Discovering an entrance to the underground dig sites proved to be astoundingly easy, even in the dim murk of Belzafest's fog. As a place of great academic interest the leadership of the colony had seen fit to put every possible safety measure in place to make sure that those mining and exploring the surface of the colony could find their way back to safety. The excavation sites were marked with oversized spotlights and bright glow-globes that flashed on the ground for a good hundred meters in a great semi-circle. The entrance was guarded by a handful of pitifully thin looking men wearing rebreathers and holding low caliber stubbers. They stood in a close huddle near to the warmth of an exhaust vent, guns lazily held at their sides.
They were dead before they ever knew it. Five whip cracks of laser-fire sounded and five bodies fell bonelessly to the ground, their eyes glassing over. Sabestan, one of the Lionheart scouts ran forwards though the thick orange smoke and ducked down next to the bodes one by one before clicking his radio twice to indicate that it was safe to advance.
“Hardly quality mercenaries he's been hiring,” Danzig said as they warily approached the entrance to the catacombs, “They didn't even get off a shot.”
Daul kneeled next to one of the corpses and pulled off its rebreather, “They aren't mercenaries, I think they're leftovers from the crew of the ship Faust was commanding when he arrived. Look here, the muscles in his arm are strong but the bones are brittle from years in a zero gravity environment. They shattered from the impact of the shot where on a normal man they would just be seared and burnt.”
“Throne,” Sergei kneeled next to Daul, “He's right. I'll way even money he worked as zero-g welder or the like. I thought the colonists destroyed the ship.”
“The engines at any rate, it would seem that some of the ships crew survived the bisection of the ship,” Daul clicked his tongue pensively, “He's using them as advance guard to figure out where we're coming from. Probably doing vox checks at regular intervals. They aren't here to stop us, just to slow us down and to track our progress. He didn't even bother to give them weapons capable of piercing rudimentary body armor.”
Cairn warbled and frustratedly waved a chronometer.
“Quite right, the more time we dawdle the more time we give Faust to form a counteroffensive,” Daul said straightening up and turning to the sealed entrance to the catacombs, “Danzig if you would be so kind as to open a path?”
“My pleasure sir,” Danzig pulled a long silvery tube out of his bag, fixed it to the side of the door, pressed a red button on the top, then backed to a safe distance. The tube burst in an implosion of controlled heat and fission, leaving a molten pile of slag where once stood a door. Danzig smiled, yelled “For the Emperor!” and led the charge through the new opening in the wall.
The excavation site consisted of a series of subterranean passages carved out of the same silvery crystal as the buildings above ground with many thousands of cross passages. Like the rest of the city it was disturbingly untouched by time and wear but unlike the long since plundered above ground. It was alarmingly well preserved, one would expect an area undergoing such frankly rapid excavations to be a mess of instrumentation and clutter but the tunnels hardly even showed noticeable levels of dust or grime. The passing of centuries had passed apparently without notice helped in part, Daul suspected, by some as of yet undiscovered automated maintenance systems.
The group stopped briefly as the roof shook and debris rained on their heads. Danzig looked up, “ Short range shells?”
“Not ours,” Sergei tapped the rail of the mag train, “Do we have a cart we could use to ride this?”
“And do what exactly? Be all in one place for them to shoot us in a single shot?”
“I wouldn't mind getting Sontián off this leg,” Gazan the medicus of the first squad was wrapping second squad's sniper's leg with a combat dressing, “He's good to walk once the second skin sets but abrupt movement could rupture the seal.”
“I can see that Medicus.”
“And Fabian must have some sort of abnormality in his brain chemistry, he's clearly reacting badly to the morphine,” the aforementioned Fabian was standing groggily to the side blinking incessantly and muttering about a “holy duty.”
“I can't afford to wait any more than I already have Gazan,” Daul said as he hefted the sniper over his shoulder in spite of the burly man's protestations of perfect health and started marching along the path of the tracks, “We need to move quickly or not at all.”
“The man is trapped in a hole on a godforsaken rock for Throne's sake. How much of a time limit could be possibly be operating on?”
“I ordered to total Exterminatus Extremus of this planet in twenty hours by the fifth fleet. It would be unwise to be on the planet when it happens.”
“... that would do it,” Danzig grimaced, “Any particular reason you felt the need to add an additional challenge to this?”
“It would be advantageous to catch him alive but far more still to allow him to live and escape. If he is the real Faust he has incalculable tactical information about the Halo Stars and if not we must determine where he encountered the secret knowledge of the arch-heretic,” Daul paused, “And frankly if we haven't captured him alive in twenty four hours I can't risk the chance that he might succeed at whatever his goals may be.”
The ceiling shook again briefly making Daul's knees feel weak and once again making him grateful that his helmet obscured any expression of surprise or worry, “We can argue about the merits and failings of my decision once we are closer to the central dome. Those shells are getting closer and I'm not sure how stable these tunnels are. We'll follow the mag rail, for now at least, as it must head to a central hub somewhere. It's guarded, no doubt, but I suspect that Faust will have deployed his stronger forces inside the dome itself around the civilian population.”
“Not at the points of ingress?”
“His worry will be more about egress.”
“Where the hell would they go?”
“I doubt the civilians care, the past records of Faust's experiments would tend to indicate that he prefers to have a wide range of genetic templates upon which to conduct experiments. Suffice it to say most of his patients are not willing participants. I suspect that the poison gases of the surface world look pleasant by comparison.”
“I doubt you're speaking metaphorically are you?”
“If this is actually Inquisitor Faust as bad as you can imagine. He was tutored in the flesh-works by the homunculus Coven of the Sightless Eye. If we fail and you're captured I suggest slicing your own wrists, his doctors probably won't be able to stop the death processes and cyanide isn't fast acting enough.”
“Exactly how many people has this Inquisitor killed,” Danzig looked over his shoulder at Cairn as the Skitarii fiddled with a machine on the wall bearing the great cog of the Adeptus Mechanicus. The Skitarii tilted his head to the side with a serious air and a face inscrutable, mechanical tentacles still adjusting and fidgeting. Cairn's memory engrams included very specific eyes-only data on Faust's attacks on the Ad-Mech itself including the destruction of several entire forge worlds. The Machine God's servants had long memories and many well deserved grudges.
“Enough to cause us...no, no! Dorn stand still,” the Arco-flagellant flailed impotently about in a low hanging chandelier made up of find strands of glowing crystal. The snaking crystalline strands had wrapped around the power leads to whiplike chords replacing his hands and were sparking ominously, each spark causing red welts to appear on the otherwise pallid and oily skin of Dorn. Daul sliced the offending cords with one of the razor tipped talons of his gauntlet muttering darkly under his breath, “Insufferable creature, they could at least have left some of your basic reasoning skills. A danger to yourself and others I swear.”
Dorn stared back at with a gormless expression, drooling slightly and apparently only mildly interested in his brief incarceration and subsequent liberation. Even then Daul was reasonably sure the only reason Dorn even looked back at him was a pavlovian reaction to having his owner speak. It was uncommonly stupid, even for a servitor. It was quite likely that an overzealous surgeon lobotomized more of Dorn's brain than was really necessary. He was eternally stumbling into near lethal situations.
“Damned, useless servitor,” Danzig looked at it scornfully, “Why you brought it is beyond me. More trouble than it's worth.”
“You'll keep your opinions to yourself soldier,” resisting the urge to openly agree with Danzig was difficult but it wouldn't do to have the Lionhearts openly mocking a servant of His most holy Inquisition. A fine dust of crystal shook from the roof as another shell hit the roof, shaking the group soundly and causing Sontián to wince with pain from his awkward position draped over the Inquisitor’s shoulder. It was time to move out.
The group moved as silently as they could down the main corridor, sticking close to the tracks of the mag-tram. Daul's armor had been designed specifically with stealth in mind. The thick treads of his armored greaves were created with stealth in mind, soft but durable plastisteel soles muffled his footfalls considerably. Even so he could not help but feel somewhat awkward and plodding as the Lionhearts gracefully slunk forwards in the semi-dark hugging the shadows. Their footfalls hardly even caressed the ground. Every once and a while Cairn would motion for the group to stop at one alcove or another as he consulted with one of the many data terminals the Admech had left along the walls, hoping to find some map or legend by which they might navigate the excavation site with greater ease. The colonists had apparently instructed the machine spirit to secret that information away in the hopes that it might give their PDF a chance to regroup and arrange a counteroffensive but Cairn seemed to suspect that the lesser machine minds of the outer terminals might have escaped the notice of the dome's primary machine spirit. The arcane data spirits of the Machine God were prone to such fickle errors.
As they sunk deeper into the dark tunnels it became readily apparent that Cairn was not the only one to have come to that conclusion. The ground was littered with the irregular clawed footprints of something clearly inhuman traveling in a large group, no doubt the abhuman half-breed soldiers of Faust. Easily as large as the abhuman ogryns and possessed of a deceptively cunning whit the half-breeds of Faust were the things of nightmares. Twisted masses of cruel flesh and crueler spirit, pale shadows of the men they once were. They too were looking for the peripheral logic engines and data ports that littered the walls of the tunnels.
“On the bright side they don't seem to be finding what they're looking for,” Belka one of the burliest of the Lionhearts mused as he shifted the debris of a smashed vid-screen with his boot.
Daul grunted noncommittally as Cairn approached the data port, “It's possible. They certainly might have smashed it in a rage.”
Sergei shot Daul a pensive look, “Might have Sir?”
Danzig pulled a cigar out of his pocket and looked mournfully at the pilot light on Hamman's flamer, before thinking better of it and pocketing it, “Inquisitor if you are going to insist upon being cryptic we're going to be dead and buried sooner rather than later. I hope you'll pardon my bluntness but I while I'm comfortable dying for our cause I'd much prefer to help the other fellah die for his.”
Daul permitted himself a brief chuckle, “It may well be that they're simply sabotaging everything that isn't directly of use to themselves. The destruction is too concise and too clean for me to believe that it was being caused by a rampaging half-man. They went straight for the computers and ignored everything else in the room. They clearly used their rifles rather than their fists, the footprints don't go directly up to the keyboard, and a half-breed in a fury cannot resist the urge for the close kill.”
“Then the data is probably useless?” Sontián asked as Daul placed him back on the ground.
“Haven't the foggiest. Data collection and collaboration isn't my forte and my specialist isn't particularly talkative,” Cairn squawked out a rude string of binary, “And frankly I doubt that Faust would risk giving his half-breeds such dangerous knowledge, he values his own cleverness too much.”
“Seems to be a theme with Inquisitors,” Danzig muttered in an exaggerated whisper.
“If you'd prefer I imitate the Commissariat I could always just shoot you for insubordination.”
Danzig shrugged and looked at Sergei, “I believe he just implied he was going to give me a heretics furlough on the bolt magnet express.”
“Don't look to me Sir, you die and I get an instant promotion. And frankly your quarters are substantially larger than mine are.”
“And my girl is substantially prettier than yours.”
Daul rolled his eyes and focused on the waving mechandrites of Cairn as the Lionhearts broke into another one of their insult competitions. It was about midway through a complex suggestion of an anatomically improbable act involving a goat and Lance Corporal Beau'nal's paternal grandmother that Cairn blurted out a chime of success. After some fiddling with a silvery box at his side engraved with the great cog Cairn nodded to Daul.
“Finally,” Sergei smiled, “If we didn't get to killing xenos soon I was afraid I'd forget how.”
“We should hurry,” Daul said as he checked his chronometer, “Sácomer starts phase two soon.”
“Could you repeat that last order sir? I seem to have misheard you,” Asked a disbelieving Sácomer. The resentment between the Inquisitor and the Captain was the most poorly kept secret on the Endless Bounty but such feuds were resolved with secrecy and guile in the upper class, not force and brutality. To simply have the Endless Bounty bombard the location of the Inquisitor's locator beacon was unthinkable.
Sáclair glowered back at Sácomer, he had never been one for repeating himself, “I need you to fire on the colony on my order. Load the starboard guns with high yield ammunition and warn our birds to stay out of the way. We'll the locator beacon for the Inquisitor and the Lionhearts to get past the jamming signals they're using.”
“Sir,” Sacomer's many chins shook with confusion.
“You heard me order's Mr. Sácomer, either follow them or relieve yourself of duty,” Sánclair looked positively giddy as he sipped at his wine. As the seconds of stunned disbelief and quivering chins passed, the look of betrayed disbelief on the Master of the Watch's face sobered him somewhat, “Calm yourself Sácomer, this is not a betrayal of either your honor or my own we are doing this under direct Inquisitorial orders of Daul himself.”
“Why would he order you to do that? Why would anyone ask for that?”
“I doubt that it was a roundabout suicide pact,” Donat, dour faced as ever, chucked dryly, “He has a plan, damned if I can see what it is. The Inquisitor isn't planning to die now.”
“No,” Sáclair's disappointment filling every word, “I doubt he will. Still, we might get lucky. Mr. Sácomer would you be so kind as to take my ship into range.”
“Yes sir, moving to optimal firing range.”
Sánclair reclined in his throne and sipped at his glass, eyeing the massive hologram in front of him. The green shape of the Endless Bounty shifted slowly above the bright orange sphere of Belzafest. Sánclair's blood boiled and his heart raced, this was the sort of conflict he adored, the adventure he craved. His passive links to the ship hummed with the energies of weapons systems and subsystems activating and calculating and his ears were filled with the sounds of battle chatter over the Vox net. The anticipation for the first salvo on the colony was intolerable.
“He does bring me the most delicious violence,” Sánclair whispered in a voice of meaningful omission as he watched his chronometer count down the minutes.
The seemingly random offshoots of the paths transpired to be part of a greater series of Fibonacci spirals leading to the central plaza of ancient Belzafast. It was in the ruins of this plaza that the colony itself sat, a ten kilometers wide domed city half as tall skyward as it was underground. Now that they had a map finding the core city proved to be astoundingly simple, getting into it proved to be substantially more difficult. As they approached one of the various transport tubes to the city proper the sounds of deep breathing and mewling cries were audible to the enhanced senses built into his powered armor. He hissed out a whispered order for silence and the use of night-vision optics and carefully approached the sound.
The lift tube was in the center of a massive high-ceilinged room littered with workbenches and archeological tools used by the xeno-biologists and xeno-archeologists of the colony. It was doubtlessly where artifacts were examined and cataloged before moving into quarantine in the city above. Faust's forces had smashed most of the machines lining the walls to bits.
Even in the dull green light the half-breeds of Faust were unmistakable as were the dull gurgling whimpers of pain from the man in the center of their tight circle, or rather what was left of one. Large hunks of flesh had been torn from the man's legs and face, the white bone underneath scored with tooth marks. Daul winced; he'd hoped the rumored appetites of the half-breeds were exaggerations. Creatures that preferred to eat their prey alive were terrifying as a concept even when their preferred dish was not man-flesh. The half-breed xenos were as dark and vile as any he'd seen, thick sinuous creatures the size of the abhuman ogryn with crests of bone along their limbs, orange scaly flesh, and a series of whiplike tentacles tipped with venomous barbs. They stood in a tight circle, jabbering and fussing over who got to eat next. The heavy stubbers slung over their shoulders seemingly forgotten in presence of food.
Danzig looked meaningfully at the arco-flagellant. Daul shook his head; the berserker was as likely to kill the Lionhearts as the half-breeds in close quarters. Daul whispered over the vox link, “On three rush for cover, try to encircle them while I meet them head on. Do not try to, Fabian stop! What are you trying to?”
Fabian charged straight at the circle of half-breeds, firing his weapon wildly, and screaming “for the Emperor!” at the top of his voice. His heart was full of the Emperors will and his veins were pumping with morphine.
“Damned drug addled fool,” grunted Danzig, “Nothing for it boys. Get into position and fire at will.”
It was not the organized military assault that Daul had hoped for. He reached out with his mind and willed the half-breeds not to react. Fabian managed to get close enough to hit the half-breeds with a couple of lucky shots before Daul lost control over the group. One fell to the ground bonelessly it's tentacles twitching wildly. The remaining half-breeds, furious at their interrupted meal and fallen comrade, mercilessly brought their weapons to bear on Fabian. The flak armor of the Lionhearts proved inadequate at such a close range. Fabian stumbled and fell, his body broken and bloody.
“Aim for the necks, the bone crests protect the heads,” Daul yelled as he charged forwards. The stubber fire hit his armor at the midriff. It clanged loudly and would no doubt bruise but the armor held. Cairn followed closely, agile mechandrites lifting him over tables and debris, firing a pair of inelegant but powerful las-pistols with mechanical accuracy.
The half-breeds were foul and inhuman, but they were bred for war and death. Their stubbers were the size of small cannons and what they lacked in subtlety they made up for with pure brutality. Danzig screamed, “Get that one!” at large half-breed brandishing a massive chainsaw moments before it cut off Semál's arm at the shoulder. The axe blade, whirring and screeching monstrously, spat up a long gout of blood onto the face of the half-breed that it licked off with relish with a long, snaking tongue. It screamed out a cry of victory before exploding in a cloud of ichors when Verdun hit it in the face shot it with a grenade launcher.
Lasgun fire and the bark of subber rounds echoed thunderously in the hall. Daul grabbed one of the half-breeds and crushed its ribcage with a powerful servo-assisted punch. The disruptive forces of the gauntlet cracked and hissed as they tore apart hunks of muscle and bone. One of the half-breeds pulled a plasma weapon out from a satchel and Daul ducked into cover just as a jet of superheated matter burst past his head, melting part of his right pauldron and damaging the mobility of his right arm.
“Cairn!” Daul bellowed even as a second jet of plasma narrowly missed his leg. The Skitarii, never too far from his Inquisitor master lined up his pistol and fired a single shot between the offending half-breed's eyes before aiming for his next target. Hamman bathed the room with yellow light and the smell of burning flesh as he aimed his flamer at a group of half-breeds taking cover behind a table.
Private Falkan leapt off of a table and onto the back of a half-breed as it reloaded its weapon. The short blade in his hand was more than sharp enough to slice through the carapace of the creature and cut it's larynx, but not before the half breed managed to stuck the Lionheart with one of the venom-tipped barbs along it's tentacles. As the half-breed fell to the ground Falkan's body went into fits. Medicus Gazan rushed to the man's side and started to apply anti-venom and antiseptic gel, stopping only briefly lob a grenade at an approaching half-breed. Sergei took five of the Lionhearts and cut right, covering Gazan as he tried to work on the fallen Lionheart.
Daul was in the middle of it, slicing with the scythe-like claws of his power-fists when he could get in and tossing bolts of psychic energy when he could not. He could feel the rush of lasfire whipping about him at the enemy as the Lionhearts blasted at the foul half-breed soldiers. Then came a cold, horrible empty feeling. A great clawing howl of nothingness screeched at his mind and he tasted blood in his mouth as he approached a large and particularly calculating looking half-breed. A null, thought Daul as he felt his knees give out.
Nulls were a psycher's worst nightmare, even weakly warp gifted individuals would feel mind pain and discomfort as they approached one of the psychically dead. It was unlike the other half-breeds. Its head was wide and its mouth was a long and proboscis out of which hung a tongue tipped with a fine barb of bone. Cairn, seeing his master's distress, fired at the creature only to have the shot stop short as it came into contact with a refractor field, “Kill it. Yelled Daul over the vox link.”
Cairn, fired wildly at the null as it approached Daul, pointlessly firing at its shields as Daul started to feel himself slipping into nothingness. Someone yelled, “Fire in the hole,” and tossed a blue metallic ball at the feet of the null, overloading its shields and ripping its legs to pieces. With a bit more spite than is fitting of a devotee of the Great Cog, Cairn smashed the nulls head with a swipe of a long mechandrite.
Daul, helped by Cairn, got to his feet as the last of the half-breeds fell to the ground dead. Danzig swaggered up to Daul, the cigar in his lips now lit, “I hope you'll pardon the heresy of using a grenade of Tau make to bypass the shields.”
“Noted, and forgiven Danzig,” Daul said looking at the Dorn unit in distant doorway and feeling foolish for having not giving it the order to charge, “How many did we lose?”
“Four, we lost four."
“Five now sir,” it was the voice of Gazan, “I don't know what's in the venom those creatures secrete but my kit isn't doesn't do much more than slow it down.”
“Damn,” Danzig chewed at his cigar, “Falkan was a good soldier.”
“Seems like a lot of soldiers to have at a exit, even when they're expecting trouble,” mused Sergi. His face and uniform had become covered with soot from Hamman's flamer. His wide grin stood out brilliantly against the dark soot, “Why do you suppose they were all here?”
“For the meal I suspect,” Daul walked over to the half-eaten man and bent down to get a better look. He had to resist the urge to cry out in shock as the man's eyes went wide and his left arm reached up to grab at his tabard. His mouth moved wordlessly in a plea for help.
Gazan rushed over in shock, “How on earth is he still alive?”
“I'd always assumed that the claims of the half-breeds eating someone alive to the last bite were rumors. Look at the wounds, the saliva of the half-breeds must be a natural coagulant,” Daul looked down at the man with curiosity, “The femoral artery was severed long ago but there's no pooling at the wound.”
“I can save this man.”
“No,” Daul said as he looked into the Gazan's eyes, “No you cannot.”
“You can't mean for us to leave him like this!”
“We haven't the time to heal him Gazan and even if we did we'd only be prolonging his life by a matter of hours till the fifth fleet came,” Daul said in a detached tone, “No, we're going to find out what we can from this man and move on.”
“Find out what we can? The man is missing his voice box,” Falon said disbelievingly.
“I have no need of speech.”