Book Three: The Heart of Yang Xiao Long

Chapter 103: Inheritance

"For each and every sprout / We are taller and deeper." - Woadian Yong

A gallon of chilling water slapped Yang in the face, gooseflesh rippling its way down to her toes. Her teeth chattered, and a splash of bitter bile surged in her throat. Beside her, Amat nodded, the small bedroom she'd made in the Cathedral ruins was theirs alone.

Yang heaved, but nothing emerged. Just as well. She groaned, resting her pounding head on the edge of a wooden bucket.

"I knew there was a reason I'd given up binge drinking," she murmured. Amat made a noise of agreement. "I guess these metal guts have a limit."

"And what a limit it was," Amat said. "Did you honestly think you were going to win?"

"Had to try," Yang said, wiping her mouth. She spat a lazy glob of acid-tinged saliva into her bucket. "Feels wrong to take Space Marines away from where they're needed."

"The Adeptus Astartes are not perfect strategists," Amat said. "And I still feel as if there's something missing from the Sergeant's story."

"Do you still trust them?"

"Of course."

"Then I will too," Yang said. She wanted to rest her head on the bucket forever, keep the black, aching pain of reality firmly centered on its blunt metal rim. It hurt, but it was better than the idea of standing. The dream of remaining here until the Emperor reclaimed her soul was soon taken from her.

"They're ready," a voice said from outside the canvas tent-flap. A hand emerged, holding Yang's freshly-pressed dress greens in a stately black bag.

"Thank you," Amat said, accepting them.

"I don't wanna," Yang told the bucket. The bucket knew. It understood her.

"Would you prefer addressing the 111th as you are now?" Amat asked. He'd taken to wearing his mask again, but Yang knew a raised eyebrow when she heard one.

Looking down, she realized she was clad in an oversized tank top and little else. Commonly referred to as 'a guardwoman's nightie'.

"The stories they'd tell," Yang murmured. "The Living Saint in all Her glory."

"The paintings would of course depict it as a flowing dress of unparalleled beauty and deific grace."

"No mead stains?" Yang asked, pulling the shirt taught. There was more grease and dried mead than cloth.

"No mead stains," Amat confirmed.

"Did we eat at some point?" Yang asked, looking up at her boyfriend.

"Kebabs. They were quite good," Amat answered.

"I can't tell if you're fucking with me," Yang sighed. The thought brought a smile. There was something nice about not knowing what the former assassin was thinking. After all, if I knew what everyone was thinking, there'd always be a barrier between us.

Like Weiss.

The collection of water droplets at the bottom of the bucket froze solid. Weiss had to have reached Cadia by now. In the warp-rime, Yang saw the spires of the Kasrs, saw their streets run over with blood.

But it was only a trick of the light.

"She'll be okay," Amat said.

"I know. I'm the one that needs pity right now," Yang said, glancing at her dress greens.

"That much is true," he said cryptically. "We're departing soon."
"Guess I should clean up," Yang said, scrubbing the crusted sand out of her eyes. She shot Amat a sly smile. "However will I clean myself without my handmaidens?"

He tossed her a bar of soap.

"How salacious... shall I undress?" She purred. In groggy hangover-reality, it sounded more like an agonized wheeze.

"Please," Amat said. "Before we get to the water," he added, picking up another bucket of cold water.

"Oh fuck," Yang hissed. The tank top hadn't cleared her chin before another brace of cold water soaked her to the bone and sent her stumbling backwards. She yelped as the now-sodden garment clung to her face and shoulders. "I can't see!"

"The soap," Amat reminded her.

"You're a sadist!" Yang protested.

"And you're late for your own farewell parade," Amat corrected her. "Ten seconds before round two."

"Fuck!" Yang said, scrabbling for the soap. "You're a sick man! You're not getting off on this, are you?"

"Nine seconds."

She scrubbed herself violently, clenching her teeth before the inevitable. "This is what I get trying to out-drink an astartes."

"Yes," Amat said solemnly.

"Will you at least let me take the tank top off so I can scrub my face?"

"Five seconds," Amat said. Also solemnly.

Yang snorted. Amat cracked a smile too, but readied his waterborne cruelty all the same.

Flinging the garment off, she scrubbed her hands together and slapped them over her face.

"Alright!" She cried, clenching her jaw. "Do it! Do it, do it, do-"

He did it.


She wiped the water out of her eyes, only to see Amat still smiling. Yang laughed. "Alright, I'm feeling a bit better now. Thanks, assassin-man. Shame I have to get dressed again." She added.

"Yes," Amat said.

By the time Yang had donned her dress greens, a small crowd had gathered outside her bivouac tent. Woadians, Ranshans, civilians, guardsmen. In front of them all was Vadiik, a fat stick of lho resting between her fingers. A sling hung from her back, packed tight.

"Ma'am," Yang said, straightening her tie.

"Miss Long," Vadiik returned.

"What's with the sling?" Yang asked.

"I'm coming with," the old veteran said. She took a drag. "Been fighting forty years now. Everything I had left is gone. It's time for me to go to Holy Terra."

Yang nodded. "Welcome aboard." She looked over the crowd. "Where's the 111th?" She whispered.

"On the mustering field," Vadiik said, waving her lho as it trailed a thin and gentle curl of smoke.

"Alright," Yang replied. She looked to Amat, who nodded. "Let's go."

She started down the streets of Aesborough. Woadians by the thousands had returned to the continental capital, and scaffolding was beginning to creep up the ruined buildings like storied ivy.

The crowd followed at her heels. They understood why she could not stay, but a pall still hung over them, ran down their cheeks in salty brooks. They flashed the sign of the Aquila, bowed their heads.

Until a voice rose up to the sky. A Ranshan yong, roughly hewn from the throat of a Woadian. The response came haltingly, but did not lack volume. Yang remembered her brief march through Aesborough's streets, the same route, the same grief. At the time, she'd felt like an observer.

She knew she had to say something to the regiment. Something to steel their hearts for the fight ahead, to let them know that she was a part of them as much as the Emperor was a part of her. Amat walked behind her, exitus rifle tucked into his shoulder.

I'll know what to say once I'm there.

The suddenness of it all made it seem as distant as Remnant, some faraway dream-place that only existed in memory. But reality washed the feeling away with each step taken on the ruined roads of Aesborough. The 111th had fought and bled with her. They slew a chaos lord with her, saved an STC with her.

Even though she didn't socialize much outside Gamma, they were just as much her brothers and sisters in arms.

And the reality struck her like an exitus round when she cleared the city limits. Once again, the mustering field awaited her. Once more, Woadian guardsmen stood there waiting. There were so very, very few. A fraction of those that had once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her. With Ros.

Towering over them was Holmbr, waiting beside a single aquila landing craft. Beside them stood Mael, clad in an Ecclesiarchy's novice robes, Soo in the dress she'd received at her Odallthing. Theni too, freshly-shaven, the best he'd looked since the eldar attack. In the skies above, the Ascendant Dawn awaited the Living Saint, clouds breaking against the hull.

The third yong ended, and the ranks of Rangers parted as one. Yang strode amongst them. Many sported scars they'd not worn a year ago. Fresh chemical burns too. Many of them - like Yang - wore augs and battlefield promotions and the grief carried by all guardsmen.

But there was pride too. Pride to have served the Emperor and His avatar. Pride that they had sailed into the warp and far away, and returned to their ancestral home.

Arriving at the base of the lander, Mael and Soo knelt before her.

"Yang," Mael hissed under his breath.

"Nice robe, jackass," Yang returned, also quiet.

"Those uptight assholes won't do you justice," Mael explained, standing. "I was there. I received a miracle. They'll tear their hair out, but they'll have to listen to me."

"Be careful ya big lug," Yang said, enveloping the man in a crushing embrace, careful not to agitate his new burns.

"I will."

"You too," Yang added, pecking Soo on the cheek. "And remember," she said, jabbing her finger at Soo's swelling belly, "this better not be a Yang."

"It's a boy, Holiness," Soo returned. "I know it." Her eyes were wet.

"Yang," Torbrand boomed, his voice echoing across the field. "I have determined that Brothers Vulkmar and Laukr will accompany you on pilgrimage to Terra. As thanks for your duty done to the Vlka Fenryka."

Said brothers stepped forwards in perfect synch.

"We swear our service to you, avatar of the Allfather," they said. "Until the blood-debt is paid. Until the return of the Thirteenth Company, until the return of the Wolf-King. Until our duty is done."

"And they will serve you well," Torbrand said. Unwrapping Vigridrkonungr from a bolt of black-gold silk, he handed the hilt to Laukr. "As will this blade. The King of the Battlefield at the End of Time. A relic from days when we were Legion."

Were Laukr not astartes, were he not forged in the depths of the Aett, his jaw might have dropped. Instead, his eyes widened for a single moment. Yang nearly saw Amat in the brevity of it all.

He accepted the blade solemnly, and said not a word.

Yang bent down to embrace Theni while Torbrand spoke a few parting words with his protege. "Goodbye," she said. "Keep everyone in good spirits while I'm gone, okay?"

"I will."

Yang stood, and the lander doors opened. She followed her new guards aboard, their weight rocking the lander. Behind her came Amat, Vadiik, Caolin, and Asgeg.

The Living Saint Yang Xiao Long turned to address her faithful, the 111th, the men and women that had been to hell and emptied their lasbatts. Yang saw Shen-se and Sparlich, Ranshan and Gartenwalders among their new kin. She saw Rhain, she saw Syvr. She saw Jorvis and she saw Naja. They reached out to her from the side of the Emperor. She saw Ros.

And she could not say a word. There were none to be found. She tried to force some past the lump in her throat, but nothing came out. So she said nothing. Instead, she snapped her heels together and gave the sharpest salute of her life.

Every soul returned it.

"Áuh!" She bellowed, eyes watering.

"Áuh!" They returned, raising their fists.

"All hail!" Mael cried. "All hail the Living Saint Yang Xiao Long!"

"Áuh!" The 111th replied. "All hail the Living Saint Yang Xiao Long!"

The lander door began to close, but Yang did not move until it had slammed shut with a deafening, metallic finality.

The healer made words at her, but Maion barely heard them. She caught a few here and there. 'Risk of infection', 'inferior human stock', 'severe psychic trauma'. Though delivered in the gentle, even cadence of one who has perfected their path, the Healer's words meant very little to her. They all said the same thing - she could no longer serve the Shadowed Strike.

Limbs were replaceable. She knew that. She also knew that after suffering an episode of psychic hysteria from an unknown source... it would be many, many passes before she was allowed to hold a chainsword again. To stalk her prey. To fulfil her duty to the Tou'Her. To Il-Kaithe, and all eldar.

Flashes of her episode worried at her, gnawed on the edges of her perception. There was nothing in the room but her bed and the Healer, but she kept seeing flashes of red, felt her own nails claw away at her skin.

Once the Healer's noises stopped, he left the room. There was no whisper of wraithbone tumblers turning, so she knew she was no prisoner. Hardly an encouraging sign.

Maion cried. Each tear burned as it worked its way down her face. Each was a dozen disgusted looks, a hundred comments, a thousand reprimands for her heritage, her family, and her philosophy. She was a rabid animal, a mon'keigh with no self-control or patience. Weeping was failure in and of itself, an acknowledgement of her ineptitude she could not ignore or deny.

Her tears dried eventually, though only Isha knew how long it took. She tried to hold herself tight - a tactic from her childhood - but her missing arm made it a futile effort. There would be no comfort found in wallowing, but Maion could do little else.

Time passed thoughtlessly. There was nothing to think about, for her Path was denied to her. For every disgusted glance, there was the hum of her chainsword. For every slight, there was the smell of boiling blood. For every failed relationship, there was the hunt.

Now there was nothing.



And she allowed her mind nothing, for the alternative was worse.

The door slid open, and Mirodir emerged. There was a terrible fatigue to his countenance, one he rarely donned. He had always been so practiced and reserved, the perfect Patriarch to follow in mother's absence.

"Hey sis," he said, his voice hoarse.

"Miri," Maion said. Her brother swept her up in an embrace, one she sank into readily.

"Bregedial is well," Mirodir said, touching her mind and reading her surface thoughts. "The baby is… quieter than normal. They're thinking of naming him Pyrrhus."

"Appropriate," Maion noted.

"Indeed," Mirodir allowed. There was a pause as the siblings separated. A long, pregnant silence. "I was terrified for you."

"I am alive and unpossessed," Maion said, choking on her bitterness. "So leave me. There must be more important matters to attend to."

"No," Mirodir said firmly. "You are my sister. My favorite sister," he added with a rueful smile.

Against her will, it forced a smile on Maion's face as well. "You are trying to make me feel better."

"I understand what this means for you," Mirodir said. "But you forget the service you have done us all." He paused. "There have been far pricier sacrifices made in Il-Kaithe's name."

"I know," Maion said, a sigh escaping her. "I am still angry. Confused. And guilty for feeling so."

"Come home to the compound," Mirodir said. "The healer said you are free to leave, but-"

"I know what comes next," Maion said. She refused to hear the words, for listening to them would make reality all the nearer. "How… how does Grandmother fare?"

Mirodir sighed. "The Autarchs allowed her an audience. They are convening with the Farseers. Our path forwards - as a Craftworld - is still unclear. And Abaddon's Black Crusade is complicating matters. Our armies are facing tremendous challenges."

"I would not need to be Uncle Sylvis to have known that," Maion said. She blinked, wiped more stinging tears from her face. "Let us depart. I would rather not look at this place any longer."

Mirodir offered her his hand. Her stump wriggled in an effort to obey her. Wordlessly, her brother turned his back to her and crouched. She slumped forwards, wrapped her remaining arm over his shoulders. It was like they were children again, playing in the compound.

Il-Kaithe was in its early night cycle, simulated moons full-faced and shining onto a quiet craftworld. Where Dolone was once radiant and vibrant, the lights had faded, the streets had emptied. Its beauties had been exchanged for the realities of war. Only a handful of fliers skimmed the night skies.

As Mirodir carried her back to the Tou'Her compound, Maion realized that singing still echoed through the forest of wraithbone towers - the chorus of a thousand bonesingers, weaving their peerless craft. They forged weapons, mended armor, repaired ship hulls, embedded soulstones into revitalized wraithguards.

Their songs were in concert, each bonesinger a chorister in Il-Kaithe's latest war-epic . When one voice died down another took its place, leading the others, who responded together.

"Stop please," Maion requested. Mirodir obliged, setting her down on a small bench. Together, they listened to the music. They remembered when Auntie Rhona's voice once joined the others.

The Infinity Circuit pulsed in time with the music, an electric humming that filled the air, and bands of light that pulsed throughout Dolone. Perhaps her aunt's voice was not entirely quieted. Though it remained unspoken, the Tou'Her siblings knew that it was not long before Aunt Rhona would be called upon to serve Il-Kaithe once more.

"I have been accepted into the Autarch's path," Mirodir said, breaking their silence.

"It has been long in coming," Maion said. "I am happy for you."

"Casualties forced the Council's hand, I think," Mirodir countered. "That they would stoop so low to accept an eldar with human stock."

"You will excel," Maion said.

"I must," Mirodir replied. "I would be the first Tou'Her to serve the Council in three thousand passes."

"Il-Kaithe is more than the Tou'Her," Maion argued.

"I know," he said. "But with Grandmother's return... my thoughts turn to the family."

"Is that why you retrieved me?"

"I retrieved you because it will do you well to be at home."

"And be surrounded by reminders of my countless failures to find another Path?"

Mirodir sighed. "The others worry after you."

"I care not for their pity," Maion said.

"Pity is not…" Mirodir stopped, folded his hands together. They listened to a renewed verse, the creation of the Sunspear by the great spellsinger Fäéntara. "No one pities you. Your grief is theirs."

"That is precisely the problem," Maion said. "I have become a burden in very dangerous times."

"Grandmother would not see it that way," Mirodir said gently.

"And mother?"

Mirodir's dark eyes blackened even further. "Mother lost herself on a selfish Path. You remember what she was like. And you burden yourself by inviting her opinion into this. I am Patriarch. Not her."

Maion smiled despite herself. "Thank you, Miri."

"Of course."

"You are still conflicted about something," she said. "I hope it was not those words of encouragement you just shared."

A bitter smile from her brother, one that matched her mood. "It is the war. Combined with Grandmother's revelations, the craftworld's options are… imminently open. In a way they never were before. But the way forward is still murky, and the margins of error are slimming."

Maion was quiet for a time. "And what can I do?" She stared at her stump, jutting out from her medical stola like a black, cancerous growth.

"You can rest and reflect," Mirodir suggested. "You have had little chance to do so in many passes."

"Feh," Maion spat.

"You sound like Yang," Mirodir said.

For the first time since departing the Black Library, Maion's sour countenance crumbled. She laughed, thoughts of the Golden Dragon's impatience and volatility dancing through her memories.

"She was just like Grandmother's stories," Maion said. "Unsurprising. For Yang, it has only been a handful of passes since they last met. The Imperium had already sunk its talons into her, but she was a delight to fight with."

"How did she handle the Black Library?"

Maion's levity evaporated. "Like we all did."

"Was it not glorious to behold? I tried asking Grandmother, but she is… fading rapidly."

"It was," Maion replied. "But of those who visited… we all saw things we would rather forget." Her thoughts turned to Asillar, of his hand as it reached out and caught her own. "It was not a journey easily made. And…" The warmth died away once more as she recalled the glowering, ear-splitting grin that Duulamor wore.

Such a terrible smile, don't you think? An expression that might take you to the brink!

Maion shivered.

"I'm scared, Miri," she admitted. "I don't know what's going to happen. And I feel so powerless."

"Me too," Mirodir said, looking out over the city of Dolone. The bonesingers continued their ancient craft, ignorant to their audience. "Me too."

A/N: Guess it's that time of year again!

Hopefully everyone's well! Been a crazy year… feels like they just keep getting crazier and crazier, really. I've actually had a good year myself, certainly better than the last! Thankfully no huge blog post this time, but a quick explanation on AWoBE's status:

Alas, I haven't touched AWoBE all year - just been insanely busy with original projects. I probably won't go back to work on this fic until everything else is finished. I'm still not planning on resuming regular updates until the rest of AWoBE is finished, but I'll keep posting anniversary chapters just to assure everyone that the story is still alive.

I am truly, deeply sorry.

You've all been so incredibly kind in your support of this fic, and every review posted in the last year has warmed my heart considerably. Unfortunately, due to life being the way it is, it's insanely difficult to justify spending time on a massive, sprawling fan project that I cannot and will never monetize.

Until next year, then?

Please, stay safe and be well. I appreciate you all immeasurably.