contemplatively. 'I’ll drive them from every warren and dark corner they try to hide in. There is nowhere they can hide from me. You know that this means I’ll have to investigate the 7th as well though Iapetus?'
The Shipwright smiled, coldly, and waved his hand. 'Do what you must, Coeus,' He said, never breaking his gaze with the Seer. 'I have nothing to hide, and neither do the Seventh.'
'I know that brother. Almost a quarter of my Librarian’s call the 7th Company home. I would be surprised if they had left any taint unaddressed in my absence. But, you understand, I must be seen to investigate everyone with equal scrutiny,' Coeus explained, trailing off. 'However, I did not call you down here and bind us in secret wards to discuss a simple investigation.'
would not let a taint go unchecked,' Iapetus corrected. His brothers, his Company, were loyal. They had fought with him, bled with him, jested with him - On a thousand worlds, in a thousand wars. A taint on them was a taint on his honour, and that, most of all, disgusted Iapetus. 'Speak openly. Why am I here?'
'I called you here because Pelegon may possess psychic powers.'
?' Iapetus hissed, stepping closer. 'How has this gone unnoticed?'
'I am certain he is not a psyker,' The Seer explained. 'I would have known that
. Up until now, I thought his ability to shield his thoughts from me was some innate talent he possessed, rather than any psychic skill. But he was able to identify another psyker out on the training fields. What else he is capable of,' Coeus hesitated, searching for words. 'I can’t be certain.'
'Then be certain
,' Iapetus drawled. 'If Pelegon is a psyker, then that changes everything. How many of our brothers, half-breed or high-born, would follow a witch
?' He laughed at the irony, deep and loud. 'The Warsmith should not be exempt from your hunt. Have him searched for taint, publicly, and if found wanting...'
He smirked. 'You understand.'
'Pelegon is not a psyker!' Coeus bellowed, enraged. It soon coalesced into a smile. 'It may be nothing more than a phenomenon born from Warp exposure. a mutation, you might say. Whilst the psyker gene is a stable and useful deviance, if the warp had seen fit to bless our leader with another means of perceiving the Immaterium then who is to say where such a ‘gift
’ came from.'
'I am almost certain,' Coeus continued. 'That his powers are passive. I have never felt his thoughts paw at my own defences, nor I imagine have any of my brethren. I will monitor him and look for any other clues as to what powers he possesses. I will purify the rest of the Grand Company first. Then I will call for his public investigation in a council of the Captains. He would not refuse me then, and then we will know the truth of the matter.'
'This is worrying, to say the least,' Iapetus admitted. 'If Pelegon has patrons amongst the Warp, then this taint has spread deeper than expected, into the very bones of our Company.'
Onwards they talked, into the night - Was
it night? - Iapetus could never tell, on this world of rock, of hardship, of pain. Time did not pass, in the Warp, as it did in reality. Night and day, hour by hour - It was all wrong. Eventually, Iapetus suggested they return to the Wandering King
, where he initiated an inspection of the Company - Firstly, to ensure the Seventh were at combat-readiness, and secondly, and more importantly, as a show of power.
In Olympian, they were the Asterionae
, the Kings of the Stars. In Gothic, they were the Cold, the Remnant, the Seventh. To Iapetus, and extensively, Coeus and Lugerev, they were friends, comrades-in-arms and brothers. They were a brotherhood of princes, of butchers, of post-humans. Arrayed before Iapetus, Coeus and Tirgivil - Who, in Lugerev's absence, held seniority - They were glorious
. Banners fluttered above their heads, armour shone cold and bright, ruby-red eyepieces were locked forward. They carried swords and spears, axes and claws. Some had trophies; belts festooned with gauntlets, sheared helmets, power-blades taken from the dead.
The Terminators stood to the fore. Huge, hunched and feral, these were the pride of the Seventh, Iapetus's bloody-right hand. Some had come from the First Company, upon the Night Lord's murder of old Krotas, seeking sanctuary with Iapetus and his Olympians. He had taken them in, harboured them aboard his ships, and defied all requests, all orders, to return them to Tyranus. This was where the Seventh differed from the other Companies; barring the First, it held, undeniably, the highest concentration of Tactical Dreadnought Armour. The Seventh's nature, as ship-boarders, ship-takers and ship-breakers, required it. In terms of manpower, they were remarkably powerful - And pure - But lacked the necessities to carry out prolonged planet-side operations. Their size, and composition, both put them at an advantage and a disadvantage.
'Alcibiades,' He said, to one of the Terminators. The Marine went unhelmed, a long, braided beard hanging down to his chest. He was handsome, in a classical sense, with a thin nose and angular cheekbones. Once, Alcibiades had been one of Krotas's Lieutenants - Now, he was one of Iapetus's truest men. 'At Pharsus, it as you who held the breach, against the swine-breed,' He raised his voice, echoing throughout the hanger. 'On they came, the Orks, with their cleavers and clubs, and you turned them back.'
'You,' He swung a hand across the Company. 'And the Last of Olympia!'
There was a roar. Knuckles rapped against shields, pommels, anything. Iapetus lifted an hand, and everything fell quiet. 'And you, Leonatev,' He called, to a fifth-ranker. 'Who saturated the soil of Sebastus IV with Dorn's mongrel blood!'
There was another roar. Somewhere along the ranks, a susurrus was building. They chanted his name, they bestowed the titles of Captain, Shipwright, Lord - A dozen others - Upon him.
'You are my brothers, as much as Coeus,' He laughed, flowing freely from his lips, and raised his voice once again, louder - Almost a roar. 'Sometimes, more
! Pelegon, the Warsmith, has given us new orders. A new campaign. One of little glory, and seemingly, little importance.'
'That matters not! How many worlds have we conquered? A dozen, a hundred, thousands? How many times have we shed the blood of the Imperium, Asterionae?' He shook his head. 'And, tell me, what has it gotten us? Nothing
! Where the ranks thin of good, loyal, tested Olympians, they fill with the impure! We, and we alone, remain untouched! And that is how we shall remain - Until our last breaths.'
'I ask but one thing of you,' He called, and they replied - Anything, Iapetus, anything
. 'One thing.'
He unfastened his gauntlet. 'A blade and a chalice, brothers, I ask for a blade and a chalice!'
Quickly, it was done. Alcibiades presented the blade, a wickedly, s-shaped dagger, whilst one of the Librarians brought forth a bronze chalice. The Librarian knelt, as he had done so a thousand times, and held the chalice high.
'If the blood of Olympia is to be spilt, then allow us to do it now,' Iapetus boomed, and dragged the dagger across his palm. Blood flowed forth, into the chalice, and the Seventh cheered. The Shipwright held his fist into the air, blood oozing from between his fingers, and handed the dagger to Coeus. The Seventh cheered again, scarlet droplets running down Iapetus's armour. His Twin made the incision, followed by Tirgivil, and the remainder of the Company. It was a rite, a tradition they had carried into the stars with them, from lofty Olympia. It was heathen, barbaric, bordering on madness - Or so the naysayers prattled.
When the chalice was full, overflowing, Iapetus took it from the Librarian and upturned it. 'A libation,' He announced, the deck reddening. 'To Perturabo, to ravaged Olympia, and to the Seventh!'
He turned to Coeus and Tirgivil. 'You know what has to be done,' He smiled. 'With the scalpel of the Apothecarium, the hammer of the Librarium, and the anvil of the Seventh, it can be done
And so, with the inspection done, the ranks bled away. Coeus went aboard the Ferra Perpetua, Tirgivil to the Apothecarium, and Iapetus remained, alone. There were duties to be attended to.
'Engage the hololithic chamber,' Iapetus ordered, weeks later. The XIXth was in transit, towards their destination, towards the Wolf-Sons. He was aboard the Wandering King
, aboard the bridge; a huge amphitheater of glowing consoles, where hundreds upon hundreds of crewmen laboured away. There were Iron Warriors, too, prowling through the embankments of stations.
There was a whine, as the hololithic chamber activated, and Iapetus stepped in. He was, unusually, unarmoured. He wore a long chiton, the hems sewn with gold, a bare shoulder on display. The skin was toughed and gnarled, like the hide of a lizard, from thousands of years of warfare. There was a short-sword strapped to his hip. Figures flickered, forming before him. He saw Pelegon, a giant among giants; the Night Lord, the Titan-Breaker. He saw the Master of the Tenth, Kunzhardt - Whom he glared at, openly - And, most importantly, Lugerev and Coeus.
Pelegon relayed his information and Iapetus listened. He knew the orders, he had mulled over them since the initial meeting, reorganising the Seventh as needed. A large portion of his Company were aboard the Lonesome Queen
, ready to catch their target in a pincer. If
Coeus wanted it, that command was his, but for now, it belonged to Alcibiades. Lugerev would return to the Wandering King, at some point, and board with his allocated escorts. For now, Tirgivil lorded over the Seventh's trio of Apothecaries.
As the council drew to a close, Iapetus nodded at Lugerev and the Seer, and stepped out of the hololithic chamber.
'Lumiana,' He said, settling back into his command throne. A woman, tall and pale, stepped close to her. She wore a uniform, one that had been passed through her family for generations. She was as Olympian, by blood, as Iapetus, Coeus or Lugerev. All of his crew were; from the up-deck aristocrats to the mewling, gibbering monstrosities, in the darkness of the lower-decks. Lumiana, like her ancestors, was Iapetus's equerry. Her family had served, faithfully, since Iapetus's youth. Her grandfather had died besides Iapetus, his blood had coated Iapetus's arms. There was a bond between them, one that went beyond master-and-servant. There was a familial bond. 'The moment we materialise, I want us ready. You can do that, young little sister,' He used the old, outdated, Olympian term of affection for her.
'Will it be soon?' She asked, in that curious, accent-less voice of hers. Iapetus often looked upon her, pondered whether she was beautiful, with her full lips, long dark hair and bright, intelligent eyes. But, alas, he could never tell. The Wandering King was beautiful, his spear was beautiful, the Seventh, when arrayed for combat, were beautiful. But, this woman, this mistress? She was flesh and blood. Soft, passionate. A vessel of blood, bone and muscle. When put like that, she seemed so small, so fragile and insignificant. No
, he never could decide.
'I don't believe so,' He said, once again reading over his commands. 'I intend to shame the Grand Company. I intend to show them what Olympian