I’m going for something slightly more surreal and perverse (in both senses of the latter, I guess) with this that what I’ve done before - showing a stranger, grimdarker side of the 40k universe. Still, I hope that you all enjoy!
As ever, critique is enjoyed/appreciated/preferred. The harsher the better, so long as it remains constructive.
By Mossy Toes
Table of Contents:
Chapter I: The Commissar and His Pet
Chapter II: Blood, Fire, and Darkness
Chapter III: A Known Unknown
Chapter IV: Tides of War
Chapter V: Infirmarium Besieged
Chapter VI: A Whole New World
Chapter VII: Designs of the Herald
Chapter VIII: Hunt of the Queen
Chapter IX: The Herald’s Favor
Chapter X: Storm Front Looming
Chapter XI: Battle for the Font
Chapter XII: Dissolution
) (Part III
the voices had gone away, and she was alone.
she preferred it when it was that way. when all the voices were quieted down to a dull mosquito buzz. when all the light of the world that shone in through her third sight—not the eyes of course, the other sight—was dimmed to a nothingness.
it let her be alone.
but when she was out, let out to be free, though, she could see Him. He never spoke to her softly because of what she was but she remembered—
it was only when she was hidden away from the light and the voices that He spoke softly to her. even then, enough of the voices crept through the suppressant collar that told her it was just out pity that He did this. she didn’t care, and she couldn’t respond when He did do this, but it made her so happy. she wanted to cry out, to laugh and jump whenever His hand briefly brushed her—but she could not.
the only way she could please Him was to hurt the others, the dim-souls and dirty-change-fleshed that tried to harm Him and His fellow clean-flesh whenever He let her out. even then it wasn’t Him she was pleasing but His sense of duty, but it made Him more content and so it was reason enough.
she hurt Him, she knew. she made Him cry at night when she was kenneled and He was in bed, alone. It hurt her so badly to hurt Him—it cut her so deep—but she couldn’t stop. she couldn’t stop without going away, and she couldn’t have gone away if she had wanted, because of the Bright chains that bound her up. however, she knew that she would never want to leave Him. never ever ever, because she loved him, and He loved—
and He loved
but He never even liked her when the collar and blindfold were off. so she was happy that the voices had gone away, and besides, the voices always hurt her. however, the only time she had control of her body was when the voices were there with her.
but she could never tell Him that she she loved Him, not even when the voices were there and the collar was off. so it was better when she was alone. she liked being alone.
but she knew that it was a lie, that she lied to herself, that the voices lied to her, and that He lied to her and to Himself.
because she remembered
when He spoke softly to her and she laughed, and she spoke softly back. because she loved Him, and she knew in her heart and mind and anima and soul and spirit and body, she Knew that He loved
and she was so tired of being alone.
Chapter I: The Commissar and His Pet
Another Lightning atmospheric fighter split the sky in a supersonic roar, weeping bombs, and was going—going—gone, almost as soon as Commissar Alexos first heard it. The shuddering sound of its passage was lost amidst the explosions of artillery shells and grenades, the rattle of gunfire and crack of lasbeams.
Until the falling bombs kissed the enemy emplacements across the broad causeway. Orange blossoms of flame blasted outward, devouring the air and corrupted flesh. The gutted wreck of a Manufactorium on the enemies’ side of the boulevard groaned, twisted and collapsed. A dark cloud of dust and soot coughed outward. Rebel soldiers shrieked as they were crushed beneath the collapsing ruin—now nothing more than a snarl of stone, plascrete, and rebar.
A cheer broke from the Dunmirra 341st, and the enemy fire faltered momentarily. Solid crumps echoed from other sections of the city, but here was a brief pause and another minor victory for the Imperium. Alexos bared his white teeth in a feral smile.
Those of the squad to which he was attached that saw his expression turned away, suppressing shudders and focusing back on the enemy. They would not like to attract the attention of the dark-skinned Commissar, Throne no. Neither his nor his unnatural pet’s.
Alexos yanked on Sheka’s chain. The woman, though she hardly deserved the term, moaned and staggered forward. The silver chains linking her psi-suppressant collar and blindfold jingled softly.
“It’s almost time, dearest,” Alexos murmured. “Now we’re just waiting for the order.”
Sheka, the broken thing that once would have been Alexos’ wife, whimpered nonsense words of terror. Alexos’ attention was drawn away by Colonel Enskor’s voice, which crackled into his voxbead:
++Third Platoon, advance++
Most of these men were new - fresh recruits, barely expected to live past their first fifteen hours. They had now been planetside twice that long, but they hesitated. Alexos’ smile grew wider.
“Up, my boys!” he roared, almost joyously. The men in the building lurched into motion at his whip-crack voice. “Up, in the Emperor’s name, and at the scum! Run, shoot, scream praises to the Holy Throne—but don’t you dare hold back, or you’ll feel my pistol’s bite!”
They spilled from the relative safety of the building, out into the street clogged with hastily deployed razor wire and covered by overlapping fields of fire. They had hesitated. Pathetic, Alexos thought, even for fresh meat. In truth, the men of this platoon had been through several such desperate charges as these; enough to fear them, but not enough to get used to them. Now was where the cowards would show themselves—now or soon.
The soldiers from the second storey poured past as well, following the first wave over the sandbags. The enemy’s return fire began.
“Dearest,” said Alexos, unclipping Sheka’s collar, “you shall no longer need this.” He suppressed a wave of nausea, as ever, at the static electricity that washed off her and filled the room. He paused momentarily then slid off her blindfold.
A sussurus of gentle, buffeting voices spun around the room, surrounding Skeda. Static snapped and crackled across their clothing as the growing breeze washed over them.
“Silence!” snapped Alexos, fear and revulsion boiling over. Between unveilings, he always forgot this abomination’s one purpose: using its gifts to destroy its fellow tainted. Whenever she was chained, this knowledge receded into the back of his mind and he coddled the thing, giving in to his past emotions. It was an exercise in futility. He would never have back the woman to whom he had proposed.
The voices, and the wind upon which they were carried, died. Alexos nodded in approval.
Sheka rose into the air, violet light building around her. The wall rippled and shed away, bending from her will. She drifted slowly through the hole. Alexos followed closely, revolted by the witch-taint. The wall warped smoothly back into place behind them, no longer scarred by bullets and burns.
“Kill the enemy, witch,” said Alexos coldly. “Give them the fate you long for, but know that they have discarded any chance to bow before Him. Kill them swiftly.”
He was not smiling any longer.
Alexos leaned slowly back against the wall, ignoring the distasteful fact that his cushion was a corpse. Sheka was once more bound and chained to his side. His bolt pistol, and the special magazine with shells of blessed silver, were safely put away.
The enemy had been cleared from these city blocks. Once they had realized that they were under attack by a fellow witch, they had been all too eager to pull back. However, the chained witches of the Imperium were unlike the enemy in one way—all Sanctioned Psykers served the light of the Emperor, and Sheka was no exception. Her touch was anathema to the heretic.
Little had been gained, in truth. Just several more rows of useless, shattered buildings—and they were now separated from the enemy by a twenty lane transit route. Soon, Alexos knew, they would have to cross that too, fording a swamp of bullets and mines in the process. He did not look forward to it.
He was tired. These pushes deeper into the city ever since they had landed were wearing both him and Sheka out. Her performance today had been almost...lackluster. Thin. Despite the indifference of the Imperial war machine for the individual, they both needed rest. Pushing Sheka would only increase the chance that some warp-beast would tear its way into her mind, and he did not mean to lose her again.
Guardsmen, both Dunmirra and others, bustled about. The Salthovar 21st uncoiled spools of razor wire and wheeled barrows or rubble into place between buildings. Burly, dun-fatigued members of the Gundread 58th carried sandbags and spades and other implements with which they could shore up the defenses being constructed. In case of an enemy retaliation, the Colonel said, though none seemed likely. The enemy’s back had been broken in this hive when the Dunmirra 341st and other reinforcements had landed, yesterday, and supplemented the Imperial fighters already on the surface.
Hive Janendor was as good as reclaimed. Several thousand Imperial lives and a week or two might be needed to make that a complete reality, but really, it was a foregone conclusion. Crushing defeat and subjugation—that was ever the fate of those who rose up against the Imperium.
These thoughts filtered through his head, along with a vague desire for a lho stick, until Sheka began thrashing against her bindings.
Sheka’s violent flailing was a split-second warning, and then all hell exploded.
A trio of rockets spat from a block of buildings behind the new Imperial line. One crashed into a wall with a spray of masonry. Another corkscrewed into a packaged spool of razorwire, sending jagged stretches of it scything through the knot of Salthovarians clustered around it. The third exploded against the treads of a half-track that carried pallets of stacked sand bags. The vehicle slewed to a jerking halt, coughing out its broken treads into a heap and spilling several plastek-wrapped pallets to the ground.
Shouts and warcries burst from several buildings, and heretical soldiers leaped up from hidden grates and sewer panels. Autoguns chattered and lasguns cracked. The Dunmirrans, fresh to combat and unsure of which way to turn, were being scythed down. The more veteran Salthovarians and Gundread responded with some semblance of order and discipline, but were still caught in the open.
Alexos sprung to his feet, cursing, and dragged Sheka behind the corner of the building against which he had been sitting. He fumbled with her bindings, loosing them with impatient fingers. Once she was freed, she rose into the air again.
“Stay close to me and kill the enemy, witch,” Alexos spat. Sheka only nodded, her head lolling loosely as warp-winds fluttered across her clothing. He led the way around the corner and she drifted after him.
A squad of Gundread guardsmen had managed to move to the shelter of the half-constructed earthworks. However, as the enemy were in the buildings to their side as well as at their front, the protection offered by the cover was merely nominal.
The Dunmirra discipline in the area, however, had broken down in the face of the ambush. Injured were scattered across the ferrocrete road, and small groups of soldiers returned fire from behind garbage receptacles, abandoned vehicles, and stray rubble. Alexos intended to change that.
The stricken soldiers needed to be focused, to be given directions and snapped out of the animalistic paralysis into which they had slipped. If they charged and took one of the enemy’s positions, they would not only have cover, but they would have regained the initiative.
Alexos unclipped and raised his bolt pistol. The heretic forces were fewer than the disorienting first moments had made them seem, but the guardsmen were still pinned down or exposed.
“At them!” he cried, loping with long strides across the open ground. “At them in the Emperor’s name, or by Thor I’ll send you to Him early!”
Alexos sprinted forward, waving his pistol to gather the fragmented groups of soldiers to himself. They rose as he passed, joining his bellowed curses with inarticulate cries of their own. Soldiers of Dunmirra, Gundread, and Salthovaria formed to him and crested in a wave that swelled toward the nearest enemy spire block.
Heretical counter-fire swelled as the enemy saw their danger, and would have claimed a dozen lives before Alexos’ charge hit the building, but their bullets and lasbeams hit and invisible wall several feet before the Imperial troops. Bullets splashed across the obstacle like water and dribbled to the ground. Lasbeams twisted,
sputtered, and faded, leaving only the after-burned image of their passing across the retinas of those watching.
Sheka was at work.
She rotated in the air, still near and following Alexos, but now watching the backs of the charging guardsmen as well. She swept out her arm lazily, and crackling bolts of what the observers saw, for their own sanity’s sake, as lightning corkscrewed into the front of another of the enemy-held spire blocks. The spare charges from one of the rocket launchers that had fired earlier cooked off, and the large explosion tore outward, blackening and chipping stonework. Heretics screamed.
The squad at the barricade were grappling with enemy fighters in hand to hand, but the impetus of Alexos’ charge galvanized guardsmen to come to their aid.
Alexos fired a bolt from his pistol through an large, open window as he arrived at it. A shape behind it lurched backwards. He followed his bolt through the window, crashing through the flimsy shutters and freeing his saber from its scabbard. More guardsmen spilled into the building through the door or other windows. In the gloom beyond, the enemy waited.
Several shapes spun around Alexos as he lunged through the window. His saber darted out and caught one across the throat, and his barking pistol claimed another, whose face was pulverized by the bolt. The final enemy, a woman with feathers tattooed across her face and broken teeth, discarded her autogun and lunged forward with a knife. Alexos swept his sword across his front and deflected her blow, but she continued her forward rush and crashed into him as he recovered.
He twisted as they both were knocked off their feet and landed lightly on all fours. In an instant, he was straightening and whipping upward with his pistol’s butt. The woman blocked his swing with her arm, but fell backwards. She writhed and kicked, but she was not fast enough to prevent his bringing the pistol to bear. The impact of his bolt severed her spine.
He picked up his saber, which had been knocked from his grasp by her lunge, and stood. Shouts spilled through a doorway adjacent to the street, and Alexos moved toward them. There was work to do.
Captain Miaro was strip-searching civilians when the ambush occurred. Several hundred captured inhabitants of the fallen city had been rounded up from the latest push—those who hadn’t fled their habs and spires at the approach of the fighting or been killed by the indiscriminate artillery shelling. Now, precautions had to be taken to ensure that they didn’t stick like a nail through the sole of the advancing Imperial boot.
In groups of twenty, the citizens stripped down. Once their lack of weapons, cult markings, and mutations was affirmed, they were given new clothes—baggy, two-piece jumpsuits of a one-size-fits-nobody make. They were made to affirm their loyalty to the God-Emperor and Saint Thor. Finally, all twenty, or less if any had failed to impress their purity and loyalty upon the Imperials, were packaged into a single cargo truck and sent off to one of the reeducation centers that had been erected since Imperial planetfall.
The abandoned sets of clothes and the bodies of those who failed any one of the these examinations were slung carelessly into piles. After the vetting was finished, the heaps would be carted away to a bonfire. The most common cause of failure was lack of piety, though quite a few ‘applicants for Imperial citizenship’ had gang tattoos. Both of these were enough to warrant a lasbeam to the head.
This group was particularly restive. Most were usual docile type—weeping into their hands or shuffling along with bent heads. However, there was a higher than usual number of laborers and burly workers. These glowered and resisted the prods of their liberators. Such insolence was only tolerated because they would be the men most needed in the reconstruction of this world.
Therefore, Captain Miaro’s attention ought to have been on the captives when the attackers struck. This was not the case, thanks to a warning from his unique sixth sense. His sixth sense was odd; something that came and went uncontrollably, but, when it actually did stir, useful to the extremes.
His head snapped to the side. He saw several figures in civilian clothing clambering into position atop a rooftop, carrying a portable krak missile launcher.
He began bellowing orders to his soldiers, directing them to the enemy-occupied rooftop. The Gundread guardsmen sent sprays of lasfire toward the heretic positions, and the enemy scattered.
More attackers appeared, but in scattered groups as it became clear that their cover had been blown early. The guardsmen were able to occupy defensive positions and smash each piecemeal enemy strike. Miaro was in his element, roaring orders to Glaen, his vox officer, and countering the gradually more cohesive enemy assaults.
Until his sixth sense returned, and with a vengeance. Something was wrong with it; it possessed a sour, sickening taint that he had never before felt. His head spun and his stomach kicked, and a lasbolt took off half his face.
It came from an entirely unexpected quarter—the civilians yet to be examined by his men. It entered beside his nose, passed through his right cheekbone, vaporized bone, and exited, weakened, through his right ear. The merest fraction of a second later, the superheated air expanding in its wake blasted open the right side of his face. Eight soldiers later swore that they saw the shot hit Miaro, and saw him fall.
First Lieutenant Crestholm was invaluable in coordinating a defense after the loss of Miaro. With his leadership, the Gundread fought off their attackers with only eleven fatalities. They killed, or incapacitated and soon thereafter finished off, sixty-eight of the ambushers. Twenty-eight civilians died, fourteen more were badly injured, and twenty-seven suffered superficial burns, shrapnel injuries, or cuts. Eleven vanished.
Captain Miaro’s body was not found, but he was declared K.I.A. due to the testimony of his subordinates. Commissar Beinthop of the Gundread 58th signed his certificate of death that night, and tore it up a week later in a fit of anger.
“How,” queried Colonel Enskor, quivering angrily, “did this happen? I lost more than five platoons worth of men along the line from those blasted attacks. Tell me, Commissar, what mistakes did our soldiers make?”
Alexos was by no means a tall man, but found himself looking down merely to meet the Colonel’s fiery glare. Major Vutch shifted awkwardly beside Alexos, glancing down at her feet for a moment before speaking.
“We were careless, sir,” she replied, “and we underestimated the suicidal drive of our enemies. The Dunmirra were inexperienced, and didn’t know how to respond to the ambush. The Gundread and Salthovarian forces, across the line, lost far fewer than our own soldiers.”
Though, continued Alexos in his own mind, Miaro’s loss would be felt harder than all of the day's other casualties combined. Alexos had been impressed by the command that the captain had so effortlessly exhibited over his men during the transit they had spent together. It was a bitter pill to swallow to lose the Gundread captain so soon.
“They hid inside the buildings that we took,” continued Vutch. “Buildings we took too easily, sir, in hindsight. Inside the air ducts, amongst the civilians, and, mostly, in concealed sub-basement compartments. Obviously, this is a method of striking at us that has a very low survival rate amongst their men. From the numbers that came from underground, I had originally thought that more heretics had hidden in the sewer system, but hivequakes have rendered those nearly inoperable for years. Look, sir. Do you see this transit route?”
Vutch swept her arm out to indicate the twenty-one lane causeway to their left. The lumestrips attached to the plascrete seven-lane dividers had powered up and were visible in the dimness of the dusk.
“Do I see it? Of course I do, you bitch! We’re practically standing on it!”
There was a moment of silence in which both Vutch and Alexos stared icily at the inexperienced commander, who bristled petulantly.
“Sir,” said Alexos eventually, stepping forward with slow menace. He now loomed even further over the diminutive colonel. “I possess the power to remove you from your office, and will not have you address your soldiers so. Should your manner continue to be so crass before your soldiers, I may have to take steps that you would not like me to take.”
Enskor spluttered momentarily and took a step backward, drawing himself up a few ineffective centimeters. Alexos’s hand drifted casually under his greatcoat to where his bolt pistol slept, holstered. The colonel marked the movement and, wisely, snapped his mouth shut.
“Major,” said Alexos calmly, turning away, “please continue.”
“Ah, right, the…transit route,” said Major Vutch, blinking. “It was used by vehicles ferrying themselves away from the industrial sector here in the outskirts and returning to the hive proper, up there. But how did they get to the manufactoria in the first place, sir? Maps mark this as one of the main arteries for the transport of raw materials, and it only leads away from the industrial sector. Or does it?”
Alexos smiled grimly, knowing what came next. The Colonel stared silently at his subordinates, still bristling.
“Beneath us is another transit route,” said Vutch, “built directly underneath this upper one. Twenty-one lanes, too, and perfectly unseen by us. This is how they attacked us—using the maintenance shafts and manholes from below. When we tried to follow, they detonated charges and collapsed those tunnels. We’ve been blocking off all the other rat holes that we find.”
Enskor snorted derisively as Vutch paused again.
“And how does this affect us? Apart from stoppering a nuisance?”
Vutch pursed her lips and stiffened again. Alexos could sympathize—not only was the colonel dismissing a crucial link in the enemy battle line, but he was also, by dismissing the tactical importance of the tunnels, very nearly dismissing the lives of the men that had been lost to the element of surprise. Did Enskor’s fury about the destroyed platoons stem solely from the fact that his regiment had lost the most in these ambushes, and that that was a black eye on his record?
“Sir,” cut in Alexos before Vutch launched whatever vitriolic comment had sprung to her lips. He continued slowly and diplomatically. “The implications here are…massive. This could be why the Chardonii 112th and the PDF are having so much trouble capturing the industrial district. For all we know, the vile heretics could be moving whole battalions of armor and infantry down there without us getting so much as a whiff. And, if we capture this under-route, we’d be cutting off a line of their retreat. The problem is that until then, they can vomit out as many more soldiers as they want on the other side of over-route, and we have no easy entry point down there.”
The Colonel’s face had slowly puckered into a deeper and deeper scowl as Alexos spoke. Alexos was contemptuous—by capturing this, the blasted fool would have an opportunity to prove the newly-founded Dunmirra 341st’s fighting prowess like no other that might spring up in the rest of the time they spent on this world.
“This would be risky, yes?” hazarded the Colonel.
“Undoubtedly, sir, but—”
“And since the string of abushes, these under-tunnels are by no means a secret anymore?”
“Quite possibly, sir, though—”
“Then what’s to stop us from blasting through and sweeping in with several companies? We don’t care if we collapse their transit route on their heads!”
Alexos blinked. That had been several hoops of logic fewer than he had expected to have to lead the colonel. Perhaps Enskor, despite his flab, height, and crude inexperience, might eventually prove to be a capable officer.
The colonel waddled swiftly off, calling for a map and a vox-officer. Alexos and Vutch looked at each other, and Alexos was slightly surprised to see hostility in her eyes.
“What prompted that protective outburst of yours, commissar?” she asked, her voice soft but dangerous. As he opened his mouth to reply, she spoke again, over-riding him. “Sympathy? Not exactly a large part of your job, is it? Or would you plead compassion? With your wife chained behind you, mewling and drooling?”
“Sheka is not my—” began Alexos, his voice brittle, but the major cut him off again.
“I’ve been dealing with sexist grox-scat my entire life,” she spat. “It’s the condescension I get that I hate, the assumption that I need to be protected. Keep your bloody help to yourself.”
She stalked away as well, leaving Alexos alone with Sheka.
Their echoes reverberated across the walls, mingling with the echoing plips and plops of dribbling water. The far-away sounds of dueling artillery and explosions were all but silenced by the meters of ferrocrete and stone separating the tunnels from the surface.
Thick growths of soft, fronded muscosus graced the dampest corners, uncurling and furling itself again, undulating and quivering. Dim or broken lumebulbs hung from exposed wires along the hallway’s arch. There were no vermin, though—the rats that didn’t have the sense to stay away from the powers unleashed in this place were hunted down by the apprentices of the Order.
The man whose feet echoed down the dark pathways had many names. He was born as Maelro Cantis, but very few indeed knew that name anymore. In the Mentian sub-sector, he was known as Cadoaze and the Warpwender. By the hounds of the Inquisition, he was called Chargotte. He held the titles ‘The Paradoxical’ and ‘The Keeper of the Citadel Unformed’. He was the Bodythief and the Herald of Nightmare. He was worshiped and feared as Thrall the Whisperer by the feral tribes of Salcias. However, he held one of his accolades held far higher than any other. That was the title of Mask Bearer, and he wore a golden mask.
His paces were firm and measured, but his mind was—literally—elsewhere. It washed across the battlefield, avoiding Imperial psykers and calculating the losses and deaths that drained down this miserable hive’s gutters. Several objects or situations across the kilometers of battlefield caught whorls of psychic energy or violent emotion that attracted his attention.
A guardsman cradled his dying twin in his arms. A flock of toxic vultures scattered before a flight of Hell Blade fighters. An Earthshaker shell split a command bunker in half but miraculously harmed only a single servitor inside with minor concussive shock. A Leman Russ Demolisher was overrun by heretical soldiers, but a valiant sponson gunner threw a krak grenade into the ammunition magazine. A leaf blown from another continent span in an eddy of wind atop one of the hive’s spires.
The man arrived at his destination. He swept the door open with a tendril of power and stepped inside. An acolyte within bowed away from the captive over which he had been bent and retreated. The masked psyker stepped up to the injured Imperial and probed his mind.
Good. There was potential here that, although deadened by drugs and pain, could be put to use. The sutures stretched across the horrific injury on the man’s face held the facial structure together enough that a mask would not sit unsteadily, either. This man would make a decent convert—if not a willing one…
Another rumbling explosion rocked the transit route, sending coughing tongues of flame out of the hole and a light mist of gravel across the Imperials that were stationed to guard the demolition digging. Every several hours, a servitor was lowered down with a load of det-block to place in the cavity that had thus far been scored in the ferrocrete ground.
Every several years, a hivequake shook the massive, looming, conical edifice above. When it did so, loose siding and infrastructure was shaken down, landing in these outskirts with enough force to flatten vast swathes of them. The industrial sector was far enough away from the hive’s looming sides to avoid much of the damage, but only the poor, the foolhardy, and the workers lived this close to the hive proper. When the debris fell, it was smoothed by work teams, and new hab blocks were constructed atop the ruins of it and the habs below.
Over the hundreds of years since the hive had been constructed, more than a hundred feet of this ‘hive-shale’ had built up. Foothills of the shale built up on the erg of the hive’s sloped sides, where the difference between the wall and the detritus became steadily more unclear.
Ten minutes passed. A few last crashes occurred in the twenty-foot deep hole, slide-ins of loose rubble and similar, but the pit remained structurally sound. Workers were lowered to clear out the piles of shattered debris at the bottom.
The workers—’liberated’ civilians who had been given their first task—filled baskets with the shards and chunks of ferrocrete that were able to be lifted. Others took pickaxes and chain-drills to the larger, more tangled heaps of slag to break them up.
This time, one of the workers noticed something different. Tangled rebar and damaged plascrete were visible to one side of the wall—a sign that they could be punching through to another layer of the strata surrounding the hive. When the man reported this to the soldiers in charge of demolition, they smiled, nodded, and ordered the vox man to call the regiments to readiness, as this next detonation could very well break through. This was the second such call, but they needed to be prepared, in case the next was the true call to arms. After all, they were deep enough—the seismic scans from the battleships above, despite some interference, projected the depth of the underground tunnels to be approximately twenty-five feet beneath the one on the surface, of which they had dug more than three-quarters.
Colonel Enskor of the Dunmirrans and Colonel Rastheim of the Gundread were awakened and told to put their soldiers on high alert. As the men assembled, Commissars Alexos and Beinthop briefed them on the situation.