Fifteen Klicks from Temple Ruins
Having left the Temple Ruins behind him, Shi Long made his way over what remained of the barren and treacherous terrain of the dilapidated planet. His steps were ordered; his mind, clear. He was to deliver the Fragment of Ombus - left in his care at the false base camp - back to Vexatus so that the profane ritual could begin. Things were progressing just as they had been foretold; all that mattered was possessing the fortitude to see them through.
The Primarch rounded a bend in the terrain, and he noted his path took him straight into a bottleneck. He slowed to a walk and took stock of his surroundings. High boulders surrounding the path created a natural choke-point, and any fool of a soldier who’d spent a day in boot knew not to walk into one.
But, Shi knew he was, for the moment, safe. He’d had been given assurances, after all.
He stepped confidently through the narrow pass, pebbles crunching underfoot and the sound of his heartbeat in his ears. As he crested a rise, he saw the path widen into a small clearing, with another path stretching back into the terrain some meters back. A small structure in the middle of the clearing gave him pause. He hunkered down, his hand straying to Nenshogeru tucked dormant in the front of his kami. Mercurial eyes scanned the surroundings, looking for the tell-tale glint of a sniper’s scope, or a cascade of stones heralding the presence of a clumsy look out.
Finding neither, he stepped down the path and into the clearing. The structure turned out to be a portable command tent of sorts, just large enough for a field commander and maybe three or four of his subordinates, some communications gear and scant supplies.
Shi knew the structure did not house such a contingent. The Force gave no warning of danger, only the hint of something…familiar.
He activated the hatch to the structure, and stepped through, closing it behind him as a secondary hatch opened. “At least he’s got atmo,” Shi remarked under his breath, pulling the front of his rebreather off of his mouth and nose to let it hang at his chest. Stepping through the second hatch, he finally laid eyes on his host.
Manji Keibatsu Sadow knelt at a low table, a similar rebreather hanging at his chest and his two lightsaber hilts at his right hand, resting on the simple furniture’s top. At his left hand, sat a gourd. The center of the table held two cups.
The Dokugan-ryu craned his head as if to allow his one good eye to take Shi in fully; it was an old and accustomed tactic, drawing attention to a supposed deficiency in order to better disguise one’s strength. Manji gestured to the empty space on the side of the table opposite him. “Sake.”
Less of an invitation; more of an order.
The Long hesitated for the briefest of moments, as if listening. Although the Keibatsu had a warrior’s mien - eye sharp and muscles limber yet responsive - Shi saw nothing in Manji’s body language that dictated he was an immediate threat. He eased down where Manji had pointed, nowhere near as dignified in the way that Manji knelt. Shi was seated on the tent floor, one leg outstretched, the other bent so that he could rest an arm on his knee. He clapped Nenshogeru heavily on the table at his right hand. Manji scanned Shi’s face, lingering on the lightsaber scar on his cheek. Shi’s hand moved up, his index finger reverently tracing the wound. “Shaving accident,” he explained, coaxing a snort from the Keibatsu.
Manji began filling a cup of rice wine from the gourd, his warrior’s hands surprisingly used to the delicate task. “You know me, I’d rather just had met you on the trail, but you know how ‘brother’ is. He insisted we chat first,” Manji grumbled, the warrior in him becoming annoyed by this exercise in formality.
“Your brother,” Shi corrected. “And, no; I don’t. Is this the only reason for this palaver? You’re keeping me from something important - or something important from me.” Shi’s eyes never left Manji as he snatched up the cup that was offered, but did not drink. The Pontifex poured his own draught, then held it up. Shi did not return the gesture.
Manji shrugged, then downed his drink in one swallow, proving to Shi that he hadn’t been offered poison. Shi downed his as well, liquid fire coating his throat and spreading into his belly.
“That…is very good,” Shi admitted. “Now, we’ve had our drink. I must be on my way.” The only reason that Shi was - though brutish in his way - being this civil was because of the trials he and Manji had overcome during the War. Same blood, same mud, went the saying, and Shi’s respect was bought only with the rarest of currencies. Manji’s account was in the black.
Still, there were promises to keep. Shi made to replace his rebreather and adjusted himself to rise. “Thanks for the drink, and the fresh air, but it’s time we be about our business, agreed?"
Within the folds of Shi’s robes, the Fragment began to pulse, an arcane reminder of what brought the forces of Sadow to Dentavii in the first place.
The Keibatsu, astonished that Shi would risk the Fragment by bringing it to his very door, smiled, baring his teeth. “Yes, I think we should.”