Oaths And Betrayals

If a job is worth doing it is worth dying for!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

Inquisitor Skane is very pleased with her acolytes. Aenid Fraal, Calpurnia Jemadar and Xanthia (who is wounded) graduate to Trusted Agents, and Rollando Hernandez to Agent. She gives them their new missions and splits the duties of Legate Investigator pro tem.

Before they leave for another long trip aboard the Chartist vessel Misericord, the Inquisitor approaches Aenid as a fellow Adepta Arbites and charges her with the mission of keeping a close eye on Xanthia. Aenid receives classified information, learning that "Xanthia", under a different identity, has worked for Inquisitor Skane for a long time until she was possessed by the Warp Demon Cherubael. She had to be exorcised and mind-cleansed, and the Inquisition desperately needs to learn more about Cherubael, but not at the cost of letting him take over Xanthia again.

Next, Inquisitor Skane visits Commissar Calpurnia Jemadar. She says that thanks to Kaede's recent tip, she has recently learned that the original leader of the Broken Chains rebellion 20 years ago, the heretic traitor Baron Havalier Saeton Ulbrexis, was not in fact executed but kept alive in the Tricorn (the head of the Inquisition on Scintilla). She has been authorized to offer Baron Ulbrexis a deal: accession to the throne after Queen Lachryma is gone. If he agrees to the deal, he will assume the identity of Baronet Aately Vapherra Riksdag. Calpurnia must convince him to accompany the team, and make sure to leave him behind on Sephiris Secundus, whole, free, and in good health, once the mission is completed. The Inquisitor gives Calpurnia a pendant that will give her access.

Calpurnia opens the door and sees a heavyset man in a prisoner jumpsuit, reading The Spheres of Longing, by Gideon Ravenor. He rises at her arrival. He is skeptical of the offer Calpurnia brings, but makes her swear that she will not kill him until he stands on the soil of Sephiris Secundus — even though she assures him she has already sworn to leave him "free, whole, and healthy" when she leaves the planet.

Meanwhile, Narthax visits Capitan Rollando Hernandez. Using surprising and terrifying force, he threatens Rollando and informs him that their master is falling for a trap; Rollando will have to protect her by killing Baronet Aately Vapherra Riksdag before the Inquisitor arrives on Sephiris Secundus. He also orders Rollando not to take responsibility if he is caught, but to report that Narthax ordered and intimidated him into obedience. With bitter sadness, Narthax informs Rollando that they are both traitors to go against their master's will, even if it is to protect her. They are lost souls.

The acolytes take "Riksdag" and the medi-tube containing Xanthia with them, and board the Misericord. greeted once again by Junior Purser Darl. The Beyonders' Quarters have been renovated. "Baronet Riksdag" spends the next few weeks talking poetry and history, and playing Regicide [an equivalent of chess]. He asks about the other Sephirite, Capitan Hernandez, and whether he is the one assigned to kill him. He refuses to believe that a heretic such as he would be allowed to take the throne, and Calpurnia refuses to speculate — or to name her master, except to say that this individual was not responsible for his position at the time of their initial interview.

After a couple of weeks, Junior Purser Darl comes to get the acolytes and takes them to the Twin Captains. The Captains say they know who the acolytes are and could use the help of "the Left Hand". There has been a murder, unusual enough to need that assistance. Without admitting to anything, the acolytes agree to provide whatever help they can.

Under the cover of privacy shields, they are taken to the immense Informatory-Morgue. They are shown a shrivelled, desiccated body; the back of the dead man's neck has been gnawed open, and the cause of death is internal desiccation. The cerebro-spinal fluid and blood were drained; when they open the cranium, they discover that the brain is missing, as is the spinal cord; the inside of the cranium is cleaned to a shiny finish. The teeth marks on the neck look like ordinary human teeth — except that, in Calpurnia's opinion, they are exceptionally healthy and well-cared for, though not augmented. They could be the teeth of lesser nobles. The Commissar identifies three sets of teeth marks, all male, all adult, and middle-aged verging on old. They do not match the dental records of any crew members, but the records are not comprehensive — though the gaps mostly concern less healthy individuals.

Aenid and Calpurnia examine the victim's clothing, a typical crew member jumpsuit (he was a member of the Guild of Lubricars). The jumpsuit is stained with oil, as is to be expected, but the collar is soaked in blood and spinal fluid. They find a few brown hairs, reasonably well-managed (scented and well-cared for), all belonging to one individual. The back of the jumpsuit seems like it was cut by a large claw in the upper left shoulder area, but there is no corresponding mark on the skin. There is no trace of drugs in the blood.

The pict readers were malfunctioning in the area where the body was found. Junior Purser Darl takes the acolytes to examine the location. In the oil and lubricant, Rollando and Calpurnia notice a shoe print different from the crew footgear. In fact, they would have expected more prints here; it looks like the print was missed.

Aenid climbs onto the pipes that form a maze overhead to look for more tracks — and finds another desiccated crew member body! It looks considerably more decomposed than the first one. She (for it was a woman) was wearing a uniform of the Brotherhood of Stability; this jumpsuit was not clawed open but otherwise the marks on the body are quite similar. It turns out that she went missing about two weeks ago at the time of the departure from Scintilla, from a work crew about one kilometre away.

Junior Purser Darl takes them to that location,where they need to get into safety harnesses. A long catwalk crosses a chasm; they have to hook up their harnesses and go over the side. They make their way down to a maze of pipes and frame members. It's difficult to see how attackers could have reached the victim without flying or at least climbing unnaturally well. They find no indication of a struggle, footprints, etc., although there are indications that someone welded here about two weeks ago.

Next, they speak to the crews of the two missing crew members, but no one heard or saw anything. The Lubricar's absence was noticed after about half an hour, the Brother (Sister) of Stability after about ten minutes. The latter's cable was frayed and broken. Aenid asks the Twin Captains to find out whether any other crew members have gone missing, especially since leaving Scintilla; she also asks to send a request by Astropath to find out whether any similar deaths or disappearances had taken place on Scintilla before the Misericord's departure.

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