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Authors: Dan Abnett

Tags: #Science Fiction

Legion (10 page)

BOOK: Legion
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Grammaticus nodded. The agony was immense. He could feel blood running out of his nose and over his top lip.

‘Good. Shere is going to release you. That will be nice, won’t it? When Shere releases you, no mind tricks. Are we still clear?’

‘Yes,’ Grammaticus hissed, his throat bruised and sore.

‘Let him go, Shere,’ the giant commanded.

The squeal went away and took the worst of the pain with it. Grammaticus slumped forwards onto his hands, gasping.

‘Lights,’ the giant’s voice ordered.

There was a brief pulse of telekinetic effect, and several dozen wax candles arranged around the room spontaneously lit, a decent pyrokinetic display. The light from the candles was soft and yellow. It showed Grammaticus a shuttered greeting room, typical of Nurthene houses, with a faience tiled floor and mosaic walls that snagged the candlelight like water. It also showed him his antagonists: an armoured trans-human giant and a standard human in black whose face Grammaticus couldn’t see, even though the man wore no physical mask or hood.

‘Your name is John Grammaticus?’ the giant asked.

‘If you say so.’

‘I can get Shere to start again, if you prefer.’

Grammaticus shook his head. Spots of his blood dappled the tiles around him. “Yes, my name is John Grammaticus. You already knew that.’

‘Look at me,’ the giant commanded.

Grammaticus looked up. The giant was clad in power armour, the metal and ceramic wargear of an Imperial Astartes. The armour was a rich purple with silver edging. Green heraldry had been marked on the shoulder plates. The helm was the very latest, baleen-snout version. Dull red light shone inside the visor slit. To the left of the towering Astartes stood the mind-hooded figure, small by comparison.

‘No,
me
,’ said the Astartes. ‘Look at
me
. Ignore my psyker. Better.’

‘I—’ Grammaticus began.

‘Quiet,’ said the Astartes, raising a massive index finger. ‘You’re going to tell me what I want to know, not what you want to say.’

Grammaticus nodded.

‘You’ve been looking for me. That’s why you keep coming into this city. You knew I’d be here.’

Grammaticus nodded again.

‘How did you know that?’

‘Because we invited you here,’ Grammaticus replied.

‘You invited me here? Who’s “we”?’

‘The Cabal I work for.’

The Astartes turned to look at the hooded figure. ‘Once again,’ he said.

The squeal speared into Grammaticus’s head and made him shriek.

‘What is the Cabal?’ the Astartes asked.

Grammaticus sobbed. He could barely answer. ‘They… I don’t know… they are eternal and… and they…’

‘That’s not really very good,’ said the Astartes. ‘Maybe I should just shoot you.’

‘The Cabal is… the Cabal is the only hope!’ Grammaticus pleaded.

‘Go on.’

‘Please!’

‘Stop it now, Shere,’ the giant instructed.

The squeal died back.

‘Whose only hope?’ asked the Astartes.

‘Mine. Yours. Mankind’s,’ Grammaticus sighed.

‘You’re talking about the Imperium?’

Grammaticus shook his head. ‘Broader than that. The species.’

‘The Imperium is the species,’ the giant replied.

‘You don’t really believe that, do you?’ Grammaticus asked. ‘The worlds you’ve seen, the worlds you’ve been obliged to bring to compliance… worlds like this one, sapling shoots of human culture, cuttings from the root plant. The human race is far, far more than the militant tribe that is spilling out from Terra to accomplish the Emperor’s vision.’

The Astartes drew his boltgun. Grammaticus did not actually see it happen. One moment, the hefty weapon was holstered at the giant’s hip, the next it was in his steel fist, aimed at Grammaticus’s head.

‘Are you insane?’ the giant asked. ‘Are you blind? Look at me. I am an Astartes warrior, oathed to this moment and sworn to serve the Emperor. Why would you say something that sounds so perilously close to treason?’

‘I apologise if that’s how it sounded. I meant no disrespect.’

The boltgun remained aimed at him. ‘You said this Cabal of yours invited us here. Explain that.’

Grammaticus swallowed. ‘Of all the Astartes Legions, the Cabal believes the Alpha Legion to be most receptive to its message.’

‘Why?’

‘In all truth, sir, I do not know. I am simply a go-between. The Cabal wanted the Alpha Legion to become involved in the compliance war here on Nurth, so that it could see the evidence for itself.’

‘See what, John?’

Grammaticus straightened slightly and looked boldly at the muzzle of the gun aimed at his face. ‘What was at stake. The real enemy. Not the Nurthene, but the Primordial Annihilator that holds sway over them.’

The Astartes slowly lowered his weapon. ‘You’re talking about their warp-magick?’

‘It’s not—’ Grammaticus began. ‘May I stand, sir? This floor is cold.’

The snouted helm nodded. Grammaticus rose to his feet. The Astartes still towered over him.

‘It’s not magick. It’s not some fanciful trickery. It’s the visible manifestation of a deep power – a universal, pervasive abomination.’

‘Chaos,’ the Astartes replied. ‘If that is what your masters wanted us to see, they have wasted your errand. We already know of Chaos, and have numbered it in the litany of xenos hazards.’

Grammaticus shook his head sadly. ‘The simplest name for it is Chaos. You’ve numbered it in the litany of xenos hazards, have you? Then you know it only as a child knows the world. It has always been and will always be, and compared to it, nothing – not mankind, not the Imperium, not the Emperor’s mighty design – is of any consequence. Unchecked, it will poison and stagnate the galaxy. Fuelled and driven, it will destroy everything. The Cabal wanted you to see it properly, to see it with your own eyes, so that you would take its message seriously.’

He paused. ‘And it needed you to see it quickly.’

‘Why?’ asked the giant.

‘Because a great war is coming.’

‘A war against what?’

‘Against yourselves,’ said Grammaticus.

The giant Astartes stared at Grammaticus for a moment. Grammaticus heard the dull
click
of his helmet vox operating. A private conversation was taking place. Grammaticus waited. The candle flames trembled. A tiny green house lizard scuttled across the tiled floor and up a wall.

The giant turned back to look at Grammaticus.

‘What is the message your Cabal wants us to take so seriously?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know. I was simply sent here to propose a dialogue.’

The Astartes looked over at the mind-hooded man. ‘I am called for,’ he said. ‘Take him to the parlour and stay with him. Do not allow him to play any tricks.’

The psyker nodded.

The Astartes went over to the wooden gate, unbolted it, and stepped out into the sunlight. Just before the gate closed, Grammaticus saw that the intercoiled green reptiles painted on the wood were dragons, each one with three serpentine heads.
Hydras.

‘This way,’ said the psyker to Grammaticus.

H
E FOLLOWED THE
psyker through the rooms of the house, rambling chambers and hallways that followed no more logical a scheme than the streets of Mon Lo. All the rooms were dark and shuttered, and dust sheets covered the few pieces of furniture. This was a place of convenience, Grammaticus decided, a safe house. He had been meant to open that painted gate all along.

The psyker led the way with a single fluttering candle.

‘You contrived to bring me here?’ Grammaticus asked. ‘You baffled my mind and got me lost, so I could be directed to this house?’

‘Not on my own,’ the hooded man replied. ‘You are a powerful being. We’ve been aware of you, these last few weeks, operating here, shadowing us, watching us. We thought it was time to ask why.’

‘You’re not Astartes.’

The man turned and looked back at him but, despite the candlelight, Grammaticus could still not resolve his face. ‘The Alpha Legion uses any and all instruments to get its work done. I am honoured to serve them.’

The psyker took Grammaticus into a dark sitting room where several low couches and upholstered stools had been brought into use, their dust sheets folded and put away. A golden ewer of Nurthene wine, some small silver-dished mazers, and an earthenware bowl of preserved fruit stood on an inlaid table.

The psyker nodded slightly and the many candles arranged around the room’s surfaces spontaneously lit. The sudden light made a couple of little house lizards skitter into the shadows.

‘I do hate lumen and glow-globe light,’ the psyker said. ‘It kills the darkness. Candles illuminate it.’

‘And darkness is just another instrument of the Alpha Legion?’ asked Grammaticus.

Though he could not see the man’s face, Grammaticus understood that the psyker was smiling. ‘You really
have
been watching us carefully, haven’t you?’ the psyker said.

‘It’s my job,’ Grammaticus replied.

‘Help yourself to wine, to a bite of food,’ the psyker offered, sitting down on a couch and putting the candle he was carrying down on a low table.

Grammaticus poured some wine into one of the silver drinking bowls. He needed something to wash his mouth with, but would have preferred water. As he sipped from the mazer, he focused his limbic system to negate the effects of the alcohol.

He took a seat opposite the psyker. ‘You’re called Shere, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re a gifted pyrokine. It’s a technique that never manifested in me.’

Shere shrugged. ‘You get what you get, John. I’m far more impressed by your particular talent. Logokinetic skill. That’s rare.’

‘You can read that in me?’

‘Of course,’ said Shere, ‘but I can’t understand it. Is it any language, or just specific groups?’

‘I’ve never encountered a tongue I couldn’t master.’

‘Including xenos?’

Grammaticus smiled. ‘They’re not so hard. It depends on the organ they use for speech. I can understand some, but am unable to respond in kind because I lack the necessary biology to manufacture reciprocal sounds. And some are just abstruse. The eldar have a particular verb form that always trips me up.’

‘And you can tell where a person is from, just by their speech?’ Shere asked, deftly switching from Low Gothic to Sinhala.

‘Nice try,’ said Grammaticus in fluent Sinhala, ‘but your palatal voicing gives you away. You are speaking Sinhala well, but I read Farsi vowels underneath, and something else. You are Uzbek or Azerbaijani.’

‘Uzbek.’

‘And the something else, the long diphthongs, that’s a trace of Mars, isn’t it?’

‘I spent eight years growing up in the habitats of Ipluvian Maximal. You’re very good. I presume, as a result, you are very good at reading the truth?’

Grammaticus nodded. ‘I am. It is particularly hard to lie to me, a fact which I hope you’ll mention to your masters when you report this conversation back to them. I excel at recognising truth, so I am not unwittingly conveying someone else’s lies to the ears of the Alpha Legion.’

Shere chuckled. ‘You may recognise the truth, John. We have no guarantee you are transmitting it.’

‘That’s a decent point, I suppose,’ Grammaticus replied, taking another sip from the mazer cradled in his fingers.

‘How did you invite them?’ Shere asked. ‘They’ll want to know.’

‘It’s taken about a decade,’ said Grammaticus. ‘Agents like me have been planting seeds and suggestions for a while now. Using Imperial codes and cyphers, we’ve logged reports and bulletins into the Crusade’s data-architecture, certain things that we thought would tantalise the Alpha Legion. We diverted a few orders, reversed a few command communiqués. Little by little, we made sure that when the time came for the 670th Expedition to request assistance in prosecuting the Nurthene campaign, it would be the Alpha Legion that responded to Lord Commander Namatjira’s plea.’

‘Great Terra,’ Shere breathed, ‘that’s astonishing. The level of influence, of access… the strategy, the patience. Incredible! Such subtle manipulation!’

‘That’s the Cabal’s way, Shere,’ Grammaticus replied, ‘strategy, subtle influence, the long view. They’re very good at it. They’ve always been very good at it.’

‘They could have simply asked.’

Grammaticus laughed. It hurt his bruised throat. ‘That’s not their way! Besides, would the Alpha Legion have said yes?’

‘Not in a thousand years,’ Shere agreed. ‘Look, I’d be careful how I explained that to them, if I were you. The Alpha Legion prides itself on knowing everything. They prize knowledge above all things, and hate the idea of anyone knowing more than they do. That’s how they win their battles. In fact, the only thing they hate more is the idea that they’re being manipulated.’

‘So noted, thank you. I had already foreseen that as a stumbling block.’ Grammaticus put the empty mazer down on the tray by the ewer. ‘You’re no slouches when it comes to manipulation, though. You got me, today. From the moment I entered Mon Lo, you were misleading me, clouding my mind, pulling me to where you wanted me to be.’

‘Well, not quite,’ said Shere.

‘Don’t be so modest, you admitted it to me just now.’

Shere looked up at Grammaticus in the candlelight. His lack of a coherent face was hard to look at, but Grammaticus could read alarm. ‘John, I’m not being modest. Yes, we led you here, but only once we had located and identified you. That was just before you entered the temple square, on Red Monitor Street. Before that, we weren’t aware of you at all.’

‘No,’ said Grammaticus, ‘it was before that. I—’

Shere got up. ‘John, are you telling me that you were being influenced from the moment you entered the city today?’

‘I—’

‘This is important, John! Was something on to you right from your point of entry?’

Grammaticus swallowed. His guts suddenly felt as if they were full of ice. ‘Yes,’ he said.

‘Damn,’ Shere murmured. ‘That wasn’t us. That wasn’t us. They made you.’

‘Shere, I—’

‘Be quiet, please. We may have just been seriously compromised.’

Shere walked over to the parlour door and bent his head, talking urgently into a vox microbead. Grammaticus waited, his head spinning slightly. An awful creep of realisation was coming over him. The Cabal and the Alpha Legion had not been the only forces playing games that morning.

BOOK: Legion
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