The Dark Tarot
The Psyker's hand trembled as it turned the card. A tear dropped from his pale white eyes and struck the metal table. Then the shudder rippled to the rest of his body. He was bathed in a shaft of starlight that came from the porthole overhead. It illuminated the card before him.
A body, browned with age and blackened in death, sits locked within a great throne of gold, steel and brass. The corpse's mouth is open, projecting a silent scream that echoes through the unseen layers of the universe. Before the howling cadaver, a legion of angels kneels, crying violet tears.
The Psyker whimpered as, for the fourteenth time, the card began a slow roatation, as if moved by some phantom hand. The card inverted on the table and its gothic brown was erased by ash grey, as if the paper was burning without fire. And in its centre, a symbol bled through like a wound reopened.
By the wall, another figure manned a control-lecturn, from where he adjusted the opening of the portal at the apex of the chamber. With a few strokes he closed the apeture and drowned himself and the shivering Telepath in darkness. "Again."
The Psyker nodded and drew a second card, squinting at it in the twilight.
The Eye. A wound in reality, an open scar in space where the bruise-purple and blood-red eye of Chaos leers into the galaxy. The stars die around the Eye: some fading into cold blackness, others bursting in white hot torment. The Eye stares dully, little emotion beyond distant hate. But the nebula flares, tendrils spreading across space. The Eye has opened.
The man at the lecturn turned another dial and the window above them swirled open, letting the starlight back in. And immediately there was another cry from the Psyker at the table. The card began to burn, another symbol bleeding through in the light of the Hesperos Sun.
A third voice spoke, "By all that is holy, Inquisitor... what does this mean?"
The man at the lecturn turned, his Inquisitorial Seal gleaming in starlight. "You know as much as I do, Cardinal."
The Cardinal narrowed eyes at his host, not believing him for one instant. He hadn't climbed his way to the seat of Cardinal by trusting the word of Inquisitors. And he wasn't about to start. "How long now?"
"Four months, at least," the Inqusitor answered. "At first we suspected that individual decks had been tampered with. But now it is clear..." His eyes glowed with eldritch light as he focussed on the old man. "The Emperor's Tarot is corrupted."
If it were anything but an Inquisitor speaking those words, the Cardinal would have put him to death for heresy. Swallowing against the bitter taste in his mouth, the Cardinal peered beyond the lecturn at the Telepath and the cards he had drawn. "What the hell are they?"
The Inquisitor remained icily calm. "They do not match any Daemonic or Xenos records that we hold. So far we have identified eight separate symbols. They could point to events... or to individuals."
Over at the table, the Psyker curled up in grief, his pale hand obsessively turning the next card.
The galaxy burns. A figure stands in ancient armor, wreathed in a billion screaming souls that encircle him like mist. In its right gauntlet, Holy Terra blackens and crumbles. A demigod's blood drips from the talons. In the dim reaches of the vision, almost an afterthought, a distant howling light fades into darkness and silence. The figure smiles for the first time in ten thousand years.
The card began to burn, another symbol bleeding through.
"I shall spread the word amongst the governors," the Cardinal declared, turning for the door as he pressed a handkerchief to his mouth. "We'll say the symbols are marks of witchcraft. Anyone holding a corrupted tarot deck or bearing a symbol will be executed on sight."
The Inquisitor nodded silently, and only spoke when the Cardinal was about to signal his flight crew. "The Conclave will meet three nights from now. Can I count on your support, Cardinal?"
The old man glared back, knowing what it would mean if he said 'yes'. The entire military resources of the Hesperos System would be given over to the will of the Left Hand, and even the Bael War would become second place to the hunting of these dread symbols.
But already the panic was spreading, amongst the deacons and the schools of the Astra Telepathica. The Cardinal had no choice. With the slightest nod, he answered, "We will each do our duty to the Emperor."
He moved away, and the Inquisitor reached inside his robe. "Aye, Cardinal... we will."
He raised the bolt pistol and fired, shattering the skull of the Telepath. The man jerked and fell forward through the shaft of starlight, his horror ended and blood pouring from his stumped neck to drown the cards of the Dark Tarot.