She’d almost missed it. But one of the things that makes Victrix such a frightening warrior, is her attention to detail even in the heat of battle. So she had noticed. And, as much a she didn’t want to believe what she had heard…Evidence and circumstance had convened to make one truth startlingly apparent:
Herodion Nicostratus was responsible for the devastation on Marshall’s World.
But…She’d need to confirm it.
After the battle, she used her “officer override” to break into Hero’s quarters and wait for him. Dressed in the bright colors of her decorated uniform, armed with Ghost and Jackal—the Horse Cleaver at her back, Victrix sat, waiting, in the dark.
Fresh from a shower and thoroughly cleaned up after their mission to Rosebloom, Hero is startled to find Victrix in his quarters. His eyes dart around the room almost imperceptibly, ensuring nothing is out of place. Recovering quickly, his look of surprise melts into a polite smile, “Err, hello Miss Victrix. What can I do for you? I haven’t missed an appointment, have I?”
Victrix is expressionless, completely devoid of the small humor she might show at his air-headed flippancy. She has a coldness in her expression that Hero hasn’t seen since the two of them began playing shōji together.
“No, Nicostratus. I’m here because we need to talk.”
Hero raises an eyebrow. “Oh?” His response is genial, but calculated. He steps into the room and quietly slides the door shut. Gesturing towards the tea set he asks, “Can I offer you some tea?”
Victrix has never been one to avoid conflict; taking the time to greet Hero is a great concession to how much she finds her current mission distasteful. She motions, almost violently, in the negative to his invitation to have tea.
“Are you the reason that Nuxfor is currently infested with orks?” The way that Victrix says ‘orks’ is the way some people swear. It’s a dirty word, and her hatred for the species is blatant.
For a moment, Hero looks genuinely startled. He carefully sets down the teapot, but does not release it. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“You are not dumb. Don’t pretend to be. It doesn’t suit you.” Victrix’s jaw tightens as she waits for his reply.
Hero’s knuckles are beginning to turn white from gripping the teapot. He searches her face, seeking some clue of her intentions. Finding nothing, he takes a deep breath and drops his gaze. All the charm and joviality he usually possesses is gone. In a defeated tone: “Where did you hear that?”
Her eyes narrow as he continues to avoid a direct answer. She doesn’t trust his body language. Victrix knows that he is better versed in verbal sparring than she is, that he is a skilled wordsmith, and she refuses to play any games, “From your own mouth. I came here so you’d have a chance to …Clarify.”
“From my—?" He trails off, a look of confusion on his face.
Victrix shakes her head slightly, and sighs quietly. She lifts a gloved hand to her forehead and rests the weight of her head in her palm. She seems genuinely baffled, “What would ever possess you to adopt a Xeno as a pet? Let alone leave it to wander on its own? In what ridiculous gilded cage did you grow up that you managed to completely avoid the Emperor’s command to kill the Xeno? There is evil in this universe Nicostratus, and while I don’t believe you are under its influence; I fear your ignorance of the universe has done more damage than even you could guess.” She lets her hand drop and looks up at Hero, locking him in her intense gaze, “…And you are in great danger.”
For the first time, Hero’s facade drops. The formerly confident, self-assured nobleman gives her a pitiful look. He glances from the door to her weapons, then slumps into a chair, burying his face in his hands. “Well, better you than him. Please, just get it over with.”
Victrix watches Hero’s defeated slump. It’s obvious by her weighted gaze that she’s considering his guilt. She considers his flippant nature towards his station, and his alien nature to those of the men she has served with and surrounded herself with for many years…She ponders Draque’s mission to make ‘a man’ of the young seneschal. She takes in his defeated posture, and while she is not good at comfort; she is less harsh than she had been a moment earlier, “Someone will be after you. You will need to tell Draque, because it puts this entire ship in danger, but… He will protect you.” Victrix seems to consider her own conviction regarding the statement, she shakes herself away from introspection, “He will protect you, but you must warn him.”
Quietly, almost as if she’s talking to herself she adds under her breath, “You can’t grow unless you acknowledge your past failings.”
Hero looks up, resembling nothing more than a scared child. “Protect me? He’s going to airlock me. He’s done so to others for less.”
Victrix has to work not to scoff at Hero’s incorrect reading of Kavik. Instead, she settles for being as blunt and direct as possible, “You are more valuable than others.”
Hero starts to say something, then reconsiders. Instead, what follows is a deluge of words, almost a stream of consciousness in its delivery. “I….I didn’t mean to, you know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what it was. I just wanted a pet is all. Something. I don’t know. A diversion? I was terribly bored and the market was selling them and I bought it on a lark. I should have known better. The git was just as shifty as you could imagine, but part of me was doing it simply because I could. Because who was going to tell me otherwise? Father? And then it was so troublesome. Always eating and wanting attention and eating more and so filthy. It was destroying my apartment! So I just…let it go. I let it go and forgot about it. I’d had friends do that loads of times with pets in the past and so I thought nothing of it. And then I left for holiday and heard about what had happened and I supposed…I supposed I just sort of knew. I couldn’t go back. Someone would have eventually put the pieces together. Maybe not immediately, but I couldn’t just stay. So I….I ran…and…and then when we were down on the planet…I saw what they did. The orks. I saw them and I saw what they did and when I looked at that ork ship as it came at us and I realized what I had done and I… I….” He drops his gaze and trails off.
Victrix looks almost sympathetic by the end of Hero’s speech. Afterall, she had, had to talk young men through their first battles, their mistakes that had cost others’ lives, before. She struggles with the fragility and the importance of the confession; almost awkwardly reaching out to pat him on the shoulder, and then aborting at the last minute: unsure if the touch would be appreciated or not.
“I may be more valuable than the others, but probably only as a bounty” Hero says quietly.
At his bitter comment about his bounty she barks a laugh, “You’re not that big of a bounty yet: I should know. Besides, even without Kavik—any ’Hunter would still have to get by me.”
And she smiles, he can’t see her blackened teeth stretched into the grin, but he has learned to read her expressions through the grisly re-breather she always wears. She raises an eyebrow at him, “I have yet to meet the man who could face me in battle and live.”
She’s hardly ever boastful, but she’s a pragmatist: and she’s still alive and in one piece to talk about all her previous battles: and there have been quite a few.
“At the very least, I would imagine that we have become close enough comrades that I deserve whatever meager amount they put on your shoulders.”
She finally gives into the urge to reach across the table and slap him companionably on the shoulder. Thoughts of Dust, of the horrible slaughter of her adopted brethren, flicker through her head. If she can forgive Herodion, so can others. Besides, “One does not become part of the command crew of an acclaimed Rogue Trader Empire without gaining a few enemies.” There is a microscopic pause before she continues the thought, “I, for one, am much more worried about Canseco’s brothers.”
Rage, he was expecting. A litany of “what-were-you-thinking”s, he was expecting. But Victrix’s response? Hero had not anticipated her to be so…forgiving, which perhaps makes the confession all the more painful. He smiles weakly at her. “So you’re fairly certain he isn’t going to airlock me, then? Still, I’d feel an awful lot better about the situation if you accompanied me when I…um…break the news.”
Victrix nods sharply, “I believe that would be wise. We will tell him tomorrow morning.” If Kavik is displeased that she didn’t come to him immediately… She’ll deal with that when it occurs: she thinks he’ll see the wisdom in her choice. The amusement from earlier slowly drains out of her face, and after letting a quiet spread between them, she looks down at Hero’s ridiculously fancy table. “Have you heard about Dust? …More than just old war stories of glory and uncomfortable trenches from Burne and Goat. More than Draque’s line about glory and honor.”
“I can’t say that I have, really. To be perfectly honest, I sort of glaze over when the captain puts on his ‘glory and honor’ bit. Being raised on Caerus Ekho, well, we had our fair share of military retirees and somehow they all seemed to have the same pool of stories to draw from. After a while you learn to just wait for the lulls and mumble a proper response and nobody’s the wiser." He pauses, realizing what she is offering. “But you were all there, together?” he asks.
Victrix sits back in her seat and lets her left hand fall to the hilt of Jackal. She grips the weapon’s hilt until her knuckles turn white, but her posture remains lax. “Dust was a rock. Mostly inhospitable to human habitation, and full of deadly xeno flora and fauna.” She glances up at Hero, “Even before the Orks arrived.”
She shifts her death-grip from Jackal, and her hand migrates without a conscious thought to the hilt of the Horse Cleaver, “The Segmentum Obscuris had reached a mostly stable state from the Ork invasion… Except for this little crap-hole planet no one had ever heard of. So Kavik takes the Cadian 180th and lands, because it has suddenly become the most important tactical location in the entire sector.” She smiles ruefully, perhaps slightly self-deprecatingly, “And he finds the King of Dust. Together, they drive back the orks. It takes several years, and they have to tame the natives; but they do good work. The planet drinks the blood of many fine men…”
Victrix falls silent again. “You are not a monster, Herodion Nicostratus.”
Tomorrow, Kavik will undoubtedly describe in painstaking detail the devastation Hero’s misstep has caused, and will continue to cause. He’ll talk about how orks slaughter, he’ll talk about the necessary steps the Imperial Guard will have had to take, and he’ll mention enraged planetary governors… Shame, guilt, and atonement. Victrix doesn’t need to now.
Hero is clearly still shaken by their exchange, but recognizes the rare opportunity Victrix has given him. “Thank you.” He pauses, and sighs again. “I’m glad one of us believes that.” Then, with a half-smile “…your majesty.”
Victrix gives Hero a flat look, and loses the battle to repress another grin. Despite the rake’s ineptitude, and generally prissy attitude, he seems to have completely endeared himself to her. “Now that you know, you’ll address me properly.” She manages to keep a straight face for only a beat before she laughs—a real laugh—strange and unnerving through the re-breather, but from deep in her gut.
“Well, your highness,” Hero says, pouring himself a cup of now-tepid tea, “While you are here, would you at least do me the honour of a game? I believe the advantage was yours when last we left off.”
In a smooth motion, one that telegraphs that she is, indeed, a predator, Victrix stands. She shifts her weight onto the balls of feet, “It is late, and there is much to do tomorrow. We must meet with Kavik, and I plan to go back to the surface to eradicate more of the enemy. If I survive another day; I would gladly beat you at your own game.”
As she moves past Hero, she pats him on the shoulder, and as she’s shutting his door she turns, “You’ll want to fix your door.” With that, she disappears into the hallway.
It is only upon her exit that Hero notices the door’s loose hinges and the large, metallic bolt-lock that has been broken in half. He stirs his tea and sighs. For now, at least, the repair requisition request can wait.