The Aquilla-pattern shuttle was configured for command and control, as such; it was heavily shielded and outfitted with the best systems the Adeptus Mechanicus could cram into her small frame. Other than its crew of three, it held five individuals whose positions were critical to the Imperium for the prosecution of the war. Had the xenos invaders been aware of it, they would most certainly have sent every resource available to destroy it. As it was, the small craft drifted like an insignificant speck in low orbit, providing its passengers a brilliantly panoramic overview of the territory over which the coming conflict would be fought.
Standing at the pinnacle of the observation dome was Inquisitor Nelthas outfitted in a sleek and severe garment of glistening black and crimson leather. Her psychomorphic mask bore more resemblance to a helmet crafted in the most elaborate Imperial fashion, the face a fierce blending of a beautiful woman and a raptor, surmounted by feathered wings carved of white-lacquered adamantine. From her position she had a commanding panorama through the hemispherical view-ports around her, as well as of the various pict-screens and com-relays arrayed around the dome.
To her right stood the hulking form of Captain Jeremiah of the 9th company of the Imperial Dragons chapter of the space marines, representing the primary force at her disposal. His youthful face surmounted by golden curls seemed incongruous set as it was atop the gleaming suit of green and ivory power armor. To her left was Major Raker of the 3rd Company of the 77th Kelten Rifles Imperial Guard Regiment. He represented the secondary force at Nelthas command, which were actually the remnants of Dolgath’s original battle force who secured New Boston. He was dressed in the trademark black, white and grey striped camo pattern uniform of the White Tigers company, with a dark grey cape resting over his shoulders. His face was broad and lantern-jawed; his eyes peered from beneath the brim of his peaked cap like a surly predator. Behind him stood a woman shrouded in a voluminous white cloak trimmed in luxurious fur from which peeked a high-cheekboned face of porcelain perfection with dark eyes as inscrutable as a statue. This deadly raven-haired beauty was Palatine Quallar representing the Ordo Hereticus force left behind by Inquisitor Treyquill. Lastly, there was a figure who sat inconspicuously in a dark corner, seemingly oblivious to the important personages standing before him; instead, his attention was focused on a well-worn leather book. He was dressed in a simple dark grey overcoat with a black felt collar and lapels upon which was pined a tiny golden Ordo Maleus seal. Inquisitor Lord Dolgath’s face was a lean stony mask, his eyes as deeply green and unfathomable as the sea.
Beneath her impenetrable mask, Nelthas was concerned about Dolgath. He was special to her. Ever since she first constructed the entity that was, Nelthas, she knew that most would avoid her, and a small few twisted individuals might be attracted to her. Never before had she encountered someone who was so accepting of her. Dolgath had become increasingly quiet and withdrawn since control of the campaign had been transferred to her. At first she assumed it represented a certain amount of petulance on his part; which was understandable considering he lost command of the campaign which he had so far successfully prosecuted. Yet, his relief at ceding control of the campaign was palpable. He performed the required transfer functions almost happily. Once all his duties were done he offered up his audience chamber to her and retreated to his inner-sanctum. He would join her at every morning and evening meal and discuss the latest developments in the campaign, but inevitably as soon as the meal was over; his nose would be buried in a book once more. Nelthas had grown to suspect that Dolgath, the inspiring battle commander, was as much a façade as her own, and she was just now beginning to see the real Dolgath; the introspective delver into forbidden secrets...
“Inquisitor, we have a Dark Eldar signature on the scan,” one of the crew stated.
The four commanders focused on the pict-screen, all accept for Dolgath who seemed oblivious, engrossed in his book.
The pict-screen resolved on the territory within which the defense missile silo resided. Nelthas quickly evaluated the associated data; it was an automated facility manned by servitor drones that had been entirely ineffective at striking the invading forces. A second pict-screen showed the xenos forces descending on the facility and quickly taking control of the command center and fuel bunkers. A third pict-screen showed Imperial Guard forces moving into position to assault the xenos-controlled areas. Nelthas summed up the situation and made her decision instantly. She turned to Major Raker.
“Withdraw your troops, Major,” she said confidently.
“What?” his heavy jaw dropped in surprise.
“You heard me. Have them retreat in good order and establish defensive positions around the Starport.”
“Inquisitor, with all due respect…” Raker began to say with something less than a respectful tone.
Nelthas raised one of her tiny delicate hands and pointed a dainty finger at him; the gold ring upon her finger emitted a ruby targeting beam that formed a conspicuous red dot between his eyes. “Now, Major,” she said darkly.
Everyone’s eyes, including Dolgath’s, focused on Raker. He stood transfixed for a brief moment and then bowed slightly. “As you wish, Inquisitor,” Raker replied as he moved to a com-panel to relay his orders. Through her restrained fury, Nelthas noticed as the faint hint of a smile ghosted across Dolgath’s face.
The next morning, Dolgath appeared in the audience chamber for his customary morning meal, only to see servitors and functionaries scurrying about. Nelthas, arrayed in flowing garment the color of sea-foam, her psychomorphic mask like fine jade, had activated the holographic display above his desk and was engrossed in reviewing a stream of battle reports coming in. Dolgath sat inconspicuously down opposite her and observed the controlled chaos with a faintly bemused expression. After a few moments she finally noticed him. Her mask smiled with barely repressed satisfaction.
“I take it, the Dark Eldar took your bait,” Dolgath said.
“They could not resist. The servitors manning the defense facility would be naught but straw men to them; they could not leave the field without drawing blood and pain,” Nelthas replied. “They still control the defense silo, but they have been crippled with negligible losses on our part.”
“Well played,” Dolgath chuckled.
A servitor brought them trays of coffee and pastries. As Nelthas turned back to the battle reports, Dolgath pulled out his well-worn book and settled back to read.