Author's Note - Damn, it's been a long, long time since I posted anything on . A good three years or so, actually, I believe. Well, I'm going to do my best to start submitting more often from now on, and hopefully people will see the difference that sort of time gap makes in my writing. This particular story is a re-post of one I originally put up on another site, with a few minor edits - hopefully it'll inspire me to continue the series.

Prologue

Warp light bloomed and the daemonic assessors of the Black Tontine stepped forth even as the sorcerer lay dying. They came because my actions have violated the Tontine, and their very presence drove needles into our minds. Shrine gates rattled and the Aquila wept molten tears.
- The journals of Inquisitor Lord Felroth Gelt

Samuel Krista staggered down the hallway, his steps unsteady and his mind clouded by the drink. Up until mere moments ago he had been fast asleep, but then had come the knocking. Loud and insistent, it had echoed throughout his tiny hab with enough volume to jolt his addled mind into wakefulness. He didn't know who it was, but by the Emperor, they were going to receive such a beating for waking him like this!

"I'm coming, curse you!" He roared, spittle flying past yellowed and broken teeth, pausing to snatch up a heavy metal club from its rack by the door. He was an Overseer, damn it all, and you didn't treat an overseer with such disrespect!

With a feral snarl, Krista wrenched open the door, raised the club above his head, and stopped dead. A cold weight settled in his stomach, and slowly he lowered his weapon, letting it drop to the ground with a clatter. Beads of a sweat formed on his brow, even though the air flowing in through the open door was achingly cold.

There were three of them, taller than any man he had ever met and clad in long black robes like morbid Administratum functionaries. All three of them stood a few paces from his door, their hands hidden inside the folds of their robes and their heads bowed. Licking his lips, Krista took a step backwards, thinking desperately of the window at the other end of the corridor. He could make it, he was sure, if he started running right now...

The figure in the middle looked up, revealing three stale yellow eyes inside the darkness of its hood. Krista knew he should look away, shouldn't meet that unholy gaze, but he couldn't. He couldn't move a single muscle. Paralysed, filled with a terror that he was unable to express, all the overseer could do was watch as the mysterious figure unfolded its arms and extended a single hand to him.

The faintest of whimpers escaped his lips as Krista laid eyes upon that hand. It was completely fleshless, a collection of bones blackened by flames that simply floated unconnected in the air. The fingers folded back on themselves in an almost playful beckoning gesture, and Krista could do nothing as his legs disobeyed him and moved him forwards until he was almost touching the hideous creature. There was an unnatural smell upon the cold air, the stench of rotting paper and burning stone.

The visitors moved off in a single file, heads bowed in some cruel parody of a priestly procession, and all Krista could do was to stumble along in their wake, silent tears running down his face.

Chapter One

There is no such thing as innocence, only degrees of guilt
- Imperial Proverb

The room was far from the most luxurious accommodation that Nicodemus had ever slept in. The smallest of three bedrooms in a mildly dilapidated hab, it contained little more than a single decaying bed and a tiny window covered by threadbare curtains that did nothing to shut out the morning light. The walls were an unappealing shade of grey, the first signs of damp-rot creeping out from the corners, and there was a small hive of buzzing insects somewhere in the ceiling cavity. And none of it mattered in the slightest.

With a fond smile pulling at his lips, Nico looked down at the slender woman that shared his bed. Her black hair was cropped short in the manner of her home city, the better to fit under a factory cap. Her face, peaceful in sleep, lent her a strangely delicate air, as though she might break at the slightest hint of rough treatment. One long, elegant arm lay draped across his chest, the porcelain skin almost glowing in the faint light. In short, she looked like a harmless and innocent maiden. The long, flowing lines of gang tattoos that covered her arms and torso were the first hint to her true nature. The second was the paired set of elegant pistols that he knew rested underneath her pillow.

For a long while, he was content to simply lay there and watch her, all thoughts of darkness washed away by the simple peace he found in her presence. Though he knew it embarrassed her to talk of such things, he knew that she was his salvation in a very real sense. Around her, he could let his thoughts and words lie unguarded, his natural caution relaxed. She made him feel safe, and that was a luxury beyond measure in his line of work.

Eventually, he rose, carefully moving her arm away lest he wake her. Let her sleep for just a few minutes more. With slow, deliberate movements, he pulled on his clothes; mentally preparing himself for the trials he knew lay ahead. His garb was simple and unassuming, a white cotton shirt and dark trousers that served to cover up the jagged black markings that covered his own skin. The only detail of any note was the iron Aquila pendant that hung around his neck on a silver chain. Nico took a long breath, cast one last regretful look back at Elise, and then stepped through the door and into the corridor beyond.

Almost immediately, he was bombarded by the voices, a thundering river of them that poured into his mind and threatened to drown him. He screwed his eyes tight shut and closed one fist around the Aquila pendant, hissing the litanies he had been taught as a child. The walls came up in his mind, and within a few moments he was again able to control himself once more, the river of voices slowing to a mere trickle. With a muttered curse, Nico pushed himself away from the wall that he did not remember slumping against and made his way down the corridor. Emperor, but he hated working in Hives.

The rest of the team was already waiting for him in the small communal area of the hab. Jonas Furan, hard-bitten veteran of the Merov Penal Legions, was leaning back in his chair, booted feet resting on the table in front of him. Solomon Roth was seated opposite him, his eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him as he muttered a series of prayers to the God-Emperor, his ornate axe propped up against the wall next to him. Nico could feel his faith like a warm blanket, and behind it, the dark stains of private memories he had no wish to examine further.

Jonas nodded to Nico as he approached. "Slept in a bit, didn't you, psyker?"

Nico smiled slightly. "I had reason." He could feel the texture of the soldier's mind, grating against his thoughts like rough sand, and watched as the dark stain of irritation gave way to a flickering stream of lewd thoughts as Jonas contemplated what some of those reasons might have been. Iron bands of self restraint closed around the images as Jonas remembered that he was sharing the room with a telepath. No one ever quite managed to completely control their thoughts, but Nico was grateful that Jonas was considerate enough to try. The soldier grunted sourly at the look on the psyker's face.

"Still don't get how you can stand to be around her. I mean, you're a mind-freak, and she's... well, she is what she is. Isn't it supposed to hurt you, being near her?"

"She brings me peace." This was not the first time the two of them had had this conversation, and he doubted that it would be the last. Nicodemus moved swiftly on, looking over at the black-clad priest. "Has our guest said anything yet?"

Roth opened his eyes slowly. "He's said plenty. Mostly about how we don't know who we're messing with, along with the occasional promise of retribution. Our bones will be broken, our blood will flow upon the earth, our very souls will be flayed from our bodies... you know, the usual stuff."

Nico couldn't help but chuckle quietly. Roth was a member of the Black Priests of Maccabeus, and like many of his kind often exhibited a rather dark strain of humour. The deadpan way in which he related such dire threats often wavered between humorous and slightly disturbing. "So, he hasn't said anything of any real use to us?"
"No. And we are running out of time."

Nico nodded, the humour fading from his manner in an instant. He knew the deadline that Roth was referring to, one that stripped away the time needed for an in-depth interrogation of a suspect. He took the time to pour himself a generous measure of recaf into a battered metal beaker, and then made his way over to the small side-chamber, separated from the main communal area by a door that looked like it might fall from its hinges at any moment.

There was a man inside, naked and tied securely to a chair, slumped forwards in exhaustion. His breathing was heavy and rasping, as though each one was a monumental effort. Nico noted the livid bruises on the man's torso and the bloody welts on his arms. Jonas had evidently been busy. To Nico's sight, the man's pain and desperation stained the air around him a sickly yellow colour that hurt the eyes to look upon. At the sound of the opening door the man looked up, his bloodshot eyes pleading and terrified in equal measure.

"Please... just let me go... I won't tell the others about you, I swear..." his tone was broken, a far cry from the confident and foul-mouthed man that they had brought here a little over two days ago. Forty eight hours in the care of Jonas had stripped away all that bluster and rage, leaving only this pathetic specimen behind. And yet he had still refused to answer the questions that the team most desperately needed answered. Nico smiled at the man, leaning back against the wall and taking a long sip from his mug, trying not to grimace at the harsh taste.

"It's not what you'll say to the others that concern us. It's what you'll say to us. Or more specifically, what you are not saying to us." He paused for a moment, watching the wounded man for any sign of comprehension. There was none, which was hardly surprising. "Believe it or not, we have actually been rather gentle with you up until this point. But if you are going to keep resisting us, we'll have to move onto less considerate methods."

The prisoner tried to laugh, but it swiftly degenerated into pained sobbing. "What more could you possibly do to me?" He asked, tears mingling with blood as they streamed down his cheeks.

That is a very foolish question to ask. You will never enjoy the answer. It took a moment for the captive to realise that the words running through his mind were not his own, and then his face went pale. "Witch..." he hissed, an almost primordial fear colouring his voice.

"Yes." Nico said calmly, using his physical voice. He set the mug aside and took a step forwards. "Now, I could use your fear of me to get you to talk, but I already know that won't work. You see, we already know about the Tontine you signed."

Now there, there was the reaction he was after. The prisoner jerked backwards, as though attempting to get away from the one who had uttered those words. His lips clamped shut, but his eyes were screaming in fear. That told Nico everything he needed to know in order to confirm his suspicions. He pressed on remorselessly, exploiting the gap his words had broken open in the captive's defences.

"Yes, the Tontine. An agreement, written in blood upon human hide, wasn't it? I'm sure you have no idea exactly what sort of creatures it was that you made that bargain with, but you do know who else signed it along with you. And more importantly, you know who it was that arranged and facilitated that bargain in the first place."

He crossed the distance between them with two quick steps. "Now, I expect that you aren't going to tell me who that person was. No doubt one of the clauses of that Tontine was to forbid you from informing others of its details. But it's OK... I hardly need your cooperation for this next part. I wish I could say it won't hurt, but that would be a lie." Nicodemus seized the captive's forehead in a tight grip and stared into his panicked, bulging eyes. "It is time to tell me your secrets, little man."

There were many ways he could have obtained the information he required from his terrified captive. He could have slid under his defences like a stiletto, taking only what he needed. He could have constructed an elaborate mental realm and slowly persuaded the man to lead him to the answer. He could have used any of a thousand and one different methods that would have achieved his goal and left the man's mind intact. Nico chose none of these.

He tore into the man's conscious mind like a wild animal, shredding his thoughts with claws of pure willpower. He shattered the prisoner's personality into a million tiny pieces, burned his memories to cinders and ripped the objective from the boiling sea of his mind.

When it was over, Nico stepped back from the corpse in front of him, breathing hard. He took a moment to compose himself, studying what was left of the man he had been interrogating. Blood ran from the captive's ears, and his eyes had popped, leaking their fluid down his face. There were livid burn marks on his skin where Nico's hand had been in direct contact, and the psyker made a note to get the body incinerated. He had inflicted a very distinctive type of death on the captive, and it would not do to call too much attention to the cell's activities just yet.

His breathing steadied, Nico stepped back into the communal area. Roth stepped past him into the small room, prayer book in hand, ready to say the last rites as he had hundreds of times before. Jonas was rubbing his ears slightly and glaring at him.

"Curse it all, psyker, did he have to scream that loudly? Damn near burst my eardrums."

Nico smiled tightly. "I'm sorry, Jonas. Next time, I'll ask him to be more considerate of your delicate temperament." He ignored the Guardsman's obscene reply, focusing instead on the third figure who had joined them in the room, feeling a sense of relief wash over him as the thoughts of the surrounding building were smothered into silence.

"Did we get what we were after?" Elise asked, her voice calm and professional. She had evidently risen whilst he was with the captive, and had dressed for action in her durable bodyglove and battered old jacket, a legacy of her days in the gangs of Gunmetal City. The twinned pistols hung from her hips in a hand-crafted holster, the other thing that she had retained since entering the service of their master. Nico nodded to her.

"Good. I'll tell the Inquisitor. He will be so pleased."