Part 7 of the Matroyshka series. I have been a tad lax in getting these up, I will try and get the rest of the story out much quicker. Enjoy
“No psyker can do that. None. I don’t care how powerful she is.” The woman’s voice sounded shaky as it echoed in the dank hall outside. In the cell, still strapped to her cot, Vhuna felt woozy – that injection they’d given her again, no doubt – but she could tell the woman was scared. Why? What had happened? And who was this powerful psyker they were talking about? It wasn’t her, that was for sure. Her own ability – her curse – was as far from powerful as Vhuna was from home.
“It’s not her that’s doing it.” The voice of the Matrona. Vhuna knew her. She hated her.
“It doesn’t matter. No psyker is strong enough to bring themselves back from the dead. Not even an Alpha psyker could do that. Even the Holy God Emperor himself needs – well, you know.” The woman’s voice had dropped to a whisper and Vhuna could barely hear her.
“You don’t understand, Preceptor. It’s not her that’s doing it, you see? We think –“
“I need to think about this. This is too much. This is too much. I need – I need, yes, I need to think. Perhaps – yes, perhaps His Eminence will know what to do. That’s it. Keep her here for now. I – we need to move quickly. That much is clear. This is – this is too much.”
Vhuna saw the other woman’s – the Preceptor’s – face appear once more at the hatch, drawn and narrow, with ink-stain eyes. Those eyes looked at Vhuna intently as the Preceptor spoke again, but she wasn’t speaking to Vhuna. “What happens if you kill the man – this Fendahl? Tell me, have you tried that?” The Preceptor drew in a deep breath. “Maybe there are more.”
“Do you remember me?” Koju’s hand went to the limiter at his neck. “I said, do you remember me?”
The Boy glanced at the bolt pistol that was shaking slightly in Koju’s left hand, and then looked down at the Cadet Commissar’s gore-drenched boots.
“Don’t touch me,” he said.
“I’m not going to –“
“I don’t like it here. I’ve been good. Haven’t I?”
“You have, Boy. Very good.”
“I want to go home.”
“We’ll –“ Koju cursed himself silently. “We’ll get you home, Boy. First – those.”
The Boy turned and looked up at the ravening hordes swarming over and around the sand-bag wall. He lowered his head again.
“You’re lying. I’ve been good.”
He began to walk slowly towards the xenos. Pale, argent light shone briefly from the rocky plateau behind him as his small footprints faded away into the night.
Koju wiped sweat and ichor away from his face with a cloth from his pocket. He started following the Boy, as the cliff-edge ahead of him erupted in silent, silver fury.
“Welcome back, Fledgling Vhuna. It’s been about two days.” The man’s familiar voice was soft and soothing.
Vhuna closed her eyes again. Dornal, that was his name. Master Dornal. Her mentor. Her tormentor. Her regular executioner. Even after enduring two years in the Scholastia the after-effects of the killing draught still left her woozy and thick-headed. His promises to find something less nauseating had evaporated a long time ago, accompanied by Vhuna’s hopes of ever leaving this place.
She tried to remember what experiment it had been this time, but her mind was still fogged. Two days? That was a damned long time for her to be away, although as far as she was concerned Dornal had given her the injection moments ago. What had been happening for two whole days? And then she remembered what it was Dornal had finally been authorised to do.
“So. Did you really go through with it? Pluck up the courage? Did you go past Marotte?”
Vhuna’s eyes snapped open and she struggled to bring her mind into focus.
“Really? You met Six? And is she – is he –?”
Dornal smiled through his heavy beard. “Yes. He is. He is the last. He is the centre. The source. He is the spring from which the rest of you flow. I went through Fendahl, and the Boy and the others we knew about.” He stopped, shaking his head. “Marotte tried – I mean really tried – to stop me moving past him. Damn, he’s a strong one. I had to get some serious help – you wouldn’t believe who we’d had in here even if I told you, girl – but we got past him. Well, let’s not beat about the bush. We killed him, eventually, and he vanished and I got to meet Number Six. And then we had quite a long chat.”
Vhuna stared up at the ceiling. Questions flooded her mind. So many questions. So few answers, until now.
“What’s his name? What’s he like?”
“His name is Adrial Fell. We managed to –“ Dornal leaned over and picked a data-screen up from the floor of the cell, grunting briefly with the effort. “– find an Adrial Fell in the Administratum’s records, matches his description. The first one of you lot we’ve actually been able to find records for.”
“So he is the source?” She raised herself into a half-sitting position, her silver eyes wide.
“Well, that alone would confirm it, but so did he. A young man, about ages with my own grandson. His memory of his early life is pretty broken up. It’ll take some time to put it all together, but it looks like his psyker ability manifested in his early twenties. Then he just fell – no pun intended – off the charts, disappeared from the records. We know why, now. He has – astonishing power, really, but I think that is pretty obvious.”
“What did he say about me? About Fendahl and the Boy and the others? Where did he find us? Why did he pick us?”
Dornal hesitated, and Vhuna could see he was savouring the moment. Dornal and the masters of the Scholastia had been expending a massive amount of time and effort trying to pare back the mystery that was Vhuna. Having finally found the source – the psyker beyond which there were no others, the omega to Vhuna’s alpha – Dornal was clearly exhausted but elated. He smiled, but the smile was as cold as the marble walls. “Remember, Fledgling. Remember what we discussed, what we’ve discussed many times. According to the Administratum’s records you and the others don’t exist, and never have. He is the only one we have ever been able to trace –”
“But there could have been errors, mistakes, gaps in the –”
“No, Vhuna. No errors. No mistakes. No psyker – not even one as powerful as Fell is – can bring the dead back to life. The only conclusion is that, despite appearances, you and the others never actually die. And if you don’t ever die, then you’re never really alive in the first place. You have to be alive to die, Vhuna, you have to be alive. Without Fell at the core, none of you would exist. None of you is truly alive, Vhuna. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. None of you are real. Only Fell is real.”
Vhuna shook her head. “No, no, no. I can’t accept that. What did Fell have to say about us, then? What did he say?”
Again Dornal hesitated, not through any sense of protecting her feelings, but just to lodge the moment in his memory, to enjoy her reaction. She resolved to kill him, one day, if only for that. “He didn’t know about you. About any of you.”
Vhuna slumped back, the last of her hopes for an answer draining from her, along with the last dregs of the strength she had summoned.
“But – but – I mean, how is that possible? He has to know. He must! I mean – how did I get involved in this? I’ve never met anyone called Adrial Fell. I would remember it. He must have – have found me somehow and – and trapped me in this nightmare. Trapped me, and the others.”
“I’ve told you all along. He didn’t find you, because you didn’t exist. He made you, Fledgling. He made you. He just doesn’t know he made you. He is – troubled. It must have been hard, when all that psyker power arrived, at such a young age. And according to the Administratum’s records I saw this morning, he was not a well man. Not well up here, I mean. He’s still a bit – intense. As far as he was concerned, when I met him it was still twenty years ago, and he’d just found out he was a psyker.”
“If he made me, then why’d he give me all these fecking memories if none of them are real? I remember being a girl on –” She paused, something catching in her throat, and she turned her head away. “I remember being a child. I remember my moth… I remember…”
Dornal sat back, sighing heavily, becoming weary of Vhuna’s questioning.
“You want to know what I think? Okay. Here it is. You’re armour, Vhuna. Body armour. He was a frightened – no, terrified – young man and he wanted to protect himself from these powers he couldn’t possibly understand. His mind shattered and he hid himself behind you, behind you and the other Four. You’re broken pieces of him, each of you, and every time you’re lost he simply remakes you. To get to him we have to go through you, one at a time, before he can remake you. Like onion skin; peel it away layer by layer . Likethose little dolls you get, one inside another inside another inside another. Matroyshka, I think they’re called. Yes, that’s it. Matroyshka.”
“Cadet Commissar Koju. What is the status of the psyker?” Vodalus’ voice came clear over the vox-link, as the sounds of fighting receded from fever pitch for the first time that night.
“Stage Three, Commissar. The Boy. He is cleansing the cliff-face below us. He – he doesn’t need the ground. Did you know that?”
“That’s very interesting, Koju, I’m sure. Did you advance the subject to Stage Three yourself? The Colonel was wondering where his early warning system has gone.”
“No, Commissar. Enemy action. Excuse me –” Koju broke contact to pick a serpentine creature off the face of the rock column. He missed, but only just. His bolter shell hit the rock face and the burst of shrapnel eviscerated the beast.
“– sorry, Commisar. I tried to protect Psyker Vhuna, but –“
“I didn’t hear that, Cadet Commissar. Don’t bother repeating it. I have to agree with the Colonel on this one, although for different reasons. I’m worried about that trace she picked up off to the west. The first attack-wave is dying down. The Colonel needs to know where the second wave is massing, what’s in it and where they will attack. And I need to know what that contact was. Pull the Boy out of combat, let him revert to Stage One. And then get back to me with an update. Vodalus out.”
Part 8 can be found here
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