South and East of Zymran’s Ferry
“Back! Back up, dammit!”
Elmer Ludwig followed the order with alacrity, throwing the gear shift and flinging the chimera APC into full reverse. Great rooster tails of mud were flung forward from the spinning tracks as he backed blindly. “You’re my eyes, Corp, where are we backing to?”
“Any Throne damned place but here,” Bock yelled to his driver as he ripped another burst from the pintle storm bolter mounted on the upper turret ring. The turret mounted multilaser fired as well, slaved to the firing triggers of the storm bolter. Chimera turrets were small button affairs, cramped even for a single man and couldn’t support a gun team of any kind. The weapons in them were mostly externally mounted and on those which used ammunition, it had to be stored in the hull and the weapons re-loaded from below. For this reason, most chimerae were fitted with multilaser turret mounts. These required only a cable connection to the powerplant which could be placed tight to the turret armor and didn’t require re-loading. While there were those who preferred the armor punching power of a heavy bolter mount or the searing effects of a heavy flamer, you never had to worry about your ammunition tail with the multilas. As long as your vehicle had power and the gun wasn’t damaged, it would fire even if you hadn’t seen an ammunition vehicle in days or weeks. All Danikan chimerae were fitted with pintle mounts and slave units to tie the turret weapons to them if the vehicle commander so chose. The pintles gave the troop carriers some limited anti-air defence, and extra firepower. Originally they’d all been storm bolters but with replacement parts for those high tech weapons becoming more and more scarce some heavy stubbers were now beginning to appear in the regiment and some vehicle commanders favored them. Bock still preferred the storm bolter though.
Corporal Zinfan Bock, “B” Company, 4th Danikan Imperial Guard quickly checked over his shoulder to ensure that Ludwig didn’t take them into a wall or ditch and immobilize them. There were some narrow trenches and razor wire behind them, but nothing that should present a problem to Bock’s Car.
“Still looks clear behind, Ludwig. Keep her backing but ease off the throttle some,” he punctuated his sentence with another burst of fire at the battleline before them. Around him, other chimerae were beginning to follow suit, backing away from the close combat to keep their weapons in play.
“B” Company had been tasked with holding down this part of the front and had taken the brunt of the attack of one small but very elite group of heretics who called themselves the ‘Red Corsairs’ from their taunting radio transmissions. They may have been a small unit, and traitors to boot but they were very clever and extremely brave. They’d launched a number of fast, probing attacks in rhino carriers under the cover of a heavy ‘blind’ barrage. Being superhumans in powered armor helped immensely in close combat and the blind had let them get close where the Danikan advantage of ranged firepower was mostly negated.
Even that assault had been mostly contained to the forward trenches although several squads were completely butchered in the process. Captain Kristo had managed to pull the rest of the company back from the lead trenches and made the heretics pay dearly for their attempts to take the second line but in the end one group had succeeded quite literally over Kristo’s dead body. They must have called for support of their own at that point as drop pods began raining down right into the trenches, disgorging more Corsairs and a number of Corsair dreadnoughts. The fighting was dear and the Corsairs cut down anyone trying to disengage out of the main combat area. A few squads made it back to their chimera APCs, but not many. Most of the company had been quite literally wiped out.
However, while the infantry had been butchered, “B” Company had been a mechanized force, fully mounted in Chimera APCs with their heavy weapons teams carried in lightly armoured Ithaca high speed tractors. As there had been Astartes available to fill the role of mobile reserve, and line troops were desperately needed, Colonel Senekal had placed “B” Company into the main defensive line and Captain Kristo had wisely kept his chimerae back in protected positions behind the trenches. Close enough to move in if the infantry had to exploit an opening, far enough back that they were protected from close assault by their infantry. The range was such that the chimera mounted weapons could help to sweep the dead zone in front of the trenches to help the infantry’s own firepower. The deployment had been a good one and made better by the efforts of those chimerae fitted with ‘dozer’ blades who had quickly scraped out revetments for the carriers. Had it not been for the blind barrage, the Red Corsairs rhinos would never have made it to the trench line and even with the blind they’d lost some troops and vehicles, including all the dreadnoughts and drop pods which had come down.
Bock was now reversing to the heavy positions further back. Mortars, lascannon, heavy bolters and autocannon continued to take a toll on the corsairs but the return fire was having an effect. Men fell, slumped over their weapons and now that they’d been driven back from the revetments the occasional chimera was hit. So far they’d lost three. Jamming from the renegade astartes was preventing anyone from calling for reserves and the land lines had been cut. The corporal had to admit to himself that things weren’t looking very good at the moment. The officers had all been killed in the trenches and no one even knew who was supposed to take over. The attack had effectively beheaded the company and they were being steadily forced back – unable to make a stand without infantry support to keep the heretics from getting under their guns.
Reaching the edge of the heavy positions the line of chimerae halted raggedly. The disorganization was showing and Bock didn’t like it one bit. Sergeant Furby was trying to claim command, and he might even have legitimately been the highest ranking person left. The problem was that he was an obnoxious little prick whose skills were impressive as long as you wanted a chimera fixed or re-armed. As a combat leader he was an utter moron and, worse, hadn’t figured that out yet. He was standing in his command hatch shrieking something about a counterattack into the trenches when a heavy bolter round destroyed much of his upper chest and sent his head flying some distance from the rest of him. Bock wasn’t sure if the round had been enemy or friendly. After thinking for a moment he decided that he didn’t much care, he would gladly send a thank you card to whoever shot the fool even if the shooter was from the Eye.
Ariel Harlow was covered in mud, dirt, grime and blood. She’d lost her lasgun somewhere and scooped up a fallen weapon from the battlefield which had turned out to be a shotgun. More and more she was deciding that she liked the clunky slugthrower as it fired with a lot of – authority. What really amazed her was that she hadn’t lost an earring. She still had both of them, one elongated silver hoop on each ear. The more she thought about it, the more she figured it had to be some kind of sign she’d make it out of this alive.
She herded her exhausted charges along, occasionally giving one of them a shove with the length of the shotgun. All of them were as exhausted as she was but she couldn’t really let that show. If she sat down one more time to rest she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get up again.
Ariel was a trooper. Same as the rest of the guys in her unit. The only difference was that when the sergeant had gotten bisected by some kind of critter and everyone else froze in terror she’d yelled fire. And the others had listened. Somehow, that seemed to make her sergeant in this muck covered world of invisible insignia. Maybe they thought she was. She just figured she was doing what needed doing and no one else seemed to be doing it.
Griffon was a real sergeant. In fact he’d been the company’s sergeant-major so no one was going to question the grizzled old soldier. Not if they preferred their bottom down where it belonged as opposed to jammed up around their cranium someplace. Griffon yelled jump and you were up a couple of feet before it even occurred to you to ask which way or how high. That made life easier, knowing there was someone that rock-solid in charge.
Her point man froze at the top of a low hill that had been hit by enough shells that it looked more like it belonged in space than on a planet. He held up his arm, elbow bent and fist closed at eye height. Everyone halted and took cover, Ariel included. After a moment, she broke from her concealment and moved low from cover to cover to join him.
“Whatcha got Parker?”
“Have a look, sarge.” He gestured her to peer over the hill.
She was looking down on a fairly sizeable position laid out just to the east of them. Several tracked vehicles of a type she was unfamiliar with were parked, engines idling and facing more or less in her direction. Guardsmen were carrying ammunition from them to a number of mortar batteries nearby and some were carrying loads further up the low hill which bordered the other end of the depression the logistics vehicles were in. At the top of the hill she could make out emplaced heavy weapons flanked by chimera APCs. As she watched the mortars fired, launching a barrage at someone on the other side of the hill. Despite the muck, there were enough Aquila visible to let her know that these were other guardsmen although she didn’t know the regiment. “Parker,” she said, “get Griffon. I’m staying here.”
“Yes, ma’am!” and he was gone back toward the other Raehanivs.
Atop the opposite hill…
Bock was taking a moment to stretch, standing just behind his chimera Bock’s Car. The Corsairs hadn’t fallen back but were quiet for a moment. What the lull might mean was anyone’s guess, and probably meant pretty bad news for the Danikans but he’d take what he could get. Any soldier will tell you – never waste a moment where you can rest as you never know when you’ll need all the energy you can find in a hurry. Looking down at the Ithaca fast tractors and the mortar teams he was surprised to see a couple of very gunk covered guardsmen coming down the opposite hill toward the support elements. His stomach churned worriedly as he grabbed a lasgun from the rack inside the chimera. “Ludwig, Fender – keep an eye out. We’ve got company coming and I don’t know if there’s anyone for them to talk to right now.”
He didn’t wait for an answer before making his way down the hillside in a half-leap/half-jog. It was steep enough that he had to be careful and he realized that he didn’t envy the guys hauling ammo from the Ithacas to the hilltop for the heavy weapon emplacements. Giving the mortars a wide berth, he closed on the two coming down the other hill just as one of the Ithaca crewmen swung a heavy stubber around to cover them. The two approaching guardsmen put their hands up, slowly. Bock noted that their uniforms, while probably a different colour under all the muck, were of a very similar cut to those of the Danikans.
“Take is easy there Henderlein, I think these folks are friendly.” He looked over at the other guardsmen, noticing that one of them was a woman. He wasn’t entirely surprised by that, he knew that some other regiments had female soldiers and a few were even all female, but war was still mostly a man’s game in the Emperor’s armies. “Who are you folks?”
The man spoke. He was older, grizzled and looked tough. A lot of what was on his uniform was blood and it didn’t seem like much of it was his own. “Griffon. Fifth Company Sergeant-Major for the Raehaniv Regulars. And you are?”
“Corporal Bock, Sergeant. “B” Company, 4th Danika. Weren’t the Raehanivs a fair bit to the south of us?”
“Not anymore, corporal. What few are left I’ve got on the other side of the hill there. We’ve got some intel that there’s a major push to the north. We couldn’t hold anything where we were so we’re trying to get there to help. Who’s your commanding officer, Bock?”
“All our company officers are dead, sergeant. We’ve been taking a pounding. I guess our next officer up the chain would be Major Leckic.”
“Can I speak with him then?”
“If we weren’t jammed and cut off maybe you could, sarge. Right now, we’ve got nothing. Heck I don’t even think we have any sergeants still alive unless there are some in the heavy teams.”
“And they’ll be out of the main chain of command as support troops. Sounds like you got his as hard as we did, corporal. I’m sorry.”
Bock nodded but said nothing, it had not been a good day.
“How heavily engaged are you? You look like a mechanized unit with all those chimerae, are your infantry on the reverse slope?”
“What’s left of them are, sarge. Most of our infantry support got cut up. We fell back to the heavies because we had no one to keep the heretics away from our hulls. They’ll come again soon, I expect. To be honest, I’m not sure what to do. We can’t hold without infantry support and against traitor marines, maybe not even then.”
“Hmm – well, it looks like we can, perhaps, help one another. You need infantry, I have it. I need transport, and you have it. Ariel, get over the hill and bring the troops up. We’ll give the Danikans a hand here.”
“On it, sarge.” She started scrambling back up the hill.
“Sergeant, how do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t, corporal. You don’t. But I’ve still got a couple hundred men up there including some heavy weapons. If I had nasty intentions, I wouldn’t need deceit to hit you from the rear while the scum hit your front, now would I?”
Bock sighed. It made too much sense. “I suppose not sergeant.”
“Back to your carrier then, there’s a good lad.” He turned to the rest of the Danikans, staring at him from where they were standing motionless around the Ithacas. “Did the war just quit when I got here, troopers? That ammo isn’t going to carry itself up the hill! Get going – move!”
Chastain Manassas looked up and down what was left of the shattered street for threats. He didn’t expect to find any, and wasn’t surprised. Nonetheless the thoroughfare had seen better days. Just a few minutes ago it had been largely intact. A few chips from gunfire here and there, and plenty of damage from age, but not like now. Large sections of wall had been blown out. Bodies and pieces of bodies scattered everywhere, both in the street and inside sections of the buildings. Some sections had caught fire and were burning, the smoke pooling strangely against the ceiling, barely moving in the inadequate ventilation.
“Casualties?” he asked over the vox link. “Pit Bulls, guardsmen, report.”
“Barrabus – no injury to report.”
“Drill here – no injuries worth mentioning.” As he was standing nearby Manassas looked him over, there was a small amount of staining on one section of armor but the wound had clearly already clotted and Drill was moving well. Nothing to worry about there.
“Buzzsaw. Plenty of casualties to report. Just not ours.”
He had to laugh. “Tell me something I don’t know!”
“Claw to Manassas. Nothing to report.”
“Cracken to Chastain. I’m uninjured. Wulfgang?”
There was a moment’s pause before the Bloodcoat’s voice came over the channel. “You realize I’m never, ever getting these trousers clean again right? I’m going to have to burn them.”
The vox link filled with deep, Astartes chuckles. Chastain was hard put to keep from laughing himself. “I shall take that as a report that you are uninjured, Wulfgang. Well, unless you want me to report your pants to the Apothacarion?”
The guardsman was incredulous, “Sergeant Manassas, did you actually just make a joke?”
“Naturally not. Our sense of humour is surgically removed during the transition to Astartes.”
“Oh, I see.” There was a long moment’s silence. “I’m sorry Brother Sergeant.”
Chastain walked into it. “For what Wulfgang?”
“Well, you know. That they botched the operation.”
More mirth filled the vox link for a moment before Manassas cut it. The troops were making their way back to him, the Astartes fairly casually up the street, albeit with weapons still out. Cracken crossed to him quickly, moving cover to cover.
“Any sign of Heckle?”
“No, Commissar. No one’s reported a body either. If she was present, she is gone with those who fled. Apparently, that was all who do not remain here in small pieces.
He changed the topic. “If your map is accurate we’re still some 650 meters from this ‘Fire Lake.’ Without a guide that could still be a matter of some difficulty.”
“Oh, I don’t think we need to worry too much about that,” said Wulfgang, appearing in the doorway of an old shop, dragging a protesting ganger.
“Ah, a prisoner. How useful.”
“Yep. No kneecap so we’ll have to carry him. He should be able to help though. I ‘convinced’ him it would be in his best interest to co-operate.”
“Yeah – yeah I can take you there! Fire Lake, no problem. None at all! Just don’t kill me, okay? Please?”
The Astartes walked up to the badly injured boy – and boy certainly fit. He couldn’t have been a day over fifteen standard years. “So. You must be what they call a ‘juve.’ Is that accurate?”
The boy sobered quickly. He had pale skin, covered in bright tattoos, short cut dark hair and a thin face to go with the equally thin body. The Astartes grabbed his belt and lifted him as though he weighed nothing, bringing the boy’s face close to his helmet. “What is your name, boy?”
“Aleks. It’s Aleks, umm – sir.”
Manassas nodded and carried him down the street. The others followed, mostly out of curiosity. The sergeant stopped at the mess at the end of the street where Buzzsaw had eliminated Grond and his gang. “Look long and hard Aleks. This is what happens to those who defy the Astartes. By facing us in combat you have earned your death, for to do battle against the Space Marines is to war against the Emperor himself. Against the Imperium and against all mankind. That is your crime and for it, you will be executed – as these were.”
“No – please NO!” The juve was shrieking in terror.
“You do not wish to die honourably?”
“No. No. I don’t want to die. I don’t!”
“The motto of our chapter is simple. There is no Mercy. Only Justice.” He threw the boy to the ground and drew his pistol. The juve continued to howl wordlessly and cowered, arms covering his head.
“Sergeant?” The voice was calm, unrushed.
“Something to add Commissar?”
“The boy’s actions have earned him a death sentence, but he could still be useful to the Emperor and to the Cleansing Flames. While I realize that there is no mercy in the Astartes, the Guard can, sometimes, show some if the Emperor is well served by so doing. May I intercede?”
“He gets only the one chance Cracken. His life belongs to the Cleansing Flames for his acts against us. You may change that if you will – but you understand the cost.”
The Commissar nodded. “Of course, Sergeant.”
He turned to the boy. “Aleks – you realize the sergeant is right. Your crime is rebellion against the Emperor. That is treason. Quote me the catechism of service, verses 39-52, please.”
The boy looked up at Cracken. On his own, Cracken was an imposing man. Muscular and bald with pitiless eyes showing through the visor of his re-breather mask. The Emperor’s justice wrapped in a black trenchcoat.
“The catechism of service that all Imperial citizens are made to memorize in school, Aleks.”
“I – I’m sorry sir. Truly. I ain’t never heard of no catawhatsis. Never been to school.”
“Really? How interesting. Brother Sergeant’ this young man has never been schooled in his duties as a citizen.”
“Are you thinking of applying the Act of Compliance, Commissar? That might be valid, I suppose.”
“Rogue traders still apply it to newly rediscovered human societies. It’s never been repealed.”
Manassas grinned, “Glad you’re on our side Commissar. You’ve a very devious mind.” He turned back to the young ganger, “All right, Aleks. Commissar Cracken here has bought your life with an ancient law made by the Emperor himself. As such, it’s beyond reproach. Your life belongs to the Commissar now and to his regiment. Cross him and he’ll probably shoot you quicker than I will.”
“I won’t sir. I mean, I will sir! I mean –“
“We all know what you mean, lad. Now pipe down and lead us to this ‘Fire Lake’ before I change my mind.”
“Yessir. We need to go that way,” the youngling said, pointing further down the street into the blackness.”
More clambering. Up, down, even diagonally. Aleks seemed a much surer guide than Heckle had been and the pace was reasonably quick through the stygian Underhive.
After only three hours the blackness began to lighten slightly. Pale white light could be seen gleaming through cracks and seeping down corridors, growing steadily brighter.
“Fire Lake?” Manassas asked the juve, who nodded his reply, clearly too frightened to talk.
Cold Ethyl scratched lightly at the horribly stained piece of fabric which formed what little privacy barrier Exene possessed on the shores of Fire Lake. Each of the girls had tried to find a hole or recess in the wreckage to make their own, but as Gang Leader Exene was the only one who rated anything that could be classified as a ‘door’.
Exene was tired, hungry, and thinner than she’d have liked. While the Daughters of Dystopia had the funds from the Guard commander to buy what they needed, finding someone to risk the wrath of those who had called doom upon them had not been easy. They could buy little and that only rarely. Mostly they subsisted on meat from vermin they managed to catch, burned over a fire of flammable goo from the lake when it was at its least toxic or eaten raw when that wasn’t an option.
“What is it Ethyl?”
“Pris has somethin’. Near and coming closer. Not too sneaky either.”
“That’s worrying. The only thing down here that doesn’t go to extreme efforts to be sneaky –“
“Is that what don’t know better and that what don’t need to.”
Exene nodded. “Gather the girls.”
In short order the Daughters of Dystopia were ranged around the camp’s center. Ethyl was absent, acting as a runner and Pris was still watching the intruders. Exene looked around. All the Daughters were too thin. Clothes hung loosely, hair lank, filthy and mostly grown out to natural colours rather than the vibrant dyes they usually favoured. Still, even with that – there was a determination to them. Steel in their eyes yet. The gang leader drew her powersword but didn’t light it – saving the battery for the coming fight.
“Daughters,” she kept her voice deep and steady, “we’ve run as far and as deep as we can. There is no lower place in the underhive that I know of. Maybe that anyone knows of. There are still places to run, but none well scouted and we all know what things are like down here.
“We don’t know who it is that’s coming. If it’s Heckle and her crowd, I’m of a mind to fight it out if we can. Bleed them at the very least. We’re the Daughters of Dystopia – and we don’t quit! If we’re badly outnumbered, I’m going to want everyone to fire on the area where I fire my plas. And keep hitting that spot with all you got because we’re gonna try and bring down the roof on their heads and then run for it while they deal with that.”
“It is their turn after all,” muttered Sindi Sixx. A round of quiet laughter followed her comment.
Exene went on ignoring the commentary, “If we do bring down the passage on them, I want you to scatter. If they’ve found us here, we’re done. We’ve nowhere else to go. Change your colours, change your look, change your clothes and disappear into the hive. I’ve left funds from the Colonel at our usual drops. Grab what you can and use it to become someone else. The Daughters are done if they find us here and I want you all to save yourselves.”
There was shocked silence and a bit of murmuring as the gangers took in the unthinkable – the dissolution of the Daughters.
“Now, that’s a last resort, girls. I don’t want that, but if we can’t win the fight and don’t have a hole to run to I just don’t know what else to do.”
“Fortunately, that won’t be necessary.”
The Daughters whirled and weapons came up pointing in the direction the voice had come from. From over a pile of oxidized junk came something tossed over into the midst of the Daughters. Too large for a grenade and too light for a satchel charge, it fluttered to the deck plating in what passed for a clearing amongst the girls. It was a badly stained crimson jacket with gold threading and what had once been white cuffs.
Slowly Machine Gun Kelli scooped it up on the muzzle of her heavy stubber, passing it over to Exene who took it.
“Danikan,” she whispered. “Wulf?”
“That’d be me. Can I come in without being ventilated?”
“Of course you can! Get your butt down here!”
The smiles around the group were starting to be infectious. Murmuring. It’s all good. We’re saved! They actually came!
Wulfgang von den Loewen, Bloodcoat, elite bodyguard of the 4th Danika’s commander came out from behind his pile of junk and walked carefully down the slope in his shirtsleeves, hands held out to his sides and empty.
“So –“ Exene purred, “who are Pris and Ethyl tracking?”
The Danikan grinned. “A juve with a broken kneecap pushing a cart full of junk. And probably somewhere behind him, a certain follicle challenged Commissar. The juve, truth to be told, Manassas considered rather expendable. He was none too happy about that .”
“And this Manassas is?”
“Me,” came a deep voice from the shadows around the small camp. Leaving behind attempts at stealth the Astartes appeared from the darkness around the gangers like gigantic ghosts. Some guns came up again, but most stayed down under the threat of gigantic Astartes bolter weapons. “I am Chastain, Manassas. Sergeant, Cleansing Flames chapter of the Legiones Astartes. You may recognize my brethren, who are here to repay their debt to you. The Cleansing Flames do not forget their friends, or their responsibilities. You have risked much, and lost much in aiding us. So we come to repay that debt. And we hope, that in the future we will count the Daughters as friends.”
“You’d be a helluva good friend to have,” muttered Hard Candice.
“And a far worse enemy. I assure you,” the sergeant returned grimly.
Sindi, the juve not the point girl who shared her name, sidled up to Buzzsaw, the huge Astartes with the circular cutting unit where his hand once was. She didn’t even come to the middle of his cuirass and so looked way up to his grim eyes. “Big as you are,” her whisper echoed in the silence, “how the heck did you surround us?”
“I was in the Scout company for longer than you have been alive. It is hard to be stealthy in full power armor, but with you all distracted and planning what to do, it was much easier to move into place.”
“I do not wish to hurry such a clearly long looked for meeting,” Manassas broke in, “but there is Heckle and her group to consider.
“How do you know about Heckle?” Exene asked.
“She offered herself as a guide to the underhive. We needed one to find our way down here, you know what it can be like,” Wulf told her.
“And you picked HER? Didn’t you think that maybe she might be trouble?”
“Oh, absolutely, but trouble of that sort might well have followed us anyway and this way we could keep an eye on her. She bugged out during a firefight where some gangers tried to ambush us a little way back. That didn’t go well at all.”
Exene gave him a look with one eyebrow raised.
“For the gangers,” he finished.
The gang leader looked over the huge Astartes, picking out the blood spatters in a flare of light from the poison lake. “You don’t say.”
“With her escape,” the Cleansing Flames sergeant continued, “she will undoubtedly be planning more mischief. The underhive is, however, quite large and we now have thoroughly resourceful, knowledgeable and most importantly reliable guides. We need to plan our exit strategy carefully and I think we should begin as soon as the good Commissar arrives.”
Just East of Zymran’s Ferry
Senekal stared over the crater edge at the ranks of the newly arrived Death Guard. Now he understood the sickening feeling he’d had. That past exposure to Nurgle which, even after all these years, had never been able to corrupt him did still sometimes act as a warning. Hate burned in his soul. Anger at these filthy beings – these once heroes who had let themselves become this rather than die. They had chosen a near immortality of pain and disease but could never truly die of their maladies – only provide an infection vector to others.
“You were right, old friend. We were, indeed, needed here.”
“Everyone is needed here,” Liche whispered in his shattered voice. “One way or another, this day will be decided here. This raid will break here, or it will become a new Black Crusade. Either way, it will be on this ground where that decision is made.”
The guard Colonel was no longer listening – but instead transmitting with his headset Vox. “This is Danika Six to all Danikan forces, I say again this is Senekal! I want a blind barrage on that lander and the surrounding area. Everything you’ve got. Every damned gun tube that will take a blind shell. Blanket it with two salvoes and then load the biggest – nastiest stuff you’ve got and wait for my signal. I need one speeder on my position ASAP. That is NOT optional but I want a volunteer. Whoever goes may well not come back. Get on it men of Danika! Senekal out.”
“I see you’ve got a plan?” The Undying Librarian commented.
“No, I’ve gone crazy.”
“Ah,” the reply was quiet – barely audible. “THAT kind of plan is it?”
“Yep.” He looked around. “Can you use that teleport thing to join me once I get in there?”
“Arcturan – in where?”
The guard Colonel just pointed at the huge, diseased war machine.
Liche wasn’t often surprised and this didn’t really shock him either. He had known the commander of the 4th Danika quite a few years now and a more ‘Arcturan’ like plan would be hard to come up with. The corners of his mouth pulled upwards very slightly. “Naturally.”
Not far to the South…
“Can’t this crate go any damned FASTER, Bock?” Sergeant Griffon screamed up to the chimera commander.
“Sorry, Sarge, not unless you want to risk getting stuck which would result in us missing ALL of the battle, not just whatever the hell that was that came down.”
A gentle pressure on Griffon’s upper arm caused him to turn his head. “There is a faster and safer way. Tell the driver of this conveyance to bear to the left at the broken place of grinding. There is a way below which is both safe and rapid for the near future.”
Griffon just stared at the tiny Xenos woman. She was the only one who would speak to him. The others maintained silence or muttered together with voices like song birds. Beautiful, but entirely unintelligible. Only by agreeing to ride in the carrier with them had Griffon been able to get any of the Danikan crews to carry the eldar. Even then it had had to be Bock who seemed to be the most adventurous of them.
“Bock – you hear that?”
“Over all this din out here,” the corporal’s voice drifted down past his legs into the interior of the vehicle. “Hell no!” His head and upper body were thrust out through the turret hatch watching carefully for threats.
“Go to the left when you come to a ruined mill or maybe foundry. The eldar have scouted this area and know a faster way. Tunnel road or subway maybe from the sound of it.”
“Could be Sarge. Briefings on Cadia mention that space is at a premium here. A lot of trains and roads are built under to give fast, unimpeded access to the Kasrs from their various ag complexes. We’ll look for it!”
Griffon turned back to the eldar woman. “You scouted the area I take it?”
She tilted her masqued head to one side again. “No. Sorthelion reads the skeins as we travel in hopes of finding for us the fastest way to where we need to be. When we get there you will have your enemies to engage while we will attempt to join the Purified and the Seer of Night.”
Griffon sighed. Reading the ‘skeins’. Sounded like freaky psyker stuff to him but then he knew that some xenos were psykers and that not all psykers were bad. Astropaths were certainly useful and he’d seen the battle psykers which had joined forces with the Danikans from the fallen Salzburg acquit themselves very well in the field against the Corsairs despite being Navy pukes. They were travelling along in the rear of his little scratch column and the grizzled sergeant would not soon forget the ravening waves of blue energy which had helped tear the attacking Red Corsairs apart as the Raehanivs had helped the Danikan carriers and heavies retake the forward trenches. He was afraid of them the same way he’d be terrified of a friendly mortar barrage. Very glad that they were on his side and even more happy that they appeared to be competent.
The light leaking around Bock’s legs dimmed and Griffon moved further to the rear and threw open the top rear hatch of the chimera and stepped up onto the central seat. The column had entered a tunnel and was now starting down a long angled slope. The corporal flipped on the searchlight mounted to the top of the storm bolter and panned it around in front of the vehicle. There was no power and the tunnel was black as pitch.
Ahead the pathway was largely clear. While there were vehicle roads to the right and left, Bock had kept them to sunken center of the passage, running his treads between the plasteel rails the transport trains had used. Griffon keyed the command com radio and turned the power down to keep the transmission short range. “Awright, there guardsmen – this looks smooth so far but let’s not take chances. All rear hatches open with heavy and special weapons at the ready. Everyone else on the hull lasers. If anything bad shows up, blast it with everything you’ve got. Do try not to take the roof down on our heads though.”
Led by Bock’s Car the little column rumbled on into the darkness.
To the North…
The Blind barrage had sown a lot of confusion amongst the Death Guard below. The thick, white high tech smoke blocked not only vision but most forms of sensor. Thermal vision showed only black clouds, magnetic sensors were blocked by the dense pseudo metal content and even auspex systems were unreliable. It rose high enough that even most of the Titans were covered. Dull red flashes from within the clouds told of ravening energy being unleashed even without visibility although it was anyone’s guess as to who was firing and if they were hitting anything.
In the center of the cloud Infincere Principia stood too tall to be completely covered. Senekal pulled a folding magnocular/rangefinder from his thigh pocket and took a quick but precise range measurement as an open Danikan light speeder pulled up. While he was speaking to the driver and gunner a second blind barrage thickened and replenished the cloud below.
Lord Liche, Chief Librarian of the Void Phantoms – called the Undying – watched as his old friend outlined his plan to the cocky young pilot. Warned as he was of the mission’s danger the guard flight officer didn’t seem to be bothered at all. Despite the Colonel’s serious mein the young man – almost a boy really – simply laughed and joked. His gunner looked positively bored.
“Ready Liche?” the Colonel called.
“I am ready.”
Senekal turned back to the speeder crew. “All right then Voor, let’s get this thing done.”
“You bet, Colonel. We’ll get you there. When you’re ready.”
Bending down the colonel grabbed the lower landing brace arm which projected straight down beneath the speeder. He locked the fingers of his power glove around it and then banged the side of the speeder engine. Voor’s sleepy gunner seemed to come to life as the vehicle bounced up, with the guard officer dangling beneath it. Nose mounted heavy bolter and the top mounted plasma cannon began to seek targets as the vehicle zoomed up, forward and then dived at terrifying speed into the blind cloud.
Say what you like about Voor, Senekal thought, there was probably no better speeder pilot in the regiment. He could see nothing but white nothingness and yet still the little vehicle zigged and zagged as though the skinny ex-ganger had some kind of sixth sense for where obstacles might be. Despite swinging like a crazed pendulum and fighting exhaustion, he did his best to keep a close eye on the range marker on his magnocular – which was working on inertial readings from the starting point in the crater where he’d boarded his crazy contraption. He banged again on the engine housing above him and suddenly found himself in open air as the speeder popped up. Being able to see, he realized, was worse then not seeing. Even so, his ranging had been reasonably good and he was over roughly the middle of the band of smoke between the edge and the top of the huge Titan.
Inficere Principia had probably once been painted a Martian red millennia ago. Now it was hard to tell what it was. There was rust, verdigris, organic looking tumors weeping thick pus down the machine’s sides, the walking fortress was a monstrous, seething tower of disease and filth. Fighting down the hatred that threatened to overwhelm his senses, he keyed his vox.
“Danika Six to all Danikan and allied units. Fire on my position! I say again, Fire on my coordinates NOW! Fire for effect!”
He didn’t have to bang on the speeder again, clearly Voor had heard the command and he followed the plan ducking back into the blind as the Colonel shut down his vox unit. Triangulating on his coordinates – or rather the coordinates of the position he’d just been at seconds ago when he’d made his transmission, all the available artillery units in the area would be salvoing everything they had into the blind cloud at that point. Inevitably there would be scatter but in the confusion below the damage couldn’t help but be severe to the tightly packed Death Guard. He smiled remembering an ancient quote, ‘Artillery brings dignity to what would otherwise just be a brawl.’
Moments later another bang caused the open contragravity vehicle to bounce out of the blind again, this time virtually on top of the gigantic war machine. The speeder’s gunner immediately began blazing away at one of the shoulder mounted fighting platforms killing Death Guard Astartes and Nurgle daemon indiscriminately. As they passed low over the platform Senekal released the landing arm, activating his powerfist as he did so. He came down swinging, pulping a Plague Bearer daemon even as his feet hit the foul decking.
With an otherworldly flash the Librarian appeared beside him and the two began fighting their way toward the main body of the war machine. The arch before them was suddenly choked with enemies, all hoping to rend these foolish newcomers who had hurled themselves into death’s own arms.
There was a blue-white actinic flash and a noise like thunder, followed by a deep bass hammering and the entire archway vanished for a moment along with most of the struggling defenders. Senekal’s flash goggles had protected his eyes and he turned his head to see Voor’s speeder pop up out of the blind smog to fire again, before darting out of sight. As the glare polarizing cleared the arch came back into sight, now glowing a bright orange from the heat. The defenders were gone or in pieces. This close the speeder was inside the titan’s void shields and could do some significant damage to exposed targets with the plasma cannon and heavy bolter. It couldn’t hope to penetrate the armor with those weapons, but woe betide anyone who popped their head out of the interior nearby.
In a few moments the fighting platform was clear of hostiles. Voor’s speeder had started working over the other shoulder and carapace mounted platforms when Senekal voxed. “Get down here.”
The pilot dropped away from a platform spewing more defenders and dived into the blind cloud, popping up not far from where the Guard Colonel and Undying Librarian were shredding anyone attempting to exit the hatches. Without asking the speeder lent its fire to the defence and began to creep closer in response to Senekal’s hurried arm signals.
Within the blind clouds the combined artillery might of the 4th Danika fell with a shriek. Siren tipped shells moaned like damned souls before burying themselves in the scorched ground, then exploded in a deadly rain of metal, fire and new baked ceramic. Some struck vehicles or war engines, smashing through their top armor, ripping them apart and adding to the deadly blizzard of shrapnel.
The Death Guard, with all the proficiency to be expected of warriors thousands of years old, took cover with total discipline but even that could not save many of them. There simply was nowhere to hide from the barrage. With vox casters jammed by the blind, pox ridden Captains tried to lead their men toward the enemy with more success than the defenders expected. Warriors so experienced needed few orders and were already moving out to disperse and engage on their own. The Nurgle Astartes were not out of the fight, but now they certainly knew that they had been in one and the real engagement was yet to begin.
The tunnel had vomited them forth into hell.
Griffon cursed as Bock’s Car shot out of the crumbling opening and straight into combat. The first few chimerae had been filled with some of the last of the Raehaniv veteran squads who immediately began pouring fire from the top hatches and side lasgun arrays of the APCs in an attempt to clear space. Resistance was fairly light but appropriately chaotic. Streamers of blind gas were everywhere and an artillery barrage was under way although not striking close. APC weapons sprayed lasfire, bolter and stubber rounds and promethium in copious quantities allowing the little task force to create enough ‘safe space’ to move the Ithacas out of the tunnels. Those vehicles immediately deployed their heavy teams who began setting their support weapons in and around ruins and craters. There was plenty of cover available.
The Raehaniv sergeant ran down the ramp of Bock’s Car as soon as that vehicle had slid to a halt in the muck. He ignored the eldar who immediately scattered into the blind fog and started grouping his veterans in a ruined structure of some kind. They lent their fire to the ongoing mess around them, clearing even more space.
The fire began to slacken and with it as well the blind fog was starting to disperse. Shell impacts helped, tearing the concealing cloud to shreds. The shape of a very large structure became visible in the fog. Tall, seemingly intact. Stairs led up to tall arched doors which once had been gilded with finery. Now rot had overtaken them making their original tone impossible to determine. Everything was a gooey brown/grey and covered in slime and weeping sores. Shell impacts should have killed the flies that clustered around it, but somehow they were there anyway – buzzing like some kind of industrial cutter in their millions.
“Emperor on his great Golden Throne!” The sergeant realized that he had spoken himself. That was no building. It was the foot of a gigantic, entirely corrupted war machine . The largest one that Griffon had ever seen. Ever heard of.
The Guild paid gang guarding the hub maintenance tunnels had decided not to put up a fight. A demi squad of superhumans in powered armor can have that effect. They’d been left tied up with their own clothing in a parts closet with a knife embedded in the flooring. They wouldn’t starve – well not unless the Guild decided to take its vengeance out on them as well.
Exene had never seen the inside of a maintenance spur tunnel before and was impressed in spite of herself. The travelway was huge. A great, buttressed ceiling which arched over eight sets of wide gauge rails. A few operational lights burned here and there – the only ones she’d seen working this far downhive.
“All this, just for keeping the place from falling down?” she wondered aloud.
Looking up from his map display, Cracken shook his head. “No, almost certainly not. This far down these wouldn’t need to be this big if purpose built for workers. I’d say that this was originally part of Cascade’s transit system back when this hive was more city than true hive. If you look up at the peak where the light barely reaches what do you see?”
The gang leader peered. “Something shiny. Catching the light.”
“Skylights. Once the top of this tunnel looked out onto Lodi’s sky – probably when the atmosphere here was still breathable, or mostly so.”
Exene shook her head, amazed that her world could once have been so different. She lengthened her stride a bit and caught up to Wulfgang who was trudging along just behind Drill. He’d reclaimed his jacket from Kelly but it was much the worse for its trip through the underhive, despite its tough reactive armored material. The gang leader smiled a bit, linking arms with the Bloodcoat who tried to jump away.
“Exene – what?”
“What what?” she purred, her free hand stroking the pistol at her belt he had given her what seemed a lifetime ago. She looked over her shoulder at him, her feral beauty visible even through the grime. In her heeled boots she was a fair bit taller than he was. “You do realize that in Moebius it’s the women who are warriors, leaders, heads of households?” She smiled and licked her lips in a way that made Wulfgang’s knees shiver. “Choosers of mates.” The last was definitely not a question.
“Ummm – I, ummm-“ She stopped him with a throaty laugh.
“To be sure there’s no time now. I’m just making sure none of the little ones get ideas on what’s mine, that’s all.”
Wulf squeaked, “Yours?”
“Yes, Wulfgang von den Loewen, mine. All mine. By blood and sweat, tears and fury – I accept your weapon-gift.”
The guardsman stopped dead and Exene had to as well or drag him along. “That – that – that’s…”
A loud guffaw interrupted them both. “Well!” Manassas laughed, “I see that others are more educated about what ‘weapon-gift’ is than I was. Unless I miss my guess, Wulf I do believe that Mamzel Exene knew exactly what you were about when you gave her that gun.”
The ganger smiled, suddenly a touch shy realizing that everyone’s eyes were on her now. Command of her gang was one thing, but this was something else entirely. She took a breath and lowered her voice to a dramatic tone, “Amidst the weeping and the woe, Accursed daemon do thou remain and rot – I know thee filthy as thou art, I know the blackness in thine heart…”
Wulf stared at her.
“Close that mouth before it draws stingers there, Wulfy!” came the comment from amidst the Daughters.
“Ethyl!” the gang leader barked. The juves giggled.
Recovering his composure at last, the Bloodcoat managed to get out – “That’s from the Gates of Haldrashon!”
“It certainly is – Danika isn’t that far from Lodi you know. What’s more, do you really think a house like Moebius would pass on a piece about so strong a woman as Crystalla, the first Danikan Imperial Commander who was also a woman and is still a legend on her own world? Not likely there guardsman!”
“Umm – no. I suppose that does make sense.” He took a deep breath – “so – all along you knew?”
“I did,” Exene grabbed Wulf’s jacket and pulled him in, dropping her lips to his and leaving him silent save for the occasional small noise of happy surrender. Finally she released him and stepped back every inch the gang leader in an instant. “And what Exene wants – Exene takes!” She looked down at the stunned Bloodcoat, “Any objections?”
Wulfgang caught that which no one else was close enough to see. For all her confident bravado, there was a tiny look of uncertainty and worry just at the edge of the gang leader’s eyes. This was his chance to back out, to renounce his choice as a poor one within the traditions of his own people. Here this almost unimaginably beautiful woman was actually worried he might refuse her. His almost inaudible, “None” was out before he even had time to think about it.
“All right then, I think we’ve wasted enough time – don’t you? Daughters – let’s move.” She looked over at that silent, towering Astartes – “You too, you overgrown lugs. We don’t have all day!”
Sergeant Chastain Manassas of the Cleansing Flames – a two hundred and fifty year old, eight foot tall bioengineered killing machine, simply laughed and marched on.
Heckle surveyed the forlorn little camp next to the toxic waste pool known as Fire Lake. It had taken hours to find it – the lake was huge after all and the purple bitch had chosen her site well. The little cul de sac it was in was hard to see and access ran across reasonably sound metal decking which was resistant to taking any kind of track. Indeed, only the scuff of a giant armored boot had allowed her to find it at all.
She had had to come in alone. Of the tiny crowd of Teslas and Brob’nags who had survived the attempted ambush, none would willingly face Astartes again. But Heckle was made of sterner stuff than those cowards. Besides, there were plenty more gangers who worked for the Guild who would do their bidding and who weren’t afraid of a few over-fancy ‘nags in power armor. She had been worried, to be sure based on what the Commissar had said, but then he had also mentioned beating some of them and he was just a man. If he could do it, she could. The cowards would pay, eventually, but for now she still needed them. She could get more flunkies.
The Daughters hadn’t left much in their hole, but then like a lot of Outlaw gangs they hadn’t had much to leave. Nothing which gave a clue to where they might be going. She dropped onto a battered piece of wreckage – twisting her brow piercing back and forth as she thought.
Where could they go? That group couldn’t head uphive without being noticed and for all their strength, the Guild had enough force up there to take them out. No, they wouldn’t try that. How had they gotten here? If they’d come from uphive the Guild would have warned her about the Astartes, so that couldn’t be it. The Guild knew something – she was sure of that. There had been some Astropath involvement but the Guild hadn’t tracked it yet and was still wary of taking down an Adept lightly in the Uphive.
So back to the question of how they had come here? Wherever that was, it was also likely where they were going. The only real answer she had was Tilted Still. That was a long away across the Underhive from here, and yet that’s where she had first picked them up. It stood to reason that their entry point to the Underhive would likely be somewhere near there.
The ganger nodded to herself and scooped up her bolter. They were not getting away so easily…
Just East of Zymran’s Ferry
Infincere Principia Landing Zone
Voor, it seemed, had been bragging.
The Danikan Colonel figured that had to be the case given that both Danikan speeders and Astartes ones were now buzzing around the huge battle titan like gnats. But these gnats could sting. The Astartes speeders held back for the most part and remained outside the Titan’s void shields, working them over with meltas and crack missile fire. Others moved inside, scorching fighting platforms with promethium from their flamers. The lighter and more open Danikan speeders didn’t have the punch to damage the void shields and so also worked over the fighting platforms with plasma and bolter fire.
It wasn’t an entirely one sided fight. There were Death Guard Havocs wreaking their name on some platforms, letting loose with flakk missiles. Infincere Principia was also fitted with light point defence guns which took their toll. Even so, the gnats were making their presence known and, just as importantly, distracting the attention from the Librarian and Guard commander who now began to work their way into the belly of the beast.
The Titan lived up to its new name. It’s once bright and functional interior was a mass of corrosion and verdigris. Flies, both Terran and their alien equivalents, covered everything rising in biting swarms which vectored plague. Even the metal itself seemed ill. Giant rusted carbuncles which seemed a mix of metal and unnatural flesh breached smooth surfaces of metal, weeping with thick ooze as much liquefied oxide as pus.
As they entered, Liche turned and struck with his force axe. There was a shower of sparks, blood and gore as something – perhaps once human, but now warped and fused to control panel and structure – came apart under the strike. The head bounced to the guardsman’s feet. The skin was parched, stretched tight, both mummified and corrupted. The eyes were empty sockets filled with a red glow that faded in a dying shriek heard not by the ears but by the soul.
Senekal wanted to be sick – but there was no way he was giving the horror that this place had become the satisfaction. He stomped the fragile cranium to gooey shards as he fixed his filter mask and gloves in place.
“So,” the ancient Librarian rattled, “we stand within the results of grandfather Nurgle’s ‘gifts.’” He gestured to the remains beneath the Colonel’s boot. “I wonder if in the end he truly felt blessed?”
“Doesn’t matter much now, does it?” he replied. “Whatever he felt, he’s done with it.”
“Indeed.” The Librarian led as they worked their way deeper into the halls of filth. For the moment, they were alone.
“They must know we are here.”
“I’m sure they do, but I am making it difficult for them to be sure where. The soul of this – thing – seeks us. I am playing games with it. Giving it images to chase which are not us. It is not proof-”
“No but definitely better than nothing.”
“Precisely. So – what is your plan now that we are here?”
“Find something important and bust it?”
There was a crackling wheeze which the Colonel realized was dry laughter. “That’s your plan?”
“Hey, I never claimed it was a good plan, did I?”
“No, in fairness you did not. Well, let us be about it.”
“Much as I hate to do it, we should split up. More chance of finding something critical.”
The Void Phantom shook his head. “No, no I do not think that is wise here. There are still troops aboard. Together we will have a better chance at punching through them. There is a source of energy below us – large, and not natural. We should make for that.”
Arcturan snorted. “Well, fine, be that way. Although I have to say wandering around alone in this place isn’t something I’d welcome.” They started off looking for a way down.
Griffon ran through the muck, Ariel’s squad hard on his heels. To either flank the eldar flickered in and out of sight. Occasional screams echoed weirdly through the blind fog. There was an unnatural tone to them, of throats in torment.
The sergeant keyed his microbead vox, “Awright apes, you ready?”
“We sure are, Sergeant! The voice was young, eager. A Danikan corporal of their lascannon teams who never expected to be so senior.
“Great! Let her rip on my mark.
“Three!” he continued to storm forward, leaping a shell hole.
“Two!” an otherworldly shape appeared before him. He raised his pistol but before he could squeeze the trigger a storm of lasfire knocked it over. Ariel fired a shotgun blast into its fallen form one handed as she rushed by.
“One!” a group of Death Guard stood at the foot of the blighted stairway, raising their bolters. Small arms fire on both sides barked, the mass reactive shells of the former Astartes literally tearing Griffon’s guardsmen into bloody rags. A satchel flung from the Raehanivs landed amongst them before exploding in a clean yellow flash which left nothing standing.
The doors at the top of the stairs flared as ravening beams of coherent light from the Danikan heavy teams struck the center point where they met. Two more satchels followed and in moment there was another flash and roar.
The doors held fast.
Ducking behind chunks of debris on the stairs, the Raehanivs made themselves as small as they could as the enemy closed in again. With no way in and no way out they prepared to make their last stand. The Danikan heavy weapons shifted their fire, trying to break up the counter attack. They began to draw return fire and there was a moment of breathing room.
Giant, dark shapes gathered at the foot of the stairs, ancient bolters coming up. Ariel fired into them, her shotgun making no impact on the former Astartes below. “Sarge! We have to get the hell out of here!”
“If you’ve got a teleport homer in yer pocket, Harlow – now’s the time to get it out. I’ll rip a stripe off ya later for holding out on me.”
“I’m a trooper, Griffon. I don’t have any stripes for you to take!” She fired again.
“Remind me to fix that when we get out of here.”
“You mean IF.”
“I said WHEN!”
Any response was drowned by a brilliant flash and noise from hell which left everyone blinded and deaf for a moment. One of the great titan’s weapons had opened fire above, the blast proximity incredibly painful.
A larger shadow grew out of the murk of the battle and the guardsmen went to ground yet again. Bolters had started to bark as the Death Guard marched stoically forward ignoring what little hit them. The shadow roared mechanically and then the plague marines were down or flying through the air as Bock’s Car roared over and through them. It bounced up the stairs without losing any appreciable speed and smashed into the weakened doors which gave way under the ram. A track snapped with the impact and ripped through the air like a snake beheading an unlucky Raehaniv trooper who hadn’t gotten far enough down.
“Bock you Throne damned maniac!” Griffon yelled into his microbead. “What the hell was that?”
“Sorry, Sarge, just felt like something had to be done. Poor old Car. I think she’s out for the duration.
Griffon looked at the headless young trooper, saddened – and said nothing to the chimera commander. He’d saved their lives and gotten them in, better he not know the cost.
An Ithaca came up behind the stranded chimera, lowered its bulldozer blade and began shoving the damaged transport the rest of the way through the doors. This entryway was still mounted on a foot, Griffon recalled, and they had to be in before it started marching. The rest of the column followed, fire putting down the plague marines as they tried to pull themselves out of the muck the chimera had pressed them into.
The hall within the titan’s greave had once been an ornate tribute to the skills and artistry of Mars. While some of that was still visible in the overall shape, it was now a palace of horror. Diseased and rotting, metal dulled, rusted and falling to pieces but still with a terrible strength. Bodies were skewered on spikes or hung in chains. Some fresh, some nothing more than barely visible brown bones, others not even yet dead. All covered in the flies.
Tiny reducers, insects maybe, filled the air and lined the walls in uncountable billions. Griffon strode in, snapping a mask onto his grizzled face. “Harsh environment gear, troops. I’d say that there was a pox on this place but it’s probably more like a couple thousand poxes.
More vehicles poured in. The space was so big there was plenty of room. “I want rear area security on that door. Park a couple of vehicles with their weapons pointed out it and get some lascannons in front of them behind some sandbags. Move it people!”
There was no question in Griffon’s mind that keeping the troops to their tasks was critical here. If they had the opportunity to actually think about their situation they might panic, but when at their duties, their training would take over. He flagged over the Ithaca that had moved Bock’s Car out of the doorway – “You, get that damaged chimera turned around so its guns point in a useful direction. Out the doorway would suit me just fine.” He keyed his vox again, “Bock! You’re in charge of holding that door. Nothing gets in or I’ll know the reason why.” He turned again, “Harlow – you’re with Bock. Grab another squad and some of the heavy teams as well.
The thunder of heavy bolters drowned out his next order and he turned to see what was being shot and shot at. Several of the vehicles were laying shots into an interior doorway, pounding fire into unfortunate Death Guard who were so packed in that the fire couldn’t miss. A short range chimera moved in from the side and flooded the opening with burning promethium from its turret and hull mounted heavy flamethrowers. The smoke burned filthy black, but when the flames died down not only had the traitors withdrawn but the decking and walls were remarkably clean beneath the scorchmarks. He knelt to rub his glove along the burned deck, the ash dissolving like the bad dream.
“No, you are correct, Sergeant.” The eldar woman in red was next to him. He hadn’t seen her come up at all – she was disturbing that way. Both fast and subtle. Inhuman. “There is power in fire. And your weapons are not just any fire. In your incendiary gel there is faith, belief, as integral to it as its combustion chemicals. Both of those things are the enemy of what we face here. The fire fights the corruption on the physical level. The faith on the psychic level. Your flamers are anathema to that which dwells in these walls. It is a pestilence as much of the soul as of the body. When did you ever see a virus or bacterium which could cause pustules on the metal of a vehicle such as this before? It is not of this world.”
Griffon smiled, his eyes visible as squints beneath the protective goggles he’d pulled down. That was info he could put to use. “Flamers!” he shouted. “I want everything that throws promethium over here and I want it right now!” He turned back to the eldar woman.
“So, faith and fire, eh. I knew this Adepta once who used to like that phrase. I think it’s time to put it to use.”
Tilted Still; it seemed like a lifetime since they had last laid eyes on that rusted piece of barely functioning junk…
Cracken had been concerned about an ambush, but a couple of the Daughters, their gang specific markings left off, had gone ahead to scout. No longer the hated Daughters of Dystopia, but just a pair of Moebius gangers out on a tear, they slipped forward but reported no signs of an ambush. Even so, he was nervous and could see how tense that made Wulf. Manassas clearly wasn’t worried. But then the Astartes weren’t known for their fear or nervousness. They were bred for battle and almost anything else was more likely to discomfit them than the prospect of conflict. As they moved past the broken still, Chastain pulled his helmet off his belt and put it on. The only hint of care over a possible ambush was that casual move. He seemed almost disappointed has they moved out of the dome and into the corridors which led back to their entry point. Cracken, despite his concern, was also annoyed. It seemed unlikely that Heckle and her guild cronies would let them go so easily or be shaken off when such an obvious waypoint had been necessary.
The Commissar glanced over at Exene and Wulfgang, where they walked close to one another but not quite touching. There was a schoolgirl style giggle and he looked down to see the juve, Sindi, next to him.
“So there Commissar – do ya think Exene made a good pick?”
Cracken snorted, looking the juve up and down. Sindi was a large boned girl, with very broad shoulders and hips and a head that almost looked too small. She had flame red hair that, given the lack of root colour variation most of the other girls were showing, seemed likely to be natural. She carried a battered heavy shotgun like it was a toy. “What makes you think, Sindi, that I would have an opinion on such a thing. As long as the good order of the regiment isn’t endangered I see nothing wrong with it.”
“Not really what I asked though, is it?”
Chuckling, Cracken had to nod in acceptance.
“Sindi, do you know what an Honorifica Imperialis is?”
The juve laughed out loud, drawing a few odd looks. “Now how the heck would I know anything about an honor-whatchamacallit? I grew up down here.”
“Indeed. You all will have a lot to learn, but that’s nothing new to the regiment.”
“Sindi, where do you think we’re going?”
“Dunno. Off to kill the head of the Guilders?”
“As tempting as that is, sadly no. For one thing the head of the Guilders is likely ignorant of a lot of this mess. The Guild is a very very large organization and the kind of behaviour Hespas Dupontiae and Mobweed engaged in would almost certainly be kept from the upper echelons for plausible deniability if nothing else.”
The Commissar sighed, drawing on patience long trained into him. This was a girl who understood her own world well, but little to nothing outside it. “If they don’t tell the big boss who they are screwing around, no one can really be mad at him about it. And if they get caught, he can sell out the lot of them who were doing the dirty. Does that make more sense?”
“Well o’course. Why didn’t ya say so.”
“I rather thought I had. At any rate, the Daughter’s issue with the Guild isn’t likely to die with Dupontiae, who I promise you will most assuredly die. Someone, somewhere won’t like their power being undermined and it will only be a matter of time before this happens again.”
“So we’re still screwed?”
“Hardly. The Cleansing Flames would never tolerate that, and if it came down to it, they could burn not only this hive but this entire planet to a cinder.”
The juve’s jaw dropped, he eyes wide with shock. “Close your mouth, dear. Planetary exterminatus is rare, but by no means unheard of in the wider Imperium. Even so, the Lord of the Cleansing Flames would be unlikely to flatten a planet for such a small thing – the repercussions would be too much trouble. But he could, and that’s the important part.
“Disrupting too much of the Imperium, even justifiably, is generally frowned on. If everyone did things like that, we’d have not just unending war but unending civil war and we have enough of those already as it is. As such, the best thing to do is to simply remove the Daughters from the situation and punish those we know full well are responsible. In this case, Hespas Dupontaie, Heckle and her senior cronies. You and the rest of your group will come with us and be absorbed into the 4th Danika as troopers. Which is sure, I grant you, to cause no end of consternation for the Colonel.”
“So we’re – leavin’? Going offworld to the Guard?”
“It’s the only really workable solution.”
“Whooo hooo! You hear that Exene? We’re gonna be Guard!”
The gang leader just smiled. “I rather thought as much Sindi. There wasn’t a lot else that could happen.”
Cracken chuckled. “I take it being selected for the Imperial Guard is considered a promising and positive thing here?”
“Are you kidding, Commissar?” Exene replied. “You’ve seen the way we live. What can happen down here. Sure life in the IG is dangerous. Lots of fighting, be we ain’t afraid of a scrap, are we girls?”
There was clear agreement that the Daughters were anything but afraid of a scrap.
“Three squares a day, good kit, real medical treatment and someone who actually maybe cares if we live or die? An actual reason and purpose to life beyond just surviving and trying to find enough to eat? Yeah, some fighting for humanity is a small price to pay for that, Commissar!”
“I approve of your attitude, Exene Thrush,” Barrabus grated through his voder. “Dedication to the service of humanity is the highest calling a human can have. It is all we Astartes exist for, but too few humans share it, even within the Guard. I think you will find a very suitable home with the Danikans.”
“I sure hope so, big guy.”
“There may be some issues. As I expect Exene knows, the Danikans can be a bit down on women in combat culturally. Even so, they respect prowess and the Daughters certainly have that.”
“So it ain’t gonna be all candy and flowers, eh Commissar?” asked Kelli, the daughter who carried their heavy support weapon.
“I expect not. Even so – never forget that women on Danika are expected to be capable warriors. That isn’t what you face.”
“What is it then?”
It was Wulf that answered. “Danika is a planet of warfare, even if largely ritualized now when it’s between Danikans. Women can fight and are trained, but they are also critical to the non-combat parts of the culture. A disproportionately large percentage of Danikan males choose to be pure warriors.”
“Which leaves the gals to do all the heavy lifting,” Exene snarled.
“Outside of combat, yeah. Women run everything. The economy, the industry, the homes, schools, everything. Pretty much everything that isn’t all sweaty and macho. Men are warriors first, sometimes law enforcement and fire fighting. Things like that. There are, of course, men in other careers, just as there are women in the more traditionally male careers, but only very few and on both sides they face a lot of prejudice.
“In the case of fighting, it manifests as – well – embarrassment really. The idea is that if you need to pull your women off your more important things to lower themselves to fighting, then you are a failure as a man and as a warrior.”
“Convenient for those who want to keep women out of the dominant aspects of society,” Cracken muttered.
“I wish I could say that wasn’t fair, but in reality the Commissar is right. The ‘Chivalry’ in Danikan culture borders very closely on chauvinism. Not that anyone wants to admit that or anything.”
The Commissar chuckled under his breath. “I had no idea you were such a cultural progressive, Wulfgang.”
“No choice really. My mom was one of those rare women who refused to do anything but fight. Her and dad met on the battlefield. On opposite sides. She always said that she would never have anyone who couldn’t beat her in a fight.”
“Your father won?” asked Exene.
Wulf laughed. “Against mom? Hell no! Not once. He never won a fight and was lucky to even get a hit in most times.”
“So why did she choose him?”
“Because he wasn’t like the others, or so she used to say. He would fight with her in challenges because she required it. But he also spoke to her. Sent her gifts and, unlike others, never gave up no matter how many times he lost. No matter how many times, mom took him down. She always said she married him out of pity. To her dying breath she said that. Yet there was always this look in her eye, that told another story.”
“So she’s gone now?”
Wulf nodded. “Yeah. Died of a wasting sickness some years ago. I tried to get home to see her – but you know warp travel. And war. I didn’t make it. She left me a vid of her last minutes though.”
“And your father? My future father in law?”
“One of the senior advisors to the Imperial Commander, Governor Halstaff. He and mom didn’t always see eye to eye on things. His support for Halstaff was one of those things. She had quite a temper mom did. She would often storm out and not come back for weeks or months. When I was little she’d generally take me with her. When I was older I had to choose although most times there wasn’t much choice with school, training etc. Most times I couldn’t just head off when her and dad had a snit.”
“I’m surprised they survived that.”
“Sometimes so am I, but you know – as strange as it sounds I think it made them stronger. My mom – she was crazy. Not just crazy crazy but crazy beautiful, crazy good in a fight, crazy smart. Dad was the opposite. Stable. Almost boring.”
“So which do you take after?” Exene purred at him with a coy look.
Wulf snarled. “Tease,” and then grinned.”Both really. In a fight, I’m like mom. Outside one, a lot more like dad. You might say I got kind of the best of both worlds.”
Cracken laughed. “Or the worst, Wulfgang!”
“Yeah, or the worst. Neither mom nor dad approved of my supporting the Colonel – although in the end both were proved wrong on that front.”
Sindi Sixx, the ‘other’ older Sindi, slid out of the darkness making a cutting motion across her throat. No more was necessary – everyone froze and silence fell like a drop pod with a broken retro. With a faint rattle weapons cleared sheathes and all casual chatter vanished.
“Report,” Exene whispered.
“Big dome ahead – and a sizeable force waiting for us.”
“Not in ambush?”
“Oh, they’re trying but there are too many and they aren’t disciplined enough. Pretty hard to keep that many ganger’s quiet. Lots of houses. Brob’nag, Tesla, Moebius even and some of the lesser ones.”
“Heckle’s.” It wasn’t a question.
“The Guild’s,” Cracken countered. “I can’t imagine Heckle could manage anything like this without full backing.”
“None of which changes anything, really,” the Astartes sergeant commented. “We still have to deal with them. And this time, close as we are, there will be no worries about breaking off or finding the Daughters. This time we fulfil our Chapter’s motto. There is no Mercy -”
“Only Justice!” chorused the rest of the Pit Bulls.
“Which dome, Sindi?” Exene asked.
“Old number six. You know the one.”
“This is familiar territory?” Wulf snapped the safety off his chainsword.
“Yes. Our old home turf. They’re pretty ballsy – or stupid – to hit us here. Or maybe they just don’t care.”
“Could well be part of their ‘message’, Exene. You are not safe from the vengeance of the Guild anywhere – not even in your ‘home turf’. A stronger lesson for those who may wish to resist them in the future.”
“The Commissar’s talkin’ sense there Exene.” Hard Candice didn’t talk often. The Daughters knew well that when she did she had generally thought all angles through – in her slow inexorable way.
“You got a thought there, Candice?”
“Mebbe. Mebbe.” She chewed her lip for a moment. “Remember those vents? The ones we used to catch Sewer ‘Phibs in?”
“Hell, yeah!” hissed Sindi the juve, “Those were my favorite!”
“Well they run under that dome and half up one side. They end there but the important part is where they come out. Right by that big hatch that’s been shut forever.”
“Which,” Sindi the scout smirked, “would be right smack dab in the middle of them.”
“Too big for the ‘nags though,” Candice added. “They’d never fit.”
“The rest of us could cause quite a stir though, couldn’t we?”
Exene grinned. “Oh, aye, Commissar. We could and while we were – ”
“We show them the true meaning of what being the enemy of the Cleansing Flames means.” Barrabus hissed through his voder.
Manassas nodded. “Still nothing on the vox,” he said cryptically. “Buzzsaw, you’re on backup duty. I’m sorry you’ll miss the first part of the fight.”
The huge Pit Bull nodded and faded to the back of the group. As he passed Wulf wasn’t sure but thought he heard the saw armed Astartes mutter, “Just so long as you leave some for me.”
* * *
Central Torso region
Resistance had been scattered and light. Liche and Senekal hadn’t had any real trouble, only a single Aspiring Champion offered a fight worth the name. His corpse dissolved into something foul and oily as Liche sank his force axe into him and channelled the warp through the weapon, severing the plague marine’s connection to the material world.
In the distance a klaxon of some kind was sounding. At times it sounded more like screaming than the Mechanicum hoot it must once have been.
“Thoughts on where they all are?” the guard colonel asked his friend.
“Unknown. It may be that they simply were overconfident. Traitors have been known to be such. Or perhaps are busy with other threats. Or a combination of both.” He paused, his dark eyes swirling with power. We are close to something ‘important’ as you would put it. Hopefully we can find a way to cripple it.”
“I sure hope so or this was a totally wasted trip which will likely get us wasted too.” He grimaced. “Might well get us wasted anyway.”
“I have no intention of dying here Arcturan. Neither should you.”
“Oh, I never plan on dying. It’s kind of like that old saw about bolt rounds you know?”
“I do not.”
“Well the guard always say, it’s not so much the round with your name on it you really need to worry about – it’s all those addressed ‘to whom it may concern’.”
The librarian allowed himself a rare slight smile. “There is wisdom in the Guard that the Astartes would do well to pay attention to sometimes, it seems.”
As they moved deeper the corridors became more corrupt and also more tangled. Thick cables ran across the floor in untidy clumps like eviscerated intestines spilling out of a dying man. Many were ribbed metal or housed in thick synth rubber, but all wept pus and ichor and some had sections of what seemed to be flesh covering them, as though the entire system were partly organic. None of this was part of the original Mechanicum design, those clean and efficient lines still visible if one cared to look hard enough.
“They’ve made changes here,” Senekal muttered.
“It is not the first time I have been within a chaos facility. The works of the corrupted Dark Mechanicum often have this look. These,” he kicked at one of the cables, ” are thought to improve the power distribution and the like.”
“Hmm, sounds like a bit of disruption could be useful then. Not critical enough, but maybe worth a krak grenade or two.” He pulled a pair of anti-armor grenades from the cargo pocket on his left thigh and busied himself setting them for timed detonation before sliding them underneath some of the heavier cables. “Who knows, could be a bit of an issue for them at some point.”
Stepping through a huge hatched that resembled a cross between a maw and a cave entrance they continued deeper.
The blind fog was ripped to shreds by the explosions which dropped into the cloud. It had bought time – the only question was had it been enough. The Death Guard returned to their feet and continued their march, unphased by their losses. Whatever their corruption, they still knew no fear and there was killing to be done.
The Titan forces, both loyal and enemy, had resumed their dance of death, but the presence of Infincere Prinicipia was being felt. When that giant fired one of its weapons, void shields imploded like soap bubbles and titan war machines lost limbs or were smashed asunder. The gnats of land speeders continued to swirl around the great machine, pinpricking it but, most importantly, weakening its shields. Even so, the flow of battle had shifted to the Death Guard – and the forces of the Imperium – all their reserves now committed – prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
On the ground, Major Lekcic ducked from shell hole to shell hole as he and his command section moved around coordinating the efforts of the 4th Danika. For the most part, the infantry could do little now. Most of the archenemy war machines were out of range of man-packed weaponry. Those units hunkered down and many were digging in, their spades being put to good use. The artillery, towed and otherwise, was another story and Lekcic worked hard to create coordinated beaten zones on the enemy machines – while damage from those were unlikely they could strip shields off for the titans if fired just right.
Sliding down the mud-slathered side of a titanic shell hole, he found the first platoon of H company – the first of the artillery companies. First platoon consisted of battery commander Miguel Castillo and his trio of Basilisk self propelled guns. The barrels of the Earthshaker cannon were all pointed at the sky at about a 40 degree angle and, as he approached, he heard the commander yell “Ease!”
Lekcic quickly covered his ears and opened his mouth to equalize the pressure and protect his hearing, just as the gun crews on their fighting platforms did. When one spent enough time in the rear areas of the 4th, one learned the ways of the artillerymen. The Earthshakers spat fire at the sky with a roar. “Miguel!” he yelled up at the lieutenant, “How goes?”
Castillo leaned over the rail of the fighting platform and looked down at the regimental 2IC. “Not bad all in all, Major! We’re getting fire requests from the Senior Princeps and I’m coordinating with his data. Mostly we’re working smaller targets. No one seems to want to strike that huge thing – although I hear from Voor that the speeders are pelting it some.”
“Well the Princeps will have far better battle intelligence than we have – keep on supporting his fire missions.”
“My thoughts exactly, major. We’re not out of the fight yet.”
No, thought the major, not out indeed. But right now there was precious little the regiment could do save for what the armor and artillery were already about. He turned to his section. “I want to dig in at the upper edge of this crater. It’s got about as good a view as we’re likely to get in this area. We’ll try and coordinate from here. Stay as far as you can from the Bassies in case of counter battery fire and dig in deep!
“Swilko!” His sniper specialist came forward. “Move off and pick out a likely spot to mess with the enemy. If anything that you can hurt gets close, take it out.”
Swilko didn’t reply – but then he usually didn’t. He was a man of very few words and always had been.
“Captain Mallory – I want you up there next to me. See if you can set up some long range barrage work on that heavy Titan. Someone should at least let it know it’s been in a fight.”
“Will do, major. I’ll patch into the speeders and let them know when the shot is in flight so that they can scatter out of the blast area. I’d hate to hit our own people.”
Lekcic nodded, “I don’t need to tell you your job, Mallory, I know you’ll handle it, so get on it and keep your head down. It’s very unpleasant at the moment.” The Ordnance Master simply nodded and moved off.
Wulfgang squeezed in as tight as he could as quietly as he could, but even being as careful as he could there was no way to prevent Ethyl from half jamming the butt of her shotgun into his bottom. He bit his tongue silently as Hard Candice stepped on his head. He had little doubt that it was on purpose and it hurt, but he tuned it out. Now wasn’t the time.
At least, not the time for minor gripes. It was nearly the time for something else entirely.
Candice stopped. This time when her foot hit his head it was lightly. He passed the signal tap on to Ethyl without thinking about it, knowing it was going down the line. Things went quiet. In the echoing dark of the vent he could hear men talking not far away. Some seemed to be arguing about something. Gangers. Lacking in discipline. The Daughters were far better than most – but stealth seemed to be their strength so that wasn’t surprising.
It started, literally, with a bang.
The Daughters at the head of the vents bashed them open and hurled grenades and charges into the area just on the other side. Explosions, screaming and then moving – and moving fast. Candice began scrambling upward above him and Wulf wasted no time following her lead, Ethyl still crowding him from behind. He hit the decking below the vent entry on his shoulder, rolling to his feet in a spray of red from an unfortunate who had been too close to a charge. Nothing was close so he began laying fire out on the confused ambushers who were now ambushed.
According to plan, the Daughters and the two Danikans spread out from the vent entry, making short work of what little surprised resistance there was. Exene lit her powersword as she swung it at a wiry Tesla juve, chopping her in half at the waist. Wulf’s weapon gift burned in her hand, spraying star-hot plasma at a nearby Brob’nag whose midriff detonated in a steam explosion. Effective. Messy.
More Daughters poured from the vents as their top fighters continued the spread and hunkered down to grab cover as return fire began coming their way. Gangers were chaotic, but they liked to fight and they had numbers. The element of surprise had made a mess of their center but now the Daughters and Danikans were in a crossfire.
On the left, Wulfgang, Exene, Ethyl and Candice leaped over barricades and darted around walls shredding anything that got in their way. Exene was far better armed than most gangers and was a long time fighter. Wulfgang had only his laspistol and chainsword, but this was made up for by decades on battlefields fighting inhuman monsters and highly trained traitors. Behind them, the two senior Daughters added supporting fire with shotgun, sword and pistol, keeping the couple from being swarmed.
On the right, Machine Gun Kelli laid down a curtain of fire from atop a barricade suppressing the other gangs while the two Sindis, the juves and a few other random Daughters spread out in a wave of brightly coloured mortality.
Just behind Kelli, Heironymous Cracken stood in the shadows, his black greatcoat making him nearly invisible. As much as he would have preferred to be fighting, his work was to coordinate the attack. He could pass verbal orders to Kelli just above him who would cry them out in Dystopian battle-cant. For the other side he could vox Wulfgang’s ear bead. Most importantly, he watched and waited for the right time to start the second phase of the fight.
Below, in the area that had once been the intended killing ground of the Old Dome, the Astartes of the Cleansing Flames darted from cover to cover. The gangers were much too busy now to be worried about rear area security – a mistake they would soon pay for. The Astartes positioned carefully and waited on Cracken’s word.
The first turn began.
Numbers started to tell and to bog down the assault. One of the Daughters in front of Kelli went down to a shot to the throat. On the other side, Ethyl took a hit in the upper arm but that didn’t keep her out of the fight. The fire from the ambushing gangs increased and the assaults ran out of steam. So far those working for the Guild had taken the bulk of the losses, and only a couple of gangs had bottled out and run, but they still vastly outnumbered the Daughters. It was only a matter of time.
Wulf and Exene were pinned behind an old cargo shifter, unable to advance, fall back or continue the attack. Each time they tried to move out of cover, a hail of projectiles and energy forced them back. Some Teslas were beginning to advance by bound in a way that would have done a veteran Guard squad proud. Wulf mentally noted their colours, knowing full well that the Commissar would want to know when they got out of this. If they did. Still, while the fighting was heavy, the Danikan had seen worse.
The Commisssar yelled at the top of his voice “Now!”
The second turn began.
As one the Daughters and Danikans yelled their line, “There is NO MERCY!”
The Cleansing Flames, charging out of their cover into the rear of the enemy answered it, “Only JUSTICE!”
Astartes armor shed bullets and lasfire like light rain as the superhuman warriors charged in. Mass reactive shells fired from bolt weapons punched gangers off their feet, their corpses exploding on the ancient decking in showers of gore as the bolts went off belatedly. Drills, chainswords and other close combat weapons bit into Lodi gangers – and wherever the Astartes walked, death followed. The gangs of Lodi had been told that there were ‘Brobs’ amongst the Daughters – but members of clan Brob’nag, while very large, were not fully armored, genetically modified Astartes. This was like nothing they had ever seen or fought. The Cleansing Flames were stronger, faster, tougher and far better armored than any ‘nag. More, each had decades of battle experience and a life focussed exclusively on conflict. Gangers died and died and even more broke and ran. The Daughters resumed their attack sandwiching the Guild supporters between two forms of murder.
On the left, Barrabus the Butcher sang a Lodian Pit Slave battle chant – which sounded eerie through his voder. His pistol had run dry and he had no time to reload so he simply smashed enemies with it like a club. He had taken a couple of small wounds to his face and neck which did not seem to bother him in the slightest as he worked his way through those gang members who dared to face him. Many fell back, firing as they did and backed straight toward Wulf and Exene who harried them like a pair of wolves, hitting them from either flank.
On the right, Kelli rose up and continued firing with her heavy stubber, ripping into the backs of the gangers who had turned to face the Cleansing Flames. More gangers ran and the Daughters gunned them down as they fled. Cracken strode forth from his recess and stood on the edge of the parapet like a black coated gargoyle, calmly emptying his bolt pistol, a single shot at a time at those trying to flee. Few shots missed and the reactive bolts, while smaller than those of the Astartes weapons, were more than enough to tear off a limb for blast a torso apart from within on a clean hit.
The third turn began.
From the walkway above a huge gout of burning promethium seared down in a yellow white spear, splashing over the ramps leading up into the main force of the gangs. The operator hosed the flamer around like an incendiary firehose, fully catching Drill who shrieked despite his Astartes physique as the flames covered his armor, ate into the gaps and burned away first his face and then his skull. Seeing one of the superhuman terrors actually fall was like magic. Gangers, realizing that while deadly the Astartes could be killed, suddenly rallied. Those running and being slain began to rally and grab cover.
From above, Heckle’s final squads including a group of giant Brob’nags with huge heavy flamers marched forward burning several Daughters and Juves to ash. Shots from Kelli and Exene went their way but the choking black clouds from burning junk made the actual targets difficult to pick out. Cover was no use against the flamethrowers so the Daughters and Wulfgang fell back out of range, but it wouldn’t be long before there was nowhere to go.
The Astartes did not hesitate at the loss of their own. Their life was war and the loss of a comrade was a normal part of that life. They were the Imperium’s bright Angels of Death and they did not know what fear was. As a group they turned on one flank away from the flamers – not fear, but tactics. Flamers had short range, shorter even than the Pitbull’s pistols. Also they had limited ammunition – the tanks ran dry quickly. Destroying them from long range made the most sense and was most conserving of battle resources.
Cracken observed the shift and hollered to Kelli to have the Daughters follow suit. The stricken Moebius girls moved toward Cracken’s left, hitting the area near where Exene and Wulf were fighting. Kelli paused in her withering fire to relay the order in cant. She braced her stubber on a girder and started to fit another belt of ammunition. Cracken grabbed her before she could really get started and tossed her after the rest of the Daughters who were falling back. “Go, I’ll look after this!” the heavy hesitated, “Go – if you’re going to be in the Guard, you’d best learn to follow the orders of the Commissariat!” Kelli snarled, but went. The Commissar limped out, the stress aggravating his recent injuries somewhat and looked across the walkway, his voice booming out and bouncing around the dome.
“Where are you, Heckle?”
The gunfire slackened slightly, the reply coming between shots. “Right here Outie! Watcha want before I kill ya?”
“Really? This is your idea of a proper fight, Heckle? Hiding up there and letting your thugs do the dying for you while you take no risk? Look around you, you worthless gangsters – you’re fighting and dying, and what’s Heckle doing? Hiding behind you and letting you die. The Guild wins and you lose. Are you really good with that? Because a lot more of you are going to die before this is done.”
The gunfire slackened more and there was some grumbling. “Yeah – why don’t she…”
“I don’t care about YOU, Outie. You’re nothing. It’s that bitch Exene I wanna piece of!”
“Oh, my. Exene is it? Exene – how do you feel about accepting a challenge from our dear Heckle?”
Sultry laughter filled the dome. The gunfire had nearly ceased entirely. “Oh I would like nothing more than to deal with that horrible little witch. C’mon down, Heckle. I’m happy to settle this gal to gal!”
“Sure, come out where I can see you!”
Exene Thrush gave Wulfgang’s arm a gentle squeeze and strode out – her long coat trailing behind her. She strode out with a total disregard of danger, standing tall. Cracken flanked her just behind and to her left, equally disdainful of the risks. The dome, now, was silent.
“C’mon now Heckle,” Exene purred. She drew her plasma pistol and handed it to Cracken. “Just me and my sword here. Oh, sure you could shoot me standing in the open like this but we know what that would mean. You’d never lead again. You want to finish this – let’s finish this!”
There was a long pause, but finally Heckle walked out of the shadows at the other end of the gantry. She had a spiked mace like thing in one hand and a slender sword in the other.
Next up – Part X – Duels