As the grey light of dusk gives way to first glow of early dawn a tall shadowed figure strides unseen through the hills. Only the orchestra of twilight insects breaks the
silence as the world of Istoban Segundo holds its breath in anticipation of another day. Pressing through a dew soaked patch of coarse barbed bush with purple blossoms, the rambler ascends a gentle rise toward the saddle between two hills.
Overlooking the valley below as the first crack of sunlight presses the shadows into retreat he feels the first glow of the ruddy dawn upon his face. He breaths deeply. The faint scent of the purple blossoms hangs in the misty air. The birds strike up the second movement of the dawn chorus as the man relieves his back of it’s heavy burden. He smiles.
“This is the place.”
Crouching over his pack the camp is unloaded with swift methodical ease. Under the shade of a simple bivouac, a heat pack is laid, upon which roasts a modest bushman's
repast. As breakfast cooks the valley awakens. Through a spectroscopic sighting array he views a warren of small mammals emerge to take their chances with the eagles high up in the peaks. Another day of hunter and hunted. Resting up after his long walk and taking in the scenery he eats at his leisure.
With another long hot day on Istoban Segundo just begun the man reaches into his pack for his canteen. He brings out a magazine. Laying it aside for later he finds his flask and drinks sparingly. He replaces the stopper with care then begins to unpack the rest of his gear.
“No, good people, Suffer not the Heretic and his cowardly conceits!”continued Aquinas, bellowing at the assembled mass of market goers. “for his lies would pave you a road t’ward the direst depravity! This voice most vile would teach the innocent mouths of your very children to speak blasphemy in your ears!”
Horrified, the crowd glared at the imposing spectacle of the preacher who had afflicted their hearts with such animations of fear. He had their attention.
“Suffer not the Witch to live! Those gifted by ruinous gods shall reap their unholy reward in the fullness of death. Your Death if not their own! For their wicked work brings no other wage!”
Aquinas roared and frothed his vehement tirade against every conceivable enemy of the church. The heretic, the witch, the debauched, the abased, the list continued as the people grew frightened and uneasy. The market ground to a standstill and all gave their ear.
“Neither has the Abomination a place among us! That which is not pure is not human! Impure, Inhuman, Intolerable, incomprehensibly alien and irreconcilable to the bosom of our holy illuminated Emperor of Humanity.” This was a new angle for Aquinas. The alien threat was not his forte but he thought he’d give it a go, and It seemed to be working.
“No, true human brothers and sisters, the xenos threat lies not out in the darkness of space but in the open light of these very streets! Be Ye not blind, but ever watchful!”
A squad of Planetary Defence Force troops began to break up the agitated crowd, hoping to impose order before it became an angry mob. Not for the first time their efforts were met with jeers and insults. Cries of “Heretics!” and “Blasphemers!” assailed the troops as once again they removed Aquinas from his soap box and placed him under arrest.
Only two weeks into his new posting on Istoban Segundo and already Aquinas had been forcibly silenced twice and now arrested for a third time. He had officially been labelled a
Disturber of the Peace. His predecessor Brother Ignatius had been an outright zealot but even the memory of his fiery temper and unyielding orthodoxy seemed to fade to mere piety in comparison to this new upstart.
The squad car jolted on the potholed roads leading back to the temple. The cramped holding box in the rear stank of sweat and, Aquinas suspected, sickness. The officer to whom he was chained looked pale and felt clammy. As he was manhandled through the tall archway the temple monks received their wayward charge with their usual silent gesticulations of cringing contrition. The guard garbled his warnings in very poor Imperial Gothic . Aquinas suspected they were primarily intended for his ears, as he alone had not yet comprehension of the rustic local tongue. The oath-silenced priests nodded and abased themselves and he was unchained from his ailing retainer and ushered back into his cell. The name on the door still read “Brother Ignatius” and was the only evidence that a priest by that name had ever been posted here. Aquinas had made some investigations into Ignatius’ mysterious disappearance but had met with very little success. The officials he had questioned remained obtuse and uninterested. Even the very highest local authority , the insufferable Governor Torpius had ineffectually assured him that the official investigation had been both thorough and unfruitful.
The morning sun beamed in though an east facing window and found reflection in a gilded halo that played above the head of St. Sanguineous, the winged primarch saint, who was carved in stone relief on the western wall. Aquinas cursed under his breath.
“Bah! Winged mutant fiend.”
As he pondered the seeming absurdity of one of the Imperium’s most venerated saints being a mutated, inhuman aberration there was a knock at the door.
He heard footsteps withdrawing hastily down the adjoining passage and before he could open the door they were gone. He found instead, a summons for a house call. A priest was often required to make such errands to ease the sick or aid the poor but the address was unfamiliar. Not the usual residential area reference code, more remote. Grey 17, somewhere in the industrial zones.
The sun rises higher in the hazy noon as the watcher on the hillside waits.
He removes a radio receiver from a pocket on his belt and tunes in to the midday broadcast. Hearing nothing but static he checks his timepiece. Seventeen seconds tick away in anticipation.
As the static continues unabated the listener tunes out.
The heat of the day at its fullest the valley is deserted and still, save the dancing heat waves that obscure clear vision. The eyes of the eagles remain watchful but their prey shelter underground.
The watcher waits in the shade of his bivouac, undercover and ever watchful.
According to Archimedes, his medical servo skull, Grey 17 was
a warehouse district on the western outskirts of the city. As he
packed his heavy medical supply case Aquinas contemplated the
journey ahead. Three hours dusty uphill trek in the blistering
heat lugging a fully laden medi-case was not a pleasant
undertaking. Unless some passing freight driver would stop in
sheer devout holy duty and take him in he was in for a proper
pilgrimage. The simpering Temple Monks would approve of
that, they always approved of the suffering of the righteous in
holy service. Provided their role was to be served and not to suffer. When all was prepared to depart he left no epistle lest they should gloat over his misfortune.
Following Archimedes’ lead he tramped the dust choked roads on his way west. The sun shone perilously hot. No holy trucker for Aquinas. Not even the sight of a sun baked
servant of the church, medi-case in hand had moved the heart of any pious passerby to offer aid of any kind, though many could have. He thought about Brother Ignatius. Would they have stopped for him? Or had he been just as emperor-forsaken a soul as Aquinas, tramping along on this dust dry rock? The old priest was no stranger to these people yet no one seemed to care, to know anything, to want to help. Aquinas suspected that they had known him well and that they knew much more, but they would not answer his
questions just as they would not help him now. Fear from the local populace, contempt from the judiciary, and silence from the monks. He was as ever on his own.
“Well,” he thought aloud. “ apart from the old bonehead. “
The hovering servo-skull returned his glance with mechanical vacuity.
“No,” Aquinas corrected himself. “I am alone.”
As he neared Grey District the buildings grew both larger and more dilapidated. He passed many condemned warehouses, and even more that should have been. Some genius of city planning had seen fit to arrange the sector in a convoluted spiral pattern and soon Aquinas was pacing in dusty circles looking for number 17. Archimedes wasn’t helping, so he switched the servo skull to standby and packed him away in his medi-case.
When he finally darkened the door of Grey 17 Aquinas was not as relieved as he had hoped he would be. There was a sickly odour clinging to the place. Not an unusual occurrence on a medical house call but this was no squalid residential chamber. He pressed the alert bell. It didn’t work. The door hung ajar on one remaining hinge which groaned as loudly as any doorbell as he pressed on through into the gloomy interior.
“Hello within!” he called. “Brother Aquinas at your summons.”
He stepped into the warehouse and scanned the space. Empty save one wooden crate marked ‘This Way Up’ arrows pointing into the ground. Something wasn’t right here.
All at once ,without a word, he was surrounded by a score of PDF troopers, old MkII
lasguns in hand levelled at his head. A clammy hand gripped his wrist from behind and
relieved him of his medical case. Aquinas turned to see the familiar face of the same officer that had arrested him only this morning. The officer opened the medi-case and took a
cursory glance inside.
“I’ll be taking this” he hissed. Aquinas noted again the sickly pallor of his skin, and now, without his officer’s cap his completely bald scalp. The officer continued.
“You’ve preached your last speech Padre” A peculiar name for a priest used only on
Istoban Segundo it marked the PDF officer as a local man. Without order or consent
Aquinas’ body was searched. His captors were apparently satisfied that he was unarmed.
“Like I told the old Padre, we don’t appreciate talk like that round here.”
“Is that so?” interjected Aquinas “Had I struck a raw nerve this morning? Suffer not the heretic? The witch? No…” he paused considering the abnormally large dome and
unblinking beady eyes of the man who addressed him. “ the Abomination?” he concluded with pointed annunciation. As rapid as thought he was struck from behind and blindfolded.
Aquinas dropped to his knees and threw his hands up. He knew better than to resist
capture at the hands of twenty armed men, if in fact they could be called such. Both their antiquated arms and decidedly tainted humanity were past the point of arousing suspicion. What catalogue of dire events and poor stewardship could have led to Istoban Segundo becoming such a wretched hive of villainy? Governor Torpius had much to answer for. Aquinas’ hands were bound as he held them aloft and what he guessed was the round muzzle of a lasgun was raised under his chin, indicating that he should stand. It smelled of rust and ozone. He supposed it operable and unreliable in equal measure. Another
similarly rounded object was thrust between his shoulder blades and with no apparent order he heard
the troopers begin
to file out of the warehouse and was obliged to follow.
In an adjacent courtyard he heard engines splutter into life.
One large PDF transport vehicle and another smaller vehicle. Judging by
the smell in the holding box, it was the very same squad car from that morning.
A barely audible pulse begins to sound from the receiver in his belt. Removing it, the watcher in the hills tunes in to the incoming broadcast and checks his timepiece and grid references for the corresponding data. Satisfied with what he has learned he takes his pack, unfastens the straps and lays open its contents before him. Taking the
genetically coded grip in his left hand he removes the main body of his weapon from its protective pouch. He waits for the piece to recognise his unique signature. The flashing red eyes in the decorative skull go out. Green light. A mechanism within springs and opens a catch for the commencement of assembly. He takes the adjustable stock and slides it into position. The weapon recognises its component and the stock begins to elongate to precisely the required and preferred preset specifications. Taking the long N20 coolant sheath from the side of his pack he spins it around and with practiced
precision slots it into place. A whir of internal machinery and flashing red eyes indicates that the weapon is preparing the coolant mix. As this proceeds he lays the final items before him. The magazine, the muzzle and his spectroscopic sighting array. First the muzzle with a twist, the sights with a click and now the magazine with a snap. He
transfers the completed Exitus Rifle to his right hand and levels the weapon into the valley. Noting that the cross hairs are still flashing red he adjusts the focus and now readjusts it back again, knowing it was perfect to begin with. He scans the valley floor with eagle eyed precision noting the weapon’s display of distance, elevation, apparent wind speed and direction, humidity and air pressure. The cross hair’s and the flashing eyes of the skull turn green. The Vindicare Assassin is ready.
Archimedes sat in the passenger seat beside the officer who had removed Aquinas’ medi-case. The driver was trying to concentrate on the road but the servo skull resting on the seat between him and his commanding officer was giving him a very grim look, but he dared not show any discomfort in front of his superior. He could already feel the other man’s subtle disparagement so he kept his eyes on the road and said nothing. That skull filled his thoughts, it looked like death and yet he sensed it was still very much alive. The PDF officer had spent most of the journey until now inspecting and testing the object and had concluded that he had no idea how to make it work. Archimedes meanwhile, had made his own inspections and tests of the officer and had come to some very conclusive findings.
In the box behind, Aquinas, still bound and blindfolded learned as much as he could of his situation. From his morning arrest he knew that the only windows in the holding box of the squad car were above the crew compartment to the front of the vehicle and judging by the occasional heat of the sun on the side of his face, the motions of the vehicle and the quality of the roads he guessed that they had left the industrial districts and were travelling west into the mountains. At least he speculated that that may be the case. Behind his squad car he could hear the PDF transport vehicle bringing up the rear. It was hard to tell the distance by ear, not knowing the thickness of the holding box. But judging by the relative volume of the larger vehicles engine he could tell if it was falling behind or catching up. This usually correlated, he thought, with the quality of the roads. Still not a word from his captors, not even amongst themselves or even in communications to the other vehicle. He suspected some kind of
extra sensory communication. Inside the holding box Aquinas counted two other individuals. They never spoke to either himself or each other and could be
distinguished only by their breathing. It seemed to Aquinas that they were breathing in unison however one sounded a little more laboured with a wheezy intake. Sickness. The box stank of it. Aquinas began listing the various maladies, both medical and misadventurous which could result in such a queasy and mouldering stink. He discounted the more commonplace malodorous ailments such as gangrene and fungal infections that he had smelt before. But these no regular outpatients, They were cultists, of that he was sure. Perhaps Nurglites? No, there was no hint of that sickly sweet rotting odour. His nose wrinkled at the memory of that particularly unholy stink. This was something more dank and cold, moist and organic. He could almost taste its viral spores in the air. But he couldn’t put his finger on it. Suddenly his medical reverie was broken as a bullet struck the driver of the squad car and the vehicle lurched and veered wildly. Aquinas smiled and sprang into action.
As the shadow of the hills lengthens into the valley a distant humming carried on the breeze reaches the ears of Agent Morias Skult. Watching as two vehicles round the distant slopes into the valley mouth he sizes up his prey and thumbs the shot selector accordingly. A single turbo-penetrator round closes the distance in fractions of seconds and finds its mark in the left eye of the PDF transport driver. The vehicle stops. Skult draws a bead on the oblivious squad car as it trundles along the rugged terrain.
Selecting a hellfire round he takes a breath, as it to take everything into consideration and taste his conclusion. He spits the shot with exact calculation and breaks into a sprint before it even strikes. Selecting burst fire as he runs cross country down the slopes Skult begins to pick off the troops emerging bewildered and cautious from the PDF transport. In minutes he has reached the valley floor and as he bypasses the now stationary squad car he registers his deadly precision and the gory aftermath of the hellfire round. Using the sun to as much advantage as his stealth suit he advances on the troopers almost unseen and dispatches the remaining four with pistol rounds. Blade in hand, Skult stalks the interior of the vehicle. At the gunners post the only
surviving cultist dies still squinting into the sun through the vehicle’s weapon sights.
Skult approaches the squad car holding box with a single bullet in the chamber of his exitus pistol. In one fluid motion he slips the bolt, flings wide the door and drops to one knee pistol primed in a double handed grip.
He stands, holsters his side arm and straightens to attention.
“Agent Morias Skult Vindicare Temple 2nd class reporting for rendezvous.”
“Inquisitor Aquinas of the Ordo Hereticus.” Aquinas slipped the blindfold off with a
shrugging shoulder motion and glanced down at the strangled carcass between his wrists, then loosed himself from the dead man with disgust. Another trooper lay unconscious on the floor of the holding box. Aquinas stepped indelicately on the man’s neck, breaking it, as he disembarked.
“At ease.” Aquinas presented his cuffed hands. “Would you mind?”
Without a word Agent Skult sliced the chain with swift precision and sheathed his blade again in a heart beat and straightened, arms held behind the small of his back. Aquinas raised an eyebrow at the “ease” of Skult’s distinctly rigid stance and at his congenial
repartee and proceeded round to the front of the vehicle. He opened the passenger door and stepped aside to allow the officer to exit, which he did with recumbence. Archimedes now sat enthroned on his seat. The dull stand-by glow in his mechanical eye took on a look of triumph and a bead of something lethal hung at the end of one of his hypodermic
components. The engine was still running but the control was on the driver’s side and
covered in viscera from the mutilated driver. Aquinas picked up Archimedes and wiped a spot of blood off his enamelled bone adjunct.
“Resume normal operational function. Collate data and cross-reference. Run report.”
He bent down and retrieved the keys of the cuffs from the belt of the officer at his feet and removed each manacle while Archimedes hovered above compiling the report. Retrieving his medi-case and removing a view screen he read the report with consternation.
. “Just my luck” he grumbled. “genestealers.”
Aquinas continued, half muttering, half reading aloud as he perused the report.
“Cross file: XEN:322/28a…. 0201801.M41, that’s old,” he asserted. “Ybaric Cluster… Cult of Veiled Oblivion, blah blah blah.” He leafed through the files. “it’s mostly Ordo Xenos intelligence.” he complained. “Typical! I’m out here looking for a missing priest, suspecting heretics and witches and ruinous cults and what do I find? “Xenos” this and “Hybrid” that and Kryptman!” he spat in indignation. “That genocidal maniac’s research is the best we have to go on? I can hardly believe he’s still referred to as “Inquisitor” here. But then” he considered. “they are very old files. Someone ought to update the whole library.” he shuddered at the thought of so mammoth a task. “well maybe…” Aquinas continued
leafing through the addendums in Archimedes’ report, looking for anything he thought personally relevant. “Ordo Xenos, Ordo Xenos, Imperial Research Temple of xenological yaddah yaddah yaddah…. Oh, this last one’s for you.” Aquinas stopped and presented the viewing screen to no one in particular. He had assumed there had been someone there but now realised that Skult was still stood at ease at the rear of the vehicle.
“Assassins” he muttered. “Truly inhuman.” Craning his neck over his left shoulder he called “Agent Skult! Attend your duty. I have here a mission briefing for you from the Ordo Xenos.” Skult appeared to be reading the document before Aquinas had even registered his approach. He handed the screen back to the Inquisitor with formal rigidity.
“By your leave Inquisitor.”
“yes yes, by all means, go and…” Skult was gone. Aquinas blinked and almost looked around but quickly resigned. He knew better than to go looking for an imperial assassin.
“… carry on then,” he muttered to himself, “and good riddance. They don’t get out much, do they, those boys in black? All work and not much to say for themselves.” Aquinas realised that he was talking to himself again. So instead he addressed Archimedes.
“Archimedes, dispatch a message to the Ordo Xenos. Begin recording.” he paused to
compose himself. It would not do to address the Ordo Xenos with the same contempt in which he currently held them. “Genestealer cultist activity confirmed. Suspected consorts in heretical activity include Governer Torpius and those PDF under his command, and I
suspect, many senior public office officials. The monks and priests of the local “Temple of Sanguinius” have proved themselves spineless if not complicit and I shall deal with them, as with all of afore mentioned, personally. Agent Skult has his orders and I am in no doubt that Brother Ignatius is either dead or inhumanly altered. May the emperor have mercy on his soul.” He paused for piety’s sake. “Recommend you dispatch an agent to investigate the full extent of corruption on Istoban Segundo.” He paused to consider any further
recommendations before signing off. “And another thing,” he added. “Lots of reports in there by Kryptman. “Inquisitor Kryptman” no less. We all know what he did. Recommend full xenological audit. Inquisitor Aquinas Ordo Hereticus, out.”
He set off at a brisk pace toward the PDF transport, Archimedes hovering in tow. “Archimedes!” he barked over his shoulder “Mark out a route to Governor Torpius’ offices, via the temple. We’re not done with our house calls today.” He moved toward the front of the vehicle and opened the drivers escape hatch. One vacant eye stared out at him from an empty skull. He hauled the body out by its shirt collar and dumped it overboard. Looking down into the driver’s seat he noted with distaste the slime of pulped grey matter, shards of bone and bloody gore that soaked the driver’s seat.
“On second thoughts” he looked at Archimedes, hovering over his left shoulder.
” why don’t you drive?” The servo-skull slipped down into the hatch and Aquinas checked the gunners position. He booted the dead gunner onto the floor and assumed command of the vehicle’s multi-laser turret as Archimedes interfaced with the vehicle and ran the
initialization procedures. Aquinas fired off a few test rounds at the squad car and was rewarded with a spectacular
explosion from the fuel tank which flipped the vehicle over onto its roof and produced a tidy mushroom cloud that hung in the air above.
“Ha! This will do the job.” He looked over at
Archimedes, a wry smile playing across his
features. “Alright Bonehead” he laughed, “put your foot down!”
OFFICIO ASSASSINORUM MISSION BREIFING
FILE TO: INQ/OH—729894—VT
SUBJECT: Morias Skult, Vindicare Temple 2nd class
TARGET: Genestealer Magus
MISSION DATE: 5795091.M42
PRIMARY MISSION OBJECTIVE: Elimination of Genestealer Magus
SECONDARY MISSION OBJECTIVE: Elimination of any and all associated cultists, hybrids and pure-strain Genestealers.
MISSION DATA: biological and behavioural information compiled and collated by servo skull unit RKM33/DZ cross referenced with relevant Ordo Xenos data reveals the activity of a genestealer cult with alarmingly high levels of brood telepathy. This indicates the presence of a rare and dangerous xeno-human hybrid known as a Genestealer Magus. Speculatively thought to be the hybrid product of a rougue human phyker seeded with the Genestealer gene. Until recently examples of these individuals were last encountered almost four centuries ago. Any resurgence of their type would constitute an extreme threat to the Imperium. Be advised this individual is Psy-capable with finely attuned ESP and may wield a variety of Psy-mutations and abilities. Target should not be engaged at close to medium range. Understand, target is not simply the leader of the cult but the mind of the organism. Expect heavy bodyguard and total uncompromising loyalty in cult members in the defense of this individual.
MISSION STATUS: Confirmed and Engaged
REPORT TO: INQ/OX—539951—OM