The Shilwulf Dynasty
Chapter 04 - Look What the Warp Dragged In
|Present Location:||Deep void performing emergency repairs|
Ethan briefs his acolytes speaking in their binary language, the teleportarium a flurry of activity behind him. Tech priests scurry about lighting incense while a choir of acolytes chants verses of praise to the Omnissiah. Near the entrance, Devalt coordinates two squads of arbites while Hob and his soldiers chat in their guttural native tongue nearby. Sitting in the center of the chamber is the piece of archeotech as mysterious as the ship it was found on five years ago.
‘The teleportarium is almost ready, Lord Captain,’ Ethan reports. ‘May the Omnissiah speed your journey.’
‘Indeed, Enginseer,’ Octavius nods. ’We’ll take any assistance we can get.’
The rogue trader’s gaze settles upon the round dais nearby, approximately ten meters in diameter. Despite having used the device before, the experience is no less disconcerting each time he is forced to use it. Though Ethan had attempted to explain how it works once before, much of the technological theology still remains beyond the rogue trader’s comprehension. As he understands it, the general principle is that the teleported material is transported through the Warp in little more than a protective field.
He glances warily from the thick cables snaking along the floor, to the constant flickering of the lighting as Ethan adjusts the power flow to the machine at the primary control lectern. Combined with the the constant Adeptus Mechanicus chanting, even the stoic Lord Captain finds himself muttering a prayer to the God Emperor that they’ll simply make it to their destination in one piece. A slow cadence of heavy footsteps echoes down the corridor, breaking him away from his devotion. The sound is both familiar and sad, so it is no surprise to him when Annatolla finally enters the room.
‘Holy Emperor,’ one of the guards mutters looking past the Seneschal.
A hush falls over the room as the doctor walks in, an ornately-bound tome is secured to her hip by a thick chain coiled around her small waist. A standard issue medikit has taken the place of the worn backpack she is usually seen carrying with her while she makes rounds on the Hymn. It is what marches behind her, however, that is worthy of such awe.
‘Dr. Marastraza,’ Ethan says with a slight bow. ‘I trust you’ve found my modifications to your servitors to be acceptable?’
‘Indeed, Enginseer Libram. Simple words cannot express how grateful I am for the time and care you have taken with my brothers. Your gifts as a tech-priest are a testament to the greatness of the Omnissiah.’
‘Doctor, you flatter me.’ For someone who is supposed to be an emotionless machine, it is quite clear that Ethan is sincerely gratified.
Devalt looks askance at the young doctor, finding it unusual for a missionary to make use of the term Omnissiah. Anna simply smiles politely at the Seneschal as she and her brothers pass by.
In the low light of the chamber, the servitor’s eyes glow like eerie foxfire flames as they follow their mistress. Towering over even Hob in his heavy carapace armor, Annatolla’s fresh prayer seals adorn their broad chests like military accolades. Anna catches the Lord Captain looking her way, noting the pained look in his eyes at the sight of her guardians. Lacking his strength to push such powerful memories away, she quickly averts her gaze.
‘My brothers, prepare to receive His sacrament.’
The servitors stare straight ahead, their scarred faces remaining completely impassive as they stand with infinite patience. Acolyte Brendon shuffles over, his irregular gait suggesting at least partial mechanical replacement of his legs. His censer sways to and fro as he recites prayers, the pungent aroma of the burning incense wafts through the air. He blesses each servitor, closing the prayer by affixing a fresh wax seal to their chests.
‘These are in exceptional condition, Dr. Marastraza. Fine specimens of their kind,’ Brendon comments as he begins anointing each of the servitor’s weapons with sacred oil.
‘Thank you, Acolyte Brendon,’ Annatolla responds, caressing the pale flesh of Michael’s sword arm. ‘I care for them a great deal.’
‘Indeed, it would seem so,’ Brendon responds. ‘Perhaps later you would permit me to inspect-’
‘Acolyte,’ Ethan’s metallic voice summons, ‘If you would see to the others, please.’
‘Yes, of course Enginseer Libram. Excuse me, Doctor.’ He scurries away to join a group kneeling before one of many collections of coiled and braided cables near the teleportarium pad. They bow and chant prayers to the Omnissiah, imploring the machine god to bless the ancient technology.
Unable to conceal her wonder, Anna gazes at the device that had excited the Enginseer so. A huge dome of glass is suspended above a large platform, all manner of cables and wires connected to both pieces. Luminous, deep purple liquid swirls under the dome itself, casting an otherworldly glow throughout the room. Ethan stands before a great lever, whispering the prayers of the Enginseer’s station, periodically anointing the handle with sacred oil. She feels the hair stand up on the back of her neck, even the air itself seems alive with energy. Lost in thought, Anna fails to notice Hob step up to her.
‘No weapon, Doc?’ he asks, his brow knit in annoyance.
Startled, she takes a small step back as the bodyguard’s imposing form looms above her menacingly. His deep-blue heavy armor is scratched and scuffed from many past engagements, but the silver crest of House Shilwulf above his left breast gleams just as brightly as if it were newly issued.
‘My faith is my armor,’ Anna says, lifting her chin proudly. She motions with her hand toward the servitors. ‘And my brothers are the instrument of the God Emperor’s wrath.’
’Machines can fail.’
‘I assure you these will not,’ she replies curtly, certain he’s attempting to lure her into another of his verbal fencing matches.
‘Suit yourself,’ Hob shrugs.
As she begins to move away, her ears twitch at the distinct scraping of a blade being drawn from its sheath. Turning to see what’s happening, Anna’s line of sight is blocked by Michael as he steps between her and the Mortressans, followed by a loud thump. She peeks around Michael’s side, gasping at the sight of Hob pinned against the wall, his feet dangling off the ground. The servitor holds him in place seemingly without any effort at all. Despite his precarious position, the bodyguard’s eyes blaze with the thrill of combat.
‘HOSTILE ACTION DETECTED. PRIMARY DIRECTIVE ACTIVATED.’
‘Michael – stand down!’ Anna orders in a panic. The servitor complies immediately, releasing Hob from its powerful grip and obediently stepping back. Her eyes narrow when she spies Hob’s drawn weapon, his intention quite clear.
‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ the Seneschal growls, his weapon at the ready.
A deadly smile plays on Hob’s lips as he stares into Michael’s eyes.
‘Just tryin’ to prove a point.’
‘That you’re a complete idiot? I’d say you made that painfully apparent.’
‘Lil jumpy are we, Seneschal?’ Hob chides, nodding toward Devalt’s drawn weapon.
‘The presence of Chaos requires that we show extra vigilance,’ Thurman replies dryly. He checks his inferno pistol over a final time before returning the weapon to the holster on his upper thigh. ‘Especially when undisciplined minds are involved.’
Hob grunts, turning to Anna instead of taking the Seneschal’s bait. ‘Not bad, Doc. Hope that hunk of slag can do that when it counts.’
She watches him return to his men, hitching his thumb toward her Brothers. ’Met’ra serem eht? Ta’kra eht maro tev.’ The soldiers stiffen slightly before hurriedly checking over their kit one more time.
’It’s time,’ Ethan announces.
‘Take your places on the platform,’ Octavius says, throwing a cautioning glance Hob’s way.
‘What did Hob say to his men?’ Anna whispers to the Seneschal as they step onto the dais.
The long, jagged scar running along the right side of Thurman’s face twitches as he smirks. ‘He said, that’s the fate you can look forward to if you fail me.’
A whirring sound escalates in pitch as Ethan and his tech priests begin flipping all manner of switches and turning dials. The tech priests nod approvingly at the readouts spitting out of a large black box near the dais. Anna feels her skin start to tingle intensely like she were standing in a brisk snowstorm. With a nod of approval from his acolytes, the Enginseer engages the huge lever with a solid clank.
‘Brace yourself, Doctor,’ Devalt cautions putting on his carapace helmet.
Anna turns to ask him what he means, but everything around her suddenly drops away. A thunderous boom fills her ears just before a jarring shock pulses to her very core. Surrounded by bright white light, she looks down in time to see the platform melt away before her eyes. The squeamish feeling in the pit of her stomach makes it feel as though she’s plummeting, but with no ground to judge by she could just as easily be standing still.
‘Anna.’ She hears a familiar but distant voice call her name.
‘Heinrich?’ she asks in disbelief. Though her brother’s voice is perfectly clear, Anna notices that her own speech seems distorted.
‘I am with you, Anna,’ he continues. ‘Always.’
‘I miss you so much,’ she admits, tears forming in her eyes. After having only memories for so long, hearing his voice once more brings joy to her heart.
‘Fiat justitia ruat caelum, my sister,’ Heinrich says, his voice fading away into the nothingness.
She nods in understanding just before another sharp boom. Suddenly everyone who had been on the teleportarium pad now stands amongst a jumbled mess of tossed about heavy machinery and broken crates. The manufactorium seems to be at least 50 meters in length, with debris scattered as far as the eye can see. A thin layer of frost completely covers the travelers and the floor beneath them, their exhaled breath an icy mist.
With barely enough time to get her bearings Anna doubles over, violently vomiting onto the deck plating, the full realization of Devalt’s advice coming to light. Though she recognizes the area they’ve teleported to from the blueprints, Anna still finds it difficult to fathom that they are now half a kilometer away from where they stood just seconds ago. Unscathed by their journey, Hob barks orders to his men while the Seneschal examines a data-slate map of the area, pointing to one of the far corners of the room.
‘Michael, Gabriel – perform an augur sweep of the area,’ she orders, noting that the atmosphere here has a strange feel to it.
The manufactorium is bathed in the red glow of emergency lighting, the wreckage around them casting eerie shadows. Long rows of empty shelving units are swallowed by the ominous darkness engulfing the opposite side of the room. Scorch marks, presumably from lasgun fire, marr the cold metal walls alongside jagged, claw-like gouges. Anna glances up at the ceiling, wondering if anything sinister is lurking in the shadowed rafters high above.
As the thunder that announced their arrival rolls away as a fading echo, a cacophony of bestial howls erupts from the far side of the darkened chamber. With a savage roar the unseen entity hurls an object out of the darkness toward the intruders. The servitor’s hellguns sweep gracefully overhead as they track the projectile.
‘ORGANIC MATTER DETECTED,’ Michael reports. ‘LIFESIGNS NEGATIVE.’
Hob’s men reflexively fire a few bursts, scattering a split-second before the lump impacts the wall with a sopping, stomach-churning thud.
Devalt looks down, his scarred face grimacing in revulsion. Blood-soaked tatters of a prison guard’s uniform offer the sole hint to the identity of the otherwise unrecognizable humanoid mass of tissue and bone. it’s skin completely flayed away, the odor of fetid meat emanates from the mangled carcass. Another enraged roar, closer than before, steals their attention away from the harmless corpse.
‘ESTIMATED ONE TO TWO SCORE HOSTILES INCOMING,’ Michael reports.
‘Hob, check the aisles,’ Octavius orders, drawing both his weapons. ‘Mortressans form a defensive fire line here! Devalt use those crates for cover, save your fire for when it counts!’
Without hesitation Hob silently moves off, jogging into the darkness of the vast warehouse.
‘Michael, Gabriel – ready your weapons,’ Anna orders. ‘Cover Hob, hold fire until my command.’
The servitor’s hellguns come online, servos whirring quietly as the large weapons follow the bodyguard’s progress. Travelling almost the entire length of the room, he skids to a stop just before the end of the aisle. The hellguns cease their sway as he halts, while over the com-beads they hear Hob let out a low whistle.
’It’s big and it’s pissed, Cap’n.’
‘Affirmative,’ Octavius replies. ‘Bring it back to us, don’t try to take it out on your own.’
Hob begins running back to the others, a shrill howl assaulting his ears a second before a crate whips past him. He sneers as it slams into the floor nearby, shattering into plasteel shards.
‘Missed me, ugly!’
He emerges from the darkness, swinging his mono-sword and slashing through the corner support of one of the massive shelving units. The structure teeters precariously as the ultra-sharp blade cuts through the thick metal. Another crate nearly connects with his shoulder but he nimbly dodges to the side, a smile playing on his lips at the monster’s screech of frustration.
‘Stop showing off, Hob,’ Octavius advises. ‘Draw it out and expose its back to us.’
‘Aye, Sir,’ the bodyguard responds, a hint of dejection in his voice. ‘This way, ugly. Over here!’
With the others now in sight, Hob jumps over a fallen piece of machinery, but this time the beast anticipates his move. A large metal cog, easily as thick as a man’s thigh, connects squarely with the back of his shoulders sending him sprawling across the floor. Victorious, the creature’s unsettling mirthless laughter seems to fill the chamber.
‘Hob!’ Anna screams. Only meters away, she instinctively starts toward her motionless friend.
‘Damnit,’ Octavius says flatly. ‘Doctor, hold position, we’ll see to him afterward.’
How am I supposed to help him if I can’t move? Anna thinks to herself.
She continues forward, but Octavius holds her back with his cybernetic arm. His vehement gaze clearly conveys that he will not tolerate his order being disobeyed, and she decides to stay put.
A foul stench of decay announces the abomination’s arrival as it finally steps forth from the cover of darkness. Standing around six meters tall, the perverted amalgam of twisted flak armor and crewmen’s remains is like nothing most of them have seen before. The retinue is showered in spittle as it unleashes a deafening roar, a two-meter long vertical seam running between the thing’s navel and neck splits open, revealing a giant maw filled with row upon row of serrated razor-sharp teeth.
‘Join us,’ the contorted mouths covering the beast’s body hiss in unison. ‘Join us and make the flesh whole again.’
It growls deeply, shambling toward Octavius as if sensing he is the one responsible for the invasion of its domain. The deck reverberates with each lumbering step, an almost overwhelming sense of dread crashes over them like a great wave. Without warning, the shelf Hob cut through moments earlier gives way with a horrendous crash, collapsing in front of the approaching horror. For a brief moment the contorted pile of metal slows the thing’s approach, giving the Captain the opportunity he’s been waiting for.
‘Fire at will!’
‘Michael, Gabriel – fire!’
While the Mortressans join the servitors with their own barrage, the Seneschal chooses to hold back. The Inferno pistol he wields is an incredibly powerful weapon, but its range and ammo are severely limited. With only three shots, Devalt knows he has to make every one count.
Outfitted with targeting array augments, the powerful las blasts from the hellguns pulse through the air, easily finding their mark. However, their onslaught does little to bring the Warp-spawned monster down. In a matter of seconds it slowly clambers over the obstruction, heading for Octavius with renewed purpose.
Unwavering, the Lord Captain stands his ground ahead of his men, raising his power sword defensively. The beast swipes downward with one of its massive paws but Octavius twists to the side, deftly swinging up to meet the attack. The blade’s powerfield hisses as it slices through the limb with no resistance, causing the creature to recoil in pain.
Seeing his opening, Devalt takes steady aim before squeezing the trigger twice in rapid succession. The thermal energy flash boils muscle and bone, boring two fist-sized holes through where the heart should be, but the well-placed shots seem to have little effect. The Seneschal wastes no time placing his third and final shot in what appears to be its head. In an instant the disturbing lump atop its shoulders is transformed into a cloud of pink mist, leaving behind little more than cooked meat and protruding bones.
Inexplicably the beast begins pawing at its back with its remaining hand. Even before the retinue catches a glimpse of Hob atop its shoulders, his deep growl is heard over its pained and infuriated snarls. Like a pirate of old cutting a sail, he rides his mono-sword down the creature’s back, slicing through from top to bottom.
With a shrill wail of defeat the abomination shifts unsteadily before its legs buckle, its slimy girth crashing to the ground. Octavius casually steps to the side to avoid being crushed while the Mortressans leap wildly away. As he lands, Hob’s thick-soled boots splash in a pool of slippery gore. He stands slowly, giving a nod to the Lord Captain as he walks toward the group. Both men make it look like they do this sort of thing everyday and, though impressive, Anna hopes that isn’t actually the case.
Octavius lowers his sword, looking at his bodyguard with mock disappointment. ‘I thought I told you to stop showing off.’
‘Sorry, Sir,’ Hob shrugs. ’Can’t help myself sometimes.’
Joined by the Mortressans, Devalt cautiously approaches the fallen horror, but they come to a swift halt when its limbs start to shudder. The pale flesh ripples as if hundreds of insects are crawling beneath its skin.
‘Captain, I’m not sure it’s-,’ the Seneschal begins, raising his weapon.
Before he can fire, the beast’s left arm flings him through the air. Anna winces at the sickening sound of Devalt’s carapace armor smashing against the wall before crumpling to the deck. With a wet ripping noise, the twitching limbs tear themselves away from the shredded torso, morphing into humanoid shapes infused with lives of their own.
Faced with four new foes, Octavius brings his bolt pistol to bear, his thumb flipping a switch near the trigger to select “full-auto” just before squeezing the trigger.
Having a tech priest willing to tinker with established designs has its advantages. he thinks. The customized weapon barks loudly as the entire clip of ammo is quickly expended, the muffled explosions of bolt shells sending blood and chunks of tainted flesh spraying upwards into the air.
‘Michael – to me,’ Anna shouts, moving toward Devalt. ‘Gabriel – defend the Seneschal.’
Michael thrusts his chainsword, striking the torso of the attacker as it snatches at Annatolla. The small engine revs loudly as the weapon’s gleaming teeth bite deeply into the creature’s warped body. Thick, dark ichor sprays out of the wound along with the occasional spark when the chainsword strikes an armor plate.
Despite the grievous wound, the Chaos-spawn manages to latch onto her shoulder. By the Emperor’s grace, Anna’s flak armor protects her from the numerous mouths filled with sharp teeth but affords little protection against its crushing strength. White-hot pain surges through her body until Michael swings again, severing the thing’s arm and ending its vice-like grip.
Though the move saves Annatolla, it leaves the servitor open to attack. It swipes at Michael’s exposed torso, its claws leaving deep gashes in their wake as they slash across his massive chest. The servitor stumbles slightly from the force of the blow as a dark, viscous fluid resembling blood begins to flow from the wounds.
‘Michael!’ Anna screams.
Without thought she swings her ironbound tome at the beast’s head, her blow landing with a solid thunk. Her attack manages to briefly draw its attention, but then realizes she has no idea what her next move should be. With a malevolent snarl it stumbles toward her, raising its clawed hand to strike once again. However, weakened from its wounds its movement is lethargic, allowing Michael to execute another vicious cut with his powerful chainsword.
Anna is showered in a spray of ichorous blood and gore while her attacker twists and shrieks in pain beneath the rotating teeth of the chainsword. When the abomination collapses to the ground in a heavy heap, Michael withdraws his blade, the motor returning to a smooth purr as he patiently awaits the command of his mistress. She presses a hand over one of the deep gouges on her guardian’s chest while reaching for her pack with the other.
‘DAMAGE NOMINAL. NO ACTION REQUIRED, SISTER,’ Michael reports looking down at her, his face spattered with dark blood. If she didn’t care for her servitors so, it would surely be a fearsome visage to look upon. Anna slowly takes her hand away grateful that, unlike her, he can no longer feel fear or pain.
The Mortressans slash and parry in a dazzling display of swordsmanship as they try to defend the unconscious seneschal. While their sabers have some effect, the majority of their strikes do little more than make the creature angrier. With singular purpose, Gabriel plods toward the melee with an emotionless stare, unaffected by the carnage surrounding him.
Caught in a battle of their own, Octavius and Hob wield their swords with deadly precision. Each swing slices deeply into the beast, every thrust cuts off another bit of the gelatinous flesh. Hob wields his sword with such effortless grace it is clear to see how his Mortressan soldiers learn to fight with such skill. Unable to counter both of the skilled swordsmen, it chooses to lunge at Hob, its fangs gnashing dangerously close to his throat. The bodyguard narrowly dodges out of harm’s way just as Octavius’ power sword decapitates his attacker.
One of the soldiers stabs deeply into the creature’s torso, but his weapon becomes snagged in the mangled armor. Before he can release his grip, the abomination wraps its arms around the man, squeezing him in a crushing embrace. His screams are thankfully suppressed as his skin is bitten and ripped away by the fang-filled mouths covering the beast’s body. Gabriel’s chain axe roars to life the moment he reaches melee range, but he does not engage. Of the highest quality, Anna’s servitors have rigorous protocols in place to prevent friendly targets from being harmed by their hand. Unable to distinguish the Mortressan from his foe, the servitor must wait for his chance to strike.
The other two soldiers stab at the monstrosity’s legs, trying in vain to force it to release their comrade. With a horrid crack the Mortressan becomes deathly still, and the beast finally relinquishes its hold. As the man slips to the floor, Gabriel’s axe slices through the air cutting the Warp-spawn in half. The wriggling monster tries to grab at the servitor’s legs, but Gabriel crushes its head beneath one of his iron-shod boots.
Michael looks slowly from side to side, scanning the room for additional threats. ‘ALL HOSTILES NEUTRALIZED.’
Wiping the monster’s blood from her face, Annatolla hurries to Devalt’s side but he waves her away.
‘Just a bump, Doctor. I assure you.’
’I’ll need to see you in the medicae ward after-’
A wet, choking gurgle interrupts her. Whirling around, she finds the wounded Mortressan struggling for breath.
‘Holy Emperor,’ Devalt mutters, shaking his head in pity, ’He’s still alive.’
With a glimmer of hope Anna rushes to the injured man’s side, but her elation is instantly dashed. Lying in a pool of his own blood, the soldier’s breathing is ragged and uneven, his spine pulverized. She knows even if a full medical suite was close by there is no chance the horrifically wounded man would survive.
‘Octavius,’ she says simply, reaching out to him.
Without a word, the Lord Captain sheaths his power sword. He reloads his gun with a fresh clip from his belt before placing it in the palm of her small out-stretched hand. Her gaze never leaves her patient’s agony-filled eyes as she nestles the thick, heavy muzzle of the bolt pistol under the man’s chin.
‘Dona nobis pacem,’ she whispers before squeezing the trigger, the explosion of the shell reverberating throughout the chamber.
‘Damn, Doc,’ Hob whistles after the deafening boom of the shot fades away.
Turning to the soldiers, he emphatically barks the same phrase he told them in the teleportarium, this time hitching his thumb at the fallen Mortressan. The men dare a brief glance at Anna before hurrying over to help the Seneschal to his feet.
‘Best get off your ass, Devalt,’ Hob grins widely. ‘She still has a few rounds left.’
‘Look who’s talking – that shambling sack of flesh almost took you out with some spare parts,’ the Seneschal retorts, wincing as he applies pressure to the cut on the back of his head.
’He’s right,’ Anna says. ’I’ll need to see the both of you in the medicae ward after we’re finished here.’
’I’m fine,’ the bodyguard replies emphatically.
‘Do I need to make it an order, Hob?’
‘Whatever you say, Doc,’ he rumbles before turning away, but he doesn’t miss Devalt smirk and shrug in feigned innocence.
‘Michael, Gabriel – secure the perimeter,’ Anna says as she walks to the abomination that assaulted her earlier. Summoning Uriel to her side with a flick of her fingers she kneels beside the creature, cracking open the tome she carries on her hip. In spite of its mortal wounds, the mouths covering its body move as if gasping for air but it is clearly dying.
‘Doc, get away-,’ Hob warns, reflexively starting toward her before Octavius grabs his arm.
‘The fallen must be cleansed. Leave her be,’ the Lord Captain explains in a low voice.
Anna whispers a prayer and, though the death worlder doesn’t understand the language, he detects deep sorrow behind the words. He meets her gaze, stunned for an instant as he feels the heavy weight of the burden she alone bears. In that moment he realizes that, young as she may be, Annatolla has performed this rite before.
She stands as the last words pass her lips and steps away, giving Uriel the command to bathe the corpse with his heavy flamer. After performing the same ritual on the other Warp-spawns, Anna sighs deeply when she reaches the Mortressan’s body. With a heavy heart, she kneels beside him, gently taking one of his cold hands in hers. Hob notices that her words differ from the ones she recited over the Warp-tainted remains.
He leans down to Octavius, his brow knit in confusion. ’What’s she sayin’?’
‘She is apologizing for his suffering, and personally appealing on his behalf that he be honored as a warrior of his people. Tonight he will dine at the Emperor’s table.’
Hob grunts in mild surprise. Most wouldn’t give him or his mercs a second thought, much less be versed in their death customs.
Returning from their sweep of the area, Michael and Gabriel return to Anna’s side.
’NOTHING IN THIS CHAMBER LIVES SAVE US. TWENTY-NINE ARBITES UNACCOUNTED FOR. 257 PRISONERS UNACCOUNTED FOR.
Devalt looks down into the flames, recognizing the gnarled flak armor as that belonging to the guard detail. ’I’m fairly certain we can account for the guards, Captain.’
‘First section clear,’ Octavius reports over the comm-link.
‘Acknowledged, Lord Captain,’ Ethan’s monotone voice responds. ‘The repair team is in place and will enter shortly.’
A few minutes later a muffled whump is heard just before the door to the manufactorium swings open. The arbites swarm in ahead of the Enginseer’s team, their void suits protecting them from the stench of seared flesh and burning promethium.
‘The squads are standing by to secure and escort any prisoners, Lord Captain,’ Devalt reports.
‘Let us proceed then.’
They enter the darkened brig, the light cast by the servitor’s shoulder-mounted illuminators reveals substantial destruction much like that in the adjacent warehouse. To their right sits the currently motionless cog that spans almost the entire length of the chamber. Without its normal compliment of prisoners to serve their sentence by walking its teeth every waking hour, the gear cannot function. To their left is the prison module, which could easily be mistaken for a large morgue as hundreds of solid square doors line the cold steel wall. The knowledge that the living are forced to dwell here, no matter what their crime, creates a strong sense of unease.
The retinue is forced to choose their path carefully through treacherous piles of sharp metal and shattered glass. They happen upon what must have once been a guard station, but it appears to have been ripped apart from the outside. Judging by the deep, claw-like gouges in the metal around some of the cells, the creature must have been in the process of tearing open the doors when they teleported in.
‘Seems like the release mechanism is still in working order, Captain,’ Devalt says as he eyes the surprisingly intact levers in the rubble of the guard station.
‘Apparently Chaos beasts don’t know how to properly open doors.’
’Let’s do this one section at a time in case there are any more surprises in store for us,’ Octavius recommends.
The Seneschal nods, drawing his pistol before unlocking the first block of cells. The doors begin to swing open, the occupant’s loud cries of despair and panic fill the air. As Anna feared, the prisoners think themselves forgotten, expecting it to be the horror coming for them instead of a rescue team.
‘This area has been secured,’ Octavius shouts, raising his voice to be heard over the cacophony. ‘In the name of the God Emperor I order you to show yourselves. Anyone who does not comply will be executed.’
Slowly the wails of the prisoners abate as some cautiously peek out. At the sight of the armed soldiers they clamber from their coffin-like cells, dropping to their knees while offering hysterical thanks and praise to the Emperor and the Lord Captain. Hob and his men check two unresponsive cells, finding one empty and the others occupant dead.
‘Strangled himself, Sir,’ Hob tells the Captain. ‘With his own shirt, apparently.’ The dead man’s resourcefulness impresses the twice hard bodyguard, but it makes Octavius cringe. Such desperation he must have felt, to find a way to take his own life while confined in a space without even enough room to turn over. After the final cell block is cleared he walks to Annatolla, nodding to the nearby arbite to give the okay to escort the prisoners to the medicae ward.
‘248 total survivors,’ he tells her. ‘There are three prisoners you will need to examine personally. Two seem to be in severe shock while another is alert but was hesitant to come out of her cell. Devalt managed to convince her it was safe, but she is reluctant to join the others for examination. She has specifically requested to see the ship’s doctor.’
Anna doesn’t miss the knowing look in Octavius’ eyes, and it makes her heart twinge. He puts his hands on her shoulders as he lowers his voice.
’I’m going to leave Hob and his men with you to deal with the prisoners we discussed. I need to return to the bridge and coordinate repairs. Will you be alright?’
‘Of course,’ she smiles weakly in an attempt to reassure him.
‘Do what you need to do, Annatolla. Do not dwell on your decision.’
She examines the two catatonic individuals first, but there is no way to be be certain their minds can be salvaged until she gets them to the medicae ward for tests. The third prisoner sits on the ground sobbing, her eyes growing wide with fear when she sees the missionary and her servitors approaching.
It doesn’t take long for Anna to discover the cause for the prisoner’s fearful reaction. A small tentacle, about the length of her pinky, is growing from the back of the girl’s neck. Glancing over her shoulder at Hob, she sees he and his soldiers are a good 10 meters away and none of them appear to be interested in what she’s doing.
‘Are you going to kill me?’ the girl asks quietly.
’We’re not to that point yet,’ Anna replies, continuing her exam.
The prisoner glances warily at Uriel and his flamer before beginning a prayer to the Emperor, confessing to the petty theft of some blankets.
‘I beg you to have mercy and make it quick,’ she whispers, looking down nervously at her hands.
This girl was no cultist, she suffered through no fault of her own. Yet the laws of the Imperium are quite clear – mutants are to be exterminated on sight, no questions asked.
The woman shows no other evidence of mutation and can still utter praise to the Emperor, Anna thinks to herself. But if I let her go free and it turns out that she is corrupted by Chaos…
Tense moments pass until Anna finally sighs deeply and shakes her head.
‘Hob,’ she calls, making the girl jump slightly, ‘Give me a coat, please.’
‘Why?’ his deep voice rumbles. His prominent brow furrows in suspicion, his amber eyes piercing the doctor to her very core.
He knows, she thinks with dread. Keep it together Anna or he’ll end you and the girl right here.
‘Because she’s in shock,’ she lies coolly, matching his stare.
Hob continues to stare at her for a minute, the muscles in his thick square jaw tensing. Just when she thinks he might challenge her call, he turns to his squad and barks an order. He steps closer and throws the jacket toward the two women with a bone-chilling glare.
‘What are you doing?’ the young woman gasps in complete astonishment.
This was our first personal combat and was meant to expose some of the newer players to more of the Warhammer 40k themed elements. A huge twisted monstrosity made of the crewmen unfortunate enough to be exposed to the energies of the Warp and a massive cog that prisoners endlessly march on both scream 40k to me.
This is where the other players learned what Annatolla’s free acquisition was (5 good quality battle servitors) and everyone agreed it was the coolest choice.
One difference between this chapter and the events at the table was Octavius. At the table, he was an NPC, so I didn’t want him hogging the spot light. Instead of leading the explorers into battle, he just sat back in the command throne on the bridge and watched events unfold.