EDITORIAL NOTE

Once more into the breach, as they say, for both Cain and his now remarkably large number of readers. Some day, I may get around to publishing every single part of the Cain archive to appease your apparently insatiable appetites, assuming that an excitingly grisly fate fails to befall me during my service as a member of Ordo Xenos. Until then, however, rest assured that there remains a large amount of chiCainery to cover - my apologies, that was truly dreadful.

This particular extract is again a shorter one, though for different reasons. This takes place during the Krize campaign, which gained a certain notoriety among Inquisitors across the galaxy as a result of the events depicted therein. I must admit, Cain's take on the affair is an interesting one, and certainly provides a useful alternate look at the events outside the inevitable dog-eared populist histories (and occasional religion) that seem to follow Cain as doggedly as his aide. However, I would feel like one of the historians I'm given to belittling if I failed to note here that Cain is traditionally approximately as trustworthy as a schizophrenic rogue trader (and I fervently pray to the Emperor that no such being exists), and that taking everything that a fraudster like him says at face value even in what he claims are his absolutely candid and all-revealing memoirs is the sort of thing our job description emphatically says is A Very Bad Idea.

The reason this particular piece is relatively concise is that I've taken the liberty of removing about eighty percent of it. I feel this is justified. When I publish these little extracts, I'm always making sure that I find the most exciting or illuminating parts of the sprawling archive that can reasonably be identified, but, while this one matched the latter category, it had considerable trouble with the former. It was an entirely unexciting and unusually dull campaign, devoid almost completely of the usual mix of quirky characters, wacky antics and self-important rambling that my readers seem to find so endearing, for reasons entirely beyond me, and actually began to resemble a coherent, straightforward mission. As you might well know, Krize was undergoing what seemed to be a mid-sized Chaos incursion from the followers of Khorne, and the 597th had been deployed among six other regiments from various worlds to deal with the threat. Truth be told, it was barely a threat at all during the vast majority of the campaign, with the true danger only manifesting at its conclusion.

We join Cain here just as things yet again take a sharp turn for the worse for him, as you (and he) might expect; again, I present it as it was written, uninterrupted by chapters or extraneous extracts, although since this isn't a complete account I have taken the liberty of explaining several points in more detail with the magic of footnotes.

- Inquisitor Amberley Vail, Ordo Xenos


"Blood for the Blood-"

"X for the Y!" I replied, my supply of witty comebacks having dried up several days earlier, and dropped the onrushing cultist with a single headshot. A little showy, I must admit, but without that flair for the dramatic my career would doubtless have been a great deal less illustrious (and, come to think of it, much less insanely dangerous). Besides, if you don't have a comeback to hand, you really need to do something special if you want to look good, which seems to have become the basis for my entire life.

"Nice shot, sir," Sergeant Huster said cheerfully, and cut down a couple more of them with a few well-aimed bolts. Their torsos blossomed outwards in a pretty flower of gore that painted the walls a glistening red, and two pairs of legs collapsed to the floor.

There was a sudden lack of noise as all fire ceased. The barrels of the lasguns steamed gently as they began to cool.

"Is that all of them?" I asked, deeply suspicious. There wasn't really any reason to be, what with the dramatically poorly-organised forces of Khorne being approximately as capable of something as intellectual as tactics as they were of cooking a twelve-course meal for the governor, but a lifetime of people trying like hell to kill me has a habit of engendering a powerful sense of paranoia within me, one that has doubtless saved my arse more times than I care to recall.

"Must have been," Huster said nonchalantly, lowering his bolter. The rest of the squad followed suit immediately. I'd been right to choose them to latch onto for the last push, I decided; they'd won the prize for extra rations four weeks running as a result of their near-terrifying efficiency, and I considered myself to have ensured my safety rather well by joining them (although later events would very obviously demonstrate that this was distressingly inaccurate).

"Good work, everyone," I said, turning back to the troopers behind me. I got nine snappy salutes in response, and a belated tenth from Jurgen, although I wasn't entirely sure if it was actually a salute or just him wiping his brow. It's usually best not to press the issue.

"That's ten houses [1]," I continued, lying through my teeth. This was only the eighth, but I doubted that the troopers had either been counting or would particularly want to disagree with a Commissar. "Make sure there's nobody hiding upstairs, and then take five."

1. At this point, Cain and the 597th are advancing on the Chaos stronghold of Danys, a small town of about ten thousand almost entirely held by the cultists, along with the Meltlichan 99th and the Tanteb 277th. Since the cultists were so great in number, the plan was to have the regiments, divided into single squads, investigate and clear out each and every building in the town. Commissar-General Skate, who was overseeing the operation, characteristically insisted on this tactic rather than simply wiping the town from orbit. Cain was forced to go along with it by his own reputation, apparently unable to come up with a reason compatible with the Hero of the Imperium persona he'd so carefully developed.

"Yessir."

Huster disappeared upstairs, followed by five of the troopers. I sank back into an armchair in the corner that was miraculously free of blood splatters, and put my feet up on a table.

I think that was the specific point where it all started to fall apart. I have this nasty feeling that some malevolent entity shaping my life noticed me, reclining there in a comfy chair with my feet up and nobody trying to kill me, and narrowed its eyes. I should have known. It is never, ever, ever easy. There's always something, a surprise attack, a particularly large enemy, a mysterious heretic plot (most likely involving tunnels somehow). What there never is [2] is a campaign where I have anything even approaching an easy time of it.

2. Cain is exaggerating here, obviously. There are a great many minor, decidedly non-perilous campaigns recorded in the Cain Archive, but never in great detail. Still, they remain outnumbered by his more exciting escapades, which makes one wonder if the man truly was cursed.

It began, as things so often do, with a scream. A good one, too; throaty, powerful, layered yet also raw. I've heard a lot of them in my time, more than anyone should ever have to. I never knew this trooper's name, never saw his face and never spoke to him, not so far as I know. That scream is all I remember of him, and I'm most likely the only one who recalls even that. One among trillions.

It cut through the general susurrus of information coming through my combead like a chainsword through butyrum, making me jump and chilling me right to the core. There was a second's silence before another, longer scream came through, and suddenly the entire channel seemed to erupt in unintelligible noise. I listened, aghast, for what must have been a few seconds but seemed like minutes, before there was finally silence.

I swallowed.

"Kasteen?" I voxed, getting a few odd looks from the troopers left here who must have seen my reaction. "What was that?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, Commissar," she replied, her voice terse and harried. "I'm trying to find out now - what? The In... you're sure?"

"What's this?" I asked, and my heart sank as that familiar dread rose in me. My palms, which had remained blessedly untouched for the last four weeks, began to itch.

"One minute-"

"Colonel! What's going on?"

"We're seeing a new ship entering the atmosphere, headed this way. It's broadcasting Inquistion flight codes."

"What in the Warp are they doing here?"

I didn't really want to know. Whenever an Inquisitor turns up in my life, they tend to bring nothing but trouble and eldritch abominations, frequently at the same time. [3]

3. I'm afraid that I must concede this point to Cain.

"Not a clue, Ciaphas, but I'll try to find out. Before that, we've located the lost squad: it was Berr's, checking Pils Tower. How close are you?"

I glanced out of the dirty window behind me, and saw that we were far too close to the vast tombstone that cast a shadow over much of the town for my liking. I felt the eyes of all the troopers swivel towards me even as Huster and his men clattered back down the stairs.

"No more than a klom or two [4]," I admitted.

4. A Valhallan abbreviation for 'kilometre'.

"Great! Get over there with your squad and find out what's going on, would you?"

"Finally, some proper action!" I said, projecting every iota of confidence I could muster into it. It wasn't a lot, but it seemed to do the trick."

"Good luck. I'll check out this Inquisition ship. I have a feeling things are about to go to the Warp."

"Not literally, I hope," I said, and cut the transmission. Eleven pairs of eyes watched me intently.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Sergeant Berr's squad seems to have been wiped out at Pils Tower. We have to assume it's something big. They're experienced soldiers. They wouldn't be taken down by this rabble, not that quickly. We need to move in there and find out what killed them, then kill it ourselves. Any questions?"

Jurgen raised a hand.

"Yes?"

"Is that supposed to be there?" he said, pointing to the window behind me.

I turned just in time to see a vast black shape rocketing towards us out of the sky like some vast predatory bird.

"Emperor's bowels!"

The ship howled overhead no more than a hundred metres above us, making a noise like a planet imploding. The window smashed from the sheer force of the air, splashing glass shards through the air in a shining spray, and I ducked instinctively as the floorboards shook. On the mantelpiece, a large mechanical clock rocked forwards and smashed on the floor.

"Kasteen! You've got some explaining to do!" I voxed, dusting my coat off.

"With you in one minute, Commissar!"

"But the damn thing-"

"Really not a good time!"

"Damn it," I muttered, drawing my laspistol. This was looking worse and worse. What sort of mad pilot would fly a ship like that?

An Inquisition one, of course, my inner Cain reminded me. They can do whatever they feel like and nobody can stop them. [5]

5. Not true. There are definitely at least a few people who can stop us, although they're mostly other Inquisitors. Besides, wanting to stop an Inquisitor? That's extra-heretical.

"Let's move," I said, motioning towards the door, and strode out first. It may seem like an unusually bold move for me, but I planned to take up a position squarely in the middle of the troops as soon as I could.

We came out blinking into the bright sunlight, and that wave of heat washed over me again. It was bad enough in my greatcoat, but the troopers all looked like they were about to faint. Valhallans sweat buckets when faced with the horrors of room temperature, and the powerful sun had actually caused numerous cases of heat stroke among them. I kept hearing them mutter among themselves about why the Krizians would build a city in such a hellishly hot location when there were some perfectly good icefields at the poles.

The vast, three hundred-metre slab that was Pils Tower [6] loomed horribly in front of us, its curved top punching above the flat rooftops of the low white buildings that characterised the planet's architecture like the massive fingernail of some impossibly huge giant beneath the crust of the world. It was completely at odds with the rest of the settlement and consequently the only notable thing about it (aside from all the cultists, naturally).

6. Cain gives a description of the tower's history imparted to him by a local PDF officer earlier in the narrative, one almost as inaccurate as it is vague. My own research indicates that it was constructed by a megalomaniacal rogue trader, Rutaho Danys (who probably not so much gave his name to the town as violently forced it onto the unfortunate locals), as his base of operations some two hundred years before Cain's subsequent arrival.

We set off at a brisk jog, staying under the shaded overhang to provide cover from possible cultists lurking by windows, ready to take a few potshots at us. I could have gone faster, but chose not to for two reasons: 1) the troopers probably couldn't have in this heat with all their armour, and 2) because I like to think that I have some sense left in this scarred skull of mine. Danger and I get on like a house on fire: one envelops the other and has a nasty habit of causing it to collapse, although I do substitute the sound of crumbling masonry with that of my terrified gibbering.

I was never particularly good with metaphors. [7]

7. This is in fact a simile, which only reinforces Cain's point. However, we can all be grateful that his writing style, while no rival for works such as Waaagh! And Peace, is at least superior to the so-called works of Jenit Sulla.

The Inquisition ship that had so rudely skimmed inches over our heads had disappeared off towards the east, but as we progressed down the empty stone street I caught sight of it coming back over towards the town at a much more sedate pace. In a way, that was worse. It looked horribly like it was searching for something, or someone. Experience tells me that this someone is, nine times out of ten, yours truly, and I say that not with pride or boastfulness but with accuracy and terror.

My combead buzzed. My palms itched.

"Commissar?"

"Yes, Colonel?" I said cautiously.

"Uh... the Inquisitor is asking for you."

"Asking for - WHAT?"

I suddenly stopped in my tracks, the troops piling up around me, and glared at the black crescent moving overhead. At the time, I was desperately wracking my brains to see whether I'd done anything that would attract the attention of the Inquisition. Had they finally caught up to my years of lies?

"This had frakking better be you, Amberley [8]," I muttered to myself, shielding my eyes against the glaring sun.

8. Would that this had been the case. Rather touching, though, don't you think?

"He's sending an aircar. I gave him your location," Kasteen said, her voice a venomous cocktail of apprehension and incredulity, which are coincidentally two of the major emotions that have dominated my life as Hero of the Imperium. Three guesses for the other one.

"Thanks, Kasteen. I think."

I'm not entirely sure my voice didn't tremble a little as the transmission ended. Certainly, the troops looked almost as worried as I felt, so they'd probably at least sensed it. After all, to them I was an almost godlike figure, something that seems extremely depressing to me after a few glasses of amasec, and if I was visibly worried they should damn well be shaking in their boots. I'm not given to boasting much, but I will say that I'm rather good at maintaining that facade.

"What was that, sir?" Huster asked, with surprising timidity.

"That, Sergeant," I said heavily, staring apprehensively up into the sky. The dark curve of the Inquisition ship was now motionless above us.

With a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, I noticed that a ring of wispy clouds was beginning to form over the town.

"Sir, look!"

One of the troopers was pointing at something in the skies. I think it was Verret, but I'm not certain.

"Ah, the good Inquisitor," I muttered, shading my eyes. There was a small black dot being disgorged from the belly of the ship, looking like a fly at that distance. It fell about fifty metres before its engines kicked in with a flash that was bright even at this distance, and I realised it was some form of aircar I'd never seen before as it turned towards us and blasted forward. It was far larger than most, looking increasingly like a simple black box with engines on the back. It could have held a Baneblade in there.

Suddenly, the distinctive crack of las fire popped in the air, and sizzling bolts crashed around our feet. Huster took a hit directly to the chest, but his armour shrugged it aside in a shower of sparks.

"Cover!" he roared, and fell back into the narrow gap between two houses. I followed suit, firing a few random shots at the house the shots had come from as I retreated to an unoccupied alley. A short burst of heat on the nape of my neck and a muted thunderclap behind me told me Jurgen had fired his melta, and the sound of and explosion and crashing bricks followed shortly afterwards.

"Well done," I said absently, as he appeared next to me. "Did you get all of them?"

As if in answer, a shot chipped a smoking crater into the wall a foot above Jurgen's head.

"I don't think so, sir," he said, totally deadpan.

"Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way," I said, and leaned out to line up a shot. As I did so, the house exploded, swiftly followed by the two next to it.

I blinked.

Where the buildings had stood was now a flaming pile of rubble, a plume of thick black smoke already worming its way up into the shimmering air.

Jurgen was staring at something just above my head, and I stepped back to have a look. About four inches above where my hat had stopped, a viciously sharp shard of metal was embedded in the wall, steaming gently.

I regarded it with interest. My head felt uncannily like it was stuffed with lana.

Someone seemed to be whispering in my ear, but when I turned around Jurgen seemed to be speaking normally. I tried to reply, only to find that I could barely hear my own voice after the enormity of the explosion doing a number on my poor, battered eardrums. They end up needing to be replaced around twice a decade, the human ear not having been designed to cope with such a distressing amount of nearby explosions.

The ringing steadily subsided, and I was able to make out what he saying, more or less. It seemed to be a warning about the aircar.

Still half-dazed, I wandered out into the street, where the vehicle had apparently landed in the last minute without me noticing, crushing the street-facing sides of six houses in doing so. It was a black metal box, just as I'd thought, about as aerodynamic as Jurgen. A design was painted on the side, what looked like a stylised depiction of a daemon, all teeth and claws and glaring eyes, in the middle of a red circle with a diagonal line slashed across what passed for its chest. On the nose of the ship was a huge bolter cannon, a solid three metres in length and its barrel twenty centimetres wide. It was glowing red-hot, presumably having just been fired to destroy the house.

A door on the side, near-completely camouflaged against the sable hull of the ship, hissed open to reveal an extraordinary figure. For a moment, my slightly fuzzy vision interpreted what it saw as a black cone on legs, before suddenly something clicked and everything slipped back into a semblance of normality. It was a man, his skin pale and his long black hair tied back into a ponytail behind a face as gaunt as it was handsome. His eyes were obscured by a round pair of tinted glasses that glinted ominously in the sun, while his clothing could be best described as 'dark'. My own longcoat with all its elaborate trappings made his look extremely plain, a simple black tergum affair that went down from neck to calf over an equally black shirt and trousers. I'm not positive after so many years, but I think they were both leather too, as were his boots.

He opened his mouth and grinned far too widely, teeth shining like diamonds in the bright light. The troopers cautiously emerged from their cover, all present and correct (aside from Jurgen, who was merely present), and fixed him with a uniform suspicious glare. Quite right, too. If there's anything you should be suspicious of more than an Inquisitor with an interest in someone within a few metres of you, it's an Inquisitor with an interest in someone within a few metres of you who's just blown up a mid-sized building. Of course, there are a great many things to be even more suspicious of, such as an Inquisitor who's just blown up something larger (like a planet, which I once saw happen [9]), but this was nonetheless a man who attracted suspicion like Jurgen attracted flies.

9. Part of Cain's short association with Wolfgang Vice, the planet in question being Arkus III. The details, for now, are unimportant; suffice it to say that the two did not get along well.

"That was a nice one, yes?" he said conversationally, gesturing vaguely at the burning wreckage.

"Eh?" I quipped snappily, still trying to make sense of what was going on.

"The explosion, Commissar! A wonderful one, yes? Did you see the lines on it? I almost cried, I can tell you."

I raised an eyebrow, or at least attempted to.

"I'm sorry, you are-"

"But of course! My apologies, Commissar, I tend to forget myself, yes?"

His smile had somehow tightened another notch, looking increasingly like someone had stretched a sheet over a skull and stuck a pair of sunglasses on it. The effect was mesmerisingly terrifying.

"I am," he said, and struck a dramatic pose that would have been comical if not for the vague sense of creepiness he exuded, "Volcano Drake."

"Volcano Drake?" I said cautiously. What sort of name was Volcano Drake? It was just two nouns put together. What sort of parents with the last name 'Drake' have a son and think 'We'll call him Volcano!'? [10] Even now, I don't know if that was his real name, but as someone called 'Ciaphas Cain' I can tell you there are definitely parents that ambitious out there.

10. Inferno Drake and Caeda Drake, to be excise (as Drake himself might say). It's worth noting that neither had to change their surname on getting married; perhaps their identical moniker was merely a coincidence. Or, perhaps, not.

"The very same. Inquisitor Volcano Drake of Ordo Malleus, to be excise, yes?" he said, flashing something he'd produced from and returned to some deep pocket inside that coat in front of me faster than I could see. Most likely an Inquisitorial seal, but somehow I didn't have any doubts that this was the promised Inquisitor. A daemonhunter, as well. The implications of that were inordinately troubling. Daemonhunters hunted daemons, and I fully supported them in their noble cause as long as they did it on a different planet. Preferably in a different segmentum. But he was here, and I was standing just a few metres away from him, which by logical extension meant that I was probably far too close to a daemon at that moment. I was, of course, entirely correct, and my knees were trying very hard to knock.

"Excise?" I said weakly, glancing at the sky again. Those clouds had thickened visibly since the last time I'd looked, and were moving from a wispy white to a baleful, malevolent grey.

"So!" he said, ignoring me with a disdain that must have taken years of practice to perfect, "would you care to join me?"

"Join-"

"There's work to be done, Cain, yes? Work with which I believe you're exactly the man I want to lend a hand, so to speak. Hop on!"

He stepped aside, and gestured towards the open door.

"Sir, I've got a bad feeling about him," Huster subvoxed to me.

"Duly noted," I returned, "but I'm not about to argue with a daemonhunter."

"Go on without me," I said loudly, turning to the waiting squad and covering my surreptitious exchange with Huster nicely. "Head to Pils Tower and investigate. The Inquisitor and I have some business to take care of." I only just managed to evade appending the word 'apparently' to the end of that sentence.

"Yessir!" Huster said, and saluted with an audible crack.

I turned on my heel and walked towards the grinning Drake with a sense of foreboding so strong that I was a hair's breadth from running like frak, reputation be damned. Jurgen slouched after me, apparently feeling nothing more than mild interest.

"What is... that?" Drake said, his smile dampening to a level that at least looked physically possible to attain.

"He," I said, emphasising the pronoun subtly, "is my aide, Gunner First Class Ferik Jurgen, and he accompanies me."

"Is that an order?" he said pleasantly. I suddenly had the distinct feeling that I'd accidentally wandered onto very thin ice in boots made of promethium.

"An order? No, sir! Merely one of my little, uh, preferences!" I said cheerfully, trying like hell to laugh it off and failing miserably.

"Hm."

Most people use multiple 'M's in that word. Drake didn't.

"Very well."

Suddenly he was all oversized smiles again.

"I must say, Cain, I thought you were a lone wolf! A silent hunter, striking against the foes of the Emperor alone in the black night, yes?"

"Well, you know how these things are..." I said, going for the answer that could usually be relied on to evade any awkward, unwanted or plain nonsensical queries.

"Hm," he said again, and I walked past him into the ship with a shiver. I've faced some of the worst the galaxy has to offer and somehow come away mostly intact, but there was just something about him that was, in a way, worse than any of them. It's difficult to articulate, but a lot of it stemmed from the feeling I had that the man was several brain-damaged Neanderthals short of a scrumball team and also a member of an organisation that had the power to kill me in a number of exciting ways without even having to do the paperwork. How people like this become Inquisitors is an aspect of the Emperor's will even more ineffable than usual, but I'd wager there's something about severe psychosis that's conducive to being an efficient Inquistor.

The ship was, as far as I could tell, divided into two sections. To my right was the small cockpit on the front, from here all flashing consoles and one helmeted pilot, unsurprisingly clad in black. Must have been Drake's favourite colour.

In the other section, I'd expected to find a few Grey Knights there, and was in fact relying on their presence as the only thing that would keep me alive against whatever daemon Drake was after. Imagine, then, how I felt when I discovered they were nowhere to be seen.

"Inquisitor?" I said quietly, looking back. To my silent horror, I saw the door had already silently slid closed, leaving only the harsh white light from the tubes on the ceiling to illuminate the room. Any hopes I'd had of making a break for it or finding an excuse to duck out were well and truly sunk now.

"Call me Drake, yes?" came that voice again, far too close to my ear for my liking.

"Uh... Drake," I said, thrown off-balance for what seemed like the dozenth time in the last few minutes, "where-"

"Did I say you could call me Drake?" he hissed, and it was the hiss of a serpent about to do horrible things to your jugular.

I desperately considered my options. I could try honesty, but I'm not very good at that, and I had a feeling it would result in Unpleasantness with a capital U. I could try passing it off as a mistake and grovelling for forgiveness, but I sensed this might not go down well either.

"My apologies, Inquisitor," I said smoothly.

He looked at me, eyes thankfully hidden behind the black lenses, and I felt the tension start to crackle in the air like lightning. I don't know what would have happened next if Jurgen hadn't walked between us right at that instant, most likely saving my hide again. Every now and again, when I look back through my memories and see Jurgen always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, seemingly through chance alone, I wonder if there's something deeper going on in that hairy skull of his. I suppose I'll never know now.

"Hm," he said at last, and his unnervingly thin mouth returned to its unnervingly wide grin from its unnervingly serious frown. If it sounds like I was unnerved, it's probably because I was.

"Uh, Inquisitor," I said, trying to inject as much respect and awe as possible into my tone in a display of sycophancy so sickening that I instantly felt dirty, "what exactly are we-"

"Ah!" he said, lighting up like the barrel of a lasgun pointed at your face. "You wish to know our foe, yes? The enemy! He who would destroy us and he who we shall send howling unto the depths of the Warp!"

"That's the one," I said cheerfully. Jurgen's singular odour had begun to suffuse delicately throughout the enclosed, sterile space of the ship, and its familiar pungence was actually somewhat comforting in the face of madness. For a moment, I caught myself wondering what lay behind those impenetrable spectacles, and forced my mind away. I didn't want to know.

"We battle a daemon most foul, Cain," he said. "A monstrosity! An abomination unto the Emperor, yes?"

"Naturally," I murmured.

"Atop yonder tower," he said, pointing dramatically, "the heretics chant their dark spells and weave a curse that wouldst threaten this very world!"

"Wouldst that it were not so," I said, unable to repress my natural sarcasm reflex. I looked at where he was pointing and did a few mental calculations, coming to the conclusion that he was pointing at Pils Tower through the ship's hull with remarkable spatial awareness.

"Indeed!"

"Forgive me for asking, Inquisitor, but, um, why do you need me? Surely simply destroying the tower would be a better way of dealing with the threat?" I said, aware that this was a man to whom common sense was little more than a suggestion.

"Cain, I'm surprised at you, yes? It's about the glory! The fight! The combat! To defeat your enemy without facing it man-to-man-"

"Man-to-daemon," I said, transfixed by what I was hearing. This wasn't how Inquisitors were supposed to do their job, was it? [11]

11. The Ordo Malleus is notorious (at least among Inquisitors of Ordo Xenos and Ordo Hereticus) for its tendency to produce, shall we say, eclectic daemonhunters. I'm sure a great many of them are upstanding, pragmatic and above all sensible individuals, but the fact remains that the system permits obviously insane men like Drake to come to prominence nevertheless. Of course, their type tends to die off fairly quickly, so it all evens out in the end.

"-is the way of the coward!" he spat, and he really did spit. I felt several flecks of saliva splash onto my face, but out of the politeness afforded by terror I managed to stop myself from wiping them away.

"But, but, but," I said desperately, wondering if I'd wandered out of the bad dream my life usually seems to be and into an outright nightmare, "even if you're to take on a daemon in single combat, would it not be advisable to have some Grey Knights on hand to-"

"Grey Knights!" he roared, smile morphing into a grimace of hatred. I mentally recoiled. "They're nothing but a pack of ham-fisted layabouts, yes? They hurt me more than they help!"

"Oh," I said, which was a pretty accurate summary of my mental state at the time.

"I'm a lone wolf, Cain! A silent hunter, striking against the foes of the Emperor alone in the black night, yes?"

Word for word what he'd said about me, I noted. I suppose that, with a few contortionist twists of the imagination, it could just about be argued to be true, but I like to think there's about a million light-years between the two of us in the starfield of sanity.

"So why do you need me?" I said, a forlorn hope flaring dimly in the back of my mind that there was a way out of this yet.

"I don't," he said shortly. "But think of the stories! The legends! The sagas! The songs! The ballads, the holodramas, the novels! The legendary Commissar Cain and the even more legendary Inquisitor VOLCANO DRAKE-" the caps had come out again "-locked in epic battle against a daemon of Khorne! The greatest story ever told, yes?"

The hope flickered out, and the dark despair rolled back across my mind. No way out.

"Now, if you'll excuse me," he said, obviously not giving a frak whether I excused him or not, "there's work to be done! Take a seat, yes?"

He vanished into the cockpit, and the black door slid shut behind him. I exhaled deeply, and looked around properly for the first time.

The ship's inside could just as well have been its outer hull turned inside-out. The walls were black metal, as was the ceiling; the floor carried a large painting of the same logo I'd seen splashed on the outside. The room was totally bare aside from a ledge running around the outside that was presumably supposed to be used as a seat, and what seemed to be a drum kit pushed over to one side. I examined it curiously before dismissing it.

Four men with identical short black hair and the exact same clothing as Drake stood to attention on one side, their sunglasses presenting a blank glare to the room.

"Hello?" I ventured, going over to them. There was something about them that didn't look right.

None of them responded, or even moved a muscle. I gently poked one of them in the chest, and got nothing.

"There's no point talking to them," a voice said mournfully, and I turned towards it. On the other side of the room, there were three young-looking men sitting on the ledge. All of them wore some odd blue trousers and dark shirts with elaborate designs and unfamiliar names stencilled on them; two held what looked like some sort of electric guitar, while one was idly hitting his leg with a pair of drumsticks. All of them had hair down to their shoulders: the speaker's blond, the drummer's a patchy ginger and the other one's black and curly. Jurgen had sat next to the dark-haired one, who was showing admirably little reaction to the aggressive smell.

"Why's that, then?" I said, looking at them suspiciously. This was getting more and more surreal by the moment.

"They're his walkers," the blond one said. "Trained from birth to do exactly what they're told. They had their tongues cut out years back."

"Any sort of retinue?" I said, mordbidly fascinated.

He snorted. "Retinue? He's got his walkers and he's got us. That's about it."

"What does a walker do?" I said, glancing back at the eerily static figures.

"Clue's in the name," the black-haired one said sourly.

"That's right," agreed the blond one. "They walk. He keeps them around, and then whenever he fights something he has them do a power walk behind him."

"Power walk?"

"Yeah, you know, coats blowing dramatically in the breeze, synchronised footsteps, general badassitude and then a little backup music from yours truly."

He plucked one of the four strings on the spiky black body of his guitar and it coaxed a loud, ominous rumble from some hidden speakers somewhere. A bass, obviously.

"You're his... his band?" I said, still staring at the walkers.

"That we are," the drummer said, waving a stick in my general direction.

"The VOLCANO DRAKE Band," the bassist said glumly. "Didn't use to be that way. We were Bane, once upon a time. Hottest new band on Argen, twelve million albums sold..."

"World tours, interviews, parties..." the drummer chimed in.

"Girls..." the guitarist said distantly.

"Ah, memories," the bassist said, and seemed to mentally shake himself. "But where are my manners? Commissar Cain, allow me to introduce Ba- The VOLCANO DRAKE Band."

He spat the words.

"I'm Diakonos, this here's Sartorius-" he jerked his head towards the drummer, who nodded amiably at me "-and this is Maius." The guitarist didn't look up, or indeed reply in any way. "And you're the famous Commissar Cain, I take it?"

"That's me," I said faintly, and collapsed onto the bench next to Jurgen.

"He must like you," Diakonos said. "He doesn't usually bring anyone along with him other than us and the Fab Four over there. And Hoban, obviously. The pilot."

"No retinue? Not even a psyker? A savant?" I said. I have to admit, I didn't know much about Inquisitors in general at that point, my experience extending little further than Amberley and Vice [12], so I wasn't too clear then on the nature of retinues inside the organisation.

12. This takes place before Cain's time on Periremunda.

"Savant? Well, Hoban seems like he's pretty on-the-ball," Diakonos said vaguely. "And there's Maius here, of course. He's got an Honoratum in Astrophysics from the Imperium University on Argen."

"Honoratum with distinction," Maius corrected.

"Yeah, yeah. Rub it in our faces, why don't you."

"I didn't even finish school," Sartorius pointed out. Diakonos snorted with laughter.

"True that."

"So he has nothing but his... walkers," I said, automatically lowering my voice as I glanced yet again at the human statues staring blankly at the wall, "and a band?"

"That's about the size of it," Sartorius said cheerfully. "Just us three, rocking out all over the galaxy."

"And being in constant life-threatening danger," Diakonos said.

"And no girls," Maius muttered. I immediately empathised with him.

"You boys don't have a singer, then?" I said jovially, trying to restore the field of confidence I usually project. It was easier than it had been a few seconds before; if a few musicians could survive Drake's company, I could probably bluff my way through one daemon with him.

As soon as I said it, the atmosphere cooled so fast I might as well have just casually commented on how enjoyable I find molesting children.

"Not any more," Diakonos said quietly.

"Poor old Hermes," Sartorius said, leaning back against the wall with a sigh. "He didn't deserve it, you know."

"You displease Drake, and he makes sure you'll never do it again," Diakonos said. He caught my eye and forced a smile. "Quite a funny story, actually-"

"Not really," Maius said.

"-you see, Drake was fighting a demon of... I want to say Nurgle, but I'm not sure-"

"Definitely Nurgle," Sartorius said. "It was chucking up all over the place."

"Anyway, we were there behind him, doing our thing, and then he struck the killing blow and we did the big finish and..."

He broke off, staring at nothing.

"And Hermes hit his note flat," Maius said blandly. "Drake heard. He turned around and blew Hermes' head all over the wall."

"For hitting a wrong note?" I said incredulously.

"Drake's a perfectionist," Diakonos said, his voice bitter as recaf.

"The man's insane!" I almost wailed.

"Well, insanity's a relative term," Maius said thoughtfully. "If you asked him about it, he'd probably claim he's 'super-sane'. And then shoot you."

"Emperor's bowels," I said, sinking back against the wall. "And he wants to work with me!"

"What do you want on your tombstone?" Maius said, with what I bloody well hoped was sarcasm.

"'I told you I was ill'", I said absently. [13]

13. The inscription on Cain's actual tombstone is a simple 'CIAPHAS CAIN: Hero', which, while broadly accurate, fails to capture his character as well as his proposed alternative.

"Commissar," Diakonos said quietly, "you're more reasonable than I could have hoped. If there's a situation where he can be... dealt with without it being too obvious, I'm sure-"

"Cain! Get in here, yes?" Drake shouted from the cockpit. I swallowed and stood up, just as the grox-kick of the engines made a tremor race through the ship and left me to fall flat on my face with a great lack of ceremony. I heard a distinct snigger from the bench as I got up, brushing off my coat, and marched towards the door.

As I reached it, it slid open and I almost walked straight into Drake, who was standing about an inch behind it.

"Ah, Cain! Perfect timing, yes?"

"Uh... yes?" I said, smiling desperately. Did the man have no short-term memory or something?

"Come, take a look at this," he said, sliding past me and pressing a section of wall that looked no different to any other. Part of the ceiling seemed to fold upwards and then back down, revealing what could I only be described as a wall of weapons. I stood there, mouth open, as Drake inspected the gleaming collection.

"Now that," Jurgen said appreciatively, rousing himself from the silence he'd maintained since coming aboard, "is weaponry."

He said the word with the same reverence most people reserve for the Emperor and I reserve for tanna.

It was indeed weaponry, and a lot of it. Most armouries I've seen probably had more in terms of sheer volume, but credits to carrots that this was the most impressive I'd ever clapped eyes on. I'm no aficionado myself, largely favouring my trusty laspistol and chainsword, so you'll forgive me if I'm unable to identify the exact types, but believe you me it was truly magnificent. On its black velvet surface were dozens of carefully shaped indentations filled with every kind of weapon imaginable. Think of a type of weapon and add 'chain-' to the front of it, and it was there, alongside the non-chain version and gleaming as bright as Drake's smile. The guns were all at least twice the size of my laspistol and invariably looked like they'd been designed by a Necron contemplating suicide; smooth grey metal engraved with dozens of odd images of skulls and excitingly brutal murders and punctured by jagged, irregular spikes.

Drake caught my eye and pushed his smile to levels that made my face ache in sympathy for his horribly stretched skin.

"Admiring my equipment, yes?"

"In a manner of speaking," I said carefully. He lifted down a vast sword, a claymore of what looked like pure gold that glinted in the bright light, and held it in front of his face.

"This, Cain," he said, in a tone I can only describe as carrying across the sentiment of 'look at this, it's much better than anything you'll ever own and we both know it', "is Catacomb, the Holy Sword of Rindum Iridius. A weapon blessed by one of the highest-ranking members of the Adeptus Terra, yes? With this I have slain a myriad foes and rent their bodies in twain!"

"Well done, Inquisitor!" I said desperately, surreptitiously edging away from him. He pressed the wall again and the weapons folded away into the ceiling with a quiet hiss.

"You won't be needing that," he said cheerfully, and plucked my laspistol from its holster. "Useless piece of metal, yes?"

I was paralysed with indecision. On the one hand, that laspistol had saved my sorry skin dozens of times over, but on the other hand, fighting without a laspistol only made death extremely likely, whereas disagreeing with him here would make it certain.

"Absolutely!" I said manically, grinning and nodding. On the bench, Maius rolled his eyes.

"So glad you agree," he said, and again I had that feeling that despite the constant grin he was a man to whom humour was about as familiar as sanity.

He turned away and walked towards the blank wall at the back of the ship, tucking the laspistol into his own belt. I was rather miffed at the cheek of it.

"To the inferno we go, Cain," he said, and pressed a hidden button. The entire back of the ship folded up instantly, revealing the top of Pils Tower some ten metres below us. It was a scene of devastation; piles of dead cultists lay in lakes of blood that poured from the sides of the building like a macabre waterfall. Several small fires were burning brightly, and part of the roof had collapsed into the next floor on one side. However, what immediately drew my eye, somewhat unsurprisingly, was the vast Khornate daemon standing in the centre of it.

Its scaly skin was a murky red, the colour of hour-old blood, that stretched across a face like a dragon's. It wore no armour, carried no weapons, but somehow looked more threatening for it; it stood a good eight metres tall, one of the largest I'd seen, massive tree-trunk legs supporting an enormous body. Four powerful arms reached from its sides, ending in vicious claws, and from its back sprouted leathery, emaciated wings that might as well have been nothing but bone for all the airworthiness they looked like they afforded. Behind it swung a mighty tail, fully ten metres in length and capped with a thick ball of spiked bone.

"They've already summoned it," I moaned in horror. "We're too late!"

"Late?" Drake said quietly. "We're right on time, yes?"

The ring of clouds I'd seem forming earlier had solidified into a single, roiling mass of blackness over the building that occasionally flickered with searing flashes of lightning accompanied by an almost constant rumble of thunder.

"This would be a good scene for an album cover," Maius said.

As one, the walkers suddenly jerked into life, and I sprang back in suprise and fear. They marched forwards, boots clanking on the metal flooring in perfect unison, and formed behind Drake in a V formation.

To my continuing horror, the shuttle began to descend towards the roof. Fifty metres away, the daemon caugght sight of us and let loose a thundering roar that shook me to my bones.

"Skulls for the Skull Throne!" it snarled, somehow capable of comprehensible speech despite the lizard's snout it wore. I stepped back and bumped into the reassuring block of Jurgen, who'd moved behind me without me noticing.

"Big daemon," he said, as if making an observation about the weather.

The shuttle touched down, and Maius's guitar screeched loudly enough to shatter kidney stones. The band launched into a slow, pounding, brain-shatteringly loud number, distorted to the Warp and back, and Drake walked out with his walkers trailing behind him like a cloak. As much as the man terrified me, I had to admit that the effect was spectacular. It was like watching something in slow motion, time seeming to slow to a crawl as they strode across the roof towards the daemon.

"Hello, beastie!" Drake shouted, the wind flicking his ponytail back impressively.

I looked on, fascinated despite myself.

The daemon spat a torrent of vivid orange flame into the sky, and charged bodily at the approaching men. Its footfalls shook the roof and left spidering craters as it ran. Drake raised the enormous sword above his head and sprinted to meet it, his walkers falling slowly behind.

After all the build-up, I'd been expecting something pretty special. I'd expected an epic battle, Drake leaping and rolling all over the place, slashing at the daemon with that ridiculous sword and generally being heroic. After all, this was the man who eschewed ranged weapons, Grey Knights and a retinue, and also claimed to have killed hundreds of daemons in his time. As such, I was rather interested in what he was up to, and was in fact carefully watching for any tricks that might help me survive in similar future situations (assuming I survived to get embroiled in said situations).

What I didn't expect, therefore, was for the daemon to reach down and swallow Drake almost whole.

I blinked.

The sword, still with Drake's forearm attached to the hilt, clattered to the ground. Behind me, the music wavered and died.

"Was that supposed to happen?" I said.

"I'd say 'no'," Diakonos said thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "Isn't that interesting?"

"Interesting? It just ate him!"

"Yeah. You should probably do something about it."

"Oh, thanks a frakking lot!" I snapped, still staring at the gargantuan beast.

The daemon belched its fire again, and the motionless walkers were engulfed in the flames. When they cleared, there was no sign of them, although there was now a large patch of fire where they'd been standing.

The daemon cast its scarlet eyes around, and fixed them squarely on me. I felt my stomach drop several storeys.

"Hoban! Take off!" I shouted towards the cockpit, backing away from the door.

"What about the-"

"Just do it! That's an order!"

The daemon had started to lumber this way, its gait deceptively fast.

"Quickly!"

The ship began to rise, agonisingly slow in its ascent as the engines warmed up. The daemon was barely ten metres away now.

"Frak!"

The daemon turned and swung its tail, smashing the club into the side of the ship and jerking it several metres sideways. I lost my footing again and tumbled to the floor with a volley of choice expletives as the ship bucked beneath us. Sartorius's drum kit collapsed and his bass drum rolled past me and out of the opening as the ship began to spin crazily. I rolled backwards, hands scrabbling desperately on the smooth metal, looking for something to hold onto, and would have slid right out of that opening if it hadn't been for Jurgen suddenly appearing to grab my flailing hand and stop me.

"Hold on, sir!" he said, trying to keep his footing on the tilted floor.

"Sound advice!" Maius called from the other side of the ship, bracing himself against the wall with his guitar.

We probably would have made it if the daemon hadn't chosen that instant to crash its tail against the ship again. This time those spikes punched straight through the armoured hull about two feet above Diakonos's head and sent us all flying again, and Jurgen disappeared over the top of my head as the blow sent him out of the opening and onto the roof five metres below.

This wouldn't have posed a problem in itself had it not been for the fact that he was still holding my arm.

There was a dizzying, whirling blur of grey, black, red and blue as I tumbled towards the ground and landed heavily on top of Jurgen, winding me and breaking several of his ribs with an audible snapping sound.

"Sorry about that, sir," he grunted. "I seem to be in your way."

I rolled off him and onto my back, gazing up at the sky. The ship whirled across it, a good twenty metres up now, and finally seemed to right itself, skimming away from us.

"Oi!" I said, scrambling to my feet and waving a fist at the departing ship. "Get back-"

There are a great many moments in my life I can recall in which there's nothing but the mind-numbing, bowel-juddering certainty that I'm about to die. Of course, none of them ever came to fruition, but I nevertheless felt it keenly at that moment no doubt in part due to the somewhat worrying sensation of hot breath on the nape of my neck.

My failure to have my torso splattered all over the roof like a rotten paia fruit bursting can only be chalked up to the survival instincts I've carefully cultured over the years informing my body that now would be a very good time to be somewhere other than where it was right now. I threw myself flat on the ground before I even knew what I was doing and that monstrous tail whipped inches over my head.

"Emperor's bowels!" I yelped, stumbling back to my feet. Jurgen rolled away with a groan, and the daemon roared again. The roof seemed to shake beneath my boots, but it was probably just me.

I drew my chainsword and felt it rumble into life with a satisfying growl as the daemon bore down on me, its vast scaly foot barely missing the staggering Jurgen as he struggled to bring his melta around.

I backed away as the daemon advanced, holding my chainsword in front of me as if it could help against the ten-ton monster bent on doing distressing things to me. That tail came around again, screaming through the air faster than a lasbolt and I ducked under it, bringing the chainsword up to block it. The sheer force of the blow ripped it from my hands and sent it careering across the roof behind the daemon, still chewing into the ground, and threw me back through the air like a ragdoll, leaving me to bounce several times and come to rest in a bloodied heap twenty metres away.

I forced myself up yet again, weaving unsteadily, and a mechanical howl ripped across the roof as Jurgen fired his melta into the distracted daemon from point-blank range. The creature screamed in rage and pain, the superheated air leaving a black blemish on its skin but apparently doing little else, and brought its tail around at Jurgen's head. He managed to dodge most of it, but one spike caught his trailing melta and ripped it into two smoking hunks of scrap metal, throwing him to the ground. He shouted out in agony as he hit it chest-first, and I winced as I imagined what his ribs were going through.

Luckily for him, and not so luckily for me, the daemon turned its attention back towards me again. I backed away, looking around wildly for something, anything I could use. My laspistol would have been useless if that thing hadn't swallowed it along with Drake, and my chainsword was whirring away on the ground behind it.

A glint of metal caught my eye, and I realised it was Drake's dropped sword, barely ten metres away to my left. The daemon swung its tail again, but this time I was ready and rolled under it, feinting to the right and then dashing to the left. Over ten metres it could easily outpace me, but if I had a headstart-

My fingers closed around the hilt of the sword and I swung it up, staggering under its weight. How in the Warp had Drake managed to wield it so easily? I'd assumed it was made of some light metal, but the damn thing weighed about four times as much as my chainsword.

I hauled it around, tip sparking on the ground, to come almost face to face with the daemon.

"Frak!"

Its mouth opened and its head snaked towards me with deceptive speed. With the strength the adrenalin rush of pure terror tends to bestow, I yanked the blade to the vertical and plunged it into the roof of its mouth. Foul-smelling black fluid spurted from the wound with a sickening gurgle, and the thing reared back, dragging me and the sword with it. I somehow managed to lodge the barbed hilt of the sword in the bottom of the mouth, leaving the blade hanging there, holding its jaw open.

A howl of unadulterated anger tore from the thing's throat, and it thrust its head at me again like a battering ram. I wasn't quick enough to dodge this one, and the oncoming jaw tripped me into its mouth, barely avoiding the sharp, sword-like yellow teeth crammed in there like sardae and leaving me to land unceremoniously on a disgustingly squishy red tongue drenched in saliva. I struggled to free myself from the sticky fluids as the thing began to rear its head back with the intent to tip me down into its stomach, its mother apparently never having told it to chew its food. I flailed around desperately and managed to lock one hand around the blade of the sword, fortunately angled so that I could hang on the flat of the blade without cutting off even more of my fingers, just as everything went vertical.

I was left hanging there inside the thing's mouth by one hand, the cavernous depths of the thing's stinking innards laid out beneath me. Its jaws were still forced apart, allowing me to see a wide slice of daylight filtering into the dank inside of its head.

"Jurgen!" I screamed. "Do something!"

I had nothing in there. I didn't have the strength to haul myself up and out, and I had a nasty feeling that the ominously bending sword wasn't going to stay there forever.

"Sir! Catch!" Jurgen called. I snapped my head to the left just in time to see him snatch my still-buzzing chainsword from the ground and, still wheezing heavily, bring his arm around in a rough circle and hurl the sword towards me from fully twenty metres away.

"Frak!" I commented, trying to swing out of the way. I had no intention whatsoever of trying to catch that speeding bolt of whirring metal, no matter how much danger I was in, and it sped inches past my head. Fortunately, rather than disembowelling me spectacularly, it lodged in the roof of the thing's mouth, chewing a hole in it and making the daemon roar again in pain. A foul torrent of copious spittle and horribly hot air buffeted me as I reached up towards the vibrating hilt with a shaking arm, and I ripped it out with another splash of that black blood pouring past me and into the swollen deep.

I threw the chainsword down its gullet without a word. Normally, I'd have come up with some form of witty quip, perhaps a comment about it being 'chewed by its food', or having a 'sword throat', or even (Emperor help me) 'today's menu: pain', but I was in no mood. Nobody was there to hear it, anyway, and the way stories about my exploits seem to spread would ensure that there'd be a dozen quotes pithier than anything I could think up being attributed to me by awed troopers by breakfast.

The daemon shuddered, suddenly staying stock-still for several strenuous seconds [14] as the chainsword chewed through its insides like cardboard. I could hear its rumble muffled by layers of flesh and a constant ripping, tearing sound. More of that black blood came up its throat and around my dangling boots, which repelled it easily. If enough of it got to my bare skin... well, it didn't bear thinking about.

14. Again, the almighty attraction of alliteration appears to allure Cain into applying... I'll stop now.

The thing let out a heartfelt groan of agony, staggering a couple of unsteady steps before crashing forwards, the earth-shaking impact dislodging me from my handhold and hurling me bodily out of the thing's mouth and onto the roof with a wide, murky splash of daemon bodily fluids.

Once again, I found myself lying on my back and watching the sun. The black fingernail that was the late Inquisitor's ship still hung there noiselessly. I found myself vaguely wondering what would happen to it with Drake dead, and, more importantly, how much paperwork there would be.

"Argh," I managed, getting to my knees as rivulets of saliva ran off the rim of my miraculously intact cap and dripped down in front of my eyes. Jurgen limped towards me, distorted into a grotesque shape by the viscous liquid (out of respect for him, I will refrain from making a crack about this not changing anything), and waved a bloodied hand at me.

"Well done, sir," he said laconically, grabbing one of my hands and pulling me to me feet. A drop of blood quivered on the end of his tufty beard, shimmering in the powerful sunlight, and dropped onto my boot.

"Well done yourself," I said. "That was a spectacular throw."

"Not really, sir," he said, nevertheless looking faintly smug. "I was really trying to get it closer to you."

"Thank the Emperor you didn't," I said vaguely, shaking one cuff of my coat. It was completely ruined, of course. I'd have to requisition a new one, which would no doubt be shinier and more elaborate and more impressive and much less comfortable.

"Sorry about your melta," I said, catching sight of one of the pieces still in his hand. "I know it meant a lot to you."

"Nine years I'd had that gun," he said wistfully.

"And they were good years," I assured him. It was an emotional moment.

"Four daemons," he said, gazing into the distance.

"Two warbosses," I put in.

"And Commissar Halibut [15]," he finished, a faint smile of nostalgia creeping across his face. "That was a good one."

15. Part of Cain's campaign on Pontifex Iudus, in which Cain and Halibut came to blows over Cain's (and, indeed, Jurgen's) understandable misgivings about Halibut trying to execute Jurgen for gross negligence and incompetence. The details are recorded elsewhere in the archive and need not concern us at this time.

"Wasn't much left of him after you were done," I agreed. "I'll get you a new one."

"Thank you, sir," he said sadly, "but it just wouldn't be the same."

Over his shoulder, I caught sight of the ship returning, the black box silhouetted against the shining blue sky.

"A bigger one?"

He grinned.

"Wouldn't go amiss, sir."

"Wonderful."

I looked at the bloodstain growing on his shirt with concern.

"We should probably find you a medic," I said.

"It's just a flesh wound," he replied, raising his voice over the engines of the incoming shuttle. It swept over our heads and put down ten metres away, the hatch on the back still wide open. Diakonos jumped out, his bass still in hand and a broad smile across his face.

"That was brilliant, Commissar!" he said, as Maius and Sartorius followed him. "Magnificent! The way you just... oh, man!"

"Yes," I said absently.

"We'll have to write a song about it!" he said, youthful face glowing with enthusiasm. "No, wait! A full concept album! I can see it now: an epic tale of betrayal and vengeance, as Cain does what Drake couldn't and defeats the Daemon of Krize!"

"And Jurgen," I said. "You have to include Jurgen."

Diakonos's smile flickered for a second before he realised how serious I was and wisely decided not to argue.

"Of course!" he said. "His own song!"

"Two songs," I corrected.

"Two songs!" Diakonos agreed, not skipping a beat. "You can't sing, can you?"

"Not really," I admitted, "but a friend of mine can. Perhaps she'd like to record something [16]."

16. I did in fact contribute to the album, which was titled (with all the subtlety I'd expect from a metal band) 'Bane and Cain: Gimme The Krize'. I wouldn't bother trying to track down a copy, though, for reasons that those who know me well may be able to guess.

"Great!" Diakonos enthused. "This is going to be our biggest record yet! It'll be-"

A sudden squelching sound from the daemon's corpse made us all jump. I whirled around, hand racing to my belt only to find it empty.

A rent appeared on its belly, and the tip of my chainsword appeared. The rest of it soon followed, carving a long gash that gushed the daemon's black blood, and then Drake suddenly rolled out, gasping for breath.

"You again?" I said, fatigue making what I'd intended to be incredulity come across as laconicism. "Didn't you die?"

"Not any more, Cain!" he snarled, leaping to his feet as blood flowed from his clothes in buckets. The chainsword growled ominously in his hand as he raised it.

"That doesn't make any sense," I pointed out mildly.

"Look at his eye," Maius said quietly. I followed his gaze, and saw that the right lens of Drake's sunglasses had been broken and shattered, leaving his eye open for all to see. I wish I hadn't seen it; even now, decades later, that image still haunts me. It burned a hellish, smoky red in its socket, the red of fire and blood and death covering not just the iris but the white as well, and unquenchable hatred seemed to exude from it like a las-beam.

"Corrupted," I said shortly, and grabbed the unprotesting Maius's guitar from his hand as Drake charged, swinging the chainsword wildly.

"Blood for the Blood God, yes?"

I ducked under the first crazed blow and left him staggering past me, then brought up the guitar to my shoulder.

"Hey, Drake?"

He turned just in time to see ten kilograms of spiky guitar coming towards his face as fast as an angry, physically fit Commissar could swing it. Which was quite fast.

"Song's over," I quipped, falling back to the classics. It wasn't completely applicable in the situation, but it's damn hard to think of something both witty and relevant in less than a second. I have a notebook full of them, but I'd somehow neglected the one for 'braining a Chaos-tainted daemonhunter with a guitar'.

He jerked, the chainsword falling from his grasp to skitter across the roof, and a river of red with grey chunks mixed in began to flow from his caved-in skull.

I handed the guitar back to Maius, who held the dripping body at arm's length with a look of distaste on his face.

"And the rest," I said quietly, "is silence."

[Upon which decidedly overdramatic note, the extract concludes.]