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  1. The Interrogation In the empty void high above the burning planet of Alteer the many dozens of ships comprising the crusading fleet of the Angels Abject orbited serenely. The last of their many guns finally retracted as the ground forces of the chapter completed the reconquest. It, the campaign itself had been reasonably short and decisive, what had taken so long was the original response. Alteer was a minor world in a sparsely populated sector, its tithe was minimal, though of course every container and solider was essential to the continued existence of the Imperium. But its obscurity and minor roll meant the reports of the attack and the organisation of a response had spent more than a decade in bureaucratic and logistical back limbo as the information was decrypted, assessed, classified, sent on, reclassified, a suitable response decided, sent back, reclassified again, assessed again, a realistic response cobbled together from nearby or mobile forces, classified and encrypted again, before finally being distributed to the various commands involved. All of which was why when the Imperial response finally arrived, with a core consisting of the first company of the Angels Abject, three regiments of Astra Militarum and a detachment of the titan legion Morbus, the heretic forces on the planet had not only been deeply dug in, but had held the planet for nearly fifteen standard years. To the few remaining uncorrupted inhabitants of the planet Imperial rule had become a distant memory, the Governor’s Palace turned into a citadel-cum-temple of spiked, blood encrusted stone daubed and carved with blasphemous runes and prayers, the once rich fields and pastures, fertilized by the blood of millions of sacrifices, nourishing hideous plants and ravening creatures. When the first drop pods and orbital ordinance fell on the cities and garrisons, those people probably assumed this was yet another torment unleashed by their pitiless overlords. They had been little more optimistic about the enormous armoured figures that emerged from those burning metal pods. Most of them had fled, cowering in fear in dark corners. Some few, out of either desperation, madness or perhaps a desire to earn the gratitude of their masters had even attacked the Space Marines as they secured the drop sites. That had been a short and brutal affair, little more than an annoyance to the Angels Abject as they advanced through the streets and hab-blocks. The armies and weapons of the rebels themselves had been far more effective and while they had, as the Angels knew they would, broken, it had taken longer and cost more lives than Chapter Master Alderos Erran would have liked, would have expected. It was not until the closing phases of the conflict that the reason for this stubborn and well coordinated resistance became clear. When the reports arrived from the front of Heretic Astartes in black armour at least some of the questions were answered. When the identity of those traitors was confirmed the entire company, brothers, serfs, techpriests and even the lowly servitors were all suddenly infused by a frenetic energy that seemed to unnerve their allies as much as it unnerved the enemy. The Angels had led the charges against command points and capitol buildings, going so far as to bar entry to other Imperial units, sending them on patrol, holding or guard duty while the sounds of ferocious battle rang from within. With this new vigour the planet had fallen in short order. The casualties were higher, the many names of his dead brothers inscribed by his own hand on the Chapter’s roll of honour, but the greatest prize had been taken. The greatest prize. Well, not quite. The leaders of these hated traitors had escaped at the last, using some Emperor-damned warp magic to effect an escape for themselves and many of their followers. The rest had been taken, or had died fighting in the dark basements of the final bastions. Now Alderos stood at one end of the long corridor that formed the central spire of the Black Level. The sealed of deck in the heart of the chapter flagship Retribution’s Light, and considered the rows of sealed, sigil encrusted cell doors stretching away into the distance. So many had been filled that it would take the Interrogator Chaplains most of the journey back to the Rock to provide them all with the final deliverance. Alderos would have smiled. The greatest prize may have slipped away, but the sight of the cells full of captured Fallen Angels was more than enough consolation. He would have smiled, but he did not. He did not because of the soft sound carrying gently out of the cells before him. From within came the unmistakable sound of laughter. Not boisterous laughter, not hearty laughter, which would have been out of place enough on any ship belonging to a chapter of the Unforgiven. This was mirthless, sardonic, unmistakably defiant. It was that defiance that made it so alien to Alderos and what curled his lip on to a scowl as he approached the door first on his right and returned the solemn salute from the armoured figure standing beside it. Interrogator Chaplain Erakiah Othran bowed to his master, and while both still wore their full battle plate and had their helmets tightly clasped in place, both knew the expression they shared. “Report.” the Chapter Master said, coming to a halt and folding his gauntleted arms over his massive chest with its white Imperial Eagle seeming to glimmer in the semi-darkness of the Black Level. “My Lord. My brothers and I began our work on the prisoners only three hours ago. But I have heard things from these traitors that I have never heard spoken before, by any prisoner.” he added, darkly. Once again both of them shared an expression, hidden behind their helmets. “Your communication said as much.” Alderos nodded, and then referencing the laughter that still trickled out from the cells all around, “When did they start doing this?” The chapter master had been forced to curtail a rather delicate meeting with the Lord-Commander of the regiments attached to the chapter for the campaign. He wanted answers, as so many had before him. Alderos would have liked to have given a more complete explanation, for all that it hurt him to lie to another servant of the Emperor. But he had instead been dragged down here, to listen to what he had assumed to be the ravings of another round of trapped, desperate traitors, being forced to leave the Lord-Commander with a deeply unsatisfactory explanation for his chapter’s actions and make a hasty exist. His assumptions had been wrong. “As soon as they regained conciousness, my lord.” the Chaplain replied, his visored eyes narrowed, “Before we had even touched them. And they continued throughout, even as they screamed.” Alderos drummed his fingers on his pauldron idly. Laughter in itself was not entirely unknown down here, the Chaos tainted heretics were wont to rant and gibber and laugh on occasion. But that was always frenzied, raving shrieks of laughter, not this stoic, almost mocking retort. “And what have they been saying to you brother?” “I believe it best for you to hear it directly. I doubt I could do justice to the blasphemy.” Alderos raised an eyebrow. His brother Chaplain was always so brimming with fire and bile regarding the excuses and appeals his ill-fated charges shouted at him, he rarely passed an opportunity to use them to extol his brothers, driving them on by demanding they prove their former brothers liars as well as traitors. This silence was almost as unnerving to Alderos as the laughter which had not risen or dropped since his arrival but continued in a soft chuckling melancholic underscore to their conversation. “If it leaves you without words, then I dare say I dread to hear it.” he managed something approaching levity, trying to cover his unease. The chaplain was not deceived. “I am far from without words, my lord.” Erakiah shook his head, “I merely admit that I could not, and still cannot conceive of the things the prisoner within has said to me in the last two hours. I believe you must hear it, as I believe we must make all speed back to the Rock, our brothers must hear of this, if it is true or not.” Once again the uncharacteristic dourness of the usually bombastic Chaplain gave Alderos pause. He had only have been joking when he said he dreaded to hear it. He dreaded nothing; he was a Space Marine. He still was sure he would not like what he would hear. Never the less, he nodded to Erakiah to unlock the door and pushed it open, stepping inside to hear whatever it was that seemed so important and unspeakable. --- The cell was like cells are everywhere. The walls and floor were bare; ferrocrete in this instance. There was no windows, only one door, and the barest minimum of a waste extraction unit set into one corner. There was no bed. Instead sprawled on the floor, naked but for a coarse loincloth a space marine lay on his back. His eyes were closed and he chucked under his breath, each making small movements in a face far far too placid considering its location. The Fallen Dark Angel opened his eyes when the Chapter Master entered, the grind of the door signalling an arrival some moments before his face was visible in the barely illuminated cell. He sat up, cross-legged at once, and on seeing his visitor raised an eyebrow in almost sarcastic amusement. “I am honoured, my lord.” he said inclining his head a fraction, something approaching a smile twitching the corner of his lips. Erakiah crossed the cell in two strides and was on the prisoner before another sound could be uttered. A steel instrument, barbed and pointed flashed in his hands and delivered a short, sharp and accurate jab to the prisoners exposed chest. The small puncture wound it left barely bled, but the prisoner fell back as if the Chaplain had struck him with the full force of his Crozius Arcanum. He also screamed. Screamed and writhed on the bare floor, hands scrabbling against his chest in reflexive attempt to remove the pain that was coursing through his body. Alderos know of the chemicals used by the Interrogator Chaplains, but preferred not to think to much about them, or what they did to a body. Instead he waited for the thrashing and yelling to subside, though, he noted ruefully, the prisoner still managed to laugh between gasps. When the pain seemed to have subsided, at least to a tolerable degree, and before the traitor had time to resume his hateful chuckling, Alderos stepped forwards. “I am here,” he began in a soft but threatening tone, “ because I have been told that you and your accursed brothers have something which I should hear, not to exchange pleasantries. You will tell me what you know quickly, if you do not want my brother to ply his craft again.” “He will regardless.” the prisoner spoke with strain on his voice, but still he forced out another laugh before continuing, “You will go and he will continue. He will continue all the way back to the Rock, and for years after I bet. Oh yes. He and I will be spending a lot of time together. No, he won’t kill me. He won’t want to. And neither will you when you hear what I have to say.” “Then speak.” “We do not fear death.” the prisoner said through more laughter. “Nor do we.” Alderos replied, and with a nod set the Chaplain forwards again. When he regained himself the prisoner spoke; “We do not fear death, we do not fear pain, because we have felt an excess of both. We have died, we have bled, we have been culled. We who died before ever you or your so-called brothers found us. We who drifted on the tides of the warp, being feasted upon by what lurks there. Oh, yes, we do not fear your paltry mortal jabs and twinges by comparison with that eternal agony. Nor, “ he said managing to chuckle again, “do we fear going back to that place, for we will return.” “And then you shall be captured once again.” Erakiah had heard his before; the tainted soul of the fallen would eek its way back into the real world through trickery or through some diabolic pact with a warp spawned horror. He had heard it all, and he had dealt with the monstrosities that resulted from such acts of retched degradation. He had seen them bound and howling, he had heard them repent their sins, or heard them die. Alderos waved a hand to silence his zealous brother. He too had heard and seen what might in some form return from the Warp after death, but this un-mutated, un-marked, un-marred space marine was not, or did not seem to be, such a thing. Was he simply lying? He claimed to have been sent screaming in death into the warp wither all souls are said to go, and to have come back without paying the terrible price. He must be lying. “You think me a liar. Then strike me down. Slay me. Send be back into the arms of my master and his Heralds, who will pluck me from the Immaterium and set be back down, armed, armoured and ready to continue the glorious task he has set for us.” Alderos was almost bemused by the tirade. It was not unlike so many other assertions of strange powers, or of dark patrons, that he’d read over his many years of service. “But it was not that which sent your brother scurrying to call you down here to…” the prisoner’s continued speech was cut short by another interjection by the Chaplain. As the prisoner thrashed and screamed again, Alderos turned to his brother and silently expressed his preference that there be fewer of these interruptions, at least for the moment. “Every well, my lord.” Erakiah replied, less than silently making is disapproval of the Chapter Masters request known. “I, and my venerable brother, have listened to enough of your kind making desperate boasts, even threats, when faced with the final retribution. So please, do tell me what it is that makes you more noteworthy than any of those others.” “I am telling the truth.” the prisoner said simply, laughter returning again, “I’m not a wide eyed zealot. I’m not some plaything of the ruinous powers dancing for their amusement, hoping, praying for some favour or boon. No. In truth those ‘gods’”, he spat the word, “are little more than shadow puppets themselves. Monsters cast by the soul of humanity shining light on its dark heart. No, the power I boast of, the power that now threatens you and your deluded mission is not some fickle warp entity, or even some vile incantation devised by witches or sorcerers. No, this power comes from somewhere else entirely. Somewhere which none of us have ever been, but which has reached out and touched me, touched my brothers. Set us aside for a great purpose.” “Name it.” Alderos demanded. “Him. Not it. Him.” the prisoner’s chuckles rose to almost hearty levels, making Erakaih forget the request of his lord and jab the device deeply into his bare neck. The screams broke, becoming high pitched and screeching as the prisoner collapsed in indescribable, but not total agony. The chemicals delivered in vast dosage directly into the arteries that fed his brain caused it to very slowly shut down. The prisoner fell backwards, his limbs now sprawled at odd angles by violent spasm spasms. Alderos barely noticed. Because he had heard the name shouted amongst all the vocalisations of pain. Because he knew that name. Because the man who had told him of that name and what impossible things the Chapter Masters of the Rock believed it to be connected to had also made him swear that any Fallen Angel who spoke that name must be delivered back to the Rock with all haste and rendered directly into his hands. Alderos remembered the stern, indomitable countenance of the Grand Master as Sapphon had accepted the Chapter Master’s vow. Because he was already turning to the door, already activating his suit’s vox-link to command that the Angels Abject fleet break orbit within the hour, leaving their brothers behind if need be, and that a course be set for the last reported location of the Rock by the swiftest route regardless of danger. Because he had heard the words clearly though the screams and the mingled laughter still escaping the prisoner even as he fell. “Kraven! Our Master’s name is Oreanas Kraven. Walker of the Straight Path. It is he who rescued us, he who brought us together. He who will take hold of our souls in the instant we die and bring us back with new life to defy you again. Kraven! Walker of the Straight Path. Master of Chaos Primordial!”
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