She yawned and opened a single eye. "You don't say." Her voice was a little slurred, probably due to whatever intravenous joy she'd partaken of that day.
"I do. I spoke to the Ecclesiarchy from Genoa earlier today. They have plans to fortify us with Sororitas. A small force at first, of course, but in time, my dear, Flayrah and all our other little worlds will be renowned for their safety and prosperity."
"That's nice, dear. But don't people already say that?"
"We were safe because of our obscurity and popularity with the fleet admirals in the region. We have not been independently safe. With the establishment of the 1st Xorn Regulars last year and now this deal with the Adepta Sororitas... I think we'll finally be able to relax."
"Don't get too excited, my love. We only have ten thousand pairs of boots in our Regiment. That's enough for garrison, but not to defend from a real threat. Not even if the Ecclesiarchy establishes an entire Order of their Sisters of Battle here. I'd not forget about the strings that come from dealings with the Ecclesiarchy. I hope you're prepared for that."
"That may be true... love... but what are the odds of something bad happening in the few months it will take to gather the numbers we need. Besides... the fleet will protect us."
"I do not think it is the fleet which protects us."
"Do not start your heresy with me again, Bethelsda."
"It is not heresy if it is true, Hakal. The Kindness protects us all. You've seen it."
"I've seen nothing of the sort. Trick of the light."
"The Kindness forgives you, my love. It shall protect your worlds."
Thunder growled across the landscape, which was odd as there was not a cloud in the sky. Before either of them could remark upon this curiosity, a shadow fell over them and continued across the cityscape. Another thunderclap. And another.
A burning hulk was falling through the atmosphere, explosions rocking its tortured hull as it did so. Massive chunks of burning wreckage had broken off and, while most of it traveled alongside the screaming wreck, sure to impact far to the east, some chunks began raining down on the city.
"No. No no. Not here."
Bethelsda laughed. "It appears as if the fleet is not as invincible as you would have me believe."
How could she laugh? He looked over at his voxcaster. No indication that he'd received a message.
"What? What could have happened?"
"What happened, you fool, is that you've led your worlds into a new era. An era of prosperity."
Rowyn started. Had her voice changed? "Beth?"
"Yes. And no," she laughed, "The Kindness is ready to be set free, it seems."
Tears welled up in his eyes as his beloved's form began to melt away before him. Her skin peeled away in flaps with the wind. When had she stood up? He didn't remember her standing up. He backed away from her. The her. A her. It was she, but not she. Her skin was scaled and iridescent with similarly iridescent plumage growing, before his very eyes, from her arms and legs.
"Oh, Beth, no..."
"Oh, Hakal. I'm sorry, but yes," she came for him, a mad gleam in her eyes. He had just enough sanity left within him to make a dash for the balcony railing and jump.
No! She caught him! As the hot wind of firey updrafts blew at his long, loose hair, her taloned hand dragged him back onto the balcony. "Monster! Witch!"
"Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of Forlorn. This world now belongs to Tzeench."
He moaned, unable to form words.
"Of course... you'll be kind enough not to tell the others in the armada I said that, won't you?" She laughed and laughed, "And, my little friend, in the future, you'll call me Ventrex. That is my name." Amidst his weeping, he finally, blissfully, lost consciousness.