Daul's perennial nightmare had not changed in decades, his terrifying fever dreams as inevitable as the act of sleep. He would close his eyes and find himself in the home of his youth, as unchanged and welcoming as it had been in childhood. It had been decades since he'd last been to Metzik, it had never been the same after the imperial purges but his childhood memories of the world would always be of a place that was green and full of life. Throne help him how he missed the smells of cooking meat from his mothers kitchen and the smell of curing wood in his father's workshop. His father... His father, it all came back to his father in the end. Daul was perhaps the only child in existence who's greatest desire was his father die and stay dead.
His father never stayed dead. His father could never stay dead.
Usually Daul would avoid the dream by self-medicating with a compound that granted dreamless sleep. It was an effective substance but not without side effects and Daul could not afford to dull his whits in the following morning. So it was that he was once again in his dream, a small and helpless boy fleeing a gore-soaked effigy of his parent. Daul knew that he was within a dream, knew that the monster was long since dead, knew that by force of will and by the strength of his own hands he had crushed stronger foes in a heartbeat but in his dreamful state the only facts that seemed to hold sway were the need for safety and the furious beating of his own heart.
Daul's childhood home was exactly as it had been in his youth, a large center hall house of the traditional Metzik fashion. A tall house made out of the dark wood of the forest that blanketed most of the planet, a warm place of the smells of spices and cured meats. It was a simple place, a place of plenty and relative calm in the grand empire of mankind. A world untouched by the wars and conflict that raged through most of the galaxy, a paradise by all accounts.
It was also the place where Daul's father would kill his entire family.
It had been an accident in the mines that killed his father, or so they said at first. Some fool hadn't properly shored up the supports and the whole tunnel collapsed. It was a tragedy for the entire community of miners. Efforts were made to dig survivors out of the cave and some were saved but Daul's father was not one of the ones unearthed by the rescue teams. In the following days Daul sat with his mother and this three sisters in the chapel the Emperor, ostensibly praying wisdom and salvation. Daul did not pray for his father's salvation, he prayed for his father's resurrection. If the great saint Daufn Por had been raised at the will of the God Emperor then why not a man as good and true as Daul's father.
It was not the emperor who heeded Daul's prayers for resurrection but his prayers were answered, after a fashion.
Daul's father came back. He emerged days later from a shaft on the southern ridge, covered in soot and looking like death warmed over but alive as any man. It had been heralded as a miracle of the God-Emperor when Daul's father had come out of the southern mineshaft unhurt some two weeks later. A curse cloaked as a blessing.
For in the days that followed his father would become more distant, laugh less, eat more, and be prone to capricious bouts of fury. Sven Hilder had never said a cross word in his life before but rapidly became the worst sort of man. Something in that shaft had changed him something that he had found in the darker pits of the earth. The colonists had no way of knowing this but man was not the first creature to colonize Metzik. There were xenos of the worst kinds imaginable in Metzik's distant past, monsters who could drive a man mad simply by gazing upon their warped visage. Beneath the surface of Metzik lay remnants of great evils long past. Creatures of spite and craft had once lived on Metzik and had left artifacts of twisted powers and false promise to tempt the unwary.
In life he had welcomed his father back with open arms but in the dream he was wiser. He would try to convince his family that the thing that visited them nightly was not his father, to warn them of the danger that this twisted mockery of a man represented, but they didn't listen.
Please, Emperor help me... Please make them listen... I can't let it happen again!
His mother would cry and embrace the father-thing and his sister would praise the God-Emperor for his grace. It waited for the end of her prayer to change, the blasphemy of corrupting a child's prayers too tempting to resist. No longer was it the hale and healthy image of his father but a twisted and malevolent abattoir beast wearing his father's face grinning a chelsea smile. Then it would begin, and he would do nothing.
What could a child be expected to do? But he was not a child was he? Was he not a grown man? No.. not in the dream... never in the dream...
Daul would watch his family being butchered by the chaos spawned xenoform father-creature. In Daul's own life the creature was slain many years ago by his mentor Inquistor Martin Gaal but there would be no power-armored rescuer in the nightmare. He was alone to fight off his father. What boy can fight his own father?
He's not my father, not my father. My father could never be you! Please don't be my father...
He was alone with the cruel mockery of his father's love, forced to listen to its insane cackle and listen to its fleshy chewing. For the icon bound to his father's flesh could only be paid for its boons of power and madness in flesh and blood, the universal currencies of sacrifice.
He would try to trick himself into believing that his father had not killed him out of love, that he would take all he needed out of the others and leave Daul alone but love was a boon his father could no longer grant, another sacrifice to his blasphemous icon. The room would spin as he stood, spindly young legs shaking with panic and sorrow. It made no sense for it to be happening and thus must not be true.
Please let it not be true.
The soft and almost seductive voice of his father whispered hollow words of comfort and love to Daul, "Come now child never fear, you are safe, you're always safe around your father."
Daul would stand still, wishing to believe it but knowing it to be false. He would sit and listen to the creature's platitudes and promises till it started to scoop out the soft contents of his mothers head and start pawing chunks into a distended maw. The urge to flee overpowered all his other conflicting emotions.
Daul's child mind was frustratingly uncreative, the protection of a blanket and a stuffed bear seem as powerful as any void shield. No matter how many times he fled to his room his secret place in the hollow space in the wall between his bed and where his chest of toys sat did not protect him but he still ran there to clutch his favorite stuffed animal as though the misshapen and thread-worn bear could provide sanctuary. As though the overstuffed face held a reliquary of the Golden Throne itself.
Clutching the bear he would pray to his mother for guidance, a weak child sending impotent prayers sent to the dead. The ancestors could not save him from the predations of chaos spawned xenotech.
Ragged breath and shambling bow-legged footsteps caused by something large caused him greater and greater panic with every passing second. The softest creaks and echoes of the shifting of floorboards sounded thunderous in Daul's ears.
Daul tried to hide himself in the friendly face of the overstuffed bear, hopping to muffle the sound of his frenzied breathing and the furious tattoo of his own heart.
The creature's hands made wet noises as they slapped on the frame of his bedroom door. It grinned it's twisted skeletal grin, stretching out the skin of his father's face and cried out, "Daul... are we playing a game now Daul? Daddy likes games?"
Daul squeezed himself into a tighter ball.
"Why don't we play a game Daddy likes? Do you want to play the game Daddy and Mommy just played? I promise we'll only do it once," It cackled to itself as it tore the clothes in Daul's closet to shreds.
"Or do you want to play a game of hide and seek? Oh what a naughty child you are hiding from daddy," its voice darkened, "remember... Daddy loves you doesn't he?" More laughter followed.
"Ok, new rules to the game. Daddy finds you and we play a game he likes, Daddy doesn't find you and you get to leave?" Liar... he would never escape. Daul choked back a sob, Damn, had it heard?No... emperor almighty let it not have heard... please.
Seconds passed that felt like an eternity, the creature stood in the room ranting and raving to itself till it grew bored, there was the sound of footsteps then silence, glorious silence. It might have left after all, perhaps tonight was the night were "daddy" lost the game.
Daul dared not check, but what other option was there?
Daul shifted his weight and looked out the hollow. In the darkness there was nothing, a great void of emptiness. No, not nothing, throne help him not nothing, in the darkness there was a still darker shadow shuddering with silent laughter.
The last memory of his dream was a wicked taloned hand grabbing, twisting, and clawing at his flesh.
Wake up Daul, wake up you damned fool!
Daul shot out of bed, roughly clipping the crown of his head on the alcove above. His fears and worries about the dream were numbed by the throbbing pain in his now swollen and throbbing head. Lights blinked before his eyes as he made his way to the washbasin at the side of the room. The rooms provided for Daul by Captain Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair were spacious by naval standards but poorly suited for the broad form and tall stature of the Metzik native. The only larger spaces were either poorly placed in terms of security and privacy. It would not do to either leave himself wide open for an attack or to allow a member of the crew to witness a member of His Majesty's most glorious Inquisition reduced to tears over a bad dream.
But it wasn't just a dream was it?
It was a memory of things long past, things that might have been and ought not be allowed to pass in future. Most people feared the demons of their past, the Inquisitors simply had the luxury of being able to put names and faces on those who haunt the recesses of dreams and nightmares. Many in his profession either ended their own lives or went mad from the pressure, the sacrifices of uncensored knowledge of the universe. Daul's discomfort was well deserved but difficult to explain, better to maintain the anonymity and privacy expected of his position. Daul was not long trapped in such dark musing however, the massive form of Daul's attendant brushed through the door to his private chambers carrying a strong drink in one hand and a data slate in the other.
Daul smiled, "Cairn you're a saint."
Cairn Thross served as bodyguard, attendant, and confidant to Daul. He was a large man, larger still than Daul himself, posessed of a stoic manner and a cloaked frame bulging with augmentic implants. Cairn had once been a member of the Skitarii, the special defense forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus before his assignment to Daul in payment for services rendered in defense of the Daskal Forge. Cairn was as unwavering in his duties to Daul as he was in his devotion to the omassiah, completing all tasks in silent efficacy. He was also an alarmingly good cook and bartender who had long since given up solid food and strong drink for the intravenous nutrition drip favored by the Skitarii.
Exactly how one of the augmentic soldiers of the machine god had become so proficient in the various domestics, dalliances, and duties of an inquisitorial attendant was something of a mystery to Daul, a mystery that Cairn was unlikely to ever resolve. Though all of Daul's earthly oaths of loyalty and fealty were bound to Daul his spiritual oaths to the omassiah were unchanged. All members of Cairns legion took an oath of silent obedience, swearing only to speak in the secret binary tongue of the machine. Cairns brief bouts of speech were invariably in a garish and whirring tone of garbled screeches and clicks. Binary, the secret language of the machine worshippers was totally alien to most of the universe, some members of the Inquisition attested that it wasn't even translatable by mortal man and could only be bestowed by the curious machine sorceries of the Admech. After over two decades of listening to the garbled warbling speech and Daul was tempted to agree.
There were a number of mysteries to Skitarii Thross' name. Even if Cairn were able to speak Daul doubted that Cairn would betray the honor of his order and reveal their secrets nor would Daul be able to ask for them in good faith. Daul would have to survive on the silent service of his faithful aide without knowing every secret, a privilege rarely given by an Inquisitor.
"Thank you Cairn," Cairn made the symbol of the cog, his universal symbol of thanks, welcome, and greeting used in lieu of speech.
Daul shook his head, someday he would learn that small-talk was wasted on his impassive metallic acquaintance. He accepted the drink and the data-slate and proceeded to partake in both. The drink transpired to be less mind numbing than the data reports on the slate. There was only one conclusion to be drawn from the voluminous facts and figures, "Nathaniel Sáclair despises me."
Sáclair hated Daul for the same reason that he was honor bound to aid Daul in times of need. Daul had saved his life and his honor. Sáclair would never be able to properly repay Daul for the debt he owed, a fact that galled the notoriously willful and violently independent captain of the Endless Bounty. Sáclair would never be so uncouth as to leave a debt of honor unpaid but his puckish and theatrical nature demanded that he rebel as much as honor allowed. Childish pranks were how Sáclair allowed himself to maintain his own sanity and sense of control. In this instance the status report that Daul had requested was not a simple summary of the past eight hours and an estimated time of arrival but rather a complete historical log of both the travels of the Endless Bounty and the Belzafest outpost. Without spending months or years sifting through the data it was useless.
Daul looked up at Cairn, "No chance this makes any sense to you does it?"
"Yeah, that figures," it wasn't as though Cairn could exactly explain the tablets, "Goes with my luck so far."
Daul flipped the data-slate upside down and shook it, vainly hoping that it would jar some morsel of knowledge from the recesses of the data. Or at least change it into a language he could understand, the scribbles were as incomprehensible as the numbers, "What language is this written in anyway? A dialect of proto-gothic?"
Daul looked frustratedly at Cairn, "None of this data is even remotely useful to me if I do go through the effort of having a logic engine run this through its machine spirit and collate the data?"
Cairn shook his head.
"Sáclair is going to make me walk up to the bridge and talk to him while he's sitting on that gaudy excuse for a throne isn't he?"
"The universe hates me doesn't it."
Cairn nodded and shook his shoulders, the closest thing to laughter he was capable of. Clearly he found the situation to be as amusing as Sáclair no doubt did. Humor was not a characteristic emphasized by the adepts of the machine god but in spite of this Cairn seemed to have gained a healthy sense of irony and sarcasm that he used to the best of his ability. It was just as well that the Skitarii would never be in the service of the Admech in the future, they would probably consider a jovial Skitarii to be some grievous form of heresy.
The throne to which Dual referred sat in the middle of the command deck in a high ceilinged hall with wide banks of data-screens and vid-banks arranged around the room like the multicolored glass of a cathedral window. The room was a physical representation of the opulence and temporal powers to which Sáclair had access. The Endless Bounty was a city of its own packed into four miles of starship. It was a community of thousands for whom the command deck represented the epicenter for king, country, and God-Emperor. Though none of the crew were so craven or so bold as to deny the Emperor the base of Nathaniel's command chair was probably the closest most of them would ever get to reaching the Holy Throne of High Terra. The crew of the bounty were, with few exceptions, void-born folk. Entire generations would be born, live, and die without ever having entered an atmospheric shuttle or left an airlock. Every deck and sector was a city of a greater nation flying the livery of the Lion of Sáclair.
Like any other nation the Endless Bounty was steeped in tradition and governed by custom. Since the ship first left the Damascus IV shipyards and went to the stars the de-facto center of society and culture was always the grand hall of the command deck. The ship's command structure was ostensibly a meritocracy the majority of Sáclairs court of officers had gained their positions hereditarily. Like any oligarchy it suited them to structure government in such a way that they could primp and pose for the lesser members of their world, showing their superiority. One could always expect a queue of deckhands, gunners, ratings, and merchants petitioning the magistrate for marriage, divorce, or any number of other legal matters. It would be rare for either a member of the command staff to be involved in such matters but they always occurred under the watchful gaze of Sáclair.
Daul was a man of status and would not have to queue up with the crew but a meeting with Sáclair would require him to obey the protocol else risk insulting Sáclair and freeing him from his debts. It was unlikey that Sáclair expected such an obvious ploy to work but it would amuse Sáclair to no end to force Daul to operate within a social structure that he dominated. Sáclair would obey the whims of Daul but in order to get him to do so Daul would have to maintain the image of amiable servitude to a benevolent captain.
It would be a small price to pay but it was no less annoying.
Such byplay was all well and good,Daul supposed but custom dictated that he wear full inquisitorial livery bearing all the seals of his office and his signed inquisitorial mandate, which was frankly more of a hassle than he wished to deal with for a relatively simple status report. He would have to do it. He needed the information Sáclair was withholding.
"Still, if Sáclair insists upon me arriving in full livery I will do so," Daul smiled wickedly an amusing idea popping into his head, "Cairn, how quickly can you get my formal livery out of storage?"
Cairn looked at Daul confusedly, one of the tentacle like mechandrites that dangled from where his mouth used to be lazily raised and pointed in the direction of Daul's armoire.
"Not that one."
Cairn nodded to the laundry hamper.
"No Cairn my other suit."
Cairns mechandrites shifted excitedly and his shoulders shook as comprehension dawned on him. Sáclair was not the only one with a sense of irony.
Daul had no issue in navigating the bustling halls of the great market that led to the transport tubes. The crew was in shock and awe of the Inquisitor at the best of times, now that he was garbed in the full robes and powered armor of his complete battle raiment they were terrified to be within arms reach. One particularly unprepared crewman actually jumped back and knocked over a table of fresh fruit, causing the vendor at the stand to fly into a fit of epileptic rage that was cut shot upon seeing the skull like face of Daul's helmet.
"Even the pious and mighty fear the wrath of His Majesty's Inquisition," his former master had once told him, "We are the things of nightmare and of greatest hope, often at the same time."
His master would probably not have approved of just how much he was enjoying the looks of shock on the faces of everyone in the marketplace. It stood to reason that people as guilty of minor heresy as those on the bounty would be gifted with a special mistrust for the inquisition. The Endless Bounty had a record of trading with people and species who were off limits to the traders of the empire, a fact that Sáclair historically chose to forget in light of potential profits. They were heretics but there was more use in their lives than in their deaths, a fact that Daul had put to good use. He was lucky that the looks were only of fear and not of hatred, even the thickest of the crew seemed to realize that their survival was by Daul's will alone.
Cairn lightly tapped on Daul's sholder, augmentic fingers clinking loudly on the ornate adamantium shell. Daul looked around and smiled. A group of five armed security officers were following them at a discrete distance. Daul smiled behind his mask, "I see Sáclair still feels the need for us to have our entourage."
Cairn squinted and nodded. This was not the first time he had caught members of the crew following him at a distance. The security chief of the ship was determined to ensure that there was no incident with the local criminal element and the Inquisitor, he had a great fear of Daul that was well earned. The obviously placed guards were an olive branch to help make him feel at ease and to demonstrate the chief's willingness to comply with the any inquisitorial efforts.
They needn't have bothered, the first thing Daul had bothered to do after moving to his quarters was to track down the leader of the largest crime syndicate onboard and assert his dominance. Hess, the underboss of the largely deserted section of ship nearest to the engines plasma reclamations, had proven to be quite reasonable and compliant. Watching the best of your guards flayed alive by psychic energies before being held down by a Skitarii who injects you with a remote detonator tends to engender a more agreeable attitude. The criminal element onboard the Endless Bounty was by and large unwilling to risk being within line of sight of the "psychic terror," though there were always some fools in the bunch no doubt. The submission of the ships criminals had probably been overkill but it helped enforce his own image of omnipotent control.
"If I can take out a Hive Tyrant what hope does a mugger have?"
Cairn looked back impassively at the blue uniformed security officers in apparent mild frustration. There had already been several attempts on Daul's life in the past months, the last of which Cairn had nearly failed to avert. Cairn's professionalism demanded that he allow the security officers to follow them but his pride demanded that he treat them as an equal threat. The look he gave Daul spoke volumes.
"Thross I would not worry about the security staff, they need me alive for the next fifty years or the whole of the Imperial Navy will be at their throats," Daul was confident in the loyalty of Sáclairs crew. They may not like the Inquisitor but they liked living more than they feared him.
The Endless Bounty had come within a hair's breadth of annihilation. Some ten years ago the ship was seized by imperial forces at the border of Tau controlled space en route from an imperial world who had recently defected to xenos control. The ship, its cargo, and its crew had been seized by the magistrate on charges of treason and heresy. While the standard procedure in such a situation was generally summary execution of the crew and destruction of the ship to avoid xenos contamination the magistrate had apparently decided that caution was called for, he could not be sure if the Captain had been aware of the planet's defection at the time he left or even as they were trading. A rarity in the empire for sure, the magistrate wanted absolute proof of treason before he ended thousands of lives. In light of this Daul had been called in to investigate the situation and determine the legitimacy of Nathaniel Emanuelle Sáclair. Sáclair was potentially guilty of trading with the heretics but Dual was to discover the truth.
Nathaniel was guilty as sin. He had been regularly doing trade with various institutions at the fringes of space that were questionable at best, but it seemed strange that Sáclair's trading guild was not trying to stop Daul's efforts to root out the truth of Sáclair. They were, in fact, providing him with a plethora of damning information. It was all too easy.
Daul didn't like too easy, it often meant that someone was hiding something far worse and trying to get rid of him, so he started researching the Amon Sui Trading Guild and discovered a far larger issue than a single errant captain. Further investigation revealed that the arrest of Sáclair had less to do with heresy and more to do with simple economics. An astounding amount of trade was ongoing between the supposedly blockaded border worlds and the various trading guilds of the sector, so much so that it would be only a matter of time before a massive imperial retribution would be taken out upon the entire guild. As a way of preserving their image of proper behavior the guild had offered up Sáclair to the magistrate as a sacrificial lamb, someone to point at and say, "here is what we do with heretics in our guild," while still committing greater heresy in secret.
Sáclair was an easy target, he was the last of his house and already had an infamous reputation for breaking the rules and laws he felt were too restrictive for someone of his status. Obedience to authority was anathema to Sáclair, he would rather die than be cowed under the yolk of someone else's control. The evidence provided to the magistrate to convict Nathaniel proved to be enough rope for Daul to use to strangle the guild. The disloyalty and subterfuge of the guild disgusted Daul, Sáclair was far from a perfect man but he seemed to be a good and loyal man or at least as good and loyal as one can expect a pirate to be. Moreover, in spite of his many heresies, Sáclair had a faith in the power of the Emperor that was second do none. True faith was in short supply as of late.
The lowest pits of the malevolent eye were reserved for traitors and deserters, the center of hell itself the home of the great dragon that sits in place and rips the flesh off the greatest traitor of all, Horus thrice damned. This was what Daul's mentor had raised him to believe, an unusual philosophy for an inquisitor perhaps but one that Daul believed wholeheartedly. Such a cold and calculated dismissal of someone so pious and loyal made the Inquisitor's blood boil.
By the time Daul had finished with them and their holdings the once proud and prominent Amon Sui Guild was broken. It's members who had not been declared an excommunicate traitor killed were stripped of property and titles. Daul had bound Sáclair under imperial mandate and commandeered his ship for fifty years and a day, technically making the Endless Bounty an inquisitorial ship and thus beyond the jurisdiction of the Magistrate. Sáclair's heresies would be absolved by doing great works in His name.
The process had worn Sáclair physically and spiritually. His great laugh was less wholehearted and his famous smile no longer seemed to reach his eyes, but then how does a man who's jailer is his only ally react? Sáclair would probably hate Daul for the rest of his natural life. Daul had interrogated him, tortured him, violated the boundaries of his mind, heart, and soul. He had destroyed Sáclair's history and pride, tearing to shreds the guild to which he was bound to service by blood and honor. Then Daul had the unmitigated gall to save Sáclairs life, his crew, and restore his honor in the eyes of the imperial administration. Sáclair would never forgive Daul for saving him or himself for needing to be saved.
The decisions he made in that investigation were not popular ones, the Amon Sui Guild had been well connected even within the inquisition itself. Its members though bereft of title were not without resources and influence. Already there had been several unsuccessful attempts on Dauls life by guild trained assassins bearing the mark of Ska'ra'xo, a death cult devoted to the god Slaaneshi from the hive world of Kag-Gal. They were like most death cultists, insane, uncreative, blood thirsty, and dangerous beyond belief, the Ska'ra'xo had nearly destroyed the Kag-Gal some two centuries earlier. Exactly how they had survived the ensuing imperial purge was unclear but it seemed more than likely the Amon Sui were guilty of having harbored them. The cult was only one in a series of dirty secrets unearthed by Daul, sadly far from the most damming one.
"We are causing as much of a stir as I had hoped," Daul said to the eternally silent Cairn as he flipped the call switch on for a transport tube. A merchant had just walked into a doorframe in his frenzied efforts not to make eye contact with the Inquisitor. "Lets hope we don't actually scare any of the crew to death then."
Like most of the ship the doors to the transport tube were gaudy and overbearing. In the center of a number statues in relief depicting the works of the Emperor and his Primarchs was a truly heinously ugly paining of Sanfal the lesser. Sanfal was a saint known for his fondness of seafarers and mariners who most starship crew in the sector prayed to for guidance. It made sense to have the images in such a well traveled place, it forced the uneducated and illiterate masses to be exposed to their history daily. Daul did however wish that the custom for painting Sanfal the lesser did not call for painting him dying as excruciatingly as the artist could stomach. Seeing Sanfal in pain seemed to comfort the crew, it was as though they believed that the worse pain that Sanfal had gone through on their behalf the less pain that would be in their own life. It was not equally comforting to Daul.
Daul was convinced that this particularly heinous paining of Sanfel the Lesser had been placed on the nearest lift to his quarters intentionally, "He wants me to be off base when I see him, needs me to be off base."
Cairn looked at Daul nonplussed.
Daul laughed, "Honestly how he expected this to offput me I have no idea. We have seen too much you and I. How many years have you been in my service? Twenty... no twenty five isn't it? And we still have a long time to go before either of us is fit to retire."
Cairn's optics refocused confusedly and his shoulders began to shake. The idea that either the Skitarii or the Inquisitor would retire to some resort community for the wealthy, elderly, and infirm with the aging nobility of the core worlds was quite amusing. The Daul, Inquisitor Lord Interrogator and "Cleanser of Boros VII," was an unlikely choice for a life of convalescence and games of regicide with other retirees, as unlikely as a celebration of Horus' birth in the lands of High Terra.
"Oh shut up and get in the lift you augmentic terror."
The lift was already crowded with crew members when the two massive men entered the lift and only continued to fill up more as the lift headed towards the command decks, a sea of the scarlet and gold uniforms of the crewmen of those under Sáclair's command. Noon signaled the end of second shift and the start of third, no amount of fear of the Inquisitor would stop the crew from reaching their duties on time. Like any ship worth its salt the Endless Bounty had strict punishments for the shiftless and the lazy, not the least of which was flogging a man once for every minute late he was to his duties.
Daul and Cairn were not the only non-crew on the lift. There was color scattered in the sea of crimson and gold, a ship of the Endless Bounty's size and prestege invariably picked up merchants, pilgrims, travelers and wanderer's over time. Cairn was eyeing them sternly, the Skitarii had never forgiven himself for allowing an assassin near Daul and was prone to extreme mistrust. It was far from uncalled for but this particular group seemed innocuous enough. He doubted that the couple in their full dress formalwear in the corner would be a particular threat, they seemed to engrossed in discussing wedding preparations. Daul followed the direction of Cairn's gaze, smiled, and telepathically whispered, I very much doubt that the couple on their way to ask Sáclair permission to marry are about to attack two men in full armor Skitarii Thross.
Cairn waved a mechandrite dismissively, ignoring the psychic intrusion entirely and simply continuing to focus on the other people on the lift. Daul closed his eyes and focused on the sounds round him. The language of the crew was a flowing form of low gothic combined with some native speech patters from the worlds on which Saclair's ancestors had mustered the crew. Daul had learned the some of the language in his past months on the ship but his mastery thereof had proven difficult as there was no written equivalent to their spoken language. Anything important enough to be written down would be done so in High Gothic rather than the ship's native speech. He could communicate with his own Metzik variant of Gothic, which was similar enough to the High Gothic of the command staff to be understood, but he missed a lot of the subtext of the conversations going round him. His own psychic talents allowed him greater insight but it was far from enough to allow him to have a conversation with the largely illiterate crew.
Still he could understand the gist, though the crew were wont to assume otherwise. The topic of the day seemed to be the last round of So'go'ol, a common game on starships based upon the speed at which members of a team could traverse a maze of cargo crates and score a point by tossing a ball into the opposing team's goal. Each team was distributed shock pistols capable of temporarily disabling a member of the opposing team, a team would win by getting the most points possible before all their team members were disabled. The game had started as a way of training the starship crews to defend against boarding actions but had since evolved into something wholly unrecognizable.
The crewmen were arguing about some bizarre technical terms to do with how one ought to oversee a game properly. There was some contention over if the most recent match had been refereed poorly. The losing team was petitioning for a rematch.
Sporting discussions varied little from planet to planet, the universality of human behavior astounded Daul. His musings on the subject were interrupted by the stopping of the lift. A lean and narrow man wearing purple robes with an orange fringe entered the lift and leveled a look of abject disdain at Daul.
"Zorn Calven," Daul spat out the word like an oath under his breath, "Just perfect."
A navigator of great pride and status, Zorn was one of the three men on the Eternal Bounty responsible for guiding her through the eddies and currents of the warp. His gaunt and pinched face echoed generations of inbreeding between the various families of the Navis Noblitie, the imperial houses of navigators. As a rule navigators were unnerving and off-putting, their appearance bore an etherial air of unnaturalness. They were warp-touched, though they lacked the talent to manipulate its energies but could traverse its currents with grace and ease. No ship in the Empire could navigate without at least one, a fact that Zorn believed grated him a seat a the right hand of the golden throne after death. Basic social courtesy was something that lesser mortals needed to worry about, not navigators.
"Good morning to you Navigator."
"Inquisitor you know as well as I how useless the idea of day is within a starship. It is always day inside this ship and night sleeps eternally outside our second skin of adamantium."
Smarmy Bastard, thought Daul, "And yet I see that the clock is set to the time on Terra, if day and night suit the will of the Emperor I assure you they are good enough for me."
"I'm sure they are Inquisitor."
"What is that supposed to mean."
"Only what you wish for it to," his face turned up in a grin that look stretched and wrong on his face, "We are just making friendly conversation after all."
Zorn reached a hand into his pocket and Cairn tensed imperceptibly, the Skitarii's hand reaching into the fold of his robes where he hid a high powered laspistol, but Zorn only pulled out an elegant snuffbox and sniffed a pinch between two gaunt fingers.
"Sáclair feels he is bound to you Inquisitor."
"Does he now?"
"So it would seem, though I wonder if we truly are. A less pious man than I might harbor hatred for you in secret."
"Would they now?" Cairn's had buried itself in his robes, covertly aiming his pistol at the Navigator. The bulge of the pistol was hidden in the various irregularly shifting bulges of mechandrites and augmentics on his body.
"Indeed most honorable Inquisitor, you have caused the financial ruin or death of some of the noblest and influential families of the sector," Zorn tucked the snuff box away and rubbed his nose delicately.
"Even a navigator must answer for crimes of heresy. A ship doesn't reach a xenos core world or a Chaos planet without the consent of the navigator or foul sorcery," Daul rearranged his cape in a gesture of dismissal, allowing him to cover the left hand that now grasped the blade at his side, "Tell me Navigator do you have anyone in mind who would hold such a grudge?"
"None in particular Inquisitor, you left few enough alive after your vendetta and fewer of the great houses were left blameless in your eyes," he brushed back his hair. His bulbous eyes and ill defined features scrunched on their narrow frame, "Even I lost family to you and my house lost fewer than most."
"I doubt a guiltless man will suffer Navigator."
"How can they be guiltless when innocence is no excuse? The Inquisition is not known for its delicate methods."
Daul scowled at the Navigator but did not answer. The two stood starting at each other expectantly, neither willing to be the first to break the silence. The rift rumbled and shook, echoing with the cheerful talk of the crew who continued on oblivious to the power struggle happening before their eyes. It was a good half hour before the lift reached level 56 and Zorn was forced to back off the lift. As the lift doors closed behind the navigator he stated in a cold voice, "The next man who has suffered at your hands is unlikely to mince words with you in a place where your clockwork man can protect you beneath his skirts."
The doors shut with a resounding clang. Daul turned to Cairn, "Throne help me but I detest that man."
Cairn shook his head frustratedly.
"I know, I know, the part that annoys me isn't that he's an ass, though he is one. Its that I can't tell if he's threatening us or warning us."
Daul sighed, "When we get to Sáclair we're going to have to get him to take Dorn out of storage."
Cairn garbled something off in binary which Daul was certain had been rude.
"Yes we will. I find him as distasteful as you do but we need someone who lacks loyalty issues."
The rest of the trip passed in silence.
It will be at least three chapters before this story reaches the crossover. I plan to update this story on tuesdays every other week.
Reviews as always are welcome.