Fuck the Inquisition. They were more stuck up than the fucking Blue-Bloods. Unfortunately, they were a lot more competent and had experience that put the average Guardsman to shame. It was a nasty cocktail, they came up with outrageously dangerous and asinine ideas, ones that had a good chance to get all their agents killed. Unfortunately, enough of these missions had produced results for the Imperium that they had been given free rein to conscript any Imperial citizen, soldier, or official to their latest totally not a death trap.
Granted, in practice they couldn't demand services from literally everyone. Space Marines and the Adeptus Mechanicus had enough political sway that it was more in the Inquisition's best interests to ask nicely when they needed help. Potentially the Ecclesiarchy was the same, but I hadn't heard enough to say for certain. Underpaid Imperial Guard NCOs and troopers though? We got folded up into Inquisitorial duties the same way a Felinid plucked a juicy fish from the river. There was fuck all we could do about it, and it was in your best interest to do what you were told. True, there was a better than average chance that obeying the Inquisitor's orders would get you killed, but disobeying their orders was effectively a death sentence. It wasn't an easy choice, but it was a simple one.
Sadly, when a certain Inquisitor had come around camp picking up "volunteers" I and my family had been among those picked. That had been bad enough, but then I had learned the exact nature of the mission. We were poking around a Tomb-World that had recently been unearthed beyond the reaches of Imperial space. And now I was crawling through the depths of it with the Inquisitor right behind me.
The only nice thing I could say about this Inquisitor was that she had had the decency to give me a meltagun, which I was now clutching like it was my first-born. Most Imperium made weapons took concentrated fire to do any kind of serious damage to Necrons, even Space Marine bolters weren't sure-fire means of destruction. But a meltagun? I wasn't feeling overly confident, but I wasn't quaking in fear over how useless I fell. It was the best I could ask for. Baring the Inquisitor sharing some sort of Archeotech antimatter weapon with me, a statement that would've earned a punch from me if anyone else had asked for it. So I kept my mouth shut.
Ok, two nice things. Whatever boneheaded ideas Inquisitors came up with, at least most of them had the decency to be there in the thick of it with you. Even if that was essentially them promising to join you in the suicide pact.
We were in a platoon twenty men strong, the majority of them wearing black, full helmet carapace armor adorned with gold and red Inquisitorial symbols. All of them held their weapons and moved with the precision of people who had been doing this for a long time. Said weapons were hellguns are the very lightest, while a few even had plasma weapons. These people were professionals to the core. I almost wondered why the Inquisitor even needed me, these pricks were easily just as good as I am and probably had less moral scruples about doing Inquisition work. I mean, I'm no saint, but I had lines I wouldn't cross. These assholes were probably used to doing the "kill all of his family, friends, and co-workers" shit for the more paranoid Inquisitors.
Around five other people in the platoon, counting me were wearing standard Guard kits and clutching weapons that you would only see a non-blue-blood Guardsman carrying if they came from a very, and I mean very, rich world. Plasma weapons and another one carrying a meltagun. They looked how I felt, as if they'd much rather be anywhere else and as if they were weighing the options of fragging the Inquisitor and running for it. Considering that even if we all struck in unison, we'd be outnumbered three to one, those were bad odds. Thankfully, they all seemed to have realized that and weren't doing anything stupid. Upon closer inspection, the conscripted Guardsmen all had a grizzled, aged look to them. None of them were quite my age, but they were getting there. The Inquisitor only wanted vets to pad out her numbers it seemed. I was flattered.
I didn't recognize any of these Guardsmen, my family and friends had been dispursed around other platoons that were taking alternate routes through the Tomb World. I hated the Inquisitor for doing this, mainly because I knew exactly why she had done it. She was keeping us divided, ensuring we didn't put our heads together and conspire against her. Sure, I could plan with these chucklefucks who looked as miserable as I was, but that was a hard sell. This woman had been doing this for a long time and knew exactly how to keep an insurgency against her at bay.
I glanced at her. She was wearing one of those fancy suits of power armor that were designed for non-Space Marines. It added a good foot to her height, meaning she was around seven feet tall, towering over the rest of us. It was overdesigned, because of course it was, to the point of gaudiness. The entire thing was bright gold, something you needed to be a Primarch to pull off, but it was the tiny things that dotted it that drove me up the wall. The twenty or so purity seals, the three Inquisitorial Rosettes, for some fucking reason, the incense lantern that was burning behind her, a stupid idea I had thought the Eclhiesarchy had a monopoly on, and the Felnid fur pelt hanging around her neck. Though she also had a meltagun of her own in her hands, and she was in a position in the formation where she could easily vaporize any one of us. That drew my attention once I was done giving her an internal fashion critique like the trapped and bitchy asshole that I was. So I turned my focus back onto the Tomb World. Because there was a lot to take in.
This Tomb World felt wrong. Now, I had only been on two Tomb Worlds and had promised myself to never go back if I could help it, a promise I was sadly breaking, but even I could figure this out. Most Tomb Worlds, even dormant ones, were alive with activity. Green lights glowing everywhere, those fucking scarabs skittering all over the place, moving parts that were no doubt powering important shit, you could tell that it was active. This one felt like it had died. Not a speck of light anywhere, nothing moving except for our platoon, and just about everything of importance was cracked wide open. Pillars, pylons, and stasis pods that I had seen shrug off bolter-shells with ease had all been torn asunder, fragments of Necrons everywhere. I had no idea who had done all of this, but frankly, I wanted to buy them a drink. I was a big fan of their work.
"Squad leaders, report in, any activity?" the Inquisitor asked, leaning into a Vox unit in her ear. I had no Vox unit, I was used to that, but I didn't even have a micro-bead this time. This Inquisitor didn't want me saying a single thing that she couldn't hear, and she didn't want anyone saying anything to me either. She had her hand wrapped around my throat and could snap it in the blink of an eye. Frankly, all I could do was grit my teeth and pray I would live to see tomorrow. That wasn't impossible, everything was pointing to us having found a dead Tomb World. I didn't even know there was such a thing, but I hoped to find many in the near future. "Copy, keep me posted." She lowered her hand. "I've collected quite a bit of data from my time working with the Necrons, they have some divergences but key areas are fairly uniform." She smiled. Chills went down my spine. People tended to die when Inquisitors smiled like that. Either because they were about to order a dangerous mission or because they had found a new toy. I wasn't sure which was worse. "We should be approaching the Phaeron's tomb. The leader of the entire dynasty. The one who even Necron Lords bow to."
Oh. Oh, fuck me. There was a Necron above Necron Lords? The conscripts of the group gave each other panicked looks. Good, I wasn't the only one who wanted to shit myself right now. I had never seen a Necron Lord before, but I had heard people screaming about it over the Vox lines. Screams that had a tendency to get cut off very viciously. The one pro to fighting Necrons was always that they killed you fast, they didn't have enough of a sadist streak to drag things out. Still, hearing that many voices just being snuffed out, going from screaming to pure silence in a fraction of a second, it was unnerving. A Lord was even more powerful than the average Necron, which could tear me apart on an atomic level.
So what the fuck could a Phaeron do?
I was honest to Emperor considering a fragging in the back recesses of my mind. If the Inquisitor hadn't stacked every last chip against me I might have actually gone through with it. But I could feel her eyes and the eyes of her lackeys burning into the back of my skull. I bit my tongue so hard that I almost drew blood. Marching into the Necron super leader tomb was a better chance at survival. Just fuck my life. I tightened my grip on my Meltagun. If I was doomed to die at the hands of an eon old warlord, I was blowing its fucking face off before I checked out. I didn't care if the thing would bounce back, I was going down swinging. That's what the jittered logic centers of my brain said, anyway. Dressing up my most likely demise with a sense of bravado. Well, it was keeping me sane for another minute, I wasn't going to fight it.
We entered a passageway that just screamed: "important person this way." It was easily ten stories tall, held up green and black pillars that an ecclesiarch would've been (privately) impressed with, considering how glassy smooth they were. The hall was featureless aside from this, nothing but bare floors and the exit on the far side. It was even free from the usual tombs and pylons that usually dotted the interior of a Tomb World. We moved forward, maintaining proper unit formation. Eventually, we reached the end. A simple, small chamber was on the other end of the doorway.
A single Necron pod was in it. Even with my lack of Necron experience, I could tell it was important. More sigils than I had ever seen in the Necron language were plastered on every square inch of the pod. The Inquisitor let out a triumphant chuckle. "Excellent. He hasn't awakened yet. Guardsmen? Pry that pod loose. Feel free to use your weapons, you won't damage it." Ok, letting me use the reassuringly big gun. Three things I liked about this Inquisitor. All right, all right, maybe I could've gotten along with this woman if she wasn't obsessed with collecting Necron tech and willing to conscript me to get it. Sadly those were two pretty fucking big deal-breakers.
"Copy that, securing the package," I said, not trusting myself to speak freely and falling back on my long honed autopilot. "With me. Keep clear while I'm working, this thing has a minimum safe range." Moving to the side of the pod, I saw several cables snaking out of the ground and connecting to the back of the pod. Like everything else in the Tomb World, it was dark and lifeless. I let myself breathe a little easier. Maybe I had gotten lucky and this thing had died with the rest of the Tomb World. I aimed my meltagun. At once, lights burst to life all over the pod.
Oh. Oh of fucking course.
I backed away at once, weapon trained on the pod as it rotated, shifting from lying on the ground to a fully upright position. Steam began to pour out of it as the front of it clicked and began to open. "Hold fire, hold fire, you might damage it!" the Inquisitor yelled. "He may not truly be awakened yet!" Fuck you! FUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOOU! Did she want me to give the Necron a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of recaff while we were at it? Even fucking Chenkov wouldn't deny me my right to shoot at the Xeno that was rubbing the sleep out of its eyes.
But the Inquisitorial agents were holding their fire. Notably, they were still positioned in such a way that enabled them clear lines of fire on all of us conscripts. The only thing worse than an asshole was an asshole who had turned the act into an art form. So I compromised by backing off to the side, my meltagun still at the ready. This way I had my weapon at the ready and I had the appearance of clearing the line of fire for the Inquisitorial soldiers. The fact that I was moving in a way that meant I was moving away and leaving nothing between them and the opening tomb was purely coincidental, I swear. Why would I want the Necron's attention to be fully on the Inquisition?
The steam cleared away from the pod and gave us a clear view of the Necron inside. I blinked. I had never really considered the Necrons to have sex or gender, they lacked biological factors for sex and were too mindless to even have the concept of identity, let alone gender. But I had heard whispered rumors that the higher up Necrons were different, that they were capable of independent thought. This Necron made me think of that because it wasn't purely utilitarian. It was slender, at least by Necron standards, had chains of cables that looked as if they had been styled to resemble locks flowing down its back, draping over a gilded cape, and what appeared to be a golden crown on the top of its head. Something about it all gave the xeno machine a vaguely female look. A female look that would make all but the fittest unaugmented humans looks scrawny in comparison, but still more elegant and graceful than the average Necron. That wasn't saying much.
The Inquisitor blinked in surprise. "Ah. Not a Phaeron, but a Phaerakh. My information was inaccurate, it seems. Still, this is useful. Quite useful." The Necron shifted, taking a step forward. She exited the tomb, reaching in and producing a weapon in each hand. A staff in one hand, a short sword in the other, both with the green colors and rigid edges of Necron technology. I eyed the staff suspiciously. If I knew anything about Necrons, that staff either would blast holes clean through us or turn on a secret army right beneath our feet. Maybe both. The Necron's head turned as she gained her footing outside of the pod, gazing at all of us.
Then she spoke. "Greetings! A pleasure to meet all of you! I am Phaerakh Keledah of the Maseron Dynasty. Pardon me for a second." I was taken aback. The Necron's voice was shockingly bright and chipper for a million-year-old war machine. I barely had time to shoot the Inquisitor a confused look before Keledah's eyes flashed a bright green. "Ah, I see. A few hundred years ago the Alkon Dynasty attempted to seize my domain. There was a minor skirmish that my retainers found was far too insignificant to wake me for." She let out a pleasant laugh. Nothing that charming should ever come out of something that could easily slaughter every last one of us. "And the Alkons have been defeated for good, excellent. They only managed to get a few of their bombs into the Tomb World."
She paused, looking around. "Oh my. The damage appears to be rather extensive. We only have pure essentials for my tomb." It was then that she looked back at us. She paused as if she had only just noticed us for the first time. "Oh pardon me. I am familiar with your kind. My Tomb World has been partially awake for the last ten thousand years, taking scans of the surrounding area. You are Humans, correct? Excellent, dire times make the most interesting of companions. Do you have any place where I may reside while my Tomb World's automated repair system restores my domain and warriors? Estimates are generous, systems should start reactivating in a mere million years."
There were times where I thought I had simply gone insane. Times where I thought I finally understood the shithole of a galaxy I was stuck in, only for something to come along and cheerfully smash the kneecaps of my understanding. This talking Necron had done that, curb-stomped by understanding, and was now idly rifling through its wallet.
"Phaerakh," the Inquisitor said, training her meltagun on her. "I advise that you surrender your weapons and accompany me. You will be well treated by my associates in the Adeptus Mechanicus, and we will happily provide you sanctuary."
"Splendid!" Keledah said cheerfully. "But I refuse to surrender my weapons. Alkon remnants could be lurking about after all."
"Phaerakh," the Inquisitor said, her meltagun now aiming at the Necron's head. "I am the only one with the authority to arrange passage off of this planet. You are outnumbered. Your dynasty is in ruins, your armies have fallen, you have nothing left." A massive grin split her face, a grin that would've been grounds for on the spot execution if it had been given by a non-Inquisitor. It just screamed Chaos. "I am a member of the God Emperor's Holy Inquisition. Learn your place."
The Necron stared at the Inquisitor for a second, its body language surprisingly relaxed. She looked more confused than angry. "Ok!" Kaledah said. And with that, she aimed her staff.
Half a dozen bolts of green energy arced across the room in an instant, each one striking and tearing into an Inquisitorial agent with no resistance. Just like that, the majority of their torsos were gone, no traces left of armor or flesh where the bolts had hit. At once, a look of fury crossed the Inquisitor's face. "Open fire!" she roared, pulling the trigger on her meltagun. I was not opposed to opening fire, I fired a quick hip shot at the Necron as soon as she gave the order. I just knew that standing out in the open would lead to me joining the six dead agents as surely as if I had decided to tickle my tonsils with the barrel of the meltagun.
There were a few pylons in the room, looking as if they supported the pod Kaledah had been hibernating in. If anything could take a hit from Necron weaponry, it was something that had been built by the skeletal little fuckers. Scrambling behind it, I took up position and readied my weapon. Sadly, things were going to shit so fast that we were losing a man a second, sometimes faster. The staff that Kaledah was carrying was proving to be a well-honed tool of death because Necrons couldn't invent a back scrubber that wasn't capable of blasting through Land Raiders.
Three Inquisitorial agents, two conscripts and the Inquisitor were still alive, their weapons firing frantically at the Necron. Their aim was proving to be spot on, but Kaledah wasn't taking any damage. In fact, despite the accurate fire of the powerful weapons, the shots didn't even seem to be hitting her. Every bit of energy that found its way to the xeno's chest simply passed through as if it wasn't there, harmlessly exiting out of the machine's back. I had heard horror stories about how advanced Necron technology could be, but this was something else. My hands slackened on my meltagun. What good would it do? Ok, new plan. Let the Necron kill the Inquisitor, then run for it.
Indeed, that only seemed to be moments away from happening. Strolling up to the handful of survivors, Kaledah's sword swung merrily through the air. Much like the Imperial weapons used on the Phaerakh, the sword passed through the armor of the soldiers without causing any visible damage to it. That was where the similarities end. The armor was unharmed, but every last person who had the xeno sword passed through them collapsed to the ground, quite clearly dead, blood trickling out of their mouths. Before too long, it was just the Necron and the Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor was swearing viciously and she unloaded melta shot after melta shot, the vibrant energy merely passing through the Necron as if she wasn't there. "One moment, it's been some time since I attempted this." With a severe lack of grace and form, the Necron dove towards the Inquisitor.
I wasn't quite sure what happened after that. My eyes felt like they stopped working for a second as if I had shut them and opened them without realizing it. I might even go so far as to say that it had felt like a second had been pulled out of reality. Whatever had happened, the Necron was gone and the Inquisitor stood alone in the center of the room. She was utterly surrounded by a strewn pile of blood, guts, bone fragments, and organs. None of which had been there before the Necron had begun her dive.
"Oh dear, I thought there would be more room in here," the Inquisitor said. My stomach dropped. No way. No fucking way. The Inquisitor walked forward, her limbs jerky and awkward. "Ah, I see now, her body is much smaller than she appeared. She was utilizing this apparatus to acquire a larger frame." Staggering about the Inquisitor spotted me. She smiled. It was a smile of genuine kindness and warmth. It felt wrong to see that coming off of a woman who had been happy to use me as a meat shield, but it was only exacerbated by the puddle of gore she was staggering through. "Ah, greetings! I did not see you there. I am Phaerakh Kaledah of the Maseron dynasty, and I find myself without refuge. Would you be willing to assist me?"
Fuck it. She had torn her way through a platoon and we literally had been unable to touch her. If she wanted to kill me, I was dead. My mouth was my way out of this one. Ironic. "Sure," I said hesitantly, holstering my meltagun over my shoulder. "Uh. You're in the Inquisitor's body, right?"
"Oh yes, a simple phase shift and nerve reattachment were all that was needed. The process is mostly automated," Kaledah said happily. She took a step forward, only to slip and end up doing a full split. She frowned. "This is proving to be rather difficult to manage though, these fleshy bits are rather clumsy. I don't recall struggling this much when I was an organic. Hm. Perhaps I'm simply out of practice. Ah, but I must recognize how things have changed. I am not Kaledah, at least not for now. I am a member of this...Inquisition? God Emperor's Holy Inquisition." She beamed. "With this, I can find safety until my home is repaired."
"Right," I said, forcing myself to stay calm. A horrible realization was slowly dawning on me. Kaledah was wearing the skin of an Inquisitor, she was still wearing the rosary of an Inquisitor. Inquisitors were used to acting unusually and getting away with it because they had the "I can blow up a planet whenever I want so shut up and do as you're told" card. If I was to run screaming on how a Necron had killed an Inquisitor and was wearing her skin, who in the Emperor's name would believe me? I know I wouldn't believe anyone who made such a claim, it sounded asinine. I had to handle this very carefully. This Necron was out of it. I could use that.
"You do know there are certain things you need to do if you want to, uh, maintain sanctuary," I said, my mouth running and my brain struggling to keep up. How had I gotten into this situation?
The Necron/Inquisitor looked at me, pulling herself into a sitting position and crossing her legs. She looked politely curious. "Please, do tell. My logs on your culture are only slightly out of date, a mere ten millennia, but I am unfamiliar with the customs of this Inquisition. I simply slaughter all I dislike, correct?" I hated this. I hated every moment of this. What had I done to deserve this? Had I offended the God-Emperor in some way?
"No, there are a few things you need to do," I said. Well, there was no getting around it, I couldn't kill or otherwise get rid of this Necron. "People will figure out that you're a Necron if you don't do everything you can to uphold the safety of Imperial citizens and defeat the enemies of the Imperium. Orks, Eldar, Tau, Tyranids, Chaos, all of them need to be defeated where you find them. And the common people, their lives need to be preserved."
"Ah, I see," Kaledah said, scratching her chin. "It seems I have inherited
a position of great responsibility. These Inquisitors are the protectors of the people and the common good?" Sure, let's go with that. Instead of talking, I nodded my head. "Very well. I am used to such large charges, I shall accept them graciously. I am a guest of your Imperium and I shall act with courtesy. The responsibilities of this Inquisitor are mine now, every Human life I encounter shall be preserved."
I could only assume she meant starting as of this moment. Half of the Inquisitorial agents were going to have closed casket funerals. "Right. And this is very important, you can't let anyone know that you're a Necron."
She blinked. "Why is that?"
Because if anyone learned that a Necron had killed and impersonated an Inquisitor and I hadn't sacrificed my life to report it, I would be arrested on charges of ultra-heresy and tortured to death over the course of a century. "Because we suspect that agents of the...the…hold on." Fuck, what had she said? "That agents of the Alkon Dynasty have infiltrated the Inquisition, or are watching them. We can't be too careful." He held up a hand, realizing a potential danger. "They're very good, don't bother trying to find them. You'll just end up hitting innocent bystanders and blow your cover. We have experts on it."
Kaledah covered her mouth in shock. "How horrible!" she said, in a genuinely terrified voice. Fuck it, I didn't care anymore. "But I understand. I shall become an expert in accumulated to Human expectations. I shall be a fantastic Inquisitor." She bowed. "You have done me a great service, good sir. May I have your name?" No you may fucking not.
"Sadly, I am not allowed to tell you, I am one of the agents working on removing Alkon infiltrators," I lied. Bullshitting a xeno warlord this ancient shouldn't be this easy.
Kaledah smiled kindly. "I understand then, you brave soul," she said, reaching out and putting her hands on my shoulders. I barely suppressed the urge to recoil. Maybe I could blast her with the meltagun now that her guard was down. No, that would be too risky, I had no idea how she was avoiding the damage. I hated my life. "Now then, how would we go about getting off my planet?"
I just had to bullshit my way through this until she got out of my life. Then she would be someone else's problem. "Ok. We need to pin all of this on Alkon agents, but the average Imperial doesn't know of them. Tell them that we were ambushed by them and that the agents managed to escape. It will throw them off."
"Brilliant! Now, how do you operate this communication device?" She pointed to her Vox unit. I groaned. Maybe I could still kill myself and call it there. No. No, I had a family to look after. Reluctantly, I helped the Inquisitor impersonating xeno figure out the small bead. I was going to have to help the xeno become a good Inquisitor. Fuck. My. Life.
Author's Note: I considered adding an epilogue that took place after the conclusion to the story, one that showed a darker side to Kaledah with her single-handedly smashing Chaos controlled bases in a rage after she learned that the narrator died. However, even though I was really fond of the idea, I sadly felt like I had to scrap it. Simply put, she didn't get enough time with the narrator for it to work. Ah well, maybe another day. I hope you all enjoyed this sponsored chapter of Stupid Deaths