Captum Ante Chapter 22

The mountain soared into the sky above, its craggy slopes bulging in the darkness and promising treacherous falls to any who traversed its heights. Old scars hinted at a long history of rockslides and earthquakes, reshaping the mountain on a timescale that mere men could not hope to grasp. Only the topmost peaks were visible, glowing with the first glimmers of the dawn to come. The thin woods that covered its slopes were thick with the scent of mould and sap, the forest soaking in the pre-dawn dew while root systems guzzled up the ambient moisture.

The mountain itself was a remnant of an earlier epoch, the last of a lost forgotten range. All its siblings had been worn down to rugged hills by millions of years of exposure and tectonic movement. The mountain itself was half its previous size and in another million years would just be one more hill, but in the meantime it remained a giant among dwarfs.

All around the lower slopes men bustled to and fro, driving vehicles into and out of great tunnels bored into the rockface. There were rings of razorwire fences, minefields and patrolling guards along with deadfall traps. There were rumbling Panzers and cunningly concealed gun posts looking out over the winding road that led down to the farm belt. Higher up the slopes there were air vents, but these were equally well guarded. Covered in metal meshes that had been rigged with motion sensors and alarms to warn of any intruder. The mountain was also crested by a copse of metal antennas and dishes, sending out electromagnetic waves to scour the skies.

The defence was as strong and comprehensive as the locals could hope to make it. For this was their nation's last line of defence, a secret base buried deep to hold against the destruction of their entire world. Every effort had been made to protect this fastness and there was not a man alive who could hope to penetrate it. Yet today that security would be tested by beings who were more than mere men.

In the dark a Transhuman being was jogging up the hillside, unperturbed by the dim gloom all around. He was clad in scout armour and gripping a Fractal edged short-sword in one hand. It was Brother Jediah and he was advancing rapidly, alert for threats. Jediah felt odd to be back in Scout armour, he had grown accustomed to the power and protection afforded by his trustworthy Mark VII plate. Still the mission called for stealth over raw power and so he had been equipped the lighter armour before inserting planet-side with the rest of the squad.

Jediah glanced behind him seeing a knot of Scout-novices following in his wake. Therro, Fiett and Varma, all gripping their weapons tightly and moving in short dashes, covering each other's backs. They moved silently and with disciplined professionalism, a perfect display of Codex formations. Only another Transhuman would have noted the way their eyes avoided each other's, signs of discord and recriminations over the fate of their missing squadmate. Clearly they had not all been pleased with his new assignment, some lamenting his removal from the squad, other trying to forget that the Psyker even existed.

Jediah's lip curled in contempt, what was done was done. The fate of Arvael was out of their hands, the lad was forever removed from their lives. To waste time on regret or resentment was a waste of time and energy, a weakness of spirit that deserved only his scorn. If these novices wished to ascend then they would have to learn the strength to take what the Emperor set before them and move on with their lives.

Jediah's eye moved on and found the last member of their party, Scout-Sergeant Nimodes. He was bringing up the rear and he had a large cylinder strapped to his back. It was the essential Teleport beacon, the whole point of this mission. Jediah knew that Nimodes also fretted about the fate of the missing scout, he was far too attached to the youths he trained. Yet the veteran had the fortitude and experience to carry on as if all was well, a strength of character that Jediah could respect.

The Scout party had descended half-way from orbit in a Stormraven, then been forced to drop the rest of the way by Grav-chute. Their body's being too small to trigger the local's auspex network. Once they were planetside it had been a simple matter to slip past the perimeter guards, their mortal eyes proving to be barely any use in the dark of night. Then they had carefully ascended, avoiding gun posts and alarmed trip wires, patrols and deadfalls with ease. Several cunningly concealed minefields had proved more problematic however, their presence obvious from the way the patrol's tracks veered suddenly away. The scouts had been forced to detour around them, costing precious time. But now they had at last reached their goal.

Ahead of Jediah there was the sound of rushing water and he carefully peered through the darkness to see a waterfall cascading down a vertical face to a pool at the bottom, before gurgling away in a wide stream. The water was coming out of a large outflow pipe situated some fifty feet above, sitting out in the open.

Jediah's stolen memories drifted up, bringing him the knowledge that the mountain base drew its water from an underground aquifer. Completely sealed off from outside interference, but it left the base via this pipe. It was an obvious way into the mountain which was why it was situated fifty feet up and the rock face was lined with razor shards and curved protuberances to prevent anyone scaling it. Even higher above was a gun post, situated right at the top of the rockface to stop anyone rappelling down. The locals clearly thought that this was sufficient to stop enemies and against any mortal foe they would have been right. Yet to a Space Marine there was an obvious flaw in their thinking.

Silently Jediah led the party forward, using sign language to tell them to prepare for the ascent. Noiselessly they complied, stowing weapons and drawing grappling claws which they fitted to their wrists. Jediah checked their readiness then gave Nimodes a begrudging nod, to indicate that the novices were at least competent.

Without a sound Jediah began a breathing exercise, one that stimulated his implanted Multi-lung into wakefulness. Responding to the rhythm the implant expanded, taking over his respiratory functions and closing off his trachea to isolate his normal lungs. The artificial organ was designed to boost and protect an Astartes' respiratory functions, but its hyper-efficient toxin dispersal effect also meant that it could draw oxygen from otherwise lethal environments, such as underwater.

Confidently Jediah stepped forwards into the waterfall itself, feeling the weight of the water hammer down on his head as he did so. The pressure was intense and visibility was reduced to an inch but he had warred across nightmarish hell-worlds and this was barely a light breeze to him. Jediah found the wet rock face before him and sank his grappling claws into the stone, then his muscles tensed and he hauled himself upwards. The water resisted him, hammering down on his head in an attempt to throw him off the wall but he ignored such mediocre difficulties and pulled himself up, hand over hand. The power contained within his enhanced muscles rendered the natural barrier null and void and where a mortal would have been swept away, Jediah was untroubled.

The noise was remarkable and visibility was practically non-existent so Jediah's world shrank around him, closing into a tiny private bubble. As he mechanically rose he had a moment to think and he was not happy. The entrance to the mountain should prove no challenge but the real obstacle set before them was time. They had lost considerable time avoiding the minefields below and as a result were behind schedule.

The attacks on the other bunkers would begin at dawn's first light and that time was almost upon them. The Scouts were supposed to be in position before that occurred but they were still a long way from the centre of the base. It would do them no good to activate the beacon on the periphery of the base and have to fight their way in, they had to cripple this place before the locals had a chance to send a launch signal.

Jediah snarled as he climbed, knowing that they were out of options, all they could do was hurry. Furiously he pulled himself up, hammering his hands into the rock, one after the other as he ascended. The climb seemed to take forever but just as Jediah was convinced that they were too late his hand broke free of the rushing water and he found himself rising into the mouth of the pipe. The water tried to push him off but he refused to yield and hauled himself into the pipe, finding a dark tunnel stretching out before him. He crawled forward and waited as the others arose, Therro, Fiett, Nimodes and last of all Varma, who was wheezing with exertion. Jediah snorted in contempt for such weakness and led them on without a word, drawing his weapons.

Silently the squad followed, making their way into the heart of the mountain. They splashed along in the knee height water, alert and ready for traps. Hastily they progressed, hearing nothing but water all around but knowing that they were now in the heart of their enemy's lair. Jediah's confidence was soaring and he was just about to congratulate himself on their flawless entry when the noise of a footfall echoed down the tunnel.

Instantly he held up a fist and the whole squad froze, peering ahead for a sign. From the distance a faint flicker sparked and then became a steady light, Illuminating a small catwalk. It stood a foot clear of the water and upon it were a pair of guards in blue uniforms. Jediah tensed, ready for combat but there was no incoming volley of shots. Instead he heard a bark of laughter as one guard made a comment and the other responded. Then Jediah realised that this was just a routine patrol and that the scouts had not been detected.

Varma's bolter came up but was halted by Nimodes' fist, firmly pushing it back downwards. Silently he nodded to Jediah, who understood that this had to be dealt with quietly. Like a snake Jediah sank into the water, progressing along with his head submerged. Effortlessly he sneaked up on the pair of guard, just one more shadow in the dark and he surfaced at the edge of the catwalk, right under their boots.

The guards didn't seem to notice a thing and Jediah grinned as he raised his blade in preparation to strike. That grin faded however when he heard the distinct sound of a zip being lowered and man's voice sigh as a trickling sound splashed right before him. Jediah's nose wrinkled as a familiar scent arose and he realised in dsigust that the guard was taking a piss, one inch from his face. Jediah had fought in space and burning battlefields, he had killed mighty warriors and helpless weaklings without remorse. He had done all this for the sake of an Emperor who didn't even know his name, but this was absolutely mortifying, it was utterly humiliating. Jediah was planning on killing the guards anyway but now they just really had to die.

Jediah bunched his muscles and then in one bound he leapt up from the tunnel, emerging from the water like a leviathan from the depths. The first guard died with his zip undone as Jediah's blade decapitated him before he could blink. The other guard spun about in surprise, his face forming a comical 'O' of horror but Jediah didn't give him a chance to scream. the Astartes' other fist leapt forwards and hit the man straight on, caving in the face and crushing the skull behind.

Jediah shook bits of bone off his hand and he heard the others approaching, passing him by one by one. Nimodes gave him a wink as he passed, letting him know that the veteran had seen everything. Jediah sighed, he was never going to live this down.

With a shake of his head he followed the Scouts into the dark; the base was wide open and vulnerable. It was time to finish this once and for all.