Heresy Fiction Competition 2010: Infection
My competition entry. One of my first real ventures into "bolter porn," I suppose, and I can see why the prospect is so appealing. I'm quite happy with how this turned out, even if the word limit pinched and constrained my boundless muse a bit. I didn't quite work in a theme or two I wanted, and ended up with...well, you'll get to see it all for yourself soon enough.
I am posting this at 10:46 PM local time; well before the cut-off of midnight (for a given value of "well").
Enjoy, and please share your thoughts--pleasant or not--on it with me!
The Arch-Iconoclast's charred corpse, silhouetted by the morning light, jerked as the cargo servitor hoisted it onto public display. Jagged, multi-colored shards of glass—the shattered remnants of the Palacio Verdance's largest stained glass window—framed the Iconoclast's body.
The fighting had crushed and blasted to fragments the entrance hall's priceless sculptures and trappings; fouled them with soot and ash; splattered them with blood, vomit, and other human effluents. The sweet smell of roasted meat still lingered in the air, mingling with that of burnt hair.
It was quiet. The storm that had descended upon this place had petered out. The winds of wrath and retribution had been spent, and the taint of the Arch-Iconoclast's debased heresies had been washed away.
It was quiet, and that was good.
Sister Elenia's form lay half-buried in a heap of corpses, jet black power armor broken and scarred, her twin hand flamers still clutched tightly in her hands. Her helmet had been shattered, her joints hacked at, her jetpack holed, her breastplate cracked by autocannon rounds, but her porcelain features—where visible beneath the remnants of her helm—showed only serenity.
Elenia had died well, smashing into the palace in the first wave among the Seraphim. She had held the attention of the enemy, attracting the brunt of their ire, buying the Sisters on foot time to approach unmolested. As the fighting had swept onward, though, deeper into the Palacio's tainted heart, her body had been left behind.
Palatine Selisar d'Raia of the Order of the Valorous Heart knelt and carefully pulled her fallen Sister from the heap of roasted filth. She gathered Elenia into her arms and stood. The servos of her armor whined under the weight, but she paid them no heed.
Selisar turned to the Seraphim behind her and deposited Elenia gently onto the litter that they bore. They laid her limbs out straight, putting the hand flamers by her side and clasping her hands across her chest.
“She will be missed and remembered,” murmured Sister Superior Cyra.
“We shall cherish our memories of her,” said Selisar, “but she is at the Emperor's side now, with all the other martyrs and heroines of our order. There are yet pockets of this uprising to quash, and we cannot devote ourselves to mourning just yet.”
“Yes, Palatine,” replied Cyra, nodding her understanding. Elenia had been under Cyra's command, and Selisar was telling her not to permit herself the weakness of self-recrimination or doubt—yet.
They followed the receding litter, stepping out to what remained of the Palacio's sculpted gardens and plaza. Here had fared little better during the battle: blast marks and craters scarred the corpse-decorated white marble. The walling hedges had been torn asunder in the crossfire, and large chunks of masonry from the Palacio's walls now made impromptu islands in its ponds.
Guardsmen scurried too and fro, clattering along in squads, and Lightning aerial fighters roared through the sky. Lasfire crackled somewhere in the distance. The remaining Sororitas under d'Raia's command kept a watchful gaze.
Her forces were assembled: seven Seraphim, nearly two squads of Battle Sisters, and her own personal Celestian guard. So few, compared to those who had embarked with her on this campaign. Little more than third of her convent's complement remained. The Arch-Idolator and his foul allies had been vanquished, but at too high a price. Far too high a price.
They had been fighting for too long; had no respite for too many years. She had served the Emperor, had her beauty stripped away by the ravages of combat, her flesh patched back together or replaced with poorly pigmented synth-skin, and been wounded and bled, time after time, upon the sacrificial altar of the Imperium's wars. Her Sisters had been stretched to the edges of their endurance. They were exhausted. She was exhausted.
A messenger carrying a data slate waited with her troops. The man swallowed as she approached, and she bit back a humorless smile. She knew how her face looked to those unfamiliar with it; that was precisely why she had long since traded her helmet for a localized force field.
“Palatine d'Raia?” he asked, clamping a quaver from his voice.
“The Lord General extends his congratulations to the Order of the Valorous Heart, and conveys this missive from the Ordo Hereticus. Following your perusal, the Lord General requests that you address the heretic hold-outs located-”
Selisar took the slate, thumbed the ident-chip, and ignored the man as the text unencrypted itself. When the message came through, she read it, and her features stiffened in disbelief. What was this Inquisitor Thresh insinuating?
She wiped the slate clean, handed it back, turned to her Sisters and barked for them to prepare to depart.
“What-” spluttered the messenger. “What are you doing? You're still needed here! The General-”
“We are leaving, effective immediately,” Selisar said fiercely. “The General can and will do nothing.”
“You can't just...ship out! Where are you going?”
“To take up this Inquisitor's insult with him,” she growled, stalking away.
Explicator Taros stole another glance at Palatine d'Raia's face. An enlarged gorget covered her jaw, but the top half was a mass of knotted scars and harsh, broken features. Her scalp had been shaved bald, and it, too, was heavily scarred. She met his eyes, her expression guardedly hostile.
“Just this way,” Taros said, leading d'Raia and her two Sisters through the ship's corridors to the interrogation chambers.
They followed him into the ward were the prisoner was being kept. Interrogator Khalora and a second explicator were already in the observation room.
“The Palatine and the Sisters Superior demand to see the prisoner, with the Inquisitor Thresh's permission,” Taros said.
Khalora nodded. “His Lordship voxed ahead. Everything is ready. Raelo—take them in.”
As the explicator opened the door, Taros made his way to Khalora's side.
“How did it go?” she murmured.
“Well enough,” he replied. “The Palatine's not a fool. She knows that our master wouldn't make such an accusation without proof. And, well-”
“You can't get proof much more solid than this,” said Khalora.
Cries came from the room, a litany familiar to them both.
“The Emperor is the Ravenous!” came their captive's hoarse chant. “His Throne is His Flesh is Humanity! We are his favored brood, and he is our omniscient Father; our all-encompassing Mother! He is the One-Who-Devours!”
One of the Sisters lunged forward, grabbing the naked woman's neck in her armored hands and squeezing.
“Sister Superior Veridae!” snapped d'Raia, “release the blasphemer!”
She spoke too late. As Veridae let go, the prisoner's head lolled loosely, her neck broken. The fleur de lys tattooed onto her cheek twitched as if, at the very end, the captive Sister was trying to smile.
“You wanted proof, Palatine?” asked Khalora, stepping forward. “There is your proof. The convent on Saint Methulan's Reach, two weeks travel from here, has degenerated into heresy. It has been infected by the plague of the genestealer.”
The temperature on Taros's heads-up-display spiked downward as the lander's hatch opened and the Seraphim made their exit. Small ice crystals whirled past him and cracks of cold began to seep, like chilled water, through the joints of his otherwise stifling carapace armor.
The last Seraph dropped out the hatch and out of sight. Taros leaned forward and saw them again, swiftly dwindling black dots framed against an azure sky and a snow-bound plain.
“Coming back around for a landing pass,” voxed the pilot. The view jerked to one side as the craft began a long, shuddering turn. “The hatch stays open until you're all out.”
A last weapons check. His hellgun was loaded, its safety was off, the ammo pack on his back was fully charged, and his power knife was stowed at his waist. The stormtroopers all around were taking similar precautions.
“Thirty seconds to touchdown,” said the pilot. The retro-thrusters began their final deceleration burn, throwing the lander through even more convulsive reverberations. Taros jerked hard against his restraints.
With one final shudder, the ship touched down. Automated harnesses swung back into the walls with a crashing clatter. The assembled stormtroopers poured out the hatch, and Taros followed. He plunged out into knee-deep snow and a world of blinding white.
The snow glare was swiftly modulated by his visor, and he took in the scene. They had set down atop a hill near the convent, which he recognized from the mission briefing. Around it, the plains stretched away into the distance, broken only by low hills and a distant urban smear. The convent itself was divided into various living complexes and chapels, arranged in a rough crescent around a plaza replete with statues.
The lander had set them down near the left tip of the cresent—a square, three-storied infirmarium—and the other landers were visible descending or disgorging their cargoes around the convent. The central chapel, across the plaza from Taros, already had shattered windows; the Seraphim had wasted no time acquainting themselves with the convent's inhabitants. Cries and bolt pistol fire were clearly audible.
Motion and the crackle of las weapons closer to Taros drew his attention. Bald, robed female novitiates had spilled from the infirmarium, firing their hastily gathered arms.
Taros and the stormtroopers returned the welcome in kind. Their hellguns tore through the unorganized novitiates, toppling figures onto the stone pathway and into the snow. Screams of pain rang out, and the stormtroopers, still firing, advanced mercilessly.
The archaic las pistols and carbines held by the enemy posed little threat to the carapace-armored soldiers of the Inquisition. The novitiates were swiftly dispatched, and the stormtroopers moved up onto the walkway.
Across the plaza, this drama was played out several times over. The power-armored Sororitas of Palatine d'Raia reaped a particularly heavy toll while advancing across the plaza toward a scattering of well defended shrines surrounding the main chapel. More of the convent's inhabitants were arming themselves and joining the fray, now, making it imperative that the attackers found cover soon.
Several novitiates and elderly Sisters had taken up defensive positions around the infirmarium's windows and doors. Rather than go through the dangerous, tedious process of dislodging them, Taros had his squad's meltagunner bring his weapon to bear. The superheated blast vaporized the troublesome enemies—and most of the wall behind which they had been hiding, too.
The stormtroopers spilled into the breach. They dispatched the room's few, seared survivors and moved deeper into the building. Under the sergeant's direction, they quickly secured the stairwells and hallways of the first floor. A wizened crone of a Sister bearing a bolt pistol—one of the medical tutors—blew out one of the stormtroopers' faceplate and brains. In return, she was cut down by a hail of hellgun fire.
On reaching the second level with two stormtroopers, Taros came to a halt. Every visible cot was filled with a bloated, grotesquely pregnant woman. Some were novitiates, some clearly full Sisters. Many bore the stigmata of mutation—purplish skin, yellow eyes, a three-fingered hand—and all were bald. They writhed and shrilled with discomfort at his presence.
Taros and the stormtroopers beside him dispatched the women that they came across—both the caretakers and those in the beds—but moving deeper onto the floor revealed only more horrors. Some of the women sheltered infant abominations; needle-fanged, four-limbed xenos brats. One of these unholy spawn, no larger than a toddler, attacked them, scissoring through a stormtrooper's carapace armor with its three-taloned hands, shaving away strips of ceramite with ease and tearing into his guts. Taros executed it and its mother with extreme prejudice.
The roar-crack of a bolter sounded to Taros's right, and the second of the stormtroopers was knocked from his feet. Taros spun to see a half-armored Sister thundering toward him, and dove out of her way. Her charge carried her too far, and he had the drop on her as she turned. A burst from his hellgun stitched its way up the back of her armor and ate into her exposed shoulder.
She cried out in pain, angrily swinging her bolter like a club. He tried to deflect the blow with the stock of his hellgun, but the weight and armor-enhanced power of her strike rendered it much stronger.
He slammed into the wall, cracking his head. A disoriented need to get away, to flee the next blow or shot, came over him—but he couldn't move fast enough to get away. The bolter's muzzle swung to fill his vision, and he could only twitch woozily.
Then another hellgun cracked, and a beam lanced through her skull from behind. She toppled with a crash. The wounded stormtrooper gave a rough approximation of a salute from where he sat, slumped against the wall.
Taros staggered over and treated the man as best he could, then called up another pair of stormtroopers from the mop-up below. One took the injured man down while Taros and the other finished clearing the second floor and above.
His voxbead crackled frequently, relaying external updates. An enemy Immolater tank had cleared its garage but been destroyed by a meltabomb from Sister Superior Veridae; the outer buildings were falling to the stormtroopers and Inquisitorial servants; the Sisters were finishing off their fallen counterparts and moving into the catacombs; the Inquisitor had broken a strong push to retake his building. Things seemed well in hand, but the core of the matter had yet to be resolved: would the genestealer Patriarch, the heart of the infection escape or be eliminated? The answer would have to be found quickly, too: there were reports of large numbers of vehicles converging on the convent from the nearby city.
These offspring were juvenile fourth generation hybrids, purestrain genestealers. The cycle of infection had drawn to completion—but how many genestealers had been born already? How many had fully matured? And was this the fourth generation now, or, say, the eighth—the second time through the cycle?
Taros had a suspicion that it would be up to Palatine Selisar d'Raia, descending into Emperor knew what sort of nightmare, to discover the answers. He offered a heartfelt prayer for her success.
Fire fought with fire, jets of incandescent, blazing promethium jelly clashing in the air. The last handful of the false Sororitas fell back beneath the somber lintel that marked the entrance to the convent's catacombs. Their lone flamer sprayed its fuel in contest with the several under Selisar's command.
Rocket-propelled bolts tore through the narrow corridor, careening off the walls, ricocheting off breastplates, and blasting craters in ceramite armor. Some shattered helms or blew away segments of limbs in the ferocious firefight, and not all of the Sisters that fell were on the enemy's side.
One of Selisar's Sisters brought a meltagun to bear and fired, but aimed too high. The burst of superheated gas melted a portion of the stone lintel instead, slagging its carvings. Her second shot got lucky, hitting the enemy flamer's fuel tank. The enemy weapon exploded catastrophically, sending out an explosion that staggered Selisar and the others nearest to the doorway.
The Sisters kept up their relentless barrage of bolts. When the smoke cleared, no enemies were still standing.
The two Sisters Hospitaller attached to Selisar's force began seeing to the wounded. Sister Superior Veridae led the forward advance, stepping over the puddle of molten stone and pushing past the crackling, baked corpses of the false Sisters.
One of the felled Sororitas moved, wriggling toward a dropped bolt pistol. Veridae planted her bolter in the chink at the back of the woman's helmet and, snarling, pulled the trigger. The Sister slumped back to the floor, blood spattering quickly out to puddle around her head.
Inhuman, wrathful howls echoed down the corridors, coupled with the distant scratch of talons on stone.
“At last, the enemy will show its true face,” spat Veridae.
“Prepare yourselves, Sisters,” said Selisar into her voxbead. “Light your braziers and guard your souls. Cyra, these tunnels are too tight for your Seraphim; join the Inquisitor against the last of the enemy. Veridae—watch your emotions. Do not allow them to control you.”
Veridae gave a taut grunt of acknowledgment. Grudgingly, Cyra gave her assent as well. The Seraph wheeled back out the archway, followed by her squad.
Selisar and her Celestians took point, a deliberate castigation of Veridae and her lack of self-control. The reality of facing off against tainted members of their order had incensed the—normally fiery—Sister Superior into even more choleric actions. She had risked herself and her squad to destroy the enemy Immolator, earlier, and clearly needed reining in.
They began the descent into the darkness, their braziers beacons of cleansing light, but had made it no farther than twenty yards when the first hybrids—their approach masked by the catacombs' deceiving acoustics—rounded the corner.
They were the most twisted, unrecognizable of the half-human foes the Sisters had yet faced. They displayed vestigial third and fourth limbs, warped craniums, and all manner of unique, horrifying aberrations. Some had glowing yellow eyes, others long, whip-like tongues. Most were men, but several were women, and none of them were clothed—laying bare even the most horrifying of their genetic dissimilarities. These would be the second generation hybrids, and while the third generation, above, could very nearly pass for human, these would be shunned and outcast wherever they showed their faces.
They shrieked and howled as they closed the distance to the Sororitas, a bare few firing ancient autoguns or las carbines.
“We are the Emperor's retribution!” roared Selisar, damning the hybrids with a sweep of her power sword. Her warriors unleashed their sacred, unmatchable vengeance.
Bolts rocketed toward the foe, tracing lines of orange fire through the darkness and explosively blowing the forerunners to shreds. The front ranks crumpled soon after, the mass-reactive shells blowing apart skulls and rib cages, separating limbs from torsos, and inflicting massive physical.
The Sisters strode forward, carpeting the tunnel's floor in tainted flesh and pulping it beneath their boots. The hybrids were gunned down in their masses, obliterated, wiped from the galaxy's face. The wave broke, its scattering survivors shot down as they fled. The ire of the Sisters of Battle had been woken, a terrible cleansing storm, and would not recede until this entire nest of filth had been cleansed.
“Pathetic,” growled Veridae. “Why, then, are these genestealers are so feared? They do nothing more than run onto the barrels of our guns.”
“These are the culls, Sister,” Selisar replied. “The dross of the hybrid cult. They are sent to exhaust our ammunition and tire us, to test our conviction and will. They shall not find us wanting; nor shall the Emperor. But do not underestimate them, Veridae. The worst is yet to come.”
They moved into the darkness until they came to a three-way fork. Selisar and the Celestians took the center, Veridae and six Sisters turned right, and the last eight Sisters split off left. Each group took one of the three braziers. Beyond this point, if they ran into any more forks, the squads would have to stick together. Unlike the fabled Astartes, their power armor was not equipped with prey-sight, so they were reliant on their braziers for lighting the path through this darkness—not to mention that breaking into smaller groups would leave them more vulnerable to being picked off in the darkness.
As the Celestians moved deeper into the darkness, Selisar's vox began to break up and fade. The last report she received from Cyra told that the surface had been cleansed, but that a veritable armada of vehicles was headed their way from the nearby city with impure intent. She and the Inquisitor's forces would have to remain on the surface rather than follow Selisar down as support. This purging's remainder would rely wholly on her shoulders.
A silence descended. The tramp of their boots, the dry hissing and clicking of the ineffective vox, and their breathing were the only noises. The brazier cast clawed, dancing shadows on the wall that bobbed and swayed to the pace of their march. Occasionally, the faint echo of gunfire reached their ears, and once, a faint and distant rumble that sounded like an artillery bombardment. They came to another fork, marked the wall, and took the left pathway.
Then the hybrids were pouring into them again, up close, slashing with razor-sharp talons and fangs. The Celestians, their instincts sharp and their nerves on edge, blasted the nearest of the hybrids away just before they hit melee. The squad's flamer-carrier stepped forward and unleashed a massive gout of blessed promethium.
The fires licked up the crowded tunnel, filling all available space, and the hybrids burned. They shrieked and writhed in agony, beating at the voracious, blazing jelly that coated their flesh. The corridor was lit ahead by scores of their smoldering corpses. Those beyond the range of the flames faltered, but the Celestians knew no hesitation. Their bolters roared again, breaking the heart of the hybrids, who fled once more into the darkness.
A stuttered cry from behind. Selisar whirled to see one of her Celestians go down, back torn apart, and a hideous monstrosity lunging toward her.
The purestrain moved with hideous speed, so fast she couldn't track its motion, and impacted with a second Celestian. Two of the beast's four arms lashed out, severing the Sister's arm and sending her clanging into the wall, despite the incredible weight of her power armor.
Selisar blasted at it with her bolt pistol, but the shells ricocheted off its bulbous head's carapace, detonating harmlessly in the ceiling. It lunged forward, biting, and caught her pistol in its jaws—pulverizing the ancient, hallowed weapon.
She swept her power sword up, severing a clawed hand as it lashed out, and rammed it into the purestrain's chest. It hissed furiously, slumped, and died.
Another purestrain darted from the darkness, drooling venom, but was engulfed in a second burst from the flamer. A warning cry from the front of the Celestians, and a third was caught in the act of rushing toward them across the multitude of roasted corpses—and blown into chunks of meat by massed bolter fire.
“Throne, they're fast,” murmured one of the Celestians. Another bent to minister the Sister that had lost an arm. She was already dead.
Onward. Further in and down, winding deeper into the labyrinth. Twice more the hybrids attacked and were repulsed. A second purestrain attack, later, devolved into frantic scrambling in the darkness, and another dead Celestian.
Five of Selisar's honor guard remained of the eight that began the day. Too many deaths. So painfully many.
At last they heard the sound of fighting ahead. Bolter fire, pious cries, and inhuman shrieks echoed to their ears.
“Forward!” Selisar ordered, and her Celestians broke into a run.
They crashed through a moldering door into a large, open crypt. A dozen hybrids were present, and a handful of Sororitas pinned up against a wall: Sister Superior Veridae and three of her Sisters. An already decapitated Sister lay splayed on the ground.
“Assist!” Selisar barked as the combatants registered her Celestians' arrival.
Bolter fire tore into the sinuous genestealers, blowing several down. The beasts reacted inhumanely fast, though, adjusting to the new threat. One lunged directly at Selisar, and she spitted it viciously.
Death and hatred clashed in the darkness, pure blood splattering to the ground in rivulets to mix with tainted across the tiled, crumbling floor. Muzzles strobed, shadows whirled capriciously, and fangs met flesh.
In a few vital, bloody seconds the fighting cleared. Another Celestian had fallen—disembowelment—and two of Veridae's four Sisters were dead. Veridae herself was nursing a deep claw-mark that had shredded her chestplate and torn one of her breasts to scraps. The Sister Superior staggered to Selisar's side.
“Where is the Patriarch?” hissed Veridae. “Where is that Throne-damned bastard?”
“Father?” came an eerie, echoing voice. “Father is gone, now. Never here. Always here, in flesh and heart.”
They whirled. From the darkness had come a pubescent girl, perfectly human-looking but for her bald head and white, featureless eyes.
“Magus,” spat Selisar. Her Sisters lashed out in revulsion, unleashing a torrent of bolts.
They detonated in the air meters from the girl. She giggled.
“How rude,” she simpered, and eviscerated a Celestian with an unholy blast.
Veridae charged the witch, firing from the hip and swinging her chainsword, but was impaled by a lance of invisible force—through the already-damaged portion of her armor—and dumped to the ground behind the girl.
“Your faith is your shield, Sisters!” cried Selisar. “Let Him shelter you and guide your aim!”
“Your Emperor is dead. There is only the Hive's Living Flesh; the Great Womb.”
Selisar threw herself toward the witch, but was easily swatted away . Her gorget's force field flared and overloaded, absorbing much of the blow, but she was still thrown into the wall like a child's ball. Bones cracked.
She fell to the floor, writhing in agony and gasping for breath.
“You are tired, Palatine,” whispered the voice. “Succumb. You are only human, just like the former Canoness of this convent. She sleeps, now. She just...laid down her head to rest. You can join her, if you like. Rest now, and fight no more.”
“Not while I draw breath,” growled Selisar, spitting blood and forcing herself up.
“Easily arranged,” came the mocking reply.
“For you, perhaps,” panted Veridae, rising behind the witch. The Sister Superior wrapped an arm around the girl, lifted a primed melta-bomb in her other, and held it tightly between them as it detonated.
Both were consumed in blinding white light.
The piled snowdrift was spotted with smooth, circular holes. They had been seared there by stray lasbolts, exact tunnels vaporized in the packed snow. The heat of their formation had fused the snow surrounding them into ice tubes. Where the drift had been broken and slid downward, the tubes jutted into the air.
Thesh had called down an awe-inspiring orbital bombardment, glassing square kilometer halfway between the city and the convent filled with enemy vehicles. He had summoned anti-armor laden Valkyries and Vendettas from orbit, gunships that had torn gaping holes in the enemy advance.
Burning wrecks dotted the slope of the hill: trucks, snow skiffs and half-tracks. Splayed out around them, flowering bloodily outward, were the hybrid cultists that had been cut down by disciplined hellgun fire as they poured from their vehicles.
Hundreds more corpses were scattered on the near reaches, clustered against the feet of the buildings and the hastily-constructed barricades. They lay heaped in the snow and crowded along the walkways. Their numbers clogged shattered doorways and broken-shuttered windows.
Several thousand cultists had been successfully beaten back by a handful of Seraphim and less than a hundred stormtroopers. Their bolt magazines and power packs expended, they had turned to salvaged las carbines. Those emptied, they had fought with blades, rifle butts, and fists.
One Seraph had been slain, and Interrogator Khalora was badly wounded. Two dozen stormtroopers had fallen, and nearly twice that were wounded.
Taros sighed, stumbling past the seared snowdrift, and slumped down against one of the plaza’s many now-broken statues. In spite of his carapace armor’s seals, his extremities had long since gone numb. His head ached abominably from fatigue, dehydration, and an impressive collection of bruises, and his breathing was stale and confined, but he didn’t yet dare remove his helmet. Survivors were still being found among the hybrid corpses, and he couldn’t let his guard down prematurely.
“Are you alright, sir?” asked an irritatingly alert and energetic-seeming stormtrooper.
“Fine,” he said, waving the man away. “Fine, just tired.”
Other stormtroopers picked their way among the corpses, kicking them and knifing those that twitched. The cold might very well do their job for them in a few hours, but the Inquisition was nothing if not meticulous.
Motion at the main chapel's doors drew his attention. Palatine d'Raia and a handful of her Sororitas limped free of the building.
Mixed emotions grabbed Taros. Relief, yes, that they had accomplished their mission and returned—but also shock and horror that there were so few of them. Five Sororitas? Five, where more than twenty had descended? He blanched, hauled himself painfully to his feet, and strode over to meet them.
The Palatine met his eyes as he approached. Hers were bleak and barren, not so much filled with pain as rendered useless and blank by the magnitude of it—physically, mentally, emotionally.
Her Seraphim jetted in, spraying snow with their abrupt landings.
“Palatine-” said Sister Superior Cyra, her voice tender, but d'Raia cut her off.
“We are broken,” she said harshly, gesturing to her few survivors. “We are a shell of our former selves, Emperor have mercy on us all.”
She sagged, injuries getting the better of her, and the Sororitas rushed to support her.
“Palatine!” came a hoarse, vox-augmented bark. Taros and the assembled Sororitas turned to look in its direction as Inquisitor Mileas Thresh came stomping toward them.
“You have my congratulations on your success,” the looming, power-armored man rumbled.
“What success?” spat d'Raia. “There was no Patriarch here. There was never was one.”
The words sunk like a lead weight in Taros's stomach. Everything here—it was all for nothing? Thresh, defying all probability, laughed.
“As I thought, then,” he said. “This is but an outreaching tendril of the rot. I began to suspect in orbit, and after seeing the nearby town's response, my suspicions of a a wider infestation were all but confirmed.
“Come, Palatine, Explicator. Let us get to work immediately. We have a long way yet to uncover this canker's core.”
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator! Imperator!
Last edited by Mossy Toes; 09-06-10 at 01:49 AM.