The shuttle was cramped, and Evius felt that he was blamed for this.
The shuttle was a lighter craft, meant for rapid transport from ship to shore and ship again, it sat six comfortably, and if pressed, it could carry eight- though its performance would undoubtedly suffer.
It was not meant to carry a Soroitas, Guardsman, Rouge Trader, Psyker Child, Inquisitor, and an Abomination- all fully armed and armored.
It most certainly was not meant to carry these individuals and their wargear alongside a former captain of the Grey Knights in full carapace plate with a weapon that usually required a full guardsmen weapons team to operate, along with its subsequent ammunition.
The gifts of Titan only extended so far as to the familiar weight of his Nemesis force sword, which rested on his back even now. Sheathed in a sturdy plasteel scabbard slung across the back of a resized set of Stormtrooper carapace armor. The black ceramic plates were nothing like the distant memory of his Terminator Aegis and even further memory of power armor. There was no strength behind the carapace plates, no machine spirit whispering into the back of his mind or thrum of power with each step. There was no history of combat, no warrior pedigree, no ornamentation, only a sheet of hardened plastic buckled onto other sheets of plasteel.
Although there was little he could do in the ways of modifying, it did not mean he was fully without a means of alteration. In the few hours before departure, he had taken to it with sacred oil and pick; the result was born for all to see. Engraved ivory oil spirals and runes adorned his armor, interlacing and merging in order to form fantastic geometric shapes. These were oaths to abjure and cast out the Daemon, and wards to protect against the malign influences of the warp. Normally applied to the Aegis, these were the holy and sacred writs of his chapter. It was not much in the grand scheme of things, the Aegis armor of the Grey Knights was constructed through the sacrifice of Witches and Psykers, and consecrated before Idols of the Emperor, what he wore now was just mass-produced armor from a forgeworld conveyor. Despite all that, with the power of his mind, he hoped it to be enough.
The Guardsman spoke first, voicing his odium. "Does he really need to be with us for this?" Gyalt grunted reproachfully looking pointedly at Evius. "We're apt to be put to the sands if this damned bucking grox of a craft keeps up at this pace."
"I trust the pilots abilities." Sheida answered, though Evius thought he read a sense of nervous tension- most likely an error born of her augmetic vox implant.
Seemingly the calmest among them was the boy, aside from the Sister who shared his faith. Contrasting both the boy and the sister, Arumot had a steel grip on the bench, not trusting the strap harness slung across her shoulders to protect her.
The Eater was dressed in crisp fatigues matching that of the bodyguards of the inquisition, though her armor was flak vestments instead of Carapace plate. She wore but a blade strapped to her waist in a dull grey scabbard, and had been forcibly given a las-pistol. While blades in the imperium were a mark of excellence and status, having that- and only that- would draw unwanted attention should they venture into the hive in stealth once they saw to their housing.
Evius shifted uncomfortably, he could feel the accusing gazes of his new 'companions' on his person as a physical manifestation. It was enough to drive him to speaking. "It is common for those going to do battle to recite the hymns native to their station." He began. "I myself know a great many from my chapter, several of them I can recall being spoken during the original Harkuul Scouring." He looked about the cabin, expectant for at least some to be vaguely interested in the sacred rites of the most mysterious of Space Marines chapters to have existed- all pardons to the Dark Angels and Blood Ravens. Some heads turned to him; sour with airsickness, but none in interest.
The Boy was staring at him again, and Evius found he could not read the expression present on the Psyker Childs face, doubt? Interest? He did not know. With some hesitancy Evius began, taking solace in one of the old rites of Titan.
"In the face of doubt I am become Purpose.
Scour the unclean, scrape the filth from the foot of His domain."
"In the glory of triumph, I know it His will.
Our fate His command, His sacrifice our salvation.
"In times of strife, I know solace from Pain.
The wounds of the body bow to the resolve of the mind."
"In the hands of death, I shall deny His enemies satisfaction.
I pray only to draw them before His throne as offerings."
As he finished, he had expected only silence, at best contemplation and rumination over wise words, at worst, distracted aversion.
He was unprepared for the Guardsman to take up his own mantra.
"Strap tight your holster so you may feel the weight of your gun."
"Strap tight the belt so it may remind you of what He asks."
"Strap tight your boots so they may carry you to His wars."
"Strap tight your pack so you may carry on when others fall to its weight."
"Unbind the ties that draw you home, for you will never see it again."
Gyalt looked at Evius who met his gaze. For once the Guardsman did not admonish him with a scowl or scorn- though he did not look to the grey knight with anything approaching kindness. It was a look that was of solemn understanding in the importance of ritual.
"Greetings, and thank the Immortal Emperor, you have arrived."
The waifish thing that greeted them at the landing pad could be no more than twelve Terran years. She had what could only be genespliced golden eyes and white hair culled back into a single braid that nearly swept the ground she walked on. She was attired in an elaborate silken bodysuit of white with ivory and gold trimming. It hugged her form almost like synthskin in a decidedly perverse way that caused Arto to raise an eyebrow and the Guardsman to snort in disdain, thumbing the battered and worn, but lovingly polished Aquila that hung around his neck.
"I am Vrer, life-bound to Lords Solph and Gerd" The servant girl bowed low, one foot put before the other with arms folded behind her back with one hand balled into a fist and the other open in a custom known only to those of hive nobility on Harkuul.
"We accept your greetings." Sheida stepped forwards, Arto at her side in an instant without needing to be told. She produced the sacred badge of her office from a case, the rosette shining in the dull light of the Hive with its own inner luminance.
Vrers eyes widened ever so slightly as she looked upon the signet. In an amazing lack of professionalism that left Evius with a bitter taste in his mouth, the girl did not even ask to see if it was authentic, and that they were who they so claimed to be. She meekly bowed once more, and bade them to follow her. Leading them to an armed escort just beyond the orbital landing platform, which in turn lead them to an ostentatious dirigible.
It was a much shorter flight this time through the spires of the Hive cities. The craft was much more aptly suited to carrying a large number of people and their respective cargo, it barley registered the weight of those on board. The slight hum of the engines strapped to the side of the lavish cupola was their only companion in the meanwhile. Evius took this time to study the Hive cities that spread out below them, their spires needling upwards from below, some reaching so high that they punched through the atmosphere and into space itself.
Such was a testimony to the power of mankind. For humans to be able to build such great structures even while they were beset upon from all sides in a never-ending war of brutal attrition against the very galaxy that spawned them. While other alien empires crumbled, humanity built.
He looked down below, through the glass window, his enhanced vision picking out the seething throngs of humanity lining the top deck of a pleasure barge, suspended in the air on grav generators and heavy balloons. He saw them, raucous and uncoordinated, but quick witted and capable of a days thought independent of the damned warp and its twisting eddies.
He noticed not for the first time how Arumot- the Eater, twitched and fiddled. Her gaze plastered to the window, sharp eyes picking out the throngs of humanity in its own way- not admiration but predatory hunger. Evius narrowed his eyes, recognizing soul hunger easily enough for he had seen it etched on the rictus grins of daemons and chaos warped humans. He wondered how quickly he could subdue her, should it come to such action. How many would It be able to kill or maim before his iron grip crushed its windpipe and rendered its actions into spasmodic twitches and jerks.
He gave It until sundown before its bloodlust overcame whatever passed for self-control, and it turned on them. He would be ready, and he would not hesitate. He returned his gaze to the window and the city beyond.
For a supposedly rebelling and chaos tainted world, Evius struggled to find the common signs of corruption. He saw no unholy alters, no sacrificial circles or rampant Daemon incursion- though he supposed that all insidious beginnings are subtle. Such is the nature of Chaos, to corrupt the background and then working its icy tendrils into the fore.
Evius is brought out of his contemplations by the soft chiming of bells and a noticeable e drop of acceleration, the engines singing a different pitch as the dirigible grab glider floats downwards, they must have reached their destination.
Behind them the dirigible lifts off, floating up and away from the narrow landing pad. The air is thin, the wind sharp and cold. Arto, Gyalt, and Makino held respirators to their faces while Tyana dawned her sabbat pattern helmet, the Aquila face plate doubling as both an emblem and a respirator, the tear-drop eye-lenses glowed with an inner light. Evius had no need of such things, his multi- lung more than adequate for such poor environments, it was a fact not lost to the Gene-spliced girl, Vrer, who held a mask to her face as well, her golden white tresses fluttering in the breeze. "You are strong, terribly strong…" She said, staring up at him, he did not reply, and followed after Sheida who was beyond such mundane things like breathing, Arumot had tried to follow in her stead, but her hands soon clutched at a respirator when breath failed her.
The narrow bridge ended at the foot of a massive set of high doors recessed into an archway, the entrance to the upper hive. It was hard not to be impressed by the gilded doors, scenes of the lengthy ruling families history played out upon them. The paltry history of the mortal family did not impress him so much as the height of the doors themselves. Evius reasoned that the gates were at least the height of a warhound titan. He noted the heavy silver chains that hung from the doors, and pondered their use until Vrer stepped forwards. A skull probe camera placed in front of the gates bit the proffered finger of Vrer, the blood no doubt coded with the genetic sequence used to open the gates.
Instead of a rumbling whine of overstressed metal in order to single the activation of the gates, the Inquisitorial retinue was instead treated to a swarm of golden skinned cherubs. Fat faced servitors with the bodies of lobotomized children, graced with faux angel wings placed upon their back so as to hide micro thrusters.
There must've been hundreds of them, pouring out from a portal hatch just above the apex of the gateway. Each one was crafted with golden cybernetics; gold leaf wings fluttered useless and dumb upon their backs as they rode the sharp winds down to the gate. Each Cherub grabbed one of the chains attached to the door, three to every chain.
They pulled, wings flapped as the thrusters struggled with the weight of the chain and the gates. A grinding screech rolled outwards to meet them as the great doors were forced upon by weight of numbers, the cherubs just as dead as the metal they pulled. Makino seemed utterly fascinated; staring up at the dead-creatures, gold leaf feathers no more than a millimeter thick cascaded down from the flock. The Sister pulled him by the shoulder, Vrer stepping through the widening gap in the doors and waiting for the Sheida and the others to follow.
They stepped through the doors, the archway they passed under was engraved with the visages of saints and winged angels. There was no doubting the exquisite craftsmanship. It was obviously not by the hands of the Mechanicum by that extent, the machine-priests of mars were incapable of creativity and ingenuity, traits they abandoned long ago. Evius could make out the indentations of the files and chisels used to scrape away at the marble edifices, each imprint cunningly wrought into the fine works of art. A much more simple but no less garish door blocked their passage, and the young servant was quick to imprint the code from her still bleeding finger into the genetic receptacle. A clatter of locks chattered from the door, and oiled hinges swung back to welcome the retinue into the spire proper.
A rush of clean air buffeted Evius as he stepped through and into a lengthy hallway- a bottleneck in his mind, as the hallway stretched onwards ahead of him, narrow walls and a high ceiling making it perfect for a single soldier to sit at one end and mow down countless others. He half expected to see a pair of Royal Guards standing at the end of the hallway, or a weapons servitor of some sort. Perhaps at one point there was such a thing, but clearly no longer. The tapestry-laden walls passed by them and the precious stone tile floor clicked underneath their feet. At the end of the hallway there was simply a mirror with the reflection of the retinue and Vrer leading the procession staring back at them.
Evius frowned at the obvious ostentation. Excess reigned in these hallways, an observation he made early on with its sentiment echoed by the Sister and Guardsman. Both were strict adherers to the Imperial creed, and by some extent, the Guardsman being the stricter of the two. Such opulence went against the tenants of humility as bespoken of by one of the many imperial heroes of the past.
It is fifteen minutes of walking that leads them to the chapel of the noble spire of Kaxius. High arch doors part almost at once, rolling back on straining hinges. The genespliced servant girl leads them forwards, stepping through the door to stand under the recusing glare of saints embossed in stone on either side of her. To Evius, the chapel section is infinitely more familiar then the rest of the estate that they had been lead through.
Cold, stagnant air filled his lungs, reminiscent of old incense and prayer-candles. The busts of saints lined the walls, widening out into a rounded chamber filled with rows of pews forming a semi-circle before a raised pulpit. Behind the pulpit a grand painting of a golden horizon stretched across from each end of the pulpit. The sun in the painting is depicted as The Emperor, a glowing and resplendent figure. Rays of golden light obscure his features as if the painter was afraid of defacing the Master of Mankinds image with his mortal hand and simple brush, both of them prone to error when painting an object of such perfection.
It is a remarkable work of art, well preserved despite its age. Evius can spot the telltale markings of several mediums, each one used to construct a different portion of the work. "The Pride of House Ildora, this one is called, although it went by many other names before that." Evius regarded the man sitting across from the pulpit; he too was entranced by the fresco, and had been here for hours it would seem. "Crafted before the Original scouring, made in the underhive by a mad prophet genius. He claimed to have Visions of The Emperor as a skeleton with golden bones adorned with a pair of great wings. He was later burned at the stake when the riots began and the Arbites moved in. Only a small portion of his works were saved." Age had touched the mans body, though it did not look it from a casual glance. He seemed to be no older than forty, yet with a hunched back and stiff movements, it was clear that Juviant drugs had been used extensively upon him- and they were starting to lose their effectiveness.
"Lord Maltoris?" Sheida asked, stepping forwards, she made the sign of the Auqilla, Maltoris retuned it with a boy. "Aye, I am he."
"The chapel is a odd place to conduct one such meeting." Shida admitted. "Perhaps your quarters would be of more use."
He shook his head," Nay, I am afraid such a place is out of the question. There are too many hungry ears, and there are few if any nobles that visit such sacred places these days, I am often the only one attending morning and afternoon prayers."
"That bodes poorly," Arto lamented.
Maltoris gestured for them to sit, and they found pews close to the Governor, Vrer stepped forwards and produced a small cogitator from underneath one of the pews. Evius recognized it as a compact jamming device, small and discreet.
"We should be fine now," Maltoris nodded, Vrer quietly stood beside him, hands folded neatly. "I am sure you are all well aware of the Harkuul cascades less-than stellar fashion when concerning loyalty and faith. So I will not bore you with the details. All that is important in those details is that you keep in mind the defining characteristics of the cults that saw to the original downfall of Harkuul."
"Pleasure cults," Shieda answered.
"Exactly, various groups and heretic religions sprang up in the underhive, far beyond the Arbites jurisdiction. Sordid tales began to filter up through the peasant classes concerning the dark practices and rituals involved, and along the way they started to become even more warped. Blood sacrifices, mutilation games, fire prayer. "
"You said that such practices have returned in your report."
"I did, and they for the most part have- from what I can tell. The corruption was mostly kept to the lower hives in the first rebellion of Karkullh, The upper tiers of the Hive were obviously influenced by the more insidious members of the Cults, but they were eliminated. It was easy to mark out the corrupted patrons of the foul pagan practices; it warped both body and mind… That is… No loner the case anymore."
"What has changed, Governor?"
"The Echlisiarchal representative of this planet has become compromised, from what I can assume.
"This is a grave statement to make, Lord Maltoris."
"Perhaps that is too strong of a way to put it," he backtracked hastily. "Misguided, might be a more subtle answer. But regardless of that, it is clear that something is not right,"
"Can you explain further,"
"The Imperial creed of this world has changed, the accepted manner of worship of Harkuul is uniformly standard practice, but it has changed from the Cult Lectino Divinitautus. The Echlisiarch has sanctioned entirely pagan practices and scriptures."
"Can you confirm these?"
"Slavery has been outlawed in the Cascade for millennia, it was my lineage that had seen its removal in the first place. But the Ecclesiarch has interpreted an edict so as to allow for the bondage of those possessing… inhuman traits."
"Mutancy?" Gyalt snaps.
"That, and more. Gene-editing, splicing, tattoos, being too short or too tall."
"This is unusual but not unheard of," Sheida gestures towards Vrer. "You yourself seem to have partaken."
"It was not my intention to do so originally. She was gifted to me by a Noble seeking clemency for a minor infraction, and she was offered to me in such a way that I was unable to refuse."
"Politiking…" Arto sighed.
"We have strayed," Maltoris continues. "From that point on the Ecclesiarch has drafted differing interpretations to the Cult Imperialis. Far more than usual, the most alarming being the alterations to the method of worship being practiced."
"I have seen a distinct lack of public genuflection during our arrival."
"You have seen it, it is just no longer familiar to a true imperials eyes. It is deviancy," a striking energy heats the Lord Governors words. "Drinking and gluttony, parties and galas, orgiastic parades through the streets and grand debauched demonstrations." The Governor scowls at the ground. "Something has taken over this hive, but it did not do so by force of arms."
"Sounds rather routine, a smooth snatch-and-bag." Arto states. "Find one of their cultists, have the Boy go to work on them, drop them off none the wiser and work our way up the food-chain."
It hardly even counted as a living space, much less an inquisitorial safe house. Barred windows and cramped confines with a one room bed and bathroom with a broken shower. It barley fit four people at once, much less an inquisitorial retinue. Once again, Evius found himself as the object of loathing amongst his newfound comrades.
It was a hab-unit further down the hive spire. It housed mostly disgruntled workers that slaved away in the manufactoria and plasma plants that supplied heat and mundane materials to the upper hive levels. It was inconvenient and out of the way, it was a natural choice for them. The team was stripping down, clothes thrown across the room as replacement jump suits and various other pieces of ragged and worn equipment was adorned in an effort to blend in. Arto proved the most helpful concerning this, re adjusting Gyalts attire more than once- the fourth time was a clear attempt to spite the Guardsman.
As they did so they quickly ran over what were the best possible ways to go about infiltrating and dealing with the supposed cult. Sheida pulled a red mechanicus robe over her body- it was the only disguise that made any sense for her. She attached various cog-incarnime sigils over her body and gave her thoughts. "The direct approach seems to be the most efficient. A simple 'snatch and grab' has the chance of raising a few eyebrows."
"Why not just feign a gas leak under one of their gatherings question the survivors? Press them hard and keep pressing?"
"The cult may scatter rather than fight. If we show our hand as anyone else other than a local hive gang they may suspect inquisitorial involvement." Shieda replies coolly. "Infiltration seems to be the only reasonable modem of gathering information, it usually is."
There was little in the ways of disguising Evius as anything inconspicuous. He was an astartes, his bulk was immense and his presence intimidating. There was no true way to mask his presence, the same went for the Guardsman- Gyalt was Guard to the core, he practically screamed military. While Mercenaries with history and backgrounds in the imperial Guard were a throne a dozen, few if any held themselves with a straight back and unsullied honor.
"The dear governor did speak of several open invite events scheduled to occur within the week." Arto commented. "One of them hosted by the Cardinal himself."
Tyana and Makino were easier to cloak with subterfuge. As a Shrine world it was not uncommon to see men and women of the cloth. Draped in gowns that signify religious mourning Tyana went as a lady following the Convocation of Silence, a religious sect of the Imperial Creed whose members did not speak- something that suited the already muted Sororitas- in doing so, they mourned the death of The Emperor as a Mortal Man when he ascended. For Makino, he went as an attendant to Tyana, serving her needs when the time for speech arose.
"I already planned on that event being a target." Sheida nodded. "It's a Gala, talking is to be expected." She looked at Arto, "Need I ask?"
Arto fastens his cufflinks on a truly ostentatious overcoat. "You do not, my dear Inquisitor. It has been awhile since I've been to one such event, may have gotten a bit rusty."
"Will you be needing anything?"
"Such events are melting pots for all sorts of degenerates and miscreants. It pays to have a suitable bodyguard when someone inevitably tries and slit your throat from behind." He looks around the cramped room. "Any volunteers?"
When no one moves to suggest themselves as the part, Makino hesitantly raises his hand before Tyana abruptly lowers it for him. Eyes linger on Evius for a moment, who stiffens in response. "I do not believe that…" He mutters, "That I would be a suitable choice."
"With all respect due, I do sincerely agree." Arto sighs. "An event like this is all about appearances and posture. Going with a high-class bodyguard shows that you have money but lack the means to defend yours without assistance, attending with a low quality bodyguard shows that you are strapped for thrones." Arto glances at Tyana. "In all honesty the best way to attend is with an escort or concubine."
Sheida motions to Tyana, "Perhaps the sister could masquerade as one?"
It is clear of the Sisters thought of such a disguise, her face reddening, Makino looking up at her with marked concern- Evius can feel the color of her surface thoughts.
"I believe that the Sister is rather adverse to such an act." Arto grimaces. "I don't suppose that you are up to such a task, dear Inquisitor?" He winces.
Sheida motions to her body, "Though it would not have been the first time I had seen to the destruction of a cult posed as one. I unfortunately lack even the most basic requirements for such a role as I am now." She taps her mask with a metal digit. "We are in the Emperors Favor however…" Sheida lets her mechanical eyes pan over the group until the came to rest on a member more silent than Tyana.
Arumot runs the damp cloth down the length of her blade once again, meticulously running her fingers lightly along the edge, feeling for ridges or abrasions that she knew she wouldn't find. She'd stripped the uncomfortable flak armor almost at once, letting her torso finally breathe without the constricting weight. The Eater glances up- head jerking with sudden tension as she feels eyes fall upon her. She hadn't been paying attention to the conversation. She hadn't cared. The Eater partly wishes it had.