The compound stretching out before the small group was mammoth, dwarfing surrounding structures by a considerable margin. Through his helmet’s auspex, Talerus marveled as the device measured out nearly a kilometer worth of area the massive Armory sprawled out along. Unlike most of the more conventional Armories he’d seen, the one before him seemed to be composed of many individual buildings linked together by causeways, or standing alone without apparent connection to the other buildings at all. Several of the freestanding buildings looked to have been the source of the weaponry they had found in the possession of the Ork scouting party, their entry ways blown open and walls half destroyed. The central complex, and those buildings linked to it, stood unmolested by the Orks somehow, though no visible sign of a void shield or automated turrets could be located.
“I don’t like this…” Demoris spoke up, his voice jarring Talerus from his deep inspection of the structure, “It isn’t natural…”
“There is nothing natural about architecture,” Sergeant Lorentus chided the Apothecary.
“That is not what I meant,” Demoris countered impatiently, “It isn’t like Orks to target smaller buildings and leave a cache that large unmolested. That is what I find unnatural, Brother-Sergeant.”
Lorentus grunted, he had most likely been thinking the same thing but given that Demoris had said it first seemed irritating to him. Talerus looked away from his Battle-Brothers, continuing his investigation of the complex. Pushing aside the peculiar condition the complex was in; Talerus focused his attention on finding a way inside, something that he was assuming his brethren were also doing.
Several tense moments passed by before Talerus found what he was searching for. It was roughly half a kilometer away from them, and it was situated in a very inconspicuous location, almost contrary to most design conventions he knew of. For the most fleeting of moments, Talerus almost wished they had a Librarian with them so he could answer some of the strange questions that had been conjured by the ruins they were currently investigating. That, however, was simply wishful thinking on his part as he’d seen with his own eyes the body of the Librarian that had come with his squad.
“I believe I see a way in,” Talerus reported, drawing the attention of his Battle-Brothers.
“Do you? Then lead the way, Talerus,” Sergeant Lorentus ordered rather abruptly. It took a second for him to realize what his Sergeant had said. It seemed very out of place that Lorentus would suddenly ask him to lead. Unsettling or not, Talerus complied with his Sergeant’s request and made his way down the gently sloping terrain separating their position from the Armory complex before them. Talerus instinctively raised his bolter, scanning from side to side as he walked. With almost no cover between them and the entrance he had found, they were very easy targets for attacks should the Orks be laying in wait somewhere inside the complex.
Despite his vigilance, no attack came, their march a quick and unobstructed one. When they made it to the area where Talerus had spotted the presumed entrance, they were all stunned to find a pile of Ork corpses all arrayed rather haphazardly along a stairwell leading toward a rather massive door. Talerus came within inches of the stairwell, but made no move to continue on, looking back instead to his Sergeant.
“Looks like this place has some measure of protection after all…” Lorentus muttered as he came to stand beside Talerus.
“From the looks of the wounds, I would say it was either laser in origin or some other energy based weapons. The holes are too clean to be projectiles, and the wounds look like they were cauterized which would explain why there isn’t much blood,” Apothecary Demoris said in a knowing tone.
Lorentus frowned visibly, “If they were gunned down by weapon turrets, where are the damned things?”
Talerus looked all around the entrance but couldn’t even see the traces of panels that might give them a sense of where the assault on the Orks had come from. It seemed to be a fruitless search, as nothing blemished the surface of the building standing before them. Both Lorentus and Demoris had been searching the area along with Talerus, but none of them seemed to see anything of note.
“I suppose we will not find our answers simply standing here,” Lorentus finally declared, taking a step forward. Talerus was half expecting something to suddenly pop up from some unseen place, or some panel to suddenly expose itself, but nothing happened. The closer the man moved toward the door, the more likely it seemed that whatever had killed the Orks had come from inside. Lorentus made it to the small panel mounted to the frame of the large door, and found that he could only make out some of the symbols on the panel.
“Talerus, you can read High Gothic, can’t you?” Lorentus asked.
Talerus nodded silently and made his approach to the panel, avoiding the many corpses scattered about the ground just to be cautious. Once he was standing next to his Brother-Sergeant, he found that most of the commands were written in a very old form of High Gothic, a style used only in the most ancient of text. It took Talerus several moments and a great deal of muttering certain words aloud before he got the gist of what was being displayed.
“Can you open it?” Lorentus asked impatiently.
Talerus hesitated a moment before nodding, “I believe so. I can’t guarantee that we won’t be greeted by weapons fire the moment the doors open, however. I can’t see anything that would indicate an automated security system in operation.”
“Fine, then open the doors and stick to the wall until we can confirm the way is clear,” Lorentus ordered, motioning for the Apothecary to take up a position on the other side of the entryway’s framing. Once Demoris was in place, Lorentus nodded to Talerus to activate the door. Talerus gingerly tapped the various parts of the panel in the proper sequence, and before long a sharp hiss and the clanking sounds of gears issued forth from the massive door.
It took nearly two full minutes for the massive panel to slide fully within the recess within the wall and clear the way for them. Lorentus eased himself over, leaving the cover of the frame to peer down the long corridor that had been revealed. The passageway was devoid of any decoration or embellishment, simply metallic walls, floors, and ceilings stretching for what appeared to be the entire length of his sight. It also appeared that there were no gun embankments within the structure.
“Clear,” Lorentus announced, abandoning his cover. He motioned for his subordinates to follow and made for the small staircase that stood a few meters in front of them. Demoris took off behind the Sergeant, leaving Talerus to take up the rear again. Lorentus had made it all the way to the steps before the door hissed again and started to close. Talerus moved to return to the panel before Lorentus stopped him.
“Let it close. I would rather not have Orks at my back if I can help it,” the Sergeant said. It made sound tactical sense to leave the doors closed, it would keep the Orks out and allow them to focus on the path ahead of them. Talerus turned back around and continued forward after his brethren, putting the door and the corpses beyond out of his mind.
The corridor of metal stretched on for several hundred meters before an intersection gave the group pause. Each way seemed to stretch beyond their view, none of them looking any different from the path they’d taken so far. No symbols adorned the walls, nothing gave indication as to which way might bring them closer to their objective. Had they been blessed with larger numbers, they might have had the luxury of splitting up and investigate each direction and get a better handle on the layout of the place much faster. They were not, however, in any imaginable way blessed at the moment.
Lorentus motioned them forward, choosing a straight path over a fork. As they walked, they found several more intersections, each time the group forged ahead rather than allowing themselves to be distracted with exploration. Finally, after a good deal of walking, the trio happened upon another door, and another control panel with Ancient High Gothic symbols adorning it. Talerus stepped forward unbidden, and began the task of translation. The door before them was even harder to decipher than the last, using word combinations that almost didn’t make sense even to Talerus.
“What’s the matter? How long does it take to read the word open?” Lorentus grumbled impatiently.
“There is no ‘open’ on this panel. It’s almost like a riddle…” Talerus responded, his tone reflecting the annoyance he was feeling about the entire situation. He liked when things made sense, he liked the simplicity of knowing what was going on, what they were doing, and how to get it done. The entire mission, at least the fragments of it he could recall, seemed in total opposition to the things that he considered to be sensible and right.
Talerus struggled to push the thoughts from his mind, and managed only to stifle them for a moment before he saw the pattern he’d been looking for. The Space Marine reached out and tapped the series of words that he’d settled on as the right one, and was rewarded with the sound of a clack before the door glided aside. Lorentus entered the room beyond, followed by Demoris. Talerus was just about to enter as well when he heard the sickening sounds of plasma fire imbedding itself into the armor of his brethren. Talerus instantly dropped to a knee and peered into the room, finding both Lorentus and Demoris lying limp on the ground.
Movement caught his eye, spurring Talerus to open fire. His bolter rounds slammed into what sounded like metal. Several streaks of plasma flew over Talerus’ helmet before a loud explosion rocked the room, the clattering sounds of metal hitting the floor a tell-tale sign that the turret had been rendered inert. Talerus reached to his belt, hunting for a frag grenade before he realized he didn’t have any. He cursed softly and reloaded his bolter before peering on the other side of the room that had been obscured by the wall he’d been taking cover behind. No movement attracted his attention, and Talerus thought it safe enough to look more fully inside. No other turrets made themselves known, though one had been enough to cut his brethren down rather effectively.
The Space Marine stepped fully inside the room and scanned his surroundings, surprised to find himself standing in a huge control room. Panels lined many portions of the wall, each of them displaying different region of the compound. Other consoles, flanked by chairs too small for him, displayed text presumably related to the workings of the place. Aside from the intermittent beeps of the various control panels scattered around the room, the place was deathly silent. Talerus looked back at the bodies of his companions for a moment and wondered if he should have just stayed dead.
Talerus shook the thought out of his head and approached the largest of the control devices, the working on the thing much less complicated than the door had been. He could make out a good deal of what the screen was telling him, but it didn’t make a great deal of sense. IT spoke of reports from people dating further back than seemed possible. Never in his life had he heard of a site predating the Imperium that had remained functional and nearly pristine. Talerus hit a few word fragments and brought up what he was hoping would be a map of the place, only to find that it was not simply a map of the place but a layout of all the active weapon emplacements.
Further study of the display told him the turrets had been long ago programmed to kill anything that didn’t transmit some special code. The code, however, was something he couldn’t begin to understand or rig his suit to transmit. More searching told him that he could turn off the turrets inside without having to disable the ones keeping everything else out. The Marine did just that, making sure that he left the ones on that would keep him safe until he found what he was looking for. He remembered Lorentus mentioning a signal… something the Librarian had discovered. He also recalled seeing a much more powerful hand-held auspex attached to the Librarian’s armor, which meant that he most likely had been talking about a transmitted signal and not a telepathic one.
His interaction with the control panel he had been using told him that it was simply the weapons control terminal and nothing more, which meant he would have to look elsewhere to find something that resembled a communications array. After some searching, Talerus did manage to find what he was looking for but the device seemed to be encrypted and beyond his ability to translate. Talerus growled and slammed his fist against the panel. He’d come so far only to be thwarted by ancient encryptions. He sucked in a breath to calm his rage and frustration and abandoned the panel, returning to the console that had shown him the layout of the building.
Talerus scanned the corridors and chambers until he found something that caught his eye. The building itself appeared to be not an Armory but an entire citadel complex, most probably liken to one used by the Imperial Guard of his era. The map showed places where people slept, ate, and performed other duties. It also revealed the location of what it called an Armory. The number of turrets within the compartment would have cut him down in seconds had he not managed to silence them beforehand. With the route firmly planted in his mind, Talerus set out to find the place, and perhaps recover something that would make his Battle-Brothers’ sacrifice worthwhile...