“Blessing upon the Reverend Daughter, Gideon Navenarius, and blessings upon the Ninth House, it's restful dead and manifold mysteries. The King Undying reaffirms his reckless and unconditional love for the far-off and shadowed jewel of his empire. The purpose of this most holy communique is one of grave and terrible concern, however. Its contents must be kept entirely secret from any individuals not directly implicated in the execution of its commands.
The Nine Houses now face a challenge that engulfs and devours all those of the past myriad. The final living lyctor, the seventh saint to serve the King Undying, his fist and gestures, his holy will made flesh, is missing. The most kindly prince believes that his loyal servant is even now held prisoner by the enemies of the empire, kept by bonds unknown but dreadfully powerful. He writes now directly to you, and to the other heirs apparent, out of a fear that conspiracy has taken root even within his cohort.
Though the resolve of our omnipotent emperor is stronger than it has ever been, he requires now a new pantheon of saints to execute his will. He calls upon you, his loyal servant, to kneel in glory and ascend to lyctorhood. Perform this task, execute his will, locate the seventh saint, and rise as Gideon the First.
This letter must be destroyed immediately upon reading. A shuttle will arrive within 48 hours to transport you and your cavalier primary to his holy seat, where further instructions will be forthcoming.”
“Well, holy shit.” Remarked Harrow Nova, insightfully.
“Holy shit indeed.” Replied Gideon Navenarius, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. She folded her arms. “A whole steaming pile of holy fuck up, if you ask me.”
“You’re laughing at me.” Snapped Harrow, upon seeing the crooked and vicious smile that crept onto the necromancer’s lips. This preemptive strike had the exact opposite of the intended effect, as Gideon gave a bark of savage laughter.
“Normally I would be, but not this time Nova. I’m merely contemplating our good fortune.”
Harrow raised her eyebrows. “Good fortune? Thats a little tactless, even for you.”
“Oh don’t get me wrong, what happened to the seventh saint? Awful, completely terrible. My loyalty to our great emperor? As big as a mountain. My interest in the prospect of eternal life and a ticket off the ninth house? Even bigger.”
Harrow snorted. Gideon had spoken as a child of wanted to see the rest of the empire. Harrow had been unaware that this desire extended beyond simple tourism.
“The Reverend Daughter, abandon her sacred duty to the tomb? Quite blasphemous.”
Gideon smirked and turned away, beginning to pull books off the nearby shelf. “My duty is to the emperor. Under normal circumstances, he commands me to guard the tomb. In this new and enticing reality, he has commanded me to have the time of my life visiting far-off worlds and besting the enemies of the empire in glorious combat.”
Harrow looked down her nose at Gideon, and turned her back on her.
“As much as I enjoy your boasts Navenarius, I have training to do. I wish you and Ortus the best of luck on your most holy and sacred mission.” The “I hope you freeze and burn and suffocate in the pit of space” was implied by her intonation.
Harrow strode toward the door. Her knuckles were white on the hilt of her rapier, and she took defiant pleasure in the iron clonk of her heels with every step.
“Nova.” Came the exasperated plea from behind her. Harrow had no intention of granting Gideon even one second more of her time. Gideon had never given her any of hers. Never considered even the most basic and desperate of Harrow’s aspirations. The Reverend Daughter could sally forth against the empire's foes and be riddled with bullets and blown up and devoured, and Harrow would be all the happier for it.
“Nova. Don’t make me ask thrice.” Harrow began to grin. The simple thrill of pissing off that venomous creep overjoyed her.
The skeleton stepped clumsily into the doorway, blocking the exit. Without thinking, before even drawing breath, Harrow drew her rapier. It moved like water, like shadow, guided by supernatural reflex and decades of drill. The skeleton’s joints melted like butter before three swift cuts, collapsing into an impotent pile of calcium. The space it had occupied was swiftly filled with two more skeletons, and she felt sudden and bony hands grasping at her back.
Harrow unfastened her chain and spun. The cold, hard metal licked out, shattering the ribcage of one skeleton, to be followed by a swift decapitation. She lifted her iron-tipped boot and pulverised the knee of the second, dropping it to the floor. With another disdainful kick, Harrow shattered its spine in two.
“Harrowhark Nova, for God’s sake listen to me!” Came the infuriated yell. More skeletons were rising around her, and Harrow was deeply excited to return them to powder.
She charged, detaching the right arm of one skeleton and knocking it to the ground. A second met her chain, which sent fragments of skull pinging off the walls. A third she simply barged into, hefting it off its feat and sending it sprawling. Harrow was far from weak, and hastily raised skeletons rarely had the bone density of the real deal.
Suddenly the calcium waves parted, and a sharpened disk of bone spun straight towards her like a murderous frisbee. This was followed the a volley of darts that embedded themselves in the ashen stone of the wall. Gideon was on her feet, and as Harrow watched she shrugged off her robe, revealing an exoskeleton of bone and muscle, and a crude haft of sharpened bone, at least three feet long, in her hands.
Harrow sighed explosively. This party trick was classic Gideon—brash, loud, and rarely effective. Gideon was attempting to compensate for necromantic weakness with artificial muscle and bone. This rendered her several times stronger than Harrow, but could not compensate for her lack of agility or real combat skill.
Gideon charged Harrow like a bull. She lifted her weapon, the coat of muscle that enclosed her arm flexing and twisting, propelling her bone-reinforced strike down toward Harrow’s skull. The movement was incredibly fast but terribly obvious. Harrow stepped casually to the side, and drove her blade through the reinforcing bone between Gideon’s left arm and her hip. It shattered, and globs of muscle fell with it.
Gideon merely growled and swung again, and again Harrow dodged, severing another hunk of exoskeletal construct. Blood was pouring down Gideon’s face now, dripping from her eyes, nose and ears, smearing her paint. Harrow felt slightly bad, Gideon nearly almost did more damage to herself than Harrow ever could. She dodged a third over-choreographed swing, and punted Gideon hard in the chest with the butt of her rapier. The necromancer folded like paper, collapsing to the ground, her remaining exoskeleton clattering down around Harrow.
Harrow stepped forward, and laid the tip of her rapier at Gideon’s throat. Gideon looked up violently, the grey, white and red quagmire of her face twisted in fury.
‘Don’t you get it? This- All this-’ Gideon gestured wildly in Harrow’s direction.
‘This is why I can’t bring Ortus on the mission. I need a warrior—A proper warrior. I need Harrow Nova, not some limp-dick who can barely climb the stairs to morning congregation.’
Gideon only gave genuine compliments whilst spitting with rage, so Harrow wasn’t surprised by this. She felt the corners of her mouth curl into a self-satisfied smirk.
‘As much as you’re entirely correct, what exactly do I get out of this? I don’t like the sound of being blown up on a far off battlefield in the name of—yikes—the Reverend Daughter.’
Her rapier began to fall, and Gideon straightened up.
‘I’ll make you cavalier primary, for one.’
This got Harrow’s attention. She let her guard drop. That was just the opportunity Gideon needed to raise a throbbing mass of bone and muscle from the discarded pieces of exoskeleton. The creature, more murderous intent than coherent construct, moved very fast in Harrow’s direction. Harrow spun, but before she could react it struck her in the chest and sent her sprawling painfully across the stones. She was winded, and momentarily paralysed with shock. As she reeled, Gideon rose over her.
‘And that’s what that feels like, you sword obsessed freak.’
Harrow would have murdered her right there if her sword hadn’t been on the other side of the room.
‘Meet Aiglamene and me in the armoury tomorrow morning. And don’t make me kick the shit out of you again Nova’.
Harrow snorted at that, but the Reverend Daughter had already turned her back on her, snatched up her books, and stalked out of the room, leaving her construct to melt dejectedly, and Harrow to gingerly pick herself up.
‘Fuck you’. Harrow muttered.