BATTLE REPORTS - The Hand of the King - 32 (Depths of Violence)

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Inquisitor Vargarus was upset. It was the closest he was capable of being to a blind, furious rage.

Decades of physical and psychic training, along with a grueling daily regimen of prayer, abasement, and combat had honed his mind, body, and soul to their genetically-engineered perfection. A normal human being living the life he lead would be dead before ten minutes were out.

All of this training made him a hard man. Cool well past the point of being frozen, and a fully rational brain surging with power encased in a joyless physical cage.

And he was upset.

The entire planet around him was swarming with demons. The skies themselves had turned to blood, which rained down in an endless drizzle, staining the earth with the sticky residue of innocents slaughtered. Depending on how it was decided to proceed, the planet would likely be overrun.

None of this bothered the inquisitor. All of this was within the parameters of "going to plan". This little experiment was all running smoothly, as far as he was concerned. Smoothly except for one thing. These guardsmen.

As of late, they were turning traitor, first in a trickle, and then in a steady stream. Whole regiments were not only breaking from the Imperium, but many of them were beginning to adopt patron chaos gods. This ruined everything.

The guardsmen were supposed to be the control variable. They were supposed to follow orders as they were given, and to behave in predictable ways. Now that they were not, it was starting to call the whole experiment into question. Their data was starting to become as polluted as the blood-drenched skies above his head. This is what made inquisitor Vargarus upset. It simply wouldn't do.

But there was still a chance to salvage things. Only two worlds were seriously compromised, while there were still over a half a dozen more on which guardsmen were fighting that were clear of treason. If the traitor guardsmen could be purged, especially on the worlds with serious demon infestations, then everything could get back on track.

And this was his task now. He had several of his strike squads roaming this part of the planet, trying to stamp out new traitors as they switched sides, and to prevent the movement of those who already had. He had noticed that more than one such unit had been attacking in a particular place recently. It was a collection of ruined settlements that stood atop a subterranean tunnel system of some sort. With limited resources at his disposal, he didn't know what the new servants of ruin were looking for underneath the city, all he knew was that it was a good place to kill guardsmen.

Vargarus and over two dozen of his finest soldiers were out on patrol. Heavy incinerators and psychic boltguns were primed. They were on full alert as they crossed a vacant patch of blood-stained grass and moved into a new block of ruins.

In front of them was one of the hatches down into the tunnels. He would be sending one of his strike squads down to clear things out, in case the enemy had made it below. Perhaps he could finally get some intelligence about what was down there.

In the mean time, he had to assume that there were enemy guardsmen nearby, looking for the hatch.

He reached his mind ever so slightly into the empyrian and easily found the blazing impressions of his soldiers. He sent them the order to set up in the ruins and prepare to move into the tunnels. He didn't bother with words, he simply felt what it would look like if these things happened, and the Grey Knights around him intuitively understood the orders as if they had come up with the idea themselves.

Quickly, but with near-perfect stealth, the strike squads began to close in on their target. The tunnel entrance before them was unoccupied. There didn't seem to be any enemy units nearby at first glance. They took a few moments to survey their surroundings from their temporary defensive positions.

Vargarus reached out with his extra-potent mind. He tried probing through the warp, but the demonic energy crackling all around him made it difficult even for him to see much of anything.

He gave the order for half of his knights to advance while the other half provided cover. He, himself, wandered around the side, looking for a better vantage point.

Quickly, but cautiously, the strike squads advanced.

The ground beneath them squished softly as they made it to the tunnel entrance. The swirling clouds of blood above them cast a dim, sick, red glow over everything.

Vargarus suddenly understood that none of his soldiers had seen anything, and that their objective was secure.

Very well, the mission would continue.

Zogfeldt smiled. He was feeling very refreshed.

He had only been in the service of the Lord of Triumph for about a month now, but already he could tell that swearing allegiance to his new god was the best decision of his life.

Not only did he feel spiritually cleansed - his imprisoned life of ritual and duty had been washed away by his new, liberating, egalitarian order - but he felt young and full of energy again. There was so much that was new. So much to experience. So much to do. So much life to be lived. Especially the exiting new part of his life where he violently spilled the blood of his enemies. Killing people had never been this exciting. It had never been fun before. In the Imperial Guard, it was all so dry and mechanical, like bringing cows in one end and leaving with ground beef out the other. This wasn't a duty, it wasn't a chore. It was just him, being the best he could possibly be, and proving that he had what it took to win.

But it wasn't just that. There were so many things he had gotten to do already that they never would have let him do before. Once he was free from his old restrictive doctrines and just relaxed a bit, he found himself willing to experience all kinds of new things. For example, just that morning, he had bathed in the rejuvenating blood of a hundred virgins. He would have been all stuck-up and prudish if he were still a guard officer, and he never would have let himself even TRY it. But now he had, and his skin had never felt so soft and smooth.

He smiled again as he looked around the crowded cabin of the chimera as it trundled through the city. Here he was, leading his cultists, and on a special mission as well. There was something beneath the city in a tangled nest of catacombs. Some secret, ancient relic. He was told he'd know it when he saw it. All he had to do was to find it, murder his soldiers, cut them open, and spill their blood onto it. He had been equipped with two plasma pistols to achieve this goal. Already the Blood God saw it fit to equip him with swag. A few lives here and there were worth it for this exciting opportunity.

One of his cultists looked at him in the flickering light of the chimera cab. Zogfeldt smiled at him. The cultist smiled back.

Yeah, this was going to be good.

The chimera's internal vox set crackled to life.

"Warlord Zogfeldt," the voice filtered out, "There are enemy before us. They are defending our objective."

Even better! He'd now even get a proper fight out of it.

He pushed the button on the microphone behind him next to the door.

"Instruct all units to advance. Destroy them all!"

The small group of chimeras and attending artillery piece picked up speed as it drove up the street. Whereas before it was just small packets of guardsmen who were seeing the light of the new gods, now whole lines, and even tank crews were starting to flip over. New reinforcements were piling in every day, and Zogfelt was more than happy to be able to ride in a personal transport and have proper guns at his command.

The lead chimeras strayed off the road and onto the slick, red grass below. They dipped down a shallow ditch and then came up the other side in the dark crimson light. Then they were there, face to face with the enemy.

Immediately they began to open fire, multilasers splitting the air followed by the bellowing concussive blast of the medusa cannon. The shell blew into the ruins in front of them, sending chunks of rubble flying through the air.

The enemy marines were taken completely by surprise. Some attempted to fire back with their bolt weapons, but the shots pattered helplessly off of the armor in front of them. Zogfeldt looked through his viewport. Apparently, the enemy hadn't brought any anti-tank weapons. No doubt they were expecting to find nothing more than disorganized rabble. Little did they know that they were fighting against the Lord of Murder, his ranks swelling by the day. Where Zogfeldt may have considered retreat a week before, now that a few regiments of chimeras had defected, he was now impervious to an enemy used to only handling troops on foot.

One of his chimeras quickly wheeled around a ruin and drove straight into a pack of marines.

As they approached, the enemy began to falter. The medusa that the guardsmen had brought was certainly unexpected, and a second and then a third shot blasted into the tightly-packed strike squads.

Quickly they began to fall to the armored onslaught, first one battle brother and then another. Those who had stayed in the ruins attempted to provide covering fire, but their weapons had little effect.

Zogfeldt's forces quickly over ran them, bursting at full speed over those who vainly dared resist.

In a desperate act, the strike squads remaining burst from cover and charged the vehicles with krak grenade and heavy incinerator.

Zogfeldt could see a spraying gout of fire flash over the top of the chimera. The sound of the heavy flame throwers roared through the air all around them. The cabin glowed yellow and orange with the light of the flames.

Muffled screams began to break through from the front of the chimera, the last horrifying breaths of the driver and hull gunner groaned at them through a quarter inch of steel. The chimera slowly ground to a halt.

The cultists sat in the half darkness of the chimera, new blasts from the flame weapons casting their ethereal light over them.

The sounds of battle continued to thunder around them, multilaser and medusa cannon alike.

He waited for a few moments in the flickering darkness, and then got to his feet.

"Come on, men!" Zogfeldt shouted, his words reverberating in the small space, "Let's go kill them. Blood for the Blood God!"

He turned and kicked the door open. He stepped out and landed on the slick ground. The rest of his cultists followed him.

The enemy had been largely swept clean. Only a few enemy marines stubbornly held out.

All around them, the cultists began to disgorge, piling around the marines and swarming over the entrance to the tunnel.

Zogfeldt withdrew one of his sunpistols and fired it directly at the nearest marine. The weapon lagged for a moment as the generator charged and then kicked violently as a sheathed plasma bolt blasted brightly out the end of the muzzle. The marine was hit square in the face, his head and helmet and part of his torso were instantly vaporized in the small plasma blast, leaving a smouldering, headless corpse to slough to the ground.

The other was just as quickly dispatched with squad meltaguns.

The chimeras and artillery formed up around the men as they quickly searched for any more enemies. Finding none, Zogfeldt ordered his first squad to open up the hatch and start its descent. The rusty hinges groaned as the portal underground was pried open.

As the first of the cultists began to crawl down into the yawning gap, Zogfeldt heard a noise.

Suddenly, from nowhere, an enemy warlord burst from out of the ruins and slammed into those assembled around the hatch.

He could barely make out the quickly moving enemy in the dull light, but then he saw it. That accursed symbol. He was an inquisitor.

"Keep fighting!" he shouted to those already engaged in close combat.

This certainly complicated things, of course. He relished the thought of killing off a member of the hated inquisition. On the other hand, that's not why he was here. He had a more fulfilling task to accomplish. The cultists could probably handle the inquisitor on their own, or at least slow him down for long enough. The Blood God had instructed him to sacrifice his cultists, but didn't rule out sacrifice by proxy. So long as the cultists were dead, right?

"Come on!" he said, turning to his squad, motioning them towards the hatch. As the other cultists were getting hacked apart, Zogfeldt and his own snuck into the catacombs below. The concrete caisson yielded a short ladder made of rusted rings embedded in the man-made stone. At the bottom, a roughly-supported ramp led down into the darkness. After a few moments, they arrived into the underground passageways, made mostly of gravel and packed earth.

When he got down the ramp, he found that his first wave of troops was already fighting. They weren't the only ones scouring the tunnel system.

The cultists in front were already fighting with a squad of deadly terminators, advancing towards them in the gloom.

The cultists desperately formed up and tried to fight back, but in the tight confines, the terminators were at a very distinct advantage.

Opening up with lasguns and meltaguns, they were able to somehow drop the closest terminator to the ground. The rest strode forward over their comrade, their energy fields shooting sparks into the dark confines, sending showers of tiny lights through the air, bouncing off the walls and ceiling.

The front one opened up with a heavy flame thrower.

Zogfeldt watched on in grim fascination as a horizontal pillar of flame blew in from the side passage and cascaded over his cultists. They shreiked in horror as their enemy approached them, the eyes of their helmets glowing in the darkness.

Well, it looked like he would be fighting after all.

He waited for the flame thrower to let up and then he and his men charged in.

Before them, almost on top of them, were the enemy terminators.

Zogfeldt whipped out his other plasma pistol and began to fire like a maniac into the armor-clad monster with the flame thrower. The air exploded with violence as shot after plasma shot exploded on the enemy's refractor field. No mere energy field would be the match for the killing power in the guardsman's hands. The pistols began to get hot and the heat sinks began to glow slightly as Zogfeldt continued to pull the triggers with near reckless abandon.

Unable to withstand the catastrophic barrage of plasma, the terminator's armor exploded, melting and vaporizing into gaseous piles of slag. The terminator collapsed to the ground just as the pistols in his hands began to singe the leather on his gloves. He took a step back, waving the guns in the air to try and let them cool. Three meltagunners stepped forward around him and opened fire into the terminators.

One after another, they came down the hall, and one after another, they began to pop and explode to the heavy weapons. The concentrated armor of the enemy was being well-countered by the concentrated firepower of the cultists.

Soon, there was just one more left. He bore a heavy storm shield, which, with its more powerful refractor, was able to survive longer than the others. It activated its thunder hammer and began to charge in.

Zogfeldt more frantically waved his pistols in the air. These plasma weapons really did get pretty hot when you fired them.

As the last terminator lumbered forward, the cultists let him have it with everything they had. Sparks spiraled off of the storm shield, cascading into the floor and walls and flying up into the air like a steel smelter charging at them.

Slowly but surely, though, the enemy began to yield as it charged in. As the energy field began to fail, the shield itself began to buckle and melt. Zogfeldt watched as the last shots pierced through the tactical dreadnought armor, and slowly brought the massive enemy soldier to the ground.

It was suddenly quiet, and suddenly dark.

Zogfeldt had to blink his eyes repeatedly trying to re-adjust to the dank, subterranean gloom.

Quietly, he ordered his men down to the end of the hallway. It was a T-intersection.

"Which way do we go?" one of them asked. Zogfeldt had no idea.

He pondered splitting up his cultists for a moment, but then began to decide against it. He needed to have enough of a blood offering when he got to wherever he was going.

"Let's stick together," he replied, "You two, hold down the rear. Everybody else, let's go to the right."

The intrepid party began to walk down the corridor, their boots crunching on the gravel and clay beneath them. The tunnels were cold. At least, it was a shock compared to the surface where the blood rain was slowly raising the temperature up to that of the human body.

They didn't make it far before the rearguard shouted the cry of alarm.

It was very crowded down here in his tunnels.

He cold only scarcely make out the enemy in the darkness. Their black armor shifted with incredible speed as they began to hack down on his cultists with their chainsaw swords.

"Everybody turn around, prepare for - "

Zogfeldt didn't even have time to issue orders before they sped forward on their jet packs, flying through the low tunnel directly into them.

He was taken by surprise as the first cultists were trampled carelessly over. They were already on him.

He lifted a pistols to fire, but after only a few shots, they quickly began to glow with heat. Tears began to cloud into his eyes as his handguns seared into his palms.

With a shout, Zogfeldt dropped his guns. The enemy viciously hacked and slashed at him. He fell back powerlessly as spinning metal teeth ripped into his armor and gouged his uniform and his flesh.

He desperately struggled, but, unarmed, there was nothing he could do. A chainsword chopped into his arm while another swung around and hit him in the abdomen.

His last breath was an inhuman scream that pierced through the walls and into the very fabric of reality.

It felt sort of like floating. Except it wasn't. It was more like... like he was being suspended in gelatin?

There was a lot he didn't understand. He wished he could open his eyes and take a look around. He wished he could remember what eyes were.


Something bothered him slightly, though. No, it wasn't the feeling of being crystallized. There was something actually kind of interesting about that. No, this was...

... it was the idea of the other. That's what it was. There was a him, and then there was ALSO a something else. Had HE been a something else? Just asking that question brought the concept of time into focus.

And that was unfortunate. That meant that he needed to take things all rather seriously now. He was a thing, in space and time. It all felt so... real. What a let-down.

It did open up some new things that did pique at least a passing curiosity. He had been something, so they said. Wait, who said? He suddenly became conscious that there was another with him.

He was suddenly filled with a splendid feeling of tranquility and joy. He had done something right. That's what it was.

He felt a terminator lord die by his hands. He felt cultists, HIS cultists, killing an inquisitor. He felt himself gunning down a terminator. He felt himself doing lots of things.

He had done those things, and recently. That was interesting.

His interest aside, there was more at work here. Something was pleasing. No... rather... someone was pleased with him.

That made him happy. He liked the idea that he did something right. Something that made someone else happy.

And that was interesting. It seemed that whatever it was out there really rather liked HIM, not only what he had done.

In fact, he was going to be even more useful in the future.