Faith and Betrayal
Effects of Exposure
Legion Battlefront – 357th infantry
Planet Dusk – 12 Years ago
Flak cautiously made his way through the confined trench, stepping carefully around his fellow squad mates. They had been stationed on Dusk for nearly a year, yet the dim light of the fading day still managed to cause easily avoidable slips if one failed to watch their footing. Flak managed to make it over his half sleeping comrades and find a, nearly clean, overturned log buried in the caked mud. He heaved his tired form onto the log and pressed his back into the dirty wall of the trench, allowing his flamer to sit idle across his lap.
As he rested, Flak’s eyes were drawn to the woman kneeling across from him. Her helmet rested on the ground beneath her allowing her long auburn hair to fall gracefully below her neck. She didn’t wear a collar like he did; she belonged to the group of guardsmen Flak’s squad was being loaned to. Flak had worked with her on a few fire missions during the past few weeks and had come to admire her technique with her own flamer. Despite the partnering, Flak realized he had barely spoken to her at all, which was a shame as there were not many attractive women this far in the wilderness.
As Flak sat debating whether or not he should strike up a conversation, he noticed the blank far-off look in her eyes and the constant slow movement of her lips whispering something over and over. The woman wasn’t looking at anything in particular, just at the far wall of the trench before her. And while Flak couldn’t hear her words, he knew she was merely muttering gibberish. Dusk had a way of playing on people’s minds, filling their heads with voiceless whispers and causing them to fall into a catatonic state. Just a week ago, he had seen a man keel over screaming and clawing at his ears in an attempt to silence the whispers. Before Flak had a chance to investigate the woman further, he was accosted by a loud gruff voice.
“Geth! Front and center!” Flak quickly jumped to his feet and stood at attention before a large burly sergeant staring him down. “Nights falling and we need a parameter check. Get out there and give our boys some light.”
“Yes, sir.” Flak answered but didn’t move. He turned his head and noticed the woman hadn’t moved a muscle and was still whispering to herself. The sergeant leaned forward with a scowl.
“What’s the holdup, soldier?”
“Well, sir… It’s Private Hanson, sir… She’s…” The sergeant leaned around Flak and looked at the woman kneeling in the mud. His scowl worsened but his face seemed to lighten up a little.
“The warp affects us all, one way or another. Just get out there and leave her to me.” Flak nodded and climbed quickly out of the trench.
Flak had nearly made it hallway to the edge of the forest perimeter before he heard a commotion behind him. Bloodcurdling screams echoed forth from the trench, and a bright blaze of light erupted out into the night. Turning around, Flak watched as flames licked the top of the trench and began to spread outward. Men, half-burnt and trailing flames behind them, clawed viciously at the mud trying to haul themselves out of the fire-filled trench as smoke from their own bodies began to fill the air. Other guardsmen who had been above ground, rushed to the trench’s edge and began laying down automatic fire into their dying comrades, ending their suffering and silencing their deafening screams.
As Flak looked down at the carnage below him, he saw the outline of a woman standing admits the flames. In her hands was the still burning nozzle of a flamer, the majority of its promethium spent. Even as bullets riddled her body from the guardsmen above, she stood there unmoving. Her auburn hair seemed to dance around her face and Flak could feel her dead stare from her empty eye sockets as flames began consuming her. Even as her body was engulfed in fire, Flak could see her lips moving in a silent whisper. The heat of the fires pushed Flak backwards and he stood in silence, watching the glowing blaze grow and listening to the whispers of Dusk echoing in his head.
Burn it out. Burn it out. Burn it out…
St. Margaret’s – Dining Hall
Planet Pellicuda IX – Current Day 8:05pm
“… And while it is difficult to see her leave us so soon, we must give thanks to the Emperor for all the Legatine has done for us in this short time!” Abbot Prime Althrop’s words echoed throughout the large dining hall as a great cheer went up from the students. Beside him, Legatine Uriel smiled politely and nodded at the mass. The Abbot Prime finished his speech with a prayer and sat down. He began to eat his meal in silence while tossing glances toward Uriel with each new bite. It wasn’t long before he leaned over and whispered, “I still can’t believe you kept me in the dark about your true intentions here!” Uriel picked up her wine glass and gave the group of students who had come up to thank her a polite smile and wave before leaning in towards Althrop.
“Relax, dear Abbot Prime. Members of the Inquisition had disappeared on your watch. It was not an insult, merely a precaution to keep you in the dark about my identity. You know my superiors where hesitant to even inform you now, but I argued in your favor. I felt it was important you were made aware before the next Inquisition team arrives.” The Abbot Prime’s face didn’t lighten up as he scoffed into his food.
“And yet you still won’t tell me what it is you were up to. Or, what it was that had been affecting this Schola.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to take those inquiries up with the next team, although I doubt you will get anywhere.” Legatine Uriel once again turned her attention to students who had come to greet her. After they left, the Abbot Prime leaned over.
“And when can I expect them to arrive?” Althrop inquired.
“Within a week, I’m told.” The Legatine responded.
“Do you plan to leave when they arrive, or shall you accompany them during their stay?”
“Neither. I plan to leave on the first ferry in the morning.” Uriel sipped her wine and poked at her food absently with her fork. The Abbot Prime looked at her in shock.
“So soon? But what will we do about our medical facility? And what will I tell the faculty regarding the new Inquisition team? I-”
“Tell them the truth.” Uriel cut the Abbot Prime off abruptly. “They are simply coming to finish the work of the first team and should soon be leaving. As for your medical issues, I’ve already fixed your problem.” Althrop looked as though he were about to speak but Uriel continued. “Stop focusing on the negatives, Abbot Prime. Your students are healthy and you will soon be free of the Inquisition. Enjoy the new energy that will soon see St. Margaret’s back up to full speed.” Uriel lifted her glass to the Abbot Prime as yet another group of students began to approach them.
A little while later, Legatine Uriel and her bodyguard marched across the campus toward their quarters. The afternoon sun was setting, showering the school in cascading shadows. As they passed by students, a few attempted to approach the Legatine but where scared by a scowl from Flak. Uriel talked as they walked, never dropping her pace.
“Birds, meteors, demons… What’s next? I don’t know what this Seiger is up to, but I’m failing to see any pattern in this madness aside from his love of schools.” The Legatine’s words floated back to Flak as he kept pace with her.
“The warp affects all, in one way or another. Method, time, location… You see no pattern because one likely does not exist. It is hard to make order from chaos, ma’am.” Uriel glanced back at her bodyguard with a nod.
“Yes. The warp does affect all.” She said simply. After a short pause she added, “Except for you, it seems. You did well, Flak, barely flinching in the presence of demons is no simply feat. I shall inform our Lord of your bravery.”
“I live to serve, ma’am.” Flak responded in his monotone voice.
“That’s good, because our work is far from over. Seiger is still out there, and unless we want another incident like this, we will need to catch him quickly.” They walked along in silence for a while longer before Uriel let out a sigh. “Let’s hope Bishop and Lupus have finished packing. Perhaps we can still catch a ferry back to the mainland tonight. I am ready to leave this place…”
As they walked, Flak caught sight of a woman standing near the cliff overlooking the ocean. Her auburn hair seemed to dance around her face as golden flames licked against her shoulders. Even bathed as she was in light, Flak could see her mouth moving, silently whispering words he couldn’t hear. As he walked forward, the sunlight streaming behind her evaporated and Flak could make out the silhouette of a pilgrim praying. Her face was unfamiliar and her sandy blonde hair was half hidden beneath her cloak’s hood. With his own sigh, Flak couldn’t help but mirror the Legatine’s sentiments. He was ready to leave this place, too.