Anjun smashed the door control with his pistol butt. "I don't think they'll be getting in."
"Step away from the door," Kyra said as she rifled through the overmaster's desk. "Throne! No override on the lockdown. And the vox is still jammed."
Anjun turned away from the door and went through the dead psyker's pockets. He let a whistle. "Nice las," he said as he picked up the matte black weapon embossed with gold fittings. "I wonder how much kick it has?"
"A lot, probably," said Kyra as she pulled out a chromed laspistol from the overmaster's desk. "Shoot for the head. The carapace is thick, it will repel slug throwers and las blasts. They're extremely tough as well, Ork tough. Spine or brain shots preferred."
"Cogs and smelters. What in the name of the warp are we facing?"
"Xenos. They are engineered infiltration and killing machines. They are taking part in the network to spread their contamination to other worlds, to gather wealth, and undermine the Imperium."
"So these guys are working with xenos?"
"No, they are xenos. See if you can find a way out of this death trap. They'll-"
A terrible screeching sound interrupted her. Two three lobed claws punched through the top of the door and raked down. Steel tore like metal foil, revealing a hexapedal xenos monstrosity.
It wasn't that much larger than a man. It stood crouched on its hind limbs, with another set of dual purpose limbs at the shoulders, and the pair of clawed killing limbs raised overhead. It's jaw was filled with needle pointed fangs. It lunged forward, impossibly fast.
If Anjun had been closer to the door, he would have been dead. But he had stepped away as Kyra had told him and the inquisitor had a clear shot. A pair of las blasts struck it in the throat, blowing out chunks of flesh in a spray of amber fluid. The creature dropped, it's spine severed. The one behind it pounced.
It hurled right at Kyra. She caught an extended talon arm and twisted to the side, redirecting the deadly xenos towards the armoured window. The genestealer's impact rattled the toughened glass, but it wasn't so much as stunned. It swiftly regained it's footing and turned to kill.
Anjun Chou put three brilliant jade las beams into its upper back that burned through its carapace, but did little else. Kyra triggered one of her rings. A thin blast of flames shot forth, enveloping the alien's head. It let out an unearthly scream and thrashed, its claws tearing through the armoured transparaplast as the flames cooked its brain. It attempted to lunge at Kyra, who stepped easily away from the dying alien's strikes.
"More will be coming," she said coolly. Any ideas for escape would be useful now."
Anjun Chou looked around and saw nothing of use. Then he looked out the window. "I think I have something."
"There's a service ladder-rail thingy about five meters to the side," Anjun said.
"Well that's a distance," Kyra replied as autogun fire poured from the doorway. She stuck her hand out and fired a half dozen return shots blindly.
"Give me your knife," Chou shouted back as he threw a frag grenade out the door. He had angled the shot and it bounced off the wall and further down the corridor before detonating.
Kyra reached into her skirts and unfastened the blade attached to her thigh. She tossed it in Chou's general direction. The slim man caught it by the hilt and thumbed on the control. The thirty-five centimeter blade hummed softly as a faint blue shimmer surrounded it. He sliced out a chunk of armour glass at the edge of the window and kicked. The six centimeter thick slab tumbled down into the sea. Chou hopped onto the window sill. It was a long way down. Maybe three hundred meters. He gulped.
He turned to the wall and gouged out a slice. The power blade cut through the 'crete like a hot knife through soy. He quickly gashed out a toe hold. Easy. He grabbed the first indentation and held on. A few strokes and he had made another. It was working. "Hey boss," he yelled back. "I've got us an exit."
"Cut faster!" she yelled back. Anjun hurried along, gouging his way to the rail. Rungs for a ladder ran parallel to it. Chou didn't know what they were for and didn't care.
"Got it boss!" he yelled back."
"Go!" screamed. She rolled her remaining grenades down the corridor. A blind, two frags, and a pair of chokes. They would detonate in seconds. Drug injectors implanted in her body pumped adrenaline and combat accelerants into her system. She flashed to the window and twisted around, seizing one of Chou's handholds. She was going to have to tell Jolan he made the right call when they got out of this mess.
A claw closed around her ankle and she was yanked back in with inhuman force. She lashed out with her other leg in a kick that would have crushed a human skull. The genestealer was momentarily stunned and dropped her. She brought her las to bear on and it's killing claw closed on the gun, shredding it. It's manipulator-claws closed on her wrists, pinning her. It brought it's awful muzzle close and it's tongue slid along her cheek.
Anjun saw Kyra get yanked back into the office. It was too far away for him to help, not that he really wanted to. Those xenos scared the shit out of him. He pulled himself up the rungs as fast as he could. He heard scraping on the 'crete behind him. He continued climbing, but couldn't resist slowing to look behind him.
A genestealer had clawed its way across the 'crete to the ladder. It was using all six of its limbs to propel itself upward. It was too damn fast Anjun stopped and drew his gun.
The first burst glanced off the 'stealer's carapace. The second threw up a burst of fluid from the stealer's right claw shoulder joint. It barely slowed. It's feral eyes looked right at Chou. He could feel a heavy weight descend on him. He fired again, one last time.
The bullets struck the xeno right between the eyes. Amber fluid and flecks of grey matter mixed with bone chips sprayed in the air. The alien's body convulsed and released. It was a long way down to the ocean. At that height hitting water wasn't much different than hitting 'crete.
Chou hustled. He was not a big man and he carried little in the way of extra weight. He was in the best shape of his life and he had been climbing walls and buildings as a child. He tore up the side of the stack. He could see the top. He was almost there.
He raised his hand to the last rung. He pulled himself up and found himself looking into the muzzle of two autoguns. A third man waited behind the mirror visored security troops. Like Vanek he was a tall bald man wearing a heavy coat. A pistol was in the bald man's hand. "Come on up," he said. "Slowly."
No way in the real and the warp could Anjun outdraw two men who already had guns trained on him. He would have to make an opportunity. He slowly pulled himself over the side and onto the roof of the stack. Damn, it was big.
"Two fingers, left hand. Your gun. Slowly," said the bald man. There was something hypnotic about his voice. Anjun obeyed, dropping his autopistol at the guard's feet.
A flash of light and the left side of the left hand guard's helmet disintegrated in spray of of blood, bone, and brains. He sagged and dropped. Righty began to move as a blue-white beam struck him in the neck, decapitating him in a geyser of blood. Another shot turned baldy's heart into cooked meat.
Nearly a kilometer away Calidan Vil watched the fourth generation hybrid fall. He swept the roof top with his scope. "Chou's on the roof. He's alone." He said into the vox. "It must have really hit the fan."
"I can't reach Chou," Vil shouted into his vox. "There's a hell of a lot of jamming." Enough that static was eating most of his transmission.
"-ot it," came Gix's reply. "cov- Chou. H'ethor . . . . .way."
He better fucking be, thought Calidan. They had people down there and a eleven hells worth of trouble.
Anjun Chou retrieved his pistol and picked up a guard's autogun. Full load. Nice. Not that those six legged bastards seemed very cooperative about dying when you shot them, besides being armoured and faster than a caffed up flash head with a full load on.
He tried his vox again and stopped immediately as he got an ear piercing squeal. So much for that plan. This really, really, sucked reprocessed Grox dung. "Hurry up and rescue my tender light brown ass," Chou muttered. "I'll perform depraved sex acts, banned by the Inquisition, no questions asked. Even if you are ugly." That's when the roof door swung open.
The thing at the door was a horrific mutant. And then Chou realized he wasn't. Genestealer. It was a hybrid of human and genestealer traits. It had three arms, two human ones and a genestealer claw. Its skull was distorted and its jaw was full of fangs. It wore an ill-fitting coverall that did not conceal its carapace. It gripped an autogun.
Anjun fired first. He poured a storm of bullets at the monstrous hybrid. The creature's torso erupted in a spray of red blood. Chou kept firing. It fell, spasming. Chou fired a burst into the doorway and looked around for some cover. A vent box was the only thing worthwhile and nearby. "Hurry the fuck up," he muttered. Bullets zipped by him. He emptied the autogun into the doorway and switched to his pistol. This was not good.
"Chou's in a gun fight!" Vil yelled. "I don't have angle on the door. He needs help now!" He glared down on the roof from his scope. If he got a shot, he would take it. Chou was pumping rounds at his attackers, but there was a limit-Throne! What in the warp was that. Six legged, purple and fast, whatever it was.
Chou was down to the fancy las when the 'stealer rushed out of the doorway. He missed, clipped a leg (doing nothing to slow it down as far as he could tell), grazed its carapace, and then got a real good look at its jaws. Then it collapsed in a heap as a blue-white beam hit its back and severed its spine. His angel had come through again, although he suspected that it had a name and that name was Calidan Vil.
He heard a whoosh and then an explosion off to his left. He turned and saw a smoke contrail leading to a nearby stack and a smoking hole in its upper levels. Then whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, as three more rockets fired from the lower in the Chanai stacks to strike in the area around the first strike. The area where the shots had come from.
He turned towards the doorway. A half dozen genestealers poured out, running at him. "Throne," he said softly. Reflex caused him to raise his pistol.
The 'stealers exploded in a spray of blood, bone, and purple flesh. Chuncks of the roof came with them. A loud hammering noise came from behind him as the storm of fire continued, chewing the 'stealers to pieces. Chou turned and looked. A Valkyrie assault flyer with Arbites markings hovered behind him. The side door was open and it descended. Hethor D'eckor was standing in the doorway with a targeting scope over his eye and a heavy stubber in an assault sling. "Get your ass in!" Hethor yelled. Anjun Chou had never heard anything so good in his life.
Kyra groaned as she regained consciousness. Her clothes had been sliced off and she was strapped to a table. She craned her head an immediately regretted it. She was looking into the eyes of a genestealer that was the size of an ogryn. Another smooth headed human stood beside the massive stealer. A Fourth generation hybrid. The magus, the public commander of the hive. Which meant the purestrain beside him was the Patriarch.
She could hear the drone of com equipment behind her. The magus smiled. "I see you have recovered consciousness. Don't bother trying to hide anything from me. Your wards have been removed, as you can see. If I need to, I can tear your mind apart. Not that you will want to resist us."
Which left the implanted blocker in her skull, against the power of the most powerful psyker in cult. She didn't like her odds. "You seem preoccupied," she hissed.
"Bitch!" The magus slapped her. Hard. He snarled in pain and shook his hand. She smiled. Steel reinforced bones came in handy. "Who is in charge of this attack?"
She smiled back. "I can only guess. Things going poorly? Don't bother to try and hide anything from me," she mocked.
"Do you think they will spare you? You're one of us now. We've injected you with geneplasm. They will burn you too. Soon you will be part of us in every way. You want to live, you will help us." She could feel the truth of his claim in her bones. If wasn't for her psi blocker, she would probably already be feeling the brood bond.
She snarled. "I don't even know what's happening. How can I help you?"
The magus gestured and the table swiveled. She saw the screens displaying numerous locations throughout the city. The PDF barracks had been utterly annihilated. Orbital lance strikes was her guess. The Imperial Commander's Palace was similarly devestated. Arbites flyers strafed the shattered stacks of the Chanai Trade Consortium. Vulture gunships with Navy markings lined up for an attack run.
"You've lost," she said. "One of the other inquisitors ordered this. There is no way we can survive. Preemptive strikes at the palace and the PDF because you have probably corrupted them. He will burn and purge us. We can't-" she stopped.
"You are still an inquisitor," the magus replied. "You can still arrange the redirection of certain resources. Enough to allow some of us to be preserved."
"Not from here. Not like this. They will know I've been taken. Compromised."
"Not the average soldier on the street. You will still have your authority. Enough to save the Patriarch. Your Patriarch. Smuggle a small core off the planet, including yourself."
"Yes," she said. "You're right. Get me out of this so I can get to work."
The magus looked at her for a moment and then nodded.
"Get my things," said Kyra. "And an overcoat." Brood brother minions hastily complied. Kyra pulled on the remnants of her armour silk gown, put on her digital weapons, and donned an oversized stormcoat.. She picked up her las pistol and under the watchful eyes of the cult guards. She watched the displays on the remaining cameras. A horde of naval stormtrooper and Arbites were pouring into the building. She turned away from the screens to address the magus.
"You're going to have to follow closely. So will a body of troops. When we encounter the lead elements, I will direct them away from you and the Patriarch and towards the troops. I will continue to direct the enemy away from you to reinforce the lead elements. Then I will find us some kind of transport and get us off world before the other inquisitors are on to us."
The Patriarch growled. She could feel its words in her brain. Simply tell them to stop.
She replied. "They won't obey. And the other inquisitors must suspect that I am compromised and if I give that order they will know I am compromised. No, no big moves. Speed, stealth, and judicious use of my authority is what is needed."
The Patriarch growled again, but did not object. The magus pointed at the troops around them, a half dozen cult soldiers. "Come with us."
They marched out of the bunker-like room down a corridor towards a stairwell. The troops preceded them up six levels. "The fighting is close."
"Where is a place nearby I can stash the Patriarch? Some where out of the firing line."
"There are several rooms ahead," said the magus. "If you stand in the doorway and direct the troopers elsewhere it may work."
"Yes. Preferably rooms with lockable adjoining rooms or a closet. I can order them sealed off, bring a transport nearby and take you out." They have to be truly desperate to agree to this scheme.
The magus grinned. "I can make them see nothing. As long as there are only a few at a time."
Throne! She had forgotten about that. "Good. Let's move."
The jogged down the corridor. The snarling sounds of lases and the boom of shotguns was answered by the chattering of autofire. The fighting was close. The Patriarch and magus scuttled into a room out of the doors line of sight, behind a file cabinet and the desk. It was rather surprising how small the Patriarch could make his body.
The gun fire died down, only a few hissing lases. The Imperials were advancing. She yelled out. "Imperial Inquisitor! The enemy is down the corridor!"
A faceless head appeared momentarily and then mirror visored naval stormtroopers leap frogged down the corridor. She stood in the doorway. "Somebody get me a vox."
One of the troopers said something under his breath. "On the way, my lady. A special detachment is coming for you."
"Good. The enemy is right down there. Engage and destroy them."
"Your will, inquisitor." The stormtroops trotted past. She turned back to the room. Gix was going to have her checked out. She had no delusions about this "special detachment" and what it would do if she didn't cooperate. She closed the door.
"We have a few moments. It's working." The Patriarch and the magus relaxed slightly. And then she moved.
Charged blades, crackling with deadly power, extended from her right hand. The Patriarch's head exploded in to bloody ruin. The magus should have killed her right there, but her augmentics and the combat drugs that they dispensed made her faster off the draw than he was. He left fist connected with his solar plexus less than half a second after she killed the Patriarch.
She shattered his jaw before he folded and then struck nerve clusters in a rapid sequence before smashing his head against wall. Fourth generation hybrid. Almost identical to a human in all but genes. Her digital needler fired a paralytic into his blood stream and she hit him again and again until she was confident that he would give her no problems.
A squad of Naval Security stormtroopers carried her prize out of the ruined building behind her. Astropaths would be here soon to help secure the dangerous, but mangled psyker. Every part of Kyra's body ached. But they had one.
The streets of Lowport were filled with rubble and wrecked machines. Dead bodies lay scattered like discarded dolls around the Chanai Stacks. The heavy drone of gunship engines came from overhead and the barrels of crew served weapons could by seen poking out of the broken windows of adjacent buildings. Arbites vehicles controlled the streets. Heavily armed teams in battle armour and field medical kits combed the area. The intent was clear: none of the infected would be permitted to escape. This whole planet would soon be the site of a scouring.
Her escort was polite, but refused to obey her. They loaded her into a flier. She could see the huge pillars of black smoke rising up from the craters that used to be the PDF barracks and the Imperial Commander's palace. Maladar had arrived and taken control with his customary use of decisive and brutal action. And now it was her turn.
The flyer touched down on a roof pad of the Astra Telepathicus Guildhouse. It was more of an armoured tower than a stack and possessed its own shield generators. And most of its personnel came from off world. An odd choice for Maladar, but not an unreasonable one. The troops marched her down stairs and out into a corridor. Her heart skipped a beat. The brawny form of Hethor D'eckor stood there.
He was wearing full battle dress, but the heavy stubber he had been using for the last mission was replaced with an Arbites battle shotgun. He motioned her forward. "You boys are done. Go back to your unit." The head of the stormtroopers hesitated. "You heard me. You have your orders. Go." They turned and left. The door slid open.
The office was broad and spacious. A huge armourplast window looked out over the savaged city. A mammoth desk of shiny black teak was almost as long as the window. A gold and ebony cogitator screen nearly a meter long was off in one corner. Three hides of a large native mammal were spread out over the carpet in front of the desk. Maladar was nowhere to be seen. Sitting in the chair was Jolan Gix.
She stepped forward hesitantly. Hethor came through right behind her. The door slid shut. Even if she tried, there was no use fighting. Her reflexes were superior, but she would have to turn to kill Hethor while he only had to pull a trigger. A good precaution. Her students did not dissappoint. "Where is Maladar?"
"Still in the warp," Gix replied. Kyra's mind raced. Gix must have ordered the orbital bombardments. So her student did have it in him to do what must be done. She relaxed.
"I know. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of it."
"Do your duty inquisitor."
"I am," Gix replied. "You're well past the age where you can reproduce so there is no danger of you passing on contaminated genes to the next generation. And you have already proven resistant to brood telepathic bond. An examination by astropaths will be held, to confirm this. The risk is low. Chemical dispenser implants and the correction of your gene runes by the Magi Biologis should reverse most of the damage. Your value to the Imperium is high and you are well worth the attempt. Logic dictates this is the proper course."
"That's why you had me taken here. So the Arbites-"
"And their snoops would not no what is going on. It is the Inquisition's business."
The assault carrier fell through the atmosphere towards Low Port, escorted by six Lightning Fighters. In a compartment designed to hold a platoon of crack stormtroopers, fourteen beings were strapped in. Seven of them were men, the other seven were combat servitors with glittering chassis of ebony and chrome. Six of the men fell in ignorance of the outside world. The servitors did not have enough identity to care. The seventh was swimming through data.
The autosenses of his power armour relaid com signals, flight paths, and tactic maps to Maladar. In the vast galaxy spanning Imperium, technology varied greatly from the tech citadels of Forge World and the Chapter Houses of the Adeptus Astartes at one end to those of neolithic savages who populated feral worlds at the other. Of the higher technologies most were constructed along the rigid lines of standard patterns dictated by the surviving Standard Template Construction plans and the formulae of the Adpetus Mechanicus. Not all patterns were created equal and not all factories and artisans were up to the most difficult tasks. In all the Imperium, few suits of power armour other than those of the superhuman Astartes could match that worn by Inquisitor Maladar.
The assault boat began to decelerate, a punishing process to those who rode inside. Maladar's troops bore it without complaint and the servitors were incapable of caring. Soon the boat would touch down and their work would begin.
Maladar made a final review of the data. This world would have to be purged, concentrating primarily on the urban areas but with attention also given to remote rural enclaves were the genestealers could hide. The live capture of the cult magus was a coup as such individuals were almost never taken alive. It would be difficult, but once he was broken they could find out how far and wide the genestealer pestilence had spread.
The boat shook as it touched down. Maladar detached the safety harness and motioned his troops forward. The two heavily armoured assault servitors went first. Then the rest of his troops. Then the black armoured bulk of Inquisitor Maladar, last survivor of the line of Meridu Kings.
He strode across the roof pad towards four waiting figures. His entourage of killers followed. Two were Arbites judges, the third was a massive warrior as big as Maladar who was armed to the teeth. The fourth was Jolan Gix.
The young inquisitor was cool, Maladar would give him that. "Inquisitor Maladar, I'm glad you are here to join us. I'm sorry about your delay. We could have used your assistance earlier."
"An unexpected tide in the warp," Maladar replied. "You seem to have matters well in hand."
"Thank you," replied Gix.
"And Inquisitor Neven?"
"That is something we need to discuss. Alone."
Maladar removed his helmet and placed it on the huge desk of Jolan Gix's appropriated office. Gix looked into Maladar's ravaged face, the skin attached to his skull by gold sutures in several places, without flinching. Cosmetic improvements could have been made to Maladar's face, but he had cultivated this appearance to inspire horror and it usually succeeded. Gix didn't flinch, but an inquisitor's job was to unflinchingly confront horror.
"She was captured," Maladar said bluntly. "The odds are overwhelmingly-"
"Are irrelevant. She has been infected."
"Unfortunate. I didn't receive any report of her death," he said. He was fairly sure why. Gix couldn't bring himself to shoot his mentor. Unfortunate. That weakness meant that he had to go now, before his soft nature caused another disaster that Maladar wasn't around to take care of. Two more casualties for this campaign. Another two inquisitors on Maladar's total, bringing up to seven the number he had killed.
"That's because it was not necessary to kill her," Gix replied calmly.
Fool, Maladar thought. He's rationalized his decision. Before he could act, Gix spoke again. "Why is it necessary to exterminate infected individuals?" he said in the voice of a schola instructor.
"Brood bond and passing on genestealer taint," replied Maladar.
"Kyra is past child bearing age, so the 'stealer taint will just result in an increased sex drive. And as for the brood bond, she was able to turn on the magus and the Patriarch. Clearly, the combination of her lack of hybrid offspring, her willpower, and that psi blocker in her skull allows her to commit the ultimate defiance of the brood bond. Drug implants and correction to the damage of her gene runes should correct most or all of the damage. So where is the necessity of her death?"
Maladar hesitated. Gix's arguments sounded convincing. "You have verified this?"
"In case the Patriarch's death was just a trick? Yes. Deep probe confirms it." He passed a flimsy across his desk.
Maladar studied the flimsy for a moment. It confirmed Gix's statements. "What would you have done if this had not been convincing?"
"Nothing," replied Jolan Gix "But that wall over there has a niche covered by a holofield and some other stealth tech devices. Anjun Chou was rather disappointed by the extreme durability of the genestealers so I took the liberty of digging up a weapon from Kyra's secret stash. Not even your armour can shrug off a close range strike from an inferno pistol." Gix smiled. "Fortunately, it didn't come to that."
Maladar gazed a the young inquisitor. He had been outplayed, which was not a bad thing because this time Jolan Gix had been right. He nodded slightly to Gix. That one would either climb high in the annals of the Inquisition or die young. Maladar intended to see that it was the former. Acting to strengthen and preserve the Inquistion involved more than just culling the unworthy. Maladar turned away from his future superior and back towards his retinue. He had killing to do.
Naval security troopers marched down the corridors of the ancient station. They wore full battle armour and their gloved hands clenched close assault autoguns with low velocity, high calibre ammunition. Ideal for shredding flesh without puncturing walls. A man and a woman lead the formation.
She was blond, a bit on the tall side, and powerfully built. She was strong rather than heavy and athletic rather than graceful. She wore a Naval Officer's coat with the insignia of full lieutenant. Her eyes were as hard and as merciless as targeting scanners. They missed nothing and they spared less.
Beside her was a slim man who was just a hair taller and quite a bit darker. A shallow scar marked his clean shaven face. He wore a leather stormcoat over an armoured body glove. Several weapons were holstered on his belt. An even more powerful one, an inquisitorial rosette, hung from his neck.
An armsman stood by the door, but had enough sense to yield without question. The door was secured, of course, by Severa had obtained the code some time ago. A skeleton key card released the lock and the door slid open.
The room was large and opulently furnished. Severa could have told Jolan the world where each and every luxury good in it came from. He didn't care. High ranking military commanders were often hereditary nobles as well as enjoying the perks and status that came with their positions. Mere wealth wasn't damning.
Sounds came from a side room. Male grunting and female gasps. Severa smiled, a wolf's grin that she had picked up in the last few days from Inquisitor Gix. With a touch, the door slid open.
The huge bedchamber was in disarray. Captain Parlin's revolting girth dominated the mammoth bed with its fur coverlet and its layers of silks. Beneath him writhed a petite, pale skinned brunette while a lithe chocolate skinned blonde stroked him. The blonde started when the door slid open. Parlin continued thrusting for a few moments before realizing that something had happened.
He turned his head, his jowls shaking in anger. "Captain Parlin," Severa said coolly, her lips twisted in a smile. "You're under arrest."
Parlin's face turned an ugly shade of red. "You don't have the authority! I'll have your balls for this Valin. When I'm done with you, you'll be a mind scrubbed involuntary in a field brothel in the ass end of the galaxy!"
"I think not," she replied. It was all she could do to keep from breaking out into laughter. She extended her hand. "Have you met Inquisitor Gix?"
Parlin's eyes went wide and his mouth worked for a moment, but nothing came out. Severa's mocking laughter rang through the room as two troopers strode forward towards what was once the most powerful man on the station.
Severa walked into Parlan's office. Jolan Gix was perched on Parlan's chair, connecting data cables to the cogitator. He looked up as she entered. "Ah, Lieutenant Valin. Thank you for coming."
"My pleasure inquisitor."
Gix stopped fiddling with the cogitator and leaned back in Parlan's chair. "I came here expecting to dig around to find the evidence that would point me in the right direction. And what happens? There's a mountain of evidence that practically falls into my lap. You've been a tremendous help."
"Thank you inquisitor. It was my pleasure."
"I imagine it was. Your performance was exemplary."
"I doubt the Navy will see it that way. It does not tend to forgive junior officers who betray their superiors or who help give the Navy a public black eye. I'm sure they can find some suitably unpleasant posting for me to spend the rest of my career." She had a wry smile on her face.
"I'm sorry about," Gix replied.
"I've dreamed of commanding a starship since I was a child, but a Valin does not need to be told to do her duty. My honor is intact."
"Yes it is," he said softly. "There is another option. Your record, before this posting, is excellent. Your technical and investigative skills are without question. I could use your talents and you can serve the Imperium far more effectively than in some dead end assignment. And the Inquisition has ships of its own."
Hope flickered in her eyes. "A Valin does not have to be told to do her duty."
Serel squinted as he stepped out of the cool shade of the bar and into the hot sunlight. He plucked his sunshields off of his harness and put them on. Much better. There were many advantages to working for the Starborn and he intended to get all of them. His eyes drifted east to the plateau.
The Starborn had come nearly one hundred summers ago, in the time of his great-great grandfather. They had descended from sky and made their home on the Pillar of Heaven. Some of the tribes had thought they were the gods. Some had thought they were demons. When the Starborn had descended from the cloud shrouded heights, they had proclaimed that they had come at the behest of the Skyfather. The explained they had come to lead the people into a new Golden Age. Most of the tribes correctly interpreted this as a demand for submission. They had responded with war.
It had been over quickly. The Starborn had weapons worthy of gods. None could stand against them. The Brothers of Trees, Serel's ancestors, had fortunately been half a continent away and uninvolved in the Landfall War, as the Starborn called it. The victors always named the wars.
The plains folk had become the serfs of the Starborn, but they had also reaped some of the benefits. Treatment and learning from Starborn healers, protection from their warriors, plumbing, and metal. Serel smiled. The Starborn truly possessed the knowledge of the Skyfather and serving them had made him rich. He had two wives and a large house with running water. Starborn trained healers had attended to the birth of his children. All of his weapons were steel and he had a weapon better than that of any chief: a breech loading rifle.
A medallion on his harness beeped. He had served the Starborn well as a guide, well enough that one of the treasures that they had given him was an amulet they called a vox. With it, they could summon him if they needed him and he could call for their assistance. He picked the vox off his harness and touched a button. "Yes?" he said in Gothic.
"Serel Two Feathers, of the Brothers of Trees?" asked a familiar voice. It was Captain Resarc, of the Commander's Guard.
"Yes," Serel replied. "It is good to speak to you again captain."
"Uh yes, yes it is. The Imperium has need of your services." The Starborn called their tribe the Imperium.
"I would be delighted to assist you, honoured captain. Great is my sorrow that I have already accepted a commission to guide those among the Starborn." Some among the Starborn had wanted to travel to the Sun's Anvil, the savanna to the south. They had offered much wealth for an experienced guide and their were none better than Serel Two Feathers.
"The Imperium commands otherwise," said Resarc. "Your other commissions will wait. How soon can you reach The Tower?"
Serel bristled. He was not of the Starborn and he knew that he did not think of him as equal. But never before had they upended his life. For a moment he considered defiance, but it would be folly. Resistance was punished by death and all his wealth came from them. He consulted his chronometer. "Thirty minutes," he said. The actual number was ten, but his pride demanded at least a little defiance.
"Then be there."
The Tower was a great cylinder of metal that stretched into the sky. A bridge connected its top to the City of the Gods. Two huge platforms worked its length, transferring people and cargo from the City of Gods to the Platter. A squad of Starborn warriors stood guard at the base, their faces obscured by mirror shields and their bodies covered in armoured temperature controlled bodygloves. Long steel knives hung at their waists and autoguns were slung on their backs. As Serel approached, one who bore the stripes of a sergeant approached. He flipped up the visor. Serel grinned.
"Narson. How fair you?"
"Well. Your wives and children?"
"They prosper. My oldest son attends the school."
"My congratulations. Many believe the graduates will become Starborn and that pleases me." That rumour was common and Serel believed it. It was the their knowledge that made the Starborn so powerful. They possessed the secrets of the Technos, the magic that produced all their mighty talismans. But they were few in number.
"I have been summoned here by Captain Resarc," Serel explained although he had permission to use the elevators.
"Ahh. You are the reason she is here?"
"She?" The Starborn had women among their numbers, but they did not often intrude upon the business of men.
"Yes," he said, jerking his thumb behind him. "Her." The woman in question wore an armoured bodysuit like a warrior of the Starborn, not the unarmoured version that the rest of the Starborn wore when they descended from the City of the Gods. The Starborn didn't like the heat.
She was a blond, which while rare even among them, was more common among the Starborn. Broad shouldered and strong, she was much more powerfully built than the People. A lot of Starborn were. A single edged sword with a short, heavy blade hung from her belt. On the opposite side was a holstered pistol. Two skulls encrusted with strange talismans floated beside her.
She walked forward, her skull-talisman's trailing behind her. One of skulls had gun barrels protruding from its eye sockets. Serel had never seen its like. She was two or three centimeters taller than Serel. "I'm told you speak Gothic."
"Yes, my lady."
"Severa will do," she replied. "I am told you are the best guide to western jungles, specifically the area beyond the Poisoned Vale." That area was accursed. Serel had been near their, had dealt with some of the tribes, and spoke their dialect.
"The best you will find," he replied proudly.
"Good. Then you will assist us."
"The place you wish to go is dangerous. Many witches are to be found at the Poisoned Vale. No place for a man, let alone a woman."
"So I've heard," she said. Her voice turned hard and her eyes flashed. "But I am not a woman, but a servant of the Inquisition, a ghost of flesh and bone." The Starborn shrank away at those words while Serel's mouth dropped in awe. "Whatever the Inquisitor commands will be done. He is the storm and none shall withstand him."
Serel bowed low. He did not know what the Inquisition was but it awed even the Starborn and power rode on her words. "My lady, I obey."
Serel rode the elevator to the top of the tower. The woman rode with him. The Starborn were different, but she was not like any Starborn he had met before. It wasn't the arrogance, but the deference she commanded even from them. They looked at her like the People regarded the Starborn.
She smiled as the elevator rose through the tower into the clouds. Finally, it reached the top and the heavy gates swung open. A bridge of grey metal stretched from the tower to the top of the mountain and the the City of the Gods.
From the Field of Starfall, to the great apartment complexes, the arsenals of the manufactoriums, and the palace of the Imperial Commander, the City of the Gods was greater than any structure of the People. Great gleaming white buildings, wide smooth roads, sprawling garden-parks, and giant factories were all infinitely greater than the buildings of the people. The occult secrets of plumbing, sewers, and electricity were wonders that the People could only regard with awe.
A sleek black limousine awaited the ghost-woman. "Come on," she said as she sauntered over to it. The elevators of the tower were huge so they transport the warm machines of the Starborn to the ground, although they could also use the winding road. Serel had seen the limousines before, but only the greatest of the Starborn road in them. He followed.
The interior was dark and cool and the leather seats seemed to adhere to his flesh. The car took them through the streets, past the houses of the highest castes and the buildings of the Adminstratium and through the gates of the Commander's palace. The car stopped and the ghost-woman got out.
A giant greeted the ghost-woman. He was bald, which the People regarding as a sign of weakness, but did not seem weak at all. His skin was the same colour as that of the People and the sign of the holy aquila was tattooed on his forehead. "He's waiting," the giant said in Gothic.
She nodded. "This is Serel. He's going to be our guide. Let's go introduce him to the man," she said with a smile on her lips.
The giant laughed. "Sure." He lead them inside the building and through its interior until they reached a lounge. Several Starborn were there, sitting in chairs and talking, as well as two strangers. The Starborn were all Rangers, the Commander's elite troops. The strangers were . . . .odd.
One was wearing flashy colours like a warrior of the People. He wore a brilliant red jacket and a vibrant blue shirt of some kind of silk. He wore trousers of a dark material and the gold rings and bracelets of a blooded warrior. He even had the look of a southerner.
The other looked like a hero. Tall, well built, with a lordly manner and shiny black hair (even if it was cut to short); he seemed every inch a leader of men. His left cheek was marked with a scar. He gazed a Serel. "You are the guide?"
"Yes lord," Serel replied.
"Good. The Rangers have high praise for your skills. You are familiar with the Poisoned Vale?"
"Yes lord. I know the tribes of the region and speak their tongue."
The lord smiled. "I am Jolan Gix and it is the will of the Emperor that I deal with menace there. You will assist us in this endeavour and you will be richly rewarded if we succeed."
"If I refuse?" Serel asked. The answer would tell him what kind of man he was dealing with.
"The danger I am here to deal with threatens, the People, the Starborn, and your own family. I would do my best to persuade you otherwise. If that was not effective, I would escalate to unpleasant threats. If that failed, I would make an example out of you and everything you love that would cause even hardened warriors to blanch. The next guide would accept."
Brutal, direct, honest. And the threats were not his first choice. "Lord, I am your man." What other choice did Serel have?
Lord Gix promised a king's ransom in gold should he return alive from this mission and a pension should none of them return. He was given time to compose a message to his wives and children, explaining his absence to them. A Starborn scribe transcribed his words onto paper that a messenger would then repeat.
He advised the Starborn on what equipment to pack, but the Rangers did not need his help. There were six of them there and he knew them all. They were blooded warriors, men of note who had travelled far from the City of the Gods without their brothers around to support them. They always won and came back with trophies. Each Ranger was marked with a tattoo for every victory. Their bare arms were lists of triumphs.
The hauled bags of goods towards a landing field. A great flying machine called a Valkyrie waited. Inside it had room for many warriors and their weapons. The Rangers began securing their packs inside.
The giant assisted them in loading. They gave him great deference. The respect, and fear, was clear in their body language. As the Starborn tending to be taller and broader than the People, so he was taller and broader than the Starborn. The woman was hauling gear as well. The southern looking one was nowhere to be seen.
His possessions were fewer than that of the Starborn. Just a pack with dried food, some ammunition, a change of clothes, and a few tools. Surviving in the Poisoned Vale was more a matter of knowing what not to eat and not getting offending the tribes of the region. In his heart, he feared the inquisitor intended to bring war to those tribes. The weapons and machines of the Imperium were mighty, but they would need more men to bring the tribes to heel. To go attempt such with so few men was to invite death.
Lord Gix arrived with the southron in tow. They slung their bags and hopped in. They belted in with a considerable degree of familiarity. The southron was wearing an armoured bodyglove like the rest now. The Valkyrie's engines whined as the pilot brought them on line and then they were lifting into the air.
The trip took nearly an hour before they reached their destination, a large clearing somewhere deep inside the mist shrouded jungle. As the Valkyrie neared the ground, the Rangers dropped out and formed a perimeter. Bags were then unloaded and claimed by their owners.
Lord Gix raised his hand and consulted glowing lights that appeared on his skin. He turned to Serel. "You've had friendly dealings with the L'rex before?" The tribe was one of the fiercer ones and even for the people of this region, known to possess many witches among its numbers.
"Yes lord. Two years past."
"They should be that way," he said pointing to the west. "Let's get moving."
Jolan consulted the repeater screen on the back of his arm. Nav coordinates said they were close now. It had been a three hours hard march through the jungle, making slower progress than he had expected. Maybe he was getting soft and maybe it was just that spending the last two years in urban environments and space had thrown him off a little.
The heat and humidity would have been brutal without the environmental bodygloves. Not that Two Feathers seemed to be bothered. Chou was as uncomfortable as hell, always fidgeting and not used to trekking along with a pack over his shoulder. The inquisitor drifted back in line and matched the smaller man's pace. "How are you holding up?" he asked.
Sweat ran down Chou's face. "It ain't what I would be like to be doing boss, but I'll hold up." He was carrying less gear than the rest of them. Gix looked at him closely, nodded, and then headed for the front of the line. The Rangers didn't like him moving around. Everyone had their own spot in the line, their own job. The Inquisition imposed its own priorities, including having the commander move around and check up on people.
Strange birds cawed above them. Their calls sounded like tom cats fighting over right of way on top of a fence. The canopy was too thick to see them properly. "Jolan," came Severa's voice from ahead. She had moved her hand to call a halt. Everyone was grabbing the nearest cover. He lengthened his stride and joined her behind a tree.
"Human bio readings. Ahead, less than fifty meters." She had her Necromundia pattern unslung and ready for action.
"Keep calm," Jolan ordered. "We want to make peaceful contact with these people. But if they attack, take them all out." He peered ahead. Severa's auspexes said their should be something there, but he couldn't see them.
"Hethor?" Jolan asked.
The big soldier pointed. "There and there. They're good at this." He had done his share of jungle fighting, although this mist shrouded piss pit was worse than what he served. Well, maybe not. No commissars here and the officer was a hell of a lot better.
Gix looked. "I don't-, now I see them. Clever." He stood up and made a move to step out. Severa had a vice grip on his arm.
"Someone else" she hissed. She nodded. Hethor got up and stepped out. The veteran slung his Triplex pattern las across his back as he stepped forward.
Hethor bellowed. "Serel, get you butt up here."
The scout moved forward. "Tell them that we've come to help them," Gix said.
The scout repeated it in the local dialect. Then white painted warriors emerged from behind trees and fern like bushes. Their forms were indistinct and easily lost in the fog that shrouded them. One of them shouted back. The scout turned back to Gix. "They will take us to their hetman."
The village of the Mist Walkers was composed of long houses built on stilts. Wooden walkways connected the houses in a semi-circle of human habitation. Women and children went about the tasks of daily living. They were unpainted and resembled the rest of the inhabitants of the planet. Slim and short, although a lighter shade of brown than most. The first part would eventually change, of course. The planet's gravity was slightly lower than average, but much of their diet was composed of local foods of limited nutritional value. As the Imperium spread, so would crops and livestock that were fully compatible with human biology.
The warriors lead them into the largest long house. Mats and weapons hung from the walls and a dirt and stone lined hearth was in the center of the floor. Three score men, mostly young, were ranged around the cold hearth, waiting for them. Weapons were by their sides, mostly stone headed spears and man killing clubs. The men in the center were older and wore more spectacular plumage. Several of them were armed with steal machetes. The senior warriors, lodge leaders, and shamans of the community.
Jolan extended his warp senses. A grey haired wrinkled man flickered with mostly constrained power. He had either been missed by the Schola Psychia sweep or they had died before reaching this village. Probably epsilon, high delta at the most. He wore gorgeous turquoise and jade feathers.
The old man might be a torch, but the white painted boy marked with black streaks was a bonfire. He looked at Gix with soulless eyes, measuring. Ice creeped down his spine as he looked closer. Not soulless, scarred. He's seen too much, even at this tender age. He had seen the insanity and monstrosities of the warp, and perhaps more. So be it. Gix had not been innocent at his age either. The Black Ships and the dungeons had disabused him of any childish illusions he had harboured.
A man wearing a cloak of cyan and scarlet feathers spoke. Gix turned to Serel. "He invites us to sit and speak with him in council."
"Tell him we accept," said Gix. He sat, crossing his legs tailor fashion. Hethor and Severa knelt. The Rangers remained standing.
The chief spoke again. Serel translated. "He says there has been much change in the last few years. That many strangers have come to the People. And there have been changes among the People. He does not approve."
Women came around with bowls of an earthy smelling substance. Severa tapped an instruction and then nodded. Her auspexes had cleared it. Gix took a sip. It tasted a little like potatoes, perhaps spiced with paprika. He slurped noisily as was the custom and put the bowl down.
"Tell him we have come because we have heard of a great evil that may soon oppress his people and ours."
Serel nodded and exchanged more words with the chief. The shaman and the boy continued to look a Gix suspiciously. "He doesn't believe us. He says the ones who came before made that claim, but took his spirit talkers as slaves. He says why should he choose between the Sky Men and the Death Walker?"
Gix's eyes narrowed. The witch-king had been a rumour, but these people seemed to know him. Good. "Tell him that speaking with spirits is dangerous and that we have lore that will protect them." Half true. "Tell us of the Death Walker."
Serel nodded. He exchanged more words. The chief wasn't happy. "He asks us what we will give him for compensation for the insult."
Throne! Gix silently cursed. "Ask this fool what he wants," he growled. The Schola party had been large enough that it had been able to take what they wanted. Now the chief thought he could extract some concessions. There was only so far Gix was prepared to go.
Serel turned back to Gix. "He wants a rifle. And Severa."
Jolan said softly. "Drop everyone but the chief. Don't finish the wounded."
Gix struck without warning. The boy was enveloped in column of blue-white fire that incinerated the men next to him. The boy screamed, but that was probably just the air being blasted out of his lungs. The Rangers opened up with the thunder of their autoguns.
Warriors were mowed down before they could stand. Bullets smashed through the front of skulls, splattering the area with blood and brains. Torsos were punctures, limbs shredded, and organs ruptured as the high velocity soft metal slugs dumped their energy into human bodies in a most destructive fashion.
Severa blew the head off of the shaman with her naval pistol and then put two large calibre rounds in the chest of another warrior. Within ten seconds, everyone was dead or dying but the chief.
He had sat stunned for a moment and then charged with his machete. Hethor had battered the weapon aside with his armoured forearm and threw him the ground.
Gix uncrossed his legs and took a red case out of his backpack. He walked back over to the hetman. "Now, let us discuss the Death Walker again."
A short burst of autogun fire echoed came from ahead. Another short burst followed. "Clear," a voice rang out. Serel moved ahead. The corpse of a sabre fanged tredont was twitching on the ground, it's torso and skull punctured by the Ranger's bullets. The rest of the group gave the carnivore a large berth.
Serel walked over to Gix. "You desire to seek out this Death Walker?"
Gix replied. "Yes."
"He must by a mighty witch to make these people afraid of him."
Gix shrugged. "Probably. I'm more concerned about the Schola Psychia sweepers that disappeared. They were going to investigate this witch-king, whatever he has taken to calling himself. They didn't come back."
"You think the Death Walker killed them?"
"Probably. And we will kill him. In any case, the idea that a renegade psyker can resist Imperial authority is unacceptable. He is going down regardless."
Serel hesitated. "By this you mean you will kill him?"
"Yes," Gix replied.
"But you suspect he has overcome Imperials who were ready for him? A large party?"
"And you have gathered a war party of less than a dozen men to kill him?"
"No. They-" Gix swept his hand to indicate to the people around him, "are here to kill his minions. I will kill him."
Gix shrugged. "Yes. Why not? It is what I do."
Serel eyed him. "So the talismans you possess will allow you to overcome the Death Walker."
"Possibly," Gix replied. "But I don't think I'll need them. In the end, everything burns."
"Right there," the Ranger whispered. Gix followed the Ranger's finger.
"Well camouflaged, but around our good friend the hetman said they would be." Jolan crawled back through the underbrush. "Sev, get your auspexes to work."
"Already on it," she whispered back. "There's nearly a thousand adult humans in the vicinity. If a third of them are males of fighting age, that's over three hundred enemy combatants."
"Inquisitor, we are with you," Captain Leran began, "but the odds are fifty to one against and we know they have psykers."
"Yes," answered Gix. "We cannot allow any part of this planet to successfully defy Imperial authority."
"With all do respect a gunship attack-"
"Will either be destroyed with a psychic counter attack or kill a few and scatter the rest. No, we will attack and finish the job ourselves. Just not yet."
He pulled an amulet on a plastic string out of his pocket. He handed it to Serel. "Put it on."
The scout obeyed. "What is it?"
"Psi-blocker. It will help protect you from psychic assault. Heth, set up a watch schedule. Everyone else, catch whatever sleep you can. We hit them at two hours past local midnight."
Under the canopy of trees, neither the moons nor the stars could be seen. The Imperials crawled forward through the underbrush with nightvision goggles on. Their enemies were easily visible through the green murk and Severa's auspexes sent data to the repeater on Jolan's sleeve.
There were sentries posted, of course. And dogs as well. Behind was Serel Two Feathers, with a pair of goggles courtesy of Hethor's bag. D'eckor himself used his targeter eyepiece for nightvision and benefited from the superior Necromundian technology.
Jolan slid around the perimeter. Some of the dogs were beginning to stir.
It was earlier than he would have preferred as everyone wasn't in position yet. So be it.
Grenades flew from his harness and into the windows and doorway of the largest house. Although the huts were hung with branches and built next to the trunks of great trees for concealment, they were essentially the same design of those of the Mist Walkers. Most of them detonated with noisy cracks as they filled the air with shrapnel Several detonated with duller thumps.
Autoguns opened up on the sentries and dogs. Flesh was torn open and bones shattered by the small calibre, high velocity rounds. Severa's skulls floated through the darkness, the hunter taking up position above the center of the village and the gun-skull gliding towards the largest lodge. Jolan unslung his Necromundia pattern lasgun and began to shoot the warriors as the exited their lodges.
Bright beams pierced the night and flesh exploded as the water in their tissues flash boiled. Bodies jerked and fell as the killing hail continued. As the Rangers, Jolan, and Severa concentrated on killing the Death Walker's men as they emerged, Hethor closed the distance.
Matted to his Tripex pattern las was an underbarrel grenade launcher. He pumped grenades into the doorways and windows of lodges. They exploded the dull thumps. Heth smiled under his breathing mask. These poor bastards had no defences against poison gas, which Jolan's plan took ruthless advantage of.
Hethor burned down two men and a screaming woman before Severa's warning caused him to turn to the left and put two beams in the chest of a charging adolescent. His ribcage blew open, spraying blood, tissue, and bone into the air. Heth put another grenade into a window.
Severa fed data to the Rangers, warning them of warriors moving along their flanks as she picked her targets and burned them down. The indicator marking Gix was advancing. Behind her she heard the sound of Serel's rifle and another blip stopped.
"Jolan, what in the Emperor's Name are you doing?!" she screamed over the channel. Keeping that damn inquisitor alive was a full time job.
"They're about to mob Hethor!" he snarled back. His las burned a brilliant bar across the night as he fired it rapidly. The loud cracks of detonating frag grenades followed it.
Hethor burned through the last shot in his power cell as the screaming band approached. He had gotten cocky. They didn't have enough firepower to bottle up all the houses. The body count had been terrible, but not enough to deter them. He dropped the Tripex and drew his pistols.
Two gun shooting was usually stupid. There are exceptions. Charging mobs are one of them. He alternated kills, putting high calibre slugs in bodies with his left hand and burning las holes with the right. Men and women fell with gruesome injuries as the swarm closed.
Then loud cracks ripped through the mob as frag grenades detonated among them. Chunks of arms and legs flew through the air in a bloody spray. A full auto las tore through the survivors. Hethor added his own las to the carnage. In a few more moments their was only the moaning of the wounded and the cries of the dying.
From behind came alternating bursts as the Rangers killed. Jolan and Hethor methodically reloaded. Hethor had just picked up his Tripex when Jolan suddenly twisted his head.
A humanoid figure drifted out of the door of one of the smaller lodges. It was naked, with skin was pierced with bone needles and ivory amulets. A crown of of small horns covered its head and a thorny member dangled to its knees. Hellish blue light shone from its eyes.
"A good plan," it gloated. "Kill the psykers while they sleep and then mop up the rest. Frag grenades and poison gas will kill just about anyone if they are unprepared. But they won't kill me, Jolan Gix. And now I will kill you."
"Perhaps not," replied Jolan. The air shimmered as a blast of telekinetic energy knocked the daemonhost back into the lodge. Gix slung his las and pulled out his force rod. His other hand removed palmed a small object from a pouch. Plans and contingencies, such was the content of the mind of Jolan Gix.
Hethor broke to the side and rammed the Triplex to its highest power setting while feeding more grenades into the launcher. The daemonhost screamed and floated out the doorway, illuminated by a poisonous green light. Bullets struck it, but failed to penetrate. Hethor stitched three bloody holes craters across it's chest and ducked to the side. Claw-like strokes of blue light tore up the side of the lodge he had been hiding behind.
The daemon snarled and then screamed. A blue-white lance of psychic flame struck it. The lodge behind it burst into flames from the heat. It's skin blackened and curled. "Nice try, Jolan Gix. You can hurt me, but you can't-"
The roar of the impacting fireball drowned out it's reply. The impact spun the daemonhost in the air and knocked it back into the burning building. It's exit was preceded by four curved claw-like strands of light that lashed out and closed on Gix. Light flashed from their impacts and the inquisitor staggered.
The daemon floated forward. "You're strong and you would have gotten stronger, Gix. But your career ends now, as your agony begins." The daemon's words were punctuated with a thump. It turned towards the sound as the krak grenade impacted on its arm.
The explosion flayed the limb, shattering the bone and sending muscle tissue flying. It cursed and swore in a language that Hethor did not speak as the veteran took cover. The daemon unleashed a flesh flurry of light-talons that shredded the lodge. "You are doomed, you pathetic mortals! Nothing can change that! You can only buy yourselves more pain!"
Wrong on two counts, thought Jolan Gix as he triggered the injector and sent another fireball into the daemonhost's side. The ball of green witchfire detonated in a brilliant flash. Jolan was already running for cover. He could already feel the spook beginning to take effect.
The daemon turned back towards Gix as he vanished behind several trees. Its skin, what little remained, was blackened and cracked. The flesh underneath was red and seared. It tore a two meter wide tree apart with a flurry of its light talons and shredded the underbrush behind it. The great tree fell on its jagged stump, slipped, and began to topple. No sign of Jolan Gix.
Gix's voice rang out, loud and mocking. "Did you really think I wasn't prepared for you, little daemon slave? That I wouldn't consider the possibility of a daemonhost? Come on, oh lordly one. Slay me, if you can!" The inquisitor walked out into the open.
The daemon raged and struck with its light talons. Light flashed, as bright as a lightning strike. Gix was unmoved. Power was coursing through his veins. Spook made even blunts psykers, for a while. Psykers like Gix, it made even more powerful and sometimes it unlocked hidden talents. It was potentially dangerous and quite illegal, like many of the tools of the Inquisition. He raised his force rod.
The blue-white lance burned through the daemon's abdomen. It screamed, fire erupting from its mouth. Terrible talons grew on it fingers, claws charged with deadly warp energies. It flew at Jolan Gix like a falling star.
And was held, three meters from the Inquisitor. The daemon host snarled. "You can't hold me forever Gix. Soon your strength will drain away. You can't strike me down while pinning me here, you need all your power for that. You. Still. Lose."
"Wrong," said a woman's voice behind it. Severa's power blade severed its right arm and then it's left in a pair of strikes that took less than a second. Her power cutlass bisected its head quartered its torso in a flurry of horizontal strikes. Jolan dropped the quivering mass to the ground and gestured for Hethor and Severa to retreat.
"Burn," he said and a pillar of flame lit the night.
Jolan reached over for the decanter and poured more juice into his glass. There was something wrong with the building's blowers and the sticky heat of the outside had crept in and settled. He poured another glass for Severa and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she said. "What now?"
"A sweep and purge. The survivors of the region will be examined and assigned to whatever tasks the Imperium needs manpower for or disposed of."
Anjun looked up. "So everyone gets enslaved or killed."
Jolan took a sip. He didn't mind the heat as much as the others and couldn't bear to spend another unnecessary moment in his body glove. He was wearing loose fitting slacks and button down shirt of vibrant red silk. "Yes. It's unfortunate, but we aren't merely talking about renegade psykers but a full blown chaos cult in the region. Cleansing isn't enough. They must be scoured."
"And the innocent?" asked Chou.
"As always, they suffer. But it ends with this, hopefully for a long time. There will be no more witches rising to power without restraint and dominating tribes for generations. It was more difficult than I expected. Their witch-king managed to bind a daemon host and not a mere lesser daemon but a daemon prince. Fortunately, it was neither strong nor lightly bound."
Severa looked at him. "It wasn't lightly bound?"
"However a daemonhost is formed, whether by deliberate summoning or possession, it is a body possessed by part of a daemon. Several things affect how powerful the daemonhost is. The strength of the host, as a powerful daemon will quickly consume a weak host and fall back to the warp. The strength of the daemon, of course, and the strength of the binding. Stronger bindings mean greater control over the daemon but limit its power."
"It was close enough for my taste," Chou said. He had merely sniped from the edges during the fight. By the time he had gotten close enough to use the inferno pistol, others had been in the way. Not that anyone could complain about Severa's results.
"I still had a trick or two left," replied Gix. "But pinning it for Severa was by far the best choice at that point."
'I hate this place," said Chou. "When do we leave?"
"Leave? Someone has to supervise the purge. We're going to be here another four months, at least." Chou groaned. Gix smiled. Before they left, they should check out some beaches. Maybe get a little fishing in.