The Witness

It was the sound of the blood pounding through his body, the whispering shrieks clawing at his throat. It was the roar of the wind hurling itself at the ruins outside, and the chittering of insects burrowing through the earth. Laughter. Hideous, shrill, cacophonous laughter. All this wrought together into an amalgamation of human speech.

A fine gift, and a fine nest to roost in mortal.

The thing, the daemonhost, had three mouths, one for each of the souls it had claimed tonight. It wasn’t using any of them. The words just crawled their way into the Inquisitor’s mind while the mouths hung slack-jawed, and the eyes above them fixed him with their bale-light glares. Below the neck the bodies were fused into one, a blackened and charred thing that writhed and twisted within itself. 

But… I cannot see your face…

Traveller was glad. He could feel his teeth grinding against each other painfully, the coldness of the ward-mask against his skin. The two guards behind him, their weapons trained on the monstrous thing, were similarly clad, and it was some small comfort that the ward-masks were proving effective.

But then again, all daemons lie.

“The Urathien.

Keep it simple. Provoke a reaction. The less you let it know about what you want, the better.

The Urathian. A fine feast. A banquet of fear, hate, sorrow. Crewmembers dead, their blood seeping between bulkheads.  A thousand bodies, burnt, suffocated, broken by toil. New serfs in their place, labouring over the bodies of the old. Generation after generation, hope, dreams and despair. And still none of them knew!

It was laughing now, Traveller was certain of it. Screams, wails, the sound of hacking coughs and splattered blood. The Inquisitor felt his fingers worm around the device clenched in his left hand, the urge to use it surging through his limb. Not yet. Not yet.

“Knew what?”

Knew what? Tell me, Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus, what do you know of the ship that brought you here? What do you know of those that walked its halls before you? What do you know of what it witnessed, centuries before the concept of you came into being?

“What did it witness? The Urathian.”

It ignored him.

You build your vessels so vast, granting them an immortality you can never claim. Aon after Aon they sail the warp, seeing so much, so much and so little.

“What did it see?”

Gods trapped in a skin of steel. How many have my kind liberated I wonder? Freed from the chains of your reality to swim the empyrean as they please. What could the tell you if you just but asked?

“I’m asking now.”

You’re asking me now. Not the poor, poor Urathian. You asked its crew, but what could they tell you? What did they know of their home’s history? Tell me, did they know of Xyloneth?

Traveller willed himself into absolute stillness. Xyloneth. The Ordos already had the name, but a name by itself is useless if you can’t find what it refers too.

Poor, poor Urathian. It outlived all the other witnesses, even as it outlived its builders. The last to have looked upon the world of the sunken tombs, and they are older witnesses still. The only one of the fleet to sail away that day, watching kin that could have lived centuries more unravel before its auger arrays…

His left hand spasmed, activating the device. In an instant the noises, all the noises, were gone. They left behind silence, God-Emperor blessed silence. Silence, except for the hum of the stasis generators.

The flames in its eyes were caught mid flicker, each neck craned at an impossible angle, bulges beneath its skin finally still. The stillness did nothing to dispel its horror.

Traveller backed out of the chamber, both guards doing so behind him. Only once the ward-inscribed vault doors slammed shut. An additional layer of null-fielding was activated. Only then did he remove his mask and activate his vox-bead.

“We got something. Not much, but enough…”

The Inquisitor pauses, one fear waging war with another in his head. As much as he fears creatures like the one he has just seen, there are those among his own kind that he fears more.

“Let the old bastard know where he can pick up his pet.”

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