Big Game V – Chapter Twenty Seven: Mustering the Fleet

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“My Lord’s tea?” the nameless ensign’s hand trembled but only just. It was not considered appropriate to jostle the Lord High Admiral’s teacup. An absent minded hand reached for the hand-crafter porcelain resting upon the gold leaved saucer embellished with iconographic images from the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.

With care, Lord High Admiral Tomhas Vladamir Kelsy Niers sipped from the hot beverage gingerly gripped between his index finger and thumb. It was good tea but had been steeped too little and was weaker than the High Admiral preferred. He exhaled slightly and the ensign scampered away, presuming this minor gesture was a sign of dismissal. Niers took in his bridge with a sweeping glance. From the elevated high command balcony he could survey the 319 yard long room with its arched cathedral ceilings of expertly crafted steelglass panels. The substance was harder than diamond and provided a breathtaking view above the ship. The far end of the room was dominated by a single mighty statue of the Resplendent Saint Sebastian Thor, his might hammer clutched in one hand, his mighty head wreathed in hammered gold and rubies showing his holy radiance. The sight redoubled Niers faith and he set the cup of weak tea on the marble balustrade surrounding the balcony. Glancing down, thirty feet below Niers took in the mighty command deck. Rows of servitors, technical ratings and the finest Imperial Fleet Officers in the central systems bustled about less than a third of the mighty room. Despite the haze of thick incense, Niers clearly made out the raised circular dais where Captian Flusch Kromby stood.

Kromby was a good captain. It was a shame his station was so low he would never be eligible for Admiralship. Niers respected the man and was deathly afraid of his ruthless acumen on the field. While no one grasped strategy like Niers, Kromby was a man who you feared when evading the hunt. If his moral hygiene had not been utterly scrutinized, Niers would suspect him a filthy psyker. Despite the impropriety of it, part of Niers liked Kromby, the man was a good example of a soldier who knew his place. Perhaps it was this clear delineation of their roles that Niers enjoyed the most. Kromby knew his place and, at the same time, didn’t shy from standing firm in it. Perhaps Niers would invite him to dine tomorrow or the next day.

There was a soft tone from behind Niers which drew him back from his thoughts. The High Admiral turned to see who now joined him on his private balcony. The two Veteran Guard chosen for his bodyguard detail snapped to attention as the Lady Cathirane Juongus, the High Admiral’s private confessor stepped forward. Her white and scarlet gown was breathtaking, layers of nearly translucent silk layered upon each other rustled like whispers as she approached. The woman was nearly a hundred years old but the work of the medicae was excellent enough to instill the fleeting thoughts of carnal sin in Niers mind before he shook them free. A Sister of the Famulous, she had been trained a bride of the Emperor himself, may the light anoint his grace, but her duties were of a higher calling.

Niers inclined his head, a note of supplication few would ever see, “My Lady Juongus, I must say I was not expecting your presence.”

“My Lord High Admiral,” Lady Juongus curtsied deeply and folded her white veil back across her coifed hair, “I presume I am not an unwelcome sight?”

“My Lady, you are never a sight of discomfort. In fact, I dare say that your mere scent brings me to more sublime meditation than my morning flogging.”

“Come here, Niers,” Lady Cathirane Juongus, extended her right hand. Niers swallowed hard. The cold metal limb of her right arm was a hideous artiface given to her when she was a lowly battle sister. The cold iron was all gears and oil, the Lady kept is as a reminder of her humility. Niers took a step and took her hand. He raised it to his mouth to kiss when she grabbed him by the jaw. Swiftly, the old woman yanked him forward and stabbed him in the right shoulder with a straight pin. “Perhaps this will remind you to redouble your efforts, Lord High Admiral when next you seek to mortify your flesh.”

“Yes confessor,” Niers spoke, a hoarse whisper. This was, of course, why Niers chose this woman as his confessor. No man or woman in light years would do that without fear of death, or worse. Niers had once confined a planetary vice-governor to a pain amplifier for mispronouncing his name. Lady Cathirane Juongus was the only person Niers knew would deal with him should he misstep his creed. Even the Commissariat Officials stepped lightly on the flagship.

“I sensed your weakness at the midday meal. You cannot hide your shame from me, Niers. I also expect penance for your thoughts about my gown by the seventh chime.”

“By your word, Confessor.”

“Tell me what troubles you Niers, I know these paltry thoughts are nothing to one so burdened as yourself.”

“My Lady, I received our final draft orders but two hours gone. We are to make for the Chasma Spica as I presumed.”

“There is word of great discord there Niers, you should thank the Blessed God Emperor for such a charge.”

“I know, My Lady, but I cannot help but be troubled, something beyond the edge of my consciousness plagues me. I have placed my faith in my meditations but nothing yet has arisen.”

“Still your mind, High Admiral Niers,” Lady Cathirane sat and took the Admiral’s hand. She pulled him down and grasped his face in her hands, looking him eye to eye, “You know what must be done here.”

“I know, My Lady, I live to serve His Will. May the Ecclesiarchy guide my actions and may the Emperor look upon my works with kindness.”

“Good, my Admiral. Now go to your tasks, if you have your orders then soon we must go to the forge of war.”

Niers lingered, his gaze deep in Lady Juongus’ slate grey eyes. He stood sharply then and turned, wincing. Pulling the straight pin free he slipped it into his pocket as a reminder for tonight. Lord High Admiral Niers walked to the railing and spoke aloud, “Captain Kromby, the disposition please.”

The acoustics in this hall were exquisite and few of the great basilica on Holy Terra stood their betters. Kromby heard the request loud and clear and turned to look directly at his commander, “My Lord High Admiral, the fleet nears readiness. Transports in fully readiness, supply train Admiral Manschot reports his ships in full working order, census at 57 after last jump. Escort squadrons the Razors of Dawn; Kaiser Chiefs; Protos; The Black Dogs; Quol-a-Shieir and The Pride of the Haldier report in at full capacity. Seventeen ships of the line are prepared, though the Nobilis Poeta indicates continuing difficulty with port maneuvering thrusters. The Redemption Class Battleship Thorns of the Rose reported in as ready for deployment 14 hours ago. Finally, we have been joined by Battlegroup Obscurus, headed by Admiral Chaves and the Blood of Sanguinius, his Emperor Class Battleship. In all, we retain 112 ships at My Lord’s call. Warmaster Heigel is en route with the fleet of the Doom Eagles Adeptus Astartes.”

“Of our other Space Marine Allies?”

“We have contacts from detachments from a dozen or more chapters who have requested presence in the convoy. Several more chapters have gone ahead. Notably, the Space Wolves Battle Barge Fang of Glory nearly collided with the Hammer of Gi nearly two hours ago when they were denied a frontal position in the fleet. The ship disengaged and Captain Morkai indicated he and his ships were going on without the fleet. This is all in my report sir.”

“I have read it, Kromby. Prepare a fleet communiqué; we will depart for the Chasma Spica staging point in 37 hours.”

“My Lord,” Kromby spoke, “Inbound detachment from the Erau System. Battle sub-group Ix folding in from the Freeport Star Fort near Kale. Twenty two Contacts, fourteen various troop transport vessels, six cobras, One Mars Class Battlecruiser, and a Retribution Cla… It’s the Niemian Lion, my lord. Retribution Class Battleship, the group identifies as under admiral Kioji’s command. They are now requesting formation orders.”

“Inform them to join in Kingfisher formation 37 degrees low; we ply the Empyrean for Julius.”

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