A fleck of red flew into Nathanael’s eye as he drew his arm back, causing him to squint as he brought the whip down on his shoulders. The ropes, already damp and heavy with sweat and blood, came down with significant force, the crack of leather and its slap against his skin breaking the silence of the otherwise empty Chapel. Nathanael’s bare body was a blur of motion, his moisture-soaked hair flying about his head in tandem with the tails of the whip, the stench of body odour mixed with the warm undertone of incense tainting his nostrils with each laboured breath.
Standing before the altar, the Chaplain kept his eyes fixed upon the icon of The Lion embossed in the wall plating, dim lighting and smoke casting the brass and gold in shadow. The pain that he felt was a parallel to the bite of Luther’s blade, the blood on the floor a mirror to his father’s own, and the sense of hope that it brought Nathanael’s very own. Seated deep within his flesh, rooted within yet somehow beyond it, where neither whip, blade nor fire could touch, was the sure knowledge that one day He would be returned to them, that once the last of His errant sons was absolved of his sins the roar of The Lion would once again reverberate throughout the stars He had once conquered.
Nathanael felt little, however, as the leather came down again and again, causing the skin and muscle beneath to ripple with each impact, already nearly numb to its admonishments. A neural whip would be the next step, its bite something the Chaplain craved at his basest level, but knew that he was not strong enough to survive that which it would bequeath unto him with any regularity. The surety vanished, as insubstantial and unpredictable as the thin wisps of smoke that permeated the air. Tears streamed down his face as the weight of keening loss, of failure, of inadequacy, of every expectation that he had not met threatened to crush Nathanael. Why did He not show himself? Was it not enough that Nathanael had given every iota of his soul and flesh in His name, had done that which had forfeited the humanity in whose name the Ist legion had been forged, had hurled countless souls from the mortal coil and into the waiting arms of whichever maker had seen fit to create them? Were it him and him alone, he might understand, but Nathanael was but the last in a long and honourable line of the Inner Circle’s finest to dedicate himself in such a way. Their names, courting and intertwining with those of the Fallen made to repent, locked together in death and remembrance as they had been in life, each both inimical and vital to the existence of the other. The Chaplain neither sobbed nor gave voice to his angst, but its lachrymal expression, raw emotion as excreted by the flesh itself, ran down his cheeks. It reached his neck and chest, and mixed with the blood there, cutting irregular meanders through it almost as if in imitation of the scars that covered his skin.
“Watch Station Icarus will be within shuttle distance in approximately thirty minutes
” came a voice over the Chapel’s tannoy, its serene tone offset by the volume at which it was blasting into Nathanael’s ears, smashing him out of his reverie.
The marine stopped his whipping, standing stock-still in the sweat-laden air, mentally readying himself – on the physical level, Nathanael was prepared, having already compiled what information he could of those chapters alongside whose members he would be serving. On that front, the combined fonts of knowledge of The Rock’s Librarius and Reclusiam had been nourishing indeed. But to be as sincere to marines who knew nothing of what he did, whose gene-seed came from lesser primarchs and did not carry the weight and authority of the Ist Legion, of The Unforgiven and their Order and Inner Circle…that would be trying indeed, and Nathanael could draw on little but his own experience and resolve.
Stepping up to the altar, Nathanael held out his rosarius and took between forefinger and thumb the lone black pearl affixed to its underside, and with little effort plucked it free from its housing. Bowing his head, he placed it on the altar and stood there a moment, unsure whether he would emerge from this still deserving the prestige it afforded him. With a final, shuddering breath he looked again at the portrait of the Lion cast in brass and gold, the gaze at once both wise and unseeing meeting his own, and resolved once more that he would return, earning his father’s life and love.
“My life for you” the Interrogator-Chaplain whispered, pulling up his robes to cover his body, where the second skin of blood had become a scabbed memory, and left.
“Ware the Wolves”
The Chaplain followed his successor counterpart, deep in thought. That he would be burdened with a Fenrisian had been pre-empted, but it still perturbed the marine. None of them would or could know of his origins or set of skills…yet they would be expected to duel. Nathanael knew then and there that he could not afford to engage a Wolf in a duel while aboard the Watch Fortress, for the Chaplain’s training, designed to bring down astartes over any other foe, combined with his history of engagement with traitor marines and his intimacy with the physiology of his kind, would leave the outcome of such an altercation beyond doubt. He could not defeat a Wolf without revealing something of his nature, yet neither could he allow himself to be defeated. To concede to a whelp of Russ’ sire would be unforgivable – Nathanael could but hope that through his wits and by avoiding contact with them as much as possible he could evade that hurdle.
Once in his quarters, Nathanael inclined his head, indicating to Sicarius that he was no longer needed. The Watch-Chaplain nodded back, reaching into his robes and producing a data-slate, which the taller marine accepted, before entering the small room that would serve as his home, closing and locking the door behind him. Glancing at the data-slate, Nathanael saw that there was a scrap of paper tucked between the hard metal back and his thumb – how Sicarus had got it there Nathanael could guess, but his respect for the senior Chaplain increased as much as it made him aware of his need for constant vigilance. The paper was inscribed with Calibanese runes in a neat, unpretentious script.
“The room is secure, and has been fitted with a screamer linked to your armour. Should anyone without our authorisation enter the room it will be cleansed. S.
Nathanael crushed and ingested the paper, swallowing the pellet without difficulty. On the bed were his weapons, first and foremost among them Naful Malakh
. Picking it up, the marine drew it form his scabbard, feeling and allowing himself to briefly enjoy its familiar weight and balance. He looked down between his bare feet, and saw the familiar notch in the floor. Sicarius was outdoing himself, it seemed.
Nathanael placed the tip of the blade in the notch, where it slid down exactly ten centimetres before coming to rest, its great long length standing to attention. The Dark Angel lowered himself to his knees before the weapon, and half in prayer, half in concentration, rested the data-slate against it as he read the details of his upcoming trials and objectives.