The blind man was the only one who saw the captain’s death coming.
As the figure of their commanding officer was torn apart before them in a mist of red and the flash of a shadowed blade, the crew could do little more than sit open mouthed. It had all happened so fast.
The sudden wet, tearing, sound of the captain's evisceration had cut through the relaxed and light hearted conversation of a victorious crew, leaving a stunned silence in its wake. After what seemed like an age the glass that the captain had raised in toast to his crew fell to the floor, breaking the crystal flute and the silence.
Panic erupted in the Officer's Mess hall. Senior Crew began to call out conflicting orders; the alarm was to be raised, the room was to be locked down, the crew were to report to stations and all hands were to belay all that had been said. In an eye of calm within the maelstrom of dress uniforms and spilt dinners sat a man wearing simple green robes. His garments set him apart from the deep colours, rich brocade and well polished medals of the surrounding crew. Slowly he rose, one thought on his mind: "I warned him this would happen."
The figure was the Righteous Slaughter's only passenger, an astropath named Filidus Questor. Within the hood that shrouded his long-empty eye sockets the creases of a gaunt, well worn, face could be seen. His presence on board had initially unnerved the crew, his near skeletal figure wandering quietly around the decks, staring at the crew with those vacant shallows where his eyes had once been. It wasn’t the fact that Questor was an astropath that bothered the crew (a small astropathic choir were stationed on the ship to maintain communication with Naval Command) it was his attitude.
Questor had resigned himself to the fact that his life was likely to be very short and very hard and this early acceptance of his place in the universe had brought out a very dry and somewhat dark sense of humour. He was unafraid to say what he thought, to question those who were often considered beyond reproach and to state what he felt needed to be said. Allowances were often made for his behaviour only because of his rank and station but it was his interfering behaviour that unnerved the disciplined and ordered crew around him.
* * * * *
“Captain, men are disappearing from your ship.”
The Captain hadn’t even turned around from perusing his bookshelf.
“Captain. I have been given the freedom of your vessel during my journey and for this I thank you...” Questor began again.
“Yes, yes.” The words were accompanied by a dismissive wave of his gloved hand. He still hadn’t turned around.
The astropath continued “...and I have taken the opportunity to wander around and take in the true splendour of the vessel...” Perhaps flattery would work.
“The treatise of War Marshal Greal...hmmmm...” He was lost in his books once more.
“SIR!” Questor raised his raspy, dry voice as loudly as he could, invoking a coughing fit but regaining the officer’s attention once more. He had to swallow hard before continuing.
“I have learnt that on all decks I have visited men have disappeared. Some reports say it has occurred before witnesses. Something is happening on your ship!”
Captain Piaculum was a fair man, brutal towards his foes, unforgiving of failure but keen to reward true excellence in his staff. In the recent campaign against the Eldar the Righteous Slaughter had led a squadron of destroyers in a counter attack against one of the main alien vessels. In the opinions of many observers this had directly led to the rout of the entire alien fleet. The Captain was guaranteed a commendation for his performance, and possibly a promotion. He would have acceptance speeches to write, military histories to contribute to, dinners and soirees to attend. Space travel was a dangerous business, and even though as a Cobra class Destroyer his command could be considered one of the smaller ships of the line, rarely did a day go past without an injury or death by some accident or misadventure. The matter that this passenger was fussing over was nothing more than a trifle. Some weaker elements of the crew, possibly after complaining of “exhaustion”, had fallen foul of their own incompetence and now this ex-lackey of the inquisition was trying to interfere with the day to day running of his ship. Questor was well connected and, as much as Piaculum would have liked, he couldn’t just be dismissed out of hand.
“Very well Master Astropath, I shall have the matter investigated.” The Captain frowned. His first editions were not in the correct order.
Questor knew a brush off when he heard it and with a snort of disgust he turned to leave, tapping his staff before him.
“Oh, and Master Astropath, don’t forget the surprise dinner the officers are throwing me in the mess hall. We wouldn’t want you to spend your entire time with us sat in your room with only the Emperor’s Tarot for company, would we?”
He also knew an order when he heard it.
* * * * *
Questor was one with the room. Within this space, centred and focused, nothing escaped his attention. Harsh words were being shouted by angry, confused men and women. He felt their thoughts, smelt their fear and anger. Some were starting to attribute blame; to old enemies, underlings, superiors, anyone they could name. Many were asking the two questions foremost in Questor's mind; how and why?
He needed to act as swiftly as possible. If a man died aboard ship in the Warp a portion of him remained for a time, held in by the ship's protective Gellar Field. But not in this case. The Captain wasn't just dead, his soul had been taken.
Authour of "The Brutal Lament" - Finalist in the 2009 Dark Heresy Scenario Competition
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