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 can be stealthy in all that armour,’ the human said into the darkness. His posture was as arrogant as his sneer, lit by the abandoned munitorum’s flickering lumens. ‘I’m disappointed. The stories exaggerate.’
The only response came from the drip of rusted pipes. Outside, people screamed in the distance, among the stutter of autoguns. Another gang skirmish.
The man’s cerulean eyes cast around, searching the shadows. His gaze rested on a corner of the chamber which housed a cluster of dormant mechanisms and consoles, and he grinned. ‘Very well, keep to your shadows if you insist,’ he said to the corner.
Two red eye lenses flared in the gloom behind the human. Onix coalesced from the darkness, a massive figure in black power armour which dwarfed the man. In silence, Onix enveloped him in a crushing grip and his combat blade flashed to the man’s throat. A few severed whiskers of stubble dropped to the floor.
‘You are not Governor Rodriguez. Identify.’ The voice came harsh and distorted through Onix’s battle helm.
The human swallowed. Perspiration glistened on his pale, bald head. ‘Governor Rodriguez is dead.’ Careful of the blade, he wriggled to part his lavish, indigo robes and reveal a medallion of office. ‘I am his replacement, Governor Atron.’
Onix released him and stepped into the light.
After regaining his composure and straightening his robes, Atron looked him up and down. His expression lacked the awe usually inspired when a human meets a Space Marine. ‘I trust you reached me with minimal difficulty.’
‘Half the city is burning and there’s rioting outside every administratum. An Imperial Fist could have walked in unseen. You have information for me.’
Atron nodded as though not really listening. ‘The rioting has been going on for weeks. We–’
‘In the last year, forty eight planetary government officials have been killed, resigned, or have wildly reformed their policies,’ Onix interrupted. ‘Twelve hive cities across four continents are in unrest while another three face outright revolt. I am well aware of the situation, Governor.’
The governor bowed. ‘Of course, my lord. If your Space Marines could quell–’
‘I’m not here for your unrest.’ Onix towered over him. ‘If you and the Arbites cannot maintain order, we shall arrange for another replacement governor and Imperial garrison who can. You will tell me about Inquisitor Kurieva.’
The governor’s expression twisted into a grimace. ‘Inquisitor? Pardon me, my lord, but you have me at a disadvantage. I believed you here to help. With whom am I dealing?’
Onix remained silent. He kept his patience with the man; this wasn’t the first official to overestimate his own importance when dealing with Space Marines.
More gunfire barked outside, but closer. Firelight briefly bathed the munitorum and the silver ‘I’ of the Inquisition reflected from Onix’s left shoulder pad.
‘Deathwatch?’ Atron retreated a step. He blinked and fiddled with the sleeves of his robes. ‘They said to expect a Space Marine but there is no alien incursion here. What does this have to do with the Ordo Xenos?’
The Ordo cleans up its own mess, Onix thought. ‘Governor Rodriguez’s communication contained one pict of interest.’ He handed a data slate to Atron. It showed a squad of dead Arbites, their carapace armour charred and melted.
The governor glanced at the door and narrowed his eyes. The windows flashed as an incendiary device exploded nearby. ‘A few dead Arbites amidst all this rioting and revolt are hardly unexpected. No reason to bother the Inquisition.’
‘This was done by a hellfire flamer, a rare weapon used only by a handful of individuals. Inquisitor Kurieva was one.’
Atron wet his lips and the blue of his eyes wavered, an almost imperceptible change against the fluorescent tattoos on his cheeks and forehead. He gestured to Onix’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.’ Onix leaned in, his face inches from the governor’s, forcing him back. ‘I will not ask a third time.’
The governor hesitated. His eyes kept flicking to the nearest door. After a moment, he began to pace. ‘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. After learning that he was meeting a Space Marine, Rodriguez hoped for a strike force to neutralise the revolts.’ Atron returned Onix’s data slate, and passed him one of his own. ‘If the Inquisition already knows so much, why meet me?’
‘The Inquisition knows everything,’ Onix said with the hint of a smile behind his battle helm, ‘but it can always stand to know a little more.’ Ignoring the growing volume of shouts from the fighting 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, Onix 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. Most clustered around a district northeast of the munitorum, a warren of alleys and hab-spires known as the Gaol.
While Onix perused the schematic, an explosion rocked the munitorum. One of the pipes by the wall sheared the bolts joining it to a curved section. Steam blasted out, spinning Onix, but the governor escaped unaffected, watching from across the room. He smirked as though he’d expected it.
Frenzied shouts rose and firelight coloured the steam. A crowd of humans surged inside wearing threadbare flak jackets, open over their tattooed skin. Clubs, metal bars and knives all waved overhead while a few held autopistols or stub guns.
An incendiary detonated, saturating Onix’s optics. His vision began to return when the governor produced a laspistol from within his robes and let off two rounds. The first scorched Onix’s shoulder plate while the other destroyed his data slate. The first of the rioters swung for him with a metal bar.
Onix drew his power sword and sliced in a wide arc. Upon clicking the activation stud, the blade hummed to life, tearing through three men. Seeing the Astartes at full height, and illuminated by the crackling energy along his blade, some rioters dropped their weapons and fled. Most remained drunk with excitement and pressed their attack. A bottle smashed against Onix’s chest and engulfed him in flame.
Clubs and knives battering against his armour, wreathed in fire, the warrior waded through his attackers, laying about him with his sword. He caught only glimpses of the governor’s robes as the traitor threaded through the press of bodies. Despite Onix’s great size and strength, weight of numbers fought against him. His power blade could kill only so many before more bodies slowed him.
He barged into the nearest attackers, buying some space, then snatched his bolt pistol from the mag-lock on his thigh. Sighting between bodies, he fired. The round ricocheted from a metal bar and glanced the governor’s calf. Though it did little to slow the fleeing man, the special ammunition would serve its purpose. Onix put the turncoat from his mind.
Six fell beneath Onix’s blade before he lacked the space 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 but his enemies gained momentum. The wave of bodies forced him another two steps back by which time the riot was unstoppable. Rioters 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 were all 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, Onix pawed at his waist until he gripped a frag grenade.
‘Emperor protects,’ Onix muttered and thrust the grenade as deeply into the crowd as he could.
The explosion rang in his ears. He’d barely let go before it detonated. Combat drugs flooded his system as pain tore through him. A chain of blasts rippled through the rioters where their improvised explosives ignited, smashing the bottles and drenching them in flames. Onix couldn’t 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. Smoke, fire and confusion stalled his attackers, letting him stumble into the shadows.
Onix’s arm hung limply at his side. No time to assess the damage or read the scrolling warnings on his retina display, he ducked out of the chamber, deeper into the munitorum. His limping steps caught against pipework, 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 munitorum, more interested in wanton destruction than pursuit. Onix would need to leave the building when the fires spread but first sought respite behind some storage containers. He 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 couldn’t 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, and many of the joints were cut, his armour remained functional, if battered.
He hooked his arm around a railing 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 lost the hand, and probably died.
Despite losing his data slate, Onix recalled a portion of the hive city’s layout. His auspex showing the riot moving away, he headed outside. Avoiding the fires, Onix clambered up a couple of floors and gained a vantage point over the city.
Rioting wasn’t restricted the group in the munitorum. Flames rose from several buildings where others vented their anger against symbols of the Imperium. What had driven the nearby rioters into the munitorum, Onix 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. Onix could use that. His time in the Deathwatch had taught him much of other chapters, and serving with two Raven Guard on his previous campaign had honed his stealth skills. 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.
The Gaol was disgusting, even by hive city standards. Blood and filth streaked the walls, along with graffiti declaring anti-Imperium sentiment. Every corner housed dead, injured or drug-wasted scraps of humanity. It reeked of waste and destitution. Clambering across the spires with full use of only one arm slowed him, but he kept out of sight. He perched on a ledge above a street where rival gangs fought. They fired around cover, barely taking aim before their autopistols barked.
Rodriguez’s pict of the dead Arbites resembled this area. Ignoring the fight, Onix 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. 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 Onix 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 beggars, but for their poorly concealed weaponry. Onix surveyed the room at a distance. His gaze lingered on a gun barrel disguised as a copper tube sticking out from a pile of rubble on a higher level.
Well defended for a ruined hab, Onix thought.
Onix clambered onto a broken door, weathered and streaked with verdigris, and jumped. His good hand caught the edge of the floor above and he hauled himself up. Advancing slowly, he skirted around the hidden sniper. The target’s only response was a gurgle and twitch as Onix’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.
They were too far apart to kill without attracting notice. Onix 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 echoed in the crumbling hab. The one on Onix’s left investigated the fallen weapon, bringing him closer to the others who looked up to Onix’s perch. One opened his mouth to shout but Onix 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 wide separated another’s head from his body. The final guard fumbled with his weapon, trying to aim. Onix’s dive took him out of the firing line. He rolled onto one knee and thrust the crackling sword through the man’s gut.
Onix kicked the body off his blade. The guard’s bald head had a purple hue and his hands looked more like talons. The others showed the same discolouration.
‘Mutants,’ Onix spat.
A quick inspection uncovered a grate in the floor. His auspex confirmed that Governor Atron had passed this way. Onix eased the grate open and descended a metal ladder into a dim tunnel. The auspex flickered but he followed it as best he could through the maze 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. Though currently deserted, the rooms all showed signs of recent use. Claw marks scored the walls, deep and long. Scratching echoed through the empty halls. Distant chattering and whispers heightened Onix’s senses, 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 sword.
‘Come out, little mutant.’
Mutant you call me, Space Marine? Governor Atron’s voice spoke in Onix’s mind. A fine word from one created by gene-tech, especially one from your origins, child of the Cursed Founding.
Movement flashed all around. Armed men appeared in every doorway, along with others mutated with claws and chitinous growths. The air ducts above 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 evolution, 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, nothing more.’
‘We shall see how mighty his sword is.’ Atron’s eyes flashed blue and hybrids and humans advanced on the lone Space Marine.
Onix slapped the stud on his locator beacon and activated his power sword.
‘Inquisitor,’ said one of the Ordo serfs over the hubbub on the Questioner of Faith. ‘Message received from the operative on Sintus IV.’
Inquisitor Jaques Manificat approached. In his ornate armour, his presence dominated the bridge. Symbols of the Inquisition and devices of office adorning his silver plate served as a stark reminder of his allegiance. ‘Report.’
‘Two words: genestealer’s kiss.’
The Inquisitor stared back, his expression grim. ‘Deploy the kill team.’
Smoke, gunfire and shouting filled the street, and flames roared from besieged hab blocks. Arbitrator Soukova knelt behind the burning wreck of her 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 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. For every shot they fired, twenty thudded around them in return, keeping them suppressed. As the Arbites fired another salvo, a heavy stubber rattled from the upper levels of a hab block. Bullets pummelled one of the Arbitrators to the ground. Though his armour had withstood the onslaught, he vomited and groaned, out of the fight.
Soukova grabbed her vox unit. ‘Requesting reinforcements in district 532, southwest Gaol. Situation is extremely hostile. Arbites wounded and pinned.’
Someone screamed from beyond the barricades. A young gang fighter, covered in scars and wearing a torn flak jacket, leaped over the tank. He carried an autopistol and a 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 ganger’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…,’ crackled the vox response. ‘Arbites fully deployed…on your own…’
Soukova set her jaw. ‘Understood.’ She hefted her 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.’
A flash of light above stopped them in their tracks. Fire streaked the sky, accompanied by the whine of a high-velocity object. A drop pod smashed into the ground, emitting a shockwave that floored the Arbites. The road surface shattered, erupting in a cloud of dust. The doors crashed open and black-armoured Space Marines stomped out, bolters flaring while the pod’s deathwind launcher unleashed a barrage of rockets. Smoke trails curled and explosions peppered the habs. Great chunks of masonry collapsed under the lightning attack and gunmen fell from their high perches.
The Space Marines advanced to cover behind the burning tank, methodically executing with their bolters.
‘Who is the Proctor?’ their leader asked. His battle helm was red, and purity seals on his bolter and shoulder pads rippled with his movements.
Soukova looked them up and down and blinked to dispel her awe. The stories didn’t come close. These were demigods. ‘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 with a dot blinking over a schematic. ‘We need to reach this location. Situation?’
‘Outnumbered and outgunned. Looks like the gangs would rather kill us than each other tonight. Heavy weapons in the habs have us pinned. There are dozens of gangers hidden in 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.’
Soukova saluted him. ‘With respect, my lord, 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’ll clear 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 in a shield wall and weaponry threaded through firing ports. Gangers 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. Soon, 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. If he’s is in there, someone didn’t want him getting back out.’
Nu’kan pushed past his battle brother. He clasped the inferno pistol from the mag-lock at his thigh. ‘Allow me, brother.’
Glavius sniffed while his comrade’s pistol flashed, colouring the white helm that marked him as an apothecary. ‘Whose gene seed is so important that it needs the three of us to extract?’
‘Brother Onix,’ Herodotus replied.
‘The Black Shield?’ Glavius scoffed. ‘Someone in the Inquisition must have a sense of humour.’
‘If it does, it keeps it quiet. We don’t know that he’s dead, Apothecary. 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 Ultima and insignia marking 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. She spat. ‘You mean these things are organised?’
Glavius folded his arms. ‘Stay your hatred of the xenos for a moment, Arbitrator, and allow yourself to acknowledge their intelligence.’
‘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, keeping an eye on Nu’kan’s progress at the grate.
‘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. Sound familiar, Arbitrator? There are so many xenos that the beacon becomes a bonfire for a hive fleet tendril to follow.’
Soukova shook her head. ‘What’s so important about this backwater? Why here?’
‘As I said,’ Glavius explained, ‘these filth-breeds can strategise. Sintus IV is no forge world, but 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?’
‘It will 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 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.’
Onix severed the 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, staggering him.
A claw punched through Onix’s shoulder pad, pinning him to the wall and 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 made his eyes water. Saliva dripped from its long tongue as it lashed across Onix’s face but it made no killing blow. Atron approached.
‘You see, Space Marine, perfection evolves. It is not created.’
Onix spat blood into his face. ‘You’ve proved nothing, Magus. Two dozen of your aberrations against one Astartes only shows your fear.’
The magus paced outside his reach, dabbing his face clean. His tone became lecturing. ‘Victory is achieved not in combat but in strategy. We orchestrated your defeat.’
The auspex flashed at Onix’s waist. He caught the magus’ gaze and smiled. ‘And I orchestrated this.’
The heads of three hybrids exploded under a storm of bolter fire. The mutant pinning Onix released its grip and surged towards the power armoured newcomers.
‘Where is the Inquisitor?’ Though slumped against the wall, Onix growled his question at the magus.
‘You are in no position to make demands. You’re still unarmed,’ Atron said, drawing a knife.
Onix smiled, showing his bloody teeth, his canines long and fang-like. ‘I’m never unarmed.’ The power armour over his wrists slid back to reveal short, bone blades which grew from his forearms and ended in sharpened points. He smashed his forehead into the magus’ nose and punched the bone blades under his ribs.
‘Evacuate the patriarch!’ the magus screamed, blood splattering from his mouth. A group of hybrids retreated from the fight while the rest battled the Deathwatch.
Roaring his fury, Onix tore the magus’ body apart. He howled at the pain that shot through his injured hand. 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.
Onix’s wrist throbbed with pain. One of his bone blades 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 remaining hybrids.
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 pockmarked from bullets. Though not as powerful as their genestealer progenitors, hybrid claws had no respect for power armour. Nu’kan rolled his shoulder where a claw had ripped the pad off and torn his flesh beneath. Herodutos replaced the clip in his bolter.
Glavius limped across the room, wincing as he stepped over corpses, and reached out for Onix. ‘You’re wounded. Let me check your arm.’
Onix snatched it away, flicking blood over the apothecary’s armour. ‘Don’t touch me. I’m still combat effective.’
‘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.
Onix pushed through a broken doorway into a corridor. ‘This way.’
The kill team joined him. They followed the trails on Onix’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 distorted by distance.
Claws burst through air ducts and swiped from under tables as hybrids ambushed, but Onix’s auspex gave them warning enough to fire their bolters as they ran. Nu’kan took the rearguard position and killed any that got too close.
After leaping down a flight of stairs and running into a short corridor, Onix 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. He slammed the door at the top of the stairs behind them and barred it with debris. It clanged repeatedly as their pursuers crashed into it.
‘Because you need to know what’s beyond that door.’
Herodotus caught Onix’s eye. ‘You didn’t come here to investigate a genestealer cult. What were you doing?’
‘Does it matter?’ The Salamander hefted his bolter.
‘Zeal may be enough for some, but I prefer to know my enemy. Onix?’
‘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.
Onix shrugged. ‘The Inquisition is not known for its forgive and forget attitude.’
‘Then we have a heretic to face?’ Glavius asked.
‘He’s not a heretic. Kurieva’s last deployment was aboard the Desolation of Pride. He was the only Imperial survivor.’
‘The Desolation of Pride? That’s a space hulk.’
‘Was. And crawling with genestealers. Kurieva’s henchmen were wiped out while investigating it. 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.
Onix 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. Kurieva might not be a heretic but he still must be destroyed. As far as the cult is concerned, he’s 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 Onix’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 his 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 melted into black slag.
‘Vulkan’s breath!’ Nu’kan staggered back.
‘Shield your eyes, brothers.’ Onix grabbed two grenades from his waist and tossed them into the room. Intense light flashed, followed by billowing smoke. Onix disappeared into it.
The kill team followed.
‘Bolters and blades,’ said the sergeant and their chainswords 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 it!’ Herodotus roared.
Hybrids leaped out of ducts and off the walls. The Deathwatch’s bolters picked out flailing outlines through the smoke as they advanced together. Their blades fended off clawed arms, flinging viscera as they cut into flesh, but the attack also came from above. Bullets rained around the three. Though their armour deflected the shots, the impacts 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.
Cerulean blue eyes 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. The air stank of it.
Nu’kan dodged a swing from the giant’s energy-wreathed power maul. ‘I think we’ve found our missing Inquisitor.’
Despite his psychically-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. Kurieva raised his hellfire flamer one-handed.
Where in Throne’s name is Onix?’ Nu’kan growled.
The last gunman on the balcony silenced.
A shadow dropped from above.
Onix’s sword raked down the front of the Inquisitor. 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 carapaces burned, reducing them to dripping piles like melted candles.
Without the hybrids’ attacks distracting them, Herodotus and Nu’kan joined Onix. 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,’ Onix called, executing a flurry of strikes aimed at the joints of his enemy’s armour. ‘Get after the patriarch.’
‘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. Following the patriarch’s trail, Nu’kan led the way with purifying flame. It filled the corridor ahead, incinerating genestealer hybrids. 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 greeted them. The Deathwatch pelted out into the smoke and ash of the riot-stricken city and a shield wall of Arbites fired a second volley into the patriarch’s bloated form. They had it surrounded but 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 him. They advanced, unleashing 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 it stopped twitching, 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 civilian casualties…’
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.’
Onix limped out of the hab block with Glavius’ broken form draped over his shoulder. Dents covered his armour, his helmet was missing, and his snapped bone blade was slick with his own blood. 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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