Wings soared higher than the clouds, the body they bore banking around and floating above the glittering death of defense grids whose makers’ bones have long since been reduced to dust and ash. Every five thousand five hundred and seventy-three seconds, precisely on the mark, the masterful pilot of House Hastings performed a deep dive in order to avoid a kill satellite’s decaying orbit that threatened to cause all within the crew compartment to black out from the sudden stress of gravity and activated ancient and esoteric technology to prevent the same discomfort - and more importantly, jostling - in the cargo compartment. Though the Stormbird is ambivalent in its mortality, its crew is far less so of she who is ensconced within its bowels on this flight. Neither ground nor void is safe, not truly, not even within the claimed domains of their master - the aspiring Master of Mankind, and failure in this task would bring a shame far more bitter than mere death.
At long last they approached the roof of the world, the cloud-piercing peaks of the Himalazias coming into view, stark and austere. These bristled with some of the most foreboding weapons left to humanity, but these the Ambivalent Mortality
raced towards without fear, even as alert runes and targeting designators blazed on the instruments. Within the Lines, the great fortress-mountains at the heart of the plateau, exotic energies stirred ever so softly in their half-slumbers as fire control sages coaxed them to readiness if the order came to destroy the swift-moving speck that flew across their skies.
Ident runes roared silently across the aether, challenge and response met and accepted, and the moment of danger faded as swiftly as it had begun. A landing pad was designated, nestled deep between the highest peaks of the bleeding world that had challenged all comers for generations untold, near the great work that was even now unmaking such natural grandeurs to expand the glory of man. A lone figure in simple robes awaited them, unheeding the backwash emitted by the Stormbird’s landing. It was only when the ramp descended and the cargo of the proud vessel was at last seen that they moved at all.
“Novator,” he said, the young voice carrying clear despite the roar of wind and engine. “You are most welcome here, but the master has many questions that require answers. Will you follow me?”
"Of course," a voice replies -- feminine and practiced, each word it speaks seems manicured; the tongue of a diplomat. To mortal eyes, she is momentarily hidden, but the speaker swiftly reveals herself as she makes her way down the Stormbird's unfurled ramp, hands folded neatly in front of her hips.
Her clothing (or dress, rather) is utterly unblemished, in spite of substantial turbulence, long and flowing drapes of emerald fabric wrapping her body in long, low-cut waves, her footwear invisible beneath the fabric.
Her eye, uncovered, twitches
beneath its lid as she gestures for one of her servants to approach her, masked and clad in the jury-rigged power armour of the Gallogach. The tall, androgynous person reaches up to wrap a silken cloth over her forehead, before moving to follow, a second following close behind.
"You lead us to your... Master, I assume? They are a very, very mysterious person, if the rumours are to be believed..."
“Yes, but no. I would lead you to my master, but he is, alas, away. Your misfortune compounds, for the
master speaks to no one without his word that they are worthy of His time. However, you would not be brought here for no reason,” he explained, bowing his head in apology. “Please, we should escape the cold,” the robed man said, turning on his heel towards a section of the mountain face still unmarred by the hand of man.
A vast door made of a black metal with a gold lightning bolt above it slowly opened at their approach, steam hissing out of the ground. A patina of frost coated the entryway as the superheated water vapor froze against the surface, guards in armor made of the same material following in its wake. They wielded cruel weapons made for terror rather than efficiency, festooned with jagged edged chainblades and bulky boltguns. Forming up into a pair of lines, they pounded their fists against their chest as the unassuming robed figure walked in between, turning to engulf the party as Luigsech followed in his wake.
The tunnel beyond was carved into the living stone, the rock still bare save for bundled coils carrying water, fuel, and raw power throughout the complex. “My apologies for this mean estate, but the complex has grown in size rather hastily. The mode in which you have approached us also demanded that we not dawdle. I’m sure you understand.”
"Certainly," Luigsech dryly commented, craning her neck to duly lay eyes upon practically everything she saw. She was evaluating, assessing, examining the structures around her for any sign of barbarism... But, all the same, she understood that her unique sensibilities could not fully be accounted for. No whiskeys and libations to be found here, it seemed.
with which your complex has grown in itself has been impressive. I see no bloated Pan-Pacific labor force, and yet... You manage to clear away the Himalazian Plateau in-" she blinks, abruptly shaking her head.
"Ah, I am terribly sorry. My manners seem to have fled me -- I don't believe I caught your name, did I?"
“You did not, but you have dealt no offense. My name is irrelevant at this juncture, the master bid me welcome you and so I have. If desired however, I am Prior Beck, head of the House of Doves within the Order of the Sigilites. I have the honor of the cataloging and storage of ancient communication devices, including that which you shall use to speak with him.” Pointedly, he did not respond or react to her curiosity on how they had worked so swiftly beginning to recreate the Himalazias.
Leading onward, there was a stark transition as the nearly barren rock suddenly gave way to a chamber made of what appeared to be polished bronze, the space bearing with it the weight of ages. The guards remained outside as Beck entered in, fanning out to watch the entry to the strange, baroque, room.
“I would request that you keep all psychic interference to a minimum.”
"Of course. That will be a simple matter," Luigsech replied, surreptitiously smoothing the creases out of her dress. "I am a Navigator, not a mere witch
lacking control of my own mind." She explained, duly examining the chamber as she stepped inside.
The room itself seemed to be a single cast piece of the gleaming metal, with the only exceptions being the sturdy hatches that demarcated it from the rest of the complex. The interior of these too were shown to be of the same material when closed however, leaving the pair alone. In the center of the room was a small, squat table that held a flat pane of crystal and nothing more. Hoarfrost began to climb upon the walls as the Prior manipulated a strange console in front of the table, an otherworldly hum filling the air as a sound without sound.
Suspended above the crystal pane was a soft shimmering of light, that slowly resolved itself into the wizened face of Malcador. The man seemed distracted, only a fraction of his attention upon the room his image appeared in.
“Novator, welcome. I shall be brief, for both of our sakes,” the Sigilite said, brushing past any such niceties as introduction. Any woman who thought to ask after the Emperor would know of Malcador, and his own business was too pressing by far to waste time with idle chatter. “Why have you requested an audience?”
"Then I will grant you the same courtesy you are granting me," the Navigator replied, staring unflinchingly at the hologram.
"Word reached my ears of a warlord who is rapidly expanding across Terra, of one who has managed to transform the entire Himalazian Plateau into his grand palace... Such matters concern the immediate future of my people. I wish to understand his intentions."
“They should be known to you already,” Malcador replied curtly, his image flickering as an unearthly wail came over the connection. “My order is tasked with the preservation of human history, and we have ever spurned the petty warlords of this world, until the Master of the Lines arose. He, and he alone, we found worthy of our charge and to bring about the salvation of this benighted era. Does that suffice for you to understand, Novator?”
"No." Luigsech replied curtly, unperturbed, "my concern is chiefly the preservation of my people, Sigilite, and while I cannot doubt that your interests are noble... I cannot presume they align with the preservation of Eirné. I cannot
afford assumptions, no matter how well-founded.”
“Preservation is a curious word, Novator. Let us speak plainly then, what are your terms? My time is regrettably short.”
"My House will faithfully serve your Master as Navigators, and my soldiers will aid him in his conquest of Terra and beyond. In exchange, governance of Eirné -- and Albyon -- will be left to us." Luigsech stated firmly, her brow furrowing. "We have been beaten, starved, imprisoned, enslaved, once and again and again... No more. Never again will I, or my people, allow such a fate to befall us. We are to be treated with respect
“The Achaeminids sought much the same recognition and power, including dominion over a rival whom the Emperor’s armies shall conquer,” Malcador replied, a grim smile tugging at his lips at his last words. “Are you ready, then, to make the same sacrifices beneath the Raptor that they do?”
Luigsech quirked an eyebrow, a curious look spreading across her features. "I have already promised our armies and my bloodline, have I not?"
“The Emperor will ask yet more of you, for your land has been kept fenced and secured from the greatest depredations of this fallen era. Your mightiest exemplars he shall raise up as his own, and they will not remember the taste of summer in their own country. This is the price for what you seek.”
"Our best? My royal guard?" Luigsech asked, raising an eyebrow. "They have... Already been extensively modified by our geneticists. This will not interfere with your processes; or do you perhaps referred to the unaltered?"
“Those who already bear your arms and colors are, by and large, too old for the selections to come. The Emperor will collect the flower of your land’s youth,” Malcador explained further, pressing as far as he dared while the project was so secretive.
"I presume you will not take so many of our youth as to cripple our population growth?" Luigsech asked, steepling her fingers together. It was a difficult deal, to be sure, and she was reluctant to trade away her potential best... But the benefits, she hoped, would more than make up for the losses incurred. Freed from Albion's predations, her own eugenics programs could flourish -- an army of Fomorians, perhaps?
“Perhaps one in one hundred will pass the initial screening, fewer still taken permanently. Should your lands produce more, I would be pleasantly shocked,” the ancient man said, his focus more and more drifting towards off in the distance as it seemed their conversation came to an end. “We are in agreement, then?”
"We are in agreement," she confirmed. "...But perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised. My family has spent thousands of years cultivating an optimal
“Such is well then, I have no further tests then. The Emperor shall be your final judge.”
“You do yourself a disservice, old friend, as if I would ignore your judgment.” The unremarkable form of Prior Beck spoke, having returned in physical presence to the meeting between Luigsech and the hologram projection of the Sigillite. With a kind smile, that somehow seemed far older than the relative youth of the Prior’s features, he continued, “If other matters require your full attention, I believe I can handle matters from here.”
There was only a soft, and all too weary laugh, from Malcador in reply and with that, the great machine deactivated in a crackle of energy, motes of potential dissolving as they fell upon the floor of the brass chamber. The Prior’s attention then settled on Luigsech, and in a moment, some of the manipulation of reality fell away from the Prior.
The Emperor of Mankind did not reveal the full scope of who or what he was in a blaring moment, for such things might truly damage a being of psychic nature such as the Navigator before him. Instead the human shell that was the Prior shifted slightly, his skin darkening to resemble more the people of long-gone Anatolia, the kindly humble eyes replaced with blazing motes of light, as a fraction of the Emperor’s true being breached into reality.
“You have your audience, Novator.”
," Luigsech said, a small, knowing smirk cracking her features.
"You are no warlord, then, and the rumours are true of a man who seeks to become sovereign of all humanity..." She said, turning to respectfully bow in greeting to Beck once more.
“Humanity has faltered, but through my guidance it can reclaim its destiny. My reach is great, but for what we wish to achieve, the services of your household would be…expeditious.” The man accepted the bow with a nod of his head, the light that seemed to sear the air itself around him barely dimming with the action. “But what can be achieved, will be achieved, I believe The Sigillite has addressed to you the price of service in my Imperium.”
"...Yes. Yes, he has." Luigsech nodded, momentarily withering under the man's overbearing psychic aura, so hot it almost made her feel like she was developing a fever.
"My House... I have spent a great deal of time shaping them into the ideal Navigator, into the ideal weapon against the witch
," she hissed, resisting the urge to spit. This man, if he could even be called that... Unquestionably, he was a psyker, but... Not like those she was used to. Their power was chaotic, wild, their mere presence a bomb waiting to go of, but this? This was... Order
"...You will find us quite useful, I believe."