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Upon closer inspection, Darshan corrected himself. It was subtle, but the nerve network emitted clear use of psychic power in its construction. The 'pilot' too displayed an almost instinctual use of Warpcraft to meld with the nervous system, allowing it to send commands to the different areas of the ship. What an unwelcome development, Darshan thought to himself. The Rogue Traders had not scouted close enough to learn what other powers the Scara may possess that burden now falling upon the Legions to endure. 

Darshan sent a separate shard to warn Icarion as the main shard fulfilled its original mission. He reached into the leader's mind. With its minimal Warp talent, it had the smallest forewarning that something was happening. Untrained in any form of mental defense, the humanoid had no choice as Darshan slid inside and locked the Scara's consciousness away before Darshan sent new orders throughout the warship. 

This message was edited 2 times. Last update was at 2019/02/17 21:28:43


 
   
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~~~~

Without any redundancies, the ship could not resist its master's commands. Engines mirroring volcanoes fired and shoved the warship away from its compatriots. As it moved, it spun on its internal axis, until the fewest cannons aimed toward the nearby ships.

Kharkis watched the other enemy ships to see if this was an enemy tactic. None of the other ships moved from their current trajectory and commenced firing on the main fleets. He could not understand why it was happening, but he would not allow this advantage to slip away. "Have the Neptune's Fury and us concentrate fire on the ventral cannon, while the Dhow and the Tufan flank and strike their engines."
   
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Captain Gharis slid up to him and whispered, "Is this VonSalim's doing?"

Kharkis grunted. Since the XVIth had yet to fight with the Lord of the Fifth until this day, none of them had a true measure of VonSalim's power. That had not stopped a tide of rumors that declared everything from Alexandros being nothing more than a talented deceiver to telepathically controlling every action and thought of the Halcyon Wardens. Kharkis despised such wasted talk and suspected VonSalim stoked these rumors as part of some on-going ploy. 

"A distraction," Kharkis stated. "The battle is our sole concern."
   
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~~~

Crassus felt a small shudder run through his ship. His armored hands clenched as he visualized the alien torpedo striking against the void shields. With a visible jerk, Crassus focused on the holographic projection before him. Tanks of light raced across a battlefield, leading a flock of rhinos toward a line of emplacements. A modicum of Crassus' anger relented as a ghost of a smile crossed his face. He had always considered the Battle of Three Flags as the birthplace of the Prefects, the elite tank masters of the Fifth Legion. Finally, their legion had something it could boast over the First.

His blue eyes locked onto one tank as it broke through the defensive line. A faded swell of pride and exhilaration flowed through the Prefectus Alae. He had been a mere driver during the battle, but he had been the first to break through. His fist slammed on the table's edge. And now, he thought bitterly. By the Primarch's own command, Crassus had been forced to wait while not one, not two, but three entire campaigns had been completed without his service, cheated of the glory that was rightfully his, and denied his true nature. He had been embarrassed to accompany his Primarch onto the Thunderchild, given his absence from the field. 

It did not matter how kindly his Primarch had spoken to him, nor how often he had promised Crassus he would see battle again. Always, the meeting ended with the Primarch exhorting Crassus to seek the Sanctum and to choose an Arete. He threw a contemptuous glare at the Sanctum around him. 
   
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One of the Primarch's edicts after Balov required every Fifth Legion warship to maintain a room or space for a Legionary to pursue his Arete. Crassus had obeyed the order to the barest minimum. The Glory of Jermani may have been a proper battleship, but its Sanctum was no larger than his own personal quarters, large enough to room a dozen individuals. It featured a holographic table and a shelving unit filled with dataslates about every campaign from the last archived Great Crusade battle to the first Unification Wars skirmish. 

The Glory rumbled again and Crassus seethed at the Sanctum. He saw nothing more than a prison. He desperately wished the aliens would board and finally give him a chance to draw his blade.

~~~

Muniza watched with satisfaction as the battle swung in Humanity's favor. The Scaran warships, for all of their size, were ponderous beasts. Their xeno weapons were marginally faster than their ships. Muniza did not understand the mechanics, but the Scarans fired chunks of molten rock as their sole weapon. The torpedoes were all too easily avoided and threatened only the largest of Imperial warships. He watched as destroyers danced through barrages with ease. While the ships of the line engaged the Scaran fleet, the lighter warships plunged through the center.

There was little reason for Muniza to remain on the bridge. Yet, as the First Legion's newest Sentinel, he was eager to establish his presence and validate his Lord's recommendation and his captains' trust in him. Therefore, he stood in the bridge's center, poised and hands clasped behind his back. With void victory assured, Muniza's mind move to the next battle. The Scarans possessed colonies throughout the system; however, Lord Anasem had predicted that it was imperative to strike at the Scaran homeworld to prevent the campaign from lasting a toil-filled decade. 

Muniza looked past the waning battle and pictured the planet. The next battlefield would be the asteroid belt around it. Long-range auspex scans had detected artificial heat signatures and Scaran xenoforms. These asteroids would have to be secured before planetary operations could begin.

"Thunderchild advancing out of formation."

Muniza broke from his thoughts and turned towards the screens. 
   
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~~~

Over three-quarters of the Scaran fleet drifted through the void, weaponless. A remnant retained engine power and impotently tried to resist. Only a lone Scaran warship possessed the ability to launch volleys at the Imperial fleet. Said fleet counted not a single warship destroyed or disabled as over one hundred ships of Man bore down on the alien ships.

For this final foe, the Thunderchild, pride of the First Legion, sallied forward. Well over twenty kilometres in length, its powerful void shields deflected the Scaran fire with contemptous ease as the mighty ship gained speed. Too late did its prey realize the danger. The xeno warship may have been a mountain. The Thunderchild cared not. A last volley from the volkite sahi blinded any foolish to look upon the livid light. The bladed tsunami of a prow pierced stone and metal. Flames spewed around the Scarans' gaping wound. Thousands of xenos were crushed by their own ship's rubble. Though the Thunderchild slowed, it did not yield as its engines burned brighter. Until, at last, the Thunderchild cleaved the mountain in twain.

The void belonged to the Imperium.
   
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Chapter 13: Battlefield of Thought

"And to think," Alexandros began with a smile, "they told me that you were famous for your contemplative restraint."

Icarion allowed a small smile to show on his features. "I was merely giving you an educational demonstration in void warfare."

Alexandros chuckled. "Consider me enlightened."

Icarion paused as he glanced in the direction of the fleet advance. The two Primarchs stood in the Thunderchild's strategium. They were alone save for each other. "The real struggle will begin soon. I spent my time in meditation, but I was not able to reveal everything before we translated in the system. What of your own efforts?"
   
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"Not much," Alexandros confessed with a hint of frustration. "The void battle was clear to me. Past it, a fog obscures all. I remember a few images. A giant in shadow. Fire in caves. You know, the usual, unhelpful vague visions."

Icarion quirked an eyebrow. "Often is the case of our art. Do you struggle with the limitations?"

"These glances and crumbs of the future are usually worthless, until the event in question comes to pass. I typically avoid such uncertainties by concentrating my efforts on the near future. The more focused I keep my gaze, the more I learn, the more I can change. Past a certain point, a year perhaps, there are simply too many factors to weigh to guarantee much in the terms of accuracy." 

Icarion paused, hands folded above his stomach. "There is truth in what you say, but I would suggest that you needlessly limit yourself. Even if the information is of questionable veracity, it can provide an important clue to be acted upon at a later time."

"Maybe," Alexandros said with a shrug. "While I'd be willing to have a deeper philosophical conversation on future-sight, this doesn't prepare us for the next step of the campaign."

"You're right. And the news of this psychic power among the xenos could explain my own struggles. I'm under the impression that if we do not choose our battles with care, we risk being caught in a bloody mire. Since each of us alone couldn't discern much, together, perhaps we can break through the layer of ignorance."

Alexandros grinned. "I'd be more than happy to offer my services."

The two psykers knelt in the empty strategium. Icarion folded his legs beneath him as he rested his hands on his thighs. Alexandros crossed his legs before pressing his palms together. Both bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Darshan peered the physical world muted as another reality opened itself to him. The room of war hosted echoes of restained bloodlust and hidden uncertainty.

Dominating the room was Icarion's spirit. Had a mortal looked upon the Primarch with mortal eyes, blindness would have followed. The Lord of the First blazed with lightning. Upon closer inspection, Darshan saw that it wasn't a single bolt of lightning contained in the figure of a man, but thousands of winding bolts winding over Icarion's 'skin'. Darshan idly wondered how he appeared to Icarion. 

Although they were safe deep within the Thunderchild, Darshan detected the barrier surrounding and protecting Icarion. It was a subtle thing, given away by the 'smell' of heavy ozone, and quite dangerous to anyone who would violate the Stormborn's defenses. Darshan focused for a fraction of a second and crafted a small link-thought in the form of a small bird. The luminous creation flitted from Darshan's hands and stopped just outside Icarion's defenses. 

The barrier relaxed, allowing the link-thought to enter. It flew to the lightning and immersed itself. Icarion's soul-lightning took on a blue tint as Darshan could only now perceive his brother's mood on the spectral plane. As the link settled, a wave of orange amusement rolled over the lightning-being before their thoughts were joined. 
   
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A bird, Alex?

With the equivalent of a mental shrug, Darshan answered, why not? It's not often I enjoy company on the astral plane.

What of your sons?

I have far less time than I'd like to spend with them. It's only now that the changes wrought on Balov have slowly settled. What time I have had, the focus has been on mastering the self.

A pause.

For your sons who have mastered that lesson, you may want to emphasize protection from immaterial threats. Deeps as we are in Thunderchild, your own defenses could be strengthened.
   
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Darshan couldn't help but think of that last bit as perhaps a bit much. Then again, who knew the threats that Icarion had faced and learned hard lessons from? Very well, brother, I will take your words to heart. Now, onto the matter at hand?

Without waiting, Darshan turned his attention toward the future. Darshan stood on a mountain. Before him was a shallow ocean, dotted with islands. With each passing millisecond, islands grew larger or collapsed beneath the waves as potential events grew closer into certainty or faded away into oblivion. Despite time's onward march, Darshan never moved as the cliff edge consumed the ocean, always standing at the moment the future became the present. Simultaneously, he 'saw' how Icarion perceived the future. The heavens lay displayed to infinity with stars standing where Darshan saw islands. In his visions, the far future faded into the far vision. Here, the far future went on and on and on. The sheer amount of information disoriented the Primarch. He spent a full second anchoring himself before signaling, I'm ready.

Good. I spent much of the voyage here in meditation. I saw enough to know that if we target the colonies as our first priority, we risk defeat. Victory requires a decisive strike against the xenos homeworld, but I do not know where.

Even as the thought finished, Darshan saw several islands sink beneath the waves, battles that were removed from existence by choice alone. Darshan surveyed several island chains representing potential campaigns on the main planet. But details eluded Darshan as the islands emitted a thick fog. Darshan could only extract a few images from the worst islands. The shadow giant now loomed over him. A familiar officer wielding a sword in gleeful rage. Hundreds of mutilated mortals.
   
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My own visions are similarly bare, Icarion echoed.

We need more information, Darshan declared. He left the ocean and islands behind as he turned his attention to the Scaran homeworld. Although distance meant less to his power, Darshan had not extended himself this much in some time. Nor was the planet inviting. A vast network of green light criss-crossed over the continents. It was the exact same structure as the xeno warships. Darshan focused on the largest continent and followed the strands of Warp energy to the brightest point.

Careful, Alex.


Darshan's consciousness emerged in a vast subterranean chamber. The sound of a thousand wings filled the area as warrior forms flew about. At first, it felt random. One warrior flew up five meters, grabbed onto the wall, dropped four meters, and then traveled across the chamber. Darshan waited as he scanned the hundreds of scurrying xenos. Gradually, Darshan could sense a pattern to all of the movement.
   
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An entire web of surveillance coalesced before Darshan's 'sight'. The warriors forms' attention was ultimately anchored to a single point at the center of the chamber. The same point also happened to host the nexus point for the planetary Warp network. His spirit-shard approached the point. The vast roots of energy did not outshine the center of it all. Darshan saw an earthy star, hidden beneath layers of dirt and wax. Focusing his power, Darshan perceived the star for what it was: a creature, vast and powerful, used to uncompromising authority. 

The creature was also an opportunity. 
   
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Darshan took a moment to prepare his defenses. As potent as his mind was, he understood that the task he would attempt was quite dangerous. And he would have to it bereft of his vaunted foresight. The moment came and finished. He connected his mind to the creature's.

An inhuman screech cascaded through his being.

In the same instant, Darshan could see everything.

Caught between the flood of information and a world's rage at his trespass, Darshan felt something slip out of his reach. Water, liquid imagination, surrounded his being and pressed at his unmoored protection. Visions, thoughts of the entirety of existence threatened to drown him, each more incoherent than the last.

Before the last thread could snap, a voice roared out for him. ALEX!

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2019/05/01 15:13:32


 
   
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Alexandros blinked.

Exhaustion as such he had never felt before made even the act of scanning his surroundings difficult. He was back aboard the Thunderchild. Judging by his direct view of the ceiling, he seemed to be on his back. That was both unexpected and unwelcomed. Icarion knelt above him, open concern on his face. A second passed before Alexandros realized the telepathic link was still in force.

"You are safe", Icarion said, in both the verbal and the mental. The unusual combination made it sound like two voices overlapping with each other. What really surprised Alexandros was how different the tones were. The verbal words bore concern, familial affection, and a spark of kindness. All of these elements reassured and lifted him, emotionally. Yet, the telepathic tone was much more measured. Darshan could sense concern and relief but also frustration and even a hint of anxiety. Instantly, he recalled the nagging sensation from when Icarion addressed the war council. A dozen different reactions from the attendees, but all, in some way, shape, or form, favorable whenever Icarion had spoken. Alexandros had interacted with only one other being that possessed a similar power.

"You have father's voice," Alexandros and Darshan said.

No sooner had thought and word been uttered that confusion crossed Icarion's features. A moment passed as Darshan felt his soul probed by Icarion. Alexandros could not but find that curious. Icarion had never demonstrated any mastery of telepathy, yet the power washing over him was definitely exploratory in some sense. It was also not telepathy, which bewildered Alexandros. What art would parallel telepathy?
   
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After a moment, the probe ended. "You are not tainted, but you are not quite whole?" Icarion said.

"Wholeness is a matter of perspective at times," Darshan and Alexandros answered as his strength returned to him. "But I am in no danger."

Icarion mused on the response. "I suppose we both have our share of secrets. Can you stand?"

"In a few more seconds, I will. However, I believe my energy could be better spent elsewhere." Darshan delved into his memory. The most recent memories began smooth, until Darshan reached the disaster. His memoryscape became a jagged mess of half-formed thoughts, glimpses of past and future, and memories that did not belong to him. Darshan regarded the area with distaste as he sifted through it to find his own thread.

He swept away the leftover fear of a dangerous pregnancy. A child's memory of a fight with a former friend had to be tossed to the side. The visions were the most stubborn of them all. One shattered mirror showed him slowly burning atop a golden artifice. Another replayed a scene of two men playing a game of Regicide over and over on a world Alexandros did not recognize. The last one was the most preposterous: a young woman who had inherited his features, standing next to a tech-priestess attached to a spider-like engine. Truly, the Warp was a wellspring of insanity.
   
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Finally, Darshan located his own memories. Most of them were little more than a series of impressions, colored by an emotional upheaval of confusion, surprise, and dismay. He analyzed every second in aching detail despite his current emotions growing more volatile. Darshan paused as he grabbed a more familiar memory. He was a child, hand held by his adopted father as they walked to the town center.

Perdiccas, as was his custom, wore his best formal attire as he had done since being elected the town dēmarchoi. Diligent care had kept the suit whole, but not even to prevent the years and the relentless sun from fading away its sharp colors. Although Perdiccas was the highest municipal official, that did not change the fact that Makadon was a small village, barely noticed by the larger Hellasan nation. Perdiccas had been unable to afford to replace his suit given how measley his salary was.

"Papa," his younger self had begun. His red hair blazed among the crowd of burnettes and raven-hairs. A fact that caused not a few of the villagers to look at the young Primarch with frowns. "Why do you wear that old suit every day? Attalus is the judge and all he wears is his sleep-wear."

"His robe is not sleep-wear, Alex," Perdiccas reminded the boy in between greeting villagers.

"I'm not talking about the robe," Alex answered stubbornly. "I'm talking about what he wears underneath his robe. I saw it when he was stepping off his judge chair. And all he thinks about is going back to sleep at the end of the day."

"Good morning, Pausanias!" Dropping his voice to a gentle whisper that only Alexandros could hear. "We've talked about listening to people's secret voices."
   
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"I didn't mean to," Alex mumbled before redirecting the conversation. "If he wears sleep clothes, why do you dress so nice?"

Darshan smiled at the memory as he listened to Perdiccas' words before resuming his search; his emotions now anchored on the happy memory.

"Because I want the people of Makadon to know that I will always do my best for them, including dressing as best as I can," Perdiccas instructed, waving at an older couple. "Whatever job you do, Alex, you do the best you can. To do any less is to cheat yourself."

The boy Alex became pensive as he mulled the words. Finally, he answered, "Yes, papa."

Perdiccas grinned as he picked up Alex and carried him on his shoulders to the child's delighted laughter. "That's my boy. You remember that lesson, and you'll do great things."

The memory came to an end as Darshan located what he sought. He left the memoryscape behind to return to reality. Icarion awaited him with a small smile. "Your father seemed a decent man."

"He is," Alexandros and Darshan lightly corrected. "I should pay him a visit when I return to Delos."
   
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Icarion became quiet for a moment. "Treasure that gift, while you can."

Their connection was the sole reason Darshan could hear the regret and nostalgia in his voice. He wanted to ask, but the next battlefield awaited them. "Here." The memory Darshan materialized in both of their minds. In the moment before Darshan was crushed beneath the Scaran Gestalt consciousness and the Warp's sheer belligerence, he had indeed seen 'everything'. In their minds, the Primarchs could see the entirety of the Scaran presence on their homeworld. A snapshot of every worker, soldier, and leader was now theirs to analyze in addition to a complete picture of the Scaran communication network.

It was a strategist's dream of military intelligence.

"Let us begin."
   
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Chapter 14: The Tempest Within

"Are you Mahtva?"

Mahtva looked up from his dissambled volkite with brown eyes. He had just started a maintenance routine. A Halcyon Warden stood above him in full armour sans helmet. No rank distinguished him as being Mahtva's superior. "Yes."

"You are being summoned by Hydinburg. Please follow me."

Mahtva glanced down at his volkite as a spark of frustration burned within him. He glanced over to one of his new squad mates. "Obelius?"
   
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Obelius, a tall man even for an Astartes, looked up from his own volkite. He glanced at Mahtva, his volkite, and nodded.

"Thanks," Mahtva said before he followed the messenger. They left the rear Astartes quarters behind as Mahtva was led toward the bow. The Advance of Progress was a light cruiser only recently added to the 35th Expeditionary Fleet to replace a loss from the earleir Hena-jagathi campaign. Prepared explicitly to serve the Legiones Astartes, it featured flight decks for stormbird deployment and drop pod stations for orbital insertions.

Both had gone unused in the previous battle. In fact, Mahtva found his first battle rather anti-climatic. He remembered how his hearts beat with anticipation as his squad assumed their posts before the battle. Outside of the enginarium was a secondary armoury reserved solely for the Halcyon Wardens. Mahtva's squad along with three others took their places next to the armoury's exits. The direction of a boarding attempt decided which squad or squads would respond. Each squad assumed position, lined against the walls in combat order.

And waited.

Waited as they strained their ears for the order to deploy. Waited as each stood at combat ready for several hours straight. Waited until they were informed the battle was over and to stand down.
   
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Mahtva could not help but feel disappointment. He had been ready to serve in the legion of his savior and had been denied. His one consolation is that the campaign wasn't over yet. 

Their journey ended not far from the officer quarters. The messenger knocked on the door before announcing, "Mahtva is here, sir."

"Enter."

The messenger opened the door before stepping to the side. Mahtva walked in as the door closed behind him. The room felt different. It was an early lesson Mahtva had learned. Give a psyker enough time in a singular location, and it would absorb the individual in its very nature. While theoretically any such individual could have the same effect on a space, psykers doubled the effect in intensity and in half the time. 

To Mahtva, he felt these effects as a temperature that touched his soul. In this place, his soul stood in the middle of a desert. At the center of the searing heat was Hydinburg. 
   
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The older battle-psyker stared at the younger man for a moment with iron eyes. "So, you're the Primarch's chosen."

Mahtva shifted uncomfortably. Although more than eager to serve Alexandros in life and death, he did not care for this odd reputation among the Fifth Legion. Legionaries who were aware of his involvement on Balov had one of two reactions. Either they were proud to have a 'historic figure' join their ranks and believed the Primarch saw greatness in him, or they were resentful of the the boy who had both been elevated by the Lord of the Fifth and had witnessed their chastisement. The only exception was when Wardens were unaware of Mahtva's identity. It was a kind of ignorance Mahtva was more than happy to encourage.

He wanted to counter Hydinburg's words, but kept his mouth shut since Hydinburg was his superior officer. Hydinburg grunted at Mahtva's silence. "Still young enough to fight the fire. We'll see how long that lasts. What did they tell you about your service after training?"

"I would be assigned to a squad and serve as a standard warrior for a time."

"Technically accurate," Hydinburg admitted. "Our Primarch wants us to experience what being a regular marine is before we have to leave the ranks behind. Keeps us from becoming too separated. But we're not the Eleventh. We may have more psykers than half of the other Legions, so we can obey our Primarch's vision, but only to a degree. Your squad will not see as much combat now thanks to you. Can't put you in too much danger, so your squad now falls under my command."
   
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Mahtva could feel his frustration building within him. He had been looking forward to serving as a regular legionary, even if he knew it would not be permanent. To know that his status would reduce the honor his squad could earn only added to his anger.

Not to mention, Hydinburg's room wasn't helping. 

"Sir, I don't need any hand-outs. I can fight as well as any other Warden."

Hydinburg snorted. "It's not about you. Oh sure, our Primarch wants every one of us to feel equal before his eyes, but the fact of the matter is you and I come with a rarer abilities that make us more valuable than the others. Also, make no mistake, you and your squad might not be thrown into the hardest fighting, but we will pull our own weight. Like you're going to do in the next fight."

Mahtva perked up at that. "We're getting deployed?"

"Since you're a 'standard legionary', you'll have to wait for the chain of command," Hydinburg said with a snark-filled smile. "Before you rush out of the door, let me finish the briefing. I will determine when you're done pretending to be normal. When that happens, you're going to be directly under me before I eventually decide you can stand on your own. For now, at least."
   
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Mollified a bit, Mahtva mulled the information over. "Have you trained other psykers?"

"You'll be my ninth." Hydinburg snapped his fingers. A flame burst into existence at the top of his index finger. He stared as it danced. "It's strange. Before we found the Primarch, we had a steady stream of pyrokinetics. Now? We're becoming fewer. I don't understand how simply discovering our Primarch can have such an impact on our abilities." Hydinburg allowed the flame to die. 
   
 
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