Author's Notes: Yes, this is a short one. After spending something like 40 chapters stuck on a boat, didn't think you guys wanted another 10k word chapters of being stuck on a littler boat. Short and sweet, this is.
kyro2009- Heehee. You asked what could get worse. In a Warhammer story.
Quintus Sertorius- Thank you. Very kind, but I doubt I would make it past a board. Too graphic for the brand.
Lasiter- Thanks! The relationship aspect was something I definitely took time on, for that very reason. Because where's heartbreak in a love-at-first-sight?
Disciple of Ember- Everything is planned. Everything is intentional. It's almost as if some character knows what's going on and is setting things up.
Brother-Dreadnought Titus- Rights? In Warhammer 40k? Psh. Nobody has those. Also, somehow missed your second review. Will try to PM you after work or something soon.
odd0ne-out- Tumblr artist. will have to check if I can post the link.
Cyclops101- Yeah, Vanquishers and Exterminators didn't get anything nice in 8th. But I like it quite a lot. Still keeping 7th around for games with friends though.
ErnestShippinglane89- I wanted Eulogy to have that one moment, because what's more balls-to-the-walls awesome than a British officer reminding a Khornate Space Marine that her terms of surrender are not negotiable?
SomeGuyOverHere- WWWWWWWWWHOA Reading all the reviews in a row is a great reminder of how far this story has come. Loved it all and Thanks so much.
Sicarius117- Not Night Lords. Vlad is the character that a reviewer won into the story via the early contest. Former Blood Angel origin. The others are indeterminate.
anon404- Sorry you didn't like it. I've been putting a lot of hints through the story leading up to this point, and if you missed them, it would seem a bit sudden.
Off we go! Cramming this out before sprinting off to work
Bloody red everywhere.
Bloody red emergency lights flashing spilling into every corner of the bay, washing the details of faces and edges into shadow, muting the colors into a mono-palette of fear and uncertainty. Bloody red drops spilling down the lieutenant's clothes, dripping onto the floor in an unsteady trickle, oozing around the dozens of breaks and tears in her skin, sickly weak beats of her heart pushing out each strained rivulet. Bloody red hair pulled over her the witch's shoulder, fluttering with each groaning cry, held down by Mullison and Lidrana, both frantically applying salves and other medicines.
Bloody red everywhere.
Abara Grundy sat across, snugly confined in his straps, hands clasped delicately together over his ample stomach. His eyes were closed, chest rising and falling rhythmically. The Inquisitor was sleeping. His heart rate was slow, controlled, unperturbed. Warp-tainted blood cycling through his veins. It smelled different from the others. Smelled spoiled and rotten. Tickled the anger burning like coals in his stomach.
They all burned bright in his eyes. Through the bloody red shine of the lights, they burned. Flames licking at their clothes, skin melting in rubbery sheets. The screams of their souls being consumed in the fires. Each piercing cry of agony rising above the others. Blood pouring onto the hard metal deck and sloshing together in a rushing river.
He blinked, and glanced to his right. Sergeant Harps of the Praetorians, nominal lead of the unit now that the lieutenant and the other sergeant were out of the way. He was a smart one, not intelligent, but smart. Big, too, larger than the physical requirements for the Rifles. He had managed to weasel his way in their ranks, and held it through sheer grit and determination. Eulogy had said once that he was the rock of the unit. If he didn't break, than none of them would break.
The bolt shell took him in the gut, doubling him over
"Think she's going to make it? You were there. Saw what did that to her." His booming baritone could hardly make it over the engines.
She's going to die
"She's tough." Louk shook his head, yelling to be heard over the screaming of the engines. "Doubt anything can kill her at this point."
"Yeah?" The Praetorian soldier smiled, his craggy face splitting like a wound. Satisfied, he leaned back into the seat and started whistling a tune that couldn't be heard. His posture relaxed a little, and he exchanged soundless words with the others in his unit.
Further past the Praetorians, the burning faded. Darkness spread through the corner of the bay, wrapped around a small figure fidgeting on her seat. Pushing back the red, damping the fires, quenching the screams. It looked up at him, meeting his gaze, and smirked. One hand lifted and pointed straight at him, index finger aimed, thumb up. She jerked the hand, imitating a pistol shot. A sliver of fury bubbled to the surface, rising in his throat, murderous rage spilling to the fore.
He looked away.
"Things could always be worse" Abara stated. The Inquisitor barely spoke, voice low and sonorous, but it carried clear as if they were in a silent field.
Bone shattered, splintering into fragments
"Things can always be worse."
He chuckled darkly. They were in the bay of a shuttle, fleeing a burning cruiser to a planet that none of them knew, probably hounded by the monsters that had taken the ship. Eldar and humans, enemies at any other time. Crammed in a bloody red passenger bay waiting for that shot they would never hear or see coming that would obliterate them all. Yes, things could always be worse.
They could be stuck in a passenger bay with a killer.
He remembered the face now. The smiling. The laughing. The bloody hands wiping knives clean. Brothers in blood. Spiteful comrades. Years of fighting each other, learning and teaching each other. Rituals in the Elucidation Chambers. The power of the shard. The dozens it had rejected, corpses shriveled and drained of life. He had stood in line, waiting for his judgment. Waiting to see if his fate was rejection or ascendancy. Kyle Shechem behind him, and Damin behind them both. Sweat dripping from their pores, anxiety charging the air as another corpse was dragged out. Seventy nine failures. Seventy nine corpses. The hooded figures by the doors beckoned him forward. It was his turn.
"You are taking this all rather well."
Grasped the pulsing heart, fingers crushing the yielding muscle like a fruit
"Been a rough few months." Hands rose and mussed with his hair. Sticky blood clung to the left side of his face. He hadn't wiped it away. He liked the smell. He liked its closeness. "After everything, this doesn't seem too bad."
He had met the figure once. In the catacombs, drenched in shadow and mystery. Where only the leaders went. The secrets there were things that not even the killers were told, or the couriers, or the butchers. The place where the puppeteers plied their trade, spread their webs. They had met there, alone. Just the two of them. The figure had told him what an honor it had been. How important he would be. That destinies would converge with him. That the fate of whole systems would bow to him.
The Lord of Hell had made him many promises that night.
"Inquisitor Hellsing wants a word!" Sergeant Harps shouted, stealing his attention. He turned to look down the corridor, past the broken body of the lieutenant, past the groaning Eldar witch on the gurney. The Inquisitor sat silent in the seat beside the pilot compartment, a one-eared vox headset on, listening to the chatter of the pilots. Their gazes met across the bay, and he felt the soft reassurance flowing between them. The strength of his will reached out like a physical presence, pushing down his anger.
Unbuckling the restraints, he pushed up and started walking down the narrow bloody red corridor, avoiding the multitude of feet that pulled back to give him clear space. He passed them one by one, gaze flitting over the grinning skulls, flesh burned away, frozen in silent screams. Blood sloshed under his boots, tugging at his feet, pushing him back. It was a struggle to move forward, even without the constant shifting of the shuttle. Like the darkness in the corner was repelling his advance.
Halfway down the corridor, he could not advance further. His feet refused to move. The pressure froze him where he stood, an invisible wall holding him back. Standing alone in the corridor, he looked down to the gurney holding the lieutenant. Mullison had set her up with IV drips, taken bits and pieces from around to make splints. Someone had cleaned her face, scrubbing the blood away as best they could. But it was still there. Starting to dry, starting to fade. It still lingered, tickling his senses. Her heart beat so weakly. The softest touch could close that struggling windpipe. His fingers drifted across her cheek, feeling the breath leaving her nose. Such a fragile state. Ripe for breaking.
"She still lives" Penance said.
The angel stumbled to its knees, blood pouring from its side
Her face was pure, unburned, the light inside her blazing not in agony, but in power. The fires did not touch her. The flames cut a path around her, touching all except her. Calmness radiated from her, clashing against the screams, erasing the bloody red lights in a white glow. It hurt to look at her. The light made his head ache, and he quickly looked back to the Praetorian officer.
"She is incredibly hard to kill."
"The God-Emperor protects his own. Her faith perseveres."
The words bit at his ears, made him wince A dull throbbing rebounded through his skull. Dragging his feet away, he took one step at a time, forcing himself closer. Forcing himself away from the burning light that wasn't fire. The gurney disappeared behind him, and he dragged his boots away from the humans, and into the Eldar.
The humans screamed. Their souls snapping and popping in the fires, their energy bursting out of control. But the Eldar hissed. He felt their souls resisting, pushing the fire at arms' length, retreating into the compressed power of their psyches and holding fast. The flames consumed them all the same. Their bodies died, faded into nothing. Their blood washed the floor all the same. Their cold grimaces stood defiant of the fires, each throwing accusation and hatred towards him. Their weapons sang against the flames, and deep within the crackling of fire he listened to the mourning dirge whispered under each one's breath. It was beautiful. A harmonious tone of sorrow and regret. The words meant nothing to him. The music told it all.
She was screaming. Her voiceless cries muffled. The flames howling over her, rising to the ceiling like a bonfire, biting at her soul, snapping and nipping at the lights dancing in her belly. The flickering heartbeats rapid firing faster than any human child. The cold wash of psychic power forming a shield around it, fighting off the fire, protecting the life inside. Another hand reached through the fire, pressed to her stomach, fueling the shield. Lidrana pulled at the flames, drawing them away, pulling them into herself. It tore hungrily into her, tearing her apart in great bloody red chunks. Devouring her soul with abandon.
"This is a bloody mess," Mullison grumbled. His arms were drenched in sweat and blood up to his elbows. His face drawn taut with exhaustion. Medical kits lay open and loose pieces had been tossed about by turbulence. They had been fighting for hours for her life. Ever since she had collapsed on the way to the hangar. It had been nonstop. The usage of her powers had nearly killed her. According the Mullison, her body was shutting down organ by organ.
Not yet. It couldn't happen yet.
Helsing beckoned for him to take a seat. The darkness reached out and touched his arm.
Squeaked like a hound's che-
Louk doubled over and dropped to his knees. The air exploded out of his lungs faster than he could draw breath, escaping in a colossal wave he hadn't been aware of holding. The coppery tang of blood filled his mouth, and he spat out a watery glob of blood onto the deck. It felt as if a red hot poker had skewered his body from skull to tailbone. Flesh-melting heat scalding at the base of his spine. His whole body screaming in pain.
Then it was gone.
"And this is why I don't bother pretending to be nice" Anna complained, addressing the silent Inquisitor. "I told him he was going to trip. I warned him he was going to trip. I even stick out my hand, and he just trips over himself anyways."
The Inquisitor said nothing. Indicating the seat again, he bade Louk strap in. Louk did so, blinking away the phantom pains, wondering what the hell it had been. Where that random stab of agony had come from, and where it had gone. Startled into silence, he sat and listened.
"It's like you aren't even in there, half the time. Do you have any idea how taxing it is being the intelligent one in the group?" The black-haired sniper pulled a face. "Responsibility. Eugh. If this is what it does to someone, count me out next time you need someone watched."
Forgoing comment, Helsing reached over and clasped Louk's shoulder. His touch was light, but it stirred a sudden pang of unease in Louk's gut. A sense of dread and defensiveness he had never had before.
"It's almost time" Helsing told him, leaning in close to be heard. "You are nearly there."
"Time for what?"
"Getting off this rustbucket." The Inquisitor offered a smile. It wasn't very convincing. A weighted expression hid behind the false-smile. An expression Louk couldn't quite understand. It was something he had never seen before. "I want you to know, now, whatever else happens. You have done well, Louk. You've always exceeded my expectations. I never dreamed to have a pupil promising."
The Inquisitor's smile melted away, replaced by sorrow and… guilt?
"I just want you to know, Louk. I am sorry for everything that's happened. It has been a hard stretch, and the worst is yet to come."
"I don't know, boss." Louk shrugged. "We got off the ship. We've got weapons and allies. What's the worst that could happen?"
Inquisitor Helsing did not answer that.