Lovedagger

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Lovedagger is an alternate universe version of the Warhammer franchise that was aimed at the stereotypical female geek instead of the male kind.

Lovedagger is Warhammer, classical romance, and women's literature meeting midway, with the focus on big battles featuring heavy metal riffs replaced by backstabbing intrigue where elegantly-dressed hunks stare contemptuously at each other as they vie for the affections of a demure lady of quality, while a soft orchestral score plays in the background.

In a theoretical, alternate universe a British company called "Games Kitchen", makers of expensive dolls and girls' boardsgames, originally created the Lovedagger Fantasy universe as a setting for novels and roleplaying games in an attempt to market and appeal to fantasy loving women (designing it based on the themes and aesthetic of fantasy literature and other works of art popular with them). Proving wildly successful, the setting quickly spawned a more popular offshoot in the gothic science fiction universe of Lovedagger 40K, as well as numerous additional roleplaying games, book series', a relatively unpopular miniature wargame ("Lovedagger Tactics") and a vast amount of expensive merchandise. As the years passed, the setting evolved with young women's tastes and now caters equally to fans of romantic fantasy, anime, vampire love stories and video games. While the Lovedagger settings are torn by war and strife, these are not directly at the focus of the experience. Rather, war serves as a background for the personal dramas and tragedies involving exceptional individuals.

The main difference between Warhammer and Lovedagger isn't in atmosphere or aesthetic, but in focus. Lovedagger isn't a wargame, and it isn't about the physical act of war. It is a subtler, more aesthetic, more elegant universe which focuses on personal and interpersonal drama, especially of a tragic and/or romantic type. Its main imperial heroes aren't beefy alien smashers or tactically brilliant commissars - they are ambitious yet flawed nobles entangled in forbidden trysts and tempted into ruin by the seductive, beautifully terrible Dark Powers.

Lovedagger Fantasy[edit]

Empire[edit]

With less of an aesthetic emphasis on war and death and more on courtly intrigue and romance, the gritty-dirtiness of medieval Germany gives place to the grandeur and extravagance of Imperial Austria. The Empire is an anachronism anyway - there's no reason its architecture and fashions shouldn't be based on 18th or even 19th century central Europe, even if its military technology remains unchanged (or even without it. The effectiveness of weapons on the tabletop has always been pretty arbitrary, and steam tanks don't make sense anyway. They might make even more sense in a society that might've feasibly invented the hot air balloon (can you say airships? Because I think airships fit in).

That isn't to say that in Lovedagger Fantasy the Empire doesn't have its share of blood and gunpowder soaked battlefields, rat-infested sewers or filthy back alleys, it's just that the drama focuses on the fabulous palaces. If anyone does fighting "on-camera", it's less likely to be in ranks of muskets and more likely to be a handsome, swashbuckling prince swinging off the chandelier with a rapier in hand and a belt of (ornate) pistols.

The Empire was founded by a woman known as Sigrun Liebendolch. Sigrun was the beautiful barbarian maiden wedded as a young teen to one of the region's warlords. He was a brave, honorable man, and she truly loved him, but she also knew that his obsession with honor and glory made him too violent. Like the other warlords who ruled humanity back then, he couldn't make allies or unite tribes because everyone was always busy going to Valhalla. The Lovedagger was a wedding gift from the elves, a beautiful little blade that promised to fulfill one's heart's desires, but at the cost of that which is most dear to them. Understanding the meaning of this, Sigrun killed her beloved husband and, with her own wisdom and compassion, managed to unite the warring tribes into one powerful empire, which she ruled for a time before sorrow overcame her and she killed herself using the very same Lovedagger.

Bretonnia[edit]

Bretonnia, meanwhile, to balance out on the Empire becoming more outwardly elegant and "sophisticated" (you know, the nobles all wear beautiful masks while they stab each other in the back, and they use poisoned knives instead of swords), goes full hard Mists of Avalon/Arthurian Paganism. The Lady of the Lake and her Damsels become even more central to the drama (if not necessarily the culture), and the land takes on a less "shit-covered middle ages" and more "French Fairy Tale" feeling. The knights are actually handsome and chivalrous, but tend to fall prey to their own passions (Pendragon style) and get themselves killed off on fits of romantic madness. The peasants are still probably generally fucked up, but aren't all to the last one a bunch of illiterate, hopeless, inbred mutants. Hope and perseverance against impossible odds (especially socially) are key elements of the genre. In Lovedagger, it's hard but not impossible for a peasant who is brave and true and virtuous to achieve great things, and possibility earn a knighthood. It's also not impossible for a knight to remove "his" helmet and reveal they were a woman the whole time, of course. A Joan D'Arc equivalent figure is an absolute must. In terms of religion, maybe go as far with the pagan elements as to make the Lady of the Lake a tripartite goddess

Kislev[edit]

Is controlled from behind the scenes by a Baba-Yaga stand-in. It's also got a Tzarina, all-female spellcasters, and gorgeous fur coats.

Dwarfs[edit]

The gruff exteriors and grumbly demeanor of the dwarfs of Lovedagger hides a gentler, tenderer side. Within their hairy barrel chests beat romantic hearts which crave not gold and jewels, but true beauty in all its forms: a beautiful piece of music, and beautiful flower, a beautiful face. Dwarf craftsman toil for centuries in order to produce a work of impossible, unmatchable precision and ornamentation because that's what they put their heart to. By the same token, a dwarf gardener may spend centuries breeding a tulip which would be just the right hue and have the right kind of perfume, and the result would be just as impressive. The dwarfs of Lovedagger are highly sexually dymorphic: while the males are your familiar beardy vikings, the females are actually slender, graceful, and almost elfin in appearance (though still short and hairy). The dwarven appreciation for beauty extends to their own women, which are placed on a pedestal, courted from a distance and nearly worshipped. Their relative rarity makes them even more precious. Of course, that same preciousness means dwarf females aren't allowed to do much of anything, since Vala forbid they be harmed. They are dressed in the finest of garments and jewels, including face-concealing veils (to protect their honor, of course), and are expected to sit still being pretty while the males toil around them in an attempt to impress them. Naturally, in the feminist fantasy inspired world of Lovedagger, that is a Bad Thing (TM) and a proper dwarf heroine would be one who challenges the existing order by expressing a wish to become something more than a treasure: a craftswoman or warrior herself.

Stuff[edit]

Sigrun of the Lovedagger, the first Empress, was the archetypal Maiden: young, passionate, merciful, but ultimately driven to ruin because of love and sorrow - dying and (thus, in a way) remaining eternally young. The Lady of the Lake is the Mother of Brettonia: overbearing and terrible, but also nurturing and protective. The health and fertility of Brettonia literally flows from her. Kislev should have a central character standing in for Baba Yaga as the Crone - cruel and incomprehensible, but also wise. This Baba Yaga figure is probably an ultimate death monster on the tabletop, but more often appears in the (far more popular) RPG and novels as a mentor/adviser/trickster, as in Slavic myth.

Lovedagger 40000[edit]

In the cold darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only sorrow. Her Exalted Majesty the Empress has lain in deathless sleep for 10,000 years, frozen in a coffin of gold and crystal provided by Horus' final act of love, surrounded by blood-red roses and vigilant knights. In her slumber, the Imperia has fallen into chaos: treachery, sorrow, and forbidden desire are the rule of the day, and the Space Marines, brave men and women, pure of heart and shaped by the Empress' mercy into living weapons, barely hold back the forces of darkness - from without, as well as from within their tortured hearts. The proud but indomitable orks carve a trail of destruction through space, and the servants of chaos - shaped by dark powers into terrible and beautiful forms - spread pain wherever they go. - The OP Post

Imperia[edit]

The aesthetic of the Imperium changes. Warhammer is visually inspired a great deal by heavy metal culture, which appeals to male geeks, but it less popular with the female ones. Catholic/Gothic elements absolutely remain, but industrial ones become a lot more subdued. Imperial architecture, technology and cybernetics look a lot more organic, possibly Giger-esque (inspired by the visuals of the manga BLAME!). Skull imagery is replaced with rose imagery (to fit with the Empress' story).

Imperial technology is heavily based on nanotech, but it is poorly understood and regarded with spiritual reverence. The nanomechanical fluid is symbolic of the blood and water which are central to female-centric spirituality. As such, the Mechanicus now focus their worship on the black liquid "Sang Mechanica", which drives a lot of their machines. STC's are now womb-like in function, literally "growing" objects within the Sang Mechanica. Rather than becoming hideously deformed with obvious robot parts, the Mechanicus inject themselves with the Sang to attain longevity oneoness with technology. This makes them look like implant-less Borg, with pale, darkly veined skin and glowing eyes. Since they view themselves as "hideous" (in best trashy teengirl romance tradition) they hide their deformity under beatific porcelain masks and elaborate hoods. Also fitting with the themes of Lovedagger, they are no longer as machine-like in behavior - rather than replacing parts of their brain with computer, they merely augment it to Mentat-like ability while retaining emotional capacity. They do STRUGGLE to be wholly logical and passionless, but their struggle is spiritual, not neurological. They occasionally falter, and suffer from great internal anguish as a result.

The Imperia's signature weapon, rather than being the brutal and industrial looking bolter, is called the javel. It fires tiny, homing, explosive-tipped micromissiles which have a less gory effect than bolters, emphasizing both the facts that the Imperia is (a tiny little bit) more about accuracy than power compared to the Imperium and that their technological shtick is nanomechanics. Space Marine javels are fully automatic and considerably bulkier (though still very slick compared to the boxlike bolters), while inquisitors carry ornate, oversized "javel revolvers" which are not automatic but can fire a variety of specialized, large caliber round (including one which bursts in a shotgun-like fashion and releases a half dozen smaller, homing javel darts). Since conflict in Lovedagger tends to be subtler and more nuanced than in the Warhammer setting, these weapons are ideal for inquisitors whose needs might include such things as taking their enemies alive, neutralizing escaping targets, or fighting in enclosed environments.

The Imperial Guard still uses flashlights, because guardsmen who wouldn't die just aren't real guardsmen, in any universe.

The Empress[edit]

The Empress is less of a warrior king and more of a universal mother figure, wise, loving and all-nurturing. Her story focuses on the tragic aspects of her work: despite her love for all humanity, she was forced to commit terrible deeds and it burdened her soul. She was in love with Horus and when he betrayed her (because she chose duty to humanity as a species rather than her love for him personally), it was the grief that broke her, not the rage. Yet, after striking her down, filled with remorse, Horus decided to give her parting gift before leaving for the Eye of Terror: a final, gentle kiss, and a gold-and-crystal coffin which preserved her body (and her beauty - rotting corpses on thrones aren't romantic), but left her hanging between life and death for ten thousand years. Her "throne room" in the Imperial Palace is actually more of an impossibly grandiose tomb, and she is surrounded at all times by millions of frozen, blood-red roses, each representing the sacrifice of a soul to the Astronomican. Her guards watch over her body in an image taken from symbolic depiction of the tales of Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty.

Space Marines[edit]

You have Space Marines of both genders so you have the Chapters Sororitas and the Chapters Fraternitas. Among the Space Marines themselves, the Sororitas are known as the Blessed and the Fraternitas are the Tarnished. The Fraternitas call themselves the Unforgiven as every male Space Marine hails from a Legion that fell to Chaos.

Primarchs are Champions of humanity who were infused with the Empress's Love and raised to positions of power in the Imperium

Space Wolves get special nano-augs that allow them to literally turn into giant biomechanical wolves, complete with their armor. While they still serve in frontline combat, their primary purpose is to serve as trackers and hunters for the Deathwatch (their biomechanical wolf forms have supreme sensor arrays - "they sniff Xenos", basically). They are selected for the job by female Valkyries who wander the tundras of Fenris.

Names of minor Loyalist chapters in Lovedagger 40K:

  • Rosen Guard
  • Resplendent Roses
  • Blooded Violets
  • Thornwives
  • Screaming Nightingales
  • Vestal Doves
  • Swan Maidens
  • Tenders (of the Garden)
  • Mournful Criers (at the death of the Empress, symbolically)
  • Cradle Guard
  • Medusae

New names of the Loyal Fraternitas:

  • White Scars: Pale Riders
  • Iron Warriors: Her Steel Shields
  • Luna Wolves: Penitent Sons
  • World Eaters: Warhounds
  • Death Guard: Knights Vigilant
  • Thousand Sons: Crimson Eyes

Imperial Guard[edit]

Lovedagger isn't genderbent Warhammer, it's a differently focused setting. The imperial guard has the same male-female ratio it has in Warhammer, it's just that more women are shown since the important scenes are about character development and interaction, not battles.

That said, the IG might very well be the least represented army in the Lovedagger universe. Faceless, expendable, and with few purposes outside open warfare, they are the very definition of the "war as a background" mentality described above. Stories of heroic death and anguish of INDIVIDUAL guardsmen would exist, but the IG as an ARMY would mostly appear in the form of references by other characters.

— Say, Lady Valeria, didn't two billion guardsmen die to secure the garden we're currently partying in?
— But what a beautiful garden it is.

However, stories of individual guardsmen there would be in this setting and while we pay less attention to the war they participate in, we focus more on the story and conflict of what it means to be sent across the galaxy to do or die. Expect lingering shots of letters sent from front lines the galaxy over back to homes far flung.

  • Individual guard regiments
    • Steel Legion: The individual stories that come from the Legion would of what it means fight and to continue to keep the will to live in order to protect those you care about. Be it though the invasion of the chaos to the twin ork invasions the Steel Legion's goal has been to protect the hives and the civilians, and very often there own family's, within.
    • Catachan Jungle Fighters: the Catachans are a people of big hearts, when your grow up on a planet that despite the best efforts (and there have been attempts) of entire army's every moment becomes precious and so they are the archetypal 'live in the moment guys', so ya basically they are what Americans like to think of themselves as. As fits there Vietnam origins however they would be some of the main victims of 'war is hell' and, lets be honest here with the way they all look like hyper masculine body builders, Yaoi stories.
    • Krieg: Perhaps the most unchanged group in Lovedagger. Krieg remains the heavy industrial dieselpunk german world war one guardsmen they are in canon. The difference is that the camera lingers on the contrast. While the backdrop may be gunmetal gray pill boxes and machine gun nests, we stop panning at the little touches of humanity, the blooming flower boxes and the carved brass shell casings. Stories that used guardsmen of Krieg would be stories of what it's like for a literally mass produced soldier, cloned and designed for war and battle, when the war is over. Unlike in 40k where the Imperium would immediately shuffled off them off to another warzone or liquidated the survivors the Imperia focus on resocializing what is depicted as a necessary evil to fight her wars back to common society. To do so they go to great ends to get people born and bred as soldiers to become civilians, from cultural exchange programs, to using commissars to try and convince the Kriegsmen to stop digging trenches for fun and go get a drink, to starting dating websites to get guardsmen of Krieg to interact with people outside of their closed-off regiments.
    • Elysian Drop Troops: "Elysian" is defined as "of, relating to, or characteristic of heaven or paradise.", and in Lovedagger this is more obvious. Elysian would be a non-grimdark place to make the human story and disconnect of leaving that for a basic training, the focus of there story.
    • Tanith First (And Only): Kinda the same they are in canon.

Dark Powers[edit]

Dark Powers are the analogue to Chaos Gods. They are:

  • Tzeentch
    is no longer "The Lord of Change". Sure, he retains all of his old aspects (change, magic, all those things), but his aspect is that of the Lord of Treachery, and his focus is on lies, illusion and deception.
  • Slaanesh
    goes from the Lord of Excess into a more broadly defined "Lord of Desire". He's the guy behind the physical, loveless relationship that you know is terrible for you and your heart and brain tell you to stop, but your body can't help but want.
  • Nurgle's
    (aside from his diseases becoming less disfiguring and more of a Victorian "cough blood, be pale") aspect as the Lord of Entropy turns him, in the Lovedagger setting, into the Lord of Despair. As the ruler of emotional stagnation, he governs dark romances whose passion has died out, and both parties know it, but neither has the courage to kill so they all linger in unhappiness.
  • Khorne
    goes from the Lord of Bloodshed into the Lord of Fury. Fury is visceral, but it's also more broadly defined. It's possible to be furious on the battlefield, but also in personal life. Also in society. A politician, a lover or a scientist can be ruled by Fury. Champions of Khorne are probably less "steroid munching lump of steel and muscle", and more like those creepy anime bad guys with the long bishie hair who lick blood off their swords and jizz their pants at the thought of meeting a "worthy enemy", because battle to them is a release.
  • Malal
    In Lovedagger Malal goes from lost intellectual property to a horror that makes Orks quiver and Tyranids recoil when they chance a wiff of It's power. For Malal is not a god of emotion. Deception, Desire, Fury, even Despair are all emotions, but Malal is the Antithesis of that. Malal in Lovedagger is the God of Emptiness, of the emotional death of a man while his heart still beats. Malal is the only god who create cults that twist with emotions as if they where toys not with the goal of spreading influence but to destroy and beat down the emotions of every body, for when the warp is calm, silent, dead and not perturbed by feelings of the living is when Malal is at It's strongest.

Other races[edit]

Tau[edit]

While many "evil" races become more morally ambiguous in Lovedagger, the Tau ironically become a lot more evil and grimdark. Their rigid, caste-bound society is presented as spiritually and emotionally stifling, and the Tau themselves as nearly robotic overlords who wish to impose their passionless existence on all life. (of course, fitting with the themes of the game there are still good, passionate, rebellious Tau - but theirs are tragic, dramatic personal stories)

Orks[edit]

Orks are either noble savages, glorious warriors or (now that the new Mad Max film came out) basically War Boys. They are a lot less ridiculous and are shown in a more positive light, even if they're still the enemy. The matter of their reproduction always causes arguments since spores make more sense but it's hard to make romantic characters out of a race that has no sex drive. One option is to make them not romantic, but IMPASSIONED - they have a human being's emotional depth, but it is focused on the glory and joy of combat. They can only see "love" through the lens of battle. "Die historic on fury road" IS, to the orks, true love and so Ork tech works in this world not from a "gestalt psychic field" but from their passion that for other races is directed toward other thinking beings to their machines. You know that one guy who loves his car so much he will throw a massive hissy fit if it gets a scratch? That's the orks, only that their stuff is being held together by that love.

Necrons[edit]

Necrons in Lovedagger are like a beautiful and unstoppable horror, majority of them not really people. They aren't hunched Skeletons anymore. Now, they're massive faceless, Deathsteel, statues with the various Lords and Nobles having faces and decorations.

Lovedagger is about individuals. It doesn't matter if 99.99999% of the race is made up of terminators so long as the nobility are sentient space pharaohs. Especially if you focus on the brooding, self-hating "I have lived for a billion years and saw everything that I love either die or leave, yet this cold necrodermis heart does not beat" shenanigans. There should be space for diverse motivations. Some are ancient kings, loathing their current state and longing for love, some are content with their life and try to make their territory a decent place, that just happens to be controlled by an army of terminators (which is a source of conflict for them), some are operatic villains out to satisfy their avarice, etc. Some times the story shifts to that of individual Necrons warriors who remember only ghosts and bare images of there past lives and being left to search the embers of there memory's for something to keep them going beyond hollow programming.

Tyranids[edit]

Keep Tyranids pretty much as-is, but maybe give a bit more individual personality to their leaders. Humans (especially astropaths) are uniquely suited to becoming living CPUs for the Hivemind, as thanks or for convenience those "queens" who have joined willingly or have been outright kidnapped are allowed to keep some of their personality and gain a little influence over their hivefleet.

All are still very much subordinate to the Hivemind as a whole though, So the typical backstabbing and politicking is not present among Tyranid "nobility". They go about it in different ways but they all serve the will of the Great Devourer in the end.

Genestealers probably become more dramatically prevalent. Maybe there could be a genestealer empire somewhere in the fringes that's slowing sinking its fangs into Empire territory, and serves as a foothold for extra-galactic hive fleets to come into the galaxy

Eldar[edit]

Eldar are a tragic race. Dying and doomed but always struggling.

"Tall", "strong", "fast", "graceful" - these are all words that describe Eldar but there is one other crucial trait they possess. This is the trait that led them to greatness and it is also the trait that led them to their doom: they never do things half-way.

Driven to perfection by their very nature, they once had a mighty civilization built on passion. Great works were created, farthest reaches explored, a mere description of their romance would make a human's heart stop. But passion is ruinous. Great Love led them to Anger, it led them to Despair, it led them to Treachery, and most of all it led them to Desire... and that's how the youngest of Dark Powers was born, in burning hearts of Eldar.

Now, they're but a shadow of their former empire, utterly diminished. True to their nature, their hearts are still burning but they don't love anymore. Eldar have forbidden love, for love leads to Anger, to Despair, to Treachery, to Desire, to Ruin.

Writefaggotry[edit]

Lovedagger being what it was, it was only a matter of time until writefaggotry (in the truest sense of the word) showed up. For once, the style wasn't wholly inappropriate.

Icar and Valeria[edit]

"Please, Icar! Don't do this! If you've ever truly cherished our love, even if only for that, don't go!"

Valeria's cry echoed through the vast, empty bridge of the tiny ship, her normally booming voice fading into a metallic whimper between the beecrystal panes of the viewscreen and the black silver and nanocomposite pillar surrounding the two of them. Bitter stars rolled slowly by, distant and unfeeling in the void outside.

The tech-priest's body did not stir. His robed form, tall and gaunt and proud like a shining chain-blade, remained stiff. His shoulders remained firm. No hint of emotion could be gleaned from the serene, alabaster smile frozen upon his angel's mask.

She stepped forward once more, her boot clanging against the floor. If it hadn't been there, if it hadn't been him – Icar, and his beautiful, terrible, regretful smile – she would've cringed at the noise. Centuries of war have sharpened her senses at least that much. Yet, at that moment, she could make no sound above the drumlike beating of her own heart. It was more awful than the roar of all the bolters. It scared her more than the thunder of nuclear blasts.

"That is my choice," she said, anguishly, from behind gritted teeth. "My choice to make, and noone else'. I've already chose. I chose to love you."

"I'm afraid that I can't let you make such a choice", he spoke. His voice was the calm, ever-so-slighty artificial singsong of a Mechanicus acolyte. Another wall placed between them by the young man's obligation. Another mask. "You do not possess the correct data. Your conclusion is erroneous."

Valeria thought she could detect a twitch – the barest sign of hesitation, in the way his head nudged beneath the hood. He continued as if nothing had happened.

"I cannot allow you to make such a choice. My heart – my mind will not bear it."

He turned from her, as if there was anything in his face not already hidden. In the darkness of the bridge, the light of the holographic data-panels floating majestically in front of the viewscreen cast his statuesque features in a pale, blue shade. A silhouette of black and crimson robes against the cyan glow.

"You deserve someone better than me, Lady Inquisitor. You deserve a man. A beauty such as yours… a passion, such as yours… I would do it a dishonor."

He began to walk himself, quiet, measured steps. They made no clanging sound. He might as well have floated.

"This isn't a question of data", she whispered back at him. She knew he could hear. "This isn't a calculation. This isn't a formula! I know that I love you. You have a million eyes, how can you not see that? Love is the answer. It always has and always will be the answer."

For the first time in twenty years, for the first time since the battle of Imexa – the first time since Valeria first gave the order to end three billion lives in an instant, a tear glittered upon her pale cheek. It crawled down her neck and over her gold and silk cravat, leaving in its wake a salty trail of torment no less horrific than that which followed that fateful Cyclonic missile.

"You're a coward, Icar. You claim to be free of emotion, but it is fear that drives you now. You are as terrified of love as you're blind to it – but all your implants can't make you truly free from its grasp."

"You do not understand, my Lady", he said calmly, without looking back. "You have not seen the face beneath this mask. You haven't seen this refined flesh. Heavy is the toll that must be paid in the service of the Omnissiah. That is the price I have paid for my faith. In my faith, I am endless. The Sang Mechanica flowing through my veins has made me eternal."

"What good to you is an eternity spent alone? What good to you is faith without light?" He leaned against the control console in front of him. It was a human gesture – one that he shouldn't have made. One that he didn't need to. His synthetic fiber muscles did not tire.

"I am hideous, my Lady. My body is deformed. I am not worthy of being looked upon by eyes as beautiful and holy as your own. Please, my Lady – Valeria… Please, leave me be."

"I refuse, Icar. My love is far greater than this."

He shook his head, the hood flowing hypnotically from side to side. "No. It is not."

"Please," she begged, "please, let me take that chance. Don't leave me alone –"

"YOU KNOW NOTHING OF LONELINESS!" he screamed, turning back at her with savage, mechanical speed. His pale mockery of a face remained flat and expressionless, but his voice rose for a second to a blaring, static screech, like vox comm through heavy jamming.

Inquisitor Valeria has heard such sounds before, of course. Mechanicus voicebox implants tended to flare uncontrollably in moments of distress. On the battlefield, the death cries of the Skitarri were a horrid, unnatural chorus, as grave as any foul demon's.

She froze in mid step, less than a meter away. Even Icar was visibly shaken.

"Leave me be," he repeated, in celestial quiet, and returned to face the holo-display. "You do not know me. You do not know the price I've paid. The grotesquerie that is now my enfleshed face. The magi tell me that aesthetic sensibility is a weakness of the biotic mind, but I'm weak, Valeria. Far too weak to bear such… emotions as yours."

"Then let me give you strength", she replied, wrapping her arms around his broad, robed shoulders. Even if his heart still beat, she could feel nothing beneath the black and red cloak. The fabric was as cold and indifferent as the stale air around them. Icar made neither movement nor sound to acknowledge her existence.

She knew that he could see her. Even with his face turned the other way, the nanytes floating around him showed him the bridge in all directions, at all times.

"Let me give you my strength, Icar", she said again. "You don't have to be alone."

"I… I am unworthy", he whispered. With a gesture, the holo-screens in front of him began dancing, data running and windows opening and closing faster than even Valeria's augmented eye could track. He would lose himself in that empty bliss, if she let him. Give entirely to the automatic tranquility of data processing, to the job that was as much his very nature as it was his duty.

"You're worth the Imperia to me," she replied. Slowly, with a deliberation the powerfully built woman normally reserved for the handling of guns, her hands travelled down his shoulders, his neck, his chest. Trembling like those of a conscripted guardsmen, her fingers explored the folds of his cloak, turning and burrowing into the silk until she could almost imagine the feeling of the cold skin beneath.

Icar did not answer. The holo-screens ceased their waltz.

Valeria could feel his muscles giving beneath the cloak. Strength has abandoned him. Just as she did, the nano-morphed man had been, in the end, no more than a weak, fragile human. No less.

He turned around in place to face her. Blank, porcelain eyes stared coldly into her own.

"Won't you take it off?" she asked, not even daring sound hopeful.

"No," he answered somberly. "You know that it is forbidden. You know that is as it should."

"I know nothing", she pleaded. "You yourself said as much."

Before he could move in protest, Valeria's hands rose from within his cloak and reached up into his hood. Gently, so much as her shaky fingers could be, she gripped at the edges of the mask. It was cold and hard under the skin of her thumbs. Thin, like the sweet blade of a knife. Brittle, like a skull.

She pulled.

"It would not budge."

"…Nor should it. The material is magnetically locked to my nanytes. It will not unbind from my skin unless I command it to." Valeria's legs weakened. It was worse than any shot she's ever taken, any slash of the sword that ever drew her blood. For a moment – an all too long, moment – she could feel Nurgle's icy fingers closing around her heart. Was that, after all these years, the feeling of true despair? The nigh-forgotten sense of defeat? Icar didn't speak a word. Nothing sounded within the bridge but the powerful heartbeat and weak sobs of one.

Then, in the dreadful silence, slowly, a surface of porcelain moved. The attraction between Icar's skin and the mask having faded away like the light of a long dead star, it slid off his face like a fragment of dry ice.

The inquisitor stood stunned, holding the white mask in both hands, lost in the torrent of her emotions. Before her eyes, only a few centimeters away, was Icar's true, human face. It was as vile to look at as he'd described, as inhuman of that any of mutant. The skin, a pallid and sickly shade of grey, a mockery of the pristine perfection of the mask. Black veins trailed beneath, beneath the man's forehead and cheeks and nose and neck, like rivers of sacred Machine Blood over a desert of salt. Every so often, a faint pulse of bluish light blinked within his dark eyes, or behind his lips, the nanytes in his blood concentrating on some arcane, physiological task.

And yet, his face moved. Subtly, only so little, they moved. As inhuman as they'd appeared, in that, they were as close to Valeria as the memory of her mother's face, beneath the forgotten sun of her homeworld.

A tick of sadness under the eyes, where tears would flow. A wrinkle of shame beneath his shaved head. A tinge of resignation in the twist of his lip. A bitter, tortured smile – the knowledge that now that she'd seen him, there love would have no more future. No hope.

He was magnificently, terribly, human. Beautifully, dreadfully, human.

"Icar…" her voice shuddered.

"Valeria, I – I'm sorry."

"Do not be", she answered. Her hug tightened around him. Without even noticing, she's laid her chin on his shoulder, for comfort. For a warmth that was not there, but which she could feel nonetheless. "You are as beautiful as the dawn, Icar. Beautiful as the dawn."