An Ecumenical Matter
Dacia's main religious institution sat several kilometres away from Crocas, the capitol. High in the mountains, secluded from the world was an enormous fortress-monastery. It was built into the mountain itself, so that only the front wall was visible, the rest extending underground.
Snow flecked the open ground before the monastery; a potential killing zone if any dared to cross it. It was not one of the five locations Wesser had set out to defend, instead recommending evacuation for the Arch-Bishop and his congregation. However, they'd refused to leave the holy site, and had dug in to defend it. The Emperor rewards those willing to fight in His name.
A perimeter alarm flared, and warrior priests rushed to the battlements, armed with a hastily assembled assortment of lasguns, autoguns and other sidearms. Most never lived to see the foe. Hands reached out of the shadows, slitting throats, blood frosting as it erupted.
Men jumped out of their skins, trying to react to the shadow walkers. But they were in close, and the casualties were horrendous. Just ten, one shade-kin, was enough to take out a few dozen men and disrupt the rest. Still, daemonic bodies dissipated into mist as they were destroyed.
But then, the assault had closed under the diversion and driving snow. Wyches surged forward under the cover of Kabalites, Pain Engines leading the way with their tough carapaces. The unholy spectrum of the Commorites was in full effect.
Reinforced rockrete cracked under the attentions of lance fire, and was then split asunder by the straining Taloi. The Wyches leapt through, nimbly navigating the tiniest of cracks.
They were inside.
Kuras strolled casually through the interior, his Incubi spread in front and behind him. He noted the decorations with interest. Murals and items of worship were everywhere. It seemed like a fairly normal religion of the Emperor, none of that backwards 'sungod' thing you had going on some planets.
From a hiding place, a man screaming in fear lunged out with some ceremonial sword, aiming for Malathys of all people. It wasn't even funny, really. Even Kuras only barely turned to catch a glimpse of the master Incubi's work, demi-klaives spinning. The man hit the floor in pieces.
"Eight pieces," noted Kuras, impressed.
"Only seven," Malathys spat, visibly annoyed. "I didn't quite sever the right thigh." He kicked the human chunk, and Kuras could see what he meant. The two bits of leg were held together by a thin flap of skin. Kuras laughed at the eldar's perfectionism.
The Klaivex inclined his head, listening to his commfeed. "Master, we've located our target."
Two Kabalites guarding the huge double doors saluted as Kuras approached. He barely acknowledged them, entering the chamber beyond. It was a lavishly appointed room, with a red carpet, and bookshelves and statues lining the walls. Another pair of Kabalites minded their quarry.
In a chair, relatively untouched, sat Arch-Bishop Jacob Gardner. There was something about human religious leaders that promoted pointy hats, Kuras noted. But he'd never seen a direct reason why, beyond the fact that they were pompous assholes.
Kuras drew up a chair and sat on it idly thumbing through a large holy book that had been nearby. The man's eyes flashed at such sacrilege, but he appeared beaten and made no move. Kuras jabbed a finger at passage.
"Ollanius 27:13; and we looked upon the Emperor's holy form, and knew him to be the saviour of mankind. How would you reconcile this with the writings of the Saint Beati who said that no man has seen His face at any time?"
Having a theological question posed to him by this…blasphemy sent murder across Jacob's features. Kuras did so enjoy impotent rage.
"I would not expect such a debase creature to understand His divine revelation," he spat.
"Oh? What a shame. And there I was thinking there was a contradiction in your scripture! Silly me, no I'm sure your theology's airtight."
"Just kill me! I don't fear death!" Jacob shouted. Kuras burst out laughing. Recovering, he leaned in close to the Arch-bishop's face, grinning ear-to-ear.
"Death is the least of the fates we can grant you!" He leaned back again, resuming his insouciant stance, legs crossed. He flicked through the book again. "Tch, how do you take this with a straight face? Myths and fables retold and re-imagined through millennia until nothing sensible remains."
"The Emperor is real!" Jacob snapped.
"Well of course he is! But he's just a shrivelled husk on a glorified toilet." Kuras laughed at his own wit. "Toilet humour. I am spending too much time studying your species."
Jacob glared at his irreverence, but Kuras went on. "Now what's the church's tithe on this planet? Judging by the upholstery…twenty five percent?" The man didn't respond. "Isn't it interesting how an organisation that tries to rescue your immortal soul needs so much money?"
"What are you going to do to me?" Jacob tried to cut through all of this bullshit.
"Hmm? Nothing," Kuras replied distractedly, reading.
"In fact, we may have overstayed our welcome already. Malathys?" He turned as he addressed his Klaivex, who was listening to comm. traffic.
"All other human life signs appear to be purged, Master."
"Good, shall we go? I feel impolite to intrude too long." He got up, and all of the Eldar in the room made to leave.
"What are you doing?" Shrieked the Arch-bishop. None paid him any mind as they left, closing the chamber door behind them. Kuras still carried the holy book. It would go nicely in his library and provide endless entertainment, as well as a glimpse into the psychology of human religion.
"Do you believe this will break him?" Malathys asked. That was the simple plan; turn their religious leader into a lunatic. That would be damning for morale.
"Not this time, but we'll pay him another visit. We'll turn him into a babbling wreck sooner or later!" There was such glee in the words.
Eldar were gathering in the courtyard, preparing to make the transit back to Commoragh, when all hell broke loose. A clutch of three green-liveried drop-pods impacted, sides opening within seconds to reveal a collection of assault cannons.
Eldar died in their dozens, mown down without cover of any kind. Thin skinned transports were likewise chewed through, at rest and not expecting a fight. Taloi suffered the punishment, but none fell.
Mere seconds after the magazine were expended, a second clutch of drop-pods vlanded, using the first as guides. Thirty tactical marines made the battlefield. Bolters spoke and more aliens died, still lacking any real protection.
It was one sided. Marines carried such heavy armour and the Eldar so little that without cover, they died without achieving anything. Missiles slammed into the Taloi, bolt shells expertly aiming for weak areas. The courtyard cleared, with zero casualties. The Salamanders advanced.
"Shit!" Roared Kuras. "Back, deeper into the fortress! Ar'rankar!" The Mandrake appeared, flitting from shadow to shadow.
"Prepare the shadowgate," he said dismally.
"The cost will be high," rasped the shadow walker's ghostly voice. He didn't wait for an answer and disappeared back into the realm of shadow. Kuras grimaced. He should have thought to bring a webway portal, but hadn't considered the danger so high. This was unexpected.
In truth, he had an emergency portal, but it was good for one use for one person. He wasn't quite ready to sacrifice his bodyguard just yet. His standing had just taken a knock, and they might be very useful in the hours to come.
There were still Kabalites and Wyches in the fortress, and they gave a much better account of themselves as they used the corridors for cover. Still, only three marines went down, and not all fatally wounded.
Kuras and his Incubi were in a dead end. They had to hold here until the shadowgate was opened. A marine, perhaps slightly careless from his previous fights rounded the corner. If they had been Wyches or Kabalites, he would probably have been fine, but as it was, he ended up in close range with three Incubi.
The first swing sheared the end of his bolter off, the second his right arm, and the third took his head in a great horizontal arc, helmet flying through the air. His body crashed backwards, back into the main corridor, and wisely, no marine followed him to instant death.
A couple of speculative frag grenades came around the corner, and the Incubi backed away, safe in their armour. Reality seemed to change around them. Kuras looked behind him, and where there had once been a wall, there was now a swirling ebon vortex, made out of purest shadow. If you looked too closely, you could see faces in the darkness, and whispers beckoned them.
Out of options, they jumped through.
The 'distance', if one could measure such a thing, was short. For such a dangerous method of travel, they'd only gone as far as necessary to escape, and were in some undistinguished branch of the webway. Every member of the party was somewhat withered, though only Kuras had any skin bared.
The shadows had leeched life out of their very souls as they passed through. The most dangerous thing for any Commorite. Bodies could be re-grown, but souls…to risk those was to risk true death. Swiftly, they headed for their home. They would need to visit their slave pits and reenergise.
Having dealt with the immediate problem, Kuras had another slave brought before him in chains. Unusually, he'd requested a large male. He needed something that wouldn't expire too quickly. Therapeutically, Kuras used him as a punching bag, working his frustrations out at the day's events.
He had looked weak! There was no bigger crime. He could look forward to an increase in murder attempt in the following days, until he could re-establish his authority. He needed something big, something unquestionable, but nothing was forthcoming at the moment, as he was swamped with rage.
Bones cracked under his fists. Kuras was no lightweight, training himself constantly for battle. He was sure that he could take a marine one on one. Sure, they were powerful, but he was faster, and between his Djin Blade and Clone Field, felt like he could get a fatal blow in. However, expert on humans as he was, he was no fool. He knew just how dangerous this breed of humans was.
One problem was that splinter weaponry was great at dealing with lightly armoured targets, but useless against heavily armoured ones. And marines could neutralise a great deal of poison. He would have to spend some assets on getting a particularly virulent venom.
Then there was the marine's ability to respond from orbit to any ground assaults. No matter where they struck, they'd be intercepted. Without a clear grasp of their naval might, Kuras was loathe to send in his own meagre fleet. In truth, the Kabal of the Shattered Mirror was small, and spaceships were not cheap.
His eyes flashed. He needed help.
Practising one of the human's fighting styles, he stepped in on his right foot, twisting his right arm as he pivoted, drilling a punch into the man's skull. He felt the bone shatter, and the man drooped, his brain flooding with blood.
"Bring it on," Kuras hissed to the dying man. "I'll shatter anyone who stands in my way."
The war room exploded into cheers. Arch-bishop Gardner had arrived, escorted by one of the Salamanders. The man looked shaken, but being saved by the Emperor's Angels was enough to restore the faith of any man. Nonetheless, he'd accepted the need to be moved. The Salamanders hadn't left much room for argument.
The marine addressed General Wesser. "I am Brother Korone. I was injured in the fight in the monastery, and Captain T'Gath asked me to work as liaison with you."
Wesser saluted, not knowing what else to do. The Angel took his breath away, though his workmanlike attitude was reassuring. "It is good to have you here."
The marine extended a hand and Wesser shook it, fearful of having his hand crushed, but the marine was gentle. Mehan looked on from a short distance away. He sighed, the stress he'd accumulated seeming to both wear off and settle in.
"The Emperor protects."