"Yes... I know. Tell them I'm on my way."
Jonas placed a fresh cup of recaf in front of the sitting Felicia as he took a place beside her on one of the Nauga couches. The Detective had her hand on her forehead, taking stock.
The newly-uncovered Inquisitor turned back to the group after placing a vox-phone back on its receiver. The red head placed a white gloved finger against her temple as her eyes flickered back and forth across the floor, seemingly at random.
Wolfgang and the other seven bodyguards lined the edge of the room, taking up the same position the handmaidens and serving girls had, all silent, and all waiting for the Inquisitor. Their gear was concealed underneath thick, heavy robes of dark green with silver lining, the emblem of the Estate Imperium on their left breasts in gold. It took a moment for Felicia to see the weapons, lasguns, all on slings and hidden exceptionally well under their arms.
After a moment Mary looked up at the group, each in turn. Her cool blue eyes met the Detective's for a moment; Felicia held it for a moment before the Inquisitor moved on.
"Ok." Mary sighed after a moment. "Seems I can't blow off House Caladan as easily as I thought... frak." She balled up her fists and rested them on her hips. "Ok, I'm going to this party." Her head turn to Wolfgang. "The bravo team will run my security." Makil and three other bodyguards nodded. Mary Lognus turned her head to the others. "Jonas, take Wolfgang, Charon and the Detective, scout out the Eastern Tunnel entrance."
"Ma'am." Jonas nodded quickly with a side glance to Felicia.
"Do not enter past where the Arbites have gone. After this little engagement of mine is over, we'll take a proper look, see if this is just a cell, or it has become something bigger." Mary finished. "Thomas, get my coat."
"You were Inquisition the entire time?" Felicia looked across the hold to Jonas – who had traded his red and black robes, for, red and black carapace armour along with the others save the Tech Priest, who merely donned an oil stained, ragged robe. In their laps were boltguns, all painted gunmetal and black. Beside each of the bodyguards was a carapace helmet, arbite-pattern. Small white lettering covered their right shoulders. '54SR-L' The Fifty-fourth Special Response Team, a Chastener Team by any other name, the hostage rescue, VIP extraction, high-threat situation operators. At a distance, you'd be forgiven for thinking them just another Combat Team, but nothing was further from the truth. Combat Teams were just Patrol Teams taken out of normal patrol duty, Chastener Teams weren't Patrol Teams given extra firepower – they were the heavy firepower of the Adeptus Arbite, dealing with the worse of the worst on a daily basis. They didn't cycle back to patrol duty, they just kept training, preparing and responding when things got too hot for the Combat Teams to handle.
Jonas nodded, he wore the colours of a sergeant, Wolfgang his Proctor. "Yup." He grinned to Felicia.
Felicia sighed, "Ok, next question." She checked the straps of her freshly donned armour. "Where did you get this gear?" Felicia looked down over her armour, issued from the Lucius Precinct Armoury, was the genuine article, but as she looked at the bodyguards and Jonas, she couldn't tell the difference.
Jonas chuckled as he glanced over the team as they rumbled along. "We keep a set handy – never know when you need to infiltrate a precinct, to take down someone and put the blame on someone else."
"Uh huh?" Felicia raised an eyebrow. "And the Rhino?"
Again Jonas grinned. "We just repainted ours, added a few marks and decals, about it."
"Check disguise." Wolfgang hissed to her team. The three others not only began running their hands over their uniforms, checking straps, locks and weapons. But they also began to speak, repeating something like a mantra.
"I am a Chastener, I am an Arbite, enforcer of Imperial law, I am a Chastener, I am an Arbite, enforcer of Imperial law..."
Felicia watched for a moment as they chanted, each talking in unison as they readied themselves. They seemed to just repeat themselves for a good five minutes.
"Noticed yet?" Jonas smirked. Felicia turned to the aide. "Listen again." Felicia looked at the bodyguards, now that it was pointed out to her, something was amiss. Felicia shut her eyes and did as the aide suggested. Something was niggling her, she could hear it, but they sounded natural. Her eyes opened and looked directly at Wolfgang. Instead of the off-world accent, hard and steely in tone, Wolfgang sounded like she'd lived on Tercius for twenty years, and Felicia, a trained and veteran Adeptus Arbites Detective, couldn't tell the difference.
"Sweet Emperor." Felicia sighed. She leant back into her seat, "What have I gotten myself into."
"It's Persona." Jonas remarked as he watched the Detective.
Felicia looked to Jonas with another raised eyebrow.
"It's a technique called Persona – you can disguise anyone with prosthetics and clothes, but if they can't talk their way out of a problem, then all the Inquisitorially Mandated tailors in the Imperium won't help you." Jonas explained. "To infiltrate an organisation, any organisation, you must know how they act, speak, react and interact. To you or me, the Administratum Drones look simple workers, but they'll mark you out quicker than you can blink if you don't use the correct terms, or hell, even if you don't bend the truth the same, they will see you not supposed to be there and any chance of following a lead goes from difficult to impossible." Jonas looked down the hold to the bodyguards. "A good Persona is brought on slowly and surely, rush it, and you'll make mistakes and again they'll mark you out in a heartbeat. You can also never break Persona, not for an instant while on operation – I guarantee you won't get it back to the same standard."
"There's more to being an Arbite then words Jonas." Felicia returned flatly.
Jonas nodded. "Yeah, training, experiences, how you hold a weapon, how you wear your armour, that separates you from a good disguise, to a perfect one, they can't teach that kind of thing in the Schola."
"Combat does." Felicia cut in.
"In that case we have plenty of that." Wolfgang said in her newly acquired accent.
Felicia snorted, "I'm sure you get plenty of chances to fight guarding someone who masquerades as a high-born."
Wolfgang turned to look the Detective head on. "Veteran Sergeant Andreas Wolfgang, One-oh-third Armageddon Steel Legion." She saluted crisply. "Served three tours before getting recruited into Lady Lognus service." Wolfgang sat back in her seat. "We've all seen combat, trust us – we know how to hold a weapon."
"Imperial Guard?" Felicia muttered to herself. She turned her to Jonas. "You too?"
Jonas shook his head. "Not the same way, but an Inquisitor see more down and dirty combat than you'd think – heretic cells don't just pack up and leave you know."
Felicia cocked her head. "Just what are you anyway? An aide? Lover? What?"
Jonas laughed for a moment at the question. He smiled as he looked at the Detective. "The term most used is 'Interrogator', I'm an acolyte – to one day continue on my master's work."
"Not lovers then? Good to know." Felicia replied with a half-grin.
Jonas squinted his eyes at Felicia. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Lord Governor, please. Sit down!" Krael hissed as Macekre raised himself up, his face one of thunder for the fifth time that day. The Provost's voice echoed for a moment within the meeting hall's walls as the two sat alone across from each other, only servitors remained present – the aide and departmental heads being excused while the Arbite Commander-in-chief of Hive Lucius and possibly the most powerful man in all of the system moved to the highest topics – and hottest of arguments.
"I will not sit here while insolent interlopers question my right to do what is best for my world!" Macekre bellowed back at the Provost, his elaborate robes shaking with fury. Gold and vermillion cloths were wrapped around his reasonably tall form, held by a royal blue sash and gold thread lining, on each shoulder was a gold armoured pauldron forged with the face of a lion roaring. His hands were encased in thick black gloves and a cloak of white cascaded down his back. His beard was finely trimmed and coloured a lustrous black matching his combed head of hair. "It was your own incompetence in the first place the necessitated take the dire and drastic measures that I had to take."
Krael clenched his teeth. "Lord Governor, our disruption actions were minimising casualties to our forces. Though I appreciate the reasons why the Imperial Guard was called upon – the timetable for such actions was far too quick, instead of suppressing gang activity, all intelligence points to the opposite, some reports say they are relishing the challenge."
Macekre slammed his balled fist onto the hard plasteel table in front of him. "A challenge? A challenge! By the Emperor they shall have one! The Emperor's Imperial Guard will cut them down and the faithful shall stand triumphant!"
"They shall stand triumphant amide the corpses of the entire hive!" Krael roared at the Governor, the huge Arbite rearing up. The Provost levelled a hard glare against the Governor. "Thanks to you, I have riots in the streets – block wars, turf wars. You are damned lucky Governor, damned lucky that we have managed to keep this to the lower levels – barely."
Macekre raised a finger, his own eyes burning as they met the Provost's. "Lucky? Lucky? Had it not been for me to take the initiative, then your lax attitude would have seen the mid-levels of my Capital dragged down to the drudgery, the filthy underhive." He expression grew even fouler. "Make no mistake, Arbite, you have done nothing but create confusion with your mixed actions, with your mouth you call me out – so I have come. You slap the hands of the Guard as they enact their mandate, but in the next moment you send your Chastener Teams, your Combat Teams, your Detectives, all to the Guard's aid. They are confused as to your true intentions, I am left pondering – whether a Provost should be allowed to command such a force, especially after your recent massacre of jubilant Bowl fans." He smirked as he saw Krael's face turn sour. "I am the Lord Governor, I am the protector of this world in the name of the Immortal Emperor, and I shall protect it, against traitors, heretics, alien scum, rebels, gangers, and I will not be intimidated, not by you or anyone! I rule here, and by my will the Guard goes to do what you could not!"
Krael bore the seemingly well-rehearsed monologue with a static expression of great annoyance, the urge to bring his holstered bolt pistol to bear was nearly overwhelming, but sadly, he couldn't. Even the Marshall kept some reserve when dealing with the Imperial Governor – you could hardly throw him in jail, let alone execute him for merely expressing his opinion, so long as it didn't incite hatred in fellow humans. Still, perhaps Life Incarceration with Choam's Supermax wing wouldn't be a bad pay off to drill a bolt though the face of the pompous, self-righteous git. But, for all the speech by the Provost-General of the Arbites – one of the High Lords, that no one is above the Arbites, one does not just arrest a Governor; his Advocates alone would make bail before he stepped onto a meat wagon. Because of this, Macekre threw his weight around when the Marshall was away, and sometimes when he wasn't.
"So, if you have nothing other to say Provost, I have a Hive, and a planet to run." The Lord Governor hissed as he turned, his cloak sweeping up as if caught in a breeze as he began to march away toward the meeting hall exit. The Provost glaring daggers every step of the way.
As the hall door slid shut, Krael swore, loudly, for several minutes.
Cairn flopped ungracefully into one of the office chairs as Thall followed diligently with two recafs in crappy poly-plastic cups. Cairn sighed heavily as he took the cup firmly, taking the lid off before taking a long sniff. "Ahh sweet life-giving nectar." He looked up at Thall. "Come on man, take a load off." He gestured to an empty office seat.
The office they were sat and standing in was the Department of Arbite Movement and Control – Dispatch in any other terms. The beating heart of the Precinct in many respects. The four walled hall was rectangular in shape and fitting nearly a hundred vox-operator stations, organising every Arbite in the hive itself and the surrounding fifty kilometres, a monumental task controlled by a group of no less than a hundred with banks after banks of cogitators, all humming softly. Overhanging the whole set up from about thirty feet up was a balcony complete with control station, it jutted out from the Precinct Commander's Office – currently the Provost. From there he could control the entire frontline forces of the Adeptus Arbites within the Hive. At the moment the light was on inside the office but no one was at the control station.
Thall slumped into the offered chair with his own cup of recaf as two Vox-Operators trudged past, their shift over. Carefully the Arbite took the lid to allow the steaming brown liquid to breath. Thall glanced around Dispatch, the walls were dour and grey. Pict-screens dominated vast sections of the walls, each displaying one of a hundred things the Commander of the Precinct or the Operators needed to direct the ground forces more accurately, among them were live pict-feeds, servo-skull scans, even the local news stations – most of them on mute. Also streaming were the live updates from the Arbitrators, using vox-triangulation devices mounted on all Arbite vehicles, a giant map of the Hive would move the small icons for each team. From his seat Thall could see the Rapid Pursuit Teams move somewhat jerkily across the main roads, or MSRs as the map declared them. MSR, meaning Main Supply Route, a common term in military planning that had carried over to the Arbites, meaning where the bulk of traffic flowed within an area of operations – which for the Arbites was the entire Hive. ASR meaning Assistant Supply Route was the side roads in comparison.
Thall blew the steam away before placing the rim of the cup to his lip and tilting it, sending a minute torrent of hot liquid into his thirsty gullet. He sighed after swallowing the relatively tasteless liquid. "What's up?" Cairn asked his partner, Thall looked to the fellow Arbite. "The crowd hating us getting to you." Cairn smiled weakly before looking back to his cup. "I know. Hurts don't it."
Thall nodded weakly. "Wouldn't be the first time," he murmured, almost to himself. "Hurt then to."
Cairn made a small sound of surprise. "What? It was never that bad – hell most the time that neighbourhood was alright with us even when things got bad, but not today it seems." He turned back to his recaf, staring into it as if trying to divine to hidden truth in the swirling liquid. "Frakking media."
"Hmm?" Thall glanced to Cairn. "Let it go, there nothing we can do."
"We should!" Cairn hissed, controlling his voice. "We allow him on world-wide transmission and what's does he talk about? Arbite brutality, Arbite abuses of power, Arbite criminality, and all he has to do is flash that Mechanicus Cog and no organisation on the planet can touch him or his broadcasts." He growled. "We can't touch him, the Governor can't touch him, and nobody on the planet can." Cairn took a long draught of his recaf. "If they try, then the Adeptus Mechanicus throw a hissy fit – and surprisingly production rates of the great Manufactoriams dipped accordingly."
Thall watched as Cairn fumed before interjecting. "It's not just us he goes after, he doesn't like the PDF either."
Cairn looked to Thall, his eyes showing his thoughts, "He would go after the Guard too, but that would bring him against the Departmento Munitorum Commissariat, and that's a legal quagmire nobody wants' to get stuck. The Fabricator-General of Tercius may have a thing for him, but I doubt the Mechanicus at large is going to stick their collective robotic necks for one annoying reporter."
Thall leaned back in his chair as he took another sip of his recaf, "He's not the only one you know – just the most vocal."
Cairn grunted, "I wish, just once, we could take him out on patrol through the underhive, let him see what we have to do first hand. Let him see what it would be like if we didn't do what we did."
"Maybe." Thall shrugged, "Maybe not."
"Without us, without us." Cairn huffed, gathering steam.
"Cairn." Thall turned his head sharply to his partner. Cairn looked at him. "Calm down, I get it." He said before quickly slugging his recaf. "He's a biased twerp with a get-out-of-trouble card, but one day he'll run out of steam."
"I'll take your word for it partner." Cairn crossed his arms and leaned back hard in his seat, taking a sip of his recaf every few minutes. "I've taken your word for eight years so far, why stop a good thing."
Thall sensed the slight change in tone. He turned his head to Cairn. "Eight years, damn."
"Long time." Cairn remarked.
"And all I get is partner?" Thall smiled to Cairn.
Cairn smirked lightly in return. "'Friend' is hardly professional."
"Thall! Cairn!" A voice yelled across the Dispatch hall – much to the immediate anger of the Vox-Operators. "Oops." The voice said as they suddenly went quiet. The two Arbitrators watched as a figure slipped along one side of the hall, dodging servitors as they buzzed about and nearly tripping over the thick cables that powered the mass cogitator stacks – some recently put up to deal with the latest data requirements of monitoring the Imperial Guard.
Despite the outburst at the call, the chatter in and around the command and control area was loud, a hundred voices intermingling into a shroud of incomprehensible noise, Cairn was able to pick out a sentence due his training as an Arbite Sniper, sometimes he had to get orders in the middle of a firefight, but in this dissonance of report and counter-order, he never could catch the follow up reply.
"Farrell." Cairn stood up, his scowl replaced by a smile. "Hey man, where you been? Laid up in the Med-wing again?"
Farrell sidestepped a fast moving Vox-Operator as he closed on the two with a smirk. "Please, I just had a bad week." Cairn and Thall looked on plainly. "Bad month then." He flopped down next to the two on a spare chair. He glanced around casually, "We lose the canteen or something?" He turned back to the two. "Why you guys sitting here."
Cairn shook his head quickly. "There is no way in hell am I sitting in there, it's filled with Chasteners, and worse, Bale, sounded like they were holding a briefing – so to the Eye with that."
Farrell and Thall looked to each other for a second; they could imagine the scene, Bale, sergeant of a highly regarded Combat Team and former Chastener Sergeant himself, holding court over the precincts compliment of Chasteners like an ancient Terran king.
Farrell nodded after a moment. "Yeah, good choice." He leant back into the thinly-padded chair, a Vox-Operator's behind moulded into the seat. "Emperor knows I'd hate to be in there."
"You hate anywhere that isn't the medical wing." Cairn returned.
"It's been one bad month, just one."
"Five to off-point – standby." The Rhino driver called through the hold to which Felicia and the five others nodded.
"You all know what you're doing?" Felicia asked the group as they racked the slides of their bolters.
Andreas sent a glanced over to the Detective as the armoured vehicles rumbled along, unimpaired by whatever traffic was outside. "Of course we do." She replied quickly as she checked her sidearm that was strapped to her thigh, a 'shaved-down' bolt pistol, by removing much of the extra bulk of the weapon, it made it more fragile, but made it perfect for quick drawing – Felicia had once thought of shaving-down her two guns, but decided against it after once having to beat a suspect with the butt of her sidearm.
"Then shut up and follow my lead." Felicia put in quickly. "This is an active crime scene; you can go to the Eye if you think I'm letting you disrupt it for an errand." She looked to Jonas. "You're lucky, as some of my people are on the ground – they won't question my arrival, but a fully armed Chastener team?" She looked down the hold. "You are here to assist me in an inspection of the tunnels for myself, nobody say anything otherwise. Got it?"
"Hooah!" One of the bodyguards returned, pounding his fist against his breastplate as he did. Felicia looked at the enthusiastic soldier, a man with a youthful face and brilliant green eyes. "Donovan Rally, formerly of the Fifth Catachan Ranger Regiment, First Battalion." He saluted with a heavy grin. "'Heart-breakers and life-takers.'"
"Rangers?" Felicia asked. "I've heard of the Catachan Regiments before, but not Catachan Rangers."
Jonas chuckled. "We had the same reaction. From what I gather, Rangers are part-scout, part-commando."
"All-badass." Rally chuckled. He looked to Felicia. "Most of the time we move ahead of the main force, ID high value targets, vehicle parks, command posts, that kind of thing. Then, we take them out." The Ranger smirked. "If not, we laze the area and call in the Navy or Field Artillery to blow the drok out of it." He grinned. "But otherwise, we're pathfinders, need an extraction route, need a way in, send for the Rangers."
Felicia laughed weakly, just what have I gotten myself into she thought to herself.
"Rangers, lead the way." Donovan quoted proudly.
Felicia looked between Donovan, Andreas and Jonas. "Anyone else got anything to declare before we walk toward what I'm told is a highly dangerous xeno?"
"Detective." The hold speakers interrupted the light chatter. "Patrol Five-Seven requests ID for approach... and you're the only real Arbite here."
Felicia turned a confused face toward one of the speakers. "You mean the Inquisition can't bluff their way past a Patrol team? I don't whether to take that as a compliment or sigh."
"Why tell a lie – that can be discovered, when the truth is just as easy, and accomplishes the task at hand?" Jonas put forward quickly.
Felicia shook her head lightly. "Fine, patch me through."
Her ear hissed and whined as the micro-bead received the transmission through the Rhino's vox transmitter. Jonas made an action of pressing his finger to his ear – clearly he was in the loop as well.
"To unidentified victor, this is Patrol Five-Seven, you are entering an Adeptus Arbites cordon, identify yourself." A voice came in slowly, the words shrouded in static but understandable.
"Patrol Five-Seven, this is Delta Three-Three, inbound to eastern mining tunnels, standby, sitrep on arrival." Felicia returned calmly, as if by automatic.
"Roger Delta Three-Three, no word from Dispatch, please advise."
"Comms are, and always will be crappy from the underhive. You know that Patrol Five-Seven." Felicia returned sharply. "We are oscar mike," – Jonas held up two fingers. "Two mikes, how copy?"
"Solid Copy Delta Three-Three. Sitrep on arrival, any other instructions?"
Felicia looked down at the team and then back to Jonas. "Affirmative Patrol Five-Seven, open mining doors for arrival – prep medical team, and double strength on perimeter, copy my last?"
"Copy that Delta Three-Three, open the gates, prep the med team and double the guard, it will be done."
Felicia nodded to herself. "Roger that, standby."
"Game time guys." The rhino Driver murmured through the hold of the vehicle as it pulled slowly through the armed checkpoint before the eastern tunnels. The thrumming engine growled as it slithered expertly through the streets that lead to the tunnels. Immediately the Inquisitorial rhino-in-arbite colours was observed by two dozen shaded eyes, six stood in the road, shotguns in hand and heads roving back and forth, their faces encased in plasteel entirely, combined with the heavy combat gear encasing the Arbite in near-bulletproof, black painted carapace plate made each of the Arbitrators become obsidian pillars of law, indomitable, resolute, enforcers of the Lex Imperialis, the Law of the Emperor and Imperium. Hung over each of their shoulders were heavy raven cloaks, deathly still in the stale, cordite-stench filled air. The rhino driver noted near four dozen mismatched bodies littering the roads, all clad in a mishmash of ramshackle armour, the Rhino crushed one ganger beneath one of its plasteel tracks, popping the ganger's skull like an egg and pulverising the muscles and powdering the ribcage into thin paste, the occupants of the Rhino's hold felt nothing at all. Another six Arbites were stationed in the two ceremite checkpoints, two heavy stubbers were mounted into the smashed windows, their long plasteel barrels swivelled and watched the wide road intensely under the guise of their Arbite gunners.
Behind the line of Arbitrators were easily a further two dozen cadets and other Arbite personnel manning the miniature town made out of thick material and gas flaps, scurrying about in a controlled panic. The great doors to the former mine lay open and the Driver could see more rhinos inside along with two chimeras, whose multilaser turrets were turning back and forth as the top mounded stubbers were manned by a pair of Arbites.
The rhino slowed down as it came near to the foyer of the tunnels, covered in its immense shadow. One Arbite in Proctor colours stood defiantly in the rhino's path, his arm gesturing to the left behind a tent that was marked for medical use. The Driver of the rhino complied quickly, swinging the heavily armoured personnel carrier through a near ninety-degree turn to park it nice and flush next to the medical tent. The Proctor watched the rhino come a dead halt, the roaring engine rearing back in noise as the machine was taken out of gear, but still kept ticking over – nothing strange in that as all the other Arbite vehicles were the same. The Proctor could see the machine vomiting heat into the air, just like all the others.
"On me, nobody say nothing'." Jonas hissed to the bodyguards as Felicia tapped the rune at the back of the APC to drop the ramp. The guards muttered their agreement as the thick slab of adamantium hissed open, the powerful gas-operated rams pushing the door down, slamming it was a combat technique not required here. Into the dark hold, the comparatively bright light of the entrance hall speared through, illuminating every edge and plain of the armour the group now wore. More it seemed to soften the hard edges of the myriad weapons they held in their grips.
As the ramp descended, it was filled immediately by the Proctor, the armoured figure watching the Detective as she nodded to him, to which the figure returned it. The Proctor's helmet was open, showing his growing stubble, dark skin and weary eyes.
"Ma'am." The Proctor saluted as Felicia stepped down the ramp, her heavy boots 'chinking' with each step. Felicia noted the Proctor wore his shotgun in its sling over his right shoulder, the arm that was attached was missing an armour plate and the area was bandaged with red-stained bandages.
"Proctor Kulris." Felicia returned the salute as her Chastener squad dismounted behind her, forming a line of bodies behind her as they did, only Jonas stood forward of the group. Charon loitered near the ramp entrance for a moment before gently stepping off the ramp and staying behind the Inquisitorial Bodyguards. Felicia cast a glance to Jonas who was to her left, his helmet was under the crook of his arm and his face had adopted a harder quality then the kind Felicia had associated with him, he genuinely looked like he'd seen to heavy fighting, his eyes were now hard, but seemingly distant. Typical signs of a combat veteran. Felicia had seen it some of the more veteran Combat Teams, Chastener Teams and Sniper Teams. "This is Chastener Sergeant Kollad of the Fifty-fourth Special Response Team, he and his men will be assisting me with my little walk."
"Ma'am." The Proctor nodded.
Felicia nodded to the Proctor before pressing forward, the Proctor dropping the salute to follow the Detective and the Chasteners as they swing around the corner towards the medical tent.
"Kollad?" Jonas whispered to Felicia as they proceeded onwards.
Felicia grinned slightly as her eyes moved to Jonas. "Old boyfriend." She replied.
"Detective." An Arbite snapped immediately to attention as Felicia and team pressed their way through the medical tent's heavy brown gas flaps. The Arbite was armoured but had removed her helmet, her red hair pulled back into a practical bun as she stood over a plasteel, gunmetal tablet. On the table was a desiccated corpse of, something, it was hit by so many shotgun shots, las-rounds and bolts, not to mention torched by a flamethrower had made it look like little more that devastated, blackened meat. Around the medical tent were two dozen Arbites, some in the black carapace armour of the front-line service, some in the grey-white fatigues of the departmental staff, many wore the patch of the medical department.
"Karen." Felicia smiled honestly, "how are things?" she looked to the destroyed corpse of either of a mutant sympathizer, or Tyranid Genestealer. "Anything new?" The Detective asked as she rounded the tablet, Chasteners in tow.
The Arbitrator shrugged. "Aside from a few slugs and shrapnel, nothing much." She gestured her head toward a humming cogitator. "That useless thing can't make heads or tails of this things genetic code – I don't know if its burnt tissue or it's on the fritz again." Karen shrugged, "It couldn't tell me the composition of recaf. So I don't have much faith in it, it keeps churning out gibberish."
"Huh?" Felicia sent a knowing glance to Jonas. The Interrogator returned it without an instant passing. "Anything else Karen?"
"Doesn't taste good." Karen smirked at the sudden horrified look from Felicia. "Taste like chik-chik, at least, according to that infernal machine."
Felicia laughed openly for a moment. As she controlled herself she glanced quietly at the corpse, and it meant. She knew what it was, at least, she thought she did, she'd be a fool if she believed for one second that the Inquisitor was just about to unleash this pot of secrets this quickly. She saw the threat this thing faced, by the ashen faces of the 'Chasteners', there was something going on, she could see it, she didn't need her sniffin sense to tell her that they knew more than she did. She was on the back-foot knowledgably speaking, Felicia Calamar didn't like being on the back foot of anything, least of all information that would undoubtedly save her adopted home.
"I wasn't aware an Arbitrator was trained in forensic analysis." Andreas murmured as she looked over the red-head.
Felicia pulled her eyes from the Genestealer corpse to Wolfgang, "She's cross trained with both front-line law enforcement, and rear-line support – invaluable in the field, she has a sharp eye and a sharper mind, she's a bit of a bed head in the morning, but I think she'll make a fine Detective, perhaps even an Inspector."
"Chasteners?" Karen asked as she glanced over the five black armoured elite arbite soldiers, moving on as her cheeks turned red from the sudden praise. "We have plenty of Arbitrators on site for security." She turned her head to Felicia. "But you ordered we open the mine entrance. You plan on going in?"
Felicia nodded. "Yes, I need to see what is down there. Sergeant Kollad here is to assist me."
Karen furred her brow. "Kollad? As in stood-you-up-at-prom Kollad?"
Felicia waved her hand. "Thankfully not, this is Sergeant Kollad Darvin, Fifty-fourth Special Response Team."
"Sergeant." Karen nodded to Kollad, who returned the gesture. You don't salute non-commissioned officers.
"Arbitrator." Jonas returned.
The Detective walked around the tablet, her eyes on the xeno corpse. Her eyes darting over the horrific creation, analysing each curve and exposed bone, the appendages were either cut away by the medical team or by the hail of gunfire. "Karen." She asked as she came up alongside the red head.
"Ma'am?" Karen replied, turning her head to look at the slightly taller Detective.
Felicia looked to the Arbitrator. "Have you been inside those tunnels?"
Karen shook her head. "No, no further than when we engaged the mutant cult." Felicia nodded as she looked the red head up and down, she had her armour on and her shotgun was slung across her back, barrel down.
"I need another pair of good eyes down there. You're up." Felicia smiled wickedly.
Quickly the team left the tent, Karen and another Arbitrator in tow, Kasov. The Detective, the two Arbitrators, the Tech-Priest and the five-man Chastener team made a straight line for the overhanging cog of the Mechanicus, and beneath it, the portal to the mines.
The outside of the tunnel entrance was all but a fortress; easily two dozen Cadets sat behind plasteel ballistic shields with lasguns trained on the gaping maw. Each one tense as they sat under the watch of their Arbitrator and Proctor overseers.
Felicia looked to her left. Karen stood with her shotgun in her grip, Kasov with his own shotgun at the ready and the Tech-Priest Charon, his cog-headed axe glittered as powerful energies danced along the diamond sharp edge. Other then that the Tech-Priest looked unarmed, Felicia questioned him on this but the Tech-Priest assured her he was quite capable of protecting himself, Felicia was unsure about it but the Detective decided not to argue, she wasn't planning any skirmishes against Genestealers in those narrow tunnels.
To the Detective's right stood the Inquisitorial Bodyguards in Chastener disguises, their gunmetal bolters glinted menacingly in the hard light. "We all set Sergeant?" Felicia asked Jonas.
"Yes ma'am, ready, willing and able." Jonas turned his helmeted head to look the Detective in the eye. "Whenever you're ready ma'am."
Felicia gave lopsided smile before stepping forward and turning to face the assembled team. She looked over all of them with her fists on her hips, just like she used to when she was a Proctor running her own Patrol-come-Combat team. She looked into each of their eyes for a second before nodding to herself, outwardly confident, inwardly unsure – she'd seen the wounds on the guardsmen. "This is a recon run, I just need to see ground zero for myself, we go as far the Imperial Guard, no more, remember, recon, look don't shoot." Felicia finished as she turned and looking in to the thronging black maw surrounded in steely, interlocking teeth. With a wistful sigh and unconfident grin, she loosened her trusty bolt pistol but didn't draw them, and led the way.
"Once more into the great good night." Andreas whispered.
"Cry 'havoc,"' Jonas finished with a quick glance to the Steel Legion Veteran. "And let slip the dogs of war."
"Nice and simple." Jonas said in hush tones as the group of Arbites and Inquisitional bodyguards masquerading as Arbites crossed the yellow and black warning chevron threshold, from the hard plate flooring to hard-worn plasteel plates. The stony-plasteel walls reverberated with the footsteps of the nine as they pressed on. "Rally." Jonas called forward quietly "You're up."
The Ranger nodded as he darted forward to the head of the column, his bolter raised defensively with one hand curled around the handle and trigger mechanism, the other around the attached vertical foregrip. Unlike the others in the squad, his weapon mounted a high-power luminator built into the foregrip. He swept the muzzle of the weapon left and right as they processed deeper into the sparsely lit tunnels.
All around them was deathly silence, the walls still bore chips and sections of the floor were coated in week-old dust and exhaust fumes stunk at their noses even after this long. Felicia could smell the stale stench of dried blood as they passed the deep red stains that coated a few of the grates. In sections the walls were not the silvery-grey of the worked stone, but filthy black from the Guardsman's flamethrower.
"Lights." Jonas uttered as they passed from the relative light into the large patches of darkness. As one the Chasteners reached to their personal luminators. The standard Arbite Carapace Armour contained a simple, medium power dio-lamp built into the chest plate, but Chastener issue gear mounted an extra bead of light into the helmet above their communication pad. Almost as one, each of the chasteners activated these secondary light sources, send dual beams of hard white light from their left chest plates and above their left ears. After a moment, another set of lights switched on from their weapons, small quill-sized luminators compared to the high-power lamp attached to Rally's foregrip, which lit up the tunnel in front of them like a star, bathing it in pale yellowy-white light. Karen and Kasov followed suit a moment later, though they only had the chest mounted lamps to use.
Felicia refrained for a moment from activating her own lamps as she lowered her helmet over her head, her sniffin' sense was restrained, the memory of the feeling after her little lockdown stunt being enough to keep her from wishing to having to resort to lockdown again. Though even with the plasteel and ceremite helmet around her head, she still was more than capable of utilising her psionic abilities, though the detail of them was blunted slightly.
"Wolfgang, watch our asses, I don't want muties' up my ass." Jonas ordered curtly as they passed a dark nook in the stone walls. Again with a simple nod, the Bodyguard leader slowed to a near stop as the convoy of bodies passed her, then turning and pacing backwards with her weapon raised to her shoulder but aimed at the ground, her eyes roving back and forth with the occasional glance over her shoulder to ensure she didn't back into Charon.
The Tech Priest held out his forearm ahead of him for a moment, and then his metallic face was bathed in green luminescence. A strange flow of ticks and warbled mutters hissed from his secreted vox-caster. Jonas turned a hard face to the Tech Priest. "Adept Charon." He hissed as he slid his helmet down over his head.
Charon continued unabated for a few moments his words lowering and lowering in tone until they sounded like a dull roar through the vox-caster. "O Machine Spirit, heed my call and plea, heed my request, give me sight beyond."
"Adept?" Jonas glanced once again toward the red-cloaked priest.
Charon turned his head toward the Interrogator. "My Enhanced Auspex has been awakened and is actively searching for biological readings; it is also filtering the input signals from your own auspexes."
"Handy." Rally commented as his issued auspex bounced lightly against his thigh as he pressed forward. "Will it find me the nearest bar?"
"If I ask it too." Charon replied lightly as he followed. "Though a tribute of the 'first round' would be required by you." What followed was a stutter of static along with a chuckle from the other Chasteners save Jonas.
"Did you just laugh?" Kasov asked. "I never heard a Tech Priest laugh before – it's, weird."
Charon turned to look at the Arbitrator. "Human laughter is strange to me now, I never heard it when I retained most of my biological functions."
"Shut up, all of you." The Chastener Sergeant hissed, "Did you forget we're hunting deadly mutants."
Felicia turned her head to look the Sergeant in the eye. "I said this was a recon op, Sergeant, we'll leave the hunting for another time." She turned her head back. "I need to see the aftermath with my own eyes and any evidence that remains." She looked to her right to see Arbitrator Ashe. "Karen, how far did the Arbite patrols go?"
Karen shrugged. "About a hundred feet back up." She sighed and looked to the Detective. "Proctor said it was too dangerous without back up."
Felicia shook her head and sighed.
"Got something." Rally reported curtly as he half-crouched forward. "Fifteen metres."
Jonas drew up beside the Ranger as the team came to a practised halt and kneeled. Felicia watched as the team flowed organically. The Sergeant looked over the point man's shoulder. Rally angled his weapon toward the dark clump of something in his lamp beam.
Jonas glanced over his shoulder to the rest of the group. They were knelt facing forward with their weapons at the ready, Wolfgang was still watching the rear diligently. Silently the squad leader waved one of the Chastener's forward, indicating toward the thing in the middle of the floor.
The chastener raised himself to a low crouch and pressed forward, his weapon mounted lamp highlighting the grille edges and left over autogun casings. Slowly he moved across the ground, his weapon locked to the thing on the floor while the others watched like hawks for any assailant. The only noise was the gentle tap of the chastener's boots against the plasteel grilles.
The Chastener, an Inquisitorial Bodyguard named Dara if Felicia's brief introduction to the team was correct, came close to the black lump. Carefully he lowered himself, weapon first toward the lump. "It's a body." Dara reported as he prodded it with his foot. Dara pushed the body with his armoured boot, causing the dark lump to roll. The Chastener grimaced. "Imperial Guardsman, very dead."
The team waited, watching as the Chastener checked the scene, examining it for IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices – or booby-traps, Dara leaned over the corpse of the Guardsman. After a moment of careful probing and checks, the Chastener kneeled, his weapon aimed further down the tunnel. With a quick hand sign, Dara called the rest of the team forward silently.
Carefully Rally moved forward followed by Jonas and the team one by one. The Chasteners swept forward slowly, fanning out and around Dara, creating a defensive schola circle with Karen, Kasov, Jonas and Felicia in the centre next to the corpse.
The Chastener Sergeant whistled softly as he looked at the Guardsman. His fatigues were near-black, presumably from the excess of dried blood that had pooled around the body. The Flak Armour chest plate was warped from the inside out, and the rear plate had a hole the size of someone's finger. The Guardsman's arm and leg were clearly shot, the skin and muscle having been pulped by whatever hit it. "Someone wanted this guy dead." Jonas remarked.
Felicia kneeled and examined the blood stained face of the soldier, as she did she felt a wince of horror as her eyes connected with the bone dry irises of the Guardsman. She gulped lightly, trying not to breathe through her nose because of the odour of the week-dead human. Quickly the Detective reached to the small glinting chain that hung underneath the Guardsman's armour around his neck. With a firm tug she pulled the chain free, pulling a pair of identification tags, or Dog Tags as they affectingly called by the Socio-Military complex and the general populace at large. She brought the tiny plasteel plate under the beam of light that punched out from her helmet.
"Jack Ferris." She read one side of the tags which contained the personnel information of the trooper, his age, height, serial number and blood type. The other was blank, just the stamp marks of where the soldier received the tags, 'Departmento-Munitorum Segmentum-Tempestus Oreidium-Sector Tercius-Lucius Recruitment Station 572'.
She glanced over the ruined flak armour, noting the markings and symbols. "Private, judging by the rank icon." She remarked as she nodded toward the single silver chevron on his shoulder pad, underneath the rank icon was the unit identification.
"Third Platoon. Third Company." Jonas read aloud. "We'll, at least he has an alibi for being found dead down here."
Felicia looked up then back down the tunnel. "Poor bastard, he was so close."
Karen shook her head as she leaned over the body. "No ma'am." She pointed to one of the myriad wounds the Guardsman had obtained. "Even if someone hadn't got the centre mass, he would have died of blood loss before the medics could do more than clean the wound." She tapped the Guardsman's wounded thigh. "Jacketed hollow point round. Perforated the femoral artery. Slow and frakking painful."
"What?" Jonas snapped his head to the red-head. "How could you possibly know that?"
Karen patted the leg. "Feel it. It's obvious." Jonas pressed his gloved hand against stained fatigues. "Feel it?" Jonas scrunched his brow and nodded. There was something out of place, like a small, hard bump, one side to it was definitely edged and jagged, the other somewhat smooth. "After entering the body, the round expanded as it was designed to, but it shattered." Karen nodded to the leg. "That is one piece that pushed right the way through." She looked to Jonas directly. "When it fragmented, it did the damage to the femoral artery." She indicated the opposite leg of the Guardsman. "That leg is also wounded, but only the rupture of the artery would cause the sheer blood loss to do this to his uniform in such a short amount of time."
Jonas looked to Felicia, who was nodding along with Karen, then to the Arbitrator herself. "Outstanding." He looked back to the Detective. "She's gunning for your job it seems."
Felicia gave the Interrogator a weak smile. "Well Sergeant Kollad, we'd start her off slow – my paper work needs catching up on, and I'm far too busy hob-nobbing with House royalty." Felicia turned to the young Arbitrator. "What can I say, smart and cute."
Before they could continue, the low warble of Charon cut across the air. His tone steely as all his previous 'warmth' vanished. "Enhanced Auspex registers something – signal's weak."
"Approaching?" Jonas called as he stood and the other Chasteners tensed up. Karen and Kasov raising their shotguns to cover the rear of the group while they faced forwards. Felicia stood, her left hand resting on one of her bolt pistols while her other hand curled slowly around the grip of the other.
"Negative." Charon replied. "Further ahead – comparing with tunnel map now, standby."
Felicia cast a hard look down the tunnel, into the pitch black maw that seemed unaffected by the dozen lamps attacking it. Her sniffin' sense was doing backflips on itself as she picked up the raw emotion suppressed by years of training from all her around her. Yet the raw horror, revulsion and terror from Jonas that gave her pause. He really knew what was down there, no doubt of that existed in Felicia's mind now. The sheer terror the Interrogator experienced for just an instant sent spears of cold ice up her spine in response. No doubt, he had faced these Genestealers before, the other had faced horrible things, xeno warriors and thrice-damned heretics, but whether they had faced these things before was uncertain, Andreas was the most composed but Rally was for some reason, excited under his terror, like a single thread in a carpet of fear, but it was there.
To their credit however, not one wavered. Felicia could feel, aside from the sudden terror, the golden thread of faith in the Emperor, and each other, alongside devotion to their shadowy cause. Despite their fear, Felicia could feel their determination to face down the shadow that clung to each and every wall. All of which made Felicia a little more relaxed.
She turned her thoughts to her fellow Arbites. Unfortunately, perhaps thankfully, they were most in the dark, so they reacted like they would if they found themselves chasing a perpetrator or other such, near-routine burst of activity. They were calm, collected, ready; blissfully unaware of the nightmarish visions of the Tyranids Felicia had received in her sleep, a consequence of the little meeting of minds between her and the Astropath. One image from her nightmares she remembered with clarity, she could draw it if required it was so clear.
Great figures, imposing, powerful. Giants clad in blue. Upon their shoulders they bore an inverted Omega in the form of a great U. These were the Emperor's Angels of Death. They were clad in heavy plate, far more than the power armour the Provost wore, hulking blue and white plates, each with massive power fist and stormbolter, some carried the multi-barrelled assault cannon which the Arbites used as point-defence guns.
Each was dead, torn to bloody shreds; the great Imperial Aquila on their chests ripped and stained red and black with blood and alien ichor. Stood atop the centre-most blue armoured corpse was a hideously monster with many limbs, with black eyes that threatened to swallow Felicia if she thought on them too much. It was snarling, its lips dripping with Angel blood and it clawed hands splayed out, as if cheering, or roaring. It was looking right at Felicia in the psychic-attained nightmare, as if could see her.
Her soul felt cold as the Detective thought on it, the image so vivid it wouldn't allow her to forget. If the Adeptus Astartes, the Imperium's most elite soldiers couldn't stop them without grievous losses, how could she?
Felicia the woman and Felicia the Arbite were at odds over this. While her human side wanted to run and hide, the Arbite within her sternly disallowed it. And so, Felicia squared her shoulders for the task ahead as she looked down the tunnel, into the darkness, into those eyes. She couldn't run, she'd just jumped into the fire.
"Collation complete, central mining hub, distance five hundred metres." Charon hissed coldly.
"Then let us press on." Felicia said strongly. "This isn't a recon run if we stop here."
Rally grinned as he moved off again at the head of the column. "Yes ma'am."
"Command! Command! Command couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery!" Razler yelled back to Soran as the two sauntered their way through the company 'barracks' – a heavily damaged, recently vacated block of habs, nearly two and a half thousand people displaced, not that the PDF units that shepherded them away seemed to care. The halls were littered, not just with broken masonry and cracked floorboards, but dozens and dozens of bedrolls, discarded rations rappers, not to mention the throngs of Guardsmen from Third Company of the Tercian Five Hundred and Ninth Regiment in their grey, black and white urban warfare fatigues and solid grey armour, as they lounged about, their destiny still in the hands of the 'Command' Razler was referencing.
The Regimental Headquarters and Service Company, housing the Colonel and her command staff, but also the logistical structure that kept the soldiers fed, informed and warm – though not all three at the same time if they tried. Within the H&S Company also existed the Regiment's compliment of Adeptus Mechanicus Enginseers – they looked after the regiment's armoured personnel carriers and the myriad other vehicles required to move the entire regiment from warzone to warzone and fight effectively, and the more general Engineers, they doubled as sappers and technicians, laying wires for communication, or more exotically, digging in mines for the enemy to discover.
Doors to various hab-blocks swung limply, barged in as they were, or in some cases blown off during the fighting. The battle had been short, but bloody and the Imperial Guard and Planetary Defence Force were wary of a second offensive. Razler saw a few trooper laying on tattered sofas with their kit bags behind their heads as makeshift pillows.
The two recently released Guardsmen stepped over pairs of legs as they moved on, lasguns hanging limply over their shoulders.
"Were you pukes goin'?" One of the Guardsmen called out as he looked up from his position with his back against the wall and her legs out into the middle of the corridor. His helmet was laid beside him as he wore his black soft beanie pulled down over his brow.
Razler slowed to look at the trooper. "Third 'toon. Who are you?"
The Guardsman pulled the beanie up to look the soldier in the eye. "Sergeant Corral, around here is sixth, you third guys are up, top floor."
Razler nodded and smiled. "Outstanding." He looked over his shoulder to Soran who was picking his way through. "Top floor, onwards we go."
As the two moved off, the Sergeant looked after them. "Elevators out."
Soran stopped to look back. "How many stories in this place."
"Fifteen, you're on the third floor now."
"Wonderful... Thanks sergeant." Soran groaned as he turned back to his now longer trek.
"Holy Emperor." Farrell exclaimed as he ducked back into the corridor. His skin turning a shade of white not natural to the human pallor while the recently evicted Arbites meandered through the corridors. The Dispatch staff didn't take to well to the loitering Arbitrators hanging around, drinking recaf while they worked themselves closer to death.
Thall and Cairn shot the fellow Arbitrator strange looks as Farrell seemed to press himself into the wall paint. "What are you doing?" Cairn asked as he glanced back and forth down the bustling corridor, deciding whether or not it was worth it just to leave Farrell to looking silly on his own.
"Provost." The Arbitrator hissed sharply. Thall looked left and right, there was a clot of Cadets building around the side portal, each quickly glancing into the corridor that lead toward the central chamber at the heart of the Precinct.
"So?" Cairn shrugged. "So what. The boss isn't a complete ogryn." Thall stepped past Farrell before coming to a stop at the plasteel armoured corner.
Thall whistled as he poked his head around the corner sipping from his quarter full recaf as he turned back. He nodded slowly as he looked between the two fellow Arbite. He took another long sip of the lukewarm liquid. "Well." He started. "The Provost may not be an Ogryn." He glanced back around the corner. "But the big guy with the Governor in Palace Guard colours may be."
"What?" Cairn exclaimed as he pressed forward. As he came around the corner he saw who Thall was talking about instantly.
He looked like a massive mound of muscle with legs. Easily as large as the Provost, perhaps larger. He stood over the shoulder of the far smaller Governor, dwarfing the man completely. His chest was clad in segmented plates of carapace armour with thick round shoulder plates that hung heavy over his gargantuan biceps. His fist were clad in similarly thick gauntlets, the fingers of which looked like they could crush the life out of a rampaging grox with ease. As the giant turned, his heavy boots thundered as they struck the ceremite floor. Cairn never got to see the eyes of the man-monster as his entire head was encased in plasteel, with glinting red lenses burning at everything around him.
"Is... is that an assault cannon?" Cairn breathed as his eyes widened as the monster turned, displaying the monster of metal that was strapped to his back. It had four barrels protruding from a solid block of plasteel and a round drum magazine that looked as thick as a Joining Day Cake.
"Maybe, but the drum looks a little small for an assault cannon." Thall remarked as he stepped fully around the corner, downing what was left of his recaf in a single go.
"I, have, no, idea." Farrell hissed as he turned the corner. "What the hell is that thing?"
Cairn looked to Farrell. "How would I know." He turned his head to the giant. "Astartes? Doubt it." The Arbite shrugged, "Perhaps some sort of super mutant, or..." Cairn trailed off as another figure stepped up.
The boots rang as they crossed the hall, mixing sounds with the chains that hung from eagle-faced shoulder to breastplate, the golden engraved badge of the Adeptus Arbites proudly displayed over the heart of the Arbite. The Arbite drew to a halt beside the Provost before turning to look at the Governor, who looked of curiously, then to the massive lump of muscle and flesh beside him. He wasn't the only Arbite around still in his black carapace armour; he was the only one wearing his helmet. The Arbite turned to face the monster head on, his legs slightly apart and his fists resting on his waist.
Cairn sighed. "Bale is seriously not squaring up against that thing." He was.
"We will discuss this later, Provost." Macekre growled as he marched from the inner sanctum of the Arbites Command Post, Krael on his heel closely toward the brace of carapace armoured guards in the traditional colours of the Governor's Palace Guards. Among them was a humongous figure, his head hidden behind a respirator and combat helmet combination, they glared at the provost as he moved from the eight other soldiers to the Governor's side. Macekre grinned wolfishly as the massive guard arrived by his shoulder. He turned toward the Provost crossing his arms as his heel ringed off the ceremite floor tiles. He looked at the provost in his Power Armour, sans his helmet. The armour was silver but highlighted in black, the bright day-lamps of the precinct highlighting the edges of the heavy plate. The Provost wore the trademark black cloak over his shoulders, concealing his arms and his weapons. "As riveting as I find these meetings, I have more pressing matters to attend too, House Kaitan is causing some ruckus."
"I'm sure, whatever it is requires your immediate attention." The Provost replied dryly. "I'll just go back to ensuring that you still have a capital to keep your court in."
The Governor smiled wickedly. "Good job so far, keep it up."
"Uh huh." The Provost grunted before looking to the man mountain that took up position behind the aggravating bastard. "And must you bring him everywhere? Him and a squad of armed soldiers to my precinct?"
Macekre shrugged and cast a glance at the large armoured guard behind him. "Second Lieutenant Frank Harrigan goes where I go." He cast a dirty glare to the Provost. "You have no say in who I take as my guard." In return to the glare, Krael made an apologetic gesture but said nothing. Macekre drew his cloak around him as the soldiers started to form up after one voxed the small convoy of armoured vehicles in Palace Guard livery outside the precinct.
Krael eyed the governor. "This won't go away."
Macekre shook his head. "No, Provost, no it won't."
As the Macekre stopped talking, a fresh pair of boots entered the surrounding noise. Krael and Macekre turned their heads to see one Arbite marching toward the group. "I hope you don't mind Governor." Krael said, "But I've asked Sergeant Bale to escort you back to your palace." He grinned while the Governor wasn't looking, the governor grimaced.
"Provost." Bale saluted sharply as he drew up beside the commander of the precinct. Krael returned the action swiftly, as he did the Sergeant turned his head toward the governor and grumbled a greeting. The Governor sneered in return and nodded. Bale turned fully toward the Second Lieutenant, the monster known as Frank Harrigan. "Harrigan." The veteran Arbite growled.
"Bale." Harrigan returned, his voice converted by his helmet's vox-caster, turning it to a deep, harsh tone, which probably wasn't too far from his normal voice. The big man had to look up at Harrigan who had just to look down at his nose. They stood in silence for a moment, their eyes both shielded by their helmets, though that didn't stop them trying to pry into the other through eye contact alone. The silence was broken by a hasty cough by the Provost. The Governor raised a hard eyebrow toward the Provost and turned away silently, he knew the meaning of the gesture, get out of my precinct, and he was happy to oblige.
"Bale." Harrigan growled as he turned away, doggedly following his charge.
"Harrigan." Bale snorted as he let them get a few metres away before following, easily overtaking them as the exited the precinct under the hard gazes of the milling Arbitrators, Chasteners, Combat and Shock team members and Cadets who plastered themselves to the walls at the sight of the Imperial Governor. The squad followed sharply, their lasguns handing in their hands and their eyes peering and examining everyone they came across.
Krael watched silently as the troupe trudged off toward the noise of warming engines. As they reached a good distance the Provost sighed heavily. "Emperor help me." He breathed as he lowered his head for a moment and rubbing his forehead. He sighed again as he raised his head, He sighed a third time as he turned back toward his Command Centre.
"What in the Emperor's name was that?" Farrell asked as the trio of Arbitrators took cautious steps forward through the junction to the chamber. "I thought the Governor swore never to enter this precinct."
Cairn shrugged. "Must have been important, the Provost didn't look happy."
Farrell looked over his shoulder to the fellow Arbite. "He never does, but he looked... drained." Cairn nodded. "What the hell could it be."
Thall stepped forward, casting his recaf cup into a nearby by recycle receptacle. "The Imperial Guard. They've destabilised the entire situation in the underhive."
Cairn cast a glance over his shoulder at Thall. "No crud." He looked back to the chamber at large. "I haven't got any idea what's going on down there these days. But I'm sure as hell glad I didn't pull patrol duty for anywhere down there." The former sniper remarked as a cluster of cadets scuttled past, each clutching a dozen textbooks. Their uniforms were pristine, as were there faces with their looks of amazement. Their heads were spinning to see everything and craning back to see the diorama's painted into the ceilings and walls.
Farrell and Thall watched them for a moment while Cairn seemed gone in thought. Farrell sighed and turned his head to Thall who shrugged; they'd seen this scene before, new cadet-recruits, fresh from the Schola Progenium in the Tercian Asus-Minor Region to the north, buried in the snow and ice just off the isolated mini-continent. Asus-Major, the larger island, was one of the primary depots for the Planetary Defence Force, hosting three separate divisions of soldiers and armoured vehicles along with their support structures.
"You cadets new?" Farrell belted out as he stepped forward toward the group of mildly-terrified twelve year olds in black, neat uniforms. They turned on the spot as the armoured Arbite rounded on them, his face grinning, a face practised with years with Davies.
"Yes sir." One uttered back weakly, his voice taken by the environment somehow. "We all are." The small boy noted with a look to the other boys and girls around him. There were about twenty-two in all, each clutching dataslates and sling-bags tightly as they huddled together seemingly for protection. A few looked like they'd been in a fight or two, evident by the crooked noses or pale scar tissues on their brows – or they may have just fallen down a flight of stairs, which was Farrell's favourite excuse when he turned up to a class with his forehead split open by Cadet-Recruit Donald's fist. The Tutors knew, but Farrell was unsure they cared, as long as it didn't happen inside their class-halls, they didn't make any effort to stop it outside a few half-hearted lectures about bullying.
Farrell smiled to himself, he could see the bewilderment in their eyes. They may have been the big dogs at the Schola, now they were small fish in a very large pond, a pond with sharks and the occasional whale when the Marshall was around.
"I assume you're supposed to be on your way to your dorms?" Farrell asked. "First day?"
The boy who spoke nodded fervently. "We were just taking a detour when..." One of the girl's said before drifting off with mild embarrassment from the sudden attention.
"Lost." Farrell finished with a grin. He shrugged. "Don't worry, come on, let's see if we can't where you're supposed to be." He said as he gestured for the swarm of Cadets to follow him, leaving Thall watching with a warm smile as Farrell waved good-bye.
"Clear left." Rally chimed as he swept forward in a low crouch, his weapon raised in preparation as he entered the central processing area. He stepped forward while Markin, another of the bodyguards followed swiftly behind.
"Clear right." He echoed the scout as he stepped from the deep pool of shadow into the hard glare of the luminators. The other bodyguards and Adeptus Arbites waited tensely as the two swept forward, checking the wide open killzone for any lingering hostiles.
The two slowed their fast paced sweep, kneeling about ten metres from the entrance, a rough hewn but man-made entrance, the hall luminators were somewhat shot out during the Imperial Guard pull out, this combined with the group 'dousing' – an Imperial Guard slang-term meaning to turn off luminators and other light sources – made the group rather invisible in the darkness.
Rally swept his luminator beam across the area once more before glancing to Markin, who returned the fast look before turning his head back to his sector. Rally silently waved to Jonas who knelt at the edge of the darkness, in a single move, the squad advanced as a single organic unit, with the Arbites hovering hesitantly, watching as the Inquisitorial Bodyguards in Chastener armour spread out quick and efficiently, each covering one another on their advance through the wide area.
In a few moments they had come to a slow stop in the centre of the processing area. There Jonas stood in the centre of the kneeling group, each silent but sharp, their luminator beams scouring every inch of blasted rock and plasteel girder. The Sergeant's head turned like a Drych-cat searching for its prey. Felicia watched Jonas intently, his manner, mood, everything about him. If she didn't know better, if she didn't know the guy underneath, she'd would of thought that in front of her was a Chastener with a dozen years in under his belt. That was only what her eyes told her, her mind was drawing in the hard thoughts and actions of the Sergeant and his squad like a grox at a watering hole.
Jonas looked toward the darkened entrance over his shoulder, after a moment the sergeant jerked his head, indicating that the Arbites should follow. Felicia nodded as she gestured the others forward.
They scampered across the ground quickly, Ashe and Kasov kept their shotguns at the ready while Felicia rested her hands on her sidearms. Her eyes were everywhere, much like the Chastener luminators. She could feel something, something clinging to the walls of the processing area like a fine mist, it irritated her, something beyond her eyes, but not yet in the realm of her psychic sight – though the term sight is incorrect, nothing could be 'seen' truly in the Warp, yet sight was the most adept term.
Felicia was incapable of Warp-sight, she wasn't powerful enough. She was quite thankful that she could not openly perceive the Warp, but sometimes, on the peripheries of her mind, sometimes she could feel a slight tingle, like now, a warm tingle, almost wet-like clung to the plasteel and dripped into her mind. But to the annoyance of the detective, while she could 'feel' the residue, she could not realise what she was feeling, only that it was there.
The taste of copper filled her nose as she breathed deep, the coppery tang of blood. Felicia swept her head from side to side, and sure enough, bodies, dozens of them, many in robes, a few in dark grey Imperial Guard uniforms. Felicia quickly marked them as mechanised infantry soldiers with the five-oh-seventh regiment. Their weapons, las-carbines if Felicia remembered correctly, were suspiciously missing. The Detective grumbled to herself darkly.
"Bodies, frags, spent mags, must of been one hell of a fight." Kasov remarked as he swept wide around a stack of disused mine carts. His face took on an expression of half-awe as he looked over a blown apart hall, and the viscera of some poor bastard caught in what he assumed was the result of a frag grenade.
"Or a slaughter." Ashe returned. "The Guard held this place, look at the bodies, the Guard cut them apart as they attacked."
"And they still had to retreat." Felicia remarked coldly as she reached the Interrogator.
Jonas glanced over his shoulder to the Detective. He looked back to the stone walls and plasteel rafters, each pool of darkness, each a possible hiding space for the xeno, every hall an entry point for those under their thrall. He mulled silently as he looked over his team, soldiers all, each battle-hardened, not like the recently founded regiments, who only experience was either in the PDF putting down the odd rebellion down or something more akin to riot action then true war. No, the four men and woman around Jonas had faced the myriad threats the Inquisitor had faced in her career, let alone the wars each had taken part in the time in the Imperial Guard. Still, even with a wealth of experience, carapace armour and spare clips for their bolters, Jonas didn't like their odds against those, things.
Jonas, in his years of service, had seen a lot of things. One unfortunate mission was following Lady Lognus into a crippled astartes warship, what they were looking for evaded his memory, but distinctly Jonas remembered the retreat, their prize in hand and a ravenous horde of gaunts and their monstrous Warrior leaders. But most striking in that chilling memory, was the sight of Sergeant Moranez, an Imperial Fist Space Marine, proud to be reclaiming one of his Chapter mighty strike cruisers, lead his squad into the fray, only to find the waiting claws of the very beasts that stalked these halls. They fought like men possessed, walking avatars of the Emperors will, they slaughtered the xeno by the dozen but they ultimately fell. Foolish as their action was, foolhardy and against all doctrine when fighting the Tyranids if you asked the Inquisitor, the image of the ten Space Marines being, one by one, brought down was the sort of thing that stuck with a man.
"Get working Detective." Jonas sub-vocalised to Felicia as she pulled up next to him. "I don't want to wait around here – even if it is for you." Jonas smirked ever so lightly to her before the hard face returned.
Felicia looked snidely at the Interrogator. "I was hoping to set up a small getaway, a summer home perhaps." She made an act of looking around the processing area. "A few scatter cushions, a space heater, just like home." Felicia raised an eyebrow as she looked to Jonas. Felicia turned her head to see the others. "Arbitrators, sweep and check."
"Ma'am." Ashe and Kasov replied as they peeled away, immediately moving to as they were told. Sweep and check was a fairly basic order from a Detective, move within the area, check for signs of weapons fire, bodies, illegal substances and practically anything else that determined the cause of what happened at the crime scene.
"Adept Charon." Felicia turned her attention to the Tech-Priest as he loitered at the back, his attention taken up by the mechanism that dominated the ceiling, an old Mechanicus cart-crane, so the miners could switch the cart's tracks and send it up to the surface through the now blocked main passageway. The silvery face turned to look at Felicia after a moment. "Adept." Felicia smiled "If you could scan for any anomalous signals and collate data, I'd be very thankful."
"As the Omnissiah wills." Charon hissed as he went to his task in his own way, Felicia content to allow him follow his own course.
The Sergeant looked at Felicia who returned the look. "Felicia." Jonas whispered.
"What." She returned, her eyebrow raised.
"Why is this a crime scene and not a battlefield?"
"What." Felicia returned, unsure if Jonas had just asked the question. "I'm not sure what you mean, and now really isn't the time."
Jonas shrugged. "It's just that it was the Imperial Guard lost men here, and they are technically fighting the gangs at the moment, so wouldn't make this a Guard combat zone."
Felicia sighed and half-nodded, "Perhaps, but foremost the Imperial Guard do not have the current authority from the governor to enforce full martial law – one of the few things he hasn't done to piss us off – so this place falls under Arbite jurisdiction to investigate all mutant activity until such time when martial law is declared, then the Guard are more than welcome to investigate." She whispered quickly. "Long and short of it is, if it were just a gang? Guard would handle it, but since." She looked around to see if Ashe and Kasov were near, they were not. "But since mutants are the official cover story, Arbites handle it."
"Great system huh?" Jonas smirked. "Being an Inquisitor makes everything so simple."
"You're not an Inquisitor yet, Interrogator. But since when you did interrogate someone? "
"I could show you how I interrogate someone." Jonas grinned. "I think you'll find I don't get many complaints."
To his surprise Felicia held back a laugh. "Maybe, when I'm not about to have my ass bitten off by a ravaging xeno super-killing-machine."
Four responses sprang to Jonas' head, a couple lurid ones, but instead he smiled as Felicia turned away.
"Strike out again lover boy." Rally chuckled quietly as Felicia cut across the debris laden floor toward Arbitrator Ashe.
"Shut up... all of you." Jonas said without moving his head from its post watching Felicia. "And Rally."
Jonas turned his head to look at the visor of the Catachan Ranger. "Watch your frakking sector."
"Cause of death, frag grenade." Ashe said into herself more than the Detective, who was picking through a tattered corpse of some robed guy who looked gashed open, probably by a piece of shrapnel. Ashe shrugged. "Death was probably instantaneous."
"You think?" Rally commented as he stood guard nearby, his weapon trained on one of the smaller side entrances. "Looks like he was stood on top of the thing."
Ashe shrugged nonchalantly. For the last twenty minutes she'd picked through two bodies, both of these strange mutant cultist guys, and aside from one case of sickly skin, and the worst case of dry skin Karen had ever seen, there didn't seem much to these mutations from what she saw. She stood from her crouched position over the corpse. She sighed as she glanced at the Chastener. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at the black armoured man. She stepped over the devastated corpse to draw up near to Rally.
"What?" Rally asked as his eyes flicked between the darkness to the Arbitrator in a split-second and then back again.
Karen Ashe looked the back of the Chastener's head for a moment. Rally, aware of the Arbitrator behind him remained silent as he swept his weapon back and forth, his Catachan honed senses were being utilised to the max, his eyes darted around in the darkness, desperately trying to pick up the slightest movement. His ears perked up at each tiny sound, the scrape of a boot, the murmur of an Arbite, the low-level hum that flowed from the Tech-Priest as he paraded around, his staff rapping against the grilled floor as he hissed a stream of litany. His nostrils flared as he drew in lungful after lungful of hot, dusty, coppery air. His sense of touch was unfortunately cut somewhat by the black marksman gauntlets, heavy on the out facing side, soft on the inward facing side, perfect for holding a rifle, or even a pistol. He stayed still, moving only the barrel of his weapon for left to right, and from right to left. He could see Ashe's breastplate luminator lance out over his shoulder, giving her position away instantly. "You'd be useless stalking somebody." Rally mentioned quietly over his shoulder. "What?" he added.
"Nothing." Karen shook her head softly. "Just looking."
"Looking at what? I'll tell you if you need to look at anything." Rally returned quietly. He gestured with his head. "Like that body, go look at that."
Karen followed the gesture, a body lain up against the side of a toppled mine cart. She tilted her head as she looked over the robed corpse. "Well." She started. "He has no head. I'm guessing he's dead, gunshot probably."
"Las bolt, short range." Rally detailed after a brief look. "Robed probably tried to rush with that nasty blade of his." Ashe looked down the corpse, from under one of his robes was a small, livid white blade, but even at this distance, Ashe could tell it was sharp.
She furred her brow. "Why paint a blade white?" She mused aloud as she trod over toward it.
"To better see the blood? I don't know." Rally commented with a grunt.
Karen kneeled in front of the corpse. Slowly she took stock of the body as per her training. Of course the head was destroyed, cut almost in two by the las bolt, but the rest of the body seemed intact. Covered in a heavy purple cloak that covered the lion share of his body down to his feet, but partway down the robe was spread revealing what looked to be a pale bone coloured, segmented chest plate. "Body armour." She mused allowed. It didn't look like basic flak armour, or even a flak vest, the plates didn't look regular in their pattern, it looked like a custom build to fit the cultist perfectly. "Must have been expensive." As Karen continued to look down the corpse, the trousers were similar colour to the robe, and ending in a pair of heavy combat boots. Ashe slowly moved as she examined the clothing. "No labels, possibly PDF Surplus."
"Could be a source of their weapons too." Rally murmured from afar.
Karen sighed as she looked over her shoulder. "There seems to be a lot of that happening these days." She turned back to the strange blade. "But I doubt that's standard issue."
The Arbitrator leaned closer, pulling her shotgun off it position slung over her shoulder and placing it on the ground beside her gently. Slowly she pressed her finger against the flat of the blade, tilting it slightly as her eyes flicked across its surface.
Carefully the Arbitrator pulled on the heavy cloth, pulling it back up the arm.
"Holy Emperor." Karen hissed as she looked down.
Felicia turned her head as the exclamation, as did Rally and Jonas. Wolfgang looked over her shoulder. Makin turned his head but kept his eyes locked on the two passage ways he was watching.
Karen pulled back to reveal what she had seen, cloak still in hand.
There was no hand holding the blade, a smaller blade ran parallel to the larger one, like a little finger. The arm was tight, hyper-tense, each inch of flesh was segmented carapace, each millimetre a sickly white, the underlying fleshy, soft parts a horrifying purple. The mutation didn't stop there. It ran the length of the arm up to the shoulder, which looked as if the surrounding bone was about to burst out, showing how much of a grip the bone had around the joint. Through the sight skin the group could see the deep blue veins as that ran in, over and around every inch of the horrid appendage. The mutation didn't stop at the shoulder, it continued as Karen pulled the blanket back. Over the collar bone, up the neck, over the chest. The cultist wasn't wearing body armour. The carapace covered the entire upper torso of the corpse. Tendrils of bone coloured flesh reached down the torso but Karen didn't want to look, didn't need to look to guess that the infection spread over his entire body. "Sweet Emperor." Karen gasped.
"I think we found our mutants." Rally breathed as he looked on in horror.
"Well... crud." Jonas breathed as he stood over the corpse of the mutant, Felicia at his side and Arbitrator Ashe beside Rally for a moment. Jonas' boltgun hung by its sling with his gauntlet holding to the foregrip of the weapon, his left arm was crooked as he rested his hand against his hip.
Felicia was knelt down as she examined the, thing in front of her. She pressed the hard flesh with her gloved fingers, feeling the rough textures mixed with the smooth plates of carapace. "Anything to mention?" She whispered back to Jonas, who in return knelt down beside her.
For a moment the Interrogator said nothing, he just stared at the corpse as he contemplated what it was, he tilted his head as a hundred thoughts ran through his mind. Slowly he lifted the thing's arm, turning it while he idly grinded his teeth.
Felicia watched his action closely, her sniffin sense absorbing the subtle emotions that trickled from the Inquisitorial apprentice like the stream. With him this close to her, no more than a foot away, the feeling was far more intense than at any other distance. She could feel the twists and turns that he went though as his still veiled thoughts made connections, joined the dots so to speak, and those ideas linked with other ideas. Felicia looked over her shoulder as she watched Jonas work, his eyes darting back and forth as he compared memories hidden from her. She watched his eyes for a while, his irises were wide, wild in comparison with the rest of his body, betraying his emotion, though she could feel the jolts of fear quite acutely this close to him. She watched him for a while before he caught on and looked at her. For a moment neither one said a thing before Felicia cautiously nodded toward the corpse, tearing her eyes away from him to look at something less pleasing to look at for any amount of time. "Anything?" She said quietly hoping that the spark of raw, warm emotion that just shot out of him, completely opposite to everything before, was just a misreading.
Jonas coughed lightly as he turned back to the corpse. "Well," he started in a hushed tone, after a brief look around, the two Arbitrators were far enough away for his liking, one was stood with Rally, their lips moving quickly, and the other was going about searching the other corpses with gusto.
"Well, good chances are this is isn't your garden variety mutant, this is a Genestealer Hybrid." Jonas continued.
Felicia tilted her head slightly. "It looks like the one we've got up in cold storage."
Jonas nodded. "This is a more advanced version, so to speak." Slowly he tugged the corpse to the side. "Ahh." He said as the corpse showed its back to the two. "Clever bastards." He whispered to himself. Felicia shot him a confused look, the back of the Hybrid was a mess of scar tissue but was otherwise like the same hard carapace that covered his chest. "Look." Jonas said as he rubbed a finger over the ridges of the hybrid's shoulder blades. "They amputated his extra arms."
"What?" Felicia hissed.
Jonas looked back at her. "This is a late, third, maybe fourth generation hybrid, from a distance near indistinguishable from pure humans, save for the extra arms and claw hand, but take those two arms away, wrap the hand in protective cloth? Perfect infiltrator." He turned back to the hybrid. "Designed and purposed by the Patriarch to seek out more mates and bring them back to the family."
Felicia looked to the interrogator questioningly. "What in the Emperor's name is a Patriarch?"
Jonas held his tongue for a moment as he looked at her. Slowly he sighed. "A Patriarch is often referred to as a multitude of things, it is the head of this little family of hybrids, but other organisations call them different things, Broodlord is the most common if there are other pure-strain Genestealers under its 'command'." Felicia nodded as she digested this information. "They must be further into the former mine." Jonas mused aloud as he looked down the gaping maw of the mine entrance.
"We will investigate." Felicia nodded as she stood.
Jonas followed her up quickly. "What! Lady Lognus ordered us to go as far as the Arbites had." He hissed.
Felicia shot the Interrogator a hard look, holding his eyes with hers. "If we followed those orders, than we would be still outside." She glanced toward the mine entrance. "We must ascertain just how severe this, infestation has become." She murmured as she pulled away.
"I got another one!" Kasov half-yelled toward the Detective as he rounded around a toppled mine cart to find another hybrid cut to shreds by las-fire. "Same as that one." The Arbitrator nodded to the corpse by Jonas' feet. "But this one's female."
Felicia turned to look as Kasov as he dragged the corpse into plain view. Indeed, the woman was covered neck down in the same white augmented carapace, covering her breasts and stomach in hideous looking, smooth white armour-like plates, plates that had clearly seen the business end of a lasgun a bit too closely as the white plates were stained a deep, dark red. Indeed, like the first hybrid, this one too had a claw, on its third arm; the third appendage flopped out from the hybrid's back as Kasov dragged her out. It was thin, tight, just like the hybrid in cold storage.
Felicia turned to face Jonas, who looked at her plainly, clearly hiding any response from the prying eyes of the others. "Sergeant Kollad." Felicia said as she turned back to the new hybrid.
"Ma'am." He returned crisply.
Felicia turned her head toward the mine entrance. "We're going further into the mine."
"Ma'am." Jonas sounded less than enthusiastic.
"Talk about going into the long grass" Rally murmured to himself as he felt the slight tap on his shoulder, indicating he should advance down into the gaping maw.
Markin grumbled something akin to the sentiment as he took up position behind the point man. His own weapon levelled beside Rally, his luminator beam out done by Rally's own. Carefully the group pressed forward, Rally carefully pressing forward, his feet finding steady footing without the Catachan Ranger actively thinking about it.
The tunnel was unlit at the top, but Rally could see the glaring, hard yellow glow-lamps further down. He could see the lances of lights dance over his shoulders, illuminating the rock walls with plasteel bracing every few dozen feet, holding up the millions of tonnes of rock and hive that towered above them.
"Hot as hell in here." Kasov grumbled as he moved a couple of steps behind the point man.
"Yeah man but it's a dry heat." Markin grinned in return.
"Shut up." Jonas growled harshly from his position beside the Detective. Felicia hummed as she took another breath of hot air; it was getting hotter and heavier the further down the steady slope they went.
The Detective glanced over her shoulder; again Andreas was pulling up the rear, her weapon sweeping back and forth, her own head darting over her shoulder to keep pace with the group. Ashe was beside the Detective as ordered by Felicia, her own weapon hanging in her hands, ready and cocked. Felicia glanced to the young red-head; Ashe looked as she always did, in her years she'd seen plenty of mutants, and after the momentary shock had reverted to her well-disciplined demeanour, befitting an up and coming Adeptus Arbite Arbitrator. That said Felicia could still pick up minor disturbances from the young woman as they pressed on. Felicia said nothing, still thankful that none of her fellow Arbite knew the truth of the situation, but they would soon unfortunately, Felicia couldn't leave this here, she needed to see just how bad the situation was before the Inquisition came in and covered it all up.
Felicia glanced to Ashe again, the woman wasn't stupid by any stretch of the imagination, she'd pieced together already that the charred corpse up in the medical tent was of xeno origin, she just hadn't realised it, or more correctly didn't have enough evidence to confirm her wildest theory, at the moment everything could be explained as just advanced mutation, which was probably what Ashe had thought of the corpse she discovered.
No, Ashe wasn't perturbed about the mutant, she had moved on so to speak, back to active patrol in a way, filing the memory away for reporting later, a report either Felicia or the Inquisitor would intercept before it went to anywhere.
Same for Kasov, his years on the Precinct's most bloody underhive patrol route has inured him to scenes like that, violence unmasked, he'd seen some of the worst sides of humanity, and arrested them accordingly. The man was well on his way to being inducted to the Chasteners, and so was watching the surrounding group with intense fascination, despite the facade of which he was blissfully unaware.
Felicia liked Kasov, though he wouldn't replace her as a Detective like perhaps Karen Ashe, he was easily one of the most efficient combat Arbitrators Felicia has seen in a long time. Despite his lippy nature, Felicia could see by the way he carried his shotgun that he was on a hair trigger, while his face grinned, his eyes were like a cyber-eagle's, darting from wall to wall, examining everything, not for clues like Ashe, but for targets.
Felicia smiled to herself as she looked forward again. Her luminator beam reflecting off the back plate of Markin as he pressed forward after the Catachan Ranger, who seemed to be completely at peace, both physically and mentally. The Ranger was surefooted as he descended deeper and deeper into the old mineshaft.
From behind the Detective, she could still hear the low, grinding hiss of the Tech-Priest, she resisted the urge to glare at the red-robed Adept. The glow of the forearm cogitator lit up his metallic face, highlighting the hard edges and ruts in his mask. Felicia sighed as she heard the Tech-Priest murmur on.
Felicia watched the pool of light as Rally pushed into it, his weapon pulled to his shoulder. But as quickly as he entered, he left, returning once again to darkness. Markin and Kasov followed diligently, the hard yellow light lighting the silvery marks on the armour, scars of battle. Like the Ranger, the two pressed forward back into the shadows.
Felicia stopped, and like the rest of the group, doused her luminators, as Rally raised a balled fist as he approached a dimly lit junction, the group having pressed through the wide tunnel for easily a hundred metres, passing between light and shadow with little incident. Carefully she watched the bodyguard press forward slowly. Rally pressed himself against one side of the rough hewn junction. Carefully the Bodyguard leant slowly out of the Y-shaped crossroads. Quickly the Ranger swept his powerful firearm between the two off-shots. Slowly but surely the Ranger returned back to the relative safety of the dimly-lit tunnel. He didn't turn back to the group, his eyes still hovering between the similarly lit divergent passageways, instead he made of hand signal Felicia didn't recognise, but apparently the Inquisitorial Bodyguards did as Markin darted forward and the others visibly tensed up. Markin stopped behind Rally, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. Swiftly the Ranger flicked his head and Markin reacted be barrelling to the other side of the tunnel, his own bolter up, his gloved hands gripping the foregrip and trigger grip tightly as he leant forward around the corner.
As the two bodyguards watched the darkness, Felicia looked to Jonas, who had his weapon at the ready. Felicia turned to see the others in a similar state of readiness. Felicia watched as Jonas looked to her, before quickly looking back forward as she caught his eye. Felicia smiled lightly for a moment as she drew her sidearms. She felt reassured in the darkness, surrounded by deadly xenos, but reassured none the less by the familiar weight of her bolt pistols. Loosely she let them hang in her grip, flexing her gloved fingers about the hard bindings of the handles, her finger fitting into the custom made grooves in the bindings perfectly. Felicia looked to Jonas, the sergeant returned the look, he shrugged lightly, Felicia nodded and she looked over her shoulder, careful of her voice, "Tech-Priest" she hissed, drawing the red-robed bodyguard's attention. He transfixed her with a hard gaze, the only one he physically capable of giving. "Which way?" she questioned, her own eyes not leaving his 'eyes'. Immediately the adept turned his gaze to the glowing console built into his forearm.
Silently the Tech-Priest stepped forward to Felicia and Jonas' shoulders. The two turned to form a rough triangle with Charon, as they did a set of mechadendrites snaked up from under his robe and up around his glowing forearm. The console brightened considerably, and from it raised a green nimbus of light. The spark of jade light expanded, turning from light into a intricate web of green lines and dull blue dots.
"A hololithe?" Felicia smiled meekly as she looked toward the Tech-Priest.
Charon nodded slowly. "We are here" A mechadendrite pressed forward, indicating the group of blue dots. "According to Imperial records dating back to when these mines were in service, the left path would take us lower, to the lower hab chamber."
Jonas sent a raised eyebrow toward the Tech-Priest. "Hab chamber?"
"The miners used to live down here during the working months." Felicia informed the Interrogator quickly. "They also double as shelter during a cave-in." Felicia looked back to the Tech-Priest. "When were these maps last updated?"
Jonas turned to look at the Detective with raised eyebrows. "How on Terra do you know that?"
"Hive Cunir had a cave-in two months ago, all over the news." Felicia returned quickly before repeating her question to the Tech-Priest.
The mechadendrites buzzed and the Tech-Priest hissed some litany the two didn't quite catch. After a moment Charon looked directly toward the Detective. "These mines ceased operation on year seven-six-five of the forty-first millennium, last record updates were shortly before. It can be assumed that until that time, this map is accurate."
"So that's what? Only a hundred and seventy years for someone, or something to blow and or eat new passages like the Imperial Guard reported." Jonas replied snidely. "What?" He said as Felicia shot him a glare.
"If the left takes us to the lower hab chamber, what about the right path?" Felicia pushed on.
In response one of the mechadendrites twisted and the hololithe zoomed out, showing a larger image of the mining tunnels, the complex weaving of halls and passageways that stretched miles beneath the hive itself. The dots became pinholes as the map expanded, the green lines becoming paper thin as the structure, the hidden passages revealed themselves to the Arbite and the Interrogator. "A platoon of Guard to hold this was a mistake." Jonas breathed as he looked at the hololithe in miniature. "You'd need a Company, no, a Battalion."
"At least." Felicia agreed quietly.
Jonas shot a finger forward, just off where the blue pinholes were. "This is the right pathway." He stated. He traced it with his finger around the hololithe. "It stays rather level with this place." After a moment his finger crossed a large alcove. "What's that Charon?"
Again the mechadendrites twitched and buzzed. "Logs indicate it is a ventilation shaft, from it branches the ventilation ducts that run throughout the mine." And to illustrate the point, a new layer of orange lines appeared, spreading from the ventilation shaft, encircling everything on the hololithe both up and down.
"Is that how their moving." Felicia questioned out loud though only to the two others around her.
Jonas nodded slowly. "Maybe, Charon, how big are those vents?"
"The ducts or the shaft?" The Tech-Priest replied immediately, as if expecting the question and it misuse of the term, to which Jonas shot the Tech-Priest a dirty glare. "The shaft would fit an Astartes easily if that's what you're asking. As for the ducts themselves," he stopped, his head tilting and the mechadendrites buzzed again. "Most people save children wouldn't be able to move with any speed, they'd be too big."
"A Genestealer is roughly human sized, isn't it?" Felicia said aloud to which both the Tech-Priest and the Interrogator nodded.
"But." Jonas looked to Felicia. "They are far more flexible than any human I've encountered save a few gymnasts of course." He looked back to the hololithe. "They could shimmy through those vents I suppose."
Charon nodded again, agreeing.
Jonas looked up with an ashen face to the two. "That means however they can move freely around us, and with that shaft, they could get up, into the Hive itself."
Felicia's eyes widened. "There's no way we could cover all those entrances!" She hissed before turning back to the Tech-Priest. "How many shafts are there?" she asked her tone sharp and fast.
Charon shook his head. "Some route directly into the Hive's air circulation systems directly. They'd become impossible to trace if they got into those sections"
"And unless you want to suffocate the whole hive, we can't close those systems." Jonas sighed as he brought his gloved hand up his forehead. "Sweet Emperor."
"Sweet Emperor." Felicia echoed, her face pale and voice drained.
"Can we seal that shaft?" Felicia asked the Tech-Priest as she glanced quickly down from the hololithe to the two branching paths, her voice hopeful, as if her now-waking nightmare of foul xenos and their thralls swarming across the Hive City, butchering and enslaving everything in their path, as if she could avert it.
"Perhaps." The Tech-Priest tilted his head. "But the effects would be minimal at best."
Jonas looked to the Detective, somewhat sympathetically, as if he could imagine what Felicia was feeling, but his thoughts gave him away as they leaked across to Felicia, who shot him a hard glare. "Closing the shaft will not slow them." He shook his head. "We'd need to shut down the whole system to disrupt their operations." He sighed. "And then we suffocate at least, the whole underhive."
Felicia sighed heavily as she rubbed her head, "Some days that wouldn't be bad idea." She closed her eyes for a moment, letting the blindness calm her as she stabled herself, and with every breath wishing the waking nightmare away which continued to persist despite her uttered prayers. Felicia shook her head and opened her eyes. "Ok." She breathed sotto voce. She nodded, more to herself as she looked to the hololithe. "We push deeper, we go down, to the hab chamber, see what we can find."
"Couldn't said it better myself." Jonas whispered near-silently toward the Tech-Priest who returned with a slight flare of his optics 'focusing rings'. "Say the word ma'am." The Interrogator said, louder this time so the others could hear her. "You lead, we follow."
"You find, we kill." Rally whispered over the team-vox, the one reserved for the bodyguards. Markin chuckled and Andreas mumbled something in return but the sudden clatter of footsteps shadowed over her words. Rally glanced over his shoulder to see Dara – another of the bodyguard team, leading the Sergeant, the Detective and Tech-Priest as they pressed on, the other two Arbites and bodyguards following in their wake.
"Leftways." Sergeant Kollad hissed through the vox curtly as he swung his bolter up and sparked his luminator into life as he near-threw himself around the corner. Markin responded by darting forward, his own weapon raised and ready. The two blazed a trail forwards, moving at speed, the knowledge of the 'stealers in the ducts fresh in the Sergeant's head, as such he pressed the team onwards.
Rally drew close to the Sergeant as he chased up after him and the Detective who he noticed was now packing two fistfuls of bolt throwing pain, his powerful luminator for now gave him a pretty good view of the back of the young redhead Arbite's armour – he didn't complain too loudly. But as they jogged forward he noticed something, it was starting to stink pretty badly.
"Hold up." Markin knelt with a raised fist. As one the column stopped, and joined Markin in kneeling, weapons up and prepared. Markin signalled to Rally, who darted up accordingly, weaving between the Arbites and bodyguards with ease. His feet were near silent on the hard floor as he stepped forward, weapon lowered but ready. He slowed as came up on Markin. As Rally peered down the dimly lit corridor in the rock, he knelt slowly besides Markin. "You smell that?" Markin hissed.
Rally shot Markin a hard glare. You stopped us for your nose? His eyes growled to fellow bodyguard. Markin returned with a shrug. "Remember that time on Riesig?"
Rally nodded. "The Forge World? Yeah? Why?" He asked quickly, knowing that the eyes of the Interrogator were on him and Markin.
Markin flicked a glance over his shoulder before returning to Rally. "This crud smells like that drokking cult den?"
Rally sniffed, his nose drawing in the scents of a thousand things, most notably plasteel form the girders that held the corridor up, next came the ore dust that was sprinkled on everything. The Catachan could taste the promethium on the air, thick and heavy, a by-product of someone pulsing a flamethrower, Rally furred his brow, according to the reports and the obvious battle damage to the walls, the Guard had only used their flamer further back up the MSR to the surface, not all the way down here, even with a through-draft it wouldn't reach here. "The Promethium?" he asked with a cocked head.
"No, no you thick brained meat-head." The clean-shaven Cadian hissed back irritated. "The incense."
Rally looked back down the hall, his nostrils flaring as he did, drawing in more of that heavy promethium smell, but underneath it, faintly, Rally could smell something else. He closed his eyes to concentrate, trying to recapture some of that lost sharpness he gained in the death jungles of his homeworld, hunting the dreaded Catachan Devils, feeling his brothers and sisters around him, all waiting for him. His powerful nose drew in tainted air into his lungs, all the while trying to sort out the constituent odours. Incense, now he knew of its existence, he could feel it, something underneath the overwhelming promethium. There, he thought as he picked up the scent, lingering, masked, and faint but there. Rally glanced to Markin who just raised his brows at the Catachan. "Live in and around enough chapels, and you never miss that smell." The Cadian smiled.
"What they worshipping down here?" Kasov broke the silence after a moment, causing the two point men to turn to face the Arbite who was a few steps behind the two. "Smells like a chapel down here."
"Am I the only guy who smells the promethium out of place here?" Rally looked around the group.
"No, I smell it too." Jonas said through clenched teeth. Curtly he waved the Catachan forward with Markin while immediately signing to Andreas, and Dara to hold position in Arbites battle-sign. Felicia noted the signing with an eyebrow raise to Jonas; he'd been doing his required reading.
It seemed the bodyguards had as well as Markin and Rally pulled away to scout ahead of the main team. They moved quickly and quietly, sticking close to the walls as they advanced while in the mean time the others hunkered down, their backs to the rough hewn walls. Andreas braced her back and left shoulder up against of the great plasteel girders, allowing her a degree of cover while she rested her boltgun on her raised knee.
The corridor twisted and turned further on, as well as narrowing slightly, though that hardly slowed the Ranger and the Cadian as they moved with a slight crouch. The two leap frogged each other down the rock halls. As they pressed on the smell increased, the acrid stench of incense and promethium mixing in their nostrils as they closed on the hab chamber.
It was only now that Rally and Markin were actively looking for battle damage to the walls, ceiling and floor. Plenty of micro-explosive damage, but however the corridor they moved in was once part of one of the main seams of ore that snaked through the mountain, so whether the craters were from mining charges or bolter fire was up in the air, but the black scorch marks that decorated parts of the ceiling and walls were noted immediately, seems someone had come through with a flamer recently. Rally kept a sharp eye on the vents that protruded through the rock after a hissed warning from the Interrogator. Rally had signed the information to his partner and the two kept a constant vigil. Among the battle damage Rally and Markin observed was the silvery marks that cut thin grooves in the rockwork, claws Markin had postulated as they passed the set that bisected a plasteel pillar.
The two pushed on for a couple minutes without a word being passed between the two. They slowed as they caught the first beams of white light spilling across the rockrete floor from around the next bend. Immediately the two doused their luminators and moved at a creep toward the light, their breathing slow to try to silence their approach.
Slowly and quietly Markin touched the vox-rune on the side of his helmet. As he watched Rally approach he spoke in hushed tones and hoped that the rocks would not disrupt the message that badly. "Delta-Three-Three, Delta-Three-Three Alpha Mike, Hab chamber in sight, move or stop?"
The vox hissed for a moment with nothing but static. Rally shot Markin a quick, inquisitive glance to which Markin indicated his vox and Rally nodded.
The vox crackled sharply in Markin's ear. The voice of the Interrogator was cracked and distorted but understandable. "Delta-Three-Three Alpha Mike, Delta-Three-Three, affirmative on Hab chamber, clear to regroup?"
"Copy that, regroup, clear all the way, move or stop?" Markin returned a beat later.
Another moment passed before the vox crackled back, this time much clearer. "This better?"
"Affirmative Delta-Three-Three, reading loud and clear. Should we move on the Hab chamber or stop?" Markin returned quietly.
"Roger Alpha Mike, move, how copy?"
"Solid Copy, moving now." Markin signed immediately to Rally who nodded in return as Markin clicked the vox off and rose from his position beside a plasteel girder.
Rally shimmied up the wall toward the light slowly, his finger lightly resting on the trigger of his bolter; Markin was a step behind him, resting a hand on Rally's shoulder while the Catachan locked his eyes on the corner. His weapon hung by a sling while his left hand felt the wall beside him, outstretched ahead of him, feeling for any dips or alcoves not quickly visible to a casual glance. The two drew to a halt beside the light source. Rally looked over his shoulder to the Cadian, who nodded in return. Rally took his guiding hand of the rock and onto his boltgun's foregrip. As he felt the reassuring grip of plastic in his palm, it helped the Ranger steady his nerves as he inched to the edge of the portal in the rock.
Donavon felt the palm of Markin on his shoulder, another thankful left-over from their time in the ranks of the Imperial Guard, tactical training along with a dozen other lingering things that years of being off the constant war fronts of the Imperium had yet to take away, things years of being in the employ of a rather varied career of an Inquisitor's bodyguard had yet to overwrite or replace.
Rally lowered himself to a half-crouch and brought the muzzle of the bolter to the edge of the light stream, the very end of the gun glinting slightly in the white day-luminators. The Catachan sighed as he glanced to the Cadian, the two shared a quick nod and Markin lightly patted his shoulder. As Rally looked forward, Markin let his bolter hang by its sling and reached to his webbing, unhooking a simple black and silver cylinder marked 'PF' on the side. Markin, lifted the cylinder to his belt, looping the small metal ring over a hook that protruded from the belt, and with a hard tug pulled the ring clearly off while keeping a firm grip on the plastic spoon that kept the Photon-Flash grenade from going off in Markin's hand.
Markin tapped his index finger against the hard armour of the point man and together they began to count. Markin could see the Catachan tense visibly as the three seconds passed like eons.
The Cadian breathed deep, filling his lungs full of the dusty, hot, promethium and incense laden air. On his exhale, he breathed "three". As Rally lowered himself a little more, Markin stepped out a little as he swung his right arm around, the grenade in hand, releasing his grip as it closed toward the light, sending the cylinder hurtling into the Hab chamber. The black and silver cylinder disappeared into the enveloping light, almost swallowed by the white light. As the cylinder left Markin's hand he drove himself back into the rock and gripped the handle of his own bolter, bringing it ready near his shoulder.
If the first three seconds lasted eons, then the other three lasted an instant.
With a burning bloom of blinding illumination and a crack of high-pitched, deafening crash, Markin and Rally pushed forward, helmet visors down and mouth guards-come-respirators clamped around their noses and mouths. Rally swept in low and tight around the corner while Markin swept wide and loose into the Hab chamber. They thundered forward with a clatter of boots and sweeping of weapons, the laser-aiming modules attached to the side of the bolters danced strange patterns across the innards of the chamber while the two Imperial Guard Veterans–come Inquisitorial Bodyguards-come pseudo Arbite Chasteners cleared the room fast.
"Clear left!" Rally half-yelled over to his partner.
Markin lowered his bolter slightly as he glanced over his shoulder. "Clear right." He responded before tapping his vox-rune and passing the report to Jonas.
The Hab chamber was in a sense a barracks, mess hall and sitting room all rolled into one. Two dozen triple bunks were all stacked neatly over to one side of the hall. The top covers of the bunks were bare, stripped to their mattresses and little else. The tables for eating were covered in plates and mugs, some crusty with old grime and dirty eating utensils. A few were tossed aside, splattering the ground in a rather horrid colour. Across from the main entrance was a second hole in the rock, but unlike the door the two were pressing through, it was covered in a plasteel pressure door. The pressure door on the entrance however seemed missing, like it was torn from the rock.
Markin trudged over to one of the tables and looked over the contents with mild disgust and unease. He idly picked through the plates and utensils with a gloved finger while keeping an eye on the surroundings.
"Still warm." Rally pulled Markin's attention away from the dirtied cutlery to what looked to a stove hidden in a small alcove in the rock walls. "Well, lukewarm." The Catachan clarified as he withdrew a finger from a silver coloured steel pot on one of the stove rings. Rally cast a glance over to Markin. "I've seen more appetising gruels." He said as he shook the white-watery liquid from his gloved finger.
Markin nodded. "Yeah," he gestured to the table in front of him, "some of this looks recent."
The two roamed around for a minute, checking the various alcoves and hidden sectors of the Hab chamber. They poked and prodded for a few minutes. The signs of battle were evident, black marks stained some parts of the walls and a few of the bunks and chairs were flipped messily. After a moment the two started to find casings littering the floor, all roughly twenty-millimetre shell casings with a few discarded sickle clips tossed here and there, after that, seeing the bullet holes in the rock became obvious. There were weapon stitch marks up the entrance walls; Markin discovered splotches of blood here and there, drag marks and the like, nothing major until Rally whistled across to his teammate. Markin moved toward his teammate to where he was kneeling, near a knot of clutter where a few of the bunks had fallen, toppling the chairs and creating quite a mess. Markin drew up beside Rally to see what he was looking at.
A corpse, quite dead, judging by his lack of a stomach and generous claw wounds.
Markin leaned forward, slinging his bolter over his shoulder, and gripped one of toppled bunks that rested on top of the corpse and pulling away the metal frame and sending it skidding across the rockrete paving floor in a spray of sparks to reveal the extent the damage.
The corpse was big and bulky, heavily muscled with shaggy, blood matted hair and beard. The lifeless body was propped against the wall while the entrails decorated the wall and floor around him. In his grip thick grip to one side looked to be a flamer, man-portable, like a rifle unlike the larger cousin commonly utilised by the Imperial Guard. The corpse was clad in what looked to be flak armour, or at least it was until something had clawed it away and taken a large chunk of flesh and organs in the process, but what remained of the armour was painted deep crimson. Lying discarded a few feet away was a rough-hewn, jagged machete. It looked used, judging from the heavy staining on the bronze coloured blade.
"Cause of death? 'stealer?" Markin postulated only to receive a glare from the Catachan through his visor. "Ok, 'stealer."
Rally kneeled to get a better view of the corpse in red armour. "Well, it explains the promethium smell." He looked unwittingly into the dead brown eyes of the corpse. "Locals must not have taken a liking to him."
"Or his friends." Markin muttered as he glanced over his shoulder. This dragged Rally's attention away from the corpse. Markin gestured his head toward the casings and various damage that littered the Hab chamber. "Too much blood, too many spent cartridges." He looked back to Rally. "More than this poor bastard alone."
"Where's the bodies?" Rally mused as he turned around.
Markin looked over his shoulder. "Check the pressure door." He mused before turning back to the corpse.
Markin shifted the corpse a little, allowing a better view of the wounds and the equipment of the red-armoured, muscle-bound corpse. As he pushed the body onto its side, Markin got a full view of some of the claw marks. They were deep, horrid wounds, cutting deep into the meat and muscle and bone, cutting through finely, as if it was a hot knife through ackenberry preserve. Despite the finely made cut, it still looked nasty and somewhat disgusting by sheer cleanness of the cut.
Markin grimaced as he looked over the wound; he'd seen nicer looking chainsword wounds. As the Inquisitorial bodyguard shifted the body, the flak armour came apart, a quick glance showed that the flak armour had been cut by the Genestealer claws.
As Markin pushed the body over, he was given a rather gratuitous view of the muscle-bound back, and what the bearded, flamer wielding man had scarred into his back.
"Oh sweet." Markin sighed as he looked away while closing his eyes for a moment. "Rally." He called out.
"What." The Catachan returned as he trudged across the rather wrecked Hab chamber. As the Ranger rounded on the Cadian he caught sight of what Markin saw. "Geez." He breathed.
Markin nodded. "Yup."
Rally turned away while rubbing his forehead. "Drok." He sighed again. "Drokking crud." He looked over his shoulder. "What do you think?"
Markin stood, allowing the corpse to drop. "We don't have time for this." He looked to his teammate. "We stick to the job at hand, I'll inform the Interrogator when he gets here." He looked around the Hab chamber. "If they ever get here."
Rally grumbled something as he glanced around. "Come on. I need another pair of muscles." He gestured for Markin to follow.
"You mean you ain't got enough to muscle-bound freak." Markin shrugged as he stood to follow the Catachan. To which Rally sent a grinning glare over his shoulder to the slightly smaller Cadian.
Instead of moving toward the pressure door, the two instead stepped toward one of the great blocks of metal that lined the Hab chamber's walls. Many were the utilities for the Hab chamber and the surrounding areas, water, heating, air-recycler etcetera, basic stuff required to keep the work teams alive while they toiled deep just below the surface. As they approached the great plasteel blocks, Markin could see the symbols marking it out as a water-reclamation unit. As they closed the distance, Rally slung his bolter over his back and flexed his shoulders and biceps.
"What are we doing over here?" Markin asked. "You need to dry off, you sweaty, smelly bastard?" to which he received another half-glare.
Rally gestured to the floor with his chin. "Check it." To which Markin lowered his gaze, to be met with red strained rockrete paving. Markin turned his head to follow the red stain toward the heap of collapsed tables and spilt food.
"Blood?" Markin said to himself as he examined the trail, leading from the splotches and splatter, to the water-reclamation unit. But as he drew eyes across to the unit, he noticed something else. "Scratch marks?" he thought aloud as he looked at the wounds on the rockrete, thin white scrape marks marred the grey surface in a circular pattern, leading from the water-reclamation unit.
Rally flexed his fingers as he moved to the side of the block of plasteel. "Here, help me shift this still." As he took hold of what hand holds he could, Markin swept his weapon once again across the Hab chamber before slinging the bolter.
Rally huffed as he pulled against the still, trying to get the thing to slide easily away, only to get the slightest tremor. He grumbled as he tried again. He strained and swore as he braced his foot against the rock wall and his muscles bulged as his face reddened before letting go in a flurry of expletives.
After a moment of getting his strength back, Rally leapt at it again, this time Markin got a pair of handholds and pulled with the Ranger. Markin felt the strain course through his arms as he tried to shift the heavy piece of plasteel.
"Nugh." Rally breathed as he let go after a moment. "They must have gotten this piece of crud open somehow." He sighed. He looked up and down the still, "there must be a mechanism somewhere." He mused.
As Markin watched the Catachan immediately start padding down the flat grey water still, his ear buzzed, "Friendlies pulling up the rear." The Interrogator hissed across the vox. Markin turned his head toward the rectangle shaped hole to see another of the Bodyguard team sweep through the gap with their bolter raised. Markin held up a placating hand as the bodyguard pushed through with the Detective hot in his heels. Markin nodded to the Interrogator as he turned back to Rally, who was still examining the water-reclamation unit for some sort of hidden mechanism.
Markin turned his attention from the Catachan to the still itself, he glanced across its bland surface, clean, flat, and grey in and of itself, but the residents had clearly taken to placing scraps of parchment on its surface. A runepad was just above waist height with a small display beside it. Markin leaned slightly as he tried to read the small flickering letters as they scrolled across. After a moment he turned to face the rest of the group.
"Sergeant." Markin began, grabbing the attention of the Detective and the Interrogator. He gestured around the Hab chamber. "This area is clearly lived in."
The Interrogator glanced to the door way, then to the floor upon seeing the battle damage to see the spent casings. "Hostiles?" he questioned as he looked to the two.
Markin shook his head. "No Sergeant. Whatever happened here, we missed it." He pointed toward the red-armoured corpse as he trod across toward the Interrogator. "Early guess, this man was part of the group that attacked, judging by the flamer."
"Explains the stench of promethium." Felicia remarked as she graciously made her way to beside the corpse with the red headed Arbite in tow. She looked over the corpse carefully, experimentally prodding and probing the ripped and torn flesh.
Ashe knelt down as she looked over the bloodied flamethrower. "Third-full." She remarked as she read the dial, careful not to disturb the evidence by moving it.
"Group?" Jonas asked after a glance toward the corpse.
"Yes Sergeant." Markin nodded. "Judging from the weapons fire, detritus and blood trails."
Jonas looked to Markin with a raised eyebrow. "Blood trails."
Markin gestured toward the water-reclamation unit where Rally now stood joined with Kasov. The Sergeant moved across the battle zone with the Cadian beside him until they reached the red streaks left of the rockrete. Jonas knelt for a moment as he examined the blood with a finger; it was still relatively wet, recent. Jonas looked as Markin sent a quick apprehensive glance toward the two Arbite women. Jonas stood and motioned for Markin to speak. In a hushed tone Markin passed on what he had seen. "It bears the mark Interrogator." He whispered sotto voce. This caused Jonas to shoot a hard look toward the corpse. "Cause of death was probably a 'stealer."
"This is all we need." The Interrogator hissed as he shook his head and placed his hand on his armaplas covered forehead. He sighed as he glanced about the Hab chamber. "We carry on this pointless errand. We'll deal with, that after; I'll inform the Inquisitor when we return to somewhere a bit more hospitable." Jonas hissed to Markin, who nodded in return.
"Charon!" Rally called to the Tech-Priest. "Scan this damned thing. Find the mechanism to open this."
The staff of the Tech-Priest clunked as the Machine Adept closed on the Catachan Ranger, "A hidden passage?" He warbled.
"Yeah." The Ranger huffed over his shoulder. "Check the scratch marks on the ground, drag marks." He bit harshly toward Charon, his face red and breath heavy after another attempt to pull the water still to the side. "You have those all-seeing eyes, you should be more observant."
Charon muttered something under his breath as he turned to face the water still fully. He hummed for a moment before moving a step closer. His cloak ruffled slightly as his mechadendrites whirred and twisted as the Tech-Priest looked over the water-reclamation unit. His vox-speaker hissed and uttered a few short bursts of binary as he tilted his head.
Rally leaned on his knees for a second, sucking hot air as he tried to get some oxygen to his starting-to-ache muscles. After a moment he raised himself up and took hold of the still once again, breathed deep and braced himself for another go. He braced his boot sole against the rough rockrete wall, and sucked a last breath through his teeth as he applied pressure.
The Tech-Priest watched the Ranger with slight amusement as his mechadendrites snaked forth from his heavy set robes. Half a dozen metallic, finger thick self supporting ropes with tri-fingered manipulator endings darted forward toward the still. As one they spread out into a hexagonal pattern, each end spreading wide and a haze of green light danced out, illuminating the entire front face of the still. The Tech-Priest crackled and hissed discordant noise as the manipulator tips rotated and beam of spectral light highlighted each edge and plain of the large blocky mass of plasteel.
Slowly the Tech-Priest stepped forward as the mechadendrites clicked and whirred, a machine-coated hand emerged from underneath his robe a clearly bionic finger extending toward the still.
"Omnissiah, guide your servant true." He prayed as his finger pressed against the rune pad.
The water-reclamation unit hummed, for a moment, the pipes that funnelled out of the top of the still into a roof-mounted utility shuddered for a minute then stopped. Markin and Jonas turned their heads and the two Arbites stood from the corpse to watch with a dash of apprehension as they touched their weapons with a quick glance to Dara who was kneeling beside the entrance. Andreas glanced across from her position near the opposite pressure door, lifting her bolter slightly the noise reverberated around the rockrete room.
With a triumphant yelp, Rally fell backwards as suddenly the still shifted. As his armour smashed against the rockrete, Kasov darted forward, shotgun raised and thrust into the yard wide gap that appeared. Each of the others snatched up their weapons and tensed up as Rally rolled to his feet bringing own bolter up as he did.
The group held still and silent for a minute as Kasov drew back slowly. Jonas hissed to the Arbitrator as he withdrew. Kasov turned to Rally with a half-smirk before turning his head to the Interrogator. "Sergeant." He started. "passageway is clear."
Rally grinned as he slung his bolter, taking up his position again as Kasov and Markin flowed around him, weapons trained on the gap.
The rockrete was cut away in a similar fashion to the entrance of the Hab chamber itself, rectangular but it bore the definite markings of work done by hand, as did the passage behind it. Though most of the work was probably done by blasting charges, the hard light that illuminated the area beyond was definitely hand-fitted. A quick glance to the Tech-Priest by Felicia confirmed that this little tunnel was not on the maps.
"Tech-Priest." Rally huffed as he slid the now far lighter still across the rockrete.
"Yes Chastener." Charon chirped with a buzz of static as his mechadendrites helped the Catachan out a little.
Rally glanced over his shoulder before returning to his work. "What did you do?" He huffed then sucked in more musty air. "Ask the Omnissiah to vaporise ninety-percent of this thing's weight."
"No." The Tech-Priest answered calmly to which the Catachan Ranger turned his head. "All I did was relocate two-hundred and fifty litres of reclaimed water to the cooling unit in the ceiling."
"What?" The Ranger hissed.
Charon tilted his head slightly as he looked at the bulky soldier. "It was full with water. You are the lead scout, you should be more observant."
"Ok." Jonas nodded as Rally, or more accurately, Charon shifted the now empty water still with his mechadendrites with surprising ease as the rest of the team sat with weapons ready. The Interrogator glanced to the red armoured corpse, he felt a cold chill run up his spine, this feeling caused the Arbite Detective to turn her blue eyes toward Jonas.
"We push forward?" Andreas glanced over her shoulder to the Interrogator. Her hidden eyes met with the Jonas'. With her head she gestured to the team. "Or we stay?"
Jonas glanced to Felicia as she lowered her bolt pistols gradually. The Detective flicked her gaze to Jonas, she was serious about this and Jonas nodded. Jonas sighed as he nodded to Andrea, for some reason Jonas saw a lot of Inquisitor Mary Lognus in the Detective, curious to a fault. As one the bodyguards raised up and slowly began to move toward the hole in the wall. Rally whipped around the corner sharply, his bolter raised and luminator on full power, enough to dazzle someone if he caught someone in the face, then followed up with a seventy-five calibre bolt. After a moment pause he signalled silently to the two, all clear. Jonas nodded. He knew what was down that tunnel; he could guess what they would find. He had seen firsthand what they could do, the image of the Imperial Fists fighting the xeno horde flashed in his mind horrifically.
Jonas glanced to Felicia, who returned the same look. Jonas checked the bolt of his bolter, pulling it back to inspect the weapon. Slowly he slid the bolt back and watched as the other bodyguards prepared for entry into the side tunnel.
Felicia moved forward as the team awaited the order. Jonas caught her by the bicep with an armoured gauntlet. Quickly he pulled her close. "Felicia." He hissed in her ear. She turned to look at him while he released her. "I am not throwing the lives of my men away." Jonas made eye contact with the Detective. "Not now, not for a recon run." Felicia nodded. The Interrogator glanced to the two other Arbites, then turned back to Felicia. "They stay in the dark." He said, his tone showing that there was no room for negotiation on this matter. "They stay here. We go, we check then we leave. Understood Detective?" Jonas took on a hard tone he really didn't feel, but he had to get across to Felicia the situation at hand. Slowly the Detective nodded understandingly, undoubtedly picking up on the thoughts slipping from the Interrogator like a waterfall, feeling his fear at the memories of the Genestealers.
Karen and Kasov prepped their shotguns as they stepped forward. Jonas stopped them with a gesture. "Dara, Ashe, Kasov, hold the door." The Chastener Sergeant ordered.
"Yes Sergeant." Dara replied as he turned on the spot and trotted across the messy floor to his old overwatch position.
The other two Arbites looked at Jonas curiously, they complied with the orders, but still they held him in a strange glance for a moment.
"It's ok." Felicia looked to the two. "If I need a second pair of eyes down there, I'll give you a shout." She grinned as she pulled on her carapace helmet again, lowering the anti-glare visor and checking the built in rebreather. Karen half-grinned in returned as she turned, her weapon tracking slowly across the Hab chamber from her hip. Kasov shrugged nonchalantly joining Karen in the overwatch.
"Andreas, switch up, Markin, rearguard." Jonas hissed as he slid his own helmet visor down.
Andreas responded silently as she darted forward as Markin sat. The Cadian shifted only after receiving a double tap on the back of his armour. The Cadian disengaged professionally, sliding away to take up his position at the rear of the group while Rally waited to press forward at the order of his commander, the Interrogator.
Felicia checked her own weapons over as she prepared to move with the now slimmed bodyguard team. She breathed a heavy, incense and promethium laden breath as she stepped forward, the image of the beast ever vivid in her mind as she crouched slightly to follow Rally into the misshapen tunnel entrance.
"The Emperor Protects." Felicia uttered the old Imperial Guard adage as Jonas appeared at her shoulder, bolter hanging in his grip.
"But it doesn't hurt to double check." Soran responded as he peered out of one of the many hab block windows, down into the underhive and its slowly growing groups of civilians.
Third Platoon of the Third Company of the Tercian Five hundred and Ninth Regiment of the Imperial Guard was stationed high up in one of the many hab blocks that lined the Mostatia plaza, specifically one that sat squarely on the main route into the plaza, overlooking the great, nine-lane highway into the plaza – now gridlocked with civilian ground cars save for two outside lanes, which were gridlocked with Imperial Guard H&S supply trucks trying to filter through the checkpoints put up by sixth company all around the plaza.
"What?" Desolta looked up at the fellow guardsman from his position underneath the wide panoramic windows of the former penthouse suite second squad had managed to find themselves billeted in, of course the room was a wreak, the furniture had been stripped out and the great double bed replaced with smaller, less opulent ones. The penthouse which at one time would sleep two, three if they were lucky, had been converted to sleep a family or two and now found its services in use by two squads of the Imperial Guardsman of Third Platoon and whoever else found some space.
Bedrolls littered the floor, as did the bodies that slept in them. Approximately twenty-two soldiers or varying descriptions and ranks sat, stood, laid, squatted, pretty much everywhere. Many were near the windows to keep an eye out on the roads surrounding the plaza. This was enforced by the smashed out window to one side that now mounted the platoon's heavy stubber, thankfully reallocated from the regiment stores, along with the Guardsmen themselves with their own lasguns. Most of the rifles however remained resting against the walls opposite the window, along with the more bulky pieces of armour for some of the Guardsmen. Sergeant Mitchell however went fully armoured as he stood with his lasgun slung over his shoulder as he stood his post near the Second squad vox operator. Third squad shared the room with the ten other soldiers, their own 'heavy weapon' was a standard issue missile launcher, which like the some of the lasguns was stood upright and unloaded for safety purposes, its two operators sat with their backs against the side wall nearby, watering canteens in hand and a deck of tarot cards between the two.
"You said 'the Emperor Protects.'" Soran explained to the Guardsman beside him as he watched the street below with a pair of magnoculars – a low powered magnification device readily available to the Guardsmen. He lowered the device to look at the fellow soldier. "I was just riposting."
Desolta sent a half glare to Soran. "Do you know what that word actually means?" he asked incredulously.
Soran shrugged as he looked back to the road through his magnoculars. "Heard it on the holos – thought I'd use it." To which Desolta shrugged as he reached into his pack which lay beside him and pulled out two blue wrapped CRPs, or combat ration packets. With practised ease he lightly threw one to Soran who in a flash of skill caught it with nary a glance at it. With a grin Desolta ripped his open with his teeth as Soran turned back to the road.
"Whoa." Kravan breathed after a moment. Desolta turned to look at his friend at his position near the bipod mounted machine gun, a similar pair of magnoculars glued to his face.
"What's up?" Desolta asked as he bit off a mouthful of reprocessed meat.
Kravan was silent for a moment, his mouth working slightly but no sound exiting his moving lips. "You. Killed. My. Mother." He said after a minute.
Desolta was taken aback by the statement. "No I didn't" He returned.
Kravan pulled his eyes away from the magno's for a second to glare at his teammate and friend. "Not you idiot." He chided. "It's what the board says."
"What board." Mitchell asked as he stepped forward, his own pair of magnos coming up to his eyes.
"Crowd has boards, signs – looks like a protest." Soran answered after a moment. "Lot of 'em to."
"Sit-rep." Sergeant Mitchell barked as he pulled up his own magnoculars to his eyes.
Soran tracked his sight from left to right as Desolta snatched up his rifle, now joined with what he was told was a five times magnification scope. As Soran scanned the crowds beyond the thin line of barricades, Desolta braced his rifle against the opened-window sill with his eye peering through his scope. "Approx, five, maybe six hundred. Distance, seven-hundred and fifty yards."
"They look pissed." Kravan remarked as his hand groped toward his own lasgun.
Mitchell saw his soldier tense as they gathered near the edge of the window, many clutching their weapons. The Sergeant's attention was caught by the sound of the Heavy Stubber's breech bolt snapped back to the ready position. The Guardsmen hissed to each other as they snatched up lasguns and slapped home fresh power cells.
"Two-Bravo step up!" Corporal Razler – freshly promoted – barked to his fireteam as the young boys that made up his unit darted forward. Third Platoon had taken some casualties during the venture into the eastern tunnels, but one of the sombre perks of being stationed on your homeworld was that in case of casualties, replacements can be found from the legions of volunteers, or requisitioned from the constantly replenishing Planetary Defence Force Divisions. However, during the current state of almost emergency the planet found itself in, teetering on a knife edge between order and chaos, especially with the civilian populous up in arms nearly over the Arbites and their supposed abuse of power, not to mention the general loathing of the Governor had been catalysed by the Imperial Guard deployment. The subsequent mirror of actions all over the planet was just pouring promethium onto the problem, and all it would take was one spark to blow the situation out of all proportion.
"Stand down!" Mitchell barked to the two squads of Guardsmen. "I gave no such order to go to red-con one." He cast a hard gaze across the room. "Stand down" repeated the Sergeant. He gestured for the Guardsmen to lower their weapons. The Third squad NCO was currently at the platoon CP so Third squad was currently being run by Mitchell. The Guardsmen stopped prepping their weapons, though most of them kept their rifles at hand but didn't level them against the growing horde of civilians; the Heavy Stubber operator lowered his weapon's barrel to face the ground. Mitchell, after a moment stepped up to the window and pulled his magnoculars to his eyes, he whistled lowly as he gazed over the mass of people, he agreed with Kravan, they looked pissed.
Many of the banners bore various slogans, some anti-Imperial Guard, some anti-Arbites, some just expletives over the symbol of either organisation. Many bore the names of people, presumably relatives or friends who had died in the crossfire of the riot or Imperial Guard assault.
"Crud." The Sergeant breathed as he saw a small tide of supporters join the crowd. With a quick glance to Marty – his stomach thankfully intact after major surgery – he gestured for the black plastic vox-horn. The vox-operator dutifully passed the sergeant the small black object as the sergeant turned back to his magnoculars.
"Charlie-Three-Actual, this is Three-Two, how do you read?" The Sergeant clicked the vox on and spoke quickly as he magnified the image of the protestors.
The vox hissed static for an instant before Lieutenant Ruthann became audible. "Three-Actual here, reading loud and clear, send traffic."
"Three-Actual, Three-Two reporting multiple, estimate six zero zero plus civilian foot-mobiles, approx seven five zero yards from northern checkpoint on MSR White" The road named for one of the past Governors of the planet.
"Copy Three-Two – current situation of foot-mobiles? Current squad situation?"
"Currently holding distance and protesting – squads are observing."
The hiss returned for a moment before clearing. "Solid copy Three-Two, stay on station and observe, sound off if situation develops."
Mitchell glanced over his slightly agitated troops. "Three-Actual, request update on ROE." ROE, the Rules of Engagement, the rules dictating how, what and when the troopers of the Imperial Guard could engage targets, actively hostile or not.
"Three-Two, ROE is unchanged, fire on any hostile movement, copy Three-Two?" Ruthann replied disheartened – the Governor enforced ROE was a carte blanche for the Imperial Guard and the Planetary Defence Force for the kill anything that got in their way, for any reason. However, the bloodbath that was the Guard offensive proved to be, if not a tactical mess, it was a PR disaster, protests, riots, demonstrations – and that was just the civilians. Gangs had driven past in trucks and ground-cars, spraying the makeshift barracks with stubber fire then driving off, and that was just the start, they'd taken the opportunity of the sudden power shift to reignite the multitudes of gang wars that pot marked the underhive, during the 'night', Mitchell could hear the gunfire surrounding the plaza – thankfully none of it directed at the Guard, most of the time.
"Copy sir." Mitchell replied curtly as he handed the horn back to Marty. He mulled over it for a second before lowering his magnoculars. He glanced left and right at the Imperial Guardsmen as they watched the crowd from afar. "All right boys, hold off and observe, report if the crud gets real, I'm gonna get some hot chow" He ordered as he turned away and began to cross the floor toward the door.
"Oh." He said as he pulled open the faux-wood door, he looked over his shoulder to the Guardsmen. "For the love of the Emperor, don't rile them up. Just, watch. We don't need a blood bath."
"Yes Sergeant." Razler nodded to Mitchell as he allowed his rapidly-readied lasgun to slip onto its sling.
"But having a loaded bolter never hurt either." Rally hissed as he slipped forward. Andreas on his shoulder and the Detective close behind. The Interrogator, the Tech-Priest and the Cadian followed after a moment, passing from the brightly lit Hab chamber to the dank, tight corridor in the rock.
"What?" Felicia hissed as she picked through the corridor behind the armoured mass of the two Inquisitorial Bodyguards.
"You said, 'The Emperor Protects'" Rally returned without looking at the Detective. "I was just replying."
"Huh." The blonde haired Arbite replied, incredulous.
Rally trod carefully forward in a half crouch into the twisting, rough-hewn rectangle in the rock. The Catachan was slow, steady and on edge as he swept forward around a hard turn in the corridor, his bolter's luminator on a lower setting, barely highlighting the edges of the rock ahead of him while the others kept their lights on low as well, and so the group had to pat their way ahead as they left the warm embrace of the halted bolted lamps back into the cold, forbidding, descending darkness.
Felicia watched the Catachan and the Armageddon native through the visor of her carapace helmet, their armoured hulks shifting in the lightened up shadows. The Detective sent a glance over her shoulder toward the Interrogator as he pressed on after her, his bolter hoisted in one hand while the other was pressed against the wall, helping him guide his way through.
Behind Jonas was the looming figure of Charon, the silver faced Tech-Priest was finally silent as he followed flawlessly after the four, probably aided by some form of optical enhancement, some form of either night-vision or thermal imaging. Felicia grunted dismayed at the Tech-Priest's advantage as she stumbled.
"Drop ahead." Rally hissed over the vox in Felicia's helmet buzzed quietly as they continued. "About five feet."
By automatic Felicia listened to the static while still pushing on as the Ranger lowered himself down a small drop in the corridor while Andreas knelt at the top, her bolter to her shoulder. "We're are closing on the lower sink pit. Distance three-hundred metres at a descent angle of ten degrees." Charon hissed through the vox curtly.
"Feels about right." Rally grumbled back across the short-range network as he whipped his weapon back up as he touched down on the hard ground.
"Sink pit?" Andreas asked quietly as she followed Rally by carefully leaping down the five foot drop, making her armoured boots slam against the hard floor. The echo rattled around the group for an instant, causing Rally to turn harshly toward the Veteran Sergeant, hissing a harsh criticism before turning back and pressing forward again.
Felicia prepared to lower herself down the drop slowly; she holstered her bolt pistols and turned around. As she half crouched to climb down, Jonas stepped forward, his bolter hanging be his side while reaching forward toward the Detective.
"Here." Jonas grinned as he reached to help the Detective. Felicia smiled as she took the proffered hand, gently leaning backwards to step down the drop, slowly allowing the Interrogator to take up the weight of her and her armour. Gradually the Interrogator helped the woman down the drop, much to her concealed amusement. Felicia dropped down the two feet by herself, bending at the knees slightly as she landed. Quickly she turned and drew her bolt pistols again and moved away from the edge, to allow the Interrogator to descend himself.
"What's the sink pit?" Andreas asked again as Jonas climbed down the steep drop in the corridor himself.
Felicia tilted her head at the Veteran Sergeant. "I thought Armageddon was a Hive World? Their quite common on the Hive Worlds I've been too." She commented, to which Andreas turned to look over her shoulder at the Detective.
"Sorry for not being as observant as you, when I last went home, I was busy – fighting an Ork Waaagh, kind of takes up your time." Andreas bit back harshly before turning back to follow the Catachan.
"You got to go home?" Rally looked over his shoulder, sounding surprised.
Andreas looked back to the Catachan. "Remember when you guys went to Minboir?"
"Yeah? The Tau job? What about it?" The Interrogator replied as he slid up beside the Detective.
Andreas shrugged. "Inquisitor Lognus took me and Bravo team back to Armageddon to see if we could help."
"And did you?" Rally asked as he knelt, waiting for the others to join them.
The Veteran Sergeant shrugged again, "We blew up a Deathstrike Missile after a xeno warband took a supply base. Must of wiped easily a thousand Orks."
Rally chuckled quietly. "A thousand orks? Frakking nice." He breathed.
Andreas shot a look over her shoulder. "Sink pit? Info dump, now cog-boy." The Veteran Sergeant glared sharply to the Tech-Priest as he stood at the top of the drop.
Charon's optics whirred for a moment as he looked at the raven haired woman, probably accessing the information requested, but Jonas cut in ahead of him. "Their drains Wolfgang."
Jonas raised his visor for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow. "We're under the primary water reclamation reservoirs. Sink pits are an emergency precaution in case of flooding, means that if the pressure in the pipes skyrockets, they can dump the tens of millions of litres of water into the pits through the crisis tunnels."
"Tunnels?" Andreas turned to the Interrogator, her voice suddenly worried. "You mean at any moment we could be drowned?"
"Whoa, no Veteran Sergeant." Felicia said placating. "Different tunnels, specifically created ones, about four hundred metres above us, I think." The Detective said with a quick glance to the Tech-Priest who nodded.
As Felicia watched, six metallic tentacles snaked eerily out from the heavy crimson robes of Charon, silhouetted menacingly in shadow, rising up beside the Tech-Priest. In a flash, the mechadendrites stabbed out, thudding heavily into the rocky walls.
Like a ghost, the silhouetted Tech-Priest raised eerily up into the musky, humid air. Like a spectre, the shadowed Charon hovered, suspended by the six lithe tentacles that were secreted around his robed form. Like a phantom, the Tech-Priest silently retracted two of the mechadendrites, one from each side, and walked them forwards. As the two latched into the hard rock, another pair detached and moved ahead and down, pulling the metal ghoul-like blackness toward the watching Detective. The near silent, pneumatic thud of the adamantium tentacles as they punched into the rough-hewn, jagged bedrock of the hive sent a shiver down Felicia's spine; she could hear the slow hiss of the Tech-Priest's optics, the crackle of his vox-caster, the slow tick as Charon manipulated his on-board auspex beneath his robe.
Felicia's sniffin sense could pick up a lot in these cramped conditions, and her years of training and decades of experience allowed her to stop those feelings from overshadowing her own, a trap of many a young psyker, but this close to Charon, his own internal feelings leaked over her, they were strange to say the least. Like water from the polar peaks, they flowed cold, like the cybernetics that encased his form. Almost tasteless, Felicia could feel the emotions of the well-disciplined Tech-Priest, his own mental control was formidable, he policed his own emotions thoroughly, but still some leaked through. Felicia could feel his unease at the current situation he found himself in, as they had shed not only the safety of the Rhino Armoured Personnel Carrier, they had pressed on beyond the required point of safe return, ordered an identifiable percentage of the team's combat proficiency to stay behind, and now they were inside the least optimal area for combat, especially against a thing like a Genestealer.
Rally looked over his shoulder as the near-silent hisses ended in a quick, definite thud as the metal weight touched down on the off-kilter floor. Charon tapped the bottom of his cog-headed staff on the rocky floor as the mechadendrites disappeared, sliding back into the heavy robes of the Tech-Priest.
"We ready to go?" The Catachan Ranger asked as Markin expertly scrambled down the drop in a few seconds.
Jonas glanced to Markin as he un-slung his bolter and nodded to the Interrogator as he took up his position at the rear of the column. The Interrogator nodded to Rally in response.
Rally turned and took off again in to the darkness. Wolfgang rose slightly to follow him. Felicia flexed her grip on her two sidearms as she rose from her half-crouch, intent on driving forward.
"Charon." Felicia breathed as the group trudged on for a few moments at a decent pace, the Catachan and the Armageddon native in the lead, their luminators highlighting the sharp edges that passed beside them.
The optics of the Tech-Priest whirred slightly as he looked to face the Detective. "Yes?" He asked quietly.
"How far are we from the sink pit?" She asked as she watched Rally go shoulder first through a tight turn.
The Tech-Priest clicked his vox-speaker for a second as Andreas followed the Catachan. "Roughly two-hundred metres." He returned a minute later. The Detective nodded as she heard the answer.
The group pressed on with some haste, though their speed was constrained by the rocks around them, but slowly but surely, progress was made. Felicia kept her sniffin sense as far reaching as she dared, trying to perceive what was coming ahead of them. Psychically, it felt the same as the mining hub, wet and warm yet just out of focus, like it was scratching at the edges of her mind, unnerving to the mind's touch but Felicia swallowed her revulsion, and thanked the Emperor that humans didn't create the same sensation, they just tended to be warm if anything. Her bolt pistols were heavy in her hands as they pressed forward into the enveloping shadows, heavy as the beads of sweat ran down into her gloves from her armoured forearms. She blinked another pair of beads from her eyes as she turned through a small slalom of turns in the rock.
The feeling got stronger as they pressed on, less out of focus, more smothering, hot and enveloping, a sensation helped by the tight enclosure or the rapidly increasing heat, pointed out to her as real by Markin as he swore while wiping his brow. Felicia concentrated on the Cadian voice while trying to lift the sense of oppression she was feeling, she wasn't claustrophobic, as her little jaunt in a Adeptus Astra Telepathica holding iso null-cell when she was five had taught her, but she could shirk the overwhelming presence that weighed on her mind as they progressed. She tried shaking her head to lift the feeling but it didn't help. Felicia held back her trained response to 'star', a technique drill-trained by the Adeptus Astra Telepathica for when Psykers were restrained, trapped or any other form of physical duress, to, for a brief instant, flare their psychic abilities. While sounding like a load of groxcrap – as one of the other students had put it, Felicia could attest to its ability to give a sense of freedom and general ability to calm an emotionally agitated psyker. What such an ability could do varied on the level of psyker. A low-level like Felicia would just give a psychic 'nudge' almost to anyone within about a hundred metres, the closer the stronger, Felicia had once sent her pet Larisel, one of her few comforts at the Schola Progenium, in a panic when she tried it when she was seven, she also woke virtually everyone up in the middle of the night but that was a different story. She forwent that little comfort in the name of tactical sensibility; she didn't want to blow their cover to the xeno predators that they now sought.
"Emperor." Jonas breathed a hot, humid sigh as he wiped his forehead. "Charon." He hissed to the Tech-Priest behind him. The red robed figure turned to look at the Interrogator quickly. "Are we under the heat-exchangers or something? This is unreal."
Rally chuckled from up ahead. "Cramped, uncomfortable, hunting insanely deadly beasts, and we're sweating enough to fill a lake, Emperor help me, I love this, it's just like home." The Catachan chuckled.
Wolfgang joined the point man in chuckling. "Boys got a point, this feels like being back in the manufactoriams again, expect instead of overseeing servo-arms building Leman Russ Battle Tanks, we're going after Tyranid Genestealers."
The Cadian at the rear sneered as he let loose a short laugh. "Prosan, that's what this reminds me of. Harsh Environment Training, ah I miss it some days" He laughed again.
Jonas snapped his head back and forwards. "Am I the only one who remembers the fact that we are a six-man unit going against unknown numbers of things that carve through power armour?"
"In all my years serving with the Valhallen Two-hundred and Seventy Third Regiment, I have divined a few things." Charon weighed in, his voice a harsh crackle compared to the humour filled others. "One of those observations is that those who thrive in the Guard are a species unto themselves."
"See, I knew you Guardsmen were freaks." Jonas half-laughed.
Rally laughed openly as he stopped to look back at the Interrogator. "I don't remember saying anything to the contrary." The Catachan turned back to the tunnel and continued after wiping his brow.
Jonas asked the Tech-Priest again as they started to move once more. "No." Was the answer.
"Then how?" Jonas proclaimed, "Why does it feel like we're all getting slow roasted? Pressure will do one thing, but I know we're not that far down, not yet."
Charon held the Interrogator in his optics for a moment. His speaker clicked and hissed white noise quickly as he turned over the answer in his head. The answer was short, simple, excusable, but all the while chilling. "I don't know."
"How far?" Wolfgang asked after a few minutes of walking after the Catachan.
Charon clicked for a second before responding. "One hundred and forty metres."
Andreas shrugged, "A metre or a mile, the Guard will take it." She repeated sardonically to herself as she idly checked the breech of her point-seven-five, machine gun crossed with a rocket propelled grenade launcher. The twenty round clip was still full, and her replacements jangled quietly as she moved. The weapon was surprisingly light, this was the Guard-issue variant, not light enough, in fact nowhere near light enough to fire any more than single fire without ending up on her ass, breaking her shoulder and forearm or missing wildly– both of which wasn't a good action in a fire fight, but it was a damn sight smaller than the Astartes carried version, those were made to withstand the harshest actions of war, fire hundreds of rounds without incident, get dropped in thick mud and grime, and still be able to bash a prospective Ork over the head with it if need be, a little like the ubiquitous lasgun if she thought about it, two weapons aptly designed for their prospective users.
She would have continued but Rally's fist shot up and the column came to a dead halt. Slowly they kneeled and waited as Rally took a tentative step forward. He glanced back to the waiting faces of Jonas, Felicia and Wolfgang, Charon being obscured with Markin behind the three. "Light source, distance twenty metres." He reported as he gestured forward.
Jonas nodded as waved the column forward, this time at a slower pace. Hesitantly they pressed on, Rally silently closing on the beams of light that revealed themselves to the group as they rounded a slight bend in the rocky hallway. The corridor seemed to terminate here as well, leading to the portal in the rock.
"Space beyond, wide." The Catachan hissed across the vox as he edged on the light source.
Jonas turned his head to the Tech-Priest, his question unspoken. Charon shook his head. They weren't at the sink-pit yet. Jonas looked back to the Catachan and nodded. Slowly Rally peeked his head around the relative safety of the rock.
"Holy Emperor." He breathed before look back to the group. "Light cover ahead, distance five metres."
Wolfgang looked to the Ranger. "Foot-mobiles?"
Rally looked to the Veteran Sergeant. "You need to see this." He said coldly.
"Ok." Jonas breathed as he passed Wolfgang, closely followed by Felicia, Jonas shot her a hard glare but she returned it, this maybe what she came down here for.
The two lined up behind the Ranger. "Lead the way Rally." Jonas breathed as he checked the breach on his own boltgun.
The Catachan nodded slowly. "Stay low." He hissed as he dropped, turning around the corner tightly.
Jonas followed suit, his weapon raised and prepared.
Felicia flexed her fingers on her bolt pistols one again in attempt to clam the dominating presence that surrounded her. She breathed a quick prayer, sucked in a long draught of hot air, dropped low, and moved.
She was met by the visage of a vast, massive break in the rock that surrounded them. Like a great circle had been carved out of the mountain. It angled in a slight slope down from the entrance that she just passed through. Down, and down it went as she looked, easily a hundred metres to a more machined-looking inner circle – not that she could see it all that well.
Rally and Jonas we're crouched by what looked to be a roughly chest height fallen piece of stone, both peering over the edge. Felicia darted over to join them, keeping low as the Ranger had recommended. As she dropped between two, she took her first proper look at what lay beyond.
Cloaked figures, normally clothed figures, some naked, some obviously mutated, some not, many openly armed. They spanned far and wide, a literal sea of bodies, all facing inwards toward a plinth, on which two figures stood. They were over a hundred metres away easily so they were minute. Jonas and Rally had retrieved their magnoculars from their webbing, both had expressions of grave seriousness.
"There must be thousands of them." Felicia said sotto voce.
"If that." Rally breathed. "Here." He uttered as he passed Felicia his magnoculars. She took them quickly as pressed her eyes to them after raising her visor.
Her waking nightmare became real.
Stood tall before a smaller man was the beast from her vision, the one stood over the dead, torn Space Marines, the Ultramarines Relena had mentioned, was stood tall here. Its four arms wide, something held in one, hanging limply, a human in red body armour. The beast's slavering jaw was wide, displaying its hideous array of needle sharp teeth. It chest was an interlocking array of carapace plates, bone white with a splattering of blood. Its hind legs, along with most of its body were heavily muscled, they looked like small, lithe packs in comparison to the human in its grip. It black eyes surveyed the crowd before it, its thin tongue darting about it opened mouth like a viper.
"The Broodlord." Jonas whispered, horrified.
"This is worse than I thought." Jonas breathed as he saw the rippling muscles as they flexed over the tight frame of the Tyranid infiltrator. Felicia shot the Interrogator a look of horror combined with sarcasm.
"I count, ten, thirteen, twenty, five..." Rally whispered as he pulled a mono-mag, a smaller, one-eyed version of the magnoculars from his webbing. "Thirty?" He breathed. His lips continued to move silently as his head jittered as he looked around. After a moment he sighed quietly. "I can't get a precise count, crud load of 'stealers, easily forty plus."
Jonas nodded as he concentrated his vision on the terrible xeno at the centre of all this. "Who's that?" Felicia breathed to the two as she continued to peer through her borrowed magnoculars.
"What?" Jonas said curtly as his head turned over, trying to wrap his head around the situation.
"The man stood in front of the big one." The Detective returned. "The guy with the staff, pan left." She instructed.
Jonas obeyed as he panned his vision the few millimetres until his vision rested on the man in question. He was still human size, but his stature was thin, he looked malnourished judging by the pale colour of his skin, his muscles looked like robes underneath his alabaster skin, a vile cross between a Genestealer and a human. In his skeletal grip was a rough-hewn construct of metal pipe work, it was as tall as him and was headed off by a circular icon. Jonas knew it instantly; it resembled the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, a crude interpretation of one of the Imperium's most valued institutions. "It's the Magus." Jonas returned after a moment. The man was bald, and his eyes were dark and imposing as he glanced over the horde of people before and around him.
"Why does he have a Telepathica staff?" Felicia questioned as she drew her sight onto the man, she restrained her sniffin sense as the sense of utter oppression crushed in around her, the hot, humid sensation wrapped around her, smothering her.
Jonas mulled an answer for a moment before flicking his gaze from the magnoculars to the Detective. "Genestealer Cults often have a Magus, a psyker to coordinate the hybrids." He looked back to the magnoculars. "They are still, in some, twisted way, human." He continued. "And the general view is that all psykers are Adeptus Astra Telepathica, and all Telepathica have the iconic staff. Ergo, looks like he made a staff."
"Huh." Felicia replied.
"That poor bastard is part of same group as the stiff in the Hab chamber." Rally uttered as he focused on the Broodlord.
Jonas pulled his view back to the human in the embrace of the near-three metre tall Tyranid. His armoured was crimson like the corpse in the Hab chamber, his face was red and bloodied, slash marks criss-crossed the muscled human's face, shredding his left eyes, ripping it free from the socket, leaving it hanging by a tangle of flesh and nerves. The jaw was gone, torn from its moorings presumably by a Genestealer in the frenzy of combat. The right arm was little more that shreds of meat hanging on by the few remaining tendons, the hand completely missing. The left arm was more intact, the exposed flesh covered in black, brown and reddish ink marks. "Check the tats." Rally uttered quietly. Various horrid markings, skulls and tear drops – normal stuff, but circling between was twisting scar-like letters, linking each intricate scar and tattoo. "Look familiar."
Jonas was silent for a moment, he sighed heavily. "Crud." He breathed as he looked over the markings. "We'll deal with that later." He glanced to the Ranger for a second.
"Woah, woah, woah." Felicia interrupted the two as she leaned forward. "The Gene-brood-thing, the big thing is doing something."
"Broodlord." The two corrected her as they refocused on the massive Tyranid. With wide sweeps of its head, the master of the brood glared over its congregation, with its free hand it beckoned the herd closer. Its tongue whipped about his needle teeth, with each twitch of the muscle, it spread thick spittle over the plinth and those around it. Sharply the Broodlord jerked the red-armoured corpse into the air, like a trophy won in competition, a magnificent, bloody prize. It scowled and hissed as the other milling Genestealers as they mingled about themselves, crowding near to their master. The screeches of the Tyranids echoed about the dome, reverberating off the downward stabbing stalactites menacingly around in to the ears of the Interrogator, Detective and the Bodyguards are they crouched close to the portal into the dome, weapons prepared, ready for the call from Jonas to attack, regardless of the opposition.
"Sweet Emperor." Wolfgang hissed as the screech hit the group full force.
As the three watched, the Broodlord swung the corpse about, as if displaying it to its followers."This human warrior" a voice echoed about the hall as the monster shook the red-armoured cadaver. Felicia shifted her magnoculars minutely to see the Magus gesturing grandly. "Sought to claim our lives, our skulls for his obscene cult." The Magus continued. The Broodlord took the corpse in its four armed embrace, Felicia saw as the claws punched through the scared and tattooed flesh with ease, she watched as beads of red welled and dropped, straining the exposed arms and fatigues of the already dead ganger. The right arm dangled as the massive Tyranid dug its claws into the chest and waist of the corpse, Felicia felt her chest tighten as the claws passed through the flak armour with contemptuous ease, slipping into the flesh silently and between the ribs seemingly perfectly.
Rally clenched his teeth as the Magus continued. "They failed." The Magus said resolutely, his voice carried to the three's ears by some unknown force. "Instead of our lives for their cult, they shall serve us! The Brood will take from them the strength of which they are so proud. The Brood will grow strong from their blood." And is if on cue, nine other corpses appeared as six Genestealers raised them up, each in a similar state to the one in the grip of the Broodlord, each bleeding openly from scores of wounds, one was missing his legs, another had only a mess of gore for a chest and one didn't seem quite dead, his head darting about horrified as his relatively intact body was speared by the Genestealer underneath.
"The Brood" The Magus boomed with a vile grin. "Will feed!" And with that the monsters roared.
The Broodlord, in a show of terrible, sickening strength, ripped the corpse in four in a spray of gore and innards. Blood cascaded from the torso like crimson waterfalls as the Tyranid removed the left arm with a single flex of its arms, casting it far behind him in to the baying crowd. The legs vanished just as quick, snipped in two as the hulking monster cast them wide, sending four bloodied logs of flesh, muscle and bone hurtling into the mob of outreached hands and gaping mouths.
The Genestealers beside and surrounding the Broodlord followed suit, carving the cadavers like a machine in a slaughterhouse, sending fist sized chucks, first towards their fellow xenos before sending it out into the crowd. Felicia watched in revulsion as she saw the horrific creatures peel away the flak armour and all non-organic additions before letting them fly like a catapults. Felicia lowered her magnoculars and ducked down behind the cover as she felt her stomach roil and the urge of vomit escalated with each passing second.
Jonas watched with one eye as the Detective retched and spat a few dark coloured, half-digested chucks of food before wiping her mouth with the back of her gauntlet. She breathed hard and quick to get some air back into her lungs while pulling herself back up to the lip of the cover. Jonas said nothing as she took up her magnoculars, and after a deep breath peered back through them.
The xenos were gorging. The Broodlord was chewing great mouthfuls of flesh out of the torso of the red armoured ganger, the head seemingly hanging by a few shreds of muscle after the Broodlord had chewed through the neck in a single bite. The frenzy of feeding was not limited to the lord of the brood; his subordinates joined him in the grisly feast, nothing was spared, between the hearty feast for the Genestealers and the morsels for the seemingly hundreds of followers, the hall came a roar of vicious hunger. Felicia shuddered, holding back another retch as she watched the Magus scoop up what she hoped was bicep – or at least what was left of one, and bite down hard, staining his parchment white skin red as the life juices ran free of the long dead veins and arteries.
"Saint Aniais, shield me from horror with your light." Felicia breathed a prayer taught to her during her stint in Scholastica Psykana as they battled jurisdiction over a batch of young psykers. She turned away instinctively, the hardened stomachs and hearts of the two Inquisitorial held stoic in the face of such barbarity. As Felicia covered her mouth, she turned away to look at something other than the vile banquet, she caught sight of something cast aside against one of the sides of the dome. Fatigues, dark grey, white and black, Tercian urban warfare camouflage. Shards of armour were scattered about, remains of a previous banquet. From a distance of about fifteen metres, Felicia could make out the unit markings on a discarded shoulder pad, Tercian 507th Regiment, D Company. "The mechanized troops." She whispered as the sight of the ruined armour jolted a stored memory of the Imperial Guard's report.
"What?" Rally hissed without looking away.
Felicia felt her stomach settle as she thought to the report. "Several Guardsmen were killed during the advance into the tunnel network."
Jonas flicked his gaze to the remains. "I think we know what happened to them." The Interrogator grunted quietly.
Felicia raised herself up again to the lip of the rocks, her magnoculars primed to be used. She breathed deeply as she peeked over the edge to witness the xenos. She watched as one of the smaller Genestealers devoured its meal with its slashing claws and gaping maw.
The three watched for a few more moments, trying to get a rough headcount and failing miserably. The Hybrids were surging with frenzied hunger, devouring anything they could get their hands on. "We've seen enough." The Interrogator hissed as he saw the Broodlord rear up with its jaw red and claws flexing. "Felicia." He said coldly. She turned to him, "Stay low, move." The Detective nodded as she waited a moment before darting quickly to the portal in the rock, where she was snatched by the waiting Wolfgang back in to the shadows.
"You next boss." Rally hissed to Jonas, who nodded also as he made to the welcoming embrace of the shadows. The Catachan waited a moment, observing the frenzy for a moment longer before turning, his thought a mix of the Genestealers eating and observing a Catachan Devil slaughtering a recruit platoon on his homeworld. He felt the same as he did then. "The dead are the unlucky ones." He uttered quietly as he passed into the rocky corridor.
"Ashe, Kasov, Dara." Jonas hissed as he pushed through to the Hab chamber. "Report."
"Yes Sergeant." The red-head returned as she watched as the group entered through the hidden passageway. "Nothing to report here, all quiet."
"Excellent." The Interrogator nodded. "We've moving out." He ordered in a near-normal speaking voice. He looked back to Markin and Rally as they exited the embrace of the tunnels. "Rally, Markin, you got us in, get us out."
The two acknowledged the order before darting forwards to the exit of the Hab chamber. Ashe moved quickly to the side of the Detective as she exited with Wolfgang behind her. "Ma'am." She started. "I had a chance to check over the ganger more thoroughly, I think with the Precinct Cogitators, I can find a match to the gang symbols, find out who perpetrated this attack." The Arbitrator reported quickly, her passion for her work bubbling over. Her expression changed. "What's wrong ma'am, why are you so pale?"
Felicia turned to look the Arbitrator fully on. The taste of her own stomach was still fresh in her mouth as she thought back to the sight of the feeding. After a moment, Felicia shook her head and gestured for Karen to proceed, which she did without questioning, though her expression didn't.
As Felicia stepped forward, she found her body stopped by the grip of the Interrogator on her arm. She looked to Jonas who had slid back his visor and rebreather. Jonas' eyes and feelings were plain to Felicia at that moment, somewhere between caring and understanding. "I was... disturbed, the first time I witnessed such a beast." He said softly out of ear shot of the others. "Do not feel ashamed, it happens to us all."
"I thought I'd seen the worst the hive could throw at me." Felicia said weakly in return.
"Hive's are human creations. Those are alien ones." The Interrogator shrugged. "The Orks are as bad, as are the Eldar."
"Who?" Felicia asked questioningly. "I know the Orks, there the bad guys in 'Home is where the War is'. Who are the Eldar?"
Jonas drooped his head for a moment. "Forget I said anything... seriously, the Inquisitor would not be best pleased." He returned in a more light tone. He turned to walk beside her as Rally and Markin blazed a trail onwards. "Wait." He said quickly. "You watch that piece of crap?" he uttered surprised.
Felicia looked at the Interrogator with a shrug. "Hey, it was either that or Attack Run, and the leading man in Home is far better looking." she returned honestly. "Both are pretty bad though I'll agree." She shrugged again. "But after a ten hour day, you'll watch any old crap." She chuckled lightly; Jonas joined her for a moment before the two returned the silent procession back through the tunnels.
The footsteps of the Inquisitorial Bodyguards and Arbites resounded up the metal walkways as they proceeded up the main shaft, the Catachan leading the way with the Cadian at the rear. Felicia stood in the middle of the group beside Ashe and Jonas. She felt a bit better the further away she got from the sink pit. She felt massively better when the oppressive presence in the psychic realm seemed to thin and dissipate as she put many, many layer of rock and plasteel between her and the Broodlord. Her breathing became easier as she closed on the exit of the mines. The sweat on her brow slowed as the temperature dropped back to what she associated with the underhive.
Dara sighed openly as he raised his visor and pulled down his rebreather. The Inquisitorial Bodyguard grumbled as he raised his bolter to cover his allotted sector, his helmet luminator danced across rock sides and plasteel girders that surrounded the group. The atmosphere that surrounded the group was tense but much less so than when the group closed on the sink pit. The Bodyguards said nothing openly, but a few choice words from Rally and Markin told him all he needed, and wanted to know. His finger rested on the trigger guard of the bolter as he pressed on, his weapon aimed form the hip as the alcoves passed the group, the luminator on the boltgun piercing the darkness as they pressed on.
Felicia tightened her grip on her pistols as her stomach twisted as her thoughts drifted to the images, the horrific scene she had witnessed. She sighed heavily, what was she going to do with what she had just scene? Hand it over part and parcel to the Inquisitor? The woman within Felicia Calamar, said yes, let the woman who had many years of experience if hunting aliens, heretics, or whatever Inquisitors did for a pastime, with unlimited amounts of resources and manpower if the holo-dramas were to be believed. But, despite the overwhelming positives to letting the Inquisitor take over, the Arbite part of her life demanded she stand strong, she had firsthand knowledge of enemy, she had a firm stake in the hive and its survival, and she wasn't one to let a lead get away from her or let a perp escape. She sighed again; it was probably too late to jump ship even if she had a choice. She had gotten in on the ground floor of this investigation and now it was heading for the high-rise.
Jonas glanced over his shoulder down the hall into the gaping maw of darkness. The creeping sensation of fear trickled up his spine. Genestealers, he hated them, but he hated hunting them more then the beast themselves. He glanced to the members of what was referred to as the alpha team, or Cobalt One, they had all seen combat before. Rally probably had experienced something close to Genestealers, the Devils of Catachan, which were hypothesized to possibly be from a previous Tyranid hive fleet. Andreas had fought the Orks, which while alien were completely different from the Tyranids. Jonas looked over to Dara, the man was a young former Guardsman from the Lycarius Imperial Guard twenty-second regiment, his dark grey and black uniform was a vast change from the heraldic white and ultramarine armour of his former regiment.
Markin was probably the second best prepared, having stood guard at the Cadian Gate for several years as a member of the Cadian Whiteshield corps before mustering off-world as part of the Cadian Two-Fifteenth Regiment, where he continued his fight against the forces of the ruinous powers. He knew what those markings on the red armoured ganger were; probably better than the rest of the others combined.
"Distance one hundred and twenty metres." Rally hissed back through the vox.
Close, Jonas though idly as he glanced over his shoulder. The further they got from that hellish place, the better he felt. He'd faced enough xenos over his relatively short career to cherish his time away from the lightning fast, armour shredding, two metre tall killing machines. The Interrogator watched patiently as the rearguard shuffled up the path, bolter sweeping the darkness with his lance of light. The Interrogator sighed silently as he looked back, to think he passed up the party to be here. The sweat on Jonas' neck was hot and irritating as he moved, causing his tightly packed fatigues to stick to him as he pressed on. The Chastener-issue Carapace Armour designed more for protection then comfort, though he couldn't deny he'd worn worse – a set of Krieg Death Korps infantry battle dress uniforms remained unworn in his wardrobe, his first and only experience in the restrictive uniform had scarred him forever. No wonder they prefer siege tactics he had thought when he had worn them during an operation, you don't need to move in them.
Jonas felt a light tap on his arm as they continued; he turned his head to see the Detective pulled in close near to him, a thing he didn't mind. "What?" he asked quietly, keeping his eyes roving back and forth with his boltgun at his hip.
Felicia glanced to Jonas. "What do we do now?" She swept her head back to check for Ashe and Kasov, they were near the rear, watching and covering Markin as he moved up behind the group.
Jonas shrugged near imperceptibly, "I don't know – that's for the Inquisitor to decide." He whispered. "But the Inquisitor won't let this lie, I can tell you that." He glanced to Felicia with a truthful look; he could see the concern in Felicia's eyes despite her well maintained tarot face. He looked back to the Catachan at the lead of the group. "We need to regroup and put together a plan."
"We." Felicia repeated sotto voce.
Jonas flashed a grin to the Detective. "Yup, we."
"Something is missing here." Dara murmured as he glanced up the pathway, the lighting was slightly better but it still flickered as the luminators ran toward the end of their life cycle. The grill plating shook and clanged under the boots of the Chasteners and the Arbites.
Rally shot up a raised fist, causing the group to halt immediately and lower to a crouch. "What do you see Dara." Rally hissed as he watched unerringly down the sights of his bolter into the darkness.
The Lycarian crouch-walked forward to beside the Catachan, he gestured forward toward a stain on the ground. "The Guardsman is gone." He uttered after a moment. "Look, drag marks." He pointed to a dark smear across the grey grills. "Looks like the cultists are shopping for ready meals." He remarked stoically.
Felicia had to resist hissing to the bodyguard as her sniffin sense sharpened instantly, probing the surrounding area for anything, anything at all. All she felt was the ice cold wind blow up the spines of the group.
They stayed silent for a moment, each carefully observing the surrounding shadows and grey stone with bolters on hair triggers. Charon stood tall, his auspex glowing gently as he murmured some litany of the Mechanicus. The Interrogator passed a quick command to the group in Arbites battle-sign, Advance. Slowly the group began to move again, the Bodyguards moving as a single cohesive unit, the other three Arbites kept pace but clearly were not part of the unsaid organic motion of the others.
Jonas watched his sector intently, his weapon firm in his gauntleted grip, changing sharply from nook to cranny with refined precision, the luminator beam snapping from one shadow to another as the team shifted together as one.
"Vox check." The Interrogator hissed as he passed by a square, blood splattered hole in the ground.
"Dara – all clear." The Lycarian returned quickly.
"Rally – clear." The Catachan responded with stern professionalism.
Next came the Cadian, "Markin - all clear in the rear."
"Kasov – no contact." The Arbite growled as his shotgun twisted left and right, covering the slivers of shadow that appeared between the beams of light of the Chasteners.
The Tech-Priest clicked and hummed quietly as his auspex scanned deep into the rock. "Charon – too much interference for a precise reading." Felicia could feel how much confidence that put into the surrounding Bodyguards.
"Ashe – negative hostile movement." The red headed Arbitrator responded calmly as her own shotgun was levelled over the shoulder of the lead scout.
"Felicia – all clear from here." The blonde haired woman replied tersely as she peered down her extended arm, down the sights of her bolt pistol while the other remained ready beside her.
"Andreas – squad is clear." The Veteran Sergeant finished as she swept the corridor behind them with her luminator.
Jonas nodded to himself as he glanced toward the front of the group as they crossed the bloody drag marks that stained the grilled floor. The Interrogator signalled the group to push on faster and they did, breaking from a circle-esque formation to a more oval one as Rally broke into a light jog with Ashe and Charon following diligently. Andreas and Markin made their way after the team, their weapons swaying heavily as they went.
Rally huffed quickly as he silently thundered up the grills, years of training and experience kept him alert and sharp even as his muscles began to warm with the onset of exhaustion. He growled some words of encouragement as he looked up the incline. Good he thought as he glimpsed the stony grey blocks of plasteel protection. He voxed the distance to the rest of the team, in return he heard a sigh of relief emanate from the others. Almost there Rally mentally smiled.
"Keep it tight." Jonas hissed as he trod over a bloody stain on the ground, his weapon still trained on the shadows.
Slowly but surely the group closed on the plasteel entrance, the thick slabs of silver were broken ajar, allowing the pearly light of the Hive to pour through into a vast pool of salvation, an escape from the glittering jaws of the foul and numerous xeno warriors and their deranged hybrid followers.
"Well, so I said – let it rain, because I got fifty on this bet." Cairn recounted as he and Thall made their way through the labyrinthine precinct. Dozens and dozens of Arbites filtered past the two armoured Arbitrators, to wrapped up in their own little worlds to notice the two – much like every other day. The mood and atmosphere of the precinct was as it always was on a weekday, general calm and mildly rushed, within the safe walls of the precinct, the cold stares of the people seemed so far away, unimportant to the hundreds and hundreds of civilian Vigiles and Arbites that kept the monolithic law enforcement building running.
Thall shrugged, "I fail to see why you did in the first place?"
"Because." Cairn threw up his arms. "I was young, stupid and in need of money."
Thall sent a glance of questioning to the Arbite. "So you stood guard – for six hours – naked, while it rained."
Cairn nodded. "May I refer to the previous point of young, stupid and in need of money."
"What's changed?" Thall laughed, Cairn sent a sharp glare at his friend, which sent Thall into another giggle.
Cairn joined his friend after a moment in the joyous laugh. He distinctly remembered the look on the other students as they filtered, dreary eyed from their beds to the courtyard where they found a young, fifteen year old Cadet-in-training, with a lasgun, vox-link, no clothes and soaked to the bone. Several of the Adepta Sororitas students and Arbites stood dumbstruck; a few of the Stormtrooper Novices guffawed and at least one Commissar Cadets had to look away, her cheeks turning a rosier shade.
"I've grown." Cairn answered Thall with a devilish grin.
"An ego, maybe but."
He didn't get to finish that sentence.
He was blinded for an instant by a great, near-invincible, holy light, light that speared into his eyes like the rays of divine radiance reaching deep into his soul. As, in that instant of ambient illumination, Thall felt gravity itself raise its arms up in hail of the holy glow, releasing him in that instant from its iron grip, allowing him to lift up in the glow of the holy, to be held in the warm light.
He felt the wind rush, swirl and swarm in jubilation of the glorious brilliance, it punched against the ribcage and stomach of the Arbite, demanding the wind in his lungs as tribute, as an offering to such a powerful sight. So powerful in fact, that the Arbite, felt himself being rejected by such a divine presence, flung backwards in a hail of righteous force, in the company of a celestial roar. A deep, soul rumbling note of thunder shuddered through the Arbite as he floated, held in the all encompassing song of thunder.
"Thall!" A voice lingered in the eerie void as the darkness lifted slowly, pain racing up and down each ray of light that shot into the retina of the Arbite as he tried to open them, his head swimming with nausea and a heavy layer of numbness that crippled him, keeping him from lifting an arm to rub his pounding and damp-feeling head. Breathing was short and pained his lungs flat-out refusing to inflate little more than they already were.
"Thall!" The sound came again, louder, more urgent, almost panicked. With each syllable, the Arbite felt a staccato drum of a machine gun pain, riddling his screaming minescape with artillery blasts of agony. Internally he raged as his existence became one of throbbing anguish as he desperately tried to lift his head, to rise above the mire of torment that surrounded his eyes, ears and mind.
As the sound echoed again, the Arbite yanked at his mortal form, sending a crackle of lightning to dance over the nerves of his mind.
The Arbite raged in the eternal land of the mind as he pushed his control into the unresponsive appendages, praying to the Emperor that the torment would end.
Another rumble of sound rippled through the Arbite as he pulled, exerting his will into the physical realm, the sounds were chaotic, but to the Arbite, as he strained to move, could just understand the myriad noises.
"Is this one alive." A new voice shuddered the void. The Arbite roared across the mindscape in an attempt to respond.
"He's still breathing." The first voice returned. Again the Arbite roared as he reigned against the confines of his own body. "Thall." The first voice asked again. "Wake up!"
The Arbite raged as he tried to get his own body to listen to his commands as he started to hear a single, piecing note override all other sounds that filtered in from the world around him. Trapped as he was, he screamed out across the nothingness of his mind, his frustration turning the rocky landscape of his unconscious mind to rampant wildness, where spires punctured the liquid stone into the purple horizon as the Arbite pulled at his unresponsive limbs, he screamed at the words as they drifted out of focus, out of hearing, lost to the rage of emotion within the Arbite. The spire shattered in a spray of planet sized boulders, that shattered into spheres of pure energy as they collided, annihilating the liquid stone as it swirled and whirled about the spires as they cracked from top to bottom.
The Arbite roared and screamed and raged as his own body refused to move.
Slowly, like a creeping tingle that wrapped around the raging star was a feeling of cold, light, numb coldness that seeped around him, paralyzing the raging maelstrom in its throes of frustration. The boiling liquid oceans of anger cooled instantly as the feeling of numbness grew, spreading fast as the Arbite tried again to yank at his limbs.
"Is this one alive?" A voice questioned as Cairn crouched over his friend, a thick layer of smoke obscuring his vision; illuminated only by the faltering luminators or the flicker of fires. Cairn turned his head, a Medical-team Arbitrator in his dirty white Carapace Armour was stood, his respirator and visor obscuring his face, hanging over his shoulder was a grox-strap similar to the one that Cairn used to carry his shotgun, but instead of the slug-thrower, at the end of the strap was a large white plasteel box with the symbol of the Sanitorium, a sword with two twisting vipers on each side.
Cairn looked back to Thall, the fellow Arbite was out cold, an imprint in the wall showed where the armoured body had slammed into the wall. Though his eyes were closed, Cairn could make out the light flare of his nostrils and the muted rise of his chest with a simple touch. "He's still breathing." He answered, his voice coming with a hint of frustration and anxiety, his own head pounding hard as he tried to concentrate.
The Medical-team Arbitrator nodded dutifully as he knelt quickly beside the two, his box landing on the floor with a clang. With fast, experienced hands the Arbitrator pulled open the lid of the box, exposing the innards to the former Sniper. Vials by the dozen, several auto-injectors and what looked to be a mile or so of bandage rolled up into tight balls. Gauze pads were scattered all over the place inside, one obscuring what looked to be two bags of red plasma.
After an instant the Arbitrator reached forward to Thall, his fingers darting to his neck and his mouth. Cairn watched with worry as the Medic checked his friend's windpipe for obstruction and then on to the rest of the body for wounds with extreme speed with one hand, while the other darted back into the box, grabbing an auto-injector and a small vial of bluish liquid.
"Very shallow breathing, unconscious." The Arbitrator hissed, more to himself. "How long has he been out?" he asked forcefully as with a display of agility, the medic locked the vial into the bottom of the injector with one hand while the other pulled at Thall's underclothes around his neck to expose the jugular vein.
Cairn stopped for a second, the last few moments had felt like an age, but he forced himself to think rationally. "Less than two minutes." He answered as truthfully as he could.
The Arbitrator swore harshly. "We need to wake him up. Now." He bit hastily. "Any longer, and the brain will be starved of oxygen." The Medic informed as he prepped to press the auto-injector into the exposed flesh. "That could lead to deliberating brain damage." He hissed as the pressed the needle tip of the injector into the skin of Cairn's friend. Instantly there was a hiss and the blue vial drained. After a moment the Arbitrator pulled the injector free before quickly tossing it back into the gauze-cushioned box. "That should wake him up."
Cairn looked between the Arbitrator and Thall. "How?" He asked, "What did you just give him."
The face-masked Arbitrator glanced to Cairn, "The biggest kick start he's ever had." He looked back to the fallen Arbite. "A cocktail of Adrenaline, Satrophine, Frenzon, and a whole host of things you don't want to know."
"That'll work?" Cairn asked in return.
The Arbitrator chuckled and shrugged. "Either that or it'll blow up his heart." He noted the sudden distress on the face of the former Sniper. "It'll be fine." He retracted quickly. "This stuff is the same stuff Astartes use on their own, only slightly watered down." He looked back to the Arbite on the ground. "If it's good enough for the Emperor's Angels of Death, than it should really do a number on a less-superhuman body." He looked back to Cairn. "He'll feel like he's invincible, a noted side affect, but for the love of the Emperor, don't let him move to quickly, half his body will still be in shut down for the next fifteen minutes."
"Right." Cairn nodded as Thall gasped.
"Emperor above." Cairn hissed as the Medical Arbitrator stood and moved away, the duties of his office still unfulfilled in the rows of others who lay on the ground. "I need some of that stuff for get me up in the morning."
"Maybe you'd get to patrols on time." Thall coughed as he pushed himself up, only to stumble and fall flat on his side again.
Cairn reached forward to help his friend sit up. "Whoa there. You hit the wall pretty hard."
Thall looked at Cairn through squinted eyes, his expression one of questions. Cairn glanced around, smoke filled their vision, and the sounds of nearby fire and the moans of the wounded filled their ears. "Explosion, no idea what though – knocked you out into the wall, I just got thrown to the ground, but I didn't hit my head."
Thall grunted something as he tried to stand. "Whoa." Cairn uttered quickly as he supported the fellow Arbite. "Slow now." Thall reached behind him to place a supporting hand against the wall, his breathing still shallow. As his marksmen-gloved hand touched the wall, he turned as he felt a depression in the wall. "Yeah." Cairn nodded. "You hit it, real hard."
"Frak." Thall whispered hoarsely. He looked back to Cairn, coughing as he did. "What happened?" he asked again.
Cairn shrugged. "Like I said, I have no idea, it hit me just like it hit you."
"And I'll hit the both of you if you don't get a move on!" A voice cut across the moaning beside the two, they twisted to see Frenius jog lightly up the hall, a group of Medical Arbitrators behind him, along with a gaggle of Menials and Vigles. "Medics – do your jobs." He ordered curtly to the group behind him as he stood. "You men." He barked as he jutted an armoured finger and four of the men in jumpsuits. "Put those fires out." He cast his gaze to the other seven or so. "The rest of you push through, rally everyone outside. Now!" He barked harshly as the group separated before wheeling back on the two Arbites, "For frak sake Thall, you look like crud." Before Thall could answer the Proctor turned his gaze to Cairn. "You see the Provost?"
"No Proctor." Cairn returned sharply.
Frenius swore as he looked about. "Ok." He said after a minute. "You two with me."
Thall coughed as he tried to stand on his own. "What happened Proctor?" he asked weakly.
Frenius shrugged, "All I got was that whatever this is hit the entire eastern wing, Dispatch seem to think it originated in the Cadet Quarters."
Cairn's eyes widened. "Frak." He whispered, he'd seen how packed those bunk-halls were.
"Accident?" Thall asked. "Promethium pipe perhaps, their always frakking around with them to fuel heaters." Thall spoke from experience, as he had done it in his Cadethood, he wasn't supposed to, but he did.
Frenius shrugged unconvincingly. "Hopefully."
Cairn raised an eyebrow against the Proctor. "Hopefully?" he stressed.
"Hopefully." Thall grunted back to the two as he wobbled. He shook his head experimentally, only to clutch the left side of his head as a shot of pain raced through his skull. "What... whoa, what do we do?"
Frenius struck the disorientated Arbite. "We regroup, Cairn, you're with me, we're going to find out what happened, and who's alive."
"Yes Proctor." Cairn said sharply, glancing to Thall as he did.
Frenius looked over Thall. "You get out of here – you're wounded."
Thall coughed as he straightened up to face the Proctor head-on, his breath ragged and his head a low rumble of pain. He shook his head defiantly. "Dazed Proctor." He corrected, he felt as if he could leap from one hive to another, but his head buzzed at him if he tried to move his head, or his eyes it seemed as they darted between the Proctor and the former sniper.
"Thall." The Proctor said, sterner than before. "Fall back."
Thall shook his head again, "Negative." To this Frenius snarled as he opened his mouth, preparing to slam down the spark of rebellion, but before he could begin the verbal rebuttal, Thall cut in ahead of him. "Article three-seventeen of the Arbite Operational Code states that, in the case of disaster within the Courthouse or any other Arbite staging area, ala the Precinct, all foot mobile Arbites are to assist in the search and rescue operations."
Cairn looked at his friend for a moment in silence along with the Proctor, who had adopted a expression of surprise. "Fine." Frenius hissed as he speared a finger toward the slightly smaller Arbite, "But your ass hits the deck and you pull back, understand."
"Yes Proctor." Thall half-barked, half-wheezed in return, and with that he turned toward the distant flames and shouts. Cairn chuckled lightly before adopting a grimmer expression as he turned toward the disaster.
"Respirators." The Proctor ordered as the trio pressed on at a cautious pace into the thickening smoke. He clipped his securely to his helmet as he checked behind to see the two, bare-headed so to speak, Arbites pull the elastic holding-band from one side of the respirator, around their heads before clipping the other end to the opposite side of the respirator. As they forged on through the veil of smoke and groaning men, Thall watched as he passed, a fellow arbite slumped against the wall, his head lolling back and his eyes locked to the ceiling, but, to ease his fear, Thall could see his mouth moving silently, reciting a prayer. Thall turned away and let him be. "Emperor." Frenius hissed as he passed a vigle seemingly crushed by apiece of masonry, his upper chest flattened by a rectangle of red-illuminated stone that was easily two metres across and a meter in diameter, heavy enough to smash the flak armour and ribcage of the poor bastard underneath into paste.
With each turn of their heads they saw more of this disaster, arbites, vigles, menials, people, cast aside by the wave of energy that tore through the building. The walls, normally a sterile grey and white with coloured markings of red, yellow and green, were now turning a sooty and scorched black as the flames grew in fury and viciousness, the groans of the masses droned over the crackle of the fires. Menials and vigles darted forward and around, many carrying fire-suppression equipment, spraying the yellow and orange rage as it crept forward. White-Armoured Medical Arbitrators were seemingly everywhere, but seemingly never enough for the task at hand. Shouts echoed through the halls and the vox crackled with reports or half-shouted calls for help. The chaos surrounded the three as they pushed forward through the throngs of wounded, pushing closer to the Cadet Quarters, the closer they got, the more the devastation increased. Pillars were torn from their moorings, slamming into the thin inner walls, ripping apart the Precinct from within. Illuminators were blown or desperately holding on to life, flickering weakly before dying, consigning the world around to darkness.
"Crud." Cairn whispered as he stepped over a devastated armour casket, vintage armour destroyed by flames and blasted across the floor. He followed the Proctor as he stepped through a broken portal, the force of the blast tearing the plasteel sheet door outwardly, leaving it hanging loose on a single hinge. Their original path blocked by fallen support beams.
"Musta been a big pipe." Frenius grumbled as he picked his way over a collapsed wall, slowly but surely making his way toward the Cadet Quarters, they were getting close; the heat was growing with the fury of the flames. The trio passed more than one arbite and cadet that were little more than a slap of flesh with sinister burns cocooning the exposed flesh. Cairn had to look away as he saw a young cadet slumped against a wall, as he went to investigate, he saw the deep red and brown rash that scarred the left side of the young girl's face, her short hair reduced to cinders. Cairn gagged slightly as he twisted away. He hissed a prayer as he stood.
Thall glanced around, the walls were cracked but seemingly sound, perhaps they were the reinforced walls that held up the floor above, maybe, but the piping in the walls had clearly burst, superheating the occupants of the small chamber before blowing the far door nearly off its hinges. "Chain reaction." He grumbled.
Frenius and Cairn turned to look at the half-groggy but mobile arbite. Thall jutted his chin toward the cracks in the plastering, revealing the burst pipes underneath. Cairn sighed as he stepped over a thrown-about desk to inspect the wound in the wall. Carefully he prodded and explored the fracture masonry and metal work with a half-scowl underneath his respirator – the smoke was still thick, but visibility was still holding at a good distance.
"Come on" Frenius barked by the door across from the two, his slung bolter tapping gently against his back plate, Thall darted over the detritus, his ears still hearing the nearby-crackle of flame and general moan of the living.
As the trio piled through the door, they were welcome with the sight of an intersection in the shape of a cross, a main route through this wing of the precinct, except it usually didn't have this much rubble in the centre, the ceiling had collapsed quite badly, as nearly five foot of ceremite, plasteel and wood lay in a mound ahead of the three. Lying, lightly covered in dust and a slab of ceremite the size of a desk top over his leg, was an arbite in the rubble, groaning. He was orientated downwardly, his trapped leg holding him up on the peak of the mound of rubble.
"Frak." Cairn and Frenius hissed together as they rushed forward. The man was unarmoured, and deep red stains blotched his clothes and the hard rock underneath him, gently, Thall tried to raise his head as the other two tried to pry away the heavy ceremite slab. This they did without a word to each other, all flowing as one, years and years of drills, practises, training and experience coming to the fore after decades dormant. Thall pried open one eye with his armoured gauntlet to see the hazel eye lolling about. Thall hissed to the arbite in his hands but received no response.
"Heave!" Cairn barked as he pushed on the slab, trying as he was from underneath it, while Frenius clambered up the side of the rubble mountain to try and gain some leverage, but as he threw himself backward to try to move the slab, all he did was lose his footing and slip undignified on his backside. Cairn made no joke or comment, merely try again to move the slab that trapped a fellow arbite.
Again Thall tried speaking to the arbite while Frenius rolled for his feet. Carefully Thall turned the arbite's head, the left side looked fine, mussed hair, light scraping, nothing major, but as he turned the head to the right, then he saw the problem. A wide, dark gash ran from behind and above the right ear, leading down in a jagged line. Thall pulled his hand away so see his gloved finger now damp in red blood. He swore as he gently placed the arbite's head back onto the mound of rubble, there was nothing they could do. "Dammit." Frenius grunted as he looked over the wound as Thall moved away, preparing to climb over the blockade to press on to the Cadet Quarters. "Ok arbites." The Proctor said solemnly as he followed the arbite over to the other side, Cairn following swiftly behind, "Shift into turbo – there has to be someone alive in here." He reminded through his respirator.
As they pushed, the fog of smoke through denser, the stench of burning promethium started to sift through the filters of the respirators, the stench was near choking as the trio kicked through into one of the many assembly halls for the cadets, they walked into a wall of heat and blinding flames. The searing heat forced them back for a moment as they entered. The three-story high walls were ablaze with licking flames, the white paint that once coated the mighty ceremite pillars turned a dark, charred black. With a look of horror, Frenius watched as the banners of the arbites, their stasis field failing them in their moment of truth, while not as ancient or venerated as the standards of the Adeptus Astartes, or as glorious or honoured as the banners of the Imperial Guard, the banners of the Adeptus Arbites were dark, grim affairs, bearing often single, simple motifs with visages depicting the guardians of law dispatching the less than righteous. Though they never flew in battle like the great colours of the militant arms of the Imperium, they were still powerful images in their own right; it pained Cairn to see the fabrics burn to cinders.
The pews were cast about like confetti, some smashed, most ablaze, the treated wood crackling and splitting across its ancient faces. The noise was akin to a thunderstorm, so loud and so vicious the sound that it wiped out virtually all other noises. Thall quickly spotted detonated promethium pipe in the ceiling, probably feeding the various heating devices that were spotted around the precinct, it had been caught up in the chain reaction, pushing a heater tank from its position high up on the wall, out into the assembled pews and pulpit. The fall may have cracked the internal casings between the fuel tank and the pilot flame – the rest was evident. To his disgust, as they pushed on, Thall could see the telltale robes of a pair of cadets near the back of the assembly hall, they were splayed, as if discarded, the curtain beside the robes had both been obliterated by flame, but also by a thrown pew careening through the red hanging. Thall turned his head away, there was nothing they could do for the couple who seemingly sought the company of each other.
Frenius and the two pressed on, trying desperately to reach the great plasteel double door at the other end, it was cracked ajar, and so they pushed on through the heat. They could feel the raging flame creep up, seemingly up the back of their legs as the stomped on at speed. Their breathing became quick and shallow as they desperately tried to suck some oxygen from the environment; the greedy flame had taken the lion share of course.
With a yell, Cairn smashed through the plasteel double door, blasting it wide as he rolled through – straight into a blazing pew on the other side. The armoured arbite slammed into heavy wooden form, stopping him dead mid-barrel. Cairn jerked himself off the burning pew with a yelp. Quickly he scrambled away for the intense heat, pushing himself a few feet away before pulling himself to his feet. As he did he surveyed the Cadet Quarter's proper.
Originally, a secondary assembly area that divided into the separate sections of the mini-complex, the largest portal was straight ahead to the vast barracks of the Cadets, to the left of the area in which Cairn now stood would go to the schola rooms and librariums, to the right, the mess halls, the armouries and firing ranges that, for some reason that seemed beyond Arbite Command and the Schola tutors, seemed infinitely more popular with the Cadets then the educational wing. On the corner between the barracks and the educational wing was a small corner office, humouredly called the med-room, otherwise, officially the Cadet Service Office, there to help with all of the Cadet's needs, supposedly.
But now the area, normally painted a neutral blue, was now sheathed in flickered red and scorched black. As he surveyed the devastation before him, Cairn sourly picked out three score bodies scattered about, some half-immolated in fiery mounds, some crushed under fallen masonry and support frames, some left crumpled by the walls – having been blasted by the concussion wave of the detonation. The roof had collapsed in the centre of the quad, creating a scattering of plasteel frames, half-melted plastics and a trio of armoured arbites across the tiled ground.
Cairn surveyed the disaster before him is a strange sense of disassociation, he felt nothing for the first instant, his mind reverting from a product of millennia of evolution, to a simple cogitator, absorbing information like a sponge, blast patterns, damage spreads, blood splatter, corpse dispersion – all things drilled into his cerebral cortex by the Schola Progenium on Perth II, the Cadet Barracks in the armoured courthouse nestled in the mountains on Illius, all overrode what remained of the part of Cairn's long abused brain that was human, to be horrified at the destruction, at the death of his friends and desolation of his home.
"Frak." He whispered as the human side of his humanity kicked in, his breath became shallow, sharp, and anxious. The heat wrapped around him like a vice grip, his throat and mouth dried in an instant as they hung open in shock, his eyes widened as they took in the scale of the devastation, the corpses, scattered left and right with no rhyme or reason, not a crime scene, no serial killer with a sick pattern, no gang slaughter of another rival gang, not even the precise battle marks of the Arbites, no, this was carnage. Torn bodies were thrown about, cadet and arbite alike were crushed under support frames, things put up to protect them, Cairn had to hold back a gag as his eyes graced a young cadet, skewered by a piece of plasteel that sheared away from the its bracket in the explosion – death was probably instantaneous.
"Emperor above, let His grace guide these noble souls to His table, let His light, pure and holy as it is, guide those who remain in their darkest hour, let His might imbue those who stand with the strength to see through this terrible night." Cairn whispered weakly. His head lowered for a moment as the feeling overwhelmed him for a moment, years of training crumbling under the sight of the destruction – why? He didn't know why, he'd seen mass graves, leftovers of gang warfare, the detritus of kill-orgies, the crescendo of inter-planetary warfare, a brief but gruesome glimpse of the Adeptus Astartes dropping to war. But despite all these harrowing experiences of the bloodshed, the weapons men unleashed on one another, the sight of a score of bodies, of men, women and cadets, destroyed, obliterated, annihilated by, by, he didn't know who, or what, or how, or why, why, why, this word repeated endlessly in his head, all of those horrific situations, all the death, all the war, it all had a reason, treason, heresy, human nature, but why all this, all obscured in smoke and fire. Cairn squeezed his eyes shut for a moment; desperately trying to rid himself of the image that he knew was so true, he pushed a hard breath from his lungs.
He heard a clatter of feet across the rockrete, half-obscured by the roaring flame. As the clatter stopped, Cairn heard the distinctive tone of Frenius cursing rapidly with little breath in between.
Cairn felt a tap against his shoulder, ripping him out of his reverie. "Gota' keep moving." Thall whispered quickly. Cairn's head lowered slightly but rose again after a moment.
The three pushed forward to the centre of the intersection. The heat was scorching; Thall could feel the hot sweat run down the back of his neck, down his back into the rear of his fatigue trousers, making each inch of his flesh clammy and sweaty. He blinked away another bead of sweat from his eyes as he looked about the destruction.
"Split up." Frenius hissed. He pointed toward the classrooms, "Thall, Schola."
"Got it." The Arbite nodded solemnly.
Frenius looked over toward Cairn. "The Rec wing." Cairn grunted his acknowledgement. "I'll take the Barracks." He turned to look at the two fully. "Stay in constant vox contact. And stay sharp, Emperor knows how much damage this area has taken."
"Yes Proctor." The two others sounded off as they turned and each sprinted toward their assigned destination, rushing with all speed and haste.
Thall swore to himself as he shoulder-barged through another combi-plasteel door, the heat pushed back as the plasteel folded before his armoured form. As he broke through into the classroom, he was beset immediately by a torrent of thick, acrid smoke. The respirator around his mouth dragged the remaining oxygen out of the carbon monoxide, dioxide and a whole host of other unpleasant currently airborne chemicals that made up the smoke that now circled around him.
The classroom, that could have seated nearly ninety cadets in a structure similar to an amphitheatre, was now ablaze, Thall could see a ruptured wall hissing in what seemed to be a jet of flame, presumably a broken gas main that fuelled the science labs nearby. The great circular benches and desks were coated in liquid fire, fire that devoured seemingly everything it touched, from the wooden desk tops, the hard carpet that lined the floor, and the poor bastards caught in the flame. Some slumped over desks, the fire immolating their forms, or collapsed against walls or on the floor, the fire taking them in turn. With a cursory glance, Thall caught sight of the Schola tutor, his own form a blasted, charred remain beside an emergency exit at the top of the classroom, but on the inner side, holding it open, so that his students may escape. Thall could see beyond the door, girders and support beam blocked the entrance, anyone beyond there was beyond Thall's help at the moment. He swore silently to himself as he turned away, there was no one to help here.
He barrelled back into the hall, leaving the hellish image behind as he pushed back into the scorched corridor. Thall leant against the far wall from the door, the heat rising seemingly with every other moment. He sighed as he pushed himself up once again to continue his grim search again.
His footsteps resounded through his armour to his ears, his bolter rattled against his armour as he ran down the wide corridor. His eyes darting about the burnt remains of his home as he tried to piece together just what the hell is going on. In his ear he could hear the chatter of the Medical teams and that of the other Arbites in the precinct desperately tried to help those still in peril.
Frenius caught sight of the Barrack doors as he passed a brace of offices and Training Sergeant Bunk rooms, quick investigation showing no occupants. The doors of the Barracks were slide back; their hydraulic rams failing to slam the massive plasteel blast doors close at the moment of truth. Flames flicked out of the blast doors like tongues of a hungry beast. Frenius drew to a halt as he reached the threshold of the Barracks, the innards of the hall was something else to behold.
Devastation, bunks thrown about in the sheer chaos of the explosion, some were reduced to ashes or pitiful remains of their former selves. This Barracks was as old as the precinct, the obsidian pillars had stood for millennia, now stood in flames. Red and orange bathed each and every surface. The heat pummelled the Proctor as he tried to close on the Barracks, threatening to cook him in own armour but the Proctor cared not as he pushed forward, trying to push through to the Barracks.
He roared as he gripped the edge of the great blast doors. The near-white hot metal flushing its excess heat through fabric of the glove to the Valhallan flesh underneath. He snatched his hand back as his blinked away tears and sweat, he clutched his left hand in his right for a moment, swearing under his breath as he tried to glimpse into the Barracks proper.
He could see the rolling flames as they lapped like waves across the ceremite, flowing unopposed across everything, the toppled bunks, tossed about tables, charred black corpses. He could see the blackened metal pipes like stalactites piercing the ceiling; some were pouring liquid flame onto the Barracks floor.
Frenius clicked the rune on his armour marked 'transmit'. "Dispatch!" He yelled over the roar of the flames, hoping that someone was at the other end. "Dispatch!" He yelled again, "this is Patrol-One-Three – I am inside the Cadet Barracks. Do you read me?"
"Patrol-One-Three, Dispatch here, your weak but readable – send traffic." A static-hued voice returned.
Frenius backed away from the heat slightly , slapping his right hand to his ear-pad as he did in an effort to hear the crackle ridden Dispatch. "Dispatch." He roared. "I, am, at the Cadet Barracks. How are the promethium mains still flowing?"
The static held for a moment. Frenius look about him at the burning remains of his home. The chain-reaction that had spread this destruction so far had been because of the promethium pipes that lined the precinct like arteries and veins, the reservoirs within the precinct, in their ignition and subsequent detonation had racked the precinct - surely the reservoirs had been emptied by such an explosion. Frenius knew enough about the structure of the precinct to know that the internal reservoirs of the precinct were topped up and fed by the Hive's own supply, but the sudden backflow of heat and pressure would have triggered the valves to seal shut, no promethium, either gas or liquid would flow through into the precinct now. So why were the pipes still spilling like a stuck grox?
As the answer formulated in his head, the static gave way to the voice of an operator. "Patrol-One-Three, we are unable to connect to the reserve tank's cogitators."
Frenius flinched slightly as a whip of flame lashed out at him from within the blast doors. "Say again? Reserve tanks? Why? Surely they'd be locked too?"
The response was swift, the tone of the operator a frustrated one. "Last contact from the cogitators was that the machine spirit detected a fault in the primary flow, that it was opening the tanks to maintain supply."
"Then?" Frenius asked hastily, the heat drying his breath before it left his throat.
"Then nothing Proctor. The machine spirit isn't responding." The operator sighed seemingly back down the line. "We can't seal those pipes."
Frenius slammed his left hand into the wall, an act he instantly regretted. "Dammit." He hissed, more to the idea that his house was burning to the ground and there was precious little he could do about it, rather that the agonizing pain racing up his arm. He stared for a moment into the middle distance as his head tossed about facts, possibilities, and the twisted sense of reality as it played out around him. He turned to look at the licking flames of the Barracks entrance.
He took a few steps back to witness the swirling inferno, even from his position he could see the crater carved out in the ceiling and floor, throwing chunks of rockrete and ceremite in all direction like one big frag grenade, the Proctor noted.
There was no one to save here. He thought sombrely as he turned away.
He marched away quietly, his head now silent, the heat still forcing his body to sweat like a mad man, his throat dry and eyes unfocused. He closed his eyes for a moment as he proceeded back up the corridor, taking deep hot breaths to calm himself.
He stumbled as he lingered in his mood, sending him to the floor with a hard thunk as his shoulder hit the ceremite. Frenius rolled back and to his feet expertly despite the weight of the armour. His eyes and head suddenly on alert, his right hand automatically hovering near his holstered las-pistol. Seared paint, ripped-off masonry and the ever present orange flames casting everything in a half-light filled his vision as he completed his head-height scan.
He looked to the floor to see what tripped him, a mass of black beside him, it was in a sort of scrunched up position. Tentatively Frenius reached forward with his right hand, allowing his reeling left hand some semblance of a chance to recover. As his fingers touched what looked to be a solid block of charred carbon, to his surprise, the veneer cracked and the fingers passed straight through. Soot, a layer of thick soot, Frenius corrected himself as he applied a bit of pressure as the whole mass shuddered, sending the looser layers of soot flying. But as the black coating vanished, another thing appeared.
A face, small, young, stared at Frenius, their grey eyes' staring unyieldingly into his visor, Frenius was held by this look for a moment of surprise before tearing himself away to examine what laid before him.
He gagged almost as he shook the body to clear more of the soot only to see the damage wrought on the upper half of the child. His right arm was gone, more or less; the tattered remains rested on the equally ripped apart flank, which was peppered like it had taken a frag grenade. Frenius looked to the young face, only to see that from the right-side of the neck up to the crown of his head was little more that black, charred flesh and muscle, leaving parts of the brown bone exposed for the Arbite to see.
The legs were little more that stumps as everything below the knee of the left leg, and mid-thigh on the right were gone. Blood had congealed in the intense heat, but had been seared black not long after that is Frenius was any judge, and like the face, the fire had eaten away the flesh, exposing the bone underneath, and where said bone hand splintered and fractured. Frenius cast his gaze back down the corridor, this poor boy had been thrown, probably by the concussive blast, from the Barracks to his resting place.
Frenius touched the face of the cadet with two fingers, the skin, where it was less damaged then the right side was bright pink with clear signs of second and third degree burns.
Frenius gagged again as he tried to move the head and received a sickening sound as the head slurped and squelched as half-dried blood and half-melted flesh was pulled from the hard ceremite, pulling the cheek flesh away, like well cooked meat coming off the bone, separating with sickening ease, leaving a patch of cooked flesh tearing away from the bone.
Immediately Frenius pulled away in revulsion. The taste of bile edging up his throat as he looked away as Frenius swore, his hand rested on his visor. He breathed slowly but heavily. Carefully he hoisted himself to his feet, the image still burning in his mind. Frenius turned gradually while fighting the near-overwhelming urge to vomit.
"The Emperor protects." The Proctor whispered to himself as he started to walk slowly back toward the quad.
"What the frak." Cairn hissed as he ducked underneath a dislodged girder as he pressed toward the phys-ed and firing range of the Cadet Barracks.
Carefully he picked his way through the debris as he listened to the crackling embers in the distance, the sound of the destruction of his home ringed in his ears as his head tossed and turned the events of the last few minutes around in his head, his eyes were glazed over in thought as his body picked through the smouldering ruins on his way to a secondary central area that branched into the smaller wings of the barracks. The stench of boiling blood and scorched flesh lingered in the embers of the charred fal-wood frames and half-melted plasteel support beams; they haunted his steps and nostrils like ghosts.
Carefully the Arbite pressed on, passing slain arbites and cadets with little more than a prayer whispered under his breath, sometimes so quiet he was unsure he'd even said them at all.
Cairn could feel the strength sap from him as he pressed in-between shattered pillars; even wall-faces had collapsed from the attack. It was an attack, Cairn was sure, no mere accident could cause this, this level of devastation, this level of murder, this atrocity, but how? The why, the pressing question of past tense was discarded in favour of the pressing present tense question, how? How did one of the most heavily defended places on the planet, save perhaps Governor's Palace and the Armoured Courthouse a continent away, get hit like this, so hard, so fast. The sniper-turned-patrolman threw this question about the mental battleground of his mind as he tried to make sense of the evidence before him; he was no tech-lab or forensic scrub, he just walked a beat for Emperor's sake, he didn't work on things like this, it never formed a part of his daily life.
He swore as he approached the less ornate doors that lead to the smaller quad area. The doors were bent, twisted on their frames. Cairn didn't slow, time was of the essence. In fact, he sped up, his face a mask of rage and his throat giving voice to a roar of frustration and anger, as he came on top of the plasteel double-door, he twisted his body to bring his armoured shoulder forward.
The shock reverberated through the shoulder plate through to the arbite underneath as his accelerated mass slammed against stationary door. The resulting impact sent Cairn sprawling to the floor once against as the doors opened wide for the raging grox-of-an-arbite. Immediately Cairn recovered, his head snapping left and right, his feet scrambling him forward, into a seemingly solid wall of smoke.
"Emperor above." Cairn swore as he stumbled into the thicket of smoke.
The Arbite grunted as he pushed his way forward, the crackle of the nearby fires echoed around him as he desperately tried to breath, his respirator almost taxed to its limit.
The smoke was illuminated, not by overhead luminator like the rest of the compound, instead replaced by a large hexangular skylight that loomed above Cairn by nearly one hundred metres, allowing 'natural' light to seep into all levels of the cadet training wing. Around him he could see the detritus and destroyed masonry that carpeted the quad.
He grunted and coughed as he pushed onwards through the smoke, fire and rubble. His every step landing on seemingly uneven ground, his every breath feeling like it was burning his nose, throat and lungs with the stench of copper and ash.
His armour felt heavy, not just with sweat, soot and ash, but with exhaustion, this ordeal had lasted only an hour, two – he didn't know, but for him it felt like an age had crawled by, moment by moment, instant by instant, each played to their full as he looked with cold eyes at the dead, the dying and the devastation, with each passing instance, with each glimpse of the destruction, his eye's wanted to weep, his knee's wanted to fold, to collapse under the horror and death, but with each instance, each moment of doubt, the image of that symbol, the balance in the gauntlet, the symbol of the Imperium's Adeptus Arbites, loomed over every thought, the words of vaunted tome, the Book of Judgment, echoed from centuries, millennia past through to him, holding him, reinforcing him, ordering him and ultimately, helping him to stand. Backed by such power, by the word of the God-Emperor Himself, how could he fall? How could he fail? How could he not only disgrace himself, but every man and woman who wore the badge, so no, he did not collapse, he did not weep, there would be time for that later, but know, his brothers, sister, comrades needed him to be strong in the face of adversity.
"Interstellar cowboys." Cairn grinned weakly, recalling a line from his favourite holo-vid, 'Days of Judgement', a rather gory depiction of planetary warfare, of civil and cultural upheaval, with a dash of Arbites and a rather grim, if somewhat awesome ending involving Space Marines and Imperial Guard having to slaughter most of a hive in what amounted to forty minutes of the film crew throwing buckets of gore at the camera. Supposedly it was a true story, but Cairn could tell from experience, they toned back the gore for the film, Lasguns don't leave tiny little burn marks and frag grenades don't just turn shirt's red. They got bolters down though, Cairn thought idly as he vaunted a ruined stand, presumably a news pillar.
Cairn landed with a thud, his armoured boots slamming against the ceremite heavily as he looked about, the smoke swirling in the cross-wind coming from somewhere. "Crud." He hissed as he stepped into the embers of a faltering flame, sending a whirl of sparks around his leg. "Crud, crud, crud." The Arbite hissed as he hopped out of the fire, shaking his legs furiously to rid himself of the sticking embers.
With another thud Cairn fell to the ground beside a heap of rubble, his back slamming into the masonry losing a small rain of chips. Cairn rocked himself forward to his feet as he groaned again.
As he stood there was a yelp of agony that rang around the Arbite sending Cairn into a brief panic. The Arbite stumbled back as his eyes darted around, and down to a smoke hidden form. Another groan rippled through the laden air.
Cairn swore as he dropped to one knee as he tried to peer through the smoke, dropping below the swirling clouds of thick, acrid smoke. There Cairn saw the black of the arbite.
"Emperor above, I thought I'd never find anyone alive in here." Cairn breathed with a smile hidden by his respirator.
The figure groaned slightly in return, but the groan became a splutter of coughs, each one sounding painful, as they were dry and hoarse in tone and tune. Cairn batted at the lingering fog to allow himself a better view of the fellow arbite. The grey-white-black melange of miasma swirled around his opened hand as he tried futilely.
"Can't... breath." The figure whispered weakly as Cairn slowed his useless flailing. Another flurry of dry coughs followed, this time at length.
Cairn lowered himself a bit more, attempting to get a clear view of the figure below him.
"Farrell!" He exclaimed as the friendly face reared its way through the smoke, his usually smiling, or smirking mouth was instead locked in a expression of pain, streaks of deep red blood lined his face and teeth, mixing disgustingly with what looked to be bile and phlegm. His lips, top and bottom, were busted and swelled. His cheeks were streaked with faded tear, dust and blood splatter. His right eye had swelled closed and his nose was busted wide open, with two runnels of dark crimson staining his lightly shaved beard.
"Farrell." Cairn breathed quietly. In return Farrell gasped as his arm thrashed about, the bloodied liquids disrupting his vision. Cairn looked over his friend. Half a pillar was laid across his stomach and Cairn couldn't see Farrell's legs beneath the rubble. "Frak." He hissed.
"Cairn?" Farrell coughed harshly as he tried to concentrate on the blurry figure above him.
Farrell coughed again, each one a stab to Cairn's ear, who was having a hard enough time seeing his friend as he was having breathing.
Farrell hocked up a lump of foul looking gunk from his throat as he tried to move, only to flop uselessly. Cairn looked away, his eyes aching with sympathy, releasing a long, tired sigh as he glanced away from the torn and bloodied face of a friend of several years. As he did he glassed upon a horrifying sight.
The rubble, of which he had so easily bumped into, looked to be solid rockrete and ceremite blocks and shards, which seemed to come to rest over the abdomen and waist of the arbite. "Oh crud." He whispered as he peered forward and his stomach turned as he saw the extent of the damage. The plasteel carapace armour that was wrapped around the lower torso of Farrell was bent about the internals of the suit, namely the human, however the former sniper could see the armour bent about around the internal 'superstructure' of the armour, the framework that the armoured plates attached too at construction, was holding up to the strain. However as Cairn turned to the pelvis armour, the seemingly fleeting hope was crushed, literally. The heavy, massive blocks of ceremite and rockrete had impacted the legs and hip armour, and horrifically, carapace armour didn't have such a reliable superstructure all the way through the design. Farrell's pelvis was utterly crushed, the black plate snapped and faltered in its moment of truth. Cairn had to stare at the floor for a moment as he held down the urge to dry heave as he saw the runnels of blood trickle out into a small pool about the left armpit of the mortally wounded arbite.
"Hey." Farrell coughed, catching Cairn's attention, with the painful sound. The arbite turned back to his friend. Cairn looked into the eyes of the wounded lawman, or the one that wasn't healed over. The split and busted lips of the arbite twisted into a parody of a smile. "Don't suppose you could" – cough – "loosen the straps on my chest, its feelin' a bit tight, can't breathe."
Cairn coughed out his own chuckle as his eye started to fill with tears. His looked toward the ground as he fought to stop himself from laughing at the absurdity, the extreme horror of it all. Cairn held the stupor for a moment before Farrell pulled him out of it with another wretch and the painful barks that he made in place of a cough. With each gasp, Cairn watched as Farrell drew in more of the acrid smoke.
As the smoke swirled about the bloodied mouth of the fallen arbite, Cairn felt tears in his eyes. He blinked rapidly as he turned his head for some way to help, his attempt at optimism crushed as he looked about the quad, seeing only the thick smoke illuminated by the skylight.
Heat rises. Cairn thought in a hurry as he glanced at the devastation. Heat rises. He thought again as he whipped his head around to see if there was any discernable movement in the smoke at all.
The light, instead of illuminating any possible assistance, instead obscured all means of, anything; Cairn could see little more than five metres or so before he was blinded by the white wall of swirling smoke.
Heat rises and I'm stuck in a frakking flaming hurricane. Cairn lamented as he slammed his fist against the ground. Cairn looked back to Farrell who was lolling his head back and forth as his body clung on for dear life, his each breath followed by a hoarse, harsh hack. If it weren't for the Emperor-damned light he would...
Cairn stopped himself mid-thought. What followed was powered not by thought, or by any discernable mental process that the human mind inside of Cairn could understand before he enacted it, what happened was something engrained by the years of brutal training of the Adeptus Arbites, to act, not react in times of peril, to do, not to think in times of danger. With a lightning flash of his hand to his right thigh holster, the arbite snatched at the handle of his trusty, if somewhat worn standard arbite issue laser pistol. The weapon was light in his hard grip; of course it was, unlike the heavy plasteel of the boltgun or even his old companion, the Mars Pattern M55 Rifle, or sniper rifle, the Laspistol was made of a slim plasteel core and barrel with moulded plastic wrapping forming the distinctive shape of the ubiquitous weapon. With a fast snap and twist of his arm and body, the arbite turned the firearm to the sky, toward the blinding light. In an instant of correction, the trigger clicked back, and the weapon kicked in his hand.
A single thin, red line cut through the thick smoke, piercing the obscuring fog, stretching toward the skylight, crossing the distance in a single microsecond, from the barrel of the gun to the glass far above the two, in a flash the multi layered glass shattered, but held firm. The second and third shots blasted the glass apart in a spray of fragments and chips of smelted glass.
As the crashing noise rang through the quad, Cairn turned sharply and threw himself over the wounded body of his friend, sheltering him with his own bulk.
Like rain the shards came cascading down, nearly thirty feet of layered glass – reduced to little more than millimetre sized chips and six inch shards came crashing down around the two.
As the sheets of glass smashed into the fire blackened ground around the two, the smoke swirled again, this time it plumed up, expanding outward with the infusion of air from the hive proper.
Cairn felt the swift, hard, impacts against his back plate as he covered Farrell's face and upper torso with his own. Each thud sent shocks through the heat-abused body of the arbite, each impact was like a punch that was felt through to his gut, and each blow forced the wind from his lungs.
"Crud." Cairn hissed with each impact, each shudder.
Farrell groaned as glass shattered around him, crashing in a sharp crescendo of chaotic noise, a cacophony of falling slivers of silvery shards. He hacked again as he felt Cairn shudder as he laid his body on top of his already constricted chest.
Cairn flicked his gaze about despite the razor sharp shards bouncing, scraping off his black back plate, and was somewhat glad to see that the abominable haze that hid the world from him. Cairn whispered a short prayer of thanks as the choking smoke thinned and thinned.
"What's... with" – cough – "the... rain?" Farrell hacked harshly. "You, start, singing... or somethin'" The arbite smiled bloodily. "'Cus, it seems, to be raining."
"Raining arma-glass maybe." Cairn grunted as he raised himself to his knees as the last of the glass shattered on the ground.
"Not... terribly armoured, is, it?" Farrell coughed with a broken smirk.
Cairn breathed deeply as he rested for a moment, scanning the surroundings now the smoke had cleared.
The vista was not unlike the other he had seen in the devastated portion of the precinct. Fire burned, sending pillars of grey smoke up into the newly cleared air, all funnelling toward the now opened skylight. The rubble was piled low but thick; several supporting pillars had crumbled and spread out like a frag grenade, demolishing walls with a spray of multi-hundred kilo sized fragments. Cairn could see into nearly a dozen side rooms thanks to the destruction, and the gruesome remains of the poor souls inside. While the force of the explosion would be enough to shatter the pillars, blow out massive sections of the corridors and various halls, caused secondary detonations in virtually every subsystem in the Cadet Barracks before being locked off in the vacuum valves that sealed off the main body from the smaller extremities of the precinct.
"How's... it, looking..." Farrell hissed in between spitting crimson blood. Cairn looked to the fellow arbite for a moment before returning to the vista of destruction.
Cairn sighed heavily as he glanced about. "You want the truth?"
Farrell returned a light, if pained chuckle, "A, convenient... false... hood, will suffice."
Cairn cycled through a range of facial expressions, amusement, to mild frustration and contemplation, before glancing back to Farrell. "Well, you always said you thought this place would be better 'open-plan'."
For the remark Cairn received a pained laugh. "That, good, then?"
Cairn nodded slowly. "Yeah, that good." He looked over the clearer picture of the battered, bruised and broken arbite. Cairn wasn't sure if he preferred the more hidden picture.
"Still the, lady killer, huh?" Farrell grinned weakly. Cairn said nothing for a moment as he looked into the pained eyes of the arbite, his expression sullen and miserable. Cairn could feel the tears want to burst forth but he held them still with a thought. Cairn nodded weakly as he tried to smile.
Cairn nodded again after a silent moment before saying anything. "Yeah." He said dryly, "Chicks dig the roughed up hero." He smiled weakly for a moment before nervously sucking his lips, "Rugged, yeah, that's what I'd say."
"Roffain will have you back on your feet in no time." Cairn quickly lied, his head dipping a little.
"You'd need some bed rest, but with your new scars and stories, I'm sure you could find a few free beds, with some company with little effort." Cairn continued nervously.
The hard bark snapped Cairn from his mumble of conscious thought. Cairn locked his eyes to the fallen arbite only to meet Farrell's bloodshot eye. "Farrell." The blonde arbite whispered.
"I'm dead." Farrell wheezed. "I ain't gonna die like a... a..."
Cairn dipped his head slightly before raising his head to look at Farrell again.
Ferrell's eye darted to the laspistol in Cairn's grip. "Do it, get it over with." He rested his head back and stared aimlessly into the ceiling. "It's, getting, hard... to, talk, to breath."
Cairn closed his eyes for a minute, breathing deep as he did, trying to piece together what was going on. He tensed his grip on the handle and felt it shake in his palm.
"I'm, not gonna... die like, a bitch." Farrell coughed violently. "I'm not gonna; suffocate on my own... blood." Cairn whispered something under his breath, shaking his head slowly as he did. "Just do it... Cairn, please."
"But, Doc Roffain could." Cairn started to reply weakly.
Farrell twisted his head to the fellow arbite. "Cairn." He coughed harshly. "My... lower half... is crushed" he spluttered. "I, will, not, survive, for the, doc, to get, here."
Cairn looked silently at Farrell for a moment, looking into his half-opened bloodshot eye. His mouth moved quickly but no sound came from his throat, his mind became a whirlwind of emotion, thoughts and discipline. Each vying for some semblance of control as he stared into that pleading eye. As he stared, he could see the pain flicker across Farrell's face. He was right; he'd be dead long before a medical team could reach him, and what if they could? What could they do for him, being somewhat lucid was a miracle in its own right, by all right he should have died from shock and blood loss, Cairn mentally recited a prayer but the fact remained, a medical team would be able to little. Ultimately, Farrell would die a rather agonizing death. Cairn sighed heavily as the play-by-play ran over in his mind. At best, Farrell would live as a cripple at best.
Slowly, but surely the arbite brought the laspistol about, the chaos of his mind giving way to the reason of the seasoned arbite underneath. With a few easy movements Cairn brought himself alongside the fallen arbite, his eyes connected with the eye of Farrell for a moment, a subtle nod crossed between the two, he knew what was about to happen as much Cairn did. Carefully the former sniper brought the laspistol to rest alongside Farrell's head, who returned to staring at the ceiling. Cairn licked his dust covered lips as gently placed the weapon on the ground for a moment. As he did he straightened his back and brought his arms to his chest. He interlocked his finger at the thumbs and spread his fingers, planting the palms on his chest, over his black arbite carapace. He sucked deep three long draughts of heat and dust laden air as he looked forward, staring into the distance, his mind on other things.
Farrell coughed as he tried to move his own arms, but slowly, if painfully, the arbite fashioned a bloody sign of the Aquila over his own chest. "Although your body is broken, although your blood pours away, although your time is about to end, the Immortal Emperor will greet you, and embrace you with His holy aura, if only you, Colm Farrell, Arbitrator of the Adeptus Arbites, remain constant to Him, through this time of torment." Cairn repeated cleaner then he had ever said any prayer before, his eyes twitched with his own internal torment, but his lips remained steady in the face of his duty to a fellow arbite.
Colm coughed bitterly as he tried to breathe deeply. "Sweet, God-Emperor, forgive... Your servant, his sins, and remember, I am... just a man."
Cairn dipped his head as he heard the prayer of forgiveness come from the dying man. He took a deep breath as Farrell finished his last rites. Cairn murmured his own rites as he closed his eyes and sighed respectfully as he reached forward to take up his laspistol. He opened his eyes to look over the black plated weapon, every mould line, every scrape and each fleck of lost paint were etched into Cairn's memory by now, he'd rebuilt and cleaned this weapon for far longer than the regulations required, by all right he should have handed it in and received a newer, if identical model, but he had hung on to this weapon, after his now gone sniper rifle it was probably his most prized possession. It had saved his life more than once, and rendered judgement many more times, ganger, traitor, heretic, he had delivered justice to them all, but never to a friend.
He turned the weapon over in his grip, examining like one would examine an artefact of old, the action pointless save for the attempt to quash the sickening feeling flowing up through his stomach.
He swallowed hard as he turned to the prostrate Farrell. He caught is bloodied eye for a moment, he received a silent nod in return. Cairn swallowed again as he lowered the weapon beside Farrell's head, the barrel poised to strike just above his ear and into his brain.
"Emperor, give me strength to carry out the deed, and brother, grant me forgiveness for what I am about to do. The End will be swift, and the Eternal gates swing wide for you. Your duty is done; and now I must do mine." Cairn recited clearly, his hand steady, his eyes set.
Cairn held for a moment as he tensed his finger on the trigger of the weapon. Farrell glanced to him for a moment before resting to stare unfocused toward the artificial sky.
"Any last wishes, words or rites?" Cairn asked softly in comparison to the hard tone he took with the Rites a moment before. He watched as Farrell maintained his focus on nothing, his head unmoving.
Eventually Farrell spoke; his words were slow and well chosen, saving what breath and time he had left. Cairn dutifully committed each to memory, family, a name that Cairn himself had almost forgotten he also possessed. Lastly Farrell turned slightly to look at Cairn directly.
"And... Cairn, look after yourself, you, and Thall... Davies will need a, new, tutor." The wounded arbite finished.
Cairn slowly nodded, holding his head lowered for a moment before bringing it back up. "I will." He promised inwardly. Farrell nodded as he turned back, prepared to face the end.
Cairn swallowed hard as he mentally prepared himself again. He looked at the bloodied face of his friend and his heart felt a wound puncture it hard walls. He wanted, underneath all the training and hardening, to laugh, or weep at the tragedy that had befallen them. He could find the heart to tell the Arbitrator before him that his student was most likely dead, tell him that everything was so frakked up, he just couldn't. "Just been a bad month eh?" he whispered quietly.
"Yeah, a bad, month." Farrell smiled weakly.
Then the lightning crack came.