Lisbeth hadn't stopped smiling throughout the whole trip. The trip through the countryside was a blessed relief from the hot, turgid air of the city, and a gratefully-recieved reminder of all that He had given mankind. Fields of crops waved in the breeze as the open-topped carrier moved along tarmaced roads, birds tweeting between belches of low, monstrous noise from the carrier's engines. Hours passed quickly for the sister, rapt in a sort of childish joy as the world rolled past, though the rest of the crew did not seem to share Lisbeth's fascination for the world of Cekrov and the quiet, humble agricultural work that continued as they moved by, work that had continued for tens of thousands of years and would continue for tens of thousands more, with every soul content with their place, clearly defined by His plan, with no need for thought or doubt or consideration, only to hear and to obey and to please Him. It was a beautiful future, and it would come to pass soon.
"Sister," Lisbeth had asked Alexa, after hours of chirping about how wonderful this world was, no doubt boring the enlisted men to tears in the process. "When we get to Sarton, and we bring the saint back to Terra, do you think we will get to see Him? I hope we get to see her raise Him. What do you think will happen when He is returned to us?"
Whilst Sister Lisbeth's sheer joy was admittedly infectious, Alexa couldn't bring herself to be quite as optimistic as her sister in arms. Certainly, the world was wonderfully pleasant on the eye, and it'd be truly glorious to bear witness to a resurrection on a scale as grand as that - and yet, her prior fears stuck, the possibility of possession over Sainthood holding in her mind, and even if this girl could revive the dead with His holy power, if using His own power to restore Him was at all possible, the difference in scale between a mere mortal and the long-dead body of the God-Emperor Himself was as a comparison of the masses of heretics and the Imperium's benevolent rule.
"If He is brought back to us by our actions," Alexa quipped, "then I imagine He will reward us greatly - or else, allow the prestige of such a grand act to be its own reward," she added somewhat belatedly. The negative tone imparted to her words wasn't entirely the fault of the vox this time, though she would certainly play it off as though it were if queried. It wasn't that the idea was grotesque to her, of course it wasn't! But it seemed very unlikely to come to pass.
"When He returns," continued Lisbeth, totally unfazed by Alexa's measured scepticism, "I think I'd like to be on a planet like this. After all, once He comes back to us, there won't be any need for us to fight, will there? The heretics and traitors are bound to see the error of their ways, and I'm sure there's no way any aliens could possibly bother us with the Emperor walking amongst us again." Within her mind, Lisbeth felt the warm smile of a father, and she knew exactly who He was. "I know," she said, to the voice of the Emperor, silent at the moment. He was probably busy preparing for His imminent return, that would explain why Lisbeth couldn't hear Him. "Sisters? Sister-Celestian?" A loud clunk from the engine stole her words away, and she satisfied herself in continuing her conversation with the gigantic Hospitaller opposite. "I think I will miss fighting for Him, but I'm sure what awaits us will be far better than any other victory, right, Alexa?"
"It'd certainly be nice to have all our problems solved with His return," Alexa nodded. "But, even when He was present during the Great Crusade, He couldn't be everywhere at once... though, if the Living Saints are envoys of His power, perhaps He could present Himself to all and sundry through them?" It was unusual for Alexa to speak so much, but that idea did make her feel a bit better: the God-Emperor had ways of projecting himself.
"We didn't know the nature of the Enemy then, though. Without the advantage of surprise, there's no way they could ever stop Him a second time." The earliest spark of a thought questioning how the Emperor could have been beaten at all was born, and then swiftly crushed, a perfectly conditioned mind squashing all traces of doubt. "As long as we obey, He will be our shield." Lisbeth cast a glance behind her, as the craft began to crawl up a gentle hill. "Do you think we're nearly there yet?"
"Mm. You aren't wrong." Alexa considered Sister Lisbeth's words, then wondered what it was that made her so... optimistic? Certainly not dense, but she was so certain that this girl would be a Saint, and so convinced that the Emperor's eventual return would be the balm to all their worries... was Lisbeth a more faithful servant than herself? Possibly. She couldn't help but recall her violence on Athega Tertius - the death of a comrade drove one to righteous fury at times, of course it did, but after they'd been told to hold them prisoner for interrogation...
She put it out of her mind as Lisbeth asked whether they were there yet. "I imagine we're not far off," came Alexa's response, leaning out of the craft a bit to get a better view... only to catch sight of black, oily smoke, just over the hill. Oh, no.
"...but we might want to be ready for a battle," she murmured, thumbing her bolt pistol in its holster. Optimism was excellent for providing an ideal to aim for, of course... but sadly, realism tended to provide a more accurate image of how things might turn out, on the whole.
Lisbeth hadn't stopped smiling. Permanence was laid at her side rather than on it's strap, Persephone hanging limp at her hip. She even found time to wave at a group of peasant children leading a grox-cart during the conversation, and they'd returned the gesture. This was a quiet world, it seemed, and outside of the temptations of the city the simple hard work kept the people free from distractions or improper thoughts. She wondered if those children had ever seen a servant of the Imperium before, beyond statues and the tales of their elders, and if in years to come they would tell their own children about the time they saw the avenging angels of the Ecclesiarchy. "What do you mean, Sister?" Lisbeth's eyes travelled to follow the direction of Alexa's gaze, and as she saw the plume of smoke rising from the distance she realised, with a terrible dread, what the Hospitaller was talking about.
"No..." Her pale skin turned almost grey, and her eyes grew cold and glassy as the promise of paradise seemed to be stolen away. "Tell me that's not Sarton." She turned to Victorine, to Alexa, and back, pleading. "Please! It can't be..."
Now, as the convoy rolled to a halt and the group caught sight of the burning cottages and the wails of the dying echoed across the hills, Lisbeth's smile died.
And there went the optimism. Frankly, there wasn't much to be optimistic about - houses were aflame, people were dead and dying, and they had evidently arrived much too late to prevent whoever had invaded from achieving their goal. Whilst this gave a little more credence to the idea of the girl being a Saint, it also rather suggested their goal was to kill her - unless, of course, that possession had simply led to the inevitable.
Alexa said nothing more to Lisbeth, but drew her weapon at Sister-Celestian Victorine's command, stepping out of the craft once it came to a halt. Gunfire was audible, meaning this was likely an external raid - meaning, they needed to act quickly if they wanted to salvage anything resembling a potential Living Saint.
"Sister-Celestian, I believe we should confirm whether the girl has perished or been captured, and pursue her kidnappers if so." She didn't like to suggest something that was probably obvious, but she felt she had to make the statement just in case. There was vengeance to be sought her, for certain, but also victims to rescue, and potentially one of extreme importance to the Imperium.
Lisbeth's heart fell heavy, and her previous optimism gave way to horror, and then despair. Not again, she thought, strapping Permanence back on as she hopped out of the carrier. They cannot take Him from us again! As she absorbed the scene, her mind turned once again, this time from despair to anger. "Sister-Celestian," she growled, in a tone quite unlike herself. She sounded more like the Confessor, or perhaps even the bass drone from Alexa's faulty helmet. "Orders? Permission to engage?" she urged. Lisbeth could feel her arms beginning to shake, and her hand drew closer to her sword and the clutch of grenades around her waist, rather than the longer-range (perhaps, the more sensible choice) bolter.
The smell of burning flesh stirred her soul with an incandescent rage. They were so close to the Saint, to mankind's deliverance, and once again, the Enemy had stolen Him away from his loving subjects. If the Saint still lived, Lisbeth would find her, and her captors - or murderers - would be torn apart in a fountain of gore before she was done with them. Be my Sword, Lisbeth, spoke the Emperor, and the slight twitches betrayed her eagerness to bring justice to this tragic scene. Selfishly, she hoped Sister-Celestian Victorine would not notice her reddening eyes, and the welling of enraged tears beneath the tattoo on her face.