The exterior door to the command spire imploded under the force of ten kilograms of det-chord. The few seconds of chaos and smoke just barely gave Daul and the Lionhearts the time to rush into cover. Like most facilities in the Empire the spire was not without defenses in case of rebellion or invasion. The walls of grand cathedral of the entrance hall were dotted with a half dozen leering gargoyles concealing a wicked array of lethal turret weapons. The shadowed recesses of the vaulted ceiling flashed brightly as tracer rounds rocketed towards the door. Sandar hesitated as he rushed through the door, fear briefly overtaking him. The momentary indecision was his undoing as his legs were cut out from under him, his kneecaps reduced to nothing. He fell down the stairs behind the door screaming in pain.
“I thought the clockwork man was supposed to have disabled these damn things. They’re linked to the main reactor aren’t they?” yelled Sergei as he batted out a small fire in the dangling silk sash he wore round his waist. He winced at the crack of laser fire from beyond the door. Sandar had taken his own life rather than be found by the half-breeds.
“He must have been delayed. Faust will no doubt have guarded the reactors as well as he’s secured the spire,” Daul yelled back between hurling blots of psychic energy at the leering gargoyles, “We’ll have to assume that the turrets won’t be disabled in time. Try to aim for the power cables feeding into them, sever those and the machine spirits should lose the will to fight.”
“Damned angry spirits they are at that sir,” groused Hamman as he looked into the distance, “Two lift tubes sir.”
“We’ll have to split up, I’ll take Dorn in the one. You take the other. Take this data crystal, you’ll need it to force a manual override of the system so that they can’t force the lift to stop midway.” He pulled out a green crystal from his tabard that Sergi pocketed.
“Both of them seem to be large enough for all of us if we can get to them,” said Sergei as he squinted into the distance. The hall was dimly lit but the distant overhead light of the transport tubes was visible.
“This suit weighs an even two tons, I could not hope for it to lift us all. Come on, we’ll have to continue forwards, turrets or no. Our time is limited and unless I miss my guess Sánclair will be firing in… oh my,” Daul looked at his chronometer, “Cairn not having done his part may yet be a blessing, we’ve arrived late.”
“If you say so sir,” Sergei said as he fired a shot into the mechanical undercarriage of one of the gargoyles. His shot pierced the ammunition feed and burst the turret in a brilliant ball of flame, “All the same I’d rather not be fighting these damned turrets.”
A bright, blinding light flashed as the blast shutters slammed shut on the windows to the command spire. The distant screams of fear from the Belzafest colonists in the slave pens echoed shrilly as the ground shifted and shook. Daul blinked stars out of his eyes and looked back to his chronometer and trying to ignore the sense of dread at being inside of a colony mid-barrage and the screaming klaxons going off citywide, “Better than taking the full force of a bombardment from the Bounty. There’s somewhere we’d all rather be soldier, now hurry up and take these damned things out. ”
The group bobbed and weaved through the various upturned desks, shattered statues, and great stone pillars, firing for the turrets as they went. Daul lost his footing on a loose bit of ferrocrete and caught a head on blast from an auto cannon that burst on his armor. It tore a gaping rent in his chest armor but not the layer of flak underneath. Daul ignored the warning flashes on the HUD in his helmet and tossed a bolt of psychic force at the offending turret. It crumpled and burst.
“Are you alright sir?” Hamman’s voice was strained. The man was always edgy when dealing with something that could not be killed with his flamer.
“It’s a scratch,” Daul said as he pulled a cylinder of sealant out of a pocket in his tabard. Thick foam filled the opening in his armor, quickly sealing itself and forming a bond over the jagged tear, “But I wouldn’t want to take another hit there soon.”
Daul flinched as Vazziz burst in two, showering his armor in a spray of his guts and viscera. There was some xenotech devilry at work, of that Daul was sure. These turrets were far too accurate. The machine spirits of the standard prefabricated complexes used on border worlds were lazy and prone to bouts of mischief. The turrets firing at Daul had been precise and methodical, aiming at the joints in his powered armor where its protection would be weakest, too clever for the more whimsical mass-produced machine spirits.
Yonal screamed as his finger was torn away from his body in a burst of gore. He whipped his rifle up and fired blindly while crying in pain, his rife on full automatic fire. He continued to fire long after he’d managed to destroy the turret and kept pressing down on the trigger after exhausting its power pack. Evaan had to wrestle him to the ground in order to dress his wound and administer a painkiller.
It was then that Daul noticed a turret firing wildly at a bit of stray bit of debris. Of course, it was foolish of him not to have thought of it earlier. The facility, though full of systems fabricated by the Oita Forge would not have been able to afford Oita make for all of its systems. Some bureaucrat had decided to save a sovereign on the defense turrets. It was a damned foolish decision that Daul could be nothing but grateful for, “They’re using basic wide band auspex sensors!”
“Inquisitor if you insist on speaking in riddles and techno-sorcery we are all going to get killed. They’re using what?”
“There has to be an auspex array somewhere that they’re getting data from. Somewhere with a good view of everything, somewhere protected, somewhere that people wouldn’t notice,” Daul turned around and looked up to the keystone of the arched ceiling, “Somewhere that would be damn near suicidal to shoot at.”
Sergi crawled along the ground to a bit of cover opposite from Daul. He flinched when a stray ricochet pinged past his face and nearly jumped when a bit of drool dripped from Dorn’s gormless smile onto his hand. Grimacing slightly he wiped off the spittle on his pant-leg, squinting at the ceiling. Keen eyes darted about in consternation eyeing every angle.
“Suicidal is right sir, shooting that will collapse the ceiling,” he shot Dorn another murderous look as a second great glob of spittle dripped down on his shoulder and muttered angrily in ancient Damascan. Apparently the words for “filthy” and “mutt” of modern Damascan were the similar in both the modern and ancient dialect.
“Only in the entrance hall, if we knock out the turrets we ought to have enough time to reach the lift tubes in time for us to climb in and frankly it ought to cut off reinforcements for Faust. I have no doubt that there are many hundreds more half-breeds still in the city proper. This should serve to stop, or at least slow their advance. Head for the one on the left, I’ll head for the one on the right with Dorn.”
“Mad as all hell you are sir,” Sergei said in a tone of grudging respect, his smile took on the manic aspect that so characterized the Lionhearts and he yelled out to Var in ancient Damascan. Var blinked nonplussed and pointed up. Sergei scowled and yelled back in gruff low gothic, “Yes I damn well know the roof is going to bloody well come down! Just be ready to move when it does.”
Var shrugged and loaded a krak shot into the grenade launcher. It whistled as it shot upwards and collided with the arch, bursting into a brilliant ball of fire. Sergi screamed, “Move,” at the top of his voice even as he lifted his hands in front of his face to protect his face from falling debris.
“Move you miserable lump of a creature,” Daul’s face contorted in frustration behind his helmet as he yanked the servitor along behind him. Dorn had been sanding still, giggling as the two-ton ferrocrete bricks collided with the floor. He continued to giggle midair as Daul heaved him into his shoulders and carry him to the lift.
The doors to the lift slammed shut and echoed with the thunderous crashing of ferrocrete and adamantium in the entrance hall. The lights inside the lift flickered and died before switching to the emergency lights, bathing the interior of the lift in a dull red light. Daul righted himself and rearranged his tabard, eying the wet spot where Dorn had drooled on it with distaste. “Disgusting, positively disgusting, I really must housebreak you Dorn.”
Dorn stared back smiling that disturbingly cruel smile behind his bushy beard.
“Bah,” Daul pulled the data crystal out of his tabard and plugged it into the control panel. The lift’s lights flashed back to white and the tube ground back into motion causing Dorn to shift drunkenly as his servitor mind struggled to adjust to the shifting ground, “I should have left you. It would have served you right, damned creepy beast that you are.”
Dorn looked at Daul with his head cocked at a jaunty angle, his morpha cables flopping down from his helmet and beard making him look distinctly like a deranged spaniel. Daul could just see the listless grey eyes behind the helmet’s visor staring vaguely into the distance. There was a benign innocence in them that belied the cruelty of his smile, but it had been the same in Dorn’s life prior to lobotomy. Perhaps Daul would be lucky and the Emperor would see fit for Dorn to pass into the next life. Daul would certainly not mourn his passing.
He tapped his helmet to activate a comm. channel to the Lionhearts but only heard static. “The thrice damned lift must be radiation shielded. We can only hope for the best… and I’m talking to a servitor as though he were about to respond to me I truly have been spending time around the Skitarii.”
Dorn shifted gently from foot to foot, rocking with the motion of the elevator. He giggled with each bump and made bubbles with his mouth.
“The rubble should slow down their re-enforcements. That’s something at least, the command overrides ought to disable the lifts once we’ve reached the top meaning that they’ll have climb the stairs. Even then they’re going to have to cut through the blast shield on every level to reach the top,” Daul knew it was a terrible habit but he found that talking himself through every aspect of his situation calmed his nerves. He could not afford to let his mind be clouded by adrenaline and the frenzied pumping of his heart.
Dorn gurgled contentedly and watched the buttons flash in time with the rising of the elevator. The relaxed posture of his body clashed noticeably with the cruel smile behind his bushy beard and the dead sightless eyes behind the visor. His bare feet made fleshy scuffling noises on the plush carpet of the lift as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. “That the Emperor has seen fit to save you when all others in my service are long dead is beyond my understanding Dorn,” Daul checked the patch on his side to see if it had burst after rapid movement, “They didn’t leave you enough brains to remember to feed yourself. Then again, I suppose the less of you they left in the better. You are destined to find penance in sacrifice but I suspect that He only wants you to take the parts of you worth having to the hereafter. And there wasn’t much worth sending to him beforehand, not much now either… not really. I suppose you are a test send to me, suffering and frustration to deal with you for the few moments where you’re of any use.”
He glowered at the servitor, “Having to carry you away from a falling ceiling… honestly! I must have a talk with Kerrigan about installing some sense of self preservation in you or I will simply never be able to finish anything for fear that you might die of some foolishness before I’ve decided that you ought to,” he chuckled at his own grim joke. He didn’t find it funny but any verbal cruelty he could inflict on Dorn gave him no small satisfaction, “but at least that damned cave in ought to give us some time to finish our work, the won’t get re-enforcements through till they clear that rubble, Throne willing that is.”
The past three years of his life had been leading up to this confrontation. Now that Faust was just within his grasp he could not help but feel a giddy rush of adrenaline. No, there was no time for that. He could not afford for his mind to be clouded with rage anticipation, he must treat Faust with the same level of clear headedness as any other heretic. Faust was just like any other heretic but Dorn’s issues with him were personal.
Faust’s crimes were without number and his evil without measure but when Daul choked the life out of him with his bare fists in an interrogation cell it would be to avenge a single death. One wholly undeserving the cruel death he received at Faust’s hands. What little of Daul’s household was left after the Tyranid incursion fled to the fortress monastery of his mentor Inquisitor Lord Martin Gaal. Gaal had always been like a father to him and had been the closest thing he’d had to family for some eighty years. So long as his people reached Gaal Daul had no fear that any harm could reach them. He had been mistaken.
It had been foolish to use a military decryption in order to issue orders to his household but he’d been unsure if anything other than a military transmission would reach the planet at all. Faust had followed them to the hive city that held Gaal’s fortress monetary and lain siege to the fortress. By the time Daul reached it the monastery was little more than rubble, only the sub-basement fortress complex remained. Gaal’s soldiers had held it dearly but vainly; Daul found what little was left of Gaal crucified on the great aquilla that hung behind his desk. Faust had piled their bodies haphazardly beneath the crucifix. Gaal had died a hero’s death trying to save the women and children of Daul’s house who’d come to seek refuge.
Faust had intended it to be a warning to those who interfere in his plans.
It had not had the desired effect
“I will see him flayed alive Dorn. I will do things to him that would have made you cringe. I will break every thing about him and turn his life’s work to dust and ashes," he had promised as much as he knelt in the shattered ruins of his former master's household, weeping like a babe. He had little enough joy in his life without losing what little family he could claim. Faust had stolen part of his heart that day and Daul had filled the emptiness in his heart a with cold and brooding malice.
By the time the lift reached the command level of the spire Daul's anger and apprehension had bled away and only the cool determination remained, sharp as a razor's edge. As he stepped out from the lift there seemed only one acceptable outcome, Faust would die. The wretched stench of the half breeds billowed into the lift as the doors opened, strong even through the rebreathing apparatus of Daul's helmet. He exited the lift and his heart caught in his throat, the door to the second lift, the one that the Lionhearts had taken was sealed by a void shield. The command crystal he'd given them had either shorted out or been cracked in the fighting. The Lionhearts would not reach the command level in time, not without a meltagun anyway. He could not affort to wait for them to find an alternate path.
"Can time never be on my side? Emperor grant me grace."
The hallway leading to the command center was long and opulent. Silk tapestries hung from the ceilings in front of each door declaring the outrageously exaggerated family genealogies, histories and, accomplishments of the colonial office holders. The colonial officials had no doubt been the first to die but the elegance of their apartments no doubt suited Faust's ego.
Daul sensed a pair of half-breeds before he saw them in the gloom. They were lurking in the shadows near the door of a luxurious apartment. Their predatory instincts were strong but Faust had not gifted them with an equal measure of common sense.
Daul walked forwards nonchalantly, pretending not to have noticed the two bulky predators slinking behind him. Goaded by his apparent weakness the two pounced, long claws and powerful jaws ready to tear through armor and into flesh. Two brilliant bolts of pure psychic force pulped their heads into mush midair. The bodies fell to the ground and twitched eerily in deat. Dorn followed Daul. The servitor paused only briefly to stare at their twitching corpses, curving his lips in fascination.
The doors to the offices were open. Most had been torn off their hinges by the half breeds during the initial assault on Belzafest. There were thousands of hiding places and though Daul no longer smelled their stink he could not help but feel that he was being watched. It was an eery sensation that prickled along the back of his neck, setting him on edge. The space was dead, dank, and dark. The damaged florescent lights flickered and spat sparks, giving the tapestries the illusion of motion though there was no breeze down the corridor.
Daul broke in to a dead run as he reached the end of the corridor, building up momentum. He struck the rich double doors that lead to the command center with a jarring crash of metal. The doors, already worn from Faust’s assault, bent and crumpled to the side.
They were waiting.
There had to be twenty of them. Twenty of the largest half-breeds Daul had ever seen, each of them sporting eight tentacles covered in barbed spines that coiled and uncoiled around great sinuous arms. They stood in a wide phalanx in front of some dozen or so hard faced men working tirelessly at their data stations. At the center of this cadre, sitting on the plush throne of the colonial governor, was a man in wearing elegant silks and wide brimmed hat, smiling greedily at the sight of Daul. He put a thick cigar to his lips and puffed at aged talbac, "You're too late Inqusitor."
"Not so late as you assume," Daul walked into the command center flanked closely by Dorn. And in a voice full of as much bravado as he could muster as he walked forwards, "You underestimate me. So does Faust. Tell me where he is hiding before I tear it from you Porst."
The man laughed and snapped his fingers; a void shield flickered into life around Daul faster than he could blink. Daul tossed a bolt of psychic energies at the shield that sparked and spattered but did little else, "Inquisitor do you honestly think my employer has survived centuries by sitting around waiting to be cornered? My employer started the preflight checks the second you came out of warp.
Emperor almighty, a ship. The throne cursed traitor had another ship.
The deep cavern in which the primary reactor for the city sat made Danzig slightly homesick. The plasma generators that powered the city were massive, larger still than any generators Danzig had ever seen. Pulses of blue-white crackled as they pulsed their way down the hundreds upon hundreds of cables feeding into the cavernous ceiling and the city above.
The air was dry and smelled of ozone and lubricant, and the distant throbbing hum of machines was startlingly similar to the sounds and smells of the facility where the children of Lionhearts received their early training. The children would cry for their mothers at first, the machines were loud and frightening and the dormitory in which they slept was often dark. After a few days with the surly corporal who played nursemaid for young Lionhearts the children soon learned that they feared the unknown sounds and clashes of the machine less than they feared the well-worn switch of Corporal Maziv. He was a hard man but not a cruel man, most of the Lionhearts affectionately referred to the man as “Mom” though none of them dared to do so within earshot of Maziv himself.
As he led the handful of men down the wide stairwell to the command platform that sat above the deep chasm he could not help but hear the gruff voice of Maziv, “Don’t you bother to be falling over the edge now boy. You fall over the edge of a plasma reactor and it’s the Emperor himself you’ll be explaining your clumsiness to. The Emperor don’t suffer wooly headed scrum like you lightly.”
The platform sat hovering above the center of the generator itself, reachable only by a wide bridge lined with thick ferrocrete pillars and steel support struts. In the distance, obscured partially by the glare of the plasma discharges, a lone figure sat at the command consul of the generator, a single man, and no guards.
“Cairn, does that look like a half breed to you?” The Skitarii’s face puckered with concentration as his optics focused and re-focused on the shape in the distance. After a few moments consideration he shook his head, his mechanical tentacles waved lazily.
“Sir,” Fadir was looking at a cracked chronometer with trepidation as he shielded his eyes with his hand, “We’re already behind schedule as is. If we don’t have those generators down soon the plan will not proceed. Our mission is still technically a success so long as Faust dies but I’d prefer not to be in the list of acceptable losses.”
“You think I don’t know that,” Danzig spat on the ground, “Burn me, we’ve got no choice. One half-breed with his throat cut is as good as none at all. If I’m going to end up at the foot of the Throne I intend to say I died doing my duty not lollygagging around like a deckhand on his first shore leave. Fadir, you take point.”
Fadir smiled and slunk forwards. Even with a broken rib he was still the fastest and surefooted of Danzig’s men. He should have been born a cat, at least then he would have an excuse for how his feet never seemed to make a sound no matter how fast he moved or how far he jumped. Sala’ha shouldered his long-las and turned to Danzig in a false whisper, “The boy takes altogether too much joy from his work.”
“And you spend altogether too much time moving your lips,” Danzig said in a surly tone. Fadir did like stealth a bit more than was healthy and he was too handsome for his own good by half. His own unique talent for mischief and caring smile often landed him into trouble, though Fadir would never call it such. More than once the young Lioheart had been near court marshal for having made his way into the bedchambers of the noble ladies of the Endless Bounty. The women of the bounty did seem to have a curious habit of having strapping young soldiers arrested when they were caught sneaking into their dressing rooms then dropping the charges in private after the fact. Danzig sometimes wondered if Fadir found less sport in the women than he did in sneaking past the jealous husbands and angry fathers.
Fadir was a sneaky and unscrupulous bastard but he was Danzig’s sneaky and unscrupulous bastard. He could not help but feel a small measure of pride as Fadir shot forward, leading the silent charge with muffled footfalls. If the man in the chair noticed the six Lionhearts and single Skitarii he gave no notice, he seemed wholly enthralled by the terminal in front of him. He muttered to himself angrily, some in low gothic, some in a screeching language that he’d only ever heard spoken by Cairn. He suspected that the binary was no more cogent than the gothic. Cairn certainly gave no expression that he’d heard anything resembling sense. But the man was clearly in pain, deep pain.
“Turn, spin… it works NO I work It and I are we now, 90% pain pain hurt, am I hurt? No, we are not. But are we a we or am I me? Hurt, now die. But no weapons. I am not the ship, where is the ship? This is not a ship.”
Insane ramblings, he was probably some poor fool that had been captured by Faust. By all accounts Faust took prisoners and the results were often unpleasant and usually irreversible. At least he would be able to put this man out of his misery. Danzig looked to Fadir and sliced a finger across his neck.
Fadir nodded and pulled out a slender knife. Its blade’s silver sheen had been dulled with soot but its point was as sharp as any. Fadir grabbed the man from behind and drove his dagger across his throat as far as he could manage. The man’s head jerked backwards and his body went slack as the blade sliced along his neck. Fadir whooped triumphantly before recoiling in horror as the man started to shift about in spite of his near decapitation. The man’s voice gurgled as his lips tried to make words through his severed voicebox. The near corpse lifted itself on a frame of mechanical tendrils that fed into the ground beneath the chair, fingers twitching and his legs convulsing. The man’s eyes rolled about wildly and his severed flesh was knitted together by bands of silvery black metal and he began to speak in clipped screeches. Cairn froze in horror listening to the screeching binary and for once Danzig was grateful not to understand a word of it.
“Threat assessment, determine… what am I? I am he, machine, pain, bring death, ships weapons. Am I the ship? There are no weapons, a ship must have weapons..”
“Throne Almighty!” Danzig made the sign of the aquilla over his heart and started reciting the chant of unity in his head. He turned to the other Lionhearts all of whom were staring at the rising figure openmouthed, “Don’t stand there like it’s a goddamned holo vid shoot it!"
Woken from their surprised stupor they leapt into action, weapons on full automatic. The air cracked and sizzled with the sounds of laser fire. Bright streams of energy cut into the man but they might as well have been yelling at it crossly for all the good it did them. He simply twitched with each shot, his body filling in the holes with the same murky black metallic substace shouting random phrases.
From his perch Sala'ha got in a good shot to the man's heart. Dark eyes focused on Sala'ha as though for the first time noticing an attack. It's mouth opened wide like a python before belching up a great ball of phosphorescent blue. Sala'ha dodged the ball and ducked behind one of the pillars, swearing loudly as the crates he’d been standing on burst in a shower of white hot metal shards. He rolled back into cover, wincing as shrapnel stung at his back and side.
“Weapons… weapons… I am the weapons!”
Fahal screamed as bolt of lightning shot from the man's hand. The burst deftly tossed Fahal in one direction and his arm in the other. Gazan grabbed Fahal and dragged the sobbing man behind cover. He would need to have it replaced with a prosthetic assuming that the shock or the blood loss didn't kill him outright. By the Throne but how do you kill something that didn't die when you shot it in the blasted head?
Falin pulled a melta charge out of his sachel only to have it grabbed away by Sala'ha. Sala'ha chastised Falin furiously, "Have you lost your wits? We're standing above the Throne cursed reactor core. It does us no good to kill him if we die as well. If you want to die on your own time do so but don't blow me up in the process."
"What else do you suggest we do? If we can't take the reactor down then the Inquisitor's plan fails and we're dead anyway. I say we blow it all to hell, better to die here than be cornered and eaten by half-breeds." Falin's voice held a frustrated resignation that he could not help but feel as well. They had no weapons stronger than a hot-shot lasgun other than explosives and they could not hope to use the explosives without causing critical failure in the reactors. Falin's suggestion was unpleasant but possibly inevitable.