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    Absolution By Fire (prologue and chapter one of my latest work)

    I'm back. Sorry about the delay, I was kept busy.
    Corrigan

    Copyright 2010 James Wonnacott. James Wonnacott observes the moral right to the original authorship of all contained here.









    BY ORDER OF HIS HOLY MAJESTY
    THE GOD-EMPEROR OF TERRA

    SEQUESTERED INQUISITORIAL DOSSIERS
    AUTHORISED PERSONS ONLY

    CASE FILE 172:43B:QZ4:Gui

    Please enter your authority code > ●●●●●●●●●

    Validating…


    Thank you, Inquisitor.

    You may proceed.

































    Prologue
    Outpost Hellion, Kreston, Aurelian subsector


    THE AIR was hot and unpleasantly dry on Kreston, and Captain Jonathor Thane of the 354th Vespian shuffled uncomfortably, uneasy despite the covering presence of the autocannon teams that scanned the horizon. The company, understrength after a major engagement with the rebels, had been on patrol for eighteen hours now, and were due relief. Lieutenant Ariciana Grice, the intelligence officer, walked across the trench, her brilliant blue eyes gleaming. Thane’s spirits rose as he saw her. He liked Grice. There was an air of calm, professional confidence behind her transfixing eyes and slim figure, an aura of competency and a desire to get the job done that Thane was sure would see her rise well above her current position. She smiled warmly as she saw him, and approached him.

    “Sir, we have detected a column approaching our southern facing.”

    “Ours?” questioned Thane.

    “Ours,” Grice confirmed, before adding hopefully, “it could be the relief column sir.”

    “I hope so Grice,” spoke the captain wearily. Five years of continual warfare in the Raldian warzone had worn him down.

    Pausing to straighten up his uniform, he embarked the Chimera he had taken as a personal command vehicle, offering Grice a hand up. She shook her head.

    “Sorry sir. Got the platoon log to fill in,” she said.

    “I see. Well I suppose I’d best go down there to greet whoever these people are,” answered Thane with a casual shrug, before turning to his command squad, already embarked, and slamming shut the hatch.

    He beckoned for the driver to head for the south entrance, near the Arvus shuttle park the fort had been built to protect. Grice watched for a moment before walking away to her dugout.

    Thane reached the oncoming convoy rapidly, and quickly assessed the commander of the column. A tall, broad shouldered figure with handsome features hardened by a scar down his right cheek and wearing carapace plate, the man , whose regimental markings denoted him as one Captain Lukas Knight of the 37th Nolan Hussars, had a certain menacing quality about the way he stood, a casual threat that made Thane feel ill at ease. The man was accompanied by a squad of men, similarly garbed in carapace armour, each with a shoulder-slung Kantrael-pattern Hellgun. Other squads disembarked from Chimera transports, checking their weapons. Whoever they were, grimaced Thane inwardly, they weren’t the reinforcements.

    “Captain Thane?” questioned the commander sharply, interrupting his thoughts.

    “That’s me,” confirmed Thane guardedly. “Captain Knight?”

    The man nodded stiffly before speaking.
    “Sorry about the mess Thane.”

    Thane shook his head in surprise.
    “Mess? What mess? Sorry for what?”

    The figure smiled, shaking his head sagely.
    “Too many questions, Captain,” he answered, and with that his men lowered their weapons, unleashing a fusillade of lasfire that seared the air.

    The blistering hail of lasbolts struck the members of Thane’s command squad in the chest, annihilating them. Thane was stunned, collapsing on the floor clutching a wound to his stomach before pointing accusingly at the architect of his death.

    “You aren’t Captain Knight, you rebel scum,” he groaned.

    The commander stood over him, autopistol drawn, and spoke to him for the last time.
    “How very astute of you, Captain,” he replied mockingly, before shooting him in the head.

    The Chimera gunned its engines, tearing towards the enemy commander, loosing a torrent of death as the hull-mounted heavy bolter opened fire, followed by a string of lasbolts from the turret multilaser that punched through the weaker side armour of a number of rebel vehicles with contemptuous ease. For a moment it looked like the desperate manoeuvre had paid off and given the rampaging chimera the upper hand, but it was not to be as a rebel powered up a meltagun and fired. The driver saw the threat too late and the vehicle was destroyed, its constituent atoms evaporating in a roaring vapour. The reels advanced into the outpost, guns blazing. Sporadic lasfire opened up in a feeble attempt at resistance, and the perimeter autocannon teams opened fire, heavy calibre shells ripping through flesh, bone and armour with equal ease. But the resistance was quickly quashed as the rebels brought forth flamers, great gouts of blazing promethium incinerating gun crews. The commander listened to their hideous screams for a moment, savouring their pain before opening up the vox-channel to his master.

    “Task completed. The Essence-harvest has begun,” he said, before snapping shut the vox.

    LIEUTENANT GRICE heard the firing outside, diving against the wall, where she found Numt, the ogryn bodyguard’s ripper gun pointed at the door, ready to blast aside any rebels that dared come close. Grice wrinkled he nose to avoid the smell of the bulky abhuman as she patted his arm, gesturing for him to lower the weapon. There was no point in the creature blowing their cover. She drew her slim laspistol from its holster. Six rebels entered the room, imperial insignia now replaced with crude tattoos declaring their allegiance to the ruinous powers. The heresy of it sickened her. They moved to search the room, and Grice thanked the Emperor that she had remembered to move her hololithic converter to hide their position. But Numt had other ideas. Rising with a roar of anger, the ogryn smashed one of the rebels aside with a blow from his ripper gun. Cursing the beast’s stupidity, Grice rose also, squeezing off a pair of lasrounds. The first struck a rebel in the chest, causing him to collapse in a writhing mass upon the floor, while the other hit a foe in the head. She turned to face another, just in time to see Numt let rip at the remaining rebels with his ripper gun, the sound reverberating around the narrow confines of the room like a cannon. The dense hail of low velocity shots shredded all save one, who Grice shot in the firing arm. Taking advantage of the situation, she grabbed Numt and burst out of the dugout, darting across the open ground towards the Arvus park. The area around them swarmed with rebels, the air alive with stinging lasfire. Ducking out of a hail aimed at her head, she loosed two shots at a group of milling rebels, not bothering to look to see what effects her firing had. She grabbed her chainsword as two traitors moved to cut them off, the whirring chainblades eviscerating them despite their flak armour and spraying both Grice and Numt in arterial jets. Ignoring the warm blood, they ran on. Reaching the gates of the complex, Grice punched in the security code and the pair hurled themselves at the nearest craft. The air literally hummed with energy now, and she saw Numt collapse as a pair of heavy bolter rounds struck him in the torso. Bending to help the bodyguard, Grice screamed in pain as she herself was struck in the arm by a searing lasbolt. Fighting to remain conscious, she collapsed on the floor next to Numt. She became aware of the rebel commander standing over her, flanked by his ever-present bodyguards. The guards fitted a pair of cuffs to both their wrists.

    “Get off me, Chaos filth. I know what you are,” she spat at the man before her world went black…













    ONE
    Hive Venedus Formal E Industrial Sector, Halstronia IV, Aurelian Subsector


    I CAME to Halstronia IV of 637.M41, officially to investigate unpaid additional tithes relating to the nearby Raldian Warzone against the rebels, but in truth to investigate something far more insidious. I had tracked a dangerous Chaos cult known as the Undivided across the subsector to this place, and I hoped it would be the last. Furthermore, the cult leader, renowned heretic Axiom Vaeldt was a gamma class rogue psyker with suspected links to the Thousand Sons traitor legion.

    I am a puritan of the Amalathian faction, an Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus, my name Flavius Ezekius. I cast wide my psy-senses down the nearby streets, scanning the surrounding city for the remainder of my team. The filth of Halstronia was overwhelming, the stench of the decaying, overdeveloped factory world sickening, and the nauseous vista of the acid-worn city-world made me gag. Suppressing my disgust, I focussed on the task at hand. I had seen enough of these worlds to know that they existed across the length and breadth of the Imperium. I began to pick up the psy-signals of my retinue. There was “Bomber” Payne, the Cadian veteran and demolitions specialist, and there with him Nathalie Thryste, her lithe form sliding down the narrow alleyway stealthily. The latest addition to my team, Thryste was fast proving her worth, not only for her unique nature as a psychic rod through which I could channel my power for which I had chosen her, but also for her lethal fighting agility, honed in the vicious gang wars of her homeworld of Iskenbaan. Down another side street stands M’Kane, peaked Commissar cap still tucked under his arm, medals proudly displayed on his old, but well-maintained uniform, the artificer crafted power sword I had gifted him with hanging by his side. He was linked up with Ortan, the psycho-attuned crystals of his psychic hood hidden by the local form of dress, a long, green hooded robe that shrouded much of the face, that also hid the astropath’s sunken eye sockets. Finally, I detected my interrogator, Thurman, a slim laspistol concealed beneath his flowing cloak, Inquisitorial insignia hidden from view. He was a good man, Thurman, and I suspected it would not be long before I could teach him no more. His own, potent psychic abilities had saved my life more than once. And of course, beside me was Kage, the autosavant’s metal limbs moving slightly, recording information all the time.

    With everyone in position around the warehouse, I prepared myself, selecting from my belt a compact hotshot laspistol and clasping my free hand around my staff. Not for the first time I was thankful for the gift from the high council of Azurin, the psychically attuned tip glowing with otherworldly energies. I holstered the pistol momentarily to open the side door, and then sent messages to my party.

    +All units move in to the building+

    I picked up various replies before moving in myself, pistol drawn and at the ready once more. After our failures so far to capture anything or anyone of importance, morale was low, and thus failure was a luxury I could ill afford. I slunk noiselessly through the open door, moving onto a narrow gantry as I ascended the warehouse staircase, the rusted iron of the stairs banging quietly as I climbed. I crouched as I saw a pair of men armed with autoguns. Sweeping back my staff, I aimed my pistol at the first and fired, the solid-matter laser striking the guard in the chest, killing him instantly. Rising from my position, I swung my staff at the second as he snapped off a series of panicked shots at me, and he was sent flying from the gantry and crashing into the ground below by the lethal energy field surrounding my arcane weapon, dead before he struck the ground.

    M’KANE ADVANCED INTO the building with bolt pistol drawn, boldly stepping into the narrow room that the side entrance led into. Ortan followed, the astropath crouching behind a row of crates. M’Kane, satisfied that there was no threat, gestured to the astropath.

    “All is clear ahead,” confirmed Ortan, scrying the passageway ahead. “Just a couple of badly armed sentries. You can take them.”

    “The light of the Emperor shall shine in dark places,” muttered the former Commissar in reply, quickly forming the sign of the Aquila over his chest.

    He opened the door into the next room, a long dark corridor filled with images of the illustrious forebears of the current owners of the warehouse. Moving swiftly along the corridor, he came to a solid iron door. He turned to Ortan.

    “Locked?”

    The astropath nodded wordlessly.
    M’Kane drew the multi-key he had received on induction into Ezekius’ retinue, an plugged it into the keyhole. It was a simple enough lock, and the commissar wondered why the warehouse owners, legitimate or otherwise, didn’t invest in a keypad coded lock instead. The door swung upon with a heavy clang, and Ortan winced as two guards spun on heel to unleash a deluge of fire. First to open fire was a powerful autogun, the solid-slug ammunition smashing through the thin metal floor, and this was followed by the second man’s lasrifle opening up. Searing lasfire streaked towards the commissar, but M’Kane was undeterred and calmly shot both men in the face. He moved on, pausing to inspect the lasgunner’s body. Chaos iconography was scrawled upon his flesh, his armour thinner than the standard issue guard equipment, but more durable against certain attacks, and M’Kane identified it as old mesh-armour. He then started as he heard Ortan’s warning shout inside his head, and looked up in time to see five guards, heavily armed, burst in, levelling their weapons at the astropath. M’Kane ducked again as the men moved further in, concealed behind a crate marked:

    ‘Property of the 78th Nolan Hussars- Danger: High Explosives’

    He paused a moment, intrigued, before standing once more and shooting one in the shoulder blades. He then turned, blasting away another’s head before the guards realised what was happening. He shot one more before the last one smashed the pistol out of his hand. The guard levelled his weapon at the commissar, only to be interrupted as the door swung open noisily. The guard spun, loosing off shots from his lasrifle, but it was two late as the form of Thryste was already upon him, her monomolecular blade slicing open the soft flesh of his throat. Thryste brushed herself down before addressing M‘Kane and Ortan.

    “You alright, morons?” she asked scornfully. Only Nathalie Thryste could get away with calling M’Kane a moron. The commissar and astropath both ignored her and pulled themselves up.

    “Where’s Payne?” asked Ortan.

    “You’re the astropath, you tell me,” replied Thryste. “We split after we hit some resistance in the lower level.

    “You left that trigger-happy no-good loose on his own?” came a voice from the door from which Nathalie had emerged. The trio turned sharply to see Thurman behind them.

    “Aren’t you supposed to be entering by the south entrance?” questioned M’Kane.

    “I made contact with a group of combat servitors. I had to escape through the ventilation,” grumbled Thurman.

    Thryste laughed. Thryste and Thurman always got on well, and I suspect they were lovers at the time.

    “Quickly,” interrupted M’Kane authoritatively, “we must move on.”


    PAYNE MOVED THROUGH the stacked crates and barrels swiftly and stealthily, hugging the cover as he stalked the guard, shotgun resting loosely in his hands, ready for action. Tightening his grip on the weapon, he fired two shots from the hip, the shots blasting through the guard’s torso. He cursed as two more emerged round the corner, alerted by the shooting. Lasfire erupted as one blasted away the crates around the veteran guardsman, while the other ripped into the barrels with an autogun. Payne swore as a ammunition slug clipped his leg, before detaching from his belt a frag grenade. Pulling the pin, he tossed it at the guards. Not waiting to see the effect of his attack, he dived across the floor and rolled through a door, spraying the room with shotgun fire. Three guards, cult markings undisguised, collapsed to the floor, and Payne wondered why the hell the local arbites had never found this place- it wasn’t exactly well defended. Probably got their hands full on this bloody planet, he mused. He inspected the corpses, looting them of any useful weapons before stating up the stairs leading to the landing pad.
    Suddenly, he felt a lancing pain in his arm as the stairs exploded in a shower of rusted iron debris. White hot sparks flew from some infernal device, and Payne roared in anger as flames licked around the room, followed by a cataclysmic explosion.

    I HEARD THE explosion from a nearby room and started towards the door, stub gun levelled I saw Payne’s prone form, and, grabbing his backpack, manhandled him out of the flames from he explosion. It was a miracle he was there at all, let alone still alive, but he was, mumbling something about a headache as I pulled him The room had ceased to exist, great gouges torn from the walls and floor that spoke of a plasma detonation. Little remained of the staircase, but enough to possibly climb if I was careful. I wished fervently I had Thryste with me now, though I was glad that I had left Kage by the entrance- the autosavant would be only a hindrance. I carefully clambered over the wreckage and tentatively tried the first step, cursing as it collapsed under my weight. Pulling myself up onto the broken railings, I climbed carefully onto the landing pad above. Crawling off the staircase, I sent a vox-link to my team, requesting their presence. It was easier than using psy- Vaeldt would pick up any psy messages himself. I looked up in time to see a small shuttle gun its engines and take flight. I could clearly make out the forms of Vaeldt, his pilot, and two chained figures in threadbare military fatigues- a striking woman and an ogryn. I made a note to look into them and why Vaeldt had them, before then the pilot turned his guns and opened fire in a devastating fusillade of autocannon shells that raked the ground around me and clipped my hip. I turned to see my vox unit blasted off, crushed beyond all use. I discarded the useless comms-link as the shuttle turned in midair and flew off.
















    TWO
    Imperator Vos, Arvus Class Shuttle. Locale Unknown.


    LIEUTENANT ARICIANA GRICE woke to find herself in a dark, claustrophobic room. She tried to scream as she became aware of the cuffs on her wrists and remembered what had happened. She was stopped by the gag tied round her mouth. She knew she was on a hive world- the frequent visits of the strange man in Nolan uniform had allowed her to find that out from the man. He was a rugged man with chiselled features, which might have been attractive if it weren’t for the smug, self-satisfied look that was almost permanently etched onto them. Numt was next to her, and had received basic medical attention. Grice had also managed to overhear enough to understand that the pair of them, once they had served their purpose- whatever that was- were to be sacrificed as part of some foul ritual. Fighting back tears as she came to terms once more with the hopelessness of her situation, she moved over to the meagre rations that had sustained her for the journey, shuffling awkwardly against her restraints. She glanced upwards sharply as the electronic lock on the door clicked and rotated, gears and cogs screeching. The door slowly opened in a series of groaning movements. The shuttles had never been well-maintained by the garrison, she thought gloomily, and then hoped that the aircraft would crash to spare her from the otherwise certain sacrificial murder she would face. She had seen, in one of her brief moments in which she had been allowed onto the flight deck, that they were travelling across a hive world, with all the filth, grime and choking fumes that so-often entailed. As the door finally opened, the man who regularly visited appeared in the doorway, but Grice felt herself unintentionally shrinking back in dread, though she did not know what of. Through the door emerged another, altogether more sinister figure, towering above the figure of her captor and reeking of corruption, blue and gold armour cocooning him like some all encasing shell, and Grice knew then of what she was terrified. She backed away as vile, mirthless laughter erupted from the visor, for this was one of the Thousand Sons, accursed traitors. She made the sign of the Aquila and murmured a prayer to the Emperor, and spat futile defiance at the monstrosity. The bulk of its armour filled the room, and arcane auras and insidious whispers emanated from that baroque faceplate. Grice wished for a moment that Numt was awake, then decided that the ogryn could do nothing but make matters worse. If they could get any worse, she wondered despairingly, then expunged the heresy from her mind. The man in the Nolan uniform beckoned to a pair of rebel troopers behind, the doors shut and Grice knew that the questioning had begun…

    XXx
    Hive Venedus, Halstronia IV


    FOLLOWING MY FAILURE at the warehouse, I led my team into the local archives of the Administratum. Here, posing as officials from Terra to preserve our identities lest the local government prove to be tainted, we gained information on the passengers on the shuttle as Kage processed the vast databanks, storing them on his systems.

    “Any luck?” asked Thurman, approaching from behind us.

    “It would seem so,” Kage answered, his voice like grating steel. “The woman, according to local archives, is one Lieutenant Ariciana Grice of the Vespian 354th, and the ogryn would be Numt, her bodyguard. Intelligence officer of her platoon. Declared missing, presumed deserted, after the destruction of her company in the Raldian war zone on Kreston.”

    “Kreston, eh?” mused Thurman. “Any details on the destruction of her company?”

    Kage tapped at a keyboard before shaking his head ruefully.

    “The archives omit to mention. They only state that the company were found dead in the complex they had been allocated to defend. It would appear that they were surprised by a force with inside knowledge.”

    “A traitor then?” I questioned.

    Kage paused before answering.

    “Quite likely. However, one thing may interest you,” he said, summoning me to a data-slate.

    “This,” he said, pointing at a section of the text shown on the flickering screen. “It says that there were no bodies, friendly or hostile, until you get inside the complex.”

    Thurman frowned.

    “But that’s impossible isn’t it? Surely even the most incompetent soldiers can see an enemy column before that, no matter how stealthy.”

    “The author notes that the attack shortly follows the loss of contact with a regiment of Nolan Hussars.”

    “You mean you think the Nolans may have defected?” asked Thurman.

    “I fear so, sir,” replied Kage.

    “Who was the Nolan CO?” questioned Thurman. I smiled as he said it. I had taught him well.

    “The reports are slightly shady on that sir,” said Kage in his usual, flat monotone.

    “Oh?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.

    “Yes sir. The records are clear up until this point.”

    He pointed at a section of text. I looked more closely, and he explained.

    “After the death in suspicious circumstances of the original commanding officer, Colonel Waterman, the records say that he was replaced by one Captain Knight.”

    “What’s strange about that?” I asked.

    “There are no records on the man at all. It seems he came from nowhere.”

    “Could he be a new addition? So new that the latest regimental log hasn’t come through yet?” queried Thurman.

    “Unlikely,” answered the autosavant shortly, before seeing the quizzical expression on the Interrogator’s face and elaborating. “There are no records of his birth on the planet at all- or indeed anywhere in the Segmentum, for that matter. He’s not a Rogue Trader either, says Nymil. Furthermore, the Nolan regiments do not replenish losses.”

    Nymil Kharmidian was a Rogue Trader, and a damn good one by all means, if what his contemporaries said was true. We had an agreement, under which we were allowed to use his ship, the Phantasm of Kholorin, in return for help getting through naval blockades. His willingness to help in matters regarding his peers had proven useful on man occasions.

    “You mean that it might be a false name?” I asked.

    “It would seem by far the most likely scenario, sir. It seems likely to me that the regiment was infiltrated by a group of cultists posing as men cut off from their units. Here, look. About twenty other men who have gone under a false identity.”

    “Do you think Vaeldt was working with the rebels, or going solo, hoping rebels would be blamed?” Thurman asked me.

    “It is difficult to say at this stage. It seems likely, although I doubt that Vaeldt would want to share the glory and adulation of his masters with the rebels.”

    It was at that moment that Payne entered the room.

    “Chief,” he said. “You might be interested to see this.”


    WE FOUND THRYSTE in the upper middle-hive area in Formal D. She was waiting for us down a side street, and beckoned for us to follow her. She stopped outside a large private residence. I looked up and assessed the building. The architecture was High Gothic, a product no doubt of the Gothic revival, with high, arched windows and narrow doorway. What was unusual about the structure- indeed, the only thing unusual about it- was a three-metre high steel skirt that wrapped itself around the bottom of the building. I had seen this on a number of planets before- it was, I had been reliably informed by Thurman, particularly popular on the other planets in the Halstronia system. But not here. The idea was that the steel plating surrounded a rockcrete block at the bottom of the building, raising building height and providing a place of relative safety in the event of a war.
    Thryste spoke to us in lowered tones.

    “I checked on this place in the records office. It is registered under the name of Villa Novantium, owned by one Vera Malik.”

    I arched an eyebrow. Vera Malik was one of Vaeldt’s trusted acolytes, and we knew her to be in the subsector. But why the God-Emperor would she use her real name? The fact troubled me. Malik had a well-earned reputation for cunning and evasiveness, and she was notoriously fond of traps. I had faced her twice, on Jaflyte and Nordys Epsilon. Both time she had escaped justice with brilliant schemes, but, I reflected, I didn’t have much choice other than to leave the planet with no further progress.

    “So what do we do,” asked Thurman, more to Thryste than to me, I suspected. My suspicion was confirmed when it was Thryste who answered.

    “Follow me,” she side shortly, before moving out down another alleyway that ran alongside Malik’ building. This alley was much narrower than the last, and Thryste stopped suddenly beside one of the steel plates that made up the skirt. She crouched and drew from her bodyglove a small, metallic object. It took me a moment to realise what it was. The melta-torch spluttered as it scorched a hole in the plate, and Thryste paused before turning around, grinning in savage triumph.

    “This plate has nothing behind it,” she said simply, before setting herself to work again.

    IT TOOK APPROXIMATELY twenty minutes to strip away a man-sized hole in the plate, and behind it was revealed a great rent in the wall as if a shell had struck it and gone all the way through. Advancing along the passage, weapons at the ready, we emerged into a long hallway, with old weapons from the Dark Age of Technology lining the walls. Kage gasped, a metallic rasping sound, as he saw the weapons. This was something the Mechanicus would be interested in, I was certain, and my belief was vindicated as Kage murmured something in hushed tones.

    “This is part of the Volarian collection,” he said again.

    The Volarian collection. A priceless collection of tech-artefacts from the Dark Age of Technology, found in the ruins of the dead world of Brantastite by the Volarian Tech Magos Arcantine. The artefacts had been removed to be studied closely on the forge-world of Volaria. They had then, however, been stolen by the Arcantine when he went renegade in 599.M41, and had never been recovered. Their presence here told me that this operation was considerably larger than I had hitherto expected. My wonder at the recovery of these artefacts was interrupted as Payne, who had scouted on ahead, burst back around a corner, lasrifle blazing. A cursed, casting off my robe of the Administratum before drawing my stubgun. I flicked the setting to full auto and unleashed a hail of inferno bolts as a group of guards burst around the corner. The first, a big man with a laspistol and an industrial chainsword, was struck twice in the chest by my fire, collapsed on the floor as his chest exploded in a welter of blood. Two others went down to my fire as I kept the trigger depressed for a four-second burst. Payne loosed lasbolt at them, the searing bolts of energy burning through the guards’ mesh armour. Thryste drew her daggers and leapt upon the enemy in an elegant dance of death. The twin blades flashed as they struck out at foe after foe, but even as she did so it was clear that we would be overwhelmed. Thurman drew his laspistol, gripping it two handed as he fired into the guards, while M‘Kane fired a pair of shots from his bolt pistol, execution-style, before running forwards to meet the foe.

    “Holy Throne!” I swore, turning to Payne as yet more guards came on. “What the hell did you do round there.”

    Payne grimaced, weapon now set to semi-auto to conserve ammunition.
    “Sorry chief. Hit some resistance early on. Some gakking camera swung round and caught me.”

    “So?” I questioned further. “What did you do?”

    Payne winced as he answered.

    “I shot it, boss.”

    Thurman grabbed another ammo pack, sheltering behind a cabinet. He looked up as he heard Payne’s words.

    “Terrific,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

    I fired another two rounds before my weapon clicked to inform me that the cartridge was empty. I holstered the weapon rather than waste time reloading it, and grabbed a plasma weapon off the wall. I prayed that the magnetic accelerator still worked, or I would be incinerated as the weapon exploded. My prayer was answered as I squeezed the trigger and a volley of molten plasma slugs leapt out towards the enemy. One struck a man in the face, his scream of agony muted as his head melted. Then, I drew my staff and charged to meet the death that surely awaited me.

    xXx


    GRICE AWOKE TO the sound of a vicious fire-fight. She had been taken off the aircraft the night before- the Nolan-man had gleefully told her that his friends in the spaceport had let him land there. So she had been taken here, to the House, as the cultists called it. She opened her eyes. The sight of Numt standing over the prone forms of their guards greeted her. The twisted and bent remains of his shackles lay where the huge ogryn had been lying. The creature beamed at her as she awoke. She yawned and indicated her shackles. If there was a fire-fight, there was a chance they could escape, she realised, an her heart leapt at the realisation. The ogryn thought for a moment before understanding, and ripping off the shackles. Grice nearly cried out in pain as the steel bit into her, but suppressed the urge to scream by sheer force of will. If they were discovered, all hope was lost. She grabbed one of the dead guards’ lascarbine, stuffed all the spare ammo into her bodyglove pockets, and used one of the guards’ keys to open the door. She and Numt, who had found his ripper gun and a giant sword hanging up behind the guards, burst out of the open door into a corridor. They ran to he end, where they were met with a fork. Grice paused before opting to go towards the fire-fight- if someone had go into the building, there had to be a way out of it in this direction. She flicked the battered lasgun onto full auto as a pair of guards, fleeing from the main fight, broke around the corner. Red lasfire streamed out of the weapon to strike the men in the torso. She and Numt advanced around the corner and were confronted with the main fight. About thirty guards faced six opponents who Thryste had never seen the unknown fighters were good. Fitting a new ammo clip, she charged round the corner, lasgun spitting streams of death. Men fell swiftly as the lasrounds hit their unarmoured backs. Numt then charged in, ripper gun blazing. Low-velocity shot shredded men, and then the ogryn was upon them, the ancient power sword in his hand eviscerating men as blood splashed in arcs across the room. The guards, seeing that the tide had turned against them, shrank from the ogryn’s lethal strokes. The sword served more as a club than a sword in the ogryn’s hands, but the sheer strength of the beast was enough to ensure instant death when combined with the energies of the sword.

    INQUISITOR EZEKIUS SWUNG his staff at the guards as they shrank from the newcomers. He sang praise to the God-Emperor as he killed, M’Kane noted with approval. It always was a good thing for a man to remember that the Emperor was humanity’s greatest strength and humanity the Emperor’s, as Sebastian Thor had written. His own power sword, gifted to him by the Inquisitor himself, struck out, extinguishing the life forces of those it struck. But the foe were not done. M’Kane almost winced as a lasbolt streaked past his face as if in recognition of this fact. He raised his sword as a guard stabbed viciously at him with a long knife, just deflecting it away from his face, where it tore a gash in the exposed gap between his shoulder and neck plates. Grunting in pain, he thrust his blade into is opponent’s stomach, twisting it so as to allow him to free it from the contracting muscles of the dying man. He loosed a shot at the man in front of him, and pulled away as he felt hands clawing at him. Stepping forwards once more and striking aside his foes, he found himself standing alongside Thryste. Thryste danced the lethal dance of death she had learnt in the under hive of her homeworld, and the twin blades struck out, claiming lives with lethal efficiency. M’Kane gave her a warrior’s salute, and was rewarded with the words “gak you, moron.”

    I STRUCK DOWN another opponent before hissing a word of power. A sonic wave rolled through the corridor we had found ourselves in, liquefying the brains of our enemy. Payne had drawn his shotgun, and was loosing volleys of fire at the enemy, the solid slugs of ammo punishing the enemy as they ripped through armour. But it was over. The enemy, their resolve having crumbled to the shock waves, turned tail and fled. At the end of the corridor I saw the unmistakeable form of Vera Malik. She waved mockingly before vanishing as the teleport was activated.






































    THREE




    WEARIED, WE APPROACHED our saviours. The ogryn beamed at us as he saw the imperial insignia on our clothing, while the woman, undeniably attractive, was more wary. I gave a reassuring smile. I had no idea who’s side she was on, but she had helped us and, if she had gone renegade, she certainly hadn’t told the ogryn. She was, without a doubt, the woman I had seen in the shuttle.

    “Ezekius. Inquisitor Flavius Ezekius, of the Most Holy Inquisition of Terra,” I said, still smiling warmly as I extended my hand.

    The woman took it hesitantly. I knew that many considered the shaking of hands an old, outdated and overly-parochial Terran custom, but I observe it nonetheless.

    “Sir. Lieutenant Ariciana Grice, 354th Vespi-,” she began, before I cut her off.

    “I know who you are, Grice. Please call me by my name- you‘ve done enough today to deserve that much,” I said wearily.

    “How do you- never mind, that doesn’t matter. My thanks for coming. We would never have escaped if it had not been for your aid in providing a, uh-.”

    “Distraction?” I ventured, smiling. “But for your intervention, we would now be dead. Yet I have to ask; how the hell did you come to be here?”

    “That’s a long story, Flavius.”

    “I know. But I know most of it anyway, I only want your perspective, and for you to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Come,” I said, beckoning for her and the others to follow me.

    AS WE WALKED back to our base of operations, a small hab-block with adequate facilities, M’Kane and Payne pulled me in.

    “What is -?” I began, before realising the reason for them pulling me in.

    “Oh. I presume you are wondering what the Throne I think I’m doing with Grice, right?” I asked.

    Payne simply nodded, but M’Kane gave a verbal response.

    “With respect, sir, it is our holy duty to prosecute the Emperor’s enemies, not to treat a potential threat as if it were an ally.”

    I gathered my thoughts before responding. The commissar was a political animal, and I could not afford a slip-up in my argument.

    “Look, Vitrias,” I said calmly, using his first name. “I agree completely. However, we don’t know whether she is in collusion with heretics- which seems unlikely, given the way in which she fought those guards- but regardless she is a source of information- nay, our only source of information- as to what Vaeldt is up to.”

    Both nodded, but looked far from convinced. I had an unpleasant feeling that both were likely to make things difficult for the poor woman.


    Venedus Primary Hive Spaceport, Halstronia IV


    AFTER INTENSIVE PSYCHIC interrogation of Grice, it became clear to me that whatever Vaeldt and Malik were planning, Kreston was at its epicentre. My minimal research on the war-ravaged planet told me that the red deserts of the planet were the home of nomadic tribesmen who operated across both sides of the lines. Although nominally neutral, the fact that they were allowed behind enemy lines made them more foe than friend. And so we devised a plan. We would land on Kreston while posing as tribesmen in an attempt to infiltrate the enemy lines and thus discover Vaeldt’s plan and hopefully bring him to justice.

    WE BOARDED THE small shuttle that would serve as our transport up to the Phantasm. The pilot, one Edrin Torv, was a dour man in his early sixties from the mid-habs. The one-and-a-half hour journey was largely uneventful up until we reached the ship. Suddenly, red system lights, dormant until now, blared out as we heard a great rending crash.

    “Gak!” Torv swore as he heard the crash.

    He jerked at the controls quickly, fighting to keep us stable. I ran down the metal grille of the passage up to the flight deck to see the pilot, bathed in red light from the flashing alerts, calmly steering us, lowering thrust intake and gently closing the throttle.

    “What the hell happened?” I asked incredulously.

    “That damn ship happened,” the pilot mumbled as he pulled at the controls, pointing at a huge vessel passing over the Phantasm. “A piece of rubble from the Geller field struck us on the aft engine.”

    I swore, and watched the pilot nervously. For all his dour demeanour, the pilot was a master, I realised as he expertly min-maxed the systems of the shuttle,

    “We should make it to your ship,” he said, “but I hope there’s room for another of you, ‘cause I won’t get her back in this state.”

    I cursed inwardly. The man was an excellent pilot, I knew, but at this time I could ill-afford another man of untried loyalties joining the team. But, I thought gloomily, I couldn’t exactly leave him on the Phantasm with Nymil, and there was no way the shuttle was getting back in this state, so I mumbled my agreement.

    WE WERE GREETED warmly by Nymil. The Rogue Trader had been a good friend for many years, even then. I suppose that I could have seized the ship when I first met him using my rosette, but somehow that didn’t sit well with the Amalathian in me. Regardless, it seems I made the right choice, for ever since I had earned a staunchly loyal ally. He had ferried me across the sector for thirty-two years now, and I trusted the man as implicitly and completely as I would any member of my team.

    _________________________________
    "We've run into scorpions the size of battle tanks. Three men died from Eyerot last week and I've sweated enough to fill a lake. Emperor help me, I love this place- it's just like home!" - Captain Rock commenting on Varestus Prime.

    "Fenris breeds heroes like a bar breeds drunks - loud, proud and spoiling for a fight- Grand Master Belial

    Last edited by Captain Corrigan; October 7th, 2010 at 19:15. Reason: reinserted story

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    Hi man.

    It's ages since I've read any WHF/40k stories, and this was a great one to bring me back to them. I've only read the prologue so far; I'll read on as soon as I have time.

    If I have one piece of advice, it's to split up your paragraphs a bit more. Have a line of space between each paragraph, including dialogue, and mark the end of each 'part' with some sign such as 'xXx' or '#'. This will make your story much easier to read (and, hopefully, will therefore attract more readers).

    Hoping to find the time to read on!

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    Poet of the Deed Captain Corrigan's Avatar
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    Ok, done the best I could with the prologue spacing, but haven't had time to do so with the ch1 yet, but will certainly bear it in mind. Glad you like it, I'll post up more as and when possible.

    Thanks again,

    Corrigan

    EDIT: Oh, and anyone new who reads the thread don't panic if the story disappears after a long period of time, because of copyright reasons, I don't feel comfortable leaving the stories I post up on a permanent basis. But it should be posted for the foreseeable future no problem.
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    Last edited by Captain Corrigan; July 29th, 2010 at 17:50.

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    Poet of the Deed Captain Corrigan's Avatar
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    1608 (x8)

    Sorry to double post, but thought I'd let everyone interested know that I've put it back up, updated to up to about ch3.

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