AftermathVulcanus Orbital Forge
By Shroom Man 777, Fingolfin_Noldor, Shinn Langley Soryu, Darkevilme, and Siege
Mars, Imperium of Man
“Gentle folk, the Black Chamber is in session.” Lord Inquisitor Xavius’ deep voice filled the meeting hall. The buzz of polite chatter ceased. Everyone knew what this meant. The room had been sealed. The sweep for bugs was over. The Inquisition had pronounced the room clean from any external mystical eavesdropping.
Lord-General Lucien Corbec studied the occupants of the luxuriously furnished chamber, measuring every person present. Round the huge oaken table, fashioned in the shape of the coghweel seal of the Adeptus Mechanicus, sat some of the most brilliant and influential minds of the Koprulu Zone and beyond.
To the north, under the Eagle Banner of the Imperium, sat the gaunt, pale form of Senior Magos Nathaniel Matsukevich. To his right was the tall Inquisitor Xavius, of the Ordo Malleus, his red robes making him look even more huge. To the east, under the banner of the Holy Empire, sat eternally young Emiri Kimidori, right-hand woman to Ryoko Asakura, the director of ISIS. On her right stood Colonel Kuroko Shirai, her sleek dress uniform making her look like every inch the efficient killer she was. To the south sat Doctor Beauchamps Jabuzov of the Solarian Foundation for Omega Point Experimentation, unassuming in his old-fashioned tweed suit and flanked by a young woman in the black attire of CEID. To the west, ascetic and smiling and the only alien in the room, Keiran Avital of the Chamarran Hierarchy sat curled in her chair, polishing her claws with a silk handkerchief and obviously amused by some of the more hostile glances Imperial personnel was occasionally shooting her. To her right sat the impassive liaison of Cevaucian CMC R&D, Maciej Drlan, his muscular arms folded.
Corbec took his seat at the table, along with the other representatives here to advise the Chamber. He felt strangely vulnerable without Primarch Aurelian in the room and his mind raced as he wondered if, between them all, they could make sense of what had happened at Earth-4. He’d been there when it happened, on the ground, fighting the tide of insanity as it rose inexorably around him. He’d rode one of the last Thunderhawks out, and had witnessed the world simply darken and vanish underneath him. What had come after still gave him nightmares. But he’d survived, and that had earned him a place here, amongst this motley collection of people whose job it would be to establish what had gone wrong and, more importantly, what could be done to prevent it from happening again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a slight problem,” said Matsukevich, getting straight to the point as usual. He manipulated a series of ruby-encrusted buttons artfully sculpted into the table and brought a buzzing blue hologram into existence above the table. The sight of the Eye--no matter what the Inquisition had seen fit to code-name it, Corbec still thought of it as an Eye--was enough to make some of the men and women in the room twitch. It was certainly enough to make the hair on his neck stand up.
But not everyone was as deterred. Doctor Jabuzov leaned forward, eyes twinkling with unabashed amazement. “Magnificent,” he breathed. “I didn’t know. So, that’s what it looks like.”
“It is a heresy,” growled Inquisitor Xavius. “It must be purified at once.”
Corbec restrained a smile. How like an Inquisitor
, he thought. Things must always be cleansed with fire and the scourge. He does not understand at all.
Corbec wondered who would tell him.
Colonel Shirai bowed politely. “With all due respect, Inquisitor, that is not an option. I’m afraid the, ah, anomaly
,” the Marine shot a sideways glance at the hologram, “is quite out of our reach.”
“Nonsense,” Xavius grunted. “Nothing and no-one is out of reach of the eternal judgement of the God-Emperor.”
Corbec shook his head. Xavius was a fine Inquisitor, but he didn’t have a firm grasp of galactopolitics. He did not understand the delicacy of the situation, the precarious position of the Dual Empires after the Fall, the need for finesse. Corbec admired the Colonel’s restraint in dealing with the Inquisitor. It wasn’t that anyone disagreed with him. It was just that there were some things that simply couldn’t be done.
Assistant Director Kimidori cleared her throat and spoke up. “It is an unfortunate strategic reality that the dispatch of warfleets to the antispinward would greatly imperil our strategic security. We have very few friends in those regions and those we do have,” she nodded curtly at the Chamarran, “cannot protect us from our enemies, who are legion.”Well put
, thought Corbec. He thought of his daughter, Maria, Chartist-Captain of a proud and ancient Tarask
-class merchantman, who had been tossed unceremoniously out of the Interstellar Union of Worlds without explanation or compensation, very nearly brought to financial ruin out of the sheer pettiness of that polity. Sudden anger filled him. “The galaxy is full of the weak and the foolish and the ignorant,” he heard someone speak. It took him a moment to realize he himself had uttered those words. It earned him a nod from Xavius.
“Be that as it may,” Matsukevich commented coolly, “it doesn’t help us determine what it is we’re facing, and how best to deal with it.”
“If I may,” the Chamarran, Avital, raised a crooked paw. “We have been told by your Primarch who, as you know, currently enjoys the legendary hospitality of my Queen, that this... Chamber, you call it? Yes, that it has a passing familiarity with this type of... Incursion? On behalf of the Hierarchy, I would very much like to hear the explanation for this awareness--an explanation that, I’ll remind you, we are owed.”
The words of the alien elicited a rainbow of different reactions from the room. Matsukevich appeared annoyed at the interruption. Xavius glared at the alien, a gesture the Chamarran replied to with a predatory grin. Jabuzov looked from the Magos to the Chamarran as if he wasn’t quite understanding their exchange. A brief smirk flashed over the expressions of the CEID agent. Kimidori and Shirai exchanged inscrutable glances, and the Cevaucian meanwhile simply leaned forward, not bothering to hide his obvious interest. An awkward silence descended. Corbec looked pointedly at the representative of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Finally the Senior Magos rolled one eye--the other was a cybernetic replacement--and relented. “Very well then...”
He pushed another button and the Eye disappeared, to be replaced with a large, spindly-looking warship. The design bore clear traces of Imperial naval heritage in its armored prow and the crenellated barbettes along its sides, but there was something else to it, an alien sleekness in the way its engine sections and field projectors effloresced organically from its aquilae’d armor that betrayed outside influences. “This is the Sisyphus
,” Matsukevich intoned. “An Aetherius
-class Experimental Deep Range Explorator, the only one of its kind, blessed artifact of the Xenomechanicae project Augur Aeternus
. Its purpose, to brave the most turbulent maelstroms of the Immaterium. Its mission, to pierce the shoals and breach the heart of Collector space.”
The Senior Magos fell briefly silent, a sour look on his face. “It did neither. The Sisyphus
was launched in 3102. It spooled up its sanctified drives... and simply disappeared.”
“Disappeared...where?” the Chamarran purred, obviously intrigued.
“We could not tell. It fell off our most powerful auspex arrays almost instantly. All our astropaths lost communication with the ship--all, except one. The mistress of the telepathica matrix of the Vulcanus choir instead went psychotic, killing three of her fellows before immolating herself alive. The Sisyphus
, meanwhile, was gone, vanished from our galaxy, for one hour before it reappeared in exactly the place it had left.”
Avital was clearly enthralled by Matsukevich’s words. “You tell a great tale, Magos. Do go on.”
“Our attempts to hail the ship went unanswered. It sat completely inert. There was no damage to its outer hull but according to surveyor and auspex readings its plasma reactor was shut down and life support was fading. It was evident that something had gone badly wrong. So, a decision was reached to breach the Sisyphus
and look for survivors, as well as an explanation for what had become of the vessel...”
***Breaching Shuttle Gothica
Approaching Sysiphus derelict, 3102
The atmosphere in the shuttle’s breaching bay was tense as it always was in the moments before insertion. Men and women fully enclosed in the matte black carapace armor of the elite Storm Troopers mentally prepared themselves for whatever was to come. This wasn’t the sort of combat insertion into a hot zone they had trained for -- hell, it technically was a rescue operation. But they were tense all the same.
“It’s bullshit,” muttered one of them, a man identifiable only by a dim suit tag that read ‘Cuu’. “You don’t call in the Kasrkin for a rescue job. There’s gotta be bad guys out there.”
"Get the hell off man,” scowled Trooper Raess. “This is Mars, and that’s some whiz-bang Mechanicus experimental ship out there. No way bad guys got past all the usual cogboy paranoia onto that thing. It’s what it says on the tin, just a high-profile rescue op.”
“You know how loopy those cogs are, they probably just locked themselves in the damn ship. Could take them hours to finish the incantations to open up their own locks if we don’t help them along with some good old fashion det charges,” Demo-trooper Feygor added as he bounced a pack of plastique on his hand.
Trooper Cuu wasn’t having any of it. He lowered his voice. “No way. I’m telling you, it’s aliens.”
“Illegal aliens, yeah,” muttered Trooper Muril and stroked her multilaser meaningfully. There was some laughter. Tau jokes were getting old, but not old enough yet not to be funny.
“Whatever the cause may be, we are here to do the Emperor’s bidding,” stated Commissar-Captain Hark. “That should be reason enough for us all.”
The squad voiced agreement with their commanding officer and his pious statement, at least all of them but one.
“The Emperor, yeah right.” Cuu muttered derisively under his breath. He shot a dirty glance at the Commissar’s back. Ever since Hark stopped Cuu from having his way with that sweet big-eyed little Haruhiist girl, by breaking his jaw no less... Cuu’d sworn he’d get even, and that opportunity might finally present itself in these dark halls.
Multiple shuttles with special boring equipment for boarding ships swarmed over the Sisyphus
. Each shuttle carried a couple of Kasrkin squads armed with hellguns and all the other gear you probably didn’t need for a rescue operation. They were the men and women of the 81st Kasrkin, led by the famed Commissar-General Gaunt himself. Gaunt had served with distinction during the Imperium-Karlack wars but he was new to supreme operational command, which probably factored into why he was still leading from the front lines. The shuttles docked with the Sisyphus
and began burrowing their way through the ship’s adamantine hull. “Fething noise,” breathed one of the Kasrkin as the plasma bore ground its way through inch after inch of armor. When the borer breached the final layer a directed charge blew open a hole in the hull and the Kasrkin stormed into the ship in zero-g.
“Oxygen detected. Auspex reads no harmful substances in the air. The life support systems of the ship are still operational. Masks can be removed,” breathed one of the Kasrkin. The squad members removed their masks and were immediately assailed by a stench.
“What the feth is that smell?!” Cuu’s question was answered by a pseudo-mummified corpse drifting towards him, before abruptly dropping to the deck in a puff of dried flesh and bone particles.
“Artificial gravity systems reactivated,” announced another Kasrkin who was standing by a console. He pushed aside a form slumped over the cogitator and began pressing other activation runes.
The lights came on, revealing the extent of their entry point. They had chosen well, according to the schematics the AdMech had provided the compartment was used for non-volatile storage and also served as a protective buffer for the more vital components deeper inside the ship. Apparently, several poor souls also called the glorified cabinet their final resting place, and the dry and stale air was conducive to the preservation of their remains.
“What the hell?” Cuu cursed and pointed at the mummified cadaver at his feet. “What the feth is this?”
“It’s only been an hour,” Raess muttered. “This doesn’t make any sense. How can these bodies have...”
“Aliens!” Cuu spat. “I told you! Could be the bugs maybe, or the Brags, or them fething blue bastards!”
“Whatever the cause of this may be, it is our mission to find out. So shut your mouths and do your jobs, or I’ll execute you for dereliction of duty and for being an all round nuisance,” Commissar Hark growled. And then, to the rest of the men and women, “This changes nothing. We rescue who can be rescued, gather what information we can, and press onwards. Stay sharp.”
The Storm Troopers methodically swept the place with their auspex devices while skull-probes swooped forward, all to record every microscopic detail that came under their scrutiny. All of the Kaskrkin were on heightened alert now. The bodies in the compartment had to have died of unnatural causes, and whatever that cause was the Kasrkin were dedicated to hunt it down and make it
Undeterred by the sight of mere dead, the Storm Troopers left the confines of the compartment and pressed on deeper into the Sisyphus
. They were elite warriors, trained by the infamous Schola Progenium all, second only to the Astartes in mastery of the arts of war, and were ready to encounter anything inside the ghost ship.
“All units, begin the search. Emperor be with you,” spoke Gaunt over the communications channel. Acknowledging the command, the dozens of Storm Trooper squads began searching the ship in a grid-pattern, using AdMech-provided schematics of the vessel that gave the general layout while redacting some of the sensitive areas in the map for the usual reasons.
The claustrophobic corridors were empty, caked in dust and dried blood. Many of the bulkheads, halls and walls sported varying degrees of battle damage - from the telltale scorch patterns of small arms lasfire, to severe destruction suggesting the use of heavy explosives and artillery. In some choke points, rusted autogun shell casings littered the floors in massive heaps. In others, entire corridors had been blasted, creating gaping voids where multiple decks met. The disparate groups of Kasrkin navigated the ruins of the embattled corridors with the expert precision of trained soldiers. Yet, whatever happened to the Sisyphus
in the hour it had been gone, the bodies found accounted for only a small percentage of the crew.
No-one. There was nobody to be found in the outer zones of the ship. One by one the squads voxed in, reporting nothing but charnelhouses and battle damage. Hark voxed Gaunt. “General, should we investigate the areas marked off-limits?”
After a brief pause, Gaunt replied, “Affirmative. Proceed with caution.”
Hark acknowledged the order, and his squads pressed forward, deeper into the vessel. The cross and cogwheel-marked blast doors responded to his commissarial overrides with squeals of electronic protest, and opened with the painful groan of rusted metal. His command section filed into what according to the AdMech schematics was the home of one of the vessel’s secondary remuneration-augur banks with hellguns at the ready -- and beheld a grotesque spectacle. A mass grave of mummified technopriests, thousands of them, their skin dried into leather, flesh petrified and oxidized cybernetics protruding from their skeletons. Around these were bones bearing the armor of naval infantry and Skitarii, the cyborg elite of the Mechanicus, even manning their posts and improvised fortifications in death.
Even Hark, a veteran of three campaigns against the Swarm, was stunned by the sheer carnage that filled the room. It took him a moment to regain his composure and order his section to secure the area. The commissar noticed armored hulks standing by the well-preserved remains of the mortals, forms that he mistook for heavy equipment or machinery, and which he belatedly realized were something else entirely. Astartes. Demigods among men. Yet here they were, dead and motionless.
“What in the Emperor’s name happened here?” he uttered, shocked by the sight of so many of the Emperor’s finest naught but corpses in a crypt, with no visible cause of death.
“Fething hell,” Cuu cursed. Before Hark could rebuke him for his impertinence the trooper had clambered up a command throne, upon which sat a massive Astartes. In its hand was a worn-looking portable cogitator, which Cuu pried out off its metal fingers. He got down and returned to the squad. He keyed its activation rune, bringing the device flickering back to life as he did so. “Well, what on Terra is this? Looks like a log of some sorts...”
He began to read it aloud.Sergeant Matheius’ report. It has been eighty years and sixty-eight days since the malfunction that took us from the orbit of Mars, from Holy Terra and the Emperor’s divine presence, and into this abyssal place. This purgatory. With no way to contact home we have had to fend for ourselves, here, in the unknown depths of the Immaterium, set upon by fell monstrosities and unspeakable things. The madness. The corruption. It came insidiously, without warning. Even now I ask myself, how could I have prepared for it? But I did not known it then as I do now, and we were caught unaware.
The Warp-touched were the first to succumb to the whispers in the darkness. Librarian Stellos, his acolytes, the astropathic choir and the sanctioned psykers. All of them, one after another, fell prey to the voices. And from them, the seed of the rot spread further into the minds of the weak-willed, of those whose spirits had been taxed by the years of wandering. They would mutter concealed heresies at first, decrying to their ilk that the God-Emperor had abandoned us. I did not know how long they prepared, how long they gathered on the underdecks, readying their heresies. All I know is that my faith never faltered...
Cuu hit the scroll rune and flipped over to a later page, morbid curiosity playing on his face. He continued on reading it out to the rest of his squad.They fell upon us in the night, culling those amongst the techpriests who possessed the knowledge to stop them. They deactivated the Gellar fields on the underdecks. And with the protective wards gone... the horror began. God-Emperor forgive me. God-Emperor forgive us all. Things came from the Immaterium, through the steel and through the hull, through the walls. From above and from below. I yet hear the shrieks of good men and women, tortured, fused into abominable heresies that blight the mind. Souls were sundered by things without bodies, vile spirits jealous and thirsting for corporeal forms. The crew was the blood-sacrifice Stellos, the arch-heretic, had prepared. Curse him. He betrayed us all, allowed these infernal things, these daemons, to slake their vile lusts upon us.
They are still there, in the bowels of the ship. We can see the ship change and twist. We hear the screams and the laughter and the chanting of their unholy rituals. It haunts us in our dreams, lingers in our minds, refuses to grant us rest...
Cuu was sweating. Condensation was forming on the flickering cogitator but he continued reading. He couldn’t bring himself to stop.We fortified the areas of the ship still under our control and guarded the remaining techpriests, whose mastery over the ship was our only way to survive. The Gellar field redundancies ensured that there were still portions protected by their sacred wards, where we were safe, where our minds could stay whole, where our souls could remain untainted. But it was a constant battle. The enginseers of the Machine Cult battled their adversaries through the arcane systems of the ship as surely as we fought them with bolter and lasgun. We have not stopped fighting. We have been fighting in this hell of a ship for thirteen years now.
But there is no end to them. Every day they come for us. Inch by inch they drive us back. The corridors change. The walls lie. The ship itself deceives us. The blessings of the Mechanicum have proven fickle and untrustworthy. Only flesh, the perfect forms sculpted by the God-Emperor himself, remains pure. It is on this flesh that I etch the days, so that I may remember their passing with the sensation of pain to remind me that I still live...
The lights started to dim, but even in the low illumination Cuu continued to read, his expression unreadable as his mouth moved.I no longer trust the Mechanicus. It was their arrogance that brought about this endless horror. Nor do I trust their cyborg cohorts, the Skitarii, or the weak willed naval infantry. They are mortal fools, unworthy of His blessings. They know not His wisdom. They know not His power. Their faith will falter. They will ask themselves why. Why has He forsaken them? Why has He forsaken all of us? He, our All-Knowing Father, our God-Emperor, sent us here to our doom. Why? Why have we been abandoned? Does He not care for His faithful children? No. No! I cannot doubt. That way madness lies. I must not doubt! My faith is pure. Through my faith I shall be redeemed. And I shall know no fear.
The last entry was much more brief, bearing the traces of a hurriedly composed note. Cuu read on to the very end.Final entry. They have taken the bridge and the engineering core: we have barred the gates... But cannot hold them for long. The deck shakes... drums in the deep... we cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark. Will no one save us? They are coming.
“They are here.” Cuu’s voice was no longer his own. Drops of blood were condensing on the eerily flickering screen of the cogitator. The trooper dropped it to the deck and looked at his squad mates, at his hated Commissar, and they all saw his face.
His eyes were gone. His sockets were hollow black holes. Blood trickled down his face as wounds were cut onto his twisted visage by unseen knives, incising precise glyphs and runes on the bleeding flesh for all of them to see. At the same time, those very same markings were carved into the walls. The head-splitting symbols bled, the ones on Cuu’s face and the ones on the wounded walls. With a thrum, the augur banks in the room came alive. The vox channels filled with a shrieking sound that raged through the eardrums of all. Eruptions of lasfire, screams and shouts followed. Then a commanding voice cut through. “This is Gaunt to all points. We have enemy contact. Stand your ground. The Emperor protects.”
Cuu heard that. He looked at them with his mutilated eyeless visage. “You can't leave. It won't let you.” He said with an inhuman, rasping voice.
“Wrong,” Hark growled, whipping his boltpistol toward his face. A split-second later the entire squad opened up on the corrupted trooper with a plethora of lasfire from hellguns, multilasers and meltaguns. Cuu exploded in a flash of vaporizing flesh. The only thing left of him were his smoking greaves.
“I’ve been meaning to do that for a long, long time,” Hark muttered before turning to his men.
Before he could issue any further orders a nasal voice crackled over the voxnet, laced with a tinge of static to indicate a long-range transmission. “This is Lexmechanic Aerius of Vulcanus Forge to all Guard personnel. Be advised that the Sisyphus
has initiated its plasma reactors and is spooling up its engines. Estimated time to Warp-transit is five minutes.”
The response took only seconds. “This is Gaunt to all points. Fall back to the boarding shuttles. Fall back now!”
Muril stared at what remained of Cuu. “Emperor, I so don’t wanna be here when this thing leaves,” she muttered.
“That is blasphemy, trooper,” admonished Hark. Then he added, “but given the circumstances I’m inclined to agree with you. Alright men, you heard the old man. Time to go. Now.”
As the troopers of the 81st turned and hurried out to the blast doors the blood from the bleeding walls began to seep into the dead Astartes armors, naught but hollow shells as their wearers had long since turned to dessicated husks.
The armors twitched.
A Kasrkin noticed the faint movements nearby. As he turned toward it, a power suit split open and chains whipped out from its open form like intestine-cobras, wrapping themselves around the soldier’s limbs, breaking bones, constricting his throat, strangling out his screams as his body was dragged inside the empty Astartes armor. It closed and sick wet sounds emanated from within it as bones were crushed and pulped. Blood streamed from the eye-holes of the helmet. Vitalized with the desecrated viscera of its prey, the Astartes rose up and brought forth its chain-axe. A guttural roar came forth from its mask, like a bass resonant sound intermixed with grinding steel, as the blood and liquefied organic matter of the unfortunate Kasrkin sprayed out of its mouthpiece grille.
As the other soldiers reacted and opened fire at that bloodstained hulk, the other ruined armors likewise sent chained meat hooks and razor wire spools to reel in unsuspecting soldiers from all sides, dragging them screaming into the hollow armors that sealed around their victims like ceramite iron maidens. More Astartes rose from the field of dried corpses and powderized bones. The deck became wet with blood leaking out of gaps in their rusting armor.
They charged the Kasrkin, but the Storm Troopers held their ground. They unleashed a withering storm of lasfire, hellguns ablaze, but the troops closest to the reanimated Space Marines were the first to be cleaved by dulled powerblades, or smashed into pulp by toothless chainswords, or just ripped to shreds by armored hands. The broken weapons became more effective with every kill, the blades grew sharper with each man or woman they halved, the flesh and bone that adhered to the ruined chainswords started to solidify into wicked teeth. Pores on the weapons’ steel absorbed the blood. The powerblades started singing for more blood. The chainswords began to growl in hunger. What sustained them also sustained their wielders as blood washed the rust away from their armors of contempt. Even in their deathless states, the Astartes moved impossibly fast, and the Imperium’s finest mortal soldiers were no match for them.
To their credit the Kasrkin withdrew only after Hark ordered them to, their retreat covered by detonation charges which tore the leading Marines into showers of bloody shrapnel. It did not deter their lifeless comrades in arms. Even as the cursed Astartes gave chase, the slain Skitarii in the chamber awoke as their decayed cybernetics resurrected their unlife functions. Their dried and preserved flesh was rehydrated by spilled human blood, and slowly did they stagger upright and once more shoulder bolt-cannons of their own.
The Kasrkin continued their straight route to the infiltration/exfiltration zone, attempting to keep cohesion and maintain fire and movement. Muril hosed down the corridors with her multilaser, her unerring aim allowing her to vape the head clean off a charging Astartes. The det-charges bought them some distance and it was now at least possible to engage the Marines from range with melta weapons and krak grenades. The sight of the Emperor’s own superhuman warriors striking down their comrades and moving to consume their very flesh would be enough to break the will of many hardened veterans, but Schola Progenium mental conditioning steeled the Kasrkin to face their foes. They would pay for it in nightmares later, if they survived long enough to dream of this day.
But the traitor Marines were not their only foe. The corridors lined with bleeding, eye-hurting glyphs and runes and whispers echoed through the air, in the vox channels, and even in their minds. Hallway lights flickered, going dark one second and then lighting up the next to reveal horrific sights of flayed men, writhing and prostrating and peeling each other’s faces off with their teeth, before the lights would flicker again and these sights would disappear from view... remaining only as glazed afterimages in the back of their eyelids. The phantom images, the Kasrkin realized on some deep instinctual level, were what remained of the crew of the Sisyphus
. And the soldiers of the 81st would join them in damnation if they did not get off this cursed ship in time.
It was a horror unlike anything any of the Storm Troopers had ever seen. Some of the men broke, driven mad by the sights and sounds. They ran for it, minds shattered by the unholy chaos before them, bereft of cover fire and other necessities of survival. They didn’t get far. Chains and razor wire - still wet from their first victims - shot out from the shadows, sank their hooks and serrations beneath the flesh of those who fled, and dragged them to the charging Astartes whose empty armors hungered for the essences of the living.
The remaining Storm Troopers continued to fight on, defiantly pouring down fire at the pursuing Marines and Skitarii to allow other members of their squad to withdraw. Then those who had gotten far enough would, in turn, provide cover fire so that the ones behind them could repeat the pattern, elements of the section giving support fire for each other as they retreated chalk by chalk in an orderly leapfrogging pace.
Commissar-Captain Hark’s section eventually met other Kasrkin units. There were fewer of them now than there had been when they initially boarded. But now, they were near the exfiltration zones. Their dropships were close by. Escape was within reach -
Explosions tore through the substructure of the ship. Originating from the landing zone. From the transport ships. And from the flames that wreathed the wreckage of their would-be saviors emerged the unmistakable silhouettes of the Emperor’s Angels of Death. But these creatures were no longer the Emperor’s to command. Before Hark stood a misshapen Marine, tall and terrifying and bearing the livery of a Librarian. Glyphs flashed in mind-searing colors, sending the closest soldiers down on their knees.
In life, Librarian Stellos had been a superhuman killing machine possessed of a mind boiling with power. In strange ab-death, he was wholly without equal. “Foolish creatures,” murmured a deep voice, thoughtful and alien and supremely charming. Stellos’ eyes blistered with unholy light. “Why resist the irresistible? You cannot fight what is coming for you. Submit now, and you will know power beyond your wildest dreams.”
Despite himself Hark found his resolve wavering. It’s pointless,
said a little voice inside his head. You can’t fight that. You know you can’t. But you don’t have to die. It’s easy. Just submit. It’s not hard.
For endless seconds Hark stood transfixed as he felt, inexorably, his mind pull toward the hulking superhuman warrior. He knew that if he moved now, if he took one step farther, he would be irretrievably lost. He would leave the communion with the God-Emperor. His soul would be lost. But would that really be so bad? Come on. You might like it. You might learn to love it.
The world seemed to move in slow motion. Hark felt himself lift his boot to make the fateful step. As he did a halo of light seemed to engulf the head of the fallen Librarian.
Then a dim, remote part of his brain told him it wasn’t a halo. It was the muzzle of a meltagun, glowing with acitinic light.
“Get out of my mind and die
,” snarled Commissar-General Gaunt, and released the full charge of the deadly weapon onto Stellos’ unsuspecting hulk. The hiss of the weapon and the roar of the Librarian melded into one as Stellos briefly vanished in a haze of white light. A wave of heat slapped against Hark’s features, singing his hair and breaking the enthrallment. He blinked rapidly, driving the vestiges of supernatural domination from his mind.
“Do - do you suppose that was an official commissarial sanction, sir?” said a weak voice to Hark’s left. The commissar-captain looked to find Trooper Raess standing next to him, his face white and his hands shaking.
Hark forced a smile he hoped would look confident. “If it isn’t, they should make it one.”
Whatever Raess was about to say was drowned out in a furious roar. The remaining Kasrkin rushed forward to find that the melta-blast had driven Stellos’ power-armored bulk through the nearest bulkhead but amazingly, the Librarian wasn’t dead. His armor was scorched and shattered but the corrupted warrior was still standing. “Death to the servants of the false Emperor!” he bellowed and swung a crackling Crozius Arcanum down upon the general, who parried with a deft parry of his power sword.
“By the power vested in me by the Commissariat,” roared Gaunt, his words accentuated by a flurry of lightning-fast strokes that managed to keep the wounded Librarian off-balance, “I declare thee anathema! Your crime, is the betrayal of the Imperium. Your sentence, is death!"
“Fool!” shrieked Stellos, and his voice reverberated in the minds of the Kasrkin. “You know not what you are meddling with. I will slay you where you stand!”
“We’ll see about that,” scoffed Gaunt. The general parried another wild swing by the Librarian and rolled backwards, out of the warrior’s reach. “Kasrkin, kill this son of a bitch.”
The Kasrkin rallied to the aid of their General, peppering the fallen Librarian with hellgun fire. Commissar Hark joined in the fight, drawing his bolt pistol and sending shot after shot at the corrupted warrior. But somehow, impossibly Stellos was still standing, the withering hail of fire blocked off by a psychic shield of unnatural power. The Librarian chuckled as he took a step forward, then another. “Ye-es,” he murmured and regarded the commisar-general. His voice regained some of the unnatural charm it had carried earlier. “Only now, at the end, do you understand.”
Stellos hefted the Crozius Arcanum and Gaunt readied himself to parry, knowing full well he would not be able to withstand the killing blow-
Night turned to day. Fire blossomed through the hull of the Sisyphus
as steel and ceramite gave way to a withering barrage of plasma fire. A gaping hole was torn in the side of the ship and silver forms emerged through, causing the deck to shake wherever they slammed into it, scooping and rolling and coming up ready to fight. The Librarian swung down but one of the silver knights swung his force halberd and deflected the weapon. Stellos swung a fist at his head but the knight sidestepped and another expertly drove his weapon through one of the many damaged areas of his powersuit, eliciting another furious psychic scream.
A third turned to the commissar-general, voice warbling through electronic speakers. “General Gaunt, I am Brother Nathanael of the Grey Knights. You and your men must come with me at once: we have very little time left.”