+ inload: Minos Madrigon +
Ignoring the crew's and serf's ritual obesiance, I walk steadily through the bridge, measuring my pace. I had found myself adopting a creeping, tense way of moving about in the days after the treachery, and was determined to reassert mastery.
I don't feel comfortable here, and by the creak of the heavy black wood of the stairway beneath my feet, it is clear the machine-spirit of the Nereid feels much the same. Reaching and mounting a gantry, I keep my head fixed forward, though I am aware of the Immortal's gaze following me until my ascent takes me out of his line of vision.
I had been taught that the Astartes were a precious resource. Indeed, we are celebrated, recorded, as humanity's shining champions. I had always felt a little discomfort at the reception with which we were met on worlds after Compliance. The pomp. The parades. The crowds. Always a little... I cannot put words to it.
Isstvan, however, put the lie to that; demonstrating just how expendable we were to humanity at the end. Not the battle. Not the war. No, by the fact that the crews of the ships in orbit seemed all too hasty to leave so many behind. I couldn't know for sure, but our evacuation, scattered and unplanned, had taken less than a tenth of the time as deployment. How could two Legions – and the heart of a third – have been safely lifted?
Impossible. The retreat from the black soil of Isstvan had been a scramble – rescue boats seemed only too happy to translate away once they had what their commanders considered a suitable load.
In the more saturnine moments to which I ration myself, I ask whether I would have done differently than the Nereid's Captain? Hanging in space, unsure of whether the craft around us – let alone the soldiers we had allowed on board – were allies or enemies, would I have stood firm? Would I have done so if I suspected my lord and his coterie were dead, and confronted with a superior demanding to take command?
Hm. A suitable load. A mixed Company of Iron Hands and a few waifs and strays. Less than a quarter of the craft's potential capacity, given the now-empty cargo holds. There are still Salamanders on board, of course, but they are outnumbered nearly twenty to one by the other Legionaries. All but a skeleton crew had descended to the surface in the assault; and of the remainder, half had semi-mutinied and scrambled to the surface after contact was reported lost with their own Primarch.
Upon finding the Salamanders had all but abandoned the craft, Arrowsmith had assumed command. The Nereid's Captain – a wiry, sunken-eyed man – had seemed distracted, uninterested. He stumbled off the bridge as though mazed. His movements were stilted; like broken clockwork. I am no expert in human psychology, but the situation had been less... tense than anticipated. He had retreated here, to the observation deck slightly fore and above the bridge. Here he had stood, gazing intently at nothing, until he was gently escorted to his quarters by aides.
I do not wrestle with melancholy. I subdue it. It is in the nature of the Tenth – even one like myself – to do so. Nevertheless, In such circumstances, I am glad of the observation deck. It is not exactly a distraction as a reminder of scale. The vacuum of sorrow is made more humble – though no less unwelcome – by a comparison with the yawning emptiness of the void.
The prow of the Nereid is mounted with stylised rose-gold girders that bear away into that emptiness of the void. The lines are clean and proud; extending outwards to form the maw of a monstrous wyrm. Ostentatious, to my eye, though I admit little appreciation of artistry. It was, after all, a craft of the XVIII Legion, though no home to them now.
I confess. Here I brood. If three Legions could rebel, were they best not left on the surface of that isolated planet on which they quarantined themselves? As a man, would I have unleashed Exterminatus on the surface?
Steps behind me, measured as were mine. I tense, though make an effort to appear at ease, my arms crossed as I lean on the ornamental balustrade. I would not jump at shadows, nor admit to suspicion of treachery. Not in my brothers. Not even if they suspected it in me. That way lies madness.
"It is stylised after the Heliosan style," the other begins, settling himself on the rail a little way further along. His voice is duskily accented, and for a moment I remember Catabin, his blood wet and cloying on the black rocks. "The dragon, I mean. The prow."
Standing as I turn, I meet the gaze of a helmed Iron Hand. No. Yes.
The dust and wear of Isstvan is still heavy on black plate. This is not unusual; many – particularly the Lodge members, like Triumph – have taken terrible and binding oaths to retain the damage and patina of Isstvan until such time as it could be avenged. Childish. As though it could be forgotten. As though it can be avenged.
But his armour pattern is unfamiliar, and his iconography unclear. His clan symbol faces away from me, hidden by his bulk.
"You are thinking of the Captain." He continues, and I bristle. That the Clan-Commander was spying on me was pathetic enough. That he sent emissaries to interrogate me was worse.
"Arrowsmi-" I begin, but the other cuts me off.
"The ship's captain. Orioso, late of the Nereid," he clarifies. That shut me up. A psychic, then. Librarius. "Yes to the first, no to the second." His voice betrays a smile, though the words still sound odd. He continues. "Should Orioso – he and the Navy, that is – have argued against the Astartes cleaning house in person? For that is, in truth, at the core of the assault. There was a statement to be made. Honour to be upheld."
I narrow my eyes. I detect no mockery in his voice. Why is he asking something the Clans had debated back and forth? "Had we held back and bombarded Isstvan, we could not have reported to Lord Dorn that the traitors were brought to justice. Deployment was necessary," I said, warily. He merely nods, his gaze still outwards.
"True. Nothing could have guaranteed the Sons, and the Children, and the Hounds – the Eaters, I mean – were felled. Would you trust any malignancy to fell the Death Lord? I would not. We would have faced an eternity half-suspecting that some had escaped." He pauses. "But it was, nevertheless, a luxurious necessity."
"You object? You did not relish a chance to restore your honour?"
He snorts. "No. And nor did you."
"Librarius or not, if you are psychic, you know I have little honour in the Legion." He nods again at this, but distractedly. "You also know your 'talents' are prohibited." A pause develops. I was annoyed, placelessly. This intruder had put off my meditations. "What do you want?" He unfolded at that; stood up, as though surprised.
"Companionship?" He said, unguardedly. I hesitated, unsure if this were a question, or a test. "I apologise for the slip – I am used to my time with Medardus, who now plays Achilles, sulking in his tent, and brooks no disturbance. I merely sought brotherhood with another close to him. Nothing more. Brotherhood. There is precious little on this ship. Precious little amongst the Astartes."
I did not know what to say to this odd confession. In the pause, my martial instinct kicked in. Was he an infiltrator? "If you require guidance on morale, the Chaplaincy is wh-" He cut me off once more, and settled back onto the railing, looking forward.
"No, no matter. I mean no harm. A simple yearning for simpler times, perhaps. When there was no need to suspect those beside you." He turned that strange, archaic helm towards me, knowingly. "When we walked the storm on Terra. When we bore the lightning."
"Yes, I see you do." His voice brightens, loses that strange, wistful tone. "Brighter times, when the enemy was to your fore and the Emperor, blessed-be-his-name, was lock-step besides you." He rose once more, bowed lightly. "I apologise for any disturbance; brother."
I nod as he turned to walk away, that unfamiliar clan-sigil nagging at me. I watched him reach the stairway, place his black gauntlet on the guardrail, and watched until he passed out of sight.
We spent a long time within the Nereid; six months sidereal, but the experience felt more exposed than usual to me. Void travel usually felt like burial – the ships of the Tenth sealed the shutters tight, squeezing what cold starlight fell on our craft out. Not so on the Nereid. It had no shutters to close.
+ Minos Madrigon +
+ An enigmatic addition to the force, I really enjoyed putting this figure together. A few details are intended to hint at his origins – along with a couple of red herrings! +