Prologue: 983.M41, Adair VI, Obscuras Sector-

In a spartan but clean room in a residential complex near the local spaceport, a man on the comfortable but sparsely furnished bed in that room sighed with a combination of contentment and sadness. Next to him, a slim form in the bed mumbled something contentedly as she began to rouse.

The man turned to her as her eyes opened. "Something on your mind?" she asked softly, as she noticed the contemplative look on his face.

"Oh, sorry," Imperial Navy Flight Officer Garen Danar replied. "I was just thinking that my shore leave ends in five days."

The woman in the bed stretched slightly. "Still five days to enjoy each other's company," she said, smiling at the thought. "I can still show you around the city... maybe we could find a quiet spot in the Ecclesiarchy cathedral grounds... I know a perfect place I visit when I'm off duty with the Communications Logos..." she trailed off.

"And after that?" Garen said. "After that I fly away and never come back." He stroked her cheek, and she closed her eyes and smiled as she felt his fingers on her skin.

"You know, it doesn't have to be like that," she said.

"What?" The surprise in his voice was obvious.

The woman opened her eyes. "Take me with you." Her voice suddenly gained enthusiasm as she thought about it. "I'm sure your ship needs a communications tech. Take me with you to the stars. You always tell me how beautiful the stars are from space."

Silence greeted her hopeful thought.

"Oh," she said, suddenly chastened. She seemed to shrink slightly away from the man. "I'm one of those girls, am I?"

"No!" came the immediate response. "No... it's just that... it's dangerous up there. You aren't used to living in space, or on a ship. You're not used to having to live with the same people day in, day out, for years at a time. Adair is..." he looked out the window, to see the still mostly untouched landscape of the agri-world stretch out into space to the horizon. "Adair is a paradise. You'll be far happier here. You like the space, and the sky, and the ground beneath your feet."

The girl in the bed nodded sadly, seeing the logic in his words. Then she brightened. "Well, we have five days left. No use moping." She silenced the man's melancholy reverie with a tickle, and a long kiss on the lips.

Five days later, Garen Danar kissed Raelin Clarinel for a long time, clasped a dataslate with her picture on it to his heart, and then joined the line of bored looking Navy personnel waiting to be transferred back to the Dauntless class light cruiser he called home. The five days he'd had with her were wonderful. It was good to end it on a high note, he thought. No hard feelings. And it was only ten or so more years before he could retire.

"I'll see you again, I promise!" he called out to the girl in the habit of the Adepta Sororitas, waiting with the other people who had come to see off loved ones. "One day I'll have to retire, and I'll come visit!"

The Sororitas smiled and waved back. "I'll look forward to it, Garen!" Her grin spread wider as a thought occurred to her. "But don't expect me to look quite like my data slate picture!" They shared a laugh.

Thinking fondly of her, the pilot turned, entered the personnel shuttle that would take him away from her, and left Adair VI vowing to return one day.

He never did.

You couldn't blame him, really.

Three years later, Adair VI was lost to the Imperium, overrun by the forces of the Chaos Gods.

***

998.M41, Fyracus IV, Obscuras Sector

The world of machines is a fascinating one. It is not quiet, as what the ignorant would tell you, nor are machines the soulless pieces of material they are sometimes made out to be. Machines have spirits and thoughts and minds. They hum and chatter and throb, and from their metal and electronic innards they help mankind in all their forms to better subdue and control the forces of nature in this cruel, barbaric universe.

Any Mechanicus initiate could tell you that, but for Alera Jumil, Inquisitor of his Divine Majesty's Ordo Hereticus for nearly 110 years, these truths were more self evident than they were to other people who didn't worship the machine god. These, and other, less glamorous and edifying truths, she pried gently from the perfect metal souls that made up the computers and cogitators that served the glory of mankind.

Her eyes were now shifting repeatedly from left to right, scanning lines of blue text that ran across a computer terminal in a fairly well appointed office. The Inquisitor slouched over a sumptuous chair that until recently had been the local Ecclesiarchy Cardinal's, and soon would be again… if she found her quarry and he wasn't it. Her hands were idly thumbing the crystal display, scrolling up and down to see what new truths the computer could find. The Inquisition expected audits of all planetary facilities that comprised the Imperium, the better to find those who had betrayed the trust given to them by the Emperor. The Ordo Hereticus provided them.

The screen suddenly changed into lines of machine code that were unintelligible to one who was not trained in the arts of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Or someone who had spent their lives dedicated to drawing secrets out of machines. "OK, we're in," she remarked casually to the figure sitting placidly on the desk beside her. Alera pulled out a small lead from the terminal's interface and placed it behind her ear, the fingers searching for her machine interface plug. With a small, satisfied click, the wire connected, and the Inquisitor saw- no, felt the surge of information that pulsed through the machine spirit of the Cathedral's computer. Several other thick cables ran from the computer on the Cardinal's desk to the Universal Machine Interface plugged into the top of Magos Ally Danar's head, of the Adeptus Mechanicus. "See if you can't locate some incriminating evidence," the Inquisitor said. The Magos had her scalp plate in her hands, and she was stroking the ceramite strands posing as hair grafted lovingly onto it by herself. Her left eye dilated in and out precisely as a camera's would, as if she was scanning for something that she could find in her mind's eye.

"Yes, Inquisitor," she answered, in a voice that was sweet and warm and probably the most human thing about her. Her interface began to hum softly, as she continued to look straight ahead, as if reading something in the distance.

"I have to ask, Inquisitor. Should I change the cut?"

"Hmmm?" The Inquisitor pursed an eyebrow in slight confusion.

"Oh, the Hair style on my scalp plate, Inquisitor," Ally continued, smiling sheepishly as the display on the Desk continued to scroll down until it became a blur. "I've wanted to change it for a while, and my fleshy darling doesn't mind, but… I'm not sure if I should." Pet names for spouses were never quite as strange as those between the Mechanicus and human.

Alera looked at the scalp plate, which the Magos was still gently fingering. "Well, the Ecclesiarchy texts do quote that in matters of the Matrimonial, a spouse must take the other's wishes into account when making decisions," she said, giving the matter some thought. "But they say nothing of your superior's wishes save his divine Majesty the Emperor and the Ecclesiarchy when it comes to fashion." The Inquisitor noticed something flash on the screen and in her mind. "Wait. Stop." The display of numbers and files slowed, then scrolled back to where the moment the Inquisitor had noticed something.

"You mentioned Incriminating, Inquisitor," Ally smiled. "I didn't think THIS kind of incriminating."

The display now showed a fairly nubile Ecclesiarchy sister disrobing before entering the communal hygiene chambers. Half fascinated and half disturbingly amused, Alera reached out and tapped the terminal's display a few more times, searching for more files. The Cardinal had several folders containing live feeds of the sororitas hygiene chambers.

The Inquisitor smirked slightly, a twitch that twinged the side of her lips up a fraction. "All right, keep searching." The display started to scroll again. "Do you want to tell the Sister Superior, or…"

"I would think I'd rather watch you do it, Inquisitor." The Magos giggled slightly. "I want to record the look on the Cardinal's face." She suddenly frowned, slightly, as something in the data stream caught her attention.

"Now This one might be interesting, Inquisitor," she said, as the terminal flashed a few commands the Magos had input through her mind. It showed a schematic of the Cathedral Complex, which then shifted to the side of the screen as another data window sprung up, filled with financial records. A small section of the schematic then flashed a bright red as Ally flagged it. It was well below any other level of the Cathedral, seemingly connected only by the sewage corridors. "Apparently I have recorded payments from the maintenance ledgers of the local Sororitas Chapter being spent on this area, which hasn't been used in…" Her head began to click softly as one of her internal cogitators strained with the raw data being fed to her of the Cathedral's history. "…twenty seven years." She stopped again. "I am picking up life forms in that room, however, from the Auspex feeds."

The Inquisitor frowned. This was more than simple fraud. "I have a feeling about this. I think I had better tell Garen."

She reached for the communicator strapped to her left wrist.

***

In another part of the Cathedral complex, Imperial Navy Flight Captain Garen Danar stared at his Auspex screen, pointing it at various architectural features. The image of a non descript man, with non descript appearance, he was a perfect Inquisitor's Investigator, someone who aroused no suspicion and hid a ferociously sharp intelligence behind the scruffiness of his appearance. And he could fly a shuttle pretty nicely, too. The sister assigned to him as escort twittered nervously as he abruptly pointed the bulky device in his hands from statue to bust to cornice without performing the required rituals of obeisance. As he moved around, her robes rustled as she hurriedly performed each devotional both for her and for him.

"Sir, this is highly inappropriate," she began, only to be silenced with an urgent Hush from the pilot, who wore his Naval Service cap at the usual rakish angle, the one indication to the outside galaxy that he was not a run of the mill pilot. He tilted the Auspex at a wall and stared intently at the readout.

The sister stared at the wall. It was flat stonemasonry, built several thousand years ago by hardworking servitors and stone smiths. Her interest was piqued for a few seconds as she wondered what is possibly could have been that picked the Captain's interest. Then she waited. And stared at the wall.

The silence reigned for a few seconds more before the sister found the courage to ask what the matter was.

Garen grunted, walked up to the wall, and tapped it eight times with his knuckles, in a staccato, non rhythmic manner. It slid open, revealing a stairway into the darkness below the Cathedral. "Figures," he muttered. He turned to the sister, now looking intrigued at the stairwell and where it might lead to. "You may want to get some Armour on, Ma'am. And bring a squad," he said cheerily, pulling out a communicator from his Navy greatcoat. He was about to tap it when it chirped. He tapped it once and started before he could give the Inquisitor a chance to speak. "Nautasends Rose. Den abounds, darkness or light unknown. Awaiting strength, request?"

"Affirmed," came the response. "Darkness hides, illuminate. Illuminate parameters caution, awaiting strength, awaiting sisters, awaiting Rose." There was a short pause. "Aeronautica sends Nauta love," the Inquisitor said, her voice still deadpan.

Garen Danar laughed.

He figured that was the reason why he would never make Inquisitor.

***

The corridors underneath the Cathedral complex were dank with some sickly smell even worse than the raw sewage which ran down the canals within them. A multitude of light beams attached to consecrated Bolter guns crisscrossed the pitch black walls dripping with condensation as the Inquisitor and her Kill Team inched carefully into the void her Investigator had found.

They were sisters of battle with her, warriors with the unwavering fury of the Emperor and the righteousness that is borne of faith. Clad in black powered armour, the squad meticulously deployed around the Inquisitor and her Investigators, moving for maximum coverage and effect with the silence and assurance born of a thousand drills and many years spent cleansing the heretic. The two leading sisters had flamers. In the closed spaces underneath the Cathedral, they would be sisters of death.

Ally Danar turned to the Inquisitor. "Hear that?" she asked.

The Inquisitor stopped, waited for a moment, hearing nothing but the sounds of dripping water and the local vermin, then touched the comm. bead at her ear. It picked up sound at something of the same level that Ally's mechanical senses could pick up.

"Some sort of… chanting? About 100 metres ahead behind a locked door?" Alera whispered. The Magos nodded.

Within a minute, the entire kill team had set up around the door, which had an odd symbol inscribed on it that made everyone but Ally mildly ill. It was not a good sign.

"Don't tell me we're raiding a Waste Extraction Facility?" whispered Garen as he read the symbol painted on the metal door, in a slightly despairing tone. He did not volunteer for his Majesty's Service with the intent of spending much time near human waste.

"We are raiding a Waste Extraction Facility," answered the Inquisitor. "I want standard protocols as we go in. Don't shoot unless you think it's necessary, and I want survivors." The two sisters with flamers stood back, as two with gas grenades stood up to brace the door, silently extending riot prods from their belts.

The Inquisitor checked her Bolt Pistol one last time, comforted by the reassuring clack of the pins falling into place, and pumped her hand to signal the go. She raised her pistol, and fired two rounds into the lock mechanism. The door slid open.

All hell broke loose.

***

The Inquisitor was expecting some sort of hellish chaos cult and, being mildly psychic and an experienced member of his divine Majesty's Inquisition, she wasn't usually wrong on such things. She wasn't this time, either.

The waste extraction facility was large. It was a square room, with a raised dais and various old sewage processing machines and servitors lying unused where they were abandoned by their previous legitimate owners. The lights were bright and colourful, the air was filled with a soothing, gentle melody, and its occupants… well, they were not abiding by any approved Ecclesiastical Law that Alera could remember. And she could remember a great many things.

The two sisters wielding riot prods stormed into the room and found their naked sisters in battle cavorting in the most unspeakable manner on the floor, which appeared to have had a lush makeover in carpet. Bringing their prods down with far more force than necessary, they dragged two stunned (And twitching) bodies back out, only to be followed by the Inquisitor herself, the Magos, and the as usual scruffily attired Flight Captain and the Kill Team.

It was then that the chanting could be heard. Ululating in high to low, loud to soft, the Inquisitor found it hateful and disturbing and foreign, as did everyone else.

Except Garen. Garen thought it sounded vaguely familiar, although he didn't know quite why.

By then, the other occupants of the room had noticed that someone had barged in on their action. Some had guns, the others their own bodies, and others had improvised weapons. Sisters and priests and laymen of the Cathedral snarled and charged at the Kill team, and bullets and laser beams began to fill the enclosed spaces of the room. Some strange creature charged at the Inquisitor, throwing itself bodily at Alera's face with bone spurs for what used to be hands. Reflexively, the Inquisitor's eyes glowed a bright blue, and the abomination snapped back, as if pushed by some force field surrounding the Inquisitor. The bolt pistol in her hand jerked up, then barked twice. The Inquisitor reached for her back, flipping out a sword encrusted with ancient runes. She waded into the throng of cultists milling about in confusion, her eyes exuding a cyan brilliance as she slashed left and right.

Garen Danar couldn't shake the feeling of familiarity with the chanting going on. He dived behind a set of pipes stretching from floor to ceiling, which had some sort of sumptuous carving engraved into it. He looked around for the source of the chanting. And that hideous smell of human waste combined with some overpowering floral scent even now overpowering his nose.

The sisters, as usual, were killing in the efficient way they had been taught. Two shots in the chest, move on to the next target, two shots. It was an elegant dance of death they wove, swirling in a rustle of robes choreographed in perfect unison. Laser beams and bullets ate into polished armour, but did little to stop them or even knock them out of tempo. One lucky shot punched through the torso armour of a sister, and she allowed herself the luxury of a grimace of pain before she sprawled to the ground. The Investigator remembered the same, sweet girl who was only minutes ago trying desperately to placate the spirits he had disrespected.

Ally wasn't having much fun. Shrugging off the laser fire that was eating slowly into her torso chassis, the engineer's hands retracted into her forearm and came out as riot prods. She wielded them with consummate skill, blocking the majority of the fire coming at her with the charge field at the end of the prods and deftly pushing the heads into exposed cultist flesh. A bolter round smacked into her face, spinning her around with a cry of alarm both from her and her husband until she turned back, now a visage of terror. Where her eye used to be was only the red laser of the range finder for her artificial eye, set hollowly into a skull she had replaced years ago with a molybdenum titanium alloy. It was slightly dented.

Ally swore softly in her sweet, still human voice, and her right hand retracted, coming out of her forearm as a Laspistol. She returned the favour, and unfortunately her target did not have the advantage of an armoured skull.

The chanting continued to gnaw at Garen's mind as he took pot shots into the swirling melee of black clad sister and scantily clad former sister in front of him, trying more to keep the fighters behind cover than score hits. It was then that he noticed her, casually punching her hand through the torso armour of a sister of battle rated to withstand pressures no mortal human, not even the space marines, could physically assert. The Kill team retreated from the terrifying, almost angelic demon being in their midst, firing madly at the woman even now whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the sister she'd just impaled.

Garen Danar felt an even stronger feeling of foreboding dread.

She looked just like any sister of battle, except naked, and this time, with a set of bone spurs that rose out of her back like a grotesque parody of wings. She was the most beautiful creature he had seen in a long time.

"By the Emperor…" he whispered.

The demon withdrew its hand from the sister, clutching a heart that was still beating. The sister didn't look worried. She looked more ecstatic than anything as she slowly sank to the floor, bleeding her lifeblood out into the now lurid red fabric of the carpet. The demon sniffed the air, then smiled, and turned to face the now horrified shuttle pilot.

"Garen!" she squealed, with all the joy of an old friend who has met another after many years. "We meet again!" She held up her hand and caught a spray of bolter shells from the kill team, and then sister Hyrna turned her consecrated, blessed flamer to bear and spat out a line of promethium at the demon. When the flash cleared, a rather blackened woman looked around at herself, thought the scorch highlights flattered her features, and continued to slink over to the pilot, who found he couldn't move. Or think. He desperately tried to get his index finger to close over his laspistol, but it continued to refuse to budge. Sister Hyrna readied the line again, but as she was about to ignite it, a group of cultists in cover put down a withering barrage of fire. A bolter shell punched into Sister Hyrna's shoulder guard, blowing it, and most of her left arm off. With a cry of pain she was wrenched behind cover with the rest of the team.

The beautiful creature continued to slink slowly over to Garen. "Garen, Garen, it's been a long time! My, how I have missed you, my darling," the angelic beast said, her voice infused with delight, somehow resonating in his head. "My, you don't look a day over the last time I met you." Her lips glistened. "What have you been up to? You don't realise it, but I've always wondered what it would be like to make you… well, suffer for me." She smiled, and her slender hand stroked the pilot's cheek gently, in the way that Ally did.

"I'm quite sorry," Garen managed to croak out, a little confused. "I don't think we've met."

The demon smiled. "How could you forget me? I, Sister Raelin?"

Garen pictured her in the habit of the Adepta Sororitas, and it suddenly all made horrible, horrible sense.

And he suddenly realised he was very likely damned.

"Ah," she said, as she saw the light of recognition in his eyes, and bared her fangs with barely controlled rage. "Shore leave girls. You never seem to remember those, do you sailors? One in every port, it seems. But don't you worry, you weren't the worst thing that ever happened to me. You were nice enough not to sell me to the slavers when they came." She punched him in the gut, and he crumpled to the floor, stunned by the force of the blow. She picked him up, her voice now louder. "You were nice enough not to sacrifice me like a fething goat in front of a thousand screaming cultists, as they plucked my heart out and gave it to the Gods." She punched him again, and stars now flashed in front of his eyes as she picked his nearly insensate form up from the ground. Her next words almost came out as a hiss. "You were nice enough not to take me with you to the stars."

The pilot grimaced, as waves of guilt washed over him. "Raelin," he managed to squeak. "Please, I am..." he hated having to say this to a Demon, of all things, but he had to say it.

"I'm sorry."

Raelin cocked her head slightly, as if something stirred deep within her. Her eyes almost glowed with a certain sadness.

"You know," she whispered. "You know, I might have once have accepted that." Then she leaned in. "Not any more, of course." The light of sympathy in her eyes faded and died.

A chainsword blade revved harshly as it crashed into Raelin's neck, giving off sparks. The Demon, slightly annoyed, jerked her head back, sending the chainsword flying, stood and turned to face her sudden attacker. Facing her stood Ally, now with most of her robes and outer skin layer peeled off by flame, claw, and laser. Her one human eye closed suspiciously on the demon woman, the laser rangefinder deliberately shining into Raelin's eyes in an attempt to blind her. Her body was ripped and torn in places, the pseudo flesh of her stomach parted to reveal the metal bone structure underneath, various machines under that blinking serenely. Her left hand was a mass of swords, the right jammed by battle damage into her standard hand mode.

"Other woman?" Raelin remarked to the still immobile Investigator.

"No. Wife," Ally said, and picked up a large machete from the floor with her right hand. Raelin gestured at the Magos, expecting her to freeze. The Mechanicus engineer's rangefinder laser dimmed slightly, then flared up again as Ally rained a flurry of blows on the bone winged creature with the power to crack ceramite carapace armour.

Raelin blocked them all with her hands. The chain swords, powered swords, mono bladed edges capable of ripping steel to shreds were blocked by what seemed to be human flesh. The demon laughed. "I can see why you like this one, my dear," she said to Garen, still straining to remove his mental blocks. "You replaced me with a machine, I see. Suits your... sensitivities." She grabbed Ally's right hand and flung her aside like garbage. The engineer hit the wall hard on her neck joints, and her head bent to an obscene angle from her body. She slid down the wall like a sack of bolts and stayed very still.

The rangefinder laser slowly dimmed into nothingness.

"I wouldn't worry too much," Raelin said casually, as she turned back to Garen. "She got to die quickly. But you! Aha, such fun we'll have!" A gentle blue glow suddenly washed over Garen, and he collapsed to the ground, twitching from the strain, but suddenly able to think again. The Demon woman snarled and faced the only human in the room who could match her powers. A sword appeared in her hand, dark with twisted runes in a language which made it hard to think.

The Inquisitor's robes were awash in blood, almost none of it hers. Steam hissed off the sword in her right hand, and smoke from the barrel of her Bolt Pistol. Alera Jumil's eyes glowed azure blue, exuding the full power of an Inquisitor of his Divine Majesty.

"Fight someone who can fight back, chaos scum," she growled.

Garen couldn't exactly remember how the fight went. He knew it was fast. He knew his boss and his wife's murderer fought at psychically enhanced speeds no one could possibly match in sight. Maybe Ally could record it…

A tear came to the pilot's eye.

***

The Inquisitor touched on every single piece of her training, her combat experience, the dirty tricks she'd learnt over a century of serving his Divine Majesty. Her senses approached the supernatural as she let go of her psychic energies, letting them fill her limbs with speed, steel her body, power her muscles beyond any human capacity. She let the heady power flow through her, untapped in this way since several lifetimes ago.

The memories came back with the flow of energy, as it always did when she tapped it.

She had accidentally started an electrical storm over her family's farm after an argument with her betrothed. She had run out into the fields, angry at him for some trivial transgression and at herself for being angry over it. She had hoped it would rain, and it did, an angry nimbus of cloud appearing from a cloudless sky to drench her (and her father's crops) with water. It was just before the Black ships came. Before the strange men asked about what she did with the rain, and about her little tricks she played on her siblings and nieces and nephews with her blue eyes, about the way she could sometimes wish for things and have them come true. They took her away in the night.

She remembered a time when she looked forward to a life being the wife of a man she loved, raising children, maybe starting her own business in the countryside. Of looking up into the sky with her beloved and counting the stars, and knowing that the Lord Emperor always looked out for them. Being happy.

She kept trying to wish herself back into her bed, to wish she was sleeping, that she would wake up to the smell of her mother's cooking in the kitchen for breakfast, a job she would soon have to learn herself. It never happened.

Her blade flicked at inhuman speed, aiming for limb and head and wing, for anything to drown out that old memory, the memory she tried to destroy with intellect and thought and humour and jadedness and the vengeance of justice in his Divine Majesty's name. She roared an inchoate cry of hatred for Chaos, that which had given her the cursed power to use. Her sword crashed again and again on the demon's weapon and deep into Raelin's flesh.

Then she realised she had made a mistake.

The demon blade shattered, and the Inquisitor stumbled forward, unbalanced. She swung desperately backward behind her, but it was too late. The demon gestured with her hand and disappeared, leaving only a puff of smoke and the smell of cordite.

***

Garen Danar saw that azure blade of light hiss as it spilled ruinous ichor from the beautiful demon. He saw that dark blade of evil drip with the mundane red of simple human blood. He saw the rainbow of colours that extended into light colours he could not explain as the two blades met and clashed. All he knew was that when he could move without twitching again, the Inquisitor was beside him, smiling tiredly down at him. Sister Hyrna stood behind her, looking concerned for her charge despite the fact she was missing an arm of her own. He heard some chanting in the background, but this time it was serene and filled him with a sense of peace.

"All right?" Alera asked.

"Ally?" he replied, his lips shaking slightly.

"We don't know, Garen," she said. "The Mechanicus are tough to kill…"

"The Cult?"

"All gone. The priests are exorcising this place as we speak."

"Rae… Raelin?"

The Inquisitor looked even more tired. "I'm… I'm sorry. She got away. But there is some good news…"

"Hey, fleshy Darling. Turn your head left," came a sweet, gentle voice. He did as ordered, and he saw the rather battered head of his wife laying serenely on the floor, sideways. "Like the Inquisitor says," she said, her still intact lips twisting into a smile, "Mechanicus are hard to kill." Her still human eye looked down. "I think it will be a while before I can get back to work, though."

Garen felt a surge of relief flow through him. He was happy. Then guilt, as he wondered why, of all things, he ought to feel happy.

He figured that was why he would never be an Inquisitor.

END