Some months following the Skvorax Culmination…
Apprentice Mialo hurries though hallowed halls towards the Inquisitor’s study, a winged Cherubim fluttering along at his shoulder; between them the pair are precariously toting a hundred various items of tech capable of storing information – discs, tapes, books, parchments, scrolls, crystals, tablets, at least one bone scrimshaw and a glass sphere containing the pickled brain of someone or something long dead and – until now – long forgotten.
“Hurry, hurry,” Mialo mutters under his breath.
“Hrry, hrry,” chirps the Cherub; Mialo grunts annoyance, but keeps moving.
Despite the unwieldy load, the duo gain speed as they go; thus as they barge through the heavy swinging doors into the study, the various items seemingly take on a life of their own, and – in spectacular fashion – the bundled load escapes the pair, avalanching across the ancient table, some of it even scattering onto the wooden deck.
In the ensuing silence, the tall thin Inquisitor seated at the far end of the table raises one immaculately-manicured eyebrow.
“Ah, Mialo,” she says dryly. “What a wonderful entrance.”
Apprentice Mialo gets quickly to his feet.
“Aplgz, Mstrz!” chirps the Cherub.
Mialo swats at the Cherub; it squawks and heads for the safety of height, perching on an overhead crossbeam from which hangs an immense chandelier.
Mialo had always loved the study; he could feel its age on his skin. More than ten thousand years in the past the study had been the grandiose rear cabin of a wooden tall-ship, recovered from the polluted oceans of Terra at the height of the Emperor’s reign, lovingly restored at exorbitant cost, and gifted to the Mistress’s long-departed predecessors for services rendered during the Horus Heresy.
“Success, then, Mialo?”
Mialo straightens to attention. “Yes, Mistress.”
“Ys Mstrrrz,” echoes from above. The Inquisitor tilts her angular face upward, fires an arched eyebrow in warning. The Cherub squeaks and hides its face under a stubby wing.
Mialo clears his throat dramatically. “Mistress, regarding your orders to research the Relic blade Hellbringer -”
“One hundred and fifty-three days ago, if I recall?” That damn eyebrow raised accusingly.
Mialo nods. “Yes, Mistress; apologies, but as you taught me, thoroughness is -” Mialo notes the eyebrow is still raised, changes tack.
“Affirmation, Mistress!” he barks. “And Justification.”
The Inquisitor nods, more to herself than the Apprentice. Some moments pass – the Cherub can be heard singing softly to itself, while Mialo forces himself not to hop from foot to foot – until the Inquisitor waves a hand at the pile on the table.
“And all this is?”
“It is the history, the tale that confirms the Affirmation… and Justification.”
The Inquisitor nods. “So tell me.”
“It is a long tale, Mistress; over a century at least. Where shall I begin?”
“Not where, Mialo; nor even when. Affirmation of Heresy is serious business, and so is Justification for Termination,” lectures the Inquisitor. “Never forget we are conducting state-sanctioned murder – the targeted death of a person or persons – and thus we must always focus our investigations on the who.”
Mialo bows his head in acknowledgement. “Then with who…”
“With whom,” sighs the Inquisitor.
“… With whom shall I begin, Master?”
There is another long pause while the Inquisitor deliberates; Mialo waits impatiently, the Cherub passes wind and giggles to itself.
Finally the Inquisitor speaks again.
“By her own mission reports, Kallatar condemns herself; her and her retinue have been in contact with the damned blade for too long, and thus their termination orders merely await my execution – o, how droll of me.”
She raises the eyebrow at Mialo yet again, who forces a smile; he’s heard this particular joke a thousand times. Overhead the Cherub giggles.
The Inquisitor sighs.
“Kallatar’s termination is fait accompli,” she says. “If indeed she survived that Skvorax debacle…”
Mialo feels some remorse that his research has led to this; the few times he has met Kallatar she was polite to him, and he knows the Mistress respects her and the work she had done for her Ordo over the past few centuries.
“My interest in Justification,” she continues, “now resides in this swath of allies she has amassed over the past century.”
She leans forward, thin fingers reaching into the pile of items, selects a small leather journal seemingly at random, tosses it to Mialo; on the cover is embossed a stylised winged skull emblem that the learned Apprentice recognises after a moment.
“The Rogue Trader Captain, Mistress?”
“No-one is safe from Heresy, Apprentice Assassin-Investigator Mialo,” says Assassin-Inquisitor Imadeus of the Ordo Sicarius. “Even an Imperial Warrant-sanctioned Rogue Trader.” She raises that lethal eyebrow at her Apprentice one more time.
“So regale me with the history – nay, the tale, as you say – of Captain Winter and her crew, so I may indeed Justify if termination for Heresy is also to be their fate.”