Forty eight hours. How much can happen in two days? It can seem like a lifetime or the blink of an eye, depending on the context. For the diligent manufactorum worker it may be the difference between shift rotations, quota targets or simple allotted recuperation time. For wastrels and other such despondents, it might as well be xeno-script for what little meaning time has.
Forty eight hours had been spent on Watch-Station in constant motion. The capacity for Astartes to continue even in the face of gruelling physical punishment is a cornerstone of their legend, and within the candle-lit halls of Azura the legend came to life. What mortal men would consider a cruel and torturous regime, the Kill-Teams endured and overcame with all the grace and tenacity that their Emperor-given physiologies provided them. It was an orchestra of rippling muscle, thundering hearts, growling battle-plate and the barking boltguns and roaring of chainswords. Magnificant perhaps to observe, but amidst it all, the brothers were oblivious to the strange beauty and focused instead on their task. They were breaking down barriers of suspicion and mistrust and erecting bridges, forging bonds, becoming true battle-brothers of the Deathwatch.
Forty eight hours is ample time enough for many things. For an Astartes it might as well be an eternity.
During the training the Consecrator had found his wandering memory to be amply concerned with the blistering pace of tactics, evolving stratagems, calculations and the constant adjusting and re-adjusting to the exercises. It kept him sharp, it kept him focused and more importantly it kept him from indulging in the quasi-delusions he had been struggling with since he arrived upon the Watch-Station. In the brief moments of peace that were not dedicated to meditations he kept his mind occupied with something many chapters would find distasteful; politics.
Rather, the politics of friendship. As part of the new batch of marines, Incariel's efforts to ingratiate himself with his brothers would be best initially targeted with those like himself: the newblood. To that effort he would share a conversation however brief with the freshly inducted members of Blackthorn whenever time or opportunity would allow. In doing so he shifted his disposition accordingly to each marine he spoke to, like a soldier's silhouette may bend and change shape when draped in cameleoline, he never truly took the same tack with either marine, and approached each exchange of words like facing a different breed of enemy, in a prelude to some grand social battle. An ingrained habit to be sure, but one that has served him well in the strange and secretive ranks of his own chapter. To exist as a knight of a secret order is to exist as both fluid political entity and an known ineffable quantity. Like a layer of promethium on water he would shift, change, separate and mingle, but he would never become what he was not and never lose sight of the real goal; brotherhood.
For the Black Consul he wielded empathy. Solza had served in the Deathwatch for two decades and was a veteran of its esoteric nature, doctrines and enemies. He had knowledge to impart were he of a mind to do so, and knowledge is power as the old Terran adage wisely stated. He was also a survivor of extinction. A bitter remnant of an all but eradicated brotherhood. Incariel would approach this with tact, for while the Consecrators have often operated below adequate strength, it was nothing compared to the death of one's entire chapter. It would not be true parity, but enough to simplify the exchange and show appreciation.
For the Star Leopard he wielded conduct. The Apothecary was as brooding as Incariel at times, which would make assailing him with friendship difficult, but being a retracted hermit of his own mind-fortress, the Consecrator was well aware of the weaknesses of that particular stronghold. As a member of the Apothecarium, he knew Pallan was honour-bound to follow up and curate the physical well-being of his squad mates. Incariel would have to do little but imply or suggest his own very real concerns about his personal physiology to arouse the Star Leopard's interest, and invest himself in his concerns.
For the Star Phantom he wielded benevolence. This interloper to the old spirit of Blackthorn was spurned by the veterans, and viewed with an unjust amount of suspicion and indignation by the very sergeant the squad was now commanded by. Existing as a pariah in a brotherhood would serve none but the needy hearts of those still longing to hear the voice of Tyrant's Son once more. This kind of sentimentality was anathema to cohesion. Panacea would come from Incariel's acceptance and respect of Lycus -- he was a hero of the Imperium, and the Star Phantoms were loyal servants of the Throne. Loyalty is important. Loyalty is what binds everything together. Without it there is nothing.
And for the Death Knight he wielded humility. Against his better judgement Incariel had viewed Pyke with a certain prejudice that was not completely necessary. A combination of his own high personal standards being projected onto his peer, as well as a general wariness for the sons of Dorn, whose own obdurate nature is often mirrored in the sons of the Lion, though without any of the knightly grace or virtues. During the training he found Pyke to be flexible, discerning and though grim he was agreeable enough to the Consecrator's own black moods that he wasn't repulsed. It was with Pyke that he spent most of his resources of social warfare, for beyond the simple necessity of forming a bond of friendship and allegiance, the Death Knight was to be his counterpart in the squad and perhaps nowhere else in a Kill-Team was there need for a stronger bond than between the Devastators. The regicide games they played over the course of forty eight hours were stilted and calculated, with each move being openly discussed and tactics exchanged across the theoretical board -- for there was little time to go about the business of setting up and moving pieces when there was gruelling exercise to withstand.
The bells tolled on the third day and there was to be a muster in the strategium. Was this assignment at last? He had mused with Solza over the likelihood of a mission so soon, and it seemed his breath may have been wasted. He longed to apply all he had learned in the field, to test out the breaking points of these new brotherhoods, to serve in the Slaying Shield, and to kill in the name of the Emperor once again.
Watch-Captain Diocles's announcement of the Ordo Xenos
arriving caused a mixture of feelings to brew in the Consecrator's hearts. First was apprehension, for while serving within the chamber militant came with it the acceptance and expectation of oversight, the physical presence of an Inquisitorial agent was not something any Consecrator abided for any stretch of time. Prying eyes. Probing questions. Veiled threats. Pompous posturing. All things of the mortal world that he reviled, and all things of note that knightly orders are distrustful of. The feeling was mutual and he knew it. The Inquisition did not enjoy autonomous Space Marine forces, they merely tolerated them, and likewise the brotherhoods of Adeptus Astartes were equally disdainful of interfering mortal hands who would not understand, nor truly grasp the scope of all that must occur within a chapter -- though exceptions existed of course.
Lapdogs of the Inquisition, who might as well have been the personal army of the Ordos, were not unheard of. Several chapters acted as the bludgeon for an Inquisitor and their pet crusade. How ironic now, the Consecrator thought to himself as the doors opened and mortals filtered into the chamber, that he himself bore the mark. It was not too long ago that he acted under orders to prevent those wearing this seal from stealing chapter secrets. Such covetousness they displayed. Such arrogance. Who were they to deign what the sons of the Lion could and could not know? Destitute of all sense of virtue and decorum, it was a great honour to have been entrusted with the elimination of such scraping, servile lapdogs. They were the gaolers and wardens of the past, not mewling Inquisitorial sycophants who submit to demands.
He was no lapdog but again the irony stung him. The oaths, the honours, the prestige -- these were mere placating accolades to soothe the pride. He now worked to further the goals of mortal men. These were not distinctions of a true knight and a loyal servant.
A loyalty left untested is a loyalty left in question.
He recalled the words that had been spoken once again.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
The clanging footfalls of two servitors hefting a seated palanquin rang out in the chamber. Perched upon the seat was something more akin to a crusted canker than a man, but gripped between ghoulish fingers was the sign of his office and it was to be respected, even if his frail and despicable form was revolting. Sickening. Enraging. He could feel his battle-plate's auger systems swimming with threat assessment in sympathy to his own neural interface's reaction to this man.
No. Not the man. The... creature next to him. A woman. A disgusting mortal. Oh but to have lost all sense of duty and reason, he would he have enjoyed nothing else but to crush this thing's bones between his feet and scatter this mockery of humanity to the Void.
Why did he feel this way? He swallowed a frothing parcel of Betcher's with grimace. This was not normal. An Inquisitorial trick, perhaps? Such gambits would not work on him. He would overcome this strange feeling. Focus. Focus on what you know.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
I am aboard the hulk. Again.
I look down at my hands. My helmet is cloven in twain. Dripping with ichor.
My ears rush with heartbeats. Over the thrum I hear the screaming. It is inhuman.
The section is decompressing. I can feel the pull of the Void. I struggle to stand.
The strike-team is nowhere to be seen. All around me is darkness. I can still hear the screaming.
Bolter fire illuminates the madness. I feel the grasp of something at my neck. I struggle free.
I see him there. He holds the blade of dark design. Dripping with ichor.
Wings of death envelop me.
The data inloads of the strategium tore him from his reverie. There is a discussion happening. He should be paying attention. He was paying attention, not a scrap of information was going to waste, it all fell neatly into step behind the walls of his mind-fortress, locked away in the vaults of his memory, yet even so, he was distracted.
Vincindrael's rasping voice rumbled from behind him again.
"Pay heed, Incariel. Distractions are only that -- distractions. Hark; they speak of matters pertinent and yet here thee stand gawking at mortals again. Concern thyself not with things beneath us. Focus on thine own self."
It was a strange feeling. Stranger even than the odd creeping loathing he felt in the presence of the Inquisitor's pet. Vincindrael's words served to calm his nerves, and the threat-signums in his visor were dismissed with a blink-clink in kind. The ghostly visage of the Interrogator-Chaplain walked out from behind a flapping banner and came rest beside Incariel. Stood there in the shadowy upper tiers of the strategium, he took the chance to take his gaze off the central discussion for a moment to look at the delusion in full clarity.
He often recalled Vincindrael in the two distinct ways when the ornery old chaplain deigned to grace Incariel with a delusion. First as he was in life; resplendent, inspiring, motivating and oppressive. The very pinnacle of what zeal and ferocity could reach in an Astartes, a man who he both admired and hated. Second was how he appeared in death, and indeed how he appeared before Incariel's gaze at that very moment.
His throat was gone. That was the first thing he remembered always. The traitor had seen to it to take what was arguably the Interrogator-Chaplain's sharpest weapon -- his tongue -- before indulging the heretical ritual any further. His elegant armour was nowhere to be seen, instead he was naked and bound by thorny ropes of barbed steel that pressed into his raw muscle and coiled around ceramite-infused bone. His chest was rent open, his organs displayed out before him in a strange puppet-show of veins, tubes, tissues and musculature. Where his hearts once thundered with courage sat two withered husks skewered by the blade.
The blade of dark design. It sat there sheathed in the Interrogator-Chaplain's progenoid. Dark vapour slowly rising from it as it burned, froze, liquified and crystallised all that its edges cut into. This was the worst way to remember anyone. The sheer recollection of it caused him to grip the railing in front of him and begin bending the metal.
"Thou art too focusèd on the wrong details, yet again, boy." the body of Vincindrael spoke despite lacking a voice. He gestured with an arm towards the centre of the strategium and the squealing of barbed rope against his flesh mimicked the quiet groaning of the railing beneath Incariel's fist. "Witness the grand picture to find truth in what thou shouldst dismiss and what thou shouldst recall."
A dotting of blood on the ghoulish Inquisitor's handkerchief. A tightening of the face from the woman named Haldane. The Dark Lantern. The vaults of his mind-fortress flew open and recollections of mission reports were carried by such force out into the forefront of his thoughts. As if to read them out loud, the original brothers of both Swordhand and Blackthorn attested to these accounts to the prying Inquisitor.
He stood there, shoulder to shoulder with the ghost of a dead man that wasn't truly there, listening, recording, observing, calculating.
Edited by ashlander47, 06 March 2021 - 12:42 PM.