Astrid Skane and the Mutants of Synford

(As told by Seer Aristarchus)

Back then we were more or less where you are now - new, and wondering what in the Emperor's name this whole Inquisition thing was all about. There was me - fresh off the Black Ships, Narthax - just seconded from the Divisio Munitorum for some sort of muck that I probably shouldn't tell you about, this feral worlder named Thakka who was some sort of divine ender-of-lives from Lacusta - she had the hairiest knuckles of any woman I have ever seen. There was a priest too - just a novice with a shaved head. I can't remember his name, but I suppose it doesn't matter since by the time we get to the good part of the story he was already dead. There was Torqq the Tech Priest. And there was this hard-assed stone bitch arbitrator named Astrid Skane.

We all damned well hated her by the time we got to Synford. She was an obnoxious, unfeeling, inhuman pain in the ass, let me tell you. Always pestering us to check our gear, get in more practice time, go over the mission briefing again. And she wasn't even the one in charge, it was Litilus - that was the priest's name.

We were one sorry group, let me tell you. At the time no one trusted me, what with the sanctioning brand and all. Narthax complained all the time - he wasn't exactly there by choice and he made sure we all knew it. Litilus and Torqq used to have screaming matches over whether the Cult of the Omnissiah was or was not heretical. And Thakka was just plain creepy - always finding any shadow around to lurk in.

So we got to Synford and - well, you don't have the clearance to hear most of it, but lets just say it was bad. Really bad. You know how bad you think the baddest thing that ever happened to you was? A lot more bad than that. Bad enough that we were pinned down on the run in the ruins of this old hab unit, Litilus had been eaten, and Torqq was looking to get a lot more of his filthy organic body replaced by blessings of the Omnissiah. Skane was gut shot and slowly bleeding out, we were near to being out of ammunition, our shuttle was fragged, and we were counting down the minutes until the whole place got virus bombed, wondering whether the mutants hunting us would get a chance to devour us first. Only Thakka seemed to still be having a good time. She was funny that way.

I was the one who brought up the issue of whether maybe it was time to consign our souls the Emperor's grace before the mutants or the virus bombs did it for us. I thought at the time I was saying something brave, like one of those tragic heroes you see on the holovids, but the fact that my voice cracked probably spoiled the effect, because Torqq groaned, Narthax started swearing at me, and Thakka gave me a look like she was sizing me up for one of her sacrifices to the Emperor.

And that was when Skane stood up. Now remember, she was gut shot - for those of you who haven't had the pleasure yet, and you will - that hurts a lot. But up she rose until she was ramrod straight like she was at some Arbites dress parade. She waved that shock maul of hers in the general direction where the mutants were massing and she said, all matter-of-fact "Lets go."

I just stared at her - I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Narthax started to say something and before you could blink he was going auspex over appetite because Skane smacked him with her maul.

The power cell was dead, incidentally, which is why Narthax was able to get up again after.

She pointed down at the mutants again (they'd noticed her, and some stray shots were starting to come our way) and by the Emperor's grace she looked just like something you would see in a stained glass window in some Sororitas temple when she said "The Emperor's work is not done. Break time is over, and we have more to do." And then, casual as anything, she spit out that bullet that had been lodged in her gut and headed down the hill.

And the rest of us were right behind her. They were just words, and they never sound right coming from me, no matter how many times I tell the story, but I swear by the tarot that at the time it sounded like the voice of the Emperor Himself, reminding us that no matter what we represented His most Holy Inquisition - even if we didn't really understand what that meant - and that if we were going to die in His service we might as well die doing His work.

What happened then? Well, that's a story for another time. Remind me to tell you about it after you have gone through your first warp portal."

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