Scallop Stars: Emperors Hawks

Chapter 1

The shuttle ramp gave a deep hiss as the air-locks released and heavy pistons lowered it to the ground, the pressurised air inside venting outwards in a burst of steam. Waiting for the occupants to disembark, Kale watched the vapours dissipate around the stout, blocky craft, wisping into golden tendrils against the setting of Aviars sun. From where he stood at the end of the gantry, the landing pad cut a dark ellipse in the sky against the red star behind, jutting out sharply from the cliff below him. The residual temperatures of re-entry caused the ship to gently sway in its own heat haze as it sat on the landing pad, muddying the outlines of the small craft.

Despite the whine of the craft's engines running down, his augmented ears could make out the sounds of the Acra in the lush jungle trees far below, their squeeks and squawks echoing upwards as they rushed to find nests in the trees before dark. To Kale, the noise was a reassuring background, the calming sense of his homeworld a sharp contrast to the impending intrusion of Imperial Politics. He allowed his mind to wander briefly to memories of his youth. Before the Astartes, the life of the jungle tribes was a simpler affair, thedays spent hunting vicious clawbeasts through the dense jungle and the nights spent feasting on the rewards. Of course, their pack tactics were astonishingly crude by the standards of the Astartes, but there was a raw appeal to the uncomplicated combat - a pure test of strength, agility and cunning.

Shadows emerged against the light streaming from the shuttle's interior, seeming harshly bright against the darkening sky. Kale immediately identified two silhouettes clad in stormtrooper armour descending the ramp, although by the embellishment and accoutrements they wore, he guessed they were dignitary bodyguard. They flanked the ramp as they reached the bottom, a third figure emerging from the light behind. He was clad in ruby powered armour, glistening like blood in the deep red of the sunset. It bore superficial similarities to the plate that Kale wore, yet the figure lacked the stature of an Astartes. He wore no helmet, but his head was crowned in a great round velvet hat, with three garishly coloured feathers emerging from the peak at the front.

An Inquisitor; Kale thought, from his garb and bearing. It explained much of the mysterious crafts sudden appearance. That small, utilitarian craft hid well its true capabilities. It had managed to go undetected by augury sweeps until it hit close orbit, and avoided targeting by the orbital defence platforms. Only once it was inside the defence network had it been revealed - or revealed itself. Thunderhawks would have blown it out of the sky had it not been for a direct order from the chapter master himself.

The figure stepped from the ramp, his unfaltering stare falling along the gantry to match Kale's. Without hesitation, the figure strode purposefully past his guards onto the gangway and towards Kale, all the while keeping his stare fixed. The bright blue eyes held a piercing intensity and depth, no doubt belying a great intellect beneath. Kale knew he was being assessed. The visitor moved gracefully, yet with purpose. No unnecessary movements. His face was bright but aged, as if he had endured many years of strife and come out burning all the brighter.

So, an Inquisitor, then. A dignitary to be sure, but still overkill to assign a captain to his escort duty? The chapter master had assigned Kale to this task personally, yet he could not grasp the order. Perhaps a punishment? Perhaps a test? Regardless, he knew that with scant few days before their departure for Cibernum, his time was better spent planning for the beachhead assault. The campaign against the Orks would be long and bloody and Kale always demanded a flawless execution.

The visitor approached the end of the gantry and Kale stepped forward to extend a greeting, but was cut off as the other spoke before he could begin.

“Captain Kale, I presume.” The figure spoke, continuing, “I have heard much of you."

An unusual personal address. His friendly tone was surprising for a first meeting, clearly designed to engender fellowship and trust. The voice was deep and melodic, and his manner seemed familiar yet unsettling, as Kale knew he had not met the man before.

Clearly this inquisitor was prepared and briefed on Hawks personnel, by his use of name and rank, although the battle honours adorning Kales armour plate would have given that away to any Imperial official.

The visitor continued. "I am Graius, of the Inquisition".
Kale was not aware of the name, but inquisitors often went to lengths to conceal their exploits. Kale played along, resuming his greeting.
"Welcome to the Eyrie, inquisitor. This is an unexpected honour."
"Perhaps neither or both" Graius replied, not breaking step as he passed the bemused Astartes captain. "Come, I have much to discuss with your master and we have little time."

Arrogance was not unusual for an inquisitor, but Kale sensed more than this. The visitor seemed full of purpose.

"He awaits your audience in the reliquary, inquisitor. I will take you there."

Falling into step beside the visitor, he turned from the gantry and they walked towards the open blast doors in the cliff face. The low light accentuated the rough crevices of the sandstone, dominating the ferrosteel of the small opening glinting in the last rays of the sun.

Graius considered a moment. "Good. A fitting location. That will be sufficient for our needs. I know the route Captain. Level 16, Block Epsilon.”
It was a clear implication that the stranger knew of them and their ways. It would seem Graius was indeed well prepared. Data-plans of the fortress-monastery were a closely guarded secret, but Kale fully believed the inquisitor had the means to obtain them. Was it standard inquisitorial protocol to familiarise oneself with tactical details before a diplomatic visit? It was a trait of a warrior’s mind, and Kale would have done the same. He was beginning to develop respect for the abilities of this inquisitor.

The visitor continued, perhaps knowing that Kale would never allow him to wander the fortress monastery alone;
“Captain, I would wish you to walk with me. There is a question I must ask of you."

Kale doubted there was anything he could tell the inquisitor which he did not already know. There was a brief silence as they walked from the gantry, their long ruby shadows cast before them swallowed up by the inky-abyss of the doorway ahead. Crossing the threshold into the fortress-monastery beyond, the sun behind them fell below the horizon, the last vestiges of light filtering away and plunging the world outside into darkness.

Graius began again. "Tell me Captain, what do you know of the Scallop Stars?"

Featured Dramatis Personae

Emperors Hawks