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My name is Aleksey. I'm an average Warhammer fan: used to play orks, now collect my own SM chapter and paint AoS gangs. I wrote a fantasy novel almost for a dare and one online shop even sells it, but since it's in Russian (shop and language), I guess, it's not that intersting here =)
When I was writing about elves and stuff one idea possesed me and I desided to write a story in my beloved setting - 40k. It's finished, took almost three months and have 13 chapters. I've been sharing it online for free recently and will show here too.
It's called "What I fight for".
Take a look, guys, and please let me know if you like it.
First 4 chapters are here. Warning! Each one has 3000-6000 words.
You may read it for free on my patreon page (link in description)
- Halt! – a big man wearing a dark robe stopped them. Senseless precautions since they’ve already been checked and stripped off arms a minute ago. Titus looked at him angrily – what does he want? To show he is boss here – that’s far from truth. To scare them? A chemically enhanced body and a heavy augmented arm, visibly bulging even under the loose worn robe, could scare his companions or other habitants of this lower hive, but definitely not him. To irritate him then – that he’s accomplished.
- Shut your hole if you’ve got one! – Titus stared at the guard.
- Bloody gene-mixed freak, - the man stepped away from the door and took off the hood showing his ugly face. Bald skull with small eyes filled with hatred looked at him from down up, - don’t you think you are safe from me just because boss is waiting your lot. I don’t care for your size, mutant, I’ll tear off your limbs one by one as soon as there is a chance.
- Come in, damn it! Let them pass! – somebody impatiently called them ahead. He looked at the guard who reluctantly stepped aside. That augmented arm of his isn’t a treat – ugly man would die without taking a swing with it. The very thought that he, Titus, could feel something close to fear before that mindless thug offended him. Spoiled his pride.
- Go, Titus, you angry bastard, go! – one of his aides pushed him timidly in the back. He went in, turning from the guard.
- You’ll have your chance, mortal, - Titus promised to the insolent offender. He came in the next room – dim tight compartment of the storehouse where the meeting should finally start. Few greenish lamps highlighted Administratum and Ministorum slogans and posters, shelves filled with data-slates and other usual honest man’s service tokens. He saw well what was there in the dark corners – nothing caught his attention. Except for a single army crate lying on the floor. The very reason he was here. Titus looked at a man sitting behind the desk, an ordinary clerk working at the storage facility. Nothing special, but two openly armed bodyguards and hungry eyes of a rat tell everything Titus needed to know. He stepped aside and leaned on the wall, letting others came in. Jack and his boys, as he likes to call them, filled the room. The buyer and the seller greeted each other and started the usual talk of those who bother too much not showing their fears. The retinue of the first felt nervous because the pistols were in others’ hands and not in their own. Bodyguards of the second felt nervous because of him. If they worth the title of bodyguard then they’ve should already felt that their lethal weapons are not that lethal with him so close. Titus didn’t need their fear and he wasn’t going to kill them. Jack wanted the deal to go smoothly. His current employer (Titus never accepted the repugnant word “boss”) was having a busy conversation with the dirty hand clerk. The tension in the room got lighter. But that ugly bastard outside! Did he sell his brain to buy that poorly made limb? Did he dare to challenge him? Him! Titus stood upright catching again the attention of relaxed bodyguards. He doesn’t care. What is he doing here? Why is he in this room with these men? Titus glanced at the crater, which content will make Jack’s gang stronger in this district. But it has nothing worth for him. Jack and his minions don’t mean anything for him. Titus came to hive city Olynthum Τ few decades ago. Before that he spent almost similar time in Olynthum Ζ. His acquaintance with this Hive World started in its third and last hive - Olynthum λ. Titus had to leave it in haste. Disorganized and shocked after his arriving at this planet he made many mistakes he used to avoid in all these years. In hive Ζ he lived at the bottom, as far from any official power as possible. It’s been the tough time in under-hive. Even for him. Titus welcomed an opportunity to prove himself his capabilities once more. He could’ve become a ruler of that forsaken hell, but he didn’t care. Eventually gangs united against him and that made his staying there impossible. He also couldn’t go live higher in the hive, since arbiters knew about the powerful stranger dwelt in under-hive and wouldn’t let him get out of there. So, he went to Olynthum T and chose to live in lower-hive, far from both madness and law. There were enough officials and arbiters here, but working for someone like Jack made him invisible for the Administratum. Occasion services asked from him didn’t take much time or effort. He almost lived by himself – the very state he liked and willingly fought to preserve. As soon as this deal will be closed Titus would forget all about the participants and Jack would ask him for a new service in several months. Such measured life suited him. The hooded guard showed up in his mind. Titus didn’t sigh or swear, not even twitched his face, he just acknowledged the fact - this life has ended. Once again. He will not tolerate such offends, he will not leave the challenge unanswered, however insignificant and lame his offender was. He is Titus Livius and that’s not a name to play with. He looked at the clerk smiling to Jack.
- Did you tell your dog to stop me? – his strong voice filled the room. Everybody turned to him.
- Is your serf addressing me? – the pale balding little man tried to sound arrogantly but he bumbled and sweat. His bodyguards looked nervously from Titus to Jack and his two men.
- What’s with you? – Jack smiled but his eyes were filled with fear. Titus hadn’t to look at him to know for sure. His employer has seen his wrath and had no illusion about owning or controlling him.
- Did you tell that one-armed bastard to stop me even knowing that we’ve been checked? I’m asking you for the last time. Who will answer for the offend? The master or the dog? – Titus didn’t scream neither he made aggressive gestures or straighten his shoulders. Without that everybody knew who is the toughest beast in the room. Bodyguards begged their God-Emperor to protect them and not let their boss to tell something stupid.
- The dog, - breathed out the horrified clerk. Titus turned and opened the door.
- Here you are, has your master finished his business? – the hooded guard stood in the end of the corridor. He turned to the sound of opening door and didn’t noticed frozen faces of those who stayed still in the room.
- It’s the second offend, - Titus stepped forward, - you will get no mercy.
- You think you are the most dangerous son of a whore in this hive?! – the guard didn’t flinched. He was looking for a fight himself, - I’ll scatter your overgrown meat all over here, c’mon!
Titus didn’t rejoice at his opponent’s eagerness to fight. It didn’t matter. Charging ferociously or cowardly fleeing the mortal would die from his hand. He kept his pace while the man torn off the dirty robe opening his bulky torso, which color speaks not only about lack of sunshine, but also about male used chemicals and drugs. And this ugly creature dared to think to defeat him? Titus growled from anger. Does this mortal think they two are alike? Is he so much blind, that took him for some overdosed thug? The guard’s right arm was fully replaced with a hissing and creaky claw. A cheap prosthesis, resembling the real hand nor in size, nor in shape. Of course, it had no power field. The right side of the man’s chest was a tangled knot of greasy cables and pipes. It could stop Titus fist, though doubtfully. He chose the easiest and most forward way to win. The guard raised his heavy limb screaming, preparing to slash him across the broad body, tearing it open. But Titus was already out of reach – in one jump he came close and his right fist punched through the man’s chest, crushing ribs and heart with speed unmatched by the low-lived brut. The metallic hand made a loud noise, echoed by empty corridor. Titus stepped over the body and wiped off his fist with the laying robe. He didn’t look back, confident that the clerk wouldn’t try to avenge his serf, and marched on. He was going to collect his belongings. Titus didn’t really think about Jack and consequences of his rage outbreak. There were two options. Jack will continue using his services. Or he will try to kill him. In both ways Titus will live on.
- What was that noise? – two wary guards pointed pistols at him. They stood around exit and looked after the possessions of the buying party.
- Don’t aim at me, - he easily came closer and opened one of metallic boxes. Titus produced a las pistol of laughable power and awful aim, but such weapon counted as good in this district. He put it in a holster under his loose grey robe and took out the most valued thing he’s been carrying for a long time.
- That’s a big knife! – whistled one thug.
- I say it’s rather a whole sword, - said another.
- I say you both shut up so you can see the dawn, - Titus grabbed familiar handle almost with love. That was his thing, the very extension of his body. Whatever happens, till this weapon was in his palm – he remembers who he is. Having only this blade he found himself in this Hive World. It’s a miracle he’s saved the knife through all these years. Titus has seen miracles and didn’t use this word easily. He sheathed the weapon and left it hangs at his belt as usual, where it belonged.
- Sooo, we’re good? – uncertainly pleaded one guard?
- I’m good, - his big silhouette mixed with the blackness of the exit.
It was dark outside, but not because of the night. Such was life in lower hive. Above, somewhere there were people who might see a sunshine – a thing he hasn’t seen for over hundred years. Not that Titus missed it, in contrary the darkness suited him more. Since no light from space comes here, this level of Olynthum Τ was illuminated with green lamps which were turned off or dimmed for the sound sleep of citizens. No obeying and the Emperor-fearing people would be out. And those who were busy at this time of twenty-four hours circle knew better than attacking him. But Titus was alert anyway, the state of focus was as normal for him as breathing. Without the latter he could live for some time, can’t say the same about the first. It smells bad and it looks no better. Rockcrete, damp and worn, pipes, rust and acid eaten metal. Living, producing and administrative buildings looked alike, like dull crates or boxes. He’s seen front line bunkers more cheerfully decorated. Though, he’s seen worse too. Titus knew little about Migdonia system, Olynthum was part of which. There were other inhabited planets, but how many and what kind he had no clue. Definitely no big army bases or recruiting space marines around – such things would be known to everybody. Also, there were not much holiness in this system. Titus dropped the idea to know in what Segmentum he was – his rare acquaintances had no interest in such scale. So, he was walking on to one of save places he automatically remembered through his life here. Been one or two been compromised – he’ll just go further. His heavy boots thumped on the ground. In one pocket he had several high-level coins. Here they used familiar shapes of money with aquila on both sides – metallic pieces with digital marks on the surface and a chip inside. One of his first jobs for Jack was crushing a group of scammers who were going to forge the coins. Some rich bastards from the spire decided to hide their games down here. Jack wanted them out not of piety to the Imperial currency, but to hide his own business. Forgery is one of the biggest crimes and investigating those fools’ schemes would eventually harm balance here. A balance in which Titus found a place for himself. So, he took that job eagerly plus those rich criminals brought decent bodyguards. That was interesting. Besides money of which he had a small and rare usage and weapons Titus wore a small pouch on his neck. Pouches and cord come and go, but the content he kept save. Not sure why. That’s it, that’s all he had. And that was enough. He didn’t even need an ID of any kind. During his travels he got one few rare times, it was fake and never been used for real. Titus needed no card or chip to remember who he is. His enemies would recognize him without one too.
Titus silently froze – someone approaching him. He listened to the silence. A true silence is impossible in lower hive. Thermal heat system feeding whole hive with energy always reminded about its vital role with distant humming. Power cables drone, never ceasing factories rumbled far away, aircrafts of all sizes and purposes flew above the dark clouds. Close to him water gurgled – recycled and artificial water pipe ran under his legs. That was a real treasure, not a gang, not a mob during occasion riot never harmed those lines. It was sacred as Emperor but closer to the souls of the population. Titus listened to the sleeping hive. There are three unknown persons coming his way. He is heading them. If they are some passers-by – he let them pass. If they brought revenge of the clerk - they brought their death themselves. He never postponed killing an enemy. Titus produced a pistol and softly went further. After few steps he holstered his weapon, his ears told him who were going. A street-cleaner servitor shuffling along the street. He used to be a broad man. One hand was artificial, a broom was attached to it. The servitor took it with his human hand and swept the road, gathered piles of rubbish he sucked in with a hose coming from his belly. The cleaner had no lower limbs, its torso was attached to a big barrel on crawler legs. Dead human eye saw nothing, the other glowed red searching for more garbage. Found none servitor turned his head to him.
- Clean soul keeps city clean, - creaked the dynamic which occupied the whole lower jaw.
- Thank you for your service, - Titus took a step back – never knew what else can such automatous do and see. Better not to attract attention. Cleaners legs scraped on. Here goes two more.
- Praise the Emperor! The God-Emperor protects! – that was a girl. Probably a cute one. A victim of crime, accident or some illness. Or maybe just an orphan. It looked like normal child, but the greenish skin revealed that she’s been frozen in that age for some time. The head was covered in curls, glittering gold even in such scarce light. The face was replaced with speaker and stared at him demanding, - The Emperor protects!
- The Emperor protects! – repeated Titus and smelled a pleasant sent. The third servitor was a girl too. It was spaying aroma from her fingers. The earliest workers of the lower-hive had a chance to feel something pleasant in usually stinky air of the bottom of Olynthum T. He hurried, the morning was coming.
Titus have already checked three places and haven’t liked none of them. No intruders or signs, just some odd feelings. He had time and ran along. He wasn’t afraid to be seen at daylight, but it would bring unnecessary complications. Titus was near a next cover – a burned down wing of some plants garage. It happened few months ago but the wreck cleaning hasn’t started yet. He stepped in the hangar smelling familiar scent of melted and burned chemicals and metals. No little servitors have passed here. But somebody had.
- Halt! – Titus froze. He noticed the presence of the enemy therefore he is not that dangerous. He is still alive therefore he won’t be killed right away. Amateur. There was a chance, the stranger could tell something significant. Titus didn’t fear being spotted by the Administratum or the Ministorum, but prefered to find this out before being rounded up or burned. – That’s the way, no tricks, it won’t work on me. Listen, tough guy, some big man wants to meet you. Bigger than you can imagine. Follow me and see yourself. Do you hear me? You can turn to me slowly now.
That was his last words. Titus turned and shoot the man in the head. Second charge flew over the dead body.
- Taking left now, - he looked at a smoking right socket, - who are you, big mouth?
Titus saw that this man only pretended to be from lower-hive. He was dirty, worn and looked ill. But he wasn’t local and had nothing on him but a pistol, a bit better than his own. He took it and hide the body in the burned wrecks. Probably it was this stranger whose presence he felt at other spots. Did Jack find himself new friends from better places and told them about him? If the employer will approach him after this night, he will ask him. Titus ran to the next possible cover. When he reached it, the lights got brighter – a new day started with no change in the dark sky. Loud speakers were brought to life with resonance and buzz: Praise the God-Emperor! Olynthum greeting the new day of His infinity glory. Prove your devotion with your work. Praise Him with your service. The Emperor protects! Praise the God-Emperor!..
Titus didn’t sleep that day, didn’t have to. He just sat still underground, in a small corner surrounded with power lines and pipes. It was warm, probably too hot for mortals, but his body could bear much higher temperatures. Dead rats and insects laid around, stroke by high voltage and heat. It was getting quieter and quieter above him and all noises died. Then sirens which kept translate slogans all those hours screamed their last announcement and fell silent. It was 10 p.m. and the lower-hive went to sleep. Time for a walk. Titus could sit there for a few nights, but he was restless, he needed to move. One thing to stay still in an ambush and the other is just sitting with no purpose. He would pace around gloom streets and find a new spot to spend a day in. Search for water may be left for the next night or later. Titus came out and walked in the darkness. He was completely alone.
- Astartes! – a confident voice in his head called him. That was bad. Being spoke to by psyker and in such clear hearing despite his psy-blocker was dangerous enough. To be recognized was much worse. Does this voice belong to the “big man” the killed one mentioned? What to do? To run? To attack? All this he’s thought through in a moment. Titus put his leg on the ground and kept silence. – What’s your name?
Titus smiled. If the psyker couldn’t read his name, he was not that powerful. The time to surrender hasn’t come yet. He would run and hide now and kill that mind-reader later. Months or years – in such a hunt the time didn’t matter, he had plenty of it. Titus darted forwards and lost consciousness.
He regained consciousness. Titus looked around: he was naked in an empty room with blank metallic walls and door. Laying on the cold floor he had no shackles or chains on him. No surprise, obviously his capturer had better means to keep him controlled. He was surrounded with humming and couldn’t get was he on the surface or on the ship. This compartment was definitely in reality. He would recognize the warp. Titus stood up and started to wait in the middle of the room.
- Is that loud enough? – the voice came again. It was loud but not deafening, - I need you to be able to answer me.
- I’m listening, - Titus answered to the emptiness. The voice was too damn clear. The psyker wasn’t just somewhere near but was stronger than he thought. Something else was strange.
- You have no more that blocker, Titus Livius, - that’s the reason! He reached to the nape; the finger found fresh tiny scar. – Now you have psy-conductor instead.
Pain squeezed him, muscles strained, hearts started to beat furiously, was he a man he would die. Being Astartes he only sat on one knee gritting teeth. Pain ceased.
- That’s how it works. I can kill you. – Titus stood up. No argue here, – what are you doing here, Titus Livius?
- Live, - he wasn’t mocking the psyker. It was an answer for the question.
- You work for someone called Jack.
- Occasionally. I serve no one.
- Whom did you serve to?
- I guess you are not interested in names of all my gone superiors, psyker? – Titus got angry with this talk. The capturer either was testing his honesty or didn’t know much himself. He will not waste the time. Let him be killed or told what was he needed for. – I’m Titus Livius, legionary of the 16th Legion Astartes, warrior of the Luna Wolves, waged war under command of Horus Lupercal.
The silent solitude was his answer and has lasted for several hours. Titus has been waiting motionlessly.
- I serve the God-Emperor, - declared voice in his head, – and you will serve me. Or you will die.
- I’ll serve you, - Titus wanted to live. Now he had one more reason for – to kill that psyker.
- Follow the servitor, – after few minutes the door clanged and opened. A servitor stood in the doorway. It had a size of a man, his whole body from the top was covered with simple floor-length folded grey robe.
- Let me lead you, master, - the creature said in a hoarse voice and turned around. Titus followed it. He was inside an aircraft, currently grounded. It wasn’t an army transport, but not exactly civilian too. Some sort arbiters or personal guard would use. The passage was low and tight for him and ended in a wider compartment with rows of empty sits. The servitor turned to him and produced a tiny manipulator from his robe and pointed with it at sits, - your belongings are there, master. We are departing in eight minutes, master.
Titus didn’t answer to the servitor and came to look at the things. It wasn’t his belongings. A folded grey robe, an exact copy of one the servitor wears, laid lonely on a hard chair. No boots, no pants, no his pouch and no trace of the most important thing - his blade.
- Where is my knife?! – the servitor didn’t answer, it wasn’t even in this compartment. But Titus asked the psyker. He didn’t answer, and the vessel took off exactly after eight minutes. The flight was short, they didn’t leave the atmosphere.
- Kill everybody in the building I’ll show you, - as soon as the engine shut down, the voice gave him command. The door opened and Titus saw another tiny corridor which must lead to the cockpit. The servitor stood there holding a lasgun with three subtle manipulators coming from his chest.
- Your weapon is ready, master, - Titus took the tiny rifle and the serf pushed few buttons on the wall – the hatched opened with quiet pneumatic noise.
- That servitor is intricate and expensive, maybe it belongs to the capturer, - with that thought Titus left the aircraft. It was night outside and he found himself in the unknown territory, looking like lower-hive. Which Olynthum: Ζ, Τ or λ didn’t matter. He took a step forward.
- To your right, - psyker told him. Titus obeyed and turned right. He’s already tossed out the trigger guard: the new lasgun was too tiny for his palm. The voice has steered him for an hour among empty streets and blocks. Finally, Titus stood in front of a low dark building without trace of life. – Here it is. Kill everyone inside. I permit to take prisoners and make noise.
He suppressed the questions about the enemy and disposition – things he would answer his sergeant or captain about. Old habit he couldn’t shake off. Titus silently came to the building – not a sound. He walked it around and found no sigh of security surveillance. Titus could easily climb to the top, but the psyker said to kill everyone, so he started with ground floor. He crushed down one door looked most subtle and pointed the lasgun inside ready to shoot. Not very discreet tactic, but the psyker let him loose. He definitely needs him alive for some purpose and wouldn’t let him die or be caught in ambush by some thugs. This was probably a test. And this was definitely better than standing still inside the locked compartment. Titus found himself in a corridor which surrounded the middle of the building, running across the whole perimeter. He cautiously walked it around, looking for mines or other tricks. His intrusion so far was unnoticed. Titus heard something and came to the nearest door. It was closed but not Astartes-proof. Once again, his action summoned no reaction. The inner space of the building was filled with corridors and apartments. All looked abandoned, but his nose found a trace of fresh smell. Titus followed the lead, leaving giant footprints in the dust. His nose guided him to the ladder upstairs. Still no alert or any precautions against intruders. He went up guardedly and stopped before the heavy door. His senses screamed that someone was behind it.
- The door is not that heavy, - the bloody voice mocked him. The forgotten and suppressed bitterness of loss showed its head. His armour. He got used to live without it. And he will live on. He took a step back and rammed the door with his shoulder. Metal bent, noises came from within and he hit it one more time. Wall around the door cracked, the door itself twisted and he heard alarmed screams. Titus kicked the door down, hurting the bare leg but it would be healed and not slow him down. Nothing will. He fired the lasgun, shooting at frightened voices and came in the lighted room. It was big and took approximately a quarter of the floor. People, mostly men, were running in panic, stumbling and colliding with each other. Plenty of weapons lies on tables filled with food, spirits and some playing cards, but no one tried to defend himself. Titus fired as fast as the rifle could observing his prey. Couple thugs noticed that he was alone reached for their pistol and got shot before drew it. Titus was in the corner of the hall in the very center of the building, to his left was a door filled with fleeting enemies, to the right another one, but that was closed and humans were not trying to escape through it. He jumped on the last thugs in the room, crushing their skulls with his lasgun butt. The next room was dark, even larger and filled with bunks, close to the door was shower zone separated with plastic curtain. People were running left in the darkness of far corner. Titus shot them in backs, not running to the unknown. It couldn’t be that simple.
- Arbiters! Enforces! – screaming last survivors of his attack.
- Fight back, cowards! Shoot them! – new voices joined the choir and las-charges burned the doorway where he stood. But Titus was already inside. His standard army rifle was better that the thugs’ weapons and he stuck to it. No grenades were founded and he didn’t soil his throat with dirty homemade liquors of killed humans. New enemies stopped shooting and coming for him, while they were away, he checked the other door – it wasn’t much heavier than the one he broke down, but he had no time to deal with it. Looked like no new targets would emerge from here and that was enough. Titus picked up the broken door as a shield and took his rifle as a club, hoping that the lasgun will bear his blows. He heard enemies warily getting closer to the doorway, some of them for sure were praying for him being disappeared. He sensed their fear and he would show them more. Pursuing fleeting thugs, he had time to check the thin wall separating two zones and now crushed trough it appearing before unexpected enemies in dust and rockcrete chips. It brought a moment of pain and time enough to crush humans. Titus whirled around breaking heads and necks with the door and his rifle. Thugs fled again. He dropped the door and grabbed one of them breaking his neck and carrying him as a cover for possible ambush ahead. Titus tossed the rifle up, caught it normal way and shot two last men in the back of their heads. He run forward softly. Laser beams hit the body in his arm, he shot back and jumped sideways. New shots came to him – they must see his thermal radiation. Titus tossed the corpse forward and charged leaping from side to side, crushing bunks and rare furniture. He roared, letting them know what was going to them. Giving them the false hope to save their lives in running. His scream or a loud explosion above pushed the last shooters to fleeing. Titus descended on them struggling with elevator platform control panel, franticly pushing buttons and runes.
He gently pushed the blood-stained buttons bringing the old engine to work. While the small platform descending Titus checked one more door – it was closed and should lead to the same compartment as the other one he left intact. Stepping in the elevator he was ready to duck from the fire from above, but the platform went up and no one were trying to kill him. Though enemies were there, he knew it. Titus wasn’t going to be a moving target from the firing range. He tossed the rifle and jumped after it, grabbed the floor of the next level and leaped forward at the unexpected thugs, sitting in ambush. His lasgun didn’t hit the ground as he teared unprotected bodies of mortals, tossing them like weightless dolls. Two he killed on the charge, two he hit with their dead comrades. The fifth thug was shocked. A man, who in other circumstances would show boldness and eagerness if not honor and bravery, in front of the giant, jumped out of darkness, could do nothing. The human shivered and goggled with fear, dropped his gun. That was a reaction he recognized. That’s how it should be. The psyker wants prisoners, this one will be the first. Titus broke man’s legs and hands and picked up the lasgun. This floor was lighted brightly: yellow lams hang on the walls without windows, blank rockcrete looked cleaner. That counts for rich in lower-hive. Two doors were before him. He checked the one – it was absolutely empty. The second lead to the long corridor with rows of doors on every side. Looked like living apartments. It could take some time.
- They are all in the end, - Psyker urged him, - hurry up, something going on there.
Titus ran, looking after every door he passed. He slowed down in the end of the corridor before a wide double door. Voices were arguing behind it. He pushed one door leaf wide open and shot the closest men. His arriving caused panic, the room was wide and full of stuff: furniture, crates and boxes, lot of light. Titus smelled true food and water – something unexpected in this area of Olynthum T. Thugs didn’t fight back and just ran – strange, what did they hope for?
- Give it to me! You’ve killed us all!
- No, idiots! – somebody got hurt to his left. He saw no enemies on the right, so moved to the scream. He ran by a lying man, he held his wounded chest and wept.
- I just wanted to live like a man, I’m tired of running like a rat picking some garbage, - cried the aged man worn by fatigues and fear, - just wanted to feel the true life.
- Let him be! – the psyker screamed in his mind just before Titus were going to crush the thug’s head, his leg stomped the rockcrete and he moved on.
- Why isn’t it working?! Push it harder, he is coming! – his shot silenced the speaker. A thug next to him was holding some small device, unknown to Titus – it didn’t look like weapon, rather some kind of vox or may be detonator. He had to deal with others first, running at him with pistols.
- They are coming! You are dead, freak! – Titus turned to the man hysterically shaking the device. Next moment thug’s hand and upper half of the body disappeared in a flash. Legs stayed where they were, no sigh of that thing whatever it was. Titus barely escaped the same fate from more common source. Plasma charge flew by and blew a hole in the wall. He was looking for the shooter but noticed that it was silent outside – no sirens of arbiters or servitor-firefighters. The psyker kept local authorities in control, he or his master had power. Not many possible answers on question who was his abductor. Titus ran backwards, if this gang had one plasma weapon, he would kill the shooter before it would be ready for the second shot. If more – his charge should fill them with fear and obstruct the aiming. The spared prisoner kept whining, couple las-beams passed him by and he shot back hearing dying scream afterwards. He saw two men aiming big guns at him.
- Stop where you are! – nervously cried one, - or I swear to the Emperor we’ll kill you!
- Let us go! – screamed the second, the weapon in his shaking hands glowing blue highlighting wet face shrunk with horror. – Drop your lasgun!
Titus shot him in the face, the head of the second exploded by other reason. His bet it was a sniper’s shot.
- That’s all, - the Psyker told him immediately.
- I’ve been watched! – snapped Titus, - I needed no cover from such scums. Do you hear me, psyker?
- Don’t raise your voice, - short flash of pain came with that answer. Like a teaching strike to a dog. – Your obedience was tested here. Not your martial prowess. Take the prisoners to the roof, I’ll tell you why you’re still alive, Titus Livius of 16th legion.
Through the hole he heard approaching aircraft. Titus checked plasma weapons first – crude models, he wouldn’t risk using it. He opened flasks with water and drunk few of them. It’s been few days since he sipped some liquid, and his first swallow of pure water on Olynthum. Now the prisoners.
- How to get to the roof? – he picked up wounded man. The survivor was shaking with fear and mumbled petty excuses, - shut up and show the way! Damn you, coward, - Titus stepped in the corridor, - he heard the whining of another wounded thug and came to him, - you will show me the way up the roof and get helped, - “for a brief time”.
The sniveling broken man showed the way to another hidden elevator in the big room. He was swearing that he had nothing to do with anything and just did what was told to. The pettiest excuse, Titus would break something else in the thug had he had more limbs. The platform took them to the roof. A burned flyer smoked there, it was the explosion he heard earlier. Another aircraft stood on the edge of the roof. The one he woke up in. The hatched opened showing the familiar servitor.
- Bring them in, master, - the serf disappeared inside. Titus brought prisoners in the compartment with sits and got them seated.
- They are not very talkative right now, - he told servitor and checked his lasgun proved to be a nice weapon in this fight.
- They will be spoke to later, master, - servitor produced a multi-fingered hand, one limb ended with injector. It shot both men in necks and they slumbered. He must have many limbs this one, may be the whole body under that robe consisted from such hands made for different purposes. Did it cut out his psy-blocker? Servitor turned the hooded head to him, - may I look to your leg, master?
- No! - his leg was alright. Servitor turned away and froze, like a turned off machine. A machine it was.
- Those disobeying men are slavers, - psyker came back to his mind and simultaneously the servitor came to life and moved to the exit, - follow him and bring freedom to their last victims.
Titus accompanied the servitor to the door. The serf stretched out another limb and cut a big hole in the metal, melted drops glowed in the dark. He sensed the smell of people, human excreta, antiseptic chemicals and bad food.
- You’ll be my voice, Titus.
- Get out, it’s safe here! – he barked and tried to call the prisoners gentler, - you are safe, they are gone. Come out, the help is here. Praise the Emperor, - he added in the end.
They came out warily and looked with horror at him as at the dead capturers. Some spat and kicked dead bodies, but most of them wiped with relief. They are all were people from lower-hive: of all ages and genders; healthy and sick; well-built and deformed from hard life; pure human and augmented. Whoever were buying them, they didn’t show a peculiar taste or requirements.
- Take them to the craft, - he told the servitor and warned the saved crowd, - do not kill two thugs aboard.
- Yes, my master, - servitor took a lead.
Titus came in the prison room. It was dark, couple dimmed lamps lighted the lavatory and feeding areas. He found two corpses and one man too weak to move. Titus took all three of them to the flyer.
- We are departing in couple minutes, master, - the servitor greeted him, closed the hatch and turned to the cockpit.
- Wait! – called him Titus, dropped dead bodies and showed a still breathing man to the serf, - ease his suffer.
- I obey, master, - servitor gave the human a shot and disappeared.
Titus came to the passenger compartment filled with released people. Some were softly crying, sitting alone. Others gathered in small companies seeking for comfort in sharing the pain. Few strong enough to keep alert looked at him suspiciously, was the giant a true savior or just another torturer.
- Get away of him, - he commanded to one who stared angry at knocked out prisoner with shot breast. The one with broken limbs sat dead, - fasten belts, we are flying soon.
- We have been tested! God-Emperor has tested our faith, - preached one woman with both hands below elbows replaced with crude manipulators, - the ones who believe in Him truly are saved now!
- Shut up, you fool! – barked a man from another side of compartment.
- The Emperor protected his loyal servants, - she stretched scratched limbs to him, - He sent his warrior to save us from the perils.
- You are His hand! – another man fell to the knees before him and raised wet face, - you are His warrior!
- Go and faster the damn belt! – growled the Titus.
Return to war
- Servants of the Emperor! – the dynamic in the compartment went alive for the first time during the long flight, the servitor addressed passengers in his emotionless voice, - you will be met by local authorities. Do not hide any information. Your testimonies will be compared and checked. Your wounds will be examined. You will be given time to consult with the Ministorum priests. Pure ones will be returned to their places of labor by the Administratum means. Praise the God-Emperor.
- All hail the Emperor! – saved prisoners thanked their divine protector.
- Sit still, - the Psyker warned him when the flyer started to slow down, - your ride doesn’t stop here.
The aircraft grounded and the door the corridor sided off. Servitor stayed next to the open exit. Titus sensed different air, lighter and less smelly – they flew to the spire area. For all humans around him it was a singular occasion to get that high. Those who won’t be broken by the abduction will remember this day as the one of their brightest. It was impossible for one born in low-hive to see upper levels of the hive. Administratum can send citizens of the spire to serve in lower-hive, but rarely vice versa.
- In the name of the law! – harsh voice commanded outside, likely belonged to an arbiter, - leave the aircraft in order now.
- Thank you! – several prisoners bowed to him on their way back. The last ones took the dead bodies and the fatigued man. Titus sat alone surrounded with the smell of humans he saved. He’s already forgotten them. The psyker was going to use him as a weapon, that will do for some time. Let it be a decent enemy then! The flyer took off with the roar. The flight was longer this time.
- We are leaving the atmosphere in two minutes, master, - declared the servitor. Titus let himself a smile. He felt when the engine started to work to its limit. Acceleration pushed him into the creaking sits he sat on – it was nothing compare to the drop pod landings he’s experienced hundreds of times in the past. Last shake and he was out of Olynthum’s gravity. Titus floated holding the belt, which was too short for his torso. The engine hummed quietly and went silent. He was soaring when the vessel darted forward and he felt down bending sits. The flyer moored inside a spaceship with artificial gravity.
- Welcome to…, - the servitor’s voice stopped abruptly. This passenger shouldn’t know the destination. Titus made several movements adjusting to the gravity; it was very close to the Olynthum’s. He checked on the prisoner – the man was dead. Did the psyker reach him from the orbit or was he in other flyer all this time?
- The master is awaiting, master, - servitor was standing next to the open hatch; his voice made no difference between both “masters”, but Titus understood who would meet him now. With him approaching, serf produced three manipulators from the robe, - let me maintain the lasgun, master.
Titus gave up the rifle. That’s was a weapon he would easily part with. Titus came out – he was in tight hangar. There was nothing except for the craft he flew in and the big magnetic claw on a jib holding the vessel. Part of the wall almost noiselessly slid up, showing the triple barrier between the departure dock and the rest of the maintenance deck. The ship was in excellent condition. The servitor passed him by, holding the riffle and Titus moved after him. As soon as gates stopped, mechanic-servitors showed up, hurrying to check the flyer. Those were usual crude mixes of flesh and simple mechanisms. Big and clumsy, nothing intricate but easily replaceable. Servitors would make the dirtiest and simplest maintenance: clean the flyer, run its systems for bug reports, check the plasma engine state. Then an engine-seer would do his mysterious job. Titus was sure that his capturer had one. The deck wasn’t very big, he looked around measuring the space. It was a rectangle with length of approximately three compartments like the one he left and wide as half. On both narrow sides there were ladders up to the celling and exits. Titus decided that the spaceship wasn’t big because the deck was also used as a storage, it was filled with crates and containers of all kind. Among which a single man stayed still. It was the psyker. Titus walked to meet his capturer. The human watched him calmly ignoring the servitor passing by and giving him a bow. The psyker was a medium size man, with the look of fourty Terran years old, he had no trace of augmentation on his broad face, sunken cheeks, no fatigued or haunted expression so commonly goes with the psychic abilities, short cropped brown hair above smooth forehead, sharp grey eyes were calm and confident. Irritating calm for a human standing in Astartes presence. Titus stopped in few steps and stared at the man feeling no discomfort or uneasiness. Yes, he was captured, but he wasn’t beaten. The psyker wore a loose grey open mid-calf coat, not a heavy army over-coat, simple gloves were shown under wide sleeves, pants were tucked in soft boots. A worn white sash went around his waist its ends hung around groin; some weights were definitely sewed in it. The psyker wore a dull plain lorica musculata with a single decorated letter well known across the galaxy - the insignia of the Inquisition.
- You will serve the Emperor, - confirmed or declared the man. His real voice resembles the mind one, only was a bit quieter. Titus kept silence. - Those people, what do you think would have happen to them?
- Sold to the xenos, - growled Titus feeling the disgust and rage. He was captured by a human, he just killed plenty of them with no trace of regret. That was the life the mankind lead. To deal with other species, all the more to sell other people to filthy xenos was an outrageous crime with no excuse. - Their leader, the dead one in the flyer, had a device of no human origin.
- His death is insignificant. I have enough prisoners without him. - “Including me”, - thought Titus teasing the psyker. The man showed no signs of reading his mind. - Have you fought the xenos known as Aeldari? The type called Dark Eldar.
- Liked there is a bright kind of xenos, - growled Titus, - I have. Fast and dangerous bastards. Hard to catch, then things come easier. Did those scums sell humans to them?
- Yes. I will avenge the Emperors servants and crush these aliens. You will fight alongside my men, Titus, - the inquisitor paused for a moment, - have you been a commanding officer?
- I acted as a substitute sergeant plenty of times, psyker, - he answered taking a clue what was this question for, - I’ve commanded my brothers in battles.
- May be your opinion will be requested, - his mind was lashed and the human told him in level voice, - I’m a His inquisitor and you will respect my rank, Astartes. Not my abilities. Get back on the flyer and wait there. Never mind servitors or a tech-priest. You are sane to understand my need of your power, but be sure I shall get rid of you as easy as of that corpse you brought.
The inquisitor waved him to the aircraft and turned around. Titus reluctantly went back to the flyer. To be in pain was nothing, to be captured wasn’t pleasant but he's been through worse captivity. To be treated like that - it was unbearable. Titus has been an outcast for a really long time but never was watched on by a mere human without fear and with such confidence. Should he try kill the psyker? What does he live for? To fight? For Astartes the life and the war meant the same thing. But what does he fight for now? To stay alive? May be. He stepped inside the mooring box. Two servitors were working on the aircraft. The one stood back to him. A naked man on human legs but armless. Stumps roughly clipped with braces. The servitor needed no hands to fulfill his duties. The automata moved to the left. The spine visible through thin grey skin was braided with wire. Its neck slowly moving up and down, Titus looked at the head of the servitor - he was right - its eyes were replaced with the scanner. The thing was looking for external damages of the hull. The second servitor conversely had no legs. The automata was fixed to a wheeled platform under the craft, its hands ended with cables which were moving inside the flyer stretching trough special slots searching for internal disorder. Titus came to the entrance, when two more servitors went out. The first was the most sophisticated among others and resembled a normal human. It could be called a human if not for mindless eyes of the automata. The man had not much of visible augmentation, even breathed with his own lungs. He was dressed in a worn dark robe, which could be red once; his whole face was stamped with image of a gear. Titus decided that he used to be a pupil of the Adeptus Mechanicus, who failed some test or made a mistake which lead to converting into the servitor. According to the state of the body, he’s been serving in such role for few decades. The one behind his back was a usual servitor-janitor - a rude mix of flesh and steel. Some muscular convict turned to the simplest automata with a mop and a disinfectant sprayer. It held the dead prisoner over the shoulder. Serfs stepped down to the floor and froze, turning to face the exit out of the compartment. The other two finished their job and joined them. Still automates made Titus shiver. He had no fear of death, he should have died thousands of years ago. And he would one day, but in the battle. Not like these repulsive abominations. He is the Astartes and he will die like a warrior. The psyker has an upper hand and controls him for now. So be it, Titus will obey his new employer and fight his battles. He will do almost anything not to end up a servitor or a part of some machine. The noise from within the deck told him that someone new coming his way. Titus came inside the flyer, not waiting to know was it another servitor or the tech-priest himself. He went straight to the passenger compartment smelled with the chemicals after cleaning, and sat next to the seats he’d bent. In couple minutes the noise of approaching stranger got louder. Titus recognized a single heavy man with a staff or a polearm. Soon he heard the gentle jingle and smelled burnt incense. After that the servitors shuffled away while the jingle of the new comer got closer and farther. Titus understood that the tech-adept went around the flyer thanking and praising its machine spirit. Against his own will the Astartes got excited with this turn of his fate. Despite the origin of his relationship with the inquisitor, his status of a prisoner or gladiator and the consequences which eventually come, Titus was pleased. He will do the thing he enjoyed - he will kill xenos. Even in his full armour and properly armed those aliens would be a tough match. If the psyker will send him with that lasgun and in this robe - that would be the last fight for Titus Livius. With bare hands, but he will take at least one of those Eldar with him. He struck his breast with a fist taking this oath of the moment.
The steps of the tech-priest got louder again and a servo-skull flew into the compartment. Its singe lens stared at him. Titus was waiting for the priest who appeared immediately bringing the smoking censer hanging low from the wide sleeve of the crimson robe hiding the left arm. The right one was fully metallic and hold a shaft headed with a gear. It had a turned off power field generator and a knot of different cords and cables hanging like a loose braid. The hood was folded on the back and Titus could see the face of the Adeptus Mechanicus. This one was almost human. Bald skull was filled with connectors, the right eye was replaced with five lenses of different size, the left biological pupil shone brightly. The nose was stacked with tubes and one hose pierced the left meaty cheek. Looks like that tight-lipped mouth doesn’t participate in eating or breathing. Flabby neck was supported by a brass cervical collar and was the last piece of flesh of the tech-priest. It ended in smooth breast of metal, shown between open robe. The crimson cloak was floor-long and covered the tubby body. Chain-belt was filled with keys, tools and other machinery related things.
- Seats are bent, - cracked the servo-skull in familiar impersonal voice of such things. The alive eye of the priest was looking at him.
- Gravity’s job, - answered Titus staring back. - I meant no disrespect to the machine spirit or the craft itself. Or to one who takes care of it.
- Stand up and step aside, - the tech-priest moved forward and leant to the seats, - the inquisitor told to prepare you for a fight, Astartes. Take off the cloth and don’t move until I’m finished.
- What else did your master tell you? - Titus tossed the blooded robe on the floor and dared to ask, ready to receive mental punishment for his long tongue from the psyker. But no pain came this time.
- The inquisitor is not my master. He run the ship, - the flying skull kept answering for the priest who’d started fixing the bent metal. The lifeless answers told nothing on the Mechanicus attitude to his presence. The inquisitor must hide him for sure. Was the tech-priest the only one to know his origin? The next words made it clearer. - I serve the ship. Life forms are not my duty or concern. Stay still, don’t interfere with my job. It has a priority over your life. - the shaft in the metallic hand came to life, humming and glowing. The Mechanicus could resemble a fat man but he was a lethal rival especially for a naked Astartes. Titus straightened and shut up.
The armless servitor came into the compartment and point his beaming head on him. The teach-priest fixed the seats and went off to the engine chamber, leaving the smell of grease and heated metal. Meanwhile the servitor scanned him from all sides and left the aircraft. In couple hours the Mechanicus passed him by.
- My job with you is finished, - cracked the skull and flew away.
Titus thought that the gate to the deck would be closed after the priest went away, but it stayed open. He laid down on the floor and went to sleep.
Tiny bells woke him up. Titus opened eyes, knowing exactly where he was and what happened. His hand didn’t reach for the knife for he remembered this loss too. Titus came closer to the hatch and listened to the noises on the deck: one was stepping calmly, three or four are stumbling after and one more stomped loudly behind. The last one worn or held bells ringing tuneless. The company stopped. Titus heard no words, probably it was other prisoners taken by the inquisitor and the psyker could interrogate them silently. He felt a headache - not an ordinary experience for him. Battle wounds is only malfunctioning known to him. That must be the small operation on his nape. The pain grew worse and he heard a human scream begging to stop. The cry and the pressure in his head disappeared simultaneously.
- Tell! - barked female voice accompanied by ferocious ringing of the bells. She was offered to do something physically impossible, that was one of those wishes Jack’s boys exchanged with each other. Titus felt inside his brain a blast wave. He understood, that the inquisitor tortured captured slavers psychically and the bloody psy-conductor transmitting some of it to his mind. If it was a pure side effect of standing close to the psyker using his abilities, then the straight attack will burn his brain in a moment. Titus was attacked by psykers of any type and was sure that it wasn’t direct manipulating with the warp bringing him pain this time. The question was whether this thing worked that way only with the inquisitor or with any witch using the damned powers? He stood and felt the hot needle lightly sticking his spinal cord for half an hour. Looked like the inquisitor took a longer road with the last one. Steps went away, leaving a slightest sense of blood. Titus heard a servitor came to clean the place of torture and went to sleep.
Steps again, now the Mechanicus stomped the floor with his heavy boots and staff. Was he going to visit him or just passing on his own mysterious business? The tread got louder; he was definitely coming his way and he was not alone. Titus stood up. He has slept for ten hours or so. Soon it would be a Terran day since the flyer brought him here.
- You should be ready to fight xenos, Titus, - the inquisitor came after the tech-priest and spent no time on greetings. The robed servitor which ran the flyer stood behind him. The same servo-skull was flying around with little humming, the compartment started to filled with incense, - I have a weapon to give you. The armour is another question. The Mechanicus, can help with that. Something will be done in couple days. I’m here to ask how long will it take you to be ready to fight after receiving the new outfit?
- Three hours, inquisitor, - Titus answered immediately, - I’ll need to move a bit in new suit, fire from the new weapon, - the man bowed, - and to sparring with someone. In defending role of course. Just to feel the armour right. Those sneaky xenos will not tolerate clumsiness.
- You will get the told time and means. Obey the tech-priest and listen to the servitor - he is my full proxy.
- May a I ask a question, inquisitor?
- You may, - the man already stood back to him and didn’t turned back.
- Is it possible to get my knife back for a fight? - Titus tried to sound polite. His gone brothers would laugh at him asking a human to return his own weapon.
- It is. What about the other thing?
- I don’t care for money, - chuckled Astartes knowing exactly what was his capturer meaning, - take it for the ride.
- The pouch, - screamed the voice inside his head.
- It’s up to you, inquisitor. My knife is the thing I care about. - The psyker went out.
- Stay still, more precise measurements will be done, - as soon the inquisitor left the flyer, the tech-priest who was standing as dead as a servitor off duty, stared at him. The servo-skull flew around Titus and transmitted words of his master, - sixteen degree clockwise.
- A bit more, master, - prompted the cloaked servitor. The measuring took half an hour.
- My goal is fulfilled, the best possible solution will be accomplished within two Terran 24-hour circles, - the tech-priest turned back to him.
- May I address you, Martian priest? - Titus just couldn’t keep his mouth shut sometimes.
- You may, - cracked the skull, while the priest kept moving away, - I do not seek communication with you.
- Just wanted to ask what’s your name? Since you’ll provide me armour.
- My name is not a necessity in our intercourse. I do not seek communication with you. - and the skull flew away.
- Well, what’s your name then?
- I’m a servitor, master, - the automata got closer and produced out of robe two a tiny manipulators with a small flask and a compact nutrition pack, - the lavatory is down the cell, master.
The servitor went away too. The drink was nothing close to that pure water bought by slavery. The ration was army good. Titus went to sleep. He never slept that much in the old days of being legionary. The next life especially at the beginning wasn’t calm either. But for the last centuries with some exceptions he has gotten used to tranquil periods of time. So, he slept for eight hours, then made simple physical exercises. With no other Astartes to sparring with Titus didn’t even broke a sweat making thousands of pushups and other gymnastics. He has been waiting what would the tech-priest bring him.
- Get out, Titus, - the inquisitor commanded him to leave the aircraft. He heard them coming and was standing in the passenger compartment. As Titus moved to the exit, the gates to the deck closed down quietly. The psyker, the tech-priest with that human shape servitor and one more automate: a forklift with a big crate at his carcass. Titus felt his head squeezed tight - the capturer showed his grip on Astartes life.
- Greetings, - he greeted his prisoners through the clenched teeth.
- You will put on the armour, Titus, - said the inquisitor, - and then will have a brief combat drill. We are approaching our destination. Let’s begin.
- Your black carapace will not be used, ergo not all functions of the armour will be available, - the servo-skull cracked to his ear. The techno-priest stood still, while the automata torso turned around its axis and heavy hands-forks took the crate off the tracked platform. The only human part of that mighty machine was a metallic skull which stayed still with dimly lighted sockets. The servitor moved to the grounded box and put out an armour boot. A true piece of a power armour suite.
- You got the power suite here, Magos! - Titus expected some flack plates and couldn’t hide his genuine surprise.
- I do not hold the rank of Magos, - the servo-skull answered emotionlessly. - The armour will not be enclosed. Put this one, - the servitor held a folded sub-suite made of thick material. It was tight but made exactly to his body. Titus put his foot in the armour boot, and the knelt serf fitted it in. The psyker watched how the servitor was clothing him in the armour, piece by piece. The tech-priest meanwhile described his creation. - Those ceramite plates will hold the standard army lasgun shot. But not multiple hits. Servo muscles are capable not to slow you down, Astartes. Power backpack will provide energy for seven Terran hours of fight and for a walk twice this time. I took plates from thighs to protect the torso. Those areas as well as other weak spots will be protected with layers of carapace. In case of emergency you can tear this off - the locks and connections are the weakest parts of the armour.
- I see, - confirmed Titus. He was almost dressed up. His legs from knees to toes were clad in grey ceramite, thinner than he used to wear. He felt, that the armour didn’t enclose the flesh totally. His thighs were covered with a skirt made of carapace stripes. The belly and the breast were well protected. Arms only partially - elbows, forearms and palms. Shoulders were covered with flack pads and with strips of carapace atop. The servitor held a helm in its hands: a simple round helm with wide visor, now dark being deactivated. On the back it has carapace strips again. Those will cover his nape as well as the cracks in the helm after the tech-priest widened it. The servitor put it on the knelt Astartes. Then it put the last piece of armour on him - a massive carapace gorget for extra protection of his neck. He touched it with fingers clad in thin ceramite - it has the Inquisition sigil popped out of it. To everybody to see whose serf he was.
- Stand up, - the inquisitor called him mentally. Titus could see the psyker trough the visor, a bit dimmer, but distinctly. He heard not much though. He felt sealed off the world. - Try the armour without power first. You have enough oxygen for that.
- Yes, inquisitor, - he answered inside the helm and stranded up. Titus felt the weight and stiffness. Nothing that would slow him down killing humans. He run forth and back, fell down and jumped up, hit and kicked the air.
- I’m much slower in this thing to fight the xenos.
- Try now, - Titus heard these words with his ears. The power suit activated. He felt the air circulating in the helm, smell of the tech-priest never fading censer sought in. The visor showed him clear view. He also saw indicators of the power backpack state. - Don’t raise your voice, the vox channel is always opened straight to me.
- Got you, inquisitor, - answered Titus and did the same drill in the activated suite, - much better. I’m thankful for such a tool.
- You are the tool yourself, Titus. Thank Him with your service and obedience. - the visor and servo-muscles went dead. The psyker continued in his mind, - the suit is activated and deactivated by the priest. By my word. A more powerful lasgun is prepared for you, try to shoot in powerless armour first.
The inquisitor turned and went to the opening gates to the deck. Titus followed him. The struggle of heavy plates didn’t bother him as much as the deafness. If he happened to fight in inactive suite, he would take off the helm. The deck was filled with containers. A lasgun laid on one crate. It was heavier and looked more complicated than a standard model. The handle and the trigger were enlarged for his hand.
- To your left, - the inquisitor told him. Did the psykers grip on his mind get stronger? Is his capturer expecting him to try break lose? And what would he do then? Capture the ship with unknown crew and become a pirate? Titus grinned and turned left aiming at a hollow container standing in a distance. He hit it easily. The armour went alive.
- Plug in the riffle, - said the servo-skull through the vox channel, - the right bracer got the right cord.
- Got it, - Titus pulled the wire and put it into the port at the rifle butt. The visor showed him an aiming mark, the distance and the charge of the weapon. He swiftly aimed the gun at different targets. - Can I see only the power level? - in a moment the unneeded date disappeared. Titus tumbled around, jumped and run abruptly stopping firing the gun. Every time the las beam scorched the same darken spot of the container. He plugged the weapon off and put it back on the container. - With that weapon I’m ready to fight.
- Then let’s see you in the melee. Dodge, parry, no hitting back in any way, - said the psyker trough the vox, and the suite shut down again left him deaf. Titus stand steel watching the psyker and the tech-priest. Would it be one of them or both? The servitor was standing behind them, but the ship has plenty of it, so it may be one of mindless serfs. He heard nothing, face of the inquisitor shown nothing, but he was the Astartes capable to feel a treat even being mured in a deaf casket. Titus turned around smashing aside a blade with his bracer and jumping back from the ferocious blow of a mace, keeping his armour safe. Both weapons were power ones, though turned off. Were it activated he would have already lost a hand. That was capital: when the armour loose its energy on the battlefield he would drop the helm. The attacker was good, to sneak on him that way even though he was cut off from the world by the armour. It was a woman, lightly dressed in ordinary army pants and tank top. Agile, tall and slim, with strong limbs she was a well-shaped human. A big inexplicable stump covered her forehead and her face was crossed twice. An aquila tattoo spread its wings on both cheeks. And an open wet cut goes from right cheekbone to the left side of jaw splitting the lips. Its origin wasn’t his concern, though he could easily to reflect on this question since the woman was not a rival to him. He read her blows and dodged easily, turning around, not giving up the ground. Titus felt an urge to kill the woman, waving her weapon to his face. But he calmed himself down. It was just a test of the suite; his abilities are out of question. The armour restrained his movements but not much. He heard how artificial muscles stretched and creaked reflecting his own jumps and steps. The suite got activated and Titus felt freed from the big weight. He let the woman stumble by after another strike and dodged from the new treat. The tech-priest attacked him from the back as soon as his armour filled with energy. The stuff of the Mechanicus was inactive but in such hand, it was dangerous enough that way. The priest wasn’t as fast as the human but his strikes were too heavy to brush off with palms or bracers, so Titus had to move more now. He still has no difficulties with those two. Instinctively he valued the tech-priest: if that was his full speed then he was not an opponent to him. Though that artificial body should hide many nasty tricks for those who would dare to oppose the servant of the Omnissiah in close combat.
- Enough, - psykers voice emerged in his head, as well as in mind of his opponents. The priest stood back, touching the floor with the stuff; the woman bowed her head obediently, weapons hanged in the hands pointed down. - We are landing in three hours. You are going to return to war, Titus.
Through the wall he heard alarm sirens on the deck. The noise was brief.
- Put on the helmet, Titus, - the psykers voice return, - be mute. We are landing. Proof your value to Him.
The power armour got activated and the gates slid open. The inquisitor came wearing the same outfit, the servitor moved behind him holding the las-gun he trained with. Two humans accompanied the psyker. The one resembled the woman sneak on him: the same height, same limbs. But she moved with no trace of agility demonstrated couple hours ago. The woman was bent and stumbling, clasped arms on her chest held a knot of little images of aquila and other amulets of the Emperor cult. Her head was covered with a high dirty cap with no visible holes for eyes. Several small bells were stitched to her cloth. She looked like a repentant sinner, but the clinging of weapons under her robe proved that she was the same fighter. The new face of the inquisitor crew belonged to a hunchback. The man was dressed in the army uniform, grave face was clean shaved, eyes replaced with optic. Except for the bulging hunch he had a slender body, crooked under his deformity. The man wasn't a runner, let alone a fighter, but he showed no surprise or timidity in the Astartes’ presence. He was a long-range specialist - a big sniper rifle hanged at his shoulder, a customized piece of a weaponry. Titus let humans came in the aircraft first and took the weapon from the servitor’s manipulators. The servo-skull flew inside after him and soared above the inquisitor.
- Sit at the same seats, - the flying skull cracked through the vox. Titus came to the fixed chairs and found that the belts were enlarged for his size. He fixed himself for the landing. Others were ready too, sitting close to each other. The vox came alive.
- We are landing in the mining colony suspected in collaboration with the xenos race known as Aeldari, - the inquisitor started to brief him, - colonists are not found guilty yet. Received data tells of no suspected aggression from them. But we always must be vigilant.
- The God-emperor protects are souls, - the woman's voice cut in the vox channel, open for the whole squad. Titus heard ringing bells inside and outside his helm, - protecting the bodies is our duty.
- Exactly, - continued the inquisitor with no trace of irritation for being interrupted, - two squads of the enforces are summoned from the planet governor to keep order. Luisa, Tapio this is Titus, he will join us for this hunt for treason and enemies of the Imperium. You are superior to him and may give him commands through this vox channel.
- Copy that, inquisitor, - acknowledged the sniper.
- By your will, master, - the woman answered with ringing bells.
- Obey them as myself, - the psyker told him mentally, - you may greet other tools of His will.
- I greet you, - grunted Titus.
- The local authorities hadn't been noticed about our arrival. We are landing openly; obstructions of any kind are obstructions to His will. In the name of the Emperor let all hidden foes will be found and purged!
Fixed chairs held his weight this time. The craft plunged into the planet atmosphere and was descending fast.
- The enforces are at the reassigned place and moving to the meeting point, master, - the servitor cracked through the vox, - the connection with Ataraxis is stable, we are ready to defense.
They flew for some time, then the vessel slowed down and grounded, vibrating slightly. The engine gone silent.
- Titus you go first, - commanded the inquisitor, - servitor, put me to the enforcers’ leader.
- Abderra and its populace greeting His inquisitor, lord, - a harsh voice joined the vox channel. The man was obviously nervous. - I am Captain Juho, sixty enforces are at your disposal, inquisitor.
- Disembark, captain. Self-protection is on you. Any other action you declare to me first.
- I obey.
- Put me on the loud speaker to pronounce my arrival, servitor, - the psyker stepped to Titus who was waiting for the serf opening the hatch. The armor door sled off blinding him with the bright light. Helm's visor adopted instantly. Titus came out, eyeing a wide dusty plain. Red earth surrounded them. It was a level endless valley except for few manmade objects. There were two enormous semicircle living structures to his left and right, each one could accommodate up to two hundred thousand habitants according to lower-hive standards. The space between them was empty but for gigantic statue of a man holding the mining drill and a round building supposed to combine an Emperor church and a town-hall. It bears some decorum suited both for the Ministorum and the Administratum, while living blocks have plain walls worn by harsh wind, which have already dusted his armour in red. Further ahead he saw a big manufacture building next to the enter into mines. Two black flyers similar to their own were grounded behind; enforces clad in heavy carapace armour were gathering in straight lines. The sun was high and not many people saw their arrival. But the voice of the inquisitor transmitted through the speaker didn't invite for a chat. It declared the arrival of higher authority. The news heard by few would spread around as fast as a lightning bolt.
- Servants of the God-Emperor! I'm Sebastian Silver of His inquisition. Proceed your normal duty. Pure ones have nothing to fear, for I'm His hand striking infidelity and protecting the loyal. The Emperor protects!
- Servitor, receive all incoming calls, report unusual ones, - the inquisitor gave orders through the vox, - Captain Juho, ten men to look after each living building, do not let citizens out, calm them down. The rest with me to the town-hall.
Hearing that Titus walked to the building through the instantly emptied square - no one stayed to welcome the most fearsome servants of the Emperor. "After the Astartes", - thought he. Ringing bells and stumping enforces pursued him. He held his las-gun down searching for any treat with his eyes.
- Slow down, Titus, we're not charging, - Sebastian told him mentally and spoke through the vox, - servitor?
- Requests for identification from the local administration and intense communication from the enforcers ship, master.
- Captain Juho! You will report to your superiors after the operation is concluded.
- Yes, my lord, - now the man was terrified.
- Nothing, inquisitor.
- The movement ahead! They are leaving the building, - Titus kept going and raised his riffle, seeing no hostile actions from the men emerged from the town-hall.
- Captain Juho, the living blocks?
- My men met no disobedience. Locals make no attempt to leave the perimeters. Few got arrested for showing disrespect to authority, nothing exceptional for such places.
- Report if that changed, captain.
- The inquisitor in our settlement! We are pleased to see the glorious agent of the Emperor, - dozen clerk looking men and women ran to them. Several brutal guards followed them feeling out of place for sure - they looked poorly in front of the inquisitor surrounded with his retinue and forty enforces. Humans reeked with fear. - How can we assist you, lord?
- Give a word to miners to keep their work. There is no need to stop the labor. Thirty enforces will guard the industrial territory. We will speak inside. - By his jest the ruling humans turned around and hurried back into the town hall. Sebastian said trough the vox, - proceed, captain Juho, be among them - to identify and capture possible traitors there is your main duty. Leave the rest of your men to surround the town-hall.
- Yes, my lord. - Enforces split and only they four followed the clerks.
Inside it was a usual civilian administrative building: high ceilings, dull rockcrete walls covered with the Ministorum slogans and mining related charts, arched doorways, dim lights and servo-skulls buzzing here and there holding data slates or sealed messages.
- Gather everyone in the biggest room, - commanded Sebastian and added mentally to them, - Luisa, check the upper floors, Titus, the lower ones.
The woman darted sideways filling corridors with jingle. Titus moved the other way, searching for the stairways or the lift. His big figure scared scribes met by the way. He barked on them to move to the biggest hall in the building. No one asked his authority: the power armour and the very size of him provided the right to command. Titus ran through the three floors. Some clerk whom he took for a servitor at first, sworn that it was the lowest level of the building and led him to an auditorium. The vast room was filled with clerks, there were hundreds of them sitting in semicircle rows raising to the celling, humble and afraid of the single figure of the inquisitor standing on the podium eyeing the assembled people. Tapio was behind him, Luisa's cap pointed above the back seats. Without a new order Titus backed the exit. Most of the gathered humans were nothing in combat, several put together could beat an armoured enforcer or may be the woman, but not him.
- We are guarding exits of the mine and the plant, inquisitor. Everything is under control, - reported the leader of enforcers.
- I am inquisitor Sebastian Silver. In the name of the Emperor I adopt the status of recuperator to trial citizens of mining settlement Orson for treason. Silence! - roared the psyker with his own throat stopping the hum of fearful screams of unbelief and panic. People yelled of their innocence, blaming others for any sins the community is accused for, many fainted or cried from the very possibility of being punished by the Inquisition, - there is no time for a long procedure. Those of you who are innocent should not worry. The guilty ones can ease their fate by confessing. I will ask questions and those who in knowledge will answer. I expect superiors to speak first. But my ears are open for anyone in this presence. The Emperor listens to all prayers, so who am I to turn from the lowest of you.
- The people of Orson have nothing to hide, inquisitor, - the group of mumbling officials, those who've met them, tried to stand up, but Sebastian waved them down, - we'll say everything and wash the stain of suspicion off our community.
- Your accidents rate is higher than on other mines, - stated the inquisitor, - security and maintenance reports you sent to the Administratum declared operating without irregularities. What did cause those extra losses?
- Should I present myself to the lord? - the inquisitor shook his head to a man dared to answer first. Others definitely were nudging him to, - those deaths were pure accidently, a neglect of duty not by the administration or higher engineers but by workers themselves. Those people didn't serve the Emperor properly and wasn't careful enough. If I may, - the man bumbled, - I'd like to point that death rate wasn't that high, my lord.
- It was stable though, - Titus looked at the crowd searching for those whose mask would break; the inquisitor continued, - where is your Ministorum priest?
- He fell to illness, my lord, - answered another clerk of a high rank. His tiny voice was heard well since others kept silent. Sobbing and occasional hum of artificial limbs were only noise besides the strict voice of Sebastian and mumbling of questioned ones. - His predecessor perished in the mines, recklessly trying to preach in hazard environment of the working process. In both cases requests for a new servant of the holy Ministorum have been sent.
- It’s a pity the community still doesn’t have a priest to guide you and ease the life, - Sebastian didn’t show his reaction to the answer, - what’s about other lost people in your area? - a thick silence covered the auditorium. Humans looked at each other in amaze. Finally, another clerk stood up and bowed to the inquisitor.
- I’m sorry, my lord, we don’t quite understand what other people you’re questioning about.
- Tenants of other Abderra settlements got lost through last few years. Their tracks disappeared in this area, close to Orson.
- We are not responsible for the vast territory, it’s a dangerous desert out there, - the man threw up his hands and others bowed in unison, backing up the answer, - we are miners, my lord. That is all our life.
- Those citizens were truckers transporting the oar from other mines or geologist, scouting the area, - continued Sebastian, - they knew your location and kept their routes close to Orson. They might use your machinery station in case of engine breakage or crush. Did you receive any call for help from passersby?
- No we did not! - stated clerks, - our vox station is always online according to the Administratum regulations. We would not leave a fellow citizens in danger if their call had reached us.
- Very well, - said Sebastian aloud and switched to the vox. - Servitor.
- Nothing to report, master, - cracked the artificial voice.
- Captain Juho.
- No trace of suspicion activity, my lord. Living area is still. The mine and manufacture are working. If I may, lord, - the enforcer coughed, - it’s a hell of a noise here and I don’t know a thing about mining and stuff. They sound working, but who knows what’s going on inside. Request to enter the mining area and the manufacture.
- Request is denied, captain. Keep surveillance, - Sebastian addressed the audience, - the ones in charge of the vox station, stand up! - the crowd started to turn heads to several figures, rising among seating colleagues. Six men of different age and appearance stood up. The oldest of them has made a halfway to becoming a servitor. The young ones shivering with fear being in spot of attention of not just their superiors but an inquisitor himself.
- I left my post, lord! I confess! - screamed one stretching his hands to Sebastian. Clerks around him backed from him, fearing to be close to an epicenter of inevitable punishment. - I’m neglecting my duty right now but unwillingly; I swear to you. This woman, - he pointed to Luisa with shaking hand, - she drugged me off my work place, lord.
- Calm down! - the inquisitor stopped the snivels, - being summoned here is not a crime, - the man fell back to the seat weakly, - name the time of your service at this position, - humans answered, - and who are seniors among you? - three meekly raised their hands, - I see, sit down. Not a long time for a such safe job. What happened to previous vox masters?
- It’s been a while, lord, - the high clerk scrubbed his forehead, - I beg your forgiveness, without checking the log it’s hard to tell for sure. I recall one died of illness, another got stubbed in a fight. The criminal was terminally stopped by the safety officers, - Titus glanced at thugs-looking men, - alas, the community is not safe from bad members.
- Alas, indeed, - said inquisitor. A psychic wave splashed on his mind - the Sebastian announced his decision mentally, - the trial will be continued with personal interrogation. Here and now. Senior clerks first. Use this opportunity to show your purity, - Sebastian’s finger mark the first man to be questioned. The unfortunate human began to descend to the podium, stiffed with fear. To disobey an inquisitor was much more horrible thing to do.
- Strange vox transmission detected, master, - the servitor cracked through the vox.
- Imperium signature, low-level encryption, short distance, master.
- Locate the transmitter and the receiver, decrypt the message, - Sebastian gestured the clerk to wait.
- It’s in the same building you are, master.
- Be ready! - the inquisitor mentally warned his servants. Titus was always ready. Hearing the report on the transmission made the bloodshed inevitable. Someone here was corrupted. The question was how many of them. Tapio hasn’t moved leaning on the riffle, which eased his discomfort of standing still. The cap of Luisa trembled behind clerks, he could hear the ringing bells and her mumbling through the vox - the woman has been praying all this time since entering the auditorium. Sebastian put his hand on sweating clerk and closed his eyes. Titus felt no collateral pain - the psyker didn’t use much power on first man and left him soon. He pointed him to the exit blocked by Astartes and beckoned next clerk from the senior group. Titus let the pale man pass.
- Go to underground levels, - he told him. The man shrank being addressed by armored giant and sneaked off hurriedly. Sebastian put his hand on the second man.
- My lord! - Captain Juho’s agitated voice emerged in the vox, - my men facing disturbance in the north-west living block. They report of hostile activity to break off.
- The transmission was sent to the East, the destination is unknown, master.
- Keep your position, captain. Send enforcers guarding the town-hall to assist your men. Be vigilant, the enemy may show its face anytime now.
- Yes, my lord! - Sebastian released the clerk and choose another. Humans saw that interrogation not necessarily ends bloodily and relaxed a bit. The weakest or those who hided some secrets still moaned and shook, but majority of clerks haven’t succumbed to panic. The next one though was looking bad. “That is the traitor”, - decided Titus watching the man reluctantly descending, - “now it starts”. The senior clerk was a balding man with traces of rejuvenating operations, he held himself straight and proud out of habit while his legs obviously got soft. No need to be a mind-reader to see sins crawling inside his pale-yellow head, dotted with memory reservoirs ports. He stopped in front of Sebastian.
- Do you wish to confess? - asked the inquisitor calmly.
- I had no other choice, - the man gasped and bent, hugging himself, - all lives at stakes, we had no choice.
- Die, traitor! - this outcry filled the whole auditorium with the scream. Couple clerks firing their las-pistols. They shot poorly: a couple humans in first rows were hit, an aged woman sitting under them jumped up and got her head holed, the floor around Sebastian was scorched, while the confessed man froze in a shock but stayed intact. Others wasn’t trying to stop them, trying to get away as far as possible from the firing line, stumping and kicking less agile neighbors.
- Don’t believe his lies, my lord! - screamed another clerk surrounded with muscular guards, with sticks clearing the way for their leader, - I will explain!
Titus snorted, what is that fool hoping for? Acting so lame and obviously, more so in front of a mind-reader. The hunchback has already shot both shooters; the man was fast. Luisa was marshaling the raging crowd, so far with fists and exhortations. Sebastian put the man asleep and stepped forward to the clerk surrounded with the guards, who almost descendant to the inquisitor, left few beaten clerks laying stumped on the stairs.
- Stop, - commanded the psyker.
- I will explain everything, my lord, we are innocent! Innocent! - screamed the deluded man.
- Those guards showed their allegiance, Titus, the clerk must live, - Sebastian commanded through the vox. He wasn’t going to get the armour dirty and run to the clerk, firing his riffle. In two seconds, Titus held the mad kicking man in the stretched arm; the guards laying around with shot legs, showing no intention to proceed. The understanding crept in their tiny brains, soon the horror would come.
- Shut up, - the inquisitor touched the screaming man’s forehead. And turn to the disarrayed clerks, - stop this madness, in the name of the Emperor! - the last mindlessly running men froze, - sit down! The traitors showed themselves. Your loyalty will be checked later. Stay here. Any attempt to leave this auditorium will be considered as a treason to the Golden Throne, - Sebastian moved to the exit and commanded through the vox, - Titus picked the first too, Tapio follow me, Luisa take shooters if they are alive.
- They should be, inquisitor, - remarked the sniper.
- They are, master, - verified the woman, - bleeding to death though.
- Find a medic or make clerks show you an aid kit. We’ll wait for you with those two at the exit.
- Yes, master. - Carrying the traitors away, Titus heard bells ringing and Luisa shouting at clerks. People next to wounded guards cursed men quietly. No medic care for those, the best scenario for them is to bleed to death, gently go to eternal sleep before punishment and turning to servitors. Sebastian hasn’t initiated the interrogation of discovered traitors.
- Inquisitor! - screamed captain Juho, - the mob escaping the north-west living building! My men are attacked by civilians, no weapon used, but they are enormously outnumbered. Permission to use force before the control is lost.
- Permission granted! Enforcers are the law and should be obeyed. Traitors are found, aggression from their supporters are possible. Keep your position.
- Yes, my lord.
- Decryption is in process, master.
- The distance of the sent message? Was it meant for outsider?
- It should be received no further than the mine, master.
- You’ve heard, captain.
- Yes, my lord, - the leader of enforces cursed, turned off the channel and joined back, - the mob charged my men, there are casualties, my lord. They emerged across the whole perimeter, we will not hold them back!
- Calm down, captain! Keep your position, I will take care here. The other living structure?
- No sign of activity so far, my lord.
- Send attacked enforcers to the town-hall, retreat in order! Other ten should keep the surveillance after the second building. Servitor! Get the flyer to me now.
- Yes, master.
The inquisitor called Luisa and left the prisoners to her, wounded ones became insignificant. He sent him and the sniper to meet the retreating enforcers.
- Cover them, fire at will.
They turned around the town-hall together; the enormous living building surrounded them with its wings blocking the sky; black dots appeared from two directions.
- Take the left side, Titus, - said Tapio laying down in the red dust and immediately opening fire.
He swallowed the rage born by pride and moved to the left. He saw running men but couldn’t fire accurately from such distance. The flyer approached with thew roar of engine. Titus stopped and raised his rifle: six black enforcers coming his way, firing and swinging power maces to the mob. There were over a hundred frenzy men and women chasing them. He opened fire scything humans. The mob was very big to notice loses but enforcers did. And the fools turned to him and run. The raging crowd leapt on them tearing apart. The armored figures disappeared in living mass.
- Six enforces broke the line and got overrun on the left flank, inquisitor, - stated Titus kept firing, - up to eighty rioters coming to the town-hall, ignoring their loses.
- Ten enforces are approaching me in order, - joined Tapio, - the lesser crowd chasing them. They will make it if don’t waver.
- Titus, cover Tapio, I’m coming to you. The town-hall, must not fall.
- Yes, inquisitor, - he and the hunchback answered simultaneously. Titus moved to the sniper, keep firing to the mob. They finally saw the source of death and run to him. He stopped close to Tapio, calmly shooting from the ground like it was a drill. Enforcers and the mob on the right getting closer. There were less rioters and discipline among protectors of the law. The crowd consisted of miners, who probably were resting at home between shifts. Whatever was their reason to rebel, fortunately their numbers were small. They’d be washed away if the whole settlement turned on them. He would take the inquisitor to the ship and flied away of course, but he hated to retreat.
- The ones on the right will flee soon, - Titus said counting approaching enemies from the left.
- Right, - said Sebastian calmly eyeing both crowds, - we will not leave the loyal servants of the Emperor to these madmen. Tapio, look after these enforces. Titus, let’s stop another crowd. The inquisitor put a hand on his heated up las-gun, - looks like a misunderstanding. It isn’t too late to stop them peacefully.
- Peacefully? - Titus snorted, - I’m sorry for expressing my opinion, inquisitor. But those people are far from stopping. It will take time to deal with them, and I’ll not be able to pacify them and protect you at the same time.
- Don’t get used to it, Titus. You will not be in this fight alone. Wait for order. Sebastian made few more steps to the approaching crowd. People were frenzy, they tasted blood and wanted more. In such state even the humblest of them forget the reason and will not come back to the normal state, unconsciously running from the consequences of their outrageous paroxysm. He looked at the back of psyker’s head. Who would be first, his hand or the inquisitor’s mind? Sebastian wouldn’t show him the back so easily. And what would he do? Run this desert of Abderra baking under the sun, those mining planets are worse than hive-worlds, at least for an Astartes.
- In the name of the God-Emperor! Gather your wits and stop this madness. You are attacking servants of the Administratum and His inquisitor! I will judge you fairly, - those words, mumbled and tangled, psychic echo brought to Titus’ mind.
- You will not trick us, witch! - the crowd received the message but didn’t listen to it, - your masters will not take away our kin anymore!
- Luisa, Titus, stop them, - Sebastian produced a las-pistol and opened fire.
- Repent! - he dropped the riffle and with raised fists run by the inquisitor shooting humans, when he saw the woman. Luisa run to the mob from the left side, her long cap flew behind, the ugly stump and the cut in the same state stood out on the dusted body. She was crying stretching her empty hands to rioters. - Repent while you still can, don’t die without confession! He will embrace you…
Titus heard no more. He charged the mob like a torpedo, tearing into the crowd, scattering fragile humans in first rows and then exploded in the center with series of lethal kicks and punches. He grabbed one by the legs and spun him around, but the man fell to pieces after the first strike. Titus ran back to the inquisitor crushing those who were trying to get to the psyker. The servo muscles screeched when in a long swing he slapped the head off the body of the miner stretching a hand with a knife to the inquisitor. Sebastian kept firing like his neck wasn’t in danger at all. Titus fought not for the praise, he turned around and charge the mob again. The humans slowed down recognizing a lethal treat they couldn’t overcome. Rioters were not match to him; a mere obstacle made of flesh. He felt no joy, just executed his order. Young man, aged man, short hair woman or a boy, man with augmented jaw, woman, one more woman, man with tangled hair, - Titus didn’t look into their faces, they just flew around him. Glimpses of lives he was taking with single strikes. Something glowed here and there - must be enforcers clubs. Toys. He didn’t try to take it away for himself. After the knife, fists are his second favorite choice. Titus kept an eye on Sebastian, who ceased to fire. The mob around him thinned out, hadn’t hit him once. He saw glowing again - Luisa wielded her power sword repelling the rioters. She has killed at least a dozen. “Interesting, how good is she in real combat?” - thought Titus finishing the last humans, too blind to notice him. Several were running chased by Sebastian shots.
- Leave them be, - commanded the inquisitor, - enforcers will deal with them. Captain Juho, report, - the vox kept silence, - Tapio!
- All ten enforcers are with me, rioters retreating, - responded the hunchback, through the transmission his shots were heard, - no new treats are spotted.
- Servitor, make a connection to the enforces on the mine, - he turned from the massacre, - let’s speak with the saved ones.
Covered in blood mixed with the red dust, survived enforces in their heavy outfit looked the Imperial Law incarnate - rigid, stern and unbent. But they flinched seen him - a blood stained giant with hands crimson up to elbows.
- What's on vox?! - demanded Sebastian making them turn to him. Men bowed their head. One enforcer put off his helm, opening a tough face.
- My lord, received orders to retreat, we were not contacted anymore neither tried to do so ourselves.
- Do now, enforcer, what's the status of other units?
- The captain doesn't respond, my lord. Neither does sergeant, - the man narrowed his eyes listening to the vox implanted next to his ear, - the group guarding the second living building saw no hostile activity nor made contact with captain Juho or others.
- There are no others, inquisitor, - all turned to Tapio. He was standing facing the mining facility. His lenses would beat any army field glasses, - miners are out, they are in many thousands. Enforces just didn't make the call.
- You are in charge of enforces now! Take the rest of your men to the flyers and took off. Send no distress call until I say so. Servitor, put enforcers to my vox. Run! - he turned to them, - we will bring the sky on them.
Titus was calm. After all it was only not armed humans. The visor showed that the power level was high, they've been here less than for an hour. He still can do much harm even to such a crowd. But the inquisitor had his plan. Enforcers ran to their own vessels, keeping the vox communication low. At least on common channel. Titus covered the embarkation to the flyer, though it was needless - rioters were still far away. The traitors sat strapped and unconscious. They took their places too. The dusty servo-skull emerged from nowhere and flew in before the hatchet got closed.
- Servitor, take off and put us over living buildings first. Get the loudspeaker ready, - the engine roared and the vessel took off. The craft has no portholes but the commands of Sebastian made it clear what's were going on outside. The servitor reported they were at the right spot. - Inquisitor Sebastian Silver is speaking. Loyal servants of the Imperium, stay where you are. Fear not the current unrest. Your lives are safe and fidelity is unquestioned. The Emperor protects! - Titus felt a psychic wave and the aircraft flew somewhere. The inquisitor must have commanded the servitor mentally. He looked at Tapio and Luisa, both were calm and didn't doubt their master. - Citizens of the Imperium, halt and repent! You have attacked government forces and are addressed by His inquisitor! Stop and explain yourselves, - Sebastian waited for couple seconds, - those who turn off Him will be crushed by the very sky! Servitor, a disperse maneuver, three rounds.
So the inquisitor wasn't going to blast rioters with his abilities, understood Titus. The mob will be mown by the craft flying low over them. No need to actually touch them with the hull. The noise, heat and shock wave will do the job. That was a risky move, with altitude close to zero there were a chance to crush among the raged horde. But the servitor looked capable and the tech-priest took a good care for the craft. The automate and the vessel will put the end to the rebellion. The flyer darted down earth and then gained altitude. Two more times he felt a falling and the raising accompanied by engine hum.
- The rebels are scattered, the most of them are running back to the mines, master.
- Go ahead and ground us in front of them, then turn the speaker on, - ordered Sebastian, - time to know the reason of this madness. Titus you will go with me. Tapio, cover us from the exit. Luisa, look after the traitors.
- Leave the riffle, - mentally ordered the inquisitor and stood up when their landed. Titus went out first. They were close to the mines, it was behind the craft, but the living buildings looked small. The human sea run to them. He saw horrified faces of those in first rows. They were running by momentum and pushed by thousands behind them.
- Halt, in the name of the Emperor! - Sebastian's voice enforced by the speaker thundered across the valley filled with people, - Stop and repent! Explain yourselves in His eyes! I'm His inquisitor and I'll bring you a fair trial!
Titus saw that all could hear the psyker's words and wasn't surprised when flanks shook and scattered away. The stampede occurred in the center where some were trying to stop while others to run away from the imminent punishment. Thousands died and kept dying in front of the calm inquisitor. The human mass has been shaking and rippling for few minutes full of agonizing screams. When those who chose to stay were determined, Sebastian addressed them.
- What caused your disobedience?! Why did you attack enforcers? - the thousands strong crowd began to cry and moan. People fell to their knees, scrapped their faces and torn off their cloth, fainted and came at each other with intelligible roar. Many stayed stunned.
- We didn't know! They were not enforcers! They came to take us away! - in mournful cacophony Titus got such pleas and vows.
- Silent! - thundered the inquisitor, - I see loyal servants of the Emperor got weak by fear and deceived by lies. Both are unacceptable! For He protects therefore is no fear for loyal ones. And lies should be burned out by the hands of righteous. And the lies have been crawling among you for a long time. - A new wave of exalted sorrow ran through the exhausted humans pushed by the guilt to the ground. The familiar bells rang behind; and Sebastian half-turned to him pointing with his hands, - those disgusting traitors denied their loyalty and the duty. Those and who knew of their lawless activity are accountable for today tragedy. As well as you all! But your service to the Emperor will not end. A fair trial is ahead. Listen to my word, Orson! Those who are in front of me now, pray for salvation and forgiveness, - the cacophony changed its tone from vowing and moaning to pleading and regret, - those who are still in run - stop and come back! Join your fellow-sinners and await your penance. Leave the Orson area now and will be counted as traitors forever. Those who inside living buildings and the town-hall stay there. Do not let anyone come in till the planetary authorities arrive. Those who stayed at labor stations keep working according your schedule, but don't leave the mines. Enforcers will look after the separation of obedient and rebellious. The judging hour is coming, show your remorse! Obey me, for I'm His voice! - Sebastian turned back to the raving horde asking him for forgiveness and came aboard. Looked like the most despaired one wanted to fall to Titus leg, but Astartes instinctively kicked back crushing the human skull. They took off.
- Dud you get your order, enforcer? - Sebastian asked through the vox.
- Yes, my lord!
- I will send enough help to restore the order. As well as a report to the governor. I'm leaving you here. Do not dare to revenge your comrades, enforcer.
- Yes, my lord! - the man's voice spoke of a relief of staying alive.
- Servitor, take us back to Ataraxis! And put me to the governor.
- Yes, master. - In couple one and a half minutes the serf cracked, - the governor, master.
- Inquisitor Sebastian Silver speaking on the Orson operation.
- I'm listening, inquisitor, - the governor has been definitely just awoken. The Abderra capital must be on the other side of the planet.
- Traitors were founded and captured, I'll interrogate them. Civilian uprising was suppressed. Ten of your enforces stayed alive, - the man grunted, - many thousands are dead, injured or currently in run, - the governor grunted louder, - send at least thousand arbiters and the Administratum personnel to bring the settlement to normal functioning. I'll send the detail report later. Your account of bringing peace and law to the damaged settlement will be awaited. That's it, governor.
- Inquisitor! - called the ruler of Abderra before the vox channel got switched off, - may I suggest sending a unit of the Astra Militarum, considering the numbers of casualties and rioters.
- It's not the time for the Guard, governor, - Sebastian broke off the connection. - Tech-priest?
- Yes, inquisitor, - the servo-skull answered through the grill clogged with red dust.
- Have you detected any xenos transmissions or unauthorized Imperial?
- The answer is negative. Ataraxis is ready for your arrival, inquisitor.
- You all have served well, - when the artificial gravity grabbed them, said Sebastian, - that was an easy fight which will lead us to our true enemy. The preparation may take time. Titus, wait for the tech-priest. Luisa take the prisoners.
The inquisitor with his retinue left the ship. The robed servant asked him to wait outside. Soon familiar servitors came to do their duty. The Martian and his help came to him. A new servo-skull droned around.
- The armour has been proven to be good. I thank you, Mechanicus, - Titus greeted the tech-priest.
- The servitor will help you to put it off, Astartes, - squeaked three-lenses skull, - it will be cleaned, fixed if needed and recharged. The machine spirit will be praised for its service to the new owner.
- Let me clean my armour myself, tech-priest. You will do your ritual after, - the living eye blinked. Did he consider his proposal or just asked the psyker?
- You will be provided with all necessities, Astartes, - answered the skull when the engineseer moved inside the flyer.
The cloaked servitor brought cleaning supplies while he was putting off the last ceramite boot.
- This is for your armour, master, - he put a case on the floor. Above which the serf placed fresh robe, a pair of heavy boots, a flask and familiar nutritious packet. - The master told to master Titus to take care of himself, after taking care of his amour, I'll show the shower, master.
- Alright then, - Titus was cleaning the blood off the gauntlet with a rag. Returning to war was like returning to normal existence for him.
The 5th chapter includes first serious battle in the novel. Some pointy xenos are present. 12 000+ words of action in the name of the Emperor. Take a look below or on my Patreon page for free. Will be glad to read your opinion, even harsh ones)
Titus spent three days at the aircraft alone. No visitors, no messages, nothing. The mooring box was enclosed all the time. On the fourth day servitors brought him the power armour. His combat knife was holstered in a new simple sheath.
- It сan be mag-locked to the loins, master, - commented the robed servitor, while the serf in crimson was dressing him up for a battle. Holding the knife made him feel a complete person. When he was clad in the armour, Titus locked the weapon to his back, checking the grip of magnets and the easiness of the drawing. It was close to perfect.
- Any more presents for me, servitor? - he asked joyfully anticipating the action.
- Be ready, we are going to Abderra’s surface, - answered the servitor and Astartes heard the inquisitor speaking through his serf. He put the helm on. Soon the suite got activated. The low humming brought fresh air, and the clear view. The visor showed the full charge of the power backpack, the time, and the rune S with the indicator of a decreasing distance. His master was approaching. A man in a light-grey power armour entered the box. A full ceramite suite with plates of similar thickness as his own. The cuirass, elbows and kneecaps as well as the top of the round helm with lowered visor were covered with short thick spikes. The same sash was tightly tied on the waist. This and a white cloth filled with scriptures wrapped around breast and partially covered with a gorget and a tip of the cuirass were the only decoration of plain ceramite. There were empty little leather pouches attached by a chain to the right shoulder pad and a bulging symbol of the Inquisition on the left one. A bolt and las-pistols were mag-locked to the thighs. In his right hand Sebastian held a round smooth power mace on a long shaft wrapped up with parchments.
- Let’s go, Titus, - said the inquisitor boarding the flyer. His backpack was covered with pikes too, the mighty symbol of his authority shone in the middle, - the war is calling.
- Yes, inquisitor, - he came in, followed by Tapio in the same uniform and cloaked Luisa, who put on some armour too. The servitor closed the hatch and they went into the space.
- We will have a briefing with the Guard commander, - explained Sebastian before they hit the atmosphere, - then the operation begins. With the Emperor’s help we will see the xenos in couple hours.
- And punish them! - added Luisa ferociously as always with the quiet ringing. Titus clenched his firsts - that was what he has been made for. Despite thousands of years of hiding from the mankind, the very possibility to crush its enemies ignited his hearts with righteous fury. The psyker told no more. The flyer landed soon and they rose up. This time Sebastian was first. He stood for a moment.
- Remember, I am His hand. And you are the tools I make His will come true with. Behave appropriately, - Sebastian added mentally to him, - contribute to the council if you see a way, Titus.
They left the aircraft, it was a sunny day outside. The visor showed 12:03, so, it was the local time. They were in the middle of nowhere - the read dusty valley with rare hills here and there on the horizon. Army flyers of all kinds surrounded them. The inquisitor walked towards a big tent, red as humans and machines crowding around it. People stared at them, saluting, bowing, praying or do all of that in the same time. The tent was not guarded; a group of officers was talking outside. Titus wasn’t nervous, being so close to many armed people who would try to shoot him if they knew his true identity. Now he was a servant of the Inquisition - he was the feared one. Officers stood at attention seeing them. Seven men in light army over-coats, suited to the weather, shaved tight jaws, eyes looking at the distant under the caps. Ordinary humans, familiar to war though. Among them stood a more outstanding man. Before their arrival he must have been the center of attention. The man was clad in a plain power armour suite lack of any decoration. Grey ceramite plates, that’s all. All finery was piled atop the armour: heavenly slashed jacket with puffed sleeves through which the armour were shown. Garment was made of different colorful fabrics. The knee long pants were of same fashion. High leather boots and gloves ringed with big jewelry stones and a massive golden chain finished the outfit. Astartes preferred the inconspicuous look of Tapio. All this layers of armour and cloth didn’t hide the massive build of its owner. The heavy head was shaved, a tattoo in High Gothic says Obrecht across the forehead, under the broken nose was an enormous mustache stretching to the ears weighed with big golden rings. He stepped forward and knelt down on one knee.
- Mentor, - a rune J lighted up on Titus’s visor, - the 24th regiment of the Abderra Red Champions are ready to serve you, master.
- Stand up, acolyte, you’ve served well, - answered Sebastian through the vox and entered the tent. The dressed-up man looked at him briefly with big interest and nodded to Tapio and Luisa. The sniper nodded back joylessly; the woman didn’t react at all. Titus with others, including the tensed officers, followed the inquisitor. Inside the tent was empty but for few other officers, a robed figure standing alone at some distance and a hololithic projector. The latter was a round brass panel adjusted to a chair in which a servitor sat. A fatigued woman wired to her seat. A skull shape plate covered her face, cords from the sockets and open mouth connected the serf with the projector. A faded rag with the printed number 24 covered her body. Humans saluted the inquisitor.
- I greet His loyal warriors, - Sebastian opened up his visor and leant on the mace, - the swiftness of your response has pleased me, colonel.
- The honor of the 24th would not tolerate another option, inquisitor, - the commander didn’t stand out among other officers, but for small marks on his collar above the flack vest. The colonel let himself a smile, - young Jacob made a clear case of your request, lord.
- That he did, - Sebastian spent no time, - and my other acolyte?
- He did his part too, inquisitor, - the colonel wiped the smile off his face and glanced at the motionless figure in a ground-long cloak, - the data is received. We are ready to begin.
- Proceed, - Sebastian stepped closer to the servitor. One officer put off his glove and poked a wired woman in a temple with a stylus produced from his augmented hand. The body twitched and the circle lighted up with blue. The servitor resembled a young woman looking into a pond.
- Colonel Arbaku, 24th regiment, Abderra Red Champions, - pronounced the officer; the woman’s head turned like she was listening to him, - show the data on operation Red-1-2-4-T.
- Access denied, - glowing letters emerged in the shadow of the tent, - additional authorization is required.
- Inquisitor Sebastian Silver, - said the psyker before surprised colonel opened his mouth. Hololithic letters turned into the image of a valley, - proceed, colonel.
- Look, gentlemen, - Arbaku invited them to pay attention. He started to explain the coming operation, and the blue map was changing, being zoomed in and out, showing forces and settlements, providing distances and numbers. - The estimated engaging point is here. According to the intelligence of your man, inquisitor, filthy xenos will wait for the cargo, - officers cursed quietly, enraged by such atrocity going on in their home-world, - around the sunset. Guardsmen will imitate the slaves. The damned traitors hadn’t sent more than thirty people per time, so thirty will go.
- Plus two servants of mine, - said Sebastian. Titus was sure he was the one of them.
- Of course, inquisitor. The convoy will go from this compromised mining settlement, the ride will start in two hours and take for the same time. Xenos came in few numbers but in their-own transport. So, we place ten Hydra anti-aircraft vehicles here and here. Positions are out of their fire range a bit, but as soon as enemy shows himself, they will move forward. Vehicles are riding there right now.
- Too close, - said Titus, and the humans turned to his voice. Colonel lifted his chin at him, but Sebastian kept silence, - they’ll be spotted and the enemy will hide deeper underground. Turn them all back to stations, colonel. Leave two from both sides, but at the distance twice the planned. Such quantity of military presence in the middle of nowhere will alert aliens. The soldiers must carry heavy weapons with them.
- Of course they will, - colonel didn’t argue and continued, - eliminating xenos is one goal. To find their den is another. Fought back they may retreat, so a link of Fighters will join the battle from here.
- Show me its stats, - said Titus. He glanced at emerged numbers, - land them down now, colonel, - a tone of the one used to command legionaries broke through, - no military flyers in the air. Keep them ready in ten Terran minutes away. And bring more, you are not the only one who may have an air support.
- If the inquisitor says so, - grumbled colonel looking at shorty nodded Sebastian, - the guardsmen might not hold that long.
- They will with me, - stated Titus, - we will hold or make them run.
- Do this, - the inquisitor said, - we will not reveal our main forces to save you. Tracking down the xenos to their base is the first priority.
- Understood, inquisitor. Do the people know that they are the bait and to what predator?
- Partially, - answered colonel Arbaku, - they know they are coming to catch some cowardly xenos gang.
- And so they’ll do, - Sebastian concluded the briefing, - the second half of the plan stayed the same. Let us purge the xenos filth off this world!
- The Emperor is all! His word will be done! - replied the officers.
- I’ll be waiting for your word, colonel, - Sebastian left the tent. But before that he commanded Titus mentally, - bring Pison, the cloaked one.
He gently brought the unconscious acolyte outside.
- Luisa, Titus, the servitor will take you to the starting point. Then it will bring Pison to Ataraxis, - closed helm looked at them, - punish those xenos.
- The Emperor protects, - bowed the woman, plucking her amulets.
- My armour, inquisitor, - Titus addressed the psyker, - the road will consume a big portion of the energy.
- On the board, Titus, - answered Sebastian, - Luisa will share her weapons with you. Let the Emperor be with you two!
They split. Jacob wished them luck. Titus strapped down the cloaked acolyte. The man was thin, weighing close to nothing. He wasn’t interested in the humans look, so didn’t touch the robe. After all, he was told to bring him, not to nurse. Preying Luisa was sitting. The power armour deactivated, weighed him down.
- The skull has a constantly open link with me, - the single lenses glowed brightly in the dim compartment, - I will activate the armour by your request or by necessity.
- Yes, inquisitor, - answered Titus holding his helm with one hand, the other grabbed the las-gun. The flyer took off and landed outside a mining settlement, similar to Orson, but twice the size - four living buildings hid a town-hall from his view. An army transporter stood next to some civilian open body truck. Miners- and clerks-looking humans stood gathered in two lines liked soldiers. A person in dark red over-coat paced along the rows. With their approach he made others to stand to attention.
- The Red Champions greetings servants of the holy Inquisition, - barked the middle-age man with a hard eye and scared face. Titus liked that human with local accent of Low Gothic, that was a warrior. - I’m commissar Dakhak, I’ll lead guardsmen in this fight.
- We will fight alongside His warriors, - Luisa answered with inspiration jingling of her amulets and bells. His helm was a tomb, so he nodded to the commissar.
- It’s time to go, - said the man, - heavy weapons are loaded, men are instructed. Would you like to say a pray?
- All our lives are constant pray to Him, - woman’s cap bent lower, - and battles are our offering. Soon He will hear our prays. All of ours!
Titus pointed to the vehicle with his head, giving the man an order, he’s been waiting for. All this worshipping of the Emperor as a deity was still a puzzle to him. Was it what he wanted from the start or even the master of mankind couldn’t steer the wind of fate? The commissar gave over his cap and over-coat to a valet and mixed in with the guardsmen in the truck. Titus with Luisa came in last, sitting at the end at some distance of men. The one sitting close to the cabin, knocked it, and the vehicle moved. The two hours ride was ahead of him. Titus looked at his brothers-in-arm for the near future: experienced men, knew their business, concentrated faces. Guardsmen were nervous because of the Inquisition adepts among them, and his size could give them ideas. But while the men were thinking about their allies, they had no time to think about their foes, therefore they wouldn’t got scared beforehand and that’s good with humans. Plasma and melta guns laid on the floor between soldiers’ boots. A las-cannon was mounted on the cabin and covered with a rag. His armour being deactivated was his cover, the skull droned around his legs. Titus counted on the automate. Dragging the suite with bare head - that would be a short fight with the xenos. They rode through lifeless desert, after leaving the settlement behind, he saw no other building of any kind. Dusk was falling.
- They are coming, - creaked the servo-skull, startling the guardsmen. Men started to turn their heads around looking for invisible foes.
- Brace yourself! - barked the commissar. Luisa produced a power mace out of her robe and putted it to his leg.
- The God-Emperor! We beseech You to protect our senses, that we may carry out Your holy work of purging and saving this galaxy for mankind, - she chanted aloud, - grant us the tiny portion of Your might, that we could show the xenos Your wrath!
- Grant us power, the Emperor! - echoed guardsmen, and Titus saw resolve in their eyes. He nodded to the commissar, who nodded back, producing his bolt-pistol.
- The Emperor protects!!! - shrilled Luisa in trance. Men clenched their fists were not let by the commissar and sergeant to grab the weapons and gave out their disguise in the last minute.
16:37 - showed his visor. It was on. An elegant curved hull of no human origin was racing to them leaving a red dusty trace. The truck stopped, playing the role of an obedient prey. The flying alien transport will be at them in less than a minute.
- To arms! - commanded Titus and guardsmen grabbed their weapons. The las-cannon was freed of the covering rag.
- The Emperor guides you! - Luisa assured marksmen. The sergeant commanded “Fire” and a thin laser beam cut the hot air. The alien craft disappeared in a shimmering cloud and emerged closer to the left.
- Witchcraft! - shouted some men.
- A mask-shield, idiots! - cut off the speculation Titus, - one more time, now! Engaging the enemy’s anti-gravity transport, inquisitor, - he added to the vox.
He saw the skimmer better now, it has a sharp bow, thin open hull, a sharp keel and lots of spikes resembling fins. The crew were hidden, and the transport didn’t fire back. It wasn’t his first encounter with the Aeldari and he knew from his own experience that these xenos prefer to take as much prisoners as possible. A second laser beam flew towards the flyer and hit. Enemy’s craft shook and tilted but didn’t stop. Lance of dark light scorched the earth close to them - xenos were going to silence the las-cannon.
- One more time! Plasma weapon fire at the hull! - ordered the Titus. The commissar backed him up with shouts of his own. The sergeant and two guardsmen were preparing for the next shot, but didn’t do it - they’ve been cut in pieces by the next ray from the flyer. The las-cannon, one man and the sergeant were destroyed, one more soldier was bleeding to death unconsciously from the severed arms. Titus shot at the approaching vessel. His visor showed 16:39. Three plasma charges flew to the attacking skimmer. It turned aside, but got hit in the stern. A small explosion and no visible serious damages, but it was a hit. This time xenos would not find a defenseless prey.
- Keep firing! - Titus cheered the men.
- We will fight them, soldiers! - screamed the commissar.
- If they don’t stop fooling around and just blow us apart, - thought Astartes and reported to the inquisitor, - xenos have a heavy armed transport, we have loses, hold them back.
- The Emperor Protects, - Sebastian spoke for the first time since the battle began. Meanwhile humans and Astartes protected themselves with fire. The xenos flyer droned around them, dodging their plasma charges and ignoring the las-guns, Titus knew riffles couldn’t do any harm to the hull, but let the men firing. It’s hard to stare into your death hands down. Their las-guns had plenty of charge for this fight. Luisa was praying quietly, while the commissar screamed encourages at the limit of his lungs. What would the xenos do, they should have been understood that their slavery route had been uncovered and their small unit couldn’t be the only force the planet sent after the invaders. The visor has just changed to 16:41, when Titus got blinded for a second by a white flash. When his sight recovered, he saw Aeldari diving on them.
- Incoming! - roared Titus to the blinded guardsmen, picking one of six xenos riding small flying platforms. The Aeldari were mag-locked to their boards or somehow else were attached to them for they tumbled and swung in all directions in the air, dodging few guardsmen firing back. Human size bolt-pistol barked in the Dakhak’s hand, but not it nor the single plasma or multiply las shots hit the xenos rogues. Titus got his own - slender half-naked figure flew away head down still thrusted by the board. His oath was fulfilled. Three others raced by, diverting the men, while two more attacked the herded humans. Curved blades on the long shafts scythed few heads with high screams of delighted xenos, whose true attack haven’t begun yet. Two explosions emerged in the truck body, one in the middle and the second closer to the cabin. It wasn’t much of fire or a blast wave. These Aeldari waged war their way. The grenade in the middle was filled with acid - the commissar and three men were melted to crumbling bones. One guardsman was screaming - his hands and face unprotected by uniform became a mess. Titus stop his agony with a head-shot. Few more were burnt with the acid. Those in the front were paralyzed: up to six guardsmen were laying stiff, those faces which were visible were silently screaming of pain.
- Get out! Get out! Don’t let them herd us here! - he grabbed the mace and gave others an example. The guardsmen jumped from the truck, holding their guns, Titus didn’t see Luisa, but he was occupied with the enemies. - Fire at will! Shoot those xenos bastards!
- For the Emperor! - screamed guardsmen, now separated by the truck. The men opened fire. It was only 16:42. Titus could see two xenos, flying back to them in spirals on their platforms which happened to have fire weapons of its own. He trusted the armour to withstand a random hit and chose his next target. The chosen Aeldari accepted his challenge and zigzagging to him wavering his polearm. The xenos was so lean, that was he a human Titus wouldn’t counted him for a fighter. The alien wore spiky pieces of dark armour in random fashion: a bracer on one hand, greaves on both bare feet, plates of armor here and there, but the pale flat stomach was open, as well as the elongated head. The bloody riffle was too slow, and the filthy face of the rogue came closer and closer. Last moments to shoot the bastard down. Titus has missed again, he saw, how the xenos swung his weapon. Face to face then, Astartes snarled inside his helmet reading the trajectory of the enemy. A fast figure emerged to his right in the air. Titus took it for the second xenos, but it was Luisa: she jumped off the truck just in time to crash into the flying rogue with the power sword in her hand. Tiny bells couldn’t be heard in the cacophony of battle, but the xenos swiftly turned and knocked the woman down. This half a second was enough for Titus. He tossed away the riffle and picked up the mace. Already in the jump Astartes activated the weapon and crushed it into the flying platform, breaking it apart. The Aeldari fell to the ground. He tried to land on his feet, but the pieces of the device still held his limbs, so the xenos ended up on his stomach. Titus smashed the pointy head with the mace, leaving a wet spot on the sand next to the body. One more for him, not without the Luisa’s help. He turned to the woman, who was ready to continue the fight. Titus darted for the riffle observing the battlefield. To his right the resistance of the guardsmen was suppressed. Three xenos did it fast and brutal: people were chopped down or shot. Two guardsmen were captured alive: one xenos held them on a long leash. To his left four guardsmen survived, a killed Aeldari laid dead.
- Bring them back into combat! Heavy weapons! - Titus commanded to the woman through the vox and aimed at the xenos with the leash. Too late, they have been spotted. The Astartes jumped to the truck hiding from the aliens’ shots raining on him. Screaming and laughing, if those noised could be called that, the Aeldari pursued him. The body of the truck got pierced with tiny needles, Titus wasn't sure that his current armour would protect him from such treat. Luisa inspired men to the fight, but neither of them held a heavy weapon including herself - five las-guns wouldn't turn this fight on their side. Humans fired at the xenos, hitting their platforms and hurting lightly one of the riders. Aeldari had to move and couldn't finish him, so Titus climbed into the truck searching for the melta and plasma guns. He held deactivated mace between his fingers, he snatched a plasma weapon from the decoyed corpses left by the acid grenade and run for the meltagun crushing paralyzed guardsmen. 16:43. Screams and shooting around him - he was not alone yet. Titus turned to help survivors, and the floor behind him cracked and sagged. He knew what was it and jumped to the ground leaving the damaged vehicle between himself and the flying transport. Looks like xenos lost enough of their kin and decided to finish the chase. Well, they had to move they skimmer therefore he could take one more with him. Last three rogues on flying boards differed with the crew of the flyer: they were circling around Luisa trying to take her alive. They must have liked her fighting spirit. Like once they liked his. Titus fired a tiny human plasma-gun and one Aeldari disappeared in an explosion. He tossed away the used gun and ran forwards holding the activated mace in one arm and the meltagun in another. One xenos darted on him, the last one on Luisa. Aeldari was flying low and fast pointing his spear at him. It couldn't be that simple. Titus stopped and raised his meltagun, the xenos immediately swept away, but he didn't aim at him in the first place. She was close, and could be hurt, but the rogue already wounded her and was going to kill. Titus pulled the trigger: a blast of heat bit off the right hand of Luisa, burning to nothing her robe and melting armour and swallowed the Aeldari at her side. Only one flying bastard left and the transport with the heavy weapon. He might live through this day yet. Titus turned around and run back for the plasma gun, cooled down or not, it was his only chance. The xenos charged him from above - looked like he wanted to ram Astartes with his curved spiky platform. Titus pressed his right shoulder to the truck’s hull - the xenos won’t just soar through him now, either he crushed in him, or change the course. The mace was held in the left hand and ready to strike the alien. The enemy screamed furiously and steered his platform right at him. Titus fired meltagun from the hip. The melted platform hit him in the chest, pushed him off the legs and tossed back along the hull. Its spikes cut into the vehicle slowing down the device and eventually crushing it to the ground. Titus was on his back, the right hand was empty, but the left held the mace. The xenos was in the air - the ugly beast jumped off the platform and now were going to pierce him with his spear. He rolled to the left, dodging the lethal strike and stood up. The Aeldari’s knee hit him in the visor; the spike on poleyn pierced the helm and cut his cheek. Fortunately, the blade wasn’t poisoned. Titus tried to grab the leg, but it wasn’t there already, a shaft knocked him back on the ground, he knew, what comes next and moved back. The blade of the xenos still got him cutting ceramite open but not flesh deep. The Aeldari shook with irritation or entertainment. Blows were raining on him not letting to stand up. Titus parried with the tiny mace till it was cut in halves by the broad spear’s tip. He tossed the useless handle in the xenos and tried to stood up one more time and the pain stopped him - the spear pierced his right hip pushing his back on his butt. The pain was nothing. Astartes grabbed the shaft and moved the other hand for the knife. But the Xenos has already got what he deserved.
- I am His sword of flaming wrath! - wheezed Luisa pulling the power weapon out of the dead alien. Her face was baked on the one side, she trembled. Titus pulled out the filthy weapon out his body, leaped to the woman, grabbed her only hand and pulled. The dark ray hit the ground where they stood - the transport took the position. Now when no Xenos were down here, the heavy weapon will make them run. The glitchy visor showed 16:44. Titus tossed the weaken Luisa to the truck’s track and run for the plasma gun. Would he be able to dodge the shooter for couple minutes? Not likely. He saw an approaching dot on the horizon. It came from the wrong side - enemies’ reinforcement then. Titus got the plasma gun and jumped into the truck. The leg stopped bleeding, no xenos toxins were messing with his body. He jumped out on the other side, leaving the hull to take the hit of the alien’s gun. Titus ran though the butchered guardsmen, close to one of the choked humans a meltagun laid. Now he was armed. Another man on the leash disappeared in a fountain of dirt and gore. Titus ran around the truck noticing a still servo-skull observing him. The approaching enemy got closer.
- Luisa, guardsmen and landed xenos are down, the enemy transport using heavy weapon from the distance, - reported he, - some kind of xenos jet-bike is approaching. Will try to chase it away, so keep an eye on it, inquisitor.
- Yes, Titus, - Sebastian immediately answered calmly.
He couldn’t run away from the truck, his only cover in this desert. So, kept running around it, changing directions, jumping in and out the hull, already shredded by the xenos gun. Titus shot back once, but the transport was too far away and easily dodged the plasma cloud. And he saved it for the jet-bike. It was a slender xenos looking skimmer with short wings and plenty of spikes. The cockpit was open - a pale blue hair freak was running it. Another one standing on the hull shaking a polearm. If those two were as stupid as others - they would come to him on their own. Mounted on the bike weapons opened fire. Being shot from both sides, Titus ducked under the hull. The thing he had been postponing all this time. Not because it might look like hiding. He didn’t know the bottom of the vehicle, would his power back come through? And the xenos would know where he was, so they just cut the machine to pieces, burying him under the wrecks if not hitting by chance. In the tight darkness under the hull 16:45 glowed brightly before his eyes. An energy ray pierced the metal close to him. Titus crawled to the hit place. His helmet and the armour on the breast were compromised and shoulders were not well protected at the first place. But it had to withstand. He pushed the trigger of the melta gun, and the blinding stream of heat washed away the layers of metal above him, slashing him with overheat splashes. Titus torn through hot wrecks and emerged inside the hull. He had a couple seconds in the best scenario and he had spent them well. The xenos standing on the jet-bike vanished in fire. The driver steered the skimmer away, but Titus was there already. Alas, he couldn’t hold to it and fell off, landing weaponless on his back. It has been a good fight, worthy of the name of Titus Livius. The xenos would shoot him right now. But Astartes don’t wait for death. He jumped to his feet and ran for the weapons scattered around the corpses. The left ankle was dotted with shards, Titus didn’t get if the bike’s weapon pierced the ceramite or not. He picked up a standard las-gun and smiled - the transport was descending on him. Sharp bow and fins were covered with red dust, but xenos wanted to paint it with his blood. His resistance caused too much and pissed them off. He run from the approaching transport. The biker gave way to the bigger predator. The racing vessel was getting closer, Titus left the truck behind and turned to face the enemy. Elegant skimmer flew close the ground, fins and short wings on its left side were cutting the human transport as it wasn’t material. The truck wasn’t a tank, that’s true, but neither was Titus. He had a slight chance to hold back the xenos for the left minute, then the guard would track them down and destroy.
- Inquisitor, if the transport and the jet-bike they stayed here, follow them. Purge the xenos scum!
- Hold on, Titus, - ordered the psyker coldly.
- Those things would slice me clean, - calmly thought Astartes. Then he had no more thoughts. The next moment the Aeldari vessel raced over him and turned around for the second run. Titus trusted his body to dodge and tumble, escaping death this time. And the next one. The power rate of his suite gone much lower than it supposed to, making it real for him to maneuver the way he did. He pressed to the ground saving his life for the third time. Probably for the last.
- Take cover, - said the vox.
- Open fire! - he screamed back needlessly. No one was waiting for him. New sound filled the air and explosions surrounded him. The xenos shot last time almost hit him and took off gaining altitude. The biker had already fled. Another blast wave pushed him on the ground, the shards drummed on his backpack. - The xenos withdrew, repeat, the xenos are gone, - Titus reported and the bombardment ceased. He ran to the totally deformed truck.
- Titus, report, - said Sebastian.
- Eager to proceed, inquisitor, - answered Titus, picking up the unconscious Luisa. The woman was laying at some distance from the wreck, tossed away by explosions; a big shard was stuck in her leg. - Luisa is in critical state.
- We are picking you up in a minute, - answered calm voice. Timer turned to 16:47.
The sky roared and five flyers hovered above them. Three were standard army crafts he’s seen in many worlds. Others were different, they must belong to the inquisitor. One of it landed and opened an armored hatch.
- Come aboard! - the rune J confirmed his guess, and Titus carried the woman inside. The flyer consisted from one compartment fill with dozen guardsmen in heavy armor. Men were fastened to the seats. - Put her here. Mentor, we are taking off.
Jacob was in the same outfit and his helmet was congruous with it: a grey ceramite with a narrow visor was covered with an enormous hat with bright feathers. Acolyte stood up and confidently stayed still, using mag-locks in his boots. Titus held for a handle. One guardsman leant over Luisa threating her wounds.
- What a fight! - Jacob turned to him and tried to slap him on a shoulder or something like that. Titus caught his hand letting go the handle. He couldn’t see the man’s face but it must have gone red and stiff, like most human faces do when their bearers are shown their place. Titus let go. After an angry sniffing, the acolyte continued. - The mentor said you would join us for this hunt, whoever you are, Titus. Traditions and honor demanded to introduce myself properly. My name is Jacob Obrecht, the third heir of Obrechts from Ascaniya. I will cover your back in coming battle.
- She did that, with this thing, - Titus pointed Luisa’s sword at her, - that’s what I call a proper introduction.
- Then we return to this conversation later, - the man went to the cockpit.
- Will she live? - Titus asked the medic, who lifted his masked face with fear.
- Can’t say, my lord. I stopped the pain and bleeding for now. That’s all I can do, - round lenses stared at him for a moment, - her breath is stable.
- Thank you, - Astartes moved away. The woman showed herself well. That was it.
- What can you say on the enemy, Titus? - Sebastian asked him through the vox.
- There won’t be injured in this fight, inquisitor. They use all kind of toxins. You either dead or avoid the hit. Me and Luisa are survived by their mistakes. Do all guardsmen are similarly prepared?
- Yes, we have forty-eight storm troopers for initial attack. And much more are coming to assist. The Strikers found their cover, after aerial bombardment we will search it through. Four minutes.
- Four minutes, lads! - cheerfully declared Jacob emerging in the compartment, - let’s clean your land off these parasites!
- Purge xenos! We’ll make them pay! For the Emperor! - shouted guardsmen confidently hitting the floor with their weapons’ butts. Acolyte opened a heavy casket attached to the wall and knelt before it. On the back side of the lid were an image of Aquilla. Jacob produced two bolt-pistols of intricate and expensive build: they were covered with curved and gilded wood panels. He put it to his forehead and mag-locked to his stomach, then he produced several magazines and placed them across his chest.
- The Emperor that protects loyal to Him, save my senses clear for the battle with Your enemies, - Jacob started to read his prayer aloud and pull off his hat and put it into the casket. The guardians repeated after him.
- Keep my hands steady that I could kill those who oppose Your will, - he put off the gloves and tossed them into the casket. Rings rolled and jingled inside.
- I entrust my soul to You, for You are the only light which protects us from the eternal darkness, - Jacob tossed his chain in the box and closed the lid. Acolyte stood up, opened a panel on the wall and produced a long power sword, big enough for Astartes. Jacob addressed soldiers, leaning on his weapon.
- Fight well, lads! The Emperor is watching and protects those who are fearless, - he eyed quiet guardsmen, - I will cover your backs!
- I will cover yours! - answered men.
- A flask of best amasec in the system for those who survived, if you need more motivation, devils! - soldiers cheered, - Show me, how the famous Red Champions fight!
- 24th! For the Emperor! - roared guardsmen.
- Squad J is ready, mentor, - reported Jacob through the vox turning his helmet to Titus. The aircraft grounded with a thud of hasty landing.
The red crust of the surface was torn open by bombardment. Earlier the Aeldari might use some hidden path, now it was an enormous pit of collapsed earth and sand, which revealed dim underground caves and tunnels of the nature origin. They were big enough for the Xenos transport to move through. All squads disembarked on the rim of the slope. Four units by dozen men clad in carapace armour. Powerful las-guns and heavy weapons, Titus would like see those soldiers instead of the poor ones sent for butchery. But they need to bait out Aeldari and track them down here. Purging the nest is more important than several lives. And this fight would be as deadly as previous. Each Valkyrie disembarked its unit and took off immediately. Sebastian left his transport in the company of Tapio. The hunchback ran to the flyer with wounded Luisa.
- All squads open your vox-links! - commanded the inquisitor, and voices emerged in Titus’s helmet.
- Squad Z is ready, A is here, F is battle ready, - reported sergeants and Jacob added, - J is ready, master.
- We are going in, expect ambushes. Valkyries will lead us. Fire at will, everything we met is His enemy. J is leading. For the Emperor! - while storm troopers were shouting back and Valkyries with engine roar dived into the labyrinth, he mentally informed him, - Titus, stick with Jacob.
Air-crafts disappeared underground. Men steadily went down the slope knee-deep in sand and dry dirt. Few stumbled and rolled down anyway, but managed not to shot somebody with plasma accidently. They stood on the steady ground facing several ways in the dark dungeon, three were big enough to let the xenos transport in.
- Look at these creatures, - Sebastian’s mace pointed at the pile of stones and sand next to the central enter. Titus saw a limb in spiky armour. Astartes came closer and pulled out the corpse of Aeldari for the humans to look. Murmuring filled the channel. - There is nothing to be afraid. Fragile filthy scum out of space! - Titus activated the sword and sliced the Aeldari apart for demonstration. Fortunately, this rogue neglected the defense of his torso too and got cut easily. The inquisitor’s mace showed the way, - J into the right passage!
They came in. He and the acolyte went first. Stormtroopers turned on the lights set into the helmets, illuminating the vast tunnel. “Illuminate them!”, - Titus remembered the old battle cry, indeed it was the legendary time. He heard a quiet explosion.
- Faster! - Sebastian commanded, - next turn take left, then ignore the small ways.
The inquisitor said to ignore, but he was ready for an attack from any side anytime. All guardsmen from his squad run in a line across the tunnel with him and Jacob a couple steps ahead. The acolyte looked confident and experienced. His long sword was mag-locked to his backpack and both pistols were in hands. The tunnel they were running through got wider or tighter, but the celling was always way above his head. The noise of a heavy auto weapon ended in explosion - the second craft found the hiding enemy.
- Take left, - the inquisitor’s voice was calm. No one dared to show their fears in his presence. Soon the humans passed the hit transport in the grim silence. The cabin was wrecked with the direct hit. The lighted with the burning machine piece of tunnel ended and they returned in the darkness. Sebastian lead them on, they’ve been underground for eleven minutes. Lamps’ rays highlighted a big natural column, spitting the path. Flame dancing ahead.
- On the left! - screamed Titus. The foot of the column got pierced with rays of lights revealing two figures disappeared in the rain of las-fire and plasma charges. Xenos shot down two troopers first though. They were laying twitching in agony.
- Give them the Emperor’s mercy, Titus, - ordered Sebastian, and his sword chopped off their heads. Their riffles were useless for him without power backpacks, so he took one las-pistol to have anything to shoot from. Z squad was ordered to guard the rear, J to check the path. They found only one dead xenos, Titus didn’t touch the filthy weapon. All went on, later the path got smaller, the slim xenos transport would skim easily, but it must have taken the best pilot to fly the human aircraft here. But not the dangerous path stopped the Valkyrie, lying aflame across a big archway, its cabin was torn open by a direct hit from some heavy weapon too. Though the pilot took his toll this time - a shredded xenos lying next to another pass. They were at the crossroad and Sebastian didn’t give an order - now they had to find the way themselves.
- Squad J, check the right pass, - came an order, - A, look behind the transport.
They left the burning craft behind and turned to the darkness. If Titus defended the dungeon, he would strike now - when their whole squad is lighted from behind.
- Lousy spot, be ready, lads! - Jacob broke the silence of the channel. They moved deeper in the tunnel; lights spotted nothing but rocks. Aeldari finally stroke, but not at them.
- Movement from the rear! Open Fire! - alerted squad Z. The tunnel behind filled with frantic screams and shooting. The vox-channel turned into chaos: humans yelled, it wasn’t clear who has been attacked and by whom.
- Jacob, Titus, to me! - Sebastian outvoiced others.
- Yes, inquisitor! - Jacob answered for both of them. Squad J turned and run back to the light of burning Valkyrie. Black ray pierced one stormtrooper, cutting him in half.
- Keep running! - Titus screamed to humans directly, not relying on the jammed vox. The invisible weapon scythed down one more soldier. - We will not catch the bustards from here! You two will guard the path, let them come to us!
- Do as he said! - The acolyte endorsed him. But he had to choose another guardian, since one of two had been hit.
They left two troopers with plasma guns and joined the battle. The inquisitor stood surrounded with a whole squad firing in the tunnel they came from. Their lamps illuminated the horrible death of the rest of squad Z and those who caused it. Grotesque figures leapt like animals, heavy and crude augmentations covered parts of their bent bodies, but human origin was out of questions.
- Fire them down, these beasts are lethal in close combat! - shouted Titus adding his tiny pistol to the shooting.
- Squad A, respond! - the vox-channel got quieter and Sebastian tried to reconnect with them. No response came.
- Don’t shoot me in the back! - barked Titus and darted forward, dropping his pistol. Against those living constructs he’ll need both hands. He saw that those playthings of the xenos finished the rearguard and would hit them now. Creatures were coming evading the lamps’ light. He cut off the head of the first thing came to the sword length, hoping that it was enough, cause the second was already there stretching its three hands with too long nails to be natural. Titus chopped off the one, smashed away with his left the other, but the third grabbed him for the gorget, claws scratched the ceramite. Since the creature used to be a human, its head was around Astartes’ breast, but it hanged to him and the tiny legs tried to wrap around his. Another enemy emerged from the darkness in the image of the muscular man with skinless face. Titus slashed him across the chest, hitting the heart and dropped on the ground crushing the clingy beast. The tortured human got squashed. He jumped to his feet. Las and plasma charges flew around, but not dangerously close to him. But it meant that he was alone against the beasts. Titus pierced one in the air when it leapt on him, but another crushed into his breast with metal plate covering the head breaking its neck but also pushed him off the balance. The third came in time and knocked him down, overgrown hands with fists melted in fingerless hummers made of bone banged on his visor. Titus let go the sword and caught the monster’s hands with his own and tore them off, but the beast pumped up with drugs didn’t understand a thing. Monster’s head lowered on his helmet once, the next time the ceramite clad fist stopped it, tearing the mindless skull apart. That was the last. Titus picked the sword and came back to the light of lamps. The whole squad has survived. Several beasts were shot, and two more laid cut down with power weapon close to their position. Jacob already put the sword back and held his pistols ready.
- What was it? - after such horrible charge, the guardsmen whispered in the vox.
- The slaves, - answered Titus.
- Those, for whom we came to fight! - declared Sebastian, - the citizens of the Imperium, caught by these xenos rogues. We will stop it now!
- Squad J? - asked Jacob.
- Nothing, lord, - answered one of those left in ambush.
- There is a heavy weapon in the right tunnel, mentor, - explained the acolyte to Sebastian.
- The rest of squad J will look after it, - swiftly answered the inquisitor, - we will go after squad A. Take as much heavy weapon as possible, soldiers. Do not mourn the dead, for they are His warriors and there is no better fate than to be by His light, as all died for Him are.
- Good luck, pals, burn those bastards, if they dare to show up! - Jacob encouraged the five men left to guard the other pass. They group crossed the smoldering Valkyrie and stepped into another tunnel. It was empty. Soon the lamps highlighted the first corpse of squad A. The light spotted the boot, then the whole body. The guardsmen cursed: the front armour was torn open and stained with blood. Twelve men laid dead in same condition. They didn’t slow down to examine them, but Titus noticed, that most of them died of one strike. So, this darkness was hiding close-combat specialists. His ears caught some noise ahead.
- Inquisitor, hear something down this way.
- Everybody stop, - commanded Sebastian, - Titus go ahead.
- Yes, - he took a plasma gun out of some guardian. His power armour wasn’t a discreet one, but he would stay unnoticed longer than stumping humans for sure. The tunnel ended with a great cave. The place stank with the xenos, it was their den. The same transport was grounded, couple Aeldari were loading it with some crates. He couldn’t see much since the only light was dim lamps and some glowing machines of the xenos. He stepped back.
- The same transport and at least three xenos. They are packing their things.
- Stay still, - answered Sebastian.
- Squad J, response! - requested Jacob.
- Everything is quiet, my lord.
- Shoot their transport with plasma, others fire at xenos by my command, - humans were approaching him. Titus didn’t look at them, he was aiming at the flyer, expecting for xenos to notice them with every step.
- Engaging the enemy! - screamed a man on the vox. It should be those five guarding the path, since Titus heard nothing behind.
- For the Emperor! - this cry he heard through the vox as well as through the helmet. The men behind were attacked. Titus fired his weapon and tossed away, not watching if he hit or not.
- Titus! - Sebastian called him for the first time in a thrilled voice.
- I’m coming! - he saw flashes of shots and heard screams of terror ahead. Did the xenos send more of their disgusting constructs? The darkness around him materialized and hit him. Only due to his reflexes he turned his left shoulder for the strike - something chopped into it cutting through carapace and flak plate and slicing his muscles. He slashed back with his sword, but the glowing blade hit the air. The invisible attacker, disappeared leaving his weapon inside his shoulder. The vox was full of dying shrieks. But Titus was on the edge of his own death to care about others. Humans were not his lost brothers for whom he would and had risked his life. Strange thing - the enemy’s weapon felt lighter and then dissolved in the air too. Witchcraft or some kind of poison, playing tricks with his mind. But the wounded shoulder wasn’t numb, he felt the pain. A slap in the face out of darkness made him stumble. Either the enemy thought his wouldn’t withstand his strike, or the xenos was playing with him. The rage boiled in him, heating up his already hot blood. This scum will know how to underestimate the legionary of the 16th. He took the sword in his left hand and drew the combat knife. The tiny glowing of the power weapon wasn’t enough to see a hiding silent foe. But his gut compensated the lack of visibility. Titus stretched the sword like a torch, and stroke with the knife in different direction. Something shrieked and he turned the blade inside. Titus swung the sword at the scream and looked at the one who wounded him. The xenos was almost cut in two parts across breast; he haв a dark slim body, which glowed a little with inner green fire; the hair was long and loose; the mouth was wide opened and filled with sharp tooth. A decent rival. Titus ran to others. Some lamps of freshly slain guardians still worked and gave some light to the fight: five soldiers were alive and fired their weapons in the darkness, the inquisitor and his acolytes stood with activated weapons. No dead xenos around them. He stopped at some distance. Let’s hunt the hunter then.
- Inquisitor, - he called though the silent vox channel, since the last survived guardsmen were too horrified to scream, - stop the fire, lure them out.
- Stop the fire! Aim before shoot! - commanded Sebastian.
First attacked went unnoticed - blood just gushed out of the man.
- Silence! Be ready! - the inquisitor tried to calm down the humans. The enemies showed themselves. Two shadows emerged behind the unexpecting guardsmen. Titus stroke the nearest just before he came back into the darkness: long swing of the sword stopped the xenos and the knife finished him. He noticed how Jacob slashed the other with impressive swing of his sword, cutting both the monster and its victim.
- Is it all? - asked the acolyte.
- Don’t know, but the transport ahead and they may go away.
- We don’t let them! - Sebastian looked at last troopers, - you will remember this day with pride, warriors of the Emperor. Let’s go!
They ran through the corridor to the cave. Those shadow xenos ended or gave up.
- I fired at the transport before coming to you, so they know we are coming, - warned Titus. He picked up the plasma gun he dropped earlier. The dim light was there, as well as the transport with damaged hull. But not so much to immobilize it. There were no signs of the xenos.
- Jacob, look after the rear. We coming in. The aid is close, but they may flee before that. Loose formation.
They carefully entered the cave, spreading around. Titus was searching for any movement, but everything was still.
- On the right! - screamed one guardsman and fired his plasma gun.
- No! - warned Titus, but too late, the other soldier fired too. He knew that there were no one, and now they have heated their weapons for nothing. The xenos would strike now. One guardsman fell down silently, Astartes haven’t noticed the source of his death. But he saw a glowing behind one casket and fired there, blowing it apart with one Aeldari.
- I’m down but alive, - gasped through the pain Jacob.
- Die, filthy xenos! - the last guardsman lost it, he fired again in the darkness.
- Let him, - whispered Titus though the vox in case Sebastian would try to stop the man. Inquisitor joined the shooting; maybe he saw somebody in the glowing of the plasma or accepted the plan of the Astartes to use the trooper as a bait. The man became a flash of light when the abused weapon exploded. Two humanoids shadows were spotted by the explosion. One alien hid close to the flyer and got shot by him. The other was close to the inquisitor.
- Behind! - screamed Titus and run to the psyker. He saw him backing from the attacking Aeldari firing his pistols. The inquisitor fell down without visible reason, but his bolt-pistol kept firing warding off the xenos, who jumped around him waving his weapon, that turned out to be a whip. Titus was close when Sebastian’s pistol got out of bolts, so xenos leapt on him before finishing the fallen human. There were distant bolt shots, but no time to think about it. The alien stroke with the whip, and Titus put out the sword for protection - the xenos’ weapon winded around the blade and broke it to shards. The Astartes hit with the knife, but the Aeldari was faster. The fist in some kind of power knuckles hit him in the chest. Already cracked ceramite burst in chips and Titus grounded few steps away. He hadn’t been hit so hard in some time: hearts missed a beat; some small internal bleeding was at place. But the palm still held the knife. It just didn’t obey him. The Xenos stood over him.
- To flee from you, mon-keigh?! - hissed the scornful voice in the curved helmet, - we are blades in shadows and you are nothing!
- I’m His hand! - Sebastian swung his mace. The xenos had no other way to dodge the blow but to bend down to the fallen Astartes.
- I am the blade! - Titus put his battle knife into xenos’ temple. He tossed away the corpse and stood up. - I owe you, Sebastian.
- You owe the Emperor, for I am a humble servant of His will. Take Jacob out.
- Something wrong with my leg, - the acolyte greeted them from the floor, - but I got one bastard from here - that must be the xenos who killed those five. I’ll cover your back next time, Titus.
- May be.
Sebastian called the last Valkyrie and the transport took them to the ground, as soon it landed, they went out. The sun has set down. The sky was full of stars and the desert was full of lights: many army vehicles gathered around the discovered nest.
- My lord! - colonel Arbaku ran to them surrounded with his officers, - Inquisitor!
- It’s over, colonel, - calmly answered the psyker.
- I know, I mean, now I know! When the connection with the last storm trooper was lost, I thought you all have perished. I’m so glad you are alive, my lord.
- Thank the Emperor!
- The Emperor be praised! - colonel look at him, - I saw glimpses of your action down there, it’s so good to have an Astartes in such operation.
- I have no Astartes at my command, colonel, - the inquisitor stopped him coldly, - I will supervise the destroying off the xenos presence. You two take one of our flyers and find a medic.
- Yes, inquisitor, - Jacob answered held by Titus.
- I beg your pardon, my lord, for my hastiness, - Arbaku straighten up.
- Let’s clean this area with no delay, colonel.
Titus helped the acolyte to get into the one of their flyers. Jacob thanked and said nothing more, but when they both took their helmets off, looked at him suspiciously.
This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2020/09/02 18:17:38
The most peaceful chapter of my novel =) Drinking beer and stuff
VI Black day. 7400+ words.
He stood naked holding a wet sponge in his hand. The air was filled with censes, but his own body stank with sweat. The rose water would wash it away, as His servant he must hold himself as an example for others. The galaxy belongs to mankind and people should look like masters of the life, not as, - he looked for the word to finish his thought, - as its beaten spongers. At least when there is a possibility.
- Inform Boethius I will visit him soon, - the duty didn't wait and never would. No time to muse on axioms. - Then get my armour cleaned.
- Yes, master, - the robed servitor left his cabin. It was a good servant, one of the best he's ever had. Sebastian finished washing and put on a simple grey robe. He just arrived from Abderra after the purging the Xenos den: all alien bodies were burned to nothing; their possessions are melted; the labyrinth was searched through and through by many scout groups and burred by an explosion. No trace of survived rogues, the alien treat has been stated as terminated. Such small group brought so many damages. Of course, Abderra wouldn't notice such small losses over hundreds of years and wouldn't be brought into jeopardy. But the whole Imperium suffers from the similar itching and bites. The xenos parasites.
- Thank You for protection, I shall serve You more, - murmured the inquisitor kneeling in the corner of his small compartment before His images: a golden statue size of an forearm and a plain steel Aquilla which could be hidden in the grip of a gauntlet, but consecrated in the shrine of holy Sanguinius the Demons Banisher. He inherited both relics with the Ataraxis over thirty Terran years ago. The ship was his but didn't become a home. Rather a moving front of eternal war. The war he had led for almost one and a half hundred years and was glad and honored to take a place in first rows. After the prayer Sebastian came to a tall lectern desk made of carved wood. It had few shelves with his most frequently used manuscripts and writing accessories. Along the opposite wall Sebastian had a working desk, filled with cogitators, data-plates and connected to the Ataraxis' system. But he liked to actually write down messages of this kind. Besides, no vox-system could send it anyway. The inquisitor picked up a quill and dipped it into ink. He forgot all noises around and started to write.
- 425.126.M42. To inquisitor Dana Khudsiana, - he hasn’t seen his superior over ten years. It was him who linked Sebastian with the Ordo. Dana sent him orders and received reports of his action. The captain of Ataraxis was totally able to collect any needed forces for his operations. But if such necessity arises, older inquisitor would assist to gather other agents or even mightier powers. And it's Dana who mustn't know of Titus's true origin. - Xenos presence in Migdonia sector confirmed. Xenos status - terminated. - The operation went well. Pison showed the best of him, practically successfully leading his own investigation. He had everything to become his peer in the future. Jacob gathered the army forces, but Sebastian's decree alone would do the same. The man belonged to the Guard; not likely he would rise higher in the Inquisition. And he should had been avoided that shot. Somehow the xenos gun has turned his leg below the knee into glass and now it was being replaced with augmentation on the surface. Another casualty was Luisa. Her whole right side would be replaced: a new arm, a new leg, new skin and an eye. Tapio delivered her plea not to be left in the hospital. The woman wanted to die a martyr. The operation and he would provide her the chance. - The operation status: proceed. - That was the end of the report. The search was in process, and Titus wasn't a better choice for it than anybody Sebastian could employ. But the Astartes may be used later. So far, he proved unmatched battle abilities of his species. A very dangerous tool, demanded the constant control. What fate for this shard of legendary past did his mentor foresee? Matteo Abate. Sebastian remembered this man every day. It was him, who took him out of the Guard where he served as a humble psyker and brought him into his crew. Saw his potential to become a better tool for the Emperor and molded him for the new duty. The age took its inevitable toll on mentor's main asset - his brain. No augmentation would prolong his service. His last word to the Ordo was to make Sebastian his successor. Sebastian received the rank of inquisitor and Ataraxis at the same day. The day Matteo left the holy Inquisition for his quest to join the God-Emperor in his eternal light. Sebastian didn't know if his mentor reached the Chamber of Astronomican. But he knew the secret of inquisitor Matteo: a century ago his mentor investigated a strange warp activity and found out a lonely guest in this system. He must had killed him, but had a vision of possible usefulness of the prodigal Astartes in the future. The inquisitor was an honored member of the Ordo and his opinion could be noted. But he didn't tell his superiors of that finding. If that wasn't a heresy, it was something on the very edge of that damnation. Titus lived on Olynthum under the secret surveillance and wasn't on mind of Sebastian. But when the current operation brought him in Migdonia sector, he decided that the time the vision told about came. He eliminated those few who knew about Titus and met him in person. If the renegade Astartes didn't meet the beliefs of Matteo, Sebastian would kill him. He would not be tainted as a traitor, he had so much to do in His name. And he will not let the memory of his mentor be stained with any speculation. The tool will be used and melted or broken as a defected one.
Sebastian turned from the desk. He was alone except for a servo-skull soaring at his shoulder. Some food and water were placed on the desk. The inquisitor ate swiftly and left his cabin. The corridor was dimly lighted and lacked any decoration. Plain walls with rows of hatches to other personal compartments. From the outside there were no way to tell which belonged to rich Jacob and which to poor Tapio. But one occupant was easy to find. Sebastian pushed the rune on one door and when it opened the feeling of density got stronger. He came in the cabin of the astropath.
- Boethius, - the inquisitor greeted his servant aloud meeting the eyes of the wretched figure. The astropath looked drain and fatigued, but Sebastian met many of his kind to know that this one will serve for many years more. The cabin was full of protection both by Mechanicus and Ministorum to look to that.
- Inquisitor, - the deaf man bowed and sat into his working chair preparing to fulfill his duty. Sebastian gave him the written message and prepared to wait. The sending might take up to few hours, and the servitor could stand here for him, but there was the tiniest chance that the direct communication will be opened. A rare thing worth waiting for. This time Boethius has twisted and grimaced for an hour piercing the void with his mind. He opened his turbid eyes - it was time to seal the message.
- Ataraxis, - clearly pronounced the inquisitor. He imagined the ship, Matteo who brought him here and left it to him. Not the mere word, but the whole complex of emotions, memories and attitude to the ship would crypt the sent report. Dana or another receiver would have to match the psychic print to read the message. - Thank you, Boethius, get rest.
Sebastian took the letter from the shaking hand of the Astropath and burned it with the light of one of the candles around and came out the cabin. The servo-skull met him with the creak.
- Inquisitor, the check had been done.
- Meet me on the deck, Mechanicus. - Sebastian, followed by the skull, went through the corridor and came downstairs. The techno-priest stood there; all three mooring boxes were open showing the flyers and the servitors were busying around the one which took him back from the Abderra.
- All flying vessels are in appropriate state, its machines spirits are pacified, - the priest spoke through his servo-skull. With the next words the eye glowed with anger, - Jacob's armour is intact except for the greave and boot. But the machine spirit is angry with being touched by the xenos filth.
- Titus's armour?
- The front armour and left shoulder are totally destroyed. The new one will be made of carapace. The helmet and the cuisse will be patched. The machine spirit tolerates such damages. - The monotonous speech if the priest stopped for a second, - I dare say that the spirit likes its new owner. Your armour I have not checked yet, inquisitor.
- I see. We will stay here for few days. Request all needed supply from the governor. I trust you to maintain Ataraxis. Find weapons for Luisa and Titus. The policy toward the Astartes stayed the same.
- As you wish, inquisitor. Ataraxis needs more men for engine and steering departments. An accident took place and one body is exploited by age.
- Proceed. I will check the recruits later. Return to your duty, Mechanicus.
- Omnissiah be praised, - the bald head bowed a little and the priest turned from him. One more talk before he can rest. Sebastian prepared himself.
- Inquisitor, - he stood in the middle of the craft in which Jacob had been sent to hospital. The grey robe was clean - the servitor took care of the wounds. His holstered knife laid on the seat.
- You have fought well, Titus.
- You gave me a decent foe, inquisitor, - the ancient creature looked into his eyes: Sebastian saw a satisfaction of an artisan with the well-done work. Titus obviously didn't care for being a prisoner and for being praised by his capturer either. How many times has he been in similar position during his protracted life? He felt that the Astartes was struggling with his emotions and got ready to kill the giant.
- Thank you for returning the knife, - murmured Titus.
- Point it on His enemies, - answered surprised Sebastian, - the xenos were not my target. A found tumor to cut out on the way. The possible treason and witchcraft are in the progress in this system, - the Astartes' face stayed still, - we will come back to Abderra soon. I'm returning this too.
Sebastian put the pouch on the seat and left the craft. Gates to the box closed behind him.
Titus has been resting. Since the fights in under-hive he hasn’t been pushed so hard. The Astartes told Sebastian the truth - he survived only because of recklessness of the xenos. But to beat so many strong enemies in one night - that was something. He enjoyed himself and got hungry. Titus wanted more challenges. The inquisitor returned his pouch. He tossed it up several times. Nothing changed - he still was an outsider and a prisoner; he was just let to play around outside. When the gates got opened, the pouch was hanging on his neck. Sebastian wore the same over-coat he’s seen the psyker at his first meeting, now it was all buttoned up. Tapio was in an old loose coat, which might be green many years ago. The third person was a young-looking tan man with dark long hair covering shoulders wearing a grey robe, exact copy to his own. According to the small itching in the head, when the stranger showed up, he was a psyker too. Probably the second acolyte, Pison. The man looked at him emotionlessly and came aboard after his mentor.
- Take this, - the sniper instead of his long riffle held a vox-device. The hunchback let him ahead and closed the hatch, cutting off the sound of siren. The compartment was empty, psykers were in the cockpit. This flyer had no special belt for him, so Titus just held tight for the seats.
- Vox testing, - Sebastian voice emerged inside his hood, - inquisitor Sebastian here.
- Pison is here, master, - the voice told the real age of the lean psyker.
- Tapio is ready, master.
- Titus is ready, inquisitor, - responded the Astartes.
- We are going to Abderra Prime, the capital city. - Sebastian started briefing, - they are celebrating today, so we will see the crowd, and the crowd won’t see us. Undercover operation, authority will provide a full disguise. Be vigilant, for His enemies hide among the righteous.
- Yes, inquisitor, - they all answered as one. Titus smirked under his hood: something in his very core just loves to feel being a part of something bigger: a kill-team, a squad, a company. A legion.
- Titus, no battle is expecting - the voice of Sebastian returned to his head, - your goal is to notice anything suspicious and immediately report it. Turn off the vox and I will kill you. If you stay alone with anybody, hide your origin. - He thumped the vox in his ear with his finger in response. - The road to redemption is a life-long way. Don’t mistake the first step for a big achievement.
- Here, - Tapio twitched and produced a las-pistol, - the master said to give it to you.
The vessel landed. Tapio was told to open the hatch and both psykers went into compartment. A human came in and bowed to Sebastian.
- Welcome to Abderra city. If the lord permits, - the man in clerk outfit but with a face and statue of a veteran, stepped closer and point a small device on the inquisitor’s hand, freed from the sleeve. Then he did the same to Pison and Tapio alike. The Astartes was next. Titus rolled up a sleeve and stretched out his mighty hand. The human nervously set up his device and branded his arm with some code consisted from letters and numbers. - It will fade away in several days, my lord. Please, your transport is ready.
They left the flyer, landed at some production district. A civil aircraft stood alone; a bit tight for him. The new vessel took off and flew over the enormous city: grey rockcrete rock on the red surface of the planet; from his window Titus could see one edge of Abderra Prime, the whole space till the horizon was occupied with buildings; living and working areas were not separated, rather mixed and melted; few stood out structures dominated the landscape such as an imperial palace, an arbiters’ fortress, a cathedral. The flyer took them towards the very center of the city.
- Many ogryns work in the mines here, so you won’t be that much outstanding, - Sebastian told him mentally when the flyer grounded softly, - the populace didn’t see a real space marine.
They went out and the festive hubbub surrounded them. The flyer stood between massive living blocks, but no eyes looked at them. Sebastian led them along the narrow street, washed and cleaned; the noise was getting louder. A big boulevard was visible ahead of them, like a spring of light squeezed between stones. Titus noticed a couple faces behind small windows, that darted away when he raised his hood to them. A servo-skull met them.
- Identify yourselves, citizens, - the automate flew close to them before they left the alley, - identify yourselves, citizens.
- We are all loyal servants of the Emperor, - declared Sebastian, showing his branded arm to the servitor. The skull hardly listened to him, it just scanned the code with its lenses and moved to Pison. Titus showed his arm too: so close to planetary authority he has been for the first time. The satisfied servitor flew away and they stepped into the light and unbounded noise.
- The God-Emperor be praised! Grant the peace and prosperity to Abderra! - loud speakers filled the air with joyous chants. He never saw so much peaceful people at on place: pedestrian areas were crammed with the cheerful crowd; humans slowly and idly walking in pairs and groups, laughing and smiling. The broad road was filled with marching columns: now it was miners holding ancient pickaxes, drills or lanterns; they were singing; further up the way he saw a red formation of guardsmen, but couldn’t hear their voices. Banners and pennant covered facades; big monuments split the road.
- Moving toward the palace, - Sebastian turned right and they joined slow torrents of humans. It was irritating to move at so slow speed, he made a quarter of pace at the best. Titus soothed himself down, it was a reconnaissance deployment after all. He noticed that majority of people were wearing the fresh and clean cloth, but their palms were covered with black dirt. They moved against the parade and it was the Red Champions who were singing now. The guardians promised to brothers-miners to protect Abderra and their beloved ones from the horrors of the space night, while they working in the night of underground. Now Titus could see the statue well. It was a giant in armour crowned with a halo and with a mining drill in his hands. Besides the strange equipment it was a common image of the Emperor: perfectness, patriarchal strictness and all-overwhelming might. Light-yellow stone the statue was made of was sparkless, but the hands of the ruler of mankind were smirked in black up to elbows. Titus noticed some arbiters whose visors were turning to them too often. They were checking codes on arms of passing by humans, those codes must have been permanent. One woman held out her baby’s little hand and it was scanned too. People readily proved their alliance and went further. On Olynthum T humans never smiled to arbiters.
- Identify yourselves, citizens, - ordered the armoured man. His two comrades stayed alert holding activated clubs. They had all reasons to be nervous. If Sebastian looked like a wealthy clerk with his servants, the Astartes looked at least suspiciously. Ogryns don’t move the way he did and don’t wear such cloaks as usual.
- You may go, citizens, - the arbiter scanned their codes.
- Thank you, for your service, - answered the inquisitor, - let the Emperor be with you.
Sebastian took them to alleys couple time and they went over to another side of the road when the opportunity arose, probably, he felt something and checked it. He, Titus, noticed nothing. A lonely human was occupying the road between marching masses. He stood in a small ancient mining trolley pulled by a mechanic horse. He had a huge burning candle atop his bald head; same candles crowned several servo-skulls flying around him. His one skinny hand swung a pickaxe, the other was replaced with a high flaming torch.
- The Emperor be praised! He is our savior and protector! - the man opened his mouth but could be heard of course only through a dynamic hanged at his body and the ones held by the flying skulls. - The Emperor was a miner on the holy Terra, just like you. He dug into the cradle of mankind and produced coal to give people the light and heat. With the blackened hand He showed us our path and destiny in the galaxy. He produced oar and made his fleet and mighty army and conquered the space, so we all, here on Abderra, could live in peace. Celebrate the Coal Day! Thank Him for this holiday, for tomorrow He expects you fulfill your duty with eagerness and gratefulness. The Emperor protects!
- The Emperor protects! - the crowd cheered back. Titus noticed how the grim Tapio’s face got softer, lips curled to something resembling a smile. They moved for two more hours, seeing the same: cheerful humans with black palms, energetically marching columns of civilians and military alike, the Ministorum preachers and images of the Emperor-miner.
- We will split up here, - announced Sebastian, - Tapio take Titus and go North-East, we will meet at the governor palace in four Terran hours. Be vigilante!
- Yes, master, - answered the man. The hunchback led him through the human torrents. They’ve been stopped twice by the arbiters but besides those accidents, they just strolled along. Tapio turned his head and started to wade through the crowd to the building facing the main road. Titus followed him, trying to figure out what did the man see.
- Happy Coal Day! - the agent of the holy Inquisition brought them to a street vender. An old dim glass was washed and polished. A small image of the Emperor-miner stood in the window. A thump of a man was sitting inside on a cushion. - Lost both legs in the mine, love this holiday nevertheless. How can I serve, friends?
- A couple pints of you best, citizen, - Tapio put through a hole a low-level coin on the counter, - keep the change.
- Thank you, buddy, - the cheapest prosthetic arm gave the sniper a tin cup, - a bigger one for your tough friend.
- Thanks, - Titus took grabbed a bigger container still looking like too small in his palm. They stepped aside, letting the next customer to chase away the thirst of the hot day with a cold drink.
- That’s good, - Tapio sipped his cup.
- Not bad, - he drank it on one gulp. This sniper was a strange one, but not unique. Titus seen such warriors in plenty, those, who lost everything. And everybody.
- Hold it till we meet a trash can. Littering is a severe crime here. - Tapio moved forward. Humans let him through eagerly - a fellow-man who enjoying his drink at the holiday.
- You know, it’s not true, - Titus said to him, when they checked an empty alley after some time. He didn’t want to mock the hunchback or to chat with him. Words just slipped out. - I doubt the Emperor held a pickaxe a day in his life. Let alone mining in person.
- Doesn’t matter, - Tapio’s lenses looked at him. No zealous anger no offended piety, - at my homeworld the God-Emperor was portrayed as a hunter, who feed whole mankind. The Emperor, one and only, granted to all these people a day to enjoy. Even if it’s only one in the whole year, look at them, - he turned to the noisy road, - they laugh, they walk, enjoy themselves and their beloved ones.
- A rare sight, - Titus agreed.
- I’ve seen other options, - Tapio raised his voice a little and pointed his finger at the festival, - that’s what I fight for. People deserve such days. As much as possible. My family had none.
- What happen?
- Orks, - the man said in steady voice, but his body trembled with hatred.
- I’ve fought those, - Titus enjoyed purging the xenos on their territory. That was a good enemy to exercise on. To see what wreck these savages make to the Imperial lands was another thing. - Next time I met one I’ll kill him for your dead, - the familiar words busted out themselves.
- I kill for the living, - Tapio answered not knowing what memories he has evoked in his companion, - dead are gone. Let’s go, can’t make the master wait.
- Stop, - Titus froze calling Tapio. People passed him by, giving him a worried look. A servo-skull flew their direction. They have walked one more hour and he felt a pain out of nowhere.
- Is it psychic? - asked Sebastian through the vox.
- Yes, and it’s rising vigorously, - he greeted teeth. - I can’t describe the feeling, but something going one.
- Find the source, Tapio cover him, we are going your way.
- There, - Titus found the direction stepping around. They run to the beacon of pain a soon as the arbiters checked their strangely behaving couple. Whatever the codes said, they were released without questions. Growing gain leading him out of the main street into the narrow alleys of living blocks. It was like a thick cloud filled with water gathered above him. When the psychic energy grabbed him so tightly, he thought he would die thanks to the damned conductor, it got a bit easier. He had an image of a cracked dam, letting the water out in small jets. And then “the water” broke through knocking his brain off its legs. Tapio caught him only to fall atop.
- Who got this ogryn drunk? Let them be, it’s the Coal Day, - grunt and laughter surrounded them. Fortunately, their agitated behavior cleared the space around them, and nobody was crushed by the Astartes.
- A big psychic blast, - as soon as he came back to his senses, Titus reported to the inquisitor.
- A physical one too, - Tapio stood still watching a small smoke in couple blocks away, - close to us, on north-north-east.
- Investigate! - ordered Sebastian, - show who you are if it’s needed.
- Yes, master, - they run to the explosion. Few humans heard pieces of their chat and stretched their necks to see the smoke, but didn’t raise panic.
- The Inquisition! What’s going on, arbiters? - demanded Tapio when they meet three keepers of the law holding a scared woman, trying to escape the alley, which lead to the smoke.
- She said there was an explosion, - reported the man immediately. Nobody used the name of the holy organization loosely in the Imperium, - and she is telling about witchcraft, lord.
- It’s there, run for your lives, save yourselves, - the bewildered woman warned them, but when she saw, that nobody ran immediately she tried to break free, - let me go!
- Take her away! One of you must hold this alley, do not let civilians come in. Warn others that the Inquisition here, - Tapio swiftly instructed arbiters and they came further. The explosion took place in the heart of living area, separated from the celebrating crowd by a knot of narrow alleys. Considering the deafening hum of the parade, here could be gun fight going on right now and nobody would notice.
- It’s inside! - an aged man ran out of the building, pointing behind.
- Get out, now! - they needed no direction - several windows were blown away at thirty sixth floor. Two were scorched.
- My wife is there! - the man turned around and ran back.
- Identify yourselves! - three arbiters came to the courtyard from the opposite direction. They pointed their shotguns at them. - hey you, freeze where you are!
- We are agents of the holy Inquisition, - Tapio turned to the newcomers showing his hands. Titus did the same reluctantly, - your superiors have been informed. Get out!
- Stand still! We had no such information, prove yourselves or get killed in the name of the Law, - one arbiter stood still aiming at them, while two others were stepping to them carefully from both sides.
- Here is your prove, - growled Titus, looking up.
- The God-Emperor, save me! - whined the standing arbiter and lowered his gun, not knowing what to do next.
- It’s a possessed, master! - immediately reported sniper with no trace of fear or surprise.
- We are coming! Titus, protect Tapio!
- Yes! - he produced the las-pistol, which probably will be useless. He forgot about arbiters, who were staring in horror at the figure above. A naked four-year-old boy floated from the window and hovered motionless. It flew stomach up, head and limbs hanging loose. Small twisted body was occupied by a spirit. Titus had few encounters with those entities of the warp. He wished he had none. The unnatural scene made him wonder, does his psy-conductor make him an easier prey to the predators of the Empyrean.
- Die! Die! - one arbiter produced a las-pistol and opened fire. He shook with fear but hit the target. But the man only attracted attention of the unnatural beast. The baby has gone long ago. Tapio showed his own gun, a las-pistol too, but wrapped in parchments with crimson seals, the hunchback poured some liquid from a little bottle over his gun and started to pray, lips to the weapon. Titus hoped it would work. Meanwhile the possessed dived on the arbiter who was firing at it. The Astartes shot the small body, but it didn’t react. The wretched child hit the man at high speed turning him apart in a moment. Two others ran away from such scene. Titus saw what exactly happen: the body glowed like a power weapon and the human flesh got ripped away from it like dust from the wind. That’s bad. The possessed darted after running arbiters. The one who ran further dropped face down, he just didn’t have a face anymore - his helmet got crumpled like the tin cup he had squeezed earlier. The last human turned around screaming for help. His visor headed him. Titus shot the monster, piercing small body but not slowing the warp creature at all.
- Save me! Please, hel… - a wheeled bike came from nowhere and smashed the human away. So, the possessed could do this too.
- Titus, - he didn’t know the language in his mind but somehow understood the meaning. The scorched and scratched body of the boy slowly approaching him upside down, - now we can talk without distractions. The human behind you spending his time in vain. Just as you keep firing this thing in your hand. Your big strong hand.
- What do you want, spirit? - he asked aloud, lowering the useless weapon. The body would be so close soon, that he could hit it with his fist.
- You, Astartes. Your strong stout body. Let me in, let me help you. Titus Livius will never hide from anybody ever. You will be free.
- I will not be your slave, warp scum! - he hit the naked back with his fist, but it stopped in a millimeter. Titus got lifted up for several meters and tossed down hard.
- Fool, - said the voice in his head, ringing after the falling. He was in the air again. Unfamiliar feeling of defenselessness hurt more than the actual pain.
- By His will I will banish you from this world, - Tapio opened eyes and pointed his pistol at the possessed. The man fired and the ordinary las beam hit the small body, leaving and ordinary scorch. But the kid opened his mouth and let go an inhuman scream. Titus dropped down and turned to Tapio, who kept shooting the demon, which body started to crumble: the head and both legs fell off, partly turning to ashes. Small hand stretched to the hunchback and the pistol flew away from his grip. Titus ran to Tapio, not knowing what he would do, but the rest of the child’s body fell down before disarmed sniper. It smoked and showed no blood.
- How did you do it? - he asked the man.
- I did nothing. My faith did everything. Master, the possessed banished, its remnants are here.
- Well done. We are almost there. Do not pick up the gun, Tapio.
- Yes, master, - he looked at Titus, the man looked normal, that faith of him didn’t take much. Who was that humble man and that inquisitor to deal with the spirits so easily? - I will inform the tenants, that it’s over.
Sebastian and Pison emerged soon as promised. They brought few arbiters, who started to pick their dead brethren together.
- You have fought well, Tapio, - the inquisitor repeated his praise and turned to him, - Titus, pick up the pistol.
- Yes, - he went for the laying gun, wondering what kind of test it was. He felt all three men staring at him. Titus grabbed the weapon with no hesitation and came back to humans. Psykers showed no emotion, Tapio looked a little glad.
- Good, - Sebastian nodded and addressed the arbiters, - guard the alleys and the living building, do not look this way!
- Yes, my lord, - men answered in choir.
- Pison, begin, - ordered the inquisitor. His acolyte bowed and made an Aquila sign with his gloved hand. The man knelt before the biggest piece of the corpse, produced couple cords from his robe and tossed away the hair showing his neck. It was filled with different dots and sockets, Pison put in the chords in his body and prepared to insert the other ends into the corrupted flesh before him. When the psyker did so, Titus felt nothing, but the man definitely wasn’t having the easy time: face wrinkled and grimaced intensively; eyes moved under the eyelids; the sweat appeared. Finally, Pison shrieked and tumbled to one side.
- Come back, acolyte! - Sebastian was at him, pulling off the cords from the blackened remnants.
- Not related, - Pison opened his eyes and sat up, - I saw no connection to our operation, mentor.
- An accident then, - stated Sebastian. - Is it worth a place in my collection?
- No, - Pison shook his head, - it made a wreck but it is nothing.
- That thing knew my name, if it helps, - added Titus.
- It means nothing, - Sebastian turned to the acolyte, - Stay here, look to its proper destruction. I will send a ship for you.
- Yes, master. - Pison put away his cords, looking at the broken flesh. Titus saw no compassion or sadness towards the unhappy child in the psyker’s eyes. He had none too - this was a burden of their kind. Both the inquisitor and his pupil could have ended similarly many times. The child just wasn’t lucky enough. Tapio, who fearlessly fought the possessed and saved his life, now when it was over looked low-spirited and grimmer than usual. The happy faces of thousands, who didn’t know about the dangerous tragedy took place just behind them, didn’t please the hunchback anymore.
- Melancholy is unacceptable during the operation, Tapio, - strictly warned Sebastian.
- I’m sorry, master. Just the kid. Dead grown people stopped bothering me, but children.
- You stopped his torture and saved many others from the same fate, - cut him off the inquisitor, - that’s what we can do in the most cases. Today we have a rare opportunity to strike first. Get a grip on yourself, Tapio.
- Yes, master. I’m sorry. Ready to serve, - with every word the man looked more and more collected.
The festival continued as well as their search.
- I felt some kind of psychic echo, - Titus warned his companions, - very weak, but it is here.
- Get used to it, - Sebastian calmed him down, - the governor palace is near, there are many active psykers.
- Can we change the direction, - after some time he again broke the silence, - I have a feeling we are being watched, want to check it.
- Tapio? - Sebastian asked the man, who shrugged. - We shall do so.
They used the overhead passage, took a moment to look at the vast city. The climax of the festival has passed, the sun getting lower, but Abderra Prime kept humming joyously. Titus led them through small alleys and minor streets, then they came back to the main road and changed the side again.
- We are being followed, - stated Titus, - and not by servo-skulls or pict-recorders.
- I feel nothing, - answered Sebastian, - what do you propose?
- Split up, lure them out. They may dare to attack one of us if we will be alone, especially in some empty corner.
- They will kill us one by one then, - Sebastian got silent for few steps, - see that statue? Do not go further, Titus. We will go after you soon.
- I’ll be on the vox all the time, master, - the last word came out hard, but the inquisitor heard him - the Astartes remembered his orders. Sebastian and Tapio went into some crowded public place, and he went on alone. He got used to the human masses and didn’t feel out of place now. He even let some drunk miner to slap him on the shoulder. The clumsy jump was met by approving laugh from the man’s company. Soon the feeling returned. Titus passed couple blocks and turned into the alley, acting like he was searching for something. At some empty square squeezed between living blocks his plan succeeded.
- Identify yourself, citizen! - Titus had to step aside to see the addresser who was blocked by a monument to some miner on a massive pedestal, surrounded by stone benches.
- I have my code here, - Titus raised his hand, showing the brand. He added in whisper, - do you read?
- Yes, - responded Sebastian.
- Identify yourself, citizen! - repeated the same maw in lifeless tone of a servitor. A mechanic dog stepped towards him. The big steel body would knock him off, the metal was scratched and moved noiselessly - the thing was frequently used and took care of. The speaking head was fully artificial, three lenses glowed green. The second head was built around a skull of some animal - way too big to be an ancient Terran dog. One hind leg was made of thick yellow bones too, wrapped with cords and cables.
- Here is my code, it had been checked numerously today, - Titus stood legs apart, preparing for the charge of the mechanic beast, which kept approaching and ignoring his compliance. He felt no others enemies.
- Identify yourself, citizen! - the dog sped up.
- Here is my damned code! - Titus caught the machine in its leap in the air for the front legs and swung around himself. The dog flew away and crushed the bench, leaving its forearms in his hands. He tossed paws away and stepped back, who knows what weapons the servitor could have in it. But so far, the dog failed to stand up, kicking the air with the left limbs. A las-beam pierced his robe and scorched the skin. Titus jumped aside avoiding next shots and fired back - two civilians dropped dead at the far corner of the square. - One battle servitor down and two men are dead.
- We are coming, - answered Sebastian.
- In the name of the God-Emperor, drop your gun! - an aged man addressed him through the loud speaker. The human dropped the robe demonstrating his authority: a red power armour shined, trimmed with gold and gems; a massive chain was filled with all kind of jewelry, among which a gold insignia “I” was the biggest; a bolt-pistol was holstered and a power sword sheathed. Another inquisitor then. The man alone wasn’t a reason to surrender: he was a powerful psyker, but the pistol was already in Titus’s hand. But his servants were: six men pointed pistols at him from different angles. All looking just like the rest of celebrating Abderra’s populace, some hands holding the guns were blackened. But eyes and grips were hard. Titus tossed away his gun.
- I defended myself and I’ve got a code, - he raised his hands, letting the sleeves to slide down.
- Yeah, we’ve got those too, - smirked the man. He was below average height, bald and wrinkled, eyebrows were white. - so, who are you? Killing my men so easily.
- A passing by ogryn, - smirked back Titus. He knew that man recognized him as an Astartes. Sebastian would cover that fact. If the new inquisitor would know his legion - he’ll be killed faster than that mechanic dog.
- I have no time for this, - tiredly said the man and Titus felt the light touch to his mind. Pickpocket would have the same gentle hand. Suddenly his mind was covered with a thick lid cap.
- Then don’t waste it on my man, brother. - Sebastian came into the square, he opened his coat, so his plain lorica musculata identified himself as member of the Inquisition as well as the rich armour of his colleague. Tapio stepped behind holding his wrapped-up pistol down. - I am Sebastian Silver from Ordo Malleus.
- A cousin then. I welcome you; my name is Kacper Balik, Ordo Xenos, - the man made a gesture and his men put away their guns, Titus noticed, some did it reluctantly and looked at him angrily - he must have killed their comrades. Foolish. If you wield a weapon, sooner or later you will be killed by weapon. The Astartes understood the Xenos part, but what was that malleus? - It is a black day, servants of the Emperor killing each other by the accident.
- A black day indeed, sorry for your loss, - Sebastian and Kacper met close to Titus, who has already picked up his pistol and put on the hood back, - I heard the transmission, the servitor attacked unprovoked, ignoring the compliance of my man.
- The dog doesn’t care for the codes and all this, Sebastian, - the aged man looked straight at his capturer, but his words were addressed to him, - it’s DNA the servitor is after. Especially, Non-human origin or mutated.
- Titus is my man, - simply repeated Sebastian. - He fought the Aeldari couple days before hand-to-hand, was wounded. No wonder some alien DNA might left on him.
- Indeed, - Kacper didn’t hide his skepticism, - so it was you who purged the xenos from Abdera. That’s why the reports were so controversial. I am glad you did it before we came here. Every extra day of those filthy freaks offends the Emperor and laughs at the Imperium. Thank you, inquisitor.
- I live to serve Him, every enemy of His is mine.
- As to any of us. I dare to suggest you are here by your Ordo’s activity. If so and I or my men can serve - I shall help eagerly. As long as we stationed in this system. My ship is Chasseur - call for it and I will answer.
- I appreciate your offer and thankful for it. The call will come from Ataraxis, - both inquisitors bowed to each other, while two killed men were taken away.
- What happen to the dog? - Titus heard stomping and now saw the source. A bulky figure, next to which he looked small himself, came out of an alley accompanied by a man hidden under cloth. The ogryn wore the miner’s outfit but his thick skin was too clean for his kin working underground and scars were battle related. His ran to the laying servitor, stretching out his hands and whimpering, - the dog is broken! Who did this?!
- The ones who disobey the all-loving Emperor, Mischek, - said the robed man in an artificial voice.
- But why? - the giant looked at the servitor in amaze.
- Because the dog has served well the God-Emperor and those who don’t broke it because of jealousy, - Kacper pad the ogryn on the forearm, - but good Enzo will fix it, right?
- Yes, master, - the robed figure pointed with mechanic hand at the servitor - the dog stopped moving, lenses went out. - Mischek pick it up, we will bring the dog back to the Emperor’s light.
- What kind of servants does not beloved Emperor send to us, Sebastian? - the new inquisitor nodded to the psyker, - I will pray to Him to seal our acquaintance with blood of His enemies.
- Let Him guide us! - answered Sebastian, and they deserted the square. Soon the tenants will come home wondering, who dared to break the bench at the such beautiful day.
Chapter 7 inlcudes few short stories from different characters' view. It's a good way to see if you like my writing.
Let me know, if you like it. Or that you don't =) You may read it for free on my patreon page or below.
Warning 15000+ words.
It has been three or four days - Titus didn’t know for sure, since the healing after the battle against the xenos affected his sleeping routine, which wasn’t improved by being a punchbag of the possessed, and he had no clock. To ask the machine that brought him ration was both degrading and useless - it was the simplest serf. The robed servitor was absent. Titus understood that another period of waiting begun and could last for long. That servitor patched him up well and his body’s function didn’t fail this time either. News tiny scars would mix up with others, which origin the Astartes could tell not every time. Malleus. That did sound impressive, and he thought he understood the meaning. Sebastian was one of those who chase spirits out of this reality. If that was true, the inquisitor better to find him a more appropriate weapon, otherwise he would not be that useful after all. However fast and strong you were, some enemies just demanded specific weapons. But he be damned, if Tapio didn’t used an ordinary las-pistol. The Astartes didn’t have enough information and couldn’t get more without attracting the lethal wrath of his capturer. So, Titus cut off all unpractical thoughts and guesses and kept himself busy with physical exercises for the next fight.
The gates opened and familiar servo-skull flew in.
- Come out to the deck, the crew is being assembled, - the techno-priest’s order filled the compartment, - the master will speak to you in four point seventy six Terran minutes.
- Titus! - the Jacob screamed to him as soon as he stepped out of his mooring box, following the flying skull, - looking sharp, - the man added after couple silent moments, - and talkative as always!
- Jacob, - he looked at the smiling acolyte: the lack of the power armour only emphasize his massive body structure; all his jewels and finery were at the place, may be the different color or detail here and there, but the same fashion; one pistol of his was at the belt along with a broad sword, which appeared to be a plain steel, no power field generator was to be seen; left knee turned into a sophisticated artificial leg resembling a prefect muscular human limb made of bronze.
- You can skip Obrecht part, but only until I return you a favor, - Jacob acted confident, almost impudent, - in the hospital, held by idleness, I remembered whom you did remind me, Titus. Once I saw a space marine, what a splendid image. His best warriors, there, at the council, my father was part of. The Astartes looked bigger of course, but we all look less without appropriate outfit.
- … - Titus gave the man a heavy glance demonstrating how insignificant his chat was for him.
- You are not the man I would like to defend the sieged citadel with. You are big fellow, and comparing to a space marine could flatter you, - the Astartes saw that behind the bold face this human was stressed and uncertain, feeling a failure probably. - I was a big boy, and my sister teased me, calling a space marine candidate, - Jacob added with a sigh and brushed his mustache habitually. Titus saw him in battle, maybe he had a slight chance to become the Astartes material. But he silently noted, that in his current state the man would die in the next battle. The techno-priest joined them. The thumping of his stuff was the only sound.
- Finally, a normal person! - Jacob cheerfully greeted Tapio, who quietly descended the ladder.
- Praise the Emperor, you came back, - calmly said the sniper, then he nodded to Titus, who moved his head in response.
- He has protected me this time, - the dressed-up man kissed one of the trinkets on his chain, - the mentor said you banished the warp spirit. Well done, Tapio! I wish I’ve been there with you. Next time I will cover your back.
- I am thankful for this, - hunchback bowed seriously. Titus turned his head to the quiet steps of bare feet.
- You are here?! - Jacob murmured amused, - how did you leave the hospital? The mentor, - he answered himself.
- The master granted me a chance to serve Him, - Luisa looked bad. Titus didn’t care for the appearance, he estimated her physical condition even though she was clad in grey robe, covering her body.
- Let me see, - Jacob stepped to her and opened the cloak - naked rigid flesh was sore and red around bare metal. It must have been a painful experience to be up in such state, let alone to fight.
- I see crude and ugly mechanisms, - creaked the servo-skull, the priest himself didn’t even turn.
- I don’t deserve better ones, - humbly answered the woman. Her artificial limbs were as simple as possible. It was crutches, not replacements. Titus didn’t see her old skin, but the new synthetic one was grey and misplaced. He didn’t feel oblige to tell something to the woman. The red lens of her new eye hasn’t risen to him asking for no words either.
- If the master said you are up to the battle, then you are, Luisa, welcome back, - Tapio closed the robe back.
- For the Emperor’s sake, shorten this cloak, you will stumble over your own cloth with that thing for your leg! - Jacob yelled with fervor and pulled his hand into a small bag at his belt, - here, it’s for you. I don’t like how you use them, but at least I will hear you and try to save what is left out of you.
- Thank you, master Obrecht, - Luisa clenched a small golden bell in her hands and started to pray. Familiar lonely ring was overwhelmed with stronger one. Alert siren came alive throughout all deck.
- Ataraxis is greeting her master, - declared the Martian. The gates to the one mooring box opened and the couple of psykers entered the deck. Everybody bowed to the inquisitor, Titus did too, he was a legionary, a proud warrior, not some hot-blooded punk from under-hive trying to look tough. He was.
- Let the Emperor be with you, - Sebastian greeted them, Pison bowed slightly behind his back. Both looked tired and exhausted. The robed servitor came out the mooring box. - I will be short. We might have found a trace of the enemy, - Jacob hit his palm with a fist, - Pison, explain.
- Abderra Prime has been living in peace and has surveillance data for over two hundred years. We have checked the populace for any unusual activity of its citizens, - the acolyte said swiftly, - frequent movement besides the living or working areas, contacts with strangers, this kind of behavior. The search brought several groups of people looking suspicion. The chosen enforcers checked them.
- There are few gatherings of suspects, - Sebastian spoke again, - may be some illegal activity is taking place, but there is a chance that cursed witchcraft is taking place in that city, - now Luisa couldn’t listen patiently, - so we shall smith them with one hit. Tonight, you will strike those nests of vice simultaneously. Enforcers and other allies will help. I will speak with each of you later. Prepare yourselves for His will must be done.
- For the Emperor! - humans made the Aquilla gesture. Titus struck his chest with the fist. This battle cry he could share.
He sat alone in a corner till the public place got empty.
- The place is closing, citizen, - declared servitor, half waiter-half bouncer. It was made out of a heavy man, probably one of the former visitors.
- I’m closing, buddy, - the stout barman stood behind the bar definitely gripping some gun. Abderra Prime was a peaceful and prosperous city, but a joint for the guardsmen needed extra precautions.
- Sorry, I am leaving, - Tapio stood up and slowly took his long case, - thanks for the beer, veteran.
- You chose my best, - the man nodded his head looking after him going out. The joint served one and only sort of drink. Former guardsmen went there not for delights, but for the company of those who shared the same horror of wars mankind lead. Or for quiet solitude the joint could provide. So Tapio spent several hours without any attention to his lonely figure. The mark on his hand was still active and has been successfully checked by the arbiters several times. It was dark and empty outside. The dim lamps gave him enough light. His destination was in two hours walk. Rare vehicles raced him by, no pedestrians.
- Identify yourself, citizen, - a white spot lighted his hand, a servo-skull scanned his code and flew away, - the time is late, go home, citizen.
He was home. For the last decade he had no other but the front of the hidden war he joined. It was unexpected call from the PDF to the Holy Inquisition. Though not so sudden as the death of his family. Tapio checked the data-device on his wrist - he needed to speed up, so he cut the road coming into narrow alleys. After couple blocks, he knew, the he had someone behind. Was it some peaceful citizen coming home late and keeping his distance fearing Tapio? Or was it the second option?
- A nice glowing thing you have there, old man, - the second then. A figure came out of shadow, thinking he was a big surprise. A slender man with a knife or a sharpened piece of metal. Not even a fire arm. The second robber joined his companion. He was a bigger man with artificial legs. The quality of the protheses was closer to ones Luisa had, rather than Jacob’s. He held a crude club.
- His eyes are also good, too much expensive for that wanderer, - a woman’s voice emerged behind. It was full of pride, like she was a hunter who ambushed an animal.
- Tell me, buddy, do you see color with those things? - both men approached, - give it away along with all other stuff and they make you a new pair. It’s better than see some red for goodbye.
- Sure, - Tapio put his case to the ground and tossed it back darting forward. Those three were fools, any guardsman worth his rank, however drunk, would deal with these scums with bare hands. He caught the armed hand of the talkative robber and shut his mouth with an uppercut. Tapio twisted the hand bending the man down and pushed his to the iron legged enemy, who couldn’t hit him properly because of his comrade in the way. He turned to the woman, who froze half knelt before his case. She was surprised to face resistance; they didn’t do it for the first time. Tapio didn’t talk to her about her wrong doings, he just broke her neck spinning the head.
- No! - the heavy man tossed away his accomplice still dizzy after the head punch and leapt on him. Tapio stepped back with every ferocious swing of the club. Being angry is the same as being defenseless. As soon as the man swung too wide, Tapio kicked him below the knee. The iron leg was rigid, but he needn’t to break it, just to push. The robber lost his balance roundly, and Tapio gave him a solid uppercut too. And pushed both his thumbs into the open neck, crushing the Adam’s apple. The man dropped the club and swung his hands frantically choking. Tapio picked up the club and broke the skull of the attacker.
- No, please! - the last enemy knelt before him pleading for mercy, - it was all their idea, I swear.
The sniper killed him in one blow. It was his choice to join. Tapio stretched his back, the hump didn’t make his life easier as it was without hand to hand brawl. He took the case and went on. He had no sorry for those three. They were parasites inside the body of the Imperium. Filthy xenos in human shape, nothing more. He wouldn’t even mention this short encounter to the inquisitor. His master didn’t meddle with such trifles. He made it clear during the first operation Tapio took part in under his command.
The only stop before he came to the position was another check by a servo-skull. Tapio was on the roof of a living building, not the highest in the block, but with excellent view to his target. He easily broke in and chose a comfort place. The roof was filled with cables, antennas and ventilation engines. He opened his case.
- Tapio is on position, - reported the man and prepared to wait: the vox connection to the orbit was a hard thing itself plus he used a highly crypted channel. The inquisitor was at Ataraxis, gathering the data from all squads deployed around the city.
- Proceed, Tapio, - a servo-skull activated and flew out the case. It haв one lens and was spiked with antennas of all kinds. The techno-priest was his companion to this task. The man pulled out a chip from the augmented bone and plug it in his optic. One eye got blind and then the world split in two separated pictures mixing together in a strange fusion in the center.
- I have a view. Testing sound, do you read?
- The connection is clear and stable. Moving the servitor to the position, - the answer came much quicker, now he had a straight connection to the techno-priest, who already made the skull fly away. Tapio got to prepare his weapon, taking the time to adjust to the double image in his brain. He worked liked this couple times, but it was still hard. The main problem was that he could “close” his eye, while the servitor’s view was always there, as well as the sounds it was catching. He plugged in the riffle and laid down eyeing his target. As the master said it was a ruin of a small chapel. The fire took place some time ago, a new temple was erected somewhere else, but somehow the spot still wasn’t built up. Not that attracted the inquisitor. A group of citizens visited this area by nights time to time. They had no other connection between themselves except for being in the congregation of the burned down chapel. All people had a perfect record in the Administratum, but those night visit must be checked. The master called it the weakest lead. Tapio didn’t care, there were no small deed at this war. Only righteous or wicked.
- That’s enough, - he said to the techno-priest, who stopped and lowered the skull on the other side of the road. The servitor caught the approaching sound of a wheeled vehicle. An expensive car drove in and stopped letting out a couple of people, whom the killed robbers would love to meet.
- We are the first, as always, - nervously told the woman, while the man looking around. The skull showed they stiff statue, while the bayonet gave him a clear view of their faces - whatever purpose brought them here, they didn’t enjoy it.
- The God-Emperor be praised! - a humble voice belonged to an aged woman who’ve been brought by young men.
- And the holy Amin who brought His word to our souls, - answered the rich couple making an Aquilla sign.
- Let the Emperor be with you, brothers and sisters, - a strongly built man came out from another vehicle.
- How is Simin? - asked the old woman.
- She is healthy, and mourning, - the man robbed his wrinkled forehead, - but the bastard made her puke with anger and tremble with fear. Not what we need here, I reckon.
- You are right, - nodded the rich man. Others came in vehicles or by foot: people of all ages and occupation, they praised the Emperor, remembered some Amin and cursed “that bastard”. Mostly they’ve been waiting in silence. When couple dozens of them were there they came into the remnants of the chapel and knelt there in the ashes. The quiet murmur was barely heard.
- The volume rate is low, - said the Martian, - should the servitor get closer?
- Negative, - Tapio knew a pray when he saw one. If those people gather here for a late service, let them be. He prayed himself a lot, asking for righteous life and death. That was all he wanted. Only this will unite him with his family, who were definitely by the light of the Emperor. His wife was a pure woman, kind and faithful, and children were too young to do something really wicked. They were there waiting for him. He hoped they were despite the fact that he had failed to protect them from the xenos. It would take a miracle to see them again. Tapio dedicated his life to His name hoping this would be that miracle. Asking for death was a sin, but asking for righteous one was his daily routine. Not today apparently.
- Don’t stop, please continue, - a new man showed up. He didn’t look much, but acted arrogant and shameless. The servo-skull noticed his steps, his thugs were more discreet, but haven’t avoided sniper’s eye. They were bandits for sure, they didn’t need to hold guns to prove it. Some people jumped to their feet, but most of them finished the pray first and then left the burned down chapel.
- We brought the money, - said the rich man, the rest nodded looking around, - where is he? Bring preacher Amin back!
- Oh, he is alright where he is, - “that bastard” laughed, - after all he came to me by himself and got comforted.
- You kidnapped him, you bastard! - screamed someone from the crow, - the Emperor will punish you!
- It is me, who is punishing you and that stupid priest of yours! - yelled the man angrily, - your Amin got the chapel burned, got a new one, but no! He dared to came to my land and to dictate me what to do with my property!
- These doings are not related to the investigation. I shall call the servitor off, - the techno-priest clicked in the vox.
- Bring him now! - couple men produced pistols to clear astonishment of the rest.
- Wait! We will finish here, - Tapio silently fired his riffle, killing one bandit. Before the rest noticed it, he shot another.
- Now he is a dead man! - screamed the extortionist and ran back. His thugs thought they were shot by someone in the crowd and pointed their weapons at the parishes. Tapio shot one more, and the last two opened fire and hit armed men and those who stood close to them before he finished them. Another victim produced a weapon and shot the running away bandit in the back, but missed. The thug was going to be out of his sight, so Tapio didn’t risk and hit him in the back.
- Say them to stay where they are, I’m coming down, - the sniper left his position picking up the case. Running down, he heard and saw agitated crowd, weeping for the wounded and the gone Amin.
- In the name of the Inquisition, - the servo-skull turn on the light and flew closer to the people, - do not move!
- Put down your weapon, now! - Tapio run across the road holding his riffle ready.
- We are all disarmed! - claimed the rich man, and empty hands raised in the air, - we are innocent!
- Shut up! - Tapio had no time for their pleas and promises. Few were dead, filled with pellet shots. One man was wounded, he would survive without assistance. He ignored horrified faces and came to the shot bandit. His riffle left a big hole in his back. The Mechanicus was right, it was definitely not their business, another fiddle thing for tonight. But he would help these people. Tapio knelt before the corpse and found the code, printed on the wrist. Good. He produced a heavy knife and chopped off the greedy arm. With the bloody trophy he returned to the crowd, - take this. Tell the arbiters all the truth and what you saw. I am an agent of the Inquisition, make them clear that the result of the investigation will be checked.
- Thank you, lord, - the rich man took it fastidiously, the rest thanked, somebody cried with a relief. Few were grim, understanding that their silence will be punished too.
- The Emperor be praised, - Tapio turned from them and went into the darkness. - Send local arbiters to this location and turned the servitor off, I’m going to the extraction point, - he said to the techno-priest in the dark alley, putting the riffle into the case. He hadn’t to do it, maybe he shouldn’t mention the Inquisition and leave the roof unnoticed after the gunfight. But showing up like this and chopping the hand off was impressive, and now the victims don’t runaway and the arbiters would take the case seriously. Would they find that Amin or another criminal activity didn’t matter. He did the righteous thing tonight.
- Grant me strength, make me worthy, grant me strength, make me worthy, - Luisa was praying, clutching her amulets. The vehicle went over a bump, and the golden bell rang shaking on her neck, reminding her of her sin. Let it ring, let all know who they are riding with. The sinner. That who she was, is and will be. The death may bring a redemption, but not necessarily. New arm and leg ached - that’s how it should be, why would the body feel good while the soul was crippled; the prostheses, not covered by slashed robe, made her ugly in men’s eyes - if they only could saw her ugly soul, her rotten past. The transport stopped; it was time. She lifted her new eye, the red dot inside the car. - Disembark, surround the object, keep the distance and wait for my order.
- Yes, my lady, - the leader of enforcers barked back in the vox.
The master put her in charge of these men. Dozen enforcers quietly left the transport and their heavy armored figures mixed with the night. The man was rotating a stubber in a top hatch of the armoured vehicle, scanning the area with his augmented helmet. Luisa stepped forward, holding her weapon tight at her breast, like a baby. The sword and mace were gone, she wasn’t sorry, those were mere tools. This thing was her most precious possession, a reminder of her sin and a way of washing it away. “You can take it, Luisa”, - said the master, and she did so with the tears of gratitude. It was a rare thing she could wield it in a battle. The master knew she was close to the end, and granted her a possibility to die the way she has been dreaming for.
- Luisa in the position, begin the operation, - she reported steadily. The last fight or not, the duty always goes first. She moved forward, wincing from the pain which crawling on her body with every step. The boot on her left foot made her even more awkward. That was all she could wear. There was no need to cut her armour in half for her last days. It would serve to somebody else soon. The enforcers reported of their readiness. She hobbled to a wide double door of some public diner. - Captain, I need that door get opened silently.
- Yes, my lady, - in few seconds a man appeared and knelt before the panel, producing data slate and some wires. The process didn’t interest her, she was looking for the possible fight ahead. Would she find a mortal enemy behind that door? The xenos in the desert were perfect in their way: filthy pests, sentenced to death by His will. To die killing them would end her penance properly. The giant saved her, so it wasn’t her time then. Loosing limbs didn’t hurt her so much as the repetition of the past: she had been saved again. Not by His angel at least, the total relapse would devastate her. The enforcer stood up and left her alone before the opened door. She came in. It was an eating joint, citizens of Abderra Prime come here to buy extra ration for excess money. Both things were bizarre for Luisa. At her homeworld they heard of no extra good things. Only excess beating or additional labor. Those people had everything and they wanted more. The master said that a numerous group of clerks made tours into the wild desert at their vacations, - another thing her parents hadn’t heard of, - for hiking and fasting. It was sanctioned and the participants led a clean life afterwards. Some fraction of them met on irregular basis, the areas and participants changed, last few months it was this place. Deaths occurred among these men, transport accidents or street violence. They gathered and died not often, but there was a link to check. Luisa must find out, if they found something in that desert besides the tighter faith in the God-Emperor. She moved between long tables in the dark, her new limbs filled her with loud pain and the joint with the quiet whirr. The place looked empty, if it had some safety system, the enforcer cut it off.
- The hall is empty, come closer, do not enter, - she called the squad in whisper and continued the search. The kitchen area was washed clean and smelled with disinfection chemicals. Too much of it for the place where the food will be cooked in few hours. Was it covering something up? Her nose stayed with her and it would find the familiar sense if it was here. What will it be this time: vice, blood, hellfire? The backdoor was closed, some enforcer must stay outside, but it wasn’t a time to bring him in yet. Luisa went through a door and smelled the blood to her surprise. They had got a real meat here! Frozen carcasses hanged in the room; the hoarfrost reflected her red lenses. She passed the freezer and emerged in a corridor which led to the left. The smell of the chemicals was stronger here. Luisa went along and heard the quietest thud, so low it likely came from the outside. If her hearing could be deceived, the nose never, she would recognize the smell of freshly spilled blood in any environment. Not buckets of gore after a battle, which choke and make you puke, but single drops of red, falling to the ground or rockcrete floor. Small springs pouring out from an ambushed victim or a stubbed member of a rival gang. The nose helped her to outlast her brother, who never knew when you should take another rout or just turn around and run away not to become a short-lived witness. Luisa stopped before a door, she knew for sure that right now the blood was being spilled behind it. She switched to the inquisitor’s channel, - Master, something is going on here, - she didn’t wait for the answer and switched back, - captain, northwest corner, possible illegal activity, I am coming in.
- The Emperor protects! - answered the enforcer. He knew what to do himself.
- The Emperor protects, - she moved her lips wondering if He pardons too. These sacred words used to be a hollow noise for her. Lies used by rich folk to justify their dominance over her kin. You are poor, you live hard lives, the job is killing you, - that part the preachers got right, it was the ending that she couldn’t accept back then, - your labor it your tribute to Him, the Imperium depends on you. - Only the rich ones benefitted from the hardship her family and neighbors have endured. Luisa crossed out the rest of mankind out of her life, when her father’s petition he had send to the Administratum for possible improvements of working space brought a penalty upon him. Clerks were enemies of workmen, there were no such thing as the united Imperium. Luisa crossed out the Law, when her uncle was beaten to death by some rich bastard’s bodyguards, when he defended her aunt’s honor. Arbiters were enemies of workmen, there were no justice for the poor. Luisa closed her heart from the Emperor, when the Ministorum preacher called them for bury their pride and anger along with the uncle, - Your sufferings are noticed and appreciated by the Emperor, - lied His chosen. She rejected that life and soon found out that she was far from the fist who did so. Luisa joined the gang, to her father’s anger, brother’s envy, mother’s tears and her own joy. The joy was short. Turned out the workmen had one more enemy - other workmen. Her life didn’t become a life of noble fighter against the injustice and lies, she was a scared and abandoned piece of flesh in a grinder. It took a miracle to show her a path to His light and redemption. The miracle came in flame and steel. Luisa pushed the door which happen to be open; the scent of blood became stronger. A naked male back blocked the view. The guard was alive, but so captured by something he witnessed, so just hadn’t noticed her. Could such luck be a sign of His forgiveness? Is He ready to receive her tormented soul? The whirr of her new arm was audible, but the man didn’t hear again and fell back to her silently. Luisa quietly put the corpse down and look at the hall she came into. It was a storage and a garage at the same time. Without vehicles and with all stuff being set along the walls, the place was made into an empty square arena. Eight lamps illuminated the ankles high red sand, spotted with blood and sweat. Two men were just finishing their fight. Their absolutely naked bodies glistened with sweat. The duel was silent, only sniffing through the noses could be heard: both fighters had their mouths gaged with the red fabric, and their fists were wrapped up with the similar material. Up to thirty viewers stayed around silenced in the same way. One fighter fell down and the winner leapt on him in frenzy, beating to death and falling next to him in the motionless exhaustion. Some viewers dragged them away. Another man came into the center of light holding an ancient looking pickaxe, rusty and chipped, he was a center if nervous anticipation and spin the shaft in his stretched-out hands. The sharp ends of the tool became a double pointer, which brought from the darkness a new couple, a man and a woman, according to the quiet sniffing everybody wanted to be at their places. The naked fighters started to wrap their knuckles. Luisa have seen enough; it was a cult and she will stop it. Those clerks overplayed and defied the God-Emperor just like those damned fools back at home. That time, she thought that the Emperor decided to punish her for the apostasy. Luisa used to believe she was tough and that her strength would get her trough however tough the life was. Though she cursed her outlaw life and cried during lonely nights, she wore a brave face and laughed at faithful. Mocked their obedient pitiful existence. And the Emperor showed her on the edge of what bottomless pit mankind lives. The cult emerged out of nowhere. Last night it was the same dull life and at the morning half of her gang turned on the other. She didn’t understand who was on which side for she was the only survivor of that animal brawl. Outside their den the town became a hell, a nightmarish scenery filled with fire and screams. People attacked each other for no reason, mobs teared apart lonely strangers and then just devoured itself. Those who barricaded inside their homes or other supposedly safe places found out that their beloved ones were tainted. The shelters turned into slaughterhouses. Luisa found her home in such state. The father must have been gathered the friends among neighbors, and locked their living compartment. He always cared for others and some of them repaid in blood. She was chased back to the street by those whom she grew up with, she didn’t recognize their faces then, all human was gone. Luisa remembered well that moment. A knife cut her and she fell to the ground not willing to protect herself anymore. She accepted the punishment and asked for one thing.
- Pardon me, the Emperor, please, forgive my sins, - she cried looking at her killer. But it was a His angel that she saw. A tall figure stepped over her and tossed away the frenzy man. A bolter in an armoured hand decimated the mob and the elegant giant charged it fearlessly. At the last moment her savior looked at her.
- The Emperor protects! - the most beautiful face Luisa had ever seen spoke to her with kind warm certainty the words that she had dared to defy. His angel ran into the mad crowd and hold it for few moments, before the mob leapt to her again, other angels emerged and killed everyone on that street except for the awed young woman. It was first time Luisa saw the splendid Sisters of Battle with her own eyes. A magnificent view of His beaty and power in such gentle bodies. The Sororitas went further and she could look closer to her savior, to the noble martyr who gave her sacred life for her pathetic existence. The head was severed and the beautiful face was mutilated with cuts. But the beautiful image of the fearless angel had been printed forever in her soul. Luisa had no chance to became a Sister herself, but she returned to His light in her soul and changed her life around. She joined the militia of the Ministorum, protecting faithful from those who were deluded how she used to be herself. She tried to return lost ones and showed no mercy to those who refused the Emperor’s love. Luisa became famous in her district, then in her town. The Ministorum took her as its agent and there the master found her, giving her an opportunity to repent herself. And here she was, facing another cursed cult. They deliberately refused Him and betrayed. Their judgement time has come. The loud ringing filled the space. A big heavy bell in her hand attracted the damned.
- In the name of the God-Emperor, I find you guilty in heresy and sentence you to death! - with the spike on the pommel of the hilt she cut herself across the face repeating the ugly cut which the angel bore for her. The cultists run to her in silence, not afraid, rather excited to spill the blood out of their perverted order. She stood at the top of low metallic staircase, so she will not be overwhelmed at once. She would kill many of them first before they get her. Just like the angel.
- We’re coming! - shouted the captain in the vox, but the woman didn’t answer. The nest is found and will be purged. The master would be pleased, she could die now.
- The Emperor protects! - she cried joyfully and crushed the head of the fastest cultist with the bell. The first crushed easily, the latter only rang loudly enjoying the righteous battle. Luisa knew the weapon liked to be used, what else could bring such a joy to a martyr than to serve Him even in death? The bell was made of the skull of the angel, strengthened and prepared for war by her own hands. Luisa saw the beautiful contended face of the Sororitas every time she swung her sacred skull on the enemy. Three or four cultists have already laid before her, others stumbled over fallen ones trying to get to her. They swarmed like filthy beasts they were.
- Ding! - another died in His name.
- Dong! - Luisa turned sideways, smashing those who came to her from the back, climbing the ladder behind. She didn’t feel the pain of the prostheses, she didn’t feel a pain from the hit she missed in the face. Luisa jumped away from the platform, landing clumsily on her new leg, it didn’t fell off, so she could continue. She laughed in ecstasy; her left eye gave her a blur view since it was filled with tears of joy. Luisa shot it and the area got black and white. Not much changed, only the man with pickaxe stood surrounded with grey lamps. She didn’t make it to him, the frenzy silent mob caught her and knock off the feet. All the same, she has gained His pardon. The cultists hit her from all sides, tossing each other trying to kick the intruder. The long-awaited peace and happiness cut off all pain. The darkness between naked legs exploded in white and she was left alone. The enforcers blew away the piece of the wall and were firing the cultists down, who leapt on them in mindless charge. The man with the pickaxe killed a running by woman by one blow and thrust it in her fallen body.
- Blood for the Blood God! - screamed the cultist falling to the pick with his neck, bathing his victim in his own blood.
- My lady! Where are you?! - the enforcers searched for her.
Luisa didn’t hear them just as she didn’t see the bloody end of the duels’ leader. Her red eye had gone out by that time. The captain turned her breathless body and the closest enforcers gasped: their lamps illuminated the face of the beautiful young woman captured in the happiest moment of her life. They would call it a miracle.
- Begin! - Titus heard Enzo’s voice, even more artificial through the vox, and ran forward. The acolyte of another inquisitor was in charge. His armoured boots stomped on the ground, others clattered behind, a squad of enforcers assisted them. No need to be discreet this time: a big mansion in the richest district of Abderra Prime stood on the cliff hovering above the rest of the city, so guilty ones would escape only though air which was guarded by the soaring enforcers’ flyer. The rockcrete plateau was brightly lighted and filled with stone images of plants of all sizes, looked like the owner got tired of the red sands of his home-world, and with many civilian wheeled vehicles, blocking the straight way to the doors. Titus jumped over one car, leaving a dent in its body with his gauntleted palm. One transporter was pulled over behind him - Mischek cleaned the way for his superior. Sebastian among other things told him not too spare property: any area become a warzone when the operation begins. If the suspects proved to be innocent in the eyes of the Inquisition, they will be so glad escaping a lethal punishment, that some broken property would mean nothing. As well as couple servitors. Two automates were stumbling to meet him, both human-size covered in clean robes.
- Identify yourself, leave the property, - the servitors stopped showing them pale palms.
- Out of my path! - Titus tossed them away.
- We are coming in, - stated invisible Enzo. The Astartes saw a little burst in the corner of the massive door, chips of armor flew away from it. He jumped to his right; there were no time to warn others. A thin ray slashed across the door from inside, cutting it in half along with one enforcer, one stone plant and two vehicles.
- Fire! - emotionless voice of Enzo gave the order. They started shooting at the massive servitor came out the wrecked entrance: based on four high crawling legs the human torso was protected with thick carapace plates, ignoring las and gunfire of the enforcers. The serf was armed with a water jet drill, which he took for the laser at first. Another man was cut down by a jet, and one more mining servitor appeared at the threshold. The owner of the mansion was one of the Prospectors of Abderra - a high ranked specialist who discovered and controlled mines all over the planet. He was one of those whom the whole system owed its prosperity. He brought home these constructs not just as showpieces.
- Call for the air support, it has a heavy weapon! - the leader of enforcer screamed in the vox. Titus hit the head of the machine several times and he agreed with the man. They were losing time and men here.
- No, the flyer must be ready for possible escape by the air. We will deal with that. Mischek! - Titus had to run from the lethal jet, for his shots hadn’t damaged the servitor but attracted its mindless attention. He saw the ogryn put down his storm shield and took a massive gun hanging on his back. Mischek, unlike Enzo and Kacper, wore the plain carapace armour, crude and scratched - he was the muscles of their crew, just like Titus was in Sebastian’s. Another statue showered him with its chips being hit by the jet. The short scream of pain on the vox showed that the second servitor hit somebody. The ogryn fired his weapon at the servitor with clunk sound, and the machine disappeared in three explosions: grenades torn it apart. The second automate pointed its muzzle at Mischek. But Titus wasn’t going to be in debt to the witless mutant. He ran towards the servitor, who either didn’t see him or took for a mere human. The metallic limb’s joint was at the level of his face, the Astartes jumped on it. The body was well protected as well as the drill system, but the muzzle itself was vulnerable. As soon as the jet went out, Titus bent it over and jumped down. The servitor didn’t use the broken drill and didn’t freeze, the machine changed its protocol and charged in melee. Just as he expected, but the automate still ignored him and ran toward Mischek who somehow didn’t fire at it.
- Blow it away! - screamed Titus, running after the servitor.
- We are occupied, - came back the answer from Enzo. The Astartes couldn’t see nor him nor the ogryn.
- Slow him down, grenades! - the captain showed an example to his men and tossed a frag grenade under the limbs of the killing machine. Lethal for humans it inflicted no damages to the servitor. But it recognized the enforcer as a new treat. The metallic limbs cluttered quickly towards the man surrounded with explosions of other grenades and pierced him to the ground, it filled the vox with anger and sad screams of the enforcers. His sacrifice gave Titus time to grab the ogryn’s gun, loaded and ready. He blew the machine apart with two grenades and turned around looking for the acolyte and his pet giant. They were fighting with two servitors: human-size figures in robes circled around the acolyte, who defended himself with short sword, and the ogryn, who clumsily smashed the air with his fists, missing the agile enemy. He looked around - no, the ones he pushed aside laid motionless where he tossed them, those were new enemies.
- Guard the entrance, I will help them! - Titus ordered to enforcers and drew his combat knife.
- Mischek first, - said the acolyte. He struck the servitor in the back of its neck, almost cutting the head off. Another machine jumped away facing three enemies at the same time. The head was full artificial and filled with lenses, hands had one extra joint and ended with wide knives, spotted with blood. Enzo was intact therefore it belonged to the dead enforcer he saw lying next to the third servitor. The automate didn’t run away, so Titus stepped forward.
- Prepare to enter, - Enzo announce though the vox, putting his las-pistol, away - the pierced head of the servitor lay on the ground. The ogryn leapt to it and stomped the remnants. - Stop! Pick up your weapon, Mischek! Send couple grenades inside!
- My very idea, - thought Titus, running after his riffle and picking up few grenades from the dead enforcers. The seven survivors point their guns at the wrecked entrance. The light in the hall went out after Mischek fired his gun. The ogryn put the grenade-launcher behind and produced a massive power mace. With shielded giant at their tip they moved to the mansion. With all that vehicles outside, the house should be crowded. But when they left the devastated hall behind, they came to vast lighted rooms, empty as the desert which gave the owner the wealth and his high rank. Through his helmet Titus inhaled the clean and fresh air, gentle flower flavor could make one forget the red desert outside. The interior was rich, upper-hive rich.
- The air? - clicked Enzo.
- The pilot Roya speaking, my lord, nothing to report.
- Titus, check the upper floors, you have a minute.
- Yes, - he ran upstairs knowing for sure he would not find anybody there. However solid was the building, it would be smith to dust by the governor’s artillery. If the enemies were here, they were hiding underground, in the rock. It wouldn’t save them of course, and they knew it. Would they just fight for their pitiful lives or did they have an escape plan, that was the question. Luxury comfort meant nothing to him, so he ran through the upper floors unimpressed and came back to the kill-team in half a minute. - It is clear.
- We found them, - Enzo and the rest were looking at the armoured door built into the wall. The furniture and useless things were scattered around, the tapestry was laid in a shapeless hip. One enforcer was setting the explosion to the door, another was gently carrying the golden image of the Emperor out of the room. When everything was ready, the acolyte commanded “fire” and the whole wealth got vanished along with the door and the fake wall. They didn’t wait for the dust to settle down and ran into the dark tunnel leaving the burning home behind.
- Found a secret underground path, - he sent the report to Sebastian and switched back to the common channel.
If the tunnel had been a bit tighter the Ogryn would have stayed outside. Broad back of Mischek blocked the whole path and covered Titus. The giant was hiding behind his storm shield. Enzo let them ahead, clearly using like a bait.
- I don’t see anything, - said the ogryn, stumbling over stairs.
- Turn the lights on, they already knew we are here, - snarled Titus.
- Switch the lamp on, Mischek, - cut in the acolyte, and the ogryn activated a powerful lamp on his shield. They moved freely and appeared in an empty cave with an exit tunnel of its own. The ogryn was sent to block it, while the rest of them checked the place. It was made by humans, but was a bare stone sack. No wire of any kind or explosives were found by Titus senses and the enforcers’ scanners. Enzo sent the ogryn further. The second tunnel was shorter and as dark as previous. It also ended with a wide cave. Titus looked over Mischek’s back: the circle of the ogryn’s light was hovering along bare stone and spotted boots and backs of two men lying in ground bow.
- They are here! - emotionless voice of the acolyte screamed in the vox.
- They are here! - a real voice raised high in the darkness; it had an accusatory tone. An explosion rumbled behind Titus almost tossing him off the legs. Bright powerful lamps got activated illuminating the Astartes and the Ogryn with its blinding light.
- Stay still, Mischek! Don’t show your back to these bad people, - though his visor Titus saw roughly hundred people straightening up from their sleeping of praying on the floor. Their uneven rows led to a person who was lighted separately: a wealthy looking man was laying on one side with a cushion under his head. Titus swore to himself that he would make that insolent human pay for his arrogant and relaxed pose.
- Enzo! - called the ogryn, looking back.
- We will avenge him, look forward! - Titus was by his side. The giant and the shield were his only cover in case those cultists had any firearm. He slapped the confused ogryn by the head, - look at your enemy!
- They came as I told you, - the new voice raised in the cave, it came from the separated man, probably the leader of this mob. Strange thing, the man kept screaming, but the voice sounded differently, as it belonged to other man. - They came to steal from you! To robe you of your prosperity and chance for power. The secret is yours, not theirs! - the sleepy mob didn’t look so sleepy any more, the humans stood looking angrily at them not fearing two huge armoured strangers. - Do you hear us, filthy thieves?! What will you say in your excuse? - the voices replaced each other during the speech, but Titus wasn’t listening and wasn’t going to answer anything.
- Aim at the talkative bastard, Mischek! - he put the gun in ogryn’s hands and started to toss the grenades: two in the nearest humans and three more into the leader. But he did a rookie’s mistake, the one his sergeant would have punished him severely and the brothers would mocked him for a long time. Titus hadn’t checked the time set of the grenades and was surprised when it didn’t burst right away. The humans used a longer fuse length, so the cultists had time to jump on it protecting their leader and others. Instead of dozens his attack took ten enemies and left few wounded. The ogryn didn’t do much better: he missed the first time and aimed too low the second - several men got blasted in the middle of the cave. Mischek got no more charges.
- Kill them! - the leader jumped to his feet, kicking the cushion and the nearest people with twisted face, - protect the secret, protect us!
- Crush them, Mischek! - Titus fired his riffle at the racing mob. He had two-three seconds before melee, and just pressed the trigger. These humans were miners and clerks, but comparing to those he slain in Orson settlement they were more dangerous. He saw hatred and greed, not just despair and fear.
- For the Emperor! - the ogryn charged the mob crushing and tossing several cultists before starting to swing his mace. He was immediately swarmed with tiny people like a freshly skinned carcass with flies. Armed or disarmed they would kill the giant eventually. Titus broke the riffle in halves and ran to the ogryn. The Astartes jumped on cultists killing with every strike of his knife, piercing bare necks and heads. He barely escaped the killing blow of the mace: as soon as Mischek felt that he could move his hand he swung it, not noticing the ally. The ogryn was took by rage. A blade struck him in the visor; a man clenched his carapace stripes and been a dead weight to him; he couldn’t cut him off for there were hands everywhere stretching for him; Titus was faster than the ogryn and it saved him: he ducked and twisted, punched with elbows, fists, knife and head. However mad these people were, they wouldn’t withstand the angry Astartes, the mob got thinned out already. If they didn’t have mighty firearms or hidden reserve somewhere. Turned out it was Titus who could count on help.
- For the Emperor! Mischek, fight these heretics! - Enzo and four enforcers joined the battle adding their las-beans to their weapons and fists.
- Shock-grenade! - warned some enforcer and the cultists stopped their attempts to knock him down. Finally, Titus got a chance to break the neck of the miner who held him down.
- To me! Mischek, Titus, come here! - the acolyte called them and he obeyed, though obviously not as eager as the ogryn. They both broke the distance with the stunned people and joined the survivors. Enforces and Enzo were dusted and scorched. The expensive robe of the acolyte was torn, showing his crimson painted carapace armour with the golden insignia at the chest. The helmet was bent, but in general he looked intact.
- I thought you are the psyker, - said Titus, - and would notice such a crowd.
- I am, but they are stronger, - the acolyte padded the ogryn forearm, sticky with gore, - you have pleased the God-Emperor today, Mischek.
- They? - he turned back: the cultist ran to the leader, followed by enforcer’s las beans. There were less than forty of them.
- The time has come! No! It is too soon! Already too late! We must protect the vessel! Kill them! - the multi-voiced man trembled and twisted surrounded with his followers.
- Me, me! It’s my turn! - people didn’t care for their dead or the enemy, they stretched their hands to the leader, not daring to touch him.
- Forward! Kill the heretics! - Enzo ran forward firing his pistol. Titus and Mischeck outraced the humans and they first saw the transformation. The screaming leader fell down silently and the next moment some of the cultists started to twist and yell.
- Me too, me too! It is unfair! - those, who were not touched by whatever cursed witchcraft was going on, started to weep. They were sitting helpless; those, who survived the battle against the ogryn and the Astartes, were covered in blood; some were wounded by the enforcers and now were ignoring the new las-beans killing them. Those deceived fools sat still even when their former comrades started to kill them testing the new power. One corpse flew into the ogryn’s shield.
- Fire at the standing ones! - screamed Titus and dodged the flying head. Next moment his visor cracked, making him look through the web. He would not put his helmet off when there are flying rocks around breaking armour.
- Mischek, stand your ground! - the acolyte called the ogryn and darted to him like to cover. Titus was already there and saw how two enforcers were knocked down by rocks and corpses.
- Five possessed, I repeat, five possessed, - he sent a call to Sebastian and left the channel open. Titus would be surprised if his call would leave this deep cave. The possessed didn’t wait till their squad gathered together, they charged them roaring. There were five monsters versus five of them, including three humans. The enemy saw the weak links too, so only two grimacing miners ran to the acolyte, others leapt on them.
- Fight them! - Titus clenched the left fist and squeezed the knife’s grip in the right. His life was in his own hands literally. He charged the nearest enemy, who had an appearance of a tough miner with one artificial hand. The possessed turned the metal hand to his blade, and grabbed his left hand with the human one. But it wasn’t human anymore, tiny fingers with bitten nails must not have broken his bracer, filling the air and his forearm with the sharp chips. Titus headbutted the miner, totally destroying the face, but the creature only laughed through broken teeth, twisted his hand swiftly and knocked him off. Suddenly the Astartes was on his chest, the demon in human shape pressed on him and pulled his helmet off. Luckily for him it wasn’t his true armour, the fasteners got broken easily and his head stayed at its place, sensing the familiar stink of death.
- Aaargh, - the spirit tossed away the empty helmet and squeezed his head, - look at them, mortal!
Titus looked around and saw a sad picture: Enzo backed from two possessed which were laughing at his attempts to shoot them, both enforcers laid torn apart; Mischek stood on the knees two demons held him still by pulling his mighty hands in opposite direction. One possessed had a broken head by a mace, but showed no discomfort about it. - This one is strong one too, which one we pick?
- We have time, - said one of those who chased the acolyte. Possessed spoke hardly intelligible, every time they did so the Astartes felt a weak psychic echo in his mind. There was also a quiet scratch, like somebody trying to call to him through several doors and could only scrape in frustration. The inquisitor said he put some kind of protection on his mind, maybe it was working against the enemy now. Or maybe it was blocking the last attempt of the cornered Enzo to say something to him. The other demon continued, - we’ve been together so much time, let’s enjoy this moment of solitude.
- Time to choose the new vessel! - roared the demon above him, - I liked this one, though he is oddly old for the mortal.
- This one is so simply to control, - creatures holding the ogryn joined the discussion.
- Kill them! - Enzo screamed desperately turning to Titus. He felt a blast wave of psychic energy and the grip on his head went away. The Astartes thrown away the weaken possessed and jumped to his legs. Next moments he should act beyond his speed if he was going to survive. The acolyte laid on the ground, his helmet was cracked open, highly augmented head lacked the lower jaw. But the psyker had sent his message piercing the layers of mental protection. Titus knew how to help the frighten ogryn, but first he had to save himself. Time to remember what another psyker told him. Titus smirked at the most of Sebastian’s words; those things were for someone like Luisa. For weak mortals, who lack the strength of their own. He had enough strength. The Emperor gave it to him, made him the Astartes. However the galaxy has changed, whatever unimaginable events and horror he had seen, one thing stayed everlasting as long as he breathes. He, Titus Livius, a warrior, who can conquer the universe. And one belief he shared with his capturer sincerely.
- For the Emperor! - he struck with his fist the possessed which started to regain the control over the miner’s body. Other spirits laughed, but not this one. - For the Emperor! - the head of the cultist burst, the body got soft and he tossed the corpse away. Titus picked up his knife and faced two enemies approaching him.
- How?! - roared the one.
- Destroy him, we have the body! - screamed the one with broken head.
Titus attacked silently. He needn’t to scream anymore, old words boiled inside his every muscle. The Astartes threw his knife in the head of one possessed and hit the other with his right. The enemy caught his limb, just as he wanted him to. Titus put his left fist through the head of the enemy and blocked the heavy strike of the another. This opponent attacked ferociously, but he could block and dodge these punches. Finally, he could hit back and his left fist pierced the stomach of the possessed. His knife was still in the head, so he pulled it out and cut the head off. The rest of the corpse still tried to move and he hit the breast with final strike.
- We will tear this lump of flesh apart if you come closer, - screamed the last possessed. Titus ignored them and looked at the stupefied ogryn. If that wouldn’t work, he would finish here by himself. He clenched his fists.
- Mischek! These two broke the dog. Punish them in the name of the God-Emperor. Enzo knows you are faithful man.
- I do belief, - murmured the giant not lifting his head.
- And these bad people do not. They envy you and broke the dog. Show them your righteous fury, Mischek!
- Kill him, I will hold that body, - the one with broken head turned to the other. The lethal enemies right in front of him became some horrific joke. The whole cave looked unreal to Titus. But the possessed didn’t talk more, they dropped the arms of the ogryn like hot iron.
- The Emperor protects good people! - Mischek stood up, - I am good and He will punish you for your sins, bad people. I will kill you for the broken dog! For the God-Emperor!
- Mortal fool! - one possessed attacked the ogryn and hit him hard, cracking the armour, but the heavy fist knocked him off and the second smushed the unfortunate head. The last enemy leapt on Mischek from the back trying to get to the neck, but Titus was there and tossed the creature aside. He didn’t give the spirit a chance to stand up finishing him. The creature wheezed, but no word came out of it. He stood up, enjoying another hard-earned victory. The Astartes looked at the ogryn who knelt before the motionless acolyte. What was it? Has he witnessed one more miracle in his long life? Another one was right in his fist. Titus looked at his left palm - a small plain image of Aquilla laid on it spotted with filthy blood of the enemies.
- It is good to have an upper hand, my lords, - the leader of the enforcers stepped to them, - the traitors have led us to their hideout.
- I like the flying policy of Abderra Prime, Dawar, civilians have no business in the air, - Jacob smiled to the captain. He has already known the half of his squad by names and first thing he did getting aboard was sharing a joke he had heard from the Red Champions. - You did a good job tracking them down. Now we will crush them for the law and order of the Imperium. What do we know about the location, Dawar?
- It’s the very outskirts of the city, my lord, some storages and abandoned premises. The casualties among loyal citizens will be minimal. We are landing in two minutes, my lords.
- Get your people ready, captain, - Jacob released the enforcer.
- May I ask you, master Obrecht, how long have you served inquisitor Sebastian Silver? - Kacper Balik was looking at him from the opposite seat; his expensive and shiny power armour bent the chair. The aged man’s eyes were staring with paternal concern. Professionally acted. Jacob has seen the true care of a father - strict ruthless urge to make the best of a child, to make sure he would grow up a strong and decent man. He was who he was because of his family efforts which rarely were warm and soft.
- Not so long, my lord, less than a dozen Terran years, - Jacob played along, - I dare to guess what you are thinking, my lord, the mentor also says I am too soft with the servants of the Emperor.
- You are right, master Obrecht, - Kacper nodded with a smile, which was a more obvious fake, - if your mentor tolerates this, I won’t interfere. Please, call me inquisitor Kacper, I am in charge of you only for this quick operation. Please, do not take my question for a doubt in your competence, Jacob, I heard you have showed yourself well fighting those Aeldari.
- Besides this, - he knocked his new leg, - it was a good fight, inquisitor Kacper. I am proud for spilling aliens’ blood with my sword, - Jacob patted the long blade standing next to him, acting a role a braggart, which as he knew fitted well to his character.
- The fight your master took, though he hadn’t to, - semi-approvingly said the inquisitor, - after meeting your mentor I gave received some picts from that operation. That giant in your crew looking impressive, who is he?
- The name is Titus, another tool my master has, - Jacob shrugged, not covering his own frustration with the mystery. “I know you want to know more, you all want, - said the mentor before sending him to inquisitor Balik, - it is my call what knowledge to share with you. I will not tolerate disobeying, as well I will not demand hiding your vexation. I trust, acolyte, you will honor your vows”, - his origin is unknown to me, inquisitor Kacper, I guess he will not stayed for long.
- But he emerged here, in Migdonia sector? - mused the inquisitor, showing he was just killing time talking to a young agent before a senseless operation way below his level.
- Yes, - swiftly confirmed Jacob, - though he could arrive from another place, so it could be just a coincidence.
- A lucky one, - chuckled Kacper, - considering the support that Titus provided at Abderra. I envy your mentor, Jacob, he is very lucky. So many suspects in one night! The city is just filled with heresy and witchcraft.
- Some chases will definitely lead to ordinary illegal activity. But cleaning the stain of lawlessness of His world is our duty too, inquisitor Kacper, - Jacob imitated the eagerness he didn’t feel. The acolyte was sure he would spend his time for nothing here, while others might fight the ancient enemy of mankind. The enemy he, man with the blood of noble Obrechts in his vein, must have fought. The inquisitor didn’t answer and put his helmet on - they were landing. Jacob brushed his moustaches and took his helmet. Before turning the vox on, he prayed to the Emperor asking to forgive his arrogance and pride - Jacob was ready to fight anyone who dared to oppose His will. Any righteous deed would glorify his family name tonight.
- Inquisitor Kacper Balik speaking, - the red armour dimly shined in rare lights of sleeping district. Big storage facilities and some transport hangars surrounded them. The inquisitor got a bolt-pistol mag-locked to his thigh and a short straight dagger sheathed at his belt. A dozen enforcers surrounded him in semi-circle. The grounded aircraft was shut down, - enforcers, lead the way, I entrust you to carry out this mission. Don’t mind me. Acolyte Obrecht, you are free to operate on your own. Proceed, in the name of the Emperor.
- For the Emperor! - responded men and trotted towards through the gap between two enormous buildings.
- I will cover your backs, Dawar, - Jacob run among enforcers, holding both his pistols ready.
- Thank you, my lord, - came the grateful response of the captain.
- Keep me informed, master Obrecht, - according to his visor’s data, the inquisitor was lagging behind them.
-Yes, inquisitor, - the master told that they demonstrated not only His might, but also His majesty. The Emperor’s agents should show other servants of the Imperium how great and noble humans might be. The acolyte shared his superior’s attitude to this mission, but showing it so openly was a disgrace in Jacob’s eyes.
The enforcers got their own routine, so he let them lead him. Armoured men moved swiftly along the alleys, checking every corner with their night vision visors built in helmets. He saw their greenish figures pointing guns at all directions on the move in absolute vox silence.
- Spread out! Possible contact ahead, - the men broke their chain getting cover. Jacob pressed to the wall, bulging with thick cables. The rune in his visor told him, that inquisitor Kacper was at least one block behind. He looked over the knot of chords: a big storage stood ahead, no lights or noises. Enemies used the same technologies they did.
- Turan, Piruz, - captain sent two men forward. Their left their cover, ran forward together and then split up.
- It’s Turan, see one guard at the northern corner, armed and armoured, have a clear shot, - first enforcer broke the silence of the vox channel in half a minute.
- Another on at the western one, a clear kill is possible, - added few moments later the second.
- Open fire! - Jacob saw only one small flashes, - squad, at the double! Report!
- Their vox channel is quiet, captain, - came the response, - too well suited and armed for a gang or heretic.
- The smugglers then, - Dawar was already at one corpse, Jacob by his side, - be careful, lads, these bastards know how to shoot.
- As the captain says, inquisitor, - he supported the enforcer’s opinion before Kacper, whose pace haven’t changed since they engaged the enemy. The acolyte knew, that the more dangerous cult is the less it looks as the cult. Mad outstanding fools were like gangs - easy to spot, easy to crush. Traitors hiding behind masks of loyal citizens, rooted in the community, brought way more havoc. But this time Jacob knew Dawar was right. The master said himself, that this was the most credible version. A group of clerks used to work together in the inspection department kept contacts at off-duty time: knowing all the mines and all the routes of Abderra, they could have been seduced to organize contraband shipments. Obviously, they have.
- The status of this facility is off duty, - stated the leader of enforcers, - I mark everyone inside as traitors. Piruz, Turan, keep your positions. Prepare to storm. My lord?
- Procced, right after you, captain, - approved Jacob.
Enforcers lined up along the wall in two groups and by the word of Dawar slid the massive doors open. It moved with a screech, piercing the silent night, but the enforcers were already inside, their silenced guns thudded softly. He raced inside after the last man: the storage was filled with empty containers high as three humans; they were arranged in disorder, giving enough cover for the smugglers, who were retreating firing back; high above was a gallery, filled with enemies, covering their accomplices, suppressing the enforcers.
- In the name of the holy Inquisition! - Jacob announced though inbuilt loudspeaker, - stop your resistance and surrender to His wrath!
His words stunned the smugglers, they stopped firing for a moment. Jacob demonstrated the uselessness of opposing by blowing those who hided abode - the roar of his bolt-pistols sounded deafening in the storage after silenced guns of enforcers and las-guns of the smugglers.
- Freeze! - ordered Dawar, but the traitors fled, pursued by fire.
- Captain, the movement from the East! Engaging the enemy! - reported Turan in the vox.
- The help is coming! - replied the leader.
- Dawar, help your men outside! I will clean this storage, - Jacob outran the enforcers. His power suite would protect him. And the rune in his visor indicated that the inquisitor didn’t rush to join the fight, so the men outside were in needless danger.
- As you wish, my lord! - the captain thanked him through the vox. Jacob raced forward, gunning down everyone he saw. Random las-beans flew him by like white lightings, he has already reloaded both his pistols. The opposite wall of the storage got closer, last few containers he paced by unopposed.
- Dawar, status! - Jacob asked the captain.
- The enemy retreated, we are moving along north-east wall, my lord.
- Piruz speaking, my lord, the south-west side is quiet, - added the enforcer.
- Proceed the chase, - the inquisitor finally spoke out.
- For the Emperor! - Jacob answered with the rest men. And here he was hit hard in the back with a las-charge. The armour withstood of course, but the jacket was ruined. The acolyte turned around firing at the shooter, but the bolt flew through the empty space. He was hit again now multiply times, Jacob ran aside, firing at the new enemies: one was stand at one side of a container, and two others at the other. He blown apart the head of the lonely shooter and kept moving - he couldn’t risk facing straight fire for long time - his armour was excellent, but not invincible. Jacob managed to shoot one more smuggler, when another ray hit him in the back. The system of the suite informed him that the power backpack absorbed critical amount of damage. Being hit by the powerful xenos was one thing, though a degrading and shameful one anyway, but being defeated by common bandits would be a disgrace. He turned around, knowing that he would see nothing, ignoring shots from behind - the other smuggler proved himself as a poor shooter - Jacob darted in the greenish dark, searching for one who’s hit him twice.
- If you dare to attack the Obrecht, strike to the death or face the mortal revenge, - he muttered to himself, moving between containers.
- Repeat, my lord, - the voice of Dawar emerged in the vox. - I didn’t hear you well.
- Report, captain! - there he was! Jacob noticed the man disappeared behind the container not fast enough.
- We are approaching the eastern corner, my lord, the enemy is not visible.
- I am finishing here, Dawar, - Jacob mag-locked the pistols back to his armour and climbed onto the container, - don’t go further without me if possible.
- Yes, my lord. Piruz, check the southern corner, - the left behind enforcer received the order.
The smuggler heard him and backed away from the container, ready to shoot. But he mistook the power armour for some kind of heavy carapace. The servo muscles pushed him in the air way too higher than any human limbs could have; Jacob flew above the white snakes of las-beans and landed on the smuggler. The green surrounding got darker. His leather boots must have been covered with gore, but it was his serf’s problem. All Jacob cared about was the purity of his family’s honor. He ran to the exit; the last shooter must have been left the storage. The acolyte doubted it was the last enemy for tonight. According to his visor, inquisitor Kacper had just entered the facility, still standing out of the fight. Jacob came to the exit and looked outside: to his left two huge trucks stood, one behind the other; to his right stood one more. All vehicles had closed hulls, stood still but looked recently used and well maintained.
- Captain, do you see it?
- Yes, my lord, - came the answer, - I think they are loaded with stolen materials, there is always demand for these in and out of the system. Distribution is organized wisely of course, - Dawar hurried to praise the Administratum, which he served, - but the black market succeeds to survive despite all measures. No trace of the enemy, but they are somewhere here. Pirus?
- Nothing, captain.
- They are hiding, be careful, - inquisitor Kacper contributed to the operation.
- Does he know something? - a paranoiac thought crossed Jacob’s mind, but he chased it away. Behind the trucks the next building stood: another storage with monolithic walls and closed gates.
- I sent a call for additional squads, - reported Dawar, - as were decided, my lord.
- Right, - answered Jacob, but he wouldn’t just sit here giving away these minutes to smugglers to run away. Or worse - the help would come to show that they were sitting hiding from the empty trucks and building. - Cover me, captain! - Jacob ran forwards, changing the channel on the move, - mentor, no cult activity, smugglers are found, initial resistance is suppressed, proceed the operation.
He raced past the trucks - his lonely figure attracted no attention. Jacob saw a trace of blood, pointing to the closed gates. He slid one door open and looked inside: the darkness burst with white flashes and he hide behind the thick metal. Las-beans flew in response - few enforcers were behind him and fired at the hiding smugglers.
- Shock-grenade! - Jacob didn’t wait for it to burst and run after the charge thrown by some enforcer. He sealed off his helmet and changed the mode of the visor. The mute darkness lighted with a flash, shaded by his lenses. There were only three fugitives, hiding behind some machinery. Jacob shot one in the darkness, shot the other when the world became green and noisy again, he wanted to take the last alive, but failed: the smuggler pointed his gun at him, and the wound inflicted by the bolt was mortal.
- Let us search the storage, my lord, - the captain sent four enforcers to check the place and they two went outside.
- Weren’t here too many of them, Dawar? - Jacob saw that the rune of the inquisitor was walking away, Kacper hadn’t left the first storage after all.
- Way too many, my lord. The trucks are filled with ore, may be something is hidden inside, but even then, the number of hired guns is impressive.
- You are saying we haven’t found their storage? - Jacob frowned.
- Or frighten off the exchange, - the enforcer was looking around, - or came too soon, or have been tricked by… - Dawar fell silent abruptly and fell down. Jacob staggered; his head darted to his breast - for the second time tonight the ceramite suite has saved his life.
- Ambush! - he screamed in the vox running for cover to the lonely standing truck. The view burst white and stayed so for a moment, then the visor turned off the night vision: from the south-west alley a strong ray lighted the area before the second storage, spotting the dead captain. The second ray came from the opposite direction; they were crisscrossed by light and under the fire. - Take cover! I will take the south alley.
- Avenge the captain! For the Emperor! - the enforcers showed no fear.
- Piruz! Do you see them? - Jacob run along the long hull of the truck and, when he emerged from the cover, the light and the las-beans were there.
- Opening fire, my lord! - came the answer, and the enemy’s lamp lighted the knelt enforcer. Jacob turned back the night vision and enlarged the view.
- Piruz, take cover! - too late, the track of heavy stubber’s bullets ran to the enforcer chipping off the pieces of the rockcrete of the ground and shredded the man.
- Heavy weapon! - he heard in the vox, and the same noise came from behind. Jacob ran to the vehicle with the mounted stubber, sending bolt after bolt, the light went out as well as las-fire, but the heavy stubber started to chase him again. He jumped and tumbled in the dark alley, squeezed between two buildings. Bullets glanced off him couple times, the straight hit would definitely stop or cripple him. The armed vehicle was still at distance. Jacob rammed some door and broke in another empty storage.
- Inquisitor Kacper! - the rune showed that the man hadn’t changed his direction since the new stage of battle begun. The string of bursts came through the wall, piercing thin rockcrete. He would race down this empty facility and ambush the vehicle.
- They are leaving, my lord! - enforcers warned him in the vox, - engaging the rearguard of the enemy. The approaching time of the assistance is two Terran minutes.
Jacob didn’t answer, a wheeled desert vehicle emerged inside the storage ramming through the wall. The car stood sideways to him, but the protective shield of the turret mounted behind the cabin had already turned to him. The heavy stubber rained him with fire, making ditch to cover again. The acolyte shot back, but armoured plates withstood his bolts. The vehicle started to move, and he fired at the cockpit, pursued by enemy’s fire.
- Don’t damage the cabin, master Obrecht, - the voice of the inquisitor emerged in the vox just as the stubber went silent. The rune still indicated the absence of Kacper on the battlefield, - come here now!
- Inquisitor?! - he greeted the man in red armour with half-surprise, half-accusation. His superior deceived him, sending the fake signal of his position. He deceived the enforcers, dying outside. The inquisitor did know something.
- You will drive, Jacob, - the man squeezed in the tight hatch, checking the stubber, - hurry up, we will catch them.
- Yes, inquisitor, - he torn off the door and dragged out the driver. The opposite armoured glass was broken: the inquisitor’s bolt pierced it and then blew inside the smuggler’s head. He huddled in the cabin, brought the engine to life and managed to drove back to the alley. It was filled with sounds of gunfight.
- Inquisitor Balik speaking, clean the road.
- My lord, the enemy’s vehicle still blocking the path, - responded some enforcer.
- Get out of my way! - Kacper hissed scornfully, - Jacob, forward!
- Yes, inquisitor! - He raced down the alley, wondering if the car squeeze between the trucks. If so, then would the armoured glass withstand the stubber’s hit. Not likely. Jacob drove between two trucks, almost scratching the hull. They raced by figures of enforcers, letting them go, and jumped on something: the vehicle got a spiked bumper, it was dragging the remnants of a man. Front headlights illuminated the armoured enforcer killed by the heavy stubber. The speed did its job and the corpse disappeared under the hull. As well as the stubber of the enemies’, though the lamp was still lighting ahead.
- Don’t slow down, Jacob! These outskirts go for many kilometers they still can hide somewhere underground inside the city, - he sped up and raced by the silenced vehicle: an animalistic servitor stood on it. Four glowing lenses followed them. The inquisitor chuckled. - But they will not escape me. The God-Emperor! Hunting down rotten people is like beating children compare to the Xenos hunt. Enforcers, collect your dead and examine the crime scene. Your further assistance tonight is not required anymore.
The enforcers answered in grim silence, Jacob shared their frustration. The inquisitor used them as a bait, they could find the enemy without those sacrifices, but Kacper wasn’t a patient man. Why did he got involved in this operation at the first place? The dark road split ahead, which way should he turn? Jacob took the left - the darkness ahead was pierced by a column of light, spotting a big truck racing through the night. So, the inquisitor had an air support of his own all this time. What else surprises does he hide? The light vehicle was catching up with the loaded transports - when Jacob drove right behind the fugitives, he counted four trucks.
- Get closer, - ordered the inquisitor, - we will distract them.
When Jacob got the car even with the latest truck, Kacper opened fire, shredding the hull and the wheels. The driver lost control and then his life - the stabber torn the cabin to pieces.
- Here they are, - said the inquisitor, - by not abandoning the cargo they did the righteous deed, for doing so they shorten their corrupted lives by themselves. Join the battle, master Obrecht!
- For the Emperor! - answered the acolyte. The ray of light from the sky spotted few figures coming their way: bikers were coming to defend the stolen goods. Jacob turned the headlights off, but the las-fire rained on the windshield, the stubber thundered behind. He asked the machine spirit of his armour to protect him one more time tonight and hit the gas. Chips of the armoured glass and las-beans showered him, but Jacob didn’t change the direction. One heavy bike got stopped by the inquisitor - bullets hit the machine and it flew them by rolling over and over. Jacob shot his pistol through the broken door, hitting racing bike, which probably could be enough. Another two smugglers passed them by. Before the enemies turned around, they could hit another truck. The acolyte saw two white spots above the nearest truck, two short flashes. In a second, they moved away and the vehicle’s cabin disappeared in the explosion, making his visor turn off the night vision for a moment. The air support of the inquisitor made its move.
- Bikers are coming back, - came the voice of Kacper, - look to your left!
Jacob saw how the ray of light moved to the last two trucks ahead, rumbling on the road on the edge of its powerful engines. A man came out of nowhere to the top of the leading truck. He wouldn’t see him if not for the flashes at his back. A drop trooper jumped off the racing truck; the grav-chutes flashed one more time, slowing down the landing. The truck got blown away, the vehicle lost its speed and started to wobble. The last transport had to come around, failed to do so and hit the back of the other, crossing the road and breaking into some abandoned building. Jacob hit the brakes stopping his car, turning left side to the approaching bikers. Everything happened too fast, so riders haven’t reacted. One bike raced right at him, and the acolyte shot the smuggler, the uncontrolled machine swung aside and hit other building. The last biker tried to stop; the wheeze of breaks ended with hum of the stabber when the inquisitor shot him. Jacob was already outside, running to the crushed truck. He hoped to catch a survivor for interrogation, but the wrecked cabin crumpled like a tin cup.
- No survivors, - he reported to the inquisitor, who left the car and stood motionless, - but could have, inquisitor.
- Are you criticizing my way of conducting the operation, acolyte Jacob? - the man spoke to him condescendingly, standing back, - we were looking for the filthy heretics, found out that there were none. That very moment we could retreat with honor. But I destroyed those criminal scums, which are problem of lesser servants of the Imperium, and yet you are standing unsatisfied, surrounded with the dead traitors.
- Some of them could have been taken alive and lead to more hidden enemies, - Jacob wasn’t hiding irritation with the inquisitor, despite his rank, - and those dead enforcers were not inevitable sacrifices.
- It is a miracle to see such a naive member of the Inquisition, - chuckled Kacper, in his dark red armour reflecting flames of burning trucks, he looked rather a sinister enemy than a loyal ally. The inquisitor turned to him rapidly, - you dare to accuse me in disloyalty, boy?! I have been serving the God-Emperor for two centuries counting the years in the status of Inquisitor alone and I will not answer for my actions before some suckling, who even can’t hide his own thoughts!
- I didn’t mean that, inquisitor Kacper, - Jacob wasn’t afraid, he was angry for being spoken to in such way.
- Of course, you didn’t, Jacob, - the voice under that visor mocked him, - you are not a psyker and still serve in the Ordo Malleus? Are you looking for death or satisfied with the eternal role of an acolyte?
- I serve…
- Where did this Astartes come from, Jacob? - Kacper interrupted him.
- Titus was not introduced as one, and I don’t think he is, - he answered confidently.
- You are lying, Jacob, - calmly said the inquisitor, - we both know he is. And I know one thing about the Astartes, you don’t know. In the hardest times, I served the Emperor alongside the space marines. They are vain, Jacob. Even working for the Holy Inquisition, those giants bragged about their chapters. I have never met a single Astartes who wouldn’t show a connection to his brothers in a tiniest way. So, I am curious, who is that Titus, that he is not only hiding his membership to one of the glorious chapters of the Angels of Death, but also hiding his origin. And why does inquisitor Sebastian Silver play this questionable act? You keep silence, Jacob. You understand, that I can look inside your mind right now, break all those barriers your master constructed and just glance what you really know and think. But I will not do so. Because I am a loyal servant of the Emperor and don’t want to hurt another warrior of His will. Who knows, what would your master do to you, when he found out I have done so. Or that we had this conversation, - at that moment a shuttle landed with a roar, its lighted hull got opened like a mouth of fire-breathing beast, - let me give you a lift, master Obrecht. The enforcers are capable to clean this up without your supervision.
- Don’t mistake a win over some recruits for beating the enemy’s champions, Titus, - Sebastian stretched out his arm palm up. He put the Aquilla in it, - I see you have used it.
- I would be dead if I hadn’t, inquisitor, - The Astartes looked around. In an hour after arrival of his capturer and his psyker-pupil the cave had been cleaned. Dozens of arbiters took the bodies out in the next cave, leaving only remnants of the possessed, at which Pison was doing whatever he does to the corpses. Enzo survived and needed rather a repair than healing. The inquisitor had a short silent chat with the acolyte and the last left the dungeon in the company of Mischek. The Ogryn waved him at his way out. Titus was taken by surprise and didn’t wave back. He used to be shot at by temporary allies, rather than be thanked.
- Master! - Pison stood up and stepped to them trembling. He looked like he was pulled out of the nightmare leaving part of his mind on the other side. - These entities, these imps, they have nothing to do with our investigation, mentor.
- I see, - Sebastian’s face petrified. For the first time Titus saw his capturer losing calmness. - Return to Ataraxis. We are done here.
Meet inquisitor Sebastian SIlver. He has few friends and got plenty of foes. How does he deal with it? With mind and power mace
You may know more by reading the chaprer below or better try entire novel here or on my patreon page for free
Let me know, if you do)
Chapter VIII Friends and foes.
(many words as always)
They flew back in silence. Sebastian calmed himself down. It was just a dead end, not a defeat yet. He would find the threat some other way. Inquisitor Dana sent him in Migdonia sector for a reason, during all previous tasks he has found cursed witchcraft or other traces of the ruinous powers. Alas, most of the time it already had been unleashed. Here, the catastrophe hasn’t started yet, therefore could be stopped. The God-Emperor would guide him. Sebastian scolded himself for his temper: back then in the cave he lost it for a moment - the Astartes had an opportunity to strike. Pison would not stop him, not in his state for sure: the acolyte still was weak after the many dangerous plunges in the Empyrean. He was a gifted psyker, but a delicate and special tool, not for stopping a frenzy space marine. Just as the inquisitor himself. Titus sat motionless at the other corner of the compartment; Sebastian felt that the Aquilla amulet was filled with His power, how could that barbarian use it? The inquisitor knew, that the Astartes wasn’t tainted by the Chaos, he wouldn’t tolerate this as just as Matteo. But to have faith, to conduct the power of the Emperor? Giving the sacred image to Titus, Sebastian told him that the Aquilla was a poison to tainted enemies, that he could burn a possessed with it, weakening the evil spirit. But the vile entities turned out numerous and strong, not as strong as the one banished by Tapio, but strong enough. Titus had a faith, though it was a strange one, perverted and probably a mysterious to himself. Ataraxis embraced them.
- You are the last to come back, inquisitor, - the tech-priest waited for him in the mooring box clouded with incense, - servitors are busy with the vessel which brought the female. The ship returned first is ready, inquisitor, - the Martian meant the flyer used by Tapio. Sebastian has received the short report of the sniper, - what do you wish to do with Luisa’s body? It will make a good servitor.
- No, take what you need, burn the body, her service has ended. Do not cancel that request for a weapon for her, we will find it a use. Look to the Titus’s helmet. It has a priority over other ammunition. Proceed.
- As you wish, inquisitor, - as always, the servo-skull said goodbye, when the massive figure of the priest has already turned back.
- Titus, the servitor will assist you, stay here, - the robed machine froze in the open hatch. - Pison, take a rest, - Sebastian came to the deck, filled with the strong smell of sacred oil - the servitors were in the middle of their work. Jacob in full armour stood on one knee, his helmet laid next to him.
- Mentor, - the man lifted his head. He noticed the familiar look in those eyes: a mix of wounded pride and arrogance, grown from the same root. Those powerful families: they had means to deliver the best servants to the Imperium, and the very same houses gave birth to the worst renegades.
- Stand up, acolyte. All other chases brought nothing to our search, - he felt a tiniest glimpse of joy in the mind of the man: the acolyte was satisfied that no one gained the glory this night. A personal glory - one more senseless concept, Sebastian couldn’t root out of his pupil.
- I am sorry to hear that, master, - said Jacob sincerely, - and I mourn Luisa and rejoice for her, she finally has earned her peace. I’ve seen her, - the inquisitor nodded silently, - also I am sorry to confirmed your assumptions about inquisitor Kacper. He acted very straightforwardly. As you said, mentor, he took me for the weakest link, - the man grinned, hiding his true heartache. Sebastian had no time for this, especially now.
- The weakest limb in the strongest body is still strong in itself. I am His hand, Jacob, and I lift only strong weapons in the name of the Emperor. Clean yourself, we will talk later.
- Yes, master, - the man bowed and went out, glancing at the box, hiding Titus. What was his true position on the Astartes? Envy for such a power, offence for not being told all of it, or suspicions toward his mentor? The mix of those and many more emotions swarmed on the surface of Jacob’s mind. To find out was easy, but such intervention would not stay unnoticed, and that would cost him the acolyte. As he said, the man was a strong weapon and Sebastian couldn’t spare any of it. Luisa showed weakness, overwhelmed by her past she has degraded in days from the powerful fighter to an ordinary warrior ready to die. And he let her go, counting as one more casualty of the eternal war Ataraxis’ crew waged. The ship has seen several inquisitors, many acolytes and uncountable number of warriors.
Sebastian came into his cabin. The candles had been lighted up just before his arriving, a cup of hot restorative drink stood at the table. The inquisitor relaxed his face and let himself a slight smile - the old servant prepared everything for his return. He put off his coat and Lorica, drank the cup and sat before the image of the Emperor in the corner.
- You have saved him, - Sebastian put the Aquilla back to its place, - do you protect Titus just so he can fulfill his role? Please, show me what master Matteo had seen. Guide me, through the darkness, - he closed his eyes and started meditation.
Meditation has given nothing. Agents on Abderra and Olynthum found not a tiniest trace of witchcraft. Six Terran days have passed. Sebastian spoke to his acolytes separately - discussing the actions of Kacper and recalling the prints in the warp, and together - trying to figure out the next step. No reasonable action came to their minds. The walk at the Coal Day was the ambiguous move from the start and brought nothing but troubles. They need anything to begin with, any misbehavior of unusual cause, any bizarre rumor, but they had nothing. He didn’t address to inquisitor Balek, but kept an eye on him - the ship belonged to the Ordo Xenos hasn’t left the sector too. The clue was brought by unexpected ally.
- Inquisitor, are you available to conversation right now? - the Mechanicus asked him through the vox system in his cabin.
- Yes, techno-priest, - Sebastian opened the hatch, letting the servo-skull in, - what is it?
- Abnormal emission was spotted on Pheres, - clicked the automata.
- Was it warp radiation? How did you know? - Pheres was a small planet or a big satellite, used to be a mining colony and drilled dry to the core. It was completely abandoned for the last couple millennia. The space around the dead rock was under surveillance by the sector’s fleet preventing it from becoming a base for the smugglers or other illegal elements.
- It was nothing even close to a warp-jump and not a known radiation, inquisitor. Local techno-priests have informed me, inquisitor.
- Did you ask them?
- The adepts of Omnissiah share the knowledge among allies, - grinning skull soaring before his eyes, - it is a standard protocol relating to several topics. The lives of Ataraxis’ crew don’t belong to any of it, inquisitor.
- I see. Please, connect me with Chasseur and then with the fleet commander. Prepare the ship to a flight, techno-priest.
- Yes, inquisitor, - the skull flew away. So, the Martian communicates with other Mechanicus on regular basis and he knew nothing of it. But how could he anyway, since the priest controlled all vox-channels and Sebastian himself delegated the total control over Ataraxis to him from the beginning. The Mechanicus was hard to understand, he wasn’t a human being anymore and pursued his own interests. The inquisitor knew one thing, if the devotee of the Machine-God sees a traitor in him he would kill him immediately: the stable Imperium was crucially important to the Adeptus Mechanicus in their hunt for knowledge. A human life, even if it belonged to an inquisitor, didn’t mean much to the engine-seer.
- Inquisitor Silver, how can I assist? - Kacper’s voice, changed by long distance connection emerged in the cabin.
- Have you heard? - Sebastian didn’t hide his feelings to another inquisitor, so bluntly doubting his actions.
- I have, - chuckled Balek, - do you want to invite me for another smugglers hunt? Though, it is still possible that the enemy revealed himself by this accident. To your luck, Sebastian.
- You are wasting my time, are you in, Kacper? I’m calling the fleet right now.
- I am. It will be our last chance to work together, I am leaving this sector. But no rush deployment, we will need to discuss our actions before landing.
- We will. Keep the channel open for navigation details, inquisitor Kacper. The Emperor protects!
- And we are his hands, - the vox switched off. In a moment the admiral was receiving instructions from Sebastian.
Both inquisitors stood alone in a beautifully decorated cabin. The walls and the celling were covered with the glistening green fabric, dimming the lamps behind; trophies were hanged around: skulls of xenos and monsters, massive tusks and claws, some alien weapons; big oval table took the center of the room, it was empty but for few objects. Enzo left them, disappearing through a hidden door.
- You may speak frankly, inquisitor Silver, - Kacper was in full power armour and armed, whitehaired head gave him a dubious smile, the helmet stood on the table, - I school my servants well. This chat will stay between us.
- You obviously a master of yours, since you have time to meddle with mine, - calmly answered Sebastian, who wore his usual suite - the Lorica Musculata under the coat. A lonely las-pistol at his belt.
- I am just a concerned citizen, - Kacper looked at him confidently, - I saw a servant of the Emperor confused and tried to figure out the trouble. I admit failing it, moreover the thing bothering young Jacob now is on my mind too.
- Titus is my tool and I use him in His name. There is no reason for his origin bothering anyone, - Sebastian was alone in the heart of Chasseur. The servitor was waiting at the mooring box with the flyer that brought him here.
- There is, inquisitor, - chuckled Kacper, - I am sending my men with him down there. You owe me the truth. Does the naivety of your acolyte spread all over yourself as well, Sebastian? We guard mankind from all kind of threats, including radicals among our ranks. It is tempting to step over the line having so much power, isn’t it? I am older than you, Sebastian, and I have conquered my temptations. Have you?
- I had the best mentor to teach me, Kacper. There is only God-Emperor’s rule and His Imperium. Titus is the Astartes under my command, are you satisfied?
- Of course not! Look here, - Balek grabbed a human skull off the table, - it is my most precious trophy. He was a governor, brave and active. So busy with prosperity of his world, that went into the trade with the xenos, - Kacper put the skull back and knocked on it, - it reminds me how trying their best people commit crime not understanding what they are doing. In the name of the Holy Inquisition, I am demanding that you, Sebastian Silver, reveal the origin of the space marine at your command. Who is Titus? - he felt, that Kacper was convinced in his guilt. A lie would cost him life. They were psykers of similar potent, but his interrogator wore the power suite. Old face meant nothing, there were no weak inquisitors. Well, he knew where he came. Chasseur would destroy Ataraxis in open conflict, to be pursued by another Ordo was an unacceptable thing too.
- He is the Grey Knight, - he stated, revealing the secret.
- I know this holy force, - nodded Kacper and attacked. Sebastian saw it coming and stroke back. Both psykers froze staring at each other, trembling with the struggle. In this wrestle he was a losing side since the ground belonged to the enemy and his retinue would show any moment. Sebastian took a chance: the psykers resembled clenched swordsmen and he prepared a weak defense cutting off his attack. Kacper kept pushing and his mental blow broke through the block, he grabbed the Siver’s mind as a prize. That would be the end if he hadn’t sent a counter strike at the same time. The other psyker was unprotected for a fraction of a moment, astonished by the unexpected hit, and Sebastian burned his mind. He did so blindly, just striking the pulsing conscious around him - the inquisitor himself laid on the floor, in agonizing pain, almost forgetting who and where he was. The mental blow severed his brain from controlling the body. But his mind withstood, he stayed alive, now he must stay clear from the suspicions, protect his secret and continue to serve the Emperor. He knew he was innocent. Sebastian still couldn’t stand up, when another sentient being emerged in the room, he sent one more lethal charge with his mind - somebody fell down. The time was running away.
- Servitor? - he gasped in the vox, coughing with blood. The red spots would be found, both psykers bled from the damage. Kacper left him no other option.
- Yes, master, - the robed serf answered quickly.
- Have you hacked the ship’s vox system? - he made himself crawl to the dead inquisitor.
- Yes, master. The Chasseur is less protected from within than Ataraxis. The alarm has not been raised. I blocked the vox system of the Astropath.
- Did he try to use it?
- Numerously, master.
- Deal with the pict-surveillance, I am coming.
Sebastian wiped his face with coated shoulder, but his view was still blur. Bloodshot eyes of Kacper stared accusingly, they screamed: “They all said of their innocence”. He put off his gloves and laid hands on the dead head. The Balek’s soul has gone, but the emotional print was there, dissolving in the warp, and he used it.
- Captain, we came to arrangement with inquisitor Silver, - Sebastian told with Kacper’s voice in the vox of the dead man, - proceed according the plan. Begin the deployment immediately, we will meet you on the surface later. Let the Emperor be with you!
- For the God-Emperor! - came the answer and he turned the vox off. Sebastian stood up, holding for the table, and threw up - more biological traces of the grim truth. No time to deal with it, there is slight hope that the servitors would clean this up automatically. Otherwise he would call the mortal combat an intensive negotiation. Enzo was lying next to the different wall, not where he went out. New jaw glistened, with all augmentation the acolyte looked like a broken servitor, though he was probably someone like Pison, a gifted and righteous agent. Sebastian could walk now, but had two bodies to take with him through the ship, one of which was clad in the power armour.
- What’s going on here? - an armoured giant broke in, who called him? Doesn’t matter!
- Listen to me, Mischek! - it took some effort, but the ogryn became an obedient automate now, - Kacper and Enzo are sick, help them go to my ship, I will heal them, - the giant with the confused face gently picked up corpses, - show me the astropath cabin first.
- Who is here? - outside the highly decorated room of Kacper, the rest interior of Chasseur was as dark and utilitarian as Ataraxis’. The ogryn lead him to the astropath’s chamber, inside the protected cabin sat a fragile woman, blind and frightened. - Traitor!
- Get out my way! - Sebastian raced along the corridors, rare servants and crew members scattered away before his authority; the bad temper of the Kacper worked for his killer’s benefit now. Had the tenants of the ship dared to look closer they would notice the mindless eyes of the ogryn and the dead psykers hanging like ragdolls in his hands. And the stumbling guest. Sebastian felt burning guilt: his mind was stained with blood of His loyal servants. They came to the deck, the servitors ignored them, shuttles with the Kacper’s men had flew away. With his own forces they would search the region of Pheres where the signal came. The Imperial Navy make a scene patrolling the area of the hollow sphere and sending intelligence crafts to the surface. The fleet gone leaving two small vessels of the Inquisition to do a proper search.
- Welcome back, master, - the robed servitor bowed, awaiting him outside the flyer.
- We are leaving, say the Chasseur’s tech-priest, that inquisitor Kacper is flying away with me. Mischek, put them inside and come back, - Sebastian hardly stood on his legs. He must endure. The whirr of artificial legs reminded him of the last obstacle. This faithful servant of inquisitor Balek was immune to hypnosis or his rank. Two-headed dog was racing towards him, if it had real throats instead of dynamics, it would probably growl with anger. The servitor knocked off another automate, stood in its way. If the machine hadn’t raised the alert, he still had a chance to escape. He drew his pistol with shaking hand and called Mischek aloud, his mind was too exhausted. Sebastian heard heavy stumping behind, - stop this broken servitor! Smash it!
The ogryn clashed with the dog, and he lowered his gun. He needed to make sure there are as few evidences as possible and stayed outside the flyer. Mischek being under his control acted slower than usual, but the two-headed servitor took him for another obstacle on the way to its master and jumped on the Ogryn instead of avoiding it. The metal beast knocked off the giant and ran him over, scratching the armour, but big arms grabbed the hind legs and stopped it. The bone paw got pulled off, but the metallic one was stronger. The ogryn pulled the servitor to himself and they rolled across the floor. Mischek managed to break apart one head, but sharp mouth of the other was treating to rip his face off. Sebastian stepped closer and shot the servitor in the skull couple times before it went motionless.
- Take in inside and come back swiftly! - the ogryn returned, he was scratched, his hands bleeding. The inquisitor walked with him to the gates of the compartment, - when they ask you, what happen, you will say that wanted to play with the dog, and the master left you here. Now sleep! - Mischek fell down on the deck, - servitor, we are leaving!
- Stay here, do not let anyone in, - Sebastian almost fell out the flyer when he left it. He closed the box and stopped the coming servitors. The flying skull of the techno-priest was among them, - the flyer is occupied by inquisitor Kacper, we will use it for landing soon.
- As you wish, inquisitor, - creaked the skull, - the departure of your crew went well.
- Put them through in my cabin, priest, - Sebastian walked into his compartment holding on to the walls. Inside he found the fresh potion and lighted candles - the serf must have just left his room. The inquisitor looked at his bed, he hasn’t felt so weak in a long time. But there were no rest in the near future. He plead his innocence before Him one more time, tossed away the dirty coat, sipped the drink and switched the vox on. Pison was already on it.
- I was just going to report you, master, - the acolyte was calm but upset.
- What’s going on? - demanded Sebastian, - Have you met Kacper’s men? Have you landed?
- They are gone, master! - cut in Jacob, - soon after coming in the atmosphere. We’ve changed the route to search for their trace.
- No, - Sebastian’s tired mind swarmed with thoughts and options, - no connection at all?
- They stated the beginning of the operation and confirmed the meeting point, - answered Pison, - they hit the atmosphere sooner than us and checked in then. Since we’ve heard nothing.
- Come back to your route, go to the meeting point and begin the task. I had a tough talk with inquisitor Kacper, we came to agreement, but there is a chance he is playing a double game. I will join you soon, let the Emperor be with you!
- The Emperor protects, - the choir answered him.
Either there are some traitors or Kacper’s men took him for one. The chance of an accident is too low to consider. And it would be too easy. He must go down there, despite his state. If the tip from his superior led to Pheres, he will not have another chance to catch enemies. And he couldn’t let his crew be ambushed by the men of the too suspicious inquisitor. Too many faithful have already died today, that was enough.
- Bring in stimulants and nutrition. And prepare the armour, - Sebastian switched off the vox. Stepped to the high desk and wrote down in hurry: “Investigate abnormal activity on Pheres. Lost connection with part of deployed group. Landing myself, - he glanced at the golden image of the Emperor and added, - Dubious behavior of Kacper Balek of the Ordo Xenos”. Sebastian checked the chronometer and added the time of the report. He went to the astropath. Boethius met him with surprised look. Though the deaf man looked worse than usual himself. The astropath read the message, nodded and took his working chair. In an hour, during which he calmed himself down not daring to remember the horrific deed before the sensible psyker, the time of sealing came. Sebastian pronounced “Pheres”, putting in the word meaning of uncertainty and mystery. The twisted face of Boethius grimaced even harder and the sending was over. He thanked the Astropath and stepped across the threshold.
- Something wrong, Boethius? - he turned and asked the man, who looked to at him uncertainty. Sebastian stepped back and write his question on some paper.
- Jus two different seal-words at the same day, master. It is unusual, - answered the Astropath.
- Different situations, Boethius, - he nodded to the deaf man, - take a rest.
He went into the corridor, cold with anger. It was useless to ask the Astropath what was that message about and how many were there: the fragile mind of Boethius was just a hand receiving and sending closed envelopes. The content of which didn’t stayed in his memory. Only one man aboard Ataraxis besides him could use the astropath on his own. The cabin was filled with sacred oils - the frame with his armour stood there.
- Master, I am ready to serve, - the serf turned to him from table. A tray with food and drugs stayed there.
- I was with Boethius, Miglior, - said Sebastian, remembering that he was unarmed and exhausted. Old servant blinked and darted on him not speaking a word. An injector hit the cuirass. Even filled with medicaments, putting in the right place it could cause death. Inquisitor pushed the man away, - why?!
- You betrayed his memory, his ship! - Miglior tossed the tray in his face; hot liquid touched his cheek. The servant was twice his age and declined major rejuvenation, saying that his position didn’t require a young man body. Now he must have felt sorry for that. The inquisitor kicked him, almost falling back himself and grasped the traitor, pushing him into the standing power suite. The man screamed when the pikes pierced him.
- What are you talking about, old idiot?! - Sebastian stepped back, giving the servant a last chance to explain himself, - you know me since I was nobody here, mentor Matteo chose me, left Ataraxis and you under my command. You’ve been the one I share my burden with. For the Emperor’s sake, you have operated on Titus when nobody else saw him!
- And what is this mysterious mutant but a treason?! - spat Miglior, - if he a sacred Angel of Death, made by His will, why do you hide him from your own crew, traitor?! Saint Matteo had no such secrets and he have served the Emperor for centuries, you corrupted renegade! - with the last words old servant raced on him head down and shoved Sebastian to the table in rage. The psyker was still unable to use his powers and simply grabbed something from the table. It was a data-slate for field operations. Reinforced corner hit the back of Miglior’s head causing jet of blood.
- You forgot your place, serf, - Sebastian stepped on the thin neck of the old man and broke it. Breathing heavily, he turned on the vox, - Mechanicus, help me put on the armour. And here is body for a servitor you asked.
- For the God-Emperor! - the man barked in the vox and announced, - here we go, comrades-in-arms! Take us to the surface, Tymon.
- Yes, captain! - one soldier saluted energetically and went into the cock-pit.
The rest of them showed their eagerness and readiness with a joyful “Huzzah!”. They all were tough veterans, tested by war and melted in one well-oiled mechanism ready to kill. These men would be happy to kill him if receive such an order. Many of them would be glad to do so without the command - he felted their hatred. They didn’t hide it. He didn’t blame them and neither felt any discomfort - just another temporally allies who could shot him in the back. After his brothers had done so, he didn’t wonder when the rest of the galaxy acted the same.
- Captain Radoslaw, testing, - his vox came alive, - do you read? We are landing, searching the area. Anyone but us and inquisitor Sebastian’s men are enemy to kill on the spot. Captures are welcomed but don’t risk your lives for those traitor scums, comrades!
- Yes, cap! - the chorus barked back. Titus said nothing, humans didn’t need a confirmation from the killer of their brothers-in-arms. He sat alone at the very back of the aircraft. It was bigger than the ones belonged to Sebastian, but he felt himself out of proportion anyway. The vessel had a big rear door ramp, and two three-chairs wide rows of the low seats. The compartment could accommodate over forty men, now it had thirty, including the one went into the cabin. His name was Tymon, prompted the memory. Mortals and their names. He would forget their faces and the very deployment in no time. His memory held only fights that have proved his supremacy on the battlefield. The Eldar in the desert, those possessed in the city, - they have been remembered. But Titus wouldn’t survive if he would have let himself be reckless. Never. The landing could be stopped with an air defense’s blast any time, he would take one of this grav-chutes, the humans wore. If there were enemies on the surface the power suite would protect him. If they had a heavy armour, he was ready - the tech-priest granted him a melta-charge. If there are more than one - he would find a way out. The psyker warned him, that the other inquisitor knew about him and wanted the truth. Not getting one, Kacper may try to seize him or kill right away, so Titus should be careful. He would not show these men his back down there, he was with them, but he didn’t answer their call. To attack him aboard the craft would be a suicide and the humans would not go for it. These veterans and he were alike: the vessel was carrying twenty-one survivors. Luisa and Angel flew around him slowly - they were in the space. He wasn’t completely alone among the hostile allies after all.
- When you finish, come with me, master, - the robed servitor put the usual flask and ration on a seat, removing his thin limbs back inside the cloak, - the tech-priest wants to see you, master.
- Lead me, - Titus swallowed the food and put on his hood out of habit. He has been surely known to everybody important on Ataraxis already.
- Please go first at a slow pace, - the servitor stepped aside clearing the way to the exit, - I have been authorized to stop you if you move too fast, master.
Titus didn’t doubt the machine and left the deck for the first time, pacing slowly ahead the servitor who pointed him time to time. Ataraxis as he thought turned out to be a small ship, so not much tips were required. Ascending the stairs, he saw a corridor with personal cabins, but was told to go another way. The domain of the Martian was brightly lighted open space overwhelmed with all kind of mysterious machinery and containers. In this disarray the techno-priest stood as a general in the middle of a battle: seeming chaotic for outsiders, while in truth he controlled everything. Servo-skulls buzzing around, cogitators humming, some servitor limped along the line of motionless automates, lubricating it. A greased human stared at him with awe and hurriedly left his master.
- Your helmet is fixed, - the skull said to him, while the engine-seer went away from him confidently stepping over the thick cables on the floor. Titus went after him; the robed servitor didn’t follow - the master of machines needed no bodyguard. The engine-seer stopped, pointing with metallic hand at the helmet on the table among other gears and details, - the visor is replaced for lesser option: the durability is the same, but no interactive display.
- I will not see the power charge and allies, - Titus nodded.
- Correct. Request has been sent, the full repair is possible, the time is unknown, - the priest pointed at another crate with his stuff, - the weapon for you, Titus. The handle has been lengthened as well as the scabbard strengthened. Try it.
- Thank you, techno-priest, - he knelt before the chest and opened it. A broad power sword laid inside in a heavy scabbard. Titus drew the blade, in his hand it was shorter than a gladius, but it was a decent power weapon, he slashed the air with series of blows, testing how it feel - it felt great, - that is a good sword.
- You accepted the work on the handle then. Put it back and come with me, - the staff stomped on the floor. The Martian stopped at some cogitator and stayed still for a couple moments. Two servo-skulls flew out a container. - It will accompany you. This one will provide a connection with Ataraxis. This one will provide you with data at short range. It both are not finished yet. I summoned you to set voice activation. You have an option to name it for your convenience. I have no means to tune the straight mental control, - the familiar emotionless voice explained monotonously, - the verbal control is the best solution.
- One looks fresh, - said Titus. Tapio, who has just joined them answered for the priest.
- It is Luisa’s. Her service continues in death. I will use them too, Titus, if you don’t mind, I would like to address her by the name, - the Astartes showed no objection, - then make it answer to Luisa and Angel, Mechanicus.
- Which is which? - creaked the soaring-skull of another martyr.
The shuttle plunged into Peheres’ atmosphere. Through the dancing flames behind the window Titus saw the second flyer surrounded with fire. The pilot took control of the landing and aligned the vessel. The Kacper’s men sat still, praying or grinding teeth.
- What the hell?! - screamed two of them simultaneously; everybody turned their heads to the right board. Titus has already seen it: another shuttle was aflame and diving uncontrollably.
- Tymon! - roared the captain in the vox.
- No response, cap! Nothing on radar!
- After them, we must see what will happen to out comrades! - Radoslaw took control of his emotions. Their flyer turned.
- It is clear, what happened to them! - not everyone on the board mastered their feelings. One closed helmet turned to him, - what smugglers have a tech to delude our gear? It is that murky Silver entrapped us!
- Watch your mouth, idiot! - he thundered in the vox, - captain, get your man in order.
- Don’t you order cap, killer! Sit still, mutant! - anger voices filled the channel. Armoured figures faced the lonely stranger stiffly in the silent hull, while inside the helmets the soldiers were screaming and cursing with hatred.
- Shut up! That’s an order! - Radoslaw yelled in the vox, - everybody shut up and ground your asses or you will know the penalty for mutiny! For the Emperor’s sake! Tymon, where is the Sebastian’s squad?
- Can’t get them, cap. Ours still don’t respond, - that Tymon should have answered through private channel.
- You, - captain obviously meant him, - can you connect with your master?
- I can’t, - Titus really couldn’t. The skull named Angel was useless at the moment. He sealed off the helmet - there were no oxygen on Pheres and the techno-priest added gas balloons to his suite, but it seemed he would have to use it before landing. Bulging containers at his back were clad in carapace, adding one more weak point to his defense. The Martian also provided him with a standard army plasma-pistol with a lengthened handle, now mag-locked to his thigh. But he couldn’t use it inside the flyer. So, Titus counted on another las-riffle he received.
- Liar! - the same man who accused him for treason raised his gun and dropped dead - the Astartes shot him right in the visor.
- Stop this madness! - warned Titus not putting down his riffle.
- Don’t shoot! - screamed captain, - hold your fire! - the catastrophe has been prevented. The men didn’t start shooting, lowering their guns. Titus warily put his riffle away, searching for the tiniest sign of further aggression from the humans, ready to defend himself. - Titus, for the sake of this operation and considering the unfortunate fate of our comrades, hand over your weapon, - the veterans hummed approvingly and Radoslaw raised his voice, stepping out to him, - till we met inquisitor Sebastian and discover the cause of the crash. - It was a reasonable demand, considering how tense were the men. Titus slowly nodded and stepped to the man. Both skulls soared after him, as they were attached to him by invisible leashes. He towered over Radoslaw, and the rest of his soldiers.
- No, - Titus wouldn’t trust his life to the humans bent on vengeance and whose brothers were literally dying right now. The Astartes acted compliantly just to get closer, so the mere distance and the number of the humans wouldn’t burn him at the spot. Now the captain saw it and the life of his men were in his hands. Soldiers froze alertly, hands on the guns, visors reflected a giant whom they turned into an enemy by themselves. But there was still a chance to avoid the senseless bloodshed.
- As you… - started Radoslaw, rapidly rising his pistol, but the armoured right fist crushed the man’s helmet with lighting strike. He tossed the dead soldier aside at the same time swinging the rifle which he held for the muzzle - the gun butt smashed the leftmost soldier. Titus dropped the las-gun, right now his fists are the most appropriate weapon. He slapped the nearest man with the back of his emptied hand, with short straight punch broke the visor of the next, knocking the man out. To his right weapons already were aimed at him, before they pushed the triggers, he darted there crushing three soldiers in one jump, the hull withstood, the humans didn’t - the first line of the enemy was smashed. Titus managed grabbed one more from the next row and pulled him over the seat using like a shield from the raining las-fire: humans didn’t spare their unfortunate comrade and were wise. If he only had grenades. Titus got to become the one himself. He tossed the scorched corpse to his left and leapt forwards, jumping over the whole row. Heavy landing - one kill, punches to both sides - two more, on his way he knocked off another one, - in a couple moments four enemies were dead. Titus jumped to the left - he must continue his charge, veterans or not, they would know the horror of being charged by an Astartes and loose to him. The man tried to avoid death, but only stood in the way of his comrades, blocking their shooting. Titus was surrounded with enemies, las beams chased him, chipping pieces off his armour. The back, he must protect his back - without oxygen balloons he will die on the surface. Killing those, standing in the same row with him was easy, but humans ran from the Astartes, preferring to die from their comrades’ fire, rather than from his hands. He jumped back to the rear side of the hull. There were four before him, Titus chose the nearest two, darting on them. His terrifying scream filled the common vox channel petrifying those, who saw what was going to them. Soldiers didn’t dare to shoot. The other two, as he thought, run to their comrades not thinking of facing the giant alone. Titus took a close look at the corpses - it must work. He grabbed both men with one hand and fired his plasma gun. A force caught him off his legs and pulled out through the hole in the celling like a cannon ball. Over ten soldiers were rotating around him - the survived humans left the falling flyer. Titus was in the air, the helmet and armour protected him from the hazards of high altitude, but he had to slow down and use the dead men’s grav-chutes properly to survive the landing. A las-beam passed him by - his enemies were experienced drop troops and sky diving was their element: humans made a formation above him, some of them managed to save riffles during unexpected disembarkation. Titus spread his limbs, holding the killed soldiers for hands - the fall slowed down and he flew through the veterans. While they were under him, the Astartes let one body go and hugged the other to his torso - it would save him. The scabbard hanged out at his thigh, he hoped it was strong enough. With the knife in his right, he dived on the nearest soldier - there is no place where humans can hope to get best of him. The man failed to escape and his blade cut him under the knee, Titus raced on aiming to the next. This trooper used his grav-chute to fly away, let him be. Now the Astartes faced the surface, outrunning the soldiers, ignoring their fire. Their riffles will become a danger down there, so he should hit the ground first and get ready. He didn’t know how much fuel did their grav-chutes have and could they spare it for the race in the air. They could - three troopers dived on him: one flew by, using his thrusters to correct his mistake, one landed exactly on Titus’s back, the last one grabbed him for the legs: his oxygen and the grav-shutes - they knew where to hit. They rotated in the air. He kicked back, but the man hanged on, getting near to the straps which held his dead comrade’s equipment. Either he was unarmed or blinded by the revenge and ignored Titus’ weak spots: armor joints, which were plenty around the groin. The Astartes pulled his legs as close as he could and cut the arms of the troublesome trooper, who finally let go. This movement has spun him even harder, but the man on his back stayed there - one more die-hard veteran. The bastard even managed to rip off one oxygen balloon. The third trooper came back, crushing into him powered by the thrusters. Carapace hit carapace, one blade glanced off a shoulder pad, the other cut the throat, slicing oxygen cord in the gap between the helmet and cuirass. The man lost his life, but won a moment to his comrade to rip off the last balloon - the trooper jumped off Titus’ back spinning him around. The Astartes counted up his enemies - there were eight of them, pursuing him at the distance. Waiting him to suffocate. His helmet automatically sealed off the compromised hose. The left oxygen would be enough for landing, then his supreme biology support him for some time. After that the enemies would bring him oxygen. Titus calmed down his body, sparing the live-giving gas and stretched for the maximum velocity watching how the grey surface of Pheres getting more detailed with every second. The time came to slow down his descent. Titus changed his position in the air and put his hand under the straps on the dead man chest. Others saw that he was still going to fight and opened fire, he ignored it for now. The grav-chute system was a manually controlled: one rune on the cuirass connected to the backpack and two runes on both palms, close to the wrist, so the drop trooper could use it firing his riffle. Activating the button on the breast, Titus squeezed the dead hands and the thrusters flashed pulling the corpse and the Astartes up in a few seconds before hitting the ground. The grav-chute wasn’t made for his weight and he landed hard, rolling over grey rocks liked a tossed stone. He stood up breathless, the trooper who saved his live turned into a mess, his breathing equipment was smashed. Titus ran, adjusting to the lighter gravitation of Pheres. Grey rocks of all sizes surrounded him, that was all this planet could offer: tank-size stone at close and towering mountains at the distance. The power sword survived the landing, as well as the plasma-gun, but the enemies were too far to use the blade and their equipment too precious to fire at them. They managed to cut him off the vox and had enough time to discuss their action in the air, now their acted. The humans were like the desperately hungry hunters dared to chase the dangerous predator, but the troopers were hungry for vengeance, blaming him for their own mistakes. And doing so, they were making one more, giving him a chance to survive. They should have left him alone, using their grav-chutes to land as far as possible from him and then run away. Instead, Kacper’s men split in three groups per three and two soldiers in the air, getting ready to surround him. The shuttle was falling at some distance, its engine was dead and the craft going down spinning around, but all visors were pointed at him. Titus moved, making the humans to steer their landing at the last moment, somebody fired at him from behind, but he had already chosen his targets: three troopers were too close to the ground for further maneuvers and have landed scattered, one of them hit the ground hard, tumbled over and laid still. Titus leapt on one man who just dropped his equipment and raised his knife - the brave and useless attempt. The third in the group fired at him, as he expected, one in every group had a fire-arm. The man met him with steady arm, Titus got shot in the shoulder only due his inhuman speed. He snatched the riffle out of hands and put the knife in the arm-pit, avoiding the breathing equipment. Titus felt an urge to grab the respirator mask and inhale oxygen, but it must wait. He ran forwards the group of three leaving the last couple behind. The Astartes fired as he moved, but the enemies were not standing still either. He managed to shot one, while the other leapt for the riffle, the third stepped forward. The man raised the knife to his own throat and cut his breathing cord - tough bastard. Titus was firing at the one grabbing the gun and couldn’t stop him. Firing the fearless human down he admired his bravery. The last two. One of them has already scorched his armour, while the second stood near, would he also ruin his respirator or already had? Las-beams scorched him - the trooper was a good shooter, not as good as he though.
- Why?! - Tymon brought him back to the vox channel. They two were the last ones using it, - Who are you?!
Titus saw it - the grenade, hidden in the palm of the last veteran, - and shot him in the head. The charge exploded; the Astartes had already put off his helmet, inhaling the oxygen through the dead man’s respirator.
The smoke gone but he easily found the crushed plane: Pheres provided many landmarks for orientation. The area was filled with debris, the hole made by his shot was the only damage the flyer got in the air. The earth done the rest: engines and wings fell off and laid scattered around with other lesser parts. The passengers’ compartment was empty, everything and everybody was swept away by the pressure. Including his melta-charge and both servo-skulls. Now Luisa’s service has ended completely. Titus looked inside the cabin: landing crumpled it; the servitor-pilot turned into pulp; no piece of vox stayed working of course; the cockpit also had no additional oxygen balloons. He collected four breathing sets from the slain troopers. If they were going to search Pheres for real, then he had oxygen for a Terran day, maybe two. It was colder than Olynthum here, but he could probably survive through the night. The road to the wrecking place took around three hours. Local day circle is much longer, so he had enough time before the darkness, the question was, where to go. And did he should go at all? Whatever the reason of the first crush, one of inquisitors sooner or later come to check on the wreckage. On the other hand, if here were some hidden enemies, they should have an air supply or even the spacecraft. Waiting here alone for some time seemed tempting, but not so much having a high chance of suffocating. Rolling with the wind of fate has been his compelled motto for several millennia, and, though the dead air of Pheres was still, it blew here too. Titus pressed to the hull of shuttle looking for the source of roar in the sky. It wasn’t a noise of engine, rather a beastlike howl. The memory told him what creatures could be met even on lifeless planets. The ones that could easily knock down a tiny shuttle. The shade covered the wrecks and he jumped inside, before the bright almost pink fire showered the fallen flyer. Unnatural flame danced around, smelling queer. Sebastian was right, there was witchcraft on Pheres, would he survive to tell him so. If the beast felt the bloody psy-conductor in his heck then he wouldn’t. Titus stepped back from the fire devouring the hull. One more jet of flame hit the shuttle and the roar thundered again, this time at some distance. The Astartes went through another crack in the hull, avoiding the cursed blaze. The psyker would follow the beast first, not the fallen shuttles. So, getting near it was the best option. Titus trotted after the receding figure in the air.
He watched on the dull grey stone of all shapes and sizes. Not a trace of the beast in the empty sky. Titus climbed the rock, but saw nothing new. The landscape in front of him was exactly the same as the one he left behind. The hope for a near beast’s den or some camp of the enemy, the creature could lead to, dashed. He exhaled calmly through the nose for his mouth was occupied with the hose. He has spent a big portion of this balloon and armour’s power running here and now he had to go back. Without clue he wouldn’t go wonder around the moon, however small it was. Titus froze for a moment but heard nothing and came down. He couldn’t inhale - the first balloon got emptied. The Astartes tossed it away; around his torso three others were attached; he pulled one mask, torn it off and took the hose in the mouth, letting oxygen in. Titus hasn’t enjoyed the walk for a long time - red flash cut the hose, leaving him with a useless pipe between his teeth and a scorched gorget. He escaped a shot in the face by few centimeters - the mistake of the shooter could be pardoned since he must have shot from the long distance - the Astartes heard and saw nothing. Titus ran to the direction where the shot came from, leaping from cover to cover. He already squeezed another hose in the mouth and closed the balloon with the shorten pipe - he would use it later when stay alone again. The shooter didn’t run: las-beams hit the rocks around him and stroke the pauldron once. When Titus could see the enemy, he filled all his three lungs with oxygen and put on the helmet, shutting off the gas. It was obviously an ambush - a single drop trooper was lying on the flat rock firing at him, surrounded with rocky hills. The grav-chute was still attached to his back; he would use it when the Astartes get too close. One of the survivors from the first shuttle, others must hide near, may be even behind the very stone their comrade laid on. Titus fired back, making the shooter think of escape. The man jumped to his feet and used his equipment - the body got tossed up and fell down aside - the dead fingers didn’t control the thrusters anymore. Titus was coming to the stone; two troopers jumped out of it, firing their riffles. He killed one, but got his right forearm wounded lightly. He heard the familiar sound, instead of firing back at one who shot him, Titus jumped back. The grenade, rolled to his legs, exploded. He covered his visor with one gauntlet, and the oxygen balloons with the other. When shrapnel glanced off the ceramite, he took the hands off and shot the fleeting trooper in the back of the head. The Astartes stood alone, but these veterans were tough enemies and should have seen his weakness. He ran to the nearest corpse and knelt before it checking the breathing equipment - it was intact, but he hit the corpse in the frustration, actually closing the balloon, and darted to his last kill. Titus ripped the balloon of the corpse and raised it in the winning gesture. Now came the tricky part. He had noticed two perfect spots on the slopes around him - big enough stones to hide a man or two. It both were behind him now and he decided to lure the humans out by offering them to shoot him in the back. Titus sat on one knee and pull off his helmet, leaning his head forward breathing through newly gained respirator and hiding his unprotected skull from the shooters. If there were some troopers, they would use this chance, for the motionless giant was a too tempting target. There was one and he showed himself - a las-beam hit him in the back, but the ceramite back was his hardest side. No time to put the helmet on, Titus jumped aside and fired back. Damned human’s gun - he hit the cover, not the enemy. The trooper wanted to die with his comrades though: instead of running he jumped off the slope and used his grav-chutes to land, making the Astartes dodge his shots, while he was in the air. But when the man was on the ground, Titus finally hit him. He came and collected his oxygen too. Adding new trophies to his collection, the Astartes looked into the mountain ahead - what was that flash he saw? Calmly breathing, he walked towards new direction
It used to be a mining facility: down here abandoned machinery laid everywhere, dusted and dried-out but otherwise not deformed by the time; there was a couple low buildings - absolutely empty rockcrete boxes; the entrance in the mine was blocked. Titus looked at the mountain, which he believed was a source of that flash. During his three hours long walk here he saw no more flashes or anything else. He dropped the emptied balloon and started to climb the rock. It had a gentle slope and hadn’t require a real effort of him. There was no wind up there too, but enough plateaus and artificial blocked caves - humans did something there generations ago. Titus didn’t think about his possible death on Pheres. How would he be the only alive being on the whole planet or how his pierced remnants would be found in another couple millennia, - those thoughts didn’t bother him. He was the Astartes and he would fight to the end. When the inevitable end comes - then he will give it a thought and say the galaxy what he thinks about all this. Titus climbed another plateau, watching for the oxygen balloons strapped to him.
- Greetings to you, legionary Titus.
This message was edited 2 times. Last update was at 2020/09/13 07:20:16
Kill for the living! Kill for the dead!
Ever wonder how one single loyal marine from the traitor-legion could survive the Horus Heresy?
Try my vision below.
IX The past
- Titus, Hargun calls you, - he nodded to his brother-legionary brought the message and stood up sheathing the knife, freshly lubricated and wiped. The Astartes picked up his helmet and walked down the quarters, stomping with his ceramite boots; he wore his armour and the vox functioned well, just Hargun liked to keep live communication between his brothers. Here their small squad was separated from the others and personal communication must be maintained.
- Sergeant Hurd! - he saluted his superior. Hargun greeted him in Cthonian. The strict officer stood straight like he was going to receive an order form the Primarch and not to give one to his subordinate. An old white badge with imagery of a wolf head and crescent moon caught the eye on the highly decorated greenish armour, which praised the long service of its bearer. Not as long as his though.
- Take Kudon and go to the governor palace, the incompetent fool sent another distress call. Our brothers might need help. Report me when it is over. Kill for the living!
- Kill for the dead! - Titus stroke his chest and went out. He put on the helmet and called his friend through the vox, - Kudon?
- I am out, - he found him standing next to a land speeder, ready to war, - where did he send us? Another strike at the promethium refinery? Those mortals, they’ve been dealt with too soft last time.
- “The governor” called us, - Titus laughed at the title which absolutely didn’t suite the maggot it bore, - our brothers are there, let’s rush, - each warrior outstretched a hand showing number of fingers, - even! You drive.
- Lucky me! - Kudon jumped into the driver’s seat and started the speeder.
They raced off, hovering above the ground of this little moon. Local inhabitants followed them with hateful looks or ran for cover: anger and fear - Titus got used to this reaction. They brought peace, safety and the unity of whole mankind - the only chance to live prosperously in the galaxy full of danger, but this people rejected it. Said no to compliance, said no to the Emperor’s truth. The Warmaster sent his sons to illuminate these fools, but even the look of the mighty and grandiose Legions Astartes hadn’t change their mind. The planet was a pitiful shadow of what it was before the Long Night. The brief compliance war finished what left of it. Polluted, ruined world with no valuable resources or precious atmosphere was marked on the galaxy map, written down in the deeds of the expeditionary fleet and forgotten for the better times. Later, when the mankind has time and resources to spare, the world of forgotten name will be remade. The fate of moons and asteroids surrounding the planet had been decided differently from the beginning. It had rich reserves of promethium resources - a valuable trophy for the ever-growing Imperium. Several squads deployed and conquered the ruling facilities and destroyed those who dared to oppose the inevitable. It was fast and easy, local warriors were way too inferior to the space marines. And the population in masses didn’t get that their masters have been changed and didn’t care that much really. Initial mission of iterators showed compliance, and the Adeptus Mechanicus started their work. In weeks the production facilities became more efficient and safer. The people knew a better life with food, living space and all other resources justly arranged. The colony joined the Imperium and now produced the fuel for its continuing war. Titus’ squad was left as an additional protection of the newly established order on the main moon. He blamed the survivors from the havocked planet and the idiot, who decided to settle them down on the satellites of their former world, for staying here so long. Resistance emerged, underground, of course. Decimation was his proposal. Again, and again, until the humans wouldn’t give out the rebels themselves. Titus was sure that doing so one time would be enough, but it wasn’t his call. The sergeant said there was demand for the fuel and the lack of the colonists. And so, the conquerors of the galaxy turn into the militia catching petty saboteurs and rebels.
- Ho was the chieftan? - asked his brother pushing the speeder to its limit: they left the settlement and now were crossing the empty rocky plain between their quarters and the capital of the moon. One more foolish order they have received - to keep distance to the governor, showing the people that the war was over and they are ruled by their own. Nonsense, the war was never over. There was always an enemy to crush. Titus never shared the ideas about what would the Astartes do after the Crusade would end. They would stay warriors. What else?
- Caring and attentive as always. Asked how did I sleep, - Titus grinned.
- Can’t see, why Hargun doesn’t like you, - Kudon shook his head, driving attentively, - I bet it’s because you are a soft Terran boy.
- I don’t need him like me. He gave me justice orders and that’s enough. You are the Cthonian too, as well as the rest of the squad. There are few of us, born on the Terra, stayed in the company, but it never bothered me. There are no Terrans or Chtonians, we are all Sons of Horus. - Titus slapped his friends on the pauldron, - and hadn’t this Terran boy saved your life too many times to be called that?
- Not more often, than I had his, - laughed Kudon, - and gladly would do so as many times as have to.
- I won’t stay in the debt, brother, - sitting shoulder to shoulder in the tight cabin, they were like a reflection of each other, a two perfect automates made for war. One helmet concealed a smile, the other - a frown, - I think it is somehow related to the damn lodges.
- But you are not the member, - Kudon’s voice was confused, - you said you didn’t like the very invitation and rejected. At your place I would have checked what it is everybody whispers about and then reject. Or did they make you another offer, Titus? Lucky you, seems they find my person too simple for their society.
- You are straight and sound warrior, brother. An example, others should follow. And no, I heard nothing new from them, whoever they are.
- Then tell the chieftan, that you are not playing these games!
- Maybe, he is a member himself, - though Titus doubted that the strict sergeant could be interested in such foolishness, - he is my squad leader, I can’t just start with him the dialogue on a such topic.
- The hell you can’t, brother! - exclaimed Kudon, - he is just an Astartes as you or me. You even have been serving longer than he!
- He was picked to be a sergeant by the company command, which were appointed by the battalion command, which was…
- Stop it! Next thing you say that Horus Lupercal personally picked Hargun Hurds to torture us and we should listen to him as to the Warmaster himself, - laughed old friend, - figuratively speaking, of course.
- Literally too, Kudon, - he warned his brother, - watch your tongue. The Primarch’s name and the laugh shouldn’t go close together.
- I am ready to incur the punishment from Horus, if it brings me closer to him and the rest legion. We must be there, fighting alongside our brothers in Istvaan System, not to rust here. Meddling with these ungrateful humans!
- I share your frustration, - he really did, - but now our duty lays here. The Warmaster has a place for every one of us in his plan. Trust him.
His brother slowed down the vehicle - they were arriving in the capital. This title suited to the little town as the word “palace” suited the barracks, playing this role. A common building, which would be invisible at the real Imperium’s city, towering over squat native architecture.
- Something up, - the streets were too empty; Titus announced their arrival to the brothers, guarding the governor, - Titus is speaking, respond, brothers!
- Finally! - Kastruk responded, - the mob gathered outside in a moment, definitely planned defiance. Executing the order of sparring lives of locals, we retreated inside and took clerks with us. Seems we did a mistake - they took our mercy for weakness and started a riot.
- Ungrateful bastards, - snarled Titus.
- Exactly, brother, - continued the sieged legionary, - they are rampaging outside, the pict-records show arsons and vandalism, no corpses so far. I sent militia away. We have the whole damn administration with us and have to protect them.
- I see, Kastruk, don’t go out, we will stop them.
- Teach them to fear us, brother, - the legionary switched off.
- Shall we call chieftan? - asked Kudon.
- No, we’ve got our order, - Titus checked the heavy bolter mounted next to his chair, - they will obey or get punished.
- With all your piety to the hierarchy, you like to act on your own, brother, - his friend chuckled, - don’t you think it is the reason Hargun doesn’t like you that much.
The entrance into the palace was surrounded with the crowd of two thousands: people screamed, threw stones and firebombs in the building, aiming to the narrow windows, which were well protected against much stronger weapon anyway. Several rebels tried to open the gates with some mining equipment. If they succeed, they would only find an angry Astartes on their way. The rioters were digging their own grave.
- Citizens of the Imperium! - Titus addressed the mob through the loud-speaker, hoping they wouldn’t listen to him. The Imperial Law must be respected daily and sincerely, not under the muzzle of the bolter, - stop this riot! Drop your weapons and stay where you are. Till your punishment will be announced, - the last words he said when the hull of the spider was ablaze. Handmade firebombs and rocks hit the vehicle. One glanced off his helmet. People screamed something to the arrived legionaries, thinking one Astartes to thousand unarmed humans was a ratio to their side. The language in this system was too distorted to Titus and the mob to understand each other. But the intentions of both parties were clear; the rioters did their choice. He pulled the trigger and the crowd began to burst with wet explosions: heavy bolter, designed to pierce armoured enemy or light vehicle, scythed naked humans, killing several with every bolt. What did they expect, that he would retreat? That the Imperium could be chased away? People instantly lose their rebellious spirit and flee. He said to Kudon to drive around the square, herding the runaway rioters - the more he kills, the less survivors will dare repeat this insolent action. Titus fired with no doubts: there were no innocence around him now. If somebody has just joined the riot when it started - he could blame only himself. The Emperor declared the Crusade to collect the scattered worlds in one formation. Mankind needs no fools.
- I think that’s enough, - said Kudon.
- Agree, drive to the gates, - Titus didn’t see hundreds of dead people, they were rebels - a piece of scenery, unpleasant landscape. He was looking after those who escaped his wrath: rioters were running away down the streets, dropping the idea to hide inside the nearest buildings, which owners knew better than to let them in. Titus expected resistance, some firearms, missed by requisition - nothing. Some people are not only stupid to adapt, they are dangerous enough to lead others to ruin with them.
- Well done, Titus! - Kastruk cheered him through the vox, - very impressive and efficient. We all enjoyed it, - the legionary obviously mocked the clerks around him who witnessed the massacre and must be terrified.
- I had no joy in this dirty work, - he added for the humans, - disobedience can’t be tolerated. Open the gates, time to discuss the cleaning and new adjustments after today’s events.
- Waiting for you, brother.
Titus jumped to the ground and went over corpses to the palace, holding his bolter. Kudon stopped the speeder backwards to the building and took his seat, ready to meet a possible new wave of insurgents with fire. The ceramite door, marked with the Imperial Eagle relief, slid up, opening the empty corridor, bright and light - clean, straight lines of the main building of the new regime symbolized a new better order. The order, which those mortals, who in their degradation had ruined their own world and sunk so low, dared to reject. As long as he represented the Crusade on this rock, its habitants would obey the will of the Emperor and Horus.
- Kastruk! How deep did you hide from these rebels? - Titus laughed, walking through the empty offices and rooms. His brothers and the clerks must be in the vox room, making contact with other Imperial authorities across the system. He heard the clicks and hum of the cogitators; somebody murmured some messages in the communication machines. Titus pushed the rune, being Astartes he was authorized to enter any facility of this recently complied world. The armoured panel swiftly slid aside and he was pushed backwards and hit the opposite wall with his power backpack. But he didn’t fell down - heavy punches held him up, nailing to the rockcrete panel, hammering him into it. His helmet cracked under hits; the head darted in all directions. It was the first time when Titus felt himself helpless in the fight. The beating stopped for a moment and he was shot in the chest - the impact bit off a piece of his chest plate.
- Kudon! - he gasped in the vox, warning his brother of the new dangerous enemy, saving him from the ambush. At the same time, he reached for his knife, but the new punch blocked his visor and the hand was twisted and nailed to the wall with the blade, piercing his palm despite the gauntlet. His right hand was empty - he lost the bolter during the attack. What a disgrace. The whole fight took two seconds at most, and he still hasn’t seen his enemy. Whoever or whatever it was, he, Titus Livius of the 16th, won’t gave up his life easily. The enemy got a powerful firearm, but seems like he enjoyed beating the Astartes in close combat - another heavy punch in the head tilted it up. He leant on the wall and used the legs to grab the foe. Titus succeeded getting another punch in the visor as a reward for his resistance. Blindly he stretched out his right hand, aiming to pull out the thing holding his left arm. It was caught and twisted, almost broken, the pain pieced him despite all enhanced biology. Titus roared with anger and freed his palm, feeling how his blood sprayed from the wounded arm, he clenched it in an excuse of a fist and crushed it into the enemy hitting something. His legs were still around the foe and the Astartes felt how the opponent moved, blocking his released hand, but his right was still held, so he darted his helmet forward luckily hitting somewhere. A blood soaked giant, of similar shape emerged to his view when he pulled the head back. No time to gaze at the enemy, Titus leant on him trying to make him loose balance, to push him down. The grab on his right got a bit weaker and now he squeezed his enemy’s arm with his fingers. The stranger tried to give him back the headbutt, but hit the chest - Titus has finally seen who he was fighting with. A protective armoured plate covered his conscience, the knowledge was immediately shut down in the dungeon of his mind, protecting his sanity. They froze in a tie for a moment. Then the enemy pushed him back in the wall cracking the rockcrete, and pulled them both on the floor. Titus landed on the wounded palm, but he managed to wrest out his right arm and now wrung the enemy’s limb, twisting the elbow. The legs lock was the move saved him in this fight. Struggling to free himself from it, the enemy let him stretched his left arm under the foe, his wounded palm emerged behind the tangled wrestlers. Titus let go the twisted limb and reached for the thing pierced his gauntlet. Massive pauldrons, power backpacks and the enemy himself were in his way, but managed to grab the handle of the knife, the exact copy of his own weapon, stayed in the sheath, pulled it out and stroke the back of the neck of his opponent. The blade glanced off ceramite, the enemy twitched ever more, but the second strike hit the neck below the helmet rim. A simple tool, common around the galaxy, but turned by the Imperial technology into the perfect weapon, stopped another exemplar of the mankind’s warfare. The unbelievable enemy trembled and twitched, not accepting death. Titus pulled his left arm out of the dead Kastruk and disentangled his legs. He didn’t get a chance to stand up - a hit in the right pauldron pushed him back. Titus leapt for his bolter, his armour got bitten by bolts three or four times more, cracking and chipping the ceramite, stripping him off for the lethal hit in the future. The fire came from the vox-room, who was with Kastruk today? Titus ran down the corridor and took cover in the nearest compartment on the right side.
- Kudon! Where are you?! - he called his friend, looking over the door, ready to shoot anybody who would emerge from the damned room - no ally was there. No Astartes would fire another space marine several times for mistake. Whatever happen to poor Kastruk, took the mind of his companion too.
- I’m out, chased away few humans, who dared to show up after your lesson, - carefree answered his brother, ignorant to the catastrophe just had happened next to him, - what’s going on, why are you using private channel?
- The common one is compromised. I’ve been attacked by Kastruk. Repeat. Kastruk tried to kill.
- What the hell, brother?! You are the one who told me to watch my tongue, drop this vile jock!
- I wish it was, brother, - Titus said bitterly, keeping his feelings tied up inside till the fight is over. The loud bang filled the corridor and he ducked, hiding from the detonation raining him with shards. - Did you hear it? I wasn’t my bolter. Who else is here today?
- Avakhul, - came the short business-like answer, - I am coming to you, Titus.
- He is in the vox room, be careful. It is some kind of madness.
- We don’t go mad, - distant stump of his friend running emerged inside the palace, - The Emperor and Horus! - exclaimed Kudon looking over opposite end of the corridor and seeing the dead brother.
- No! - Titus saw a greenish armour of his legion smeared with blood in the doorway to the vox room and fired at it. The mad space marine disappeared made his shot. - Kudon!
- I’m alright, - his brother responded, - the atrocity of this hurting more than any bullet. Don’t worry, I can hold my weapon, let’s take him and find out the reason.
- We go simultaneously and catch him in cross-fire, - “that’s just another enemy”, - he kept telling himself, - as at that citadel under the mountain with the surrounded king.
- You should be more specific! - Kudon tried to laugh, as he commonly did in the battles, but this time his voice was nervous and hoarse. Two brothers point their guns on the open door and started cautiously approaching the pathway into the vox room. Step, then another, hands gripped the bolter tight, but his mind and hearts trembled. The shadow emerged in the door and Titus fired at it, simultaneously being hit himself. Driven only by the instinct he pulled the trigger one more time, falling to the floor. Compromised armour stopped the initial hit but detonation filled his chest with shards. Titus laid on the side, stretched hand holding the bolter, but Avakhul didn’t move. Just as Kudon - his oldest friend, his named brother shot him, when he fired at the mad Astartes hiding in the vox room. But was Avakhul mad? Did Kastruk really attacked him? And Kudon? Easy going and straightforward Kudon, how could he get mad? It must have been him, Titus, who went crazy. No! He pulled himself together and took control of the slipping reality. They attacked him, he defended, and now time to inform sergeant Hurds. The Astartes stood up, feeling how his enhanced physiology contained the damage. The squad got the medic at the quarters, he will deal with shards. Titus warily approached the slain legionaries. Avakhul was half-sitting leaning on the wall: Titus got him in the face. The vox room was empty, but the blood on madmen’ armour spoke of the brutal end of the governor and clerks. He looked at Kudon - Titus got lucky to hit a gap between ceramite and pierce the sub-suit of his former friend; the bolt must have made a pulp out of his internals. He suppressed the urge to look at his brother’s face - there was the same face, watch it or not. The galaxy had no place for miracles. Titus picked up his friend’s bolter as a token of their former relationship. Ill, mad or hypnotized, but Kudon had been his brother for over thirty Terran years in dozens of campaigns. He returned to the room and tried the vox - useless. It wasn’t smashed or chopped - just didn’t respond to his commands. Titus turned around and saw his reflection - the same sea-green armour.
- Lupercal! - Kudon leapt on him striking with his knife. His bolter was in his hand, but there was no time to Raise it, so Titus dropped it and in the last moment blocked the weapon pointed to his lenses with his own blade, drawn from the sheath in automatic movement. He didn’t see the left hand of the relentless enemy, but his own punched the wound, mixing his own blood with the gore of the mad brother. Kudon put a palm on his helm, but he was too weak from the injure, and Titus smacked off the armed arm of his foe and nailed his blade in the lenses. The fight was over. This time, he knelt down and put the helmet off Kudon’s head and looked at his dead friend. Now Titus has experienced what exactly had happened in last couple minutes. He didn’t remember his life before becoming the Astartes. Titus born the day he joined the 16th and since then the galaxy for him was a board of very dangerous and grim game for survival. And he has been enjoying this cruel way of life, he embraced his fate to wage war in the name of the Emperor and mankind and knew no fear, knowing that whatever horror he meets - his brothers will be there, by his side, and they will overwhelm it. He will die eventually, but the Legion would live. The Imperium that was built on their blood would live. To be surrounded with dead Astartes slain by his hand - that would be the craziest dream if Titus had ones. He just has lived through one. Titus wanted to cry and yell, but he couldn’t. He saw mortals do so often, he was saved from this. The Astartes took the Kudon’s knife and put in into the floor - the blade held by firm hand pierced the rockcrete at the right angle. Titus stood up and kicked the handle, breaking the weapon in halves - that was it, he broke the link with those he used to call brothers. He was the old space marine and heard enough rumors about some strange deviations in other legions. Maybe he discovered one among the Sons of Horus. He would tell Hargun Hurds. The sergeant - to the company command and then the Warmaster himself would know of it. Horus would know what to do with it, he would protect the honor of the legion.
Titus went out the palace, the helmet protected him from the smell of the corpses. After the three kills inside, these hundreds seemed insignificant. Damn and burn this moon, however rich her subsoils are, if it brought this flaw in his fellow-legionaries. The arrived militia was few and shocked. He ignored them, jumped into the speeder, announced through the loud-speaker to the frozen town, that nobody could come inside under the peril of death, and started the engine. Leaving the blooded square behind he thought that with all clerks being dead it wouldn’t be cleaned soon. Outside the capital Titus sped up the skimmer, hurrying to Hargun. The radar showed him that he wasn’t alone. Thanks to the landscape he saw it himself soon - a dot appeared on the horizon, coming right at him. It could be only a jetbike coming from their quarters to the capital.
- It’s Endarr, - creaked the vox, - how is the situation in the palace? We lost the vox-link with it and chieftan sent me to check on you.
- It’s me, Titus, - the bike got closer and he slowed down, may be to tell trough the vox will be easier, - a terrible thing happened, brother.
- What is it, Titus? - asked another legionary and fired at him with plasma cannon built into his bike.
And again, his body reacted while his mind was shut down from the absurdity of the ongoing. Titus jumped out but the blast wave caught him and pushed further, while another madman raced by. He rolled over and raised his bolter - the jetbike was going on him, being a lethal treat by itself, not counting the Astartes riding it and the cannon which would be ready soon. Titus fired, but the legionary expectedly ducked behind the ruling panel, then he shot the cannon, hidden inside the long hull of the machine, and jumped aside, escaping the fate of being hit. Both Astartes exchanged bolts: he got shot in the pauldron - the enemy was a match for him. Titus kept firing and silence - no use wasting time on mad gibberish. Endarr went for another round - this time firing his bolt-pistol from the start, aiming not only to hit him but also to obstruct his shooting. He had only two precious bolts left when the rider turned right rapidly, the jetbike lost velocity and hit the ground. Titus limped to the fallen vehicle, dragging the wounded shin. He kept the visible motionless leg at gun point, didn’t risk to change the magazine. His anxiety paid off: next to the leg emerged the head and the armed arm. One shot made them disappear. Endar, wounded in the neck and chest struggled to get up, reaching for his pistol. Titus shot him in the face and reloaded the bolter. He put the body across the hull and mounted the bike. Starting the engine and wincing from his wounds, the legionary thought, what kind of mental sickness affects one and spares another among those who share the one life.
Their quarters were located next to a small transport hub, a vehicle repair shop for those who didn’t need to go to the capital. The garage facilities were used by the legionaries to store their transport and ammunition. A marine named Judd who enjoyed machines was in charge of it, he wouldn’t like destruction of the speeder. But the rest of the story would make him forget his precious flyer. A smoke rose on horizon - something was up. Had the madness taken all his brothers? Impossible! Endar called him intelligibly first, so he left the quarters being sane. Titus slowed down and drew a field glasses from the saddle bag: the barracks laid in ruins. A pile of blown rockcrete was all that left of their camp. He didn’t care for the shelter, he had nothing valuable buried under the wrecks, it was his brothers he worried about. Was it Endar who set the charge before leaving or another legionary went mad and blew the others? Titus hit the gas.
- Endar? Did you deal with him? - a brother speaking in Cthonian emerged in the vox, - is the rest behind you?
- Yes, - Titus answered hiding the truth out of some vague feeling. He sensed that he covered not the grim reality, but his identity and life.
- Good! Come here and join our rescue operation, - the legionary chuckled and cut off the link.
- What the hell is this madness?! - Titus squeezed the handlebars. He raced to the quarters, looking into the field glass time to time on the full speed, trying to see what was waiting for him. The Astartes left the bike on the outskirts of the settlement and run to the garage, bolter ready. The locals working on the repair station was out of sight. “No wonder, - he lied to himself, - they were ordered to take cover and stay away, when the explosion happened”. He found them dead at their working place: tiny humans, chopped and broken, laid next to Judd. Titus didn’t spare his time on wondering and examined the corpse: the legionary was killed with two shots, one in the lower back and one in the head. The bare head was almost gone, he recognized the machine fan brother by the marks on his pauldron. No doubt, the madness took his squad, and insane ones killed the rest. How many more former brothers he had to stop to terminate the sickness. Would he feel when the illness crept up on him, to blow his own brain out? Titus sneaked as quiet as possible, knowing that his enemy was the same post-human as he was, but lacked his wounds and broken armour. And might be not so lonely.
- Finally! - the same voice thundered in the air in Cthonian. It wasn’t distorted by the vox, but Titus failed to recognize its owner. He looked over the corner of the building and the hope stirred inside him. There were two Sons of Horus, clearing the debris, tossing away big pieces of rockcrete away. Bareheaded Malonus was diffing the shards with both hands; Raddek, fully clad in ceramite, assisted him with one, holding the auspex in the other. The legionary with no helmet grunted and pulled another green figure out of the debris, Titus recognized the white wolf badge. Hargun’s head was crimson and black, - you won’t need this anymore, “chief”, - with nasty laugh Malonus tossed off the badge and hit the neck with the knife. He didn’t get to cut the head off, for his own skull disappeared in the wet explosion. Titus was already firing at the Raddek, who started to move with the first bang of the bolter. The mad Astartes got his bolter hanged on the shoulder and shot in response not taken aback by the attack. His power backpack took all bolts sent by Titus and they started the gun fight among the debris. This Raddek has been turned into the Astartes recently and joined the squad just before the compliance of this damned system, but showed himself very good in the short-range city fights. With intact armour and that auspex, he was going to be a tough opponent. Titus turned and ran, bolts immediately detonated behind him, he blindly shot back. Running by the dead Judd he noticed the other jetbikes belonged to the squad - good, he wouldn’t be left on his own. Titus came to his vehicle, hiding behind it, he started the machine, lifting it up off the earth. With the hum of the engine came the sound of the bolter, the noise that used to be the sound of glory and victory, now screamed his death. Would he die the same way Endar ended did by his hand? Tied up with controlling the bike, and having no place for gaining the speed, Titus should have driven away by all tactics and rules. But nothing that day went by the book. He headed the bike right at Raddek, firing over a corner. The lack of speed and distance actually increased his chance of surviving. The hit almost knocked him out the bike - the left pauldron was completely destroyed, but keeping the mad marine on the position was all he cared about - Titus fired the plasma-cannon and jumped off. The corner was annihilated by the charge and then hit by the bike. He tossed grenades in the dust covering the collapsed part of the building and broke into the structure itself through a door. Raddek was there, covering from the plasma shot or the grenades, he might notice. But he didn’t see him coming, his both hands were occupied with the bolter. First bolt Titus sent hit the glorious weapon, ruining it. The second cracked the breast plate of the mad brother. The third blew the face away, showering Titus with ceramite chips and shrapnel of his own bolt - so close Raddek came on him. The Astartes took the bolter’s magazines and left the body. Other corpses called him.
- It hurts to see you gone this way, brothers. It is wrong. - Titus leant Hargun and Judd on the wall of the garage. He had not time to dig the rest corpses out of the wrecks. - I killed those who did it and promise to find out the cause of this madness so this atrocity will not happen again. I must hurry, forgive me leaving you like this, - he put the symbol of the Luna Wolves in the hand of the sergeant, - the legion will not forget you, brothers! - Titus saluted the legionaries hitting his chest and turned to the bikes. He had no evidences of the happening, no witnesses or pict-record, but the 16th would believe him. Horus would trust his loyal son.
Titus raced across the moon; the Endar’s body laid among others madmen at the quarters. He didn’t like leaving bodies of the legionaries for the locals to stare at them, but the time was important. The sooner he informs the legion, the better. There was still a chance the madness would take him next. The Astartes felt sorrow for killing his own kin, but otherwise he felt the same. His plan was to inform the local authority about the riot and the accident, join the nearest expedition fleet, then inform his command. It would be hard to travel alone and not revealing the cause, but he must do it. Titus has been driving for many hours, the rocky land under him turned black and got lighted again - by the noon of the second day he had arrived at the biggest mining facility on the moon. It had a garrison of the Imperial Army’s veterans, stationed there to maintain the compliance. The colonel, retired from the crusade, was out of the world’s command structure, but was an important figure, representing the Imperium and looking after its warriors, and now, it would be his duty to maintain the order on the moon. More importantly, the settlement got the vox-commutator and transport, which get him out this rock. He parked the heated bike, padded the reliable machine and went into the building, ignoring humans, saluting to him or staring at his battle worn look. Nobody stopped him, of course. The colors of the Sons of Horus granted access anywhere across the worlds, joined the Imperium. The frighten man showed him the compartment of the colonel.
- Titus Livius, - announced he, entering the room.
- My lord? - Titus saw that the officer wasn’t very much surprised with his arrival. One half of the face was an image of young man, made of dull metal. The true aged skin wrinkled, looking at his damaged armour. - Everything is finished?
- What finished? - he didn’t get the question. Was the colonel aware of the accident? But why he wouldn’t? Some time has passed, the capital couldn’t sit still looking at the pile of corpses. There were militia, some clerks could survive. - Yes, the riot is suppressed successfully, - the man nodded warily, - there is something I should tell you, colonel.
- Yes, my lord? - the human, what was his name, looked back nervously.
- Keep it to yourself and look after the soldiers,- he warned strictly, - my brothers are dead. A dramatic accident happened.
- What, what happened? - mumbled the colonel, getting pale and running with sweat, - who died? And how?
- I said the accident happened, - repeated Titus harshly, - whatever your soldiers will see, they must keep it to themselves. The natives shouldn’t know anything. From this on you are the governor of this system.
- Me, my lord? - the shocked human repeated after him.
- I, being a representative of the Warmaster, - hearing this name the colonel squinted and lick his lips, leaving a wet trace on the mask, - name you so, you have means to maintain this title. Your first duty is to clean the bodies in the capital. Inside the palace, entering to which I have forbidden personally you will find your dead predecessor with his clerks and dead Astartes. We have no statis field devices here, so you have to destroy my brothers and do it secretly. Is it clear, governor?
- Yes, my lord, - the man started to get himself together, after all he was experienced crusader. All that happened last day turned to be an unexpected promotion for the man. Now he would end his life as a governor of the system, however small it was. The colonel looked at him expectantly.
- The same must be done in the legion’s quarters. Deal with the consequences of the accident and then take control of the system. I will return with the replacement and with a decree from the fleet.
- May I ask two questions, my lord? - Titus nodded, - are you the only survivor of this dreadful accident?
- What?! - he roared, fighting the urge to tear the head off of the insolent human.
- I beg your pardon, my lord! - the colonel swiftly bowed low, trembling, - I didn’t mean to insinuate any indecency. I just wanted to know if lord Malonus is among the gone.
- I made it clear, that I am the only survivor, - growled Titus, - why do you ask about him? What’s your business to my dead brother?
- Nothing, my lord, I assure you. Lord Malonus honored me with a talk after visiting this facility. I am grieving for such warrior.
- What is your second question? - Titus cut off the sentiments. Freshly made governor stood at attention.
- How can I assist you, my lord?
- Tell the tank barge on the orbit to get ready to move to the nearest ship capable of a warp-jump. And show me to the shuttle which get me there.
The old army shuttle took him to the orbit. Titus took control over the tank barge filled with the precious resource by one third and left the damned moon behind. There were two ships with a warp-engine in the system that time, both were enormous cargo carriers. One just had returned, bringing the last position of the 326th Expedition Fleet to which he delivered the promethium barges. The other had a scheduled warp-jump in the future. The captain tried to convince him to wait several Terran days, but the Astartes made it clear, that he was a messenger to the Warmaster himself and would not tolerate any delate. The civilian skipper showed uncommon character speaking to the space marine and taking his personal data, gave order to his subordinate to get ready for the jump. “For the clerks”, - said the man putting away the data-plate with proofs of being requisitioned by the Astartes. The short voyage through the warp Titus spent in some tight compartment, cutting out the biggest chips of his flesh. He had a repairment set, but the most damages of his armour were way below his means and abilities. The power suite lost its invincibility for good. Washing away the blood of his brothers, Titus chased away the grim thoughts. The darkest of which were inspired by nothing other than the dangerous Immaterium outside. One human got mad during the warp voyage and the captain asked him to restrain the unfortunate man. He asked what was captain planning to do with the wretched sailor, receiving the gloom silence for the response, the Astartes gently stopped the suffering of the dead mind. “They are waiting for us! They want you!”, - this gibberish was stopped by his hands. When the signal announced the returning to the real space, Titus left his compartment and walked to the captain bridge.
- The fleet has gone, my lord, - the man nodded to the servitor wired to the vox panel, - we are searching for any Imperial vessel in this area to know more, - Titus nodded, - navigators are sure we are here where we are supposed to be.
- Incoming request, captain, - another human called from the opposite dark corner, reading glowing monitors of cogitators, - Imperium signature, but neither crusade nor civilian.
- A rogue trader then, - grunted the captain and added with jealousy, - sneaky bastards, free as the wind. Put him through!
- Hello, friends! Have you lost? - the joyful voice emerged on the bridge, confident and well-humored, despite the creaking of the vox. - My name is Afanasy, captain of Twer, exploring the galaxy under the Warrant of Trade.
- Titus Livius, legionary of the Sons of Horus, - he cut in the chat, - I am looking for the 326th fleet, do you know its whereabout?
- Greetings to you, cousin, - after a pause a new voice emerged in the vox, - I am sergeant Teleman of the Emperor’s Children. May I ask your purpose of this travel?
- I greet you, sergeant, - Titus stroke his chest, making the sound loud enough for the other Astartes to hear it. The third was a battle forged ally of the Sons of Horus. He fought alongside the Children many times, praising their approach to the war and the crusade. - Legion business. The 326th is the nearest fleet for my knowledge. May I ask the same?
- I am afraid the answer will be the same too, - easily answered Teleman, - but we may share the service, captain Afanasy provided to me. I am heading to Istvaan System, I believe you will find enough of your brothers there to complete your mission.
- Thank you for your assistance, sergeant Teleman, I am ready to join you.
- Sending our coordinates, Titus of the 16th.
The shuttle which took him to the barge was capable of taking him to Twer; Titus left the ship, dismissing the captain, who could return to his shipments now. The Rogue Trader’s ship was a small one, the smallest he has ever seen with a warp-engine aboard. Afanasy himself welcomed him guiding his mooring when he approached it. Titus left the shuttle breathing the dry air of Twer. Couple servitors approached the flyer, no humans on the deck, filled with neat rows of containers - some precious cargo the free merchant planned to trade before met the Astartes. To pursued him must be harder than the captain of some tanker, the Rogue Traders were as autonomous as possible. But they were still a part of the Imperium and bend to its will. And the Astartes were this will incarnate. The gates to his left let the sergeant in.
- You have met the ferocious enemy, Titus, - the warrior looked at his ruined armour. Teleman himself was an example of his legion attraction to the beaty: purple ceramite gleamed like a spotless mirror; heavy golden decor trimmed the plates; the eagle on his breast, which the Children took so much pride of, had a diamond eye. The sergeant was bareheaded, his long, almost white hair laid loose around his face. A beautiful prince on the outside, an unstoppable killer inside - Titus knew better than to underestimate the marine before him. A different culture, but the same origin and purpose.
- Unexpected one, Teleman, - he answered bitterly, clenching the helmet at his left hand, - I can’t say more, with all respect and gratitude, sergeant.
- I understand, Titus, and will not ask you to, - the Astartes in purple showed at the path behind him and turned back to him, - let me introduce you to the noble Afanasy and then a cabin for you will be arranged. Have you heard of the Death Guard and the World Eaters?
- What about them? - Titus asked the back of the sergeant, who was pushing the runes of a control panel to let them in the corridor.
- They chose right, - the gates opened up and the bolter, hanged by his side exploded, the same happened to the helmet. His face bled from the fresh shrapnel cuts. Titus saw a smoking muzzle of the bolter in the purple hands. Another legionary of the 3d stepped on the deck. Teleman aimed at him with his bolt-pistol.
- You have no authority to judge me, the Emperor’s Children! - stated Titus, keeping the scream “madness” inside. - What are you accuse me in? I demand you explain your gruesome behavior.
- It is Solanius, - said Teleman, sheathing his pistol oblivious to questions. - he is my rival. After all these years we have fought with him together, my brother insists that we are marksmen - and I swear by the name of our Primarch, he is an extraordinary shooter, - here disarmed Titus got no objections, looking angrily at the visor of another Astartes pointing at him the bolter, - but I am sure that we are fighters, fencers, wrestlers, you see? Take enough humans or filthy xenos and they would gun us down, but to beat Astartes in hand to hand combat, - Teleman charmingly smiled and shook his head, - for that, Titus from the 16th, only other Astartes has power. - The sergeant drew his combat knife with the pommel of a golden eagle, - produce your blade, legionary, we’ll see which of us achieved the perfection in our nature.
The old weapon has saved him many times and has been serving him well since the first day of his life as an Astartes. But that was the hardest fight he has ever endured. Titus forgot about the second Child and saw only Teleman, who moved with the certainty of the true master of combat. The sergeant was faster for a fraction of second, and during these moments he cut him: a hit in the wounded palm - to use his weakness; a strike in the chest - to check how shattered his armour was; a slash across the chin - aiming for the throat. The Astartes in purple wasn’t playing with him, he wanted a fast and sure victory. The bareheaded madman was going to kill him. The bareheaded - here it was! Titus slashed the face of the Teleman with a long strike. The sergeant jumped back, preparing to counter-attack, his own knife would pierce the Son of Horus next moment. But Titus continued his attack: letting the handle go, he pushed off the floor with very tip of his boot prolongating his leap and grabbed the still floating hair pulling it to himself. Teleman didn’t get to wipe off his excited smile, the fist in torn green gauntlet did it for him. The blow was so strong that light tips left in his fist with the rest of the head and body fell down. But Titus didn’t let it hit the floor. He grabbed the unconscious sergeant used him as a shield - Solanius saw the end of his brother and opened fire, thundering on the deck. The purple body in his hands twitched from impacts, while he reached for the sheathed pistol. Titus ran at the enemy, holding the corpse in front of him and tossing it in the warrior of the third. Solanius moved aside, but bolts got him in the chest. Titus wasn’t a genius marksman, but he survived two centuries of war not only by virtue of his close combat skills. A true Astartes is a balanced warrior and forgetting this simple rule cost lives to these mad cousins. And again, what kind of madness was this? One moment the sergeant was normal, the next put a gun at him. And the second one was hiding behind the door from the start. If they were going to kill him anyway (the reason for this hideous act should be put aside for now), why they didn’t shoot his shuttle down? The barge wouldn’t notice it. The question about other legions, was it a trick or the key to this madness? Showing his ignorance to their fate, some choice others made turned him into the enemy of the Emperor’s Children. Those Astartes wore different colors and that made it easier to look at them, he felt the wrongness of this and wished he was still inside the tanker, having a dream during the warp travel. Titus checked the bolt-pistol, picked up additional magazines and stepped into the corridor - he had to deal with the reality, however fantastic and confusing it was. The vox of killed Astartes was silent, but who knew how many other madmen were on the board.
Ships were ships, so he walked warily to the captain bridge, not knowing that ever since sneaking around would be his fate. Nobody turned to him when he stepped into the commanding compartment. One half of the crew laid dead from bolt and blade wounds, the other sat motionless. He came closer to the nearest human and heard a sob.
- The Emperor! - Titus looked at the wet face of the woman; tears and blood mixed together. The cruel picture was shaded: the face skin was almost completely cut off and the lower lips were nailed to the equipment making a terrible tent - the human couldn’t move glued to the working station with pain and fear. She trembled, rolling sore eyes. - Where is the aid kit on the bridge? Do you have a medicae on the board?!
The woman only moaned. The rest members of the crew were mutilated in different ways, left on the bridge without hope for escape. Titus found the box with antiseptic spray, bondages and some injectors. He ran from one wretched human to another, freeing them from their tortures, treating their wounds. He asked everyone he saved, where was the captain, how many enemies were there.
- He is in his chamber, above us, - pale man with chopped off feet answered him, not daring open his eyes. Purple or sea-green - there were no difference for the human. Titus saw, that the half of them would die soon. If the insane Astartes didn’t went crazy completely, they should have spared the navigator, the captain and some crew members. By looking for the logic in their deeds, he admitted, that the Children wasn’t just mad. Just as his killed brothers. Holding pistol and knife ready, Titus found the captain chamber and opened the door.
- Leave us alone, - the weak voice came out, - you need me no more, just say the crew where do you want to go.
- Afanasy? - he stepped inside the very small room, which were mostly occupied by the bed, squeezed between walls filled with shelves and monitors. Still, the captain was on the floor, stroking the long grey hair of a thin woman in a dress. Afanasy himself wore some kind of fleet uniform and looked much younger than the corpse in his laps. - How many were of them?
- She didn’t like the rejuvenation, silly girl, - the man raised at him glassy eyes filled with tears, - had some complicated ideas and beliefs. I hoped that she would change her mind eventually and laughed, scaring her with death of old age. Silly me, the galaxy is burning with hundreds of wars; nobody dies of age this era.
- How many were of them? Answer me, human! - barked Titus, looking back in the corridor.
- You are green, but are you different to those two? - the captain lose interest to him and kissed the dead woman.
- I killed them. Are you sure there were only two of them?
- Killed them? Good, - Afanasy smiled and turned the woman face to him, - “only two” you say, that was enough. They should have saved us, - the man chuckled, - can you imagine, I was worrying so much, would they believe me? But I thought about the wrong thing. I should have asked myself, have they done it too?
- Done what? - asked Titus.
- Betrayed the Emperor, - smiled the man and stroke the hair of the corpse.
Afanasy, the owner of Twer. Titus saved his life and owed him his own. The Rogue Trader came to his senses in several hours and told his story. Hadn’t he killed Astartes from two legions by his own hands in last two days, Titus would rip the man’s tongue out. But he saw the proofs of mortal’s words. Afanasy was his own master, but made a close connection with Eidolon, Lord Commander of the Emperor's Children, supplying the high rank officer with curiosities and maps of far space. Recently, the Rogue Trader felt that attitude to him had changed. The high ranked Astartes, especially of the third legion, never was a friendly person, but his disrespect grew drastically. Afanasy showed no discomfort, playing the role of a resigned servant, glad to have business with the venerable general. Meanwhile he found out how tight Eidolon and the Warmaster got, and what plans they mustered. Telling about the Horus’s treason, Afanasy looked at him with genuine fear. Titus stood still, showing no emotions, meanwhile the beloved power suite suffocated him, the Primarch whom he adored and praised for centuries betrayed him and the Emperor, his father, for no visible reason. Why? How? What part of the legion followed Horus? Titus has killed not madmen, but traitors. The worst thing corrupted his brothers, for the treachery is far worse than fear or craziness. Afanasy told about his escape, his try to deliver the horrorful news. After three random warp-jumps he emerged here, far from the fleet of the Warmaster and Eidolon. A civilian ship crossed his way, carrying supplies for colonists and two space marines, who survived some accident on their ship. They named themselves the Ultramarines, who are looking for the fast ship to take them to Terra or Macragge. He has checked their codes and answers, he thought he was so clever. When the mooring gates opened the slaughter began.
- I knew it would happen eventually, - Afanasy finished his tale, - nothing is eternal. But the Imperium should have stayed for millennia before something like that would occur.
- Your personal grieve blinds you, - said Titus, - the Emperor and other Primarchs will know about this treachery and will stop it. Now we must find a way to deliver the message. A fleet or a world with an astropath capable to call the right person.
- The fleet or the world must be trustworthy. I prefer the world, some stable prosperous system, that joined the Imperium long ago. Maps will show the way. I hope they will believe us.
- They will, - confidently answered the Astartes, - I will name myself and will request the means of communication. Nobody will dare to say no to me.
- You look at the galaxy through the eyes of the legion - everybody plays by rules when an Astartes army is around. When I meet people there are always some law being bent. Now you are alone and the galaxy has changed.
- You are wasting time for doubts, Afanasy. The galaxy is the same, the Crusade is still on. There is just the new enemy to crush.
It happened as Afanasy foretold. When they emerged in the real space Titus stood next to the captain on the bridge. One of few survived crew members, crippled and sick joyously declared they jumped out in the right system. Captain steered Twer to the prime world. Deep in the safe zone of the space, the system lacked orbital defense platform, but the fleet was there. They were contacted by local authorities. The Rogue Trader identified himself and was asked to stop movement until his date been checked.
- They are warned about me and will shoot us, - Afanasy told him calmly, - full speed ahead, traders! We will die as we lived, sailing the galaxy! Forget last days, it was a dreadful nightmare. It happened to others, not to you, my friends. Remember the most fascinating wonders you have witnessed across the space and enjoy it one more time! You have conquered the darkest edges of the galaxy; nothing can scare you. - People around Titus said goodbyes to each other, preparing to die. He saw not mutilated fragile humans, but strong and proud adventurers surrounded him. Some of them whispered the words, which became soon the guarding chant for whole mankind. Afanasy turned to him, - take the shuttle, Titus, your trace will be covered with her death. Maybe you will survive this new war. Nothing is eternal, my friend, nothing!
Twer disappeared, saving his life with her proud end. Shuttle hit the atmosphere, and was met with fighters. Now Titus knew better, than name himself. Nobody asked anyway. The burning flyer plunged in the ocean - a thing of legends. The pursuers didn’t expect an Astartes aboard and he survived. With one knife, he emerged on the coast - the armour he had left back at the Trader’s spaceship. Titus looked in the sky - there were no sign of the destroyed Rogue Trader, no trace of the Horus’ betrayal. He ran into mountains. It was easy for him to survive, but for information he was hunger. He tried to contact authorities and has been met with fire. Leaving the destroyed settlement, Titus crossed vast wilderness before he found an enormous city. Next time he captured single humans, but they knew nothing. Then he decided to wait and the answer came with broken statues of the Emperor and screaming people who used to rule this world. Afanasy was right, nothing was eternal. Other humans came and cobalt-blue Astartes with them. The cousins of 13th almost killed him. After the second attempt he dropped the idea. Many Terran years had passed. Titus managed to change worlds after worlds, seeing that the Imperium over-lived the Horus’ treachery. But he didn’t try to return to it, didn’t see why. His legion’s name was stained, his story was too fantastic even for the age of wonder he had witnessed. Titus didn’t know what happened to the rest of the Sons of Horus. He would yet know their shameful fate. Titus Livius was a warrior, and didn’t think about taking his own life, though sometimes he wondered what did he live for. The Astartes mostly was on his own, rarely spent time among humans, covering his origin. Titus hadn’t seen another space marine for a long time till one day he met his brothers again.
The second flashback story about Titus living secretly in the Imperium untill one day...
What is he chewing? You are welcome to know below)
By some reason the illustration is huge
Chapter X Theurgus
(one more long chapter)
- Titus, father calls you!
- What is it, Theo? - he gasped, bent under the weight on his shoulders. Titus couldn’t move, not even turn his head, - come in and tell what’s going, boy.
- The harpies are back! - a three-years old child looked into the dim cave. This world had a long circle, speaking in Terran terms he was three times older.
- Put it down, Titus, - the greased man came out the hole, - that can wait, the damned beasts don’t. Thank you for your help.
- You need a lifting machine or a servitor, Aram, - the Astartes gently put the fieldengine down. The dirty human smiled and spread his arms. He was a mechanic and turned this cave into some kind of a repair shop in the middle of meadows, to spare time for dragging the broken machines in the settlement.
- The Mechanicus keep telling he has no means.
- Then he has none, - nodded Titus, coming after the boy.
- No doubt, the poor metallic fellow can’t even lie, - laughed Aram, limping on his own artificial legs after them and yelled for goodbye, - and who needs a servitor, when you have a friend like you, Titus?!
- How many? - he asked the boy who was driving a wheeled vehicle, noisy, smelly and primitive. “A friend” - that who he was these days.
- A dozen or so, the shepherd said so, - answered Theo, steering the wheel stiffly. The road was wide and straight, but the child was fascinated with his control over the slow engine. Titus could outrun the machine, but that would give him a few minutes benefit during which he would have to stare at beasts feasting on the stock - his weapon was coming in the similar vehicle from another place. The Astartes looked around: the true wild nature, not spoiled by war or mining; high snow-caped mountains covered with green meadows; there were creeks and lakes with drinking water - a privilege unaffordable for the most of the rest mankind out there; and the cleanest air he has ever inhaled. Skwetuz was the best world he has ever been to. Titus corrected himself: in this life. Nothing would ever compete with the worlds he has conquered with his brothers, no matter how dull or hazard those planets were. Alone and naked, he stayed a legionary. The pouch hanged on the neck and the knife was always battle ready. There were no wars on this Agri-World, but fights happen.
- Theo, where are you? - creaked the vox, - the harpies are in the sector L-V5, go southwest, son!
- We are coming, father! - Theo squinted at the compass and the map of meadows. Titus showed the direction with his fingers; he was going to battle, a small one, just as his current battle-brother.
They were riding by vast fenced fields of green. Big slow animals ignored them. Gene-modified, the cattle only think about the food and sleep, paying to attention to the rest of the world. The reproduction was also out of their interest, so artificial insemination was one of the main jobs of the settlers. Of course, the animals show no aggression, and fences were purely for organization means. It also helped to find the harpies when they come. The true nature of these predators was unknown. The mayor called them so, saying there were similar ancient winged beasts on Terra. “I asked the Mechanicus and he told me that he is not a biologis, - told the man, - so I came up with this name”.
- Praise the Emperor, Titus, you are here! - few men stood around another vehicle. Yaan proudly padded Theo on the head, - there are four of them, - one human got red, - six are dead, let’s stop it at this number. We’ve called the planetary defense, but..
- But who needs them, why we have you, - a big human laughed and tossed him a crossbow and a quiver, - by the time they come here the half of the cattle on this field would be eaten.
- Don’t exaggerate, Kurt! And don’t talk bad about the army, they are the chosen of the Emperor, - Yaan meaningfully showed with his eyes at the child, - come on, friends, protect our cattle. Theo, guard the vehicles, don’t worry. The Emperor protects us.
- And Titus, - the child looked at him confidently, and he nodded back, feeling the glances of other humans - they all felt that way, trusting in him.
Loading up the crossbow, the Astartes came into the sector L-V5, six men followed him, armed with the same weapon and holding long spear like sticks which were used to make the sleepy cattle move. Titus knew, he was the only real hunter: Kurt was brave and ferocious, Yaan was calm and resolute, but all of them were common people, trying to protect their way of life, lacking the means to do so. The Astartes went first, walking around the indifferent cattle chewing and defecating, the people kept distance. It was far from the first operation of this sort. He didn’t know how those Terran harpies looked like, but the beasts from Skwetuz was leathery creatures on six legs with the twin tail. A pair of big wings grew on the upper back and the lesser pair - on the lower-back. The harpies were as big as humans and of course couldn’t drag away the prey, so they feed where they kill. Each predator could gnaw out bowels of three or more herbivores. Titus slowed down, seeing the gored flat snout of the first creature. The smell of the cattle would cover him, but only until he killed the first predator. The bred animal stood next to its unfortunate kin, not seeing the bloody end which was awaiting it. To save this one, he must attack now. The predator fell down, squawking and beating with wings and tails. He jumped over the saved herbivore and finished with the knife what the arrow started. The rest beasts rose into air, screaming and flapping with their leathery wings. Titus shot one in the full stomach, making it fly away shakingly. The rest two dived on him, arrows flew by them with no harm done. He got to reload his crossbow and jumped aside - one harpy flew by and went up again, the other crushed into the chewing animal knocking it down and tearing down with paws and spiked tails. He hadn’t saved the mindless creature after all, it was laying silently, rolling eyes and opening mouth - a living automate people made for their needs. Titus shot the predator in the head and stopped the agony of the prey piercing its skull with his blade.
- Look out! - humans called him shooting the air behind him.
The Astartes turned around stretching out the hand with the knife meeting the last harpy, stupid enough not to flee from him. The blade cut the predator open, but the weight of the beast pushed him into the wet carcass of the killed herbivore.
- Are you alright?! - Yaan shouted to him.
- Besides the need of bath? - chuckled Kurt giving him a hand, like his limb could lift him up.
- I am alright, - Titus stood up by himself, soaked in the blood and gore. All battles ended this way: he was alive and wet with enemy’s blood. - Go finish the wounded one, it couldn’t fly far away.
- Will do, boss! - Kurt took the others and ran away eagerly.
- “Boss”, - Yann looked at the back of the big man, - and he wanted you dead, remember? So jealous of Lea for you.
- I gave no cause, - Titus didn’t remember that. Not always he could understand humans’ emotions and the way they think.
- What causes?! - laughed the man, - women were afraid of you as of some kind of monster. - Yann lied. They still feared him, all of them. But at the same time, they relied on him and did not try to investigate his origin or to hand him out to Imperial authorities. Such life was a rare opportunity for him and he has been enjoying it as long as he could.
- Done! - Kurt and two men returned to them, - go home and bring the good news to the mayor - only eight heads are gone. Guys will deal with the corpses, it’s their segment after all.
- Wow, it must have been a good fight! - Theo met them with joyful screams, hiding that he was worried for the father. Titus didn’t understand it - he always felt easy praising other legionaries or showing his satisfaction with their return without losses.
- Titus did the whole work as always, but we’ve seen some action too, - Kurt showed the blooded pike to the boy and tossed into the cart, - now take our ageless friend to the settlement.
- Why do they call you the forever young, Titus? - Theo asked him, while his father was driving the vehicle. They split with the others and now riding to the settlement, laid in the valley, surrounded with mighty mountains and crowded meadows.
- Because people always tell rubbish and all kind of nonsense. - Yaan answered for the Astartes, - Titus just leads a healthy life, doesn’t drink and doesn’t run from the work. The Emperor granted him a good tough body, that’s it, got it?
- Yes, father, - the boy glanced at the giant with doubt. The father didn’t have a clue how close his lie was to the truth. His size and strength were one thing, the humans got used to, the age was another. Titus kept track of the Imperium calendar - he came to this people over twenty Terran years ago. Aram, whom he saved from the fall in mountains which cost the human his legs, Kurt and Yaan, were young men back then, now they were middle aged. He knew about the talk that he was a saint, sent by the Emperor to help them. The generation of their kids looked at him with awe and wonder, remembering their fathers’ stories, but how their own children would take him? Nothing was eternal, and this life of his wouldn’t last forever. Theo continued, - why don’t we just destroy those ugly harpies onсe and for all? It’s the very end of the 39th millennium and we can’t get rid of some giant lizards.
- Titus? - pleaded Yann, - would you tell my stupid son one more time, since he doesn’t take his father’s answer for the truth.
- Have you seen other planets, Theo? - Titus teased the boy. He liked him and wondered why - Theo would never made a candidate to Astartes, neither he would survive on Terra or other worlds he’s seen. Maybe that was the reason: a soft boy lives in peace with his family, ignorant of horrors which others overwhelmed for him - was it the goal of the Crusade? Has he and his brothers fought for this?
- You know I haven’t, - answered the human child morosely.
- Believe me, you are lucky to live here, and since these beasts are here too, then they are needed for something. Otherwise the Mechanicus would eliminate them long before you were born.
- See? You are not the smartest on the planet, Theo, - laughed Yaan and they came into the settlement. Everybody knew about the harpies attack, so no one gasped at his bloody look. The humans have seen him in red before: he protected their cattle from predators, he saved themselves one time, beating the gang of bandits, picked the wrong place to rob.
- Our Gerkulys is back, - a lean good-humored man came out the Administratum building, - striking terrible beasts with his bow in the name of the Emperor and for our sake.
- They used crossbows! - answered the boy laughing, jumping off the vehicle, - you are speaking nonsenses again, Furkan.
- Theo! Watch your tongue speaking to an adult, especially to the mayor!
- It’s alright, Yann, - easily replied the man, - old legends are not nonsense, boy, they prove that mankind had protectors back there, when the God-Emperor hadn’t yet united us. - The mayor looked at Titus, - having one among us, makes it easier to believe in it.
- It was the same mindless small predators, - replied the Astartes. Furkan was the oldest in the settlement, been through the rejuvenation and knew much more about the outside life than anybody else. He hadn’t asked him about his past, though had plenty opportunities. Titus thought, he just didn’t want to know, escaping the possible duty of giving him out in case he did.
- Nevertheless, dangerous they are. Wash off the blood, Titus, Maude will show you the way.
- I know where the shower is, - he said goodbyes to the father and son and stepped in the “Imperial palace”, how he called the small house of Furkan. The woman was there, greeting him with the bow.
- Titus, what can we do for you? - she always asked the same question with the same look in her grey eye. They say she was the most beautiful woman on the whole Skwetuz. The red lens glowed brightly through the forelock - that was all those bandits got to do before meeting the Astartes.
- I will use the bathroom. - He squeezed in the stainless-steel compartment and turned on the water. Titus put off his shirt, hitting the door and walls with the elbows and the running away streams turned red. In a minute he heard a gentle knock on the door.
- Titus, would you grant your time to His servants? Your strength is needed.
- I’ll be out soon, Jason.
- Thank you, our community owes you so much, - the priest Jason was the quietest human Titus has ever seen. And looked like the others respected him for that. He put on his wet shirt. The Astartes couldn’t come out to these people with uncovered body - his unhuman muscles twisted and crossed all over by scars would scare them more than any harpy from the old legends.
Next morning at the dawn Titus went out the Furkan’s house, he was going to walk back to Aram’s cave to finish the job the iron-legged mechanic started.
- Let me give you a ride, Titus, - Yaan ran to him, sleepy and shivering from cold, - just wait a second.
- No need, - the Astartes made waved his palm shortly, - come back home.
- We take you for granted, - said the human, not daring to look him straight in the eyes, - and you behave as it is, but it’s not. The Emperor protect us from being ungrateful! Thank you, Titus, for the yesterday, I am speaking for the whole settlement.
- You are welcome, - he answered to the man.
- Theo could learn from you manners too, - laughed Yaan, - let me walk you out then.
- Come back to your family, - Titus said to him when they passed few steps through the silent settlement. The Astartes put a hand on the tiny human’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes, - kill them fast while you can.
- What? - stunned Yaan asked him.
Titus has turned his back to him already; he was looking at the open doorway of the house by the road. The noiseless darkness of the pathway stared back. He stepped forward.
- I have seen you, filthy xenos, - the Astartes spread his empty hands and screamed, - show yourself!
- What’s going on?! - the human was afraid and still stood behind him.
A pale figure emerged from the building, running at him silently. The xenos jumped him over, easily escaping his fist. Flying by, the enemy cut his ribs and the right shoulder and the shriek of Yaan told him, that the human was going to be the next victim. But the alien underestimated Titus, and the Astartes leapt after the screaming xenos, crushing him in the earth. With whole his weight he pressed the gentle neck with his left arm and broke it. He didn’t feel his right arm, the numbness crawled to his chest and probably would stop the hearts soon. The sky burst with noises: hum of engines and alien screaming woke up the settlement, announcing the doom came to the humans. Three long spikey skimmers threw off the camouflage and were descending raining Aeldari rogues on flying boards and jetbikes.
- There is no escape from them, Yaan, - Titus pushed the shocked human to his home, - save them, kill them now! Run!
The xenos didn’t shoot, they came for captives. To fight back this horde several squads were needed, Titus was alone. If the poison wouldn’t kill him - he will join the humans in the slavery. The legionary of the 16th would rather die.
- I said run! - roared the Astartes shaking the frozen human. People were looking in the windows or went out curiously to find the reason of the noise - the small streets filled with cries.
- Help me, save us! - the wet face of Yaan looked at him. He mistook him for a miraculous saint or some always winning hero from the legends.
- Let’s go! - Titus ran towards the man’s house. It didn’t matter now where he would die.
The Aeldari were among them. Titus ignored screams and pleas from the houses around - his enemy would find him eventually. His body stopped the poison, the numbness hasn’t gone further than the right half of the torso and arm. The thigh felt strange, but he could run.
- No! Let her be, monsters, - Kurt landed, rolling on the ground. He has been tossed out his own house, in the door emerged Aeldari in high helmet, clad in crimson armour, decorated with human skulls and skins. In one gauntlet the tall xenos easily held wriggling Lea, almost naked and blooded: five thin tracks came from the forehead to the knees - tracks of sharp tips of the gauntlet. With the curved sword in the other hand Aeldari knocked out Kurt, hitting him with the blunt side of the blade. Titus felt the interested look at his back, as he and went mad Yaan ran the scene by.
- Down! - the Astartes fell to the ground, letting the flying board go by. The xenos got him with the staff of his polearm - the heavy hit tossed him on the earth. Screaming Aeldari flew further pursuing another victim.
- Help them! - gasped Yaan, stiffed and twisted from the poison getting control over him.
- I will try, - the Astartes gave the human a mercy stroke and ran further. One flying xenos got shot down, falling in flames. Titus turned to look at the shooter. The Mechanicus held the cooling plasma-gun in artificial hand; the human one fired the las-pistol. The Martian got few tendrils, coming from the back, they were moving, protecting the techno-priest from the xenos circling around him. Titus got a glimpse of false hope and urge to help the calm adept of the Machine-God: with the weapon and such ally he could kill some Aeldari. But another xenos joined the fight, cutting off the tendrils. The metallic body of the Mechanicus was sliced to pieces instantly - he would make a bad slave anyway.
- No, no! - to his left a woman was begging the xenos on her knees to give her child back. The Aeldari held the screaming baby for the leg, head down, spinning and swinging it, obviously enjoying the cry of the mother. Paralyzed humans laid around, the useless pikes and crossbows were laid next to them. Another xenos emerged and lashed the woman with his whip, knocking her out and pointing at him with the weapon. The first dropped the baby and turned to the Astartes, beckoning to avenge people. Titus turned right - obviously he was marked as a precious captive and Aeldari would try to take him alive. He would save Theo from the truth and spare him the tortures the xenos got planned for him. Then he would try to make Aeldari angry and kill him at the spot. The Astartes hoped that in their arrogance, the xenos would try to catch him in the close combat, not just shooting down. He was close to the Yaan’s house, when an Aeldari came out the neighbor home. The hideous xenos was bareheaded, the long face was smirked in blood; the segmented armour with sharp razors all around it was stained with gore; the rogue limped and shook like a drunk or ill person; slanted eyes were deep red mist. Titus got, that this one wouldn’t let him go and charged the beast. The Aeldari leapt on him like a wild animal, with roar and claws ready to rip him open. The enemy lacked the common agility of his kin and the time was running out. Titus sacrificed his right shoulder turning it to the xenos. Lighting strikes fell on his numb flesh, ripping the back too. His knife pierced the muddy eye, but the Aeldari seemed to miss it. Titus screwed the blade, stopping the mad xenos. The back ached - another portion of alien toxin his body might not overcome. He looked back - two xenos looked at him, now showing any anger or sympathy to their dead. The Astartes turned back and stumbled to the Yaan’s house. He fell down on the threshold, but not from shot and hit in the back - the legs just stopped to bear him. The noise of the raid has ceased, it was almost over. He heard slow steps of the xenos behind.
- Sandra! Theo! - Titus crawled into the house. It didn’t smell Xenos, could they been spared the fate of others so far, so he would save the kid. - It’s Titus, come out now, - he called them again - no secret room or dungeon will cover them from the Aeldari.
- Titus! What’s going on? What was this noise? - the scared weeping wife whispered from another room, - Yaan came after you, have you met him?
- He sent me here, - the Astartes stood up, crushing the furniture and holding on to the wall. He felt nothing below breast, he just knew he had the legs and made them obey. Right eye got blurry, but the left hand still held the knife tight. Titus opened up the door.
- Chase them away! - the crying boy jumped out the closet and hugged his numb legs, - I know you can.
- There is only one way, - he said to the woman, who closed her mouth with the palm, seeing his beaten look. There was a sound of lash strike, and somebody stepped inside the house. Sandra - the Astartes has remembered many humans’ names living here - cried silently and bowed, winching from suffer.
- Let me hold him, - he handed over the dead Theo to her. The woman hugged and kissed the kid. Swallowing tears, she lifted her head, opening the neck, - thank you, Titus.
He couldn’t fight nor stand. Titus tried to sit down, but fell.
- The legionary of the 16th won’t lie before filthy xenos, - with that thought the Astartes tried to stand up using the last limb he controlled, but the darkness stopped him.
Titus opened the eyes. It took couple moments to remember where he was - a rare experience for him. It was a sunset, but he wasn’t sure that it was the same day. The pouch was there, the knife gone - an empty sheath hanged at his belt. He stood outside another settlement of Skwetuz, but this one resisted, or rather witnessed the attempt of the planetary defense forces to protected the world from the xenos. Fallen army flyers laid here and there, shredded and burned. Behind the vast crowd of humans, he saw imperial buildings, crushed under the debris of the governor palace, a true one, it used to be the tallest structure on the planet, including the choir of astropath, cathedral and all offices of the Administratum. Titus knew it by the tales of Furkan, so he had been moved to the capital. And he wasn’t alone: dozens of thousands of people were herded like animals by sparse figures of the Aeldari, striking them with whips, leading them into elegant shuttles, which would take each of them to a personal hell. Those Xenos unlike the orks prefer the unique approach for every kill. Skwetus has suffered a planetary size invasion, the small peaceful world had no chance. Even if the call for help has been sent, they Imperium would find the depopulated globe, ready to be recolonized. Titus pulled out the dart out of his nape, it stuck out next to the psy-blocker he installed earlier that millennium. The one, who woke up him with this shot, hovered above him among other xenos on the long open flyer. The skimmer resembled a court of bored nobility: elegant and agile even standing still, filthy Aeldari stood watching at him through their helmets; spiked armour decorated with gruesome trophies; clawed palms idly lying on handles of weapons of all shapes and sizes. Those were the masters of the raid, or at least the commanders of these forces around him. Other xenos stood behind the leaders, looking as ugly and hideous as their superiors. They wanted a spectacle, and Titus was one of the actors. The rest were humans: four men and two women, all shocked but physically wholesome, stood in circle, gazing at him. Three of them wore the army uniform. Something blinked in the air and hit the ground between them - his knife. Titus looked at the xenos hatefully, knowing what they wanted. He would give them nothing. The Astartes sit on ground calmly. The humans acted differently: all of them except for the civilian female ran to the knife. Two men clashed together, the woman with the other, so one soldier grabbed the knife. He hit his former comrade in the back and finished the man knocked down by the last. Meanwhile, the female soldier has beaten her opponent and charged the owner of the blade. The man jumped on her and they rolled on the ground. After the short struggle, the soldier stood up, smeared with blood. He looked at him, then at the xenos and ran to the last woman, who kept standing still, looking down. She hardly defied the aliens, more likely, she was just too stunned and scared. Titus wanted to save her, but kept sitting - they would gain nothing from him. The murderer had no one in front of him but the Astartes. The mad man trembled with terror of his deeds, the fear for his future. Did he believe the xenos would let him go? Titus controlled his body again and he got his knife back in two fast movements. The Astartes stood up, sheathing the blade and looking at the Aeldari. The intricate helmets could scary humans, but he saw only ugly masks concealing filthy and frustrated xenos. The toy soldier didn’t act as it supposed to be. Would they break him or punish somehow? Two Aeldari from the second row jumped from the skimmer, landed softly before him. Both were clad in black smooth armour, high helmets ended with white manes. One held short curved swords, the other spun the polearm. The xenos would feed on his emotions after all, but now he didn’t care since it was a chance to kill one or two of them.
- 16th! - the scream came out by itself and Titus charged the xenos.
The Aeldari jumped at him trying to overrun each other, the one with the polearm was at his left. Titus picked him for the target, but in the last moment leapt on the other. The xenos with swords, however, was ready - he fended off the combat knife with one of his blades and stroke with the other. Titus managed to stop the alien’s attack chopping the thin black arm with his palm. The Astartes got pushed forward by the strike across the back - the blade of complex shape emerged above his shoulder - the xenos missed a little and hit him with the stuff. Before the enemy pulled the shaft back, dragging the alien steel across his nape, Titus kicked the swordsman in the knee joint, cutting his own feet - the edges of smooth armour segments were razor sharp, and turned around swiftly grabbing the polearm. The Astartes tried to wrestle the weapon out of the Aeldari’s hands, but failed, the xenos overtook him, jumping back. Titus darted in different direction, escaping the attack from the Aeldari behind - a tip of sword scratched him, bringing strong pain. Good, it’s better than paralyzing toxin. He again faced the both enemies, but this time the xenos took a moment, not rushing at him, realizing how dangerous he was. Titus didn’t wait them to cooperate and raced to the Aeldari with the polearm. The xenos used it as a spear, pocking at him, but Titus not just dodged the first strikes, but also caught the shaft with his left arm. He hit it with the knife, but the blade glanced off, failing to cut the alien weapon in half. The Astartes, still holding the polearms, turned back to parry attacks of the second xenos. The first Aeldari let go his weapon and kicked him in the head. Titus used the freed shaft to defend himself from the swordsman - there were no time to spin the polearm blade forward, but he was totally open for this new attack. The kick in the forehead pushed him down on his back. The swordsman rushed to finish him, but the alien weapon stopped his fall, and the Astartes pierced the neck of the xenos, whose swords almost cut his own chest open. The last enemy was already there, he ripped the polearm off his hand and finished his fall. Titus threw his knife from the land, not sure would it pierce the armour, he didn’t find out - the xenos parried it in the air, sending the reliable blade in the dust soaked with humans’ blood. He tried to jump up but got slapped on the face with the blade, that’s it, he was beaten fair and square. The curved blade for a moment froze in centimeter before his eyes and then gone. The Aeldari turned back on him, confidently walking away to his satisfied masters. Titus jumped to his feet and leapt on him with bare hands and fell on his face.
Familiar soft voice called his name and he opened the eyes. He was kneeling on the ground, calves and wrists clapped together in shackles. Two curved blades laid on his shoulders, so he could only lift his head: the skimmer with the Aeldari was hovering at the same place; behind it the crowd of slaves was embarking another ship; two humans were stood surrounded with xenos at the land chosen to be an arena, filled with copses. While he was out, new bodies have emerged.
- Titus! Save us! - Maude screamed, hugged by Furkan. Not this time, humans.
The xenos stopped their victims and separated them. The Mayor was pulled for hands in opposite directions, readied to amuse Aeldari with his suffer. The woman cried and yelled, twitching in hands of the tortures, not knowing that she was only increasing their pleasure. Furkan stood bravely, looking at his wife, telling her something and for that he received swift death. Maude shrieked in terror, but the man himself didn’t see what was coming: an Aeldari on floating device dived on him spinning from the sky and the board sliced him in half, splashing with blood the two xenos, who held the human and now were shaking their hands praising their kin. Maude fainted and they laid her between mutilated pieces of the husband. When the poor woman wakes up - her horror and agony would feed the monsters one more time. He heard the moan and cry behind, there stood another crowd of humans, either another queue of slaves or the stock for the entertainment.
- Take heart, brothers and sisters! - another familiar voice of the short life he had in this world. After leaving the legion, it was one of the best he had led. And the last. Priest Jason kept preaching, - those xenos beasts will not harm your souls. Be strong, show them how brave and proud mankind is. He will save us and punish these filthy aliens. The Emperor protects!
Not this time, humans.
The next loathsome entertainment was casting humans to a beast, the xenos brought with them. The monster was towering over Aeldari and had a huge bald head with many black eyes scattered around the bulging forehead. It moved on knuckles of massive arms, dark-grey and smooth. The second smaller pair of limbs grew from the waist and assisted. For the legs the monster got four short thick half-legs half-tendrils - it moved stumbly and clumsy. The skin of the beast was tattered and dotted with glowing implants - the ugly xenos was controlled and tortured by the humanoid ones. The tied up together humans were lined up before the monster, when it approached, they fell down, screaming and praying for mercy. The lucky ones fainted. The beast had no claws, its fingers were blunt and meaty, but the strength was enormous. Reluctantly, even fearfully, it took the nearest man with its upper hands and lifted up. The next human in the bundle was up too, screaming and twitching, hanging in the air. The one in the monster’s grip was silent, Titus saw how red it got - he was squashed, liked a fruit. The ugly beast, receiving no punishment, torn the human in halves, dropping the lower part with the screaming man down. Narrow long mouth opened up under the lowest line of the eyes and the black sharp teeth gnawed at the carcass. A spasm ran through the hairless body - the beast was brought for the entertainment of the Aeldari, not for its own pleasure. The monster toddled forward, crushing the screaming man, sparing him of the worse death. The beast torn apart another human giving the xenos one more pleasure that day. The terrified screams and loud prayers behind him got drown out by the bang - the transport which was being loaded up with the slaves exploded, blowing away the human queue, like leaves. The Aeldari withdrew the blast wave and stood on their feet, surrounded with flying and scattered people. Another slender ship was falling down, lost all its grace. What was it? Two accidents at the same time couldn’t be a coincidence. Did the xenos fell to the inner conflict?
- It is Him! - screamed Jason, - the Emperor has seen our sufferings and showed His wrath. The xenos rogues will be punished! The Emperor protects!
- How can it be? - Titus saw flashes in the sky and one red dot growing bigger with every moment. It must be a drop pod and it would be here in several seconds. The Astartes felt the joy - the filthy raiders would be punished indeed. The newcomers would probably kill him too, but he would see the dead Aeldari first. The blades were still on his shoulders, slightly moving - the xenos were looking around and communicating with each other, trying to understand what was happening. He must not give them the reason to kill him now, so he could see their own end. The Aeldari on the ground were assembling the survived slaves in the herd again; the xenos on the skimmer kept calmness and didn’t move, only they pointy heads were turning slightly; the left alone monster was feeding on the wretched people, the cruel fate made sure, that the nearest to the beast humans saved consciousness while the fainted ones were laying out of the imminent danger. But they must have seen the falling drop pod, even the captives behind him noticed it, hoping that the legends of the God-Emperor’s angels descending on His foes were true. A dark flash raced him over - an alien flyer was going to stop the prop pod.
- Like hell you will, - grinned Titus. He has made uncountable drop pod landings in the heart of enemies of all kinds: from the brute orks to the misleading human world, which technology even exceeded the Imperium’s, - there were no cover from that magnificent rain of death. One pod could hit the mountain, one could crush into a towering building, but no defensive measures ever stopped the drop attack on his memory.
The skimmer with the leaders got engulfed with the fire, catching his attention. The flame dissolved, showing the intact transport - the void shield protected the xenos and got hit again. Somebody was firing at the skimmer from behind. Titus looked back in the sky - the drop pod was almost here; it would land among the slaves and the xenos. Too late to run from it. The Xenos fighter failed to stop it and became a prey on his own, trying to shake off the Imperial aircraft pursuing it. The Raptor Gunship, heavy, angular and crude, was firing at the curved elegant Aeldari flyer. The chase looked like somebody threw a big stone at a small pretty bird, though, this time - the bird was a dangerous parasite which must be annihilated. The knelt Astartes praised the unknown brothers arrived just in time. After another shot hit the skimmer, Titus heard the familiar roar of the engine. Rumbling ceramite beast approached from behind. The squad in the pod and the coming Predator would attack the xenos from two direction in several moments. The Tank kept firing its autocannon at the skimmer, keeping it in one place, the Aeldari on the ground forgot about the captives and watched the approaching pod, trying to guess the landing spot. Titus took a breath, ready to die - now, when the fight would begin, the xenos must kill or leave him tied up. His back, hardly covered by rags, got wet with hot drops. One blade fell on him and slid to the ground. The guards missed their chance, the heavy bolter beheaded them, and the scream of humans behind announced the coming of the Predator. The skimmer finally turned its armoured sloping bow towards the tank, using the pause in the barrage, and fired back. The roar of the engine got closer - single shot hasn’t stopped the Predator, which cannon started to fire again. Titus saw how the pod landed, smashing several humans and blowing away those who stood too close. The scorched doors of unclear color opened up and the Astartes emerged, their bolters roared, ripping the nearest xenos and humans alike, which were inevitable in such circumstances. Black ceramite of familiar pattern but unknown iconography repelled the xenos shots. Seven Astartes moved to the skimmer, killing Aeldari. The crowd of slaves became a live cover for both sides. Titus couldn’t stand up - the chain holding his wrists and calves was too strong even for him - Aeldari capture creatures stronger than Astartes. Instead, he fell to one side, and wriggled on the earth, trying to watch what was going on behind - he didn’t care for the monster which kept devouring the humans indifferent for the losses of its masters. Titus saw the crowd of humans, separating him from the tank. No alive Aeldari around, but people didn’t run away. They were cheering the approaching Predator, which cannon rumbled louder and louder with every shot. Shells flew over the crowd keeping the skimmer occupied. The Aeldari sent back one more dark ray and the slaves started to run, but too late: the angular tank raced right through them, crushing mortals, the engine roar drowning out their screams. The black hull was covered with bronze spikes, skulls stung on it. Did they belong to the saints or some rebels, Titus couldn’t tell, the Emperor Cult had many guises. He was surprised to see the fellow Astartes fell for such superstitions as humans and to ram the captives at the full speed - that was wrong. The black tank didn’t make an exception for him and almost overrun the naked Astartes. Titus almost didn’t get to roll under the hull, when the tracks tamped the place he lied and the xenos guard with it. Fortunately for him, the spiked ram was attached high enough to let him pass. The black noise covered him for a moment, and the Predator raced further, rising thundering cannon higher. The heavy-bolters attached to the hull from both sides opened fire across the arena, scything the humans and the xenos among them. The tank slowed down and stopped, keeping the engine running. The monster leapt on it, driven by its masters or own stupidity, and got shredded by bolts. The space marines came closer, soon they would finish the slavers, and the tank would sooner or later pierce the xenos’ shield, not very clean, considering the number of civilians deaths, but the win was the win. The situation changed in a heartbeat. The Predator’s tower got hit with some alien charge and the cannon went silent. The invisible bomber hasn’t showed up, but it done the job - the tank drove backwards, keep shooting the bolters. Now the xenos’ skimmer could revenge, the vessel turned to the fleeting tank and opened fire: dark rays scorched the hull, but failed to pieced multi-layered armour. The high ranked Aeldari should have some means to destroyed the crippled tank, so its retreat was the right decision, but the skimmer didn’t pursue the Predator. The xenos decided to help their kin, turning the flyer around and sending lethal rays at the black figures. Those armour it would pierce. The tank raced him by and go to the left: the crew didn’t abandon their own too. A bright flash made him squint and new force joined the fight. Giants in the Tactical Dreadnought Armour emerged on arena. Their enormous figures showed up at the most dangerous and valuable battle scenes, bringing the victory. Teleportation in the middle of the battle was risky enough, to make them appear at the skimmer just impossible. Five bulky warriors, watched up - the sixth terminator made it. A rock of black ceramite stood alone against the xenos at the stern. He hadn’t to fight them all by himself, he just needed to bring them down to his brothers. Titus, sitting again, wished the strange Astartes luck. The xenos opened fire at the sudden intruder who hit the deck with the thunder hammer, again and again, trusting the thick plates to protect him from the shots. And the ceramite withstood, while the deck and flyer’s engine under it didn’t. The skimmer fell down, and the rest terminators charged the scattered xenos. Titus must have been among them; he felt the fury for being an idle spectator. Naked and unarmed, he was eager to join his brothers righteous fight, but the shackles held him down. So, he observed. The Aeldari swarmed the terminator, who put the skimmer to the ground. The hero smashed one xenos with his hammer, but the power weapons of others pierced his helmet. It received many hits before gave in. There were five leaders and seven ordinary-looking Aeldari against five Astartes. The groups getting closer firing at each other, but only xenos’ rows got thinned out - two rogues got hit with bolters. They clashed. Aeldari might look faster and more agile than living tanks, but he knew, that the battle speed of terminators can’t be underestimated. He saw how one battle-brother blocked the sword with the hand holding the bolter and hit back with the power fist. That strike missed, but another pulverized the next xenos, leaving nothing of the upper half of alien body. At his side the terminator with power claws faced three xenos at the same time, all were the leaders of the raiders. A glowing whip wrapped around his left arm, but if it supposed to immobilize the Astartes somehow, it failed - the long blades of the right hand cut the leash and parried the attack of another xenos with broad sword, slicing him with the liberated left. The third Aeldari jumped on the terminator from the back, he was hitting the top of the hidden helmet with his arms, it probably wore some version of tiny power fists. The Astartes ignored him and swung claws at the Aeldari, whose whip he cut. Now the Xenos charged him wielding daggers. He acrobatically dodged the claws and stuck his weapons in the breast. It was a masterful attack which would have killed an ordinary space marine, but the terminator armor was too thick, and the claws pierced the Aeldari from both sides. The black giant rapidly spread his mighty arms, shaking off the remnants of his foe and ran to help his brother, surrounded with xenos, carrying the parasite on his shoulders with him. The terminator chased away Aeldari off his comrade, who in response killed the one bothering his savior with the shot. Together those three rushed to the rescue of the fourth Astartes, fighting back the xenos with his bolter and sword. The fifth laid dead, losing two terminators simultaneously was a grief outcome, those Aeldari were powerful. Alas, the shields of their vessel saved them from the tank’s cannon. Lost their numerical superiority, the xenos died quickly despite all their warcraft and weaponry. Titus noticed the end of his former rival: the polearm harmlessly glanced off the bronze rimmed pauldron, and the power fist grabbed the head; the white mane shook while it could, then only thin black limbs twitched while the grip got tighter and tighter till the blood and gore started to drip from the fist. The fight was over and black Astartes revenged for the slain brothers. The rest terminators turned to the fighting legionaries, but their comrades needed no help. The space marines finished with their foes, leaving not much humans alive. Those, who survived the inhuman fight, laid still, terrified to death. All seven Astartes in standard armour survived and Titus looked at his brothers, wondering which legion they belonged too. The humans he met didn’t know anything or too little about the space marines, for them they were warriors of legends or plain myths, may be some elite force of the Astra Militarum. Very few mentioned chapters of space marines. But every Legion got several chapters and their names were unknown to him. And it’s been nine thousand years after all, any changes could happen. Whose sons were those warriors, so overtly showing disregard to humans’ lives and to himself? He looked at worn armour painted black and looked archaic, not technologically speaking, it just gave an impression of ancient thing. Grotesque skulls and spikes of bronze decorated power suites and could relate to the Night Lords, Titus never met one, but the Night Haunter’s legion had grim reputation that suited to the scene his witnessed. He felt a touch of psychic energy, the blocker resisted, bringing pain inside his head. The roar of coming tank didn’t silence the question: who are you? The Predator drove him by and revealed a bareheaded Astartes looking at him. The face was a scarred and mutilated by war as his own, the familiar features stroke him. Was it possible?!
- Brother? - asked Titus, forgetting own nakedness and shackles, the killed world and all passed years. He hadn’t noticed that he addressed the stranger in Cthonian. The armoured giant had.
- You are far from home, brother, and in a queer position, the Black Legion bend to no one, - the Astartes put on the helmet back. The image of an eye was gleaming in his forehead, as an eye of navigators. Some of other warriors turned to them, looking at him. The stranger continued, speaking through the helmet, - how did you get here, Titus, is it?
- I am Titus Livius of the 16th Legion, brother-librarian, - he stated proudly, - I know of no Black Legion, but I am grateful to the fate which brought you here. I owe you my life and will tell my true story, however bizarre it may seem to you.
- Our will brought us here and your story will be nothing compare to mine, - the savior laughed, - join our ranks and you may survive to hear it. My name is Portunus, - the Astartes drew his serrated knife of dark metal and cut the chain, leaving shackles, - keep distance with my brothers and I will talk to you later, Titus of the 16th.
- Thank you, Portunus, - he stood up, with the hands bound behind. He didn’t like the chuckle of the black legionary. The memory of “mad” comrades and vile Children emerged in the head. - May I pick my knife?
- Later, - Portunus returned to the squads, which took position behind the wreck of the xenos’ transport and their own tank to his right.
He knew the preparation for the battle, when he saw one, it was too soon to pick up dead now. The heavy bolters of the Predator opened fire, and the black hull as well as the debris of the skimmer got rained by alien charges. Aeldari counter attacked or were driven to them by other forces of that so-called Legion. Portunus with another marine hid behind the tank, surrounded with two terminators, then the fallen vessel gave cover to five Astartes, and the left edge of this frontline were defended by two last terminators. Four flyers of land speeder’s size raced to them sending dark rays of energy. When they got closer, the five marines showed up and opened fire over the wrecks, hitting one skimmer, while the heavy bolters caught the other. Both machines fell down, revealing that xenos on floating boards were hiding behind it. Two of them were gunned down immediately, three survived and got closer to the cover. At the same time the rest skimmers attacked the Astartes sideways, showing their own hidden reserves: three and one flying rogues on the left and right respectively. Titus saw how the marine next to Portunus shot down the xenos on the board, which corpse rammed the earth adding his filthy blood to that, already spilled by his kin. The skimmer raced to the terminator, hoping to crush him. But there is a good reason why the bulging suit called Tactical Dreadnought Armour: the flyer knocked off the giant and he fell down rolling, as well as the machine itself - the Astartes met the vehicle with the fist, hitting the short wing. The massive limb stayed intact, while the skimmer lost its part and dived into ground next to Titus. The cabin got opened and the xenos emerged with a pistol in his hand, aiming at the legionaries. He saw the back of the Aeldari, dark, almost black plates clasped the thin torso, which burst open by green fire, eating the alien from inside. The librarian used his forbidden powers in the most explicit way. Could be that the Edicts of Nikaea have been reversed? On the left side the fight was over too: the last skimmer smoking at the distance, couple xenos laid on this side of the barricade.
- Now you can search for your knife, - remarked Portunus, which eye on the helmet glowed and looked alive, wet and moving.
Titus stepped to the place where his blade had fallen parried by the polearm of now dead xenos. Always kill your enemy as soon as you got a chance, - this doctrine of the Luna Wolves led him all his life. The knife laid at the place, away from the crushed bodies of humans and xenos alike. He sheathed the weapon, watching as the black Astartes collecting dead Aeldari in a heap, observed by the shocked humans, survived the mayhem of the battle. Titus was sure, that the captives would receive no help from those brothers of him. He wasn’t going to check on Maude or find out if the Jason still breath. Their names have already begun to fade, since this life was over. The Astartes looked in the sky - the black Thunderhawk with big icon of an eye on its hull descending to them. The venerable flyer would collect the tank, dead and alive legionaries and took him to the new life.
- Come with me, - the librarian strolled to the landed Thunder Hawk. Titus came aboard after Portunus and the ramp closed, everybody else were already inside.
- Why did you take him?! - asked loudly one terminator in Gothic, not watching at him, - you know the law, death to the corpse's dog!
- He never was one, Orthega, - replied Portunus, turning his three-eyed helmet to the black giant, - which I can't say about you, - the named marine stomped the floor, angrily stepping to him, - watch your step! This is my squad and I do not answer you. He is my captive.
- I don't know who you are, - rage hit him in the head, the word "brother" didn't slip his tongue, - I am a Luna Wolf and not to be addressed this way.
- Shut up! - another Astartes in the standard armour turned his helmet to him, raising hand stopping the terminator, - using that old name won't save you, only raise more questions. Sit still where you are. And you, Orthega, don't let the suite to delude you - here your first company means nothing, wearing the black and being born the Black Legionary are not the same. Your voice must be low. Portunus, don’t forget yourself either.
- I will not, brother, - the psyker turned back to Titus, - watch and think, lost comrade. You have much to catch up with. And to choose rightly.
"They chose rightly", - last time these words brought death on his head. For how long would he outlive the xenos? Titus sat on the floor, next to the heap of dead Aeldari, separating him off the Astartes. Several humans in the opposite corner sat tightly, whipping and shaking. It was dark inside, but he saw bruises and broken hands, left by the grip of their saviors, dragging them on the board off theor ruined world.
The flyer boarded the space ship, tossing the unconscious humans fainted of the acceleration. The rump opened and Astartes paced him by, coming out. Titus was led out by the psyker. The battle barge, his home for two centuries of war, which he’s been missing for thousands of years. It wasn’t the very space ship he used to occupy, but it was the familiar type of vessel. It was dim, almost dark. The atmosphere was gloom, there were no cheers to the winners, no mourning the lost brothers. Other mooring boxes were shut down, how many of them were filled with Thunder Hawks? And other barges? How many of these Black Legionaries were out there? The terminators and regular marines split, leaving him and the psyker alone on the deck. Portunus kept silence, so he was gazing around, noticing the ancient faded banner with hardly seen image of a spikey eye. Could it be the eye of Horus? Servitors and a Mechanicus came to them out of darkness. The automates looked worse than any he’s ever seen before. They should have been replaced centuries ago: the biological parts dried out and crumbled, the metallic were rusty and bent. Nevertheless, the machines drug tools and hoses to prepare the vessel for the next flight. Instead of smells of lubricate and incense, the servitors reeked of something unfamiliar and repulsive. The techno-priest’s smell was the worst. Permanently bent in a low bow the Martian had a hump, towering over two human skulls, hanged as masks on different heights; instead of lower jaws knots of tendrils moved; wet crimson robe hide the twisted body, trailing behind; the single limb stretched out the torso held the scepter, the familiar image of cog resembled an eight-pointed star. The procession passed them by indifferently. The siren roared for a moment and then other gate got open letting in a dozen Astartes in black. They saluted the psyker, who greeted his brothers in response.
- Come on, Titus of the 16th, - Portunus seemed enjoying such naming of the legion, - let go your knife, so far you was treated like a guest, - Titus took his hand, now freed from the shackles, away from the handle, - your false readiness to defend yourself will kill you. I’ll speak with you after the warp-jump.
The librarian led him through the corridors of the ship. It was too empty: no banners and trophies, no records of victories and fallen legionaries; no sign of human crew or serfs. Titus noticed nothing suspicious either, except for the smell. A peculiar looking servitor flew them by: not just augmented skull, but a severed head, still having some remnants of rotten flesh and the hanging spine. But he has seen stranger thigs across the Imperium. Portunus stopped and point him at the door, which slid off by his gest.
- The flight will take some time, feel free to use your knife inside, Titus of the Luna Wolves, - the closing door cut off the laughter.
Soon a single scream of siren ran through the ship. No verbal warning, no repeating - the barge jumped into the warp. It was his second warp jump with psy-blocker implant and again he felt how comfortable he felt himself. Titus didn’t need to process the death of Skwetuz, it didn’t shock him - the war was a permanent state of his mind. Death and havoc lurked in every corner of the galaxy. The Black Legion - he knew and saw nothing to made a solid opinion on them. That Orthega in the terminator suite called him a corpse’s dog, who did he mean by corpse? Slain Horus, if he was killed for his treason, the Emperor, who has been sitting on the Golden Throne for millennia? Somebody else?
- Think, immortal mortal! - a transparent blue cloud ordered him.
- I’m thinking! - he snarled back, frowning at the smoke, wondering how it came through the closed door.
- Trough the ventilation, - prompted the eyeless skull at his shoulder. It made sense; Titus relaxed.
- You are thinking wrong, Titus Livius, how could mighty Horus fall? - the blue thing kept scolding him, - he is the strongest warlord in the universe!
- My Primarch is the magnificent warrior, - the Astartes nodded proudly, but his mind got cloudy. - I mean was. I mean he is still my gene-father, but I defied him as my leader, for he betrayed the Emperor.
- Never! - screamed the cloud, enlarging rapidly, - how could he betrayed the corpse? The Emperor is dead. Is it possible for the mighty warrior, the Warmaster himself to betray the dead human body? Is it?
- Is it? - Titus timidly asked the skull on his shoulder. The jawless bone was silent this time, only exhaled yellow smoke through the nose and eyes. He thanked the nameless helper and addressed the blue cloud, - the Emperor was alive. He made Horus the Warmaster, I saw them both. I was there!
- Who are you talking with? - asked the skull in the familiar voice. The blue cloud disappeared. He looked at his shoulder - it was empty, he checked the other - none. May be skull jumped to the third, but third shoulder was bare as well.
- Who is here?! - Titus took the battle position. The empty compartment didn’t response. He recounted the shoulders, limbs, fingers, eyes - everything was normal.
- You are alright, Titus, - the same voice calmed him down, - sit and take rest.
- Thank you, - the Astartes sat, remembering how human boy Theo praised him for his manners and wished his brother Yaan would have some.
Titus sat alone in the middle of the room; uncovered arms laid still. The strange thing was, that he looked at himself from the outside, like at some stranger. He came closer and looked at the face - maybe he was locked here with another brother. No, all big scars were his own. A lip split with the shard of a long-range artillery, when some ruler opened fire at his own palace, condemning himself and his army to death, that chip knocked off several teeth, and should have cut off the upper half of his head, but he survived. A roundish mark on his cheek - a big greenskin pierced his helmet with his crude weapon, while the chainsword sawed the xenos half way through. A pale patch of synthetic skin on the shaved head - the heat was so strong; he was sure his brain would boil inside the melting helmet. But his body withstood and apothecary covered the scorched bone with the artificial flesh. He could die so many times, but not one of it brought fear in him. Again, and again he charged, shoot and dived on mankind's enemies. Titus touched the pouch on the chest - he didn't feel it or the very hand stretched to it, but he knew the small bag was there. The sitting Titus had none. Imposter! He wanted to draw the knife, but he had none, it was in the hand of the strange Astartes. The false (the word sneaked in his brain) Titus stood up and leapt at him. He met this strange enemy as the rest of them, ready to a mortal fight. But his hands were short and weak, the lookalike pressed him to the floor, the eyes were still closed, something crawled behind those eyelids. Titus didn’t feel his own body, but was certain that his knife in strange hand would kill him, so he struggled. The imposter was above and leant the familiar face, his own face closer. Eyes opened and the blue cloud poured on him, made him cough. Somebody banged at the door. Titus stood on the hands and knees, the pouch hanged loosely, the knife was gripped in the arm. Under him was the bare dirty floor. One more loud bang at the door.
- Titus! Are you alright?! The jump is over, we are at the place, - his friend was full of eagerness, anticipating the punishment they brought to the world, which said no the Emperor’s will, - Chief’s gathering the squad, I'm coming in.
- Kudon! - Titus stared at his friend, alive and smiling.
- What’s with the surprised face, brother? Did you really think you killed me? - Kudon stepped to him, stretching out the arm for a shake. Titus hesitated and stroke him with the knife. His friend looked surprisingly at the blood, pouring out of the sliced throat and fell down, - why? - one eye turned into an ugly wound, - what have you done, Titus?! - the armour on the stomach gone revealing the damage, his bolt made. Kudon looked straight at him, - traitor! Traitor!
Titus knelt down; his head spun around. He is traitor, how many brothers has he slain? He turned back - Titus Livius was lying dead. Him too. He was a disgrace of the 16th legion. There was no forgiveness for his crime. Nobody should know about it. He must hide, or he may just become unidentified.
The blood strolled down his face; Titus froze and took away his hand with the knife, letting the cut to clot. He stood up and looked around, listened in to the hum of the ship in the warp. Gellar Field had flaws and the madness of the Empyrean almost got him - Titus was going to cut his face off.
He stayed awake till the siren announced the return to the real space. Titus didn’t count the time, focusing on keeping sanity. When the door opened, he knew for sure, that he wasn’t dreaming.
- Stood back, - Portunus wore helmet, his bolt-pistol’s muzzled aimed at him, - you have withstood the lies of the warp, - Titus stepped back, rubbing off the crust of his forehead, - you may accept the truth then. Why do you call yourself a Luna Wolf, brother? Our name has been changed.
- I changed it back, when Horus betrayed the Emperor, - he answered calmly, - don’t know what happen to our Primarch, what became of the Legion.
- It has changed the name again, - with free hand the psyker pointed at the black breast, - after the false Emperor killed Horus. You don’t look that surprised, brother, - Portunus noticed mockingly, - you do know something.
- I hear for the first time of his fate, - Titus felt dizzy, - being his son I can’t not to grieve. I mourn the great warrior and general whom he was before committing the vile treachery, - he looked steadily at the lenses, - raising the hand against his father, the Emperor of mankind and this galaxy - how else could it end.
- Continue, - the muzzle was steady, - tell me all your perspective.
- I know that the third legion or at least part of it joined the rebellion. I was attacked by traitors in my own squad and then by the Children on my way to Istvaan system. Then I found out the truth about the treason and flew to Terra. I got shot down. Some worlds supported it and got reconquered later. That’s it. I seldom was among humans and they knew nothing of it.
- And you have lived all this time there, in the real space, knowing so little? - the psyker’s surprise looked genuine. - Right, your body served you well. Time to test your mind. Horus turned on the false Emperor, for he was proud warrior and conqueror, as we were, as all Astartes are. We’ve been abandoned and betrayed first - the galaxy which we conquered with blood of our brothers were given to the humans, we must continue dying in the name of the Emperor, when he himself dropped the Crusade as a became boring trinket.
- That is our fate and very purpose of our creation, - Titus didn’t get these lame arguments, - we are soldiers made to retrieve the galaxy to mankind. It is our duty, but it is also our glory and honor, - the psyker kept silence, and he continued, - betraying this path, Horus and those who followed him, betrayed our fallen brothers more than anybody else could have. It was madness! You are mad.
- Half of legions, do you hear me, Titus? Half of Primarchs and their sons followed Horus.
- Then the madness was contagious. I don’t see how else this could happen, - Titus shook his head. No time would weaken this pain. Even if the psyker lied to him, some part of it was true, and that was enough to devastate him. The terrible truth, postponed for millennia, finally caught him.
- I am glad that you don’t share the common view, Titus, and to see such strong spirit in a fellow-legionary, - the librarian put off his helmet, showing the razzing smile. The pistol still was pointed at him, - what do you know about the daemons?
- Manifestation of the warp energy, - he answered, still processing the received information, - psykers may be controlled by it, bringing death to themselves and humans around. Nasty things, unconscious powers. What I saw justified the Edicts of Nikaea.
- You are right about their origin, - Portunus showed him a palm, which got aflame. The psyker’s eyes glowed, - though you underestimate the beings of the warp. They are conscious, sane and smart in their own way of course. And the Emperor knew about them and nevertheless sent his legions in the darkness to face what we had no powers to defeat. I call this a treason. And those Edicts, they stripped us the only meant we had - us, the librarians. The Thousand Sons and Space Wolves paid much for this. For your information the Crimson King sided with Chorus, while the executioners stayed at their master’s feet, - Portunus grinned and the smile gone, - you are straight and sound legionary, Titus, a true warrior. I bet you haven’t joined the lodges and I’d have liked to serve with you - how else one son of Horus can praise another? But you are not a psyker and you can’t understand, what was it for me to suppress and hide my abilities, when I knew what powers I had and what horrors surrounded us. The warp is not a parallel dimension for taking a short cut, it is everywhere, those, who lucky, just don’t see it. You are listening and not talking when you don’t have anything valuable to say, good for you. I’ll be quick. The warp has its own emperors, and they have their own plans on this galaxy. They made Horus their ally.
- Sorcery! - snarled Titus, but the psyker only smirked.
- There was that as well, but our Primarch hadn’t become their puppet. He died as a free being.
- You are calling the treason and civil war being free, - Titus didn’t get it, the psyker himself confirmed the vile sorcery, psychic manipulation the Primarch fell to.
- Many followed orders, they trusted the Warmaster and didn’t doubt their officers.
- You did, - he saw how condescendingly spoke Portunus of his brothers.
- I saw what powers stood behind the rebellion. The victory wasn’t a sure thing from the start, just as any war. But that time I finally could use my own powers, to let go the accumulated tension inside my head. And it was inevitable, the legions were corrupted and started to crumble before the Horus changed his banner.
- Those who are weak blame others. Didn’t think there are weak Astartes, - Titus answered strictly. He’s heard enough, time to finish this, - I will not join your ranks. Before death I want to know, if was I alone?
- You wasn’t, Titus, there were others, identified and killed. The very Istvaan system you rushed to became their tomb. They fought well.
- Thank you, - he nodded, ready to join his brothers. He knew nothing, why would the traitors keep him alive? Torture for the sake of torture never was their way, though, how could he tell after all he’d known.
- What the rush, Titus? Got tired of your life? Is my story that boring? Bear me a little more. I don’t care if you join us or not. Our agenda is too complicated for our short talk. Warp allies deceived many of us, alas, including me. I was promised freedom and received no such thing. So, I pay them back when meet an occasion. You are this occasion, Titus.
- I am ready to die fighting a daemon, - Portunus laughed.
- On the contrary. You will be fed to a daemon. And I make sure the beast will choke on your adamantium will, Titus of the 16th. Why do you think we attacked those xenos?
- Obviously not to save the wretched humans.
- Obviously. Our commanders made a deal with one powerful entity in the warp. And drukhari are coins. One more attack and we will gather enough xenos to pay the daemon. I guess you will join me. You have to if you want to live.
- How do you know where to find them?
- They feed on certain worlds, visiting them again and again. Humans have a very short memory and learn nothing.
- So, you could have saved those people and caught the xenos?
- Satiated predator is the easiest to catch. Now you are beginning to get boring. Do you want to live?
- Then get rest, don’t worry, now you will be safe, - Portunus moved his glowing hand at the compartment and went out.
The mooring boxes were opened, showing several Thunder Hawks, ready to receive the Black Legionaries. Standing in straight lines armoured warriors watched on them two. Titus stood in the same rags; his opponent was naked. Orthega and his squad joined the Legion recently. “Brought by the warp”, - as Portunus described the renegade. This way Titus has known that the madness of treason didn’t die with Horus. The terminator wanted him dead and the death match was organized. Titus was eager to avenge the insult and to punish at least one traitor. The vile spirit of the barge affected him, raising up the rage inside.
- I will crush this slave of the corpse with my bare hands in the name of the true Gods, - Orthega shook the fists, the grey body with dark veins was bigger than his own and Titus must not forget it. The audience kept silence. He squeezed the knife and charge the traitor. Orthega hit him from the side, Titus pierced the wrist with the knife stopping it and got hit in the head from the left. The wounded hand caught him with the hit in the stomach. Titus gasped, trying to catch the handle stuck in the enemy. The opponent hit him one more time from the left. With the roar, Orthega caught him with his hands, ceramite fingers plunged in Titus’ body like claws, which his enemy used to wield in the war, and lifted him up. Pain squeezed him and Titus didn’t waste time on punches. He ripped out one eye out of mad marine, who tossed him on the deck. Titus didn’t get to land, as heavy kick pushed him further - the enemy stepped to him heavily, moving slower, than he should. Orthega moved like he wore the terminator suite. His knife waved with the wrist and Titus leapt to grab it, the slowed down opponent didn’t get to stop him, and he pulled the blade up, mutilating the arm, almost cutting it off. The Astartes stubbed the traitor’s waist few times before jumping back from the frenzy enemy. Titus cut off finger of the right hand dodging the heavy punch, but Orthega seemed not noticing it and only tried to hit him with the mangled left. That strike was harmless and Titus put the blade in the open mouth, piercing the brain. The grey marine fell down. The audience, which watched the fight in silence, turned from them and marched to the flyers, stomping with their armoured boots.
- Titus! - the psyker beckoned him standing next to one Thunder Hawk, - this is your ride, sit still till it’s time. Do as I told and you will be free, - the psyker slipped a small phial in his palm.
- He moved slow, - the pain after punches hasn’t gone yet.
- It showed newcomers how to teach us, real Black Legionaries, laws and rules, - Portunus maliciously chuckle, - get on board, Titus, and good bye.
The probably last warrior of the 16th came inside the hull filled with the dead Aeldari and turned around. Before the ramp closed down, he saw how the two-headed Mechanicus took the gene-seed out Ortega and put it into the bloated head of the servitor made of a child. The serf closed the lid with the click, and the ramp thudded, leaving him alone with the corpses.
Titus heard the sounds of battle, the Thunder Hawk maneuvered in the sky, the pilot tossed the craft from side to side. As Portunus warned him, he saw the light when the battle was over. The vessel tilted the bow down and dead xenos rolled on him, pressing to the ramp. The hatch opened and Titus fell out with the corpses and landed on a heap of other Aeldari. He pulled out of the dead xenos, getting scratches of their armour, and looked around. Titus was on the top of the filthy mountain in the middle of the battlefield: burned alien and Imperial vehicles, ruined settlements and dead civilians - another Agri-World had been pillaged. The Black Legionaries surrounded the offering in silence. Titus noticed four marines, standing separately, one of them held a stuff, another was Portunus. He felt sick of many small cuts, the body started to numb. Fearing to lose control of the grip, he put the phial in the mouth. After the treason of his brothers, it would be the most bizarre thing in his live. The familiar smell from the barge got stronger, the air cooled down rapidly - the dead humans got coated with frost. Titus couldn’t see Astartes clearly: some transparent veil separated the heap of corpse from the rest of the world. It got thicker and redder. Titus threw up holding the vial between teeth; his limbs got soft and the head heavy, he felt tired and sleepy. The crimson cupola covered the offering, separating Titus from the traitors completely. It was dim inside, reeked and no air to breath in. Did the psykers somehow send him in the warp, or did the daemon pulled him and the corpses to hell. Was he already inside the unreal beast? The Aeldari next to him twitched and started to shriek. Here and there the dead xenos begun screaming. He could hear them despite their helmets, also he heard crunching and chewing. Titus got to get out this nightmare - he clenched the teeth, breaking the phial. Something like mercury got out and floated before him. Spasm of loathing gripped his throat and he spat out couple drops of this filth. When these pieces joined the rest of the splotch, the mountain of screaming corpses trembled and Titus emerged under the sky, surrounded with towering buildings and terrified humans, running from him. The Astartes stood in the middle of Olynthum λ. Another life has just begun.