Following the announcement by BL that they have gone through the story submissions they've received and contacted the authors they're interested in getting the next stage of stories from, I am left with the shells of several stories that I like very much. Here is the start of the first; the one that burns within me most brightly to be written. Expect to see more installments soon.
"Duty is the altar upon which men bleed."
The Adeptus Arbites Rhinos rolled across the yard and slewed to a halt, spraying gravel. Marshal D'Albeqaas glanced through the view slit again, surveying the deserted minehead. Nobody in the watch post. No work crews being shepherded from the living quarters to the mineshafts or back by his men.
So it wasn't a technical fault that had caused the mine to go silent. It wasn't some irritated machine spirit that refused to cooperate or a broken transmitter. Something stranger was at work here, and he'd be damned if he knew what.
Nothing to it, then. “We disembark,” he said into his helmet vox. “Keep your eyes open for any sign of movement. Be prepared for hostiles. Until proved otherwise, we assume the worst—that the convicts overwhelmed the garrison and are lying in ambush.”
His Rhino's doors slid open and the squad moved out with crisp discipline, covering angles with their shotguns and keeping a wary eye on the buildings and three cavernous shaft-mouths. D'Albeqaas followed. The heat, he knew, would have felt like a palpable wave were it not for his environ-sealed suit of carapace armor. The armor was a variant of Arbites gear not usually issued, but considered a necessity for the operation of these equatorial penal mines. Without proper protection, Myria's blazing sun would cook a man within minutes.
It was too quiet. The only noise was the clatter of his soldiers; the subdued rumble of the idling Rhinos, and the faint whistling of the wind as it cut itself across the jagged ridgeline. No machinery thrummed beneath the earth; no regular station reports crackled across the vox network.
“Proctor Gaur,” D'Albeqaas said, “Take Squads Beta and Epsilon and check the installation. The rest of you with me—we secure the mineshafts, one squad each.” His boots crunched on the gravel as he started to lead his men forward. The mine was still disconcertingly still. D'Albeqaas checked his shotgun, making sure it was ready for anything. If the mine was occupied by hostiles, now would be the time that they made their move, so he had to be-
Wild shrieks shattered the sweltering silence. Workers burst from the mine's gaping shaft-mouths, their bare flesh exposed to the blistering heat. They sounded utterly unhinged: not crying out in of pain, but howling with insane, boundless rage.
'Address!' barked D'Albeqaas. His teams of arbitrators drew into tight lines and raised their riot shotguns. His own squad was farthest forward, so would bear the brunt of the wave. What was this madness? The heat would char the miners' skin in minutes; every breath would sear their lungs. 'Respond!'
Shotguns roared, spraying the oncoming mob with buckshot. Penal miners staggered, but none fell. The front rank had been bloodied, but their charge continued unfazed. The arbitrators fired again. Several miners collapsed, but the press of bodies carried most of the injured forward. As the enemy closed the last few meters, D'Albeqaas's men let their third and final volley fly to devastating effect.
The five arbitrators in front locked their riot shields en echelon and braced themselves as the mob crashed into them. The thunderous impact nearly swept them off their feet. Shotgun blasts from D'Albeqaas and the rear rank blew miners back, relieving the pressure on the front and freeing them up to swing their power mauls.
Miners died, their flesh roasted by electrostatic discharges; holes blasted in their torsos; their bones broken; and their limbs severed. Those slain were swiftly replaced by more of the crazed criminals, whose charge spilled around the edges of the small arbitrator formation. They clawed at the arbitrator' unguarded sides as the squad shifted to meet the foe. One arbitrator, then a second, was torn down, dragged out of line and into the voracious, grasping mob, before the squad could reform around D'Albeqaas into a bristling, deadly ring.
Crazed penal miners piled over the broken corpses of their compatriots and each others' flailing bodies to get at the squad. They tore at the arbitrators with their already heat-scorched hands, their crude weapons, and even their jaws.
The arbitrators fought back, pumping shell after shell into the writhing mob and lashing out with their power mauls. D'Albeqaas saw the other arbitrator squads approaching the melee, weapons readied. The Rhinos' pintle-mounted storm bolters stitched bloody furrows through the mob.
D'Albeqaas blew the face off another lunging attacker and his shotgun clicked empty. He clubbed the next miner, a scrawny woman, back and fumbled for his holstered bolt pistol. An armored face jerked into sight, a man wearing a standard arbitrator half-helm and armor—not one of D'Albeqaas's enforcers, who all wore sealed masks and rebreathers. A throne-damned looter; it had to be. The man lashed out with a flaring power maul and shattered the neck of the arbitrator beside D'Albeqaas.
D'Albeqaas cursed and lunged forward, grabbing the man's arm and attempting to disarm him. His opponent batted his grip aside with a standard Arbites counter, and D'Albeqaas jerked away.
This was no miner in stolen gear. Here stood one of the mine's original, conditioned arbitrators, fallen as far into madness as his penal charges. The traitor laughed madly at D'Albeqaas.
Blind, unreasoning fury surged through D'Albeqaas, and he leapt from the relative safety of his squad's formation to lash out with his shotgun. He swung his gun by the grip, as if it were a child's bat, and knocked the arbitrator back.
The power maul came around to parry his second blow, but D'Albeqaas had expected that. He grabbed the enforcer's wrist, yanking his opponent close, and rammed his armored forehead into the man's bare chin.
The man staggered back again, spitting blood and teeth. His lips were already blackened and splitting from the deadly heat, but his face was still locked in a crazed grimace.
D'Albeqaas didn't let him recover his balance. He swung the shotgun again, slamming its full weight into the enforcer's face. The man dropped, and D'Albeqaas followed him to the ground. The marshal rammed the shotgun butt repeatedly into the enforcer's mouth and nose.
The man was surely dead, but that didn't matter to D'Albeqaas. He kept pounding at the corpse. This scum had attacked him, killed one of his men, and broken his holy oath of service! Rage coursed through D'Albeqaas's veins as he smashed the enforcer's face into a pulp.
Another miner crashed into D'Albeqaas from behind, knocking him off the fallen man and to the ground. The miner landed atop him, scrabbling at his helmet. D'Albeqaas pistoned his fist up, knocking the wind out of the man, rolled aside, and grabbed the dead traitor's discarded power maul. He scrambled back to his feet and slammed the maul down, dispatching the miner. Another tried to tackle D'Albeqaas from behind, tearing at his helmet again with reaching, grabbing hands. He roared with frustration, shouldered back into the assailant, and whirled to crush the wretch.
A shotgun blast removed the back of his new-found challenger's head. Black-armored forms, D'Albeqaas's men, marched past, their guns barking.
He pushed away his bloodlust and looked around, taking stock of the battlefield. Corpses of more than a hundred miners littered the ground, interspersed by the occasional carapace-armored figure. Some of the latter were his men, but more...could no longer be counted such.
As the last of the miners were dispatched, vox reports of casualties filtered in. Five dead, three of which from his squad. Three arbitrators had lost their helmets and were being rushed into the environ-sealed Rhinos. A handful more had been incapacitated. Several minor injuries.
The enemy welcoming party had decimated his five squads. There were far more than this hundred penal workers stationed here, he knew, too. Closer to six times that, plus forty arbitrators. If they had all turned to this inexplicable madness, considered D'Albeqaas with horror...
The necessary cleansing would be bloody.
Blood. The word resonated in his mind and dragged his gaze downward. The red, iron-rich soil was greedily drinking in the blood bloodblood of the fallen and running into depressions in the plaza's flat, dusty ground.
Depressions shaped almost like...sigils.
Throne of Terra, no.
'Get back!' D'Albeqaas howled into his voxbead. 'Fall back to the Rhinos!'
The sigils flared with unholy light and convulsed, sending a shudder through the ground and through his gut. The blood bloodbloodblood was a ritual, a God-Emperor damned summoning-
Reality shrieked and the gore-soaked earth, unnaturally rich and dark, swam upward into shapes.
Terrible, terrible shapes.
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!
Last edited by Mossy Toes; 04-17-12 at 06:30 AM.