“I’m concerned about Cognatius,” said the skull, as it drifted through the air alongside Inessa, causing her to jump. “His crusade, it wears him thin.”
Inessa grabbed hold of her servo-skull, drawing it close to her body and ducking around a corner into an empty corridor. A quick glance around told her that she was alone — she worried what could happen if these words fell on any ears but her own.
Her servo-skull had spoken before — but only once — the day her brother had died. As her brother died, bleeding out from wounds inflicted by their own sister, Nadya.
Inessa couldn’t help but to think back to that day, that moment, as her brother uttered his last words —
“Almost found it….” her brother had said, voice weak, tinged with the delirium of the dying. “The tomb. The skull. I followed the skull and I almost found the tomb.” He laughed, then coughed, flecks of blood spattering his face. He groaned, “I’m not going to finish it. I’m dying here, and I’ll never find the tomb…” Suddenly, he reached out and gripped Inessa’s arm with a strength born of desperation. His eyes wide, he spoke to her, “You need to finish it… you need to finish what I started. Find the tomb. The truth lies within the Tomb of St. Cognatius. They’re going to try to stop you — the Ecclesiarchy will do anything to preserve the legacy of St. Drusus; your sister will do anything to protect the Vendigroth name — but you need to find it. Find the tomb. Follow the skull. Follow the skull and find the tomb… ”
Then he died.
Inessa had then looked up at the servo-skull, hovering over the corpse of her brother, hollow eye sockets meeting her gaze.
The skull tilted to the side, as though it were still alive, still attached to a body, and still capable of expression.
“Orthesian,” came the hollow, digitized voice of the servo-skull, before drifting off.
Follow the skull and find the tomb….
And here she was, two years later, having followed the skull, and it’s singular utterance, bringing her across the stars and into the service of an enemy to her own blood. And in all that time, the servo-skull hadn’t said another word…. Until this moment.
“I’m concerned about Cognatius; his crusade, it wears him thin.” the skull repeated. “I’m concerned about Cognatius; his crusade, it wears him thin.” The way it was said… each time without variance, not in pitch nor tone nor pacing. It was a recording.
“I’m concerned with Cognatius…”
Inessa slumped to the ground, listening to the skull repeat it’s sentence, again and again.