Prologue of the whole story: s/12967125/1/Small-Fish-in-a-Big-Pond-Prologue

Volume 1 starts here: s/12967139/1/Small-Fish-in-a-Big-Pond-Volume-1-Episode-1-Alackaday

Previous episode: s/12975411/1/Volume-1-Episode-2-Unbreakable-Litany

Aphedron the Magnificent was chilling in the bath as he usually did in the evening. Red and blue tiles of the verandah were still hot to the touch, but the sun was already so low its scarlet rays couldn't get through the lush foliage of the evergreen garden.

The rogue inquisitor's interrogator was still sitting in the corner with a dataslate in her hands, buttoned up to the collar, neck and chin wrapped in her scarf. Such an irresponsible moron had been unable to raise her as real operatives Aphedron had seen during the Great War. She was afraid even when trying to answer to his jokes. She hadn't probably ever seen a naked man either. Let alone a man so magnificent.

'Reading is bad for the eyes, they say, but mostly for the personality.' He sat up with lazy grace and looked at his captive-guest. 'Most smarties I've known have got bird feet and beaks but lost every degree of appeal.'

'You suggest contemplating your magnificence instead, I do remember,' the girl put her dataslate on the floor, gave him a wily glance and flushed.

'Or just have a look past the palm trees and magnolias. What do you see there?'

'The old fortress. Half-buried in sand, it has just appeared from the mist on the horizon when the sun started setting.'

'It's called the Casbah by the locals, but I've found a hundred other names mumbled by mad witches and written down by nerdy scribes. It is known to store the greatest of treasures, my old friend told me uncounted centuries ago.'

He doubted whether the Panther could be still called his friend. They were much similar in character and attitude, and had been close as brothers when his own legion was down to just two hundred, and the Panther's Luna Wolves were full of joy and vigour under the leadership of their newfound sire. While the Warmaster hadn't ruined Aphedron's youthful hopes yet.

First the Panther changed after he had lost his squad on a backwater planet of forgotten shrines. An ambitious void-born child of some pirate, he hadn't spoken much about his parents before, but when he woke up from a drug-induced sleep after the operation, his unconscious ramblings made many of his brethren mock him behind his back. A Queen's son and heir.

He didn't lie on that day. He waited for the future riot outbreak with hidden delight to use his enchanted royal relics and pave his way to ascension. Aphedron himself didn't share his joy as he was a spoiled child of a wealthy family. He'd left his rich but stale world to get rid of an unwanted marriage and the inevitable transformation into a fat lazy swine clad in gold.

Mirthful Children of a majestic Father, deemed worthy to bear His symbol on their armour. While their brilliant gene-sire hadn't turned into a hysterical serpent yet. Aphedron didn't want to choose sides on Istvaan or on Terra. The Great Riot meant drugs, wine and women. On credit, as he'd learned with centuries of debauchery. He didn't want to become a daemon prince as many of his friends and peers. He'd rebelled against the Autocrat not to get into a worse kind of slavery. His lustful patron was but mindless thirst, ready to drink his soul as it had swallowed countless Aeldari souls with its birth scream.

His hope was there, beyond the sand-ridden houses of the abandoned village, beyond the silky sea of dunes. The wind grew stronger. It brought back the titillating smell of musk and ambergris that never left his dreams after the first attempt to open the sealed golden gates of the Casbah. Another unsullied latent psyker to tempt the beastly guards of the place. You should have left your mentor long ago if you had an ounce of common sense, girl.

The perfumed bathing water was getting cooler. Aphedron reached out for the interrogator, and his wet tentacle slapped her on the rear. She flinched and leapt aside.

'Nothing personal. Just be so kind to pour me a glass of good wine to warm up before the journey.'

She approached him cautiously and put the glass on the small table next to the bath. Aphedron spread his tentacles and licked his lips with his serpentine tongue. He swallowed the wine with a quick gulp and stood up before the interrogator in all his stark naked magnificence. To her credit, she had guts not to look away. Aphedron ran his finger down her cheek.

'Come with me to the Casbah, my little one.'