“You’re thrice damned as a fool, Raoul.”

Raoul was vaguely disturbed that someone would dare to speak to him so. “Who do you think you are to speak to me like this.” The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it

“Who do you think I am, you pathetic blunderer?”

“What! By Khorne, I’ll have you flayed!”

The voice just giggled, effeminately Raoul thought.


“Why its you, who did you think it was gibbering here in your skull?” Raoul vaguely remembered something about talking to oneself not being a good sign.

“So what exactly were you thinking when you charged that bloody Chaplain. You could have gotten me killed, damn you!”

He was unsure how one was supposed to go about arguing with oneself. “Umm, sorry?”

“Sorry! Sorry! You bloody damn well should be sorry you sniveling little weakling. It figures the Emperor-damned time you pick grow a little backbone is the wrong one.”

Somewhere, part of Raoul’s mind was cowering before the assault. Slowly, an image appeared, and he recognized himself, as a teenage boy, slender, with thin blonde hair that always fell forward into his eyes that he remembered hiding a cruelty that was unleashed on younger boys at school.

The verbal beating continued for a while, the boy roaring at the man, who merely wept after a while. Eventually the boy just shook his head in disgust. “Wonderful, I suppose you want your mommy too?”

“Um… yes… um… yes please.”

“Your mommy’s dead, you killed her, remember?”

Raoul sniffled, and smiled a bit at the thought. “And daddy too.”

“That’s better, dear.”

Raoul howled again, as his mother patted him on the head, her face distorted by the big bullet hole in the middle of her forehead.

“Now, now dear, you’re in a bit of a spot, and there’s no time for you to be dramatic now.”

He didn’t find his mother’s wound nearly as hilarious as the first time, “Mommy, I’m sorry.” He sniffled

“Oh dear, never mind, I know boys will be boys. And my boy's in a bit of trouble now, isn’t he?”

Raoul nodded as his mother helped him up, “I think I am mommy.” He remembered the scarlet death mask, with its terrifying rictus, and the pain. “I hurt mommy.”

“Buck up soldier, you’ve got some trouble.” By now the appearance of Raoul’s father, even without his head, ceased to be a great surprise. “Somebody’s sniffing around in your head soldier, can’t have that can we?”

“No sir!”

“That’s my boy.” His headless father snapped Raoul a quick salute, and vanished. Raoul giggled briefly, and looked out as he found himself in a dark forest full of twisted and misshapen trees. He could see flashes of light as lightning flashed among the tumourous clouds above, illuminating in flickers and starts a figure treading the trails and paths of memory.

“Oh this won’t do,” he thought quietly as he sunk into the underbrush, waiting and hiding, shivering in terror. Eventually a figure was revealed in a flash, probing the darkness. “Mmmm,” he thought, “what a pretty mind.” The figure was silent; it’s every movement fluid grace as it stepped cautiously through the tangle. A predator, but one on unfamiliar ground. The figure stopped, and in a flash of light Raoul could see a cold face, like one of the china dolls his sister had kept so safe behind glass in her room. “Maybe I’ll eat you too,” he thought.

Suddenly the doll’s head turned, and inky black eyes stared right at him, trying to pierce the darkness beyond the lantern light. Raoul hunched small, and made himself silent, despite the fear he felt.

Then slowly, the figure turned, and softly vanished away.

Raoul breathed a deep sigh of relief, “Thank goodness you’re gone, you cold-hearted bitch. But you’ll be back, Raoul knows. And Raoul will be ready.”

Inquisitor Asheron breathed her own sigh of relief when she slipped free of Schwartzchilde’s mind. “Emperor have mercy on us all, what a nightmare.” The apothecary, wrapped in dignity by his pure white robes, looked up from inspecting the Chaos Lord’s robes and said, “One would think that was a given for one who was so benighted as to forsake the Emperor’s grace.” Asheron looked up at the apothecary’s lined face, “Haven’t you ever been tempted?”

The apothecary looked thoughtful, “Perhaps long ago, but now? Being transformed in the Emperor’s image reminds me of his glory in my every thought and movement”

“You are fortunate to see so clearly. Yet we have the traitor legions, remade just as you were.”

The apothecary seemed troubled by the thought, “An excellent point Inquisitor, it is easy to be complacent when there is no temptation.” “Exactly.”

The apothecary nodded, “Then it would seem that faith is weak unless it lives in a state of temptation, yet denies it?”

It was Asheron’s turn to be troubled. Dealing with the Adeptus Astartes was not like dealing with ordinary men. Each was stronger, smarter, faster, the best of the best remade better.

The apothecary spoke again while she thought, “It would seem that we put ourselves at risk by removing ourselves to much from the affairs of man. Perhaps that is what inspired the Legate’s crusade.”

“Pardon me?”

“Merely speculating Inquisitor.”

Asheron mulled over the apothecary’s words, “An interesting thought. I had not considered that.”

The apothecary nodded, “We had spent to long on Priory. It was past time we tested ourselves, to ensure we would not be found wanting.”

“A noble sentiment. The Emperor would be proud.”

He merely nodded, and left to attend to the many wounded from the recent battle without another word.

She was left with many thoughts, and as she examined her charge she wondered what had tempted him.

“What is our progress Navigator?” Korvus knew it was little. He could feel it in his bones, and see it in the sweat on the Navigators brow.

“Slow sir, the warp is roiled, and keeping on the Astronomicon is difficult, let alone maintaining position in the fleet.”

“I understand, Navigator. Can you give me an ETA?” About them stretched the ships of the Imperial fleet, heading back to Fort Goethe from Kaliegh, all struggling with the same problems.

“At least a week, and that is only if this squall doesn’t get worse.” “Damn.” At least the warp had cooperated, as much as it ever did, on the way out, but on the return trip the fleet was barely making even minor progress. Korvus shook his head; waiting for progress here on the bridge would only drive him mad. “At least the Inquisitor hasn’t been hounding us since we left.” He muttered under his breath. Then he rose, saying aloud, “Comms, please request the masters to join me in my chapel for prayer.”

“Yes sir.”

Korvus turned and left the bridge in a swirl of dark woolen robes, returning the salutes of the officers of the watch as he went.

The chapel was a haven of peace and quiet from the bustle of the ship. He lit a wand of incense on the altar, then turned and knelt, emptying his mind of thought and emotion.

It was difficult, but he finally succeeded, and was not disturbed as the others entered the room. Quietly they lit their own wands in turn, then joined him before the altar.

The room was silent, and no clock measured their meditations. It was not finally, but inevitably that one spoke, Aurelius, saying, “Brothers, the peace of your minds is a comfort.”

There was a murmur of, “Amen.” From several throats, and then a chuckle from Secundus. “O brother,” the Prior said, “if half of what I hear is true, you deserve it.”

This brought a round of laughter from the rest of the company. Brion, master of the Apothecary, oldest of the masters and grizzled like a glacier laughed without reservation. The serious face of Master Aron, who spent more time among the tomes and texts of Machine God than the company of his brothers, crinkled about the eyes and corners of the mouth. Korvus laughed , sharing his friend’s laughter, and Secundus smiled at his own jest.

But Aurelius only nodded seriously, not joining his brothers’ mirth, “I must admit the woman tries my patience.”

Brion laughed anew, “I didn’t think it possible. Is the rock showing signs of cracking?” and clapped a hand on Aurelius’ shoulder.

“I hardly think so brother,” was the Librarian’s reply, and as usual there was no trace of rebuke in his voice.

Korvus, still smiling, said, “Brothers, I’m glad your sense of humour is bearing up. Seriously though, how are we progressing?”

Brion chuckled, “Yes, do tell Aurelius, we’re all dying to hear if you’ve been able to get anything out of that infernal harpy.”

Secundus was looked more serious to Korvus, saying, “Yes, I hope it’s been worthwhile. She’s had half her guards running to confession, and I suspect the other half should be.”

Aurelius nodded, “It has been difficult, this past week. Her mind is able, and her defenses strong. However the additional medications Brother Brion has added among those for her wounds have rendered her vulnerable… to an extent.

“The dosages I’ve been prescribing would have made an Inquisitor babble.” Brion exclaimed.

The apothecary looked indignant, and Korvus interrupted, “I’m sure there is a reason brother,” and looked to Aurelius once more.

“Yes, it would appear the Emperor’s enemies have discovered, with at least partial success, to implant geneseed…”

“What! That’s impossible!” Brion interrupted.

Aron looked thoughtful, “It’s just a process brother, with the tools and materials, incantations and prayers, it could be done.”

“Indeed brother,” Aurelius nodded, “though whomever is doing this has not been completely successful. Our prisoners were transformed, but many others have died attempting it. It does explain her resistance to the drugs and my probes.”

“Bloody right it would,” the apothecary said, “Emperor save us, the traitors are bad enough without their adding new blood to their ranks on a whim.”

“I agree, there is more, however.” Aurelius held Korvus’ full attention as he continued. There was something in the librarian’s eyes he seldom saw, and if he didn’t know better he would swear it was excitement. “The agent responsible for the transformation of our prisoners serves a minor god of Chaos.” Aurelius paused, almost as if for effect, “From what I have been able to divine about this power it matches the surviving descriptions of the Enemy.”

“What!” Korvus didn’t mean too, but realized he had shouted.

His outburst silenced the masters briefly, then Secundus exhaled audibly, saying, “Emperor preserve us.”

Korvus nodded, stunned, “Emperor preserve us indeed. What about the Valiant?”

The librarian shook his head, “I am sorry, but I have found nothing. It is conceivable she has never heard of the Valiant, but that is hard to be certain of at this point.”

Korvus looked at them one at a time, “But if the Enemy is here?” The looks on their faces told him enough. “It feels so close, closer than ever before.”

Aurelius remained inscrutable, but the others were nodding silently. “But are we ready?”

Aron misinterpreted as always, “This trip has put a terrible strain on the engines, but they will hold, Emperor willing or not.”

Korvus nodded, realizing the Master of Machines’ need to contribute in the only way he was able. “Good. Secundus, what of the men?”

“Our prisoner is presenting a terrible distraction.”

“Deal with it.”

“Remember I am not done with her yet.” Aurelius was matter of fact, and the chaplain merely nodded.

“Do not let us falter now brothers.” Korvus kissed the fingertips of his right hand, and raised them to touch the icon of the Golden Throne, resting on the star at its summit.

A day, as best as Belladonna could guess, had passed since the last visit from her interrogator, and over a week since they had started. The respite had improved her spirits to the point where she was actually enjoying flirting with the guards who brought her meals, to their dismay and her delight.

Thus when the door appeared in the featureless wall once again she assumed that it was time for another session, and fortified the defenses about her mind.

She was surprised not to see her infuriating interrogator, but an older man dressed in head to toe black robes, and bearing what were to the best of her knowledge the symbols of a chaplain. Then she recognized the face as that of the chaplain from Kaliegh. “Come to save my soul, old man?”

“I doubt there’s much hope of that. I’d prefer to put you out an airlock, but the decision isn’t mine.”

Belladonna affected the most demure pose should could given her overalls and the stark surroundings, “Did you know I wasn’t always like this?”

The chaplain’s eyebrows raised, “Oh really? Do tell.”

“I was a Sister Superior in the Sisters of the Bloody Rose once upon a time, before Max.”

The chaplain’s eyebrows rose, “Oh really?” She could tell he had piqued his interest, “Perhaps you remember a sister named Asheron?”

“Oh, I do. She was a vicious little minx if there ever was one.”

“I don’t think she’s changed since she joined the Inquisition. She’s here now, I could arrange a reunion if you like. I shudder to think what punishment she has in store for a fallen sister.”

Belladonna could see the hate in his face. “It wasn’t as if I wanted this!” She let some tears well up for effect, “Max took me, and made me into what I am. I couldn’t resist him, he was too strong.”

The chaplain just smirked at her, and said, “Break my other heart.”

The tears welled up again, overflowing, and there was little act in them this time, “What am I to do?”

“I’m sure Slannesh would be proud of this performance, but it will take a little more than tears. Stop trying to seduce my brothers, or it will go badly for you.”

“But I just can’t help myself.” Belladonna wiped away the tears with her hand, but her face was still damp and her eyes stung.

“I knew you would say that, so I have arranged for brother Vitus to attend you.”

At a gesture the door reopened, larger than before. It slowly revealed a massive form of polished red and white enameled metal. It stepped slowly into the cell, each step shaking the floor. The dreadnought bulked huge and reducing the free space to a pittance, dwarfing the chaplain who stood in stark black against the red and white stripes on Vitus’ left leg.

“Emperor’s blood,” was all Belladonna could say, and in a whisper at that.

“A noble sentiment,” the chaplain said. “I am sure if you honestly devote yourself to prayer there may be hope for you yet. I’m sure Vitus can remind you of any devotions that you may have forgotten since your fall.”

The dreadnought spoke, “I remember all of the words.” Its voice deep and mechanical, booming painfully loud in the small confines of the cell, “All of them.” The vision slot of the sarcophagus gleamed with a red light that cast odd shadows on the white walls.

The chaplain placed a hand on the top of the dreadnought’s leg armour; “Vitus was always a model of devotion witch, and a credit to our order. He remains so. You would do well to learn from his example.” Belladonna just gaped at the monstrosity.

“I also hope you see that cooperation with brother Aurelius would be a good start.” The chaplain turned at that and departed the cell. The door slid closed behind him, leaving Belladonna alone with Vitus.

The dreadnought had begun before the door closed, and she could hear the chaplain laugh as the dreadnought began to speak, “Imperator nostor; qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum.”

Belladonna sank to her knees, tears falling anew. The words were familiar, a ghost of a past she had discarded long ago. But they were wrong, and she looked up at the dreadnought, “In caelis?” She didn’t know the word, it didn’t belong.

Vitus merely continued, oblivious, “Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua.”

Korvus 21:23, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran