update and explodery.
Payter's antennae were twitching. 'Psyker, warrior- you would practically have to have the talents of a Space Marine psych- adept in order to fake it.'
Well, I could say that I was chosen before birth and have been in training to embrace destiny since before I learned to go potty in the potty place,' Ignatius said, thinking there he goes again not using the term grey knight; either he genuinely doesn't know in which case he was sent as expendable too and is too up himself to realise it-
or I'm overthinking it. I could expect to be recognised by daemons, but not by cultist rank and file, or command even, any more proportionately than I would by the guard or my brothers in the Astartes. The inquisition occasionally has the balls for operations like this, but even on detachment, they wouldn't send the Marine.
Still, consider the other option- leading me into the trap. Fine, that's where I want to go anyway. '...but I'd be kidding. Some people are just naturally gifted. Or unnaturally, considering.'
'Being nine feet tall is a natural gift very few people get.' Payter pointed out.
'The biosorcery I admit I'm having problems coming to terms with myself,' Ignatius pretended to admit, 'but the armour was so easy to counterfeit I'm surprised we don't do it more often.
Piping and energy gear from the geothermal spike, valves and actuators from the plumbing network- actually you could probably fake up credibly effective armour from the contents of the yard. Ergonomics would be a bastard, but it could be done, you have the metals, the reactive polymers, the power systems, the motors and mechatronics-'
'You're speaking a language that I don't understand.' Payter interrupted.
'The old jargon, the language modern mechanicus argot is a debased, befouled patois of...that is a natural gift. The transformative sorcery was the part I have a loose grasp of, but all I really had to do was dance round the circle a couple of times and eat my girlfriend.'
Peyter took a second to parse that; looked as if he was thinking hard and trying to maintain a properly chaotic approach. Ignatius prodded him again by saying 'I was getting tired of her anyway, and it was time for a change.' He grinned; utter, utter lies.
'Recovering from the biosorcery, on the other hand, was a cast iron bitch. I think I understand why Marines tend to be quite so bad tempered now.'
Payter said 'Eating your girlfriend- that could be considered to be a fairly bad tempered thing to do to begin with, surely?'
'You're still thinking like a politician.' Ignatius said. 'Did you never want to stand up in council and say something like that, just to see the eyes bulge and hear the blood vessels pop?
No? Really? I'd have thought the temptation would be almost overwhelming- although of course there would be party discipline to contend with. The whip, and that.'
'I never submit to the whip.' Payter said, and almost certainly lied.
Laure's going to have fun with you, Ignatius thought, but said 'The derivation actually does go back to beasts of burden, and it is what it sounds like- junior members of the assembly little more than legislative oxen, made so hungry with ambition, enticed into the harness by the party bosses and fed on the illusion of power;
but you rose in the ranks of a party that had or pretended to have such discipline; avoided the dying spasms of the old order- and avoided the temptation to use the levers of internal power to get your own way? I doubt it. We all breathe the same oxygen, after all, at least until the winds of the warp take you.'
Moving towards the circle, through the abandoned rolling stock then- some of which had clearly been vandalised and cursed, poor engines; all they had ever wanted was to be Really Useful. Now they had been condemned to be anything but, and there was as great deal of machine spirit anger there that might be usable.
'So, your voting record.' Ignatius said, to keep him distracted. 'Looking back it seems as if the neopols were always essentially a Tzeentchian front; virtually every concrete proposal, certainly all the proposals that involved concrete, were for something drastically different.
Building and moving to north and south pole planned superhives, leaving the corrosion, maintenance nightmares and rotten old underlevels in the middle in an official wasteland- and we all know what practically would have happened- was almost genius, but I think you overdid it a bit with the warp- attracting patterns in the street grids.'
'You noticed that? The Adeptus Astra Telepathica didn't.' Payter said, and Ignatius wondered why he gave that organisation, of all of them, it's full proper name.
Hm. True names. maybe, he thought- oh, that did indeed make sense. Get me into the circle and call me by my true name, although there's realistically no way they could know it.
Unrealistically? well, there were ways- the most likely and most common being a daemon one had met before, coming back after a too short period of banishment, with the knowledge of how you had beaten it last time.
Wouldn't be that unlikely, really. The plan just got a little more complicated- although it would do for a warmup.
'Once I guessed it might be there and started looking for it, it was obvious- but the, not the party, what did you call it, the withinmost party- the cult cell; they made too many concessions.
It'd practically be Chaos Undivided in there, and how much front office and how much back room, you remember the public debates- it was obvious there was something you weren't saying, and that put the scent of blood in the water.
That got everything far too heavily talked about, and it wasn't really subtle enough at all- or far enough the other way.'
'I argued in favour of the compromise plan; it was more practical politics. In order to happen at all- we were not dominant, not at the time;' and still not really, but he was choosing to look past that, 'it was necessary to use what we had to work towards more, make many building moves.'
'The problem there,' Ignatius, wondering if he should apply for a transfer to the administratum after this, 'for anyone with the eyes to see it- and looking at who emerged as what I'm pretty sure the Nurglites did- is that the building game doesn't give you momentum, and the lack of momentum is what really held you short of victory.
it brought everything too far out in the open and made everything happen before it was fit to happen, which is why there are robot genitals bouncing through the streets and you're down here.
A bolder move sooner, a long-shot, would have rewarded success and made a much better situation in the long run- I know, I was late to the party too, but kitbashing takes time.
Worse yet, you're almost as bad as the sons of Karneth at peace,' as close as human tongue could come to the true name of the Blood God, and Payter reeled in horror, if there's nothing that can be done to the outside world you turn on and try to change each other.
'That may leave more of you standing than it does the blood and skulls, but not necessarily in much better condition.'
'Which- to who- where does your allegiance lie?'
'It doesn't lie still, if that's what you mean; Chaos undivided, but there isn't such a thing, is there? Chaos Prefigured, you would be better thinking, the chaos to come, the reformation of the universe.
Did you never wonder what the great plan is, what the universe is supposed to look like, what the mind-that-makes-itself of the Warp, born of four brothers, will be- whether the chase had a beast in view?'
As he watched Payter's mind wander over the idea, Ignatius thought, crap on a stick, it's working- I've made a convert. I have to stop trying to persuade people of things.
Is there anything that can usefully be done- is there the manoeuvring room to start my own gleefully counterproductive chaos anti- cult? Not by the shape of things- not without sacrificing the primary objective to a target of opportunity.
Then, into the main 'shed', and they were there. There were seven in the well of the turntable, and they looked like a successful cult; utterly disparate. The whole robe and dagger image only really came into play when the cult had either been started by an idiot, or had been or were preparing to be underground for a long, long time.
A successful underground movement drew in- was perhaps successful because it drew in- people who could make a success of normality, weren't the normal shrike- spirited social outcast who made up most cults.
This lot included one sorceress with an absurdly smooth complexion over and absurdly wrinkled soul, and she would be a suitable target if a demonstration needed to be made.
A tall man with another of those absurd hood-headdress-yoke things that Ignatius had come across so long ago, yesterday. There was an instant flicker of psychic recognition, and Ignatius tried to bury the the thought that part of his defence here was audacity.
Basically, no-one within blithering distance of sanity would accept that a genuine Marine, still less a brother of Chapter 666, would ever be in this position. He, Ignatius thought, is the only one who might actually believe it.
There was one man in a rich gown muddy from being put on- looted, obviously- over stained overalls; angry representative of the working class, probably a latent, undetected psyker until the strangeness broke forth and sparked his gift into life. Might be shrewd, but probably little to no conscious cunning.
One in a smaller version of the yoke- headdress, an apprentice of some kind, and a rebellious one- there was a giveaway in the way the senior of the two was careful never to present his back square on to the junior; the seventh a paint- stained artist, a narrow aspect of a being, capable in what he was pointing directly at, but a little oblivious beyond it.
The sorceress was the first to react- melodramatically in the extreme. She shrieked, pointed a finger at him, screamed 'Peyter you moron- what have you done- you've led them right to us!'
'He's on our-'
'He's real, he's a Marine,' the shrieking sorceress, who had obviously used her powers to do everything but change, demanded; she had passed the point of self- parody, having used her powers to preserve her seductiveness- creamy flesh in low cut black lace with a little spike and glitter, long black hair, too much makeup.
'You of all people,' Ignatius said looking at her, 'should know appearances can be deceptive.' She was the one to remove.
This was probably the most difficult part of the day- actually smelling like a chaotic psyker, here in the circle; he whiplashed a wave of turbulence in he warp over her, too raw to be very subtle or to show much in the way of fingerprints, that battered and collapsed her illusions and cosmetic mutations in a hash of carbolic- smelling curdled light.
What was left standing was a draggle- haired, snaggle- toothed, wrinkle- faced old squidbat of a harridan; Ignatius added insult to injury by popping into existence a small puddle in his left hand, expanded it and stilled the ripples, held it up to her as a mirror.
She screamed and tried to claw his eyes out, but the weak bones and hunched stature of what was left couldn't reach; he drizzled the puddle on her and her makeup ran.
'Opinions differ,' he told the rest of them, seemingly ignoring the frantic hag trying to claw her way up him, 'on the nature of change. Some believe that it is essentially an elastic collision, two identities, two soul- substances colliding, reshaping each other, deforming and being transmuted to new forms.
Others think that change is not organic and not necessarily mutual, that it is something that is done, can be made to happen without changing the actor, given a leverage, a firm place to stand;
Others yet say this misses the most essential factor, growth, change from within, planned and programmed development, call it destiny if you like. I- decide what to believe, and act according to, on a daily basis.' Which was technically true, if it didn't matter that he came to the same decision on each and every one, to stand against the darkness and remain true to the Throne.
'You chose not to change, in a way- to maintain the glamour of youth because you have no core, only appearance- and what was the opportunity cost of all of this, what futures have you sacrificed, what have you not done, o wrinkled one, to freeze in an eternal present?'
He plucked the small wrinkled thing off his armour and dropped her, while he had the verbal upper hand, before she could come up with a riposte. Her knee landed on a bolthead, she screamed; he ignored her.
'On the other hand, you look as well dressed for this party as I do.' he said to the other chaos sorceress, who was bearing the archaic appearance of a personal assistant or confidential secretary; starched white shirt, skirt, suit-jacket.
She looked completely unchaotic, which he found fascinating; it was obviously in some way the secret of her success, and the other half was to be found in the searing hate in her eye; if anyone was likely to be about to do something violent to test him, it was her.
Ignatius fixed her with a glare, the kind he used on minor daemons just before turning them into warp soup. 'I recognise you; the one who thought you were stronger alone, needed no-one- a little afraid of being needed- wanted to be alone. You got what you wanted, and found that it wasn't much of a prize after all.
Trapped yourself into being a living, grinding gear in a clockwork world, afraid of what the system would do to you if you weren't; making yourself the role as protection and place, fighting off anyone who tried to reduce you to a vulnerable individual- at the same time as you were secretly hoping and praying that someone would.
As you were building your wall higher and higher, with less and less chance- it was the gods of the warp that heard you, was it not? The secrets of the job paid for your steps into the world of thaumaturgy, but you still cling to the notion that the same thing can happen in the same way twice.
And,' he added, 'you're still alone.' She nearly swung for him there and then, but he was still looking at her, looking into her soul. A tzeentchian puritan was such an odd concept...for a moment he wondered if she was a well disguised agent of the officio assassinorum.
The ex gravedigger believed that anyone who claimed to religion in that sense must inevitably be a hypocrite; from his point of view, even the genuine prelates of the church were con artists and scammers disguised as priests.
'We do not know you.' the one in the ridiculous head- dress that made him look rather less capable than eh really was said. 'You come here posing as an Astartes in order to murder devotees of the dark gods- how do you manage to look so thoroughly a Marine?'
Fifteen years' training and two hundred and sixty years wandering the galaxy hitting things in the Emperor's name, Ignatius didn't say. 'Would you believe an accident involving two rubber bands, a liquid lunch and an irrational costume shop?'
'No, I would not.'
'Fanatics.' Ignatius spat. 'No sense of humour- either you weren't scrying hard enough on the explanation I gave Ribbell, or you want me to go through it all again in a phase where minutes count. How good are you at time manipulation? What, in fact, is your plan?'
And time to start taking charge and steering this the way he wanted. 'I see five options,' he said- and it was an ideal venue for railroading them, was it not? 'Forget tactical victory- there's too much Imperium out there. The Slaaneshi want a rift and you think you need to beat them to it.
Except the only place you can do it is the cathedral, it's the point of power- funny, isn't it, how the god emperor of the canaille, the common man, the greatest achievements of Chaos are only possible on formerly consecrated ground-
Option one, you could try to confront them and take the place from them. Tell me you weren't trying to do that last night, and got nowhere.'
'Something you made materially more difficult by stirring up the slaaneshi against us.' The hooded man pointed out.
Ignatius laughed at him. 'Since when have the powers of the Warp- or the Ecclesiarchy for that matter- cared about mere material difficulties? They're for the merely material. Besides, wheat from chaff.
Brings me to point two, anyway- among those who are alive thus far, your warpcraft is superior to theirs and they know it. Offer to assist the ritual then subvert it from within. Plausible? Think on it.
Option three, thaumaturgical attack on the ritual from the outside; along Ringway One, perhaps? Problem is that it's all still in the family, even if you win it'd be back to square one, still the Imperium outside, and less to work with and the goal still to get.
Option four, ride this out and wait for the fire next time, go underground and emerge in the aftermath to burrow into and destroy the new system- although for those with public names and reputations beforehand that could be a slow route to a very churchy execution.
The fifth option is this; if the Slaaneshi get their way they'll be looking at lance fire in the face, cathedral or not- you know the astropaths and navigators can see something like that coming. The shield dome's too badly battered to take much more. They're not that stupid- a major warp thing happening, the first resort is going to be broadside fire and the hell with retaking the city.
If it's played right, though- I don't think this world is going to fall, but we could gain a thousand others- do you know what the organs of the Imperium are afraid of? The obvious is only an approximation of the truth.
The Ecclesiarchy occasionally remember to be afraid of chaos, in the odd moments when they recall they're not supposed to spend all their time squabbling with and anathematising each other, but they usually don't know all that much about it all- sometimes they actually blunder into it by accident, which can be entertaining.'
Of all the idiotic comments I never want to hear again, near the top of the list has to be "What, you mean His Majesty doesn't have tentacles?", Ignatius thought to himself.
'The Munitorum, though...they're not afraid of Chaos in the field, the total immersion in hate that the front line brings is effective protection- far more so than the supposed armour of contempt. Terrified of it in garrison, though, where men's minds can wander to the intricacies of the warp.
Not so long ago, actually, in cosmic terms, that they used to routinely exterminate troops that had come into contact with the armies of the Four, which must have made life very gratifying for the wise cultist; set the wheels in motion, withdraw, have a single daemonhost waiting to say 'ooga booga' as the Imperial armies come over the horizon, and then sit back and laugh.
They had to call a halt to that eventually- the policy itself was breeding rebellion, inevitably once the rumour mill started to work; the navy guys horrified by what they had to do, it spread out from there until regiments, divisions, entire armies were defecting as soon as they came into contact with the chaos horde;
a horde is a more human thing than an army, after all, and the possibility of eternal glory under the heavily deformed stars seemed better than certain death at the hands of the Imperium- let' face it, anyone who would do that sort of thing isn't exactly on your side any more, are they?'
Peyter glared at him, remembering the bodies in the entrance. Ignatius carried on- 'It rarely actually happened, but what if we live the dream? Mask reality, mist the city in a subconscious, growing atmosphere of chaoticity?
Weave a web of subliminal signs beneath the level they can notice it to fight back against, that will grow and prey- poison them, tempt them, give them enough to weave a matrix in their own minds-' if only this was being holocorded, I could explode the brains of half the Ordo Malleus, Ignatius thought-
'Lead them into temptation and deliver them unto the lord of change; from the defeat that is about to befall, a thousand victories!'
I have got, Ignatius thought, to stop trying to persuade people of things. That or get myself appointed a Cardinal. I really shouldn't be this good at preaching at people, especially not when I'm pretending to be a heretic.
Their eyes were shining- whatever warp powers they were in touch with weren't ringing alarm bells in their heads, am I benefiting from cognitive dissonance here, the Grey Knight thought- or is this somehow fitting in with their plan?
Have they passed the point at which it is remotely credible that I am an actual marine- hells, have I passed that point; this is not going to sound good at confession- and are just going with it?
'You're actually almost half way there. Considering the bait you left out for me, a vibe, a taste in the air- the technique, it exists. How did you manage to counterfeit the taste of religion, incidentally? Ex- acolyte?'
Theoretically it was bad technique to ask, to give them some idea of what they could use as the basis of an answer that you wanted to hear, but Ignatius thought that it could be a useful mistake to make anyway;
Now that he was here at the centre of the effect- and to get what he wanted out of it this would have to be a very complicated explosion- he didn't think so, actually; there were too many overwrought notes, it had the scored, juggled corrections of a parodist trying not to produce a parody, not the sideways fire of an apostate's.
'I was a gravedigger.' one of the others said, 'Saw them go through the same nonsense each and every time, for the ones they bothered to bury or cremate instead of shoving into recyclers- and only the bereaved changed. Watching the corpse god's priests fleece and mock their followers- I sought a true god.'
And you found Tzeentch the lord of change? Well, there's no accounting for taste, Ignatius thought.
'This was not your original plan.' fountainhead man said.
'What, infiltrate Imperial command and get them to do something suicidally stupid? it was a good idea but it fell apart on the details. They're not all completely stupid, I suppose sooner or later they had to run out of donkeys, and there's nothing that I could convince them of that they would actually be willing to carry out, that would tip the scales.
So here I am, apparently a representative of one of the most distinctive and hard to fake chapters in the galaxy. I'd be better off pretending to be from the Twenty- Second Founding. In fact I'm surprised you didn't pick up on that.'
'Presumably you intended to die.'
'Ach, as a cultist- or as a Marine for that matter- you do what you have to do, survival's optional; aim to win and if you're still alive at the end of it, yay, next challenge.' Ignatius could see their plan now; trap him in the circle and implode it.
Fortunately, he had left one of them deeply traumatised, and most of the rest in some doubt; they knew what they were doing wasn't working, and he had promised them glory in the name of the dark gods...
This is why we don't get to do undercover work, Ignatius thought. Not that I do all that often, but I'm sure I can hear the universe laughing.
'Take the earlier blanket, it's still wound to the totem; change it, move away from the faint taint of incense and axle grease- careful, there needs to be the power to disperse it but it also needs to be a miasma, that cannot be traced and acted against, in nomine imperator- ready?'
I can afford to taunt them a little, and I damn' well need the reminder myself- I should stop messing with them, we're here now, in striking distance for me of the totem at the centre of the septagrammic circle. It's supposed to be wrong to play with food- but I might need that half second's confusion and hesitation.
'What did you say?' the apprentice demanded.
'That if it is too obvious, it will be instantly traced and acted against in the name of the emperor. How good a cultist can you really claim to be, if even the mention of He on Earth's name makes you jump? Show some backbone, man. At least it wasn't the chapter battle cry.'
He left half a second's pause after that, enough for a social reaction, that the apprentice was very jittery, and at least one of them to think wait, what? before adding the extremely obvious.
The only battle cry that ever really made sense, the only thing anybody can ever remember if they really are about to try to kill somebody in close combat, is some variation on 'grr, argh'- essentially an animal noise. Anything with actual words in is far better held back at the pre- contact, pre- battle pep talk. Maybe swearwords, sometimes.
Ignatius didn't actually say it very often; this time, couldn't resist. 'If you were wondering, that's I Am The Hammer.' Shrugged the halberd off his shoulder and swung it, with unnatural, planned motion, the speed at which Astartes muscles think, into and clean through, bisecting the central totem.
There was a complicated implosion- explosion and the world felt highly peculiar- loud and bright and inside out- for a frozen eternal second.
Ignatius, as he had arranged, was the one in the best position to resist and survive, being in the flash shadow of his own nemesis force halberd. Psychic destruction has one peculiarity; it does not happen faster than the mind can follow.
Physical forces of destruction moved by the mind, pyro and lightning and kinetically hitting people, yes, but not mind to mind, the deep arcane. There is time for the skilled, trained consciousness to react; it is certainly possible to be too stunned and confused to react effectively, to waste that time on realising that you're doomed, but to react in any case.
Ignatius was ready to react, and had time to anchor himself against the warp and weather the blast- not yielding, there was no compromise with this, but angling against it, pushing back, deflecting it- turning it aside, not as a road untrodden but as ethereal armour turning psychic blow.
The cultists were less fortunate; too much of that shred of warp based non-time they had was absorbed and wasted by being perplexed, horrified, ashamed- and by their dark patrons laughing at them.
The realisation that he was real, a fake fake, a true Astartes and soldier of the emperor with the mother wit- or perhaps it had come from his father, unlikely though that seemed- to insinuate himself through sheer boldness and gall, hiding in plain sight, unbelievable but all too terribly true.
The time they took to overcome that was time they would have needed if they were to try to survive.
With it wasted, their screams were lost in the blast, of the contained energy of the circle in mid- rite rupturing and, as Ignatius had picked the moment for, blasting mainly into the Warp; they were trapped, caught in the vortex, unwarded and ripped apart- no solid fragment of their souls survived, lost to immortality and to Chaos.
The glowing head of the halberd, bright soulfire channelled through it, broke the force of it; pushing back against the rest, taking what he could on the many and layered defences of his counters, wards, armour-
the flash of physical force fields collapsing as his refractors overloaded, the screaming of wordless choirs as the pentagrammic and hexagrammic wards flared higher and higher, pinking, screeching sounds of layered ceramet-composite armour deforming under pressure, muttered prayer and brute determination-
It never reached the status of a rift; the blasted circle contracted to a point, imploded, nothing.
How often do you have to do this, Ignatius thought- braced against the inner wall of the turntable, still more or less in one piece- it's like being hit repeatedly over the head; how often do you have to have it happen before the process makes you lose enough brain cells you start thinking it's fun?
Because it is. What have I forgotten? he thought, and then a small piece of roof tile fell at his feet.
Ah. I've just set off a large explosion in a space far too small to properly contain it, and whose walls and ceiling- especially ceiling- are not indefinitely strong.
Crap, I'm back at plan B. After all the options of fields and wards and auras are exhausted, it comes to feet as usual.
'Run for it.' he shouted, hopefully to the team- who he could now afford to look for again but wasn't taking the time to do so, vaulting out of the pit and sprinting for the nearest tunnel entrance that looked likely to stay in one piece.
Running through the sides of collapsed burning carriages, vaulting over bogeys- he made the tunnel, and looked back and actually felt slightly disappointed that the roof wasn't caving in with dramatic appropriateness.
That happened when he actually found the rest of the team, holding at a junction of tunnels where one working line branched off to the maintenance yard, waiting for him to rejoin.
They were all there,a little more battered and dinged, but Laure's face was practically glowing, Albia had a fresh bandage around one thigh, and Aule had a handprint on the side of his face. Hmm.
'Did anyone spot the deliberate mistake?' he said, taking his helmet off and grinning, as the clouds of dust billowed up the tunnel behind him.
'We felt it, Brother. The foulness, the lies, and then the magnificent flash of utter light.' Laure said. 'I-'
'Three for the price of one, then. Their psykers would have noticed that too, of course- and I think it is time to begin the endgame. This tunnel slopes upward, does it not? Good, that way then.'
'I have to stop doing things like that in places with ceilings.' He said as they walked along. 'Or walls, or other buildings nearby,' or Brother- Captains, 'or, well, anything really; and the main thing is that I really need to stop playing with my food.
As I was blathering my way in there, trusting to the idea that it was so blatant they wouldn't think I was being that obvious, I kept thinking of ways to turn what they were saying and doing to advantage, to trick them and spin them into greater and more effective self destruction, to spread weakness throughout the chaotic horde;
all good fun in a way, but there's only so much of that you can do before you start getting bits of it on you. There'll be tricks still to play and moves to make, but little in the way of deception,' and that chiefly of my own side, considering the use I plan to put the Sisters to, 'and the time to just shut up and hit things fast approaches.'
The only purpose in my still being here is the stories and the people who come to read them. About all else, I no longer care.