Inquisitor Asheron hated waiting. The polite attendance of Brother-Sergeant Symon didn’t help. Though they had hindered her in no way, she couldn’t help but feel the constant presence of Symon or one of his men was aimed at preventing her from finding what she had come looking for.

But now she had no choice. Returning from an inspection of one of the company strike cruisers to discover that elements of the Red Guard had been involved in combat with the forces of Chaos, she now waited to see what the result was. Much could be discerned from the actions of men after battle. Whether victory or defeat was their lot, their guards would be down, and maybe she would finally be able to drag something out of one of these inscrutable marines.

“May I get you something while you wait Inquisitor?” Symons’ voice was smooth and polite.

“No.” Asheron could see her reflection in the glass of viewing port overlooking the docking bay. If, as she had overheard these marines say, scars were the sign of the mistakes you have made, she had made few. Despite years of service in the Sisters of Bloody Rose and the Inquisition her reflection still showed a pale, unmarked skin and an innocent face.

Not that her looks had availed her any better than her mind here, the hearts and minds of the chapter were locked tightly away from her and she was left scrabbling for a key.

Symons spoke again, “If you look carefully Inquisitor you can see the scout coming in now,” indicating a speck moving in the void beyond the gaping locks of the landing bay.

She said nothing, merely watched the speck swell, taking on the attributes of an Imperial combat scout as it drew near, finally sliding silently into the waiting berth. A horde of servitors in clumsy vacuum suits rushed to secure the craft directed by a tech-marine in power armour that could be heard chanting the prayers appropriate to the task over the general channel.

Behind the ship the lock slid shut, closing, and pressurization alarms could be seen flashing through the landing bay, making the motions of the figures there bizarre and disjointed.

As soon as the bay showed safe pressure she had the door to the bay open and was through, Symons following doggedly as she strode to the base of the ramp descending from the nose of the scout. Blazoned in bold letters along the ships bow was the name, “Redemption,” overwriting a larger number twelve.

Another reminder that the only people who called this chapter the Red Guard were themselves, almost every other person she had spoken to, including many of the servitors, called them the Twelvers for their peculiar choice of heraldry.

She was less than pleased to see the Master of the Chapel, Secundus, was the first one down the ramp. His black enameled armour was scratched and battered, and his skull mask nowhere to be seen. His left hand was swathed in bandages and his grizzled hair was sticking up in odd directions, and she was overpowered by the stench of stale sweat, blood, and propellant that exuded from him. He smiled briefly upon seeing her. “The Emperor’s blessing on you Inquisitor, I bring good news.”

“Victory then, I assume.” Asheron said.

“At a price.” The chaplain’s men were beginning to descend the ramp. Most came in pairs, and bore a stretcher carrying a dead or wounded marine. Those who didn’t were the walking wounded. “But we got what we paid for.” The marines descending the ramp each met Asheron’s gaze as they came down the ramp, and as her mind reached out she could feel they did not fear her. Another weapon robbed from her arsenal. “I’m sorry chaplain, what was that?” The chaplain’s frank look was little different than his men’s, but his mind was a closed book to her. “I was saying we have a prisoner for you.”

“A prisoner?” Now he had her full attention.

“Yes, here he comes now.”

Two marines attended by a lay-brother from the Apothecarion were descending the ramp, bearing a man on a stretcher. He was hideously wounded, his right arm ending in a bundle of blood stained bandages at the elbow. The sheet that covered him was also stained with blood. It mostly concealed the sort of undersuit one wore beneath power or terminator armour, but of an antique style.

“Who is this?” she asked.

“The self-styled Duke Raoul Schwartzchilde.”

Asheron nodded as she examined the mass of the mass of medical equipment attached to Schwartzchilde’s body, and the mumbled prayers of the Apothecary-servitor. She had seen reports on this servant of Chaos and his reign of terror. “Will he live?”

“That is for the Emperor to say, although the apothecary may improve his chances if they hurry.”

“Yes, of course.” She nodded, and made a gesture of dismissal to the servitor-apothecary, who quickly led his charge away, “and his forces?”

“Those that we encountered we eliminated.” Secundus made a sign of thanks.

“Indeed.” Asheron was impressed despite herself. She didn’t let it show.

“I also come bearing a message.”


Secundus smiled again, “Grand Inquisitor Hraxis desires you contact him at your earliest opportunity.”

“Ah, yes. If you will excuse me then Prior.”

“Of course, may the Emperor go with you.”

“And you.” Asheron hurried from the hall.

Secundus sagged as soon as the she was out of sight.

He was not buoyed by the arrival of Korvus. “You have done well today, old friend.”

“Did you expect any different?”

“No, but I worry.”

Secundus nodded. It was moments like this that made him sure he had made the right choice in Korvus. “I will miss Kian.”

“He was a good man.” Korvus smiled as Tost was borne down the ramp, “Brother Tost! You, injured?”

Tost laughed, then coughed in pain, “Yes, again sir. The apothecary is worried, but I’ll be mended in no time, Emperor willing.”

Korvus saluted, and when the area was clear he asked Secundus, “What of our prize?” Korvus extended a hand to help him down the ramp.

The chaplain waved him off, “In triage with the others, drugged and concealed in a suit of power armour.”

The legate laughed, “Hid her in plain sight, did you?”

“The old ways are the best ways.”

He nodded, “I will speak to Aurelius, he will be on hand when she regains consciousness.”

It was the chaplain’s turn to laugh; “The bitch is in for a surprise when she meets him.”

Belladonna Schwartzchilde came too by degrees, disoriented and confused. A bright white light filled her world, shining down from above. Her first instinct was to reach out to the warp, to ground herself in its familiar randomness and gather strength.

But there was nothing there. Slowly the rest of the world crept in, and she found herself in a white on white room. There was no discernable door, and she was lying on the floor, her arms bound across her chest in some sort of close fitting jacket. She struggled with it, cursing and swearing when it did not yield to her enhanced strength.

“It’s to keep you from hurting yourself.” The voice was masculine but gentle, and focussing on the source she found the voice at odds with the giant, muscular form of the man who spoke.

Belladonna found his face handsome, head completely shaven with a strong aristocratic nose, and thin black brows. “Unbind me slave!” She shouted, and struggled some more.

He waited silently while she fought against the straightjacket, betraying neither humour or disdain for her plight.

She eventually gave up, out of breath. With the warp beyond her reach and the jacket stronger than her, it was pointless. “So what next? A little torture, a little rape, and then go brag how you broke the Chaos witch to the rest of your Inquisition pals?”

“I’m afraid you’re suffering under the misapprehension that I am with the Inquisition.”

Belladonna hated the way his voice seemed to make her want to relax, and struggled some more to fight the urge. “So what are you then, some sort of pervert who likes watching women struggle?”

“Hardly, merely a servant of the Emperor.”

“There’s a difference?” He just looked at her, saying nothing so she gave her surroundings another once over. White, white, and more white, and one marine in gray robes. She briefly wondered if the room would look better splattered with the marine’s blood, but she wasn’t likely to find out in her current situation. “So are you trying to bore me into talking?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

She laughed, “You’re not much of an interrogator, you’re the one who’s supposed to ask all the questions. Here, swap places with me and I’ll show you.”

He didn’t even laugh.

“What, did they extract your funny bone when they made you a marine or something?” She awkwardly managed to get to her knees, head spinning.

“Something like that.”

“Figures.” She wobbled slightly, but managed to stand, feet widely spaced for balance. Then she got a good whiff of herself, sweat and gun smoke, and a nasty after-odour of napalm. The smell made her dizzy all over again, and she nearly lost her balance.

Her jailor merely watched.

Bracing her back against the wall, she said, “Any chance of a girl getting a shower around here?”

No answer.

“You can watch if you want.”

Nothing, he just stared intently.

Then it dawned on her. “Get out of my mind!” she shrieked. Without the easy aid of the warp, and in her state it took all of her willpower to slap a block in place. Shivering with the effort, she managed to force his mind from hers. Raising herself up to her full height she shouted, “And stay out!”

His lack of reaction was chilling. “Arrangements will be made for a shower.” A door opened behind him and he turned to go. He turned his head as he stepped through the door. “I’ll be back.”

The door closed, sealing her into the numbingly white cell. Belladonna sagged back against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. He might as well have raped her.

“Grand Inquisitor Hraxis, Inquisitor Asheron at your service. This channel is secure.”

The face in the vid was tired and worn, but the eyes that looked back at Asheron across the link seemed deep and incisive. “Thank you for getting back to me so quickly Asheron. The Emperor is well served by your diligence.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Perhaps you could explain your presence with these, what are my people calling them…” he glanced down at something out of sight of the camera, “Twelvers.” His brow furrowed, “An odd name for one of the Adeptus Astartes, is it not?”

“They are properly recorded as the Red Guard sir.”

“Hmmm.” His brow furrowed once more, and then he shook his head. “Let us get back to that later. Please continue.”

“Thank you sir.” Asheron briefly gathered her thoughts; “The Twelvers left their homeworld of Priory three years ago. Every active ship, company, and marine, as near as we can tell.”

“Chapter and verse, so to speak.” And the Grand Inquisitor chuckled softly.


“Never mind, pardon the interruption.”

“Yes, ah, since then they have crossed nearly half the Empire of Man.” Hraxis’ eyebrows went up, “That’s quite a trip.”

“Yes sir. They’ve followed no particular course, and have moved back and forth, often stopping to deal with a local war, uprising, or incursion.”

“Should I not count on them staying then?”

“Pardon me sir?”

Hraxis didn’t answer immediately, pausing, clearly in thought, before continuing, “Asheron, this is not common knowledge, but the Crusade has been going… poorly.”

Asheron did not know what to say, and thought it best to say nothing at all, nodding instead at the Grand Inquisitor’s revelation.

“The arrival of another chapter of the Adeptus Astartes provides much needed reinforcement. If they were to depart suddenly it could have a profoundly detrimental effect on the Imperium.”

“I see sir.”

“I thought you might. So what has brought the Red Guard haring across the galaxy to my doorstep?”

“That is what the Inquisition dispatched me to discover, Grand Inquisitor.”

“And you have not been successful.”

Asheron shook her head. “I must admit this sort of investigation is not my forte.”

There was a rustling of paper, and Hraxis looked down briefly, “Yes, I see from your file that you have enjoyed a goodly measure of success in hunting down daemons and the like.”

“Thank you sir, the Emperor has smiled on my efforts.”

“As is right. So how was it you were chosen for this task?”

Asheron looked down, vaguely embarrassed by the truth, “I was in the right place at the right time sir, others more qualified were not.”

“I see. Have you learned anything then?”

“I think it has to do with a ship sir.”

“A ship?”

“Yes sir, I believe they are searching for a ship lost millennia ago to the warp.”

“How curious. And what is so important about this ship that they have followed it so far?”

“It carries the master of their chapter, and their twelfth company.”

“Twelfth?” Hraxis’ brow furrowed again, almost predictably. “I thought only the Space Wolves had twelve companies.”

“So did I sir. It appears to be a peculiarity of the Twelfth Founding, some sort of error in the Scriptorium getting out of hand, and never corrected.”

“So they are chasing their long lost Master, how interesting.”

“That is what I believe sir.”

“This is most useful information, Asheron, you have done well, have no doubt.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Now, I am afraid I must change your duties. You have seen Schwartzchilde?”

“I have sir.”

“Good. I need you to ensure he survives, and perhaps even recovers.”

“Sir?” She had not expected this.

“Remember, the war. Schwartzchilde’s trial and execution will make for a strong warning to those who are tempted by Chaos. It will also be good for morale among the troops, and the Emperor knows that won’t hurt, current victories notwithstanding.

Asheron nodded, “I see sir, I will look to it immediately. But what of the Twelvers?”

“Leave them to me.”

Korvus 21:16, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran