The iron doors to the bridge hissed open and screeched shut again, signalling the entrance of the expected guest. Kharsis barely moved, having summoned the Dark Apostle hours ago and expecting the sorcerer to show anytime. Although the two warriors didn't like each other, their fates were intertwined and each served to further the aims of the other. The Daemon Lord had become ascended due to his Apostle's instructions, and now he owed many souls and influence back for the deed.
"You... summoned me, Coryphaus?" snarked Talus, the arrogant fallen Chaplain. He stood only as far in front of the throne as was necessary, and he bowed his head only barely. Even the massive Terminator armor he wore couldn't hide the contempt from Talus' actions. Kharsis also noted the use of the formal rank- which was hardly necessary at this point.
Yawning, Kharsis turned his attention slowly onto the sorcerer and casually nodded back. His answer was only a whisper, but it was both loud and many, as though a hundred voices whispered, "I did. I must show my gratitude for this gift you have found me..." Although human emotions were distinctly lacking, the words still felt like a snipe at the Dark Apostle. Of course, the ascended form of the Lord made him far larger and more powerful than the already-intimidating Terminator, meaning any insult would have to be forgiven. Talus flashed with annoyance, but stood motionless in front of the Lord anyway. He had not crushed worlds for millennia by being stupid.
"Now that we have sent the XIIIth Legion to flight and destroyed their precious world, what plan do the Dark Lords have for us now?" Kharsis spoke slowly and lazily, knowing that the answer was irrelevant. Being able to reap souls and destroy the empire of the false Emperor were the only concerns to him now. But this 'holy man' in front of him always had an alternate objective. His ability to speak to the spirits in the warp and attract their blessings was prodigious, but so too was his cunning. The Daemon-lord knew, better than anyone, that when his time was done it would be the Dark Apostle who would dispose of him. Or he would try. These thoughts made Kharsis almost chuckle before he'd even finished his question.
The Chaplain looked up at the beast-Lord's face and suddenly burst into light. The eye-sockets and grilled mouth of the Apostle's skull-helm suddenly became lamps of intensely bright green light and that light spoke to Kharsis. The words were unintelligible, completely erratic, and a cacaphony of sounds. Kharsis listened, suddenly very interested in his Dark Apostle, beady black eyes soaking up every sight he could. While the waves of eerie light and horrific sounds echoed around the massive bridge, the rest of the crew were hunched over on the ground and screaming in pain. The two commanders were oblivious to the imminent danger their 'ritual' caused to the serfs. Luckily, it was over in a matter of moments- the light suddenly disappeared and the sound exploded into dead silence, all leaving the Talus standing in front of the Lord looking almost dumbfounded. For a brief moment, the Daemon Prince and Dark Apostle dominated the center of a suddenly very peaceful cavern of metal, neither moving or making a sound. The crew pulled themselves up hurriedly and resumed their tasks, none willing to be caught otherwise.
The silence was suddenly broken when the nasal voice of the Dark Apostle spoke up. "The spirits tell me that we are to obtain a book. This book has recorded the history of a certain... blessing, that allows us to summon on a planetary scale." With that, he smiled. Talus had allowed his host to speak directly to the Lord because Kharsis still can't understand those words. It kept all the power with him, the 'spiritual leader' of the host. The Apostle planned to be in this position for the next ten millenia; his true goal of witnessing the material realm being swallowed by the warp. It was truly dispicable, and wholly chaos.
Lord Kharsis wanted far more information than this. He leaned his massive, mutated form foward and overhung the armored Chaplain and exerted his size and inarguable position of power. Whispering menacingly, he asked "And where shall we find this... book? Who shall we have to kill to get it? And, most of all, WHAT DO I GET OUT OF IT!?!?" The Daemon Prince's volume roared around the bridge and startled everything. Stubbornly and with no visible effort, the Dark Apostle simply stood there and let the echoes die down before responding. Kharsis finally leaned back, sensing his prey's game, and relaxed into his command throne again.
"The book was claimed by the 1st Legion, and the unimaginative Lion had it stashed in a fortress on a backwater world they protected. This was millenia ago, and I've seen no futures where we are not successful." Talus paused, building the suspense to his 'most important' answer. This intellectual superiority was the Chaplain's favorite part of the job.
"You, Coryphaus, would gain the power to 'bless' even more of this host's brothers and conquer worlds in horror and bloodshed within days. It would gain you much attention from the powers you listen for." The last statement was made with much feigned aqcuiescence and forceful supplication as possible. The Dark Chaplain's tone wasn't lost on Kharsis. Without orders and with no discernable hesitation, the Chaplain turned and ordered a heading set for some long designation. The 'aye' being returned and order executed, Talus turned and looked at his Lord one last time. "The planet is known as Ehdiciun VI. This shall change when you OWN it, Kharsis." Without acknowledgement, the Dark Apostle turned and left the bridge, leaving only the hiss of the door behind him.
The Daemon Lord sat lost in thought, again seeming pensive in his chair. It was a creepy sight to the crewmen, all bustling about their jobs so as not to get noticed. Those words from the Apostle hung in the air as Kharsis began envisioning the destruction he was about to cause. One of the voices in his head screamed about the insult of being addressed so casually at the end, but this voice was ignored. Another moaned about being a monster, but this one was bullied to silence by other voices. The Daemon-lord's only thought now was of a planet bathed in blood, and in the blood of his ancient blood-enemies. It was a very nice thought...
It was a great day, felt by all of the Fourth. Mazarius was elated to finally return to the Rock, having been deployed to a dozen warzones for the last decade. His battle company had performed admirably on Gerf, been instrumental in the victory on Second Hales, and suffered immensely in the siege of Ztares IX. Home was where his charges needed to be, at least long enough to rest and replenish. Having just docked and disembarked, the Company Master wasted no time leaving the docks quickly and hurried to the Sanctum. Mazarius wanted to be reunited with the rest of the Inner Circle and brought up to date on the Chapter's progress. His cheerfulness was doubled at the thought of a secret meeting, AT HOME!!!
Strolling into the Sanctum, Mazarius instantly noticed 14 members of the Inner Circle present, of which he was the only Master in attendance. He knew tham all and nodded his greetings, and silently took his place at the Table of Contemplation to patiently wait. It was only moments later that the Grand Master entered, flanked by the Master of the Deathwing and and the enigmatic Lord Ezekiel. The room was instantly on their knees. Mazarius, being the only one in the room without a burlap robe, stood out further as he exuded excitement at getting to see his lord so quickly upon arriving. Unfortunately, this emotional 'nova', as Ezekiel saw it, attracted the attention of the Keeper.
"Get up, Master Mazarius. You've failed to show humility anyway, so stand with us and let us discuss our business. The rest of you, dismissed. Today shall see no business of the Inner Circle, as nothing has changed." Ezekiel's delivery was so matter-of-fact and deadpan that it took everyone a moment to obey. But that moment snapped when Mazarius was simultaneously joined in rising and getting about their business. The 14 present were all members of the Deathwing, and so joined Master Belial in disappearing down a corridor that ultimately led to the training halls. Grand Master Azrael stood immobile until everyone else had gone, and then led Ezekiel and Mazarius in taking seats at the vacated table.
"Brother Ezekiel informs me just now that you are excited to return home." Azrael looked at Mazarius very seriously as he noted this. His baritone voice was quiet, but sharp. Mazarius returned a controlled look, but remained quiet. "Are you not a warleader? Have you not been created to take battle to those that deserve it? Should not home be the last place you'd want to be, Brother Mazarius?" Those dark eyes of the Grand Master's bored deeply into Mazarius, who tried very hard not to break eye-contact. But it was too much, and Azrael's voice was crushing. Mazarius looked down and waited just a moment before replying.
"My Lord, my brothers and I have not seen the walls of Angelis for a decacycle and have seen scores make the ultimate sacrifice. We seek not to be away from battle, but to prepare for the next ones." Mazarius was no fool and answered directly, yet deftly. This was the belief of the Dark Angels, long held as a point of honour. He was confident, even under the pressure of the Grand Master of the Unforgiven interrogating him, that he was understood. After all, Mazarius is not master of a battle company by accident. He returned his gaze, now emboldened, to his lord.
The silence was palpable. Mazarius awaited Azrael's reply, Ezekiel watched Mazarius like a lion watches a foal, and time nearly paused for eternity. The suspense was broken as Azrael and Ezekiel both burst into laughter. They loudly laughed for a few minutes before finally dying down and noticing Mazarius sitting back in his chair with a smirk on his face. This exchange was all-too normal in the Inner Circle, the brotherhood of secrecy and bonds, loyalty and principles. The Chapter edified the concept of 'chain of command', but in the Sanctum these lines of command were more blurred. It wasn't uncommon for sessions of migraine-causing battle-planning to transform into a fist fight over some friendly verbal jabs. The Inner Circle was a brotherhood stronger than the very brotherhood they led. It also served to lay bear the true demeanor of the most secretive of groups in the Imperium. This and more provided good reasons for such casual interaction.
"Why can't you two ever quit frakkin' with us? I arrive to hear of news and receive orders and instead I become the victim of the Grand Master's game? I swear..." Mazarius complained loudly, trying to hide his amusement with feigned insult. Azrael and Ezekiel finally calmed themselves and sat with smiles plastered on their faces, letting Mazarius finish his short rant.
"It is good to see you home, brother. We have sorely missed the Fourth for too long now." Azrael grasped Mazarius' arm and gave the 'warriors' welcome'. The Grand Master was sincere, known for feeling great empathy for his Chapters. It was impossible to see the lord acting any other way than stern if you weren't in the Inner Circle. And the masters all appreciated this more than the green-armored brothers would know. "I can honestly report no additional news on the hunt. All of the companies fight across the galaxy and word has not been recieved for cycles. Authorized actions have continued apace with no commanders reporting any disrepute. Unauthorized actions have ceased, meaning we've reached a point of calm. It is time to rest my companies and allow the Chapter to build to full strength." Azrael simply rattled this off as though he'd already stated it to a half-dozen other masters. In fact, he had done so, all within the last few weeks.
Mazarius couldn't help but smile at this news. It was rare for a Space Marine chapter to ever have peace long enough to note. He knew the galaxy-wide conflict was not going well for the Imperium, but some time to redeploy and rebuild the combat elements of a whole Chapter was a blessing that could not be taken for granted. "Then Lord, what of the Fourth? We cannot simply stand on the Tower and stare at the stars forever, what of any plans for us?"
"I am sending your depleted company to garrison an old contract of ours. The Legion signed an Order of Protection for a world known as Ehdiciun VI. It has been a century since the boots of our Chapter has fulfilled that contract, and you shall see to it." Azrael sat back at delivering that news, expecting his Keeper of Secrets to finish. But Ezekiel didn't immediately take over. The Librarian was waiting to see how sharp the mind of this young master was.
"This seems like shore leave, which is something the norms do. We are Astartes, we can relax in something more... challenging. Is there some reason we suddenly have interest in this contract?" Mazarius leaned foward as he inquired, seeming to realize something even as he spoke. Ezekiel was pleased.
"I have read the Tarot many times, and it speaks of a great tragedy that we can prevent. It seems that 'little waves become breaking tsunamis.' Worse, one of our prisoners has begun blathering about some ancient artifact that our Legion took possession of. I know not where it is or even what it is, but the warp does not work by coincidence. I believe that each of these 'minor' assignments may lead to a greater situation." Ezekiel let those words disappear into his whispy tone. Once he felt that Mazarius had understood the risk this 'shore leave' might entail, he quipped with a thin grin, "Seem like shore leave now?"
"What if this situation develops into something greater than the Fourth can handle? Is every company standing down in remote locations? I do not wish to bring dishonor to the Chapter simply because of timing." Mazarius was half-lost in thought as he asked. The cheerful demeaner he'd come home with had now been replaced by battle-planning in the head.
"Worry not, Brother Mazarius. Belial has ordered his company to patrol routes amongst our current assignments, leaving the First to be any master's reinforcements. Sammael has given each of you a couple squads to use with your companies as well, meaning to liase between you and the Deathwing should the need arise. Your main concern, Brother, is to stay alert, train, and replenish your ranks." Azrael made sure to impress the last statement upon his captain. Calmly, the table sat and deliberated over some of the details. It didn't take long, being the 'rest' assignment the company needed. "You deploy in two weeks, Mazarius. Honor of the Chapter."
"Honor of the Chapter, Grand Master." The business of the day complete and orders recieved, Mazarius left the Sanctum and strolled back to Quarters. He was already determining his next few week's plans, and he'd only been home for two hours...