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post #131 of 159 (permalink) Old 01-16-13, 11:57 AM Thread Starter
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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

G'Kar bellowed in frustration as he watched a Narn solder get ripped in half by the monstrous half-breed apes through his binoculars. The creature howled in ecstasy as it shoved hunks of meat into its discontentedly fanged maw, writhing it tentacles in pleasure only to screech in pain as a Centauri commando drove a Centauri gladius into the creature's skull.

“I don't care how you get them to the third ridge, but we need more men down there. Those things are going to overrun them soon,” barked the Centauri General into his communicator from where he stood some ten paces behind G'Kar in his command tent. “No I do not want you to shell the Narn position. I want you to send commandoes to support it.”

General Ezra was, as Centauri went, an utter and unmitigated son of a bitch. He was cold hearted, calculating, and racist to a fault, but the man both understood warfare and outright refused to allow himself to misuse allied forces. When war eventually did break out between their peoples, G'Kar would have to make a special effort to have the man assassinated for fear that the man might turn that competence to victory against the Narn.

He flattered himself that the General shared similar feelings about G'Kar. They were adversaries, to be sure, but united in purpose against the monsters of Faust. Ezra did not believe in the teachings of G'Quan. Nor did he belive that G'Kar was correct in his assertions that these creatures were servants of the ancient enemy of the Narn people. Yet belief was unnecessary.

Ezra hated the half-breed creatures of Faust on principle. They were esthetically appalling and they seemed entirely determined to eat as many Centauri as they could manage. Which, on reflection, was as good a reason as any.

“Jak,” The General questioned their Imperial military advisor, “Precisely how do you suggest breaking this stalemate? I cannot advance without exposing the eastern front to Dilgar scout tanks.”

The damn things were a nightmare. They weren’t so much tanks as high-calibre rifles and anti-armor guns slapped into motor-bikes, and they had a level of mobility along the trenches that was hard to manage with their more cumbersome Centauri and Narn counterparts.

“Do... do you have m... mobile anti-aircraft weapons?” Jak considered the problem.

“No,” The Centauri general sighed irritatedly, “They're all plasma-based. We can't bring them into the eastern trenches with so much methane in the air. We could try another air strike, but we lost two fighers out of the last ten we sent on environmental hazards alone.”

“We have some shoulder mounted missiles that could work,” G'Kar sighed, “But they're not going to work at this range. We'd have to get them substantially closer to work.”

“How do you dig them out in the Empire?” Queried the General.

“N... not usually the j... job of rank and file solders. C... common practice is to nuke the population center from orbit or drop asteroids on the continent.” Jak shrugged his shoulders. “I... Impractical in our current situation due to environmental complications.”

“You use mass drivers on your own populations?” G'Kar felt queasy at the thought of it. Mass driver weaponry was banned by every single civilized species in the known universe. Even the Centauri were signatories on that treaty.

“If necessary,” Jak nodded, twitching slightly in thought. “Every situation different. M... measured r...response for measured attack. Surrender of Imperial territory is an inadequate solution. Negotiation with terrorists is a non-viable solution. Eventually destruction of t...territory preferable to surrender. Numerous planets overpopulated anyway.”

G'Kar was about to reply when a Centauri soldier screamed from inside the camp, howling as tentacles burst out of the black ash and dragged him down into a hidden tunnel below. The soldier howled inhumanly as five hulking shapes dragged themselves out of the sapper's tunnel.

G'Kar grabbed the phased plasma-rifle off the table and fired twice into the largest creature's head. A wave of blue energy mulched the bony mottled flesh, bursting it with a satisfying squelch of cooked meat. The remaining four ducked into cover and opened fire, their laser rifles cracking loudly with the sound of ozone.

A Narn warrior growled hatefully, chucking a fragmentation grenade across the ground to explode a the feet of a half-breed warrior. The warped creature was kicked up into the air as its legs ceased to connect with the rest of its body. It was not long before an uninjured half-breed lost control of its hunger and ceased firing to start tearing off meaty hunks of the injured creature's legs.

The two half breeds rolled across the ground, stabbing each other with their barbed tentacles, before the Narn tossed a second grenade, ending their squabbling forever.

Surprisingly, it was Jak who killed the next half breed, shooting it with a slug thrower in the chest. The creature had actually laughed at the diminutive clerk before the shell in its chest exploded, putting a watermelon-sized hole in the monster's innards.

The final half-breed tried to flee back down the tunnel they'd dug, but tumbled to the ground dead when a Centauri soldier hit it in the shoulder blades with a high-powered laser rifle, the sort the Centauri favored for anti-tank weaponry. It didn't kill the half-breed so much as liquify it.

G'Kar tossed a plasma grenade into the warren to collapse the burrow before activating his communicator, “This is a general warning to all troops. I repeat, general warning to all troops. The creatures can burrow through the ground. Attacks may come from below!”

The General growled in irritation and slammed his helmet firmly across his head, tossing the feather back over it imperiously, “Monstrous, cowardly beasts. They have no sense of gentlemanly warfare.”

“Sound the general advance,” G'Kar growled in irritation. “We need to get this command post to more secure ground as soon as possible. If we can't make the ten miles to the forward bunker we're going to have to be fighting the damn tunnel Tujula all night.”

“T... tunnel Tujula?” Jak Queried.

“They're an animal that lives on Na – That's not important right now,” G'Kar pointed with his gauntleted fist at a stone fortress sitting on top of a distant ridge. “We need to take that fortress, or by G'Quan we will die here.”

“I'm inclined to agree,” The General growled in irritation, “All troops, plan delta G. Advance on my mark.”

-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Susan watched as the Inquisitor examined the battlefield from safely below the trenches, a long optic extending from his eye up and over the rim of the trench, “Faust has not breached the main wall.”

“That's good isn't it?” Queried Danzig as he rubbed the soot from his eyes. “It means we're not too late.”

“Oh, we're late,” Daul growled in irritation. “Late enough that they should have some more noteworthy siege equipment in place. They don't have anything more apparently dangerous than a Leman Russ. I mean, just look at those doors. Faust is mad but he's no fool. I wouldn't have shown up here with anything less than a Baneblade and a couple of Basilisks.”

“We didn't have those on Belzafest,” Shem whispered. “And the best siege equipment we did have, we took with us.”

Daul shook his head. “Faust has had a year or more to prepare for this assault. He has something planned to take down those doors. The question is, what is it?”

“Maybe he doesn't want them taken down,” Susan suggested, taking care to speak in English for the reporter's benefit. “If he needs a new base of operations, it’s hard to be more impregnable than Matok. He could be trying to starve them out. Like you said, the man is exceedingly patient.”

It felt a bit bad to be using the reporter the way she was. There was no way that even a quarter of this footage would hit open airtime thanks to the National Secrets Act, but it would prove her with a firm foothold to bring herself back over to their good graces. As long as they saw her as their double agent rather than as a traitor, it would go a long way towards helping her case.

But her case for what, precisely? She had no interest in becoming part of the Psi-corps, and her career in the Earthforce military was for all intents and purposes kaput. Daul had seen to that. He didn't think that she knew, but she knew the way that his mind worked too well for that to fool her. She understood Daul Hilder better than the man understood himself.

She was thinking his thoughts less often, but she knew how to visualize them if she needed to. It was a bit like having her own sociopath on demand. Which was, of course, how she realized that Daul did not have even the remotest clue what a reporter was. The Empire had no forms of standardized mass media that weren't strictly controlled by both the offices of propaganda and the church of the Emperor.

She looked into the camera as she said, “The man has been alive for centuries already.”

“Faust prefers a more direct hand in things,” Daul countered, rubbing the jaw bone of his helmet pensively. “No, we need to reconsider how we're advancing. Danzig!”

“Yessir!” the Lionheart replied eagerly.

“I need you to take the Lionhearts as we planned before. Approach them from the side and drive them into the artillery. I'm taking a different route. We're going to try and approach them from that path– ” Danzig pointed to a narrow tunnel that went vaguely in the direction of the front lines. “ – with Miss Ivanova and my retinue and look for summoning circles. If he's not going to use super-heavies, then the bastards are planning to use demons. So far, the invasion is proceeding to schedule and I won't have us slowing it down.”

“Of course, sir,” Danzig nodded affirmatively, looking to Miss Wallace nervously as the woman strained to listen in on the Gothic discussion, “Sir, perhaps she isn't...?”

“Yes, Danzig, the noblewoman should go with you,” Daul shuddered, clasping and unclasping his prosthetic hand. “I do not mean to inflict what I must do upon the woman. Take her with you. It will be a kinder thing by far. I'll relay their positions so that you can pass the information back to the line and carpet bomb the area.”

A shiver ran up Susan’s spine that was more than anticipation - a premonition, perhaps? Daul was not particularly skilled in the art of premonition, but Susan had always had a preternatural sense of when things were going to go completely wrong. She'd always written it off to Russian stoicism, but perhaps it had been something more.

It was with a heavy heart that she followed Daul and his Skitarii shadow, falling into step with Lieutenant Shan and the honor guard of Belzafesters. The lanky Kroot loped behind them, eying the departing Lionhearts and Belzafesters.

Vira'capac trilled morosely, clucking and shaking his quills in irritation. “Irritating man-things. They will be missed.”

Daul paid the Kroot no attention at all as they slunk forwards into the pitch-black of the subterranean passage. But Susan could not help but feel a deep and presiding sense of foreboding about the whole situation.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Li whooped eagerly as the shot from his aft laser cannon bisected an unwary Dilgar frigate. They might be upgraded with God alone knew what alien technologies, but the Dilgar were the same predictable predators as ever. They never fought a man one-on-one who could be battled two-on-one, and always chose a wounded opponent over a strong one.

Presumably, whatever race was responsible for the pitch-black bio-ships that lead their attack fleet had taken pity upon the Dilgar. How a fleet of Dilgar ships had managed to escape destruction hardly mattered. They were there, and they would be defeated.

The rebel fleet had already surrendered, and the so called “thousand ship demon fleet” of Dilgar and Bio-ships was slowly being whittled down to a mere dozen escorts and three kilometer long bio-dreadnaughts.

Their ECM was unquestionably impressive, perhaps even equal to that of the Minbari, but the Earth Alliance had beaten a race with powerful electronic countermeasures at the Battle of the Line. Plain human stubbornness had defeated the most technologically sophisticated race in the universe.

And there was no human more stubborn than Li. There was no crew better than the crew of the Beijing Beauty. And he'd fight anyone who disputed either.

“Manually aim the guns if you have to, but do not allow those damnable Imperials to have all the glory,” Li growled in irritation. The Earth Alliance had already been winning the battle by a wide margin before the aliens had shown up. It would be humans, not aliens or Imperials, who brought about this victory.

Li could not argue that the Narn and Centauri ships had not been helpful - necessary even - in ensuring that as few humans died as possible, but his pride would not allow him to even acknowledge the remotest scrap of the victory being due to the barbarians of the Imperium. To be sure, the demon fleet had hunted the Endless Bounty with a near-religious fervor, at times ignoring otherwise crippled or practical targets in lieu of firing at the Imperial ship.

But the Endless Bounty was not necessary. Not at all. Well, perhaps to draw fire away from himself. The upgraded Dilgar ships packed a hell of a wallop.

The Beijing Beauty banked hard to port to avoid a missile salvo from one of the kilometer-long bio-ships, yanking Li to the left within his harness as an enemy missile collided with the Beijing Beauty. A pair of startled Ensigns hovered weightlessly in the air as the ship's artificial gravity abruptly ceased to function due to severe damage in the ship's rotational section.

Li, still strapped down to the ground, grabbed them by their ankles and pulled them down.

“Permission to return fire?” Queried his weapons officer.

“Permission granted. ECM or no, It's a kilometer long target next to two other kilometer long targets, you're bound to hit one of the 死屁眼! Fire!” Li bellowed in irritation. The bio-ships troubled him: they were at least superficially reminiscent to Vorlon ships, though the jutting spines on the oblong black flesh of the ship were like no Vorlon ship he'd ever seen. Too much of this battle was unknown and unplanned.

Pulsed plasma fire rocketed across the vast expanse of debris and burning ships to collide harmlessly across the glowing energy fields surrounding the ships. The damned things were shielded, heavily so. “This is an order to all Earth Alliance ships! Fire all batteries at Hostile Omega 3, full power. The hostile is shielded. I repeat the hostile is shielded.”

Lieutenant Meyer pulled himself down into his seat, fastening the buckles hurriedly, “Captain, don't underestimate them. We're taking around one-to-one losses, even with the aid of the aliens.”

“Sir!” A worried Ensign shouted, “Port interceptors are non-functioning! Our Y axis is vulnerable from below. We have incoming fighters. I repeat, we have incoming starfighters.”

“Where the hell are our Starfuries?” Li barked in irritation.

“Protecting the London and the King while they attempt to activate their engines sir.” Meyer sighed. “Like I told you when you advanced past our defensive line.”

“Don't tell me what I already know, tell me how we fix it.” Li snarled as the sound of something impacting with the side of his ship clanged through the hull. “Damage report.”

“Superficial, sir. Re-routing power to grid g-42 aft to compensate.” the Ensign replied nervously, “The fighters managed to keep the worst of them off us. But we shouldn't stay here longer than we have to.”

“I thought you said the fighters were back with our crippled ships?” Li chastised his second in command irritatedly.

“Ours most certainly are,” Klaus pointed at the eagle winged fighters swooping past the narrow viewport of the bridge, “Those are Imperial fighter craft.”

“Saved by Imperials,” Li spat in irritation. “Fine, slow the impulse engines twenty percent and allow the fleet to catch up with us.”

“Sir, there are two Narn warships coming into formation with us, the Ga'la and the Anok'kor. They say they're planning to protect us till our interceptors are back online,” the comms officer announced.

“Good,” Li replied, “Keep hitting them with our forward batteries, switch to full spectrum pulses. And get that fool of an engineer linked up to see what in the devil is going on with those repairs. I don't want to be hiding behind the Narn's skirts forever.”

“I can't figure out what it is they're doing,” Lieutenant Meyer chewed his lip nervously.

“Mr. Meyer?” Li turned to his second in command.

“Sir, none of this sits right with me. It's too easy,” Klaus sighed. “I've never know the Dilgar to launch an assault that they weren't positive they could win. Our arrival was entirely predictable. The Earth Alliance was bound to send troops to Akdor even before they decided to invade, so why do it now? What do they hope to gain?”

“The Dilgar are not the puppet masters here, Mr. Meyer,” Li nodded towards the black ships in the distance. “Those ships, whoever they are, are the ones supplying and supporting them.”

“But what do they have to gain in invading a little scrap of nowhere that has barely achieved spaceflight? The only reason that we bother to be here is its tactical importance with relation to the Narn and Centauri home worlds.” Klaus shook his head, “This isn't an occupation force, or they would have issued some sort of demands or negotiations. There just isn't a reason.”

“It might not be a reason you or I could comprehend,” Li grunted. “Sentient beings value different things. We fight for different reasons.” However, it sounded hollow even to him that they would invade without some sort of greater purpose.

“Ensign,” Li commanded abruptly. “Put the battlefield on the main view screen.”

Li groaned in frustration as he looked at the friendly warship indicators, realizing their mistake. The Dilgar ships had flown in different directions to weaken the relief fleet's advance, spreading them to the northernmost and southernmost poles of the planet.

Li pointed to the second moon. “I want an enhanced scan of that moon. Immediately.”

“Scanning, sir,” the Ensign stared at her console in confusion, “Uh, just a second, sir. I need to recalibrate my instruments. I'm getting some odd results.”

“How odd?” Li asked nervously.

“Well, sir, there are a lot of odd radioactive elements present, but I'm having difficulty registering that the moon is there at all,” the Ensign replied in confusion. “I mean... it's a moon, so I know it's there, but it's showing up as being in more than one place at once – if that makes any sense.”

Li swore furiously, “It's an ambush.”

“What?” Klaus blinked in shock. “But how? We control the hyperspace gate.”

“Klaus, hyperspace is no longer the only method of faster than light travel,” Li replied in horror as a dozen kilometer long dagger-like ships soared out from behind the moon, skating on starlight around a monstrous warship with three massive pinioned wings of solar webbing. “Prepare to engage targets. Sent out a warning to all allied ships. And get me a firing solution, now!”

The dagger ships were elegant. They didn't seem to fly so much as they danced through the stars in a cascade of shifting shapes and shadow. The ships shifted abruptly every time Li tried to fix his eyes on one, blinking out of view and into a different location entirely. It was like grasping at smoke.

It was beautiful in a nightmarish way. An old race, it had to be an old race like the Vorlons. But why involve themselves here? Why now?

“Mein Gott,” Klaus' jaw opened and closed in astonishment at the pure and predatory elegance of their attackers. “What are they?”

“We're getting a message, sir.” The comms officer cupped his hand over his ear. “Uh – I'm not making this up sir – You do not belong.”

“That's it?” Li questioned, raising his voice to speak over the gunnery crew as they attempted to target the new threat.

“No sir.” Replied the officer. “Leave or die.”

“They don't seem to be waiting for an answer, sir!” The tactical officer shouted. “They're launching fighters. And – how in the hell did they – Incoming!”

A blank patch of space some hundred kilometers above where their sensors registered the presence of a warship fired upon the Narn warship to their left, a beam of blinding white bisecting the ship down the middle. Not waiting for Li's order, their helmsman punched the engines to full speed, narrowly avoiding the nuclear fireball when the beam of light hit the Narn reactor core.

“Sir! Our sensors just detected that we've been targeted.” The tactical officer shouted in horror. “I have no idea where they are sir! I have no firing solution.”

“Evasive action,” Li barked.

“To where?” Klaus growled. “We cannot match those speeds.”

“Second contact!” The tactical officer shouted. “It's the Endless Bounty. They've engaged the hostile.”

“They're transmitting a wide band radio transmission to all ships in the Region in Interlac.” The comms officer turned to Li. “They say, 'We will not surrender an inch to these miserable, arrogant, knife-eared murderous pirates. For the Emperor, for Terra, we stand.”

The excited chatter of his gunnery crew washed over Li as he pondered the new arrivals. The Imperials knew them. Not just knew them, hated them.

“Never thought I'd be glad to see that miserable ship,” Li grunted. “At least someone can target the bastards.”

“Sir!” The tactical officer smiled. “I can't target the enemy ships but I can target the Imperial torpedoes. Shifting targeting priority to imperial ordinance impacts.”

“Do it! And tell the Anok'kor that they can do the same,” Li grunted. “And somebody get on the horn to tell Captain Anders to stop sitting on his thumbs on the southern rim. We need reinforcements yesterday!”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Osma felt underdressed for the battle in spite of his carapace armor. The need for an expedient investigation into Nor's “little matter,” as he'd become fond of calling it, was so great that he'd left the coordination of security teams in the hands of Shakut rather than controlling them himself. He was, of course, in full battle armor and would respond to any and all invaders to the sovereign realm of the Lord Sáclair, but he could not afford to let even a second pass where the loyalty of Donat Enzo remained in question.

They kept on appearing in crime reports, odd examples of people having anti-agapics more sophisticated than they strictly ought to have had access to. Osma had never made the connection between the disparate crime reports, in part because the theft of medicine from the nobility was a rather victimless crime and in part because he rather pitied the crewmen who could not afford proper medical care.

It was not Bonafila that he directed his efforts towards at the moment, but a prior case that, due to the rapid expulsion of Magos Frist, had fallen by the wayside. The sabotage of the War Servitor was a seemingly unremarkable event. A week in which someone did not try to murder the Inquisitor was a slow week indeed. But the sophistication and the lateral thinking displayed by trying to poison a war servitor by restoring its mind to drive it insane was devious, even brilliant.

Were the war servitor to have murdered or maimed the Inquisitor, it likely would have been written off as a product of poor maintenance or an accidentally uttered command. In the highly unlikely event that they managed to subdue a crazed war servitor without damaging the machine, it would have still been difficult to figure out exactly what had happened, as standard procedure in those events would have been to cut out the malfunctioning augmentics first. Any healing done by the drugs would have been concealed by the damage done to remove the augmentics.

But there were two men to enter that room. The first had administered the anti-agapic. The second had administered anti-venom in a misguided attempt to protect the Inquisitor’s life. This told Osma that the first man not only knew the second, but knew them intimately. If he could find one, then it would be only a matter of time before he tracked down the other.

But after days of watching every damn security recording from one side of the cell block to the other, the most he'd managed to discover was that the ship’s internal security monitors were pathetically easy to scramble due to general disrepair. Whoever had come to the brainwave that repairing security cameras in the detention levels was a low priority task needed a kick to the teeth.

He leaned back in his chair and swore in irritation, “Bloody milk and whore tit's of the eye.”

A small voice yelped in shock at his anger. Osma swiveled in his chair to see the stocking footed Tariq. The child wore the smile linen smock with a tiny lion of Sáclair embroidered over the breast that Osma had given him for the last Primarch's feast. The boy shivered, afraid he'd done something to anger Osma.

Osma stood from his chair and lifted the boy into his arms, “No Tariq, I'm not mad at you. You're in no trouble. But why are you out of your bed? You have school tomorrow.”

“No,” Tariq lied, pouting sadly. “I don't. I can just stay up with you.”

“Child, you know very well that isn't going to work.” Osma grumbled, jiggling the child on his knee as he sat back down. “Now, why aren't you asleep?”

“I'm scared,” Tariq kicked his legs back and forth as he tugged on Osma's braided beards. “You always fight, and I want to stay with you. I want to protect you.”

“Oh, bless you child,” Osma grumbled. “I'm an old man. My duty is to protect the ship, and that means going into danger sometimes. But I go there to protect you.”

“You're my dad,” Tariq said in a voice that only the ungracious would call a whine. “I need you.”

“Child,” Osma gesticulated with his left hand while searching for a way to make it all right in the boy's eyes, accidentally tapping an activation rune on the keypad. He swore and reached to undo what he'd done ,but not before Tariq yelled “I'll help!” and proceeded to smack every rune he could reach, pulling knobs and levers with great eagerness.

Osma yanked the child away from the keyboard, resisting the urge to scream at the boy as he gently placed the child on the ground and whispered in a dangerous rumble, “Child, never do that again. Ever. The wrong rune, the wrong lever, the wrong button and you could well condemn a man to death. If I ever see you touch a cogitator rune without permission, I will punish you severely.”

Tariq groaned, rubbing his sleeves against his face and choking back the tears. Osma turned away from the boy and looked back at the screen, “Lets see what the damage is.”

The files largely seemed to be intact; the cogitator's search window had been open so the worst Tariq had manage to do had been to open a work order from gold channel. How the eye had he done that? Gold channel work orders were supposed to be deleted immediately after being issued. It was an added security precaution enacted by Sáclair to prevent Amon Sui sabotage. The order could not be known or altered by any outside party once issued.

There were precious few with access to it. Other than the Captain and the Lady Sáclair, he could count them on one hand, all of them dangerously highly placed within the command structure of the Endless Bounty.

“Child... if this is what I believe it to be, I may very well take you to the sweet shop.” Osma grumbled in frustrated approbation. He really shouldn't reward the child for something so grox-headedly foolish, but the boy had found the lead he could not. It was a lead, the first real one he'd found on the case so far. “Hell, I'm buying you that Commissar doll you wanted.”

Tariq was going through so many confused emotions that he seemed on the edge of whiplash. “I... didn't... but... what?”

All he needed to do was cross reference the work order with who would have been on the bridge when Sáclair wasn't there on the day in question to figure out which of the potential – Osma stopped cold as a tinny screech of a klaxon interrupted his train of thought. A blue light spun, flashing a warning that he hoped never to see again in his lifetime. Pirates - Eldar pirates - had boarded the Endless Bounty. Merciful Throne, where had they come from?

He punched the rune to save his findings to a data crystal and frenziedly shoved the crystal into the pocket of his tunic. Osma lifted the boy under one arm as he grabbed a combat shotgun and bandolier with the other.

“What's going on?” the baffled Tariq cried, “Where are we going?”

“Never you mind.” Osma whispered in a voice that he hoped did not betray the terror in his heart. “It will all be well. It will all be well.”

“No!” the boy yelled, “What's going on?”

“We're just having a drill. It's a game, boy, a special game.” Osma ripped open the evidence safe in his office. He waved his arm to find the massive adamantium block, invisible to the naked eye when closed, which opened to expose a room the size of a walk-in closet. He sat the boy down on a shelf, pulling a confiscated breathing mask tagged with an evidence number and fixing it over the boy's face before attaching it to an oxygen apparatus. “You're going to sit in here and wait till I come back for you. I need you to stay absolutely silent for this game. The other team doesn't play nice.”

Tariq latched onto Osma's leg, “No! Don't go!”

“I have to go, child.” Osma pried the boy off his leg and put him back onto the shelf. “I don't have a choice.”

“If you go, you won't come back.” Tariq's eyes were wet with tears, his words near-incomprehensible from the mask and the sobbing, “Nobody ever comes back. Not ever.”

“Hey!” Osma pinched the boy's cheek, “Don't you talk like that. I'm coming back. Always.”

“Promise?” The boy hiccuped, lifting the bottom of his shirt from over his belly to wipe his face.

“Of course I promise.” Osma hugged the boy, “I'll definitely be back. We're family. Family always comes back.”

The little boy hugged him as hard as his tiny arms could manage, pressing himself against Osma's chest as though if he just tried hard enough the bad things would go away. Sighing sadly, Osma ruffled the boy's hair and walked out of the evidence locker, shutting it behind him.

Hopefully he hadn't just lied to the boy.

“Come on then, you old goat,” Osma grunted agitatedly to himself as he ran out of his office. “Let's show these knife-eared bastards why they should stay the Eye off your blessed ship.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Daul twisted his fingers, manipulating the hatred into his mind into a bolt of energy as a half-breed warrior leapt from a second story window while brandishing an axe. The monster's innards sprayed across the bunker, venomous blood sizzling on contact with the obsidian. He hopped backwards to avoid the claws of a second beast, parrying its swipe with his power sword in a messy arc. The creature yowled as four sets of arms fell to the ground.

“Go other way, Vira'capac said.” The Kroot warrior crooned irritatedly as it drove its elbow into a half-breed hound's gullet, “Obvious ambush, Vira'capac said. But no, man thing refuse to listen to Vira'capac. Mule-headed man thing must go left.”

“We get it,” Shan growled in irritation, heaving a frag-grenade into the open window of the bunker, “Complaining won't make them die any faster.”

The grenade exploded, tossing smoke and shrapnel within the confined space. The Belzafest Lieutenant nodded to the nearest of his men, motioning for the door. The unfortunate soldier charged through the door and into the waiting jaws of an injured but still living half-breed. Barbed tentacles perforated the man's chest, poking out from his back as the creature dislocated his jaw and swallowed his head.

Susan Ivanova screamed an irate “No!” before firing at the creature with her hot-shot las pistols. The masterwork weapons punched orange-sized holes in the half-breed's face and lungs, killing it instantly. A second Belzafest guardsman charged up to the hole, depressing the firing stud on his flamer and turning the inside of the bunker into a blazing inferno.

The half-breeds on the second floor tried to counter the assault, but Daul's Skitarii counterpart opened fire with his bolt-gun. Fist-sized explosive projectiles ripped across the side of the building, ignoring the stonework as though it were paper. Shell met flesh, and the half-breed creatures died.

“Cease fire!” Daul barked, reaching out with his senses to search for the presence of half-breeds, “They're dead.”

“Another battle survived,” the Kroot crowed in irritation. “Irritating.”

Ignoring the preening alien’s self-pity, Daul followed Cairn into the charred remains of the bunker, examining it in irritation. The remnants of what had once been maps and charts were only burned scraps beneath the charred corpses of half-breeds, “Damn! See if any of the intel survived the fire. We need to figure out what Faust is up to out here.”

Shan poked at one of the bodies with the butt of his rifle, “This one isn't half-breed or Sh'lassen.”

Susan examined the body, green in the face for having been exposed to so many charred corpses. The breathing mask would help, but nothing could truly silence that hateful odor. The Russian leaned over the body and squinted her eyes, as though trying to envision the uncooked flesh of the creature, “Yeah, that is definitely a Dilgar. Or was, I suppose.”

V'clath sniffed the corpse, “It smells right for a Dilgar. Look at the mask, the grinning death insignia over a broken eagle. He's pledged to the half-breeds.”

“Then the Dilgar are officially an enemy of the empire,” Daul sighed. “Not that we're short for enemies.”

The Skitarii's shoulders shook in amusement as he fidgeted with the shattered fragments of data crystals, scanning them with his auspex in the hope that one of them was stable enough to retain some data. His taloned fingers, too indelicate for such work, were crossed behind his back as his mechandrite cables did the more delicate adjustments.

Kicking an eviscerated half-breed from its perch with a wet thud, Daul sat down at the still-smoldering table and rested his elbows upon it in thought, “None of this makes any sense. Faust's strategy is clearly dependent upon both siege weaponry and reinforcement arriving imminently, but whoever he's placed in command of this legion has no way of obtaining either. Your Earth Alliance fleet has blockaded the hyperspace route. Travel to and from this place by the warp isn't even possible for another four weeks, according to navigator Illirch. By now, any competent commander must see this. And we haven't even come close to detecting an upswing in Warp energies on the battlefield, so he isn't summoning something around here.”

“Very little about this war has made sense,” V'Cath brayed morosely. “It could just be their comeuppance. They deserve it.”

“I don't know,” Susan sighed. “In the last days of the Dilgar Wars, they started ordering all sorts of irrational things intentionally. The idea was apparently to confuse us into searching for a strategy where there was none, in the hopes that we would act to counter an attack that was never coming. It was a way of getting us to waste resources on places they had no interest in.”

“Perhaps,” Shan hissed, “but the Half-breeds aren't especially prone to forward thinking. They have to believe that their commander has an immediately practical plan, or they're prone to eating them whole.”

Daul chuckled, “Faust seems to think of it as aggressive motivation for his commanders to be visibly competent at their jobs.”

“Sir!” A terrified voice from the second floor yelled down the stairs. “I found something you should see.”

Grunting with irritation as he stood up, Daul walked up the uneven stone steps to the second floor, tossing a half-breed corpse out a window with a telekinetic burst along the way. It was an unnecessary showy way of clearing it off the stairs, but he needed to burn off some of the pent-up frustration he felt.

“Yes, private? What is it?” Daul walked over to the great-coated Belzafester, taking a small piece of stone from the man's hands. No, not stone, it was something else. Nor was it bone or metal: it was all three, and yet it was none. It was as terrifying as anything Daul had ever seen.

It was a token forged from wraithbone, a rune of communication. Even as he touched, it he could hear the overwhelming sound of thousands upon thousands of sing-song syllables screeching in anticipation of the conflict to come. As he tried to get his bearing, an overwhelmingly powerful mind howled in fury, casting him from the song bodily.

Daul flew a good food back from the rune, propelled away by pure will. He hit the wall painfully as he aimed the plasma-pistol strapped to his augnmentic arm at the rune, firing twice to evaporate the stone entirely, “Throne cursed blood and bloody hellfire from the bowels of the Eye!”

He shot the ashes again for good measure.

He looked up into the confused and terrified faces of his retinue. Vira'capac sighed and crowed, “Foolish man-thing.”

Susan said in a voice of genuine concern that surprised her as much as it did Daul, “Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes, I'm fine.” Daul shook his head to dismiss the furious presence of the Eldar talisman. “But we need to get out of here as soon as possible. The Eldar have allied themselves with Faust.”

“What?” Shan hissed loud enough that it might have passed for normal human speech, “Why?”

“The Eldar protect their own interests at the cost of all other species in the universe.” Daul growled as he tried to reach anyone on his long range transmitter. “I don't even begin to speculate why they do what they do. But we need to warn our forces that they're coming.”

“I get the sense that that might be a bit too late, Inquisitor,” Susan shouted in horror from the window. “They're here.”

Daul followed her gaze and felt his heart stop. From their elevated point on the battlefield Daul could just make out the outline of a flock of swooping wing-tipped vehicles descending from the heavens like lances from heaven. An army of lithe, murderous creatures stepped in an angelic grace, as beautiful as it was terrible. The war-host had arrived.

“Well,” Shen whispered in amused resignation as he pointed to a dozen massive war machines gliding above the ground around a vaguely humanoid shape, “There's your siege weapon, Inquisitor.”

“A Titan,” Daul groaned, resting his face in the palm of his hand, “They brought a Titan.”

“Would seem so,” the private agreed. “Don't suppose you have something that can kill a Titan?”

Daul's mind snapped to a black box bound in chains that sat within the Endless Bounty, a weapon at his disposal capable of unknowable damage if let loose. The words to summon the beast were simple enough. Just a few syllables and he could crush thething that stood in his way. His mouth began to roll around the first syllables – No, he wouldn’t do it. Daul shook his head to dismiss the thought. He could almost hear the voice of Bast Hilder chiding him, “Boy, don't you go and do some damned fool thing you'll regret later. There ain’t nothing worth losing who you are.”

“No,” Daul replied irritatedly. “I can't even begin to – Cairn what the throne are you doing?”

The Skitarii shoved Daul to the floor and started firing at the previously featureless black wall, into a gaping tear in reality. A lithe wraith-bone clad warrior covered in web-like patterns of blue and white fell to the floor, dead.

“Warp Spiders!” the private screamed as a tear opened behind him and a pair of power blades punctured his lungs. The Eldar screeched inhumanly as he dove forwards, creating a new portal in front of himself and disappearing with the impaled Imperial warrior.

“Out of the building! Now!” Daul leapt from the second story window and onto the ground below. He hit the ground hard and rolled to the left, just barely avoiding a net of deadly monomolecular razor wire. It tightened around the rocky ground, shredding it into powder.

Daul fired at where the razor wire had come from with his plasma-pistol, only to find that it was nothing but unoccupied air. He reached out with his senses, searching for where the next one would come, vaguely aware of the howls of agony from inside the bunker. Someone had been caught with the razor-wire webbing.

When a pocket of air began to slice open behind Daul, he did not hesitate in driving his blade into the nape of the eldar warrior’s neck, pulling the energized weapon downward to slice from stern to stem. Realizing too late that a second portal had opened up, he held up his hand and repelled the incoming webs with a burst of telekinetic power, forcing the Eldar who'd fired them to flee back into the Warp.

He readied himself to slay the next thing that hopped out of the portal in front of him when, to his dismay, Susan Ivanova came through it on the quite dead Eldar's back. His apprentice looked up at him in astonishment before saying, “Well, that was new.”

Daul lifted her from her fallen foe, firing at the vaguely humanoid shape of the nearby Eldar exarch as it used its carapace-like warp-jump generator to hop back into the bunker. A human head flew out of the bunker seconds later, though Daul was too occupied avoiding monomolecular webs to figure out whom.

“How the do we fight these guys?” The woman bellowed in consternation between alternate shots of the pistols in each hand. “They refuse to stop jumping all over the damn place.”

“Open your mind,” Daul growled, parrying a series of wrist blade blows from the exarch before it hopped backwards and disappeared. “You coward – no, not you Commander – open your mind to what is around you.”

“A bit busy!” Susan shoved Daul to the ground as another web swept past where his head had been.

“Look, just get pissed off and let loose. The rest will take care of itself.” Daul flung a fistful of lighting at a tear in space, cooking the warp-spider alive in his own armor.

“Down to one.” the Kroot warrior chittered from inside the bunker.

“How do you know?” Susan growled in irritation, “They're jumping around all the damn place.”

“Because, man-thing,” the Kroot yelled as he fired, hanging out the second window. “Vira'capac can smell them.”

Daul cried out in pain as the Exarch's blade sliced across his chest, perforating the side of his armor. It was a glancing blow, but painful in the extreme. First blood to him, then. Daul planted his hand in the Exarch's chest. Daul focused the pain into a single burst of energy in his palm as he smiled and said, “Farewell.”

The astonished Exarch flew across the battlefield into what should have been a bone crushing collision with the cliff wall. However, the exarch vanished when he got within inches of the surface, reappearing on the clifftop.

The Exarch looked down at him from beyond the range of their weapons and bellowed in psychically enhanced reverberating challenge, “You are dead, mon'kiegh, you just are not smart enough to have stopped moving yet. You have killed my apprentices? There are a thousand more where they came from. Before this day ends, your head with be on a pike to adorn my personal transport. You are nothing, garbage to be wiped off the floor. For today is the day you meet your doom –”

Whatever else the Exarch might have had to say was quite rudely interrupted as the entire cliff burst into a ball of superheated plasma, tossing the Exarch's desiccated and sizzling corpse to the ground below. A Sh'lassen battle tank rolled up the path, stopping ten meters from the Imperials. Daul stared down its main cannon, waiting on baited breath as it turned his direction.

It was not marked with the insignias of the Sh'lassen government. The traitors had arrived.

V'cath, their Sh'lassen guide brayed in fear from where he crouched in the doorway of the bunker, staring at the sponson guns of the battle tank in anticipation of his own death.

It never came.

The front hatch to the tank popped open and a Sh'lassen man in grey robes climbed out the front, hooves clattering loudly on the side of it as he climbed down. He pulled back his hood to reveal that his face was clean shaven and that his horns had been removed entirely. V'cath actually gagged in disgust, apparently repulsed by the rebel's appearance.

Daul couldn't have cared less about the rebel Sh'lassen's appearance as it bowed and proceeded to speak to him in his native dialect of Metzik Gothic, “Time is of the essence, fatebringer. If you and your companions would please follow me, you are expected in Matok. You have my word that no harm will come to you or your companions.”

“You do realize I came here to conquer Matok,” Daul replied in confusion.

“This is known to us.” the rebel replied, “As it is known to us that you will succeed. But not before you see what you must see. Not before you know what you must know.”

“And if we refuse?” Susan growled, looking expectantly at the Skitarii warrior as he walked forward aimed a melta-pistol at the side of the stationary rebel tank.

“Then you will kill me.” the rebel replied, “You will also likely die trying to make your way back to the battlefield.”

“You seem awfully confident,” Daul lowered his plasma-pistol and sheathed his sword. “Why?”

“Because Inquisitor, the path is already written,” the rebel smiled, “Only the end remains.”

“Kill him, eat him, and man things can take goat-man's tank,” Vira'capac suggested helpfully as he sliced the heads off of the Eldar warriors, shoving them into a sack for a snack later. He pointed with his jagged knife to V'cath. “Other goat-man can drive.”

“No,” Daul replied slowly, looking into the Rebel priest's eyes. “Not this time, Vira'capac. This time, we go peacefully.”

Daul didn't know why, but he had to know. He simply had to know. It was written.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Fighting every rational instinct in his body, David ran in the opposite direction from every other able bodied crewman, heading towards where he knew the Eldar pirates had boarded the ship. He would very much have preferred to be in his father's residence, sitting behind the numerous forcefields and barricades that prevented boarders from entering. He'd long ago lost count of how many times he'd sat in the fortified bunker of house Sáclair with a warm cup of soup and a blanket, waiting for the siege to break.

But he would not, could not, be idle. Not now, not while Bonafila was in danger. Faest Nor's surgery was only three decks up from where they'd breached the ship's hull, and he would not cower in some hole while the woman he loved was in danger. He sprinted along the hallway with his ornate rifle held tightly to his chest, huffing from the exertion. He was not out of shape compared to most children of noble houses, but the effort of running at break-neck speed for the past thirty minutes was more than he usually engaged in.

He'd heard stories of what Eldar pirates did, how they could trap souls within rocks and summon death with a whisper. More so that even Chaos, they were the bogeyman of all shipborne men and women of the Empire. They would attack without warning or reason, their skillful violence matched only by their capricious nature. They flew the stars in ships as large as planets, serving their own unknowable needs and desires. There were even whispered stories of a dark city that lay outside of time and space, where the Eldar dwelled in shadows and nightmare.

They would not take Bona.

“David Sáclair, where the hell do you think you're going?” a harsh voice barked as he rounded the bend some ten meters from Surgery. Donat Enzo stared at him in blank-faced irritation, his lip curling slightly in exasperation as he crossed his arms over his carapace-armored breastplate.

“I, uh,” David swallowed nervously. “I heard about the attack and I –” Throne it sounded stupid now that he was saying it out loud. “ – I have to protect Bonafila.”

“You decided to come alone to face an unknown number of Eldar pirates, armed with a flak-jacket, a kitchen cleaver, and a lasrifle I'm almost positive you stole from your father's armory?” Donat repeated in a montone drawl.

“Well – uh – yes.” David swallowed nervously and replied in as confident of a voice as he could muster. Somehow, speaking to Donat was more terrifying to him than even the prospect of fighting the Eldar had been. “She needs protection, and the Security can't catch every one of the slippery bastards with the Lionhearts on the planet.”

“And you know that in the event that you actually faced an Eldar pirate, they would have hundreds if not thousands of years of experience in warfare that you could not even begin to hope to match. You know that it would mean almost certain torture and death at best?” Donat replied incredulously.

“I – I don't care. She needs me.” David felt particularly small under the nobleman's judgemental gaze.

“Good.” Donat replied. “Controlling the bulkhead to the surgery is a two-man job, and none of security can be spared.”

“I – wait, what?” David blinked in surprise.

“And I will expect you at my house on Tuesday to discuss the conditions of your continuing courtship to my daughter tomorrow, providing that we both survive the day.” Donat led David in the direction of the surgery. “Once the matter becomes official, I intend for you to be chaperoned till I can negotiate a proper dowry with your father.”

“Oh.” David replied lamely before it dawned on him what Donat was saying. Donat had just given David permission to marry his daughter. “Yes – That – Yes sir! Thank you, sir.”

“To hell with your parenthood,” Donat chuckled amusedly. “A man who will die for my daughter is noble enough for me. But for both our sakes, let’s not make that our goal.”

“No sir,” David beamed as they rushed to the surgery with his future father-in-law, “Of course not, sir.”

In spite of the imminent danger, David briefly allowed himself a moment of unabashed happiness as he imagined his future with Bonafila. For once, everything was going as planned. Well, everything minus the pirates.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Earthforce One was more comfortable that what John was used to, more akin to a luxury liner from the days of yore than a space ship. Even as a pleasure craft, it was a bit excessive. The couch he was sitting on would have cost him two years’ salary to buy, but making an Earthforce One that was even bigger, more armed, and more impressive than the one that had been destroyed had been a unifying factor for the Earth Alliance in the years following Santiago's assassination. It was a way of showing the terrorists that Earth would never bow to terrorism.

It was a noble sentiment. Unfortunately, it just happened to largely benefit the Terrorist-in-Chief. The smiling hearty-cheeked midwestern Brutus sat across from him with a glass of scotch, discussing baseball animatedly with John. It was actually quite nice.

John kind of liked the guy.

John didn't want to like him. Liking him as a person was inconvenient. When the impeachment trial finally came about, there would be no way for it not to come off as a personal betrayal.

But the truth was that he did like William Clark. He was charming, if an unashamedly obvious politician in the extreme. If it weren't for the armed coup of the former President Santiago, he would have even been enjoyable company. Fortunately for John, his awkwardness around the President was interpreted as general nervousness around the most powerful man on Earth.

The president slapped him on the knee jovially, “Come on, Sheridan, lighten up. It's over. Relax.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” He replied with absolute professionalism, “Of course, Mr. President.”

“Call me William,” the President sighed in irritation as he sipped at his scotch. “There's no need to stand on formality.”

“Yes, President William,” Replied John, he raised his glass of scotch politely. He had yet to even sip it.

“Hah!” the President barked in amusement. “I made the right decision with you. You're as Earthforce as they come, Alliance through and through.”

“If you say so, sir.” John replied noncommittally.

“Actually, Captain, I have an ulterior motive in bringing you along. There are certain events that are going to come to light in the next few days. Certain events that will involve you personally.” Clark sniffed his scotch and sighed, “Lord that's good. Aged to perfection.”

John had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, “Events?”

“Well, I suppose I'm not the best one to explain this to you.” The president waved to the secret service officer behind him. “But we do have an expert.”

A tall, grinning man in a charcoal grey suit walked into the room and extended his hand to John. The man looked vaguely familiar, though exactly how he was familiar eluded him, “Have we met?”

“I've been on your station before, Captain,” The man laughed cooly. “It is quite likely that I've popped up on your radar in my travels.”

Clark snorted in amusement, “I'm sure you have. Captain Sheridan, please allow me to introduce Mr. Morden.”

“Tell me, Captain,” The man smiled. “What do you want?”
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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

G'Kar bellowed in frustration as he watched a Narn solder get ripped in half by the monstrous half-breed apes through his binoculars. The creature howled in ecstasy as it shoved hunks of meat into its discontentedly fanged maw, writhing it tentacles in pleasure only to screech in pain as a Centauri commando drove a Centauri gladius into the creature's skull.

“I don't care how you get them to the third ridge, but we need more men down there. Those things are going to overrun them soon,” barked the Centauri General into his communicator from where he stood some ten paces behind G'Kar in his command tent. “No I do not want you to shell the Narn position. I want you to send commandoes to support it.”

General Ezra was, as Centauri went, an utter and unmitigated son of a bitch. He was cold hearted, calculating, and racist to a fault, but the man both understood warfare and outright refused to allow himself to misuse allied forces. When war eventually did break out between their peoples, G'Kar would have to make a special effort to have the man assassinated for fear that the man might turn that competence to victory against the Narn.

He flattered himself that the General shared similar feelings about G'Kar. They were adversaries, to be sure, but united in purpose against the monsters of Faust. Ezra did not believe in the teachings of G'Quan. Nor did he belive that G'Kar was correct in his assertions that these creatures were servants of the ancient enemy of the Narn people. Yet belief was unnecessary.

Ezra hated the half-breed creatures of Faust on principle. They were esthetically appalling and they seemed entirely determined to eat as many Centauri as they could manage. Which, on reflection, was as good a reason as any.

“Jak,” The General questioned their Imperial military advisor, “Precisely how do you suggest breaking this stalemate? I cannot advance without exposing the eastern front to Dilgar scout tanks.”

The damn things were a nightmare. They weren’t so much tanks as high-calibre rifles and anti-armor guns slapped into motor-bikes, and they had a level of mobility along the trenches that was hard to manage with their more cumbersome Centauri and Narn counterparts.

“Do... do you have m... mobile anti-aircraft weapons?” Jak considered the problem.

“No,” The Centauri general sighed irritatedly, “They're all plasma-based. We can't bring them into the eastern trenches with so much methane in the air. We could try another air strike, but we lost two fighers out of the last ten we sent on environmental hazards alone.”

“We have some shoulder mounted missiles that could work,” G'Kar sighed, “But they're not going to work at this range. We'd have to get them substantially closer to work.”

“How do you dig them out in the Empire?” Queried the General.

“N... not usually the j... job of rank and file solders. C... common practice is to nuke the population center from orbit or drop asteroids on the continent.” Jak shrugged his shoulders. “I... Impractical in our current situation due to environmental complications.”

“You use mass drivers on your own populations?” G'Kar felt queasy at the thought of it. Mass driver weaponry was banned by every single civilized species in the known universe. Even the Centauri were signatories on that treaty.

“If necessary,” Jak nodded, twitching slightly in thought. “Every situation different. M... measured r...response for measured attack. Surrender of Imperial territory is an inadequate solution. Negotiation with terrorists is a non-viable solution. Eventually destruction of t...territory preferable to surrender. Numerous planets overpopulated anyway.”

G'Kar was about to reply when a Centauri soldier screamed from inside the camp, howling as tentacles burst out of the black ash and dragged him down into a hidden tunnel below. The soldier howled inhumanly as five hulking shapes dragged themselves out of the sapper's tunnel.

G'Kar grabbed the phased plasma-rifle off the table and fired twice into the largest creature's head. A wave of blue energy mulched the bony mottled flesh, bursting it with a satisfying squelch of cooked meat. The remaining four ducked into cover and opened fire, their laser rifles cracking loudly with the sound of ozone.

A Narn warrior growled hatefully, chucking a fragmentation grenade across the ground to explode a the feet of a half-breed warrior. The warped creature was kicked up into the air as its legs ceased to connect with the rest of its body. It was not long before an uninjured half-breed lost control of its hunger and ceased firing to start tearing off meaty hunks of the injured creature's legs.

The two half breeds rolled across the ground, stabbing each other with their barbed tentacles, before the Narn tossed a second grenade, ending their squabbling forever.

Surprisingly, it was Jak who killed the next half breed, shooting it with a slug thrower in the chest. The creature had actually laughed at the diminutive clerk before the shell in its chest exploded, putting a watermelon-sized hole in the monster's innards.

The final half-breed tried to flee back down the tunnel they'd dug, but tumbled to the ground dead when a Centauri soldier hit it in the shoulder blades with a high-powered laser rifle, the sort the Centauri favored for anti-tank weaponry. It didn't kill the half-breed so much as liquify it.

G'Kar tossed a plasma grenade into the warren to collapse the burrow before activating his communicator, “This is a general warning to all troops. I repeat, general warning to all troops. The creatures can burrow through the ground. Attacks may come from below!”

The General growled in irritation and slammed his helmet firmly across his head, tossing the feather back over it imperiously, “Monstrous, cowardly beasts. They have no sense of gentlemanly warfare.”

“Sound the general advance,” G'Kar growled in irritation. “We need to get this command post to more secure ground as soon as possible. If we can't make the ten miles to the forward bunker we're going to have to be fighting the damn tunnel Tujula all night.”

“T... tunnel Tujula?” Jak Queried.

“They're an animal that lives on Na – That's not important right now,” G'Kar pointed with his gauntleted fist at a stone fortress sitting on top of a distant ridge. “We need to take that fortress, or by G'Quan we will die here.”

“I'm inclined to agree,” The General growled in irritation, “All troops, plan delta G. Advance on my mark.”

-=-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Susan watched as the Inquisitor examined the battlefield from safely below the trenches, a long optic extending from his eye up and over the rim of the trench, “Faust has not breached the main wall.”

“That's good isn't it?” Queried Danzig as he rubbed the soot from his eyes. “It means we're not too late.”

“Oh, we're late,” Daul growled in irritation. “Late enough that they should have some more noteworthy siege equipment in place. They don't have anything more apparently dangerous than a Leman Russ. I mean, just look at those doors. Faust is mad but he's no fool. I wouldn't have shown up here with anything less than a Baneblade and a couple of Basilisks.”

“We didn't have those on Belzafest,” Shem whispered. “And the best siege equipment we did have, we took with us.”

Daul shook his head. “Faust has had a year or more to prepare for this assault. He has something planned to take down those doors. The question is, what is it?”

“Maybe he doesn't want them taken down,” Susan suggested, taking care to speak in English for the reporter's benefit. “If he needs a new base of operations, it’s hard to be more impregnable than Matok. He could be trying to starve them out. Like you said, the man is exceedingly patient.”

It felt a bit bad to be using the reporter the way she was. There was no way that even a quarter of this footage would hit open airtime thanks to the National Secrets Act, but it would prove her with a firm foothold to bring herself back over to their good graces. As long as they saw her as their double agent rather than as a traitor, it would go a long way towards helping her case.

But her case for what, precisely? She had no interest in becoming part of the Psi-corps, and her career in the Earthforce military was for all intents and purposes kaput. Daul had seen to that. He didn't think that she knew, but she knew the way that his mind worked too well for that to fool her. She understood Daul Hilder better than the man understood himself.

She was thinking his thoughts less often, but she knew how to visualize them if she needed to. It was a bit like having her own sociopath on demand. Which was, of course, how she realized that Daul did not have even the remotest clue what a reporter was. The Empire had no forms of standardized mass media that weren't strictly controlled by both the offices of propaganda and the church of the Emperor.

She looked into the camera as she said, “The man has been alive for centuries already.”

“Faust prefers a more direct hand in things,” Daul countered, rubbing the jaw bone of his helmet pensively. “No, we need to reconsider how we're advancing. Danzig!”

“Yessir!” the Lionheart replied eagerly.

“I need you to take the Lionhearts as we planned before. Approach them from the side and drive them into the artillery. I'm taking a different route. We're going to try and approach them from that path– ” Danzig pointed to a narrow tunnel that went vaguely in the direction of the front lines. “ – with Miss Ivanova and my retinue and look for summoning circles. If he's not going to use super-heavies, then the bastards are planning to use demons. So far, the invasion is proceeding to schedule and I won't have us slowing it down.”

“Of course, sir,” Danzig nodded affirmatively, looking to Miss Wallace nervously as the woman strained to listen in on the Gothic discussion, “Sir, perhaps she isn't...?”

“Yes, Danzig, the noblewoman should go with you,” Daul shuddered, clasping and unclasping his prosthetic hand. “I do not mean to inflict what I must do upon the woman. Take her with you. It will be a kinder thing by far. I'll relay their positions so that you can pass the information back to the line and carpet bomb the area.”

A shiver ran up Susan’s spine that was more than anticipation - a premonition, perhaps? Daul was not particularly skilled in the art of premonition, but Susan had always had a preternatural sense of when things were going to go completely wrong. She'd always written it off to Russian stoicism, but perhaps it had been something more.

It was with a heavy heart that she followed Daul and his Skitarii shadow, falling into step with Lieutenant Shan and the honor guard of Belzafesters. The lanky Kroot loped behind them, eying the departing Lionhearts and Belzafesters.

Vira'capac trilled morosely, clucking and shaking his quills in irritation. “Irritating man-things. They will be missed.”

Daul paid the Kroot no attention at all as they slunk forwards into the pitch-black of the subterranean passage. But Susan could not help but feel a deep and presiding sense of foreboding about the whole situation.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Li whooped eagerly as the shot from his aft laser cannon bisected an unwary Dilgar frigate. They might be upgraded with God alone knew what alien technologies, but the Dilgar were the same predictable predators as ever. They never fought a man one-on-one who could be battled two-on-one, and always chose a wounded opponent over a strong one.

Presumably, whatever race was responsible for the pitch-black bio-ships that lead their attack fleet had taken pity upon the Dilgar. How a fleet of Dilgar ships had managed to escape destruction hardly mattered. They were there, and they would be defeated.

The rebel fleet had already surrendered, and the so called “thousand ship demon fleet” of Dilgar and Bio-ships was slowly being whittled down to a mere dozen escorts and three kilometer long bio-dreadnaughts.

Their ECM was unquestionably impressive, perhaps even equal to that of the Minbari, but the Earth Alliance had beaten a race with powerful electronic countermeasures at the Battle of the Line. Plain human stubbornness had defeated the most technologically sophisticated race in the universe.

And there was no human more stubborn than Li. There was no crew better than the crew of the Beijing Beauty. And he'd fight anyone who disputed either.

“Manually aim the guns if you have to, but do not allow those damnable Imperials to have all the glory,” Li growled in irritation. The Earth Alliance had already been winning the battle by a wide margin before the aliens had shown up. It would be humans, not aliens or Imperials, who brought about this victory.

Li could not argue that the Narn and Centauri ships had not been helpful - necessary even - in ensuring that as few humans died as possible, but his pride would not allow him to even acknowledge the remotest scrap of the victory being due to the barbarians of the Imperium. To be sure, the demon fleet had hunted the Endless Bounty with a near-religious fervor, at times ignoring otherwise crippled or practical targets in lieu of firing at the Imperial ship.

But the Endless Bounty was not necessary. Not at all. Well, perhaps to draw fire away from himself. The upgraded Dilgar ships packed a hell of a wallop.

The Beijing Beauty banked hard to port to avoid a missile salvo from one of the kilometer-long bio-ships, yanking Li to the left within his harness as an enemy missile collided with the Beijing Beauty. A pair of startled Ensigns hovered weightlessly in the air as the ship's artificial gravity abruptly ceased to function due to severe damage in the ship's rotational section.

Li, still strapped down to the ground, grabbed them by their ankles and pulled them down.

“Permission to return fire?” Queried his weapons officer.

“Permission granted. ECM or no, It's a kilometer long target next to two other kilometer long targets, you're bound to hit one of the 死屁眼! Fire!” Li bellowed in irritation. The bio-ships troubled him: they were at least superficially reminiscent to Vorlon ships, though the jutting spines on the oblong black flesh of the ship were like no Vorlon ship he'd ever seen. Too much of this battle was unknown and unplanned.

Pulsed plasma fire rocketed across the vast expanse of debris and burning ships to collide harmlessly across the glowing energy fields surrounding the ships. The damned things were shielded, heavily so. “This is an order to all Earth Alliance ships! Fire all batteries at Hostile Omega 3, full power. The hostile is shielded. I repeat the hostile is shielded.”

Lieutenant Meyer pulled himself down into his seat, fastening the buckles hurriedly, “Captain, don't underestimate them. We're taking around one-to-one losses, even with the aid of the aliens.”

“Sir!” A worried Ensign shouted, “Port interceptors are non-functioning! Our Y axis is vulnerable from below. We have incoming fighters. I repeat, we have incoming starfighters.”

“Where the hell are our Starfuries?” Li barked in irritation.

“Protecting the London and the King while they attempt to activate their engines sir.” Meyer sighed. “Like I told you when you advanced past our defensive line.”

“Don't tell me what I already know, tell me how we fix it.” Li snarled as the sound of something impacting with the side of his ship clanged through the hull. “Damage report.”

“Superficial, sir. Re-routing power to grid g-42 aft to compensate.” the Ensign replied nervously, “The fighters managed to keep the worst of them off us. But we shouldn't stay here longer than we have to.”

“I thought you said the fighters were back with our crippled ships?” Li chastised his second in command irritatedly.

“Ours most certainly are,” Klaus pointed at the eagle winged fighters swooping past the narrow viewport of the bridge, “Those are Imperial fighter craft.”

“Saved by Imperials,” Li spat in irritation. “Fine, slow the impulse engines twenty percent and allow the fleet to catch up with us.”

“Sir, there are two Narn warships coming into formation with us, the Ga'la and the Anok'kor. They say they're planning to protect us till our interceptors are back online,” the comms officer announced.

“Good,” Li replied, “Keep hitting them with our forward batteries, switch to full spectrum pulses. And get that fool of an engineer linked up to see what in the devil is going on with those repairs. I don't want to be hiding behind the Narn's skirts forever.”

“I can't figure out what it is they're doing,” Lieutenant Meyer chewed his lip nervously.

“Mr. Meyer?” Li turned to his second in command.

“Sir, none of this sits right with me. It's too easy,” Klaus sighed. “I've never know the Dilgar to launch an assault that they weren't positive they could win. Our arrival was entirely predictable. The Earth Alliance was bound to send troops to Akdor even before they decided to invade, so why do it now? What do they hope to gain?”

“The Dilgar are not the puppet masters here, Mr. Meyer,” Li nodded towards the black ships in the distance. “Those ships, whoever they are, are the ones supplying and supporting them.”

“But what do they have to gain in invading a little scrap of nowhere that has barely achieved spaceflight? The only reason that we bother to be here is its tactical importance with relation to the Narn and Centauri home worlds.” Klaus shook his head, “This isn't an occupation force, or they would have issued some sort of demands or negotiations. There just isn't a reason.”

“It might not be a reason you or I could comprehend,” Li grunted. “Sentient beings value different things. We fight for different reasons.” However, it sounded hollow even to him that they would invade without some sort of greater purpose.

“Ensign,” Li commanded abruptly. “Put the battlefield on the main view screen.”

Li groaned in frustration as he looked at the friendly warship indicators, realizing their mistake. The Dilgar ships had flown in different directions to weaken the relief fleet's advance, spreading them to the northernmost and southernmost poles of the planet.

Li pointed to the second moon. “I want an enhanced scan of that moon. Immediately.”

“Scanning, sir,” the Ensign stared at her console in confusion, “Uh, just a second, sir. I need to recalibrate my instruments. I'm getting some odd results.”

“How odd?” Li asked nervously.

“Well, sir, there are a lot of odd radioactive elements present, but I'm having difficulty registering that the moon is there at all,” the Ensign replied in confusion. “I mean... it's a moon, so I know it's there, but it's showing up as being in more than one place at once – if that makes any sense.”

Li swore furiously, “It's an ambush.”

“What?” Klaus blinked in shock. “But how? We control the hyperspace gate.”

“Klaus, hyperspace is no longer the only method of faster than light travel,” Li replied in horror as a dozen kilometer long dagger-like ships soared out from behind the moon, skating on starlight around a monstrous warship with three massive pinioned wings of solar webbing. “Prepare to engage targets. Sent out a warning to all allied ships. And get me a firing solution, now!”

The dagger ships were elegant. They didn't seem to fly so much as they danced through the stars in a cascade of shifting shapes and shadow. The ships shifted abruptly every time Li tried to fix his eyes on one, blinking out of view and into a different location entirely. It was like grasping at smoke.

It was beautiful in a nightmarish way. An old race, it had to be an old race like the Vorlons. But why involve themselves here? Why now?

“Mein Gott,” Klaus' jaw opened and closed in astonishment at the pure and predatory elegance of their attackers. “What are they?”

“We're getting a message, sir.” The comms officer cupped his hand over his ear. “Uh – I'm not making this up sir – You do not belong.”

“That's it?” Li questioned, raising his voice to speak over the gunnery crew as they attempted to target the new threat.

“No sir.” Replied the officer. “Leave or die.”

“They don't seem to be waiting for an answer, sir!” The tactical officer shouted. “They're launching fighters. And – how in the hell did they – Incoming!”

A blank patch of space some hundred kilometers above where their sensors registered the presence of a warship fired upon the Narn warship to their left, a beam of blinding white bisecting the ship down the middle. Not waiting for Li's order, their helmsman punched the engines to full speed, narrowly avoiding the nuclear fireball when the beam of light hit the Narn reactor core.

“Sir! Our sensors just detected that we've been targeted.” The tactical officer shouted in horror. “I have no idea where they are sir! I have no firing solution.”

“Evasive action,” Li barked.

“To where?” Klaus growled. “We cannot match those speeds.”

“Second contact!” The tactical officer shouted. “It's the Endless Bounty. They've engaged the hostile.”

“They're transmitting a wide band radio transmission to all ships in the Region in Interlac.” The comms officer turned to Li. “They say, 'We will not surrender an inch to these miserable, arrogant, knife-eared murderous pirates. For the Emperor, for Terra, we stand.”

The excited chatter of his gunnery crew washed over Li as he pondered the new arrivals. The Imperials knew them. Not just knew them, hated them.

“Never thought I'd be glad to see that miserable ship,” Li grunted. “At least someone can target the bastards.”

“Sir!” The tactical officer smiled. “I can't target the enemy ships but I can target the Imperial torpedoes. Shifting targeting priority to imperial ordinance impacts.”

“Do it! And tell the Anok'kor that they can do the same,” Li grunted. “And somebody get on the horn to tell Captain Anders to stop sitting on his thumbs on the southern rim. We need reinforcements yesterday!”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Osma felt underdressed for the battle in spite of his carapace armor. The need for an expedient investigation into Nor's “little matter,” as he'd become fond of calling it, was so great that he'd left the coordination of security teams in the hands of Shakut rather than controlling them himself. He was, of course, in full battle armor and would respond to any and all invaders to the sovereign realm of the Lord Sáclair, but he could not afford to let even a second pass where the loyalty of Donat Enzo remained in question.

They kept on appearing in crime reports, odd examples of people having anti-agapics more sophisticated than they strictly ought to have had access to. Osma had never made the connection between the disparate crime reports, in part because the theft of medicine from the nobility was a rather victimless crime and in part because he rather pitied the crewmen who could not afford proper medical care.

It was not Bonafila that he directed his efforts towards at the moment, but a prior case that, due to the rapid expulsion of Magos Frist, had fallen by the wayside. The sabotage of the War Servitor was a seemingly unremarkable event. A week in which someone did not try to murder the Inquisitor was a slow week indeed. But the sophistication and the lateral thinking displayed by trying to poison a war servitor by restoring its mind to drive it insane was devious, even brilliant.

Were the war servitor to have murdered or maimed the Inquisitor, it likely would have been written off as a product of poor maintenance or an accidentally uttered command. In the highly unlikely event that they managed to subdue a crazed war servitor without damaging the machine, it would have still been difficult to figure out exactly what had happened, as standard procedure in those events would have been to cut out the malfunctioning augmentics first. Any healing done by the drugs would have been concealed by the damage done to remove the augmentics.

But there were two men to enter that room. The first had administered the anti-agapic. The second had administered anti-venom in a misguided attempt to protect the Inquisitor’s life. This told Osma that the first man not only knew the second, but knew them intimately. If he could find one, then it would be only a matter of time before he tracked down the other.

But after days of watching every damn security recording from one side of the cell block to the other, the most he'd managed to discover was that the ship’s internal security monitors were pathetically easy to scramble due to general disrepair. Whoever had come to the brainwave that repairing security cameras in the detention levels was a low priority task needed a kick to the teeth.

He leaned back in his chair and swore in irritation, “Bloody milk and whore tit's of the eye.”

A small voice yelped in shock at his anger. Osma swiveled in his chair to see the stocking footed Tariq. The child wore the smile linen smock with a tiny lion of Sáclair embroidered over the breast that Osma had given him for the last Primarch's feast. The boy shivered, afraid he'd done something to anger Osma.

Osma stood from his chair and lifted the boy into his arms, “No Tariq, I'm not mad at you. You're in no trouble. But why are you out of your bed? You have school tomorrow.”

“No,” Tariq lied, pouting sadly. “I don't. I can just stay up with you.”

“Child, you know very well that isn't going to work.” Osma grumbled, jiggling the child on his knee as he sat back down. “Now, why aren't you asleep?”

“I'm scared,” Tariq kicked his legs back and forth as he tugged on Osma's braided beards. “You always fight, and I want to stay with you. I want to protect you.”

“Oh, bless you child,” Osma grumbled. “I'm an old man. My duty is to protect the ship, and that means going into danger sometimes. But I go there to protect you.”

“You're my dad,” Tariq said in a voice that only the ungracious would call a whine. “I need you.”

“Child,” Osma gesticulated with his left hand while searching for a way to make it all right in the boy's eyes, accidentally tapping an activation rune on the keypad. He swore and reached to undo what he'd done ,but not before Tariq yelled “I'll help!” and proceeded to smack every rune he could reach, pulling knobs and levers with great eagerness.

Osma yanked the child away from the keyboard, resisting the urge to scream at the boy as he gently placed the child on the ground and whispered in a dangerous rumble, “Child, never do that again. Ever. The wrong rune, the wrong lever, the wrong button and you could well condemn a man to death. If I ever see you touch a cogitator rune without permission, I will punish you severely.”

Tariq groaned, rubbing his sleeves against his face and choking back the tears. Osma turned away from the boy and looked back at the screen, “Lets see what the damage is.”

The files largely seemed to be intact; the cogitator's search window had been open so the worst Tariq had manage to do had been to open a work order from gold channel. How the eye had he done that? Gold channel work orders were supposed to be deleted immediately after being issued. It was an added security precaution enacted by Sáclair to prevent Amon Sui sabotage. The order could not be known or altered by any outside party once issued.

There were precious few with access to it. Other than the Captain and the Lady Sáclair, he could count them on one hand, all of them dangerously highly placed within the command structure of the Endless Bounty.

“Child... if this is what I believe it to be, I may very well take you to the sweet shop.” Osma grumbled in frustrated approbation. He really shouldn't reward the child for something so grox-headedly foolish, but the boy had found the lead he could not. It was a lead, the first real one he'd found on the case so far. “Hell, I'm buying you that Commissar doll you wanted.”

Tariq was going through so many confused emotions that he seemed on the edge of whiplash. “I... didn't... but... what?”

All he needed to do was cross reference the work order with who would have been on the bridge when Sáclair wasn't there on the day in question to figure out which of the potential – Osma stopped cold as a tinny screech of a klaxon interrupted his train of thought. A blue light spun, flashing a warning that he hoped never to see again in his lifetime. Pirates - Eldar pirates - had boarded the Endless Bounty. Merciful Throne, where had they come from?

He punched the rune to save his findings to a data crystal and frenziedly shoved the crystal into the pocket of his tunic. Osma lifted the boy under one arm as he grabbed a combat shotgun and bandolier with the other.

“What's going on?” the baffled Tariq cried, “Where are we going?”

“Never you mind.” Osma whispered in a voice that he hoped did not betray the terror in his heart. “It will all be well. It will all be well.”

“No!” the boy yelled, “What's going on?”

“We're just having a drill. It's a game, boy, a special game.” Osma ripped open the evidence safe in his office. He waved his arm to find the massive adamantium block, invisible to the naked eye when closed, which opened to expose a room the size of a walk-in closet. He sat the boy down on a shelf, pulling a confiscated breathing mask tagged with an evidence number and fixing it over the boy's face before attaching it to an oxygen apparatus. “You're going to sit in here and wait till I come back for you. I need you to stay absolutely silent for this game. The other team doesn't play nice.”

Tariq latched onto Osma's leg, “No! Don't go!”

“I have to go, child.” Osma pried the boy off his leg and put him back onto the shelf. “I don't have a choice.”

“If you go, you won't come back.” Tariq's eyes were wet with tears, his words near-incomprehensible from the mask and the sobbing, “Nobody ever comes back. Not ever.”

“Hey!” Osma pinched the boy's cheek, “Don't you talk like that. I'm coming back. Always.”

“Promise?” The boy hiccuped, lifting the bottom of his shirt from over his belly to wipe his face.

“Of course I promise.” Osma hugged the boy, “I'll definitely be back. We're family. Family always comes back.”

The little boy hugged him as hard as his tiny arms could manage, pressing himself against Osma's chest as though if he just tried hard enough the bad things would go away. Sighing sadly, Osma ruffled the boy's hair and walked out of the evidence locker, shutting it behind him.

Hopefully he hadn't just lied to the boy.

“Come on then, you old goat,” Osma grunted agitatedly to himself as he ran out of his office. “Let's show these knife-eared bastards why they should stay the Eye off your blessed ship.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Daul twisted his fingers, manipulating the hatred into his mind into a bolt of energy as a half-breed warrior leapt from a second story window while brandishing an axe. The monster's innards sprayed across the bunker, venomous blood sizzling on contact with the obsidian. He hopped backwards to avoid the claws of a second beast, parrying its swipe with his power sword in a messy arc. The creature yowled as four sets of arms fell to the ground.

“Go other way, Vira'capac said.” The Kroot warrior crooned irritatedly as it drove its elbow into a half-breed hound's gullet, “Obvious ambush, Vira'capac said. But no, man thing refuse to listen to Vira'capac. Mule-headed man thing must go left.”

“We get it,” Shan growled in irritation, heaving a frag-grenade into the open window of the bunker, “Complaining won't make them die any faster.”

The grenade exploded, tossing smoke and shrapnel within the confined space. The Belzafest Lieutenant nodded to the nearest of his men, motioning for the door. The unfortunate soldier charged through the door and into the waiting jaws of an injured but still living half-breed. Barbed tentacles perforated the man's chest, poking out from his back as the creature dislocated his jaw and swallowed his head.

Susan Ivanova screamed an irate “No!” before firing at the creature with her hot-shot las pistols. The masterwork weapons punched orange-sized holes in the half-breed's face and lungs, killing it instantly. A second Belzafest guardsman charged up to the hole, depressing the firing stud on his flamer and turning the inside of the bunker into a blazing inferno.

The half-breeds on the second floor tried to counter the assault, but Daul's Skitarii counterpart opened fire with his bolt-gun. Fist-sized explosive projectiles ripped across the side of the building, ignoring the stonework as though it were paper. Shell met flesh, and the half-breed creatures died.

“Cease fire!” Daul barked, reaching out with his senses to search for the presence of half-breeds, “They're dead.”

“Another battle survived,” the Kroot crowed in irritation. “Irritating.”

Ignoring the preening alien’s self-pity, Daul followed Cairn into the charred remains of the bunker, examining it in irritation. The remnants of what had once been maps and charts were only burned scraps beneath the charred corpses of half-breeds, “Damn! See if any of the intel survived the fire. We need to figure out what Faust is up to out here.”

Shan poked at one of the bodies with the butt of his rifle, “This one isn't half-breed or Sh'lassen.”

Susan examined the body, green in the face for having been exposed to so many charred corpses. The breathing mask would help, but nothing could truly silence that hateful odor. The Russian leaned over the body and squinted her eyes, as though trying to envision the uncooked flesh of the creature, “Yeah, that is definitely a Dilgar. Or was, I suppose.”

V'clath sniffed the corpse, “It smells right for a Dilgar. Look at the mask, the grinning death insignia over a broken eagle. He's pledged to the half-breeds.”

“Then the Dilgar are officially an enemy of the empire,” Daul sighed. “Not that we're short for enemies.”

The Skitarii's shoulders shook in amusement as he fidgeted with the shattered fragments of data crystals, scanning them with his auspex in the hope that one of them was stable enough to retain some data. His taloned fingers, too indelicate for such work, were crossed behind his back as his mechandrite cables did the more delicate adjustments.

Kicking an eviscerated half-breed from its perch with a wet thud, Daul sat down at the still-smoldering table and rested his elbows upon it in thought, “None of this makes any sense. Faust's strategy is clearly dependent upon both siege weaponry and reinforcement arriving imminently, but whoever he's placed in command of this legion has no way of obtaining either. Your Earth Alliance fleet has blockaded the hyperspace route. Travel to and from this place by the warp isn't even possible for another four weeks, according to navigator Illirch. By now, any competent commander must see this. And we haven't even come close to detecting an upswing in Warp energies on the battlefield, so he isn't summoning something around here.”

“Very little about this war has made sense,” V'Cath brayed morosely. “It could just be their comeuppance. They deserve it.”

“I don't know,” Susan sighed. “In the last days of the Dilgar Wars, they started ordering all sorts of irrational things intentionally. The idea was apparently to confuse us into searching for a strategy where there was none, in the hopes that we would act to counter an attack that was never coming. It was a way of getting us to waste resources on places they had no interest in.”

“Perhaps,” Shan hissed, “but the Half-breeds aren't especially prone to forward thinking. They have to believe that their commander has an immediately practical plan, or they're prone to eating them whole.”

Daul chuckled, “Faust seems to think of it as aggressive motivation for his commanders to be visibly competent at their jobs.”

“Sir!” A terrified voice from the second floor yelled down the stairs. “I found something you should see.”

Grunting with irritation as he stood up, Daul walked up the uneven stone steps to the second floor, tossing a half-breed corpse out a window with a telekinetic burst along the way. It was an unnecessary showy way of clearing it off the stairs, but he needed to burn off some of the pent-up frustration he felt.

“Yes, private? What is it?” Daul walked over to the great-coated Belzafester, taking a small piece of stone from the man's hands. No, not stone, it was something else. Nor was it bone or metal: it was all three, and yet it was none. It was as terrifying as anything Daul had ever seen.

It was a token forged from wraithbone, a rune of communication. Even as he touched, it he could hear the overwhelming sound of thousands upon thousands of sing-song syllables screeching in anticipation of the conflict to come. As he tried to get his bearing, an overwhelmingly powerful mind howled in fury, casting him from the song bodily.

Daul flew a good food back from the rune, propelled away by pure will. He hit the wall painfully as he aimed the plasma-pistol strapped to his augnmentic arm at the rune, firing twice to evaporate the stone entirely, “Throne cursed blood and bloody hellfire from the bowels of the Eye!”

He shot the ashes again for good measure.

He looked up into the confused and terrified faces of his retinue. Vira'capac sighed and crowed, “Foolish man-thing.”

Susan said in a voice of genuine concern that surprised her as much as it did Daul, “Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes, I'm fine.” Daul shook his head to dismiss the furious presence of the Eldar talisman. “But we need to get out of here as soon as possible. The Eldar have allied themselves with Faust.”

“What?” Shan hissed loud enough that it might have passed for normal human speech, “Why?”

“The Eldar protect their own interests at the cost of all other species in the universe.” Daul growled as he tried to reach anyone on his long range transmitter. “I don't even begin to speculate why they do what they do. But we need to warn our forces that they're coming.”

“I get the sense that that might be a bit too late, Inquisitor,” Susan shouted in horror from the window. “They're here.”

Daul followed her gaze and felt his heart stop. From their elevated point on the battlefield Daul could just make out the outline of a flock of swooping wing-tipped vehicles descending from the heavens like lances from heaven. An army of lithe, murderous creatures stepped in an angelic grace, as beautiful as it was terrible. The war-host had arrived.

“Well,” Shen whispered in amused resignation as he pointed to a dozen massive war machines gliding above the ground around a vaguely humanoid shape, “There's your siege weapon, Inquisitor.”

“A Titan,” Daul groaned, resting his face in the palm of his hand, “They brought a Titan.”

“Would seem so,” the private agreed. “Don't suppose you have something that can kill a Titan?”

Daul's mind snapped to a black box bound in chains that sat within the Endless Bounty, a weapon at his disposal capable of unknowable damage if let loose. The words to summon the beast were simple enough. Just a few syllables and he could crush thething that stood in his way. His mouth began to roll around the first syllables – No, he wouldn’t do it. Daul shook his head to dismiss the thought. He could almost hear the voice of Bast Hilder chiding him, “Boy, don't you go and do some damned fool thing you'll regret later. There ain’t nothing worth losing who you are.”

“No,” Daul replied irritatedly. “I can't even begin to – Cairn what the throne are you doing?”

The Skitarii shoved Daul to the floor and started firing at the previously featureless black wall, into a gaping tear in reality. A lithe wraith-bone clad warrior covered in web-like patterns of blue and white fell to the floor, dead.

“Warp Spiders!” the private screamed as a tear opened behind him and a pair of power blades punctured his lungs. The Eldar screeched inhumanly as he dove forwards, creating a new portal in front of himself and disappearing with the impaled Imperial warrior.

“Out of the building! Now!” Daul leapt from the second story window and onto the ground below. He hit the ground hard and rolled to the left, just barely avoiding a net of deadly monomolecular razor wire. It tightened around the rocky ground, shredding it into powder.

Daul fired at where the razor wire had come from with his plasma-pistol, only to find that it was nothing but unoccupied air. He reached out with his senses, searching for where the next one would come, vaguely aware of the howls of agony from inside the bunker. Someone had been caught with the razor-wire webbing.

When a pocket of air began to slice open behind Daul, he did not hesitate in driving his blade into the nape of the eldar warrior’s neck, pulling the energized weapon downward to slice from stern to stem. Realizing too late that a second portal had opened up, he held up his hand and repelled the incoming webs with a burst of telekinetic power, forcing the Eldar who'd fired them to flee back into the Warp.

He readied himself to slay the next thing that hopped out of the portal in front of him when, to his dismay, Susan Ivanova came through it on the quite dead Eldar's back. His apprentice looked up at him in astonishment before saying, “Well, that was new.”

Daul lifted her from her fallen foe, firing at the vaguely humanoid shape of the nearby Eldar exarch as it used its carapace-like warp-jump generator to hop back into the bunker. A human head flew out of the bunker seconds later, though Daul was too occupied avoiding monomolecular webs to figure out whom.

“How the do we fight these guys?” The woman bellowed in consternation between alternate shots of the pistols in each hand. “They refuse to stop jumping all over the damn place.”

“Open your mind,” Daul growled, parrying a series of wrist blade blows from the exarch before it hopped backwards and disappeared. “You coward – no, not you Commander – open your mind to what is around you.”

“A bit busy!” Susan shoved Daul to the ground as another web swept past where his head had been.

“Look, just get pissed off and let loose. The rest will take care of itself.” Daul flung a fistful of lighting at a tear in space, cooking the warp-spider alive in his own armor.

“Down to one.” the Kroot warrior chittered from inside the bunker.

“How do you know?” Susan growled in irritation, “They're jumping around all the damn place.”

“Because, man-thing,” the Kroot yelled as he fired, hanging out the second window. “Vira'capac can smell them.”

Daul cried out in pain as the Exarch's blade sliced across his chest, perforating the side of his armor. It was a glancing blow, but painful in the extreme. First blood to him, then. Daul planted his hand in the Exarch's chest. Daul focused the pain into a single burst of energy in his palm as he smiled and said, “Farewell.”

The astonished Exarch flew across the battlefield into what should have been a bone crushing collision with the cliff wall. However, the exarch vanished when he got within inches of the surface, reappearing on the clifftop.

The Exarch looked down at him from beyond the range of their weapons and bellowed in psychically enhanced reverberating challenge, “You are dead, mon'kiegh, you just are not smart enough to have stopped moving yet. You have killed my apprentices? There are a thousand more where they came from. Before this day ends, your head with be on a pike to adorn my personal transport. You are nothing, garbage to be wiped off the floor. For today is the day you meet your doom –”

Whatever else the Exarch might have had to say was quite rudely interrupted as the entire cliff burst into a ball of superheated plasma, tossing the Exarch's desiccated and sizzling corpse to the ground below. A Sh'lassen battle tank rolled up the path, stopping ten meters from the Imperials. Daul stared down its main cannon, waiting on baited breath as it turned his direction.

It was not marked with the insignias of the Sh'lassen government. The traitors had arrived.

V'cath, their Sh'lassen guide brayed in fear from where he crouched in the doorway of the bunker, staring at the sponson guns of the battle tank in anticipation of his own death.

It never came.

The front hatch to the tank popped open and a Sh'lassen man in grey robes climbed out the front, hooves clattering loudly on the side of it as he climbed down. He pulled back his hood to reveal that his face was clean shaven and that his horns had been removed entirely. V'cath actually gagged in disgust, apparently repulsed by the rebel's appearance.

Daul couldn't have cared less about the rebel Sh'lassen's appearance as it bowed and proceeded to speak to him in his native dialect of Metzik Gothic, “Time is of the essence, fatebringer. If you and your companions would please follow me, you are expected in Matok. You have my word that no harm will come to you or your companions.”

“You do realize I came here to conquer Matok,” Daul replied in confusion.

“This is known to us.” the rebel replied, “As it is known to us that you will succeed. But not before you see what you must see. Not before you know what you must know.”

“And if we refuse?” Susan growled, looking expectantly at the Skitarii warrior as he walked forward aimed a melta-pistol at the side of the stationary rebel tank.

“Then you will kill me.” the rebel replied, “You will also likely die trying to make your way back to the battlefield.”

“You seem awfully confident,” Daul lowered his plasma-pistol and sheathed his sword. “Why?”

“Because Inquisitor, the path is already written,” the rebel smiled, “Only the end remains.”

“Kill him, eat him, and man things can take goat-man's tank,” Vira'capac suggested helpfully as he sliced the heads off of the Eldar warriors, shoving them into a sack for a snack later. He pointed with his jagged knife to V'cath. “Other goat-man can drive.”

“No,” Daul replied slowly, looking into the Rebel priest's eyes. “Not this time, Vira'capac. This time, we go peacefully.”

Daul didn't know why, but he had to know. He simply had to know. It was written.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Fighting every rational instinct in his body, David ran in the opposite direction from every other able bodied crewman, heading towards where he knew the Eldar pirates had boarded the ship. He would very much have preferred to be in his father's residence, sitting behind the numerous forcefields and barricades that prevented boarders from entering. He'd long ago lost count of how many times he'd sat in the fortified bunker of house Sáclair with a warm cup of soup and a blanket, waiting for the siege to break.

But he would not, could not, be idle. Not now, not while Bonafila was in danger. Faest Nor's surgery was only three decks up from where they'd breached the ship's hull, and he would not cower in some hole while the woman he loved was in danger. He sprinted along the hallway with his ornate rifle held tightly to his chest, huffing from the exertion. He was not out of shape compared to most children of noble houses, but the effort of running at break-neck speed for the past thirty minutes was more than he usually engaged in.

He'd heard stories of what Eldar pirates did, how they could trap souls within rocks and summon death with a whisper. More so that even Chaos, they were the bogeyman of all shipborne men and women of the Empire. They would attack without warning or reason, their skillful violence matched only by their capricious nature. They flew the stars in ships as large as planets, serving their own unknowable needs and desires. There were even whispered stories of a dark city that lay outside of time and space, where the Eldar dwelled in shadows and nightmare.

They would not take Bona.

“David Sáclair, where the hell do you think you're going?” a harsh voice barked as he rounded the bend some ten meters from Surgery. Donat Enzo stared at him in blank-faced irritation, his lip curling slightly in exasperation as he crossed his arms over his carapace-armored breastplate.

“I, uh,” David swallowed nervously. “I heard about the attack and I –” Throne it sounded stupid now that he was saying it out loud. “ – I have to protect Bonafila.”

“You decided to come alone to face an unknown number of Eldar pirates, armed with a flak-jacket, a kitchen cleaver, and a lasrifle I'm almost positive you stole from your father's armory?” Donat repeated in a montone drawl.

“Well – uh – yes.” David swallowed nervously and replied in as confident of a voice as he could muster. Somehow, speaking to Donat was more terrifying to him than even the prospect of fighting the Eldar had been. “She needs protection, and the Security can't catch every one of the slippery bastards with the Lionhearts on the planet.”

“And you know that in the event that you actually faced an Eldar pirate, they would have hundreds if not thousands of years of experience in warfare that you could not even begin to hope to match. You know that it would mean almost certain torture and death at best?” Donat replied incredulously.

“I – I don't care. She needs me.” David felt particularly small under the nobleman's judgemental gaze.

“Good.” Donat replied. “Controlling the bulkhead to the surgery is a two-man job, and none of security can be spared.”

“I – wait, what?” David blinked in surprise.

“And I will expect you at my house on Tuesday to discuss the conditions of your continuing courtship to my daughter tomorrow, providing that we both survive the day.” Donat led David in the direction of the surgery. “Once the matter becomes official, I intend for you to be chaperoned till I can negotiate a proper dowry with your father.”

“Oh.” David replied lamely before it dawned on him what Donat was saying. Donat had just given David permission to marry his daughter. “Yes – That – Yes sir! Thank you, sir.”

“To hell with your parenthood,” Donat chuckled amusedly. “A man who will die for my daughter is noble enough for me. But for both our sakes, let’s not make that our goal.”

“No sir,” David beamed as they rushed to the surgery with his future father-in-law, “Of course not, sir.”

In spite of the imminent danger, David briefly allowed himself a moment of unabashed happiness as he imagined his future with Bonafila. For once, everything was going as planned. Well, everything minus the pirates.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Earthforce One was more comfortable that what John was used to, more akin to a luxury liner from the days of yore than a space ship. Even as a pleasure craft, it was a bit excessive. The couch he was sitting on would have cost him two years’ salary to buy, but making an Earthforce One that was even bigger, more armed, and more impressive than the one that had been destroyed had been a unifying factor for the Earth Alliance in the years following Santiago's assassination. It was a way of showing the terrorists that Earth would never bow to terrorism.

It was a noble sentiment. Unfortunately, it just happened to largely benefit the Terrorist-in-Chief. The smiling hearty-cheeked midwestern Brutus sat across from him with a glass of scotch, discussing baseball animatedly with John. It was actually quite nice.

John kind of liked the guy.

John didn't want to like him. Liking him as a person was inconvenient. When the impeachment trial finally came about, there would be no way for it not to come off as a personal betrayal.

But the truth was that he did like William Clark. He was charming, if an unashamedly obvious politician in the extreme. If it weren't for the armed coup of the former President Santiago, he would have even been enjoyable company. Fortunately for John, his awkwardness around the President was interpreted as general nervousness around the most powerful man on Earth.

The president slapped him on the knee jovially, “Come on, Sheridan, lighten up. It's over. Relax.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” He replied with absolute professionalism, “Of course, Mr. President.”

“Call me William,” the President sighed in irritation as he sipped at his scotch. “There's no need to stand on formality.”

“Yes, President William,” Replied John, he raised his glass of scotch politely. He had yet to even sip it.

“Hah!” the President barked in amusement. “I made the right decision with you. You're as Earthforce as they come, Alliance through and through.”

“If you say so, sir.” John replied noncommittally.

“Actually, Captain, I have an ulterior motive in bringing you along. There are certain events that are going to come to light in the next few days. Certain events that will involve you personally.” Clark sniffed his scotch and sighed, “Lord that's good. Aged to perfection.”

John had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, “Events?”

“Well, I suppose I'm not the best one to explain this to you.” The president waved to the secret service officer behind him. “But we do have an expert.”

A tall, grinning man in a charcoal grey suit walked into the room and extended his hand to John. The man looked vaguely familiar, though exactly how he was familiar eluded him, “Have we met?”

“I've been on your station before, Captain,” The man laughed cooly. “It is quite likely that I've popped up on your radar in my travels.”

Clark snorted in amusement, “I'm sure you have. Captain Sheridan, please allow me to introduce Mr. Morden.”

“Tell me, Captain,” The man smiled. “What do you want?”
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post #133 of 159 (permalink) Old 06-19-13, 01:12 AM Thread Starter
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Ch 19 - The Golden Giant of Sh'Lassen
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

There were days when the General hated his job.

Reports of skirmishes along the Drazi and Brakiri borders were becoming increasingly frequent, though neither government admitted to either initiating them or suffering any losses. Vorlon warships were appearing without warning through Non-Aligned World gates, huge gashes in their hull only hinting at some monstrous battle. The Vorlon ambassador was as cryptic as ever, warning that “The wind wanders as swiftly as the fields talk to the stars.” And to top it all off, they'd had to do a total revamp of the station security codes, to prevent Susan Ivanova from providing them to the Empire.

Susan Ivanova defecting; he'd never seen that one coming. Thank God Sheridan hadn't had time to bring her in their plan to investigate Clark - now, that would have been a disaster. John was usually a decent judge of character, but he'd been way off base with the Commander. Then again, as a telepath she'd likely influenced his perception of her.

It was possible even that she'd been a conspirator in the death of President Santiago, it would go a long way towards explaining how the assassins had snuck past security. It even fit their theory of Psi Corps involvement; God, how hadn't Sinclair seen it coming? He'd been with the woman for an entire year, and there had to have been some sign. And now they had another psychic to work with. Could they even trust Miss Winters at all?

“Damn it, William,” He sighed to himself, “Just eat your meal. You can fret later.”

The ostrich made its final scraping kicks as the Ogryn held it down, cleaving its head at the base of its skull with a wide knife. The birds were too large and strong for anyone short of an Ogryn to slaughter unaided, but Mukruk had the beast butchered, plucked and gutted in the blink of an eye. The sour-looking abhuman then sliced the bird in half, handing the massive carcass over to the other apprentice chefs.

Mukruk was neither as amiable nor as well-tempered as General Hague had come to expect from Galut or the other Ogryn who'd taken up residence on the station, but that was likely because the head chef insisted upon forcing the giant to bathe regularly and wash his hands before handling any food.

And Imperial food was well worth the irritated grunts and expletives from Chef Amir's plus-sized apprentice.

Imperial cuisine was an adaptable and surprisingly utilitarian one: since the Endless Bounty's food stocks had varied drastically from port to port, they'd been forced to learn how to use new food stuffs quickly. The ostrich had obviously not been a staple part of Imperial cuisine prior to reaching the Earth Alliance, but they'd taken it and perfected it. It had only taken minutes and a small boxed lunch for Father Al'Ashir to convince William that they ought to give the Imperials permission to set up food stalls to help support the refugee population.

The stand William sat at was one of several recently erected food stalls in the section of the station now being called Imperial Row. The deliciously spicy scent of Imperial cooking wafted lazily from where a tall upright rotisserie lazily spun in place, exposing a haunch of spiced ostrich to an exposed flame. William's mouth watered in anticipation of the meal to come as he pointed at one of the laminated photographs hanging to the back of the stall, raising two fingers to indicate the level of spice he could handle. It was virtually nothing by Imperial standards, but he had no desire to repeat his disastrous decision of asking for anything higher than three fingers.

Chef Amir nodded once and held out his hands for payment, gladly taking the paperbound book that William offered. The corners of his lips quirking upward in amused approval, the chef gingerly placed the book on a stack of similar tomes, articles of clothing, and a chest William knew to be full of precious coins. The Imperials had little use and less interest in the Earth Alliance credit system, preferring to barter for useful items or Imperial coinage. It had become something of a running joke that a credit chit was utterly useless in the Imperial sector, but that a book of photos or an amusing hat could pay a king's ransom.

Puffing up his chest in pride, Amir slapped his heart twice with his right hand before kissing his fingers and saying "Naõs Dio Imperator Rex" as he passed over Williams' newly-blessed meal. Puffs of steam rose from hunks of dark meat and spiced rice, scintillating and savory.

"It looks fantastic," William nodded grabbing a hunk of the meat with his fingers and raising it to his nose as was customary. "Absolutely delicious."

Amir nodded eagerly "De-leeshos. Vee- ri." saying the only two words of English he spoke with any fluency. He bowed deferentially to William, taking care not to meet the General's eyes or turn his back to the General as he addressed another customer.

All the Imperials avoided direct eye contact with him. It would be highly improper for crewmen to look upon their commanding officer as an equal in Imperial society. The Imperials were not in Imperial society any more, but the taboos of the Endless Bounty were the product of generations. General Hague was the ranking officer on ship, essentially making him the "king" of Babylon 5 and worthy of an irritating level of bowing and scraping.

William was by no means the only non-Imperial walking along Imperial Row; a smattering of humans and aliens were examining the wares of Imperial craftsmen or enjoying Imperial cuisine. There were far fewer aliens than humans though, as the Imperials were insular by nature and unwilling to even barter with the Gaim or pak'ma'ra. The Centauri and Narn had earned a sort of grudging respect from the Imperials, and though it could by no means ever be called friendship, it was functional enough.

The real issue, and the purpose of Willaim's presence in the Imperial Diaspora was their ouright hatred of the Minbari. The Imperials despised the bone-heads, no if's and's or but's about it. It was all station security could do to keep them from gutting any Minbari too foolish to avoid them.

This would simply not do. It was hard enough to keep the various unarmedalien races from causing problems on station. They'd set up checkpoints and screening procedures to ensure that the Imperials didn't bring any prohibited arms out of their section of the station, but all that had served to prove was that the Babylon 5 security officers were not sufficiently imaginative when it came to figuring out concealed weapons.

What kind of psychopath figures out how to hide mustard gas canisters within their own fingers?

This needed to stop, today. He would not have the station in shambles when Captain Sheridan returned. It was fortunate that bishop Al'Ashir was competent – and punctual. William smiled, waving a two fingered greeting to the graying man as he rounded the bend. The priest's thick beards bounced off his generous gut as he pulled his skirted robes up to avoid tangling them in the many cords strewn across the floor, exposing sandal-covered feet tattooed with double-headed eagles.

“Greetings are happy salutation, Captain of this station!” Al'Ashir bowed in respect to William's rank, his English patois more enthusiastic than accurate. “Is good to be seeing today on day of private contemplating the death of Primarch Sanginius. Fewer services for me to manage, only classes for the young.”

“I've heard nothing but good things about your world in Down Below,” William put some of his meat on a plate for the brother confessor, knowing that the offer would be declined. The priest was scrupulous in only eating sanctified foods, though his generous belly suggested that such means were in no short supply. “You're becoming very popular with the Lurkers.”

“I not ignore the lost,” It was as close to outright admonition as the confessor ever spoke. “I have much. They little need so I give what I having.”

“It's not unappreciated, and we've had a downswing in on station crime from the Lurkers since you started offering meals with your services,” William shrugged, “It was a good idea, I'll grant you that.”

“When will Al'Ashir be seeing listen to His word?” The priest pulled an honest to goodness scroll and quill out of his pouch and started scribbling down notes. “Apologies, idea for sermon is coming to Al'Ashir.”

“Actually I'd been meaning to speak with you about some of your sermons,” William pulled a small green pamphlet out of his pocket. A program of Al'Ashir's last service. Though all the actual service was conducted in Gothic, the priest had taken great care to translate the meaning into English so that it would be accessible by any humans attending. “There are certain passages that you're talking about that are – well – alarming.”

“Alarming?” Al'Ashir looked up from his writing. “What is being alarmed?”

“Well Father, the Minbari are lodging a number of complaints against you for inciting hatred against them,” He tapped the pamphlet. “And I can't help but see their point. You actually preach that one should 'beware the alien, for his mind is treachery and his purposes are anathema,' and that 'one finds no profit in forgetting the sins of the past.”

“Yes is accurate,” Al'Ashir nodded. “Those are the wisdom of the Saints.”

“Father Al'Ashir,” William sighed exasperatedly. “The war with the Minbari isover. We have difficulty enough in getting our two peoples to coexist without you demanding that people mistrust non-humans or glorify their deaths. Your saints commit outright genocide in your sermon.”

“Old testament is full of violence. Glorifies it not?” The preacher shook his head. “Or is killing in the name of your god only a work of fiction.”

“That was a long time ago,” William sighed. “We've learned from our past mistakes.”

“Still human. Still made. Rejecting human nature not make you different, only sad.” Al'Ashir pulled a dogeared copy of the Qur'an from his satchel. “History, allegory, violence, peace, all things hold part of truth. Sometimes forgiveness good. Sometimes hatred good. Never forgetting best. Never forget mistakes.”

“At some point we must move to the point where the crimes of the past don't matter, Al'Ashir.” William sighed, “I appreciate not trusting the Minbari. I fought them for as long as anyone else, nad lost friends and family to them. I don't like them. But we can't have you inciting people to hate them.”

“Word of Emperor preaches caution. Contempt shields us from those who would destroy us, guides us from those who would corrupt us.” The holy man steepled his fingers, eyes twinkling past his hands. “Teaches self-reliance.”

“We gain no benefit from stirring up resentment against the Minbari.” The General popped another piece of meat into his mouth, chewing between words. “We're allies now. Times have changed.”

“Have they?” Al'Ashir actually laughed, a raspy chuckle he was clearly unaccustomed to using often. “How? Are Minbari today not same Minbari of ten years ago? All Minbari murdering humans died after war ended? All came to justice?”

“It's complicated,” William replied, “There were other factors involved.”

“They were strong. You were weak. Al'Ashir sees no complication.” The Priest opened his prayer book, running his aging fingers over the thick parchment and hand-written calligraphy. The illustrated images around the Gothic writing of alien faces all menaced and leered up at William as the Brother Confessor smirked knowingly across the table in his direction. “It is not unheard of. Happens often enough in history. The strong oppress the weak.”

“We weren't weak.” William snapped, fully aware that had the Minbari not surrendered at the battle of the line his species would be nothing more than a footnote in the Minbari history texts. The race who dared to attack the Minbari war-machine. “And we – we won.”

The lie of it stung William's tongue.

“Alliance did not lose. Not dying only small victory, even when you call it winning.” Al'Ashir shook his head. “Your people young. You know little history. Al'Ashir knows history. Al'Ashir remembers more than you realize. You are child, not your fault.”

The preposterousness of being told how young he was actually made William swallow wrong as he sipped from his goblet of water. He smacked his chest firmly, coughing as he replied, “Brother Confessor, I'm hardly an infant. Twenty years can't possibly make –“

“Al'Ashir lives two hundred and four cycles General.” The Brother Confessor replied as though it were the most normal thing in the world to say. “More or less, for convert from Imperial standard to Alliance calendar not perfect.”

“Two hundred and fifty – how? How is that even possible?” The man couldn't have been older than sixty. There was some signs of greying in his hair and beard, but there was nothing to indicate that the man had recently celebrated his bicentennial.

“Imperial medicine is Al'Ashir's one indulgence. Al'Ashir lives modestly, but does prefer living. Drugs to stay younger. Expensive, but valuable.” He smiled sadly. “But no more.”

“Why?” William blinked in shock, “Why would you give that up?”

“Price to preach. Not simple to make, not cheap. Need specialist, have on Endless Bounty. No have on Babylon. Brought some with me,” Reaching into his pocket he pulled and empty tube out and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. “But gone. All gone. Al'Ashir will age.”

“What did you use it for?” The General queried.

“Used last of drugs to help the sick.” He laughed heartily, “The blind see. The crippled walk. Little girl will live. Necessary use.”

“Brother Confessor, I cannot have you administering medicine to people on station without a license,” William interjected. “Especially untested treatments; we don't know if it will have any consequences. This isn't how we do things in the Alliance.”

“No, is not. Alliance let humans starve and suffer while xenos live in luxury.” Al'Ashir's voice snapped like a whip-crack of anger. “Let orphans and exploited go into xenos servitude to survive.”

“The Lurkers are unfortunate side effect of poverty. I'd help them if I had the power, but it just isn't a priority at the moment.” There was no way that Congress would put social welfare reform in the budget for undocumented workers on a military installation. They'd arrest the lot of them long before considering it.

“They are your blood. Your people.” Slamming his book closed in fury, the Brother Confessor jabbed William in the chest. “This heart is the same. Beats the same. Feels the same. Bleeds the same. You are humans. Brothers! Yet you ignore their pain.”

“This station isn't here for them-”

“Obviously not, when leader come to Al'Ashir for hurt feelings of Minbari.”

“The two aren't related, Al'Ashir. And it's time to move past the Minbari incident.”

“Forgiveness is earned. What have Minbari done for forgiveness? Nothing. Minbari apology was not murdering species. Not murdering not the same.” He raised his hand in admission, “There are good Minbari. There are good xenos. Them forgive. But one should not trust xenos. Like them, but not trust. Even xenos who are friend are not allies. Can't trust most humans and they share blood.”

“We have plenty of Alien allies, Al'Ashir,” William replied, “Even in the Minbari war.”

“They fight for you? Die for you? Protect you?” Al'Ashir shook his head. “Medicine, bandages, food. These are not allies, they are a deathbed vigil watching you die. Cowards and crows, picking at the wounded. The sold you guns and blankets and hoped you'd die away from their eyes so they did not have to watch their cowardice.”

“They were scared of what the Minbari could do to them,” William couldn't help but bitterly agree with the Brother Confessor on that point at least; the Non-Aligned Worlds had been stingy in their aid. Not ten years after saving them from the Dilgar slaughtering their worlds and people, they were unwilling to face the Minbari. “I truly do se your point but they wanted to protect – ”

“Their own people,” Al'Ashir finished for him. “Blood keeps strong. Humans all distant family, after thousands of years all human related. Ancient fathers, sons, brother and uncles protecting their flock. Xenos same. Protect families, protect blood. Save themselves before us. It is truth.”

“We're trying to fix that here. This place, this station, is an opportunity to make new connections, and to create a new culture. It was not long ago that humans would have slaughtered each other over petty notions of race and nation. We re-defined what it meant to be human, just as the aliens re-defined themselves when they took to the stars,” William rejoined. “And part of that is forgiving the past wrongs we've done each other. We need to be better than our enemies.”

“I will not preach blindness.” Al'Ashir snapped in irritation. “I have moved far enough from the World. Be grateful that Al'Ashir allow the xenos to hear the world of the Emperor. Granting them a chance at salvation! Is not sufficient?”

Al'Ashir's tone suggested that continuing the conversation would go nowhere productive, “I'll tell you what. If I agree to attend one of your sermons and to talk with the Senate about getting some concessions for the Lurkers will you agree to talk about the Minbari War less often? I'm not saying avoid the subject entirely, but please just focus on less divisive topics for the moment.”

“If you were to assist soup kitchen after service. If you listen to problems of poor then perhaps Al'Ashir do that.” The Brother Confessor nodded slowly. “But Al'Ashir would wish to get permission to open a school. Hire teachers.”

“A school?” William blinked. Babylon 5 had many things, but an actual school was one thing it had never hosted. Resources being as limited as they were, it had been decided that facilities encouraging people to raise families on station was not in the budget. “What would you teach? Who would teach?”

“Math, physics, history, logic, civics, many things one learns to become adult. There are children in Down Below. They do not learn. Fools turn to thieves,” Al'Ashir tapped his own forehead. “Learning to read. Learning to write. Necessary.”

“You can have your school Al'Ashir, provided that you have it open to allchildren. Human and alien.” He ignored Al'Ashirs scandalized gasp. “That's my price Father. Take it or leave it.”

“Very well,” The Brother Confessor acquiesced. “If must be.”

“Pleasure speaking with you as always, Father Al'Ashir,” William shook the clergyman's hand firmly.

“The Emperor Protects.” Al'Ashir replied in parting, standing up and walking away with a speed one rarely expected from a two hundred year old man. General Hague respected the man greatly, even if he didn't necessarily like the Imperial religion. The entire faith was too focused upon the deification of their leadership for comfort, and anything but blind obedience to that authority seemed to be sinful.

It had its perks he supposed. The work ethic of the Imperials was never in question, nor was their tenacity. Their understanding of union work regulations was another matter entirely though. William pretended not to see the servitor repairing a malfunctioning door two yards to his right as he sipped the broth at the bottom of his bowl of meat, the savory drippings ever bit as satisfying as the rest. Arguing with the ubiquitously dull-witted servitors would be a waste of time and energy, as the poor creatures had no real minds of their own.

He wiped his fingers, turning with the intention of walking back to his office, before turning back to the servitor. Being annoying to accomplish shouldn't bar an officer from doing what was right. He stood to go over and order the construct to stop when a familiar voice said, “Sir!”

Officer Welch was approaching him from a side corridor, followed closely by the Ogryn Galut. “You do not want to interrupt that one, sir.”

“And why is that, Officer?” William scratched the back of his neck in irritation. “It's breaking the law.”

“Yep, it is.” Officer Welch agreed. “And if you try to stop it from interrupting the law, it's going to think that you're sabotaging the ship and will send a warning to the three combat servitors they've got chained up in Kerrigan's ship.”

“I thought that I was clear that those things were to be disabled.” William growled.

“You were, sir, but I frankly don't trust Kerrigan's word when it comes to turning off her creations. We already had one close call with the combat servitors, and I'd prefer not to repeat it.” The security officer shuddered. “It's a good thing the Ogryn were there to keep them under control.”

“Servitors not think much,” Galut nodded in agreement. “Ogryn good at holding things down. Kapruk broke his arm, but that healed by Medicus Franklin. Medicus Franklin good medicus, fix things quick.”

“Well we appreciate it Galut, you've been very helpful.” The Ogryn's ugly face split into a toothy grin, his lopsided smile somewhat straighter than the last time William had seen it. Kapruk's arm wasn't the only thing Dr. Franklin had seen to repairing.

“Actually sir, the boys have been meaning to bring this up to you for a while,” Officer Welch nervously cracked the knuckles of his hand, clearly uncomfortable. “We were waiting for – ya know – the Chief to be back, him and the Captain. Didn't want them to feel like we were working behind their backs or anything. But it might be a long time and I'm running security now that he's gone.”

“I appreciate how you feel. I prefer to think of myself as warming Captain Sheridan's chair till he gets back,” William nodded sympathetically, “But we can't keep all the important things on hold.”

“No sir, of course not.” Officer welch dropped his voice to a whisper. “It's just, the Ogryn sir. They're considered property. The Ogryn have fewer rights in Imperial society than a damn house cat.”

“You mean they're slaves?” Somehow, the Empire keeping slaves wasn't particularly surprising to him. They had a strange glibness about the value of an individual human life.

“Not slave!” Galut sighed, “Lou not get it. Galut has bond of freedom to for cost of his room and food, life not cheap in space. When Galut pays cost of freedom, Galut is free.”

“Galut,” Officer Welch sighed, “has any Ogryn ever paid the cost of freedom?”

The Ogryn pursed his lips, “Not sure, but must be there. After all, why else have fee?”

“The salary they earn isn't even close to enough to cover it Galut,” the officer replied sadly. He shook his head and turned to the General, “I tried to show him on a calculator but he just didn't get it. Shiro keeps trying to explain this to them, but they just don't get it."

“Numbers are hard,” Galut grunted irritatedly. “Not important if fee more than salary. Galut just work harder to earn it. Gault earn freedom, Galut hard worker.”

“That's not now it – never mind,” Officer Welch acquiesced. “General, we can't keep on letting this go on. The Ogryn don't deserve it.”

“We can't interfere with how other governments allocate their civil rights, Officer Welch.” The General replied, “If they aren't getting enslaved within our borders, there isn't much we can do about it. They have equal rights on the station at least.”

“It's worse,” Officer Welch patted the massive Ogryn gently on the arm, his voice softening as one might use when talking with a child. “Come on buddy. Tell him what you told me.”

“That was a secret,” Galut whispered in a scandalized tone. “Galut wasn't supposed to say.”

“Galut you can't stay afraid of this guy.” Officer Welch's voice firmed. “We willprotect you. I will never let you get beaten again. You're better than he is. ”

“You can't.” Galut's voice hitched and a thumb sized tear ran down his face. “He – you don't know what he can do. What he has done.”

“Sir I want to give Galut and any Ogryn who don't want to be slaves any more amnesty on station,” He handed a tissue to the Ogryn, it was woefully undersized but the gesture seemed to matter more to the giant than the actual scrap of paper. Galut dabbed at his eyes, holding the paper between thumb and forefinger. The officer looked at William with a look of determination, “Like you said, we can't force them to be civilized in their damn Empire, but we can act like human beings on our turf.”

“Galut,” William said in a soothing voice. “Do you want stay here on the station with us? I can't promise that it will be easy but I can promise you that you will be free.”

Galut's break hitched, “Galut would – Galut would like that.”

There were days when the General loved this job.
-=-=-=-=-=-
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post #134 of 159 (permalink) Old 06-19-13, 01:13 AM Thread Starter
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The golden armored figured watched the battlefield, waiting.

Soon. The end would come soon.

Too long he had slumbered, too long he had sat idle while his people fell into decline at the genocidal hands of the alien and the psychic. Too long had they toiled under the yolk of oppression from both Vorlon and Shadow, forcing him to hide lest their ire fall down upon his entire species.

He'd watched the young races grow, timeless, immortal, guiding them towards their greater glory. In secret, always he acted in secret. But the time of secrets was soon ending. A new beginning for his people would come, an Empire beyond the imagining of mortal kindred.

The old ones would tremble and the younger races would bow to the might of his people, reason and order guiding them in all things. No longer would disorder rule the galaxy, no longer would people live under false gods or the capricious void beings of the Galaxy.

There would be order. There would be peace. There would be glory.

And he would finally live to see the galaxy as it was meant to be, united under the rule of his people.

Soon.

Oh so soon.

The golden armored figured watched the battlefield, waiting.

-=-=-=-=-=-

The first hint Sergei got that something was terribly wrong happened when the Imperial comms net went silent, cutting off Danzig's voice mid sentence as he gave orders to the various combat groups. The military grade comm-bead ought to have been good for ten clicks even if they were being jammed. But as they were rather occupied in assaulting a fortified position, it didn't immediately register in his conscious mind.

The fangs trying to perforate his gullet were a more pressing concern. “Get this beast off of me!”

The hound bit down hard on his gantleted arm, razor sharp fangs puncturing the flak and slicing the meat of his arm. Sergei bashed the creature's skull in with the butt of his rifle, crushing the beast's eye into a meaty mass of seeping fluid. The creature yowled in pain, releasing the Lionheart's arm and giving him time to fatally bayonet the wounded beast's gullet.

He pulled the trigger of his las rifle and swore furiously as the trigger clicked, sputtering and sparking from where the lenses had been crushed in the melee. His target, one of the saurian mouthed half breeds with oversized talons, grabbed Amir by his arms and ripped them from his body at the socket before biting the man's face off.

Gazan's firearm suffered no such impediment, puncturing the beast's groin with a grapefruit sized hole and separating the creature from it's legs. Its foul blood sprayed across the floor, venomous toxins mingling with the already disgusting muck and mire as it seized in the throes of agony.

“Get me that damn gun!” Sergei bellowed over the collective screams, braying, grunts and howls of the ongoing battle.

The gun in question was a plasma cannon of considerable size currently being used to stop a combat group of Narn superheavy vehicles from supporting the western forces currently overrun by half-breed sappers. Were it disabled it might be possible to re-direct the flow of combat so that the Leman Russ tanks could better support the Alliance advance. It was easier said than done, since the cannon was at the top of a ten-story tower accessible only from a narrow entrance that permitted one person at a time to enter or exit.

At this point, Sergei would have happily taken his pants off and danced from here to the eye of Terror if it would get him some decent air support.

Sergei grabbed Anik by his collar and yanked him down into cover as a bulbous headed half-breed with a long proboscis where its mouth ought to have been opened its milky white eyes and screamed at the top of its lungs. A torrent of green warp-flames rocketed down the trench, cooking two men of Sergei's squad and flinging shards of razor sharp obsidian from the ground into the air.

A braying screech cried out from the ten foot high lip of the trench as a dozen Triumvirate partisans slid down the side of the trench, firing their phased-plasma rifles at the psychic creature. They seemed to defy gravity, deftly navigating the almost sheer walls with their thick cloven hooves.

The thin barrier of telekinetic energy surrounding the beast crumpled, bathing the monstrous half-breed with supercharged matter. Sergei led the charge over the beast's roasted carcass, sliding through a narrow window and opening fire at point-blank range into the chest of a startled Dilgar soldier before flinging a grenade down the stairs.

The Partisan sergeant, a hoary old goat with horns that were cracked and broken from prolonged combat, bleated approvingly and nodded to Sergei, tossing his own grenade down the passageway and holding up his fist to his men in a gesture of pause. He brayed out in the Triumvirate language, cutting across his neck in a word of warning.

“That bad?” Sergei queried, understanding the partisan's meaning. They weren't numerous enough to take this position, even with thirty Lionhearts and partisans.

The sergeant cut across his neck once more, nodding emphatically.

“We have to take the gun,” Sergei mimed an explosion, making a boom noise for emphasis. “This cannon needs to go.”

The goat man waved to a soldier with a large pack, braying in the alien language once more. The partisan soldier pulled the pack open, exposing a convex silver disc the size of a man's chest and placing it upon the floor. A blue light glowed at the disc's center as the partisan placed his hand at the center braying a pass-phrase of some sort and activating the disk.

Long spidery legs extended from the device as it rose up in the air, hovering at eye level before speeding down the stairs. Sergei barely had time to muster a “what is that?” before the partisans were in motion.

Hooves scratched and scrambled as the hoary warriors leapt on their powerful legs into whatever space they could find inside the ruined bunker. They wrapped their faces and snouts in soot-stained cloth, taking extraordinary care to wrap their eyes and ears.

“Oh Throne, it's a bomb!” Sergei screeched, taking cover behind an upturned desk and slapped his hands over his ears. No wonder the partisans were so far behind enemy lines - they were saboteurs.

The tower shook as the machine found its target, the deafening sound of wrenching metal and falling stone thundering past the palms of Sergei's hands. The terrified voices of his men echoed from outside the window as boulders and shrapnel rained down from the sky.

A cloud of dust, ash and charred bits of half-breed whooshed past, the scents of sulfur and cordite crisp upon the fetid air even through Sergei's breathing mask.

“Are we all still alive?” Gazan's irritated voice echoed from where he crouched in the door-frame of the tower, a slight disappointedly mocking lilt to his tone.

“Lamentably,” griped one of the newer Lionhearts, Irvan, as he hacked up a mouthful of ash. The fool hadn't attached his mask properly. “Throne, that tastes vile.”

“Then fix the buckle properly, newblood,” Sergei slapped Ivran hard across the back of his head, “Chem grenades taste worse.”

“Who's injured?” The narrow-cheeked Batin rose from the floor, shaking the dust from his chemoline cloak with a flourish that restored it to its natural crimson hue. Sergei's lip curled at the implied edge of command in it. Batin hadn't ever been command material, and resented the fact. But until Batin exceeded his authority there wasn't much Sergei could do about the man's posturing.

“Ahmir's unconsious,” Falin barked in irritation. “And I think my Throne-cursed ears are never going to stop ringing. I feel like I just went ten rounds with a Space Marine.”

“Stop your whining, Falin,” Saha'la chortled in rebuke. “You're alive, aren't you?”

“Argos, take point,” Sergei waved the weapon's specialist forward, letting the teenage Lionheart lead the way up the now-gutted tower. Argos was not as eager or gung-ho as his predecessor Hamman had been, nervous and a bit twitchy, but his reaction time in a crisis was preternaturally fast to the trigger.

The teenaged Lionheart swallowed nervously as he led the ascent, followed closely by a partisan carrying a heavy flechette weapon of some sort that whirred with the predatory menace of phased-plasma. The Lionhearts and partisans walked into charred remains of the artillery position, bayonetting any half-breed who still clung to life.

The Sh'lassen long range cannon was still vaguely recognizable from the half-barrel and crumpled stabilizing struts, but with so much of it crumpled or melted it would never fire again. Sergei indulged in a brief whoop of joy that his soldiers echoed; the Narn could advance at their leisure.

“Check if there's anything we can use,” Sergei waved at the corpses of the half-breeds. “Las-charges, grenades, maps, anything.”

The Partisan sergeant bowed his head and jerked his chin towards the stairs, pawing at the rubble on the ground with his left hoof. He pounded his chest in a gesture of salute before turning on the Lionhearts and heading back down the stairs, apparently satisfied that his goal had been achieved.

Sergei nodded in thanks, “Yes, of course. May the Emperor's will favor your course.”

“Sir!” Gazan shouted, shifting a sizable piece of rubble. “I think we've got a live one.”

“Gut him and be done with it.” Sergei replied, waking out onto the balcony and surveying the battlefield. The smoke and haze obscured all but the largest of war machines, a murky sea of angry ash clouds and purulent geysers. Pockets of land would briefly flash into obscurity as some great war machine ignited the skies, giving glimpses of men and monsters tearing each other to pieces.

A far ridge thrummed with the familiar barking roar of imperial cannon fire; the Leman Russ tanks had finally joined the battle. The Belzafesters were a bunch of uptight pains, but they'd made position on time in spite of their damaged transport. How the devil had they managed that?

“Sir,” repeated Gazan. “You need to see this.”

Sergei sighed and walked over to his medic, taking care not to slip and fall on the uneven ground or step on the exposed wiring. The rubble Gazan had moved, as it transpired, was covering a small alcove filled with maps and charts, most of them too singed or torn by the explosion to be of any real use. They did seem to be doing an adequate job of absorbing the thick blood leaking out of the Dilgar officer's gaping chest wound. The feline creature was too pitiful to even hate, it yowled despondently as it struggled to keep its slippery mess of intestine from falling out of its front. She - it was clearly feminine, despite its alien nature - looked forlornly at her side arm with her one good eye, knowing as well as Sergi that she'd die from internal bleeding if she even tried to reach for it.

“I am dying,” The creature stated in a matter of fact tone. She spoke an odd mess of high and low Gothic words, a growling purr on her hard syllables coloring it further, “No... not dying. Already dead.”

“Yes,” Gazan knelt down and examined her wound, surreptitiously taking her side arm and sack of grenades. “I do not know the biology of your species, but you've lost several pints of blood already.”

“A pity,” The Dilgar officer smiled sadly, her breath coming out in desperate gasps. “I assume you're here for Faust?”

“Yes,” Sergei replied. There seemed little point in lying.

“You're a fool,” the Dilgar growled angrily. “You will die.”

“Not before you though.” Sergei smirked. “And not before you tell me what I want to know.”

The Dilgar shook her head, a pained motion of her neck that only moved her head by centimeters. “No, I don't suspect I will. I've barely got life enough in me for this conversation. But it will be enough... just barely but enough...”

“Who is your commander?” Sergei held up a shredded map of the trenches. “Where can I find him?”

“She,” The Dilgar's mouth bled profusely choking her words, “She is not for you.Human... She is... she will defeat you.... you do not know what power Faust commands...”

“Sergei,” Gaza sighed, “I don't think she'll give us anything useful.”

“No,” Sergei agreed, raising from his crouch and taking her side arm from Gazan. “I don't think she will -” He looked down at the familiar design of the weapon in his hand and swore angrily turning back to the Dilgar, but too late. “- Throne, no!”

The Dilgar officer, tears in her eyes, drove a thin stiletto-like protrusion of wraithbone into her heart, cracking the gem-like protrusion in its handle. As the coruscating blue energies wracked her broken body, she howled a final burst of furious invective, “You cannot win!”

Gazan grabbed Sergei by the shoulders and yanked him backwards into the main room, bellowing orders to the Lionhearts as a dumbstruck Sergei watched the woman's flesh warp and contort. Protrusions of thorny vine-like white marble burst from her body, consuming her wholly in an ethereal burst of warp-flames as it reshaped her into a twisted mockery of mortal form. Her mawkish jaw distended two meters high as light burst forth from the map room.

The Lionhearts fired upon the stone creature, cracking and crushing marble vines and feline architecture, only to have it re-form from the ashes and rubble. Undaunted, the grinning cheshire beast wrapped in marble flora yowled in victory as it settled down. It sat unmoving upon the floor as a crackling hiss of ozone and pale blue light heralded a rippling pool of light in the creature's mouth and a lithe figure sauntered out of the blinding light.

“Oh hell,” Sergei's heart caught in his throat as he heard the giggling, almost-girlish titters of glee from the other side of the portal, while a dozen lithe figures seemed to wade through the cloying brightness. “No.. no.. not now... not here.”

“Open fire!” Sergei barked to his men, reaching into his pack for a fist sized brick of det-cord and slapping it on the ground. “Full retreat. Code 5 incursion. Eldar, they're Throne-cursed Eldar.”

The Lionhearts scrambled to get to the stairs, firing at the portal to give them time as the nightmarish howling of the warriors echoed from the portal. Fear seeped into Sergei's very marrow, the sort of cold, cloying and irrational feeling that death would soon be upon him. His knees shook uncontrollably as he wobbled and stumbled in retreat, leading his men out of the bunker.

He had to get away. He had to get away now, or he would die. He knew that he would die. Oh Throne, why had he agreed to go on this mission. Why had he decided to become a lionheart? He openly wept as he reached the trenches with his men, hiccuping animatedly. The were all going to die and he knew it. They all knew it.

The Shi'lassen sappers, apparently in the midst of preparing themselves a meal in the trenches, stood up in shock as the Lionhearts huddled in what cover they could find, hiding from the screams. The screaming, dear Emperor, he could hear the screaming as it came – wait? He knew that screaming. He knew what it did, how it turned men's bowels into water. Eldar trickery, sorcery. And he was whimpering like a girl in the dark.

Well to the Eye with witches, and to the Eye with fear. He smashed the activator to the det-cord and the screaming turned to wails of furious pain. "Take that you xenos scum!"

There was no time to appreciate his temporary victory. Bloodied and wailing furiously, the squad of Eldar women clad in form-fitting suits of wraithbone shot out from the rubble of the bunker, propelled by their own Warp sorcery-enhanced reflexes.

An Eldar female flung herself towards Sergei, twisting her lithe form in a way he hadn't previously realized was possible as she evaded a blast of crimson light from his hot-shot lasrifle. The psychic energies pulsing around her sizzled ominously, blindingly bright bursts of color and sound thundering in the confined space of the trench.

She leapt over him, propelling herself forward with a well planted kick to Sergei's chest that planted him in the muck as she decapitated an unfortunate Lionheart. The soldier's still terrified mouth opened and closed in the muck, trying to yell a warning to Falin.

Gasping for breath Sergei writhed across the thick black muck of the floor, scrambling backwards over the eviscerated innards of Martius as the bisected man struggled to pull his legs back to his torso with a ragged length of intestine.

“Knife-eared whore!” He howled in fury as the Eldar decapitated another Shi'lassen goat-man, her unnatural blade desiccating the body to ash. “Eldar witch!”

The woman let ought a haughty laugh, dancing backwards as he let loose with Martinus' shotgun before spinning left to avoid a downward chop from one of her male allies. Without thinking, he fired into the back of the male Eldar's knee, blowing the narrow limb to smithereens at the joint. He toppled over, nicking his face upon his own blade and howling in torment as the blade's venom dissolved his flesh and muscle down to the bone.

The astonished Eldar turned to their wounded compatriot, briefly freezing in their gleeful slaughter as he howled in agony before bursting into joyous laughter and continuing in their murderous reveling. Sh'lassen goat and Lionheart alike were slaughtered like cattle, eldritch xenotech blades making a mockery of the Lionheart's carapace armor.

Sergei struggled against a heavy wave of telekinetic force that ripped the gun from his fingers as a particularly haughty woman planted her knee in his side, and grasped him by the neck. Lithe fingers gripped his throat with unnatural strength, crushing the life out of him. He beat at her face and neck with his fist, plumes of warp-sorcery preventing him from actually making contact.

She stared eagerly into his eyes with an terrifying intensity as his skin turned purple and his eyes bulged, her vice-like hands preventing him from breaking. Laughter rung in his ears even as his vision faded, psionic reverberations trebling and distorting the woman's already inhuman timber.

Sergei heard the trumpets of the golden throne calling him to the lands of his ancestors as he could handle it no longer. With his last effort he focused all his spite for the woman into a dagger, in the hopes that he might at least distract the psychic long enough for one of his men to get in a shot at her.

“Curious creatures, you are. Pale imitations of ourselves, but a passable facsimile considering the limited period for genetic manipulation.” The inhuman presence of the Eldar witch forced itself into his head, probing tendrils caressing his memory with luscious pangs of agony. “The Mon'keigh have prospered in our absence. How fascinating.”

Sergi croaked in defiant reply, a wet “gwarp” as close to rudeness as he could manage. Though if the Eldar's scandalized titter of amusement was any indication, the meaning of his anatomically improbable insult had been properly conveyed.

“Defiance! Oh, how long has it been since we tasted such sweet defiance? I shall savor the moment when you become strong enough to match that defiance with action. Perhaps you may even amuse me.” The fingers left his throat, discarding him onto Martinus' corpse with bored irritation as the Eldar disengaged from the Lionhearts' corpses and soared out of the trench on glittering clouds of prismatic energy, their tittering laughter echoing mockingly across the battlefield. Sergei grasped the loose earth of the trench wall, digging deep in the soft ground as he gasped in the foul smelling air.

Amusing? His defiance tasted amusing?

He'd be sure to make sure the bitch choked on it.

Fingers shaking wildly, he snapped his breath mask back into place over his face, counting down from ten to steady his thoughts. A thousand flying constructs of bone and warp-craft swirled in predatory menace through the gaseous clouds of Matok, hellish green balefire streams soaring behind them in monstrous repose. The braying screeches of men and Shi'lassen echoed across the trench as men struggled to treat envenomed wounds and severed limbs.

The horns. Sergei could still hear the horns, as real and omnipresent as when he'd thought the golden throne was calling him. War cries, the Eldar were using trumpets enhanced by some sort of warp devilry to make them heard across the entire battlefield. It was more than trumpets; an entire orchestra of psychic instruments echoed across the battlefield in victorious symphonic ultimatum.

“Emperor Almighty,” Sergei whispered as the school of angry flyers parted, and a figure as tall as the spire of Matok floated to the ground with the sort of elegance and grace one would expect of a Gerran ballerina. “Sweet Emperor Almighty, please save us.”

The distant thunder of a company of Narn super-heavy artillery batteries thundered, laser fire scourging across the roiling cloudscape to collide with the opalescent screen of energy surrounding the Eldar Titan. A hundred smaller shapes burst into flame, paper thin wraith-bone flyers and hard shelled psychic-constructs unable to survive the withering counterstrike. The massive wraith-bone creature pirouetted on its spindly legs, moving with a grace and poise that belied its massive stature.

Jutting from where one might have expected a hand on a humanoid construct, a bulbous sliver flower glowed with an orange burst of color and thunderous noise that annihilated a kilometer wide circle of mountainside, smiting the gnats harrying at its sides. To their credit, the Narn artillery managed another two salvos before the Eldar Titan brought its primary cannon to bear and condemned the mountainside to the hell-scape of the warp in a salvo of dimensionally disrupting energies.

Gazan gripped Sergei by his shoulder and helped the man limp into cover, “Come on sir, we have to move. More Eldar could come out of that portal at any time.”

“Yes,” Sergei agreed. “Yes. We need to regroup with the other surviving Lion-hearts. This changes nothing for us. We stick to the plan.”

“Plan my ass! That thing is huge!” Falin growled angrily from where he was splinting a shattered finger, “What do we do about the wounded?”

“Carry those who can be moved,” Sergei winced as Gazan applied some sort of bruises to the wounds on his neck. “Kill those who can't.”

“And the Shi'lassen?” Gazan nodded to the handful of saboteurs who'd survived.

“Them too,” Sergei's lip curled in disgust. Not even the goatish Sh'lassen deserved life in an Eldar slave colony, “Nobody gets left behind. Nobody gets taken alive. Nobody. The knife-ears aren't getting that satisfaction.”

-=-=-
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post #135 of 159 (permalink) Old 06-19-13, 01:14 AM Thread Starter
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“Decks 2, 3, 24, 236, and 404 aft have been boarded,” droned the vox-servitor lashed to the great throne, “Decks 2, 3, 24, 236, and 404 aft have been boarded--”

“I know,” Sáclair barked tersely at the servitor, smacking it across the face and knocking one of its prosthetic eyes to the floor. “We have a lot of boarders onboard the ship. Thank you for the Throne cursed update.”

The Captain's right foot burned in sympathetic agony as he put the Endless Bounty between the Eldar corsair and an Omega Class ship, earning a pulse-laser shot to the engines for his trouble. A troubling warning of potentially overheating power grid 12 zeta flashed across his augmentically enhanced eyes as he fired back on the spindly Eldar craft with his port weapons arrays, crushing the ship's solar sails into dust and fragments.

Centauri warships mobbed the crippled Eldar ship like frenzied sharks, tearing into the wraithbone flesh of it with their Vorchan laser arrays. For a race unaccustomed to fighting those more powerful than themselves, the Centauri took to the new task with impressive fervor.

Saclair accelerated as fast as his engines would permit, moving them up to the redline in a vain attempt to catch up with the Eldar ship. It was like grasping at smoke and whispers; every time he thought he'd managed to isolate which of the afterimages on his sensor array was the true ship, it would turn out to be nothing but another ghostly fake, and he'd have to sacrifice even more fuel to dodge the capitol ship's main guns. Kerrigan's enhanced sensors gave him only a moment's warning, but that was a moment more than his allies would have if the Eldar were able to focus on the weaker ships.

As much as it galled him to admit it, there was no possible way for him to beat the Eldar ship in a stand-up fight. The Endless Bounty wasn't a dedicated warship. His only hope was for the Eldar capitol ship to remain distracted long enough for his allied ships to be able to harry the larger ship into a retreat. The Earth Alliance ships were weak, but their lance batteries would be greatly appreciated.

None of that could happen, however, while the damned Eldar frigates were still able to control the flow of battle. The Eldar frigates were little more than capitol ship weapons mounted on flying frames: they were delicate, almost fragile by Imperial standards, but imbued with a speed that chased the very light of the stars. The frigates did not make easy targets even if they'd been playing fair.

That their pilots were guided by the greater psychic purpose of whatever Farseer witch-king ruled this coven of Eldar went without saying. The already preternaturally fast reflexes of the ship's Captain would likely be informed and aided by the future sight visions of their telepathic cadre. They weaved the paths of fate and foresight to win victories before ever firing a shot.

To the Eye with their foresight. Sáclair would be damned if he couldn't make his own fate.

“Mr. Andrews, I need to prevent the Eldar from moving through the system unimpeded. Their solar sails are giving them too much of an advantage,” Sáclair growled as he felt a wing of Vampire hunters attack the underbelly of the Endless Bounty. “And will somebody get these damn fighters off me!”

“We're a bit busy sir,” Replied the terse voice of Mr. Andrews between bursts of laser fire. His image was a distorted mess as the camera servitor skull struggled to keep pace with the crewman as he tucked into a roll, dodging the curved blade of an Eldar pirate. He jammed the shotgun into the Eldar Pirate's side, firing twice and expelling the contents of the Eldar's stomach across the wall of the corridor.

A second Eldar pirate came barreling down the corridor only to catch the saw-blade arm of a servitor, cutting the elfish figure's head at the neck. The body, unaware of its death, stumbled another footfall before toppling into a decidedly fleshy heap.

Mr. Andrews swore angrily as he pulled a dagger out of his knee, “Sir they took out the aft command post, and smashed the sensors for the tram. They'll be on you in moments.”

Sáclair's eyes bulged with apoplectic rage. The tram that ran between the main bridge and the command posts that lined the spine of the ship was a mark of status aboard the Endless Bounty, it was the ceremonial transport of Sáclair men for time immemorial. They were going to assault him with his own tram. He swallowed his anger and repeated his question in a tone of dangerous calm, “Mr. Andrews, do we have something that could impede those solar sails in the next five minutes? Yes or no?”

“I... I'm not sure sir. If the tertiary firing controls are still manually accessible we could fire a salvo of atomics at the moon. The debris should at least make them think twice about following us through it.” Mr. Andrews eyes were slightly out of focus, a minor concussion no doubt. “It might --”

“Do it.” Sáclair growled as the floor to the great hall parted, the obsidian tram rising up from the floor with the heralding singing of cherub-servitors and recorded prayers. “And do it now. We're about to suffer a significant drop in pilot concentration.”

The tram's doors exploded outward as dozens of heavily armored Eldar swordsmen charged into the great hall. The carapace armor of the ship's security officers provided no protection from the humming obsidian blades of the eldar warriors. Curved and cruel protrusions of bone jutted out from the chins and faces of the warriors, giving them a cruel and bestial facade.

Sáclair watched as the Eldar slaughtered their way through the security guards and lionhearts, psychic-powers making a mockery of the lesser mortal's physical skills. Their bodies twisted and undulated in impossible ways to avoid or absorb what laser-fire did not simply dissipate across the charged energies wreathed across their wraithbone armor.

The ship bucked with the impact of a misplaced shot from an Centauri Primus as Sáclair launched his own ordnance at the massive Eldar warship. His lip curved in satisfaction as he realized that it had managed to do nominal damage to the ship's top wing. His assessment was immediately confirmed by the Eldar's increased frenzy to slaughter his men.

A wing Earth Alliance fleet, led by the Beijing Beauty, attacked the Eldar battleship's underbelly, distracting it and giving the Endless Bounty time to break away. That damnable Xinjiang was at least a competent commander even if he was an insufferably thick human being. One couldn't have everything he supposed.

Sáclair counted down from twenty to lower his heart rate, waiting for the swordsmen to walk reach the wide dance floor of the great hall. He cleared his mind, willing his plan to the back of his head behind the protected memory engram implants. The throne was theoretically insulated against psychic intrusions, but with the Eldar one never truly knew if such measures would do more than hinder them.

Even the weakest of Eldar had a prodigious telepathic talent.

“Surrender to us, Mon'kiegh” The Astropathic servitor chained to his throne convulsed, her mouth forced to speak the words of the Eldar approaching him. The controller was likely the lead swordsman, a tall Eldar cloaked in yellow silks above his blue armor who'd paused fighting the Imperials long enough to make eye contact with the servitor. “Surrender, or you will die. It has been foretold.”

“You'll pardon me if I don't feel compelled to roll over and die,” Sáclair snorted in amusement over the loudspeakers as an eldar pistol pinged off the particle shields enveloping his throne. With a cheeky grin and a gesture unbecoming of the lord of a ship, Sáclair activated the perimeter shields within the dance floor's tiles, trapping the swordsmen within the confines of the ballroom floor. “And I don't exactly feel threatened by you at the moment.”

“You think too three-dimensionally, Mon'kiegh,” The Eldar effortlessly removed the hand of a lionheart brandishing a chain-blade, grabbing the man's stump and gutting him from navel to nostril with a elegantly curved blade. “This accomplishes nothing. You save no-one.”

“Says the man who's currently imprisoned,” Sáclair settled back into his throne, glaring menacingly at a servant and snapping his fingers twice. “Boy, if I do not see a pitcher of sweet wine in the next ten seconds I will be very cross.”

The child, terrified enough by the Eldar to forget the battlefield prohibition of liquor, rushed off to the Captain’s private larder. Just as well, really. It would have been horribly embarrassing to be denied liquor by a servant in front of the enemy.

“You condemn yourself. ” The Eldar shook his head, apparently disappointed, “There was still time to change your path, Mon'kiegh.”

“I choose my own pathm Eldar,” Sáclair bucked forward in his throne and swore as the sensation of a depressurizing section of ship tore into his thigh. He was paying too much attention to the intruders and not enough attention to the battle. He hadn't even considered that the Dilgar ship to his bow might still be a threat, but apparently the devious little predators weren't out of the fight quite yet.

“You listen but only to hear my words. Words are insufficient.” The Eldar's voice from the servitor hitched in contemplation, “Mon'kiegh are limited... too limited in language and thought. You need to hear my truth.”

A jab of psychic inquiry lashed across Sáclair's mind, an overwhelming and ancient presence beating against his thoughts and outright ignoring the psychic dilution of the power field. Thoughts, alien to his own, tried to impose themselves across his own thoughts and memories in indistinct patterns of unknowable emotion and prismatic color.

Sáclair's anti-psychic implants struggled to stave off the attack, forcing his mind to recall irrelevant thoughts and false memories. “Fine, you want to play this that way?” Sáclair bit down hard on the false molar on the right side of his mouth, cracking it open and activating a miniature pressure plate concealed within. “How about this, you knife eared abomination!”

Sáclair knew what came next made it no easier to endure. The supremely illegal implant was one of the worse devices to emerge from the Age of Apostasy. A thumbnail-sized chip implanted at the base of the Captain's skull was a modified version of the standard false memory engram, a single-use chip containing fake memories intended to lure away any intruding psychic - with a twist.

The memories within were the recorded feelings and emotions of those condemned to death at the stake and those undergoing the conversion into servitors. Their pain, their terror, and all of the horrible thoughts to run through their minds would be forced into the attacker's mind as though they were living it at that second.

Unfortunately, it also inflicted the same upon it's bearer.

Sáclair had always imagined it would be the Inquisitor who he unleashed the device upon, but this would have to suffice. A pity, he would have loved to force the Inquisitor to feel the touch of death.

The Eldar's scream of pain and terror was quite satisfying, nearly enough to drown out his own screams of agony as he smashed the Endless Bounty through an Eldar escort ship, breaking the elegant craft's spine across the prow of his own. It was not until the pain abated that he consciously realized that he was screaming or that he'd stopped noticing the sensations of pain caused by ordnance impacts. Double-checking to see that his skin was still attached to his body, Sáclair glared down at the now kneeling Eldar warrior as his acolytes helped him to his feet.

“Had enough, Eldar?”

“So be it Mon'Kiegh,” The Eldar touched his chest, running his fingers across a fist sized stone. The gem glowed with unnatural light, bathing his blue armor in blinding white light. The Endless Bounty's Astropaths screamed in shock, their senses overwhelmed by the sudden psychic mandate. Their minds, bound to the logic engines of the ship, projected messages across the great hololith. The same words a thousand times a thousand, “Here, here, it is here.”

An soul-stone, a throne begotten soul-stone, the bastard had a beacon for the damned bridge. The Eldar smiled sadly, “We die together Mon'kiegh. I will honor your defiance in my next life.”

“You first,” Sáclair smashed his fist on the handle of his throne, breaking the gilt paw off the lion and pulling a lever down to the floor. Shards of molten glass and crystal rained down from the ceiling as the concealed plasma cannons unleashed their lethal payloads at the non-humans clustered on the dance floor.

“Mr. Sácomer,” Sáclair tapped the vox caster newly implanted beneath his ear. “See about dispatching a cleaning crew to the bridge. I've made a bit of a mess up here."

------------------
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post #136 of 159 (permalink) Old 06-19-13, 01:16 AM Thread Starter
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The Shi'lassen rebel transport was advanced, strikingly so. It was no wonder that the rebels had managed to fight the partisans to a stand-still; they were laughably better equipped than their enemies. Throne, they were better equipped than most regiments of Imperial Guardsmen.

The thick carapace armor of their grey-robed host's bodyguards could easily have passed for the armor favored by Imperial Storm Troopers. The slight shimmer of ionized air around the armor plates just hinted at some sort of energy disruption technology to dissipate the plasma weaponry favored by the Earth Alliance. Their own laser carbines were of distinctly alien make, though if Cairn's unwavering fixation upon the weapons was any indication, of a quality worthy of note.

By comparison, their guide V'clath's filthy blue uniform and secondhand phased-plasma rifle seemed almost quaint. The hoary goat-man cradled his own weapon, apparently terrified of the rebel's shaved faces and missing horns. He would reach up and tap his own horns every minute or so, just to affirm that they were still in place.

“Where are you taking us?” Daul queried as the transport zoomed across the battlefield, dodging Dilgar artillery strikes with agility he would not have expected from the lopsided Sh'lassen construct.

“You will see soon enough, fatebringer. The time for secrets will soon be at an end.” The robed rebel rubbed at his chin, a gesture clearly born of a time when he still had a beard. “I promise no harm will come to you. That is not my place.”

“Oye vey. Do you really have to keep up the 'cryptic guide' thing?” Susan interjected. “I get enough of that from Hilder.”

The robed rebel snorted, shaking his snout in amusement, “There is no riddle. No secret. I simply do not know the answer. I was not meant to know.”

“If course you don't.” The Earthforce officer rested her forehead in the palm of her hand. “Do you have a name that we should be calling you?”

“He is Kg'Shar. Head of the order of Akab. Lord of the third circle,” V'clath brayed angrily. “Architect of the rebellion.”

“Remind me why we aren't shooting him?” Hissed Shan, “I feel like we should be shooting him.”

“I will die.” Kg'Shar whinnied morosely in English. “But not before finishing my duty. Not till you have met – ” The tank bucked hard to the right, the booming crash of artillery rounds colliding with the polarized hull thundering within. “ – Gornak, report!”

The Sh'lassen driver brayed and whinnied in the Sh'lassen tongue, a goatish mix of fear and excitement in each word. Daul looked to V'clath expectantly. “Well?”

“The new ones, er – Eldar – They've broken through the Sh'lassen defensive lines. They're in the outer reaches of the fortress city itself.” V'clath's ears twitched in fear as another shell burst behind the tank close enough to deafen the passengers briefly.

“They haven't breached the spire.” Kg'Shar shouted over the ringing noise in their ears as he closed his eyes in an effort to focus himself. “The Earth Alliance is doing a serviceable job of attacking the AlaiWarriors. The Ceifulgaithann continue to harass the Narn for now, and hopefully we'll be able to sneak through the fortress without that damnable giant of the Fir Caurifeltaking note of us.”

“You're remarkably well informed about the Eldar.” Daul eyed Kg'Shar speculatively. “As well as the Imperium. Metzik Gothic is not well known, even in the Imperium.”

“I only know the phrases I used in greeting,” Kg'Shar shrugged, “I was told to memorize them. I've been practicing them daily for two years now in anticipation of today.”

“Told? Told by whom?” Daul shot a confused look at Susan. “Are the Sh'lassen precognitive?”

“Not to my knowledge. But I'm no expert in human genetics.” Susan shrugged. “It would probably have been flagged by the Psi Corps if they were. They don't tend to let stuff like that slip by.”

“Come again?” Shan hissed in shock. “The Sh'lassen are human?”

“Of course we're human,” grunted the annoyed V'clath. “As human as you are.”

“I don't recall hooves being part of the package!” Shan retorted.

“We altered our genome in the early days of Sh'lassen to survive the inhospitable mountainsides. It was a move of desperation to survive.” Kg'Shar grunted, “It was a mistake.”

“It is our heritage.” brayed V'clath. “We left Earth to live as we pleased, to be what we wished. We thrived.”

“By the throne. Beastmen!” Daul had never personally encountered homo sapiens variatus, a blanket classification for those human populations who'd ceased to be recognizable from their human origins. The Adeptus Arbites were careful to restrict the so called “beastmen” to the three thousand prescriled settlement worlds, often the worlds their particular mutant strain originated from. “How?”

“The methods of our ancestors were... necessary for survival. For a time. But we must seek a cure, to restore ourselves to purity. To what we once were.” Kg'Shar ran a hand over his shaved head. “I will never be pure, but perhaps my children and grandchildren might be.”

“How can you do that?” Susan quirked a single brow. “I was under the impression that you'd lost the technology to manipulate the genome. The Triumvirate destroyed it after the Earth Alliance showed up to prevent them from using it to change them back.”

“It was not time. The bargain has not been met.” The tank turned abruptly as an Eldar spear sunk into the side, piercing the hull before zooming back to its wielder. Its whistling psychic cry hissed nearly as loud as the noxious gasses pouring into the transport.

“Cairn! See to it!” Daul coughed as his rebreather struggled to compensate for the sulfurous gasses. Twittering irritably as he welded the hole shut, the Skitarii saw to mending the tear.

“The Alai are more formidable than I expected. More formidable than I'd believed possible.” Hacking in pain Kg'Shar clutched a medallion around his neck, a silvery jade bug that seemed passingly familiar to Daul, though he couldn't place it. “We're going to have to travel through the depths.”

“There is no possible way that I'm going to like whatever it is your going to say next.” Susan massaged her forehead, “But I suppose someone has to ask. Why are the depths?”

“Ancient caves beneath the battlefield of Matok. Deep, secret. Not walked since we first came to the planet,” V'clath shuddered in fear his as his hackles quivered. “Dangerous, very dangerous. They lead from Matok to most of the planet.”

“And they were not part of your battle plans?” Shan whispered confusion.

“They were.” Kg'Shar snorted, “But the beasts that dwell below would not have an intrusion. We do not belong.”

“Sent tanks. Sent troops. ” V'clath scratched at his muzzle with a taloned finger. “None came back. Trenches avoid the caves. Anything that gets too deep doesn't come back.”

“And you want to take us through there?” The Earth Alliance native muttered angrily, checking that her pistols were properly loaded. “Are you insane?”

“It is that or try to enter through the main gate,” Kg'Shar shrugged. “I would prefer to avoid the area currently overrun with Alai, and we have certain... knowledge that the partisan forces does not.”

“What aren't you telling me?” Daul allowed balefire to flicker in the eye sockets of his helmet in subtle threat.

Kg'Shar's bodyguards rose their firearms in alarm, but stood down at a gesture from their master. He shook his head disappointedly, “Inquisitor, I am not telling you volumes of our history and knowledge. You have let your curiosity guide you this far, have faith.”

“My faith is limitless, my patience is merely human.” Daul retorted. “How do you know that we will survive the depths?”

“For the same reason I knew your tongue,” Kg'Shar smiled, an oddly wolfish gesture. “I was told.”

“By whom?”

“We are a blessed people Inquisitor, blessed beyond imagining. He guides us in all things, leading us on the path to order and perfection. He is eternal, glorious. He has lived since men were but apes in the forest and he will continue long after we've died.” Kg'Shar sighed reverently. "Some say he strode the plains of ancient Earth before the dawn of man."

"Of course he did." The Inquisitor replied dryly. Daul hated dealing with cultists: they thought in circles and never gave a straight answer. And nothing was more insufferable than a cultist witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy, they outright refused to talk in anything resembling normal speech. Nothing but “it was forseen” and “so wills it be,” phrases as meaningless as they were roundabout.

Daul smiled as he probed towards Kg'Shar's mind, probing his surface thoughts. Not strongly enough for him to realize that it was being done, as even the weakest of minds would not miss an outright intrusion, but just enough to get a vague impression of what lay within his mind. “Does your mysterious benefactor have a name?”

“We do not speak his name. We are unworthy, but he has requested that yoube at his side and witness his glory.” replied the rebel, a flash of a two meter high figure flitting to the forefront of his mind. Thick gold-gilded gauntlets and a bright red cape waved about the massive figure sitting upon an obsidian throne as he watched the world progress on a bank of holographic monitors, his face wrapped in opulent silk to conceal his identity. He was the eternal guardian of Sh'lassen.

He knew that armor and knew patterns on the robe, but for the life of him he couldn't say why. Yet he had to know.

He did.... THRONE ALMIGHTY he did

No... no it couldn't be....Throne help him, but he had to know.

The tank's engines cut off, the thunderous grunting rumble grinding down to silence as the doors hissed open to the noxious air of Matok billowing into the confined space of the compartment. Men and Sh'lassen clamped re-breathers across their faces, the elongated snouts of the Imperial re-breathers giving the odd impression that all of them had the elongated snouts of their goat-like guides.

The three story ziggurat was pitch black, surrounded by great spired pylons stretching out to the sky at seemingly random intervals from the ground. It bore the all the signs of having been once a site of great ritual, though the centuries of disuse between the extinction of the xenos race that had built it and the coming of the Sh'lassen had worn it down to a wreck of its former glory. Cracks and pock marks scored across the thick granite face; weapons-fire and natural hazards had done little to preserve its history. Leading down from the wide stone plaza upon which the tank had parked was a winding set of weatherbeaten stairs, leading down from the platform and into the depths beneath the ancient temple.

A tendril of familiar psychic presence touched his mind and Daul smiled behind his mask. Susan wanted to talk in private. Outside of their lessons it wasn't something she was inclined to do, but that she even could do it was a sign of how much she'd come.

“I really don't like that we're doing this.”

“Just keep your weapon ready and your mind clear,” Daul waved a quick command to Cairn, ordering the Skitarii to keep within mechandrite range of their bodyguards. “When they betray us I want to be ready.”

“You're planning on being betrayed?” Susan eyed the massive obsidian ziggurat that Kg'Shar was leading them towards. “You're letting them take us into the cavern of certain death knowing that they're going to betray us?”

“Of course I am,” Daul shrugged. “I'm an Inquisitor.”

Daul did not have to look back at the Russian to feel her rolling her eyes in his direction as they followed their hirsute rebel guide past pictograph-covered pylons and down the stairway at the mouth of the ziggurat, down into the bowels of the unknown.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
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post #137 of 159 (permalink) Old 06-19-13, 01:16 AM Thread Starter
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Tonya screamed as the half-breed hound lunged for her exposed leg, its gaping maw yawning open with obvious purpose. She bashed the creature across its snout with the shock-maul given to her by Danzig, crushing its head inwards in a burst of force from the glowing power fields wrapped around the heavy flail.

“I'd better get a freaking Pulitzer for this.” She yelled into her camera, “Twice!”

Rough hands grabbed her round the waist and pulled her into a comforting embrace as Hakam Danzig pulled her back from the window. “Stay down!”

“Sir,” Sgt. Hamman pointed his flamethrower at the gaping aperture, a gout of searing hot flames pouring from its nozzle into the pack of half-breed hounds. The unnatural hounds screamed and howled, their muscle and sinew cooking under the stream of napalm. He ripped a grenade off his combat webbing, tossing it down the passageway and collapsing the entrance to the bunker.

“They're getting close,” Danzig growled, his arms tightening around her waist unconsciously and pressing Tonya up against him. “Too close.”

He seemed to consciously realize his closeness to Tonya, reddening as he let her go, “Are you unharmed, Miss Wallace?”

“No Colonel. I'm fine,” Tonya brushed the dirt from the front of her uniform as best she could, “Just a bit messier than I'd like.”

“Good, but for Throne's sake stay away from the windows.” Danzig growled, his tone of command sending shivers up Tonya's spine. “Ashak, how screwed are we?”

“From the Throne to the Eye sir,” The baby-faced Lionheart swore angrily as he stared into some sort of handheld computer. “We've been cut off from the rest of the Lionhearts by the Eldar flyers. Jamal's squad tried to sneak around to the North and give us some fire support, but they ran into more of the burrowers.”

“Any word on the Belzafest artillery?” Danzig tapped his earpiece twice and winced as it spat static back into his ear loud enough for Tonya to hear it. He ripped the malfunctioning radio out of his ear, swearing furiously, “Throne cursed Eldar sorcery! Does nothing go to plan?”

“It gets better sir,” yelled Sóntian from where he'd perched with his sniper rifle, staring down his scope at the battlefield beyond. “We've got incoming!”

“How many?” Danzig scanned the room, in a gesture Tonya recognized. He was taking a quick study of his men, trying to get a sense for how the thirty soldiers were doing.

“I don't know,” He shook his head. “They're using some sort of illusion to distract my eyes, and I can't focus on any of them for more than a few seconds.”

“Let me have a look,” Tonya pointed to her camera drones. “I want to get a look at these Eldar anyway.”

“Do it.” Danzig nodded.

Tonya tapped the side of her head, activating the implant in her eye linked to her camera drones. She shut them tight, having two disparate images playing on her eyes would rapidly cause her to feel vertigo. She ran her palm over the remote in the palm of her glove and one of her silver robots flew upwards towards the edge of the bunker and out the window.

The rocky landscape of Matok whipped past at break neck speed as she navigated towards where Sóntian had been staring. A two meter tall wall of light and color erupted from the ground some hundred yards from the bunker, covering a kilometer wide section of hillside from view.

Well, blocking anyone who couldn't fly that is. Her drone shot up into the air, rising some hundred feet and focusing on the now exposed Eldar. The slender blue armored men labored around obvious weapons platforms, their long-ribbed barrels terminating in a thick, bulbous muzzle. Even at this distance she could see the air distorting and vibrating around the tip of the barrel.

“There are large cannons pointed at us,” Tonya swallowed. “Each one is manned by two men, they're – they're firing!”

The earth quaked as a thunderous burst of sound and color collided with the bunker, punching the southern wall inward in a deadly hail of razor sharp fragments of stone. Tonya screamed as one of the Lionhearts burst like a balloon, his flesh shaken apart by the Alien artillery.

Danzig mouthed “Run,” grasping her by her wrist, his frenzied command silenced by the thunderous ringing in her ears. She reached up to the right side of her head, the sticky feeling of fresh blood seeping from a fresh wound coating her fingers.

The Lionhearts fled in all directions, scattering as far as possible to deny the Eldar weapons a target. Tonya struggled to keep up with Danzig, the soldier half-dragging her along as they rushed into cover. Her ears recovered just enough to hear the whining keen of the weapons batteries as they opened up on a trio of Lionhearts. The air shimmered and shifted around them in a tornado of shifting forces, shaking the earth beneath them as it ripped them to shreds. Tonya gaped, too terrified to scream as the men were rendered down to their component atoms. A soupy mess of blood and fragmented bone was all that remained, pattering onto the sulfuric rocks with a dull hiss.

“Vibro-cannons,” Yelled Danzig loud enough for her to hear him over the rining in her ears. “Eldar artillery. We've got to get to – get down!”

He pulled her to him, shielding her body with his own as the stream shot past them, kicking up razor sharp fragments of rock and annihilating another Lionheart who strayed too far into view. He screamed in pain as a knife-sharp shard of rock sliced his cheek, exposing the muscle below.

Tonya squinted her eyes shut, focusing on the camera still hovering above the battlefield and activated its emergency beacon. It was nothing more than a bright light and a broad spectrum SOS, but it made for one hell of a distraction as she flew the camera straight into the leftmost gunner's helmet.

The astonished gun crews briefly stopped firing, distracted by the shocked scream of their compatriot and the bright light and motion of the robot. It was the meagerest of distractions, but one that the Lionhearts did not squander. As a confused Eldar grabbed the drone, staring at the robot contemptuously, his head exploded in a burst of gore.

Sóntian whooped in victory as the Lionhearts peppered the hillside in laser fire, forcing the Eldar to take cover behind their own artillery as a bright purple Centauri tank column hovered across the battlefield, interposing themselves between the Lionhearts and the Eldar.

A centauri medic hopped off the back of the lead tank as the Centauri armor opened fire on the Eldar artillery, “Are you injured?”

Danzig batted the alien medic away, speaking through a mouthful of his own blood, “I'm fine.”

A tank collapsed, crushed under the weight of the Eldar artillery as its internal fuel supplies ignited. Ruptured sections of hull flew in all directions, flaming projectiles crashing to the ground with an earth-shuddering crash.

“Sir I really should see to that wound,” The medic pulled a device from his belt.

Danzig grabbed the medic by the throat, “Save the dying first.”

“Yes sir,” The choking medic hissed. “Right away sir.”

“I assume you're the officer in charge?” A haughty Centauri in bright white carapace armor with an immaculate set of blue trousers sidled up to them, exiting his transport with the same casual boredom of a man walking to work. He shook slightly as the tank fired its main weapon, particle beams searing into the gun batteries and destroying two platforms.

“Get down you fool!” Barked Danzig as a second tank was hit by the artillery, the screams of it's crew punctuated by the sound of igniting fuel.

The Centauri winced at the noise, “Hiding from that artillery doesn't seem to do much to protect me. And all things considered, I would prefer not to be cramped. Tanks tend to be dismally narrow.”

“You're going to die you fool.”

“No, I don't think I shall,” The Centauri smiled and looked at his watch, his canines tapping jauntily against his lower lip. “Whatever else may be said about the Narn, they are masters of ungentlemanly warfare.”

Six Da'Va'Korrak infantry vehicles crested the ridge behind the Eldar position, disgorging a hundred screaming Narn onto the ridge. A few seconds of plasma-fire flashed across the ridge before the distant shouts of victory let Tonya knew they'd succeeded in taking out the vibro-cannons.

“Efficient savages,” the Centauri chuckled. “It's a nice change of pace to see them fighting someone else.”

“I wouldn't expect you to work with Narn.” Tonya shouted over the ringing in her ears. Hopefully the sound guy could get some usable material out of her two remaining cameras in post. “I'd have thought that the Narn-Centauri problem would be too much.”

“There isn't any Narn-Centauri problem on this battlefield Miss -” He let the sound hang in the air till Tonya provided “Wallace” so that he would continue, “Yes, miss Wallace. There simply isn't time to waste on that. To use your history, 'we must hang together or we shall most assuredly hang separately.' There are even GROPO stragglers somewhere in the column that survived the first push. By the Maker, I'm sure that the poor bastards are looking for some payback.”

“I wouldn't get too excited about your victory,” Danzig slapped a fresh power-pack into his rifle and shoving Tonya into the open Centauri tank. “Incoming, six o-clock high!”

“What are you talking abo – ” The Centauri's head separated from his shoulders as an Eldar jet-biker swooped past, swinging a curved halberd with expert precision. The Eldar jetbikes swooped and swam through the sky with effortless aggression, cat-calling and jeering as they past.

The Eldar jetbikes set upon the Narn like hawks upon field mice, screeching angrily as they gleefully swooped into their prey, shooting, stabbing and generally cavorting in their murderous sport. A pair of bikes flew past a Narn at opposite angles, catching him with the chains hanging off their bikes and quartering him.

She did not have abundant time to spare in sympathetic horror, though, as the jetbikes hadn't arrived alone. Lumbering over the ruins of the destroyed bunker, the half-breeds and hounds poured down into the valley, heedless of their own safety. The monsters whooped and waved their tentacles in victory as the Centauri tanks opened fire.

Spurned on by the carnage, the half-breeds eagerly climbed over the broken bodies of their compatriots, using the craters and mounds of charnel as cover as they returned fire with their own laser rifles and looted PPGs. The Centauri commandos climbed out of their tanks, firing energy rifles at the many-legged hounds as they fed upon the dead and dying.

Heavy footfalls echoed on the roof of Tonya's tank as a tentacle whipped down into the transport, decapitating the Centauri Guardsman next to her and grabbing her about the neck before she had the chance to scream. Her hand grasped for the shock-maul, blood soaked hands too slippery to grasp the smooth leather around the hilt as her body yanked up and out.

The many eyed half-breed stank of blood and its own filthy mucus, its scaled and mottled fingers stroking the side of her face with its long bony protrusions. It spat into her face and she felt a powerful wooziness coming over her, limbs not responding properly to her brain. It leaned in close to her, leaning it to her ear and whispering “mine” as it ripped the body armor covering her chest open with a razor sharp talon, yanking the carapace open and exposing the white cotton shirt beneath.

The creature howled in arousal as it grunted “MINE” and started to remove its own filthy uniform. Oh God, why hadn't she just stayed in the camp with the General? What had she been thinking? She tried to cry out for Danzig, knowing that the soldier was just meters away.

“No use, is mine!” The creature dropped its trousers, exposing himself to her and leering down. “Mine forever.”

His aroused smile abruptly became a screaming yowl of agony as a brilliant blue burst of phased-plasma collided with his groin, castrating him with a explosion of boiling flesh. An Earthforce Gropo planted a boot in the mewling creature's face, caving it in before firing twice into the creature's chest.

“Frag off, jackass,” growled the GROPO woman's voice. “We aren't yours.”

“Stonking hell, Private Druman.” barked a gruff voiced Sgt. Major as he helped Tonya to her feet. “Remind me not to piss you off.”

Tonya mouthed wordlessly, trying to comprehend what had just happened -- and what might have.

“Come on, sarge,” a massive black Gropo hissed, “You can congratulate Dodger for a good job later. We've got to get this column moving now before the knife-ear flyers are finished with the Narn and coming for us!”

As she clutched the severed parts of her flak armor together inside the locked transport Tonya Wallace realized that it would probably have been best to just have stayed in camp with General Franklin.

No footage was worth dying.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=--=-=-

Osma counted down from twenty, clearing his mind of fear. They could sense fear or pain, the whoresons could sense any strong emotion and would track it like a shark in bloodied waters. The knew where he was already; he had to assume that at all times he was fighting deaf and blind.

That suited him just fine. He knew the Endless Bounty better than anyone save the Captain. There was no need for him to see anything. He knew where they were, and where they would be heading.

Starships had a limited number of potential targets depending on what an attacker wanted. Pirates would go for the engines or cargo hold: they'd be looking to offload as much freight as they could manage in a short time. Most enemies would be heading for the shields or weapons control, looking to defang the great Lion of the Stars.

Eldar were different. When Eldar corsairs attacked, they wanted slaves.

Supposedly there was a difference between the different Eldar clans, but Osma knew better. He knew their cruelty all too well: the only good knife-ear was a dead one, and he was eager to spread some truly great Eldar across theBounty's bulkheads.

The drum-fed boltgun in his hands was heavier than his preferred weapon, the shotgun, but when it came to Eldar even piercing the hull was a small price to pay for killing the witch-kin warriors. He was not supposed to have the weapon, as it was technically archived evidence, but a master-crafted bolt-rifle was far beyond the limits of his operating budget. Reloading the weapon cost more than he'd earn in a year. Five drums full of the explosive projectile bolt-shells jangled softly against the carapace of his leg, muffled by their cloth wrappings.

He swiped his hand twice across his visor, wordlessly telling his four man security team to move. Kurtz took the lead, the worn leather soles of his Belzafest-make leather boots barely making a noise as he crept forward into the market on Deck 236. His feel made soft splashes in the pools of blood and organs.

Osma's stomach buckled at the corpses. The normally serene plaza was like something out of a nightmare. Men, women, and children lay upon the floor, slaughtered like grox on a feast day. It hadn't been done cleanly either; the odd lacerations and smeared blood beneath the corpses indicated that they'd died neither quickly nor quietly.

“No footprints,” Kursan waved at the puddles all around them. “Thirty dead, and it might as well have been a ghost.”

“Eldar sorcery,” whispered Kurtz. “They've vanished.”

“No,” Osma hisses as droplet of blood dripped down from the ceiling, landing in the wide pool of offal draining into the sewers, “They're above us!”

Osma spun his bolter towards the eaves of the vaulted ceilings, firing the supersonic explosive into the long face of a distant winged gargoyle. The garyoyle leapt at the last second, howling and alien battlecry as it spread its iridescent wings. It shouldered a rifle and fired, catching Aknsesh between the eyes.

The dead man's body collapsed to the ground as the security team rushed for cover as a dozen winged figures took to the skies, swooping gleefully about the promenade as they unleashed all sorts of merry hell. Osma slammed his blast visor shut as a dozen fist sized segmented pieces of wraithbone fell to the ground, exploding in a burst of psychicly enhanced pyrotechnics and sound. Flames licked at his carapace, scorching his exposed back.

He turned and fired on automatic, ten bolter shots zipping into the skies. They were moving too fast to target properly but within the relative bottleneck of the promenade's vaulted ceiling one only needed to aim so much. He caught one of the winged warriors with a shell to the chest, collapsing the Eldar's rib cage and removing his head and shoulders.

Kurtz and Kurzan tried to keep the Eldar from getting into close combat with sporadic bursts from their combat shotguns, peppering any Eldar who strayed too close with adamantium ball-bearings, but it wasn't enough. Swearing furiously as he tired to get a bearing on the swooping eldar, Osma pulled the trigger twice. The explosive rockets flew across the room, exploding against a bench and a display of pickled eggs, missing the Eldar warrior entirely. The blue stream of flames from his wings cast a predatory light upon the room as he leapt upon Officer Htor.

Htor screamed in agony as the Eldar gutted him with a razor sharp dagger, grabbing his intestines in one hand as he flew back up to the ceiling. The poor bastard lived long enough to scream as he was lifted from the ground, pulled up by the slippery rope extending from his chest, before the Eldar tossed him back to the ground.

“We have to move!” Osma barked. “Advance to deck 236, corridor 564 G.”

“Sir,” Aknesh swallowed fearfully, “That's on the other side of the market.”

“Just do what I say, cadet, and you might live to see tomorrow.” Osma fired another round and swore as it clicked empty. Ripping the drum out of his rife he slapped a new one in, ducking as a scintillating red beam sliced across his shoulder, cracking the cadet in the windpipe. The young man fell down, stone dead.

“To the eye with this,” Osma growled, making the sign of the Aquilla, “Move!”

Osma fired his entire clip into the ceiling as they sprinted the hundred meters, harried by Eldar lasfire. The bolt rounds missed their targets, the slender flyers too quick to be hit by such haphazard marksmanship, but the explosions of promethium and shrapnel forced them to duck and doge quickly to avoid hitting the walls or each other. Sparks flew from their razor sharp wings, psychokinetic flames wreathing their path.

Kurtz tripped over the corpse of a large man, the local butcher if memory served. His foot caught on the man's exposed ribcage, upending him and exposing his back. Osma reached to help him up, flinching as his back split under a curved Eldar scimitar. He fired at the winged Eldar, reacting on instinct rather than conscious thought, catching the xenos warrior at the thigh and ripping the man's leg apart. The astonished Eldar hovered on its pinioned wraithbone wings, staring at its seeping wound in shock as Osma smashed him in the face with the butt of his rifle.

The witch-man howled with pain, reaching out with his hand and catching Osma in the chest with a burst of telekinesis, which flung him across the room to collide with Kursan. The two officer's tumbled down corridor 564 G, ass over elbows.

“Are we dead, sir?” Kursan groaned, extricating himself from his superior officer.

“Not yes lad' not yet. Dyin' hurts less,” Osma coughed, wincing as he stood up. At least one of his ribs was cracked, possibly more. “Throne!”

“Sir.” Kursan shoved Osma to the left, firing down the corridor. Osma grunted in pain, both emotional and physical, as he watched the young man's face and legs dissolve under Eldar laser-fire.

“Knife-eared sons of bitches!” Osma snarled as he grabbed a frag grenade off his belt and heaved it down the corridor as he pulled the emergency lever to the blast doors, shutting off the passageway from the marketplace. “Cold hearted witchkin, I'll kill you for that.”

He tapped his earpiece, staring at the faint glowing redness behind the bulkhead. The Eldar were using their laser-rifles to cut through the door. “Osma to deck chief Enginseer for deck 236. I need the Enginseer for deck 236.”

“Speaking,” Replied the slow drone of a tech-priest's mechanical voicebox.

“I need the promenade's on deck 236 to immediately initiate containment procedure Alpha-two-six-six.” The red light grew brighter, small rivulets of molten metal rolling down to the floor.

“I detect no hazard.” The priest replied in emotionless monotony.

“Just do it.” Osma snarled. “Authorization code Osma K-G-0-10-Red-Red-Pink.”

“If you insist,” The priest replied. “May the Omnissiah's fury be upon them.”

The promenade of deck 236 was, like all parts of the ship, a multipurpose area housing all manner of necessary systems safety measures and necessarily capillaries for the functionality of the Endless bounty. Of particular interest was a release valve for the a civilian promethium supply.

Five thousand gallons of promethium burst from the ceiling, dousing the room and covering the Eldar therein. The chief of security indulged in a sadistic smile as screams of pain loud enough to be heard through the bulkhead echoed down the corridor. “Burn, you bastards. May the Warp eat your miserable excuses for souls.” He breathed raggedly as the emotional tumult of the past few minutes caught up with him; young Kursan's death had affected him more than he'd expected.

His ribs burned in agony and he had to steady himself upon the wall. He wasn't as young as he used to be. “Regroup,” He exhaled slowly, trying not to agitate his chest. “It's time to regroup. I need to get to a – to a Medicus...”

The Eldar attacks on the civilian populations had been terrifying, but superficial. Ten deaths here, another thirty there: none of the attacks were serious on their own, but if they were herding the crew of the Bounty while drawing security to traps, it could only mean that they were plotting some sort of decisive strike.

“Throne of Terra,” He whispered. There would be hundreds of people heading for the medical centers, the wounded and the dying. Perfect targets for the Eldar.

Osma forced himself past the pain and ran, leaping past repair crews and dodging servitor constructs as he headed for the nearest transport tube, hopping in and smashing the activation rune for deck 40. The chief Medicus, Faest Nor, would be irreplaceable, as would any officers currently undergoing treatment. Killing any one of them would cripple the ship as efficiently as destroying a reactor core: the Endless Bounty could not be properly crewed without proper augmentic implantation.

He shoved his key-card into the slot beneath the activation runes, pressing the large button and saying “Speed safeties overridden, authorization Osma-Beta-2-2-8.”

Osma regretted the decision almost instantly as the lift, no longer slowed by the limit of human comfort, rocketed upwards at its maximum speed. Osma hit the floor, the centrifugal forces too strong for him to even lift his arms or legs as the automated voice of the lift's machine spirit struggled to keep up with the rapid ascent.

It stopped with alarming immediacy, flinging Osma's body to the ceiling and back to the ground, further injuring Osma's already mangled ribs. Tears welled in the security chief's eyes as he lifted himself up, stumbling out onto the nightmare that was deck 40.

The Eldar were already there. A score of wraith-bone clad figures were dug in, firing down the corridor at a barrier erected by ship's security. Firing at his men, his men. Osma's blood boiled as he bellowed, “For the Emperor!” at the astonished soldiers.

Osma cracked the Eldar corsair in front of the lift across the head with his shock-maul, collapsing the alien's face into his skull. Osma pulled the trigger of his bolt-rifle with the other hand, forcing the Eldar's two compatriots to leap in either direction as Osma barreled past them. He charged down the wide corridor, hoping against hope that the men behind the barrier did not mistake him for the enemy.

Razor-sharp discs whizzed past him, plinking off his carapace as he leapt the barrier and landed hard upon the ground. He lay on the metal bulkhead for a few moments, breathing heavily, before a firm set of hands lifted him up.

“Up with you, sir, we've work to do. 'If you can't be bothered to remember the safety procedures in my mission briefings you won't survive long on this ship,' ” Sgt. Freidrich's amiable voice chided in a friendly imitation of Osma's own dull growl. “The Endless Bounty is a treacherous mistress: you disrespect her for a second and she'll leave you crippled, killed, or worse.”

“I'll show you treacherous, you insolent little shite,” Osma growled paternally. “What's our situation?”

“The situation is that we're fragged sir.” Fredrich fired twice at the Eldar warriors, ducking as a swarm of razor discs flew past his ears. “We're overextended, and I can't move anyone from this position or we'll be overrun. Mammud is fighting back a squad of the heavy armored ones in the starboard atrium.”

“What about Yang's squad?” Osma squinted through the smoke, firing a bolter shot into the exposed arm of an Eldar warrior. The creature screeched and danced out again into the open passageway, directly into the path of Osma's next bolter shell. The scarred security chief grunted in satisfaction as bits of Eldar pattered off the decking.

“Protecting the entrance to the upper decks. We can't afford to risk them getting to the officer's families and private residences. The family bodyguards can only do so much.” Freidrich swore agrily as his second-in-command took three shuriken to the abdomen, the razor sharp blades passing through one side of the man and out the other. “No! Ajax!”

“Why aren't the internal defenses active? Where are the combat servitors?” There should have been dozens of them there by now.

“Deck 38, sir. They're down there with Tuul fighting some sort of Eldar robots. The Magos is pissed that they're poking holes in the ship's hull.” He shuddered, “Sir you do not want those things to get up here. They've got some sort of cannon that just makes whatever it's pointed at disappear in shadow.”

“There has to be some way that we can help the people in the med bay,” Osma barked in irritation.

“I suggest praying sir,” Fredrich replied sadly, “At this point it's in the Emperor's hands.”

-=-=--=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The caves beneath the great ziggurat were elaborately carved rather than naturally formed. Unnaturally smooth walls formed a perfect half circle above the raised path leading towards the fortress of Matok, illuminated by faintly luminescent green moss. Regularly placed apertures in the walls led down into shadowy pits and hidden rooms, most of them full of the strange skittering sounds of massive insects.

Susan stayed to the center of the group, trying to put the Inquisitor and his retinue between herself and whatever it was that lurked in the depths. Somehow the still and sterile emptiness of the caves scared her more than the battlefield above. Dust and moss kicked down from the ceiling as artillery rocked the hillside, a passing reminder of the carnage above.

The Kroot hissed, its yellow eyes narrowed speculatively as it leaned low to whisper into Susan's ear, “Goat-men are not scared. Excited but not scared.”

“They've been here before?” Susan speculated.

“Or are foolish enough not to fear,” crooned the hunter. “Vira'capac fears.”

Susan raised an eyebrow speculatively, “I didn't think Kroot felt fear.”

“Not fear without reason.” The warrior's nostril's flared. “This place has no scent. None. There are no animals here, nothing but that moss.”

Cairn, apparently eavesdropping with his augmentic senses, turned and nodded once with an affirmative warble. There was something deeply wrong with this place: there was no presence to it. Since Daul had started working with her on her own psychic powers, Susan had started to gain a measure of ambient empathy. She could sense the mood of a room without trying, feeling the subtle rhythms of life that made up existence.

A room absorbed some of the people who were in it, like wet sand kept the impression of feet. Even insects had some psychic 'footprint' that they left behind. Daul had once blindfolded her and made her trace the flight path of a fly. But even as she expanded her senses there was nothing in the caves, nothing except the Inqusitor's retinue and four Sh'lassen.

But if nothing was in the cave, then what was making those skittering noises? What was it that kept just flitting out of view, moving in the darkness of the adjoining rooms?

“This is a dark place,” V'cath whinnied nervously, “This is a place where the Nightmare bringers and their shadows fought the Nameless Gods.”

“Yes,” Kg'Shar smiled cryptically. “It dates back to first War of Shadows.”

The Inquisitor eyed the Sh'lassen, “What is the War of Shadows?”

“A battle of great importance from before the dawn of mankind.” V'cath whet his lips and tapped his teeth together. “Not much is known. Only that in the time before time, the nameless gods were attacked by the Shadow Gods in the battle for the skies.”

“It's allegory,” Susan interjected. “The Sh'lassen adopted the former residents of Matok as their gods when they used their technology to alter the human genome. It's mostly interpretation of what pictographs remained. The original Sh'lassen used remarkably few written records. The aliens – ”

“Gods,” Kg'Shar cut in angrily, stopping to turn and point an angry finger at Susan. “The Namless and honored Gods who cast the devils of shadow from this realm. You will treat them with the proper respect.”

“Cairn,” Daul said conversationally. “If our guide does not stop blaspheming in front of me, please shoot him. I'd prefer a headshot, but bolt-round to the chest should suffice.”

Kg'Shar's guards brayed angrily, raising their weapons and stopping in shock as they slipped from their hands with a wave of Daul's wrist. Daul picked the weapons up with his augmentic hand, tilting his head jauntily as he said, “I can accept that the Sh'lassen are abhuman. I can accept that the Sh'lassen are products of xenos tampering with the human genome. But if you dare to silence my apprentice for not worshiping xenos, I shall be forced to kill you.”

“You will come to Matok,” Kg'Shar brayed irritatedly. “It has been seen that you will stand there at my side!”

Daul raised his plasma rifle and pointed it at one of Kg'Shar's bodyguards, “Was it seen that they return to Matok as well?”

Kg'Shar whined softly in defeat, “Very well, Inquisitor. I will ignore this blas – this incident. Now if you'd be so kind as to return the –“ Daul smashed the weapons in his mailed fist. “ – rifles.”

“I do not negotiate with traitors Kg'Shar. ” Daul replied sending a tendril of thought to Susan that echoed in her mind as she caught a motion out of the corner of her eye, “Now Susan.”

As Kg'Shar's first bodyguard reached into his vest for a pistol, Susan found herself reacting before she'd even consciously registered the threat. She reached out with her hand and focused her own internal reserve of power to a single focused point on the bodyguard's body. A line of psychic-flame shot out of her eyes, connecting with the Sh'lassen's hand and severing it at the wrist as he pulled his pistol from its holster.

The goat-man barely had time to realize that he was in pain before Cairn shot him through the chest with a bolter, collapsing the man's rib cage and purging most of his organs. The second brayed in horror, reaching for a combat knife as a burst of superheated plasma melted his face and skull.

Daul lowered his arm, shaking it slightly to re-adjust his cape as he stared at Kg'Shar, “Make no mistake, you are my prisoner. I am not yours.”

“They were ready to die. As am I.” Kg'Shar stated, sounding less sure of himself than before. “But I will not int– “

“Has been foreseen,” Susan interjected. “We know already. Has it been foreseen how long it will take to get there? We've been down here for an hour now.”

Kg'Shar narrowed his eyes hatefully before scrunching them shut, breathing deeply and saying, “Not long now.”

The passageway widened, reaching a huge spherical room honeycombed with circular openings heading in every direction. The path bridged the kilometer wide sphere, leading to a raised stone platform wide enough for thirty men to walk abreast, centered with a crystal plinth in the center that glowed a deep red.

The skittering sounds of insects grew deafening, chittering clacks echoing out of every passageway leading to the sphere. It was like the center of a giant hive. Kg'Shar hobbled forward over the uneven steps leading up to the plinth, muttering angrily in the Sh'lassen language.

“Do we want to know what he's saying?” Susan queried.

“No.” V'cath responded. “No you really do not."

A screeching howl echoed through the chamber as they stepped on the massive stone platform, alien and angry. The Belzafesters tried to form a protective circle around them as a swarm of shimmering apparitions swam into the sphere. Snakelike and ephemeral, the thousand phantoms swooped around them, growling with metallic screeches of fury. Neither part of reality nor divorced from it, they swooped around the gathered soldiers, treating solid objects with the same impunity as open air.

“What the devil are they?” Shan hissed in horror. “Daemons?”

“No,” Daul replied slowly, a slight edge of worry coloring his tone, “They are most certainly not demons. Though what they are I - " He eyed Kg'Shar speculatively "- cannot say.”

His tone was deliberately neutral. He knew what they were, Susan realized, he knew and did not wish to say to the Sh'lassen. Or perhaps to her, it was hard to tell precisely who the Inquisitor was deceiving at any point in time. But if Cairn's worried warbles were any indication he recognized the etherial shapes as readily as the Inquisitor.

“They are guardians of the Unspoken Gods.” Kg'Shar replied with reverence. “They follow His whims and His will. They will not harm us.”

“They seem pretty pissed,” Susan interjected as the angry howling swarm shimmered and swam, snakelike bodies fading in and out of reality. “You sure about that.”

“Reasonably,” Kg'Shar admitted, flinching at their angry tone as he pulled an amulet from his neck and placed it upon the plinth. “His will is not always immediately clear.”

“How comforting,” Susan replied sarcastically.

Lighting rumbled through the sphere, red waves of electricity sparking off the walls and through the school of guardians. It danced among their snakelike bodies before colliding with the plinth and coursing through the floor. Susan raised her hand to shield herself from it as it shot out across the platform when a sensation like a hook being yanked behind her navel jerked her backwards, dragging her across time and space. A mesmerizing stream of light and color played across her eyes before tossing her back earthward, wedging her body elsewhere.

They were no longer in the tunnel.

“We are here,” Kg'Shar tapped his hooves on the ground of an unfamiliar stone circle of white marble. A dozen red-robled Sh'lassen rebels stood, surveying the group with mild interest as an armored rebel general approached Kg'Shar, braying nervously. He brayed back frenziedly and galloped after the general towards a window of the massive spire.

“No,” He said despondently in English, “This is too soon. They've breached the main gates.” He turned to his general, “Slow them down! we must not be stopped from fulfilling our duty. The pact must be upheld.”

The General brayed and saluted, nodding once before galloping away. Kg'Shar waved his hand to the Inquisitor, “We must hurry. The Alai and the devils will be upon us before we know it; you must follow me.”

The Inquisitor nodded curtly and followed the Sh'lassen as he pulled a lever behind the teleportation platform, opening a secret door behind the rebel banner. Their hoary guide's path led to the outside of the spire, an ancient stone foot path following the building's outermost edge. Sulfurous acid winds whipped past at a hundred miles an hour, screeching angrily against a thin film of disruptive energy, the shimmering dust hinting at a path just wide enough for a single man to walk.

It was tough going. The uneven ground had never been properly sculpted into a path by the Sh'lassen, as their goatish agility having already made them perfectly suited to navigate the terrain. Susan's legs burned as she struggled to balance on loose rocks and jagged stone, not daring to risk touching the barrier. Instinct told her that it was not solid.

She muttered angrily to herself, thinking of horrible things she would like to do to Daul Hilder for dragging her along on his fool's quest, for exposing her to his secret shame. She could be back on Babylon 5 with a hot shower and some coffee beans from her own garden - oh God, she would literally killed for a warm cup of coffee.

Susan accepted Shan's outstretched arm, letting the man pull her up to the flat stone top of the spire before helping another of the Belzafesters to do the same. The roof of the spire was perfectly flat and featureless, without even a sign of wear or tear upon it. Kg'Shar walked to the center of it and clamped his hooves in a complex tattoo upon three upraised stones.

With a rumple of shifting stone, a spiral staircase appeared in the ground, leading down to god alone knew where. Kg'Shar waved his hand and smiled, “He waits.”

Susan blinked and looked at Daul, her eyes widening slightly. Daul's normally controlled emotions were a wreck, his overwhelming sense of fear and anticipation too great for even a seasoned veteran to contain. The man was terrified of whatever lay in that pit, terrified and he wanted her to know it. He was broadcasting his fear to her so that she wouldn't do anything foolhardy.

Susan unholstered both of her pistols as she followed the inquisitor down the staircase and into the chamber below. Pictographs lined the walls of the staircase, showing golden armored men surrounding a red cloaked king as he went from world to world. Sometimes the king was fighting monsters, sometimes the king was being worshiped by his subject, but the king always stood proudly over the stars guiding his people.

The stairwell went down for ten stories, showing darker and more frightening images as they went lower and lower. The dull buzzing of electronics grew louder as they approached the staircase's end. The pictographs glowed a dull green, reflecting the light of the massive holographic displays lining an enormous throne room. Images of the battlefield played on each screen, flitting by faster than Susan's conscious mind could register.

Human, Centauri, Narn, Eldar, Dilgar, and half-breed bodies rotated in the air, translucently projected off of the same holographic composition. Their pale skin was translucently showing the biology beneath, vital organs glowing red as the image focused on them one by one.

A huge obsidian throne, large enough for an Imperial Ogryn to sit in comfortably, stood at the far side of the room. It faced away from the newcomers as its occupant watched the skies above, observing the flow of the battle in space. A massive gilded gauntlet swiped from one side of the screen to the other with a single finger, focusing upon the Endless Bounty as it pirouetted through the enemy ships, annihilating a Dilgar battleship with its main guns.

Kg'Shar whispered in a terrified voice, “This one brings the fatebringer, my Lord. The pact is fulfilled.”

“So it is,” Replied a booming drone of articulate High Gothic. “You are relieved of your burden, Kg'Shar, and your debt.”

The gauntleted hand snapped its fingers and Kg'Shar's head imploded, his entire body dissolving down to its component atoms. The rebel melted down to a small puddle upon the floor as the armored man rose to his feet, wrapping himself in the thick red fabric of his cloak as he strode forward. The massive armored figure walked across the room slowly and purposefully towards Daul Hilder. He neither rushed nor tarried in his gait, simply gliding along the ground beneath the rich fabric.

“You are late.” The armored man stated firmly. “You were supposed to arrive two years ago.”

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Daul's temper simmered. “I'll keep it in mind for next time.”

The armored man tilted his head, examining Daul from top to bottom. “I would have liked to spend time with you I think. You are an interesting specimen.”

“You and I both know that I wouldn't allow that.” Daul growled.

“You might try,” The man stated without any inflection. “You would fail.”

“Try me.” Daul growled.

“Another time perhaps.” The man chuckled slightly. “But at the moment, conflict serves neither of us.”

“What are your intentions?” Daul barked angrily.

“At the moment?” The man's reverberated voice hitched in apparent amusement. “The same as yours... to an extent of course.”

“How do I know that you're telling the truth?” The Inquisitor rejoined.

Before Susan could even blink, the man's body flew into motion, a hidden blade seeming to appear from nowhere as the armored man cut off the plasma gun off Daul's wrist and held the blade to the Inquisitor's throat. He looked at the astonished Inquisitor and raised his other hand, “Because killing you would be no more difficult than snapping my fingers.”

He snapped the fingers and Susan felt a deep and piercing cold through her body as the walls glowed orange. She could no longer feel the warp. She could no longer feel anything. Her stomach turned in on itself as she choked on her own tongue struggling to breathe.

Cairn opened fire upon the armored man, but his shells just dissolved into a thin barrier of purple opulence surrounding him. He stared at the Skitarii in boredom as it bashed against his shields, looking down at the Inquisitor bound by the man's will. “Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes,” coughed the Inquisitor, “Cairn, stand down. Everyone, stand down!”

The Skitarii reluctantly holstered his weapon as the man snapped his fingers again. “Good.”

Daul stood up on shaky legs, extending a hand to Susan. She growled in fury as her senses returned to her, glaring at the armored man, “Who the hell is this bozo?”

“That bozo,” Daul replied, his voice nervous, “Is a Triarch Praetorian.... a Necron...”

"Indeed," The Necron's optics flashed as he waved open his red cloak in an elegant flourish, exposing his skeletal frame. "Welcome to Kages Baknor, Palace of the Sekkun Dynasty."
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post #138 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-11-13, 07:57 PM
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Buggger, just starting off on page 2 and it looks like you've come a long way. I was a fan of B5 from the start and find it interesting how you're weaving the two together. There's a lot of material to work through and I've enjoyed your writing style thus far.

The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you have to load, or if you have to unload, go to the White Zone. You'll love it... it's a way of life.

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'
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post #139 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-16-13, 12:18 AM
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One nit to pick by page 4 since you've requested it throughout.

Most of the Imperials make regular reference to the Primarchs and someone swears with "Eye of Horus". In everything I've read, the Primarchs aren't sunday school fodder and certainly not known to your average Imperial citizen. It's regular discussion with the HH being published by BL currently, but in 40K, they're just not that prevalent. If memory serves, the Ecclisiarchy doesn't even want to bring up Horus or the Traitor Legions, as it's a reflection of the Emperor's imperfection.

I absolutely love the Ogryn on B5 and his interaction with Garibaldi's 'second most favorite thing'. The little bunny rabbit was a scream, thanks for writing that so well!

The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you have to load, or if you have to unload, go to the White Zone. You'll love it... it's a way of life.

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

Last edited by Over Two Meters Tall!; 10-23-13 at 05:01 PM. Reason: Had already answered the Ogryn height issue.
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post #140 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-23-13, 05:00 PM
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I know a lot can be explained within time travel themed stories, so just making comments, as asked.

The Agamemnon's encounter with what looks like either a Raven Guard or Black Templar's ship leaves a lot of really cool potential that I'm looking forward to. While the writing of the action between the Alliance and the Astares is really good, I have a hard time that three Alliance Naval officers take out an Astares, even with a surprise grenade. The reaction time and lethal nature of the Astares are definitely at number 11 compared to a standard humans 1.

Your portrayal of the Eldar is fantastic, giving an excellent comparison to a standard human really shows how deadly they are as opposed to contrasting them with an Astares. I'm no Eldar specialist, but my understanding is the Paths for the Eldar didn't come into existence until after the Fall, around M29 - 30. You have great portrayals of the Warp Spiders and Howling Banshees, but unless these are Eldar traveling back in time the disciplines don't exist until after Asurmen becomes the first Aspect Warrior/Phoenix Lord shortly before the Great Crusade. On the other hand, you have a great opportunity to muck around with some of the pre-Fall Eldar, in a way the codices don't address.

Thank you for taking on the annoying ISN. The episodes of B5 were always the most annoying, but unfortunately too accurate for contemporary media. Having a few of their reporters dragged along with the Imperials interpretation of freedom of the press is excellent comic relief.

Over the term of your writing, I do think you've drastically improved the pacing. I appreciated the explanation of differences in writing styles for a shorter vs. longer piece. There have been times when the additional material gives you empathy/background on the particular character, but too much information that doesn't tie into the wider plot or future actions on the characters takes time to work through.

And what the hell is up with a Necron in M03 who dresses exactly like an image of the future Emperor?! Excellent build-up, then complete coitus interruptus from a reader's point of view. Your work was done well.

Keep on posting, this has me going through and watching my old B5 discs and wishing an Imperial vessel would come through the jump gate! I also can't believe you're writing this out on a cell phone, I hope you're doing lots of thumb stretching on a daily basis.

The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you have to load, or if you have to unload, go to the White Zone. You'll love it... it's a way of life.

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

Last edited by Over Two Meters Tall!; 10-23-13 at 05:07 PM. Reason: Nice spell checker, nice...
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