Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

The Prodigal Son

33 posts in this topic

Next installament...



The dropship yawed wildy as Cora yanked it into a stop-turn, thrusters flaring to kill its forward momentum. She planted its bulk heavily into the sucking mire and voxed the cargo hold, ‘we’re down’.


Kurus already had the lighter ramp open and the cloying fug billowed in. The skitarii fanned out into a bridgehead defence pattern, splashing carelessly through the filth. He gave one last reassuring glace at Tessala and headed out onto Pandora. Tessala keyed the ramp closed and informed Cora. The dropship heaved skyward, tearing its lander legs free of the grasping root-vines.

Kurus crouched as the swamp sheeted away in a storm of grime from the thrusters downforce. Once clear he checked his auspex scanner, oriented himself and keyed the preset advance order into the skitarii tactical control module. As one, they changed formation into a wedge-advance and double-paced through the marsh. There was no concern for subterfuge; speed was of the essence now. Kurus advanced in the pocket behind, keeping the auspex running and scanning the way ahead for trouble. The artefact site was only two hundred yards away and the expected resistance was worryingly absent.

The assault team ascended the gentle slope up to the site, and Kurus dropped to a knee at the lip of the excavation crater. He keyed an instruction and the skitarii formed a ten-meter defensive perimeter. They were all sucking hard on the wet, cloying air, adrenaline overcoming the exhaustion of the hard sprint through the mire. The Eldar machines ticked and blinked expectantly beneath the arching gantries, and snaking tubes gurgled as they disgorged the insistent slime from the excavation. The brass and crystal sphere rested where he’d last seen it and all around the ground was churned with strange footprints. In the distance, the chattering and cawing of swamp-creatures punctuated the expectant silence. The Eldar were still here; Kurus was sure of it. He could feel it. He could feel the coming storm, the alien eyes upon him. The skitarii twitched as their tactical implants hungrily raked the mist for targets. Kurus could feel their tense, straining kill-stance. He shared it as his enchanced endorphins tightened his iron muscles and heightened his senses.

Suddenly the air fizzed and through his infrared visor Kurus saw a blinding lance of heat stab into their position. The beam took a skitarii in the chest, spearing it through both armpits. It jerked impotently and collapsed into the water. The others on that facing raised their weapons and crackled off rapid volleys of well-aimed laser shots. At the edge of the mist, in all directions, grimy white armoured figures coalesced. Their weapons beamed in a lethal crossfire that took three more skitarii. Kurus directed the servitors expertly and the concentrated return fire chewed into the ranks of the Eldar. The hideous crescendo of the fusion guns played a dreadful harmony to the hissing of the lasers, and Kurus himself added a virtuoso performance delivering a withering hail of laser fire. The skitarii were falling fast though, and Kurus could see the position folding. He constricted the perimeter to plug the gaps and took direct control of the four assault skitarii. Implanted with powered blades, these killers were vicious up close. Kurus keyed them into flanking positions on him, uncoupled and dropped his las-gun, drew a laspistol and fired up his power glove.

He led the assault team out of the perimeter into the closest knot of Eldar. The xenos-filth desperately loosed panicked fire into Kurus’ assault team, dropping a skitarii but not stopping the assault. Fist and blades scythed through the armoured aliens with ease. His first targets gone, Kurus sprinted on to the next.

In moments the killing was done. Kurus’ chest heaved at the effort and as he clicked off his power glove he noticed the shattered pauldron on his carapace. Only six skitarii were standing. Kurus stripped his helmet free and wiped the sweat from his brow. He could feel the relief draining away as he drained his water canteen. Suddenly, one of the Eldar bodies jerked and rolled onto its back with a groan. The skitarii clattered over to surround the beast with a ring of levelled weapons. Kurus joined them, comtempt twisting his face and murder in his eyes. The alien glared up through glinting red lenses, its blood spattered out from a smouldering hole in its chest armour. They watched impassively as the creature reached up with one arm and disconnected its helm-seal. Pressure vented with a short hiss, and the Eldar clumsily raked off its helmet leeting it free and roll down into the crater.

Kurus stared in surprise and whispered, ‘Ahlya’!

‘Dhe’, the Eldar coughed, its wide-set black eyes blinking jerkily. ‘Kurus’, it responded in twisted Gothic.

Kurus suppressed the urge to kill the alien right there. Everything it said would be a lie, so what point would there be in parley? He wrestled with his inclination, considering his options; could he trust this creature’s word after the atrocities it had spoken back on the Falicus Astram? Finally, he settled his course and holstered his las pistol. The skitarii backed off but remained vigilant.

‘What is this thing’? Kurus barked, gesturing at the brass crystal ball in the ground. ‘Why should I tell you’? Ahlya responded flatly. The Eldar’s broken cadence sounded less a question and more a statement. Kurus fixed Ahlya’s gaze, and saw a yawning inhuman emptiness. ‘Because, I have medicae facilities back on my ship. Cooperate and I can save your life’, he offered.

Black blood spluttered from Ahlya’s narrow mouth, ‘save my life and I tell you’. Kurus couldn’t read the rippling face, but he assumed the Eldar’s expression was one of fear; terror even. Its life was ebbing away and it seemed to know it. Ahlya’s limp and slender hand raked across the large crimson jewel mounted on the armour’s belly-plate. Kurus watched dispassionately. He took up his vox-wand and opened a crackling channel to the ship.

‘Tessala, get down here’, he barked, ‘and bring a medicae team’.

By the time Tessala arrived, Kurus had reestablished the skitarii perimeter and investigated the artefact, without progress. The Eldar data plates were incomprehensible and hurt his eyes to look upon, so the giant had conducted a brief patrol to ensure there were no more suprises lurking out in the fog.

‘Tessala’, Kurus greeted with a grunt, ‘we have a prisoner’. The Magos flared in surprise as she recognised Ahlya. She regarded the bodies scattered about and contented herself with their sacrifice. Had they been real skitarii rather than simple combat servitors, the loss would have been keenly felt. Tessala set about the Eldar, slicing away its armour and probing the sucking chest wound. They at least shared a basic anatomy that allowed her a practicing chance of tending the wounds. Medicae servitors hovered about her, intervening at Tessala’s thoughts, and forming a unified unit. Soon the Eldar was stabilised and wrapped, transferred to a suspensor gurney, and sedated ready for primary treatment.

Tessala turned to Kurus, ‘the Eldar is stable but I will need the surgical facility on Falicus Astram to assure its survival’. Kurus nodded in agreement and activated his vox-wand. ‘Sinnessar, we need an excavation team down here. We’ll dig this thing out of the ground and get it back to the ship’.

‘Wh_t’s happ__ng dow___ere’? Sinnessar replied. ‘We got what we came for’, Kurus replied sharply, ‘Just get that work team down here’. He cut off the vox-channel curtly, wandered up to the rim of the dig-site and quietly stared out into the swamp. He felt disturbed, empty, yet he could feel something lurking out there in the wild. No, it wasn’t out there; it was lurking inside, in his mind, in his heart. Pandora was brooding within him and he could feel it for the first time. Kurus had never noticed it before but his mind was not alone. There were voices with him. Voices that he’d always assumed were his own thoughts jostling for a place in his understanding, fighting to force a way out of his mouth. But here he felt; no, he knew they weren’t his. Who were they? Sinnessar? His father? Tessala? His thoughts turned to Cora and he frowned. She was such an enigma to him; another mystery, but one that he felt delighted by. There were so many secrets that his family refused to illuminate and since he had left Hisperus IV he had come to view these as threats. He knew these hidden groves of his hinterland would one day lead to his death. Cora was different. Here was a mystery he felt could save him. If only he could understand her, unlock her hidden place in his life, perhaps he could escape his looming fate. Perhaps, he wondered, she could lead him down a lighter path.

Suddenly Kurus’ awareness snapped clear. Sinnessar was calling to him through the mist and Kurus found that he had wandered far from the dig-site. He was kneeling in the root-bole of a tree and staring at a mound of rotting vegetation. He shook himself awake and returned at a splashing trot.

The servitors had revealed the full sphere and hauled it onto a suspensored cargo bed. As it sucked free, the cloying muck seemed readily to fall away and the knotted roots to recoil. The servitors lashed it to the bed and began to haul it back to the landing site.

Kurus headed off without word, leaving Sinnessar to clean things up.


Callam Cy Tea clutched his distended head between his slender spiked fingers, raking his equine cranium with spider-like claws, seeking relief from the discomfort. His mind throbbed and his senses raked in distress, He was filled with disorientation and blooming nausea and the spindly Navigator reeled about his chamber. Ever since the others had returned from the surface of Pandora, Callam had been sickened. He could sense a foul alien mind nearby and it filled him with dread, but worse still was the dreadful damping in the veil. He was still aware of the Empyrean, but it was distorted, dulled somehow like hearing underwater. The minds of others, so open to his view, semed now closed, and even his Warp-eye blistered and watered at the effort to see into the beyond. The Warp was something now opaque, something beyond reach like light through a cataract.

The Navigator pined and whimpered at his own distress and wondered what these fools had done. Hours passed though he did not count. To his relief the nausea passed though a limping dullness remained. His mind was confined, though to his relief his Warp-vision cleared. It now peered into the Warp as through the shimmer of the Gellar Field and the Navigator finally relaxed. Exhausted, and with a crippling headache he retired to sleep.

Tessala watched the pict-screen dispassionately, and satisfied herself that the Navigator was constrained. She shut off the soporiphia gas emitters in his chamber secure that he would sleep for hours. She wandered out into the main medicae chamber to join the others. Ahlya was awake though she remained supine on the bed, pinned their by her chest wound and the forest of venal tubes and monitoring wires. Her vital telemetry flickered on a nearby pict-screen. Tessala checked and said to Kurus, ‘the recovery has progressed well. You may begin your questions’.

Kurus rested against a nearby bed, his arms folded across his chest. He could feel the harsh expectations and disapproval of Sinnessar and the hours spent in quiet discussion has only heightened that schism.

‘What is that thing you were excavating’, he pressed directly. Ahlya stared up impassively, ‘direct, dhe, predictable’.

The crew glanced at each other in puzzlement, though the common question remained unsaid.

‘This thing is part of ll’aysseth’lthla. I have no word in your tongue. It is…um…energy maker’.

‘Energy to do what’, Tessala interjected. ‘Hmm…words difficult’, Ahlya continued. ‘There is here…um…you call ‘real’, then there is there…uh…beyond. Al tl’u ma. Wap? Warp’?

‘Realspace and the Warp’, Tessala confirmed. ‘Go on’.

‘Dhe, real space and warp. Between there is wall; weak and…guh’th…uh…not, not weak. Ll’aysseth’lthla make wall not weak. It make energy to make wall not weak’.

The assembly followed the dissonant tones of the alien closely, trying to discern meaning from its broken Gothic speech.

‘So it’s like a Gellar Field’? Tessala postulated idly. She addressed Ahlya directly, ‘it’s like the energy field we use to protect us when we travel through the Warp? The field that caused yous such distress when we last met’?

Ahlya stared blankly for a moment, ‘f’ah, this is not same I think’.

Kurus spoke slowly and thoughtfully, considering Ahlya’s words carefully, ‘how does an empty glass ball make energy to strengthen the veil between Realspace and the Warp’.

Ahlya’s taut face constricted, baring the teeth and squinting the black bead eyes, ‘is part only’.

Kurus heaved in frustration and paced agitatedly. ‘How did I know this creature would say that’, he spat sarcastically. ‘What now’? He boiled at no one and everyone, ‘we go hunting for the next trinket’?

Tessala spoke calmly, ‘Kurus, please’, before addressing Ahlya, ‘only a part you say? And how many other parts are there’? The alien remained silent. ‘Where are these other parts’? Tessala continued. Ahlya remained silent.

‘Tell us’! Kurus bellowed, surprising everyone.

‘Not know’, Ahlya replied softly, ‘but enha’vhal you left…place where stones were stored…this work…uh…perhaps’.

Sinnessar commented, ‘you mean the spiked ball we built into the Chalcedony Silicate archway back on that ice-swept nightmare of a planet’?

‘Dhe’, Ahlya responded, ‘perhaps it work placed within’.

Kurus thought for a moment before saying, ‘Tessala, get that Navigator up. Cora, get to work, we’re got some back-tracking to do’.

‘Hold on’, said Sinnessar, ‘we should consider that. After all, our pursuers could still be there. They could have left auspex drones. They could…’

‘We’re going’, Kurus snapped. Sinnessar continued, ‘I’m not suggesting we aren’t Kurus, I’m just saying we need to consider the possibilities’. Kurus sighed, pressing the tension out of his forehead. ‘No you’re right, I’m sorry. I have no desire to return there given what happened, but if you want these artefacts we must go back’.

‘I’ll mine the data we have and ensure we prepare for all eventualities’, Sinnessar stated. Tessala ordered a servitor to change the gas filters to the Navigator’s quarters.


In the banquet hall Cora reclined with her feet on another state chair and sipped her lime tea quietly. Jovian canticles lilted softly in the background and the lights were dimmed to a warm amber glow. They’d be at jump distance in the morning but for now she contented herself to let the servitor net pilot the Falicus Astram. She watched the deep sea of stars and galactic dust with a quiet awe. The beauty of the void had always entranced her.

The glass doors hummed open and she watched Kurus enter. Lately remembering herself she gathered up the blue satin robe she’d let fall way from her naked legs, and sat upright.

‘Hi Kurus’, she greeted sleepily. The giant paced languidly to the vista-screen and regarded the view idly. ‘Am I intruding’? He asked. ‘Yes’, Cora replied, ‘but its fine’. She decanted a lime tea for him and he sat with her, unbuttoning his burgundy velvet tunic. Cora licked her lips and brushed back her hair idly as she glimpsed his taut naked torso. He took the tea and sipped it suspiciously.

‘Trying times, eh’? She queried, swaying her crossed legs so that her bare foot tapped against his knee. Kurus captured her foot and rubbed it roughly, his iron hands having little grace in them. ‘Yes’, he replied in a flat, contemplative tone, ‘trying indeed. I’m tired of trying’, he added.

‘You spoke to Sinnessar again’, Cora stated. Kurus nodded and briefly met her gaze. He said more in that glance than with any words he could muster. ‘Kurus, it is their path, and if they refuse to answer your questions then…’ she hesitated to say what she’d longed to say for many weeks. ‘What’? Kurus prompted. He thought he knew. He wanted her to say it. If she said it he’d know he wasn’t wrong to think it. ‘No, it’s not my place Kurus. It’s for you and your folks to work out’.

Kurus sat back and gazed out at the stars. ‘You’re my folks Cora. I would have no secrets from you. Say the words’. Cora pulled her foot from his grasp and sat attentively. ‘I’m your folks? Kurus, what are you saying? You know what I mean and you tease me like this? Sinnessar and Tessala; Demeter and whoever else there is back on the sun-basted world you call home, they are your folks, not me’.

Kurus stood sharply and wandered closer to the vista-screen. ‘Say the words Cora, please’. She stood and joined him, turning him gently to face her. She strained up to meet his towering gaze, though he couldn’t hold his eyes to hers. ‘Kurus, there comes a time for all of us when we have to stop living the lives our families planned for us’. Kurus tried tomove away, but Cora stayed him with a gentle hand on his cheek. She continued, ‘there comes a time when we go beyond their dreams and strike out in search of our own’.

He jerked away angrily, ‘and you’re saying that time for me is now? That I should abandon the task for which I was bred? That I should abandon those who gave me life’? Cora let him go and replied firmly, ‘no, I’m not saying those things. All I’m saying is that there will come a time when you have to make your life, your life and not theirs’. Kurus stood with his back to her, head down. She continued, ‘and you must choose when that time will be’. She approached again and rested her hand in the small of his back. They stargazed beside each other. ‘I would say that if they denied me the answers as they deny you, I would be looking for a more honest path to my life’, Cora said softly. ‘But I am not you, and I think you need those answers before you can move on’. Kurus glanced down surprised. ‘What’? Cora said, concerned at what she say in his face. She orbited to face him, took his hands and shook him to attention. ‘What?’ She pressed. ‘What was that look for?’ Kurus hesitated. ‘Tell me!’ She insisted. ‘I’m just surprised that you think there will ever be a time for me to move on from this’. Cora hugged him tightly and Kurus responded, running his calloused hand instinctively through her maroon hair.


The Falicas Astrum blistered back into Realspace and immediately Cora’s flight data screamed and flared. ‘Hold on’, she barked through the vox-net, as her attention was immediately overloaded processing the telemetry spikes. The ship juddered and whined deeply throwing everyone off balance as the grav-plating lagged to responded to the sudden displacement.

‘Massive gravity shearing’, Cora sputtered and she fought to maintain control. Tessala monitored the reports from Magos Chattan; the data was alarming.

‘What’s happening’? Kurus shouted as he flicked open the Warp shutters. As they slowy rolled back the massive beige planet was revealed, swinging wildly as the ship strained to right itself. There was a chorus of gasps at the terrifying sight. The vista screens began to glow orange as the ship gouged through the planet’s upper atmosphere.

Callam Cy Tea writhed in the Navigator throne, and licked the blood dripping from his nose. He watched in terror as the planet loomed large, and lapped at the waves of emotion flooding from the others present. He smiled.

Quickly the juddering receded and Cora pulled the ship to a stable attitude. She set it into a stable orbit and linked the flight telementry into a download to the core cogitator. She ripped off the vox-rig angrily and stormed over to the Navigator. ‘What was that’? She screamed. You dropped us out of the Warp in-system! What are you doing?’ She grabbed his dusty white robe and yanked at the spindly creature threateningly. He stood sharply and with a swipe of his distended arms she tumbled away across the command deck.

‘Take your harriden claws off me woman’, he hissed, rising to his full, teetering height. ‘You dare lay a hand on a scion of the Navis Nobilte’? He continued. The navigator, now with a terrible aspect turned to Kurus and growled, ‘you will restrain your dog Kurus Von Sachen, and you will beg my forgiveness for this outrage’.

Kurus vaulted up and stood between the prostrate pilot and the enraged Navigator. Sinnesar and Tessala held their breaths, dreading and hoping in equal measure at Kurus’ response. The giant faltered; his rage and protective instinct driving him the strike down this mutant beast before him. Yet he knew he needed the Navigator; he knew also that the ugly fiend wielded immense power and to cross the Navis Nobilite was a death sentence. They had done it once, but the Amascan family were a minor faction. The Cy Tea, as part of the powerful Navis House Pytheas were an entirely different matter.

He could feel Cora willing him to defend her, yet he stood firm and stayed his hand.

Callam groaned quietly as his mental tendrils groped across the emotions flloding from these strange people about him. He could feelt he hate born from some trauma trobbing from Cora. He could feel the desperation and fear, and from Kurus he could feel the exquisite struggle and internal conflict. The Navigator burbled with pleasure.

Kurus bowed his head and said, ‘you have my deepest apologies Navigator Cy Tea. I assure that you will not again be impugned by my crew while in my service’. ‘Kurus’! Cora protested. He turned and silenced her with a steely, hateful gaze. Callam curled himself up and nestled his distended head into his shoulders. He wiped the blood from his face and replied, ‘apology accepted’. Cora fled the command deck in tears. ‘It has been a difficult translation’, the Navigator continued, ‘I shall retire to my chambers to recover’. They bowed and Callam left. Kurus paced the deck, with his hands on his hips muttering. Sinnessar quietly opened the auspex channels and scanned their surroundings for the expected trouble. His soundings found nothing unusual in orbit and as before failed to penetrate the roiling atmosphere below. Tessala sat impassive, as she exchanged direct linked communications with Magos Chattan. Over this, she regarded Kurus and fluttered softly, ‘go and see Cora. Do not be angry with her for she will be hurt at events here. Explain why you made the right choice’. Kurus glared at her.

Cora’s chambers were open and Kurus strided in. She was sobbing on her bd but hearing him enter stormed out to meet him. Her face was red and streaked with fluids. ‘What do you want’? She screamed. ‘Calm down’, asserted Kurus, raising his hands in conciliation. ‘Calm down’? She screeched, ‘what was that? You took his side over me’?

‘Of course not’, pressed Kurus trying to remain focussed. ‘Well that’s what I saw’, interrupted Cora, raging now and wagging her fist at him. ‘He threw me across the deck and you just stood there’!

Kurus rushed in and grasped Cora by the arms. ‘No, never’! He barked. ‘Cora, you must understand…’

‘Get off me’, she screamed, struggling wildly to break his grip. There was no contest and Kurus held firm. ‘Cora, listen…’ She screamed and struggled, cutting him off. Kurus ignored her protests, and puzzled at her hysteria. She had lost all reason and with it her words, and as she tired she fell to sobbing into the giant’s chest. She scrabbled as his frock coat, unconcerned that her tears stained the velvet. Kurus took her again into his embrace and held her while she cried. Ages passed.

‘Its fine now’, Cora said, sniffing and wiping at her face with her flight suit sleeve. Kurus released her and she took up a kerchief to to clean herself. She sat on the sofa and curled up sniffing. Kurus stood, impotent, unsure of what to do or say.

‘You think I sided with that scum over you’? He asked finally. ‘It took every ounce of my will not to kill the degenerate for what he did to you’.

‘No, i…’ Cora began. ‘Please’, Kurus interrupted, ‘listen, I don’t like it any more than you but we need him. You know that more than any of us’.

‘I know’, she conceded, dropping her gaze to her hands in guilt. Kurus shifted uneasily. ‘Look, we’ll have a debriefing in the committee chamber now. Come through when you’ve cleaned yourself up a bit’. He left her chamber, but stopped at the door and looked back. ‘Cora’, he said and she looked up. He didn’t know how to finish what he wanted to say and left quickly.

The committee chamber was a bustle when Cora finally arrived. Kurus, Sinnessar and Tessala were trawling through a mass of holodata projections trying to make sense of information. They quietened when Cora joined the table, and Tessala touched her shoulder in reassurance. They exchanged a simple smile.

‘How’s Ahlya’? Cora asked Tessala. ‘The Eldar is recovering well. I am keeping it sedated to speed the healing processes. ‘What are we planning to…’Cora’s question was cut short by Kurus. ‘Excellent to have you here Cora’, he stated, ‘shall we begin’?

‘So what happened then’? Cora enquired.

‘Good question’, Sinnessar replied. ‘I’ve run some simple analysis of the data, including that provided by…well…anyway, it’s clear that we droped back into Realspace well within the safe distance from the solar and planetary gravity wells. The translation forces were tremendous and we’ve sustained damage, which Tessala will explain. But I think we all owe our lives to Cora. The records suggest there are few ships that survive translation so far into the gravity well of a system’.

The assembled crew murmured their approval and appreciation, and Cora dismissed them with a blush. ‘It was nothing’, she stated modestly.

‘That may be, but I doubt it’, responded Tessala. ‘We do indeed have some problems. The shearing forces were tremendous and we have lost hull integrity in six locations. Magos Chattan has his tech-priests working on the repairs now but it is likely to take three weeks. There was also associated damage to vital systems around those locations and a water reserve tank ruptured. We vented one tenth of our industrial water into the void. This is vital to the plasma coolant systems among others, and will need to be replaced before we can travel again’. Tessala paused while the others absorbed her briefing.

‘We lost some upper dorsal superstructure and suffered heat damage to the associated ablative debris-plating. This is insignificant, except for the collapse of a Gellar Field emmiter in that location. Magos Chattan has already ordered repairs to this emitter. We also lost sixty four servitors, with another one hundred and seven damaged’.

‘There’s water on the surface though’, stated Cora. ‘Yes’, Tessala replied, ‘and we will despatch retrieval crews as soon as possible’.

Kurus listened intently before interrupting. ‘This is all fine, but why did we come back into Realspace so far into the system’? The others remained silent. ‘Sinnessar, you have Cy Tea’s file right? Doesn’t it list him as a highly experienced Navigator’? ‘It does’, Sinnessar replied, ‘but I understand that Warp travel isn’t always predictable’.

‘That much is certain’, Tessala confirmed. ‘We have’, she corrected herself, ‘the Adeptus Mechanicus has, lost countless ships over the millennia. I believe we were fortuitous not to join that lamented list of the lost’.

‘But for now’, Kurus advanced, ‘we’re a drifting target here, right’?

‘Not quite, but we are confined to this system until we can effect our repairs’, Tessala confirmed.

‘Fine’, continued Kurus, ‘Sinnessar, keep and active auspex net running. If there’s trouble out there I want to see them before they see us; and warm up the point-defence batteries. Let’s get those water crews down to the surface too. I want the Astram up and running again as soon as possible’.

‘Very good Kurus’, Tessala confirmed. ‘We also have the heavy excavation crew ready to descend to the arch site’. ‘Good’, Kurus replied. ‘I’ll lead them down now’.


Cora marched through the cascade of sparks from the servitor crew repairing the fracture between the main cargo bay and the dropship dock. Her form-fitting black leather pressure suit felt reassuringly familiar and she brimmed with confidence. She bunched her maroon hair into a back-knot as she strode firmly towards the entry ramp of the steaming dropship. Kurus was nearby, overseeing the loading of the construction crew with Tessala. He put down his data pad and intercepted Cora.

‘Hey, where are you going’? He said. ‘I’m taking the dropship down’, she stated firmly. ‘You’ll need my skills if I remember this planet correctly’. ‘Yes’, Kurus confirmed, ‘but I need you up here more. If trouble comes, I want my best pilot in control of the Astram’.

‘I’m not debating this with you Kurus’, she said, and flounced past towards the passenger ramp smiling cheekily. Kurus watched her aghast. He glanced at Tessala who shrugged and returned to her work, and paced unsurely, his hands at his hips in indecision. ‘She will get you down safely’, commented Tessala absently.

Kurus braced himself against the cockpit bulkhead as the dropship bucked wildly, and juddered alarmingly. The wall of glowing data-picters around Cora blinked and blared with a chorus of warnings. ‘The astospheric turbulence is far worse than last time’, she grimaced, fighting to keep them upright and on course. The ship echoed and creaked at it suddenly dropped and slammed into the bottom of a pressure pocket. Kurus stumbled but managed to remain standing. ‘Go strap yourself in’! Cora shouted, and Kurus took heed, staggering into a strap seat in the passanger gallery behind.

Through the swirling distortion of the atmosphere outside, Cora glimpsed the grey and tan pattern of the planet surface rushing up alarmingly. She flooded the lifter-jets to maximise the down pressure but still the dropship hit the ground in a hard landing. Cora yelped at the impact, checked the telemetry, and shut off the power transmission systems. She paused as the data streamed in that vox ans auspex emissions were cut to nothing. ‘We’re down; are you alright back there’? She called. ‘Just about’, Kurus responded. ‘Yeah, sorry about that. We were lucky to make it down in one piece though. I’ve never felt such vicious atmospheric cross shears. The telemetry’s a nightmare. Something’s definitely wrong out there’.

Kurus and Cora donned their bulky cold suits but still flinched at the icy blast of the wind as the passanger ramp hised open. Kurus descended first and barely kept his footing in the fierce tempest. Black pebbles scoured across the scree surface forming a swirling, ankle-breaking carpet of flying stone. He stayed on the ramp and crouched under the descent-burned overhang of the dropship. Through the storm he could just make out the shadowed shape of the archway, up on a nearby rise. He clambered back up the ramp and closed it.

‘The arch is still there, but I think we’ll have to wait for this weather to clear’, Kurus stated, freeing himself of his frost coat.

‘Well, we’re on our own then’, Cora said, ‘the storm’s cutting off our vox channels, and the auspex net is blind’.

Kurus frowned in frustration as they both removed their cold suits.


Hal Caradine peered through the small viewport into the swirling storm beyond, ‘no, no, it’s definitely down’. The shelter rumbled at the constant impact of driven pebbles. ‘That’s it then’, the bulky technician declared hopelessly. He raked his field-beard desperately and slumped onto the bench.

Aliss Feyco replaced him at the viewport and stated optimisitically, ‘it’s not too bad. The uplink spire’s only fallen over. It is impact shielded so we should be able to re-establish it once this storm stops’.

‘What does that matter’? Caradine snapped, gesturing wildly. ‘We’ve been forgotten anyway. The pick up was due fifty day-cycles ago. They us here in the middle of nowhere to monitor this stone arch, and then just forget about us’!

Artemis May entered from the medical pod, rubbing his matted hair idly. ‘What’s all the shouting about now’? He enquired, glaring at Caradine.

‘The uplink’s down. That’s it! Even if they do come back for us we’ve no way of contacting them now’. Feyco jumped in, ‘come on Hal, its not that bad. It looks like it’s fallen between two cargo crates, and it is hardened against this sort of environement’.

Caradine plunged his burly hands into his pockets and stood up sharply, rocking on his feet in annoyance. ‘How many times do I have to tell you people? This gear isn’t magical. You’ve got to treat it properly or it won’t work. I’m not a tech-priest; we don’t have the Mechanicus magi here. That pebble storm will smash the emitter arrays and I don’t have any replacements here. It’s over’.

An uneasy silence descended between them, mocked by the patter of storm stones outside.

‘How’s Geraint’? Aliss asked.

May poured a cold ceffiene drink and sipped it gingerly. ‘Both ankles are shattered, his left tibia’s fractured in three places, and his right wrist is dislocated’.

‘Pretty bad then’, commented Caradine dryly. Feyco tutted her disapproval.

‘Yeah, pretty bad. The worst is his fractured skull though. Once you go down in this, those rocks really do for you eh’? May drained the dregs of his drink.

‘You know the condenser’s probably smashed too’, said Caradine. The others were trying no to think about it. ‘That means there’ll be no more potable water’, he pressed.

‘Thank you Hal’, May shouted, trying to shut out the truth more than Caradine’s words. He switched on the auspex module and watched the distorted static blankly. ‘These storms are never this bad’, he mused. ‘Aliss, run back the orbital data for the two hours before this storm started’.

‘I told you, I’ve run the data through three times, there’s…’ May bellow across her, ‘just run the data’! She stomped across the the cogitator bank and brought up the data streams, huffing in protest. May watched in closely.

‘There’! He barked, ‘what’s that’? ‘It’s nothing, just a ghost image’, Feyco said dismissively. ‘No, not that, that’, May pressed. Feyco sat at the auspex screen, suddenly interested. ‘Hold on, let me see if I can clean that up’. She ran through a variety of data filters. By now, Caradine had joined May and they loomed over Feyco as she worked.

‘There’! She squealed, ‘you’re right’!

All three watch as the data coalesced into a grainy image and an information series. ‘What is it’? Caradine asked, squinting at the green glow.

‘Here, in orbit there’s a definite mass and it flares here with a massive heat register’, Feyco explained. We lose it again until here, we get that large mass again and a smaller mass with a heat flare in this timeframe’.

‘And’? Asked Caradine, looking puzzled. ‘And, there’s a ship in orbit, and it’s sent down a shuttle’! Feyco clapped and beamed in joy. ‘They’re late but they’ve come to pick us up’.

‘They won’t be out in this’, Caradine said, ‘but we should pack up, and get ready. Presumably they’ll be here to get us as soon as the storm lifts’?

Feyco and Caradine hugged and jumped about together, laughing and jabbering excitedly. May scrolled back and forth through the data, viewing it closely and mulling over the possibilities. If Interrogator Geyebel had sent a retrieval ship, before the storm hit where were the vox transmissions? Where were the identification protocols? Artemis May didn’t like this one bit.


Kurus watched idly through the biting wind as the bulky servitors heaved at the arch lintle. The work crew busied themselves with rope lashes while some waited with power drills to break the artefact out fo the stone. On a wide perimeter, the remaining skitarii formed a protective cordon, but Kurus still kept his las gun slung ready at his hip. Cora had remained on board, keeping the dropship cycled over and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. After stepping out into the cold she’d needed no persuasion for that duty. In any case, with the worst of the storm abated, Kurus wanted her on auspex overwatch. He didn’t know the scanners were still blind.

The servitors worked efficiently, diligently, never seeming to tire, nor protest their duties. Soon the lintle was down and the staccato ringing of the drills had the strange spiked ball object free of its ossified prison.

Kurus frowned at the bleak horizon. He was surprised that the foul Eldar were not here. He had made a gate into their world after all, and he’d feared the archway would be defended in force. The Eldar Ahlya made no indication of such, which had reassured him and the others seemed not to have even considered it. He wondered why. The more he mused on the topic, the more he considered that this had been a blind spot in his tactical planning. Perhaps that Eldar gene-scum had been twisting his mind.

The artefact was quicklt transported back to the dropship and as the servitors began to pack away their tools, Kurus received an alarm from the skitarii posted furthest up the scree-slope. Kurus’ attention snapped to the crest to see three figures emerging against the grey sky. Even from this distance they were obviously armed. Kurus took up his vox-wand and said through the gale, ‘Cora, we’ve got company! Whats on the auspex net?’

Cora responded sharply, ‘no__ing, I’m st_ll hav_____rouble get_____y read___’. Kurus cut off the vox curtly and nestled his las gun into his shoulder. He actioned an engagement pattern on the skitarii and as one they scrambled up the slope. At effective range the first of them opened fire and the lead figure fell. The others disappeared behind the crest immediately, and Kurus followed the skitarii as they headed over the rise.

By the time Kurus reached the scene it was all over. The skitarii had adopted their previous perimeter formation around three dead bodies. A skitarii armed with a fusion gun had taken the raking fire of an auto-weapon, but its chest plating had done its job. Kurus dropped below the crest to reduce his profile, and scanned the surroundings. He could see no more attackers and turned his attention to the bodies. There were two men and a woman, not the Eldar he’d expected. All were unkempt and looked starved and filthy. Each carried and autogun and a packpack strapped over a deep mahogany environment suit. They smoked from multiple las hits which added the stench of burned flesh to the odour of unwashed bodies. Kurus made a brief search of each, and found little to identify them. Around the neck of one of the men he pulled out a small enamelled pendant. It bore a thrice-crossed ‘I’.

‘The Inquisition’, he spat. With that he ordered the skitarii back to the dropship.

Geraint Delacour woke. His mind was blurred and he felt a dull ache in his head. He stared up at the grubby roof of the medical pod, and raised his hand surprised to see his wrist bandaged. Slowly he sat up and glared in surprise at his bandaged legs. He suddenly felt a throbbing pain in his ankles. Venal tubes draped out of him into fluid regulators suspended nearby. ‘Artemis’, he shouted hoarsely. ‘Hal! Aliss’?



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Glad you're enjoying it DS.

I've had a bit of a hiatus in the writing lately - other committments unfortunately; but i will be returning to the next installment soon i hope.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The north spire stabbed higher into the azure sky of Jalaila Reach than any part of the ivory tower and Victor Crowe found its open galleries most contemplative. There were many things on his mind; great trials and threats of impossible complexity. Lesser men could not hope to encompass the data he was privy to, but Crowe had long learned to aggregate the endless details into a sweeping narrative. Entropy was rife across the Imperium and was spreading more rapidly than before. Plots thickened and proliferated, and something was driving them forwards. In his youth there had been such malcontent, as there had been for millennia, but now he could sense it. He could feel it, almost know it. The seemingly disparate threads of endless machinations were intertwined in some grand, hidden design.


The Von Sachen Sanction was a key pillar in the momentous events that he suspected would come to pass, but Crowe knew that nothing of the future was certain. Everything he did was a part of the flow of history as sure as any other force he faced, and he laboured in his manipulations and interventions ceaselessly.

Long had he followed Von Sachen the man, and now he also followed the boy. The ambition of the traitor Demeter was breathtaking and Crowe delighted that one who had fallen so far could conceive of success in his twisted endeavours. The Imperium was simply too much weight to resist.

Crowe reclined in quiet contemplation on the shade-cloaked terrace. Data-skulls projected images and information onto the white marble curtain walls and soaked the Inquisitor in a flowing sea of obfuscated truth. He stroked his black goatee idly as his mind wandered across the patterns of knowledge that confounded and revealed in equal measure. The Lluhlhadactyls swooped and whirled about the mountain heights giving Crowe’s mind the form to swoop and whirl in its turn among the heights of perception into these riddles.

The large wooden door creaked open onto the platform and from the shade stepped a cowl-clad herald. With him swaggered a commanding presence, adorned in ivory cloth and resting a brocaded blue frock coat across his shoulders. The herald bowed and withdrew as Crowe acknowledged their arrival and dismissed the minion. He stood and approached the towering figure, squinting perceptively at the lion-like noble before him.

‘Thaddeus, my friend’, the Inquisitor spoke softly, taking Admiral Epirus’ brutish hand between his.

‘Victor’, the Rogue Trader responded formally, ‘it has been too long’.

The men wandered to the seating behind Victor as the data-skulls shut off their displays and flitted away. They took quiet refreshment and exchanged pleasantries as the afternoon sun dipped and turned the mountain top world to a canvas of honey and peach. The ambient atmosphere field kicked in as the temperature dropped below zero, keeping the pair comfortable on the open terrace.

Thaddeus consumed a sticky glace fruit and licked his fingers clean before turning to the true matter at hand, ‘so Victor, this is all very nice but why have you called me here?’

The Inquisitor regarded the Admiral, instinctively assessing his every nuance. ‘Von Sachen’, Victor stated quietly.

Thaddeus failed to take the news passively and looked away to the horizon to conceal the flicker in his eyes. He was too late. ‘That’s just never going to go away is it?’ He replied wearily.

‘My friend’, Victor continued, ‘you know as well as I the importance of that man’.

‘Importance?’ The Admiral queried half to himself. ‘He’s been nothing but trouble ever since Spinnaker’s Landing. I wish I’d never taken the engagement’.

Crowe chuckled dryly, ‘I don’t recall giving you the choice’. The two men watched the swirling Lluhlhadactyls idly.

‘That’s not why I requested to speak to you Thaddeus’, continued Crowe, ‘I understand you met the progeny recently?’

The Admiral nodded reluctantly, ‘yes I met him. He’s nothing like his father and green as they come. I couldn’t believe Demeter sent him out like that. The beast must be desperate. That rat Wissen was with them too’.

‘Yes’, agreed Crowe. He changed tack effortlessly, ‘tell me about the girl’.

‘The girl with Kurus? Not much to say really; pretty young thing though’.

‘Yes’, Crowe continued. ‘You gave her a Warrant of course, from the Administratum office out of Kesselrigg. That was the agreement’.

Thaddeus’ mind raced. What was the Inquisitor pressing at? ‘Yes, Graf Alat issued it’, he confirmed. ‘Alat’s your man isn’t he?’ Crowe smiled wryly.

‘You wanted the girl to have a Warrant of Trade’, continued the Admiral, his mind struggling to keep pace with his mouth, ‘why?’

Crowe regarded the Admiral as their gazes met once more, ‘it’s what we do Thaddeus; ensure that what must come to pass will always do so. The Von Sachen Sanction hangs in the balance. The wolves are running’.


Sinnessar tapped the picter bank tensely. The final preparations in the research laboratory were nearly complete and the alien tendril-ball nestled neatly within the crystal sphere crudely suspended at the heart of the chamber.

The old man scanned across the auspex streams being fed down to his work station from the servitor net on the command deck. The vessel’s repairs were complete ahead of schedule, as Tessala and Magos Chattan had dedicated most of their effort to ensuring. Despite this the Falicus Astrum remained in orbit around the beige world on Kurus’ order. Scanning the near void had revealed no other presence for all the time they had stayed here and so despite the risks and against Sinnessar’s advice, they remained.

The auspex readings troubled him though. There were anomalies, spikes, and interference so subtle even the data-mining algorithms couldn’t resolve. He couldn’t define it but something wasn’t right. He could feel it in the data.

Tessala interrupted his focus as she choreographed the servitors in their final efforts of preparation. Everything had been established according to the guidance of the Eldar breed and blessed Imperial technology had been violated, stripped and twisted to feed plasma into the sphere in an alien pattern.

Ambient illumination dimmed in the chamber to be replaced by the plasma transponders as they fired up and crackled with blinding white-blue light. An arcing nimbus of leaking plasma shorted and sparked into the surrounding pressure vanes. The vicious thrumming of pure plasma filled the chamber and the air itself convulsed and wracked as the energy super-heated the feeder gases and caused buffeting winds to rage across the chamber. The atmospheric vents struggled to cope with the air pressures.

‘Brace yourselves’! Tessala bellowed above the roar, and flicked the final switch to discharge the xenos-corrupted energy into the sphere. It rose to a tempestuous crescendo and as one, the assembly held their breath; then suddenly, silence.

The plasma feeds shut off abruptly and the deafening roar was replaced instantly with a more deafening stillness. Only the palpable sighs of those assembled in the laboratory broke this calm.

Wide eyed and shuddering Cora uncoiled from behind a safety screen and blurted, ‘what…what happened?’

All eyes turned to the xenos creature Ahlya, who stood impassively and stared at the crystal sphere. Ahlya glanced at each of them, blinked, and stated flatly, ‘it did not work’.

‘We can see that!’ Cora retorted indignantly.

‘The energy transfer was shut off at the interface with the sphere itself’, Tessala stated as the telemetry fed directly into her from the auspex cogitators. ‘The damper assemblies absorbed the excess plasma more efficiently that expected. Our technology is incompatible’.

‘Can you make it compatible?’ Kurus asked, poorly masking the frustration in his voice.

Tessala and Ahlya exchanged a hopeless glance.

‘Not with what we have here’, Tessala replied. ‘Perhaps if we had…’

She stopped abruptly as the chamber juddered violently. Creaking could be heard from a distant point of the ship. Sinnessar checked the link to the bridge.

‘What’s that’? Cora squealed. ‘It felt like something hit us!’

‘Something did’, Sinnessar confirmed, ‘our void shield is down. We need to get to the command deck!’


Servitors chattered animatedly as the crew took their seats. Cora strapped herself into the communications array as she switched flight control back to her pilot well. Tessala’s mechadendrites surreptitiously locked into the engineering station and she fluttered slightly as she joined Magos Chattan in the telemetry streams. Sinnessar creaked into his seat and appraised the auspex readings swiftly.

‘Well?’ Kurus demanded impatiently.

‘Void shield has been reestablished’, Sinnessar confirmed.

‘Minor hull damage on the rear quarter’, Tessala added impassively.

‘What did it?’ Kurus pressed loudly as he scanned the blinking void through the command deck vista windows.

Cora engaged the main engine drives and the Falicus Astram slid gently forwards in anticipation of its flight.

Navigator Cy Tea entered the command deck quietly. Kurus acknowledged him curtly and the dusty grey figure stalked to his navigation throne.

‘Well?’ Kurus pressed. ‘What…’ He stopped mid-sentence as a vessel emerged into the vista view. The cathedral-like ship bristled with weapons and its ornate form glinted white in the star light. The vertical vanes held a glowering blue livery with a vast carved ‘U’ icon. It rolled down to bring a brutal flank of weapons to bear on the Falicus Astram.

‘Ultramarines’, Sinnessar whispered.

‘They have us cold’, Cora stated grimly.

‘I’m reading no weapons lock’, added Sinnessar, ‘and they’ve had more than enough time to hit us with the shield down’.

‘That won’t matter at this range’, Cora replied.

Kurus stared grimly at the Astartes vessel and paced about the command deck. He never took his gaze from the view.

‘My lord Navigator’, he stated firmly, ‘plot us a Warp jump out of this system’.

‘Cora, prep the engines for fast burn’.

‘Aye sir’, she replied, flooding the pre-thrust chambers with plasma.

‘Sinnessar, get us a resolution on…’

‘The central vista screen flickered into a transmission picter image as a communications stream from the other vessel forced its way into their system. A large scarlet holo-image resolved through the flickering interference and jolted into stability as Sinnessar opened the vox-pict channel to prevent the forced entry overloading their emitters.

A hard face scarred and battered from countless trials resolved in a frame of ceramite armour. The face spoke, and its voice lagged and distorted perceptibly until. ‘I am Captain Artemis of the Ultramarines. You will identify yourself’.

Kurus stood rigid and starkly considered his options. He was hopelessly outgunned. He might be able to run, but the enemy weapons were trained and he wouldn’t make it past their first salvo. He may be able to jump to the Warp, but they barely survived entering so far in-system. Exiting from even closer would likely tear the ship asunder. Thoughts of his last trial on Hisperus IV pressed into his consciousness. Sinnessar’s ring would not get him out of this.

What should he say he wondered? What will he say the others wondered?

Sinnessar watched a small auspex spike in the data feeding in from the nearby moon.

‘I am Kurus Von Sachen’, he stated plainly. ‘Why have you fired on my ship?’

The image paused briefly before Captain Artemis continued, ‘you will shut off you engine. We will board you and you will submit to gene-screening. We will verify your identity. Failure to comply immediately will result in the destruction of your ve….’ This image cut off and a palpable surprise burst across the command deck.

‘What happened?’ Kurus blurted out.

‘Wait’, Sinnessar cautioned, ‘wait. The readings from their vessel are confusing. It seems their engines, weapons, everything is shut down!’

They watched as the Ultramarine strike ship began to list as its engine thrusters flickered woefully.

‘Cora, get us out of here!’ Kurus barked. The pilot needed no second order and threw the Falicus Astram into a hard burn and headed for safe translation distance.

Two days passed at high tension and Magos Chattan’s crews strained to keep the Astram’s full thrust online. The crew barely left the command deck as they raked behind them for signs of pursuit. Navigator Cy Tea joined them at Kurus’ request as the vessel approached safe Warp translation distance. The Navigator hooked into his throne and prepared for the Warp jump. Sinnessar instructed him to navigate to Karyl’s Reach.

‘No’, Kurus interrupted, ‘take us to Hisperus IV’. A hush fell across the command deck, above the soft chatter of the servitors.

‘Kurus’, began Sinnessar.

‘No old man’, stated Kurus, ‘we’re going back there and I’m going to get answers this time’.

Sinnessar began to speak and was cut to silence by Kurus’ glare, ‘and if I don’t’, he pressed, ‘I’m done with this life you’ve made for me’. The giant glanced at Cora and saw in her eyes fear and admiration in equal measure.

The Astram fell into the Warp and as he left the command deck Kurus called back, ‘and I still want to know what happened to that Astartes vessel’.


Captain Artemis entered the command chapel and the assembled leaders stood to attention around the glowing data table. Neon information streamed blue across their armoured forms and alcove servitors lining the chamber walls chattered softly.

‘Brothers’, acknowledged Artemis firmly.

All eyes turned to the figure in red armour and Tech Priest Tirrix spoke. ‘It was a haywire mine my brothers. We were struck by a magnetic haywire mine that disabled our primary power systems’.

‘They have such weapons?’ Artemis said in surprise.

‘So it would seem brother captain’.

‘Why did the ancillary energy systems fail?’ Artemis continued.

‘They did not brother captain’, Tirrix responded calmly, ‘but they defaulted to maintain life support. This mine was of such intensity that I have rarely seen its like. Its system disruption penetrated our void shields immediately and spread through most of the core systems’.

‘This cascade failure was unavoidable then?’ Artemis asked.

‘Yes’, replied Tirrix, ‘in fact we were fortunate to be able to restore power at all. Most of the plasma transmission array was burned out. Were it not for the extreme devotions of my staff we would still be a drifting hulk’.

The assembled Adeptus Astartes rippled in discomfort at the pseudo-religious overtones in the Tech Priest’s words. Captain Atremis moved on swiftly, ‘and what of the Falicus Astram?’

Brother Fortis keyed up a data field on the holo-table and narrated the information that bursts forth, ‘the first strike took down their shield my brother captain, and our tracking drone attached to their hull before they could restore power to their defences’.

Artemis viewed the data with satisfaction. ‘We are receiving the drone’s transmissions?’

‘No my brother’, Tirrix cautioned, ‘they have Warped out of this system’.

‘We have the extrapolations?’

‘We do’, replied Brother Fortis, ‘the Hollax Subsector’.

Captain Artemis thought for a moment, and the assembled commanders knew what he knew. ‘Hisperus IV’, he stated flatly. ‘The shadow returns to the lost’.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

‘I would’.

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?’

‘**** 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.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

OK all, here's the final installment of 'The Prodigal Son'.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as i did writing it!





The Warp journey had been uneventful, and relatively short. Only fourteen cycles had passed to get them into the orbital wharfs at Meggido. The void traffic was thick above the hive-world and offered a measure of anonymity among the vessel crowd.


Cora divested herself of the tight flight suit, showered and dressed in a light cotton emerald robe. She took a light repast as she didn’t feel like eating, despite her hunger. She made her way to the medical bay through corridors that were eerily quiet, despite the steady ministrations of the servitors. Callam had been hooked into the navigation throne for most of the journey and she hadn’t seen him since they surfaced from the Warp. Her only significant conversations had been maintenance based with Magos Chattan and she was craving human interaction. Yet something held her on the ship, despite a world of a trillion conversations below.

She reached her destination and felt a warm glow from the subdued lighting around the healing tank. A medical servitor clicked softly as it monitored the bio-data impassively. The sedated Kurus floated in the buoyant healing gel amid a net of tubes and venous connectors. Muscle stimulants forced him to convulse periodically.

Cora made her way to the tank control pedestal and reviewed the surgical data. He was healing more slowly than expected, and she couldn’t understand why. Cora cycled through the data sets and finally brought up the primary tank controls. She stopped and gulped at the thoughts racing through her.

‘Oh no, that’s just too precious’. Cora closed her eyes and took a deep breath as Callam Cy Tea’s voice lilted across the chamber. She could feel the slender creature approach and glanced up as his hand trailed tentatively across the glass of the tank. His spiny fingers flickered across the glass as if it were too hot to touch.

‘My dear Miss Zondarem, you deeply surprise me. I confess I did not see this coming at all!’ He swayed languidly about her, trailing across her shoulders. His bulbous head and dry flesh hung at her ear as he whispered her own thoughts to her.

‘And here it is then, the freedom you have so long sought. Is it all you imagined?’

Cora cleared her throat to speak, but the Navigator continued for her.

‘No, it isn’t is it? Duty is easy, but freedom? Freedom is hard. Freedom is choice; uncertain, agonising choice’.

‘Yes’, Cora whispered back.

‘And here I find you in the throes of this first choice!’ Cy Tea grinned uncontrollably. ‘It is delicious beyond contemplation is it not?’

‘I don’t know what you mean’, Cora countered meekly.

‘Yes you do. You know exactly what I mean, for here under you hand lays Kurus. He lives because of these machines, these tubes and tinctures. He lives because you allow it, and there on that screen is your choice’.

Cora glanced nervously at the blinking icon that would shut down the surgical tank.

‘Oh such exquisite agony’, Cy Tea continued, ‘for to shut off this apparatus would complete your opening chapter. You would have the ship you so crave, and you would be free of the tatters and rags and loose ends of this whole sorry affair. You would have a clean break with the past. You would cut those chains that may bind you from becoming all that you dream’.

Cora closed her eyes again as the Navigator closed in. She could feel his hot breath on her neck, and smell the spice of his flesh. ‘You know you want this, this freedom from complication. And all that you need do is turn…him…off’.

The Navigator slipped away, leaving Cora in the throes of her decision. He glinted with glee as her finger trembled above the shut-off icon.

‘But’, Cy Tea continued, ‘are you willing to make that choice? Are you willing to become the person that would make you? Are you truly willing to throw off the last vestiges of honour, duty, loyalty? The trappings of all those things that have made you, simply, Cora?’

He quivered in delight as her inner turmoil tensed imperceptibly, and she curled her finger back from the brink.

‘Yes, to make the choice would mean so much wouldn’t it? It would mean your freedom would be bought at the price of making you a murderer’. The Navigator ranged about the chamber, imitating a clichéd villain from the Imperial morality picters.

‘And not just any murderer, oh no! But one who took the life of a man she would rather take to her bed; a man she would rather take even to her heart’. Again he closed in, lowering his voice theatrically.

‘Could this be you Miss Zondarem? Could you choose to take your freedom at such a price?’

Cora backed away from the pedestal and stroked her stomach to regain her comportment.

‘Not today’, she glared at the Navigator, before sweeping out of the chamber.

Callam smiled knowingly as she strode past. He wandered to the pedestal and cycled off the tank controls. The Navigator watched Kurus for some time before echoing, ‘not today’.


Many cycles passed and Cora maintained the docking in orbit above Meggido. The financial account she uncovered in Sinnessaar’s records was nearing depletion, especially after purchasing supplies and much need replacements of consumables, and it would soon be time to move on. She had forayed to the surface several times in search of some form of commercial contract, perhaps small-scale cargo or passenger transportation, but had found little. Those few offers were outside of the merchant guild contracts and did not seem promising.

Cora had resisted descending to the location of Mikas’s death, though she felt she should pay her respects. She had spent a great deal of time reviewing the data given to her by Inquisitor Crowe. Much of it made little sense and she felt that they were pieces in a puzzle that she lacked the key for. But there were many good leads, potential contacts, and prospects beyond the hallowed borders of the Imperium. She had settled on a journey to Spinnaker’s Landing to meet there a potential benefactor.

Today was a good day however, for Kurus’ sedation was due to be lifted. He would awaken for the first time since his injury. It had finally knitted together and although his core bio-readings remained less than satisfactory, he was well on the way to recovery. Cora was ambivalent. She longed to see Kurus once more, but had become used to running the ship alone. She feared how things would go with Kurus, especially if he wished to pursue his old life, or return to Hisperus IV. She had no desire to do either. Cora had instructed the servitors to inform her once Kurus was revived and refreshed and as she absently mined some of Crowe’s minor data files the vox crackled and she was notified. Kurus awaited her in the banquet chamber.

Cora donned a baroque crimson dress and sweet scent she’d purchased on Meggido, and tried in vain to restrain her maroon curls as she paced quickly to the chamber. She tested her breath on her hand and smoothed her attire busily. She stopped nervously outside the chamber and composed herself before entering. Kurus was standing with his back to the entrance, gazing out at the silent bustle of dock traffic beyond. The sun was flaring at the rim of Meggido and their docking wharf was gradually sliding into night. Kurus’ left arm nestled in a simple sling about his neck. He was dressed simply in a black tunic and his white blonde hair had grown beyond his collar. He turned to regard her as she entered and Cora was stunned at his gaunt eyes. He seemed dull, diminished, somehow smaller in stature and form.

Their eyes met and in their gaze they spoke a thousand thoughts that said nothing. Cora faltered as she stepped towards him then broke into a trot. They embraced warmly, though Kurus winced as he raised his tethered arm about her, and held each other in silence for long moments. Cora backed off and thumped his chest indignantly.

‘You worried me!’ She said, feigning anger.

They stood in silence.

‘How are you?’ She asked softly.

‘I’ve seen better days’, Kurus responded dryly. Cora saw no mirth in his face. ‘I’ve reviewed the logs’, Kurus continued.

‘Oh yes?’ Cora asked gingerly.

‘It’s all done then?’ He stated, seeking confirmation. Cora nodded ruefully.

‘The others?’ Kurus asked.

‘Didn’t make it off Hisperus’, Cora responded, ‘as far as I know’. She circled to the table and sat facing Kurus and the vista screen.

‘Of course I haven’t been back there to check’. She bit her lip and turned her gaze to the disappearing sun. ‘We can head back if you like?’

Kurus remained silent stroking his chin pensively.

‘Kurus?’ She pressed.

‘What would you do Cora?’ He finally responded.

‘I have a Warrant of Trade. I would look to this and head into the future. But I am not you Kurus, and this is still your ship’. She trembled at the prospect of his response.

‘It is done. I am done. To return now would be foolish’.

Cora breathed visible relief and rose to join Kurus at the vista screen, nestling into his side and looking up at him.

‘Perhaps one day we can head back there’, she comforted. ‘But for now, let us make our own path’.

Kurus drew her in with his arm about her shoulders. He had never felt so lost, but something about Cora made that seem alright.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0