Cora could feel her flesh cooking in the heat of the Hisperus sun and her eyewear made little difference to the blinding glare that ravaged her sight. Even here in the shade of an open pavilion the baking planet was a brutal oven. Her perspiration evaporated immediately and thirst rasped at her throat mercilessly. She drew from the water stein regularly and pulled at the loose white cotton dress to fan her naked form beneath. It gave little relief.
Kurus paced in agitation. Though his face was passive she could see the concern in those little glances she caught from him. Cora was beginning to know the man he was becoming. His beige cotton robe should have dripped with sweat but it too was fired bone-dry by the day-heat.
‘I should go’, Cora implored.
‘No’, Kurus snapped. He softened as he approached and took her hands in his. ‘Please Cora, I need you here’.
‘But this is between you and your father’, she pressed quietly.
Kurus moved his hand to her shoulder, ‘maybe so’, he responded, ‘but it will concern you too. Too long have you been kept from my confidence on this matter; too long have we travelled together for you now to be simply a pilot, a hireling. This concerns you as much as it concerns me, and I would have you there when I wring the truth from this man’.
Sinnessaar drifted nearby and the pair lowered their voices further. Cora whispered words of encouragement for she could see the glass that was his iron shell.
Suddenly onto the blinding glare of the rock terrace, Demeter Von Sachen emerged from a recessed stairwell. His black robes snapped angrily behind him as he strode with purpose towards Kurus and the group. As he approached, Cora could feel a palpable horror wash over her. His eyes were dark pools and she could feel the rage of the void therein. Tessala left without a word and Sinnessaar backed away in a bow. Cora was overwhelmed with the compulsion to leave and it was a desire she could not control. As she moved away, Kurus took her hand and rooted her in place. Demeter glared at the pair before him.
‘Why have you returned once more boy’, he growled. ‘Your task is not done’.
‘I have come for the answers you will not give me’, Kurus responded. Cora felt she heard them only snatched through a storm.
‘Then you have already the answers you seek. Leave and finish your task’, Demeter ordered. He turned to head back to the stairwell.
‘No’, stated Kurus fiercely. He squeezed Cora’s hand in search of strength.
‘No?’ Demeter replied, halting on the terrace.
‘No, I will not leave without my answers’.
‘Go’, Demeter uttered through gritted teeth. His words pushed Cora as surely as his hands would have. Kurus stood firm.
‘You will answer me old man or I will leave here and make my own way in the void’, Kurus pressed. ‘I am done with following your bidding without understanding. I am done with blind loyalty’.
Demeter halted and turned back to face them. Cora marvelled that the black eyed noble towered over even Kurus. Not only towered but stood as broad as two men. Demeter squinted intensely and she felt he was looking into her very soul.
‘You would make your own way?’ Demeter enquired quietly. He and Kurus regarded each other for long tense moments.
Demeter saw the bond of hands between Kurus and Cora. He saw the deeper bond and strength that Kurus drew from it. Long moments passed and then his visage softened. ‘And if you knew the truth, if you understood? Then you would follow my bidding?’
‘How can I say yes?’ Kurus responded calmly. ‘Reveal your truth and we will see’.
‘You ask me to risk much boy! I have vested greatly in you, too much to risk your rebellion now’.
‘Telling me is the only way to stop that rebellion old man’, Kurus pressed.
Demeter considered Kurus’ words carefully. He could mould the boy’s thoughts to his will, but this would sacrifice his work, and in any case such coercion was always dulling an unreliable. He had always expected Kurus to come to this point but not so soon. He could see the gentle fingerprints of the woman in Kurus’ defiance.
‘Very well’, Demeter stated calmly. ‘Join me’.
Demeter, Kurus and Cora took seats in the stifling shade of the pavilion as Sinnessaar loitered nearby, busying himself with a small group of servitors.
‘Tell me Kurus, what has brought about this challenge? Why have you returned so swiftly from your task? I thought we had settled this matter at our last meeting.’
‘Things have changed’, Kurus responded quietly. His gaze raked across the plateau in search of resolution through the heat haze.
‘What?’ Demeter asked.
‘We encountered a Kill-ship of the Adeptus Astartes’, Kurus responded hesitantly. ‘Sinnessaar informs me they were of the Ultramarine chapter’. He glanced quickly at Demeter, seeking some involuntary reaction but the old man remained impassive. ‘They knew my name’.
Demeter rose and paced pensively. ‘The Ultramarines were my brethren once’, he stated calmly, ‘or I was theirs. We were the angels of death, the fist of the Emperor, but the Adeptus Terra began to turn Humanity from his guiding word. So my brothers have built a realm of their own. Ultramar it is called’.
He regarded the confused faces of Kurus and Cora, and considered whether the time was right for the truth. He could see no reason to hold back. ‘We were the guardians of Humanity you see. Mankind’s last, best hope of the bright future the Emperor set out for us. But my brothers have lost their way. They spread beyond their founding tenets, yet abandoned their purpose’.
‘What do you mean, ‘abandoned their purpose’?’ Cora blurted.
Demeter glared sharply at her and Cora felt he would kill her for such impertinence.
‘They, we, I, were bred to defend Humanity from the threats it faces. We were bred from the Emperor himself to protect his Imperium, his vision for the manifest destiny of Humankind. Yet we no longer do’.
He paced slowly, hanging his head and clasping his hands at his back. For the first time, Demeter belied an inner turmoil and Cora could feel his struggles. He seemed a man who wanted to lay his soul bare, but who had lost the key to the chains that bound it. Kurus made to speak but was stayed by a glance from Demeter. Kurus saw there, for the first time, some measure of doubt.
‘We no longer do’, he continued quietly, ‘they no longer do’. He turned swiftly, his black robes swirling in emphasis. ‘You have seen the Imperium! Do you really think this is the Emperor’s vision for his children? No, it is not.’
‘We’ve discussed this before’, Kurus interrupted as he rose to his feet.
‘Yes’, Demeter replied, ‘we have. I was Ultramarine. My whole life was given to service for the Emperor and for his vision. Yet that vision no longer exists. It has become corrupted by the institutions of Man, by the twisted dogma of the Adeptus Terra. It has been usurped, cast aside by the failings and frailties of lesser men who believe themselves to be gods’.
Cora blanched. Such words were rarely spoken in the Imperium for to question the Adeptus Terra was to invite death at the hands of its authorities. In many ways she could not conceive the things Demeter was saying. Calm descended and she could see Demeter’s distress. She felt there was much more he could say, but little more he would say. She was wrong.
‘And my brothers do nothing’, he continued bitterly. ‘They wage their petty wars; spread their influence in numbers far greater than the proscriptions of the Codex; and the masters sit on their thrones of Ultramar while the Emperor’s vision blinks to nothing in the void; and they say there is only war’.
He snarled and turned his fierce visage on Kurus and Cora, ‘and they call me traitor!’ His words spat with anger, ‘me?! Did I not serve well enough? Did I not walk the path between this world and the dark Empyrean? Did I not throw my mind, my body, my soul on the pyre of sacrifice to their petty wars?’
He stomped about, seemingly lost now in his own rage, ‘me a traitor?! It is they who have betrayed Humanity, our dear Emperor and his glorious vision! It is they who steep themselves in the blood of wasted wars while the Imperium decays before their very eyes!’
Spittle flecked his iron jaw as he regained some composure and it dried to a crust in the heat. ‘What is the truth you ask?’ Demeter’s gaze fixed upon Kurus, yet Cora felt it as keenly, ‘yes I am a traitor. I left my brothers and set out to change the things they will not. I would end the wars, cut away the corruption, and open once again the fate of Humanity. I would restore the Emperor’s vision. I would return Humanity to its truth path, to its ascendancy that has been denied and suppressed for ten thousand years’.
‘And for you to do this I am to scuttle about the Imperium gathering trinkets?’ Kurus pressed indignantly.
‘Not trinkets, tools’, Demeter replied, his rage abating to a fierce determination.
‘Tools for what?’ Cora blurted. The question surprised her and she felt herself saying it without conscious effort, as if it were drawn from her by some conversational force.
Demeter deflated visibly and Cora was surprised to see a tear briefly fleck his cheek.
‘Tools for what must be done’, he said wearily, gingerly taking his seat once more, ‘tools to end the tyranny of faith in a dead father’.
‘Speak plainly’, Kurus bellowed. ‘What have you had me do all these months? What have I been collecting? What is your plan?’
Demeter wiped the tears from his cheeks before they vaporised. ‘My plan?’ He stood again and paced slowly. ‘My plan is to end the Imperium. When a limb becomes infected beyond healing you cut it off or the whole body dies. The Imperium is a festering, rotten limb on the body of the Emperor’s vision and it has sickened Humanity for ten millennia’.
‘You will end the Imperium?’ Kurus asked incredulously. ‘How?’
‘One hundred centuries past, the Emperor was struck a mortal blow. Since that time his body has lain a lifeless husk in the Golden Throne on Holy Terra’.
‘Not a lifeless husk!’ Cora protested, ‘the Golden Throne preserves him and gives out the beacon of hope for us all!’
Demeter regarded the girl quietly. ‘You see the lie and how it infects us all’, he stated flatly.
‘It’s not a lie!’ Cora retorted.
‘Yes, it is’, Demeter countered, ‘and on that lie has been built the edifice of the Imperium. It binds together Humanity under secular oppression and regressive ecclesiastical dogma that enslaves the bodies and minds of Humanity. for all these long centuries we have been in decline, getting further from the Emperor’s hope for us all with each passing year’.
Silence fell on the assembly. Sinnessaar had left the servitors to their tasks and listened to the exchange intently. He could see in Kurus a growing defiance, a welling anger at Demeter’s words, yet the rogue Astartes seemed shut off from all but his narration and so he pressed on.
‘What must be done then?’ Demeter continued. ‘What is my plan? The focus of this falsehood must be eliminated. The emperor is long dead, but this is not seen. It must be seen. I will destroy him and the Golden Throne, and this hateful realm of the Imperium shall split asunder’.
Again, silence fell about them and Cora, now tearful, burst forth, ‘you can’t! You mustn’t!’
Kurus followed, ‘no, you can’t. The Imperium would shatter, trillions would die. The threats we face would overwhelm us and Humanity itself would fall’.
‘Trillions already die!’ Demeter bellowed. ‘The Imperium wages endless wars and throws countless souls into the fire of battle. It does this all for nothing! Yes there will be trials and horrors untold, but from these ashes, Humanity will arise and free from the repression of the Imperium it will be able once again to reach for its destiny foreseen by the Emperor’.
‘And these ‘tools’ you have had me collect?’ Kurus asked.
‘The Golden Throne is well protected’, Demeter replied. ‘But there is technology from the ancient Eldar empire that will suppress and counter these defences. They will allow me to enter the inner sanctums with time enough to do what must be done’.
‘You’re insane’, Kurus whispered.
‘I am?’ Demeter replied. ‘The Imperium has held back Humanity for ten thousand years, and every passing year it has moved further from the Emperor’s Light. Is it insane to wish to end this madness?’
Demeter pulled himself to his full height and collected into the black iron tower he was before. ‘So now you know the truth Kurus. Now you know the purpose of the tasks we gave you your life to undertake. I will leave you to make your choice’.
Demeter strode away down the recessed stairwell. Cora watched him leave. Kurus glared at Sinnessaar.
‘You know he’s completely insane right?’ Cora said quietly.
Kurus didn’t respond but stormed over to Sinnessaar. ‘You knew’, he growled.
‘Yes’, Sinnessaar stated calmly, ‘of course I knew. Your father and I have been allies and friends for many decades’.
‘Everything he said is true?’ Kurus asked through clenched teeth.
Sinessaar hesitated, ‘I did not hear it all’.
‘Don’t play your word games with me old man’, Kurus pressed. ‘Is what he said true?’
‘You were bred to gather the required technologies for our plan; that is true’.
‘Is it true?!’ Kurus shouted.
‘Yes’, Sinnessaar replied coldly. ‘We have strived towards this goal for decades, and now with your successful development, we are close to finally securing the tools we need to enact the final phase’.
Kurus spat onto the baked rock terrace, ‘no you are not. You think I will have anything to do with this insanity?! You think had I known from the start that I would have gone this far?’
‘You think you have a choice?’ Sinnessaar countered. ‘You think we kept this from you as some sort of subterfuge to ensure your compliance? Don’t be naïve boy!’ The old man stated firmly.
‘Yes, I think I have a choice, and I choose my own path from here on. The path you laid out for me as a pawn in your madness is no longer the one I’ll walk, do you understand me?’ Kurus stabbed his finger into Sinnessaar’s chest.
‘What will you do then?’ Sinnessaar asked calmly. ‘Where will you go?’
Cora emerged from behind Kurus, ‘he’ll come with me’, she stated defiantly.
‘Ah yes, of course, the rogue trader’, Sinnessaar replied, ‘and this is the life you would make for yourself?’ He continued, addressing Kurus. ‘A life spent without true purpose, drifting in and out of the Imperium, filling your days with worry over resource, or valueless delight in material acquisition?’
‘That is not the way of the rogue trader’, Cora retorted. ‘It is a profound life spent finding the lost souls of Humanity and bringing them into the light of the Emperor’s realm. It is a wild and free life, where you master your own destiny’.
Sinnessaar placed a fatherly hand on Kurus shoulder, ‘my boy, you were born for greatness. You were born to end the horror that Humanity labours under, to free us all from tyranny and to restore the Emperor’s Light to the galaxy. Are you really saying you will turn from that path because there will be sacrifices?’
Kurus glanced at Cora, then at Sinnessaar and wandered away, lost in thought.
Demeter entered the cool conference chamber and discarded his outer black robe. He called up the orbital auspex telemetry and reviewed it with cursory attention.
Tessala emerged from the shadows, ‘you told him the truth?’
Demeter pointedly continued to review holo-data, ‘I told him what he needed to know’.
She approached the giant and raked her hand gently across his iron-hard shoulders, ‘and he will continue with his tasks?’
‘Of course he will. It is forseen…’ Demeter halted and confusion spread across his face. He could not foresee the outcome of Kurus’ decision at all. The future before him was dark now and his unease began to grow.
‘What is it?’ Tessala asked. ‘Demeter, you are bleeding!’ She exclaimed.
Demeter felt his upper lip at the blood flowing freely from his nostrils. ‘What is this?’ He uttered softly.
Tessala’s mechadendrites snaked into the data ports around the chamber and her optics fluttered briefly as she assimilated the data streams from the cogitator core. ‘You shut down the dissipater field!’ She exclaimed. ‘Demeter, why did you shut down the dissipater field?!’
‘I didn’t!’ He replied searching desperately for the control protocols across the holo-pict plates.
‘Wait, there’s a vessel…’ Tessala trailed off.
Across the holo-table the air shimmered and distorted about three points of amber light. The light grew and formed into the outline of three figures, impossibly massive and fearfully familiar. Within the shapes, reality warped and bent and nimbus energy bled and sparked into the surrounding surfaces.
‘They found me’, Demeter whispered.
Time crawled yet in an instant the figures resolved in the soft ambient light of the chamber. Clad in deep blue tactical dreadnaught armour, three Ultramarines appeared. Storm bolters levelled at Demeter and Tessala from the flanking terminators, but the centre figure carried only an ornate staff, topped with a horned skull. His head was nested in a vaulted cowl of tubes and blinking gem-blisters, and a soft purple nimbus of light writhed softly from his eyes.
Tessala extracted her mechadendrites and falteringly backed away. Her porcelain visage remained impassive, yet her whole demeanour spoke of prey caught within the strike of a merciless predator. She halted immediately at the gesture demanding compliance from the hulking armoured killer training his vicious weapon on her.
‘I always could find the open roads into your mind Demeter’, the lead figure smiled, ‘and they remain as easy to close off’.
‘Welcome to Hisperus Varro’, Demeter stated. He mustered all the composure he could.
Varro Tigurius regarded the two frail figures before him, seeing in an instant all that they were and all that they were to be. He knew their darkest secrets, and their plots and intrigues more completely than they knew themselves.
‘Why would I accept a welcome from such an ungrateful son?’ Varro enquired knowingly. ‘Did I not teach you the power of foresight well enough Demeter, or have your years of exile dulled your senses?’
Both Astartes knew that Tigurius’ mind had suppressed Demeter’s psychic power and Demeter felt more fully the denial of his senses now that his old master stood before him.
‘The authorities of Ultramar have been most disappointed in you Demeter’, Varro continued, ‘for you were so promising a son to us. Your betrayal bit me deepest’.
‘It is not I who is the betrayer’, Demeter retorted, ‘but you and the council that stand by as our purpose is corrupted’.
Varro sighed and his adamantium fist gripped his staff more tightly. ‘You know full well the strategy Demeter, for you were of the Librarium. The time is coming. We must be patient’.
‘Strategy?! What strategy is it that would have us stand by and watch the fall? Why would we wait in the shadows while our brothers waste their strength against the distractions of the xenos breeds or the…’
‘Enough!’ Varro blared, jabbing his staff into the rock floor and shaking cracks and pebble-fall from the walls and ceiling. The force of the sound cracked the holo-table. ‘I will not argue this again with you Demeter. You are traitor and you will suffer the fate befitting the dishonoured’.
Tessala stepped a pace backwards.
‘You must do as you will of course’, Sinnessaar stated, ‘but really Kurus, how can you deny your destiny?’
‘What destiny?!’ Cora interjected. ‘The destiny you would have him take? What destiny is it, to destroy the Imperium and condemn countless trillions to death?’
‘Cora’, Kurus pressed, calming her with a confident gaze, ‘please, there is much for me to consider’. He turned to Sinnessaar, ‘you are right old man; how can I deny this thing for which I was created? Everything I have been has brought me to this moment, and I must now make a choice’.
Kurus wandered away from the two, out from under the pavilion shade and into the blinding heat of the Hisperus IV day. How could he continue? How could he bring to Demeter, and Sinnessaar, and Tessala, the means to end the Imperium. These were the only family he had known; could they really be wrong? Then there was Cora, no more than that, there was Cora and all she represented. When he looked at her, at her lithe form, her pretty face, her maroon matt of hair and her buoyant life essence, what he saw was everything it is to be human. Could he really follow Demeter’s path and condemn so many Cora’s to death and darkness?
A distant noise caught his attention. It was a short, staccato, and brutal sound. Then there was another, coming from the recessed stairwell. Cora and Sinnessaar froze and they all knew the sound; bolt guns.
‘Cora, get the flyer fired up’, Kurus barked, and Cora sprinted across the plateau to the Argus resting on the flyer dais some way off.
‘Sinnessaar, can you get a data feed?’ He asked abruptly. The old man checked his instruments but found only static. Kurus pulled his las-pistol and kept his focus on the stairwell. In the distance, the Argus flyer’s engines sparked to life.
‘Come on’, Kurus urged as he broke into a jog towards the landing field. Sinnessaar’s prosthetics steamed as he kept pace. As they passed the stairwell Kurus twisted to skip sideways, as he was sure he could see movement coming up from below.
Suddenly Sinnessaar exploded in a shower of sparks and metal fragments. Kurus spun round, punched in the left shoulder by something hard. His blood and tattered flesh burst out in a spray of gore as the bolt round exploded within him. The world faded out.
Kurus became aware of a fuzzy heat and of mild pain. His vision coalesced from a blinding blur as he glared up from the blistering rock bed. A shadow eclipsed the white sky and resolved into the deep blue hulk of an armoured assailant. The gaping maw of a bolt gun hovered between them and Kurus felt the dull kick of a metal foot against his leg. Kurus suddenly snapped into clarity and with a lightning strike punched into the figure’s calf. The xenos ring on his finger sliced through the Ultramarine’s power armour and Kurus’ fist pulped the leg flesh beneath. The marine fell as his butchered leg collapsed, and Kurus vaulted up and punched hard into the opponent’s helm. His head burst.
Kurus regained his senses and became immediately aware that his left shoulder was a wreck. The mashed flesh was bleeding profusely. He glanced around but could see no other foes before he took up the dead marine’s bolt gun. With a last glance, he saw Sinnessar’s broken form lying on the hot rock nearby, before loping off towards the flyer.
‘Emperor’s Faith!’ Cora exclaimed in panic and Kurus collapsed into a passenger seat. ‘Kurus! What do I do?’ She screamed.
Kurus glanced down at his wound and laughed, ‘yeah, these bolt guns make a real mess don’t they?’
‘Damn you Kurus, this is no time to laugh’, she chided. He grabbed her arm and halted her frantic attentions.
‘Cora, just get us over to the shuttle platform. We need to get up to the Astram’.
‘Yes’, she agreed desperately. ‘Where are they others?’
‘They aren’t coming’, Kurus replied, as he hastily wrapped a dust robe about his wound.
Cora pushed the Argus engines hard and swung the brutal flyer towards the north platforms. Heat twisted the air with vicious thermals but she yawed through them mindlessly. Before she knew it they had bounced to a halt beside their shuttle and she down the flyer’s power. Heading back into the passenger chamber Cora found Kurus soaked red and surrounded by discarded packaging from the medical supplies in the flyer’s first aid pack. Kurus was pallid and sweating profusely, and seemed to be delirious.
‘Kurus!’ Cora yelled as she slapped his face. His head lolled up and she could see glazed blankness in his eyes. Beside him, three vials of pain killing drugs laid empty on the seat.
‘Kurus, come on, I can’t lift you’, she pleaded as she desperately tried to haul him to his feet. Raking round, she saw a team of fuel servitors busying themselves just outside the flyer. Soon they were carrying Kurus into the shuttle’s medical chamber on a makeshift gurney as Cora scrambled into the flight bay.
Time compressed and in her panic Cora quickly found herself completing the docking protocols back on the Falicus Astram. She didn’t stop to think how she had crossed up into the void, nor what was happening around her. She had one thought; get to the Astram.
Amid the venting steam and void mist that billowed about the shuttle docking bay, a medical servitor team emerged to take Kurus into their care.
‘Will he be alright?’ Cora asked desperately. The lead servitor glared at her blankly from her remaining human eye. Cora found no comfort there. ‘Report to me as soon as you have an appraisal of his condition, you understand?’ She commanded forcefully.
Suddenly through the steam and emotional fog, a vox transmission barked, ‘welcome aboard Miss Zondarem. Please report to the command deck. We have a problem’. Cora recognised Navigator Cy Tea’s voice with dread.
She arrived at the command deck to find the Navigator seated in Kurus’ command throne. Without turning to regard her, the spindly, distended figure spoke dryly, ‘I trust there have been complications on the surface?’
‘You could say that’, Cora retorted, and ‘what’s the problem up here?’
The Navigator met her gaze and with a gesture directed her to look out into the void. Hanging before them was the Ultramarine kill-ship that had encountered previously. Cora staggered back in surprise and dread.
She was alone now and she felt it. She needed Kurus. He would know what to do. or Sinnessaar, or Tessala. But they were not here and death stared he in the face across the void. Cora pressed her stomach and held her breath. She could feel the sweat sticking her hair to her face but stood hard and composed herself.
‘Give me the throne My Cy Tea’, she ordered confidently. The Navigator smiled wryly as his probed deep into her tempestuous emotions, and raging fear and self-doubt. She was an exquisite storm of insecurity and he revelled in her. The Navigator unfolded like a spider and offered her the command throne with a bow.
Cora took the seat and rested back into it gingerly. Its deep leather was too large for her petite frame, yet somehow she felt her confidence welling up. She glanced around the command deck at the servitor trenches, and the void screens. She could feel the ship begin to look to her.
‘My Cy Tea, make preparations for Warp translation once we reach minimum safe distance’.
The Navigator retired to his navigation chair to make the premature engagements, but his senses never left their perch in Cora’s emotional turmoil.
She called up the tactical displays and assessed the enemy ship. They were hopelessly outclassed. The kill-ship out gunned them, outpaced them, and it was clear that at orbital anchor the Falicus Astram remained in existence entirely at the whim of the kill-ship’s command. She tapped the screen pensively, and pulled up another image. Cora stared at the facsimile from her personal files of the Warrant of Trade Admiral Epirus has given her. It was the future she had dreamed of for so long. Here it was, within her grasp, yet so close to the end if the kill-ship wished it. Cora pondered the Warrant carefully.
‘What is it to be a Rogue Trader?’ She whispered to herself. ‘What will I risk?’
She opened a channel to the Mechanicus hub, ‘Magos Chattan, are the engines ready?’ Her vox was met with delay and static. ‘Magos Ch…’
‘Who is this?’ Chattan barked.
‘Cora Zondarem’, she replied. ‘I have taken command’.
Again there was a brief delay. ‘Yes we are prepared for void transit upon your order Captain Zondarem’.
As Cora watched, a third ship emerged from the void in the vista. She checked the auspex logs, but they showed no ship.
‘Are you seeing this Cy Tea?’ She asked the Navigator cautiously.
‘Yes’, the Navigator confirmed. ‘It bear’s the Inquisitor’s mark’.
As the vessel approached, Cora could see it too. On a primary vane of the black ship a deep burgundy icon of the Inquisition. The vessel drifted majestically into position and dwarfed even the Ultramarine kill-ship.
‘This might be our chance to slip away’, Cora posited. Before Callam Cy Tea could respond another soft voice interrupted.
‘Yes it might be’.
Cora swung the command throne around in surprise. Standing nearby was a tall, angular figure attired in simple black satin robes. A small chatelaine hung at his thigh with a small gold icon that matched that adorning the black ship.
‘It is good to see you again Miss Zondarem’, the figure spoke softly.
‘Again?’ She replied hesitantly. ‘Have we met before?’
‘Indeed we have, back on Hadasaus Prime, all that time ago. It was the day you first met Demeter Von Sachen in fact, although I’m not offended if you don’t recall’. He smiled warmly, ‘it was a busy day for you’.
‘And you are?’ Cora pressed.
‘Crowe, Victor Crowe, Inquisitor at your service’. He bowed formally.
Cora blanched visibly and her newfound composure began to crumble.
‘My dear Miss Zondarem’, Crowe chided, ‘please do not concern yourself unduly. I am well aware of your transgressions but you may rest assured that it is not for the prosecution of them that I am here’.
He paced slowly down towards the vista screens at the fore of the command deck and regarded the two great ships beyond.
‘Why are you here then?’ She enquired.
‘Marvellous isn’t it what we humans can accomplish when we put our minds to the task. Take those vessels out there for example, or indeed this one. Sheer will to overcome our boundaries and to go beyond our limitations. We are remarkable don’t you think?’ The Inquisitor turned to regard Cora directly.
‘Yes, I suppose we are’, she answered.
‘Kurus is remarkable too don’t you think?’
‘Yes’, Cora responded tentatively.
‘He’s not like us though is he? Not human.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Cora asked uncomfortably.
‘What do you know if the Adeptus Astartes Miss Zondarem?’
‘Not much, just what I’ve heard and seen. The cradle stories of the Emperor’s Angels of Death, keeping the monsters in the darkness at bay. Although from what I’ve seen of them, they are certainly death, if not angels’.
‘Angels, yes’, the Inquisitor chuckled.
Cora watched him as he watched her. He seemed strangely benign for one belonging to the organisation that had murdered Mikas, and that mothers threatened their children with.
‘Why are you here’, she asked.
‘A good question’, the Inquisitor responded. ‘I have something to give you’. He reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a slim data-carrier as he approached the command throne.
‘Here’, he said softly as he handed it to Cora.
‘What’s on it?’ She asked.
‘I get the feeling you have a glittering career ahead of you Miss Zondarem. This data may help you get started’.
He stood back and pressed a small button on his finger ring. His form began to distort and shimmer with amber light.
‘Oh, and the angels have a tracking beacon on your hull. You might want to get that off. Take care out there’, he said as he gradually distorted to nothing.
Cora fingered the data-carrier thoughtfully, and activated the transit protocols. The Falicus Astram rolled away from orbit and headed out to the warp translation point. The kill-ship’s guns remained silent.