Seated behind his desk, Tern gauged the approach of the lone woman entering his office, and reminded himself that Baldachins did not feel fear.
No, he thought. That icy shiver was the finger of opportunity gliding down his spine, guiding him once more.
‘Lord Baldachin.’ The woman reached his desk and bowed. Her deference to his title made him smile. She offered one of her own, grey eyes pushed to a squint. ‘I understand you wish to speak with me. Valorine Syf, Ordo Xenos.’
‘Yes…’ Tern trailed off, concerned. This Syf was a peculiar creature, soft of feature, short, pallid with bruised eyes and limp brown hair—hardly the commanding figure he’d imagined. ‘Forgive me. You are Inquisitor Syf, yes?’ he asked. A Baldachin did not parley with lackeys.
She mock-examined the rosette pinned to her greatcoat. ‘Last I checked.’ She offered it to him, still smiling. ‘Expecting a war-grizzled veteran? Some dour beard, perhaps?’
Her humour chafed, but he returned the rosette without critique. Indicated the bottle of amasec on his desk. ‘Drink?’
‘No, thank you. I find spirits to be poor bedfellows for headaches, and I’ve been nursing one since before we made planetfall. So,’ she said, ignoring the chair he offered, ‘in the interest of all, let’s cut to the chase. You have information for me?’
‘I do.’ He withdrew the parcel from his desk and dumped the contents before her. ‘Governess Valunkroft consorts with xenos filth. Drukhari, no less.’
Syf frowned at the picts, images of a lithe, armoured woman, the pointed ears and alabaster skin giving her away as one of the murderous wych-brood of Commorragh. ‘How did you come upon these?’
‘I am imprisoned, not dead, madame Inquisitor,’ he replied. ‘Though I am diminished, the name Baldachin still carries weight, and fosters connections with sympathetic parties who would see the Emperor’s justice done.’
A fib, one he impressed himself in the execution of. His allies could hardly be called sympathetic, nor interested in justice. They congregated in the darkest corners of Gespent, toiling on his behalf, seeking to expose the truth and render unto him his birthright.
He was no fool, of course. He knew well of the heretic, having spent a childhood suffering lectures from his deacon mother. This particular cabal called themselves The Seventeenth, and like flies to a carcass, they had swarmed about him, sending ensorceled messages only he could read, hoping to hatch schemes of their own within the bloodied flesh of his pride. Like him, they sought opportunity. They thought him desperate, surely indebted after today; a vector for their whims.
That would be their mistake. A Baldachin owed no one.
He was looking forward to reminding everyone.
‘You shared this evidence with the authorities?’
Syf’s question brought him around. ‘No,’ Tern said. ‘I was afraid to. They have held me for months without cause; what would they do should I give them one?’
‘You would suggest the sanctity of the Emperor’s Holy Arbites is in question?’
‘I would not make so bold a claim were I not convinced of it.’ He leaned forward, stopping himself short of clasping her hands. Not too desperate, now. ‘Inquisitor Syf, please. I fear for the soul of this world—a world I consider as much family as any blood-kin. The legacy of the Baldachins is synonymous with Gespent itself-‘
‘I’m aware.’ Syf took her hands from the desk, folded them behind her jacketed back. Her mouth twitched. ‘You were next for governorship, were you not?’
The question stung like a smarted cheek. ‘I was,’ he said, and he could not contain his bitterness.
‘Yet the people chose Ulina Valunkroft.’
The name soured his thoughts like bad amasec, and put him in a mood. ‘She is nothing but a child, a grubby street urchin with no House ties, no script to her name—no name to even speak of! I tried to make them understand; I canvassed all of Gespent in the attempt. They called me a dissident. Next thing I know, the Arbites are putting me on house arrest.’
Syf glanced around. ‘You could do worse than a manse, Lord.’
‘That is all you have to offer?’ Tern sought patience, but Syf’s treatment of the situation was beginning to unseat him. ‘I give you proof!’
‘Of what?’ Syf challenged.
He jabbed at the picts. ‘Is it not obvious? Valunkroft is a plant for the Drukhari! She bewitches all with this utopia, so they might harvest our world unbeknownst.’
‘Do you know anything of the Drukhari?’
Tern stumbled. ‘What?’
‘I do,’ Syf continued, ignoring his response. ‘They’re exceptional hunters. Hyper-aware. And terribly paranoid. They wouldn’t be caught in the open like this, ever. Not without a reason.’
‘What are you saying?’
Syf rubbed her temple. ‘I’m saying… this headache is killing me, and I’ve heard enough. Yid!’
The doors to his office opened… and in walked the Drukhari from the pict.
Tern’s blood froze. ‘What is this?’
‘She is Ydriga.’ Syf grazed the alien’s arm tenderly. ‘And before you utter something distasteful, know I am quite fond of her.’
Tern fought for words. ‘Y-you conspire with Valunkroft in this plot?’
‘There’s no plot, Mr Baldachin,’ Syf laughed. ‘Ydriga serves me. And I serve the Emperor.’ All joviality faded from her. ‘It was His will that Ulina be made governess, and His vision that alerted me to your scheming with The Seventeenth, who we are well aware of.’ She tapped her right temple. ‘I was the one who requested you be detained. Dream-scrying is imperfect, and I needed to be certain. Now I am.’
She pulled a hardshot snub from under her coat and levelled it at him. ‘For the crimes of sedition, and consorting with heretics, you are hereby sentenced to summary execution. Do you wish to say anything?’
‘You psyker bitch,’ he stammered.
Inquisitor Syf scowled. ‘You are a cancer on His dream.’
‘Damn your dream—this is my legacy !’
‘No. This is,’ she replied, and shot him dead.
About the Author
Vince Salamone is a US-based writer and author of science-fiction and dark fantasy. From 2019 to 2020, he was a frequent contributor to the Kyanite Press Journal of Speculative Fiction, where his stories Sabanae, City of the Gods, and Black November earned cover features. When not freelancing for BookLife as a critical assessor, he keeps busy writing his own stories and reviews, slinging paint at his Warhammer 40k collection, finding new music, and extoling the virutes of iguanas.