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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Unicorn   Tue Mar 11 2014, 08:16

Hi. So, here's another tale with dark eldar in it. It's not exactly a follow-up to 'Ascent', but it features Vermipox and Meeran again, so it might be more meaningful if you've read that. I hope that I've written it so that it can be enjoyed without having to have read 'Ascent', though.

Anyway:
Objectionable Content Warnings:
 


Last edited by Barking Agatha on Mon Jul 07 2014, 02:49; edited 9 times in total
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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Mar 11 2014, 08:20

UNICORN

THE NOTHING  (PROLOGUE)

A monochrome landscape: grey sand, grey skies. Hints here and there, in the curve of a dune, in a jagged fragment of corroded metal poking up from beneath, in a pool of darkness that might once have been rubble, of the grand and glorious city that once stood here: towers reaching up to the sky, endless streets alive with traffic, intricate tunnels crisscrossing into the bowels of the world – now only sand, and a cold twilight sky where no sun ever rises, where Time itself has died and withered to dust.

Incongruously there stands a card table, tastefully carved from polished wood and covered with a cloth of green felt, surrounded by four comfortable chairs, also of polished wood, upholstered with plush red cushions. Into these chairs, four entities materialise – they cannot be called people, or even beings; ontological states are even more alien to them than physical bodies. Their presence is not so much an arrival as a lenticular illusion, a trick of perspective.

But they have names, of a sort. ‘Brute,’ one greets another.

‘Whore,’ the other acknowledges. ‘Hello, Slime and Lie.’

‘Greetings, Brute,’ says Slime, ‘and to you, Whore and Lie.’

‘Welcome, Brute, Slime, and Whore,’ says Lie.

‘Hello, Slime. Why, Lie,’ she says, observing the mewling and terrified package feebly struggling in Lie’s grasp. ‘I see that you have brought a wounded child with you.’

‘Yes, I thought that we could use something to snack on, while we play.’

‘How thoughtful. Shall we begin then?’

Brute lays down a card. ‘I play Hatred, simple and fierce.’

Whore smirks. ‘Desire, complex and elusive.’

Slime yawns. ‘Oh, Indolence, I believe. Why fight the inevitable?’

Lie shakes its head. ‘I play… Hope.’

The other three are stunned into silence. Finally, Whore says, ‘Sometimes, Lie, I believe that you are the cruelest of us all. Lust.’

‘Pride,’ says Brute. ‘Filth,’ says Slime.

The game continues. Sometimes one of them gains the advantage, sometimes another. It is random and meaningless. Occasionally a pattern emerges, but none of them can bear this and it soon collapses back into a muddle.

Casually, Whore picks up a card. ‘Pain,’ she says.

The other three stare in disbelief. ‘Pain?’

‘And why not? Is it not one of my trumps?’

‘Pain is. Pain lives. Pain fears, rages, hopes, and wants.’

‘How dare you! You know whom I serve. Is she not the Prince of Pain?’

‘Of course,’ Lie admits. ‘But there is change.’

‘There is challenge,’ adds Brute.

‘There is decay,’ adds Slime.

‘Not for us!’ Whore protests. ‘Only for things that are, and we are not!’

‘Precisely. You risk much, sister.’

Lie interjects, ‘Oh, don’t be tedious, Slime! You are holding up the game. Now it’s interesting! I’m in.’

Brute says, ‘Now it’s dangerous! I’m in also.’

Slime sighs. ‘Now it’s futile. I’m in, of course.’

The perspective changes, and they are gone. Whore lingers for a split second, wondering if she has made a mistake – but it is too late to turn back now, and in an instant she too, is gone.

The child, ignored, expires, and dissolves into grey sand.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Mar 11 2014, 08:37

CHAPTER ONE – TERMINUS

It is a paradox, thought Aralee Zayt. The vastness of outer space could be almost unbearably claustrophobic. Even a large ship like the Janus Comet had seemed like a tiny and lonely box of ceramite and steel, against the oppressive infinity of the void. The journey here might have taken a thousand years, or it might have been a day; in an eternity of time and space, what was the difference? And now she was on Harbour Station, a massive and sprawling construction of both human and alien design, orbiting a baleful red dwarf star. Harbour was bigger than most planet-bound cities, and yet, looking out of the viewport on one of its many disreputable establishments, it seemed as insignificant among the stars as a speck of cosmic dust.

Stop it, she told herself. Remember your training. Thoughts such as these are the gates that lead to heresy. The Emperor is my beacon. My faith in Him is my mind’s shield against the all-encroaching darkness. There is no room for doubt, no place for questions.

She felt a presence looming behind her and turned to see the familiar dark face of her companion, Captain Origen. His presence reassured her; almost as tall and muscular as a space marine, yet so gentle and soft, so delicate, always soft-spoken. A strange, strange man, even for a Rogue Trader. ‘Must we meet with them?’ she asked.

Origen gave her a slight nod. ‘That is not for me to say. It will look suspicious if we do not. We are smugglers, and they wish to be smuggled. Some already suspect me of being a spy of the Inquisition.’

‘The irony being that you are not; I am. You really are a smuggler, although you work for me.’ She glanced around the room. ‘Look at them! Xenos, renegades, heretics, criminals, scum; why don’t we just kill them all? Why do we tolerate this?’

Origen shrugged. ‘The Imperium tolerates Harbour for the same reason that the xenos do: it is indispensable to shipping in this sector.’

Aralee was firm. ‘One word from me and a full company of space marines would be here within the fortnight. They would soon cleanse this foul place.’

‘That is your decision to make,’ said Origen.

Damn him. Why couldn’t he argue with her?  Of course Harbour was indispensable. The xenos did not like it any more than the Imperium did, but they all needed it just as much. An attempt by any one of them to take it over would leave the others no choice but to fight back, and the only possible result would be catastrophe for all. But if she did it, if she chose that course of action, Origen would not protest. He had stated the facts as she had asked him to, and left the rest entirely up to her.

She had travelled with him for years now, posing as his concubine, and there was still so much that she did not understand about him. She wondered, not for the first time, what he would be like in her bed. Gentle and thoughtful, she thought. Caring. It was impossible, of course; she could not compromise her mission for the sake of her own personal pleasure. But what would he do if she asked? If she offered to make their false relationship a real one?

She could guess. ‘That is your decision to make.’

Enough. What was the matter with her today? ‘Fine,’ she said somewhat testily. ‘Let us meet these xenos of yours.’

They found the two aliens seated at a table in the furthest corner of the bar, and they were far worse than she had imagined. The seats near them were all empty; it seemed that even the hardened scum of Harbour Station were uncomfortable around them. The male looked old and gaunt, with long, matted, grey hair and eyes like black marbles. What seemed at first like a pointed beard was in fact carved from exposed bone protruding from his chin. He wore dark purple robes made of a leathery material that it was best not to think too much about.

The girl was somehow worse. Her frame suggested that she was eldar, but she could easily have passed for human, if it were not for the sense of indescribable dread about her. She emanated a feeling of imminent panic, a terrifying otherness that was uncomfortably familiar. She was at once fascinating and repulsive.

‘Greetings,’ the man said, his voice like dry twigs rustling in the wind.  ‘I am Vermipox, and this is my daughter, Meeran S’hlee.’

Origen bowed. ‘Captain Origen, and my companion, Aralee. I understand you wish to book passage?’

‘Indeed. It is known that your ship will be leaving for Sagramunda very soon; we would like to be on it. We shall pay handsomely for the privilege, of course.’

‘The Janus Comet is not a passenger ship. What do you offer in payment?’

Vermipox discreetly passed a small, dark crystal shard across the table. ‘Dark energy crystals. Please, keep that one, as a gesture of good will. You shall have ten in advance, ten more when we arrive.’

Origen examined it in the palm of his hand. ‘An immense fortune. How did you obtain them?’

Vermipox shrugged. ‘We have skill in bargaining, and access to markets beyond the realms you know. But I offer something more. I believe that you value information, is it not so?’

‘It is so.’

‘Aboard your ship, you may ask any questions of me and my daughter, and we shall answer them truthfully. Again, as a gesture of good will, I can tell you that a sizeable fleet of my people is operating in this sector, unknown as yet to either your Imperium or the Tau.’

Aralee looked up sharply. If this were true, it was valuable information indeed! ‘What are they doing here?’ she asked.

‘They hunt us, Meeran and I. But they are not averse to profitable distractions along the way. They have already despoiled three human worlds, Geneth, Coreau, and Agrion; and two Tau colonies, Mai’is and Wu’ten.’

Aralee kept her excitement out of her voice. ‘Why do they hunt you?’

It was the girl, Meeran, who answered. ‘They want my suffering, my pain.’

‘Why?’

‘Because there is so much of it.’

Was this a riddle? ‘You don’t seem to be in pain to me.’

The girl gave her a strange smile. ‘Oh, you have no idea!’

‘What are you? Are you eldar or…’ the thought was disturbing, ‘human?’

‘Yes. Both.’

A hybrid. Aralee had heard that such a thing was possible. If anything it made the girl even more repugnant, knowing that she was the product of such an abominable blasphemy. Aralee was no fanatical redemptionist, but she felt a strong urge to destroy this monster, to burn her body to ashes and forget that she had ever existed.

Origen addressed Vermipox. ‘You must know that you eldar have a reputation. How can we trust you?’

‘A fair question,’ answered Vermipox. ‘Then again, once aboard your ship, how can we two lonely travelers trust you? For my part, I give you my word that no harm shall come to either of you while we are in your company, unless you try to harm us first.’

‘Or to my crew.’

Vermipox bared red-stained teeth and laughed. ‘Ha ha! We deal with a wise man, daughter! Indeed, Captain, no harm shall come to either of you, or to your crew... unless you or they try to harm us first.’

Meeran trembled with excitement as she spoke to Origen. ‘Captain, sir, where did you find wisdom?’

‘I cannot say that I have found it, young one. Perhaps wisdom is only the road. The destination is…’

‘… fulfillment.’

The girl was odd. Mentally deficient, Aralee thought. Well, what else would you expect? ‘Excuse us,’ she said, rising and grabbing Origen’s arm.

Out of earshot of the aliens, she said, ‘True or false, I cannot ignore this information. We must take them with us.’

‘Yes,’ said Origen.

‘I don’t like it.’

‘No.’

‘Do you trust them?’

‘No. That would be extremely foolish.’

‘Do you think he will break his word?’

‘I don’t believe that it is physically possible for him to break his word. I believe that he will hold to it precisely, to the letter.’

‘But – oh, I see what you mean. We must be very careful how we phrase things?’

‘Yes.’

Aralee looked back toward the table. ‘If anything they say is true, if there really is an eldar fleet out there, and it really is hunting them, we might be able to use them as a bargaining chip. Or we could always incinerate them and throw the ashes out the airlock – my preference, really.’

Aralee had made a decision. She was beginning to feel like her old self, regaining her confidence – and then the girl waved. It was such a little thing, really, but Aralee reeled from the shock. Her legs nearly yielded beneath her. Emperor’s sake, she was a trained Inquisitor! How could she have missed such a detail?

The girl had six fingers on each hand.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Mar 18 2014, 08:02

CHAPTER TWO – BLOOD

PART ONE

Aralee touched the panel on the door to her private quarters; it jerked open only slightly and then stuck, so she gave it a kick and touched the panel again. She had asked the maintenance enginseers to give it a chanting over, but they were busy and she didn’t want to press it. She was only supposed to be the Captain’s bit of fluff, and they resented her pulling them away from important duties. She knew what the crew grumbled, that their Captain allowed himself to be henpecked by a pretty face, that they had seen better on many brothels. Of course, none of it ever bothered Origen in the slightest. She wished that she could say the same, but it bothered her.

In the days since they had left Harbour Station, her mind had perversely tried to recapture the same feeling of cosmic isolation aboard the Janus Comet – a feeling that she should not allow herself to have—but it would not come; she was too focused on the here and now, as of course she should be. She had just been in the comm room, relaying her report back to Terra with the detailed information that the alien, Vermipox, had provided. So far, it checked out. There were no sightings reported of an eldar fleet, but investigators had been dispatched to Geneth and Coreau and found them in ruins, inhabited only by horribly mutilated corpses. That did not mean that the alien was telling the truth, of course; it might have been the Tau, although such wanton butchery was hardly their style, and intercepted comms suggested that they too had found similar scenes at Mai’is and Wu’ten.

The door jarred shut behind her. Whatever the truth, Vermipox certainly had his own reasons for sharing it, and she needed to know what they were. It would be all too easy for the Imperium and the Tau to blame each other for these crimes, and for all-out war to erupt throughout the sector. Could it be that the sinister-looking eldar wished to prevent such a war? And if so, why?

Aralee bent over her dataslate, combing through the most recent reports in the hope of finding a clue, some hint at the shape of the puzzle. To all appearances Vermipox was being as good as his word; she had but to ask, and he answered. She just needed to find the right questions.

‘Hello, Inquisitor,’ a voice said behind her.

Aralee whirled instantly, laspistol in hand.  For a moment she saw no one there; then she looked up. It was the girl, Meeran, hanging like a spider from the ceiling. The sight took a moment to sink in. Dear Emperor, how was she hanging from the ceiling?

‘You!’ said Aralee. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I was out exploring the ship and I saw you come in here. I thought you might want to talk?’

‘How did you get out?’

‘Through the door, of course.’

‘The door was locked!’

‘I know; that is why I went through it.’

Did she mean that she had broken the door? Alarms would have been raised. Or… ‘Get down from there!’

The girl dropped, landing on her feet. Aralee nearly shot her out of reflex; then she nearly shot her anyway, out of general principle, but another fact asserted itself.

‘Why did you call me ‘Inquisitor’?’

To her surprise, the girl’s face registered a look of panic. ‘Is that not the correct form of address?’ She fell to her knees and abased herself before Aralee. ‘I implore your forgiveness! It was a crime of ignorance. I am foolish, and poorly educated. Please forgive me!’

‘Get up!’ Aralee could make no sense of what was happening, and she did not like it.

The girl stood up, head bowed. ‘Can you forgive me? How should I address you?’

‘You may call me ‘my lady’.’  Why not?  ‘And you are forgiven, if you are not here to harm me.’

Meeran regarded her suspiciously. ‘My master gave his word, my lady. Surely you are not suggesting…?’

‘No, no… of course not.’ Aralee still did not understand, but she had a sense that she was in great danger.

The girl’s face lit up in gratitude. She gave Aralee a conspiratorial smile, just-between-us-girls. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I would love to hurt you! But we mustn’t, right?’

‘N-no... It – ah – wouldn’t be proper. What made you think that I was an Inquisitor?’

‘Oh, I’ve known that since I first saw you. It’s your body language, it gives you away.’

‘Do I move like an Inquisitor? I am only a courtesan, and to a rogue trader at that.’

‘Oh, you move like a courtesan, yes, and it’s very good!’ Meeran began to pace back and forth, gesturing. ‘But you see, a courtesan is never only a courtesan. Maybe she was once a farm girl, and then she moves like this. Or maybe a minor noblewoman, fallen on hard times, so she moves like this. Likely she’s a war survivor, and she carries sorrow like this. But you move like this. Pure courtesan. As if you had come into being without a past, just for that purpose. No such woman exists. What else could you be but an Inquisitor?’

‘Stand still!’

Meeran struck an elaborate pose on one leg and froze as still as a statue. ‘Like this?’ She might as well be made out of granite.

Was the girl mocking her? Aralee reached for her commlink to call for assistance. Before she could reach it, the floor seemed to lurch beneath her feet and she lost her balance. Sirens blared, and a recorded voice droned on from the voxcaster on the wall. ‘Boarding stations… boarding stations…’

The girl had not shifted a millimetre. Aralee ran for the door and slapped the panel. The frakking thing stuck again, and she gave it a vicious kick. She had to get to Origen, find out what was going on! ‘You!’ she said to Meeran as she forced the door open. ‘Get back to your quarters!’

Meeran looked perplexed. ‘May I move?’

There was no time for this nonsense. ‘Yes!’ she shouted, running down the corridor and not looking back. As she hurried she tuned into her commlink, trying to work out the situation. Evidently, the Janus Comet had been attacked by surprise and boarded, and the attackers were advancing toward the bridge. The crew was hastily regrouping amidships, trying to form a defensive line.

She ran into their backs along the main corridor and pushed her way through the tightly packed bodies in the relatively narrow space, ignoring the looks of contempt that some of them gave her, until she reached Origen. The crewmen had erected a barricade blocking the intersection; behind it, six crewmen stood holding up a wall of tall boarding shields, and behind them six others pointed lasguns down the corridor.

‘Pirates?’ she asked Origen.

Origen looked as calm as ever. ‘Traitor space marines.’
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Mar 18 2014, 08:11

CHAPTER TWO – BLOOD

PART TWO

They were doomed. The crew of the Janus Comet were fighters, but what chance did they have against invincible supermen in nigh-invulnerable armour? In the open field, maybe, through superior numbers and tactics. But in the narrow corridors of a spaceship? Space marines were made for such fighting; it was the reason why they were called ‘marines’.

The first red and gold armoured giant turned a corner and appeared far down the corridor. The crewmen fired their lasguns – sharp, precise shots, not panicked. Most of them found their mark, but the shots barely even marred the space marine’s power armour. More giants appeared behind the first one, advancing inexorably upon the defenders – not hurrying – ignoring the lasbolt fire as if it were not there. The ones in front raised their bolt pistols and fired back an indifferent shot or two; they were still too far away to fire with any accuracy, but the massive detonations of the shells forced the crewmen to duck for cover. The shieldbearers strained against the impact, but held.  

Someone walked up beside Aralee, an unpleasant presence. It was Vermipox, calmly regarding the approaching chaos marines with something between ennui and mild interest. He was the last thing that she wanted at her side. ‘Return to your quarters!’ she ordered.

Vermipox raised an eyebrow. ‘Dear lady, did I not promise that no harm would come to you while we are in your company? Do not be so quick to send us away!’

He gestured back toward the corridor. The space marines had stopped in their tracks; the girl was before them, standing between them and the crew of the Janus Comet. She paced the corridor side to side, as if trying to balance along an invisible straight line and failing, while peering curiously at them as if they were signs written in a strange language that she could not decipher.

The unexpected sight had brought the traitor marines to a halt, but not for long. Their leader, the one whose hideously mutated face was exposed without a helmet, stepped forward and raised high the massive, whirring chainaxe that they all carried as melee weapons, roaring a cry of challenge and contempt: ‘Blood for the Blood God!’

Meeran curtsied amiably.  As the space marine brought down his weapon she made a little hop backward away from the killing blow, and the chainaxe struck the deck plating, leaving a jagged dent in the plasteel. The chaos marine raised his weapon again, and this time she leaped forward in the air with a high kick, her naked foot connecting with his throat, razor-sharp toes that penetrated through the toughness of his skin and deep into his flesh. She removed her foot and cartwheeled backwards back onto firm ground as a spray of blood spurted from the warrior's wounded throat; he would not be repeating his war cry again any time soon.

Having his throat cut hurt the marine, but did not stop him. His axe swung for Meeran's head; she easily ducked under it. On the backslash she ducked again but then grabbed the haft as it went by, allowing herself to be carried along with it. In the air she twisted, landing with her feet upon the head and haft of the weapon itself, clinging to it like a fly. The enraged marine shook the axe wildly, trying to dislodge her, but she kept her balance. He made a grab for her with his left arm but she scuttled away up his shoulder and onto his back, reaching into the power mechanism of his armour and tearing out chunks of circuitry and machinery.

The chaos marine dropped the chainaxe and tried to reach her behind him with both hands; at the same time, she pulled out two wires and put them together, sending a kinetic jolt through his armour so that he lost control of the motion and overbalanced. He fell flat on his back with a thundering crash of twisted and broken plasteel, and the deck plating crumpled beneath him as if made of paper. Before he could recover Meeran was kneeling on his chest; she drove her fingers into his face, through the eye sockets, the nose, and the upper palate… and pulled.

As ugly as his face had been, it was now gone, and in its place was nothing but a gurgling and quivering mess of gore and bone. The front of his skull had come off in Meeran’s hand, and the lower jaw hung limply from soft tissue. Obscenely, the tongue remained searching vainly for the lost features, like a fat, pink mollusk deprived of its shell. The body twitched in extreme shock, its inhuman augmentations refusing to allow it to die even as the distressed flesh convulsed with unbearable suffering.

Meeran casually tossed aside the useless chunk of bone and cartilage and carefully stepped away from the thing’s reach. It might be only a hollowed–out container of macerated meat, but it was still a space marine, and as long as a single spark of life remained it was still extremely dangerous.

Having defeated their champion, she stood before the squad of traitorous supermen. ‘What do you want?’ she asked.

As one they roared in answer: ‘Blood! Murder! Death!’

She bowed her head gracefully. ‘As you please.’

They fell upon her. What came next happened too fast for Aralee to follow. The melee was a chaos, with the traitor marines falling over each other and getting in each other’s way in their eagerness to get to grips with Meeran. The girl herself was a blur, but Aralee could tell that she was barely doing anything except dodging and weaving, allowing the rampaging giants to do most of her murderous work for her. Her tiny fist smashed through the photolens on a helmet and emerged holding an eyeball; the enraged stroke of the victim’s chainaxe was perfectly timed to miss her completely, but cleanly decapitated the space marine behind her. Then she was behind another one, raking her claws across the joint of his armpit. He turned and struck, but his axe instead buried itself deep into the shoulder of a comrade. If that one understood that the blow had been unintended, he did not seem to care; he buried his own chainaxe deep into his companion’s head, splitting it in half, helmet and all.

It was, thought Aralee, disgraceful. If these had been the Emperor’s holy warriors they would have worked in concert toward a common goal, but the traitors were consumed by their love of butchery. Half of them were already ignoring the girl, content instead to slaughter each other in the grip of their mad rage. Meeran for her part was easily evading blows that would have sliced her in half, and shots from bolt pistols that would have turned her into a stain on the bulkhead, all the while cutting and slicing into the space marines’ weak spots whenever an opportunity presented itself.

It was over in seconds, though it seemed much longer. Eight space marines lay on the deck, dead or disabled and in various states of dismemberment. Meeran methodically dispatched the survivors by removing their helmets and tearing out their throats.

The last one left alive could barely stand, but he managed to remove his helmet by himself, and then cast off his breastplate before falling to his knees, naked to the waist. He was more scar tissue than skin, and bore the unhealthy pallor of a follower of Chaos, but looked otherwise much like a loyal space marine, certainly more human than the mutant, half-breed girl, Meeran.

‘Blood!’ he roared.

Meeran shook her head. ‘No more blood. Blood is cheap. Pain now. Who are you?’

‘Choleridas, of the World Eaters!’

‘Look at you… space marine.’

A shock of realisation ran through the traitor marine, knowledge of ultimate loss without hope of redemption. Anguish spread across his face. ‘End it! Please, kill me!’

Meeran was almost kindly. ‘There is no death for you. You chose this pain, and it is forever.’

‘AAAUUGGHHHH!’ the space marine howled. It was a sound that no sane mortal should hear, the cry of despair of a damned soul in the face of eternal torment. Meeran's watched him with feverish eyes, licking and biting her lower lip and panting with short, sharp, squealing breaths, her body trembling and squirming in sexual bliss.

The crew dropped to their knees and cringed, openly weeping. Many were violently sick. Even Origen seemed affected, his tranquil features tinged by a deep and indelible sorrow. Vermipox closed his eyes and swayed his head slightly side to side, as if he were listening to the most beautiful music.

Aralee clung to a single phrase: ‘A morte perpetua Domine libra nos… A morte perpetua Domine libra nos…’ Finally Meeran had enjoyed herself enough; she dug her hands deep inside the chest of the howling space marine, found his two hearts, and squeezed. The howling ended, though the echo of it remained and always would, like a faint smell of vomit that could never entirely be got rid of.

The girl walked calmly up to the group behind the barricade. She was a mess of blood and gore from head to toe. The terrified crewmen shrank away from her.  ‘That was fun,’ she said with a smile and a sigh. ‘Exhilarating!’

Aralee pointed her laspistol at the girl. ‘What are you?’ she demanded. To her consternation, her hand was shaking, and a note of hysteria had crept into her voice.

Meeran raised her face to the ceiling. ‘I am a work of art! I am Suffering! I am heart and virtue, lacking wisdom! I am mistress of the Dead Palace! I am water, and I am wine!’

Aralee was not having it. ‘No more riddles! What are you?’

Meeran looked uncertainly at Vermipox. ‘I promised to tell, not to show.’

Vermipox held up a disciplining finger. ‘Behave yourself, child! Dear lady, we are bound to answer truthfully, but I must ask you to desist from this line of questioning. I fear the answers would do you harm, and I am also bound not to allow that.’

‘Unless we try to harm you first…’

‘Yes, of course,’ Vermipox glanced at her laspistol. ‘Unless you try to harm us first.’

Aralee might have pressed the matter, but Origen prevented her. ‘Please escort our guests back to their quarters,’ he addressed one of the crewmen.

The terrified crewman had lost the power of speech; he made no move to obey, merely looked up imploringly at the captain with a look of desperation on his face.

‘Emperor’s sake,’ said Aralee. ‘I’ll do it.’ The relieved crewman looked pathetically grateful, as did many of the others. Perhaps some small good might come of this, she thought. The crew would hold her in some respect after today – at least those who did not hang themselves in despair in the coming months. ‘You will return to your quarters and stay there!’ she said to the aliens.

Again Origen overruled her – twice in one day! ‘Young lady,’ he said to Meeran. ‘Please return to the room that we have assigned to you and stay there for the remainder of our journey to Sagramunda, or until we call for you, whichever comes first.’

Meeran looked chagrined. She had intended to return to her cell and stay there only until she became bored, but the captain had been very precise, and her master had given his word.

As she returned to her room, she apologised sincerely to Aralee. ‘I am sorry that I frightened you, my lady.’

Aralee frowned. ‘Who says that you frightened me?’

‘You must have been very frightened,’ said Meeran, gesturing at Aralee’s laspistol, ‘to take comfort from such a feeble thing.’


Last edited by Barking Agatha on Wed Apr 23 2014, 03:14; edited 4 times in total
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alexwellace
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Wed Mar 19 2014, 22:51

Please don't quit, i have very much like these few chapters and found this Meeren to be extremely entertaining, particularly her interactions with the Inquisitor. She seems all but impossible and mad, but the consistent type of mad which has substance to it, as you mentioned before 'Knowledge without understanding'.

These are really fun so please don't stop, i read these and now i am forced to go and back read Accent which i am also enjoying, although i am finding it lacking my favourite character the Inquisitor. I also liked the little injections of humour such as ''Aralee nearly shot her out of reflex; then she nearly shot her anyway, out of general principle'' and i giggled a bit at this. looking forward to the next ones.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Thu Mar 20 2014, 22:32

I shan't stop, and sorry, I was just having one of my turns. I wasn't kidding about it needing more blood though.

I should probably add that I'm using 'blood' as a metaphor. You shouldn't really write in blood. You would get sticky all over the keyboard, for one thing.

I think I've identified the problem, and it's that I'm telling the story through the point of view of Aralee. I thought that it would be clever to show Vermipox and Meeran from the 'outside' instead of from the 'inside'. I do like Aralee, but she's utterly grounded in Malkuth, so I find myself narrowing the scope of the narrative to the point that there's almost only bones there. I thought that I could imply the rest, but...

Obviously I'll try to figure it out myself, but if anyone has any suggestions, I wouldn't say no. Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Fri Mar 21 2014, 22:43

Hurrah, I love it. You write very cleverly.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Apr 08 2014, 00:59

Sorry about the long delay, but I think I have a handle on it now. It may not be perfect, but we'll see...

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CHAPTER THREE – THE BROKEN  BRIDGE


‘They are gone.’

‘They can’t be!’

‘Nevertheless, they are.’

Aralee sheltered behind anger against confusion and fear. There ought to be rules; people did not just turn up and disappear at random from spaceships. Events, if not under control, should at least be controllable, and if she could not control them, then who could?

But Vermipox and Meeran were gone, leaving behind nothing but a pouch containing ten dark energy crystals – they did not leave their bill unpaid. Origen had ordered a thorough search of the Janus Comet, and when that failed to turn them up, another one. She could ask him to order a third one, but she knew as well as he did that they were not on board, as did every member of the crew. Their presence had been tangible, as was their absence.

What now? Well, she still had business down below, on the world of Sagramunda. Answers would be found there.

‘They will be there, too,’ said Origen.

‘Yes,’ she knew.

She readied herself for two hours before boarding the cargo shuttle down to the planet, taking on the role of a proper concubine: A smooth base of makeup, white as cream and flushed as a rose; eyes sharply lined; eyelashes blackened; eye shadow in the perfect shade of ash;  eyebrows tamed into an expression of perpetual delight; lips the colour of living coral; blonde hair sculpted into waterfalls turning back upon themselves, like moebius strips; elaborate robes of white silk lined with red, carefully draped around her lithe frame, expertly concealing her small but powerful sidearm and the mechanism of her blink force field.

Was it all, strictly speaking, necessary? Of course, her cover must be thorough. The girl – damn her – had revealed a flaw in the disguise. Aralee would have to correct it. What would she be, a former guttersnipe? A war orphan? What would best fit not just a concubine, but a concubine for Captain Origen, Rogue Trader? What kind of woman would Origen choose, were he to choose? All the better to perfect the disguise.

She had to start over, as two crystalline tears had inexplicably welled up from deep within her eyes and left unsightly streaks all down her carefully applied makeup. And Emperor’s sake, what in the Golden Throne was that about?

She was a picture of perfection when she and Origen boarded the shuttle. They did not speak on the way down. They landed upon their assigned berth on Sagramunda spaceport, lowered the boarding ramp, and were met by an alarming sight: Two squads of armed guards were in formation at the foot of the shuttle in the open spacefield, anxiously watching each other; one human, wearing the uniforms of the Adeptus Arbites, the other aliens known to Aralee as Tau of the Fire Caste.

The commander of the Arbites stepped forward. ‘Welcome to Sagramunda. Please submit to inspection.’

Aralee bristled. ‘By what authority?’

‘By authority of the Arbites, and the governor of Sagramunda.’ He paid no more attention to her. At a gesture from him, two of the Arbites moved into the shuttle, followed by two of the Tau guards.

Aralee sidled up to him and surreptitiously showed him her Inquisitorial Seal. The colour drained from his face. ‘Not here,’ he muttered, turning his back on her. He walked away and whispered in the ear of a female arbitrator at the end of the Arbites line.

After a while, the arbitrator came up to Aralee and Origen. ‘Follow me,’ she said.

She led them into the building, through doors marked ‘No Entry’ and then out into the streets. They took a circuitous route along sparse avenues lined with austere warehouses and offices housed within large sheds, occasionally cutting through narrow and suffocating alleys that smelled faintly of roasted trash. Every two or three corners the arbitrator spoke casually into her helmet communicator, ‘Are we clear?’ The answer, it seemed, was that yes, they were clear. Evidently there were eyes on them making certain that there were no other eyes on them.

Finally they arrived at a warehouse surrounded by a fence of wire-netting topped with razorwire. A bored-looking gatekeeper unlocked the gate for them and then locked it again behind them. The yard seemed empty, but Aralee’s expert eyes instantly noticed the camouflaged defense turrets, and the small sheds that were actually manned pillboxes, and the too-obviously scruffy workers shuffling with military precision. The girl would laugh, Aralee thought.

Inside the building they were ushered through a cluttered vestibule to a small office in the back, half-filled by a cheap metal desk, behind which stood a senior judge with a receding hairline and a trim, grey beard, wearing the uniform of an Arbites Marshal.

‘Inquisitor,’ he greeted Aralee, signaling for her and Origen to take a seat. ‘Apologies for that. The Tau spy on us, as of course we know because we spy on them.’

Aralee beamed him a smile and spoke in a cheerful voice. ‘You allowed the xenos to board my vessel,’ she said.

‘Er, yes. They inspect all arriving ships. We don’t like it, but we can’t risk arms or forces being smuggled in.’

‘Tell me,’ said Aralee in the same cordial tones, ‘why should I not execute you for treason?’

The Marshal removed his sidearm and handed it to her, butt first. ‘Go ahead,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure myself that you should not.’

‘Explain.’

‘Forty-two years ago we were at war with the Tau all across the sector, and technically we still are. The war never exactly ended, it just –“

‘—ran out of fuel.’

‘Yes, well put. The last battles were fought here, on Sagramunda. We called a ceasefire to regroup, and have been regrouping ever since. We were too evenly matched, you see; the first side to make a move would lose everything, and we both knew that. That is how things have stood since then. Of course, if we could somehow tip the balance in our favour we would not hesitate to attack in the name of the Emperor, the problem is—‘

‘—the Tau have thought of the same thing.’

‘And my orders are to prevent that at all costs. If war breaks out here, it will spread across the entire sector, a war that we cannot win. So yes, we allow the Tau to inspect all ships arriving on our side, because otherwise they would not allow us to inspect the ones arriving on their side, and that is the only way that I can keep this intolerable status quo balanced on a knife’s edge.’

Aralee handed the gun back to the Marshal. She was a little bit sorry to have bluffed him like that; she would not really have shot him, of course. Probably.

‘Your message said that there has been a development,’ she said.

The Marshal seemed vexed. ‘A disturbing one. You know about the Tau and their so-called Greater Good? This situation is perfect for them. Since they cannot attack us directly, they attack us instead with words,’ he snorted derisively. ‘It’s what they prefer, anyhow. They entice our citizens away with blasphemy and empty promises, and it pains me to say that many of them have turned heretic.

‘Of course we suppress it, but there is only so much that we can do. The Tau consider the heretics to be Gue’vesa, as much a part of their empire as the Tau themselves. So we fight fire with fire; we are no slouches in the propaganda department ourselves. We have reached out to the Ministorum, and you’ll find an unusual number of temples on our streets, a preacher on every other corner.’

Aralee sighed. The priests of the Adeptus Ministorum were no doubt worthy and devoted servants of the Emperor, but she had yet to meet one who could be counted on to be prudent in a delicate situation.

‘Let me guess: it backfired.’

‘Yes, but not the way you think. In fact, you could say that we have been too successful. We have a new cult of worship to the Emperor now; they call themselves Unicorns, and they are fanatically devoted to His Light. Almost too fanatical, if that is possible. The priests are worried. It is what we wanted, of course, but… well, there is something wrong about them.’ The Marshal looked uncomfortable. ‘Something not right.’

Too fanatical for Ministorum priests?  Aralee could not imagine such a thing. ‘Many cults that worship the Emperor deviate into heresy,’ she said.

‘Not them, oh no, they are absolutely orthodox, to the letter. That is the trouble, it’s too perfect. Something seems to have gone out of them. And then it got worse, when we started getting converts from among the Tau.’

‘What!’

‘Oh, we don’t want them, we’ve made that very clear! But we’ve got them, utterly devoted to the Emperor. At first we suspected a Tau ploy, of course, but they are even more upset than we are. They think that their people are going mad, and it is hard to argue that they are not, but they also think that we are responsible. The balance hangs from a thread.’

She had to think about this. ‘What have you done about these crazy Tau?’

‘We can’t move against them without declaring war. We did manage to capture one, on the sly. We have him here. Would you like to see him?’

‘Yes, please.’

Aralee and Origen followed the Marshal into the warehouse. A storage space at the far end had been converted into a cell, surrounded by a containment field; it contained a cot, a chair, a shower, a strange receptacle that she took to be an alien toilet, and a living Tau, watching them from behind the barrier with a bellicose restlessness.

Aralee had seen Tau many times before, the bluish skin, the deep-set eyes, the absent nostrils, but she had never seen one naked before.  Her eyes wandered downwards and widened up, and she could not help a little laugh of embarrassment; there were certain startling differences, but this one was definitely male, and apparently in a remarkable state of excitement.

‘You couldn’t put some trousers on him?’ she asked.

The Marshal gestured toward a pile on the floor. ‘He won’t wear them.’

The Tau spoke to her. ‘I know you,’ he said.

‘I highly doubt that,’ she answered. ‘Who are you?’

‘I am a unicorn. Praise the Emperor!’

Aralee tried to reason with him. ‘He is the Emperor of Humanity; you don’t believe that you are human, do you?’

‘I am a unicorn. Kill the alien, burn the heretic, purge the unclean!’

‘What is your name?’

‘Unicorns don’t have names. Ha ha haa!’ He doubled over with laughter, mad and maddening, completely overcome.

It was unnerving. ‘What is so funny?’ Aralee demanded.

‘Ha haa! You are a unicorn too!’

Aralee glanced over at Origen. To outward appearances the large man seemed as imperturbable as ever, but she knew him as no one else knew him, and there was something in his eyes that she had never seen there before: abject fear.

Later, after they had checked into the luxury suite at the best hotel in human-side Sagramunda, and after she had scanned the room with a little device which she kept hidden in her beauty kit, and satisfied herself that they were not being spied on by any listening devices, she asked him about it.

‘What is it? I have never seen you like this, what did you see?’

‘A mirror.’ He looked into her eyes. ‘Aralee, this is not heresy, it is something much worse. It is dangerous. You have to crush it completely, there can be no trace of a memory that such a thing ever existed.’

Aralee gasped. ‘Exterminatus?’

He blushed with shame. ‘If need be.’

Aralee was shocked. As an inquisitor of course she was prepared to condemn an entire planet to genocide if it came to it, but to hear it from him, from her wise and gentle giant, it was heartbreaking. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,’ she said. ‘I imagine the Tau would have something to say about that. Besides, we are here to save the sector, not destroy it; you heard the Marshal, it’s a powder keg with a short fuse.’

‘That… is your decision to make, and I do not envy you. Please know that you count on me, always, whatever you decide.’

She looked into those deep, clear eyes, so trusting, so sincere. I know, she thought. Please tell me that you know that I know, and that it matters to me. Anything would do, a touch would do it, a look. But it was no use. They were so close, and still a universe apart.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Fri Apr 11 2014, 22:46

CHAPTER FOUR --THE GOLDEN KING


The curtains rose to reveal an empty stage.

It was an open-air theatre, the audience half human and half tau, each in their own section, sitting or standing, although the tau section included many humans who had chosen that side. Aralee and Origen had the best seats in the human section, by the side of Governor Gaelin, who had invited them, with some other dignitaries and the security detail.

Gaelin was a small and wiry aristocrat fitted with a cyber-monocle, who affected a red waistcoat and a checkered synthwool duster over an ornamental but functional breastplate, and a bowler hat. Aralee judged him to be intelligent and capable. From his conversation it was obvious that he assumed Origen to be an agent of the Inquisition, and Aralee had no intention of enlightening him just yet.

Across from them sat their counterparts in the tau delegation, led by Administrator Pol’na of the water caste. Gaelin stood up and politely tipped his hat to the Administrator; Pol’na stood up and bowed deeply to him in return. It was the diplomatic equivalent of giving each other the finger, but there was an acknowledgment of kinship in it; something important was happening on their streets, and as always, they were the last to hear about it.

So the curtains rose to reveal an empty stage, and then the backdrop unfurled: a painting of a forbidding tower, obviously a prison, with ten burning bars barring the gate; outside was a dark and barren landscape, and fearful beasts prowled beneath the tower, hungrily staring up at the flickering light within.

In the foreground was a young woman on a throne of fire, wearing a crown of gold. A trick of illusion, and the young woman in the painting became a living girl, leaping from the canvas and landing on the stage, taking a bow. Aralee recognised her instantly; it was Meeran, of course. The girl noticed her in the audience too, and directed a wink at her.

As the applause died down, a chorus of four shadowy figures appeared within the pit, wearing grotesque masks of rage, sloth, lust and deceit. Then the play began. Meeran spoke:

THE PRINCESS:  I am the Princess of Flame and Flood! Where is my sister?

CHORUS:  In the echoes of the hills. In the whispers of the winds.

THE PRINCESS:  Waters rage and fires burn, until my sister is returned!

Meeran danced. Her dance was hypnotic; one moment she became a living flame, leaving a trail of fire in her path, the next she became a raging wave, smashing against rock and washing away everything in her wake. The effect was stomach-churning; Aralee could almost feel the oppressive heat of the flames, the crushing force of the waves.

Four more actors entered, dancing clumsily. They were big, thuggish-looking men wearing blank masks. There was something odd and disturbing about them, about the way they moved shuffling and jerking, like puppets with their strings all tangled, and about the way they did not pause for breath, nor did their chests rise up and down with it, and about the soft puffiness of their pale features. Then it came to Aralee with a sinking feeling of horror; they were dead. She could not have said how she knew, but there was no doubt about it; whatever will was moving them to walk and dance and caper, these were corpses.

They brought in a living man bound hand and foot and threw him roughly on the floor, ignoring his protests. Then two ghoulish beasts were released onto the stage: hairless and eyeless, all gnashing teeth and twitching claws, grey skin pulled taut over gaunt and twisted frames.

The man screamed at the audience. ‘Help! Don’t just sit there watching, someone help!’

The beasts fell upon him and feasted. His screams were drowned out by discordant orchestral music in fortissimo, and by the sound of his snapping bones and tearing flesh. His blood flooded the stage. Meeran stood to one side, pantomiming mock expressions of shock and horror. The audience laughed.

The music stopped. There was a high-pitched whistle, and the beasts retreated back into the wings. The gory remains of the man were left there on the stage, still gurgling, still twitching.

THE PRINCESS: What an awful, gruesome fate! But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it satisfying. Madness, death, and cruelty abound, and still my sister’s nowhere to be found!

CHORUS (mocking): Poor thing! The jailer has been told. Oh, you’re in trouble now; here comes the king in gold!

The King entered, almost twice as tall and broad as a normal man, freakishly long-legged, costumed all in robes of glittering gold, a golden mask with an expression of contempt, and a golden crown; in one hand he held a bloody truncheon, in the other a lantern shining with a sickly ghost light.

THE KING (singing):  Darkness lies without, uncertainties and doubt. Darkness lies within, iniquities and sin. Darkness waits beyond, insanity and pain. Death has come before, and death will come again. Gather to my light of fear and loathing, stay within my prison or you’re screwed, and if you feel the need for understanding, just tell yourself it’s for the Greater Good!

Blasphemy! Unspeakable, obscene blasphemy! Aralee had spied on cults of Chaos worshippers, and even there she had never seen or heard anything as repugnant as this! She wanted to rush the stage, to stop the play, beat the players to a bloody pulp and then line them up against the wall, shoot them, and burn the bodies.  But somehow she was doing none of these things. It was as if she were standing outside her own body, watching herself be enthralled, horrified, and disgusted by the events taking place up on the stage. The show, it seemed, must go on.

THE PRINCESS:  O, King, where is my sister? Will you not restore her to me?

THE KING:  No. When your love is gone, you shall have vengeance; when vengeance is denied, blood there will be; when blood is not enough, we’ll have my tyranny; and when you need still more, you will have me.

The four dead attendants brought in a struggling tau woman, naked, terrified, and weeping. One of them lifted up a wooden crossbeam and fit it into its rest on the floor of the stage, so that it remained upright. Another one forced her arms above her head, placing her hands against the beam, palms outward, while a third one brought out a large nail and a hammer, placed the point of the nail against the palms of her hands, and forcefully began to pound it in.

Her screams and sobs of pain and terror rang throughout the theatre, above the clashing music of horns that blared in counterpoint, and above the high-speed gibbering of maddening pipes. ‘Why isn’t anyone helping me! Why do you all just sit there! They’re killing me, and you just sit there and watch!’

THE KING:  Why would they help you? This is for them. They know that someone needs to pay the price; someone to hate, someone to sacrifice.

Meeran grabbed two handfuls of the tau woman’s skin on her chest, just below her shoulders, with her six fingers on each hand that were sharper than lascutters and stronger than a vice, and in a single motion ripped the unfortunate woman’s skin right off her body, almost all in one piece, like a cheap stocking, with a sound like a rain-sodden shirt torn in half on a shard of broken glass, drowned out by her unearthly shriek of pain. Meeran whipped the flayed skin in the air, as if she had just performed a trick with a tablecloth, spattering the front seats with globs of blood. The jellied body of the woman convulsed upon the crossbeam, already dying from circulatory shock.

THE PRINCESS:  Not so different after all… red. It seems we’re all brothers and sisters when we’re dead.

Aralee was sickened. Of course the tau woman had only been a foul xenos, but it had still been a brutal, senseless murder. Why didn’t the tau do anything? Why didn’t she? And for the Throne’s sake, why was everyone laughing? She looked down at herself; oh, no, was she laughing too?

An attendant entered clutching a bundle of ten long, sharp sticks, staggering under their weight, trying desperately to balance them and not drop any. In the middle of the stage he stumbled and fell and dropped the sticks with a loud clattering; the audience roared with laughter. The Princess bowed her head in mock gratitude and picked up one of the sticks. She pressed the sharp point into the King’s belly and pushed it through him, until half its length emerged out of his lower back.

A red stain spread across the King’s golden robes. The Princess pushed another stick through the back of his neck and out through his chest. Two more through his ribs, two through his armpits, two through his legs, one through his crotch. The last stick she thrust into his anus, pushing it carefully through the length of his body, until the gory point emerged out of his mouth with a spurt of black-red blood.

Ten golden cups appeared in an arc above the stage, tipped over, and poured ten torrents of blood into the audience. The lights went out.

They came back on. There was no King, no corpses, no backdrop, no blood. Only an empty stage, and Meeran taking a bow and presenting Vermipox as the author of the play. There was thunderous applause.

The spell was broken. Governor Gaelin called upon his guards and pushed his way through the milling crowd toward the stage; Aralee saw Administrator Pol’na doing the same. She followed them. Vermipox had descended from the stage down a small flight of stairs into the stalls; Meeran was sitting on the edge of the platform, watching the crowd.

‘Ah,’ said Vermipox as they reached him. ‘Dear Lady Zayt, Governor Gaelin, Administrator Pol’na, distinguished guests, you honour us with your presence. How did you like the play?’

Pol’na was enraged. ‘It was an obscene abomination!’

‘Thank you,’ said Vermipox. ‘One tries one’s best.’

‘Our people will not stand for this!’

Vermipox raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’ He reached out and grabbed a passing spectator, pulling him in with deceptive strength. ‘Tell me, good sir, did you enjoy the play?’

The man stared madly. ‘I am a unicorn! Wheee!’

Vermipox released him. ‘You see? A rave review. And now, you must excuse me.’

The guards raised their weapons. ‘You will come with us,’ said Gaelin, ‘and answer for your crimes.’

‘I think not. Come along, daughter.’ Vermipox opened a door beneath the platform and went inside. ‘We must prepare for the next show.’

Meeran jumped down off the platform and waved to them. ‘Thank you for coming,’ she said, and then curtsied to Aralee. ‘Always a pleasure, my lady.’ Then she followed Vermipox inside. The door slammed shut behind them.

Gaelin grabbed for the door, but there was no door there: only a painting of a door on the side of the platform. He felt all around it looking for edges, a handle, a hidden panel. Nothing.

Pol’na was literally purple with rage. ‘Break it down!’ he ordered.

The fire warriors examined the door. ‘There is nothing to break down,’ they said. ‘It is a block of solid wood, nothing behind it.’

Pol’na turned on Gaelin accusingly. ‘Is this some kind of Gue’la trick?’ he demanded.

Gaelin drew himself up and answered with disdain. ‘My dear Administrator Pol’na, if we could pull that trick, you would not be here.’
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Sun Apr 13 2014, 21:56

Hurrah! The plays the thing!

You are p to your usual standard
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Apr 22 2014, 00:42

CHAPTER 5 – THE QUEEN OF DREAMS AND SHADOWS

Administrator Pol’na walked, not unnoticed but undisturbed, through the streets of the gue’vesa quarter of tau-side Sagramunda. It was a ghetto by tau standards, but nevertheless clean, healthy, prosperous, the living embodiment of the promise of the Tau Empire: the greater good. It did not hurt that it was in full sight of the gue’la living across the checkpoint. Its very presence posed the obvious question, why live like that when you could live like this? Across the bridge was darkness, misery, and madness. Surely reason ought to prevail over madness? But the madness had a life of its own, and its contagion was now spreading even to his own people. It had to be stopped. That was why he had come here; he needed answers.

He was perhaps slightly exceeding his authority, so he concealed his features beneath a hood and cape. It was hardly a true disguise, since he was obviously accompanied by a guard of ten of the best fire warriors, and his aide Chl’lee walked beside him, but it gave him plausible deniability in case anything went wrong. Of course, if he succeeded, it would not be necessary.

Chl’lee did not like it. ‘I beg you, Pol’na,’ he said, ‘do not trust this eldar woman!’

‘I don’t,’ Pol’na assured him. ‘I am certain that she has her own motives, but that does not mean that her information may not be valuable. What harm is there in just listening?’

‘She is…’ Chl’lee hesitated. A sorceress? A witch? The tau did not believe in such superstitions. ‘She has a power over people.’

‘Absurd!’ Pol’na scoffed. But it was true, the eldar woman had a way of making him want something. What? Not sex, certainly, if that were even possible with an alien species. The Tau Empire saw to that too. If he wanted, Pol’na could put in an application and a suitable mate would be assigned to him, a mutually beneficial pairing that would result in increased productivity for both of them, for the greater good. Nevertheless, the eldar woman made him want. It was not a specific wanting for anything in particular, just wanting.

But Pol’na was no fool to be led about by the nose. There was only one desire that mattered, and that was to serve the Greater Good. ‘To sift truth from lies, to forge bonds of mutual understanding, to compromise on common ground – this is what we do, Ch’lee, for are we not Tau of the Water Caste?’

They came to a section of the gue’vesa quarter that was still under construction. The building before them was a community centre, or would be one day. For now it stood supposedly empty, but a party of thin and haughty figures had taken residence within. They also hid their features beneath hoods and cloaks, but their elfin frames and insolent grace marked them unmistakably as eldar.

There was no door; the tau entered through the vestibule. They followed the main corridor to a large and empty hall, walled by columned arches leading off to other corridors; in the centre of the hall was a circular pit, destined to be a pool or a bath. The presence of the eldar had brought a strange entropy upon the building; instead of a structure in the process of becoming something good and useful, it seemed like the ruin of a building whose time was past, echoing only with the long-forgotten memories of terrible things that had happened within, as if the fresh plaster on the walls and the pristine tiles on the floor were mildewed and rotted with sin. Even before it was completed, it was already haunted.

All around them were perhaps a dozen of the eldar, their hoods pulled back to reveal their beautiful and cruel features, their cloaks opened to show the sinister segmented armour that they wore, the colour of dark orchids. They watched the tau with indifference, lounging and leaning louchely against the walls, some of them smoking cigarettes or water pipes. Across the pit was an eldar woman sitting elegantly on an upholstered ottoman, terrifyingly beautiful and wearing robes of ruby and wine. At their approach, she stood up.

‘Administrator Pol’na and Sub-Administrator Ch’lee, what a pleasure!’ she said.

They bowed to her. ‘Lady Pleghanie,’ said Pol’na.  ‘I despair. The plague of madness that afflicts my people grows worse every day.  I confess that I was skeptical when you said that the street theatre was the source of it. I could scarcely believe it, and I saw it with my own eyes! Who is this man that can so easily disappear into thin air?’

‘His name is Vermipox,’ said Pleghanie. ‘He is a wanted criminal of my people, whom we have been hunting for quite some time.’

‘Ah. May I ask, what crime did he commit?’

‘ Certainly. He commited art.’

Pol’na was puzzled. ‘Is art a crime among your people?’

‘Only if it is done properly. But I did not make you come here just to tell you that.’ She addressed a bored-looking eldar warrior sitting with his back against a wall, ‘Would you bring our captive here, please?’

The warrior rolled his eyes. ‘Do I have to?’

Pleghanie pleaded, ‘Please?’

The warrior reluctantly stood up and signaled to a comrade, who grudgingly followed him into a side corridor.

Pol’na almost had to laugh. To think that he had feared this woman, with bodyguards such as these! His own fire warriors stood in two close ranks around him, disciplined and efficient. He hoped it would not come to that, of course, but if conflict were to break out, the eldar would stand no chance. The tau were in complete control.

The two guards returned with a man in chains, muscular, dark-skinned, and almost half again as tall as them. They prodded him and he knelt before Pol’na and Pleghanie.

‘I know him!’ said Pol’na. ‘What have you done? That is the Inquisitor!’

Pleghanie laughed. ‘Him? Oh, no. He is just an adorable big puppy, aren’t you, Captain Origen? That pretty girl he travels with is the Inquisitor. She’s got teeth, that one. When she finds out that I’ve stolen him… well, oh dear. Tell me, Captain, do you love her?’

Origen answered simply, ‘yes.’

‘And does she love you?’

‘Yes.’

‘But she doesn’t know?’

‘No.’

‘How delicious!’ Pleghanie licked her lips and narrowed her eyes in pleasure, savouring the pain of lovers torn apart. ‘But enough of that; tell us about Vermipox and the girl.’

‘We picked them up on Harbour Station a few weeks ago, for us; about half a standard year out here, due to the warp jump discrepancy. Vermipox was eldar like yourself, but with extensive body modification; the girl Meeran seems to be half-human. Vermipox introduced her as his daughter. They knew that we were coming here to Sagramunda and offered money and information in return for passage.’

‘What kind of information?’

‘Mainly concerning the activities of an eldar fleet secretly operating in this sector. I am guessing that is you.’

‘Of course. You see, Pol’na? Vermipox chooses the Imperium, and I have chosen the Tau.’

Origen said nothing. She had not lied, she had indeed chosen the tau as Vermipox had chosen the Imperium, but chosen for what? But there was still a chance, however slim, that he might live to see Aralee again, and to spoil Pleghanie’s fun would be a sure way to throw that away.

Pol’na was wary. ‘Why do you divulge this information so freely?’ he asked Origen.

Origen turned to Pleghanie for assent before answering. ‘I am in your hands. I would prefer not to tell you, but you will have my answers whether I wish it or not, one way or another. Better to spare myself as much pain as I may.’

Pleghanie approved. ‘Sensible man.’

Pol’na looked doubtful. ‘But the plague of madness began long before this Vermipox arrived!’

‘That puzzles you because your race still believes that things need to happen in a certain order, causes and effects,’ said Pleghanie. ‘The man Vermipox does not observe such decencies.’

‘Hm. I do not fully understand, but one thing is clear: this corruption of madness is a weapon of the gue’la, just as I thought. They must be stopped, before it consumes all of my people.’

Ch’lee protested. ‘Pol’na, no! Don’t you see that this is a trick? She is all but telling you that it is a trap, and still you walk into it, because her words are what you want to hear, because she offers you what you want!’

Pleghanie turned a bemused look upon Ch’lee. ‘My apologies, honoured Ch’lee,’ she said. ‘I have neglected you unforgivably. What is it that you want? Is it for reason, harmony and restraint to prevail? Is it for your wisdom to carry the day?’

A thoughtful look came into Ch’lee’s eyes, quickly replaced by a look of panic. ‘No!’ he screamed, desperately reaching into his waistband and drawing his ceremonial knife. ‘For the greater good!’ he cried, and he plunged the dagger into his belly, pulling it upward and across. His entrails spilled onto the tiled floor and he sank to his knees. When this failed to kill him instantly he stabbed himself again, into his chest, his throat, his face, again and again, until his strength failed him and he fell to the floor a bloodied mess, gasping out his last breath. The crowd around him drew near to watch, the tau shocked and appalled, the dark eldar with wry amusement.

Pol’na cradled the dying ruin of his friend in his arms. ‘Ch’lee, no!’ He looked accusingly at Pleghanie. ‘This does not serve the greater good!’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Pleghanie. ‘Yes, he is dead, but we are quite sated.’ She gave an order to her warriors. ‘Take them now.’

The attack took the tau fire warriors completely by surprise, they never had a chance. A few plasma bolts impacted uselessly against the plaster on the walls, but the dark eldar moved with an uncanny speed, and the tau were no match for them at close quarters. Pol’na watched the nightmare unfold in a petrified stupor as his guards were handily overpowered, disarmed, manacled, and thrown into the pit, where they lay writhing in pain, their bodies riddled with splinter shards that sent agonising poisons coursing through their veins.

‘Treachery!’ Pol’na screamed.

‘Hm. What?’ said Pleghanie. ‘Oh, Pol’na, you are too precious!’

Pol’na was a figure of misery. ‘What will happen to them?’

‘Oh, they will suffer unspeakable tortures and mutilations until they die in unbearable agony. Would you like to watch?’

‘No!’ The suggestion was obscene and disgusting.

‘No? I think that you would.’

The pink-haired Dracon who led Pleghanie’s elite squad stood proudly by her mistress. ‘I will never know how you do it, Pleghanie,’ she said.

‘I don’t do anything, Delphine. They do it to themselves.’

Delphine shook her head. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Then count yourself fortunate.’

‘What about him?’ asked Delphine, standing above Pol’na.

‘Why, let him go of course, for the greater good. The greater good… an interesting philosophy, but rather simplistic, don’t you think, dear Pol’na? What about darkness? What about need? What about desire?’

Pol’na looked her in the eye. ‘They are to be suppressed. They hinder the greater good.’

‘Really?’ Pleghanie pouted. ‘Well if that is true, dear Administrator, then all of this has been a massive waste of time. You will not go forth from here and do something stupid. You will not bring death and misery to billions of souls, you will not hold on to your pride and anger even as worlds burn around you, and you will not follow a self-destructive path that will take much of the tau empire down with you, all in the name of your so-called greater good.’

A funny thought struck her. ‘And if that is true, dear Administrator Pol’na… ha ha! If you can somehow regain your lost innocence, then perhaps – ha ha! – then perhaps… so can we!’

The walls echoed with the raucous laughter of the dark eldar. They could not help themselves, it was too funny! They gasped for breath, tears streaming down their faces, and still they could not stop laughing. Pol’na fled, stumbling and falling over himself, pursued by the haunting echoes of the eldar’s vile, mocking laughter.

Delphine recovered, wiping a tear from her eye. ‘I haven’t laughed so hard in ages!’ she said, then gestured at the captive Origen. ‘And what about this one?’

‘Good question,’ said Pleghanie. ‘What do you say, Captain? Would you leave this place, and never see me again? Or would you like to stay forever with me?’

‘If it is my choice,’ said Origen, ‘then I would choose to leave, my lady.’

‘Really? Think about it.’ Her voice became unbearably sultry, her body undulated, emanating heat. ‘What is there for you to return to? Am I not pleasant? Am I not desirable?’

Waves of burning desire radiated from Origen, but still he said, ‘My lady, you are the most desirable creature in the universe, as you must know. I will always regret not following you as your willing slave, to what no doubt would be my agonising but exquisite end. But if it is my choice, with the utmost respect, I still would choose to leave.’

Pleghanie’s mood instantly soured. ‘Leave then. Guards, unchain him! And pray to your Emperor, Captain Origen, that you never see me again.’

Origen bowed politely to her and walked out.

Delphine looked worried. ‘Are you really going to let him go?’

‘You saw it!’ Pleghanie snapped. ‘I offered myself to him, and he turned me down. You know the rules. Damn it! I will consume a dozen slaves to the very bone for this! I will make them suffer as no man has ever suffered, until I regain my mood!’

Delphine knew that she would. Pleghanie had ways of inflicting suffering that went far beyond the flesh. ‘Anyway, at least it seems that we have found Vermipox and the girl.’

Pleghanie raised her eyebrows. ‘My goodness, Delphine, you are not suggesting that we catch them?’

Delphine looked puzzled. ‘Isn’t that why we are here?’

‘Oh, Delphine. And then what? Back to dreary old Commorragh for a pat on the head from the high and mighty Vect? I don’t think so. I’m having far too much fun. We will let it play out. I am sure that Vermipox will have something up his sleeve, and I can’t wait to see what it is!’

‘I see,’ said Delphine. ‘Out of curiosity…’

Pleghanie smiled knowingly. ‘What would happen if you were to grass me out to his lordship Vect?’

Delphine stared at her feet. ‘Hypothetically…’

‘You admire me, don’t you Delphine? You want to be like me. You want to be with me…’

‘N-no, please!’ Delphine begged, and ran away from Pleghanie’s presence as fast as she could, terrified.


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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Tue Apr 22 2014, 00:43

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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Thu May 29 2014, 21:51

CHAPTER 6 – STELLA MARIS (Part One)

Aralee returned to her hotel room well after midnight and collapsed on the bed, exhausted. She had almost hoped to find Origen here so that she could give him the ballacking of his life, but it was a vain hope, he would never have simply disappeared like this. Something had happened to him, and it was driving her insane with grief. Even worse, she was wasting precious time. She had been up for at least thirty-six hours, covering the length and breadth of the city, asking around, bribing, threatening, cajoling, bullying, burning bridges, and none of it had been about the business of the unicorn cult. Her questions had been, where is Captain Origen? Where was he last seen? Who could have taken him? If you don’t know, then who would know?

And here she was again, a rogue inquisitor in gross dereliction of her duty, and no trace of Origen to show for it. If – when – her fellow inquisitors found out about her behaviour here they would no doubt strip her of her rank and execute her, and the worst of it was that she did not care. All that she could think about was her missing companion. Whatever had happened to him, it was her fault. She had dragged him into danger, she had used him as her cover. Was he hurt, or worse? No, she could not think that. She had to get back out there. She would find him if she had to search every inch of this planet.

She awoke with a start to the sound of sporadic gunfire coming from the street. A moment of panic: she had not meant to fall asleep. How long had she been out? It should be morning, but morning had failed to come: a dim light shifting into red barely broke through the overcast skies, casting sinister shadows upon the world.  

Sounds had come from within the hotel: she was in trouble. Pistol drawn, she carefully opened the door and peered into the corridor. Finding it clear, she sprinted across to the next corner, crouched down, and peered into the open hallway overlooking the foyer two stories below.  The hallway was clear, but the lobby was crawling with Tau fire warriors in black, iridescent armour. The walls and floors were splattered with blood; the staff and a few guests lay dead where they had been shot in the back while trying to run. A young human gue’vesa in the same armour as the Tau was behind the desk, where he had laid down his helmet, intently tapping on the screen of the hotel guest log. Looking for her, were they? Well, they had found her.

Aralee took careful aim with her laspistol. It was a difficult angle and range for an average marksman, but with this much time to aim she could have made the shot blindfolded. The ultra-powered ‘executor’ lasbolt hit the gue’vesa right between the eyes, blowing the kid’s brains out in a spurt out of the back of his head.

The hallway immediately exploded in a hail of plasma bolts kicking up a cloud of dust and sending splinters of wood and chips of masonry flying everywhere. They could waste as much ammunition as they wanted, Aralee thought, but it was too much to ask for that they would be so stupid. Surely one of them would soon work out that she was, in fact, around the corner. She had just time enough to run back into her room and pick up her compact from the dresser. How many seconds did she have? She could already hear them coming up the stairs. She primed the device, tossed it into the corridor, and ran back inside. One second, two seconds, three…  she was out on the balcony. Four… five, and she leaped over the side.

She had almost cut it too short. The thermal explosion blasted the entire second floor and shook the whole building to its foundations as load-bearing walls were shattered into rubble. She had to activate her displacer field now, or she would be cut to ribbons by flying shards of glass and debris. Too steep an angle and she would blink right into it again; too flat and she would acquire momentum and probably break both her legs when she hit the ground. It was Aralee’s favourite trick: not many agents of the Imperium had the skills and reflexes to pull it off.

She landed with a proficient but undignified tuck and roll, her white silk gown torn to shreds and bunched up around her waist and her arse embarrassingly hanging out. Not a moment too soon: a hail of fire from a burst cannon filled the space where she had just been. The arc of fire shifted toward her, but she was already running for cover behind the stone wall that separated the hotel from the pavement. It would buy her a few seconds, but she had to move -- the shooter had been one of the massive tau crisis battlesuits, standing invincibly in the middle of the street, and it had missiles.

She leaped over the wall and activated her displacer field in mid-leap, blinking into the middle of the intersection. The wall exploded behind her to a volley of missiles, but she paid no attention to that, instead raising her pistol with both hands and shooting at the battlesuit while running sideways. Even her specialised ammunition would be useless against the thick plate armour on the hulking machine, but she could shoot out its optics. Small moving target, poor light, thirty-five yards, with a pistol and while running. Easy shot.

There. That ought to mess it up. Of course it still had its thermals and sensor arrays, but it would not have it quite so easy. She ran into a narrow alley across the street, barely avoiding another burst from the battlesuit’s cannon so that bits of exploding pavement grazed the back of her legs – and within the alley she ran straight into a patrol of five tau fire warriors waiting there for her.

They raised their plasma rifles and fired, but they were slow, far too slow. By the time they were shooting Aralee had blinked and re-appeared behind them, methodically shooting first one, then another one, in the back of the head, from right to left. She skipped one and wrapped her left arm around the throat of the next one in a death-grip, using him as a temporary shield. His comrades hesitated for a split second, and she shot the one on her right in the face, shoving her captive toward the one on her left, twirling, and shooting him in the back. The last one tried to bring his gun to bear on her, but she was within his guard. In a single motion, she tossed her pistol up in the air, caught his gun arm beneath her right armpit and half-turned so that her back was against his front, caught her pistol with her left hand, raised the muzzle against his chin, and pulled the trigger.

I can do this all day, you ‘greater good’ frakkers, she thought. It had been, what? Maybe three hundred seconds since she had woken up in her bed. Her body had been running on pure reflex, but her mind had been putting two and two together. They had come for her. A whole death squad and a battlesuit, just for her. They knew who she was. And that meant that they had Origen.

Tears welled up in her eyes. They had better not have harmed him. They had just better.

The battlesuit had not followed her into the alley. She had not thought that it would; it could barely have moved in such a narrow space. Not that she could have done anything about it if it had, but it would have been against the shas’ui battle doctrine, and the Tau were nothing if not bound by doctrine. Doubtless it was calling for reinforcements; she had to move. Not out through the alley, though.

One of the half-headless bodies of the tau she had just killed caught her eye. This one must have been the group leader. Three hand-sized canisters were clamped magnetically to his belt – obviously some sort of grenades. That would come in handy. She grabbed them and then smashed in a window on her left, pushing her lithe body through the narrow metal bars.

She advanced cautiously, but the building seemed to be empty. She found a flight of stairs and climbed up to the first floor, then moved with her back to the wall until she found an open window overlooking the street. The crisis battlesuit was still there, covering the alley.

Let’s see what these grenades can do, she thought. She primed one and threw it at the machine’s ‘head’, where it stuck with a loud metallic clang. To her surprise there was no explosion; instead, there was a crackle like a dry biscuit being stepped on, and blue-green arcs of electromagnetic energy spread across the battlesuit like miniature lightning, followed by the whirring sound of its engines shutting down. It slumped where it stood like a puppet with its strings cut, useless.

The cockpit in its chest opened and a female tau pilot pushed her way out. Aralee jumped out of the window, not bothering with the displacer this time, but landing instead with a kick between the tau’s shoulders and feeling something crack beneath her foot. They both went sprawling, but Aralee was up first and delivered a hard kick to the prone tau’s midriff, gratified to see her cough up gobs of blood; she gave her a few more vicious kicks and then smashed her in the face with the butt of her pistol, for good measure.

She pushed the tau down flat on her back and sat on top of her, pulling her up from the front of her jacket and screaming into her face,  ‘Are you looking at my arse?!’

The tau woman stared up at her, terrified, badly hurt, and confused. ‘What?’

‘Don’t ‘what’ me, xenos filth! Where is Captain Origen? Is he…’ she swallowed hard. ‘Is he alive? Is he well?’

‘I don’t know who that is!’

Aralee growled in frustration. She could have smashed the shas’ui pilot’s head against the pavement just then and liked it, but she did not. ‘You’re hurt bad, tau, but your friends will be here soon, and I’m going to let you live. I want you to tell your bosses. Tell them that I know that they have him, and they’d better let him go, and he’d better not be hurt, or I will… I will kill a member of the ethereal caste for every hair they have harmed on his head. I will gut them like fish! Do you understand, tau?’

It was the most horrible threat she could have made, and she knew it. ‘I... I…’ the tau was speechless.

‘And give me your frakking jacket!’

Aralee scampered away down the street before more tau arrived, feeling stupid. ‘I will kill a member of the ethereal caste…’ What was wrong with her? She sounded like a cheap holovid. Who knew, though – the shas’ui had been terrified. The tau might get a good laugh out of it later, but they weren’t laughing now.

There was only one place that she could think of to go, and that was the governor’s palace. It was the best defended structure on human-side Sagramunda, and it would be the centre of operations during a conflict. Getting through was not without a hitch – apparently a wild, bedraggled, and half-naked woman could not just stroll into the High Command. Fortunately she had her Inquisitorial Seal, and the soldiers of the planetary defense forces were well-trained and sensible. She had been dodging and shooting tau every few blocks on the way, and she was not in any mood to be held up. A young corporal and a private escorted her inside.

The War Room was a small bunker filled with screens, comm-links, and holovid displays. Inside was Governor Gaelin, in rolled-up shirtsleeves and waistcoat, and also the Arbites Marshal and Commander General Phargo of the PDF, as well as a communications officer, a Mechanicus enginseer, and two adjutants. Gaelin turned his cyber-monocle upon her and his single eye widened in shock. ‘Lady Zayt! What are you doing here? Where is the Inquisitor?’

Aralee showed him her seal. ‘I’m the bloody Inquisitor! Now, what is going on?’

Gaelin acknowledged her identity with a simple nod. ‘The tau have gone mad, that’s what. They have been on edge for quite some time now, and it seems that they have finally cracked. Fortunately we have been preparing for just this eventuality. They have no chance of winning this, it’s suicide.’

‘It seemed like chaos out there.’

‘Street to street fighting, Inquisitor,’ said General Phargo. ‘Bloody and messy, but we are prepared for it, the tau are not. These are our streets, our emplacements. I already have aircraft up bombing their side, and their defenses are too spread out to do anything about it.’

Gaelin continued, a grim expression on his face.  ‘Our biggest difficulty, of course, is telling friend from foe, with so many human heretics going over to their side. I’m afraid that we must err on the side of caution. We are doing our best to round up our loyal citizens, but even so, the civilian casualties will be… well, something that I cannot afford to think about right now.’

‘I see,’ said Aralee. ‘You haven’t heard any news of Captain Origen, then?’

Gaelin looked at her strangely. ‘I’m afraid not. We did intercept reports of a ‘Gue’moggi’, or wild devil, who has apparently been causing the tau no end of distress. Their squadrons have been ordered not to engage her, and to call immediately for reinforcements instead.’ He gave her a significant look. ‘That’s one mystery solved, anyway.’

Aralee looked closely at the holo-map of the city blinking with bright green, blue, and red sprites of soldiers, tanks, bikes, and battlesuits marking the positions of friendly and hostile forces. The commanders were right: the Tau had blundered into a trap. They were cut off from each other in isolated pockets, unable to support each other against the encircling imperial forces. What the tau were thinking was anyone’s guess. It would be brutal. The tau would fight like cornered animals – they would have to, they had nowhere to go. To anyone caught in it, it would feel like a meat grinder, but the tau had already lost. It was all over, bar the bleeding.

It could just as easily have gone the other way. As the Marshal had said, the war had never really ended. It had just turned into a forty-two-year long game of chicken, and the Tau had been the first to flinch.

‘Marshal!’ the comms officer called, flipping a rune on his dashboard to put a comms channel up on the voxcaster.

The female voice from the comm came in loud and clear, with barely any static. ‘Repeat: Judge Jules to Command. Alpha squad is under heavy fire south of Bronsie and Hart . Requesting backup.’

The Marshal and the General exchanged a worried glance. ‘There shouldn’t be anything there,’ said the General, indicating the holo-map.

The officer spoke into the comm. ‘Alpha squad, intel does not show any hostiles at your position. Are you sure?’

Judge Jules was deadpan. ‘Pretty sure, Command.’

The General said, ‘Get me Bravo Company.’

A cool male voice came over the comm, crisply heard over the sound of shooting. ‘You have reached Bravo Company Command, Captain Gravius speaking, how can we help you?’

‘This is General Phargo. Danlo, the arbites have run into some trouble on your left, can you spare them a squad?’

‘Negative, Command. We are pinned down in a crossfire ourselves. I was just about to call for a little help.’

‘What? How is that possible? How did the tau get around you?’

‘It is not the tau, general. Repeat: it is not the tau. I can’t give you a positive i.d., but as far as I can tell, I think it’s eldar.’

Eldar. The word sent a chill down the spine of everyone in the room. In an instant, everything had changed.

‘Eldar! Where in the void did they come from?’

Aralee staggered under the weight of realisation. ‘We’ve been tricked,’ she said. ‘We’ve all been tricked.’
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Thu Jul 03 2014, 07:32

Content warning (may bear repeating):
 

CHAPTER 6 – STELLA MARIS (Part Two)

General Phargo and the Marshal bellowed at the comms, desperately trying to make sense of things, to get a picture of the situation. Meanwhile, Gaelin had taken hold of a holo-marker and was putting down the known positions of the eldar on the holo-map, speculatively marking certain spots with a question rune with an increasingly worried expression on his face. Aralee saw what he was getting at. ‘Commanders!’ she said.

The Marshal turned to look. ‘By the Throne,’ he said.

The general’s jaw dropped. ‘Caught in our own trap…’

Gaelin spoke quietly to the comms officer. ‘Try to contact the Tau. See if they will let me speak to Administrator Pol’na.’

Minutes passed. Endless, agonising minutes, as men and women fought and lost their lives, as they bled , and burned, and screamed. Finally, Administrator Pol’na’s prissy, self-satisfied voice came in on the comm.

‘Governor Gaelin,’ Pol’na said in greeting. ‘If you are calling to offer your surrender, I am afraid that I cannot accept. I have determined that the Greater Good will be served by nothing less than your complete and utter annihilation.’

‘Pol’na!’ cried Gaelin. ‘I don’t know what prompted you to launch this attack, but you must know that you have been tricked! The eldar have tricked us both! They have us in a trap and they mean to destroy us all, human and tau, to the last man and woman. Our only chance is to call a cease-fire and pull together, otherwise, we are all dead.’

There was no answer. Inside the war room, no one spoke. What the governor was doing was unarguably treason: everyone here knew it, and he knew it too. If any of them lived, they would live to see him face a firing squad. And yet not one of them spoke up. Not one of them dared. Not one of them would have traded places with him for all the wealth in the galaxy.

‘Pol’na!’ Gaelin’s cool demeanor was badly beginning to crack. ‘You know that there is no love lost between us, but the dark eldar will destroy us both! We have a responsibility to our people, Pol’na! This is our only chance, and time is running out. Pol’na, are you listening?’

The voice spoke sardonically. ‘I am listening, Governor Gaelin. I am listening to the mounting desperation in your voice.  It is music to my ears. Please, continue.’

‘You are right, Pol’na, I am desperate. I wouldn’t make this offer otherwise. My people are dying, Pol’na, and so are yours. You ought to be desperate too! They are going to kill us all, Pol’na, don’t you understand?’

‘Of course I understand, governor. And you know what? So be it, if it serves the greater good. What is it that you gue’la say? Better that a billion souls should die, than a single threat to the Imperium be allowed to go free?  Ha ha!’ A funny thought seemed to strike him. ‘I guess that, in the end, I was a unicorn too. I was one all along!’

‘Pol’na, I am begging you…’

‘Goodbye, governor. I will not listen to any more of your gue’la lies. Take this knowledge to your grave: in the end, I was a unicorn, and you were not.’

The connection went dead. Gaelin closed his eyes and slumped over the dashboard.

Except for the comms officer, everyone in the room gathered around the holo-map, watching the hopeless battle with increasing expressions of dismay.

‘We can win this,’ said the general. ‘It will be brutal, but we can still win this.’

Gaelin looked up. Sprites representing the Imperial and Tau forces blinked and faded out, inexorably leaving the display as dark as the dying city outside.

‘No, we can’t,’ he said. Composing himself, he unrolled his shirtsleeves, fastening the cuffs with an exquisite set of cufflinks. Then he put on his checkered duster, adjusted the collar, and fussily put his bowler hat on his head at a roguishly jaunty angle. He went over to the weapons rack on the wall and picked out a plasma gun, checking it to see that everything was in order and that it was fully loaded.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said. ‘Would anyone care to join me for a stroll?’

The Marshal and the General looked at each other, then nodded. They straightened out their jackets, buttoned up their collars. The general put on his cap, the marshal adjusted his helmet. The junior officers stood up, uncertain whether the invitation extended to them or not, until they received a nod from Gaelin. Then they made themselves presentable, and reached for the weapons rack.

Aralee was horrified. ‘Gentlemen, no! Don’t throw your lives away, the Imperium needs you!’

Gaelin would not look her in the eye. ‘No, Inquisitor, it needs you,’ he said. ‘You may, of course, shoot me for treason and insubordination, but I beg that you do not. I dare to hope that you will at least allow me to retain my dignity.’

Aralee would not cry. She was an Inquisitor, she would not cry. ‘I… I’m the one who ought to be shot. I have failed you.’

‘We have all failed,’ said the Marshal. ‘But it’s up to you now to make it right for all of us. Your shuttle should still be at the spaceport. You must warn Terra. And if it is not too much to ask, don’t let us be forgotten? It is a vain thing to ask, but… I don’t want to die, and be forgotten.’

Gaelin tipped his hat to her as he rounded the corner. ‘Feel free to stay as long as you like, but could you turn out the lights when you leave? Good luck to you, Inquisitor.’

Aralee watched them leave down the corridor, before she let a tear flow. Those gallant men! They had trusted her with their lives, with their deaths, with their sacrifice, and she was going to let them down. She was so sorry! But she was not going anywhere. Not without Origen.

She turned out the lights and left down another way. She was out on the empty streets again. If the Tau had Origen, they would be keeping him prisoner on their side of Sagramunda, and that meant crossing the bridge. She would have to sneak past the Tau lines, not too difficult in all the chaos. And then what? She would see.

‘Aralee!’

She turned, and there he was: Origen. Alive and not too badly hurt. She dared not move, she dared not speak, scarcely dared to breathe, lest somehow the moment be broken and he be taken away from her again. He was real, really there; she had found him, or he had found her.

He came running to her and stopped at a respectful distance. No!  Not again! No more walls, no more distance, it was unbearable! She flung herself into him and wrapped herself around him, thrusting her face into his chest, taking in the warmth of his dark skin on her cheeks, on her nose, the sharp smell of his sweat, the taste of him on her lips, this was hers, she was nothing but the love of it, the need of it.

Her hands fumbled with the remains of his trousers, and she found him already hard. Urgently she pressed down on him until he lay back on the ground, and then she climbed him, clinging to him like a limpet to a rock, pressing her body deep into his, her breasts, her groin, her belly, writhing, squirming eagerly, not to be denied. Thrusting, spreading wider, until the skin split open and she finally broke free of it, left it behind hanging off in shreds, and she was inside him as he was inside her, and there was no him, and no her, only flesh, raw, viscous and steaming, melting together in the intense heat of their own passion, climbing up her spine, his spine, climbing out of death and into life, climbing like a snake up the trunk of a tree, and it was there, so close, she could almost touch it, and a cry came from her of agonising pleasure as she exploded in a shower of blood and tears.

And they fell, inexorably, cruelly, back into the prison of their selves, back into their skins. When he slipped out of her she screamed in agony, as if she were being cut in half. She wept with bitterness and joy, and he wept with her, understanding, and they comforted each other, cast together out of paradise.

At last she understood. This was her pain, and she owned it, relished it. He was here, where he had always been, and so was she, and she had only had to go through Hell to get here.
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Sat Jul 05 2014, 23:27

CHAPTER 7 – CODA

Private Junius was eighteen, well, almost, and he was a mess. His cries for help were too feeble to be heard, even if there had been anyone left alive to hear them. There was so much blood that it had turned the ground to mud, and he was lying in the mud, or half of him was: the rest of him must be somewhere, but it was not in his field of vision, and he could not move his head. There was pain, of course, but he was beyond it, tired of screaming, taken over by despair.

He was scared. He knew that he was dying, with half of him gone, and he did not want to die all alone, in the cold and sticky mud. All he wanted was someone to be with him, to touch him, to tell him that it was all right so that he could go to sleep. Who could hear him? His mates were all dead. A cry of anguish turned into a word, brought up from the deepest well, the first need: ‘Motheeerrr!’

The cry was hoarsely echoed from the prone body of a tau soldier, a single exhalation, almost a whisper, ‘Mother…’

Another one picked it up, and another one, and the field rang with the chorus of their dying calls. ‘Mother…,’ ‘Mother,’ ‘Mother!’, ‘Mama!’, ‘Mamaaa!’

Meeran screamed.

Vermipox flicked the switch. The machine came to life.

(pause)

Aralee and Origen walked numbly through a city of death, through streets that were dark and still, broken and crumbling and littered with the stinking remains of the dead. The eerie silence was only now and then broken by distant screams, and the tittering laughter of the dark eldar. Shadows moved through the ruins, seeking out unlucky survivors to herd away to their horrible fates, or if they were somewhat more fortunate, to play with on the spot.

Two of the dark eldar emerged from the remains of a doorway, in darkly glowing armour like black orchids. One of them raised his splinter rifle toward them, but the other one pushed down on his arm, whispering a word into his ear. The first one bowed in mock apology, and they both disappeared in a blink, merging back into the shadows.

‘What in the name of the void was that about?’ said Aralee.

Origen was grim. ‘We made a pact, remember? They are not allowed to harm us. They don’t dare.’

That thought, too, was painful. She was stigmatised, shamed.

The spacefield was a charnel pit. They had to walk over piles of corpses, their naked feet sinking into slime. Ahead there was life: Vermipox and Meeran, and a large machine that hummed and glowed with a dark light. It looked like the dream of a great pelagic fish, wrapped around with transparent tubes through which ran pulses of the eerie light, emitting a high-pitched keening that chilled Aralee to the marrow of her bones. It had obviously been built out of the front cab of an urban train, and its windows now looked in on a watery darkness. Vermipox fiddled with the controls on an open panel, and Meeran sat wearily upon a crate resting her chin on the palms of her hands, her face reddened from weeping. She saw them approach and waved. Aralee reached for her laspistol.

‘Ah,’ Vermipox bowed in greeting. ‘Lady Zayt and Captain Origen, always a pleasure.’

‘You!’ Aralee barked in accusation. ‘You two did all this, didn’t you!’

Vermipox raised an eyebrow. ‘Us, dear lady? We merely followed you here, remember?’

Aralee felt like weeping. ‘I thought that you wanted to stop it!’

Vermipox laughed, like dried twigs cracking in half. ‘Ha ha! You flatter me, lady Zayt. I am only a humble artist. How could I have stopped such a thing, even had I wanted to? Shaped it, perhaps, gave it timing and form. Where there would have been a meaningless massacre, instead there was a symphony! And as you see,’ he gestured at the machine, ‘it has a practical use as well.’

She looked at it as a curiosity. ‘What is it?’ she asked.

‘A ship, of sorts. Our pursuers approach too close, and this will let us regain some distance between us. I would not want to disappoint Pleghanie, after all.’

‘And the light in those tubes?’

Vermipox smiled proudly. ‘I hoped that you would ask! Those are millions of dead souls, trapped eternally in the moment of utmost agony and despair. They are what fuels the Hagfish – my little name for it.’

‘That is horrible!’

Vermipox frowned, a little bit hurt. ‘Really? I find it quite beautiful. You don’t think that it has a certain poignancy?’

Meeran interrupted. ‘Look!’

Four shapes approached lurching through the sea of corpses, gibbering and drooling. They were human shapes, but not human: their features were distorted and grotesque, bearing the marks of every aspect of corruption to which humanity was susceptible. Their eyes spoke of malice and cunning, their mouths had the wrinkles of hypocrisy and cruelty; they had the noses of liars, the cheeks of self-indulgence, the brows of hate.

Instinctively Aralee took shelter beside Meeran, not even realising what she was doing. ‘What are they?’ she asked.

‘Demons,’ said Meeran, unconcerned.

The shapes stopped a few metres from them. ‘I am Brute,’ said one.

‘Whore,’ said another.

‘Slime,’ said a third.

‘And Lie,’ said the last.

‘We seek the soul of Pain,’ said Brute.

Meeran shrugged. ‘It’s not as if I’m difficult to find,’ she said.

‘We have come for you. We will fall on you like rabid dogs and tear you to shreds, and we will swallow you whole, fighting over the juiciest pieces.’

‘Really?’ Meeran was impressed. ‘Don’t you think that you should try a bite first, and see how it goes down?’

Vermipox interposed himself. ‘Enough! The play is done, finished. Go away.’

‘You don’t command us, eldarith,’ said Whore. ‘We are the embodiment of corruption.’

‘You are actors, playing a role, and now your role is done. Take a bow, exit left. Shoo.’

The demons took notice of themselves, with growing panic. It was true: they were three men and a woman, unattractive, but nothing more. ‘It can’t be! We were – ‘

‘Ideas? Concepts? And now you are flesh. You played your game and lost. I hate to be rude, but I am busy, and you are interrupting.’

‘But – what shall we do? What will become of us now?’

‘How should I know? Find another role. Wait tables, for all I care. I’m sure you’ll find something.’

The former demons left in poor spirits. Meeran chided Vermipox, ‘That was cruel.’

‘Pah! I cannot stand actors who take their roles too seriously. Oh, don’t worry, my daughter, we will find you some other souls to shred apart. Appropriate ones.’

Meeran cheered up at this. Really, her master was always kind to her.

Vermipox bowed to Aralee and Origen. ‘I fear now that we must depart from the pleasure of your company. Pleghanie’s kabal will still be scavenging through the ruins, so my suggestion is, don’t hang about. Farewell, Captain and Inquisitor.’

Meeran spoke up. ‘Or you could come with us,’ she said hopefully. ‘The Dead Palace will need courtiers. I can take you to the shores of the black lake, to the city beneath the dark stars. We can dance with the shadows, and feast with nightmares!’

Aralee looked at Origen. ‘I will follow wherever you go,’ he said. ‘It is –‘

‘—my decision to make.’ To her surprise, she was tempted. She was not afraid any more. What new realms of experience might open wherever Meeran went? What fresh terrors and wonders? What was there left for her here, but death?

There was duty. Not to the Inquisition, or the Imperium, or even the Emperor himself. To the decomposing bodies of the children all around her. To the screaming souls coursing through Vermipox’s machine. There were debts to pay.

She smiled at Meeran, knowing her at last. ‘I am honoured, but we must decline,’ she said.

Meeran did not hide her disappointment, but she acknowledged the decision. ‘I understand, my lady,’ she said. ‘Never fear. The invitation is open, and perhaps we will meet again. I will never be very far away. Farewell.’

The train doors opened and closed behind Vermipox and Meeran. The Hagfish flickered, and faded like an afterimage, and was gone.


THE END
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Sat Jul 05 2014, 23:32

That's the end of it. What did you think? Did you try to read it, honestly you did, but were the words just so dull that your eyes glazed over and you missed your stop and found yourself in a strange neighbourhood filled with aliens and dinosaurs and leopard women, and do your daily adventures now make all fiction pale in comparison? Or was it, you know, all right, in bits? Let me know!

Cheers Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Mon Jul 14 2014, 21:03

I really enjoyed reading both this tale and Ascent. I find that the kind of dreamy atmosphere that you created in your descriptions is at once alluring and disturbing- it reminds me of HP Lovecraft Dreamland tales... also of David Linch movies. Unicorn is also very effective in describing the futility of war. I think you should continue writing, you are really good at it-
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Wed Jul 16 2014, 04:47

Thank you!!!

I'm very glad that you thought it was Lynchian, at least a bit. I absolutely love David Lynch and that's close to the hallucinatory psychological surrealism that I'm trying for. And of course Meeran's palace is lifted straight from Chambers' 'The King In Yellow', so that's the Lovecraftian connection there. Also, the 'unicorns' are derived from Ionesco's rhinos (hopefully not too obviously?)

I'm really very, very glad that you enjoyed them! Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Wed Jul 16 2014, 09:23

I missed the Ionesco citation...however I got the one to John Keats' poem...well I guess that was really obvious. He's my favourite poet in english literature. I think some of the fiction in the DC is actually above the average level of stuff written by professionals, and your tales are among these....keep writing!  Smile 
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Wed Jul 16 2014, 18:25

I must say, this tale is grotesque, yet enthralling, disturbing, yet delightful, horrible and yet at the same time fantastic. Your vision of the Dark Eldar is animalistic, sinister... and child-like cruel, devoid of any sympathy or any sense of right and wrong, too busy playing their horrible little games and deriving their amusement from them. The humans, the Tau - all but mere playthings trapped in the hopeless spectacle that the Dark Kin do simply to remain entertained. Like fae, they follow their own rules and try to lure the lessers to fall into their snare.

I must say, I really liked the wonderful gallows humour about turning off the lights, whenever the inquisitor wishes to leave. There is nothing but hopeless trench warfare that leads to mutual destruction, and yet, what other choice is there but to keep going? And there are the Dark Kin, drinking in the horror of the inhumanity of the universe and laughing about it.

This is a truly amazing story, and while it took some time for me to get around reading it, it was well worth it! You have a great way of handling horror - it is repulsive just enough to make the reader to question whether they wish to read on and compelling enough, containing a small glimmer of hope for them to force themselves to suffer through whatever comes next. Great stuff!

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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Thu Jul 17 2014, 03:19

Thank you very much! Smile That is certainly how I see the dark eldar, but while they may not have our own sense of 'right and wrong', they do have their own rules, as you say, and they do follow them rigorously (which is why Pleghanie let Origen go). A mass murder would be seen as an amusing prank, but a breach of etiquette would shock and horrify them!

It has to be said that neither the humans nor the Tau needed the dark eldar to destroy themselves, they were doing that fine by themselves. For the dark eldar it was just, 'hey, it's raining candy!' Why wouldn't they give it a kick and fill up?

Thanks for the kind words. It was feeling a little bit shaky around the middle, but then Aralee came through for me as a character and it seemed to work out. Did you like her? I quite liked her. Smile

Cheers!
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Thu Jul 17 2014, 09:57

With Aralee, the thought of Imperial Guard veterans taken to the colloseums was what came to my mind. They think they have seen it all, they're well disciplined, great soldiers... and for the Dark Kin there is nothing more satisfying than proving them wrong, one painful failure after another. A well trained inquisitor, Aralee was still human and could do little to resist the inhumanity of the Dark Eldar. I think you showed that very well and I liked her for that complexity you were able to pull off.

On top of that, you've inspired me to return to my old story and do something about it! So thank you for that Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Fri Aug 08 2014, 20:49

One last appeal and then I'm out of your hair, I promise.

If you have read this story and/or 'Ascent', please comment on them. It's fine if you hated them, just tell me what it is that you hated about them? Did I write badly, or is the story itself bad, no matter how well written? Is there anything that you thought I did well, and could it be done better? Or if you think it's just all a hopeless mess, go ahead and say 'Desist, bedraggled slattern, and no more darken our fanfics with your demented scribblings!' Harsh, but at least I'll know that this just isn't my forte.

For what it's worth, I really put a lot of work into it -- if I have failed to please, it is not for lack of effort. It may be that I've offended or annoyed you, and if so, I beg your forgiveness, and I swear that I never meant to. As I've said, writing these stories is a huge amount of unpaid work that no one has asked for. The payoff, if there is one, is in knowing that you have pleased someone, given them some entertainment, chills and thrills, and maybe some thoughts to ponder. If they're just playing to an empty room, they might as well just stay as crazy fantasies in my head!

So what am I talking about? Well I thought that I was done with this, but I've been getting some ideas for the continuing adventures of Meeran and Vermipox. With a *lot* of work, these ideas could maybe turn into more stories. But does anyone want that? Or have I done quite enough damage, thank you, please don't call us, we'll call you?

So please let me know if you like what I've done so far, if you'd rather I do something different, or if you'd much prefer I don't do anything at all. Thanks! Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Unicorn   Fri Aug 08 2014, 23:23

I just read this now, when I saw someone had commented on it. Absolutely loved it. It reminded me of a compilation of illustrated sci-fi tales that my mum mistakenly thought was for kids. I read it when I was far too young (though it seems very tame now!) and it affected me in much the same way as this story - surreal, disturbing, unknowable but completely alluring.
Positively Lovecraftian in parts, as someone has already commented.
You put a spell on me, Agatha. Nice work.

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