The Shadow Hunters
The Hunters and their Prey
Disclaimer: I don't own the Mass Effect or Warhammer 40,000 franchises.
The Relentless Pursuit shuddered and groaned like a man with a hangover at the stress exerted on her.
Logan Nayl felt a twinge of worry at the sound, and he knew Romulus and Haekeer and quite possibly Tu'shak as well, would give him a verbal beating for risking the modified scout corvette in such a manner.
+'Nayl, we need to slow up, the Pursuit can't maintain this pace.'+ Romulus said, his almost-monotone voice not quite hiding his worry. +'If current stress continues, the ship will be destroyed in two-point-two-two minutes.'+
Up ahead, the scout ship their quarry had stolen slipped through the mysterious structure, which promptly went dark, and ceased functioning. Logan dipped his head in defeat.
'Call it off, Romulus,' he said reluctantly, and the ship began to decelerate. He stood, ripped his headset off, slammed it down and stormed from the bridge, punching the wall as he did. The lance of pain made him swear, adding to his bad temper.
Durzo Petrov had escaped them.
After instigating a Necron invasion of Argus Delta, the Xenophilic techno-heretic had led them a merry dance across the Messiah Sector, and upon leading them to the quarantined Ulixes system, had proceeded to challenge them to a desperate dash to an arcane xenotech structure.
Nayl had no clue what the hell the device was, and he wasn't willing to risk his ship and his band of mercs with it.
He looked around himself and was unsurprised to find himself in the ante-chamber to the ship's chapel.
He often came here when his feelings got the better of him.
Being a psyker, emotional outbursts were a high-risk luxury, even having been sanctioned by the Emperor.
'Nayl?' Asked a voice in surprise.
He glanced to the left, and was unsurprised to see Sasha Santana exiting her small, austere room adjacent to the chapel.
She was an Adepta Sororita attached to the Order of the Solemn Watch, one of only two surviving members.
The other, Sister Superior Maria Celestine was the local chirurgeon and medicae.
The pair had been plucked from a Necron Tomb World after an abortive attempt to explore the world for lost human cultures, Imperial relics, or other items of value.
It had been,-from Nayl's viewpoint,- fortunate that he and Sasha had been brought up in the same Scholar Progenium on Terra, as it had given him a chance to reconcile the two Sororitas with their new circumstances.
'Yeah, Nayl.' He replied bitterly. 'Durzo got away, slipped through some sort of construct. Don't know what it did, or where it leads, but…' He trailed off.
'You're angry that he got away?' Sasha enquired. While she wasn't a Confessor, she could play the role admirably.
'I lost my temper.' Admitted Nayl.
'Ah.' Sasha said. 'I'll let you pray. Do you require-'
'I'm fine praying. I don't flagellate myself. It doesn't help.' Nayl replied. 'Why even suggest it?'
Sasha dipped her head.
'Old habits I suppose; if the Solemn Watch was still around, I don't think the Sister Superior would've been able to do anything but turn a blind-eye to the self-flagellation we'd meet out on ourselves for the blasphemy of serving alongside Xenos.'
'Aside from the expected ones, do you have a problem with that?' Nayl asked. 'The criteria for joining this outfit is pretty clear, I appreciate what you and the Sister Superior do on this ship, but you know zeal isn't something I need to deal with here.'
'Just the expected problems; and even they're not as bad as you might think.'
Nayl could tell that as a Sororita who was a member of an exploratory Order, Sasha had confused feelings over the various xenos in Nayl's band, though he trusted her and the Sister Superior not to shoot them now.
Of course, for the first year or two, Sasha and Celestine had only accepted the xenos members of Nayl's crew under sufferance, but they'd gradually gotten used to them.
The cajoling of the likes of Freya Silverblade, Solomon Cole and Benjamin Wilkes hadn't hurt either, particularly as Wilkes was an ex-commissar.
The fact they'd mainly fought chaos, as well as other xenos alongside Nayl's band had further reconciled them.
'I'll leave you to it then.' Sasha said, and brushed past him.
Nayl watched her go, he shook his head and proceeded into the chapel.
Damned hothead. Romulus groused to himself as he coordinated diagnostics of the Pursuit's systems.
No need to space him, structural integrity is nominal and unchanged. Reported Haekeer.
It still irked Romulus, all the upgrades and modifications Nayl had insisted on adding to the Pursuit.
First it was just standard stuff on old Inquisitor Burgman's start-up credit:
Warpbane hull, vectored engines, a stasis field to capture emissions from the plasma reactors…
Fairly standard stuff.
Then, as he acquired Xenos crew he'd started to incorporate other upgrades:
First was the wraithbone interface throughout the ship so Haekeer could interface with it,-a bright idea Nayl had had after an experience in Commoragh.
Then it was the visual camouflage and holo-fields.
And most recently, Tau-inspired plasma batteries!
And that wasn't even mentioning all the stuff in the armoury!
Still, the boy had tolerated Romulus's own eccentricity, as well as his own project in regards to his personal gun-cutter.
Scans of the structure are complete. It's Necron for certain, but of a variety very, very rarely encountered. Haekeer said.
How rarely? Romulus asked the spirit of the Eldar shipmaster curiously.
So rare we believed for many eons that it was just a myth, despite records of its existence. Haekeer replied.
Romulus scrutinised the scans:
The structure was like a giant tuning fork with a gyroscope at it's heart, containing some glowing substance that was giving off strange readings.
Some form of giant rail gun maybe? Romulus mused.
But that wasn't all:
A few hundred kilometres from the parallel arms of the structure was a huge ring-like construct, which the other structure had launched Petrov's ship through.
What is it? Romulus asked.
Your guess at the structure with the central rings is accurate enough, but the ring-edifice? I do not know.
Romulus went about ordering the servitor crew to see to maintenance, and seeing to it that the Pursuit's machine spirit was content.
Not that that was much of a chore, the machine spirit always seemed to be happier when Haekeer was in the ship's systems, for reasons Romulus couldn't fathom.
Be advised, a Necron vessel just entered the system ten thousand kilometres off our stern. Haekeer reported. And it's hailing us.
+'Attention all, we've got a contact. Report to the briefing room immediately.'+ Said Romulus into the ship's vox system, knowing that his call would be heeded.
Durzo Petrov disengaged his mind-impulse unit from his command throne and stood, groaning as muscles gone to sleep flexed.
He went to a console and brought up the nav data he'd acquired from the Necrons he'd tricked into attacking Argus Delta.
He grinned, and used his augmetics to interface directly with the terminal, absorbing the data.
The Jump Gate had worked as specified according to what his scanning and data interception protocols were feeding him.
Now all that remained, was to find this 'Outsider,' help it return to it's place of origin, and then…
That was curious, he was being hailed by a vessel that bore the particular data-frequency of the being that had contacted him.
Human…your presence is an anomaly, yet there is a prescribed response to your particular presence. Come to me, enter my structure, and learn your purpose. Said a deep, almost-monotone voice that spoke of unfathomable age.
As you command, harbinger of my Ascension. Petrov replied in binary.
Nayl looked at the ship that had just landed:
A Necron Doom Scythe, but this one seemed…to lack a certain degree of intimidation, though Nayl couldn't quite put his finger on why.
He traded glances with Tehmujai, an Eldar ranger who heralded from the Saro-thal Craftworld.
'This is different.' Nayl said.
'Be wary, the Necrons consider all organics lesser beings to be subjugated to their will. No telling what this is about.' He warned.
'I say we wire this thing with haywire grenades and blast it back where it came from.' Said Cerabi.
She was a Scourge, who'd once flown with the Kabal of the Deathly Embrace, but had apparently had a quirk of conscience somewhere along the line, for unknown reasons and had sought clemency from the Craftworlds.
She'd joined Nayl's mercenary group at roughly the same time as Tehmujai, and despite Nayl's reservations, had yet to cause any major trouble beyond the usual kind.
'I'm with the Xenos on this one, Nayl.' Opined Wilkes, a sour faced man, who still wore the black long-coat and officer's cap of a Commissar, despite having quit for life as a mercenary almost a decade previously.
'They're right, we don't have a good history with these tin cans, hell, those chaos-bastards like us more, and we're drinkin' buddies with the Orks or Tau, compared with them.' Said Cole, stubbing out a cigar against a wall and hefting his melta gun.
'Stay sharp, let's just hear what this thing has to say first. And if we don't like it, we throw it out the airlock and loot the Scythe for all it's worth.' This was K'toia, a Kroot mercenary who'd come along with Nayl, Romulus and Cole when Burgman had agreed to fund the start-up for this little mercenary band.
Cereta simply nodded his scaly head, a pair of power swords in his lower hands, and a storm-bolter cradled in his upper ones. The Sslyth shifted slightly and reared back on his tail a bit more to get a better angle.
'No need to go looking for a fight where there isn't one, but you speak sense if this thing proves hostile.' Said Freya, swinging her power-axe experimentally.
Nayl went to tell them to stop talking and focus, but a boarding ramp lowering from the ship stopped him, and he instead chose to sight down the barrel of his pulse rifle, which he'd liberated from a Tau commander nearly five years previously.
The same mission he'd killed Father Magnus…Focus. He told himself sternly.
A huge figure descended from the Doom Scythe.
Nine feet tall easily, with a pistol-like weapon mounted on the left wrist, and in the right hand was some kind of sword-like weapon, though it looked like it took certain cues from an axe…Nayl decided to call it a cleaver and leave it at that, until he found otherwise.
Green wych-light burned in it's eye sockets as it surveyed them, and then it spoke in a deep, almost-monotone that screamed 'machine' to Nayl.
'I come here seeking the Inquisition-backed mercenary group designated the 'Shadow Hunters,' be you they?' Asked the Necron with a touch of superiority evident in tis synthetic voice.
'Yeah, we're them. What do you want, Necron?' Nayl asked.
'I am Marathik, emissary of Trazyn the Infinite.' The Necron proclaimed.
'Good to know. That doesn't answer my question.' Stated Nayl, resting his finger on the trigger.
'I have come at the behest of my master; you and he share similar objectives.'
'And what might that be?' Nayl asked.
Marathik didn't reply.
Instead, it stiffened.
'Assuming partial control…' Said a different almost-monotone, and the wych-light in the Necron's eyes flickered momentarily.
'Hmm…' The Necron said, and surveyed the collected mercenaries. 'Logan Nayl.' It said, indicating him. 'Bastard son of noted operative of Inquisitors Ravenor and Eisenhorn, Harlon Nayl and an unidentified Carthage woman. Psyker. twenty-five years old, standard Imperial. Leader of the Shadow Hunters mercenary band, ex-interrogator to Inquisitor Gaius Burgman. Formed Shadow Hunters to operate as a 'damage control' force for the Inquisitor, taking out targets with few or no civilian casualties to ostensibly avoid retaliations against Imperium. Scholar Progenium training. Little significance in grand scheme of things.'
'Mmhm, that's me. What do you want?' Logan asked, and wondering how the hell the damn robot knew so much about him.
'I believe you recently lost a target through the Jump Gate located approximately ten-thousand kilometres away?'
'Yeah, we did. So what?'
'That Jump Gate leads to an alternate reality.'
'We've dealt with shit like that before. You should see your entry in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; I heard you charge a ten Altaran dollar fee for tours through that reliquary of yours.' Cole interjected, giving the Necron Overlord an impudent grin.
'If I ever catch the bastard who put that in their, I'll put them on display as a warning.' Trazyn said as an aside to Cole. 'A certain entity that escaped being shattered at the close of our war with the Old Ones is hiding somewhere in the reality this Jump Gate connects with. I am willing to open it to you if you would be kind enough to go through and stop your target from guiding this entity back to this plane of existence.' Trazyn explained.
'What's the catch?' Nayl asked.
'The entity you're trying to stop returning is a C'Tan.'
There was dead silence at Trazyn's revelation.
'How exactly do you suggest we defeat a being that is to all intents and purposes a god?' Asked Tehmujai interrogatively.
'You'll find a way.' Trazyn replied unhelpfully. 'I will leave Marathik with you, do take care of her. Cheerio.' With that, the Necron's eyes flickered once more and it staggered.
Marathik gazed around at the assembled mercenaries, then 'sighed'.
Relatively speaking. Her body language bespoke one, and the sound she made was similar but that was where the similarity ended.
An awkward silence ensued, which the Necron eventually broke.
'So, where do you plan on letting me stay?' She asked.
Nayl traded glances with his compatriots.
He didn't even need to be a psyker to know the general consensus was not to piss off the ten-foot-tall hyper-advanced killing-machine.
'Just set up here in this hangar out of the way.' Nayl said. 'There'll be a briefing in an hour's time, but just one question: How the hell did the Necrons get involved in this? You mind filling in the leap of logic between a Xenophilic techno-heretic, and a super-ancient sentient machine wanting him captured or killed?'
'At the close of the War in Heaven, when the Silent King ordered the destruction of the C'Tan, one of them escaped through a warp-anomaly caused by one of the Talismans of Vaul being destroyed. I imagine that this flight cost it dearly in terms of strength and power. Skip ahead to the present day, and your quarry, Durzo Petrov found an artefact designed by a minor dynasty that is now destroyed to locate this C'Tan so they could bring it under their control. The C'Tan seduced Petrov into doing it's bidding, and he stole the location of this Jump Gate from a client dynasty of Trazyn's. A fully-fledged C'Tan is too powerful a being to be bound; better by far to leave it trapped in this alternate reality.' Marathik explained.
'I take it that's the abbreviated version?' Questioned Wilkes.
'Of course it is, the Necrons wouldn't give up their secrets just because we asked them to.' Tehmujai said.
'Your suspicion is unsurprising, Eldar, indeed I would be disappointed if you took me at my word. However, I think we can both agree that a full C'Tan is a threat worth working together to neutralise.' Marathik replied.
'Alright!' Nayl shouted. 'We'll get to the details at the briefing. Until then, Tehmujai, Cereta, Cerabi, K'toia, watch her, Wilkes, Cole, I'd like you to brief Sister Santana and Sister Superior Celestine on this latest development in advance. Dismissed.' Nayl said, before leaving the hangar.
This time, Nayl headed for his quarters.
Upon entering, a hand-sized vermillion dragon flitted from it's roost over Nayl's desk and landed on his shoulder, nuzzling him affectionately.
Nayl stroked the little creature with uncharacteristic gentleness.
The little creature was his familiar. He called her Fleur.
He'd acquired her ten years previously on a feral world spin ward of Eternia, and close to the border with the neighbouring sub-sector on the core-side.
He still couldn't quite figure out how he'd come by her:
His cover as a wanderer had been compromised by the heretic he'd been hunting, who'd taken over as a local shaman.
He'd ended up beating the heretic down with his hands, and the deposed shaman had gifted him Fleur's egg in thanks.
The specifics of how much of an honour, and what custom he'd exemplified to be granted the little thing were beyond him, but he'd learnt a few things in the intervening decade:
First, she was semi-sentient.
Second, she was also a creature with a warp-connection not unlike a psyber familiar, only natural.
And third, she possessed the ability to teleport.
Combining all those things, and Fleur made an excellent forward scout on missions where a little bit of foreknowledge went a long way.
Fleur chirped questioningly.
Nayl mentally explained the circumstances.
She huffed and bobbed her head from side to side in a 'it's never easy' kind of way.
Wouldn't be worth the time if it was. Nayl replied. So, think you're up to giving me some foresight? He asked.
Fleur gave a sharp, short chirp.
Nayl sighed. 'Figures.' He said, rubbing the back of his neck, and glanced at the wall mounted mirror:
He was well muscled, like his father, but he let his black hair grow, though he never let it get too long, and never bothered to do much beyond wash it, and the fringe often hung over his cold blue eyes a bit.
Due to his chosen line of work, he had earned a few scars,-one clipping his eyebrow from a piece of shrapnel from an exploding car back in his interrogator days, another tracing the left side of his jaw from a fairly unpleasant encounter in Commoragh with a Dark Eldar wych,-but his nose was fine,-more a testament to the expertise of the medical staff he was treated by, than an indication of the number of breaks.
Fleur flitted from his shoulder as he went and stood before a convex panel in the wall.
He tapped in an entry code, and the panel slid back to reveal a suit of jet-black environmentally sealed, powered carapace armour.
A few more typed commands, and the servo-arms in the container came to life and began to outfit him.
'So, you mind telling us just how deep in the shit we're jumping when we go through that gate?' Asked Wilkes, leaning back in his chair and tipping his beaked hat back from his eyes.
'That Jump Gate was created by the minor dynasty I mentioned. The tyranids destroyed them before they could use it.' Marathik said. 'It is in line with similar devices in the parallel reality it connects too. I won't bore you with the tech, but suffice to say that the normal variety is a highly efficient superluminal transport device.'
'Okay, what's this one do?' Asked Tehmujai.
'I will make this simple for you: It throws the ship that enters it through a black hole, and out a temporary white hole at the other end. Your quarry isn't the only one who mined the dynasty's data cores.'
'How do we know that Petrov didn't get spaghettified?'
'The Outsider escaped using similar means.' Marathik replied.
'How was it able to contact Petrov?' Tehmujai asked. 'That would've required the C'Tan to manipulate the warp, a feat they're incapable of.'
'Unknown.' Marathik replied simply.
'How did Trazyn find out about this?' Asked Cereta, his guttural voice turning the final syllable into a snake-like hiss.
'Unknown. He simply relayed the information to me and told me the most promising solution.'
'Which was?' Cole asked around a lho-stick.
'To contact the Inquisition-backed mercenary band hunting the Outsider's pawn and aid them in eliminating it.' Marathik replied.
'What can we expect on the other side?' Asked K'toia, who stopped picking his teeth with a toothpick, and crossed his wiry arms.
'I have scant data. Trazyn the Infinite apparently had little interest in this alternate reality. What specimens he is interested in are, quote: 'too big to acquire without looking suspicious.'' Marathik replied. 'However, Terra and the Sol system exist in this alternate reality, though we believe that the being known as 'The Emperor' does not have an analogue in this alternate reality; paradoxically, due to the activities of the Outsider, the warp-entities known as 'The Ruinous Powers' have minimal or no influence there.'
'Better than most briefings the Adeptus Munitorum fed me over the years.' Wilkes conceded, adjusting his hat once again.
Nayl tapped his gauntleted hand against the table.
'Okay, so we're going in pretty much blind. One last question for now, Necron: How do we get back here when we're done?' He asked.
'Unknown, though in theory, a skilled Navigator should be capable of plotting a course back through the warp.' Marathik answered.
'Let's hope Marik is worth the credits we paid for him then.' Freya said, pulling a whetstone over the blade of a hand axe.
'All systems go, Romulus?' Asked Nayl, as he took his accustomed position in the command pulpit.
'No thanks to you.' The red-robed tech-priest replied waspishly, from where he was interfaced with the command throne.
'Tu'shak have any complaints?' Nayl asked, choosing to ignore Romulus's sulking.
'Negative, the Jokaero is too busy agonising over the Necron.' Romulus replied, adjusting the plasma reactor's energy output.
Nayl nodded, knowing Romulus could see the gesture through the bridge security feeds.
'How about you, Marik?' Asked Nayl, directing the question to the gangly Navigator in the currently open armoured dome.
'Well, you've locked Jerod in stasis to preserve the poor bastard, and seeings as I'm not an astropath, I shouldn't be too adversely affected by this…to hell with it, let's just do this.' Marik said, entering his station.
'Jump Gate coming on line.' Reported Romulus.
Nayl watched as they approached the structure, and perceived for the first time, the singularity in the ring-structure.
It's center looked out on an unfamiliar star field, but around it was darkness darker than the void itself:
The maw of a shackled black hole.
'We are in the device's influence.' Romulus reported unnecessarily.
Nayl could see the lightning bolt that had just seized them.
An instant later, and they were rushing through infinity.
The Relentless Pursuit was gone, flung to a different interpretation of time and space.
Okay, this is what I get for playing a Mass Effect marathon.
Sorry I haven't updated anything recently.
That's the holidays and the ME marathon for you.
I'm still writing, it's just intermittent, that's all.
Also, a big thank you to Colonel-Mustard1990 for agreeing to Beta this story.
'til next time: