"Four-score and seven hours... and now we shall begin."
The Firestorm Class Escort Ship, Elsinore hung in geosynchronous orbit of the Deltes Asteroid, matching its fickle twists and turns. Its dorsal chambers were less than a hundred feet from the surface of the rock. Ship and asteroid spun like silent dance partners in the dead of space.
Three and a half days ago, its sister ship, the Cobra Class, Wittenburg, had jumped to warp following completion of a mock training exercise with the Elsinore. Under the direction of the Most Reverent Envoy of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Wittenburg had detonated a torpedo in its wake that would produce a fake warp signature... the illusion of a dual jump.
And since that moment, the Elsinore had hid behind the Deltes Asteroid, concealed from the prying eyes of their target... the Shrine Planet of Cloister.
On the cavernous bridge, stood between the myriad light of stainglass windows and Imperial standards, the Captain pocketed his antique timepiece. Smoothing his naval jacket, checking cuffs and collar, he clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat.
"By the Emperor's leave, prepare to end Symphony Delta Nine."
On the other side of the command lectern, the Flag-Lieutenat snapped to attention in ceremonial garb. "Confirmed. PREPARE TO END SYMPHONY DELTA NINE!"
"Prepare to end Symphony Delta Nine!"
"Prepare to end Symphony Delta Nine!"
The call was taken up by runners and vox-casters, passing along the great hallways of the bridge. As it echoe into the distance the Captain gripped the lectern, his face lit by the eerie glow of awakening systems. "Pray silence the Choir of Night."
"PRAY SILENCE THE CHOIR OF NIGHT!"
"Pray silence the Choir of Night!"
"Invoke the Choir of Fortitude."
"INVOKE THE CHOIR OF FORTITUDE!"
"Invoke the Choir of Fortitude!"
Half a mile below, in the cathedral-sized vaults beneath the engine room, one choir of serfs fell silent while another began, a low chant giving way to sharp and righteous song. There was drumming in the deep, rousing thunder as the engines rose from their slumber. The ship shook and lurched, like a beast rearing at its leash.
On great chains overhead, ordinance was swung into loading breaches and fuel-lines opened. In every crevice of the ship, orders and holy mantras were recited.
The Elsinore dropped from the shadow of the asteroid and swooped towards the bleak and barren shape of the planet below. Its underbelly burned against the atmosphere, a blazing star that would light the sky of Cloister this night. It was a dead planet, with nought but a single group of structures built years ago by the Black Templars. But the Space Marines had long departed and now their bastions were inhabited by a Mendicant Order... a community of pigrims living on prayer and charity.
They would never know what hit them.
The ordinance bays of the Elsinore opened, dropping the house-sized demolition charges into the atmosphere. Five of them in all, the explosives rocketted through the atmosphere and tore towards the surface. Then the planet shook as five mushroom-clouds blossomed in perfect shape.
And then, from the launch bays, emerging through a mist of censer-smoke and adorned in holy oils, the Aquila Lander craft dropped. The tiny vessel was rocked by g-forces as it fell from the Elsinore and crashed through the atmosphere.
It spiralled and spun, corkscrewing through the eye of the firestorms, down, down, down into the heart of corruption, carrying its cargo of Imperial Agents.
And in the old chapel of St Drusuus below, the Cult of the Evertore knew they had nowhere left to run....
It was a blessed mission - blessed by the Emperor and by the resources of the Imperium. The warband had secured the service of the Elsinore, the assistance of the Mechanicus Envoy, a full platoon of naval guardsmen, and a refitted Aquila Lander...
It was testament to the influence of Inquisitor Conway and his late companion, Von Yastobaal. They had pulled their strings and pushed the limits of Inquisitorial authority.
Months of preparation and scores of bureaucratic deals. They had one shot at this mission, and failure was not an option.
And as the Aquila craft corkscrewed through the artillery blasts and rammed the dome of the cathedral... the Warband showed their final gifts from the Imperial Guard... the Grav Chutes.
Arbitrator Vates sprinted across the assault hold and flung himself through the doorway, tumbling out into open air as the Aquila thrusted to hovering speed. He spun and spiralled with the falling glass of the dome. And a few feet before he struck the marble floors his grav-chute came to life, slowing him with a violent jolt. He lifted slightly then dropped the rest of the way, landing with the shards of glass in the central ailse of the cathedral.
And now he saw what had become of the Mendicant Order. Gone were their peasant rags and holy censers, and in their place were white robes and flesh adorned with unholy tattoos. They armed themselves like hive scum, stubguns, blades and muskets - whatever they could find to repel their judgement.
The Arbitrator rose among them like some Roman Centurion fallen from heaven. And for a moment there was silence, stillness. The Cultists gazed at the great suppression shield held in the man's hand, and in the other... the protuding barrel of the shotgun.
He pulled the trigger and the silence was erased. A rank of three cultists had their heads and torsos shredded by the blast, knocked against the pews as the gunshot reverberated. Then all at once the roar of the Aquila engines and the thunder of the Elsinore's orbital strikes returned. The Cultists opened fire, screaming with defiance.
Vates lunged forward, tossing the shotgun aside, snatching his power maul from his back and bringing it into the side of the next opponent. The discharge ruptured organs and broke bones, flinging the man away. Vates spun as he fell, slamming his suppression shield against the next rank, who were likewise repelled.
He brought the shield up, bracing against a hail of autogun fire as one of the Cultists went fully automatic. The Arbitrator thumbed the release straps on the grav-chute, letting it fall away, then pushed against the hail of autogun fire. His momentum built and he charged, pushing the shield into his firing gun. The cultist fell and Vates followed him to the ground, pinning him beneath the shield and rolling over him. He landed amidst the next rank of cultists, coming up with a flurry of blows.
He was surrounded on all sides, but his power maul struck like a scorpion's tail, stinging those around him. Then he spun again, the sharpened edge of his suppression shield opening bellies and shattering hips.
The Cultists fell away and Vates dropped to one knee, bringing the shield against him and forming a wall in the aisle that would cover the landing of his comrades.
And from the opposite end of the ailse, by the blasphemous altar, a figure stood in hooded robes.
It was him... the Evertore... and he was watching.
Commissar Cadet Pius was the next to leave the Aquila, diving out into the open air after the Arbitrator. Although he still wore his great coat, he had packed his cap safely away in his combat pack, replacing it with a helemet and resparatior. The helemet was the same as any normal guardsman however it bore a blue strip and winged death's head where it would otherwise be blank, denoting his status as a commissar.
As fell he turned on his grav chute well before he hit the ground and brought his meltagun to bear. Still hovering down he openend up on the cultists, his meltagun sprewing beams of blue fire. Once close enough to the ground he killed the pack while under one of the cultists in a half baked effort to drop onto him. Physics chose not to agree with him and he ended up on the ground next to the heretic. The cultist in turn charged him and he drew his pistol in time to get of a quick shot. As the cultist fell to the gound his white robes began turning red.he Arbitrator.
It didn't matter what order he went out, he could see the shattered dorm below as he spiraled downwards. the flashes of gunfire greeted him along with the screams of dieing heretics serenading their arrival. As much as he disliked dropping in so close to his targets as soon as the gravchute slowed hid decent his longlas was aimed and a his first shot went though the eye of a cultist who was approaching the arbitrator's shield, he reloaded and the next shot sent another cultist down clutching his throat. "They never learn to take cover." he said moving to cover the isle parallel to the one the arbitrator has blocking and the sound of his rifle sounded several more times.
Eli Gaunt noticed the cultist just in time to reach for his laspistol and blast him in the shoulder. The effect was rather messy. He frowned and wiped at new bits of gore on his fresh uniform with his free hand.
Now where had his chainsword gone off to?
Ah, it was laying on the floor a few yards away. He picked it up.
How had he ended up over here?
Eli frown deepened as things began to come together. A cultist must have scored a lucky hit on his Grav Chute as he came through the dome and made the thing go haywire. He ended up in a pile of debris on the other side of the church. Eli could have been killed right then, mere moments after entering combat for the first time in a pleasantly long while, but he wasn't given much time to dwell on it. A few more cultists emerged from a side passage next to him, eager to aid their brethren. One of them screamed and all three charged towards Eli.
Eli cursed and raised his laspistol. The first shot from the pistol found a cultist in the head and reduced it to a flaming pulp. The second hit the same cultist again as he fell. The third sent the second cultist screeching onto the ground as his guts burst into flame. The last cultist was too close. Eli jumped back as the heretic swung his rusty sword. He swung back with his chainsword, hitting the cultist above the shoulder and cleaving him across the chest to the armpit. Eli stepped back, watching the final cultist fall. He spit at the bodies before turning and running back to the other end of the church.
Throwing a grenade down into the fray crossed his mind, but Julius hadn’t been the first to drop from the Aquila, and by now he dropped too close to the ground for the grenade to have no effect on him or the other acolytes.
Instead, he threw a blinding grenade right below him, as the wind had taken him off the course from the Arbitrator and his shield, he’d have to make his own way. The blinding flash of the grenade stunned some of the cultists below, and it gave him time to release the grav-chute and drop right into one of them with the knife in hand.
He stabbed the cultist in the neck and swiftly twisted it before he pulled the knife out, the dead body lowering his fall as the grav-chute fell down to the ground, distracting the cultists and giving him enough time to aim his las rifle and shoot two of them down, they were running out of people to shoot, thankfully.
Julius caught sight of the Evertore before he fell down as he was trying to correct his way closer to the leader. Once he got close enough, a cultist grabbed his ankle and made him trip, before he could manage to do anything though, Julius, always with the knife close to him, stabbed the cultist’s arm before shooting him. He rose and made a sprint up towards the Arbitrator, and the Assassin.
“Sev!” he shouted as he moved to the aisle, gesturing to the Assassin and pointing to leader of the cult, “Shoot him, that’s their leader!”
The team was engaged. As Vates held the aisle, Viktor and Severus were behind him, throwing back the cultists with melta and las-fire. Eli and Julius were on the flanks, having drifted on their landings.
Such was Vates's luck. The two behind him were the two of the warband he trusted the least - the engineered killer and the near-tainted Commissar.
'Be vigilant, Urellis,' the Inquisitor had warned as they boarded the Elsinore, 'The Emperor has spared the boy for a reason. But it may be to test you. The heart that would seem most righteous veils the cruellest poison.'
The memory faded in a shower of gore as another cultist slumped against his shield, felled by a headshot from Severus. The Arbitrator pushed to his feet and slammed his power maul against the last two cultists in the aisle. The rest had taken cover behind the pews, their stub and autoguns snapping fire and fracturing the pillars of the chapel.
"There he is!" yelled Vates and with a mighty hurl he flung his power maul down the aisle. It spun between the shafts of stainglass light and towards the altar where the Evertore stood in robed silence. A foot before impact, the weapon was knocked from the air by a crimson light. The refractor field shimmered around the Evertore, and still he did not move or react, as if lost in deepst prayer.
"Severus!" yelled Vates as he drew his autopistol. "Break his shield!"
Leaving the aisle to Severus, the Arbitrator ducked behind a pew. Vates's lazer-sight picked out his targets and his superior bullets pierced through wood, slaying the cultists where they crouched.
Then a fresh thunder deafened the chapel as the Aquila Lander opened fire. Hovering by the shattered dome, the ship was piloted by their tech-priest, Cain Jericus. The heavy bolter rounds punched through stone pillars and scoured the walls, ripping limbs and bodies apart.
Severus dodged behind a column as its other side took a stubber round. A small cloud of gray dust quickly dispersed and he took cover behind another column... this one giving his a line of fire at the robed figure. Ignoring the other targets as the heavy bolter roared behind him he raised his longlas and peered through the scope.
Through the noise and confusion of batter a calm came over him... he paid no attention to the rounds hitting around him... it was someone else's fight, there was the scope in front of him.. and in its center... a hood with a face in its shadows. Red light blossomed as the shield took a hit, then again, and again. Then it stooped, cursing Severus ripped the dry energy cell out of the rifle and replaced it with a charged one in one smooth movement barely losing his aim... then his finger once again found the trigger.
Pius began moving forward as Severus fired. He rushed towards the alter, hoping he could get in range to hit the heretic.
As he moved, cultists came at him hoping he would be easier pray. The first began firing on him auto gun blindly, hoping his false gods would aide him. Pius fired, the melta gun eating through his chest. He turned back to the alter in time for the second to almost at him, A chainsword being carried with both hands. Pius barely had time to turn and fire at him, burning the man's legs out from under him. Moving forward still he stopped just within range and took a shot at the fallen inquisitor with the meltagun before moving for whatever cover he could find.
Eli ran quickly across the church, avoiding small crowds of cultists as they surged out of side passages and into the main hall. He would ignore the heretics for now, and get back to the others where he would have an easier time with the vermin. He reached his comrades quickly and spun around to open fire on the pursuing cultists with his laspistol. They had fallen behind considerably and Eli grimaced as they screamed and fell. He felt no sympathy for these "people", but the effect of a laspistol on human skin as opposed to the thick hide of an ork was significantly more gruesome. Four blasts made contact with a chest, a groin and a leg, and sent three cultists screaming to the ground. A few more closed in on Eli. He stumbled backwards, shooting and killing another heretic before chasing the other two off with his chainsword. Shots to the back sent these two to the ground. The rest of the cultists that had pursued him were wavering now. Some were hiding behind pillars and benches while others tried to find a way around him. Two more cultists had worked up the courage to attack now, and Eli was preparing to fire when a bullet bounced off of his helmet and sent him sprawling, dazed, over a pew. One of the heretics had gotten hold of a primitive bolter, and had Eli pinned. The church pew would protect him for now, but not forever. Eli would have to move on soon.
Julius covered his face from the debris and the flesh falling everywhere around, one of the heretics taking a blind chance, tripped on Julius, and made a grab for the man’s las rifle, but Julius let go of it while the heretic was pulling the rifle, stumbling back and giving the guardsman time to pull out his knife and stab the heretic in the abdomen, pointing his rifle away from himself as some blasts went out, muted by the deafening thunder of the bolters.
He grabbed his rifle once again, and watching the faint silhouette of the other acolytes, and the heretics that were starting to scatter now, he figured it had been enough from the bolters, they needed to see if they hit the Evertore. He tried to communicate through his vox-caster, but the recent struggle against a cultist seemed to have rendered it unusable quickly enough.
“Vates!” he shouted, before he caught sight of Eli falling down, his sense of urgency grew, “Tell Cain to stop shooting, my vox doesn’t work!” He would have moved gladly, but he couldn't leave the right side of the church undefended.
The stench of blood and burning flesh mingled with the hot smell of heavy bolter rounds. Everything was metallic and bitter in a world of noise. With ringing ears, Arbitrator Vates rose between the pews, trying to make out what Julius was shouting.
But then a fresh thunder drowned the world. The east doors of the chapel burst open, giving way to a din of warcries and combat boots. Squads of guardsmen started pouring into the room with bayonets fixed and lasguns firing at the remaining cultists.
Clearly, the Elsinore was not prepared to let the Inquisitor's servants fight alone and had sent a platoon of its own guardsmen to share in the glory. And as these reinforcements rushed the chapel, they were blind to friend or foe.
"STAND DOWN!" yelled Vates, but he was too late. The guardsmen brought their flamer units to bear, sending gouts of fire across the pews to purge the remaining cultists. Vates fell back between the pews, bringing his shield over his body as the flames struck. He was pinned him to the ground and fire licked around the egdes of the shield, scorching his face. And close behind him, Eli was forced to hit the deck, ducking beneath the waves of fire and crawling into cover near the arbitrator.
Meanwhile, the shot from Severus had overloaded the Evertore's refractor field. With a flare of sputtering crimson the shield collapsed, and that was when Pius made his attack...
The melta blast tore down the aisle and towards the altar, melting lecturn and pillar alike. The Evertore was caught and his heavy robes turned to cinders as he reeled under the scorching heat. There was a squeal, high-pitched and somehow alien...
The robes fell away, revealing charred flesh and melting chains... and a body... still upright... wreathed in ungodly light.
And of one thing, Pius and the other onlookers were certain: this was not the Evertore...
"H... he said he would free me..." whispered the piteous voice of the creature.
Then Pius was showered in gore as the creature's torso erupted. A host of bone-spines and tentacles ripped free as the warding chains were melted. They unravelled and whipped, shattering the remaining pews and punching through stone pillars. With a chorus of hideous screams, three of the Elsinore Guardsmen were impaled by the tendrils. A flamer unit went wild, sending fire amongst the ranks of infantry.
More screams, more pungent death, and a nauseous feeling in the air. The Warband knew this could only mean one thing....
Pius was knocked onto his back and as he fell a tentacle wrapped around his ankle, starting to burn like acid through his boot. He was pulled through the ruined pews and towards the Daemonhost.
Vates was up, one half of his face burned at the other pale with terror. "PIUS! GET OUT OF THERE!!!" Then his gaze beheld what was happening to the guardsmen. Even as they burned the tentacles were whipping through their ranks, cleaving mean apart, plucking bodies into the air, skewering eyes and mouths. The poor souls dangled like obscene fruit on the infernal tree.
The daemon was breaking loose.
It had been a trap all along.
"FALL BACK!" roared the Arbitrator, even as he pulled Eli to his feet and clutched his charred face. "DAEMONHOST! EVERYONE GET OUT!! CAIN!" he turned on his vox-caster desperately. "CAIN, GET US OUT OF HERE!!"
The Arbitrator vaulted the pews and fled towards the shadow of the Aquila Lander, even as tentacles snapped at his heels.
A stray shot from one of the Elsinore guardsmen had dispatched the cultist with the bolter, but a flamer had nearly burned Eli to death.
And now there was the small matter of the deamon..
Eli was nearly caught by the creature at first, as he began to run. He had to jump several times to avoid the tentacles grabbing his boot, but as he picked up speed he caught up, and then passed, the Arbitrator. Eli figured the guardsmen from the Elsinore would distract the deamon for now, which was quite fortunate, for the warband at least. Eli cursed as the shadow of the Lander drew closer. But how much time did they have before the deamon descended upon them? And where were the others!?
Severus had an excellent view of the deamon's release through his scope. Immediately the lasfire stopped and he lifted his face out from behind the sight his mouth hanging open in shock and fear, his mouth suddenly dry.
The sounds of gunfire and screams echoed through the unholy chapel. He lowered his rifle and lade for the lander, sprinting to where it hovered and turning around, to look once again at the mass of tentacles, the bodies hanging from them a twisted monument to the foul gods that spawned such a beast. He knelt n the floor and again raised his rifle, "As long as I have breath, you will have pain." he whispered as the crosshairs settled on the twisted body at the alter. A fresh wave as screams rose from the guardsmen as the tentacles writhed and the beast's flesh burned. One of them whipped around and with a sickening thud the burned upper half of a guardsman hit Severus sending him to the ground glass from the floor cutting into his back. Covered in gore and blood he felt around for his longlas, his finger curling around the barrel, and he sat up, "Get that Aquila down here or we're all dead men." he shouted into his Vox caster.
Julius, too shocked by the sight of the Daemon, simply took up to running, slipping a few steps in his hasty start up in the dusty floor before his feet got a good grip. Vates was the slowest of them all, after all, he was the one with the heaviest equipment, and if he was along Eli then surely the other acolytes were doing a good job on their own.
He moved over the pews, knife in hand in case he needed to get rid of one of the cultists trying to get him to stay there, or even a Guardsman if it came to it. He grabbed a blinding grenade with the same hand and took off the pin, throwing it overhead and behind him. It’s not that he didn’t want to kill them, but he didn’t really wish for a piece of shrapnel to hit him or his squad mates.
The guardsman ran, and turned back to see what was happening to their commissar, whom he didn’t see running away along with the other acolytes. He’d been grabbed by the Daemon. Julius ran towards the commissar, possibly going against the reflex of any well-adjusted Guardsman, but he wouldn’t have been in the Inquisition if he was well-adjusted.
He cut up the daemon’s tentacle with his knife, not in an act of bravery or camaraderie, but urgency, spur of the moment that he didn’t want to see the commissar dead.
”We’re leaving, get up!”, he shouted at the commissar as he raised him up and both took off to run away, the blinding effect on the grenade he threw was fading…
Pius had an issue with retreating. Despite the creature held him he fired at it, sending prayers the the Emperor would bless the flame and illuminate the wretched creature that was pulling him in. Then the guardsman jumped at the tentacle, slashing it enough that he was able to get free and be pulled up. He mumbled a prayer in thanks as he made for the lander. He fired one more shot at the daemon before swiveling his weapon forward in preparation to deal with any cultists that might try to stop him and Julius. Maybe the Emperor had wanted them to face the true enemy and not one of its pawns.
The Basillica reeked of death and gunpowder, and from his position manning the crewed heavy bolter in the Aquila lander, Cain Jericus, whose augmentics made him rather too heavy for a normal grav chute, saw his allies retreating from what looked like a Daemonhost.
Daemonhost........ a surge of white hot and vengeful anger filled the emotional part of Cain's brain, and he depressed the triggers on the heavy bolter, spraying shells over the heads of his comrades, cutting down tentacles and the surviving cultists alike in showers of gore and fleshy chunks.
over the firing of the heavy weapon, Cain began to chant in binary, chanting a litany of hate, fury and vengeance.
As the blind grenade blast faded, the two titans were revealed.... the swirling mass of daemonic flesh that consumed the altar, and the descending form of the Aquila Lander with all guns blazing.
And between these two giants, the five survivors struggled to escape this den of horror.
Severus was bleeding heavily, his back a latticework of cuts and slashes. Pieces of glass were sticking between his ribs and shoulderblades, making every motion agonising. But still he laid down covering fire, each precise shot blasting away a tentacle as it sought to ensnare his comrades.
Eli was the first to reach him, lending fire from his lasgun. But as the scorching salvo flew past Severus's face, his aim was lost. One of the tentacles punched through the defences and pierced Eli's chest, where the arm joined the torso. Barbs and acidic tissue wriggled inside his flesh, opening and corrupting the breach.
Severus drew his knife and severed the tentacle, allowing Eli to fall back through the doors of the landing Aquila. Severus followed him inside, still firing, kneeling on the guardsman to stop his writhing.
Back in the aisle, Pius collapsed as his boot was devoured by the latent acid of the tentacle. It ate right throught the leather and into his flesh, where it cut the muscles apart. Julius turned and seized the Commissar by the coat, dragging him along even as Pius continued firing his meltagun.
Finally, Vates caught up with them. The Abritrator was half-blind, one side of his face scorched by the earlier flamer incident. He gripped Pius under the arms and lifted him into the hold of the Aquila, forcing Severus and Eli to give ground. This left Julius alone to lay down covering fire with his shotgun.
"Fucking move!" the guardsman yelled towards Cain. The Lander began lifting again and the assault doors cycled shut. But at the last moment a final tentacle lashed towards the assault hold. Julius fired, a shotgun blast tearing the limb apart but causing a spray of acidic bile. He was hit, his guard-hand talking the brunt of the corrosive. With a savage snarl he crumpled back against the others, his shoutgun barrel melting and the first three fingers of his hand boiling away.
The Aquila and its crew of injured lifted out of the inferno. And as the tentacles of the daemonhost flailed in vain they wrapped around the pillars and rafters of the building. The Chapel of St Drusuus began to collapse, the Daemonhost pulling wood and rubble in upon itself. And above its own squeals were heard the last cries of the Elsinore Guardsmen who would be sealed with the monster in this infernal tomb.
Somewhere in the lower depths of the Elsinore, in one of the many spires that extended from the underbelly of the ancient ship, a small chamber was filled with censer-smoke. Six machines worked away in the mist... six thrones arrayed with servo-arms and apothecarius assemblies. They were working to repair their occupants, following ancient programmes and the will of the Omnissiah that was present in all things.
And as the Acolytes sat healing in their medical chairs, Lieutenant Gadron of the naval guard stood by the stainglass window. The collar of his fur-lined cloak hid his sneer, but it didn't take a psyker to sense his discontent. He had probably been sent here by the Captain himself.
"Twenty one fatalities," he rasped, watching the service craft circle below on their final pre-warp checks. "Six guardsmen in the hands of the apothecaries. And that's before we calculate the ordinance we used to cleanse that shit-hole."
A skull floated above his shoulder, borne on cherbuic wings, and attached beneath its mandible was a leather book in which it recorded the Lieutenant's words. The servo-skull was tattooed with the mark of the Administratum, a scribe machine in official attendance.
"With the Chapel vapourised..." Lieutenant Gadron continued, "...and the Mendicant Order gone, Cloister will be reclassified a Dead World." He turned to regard the throned Acolytes, his bionic eye whirring as it focussed on them. "Four months of preparation, and we are left with this: a paper-chain for the scribes of the Administratum!"
Arbitrator Vates watched the lieutenant's scowl. One of the servo-arms of his chair was raised and a volley of needles were being inserted into his face, pumping stims beneath the burnt skin. Vates kept as still as possible, and spoke as the machine did its work.
"I am sorry for your losses, Lieutenant."
Gadron spat on the floor, the weight of twenty-one lost guardsmen as heavy as his naval cloak. "You are Inquistion. You are sorry for nothing."
"It was a trap," replied Vates as the needles pierced his charred neck. "The Evertore knew we were coming. He knew long enough to install a daemonhost on that planet. He was toying with us from the start. Where there is treachery, seek it out."
"Do not question the sanctity of my ship, Arbitrator!" the lieutenant hissed, pushing aside the hovering servo-skull as he stormed towards the door. "Your failure has been made known to the Sector Admiralty and our resources are no longer at your disposal. You will return to the Moonbase at Sheol XVII. Prepare for warp jump."
The censer mists swirled away as the lieutenant exited, followed by the fluttering servo-skull.
And as he departed, Vates sat back in his apothecary-throne, wincing as his blood was pumped with stimms. His slurring voice spoke out to the other Acolytes seated around him. "The Emperor does not... smile on us... this day."
"They left me on this bloody ship," muttered the hulking, tattooed brute on the forward observation platform on the bridge of the Elsinore. He wore a long black flak coat, the front of it opened to reveal his dark-olive skin, covered in long swirling tattoos. His voice was gruff and throaty, and he spoke with an accent that rolled the vowels differently than normally heard.
"You were needed here, Primary Zayin Gorrax," replied a mechanical, vaguely female voice.
"Call me Z," the massive Psyker said, turning to face the sickeningly skinny Astropath. There were vague hints of humanity left on it, but not much-- a crystal-blue eye, facial skin and, strangely enough, long locks of blond hair tied back at the nape of the neck hidden underneath tubes and cables. "Aye, I get it-- some kind-of 'living auspex,' 'warp detector,' or some other shit like that, yeah?"
"You are to be monitoring with ever-vigilance the battle, Primary, and supply Inquisitor Vates with all tactical data as pertaining to warp signatures, and any other miscellaneous battle data as can be un-obtained through thermal and sonar pinging over the auspex."
"Yeah, yeah," Zayin interrupted, waving his hand in some mock-contempt. He sidled close to the Astropath and let his free hand wander over it enticingly, his other hand a steely grip on the 2 meter long staff of smoothed, unadorned wood-- an amplifier and focus. It wasn't very powerful, but frighteningly effective. "You still have all the... fun bits left, from being human?"
Before she could answer, his mind exploded in a white flash of pure, exuberant, and excruciating pain near-bordering on pleasure. Something... had just manifested itself, thousands of miles below them on the planet. Right where the assault had been planned. He fell to his knees, but refused to let this... whatever it was... treat him like a bitch.
"W.. warp activity, on the planet below!" he finally bellowed, throwing himself forward to the CIC...
Zayin stared hard into the back of the lieutenant as he stormed out of the healing chamber. "Fracking asshole," he spat, and loudly, not even a second after the chamber doors had sealed themselves in the lieutenant's wake. He allowed a moment to linger before he sighed and turned to face Urellis Vates, leaning heavily on his ebony staff.
"Sorry about all this shit, Vates," he said, gesturing broadly. He shrugged, allowing what little guilt he felt for the deaths to fall from his shoulders. He was mainly upset over a perceived failure. "You're right, you know; about them heretics knowin' we were comin'. I dunno if these frackers had anything to do with it, but..." Again he shrugged, mostly out of an apathetic sense from not knowing what to do next.
There was a sudden menacing silence as Zayin began to roll words on his tongue. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask, but...
"Is it dead?" He finally blurted out. "That thing down there, I mean... I felt it, sure as sure, the second it... Did whatever it did, to you lot. I--I don't know how it was able to even be there, how it got there so quickly, or--I mean, none of us--" He cut himself off with the sharp growl of an inaudible curse before asking again.