+ inload: Barbari Kills and the Bridge of the Ẹtì Alubarika +

+  A short story today, intended to illuminate the characters accompanying  the Primaris Gatebreakers. I've got plans to build and paint a few of these – I'd love to hear your thoughts on which catch your imagination, and who you'd like to see realised. +

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The Ẹtì Alubarika wallowed, the void-engines sputtering to a halt as the materium drives took up the slack. The choirmaster retrieved his wand from the podium and began directing the Liturgy of Gracious Thanks.

From her standpoint near a navigation-organ, Kills stretched lazily. The headache that warp travel inevitably brought upon her was already ebbing away, and she smiled with relief. She glanced around, her vision blocked by the two hulking marines that flanked her. Their gleaming power armour was swathed in fabric tabards, picked out with core Imperial decoration. They were in all ways identical, their armour clean and unmarred, polished to perfection. Seeing her move, Septival nodded politely. He stepped backwards to let the Inquisitor see past him. 

The bridge of the Ẹtì Alubarika was dressed stone. Turquoise-studded granite columns soared in a great gallery, and desks of void-whale baleen were piled high with scroll cases, records and dataslates. There were few vid-screens or electronics visible; the crew interacting with the craft through embedded haptics and keyboards more akin to musical instrumentation than the ascetically practical models cradled by the hooded tech-adepts. It was, Kills had noted when she had been invited aboard, quite something. The crew were also singular: smart, clean-limbed and beautiful figures from a dozen different worlds. Taiwo was proud of his bridge crew, whom he demanded to be exemplars of humanity. After all, as he had proudly declared to the Inquisitor: 'These may be the first men and women a species will see. I will have them see us for what we are: Perfect.'

As far as anything was typical for the rogue trader, Taiwo was every inch the commander. He sat, almost lost within the opulence of his command throne, looking out across the bridge. His glittering augmetic eyes drank in every detail, and Kills could see his gaze piercing the stars even as his advisors muttered and proferred reports. Taiwo and Kills had reached an uneasy rapprochement. He was an inveterate explorer, keen to push the boundaries – both literally and metaphorically. The idea of ferrying a proto-Chapter of Primaris Space Marines to an ancient backwater on the very rim of the galaxy had not caught his imagination, until Kills had intimated the lack of Imperial authority over the area. As far as the Ordo could determine, celestial drift had left this region of space unmonitored and unexplored for millennia – possibly since the establishment of the Imperium itself. 

He had agreed – though he remained a Rogue Trader. His demands were large, but payable: exclusive rights to the frontier, colonisation fiefdom guarantees on all inhabitable worlds... and the tip of Kills' little finger. As Taiwo's rich voice rolled around the bridge; directing his staff, the Inquisitor flexed her new augmetic at the memory. The loss of a fingertip was, in the end, a small price to pay – after all, her fingerprints and generunes were banked and warded by the Ordo Propter –  and the Expedition's augmetists were second-to-none. The skinsleeve was indistinguishable from her birth flesh. 

Inquisitrix Barbari Kills had little of the sentimentalist about her. She had taken the opportunity to have a digitial microlaser and elegant vox-thief fitted. If little else sat well with the proto-Chapter she accompanied, that lack of sentimentality was at least in tune. Chapter 333 were new-forged. They had taken their oaths, and were as prepared as Space Marines could be – but what little fighting they had seen was desultory. Kills suspected that accounted for a large part of their obsessive training and fastidiousness. 

She had had the dubious pleasure of serving alongside Astartes before, and had the peculiar feeling that the Primaris soldiers of Chapter 333 were trying a little too hard to impress her. Their armour gleamed. Their steps were perfectly synchronous. A sense of order radiated from them. That easy, knowing smile came to the Inquisitor's face again. It was sweet, in a way. 

Scipius, the Chapter's Interim Master, had assigned Septival and Coriolanus as bodymen to her, and they had – despite her efforts – remained politely but stubbornly glued to her as she wandered the halls of the Ẹtì Alubarika and its accompanying fleet. The presence of the two hulking warriors had prevented her from making any personal progress with in-fleet investigations, and so she had, with resignation, delegated her more shadowy work to her acolytes.

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She thought of Master Scipius as she strolled, hands clasped proprietorially behind her back, towards the viewing platforms, where she could – at last – look outside the ship again. Coriolanus and Septival followed a studiedly short distance behind. Barbari Kills was an experienced star-sailor, hardbitten investigative member of the Inquisition, and – when called to be – a ruthless killer. Nevertheless, she had never lost the thrill of wonderment at the galaxy. It was at the heart of her; and seeing stars and planets never failed to stir a sense of the divine in her. It almost made up for the damn headaches, she thought.

Ratings and crew members parted before the trio as Kills advanced towards the main Observatorio, hidden as yet behind a curve. Before reaching the cyclopean window itself, she paused, and looked back. Past the colossal green-and-yellow Space Marines, beneath the decorated black granite, she could see humanity. Bustling, busy, engaged in tasks – as complex as clockwork, as heaving as an anthill.

Closing her eyes in anticipation, she prepared herself for the glittering beauty of the stars; the soaring columns of nebulae, the painted beauty of illuminated stardust...

When she opened them again, her breath caught in her throat. She felt the overwhelming need to grasp something; anything. Her hand briefly snaked out towards Septival, but she snatched it back, angry with herself. A rolling, tumultous sense of vertigo claimed her, as though she – and the rest of the bridge; the ship; the species – were teetering on the brink of an infinite precipice. 

For before her eyes, from edge to edge of the colossal Observatorio, was what lay beyond the rim of the galaxy. An occasional miniscule pip of light; a faint dusting of gas – and then, between the galaxy of Man, and its impossibly distant neighbours, nothing. Nothing for ever. A blank, black insanity of absence.

She turned away, disappointed and disquieted – though her rigid self-discipline revealed nothing. She looked instead to Coriolanus and Septival, studying those identical helms as they regarded her impassively in turn. Would their sense of order survive here? she wondered. Could anyone's? 

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+ Painting has also progressed, and I couldn't resist setting up the parts to preview what the resulting marines will look like. Pleased with the results – I'm fired up to get these polished off and completed! +

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