Deathwatch: Genestealer’s Kiss

The below is fan-fic based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Disclaimer: This work is entirely unofficial, produced only for myself and the enjoyment of others.

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Deathwatch: Genestealer’s Kiss
by Dan Morley

‘I’ve often wondered how Space Marines manage stealth in all that armour,’ the human said to the darkened room. The creaking of mechanics and the drip of a rusted pipe answered. Outside, somewhere in the distance, shouts carried along with the dull thump of explosions. The man’s body displayed outward calm but his cerulean blue eyes betrayed his discomfort. They cast around, searching the crevices, the shadows. After a moment’s wait, he sighed and stared intently at a shadowy corner housing a cluster of upright pipes. ‘Very well. I prefer to speak in the open, but if you insist.’

Two red eye lenses appeared in the gloom and Munin stepped from the shadows behind the human. His power armoured boot thumped against the metallic floor of the munitorum and echoed from its military grey walls. Munin’s combat blade flashed to the human’s throat. A few whiskers dropped to the floor, severed by the monomolecular edge. ‘You are not Governor Rodriguez. Identify.’

The human gave a start. Perspiration glistened on his pale, bald head. ‘Governor Rodriguez is dead.’ He parted the collar of his lavish robes to reveal a medallion of office. ‘I am Governor Atron, his replacement. You may sheathe your weapon.’

Munin released him and stepped into the flickering light. His matt black power armour cast an imposing silhouette. Atron turned and looked him up and down though his expression lacked the awe usually inspired when meeting a Space Marine. ‘I trust you reached me with minimal difficulty.’

‘It’s a hive city. Half the hab blocks are burning and there’s rioting outside every administratum. An Imperial Fist could have walked in unseen.’

Atron nodded as though not really listening. ‘The rioting has been going on for weeks. We–’

‘In the last year, seventy percent of the planetary government officials have been killed, resigned, or have wildly reformed their policies,’ Munin interrupted. ‘Twelve hive cities on four continents are in unrest while another three are in outright revolt. I am well aware of the situation, governor. The Inquisition sees much. Every door has eyes, every wall has ears.’

‘Of course, my lord. If your Space Marines could–’

‘I am not here for the unrest, governor. If you and the Arbites cannot maintain order, we shall arrange for another replacement governor and Imperial garrison that can. You will tell me about Inquisitor Kurieva.’

The governor’s expression twisted into a grimace and flashed back to composure. That waver of blue sparked in his eyes again. ‘Pardon me, my lord, but you have me at a disadvantage. I believed you here to help.’

‘I am helping this planet far more than you know.’

‘Then with whom and I dealing?’

Outside, another explosion resounded, closer. Firelight briefly bathed the manufactorum. Set against the matt black of his power armour, the silver ‘I’ insignia of the Inquisition reflected from Munin’s left shoulder pad.

‘Deathwatch? I expected… They said to expect a Space Marine but…’ The governor blinked. He fiddled with the sleeves of his robes. ‘There is no alien incursion here. What does this have to do with the Ordo Xenos?’

The Ordo Xenos cleans up its own mess, Munin thought. ‘Governor Rodriguez’s communication contained one pict of interest to us.’ He handed a data slate to Atron. It showed a squad of dead Arbites, their carapace armour charred and ruined as though it had been eaten though.

The governor glanced at the door and narrowed his eyes. ‘A few dead Arbites amidst all this rioting and revolt are hardly unexpected. That’s nothing to bother the Inquisition.’

‘This was done by a hellfire flamer, a rare weapon used only by a handful of the Ordo Xenos. Inquisitor Kurieva was one.’

Atron wet his lips and the blue of his eyes wavered, an almost imperceptible change against the subtly glowing tattoos on his cheeks and forehead. He stopped fiddling with his sleeves and gestured to the Space Marine’s blank right shoulder pad. ‘You bear no chapter markings. What does that mean?’

‘It means you will tell me what you know of Inquisitor Kurieva. I will not ask a third time.’

‘I fear my information may not be as useful as you anticipated. It’s based around stabilising regions where the Arbites and Planetary Defence Forces have been cut off. Rodriguez had hoped for reinforcements or, after learning that he was meeting a Space Marine, a strike force to neutralise the revolts.’ Atron returned Munin’s data slate and passed another of his own. ‘If the Inquisition already knows so much, why meet me?’

‘The Inquisition knows everything but it can always stand to know a little more,’ Munin said with the hint of a smile behind his battle helm. Ignoring the growing volume of shouts from the riots outside, he tapped his slate and brought up a schematic of the hive city. ‘Show me where the Arbites were killed.’

At the governor’s direction, Munin marked the location on the schematic with a green dot. A few more taps of the slate merged Atron’s data with his own, showing riot hotspots throughout the city. A ring of dots stood out where pict feeds had reported unconfirmed sightings of the missing Inquisitor. They were densest in a district northeast from his location, a warren of alleys, spires and manufactorums known as the Gaol.

While Munin perused the schematic, an explosion rocked the manufactorum, unbalancing him. One of the pipes in the cluster by the wall sheared the bolts joining it to a curved section. Steam rushed out, knocking the governor to the ground.

Frenzied voices roared closer and firelight coloured the steam. A crowd of humans surged inside, screaming their anger. Improvised weaponry flashed amongst the threadbare flak jackets and tattooed skin of the rioters. Clubs, metal bars and knives all waved overhead while a few held autopistols or stub guns.

A flash grenade detonated, saturating Munin’s optics. His vision began to return when the governor produced a laspistol from within his robes and let off two rounds. The first glanced ineffectually off Munin’s shoulder plate while the other blasted through his data slate.

Munin drew his power sword from the scabbard at his hip and sliced in a wide arc. Upon clicking the activation stud, the blade hummed to life, tearing through three men. With the Astartes at full height and illuminated by the crackling energy along his blade, some of the rioters realised their folly and fled. Most remained drunk with excitement and pressed their attack. A bottle smashed against Munin’s chest plate and engulfed him in flame.

Clubs and knives battering against his armour, wreathed in fire, the warrior waded through his attackers, cutting a swath of death. He caught only glimpses of the governor’s robes as the traitor ducked and threaded through the press of bodies. Despite Munin’s great size and strength, weight of numbers fought against him. His power blade could kill only so many before more bodies slowed him. Though fear was a foreign concept to the Astartes, common sense was not. Primitive weapons would not breach his armour but numbers offered another advantage.

After an explosive push against the nearest attackers, he snatched his bolt pistol from the mag-lock on his thigh and sighted between bodies. The round ricocheted from a metal bar and split, part glancing the governor’s calf. Though it did little to slow the fleeing man, the special ammunition would serve its purpose and Munin put the turncoat from his mind.

A dozen had fallen beneath Munin’s blade before he lacked the room to swing. His strikes became shorter and the length of his power sword became a hindrance. He smashed his armoured knees, elbows and fists into the humans. Though he continued to reap a bloody toll, the rioters pressed.

The fight turned when he took his first step back.

It bought him the space to kill another two but his enemies gained something more important—momentum. The surge of bodies forced him another two steps back by which time the riot was unstoppable. Men and women crowded the Space Marine, clamping his arms to his sides and forcing him down. Without his combat prowess to protect them, the weak points in his power armour became exposed. Joints, eye lenses, cables could all be sought by the rioters.

Knives found their way through the flexible parts of his armour, the armpits, elbows and hips. As pain flared from a dozen cuts, warnings flashed on his retina display. With reducing options, Munin pawed at his waist until he gripped a frag grenade.

‘From the Warp’s maw, I strike you down!’ He pulled the pin and wormed his arm as deeply into the crowd as he could before letting go and snatching his hand back.

The explosion set his ears ringing. Combat drugs flooded his system as pain tore through him from head to toe. Subsequent blasts came from the rioters where their improvised explosives ignited, smashing the bottles and drenching them in flames. Munin could not feel his hand but the pressure had lifted from his legs. He rolled backwards and onto his feet. Only his power armour kept him upright when his knees threatened to buckle under his own weight. Smoke, fire and confusion held sway amidst his attackers so he stumbled further away and melded into the shadows.

Munin’s arm hung limply at his side. No time to assess the damage or pay attention to the scrolling warnings on his retina display, he ducked out of the chamber, deeper into the manufactorum. His limping steps caught against pipes, sending him clattering up a set of stairs. He grabbed the handrail with his working arm and steadied himself. His steps quietened as he controlled them.

The rioters charged through the lower level of the manufactorum, more interested in wanton destruction than pursuit. Munin would need to leave the building when the fires spread but for the moment, he rested and dared inspect the damage.

Chunks of ceramite had been blown off his arm right up to the shoulder. His hand was still attached but he could not feel it. His retina feed told him the shoulder was dislocated, extensive nerve damage wracked his arm and the bones in his hand were crushed to dust. The press of bodies had protected his chest and head. Though a hundred cuts and dents scored the surface, his armour remained fully functional.

He hooked his arm around a cluster of pipes for support and gritted his teeth. With a grunt, he wrenched his shoulder back into place. Assisted by the power armour, it returned some mobility but his hand remained useless. It was better than expected. By rights he should have at least lost the hand, and probably died. Instead, he remained mostly combat effective. The sheer number of bodies had absorbed most of the impact and fragmentation and, in addition to his armour, his heritage offered him an additional level of protection.

Despite losing his data slate, Munin’s eidetic memory recalled a portion of the hive city’s layout. His auspex showing the riot moving in the other direction, he made his way out of the manufactorum. Avoiding the fires was easy. The rioters were not working to a plan, their destruction random, so their fires spread slowly. Soon, Munin gained a vantage point over the city.

Rioting was not restricted the group in the manufactorum. Flames rose from several buildings where other groups vented their anger against symbols of the Imperium. What had driven the nearby rioters into the manufactorum, Munin had his suspicions, particularly with the governor’s sudden change of allegiance. Over the shouting, gunfire thudded into the night. Muzzle flare sparked where Arbites clashed with rioters in the distance. Munin could use that. He ghosted through the streets, keeping to the shadows. Lesser operatives may have abandoned the mission, but injured and alone in hostile territory was where the Deathwatch shone. Munin kept forcing his arm to stay mobile. Advanced regeneration from his physiology could do only so much and he needed as much use from the arm as he could get.

The Gaol was disgusting, even by hive city standards. Blood and filth streaked the walls, along with graffiti declaring anti-Imperium sentiment. Every corner contained dead, injured or drug-wasted scraps of humanity. Though Munin’s battle helm filtered out the toxins in the air, it still reeked of waste and destitution. Clambering across the spires with full use of only one arm slowed him, but he remained from sight. He perched on a ledge above a street where rival gang members fought. The gangs shot around cover, barely taking aim before their autopistols barked.

Rodriguez’s pict of the dead Arbites resembled this area. Ignoring the fight, Munin checked his auspex. He smiled at the green streak on the screen. The round he had used to shoot the governor contained a tracer toxin and an anti-coagulant. Though less reliable than a locator beacon, it showed where the target had been. The trail led into a devastated hab block.

The gang fighters made no indication of seeing Munin pass them. His quarry’s trail in sight, he left them to settle their dispute. He picked his way through the wreckage, still working movement into his arm. It looked little different to the other ruined hab blocks, though the lie of rubble suggested that more than one person had passed that way. Movement flickered between supporting pillars ahead. Three men lounged near a bulkhead. A casual glance would mark them as more injured or destitute, but for their poorly concealed weaponry. Munin paused and surveyed the room at a distance. His gaze lingered on a barrel made to look like copper tube sticking out from a pile of rubble on a higher level.

Well defended for a hab block, Munin thought.

Munin clambered onto a broken door, twisted and green with verdigris, and jumped. His good hand caught the edge of the ruined floor above and he hauled himself up. Advancing slowly to silence his footsteps, and crouching between cover, he skirted around the hidden sniper. The target’s only response was a gurgle and twitch as Munin’s combat blade slid between the vertebrae in his neck. He peered over the ledge to the other guards—two on his right, another on his left.

Had Munin been able to wield both sword and pistol, he would not have thought twice about leaping in and meting the Emperor’s justice upon them. For a single weapon, and a need for stealth, they were too far apart. Munin sheathed his combat blade and drew his power sword before nudging the sniper’s weapon over the ledge.

Rubble scraped as the guards leapt to their feet. The sounds of their weapons cocking resounded in the crumbling hab block. The one on Munin’s left investigated the fallen weapon, bringing him closer to the others. The others looked up to Munin’s perch. One opened his mouth to shout but Munin was on him. The Space Marine leapt from the ledge and drove his sword through the guard’s rags, down behind the collar bone. His power sword thrummed through flesh. Swinging the weapon in a wide arc separated another’s head from his body. The final guard fumbled with his weapon, trying to aim. Munin’s combat roll took him out of the firing line. He rolled onto one knee and thrust the crackling sword through the man’s gut.

Munin kicked the body off his blade. The guard’s bald head held a purple hue and his hands looked more like talons. So that’s why it took him so long to fire.

The others showed the same discolouration. ‘Mutants,’ Munin said with distaste.

A quick inspection revealed a grate in the floor. His auspex confirmed that Governor Atron had passed this way. Munin eased the grate open and descended the metal ladder into a dim tunnel. His auspex began flickering but he followed it as best he could through the warren of stone-walled corridors that split off from the entrance. The crash of metal sounded in the distance behind him and his auspex blinked off. He pressed on toward the last known trail.

It led through kitchens and dormitories, as though the hab block had been inverted and built underground. Though currently deserted, the rooms all showed signs of recent habitation. Claw marks scored the walls, deep and long as though rent by some saurian beast of ancient Terra. Scratching echoed through the empty halls. Distant chattering and whispers set Munin to readiness, though nothing moved in the darkness. He entered a large maintenance room filled with generators, pipes and cables, when a familiar sensation tingled in his mind—the touch of the warp. He drew his power sword. ‘Come out, little mutant.’

Mutant you call me, Space Marine? Governor Atron’s voice spoke in Munin’s mind. A fine word from one created by the Emperor’s own gene tech, especially one from your origins, child of the Cursed Founding.

Movement flashed all around. Armed men appeared in every doorway, mixed with others mutated with claws and chitinous growths. The air ducts above him thudded and grates clattered to the floor as more clawed mutants crawled out. Genestealer hybrids.

Atron’s robed form appeared amidst a group of mutants. ‘You Space Marines are so arrogant. You believe yourselves the pinnacle of biological perfection, yet you fall woefully short.’ He made a sweeping gesture around the mutants. ‘Tell me, which is the aberration, the naturally evolved Tyranid or the gene-bred Space Marine?’

‘The Astartes are what they need to be, Magus. We are the Emperor’s sword. By our lives we protect the Imperium of Man as the dominant force in the galaxy.’

‘We shall see how mighty his sword is.’ Atron’s eyes glowed cerulean blue and hybrids and humans advanced on the lone Space Marine.

Munin slapped the stud on his locator beacon and activated his power sword.

#

‘Inquisitor,’ said one of the Ordo serfs over the bustle on the bridge of the Questioner of Faith. ‘Coded message received from the operative on Sintus IV.’

Inquisitor Jaques Manificat approached. In his massive terminator armour, his presence filled the room. Symbols of the Inquisition and devices of office adorning his silver plate served as a stark reminder of his allegiance. ‘Report.’

‘Two words, sir: genestealer’s kiss.’

The Inquisitor stared back, his expression grim. ‘Deploy kill team.’

#

Smoke filled the street. Gunfire, shouting and the roar of flames sounded from every hab block. Arbitrator Soukova knelt behind the burning wreck of the Arbites Chimera tank and slammed another clip into her bolter. Scuffs and chips covered her black carapace armour, though it fared better than that of the dead Arbitrator lying beside her, riddled with armour-piercing rounds. This was no mere riot—this was organised and the gangs well equipped.

The remaining three members of her squad returned fire from behind barricades of debris. For every shot they fired, twenty came back, keeping them suppressed. As the Arbites fired another salvo, a heavy stubber roared from the upper levels of a hab block. Bullets pounded one of the Arbitrators, pummelling him to the ground. Though his armour had deflected the onslaught, he vomited and groaned on the ground, out of the fight.

Soukova grabbed her vox unit. ‘Requesting reinforcements in district 532, southwest Gaol. Situation is extremely hostile. Arbites wounded and pinned.’

Crackling static responded.

Someone screamed from beyond the barricade. A young gang fighter, covered in scars and wearing a torn flak jacket, leaped over the debris. He carried an autopistol and serrated knife. The swirling tattoos on his face gave him a savage expression. Soukova grabbed a suppression shield from the dead Arbite beside her and smashed it into the gang fighter’s face. She stamped on his neck to finish him off. No time to wipe the criminal filth from her boot, she ducked back behind the barricade as another hail of bullets sailed overhead.

‘…Negative…,’ came the vox response. ‘Arbites fully deployed…on your own…’

Soukova set her jaw. ‘Understood.’ She hefted her suppression shield and replaced her bolter with the combat shotgun on her back. She spun the weapon one-handed and cocked it in one fluid motion. ‘Rally on me, Arbites. We take the fight to them.’

Light flashed above. Fire streaked the sky, accompanied by the piercing shriek of a high-velocity object. A Space Marine drop pod bearing the massive I of the Inquisition on its doors smashed into the ground, throwing out a shockwave that sent the Arbites sprawling. The road surface shattered under the impact, erupting in a cloud of dust and flame. The doors crashed open and black-armoured angels stomped out, bolters flaring while the pod’s deathwind launcher unleashed a barrage of explosions into the surrounding buildings. Great chunks of masonry collapsed under the lightning attack and gunmen fell from other floors that escaped the blasts.

The Space Marines walked to cover behind the burning tank, methodically executing with their bolters. ‘Who is the Proctor?’ their leader asked.

Soukova looked them up and down and blinked to dispel her awe. The stories didn’t come close. These were gods of thunder and death made flesh. ‘That corpse by your feet is the Proctor. I’m Arbitrator Soukova. I took command after everyone else who tried that died. Thank the Emperor you’ve come.’

‘You can thank the Inquisition.’ He showed her a data slate. ‘We need to reach this location. Situation?’

‘Outnumbered and outgunned. Looks like the gangs have put their rivalries aside. Heavy weapons in the hab blocks have us pinned here. There are dozens more amidst the rubble. Whatever the gangs are up to, they’ve got guns around every corner.’

The Space Marine nodded to his squad then gestured into the hab blocks. ‘Nu’kan, Glavius.’ Two Space Marines sighted along their stalker pattern bolters. Two thuds later, the heavy stubbers fell silent. ‘We’ll take it from here, Arbitrator.’

‘With all respect, my lord, Imperial law is my business. If anyone is going to prosecute the Emperor’s justice, it will be alongside the Arbites.’ The remaining members of Soukova’s squad joined her, battered but stern-faced.

‘As you wish. We shall carve a path to our destination but the remaining unrest is your concern.’

The three Space Marines strode from the barricades, picking targets with their bolters. The Arbites followed, suppression shields locked and weaponry threaded through firing ports in the top corners. Gang members fell back under the unexpected counter-attack. They covered their retreat with shots from their auto weapons which bounced off power armour and shield.

Resistance dropped under the horrific initial death toll. Bolters, combat shotguns and an Arbite grenade launcher massacred those foolish enough to stay. Before long, the gangs disappeared into the city, seeking easier prey.

They reached the hab block where the locator beacon’s signal flashed. ‘We take our leave of you here,’ the lead Space Marine said. He offered his hand. ‘Fight well, Arbitrator.’

Soukova clasped his arm. ‘Thank you, my lord…?’

‘Sergeant Herodotus of the Ordo Xenos Deathwatch.’

‘Your quarry is here?’

Herodotus checked his auspex and nodded. ‘The beacon is underground.’ He gestured to his squad. ‘Find a way in.’

Shifting rubble and collapsed stanchions soon revealed a grate. Brother Glavius heaved at it. ‘It’s sealed from the inside, sir. If Munin is in there, someone didn’t want him to get back out.’

Nu’kan pushed past his battle brother. He clasped the inferno pistol from the mag-lock at his thigh. ‘Stand back, brother, this is work for the Salamanders.’

Glavius sniffed. ‘Whose gene seed is so important that it needs the three of us to extract?’

‘Brother Munin,’ Herodotus replied.

‘The Black Shield?’ Glavius scoffed. ‘Someone in the Inquisition must have a sense of humour.’

‘None that it knows of. His gene seed is as important as yours or mine, apothecary. Whatever Munin’s reasons for bearing the Shield, they are his own. And we don’t know that he’s dead. All we know is that he activated his locator beacon. And his message.’

‘Precisely. Genestealer’s kiss. He’s already dead.’ Glavius tapped his shoulder pad by the Ultramarines insignia and decal proclaiming him a Tyrannic War veteran. ‘I know.’

Herodotus gestured to the corpses around the grate, torn apart by a power sword. ‘I wouldn’t be so quick to underestimate your brother Astartes.’

‘Third generation genestealer hybrids.’ Glavius said, inspecting their mutations and the discoloured heads.

‘Third generation?’ Soukova asked, turning away from the flash of melta blasts where Nu’kan worked at the grate.

Glavius folded his arms. ‘Stay your hatred of xenos for a moment, Arbitrator, and allow yourself to acknowledge their intelligence.’

‘Very well.’

‘They are not animals. The hive minds are capable of planning, tactics. A single genestealer will not attack alone and sacrifice itself. They are the vanguard of the Tyranid hive fleets and expert infiltrators. Among their many weapons is their tongue. It’s a type of biological weapon, an infection that rewrites genetic structure from the inside. A victim looks outwardly the same, but inside, they are as much a Tyranid as the genestealer that turned them—the patriarch.’

‘Hence the genestealer’s kiss,’ Herodotus added.

‘Patriarchs spread their genes. The effects are hereditary, starting heavily mutated, but visibly diminishing each generation. After four generations, the offspring becomes indistinguishable from humans, thus creating a genestealer cult. You can imagine the trouble this causes when a fourth-generation abomination infiltrates the planetary government.’

‘The Magus,’ Herodotus said. ‘The planet is then in too much upheaval to mount a proper defence. There are so many xenos that the beacon is a bonfire for a hive fleet tendril to follow.’

Soukova shook her head. ‘What’s so important about this world? Why here?’

‘As I said,’ Glavius explained, ‘these filth-breeds can strategise and would not choose their targets at random. Sintus IV is no forge world, but strategically it gives the xenos a foothold into a frontier sector. With this as a staging area, they could strike anywhere.’

Soukova turned to Herodotus. ‘What do you need of us, sergeant?’

‘It will likely be too cramped inside for you to accompany us. Containment is our highest priority. If any xenos should evade us, they must be eliminated lest the cult spread.’

‘Then I wish you fortune, sergeant. More Arbites are scattered around this district. My squad and I will link with them and secure this hab block. Nothing will get in or out without us knowing. You have my vox channel.’ She made the sign of the Aquila and led her Arbites through the ruins.

The melta blasts stopped and Nu’Kan ripped the grate from the ground. ‘Unto the anvil, brothers.’

#

Munin severed the mutated claws from a hybrid. He carved through anything that entered his reach. Half a dozen fell before a salvo from an autogun pummelled him at short range and spun him around.

A hybrid’s claw punched through Munin’s shoulder pad and pinned him to the wall, sending his power sword skittering across the floor. Another tore his battle helm off, raking his cheeks with searing pain. The alien’s stinking breath heated the bony ridges around his eyes. Saliva dripped from its long tongue as it lashed across Munin’s face but it made no killing blow. Atron approached.

‘You see, Space Marine, biological perfection evolves. It is not created.’

Munin spat. ‘You’ve proved nothing, Magus. Two dozen of your aberrations against one Astartes only shows your fear.’

‘Victory is achieved not in the combat but in the strategy. We orchestrated your singular demise.’

The auspex flashed at Munin’s waist. He caught the governor’s gaze and smiled. ‘And I orchestrated this.’

The heads of three hybrids exploded under a storm of bolter fire. The mutant pinning Munin released its grip and surged towards the power armoured newcomers.

‘Where is the Inquisitor?’ Munin growled at the Magus.

‘You are in no position to make demands. You’re still unarmed,’ Atron said, drawing a knife.

Munin smiled again. ‘I’m never unarmed.’ With the wet tear of flesh, bone blades slid from his wrists. He smashed his forehead into the governor’s nose and punched the bone blades under his ribs.

‘Evacuate the patriarch!’ the Magus screamed, blood spattering from his mouth. A group of hybrids retreated from the fight while the rest battled the Deathwatch.

Munin tore the governor’s body apart and retracted his bone blades. He grabbed the bolt pistol from his thigh and fired tracer rounds into three of the retreating hybrids before they escaped into the labyrinth of corridors.

Pain shot through Munin’s wrist. One of his bone blades failed to retract. It twitched by his broken hand, ending in a jagged break. The price of saving his hand from his own grenade. He gritted his teeth and let rip with his bolt pistol, assisting the kill team in finishing the hybrids that remained.

Even with the Deathwatch’s skill and wargear, the fight had not been a massacre. Every Space Marine sported armour rent with claw marks and bullet impacts. Though not as powerful as their genestealer progenitors, hybrid claws still treated power armour like parchment. Nu’kan rolled his shoulder where a claw had ripped the pad clean off and torn his flesh beneath. Herodutos replaced the clip in his bolter with shaking hands.

Glavius limped across the room, wincing as he stepped over corpses, and reached out for Munin. ‘You’re wounded. Let me check your arm.’

Munin snatched it away. ‘Don’t touch me. It’s still combat effective.’

‘I don’t doubt that,’ Glavius sneered.

‘Leave him, apothecary,’ Herodotus said. ‘We need to move quickly. If even one hybrid escapes, the cult will spread again. If the patriarch escapes, we’ll have a hive fleet to deal with.’ He changed his vox channel to contact Soukova. ‘Arbitrator, the patriarch is on the move. Be ready.’

Only static responded with the distant thuds of gunfire.

Munin jogged through a broken doorway into a corridor. ‘This way.’

The kill team followed behind. They followed the trails on Munin’s auspex through rooms with scattered and broken furniture, tossed aside in the hybrids’ rush. Scratching and thumping came from the ceiling and the walls around them, along with the chatter and screech of hybrids muffled by distance.

Claws burst through air ducts and swiped from under tables as hybrids waited in ambush, but Munin’s auspex gave them warning enough to fire their bolters as they ran.

After leaping down a flight of stairs and running into a short corridor, Munin stopped by a heavy door. ‘The trail ends in there. Auspex shows considerable movement.’

‘Then why do we hesitate? Let us be at it,’ Nu’kan growled.

‘Because you need to know what’s beyond that door.’

Herodotus caught Munin’s eye. ‘You didn’t come here to investigate a genestealer cult. What were you doing here?’

‘Does it matter?’ The Salamander hefted his bolter.

‘Zeal may be enough for some, brother, but I prefer to know my enemy. Munin?’

‘I was searching for Inquisitor Kurieva. He served the Ordo Xenos but went off-mission some ninety years ago. Recent clues led us here.’

‘It’s taken ninety years to track him down?’ Nu’kan asked.

‘The Inquisition is not known for its forgive and forget attitude.’

‘Then we have a heretic to find,’ Glavius said.

‘He’s not a heretic. Kurieva’s last deployment was aboard the Desolator of Pride. He was the only Imperial survivor.’

‘The Desolation of Pride? That’s a space hulk.’

‘Was. And crawling with genestealers. Kurieva’s squad was wiped out while investigating the hulk. One by one their life signs disappeared from scans until only the Inquisitor’s remained. Vox contact failed when the hulk became unstable. The last record we have of his mission is that a pod launched before the superstructure collapsed. The pod was never found.’

‘And now he’s at the heart of this cult,’ Herodotus said.

Munin nodded. ‘From what I’ve seen here, I suspect he was the first turned by the patriarch. I believe he rescued the creature from the hulk when he escaped. For what it matters, Kurieva is not a heretic, although it amounts to the same thing—he must be destroyed. As far as the cult is concerned, he is unimportant. The Magus and the patriarch are the real power. As far as we’re concerned, he is still a psyker and extremely dangerous.’

‘Whatever Kurieva is now,’ Herodotus replied, following Munin’s line of reasoning, ‘he was an Inquisitor and he knows we’re coming. Best not to just rush through the front door. Alternatives?’

Scratching and clattering echoed above them.

‘The air ducts are very much cult territory,’ Glavius said.

‘So there’s one way in,’ Nu’kan said flatly.

‘But that doesn’t mean we’re just going to walk through it.’

‘I don’t think he’s going to invite us in either,’ Nu’kan said. He switched to his inferno pistol and vaporised the door hinges. When it began to topple, he kicked it inwards. As soon as hit boot hit the door, flame erupted from within the room. Though the door took the brunt of the blast, flames wrapped around the edges and licked at Nu’kan’s armour. The ceramite of his remaining shoulder pad began to melt into black slag and corrode as though being eaten by the fire.

‘Vulkan’s breath!’ Nu’kan staggered back.

‘Shield your eyes, brothers.’ Munin grabbed two grenades from his waist and tossed them into the room. Intense light flashed, followed by billowing smoke. Munin disappeared into it.

Herodotus and Glavius strode forwards, bringing Nu’kan into their line. ‘Bolters and blades,’ said the sergeant. Chain blades roared to life.

Through the smoke, a great, bloated genestealer shambled through the doorway opposite. Though its claws remained deadly sharp, it lacked the lithe, rapid movements of its kin surrounding it, escorting it out.

‘Genestealers really let themselves go when they become patriarchs,’ Nu’kan muttered and let his bolter rip at the beast. The kill team’s salvo hit only the escort of hybrids which swarmed around the patriarch, preventing a clear shot.

‘After the patriarch!’ Herodotus roared.

Other hybrids leaped out of ducts and off the walls. The Deathwatch’s bolters picked out flailing outlines through the smoke as they advanced together, covering the front and sides. Their blades fended off the clawed arms, throwing viscera about as they cut into hybrid flesh, but the attack also came from above. Bullets rained around the three. Though their power armour deflected the shots, the impact unbalanced them.

Distracted by the autogun fire, a hybrid weaved past Glavius’ guard and raked him. Its claws tore through his faceplate and down into his gorget. Herodotus dispatched the creature with a flick of his chain blade, earning him glancing hits to his shoulders and side. The combined melee and weight of fire from above halted the Deathwatch advance and they resorted to defensive stances, leaving the patriarch to escape.

Two orbs of cerulean blue glowed behind the hybrids. They rose as the silhouette of a man in power armour grew into a hulking behemoth that could dwarf a terminator. At his approach, the genestealer hybrids renewed their attacks with unnatural speed, yet the gunfire from above began to abate.

‘Biomancy,’ Glavius spat, his voice distorted through the ruined grille of his faceplate.

Nu’kan dodged a swing from the giant’s energy-wreathed power maul. ‘I think we’ve found our Inquisitor.’

Despite his Warp-infused size, Inquisitor Kurieva still looked human. In ninety years, his permanent scowl and hard face had lost none of their intensity. His backhand strike smashed Glavius in the side of the head, knocking him to the ground. Hybrids swarmed the prone Space Marine, laying about with tooth and claw. He raised his hellfire flamer one-handed.

Where in Throne’s name is Munin?’ Nu’kan growled.

The last gunman on the balcony silenced.

A black shadow dropped from above.

Munin’s attack glanced off the Inquisitor’s armour but severed the strap of his flamer. Nu’kan smashed his chainsword into the Inquisitor’s hand, knocking the flamer to the ground in a sputtering spray of fire. He scooped the weapon from the ground and unleashed an inferno over the hybrids. The aliens screamed as their carapace burned and disintegrated, reducing them to dripping piles like melted candles.

Without the hybrids’ attacks distracting them, Herodotus and Nu’kan joined with Munin. Together they brought chain blades and power sword against the Inquisitor.

‘I wondered if the Ordo would find me,’ Kurieva said, avoiding a savage swipe of Herodotos’ chainsword. His movements became defensive, concentrating on evasion and only striking at openings. ‘But you took too long. A hive fleet comes for the patriarch. They know this world is ripe.’

‘He’s trying to slow us,’ Munin called, executing a flurry of strikes aimed at the joints of his enemy’s armour. ‘Get after the patriarch.’

‘Munin–’

‘If the patriarch escapes this world is doomed. Move!

Herodotus disengaged from the Inquisitor while Nu’kan covered their retreat with a blast of flame. It engulfed the hybrids that were savaging Glavius’ thrashing form and sent the Inquisitor reeling and shielding his face. Following the patriarch’s trail, Nu’kan led the way with purifying flame. It filled the corridor ahead, incinerating genestealer hybrids of four generations. After the flame softened them, Herodotus finished them with his chainsword.

‘Soukova!’ Herodotus yelled into his vox. ‘Watch the exits. The xenos must not escape!’

Still they found no sign of the patriarch. They ran through kitchens, dorms and corridors, fighting back ambushes. Firelight shone up ahead.

They ran on until they emerged into the night.

The thunder of combat shotguns resounded. The Deathwatch pelted out into the smoke and ash of the riot-stricken city and a shield wall of Arbites unloaded a second volley into the patriarch’s bloated form. The alien reared and smashed the shields apart. Energy from the powered shields jolted through the creature’s limbs. Between the shock and the shotguns, the creature slowed enough for the Deathwatch to catch. They advanced as a gun line and unleashed a storm of beast hunter rounds that tore its carapace apart. The Arbites reformed their shield wall and pounded it with their combat shotguns from the other side.

The patriarch curled into a ball under the onslaught. When its twitching reduced, Nu’kan raised his hellfire flamer.

‘Stay your hand, Astartes.’

Nu’kan looked up at the figure striding towards him wearing ornate silver armour festooned with battle honours and symbols of the Ordo Xenos. ‘Inquisitor?’

Inquisitor Manificat signalled to his retinue of acolytes who bustled around the battered genestealer. ‘We’re taking the xenos.’

Nu’kan glanced from the patriarch to his flamer and back to the Inquisitor. ‘Sir?’

‘I have another task for your squad. Alive or dead, a hive fleet is coming for this patriarch. We can’t change that, but we can change where they strike. Ordo Hereticus attempts to contain a Chaos incursion elsewhere in the sector have failed. Your task is to infiltrate the compromised world and release the patriarch into a population centre. The hive fleet will be drawn to its beacon.’

‘It’s a death sentence for that world,’ Nu’kan said.

The Inquisitor stared back, stony-faced. ‘That world is already dead. Either way we’re dealing with a hive fleet or a Chaos incursion. Better for us if one defeats the other so we face only the weakened victor.’

Munin limped out of the hab block with Glavius’ limp form draped over his shoulder. Dents covered his armour, his helmet was missing, and a snapped bone blade twitched at his wrist. He nodded to the Inquisitor and lay Glavius down.

The Inquisitor returned the gesture and brought his attention to Soukova of the Arbites. ‘Cordon off this hive. It will be purified by order of the Inquisition.’

‘The whole hive?’

‘Be thankful we contained the cult or we’d be issuing exterminatus.’

Soukova glanced at the smoke-filled streets and sighed. Buildings crumbled, riddled with bullet holes, corpses of Arbites, gang fighters and civilians littered the ground. ‘I suppose it will improve the view.’

 

 

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