Nidus lay sprawled beneath the small viewport of the Storm Raven as it descended through the cloud line. Beside Damasious, Mira nudged her lover, her eyes bright with excitement. Damasious smiled in return. Many years had passed since either had set foot upon what had become their home. Like all Battle Sisters they were orphans and had grown up in the Schola Progenium on Nidus. For many it was their earliest memory. They descended towards a Cathedral that dominated an entire continent in the Southern lands. From above it appeared as a city surrounding a single gigantic building lined with spires, buttresses and massive battlements. Stone gargoyles as big as land raiders snarled down from its walls, stained glass windows, some one hundred metres high, showed saints, famous battles of history or the Emperor in all his golden glory. It was a marvel of Imperial architecture one that had stood for many thousands of years and likely would remain so for a thousand years again. Beneath the monument of the Cathedral lay the barracks of several Orders of Battle Sisters, their training grounds and armouries. On the outskirts of the gigantic hall of worship lay huge markets with exotic foods and trinkets. Damasious heart longed to explore them again, as she had done as a teenager. To wander among the enticing smells, to hear the music street performers and the impromptu sermons to the masses.
"Never thought I'd see her again."
Damasious glanced to her right, beside her sat Sister Amendera she had a strange haunted look in her beautiful emerald eyes. Damasious smiled reassuringly, resting a hand on the other woman's forearm though she wasn't sure exactly why the comfort was needed. Though Damasious knew nothing of Amendera's past she guessed from the woman's pristine skin, flawless sweeping beauty and high cheek bones, that she had probably been born to nobility. Her obvious beauty was perhaps the result genetic manipulation whilst still in the womb, a common thing among the powerful. Despite this she was one of the most humble women the Silent Sister knew and one of the purest faith. Her hair was almost always left to fall in natural golden curls to her shoulders framing her features perfectly. Upon her cheek, like all of her sisters, she bore the black rose tattoo though instead of a single drop of blood Amendera had two. Damasious suspected this was significant in some way but Amendera had never mentioned it nor had anyone to Damasious' knowledge ever broached the subject with her. The Silent Sister was sure however that was she able to ask her Amendera would likely divulge the meaning to her alone, the two trusted each other whole heartedly, having saved each other's life on multiple occasions. Amendera was the only other person who knew of Damasious and Mira's secret relationship and she had remained firmly tight lipped on the matter. She, like Mira also knew Storm Fangs sentient nature and she had kept that quiet too. These things combined meant Damasious owed the woman her freedom and she would never forget that.
"Beautiful." Amendera smiled sadly.
Mira glanced at Damasious, her expression quizzical but Damasious shrugged.
Across the cabin another voice piped up, belonging to Sister Freya. Her hair jet black, cut into a naturally messy style that suited her more rounded features. Her most defining aspect however was the Aquila tattoo that covered her eyes and nose like a permanent mask.
"We fight and we bleed." She licked her teeth, "This is why." He tone wasn't malicious, more prideful.
Next to her was the Celestian squad's banner bearer, Sister Rachel, her head bowed and her blue eyes closed. Her hands were clasped at her breast in the sign of the Aquila, mouth moving in silent prayer as usual. Then were Sister's Aurora and Amber, who both appeared to be asleep. Finally on that side of the cabin was Sister Saxa, a woman with a whipcord body and face with dirty blonde hair and an accent so strong it turned all of her W's into V's despite all her time in the Schola Progenium learning Gothic. On Damasious side of the Cabin was Leora, the squads other heavy weapon specialist, without her flamer in hand she always seemed to fidget with something, at the moment it was her robes. Damasious knew the feeling as she too found it difficult to cope without Storm Fang close by, though she guessed Leora simply didn't know what to do with her hands when she wasn't pulling a trigger, whereas Damasious' withdrawal came from something deeper.
Next to Leora was Katherine, a woman almost as quiet as Damasious, she spoke only when spoken too and rarely made a sound even in battle. Damasious sat back in her restraints thinking on Katherine's quiet almost shy nature and a smirk split her lips. Damasious herself was referred to as The Ever Silent because anyone who had ever heard her speak before her Oath of Silence was dead and gone and because for fifteen years she hadn't spoken a single word. Yet she was prone to rather excessive amounts of wordless battle cries and howls when the thrill of battle was upon her and even more aggressive snarls and moans in the heat of passion. Therefore she was far from "Ever Silent", perhaps they should think of another call sign.
"What are you grinning at?" Mira asked noting her partners expression.
Unable to explain Damasious shrugged apologetically.
Mira sniffed, "You should learn sign language."
Damasious raised her hand, clenched her fist, stuck two fingers in the air and then opened her palm and made a rapid chopping motion, a smug look on her face.
Mira snorted, "Combat sign doesn't count."
The Silent Sister rolled her eyes and slumped in her seat. After a moment she turned, her expression accusing.
"I already told you, you're not breaking your oath for me!" Mira whispered so her words were masked by the engine rumble. "I don't know what made you make it but it was obviously important."
Damasious cursed inwardly, she had once sworn that she would not allow any harm to come to her first and former lover Kai. When she had thought the woman dead she'd vowed never to make a promise she couldn't keep though in her distraught state that had turned into an Oath never to speak at all. In time when the truth about Kai had been revealed and Damasious had been forced to kill her that Oath had become something else, a way of clinging to the memory of the woman before her body had been corrupted. Now it was a hindrance to her and Mira's relationship and she had come to regret it but the red head had been stubbornly clear on the matter.
With a jolt the Storm Raven's rapid decent slowed and the cabin tilted gently as it changed direction, heading back out over the Cathedral roof and way from the Sisters barracks. Amber opened one eye, glanced about then closed it again.
"Course correction?" Mira muttered.
"Wonder where we're going." Amendera replied gazing through the view port.
At the very rear of the cabin the door to the cockpit slide open and Sister Allria emerged, robes of ebony trimmed with ermine and gold rustled about her frame. Around her neck an Aquila pendant of solid gold swung from a chain of silver links. Her hair was drawn from her face in a tight pony tail that was high on the back of her head, it seemed to pull her face taught and her stern visage was enhanced by the effect. She swept past the assembled sisters to stand at the exit ramp, her expression a deep frown.
"It seems," she said seemingly to the wall though each woman knew she was addressing them, "We have a welcoming committee awaiting us at another location."
Mira shrugged to Damasious.
"Problem Canoness?" Freya asked.
"Indeed." Finally the woman turned, her brow knotted. "I do not have the detail's yet but an Inquisitor Serene has requested my presence immediately."
Silence met her words.
"It appears the Emperor has chosen us for another important assignment." Her tone hinted at annoyance, her expression betrayed it completely.
Despite her loyalty and honour bound duty to do His will, Damasious still felt a pang of regret and disappointment at not being able to enjoy the trip home as she'd planned, Mira squeezed her hand, reading her mind.
"Next time." She mouthed silently.
Swiftly the Storm Raven swept over the rooftops towards a landing pad that was marked by red I, the mark of the Inquisition.
"Not very subtle." Amendera noted earning a stifled laugh from Mira.
Damasious shifted in her seat feeling eyes upon her, she glanced up and found Allria glaring accusingly from the rear of the cabin. Damasious did not flinch at the withering stare, instead she nodded respectfully but inwardly wondered what Allria was thinking. Did she suspect the Inquisition wanted Damasious? No that wasn't it, Damasious had caught Allria with the same expression before. Was she looking for taint? Canoness or not, the woman was mad or stupid if she thought Damasious capable of treachery. After a moment or two Allria looked away as the Storm Raven began to descend. Damasious flexed her hand, a momentary urge to flick the woman her middle finger behind her back, something she'd seen Guardsmen do on more than occasion to senior officers or Commissars, passed through her head but she resisted. She felt her guts lurch as the Storm Raven descended rapidly toward the landing pad and then with a thud that rattled the entire cabin it touched down.
Sharp cold air filled the compartment as the ramp lowered. Damasious caught the scent of sweet breads on the wind and sighed inwardly. She closed her eyes feeling the cool breeze on her skin. She had missed its touch. She retrieved Strom Fang and turned to follow her sisters out onto the LZ. Allria stalked down the ramp with an almost arrogant swagger, her expression haughty, Damasious knew it was a front to show those who had called her here that she would not be summoned, that she had come on her volition and had she been inclined she could have simply refused. It was pathetic politics in action. Damasious hated all of it, pompous preening. Even some of higher clerics within the Imperial Church were guilty of it. Though the thoughts could easily be considered those of a heretic, Damasious often found herself furious at the idea that those in power spent more time trying to keep it or gain more than they were in keeping the Imperium safe. Billions died everyday fighting so these people could sit in their thrones and argue over taxes and other meaningless dross. That Allria was just as guilty of political manoeuvring angered her all the more, Allria was supposed to the exemplar of faith and a true warrior. The Silent Sister dismissed the thoughts with a growl, a small part of her wishing Canoness Audeniana was still among the living.
Beyond the ramp were several figures. As Damasious' eyes adjusted to the sunlight she found herself staring at the emotionless green glowing eye lenses of several Tempestus Scions. Their carapace armour was white with grey under suits. They wore no regimental or squad markings that she could see, just a gilded Aquila stamped to the dark green casing of their las weapons. Only one of them went without a helmet. His face was hard lined and scarred, not by a single defining wound but my many hundreds old and new scars that criss-crossed his grizzled visage. He was obviously a veteran, his eyes were cold and dark, his hair cut short beneath his a red beret. He carried only a holstered las pistol and power sword and stood with his hands behind his back.
At the front of the group of Scions was the woman who Damasious guessed was Inquisitor Serene. She stood at ease, facial expression neutral. She was a handsome, young looking woman, which surprised the Silent Sister, she'd expected some one older. Her skin was darkly tanned, suggesting her heritage came from a desert world, or at least somewhere with a strong sun. Her hair was drawn off her face to fall over one shoulder in a single jet black braid. Her eyes were like liquid gold and shone with an un-natural and unsettling brightness. Serene's body was encased in solid looking power armour giving no indication of her physique beneath, which Damasious inwardly conceded was a mild disappointment. It was clearly an old piece of war gear, its segmented plates painted the same white as her scions but were chased in silver. Damasious could hear it humming but there was no obvious power source. A heavy and dangerous looking maul hung at her waist and a long barrelled hot shot las pistol on her right hip.
"Shut your mouth or you'll start catching flies." Mira hissed with a stealthy nudge in Damasious' ribs.
The Silent Sister realised she'd been staring and shrugged apologetically to Mira who gave her another hard jab, though a smile creased her lips.
"You are Canoness Allria?" Serene demanded even before the last of the Celestians had fully disembarked.
Allria paused, "I am. Inquisitor Serene?"
"You requested my presence Inquisitor may I ask why?" Allria stepped forward, flanked by her Celestians, chin held high so that she looked down the length of her nose at the Inquisitor.
Serene blinked, "I requested nothing, I ordered your presence and as of this moment you and your Battle Sisters are under my direct command. My authority and my voice are those of the Emperor himself and you will adjust your tone accordingly when speaking to me Canoness."
Damasious smirked, Allria's superior manner lessened slightly, her face contorted in anger for a moment then with a visible effort her expression relaxed. Obviously it had been a long time since someone had spoken to her like that. She nodded, reining in her rage though her fists remained balled.
"As you say Inquisitor," she replied tersely, "What would you have us do?"
In less than two hours the entire Preceptory had been re-armed and armoured. Every Battle Sister had donned her power armour, spoken their rites and prayers. Weapons were sanctified and machine spirits readied for war once again. Aboard the Fidem et Ignis, two decks below the bridge, Serene gathered Gorne, Allria and the Celestians in the war room. In the center was a hololith table and little else. With a wave of her hand Serene dimmed the lumens and a green holo display leapt into view, it showed a system of four planets orbiting a bright unyielding sun.
"This," Serne began, "Is the Thanixx system. So named for the first of the four planets colonised."
Damasious stood a little behind Allria, feeling somewhat comforted by the weight of her battle plate. Mira was beside her, looking every bit as deadly as she did beautiful.
"The other three are Thrasiss, Rupix and Traaken." Serene continued. "For a year this system has been at war."
"With who?" Allria asked, arms folded, expression unimpressed.
Damasious got the impression she was purposefully trying to antagonise the Inquisitor. Stupid posturing again. The Silent Sister looked to Amendera and decided she would make a better Canoness, a true successor to Audeniana. She returned her attention to Serene.
"Itself." The Inquisitor replied. "Our first signs of trouble came from spies hidden amongst the nobility of Thanixx. It's governor found a sword in the mines, something old and dangerous. Thanixx primarily is a mining planet with manufactorum districts thrown in for good measure. A good deal of equipment came from that world, losing it is a bit of a blow." Serene twisted her lip thoughtfully, an odd gesture for her Damasious thought, then continued, "The sword they said may have been tainted by Chaos. Our initial reports suggested the governor had become corrupted. We had no idea how deeply this corruption had spread until Canoness Maria landed on the surface to cleanse it."
Amendera grunted, her expression suggesting she knew Maria. The Silent Sister guessed the two may have fought together.
"Until a few days ago we heard nothing else coming from the system, which is nothing unusual for a campaign of that size."
Serene waved her hand and the hololith image changed to zoom in on Thanixx then to a hive city labelled Thanninhive.
"This was where Maria made contact with the enemy. This is where everything changes."
Allria huffed quietly, reminding Damasious of a child.
Serene either didn't notice or didn't care, she continued, "From information we gained from an individual who was able to escape the system we've attempted to piece together what happened. Almost immediately Maria's forces were engaged by traitors in Thanninhive. Once they reached the governors spire however things apparently went badly wrong. Our witness claims he saw Sisters turning on Sisters."
A murmur of disbelief rippled through the Celestians. Damasious tensed, Mira squeezed her hand and Amendera cast them both an agitated glance before looking back to the hololith. For all three of them the events one year prior on Dessinisima and Sister Emelia's possession were still raw. That these events seemed to have happened around the same time was unsettling to say the least, though likely not connected.
"Can this source of yours be trusted?" Allria snorted, her expression vaguely amused.
Serene smiled but there was no warmth. "He was interrogated appropriately. He was deemed to be telling the truth." she explained.
Allria did not look convinced but Serene carried on regardless. "After this brief battle an announcement was made. Thanixx had a new ruler, our witness claims her followers refer to her simply as the Mistress but he had heard a real name spoken by those loyal to her. Elexyr." She let the name hang a moment, searching to see if anyone reacted.
Again Amendera's eyes grew wide.
"Know her?" Serene asked.
Amendera nodded, "Only in passing. She served as one of Maria's Celestians."
Another hum of murmurs.
"Quite." Serene looked to Allria and smiled again. "At this point it is still unclear how Elexyr came to be corrupted but one thing certainly is clear. In the past year she has gained more and more followers. Her armies, lead by the remaining Battle Sisters, have taken control of every single one of the four planets in system. She claims to be setting them free."
There were a few moments of silence as what Serene was about to say next dawned on each of them. "It's time we put a stop to this madness. She has access to manufactories and mines across three planets and thus a potentially unlimited supply of arms and armour. Thanks to her invading of Rupix, a prison planet, she also has access to manpower numbering in the millions, most of which are likely to have come willingly."
Serene waved away the hololith. "I'm mobilising an invasion fleet. This system is too valuable to lose and more worryingly, if Elexyr is so inclined she could launch an invasion of her own into nearby star systems. She cannot be given any more time to mobilise her forces and move on. We need to stop her at Thanixx. Regiments from the Astra Militarum will handle the bulk of the fighting. Myself, Gorne's Scions and yourselves have another mission. We will strike at Elexyr's stronghold on Thanixx, we will find her, we will kill her and all of her remaining Battle Sisters."