Getting in through the walls was going to be interesting. Laure thought she had worked it out; he looked at the rest. 'Any bright ideas?'
'We could disguise ourselves as Imperial Assassins. In fact, I'll go and do that now. Back in thirty years.' Hasek said, although making no attempt to move.
We could disguise ourselves as converts to Chaos, crossed Aule's mind before being firmly squashed- no, Ignatius would shoot us for thinking that, was his next clear fragment of mind.
I wouldn't, the Marine thought, although I would send the idea down in flames because there's no way they could pull it off through their front line. Physically maybe, but that would be beyond the psychologically possible for the two Sororitas, not and stay sane. The three guardsmen could, though, and will have to once we are in.
'Over, under or through. Not by the same route as the Sisters to preserve surprise for them, so some other bit of infrastructure, something underground- pipeline or transtube?' Bohr suggested.
'If the army knows it exists, they'll be sending infiltrators down it- if Chaos knows it exists, they'll be sending some the other way.' Hasek pointed out.
'Sssh.' Ignatius noticed something prodding him on the psychic plane, waved them to silence. 'Think in pianissimo.' Someone, something from within the walls- less subtle than a farseer by a long way, but under much less of the immediate pressure that had denied the farseer the room to be subtle.
Someone thinking about tunnels, and assassins, and hit teams, and Ignatius learned a good deal before someone else hit the one who was thinking at him across the back of the head and told him not to be so stupid, stop trying to make contact with your target, you're giving far too much away.
He was, too. There were tunnels, quite a lot of them- the city had been placed where it was by the first colonists because of rich mineral seams that had been mined out long ago, some of the caverns converted to secure farms, some used for warehousing and the mass- transit system, more closed off and filled as best they could.
Sensibly, there had been a strong leadfoot presence- that seemed to be the nickname of the local police force- in the tunnels; stations established, sector houses set up. Unsensibly, nobody had kept a close enough eye on them, and they had been the first of the forces of order to be corrupted. The place had turned into a punishment posting, and the disgruntled leadfeet had been easy prey for the cultists and mutants they were supposed to be there to suppress.
There were old lift and vent shafts, most of them diverted or sealed or capped by some kind of facility when they were recycled to other use. How to find them? How far back did the maps and records go, could they be trusted?
'Mistress Repentia, could you vox for access, have army command transmit to you a set of the ordnance drawings for the caverns of the undercity?' he asked her- in theory he could do it, but that would mean playing data-war games he didn't have time for.
She looked surprised. 'I was sure you could just veil us and walk in.'
'It's not the best possible option.' he said, thinking about trying to lead five non-psychics past two million eyes, more. Could be done, wasn't actually impossible, but it was sufficiently close to it to be a lot more demanding than he wanted at this stage of the proceedings.
She got the files he needed, and he looked over them, wondering with a spare bit of his brain how poor an outfit for mountaineering penitent's harness would really be and how much telekinetic manipulation this was going to need.
'Right, we're going to have to do this the incredibly stupid way. Down a vent shaft, there's a suitable one klick and a half that way. The people in power armour are going to have to anchor the ends of the line.'
What followed constituted a worryingly large number of calculated risks, made worse by how embarrassed he would feel if anything went wrong. Imagine getting killed by a patch of moss after fighting the nightmares of the warp.
It made more sense for him to go first, for combat reasons and also to catch anyone who did fall. All three guardsmen were struggling with their packs, Bohr especially with his greatcoat- even bundled up at the top of his pack it was a problem. Albia's movements were a little restricted by the fetters, but more by having to heft the bulk of the chain eviscerator.
On the other hand, it was actually a refreshing experience watching his picked five justify themselves by cool- headedly recalling their training and putting it into practise, refusing to panic and steadily making their way down the shaft. More successfully than he did, at points- Mark four, armorum ultimum, should have been the last word in Astartes kit, but lightweight it definitely was not.
He found himself wishing for a flight pack; then wondering if those blip packs the Warp Spiders used could actually be employed safely by non thrillseeking idiots; Ignatius' mind wandered from there onto the concept of drive- by shootings, the blip pack as a means of attacking things in the warp, enter, stab, exit- why hadn't he thought of that earlier?
Well, he had been rather busy at the time- and was now, as this was the end of the shaft. No light, coal black. Risk, briefly, a momentary flash of mind, reaching out and probing for the presence of rocks and animals but above all, other mind.
Clear of actual live thought, which meant there was either nothing there or somebody incredibly good at masking their presence, which meant a worthy opponent- almost as good, from a certain point of view.
Dead thoughts, yes; there were such things- what else was psychometry made of? The impressions left on the place by the people who had passed through it, thought of it, had to do with it- there were surges of emotion in there, there had been a disaster in the gallery the airshaft opened into and a rescue that had saved many of them. One of a billion such incidents, more, across the Imperium. Except for the survival, that was unusual.
Useful camouflage- the more thought of and storied a place, the better it was, more opportunities it gave to be lost in the noise. Of course, the more physical eyes there were likely to be.
Here? Bugs and fungus- not nurglite, no unnatural taint, just perfectly ordinary cave mould. Wait, let the senses adjust- a small drip of water, his own breath and heartbeat, faint, faint echoes used to plot out the limits of the gallery.
First down was Albia, who got tangled in the rope looping through her fetters; must have been tortuously uncomfortable- she could see nothing but felt the big Marine loom close to her to unravel her, was startled and put on the defensive before recognising who it must be.
Tortuous was normal for her now, she stood quiet, rather like a horse, just breathing, while he untangled her then she stepped to one side, sliding smoothly over the rock, weapon poised, taking up guard stations- quickly, before he could talk to her.
She was less good at stealth- even with the handicap of a huge mechanised suit, Ignatius was quieter and less obvious to the eye. She jingled faintly, too, and he thought ah, stereo. Two sources of sound to estimate with now.
The guardsmen arrived, Bohr with sore arms and backside from bashing off the rock on the way down but nothing essential, Aule and Hasek in better shape, followed closely by the mistress- she was about to light up one of her neural whips for the illumination it would provide and the readiness to engage whatever lurked, it occurred to her how mad an idea that might be.
'Don't waste time waiting to dark-adapt, there really is no light. Minimal luminance, red.' For better preservation of darkvision, probably pointless but a precaution worth taking anyway.
The dim light showed a roughly kidney- shaped gallery, a few long- dead lumps of machinery and bracing, one obvious exit largely blocked with rubble. Juggling what they had and what they needed and what was probably on the other side of that, why hadn't he remembered to steal a melta, too? How much noise, physical and psychic, could they afford, against how much time?
'Nine- sixties.' he ordered. 'You too, sister. Only fair that those of us who need the biggest gap should help make it.' he said moving in that direction himself, unlimbering the entrenching tool he had borrowed from a dead guardsman some forty- odd years ago.
'Why did you assume that I wouldn't?' she said. Realising as she said it that she had no suitable implement for the job. She joined in with her bare hands, the penitent trying to do the same- she had a small pack, which evidently contained nothing immediately useful. Still tried, though.
It would have been even more embarrassing if they hadn't been able to achieve anything, but they did- pulled aside most of the loose rock, before coming to- 'Hm. Sssh.' Ignatius paused and let his perceptions drift, seeing what was on the other side of the wall.
Right, they all heard him say telepathically within their heads. This has been vitrified- melta shot- from the other side, there are mutants in the chamber, if they are aware of us they're playing it very cool. Best guess, a hit team, squad size, poised to go out up the shaft, waiting for their digging and climbing gear to arrive. Might as well make a virtue out of a necessity- I'll mind blast a gap, we all go through hard and fast.
He waited a second- only that- for them to gather themselves, the two sororitas to ready their weapons, and put forth a single wave of kinetic force- a surge that hit the vitrified rock and splintered it apart, hurling shards and fragments and great slabs of razor-edged near-glass, shredding into the chaos band on the other side.
Through while the dust was still billowing, a giant and frightening shape, grey death come for them, nemesis halberd already swinging- body fast, mind faster; he did not outrun his own ability to take in the situation. Tzeentch's sacred number was nine, was it not; unless he had changed it recently. Two nines, then, two combat teams each shot a couple of bodies, close and ranged. Excellent. Lots of kit to plunder.
Two of them looked down for good- a solid lump through the face, a fast splinter through the heart- another four had caught pieces, and one of those four was armed with a peculiar thing that looked mostly like a melta gun with the front end more like a fire-throwing minor daemon's arms; Ignatius' first swipe of the halberd was to put that one down, rolling it out into a figure-eight that caught one armed with what looked like a parody of lightning claws.
Feint left, dart right, get in amongst them- stupidly dangerous, the wrong way to go about this, but necessary to win room for the team to come through without being met by a curtain of fire. Speaking of which- he pushed off to the right with a back- kick that crushed the ribs of a needle-gunner, then wrapped a cone of kinetic force loosely anchored round the muzzle of a flamer.
The cultist with the flamer did not notice the sharp little glitter, stepped away to open arc and pulled the trigger- rocket propelling the cone into, curving as it flew, a renegade leadfoot, and directing most of the fire back at himself- another lunge and shove with the flat of the halberd propelled the burning cultist down the corridor to where he could detonate in safety.
Right, enough fun, Ignatius thought, I have their attention and my lot have their opening, and that leadfoot was bodyguarding, ah, time to go back to work. Psyker. Looked unsteady, not in charge- probably an ex- sanctionee, female, dangling a broken suppressor at her neck and with a crown of iron spikes protruding directly from her skull.
Close quarters, what to do- reach round behind him, not bothering to look, catch an incoming blade on the hilt of the halberd and twist the blade, hilt pushing the sword up and away, blade scything round low and up slicing the cultist from groin to bottom rib. Hm, rest could be left to the team- grab the psyker, pull her close to him. Mind war.
It was a dirty trick, but a necessary one. He burst through her psychic defences in a heartbeat, far too fast for her to summon the strength that would have made it harder- which was actually what he wanted of her, but on his terms. He flashed into her, shouted into her, images of red and brass, of blood and skulls, of slaughter by thirsty axes.
Confused and already half defeated, she did what the grey knight wanted- surrendered herself to her patron and screamed for help. Invited in the daemon. She was already damned, after all. Possession, sacrifice of self to the changer, treachery and blood-greed of the mindless slayer- the lure worked.
For all of half a second, as the daemon flooded into her but had no time to do anything, to make sense of the blur in her eyes, to notice that she was already under control- before Ignatius laid the flat of the halberd on her head and sent a blast of cleansing and clearing force through it, a field rite of unbinding and banishment.
Her eyes cleared, returned to their natural colour, the iron spikes fell out of her head and she curled up in a ball, weeping, wailing- hard to notice over what else was going on. Possessed (however briefly) and cleansed of possession- interesting things should be possible there once she stops crying.
Right, the grey knight thought looking for the rest of the fighting, I've sown confusion- the Tzeentchians should now think it was Khorne cultists that turned on them- added another one to my score, not a particularly good banishment but humanity should be safe from that one for a century or so, and got a source of inside knowledge. Now is there anything left to kill?
Albia had managed to miss with the eviscerator, dodge the power maul the cultist wielding it had undoubtedly stolen from the arbites armouries, and instead of bringing the huge, clumsy weapon up again was apparently trying to beat him to death with the loose end of one of her chains. It was working much more effectively than the chainblade.
The guard team had dropped one with laserfire, riddled the carapace armour- Aule had a rent in the flak armour over his shoulder but his bayonet was wet, Hasek was stabbing one again to make sure, Bohr was engaging one with the chainsword, fence, fence, fence, you do realise I have a laspistol and you have a face? Zap.
One of the cultists was down with his head quite literally kicked in- a power armoured foot would do that. The last, Laure whiplashed her neural stingers one round each arm and pulled- outwards. Ripping his arms off, the body stumbled towards her and she finished him with an elbow into the top of his skull, breaking it.
'All of that practical experience breaking heads, and most of you still go into battle without your helmets on.' Ignatius said to her, conversationally, signalling that the fight was over. The rest of the team couldn't believe it for a second, adding up how many they had been responsible for, how many there had been, looking at him and thinking; bloody hell.
'Of course, brother. The emperor protects.' she said, deadpan, but the corners of her mouth turning up. 'What of-' she gestured with a whip towards the crouching sanctioned psyker.
'A complicated subject, but my specialty to deal with, don't hurt her.' Ignatius said, as Albia went over, blade disengaged, to sit by her. That might work, Ignatius thought. Ah, damn, not quite over yet. Simple telekinesis this time- tear open the side of the tunnel and kill the four remaining cultists, the ones who had been sent for tunnelling and climbing gear, with a shower of splinters.
Did Chaos have better forensic science than the Imperium? Could they tell that this was not the work of rival cultists? The only massive giveaways were in the immaterium, the banishment most of all, and he could blur the traces of that himself. His work to do.
'Hm- tell me, mistress repentia, would it be desperately irreverent of me to suggest equipping your penitent with something more practical than an eviscerator?' She looked askance at him. 'Think about it,' he said, 'it's the weapon you give to your errants when you want them to die. It's so heavy and clumsy to wield that only the Emperor's grace can keep someone alive when they try to fight with it.'
'I have considerable affection for the eviscerator.' she said, for her own personal reasons and knowing she didn't need to elaborate. 'If that is laid down as one of the challenges that must be overcome on the way back to the light, then thus it shall be.'
'Remember all the times when you hadn't- and even if,' he said, 'this is the alternative?' a few long steps to the four stray cultists, pick up what they had intended to use as cutting gear, check it briefly for damage- scuffed but not breached by splinters, much tougher than the beings carrying it; hadn't been in their hands long enough to be tainted. A backpack- fed lascutter.
She could see the practical aspects of it- eyes lit up in fact, and she was fighting hard against temptation. 'The penance I would have to require of her for laying aside the holy eviscerator, and of myself for allowing it, is...daunting.'
'I won't imperil her salvation. If this is necessitate medii, then that is all there is to it, but- not for an Astartes, actually, or other troops attached, there is a verse of the praeforma that covers this.'
'I wasn't joking when I gave that sermon, the Imperium really is built on the human past and all those who have come before- and the praeforma is the collection of wisdom and sayings of the past the Astartes have found useful and worthy to be carried on and made our own. Most of it restated in the codex anyway. One of the earliest verses; Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.'
She looked desperately confused. If she thinks she has trouble now, Ignatius thought, it's only going to get worse. 'While you reason through the theology of it, I'll deal with the psyker.'