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White Flowers and Cherry Blossoms

Omar Affan has butterflies in his stomach. He's sitting at his desk, a desk he fought for and earned, at almost fifty-five years old- and somehow he's still getting butterflies in his stomach. No, scratch that: it's Liaison Affan now, not Omar. And those aren't butterflies, they're... potential? Excitement? Hope?

Butterflies, his mind affirms.

So, Omar Affan is almost fifty-five years old, sitting at his brand-new desk, with butterflies in his stomach. He has to read over the Commonality’s message twice. And then three more times. Because what are the odds?

He has spent six solid months reorganizing the government, putting out fires and trying (desperately, hopelessly trying) to make something coherent out of the mess back home on Bezia. Trying to establish a democracy there. And as soon as it seems like they've succeeded, as soon as the first glint of sunrise starts to peak over the mountains- somebody sends them a poem.

If anyone else had been the Liaison, it wouldn't mean much. But Omar Affan is in love with poems. If he had been born in any nation other than the ECU, he likes to think a poet is what he’d be. The more coherent part of his mind knows that’s a fantasy, but the other half- the part of his mind currently conjuring butterflies- wants to believe it. So he can’t help but see it as a sign. The first day he gets back into office, officially becoming the Liaison and Chief Diplomat of the White Flower Democracy, a poem appears before him.

He prays silently: I see Your hand, Truth.

He should really respond to them- and soon, since they currently have some unholy behemoth of a “module” barrelling towards the Meeting Place. But whether it’s the poems or the prayer, something has him in one of those sentimental moods that he treasures so, so much. He ends up opening up his infopad, flipping through it to the file marked “proj” and inside it, a file marked “poem” and inside it, a file that reads:

Cold and cruel for years,
‘Til the air warms at long last:
Spring dawns on Bezia.

He wrote that haiku the day Heralds died. It didn’t feel right to celebrate a man’s death, so he made it to be about a new season. He wanted to say “I’m not glad Heralds went out the way he did: but look, a new life is here!” Instead he ended up writing some pretentious nonsense about spring. But it was close enough.

Alright, Liaison, that’s enough sentiment for this morning that rational part of his mind tells him, and for once, he agrees with it. It really is time to formally answer this “Commonality of New Ishtar.”

And yet…

Oh, fine, he can’t help it. The new arrivals to the Meeting Place have this message directed to their mobile station:

New spring brings new friends,
Brought home to our Mother Earth
A message divine;
We are dispatching two shuttles. They’ll show you the safest place to connect your new module to the Meeting Place, and transmit directions to the White Flower embassy. No way to make that sound poetic. Let’s break bread together.

🙠🙘 🙚🙢

Warm rays of sunshine
Cast aside the dark winter
Stars’ children rejoice
Our appearance is strange. Please, do not be frightened, for we are but daughters of Earth, long lost.

Scheherazade smiled to herself as the message came through and as she sent a response. Sachiko, within the same room and connected to the same feeds, had hugged her tightly after reading it. Even had she known nothing of these White Flowers - fellow lovers of poetry were always to be celebrated.

“Sachiko, fetch me a bottle of the rum we brought for these folks. The nicest stuf- yes, I know, you don’t drink. It’s the one with the fire and roses on the front.”

She shook her head - little exasperations that might have annoyed her in the past now only filled her with greater excitement. She had been alive for well over three hundred earthen years, by her count. She remembered the early colonization of the planet. The hushed rumors. Her appointed guardian had tried to hide her from the them - but there was little to be done. She still remembered the fear that permeated everyone, even if she was not connected to the Net then. The natives of the world - she couldn’t even remember what they had been called. What they had looked like. She remembered fighting against them - that much she remembered clearly. She remembered finally setting down the title of Soldier and becoming who she was now - dreaming of great things to come. Abnormal, in her hope for the future.

And yet she could not remember ever feeling this excited - and anxious - before. Only the arrival of Zeta came close. But that was not so much excitement as… pure wonder. And joy. Ecstatic, mind numbing joy. The Commonality was not alone. By the time the feeling had passed so had any chance of this feeling of excitement. The fluttery feeling in her gut.

The arrival of Zeta was the closing of an old chapter in the Commonality’s history. The history of the Perfected of New Ishtar. A new chapter was unfurling - and it was she who would write its first words. How could one not be anxious or excited?

As the craft neared the Ishtari station module, she allowed herself to relax for the last time in what would probably be quite a while.

An army of volunteer workers aboard the craft set to work with spare materials, beginning the construction of a properly secured connected to the main station. The massive, hulking, Ishtari addition clung to the structure at odds with the comparatively small additions made by other nations and other peoples over time. Scheherazade boarded a small shuttle flanked by a small detachment of guards. An sword from her collection hung at her hip, inward-curving blade held safely in a carved wooden sheath. An ornate dress, halfway between a military uniform and a normal dress, trailed on the floor behind her. She made no move to conceal her face - though the soldiers marching in formation beside her wore helmets that concealed theirs. It would be best to be open and honest - and so, Sachiko, walking beside her in an ornate kimono, mouth slightly agape as she took in the sights around her - had been instructed to do the same.

Despite the ethereal air she put on as she stepped into the foreign space station, she silently prayed that this would not end poorly.

Her prayer was answered, or perhaps interrupted, by a loud voice declaring: "My new friends, welcome!"

Omar's arms stretched out widely, fatherly, like he was about to go in for a hug. His hands reached to either side of the steel corridor they stood in- as the Ishtari would notice, he was fat and broadly built. (But his smile was just as broad.) He wore a long brown shirt that cut off at the knees, skewed slightly at an angle, and his oily hair fell in rings around his head. He wore glasses.

Somewhere behind him, a woman was just barely visible. Her glasses matched his.

"Allow me and my friend Melissa to lead you to our embassy. We have a space set aside just for such meetings." That space was, naturally, the holo-suite: currently programmed into the shape of a spacious 19th century study, complete with shelves of books and antique wooden furniture. (In his thoughts, Omar wanted to see if they could tell the room was artificial.) Gaslight lit the whole space, cozy and old-fashioned. A mahogany table in the middle has just the right number of seats for all of them.

Scheherazade smiled to him - and to Melissa, silently grateful that thus far nothing had been said of their appearances. The room looked… peculiar, though she could not place her finger on what exactly. She looked around the space, taking in the sights - and, were Omar a native of New Ishtar, would have been seen to make their equivalent of a raised eyebrow. “Gas lighting aboard a space station?” She mused, smiling to herself. “Either you White Flowers have nostalgia something fierce for the nineteenth century of Earth - to a potentially dange`rous extent - or this is simulated?” She looked it over, hidden eyes roaming over each inch of the room. “If so, it is remarkably realistic.”

She seated herself across from him, gesturing for Sachiko to do the same.

“Forgive me,” she said, after a moment, “I do not believe I got your name?”

“I’m Omar,” said Omar. “And yes, the room is a simulation. I’m impressed you spotted it! My friend here is-”

“-Melissa.” The woman cut him off. "Who loves Omar like an uncle, but wishes he would let her talk sometimes. And, technically, he's Liaison Affan, but he thinks being informal is charming. I don’t." She smiled, her way of saying that this was all light-hearted. Omar looked at her with eyes that said 'Ouch,' but the smile remained on his face, too.

"Forgive the banter," he told the Ishtari. "Me and Melissa have known each other for a long time. We were both here back when this was the ECU embassy, actually, as the little people. And speaking of: we should address the elephant in the room." Here he took a deep breath, gripping his fingers to the table as Melissa knew he did when he was about to ask something unpleasant.

Scheherazade restrained the urge to wince in preparation for what she knew must be coming. Sachiko was less successful, her head drooping downwards as she averted her attention to anything else. The Zetans had held their curiosity well - especially with no prior warning. But for unmodified humans like these it must b-

"How did you know about the White Flowers before coming to the system? I loved your haiku, personally. I was the one who composed the poem sent back. But- it shows that you already knew we were rebels against an old regime. You said you had a bad Gateway. So did we all, right? How could you have known about what was happening on the other end?"

For a moment, Scheherazade found herself reaching for a pre-prepared response to the man, a carefully formulated recollection of the events that lead to the Ishtari becoming what they now were. It was not until she was opening her mouth to speak that she realized the man across had an altogether different question.

“The Zetans.” She said, smoothly switching tracks. “Our gate in fact opened approximately… six months ago, using earth-time as a metric? However - it was… unstable and closed shortly after. During the brief period it was active however - a small Zetan craft became stranded in our system and made contact. They told us much, and kept us up to speed on goings on out here.” She smiled, “With their aid, when the gate fluctuated open again, we were able to stabilize it and cross. We’d spent the intervening six months building the large module we’re adding to this ‘Meeting Place’ now.”

Sachiko spoke up. “W-when you say bad gateway - they were all bad, yes. But ours was… damaged. It was damaged, or something, nobody knows! But from what we know it was a far less stable Gate than the others until we fixed it!”

Leave the sensitive stuff to me, please. Scheherazade messaged her, silently. You are young yet. We would be best to be careful, even with potential allies.

Sachiko agreed, looking up at the two with a shy smile. “I- I’m glad you enjoyed the haiku. She wrote the others, but I wrote that on- oh!” She slapped a palm to her forehead, “We forgot our own introductions. I am Sister-Sage 43 Sachiko Treasures The Beauty In The Universe!” She gestured to the woman beside her, nearly identical in every way save for their disposition, the visible tattoos, and manner of dress. “This is Sister-Sage 192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things.” A slight nod and easy smile from Scheherazade confirmed her words.

Omar nodded, his face bouncing a little as he did. "The Zetans. Alright. And a broken Gateway?" But his eyes lit up at the names- something in them sounded like the haikus they received. “So poetic!” he commented. “Your names, I mean, I’m sorry. ‘Dreams of Many Great Things.’ That’s… beautiful.”

He wondered what his name would be, in that society. ‘Writes Poems Nobody Will Read,’ maybe. Or ‘Eats Far Too Much Pork.’ What a unique way to express a person.

But his wondering was interrupted. In front of his eyes, on the interior of his glasses and visible only to him, a sea of words decided to float by. Some of the words were surprised, some were excited, and some were just misspelled and incoherent: because they were randomly-selected comments from different Flower citizens, who were currently reacting to all this news with him. As per the new rules of this direct democracy, citizens were allowed a say in all manners government. Including diplomacy. Every few moments, he received input from the people of Bezia.

Oh, yes, Omar realizes. He was supposed to inform the Ishtari about this.

"Forgive me, my friends," Omar says, "but I realize I've forgotten to inform you about an important regulation of ours. You see, these glasses me and Melissa both wear are, well-" he scratched the back of his neck- "cameras. Right now, as we speak, a live feed of everything we see is being sent back home to Bezia. Approximately fifty million Flower citizens are watching these proceedings. After this meeting, they themselves will vote on our future relations with your people. I have no special sway over this process." He lifted his chin. This was a feature he was quite proud of. "You see, it is our goal as a society to allow every person a say in every action taken by the government, and that requires full transparency. Please pardon my not mentioning it earlier."

Melissa smiled awkwardly. "You can pardon him for the idea, too. He's the man who thought of using cameras and votes for diplomacy. I fully blame him.”

Scheherazade grinned widely, as did Sachiko beside her. For a moment, they paused - as the Commonality again declared its approval to them, urging them to share in kind.

“Well,” she said, relaxing slightly. “First of all, my greetings to the people of the White Flower Democracy - and…” pausing for effect, she added, “Greetings from the 4.6 billion people of the Commonality of New Ishtar. Just as you see through those cameras, they’re seeing everything as well.” She nodded to Omar. “This is splendid news. Truly.” She said, smiling. “I am glad that our first contacts with the other children of humanity have been with likeminded people such as you and Zeta.”

Omar chuckled, pleased- even while some people at home still bristled about being compared to the Zetans.

Sachiko spoke up, grinning even more widely than her compatriot as she eagerly leaned in, fully engaged with the conversation now. “And thank you for the compliments. We know our names are unusual - well, we know now - but we agree! Think of them as an indicator of where you are in your life now. The things you’ve seen and witnessed. The values you hold. What defines you? They’re… they’re like a prophecy and a reflection of the past rolled into one.” She explained, positively beaming. Omar listened along, obviously interested. She opened her mouth to speak again, but was cut off by a gentle upraised finger from a smiling Scheherazade.

“To clarify - the Commonality of New Ishtar likewise shares this belief. We are all equal. We are all connected to each other. Everyone must have her voice heard.”

“Or their. Or his.” Sachiko amended, to which Scheherazade chuckled and nodded her head.

“That too, yes, forgive me.”

Melissa spoke up now: “Yes, while we’re talking, I wanted to ask about that. In your earlier message to us, the second, uh… haiku?” Omar nodded. “Yes, after the second ‘haiku’ you describe yourself as ‘daughters of Earth.’ I wondered, from that, and from both of you here being women, if your society might be-” she hesitated, still new to this position, so the other Flower ambassador finished for her: “Matriarchal.”

Scheherazade shook her head softly. “No, no, not in the slightest.” She laughed, “I’m afraid the answer’s nowhere near that simple. We are…” She frowned. There was no easy out from this situation she’d roped herself into. Honesty had proven the best policy thus far - and so honesty it would remain.

Even if it felt strange to say it out loud.

“We’re clones.” She said, bluntly. “Approximately ninety five percent of the population - around 4.4 billion - of us are clones of the same woman from our ship. She is- was, known as Tiamat. We have no record of her real name. The remainder of our population is composed of individuals cloned from a few other Primary Strains - but Tiamat’s DNA was uniquely adaptable and tolerant of the process. It is an… unfortunate state of affairs but one we have made do with - Sachiko’s tattoos, for instance, are one way we use to distinguish ourselves.”

The two Flower diplomats both fell silent. Their glasses chose the perfect time to display another round of citizen comments, and before them were words of raw reaction:

"Like the One?"
"Oh, fuck, of course there would be something weird"
"Freaks. Let's call them what they are. Get out of there."
"This is why we're the only colony still really human."
"Y'all, it's not their fault."
"at least their still alive right"
"Always some shit. They even human anymore? Look at their faces."

They both knew these were only the poorly thought-out words of a handful of citizens. The formal votes would not come until later, after everyone had time to process this information, after the news channels had talked it to death, and after everyone had well and truly decided which camp they fell into. But still- this was the flavor of Bezia's initial reaction. Omar's heart sank.

He shifted in his chair. The atmosphere of the room had changed. When, at last, he spoke, his smile was gone: "I see. Thank you for sharing that with us." The fake gaslights kept burning.

Scheherazade nodded. “I can see from your reaction this hasn’t gone over well.” She sighed, “We will leave if you wish it - but…” she drew breath, pondering for a moment how to phrase the words properly. “Zeta has told us of another colony - The One.” She looked to him - and to the cameras rolling on them. “We are nothing like them. We are individuals.”

Sachiko nodded. “Every one of us is a different person. We’re… we look the same. But we’re all different people.” She tried to force a smile, “W-we have another, Istir, she didn’t want to come with us but she’s a soldier through and through! We h-have poets. Artists. Writers. Sculptors. Chefs who’ve made the most amazing dishes. We’ve cr-created a world where everyone can do what they truly love. Just… give us a chance?”

Scheherazade, for once, could not bring herself to interject, merely nodding, her mouth dry.

"It's not their fault," Omar mumbled. His voice was under his breath. But he said nothing else, so his co-worker filled in for him:

"I see," she said. "Yes, that is very interesting. I'm sure our people will take that into account during the upcoming voting session. In fact, we are allies with the One-"

Omar grumbled something inaudible. His hands were gripping the table again.

"-who helped us defeat the Oligarchical regime during the White Flower Revolution. So I think it is a shame that you say you are nothing like them. But me and my 'uncle' Omar here do not have a say in this, anyway. It will be to the people." She paused, waiting for her friend to say something. When he didn't, she spoke again: "I will tell you, based on the reactions me and Omar are seeing, they feel a little uneasy. But I'm sure you're both very busy. We will inform you as to the results of the vote. Thank you for your ti-"

"No," said Omar, quietly. His voice had lost its usual boisterous joy: it was something like a low growl. "No, no. It's not their fault." He stood up. He said things clearly now: "It's not their fault they think like this. Our people are- brainwashed. There, I said it." Melissa's mouth dropped open. Is he really going to do this now? Omar looked over to the foreigners. "I'm sorry, I do try to control my feelings normally. But right now, Bezia is watching. And they need to hear this.

"Listen to me, countrymen" he spoke, turning to look into Melissa’s glasses, letting the cameras zoom into his face, "I can see your reactions, your comments- but this isn't us. We are not the people who judge another based on how they look, or where they come from, or, Truth forbid it, what they went through to survive. All that is the Oligarchs. That's their thinking, and that's their hatred. We are the people of Bezia; we're better than they are. I know, I know, you've heard their poison your whole lives, from every screen and every speaker: but it isn't you. We fought a revolution to rid ourselves of those tyrants. Are we going to be their mouthpieces now?" He shook his great head firmly. "I won't be."

He looked back to the Ishtari now. "Forgive us. The ECU was... backwards. They tried to push that on to us. But I believe my people are prepared to be better than they were." Let's just hope they don't make me a liar, he thought silently. "You are welcome to stay and speak with us."

Sachiko seemed on the verge of tears as she shook in her seat. Scheherazade’s hair stood on end, adrenaline pumping through her system now as she had prepared for the Ishtari delegation to be ejected. She had been unprepared for the reactions of the two before her, and uncertainly looked between them, genuinely at a loss for what to say in response for far longer a time than she would have liked.

When she spoke again, her voice was shaky, and she stuttered much like Sachiko for a second, before breathing deeply, calming herself down. “We were… we were told about the ECU by the Zetans, yes.” She said, weighing her words carefully. “We know they will have given us their account of things, but we know that your people were once ruled by their Oligarchs. That you fought a bloody revolution to liberate yourselves from their grasp. We… we were eager to know there was another direct democracy out there. We sent you our missive in hopes we could help your people build your own stronger. To build a better society.”

Sachiko looked up, “W- we would have helped you, if w-we’d been here. We would have sent… guns. Tanks. Soldiers.” Her voice was shaky, inconsistent, it quavered with every word she spoke. “We- the One- I…” she trailed off, taking a shaky, heavy breath, glancing towards Scheherazade, before speaking more. “What we know of them is scary. To us. W-we were nearly destroyed by something similar. Twice. A hive mind. Many bodies, no individuality. Murderous. Cannibalistic. Formed from humans, and they…” she struggled to continue, finally losing her control.

“We don’t want to be like this!” She shouted, with more force than she had anticipated. “We don’t want to all have the same face! What, do you think we’ve not tried to change it? We can’t! Not without fundamentally changing who we are! Whatever the fuck happened with us, we’re stuck with it! Who are you,” she half-shouted, half cried, to the cameras that rolled on them, “to judge us?! We went through hell! Our people went thr-”

She was cut off, finally, by Scheherazade who at last raised a hand, placing it on her shoulder and pulling her towards her into a hug, throwing a glance towards the other two as if daring them to say anything. Wordlessly, the Ishtari soldiery who had accompanied them filed out of the room- though a keen observer would notice the tension in their body languages as they did so.

“You are wise, Omar.” She said, forcing a hint of a smile. “You were wondering about our names earlier. Were you one of ours I might suggest ‘Stands Firm In Defense Of His Truths’.” She smiled, more genuinely, “Just as your whole nation exists, because you and your people stood firm for what was right. Ultimately, the choice is your people’s - and we would not have it any other way.”

Omar breathed deeply. That made them look good for the cameras, at least.

She paused, watching them for a second. “That said… would you two follow me for a moment, if you would?” She suggested, raising a hand pre-emptively in case of objections. “To our section of the station. They’ve completed the connection already. Let me show you - and your people - what we Ishtari are like. Not with words. You know full well how they can be twisted.” She stood, reaching out a hand. “Bring guards, if you’d like - bring as many as you want. Let them see too. We were planning on perhaps a bit more… fanfare, but I think it fitting.”

The Flowers, in the end, brought only one guard: a visibly thin, young man. This was another signal from Omar, to his countrymen, saying 'I trust these people not to hurt us.' It's debatable whether that message went through. For the people of Bezia, sights are worth more than signs; the cameras eagerly ate up what they saw.

Scheherazade guided them through the module with an unexpectedly practiced ease. At times they would pass an Ishtari guard, who acknowledged the group with a terse nod before continuing their patrol. The module was almost empty, running on a near skeleton crew. The Ishtari would not risk a full delegation’s complement on a gate they did not have faith in - or on foreign nations they did not know.

The hallways were richly decorated. Elaborate paintings of scenery from the world of New Ishtar, or of more abstract concepts dotted the walls. Elegant engravings in the metal helped one scene to flow to the next. Every inch of the station seemed equal part work of art and meticulously engineered construction. However, only a fraction of the station was seen - Scheherazade lead them to the main hall of the station where, dead ahead, lay the garden.

Wordlessly, she brought them into its airlock, a small smile on her lips before she opened the doors to the garden, sweeping an arm out as the cameras adjusted to the change in lighting.

The garden stretched out before them for, seemingly, an infinite space. As they stepped through the door fully, it sealed behind them leaving a near three-dimensional imitation of the intended surrounding scenery. Scheherazade grinned, and beside her, Sachiko nervously smiled. Omar’s lips formed an open-mouthed “wow” expression.

The garden was immaculate. Carefully grown or transplanted over the period of six months, twenty hectares of land stretched out before them brimming over with the light pink cherry blossoms, a gently flowing stream emerged from a cluster of stones beside them, flowing under a small bridge that lead to one of the numerous ornate structures in the garden. Occasionally, an Ishtari gardener could be seen meandering through the garden in something resembling traditional clothing, tending to the plants within or simply enjoying the fruits of their labor.

“Take a look around.” Scheherazade said, gesturing to the garden. “Once we’ve settled in it will be open to any on board the station. From what we knew it seemed… somewhat dreary on board, and thus our gardeners took it upon themselves to begin this project. It was not easy, but most of us agree it was worth it. Consider it a gift to the station here. And then, I implore you, consider what else we can offer your people.”

“Oh,” Omar said, “it sure has been ‘somewhat dreary’ aboard. I catch myself going to a holo-suite for a ‘breath of fresh air.’” He chuckled at himself. “And speaking of!”

He cheerly bent over, smelled a flower- a white-ish one, at that- plucked its petal off, and stuck it in his mouth. (Melissa had to fight the urge to let her jaw drop again.) He chewed it over a bit, stuck his tongue out, plucked the flower right back off, and declared, “It’s not a hologram! Oh, praise the Truth, I thought I wouldn’t see a real flower for as long as I was at the Meeting Place.”

Liaison Affan,” Melissa hissed.

“Yes? Oh! Yes.” Omar straightened out. “Thank you, people of the Commonality of Ishtar, for letting us see this room. It seems it is not only your names and your poetry that has a capacity for such great beauty.” He looked outwards, staring at the indoor horizon. “It’s ironic. You told me my name might have been ‘Stands Firm In Defense Of His Truths.’ Did you know that Truth is the name of my God? It’s what we call It; they say Its true name is hidden. Not all Flowers worship, but a few of us do.” He was at ease in the garden. “The Zetans probably couldn’t have told you that. We have yet to heal all our old wounds with them. But the people of my world are not the two-dimensional invaders they saw us as. That was the Oligarchs. Free of them, we have much beauty in our society, like you have here. I hope one day we will be able to show it to them. But baby steps.” He reached over and ran his fingers along the flower he had plucked, gently. “You are a unique people. I hope our two cultures will know each other.”

Scheherazade grinned. “How fortuitous! They did not tell us, no. But I am glad it fits so well.” She began walking, beckoning the two to follow her. “Come, there are quiet places to meditate. But I think one of the small huts here will make for better conversation.”

She lead the small group through, gesturing them inside before taking a seated position on the floor, still grinning. “Like I said - this place will be open to all at a later date, once we are firmly established. But let us talk here for now. If you would like I can have food or drink brought here.”

Sachiko took a position beside her, “S-so what we know of your society- your old society, I mean. Um - you were all about preserving the culture of old earth right?”

"Many of us still are," Melissa says.

Sachiko smiled. “We weren’t quite as uh… dedicated. But the crew of the Ishtar primarily came from certain regions of old earth. The…” she paused for a moment, mentally pulling together the words in English before she spoke. “Philippines, Japan, and Iran.” She pointed to the outfit she wore, and to the sword on Scheherazade’s hip, then gestured to the building and gardens that surrounded them. “It’s all around us. We’ve changed, physically - it’s true yes. But we’re… we’re still like you! We still remember some of old earth.” She smiled, shyly - though the concealment of her eyes impaired it somewhat.

But Omar understood what she was trying to do, and made himself smile back. He never cared for culture the way others of his world did; he loved the strange and the beautiful, like the Ishtari had been today. His friend Melissa, on the other hand-

“I greatly value those cultures,” he heard her say. “I was close friends with a man whose ancestors came from Old Japan. But… I do think his CCE was American Western, rather than Japanese.”
“Mhmm,” said Omar. He explained to the Ishtari: “In our society, CCE means 'Chosen Cultural Expression.' It represents..." how to explain it to a complete stranger? "It represents not just the culture your ancestor comes from, like our friend's family coming from Old Japan, but also... how you present yourself. What you associate with. It's part of who you are. It's sometimes the first question one Hollywoodite- or, uh, Flower, I mean- will ask about someone they've met. So it is good news to us that you still remember the cultures of Earth's great past." He tapped his chest. "We keep them close. Mine is Arabic- Saudi Arabian, to be real specific. Melissa likes to say she’s American. Very boring."

The two Ishtari nodded, looking between each other with an indecipherable expression.

Scheherazade spoke. “Well, as mentioned, most of us are based on the template of a single woman. We don’t have much information on her - though we know she was born in the Philippines on old earth and was a well known war hero and geneticist. Cloning had already been mandated after we suffered catastrophic population losses due to… numerous calamitous events. We didn’t keep the cultures of old earth separate, as a result - but tried to preserve whatever we could. Our language for instance - we had nearly forgotten English before contact with Zeta. Our language is based on a fusion of old earth Filipino, Assyrian, Persian, Japanese, and Esperanto. Over time, certain trends became more dominant than others, or fused with some to create hybrids - such as the martial arts we practice.”

Sachiko nodded, adding on. “It was partly done to… give us something to hold on to, so to speak? Even through war and cataclysm we could take comfort in holding on to stuff from earth, even as we had to adapt to survive.”

“Even so, we created much in the way of new culture, often built off the old.” Scheherazade said, stroking her chin as she spoke. “The idea of preserving culture in such a manner as your own people is certainly unique. I’m not sure if it would have been right for us - but maintaining some memory of old earth is of course to be respected.” She went silent for a while, trying to think of some response.

Sachiko looked thoughtful. “So was there pressure to maintain the same culture you were born into, was it a lifelong commitment? What did you do to keep them from intermixing?” She leaned forward, focused on the camera. “Did you develop the hologram stuff to help with that? To help depict a home or something else from a certain culture or era more easily?”

Omar grimaced beneath his grin, but Melissa spared him by answering: “There is some expectation on us to remain in our family’s CCE, but it is not all-encompassing. We can choose and change our own as adults.” She didn’t mention that changing it too often is a social stumble- people start to criticize. “Especially because we so often have culturally mixed families. We don’t stop the intermixing, so long as everyone maintains their own identity, if that makes sense? My father represents Ethiopian culture, and my mother is French. She stayed French, he’s still Ethiopian. But me… when I was a kid, I saw this holo-film about America. I can’t remember it very well. But it made that world look so nice, so free and pretty, I… I knew that was where I belonged.”

“And there you have the answer to your holo-suite question,” Omar said. “They help us depict the things we haven’t been able to recreate on Bezia. A window into the past, you might say.”

“Plus all the best culture parties are there,” Melissa smirked.

Sachiko nodded, digesting the information as she sat. “Wait - culture party?” She cast a sideways glance at Scheherazade before continuing. “Like… a party to celebrate a specific culture or a way for people from different cultures to experience others? Or were they restricted to people practicing those cultures? Was it a way for people in the same cultural groups to get to know each other better?”

She raised a hand to her mouth, giving a polite cough. “Er, sorry for so many questions. Your people are interesting! And unique! I- you probably want to know more about us I’m sorry but I mean you know ho-”

Scheherazade smiled, raising a hand. “Easy there, maybe let them respond first.” She shook her head, feigning exasperation. She turned to Omar and Melissa, “Sachiko here would be considered an expert on old earth culture among our own. Finding your people has gotten her rather excited.”

“Her first guess was right,” Melissa laughed. “I dragged Omar to one about America the other week. I think all he enjoyed was the hotdogs.” But then she cleared her throat, going back to the formal persona she was trying to keep on. “I’m sure the people of the WFD appreciate the interest. Cultural experts are deeply regarded. If your Sachiko were one of us, she might be leading the delegation.”

Sachiko beamed in response, her expression brightening instantly at his words. “Thank you!” She exclaimed, “I’ve always found that sort of thing interesting.”

A beat passes.

“Well, now that we’ve been getting to know each other a little better,” Melissa went on, “I hope you won’t mind my asking, but… where did the, um,” she motioned her hands over her eyes, and braced herself emotionally while she did, “what purpose do the- the bone growths serve?”

Immediately, the two visibly tensed. The temperature of the room seemed to cool noticeably by several degrees as the cheerful expression dropped from Sachiko’s face, and Scheherazade’s became an impassive, stony wall.

“We don’t know. We didn’t make them.”

Sachiko bit her lip, visibly wanting to speak up - but backing down after a second.

Scheherazade continued. “They are mutations. Beyond our control. Beyond, seemingly, mere genetic code. We have tried, many, many times to purge ourselves of them. But, among other things you have doubtless noticed - we have been unsuccessful.”

She looked to the two of them - and to the cameras scrolling her face to millions of people. Even though her eyes were obscured, the intensity of the expression she fixed them with could not be underestimated. “I am over three hundred years old, using earth as a measuring stick. You may wonder if this means I remember Old Earth. It has been three hundred years, or so, since humanity fled it after all.” She paused, “We thought all of you dead. Starved. Gone. Humanity reduced to nothing but ash and cinder, and us. You see - when our vessel traveled through the Gate it was… trapped? When the Gateways collapsed, our vessel was transported to… the best way to describe it would be a pocket outside of reality as we know it. Our people saw… horrible things, terrifying things whilst trapped there. And as best we can reckon - unless we are missing part of our own history, which is sadly very possible, we were trapped in that nightmare for approximately five hundred and seventy years.”

Sachiko took a nervous breath. “I-it was during that time that we slowly began to notice the mutations. But there was nothing we could do. So many people died then. We nearly died out several times over. War. Famine. Disease. Madness. Cloning was the only way to survive. By the time our ancestors realized mutation like this had taken hold, it was too late to do anything.”

Scheherazade nodded, her attention never turning away from the representatives across from her, as if daring them or their people to suggest there had been any other way, any other alternative. That it might be their fault.

Omar was wordless- a rare thing. He stared inwards at them for a long, long time, looking into where their eyes should be. He'd never heard a story like that; and he was a man who read many stories and many epic poems.

He said at last, "I see. I'm no scientist, so I won't pretend I could ever understand what happened to you. But I can see for myself how it has affected your people... I'm sorry."

Melissa asked, "But could the growths be removed physically? That is, surgically?" She thinks, if she had been born with such a horrible looking growth, she'd claw it out with her hands if she had to.

("Shush, Melissa," Omar tries to say softly, but the words are already out.)

Scherazade frowned. “Oh, certainly.” She said, her voice even and betraying no hint of emotion. “Surgically? Of course we can do it. But it’s an invasive and extremely painful procedure requiring extensive skin grafting, lifelong use of pain medications afterward, and numerous surgeries afterwards to prevent their regrowth. It requires subsequent neurosurgeries and intensive monitoring to disentangle the nerve endings that extend into them, and not even touching on the long term optic damage. But, certainly, it is doable! Theoretically it is doable via more refined flesh sculpting techniques as well, but resulting in many of the same drawbacks including the continuous growth of the tissue.”

She looked to Melissa, steepling her fingers as she leaned in, focusing intently on the woman. “But let me ask you a question in turn, if I may. Ultimately - this is who we are. It’s a mark of the things we have survived and triumphed over. I can hear the unspoken words in your voice. I can imagine what your people have been saying. Would you have us - four and a half billion of us - change ourselves so drastically in order to look how you think we ought to look? Would you have us change ourselves, regardless of the difficulties I have described, to make you comfortable? To fit the mold you have in mind for humanity? Is our appearance so unusual? Reflect for a moment, I ask you, and then ask yourself something, Melissa. Would you really want us to be something different, to change who we are, because you don’t like how we look?"

Scheherazade drew back, watching her coolly. “The realization of the extent of the mutation caused many on board the generation ship to attempt to kill my own ancestors. They believed us a ‘contagion’. They unleashed horrific biological weapons. Gunned them down in cold blood. All because of these mutations. I ask you to consider the impact your words might have on a people who have been through so much. They want nothing more than peace with your people, to offer our aid to your people in rebuilding - but they are wary. I do not think you speak from a place of malice, but… consider.” After a moment, she added, “All of you.”

Melissa held silent for a second. Then, all at once, she blurted: "I'm sorry. I mean... I apologize."

Scheherazade nodded. “You are better than those who came before you.” She said both to Melissa and to the cameras after a moment had passed. “Even if you do not decide you wish to work with us, I thank you for hearing us out. The garden will remain open to your people either way.”

It had been difficult for Melissa to say that, more than the Ishtari could possibly realize. Omar and her both knew the history their society had with modified humans- the war on Zeta, the years of propaganda. They were both on the Meeting Place when it happened, as smaller, sub-Oligarch staff. And the people remembered it too. Another round of reactions displays itself for the two delegates, much the same as the last. Almost identical. But this time, just maybe, a few more people have sympathy.

Somewhere far beneath the surface, change is happening. One person at a time.

Some time later

The Ishtari, for better or for worse, caught the attention of the media machine. Their strange appearance, the long discourse, the spectacle of a space-station garden- it all combined to make for the perfect news bait. Clips and pictures of them circled back and forth on Bezia, bouncing from infopad to screen back to infopad, from one person to another, again and again. Scheherazade's speech gained special attention. So did the knowledge of a fellow direct democracy, outside Zeta.

Arguments were had. Opinions were aired. The whole subject was talked ad nauseam. Then the vote came round.

Omar breathed a deep, shuddering breath when he opened his infopad to check the results, early one morning. He wanted to look at it before he even stood out of bed.

On the matter of pursuing positive relations with the Commonality of New Ishtar...

Votes In favor: 64%
Votes Opposed: 36%

The Proposal passes. The White Flower Democracy will open its borders to Ishtari, begin sharing information with their Commonality, and dispatch an official representative to serve at an embassy in their segment of the Meeting Place. They will take opportunities to grow a working relationship. Omar hummed happily to himself, and decided he can afford another hour's sleep.

The Council of Nikea: Brains and Beauty

The vast scope of the Council hall was writ ever more vast by the absence of the assembly. Still the chamber buzzed with a sense of capacity, but not in the physical sense. The psychic wrath of the Emperor still crackled through the air, the ire of the Master of Mankind scorching the air with the metallic tang of the Immaterial.

"It would seem there is one matter yet to address.” Despite the more intimate company of fewer figures, the Master of Mankind’s tone did not waver from the uncompromising force of will that had defined his final proclamations of the council as he beheld those he had bid remain, motioning with one hand to the quiet, poised figure of Sekhmetara. “A daughter provides me with wrongs performed by another son, of a less grand extent most certainly, but still a matter that requires addressing.

“The efforts of your Stargazers have merit, Augor, but my will has ever been that each Legion is beholden to none but the Imperium and their Primarch. The work of Corneceus Sicanus has been brought to my attention. I would have you explain upon what authority he acts.” The Emperor’s tone eased somewhat as he addressed the remaining male Primarch, certainly lacking the personal condemnation leveled against the charges that had shortly been heard in the chamber, and would no doubt proceed after this matter had been addressed. When the Emperor’s eyes turned to the paler of his daughters remaining, his words were clipped, dealing with the matter in a cold manner.

Augor, for the first time since the Council had begun, looked as though he had been caught entirely off-guard. He had visibly recoiled where he still stood before his podium, and even without eyes the lines of stricken apprehension were evident upon his face. The remainder of the Twelfth Legion’s retinue had likewise seemed to stir with a mixture of upheaval, the Consuls evidently taken aback, muttering to themselves in Lingua-Technis and gazing between the Emperor and the Twelfth Primarch.

After several unsettled moments, Augor appeared to recover. He grasped his podium with both hands and took in a long, shuddering breath before he began to speak. As he did so, it took several moments for the onlookers to realize that he was not addressing anybody in particular - rather, he was speaking to the room at large.

”They shall stand, adamant clad, and they shall be his angels of death. They shall carry with them the light of Sol Invictus, the unconquered, and all shall know them and hearken only to despair. Every step they shall take will be his grace and shall advance the destiny of man. For them to witness their enemies shall be to know victory, for they shall be the leaden spear of death as it sweeps across the stars. Their word itself shall be truth, and their veracity shall unmake all deceit and all of man shall be reunited in his splendor. They shall stand no ignominy, and all challenge will break futilely about their frames, for their very grasp shall see the dominion of man eternal stead.”

The recitation was familiar to all in the chamber. Even if they had not heard the exact refrain before, the recognition of what it must have been was evident. Every Marine in the chamber had heard, and spoken, a passage much like it. Augor intoned the whole of it, his head lowered faintly, his posture fervent. Only at its closing did he raise his head, and when he did, the Twelfth Primarch barked out a booming, exigent imperative - even with the Sigilite impeding the expression of power, his words were tinged with a hint of impulsive force that demanded answer.

”ASTARTES!” The Primarch of the Twelfth Legion boomed, setting most of his own retinue aback in startlement - save for the Consuls and Praetors amongst their number, who had sprung to attention, and even a few of the marines amongst the processions of the other Legions seemed to stir as realization crashed upon them.


His own marines, clustered about him at his podium, answered immediately in resonant chorus. “My honor is my life.” They all answered, their voices raising to the peak of the chamber.


“My duty is my fate.” This time, the answer did not come merely from Augor’s marines. Either due to the subtle, demanding power laced through his tone, or due to their own compulsion and bond, a small number of marines about the room added their own murmured answer to the reply.


“My fear is to fail.” Additional voices from about the room joined in the chorus - and before those who had only muttered, now spoke with voices aloft.


“My salvation is my reward.” The voices rose in volume.


“MY CRAFT IS DEATH.” The answer coursed through the room, nearly matching the intensity of the Twelfth Primarch in its own fervor.


”MY PLEDGE IS ETERNAL SERVICE.” The answer had risen to a roar that clashed with Augor Astren’s call.

Evidently satisfied, Augor loosened his grip on the podium before him, raising his bionic hands and beckoning to those assembled in the chamber.

“Astartes, you all who have avowed your honor and your exaltation, you who are the greatest warriors to ever live - when you swore the Oath of Moment, to which body did you pledge your service?”

The answer that came to him came now only from his own Marines, the hint of power that had laced his words before now gone. “To the Legion.”

“And when you swore the Oath of Moment, to whom did you pledge your loyalty?”

“The Primarch.”

“And when you swore the Oath of Moment, to what did you swear the whole of your being?”

This time, the answer was split - for a brief moment, it seemed as though other marines from about the room would again begin to take up the call - but the moment ended when the two rivaled words met in the air.

”The Omnissiah.” “The Emperor.”
A silence fell across the room, an awkward series of exchanged glances crossing the space between the assembled Legions as Augor Astren simply gazed on serenely, as though he had not heard the discordance in the response.

“There can be no doubt that all who stand amongst us and count themselves Astartes, are the greatest and highest servants of the Emperor. We are his instruments, his weapons, the very manifestation of his invincible will. This is not a status of privilege. It is earned, through service and honor - and through avowal. It is not a stature attained and hoarded, it is a height from which we all must endeavor to never fall.” He paused, sweeping the room with his blind sight before carrying on.

“It is a call to be answered - and to fail to answer is to forsake what it is, to be Astartes. So now, hear me all, - those amongst us here who would rather die than continue to serve the Emperor, step forth.”

Silence reigned. The chamber was still.

“The autonomy of the Legions is inviolate to most ends - it is known.” Augor finally spoke. “It ends only and whence loyalty falters. None have dared, now, to step forth, for they know in their hearts the true depths of the oaths they have made and must keep. It is only whilst in the throes of pain beyond reckoning that this certainty waivers, and it is therefore at that juncture where intervention is necessary. The Apothecaries of the Twelfth Legion do not infringe upon the sovereign authority of the Legions. They are saviors, tasked with the renewal of the highest oaths and curses ever sworn by man. There is no denying that even the Astartes succumb to pain and doubt - and that is why the work of Corneceus Sicanus and his acolytes is necessary. It is the duty of all Astartes to aid each other in overcoming all burdens, all hazards, and all perils - and it is also the duty of all Astartes, where one of their own forsakes their oaths, to rebuke the failing.” Augor cast his hands out to the assembled Legions.

”Our service to the Emperor does not end at our willing. The bonds of our glory and our hate to the one who stands above all cannot permit it. All here know this to be true- it is what you swore. It is what you avowed.” He lowered his hands to grip once more at his podium.

“I say again.” His voice was as even as polished marble as just as cold. “Any who would rather perish than continue to serve The Emperor of All Mankind, Master of the Cosmos, come forth!” He then turned his gaze to the Emperor, at long last.

“Father. The work cannot end. If even one mind in this room thinks such a thing, it is a failure, a betrayal of the most profound and abhorrent kind, and evidence of the necessity of our intervention. If none do, then there can be no rational objection to the practice.”

He then turned his gaze back to the assembled room. “Well?” He demanded. “Who here dares to think light of their vows? Who here speaks, whose word means nothing? Who here spoke lies to the pledge, whose heart is naught but insipid ashes to be swept away? If you have not the audacity to reveal yourselves, then let there be no more protestation, for the deliverance of the maimed and crippled must be carried out.”

The silence which met Augor’s display proved almost as deafening as his words and those of his sons. None of those present in the entourage of Sekhmetara stepped forwards, in fact, those few Tears of Dawn who stood in her company had joined the chorus, and their Primarch among them offered them no reproach. The Emperor himself did not act to interrupt, the seething din of his psychic might refraining from direct interaction with this, the plane of reality.

“The loyalty of your sons has never been in question.” The Emperor spoke with a softness which still carried across the room, the force of his personality rippling through the air like a surge through the storm, no matter the tone. With just as much care, the Emperor’s eyes settled on Nimue, before intoning, “Speak your piece.”

“Augor.” Nimue said, deadpan, unimpressed eyes only mildly conveying her annoyance at her brother’s long routine getting in her way. “You are very quick to align whatever you say with The Emperor’s Will. I care not for your drivel, the Astartes of the Seventh Legion are mine, and only mine. It was ordained as such by The Emperor when he gave the then Iron Maidens to me, and I would do with them as I see fit. My Celestial Inheritors follow my will, and through my will The Emperor’s. By your man, Corneceus, doing his work, he rejects and desecrates the inviolability of my command over my Daughters. If I say them dying forwards The Emperor’s will, then so does The Emperor.”

“Your word is not that of the Emperor’s, sister. None of the Primarchs may speak as to his will beyond what he has dictated - that is something which I have repeated, adamantly, every wretched day of this Council since it started, seeming though as it now does that my words fell on deaf ears each and every single time.” Augor’s face twisted in displeasure. “Unless I hear otherwise from the One Who Stands Above All, there can be no sane recourse but to reject your seditious will in this matter. Your Astartes, like all of us, are HIS Soldiers even before they are yours. Or have you forgotten the oath you have sworn, the glorious promise we all should strive to keep? I have already spoken as to the matter of the sovereignty of the Legions, but I did not speak then for your benefit or rebuttal. What I spoke then is objective reality, the state of things as they are and as they should be, and there is but one force in all of the universe that may decree otherwise.”

“I would speak.” With only a small pause for appearance’s sake, the Primarch of the Sixteenth Legion turned her attention to Augor, leaving Nimue to silently sneer at the unwanted aid. “We have witnessed the atrocities visited upon my Legion by those of the Ninth, brother. Are these horrors not still fresh within your mind?” She stood fully, gaze boring into him as she spoke. “Your Legion accepts no injury as enough, yes? No matter how grievous, your Corneceus and his ilk will salvage even naught but the brain of an Astartes and implant it into a body of metal. Tell me, brother - would you have done the same to my daughter, Anastasia? Do you mean to imply that?”

“Yes.” There was no hesitation or reticence to be found in Augor’s countenance as he replied. He almost seemed to relish in the exultation the answer gave him. “Her theft from this world before she could be saved is a tragedy - and your so-called mercy nothing less or more than an execution.”

“Then you and your cult have forsaken yourselves and humanity.” She said simply, her expression darkening, staring at him with a growing revulsion and hatred. “What our sister Nelchitl did for her, that I could not bring myself to, was a kindness. She had gone through enough - more than enough. The Astartes are still human. And yet you would see them pushed to fight after horrors indescribable. You would visit upon those who have served loyally and selflessly a cruel, torturous fate to sate your own mad delusions. In your fanatical quest to serve mankind and its the master, you have forsaken it. Sarghaul and yourself, you are one and the same in this.” Her form was stiff as she spoke, and she wished nothing more than to strike out at him. “I see it clearly now. You disgust me, ‘brother’. You are little better tha-”

“Enough.” The commanding voice which cut across the din of the chamber was a new one, brought forth by one who had remained silent since the main session of the chamber had come to a close. The armoured form of Sekhmetara moved from among her own retinue to stand between the two hostile siblings, her movement appearing almost languid despite the speed with which she crossed the distance, her palms spread, hands low in a warning gesture to the pair. The air she had displaced billowed across the room, filled with the abrupt and sudden acrid tang of ozone, the space itself between her and Augor’s podium almost seeming to shimmer in a line that the Primarch of the Twentieth Legion had deftly intercepted. Augor had not moved, but his visage now seemed to radiate with an invisible, baleful intensity - which receded only as Sekhemetra continued to speak.

“Have we not all raged and ranted enough?” The strain of the long toil of the council fueled her words, the hurt of its conclusion, and her thinning patience, but it did not bleed into the melody of her tone, conciliatory yet assertive, even as a low hum filled the air from the blades of the Custodes activating in response to the unfolding scene.

“I brought this matter to father not to accuse anyone of treason, or worse, but that we might cut out another canker of disunity between us, and move forwards with one purpose in the glory of the Imperium, in Humanity.” The Mithran’s primarch’s eyes swept between both siblings, two individuals who she knew more in deed and name than in self. “Please.” She asked with an earnest, if not begging, tone.

“Well spoken, Pakhetera.” Malcador’s speech was ever wizened by the age of his appearance, practically wavering with the weight of years, but such was his way with things the notes still carried, hands clutched around the stave of his office. His use of the Mithran term for the Primarch of the Twentieth Legion earned a brief flicker of recognition from the Emperor and a warm smile from the Primarch herself. “We have sailed through the storm, let us rest in the calm before the next torrent overtakes us.” The words of the Regent were not as forceful as the Emperor's own, but still they came with psychic empathy, encouraging cooler words with more than just the content of his words.

The penumbra of calming energy thus almost seemed to rob the Twelfth Primarch of his capacity to speak, murder and zealous rage still wavering within body. Almost as though displacing the violent impulses roiling within his thoughts, Augor clenched tightly along the rims of his podium - predictably causing the edges to shatter to pieces in his grip. The innumerable splinters then tumbled to the ground, caught fire halfway through their descent, and arrived upon the floor in wafting layers of crackling ash. Another reign of silence was cast across the room in the wake of the abrupt, thunderous snapping of the wooden frame. Black, fractal static tracery burnt its way down the sides of his podium where his bionic hands had gone taut.

“Peace, brother.” Sekhmetara spoke softly to Augor, before her hands fell back to her sides, even as the Emperor gestured for the next to speak.

“Usriel Andreath, Primarch of the Steel Sentinels, Prefect of Vion 5,” began the first of the Nineteenth Legion, “It is under my opinion that while there is a clear violation of command, I disagree that this breach was in bad faith. As our duty is to the Emperor, we are to fight until we no longer cannot, if the life of an Astartes can be prolonged to continue this duty, then it shall be done. In the name of the Emperor, for the Imperium, and the Mechanicum, no life of our sons and daughters should be wasted if we can help it.”

The weight of her new title and command still sat uneasily upon Daena’s brow, the Warmaster’s uncertainty only heightened by the horrid circumstances under which she was elevated to the lofty post. Sekhmetara had the right to defuse the situation as the one who had gone to their father, but she wondered if she had already begun to undermine herself by not speaking sooner.

Now however the Angel would speak, the winged Primarch having put on neither airs nor pretenses after her elevation and instead addressing her siblings from the place in the chamber she had ever sat.

“An Astartes is an icon of mankind,” she began cautiously, attempting to place the room upon even footing. “Surely on this all agree. Exemplars of the human form, granted strength and will akin to the heroes of old, they are an inspiration to all. But not because of their strength alone. An army of battle automata with their silica wafers replaced by the brains of soldiers is not the army our Father made. Why is this?”

“The Astartes are to be the protectors of humanity.” Came the voice of the Sixteenth once again.

“Do you see such an army anywhere, War Master? It does not exist. This practice is not some measure intended to produce Legions, it is nothing less than the salvation of the crippled and the maimed!” Augor barked out indignantly in the same moment as the Sixteenth Primarch spoke, their voices colliding and overlapping in the council halls, the booming echoes of both clashing across the high ceiling.

Eiohsa continued, ignoring her brother’s interjection. “Their duty, and our duty, is the defense and development of humanity! The Astartes are warriors! But they are humans, first and foremost! Born of humanity, and of human make and mind! They exist not to destroy and to war until the end of time, but to help ensure a prosperous future! They are not robots, mindless automata whose very purpose is nothing but war. They are Human. Beings.”

“If you are suggesting that those who have been saved by my Apothecaries are any less in stature, any less in their profound honor and exalted grace than any other Astartes, then you demean the very spirit of Humanity, the very essence of our will to survive, our sovereign mastery of will!” Augor carried on over Eiosha, his voice growing ever louder as he went.

Eiohsa’s voice grew in turn, amplified by a growing psychic echo that followed her word. “Saved them from what, brother? Forced them into fighting on and on and on in a war with no end? They have pledged themselves to the defense and the uplifting of man, but they have not pledged their humanity to war.”

“They have pledged themselves to The Emperor, and if he demands that they fight, then they will fight! You forget your VOWS, your OATHS, your PROMISES, sister. Your words are nothing but errant wind!” Augor finally directed his eyeless sight to Eisha as both their voices climbed.

“They have pledged themselves to The Emperor’s dreams. WE have pledged ourselves to the ideals and the dream of the Emperor and the Imperium! Not to a man! He has shown us, with his Truth and his example, that we are to build a future based on reason and principles, not follow in the footsteps of one man! No matter how great he may be, what is even greater is the idea of the Imperium, the principles of the Truth, and his Dream for us! I know the pledge I made to the Emperor, brother. But it seems you have forgotten yours.”

“YOU-” Augor began, but abruptly feel silent, his head whipping down and to the side. There, standing by the edge of the Podium, drifted the comparatively diminutive form of the Archmagos, Mephitor, a single sinuous and slender Mechadendrite seeming to hover and waver emphatically in the air during the unheard, soundless exchange between him and the twelfth Primarch. The Archmagos drifted higher into the air, setting just below the height of the Twelfth Primarch himself, and spoke then in their voxcoded, synthesized speech, their words resonant with the haze of static.

“The Apothecaries of the Stargazers save Human lives where others would permit them to end, and the loss of Human life, of the life of an Astartes, is to be forestalled. Whether the intent of the individual or the group is to service the will of the Omnissiah or to furnish the manifestation of his glorious vision for mankind, they adhere to the oath of the Apothecary to inflict no harm upon their fellow man. To administer the so-called ‘Peace’ upon the grievously wounded is to kill one’s own kin, and is directly detrimental not only to the dignity and standing of the Emperor’s Astartes, but also sets back the efforts of the Great Crusade. Statistical data compiled from the legions shows that tens of thousands of marines between every legion are killed by their own Legions every standard cycle, in circumstances where their judgment and true desires are sufficiently impacted to make effective consent impossible.”

“Yes. YES!” Augor stated triumphantly as he roused back to the discussion of Mephitor’s words. “Which returns to my earlier statement! In the moment of anguish, the individual cannot give reliable consent to whether they wish to live or die, but either way, it does not matter. If there are ANY who would WISH to DIE rather than to continue to serve the Emperor, the Imperium, or the glorious vision they have sworn to uphold, then death is what they shall have, for they have forsaken their oaths, their very names, their very memory, and are traitors! To save them from death and betrayal can only be the most sacred of duties!”

Eiohsa stood, watching, her lip curled in distaste as a miasma of loathing rolled from her figure. “Empathy is one of the most crucial traits of humanity.” She said, weighing each word as it passed her lips. “It is what defines a monster in the skin of man from one of our own.” Her eyes bored into those of Augor and the Archmagos as she spoke. “It is what drives us to care for our own. To endanger ourselves in service of another. It is what drives us to create a better future for all humanity. The Astartes are human. The measure of one’s humanity is not a matter of flesh, but of mind and spirit. It i-”

“If your empathy drives you to slaughter your own Astartes and soldiers out of hand when they could be saved, then you possess no Empathy, for you are not Human. You are merely an animal. A rabid, insensate beast slavering and snapping at any sign of weakness to be savaged and devoured. You sicken me, you craven Grox.” Augor retorted, the smell of ozone starting to build in the surrounding air.

Eiohsa’s expression remained stony and cold, though hints of what lurked beneath forced their way through in the way her lip curled and her eye twitched. “There was a time not long past when I would have defended your practice before the Emperor and all our siblings wholeheartedly and without reservation. Unlike many, the Astartes of the Sixteenth have replaced flesh with machine in order to better fulfill their duties to humanity. I commend, and follow, the practice of enabling our sons and daughters to fight on, no matter what. Ultimately, there is no true difference between interment within the Sarcophagus of a dreadnought and the measures of the Stargazers - or indeed my own Legion. In this, there can be no dispute. Whether one’s mind is within a body of flesh and blood or of iron and ceramite is ultimately irrelevant. Yet they remain human. Human within a body of whatever material. Their thoughts, their hopes, their dreams, and their pain. My experiences upon the world of Carcinus have made me understand, as none of you can understand, when even the mind of an Astartes is ready for an end. There is nothing inhuman about a shell of armor and guns, for it is more than the mere husk that conveys humanity. But in forcing such a fate upon our most noble of soldiers when they have seen enough? When they have served long and well, and are at last ready for rest? There is no humanity.”

She looked down upon him, filled with disgust. “You call me an animal, a ‘slavering beast’. Yet you have forsaken your humanity in your madness. You are little more than a depraved, cruel construct of dogma and fanaticism. You force such fates upon those who have served humanity with no care, for only mindless pursuit of your despicable ends will suffice. I name you worse than any beast, for a beast knows love, a beast knows family, and kindness. But you? You are nothing more than a cruel machine in the flesh of what was once a man. In the words of your despicable cult,” Her spear appeared in her outstretched hand and she struck it upon the marble floor, her voice thundering through the room. “I name you abominable intelligence!”

One moment was all it took. The strands of fate converged here and now, snapping into focus as soon as Eiosha had finished her denunciation. Fire and death filled Daena's vision, her gaze sweeping across the chamber. Looking through the eyes of the dead, she saw the doom that was to come. Mechadendrites dug into flesh, plasma discharges bored through ceramite, psychic might flayed minds bare. Scores died in the chaos of Eiosha and Augor's duel, each death forcing the Angel's perspective to yet another damned. They fought and fought and fought , Astartes slaying Astartes like she had seen in the worst of her nightmares, each blow only engendering yet more hate. The floor reeked of blood, gore and offal splattering across the chamber, marring her father's perfect face. Why didn't he do anything? Why didn't she do anything? They continued to sit watching as limbs were sawn off, the limbs cauterizing, heads scoured clean of their flesh leaving behind only bare skulls, the ground itself erupting to spear warrior and scribe alike.

Yet she did nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing

"Enough!" she cried, her voice laced with power and command that caused both mortal and Astartes to fall limp. "The both of you shall hold your tongues, or I shall take them myself," she decreed, placing herself between both camps with one flutter of her wings. "You are Primarchs, instruments of His will, and you shall act like it in His presence," she continued, cold fury in her voice. She had watched for three days as her siblings had bickered among themselves, the best and the worst of them permitting themselves to be dragged down into petty squabble with enough furor behind them to burn worlds. No more. There was no room for a wallflower, especially one who bore the title of Warmaster.

"Put. Down. Your. Arms."

Daena’s imperative had been immaculately timed - she had reacted just as quickly as the mechanical rancor of the Stargazers. Even as the first words had been leaving her lips, the entirety of the Twelfth Legion’s party had been raising or otherwise charging their weapons - pausing just short of a perilously charge by Daena’s swift intervention. The Custodes themselves were tensed and on edge, having been a scant instant from dropping into combat postures themselves.

Towering over the assembled warriors clad in Red and Ebon, the Twelfth Primarch loomed like a spider, four of his servo-arms having reared up to orient the ends of esoteric implements of war in Eiosha’s direction. Arrayed beneath him, Astartes hefted Omnissian Power Axes, audibly crackled with volatile energies, and the plethora of Tech-Priests surrounding them had produced, seemingly out of the folds of their robes or else thin air, an armory of heavy ordinance - all poised on the precipice of being unleashed.

Augor raised a bionic hand in a closed fist. “By your order...Warmaster.” His brow was drawn taut from some form of concentration or consternation, if not both. He was no longer scowling or grimacing - instead, his lips were drawn in a firm, hard line.

The very air seemed to sag and rustle with relief as a multitude of weapons were either lowered or secreted away once more. The air around Augor Astren shivered and wavered with barely contained heat. With a static pop, another section of the Primarch’s now heavily abused podium erupted into flame and then fell from the rest of the structure to clatter and break to pieces across the floor, scattering smoldering ashes and embers about.

“As you wish.” Said the Sixteenth, standing passively immobile from the moment she had spoken her piece, showing no sign of preparing for combat. The Astartes of the Sixteenth Legion stood at her side with weapons leveled at the Primarch of the Stargazers. Bolters, plasma, and all manner of meticulously reproduced archaeotech wonders leveled with cold precision. The very air around her crackled with immeasurable psychic might, the air charged with ozone.

At a wordless command, the Astartes surrounding her lowered their weapons, returning to their position at attention, silently watching her and waiting for what she might instruct. Eiohsa simply stood, having not moved a muscle since she had spoken, her eyes focused on her target, hatred etched into every square centimeter of her expression.

“Primarch of the Sixteenth legion. You have offered me, my sons, and all those who follow me the most grievous and reckless offense possible using mere words alone.” Augor said, his voice low. “With the Omnissiah himself as my witness, I swear you and your daughters will suffer for this. You will be made to know the consequences of my contempt, and bear to my wrath, raw and unfettered. I shall do all of this and more, I promise, without violating the oaths I have sworn to our father. Your very world shall come unraveled about you, the cosmos shall behold this, and know that your upbraiding was preordained.”

Eiohsa remained still, her expression immaculate and serene, reminiscent of the Warmaster herself. She gave no indication that she had heard the words of her brother, and if she had, showed no signs of concern over such.

“There was once a time.” She began, eyes staring into a past now long forgotten, “That I once believed myself to be created for a grand purpose. From the moment of my first true memory, sitting upon the shore of a burning lake, in a rotting husk of humanity’s former glory, I believed I was destined to help enlighten and uplift humanity. By the hand of the Emperor himself, I was brought into this world with a desire to create, to nurture, and to build a bright future.”

Her eyes turned down towards her brother, now, and she continued. “I now know differently. I was crafted as a tool. A weapon. A shield. A hammer. Whatever must be used to defend humanity from those who would prey upon it, and force it down a dark path I dare not speak of. Such is the duty of a Primarch. Such is the duty I take above all else. Against the worst of humanity’s foes I have fought, as have we all, and so this truth has been revealed to me. Whatever threats you levy against me, Primarch of the Twelfth Legion, I accept gladly. For it is my duty to stand in the path of such threats to humanity, and it is a duty I undertake gladly.”

”This is why she was chosen.” The thought came unbidden to Sekhmetara as she watched the display of imminent violence and swift cessation broiling through the chamber. Two of her siblings that Sekhmetara had failed to control, and the sight of perfection that was the most loved of her siblings brought to angelic fury in the face of it. Not simply her sibling now, Sekhmetara remembered, as if she could ever forget, her Warmaster. Still the psychic presence of her aura suffused the room, fighting the rage within them all to bring about calm, but there was only so much that could work against the Inferno, and what use had that been.

”What a mockery their foolishness has made of you.” The unravelling judgement of her own mind resounded like spoken words to Sekhmetara as she studied the room with the silent rage she kept from her face. This room of demigods she had trusted to show some semblance of restraint in the presence of their genesire. “Naive, flawed, Redundant.” Beneath the purse of her full lips, her teeth ground, startlingly perfect eyes, flecked with the gold of her power resting on Daena once more, ”And there, the thief who will prosper for it.” Sekhmetara drew a hand up to her features, sweeping back through her hair to correct an errant strand. The touch of her own fingers brought her back to reality. The maintenance of peace, the execution of duty, for the moment this was more important than whatever emotional turmoil she felt.

“My own concerns are matters of the sanctity of my Legion. My Daughters fight and die in glory for the Emperor. Should they fall in his name it is the duty of none other than their own sisters to ensure the fulfillment of their final duty.” The Mithran Primach’s attention settled on Augor, for the moment ignoring the waves of hostility that one without the psychic empathy of her mind could surely feel. “Your apothecaries may teach my own how to perform this duty, that we may also show our dedication to the Crusade entirely.” The ache in her soul did not subside, but perhaps that had been her failing. Her commitment was not total, her Legion reflected that. They could always give more. “The matter of our sister's retribution is not addressed, however. It is within her right to seek such.” Sekhmetara motioned to Nimue, having no particular words of note for the escalating conflict between the two loudest parties present beyond the ire of their failure to function within the parameters she had anticipated. As she finished speaking, Sekhmetara retook her seat, a goblet of wine immediately turning between her fingers, before taking a long gulp disguised artfully as an elegant sip.

“Honored sister, truthfully, were it merely a matter of disseminating the necessary knowledge, me and mine would be pleased to instruct your Apothecaries and leave it at that.” Augor replied, turning his face to Sekhemetra, his voice shifting almost smoothly from barely contained fury to calm and evenly paced. “I trust that, in light of the pledges you and your daughter have sworn, that you would make judicious use of such teachings. There are, however, practical concerns. Though I naturally do not doubt the capabilities of your apothecaries, the knowledge and expertise needed to conduct the procedures and operations performed by my apothecaries, all of whom are fully inducted in the rites and mysteries of the machine, is doubtlessly withheld from most of them. I also doubt you have a sufficient number of Techmarines to make up for that shortfall. I will, of course, honor the request regardless. You shall have the knowledge and be capable of disseminating it across your legion for their eventual independent use. But until such time as that can be assured, I am afraid, where possible and necessary, my apothecaries must continue to intervene. The havoc of battle does not always leave the time or opportunity for concession or permission, and when forced to make a choice in the heat of battle, my apothecaries will always choose to save lives.”

Nimue, having remained silent following Eiohsa’s and Augor’s battle of ideals, was only now being noticed again by the two Primarchs who had almost entered in battle. Honestly, she was disappointed that The Warmaster intervened, because while Eiohsa trying to turn this confrontation into yet another tirade about empathy and all those things Eiohsa cared for annoyed Nimue to no end, at least the possibility of her being maimed would make up for it. Unfortunately, now they were merely back to where they started.

‘I do not care for all this other talk of monsters, beasts and abominable intelligence,’ Nimue pondered to no one in particular. ‘I simply seek justice and retribution for the defiling of what is mine by one of Augor’s men. I could not in the slightest care less for the justifications for or against his actions - quite simply, if I say he shall not touch my Marines, he shall not. I am quite sure that The Emperor, who is right before us, I might add, is more than willing to make the obvious choice of agreeing with me.’ She then gestured to said imperious figure, observing them all still.

‘It is really quite simple then. The Emperor speaks; The Twelfth Legion stops meddling in things they ought not; the Apothecary fellow preferably dies, and we all go on our merry way,” Nimue finished cheerfully.

“Your reasoning is flawed, Nimue,” Usriel stated blankly, “Firstly, you state that the Emperor will agree with you and yet he has made no inclination otherwise, and until he makes such a motion you should not state what his ‘obvious’ decision would be. Secondly, you speak of your daughters as only being yours and yours alone as possessions, not people deserving to be saved to continue their work. While I adhere to each Legion’s rule under their Primarch, there are situations where it would be best to save those who need it. My sons would wish to continue serving throughout their years if they knew that they had the chance. Lastly, you prefer to see an Astartes dead for doing what he believed to be the best to do what all Apothecaries do, save the lives of other Astartes.”

Usriel’s red glare continued to passively look towards Nimue, no motion coming from him to dictate emotion otherwise. Then he spoke again, this time his inflection growing colder, “Think, how would you feel if I demanded the head of one of your daughters for doing her duty?”

Nimue ignored Usriel, in a deliberate manner that could only suggest irreverence. “Well, my Emperor? You should speak, else your Primarchs will certainly continue to make fools of themselves and try to kill each other over petty insults. Would you not say that simply resolving this matter cleanly is fitting? A quick, fine duel, that is all I ask.” Nimue spoke to the emperor - she was certainly becoming a master at ignoring her siblings.

Despite herself, Daena's brow twitched in annoyance as Nimue once again deigned to speak for their father, to push and prod at the Master of Mankind. The dignity of the Throne was being undermined in the chamber intended to glorify it, and she knew then and there why she was chosen for her role.

"The question is of duty, and of death. Nimue has decreed that her daughters have a duty beyond mere battle. Death is the end of duty. Does the end of duty therefore mean death? What is to be done to an Astartes who has been rendered incapable of carrying out their duty? These are questions for philosophers, for the Legions to consider under the guidance of their gene-sires. Perhaps there is a true answer, but it shall not be found while tempers run high and spirits are frayed. Only if we come together as siblings, rather than as rivals will it be known to us. But before that may occur, hate must be rooted out."

Daena's tone immediately shifted as her eyes met first Augor's sightless gaze and then Nimue's beatific perfection, the Warmaster risking much at the hope of peace. "The affront is one of honor. A challenge has been made, and satisfaction demanded. Do you accept, Augor?"

Augor raised a hollow brow. “For the head of my Chief Apothecary? Their loss, even in the hypothetical, would prove incalculably fearsome to the prospects of many campaigns, current and future. Even were I to accept, I would appoint a second without risk to Corneceus himself - which I take my sister will not accept. The so-called afront is to have saved lives, the challenge does not demand I pay life, but to pay in honor, as the warmaster says. If neither of you suggest a reasonable alternative, sanity dictates I deny the challenge and accept the ignomy that entails.”


Nimue was not amused. The Emperor had said nothing, The Warmaster, Usriel, Eiohsa were all involving themselves… And Augor would continue to refuse the duel if The Emperor did not force it.

“Then there is nothing that can be done.” Nimue said flatly. She would seek justice through… other means. With that said, Nimue turned and moved to storm out of the room.

“Enough.” The sound of the Emperor’s voice carried across the room, the ire of the proceeding Council and Trial still present in his words even as the pure psychic shock of his being set the air to trembling. “My children, you were not created to function on interpretations of my will alone, you each have purpose beyond this, than to debate what I did or did not, will or will not, say.” The Emperor’s stance upon the seat crafted for him was almost casual, as close to reclining as one might expect be possible for the Master of Mankind, but his attention was severe as he watched those assembled.

“It is true that I gave command and sovereignty to each of you, yet it is also true that this comes with the duty to serve the Imperium, unto death should the moment arrive.” The slow tone of the Emperor’s words gave an impression of a mind still in debate, although whether anyone could be convinced of such would be another matter. The Emperor rarely spoke without purpose or clarity. “The ability to prolong the lives of Legionaries beyond the damages of their mortal form has long been an aspect of their charge, of their vow. Any process that allows this to occur is a tool that should be in the arsenal of all legions, not one. The process shall be passed on to each Legion.” With the initial aspect of the ruling complete, the Emperor stood, the sweep of his cloak rising behind him as if stirred, falling down from golden plate of his armour. “The Stargazers have my blessing to maintain their current parameters for the full extent of a Terran year, as of this day, such that the benefit of their knowledge may be fully imparted to their fellow legions. After which, the practice of doing so shall be the duty of each legion, and no further interference or infringement of fellow legions shall be permitted.” As the words issued forth, they became law within the fabric of the Imperium, more binding than any lengthy debate of the Imperial Senate.

“Be that as it may, the duty of command for each Legion was invested upon one of you, and until the declaration of my Warmaster, no more than that.” The gradual hardening of the Emperor’s tone was not subtle, although it never reached the cascade of rage that had brought the matter of the Council to a close. “My will on this matter was not sought until now and I cannot deny that an ill has been done against the duties and privileges I have granted to you all.” The Emperor’s gaze fell fully upon Augor, in a manner that was both understanding, yet stern. The image of the father who understood, yet could not excuse. “Your Legion will answer the challenge of the Celestial Inheritors, and may the rite of combat decide upon which side justice will fall.”

“As the Emperor speaks, it shall be done.” Augor answered immediately. Rather than anything approaching either shame or remorse, his expression was nothing short of rapturous as he bowed low before the Emperor, before turning his gaze to Nimue.

“Nimue Arcadia, Primarch of His Emperor’s Seventh Astartes Legion, Enchantress of Engralia - by the decree of the Emperor of All Mankind, The One Who Stands Above All - I, Augor Astren, Primarch of His Emperor’s Twelfth Astartes Legion and Fabricator Intendant of Last Light, accept your demand for satisfaction. In accordance with Imperial Law, I invoke my right to dictate the time and place of our contest. It shall transpire five hours from now, in the grand plaza of the Council Hall of Nikaea. I further invoke my right to secondment and shall produce Skitarius Praetor Alpha Primus Andron Axaltus as combatant in the stead of Archmagos Apothecary Corneceus Sicanus.”

“How so… Augor, of you, dear brother”. Nimue replied. “If you want to hide your pet, so be it. I accept”.

“So shall it be.” The words of the Emperor may have sounded dismissive from the lips of another being, but with the force of will behind them, they arose simply with the touch of finality. “The Captain-General shall preside over the matter.” The Emperor did not even look to Valdor as he spoke, instead his gaze fell upon the newly appointed Warmaster. “Daughter, we must speak of matters of the Crusade.” The casual summons, so easily given as the Emperor moved to leave the chamber held with them the fabric of destiny.

Every fiber of Daena’s being demanded that she follow as she was bid, the Primarch’s body taking a step on its own accord before she arrested herself with an iron will. “We must, Father, but your children still grieve. Insults have been done this day that time will not mend. Augor, Eiosha, I would speak with you both when my present business is concluded. Tend to your own Astartes, the both of you,” she said with a voice of command, only then letting herself be pulled along by the tide of fate the Emperor so effortlessly had stirred.

[...End Log.]
[Imperial Thought for the Day: Stand strong in thy purpose, let no doubt cloud your mind, let your heart be of iron, and you shall never falter.]

A Grand Entrance

“Are you sure?”

There was no reply.

“Are you sure?”

Again, no reply.

“Scheherazade - are you absolutely, one hundred percent sure?”

A sigh, and the woman seated at the head of the enormous construct making its way for the Gateway turned to face the speaker.

“No, Sachiko. After nearly six… ‘earth months’ I, and every single soul here, and the crew of the Zetan craft, are obviously still unsure of whether this was a wise investment. We poured enormous time and resources into the construction of this monstrosity that we weren’t even sure we might use. We held no fewer than fifty votes on specific additions. We labored day and night on this vessel that’s a space station in its own right - but we were definitely unsure we would use it. Absolutely.” Scheherazade pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation. “Yes, I am sure. And even if I was not - the Commonality is.”

A cherry blossom tattooed hand pulled her own away, and the concerned expression of her Sister-Sage forced its way into her sight. “But what of the risk of angering them? What if they see it as an aggressive act? We mounted weapons on this thing! It moves under its own propulsion! It’s less a space station than it is a giganti-”

“And we have already been told that is an unlikely occurrence at worst. We are entering alone - after the Zetan vessel. Anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together for a nerve impulse could tell a single large vessel from an invading fleet. Tell me, Sachiko - a system wherein new civilizations pop out of the woodwork with great frequency, are they really going to assume immediate hostile intent from a single vessel. We have the Zetans with us, for that matter.”

“But wh-”

“No more ‘buts’ from you. Sit down. Relax. Enjoy the trip.” Scheherazade grinned, “One way or another, it’ll be something to remember for the rest of your life - long may it be. If I were you, I’d take this time to practice your English - we may have had the knowledge implanted, but there’s no substitute for practice for speaking it.”

Sachiko frowned, pausing for a moment as she switched to English. “But I c-can speak it better than you can!”

Scheherazade chuckled, “And yet you’re the one with the stutter.” She said in turn, a thick accent on her words. “Now run around and practice, or sit here with me and enjoy the peace and quiet for as long as it lasts.”

The Gateway loomed ahead. Final preparations were being made. Engineers and technicians and construction ships scuttled about the hastily built structures surrounding it. The Zetans would enter first followed by the massive Ishtari space station module. Unlike the Zetans, the Commonality was terrified. The scientists had calculated that, with the combined efforts into stabilizing the Gateway, the possibility of collapse like that which had afflicted the generation ship Ishtar was “approximately one in sixteen quintillion” - but such number only somewhat smoothed the hard, festering nugget of fear in the stomachs of every member of the crew. Even Scheherazade and Istir - the unflappable matriarchs of the construct - felt that fear deep within them. The Commonality had almost forbidden them to go, fearing to lose a valued commander like Istir, or a Sister-Sage as old as Scheherazade. Indeed, Scheherazade had not so much been allowed as she had bludgeoned the Commonality into standing by. Rules be damned. She would not miss such an opportunity for all the finest rum on the planet’s surface.

Istir stood beside her now, even though the armored woman was clearly ill at ease in as mundane and plushly furnished a setting as this.

“Istir, dear - sit down will you?” Scheherazade reclined in her chair, crossing one leg over the other and stretching her arms behind her head. “The engineers will tell you - and me - when we’re clear. The Zetans will confirm for us on the other side. Sit. Have a drink. We’ve all sorts of things in here - things for us, not that piss weak stuff we’ve had to set aside for the ones on the other side of that gate. Take the edge off, why don’t you?”

“Because we might be wandering into a hostile situation unknown! Because we might be about to expose ourselves to a pseudo hive-mind of cannibalistic clone soldiers! Because we’re entering unfamiliar space planning on making bold claims and proclamations based on knowledge given to us by a single nation, one who might have fed us biased or erroneous information!”

Scheherazade watched her pace for a minute more, fingers steepled in front of her. “Be that as it may - this is why I was voted to speak for us. If you approach this like a combat situation you only heighten the risk of violence. Patience, Sister-Soldier, some day we may need to take up the sword against them - but I pray that today is not that day. Now, sit. I won’t stop bothering you until you do.”

"This is the Zetan crew. We've made the crossing safely. You may proceed at your leisure."

A loud cheer went up throughout the Commonality. Billions of voices sounded out through the net as the population of New Ishtar prepared for their own vessel to make the crossing. Business as usual had come to a screeching halt on the planet - all, even those not actively synced into the net at the moment, were riveted by the events now unfolding. Automated factories slowed as the overseer-minds diverted their attention. Artisans stepped away from their tools, production line workers set down their controls. Everyone watched.

The feed stayed consistent through the Gateway, and - a new system greeted their eyes. Sol. The birthplace of humanity. Nestled between the warmth of the sun, the protective gravity of Jupiter, lay Earth - and the space station that had been dubbed the Meeting Place.

The Ishtari space station module fired up its engines to full power, broadcasting its message to all descendents of humanity within the system. First in English - then in Esperanto, Spanish, and more.

Fellow descendants of earth, greetings. We are the people of New Ishtar. Trapped by a formerly unstable Gateway, we have been forced to remain by the wayside in anticipation of this day. Well that day has come, and we are overjoyed to meet you at long last. We know there has been strife among your number. We stand ready to aid in whatever manner we may. We constructed this module for what you have termed the ‘Meeting Place’ and we look forward to sharing its amenities with you.

The enormous module fired up the engines clamped to its sides, MPD thrusters magnetically locked and fed a steady source of power from the central fusion reactor kicked into full blast, accelerating the vessel towards its target that hung in orbit around dead earth.

The vast craft had been constructed over the period of six months between the gateway’s closing and its subsequent reopening and stabilization. Intended as a pre-built module to install into the ‘Meeting Place’ they had been told of, the project had overshot its initial goal by some margin. It now sailed through space as a grand display of the Commonality’s prowess.

Not only did it include a diplomatic wing, fully furnished in the finest decor and design conceivable by the Commonality, sleeping quarters for what was projected to some day be a vast staff, and the other expected amenities - it had been modified to address numerous shortcomings, or add what the Ishtari saw as overlooked necessities to life aboard the station. A vast, fully furnished hospital wing outfitted with the finest equipment to hand, built to handle the anticipated growth of the station from humanity’s many far flung descendents. A bar - of all things - stocked with a vast supply of drinks, varieties for consumption both by Perfected and by normal humans. It would be free for all to visit and enjoy. Dueling rooms and recreational halls - private, sectioned off rooms that could just as easily accommodate two people or two dozen for nearly any conceivable indoor pastime. Quiet rooms for meditation. A vast docking area, complete with repair shipyards and ship berths. A troop barracks. Well fortified railgun batteries located away from critical infrastructure, their weapons presently powered down and unmanned. Hydroponic agricultural bays growing a wide variety of Ishtari crops, estimated to be able to keep well over twice the number of the planned full Ishtari delegation well fed and happy - and countless more with careful rationing in case of food stresses. Dedicated embassy spaces not only for those nations that had already been discovered, but for those that had yet to find their ways home. Fully sealed, each delegate would be given full leeway over the room to search it for any suspected monitoring devices - they would find none, for there were none to be found. EMP hardened life support rooms with ample preserved rations and airlocked passages to the hydroponics sections. A grand dining hall capable of accommodating an untold number of guests overlooked perhaps its most stunning feature.

At the heart of this module lay an enormous artificial garden and synthetic ecosystem - a straight line from its main entrance to the wondrous scene. Directly descended from the gardening styles of old Japan, the main feature of the garden were the carefully sculpted gene-modified sakura blossoms, retaining in bloom for the entire year. The orchard in its entirety was a demonstration of the elegance and mastery of bioengineering held by Ishtari society. Over twenty hectares of perfectly crafted splendor. Private, secluded groves for quiet meditation abounded, as well as common areas around artificial streams or within the small traditional constructed Japanese wooden structure built within. A carefully crafted synthetic horizon maintained an almost perfect illusion of being planetside - nestled within a valley in the beautiful Ilyait Mountains on New Ishtar. A light, warm breeze blew through the garden without end, carrying with it the scent of cherry blossoms and the feeling of spring on old earth. The gardens were open to all on the station, and carefully maintained by many of the same gardeners who had crafted it. The entire arrangement was a show not only of beauty to be appreciated by those whose duty placed them within the steel walls of the station, but of power. How many nations could rival such an accomplishment?

Accidental Ishtar

This isn’t Sol. Psi-Gauss frowned at their internal navigational display, folding their arms and taking a moment to look out of one of the ship’s external monitors. Sure didn’t look like Sol either. Something’s gone wrong with our gateway jump.

The rest of the Collective rapidly began to confer upon what the ship could do. The vessel had no name- it was a basic science vessel that had had several missile launchers clustered together to serve as a makeshift gunboat.

It seemed prudent to at least investigate the system they were in and discover where they had ended up first. The gateways had yet to open to an uninhabited system, so surely there would be a nation here, perhaps undiscovered, to communicate with. If there had truly been an issue and they’d been sent into deep space, well… The Consciousness could always accept more Transcended. It would be dignified.

Before they did anything rash though, they broadcasted a wide-frequency message. As was standard, they sent it in several different languages and communication types- English, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Esperanto, and once the basic greeting had been complete, powered up their engines and began to leave the orbit of the moon they had found themselves in.

Confusion reigned aboard countless vessels and observation stations throughout the Commonality of New Ishtar. Almost instantaneously after the reception of the broadcast, the information had disseminated through the net from the ship-minds and currently connected observers. Within an hour, nearly every waking soul was aware of the news. Furious debate erupted between billions of minds connected to each other - what to do?

Aboard the battleship Solstice, one commander took her own initiative, announcing her intent to respond to the broadcast, and daring any to oppose her. Several voices rose in protest - and were countered by many more. A tumult arose in support of her.

Sister-Captain 132 Yirata Loves The Touch Of Steel raised a hailer to her lips, clearing her throat before she spoke, in thickly accented, poorly practiced Esperanto.

“Are you human?”

They had received a response! Wonderful! They could work with Esperanto. The message quickly came back in response.

“Biomechanically augmented, but underneath the metal we’re still Earth’s Children. We hail from the Zeta system, if you’ll permit us aboard, I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss. Please, pay no attention to the weaponry affixed to this vessel, this is an outdated research ship retrofitted for patrol duties.”

The response was some time delayed. Long enough, almost, for the Zetans on board to assume their message might not have been received at all. That it had been lost amidst the other traffic that no doubt filled the air. But the message came, in time. The same speaker’s voice, quaking with emotion.

“Then we are not all that is left?”

The Zetans aboard the small craft were more than happy to shine hope to this previously isolated nation. “We are but one of many that have survived the collapse of our old home. Now that the Gateway is open, you should send an envoy to the Sol System. There is an intergalactic council of nations there.”

It was followed by another, almost identical, voice, somewhat more restrained, but still shaken. “Yes, please. We will send a vessel of our own. Our world is… harmful to unadapted humanity.”

A third voice chimed in, likewise nearly indistinguishable. “We will need to convene on the matter of a delegation. This is… a momentous occasion.”

Three identical voices had come through the communications network, and already a few of the members of the Collective were mentally glancing at each other. One other nation had had a similar diplomatic quirk, and that nation was currently… well, the less said about The One, the better. Still, nothing was said, even as they began to make their way towards where the messages had been broadcasted from.

A civilian vessel was hastily commandeered, its dining hall forced into some vague approximation of something the people of New Ishtar had long assumed they might never need again - a diplomatic space. Flanked by two small craft, it approached the Zetan vessel through space, drawing to a halt some distance away as its crew stared in wonder and awe.

“Welcome aboard, Zetans. Please, forgive our… forgive the unorthodox nature of our ship. We are unprepared for this entirely.”

Aboard the vessel, a small honor guard of uniformed and helmeted Ishtari soldiery waited, unable to maintain composure in such circumstances. At the head of the large table within sat three individuals, chosen after a rapid and furious vote within the Commonality. Sister-Sage 43 Sachiko Treasures The Beauty In The Universe, Sister-Soldier 138 Istir Holds Firm The Readied Sword, and Sister-Sage 192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things.

The Zetan delegation made its way aboard the vessel curiously. At its head was their Naval-Speaker Iota-Clausewitz, (what other nations would call Captains, but as Zetans had a very different military structure, it was hardly an apt comparison,) Navigational Specialist Psi-Gauss and a third non-transcended member of the crew, one Omicron-Kappa. Flanking them were two light warforms, rifles held calmly at their sides as the crew of the retrofitted vessel left the comfort of their ship.

The message that ran through the Collective now was accompanied by a groan. More clones. They could only hope that these were not quite as peculiar and… Disgustingly, cannibalistically callous as The One. “Hail,” Iota-Clausewitz declared, splitting their hand apart in the salute that the Collective still used whenever they first addressed foreign nations.

Despite the lack of transcendence however, there was little suggesting that these Zetans were all flesh. Iota-Clausewitz had two metal legs and a visage that had been crafted to look like a chrome mask, most of Psi-Gauss’ left side had been deliberately made asymmetrical, and Omicron-Kappa’s arms almost jarringly transformed to robotic facsimiles at the shoulder. Unlike Sigma-Devi, none of these Zetans had been selected for the perfect blend of natural beauty and light augmentations that the Collective had determined would make for the best impression, leaving them feeling distinctly awkward about their bionics for the first time in their lives.

“To which nation do we have the honour of first contact?”

There was silence for a moment, interrupted only by the occasional sound of an Ishtari soldier struggling to maintain composure amidst the scene. The three women assembled at the head of the table rose - one leaning on the one who stood beside her for support.

Istir moved to speak, and was cut off by a raised hand from Scheherazade, who nodded to the Zetans - even as hints of tears glistened in her own eyes.

“People of Zeta, it is… an honor and a delight I cannot properly express to welcome you. Our people - our nation, we are The Commonality of New Ishtar. We…” she trailed off, for once, for the first time in perhaps a century, at a loss for words. “We feared that we were all that remained, after the Gateway collapse.”

The Collective had tuned into this meeting, and even now, a twinge of sadness ran through Zeta. They too had had a similar feeling when the Gateway had flared to life and they had found others, but whilst theirs had been the simple joy of discovering they were not the last, it seemed to have struck a deeper chord with these New Ishtarians. “The Zetan Consciousness is always glad and eager to have discovered another wayward branch of humanity. Our colony was founded to shine a light into the future- each nation we discover is a validation of the trust our ancestors placed in us.”

Even if they were clones.

She paused, “And - may I have the honor of knowing your names? If indeed you use them? I am Sister-Sage 192 Scheherazade Dreams Of Many Great Things. Beside me is Sister-Soldier 138 Istir Holds Firm The Readied Sword.” A heaving sob came from the woman whose face was buried into her arm, “And this is Sister-Sage 43 Sachiko Treasures The Beauty In The Universe.” She smiled, choking back a similar reaction.

“I am Iota-Clausewitz, Naval-Speaker of the vessel we just departed from. This is Psi-Gauss, Navigational Specialist, and this is Omicron-Kappa, one of the vessel’s engineers.” The names of the clones told them quite a lot about their society- likely religious, almost certainly militaristic, but, perhaps there was something of Matuvista there, with ‘Treasures The Beauty In The Universe?’ They appeared to have some amount of individuality to them, unlike The One.

“These other two are remotely controlled defensive marine combat warforms.” The standard lie that Zeta had repeated so many times. Transcendence was not to be shared.

Scheherazade nodded. “Well met, Iota-Clausewitz.” She nodded to the other two, “And likewise, Psi-Gauss, and Omicron-Kappa. We welcome you, once again.”

Istir spoke up. “These are magnificent cybernetics your people have developed, Naval-Speaker. Exceeding our own, even.” She, herself, smiled - showing no hints of the tears that welled within the eyes of her comrades. “And such magnificent robotics. To think your people took such a different path than our own for survival in the void, simply fascinating. How did you survive? Our vessel was a generation ship. Did the Gateway Collapse not affect your own people as long?”

“Thank you. Clearly your own biological adaptations have been notable as well- there are some newcomers in the Meeting Place who seem to have gone down similar lines, but most of those who survived are relatively unchanged from the same humans that left Earth some three hundred years ago.” Iota-Clausewitz’s mask pulled itself into a smile, then a confused frown.

“As long? Well, of course, ours opened before yours did, but that is neither here nor there.”

Scheherazade frowned at her. “My apologies for her, but I admit I am curious myself. We… suffered tremendously within its grasp. As you can see. How did you avoid the mutations?”

The crew turned to glance at each other, mentally communicating. None had wanted to acknowledge the peculiar growths from the skulls of the clones. They had assumed doing so would be rude.

“Our new home planet of Zeta-5 has subjected us to an uncomfortable level of mutation thanks to ionizing radiation, which we combatted through widespread augmentation and the founding of subterranean cities, insulated away from such energies.”

A muffled sob, followed by a simple nod, was Sachiko’s addition, as the woman struggled to maintain control of herself.

“Three hundred years?”

“Just over three hundred, yes.” Psi-Gauss decided it best to not go into the hyper-specific time details.

Istir and Scheherazade shared a look. A look of immense confusion.

“No, no, we understand three centuries, approximately, passed within realspace. But… within… I do not know what your own people call it. We call it The Void. It… we assumed… we assumed the non-generation ships would have starved to death. That…”

Sachiko spoke up now, the same voice cracking with emotion. “We thought the others were nothing more than cold coffins filled with skeletons and death. We thought that the last gasp of humanity had been extinguished in that hell. We thought we were all that remained. The last surviving remnant of humanity.” She smiled, bitterly, “Four billion souls all wearing the same face. Some cruel fucking mockery of the universe.”

“The Void?” The cyborgs frowned. “Our transportation was to the wrong system, but instantaneous… We may have had divergent experiences during the collapse.” Once again, the Zetan delegation felt rather too awkward to address the many, many questions that were brought up by the Ishtari.

“The Void.” Scheherazade’s words came in reply. “You… did not experience it? Our vessel was… I am not a scientist, I cannot truly explain it - but then, neither can the scientists. According to our surviving archives, it was as though the vessel was trapped outside of… outside reality itself for over five centuries. It was there we became what you see now.”

“I can confirm we experienced nothing of the sort. The Arkadios was a rapid transit colony ship, had we spent five hundred years in empty space, we would indeed be a… ‘cold coffin filled with skeletons and death.’ We had our own issues with the Gateways- as mentioned, we were translocated to the wrong system, one that was significantly less amenable to human life than we had hoped, but we were moved immediately. We had thought ourselves to be the only colony that experienced Gateway malfunction, the shutdown notwithstanding.”

The three sat silent, nearly motionless, for a time.

The net was ablaze. Four and a half billion voices screamed out in a dizzying cacophony of outrage, joy, confusion, envy, and more. The three of them - connected to the net as they were, relaying every word that was said to their people as the discussion unfurled, were momentarily overcome by the reaction.

“F-forgive me.” Scheherazade muttered. “I… we… my kin are…”

“Feedback like that is normal. It’ll pass.” Istir murmured, patting her on the shoulder. “You try to stay separate from it normally, you’re handling it better than she is.”

Sachiko, indeed, had hunched over the table, hands clapped over her ears as she tried to drown out as much external stimulus as possible. The sheer blast of it nearly knocked her from her chair, and she waved a hand to the other two, resolutely screwing her eyes shut.

“This is… this news has caused significant uproar among the Ishtari populace.” Scheherazade said, once she had recovered somewhat.

This time, it was the Zetans that couldn’t help themselves. Psi-Gauss’ face was practically radiant. ”You have a population-wide neural network integrated into your bodies?” The Collective roared with happiness and approval. Whatever tribulations these clones had gone through, whatever troubles they had faced, be it the ‘Void’ or their mutations, they had developed their own Collective.

Scheherazade nodded, a thin smile crossing her lips. “More or less, yes, we call it ‘the net’. It is… our minds are not one - we were nearly destroyed by such a development. Twice. But we are close to each other. Individuals, certainly. Ordinarily, I cannot stand to be in the same room as Istir, here. But we reach a consensus together. We are all equals within it.”

A storm of votes went up in the Collective. Could they reveal their closely guarded secret? The motion passed back and forth a few times. Ultimately, the sad conclusion was that the cat was almost out of the bag already, and this seemed like too good an opportunity to make a connection to pass up.

“You cannot understand the joy that the Consciousness is feeling currently. The Zetan Consciousness is named as such not because we consider ourselves particularly moral, but because we are a consciousness, multiple minds bound together using the processing power of half a billion minds, augmented by additional server support. Currently, you speak not just to us five, but to every Zetan, no matter how far they may be. And, just like you, we are all equals.”

Again, the three Ishtari were overcome for a time - but a shorter one, Scheherazade raising a finger with a small smile on her face as she waited for the uproar to die down. “And, likewise, you speak to over four and a half billion of our own. Most of them are happy. Some are confused. Some scared.” She smiled, “I count myself among the former, for what it’s worth.”

“A moment - your Consciousness, it is not biological? It is technological?” Istir spoke up, frowning. “Then, those ‘remotely controlled defensive marine combat warforms’ - do they contain minds within them as well?”

Scheherazade’s attention roused, and she added her support. “If I may venture a theory - your organic forms do seem to age. If you have such technology, do you… transfer a copy of your minds to this Consciousness, come the end of your natural lifespans?”

“Four and a half bi-” Iota-Clausewitz blinked a few times. Then, suddenly, the Ishtari came to a lot of very accurate conclusions very rapidly. They’d need to clear these up, and now.

“Indeed, you are quite right there. We neglected to mention that initially out of caution, but this is Gamma-Theta and this is Phi-Pasteur.” The two warforms gave crisp salutes to the Ishtari when they were introduced, quickly returning to their statue-still poses afterwards.

“As for transferral… No, nothing as crude as that. Our minds are constantly changing and adapting things, and with every change and adaptation, Zetan engineering ensures that our minds are slowly, carefully, etched over with chrome. Eventually, either I will replace all of this body’s flesh with steel, or the flesh will fail, and I will simply leave it behind. The result will be the same. Mortality is overcome.”

Debate raged again within the Ishtari net. What this meant. Were these warforms the same souls? If there was, as indicated by the Zetans, continuity of self - what did that mean?

Scheherazade smiled, once again. “This is… well, it’s controversial already, for sure. We use more… biological methods for immortality. But we are gladdened to see that more children of earth have overcome the chains of mortality as we have. Debates rage already. I am sure you understand.” She nodded to the warforms. “Well met, Gamma-Theta and Phi-Pasteur. Had we known, we would have provided you chairs as well. Please, if you wish for some, we are willing to accomodate you.”

Sachiko spoke up, finally coming to some measure of control over the chorus in their minds. “You seemed surprised, earlier. You were about to say four and a half billion. Is there something wrong?”

“Biological immortality? You’ve… Halted the deterioration of genetic code?” There was a long pause. “The ability to manipulate the building blocks of life on such a fundamental level… What an astonishing feat of science. Could you share more about how you’ve managed such a thing?”

The two warforms merely shook their heads when offered chairs, the rest of their bodies remaining eerily still. Psi-Gauss explained. “Light warforms are built to minimise much of the discomfort a biological body experience, and, as we are a recently-retrofitted naval ship, many of those crewing our warforms feel a particular urge to act rather… Stiff. First-Speaker Sigma-Devi should really be the one to brief you on Galactic History however. As for the four and a half billion, we were merely slightly astonished at the number. We believe that in terms of biological population, that places the Commonality as one of the largest nations in the galaxy that we are aware of.”

Scheherazade winced. “The scientists are now furious with me, forgive me - it seems I’ve given you a somewhat inaccurate depiction of things. Certainly - we greatly extended natural lifespan. This body would be expected to live for over a hundred and fifty years more unaided. What we have developed is… akin to a biological version of your own process. Essentially…” she paused for a moment, surreptitiously nodding as millions of thoughts raged within her mind, and a consensus formed on how best to describe the process.

“Take a look at the ship you are in. Did you see ports within the walls occasionally, as you walked through it?” Said Scheherazade. Not waiting for a reply, she continued, turning in her chair and pulling her hair to the side to reveal the neuroport at the nape of her neck.

“We transfer our brains - our biological brains, neuron impulse by neuron impulse, to a biological neural net. Once a year, our bodies are…” she paused, “Remade? Digested and reformed? The body you are speaking to now is only a year old but my mind is two hundred and thirteen. The numbers within our names indicate how many times we have undergone this process in our lives - plus twenty one years on-planet from infancy to adulthood.”

“You have trusted us with your own information, which is why I am willing to divulge this to you now. There are many who oppose it - but I, and most of our number, think it best to be open with your people.”

The Zetans tried very hard to keep the horror off their faces. They managed to succeed. It was not that they were opposed to others finding alternate pathways to immortality, but the idea of repeatedly ’digesting’ living bodies to form fresh ones struck a disturbing chord within the Collective.

It was not altogether incorrect to call the Zetans a ‘sterile’ people. In many ways, that was what they were- a nation that left behind much of the ‘left side brain’ to embrace sleek, sterile technology. Zetan birth rates were extraordinarily low, and they had turned to AI to make up the shortfall. Such a… Burgeoning biological nation did not sit pleasantly with them.

Istir, for her part, had remained silent until now. “One of the largest, you say?”

“Most have less than two billion biological citizens. As mentioned, we have only slightly over half a billion. Previous largest are what we believe to be a pseudo hive-mind made up predominantly of clones, approximately 4 billion. Largest state that does not practice mass cloning is the Gran Republic of Matuvista, with over three billion citizens.” There was a long pause. “We would be most interested to see how that interaction will resolve itself.”

Scherazade and Sachiko, for their parts, had noticed the reactions of the Zetans - and in unison they spoke. “Is something the matter?”

Internally, the Zetans wondered how to get themselves out of this situation. They decided that gentle lies would likely do the trick. “We were merely a little shocked at the intensely… Intimately biological nature of your technology. It seems rather unusual to us.”

The three stiffened at the words ‘pseudo hive-mind’. Scheherazade and Istir exchanged worried glances, Sachiko gritted her teeth, and began to stare intently at nothing in particular. The soldiers around them stiffened, many of them clutching their weapons instinctively.

“A… a pseudo hive-mind, you say?” Scheherazade said, very, very carefully. “Four billion strong?”

“Entirely clones of a single individual, as best as we have been able to tell. They have… Disturbed us. Their actions internationally have been scrutinised quite heavily.”

The net erupted in outcry. Four and a half billion voices cried out, almost universally, for blood. Fear. Fear rippled through their minds, and Scheherazade felt herself caught up in it, doing her best to maintain some form of composure.

“We cannot judge cloning, at least. We were forced into similar such circumstances by our entrapment within the void. The three of us are what we term the ‘Tiamat Strain’. We do not create adult clones, as it stands. All of us are genetically more or less identical, it is true - but we grew from infants. Thus our individuality. There are numerous other Primary Strains amongst our people - but we Tiamat Strain account for approximately ninety-five percent. Her DNA was… uniquely suited for modification and cloning? Our lack of genetic variation is not intentional, I assure you.”

Istir interrupted her, finally raising one of her hands above the table to reveal a cybernetic fist, which she slammed into the table. “The Hive Strain nearly destroyed us twice! Tiamat herself was killed in action against them. Had we not destroyed them and the other Deviant Strains, we would not be here now! Another like it cannot be allowed to live! It is an existential threat to all life in the galaxy!”

Sachiko, for her part, seemed saddened. “I hate killing.” She whispered. “But you aren’t wrong.” She looked up to the Zetans - “I don’t know how much of this your people are sharing with the other nations - hopefully, none - but this stays here. Between our peoples.”

She lifted a small device in her hand, bearing a colored digital screen on which a photograph of a Hive Strain specimen was depicted.

“These… things nearly destroyed us twice, like Istir said. They’re… they were dangerous before we destroyed them. The five centuries aboard the ship were… hell. They were hell for our people.”

“We hope you offer us the same courtesy when it comes to our immortality, our, ‘transcendence,’ as we call it. We believe none others have realised. We have not even formally revealed our collective Consciousness yet, although many have made accurate theories as to its nature.”

Scheherazade nodded. “It shall not leave our lips. Your secret is safe with us. We are alike in many ways. We fully understand your desire for secrecy in this matter.”

The Collective had much to process now, but… There were individuals more suited to discussion than those on this small vessel. “Now that your Gateway has opened though, we should send forth to Sol. First-Speaker Sigma-Devi would be delighted to formally welcome you to the intergalactic stage.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Scheherazade said, nodding. “We ought prepare a more… fitting craft for the purpose, however.” She gestured to the haphazardly created diplomatic craft around them, repurposed from a civilian liner. “This would hardly do for galactic first impressions - and I suspect that the other peoples are not as open minded as yourselves. These… One, though. We will need to discuss them in greater detail.”

“The Gateway is fluctuating.”

Scheherazade’s eyes widened. Istir had spoken, tuned in to different currents of thought among the Commonality than she herself was.


“The Gateway is fluctuating. The engineers are trying to stabilize it, but i-”

Istir was cut off as she winced, “And it’s closed.”

The Zetans paused for a long moment. They glanced at each other, even the normally-stationary soldiers moving to stare at the other Zetans. There was another long pause, and then the Collective confirmed. The Gateway had destabilised. There was a third long pause, and then Iota-Clausewitz turned back to the three clones.

“Well. I suppose we have no reason not to become more acquainted now.”

@Lady Lascivious

This is probably one of the best sheets I've ever gotten, in a story-telling sense. I love the feeling that, by the end, the Tiamat are a completely traumatized people: trying to wipe out the natives because they might speak of the Terrible Truth. They even gouged their own eyes out so they don't have to see it. Spoopy.

How would the redundant brain be able to transfer memories in the event of physical-death? Like, say you got shot in the head. How can your primary brain, that just got shot and is dying, have time to transfer anything to the secondary, redundant brain? Wouldn't primary brain die first? It can't be instant, since- if I remember correctly- the brain stores some things physically. Unless all memories, thoughts and feelings are always been stored on both brains, simultaneously?

You never explain what the Hive strain is, or where it come from. I guess that's intended to be in one of the archives?

First of all, thank you very much! Your praise means a lot ^-^

And second: The redundant brain is essentially a small, real-time backup located within the armored organ sac of the Ishtari. If you are shot in the head, you will be for all intents and purposes dead - but a snapshot of your consciousness in the moment preceding it will continue to function. Some times this organ can malfunction, and begin to develop a secondary consciousness that cannot actually control the body but can some times war with the main one, and it's always a massive can of worms figuring out what to do. So it is, well, yeah - it's two brains operating in tandem, with one sending everything it decides to the other to be stored or overwritten.

Third: The Hive Strain will be partially explained in one of the archives, but it's also intended to retain some mystery about it to fuel people's imaginations about just what could impart such primal fear in them at the mere similarity to it. Essentially, the hive strain were the at first cloned, and then... I think the best way to put it is "reprocessed" organisms derived from the DNA of a contemporary of Tiamat herself. A well regarded geneticist, exactly what experiments lead to him becoming the first Hive Strain is unknown, but they formed a hive mind that was in part enabled by a fleshy web of nervous tissue that covered the surfaces of the regions of the ship they held. The Hive Strain resembled... pretty much a fusion of human and spider, I've attached an image below that's pretty close to what I envisioned. They were in many regards even harder to kill and more adaptable than the current Ishtari, even able to survive vacuum exposure for some time, and attempted to forcibly assimilate the rest of the ship's crew. Tyranid style ^-^

"Good food, kid, well done! Reminds me of what I remember of some of my own feasts back in the good old days. 'Cept the wine was better. Something about that cultivar of grapes being extinct all this time later? I think? Ah, I wouldn't remember."

If he had not seen her before, Lord Ahriman could not help now but notice the solitary figure that sat on the far side of the grand table helping herself to the feast arrayed before her. Clad in a red and white skirt-like garment, and a thin strapped top that did almost nothing to cover her body, what was more surprising than her informal dress was that the tall figure had managed to cram herself - and all nine tails - into the seat in the first place. "This is some very well made meat, though. Dire porcilla, if I'm not mistaken? Roasted with... allspice, cumin, chilies, nutmeg... clove? Is there clove in this? I think that's clove. A touch of fennel... very well done. Juicy. Falls right off the bone. I think it could have done with a few more onions." She lifted another fork full of the succulent, dripping meat to her mouth, biting into it without a care in the world. "Not bad at all!"

She looked up to him. "Been waiting an awful long while, though. What were you up to? Feeling up some succubus who thinks she can make it big with the newest bad guy on the block? For that matter - where is everyone else? Ten fifty we were supposed to be here - the host shows up almost half an hour late, and nobody else is anywhere to be seen!" She sighed, pushing her plate away as she wrestled herself free of the chair, standing to her full height as she strode towards Lord Ahriman. "I mean, really - you want to put together some crack team of badasses for this and we can't even show up at the same time? Hell I mostly came here for some free food and to see what gaggle of overambitious demons you managed to scrape together - but I was expecting them to at least be here!"

She took a bite of a mysterious purple and orange fruit she'd swiped from the table, an audible crunch ringing out as she ripped it open to reveal blood red flesh within. "And for that matter - these things are delicious. Where did you get them?"
The Council of Nikaea: Day Three

Year: 001.M31

The Emperor watched as the Council room slowly filled before him. The Primarchs of the Legiones Astartes and their retinues entered the room first. Behind them filed in the High Lords and their own accompanying persons. Behind those came the seemingly endless tide of Remembrancers who would record and document the proceedings of the council. All fell under the watchful eye of the Emperor of Mankind as they took up their positions within the chamber. The center floor belonged to Malcador, who nodded to the Primarchs and their retinues as they entered.

At last, all were seated, and silence began to grow upon the room as those assembled waited for the Sigillite to call the debate into being once more. Instead however, he turned to the Emperor, seated higher than all others as he watched the room. Malcador inclined his head to him before speaking. “The third day of debate upon the Edict of Tolerance will commence shortly.” He said, his voice even and emotionless, “But before we begin, the Emperor will speak.”

The Emperor stood, looking to each Primarch or Equerry in turn before he spoke. “I called this council, my children, that the matters that sow discord amongst our ranks might be debated in a rational, calm manner.” He spoke softly, but all in the room heard his voice. “This has not been the case. Twice before we have convened to discuss these matters of import, and twice before now they have been interrupted before a satisfactory conclusion could be reached.” His eyes bored into all within the room as he remained silent for some time before continuing. “You will all hear me now - conduct unbefitting of persons of your stature will not be tolerated. Any Primarchs or Equerries, or all other persons, who are found to be acting out of line will be disbarred from future proceedings. All contributions or objections to the topics of debate within the Council will be nullified.” Having said his piece, the Emperor returned to his seated position.

Malcador nodded to the Emperor, and spoke once more, “With that, I declare the third day of the Council of Nikaea to be in attendance.”

With that word, the chime of the vox-cast system blared to life once more and once again the resonant, booming voice of one of the Emperor’s Custodes made a firm declaration.

”Now will follow a brief review of all evidence admitted before this Council as of the last open discussion.

Primarch Augor Astren has submitted a voxscriber with the verified, recorded word of Malcador the Sigilite in his role as the Convener of the Council of Nikaea. In the record, he states that the purpose of the Council is to discuss the retainment or abolition of the Edict of Tolerance, and specified that whether or not the Edict of Tolerance contradicts the Imperial Truth is one of the topics, though not the principal one. The recording concludes with his statement that the actions taken by those who spoke against the Imperial Truth and the dictates of the Imperium have been noted and shall be countermanded.”

The blaring vox-announcement then abated.

Much like on the first day of the debates, Micholi was the first to rise and make his way to the central podium. With a calm, professional air he introduced himself as he custom as “Micholi Vakarian, 2nd Legion Night Watch, Primarch.” before he took a deep breath, resting his hands on the podium itself.

“Before we begin, while I would normally never dare to speak on behalf of my siblings and if they wish to elect to speak for themselves it is fully within their rights to, but for the purposes of time I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of myself and the other Primarchs to apologize for our behavior. Both to the Emperor and the Imperium at large who are watching this moment with keen interest. We are meant to represent the best of humanity and these last few days, we have allowed our passions and biases to get the better of us. We will strive to live up to the ideal going forward.”

Allowing himself a moment of silence out of respect for the weight that a Primarch offering an apology should hold, Micholi soon got started properly. “For the purposes of the record and to dismiss this persistent belief that some in the Imperium seem to hold that the Edict of Tolerance was somehow me pulling some kind of con on the Emperor, I feel like is in this Council’s interest to hear the exact story of how the Edict in question came to be and why it took the form that it currently holds.”

“I acknowledge that the version of events that is about to be told is from my point of view. As such, I cannot speak for the intentions or motives behind the actions of either the Emperor or Malcador, since both also played a part in events. I also request from my siblings not to interrupt until I am finished.”

Taking a measured glance around the chamber, Micholi soon began. “The idea for the Edict of Tolerance came into being during my original meeting with the Emperor on the Reserve in the year eight hundred and twenty two of M30. Having spent my life being raised by and fighting alongside a mixture of humans and xenos from a number of species and worlds against a mixture of humans and eldar, the idea of discarding comrades in arms and family solely because they weren’t human was unthinkable.”

“While I could have very easily used my privilege as a Primarch to safeguard them, the evidence of their existence and actions supported the idea that Humanity and non-human life could live together peacefully in coexistence. To blindly hate all non-human life without thought or question is nothing but mindless zealotry, a concept that seemingly went against the Imperial Truth that the Emperor had just introduced me to at the time. After a prolonged discussion between us, the Emperor acknowledged my point of view and the Edict of Tolerance was soon under construction.”

Shifting himself just a little, Micholi quickly continued “Coming out of the Age of Strife, many human populations had suffered great injustices at the hands of a variety of xenos races, many of whom had now nothing more than a few lines in a history data slate. The Sol system itself, the heart and birthplace of the Imperium, was plagued by xenos slavers lurking in the outer systems until the system was unified under the Emperor. I myself witnessed the elegant and decadent cruelties of the Eldar first hand.” There was a slight twitch of the Primarch’s head, drawing attention to the vile, ugly looking scar of tainted flesh that remained even centuries afterwards.

“To ignore this evidence and the effect that had on developing a culture of xenophobia would have been nothing short of madness. However, there is also evidence of xenos races that have done humanity no wrongs or have even banded alongside them in mutual protection against the many horrors spawned from the Long Night. To a truly rational mind free of superstitious beliefs that the Imperial Truth seems intended to foster, both fields of evidence have to be considered before action is taken.”

“I had a number of intentions for the Edict of Tolerance, which I made completely transparent to the Emperor and Malcador from the beginning. The option for humanity not to stand alone in the stars by being able to offer those who do not mean us harm a hand of peace and coexistence is the most clear, but it was also designed to, in the long run, help humanity cast aside mindless hatred for those that weren’t the same. To encourage thought before action by actually observing a situation rather than treating all encounters the exact same. To, as the examples of harmful and twisted examples of xenos life dwindled and their vile acts nothing more than lines in a data slate, allow evidence of peaceful and good xenos life to flourish.”

“Part of the purpose of this Council is to decide if the Edict of Tolerance has failed in its purpose. It hasn’t. It is working as intended. But it is a long term project and the fruit it will bear may take centuries yet to fully ripen… but even after such a short period of time, it has allowed many to let go of old, mindless hatred in favor of a more thoughtful, rational mindset.”

“Some of my siblings might argue that the Edict of Tolerance is a contradiction to the Imperial Truth or even the Treaty of Mars. This is not the case. In the matter of the former, the Edict is meant to provide those in a position for a first contact a chance to pause and think about the situation before making a rash action. This doesn’t mean that the xenos species in question will survive, but instead that their death will be due to reason and rationality rather than blind hate and zealotry.”

There was… a slight delay from Micholi before he started speaking again. “I will be the first to admit that the Edict of Tolerance and the Treaty of Mars have had a long and somewhat… rocky history. There has always been the question of ‘How far is too far?’ in relation to the Mechanicum’s willingness to examine, learn and reverse engineer xenos technology even before the Edict of Tolerance came into existence… and I mourn the fact that so many have been judged to have crossed that line, often due to following the Edict. It is a sad and terrible thing to lose a mind dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge or the improvement of humanity, even when that dedication causes them to start down the darkest and most twisted paths that should not be explored.”

“However, the sad truth is that the question would still linger, even without the Edict of Tolerance. The Mechanicum would almost certainly still find inspiration and discovery in captured or recovered pieces of Xenos technology, if only because of the knowledge that something can be done with technology, even if they don’t know exactly how to recreate it yet. If anything the existence of the Edict means that these examinations can be better regulated and observed since those more inclined towards examining and tinkering with xenos technology can do so officially with a degree of safety rather than creating hidden labs to horde possibly dangerous technology gathered illegally either in person or via some kind of grey market without any kind of oversight at all.”

“Basic curiosity is both a blessing and a curse after all. Oftentimes, stamping it out completely is next to impossible. Better to foster an environment where such minds can be of use but also be monitored for their own well being and safety… as well as those around them. After all, a human mind completely isolated from outside influence can delve into dark and terrifying places.”

Offering a polite bow of his head to Malcador and the Emperor, Micholi returned to his seat to finally allow others to speak.

The doors to the Council Chamber flew open with a loud bang as Kaldun the Golden Conquerer entered in full armor and all his glowing glory. A wide smile across his face, he greeted his family and the council at large in his customary, shouting, voice. “Hello father!” He gave a deferential bow to the Emperor, as was proper, before turning to the rest of the council. “And hello to my brothers and sisters and all of their sons and daughters! I apologize for the lateness of my arrival! A Space Hulk appeared in Imperial Territory and my sons and I dealt with it as swiftly as possible! It is in Mechanicum’s hands as we speak!”

He began to move towards an open spot next to his sister’s representative, Ayushmakti, his trusted sons following dutifully behind him.“I trust that I did not miss much beyond the ridiculous notion that the Edict be cancelled being turned down?”

He surveyed the room, taking in the tense and combative atmosphere. His smile slipped, but only briefly before coming back into full force.

“Ah! That would be a no then! Disheartening, but I’m sure we can all come to see the benefits of utilizing the Xenos rather than wasting resources eradicating them! Not as true equals, of course! That would be ridiculous! But similar to how I have tamed the Ogryn! Why waste potential, when we can utilize it for the betterment of the Imperium?” He sat down in his seat, still beaming at the crowd around him.

The Sisters of Praxia had thus far retained their own counsel, Daena, Sekhmetara, and Nelchitl sitting apart from their siblings after having been conspicuously absent from the prior proceedings on the Edict of Tolerance. Uncharacteristically, the Mistress of the XIVth and her daughters did not attend in robes or gowns or uniforms but instead in their voidblack warplate. Two short robed figures stood behind the seats of the Primarch and her Praetor Primus, each holding their spears upright. The aged human woman that had attended the Legion at the opening of the Council was once more in attendance, but this time her blue and white uniform made no attempt at humility or modesty, her chest now heavy with a bevy of medals and awards that predated the Treaty of Mars. Of the three most prominent, two were obscure to all but the oldest of veterans - a lightning strike, and a triple helix - but the third was unmistakable. A winged skull over a sword, sigil of the Astartes themselves.

The three Primarchs had remained entirely silent until the arrival of Kaldun, the Angel’s impassive face splitting into a thin smile. “He seems your type, Sekhmetara,” she whispered, a fleeting hope arising in her that perhaps now the quarrelsome siblings could achieve something of note.

Or at least not murder each other.

“Fair to look at, a bit of a blunderer.” Sekhmetara mused quietly, one golden goblet obscuring her grin from the rest of the chamber, before her large hazel eyes turned to Daena, her grin becoming more of a toying, if fair, smile. “Not incorrect, but what then, does that say about you, Lady Azrael?” For the moment, the Conqueror of Mithra was more interested in the pomp and circumstance of her siblings as she was the actual matter at hand.

“A bit of a blunderer?” Nelchitl questioned sardonically as she repulsed at her mind’s replay of Kaldun entering boisterously into the council chambers. She sat impassively for a few moments, the further words of Sekhmetara still fresh in her mind before she turned with a quizzical look to the Angel at her side, “What did I miss in the last two hundred years Daena?” she stated quietly, almost teasingly, an ear still kept on the evolving situation with Kaldun and Augor.

Daena made a sound in between a choke and a laugh, the Primarch almost spitting her wine out. Looking at Nelchitl out of the corner of her eye, a small smile formed as she turned her attention back to Sekhmetara. “If you must know, Nelchitl, in those early days it was our dear sister who was blundering.”

“That is not how I remember it.” Sekhmetara spoke with the smug grin of someone who very much believed her own words, both hands resting atop her knee as one leg crossed over the other, the metal of her armour making no noise as she did, so poised were her motions, focusing on proceedings only half as much as the memories their words stirred proved far more riveting.

“There has been some substantive evidence presented on those exact points, brother.” Augor Astren answered in a somewhat clipped tone. “Evidence which, even in spite of repeated efforts and entreaties, certain malfeasant actors have been endeavoring to evade and avoid addressing.” He then pressed a hand to his voxcaster switch and formally announced himself.

“Augor Astren, Primarch of the Stargazers, his Emperor's Twelfth Astartes Legion. Fabricator Intendant of the Forge World of Last Light.” His speech broke momentarily for the record before proceeding.

“There have been multiple calls and appeals during the course of these discussions to dispassionately review and discuss the possible merits and detriments of the Edict of Tolerance as well as those exhibits which have been submitted before this Council as evidence. Any such discussion along these lines has yet to transpire. The opening inquiry of the second gathering has yet to even be addressed. All that has been offered between us have been empty and vain platitudes or else ventures to turn the topic of our discourse away from the true matter at hand. So I now present this Council with a new inquiry:

Does anybody here intend to discuss the substance of this matter? If not, I motion we move directly to our final verdict. There can be no compelling purpose serviced by additional hollow argumentation without and around the true matter at hand.” He lifted his bionic talon from his voxcaster and cast his gaze across the chamber with a raised brow and hollow look.

“The substance is simple-” Kaldun paused in his response, belatedly standing. “Kaldun, Primarch of the Golden Spears, Fifteenth Legion, Lord of Baalros!” He looked back at Augor, smile matching his brother’s look. “The substance is simple! Is it not? Utilizing Xenos as an inferior but still useful force is dangerous! I do not deny this! But so are many of the technologies the Mechanicum and our own forces use! Plasma weapons may explode in our hands! Experimental machine spirits may go mad with rage! Yet we do not ban or destroy these things! Why? Because their benefits outweigh the risks! Some Xenos must be destroyed, and all must be subjugated! But to eradicate them out of simple disdain is wasteful! Utilize them as my own Golden Legion does! Put them where they will best serve the empire!”

Augor smiled thinly as he pressed down on his voxcaster switch once more. “In light of the Fifteenth Primarch’s honest enthusiasm for this matter, I withdraw my proposed motion. Brother - these exact issues you raise were to have been the topic of the second open discussion, though we were sadly drawn away from them. I would now like to request a moment of this Council’s indulgence, to permit our most welcome sibling to review the record of the Council. I imagine he, at least, might have an honest interest in answering the original inquiry posed at the outset of the Second open discussion.” He then made a gesture towards his own retinue, and a Servo-Skull rose from amongst his retinue and circled around the chamber walls to approach kaldun’s own podium and deposit a data-slate before him.

“Thank you brother! I will review the record immediately!” Augor nodded and withdrew his hand from his voxcaster switch as Kaldun picked up the dataslate and began rapidly reviewing its contents - a complete record of the proceedings of the Council of Nikaea up until that moment. For anybody else, the daunting volume would have taken weeks or months to finish reading through even once. For a Primarch such as Kaldun, he would be able to fully read through and think over the body of data in mere minutes.

“Do I dare to hope we might have finally moved on from damned accusations,” Daena murmured to her sisters, visibly relaxing in the face of Kaldun’s exuberance. Still, those who knew her well could recognize that she was on edge - and her Astartes still seemed ready for action.

Arnulf Wode, sitting nearby, snorted in derision. “There’ll be more bickering in this Council than a pack of orks brawling over who gets to lead their degenerate kind into war again, mark my words. You’ll get more civility from ambulls at the feeding trough.”

Saul, sitting next to him, put a hand on his shoulder. “Arnie, don’t be so negative. You don’t know that for sure.”

“Wait and see.” Wode growled. “Wait and see.”

“Ambulls make for pleasant hunting.” Sekhmetara mused to herself, watching the proceedings with as much of a glint in her eye as she might very well a hunt of the more traditional nature. “There is much that can be gained from observing even that which we do not wish to see.” She spoke again, almost reproachful, towards her siblings and their entourage, leaning back in her seat, a vague recline, before sipping from her wine glass, savouring the crisp taste as she did so.

“See? Your sister’s got the right idea, you should listen to her more.” Saul said. “She’s very wise.”

“What are you, my wife?” Wode said, turning to Saul with a smile. He laughed, and shook his head.

“Not my type. Too uh…” Saul made a box shape with his fingers. “I like a little more…”

He made a curving shape with his hand, and Wode rolled his eyes.

“He needs someone who appreciates that the best part of the Ambull hunt is the steaks at the end.” Sekhmetara spoke with an even more sly grin, half concealed behind her wine glass as she took another sip. “You would enjoy Mithra.”

Saul hid his own smile behind his datapad, safe from Wode’s glowering. “I’m sure I would, Lady Sekhmetara.”

“You can have him, sister.” Wode growled, “Get him out of my hair for once. Let him hunt Ambull ‘til he dies of old age and save me from his nagging.”

The floor of the Council chamber did not have time to fall silent again.

Micholi flicked his vox-speaker on, physically turning to look at his cybernetic brother as he answered “Very well. Let us discuss your questions from the second gathering Augor. You offered concerns about multiculturalism being used by elements within and without the Imperium to stir up unrest and rebellion, alongside an argument that having a slightly less productive population that will rebel due to more mundane issues rather than due to being treated poorly due to not being human.”

A degree of sarcasm entered Micholi’s voice as he got going “For a moment, let us assume that the idea of human purity isn’t an irrational superstition. This council comes to the conclusion that all non-human citizens of the Imperium need to die. Sure, the xenos populations are the first target but we wouldn’t be able to stop there. After all, once the Xenos are gone we’ll have to purge ourselves of the abhuman populations as well. After all, all the evidence brought against the Edict of Tolerance and the xenos populations it has brought in applies to the abhuman strains of humanity as well since they take up jobs from baseline humanity, are not treated equally by the law because they’re not human and are just as prone to uprising and being stirred into rebellion against the Imperium and the Imperial Truth.”

There was a pause before Micholi finished “And of course… At the end we’ll have to exterminate ourselves and our legions. The amount of genetic modification that has to go into creating an astartes legionnaire is a solid argument that any of us are as close to baseline humanity as the Ogryn are. The only reason we couldn’t be considered a variant of humanity ourselves is because astartes cannot reproduce - and require baseline humans as the basis for our creation. So tell me Augor, in the name of human purity… where do we stop swinging the axe?”

Augor promptly hit his voxcaster switch and answered, his tone flat and his voice even. “You are the first amongst this Council to raise the notion of Abhumans. If you are asserting that Abhumans are anything less than Human, in spite of having been officially recognized and and endorsed both by the Officio Medicae of the Administratum as well as the Divisio Biologis of the Mechanicum, I believe you are alone in that assessment. When one speaks of Humanity, writ whole, those peoples are implicitly understood to be included. Your answer, as with every other issue of this gathering thus far, is an allegorical aside adjacent to the actual topic, and once more we have strayed away from the original inquiry - which you have once more sought to evade. In the simple interest of not reciprocating such blatant equivocation however, I will answer your question.” He turned his empty gaze away from Micholi and looked, almost reverently, towards the balcony in the rear wall where the Emperor presided.

“The descent of the axe stops exactly and precisely where the Emperor of All Mankind decrees it should stop.” After a lingering moment of silence, his gaze then snapped back to Micholi.

“Do you have anything relevant to contribute?” He asked, his tone acidic.

“...Augor, I must say that a part of me is envious of you. To be able to say with complete confidence that because something is written by the Division Biologis or the Officio Medicae… or even the Emperor himself that that is the way the universe truly is and anything that happens in practice that suggests differently is irrelevant. Because it is a reality that those xenos races brought into the Imperium via the Edict of Tolerance are generally afforded the same, somewhat limited rights and social standing of abhuman strains.” Micholi countered back with a cool, calm voice. “After all, didn’t our brother Kaldun just now claim upon his arrival that he tamed the Ogryn and that the xenos should be treated as them, not as true equals?”

“If you are seeking an admission that Abhumans are not treated as Human in practice despite the Laws of the Imperium, here it is: I freely admit such is the case. It yet remains that you are the only one amongst this Council to suggest that they are anything less than Human, or that their status is at all relevant to our discussion of the Edict of Tolerance - which, to be utterly clear, it is not.” Augor ground out. “You continue to avoid addressing the actual merits and implementation of Edict of Tolerance itself, continued prevarication in this manner can serve no further purpose. Has nobody here anything substantive to say regarding the Edict other than our noble brother Kaldun?”

“Oh but Augor, it is relevant to this discussion because it reveals the hypocrisy and double standards of the arguments being made against the Edict.” Micholi answered back. Raising a hand, he started to raise fingers as he listed off points. “Concerns about humans being made unemployed by those working for less or because they are fundamentally better at the tasks in question. Concerns about unrest and rebellion in relation to the Imperial Truth due to being viewed as less than human and desiring to be treated equally. Having forces outside and within the Imperium targeting these groups in order to create divisions and infighting. All of these apply to any given strain of abhuman within the Imperium just as much as any xenos citizen, but we’re not having a council to discuss this clear failure of the Imperium to treat its citizens equally… might I say actually ignoring it completely, solely because in the far distant past, the ancestors of this minority group were human.”

Finally, at long last, the Primarch of the Twelfth Legion paused in his relentless barraging of the Second, pulling back from his podium-mounted voxcaster and seeming to raise his brow at Micholi’s conclusion. After a moment, he switched the device back to its active state, and in a much more accomodating tone, answered.

“Your point in this matter is, belatedly, factually relevant.” He stated. “In the interest of forestalling additional specious rebuttals, I propose we go forward on the presumption that this argument should not be refuted solely due to the obvious predominant ordination of Humanity and its Abhuman variant strains. This much is self-evident and would be the case in the presumption of the Edict of Tolerance being retained. This particular aspect of our discourse may merit revisitation, but it would be unreasonably prejudicial at this moment for us to not require further, more compelling argumentation.” He then switched off his voxcaster, his stance receding in clear indication he had no intention of elaborating further.

Micholi also went to sit down again and turn off his voxcaster, but before he did he respectfully looked towards Malcador and humbly asked “I request that the matter of the clearly unequal treatment of the Imperium’s abhuman strains despite Imperial Law be brought up as a subject of discussion at some point during this Council at a later date? Because outside of the Edict of Tolerance, it is an issue that should be discussed.”

Thoughtfulness on his face, Malcador turned away, and for a moment after, Malcador could be seen discussing quietly with the Emperor, out of earshot of voxspeaker capture. Yet, undeterred, came the voice of the Imperial Armada’s head from the ranks of the High Lords at the front of the room, a man with a great deal of visible augmentation:

‘Constansa Suati-Falkan, Grand Admiral of the Imperial Armada. With respect, Primarch Micholi,’ he said, clearly not seeing the topic as one to respect, ‘the idea that abhumans are equal to true humanity is an absurdity - they are warped facades of us, and lesser for a reason. Is an ogryn capable of building worlds? Does a ratling know true courage? And besides which, I am well aware of the Edict’s final step: socially, any given xeno race reaching that stage is granted effective abhuman status. Yet, if abhumans are taken to be on an equal level with unaffected humans, well…’ He left his comment unfinished, trusting the rest of the room to see his point.

“A number of Abhuman Variants are graced, strainwide, with the privilege of full Imperial Citizenship equal to that of any other Adept, Grand Admiral.” Augor Astren remarked calmly, not even bothering to switch on his voxcast relay as Malcador conferred with the Emperor. “Are you suggesting the form and spirit of Imperial Law in this matter is in error?”

‘Well-’ Constansa blinked at the accusation. ‘Rather, if that is so-’

‘Ahem.’ Malcador, apparently saving the Grand Admiral from outright embarrassment, had returned to his seated position, and simply stated ‘In consideration of the discussion at hand, the Primarch of the Night Watch’s request may be attended to once it has been deemed that an appropriate moment to do so has presented itself. To wit, the present discussion of the Edict of Tolerance remains the primary point at this stage of affairs.’ To Augor, he simply shot a quick look that said “let the man bow out gracefully.” The Twelfth Primarch, for his part, had turned away from the Admiral and resumed his cross-armed, placid posture and did not appear interested in pursuing the tract further.

A watery rush and a tap of metallic claws heralded the voice of the Abyssal Primarch.

"Sarghaul, Tartareus, Progenitor of the Ninth," there was a slight note of irritation in his words as the circumstance of introduction clashed with the terseness of his habits, though it was quick to fade. "The Sigillite overlooks the true weight of the abhuman strains in the matter of the Edict. Deviate as they are, their lines remain permutations of the human genus, and as such they must be judged. Where evolution or selective guidance dictate, they may even arise to be more meritorious in the fulfilment of their purpose than the unmodified." Though it was difficult to say for certain, the graven eyes of his visor seemed to shoot a brief yet baleful glance at Suati-Falkan. "To equate them with the xeno is madness. As evidence has shown, it is in the nature of species to fight over dominance and survival. This is an imperative as old as the vitae-helix, untempered by the vagaries of technology. It marks the xeno as forever our foes, and total eradication alone will satisfy it. The abhuman are, by the necessities of their flesh, our allies in this battle. I have spoken."

Across the room, the assembled Doomsayers tensed as Sarghaul began to speak. Daena’s face, calm to begin with, morphed into a truly expressionless mask. Beneath the table her hands were gripped tight enough to turn her knuckles white.

Distaste spread across Nelchitl’s face as Sarghaul spoke. The sting of his earlier insult against Daena was still fresh in her mind and although she found herself in agreement with his words she could not bring herself to voice it as she snuck a look at Daena at her side.

The soft contours of Sekhmetara’s fair features grew tighter even as Nelchitl tensed as well, but her eyes did not drift from the speaker, not to her sibling in comfort or to gauge the reaction of the room, honing in with the hawk like focus of the huntress she embodied, her wine momentarily forgotten.

Before it could properly resume, the discussion of the Council was interrupted by a commotion outside of the chamber. A muted yelp of fright. The staccato march of heavy armored footsteps upon the marble floor. Dozens - perhaps hundreds of feet with a weight and cadence that could only belong to the Astartes. A great clamor as those within the hall outside took flight from it. Heavy footfalls of a large being, larger than any Astartes and heavily armored.

The doors of the chamber crashed open with a thunderous sound that echoed about the room. Through them marched a thin ceremonial column of the Sixteenth Legion - devoid of their usual arms but maintaining bolt pistols and chainswords at their sides. At their head marched Eiohsa, clad not in her full battle plate but instead in an ornate and exquisite suit of ceremonial terminator armor not worn for centuries, since before the time of the Rangdan. At her side hung a similarly ornate force sword likewise dating before the time of the Rangdan. Rage oozed off of her in waves, palpable to all within the room. Some of the attending Remembrancers fainted as she strode forth, psychic energy arcing from her eyes as she fixated her attention upon the man who had just spoken.

“Sarghaul!” She bellowed, her voice an almost inhuman howl of fury infused with the power of the warp. “You will answer to me!” She drew closer, the heavy tread of her armor reverberating through the room as her Legion stood mutely behind her. “Where is Ormis, you monstrous thing in the guise of man? Tell me now!”

The viscous rush of the Abyssal One’s breath was joined by the metallic clicking of his claws faintly tapping against each other as he turned his etched features towards her, almost idly. Small flashes of light briefly coursed along the length of the blades, nearly too dim to have been a deliberate effort, but enough for what they were - an implicit warning.

“I never knew you to care for the travels of my gene-spawn.” Amid the ever-moving tide of his breath, his voice was as deathly cold as his stare. He raised a taloned hand and almost carelessly let it rest on the lectern before him. “Nor is that for you to know. You would do better to put such zeal into being timely.”

Prometheus had spent much of the day on other matters, dispatching orders while idly listening to the proceedings of the council. With the dramatic entrance of his sister intent on taking Sarghaul to task, and considering the volatile nature of the council so far, Prometheus whispered into his vox making several snapped orders.

So, too, did the Emperor and Malcador alike take note of the affair. Whether or not it was noticed, all pict-captures in the room seemed to suffer malfunction at once, and all who were not of the Legions beyond these two seemed to acquire blank gazes, unhearing and unseeing, and unable to tell what had or would take place. Even the High Lords would not recall this event as it had come to pass.

“My delay is not one of idleness, monster.” She said, drawing closer, now seeming to tower over her ‘brother’ where normally his bulk would have dwarfed her. “I despise the atrocities you visit upon those unfortunate enough to cross your path. I loathe with every fiber of my being the horrors you inflict upon those who draw your ire. But you and your Legion have gone too far, brother.” She stepped forward, drawing level with her brother, an armored finger pushing aggressively into his chest.

“As the Emperor dictates, it is no business of mine how you conduct your campaigns, vile as they may be. But it was not enough for your spawn to fire upon my Legion, to slay hundreds of my Daughters, slaughter countless innocents in the course of your marauding amongst the people of the Imperium. No, in your brazen madness you defile the very integrity of humanity itself.” She stood rigid with fury as she spoke. “Your ‘Infestus’ are a crime against existence, twisted beyond recognition in flagrant defiance of the Imperial Truth and all sense and reason - how the Emperor has allowed these experiments I cannot fathom. The warping and corrupting and debasement of countless human beings is a crime for which we would wipe any civilization from existence. And yet that was not enough for you.” Her demeanor seemed to cool, and all throughout the room felt a weight settle upon their minds as she spoke, vague images of horrific nightmarish imagery from beneath the seas of Carcinus flickering within their minds. “You have abducted my Daughters and performed your vile, monstrous experiments upon them. The Astartes of the Sixteenth Legion subjected like so many others to your depraved machinations. You have inflicted upon them the same tortures you have countless Imperial citizens. Your crimes would be spoken of in hushed whispers were they to come from even the likes of the Rangdan - and yet they are perpetrated by one of our own. And yet you dare refuse me.” Her face darkened further, and she stared into his visor, unblinking.

“I will have the heads of every single one of your ‘Fleshweavers’, Sarghaul. And if you stand in my way, it will be your whole Legion. Know this.”

Usriel, having long arose from his seat after Eiohsa had barged into the council, glared upon the form of his sister before he called out to her, a cold, uncaring tone coming from the Nineteenth Primarch, “Subdue yourself, Eiohsa. You have much gall to come into this accord so late and with such boisterous accusations to a peer and his spawn. I demand you explain yourself at once!”

“Calm yourself Usriel…” Micholi was quick to speak up, even as he looked thoughtful. “While there has long been a history of bad blood between Sarghaul and Eiohsa, I do not believe she would make a scene like this without just cause.” Looking at Eiohsa, he decided to ask “The name you speak of… Ormis. I have met the man as one of the joint leaders of the Abyssal Lurkers’ contingent during the war on Laeran. Please… give us the full story, sister. If you have evidence to back it, all the better.”

Arnulf Wode sat with his 5th Army Group Praetor, Saul Imogen. Until then, both had been quiet, Wode with his arms folded across his chest, looking bored, and Saul taking fastidious notes. Now, Wode sat up, interested. He looked at Saul, meeting eyes, and, with deliberate motion, unbuckled the flap of his bolt pistol holster. The pistol within sat, primed and loaded. Saul swallowed, visibly, and unbuckled his own holster, although the common stub pistol within had no chance of hurting anyone in the room but himself.

“See now why I told you to come to this meeting armed.” Wode muttered.

“What’s the play?” Saul asked.

“No play.” Wode said, “If violence breaks out, we go for the exit so I can hand you off to our ceremonial guard. No offense, old friend, but you wouldn’t last a second in a room where primarchs are throwing punches. Then I go back in.”

Saul nodded, uneasy. The masters of the Tenth watched as the drama unfolded. Wode sighed. “I was hoping this one would be more civilized.”

Nimue didn’t really say anything or show any acknowledgement other than an obviously disinterested ‘How unfortunate’, simply returning to lazily looking over her fingernails. In truth, it was a matter of the victim rather than the perpetrator. She had not long ago accused Eiohsa and her pet empire of high treason against the Imperium of Man, not to mention the two having detested each other for many decades. Their daughters had even drawn arms and slain each other at the ‘incident’ of Maline, something Nimue had not forgotten. She could not, and would not, care less about the fate of the Daughters of Iron.

Daena’s form shifted ever so slightly, the armored Primarch making a single motion with her hand. “Eiohsa always knew how to make an entrance,” she breathed out with a voice like steel. Her wings curled in tight around her armored frame, though if that was out of a protective instinct or a desire to launch herself across the room was impossible to tell.

Next to her, the mortal she had brought seemed as unaffected by the Emperor’s power as any Astartes, the aged woman’s face filled with disappointment as she looked at Sarghaul. “Nine was always the most creative,” she said, her voice filled with more sorrow than rage. “The most adaptable.”

Though the Doomsayers did not move, the aura of menace emanating from the Astartes was palpable. Hands lowered to the hilts of ceremonial blades, helmets were brought to a low rest, and the ambient temperature seemed to drop by a full degree. Behind the assembled women, the two robed figures raised the spears that they held high above their heads - to a height convenient for an Astartes to grab.

But still, they remained, Daena and her daughters refusing to move from the united bloc they had forged with Sekhmetara and Nelchitl.

Nelchitl, for the first time since the third day had begun, found herself genuinely interested in the happenings as the last of her sisters finally made her arrival. Aghast at the sizable contingent that Eiohsa arrived with, Nelchitl had been mere moments from standing to object to her sister's brazen show of force in the presence of the Emperor Himself only to become confused at the Primarch of the Sixteenth’s accusations against Sarghaul and his Lurkers.

She leaned forward, intensity filling her eyes as she absorbed everything being said by her siblings, and everything unsaid as they jockeyed back and forth with accusation and counter. She shot a look toward the head of the chamber, her eyes brushing over the brilliance that sat unmoving at the head of the room, and although he seemed not to notice her gaze, she was sure he was aware of it, aware of her intentions. With only the briefest of moments she turned back to her siblings. The idea that even the possibility of violence had come to the footstep of the Emperor, and by one of his own children set her heart alight with a need to act.

She leaned toward Daena, a hand falling to grasp at her sister's armored thigh out of the sight of the others as she too seemed enthralled in the events unfolding before them. “I can take them Daena.” she stated quietly, “He would allow it I am sure. I felt His approval.” she tilted her head toward the Angel, her eyes flickering with excitement as she took in her sister's own eyes, “But I’ll need one of your spears.” she licked her lips as she nodded her head back in the direction of the weapons.

Nelchitl’s whisper broke Daena from her reverie, the tension draining from her body as she turned to look her sister in the eye. “Not yet, Nelchitl. Not yet. There will be no doubt when He wishes you to perform that task. None,” she said in a hard voice, her eyes filled with more sorrow than her sister had ever seen before.

A soft click, followed by a quiet hum of energy was all the initial sign that Sekhmetara had reacted at all. Her glaive remained in the hands of one of her attendants, but the gauntlet of her other hand shimmered to life, volkite cells priming within the golden artifice of her armour. Still her eyes narrowed, and she spoke no words, the guise of the huntress fully falling upon the expression of the Mithran Primarch, unaware or uncaring of the debate between her closest siblings for the moment as her mind analysed the scene before her, lining up her best approaches and killing strikes without the need to focus on it, the wilder side of Sekhmetara fully in its element.

Kaldun stood, lightning crackling along his body as fury overtook him. He already despised his brother of the Ninth Legion, so it came as no shock to him that Sarghaul would do this. The abomination had been allowed to go on with his monstrous experimentations for too long, but enacting his foul transgressions on the daughters of Eiohsa was a line that not even the most neutral of Kaldun’s brothers and sisters could let pass. He strode forward, small golden sparks leaping out as he stood by his sister. Behind him, his two trusted sons moved to stand behind Ayushmakti.

“Evidence? What more evidence do you need beyond how his abominable spawn treat injured humans! They drag them back from the battlefield and force them to undergo his foul mutations!” He looked around at his brothers and sisters, arms wide as he gestured, his angered voice carried throughout the room. Small sparks of lightning leapt from his claws punctuating his words.

“Do we really think, any of us, that he would draw the line at doing the same to our sons or daughters? I believe Eiohsa! And I believe that he knew and approved of such crimes!”

“Impossible!” Usriel snapped at Kaldun, his voice showing clear disdain for his sibling’s swiftness of baselessly accusing another, “To think such horrendous crimes would be perpetrated from Astartes unto another is nothing short of preposterous!”

Augor, for his part, blindly gazed at some point of space approximately above the center of the Council chamber, his features impassive and stony. More tellingly, his bionic hands had begun hurriedly tapping across the control runes of his podium’s data-lectern, and as the confrontation continued to escalate he finally turned to direct his empty sight almost witheringly towards Malcador.

The message he had just sent to the Convener’s own stand near the back of the chamber had been a simple ‘This session has been exceptionally disrupted and strayed from its original purpose. I implore you to either adjourn or to act.’

While he was still clearly giving Eiohsa his attention, Micholi decided to unknowingly follow Augor’s example as he sent a message towards the Convener’s stand as well since sending a message directly to the Emperor was likely out of the question. Malcador, I’m not sure if it’s you or the Emperor himself doing it, but I suggest now is the time to get the mortals out of the room and any possible crossfire. This is going to be bad enough without a body count.

Receiving the message, and glancing but momentarily toward the Emperor for affirmation, Malcador quickly returned a response to Augor: The cameras were shut down the moment the disruption began, and all non-Legiones staff, you may note, are currently unable to bear witness. I assure you, the Imperium is not watching. Still, Augor was right: to act swiftly would be pertinent.

“This council is officially adjourned until the disruption by the Primarch Eiohsa has been suitably handled.” Malcador intoned, tapping his hammer once. He did not expect anyone to pay heed or actually leave, but it helped separate this affair from official proceedings. “Eiohsa, kindly explain yourself.”

Wode stood up at this cessation, grabbing Saul by the back of his uniform jacket. He carried the man the way a mother cat carries a kitten to the doorways Kaldun had barged through, and handed his mind-clamped praetor to a waiting guard. He was handed a boltgun in return, which he took and slung over his shoulder. He stalked back to his seat and sat, lighting a cigarette as he did so. He was unsure of what he might add to a dispute his brother and sister had going on that he wasn’t even aware of, but he was there, and ready.

As the mortals were escorted out of the Council, Nimue was still glancing between the Primarchs and weighing their reactions. It seemed with them, or at least with the Golden Oaf, to be those leaning towards preparations of violence. Nimue in turn, while still conveying her pretense of disinterest, placed one of her hands upon the relic sword Calibryown, and gestured to her Equerry with the other.

“Elizabeta, I would have told you to take the High Lords out with yourself, but it seems that The Emperor has already seen to that. As such, I would have you know, if you wish to avoid an untimely death at the hands of one of my ‘siblings’, take your leave now.”

“Mistress, The Primarch of the Daughters has brought a hundred strong” The Equerry protested.

“A hundred Astartes that, if this council sheds blood, will certainly all be dead by the end of it. I will not repeat myself Daughter, either leave now or die here.” Nimue lectured back to her. The Equerry however did not shift from her position, other than to place her hand too on a weapon, a bolt pistol.

“So be it.” Nimue said in resignation, partly saddened but also pleased by the choice.

The reaction that ran through the veins of the Rasenan was one that had been placed directly into his DNA by the Emperor himself, but had been honed and bred into him by an upbringing as a gladiator-slave, Kaelianos already half-rising from here he had just a second ago been reclining quite leisurely - expecting that they would get back to the monotonous matter of allowing or refusing xenos into the Imperium, with some caveat or another to go with it; instead Eiohsa, the absentee sister and Primarch, had stormed into the council - this sacred council - as if she were in the presence of lesser beings, and not indeed her genetic peers and their own gene-father.

“Dominus,” breathed Salvius quietly at his side, the quartet he had bought with him already on their feet with their hands upon weapons, “we are prepared to follow where you lead.”

Kaelianos would have expected nothing else from his loyal and beloved sons, each man of them taking up positions near their, perhaps foolishly, unarmed Primarch.

The towering warlord let a hiss of breath escape from between teeth of a tight-set jaw, the stench of conflict as set in his nostrils as it were to his - partially deranged - sister or Salienti brother, one seemingly more than prepared to fight, and the other apparently caught between the clash of arms in his ears and the more logical step of awaiting evidence from the psyker-Primarchs lips.

By now he was on his feet, hands balled into fists and glaring eyes the colour of a stormy sea, glancing from the Primarch he saw quite frankly as an intruder, and the golden hound that came so readily to her side, evidence or no.

Oh he was personally prepared to wait for evidence, there was no doubt of it, but it had best be something immeasurably conclusive, or - weapons or no - there would be blood.

Metal rasped against metal as the midnight-clad Primarch raised a clawed hand to contemptuously force Eiohsa’s thrusted finger aside, the pointed tips of his digits brushing a hair below her chin with an audible whistle. Behind him, the Lictors remained impassive, though Traal had almost casually produced a bolt pistol and Despoiler knife - where from, no one could say.

“Have you nothing better but to senselessly vomit outrage? The Infestus are a necessity, and your daughters...” Sarghaul punctuated his words with a distorted breath. “I remember how renegades among them once stood between the condemned and their punishment. It was wise of you to leave them to oblivion, but you seem to revel in flouting Truth.” A rumble that might have been a sound of disdain came from beneath his helm like the crash of a distant storm. “The Truth of our Emperor, and that of circumstance. For let all in this chamber know that never have Astartes not of my blood set foot into the halls of the Fleshweavers. That is falsehood, as is all you ever speak.”

Certainly, the grave accusations Eiohsa made against Sarghaul would be treasonous coming from any lesser mouth; in truth, it seemed farcical coming from Eiohsa’s mouth in particular but for the very real anger she bore toward him. The Infestus were one matter- something to firmly discuss later on- but to suggest he had altered the very fabric of the Emperor of Man’s own work toward foul ends would be unthinkable to mere mortals. To the Emperor himself, the thought was as readily settled as sensing the truth of Sarghaul’s words, and finding no lie in them. Naturally, the Daughters of Iron interfering with the Abyssal Lurkers’ operations had been its own punishment, for the losses they took upon themselves, but naught came to the forefront which was so egregious as this suggestion.

“Sarghaul speaks truth, Eiohsa,” he intoned, his voice grave, and to Eiohsa herself might even come off as condescending if listened to the wrong way. “He knows not of any kidnapping, nor of experimentation upon the flesh or geneseed of any Astartes, least of all yours or his own; and I trust he would keep proper track of his own Legion’s actions. I bid you, daughter, cease wasting everybody’s time.” Though it seemed a flat rebuke, there remained a challenge in it nonetheless: Show your hand, or else end this charade.

Eiohsa at first did not respond to the Emperor’s words, her attention fixed on Sarghaul. Metal scraped on metal as she gripped Sarghaul’s upraised wrist in a massive, psychically strengthened hand. “Of course you would say such, abomination. I know you well, you would defend such crimes to the Emperor himself. No, I have seen these things with my own eyes, witnessed horrors and nightmares the likes of which no sane mind could condone. Creatures of such mutant, abominable nature that only the sickness that pervades your legion could have conceived of them.” She narrowed her eyes, “It is ironic you speak of the Imperial Truth, when you and your own spawn defile it so brazenly.” Turning to the Emperor, she inclined her head slightly towards him, “It is not bare suspicion that brings me here, father, know this.”

Scarcely constrained by the grasp upon them, the Tartarean’s bladed fingers inched ever closer to Eiohsa’s face, sparks of psychic lightning crackling along them. His voice was unchangingly flat and monotone. “Show your truth, then.”

Lightning crackled from her eyes as she stared furiously at her kin. She remained silent for a moment, before she turned away from him in disgust. “Bring them in.” She commanded to her Legion, her voice strained. “Let them see.”

From the hall, another tumult came, the rumble of yet more armored feet clanking upon the stone floor. In marched a small column of the Sixteenth Legion moving two abreast, each bearing a sealed container shared between two, and at the tail end walked a massive, cloaked figure. The thing seemed to bear some vague resemblance to the human form, but no details could be gleaned through the thick layer of concealing fabric. More Astartes of the Sixteenth flanked the small procession as they did so, marching in perfect synchronicity.

With a series of heavy thuds, the Astartes set down their loads and stood at attention next to them.Though their expressions were impossible to glean through their helmets, their body language was visible even through the power armor they wore. Each Astartes of the XVI was filled with rage, their movements stiff and deliberate. All present could see that, as they stood at attention beside their crates, none could keep their eyes off of the Primarch of the IX Legion.

“Your spawn would never disobey you, monster.” She spat at him, “Most of them do not possess the capacity for it. You have ensured that. They are of your flesh, of your blood, and of your mind. Even without your instruction, they perform your heinous experiments. They have followed your example to the fullest. You ought to be proud.”

She stood aside to allow all those assembled to view the evidence she had presented, and the first pair of her Astartes opened the case between them, revealing a revolting crustacean-like thing - and yet one that had once been, unmistakably, the form of a human - an Astartes. “One of the Astartes of the Sixteenth Legion, my daughters.” She cast a hand towards the case, demanding all view the horrid thing within. It had visibly been human, once, but beyond that one could say little. Jagged plates of living tissue jutted out from scarified skin, burrowing through it in places. One hand was missing several fingers; the other was gone entirely, replaced with a finely grafted pincer. The face was, perhaps mercifully, lost in a mosaic of interlocking chitinous segments.

She gestured to the second box, and it too opened to reveal an even grislier sight. Lined with surgical gashes where it was not encased in carapace, it was all but impossible to see where the bestial ended and the human began. Pairs of jointed crawling legs lined the chemically bloated corpse, its original limbs severed or lost in the grotesquely cascading folds of spined flesh. A ghastlier vision yet was the face, a nearly untouched half glaring out in painful incongruity from the aberrant bulk around it.

Her voice was twisted with emotion as she spoke, “I need not burden your minds with what I saw done to her body whilst still ‘alive’ in the laboratories of Carcinus.” Despite her words, all present felt that same dread imposition upon their minds. Hints of the events she refused to describe forcing their way into the consciousness of all present.

Proceeding onwards to the next crate of horrors, she turned once more to the Emperor and her kin. “All of us know the horrors visited by the Ninth upon the citizenry of the Imperium.” She said, almost lifelessly. “His ‘Infestus’, the fell beasts deployed by the Legion en-masse, naught but the very same humans we and the Astartes were created to protect. I do not know what madness could have driven such creation. I do not know why this greatest of transgressions has not been eliminated. But perhaps all within this chamber must be reminded.” She stepped aside, gesturing once more to a crate that opened to reveal what were unmistakably specimens of the Infestus swarms utilized by the Abyssal Lurkers. Jagged chitinous exoskeleton emerged from knotted flesh, jaws silently parted open in what must have been half screams, half bestial roars. As the eye traveled across them, the transition from human to abomination was clear enough to see. The bodies grew ever more distorted with each container, as if to display a cross-section of some surreal evolutionary path that spanned from forceful augmentation to the sinister wholeness of something that had manifestly been born a monster.

She walked to a fourth chest now, mutilated limbs and viscera lining its interior. “The ‘Charybdes’ the Ninth Legion employs - I know not what led to their initial evolution. But this… it is not merely one of their constructs upon the form of the great beasts. The Geneseed of the Sixteenth Legion itself has been altered and used to further distort these things. The Geneseed you created, Emperor, has been warped and twisted, made a cruel mockery of for the implantation into beasts of horrors beyond description. This is but a young, failed implantation I have brought. Far, far worse lies below the ocean waves of Carcinus.” She gestured, and the fifth and final chest opened. If the contents of the previous four had been horrific in their distortion of the human form, what lay there in a mess of tangled limbs was plainly bestial. Its sharp angular body, many insectile legs and layered mandibles marked it as a creature of the deep, but some disquietingly unnatural details betrayed a guiding hand in its growth. No charybdes of the Ninth had been known to have six eyes, nor such odd domed protrusions on the upper side of its body, nor a carapace that subtly yet suddenly darkened when exposed to the light even after death.

She looked to the Emperor and to the assembled Primarchs before her, meeting their gaze one by one. Her eyes hard, her rage a palpable presence within the room. Her expression fell once more however as she moved at last to the cloaked figure. She murmured something, her voice almost inaudible. She felt everything her Astartes did as she felt with all humanity, every ounce of pain, every second of violation and horror, the fear, disgust, despair, and most of all the white hot burning fury that had sustained her life through the tortures of the Ninth Legion. She was awash in its intensity, but even so, she became subdued. “I am sorry.”

The massive, hulking figure gave no audible reply, save a deep croaking sound - what once might have been words had they come from a different mouth. The Primarch paused, golden tears glistening in her eyes, her hand poised to grip the fabric hiding the thing. She lingered, uncertain, but before she could pull it away the beast itself moved. A chitinous, clawlike hand emerged, roughly grasping at the heavy fabric and pulling at it clumsily. Raspy, gurgling breathing that sounded like a grunt of exertion followed as the fabric finally came free, tearing in several places as it clung to what was revealed to be hard, chitinous plates.

It was little wonder that the cloaked shape had been so uneven, for the figure beneath was so warped as to be unable to stand upright. Segments of exoskeletal shell had been fused along her spine, their angles forcing her posture into a perpetual hunch. Her right arm, swollen to a grotesque size and pierced by bony spikes that spread into a grisly simulacrum of a living gauntlet, weighed her down, despite her superhuman strength. The withered, almost atrophic appendage on her opposite flank did little to counteract the imbalance, nor could the stiff, plodding legs and the repugnant flabby extensions that had once been feet hold her straight. Yet the worst was the head, with its unmistakable human eyes strikingly misplaced and lost in the folds of organic chaos.

“One of my daughters.” Eiohsa said simply, though pain and anguish filled her words, turning to the Emperor once more. “On the world of Pyotrskov, the Ninth Legion detected the signatures of Eldar vessels in the vicinity. The liquidation of the world’s population was ordered for their failure to engage.” She paused, a look of hatred passing from her to Sarghaul. “My Legion maintained a small garrison on the world, for it held a strategically vital location. The Sixteenth intervened, evacuating those we could to shield the people from a rabid pack of killers let loose. His spawn persisted in the killing of hundreds of my legion, the destruction of a strike cruiser, dozens of vehicles, and millions of Imperial citizens.” She turned back to Sarghaul, “But as my Daughter has informed me, over a hundred of my Legion were not slain. Rather, they were taken prisoner by his Legion. Taken prisoner and brought to Carcinus, where his Fleshweavers conducted such experiments and tortures I dare not describe, the products of which you see before you.”

As Eiohsa spoke, Prometheus lifted his data slate and began searching through it, looking for the records and reports of the Pyotrskov campaign. He sought to find the truth of the matter before the council descended into madness.

She moved towards Sarghaul once more, “My Daughter escaped your world, returned to me, and told me of your doings. I admit, I did not believe even you were capable of such things - but the evidence was before me. I journeyed to Carcinus, hid amidst your Legion, saw firsthand the horror within your flesh laboratories. The memories I carry with me are of horrors the likes of which would destroy the average mind. What I have brought with me is but a fraction of what lurks beneath those ocean waves. Vast laboratories and flesh pits, from which spawn the bleakest nightmares conceivable by human minds.”

Her hand rested on the handle of her sword as she spoke, and as she did, those same nightmare images beneath the waves of Carcinus flashed through the minds of all assembled. Grotesque, twisted monstrosities of flesh, things born of humanity that ought not exist, and more - the barest hints of the horrors and traumas she had experienced. “I wondered too, how your Legion attained such quantities of material for their vile experiments. I no longer wonder - for I have been told by my daughter that not only the Astartes of the legion upon Pyotrskov were used, but that they were used to create new subjects. One hundred of my daughters were not enough to sustain such horrors for so long. Like father, like son - they have taken prisoner countless human girls and forced the implantation process upon them.” Warp lightning crackled around her being as she spoke, her voice far, far too calm for the events she described. “You farmed them. Like lab rats, your spawn implanted hundreds with the geneseed of the Sixteenth to fuel their deranged mockeries of science. I have seen Imperial citizens taken en masse for these purposes. Astartes and mortal humans both emerging from these chambers of horror twisted and warped effigies in the mocking image of profane arts.”

She turned from Sarghaul now, oblivious to the room as she sought the Emperor’s intervention. “The Legion as a whole is guilty, my Emperor... father, but his Fleshweavers moreso than all the rest. They have visited such horrors upon humanity that were he not your Son himself, we would call upon their kind a crusade so wrathful the very stars would tremble at our fury. His Legion has corrupted and twisted your very handiwork in pursuit of these depraved, evil crimes. These outrages have been visited upon humanity and my Legion not by a foreign power, but one of our own.” She rounded on Sarghaul now, eyes blazing with psychic might. “So tell me, Sarghaul Tartareus, Primarch of the Ninth Legion - where is the man responsible for this? Where is Ormis? I will have the heads of him and every Fleshweaver of the Ninth Legion. Or I will have yours.”

Daena audibly retched as the mangled forms of the Daughters of Iron were revealed, one after another. Acrid bile rose in the Angel’s throat, staining her gauntlets as she brought her hands up to buy time to force it back down. Her meticulous, well-ordered mind was aflame, every facet of her superhuman intellect consumed with dread visions all revolving around one central thought: It is happening again. The crunch of ceramite slamming against ceramite filled her ears, overpowered by the horrid wail that was only produced when two chainswords clashed upon each other.

For the Mistress of the XIVth, the Council of Nikaea did not exist. She stood upon a field of corpses, Astartes felled by Astartes, coursing with rivers of blood. Beneath her, impaled by her spear, was a figure that she would not, could not, name, smiling weakly as their life ebbed out of them. A hand rose torturously slowly towards her, the smile growing as it did. “May all your sins be forgiven, O murderer mine.”

Within the grand chamber, the sound of retching ended as soon as it began. Daena io Azrael rose her head to gaze straight forwards, and there was neither sorrow nor rage in her eyes. “Not yet, Nelchitl,” she repeated in a cold voice devoid of emotion, uncaring for the bile that dripped from her lip as she spoke. “Our Father will tell you Himself when it is time.”

Nelchitl’s head swam. The evidence placed against Sarghaul was damning, but a piece of her wished to refute it. For the Tartarean to bring forth his own evidence to absolve himself of the claims being laid forth by Eiohsa. She warred with her humors as choler and melancholy vied to take hold of her actions at the sights that the Sixteenth were providing. That one could debase humanity, the single most perfect creation to ever exist, in such vile ways filled the Emerald Priestess with agony. With sorrow and rage.

“When better a time Sister?” she began, her eyes devoid of the wild excitement from before, replaced now with purpose, a singular need for violence.

Daena turned her face to look at her sister, the Fourteenth’s impassive gaze now truly a mask, resembling more of a statue than a living being. A thousand different answers swam through her mind, the Primarch’s will focused almost entirely on burying the errant thoughts and false futures clouding her vision. When the galaxy bu- When the claw drips red wi- When my spear once more pierces the breast o- After death and blood and slaughter and be- A thousand horns will blare and a million li- There will be only toll of the bell in reme- “When He commands it,” she said, in a harder voice than Nelchitl had ever heard from her sister.

“It’s true.” Wode said, miserable. “Gods above, it’s true.”

He buried his face in his hands, rubbing at his eyes. He looked up after a few seconds of this, staring at the ruined remnants of the Daughters, etching into memory, like so many other horrible sights he could never forget. Was this his future now? Forced to tolerate a sibling that had engaged in degenerate excess well in above that of even the most deranged Salient merchant princeling?

He had torn down a whole world for less. He looked to his right, where Daena, Nelchitl, and Sekh sat, as if noticing them for the first time.

“Y’know I almost wish I hadn’t been found.” He said, closing his eyes in very real pain. He gritted his teeth, and veins stood out in his neck. He vibrated with emotion he didn’t want to release, but sought an exit irregardless. “I wish Father had killed me when he blew up my tank. I can’t stand this. Who else? Who else would do this? Sully our names and the trust of the people we’re supposed to protect? Turn our nieces and nephews and their own sons into monsters in secret, behind closed doors?”

He sat up, putting his hands on his lap. Tracks of tears ran down his face, surely due to emotion, but his stoic expression betrayed almost none now. “Is Sarghaul the only one? Or are there more?”

Usriel, at the showing of the first evidence, visibly recoiled at the sight of one of his nieces having been mutated in such a manner, even through his helmet it was clear. Yet, he could do little more than continue to watch as, one after the other, further evidence was revealed. It was that great figure, the cloaked one, that brought his motions to an end as his gaze studied each detail of the form of one of his nieces. It was soon that Usriel would slowly move his hands, carefully removing the helmet that he so commonly hid behind, and, for the first time to some, revealed his face to all present at the council. Tears openly streamed down his face as he gazed down upon the daughter of Eiohsa, feeling a great many emotions over such a sight. There was only a great beat of his heart before denial of the evidence redirected his gaze to the accuser and barked out in a harsh tongue, “No Astartes would willingly do this to their family! None! You speak lies to us, speak lies to the Emperor! Our sons and daughters, they are family! This is the work of other forces, I am sure of it!”

It was clear to all that Usriel could do little to hold back his emotions as he wept in anguished denial, “Do you think any could possibly believe that a cousin would do such things to another?! Woe upon any who would believe such lies that come from your wretched mouth!”

The Primarch of the Eighth watched his brother, reacting more to his removal of the ever-present helmet than to the very sights before him, though it could not be denied he was just as sickened by them as Eiohsa appeared to be. Nevertheless, he had seen sights on his homeworld which would turn the stomachs of lesser beings, this simply added the complication of the possibility that they were his distant gene-kin, something he would very much like to believe was not true.

“Sister,” he began in what he considered to be a calm and reasonable tone, his knuckles having turned white by this point, fingernails digging into palm flesh, “we asked you to provide evidence, and it would appear that you have done just that!” Now he raised his arms and gently placed his bleeding hands together in front of him, his emotions barely kept in check on his stoic face, “but how can we take the face words of one who can change her shape and form at will? How do we know it is our brother who has done this, the bad blood between you and he is well known after all, and that a being as powerful as yourself did not come here to fill our minds with pointed visions and… a grotesque menagerie… to bring this bitter feud to an end, once and for all one way or another?”

Kaldun, quietly choking on his rage as the parade of monstrosities was revealed, spoke through gritted teeth. “Not even the Sentinels, as coldly as they view humanity, subject them to the crimes of the Infestus. There is no line the Lurkers will not cross. Family means nothing to them.” He turned his gaze to Kaelianos, his voice slowly returning to its full shouts. “You want the truth? You want more evidence of their crimes! Any Psyker with sufficient skill can see the truth in her own mind! The Emperor will be able to see beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no lie from my sister’s mouth! That thing,” he pointed at Sarghaul, golden electricity crackling up and down his armor, “and his spawn have violated not only Imperial law, but everything that we hold sacred!”

Nimue then chose this moment to speak up, in response to her brother’s accusation. “A shared vision between psykers is no proof or evidence of the Ninth Primarch’s guilt, you Oaf… not to mention The Emperor’s own insight.”

“You dare insult me!” Kaldun snarled, golden lightning now striking erratically around him.

“I would, Primarch of the Fifteenth, if reading the psychic visions of others not being any insurance of truth was not already widely known - besides yourself, it seems.” Nimue snarked at the enraged Primarch.

Kaldun laughed, mockingly. “Of course you say anything to defend that thing. Your own hatred of Eiohsa and her daughters is well known! Even yesterday you were baselessly accusing her of treason!”

“Baselessly…” Nimue seethed. She closed her eyes then, her time fighting with Daena under Sekhmetara’s auspices a reminder of how this has gone before “Yet, no. Our father The Emperor has already spoken Kaldun. You may doubt my words, but you are insisting on doubting him. The Emperor is Truth.” She said firmly, reigning in her outrage with the certainty of the truth she had witnessed for herself.

Off to the side of the chamber, not having moved since the commotion began, Augor Astren and his retinue observed the unfolding pandemonium. Although Kyrius at least appeared to be struck by the appalling nature of the revelations, the small group comprising Mephitor and a number of the Legions’ consuls stood stoically and unmoving as they looked on. More enigmatic still was the reaction of the Twelfth Primarch himself, who had simply continued corresponding with Malcador via his data-lectern, and otherwise was simply gazing blindly at some distant point of space.

‘ have my word it shall be left to the Custodes to handle. This is simply additional deterrent.’ He sent the latest message back. ‘Inform Constantine Valdor of this contingency so that we are not stepping on each others’ toes.’

Understood. Some more typing to the Captain-General, and in the same moment the utterance of “We may be adjourned, but that does not mean you are free to argue with unrestrained commentary of one another’s intent and allegiance.” Even as he said this, it was clear that even the Master of the Administratum was, in a word, disgusted by what he saw of Eiohsa’s evidence. Something inhumane had happened to cause these, no matter their true origin.

Almost absently, Augor motioned to one of his Praetors standing-by near the Twelfth Legion’s podium. The Astartes dutifully stepped near to the Primarch and detached a nerve-cable leading between the back of their armor and a servo skull. The skull in question was unusually bulky - a conspicuously bulky and block-shaped mechanism was hanging like a distended growth out from the bottom of the floating cranium, displacing what would otherwise have been a standard array of repulsors. What purpose the skull was intended for was unclear, but as it drifted near to Augor Astren’s head, the Twelfth Primarch finally turned his empty gaze to the unfolding commotion between the Primarchs gathered in the midst of the Council chamber, and began to carefully scrutinize every small motion they made.

For the first time since Eiohsa had appeared, a voxspeaker was turned on in order to give Micholi’s voice more power without having to try shouting over his kin. “Nimue, Kaldun, before you draw blood… Kaldun, whose mind do you suggest the Emperor peer into in order to find answers?” His tone was devoid of emotion, his expression neutral… even as one of the arm rests of his chair was clearly reaching the limits of being snapped off by his hand.

Kaldun sneered at Nimue. “For once, you speak something that isn’t twisted!” He kept his eyes on her, replying to Micholi. “The minds of the tortured daughter of Iron before us! Everything Eiohsa claims is true! Some of you would doubt my words,” he glared at Nimue, “The Emperor can look into the tortured minds of Eiohsa’s daughter and see that I do not lie!” He spat the last word out at Nimue like a curse.

The presence of the Emperor and Malcador could never be mistaken. The force of psychic might around them permeated their surroundings without significant effort from either party. The third of the triumvirate was encumbered with no such burden of might, the golden spectre who stalked in the shadow of cosmic beings.

When Constantin Valdor stepped from the shadow of the colonnades he was unseen. Golden armour internally inscribed with the names of countless slain foes moved with quiet menace as the cascade of volume threatened to turn to a torrent of violence. There were those who spoke of Valdor as the first primarch, the legion-sire of the custodes themselves. The bedlam which unfolded across the chamber spoke to the lie of this claim. The primarchs were beings of cosmic wrath and pride forced into the bodies of near-mortals. Valdor was the calm in the storm, the wrath of the Emperor forged into glorious golden iron.

The clang of metal on metal resounded through the chamber as the butt of his guardian spear struck the ground, caving through the stone relief which concealed the swiftly erected plasteel beneath.

"Speak your ills, but the next blade to be drawn will die." The tone of the Custodian was unyielding, but devoid of rage, as passionless as the eyes of Valdor which regarded the primarchs in their assemblage. Each had been tried and tested on the anvil of his martial skill upon Terra and each had been found wanting, this was no idle threat, as the Custodian Guard of the Emperor shifted in stance, each but Valdor bringing their spear down in a defensive arc. "You stand in the presence of the Master of Mankind. Act accordingly."

Offering Constantin a respectful bow of his head, Micholi took a breath before he started speaking over the voxspeaker again. “The Emperor has confirmed that Sarghaul is not lying about having no knowledge of this, and I trust his exploration of the mind of the victim before us, and that Eiohsa’s testimony is true. This evidence suggests four possible scenarios to my knowledge… none of which are good.”

“The first is that the crimes against humanity happening on Carcinus are being committed by the Ninth legion without Sarghaul’s knowledge or approval.”

“The second is that prior to this Council, Sarghaul had his memory of events on Carcinus removed, but I suspect if this was the case, the tampering would be noticeable to some degree.”

“The third is that Sarghaul has somehow developed a means or technique of being able to hide information from the abilities of the Emperor himself and is lying about his knowledge… an utterly legendary feat but not completely impossible in theory.”

“And finally, the last is that Usriel is right and that there is some outside force that has managed to infiltrate Carcinus and are committing these crimes on the Ninth’s homeworld in some attempt to frame the Ninth Legion and its Primarch Sarghaul of these crimes.”

Micholi paused for a moment to glance around at his kin and peers before stating “I do not believe that Eiohsa, despite her prior history with Sarghaul, would resort to the extreme of twisting her daughters in this manner solely to frame Sarghaul… even more so because I am sure that all communications to Carcinus are going to be blocked so that the planet can be investigated properly.”

“Your final point merits some consideration, brother.” Augor intoned, still standing at his podium, his demeanor stiff and hunched - but otherwise still unshaken. “The Primarch of the Sixteenth, just a few moments ago, spoke and said she had personally been to Carcinus and born witness to that which transpired there. Perhaps there is additional insight into this matter she could provide us with, given her presence there.”

Augor turned his blind gaze to Eiohsa. “Tell us, sister, what do you think of our brother’s theory? As well, just so there is no misapprehension in this matter, perhaps you might tell us how you came to be there to bear witness without alarming the Ninth Legion.”

Eiohsa looked upon her brother with visible disdain. The Mechanicum’s plaything, a mad zealot whose fanaticism showed no end. She wished to ignore his question. She wished to bring her spear upon Kaelianos, who had insinuated that she could have visited these horrors upon her own daughters. She wished to strike down Nimue who batted aside her grievances with callous disregard. She wished to scream aloud to the heavens, to any who would listen, as the cacophony within her mind shrieked on endlessly, trillions of voices that drowned out the world around her. She remained silent for some time, mustering thoughts before she spoke. “As the Eighth has said.” She began, her words slow and deliberate. “I change shape and form at will. I go unnoticed when I wish, in the guise of a common woman. I can assume whatever form I desire, or create the illusion of such.”

As she spoke, her features shifted and her form changed shape. A Blank would have seen through the facade - but save to the likes of her siblings Kaldun or Nimue, it was as though a fully armored member of the Ninth Legion stood before them. Even to them, or to a blank, an indistinct male Astartes now spoke through the glamour of imitated armor with a rasping, filtered voice, “I infiltrated Carcinus in the guise of the Ninth Legion. That is how.”

Her form shifted back once more to that she had entered with and she spoke once more in a flat, dead voice. “I will not grace the baseless assertions I have done these things to my own Legion with a reply. Know only that further such claims will end only at the tip of my spear. I speak nothing but the truth, plain and unvarnished. I have made my demands. I will let truth speak for itself. Investigate Carcinus if you wish, if they do not try to destroy my dau- further evidence beforehand. The Emperor may hear my words now and know that I speak only that which I have confirmed with my own eyes.” She remained still, otherwise, but it was plain to all that she was restraining herself, and with massive effort.

“Deceiver!” called Usriel, clear anger wrought in his voice and his presence becoming known once more as he glared upon the shifting form of Eiohsa. He continued with a voice of pure rhetoric as he talked to the rest of the Council, “Look upon her! Her form is but a farce, how do we know that what she says is all but a fabrication against the sons of Sarghaul! She could do anything she desired by such changing forms and she could get away with anything! I blame you not for what happened to your daughters, Eiohsa, but I believe you to be falsely accusing Sarghaul and his sons for the actions of another so that you may slight him!”

The Nineteenth Primarch looked between the other Primarchs and stated in a subdued tone, “If she is capable of this level of transformation then her word cannot be trusted! For how do we know if she has-“

A heavy thud reached the ears of all within the chamber, and all eyes turned towards the source of the sound. The Astartes around who the furor had erupted had collapsed, unable to support her own bloated, twisted, warped bulk any longer. The intrusion upon her mind by the Emperor, though voluntary on her part, had been too much for her to bear any longer. She was damaged, at long last beginning to lose her grip upon reality. She tried to speak, but only a choked gurgling sound could be heard. Eiohsa felt what the others could not, however, and she stared in shock and disbelief, paralyzed.

A small part of her had hoped beyond hope that she could save her, somehow. Restore her body, give the woman - Anastasia Irina Nevsky - a life once more. Logically, she knew it was impossible. The traumas and horrors she had experienced were too much for any mind short of a Primarch to bear, and even they could not escape it unchanged. And yet she had hoped against all sanity that at least this one could be saved. She could not stand to fail another. Desperately, blindly, and without cause, she had hoped.

She stood still, unable to move. Her daughter wished for death, death on her own terms. She wished to die with what little dignity remained to her. She had done her duty, fulfilled her promise to herself that she would see the Lurkers brought to justice. And she begged her mother to end her. But Eiohsa could not. Despair weighed upon her mind, tears glistened in her eyes as she choked on her own words. She could not add another name, another one lost on her watch. She had fought for centuries for a better future - and for this? To end more of her daughter's lives? Had she not killed enough? Had enough of her daughters not died by her own hand during the dread wars against the Rangdan?

She watched, unable to move or to speak as she was overwhelmed by the weight of emotion upon her, as her daughter rose. Slowly, painfully, she pushed herself to stand as tall as she could with her warped form. Once again, Eiohsa felt the same plea. End me, mother. Eiohsa wept, for she could not do so, her limbs refused to move, words would not come to her. She had failed her daughters even in this. She could not add another voice to the chorus within her mind. Even now, the pain and agony of the last moments of trillions souls howled within her. And yet to add another as she stood before her here and now… she could not bring herself to. She sensed sorrow and grief from her daughter now, and love - love she did not expect. Silently, she begged for aid from any of her siblings within the crowd.

A crack of thunder filled the council chamber as an object crossed the room in a barely perceptible flash. Anastasia, for all that remained of her, swayed unsteadily before Eiohsa, the blade of Daena’s force spear and several feet of its hilt protruding from her chest where only a fraction of a second earlier had been nothing. Across the room, having moved too fast for Daena or Sekhmetara to stop her, Nelchitl stood. With a leg up on the council table before her, and an arm still outstretched where it had loosed the Angel’s powerful weapon. Nelchitl’s armor gleamed as incorporeal electricity danced over it, her eyes alight for the briefest of moments with the immaterial tumult of the warp. Behind Daena the Doomsayer’s assistant stood, empty-handed yet unflinching.

“Rest now.” the Emerald Priestess stated sorrowfully as the twisted form of Anastasia collapsed in a heap before her gene scion. With the deed done she passed her gaze over Eiohsa, pity at the weakness on display filling her features as she did. Her leg coming down from the table, the Emerald Priestess turned to the golden figure of Constantin Valdor and bowed her head respectfully, “If you deem this worth my life, I offer it now Captain-General.”

Wode stood, his expression solemn. He looked at Constantin, the same man that had beaten him to the ground on Terra so many years prior. “If you kill her, kill me too. I’d rather die than live in an Imperium where horrors like that cannot be put out of their misery.”

Eiohsa stared transfixed in horror. It had happened before she could do anything to intervene or prevent it. Yet - if she could have, would she? A small part of her felt some twisted form of gratitude. Her daughter was at peace now. Time seemed frozen around her as she reached out towards the form of her daughter as she fell. She caught her, blood and fluids spilling against her armor as she fell to her knees beside her daughter. Tears streamed from her eyes as she held her, her expression hidden from the view of those around her.

“I am sorry.” She whispered hoarsely, remaining hunched over the body, oblivious to the world around her.

The gaze of the Custodian Captain-General fell on Nelchitl and Wode with an intense focus, but one which seemed to lack either anger or acceptance. A long moment of anticipation drew onwards as Valdor remained both motionless and silent, before he simply turned to look upon the deceased monstrosities and the primarchs at the centre of it all.

After a respectful moment of silence, it wasn’t Micholi but his Head Librarian Uther that softly broke the silence as he asked loud enough for the daughters present to hear from his position by his Primarch’s side “Did we know who she was? Her name, at least.”

One of the assembled Astartes of the Sixteenth Legion spoke up, her voice thickly accented and her grasp of the language obviously not a fluent one. “Anastasia Irina Nevsky. Former Squad Sergeant of the Sixth Desayta of the Two Hundred and Thirty First Chapter of the Sixteenth Legion. First of three daughters. Mother of one daughter and one son.”

As one, the assembled Astartes dipped their heads solemnly, and the one who had spoken up fell silent as she fell back into line.

Respectfully, Uther bowed his own head in silent thanks as he stepped back into position in turn.

The next voice to speak came that voice of Nodis, speaking in a solemn voice as all the Sentinels bowed their heads to the sight of the fallen Daughter of Iron, “Then may Anastasia Irina Nevsky rest now without pain. May she rest knowing we will not allow such other suffering to any such family. May our cousin rest knowing that we shall bring those who caused this suffering to justice.”

All throughout the chaos that had surged through the hall of the Council, Sarghaul himself had remained oblivious to the outcries and manifestations of disgust rising around him. The gaze of his beastly mask was fixed on the gruesome contents of the evidence crates, now and then shifting between them with slight movements of the head that undulated in almost appraising nods. His fingers occasionally gave a reflexive turn or twitch, as if he were picturing to himself possible improvements or modifications upon the surgical nightmares. At length, however, his eyes snapped up, and after casting an inscrutable look around the chamber rose to meet the Emperor’s radiance without wavering.

"I hold by my words,” he rumbled without expression, “None of them have stepped into the halls of the Fleshweavers, or I would have tasted their blood in the water there. In what crevice they were altered, I cannot say. Know, lord, that I and all my true progeny disavow these works. I have forbidden the transfiguration of the Astartes template, and my will is their will. Any who have conspired to transgress against it will be punished."

He snapped a claw with a harsh click, leaving little to the imagination concerning what form this punishment would take, before pointing a condemning finger at Eiohsa.

"But I will not act on accusations from the likes of her. She has brazenly lied to all gathered here to conceal the crimes of her own kind. Not only did her Daughters engage the Sixth Tempest on Pyotrskov despite being admonished to stand down, they roused the world's populace to armed rebellion."

Malcador interrupted, laying down a data slate. Through the commotion, he had been analyzing the Pyotskov campaign. His eyes studied the abominations briefly while he decided upon his next words.

“Despite what those present may feel, or accuse,” began the Sigilite, though giving Eiohsa a meaningful look. “Accounts from the Sixteenth tell a different story than those from the Ninth. Their perspectives being so radically different, it is of no surprise. According to these reports, however, they indicate that Sarghaul is correct. The Daughters of Iron refused and resisted a lawful order given by the Primarch of the Ninth Legion. The Ninth was engaged in combat with members of the civilian population and the Sixteenth. Though who fired first is unclear.”

Prometheus spoke, his attention drifting to the twisted Astartes. “The outrage these creatures illicit, I understand. However, the facts as spoken by the Sigilite are clear. Your accusations, Eiohsa, are misinformed. Your daughters were not innocent victims on Pyotrskov. That said, if Sarghaul was aware of these… experiments, I would not know.” He turned to his brother Primarch “If I learn that you did have knowledge of this, I will lead the Legions to Carcinus myself.”

The Tartarean’s head remained bowed, his already guttural voice stifled to an even lower pitch by his posture as he answered, “Such would be your duty, as mine would be to bear your penance.”

When Sarghaul spoke a Knight of Awe clad in terminator power armor stepped into the room, the sound of his massive form called attention to him. The crunch of ceramite could be heard from beyond the doors, many more terminator elite had followed. A brief flash of a gesture from Prometheus, battle sign for ‘halt-guard’, stopped the Terminator who took up a guard position at the door but seemed poised to intervene if the council descended into violence.

The creaking shuffle of the Abyssal’s own behemoth steps sounded again as he heavily edged back to look upon the Emperor once again.

"Bid me eliminate this sabotage, o liege, be it rot from within or infection from without,” there seemed to be a renewed firmness in his words to the Lord of Mankind, as if the full of his proverbial obstinacy had now risen like a rock unveiled by the tide, “I will strike when I know the truth, not at the mere word of one who abets treason."

“With all due respect,-” Micholi spoke up, looking at Sarghaul as he rose to his feet “-While I understand the desire to make up for one’s failures… and regardless of if the source of these horrors is internal or external, the fact that they were able to operate on your domain of Carcinus seemingly without your knowledge can be considered nothing but a failure on your part, Sarghaul… The fact that your role in this matter is suspect at this time would mean that leaving the matter in your hands alone might be akin to letting the guilty judge the guilty and decide where the hammer will fall.”

Turning towards the Emperor, Micholi bowed his head humbly as he asked “While it is up to you to decide what measures are required here, I would have to request that an unbiased third party should be leading this investigation…Or, if you deem Sarghaul’s intentions of dealing with this black mark against the Imperium pure and accept his request to handle the matter himself, provide him with agents assured not to be connected to the web of corruption that he will be tearing apart.”

The Verdict

The Emperor, silent until now, at last rose from his seat, quieting the noise of the room as though he were a titan rising from beyond an infinite horizon. Those who were not seated would be compelled to; those who were would remain glued to their chairs as he at last moved forward, Malcador giving up his position to grant his liege lord the stage. Unnoticed in the atmosphere, a single servo-skull reactivated, circling around the back of the hall for its pict-recorder to capture the Emperor’s visage and voice head-on.

“Hear now the words of my ruling.” His expression was clear, devoid of any doubt. The evidence had been shown, and thus He would be heard.

“I am not blind to the needs of the Imperium. I am deeply conscious of them, for it is humanity whom I am most in thrall to - it is the good of all humans which I serve, and thus it is that the decisions I make are considered in great depth, to ensure all of humankind is protected by them. It is why this war council was convened, in truth; for you too are human, my Primarchs and my High Lords, and as leaders in your own right, your voices ring out as beacons.”

“I have seen humanity at its best and at its worst, and so too have I seen the alien in flux. The xeno mind is by definition dissimilar to human thought, more so than any abhuman, and to blindly give humanity over to the alien is to damn it as surely as would letting the human form mutate beyond recognition. It is true, too, that variation of xeno minds is itself variegated - some are incomprehensible, and yet some in theory draw close enough to human-like that one might mould them in our image. This is the concept of the Edict of Tolerance, in practice: to ensure any xeno race under its banner will, after long consideration, become akin to human, such that rebellion against humanity’s will is impossible.”

“The more conscious of Imperial proceedings will be aware that this cannot be so. Even humans rebel against their masters at times - it need only be evidenced by the many smaller fiefdoms of humanity that comprise the remnants we seek to integrate into the whole, each summing the Imperium to more than its mere components, yet too many requiring force to bring them to compliance. This is key: human rebellion may always reach into the hearts of some, be they misguided, seeking personal gain, or simply contrarian. It is through acknowledgement of this fact that we can be ready for the possibility, and it is this reason that I have formed the Imperial Army and the Legiones Astartes.”

“To say that it is therefore untrue that the xeno can be a part of the Imperium is a fallacy. What remains true is that they are not human, and are not afforded the same freedoms by default, but for a race that is inhuman to simply be erased belies the use that can be gained from their cooperation as auxiliaries to humankind. What is also true is that not all xenos can be granted this gift, the chance to contribute to a greater whole than their own selves, for as with the city-states that call themselves human empires, some are simply untenable for how they see us.”

“Nonetheless, some see this Imperium, and recognise humanity as beyond them, and take the chance they are given to bathe in our light. The possibility remains that they will turn their back on this light once more. I know this, I acknowledge it, and I am prepared for it. Woe betide he who ignores my warning or breaks faith with me; he shall be my enemy, and I will visit such destruction upon him and all his followers that, until the end of all things, he shall rue the day he turned from my light.”

“And to you gathered here, my Primarchs, my High Lords, and all their auxiliaries, and all else who bear witness to this message from afar, know this: the Edict of Tolerance may yet fail. It may prove in time that it cannot be maintained, or that it is not practical to upkeep, or that each xeno who falls under its protection shall abuse that protection to strike at the Imperium’s heart. But we shall be prepared for these possibilities, and until such time as they rear up to be cut down, I see no need to alter the dictates of the Edict of Tolerance at present. Neither shall I loosen their bonds, nor tighten their grip as one would a vice; they have, so far, shown to be robust.”

“So too shall I say to my Primarchs, you serve the Imperium as I do. You are granted power and knowledge to do this, and you are trusted by the many souls above you to wield them responsibly. I hear men speak of power and knowledge as though they were abstract concepts to be employed as simply as a sword or a gun. They are not. Power is a living force, and the danger with power is obsession. A man who attains a measure of power will find it comes to dominate his life, until all he can think of is the acquisition of more. Nearly all men can stand adversity, but few can stand the ultimate test of character, that of wielding power without succumbing to its darker temptations.”

"Peering into the darkness to gain knowledge of the Warp is fraught with peril, for it is an inconstant place of shifting reality, capricious lies and untruths. The seeker after truth must have a care he is not deceived, for false knowledge is far more dangerous than ignorance. All men wish to possess knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price. Always men will seek to take the shortcut, the quick route to power, and it is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that will lure him to evil ways. True knowledge is gained only after the acquisition of wisdom. Without wisdom, a powerful person does not become more powerful, he becomes reckless. His power will turn on him and eventually destroy all he has built.”

"It is power you seek to understand through the Librarian’s Crusade. To bring many of a kind together, and to send them forth in the Imperium’s name, to acquire the wisdom necessary to breach true knowledge, and yet in doing so risking recklessness, as if even one Librarian or mortal psyker is to attempt to pursue the quick route to power, calamity could befall all their number, and even those Primarchs who are present. It is not an engagement to plan with a light heart, if ever such existed, and it is under different circumstances, should more of the Astartes be enthused with the idea of gaining false knowledge without knowing its falsehood, that I might deny its implementation outright.”

"It is with pride that I acknowledge the Primarchs who wish to enact it as knowing they are not yet wise. A lack of wisdom is not in itself a black mark, but to know one is not wise and to seek wisdom to correct it is a sign of humility indeed, and a sign that one will show care in their pursuit of knowledge, albeit one must examine that care in depth to ensure one is not misled. The seeking of wisdom is noble, but it is not universal.”

"To delve too profoundly into matters of the Warp is a condition whose perils I cannot understate. This applies not only to the Librarian’s Crusade, which I shall permit in the Imperium’s name, but to the Librarius departments of each and every Space Marine Legion. Henceforth, it is my will that all Legions shall maintain a complementary department of Consuls-Opsequiari, those Legionaries who are proven to have the wisdom to ensure their members are acting in accordance with the wishes of Primarch, Emperor, and Imperium, and to bear witness to their Librarius such that if any should attempt to seek power without wisdom, they will be brought down before their foolishness can bring ruin to their siblings and their charge over the Imperium’s protection and expansion. A suitable complement of Consuls from each participating Legion will travel with the Librarian’s Crusade, along with a certain detachment of my own Custodians, who will report back the findings of the Crusade and allow its progress to be monitored. Should results prove insufficient, further limitations upon the Librarius departments may be implemented. Else, I wish upon the Librarian’s Crusade good luck in finding the wisdom they seek.”

"Before this conclave’s end, I shall but remind all who hear this of one last thing: one need not befriend the alien to tolerate it for its usefulness.”

The servo-skull’s pict-capture ceased, its use ended at last.

The Judgement

The sensation that held the room’s participants in place did not. And at last, a hint of the Emperor’s displeasure showed on His face through an otherwise clear expression.

“Do not believe that I am unfair to you, my children,’ he restarted, even his tone just a touch more stern than before. ‘It is as I stated, that I am in the Imperium’s thrall precisely because its needs require tending, by I and by others, yourselves included. You, too, must place the Imperium’s needs over your own; to squabble over differences that ultimately matter not in the grander scheme of the Imperium’s conquering of the galaxy is to distract yourself from the greater purpose I have in mind for each and every one of you.”

“I shall reiterate once more. I make my decrees with intent to protect humanity and the Imperium, including all present in this hall. I forbid certain technologies, for to utilise them would be to invite doom upon us, even if only one such use exists amongst a macrocosm of possible good. I have denied the existence of false gods, for it is religion that has hindered humanity in the past, and it is with extreme caution that I allow the few cultural practices of the Legions that err toward such hindrance, in faith that they will not be allowed to hold back those who bear them when the time comes to serve the Imperium. The Edict of Tolerance was not implemented without great care as to its form and function, for I am strongly aware that to allow an alien race into the Imperium who seeks our downfall could lead to needless death that could otherwise have been bypassed. And most pertinently, I have disallowed the modification of the human genome, for it is such that the unmutated human form is without inherent flaw, and consequently that Astartes, Custodes, and Primarch alike iterate upon this in ever more particular and beneficial fashion.”

“Each grows stronger than the last. This can only be so as a result of fastidious efforts to make it so, in particular my own. To alter any of these is therefore inviting the possibility of unforgivable chaos, should a given change be less than suited to purpose, and its complexity is such that even I would not entrust myself to follow this course alone, nor any but the most intelligent and conscious of human minds to act in that path alongside me. To modify humanity’s genetic base is already suggesting that it is not already fit for purpose; to then go so far as to modify the gene-seed of the Astartes, whose implementation I arranged with great care to ensure they were beyond rather than merely beneath humanity’s standard, is consequently to suggest that this is not sufficient.”

He turned, very deliberately, to face Sarghaul.

“It is to suggest, my son, that you could do better, with few to none of the precautions I took in my turn, least of all direct oversight. You may not have had influence in this project directly, but it is your example that your Fleshweavers have followed, and it is your lack of awareness of their work that resulted in these abominations against my will, the human form, and your sister Legion alike. Your Legion, in spirit, is you - and you have disobeyed my direct order to you, made so long ago when we first met. You were not to pursue further genetic experimentation, and yet it grows ever more apparent that the Infestus are the end result of such.”

“You are not incorrect to state that truth ought to be pursued, however. There is evidence yet to be gathered on the matter. Evidence that lies in your world of Carcinus. Evidence which, should your Legion learn that it is sought, may be destroyed before it can be verified. Therefore, Sarghaul Tartareus, I compel you. Call your Legion to the world of Advex-Mors, every Abyssal Lurker in the galaxy, and in particular all of your Legion’s Fleshweavers. You shall tell them that a suspected Rangdan resurgence requires investigation and purging if present, and nothing more or less. You shall be stationed on-world, and you shall tell each arrival to stand down and disarm as they are apprehended. Your Fleshweavers shall be held in confinement by my Custodians, and the rest shall remain idle under watch by the Consuls of the Daughters of Iron, until such time as the truth is ascertained.

His gaze burned with the light of a thousand suns as he ended his decree. “If evidence runs against the Abyssal Lurkers, know that I will not be merciful. The investigation will be conducted and led by the Custodian Guard. They will have full authority to conscript whatever forces they require to further the investigation until such time as they have gathered sufficient evidence. The Legio Astartes are not to interfere with this process unless specifically requested by them. Any disobedience in any regard to my decree will not be tolerated.”

The Emperor spoke to all now. “It was my hope, my children, at the culmination of the Ullanor Crusade, that I could return to Terra with good heart. I was confident in you, my children, that the future of my Imperium was safe within your hands. That the Great Crusade could continue on unabated even without me at its head. Matters of import call me to Terra. And I was glad to know that the Crusade would not suffer in my absence.” He surveyed the room unblinking, his gaze harsh like that of an eagle surveying its prey. “It seems I was mistaken. In my absence, and even in my presence, you fight amongst yourselves. You defy my will. Many of you are blind. And some of you have defied humanity itself. It has become apparent to me that I must name a replacement for my authority within the Crusade, lest such civil strife rear its head once more in my absence.”

His eyes alighted upon Daena, and he nodded. “For this task I need one of my Primarchs who has served loyally at my side throughout the years. Who does as I order without question, without complaint. One who truly understands the Imperial Truth in its entirety and has accepted it wholeheartedly. One who will not falter from doing whatever is required to safeguard the Imperium. One whom I can rest assured in granting such great power. Rise, Daena io Azrael, Primarch of the Fourteenth Legion, Doomsayers. I name you Warmaster, and you will speak with my own authority. All your orders shall be followed as if from my own mouth.”

The Emperor stood now, His word decreed. “I hereby call The Council of Nikea to a close.”

[...End Log.]
[Imperial Thought for the Day: Abhor the Malevolent. Suffer not the Abomination. Know thy purpose.]
Plasma Can Bloom

[After the Second Day of the Council of Nikea, Meeting Garden]

The fauna was of something that the likes of Nodis had rarely seen outside the battlefields that he would be deployed to, yet never would have had enough time to properly enjoy it. The Librarian, still adorned in his power armor, walked through it in a somewhat elegant fashion, stepping as lightly as possible as to not disturb the serene feeling of the location. Water from a nearby fountain could be heard, the warmth of what was essentially a greenhouse touched his face as he smiled and closed his eyes. There was little time to truly bask in what the galaxy had to offer, too much time dedicated to war and the conquest of new Imperial lands. However, now, in a brief time after the Council of Nikea had been temporarily adjourned, Nodis could truly allow his mind to be at ease and his emotion to be one other than dull acceptance of the talking Primarchs that had made him glad that he did not have such rivalries amongst his brothers. Truly, there was no greater time for him to enjoy some private peace, to relax in a manner that he knew that his Gene-Father would disapprove of.

Silent bliss overtook him in that moment, closing his eyes to allow for his mind to focus on the feeling of warmth and the smell of plants that had been untouched by war. Nodis breathed out slowly, entering a meditative state as he contemplated the simple nature of his enjoyment outside of his Gene-Father’s sight.

“You are unlike the other gene-sires of Usriel and Usriel himself, Chief Librarian Nodis Solallis.” Came a voice to his rear. Seated calmly on a small bench concealed out of the way of easy line of sight sat Ayushmatki, legs crossed in a comfortable position with a book held in her hand. She smiled, examining him and the garden. “I could list the ways in which you differ, yet it might be simpler to list the only ways in which you seem similar. You are loyal to him. You share a goal in humanity’s unification. And you seem to believe in developing to its furthest extent the capabilities of humankind.” She remained seated, but snapped the book shut, fixing him with a curious glance. “So tell me, how does one such as this survive within the Nineteenth Legion?”

Nodis eyes came open, not suddenly out of shock, and turned to face the seated form of Ayushmatki with his own look of curiosity as if he did not recognize her initially. Then the memory came back to him, the representative of the Daughters of Iron from the council was who he now had the pleasure of speaking with. The Librarian clasped his hands together and his face moved to have a soft smile on his face as he stepped towards the one that had addressed him. “The Steel Sentinels are not as coarse as one might think, they are family. We treat each other as such,” Nodis spoke, his voice light and carried by the same tranquility that the garden provided.

The Librarian continued in his soothing tone, bowing his head to her, “You are Ayushmatki, I am honored to make your acquaintance after having heard you try to smooth over my ideas with Gene-Aunt Nelchitl.”

Ayushmatki nodded to him, “That I am, Chief Librarian. I am glad to have been able to assist in such. The furthering of humanity’s potential, the development of all abilities that could lead to our dominance and security through the stars - such was something I could not permit to be trampled upon. Think nothing of it, it is the duty of any to defend that which they believe in.”

“And yet I will continue to think of it, Ayushmatki. A kindness to me is still something that I must continue to thank you for, after all, we Sentinels do not get much kindness from those outside our legion,” Nodis stated, raising his head to look upon the form of the other. His warm, soft smile permitted as he studied her features, committing them to memory. His gaze did not faulted as he asked in genuine intrigue, “Might I ask what book it is you are reading, fair lady?”

“It is a fictional novel, written by one of the first individuals to step foot upon this world, based upon her initial experiences. It loses its grounding in the facts about a fifth of the way in, and has currently become a rather exciting tale of swashbuckling romance across the stars.” She smiled, raising it in one hand, “You are welcome to it, should you desire, though I do not know if Astartes outside of a small handful of Legions would appreciate it in truth.” After a moment, however, she turned to the original topic. “It is true, unfortunately. Especially between our own primarchs, that there is little love lost between the Nineteenth Legion and many of its comrades. Nevertheless, that is no such reason for it to continue - especially were more of them like their chief librarian.”

“Alas, there is little I can do on such matters,” he said in a warm, albeit disappointed tone, as he stepped closer to Ayushmakti to gingerly take the book. Nodis looked over the cover briefly before looking back at the other, “Though it seems that you may be in such a similar scenario given what my gene-uncles and aunts said to you. If it were my place to apologize for their behavior I would, as such threats should be beneath those who lead us.”

“One would think, yes.” She said, smiling sadly. “Unfortunately it seems the greatest of humanity are often the most cruel and embittered of us all. I confess, I was unprepared for the sheer extent of it when I first arrived. I am accustomed to the sixteenth, and the gulf between her and… most of her kin is alarming, to say the least.” She sighed, “I appreciate your gesture, nevertheless.”

“That said, I still hold out hope for them,” Nodis started with a bit of naivety to him, bringing his hands together as they mirrored each other, “No one is beyond changing their ways, and I guarantee that my aunts and uncles will become better as time passes.”

Ayushmatki raised an eyebrow, folding one leg over the other as she analyzed the man before her quizzically. “You are a very idealistic individual, especially for one of your Legion. Perhaps more so than I had initially realized.” She remained silent for a time after, simply watching him. “Perhaps this galaxy could do with more like you, however. My primarch was as you, once, but the weight of her experiences has worn her down. I am glad there yet remains such within our Imperium.”

“I have learned a lot during my time as an Astartes and Chief Librarian, Ayushmatki. I am but a product of that time,” Nodis clarified, his smile not faltering even as his gaze seemed to go past the woman before he continued, “I admit, I know little of my gene-aunt Eiohsa, though to know that she was once like myself does bring me a hope that I will find those that share my views.”

A thin, pained smile came across Ayushmatki’s face now as she sighed, “Eiohsa… still shares your views, I believe. She is, I would say without reservation, the most kindhearted and genuinely good of all the Primarchs, perhaps of anyone I have ever known. I have seen many people within my centuries, and none of them have held a candle to her. She bears upon her shoulders a pain I do not know if any of her siblings can truly understand, but she continues to press onwards, motivated solely by her conviction to help guide and protect humanity. She has instilled these same convictions and virtues within her Legion, formerly one of the most brutal and callous of all. She has crafted her domain in the likeness of the dream she holds for the future - learning, compassion, a society where all are equal and prosperous.”

“Then she may hold more similar qualities in my father than one might realize, for he too bears a great pain that I know all too well for I have lived through it and the legion is instilled with his own convictions and virtues, our virtues being that of family, home, and vigilance,” Nodis stated freely, his own tone not shifting as he continued to look over her features, “It seems the Daughters of Iron is one of kindness, compassion, and, dare I say, one of true humanity.”

Ayushmatki smiled truly now, and nodded. “I suppose that is one way to phrase it, yes. Her belief, and the belief of the Legion as a whole, is that it is the duty of an Astartes to shield humanity from the horrors of the universe, to stand as an unbreakable wall against the darkness that threatens it and to stem the tide, to be, dare I say, like iron in their defense of the Imperium - and more importantly, the people within the Imperium.” After a moment, she added, “I suspect your Primarch views you and those like you with distaste, then. Or at least some amount of disappointment.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. There must be a reason Father Usriel has not subject me to the hypnomat,” Noids said, his smile faltering but for a moment only to come back as he spoke once more, adding, “Surely, he cannot detest my personality that much should he allow me to continue this trend of mine.”

“It is possible he sees you as one of his sons above all else. The Primarchs are many and varied. Some would as soon execute the Astartes of their legions as tolerate what they might see as insubordination.” Said Ayushmatki, motioning him to take a seat on the bench. “Others might cherish their sons and daughters more dearly than anything else within the galaxy. Primarch Andreth may detest your views, but he may love you even more.”

“If that is so then that is but a single more positive to add to my father,” Nodis said, moving himself to finally sit next to Ayushmakti while still offering a warm smile. His movement was smooth as he sat down next to her, though he allowed his hands to fold into his lap as he did so. The Astartes continued, “I do believe that Father Usriel does truly hold a love for his sons, and even his nieces and nephews. At least, he holds us in higher regard than most others that is.”

“And that, Chief Librarian, is why I am here.” From her coat, Ayushmatki produced a small, neatly folded letter, handing it to him. “Your Primarch and myself are, unfortunately, at odds with each other, and much the same between him and my own leader. I wish to apologize for my antagonizing of him during the Council’s events this day - and more importantly, offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks to him for his defense of me. We do not see eye to eye, and neither do he and Eiohsa - but despite this, he did not allow his own personal animosity or feelings to cloud his judgement or sway him from his beliefs. As such, I would like you to deliver him this letter.”

The librarian seemed to give a look of genuine surprise as Ayushmakti proclaimed her intentions, cocking a singular eyebrow as he looked upon the letter and hesitantly took it within one of his hands. Inquisitively, he asked, “You realize that my father may not even read it if he knew it was from yourself, correct?”

Ayushmatki nodded. “That is why I am asking you to deliver it, Chief Librarian. I would deliver it myself, but I do not wish to provoke his ire further.” She paused, and after a moment, allowed a small smile to break out. “I wish to speak to him to give him - and your legion - a gift.”

“You are odd, yourself, Ayushmakti, for you wish to gift a man who had threatened to kill you and stated he would without hesitation,” Nodis responded, looking over the woman as he tucked the letter into the book. He allowed himself to return his normal, soft smile before speaking once more, “I could count on one hand the amount of times I have witnessed someone attempting to do such acts.”

“I misjudged your Primarch, Chief Librarian. I thought things I now know to be false, and I wish to make amends. I will not pretend we shall become friends, or that we shall even do more than tolerate each other’s existence - but I nevertheless wish to apologize to him, and to thank him. He may wish me dead - but more importantly than that, he did not allow his hatred of me to cloud his thinking, and he stood by me against the Primarchs of the Seventh and Twelfth. He is a man of integrity and he holds to his principles like iron - or perhaps, steel might be a better comparison.” She smiled, nodding her head. “Perhaps I am a strange one after all. But nevertheless, I wish it done, if you would be willing.”

“It shall be done, for I believe that this could be but a simple step into alleviating the great rift that has come between the Daughters of Iron and the Steel Sentinels,” Nodis stated, his smile not faltering as his words rode the air. The librarian arose from his seat before reaching over to pluck a flower from a nearby plant, presenting it to Ayushmakti and saying, “A token of my gratitude for the time we spent.”

With those parting words, Nodis walked away from the human.

Ayushmatki held the flower, her eyebrow raised as she studied it in her hand. She did not understand why Nodis had handed it to her - she was, after all, perfectly capable of plucking a flower herself if she wished to, for some reason. She briefly entertained the notion of it being a traditional parting from his homeworld - but just as briefly recalled the Steel Sentinels hailed from the forge world of Vion 5 and no such plant life would exist upon it. Despite her confusion, she did not dispose of the flower, instead examining it for several minutes more. She allowed herself to simply relax in the idyllic garden for a time before she returned to her duties, the flower to remain resting on her desk while she decided what to do with it.

Plasma Makes the Craftworld Light Up

A set of footsteps echoed down the halls of Nikea, heralding three figures as they made their steady progress towards their destination. The state room of the Primarch of the Nineteenth Legion, Usriel Andreth, loomed ahead. Ayushmatki and her guards from the Daughters of Iron, Kumari and Devaki, approached the guards of Usriel cautiously, Ayushmatki bowing to them before she spoke. “I am answering the summons of your Primarch, honored Astartes of the Nineteenth. May I pass?”

The two honor guards silently looked upon Ayushmakti, clear that words were going between them but they were unable to be heard by the mortal and the other two Astartes. After a few moments one spoke, a cruel tone that only befit a member of the Steel Sentinels washed over them, “You may enter, mortal. Cousins, you shall wait out here with us.”

Ayushmatki nodded to them, then to her guards. “Of course, honored Astartes. They will remain behind, I would expect no less.” After a moment’s hesitation, she stepped through the door, entering into Usriel’s state room. Her first thoughts were that it was not what she had expected - but then, she had not really known what to expect. Usriel loomed within the dimly lit room, and Ayushmatki bowed low to him. “Honored Primarch, thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”

The Primarch, standing in front of the conference table meant for him and his siblings, arms crossed behind his back, had his red gaze down upon the woman. It was clear what his emotion was even if it was concealed by the helmet that he had yet to be seen by most without. His voice cut through the tense air, a cold tone overtaking the air, “You realize the two other Primarchs wish you dead at this present moment, mortal. You are bold to come to me seeking to mend this long standing rift without the aid of your Primarch.”

Silence reigned for a moment as Ayushmatki weighed her next words carefully. “It is true, yes.” She said simply, “And it is true you as well would end me if you could. And yet the reason I stand before you is that, in spite of this - in spite of your animosity to my Primarch, her Legion, and myself… you defended me within the Council. Even though my words were those that enraged you, yourself, you defended me. You held to your principles above your personal dislike for me. That means… it means everything. I misjudged you, Honored Primarch, and I wish to apologize. I hold no pretenses that I may mend the divide in full - but if you will humor me, I would seek… tolerance of each other.” She held his gaze, a part of her mind demanding she crouch low and beg his mercy, one she had wrestled with since the Council had begun. “Honored Primarch, I wish to apologize, sincerely and in the deepest terms, for my actions and my perception of you. Eiohsa is… willful, is perhaps the most polite way of putting it - but I assure you, she will stand by everything I say now.”

Usriel was silent for a moment, perhaps contemplating the words of Ayushmakti or perhaps just allowing the offer to hang for a moment. Nonetheless his tone remained similar, stating with a nod, “Very well, mortal. You will not be ended by my own actions or words for this time. However, I expect a proper apology befitting your place as a the mortal you are.”

Ayushmatki raised an eyebrow at Usriel’s words, a slight frown appearing on her features. “Honored Primarch, I understand what you say - but I remain the Equerry of the Sixteenth Primarch. You are above me it is true, the gulf between us is so great it cannot properly be expressed in words. But I will not debase myself before you or any other. I represent not only my Primarch, not only the legion, but the pride of nearly eight hundred worlds. I will bow to you, I will defer to you, and I will offer you my sincerest, most humble apologies. I beg your forgiveness of my personal transgressions, but I will not disgrace myself upon the whim of any. Strike me down if you would - perhaps I would deserve it.” She looked him in the eyes - or at least, the visor. It was different now. She spoke not as the official delegate to a council - but a single woman standing before a man who transcended the very concept of such.

Perhaps, if he decided to end her, she could resist for a time, but it was a sobering feeling to stand in the presence of a being who not only could wipe her from existence but might choose to do so on a whim. She was without the protection of the Emperor and Sigillite in this chamber, and she felt keenly vulnerable. But even so she stood strong, refusing to back down. She bowed low to him, but she did not prostrate herself, her eyes keenly trained on him throughout. If she was to die by his hand, she would at least assure herself the dignity of seeing it coming.

And there was a thick silence, a silence with an intent of murder as it hung over the vulnerable form of Ayushmakti who continued to gaze upon the form of Usriel. It was a silence that would not last, a near snarl coming from the Primarch, “Ever rebellious you Saravati are, or perhaps just you being afforded the confidence of your post as Equerry. I suppose such an apology will be the best I will get from the likes of you, mortal.” His words did not mask his dissatisfaction, clearly wishing to have seen Ayushmakti know the place that any other mortal would have afforded when apologizing to the likes of Usriel.

“At least you know your place,” he added, his words coming colder and colder as he continued, “Nonetheless, I shall accept your apology, human. If only to avoid furthering the divide between Eiohsa and myself.”

Ayushmatki nodded to him. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Honored Primarch. I do not come bearing words alone, please, rest assured.” She stood upright once more, no longer bowing to him. “I wish to offer you a gift, if you would be so inclined to accept it. A token of not only my gratitude, but that of the Legion. I would not be so presumptuous as to merely request your forgiveness and offer nothing in exchange.” She allowed a hint of a smile, “That is, again, if you wish to hear what I may offer?”

“A gift?” Usriel inquired, allowing a moment of genuine shock to reverberate through his voice before spoke once more, commanding, “Speak.”

Ayushmatki’s smile broadened. “You know of the master artifice of Eiohsa, yes? The wondrous creations wrought by her hand, unequalled by any. Your Legion’s love of plasma based ordnance is well known, Honored Primarch. If you would permit, I have the authority to redirect one of Eiohsa’s finest pieces of plasma weaponry ever conceived by her mind. An enormous piece of ordnance that any Legion would dream to have. It is currently employed by the First Battle Group of the Legion. I would transfer ownership of this fearsome weapon to your Legion, Honored Primarch, as a gift and as thanks.” She smiled, “Of course, there are numerous smaller individual and vehicle mounted weapons if you would prefer such instead, each of them no less beautiful and masterfully created.”

“Very well,” Usriel said simply with a nod, adding, “Such weaponry is ill-suited to the likes of those outside of my own legion. Eiohsa may have crafted it, she may even think herself a genius for its design, but it is me and my sons who truly know how to bring out the power of plasma weaponry. I shall accept this gift.”

A slight chuckle escaped Ayushmatki at this. “I’m sure she might disagree with you on that, Honored Primarch, but she would not deny your mastery of such engines of war. I am sure it will be put to a most beneficial use. Eiohsa can craft more - she is skilled at such things, if nothing else.” She nodded to him. “Once more, Honored Primarch, I thank you. We are not friends, and we likely never will be - but I hope we can respect one another, as we serve the Emperor in accordance to our own principles, to the best of our own abilities. And even if our principles may not align, a man who adheres so doggedly to his own, even in spite of personal distaste, is a man I must respect.”

“Most mortals I encounter are unworthy of my or my sons respect, your ilk is cut of a lesser cloth. Yet, those that do earn my respect, such as the Sigilite do occasionally come to my attention,” Usriel stated coldly, looking down upon Ayushmakti. His head inclined as if to look past her momentarily as he continued, “Yet, you shall be among one of them. Take this praise, mortal, I do not give it often.”

Ayushmatki nodded to him. “I thank you then, Honored Primarch.”

[...End Log.]
[Imperial Thought for the Day: The only foe that may stop humanity is humanity itself.]

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