One hundred years before today…
On a glass platform suspended above the desert, Illyria watches the pre-dawn illuminate the Rust Yards.
In her black-metal hand is the precious Warrant: freedom freshly inked on ancient paper, stamped with the Imperial seal.
Beside her stands the Inquisitor whose life she saved a year ago.
Illyria’s father had been starship crew, retired into the Administratum of the Winter Hive; tales of intergalactic adventure, wondrous planets and exotic xenos fuelled the young Illyria’s imagination, as unknowingly the creeping lung rot seeping through the ventilation from the sump-gas pools slowly killed her parents. On the day her father died – a week before her mother, and a week after Illyria’s twenty third birthday – Illyria decided no matter the cost, she would escape Hive life to the stars. She’d inherited the little hab her parents had owned, though now she knew she was living on borrowed time; every breath in the Winter Hive was killing her. She found herself a job at the docks driving mech-loaders, started looking for ship-crew work, though the story was always the same: no-one wanted to hire an inexperienced girl with no spacer skills. Her search for escape grew more and more frustrating, until the day she saved the life of a stranger.
Walking home from the docks, she turned a corner and – snapshot image: ghost-light smouldering off a sword cast aside on the deck plates; a dying woman in blood-drenched gold armour straining to reach the fallen sword, intestines trailing from her like tentacles; and the creature that had done the damage rising above them both, wreathed in fire and shadow and the stench of the warp.
A moment’s non-decision, a tableau of weird; a point in time where fates are changed.
Because she had no reason not to, Illyria stepped forward and picked up the sword.
At the time, it only cost her an arm.
Beside her, wind catches the long tails of the Inquisitor’s coat, reveals the sheathed ghost-light sword.
(Ever since she touched it, Illyria hears its whispers in her dreams).
“So,” the Inquisitor says. “The Warrant is yours.”
Illyria nods. “Your debt is repaid.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
Scattered across the desert in front of them are ten million abandoned starship hulls, surrounded by ten billion scattered starship parts. Overhead, Rust Mechanicus factory-platforms drift, cyber-tentacles and servo-claws reaching down to pluck treasure from the junk, those parts evolving into engines, weapons and hulls back up on the platform decks.
Across the local sector, the Rust Yards are heralded as the place where broken things are reborn.
“So,” the Inquisitor continues. “Choose.”
Illyria frowns. “I don’t understand.”
“A Rogue Trader captain is useless without a ship; so choose one.” Before Illyria can say anything, the Inquisitor holds up a warning hand. “Don’t thank me, Illyria of Winter Hive – one day you may regret picking up my sword.”
At the time – as Illyria flexes her new bio-mech arm and dreams of her own ship that will take her away from the Hive and this world – she thinks she understands the Inquisitor’s words well enough.
It is only today, the day of the assault on the hive of Skovarax, this day a century later – the day she loses her face – that Illyria Winter understands the true price of saving Inquisitor Kallatar.