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Over the Ignatius moon a host of ships had gathered. With a good telescope someone on the surface would be able to pick out the pale hulls of bulk transports, mobile factories, and the framework of an orbiting base. Backlit by the ruddy atmosphere of the gas giant Hraxis they stood out quite clearly. But there were other ships too, their red hulls invisible to the unaided eye against the backdrop red giant.

But there are many eyes, aided in a variety of ways, looking out from the collection of pale ships. Some watched the planet below, plotting and planning for a future that would be inexorably altered by the new chapterhouse rising below. But no few cast cautious glances at the pair of red cruisers, dark hulls with red buttresses and fairing. Even at first glance the ships, strike cruisers of the Red Guard, appeared harder and sleeker than their Imperial Navy counterparts.

Not so long ago there had been a whole fleet here. At its core had been a titanic vessel, the battle barge Resurrection, and about it a multitude of smaller flitters, gunships, and transports continually swarmed. It and a covey of strike cruisers and escorts had left weeks earlier, and those officers in the Imperial fleet who were paying heed were glad that they had chosen to do so.

This may seem an odd opinion for the Navy to hold of their allies. But since the Twelver’s unheralded appearance in the Agrippa sector year and a half earlier they had made, as some had been wont to say in the officer’s mess, “an Impression.” A fair number of debates continued as to whether that impression was good or bad. Even their detractors had to admit that the military successes they had won in the name of the Emperor were impressive. Despite this there was a feeling of mistrust. It wasn’t just that the ships housed the large part of a chapter of Space Marines. After all, everyone feels uncomfortable in the presence of a towering, genetically enhanced superman.

Perhaps it was the Twelvers’ bombardment of Blodsburg during the Siege. Everyone agreed it had been a prudent act militarily. But when the dust settled and the bodies had been counted, there had been no regret in the Marine’s faces, and their words made it clear that they were unconcerned about any lives on their butcher’s bill besides their own. One news service had even declared one of the Captains a war criminal, though rumour had it this was at the prompting of enemies of the Imperium. So there were always eyes watching them, mostly to ensure that the next time the Twelver’s acted in their best interests the watchers weren’t in their way. Others watched hoping to divine the Red Guard’s plans, as their chapter master, or Legate, or whatever he was called, had remained behind while his fleet left to the flashpoint in the Palatine subsector.

Aboard the Imperial frigate, “Devotions of Faith,” Captain Siglinde Perry, one of the professional observers of the Twelvers, dropped into her command chair. She had just run from the Gymnasia where she had been performing her daily workout, and was drenched with perspiration, as even in the 41st millennia she insisted that women still didn’t sweat. Despite this her hastily buttoned uniform jacket was soaked through in the armpits and between her shoulder blades. None of her junior officers would mention this of course, as she had them suitably intimidated. “Shut off that damn alarm,” she shouted. Someone acted with an alacrity that even she couldn’t find fault with, and the contact klaxon started its slow moan towards silence before the words have even finished leaving her mouth. “What the hell is going on out there?”

Lieutenant Gaines, the sensor officer, was also suitably responsive, “I’ve got a contact. Imperial configuration, looks like an Astartes pattern frigate from what I can make out, sir.”

Siglinde nodded, “Anything on the comm?”

“Nothing yet, sir.”

“Right, sound battle stations. Comms, get the astropath to raise the Admiral and find out what the hell he wants us to do. Helm, set course zero four zero all ahead half.” More to herself she said, “I want a little breathing space.”

Gaines added a contact marker for transport to the big tactical display. “Comms, anything?”

“No sir.”

“Where in the eye is the damn admiral.” She thought.

“I’ve got a Twelver IFF off it sir.” Sang the comm’s officer.

“Who the hell…” she said, knowing that every Twelver and his Brother was either here at Ignatius or off blowing the crap out of someone someplace else.

“Open hail sir,” the comm. officer said.

“Play that out.” Siglinde said.

The voice in the transmission was clear and unexcited, “This is Varius of the Deathless inbound on VIP transport, transmitting clearances now.”

The comms officers hands flashed as he decrypted the clearance codes. “All good sir, the code clears.”

Siglinde was wracking her brain. The Deathless was not listed on the Twelver’s contact sheet. “What are her company codes?”

“None showing sir.”

She shook her head, confused, and then said, “Sound stand down from battle stations, helm, resume our original position. Gaines, can you tell me anything more?”

“Looks like the frigate’s seen a little action recently sir… Now that’s interesting…”

“What have you got Gaines?”

“I’ve got a class 1 small ship launch from the Deathless and accelerating towards the planet.”

“Comm?”

“It’s showing Inquisitorial clearances sir.”

Siglinde watched as the small ship was pushed across the plot by a petty officer. 'What in the Emperor’s shriveled left nut what was going on over there.'

Korvus waited in the old Imperial chapel. During daylight hours it was one of the few places on the moon that wasn’t subject to an almost constant flow of his battle brothers, lay brethren, and the multitude involved in the raising of the chapterhouse. The Master of the Forge had personally swept the building, and assured Korvus that it was truly private. That had been a relief, as was being reunited with Secundus after the chaplain’s absence of the last year. He hadn’t realized how much he had valued the craggy old Chaplain’s consul and companionship until he had been forced to send him off to Blodsburg to guide their actions there.

Secundus was trying to pray while Korvus paced the aisle behind him, “Do you mean to wear a hole in the floor brother?”

Korvus stopped, “My apologies, I’m letting my concerns get the better of me.”

“There is naught we can worry about for now.”

“That’s easy for you to say.

“The hand of the Emperor will shield us, Korvus.”

“The hand of the Emperor may be over us brother, but a damned lot seems to have been slipping through his fingers since we got here.”

Secundus laughed, “And that is different from usual in what way.”

Korvus couldn’t help but smile at Secundus, “He’s not at his best these days, is he.”

Secundus mock-frowned, “One day, if we endure.”

Korvus’ smile vanished, “If we have too many more drops like Forestport, we won’t endure long.”

The chaplain’s grin vanished as well, and both thought of another chapel far below where a dozen shrouded bodies lay in wait, the first who would wait in the new ossuary at Hraxis. “It needed doing. I am more concerned about Hector.”

“Oh, some things do bother you then.”

“If he is unbalanced, the entire third company is at risk, which should concern you as well.”

“They say the Emperor protects fools and madmen, and Hector is certainly the latter. I can only pray.”

“That should be my line.” Secundus essayed a small smile, which Korvus returned.

Then there came the chime of a small bell at the door, and both drew their faces into cold masks. Korvus said “The Inquisitor, at last.” Then louder, “Enter.”

The doors opened and the titanic form of Brother Varius entered. Beside him walked a small man made to seem miniscule by the marine. Korvus stepped forward and embraced Varius fiercely, kissing him on both cheeks, and Secundus followed suit.

Korvus smiled at Varius, “Its good to see you old man.”

Varius just nodded, “And you, my Legate. I hear construction has gone well here.”

“Only as the Emperor has allowed.” Korvus looked to the small man and the other marine. “I must assume you are Inquisitor Commnena?”

“Indeed I am, and I have heard much of you as well, Korvus, Legatus Miles Rufus. Your Captain Varius was kind enough to offer transport when I found myself stranded in Cathedral.”

Inquistitor Commnena cleared his throat, “I’m sorry to cut short the pleasantries Legatus, but there is a pressing matter at hand that I require your assistance on. If I could attend you privately?”

Varius looked Korvus in the eye, Korvus nodded, “Go see the chapterhouse, Master Anton has worked miracles.” Varius smiled and nodded, then left. Secundus remained behind Korvus shoulder. “What is your business Inquisitor? There is much that we must take care of, especially with so many of my brothers away fighting in the wars.” Korvus said.

Commnena walked before the Altar, and made the sign of the Throne. “I believe you will find the time to aid me in this matter Korvus. Besides, you don’t strike me as being much of a construction servitor.” Korvus frowned at the Inquisitor, who continued unabashed, “There are those who mistrust you here, particularly the new Grand Inqusitor. But that is merely unfamiliarity, given your contributions since your arrival it is unlikely to cause action at this time.”

“What is of such great concern then?”

“I am aware of the relationship between yourselves and the Victrix Astartes. Certain things have been revealed to the new Grand Inquisitor regarding their history and certain recent reverses. It has come to my attention that he intends to declare them hereticus, and that the announcement is imminent.

Korvus said nothing, but behind him he heard Secundus draw a long breath. “This is a travesty,” the Chaplain said, “They have fought bravely here.”

“Bravely or not, their fate is sealed.”

Korvus spoke before Secundus could reply, “We will not stand for infamy.” Knowing it was best that it come from his lips rather than the chaplain’s.

“I like it no more than you, but should you stand with them you will be tarred with the same brush, and face the might of the Imperium here.”

“What would you have me do then, stand aside when the dogs come for those who have fought beside us in battle?”

Commnena looked Korvus straight in the eyes, and Korvus could see that the little Inquisitor was undeterred by the rage he saw there. “No, Legatus, I want you to destroy them.”

Captain Siglinde Perry finally received a response from the Admiral hours later, coded for her eyes only. Since then the Inquisitor’s ship had left the system, vanishing off the sensors in a warp jump. Siglinde had taken the little ship’s counter off the tactic display herself. She still held it thoughtfully in her hand as she broke the seal and scanned the decrypted message.

To: Captain Siglinde Perry, Devotions of Faith From: Rear Admiral Wendt Hari, Pride of Empire

Continue observation at this time STOP If remaining Red Guard ships move report my eyes only STOP Continue to take all precautions against detection STOP Shadow their movements if any STOP Emperor guide you STOP END OF MESSAGE

It was not an unusual mission for the Devotion and her captain. The frigate had been fitted out for just such a role, and she had played it well so far. Her officers guided continued the watch, leaving Siglinde with little to do but think. After much consideration all she could think of was that she was that the Inquisition was concerned that the Twelvers were about to get up to no good. She also suspected that it had fallen on her shoulders to find out what.

Once in place the officers concentrated on making the ship invisible. Every time they slipped out of sight of a combat ship among the mass of freighters another sensor or bank of lights went out. Several hours later the Admirals premonition seemed to be true. The two cruisers and their escorts began to slip out of orbit and orient on the jump point. “Where would they be jumping to on this course Gaines?” she asked.

Gaines did a number of calculations on his pad, and shook his head, “Trajanus sir.”

“Why in the Eye are they going to Trajanus?”

Nobody seemed to have answer, as none of the officers said anything.” So the Devotion followed, through several watches and an uneventful warp jump between Forestport and Trajanus. The cruisers dropped out of warp, and Siglinde used the wake of their entry to slip in behind, unnoticed, or so she hoped. The fleet made no move in her direction, no sensors were turned their way, nor were any messages broadcast at them. Relaxing as much as she could she settled back into the command chair. “Get me a tactical layout and put their message traffic on record and playback.”

From the bridge speakers came the sound of routine orbital control traffic, and petty officers arranged the tactical.

“Comms, any transmissions from the Twelvers?”

“Negative sir, all quiet.”

Overhead she heard the voice of a Trajanus orbital controller, “This is Trajanus control, Red Guard 101, please respond.”

Gaines spoke, “They’ve got their transponders on, orbital control must be pulling the info from there. They must really be wondering what in the Eye is going on.”

Overhead the controller continued, “Trajanus control to any Twelver vessel, please respond. Divert to course 403 mark 1 mark 5. Repeat any Twelver vessel divert to course 403 mark 1 mark 5.” Another voice could be heard in the background, “Perhaps they’re having transmission problems, some sort of warp thing, try again.”

The message repeated for several minutes as the Twelver ships drew nearer to Trajanus. Then there was a new transmission, broken with static, “… ing… comm. problems… co-ordinates… repeat…”

Siglinde shook her head, “What is going on out there? Comms, any problems with our systems?”

“Checking.” There was a pause of several minutes as the comm. officer checked his boards and panels. “Nothing I can find short of a broadcast test, sir.”

“Not now Yale.” The squadron carried on in, occasionally trying to establish some connection, or so it appeared.” Orbital control seemed concerned but not alarmed. Twenty minutes or so passed with no new developments when Gaines said, “New contact. Imperial frigate, Inquisitional transponder.”

Yale spoke almost immediately, “They’re broadcasting.”

“Put it up.”

The speakers wailed briefly, then the signal tuned in, “say again, this is the ISS Needle of Inquiry, with a class one priority communication from Grand Inquisitor Torchia. Message is as follows, and is for all ears.

“By order of the Grand Inquisitor Torchia, all witnessing these words know that our writ of Latae Sententiae Excommunication has been made and done against the Victrix Astartae…"

Gaines shouted to be heard over the hubbub that rose as the bridge listened to the broadcast, “I’ve got multiple launches from the Twelver ships.” He paused briefly, studying his screens.

The message continued to play as he did.

“and those giving them shelter shall bear the same punishments that we have ordered meted out in the name of the Holy Emperor.”

His jaw dropped, and eyes widened, “I’ve got firing signatures, rapid vector changes…” The tactical plot was quickly updated as squadrons of frigates darted out towards orbital defence sites, and Siglinde could feel her heart rising in her chest, and her fingers clenched the arms of the chair. And still the message droned on.

“Thus, they pay the price for their betrayal of his Empire. His will be done.”

They could hear orbital control screaming something unintelligible, and the sound of klaxons. On the tactical display the Victrix Astartes installations were being pulled off or marked as disabled. Before long there was little left except the two big orbital shipyards, each of which was the target of a squadron of cruisers which followed close on the heels of the escorts. To the rear the cruisers still slowly advanced on the world.

Siglinde breathed out slowly. Overhead the Inquisition message was replaying, and she said quietly, “The bastards, they knew.” She had always had a soft spot in her heart for the VA, they had always seemed so much a part of life in the sector, a sort of distant friend you could count on in a crunch. The Twelvers were another matter entirely. Their remorselessness and heavy hand scared her and her superiors. But this was terrifying.

Then the cruisers made orbit. Waves of Thunderhawks that had left their bays to strike at the planet below. Now they were returning. Yale was picking up reports of fighting on board the orbital docks, and playing them back. But other than that there didn’t seem to be a single thing left moving that didn’t belong to the Twelvers in orbit. Yale said, “You’ve got to hear this,” and another voice could be heard on the comm. “This is Captain Salish of the ISS Needle, who in the Eye are you, and who gave you the authority to act in this matter?”

There was a pause, and the Yale said, “Return message now.”

The voice that spoke was deep and steady, “This Korvus, Centurio Cohors Primus, Legatus Miles Rufus, acting per Inquisitional order 312434.41. Please stand by for further information.”

There was a click and Yale said, “They have cut the channel.”

“Where’s Korvus?” Siglinde mused out loud.

“The strike cruisers are reorienting.” Gaines called out. The shifted on the plot, “Oh dear Emperor… no,” she said.

But it was too late, the ships had opened fire, bombardment cannons hurling death and destruction on the world below. Siglinde had been to Trajanus once, it was a beautiful world, covered in trees and life. But the guns blazed on anyways, and below the world burned.

Trajanus had been beautiful, and she would always remember it that way, “Helm, get us out of here, and take us to warp as soon as possible. Mister Gaines, you have the bridge.” She turned and walked out, hoping she looked steady. In her quarters she wept. She’s been suspicious of the Twelver’s before, they were new and unknown, and you didn’t rise in the ranks in the Imperial Navy by being open minded and trusting. But Inquisition order or no, after she had seen them burn the world, all the trees, animals, and people, there was one thing she was sure of. The Twelvers were evil.

Korvus 02:21, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran

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