To Bear the Harsh Burden
A non-profit-making Warhammer 40000 fanfiction by Juubi Karakuchi
(I'm sorry it took so long to get this together, but I'll try to entertain you as best I can to make up for it. This is my Christmas gift to all readers of "To ourselves we must be true". Just so you know, this is set after "To ourselves we must be true" and deals with the character of Valarion and his people, the benighted human faction called the Alliance of High Humanity, though their 'Codex' name is the 'Silver Men'. Dan Abnett's novel 'Horus Rising' has been an inspiration for this piece, as it gave me some ideas as to how a non-Imperial human faction might look and function. All that said, this is going to be an 'Inquisitor' type story, with a more focus on characters and small scale action, but don't worry, the action will be plentiful. Also, since there is already an Inquistor Constantine, his namesake in my previous work is now Inquisitor Konstantin Vimiero.)
"It was once said that he who fights with monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. Yet the human cannot defeat the monster, for to be beyond the human is the very definition of the monster, or else the divine. To fight the monster is to know the monster, and to know the monster is to become the monster. Better to ask what he can do before he falls, to ask how many monsters he can fight before he himself becomes a monster. As he gazes into the abyss, so the abyss gazes into him."
Attributed to Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn
Imperium – Vermane – Small Ecclesiarchy Priory on Eastern Continent
"What is it now, Brother Melchior?" the Prior groused irritably.
"Forgive me for disturbing your prayers, Father-Prior," Brother Melchior was breathless from having run the length of the Priory. "There is an incident taking place in the transept. Please come at once."
"By the throne, why must you disturb me for something like this?" the Prior growled, heaving his ample frame to its feet and snatching up his crozier. "I thought the faithful would have taken their leave by now."
"It is a young man Father-Prior," Brother Melchior scuttled along beside the Prior as he exited his chambers and strode along the torch-lit corridor. "I…I don't know what to make of it Father-Prior!"
"Kindly do not panic, Brother Melchior," the Prior replied peremptorily. Two lesser monks had to press themselves to the walls to allow his bulk to pass.
"Brother Faramond fears it might be another case of Gathalamor syndrome, Father-Prior."
"Emperor's blood!" the Prior blasphemed, paused, then made the sign of the Eagle. "Another lunatic!? Why did Brother Faramond not have the Frateris-brothers throw him out!?"
"That's the problem, Father-Prior," Melchior replied as they rounded the corner and passed through an arch into the main transept. The Prior paused, taking in the strange sight.
A crowd consisting of several of the Priory's novices along with some pilgrims and local worshippers was gathered in a semi-circle around the western wall of the transept. Frantic yelling was coming from within the semi-circle, though he could not make out what was being said.
"Brother Faramond!" he called to a monk who was waiting on the edge of the crowd. Brother Faramond was tall and bony, his skull-like head shaved bald.
"Father-Prior," Faramond noticed the Prior and genuflected. "My apologies for this disturbance, but you must hear this."
"What is it, Brother Faramond?" The Prior was surprised. In forty years he had never seen Brother Faramond like this. Being the Master of Novices was enough to harden anyone, but Faramond actually looked rattled. "Who is this troublemaker Brother Melchior has told me about?"
"Here, Father-Prior," Faramond gestured towards the crowd, nervousness creeping into his tone. "Make way for the Prior!"
At his command, two Frateris Militia who had been at the front of the crowd turned and pushed through the throng, clearing a path for the Prior. The Prior stepped through the gap, not noticing the pilgrims clutching at the hem of his robes. He could only see what was right in front of him.
The youth was backed against the wall of the transept. He had black hair reaching to his waist, tangled and frantic. He wore the grey cloak of a pilgrim, though the Prior could make out white material underneath. In his hand was a narrow glowing blade, which he held in front of him like a ward of protection. The Prior understood why the Frateris Militia were being so cautious. Their staves would be of no use against a power sword.
"He bade me!" the youth barked. "He bade me!"
"Bade you what!?" yelled one of the novices, who had not yet noticed the Prior's arrival.
"Now, now," Brother Faramond spoke in the calm but firm tone he used when dealing with troublesome novices. "Put your weapon down young man. This is a Chapel of the God-Emperor."
"He bade me!" the youth rounded on Faramond, pointing the glowing blade straight at him. "He bade me seek it!"
"Seek what?" the Prior edged closer. "My son, who was it who bade you?"
"He bade me! From the Throne he bade me!"
"Bade you what!?" Looking for the usual signs of madness or Gathalmor syndrome, the Prior looked straight into the youth's eyes. He immediately wished he had not.
"It is consummated," there was silence as the youth spoke again. "The Silver Men have entered the place of testing."
"The Silver Men?" Brother Melchior whispered. No one replied.
"The children of gold and the children of stone shall do battle under the gaze of the eye." His voice echoed off around the chapel.
His eyes lost focus. The blade fell from his limp hand, the glowing blade retreating into the handle as it fell to clatter on the stone floor. The youth lay slumped across the stones, cloak askew to reveal a white tunic lined with blue.
"A Prophet!" cried one of the Pilgrims.
"He speaks the word of the God-Emperor!" screamed another. A wailing cacophony arose from the pilgrims, of chanted prayers and impromptu hymns sung out of tune, as they pushed against the ring of Frateris Militia holding them back.
"Out!" the Prior roared, feeling the situation slipping out of his control. "Get them out!"
The Frateris militia forced the pilgrims away, herding them towards the main doors. As they did, he motioned at the fallen youth.
"Take him up to the sacristy! Novices, back to your dormitories! Forget what you have seen!" The novices quickly retreated. As Brother Faramond carried the youth away, the Prior noticed the handle of his power-sword lying in a corner, beneath a statue of Saint Morgenthal. Hurriedly, before anyone saw it, he picked it up and thrust it into the sleeve of his habit. As the Chapel emptied, Brother Melchior hurried over.
"What was it, Father-Prior?"
"I don't know," the Prior replied, only half-truthfully. "But this is beyond our remit. I must inform the Bishop of what has happened here."
"His Grace will not be happy," Melchior observed. "With the all the pilgrims at this time of year, there could be trouble when word of this gets out."
"I have no choice," the Prior replied gravely, pulling the sword handle from his sleeve and examining it again. "I have contacts within the Cathedral Chapter who can bring our news quickly to his Grace's ear. That done, we can only trust in the God-Emperor's benevolence."
"May his purpose be swiftly revealed," Melchior intoned piously.
Imperium –Kar Duniash – Secret Inquisitorial Dock
The stars were bright.
Not that this was any way unusual. They were always bright. They were stars, after all.
Inquisitor Tiberius Denathril was in no mood for such considerations. Neither for that matter was he in any mood for visitors, Inquisitorial or otherwise.
But the repairs to Absolution's warp drives would take some time. Until then, he was stuck at Kar Duniash , and had no way of avoiding Inquisitor Myeskyn DeVeron's visit.
"Are you certain you will not reconsider, Tiberius?"
"No, Lord DeVeron, I will not."
"This is becoming an obsession, Tiberius." The older Inquisitor stood beside him, speaking gently, as though reproaching a wayward nephew. "I can understand your feelings on this matter, but this investigation has gone on too long. Not only are there more pressing matters that you might attend to, but you've been monopolising the Absolution."
"I was under the impression," Denathril turned to face him, his tone vehement, "that the Absolution was mine to use as I see fit, my reward for bringing in Heisenschaft."
"Your reward was that thing you keep locked up on Deck 17," DeVeron replied pointedly. "You ruffled quite a few feathers by moving in on the techno-heretic. Some of our esteemed colleagues had plans for him."
"Another plot to side-step the Adeptus Mechanicus," Denathril snorted. "No wonder the Tech-Priests were so grateful. Draconis was a rare find."
"And may the Emperor be praised that it is no longer in the wrong hands," DeVeron pre-empted him. "But the fact remains, Tiberius. Your investigation is becoming an obsession."
"Would you wish Inquisitor Vimiero's killer to go unpunished?"
"Tiberius," the elder Inquisitor laid a fatherly hand on his shoulder. "I understand, by Emperor I do. Konstantin was my colleague, and a dear friend. I want to see those responsible brought to justice just as much. But we have a wider duty, and your investigation is upsetting the wrong people."
"I will not be swayed, Lord DeVeron." DeVeron sighed, shaking his not-quite-bald head.
"A shame then, that you will not reconsider," he said wistfully. "It is a rare thing to discover a human civilisation that has not been corrupted. Such a thing has not happened since Macharius. And the incident on Picard's Landing suggests that they are puissant indeed."
"Picard's Landing!?" Denathril scoffed. "Please tell me I am mistaken my Lord, for those were the words of a naïve man!"
"You do not believe the findings of the Inquiry?" DeVeron asked mildly, sounding almost amused.
"No my Lord, I do not. The idea that a pack of benighted techno-heretics could have overwhelmed an Astartes Company is laughable. The Crimson Guardians may be somewhat eccentric, but they are perfectly competent, and this so-called Alliance of High Humanity could not have defeated them without massive reinforcements."
"Which in turn would almost certainly have drawn the attention of the sub-sector Augur-stations" the elder Inquisitor completed his statement for him. "It seems strange, doesn't it, that their Lordships have omitted this fact."
"It's not strange, it's blatantly obvious. Some secret binds these events together. The Crimson Guardians know something, I'm certain of it."
"And they would not tell you, though you returned to them the bodies of the slain?"
"No indeed," Denathril replied. "Neither would they let me interrogate the survivor, a certain Brother-Sergeant Hikaru."
"Strange. Dare I suppose you found the Captain's sword? I thought they could at least offer you a snippet for returning it."
"I did. A rare sword, one of a set of seven. But they gave me this in return." Denathril patted the curved sword at his hip. They had made in the style of their native blades, but enhanced with Imperial technology and Astartes craftsmanship. It was a rare show of gratitude.
"To shame you into shutting up and going away." DeVeron chuckled at his younger colleague's discomfiture. "They have their funny little ways on Joukai."
"It was deliberate!" Denathril snarled. "They wanted rid of me for a reason! Consider, my Lord, that their Lordships would blame the losses on the so-called High-Humans, and then the Crimson Guardians meekly go along with it!? The majority of the weapons used on Picard's Landing were Imperial-pattern! The forensics and ballistics proved it! And what of their ships that escaped safely!?"
"Do you suppose then, that their Lordships are hiding something?" DeVeron cocked his head as he asked the question. "That they are covering for something or someone?"
"I'm certain of it!" Denathril clenched his fist in vehemence. "They could not have made such obvious mistakes otherwise!"
"Then you should not be so certain, Tiberius," the kindly Inquisitor was suddenly deadly serious. "Some things are best left hidden, and your dragging them into the light could do untold damage."
Tiberius Denathril cursed himself for a damned fool. He had let the elder Inquisitor goad him into revealing his position. He had lost the initiative.
"You are putting yourself in considerable peril Tiberius," DeVeron stepped closer, till their faces were almost touching. "It would do you well to go on the mission, for if nothing else it will prove to their Lordships that you are not obsessed. I need the Absolution in your absence anyway."
Denathril was angry and embarrassed, but he knew he had no choice.
"I'll sweeten the deal," DeVeron went on. "If you agree to this and lend me Draconis, then I'll tell you something very interesting." Denathril did not reply, but stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists, seething in anger and humiliation.
"I implore you, Tiberius. Do it for Konstantin's sake, if not for your own."
"Very well," Denathril eventually replied. "But I cannot lend you Draconis. It would take too long to teach you how to control him. If it's that kind of mission, you're better off with an Eversor Assassin."
"I'll make do with your Afriel then. Rax was his name?" DeVeron did not seem much put out.
"All right," Denathril turned to face him once again. "Now, keep your promise!"
"Now now Tiberius, no need to be angry," DeVeron admonished, turning to leave the room. "An Inquisitorial Frigate is waiting to take you to Vermane. You had best leave within the day."
"All right," the elder Inquisitor turned to face him again, chuckling at how easily he could enrage his younger colleague. "The young man on Vermane. According to his testimony, he was on Picard's Landing when it happened." He left without another word.
Denathril stared blankly after him, rooted to the spot, as the ramifications sunk in. A witness? What might this young man know?
He had to go. He knew this now, with terrible certainty. To have been goaded by DeVeron was humiliating, but pride was costly compared to such a prize. With the Crimson Guardians keeping silent, the trail had gone cold once again. He could not let this chance escape him.
It took only a thought to summon his companions. Rax, Magos Petrovitch, Medicae Franke and Investigator Sylve Dane entered the chamber within a few minutes.
"I have been burdened with a task of considerable importance," he began, scanning his eyes over the quartet. "I must leave for Vermane within the day, and I may be gone for some time. Until then, I need you to continue the investigation in my absence."
"You won't let us tag along?" Sylve cocked her head.
"I cannot, Sylve. I must go alone this time." Denathril turned to Rax. "Rax, Inquisitor DeVeron has requested your services for a mission he is undertaking. Your acquiesce was the price of some useful information." He hated doing this to his most loyal companion, but what choice was there?
"It's no problem, Tiberius," Rax replied, seemingly unfretted.
"Very good, thank you Rax." Denathril did his best to stay brusque and formal. "As for the rest of you, contact the rest of my staff and continue the investigation. Sylve will be in overall charge until I return. Is that clear?" Franke and Petrovitch both nodded. Denathril then dismissed all but Sylve.
"Sylve, I need you to contact Adept Carius on Mittenhein. Tell him to meet me on Vermane with all due haste. He is to bring Beynon."
Sylve did not respond. Her face did not even twitch. Her dark eyes remained constant. But Denathril knew that the Investigator understood. He sensed her unease. She was the only member of his staff who knew what he meant.
"It will be done, Tiberius."
Alliance of High Humanity, frontier System DK, Sentinel Fleet Battleship Kiluvaro, in orbit of fourth planet, Dethneskhir.
"Report from Sensors. Possible warp distortion on the edge of the system."
Commander Sobukare snapped out of his reverie as he heard the words.
"Any indication as to size?" he asked curtly.
"None, Commander," Nim replied, just as curtly. The trustee-Humanoid was incapable of being offended, even though he was allowed enough sentience for speech.
"What's the precise range?"
"Best estimate 1 billion kilometres." Sobukare did his best not to scowl in annoyance. Long-range scanning was unreliable at the best of times, especially passive scanning. Even if this was a warp distortion, it was probably nothing of interest.
"Did Subaltern Mirosabo have any suggestions?"
"Subaltern Mirosabo insists that it is the Orkoids."
"He might be right," Sobukare thought. "But if he's wrong…" It was not a pleasant prospect either way. Orkoid ships had been appearing on-and-off for almost a year. The Subaltern's conclusion, though premature, did not surprise him.
"Summon the Senior Tribune," he said. As Nim turned and left the bridge, Sobukare turned his attention to the bridge crew. "Orders off to the Sentry line. Be alert for incoming enemies." The bridge crew responded quickly, showing a degree of the efficiency he would expect from the crew of a battleship. If only the same could be said of the other crews in this squadron.
"Commander." The communication slammed into his mind, adding a migraine to his annoyances. "Please come up to the Augurium. There is a matter requiring your attention."
Sobukare was already tense, but now he was thoroughly annoyed. It was not enough that his lacking the power of the Inner Mind had made promotion extremely difficult. Being unable to process telepathic messages, he had to endure cranial transmissions instead. As he stalked off the bridge, he wondered what nonsensical reason they had for disturbing him. Anger and tension tormented him all the way up to the Augurium, and it was not until he arrived that his anger faded.
But it was no comfort.
The Augur lay motionless, slumped halfway out of the meditation chamber. Blood trickled from ears, eyes, and nose, pooling on the floor. Hands clawed at the bare floor, or rather they had done, for the Augur's body was stiff.
"When did this happen?"
"A few moments ago, Commander," replied Fen, another Trustee. Behind him, several of his fellow Humanoids were helping the surviving Augurs from their chambers. They all looked haggard, and many were bleeding also.
"Was he scrying?"
"Yes, Commander." Sobukare clenched his fists. This was more serious than he had realised.
"Bridge! Ready the ship for battle!"
It was certainly not the Orkoids. He only hoped the misjudgement would not cost Mirosabo his position. He desperately needed experienced officers.
The Kiluvaro became a hive of activity. Humanoid ratings in pale blue jumpsuits jogged past Sobukare in the corridors, moving with characteristic efficiency. Pale-skinned, elfin-featured, their faces were devoid of emotion. They were bred not to fear, not to become anxious, not to get stressed. Such things were human frailties, and there was plenty of that about. The Humanoids and Trustees might be unaffected, but his officers and specialists were another matter. He might not have the power, but he could sense the tension all the same.
Finally he made it to the bridge. All seemed to be in order. A score of Trustees sat trance-like at their stations, linked into the ship's network, coordinating the hundreds of Cogitators and tens of thousands of Humanoid ratings. His officers moved between them, crisp and efficient. The remedial training was starting to pay off.
"Multiple objects passing the sixth planet," Nim reported. "Course and speed constant. Sensors report possible energy blooms."
Then it was certain.
"Where is the Tribune!?" he snapped. They needed the Senior Tribune. The chain of command was absolute. He might be the Kiluvaro's Commander, but only the Senior Tribune could give orders to the fleet. The enemy was closing fast.
"The Tribune is not responding to summons," Nim replied, untouched by his frustration.
Sobukare cursed. What was going on?
"Sub-Commander Kabufiur, you have command. Nim, come with me." He strode off the bridge, Nim following after.
A few minutes of angry striding and a brief grav-lift ride brought him to the door of the Senior Tribune's sanctum. As usual, Dao was standing there.
Had he been in a better mood, he might have taken the time to admire the Humanoid. The exquisite face, with its fine bone structure and subtle musculature, the narrow eyes and only slightly pointed ears. Its body was lean and powerful, concealed beneath a coat and pants of black synleth. Glossy black hair hung to its waist.
How many months, years, had been spent in its creation? How many hours of painstaking work? Gene-crafting to the tiniest detail, its enhancements lovingly constructed by the most skilled artisans.
But Sobukare was in a thoroughly foul mood, and attempted to enter the Sanctum, pointedly ignoring Dao until the Humanoid moved to block his path.
"Commander." Even the voice was a work of art. "Lord Nimarkao is not to be disturbed."
"Out of my way Humanoid!" Sobukare snapped. "We are under attack! I must speak with the Tribune!" He shoved Dao out of the way, opened the door with a thought via his circlet and stormed into the sanctum, Nim following behind.
The sanctum was vast and opulent, equal to any palace. The walls and ceiling were fashioned from the most expensive sirochite, ornamented with tall columns, statues and paintings, all decorated beyond any consideration of taste. Sobukare ignored the decadence and strode on, Nim still following along behind him. He could not make out another set of footsteps, but he was still fairly certain that Dao was following on also.
Eventually he found the Senior Tribune in the main chamber. The main feature was a vast panoramic window, covering one wall of the oval chamber. The catamaran hull of the Kiluvaro could be seen stretching out in front, tapering to twin points.
He could also see the other ships of the Squadron, still in their regular positions. He could not afford to tarry long.
"What brings you here Sobukare?" The Senior Tribune was seated in the centre of the chamber. The ornate throne swivelled silently to face him, and Sobukare shuddered.
The Tribune's artificially youthful face was stretched and lined, his eyes bloodshot and bulging. The slight smile seemed oddly out of place.
"Sobukare? You seem troubled."
"We are under attack, Senior Tribune." Sobukare did his best not to let his discomfort show. "Your presence is needed, Senior Tribune."
"Under attack?" Nimarkao regarded this for a moment, seeming almost amused. "Why, Commander, whatever made you think that?"
"Their ships are upon us!" Sobukare almost shouted, shocked at the Tribune's levity. He could see the golden crown upon Nimarkao's brow, the ship's master key. He remembered his resentment at having to surrender it to the Tribune, even though regulations demanded it. Without the Tribune to give to orders, the fleet could not be commanded. Without the Tribune to unlock it, he could not use the command throne on the bridge. Such was as the Synod liked it.
"Of course they are upon us," Nimarkao replied with a chuckle, getting up from the throne and strolling towards the long viewport, his robes trailing behind him. "I have brought them here. It was my will that they be upon us."
"Who, Senior Tribune?" Sobukare's anger was fading, being replaced with something else.
"My masters," Nimarkao's reply was little more than a whisper. "My masters are coming. We must welcome them." He turned to face Sobukare, causing the Commander another involuntary shudder. "There is nothing to fear."
In that instant Sobukare understood, with horrible certainty. He had to isolate the master crown. He had to…
"What is this!?" Nimarkao's eyes bulged. Sobukare screamed as the mental blow struck. He felt as though his brain was crushed inside his skull. As he fell to his knees, it was all he could do to tear off the circlet, breaking the connection.
"You waste your time, Sobukare." Nimarkao advanced upon him, his face twisted in a manic smile. "My masters are coming, and with them the light." His bloodshot eyes lost focus, and his voice became strangely distant.
"They are coming, and with them…bliss. And I shall be their voice… adored… beloved… worshipped… the divine path." Then his lucidity returned, if it could be called lucidity.
"I can't let you get in the way, my dear Sobukare. You must wait here, to greet the coming dawn. Nim, make sure he doesn't do anything…ill-advised."
Nim did not respond. Nimarkao stared at the Trustee in a mixture of confusion and anger. It was now Sobukare's turn to chuckle as he drew the en-pistol at his hip.
"I couldn't cut you off, Tribune," he spat the title as he got to his feet. "But I only need Nim." He smiled in grim satisfaction as the Trustee drew his own en-pistol. Both of them knew what had to be done.
Dao had been there after all. And were it not for Nim, that one blade-like chop might have crushed his spine, paralysing or killing him. He darted away as Nim raised his en-pistol to fire, only to have it knocked aside by Dao's free hand, the shot burning a smoking hole in the sirokite floor. The two Humanoids fought, forearms a blur, shots flying wide, neither able to lay a blow on the other.
Seeing his opportunity, Sobukare advanced on the Tribune. The enormity of what he was doing had not yet registered, nor did he particularly want to think about it. The Tribune, who now scrambled away from him in terror, was his appointed superior, and worth his life a hundred times over.
"What will you do!?" Nimarkao hissed, backing away as Sobukare advanced. "Summon the Keepers? No, Commander, not even the Okairo can stop my Masters!"
For that one occasion, Sobukare felt a remarkable affection for the Alliance secret police. Now, only they could protect him from the Synod. Only they would understand why he was doing this.
Nimarkao thrust a blue-veined hand forward. Sobukare felt himself being flung backward across the chamber, feeling as though his whole body was on fire. He barely felt himself hit the far wall, such was the pain.
By some superhuman effort, he tried to rise. Nimarkao was now standing up, arms spread wide, wreathed in unnatural light. Sobukare tasted metal in the air as his ragged breaths became clouds of white vapour. Why was it suddenly so very cold? And how had the Tribune achieved such power? It had not been in his file.
"The divinity flows through me!" Nimarkao roared in crazed exultation, eyes glowing, lightning crackling about him. Dao moved to stand beside him, and Sobukare guessed that Nim was in no position to help.
It was his last coherent thought before the psychic onslaught struck home.
(A Merry Christmas to all to whom it is relevant. Hopefully this chapter, very long by my usual standards, will keep you entertained long enough for me to prepare the next one.)