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post #41 of 48 (permalink) Old 01-27-19, 09:56 AM Thread Starter
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A STANDARD Navy Valkyrie Sky Talon is used to carry light vehicles or troops onto the battlefield.
But this one was non-standard… absolutely non-standard.

Unfettered by the rigid doctrine of The Adeptus Mechanicus, and free from the mistrust, secrecy and ridiculous dogma that has held it back for Millennia, Stroms and his dedicated team of Transmechanic’s were given free-range to do whatever they wanted with the machine. They were not restrained by the hierarchal rank structure of the Mechanicus and free-thinking was encouraged. Ably guided by Garxan Mansmay, an ex-Mechanicum Adept, their skills had surpassed even the worldly-wise of Mars.

They had adapted the Sky Talon to life on the run.

Like Stroms own star ship, which was hidden amongst the clutter of space above, this Sky Talon packed a punch which was well-above its weight.

The nose-mounted heavy-bolter was still in place, though its swivel mount was faster and smoother than the standard Imperial package. The rounds were one-to-one tracer and armour-piercing which made for an impressive sight when it fired, but also caused untold damage to anyone who got in its way. Four Hellstrike missiles hung from its stubby wings alongside a single rocket pod. But what was unusual and completely heretical, was the Eldar Firestorm scatter laser attached to the other wing.

This was Strom’s guarantee against Navy fighters or tightly-bunched enemy targets. He had acquired it many years before and despite some of his crew’s protestations against using xenos technology, he had kept the weapon for its solid reliability.

Sergeant Garcha gave Juliana the thumbs up as the last box was secured in the hold. He then replaced one of his men on the rotary cannon on the back of the ramp. The standard drop-pod had also been adapted to carry both cargo and passengers and the hard-slug weapon was assurance against counter-attacks or discouragement to the brave.

Juliana gave the far doors a forlorn look before she brought the engines up to taxi-speed. She turned the nose of the vessel a fraction to the right and saw them.

At first it was just shadows, moving, hazy shapes in the bright light outside. Then the shadows became solid and then an ominous blunt shape slid forward into view. There was no doubting the silhouette. It was a Rhino armoured vehicle surrounded by a sea of bobbing helmets and the barrels of weapons.

“Throne. We are truly fracked!”, Juliana exclaimed to any and all who could hear.

“Eadfrid. Go weapons free…” She paused. “But try to keep the damage to minimum.”

She realised that what she was saying was frankly ridiculous, but she knew Stroms, and if Stroms found out that they were more than liberal with their firepower, he would not be best pleased.

+ I will be careful Juliana, remember our code + Eadfrid replied flatly.

Juliana grunted.

“It’s just a shame that our enemies do not adhere to a non-lethal-unless-necessary policy as we do.” She then pulled on the stick and the Sky Talon lifted up into a hover position a metre or so above the ground.
The armed figures at the entrance began fanning out and taking up firing positions. The pintle-mounted heavy-bolter on the Rhino was now pointing directly towards them.

“It gets better. Eadfrid, to the left of the Rhino.”

+ Which one? +

There were now two of the armoured vehicles and they had moved in to block the exit.
“Oh frack it!”

+ Say again +

“Just bludgeon our way through. You have no choice now.”

. . .

Escape

ORDERS BE DAMNED, thought Juliana. The situation was critical and there was no time for niceties or protocols. Incoming fire would not be diverted by just faith alone.

She knew that Strom's orders were explicit; no unnecessary casualties and no excessive destruction of property. To him, the agents of the Imperium, the soldiers and the law, were not their enemies, but just the misinformed and the ignorant. To him, everyone could be saved and brought back into the light once they knew the truth. All of them could be released from their shackles and blissful dogma.

Even the Inquisition.

Juliana knew that she might have to face Stroms and explain her actions later.

“On my order, clear us a path. Do it now!”
+ Affirmative +

Eadfrid opened fire with everything they had.
The heavy-bolter and the Eldar weapon were very impressive, but the Hellstrikes were the key to their escape. They opened up one of the hanger walls like a sledgehammer against a pane of glass.
A trillion pieces of exploding metal and rockcrete brought everyone’s attention to that one single point in time, and all heads turned.

The cataclysmic noise, the ever-growing fireball and the thick, dense wall of smoke immediately concentrated the senses. It was just the kind of diversion that Juliana needed to get them out.
With engines screaming well over their tolerance levels, Juliana pulled back on the throttle levers and the predatory craft accelerated through the gap they had just formed.
Their hunters were caught completely by surprise.
The over-bearing momentum of the craft and the burning engines caused them to dive for cover and scatter.

Just as the craft cleared the hanger, Juliana fired off two anti-missile flares which caused even more pandemonium as they ricocheted off the walls and vehicles and caused numerous fires and small explosions.
The Sky Talon roared out of the hanger like a carnivorous raptor floating on a tail of fire and smoke. With a thunderclap of sound, they shot out and across the open wasteland beyond. Juliana had already turned it into a nearby street before a hasty defence could even be mounted. The vessels 75mm armour was easily a match for the spattering of las-fire that did come up at them.

+ Good flying +
“Good firing.”
+ Casualties… zero +

This part of the Hive was made up of block upon dreary block of light industrial complexes, Manufactorums and furnaces. At various intervals, bulbous chimneys and moisture dissipaters sprouted up like smoking abscesses. They ejected clouds of dirty gas into the air, adding to the layer of smog and pollution that hung above the Hive in a brown stain. Bland workers habs surrounded the area like parasites feeding off algae with roads and highways cutting through them in a seemingly random pattern. Nearer to the massive Hive spires were tall Tsiolkovsky towers growing out of the ground like spindly limbs. They reached up into the clouds above, feeding small shuttles and supply craft that fluttered around their length like small fussing insects. Their endless dance did not seem to be affected by the fighting that was going on in the streets far below.

Spirals of smoke drifted up into the sky which appeared to mark out the front lines. Juliana noticed that more and more of them were sprouting up all around her as time progressed. Small flocks of military carriers floated above the Hive, moving backwards and forwards as if engaged in some hidden dance. A great billowing fireball snaked up from a street only one block away from the Sky Talon and a second later it was rocked by the pressure wave from exploding munitions.

This was not the usual sign of civil unrest, this was much, much more. There was a plan here and a conscious mind behind that plan. If the higher authorities could see it, they seemed either powerless to intervene or actually chose not to.

Juliana knew that Stroms would not have brought them here if he had the slightest suspicion that the planet would be in turmoil. He would never knowingly put them in danger as the risks were too high.
Unless she thought?

Unless he had something else in mind that he had not shared with any of them.

Juliana was aware that there were Navy fighters flying high in the clouds above them, circling like carrion birds and waiting to dive down for a kill. She also knew that if she stuck her nose up too high, she was sure to be seen.
She kept the craft low, skimming the road surface like a hover board. The streets were mainly clear of vehicular traffic and people so she could afford to increase her speed a little more.

This is not good. Where is everyone?

When she was sure she was well away from the hanger she opened the internal vox. Something was niggling her. Something did not seem right. She trusted her instincts.

“Did anyone see the markings on those vehicles back there?”

Juliana had spent a life of crime; she was a professional lawbreaker. She had brushed shoulders with the authorities all her life and knew them well.

+ PDF + said Garcha in his deep distinctive voice, quickly adding + A strange colour scheme though +
+ Definitely, Arbites + Mubarak corrected. He had probably been the closest to the arriving vehicles and knew the difference between military markings and those of the law enforcers.

+ Yeah Arbites. I saw meat wagons and crowd pacifiers +

Juliana felt somewhat reassured as she thought of Stroms and Ó Báire, alone out there in the Hive. The military might have been a problem to them, but local law was no match for their resourcefulness. In any environment, they were more than capable of handling themselves.

“That settles it then. We get to the RV and wait for them to come to us.”
. . .


THE REST OF Júter’s men entered the meeting room at least a minute later but Stroms and Ó Báire had already left.

“You exasperate me!”, sighed Stroms as he watched Ó Báire set up another booby-trap behind them. “We have no time for this.”

The intrepid ex-Guardsman was giggling like a small child. He was actually enjoying himself despite the predicament they were in. He was an expert in explosives and he relished the opportunity to show off his skills whenever the occasion presented itself.
Two of his devices had already gone off killing or maiming many of their pursuers. His latest trap consisted of anti-personnel mine in the overhead venting system which would activate the moment anyone entered this section of the corridor.

“I am a master at what I do.” Ó Báire bragged.

They had cleared the Freak show, which was now a blazing inferno due in part to Ó Báire’s pyrotechnics and partly because of fighting that was evidently going on elsewhere. They had then taken a side door which lead into what appeared to be a service bay. Each side of the room was stacked high with lubricants and volatile liquids. Rickety shelving housed dubious items of contraband and dust-covered tools and equipment. Vehicle parts and stripped-down machines stood like dead automatons, relics of a bygone age.
A single servitor shuffled up and down cleaning spillages with a large suction hose that snaked out of its chest like some grotesque parasite.

As soon as Stroms saw the lost soul he stopped and raised a hopeful eyebrow at his companion. Ó Báire lifted his hands in placation and vigorously shook his head.

“No Boss, No! We have not got time for this.”

Stroms knew he was right, but he still had to try. Their pursuers would be cautious and would take their time to clear the corridors. They would be in no hurry to put themselves in unnecessary danger, despite being in the pay of Júter.

“I must Deaglán my old friend. I am a sucker for people that are down on their luck.”

Ó Báire gripped his elbow. It was a tight grip and he meant business. They could not afford to a delay. Their enimies would soon regroup and then the hunt would be on again.
Stroms easily shrugged him off.

“Those thugs will soon be on us,” said Ó Báire. “We have no time for this. Please Morthen, let this one go.”
“I must try,” hissed Stroms and he added as an afterthought. “You go on. I will catch up.”

Ó Báire was about to turn around then hesitated. He tilted his head slightly.
“Can you hear that Boss?”

There was a long ripping sound followed by a series of small explosions then two, louder distinct cracks that caused the ground to quake.
“Juliana?”
“Yes, it is Juliana.” Stroms sighed. “But she is fine.”

Stroms now stood directly in the path of the servitor and blocked its monotonous journey. By normal standards, this model was old and had probably been sweeping this area for over a century. It used to be a male Caucasian, but it was difficult to tell through the layers of grime and filth. Stroms noticed the shapes of faded blue tattoos beneath the dirt, which could have meant the servitor was an ex-hive-ganger or convict. Stroms wondered about the man’s history and his previous life, but he knew from bitter experience that one should never delve too deeply into the mind of a pressed servitor.
Some had pasts that were best left alone.

The servitor stood motionless, staring at Stroms through dull, rheumy grey eyes. Stroms placed a hand on the servitor’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

Designation: Cleaner servitor 24-A-17. Sector 2-0. Property of Gord Municipal Parks Service.

Wake up my friend. Wake up

The wait was excruciating, but Ó Báire knew it was pointless trying to move Stroms on once he had set his mind on trying to wake one of them up. It took time to bring the unfortunates, as Stroms called them, back to the real world; back to the living.

Ó Báire had seen it done a hundred times before with varying results. Some of them came back and were released to leave a normal life, others remained in their perpetual obsequious state and beyond his means. Occasionally the transition was too much and the servitor died.

Your days in the dark are over my friend. Come to me, join me

This was proving difficult. The servitor’s code was encrypted and layered in broken, decayed binary. It was indeed old and stuck in a perpetual command loop.
There were beads of sweat on Stroms forehead which was unusually creased with effort. This servitor was proving difficult to recover.

Ó Báire remembered the first time he saw Stroms carry out this procedure and it amazed him so much that he truly became a believer in Stroms and his cause.
A few years before, Stroms had brought back a battle-servitor, a huge half-man, half-machine, with weapon mounts and killing blades. The man/machine had tried to kill Stroms but it was no match for an opponent who had been trained by the best masters from antiquity. Stroms had overwhelmed it with a series of lightning movements and precision attacks. The servitor was disabled and its fighting days were over. Ó Báire saw the servitor return to the man he used to be and was forever indebted to the man he had tried to kill.

The effect was almost instantaneous and the man, Ó Báire knew him only as Robert, became a valuable member of their crew and lived out his remaining life in peace and happiness.
They all did the unfortunates. Most of the crew of The Alabama were recovered servitors or the lost and dispossessed.

They revered Stroms assavour savoir and now devoted their lives to him and the rest of their friends and colleagues.

There were no pressed men on Strom’s ship.

Finally, Stroms gave up. He was breathing heavily and his face was red with effort. The exertion of recovering this servitor was clearly too much for him. He shook his head and looked forlornly at Ó Báire.

“This one will not come back to us, he is too badly corrupted.”

Ó Báire was sympathetic but also secretly frustrated at his friend. Stroms could not save every waif and stray he came in contact with, no matter how hard he tried. The Imperium of Man was so corrupt and decedent, so dark and vast. Trillions of its people lived meaningless existences serving the system, without truly knowing what life was all about and what it meant to really live. Stroms had survived many lifetimes but still lived life to the full, instilling hope and energy into everyone he met. His spirit was contagious, and that is why they, the establishment relentlessly pursued him.

He was a revolutionary, a true leader and someone who could threaten the very survival of the Imperium
That is why they wanted him dead. That is why a Lord Inquisitor hunted him.

And that was why Ó Báire loved him. This rugged man with dark stubble and a tough face with its piercing blue eyes. The grey man, the inconspicuous man, in his ubiquitous long coat and ludicrously pointed boots. A man that was pure of heart and without vices. There was no one quite like him, and that was why Deaglán Ó Báire, the wiry ex-Guardsman who spurned authority and never served any man, would gladly lay down his life for him, and willingly follow him to the ends of the universe and back.

“Let’s go Morthen,” Ó Báire reverted to the less formal title rather than Boss. “We must disappear into the Hive and let our pursuers battle it out amongst themselves.”

Stroms stretched his shoulders back, kneading out some knotted muscles before finally nodding his head. They would move on, always moved on.

Never stop for too long, never tarry, keep going.


* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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post #42 of 48 (permalink) Old 01-27-19, 10:19 AM Thread Starter
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Ó BAIRE DISPATCHED the lone ‘clanner’ who was guarding the small side exit to the outside world. As usual, and Stroms was very impressed, the ex-Guardsman did it with expert precision brought about by years of training. The ‘clanner’ was caught off-guard as he relieved himself out of the open door and into the alleyway beyond.

Ó Báire walked up behind him and bludgeoned him to death with a fire dampener that he had removed from the wall. It was quick, brutal and typical of Ó Báire’s way of fighting. He was a street fighter and a brawler who did not adhere to any of the laws of combat.

As the ‘clanner’ lay cooling face down in a puddle of his own fluids, Stroms considered the notion that Ó Báire sometimes took too much satisfaction from killing his enemies.
As if he could almost hear Stroms thoughts he turned and shrugged his shoulders.

“What did I do?”
Stroms picked up the stubber that the man had no more use for.
“You could have…”
“Stunned him? knocked him out? Made him lay down and give up his arms?”
Ó Báire was already on the move, trotting down the alley, his head bobbing left and right looking for targets, checking the angles.

Insufferable

I know


* * *


TO STROMS, The Hive seemed to be a living thing. He could feel its raw power all around him. It was almost like a sentient being that had been slumbering for aeons and was now waking up from the darkness and into the light. The ground beneath his feet rumbled and the walls of the buildings shook as if the Hive had its own voice and was announcing its imminent birth. The air felt heavy and it seemed like the pressure had visibly dropped.
Stroms peered up through a gap in the towering blocks and saw a dark sky above him.

For a second his mind wandered from the danger and predicament they were in and he found himself thinking about the weather.

“I think it might rain.”
“Boss?”
“I said it looks like rain.”

Ó Báire could only shake his head in despair. He had long got used to his friend's eccentricities and strange ways. It was just like Stroms to make light of something even when their world was collapsing around their heads.

Nothing to worry about
“I have not brought my coat.”

They left the relative safety of a wall of buildings and crossed a wide expanse of rockcrete. The ground was pockmarked with small shrubs and weeds that had broken through the hard surface, splitting it open with impunity. The streets looked neglected and forgotten as if the hand of the Administratum had neglected or not reached out to this part of the Hive.

Stroms had a natural instinct for directions and was leading them in a meandering direction that only he knew. Distance was the key. They had to put as much of it as possible between them and the pursuers that he knew would surely come.

His mind was racing.

He had predicted Júter’s betrayal long before they had even arrived on the planet.
Júter would have been well-aware that the Ordos were after Stroms and knew that they would not look on his relationship with a pleasing eye. There would repercussions to his network unless he could offer an olive branch and help them. They were all the same to him, these petty mobsters and villains who were men without honour or scruples. But Stroms had bested far greater and dangerous foes than Júter and in the end, he played with cartel chief like a child would play with a favourite toy.

The Inquisition, however, well that was another matter altogether. When one was dealing with the agents and zealots of that organisation, nothing; absolutely nothing, could be left to chance.

He smiled to himself.

Lord Inquisitor Martinez will be apoplectic.

They pushed on, passing through the tangled remains of rotten warehouses and storage facilities that looked like they had been neglected for a hundred years. They passed over roads that were full of potholes and gaping cracks and covered in litter and burnt out vehicles. They passed through alleyways and tunnels that were musty and damp. They crossed culverts and ditches that were filled with refuge and years of filth.

Now and again they saw rudimentary roadblocks in the distance that had been set up at some of the junctions. These were hasty affairs made up of stacks of furniture, rubbish, old tyres and anything else that was heavy or would prove to be difficult to cross.

Stroms mused that an Arbites Rhino would not even have faltered for a second if it had gone through them at speed. Any advance through this area would not have been delayed for very long.

Then they began to see evidence of fighting.

As they cleared a multiple intersection they saw a knocked out four-wheeled prime-loader bearing military markings that indicated that it belonged to a PDF Supplementum unit.

Some sort of rocket had bored through its engine block and flipped it onto its side incinerating everyone inside as the fuel ignited and the ammunition brewed up.

Ó Báire found the first body and suddenly it was all very real.

As they had suspected, he was military, and one of the prime-loaders crew. He was blackened and mummified at the rictus point of death. They assumed it was a ‘he’ but it was hard to tell as the body was burnt beyond all recognition.
Promethium burns at incredibly hot temperatures.

“What do you think?”, Ó Báire asked matter-of-factly, as he tapped the cadaver with the barrel of his lasgun.

Stroms leant forward and lowered his face almost to its chest. He closed his eyes and carefully probed it with his mind.

“I have thought all along that this place, this Hive is all wrong. Now with these bodies, things have suddenly turned serious.” There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He nodded to the man at Ó Báire’s feet. “Also, this man is not what he seems.” Stroms sighed. “An interesting turn of events.”
“What do you mean,” he nodded at the corpse. “About him… it, I mean?”

Ó Báire suddenly grimaced and stepped back as if the corpse was a plague-bearer or a zombie that would suddenly reanimate back to life. He was a military man through-and-through and had spent most of his life around death and destruction, but like all soldiers through the ages, he was also a superstitious creature of habit. He baulked at the unknown and called on ancient, long-forgotten Gods of War to protect him.

Stroms giggled.
“Look at you, the big, tough soldier.” Stroms noticed that his friend was rubbing a small ‘T’-shaped emblem that hung from his neck and reciting a litany to himself, a litany of protection and indestructibility.

When he saw Stroms staring at him he suddenly stopped and made an act of scanning their rear for any follow-up. Ó Báire appeared to be uncharacteristically spooked and his mind was a sea of contradictions.

The Ex-Guardsman used the Mag-scope on his Lasgun to look deep into the shadows, especially those at the base of the surrounding buildings. There did not appear to be anyone following them, either the authorities or Júter’s men, but one could never underestimate an enemy. Stroms pondered to himself that the cartel leader now had a greater problem to deal with than Stroms bunch of mercenaries and misfits. Júter was facing an impeccable foe that would utterly destroy his all-powerful empire and everyone within it with utter ruthlessness and efficiency.

It would be summary justice.

They set off again with a renewed rigour, crossing a wasteland that was stained yellow from industrial effluent. They finally reached the tenement blocks beyond and were now covered from above and could hide away from wandering eyes. The buildings were standard ten-story, self-contained, workers habs that were designed and built by The Mechanicum for the legions of workers who trudged day and night to the Manufactrums nearby. They were drab grey buildings with row upon row of small windows and doors. They were all uniform and without any character and only graffiti and fire damage covered their plain, nondescript walls.

Stroms noted that a clawed hand emblem seemed to proliferate everywhere.
Piles of refuge, burnt-out vehicles and the detritus of a thousand years of neglect lined the streets and carpeted the open areas. It was a scene of utter abandonment.

The habs appeared to be empty and evidence suggested that they had been hastily abandoned. Wherever the tenants were, they were not in these blocks or the surrounding area. It was almost as if they had been scooped up and taken away en mass to Emperor only knew where. Stroms felt a chill ripple down his spine as he slowly began to realise what was happening here.

He turned to his companion.

“Keep alert…”
“Boss?”
“Watch your arcs and keep your concentration up.”
Ó Báire slowed his pace down.
“What are you rambling about?”
“All is not what it seems.”
“So you keep saying.”

A palpable feeling of anticipation filled the air. It felt like the silence and still coolness before a heavy rain storm. Stroms and Ó Báire instinctively quickened their pace.

They entered one of the hab-blocks, through a surprisingly ornate double-door bearing a golden Imperial Aquilla above the skull-cog emblem of the Mechanicum. It lead into a kilometre-long corridor lined with nondescript doors. Each one had the occupiers name stamped on the front in a bold automated font. Most of the doors were locked, but the odd few had been left ajar.

Ó Báire took a cursory look into each one.

“All empty. Some were cleared in a hurry.”

“From what I wonder?” Asked Stroms, almost to himself, though he thought he already knew the answer. The citizens had left, leaving everything behind that they could not carry including personal items and items of value. They had left very quickly.

“This is a mystery. They have left behind valuables and anything of any use. What is going on Boss?” Ó Báire mused as he inspected a wallet and removing a wad of credit notes.

Stroms shook his head and Ó Báire smiled mischievously back at him.

“A storm is coming.” Stroms continued. “I did not see this future before we arrived on this planet, but it is a welcome turn of events which will positively aid us.” He paused and then looked towards the ceiling and slowly closed his eyes.

“The hunt is on again. They have reorganised after their initial confusion. It is time to go.”

Now they began to hear the sound of distant fighting. There were dull crumps at first, then long rattles of heavy weapons followed by the cracks and bangs of individual weapons. Then they heard the clatter of vehicle tracks and powerful engines and the background hum of voices, shouts and commands.
The war was now very close.

Stroms and Ó Báire kept low and to the shadows and avoided open spaces where they could. Stroms had put a screen of concealment up around them, they were taking no chances.

Suddenly Stroms hissed.

“Get down!”

Ó Báire hit the dirty, rubble-strewn floor and brought his Lasgun up into his shoulder. Stroms was a little less dramatic and remained on one knee.

A vehicle's engine was turning over just the other side of the wall. They were almost on top of it.

Stroms knew that It did not matter whether they were PDF or dissidents, it made no difference, both sides were potential enemies to them now. Ó Báire shuffled up to Stroms and then dared a look around the door frame. When he pulled back he rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“It’s a roadblock. There are two armoured personnel carriers with a fuggin’ Hellhound to their rear. There are lots of troops milling around them. They are wearing PDF uniforms.” He shrugged. “That is all I could see.”

Stroms sat back against the wall and closed his eyes.

“But even so, very precise for a quick glance. Cover me.” He whispered.

* * *

.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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STROMS RELAXED AND let his mind separate from his physical, earthly form and into his ethereal body.

He usually chose the form of a black panther, which was a deadly predator from ancient Terra. The panther was wily and cautious and hunted in the shadows. Stroms wanted to get closer to the soldiers and find out who they really were, but he suspected that he already knew the answer as all the signs were there for him to see. He moved stealthily and quietly through the void, careful not to make waves and betray his position away to another pysker. It was a trick that he had been taught a long time ago by an enlightened Space Marine who was an expert in the ways of the warp. Unfortunately, through ignorance and fear, the Marine was branded a traitor and killed by ignorant barbarians whose minds were closed to the untold wonders that could have been theirs.

The Legionnaires name was Badrun, yes, that was it, Badrun of The Thousand Sons.

He passed through the physical wall of rockcrete and across to the vehicle barrier beyond.

He knew straight away that his suspicions were confirmed. This scene was a lie. The men manning the barrier were part of a façade. The soldiers looked like PDF and they moved like PDF, but something was out of cinque. Their movements were awkward, unsynchronised and seemed almost pained. Stroms could feel an inner turmoil brewing just below the surface but all around him. There was unrest that was slowly being released and bringing a tiny fragment of relief to those it affected. He felt the anticipation.

He found the officer, or at least the one wearing officer’s epaulettes, and probed his mind.

He immediately regretted the intrusion.

What should have been an analytical mind and a mind full of duty and honour to his men and the Emperor, was now a mind filled with hate, violence and darkness.

Deaglán?

Boss?

This is worse than I thought.


He drew back from the officer and back into his own body.

“It’s time to go.”
“Boss?”
“This is not a local insurrection; this is a war!”

* * *


CHAPTER 3
Corruption/ The Countess/ Duped

Even if you are mutated, you don't have to sit down and mope and be trampled on by those who think that they are your betters. Enjoy life and challenge your condition.
TAnon


CORRUPTION


THEY RAN AWAY from the roadblock as fast as they could; away from the hab area, and away from this new threat. They ran until Ó Báire tugged at Stroms’s elbow and begged him to stop.

“We have not got the time Deaglán.” Stroms gasped. “The clock is ticking and we must get to the club… our destination and then from there to the pick-up point as quick as our legs can carry us. We are running out of time. Things are moving faster than I expected.”

“Enough of your… riddles…” Ó Báire gasped between deep gulps of air. He pulled up fast and then bent over at the waist, his body heaving with the effort. “I have seen you… agitated, but this… is ridiculous.”

Stroms carried on for a few more strides before he realised that Ó Báire had stopped. He turned back to his struggling comrade. He had almost forgotten that the air on Thapus was thinner that they were used to.
He knew that he could run all day and not feel the effects, but his companion… well, his companion was not getting any younger.

“Here,” he said in a calming tone that made Ó Báire look up. Stroms held out a small, silver hip flask and added. “It will make you feel better.”
With a beaming smile etched across his face, Ó Báire happily accepted his friends offering and helped himself to a long pull on the liquid it contained.
The results were instantaneous.

“Gunearth Ale?”. Stroms nodded.
“Where in the Emperor’s name did you find this. It’s as rare as an Orks wife?”. The rogue studied the flask with a renewed interest. Gunearth Ale was renowned for its rejuvenation properties. It was a rare tipple that Ó Báire had not tasted for many years.
“I always carry some… for emergencies.” Said Stroms. “I think you need it.”

Ó Báire sat down and waved a weary hand.
“Give me a minute… please?”

They were in an ornamental garden hidden on all sides by tall moss-covered walls. The flowers and shrubs were in full bloom, but despite it being the middle of the growing season, they seemed sickly and withered. Some of the hardy shrubs had died and were now plagued by small swarms of flies and biting insects. Beetles and multi-bodied creatures flittered across exposed surfaces and battled each other for some unseen cause.

A musty smell permeated everything.
Stroms studied the insect’s movements for a while before letting out a long sigh. After a short pause he cocked his head to one side.
His companion raised an eyebrow.

“Have you noticed that there are no background sounds.” He asked. “There are no birds, no animals, the sound of nothing.”
Ó Báire looked upwards.
“Except the distant fighting I suppose, but yeah, I guess it is a bit strange. What do you think?”

At the centre of the garden was a small water fountain that bubbled oily water into a green sink hole. The sound seemed sad and melancholy.
Stroms had made a decision, they would rest here a while and gather their strength. It also gave them time to see if they were still being followed.

Stroms broke the silence after a short while.

“Mutants.” He said almost casually. Ó Báire looked up and nodded his head as if he already knew the answer. “It’s this city,” Stroms continued, “Maybe even the whole planet. It is corrupted.”
“By Chaos?”, Ó Báire suggested, making a sweeping gesture with his hand towards the park and buildings around them.
Stroms shook his head. If it was the Ruinous powers then their time here on Thapus would be lengthened and be far, far more dangerous than it was now.

“No, thankfully not. If thanks are the right word for the circumstances. The presence of those monsters would offer a whole new list of problems for us. No, it’s this planet. It is so dirty, and so polluted, that its citizens are naturally changing. They are almost evolving into different sub-species. It is almost as if Mother Nature has decided that she should adapt the people to this new world of filth and pestilence...”
“Mother Nature?” Ó Báire quizzed. Stroms smiled almost paternally.
“Evolution. Natural development. Advancement? That is what I mean by that. It is an old time saying.” He raised his eyebrows to confirm that his friend understood. “That patrol, and a good deal of the populace we have seen are mutants. It is subtle but it is there just beneath the surface.”
“So why the rush,” Ó Báire asked after a short pause. “Are they a threat to us?”

Stroms shook his head.

“No, I don’t think so. What is about to happen could positively aid our escape and once Martinez discovers what is going on here, he will not tolerate the new threat for an instant. He is duty bound to act. He will have no choice but to stop his pursuit of us and deal with this new crisis before it spreads. He will neutralise this aberration with all the subtlety we associate with the Great Hammer of the Inquisition and he will be forced to cleanse the population before he comes back for us.”
“And by that time, we will be long gone.”
“Absolutely.”
“What is our future?” Ó Báire tentatively asked after a minute of contemplation. Stroms cocked his head and then leant over and squeezed his friends’ forearm.

“Positively rosy, Deaglán my old friend, but looking into the future is not a precise art and not always certain. There are an infinite number of paths in front of us depending on what we or those around us do. At the moment, I know that we will be fine, but who knows, things might change. Even now, by us discovering the mutants at this very point in time and changing our direction and ultimate goal, we have changed our path and subsequently the future. We, that is us and our beloved Inquisitor never figured a mutant uprising in all our careful calculations.”

There was a long pause whilst each of them was caught up in their own thoughts.

Ó Báire looked up at his friend.

“Going back to our meeting with Júter . I know that we had talked about him and the various scenarios and possibilities that might unfold, but when were your doubts about him confirmed?”

Stroms was studying a small Auspex in the palm of his hand. He never looked up but replied matter-of-factly.
“I knew that he was going to betray us when he asked about our two brothers-in-arms.”

Ó Báire grinned.

“Our very own hammer and anvil.”
“Yes, nicely put.” Stroms looked up with the hint of anger in his eyes. “Never in all my dealings with him or the cartel, have I ever mentioned them or their existence. Never. Their mere presence here on this planet or anywhere else, in fact, would cause its own particular problems, not least the arrival of angry Astartes, and we both know how grumpy and moody they can get.”

“Intolerable.” They both said together and then laughed and then suddenly their thoughts were with two of their friends up there in orbit aboard The Alabama. Ó Báire gazed unconsciously up to the sky as if he was looking for their reassuring faces amongst the clouds.

“We could sure do with them right now.” Ó Báire reflected.

“They would sort this sorry mess out to be sure.” Stroms agreed. “But I fear we will need their skills later when we extract from this planet and move on.”

“Two days.” Ó Báire added.

“Yes. We have two days to waste while the planet comes down around our ears.” He paused before adding with a chuckle. “I would love to see Martinez’s face when he finally comprehends what we have done.”
Ó Báire smiled back, a cheeky almost child-like smile.

“Oh yes, he is going to be incensed.”

* * *



THE LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR had stood on top of Gethea spire for a thousand years. Its six, flashing red warning lights were a beacon to distant flyers who searched for the Hive through the thick, polluted smog layer that hung in the lower atmosphere. It was a truly impressive structure that stood a further thousand metres higher than the Hive spire itself.

It toppled like a stack of paper plates when the small thermite charges went off.

Binuka Shantha was forced to dive to one side as its rockcrete, metal and plastik remains smashed down onto the observation deck like a tidal tsunami of noise and fire.
A huge plume of dirty grey dust mushroomed upwards and outwards for all to see. A perfect signal telling everyone… We are here, come and get us.

The heat from the charges was intense and the sound was like a thousand thunder hammers striking an anvil at the same time.
The old man would have surly died if it was not for his colleague and protector who was a lot faster than him and infinitely more agile. His protector, who he only knew as Harada, threw himself over the top of him which shielded Shantha from the worst of the secondary damage.

“Thank you.” The old man whispered gratefully as the dust finally settled. “I think we overestimated how much explosives were needed.”
He was pulled roughly to his feet.

“We go, Afi. We go.” Was all the man would say and Shantha allowed himself to be guided away from the elements and into the relative safety of the building.

He was thankful that the man was by his side and knew that without him he would have surely ended his days at the top of the tower or in the deepest dungeons of this Hive. His frail, centenarian body would have been meat for the legions of vermin that plagued this despicable planet.

Harada was one of Sergeant Garcia’s mercenaries. He was a tall, stocky, fair-haired Fenrisian with a short beard that was so synonymous with the men and warriors who hailed from that cold, distant world that produced the toughest warriors in the Imperium. He wore practical combat fatigues but retained a hint of his savage roots by displaying the totems and necklaces of his home world. Harada always called the old man Afi, which meant Grandad in his native tongue.
Shantha noticed that the man always smelt of aniseed.

The old man could not help but smile. It had been a good day and he was extremely pleased with himself. He knew that he had done a good job and that his little part in their grand adventure would be recognised by all the crew. Although he would never see the results of his actions, as he had sacrificed his eyes long ago in the service of the Emperor; he could still hear, smell and feel the turmoil that had descended upon the earth around him.

He grinned and let out a little chuckle at what was to come. He might well be in his twilight years and surely beyond childish notions and tricks, but after his actions today he suddenly felt invigorated and proud; yes, proud that he had done his bit for his adopted family and especially to Stroms who he was very fond of.

He allowed himself to be guided through the corridors and passageways by Harada who said nothing as he gripped his arm and carefully guided him throughout the maze of obstructions and turns and on to the extraction point.
The old man never saw the blank, glassy-eyed faces of the skags and narc-heads who sat in the hallways and stairwells but he could smell their stench and acrid-bile smell of stale urine and vomit.
He never saw the decay and dilapidation, the rot and the canker; but he could sense the despair and hopelessness of the inhabitants who lived here on top of the world.

Harada had been in charge of the explosive finale of the mission but Shantha had definitely been responsible for the technical aspect of it all.

Stroms orders had been non-specific but Binuka Shantha knew what was required of him.

“I want chaos and mayhem Binuka my friend. I want you to use your imagination, all of it, the more outrageous the better.”
“You are giving me a field mission?”
“Absolutely. I can think of no one more qualified than you. I need a diversion and you are the one to deliver it for me.”

Several hours before, they had been dropped off by a flyer onto the roof of one of the Hive spires. It had all been done very quietly and very discreetly. Juliana was an expert pilot and knew her job well.
Harada had broken into a transmitter hub and when the signal from Stroms was received, the small, ex-servant of the Imperium had begun his mission.

Shantha was a Psyker, and an unsanctioned one of course. Now he began to spread mayhem.
Harada wired in a transmission loop which broadcasted a series of encrypted messages on a variety of frequencies. If anyone was listening in, these messages would definitely grab their attention. Shantha then began passing his own telepathic snippets which contained a mixture of nonsense and over-exaggerated requests and orders. Stroms presence was added into the equation to make it more interesting. Not by name of course, but to those who were hunting him, they would know. If agents of the Inquisition were monitoring orbital and local traffic as he knew they were, his conversations would flag up on their systems. They had no choice, they had to react.

The Arch-Heretic was down on the planet and they had him cornered.

* * *

.

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 “WE HAVE THE rodent.” Martinez growled, a faint smile creasing the sides of his mouth. The reports were flooding in from across the planet about uprisings, fighting and insurrection, but here and there were tiny clues and algorithms that only Arch-Magos Flavius Cutov truly understood. Stroms was down on the planet with nowhere to go.

Very sloppy, Martinez thought, unusually careless for a man that was famous for his secrecy and caution. He glanced at his companion as if he needed some sort of reassurance. The tall man next to him cocked his head slightly but made no reply.

“What do the intercepts say again?” Martinez scowled, staring directly at the duty communications officer. The Inquisitor had already trowelled through the intercepts and categorised them into matters of importance and already made up his mind, he wanted the rest of his command staff to hear.

The unlucky officer, a thin sallow man with pale greasy skin, scanned the auspex screen in front of him and involuntarily shook his head as if he doubted the messages. He slowly dabbed sweat away from his brow with a scrap of unknown material whilst the other hand fussed with specks of dust on his lapels.

“It has been difficult disseminating the information, My Lord…”

“Where is Mister Grevenslag?”

The communications officer shrugged his shoulders. How would he know? He had no idea where the Inquisitors intelligence chief was, nor, quite frankly, did he care. These grey figures, part of the Inquisitor's entourage, were everywhere about the ship, strutting around like planetary Lords and looking down on the ship’s crew and their quiet professionalism. The officer and his fellow crew members were the pride of the fleet, by the Emperor, not bilge lackeys. They should be treated with the respect they deserved and not reduced to runabouts and minions.
Martinez raised an eyebrow and the officer nearly soiled himself.

“My Lord… Mister Grevenslag has not been seen for a while.”

“Then you will have to do. Please Continue.” Martinez interrupted.

“As I have said, it has been difficult. The current disturbances on the planet below have exasperated our attempts to locate… the dissidents. Many of the prime communication centres have been either overrun or neutralised by forces unknown…”

“I care not for the citizens of this planet; this is a situation of their making for which they will pay for in their own blood. Do go on… lieutenant.”

The hapless officer coughed.
“My Lord. It would appear…”

Martinez slammed his gauntlet into the desk, shattering one of the glass auspex screens with the force. The gathered officers and officials took an unconscious step backwards.

“My time is limited here, Lieutenant… Cazalla. If you do not get to the point very quickly, you will be walking off this bridge as a rating.” His eyes bored into the officer and he watched with satisfaction as the man’s face drained of colour and his whole frame began to shake.

“Of course, my Lord. We have unsolicited and closed messages coming from part of the Midtown Filap District. Arch-Magos Cutov has authenticated the algorithms which suggest that it is the…”

“Stroms.” Martinez interrupted. The Communications officer looked up at him his face distorted in genuine terror. His next announcement could damn him to a life in the bilges if he got it wrong.

“We believe so my Lord. It would seem that the heretic called Stroms is on the surface and openly communicating with dissidents both on the surface and in orbit. We have also intercepted astro-telepathic communication messages from one particular location to what we believe to be a ship in orbit. At this moment, we cannot locate the receiving vessel due to the sheer volume of inter-ship communications that are going on and a large number of ships in orbit, but our previous experience and the information that I have is that the vessel has been identified as the heretical ship…”

The Alabama.” Martinez interrupted and turned to his brooding companion. “Interrogator Wolf. You will personally commandeer whatever ships you require and press-gang any forces you deem fit for purpose. You will hunt down and capture that damned ship once and for all.”

“It shall be done my Lord.”

Martinez snorted.
“I will travel to the surface and deal with Stroms personally.” He turned to the assembled bridge officers.
“You all have your orders and you all know what is required of you. Let’s seal off this planet, capture him and his cohorts and let the Emperor’s justice finish it once-and-for-all.”

* * *

THE IMPERIUM OF Man is a grim and dark place to live. It is an Autocracy ruled over by a half alive, half dead God.
Below the Emperor are the High Lords of Terra… the Oligarchs of the great and the good who rule as his proxy’s.
They rule with an iron fist. 
It is a regime built on malevolence and brutality, subjugation and stagnation, illogical superstition and bureaucratic exploitation. It is a dark and dangerous place full of enemies both real and imagined. On its borders, gargantuan armies and navies hold back the enemy from without; the law protects the innocents within and the bloated Ecclesiarchy looks after their spiritual well-being. Citizens work hard; they pay their tithes and they worship their dying leader.

Most are true though sometimes they might glance over their shoulders less they stray from the path of righteousness. 

Suffer not the Alien to live! Burn the Heretic! Kill the Mutant! 

Thomas le Garra’s mother died as he was born. She gave her life for his because she believed that he was special. The Accoucheuse who delivered him knew better. Thomas was not special at all, he was an abomination. 
The Accoucheuse tried to destroy Thomas but others got there before she could and stayed her hand. The Omnes Sancti, a secretive society who believed that all life was sacred, saved him from the incinerator and spirited him away to the safety of the deep. Here in the sub-terranean labyrinth of the Hive, they cared and nurtured him until he could look after himself. He became one of them, a person who inhabited the deep and dark corners of the world. He would never forget. 

Mutant, abomination, freak. 

Gord Hive had stood for Millennia. Like many of the other Hives it had suffered through war and decay but it was always rebuilt, bigger and better than before. No one really knew where its heart lay or how big it actually was… it just was.

Its towers and spires were obvious for all to see and its girth spread for kilometre upon kilometre, engulfing the woods and lakes that used to flourish around it. Its roots were deep, its support stanchions and utilities forever delving further and further down through the bedrock and caverns below.
Beneath the Hive a wholly different city thrived away from the light and away from the perceived luxuries above. No one would willingly choose to live under the city, unless of course, you were someone like Thomas. 
They said that it was the environment that they lived in, it was poisonous to them and they would all eventually die early or their bodies would change.

It was the way of things.

The Lower-Hive was for those who were forgotten by the Imperium, a place where no one went to unless they had to. It was a lawless society where the strongest ruled and the weak fell by the wayside. 
Thomas le Garra was not one of those who followed anyone, he was a natural leader, born and bred to lead the pack.

He killed his first man when he was five years old; he killed his fist Arbite when he was eight. He was good at killing and every time he killed, he knew that he was one step nearer his freedom.

Mutant, abomination, freak. 

The Hives were alight with civil unrest and destruction long before Stroms and the Inquisition arrived on the planet, but now the Army of the Claw began its real attack. 

Today, on the Anniversary of the death of Saint Merrick si Gibbus, the hidden legions emerged from the depths of the Underhive and the city’s foundations trembled.

Gord Hive had never experienced anything like it in its long existence of wars and internecine conflicts. It would never see its like again.

From every underpass, every storm drain, pipe way, mag-rail and every exhaust port, a great army of grey ants suddenly erupted sweeping aside all the rioters and looters, dissidents and gangers.
Many of the smaller Arbite stations, PDF Munitorum facilities and even the Rhino Officinas in the Reagan District were overrun within a few minutes. The Halls of the Emperor’s Word in Galileo square were taken within an hour and the Rophus News Agency on Stanton-on-Main was taken without a fight. PDF and law-enforcement units that had begun mopping up operations against the mob, now found themselves faced by a new, fresh, and far more numerous foe to deal with.

The assault sent seismic waves across the planet as the Administratum watched the disaster unfolding. 

The organisations of law and order and the Citizens themselves were being slaughtered and weapons facilities being seized almost at leisure, but still the Planetary Commander did nothing but watch in silent disbelief. Even when the ant army closed all the entrances to the main Hive tower and began toppling statues of the Emperor, he sat mute and expressionless, seemingly unable or unwilling to act.
When the army marched out of the main gate and across the myriad of highways and parks and crossed the black waters of the River Worzel towards the space port, everyone seemed to be paralysed into inactivity. 

As fate would have it, the army of the Claw would not have it entirely its own way.


The Praxis Gatania Flotilla, a fleet of 25 naval vessels, including capital ships and troop transports, had just arrived in-station from manoeuvres in the Istryria Sector and was joined by Battlefleet Vendarith who were positioning themselves for a warp jump to the Newmore Reach warzone. Their follow-on orders were put on hold until the insurrection was quashed. 

The planet was locked down. Any thought of escape or the malaise spreading had been blocked by the capital ships that now ringed the planet. 

Then the loudspeakers crackled into life. 

Thomas le Garra loved music in all its forms. When he was a child, they used to play tunes and hymns to him all day. It calmed him down when he was anxious… and when he felt the urge to kill. Now he played it all the time and his armies marched to the resounding blasts of martial music and the gentle hum of choral choirs. 

Thomas was born a lycanthrope, physically part-man, part wolf. It was a freakish mutation that meant he was covered in a thick mien of fur and a half man, half wolf-like head with a long-extended jawline and sharp, razor-like teeth. His soul burned with the violence of the wolf and only the music helped him to concentrate and to think about the fate of his people. To the mutants that dwelt beneath the city, he was a saviour, he was their deliverance. He would lead them into the light to be recognised by the Hive dwellers above. He would show the Imperium that they should enjoy the rights and privileges like all the others.

To be a mutant was to be… human. 

Now Thomas stood astride the roof of an appropriated six-wheeled armoured car and howled at the protecting walls of the StarPort and gestured his people on to victory over the oppressors and murderers of the Imperium. 

“Death to the tyrants! Death to the Unbelievers!” 

The army surged on, an army of mutants and monsters too horrible to behold. As they marched, they sang through elongated snouts, gills, multi-facetted openings and beaks. They hefted weapons of every kind and manufacture with hands, claws, tendrils and hooves. They marched on legs, glided by peristalsis on cushions of muscles and skittered along on spines. Others glided through the air on spindly wings, some swooped and dived on magnificent wings of feathers and skin. 

They met the first line or organised defence. 

At the base of the Starport on Siarut Heights, was a large crescent of green trees, exotic fauna and a myriad of fountains and streams. This was the Pressison Row District where the rich and the good would walk with their families and friends and enjoy picnics on crisp-cut lawns amongst Cycad copses and fields of colourful flowers. Nearby was the planet-renown Vesalius De Animalibus, where one could marvel at caged sauropods and mysterious creatures from across the galaxy. It was here, that these docile omnivores beheld a slaughter not yet witnessed in any of the previous fighting.

The Gord 55th, “The Essex Davis Rifles”, had dug in around the cages and animal compounds and were waiting. Two companies of the Crossed skulls of the 2nd Rophus armoured battalion with their twenty-eight Leman Russ battle tanks and numerous Chimera’s and Hellhounds in support, were hull-down on their flanks.

The rioters and looters had been easily driven off by the armour and were now being hunted down and picked up by Arbite arrest teams in enormous meat waggons. The military would deal with this latest insurrectionist rabble.
When the first outriders of the Army of the Claw began to appear, the Colonel of the 55th was sipping a fine Amsec with is second-in-command. He was quietly confident that they would be routed and then rounded up as well.

“It would be a monumental slaughter if I had my way.” Colonel Darel ben Ido stated matter-of-factly at his initial briefing. “Stop and capture them if you can, but do not spare the rod if they resist. Either way, I want it finished by 4 o’clock as I have a card game booked in the officer’s mess. They are serving Noalea venison for dinner.”

When the first rebel vehicle crossed the Tlaisk Way, one of the main arterial highways that lead directly inStarPortar Port, the Crossed Skulls interpreted their orders in one way only… they opened fire in a crescendo of noise and flame.

The Army of the Claw had commandeered military vehicles, Municipal transports and people carriers and these were in the vanguard. The first volley blasted them into the air like confetti at a wedding. Munitions that were designed to take out enemy armour smashed through the thinly armoured vehicles and reduced them to their component parts. Great fireballs and bulging plumes of dirty smoke marked their destruction as the PDF stopped the horde in its tracks.

A deep moan went up from the Army of the Claw as they saw their brothers and sisters burnt alive or vaporised.

Colonel Darel ben Ido grinned with satisfaction from the cupola of his Chimera command vehicle. He turned to his second-in-command.

“Let the hunt begin, Captain. Orders-be-damned. We cannot let this filth live. No quarter, no prisoners. Send the body count to my quarters when this thing is over.” He then turned to leave, satisfied that he would indeed make that afternoon appointment and brag about his great victory to all and sundry. He might, he thought with glowing interest, even get a medal for his efforts.

“Sir!” His second-in-command coughed. “I think you had better see this.”

Like an irresistible tidal wave of grey, the Army of the Claw flowed around the burning wrecks of the vanguard and marched on towards the Star Port, their gaudy banners flying and their music playing.

“Throne! Are these people totally stupid? Do they honestly think they can take the Port? And, what in the Emperor’s name is all that hullabaloo?” The Colonel shook his head his palms up in a sign of desperation and incredulity.
“They are singing Sir. Singing hymnals and…”
“Well stop them,” the Colonel hissed. “Tell the 2nd that they have permission to fire into their ranks. Put every gun to them, every gun.” He paused before pulling his magnoculars to his eyes. “They have flyers. Where by Saint Merrick did they get them?”

Spreading out above the army of the Claw was what looked like a swarm of angry bees that got bigger and bigger as they got nearer to the PDF lines.

It was then that the soldiers manning the trenches around the park realised that the bees were actually humans, or more precisely mutants in a multitude of different forms. As the soldiers stared up with a mixture of curiosity and terror, the mutant ground forces attacked.
The multi-limbed ones were the fastest, spreading out far ahead of the main body and reaching the edge of the highway before the first PDF troops reacted. Lasguns, Lascannons, mortars and heavy-stubbers took their toll but the Army of the Claw was immense in size and significantly outnumbered the part-trained soldiers of the PDF.

A disaster was unfolding.

Now the flyers were suddenly overhead. They dived and swooped on the helmets of the unsuspecting. Some of the defenders were pulled upwards by razor-like claws and torn in half or dashed against buildings or down onto the road surface below. Others were carried off screaming into the distance and then dropped onto the landing pads and runways of the Port where ground crew and servitors still went about their daily business. The bludgeoned, bloody heaps now brought the war to their doorstep in the most dramatic way possible.

Colonel Darel ben Ido was not the greatest leader of men and being in charge of a PDF regiment was more a social affair than anything else, but he did know a bit about how to use his troops in the field. He immediately began giving out strings of orders to all his platoons and support units. He moved them, shuffled them, cajoled them and threatened them into a reasonable fighting force. ‘The Rifles’ were beginning to organised themselves into an efficient fighting force and their weapons took a terrible toll on the mutant horde.
The anti-aircraft emplacements along the protected walls to the Port began to bring the flyers down and they fell like broken puppets, smashing into the mass of their kin below.

“Thank goodness for those flak guns, we might just pull this off.” Said the Colonel as he watched the flyers falling and the mutant front line begining to falter.
He turned his head slightly.

“What are you so happy about Captain? With your singing adding to their infernal racket; my ears are starting to bleed.”

“I said, Colonel… Sir! I think you had better see this.”

Colonel Darel ben Ido turned around. He was aware that the Captain was still singing to himself which grated on his nerves, and the damned fool was also smiling. Smiling?

“Blessed be the unclean.” Murmured the Captain through gritted teeth.

The Colonel stood transfixed as he watched the brass buttons on the man’s tunic begin to pop outwards and the tunic began to open up by itself.
“What in the name…?” Was all the Colonel could utter as two pairs of spiked arms folded outwards and then splayed wide.

“Blessed be the unclean, for they shall inherit the world.”

One spiked arm went upwards under the Colonel's chin and punched out through the top of his head. A second smashed through his sternum whilst the other two limbs ripped through his upper arms and pinned him to the hatch cover of his vehicle. The Captain then revealed the explosive vest that lay hidden beneath his extra limbs and dropped down into the interior of the command vehicle.

* * *

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SQUAD PIPER OF the Crossed Skulls, was positioned on the extreme right of the defensive line. Sappers had scraped large holes in the ground in front of the Vermis Crassus Comedenti compound for the tanks to drive in and take a hull down position. The four Leman Russ were in a ‘diamond’ formation with ‘Andrea’ on the left, ‘Antonella’ in the front, ‘Alejandra’ on the right and ‘Amy’ to the rear. ‘Antonella’ was the command vehicle with Sergeant Rodriguez in charge. Only the turrets of the tanks were exposed.

This was a tactic used when facing other armoured troops and might have seemed a little over-cautious in the current circumstances? However, high command had any idea what the mutant army had in their armoury and they were receiving confused reports of stolen armoured vehicles and sporadic fighting involving high-grade munitions. Reports had confirmed that vehicles had been seen moving in the distance. Sounds of contact had been heard over to the left, but as of yet the Crossed Skulls had not seen anything that would suggest that an army was on the move towards their positions.

The first enemy vehicles to appear were a brace of Hydra Flak tanks, accompanied by what looked like an ad-hoc command vehicle marked with a flapping grey flag on its vox antennae. The Skulls immediately engaged, scoring direct hits with the first volley. Plumes of oily, black smoke slowly circled skywards marking the unfortunate fate of the mutant army’s vanguard.
But it was only a precursor of more to come.

Whoops and laughing broke the stillness and stress and when Sergeant Rodriguez received the order to fire at will, the gunners began expending munitions as quickly as they could at anything that moved on the horizon.
All, that is, except ‘Andrea’, who had only fired a single round and that had missed.

“Andrea, One-One-three, this is One. What is your status?”, Rodriguez screamed down the vox. “Emperor-damn-it Sánchez, get that frickin gun going before that mob gets too close.”
There was a long pause before the third commander, Corporal Sánchez replied.

+ System failure. My main and secondary are down +

“Pull back and get the armourers to take a quick look. Send up ‘Daniella’ with his Hellhound to replace you. There’s a heap load of infantry targets to take out, over.”
+ Confirmed. Moving out of the line +
The ‘Andrea’ slammed into reverse and edged slowly out of its protective hole.

Back in the animal compounds the various specimens continued their daily routine of eating and sleeping and walking around in endless circles. Vermis Crassus Comedenti, roughly translated, means a big, fat, bug-eater in the local tongue. The massive, hairy insectivores sat passively together and watched the unfolding scene through large, compound eyes. Whether they showed any emotion was doubtful as these animals were so docile, they rarely moved. They watched the ‘Andrea’ back up and they watched the turret move slowly to the right.

+ One-one-one, this is Andrea +
+ Go on +
+ Blessed be the unclean +

* * *

WHEN THE FIRST Leman Russ tank exploded, the great betrayal was revealed.

Men and women who had been friends for many years and had trained together, laughed together and shared the hardships in the field, now turned on each other as the mutants amongst them finally exposed their malaise.
A loud roar went up followed by a cry of joy as the mutants were finally able to free themselves from their false personas and finally feel the joy of their uniqueness.

The trench line became a charnel house as vicious hand-to-hand fighting erupted washich the PDF were not equipped for mentally or otherwise. They died in droves, hacked down and eviscerated before they could raise their paltry bayonets or fire a shot.

It was a shamble from the start. The defences were overrun and the men and women butchered without making the least difference to the momentum of the mutant army. The remaining armoured units that had not been taken out by the rogue ‘Andrea’, ignominiously fled back towards the Port and the safety of its walls. The comms system went viral as individual commanders cried for help and reinforcements.

Nanny Cynefrid was a mutant like no other. She was totally unique when it came to mutant physiology. She had been bred in one of the deepest pits of the Underhive and fed high-quality nutrients. She had been nurtured and loved by her adoring followers. She had been bred for one purpose and one purpose only. Today she would sacrifice herself for her family and become a martyr.

One hundred beastmen carried her forward on an ornately-decorated litter that was protected by sheets of adamantium and a rudimentary form of phase shield. As the wall guns hammered into the gathering host and cut them down in their hundreds, she was moved up to the front and placed before one of the main gates that barred the army’s way into the Star Port. As she passed, the masses chanted her name and she waved back at them with small, stunted arms.

“Nanny Cynefrid! Nanny Cynefrid!” The paradox screamed back at them with joy at the adulation.
The automatic guns did not see her, but here and there an alert defender realised what was happening, but it was already too late.
There was nothing like Nanny Cynefrid. She was a living container, a large, bulging bag of super-heated plasma and as they threw her at the gates she exploded in blossoming flower of white light.

* * *

The Countess


“The Emperor said, I am your light and shining example. Watch me and study me for I am the only one, so follow my exquisite example. Do not make yourself unclean through bad living and impure thoughts. Do not live amongst or fraternise with the beasts or those that have been distorted or are sickly.
For the Emperor is unflawed in every way; he is the very pinnacle of Human perfection. He is the light and goodness. He is the divine being. His immaculate example, his flawlessness and his devotion towards Mankind should also be our ultimate goal in life. It should be the sole driving force towards being better servants to HIS will.
The mutant is the polar opposite of his shining light and his perfection. They are but burnt offerings, refuse, effluent and bile, and all that is wrong. Their presence an anathema and their existence should be eradicated whenever and wherever they are found.”


Attributed to Lord Inquisitor Ferrand de san Martinez of the Ordo Hereticus at the Scouring of Thapus

THE CLUB IMPIETY was a bright, shining beacon of light in a drab, dull and dilapidated city… if you could find it. It was hidden away in the Odjeća Sector amongst the haberdasheries and clothing stores and away from the normal ‘comfort’ areas that were found in every city. This infamous house of debauchery and infidelity was a place where someone could take cover, away from prying eyes. It was a place where one could indulge in their every fantasy.

It was a perfect place for someone to hide.

Stroms and Ó Báire had visited the place five years ago, after localised warp storms damaged the main engines on their ship. It had also been a desperate time for them having just escaped the nets of a Reaver cabal under their murderous leader, Hyhikar Bladestealer.

Now they needed time to rest and recuperate, but more importantly, they needed information and for the type of information they needed, they had to find a specialist. In this Hive, there was only one person who they might trust, the bubbly benefactor of The Club Impiety, The Countess Leonilla Von Baryatinskaya.

* * *

The street was empty like all the rest they had traversed, but this time they began to notice the odd fleeting figure in a doorway or in the and shadows and there were signs of people and groups of people gathering just out of sight.
All around them was the wail of Sirens, and Vox amplifiers crackled and blurted out distorted messages and martial music acclaiming the might and love of the Emperor.
Lights flared and signs flickered.
Fast movers and People carriers shot by overhead on raised mag-lines. Cargo haulers and lower atmosphere craft moved up above in a myriad of intricate patterns.
There was a palatable sense of fear and anticipation in the air which made Stroms uncomfortable. He and Ó Báire were not the object of any malice or anger from those around them, but he knew that a storm was gathering just beyond sight and he and his indomitable companion had better not be anywhere near it when it came.

They found the club.

Stroms was not sure if the club had been compromised at this stage so he protected them both with the power of concealment, turning them into ghosts that walked hidden from all but the strongest of wills.

The entrance was a nondescript, plain black door without numbers or markers. A person would pass it by without a second glance if it was not for the huge, stimm-enhanced enforcer standing outside with a power maul over one shoulder.
Stroms and Ó Báire waited for the door to be opened before they casually walked in. The unsuspecting doorman had just let in two of the most dangerous and wanted men in the Sector and had not even batted an eyelid.

A steep staircase led down into a warren of rooms and passageways. They were dimly lit but you could still make out the paintings of coveting naked men and women alongside even riskier scenes of groups of people entwined in copulation and other… less savoury pursuits. Heavy scent filled the air and the sound of acid rock music thumped out the further you went in.

“This place is definitely on the threshold of normality, it has the taint of the Ruinous powers about it.” Ó Báire unconsciously rubbed his thumb over the talisman around his neck and muttered another litany.

Which is why you like it

The corridor opened up into a good-sized room which had hidden snugs on either side. In the middle of the room was a large circular dance floor where several figures shook and stomped in time with a tune that sounded like a rhino engine starting up. A brightly-lit bar lay off to the right where white porcelain-faced servitors that resembled dolls from ancient antiquity, cleaned glasses or served drinks to customers who looked like ‘gangers’ and ‘meth-heads’.

At the far end of the dance floor was the throne room.

The Countess watched over her club with a mixture of boredom and weariness, all 730lbs of her. She was almost naked apart from a strip of red silk that covered her abdomen. She straddled a golden chaise long which almost disappeared under her rolls of body fat. A naked adolescent male suckled on her left breast as the Countess casually stroked his hair like a feline pet. A second male massaged her bulging shoulders with a blank expression on his face.
Two servo-skulls hovered either side of her throne, their red eye lenses boring deep into anyone that approached. A massive enforcer stood directly behind her wearing a smart black tuxedo and bow tie. His eyes were hidden behind sun-shades. A bulge under his jacket bore witness that he was armed with a heavy-calibre weapon.

When Stroms and Ó Báire stepped onto the dance floor the Countess suddenly looked up and stared directly towards them. Her face immediately broke into a white-toothed smile and she began to clap her hands like a small excited child.

“Oh goody.” She shrieked and then pushed the suckling male away from her breast, shrugging her shoulders at the same time. “Cover me, cover me up. Modesty! Modesty!” She harangued in a soft, accented voice. She then waved a hand in Stroms direction.

“Ah, sanity at last. Hurrah!” She wagged a stubby finger in their direction and then motioned them forwards. “No need to hide boys, Leonilla can see you.”

“How does she do that?”

I have no idea.

Stroms lowered the concealment.

The two servo-skulls immediately shot forward and dropped their lower jaws revealing the barrel of a Lasgun. The enforcer to the rear of the Countess hauled out a six-barrelled snubgun and pointed it at the new arrivals whilst the ‘patrons’ at the bar were suddenly standing in a semi-circle with a variety of Lasguns, stubbers and close-quarter weapons in their hands. Even the naked eunuchs held short-barrelled pistols.

Ó Báire was secretly impressed and eagerly nodded his head and growled his approval.
Stroms raised his hands.

“You have us now Leonilla.” He said warmly. “But, as they say, we come in peace.”

“Oh,” she purred in reply. “My lovely boys are back.” Almost immediately, and on some hidden signal, the enforcers all stepped back into the shadows and out of sight. The two servo-skulls moved back and dropped into their passive search mode.

Stroms and Ó Báire approached the throne and then both went down on one knee and bowed their heads. This was a sign of affection to the lady and not a form of reverence, the Countess liked to believe that she was some form of royalty so Stroms and Ó Báire played along with the façade.
She held out a stubby hand. Each finger loped with sparkling rings inlaid with precious stones from across the galaxy. Stroms kissed her hand and then smiled deeply.

“It has been too long Leonilla.”
“I am not a priority to you darling,” she sighed. “But I understand your predicament so you are forgiven.”

She gave him a conspiratorial wink and a beaming smile.
Leonilla was a beautiful woman under all the make-up and rouge. She had also stolen many hearts in her long lifetime. Now her real age was beginning to fight through the re-juve and fillers and the flower that once was, was now gone. Flowing locks of curly blonde hair fell across her shoulders and onto her chest. Small jewels and rings were entwined within them making it sparkle and glint as she moved. There was a hint of augmentics to the rear of her skull, but they were cunningly hidden.

When Ó Báire leant forward she ruffled his hair and then lifter up his chin.

“Oh, Deaglán you are a handsome devil. What pleasures we could indulge in, you and I. When are you going to whisk me off and ravish me?”
Ó Báire beamed. “I am but a mortal Countess. I have not got the strength to manage you, you would destroy me.” She gave him a playful slap on the shoulder.
“I find that hard to believe you scoundrel, especially after your last visit here. Do you know that my girl could not work for a week after your last knee trembler? That cost me a lot of money. She is one of my best.”
“Is?” Ó Báire queried.
“Yes, she is still here.” Leonilla chuckled back. “So, I suppose that you will be wanting a re-run?”
Ó Báire glanced at Stroms.

“The Countess and I have business to deal with, but you can go if you want. This can be your official shore leave if you like.” He nodded back.
The Countess waved a hand at one of her doormen.
“Show Deaglán upstairs but warn Anastasia that he is coming.”
Ó Báire stood up and cocked his head. Leonilla waved back.
“It’s on the house.”

* * *
THE COUNTESS LEONILLA Von Baryatinskaya was a gatherer of information and what she did not know was not worth knowing.
She once told Stroms that she was from an aristocratic family from the planet Khazan in the Dolgorukov System, which was somewhere in the Segmentum Obscurus. It was a feudal-level planet that was ruled by rich elites who were at constant war over territory and resources. It was also a prime recruiting ground for the Guard who readily accepted its hardy, battle-experienced fighting men into its ranks.

When the planet was assailed by the Chaos warband The Apostles of Contagion, much of the nobility fled, leaving the people to their horrific fate.
After a great many adventures, she ended up on Thapus.

“And I might have to move on again.” She said after a long pause. “This uprising might cause me some problems.”

Her throne was on an anti-gravity plinth that now moved backwards into a hidden alcove. This is where The Countess did her business away from prying eyes. As the throne locked into place, a series of curling pipes wriggled out of a hidden console and then clamped themselves into the rear of her skull. Small tendrils snaked around to her temples and an auspex unit enclosed her right eye. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees and the lights around them turned pale blue.

“We are shielded.” She sighed. Stroms took hold of her hand.
“As always Leonilla, I am forever in your debt. I do appreciate everything you do for me.”
She turned her head slightly to the right.
“Does he know?”
“Does who know?” Stroms replied feigning ignorance, but he knew exactly what she was asking.
“I have often wondered whether my darling Deaglán is aware of your past, your real past that is? Does he really know how many times we have actually met? Does he know exactly how old you are?” Stroms shook his head. This was always a difficult subject for Stroms. Few, if any, knew his secrets.

The Countess was one of them who did.

He realised that he was blushing.

“I think that Deaglán might have his suspicions but he has never spoken to me about it. I have never read his thoughts to find out , because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. He is a loyal friend and companion and a military man, so his maxim is that if I want to tell him anything I will do so in my own good time.” The Countess leaned forward and covered his hand with hers.
“I know you struggle Morthen, I know.”
“We have had this conversation before Leonilla.”
“Yes, we have, many times, and Emperor willing, we will sit here and have it again. How long have I known you?”
“Maybe a hundred and thirty years or so.”
“A hundred and thirty-four years Morthen. I met you a year after I escaped from Khazan. Before Deaglán you came with Jawhar with his lovely dark skin. Before that it was…”
“I know who it was.” Stroms interrupted. He found himself uncharacteristically agitated as she trawled up past memories again, as she had always done before.
“Yumiko. Beautiful Yumiko.” She squeezed his hand. “Morthen, you must let go. It is not your fault; none of it is your fault.”

Stroms stood up and turned his back on her.

“To be cursed. That is what you want to say.”
“No, no, no,” she replied, placing her hand on his hip and turning him slowly around. “To be blessed darling. What you have is a blessing and not a curse. You are very special, very special indeed.”
Stroms sat back down again almost as quickly as he had stood up. His mind was a sea of contradictions and emotions that he always kept hidden from everyone. But he could never hide them from The Countess.

“You are right.” He sighed. “I suppose it is a blessing, but it comes at a price. Everyone I have ever known or will ever know in the future will turn to dust while I live on.”
“And there is a reason for it Morthen.” She added. “Only the Emperor knows your true purpose and why you are compelled to do what you do.”
Stroms shook his head.

“Others know, or think they know my purpose. Others also know that I am not who I seem.”
The Countess frowned.
“You are talking about our friends from the Inquisition?”
“Yes, exactly. The latest one they have sent is an obstinate Grox.”

The Countess stared at him for what seemed an eternity.
“Lord Inquisitor Ferrand de san Martinez.” She hummed to herself. “He has quite a pedigree. Yes, he might well be a problem to you. But he, like all the rest can be beaten.” She paused then cocked her head.
“So, what happened to the last one who came after you?”
Stroms grinned back.
The last agent of the Inquisition had followed Stroms and his crew for nearly two years. The agent was determined and driven, but he was also inexperienced and promoted well beyond his capabilities.

“Inquisitor Subere? The last I knew, he was following the path that I left him towards the Halo Stars. He will find nothing there but bones or worse.” He paused, momentarily adrift in thoughts far away.
“I picked Martinez up about a year ago.”
“He is very dangerous.” The Countess warned. “He is probably the worst one that you have ever faced.” Stroms frowned and then shook his head.

“Clearly you never knew Uilleam the Red. His witchfinders were the vilest that I ever ran from. The current Inquisitional agents and their methods are nothing compared to his zealots and persecutors. They were one of only a few that managed to capture me. Luckily, I escaped their torture machines. That was when I left Old Earth for the first time.” He placed his hands behind his head and leant back against the soft upholstery and smiled.

“But we digress Leonilla. Do you have something for me?”

The Countess opened her arms wide and the silk wrap that was over her shoulders slipped down exposing the full voluptuousness of her breasts.
“Always straight to the point Morthen, of course, I have something for you, I am a gatherer of information, it is what I do.”

She produced two crystal glasses whose stems resembled entwined snakes. She then poured a green liquid into each of them and then raised hers in a toast.
“Khazan Slivovitz, the drink of kings.”
Stroms raised his glass.
“And queens.” He added.

A hololith picture then appeared on the wall behind them. The picture was in black and white and flickered continuously, but the scene could be easily interpreted.
“This was from an Imperial pict feed of a victory parade about six standard Terran months ago.  It was deemed Vermillion access only, but of course, I just had to take a peek.”

The hololith showed a large viewing stand with at least twenty men and women in a line across it. They were all wearing various forms of combat fatigues and carrying a variety of weapons. Flags and banners fluttered behind them in a gentle breeze and behind the banners was a city that shone like gold. A phalanx of soldiers marched passed at the eyes left shouting proudly at the dignitaries on the stage.

“He’s the spit of you.” Said the Countess matter-of-factly, as the picture focussed on the figure in the centre of the stage. “He could almost be your double.”

Indeed, he does look like me

Stroms stared at the figure who dominated the centre of the stand. He was a tall brute of a man with wide, muscular shoulders and a long dark beard. He stood proudly, watching the troops file past. He held his sword aloft in salute as each unit marched by.

“Can you zoom in?” Stroms asked eagerly as he moved closer to the screen. He raised an eyebrow.
“That’s a Flavis broadsword,” he said almost to himself. “That is an interesting choice of weapon.” He turned to The Countess. “I have only ever seen one like that before which was carried by a tyrant...”, He paused. “I have forgotten his name. Do we know who this man is?”
“Apparently he is called Skobal Harersen. But the people have named him the Messiah…”
“Messiah?”
“He is known as the chosen one or the Messiah. He is the leader of a rebellion that has spread across two star systems. He really is causing quite a stir.”

“I am sure he has.” Stroms mused to himself looking back at the man on the screen. He could see that this man was a true leader who always lead by example and deeds. His face was kind and his eyes were deep. These eyes were creased at their edges; the eyes of a man who liked to laugh. Stroms was sure that if they met, he would like this leader and freedom fighter.
“Skobal Harersen. That’s old Norse.”

Leonilla added.
“The situation there is so serious that the Iron Knights Space Marine chapter have been sent to the region to quash the uprising.”
Stroms turned quickly.

“The Iron Knights? I have knowledge of this Chapter. Their motto is; “Let the enemies of Mankind know that we will purge every last one of them and let them shake in fear." They are sending in an entire Chapter to snuff out one man?”
“So, it would seem.”

Stroms sat back down to ponder what this all meant. The Iron Knights were not a large Chapter but their history spoke for itself. They were renowned for their ruthlessness and adherence to their mission. For the Emperor’s sake he thought, a single company is enough to take out a world, but an entire Chapter could take on a whole quadrant and more.
It would seem that this man Harersen was a serious cause for concern or more importantly, deemed to be very dangerous to the Imperium. He wondered?

“Do you know who ordered the Chapter to the systems?”
“Are you thinking that it might be the Inquisition?”
“Perhaps. If their mark was on it then I would say…”
“Say what?”, The Countess interrupted.
“I would say that I might just visit this… leader.” Stroms stopped suddenly. “Wait. Zoom in on the last figure on the podium, the one on the far right.”

The pict flicked and then refocused on a diminutive figure standing slightly apart from the rest.
“That is a squat.” The Countess mused. “You don’t see many of them around these days, not since the wars.”
Indeed
The squat stood like a living, breathing sentinel moulded out of granite. His bushy eyebrows hid the sparkle of eyes beneath and his large nose hooked down onto a bright, red forked beard. A golden pauldron, studded with precious stones, protected his neck which rested on an expensive coat of purple velvet. He cradled a double-bladed axe in his arms.
Stroms was back on his feet again and moved up close to the pict. He smiled and nodded his head.

“Indeed, you don’t see many of his kind any more Leonilla, my dear friend. They are a rare sight now, very rare.” He paused. “I know him.” He chuckled. “I have met him before. He is named as Losgrun Bluntbow. He is a Rogue Trader. If he is with Harersen, then he is in it for the long haul.”
“With someone who has been around for the long time.” The Countess added.
“Exactly.” Stroms replied and sat back down again. He raised his glass to her again and he beamed a smile that could break countless hearts. “Leonilla, I think I am going on a long journey. Which reminds me, did you look at my escape plan?”

The hololith behind them faded out to the blank wall. She pushed a small disc across the table to him.
“I have a small freighter docked and ready for outer orbit travel. It will easy enough to take your damned Sky Talon.” She paused and cocked her head slightly to the side. “Why the Sky Talon Morten?.”
He chortled back, satisfied that everything appeared to be falling into place and his plans coming to fruition.

“It’s a throwback to my younger days before all of this and when life was far simpler. I used to ride motorcycles then, a smaller form of a jet-bike, and I loved the thrill of speed and things with big engines. The Sky Talon is the ultimate ride. Big, brutish and loud.
Now, what do I owe you for everything that you have done for me?”
The Countess looked back with a glint in her eye.

“Well, for the use of the freighter and the considerable time and expense that went into procuring and redirecting it.” She paused, tapping her fingers as if counting. “A simple kiss. For the information… again, at great personal expense… I will ask you for one of your amazing stories.”

Stroms shuffled up beside her and put an arm around her back.
“In that case, Leonilla, let me tell you the story of the Virgin Queen.”
“Virgin Queen?” Leonilla squealed.
“Well, that is another story in itself. Let’s say that her people called her by that title because they did not really know her.”
“Did you meet her?”
“I met her twice. I was, should I say, an advisor in her court. I tended to travel a lot so was not there all the time. She was a foul-tempered mare.”
“What is a mare?”
“It’s a horse like those ridden by Guard Roughriders. She was also a ruthless manipulator and had a great publicity machine behind her, but by the saints, she was a good leader and changed the face of history. Yes, my dear Leonilla, I will tell you how this desperate, socially inept tyrant destroyed a fleet of ships and then an empire and became one of the most famous leaders of all time.”

* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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Duped


“You can only reveal your winning hand once. If you do not get it right you are doomed to destruction.”

A FLAMER HAD reduced the Freak Show to an inferno of fire and exploding glass. The forlorn heads that were once incarcerated within, now lay on the lush carpet like parts of a discarded mannequin. They were turning black and every now and again, one would pop or explode as the eyes or the brains exploded. The tanks that housed the hapless victims of Juters vindictiveness, bubbled and hissed as their inhabitants died painfully slow deaths.
The internal fire systems eventually came to life, covering the area in a fine mist of water and fire-depressants.

A tall figure walked down the centre of the corridor completely oblivious or completely uninterested in the scene of death and mutilation around him.

He wore a long, navy-blue trench coat with a high collar of red with gold gilding. His rugged face was contorted into a look of disgust. Around his neck was a large pendent in gold which bore the stylised ‘I’ of the Inquisition.
When a fragment of brain matter splattered onto his shiny, high-length boots, he stopped abruptly.
From somewhere to the rear a deformed, hunched figure scuttled forward, bent down, and cleaned away the detritus with a small piece of cloth. The figure then bowed reverently towards the figure before scuttling back to where it had come.

Khafs-nofru continued on his way as if it was the most natural thing in the world to have happened.

Interrogator.

One day, Khafs-nofru would be deemed ready to become a full Inquisitor and have his own entourage of sycophants, toadies, hangers-on and people who tugged at the hems of the Inquisition.

One day

For now, he would do his masters work, and as he was the Lord Inquisitors Interrogator, he would do his job with relish and due diligence.

He had a heretic to capture, and if he was lucky… interrogate.

He was joined by four Sisters of Battle in their distinctive black combat armour and wearing the red cloaks of their order. They were not wearing their helmets and all of them had their blonde hair cut short in the ubiquitous short bob synonymous with the Adepta Sororitas. Each bore a blue Fleur-de-Lyse tattoo below their right eye.
One Sister, a Dominion, carried a large gilded flamer. It was her who had caused the damage and destruction of the Feak show.
She stood at port arms and she presented a formidable figure; solid, reliable and utterly ruthless.

Khafs-nofru held up a hand. A transmission on his secure Auspex.
It was not what the Interrogator wanted to hear.

“Make sure you round them all up,” he growled. “I will be there shortly.” He turned to his companions. A hard-faced Battle-sister stood to the fore.
“Ah, Militant Advance… Yanovna. Take your squad back to your vehicle and await further instructions.”
The senior battle-sister formed the sign of the Aquilla over her breast plate and gave a curt bow. The group then turned smartly and made their way back to the entrance.
The Interrogator nodded his head.

At least they will never let me down

He paused for a short while and digested the updates he had received.
The rats had fled the trap. Despite meticulous planning and overwhelming force, the Heretic and his cohorts had escaped, all be it, temporary.

It was now time to release the hounds.

He entered the conference room. It was a scene from Hel.

The tables and chairs that had been neatly laid out and ordered, were now smashed and smouldering amongst piles of rubble and plastik panels. Support struts and cladding bars stuck out of the remains like xenos bones and ribs. The entry hole in the wall looked like an open wound to the yellow-lit rooms beyond.
A row of bodies was laid out on the polished floor like grisly trophies.
Khafs-nofru had seen thousands of dead bodies, human and xenox. He was personally responsible for an uncounted number himself and was immune to the sight of it, however, when he saw the shattered remains of a dark-skinned woman wearing expensive clothing and exotic jewellery, he stopped and studied her with more interest. He knelt down and waved imaginary flies away from the remains of her face.

You were beautiful once but died with such violence

He now seemed to noticed his Inquisitional Stormtroopers who were lining the walls in their white carapace armour. They looked like statues and as if they were there for decoration. A sergeant gave the Interrogator a smart salute and nodded his head to the right.

“Interrogator. We did not find any of the heretics amongst the dead. However, we do have survivors.”
Four ‘clanners’ were kneeling in a row on the remains of the sodden carpet. They had their hands clasped behind their heads. They bowed their heads, avoiding eye contact with the soldiers around them.
Things had certainly changed for them now, and not for the better. Their boss had the PDF and the local Arbites in his pockets, but these Stormtroopers were something else. There would be no quarter given here. They lives were now measured in minutes not days.

Khafs-nofru stood in front of them and waited until one of them dared to look up. The Interrogator smashed his punch knife into the man’s forehead.
“I sentence you to death by order of the Holy Inquisition, through your actions, association and knowledge of an enemy of the Imperium.”

He stepped right and stared down at the next man. He paused for what appeared to be an eternity. The man before him began shaking and he began to emit a high-pitched squeal.

“I sentence you to death by order of the Holy Inquisition….”
The ‘clanner’ fell flat on his face and splayed his arms in supplication.
“Mercy, I beg you… mercy.”
The interrogator gave an imperceptible nod and two Stormtroopers stepped forward and hauled the man to his feet. He shook and wailed like a small child.
Khafs-nofru slapped him hard across the face.
“Enough, you worm.”

The ‘clanner’ stared back through wet eyes, saliva drooling down his chin. He looked at his kneeling companions with a hunted look. The Interrogator knew that this man would happily sell them out to save his own miserable life.

“Where is Stroms?”, the Interrogator began in his deep, accented voice. “Where is the Arch-Heretic Morthern Stroms?”. The ‘Clanner’ raised an eyebrow, his face contorted in confusion.
“I don’t know who…”
The knife struck again, piercing his left eye and sinking deep into his brain.
“I sentence you to death by order…” his voice trailed off.

The third ‘clanner’ stood up. He was a street-ganger with allegiance tattoos all over his olive face.
“Our chief organised a meeting here,” he gasped. “ Your man was here with his gang,” he paused. “Including a frickin’ Ogryn gorilla. There were five or six of them …” And so, it went on, for a rambling minute or more.
When Khafs-nofru had heard enough, he turned abruptly on his heel and walked out leaving the survivors to the local Arbites. The Stormtroopers formed up and marched behind him.

They were met by an Arbites supervisor flanked by a group of a heavily-armed special weapons squad.
“We have them, Interrogator.” He said, offering a curt salute as a sign of respect to the agents rank. Though their faces were covered by helmets and dark visors, their body language gave away their unease and fear. It was not every day that a planetary Arbite had any dealings with any agents of the dreaded Ordos, especially members of the entourage of a Lord Inquisitor. This was a once in a lifetime occasion and would be talked about for years to come. That is if it all went well for them. The squad knew that with a word their careers could be shattered in an instant.
The Arbites supervisor gave the quietest of coughs.

Khafs-nofru raised an eyebrow.
“Go on.”
“Sir, two of the fugitives left via a rear entrance just after our initial assault. One of them matched the description of the villain, Morthern Stroms. We have their scent.”
“Scent?”
“I have two Mastiff teams already tracking them.”
A brief smile crossed the Interrogator’s face.
“Report to my Militant order. You will assist them.”
“Yes… sir.”

Khafs-nofru fumbled inside his coat and retrieved a lho-stick. He placed it in the corner of his mouth. How he lit it was a mystery. He allowed himself a brief smile, but it was more a grimace than anything else, drawing in a deep lungful of the lho-sticks smoke.
“Well done. You may go now. Oh, sergeant...” he added. “Do not let me down.”

* * *
BINUKA SHANTHA WAS not a well man, a fact that he would always remind everyone who would listen. At just over a hundred Terran standard years, he was not old by any standards in the 41st Millenia. But he came from, as Deaglán Ó Báire would often say… “Poor, white trash.”
That was true. He was born on the mining world of Uspade which provided the raw materials for the insatiable appetite of the Mechanicum shipyards in its upper orbit. Shantha was one of an unknown number of indentured astropaths that were destined to a life of misery and hardship.
When Stroms found him, his tiny frame had been further reduced by the effects of pollution and the ravages of a particularly nasty intestinal parasite that decimated the army the slave army’s around him. He was tiny in stature and walked with a stoop.

He was also dreadfully unfit.

Harada, on the other hand, never seemed to tire. He was a Fenrisian after all and he had the blood of the wolf in his veins. He ushered the old man downwards, always downwards along a route that was only known to him.
The Hive spire was tall, it was hundreds of floors high and full of non-descript doors, corridors and passageways. As they ran ever downwards, they would briefly encounter citizens who scurried away from the tall, fair Wildman and his diminutive companion.
After what seemed an eternity, they came to an abrupt stop.

Binuka was on the edge of a seizure and was eternally grateful for the respite. He gulped in great drafts of air and fell back onto his backside, his chest heaving with the effort.
He shook his head.

“Enough...,” he gasped. “Please, I cannot go on any more.”
He could smell the aniseed again.
“Alfi,” said Harada, almost a whisper. “You get breath, then we fly… yes?”
Binuka was grateful that the Fenrisian had his welfare at heart, then thought about it a little more.
“Fly?”
He felt the man’s rough hands on his robes and did not resist when he was lifted to his feet.
“Trust me Alfi.”
Harada pushed him gently forward and then he suddenly felt a cold chill on his face. The psyker nearly gagged as he was exposed to the sulphur-rich polluted air that hung like a ring around the planet. He resisted for a second before he was pushed forward again.
Rough hands then turned him around and he felt straps being pulled down over his shoulders and around his waist.
“I don’t think this is a good idea… my good fellow.” He spluttered. “Whatever this is.”

Then the tiny psyker was suddenly flying through the air like a bird. If flying was indeed the correct word to use. No, he was gliding like a bird and the sensation felt… exhilarating.

Harada had strapped on a gliding suit. The aerodynamic membrane covered the upper body and wings came out from the arms and outstretched legs. They were used by sensation junkies and sportsmen alike. As Binuka weighed less than a child, Harada was able to attach him to his front and float down the hundreds of floors of the tower using the natural thermals that came up from the hot highways and precincts below. It was dangerous of course, but Stroms had deemed it a good idea when the Fenrisian suggested it. Their totally unorthodox and audacious means of escape would be something the agents of the Imperium would not have expected.

But that was, of course why, Stroms was so good at what he did.

* * *
THE VALKARIE ASSAULT carrier came in so fast that a casual onlooker would have gasped in terror and assumed that it was out of control and destined to plough into the tall tower and explode, killing everyone inside. At the very last second the nose of the beast pulled up, its vector turbojets screaming out in protestation before it came almost to a complete stop above the tall spire below. Two heavy duty ropes fell from its sides and six bulky figures quickly rappelled down.
A second carrier came in and opened fire with its nose-mounted heavy-bolter, bracketing the four of five floors below the top spire reducing the outer facia of the building to a mess of smashed plascrete sheeting and disintegrating plasglass.

The assault was terrifying.

As the six Stormtroopers hit the firm flooring on the roof of the tower and spread out into a defensive arc, a series of explosions emulated them with fire and volatile destruction.
Believing that they were under attack, the two Valkyries immediately pulled away, releasing a string of flares to confuse any anti-aircraft systems that might be targeting them.

Something had gone horribly wrong.

CAPTAIN MARGERET HAEBERLE was a twenty-five-year veteran of the Guard. Her prestigious pedigree told a story of war, death, victory and defeat. When she finally entered the vaunted ranks of the Stormtroopers, she knew that she had reached the pinnacle of her career. To be a Stormtrooper was a statement.

It did not get any better, they were the best.

Then one day she was drafted into a serious black op mission on a planet whose name was expunged from any records, against an implacable foe who died an excruciating death. It was here that she first met her Lord and master, Ferrand de san Martinez, Lord Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus and her life was now in the hands of the Inquisition.
Haeberle knew that she would die in service and would never ever be able to retire and live out her life in peace and harmony.
She knew far too many secrets.

But she was content and as happy as she ever was. Who would not wish to serve a Lord Inquisitor?

When the charges went off, she was ten floors below when the ceiling came crashing down.

Oblivion. Sweet oblivion and peace.

So, it came to this in the end. Killed by an unseen enemy, a coward and a dishonourable foe.
Damn the man Stroms. Damn him and his kind. But by the Emperor, he is good. We never saw this one coming. None of us did.

Cunning.

Pain. I feel pain but I am dead, aren’t I?

+ Captain Haeberle. Captain Haeberle, this is Six. What is your condition? +

My shoulder. I think it is broken, probably the clavicle. I think I have some internal bleeding. Emperor no, not the spleen.

+ Captain Haeberle. We are coming for you. Hold on +
“Hello?”
+ Captain. Thank the Emperor you are still alive. We are coming for you. Hold onzzz bjsjbs +

Static. Noise. Pain.

A bright light was shining in her face like a small sun. It blinded her and she turned her head abruptly away.
“Where is my helmet?”
A chorus of laughing broke out all around her and the bright light was suddenly blocked by bobbing heads as eager hands slowly pulled her out of the remains of the top tiers of the tower. She could smell burnt plastic and… worse still, the unpleasant odour of burnt flesh.

They lay her on a gurney or a table, she was not sure what. It did not matter. Skilled hands began to remove her armour and examine her body beneath. The pain began to come back again.

“Report?”, she ordered through bloody lips. “What happened?”
A dirty face came into her arc and she recognised the rotund face of Kästner, her vox-operator. He had also lost his helmet and now wore a large field dressing over his right forehead. He smiled.
“The place was booby-trapped when we went in. All six of the initial assault group are dead.” He paused, his hand went up to the vox plug in his other ear.
“Three dead and four wounded in our squad, two wounded from heavy weapons.”
She tried to sit up but the pain was too much. Even with her resistance to interrogation training and years in the field, her body had its limits. She relaxed and let the morphine kick in and plunge her into euphoria.
“The heretics?” She slowly enquired, though she already knew the answer.
There was a long pause before she heard Kästners voice again.
“He was never here. It was all a clever ruse to draw us in…”
“So?”
“He is on the loose somewhere,” he cleared his throat. “But he is now the least of our problems.”

* * *

THE MAIN SPIRE in Gord Hive was actually three spires that joined into one. On one of these support spires was the extravagant lair of Bartollt Júter, Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel. Its magnificent tinted bay windows looked out across the Hive. Each of them was the size of a small titan and each had their own individual ultraviolet and climate control parameters built within.
It was never too hot or too cold here above the clouds.

But Bartollt Júters home, his headquarters and centre of his empire, was now in danger of becoming his tomb.

He rocked from side-to-side as he studied the Auspex screen in front of him. He was barking out orders as quick as any information was coming in and his teachers face was turning purple with rage. In a split second of madness, he drove his fist down into the glass screen below, shattering it into a thousand pieces and opening up one of his knuckles in the process.
He roared out, more in frustration than anger.
He turned quickly and his gathered troops all took a step back. A young girl darted forward and covered his hand with a bandage.
“Get my shuttle up and ready. We are leaving.” He pointed to a tall, suited man to the right.
“Stephani. Organise defence protocols on all levels. Give me time before you finally decide to leave. Make the bastards pay for every metre of floorspace, do you hear me?”
The soldier nodded his head and then glanced at the group to either side of him.
A dark-skinned, stimm-bulked gun appeared in a far doorway.
“Time to go Mister Júter.”
The Capo Crimini studied his team and smiled.
“A mere inconvenience my friends. Nothing to worry about. We have faced the law many times before,” he paused. “I will get you all out of this and the after… we will celebrate.”
Stephani held up a hand.
“Let’s hear it for Mister Júter. Hurrah!”

The centre window exploded inwards engulfing everyone in a spectacular multi-coloured ball of vaporised glass and plasteel fragments.

Six or seven of the group quickly dropped as their bodies were pierced with razor-sharp shards from the windows and frames. Others rolled to the side or instinctively ducked.
Bartollt Júter was already being ushered out as the first stormtroopers entered the penthouse suite.
The cartel mercenaries were very good at their job, but their stubbers and laspistols had little effect on the white carapace armour of the Inquisitorial Stormtroopers.
Three of Júter’s men fell before the first of the Stormtroopers was dealt a mortal wound, falling facedown with a sickening crunch as a hard round found its way through and penetrated a vital organ.
This only served to infuriate the Stormtroopers whose firepower increased in intensity, the longer the battle raged. Within a matter of minutes everyone in the room was down on the carpeted floor, either dead or dying.
A deadly silence ensued, broken only by dull thuds of munitions coming from the floors above and below.

A figure stepped through the curtain of dust, joined by several more figures brandishing bolters and flamers.
Explicator Rébecca Rahajason was a beautiful woman by any standards with her long black hair, elfin features and piercing grey eyes, if it was not for the heavy scarring to the right side of her face. Simple surgery or the addition of make-up would have covered it, but the Explicator, the protégé of the Lord Inquisitor, wore it, much like the red ‘I’ tattoo on her forehead, as a badge of honour. She was proud of the scars and where she had got them.

She wore an exquisite golden bodice that was edged with red rubies and rare Reprone diamonds. A long cloak of red Sluxelia silk hung over her left shoulder guard, attached at the throat with what looked suspiciously like a silver broach of Eldar origin.

A squad of white-armoured battle-sisters flanked her.
The Explicator looked down at the dead bodies of the cartel soldiers and spat contemptuously.

“Can someone tell me what has happened here?”
A Stormtrooper gave a smart salute and waved his arm at the carnage.
“These are the private residences of a criminal called Bartollt Júter….”

The Explicator raised her hand.
“It was a rhetorical question sergeant.” She cocked her head and a few seconds later a ragged line of cartel soldiers were pushed and cajoled into the apartment. At the rear was a dishevelled, dust-covered figure who looked like an old man. He appeared to be totally out of place amongst the stimm-built thugs.

They were pushed into a line and forced onto their knees.
The Explicator stood in front of the old man and sneered.
“Where is Stroms?”
The old man said nothing and resolutely stared at her black leather boots. He appeared to be humming to himself.
She knelt down and raised his head with her studded gauntlet. The old man stared back through broken glasses. A sneer cracked the corner of his mouth.
“Where is Stroms?” She repeated. The old man’s face broke into an open smile now.
“Frak you…”

The Explicator grabbed his left ear and pulled his head around exposing the carotid artery in his neck. With a slick, almost fluid motion she inserted a long needle into the flesh and held him solidly in place.
The scream that he emitted was a primeval sound that cut into the core of all that were present in the room. A single cartel soldier soiled himself and dropped to his face in supplication.
She lifted the old man’s head up again. Now there were tears flowing freely down his face. She gently brushed one of the tears away.
“What is YOUR name?”
The old man’s head went down again and his shoulders heaved up and down as he cried like a small infant.
“Bartollt,” he stuttered. “ Bartollt Júter.”

* * *

.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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CHAPTER 4
Reckoning / Hereticus Abomini / Burn the Mutant!


“I think I sh#gged a mutant… but only the once.”
Sergeant Deaglán Ó Báire, 44th Pindaris Heavy Infantry Regiment

Reckoning


THE LORD INQUISITOR sat on what could loosely be described as a throne of some kind. He was a connoisseur of fine art and noted that it was a Chatterly Baronid chair from the Yorik System and made in the old Faroush style. He stroked its armrests and then ran a finger down a seam of overlapping flower petals and knew that all the fixtures were gold, platinum and other precious metals inlaid with expensive jewels and pearls. Its velvet cushions were minor works of art in themselves, lovingly formed by the finest upholsterers.

Such work

This was where the Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel held sway, looking down on the underlings below him. This was truly a statement of power. Insignificant power, eclipsed by the power of the Ordos.
This chair, was by design, the only piece of furniture that could support the Inquisitors ornate power armour.
Martinez decided that once this was over, he would confiscate it and place it aboard his flag ship.

Contraband, seized in the name of the Emperor

He looked slowly up and his eyes opened wide as if he had only just noticed the hundred or so people that were gathered in the room.
His two, stunted and robed companions stood either side of him, one with the large, gilded book, the other with Martinez’s Warhammer held out in front on stretched arms that were oblivious to its apparent heavy weight.

The Explicator, Rébecca Rahajason, stood two paces in front and slightly to the right of the throne. She had thrown back the hood on her cloak and let her raven, black hair hang lose over her shoulders. She had a curved sword, point down, in her right hand with her other hand was balled into a fist against her hip. She surveyed the mass of cartel members in front of her and gave a satisfied grin.

Two ranks of Stormtroopers stood to the rear and six sisters stood on either flank, motionless and steady.

A wild-looking man with white unkempt hair walked behind the cartel soldiers. He growled litanies from beneath his long white beard and stared at the back of their heads with his one good eye. Every so often he raised a silver staff above his head and swung the Aquilla at any head that was too high. A black crow sat on his left shoulder and surveyed the scene through liquid black orbs.
The wild man, Cardinal Ruben Lawry, wanted blood, nay, he wanted more than blood, he wanted the souls of these wretched Hive scum. He wanted them to be strapped to penitent engines and paraded through the streets for all to see. He wanted to make them repent for their numerous sins, he wanted…

Martinez shook his head and then held up a hand.

“Cease Cardinal. For the love of the Emperor cease.”

Martinez rose to his feet like a colossus from old antiquity. The two squats immediately took two steps to either side. The one with his Warhammer offered it forward and bowed its head.
Martinez lifted the weapon up and stared at its vicious, brutal simplicity. He flicked a hidden switch and its power field hummed to life engulfing the weapon in a blue haze.
The Cardinal changed his rhetoric to The Litany of Judgement and held his free hand up, palm outwards.

A moan escaped from the quivering lips of the cartel.

At an unseen signal, Júter was pushed to the front by two of the Sisters of Battle. He had been stripped naked and bound at the wrists with razor wire. He had been flayed and his back had been torn open in several places. Someone had carved an Aquilla into his forehead and blood flowed freely down his face and onto his chest. Only the whites of his eyes and teeth shone through. He looked like a grotesque zombie.
Martinez held his hammer horizontally and pointed it at the ex-cartel chief.

“Kneel worm and except my judgement.”

“Devine Emperor: have mercy upon this miserable sinner…”

Martinez raised the hammer above his head.

“Beloved Emperor, redeemer of the cosmos: have mercy on this miserable sinner…”

Júter was pushed down onto his knees and his head pushed forward.

“Remember not, Emperor, his offences, nor the offences of his misguided brethren; neither take thou vengeance of their sins: spare them, my Lord, my life. Spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious energy and lifeforce and be not angry with them for ever.”

The Explicator, Rébecca Rahajason turned around and raised a hand.
“My Lord, I have received a communication. It is the Wolf. You must listen to what he has to say.”

Martinez immediately lowered his hammer and the squat recovered it from him and moved it to one side. The Inquisitor pressed a button on his right vambrace and a one-dimensional hololith of a man appeared. The hazy blue light was distorted but there was no doubt who it was.
“Ingfred, what is this expeditious matter that requires me to forsake my summary executions?”

An audible wail came from some of the prisoners.

The long, serious face of his best and most productive interrogator stared back.
“Changing to encrypted, My Lord.”
Now only Martinez was privy to the Wolfs communique and as it was laid out to him, the Lord Inquisitors face paled before turning a deep red.
Several members of his entourage took a discreet step backwards as if they already knew what was about to happen.
Violence, uncontrolled violence lay just below the surface and with this raw power, whole continents had been levelled.

The golden figure of his scribe, Felícia Cortes, appeared to glide from nowhere and was now by his side. She leant forward and whispered in the Lord Inquisitor’s ear.
The effects were instantaneous. He immediately relaxed and the power of an imprisoned supernova suddenly dissipated.

He sat back heavily into the throne and pointed a gauntleted figure at Ruben Lawry, who had now positioned himself to the right of the prisoners.

“Cardinal.” He then nodded at Rebecca. “Explicator. Mind scrub these deviants and assign them to the crew of the Wrath of the Emperor.” He paused. “Except their leader, this pathetic specimen of humanity deserves a more fitting punishment. I want him to repent his sins and I then want to make an example of him. Is that all clear?”
“Perfectly.”

Martinez studied the information that was flowing into the screen on his vembrace. After a few seconds of analysis, he had made up his mind.

“Sergeant!”. A Stormtrooper stepped forward and gave the sign of the Aquilla.
“My Lord.”
“Destroy these facilities. Leave nothing standing, including the servitors and automatons. I want nothing left to remind us that this cartel ever existed.”
“It shall be done.”

“Sister Chkadua.” A Battle-sister also stepped forward, her bolter at high port. She nodded her head in acknowledgement.
“Hunt down and destroy the acolytes of this… thing and then re-join your Order. Prepare yourselves for a scouring.”
The Sister raised one of her eyebrows and the hint or flicker of a smile creased her lips.
Martinez slammed to his feet like an avenging titan.
“Now.” He roared. “We will see the Emperor’s retribution in all its glory.”

* * *

Hereticus Abomini


Martinez stood in front of the Holoscreen in all his finery and paraphernalia that marked him out as an agent of the Holy Inquisition. He laid one hand on the pommel of a sword on his hip and the other tucked into his belt. He had hung his grey Freon wolf skin over his shoulders which partly covered his black power armour and the chain mail beneath. His face was calm, and his white hair and goatee beard had been recently groomed.
He was the picture of a man at ease with himself.
He rocked gently from side to side as the shuttle passed through waves of thermals and banks of thick clouds.

He studied his companions.

White and gold helmets were lined along each interior wall and he knew that they were all looking at him through red eye lenses or augmentic replacements. The odd figure had removed their helmet and Martinez marvelled at how close to clones the Sisters of Battle all looked with their short white bobs, pale skin and deep red lips.
He nodded at an older Sister who gave a curt nod back. The Battle Sister next to her stared back through lifeless eyes that had seen too much of the crucible of battle.
He could hear the low murmur of battle prayers which brought a smile to his lips.

To all intents and purpose, the Lord Inquisitor was a picture of calm serenity.
But not all that one sees is what really is. A monumental explosion of anger gnawed away at Martinez’s insides like an expanding parasite desperate to escape.
He knew that the hunt was in danger of fizzling out if he did not pick up Stroms path soon. Time was measured in hours, not days any more. He knew that If the heretic escaped the planet, he may well be able to avoid the pickets that hung in zero orbit like waiting spiders. If he managed to do that, and with a mountain of luck, Stroms might just escape.

Just for a split second, he found himself smiling.

The audacity of the man. By the Emperor he is good; the best I’ve ever come up against.
But we are not finished yet Morthern Stroms, oh no, not by a long while. I will find you soon and when I do, I will spring the trap.


* * *

041 M2


STROMS WENT DOWN on one knee and placed his right ear onto the forest floor below. The rest of the group stopped where they were and looked in towards him. There were only eight of them left now out of the original twenty. They were mostly young boys, all barely able to shave, the oldest having fallen by the wayside during the long march. But these were the toughest and the hardest and they were willing to follow him anywhere. They believed that he was the only one who could save their people.

They always believe that. They all think that he could save them, but he was just one man.
They were all fools to follow him. Fegelein and his SS degenerates would soon catch up with them and then…


They were very close now, the Germans. They were part of a cavalry unit which was backed up with armoured cars and a noisy Fesler Storch spotter plane that buzzed around the treetops in the distance. A rattle of automatic weapons signified that the enemy had caught up with at least one of the groups that were spread out through the forest.
Stroms had led his companions across a stream that cut into the forest like an open wound. It was one of the thousands of tributaries that meandered out of the Pripyat swamps like unnumbered capillaries. The water was dark brown in colour and stank of rotting vegetation.

I could have used my powers. I could have hidden them all. Why didn’t I do that?

Stroms picked up his rifle and blew some moss away from the trigger. A thin, wiry man crawled up next to him. It was Sasson Landau, the shoemaker, still wearing his tatty, threadbare Judenhut like a badge of honour.
“What is it Zechariah?" the man asked in a barely audible whisper.
Stroms looked at the Russian as if he had never seen him before. The shoemaker smiled back and held up his Soviet-made Mosin–Nagant and pointed the barrel back in the direction they had just come. The weapon was battered and worn, a relic of the previous war.

Landau. No, I swear his name was Ó Báire. He was my second-in-command then. We fought as partisans against the Einsatzgruppen. We fought to save ourselves, them, the Jews, from annihilation.


“It’s not good Sass-Deaglan. We still have at least six miles until we reach the relative safety of the Russian lines.”

Landau smiled.

“Yes, we do, assuming that our erstwhile comrades don’t shoot us when we turn up anyway.”
Stroms shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“Deaglan. What is wrong?”
His companion was still smiling, but his teeth shone out unnaturally white against the dark blood that was pouring down his face.
“My name is Sasson Landau. I died here in this forest. Pick up your rifle Zechariah, they have found us.”

Stroms looked down but the soft heather and grass was now sand and razor-sharp slivers of rock. The Bolter felt heavy in his hands.
He looked around frantically for his old rifle but it had gone.
He quickly stood up and realised that everyone had disappeared, including the old shoemaker, Sasson or Ó Báire, or whoever he was. Stroms found himself alone in the middle of a clearing.

“Where are you?” he shouted but his words were dull and without tone or echo. He looked at his hands and they were covered in blood.
“I killed them. I killed them all.”

Morthern. Morthern. Get up you lazy bastard!

“I thought you were dead?”

Ó Báire snorted and then sat down on the bottom of the bed. He ran a hand through his hair and then ruffled it up like a mother would with her child.
“So did I. That girl Angela, Morthern,” he sighed. “I thought she WOULD be the death of me. You know she does this thing with her toes…”
“Deaglan, her name is Anastasia.”
“I know that.”
“You woke me for a reason?”
The intrepid Guardsman grinned, leant forward and patted Stroms knee.
“I think I am in love.”
“Again?” Ó Báire pulled back.
“This time it’s for real.”
“Of course.”
Ó Báire stood up.
“We are going. We have our guide.”

* * *


A TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION lit up the early evening sky, announcing the arrival of The Army of the Claw. A corkscrew-shaped tower, that was built as an intermediate link between the main spire of Gord and three smaller tertiary spires, imploded, taking the two-hundred or so floors crashing down onto the streets below.
It was a catastrophe that would have disastrous consequences for years to come.
As the blossoming cloud of dirty grey dust ballooned upwards, a swarm of Imperial fighters homed in on it like flies on a rotting corpse.
A sound followed the thunderclap of the explosions, the sound of a hundred thousand voices crying in adulation.

The Hives public broadcast systems that had been blasting out the emergency evacuation announcements, were abruptly cut short and replaced by the voices of an angelic choir.
Seconds later an educated voice boomed out.

+ Citizens of Gord. Hear now the voice of a new beginning. Long have you toiled under the oppressive tyranny of an unelected elite. Long have you sweated for a pittance under the whips and cudgels of the enforcers and taskmasters. You have bled, you have suffered, you have suffered your pain in silence for an Imperial Commander lacky who cares more for his gaudy pets than he does for his people. You have done all this in a false hope that a rotten corpse a lifetime from here, will come and release you and take you into the light…. +

With the whine of his shuttle’s engines dying behind him, Martnez stood on the landing pad looking up at the large, ornate gates in front of him. They were made from a dull silver metal in the design of a mailed fist. He gave a derisive snort.

Oh, to have but one company of Dorns warriors here today

It was a pity that the strength that was depicted here, was not reciprocated in the mental abilities of its inhabitants.

In the long corridor beyond, he could see a hastily-forming honour guard consisting of at least fifty figures wearing the crimson red frockcoats and tall bronze helmets of the Rolphus Pretorian Guard. An officer, distinctive because of the plume of red feathers that adorned his headwear, bawled the guard out as a small band tap-tapped on tiny drums.

A cadre of battle sisters filed either side of the Lord Inquisitor. Their leader, who was a good head taller than the rest of her troops, gave him the sign of the Aquilla and bowed slightly before stepping to his side and joining him as the entered the Planetary Governor’s residence.
Martinez spared her a brief look.

“Ah, Palatine Stepanovna, it is always a pleasure to see you.” His companion nodded.
A familiar voice came from behind him.
“My Palatine is honoured as always, my Lord.”
Martinez turned to see the voice of the Order walking the regulation two steps behind them.
“Nunciate Advance Balakhnova of course. Yes, I am also glad to see you too”

Very glad in fact.

“Palatine, are the Silver Swords ready.”
The Commander of the Sisters of Battle almost faltered as she walked.
“My Palatine is confused, we are always ready and at your command.”

Martinez grunted, which was his idea of a laugh. He stopped himself rolling his eyes.

Battle Sisters. They are always so… starchy.

He stopped.
He now noticed that the Palaces Vox systems were carrying out a general broadcast and realised that this trite rhetoric was being sent out across the Hive.

+ We are the people, we are your friends. Long…. +

With a nod Martinez had all communications into and out of building and its environs cut.
One of his companions, Lucas Grevenslag, a rough, hard-bitten ex-Cadian intelligence expert, was not in his entourage for his good looks or fine table manners. He had been fighting against far greater foes than mutants and heretics. He had been pitting his skills against an implacable foe with dark powers behind them.

The band began to play “Thapus, my land”. This was a jaunty ditty that exulted the fighting prowess of the local soldiery. Martinez likened it to a tune you would hear in a bordello.

The Praetorian Guards came to attention and executed a perfect ‘Present Arms’ and a slick ‘Eyes Left and Right’, before shouting three loud Huzzahs! The officer brought up his ornate sword.

“It is an honour Lord…”. His eyes widened. Shock. What?

The Guard now carried out a dreadful, unmilitary scramble when the cadre of Sisters failed to stop and the honour Guard was knocked brusquely aside as the Inquisitors party bludgeoned its way through like a herd of Grox through an orchard of Cherry blossoms. Helmets and weapons were dropped or flung in all directions.
The presenting officer’s helmet was unceremoniously sent flying across the landing pad by the booted foot of one of the squats who accompanied Martinez.

Pandemonium. That was the only word that could describe the interior of the Imperial Governor’s residence.
Pandemonium and perhaps… dread and fear?

An Inquisitor was a rare sight on any occasion. One could go a lifetime and never see or hear of one of these mysterious agents of the Imperium, and that was always a good thing. It meant that order was in place, it meant that all was well with the world.
When an Inquisitor did arrive, it was usually in secret and their mission was over and done with before anyone even noticed. When an Inquisitor arrived Secreto ac sine palam, that is, openly and without secrecy, then doom would befall the unwary.

And this was a Lord Inquisitor, this was The Malleus Hereticus. The Hammer of the Heretic and everyone held their breath.

The entrance to the Palace was ostentatious in design. Visitors entered through a pair of huge wooden doors that were criss-crossed with brass banding and, like the main gate, emblazoned with the gauntleted fist heraldry of the Imperial Governor. When you crossed the threshold and entered the residence It was likened to a small amphitheatre with tiers of seats along three sides of the curved walls with corridors pushing out like the face of a time piece. Lush, deep red carpet lined the floor and the walls were made of white marble with golden veins that circulated golden liquid. The sight made one think that you were looking at a living breathing organism. Large crystal chandeliers hung from the domed ceiling above and every few metres were the life-size statues of previous commanders or persons of note.

And this was only the entrance.

Martinez, flanked by at least forty of his followers, thundered down the centre of the amphitheatre like maddened pit fighters. Anyone that dared to bar their way was smashed to one side or trampled underfoot. Blood was spilt and bones snapped but they were like an unstoppable tide of retribution and authority.

The main double doors directly ahead were slammed back against the walls causing plaster and fine glass to crack and splinter.
Everyone inside went silent and turned towards the new arrivals.

The Lord Inquisitor entered and then abruptly stopped with his fists on his hips and a dark shadow across his face. The squat carrying the large tome stepped forward and flipped opened a few pages and began chanting in an unknown tongue. A gaggle of servo-skulls glided above them and spread out above the gathered military personnel and dignitaries.
Battle Sisters began to move down the sides of the walls pushing aside any guards that dared to stand in their way. When the room was completely encircled Martinez nodded his head and the second squat presented him with his Warhammer.

The Explicator, Rébecca Rahajason moved forward and the crowd naturally parted. She had the hood of her red cloak pulled up over her head and only the merest glint could be seen from her eyes hidden within. She moved like a feline with a grace more attuned to nobility than to a deadly agent and sanctioned killer.

Like a multi-coloured tide, the figures all pulled back until a single, lone figure remained at the far end of the room.
A small, rotund man with a bald pate stood straight and proud with his hands clasped firmly behind his back. He wore the uniform of the Praetorians but with an over-the-top amount of gold braid, trimmings and a reem of medals on his chest.

The Explicator frowned. She had not realised that the soldiery of Rolphus had fought so long and hard for the Emperor… and all those campaign medals?

“Imperial Commander Yakov Ben-Shahar?”
The small man seemed to straighten up a little more.
“Yes, I am…”
“Silence.” The Explicator hissed. “I need only validation.” She turned to face Martinez at the far end of the room. She nodded, but it was all just for show. Of course, he was the Imperial Commander, all the others were shaking like condemned men. He was the only one who showed some dignity under the extreme intimidation. Years of being the number one on the planet tended to do that to a person.

“You may approach the Lord Inquisitor.”
The way the Explicator said it actually meant… you will approach the Lord Inquisitor… now, and as quick as you can.

Yakov Ben-Shahar was no lickspittle and bowed to no man but the Inquisition tended to render all men as equals. He walked slowly up the centre of the room, his face calm and collected, his posture relaxed and in control. An expert observer would have been very impressed if it were not for the beads of sweat flowing freely down the man’s face.

As he approached Martinez the squat with the book held up a hand and clipped out one word.

Abomination

The Imperial Commander glanced furtively to the sides and then into the face of the Lord Inquisitor. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments. It was all that Martinez needed.
He growled a deep, bass growl.

“Why have you forced me to come here… Commander?”
Yakov Ben-Shahar looked behind him for guidance but his aides were all hidden and incognito. He turned and spread his arms wide.
“My Lord, you are mistaken. I did not call on you or your Ordos. We are perplexed as to why you have graced our insignificant planet with you esteemed presence.” The words oozed sarcasm and bile. Not something that you should necessary do to an agent of the Imperium.

Martinez almost smiled.
“Your inaction has forced me here. The Hives fall around you, overrun with mutant filth and pestilence. What have you done? What have you done to redeem yourself?”

The Imperial Commander dropped to his knees and held his hands up in prayer. Martinez stepped forward, his vast bulk towering above the small, balding man.

“In the name of his Holy Majesty, the God Emperor of man, I thrice judge Thee Hereticus Abomini, by actions, associations and by beliefs. You are hereby sentenced to death. How do you plead?”

“Blessed be the unclean.”

* * *

.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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PALATINE STEPANOVA’s cadre disarmed all the Praetorians within the confines of the Imperial residence and then herded them into a large banqueting hall nearby. All the other household troops and any PDF were taken to an enclosed sports arena just outside the palace confines. Hard-faced Kourilian Rangers used clubs and cattle-prods to move them into line. Forced to act as security guards instead of getting themselves combat ready, they were very liberal, and sometimes over-zealous when administering punishment to those who had prevented them from the chance of glory on the field of battle.

Summary and entirely unauthorised executions were carried out on anyone suspected of being tainted or not showing proper reverence towards the Emperor.

The commanders of the local forces were apoplectic at the way they were being treated, but when Explicator Rahajason, the killer with the face of a goddess, ordered them to be marched past the body of their previous Imperial Commander, they became suddenly quiet and withdrawn. The remains of his shattered skull were an obvious warning to anyone who dared challenge the Imperium of Man.

THE SCREEN FLICKERED to life revealing the interior of what looked like a shrine or temple. A tall, slim figure robed in black with grey carapace armour underneath, stood in front of a large Chartdesk with his hands clasped firmly behind his back. Similarly-attired command staff leant over the desk at certain points, sweeping their hands in dramatic curves or stubbing their fingers at particular points. Servitors and Mechanicum Adepts hovered on the periphery. The tallest man, whose sheer presence indicated natural authority, slowly turned around. His long, pale patricians face with its dull grey eyes, betrayed no emotion as he looked back at the intrusion into his domain.

“To whom do I have the pleasure?” He growled in a low and barely audible voice. The rest of the staff that were around him also stood up and stopped what they were doing. Their faces portrayed annoyance at the obvious intrusion.
“Being able to override our security protocols and enter the Precinct Fortress and my briefing Chambers must mean you have some form of authority?” It was a statement of fact and not a question.
Martinez tittered inwardly.

“I am Lord Inquisitor Ferrand de san Martinez of the Emperor’s most Holy Inquisition. You are Marshal Romualdo Perra.” He raised his hand. He did not require any acknowledgement. “I have been reading your communiques and must say that I am very impressed.”
“Thank you…”

There was an uncomfortably long pause as Martinez studied the man in front of him. Although it was a hololithic projection, the picture was crystal clear and showed every detail. There was no panic here like he had witnessed amongst the military units; no haste or obvious disorder. The control room and the staff were running like a well-oiled machine.

He felt that he could almost like this man under better circumstances.

“This…uprising Marshal. It seems to have taken everyone by surprise.
I am confused. How could this have happened? Such numbers, such obvious anomalies, and yet no one appears to have seen it coming.”

The Marshal’s face remained grim and unmoving. There was not even a flicker of emotion at the obvious slight to his professionalism. But this was a man who had nothing to hide or be ashamed about.
His record spoke for itself.
This was a man who had served the Emperor for over sixty years and never faltered once during his long career.

“We, I, am honoured,” he began slowly and in a considered manner. “… to have your presence here on our planet my Lord. But I am also confused as to why you are here? It is indeed a rare thing when an official of the Ordos reveals him, or herself, to lower servants, nay, menials of our beloved Emperor. Your mission must be of the utmost urgency… “
Martinez laughed inside.

If I did not need him so much, I would have his gizzards for his insolence.

“My mission here is irrelevant. The fact that I am here is all that you need to know. This uprising or rebellion, whatever it is called, has diverted me from my primary mission. Now, I have been forced to delay that mission in order to sort out this sorry mess.”

“We have not been idle.”

“Do continue.”

“I have detained the sixteen members of the ruling council.” The Marshal paused. “And I am aware that the Imperial Commander is in your custody. Sorry, he was in your custody until his… unfortunate demise. My Arbitrators have or are, rounding up every member of the main political parties including many heads of the Rophus elite. All my Precinct Houses are in Adeptus Arbites control. The Metro station has been cleared and the Administratum District and Hive Spire One-seven are now under our command …”
Martinez raised his hand again.

“Yes, I know. Like I said before, I am very impressed at the way you are handling things and have no need to censure YOU, Marshal. We will have to work together, but we must act most expeditiously. My time here is limited.
Can I, therefore, leave the Hive and its environs in your capable hands for the time being while I deal with other matters?”

“Of Course, … My Lord.”

“Excellent. I need the great and the good to remain under your protection, unharmed but guarded. Seal them off from the outside world and make sure they are all separated from each other.
Feel free to re-institute law and order in any way you deem fit. You have my authority to do this by whatever means necessary. I have this so-called Army of the Claw to deal with so I will not be able to assist you for the time being.”

“I will await your arrival…”

Martinez cut the link and turned to his own staff. He pointed at his intelligence chief Lucas Grevenslag.
“Where is he?”
An officer stepped forward. He was dressed in the long, black coat and tall hat of a Commissar. He gave the sign of the Aquilla and bent down on one knee. Martinez indicated that he should rise.

“My Lord…”

“Commissar-Captain Órdenes. The PDF senior officers have betrayed their sacred oaths. Every one of them has been found wanting for failing to see this rebellion coming, failing to notice the taint of the mutant amongst their ranks, and finally; for allowing their positions and installations to be overrun too quickly. Their incompetence and shameless corruption have caused me to divert my considerable forces away from their Holy, Emperor-ordained duty.
I trust you have your representatives in every unit?”

“Yes My…”

“THEN TELL THEM TO DO THEIR DUTY!” Martinez bellowed, causing the Provost Marshall to stagger backwards in a most undignified way.
“Yes My…”
“GET OUT!”

The command room was now deathly silent. Everyone seemed to have stopped what they were doing as if awaiting a further storm.
“Grevenslag. A general order to ALL units… across this lump of earth called Rophus.

Halt. Fortify. Await further orders.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Emperor will abide in the shadow of the God of Mankind

In every street, station, fox hole or position, the loyal and untainted PDF and the forces of the law went to ground and began digging in.

Buildings were fortified, barricades reinforced and troops mustered. At a thousand points on the map where both forces were in contact, retreating Imperial forces stopped and then turned around. Where mutant forces were advancing, devastating firepower was brought to bear on them and the advances were stopped. Everyone took a deep lungful of air in anticipation.




General Transmission, frequencies override. Authority: FDSM/LI-OH.

General Order 16:

By Order of his Esteemed Majesty Ferrand de san Martinez, Lord Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus.


So, shall it be done.
All enemy combatants and prisoners of war, whether untainted or plagued by the abomination of the mutant gene, shall be summarily executed without prejudice and with immediate effect. Any unit, commander or individual who falters in their duty in this respect, shall be deemed Hereticus Abomini and sentenced to death.
It is the duty of all loyal citizens of the Imperium to immediately administer lethal judgement on those who fail to carry out the Emperors Divine retribution.

Et in Nomine Eius

Message Ends

. . .
Burn the Mutant!



THOMAS LE GARRA stared up at the sky with genuine amazement and wonder written all over his lupine face. He had never seen such a display of lights and colours before in all his life. In fact, he had never looked up at the evening sky and truly studied its magnificence and beauty. The long fiery streaks that crisscrossed the darkening sky were truly a wonder as they changed from blue to fierce red and then into streaks of fluffy white clouds.

“Beautiful.” He sighed to himself and then turned to a large group of mutants and non-mutants who made up his command team. “So, what does this all mean?”
A quadruped with an elongated neck shrugged his shoulders.

“We have no idea, but it feels wrong.”
“Feels wrong?” Thomas growled, the first word more a hiss than a word.
“Shall I interrogate one of the prisoners?” The quadruped suggested. “They are surprisingly willing to answer anything that is asked of them. Except, that is, the ones who wear black uniforms, they are truly brainwashed. They never say anything, even when their tongues are being ripped out.”

Thomas turned back and watched a large fireball enter the atmosphere that was quickly followed by several smaller ones.
“Bring me the sly soldier, the one with the scar on his cheek.”

A PDF corporal was pushed forward and a curved-horn Beastman forced him down onto his knees with a jab of a lasgun. The corporal had his hands bound in front of him and the wrists were bloody and raw. Blood also covered his scalp and chest from a wound that looked like a bite mark. He had a long scar from one ear to the corner of his mouth. He looked up at the gathered mutants with abject terror in his eyes.
Thomas pointed towards the sky.

“What is all this? What is going on here?”

The corporal shook his head and seemed like he was about to refuse to answer until a small, squat mutant waddled up beside him and stared at him from a face that consisted of one eye and an open chasm containing row upon row of razor-sharp teeth.

“It is a landing. Those fireballs and streaks are large ships entering the upper atmosphere.” He quietly chuckled. “You did not do your homework did you, if you had you would not have attacked when you did.”
Thomas turned, a faint sneer at the corner of his long snout. The soldiers face turned pale.
“What do you mean by that?”
The corporal stuttered.
“I have said enough already.”
Thomas smiled.
“I am afraid that you have not said enough.” He paused, “I will ask again. What do you mean?”

Deciding that he had nearly crossed the line and that his own self-preservation was more important than military secrets, the corporal decided that he wanted to live his life and…

“Stuff the Emperor…” he said out loud.

The gathered mutants laughed and nodded encouragement.
“Indeed.” Thomas agreed. “Go on.”

“There were two Navy fleets in station in orbit when you attacked us. They were in transit to another war zone. If you had waited just one more day then you might have pulled this off.” He instantly regretted his use of words. “I mean, it would have been easier for you. Yes, that’s what I meant, and of course there are rumours of the Ordos…”

“Ordos?” Thomas cocked his head.

“The Inquisition. The Ordos. They are apparently down here on the planet looking for someone very special.”
The gathered mutants began talking amongst themselves in raised voices intermingled with grunts, hisses and clicks. Thomas held up one of his long hands.

The Inquisition. That added a whole new dynamic to his plan, something that he never envisaged. This could well cause him problems.

“The Inquisition must be here for me. There is no other answer to it.” He nodded at the corporal. “Thank you for being so open an honest with us.”

The corporal grinned back.

In a whir of black fur, teeth and claws, Thomas’s long jaw clamped down onto the corporal’s head. There was a sickening crunch as his long canines penetrated the skull and sank deep into the brain matter below. With a deft twist of his powerful jaw, the corporal’s heads came free of his shoulders and then bounced off across the rockcrete roadway.

Thomas grinned through bloody teeth.
“Prepare for battle. Victory is still ours, but things are going to get a little tricky from here on in.”

. . .

LUPPI WAS A good soldier, his father had told him so before the Imperial soldier cut him down. Now Luppi stood in the ranks with his friends and his new family, carrying a brand-new Lasgun in his hands.
He smiled a white-toothed smile and looked to the right and left of him and showed them all his new weapon. He studied it again for the umpteenth time.

Weight: 2.3 kilograms, single shot or automatic. Rate of fire 220 shots per minute.

I could kill over fourteen thousand of the enemy in one hour.

“Luppi!”
He looked up into the face of his squad leader, Culvellier, the ex-Guardsman with the too-long face and the eye in the back of his head.
“Yes Sir!”. He shouted back.
“Luppi. Pay attention and stop drooling over that Lasgun.”
Luppi cocked his head.
“I cannot help it sir, I drool a lot.”
The ex-Guardsman nodded back. “I know. Your ‘drool’ is melting the pavement at your feet. Concentrated acid tends to do that, boy.”
Luppi smiled back and then stared beyond the ex-Guardsman’s shoulder.
“What is that?”

The sun had not quite gone down and the sky had a dirty yellow and brown hue. In the distance there was the hint of a blue sky above lands far to the east and away from the Hive. Flocks of silky-winged reptiles hurried towards the distant foothills, harried along the way by large predator’s intent on a meal before the night drew in. Cries of carrion birds filled the sky as they heralded the bounty to come. A light wind brought the acrid smell of promethium through the air.

The mutants did not know it yet, but a tsunami was coming, the likes of which Rophus had never seen.
There was a slight quiver in the air and a trembling in the balls of the feet. The gathered horde of The Army of the Claw looked at each and shrugged shoulders or frowned. They were unsure what to make of the phenomena.
Seconds passed and the tiny vibrations became more noticeable and glass window panes began to tinkle and hum in the buildings around them.

Now they could hear a rumble like distant thunder followed by the faint sound of what appeared to be martial music.

Luppi stopped drooling and watched in wonder as the wasteland beyond the Space port began to darken like an encroaching wave of black mud. This was not a natural spectacle, this was a man-made apocalypse and it was heading directly towards them.
The ranks began to shiver as the mutants began to realise what it was.
Suddenly there was a long rip of sound that petered off into individual booms as large calibre guns behind them targeted the encroaching wave.

Seconds later Luppi could see flashes of exploding munitions followed by a crescendo of booms and bangs as the first artillery rounds scored hits on what was now obvious to them all.

They were here. The Imperials were here.

The horizon exploded with bright light as they returned fire with thousands of weapons of every calibre and purpose.
Great gouts of flame, earth and body parts were catapulted into the sky or pushed outwards in all directions. Large swathes of the living were reduced to their constituent parts as the ranks of the Army of the Claw felt the full effects of the arsenal of the Imperial Guard.

The Claw Army broke like a panicked herd of cattle, streaming back into the relative safety of the Spaceport with its tall walls and obvious defences.
Some, those who could, returned fire, but this time the effects were diluted as the Imperial forces spread out, covering the plain with hundreds of vehicles and walkers.

But that was not what caught Luppi’s eye, oh no, he was not looking at the squadrons of Leman Russ tanks, the Hellhounds, Chimera’s or even the massive Baneblades that rumbled forward like huge prehistoric beasts of war, that were in themselves unstoppable and terrifying.

No. He was staring at the behemoth at the centre of the horde; the massive super-heavy tank that dominated the Imperial line and a vehicle that Luppi had never seen listed on any of the vehicle schematics he had read.
At that moment in time he realised just how stupid he was. He thought that this would be a great new adventure; he thought that his life would change for the better; he thought that life would be good and free of prejudice and hate.

He was so, so wrong on every count. Luppi, the aspiring mutant soldier, would soon be dead and forever forgotten.
He dropped his precious Lasgun and ran.

* * *

Lord Inquisitor Ferrand de san Martinez was angry, nay he was apoplectic. The Arch-heretic Stroms, had slipped through the net and was now, even as he sat here dealing with the latest crisis, trying to get off the planet and escape his clutches once more. His gauntleted hands dug deep into the arms of his throne causing the metal to bend and buckle.

People will pay for this, oh yes. I will bring down damnation and destruction on them all.

“Where is Cutov, where is the Arch-Magos?” He shouted, his deep, gruff voice loud and clear above the engines of the machines around him.
A blue, holo-screen appeared before him and the multi-tentacled form of his Mechanicum representative appeared, bowing low before giving the sign of the Aquilla.

+ My Lord? +
“Arch-Magos, have you liaised with your compatriot?”
+ I have, my Lord +
“Well?”
+ They will be able to assist but not immediately, they are having… issues with one of the bulk landers +

Martinez threw back his head and to those around him, those who truly understood him, knew that the world was about to feel the uncontrolled power of The Malleus Hereticus.
The golden frame of Felícia Cortes stepped forward, her black hair flowing like silk in the wind and her elfin face a big open smile that could break a man’s heart. She whispered into the Lord Inquisitors ear and his demeanour immediately changed from that of an erupting volcano to the face of a caring father. He nodded towards his scribe and muttered words that only they could hear.

When he spoke again it was in a firm but business-like tone.

“Arch-Magos. Please inform your Mechanicum colleagues that their assistance in this matter should be most expeditious. Do you understand?”
+ Yes, my Lord. It shall be done +

Martinez relaxed ever-so-slightly, though rage still simmered beneath the surface. He swivelled around and faced his entourage. They were all there by his side, except of course the Wolf. His Interrogator was sealing the gap and cutting off the Arch-heretics escape to freedom. He glanced up briefly and imagined he could see the Navy ships manoeuvring and turning into pre-assigned positions and their countless gun batteries swivelling in their mounts and the swarms of fighters spanning out like hounds on the scent. With a smile he could almost feel himself within the tight confines of a boarding torpedo and almost taste their promethium-rich exhaust fumes.

“I think it is time to begin the scouring my friends.”
He flicked a button on his vambrace and the holo-pict ‘blued’ back to life. The figure of a general staff officer stood silently with his hands clasped tightly behind his back.

“General Binçiguerra. You may begin the assault.”
+ As you command, My Lord +

. . .

THE ARMY OF the Claw flowed back into the Spaceport, trampling over the dead and dying in their haste to reach the safety of its high walls. The Imperial artillery bombardment was heavy but had made little impact on their numbers. For every mutant that died, another would appear from the sewerage drains or from hidden passages that lead down deep into the ground. Thomas le Garra was almost at a loss at what to do with such numbers.

Numbers are the key. Even the largest animal can be brought down by the smallest insect, as long as you have the numbers.


He was satisfied.

The reports were flowing in from everywhere including Gord Hive itself. Thomas had overcome the problem of communications by instigating a system of runners and scouts who were physically passing the information on to his officers and leaders. It was working well. Every runner that was shot down was replaced by a dozen more, so his messages always got through.

His troops in the Hive had been halted in some of the districts by the stubborn Adeptus Arbites and their various auxiliaries. But it was easier where the PDF were involved as their ranks had been thoroughly infiltrated by his brothers and sisters, so they had more or less been neutralised. The fanatical enforcers of the Arbites, those bastards could not be turned so easily and where they held, his troops faltered… or went around them.

His mutants, more at home beneath the ground in the dark, polluted tunnels and caverns, skirted the Arbite strongpoints and attacked them from the rear. It was hard, bloody fighting but again, the mutant numbers were beginning to tell. Reports suggested that the Hive was more-or-less in his control, apart from a few die-hard hold outs. Eradication units were already culling the population.
Thomas had decided that the Army of the Claw was no longer there to enlighten the general population, or to release them from the iron fist of oppression, it was there to eliminate their very existence.

There will be a new world order.

He told the runners to tell the Hive generals to take and secure the Hive and then, when they received the signal, they were to join him on the open field.
It would be a glorious day and night of slaughter and death and he would prevail.

He would begin the counter-attack.

* * *

AN IMPERIAL GUARD Leviathan is a super-heavy mobile command centre… on tracks. It is a truly imposing bastion of weaponry and defence systems that is designed to intimidate and frighten the enemy.
Martinez named his own Leviathan Vindicta, which meant punishment in High Gothic. His monument to military might had been instrumental in the destruction of several cultures and the subjugation of entire worlds.

The Vindicta was a truly terrifying sight to the uninitiated. It was as tall as a Titan and packed enough weaponry to level a small city. A Space Port would not hold it up for long.
It was painted the deepest of black but with its fittings and weaponry in silver. A massive golden Aquilla sat on its prow marking its allegiance for all to see.
It was the standard rectangular shape in design with two rows of churning tracks that could turn armour into flattened sheets. On top of its crenulated roof was a landing pad where a Valkyrie now sat, protected by ranks of heavy-bolters, lascannons and quad-guns. Martinez had retained its massive macro cannon which protruded from the front of the machine like an obscene, tubular mouthpiece. It was said that it was wide enough to house a Leman Russ battle tank.
Above the macro cannon was a large veranda where the great and the good could observe the battle from afar. This is where Martinez had placed his command throne.

Like an King from antiquity, looking down onto the pit-fighters below, he sat on a raised plinth with tiers of seats ranked below him where servitors and members of his staff monitored and intervened on the word of their Lord. A hundred neutered virgins lined the veranda singing hymns of benediction and adoration and their voices boomed out through brass speakers that were the size of small hab blocks. Flocks of mechanical white doves, marvels of engineering from a bygone age, circled above flags and banners of Armies that had proved themselves against the heretical enemies of the Emperor. Servo-skulls darted to-and-fro, their synthesised voices exulting the power of the Emperors armies

But these were mere trifles to a Lord Inquisitor of the Ordos Hereticus, the Witchfinder General of the Uranus Circulum Planetarum.

Marching either side of the Leviathan were two columns, nearly two thousand of Martinez’s white-armoured stormtroopers. They goose-stepped as if they were on parade, stamping their long boots into the ground and kicking up clouds of dirty dust. They sang as they marched, venerating heroes of old and long-forgotten tales of epic battles and bestial enemies.

In front of them was a phalanx of the Order of the Silver Sword, and each Sister was carrying a tall golden pole with an Aquilla affixed to the top. Long streamers of various colours fluttered from their lengths, embroidered with the names of their fallen comrades. Another line of black-armoured Sisters marched slightly apart and behind them. These were witch-seekers carrying massive flamers that were decorated with gold script that named Heretics who had been assigned to oblivion. Unlike the rest, these battle-sisters did not wear helmets. They wore the faces of fanatics who were absolutely certain of their purpose in life.

In the centre, surrounded by a block of weaponised servitors, prowled Brother Zoran Berezovsky. His dark blue power armour was almost hidden amongst the black power armour and red cloaks of the sisters of Battle. The white skull emblem of the Adulators Chapter seemed almost alive and shimmered with internal power.

A great, heaving mass followed in the deep ruts of Vindicta, emerging from its dust cloud like maddened ghosts. These were the Lord Inquisitors fanatics, and the followers of the Hammer. They were a small army in themselves, of people from all over the sector who wanted to show their devotion and affection to the representative of their God, a demi-God himself, touched by the mind and aura of the leader of the Imperium of Man.
These were people of all races, shapes and sizes. They were young, they were old, infirm or fit. There were well-heeled cardinals walking alongside long-bearded clerics, bishops standing arm-in-arm with shaven-headed monks or painted Yogīs. Naked nymphs danced around groups of grizzled war veterans. People waved devotional statutes or carried huge Aquillas, others shouted sermons, others sang songs.
Most carried some form of weapon of sorts.

But standing out amongst them was a tall, bipedal mechanical combat walker, a Penitent Engine. Its two arms had circulating power saws on their ends which were designed for close-quarter combat, but the pilot swung them clumsily as if unused to their mechanisms. It also walked like a crippled drunk, narrowly missing the devotees around it. Unlike dreadnaughts, where the pilot is enclosed within an armoured sarcophagus, the pilot of a Penitent Engine is exposed for all to see. This pilot was a scrawny-looking male who was hard-wired into the machines systems. He was naked and exposed. The pilot was screaming through a mouth that had had its lips and tongue removed.

Bartollt Júter, Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel. How the mighty fall.

He had taken exactly one minute and fifty-three seconds to break under the machinations of the Explicator, Rébecca Rahajason. Less than two minutes to confess his sins and agree to be encased in the mechanical body of the Penitent Machine. It had been pathetically easy.
Now the Penitent non grata would prove his worth to the Emperor and cleanse his soul of his heretical past.

Two kilometres from the Vermis Crassus Comedenti compound in the Zoo, Martinez’s vanguard halted and went silent.

A single, black bird fluttered above them and squawked in defiance towards the distant walls of the Space Port.
The stocky figure of Ruben Lawry pushed through the front rank of Battle Sisters and positioned himself some distance before the serried ranks behind him. In his golden armour and with his red cloak bellowing like fire behind him, he looked like a hero from ancient Roma.
His cyber-crow floated down to land gently on his left shoulder. The Cardinal held up his silver staff and began to shout out a Litany of destruction.

The Macro cannon fired and it was if the plain had been hit by atomics. First came the flash of an exploding star, then the thunderclap of the gun which punctured eardrums and burst capillaries, and then a split second later, the wave of concussion which levelled Martinez’s religious zealots.
The massive shell struck one of the apron walls of the Star Port and reduced it to a cloud of atoms.
A distinctive red cloud formed after it hit which was somewhat an enigma, until you realised that there were a lot of mutants standing behind that section of wall. Thousands had been reduced to their component parts in an instant.

Then the Imperial forces struck in earnest.

Several kilometres behind Martinez were rank upon rank of artillery pieces of every mark and every calibre, covering the grassy plain like frozen insects, their barrels pointing to the sky like marker poles on graves. When they fired, they fired as one, and every round struck the port, ignoring the force shields that were there to protect it. For every explosion that flared harmlessly against this invisible defence, five rounds bored through, pummelling the buildings and structures with impunity.

Some of the Basilisk’s were from the 33rd Trilia “Contemptables” who had fought the Orks at the Usmade Depression. During that six months siege, they had perfected their art, and pummelled the Orks to destruction. Now they unleased their modified version of napalm rounds onto the heads of the Army of the Claw reducing them to burning mulch. The sheer terror of the screaming ordnance was enough to turn a man insane… accept that most of the mutants were all beyond psychotic.

Now Sentinel walkers began to cautiously enter the Pressison Row District, expecting to be opposed but finding nothing but corpses.

It was a depressing sight.

The great and the good would not be enjoying the rich and luxurious sights today, or for some time into the future. Where the beautiful trees had once stood, there were now ragged stumps and toppled mazes of branches and leaves. The mutants had destroyed every living thing that had stood in their way.
The ponds were filled in and the winding pathways had been dug up. Any statutes were toppled unless they were too big, and then they were defaced or melted. Dead bodies were draped from them as grisly totems.

Nearby, In the Vesalius De Animalibus, the animals and reptiles that had lived a docile and passive existence, were now dead, their bodies piled up and burnt on a grisly pyre. The trenches and bunkers around the compounds were now filled with the rotting and defiled corpses of those loyal and untainted troops who had tried to make a stand. A line of heads led the way to a row of knocked out Leman Russ battle tanks that were still burning hours after the initial betrayal.

Even ‘Andrea’ was alight and reduced to a blackened mess of twisted metal and burning promethium.
Corporal Sánchez, hung half in and half out of his turret, a twisted, black mummy with his face pulled back into a wide grin. He stared out towards the Hive through empty eye sockets and pointed accusingly with shrunken claws that had melted into a waxy mess of muscle and bone.

THE LEVIATHAN VINDICTA, ground forward like a prehistoric giant, its massive tracks churning up the lush plain and reducing it to a lunar landscape. A phalanx of Leman Russ’s fanned out in front of the beast with Baneblade super-heavy tanks on their flanks. Behind them were ranks of Rhino’s, Hellhounds, Chimera’s, Salamanda’s and assorted wheeled vehicles, painted either white for the Sisters of battle or the various camouflage schemes of the Newmore warzone.

Rank upon ranks of Guardsmen marched in the Lethiathan’s wake, with their colours flying proudly in the light breeze. Here were the Othea Janissaries with bright red feathers on their helmets, a battle honour bestowed on them at Grimm’s Pass; the Gromia ‘Desperado’s” with their unique halberd close-quarter weapons, marching alongside the veteran, grim-faced Stormtroopers from the Deathworld Tuskonia and the Roughriders from the plains of Esperon.

In front of them and bereft of any fanfare or gilt-lined flags, was a ragged mass of pale-faced wretches in plain field-grey uniforms. Each of them wore a red bandana around his head and carried a large pack on their backs. They carried no visible weapons. Why would they? There would be weapons enough on the field.
These were the dregs of the Guard, those who committed capital crimes and were now being given the chance to redeem themselves. Yes, Lord Inquisitor Ferrand de san Martinez would use every weapon at his disposal to destroy the mutant scourge and a Penal Legion was just such a weapon. He cared not whether they lived or died, just so long as they took the mutant with them.

To the rear of them were black-coated Commissars and behind them a line of weaponised servitors brandishing flamers. A lone officer, encased in custom-built artificer armour, sat on an anti-grav chair surrounded by lobotomised Ogryns with monstrous clubs. He was the Custodian of the Legion who held the power of life and death over all his charges. With a thought, he could detonate the rigged collars around a miscreant’s neck and assign him to oblivion. Today the Custodian would probably lose ninety per cent of his Legion, but it mattered not, the ranks would be refilled within a week.

The Baneblades opened fire on the towers on the curtain wall. Without their protective shields they were destroyed with impunity, toppling into the masses below and killing hundreds. The Space Ports walls were not meant to hold back such an attack, they were designed to stop minor incursions, not full planetary assault. Its defences were not a hindrance to an armoured fist regiment and its support elements.
The penal battalions were released.
They got to within a hundred metres of the wall before they were reduced to a red mud by the defenders on the wall.
The second wave fared better, with a few hardy souls actually reaching the wall and detonating in the breach. But it was folly. The mutants were barely trained, but even a child can pull a trigger on a Lasgun.

Martinez rolled his eyes when the first reports came in. He turned his head to the right slowly and a Guard officer appeared.
“Full assault, I think. Liquidate this abscess, and bring me the head of its leader.”

The Vindicta fired again, but because of its state-of-the-art stabilising systems and buffers, the Inquisitor and his entourage barely noticed it going off. The force shield that protected the command platform also spared them the ear-popping crack of its main gun.

Martinez allowed himself a smile, which looked like a hideous leer to those who did not know him.

I love the Imperium, I thank thee my beloved Emperor for allowing me to use the tools of your wrath

He watched another massive breach appear in the spaceports curtain wall and the involuntarily clapped his hands when a volley of shells rippled across its front, opening up smaller breaches and toppling some towers and gun positions.

Under the cover of the heavy bombardment, Rhino troop transports had reached the walls. They were supported by all sorts of gun platforms that cleared the ruins of troops before hammering anything else that looked like a target. White-helmed battle-sisters formed the vanguard of the infantry attack, sweeping aside anyone, or anything that stood in their way. Inquisitional Stormtroopers took out individual strongpoints while the tanned-skinned desert fighters of the Gromia ‘Desperado’s, raced to be the first of their kind through the breaches to bring back a head for a trophy.
Their halberds were deadly. It was said that the metre-long blades could cut through the hardest metal, and that seemed to be true at first. Hundreds of mutants were eviscerated or hacked into pieces within the first few minutes of the assault, and many more crawled or limped to the rear with missing limbs or flesh hanging off.

But the mutants held.

‘Desperado’s’ began to fall back, their faces and armour turned to liquid mush. Heads fell, halberd blades were shattered and men cried out pitifully as weapons had no effect and they were smashed down or trampled.
The desert fighters were bar-room brawlers compared to the Adeptus Soriatus.

The Sisters of Battle were the pinnacle of fighting perfection. No match for a Space Marine, they were nevertheless, masters in the art of war and scourging the Emperors enemies. They were far too good against this type of enemy.
Their sections and platoons, cut through the mutant throngs as if it was a well-rehearsed ballet. None could match their elegance or dexterity. When they reached the main control tower, their armour was streaked with brown, black and red blood and their red cloaks were riven and torn. The block of Beastmen who guarded the main entrance were pushed to one side as if they were small children. The rest of the building was cleared within minutes.

The Inquisitional Stormtroopers cleared the walls of any mutant that would face them, they then split up and took out individual strongpoints. It was if they were on a training exercise and they whooped and laughed as they finally raised their standard on the highest flag pole.

It was, Martinez thought, a model of perfection.

But the success of the Battle Sisters and the Stormtroopers proved to be a curse. The Army of the Claw, too numerous to comprehend, flowed around them and into the breaches, pushing back the Deperado’s and regaining ground in several places. Captured armoured vehicles appeared via hidden sally-ports and a regular close-range duel broke out between them and the supporting armour.
The Othea Janissaries were surrounded when mutants came out of the ground in their rear. They were now fighting a desperate battle with blind mutants with razor-sharp claws and massive teeth. They could not get near the breach due to the sheer numbers of brawling troops, mutants and burning vehicles. A phalanx of human fire-breathers had also come to the fore, incinerating all, and everyone in their path.

Martinez rose slowly to his feet.

“When you need a job done properly, you have to do it yourself.” He took the offered Warhammer and swung it in a wide arc in front of him.
“Squadron-leader Bouchard.”
+ Yes, My Lord +
“I want your Lightnings to get down there and clear a path through that rabble…”
+ My… Lord? +
“I want you to turn that heaving mess into a causeway so that I can walk down there with my troops, and I want us to march down that causeway, twenty men wide. Do you understand?”
There was a long pause from the air force commander.
+ I believe so, My Lord +
“By my authority.”
He rose to his full height and shuffled his shoulders beneath the armour and cloak, as if they weighed nothing at all.
“Palatine Stepanovna,” he nodded towards her companion. “Nunciate Advance Balakhnova. I would like you to join me. We are going hunting.”

* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


Check out my 40K 'Epic' about the Hunted verses the Inquisition: https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...98#post2184698

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