Sairi Nevara thumped her hands on the ornate door. She was swiftly running out of ideas and patience. She glanced behind her at the huge figure in the corner of the small room, laying motionless as if he were a discarded toy. He had still not moved. Turning back to the door she opened her hands and once again felt for any moving parts or seams, any clue as to how it worked, how it opened. It seemed to be one piece of metal, wrought with screaming faces around one, larger serene face. Under the central face protruded what must be a handle, but it curved up, like a dish.
Fatigue lay its heavy hands on Sairi’s shoulders and she fought for every scrap of concentration she had left. She steadied her breathing, glanced behind her one last time, then closed her eyes and felt the door. She didn’t know how much longer she could do this, and her common sense screamed at her not to use her powers in front of him, but what other choice did she have?
The door felt like it had no history, or maybe too much. Sairi couldn’t get a clear picture of anything. It was like nothing she’d felt before. Sometimes images would be blurry, especially if the objects were old, and sometimes, if it had many owners or had seen a multitude of important events, they would come too fast, as if they were vying for her attention, and it was hard to focus on any of them. But the door felt as if it was fighting her, like it was hiding its story.
He would know. The thought slid into Sairi’s head, pushing her out of her reflection. She gritted her teeth and turned to face the fallen giant, scowling. Her eyes were drawn to the null restraints, checking their position, their integrity, just as she had a thousand times before. She looked over his armour, it covered him from head to toe, the colour of the deepest ocean, its trim glinting a soft gold. He hadn’t moved or spoken since she had restrained him three standard days ago.
The silence and the darkness stretched. The only sounds, her ragged breathing and the soft creaking of the ship.
‘You want my help,’ said a deep and gravelly voice from within the crested helm.
Sairi recoiled, her hand reaching instinctively for her gun. She regained her composure and glared at her captive. Even out of options, with a possible death looming in her near future, she did not want the help of the arch-enemy. It went against all her training and everything she had been taught. There must be another way.
‘Your water ran out forty-eight standard hours ago,’ the astartes said. ‘A baseline human would have approximately twenty four more before expiring. With your modifications perhaps you have a little longer. Perhaps not.’
He was completely still, his voice sounding impossibly loud after days of silence. He was right though. And he knew she knew it.
‘Why would you help me?’ asked Sairi through gritted teeth. ‘And how could I possibly trust you if you did?’
‘If you do not open that door soon, you will die,’ he said. ‘I will not. I will sit here, in these restraints, alone on a dead ship, spinning in the void. I would rather you took me back to your Inquisition than be left here to an eternity of boredom.’
She imagined him grinning behind that accursed helmet but his voice gave nothing away.
‘Besides, if we do not deal with the Door now, you will soon be too weak and this will all have been for naught.’
There was a long moment of silence broken only by the groaning of metal out in the expanse of the ship.
‘Let me at least tell you what it is you’re dealing with,’ said the seated figure. ‘Then you can decide if you want my help.’
‘And how do you know so much about it?’ she demanded.
The head lifted slowly, as if it took great effort, until the green eye lenses looked directly at her.
‘I am a legionary of the Fifteenth,’ he said. ‘You should be more worried if I did not know.’
‘Tell me then. If it makes you feel better to flaunt your knowledge.’
He did not rise to her insult. Instead he turned his head ponderously to look at the door.
‘It does not exist entirely in this realm,’ he said, with the patient demeanour of a tutor. ‘It is a Morrigan Door, a door that eats souls.’
‘Witchcraft and sorcery,’ she spat.
‘You are a psyker, Sairi Nevara. I would have thought you could have determined the nature of the Door yourself.’
‘I understand the history of objects. Not what they do.’
‘Yes, I knew someone very skilled in that art. Once. Long ago.’
Sairi rubbed her eyes with the heel of her palms.
‘Then just tell me how to open it.’
‘You are not strong enough, you need me to help you.’
Sairi took the few steps forward to stand over her captive, hand on her firearm. Even crumpled on the floor as he was, the space marine was an impressive height. The pale eye on top of his crested helmet seemed to stare through her.
‘Just tell me how to open it,’ said Sairi.
‘It requires three keys, items of significance from the one who wishes to open it.’ he replied, ‘Each key represents a part of your soul.’
Sairi’s hand fell to her bags and pockets.
‘The keys could be anything, hair, jewellery, a piece of flesh,’ he continued, ignoring the sharp intake of breath Sairi tried to stifle.
‘Impossible,’ she murmured.
‘The Door will give you a clue. If you let it,’ he said.
‘The Morrigan Door will give you a vision, usually a memory, and within it will be a clue to the key. Three visions. Three keys.’
‘And you expect me to release your bonds so you can lead me into these visions?’ She laughed without mirth. ‘Ahmeit of the Thousand Sons, you can either tell me how I make it work, or you can sit on the floor in chains for the rest of your long, meaningless, worthless life.’
She stared at him, hoping that speaking his name out loud would have the intended effect. After a long moment, he responded.
‘Very well, acolyte. I will tell you.’
Sairi closed her eyes and centred her breathing. She cleared her mind as Ahmeit had instructed and began the thought pattern. It was not dissimilar to her teachings in the Inquisition and she fell into it with ease. She placed her hands on the door.
She cleared her mind and tried again. No vision, no indication that anything was different. What was she doing wrong? Could she really not manage this on her own? No, she knew her worth as a psyker and she knew she was strong enough. The heretic must be trying to trick her. She listened for any signs of movement from her captive.
And heard the wind.
Opening her eyes, Sairi was no longer in the confined, metal cell, but outside, beneath ancient trees. A sodden fog embraced malformed trunks and curled, serpentine around her legs. The psithurism of leaves and hollow calls of unknown creatures echoed unnaturally in the grey-green air.
She stared, standing perfectly still, unwilling to move for fear of the vision disappearing. She breathed the sweet air deeply, damp leaves and rotting wood filled her senses. It was so real. The mists dripped from her face and dark hair and she pulled her cloak tightly about her.
Ahmeit’s huge frame moved to stand beside her, impossibly silent for a hulking giant in armour. Sairi span to face him, the moment of tranquility lost.
‘How are you here?’ asked Sairi.
‘It is a vision, anything is possible.’
‘You are in null restraints strong enough to incapacitate three psykers, you should have no presence in the warp at all.’
Ahmeit snorted softly. ‘It appears I am foremost in your mind, Sairi Nevara. So much so that I am even appearing in your visions.’
‘You’re saying in this place I would have chosen to conjure you?’ asked Sairi, the revulsion showing on her face.
‘The Morrigan Door has extracted this from your mind. It is beyond your control.’ Ahmeit turned his visor, scanning their immediate vicinity. ‘You know where we are then.’
The gnarled trunks stood apart from each other, twisted and at odd angles, tree after tree, shambling off into the distance where they were softened by the mists until eventually they faded from sight. Sairi picked a direction at random and began to walk. She had to believe Ahmeit was only here because she’d been thinking about him. How could a heretic be in this place? But she also knew she couldn’t get caught up in the vision, as much as she yearned to explore she was here for a reason. She was still trapped on a dead ship, she needed the clue and she needed to escape.
‘It is not your homeworld,’ said Ahmeit from behind her. He followed her, neither his feet nor armour making a sound. ‘It is not anywhere I recognise. Curious. And yet you know it.’
‘You would too, if you knew anything.’
Sairi continued to walk. On the edge of her hearing she could make out a rhythmic sound, a deep, gentle booming, muted into melody by the trees and the fog. This really had been plucked straight from her mind. She had imagined this place so many times, carefully working on every detail until it fit her research. To be here was a dream made real. Straining her eyes, Sairi looked for the first signs of the creatures she thought she could hear, her steps quickened and the drum beats rose in volume.
Ahmeit was beside her again, keeping pace. He said, ‘I do not think this is a real place, rather somewhere you believe exists, or existed.’
Sairi scoffed, ‘I wouldn’t expect a monster like you to understand.’
‘Oh,’ there was a hint of laughter in his voice. ‘And why is that? Because I have different beliefs to you? Fight for a different cause? And you think that makes me a monster?’
‘I think you’re a monster because you turned away from His light. You and your kind will doom us all.’
‘Why do you think we turned away?’
Sairi ignored him.
‘You really have no idea,’ said Ahmeit.
‘You’re just a memory of my enemy and I’m not going to talk to you.’
Ahmeit was silent for a moment as they trudged on. When he spoke again his voice was solemn.
‘You are blinded by the light of your Emperor. Just as the lumens from a hive obscure the night sky and stop you seeing the stars. You think that in the light you are safe from the horrors of the void, but they are always there, and though you cannot see them, they can see you. Ignorance is no way to live.’
The creature stepped sedately out of the mists, a black silhouette against the grey clouds, its long, pointed legs raising it to the highest branches, and crowning its lofty head were a pair of high, forked antlers that disappeared into the mists.
Stopping in her tracks, Sairi stared in awe. ‘I knew it,’ she whispered reverently. And then she saw the others, soft shadows in the fog, almost indistinguishable from the trees around them. The ground rumbled with their cloven footsteps, birds careened about them, hooting, and answering calls came from above.
‘You are wrong,’ said Sairi, not taking her eyes from the majestic beasts. ‘The Emperor is the sun. He is life, He is warmth, He illuminates all around us. Your light is the moon, but a pale reflection of Him. You may see the stars, but you cannot see that which is around you. You cannot grow.’
As if her words had power, and perhaps here they did, the sun broke through the clouds, a burning spear of gold into the heart of the world. Where it struck, the fog burned away until all that were left were the ghosts of tendrils. And as the mists dissipated the pyramid came into view. It towered above the canopy, made of red rock veined with white. It was exactly as Sairi had imagined it, but then this was taken straight from her mind.
‘Are you going to tell me where we are?’ asked Ahmeit.
Sairi smiled, her dark eyes sparkling. ‘In my life before the Inquisition I was a Conservator. I hunted for artefacts, learning their histories and piecing together the details. I wrote tomes on what I found. This is my favourite place of all. I spent years out beyond the hives looking for the tiniest scraps of what came before. Of all the planets in the galaxy, you’d think here it would be easiest, but Terra guards it’s secrets well. It took me so long, and is my proudest work. This is the Albia of Old Earth.’
A strange sound came from Ahmeit’s vox before cutting off. Sairi ignored him. He stood unmoving behind her for some time.
‘You are like the ancient Paleo-Conservators,’ he said eventually, ‘Finding only some of the bones and piecing them together incorrectly, inadvertently creating new creatures.’
‘Do you have a point?’
‘What prompted your change of vocation?’ Ahmeit asked.
A shadow crossed Sairi’s features. ‘I found an artefact that set off a chain of events that led me here.’
‘It seems that fate brought us together then.’
She turned to face him.
‘I know what the first key is,’ she said.
The vision dissolved and she was once again in the cramped cell.
The first thing Sairi did was check her captive. The Thousand Son lay exactly as she had left him, a puppet with its strings cut, but she could feel his eyes watching her.
‘Are you ready to abandon your pride and allow me to help you?’ asked Ahmeit, ‘As much fun as it is, watching you fail.’
‘I don’t need your help,’ she snapped, ‘I managed just fine.’
Sairi felt drained, both physically and mentally, but she did not show any weakness in front of Ahmeit. It was a stubborn pride, lodged deep in her bones, that came from her absolute belief in what she was doing. At this point, in this place, she was the face of Inquisition, and Sairi would not let them down.
Reaching into her bags Sairi pulled out an item about half the size of her palm. She held it up, the stasis field around it fizzling gently in the semi-darkness. Inside, no bigger than her little fingernail, was a piece of rock, red on one side and white on the other.
‘Is the chunk of rock worth more than your freedom?’ asked Ahmeit.
‘Are you enjoying those null restraints?’ Sairi countered.
‘Not especially,’ he said. ‘People think that getting cut off from the great ocean is silence, that it is quiet without the intrusion of voices of others and the screaming of the empyrean.’ He sighed. ‘But in truth, it is a wall that blocks your own thoughts in. With nowhere to escape to they are reflected, louder, sometimes in odd ways. Living with the echoes of your own mind is far worse than the shadow of others.’
Sairi smiled at him as she placed the artefact in the dish on the door. Her vision went white.
Quietly, too quietly for Sairi to hear, Ahmeit said, ‘And that is why I ensured I would never be cut off again.’
The air was bright and clear. They were in an open field, the long grass waving lazily in the breeze. Below, in a shallow valley, the last fronds of a squall were blown away, and Sairi saw the sea glittering under an azure sky. Buildings of brightest marble spilled down towards the coast and the smell of salt and spices filled the air.
‘Paradise.’ she whispered.
‘It was,’ said Ahmeit, his voice heavy with sadness.
Sairi looked back at him. He was no longer in his armour, but a simple white robe held around the midriff with a sash of embroidered gold. He stood half her height above her, looking out across the bay. She wasn’t sure what she had thought to see, but she certainly hadn’t expected the sea-green eyes, russet brown skin and dark, shoulder length hair. Ahmeit looked almost kindly, she would have described a man with his features as beautiful. Sairi tore her eyes from him and looked around. This wasn’t anywhere she recognised. Then it dawned on her.
‘This isn’t my vision.’
‘It would appear not,’ said Ahmeit. His brow furrowed.
‘Heretic scum,’ she cried, ‘Tricks, all of it. I should have known. I shouldn’t have expected any more from a wretched, waste of existence like you.’
‘Would you have trusted my instruction if you knew your restraints were insufficient?’
Sairi said nothing.
‘I am trapped as much as you are. And as much as I loathe to admit it, we need to help each other.’
‘And how do I know that’s not more lies? You deceive as easily as you breathe.’
‘Do you think I would have brought you here intentionally?’ asked Ahmeit.
‘And where exactly is here?’
‘Where else?’ he said.
Sairi’s breath caught in her throat and she looked up towards the sky.
‘No. Not that day,’ he said. ‘I was not here that day.’ Regret and sorrow passed briefly across his face. Ahmeit blinked and looked out at the small town. ‘The city is smaller. This is much earlier.’ He stood for a moment before setting out towards a small outcrop behind them with purpose.
Sairi watched him go. She had no desire to be near him. The null restraints hadn’t worked, at least not completely. His mind was free. But what about his body? His armour should still be locked in place, a legionary couldn’t break out of that. But what about a psyker? An influx of thoughts of what he might be doing to her back in the cell hit Sairi like a punch in the gut. She should have made extra precautions. She shouldn’t have blindly done what he’d told her to. But what other choice was there? She knew that death crept up on her, inching ever closer as the hours ticked on. The mission was the priority, she just had to trust she could still complete it.
‘The Emperor protects,’ she said, and then ran up the hill after Ahmeit.
The boy walked barefoot along the trail, smiling at the warmth of the baked earth under his feet. He was dressed in a simple robe of grey and held a slender black bow. Across his back was a quiver of arrows made of the same, dark material, fletched with bright feathers in all the hues of a rainbow. Every few metres he crouched for a moment, closed his eyes and touched his fingertips to the dusty ground. The long grass rustled around him, birds sang in the endless sky and insects chirped out of sight, but the boy was silent. He passed unnoticed amongst the wildlife on the hillside. He tracked onwards and upwards. His prey wasn’t far now; he’d followed it for hours and the hunt was almost over.
He wasn’t sure whether he preferred the chase or the catch more, but he knew he was very good at both. It was an ability that had been noticed, and nurtured. Many people were special here, each in their own way, and their gifts were celebrated. It wasn’t so elsewhere, the boy had been told, but he didn’t think about that much, he was happy, and with the innocent mind of a child he believed these summer days would go on forever.
As his fingertips brushed the ground he anticipated the feel of his prey. But it wasn’t there. The boy tried again, focusing harder. His prey was there, he realised, it was just that something else was getting in the way of him sensing it. It was something so big he couldn’t see the shape of it, filling all the space and drowning out everything else. He had never felt anything like it, even when the Master was performing a great feat. Curious and unafraid, the boy began to walk towards the source of this great power. As he crested the next hill his eyes caught a golden light, far in the distance. At first he thought it was the sun reflecting on glass, but the sun was in the wrong position. As he squinted, he saw the shape of people, and then the Master towering over them all. The boy grinned; if the Master was doing something it would be fantastic.
Frustrated at the lack of detail he could make out with his eyes, the boy closed them and used his other senses. The golden light was so bright in his mind that he could barely make out the Master next to it, burning crimson like a red giant. It must be an unthinkable amount of power, to blot out the light of a star. The boy tried to look into the golden light, but it seemed to go on forever. And then it pushed back.
He opened his eyes, but the scene hadn’t changed. He tried again, looking both with his mind and his eyes. He was ready for the push, when it came he braced, and then pushed against it. There was give, so he pushed further, but the more he pushed the more resistance there was. There was no malice to it, it was like a force of nature, stronger than he ever thought any force could be. Stubborn and naive, the boy pushed on using all his strength. It buffeted him like a golden storm and each inch he gained the strength of it grew exponentially until he could go no further. Waves of power like solar flares barreled into him, they struck his abdomen winding him, knocked his legs from under him, and then one hit him like a strike to the face. He flew back, spinning in the air and hitting the ground shoulder first with a crack of bone. He rolled down the hill for what felt like too long, his shoulder and head hitting the packed earth over and over. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the force of that power in his mind.
The boy lay dazed in the col between two hills. He began to shiver despite the heat. After a time he tried to open his eyes. He cried out. He sat up, wincing from the agony in his shoulder. His left arm hung uselessly at his side. He grit his teeth against the pain and touched the fingertips of his other hand to the floor. He began to weep. Sobs racked his small frame, each one sending searing hot fire though his ruined shoulder, but he couldn’t stop; he wept with hopeless fear. He couldn’t see, not with his eyes, not with his gifts. Blinded both physically and mentally he sobbed in the darkness of his own mind, the tears leaving bright trails down his dusty cheeks.
As the sun began its slow descent the boy ran out of tears. Slowly, defiantly, he stood. He turned until he could feel the warmth of the sun on his face, and then he began to walk. At first he stopped to feel the ridges of the ground every few steps, but he soon picked up speed as his feet felt his way for him. The pain drove him on, turning to anger before that too ran out. He reached the edge of civilisation as the sun caressed the horizon, and stood exhausted and empty, unable to go any further.
He felt the vibration of the footsteps before he heard them. They stopped before him. He turned his head away, humiliated.
‘Be not ashamed, Ahmeit,’ said a deep and resonant voice.
Fingertips touched his face, and as they did a fire rose in his soul. The pain seemed to melt away and his vision surged back, a ruby light fading to embers and then to the cool twilight of the world. He looked up into the radiant face of the Master.
As the sun sunk out of sight and the stars began to twinkle, a cool breeze blew in from the ocean. Sairi sat on the low hills, hugging her legs and watching the lights of the city flare. Maybe if she rested just for a moment she would find the strength to move. There was a celebration going on in the streets between the marble and glass buildings, and she could hear the music and the shouts of joy. She longed to see the golden light again. It was a yearning ache. She’d seen it only for a moment as the young Ahmeit had, but its loss felt like losing a loved one.
A dark shape moved below her. It was coming up the hill, directly to where she was sitting. Sairi watched it with vague indifference, and after a few meters it resolved into the shape of the boy. Ahmeit walked with sure steps and his head held high. His body began to change and swell. The muscles expanded, the chest widened, the hair fell about his shoulders, and he grew until he was no longer human, but something more, a weapon crafted from human flesh. Astartes.
He sat down beside her and mimicked her position, pulling his own legs up and resting his arms on his knees. He looked thoughtful.
‘That was unexpected.’ said Ahmeit eventually.
‘You don’t like reliving your childhood?’ asked Sairi. It was an effort to speak but she kept her voice steady.
‘Some of the details were incorrect. And it is… bittersweet.’
‘Maybe you’re just remembering it wrong.’
Ahmeit looked at her. ‘This is the only memory I have from before my initiation. I would not remember it incorrectly. If I forgot every other memory I have ever had, I would not forget this one.’
‘You need to conserve your strength,.’ said Ahmeit, ‘The Door is sapping energy from both of us to create these visions and you are in a weakened state already.’
‘Then figure out what the key is.’ said Sairi.
Ahmeit was silent for a while, then said, ‘What monster rewards an inquisitive child with blindness?’
‘That’s not how I saw it,’ said Sairi, ‘You were reckless with your psychic powers and you got hurt.’
Sairi laughed. ‘I was curious about the sun as a child, I didn’t look directly into it.’
A wave of fatigue hit her and she sagged.
Ahmeit looked towards the city where the fires above the buildings seemed to spin and whirl in time to the music. The shouts and cheers of people could be heard as they danced and celebrated in the streets.
‘It was never about Him.’ murmured Ahmeit, ‘We were happy because our ruler was happy. If only we knew.’ He shed tears without shame. ‘I have only ever had one master, and I will serve him eternally.’
The vision darkened as if clouds of ash billowed up and swallowed the city of light. Sairi reached for her gun even before the serene face of the door came into focus, she pointed it at her captive but he was no longer there. Ducking instinctively from an attack that never came, Sairi stepped forward and completed a full sweep of the room, facing the door once again.
Ahmeit stood with his helmet under his arm, wiping the tears from his eyes with a gauntlet. Sairi fired a round at his unprotected head. It left a trail of shadow behind it. A tear fell from Ahmeit’s fingertip. As it hit the bowl the world went white.
The first thing Sairi became aware of was her head pounding. Her mouth was dry. She was lying face down on a hard, cold surface. And she was tired to her very soul. As she lay in the darkness she thought of home and the people she had left behind. When Inquisitor Evensar had approached her she hadn’t thought twice about taking the job. She knew more now, and had she refused they would have killed her to keep their secrets. But this was bigger than her, this was the Emperor’s work. Sairi always knew she would give her life for the Imperium if the need arose. Through her work as a conservator she knew what had come before, and she knew the sacrifices the Emperor made to ensure that mankind had a future. If she could help in some small way then she would do it without a second thought. She didn’t believe, like some, that the Emperor guided her. She wasn’t a saint, or a prophet. Sairi was practical and looked only for a way to serve.
Sairi knew where she was. For all intents and purposes she had died here. She had never returned home, or seen her family again. This was the place where her loyalties had been put to the test, and where she had ultimately given her life for the Emperor. Sairi had triumphed through pain and adversity and been reborn into what she was today.
And now she must do it again.
She was dying, she knew. Outside in the ship her body was slowing down. The thirst was killing her and the mental strain of sustaining the visions was sapping what remaining strength she had. But before the end she could serve the Emperor one final time.
Sairi pushed herself to her feet. She waited for Ahmeit to appear, as he had both times before. When he didn’t she tried to suppress the hope that her bullet had killed him. She almost would have welcomed his presence this time as she knew she had to face her captor, the shrouded figure who had abducted and imprisoned her in this facility. Compared to him, Ahmeit was bordering on pleasant company.
‘What do you know of the sphere?’ said the voice of her captor from above her.
‘Nothing,’ she replied. ‘The same as I did the last eight times you asked me.’
It was automatic, as if she were in a dream with no control over her actions. The only difference being this had happened before.
‘You are lying to me, conservator. Do not take me for a fool. Your aura burns brightly, you have power, but not enough to hide behind.’
‘Let me see who I’m talking to.’
Her captor laughed. ‘I see no need for that. I will explain how this is going to work. You will tell me what you know about the sphere and I will consider letting you go. Although if I do, you may wish you had stayed my prisoner.’
Sairi recalled being terrified. She had found the sphere in an old temple on Agria IV, a sparsely populated planet marked as a Death World, non-conducive to human life due to the volcanic activity and resulting ash storms. But people still lived there and had for some time based on what she found. She had assumed it was a temple to the Emperor, the rocks told her nothing and there was nothing but rocks. Nine days in, when she was about to give up searching for anything of interest, she found the sphere. As soon as she touched it she knew it was important. It screamed.
The sphere looked innocent on the outside, made of a simple burnished gold metal with no markings and no visible signs of age, however when she felt it her mind was flooded with images. Eyes that warped and changed and melted together, planets spinning too fast and coming apart, impossible creatures and shapes, pillars of light and darkness, and over it all the screaming. Endless, mindless screaming. Sairi dropped it almost immediately, but the images persisted, wriggling into her mind, blotting out sight and thought until she was sure the madness would continue eternally. Then as suddenly as it started, it stopped.
Sairi remembered lying on her back amongst the rubble, staring at the sky. The position of the sun looked wrong. It was a pale disc, only visible behind the churning clouds for odd moments, but it looked too low. She must have been afflicted for hours. Pushing herself up on her elbows, Sairi looked around for the sphere.
‘Looking for this?’ said a voice from behind her.
She only caught a glimpse of the massive, robed figure holding the sphere before her world went dark. When she awoke she was in the dank cell that the vision had brought her back to. What came next were days of the same question. Sleeping or waking was the same, just darkness and the voice from above. Sairi had no dreams that she could remember, she wondered if the sphere had stolen them. Now she wondered if the sphere was the cause of everything. Had she even escaped this dungeon at all? Maybe she dreamed of being picked up by the Inquisition and her subsequent years of service. Maybe she had been here all along, a slave to her unknown captor and that infernal, screaming sphere.
Sairi cried out into the void, ‘How long is this going to go on for?’
‘As long as I want it to,’ replied the voice. ‘After all, this is my vision, not yours.’
A chill ran through Sairi’s body.
He laughed. ‘Sairi Nevara, you are very slow to catch on.’
‘This has always been about the sphere.’
‘Oh no, it was never about the sphere, that was an artefact my master sent me to find. You just so happened to find it first, and so your fate became intertwined with mine. It was a point of convergence and nothing more. I realised you knew nothing very early on, but I thought I might use you in other ways.’
‘You’ll never use me. I’d rather die than help a traitor.’
Ahmet stepped out of the shadows at the edge of the room. He was wearing the dark robe he’d donned on Agria IV, hood pulled up, a hulking spectre stalking his prey. ‘It is far too late for that, acolyte. Who do you think allowed you to escape? I knew you were no use as you were, so I set in motion the events that would result in your acquisition of the knowledge I required. There were two possibilities after your encounters here, either the Inquisition would kill you, or they would employ you. As you are a psyker I thought the latter might be more probable. It seems my gamble paid off. You have been very helpful indeed.’
Sairi knew she didn’t have much longer, it was getting harder to think, her thoughts felt as though they were pushing through hot tar. ‘Why these games? Why the door?’ she managed.
‘The mind is like a diamond. If you try and punch directly in you will meet resistance. However, if you angle it just right you can see straight through into the heart of it. The Morrigan Door is my greatest creation, and it has cracked many diamonds.’
‘And I’m sure you lord that over your kin.’
‘It is true that my brothers are often vying for power. They fight among themselves, sometimes spending centuries or longer plotting and planning, only placing their pieces on the regicide board when they are sure of their move. Sairi, it is irrelevant to me who has the greatest power. I pay little heed to the continued, failed antics of Ahriman and his prodigal sons. I have only one master, and I am content to serve him as he sees fit. I want for nothing more. This is my place. I am a hunter and a seeker, not a plotter and a schemer. And I am happy. Can you say the same about your place in this universe?’
Sairi dipped her head. There was no point arguing with Ahmeit, his pride blinded him just as it did the rest of his heretical brethren. ‘Do you have everything you need from me now? Will you end this and let me die?’
‘The corpse emperor’s lackeys, so eager to throw their lives away. I have what I require from you. You will fade from existence knowing that you have failed. Failed Inquisitor Evensar, failed the Imperium, and most of all failed your emperor.’
Sairi said nothing.
‘Would you at least like me to tell you how I found you again after all these years?’
She shrugged. She suspected he would tell her anyway.
Ahmeit’s eyes glowed the colour of fox-fire briefly, two pale stars burning in the void of his hood. ‘A hunter can see the shape of the forest. When the prey escapes, they can see the path it took. They see the brush it disturbs, the branches that are broken, the footprints in the dirt. I am a hunter of the void. As the hunter knows the forest, I know the pattern of the empyrean. I see the trail of your soul through the ether, the shining thread led by your mind. And I follow.
‘Some hunters let their prey escape, and then they follow them as they run. They always run back to their herd, or their burrow, and then instead of one, the hunter has as many as they wish. You always run back to your herd. All I had to do was wait, and follow. You were worth a lot to your Inquisition after your escape. I told you just enough to make you valuable, and in turn they told you more, let you in on their secrets. And when you knew what I wanted, I made my move.
‘I am a hunter of the void. And what I hunt is knowledge.’
The Morrigan Door, a masterpiece of ingenuity, constructed both in the physical world and the dreamworld of the warp. A trap made by a traitor to steal memories. Ahmeit stood with his back to his creation and locked his crested helmet in place over his head. He wore it like a crown, banded and gold trimmed. The pale eye atop it shimmered with the colours of the great ocean and the green eye lenses burned holes into this reality.
‘Doors have power.’ his voice was gravelly through the vox. ‘Throughout history people have put great significance into the passing from one place to another. There are legends of standing stones where the landscape between them doesn’t quite match that outside. A place where the barrier between worlds was thin, and a person of great power could see the way and pass through. Anyone else who tried would simply end up on the other side of the stones. Doors are ways in, and they are ways out. They are barriers, psychologically and physically. Doors take you somewhere new and keep you safe somewhere known. They are taken for granted most of the time, but just like the standing stones of myth, someone with the knowledge and skill can perform incredible feats with a door.’
Her hand was still on her gun and Sairi tried to lift it, but no matter how hard she struggled she couldn’t move. She was completely locked in place, lying on the floor where Ahmeit had been. She could feel the icy touch of the warp in the power that held her, and she could smell a faint smell of ozone. Sairi always thought a death in the service of the Imperium would be more glamorous, not lying in the dark while a heretic gave her a lesson on the history of doors. At least she had a weapon in her hand. Again she tried to raise her arm, straining until her vision began to grey at the edges, but it didn’t even move a hairsbreadth.
Ahmeit continued, ‘One story I found described a structure made from a tree that grew in another reality where time passed much faster. Inside it was a hidden door to that world, a way in, yet not a way out. Even your emperor sits before a door, guarding the cradle of humanity from the nightmares beyond, holding them at bay for countless lifetimes.
‘My favourite tale concerns a traveller to a door. They wish to gain access to what lies beyond, however a doorkeeper blocks the way. The traveller asks for access many times and is denied. Refusing to fight the doorkeeper, the traveller grows old beside the door, unable to pass. Right before the traveller dies, they ask the doorkeeper why they have seen no one else at this door. The doorkeeper replies that no other person could ever be admitted at this door, it was made only for the traveller. And then he shuts the door.
‘Quite a fitting tale, do you not think?’
Struggling against the psychic hold he had on her, Sairi wondered what Ahmeit was trying to say. She was dying, she knew that. Dying in front of a door, and Ahmeit was the doorkeeper. But she was not going to stop fighting to get through. I am no traveller, she thought, I am the Inquisition, and I do not ask to pass.
But perhaps there was something to his words. You should always study your enemies and gain an understanding of them. Use their tactics against them, Evensar taught her, and, if you have to, their weapons. If Ahmeit was going to stand there and lecture her, she was going to learn.
Sairi cleared her mind, as Ahmeit had instructed her, and felt the patterns of thought forming. Even in her weakened state it was getting easier for her each time she tried, it felt natural. Ahmeit burned brightly in her enhanced sight, the colour of magnesium over a flame. It hurt to look at him. Streaming from him were ropes of rainbow translucence, looping through the air and around her body and limbs. They pulsed their ghostly light, undulating like the streamers of a bioluminescent creature from the deep. Concentrating on the one coiled about her wrist, Sairi sent all the energy she could muster in one, swift blast. The tentacle shattered like glass, glowing fragments swirling in the dark.
Sairi lifted her hand and squeezed the trigger. The null bullet left the chamber with an explosion of light. Tipped with silver and anointed with sacred unguents, prayed over for six months and inscribed with prayers to the Emperor of mankind, it left a streak of darkness behind it as it spun towards its quarry.
It hit Ahmeit in the thigh. Ceramite armour buckled and fractured, crimson bursting from the ruined plate. Ahmeit toppled impossibly slowly and fell to one knee with a grunt.
The tendrils snapped back over Sairi, double the number there were before. Ahmeit laughed slowly.
‘Oh, very good, acolyte. You are a quick student. I underestimated you.’
He rose ponderously and with great effort. ‘I would take you for an apprentice if you were not so blindly loyal to your corpse emperor.’ He turned. The serene face on the door smiled, and it opened. With a sigh, the faces all closed their eyes and melted into the relief. In their place rose pyramids that turned with whispers like a breeze in the desert. They danced to the side, leaving nothing but a gilded doorway. Ahmeit strode from the room, limping heavily and leaving a trail of wet blood. The Morrigan Door closed behind him and Sairi was released from her bonds.
Sairi Nevara smiled in the darkness.
He is not a hunter of prey, she thought, he is a poacher stoking his own ego. And sometimes when the poacher goes after the herd, there is an armed guard hiding within. The poacher is lured to a time and a place of the guard’s choosing.
The Inquisition have ever been the guards of humanity. Never the herd, always apart. Always watching, always protecting.
The fatigue was coming back, great black clouds of it washing over her body. She didn’t know if she had the strength to fight it off again. Her will was great and she had been trained well, but her physical body still had limits. She reached into her bags and retrieved a small, inconspicuous looking rock behind a stasis field. It lit her tawny features briefly before fizzling out. She held the rock between her forefinger and thumb and concentrated.
The wolf has taken the poisoned meat, she sent to the rock.
It pulsed once with a golden light before crumbling to dust in her hand. Sairi pulled her knees up and rested the gun on them, aiming it at the door. The Emperor protects, she thought, and it was the last thought she had before she slid out of consciousness and into the darkness of death.
About the Author
Jennie works as a software engineer. She lives with her partner and her dog, Fox, and spends her time drinking tea, reading too many books and painting Warhammer models which she posts about on twitter. After running out of stories about the Thousand Sons to read, she decided to write her own.