Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Tue Oct 30, 2012 3:40 am

BLACK SHIELDS: DESECRATION



That we, in our arrogance, believed that Humankind was first amongst the races of this galaxy will be exposed as folly of the worst kind…
– excerpted from the Dogma Omniastra


‘ARE YOU AFRAID of ghosts, Brother Rasmus?’ Brother Borias flashed his signature grin to his fellow marines. Stalking the silent avenue beside Borias, Markius was about to growl at him to stop joking when he glimpsed Rasmus’s face in the wan starlight. The hulking Astartes did indeed look as if he had seen a ghost.

‘Don’t like what I can’t see and fight, eh?’ said Rasmus. ‘Even a daemon has a body to break, a face to smash. But… spirits… Sneaking around tombs isn’t right, eh?’

Clutching his power-axe a little too hard, the hydraulic pumps in his bionic leg wheezing with each stomp, Rasmus peered at the rows of statues they passed. An unexpected memory from their previous lives twinkled in Markius’s mind; a dim moonbeam piercing the blanketing darkness of psycho-indoctrination. When they had been children of a feral tribe on a harsh ice-world, Rasmus had never accepted the dare to enter the Ancestor Burial Caves.

‘Well, well, well,’ muttered Markius. ‘The invulnerable Rasmus is not so invulnerable after all.’

‘You needn’t worry, Brother Rasmus,’ Sister Miriam’s stern voice came from over her shoulder. ‘These are not tombs.’

Leading the four black-armoured giants through the deserted plazas and avenues, the austere sister superior limped along, leaning on her rosewood cane. Its brass-capped foot stuffed into the silvery sand of the ground with each purposeful step, the soft tapping accompanying the hum of their power armour suits. Her breath frosted in the icy air.

‘Look like tombs to me, eh?’

Miriam chuckled, her fragile frame wheezing, and Markius noted that she had not aged well in the dozen years since their last meeting.

She said, ‘You have never been to a shrine world before? These are but monuments to the memory of the greatest saints and heroes of the Imperium. That is the purpose of the entire planet Josephina. That is why we are the premier venue of pilgrimages in the Spartus Sector. At these shrines, Brother Rasmus, you may make your offerings, pray, and hope to attract the favour of the slumbering spirits of those who dwell beyond.’

‘Sounds a lot like tombs to me!’

Markius studied the statues. Each were crafted from the same smooth stone, standing upon pedestals of the marble-like material, granite grey under the starry sky. Streets leading away either side of the main avenue hosted larger complexes, contained within tastefully appointed walls. Through ornate gateways he spotted meditation gardens of brushed sand where visitors could sip excruciatingly expensive herbal teas and appreciate delicately posed figures of stone. He realised that even in daylight, the weak light from Josephina’s faint, dying star would create an atmospheric twilight for the shrines. Everything was deathly quiet.

‘And so where is everyone?’ he said, beginning to wonder if the inquisitor’s hunch of a dire threat here was unfounded.

‘Celestine City, this entire continent in fact, has been evacuated in light of the Emergency,’ said Sister Miriam.

‘That must be Saint Christatos,’ Brother-Apothecary Sören consulted a tour guide parchment. ‘And that is Lord Solar Macharius.’ The golden-haired warrior-physician looked eager to go off and explore.

Miriam smiled at the statuesque marine. ‘I think you will like the next precinct even more, Brother-Apothecary Sören.’

They halted. The plaza was lined with herculean warriors in battle plate, wielding ancient bolters and swords: Adeptus Astartes, famous battle brothers that had become legends and passed on to the side of the Emperor. A strange emotion bubbled up in Markius’s chest. His Kill-team were Black Shields; incognitus. No statues would ever be dedicated to them. No pilgrims would marvel at their legends. He shrugged off the unease and noticed something about the nearest colossus, over twenty metres tall. So did his fellow brothers of the Deathwatch.

‘That is Roboute Guilliman,’ said Sören. He exchanged a serious look with Markius.

‘Yes? Why?’ Miriam must have sensed their change of mood. ‘You are not of the Ultramarines chapter, I thought?’

‘That’s not the point, eh?’ growled Rasmus. Miriam turned her stark blue eyes to Markius, asking. The eyes still shone as bright as when he had first rescued her.

‘Father Guilliman is not dead. He will return to us, when the time is right. It is not appropriate to dedicate a shrine to him.’

‘I see… of course, you are correct, My Lords. I shall see to it as soon as the Emergency is resolved.’

Miriam was obviously disturbed that she had offended the Astartes.

‘Yes, this… Emergency,’ Markius turned his thoughts to the mission, such that it was. ‘Are you sure we are needed here? We would not have come if Zharn had not shown such grave concern, as I hear from Scholar that there is a convent of the Adepta Sororitas here on Josephina.’

‘That is so, but… things are out of control. The canoness is being difficult. I did not know who else to contact. Thank you for coming so soon.’

‘You are sure this is a matter for the Ordo Xenos? A mere problem of vandalism?’ Apothecary Sören echoed Markius’s doubts.

‘You will see,’ said Miriam. She pointed with her cane. ‘Please, if you would follow me just a little longer.’

Markius exchanged shrugs with his team and complied. He noticed something else about their surroundings. Above the frosty sand the pedestals and walls, and where steps led up to the bigger monoliths, the structures seemed to be too regular. Everything built from the stone was square-edged, and the architecture seemed to constantly echo the same dimensions of around three metres at a time.

‘You are noticing the magslate,’ said Miriam, following his gaze.

‘What is that?’

‘The unique mineral found beneath the surface of Josephina. Magslate is a curious substance. We call it stone, for it outwardly resembles such, but in fact it is an opaque crystal, a massive crystal, and occurs with unerring consistency. The crystal forms in regular cubes, three metres to a side. The mining servitors cut out these crystals intact.’

‘That explains the pedestals and steps, but the statues?’ said Sören.

‘The crystal molecules can be made malleable with las-cutters and we have artisans skilled in sculpting the statues after this process. It requires tremendous energy and rapid working practices. I would rate magslate even more precious than arbalstone.’

‘So, where’s this Throne-damned Emergency, eh?’ grumbled Rasmus. Miriam pointed again with her cane.

‘Indulge me, Lords, to the top of that hill.’

‘These theatrics are not necessary,’ said Markius. ‘We are not impressed by such.’

‘I know, I know…’ Miriam’s voice trailed off. She signaled with her cane as she climbed the slope. A young priest in pale robes awaited them at the crest.

‘Sebastian!’ said Markius as he recognised the face. ‘My, you have grown, boy.’

‘Have we met, My Lord?’ the young priest studied Markius with earnest confusion.

‘Of course… we…’ Markius paused as he saw Miriam offer a tiny shake of her head. The party approached the crest of the hill. Markius moved closer to Miriam so that they may exchange private words.

‘Adept Sebastian does not recall Callasia 9. His mind has blocked out the hideous memories, and all the better for him.’

Markius nodded. That nest of insane heresy was no memory for a five year old boy to carry. They crested the hill, which looked down upon a wide valley of sand on the other side. There, the sight halted the Astartes in their tracks.

‘By the Emperor!’ whispered Rasmus.

All of the marines dropped to one knee, their suits of power armour humming, and bowed their heads.

Towering at the far end of the valley, as large as a mountain, a statue dominated the skyline. Though built of the same dark marble of the magslate, the cyclopean figure loomed in the starlight. The figure’s beauteous eyes regarded the stars from within his patrician face, a relic sword clutched in one gauntlet, and a flowing toga wrapped his perfect, columnar physique. Gigantic feathered wings curled behind his back, forming a delicate point above his haloed head.

‘Primarch Sanguinius, father of the Blood Angels chapter,’ Borias whispered, his awed voice for once absent the ironic undertone. The marines stood and Miriam explained.

‘We have been working on this for decades. It was to be the first sight that greeted our visitors as they descended upon the skyboats from orbit, on their way to Celestine City space-port. Our greatest glory. Four kilometres high, and two thousand metres wide at the foot, constructed of three hundred million raw-cut magslate crystals.’

‘Alright,’ Markius conceded. ‘We are impressed.’

She sighed. ‘Finally, after all these years, we were ready to unveil this triumph in time for the next Year of Reverence. Everything was prepared for the influx of pilgrims. But then came the Emergency.’

She nodded to Adept Sebastian, and the priest talked into a vox-caster.

‘Ignite the macro-luminators.’

Secreted in the sandy bed of the valley, four colossal lamps, each easily five hundred metres across, sparked into life. They speared the mountainous statue with glaring cones of light, and the dark marble reflected in glowing silver. It would have been a truly inspirational monolith, visible from orbit, Markius judged, but for the additional feature, previously invisible but now highlighted by the luminators.

‘Holy Throne,’ said Rasmus.

‘What in the galaxy…?’ started Sören.

Borias said nothing, his mouth agape. Markius straightened and turned to Miriam.

‘Who has done this?’

‘That, My Lords, I was hoping you could tell me…’


* * *



‘THIS OBSCENITY CANNOT be countenanced,’ said Markius. ‘It hurts my eyes to witness it.’

Glowing a bilious green in the glare of the macro-luminators, splodges of luminescence stained the head and shoulders of the gargantuan statue. It looked as if something foul had been ejaculated across the figure, dripping from his brows and chin and sliding down his chest.

‘I thought you would understand,’ nodded the sister superior.

‘But as terrible as this is, surely it is simple vandalism by heretics,’ said Sören. ‘I am sure the Adepta Sororitas will enjoy rooting out and punishing the culprits. I still do not understand why you called in the Ordo Xenos.’

‘Forgive me, Lords,’ said Miriam. ‘I needed you to appreciate the scale of the desecration from this distance. When we get closer you will see my concern – and my suspicion that this is far from being a simple matter.’

Perched at the foot of the far side of the hill, an insect-like ornithopter awaited them. The party marched after the sister superior. Adept Sebastian took the pilot’s seat and started up the twin propellers housed within circular wings on each side of the flimsy craft while the marines squeezed into passenger seats in the thorax. The propellers droned like a dragonfly’s wings and the vessel lurched into flight. While the ornithopter buzzed towards the cyclopean statue, Sister Miriam spoke.

‘The final segments were only put in place two weeks ago. At one point it seemed as if the construction would not be finished in time for the great unveiling, but we pushed the servitors into twenty-four hour schedules. Then the macro-luminators were tested ten days ago, to reveal this hideous blasphemy.’

The ornithopter rose unsteadily, Sebastian struggling to maintain control with the added burden of the Adeptus Astartes. They headed towards one of the statue’s broad shoulders, and now Markius could see certain sections of scaffolding and platforms were yet to be unassembled. Finally the craft alighted upon a flimsy platform upon Sanguinius’s left shoulder.

The Astartes and their hosts carefully disembarked near to the join between shoulder and neck. Markius tried not to look down at the sheer drop below. The statue was built from raw magslate cubes, like some monstrous creation from a child’s building blocks, each three metres to a side. He peered at the glowing marks. What had seemed to be a liquid, blobby stain from a great distance was now revealed in its true nature.

Upon one side of each of the cubes, a separate and distinct symbol had been drawn, hundreds of them forming a mosaic that blended into the random stains as viewed from far away. The marines each studied a separate mark. They were roughly two metres high, again strangely uniform, and they resembled some kind of runes.

‘You see now why I think this is xenos activity?’

Markius nodded, his disquiet deepening. The runes consisted of geometric shapes; circles, triangles, squares, octagons, interlocking or connected by bars.

‘They are only visible under the glare of the luminators?’ Sören rubbed his square-cut chin, crouching by a rune and running his gauntleted hand over it.

Miriam nodded, ‘I still do not see how whoever did this could have achieved it. We have counted over ten thousand separate symbols. It is true only servitors were up here in the final stages, but the vandals took only four days between the end of the construction and the testing of the lamps.’

‘You have no idea who it may be?’ said Markius.

Miriam took a deep breath.

‘There is one piece of Josephina’s history that does not appear in the tourist guides, buried deep in the secret vaults. Three thousand years ago, when the planet was first reclaimed by the Holy Imperium, a tribe of barbaric humans inhabited the dusty plains. They were devolved and unsightly, so reverted that they had even lost the use of language, and it is said they worshipped an ancient and long-extinct xenos species. Carvings and crude ziggurats had been erected by alien hands, since disappeared from the galaxy, but the savages revered these in their foul death cult.’

Sören and Markius exchanged a grave look, but Borias and Rasmus slouched next to a cube, apparently uninterested.

‘The monoliths were of course destroyed without trace, along with the barbarians, once the Ecclesiarchy claimed the planet as a shrine world, but there is the fear that the cult lingered, forced underground, to one day rear its heretical head once more.

‘Canoness Velicity mobilised her battle sisters as soon as this heresy was uncovered. At this very moment they are conducting purges across the planet – arresting, torturing, burning suspects. She is out of control! The Adepa Sororitas are rampaging through the entertainment sectors…’

‘Entertainment sectors?’ Markius interrupted.

Miriam sighed, ‘Yes. Jezebel City is demarked for the flesh bars and gambling dens.’

‘You have bars, girls and gambling here on a shrine world? That does not seem very… pious…’ Sören raised his eyebrows.

Miriam narrowed her eyes.

‘Brother-Apothecary, you must understand the practicalities at work here. Pilgrims come from right across the Spartus Sector to plead for favour on behalf of their homeworlds. Sometimes they come from very poor or backward places, and the populations must club together to pay for their passage. A pilgrim loaded with cash faces many temptations while transiting through such dens of vice as Vistro or Kar Duniash. We have found it beneficial to bring them here first to spend their credits in… officially-sanctioned leisure.’

Sören and Markius exchanged another look.

‘But we do not allow obscura, pit-fighting and absolutely no mutants! As long as the pilgrims are contributing to Josephina’s economy, we consider such… pursuits… acceptable.’ Miriam shrugged. ‘A compromise.’

Markius regarded her thoughtfully.

‘What?’ she said.

‘You have become a pragmatist,’ he shook his head. ‘And you think this cult is hiding amongst the entertainment workers?’

Miriam waved her cane. ‘Does this look like the work of whores and drunkards to you? I am certain inhuman hands are responsible here, but the canoness refuses to listen to me. So tell me, Lords, is this not xenos script?’

Sören crouched again. ‘It certainly looks like it, but…’

Borias sighed rather loudly, and Markius threw him a cautionary frown.

‘I cannot read them,’ said the warrior-physician.

‘Oho. He cannot read them,’ said Borias in a mocking tone.

Markius crossed to him, stepping over a right-angle between diagonally positioned magslate cubes.

‘Is there a problem?’

Borias shrugged. ‘This is no work for space marines. We are Deathwatch! The Inquisition has an army of xeno-lexigraphers dedicated to this kind of investigation.’

Rasmus butted in. ‘Aye. And there is an army of fanatics already on the rampage. In case you forgot, Markius, the Sororitas are the foot soldiers of the Ordo Hereticus.’

‘You are scared?’ Markius glared at them. They huffed and turned away, signaling their intent to end the conversation.

‘There are three things I can discern from these markings,’ Sören announced, ending the argument. All turned to look at him.

‘The first is that, as far as I can tell, no two symbols are identical. They all exhibit slight differences, even if they echo themes, and there is no discernible pattern to those faces marked and those not; I can find no word-chains.’

‘Meaning?’ said Markius.

‘I would suggest each rune has its own self-contained meaning. Perhaps they are names. Individuals’ names. But I am no expert.’

Borias rolled his eyes at Rasmus, but remained silent. Sören continued.

‘Next, these marks were not created with paint or other foreign substance. The magslate itself has been manipulated.’

‘Are you sure?’ said Markius, peering at the symbols.

‘It is extremely precise work, on a molecular level. It seems the atoms were melted and altered to reflect the light to create this effect. I would hazard a guess that the Sister Superior is correct: This would be beyond any simple human cult. It would take a long time, and extremely powerful equipment.’

‘Like a meltagun?’ said Borias, finally his attention engaged.

‘Perhaps even a multimelta, but with extremely fine settings and control.’

‘How could this happen?’ cried Sister Miriam. ‘How did we not notice them while they were doing this? Did they manage ten thousand of these in one night?’

‘More to the point,’ said Rasmus, ‘why would a bunch of stealthy aliens fly down here in the dead of night and carve their names across a bunch of statue stones, eh?’

He shrugged his huge shoulders.

‘I do not think they did,’ said Sören. ‘And that brings me to the third and most pertinent observation: I think these markings were made before the cubes were placed into this statue.’

‘What?’ said Sister Miriam.

‘What?’ said Markius, astonished.

‘Look at this one: The cube has cracked at the corner. You can just see the fault line.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Miriam. ‘It occasionally occurs during extraction. We generally discard cracked cubes, but it seems in the rush to completion we have had to cut some corners.’

She shot a glance at Sebastian, who lowered his eyes and reddened.

‘So I surmised,’ said Sören. ‘I imagine this cube was welded back together with a las-cutter applied to the shorn faces. But look where the rune crosses the fault line. The re-welding has left it not quite true – it is hard for human eyes to notice, but the corner is sitting several millimetres too low. And the rune is also crooked. This means the mark was made before extraction – presumably while the cube was still in the ground.’

Silence reigned as they all considered this for several moments.

Sister Miriam said, ‘Are you telling me, Brother-Apothecary, that this not a case of desecration, after all? Someone has not come here and defaced the statue in the last two weeks?’

‘That is correct, as far as I can tell.’

‘Then how long ago could these runes have been created?’ said Markius.

‘Years, decades, even millennia, theoretically.’

Markius rubbed his chin. ‘I suddenly would very much like to see where these cubes were taken from.’

‘So would I,’ said Miriam.


* * *



‘THERE: THE MINES,’ Sebastian called back over the drone of the ornithopter wings. Markius peered down to the rolling grey dunes. Across the plains a number of gaping wounds had been carved into the cold desert. Mining servitors with large, tracked bodies loitered around the black chasms, next to oblong metal huts and claw-like crane equipment.

Sebastian landed their vessel with a slight bounce, still struggling to compensate for the cargo of giant warriors. They alighted, Borias now lugging his huge multimelta heavy weapon, picked up from their thunderhawk gunship on the way.

‘Always the right tool for the mission, that is my credo,’ he had grinned.

Sebastian pointed at the nearest mine-chasm and said, ‘Excavation Ninety-Two-Delta. The last sections were extracted from here.’

They trudged towards the pit, and Miriam noticed unease upon the young priest’s face.

‘What is it, Sebastian?’

He hesitated. ‘It did not seem important before – we put it down to the overdriving to meet the construction deadlines – but several servitors have gone missing in this mine. Two came back up on the grav-lifts mangled beyond repair.’

‘You are reporting this now, Adept?’

‘I’m sorry, Sister Superior. I thought the Emergency occurred after construction had been completed, like everyone else!’

Markius dared to peer down into the silent shaft. It stretched two hundred metres across and about five times that in length. He shuddered, still embarrassed by his vertigo.

‘How far down does it go?’

Miriam looked at Sebastian.

‘Hmmm, no human has been to the bottom in months. It would be many kilometres by now.’

‘You have no problems disturbing the magma beneath the surface?’ Sören rubbed his chin.

‘Ah,’ said the sister superior. ‘This planet has long cooled to the core. We believe it to be very ancient.’

Sören blinked at her then consulted a dataslate.

‘What are we waiting for, eh?’ Rasmus rumbled. ‘Let’s go down and see!’

Borias hefted his fusion weapon on its shoulder-mounted frame and nodded agreement.

Sören held up a hand. ‘Wait a moment. Maybe we should consider calling for back-up.’

‘You mean the Sororitas?’ Rasmus growled.

‘We cannot trust them!’ said Borias.

‘We do not know what is down there,’ Sören said. They all looked to Markius and he considered their options.

‘We do not want to get those fanatical witch-hunters involved,’ said Borias.

‘Aye,’ said Rasmus. ‘They are already looking for a scapegoat. Imagine their reaction to an incognitus unit of the Ordo Xenos suddenly turning up, eh?’

Markius imagined it, and made his decision.

‘We are Deathwatch, whatever is down there, we can handle it.’

Sören’s face darkened with concern, but he nodded assent. Sebastian gulped and pointed to a boxy shed perched over a robust shaft of girders at the edge of the precipice.

‘The grav-chute.’

Markius sighed and they tramped towards it.

‘Sister Superior,’ he said, swinging his boltgun around on its strap, ‘Perhaps you and the boy had better stay up here.’

‘If there’s some infernal xenos hiding in my mines and staining my statues, I damned well want to see it for myself!’


* * *



‘WE’LL NEED THESE,’ Sebastian offered a thermal cape and rebreather to Sister Miriam as they entered the battered shed of the grav-chute. He eyed the marines.

‘Do not worry about us, boy,’ said Markius.

Sebastian wrenched out folding seat-cages from the wall of the box, the metal screeching in protest.

He winced. ‘Sorry. As I said, no humans have used the chute in many months, only mining servitors.’

The sister superior and priest strapped themselves into the seat harnesses. The marines mag-locked their boots to the grilled floor of the shed and secured their weapons.

‘Are you ready? It moves very fast,’ Sebastian indicated a square panel on the wall, glowing a faint red. Markius huffed and punched the button. Without so much as a chiming bell as warning, the box abruptly dropped, plunging the party into a breakneck vertical fall.

Miriam and Sebastian gripped their harnesses and closed their eyes. Markius gritted his teeth against the screeching crescendo of descent. He felt as if his stomach was trying to thrust itself out of his mouth. But he endured the discomfort. The sensation of the free-fall itself was not as bad as the expectation. After what seemed an eternity, but in fact registered as only four minutes, the box slowed equally abruptly – gripped by anti-gravitic suspensors – and then stopped with a violent jolt.

Sebastian aided Miriam as she stumbled out of her seat-cage. Markius nodded, impressed. The scrawny woman was tougher than she looked. The mortals donned the thick capes and full-face rebreathers as the shed doors rolled open to reveal utter, freezing darkness. Jospehina’s atmosphere was thin even upon the surface, and at this depth the oxygen level was dangerously low. Far from the warming of its feeble star, the temperature had also dropped to sub-zero.

The marines ignited handheld luminators and spears of light stabbed into the void. They revealed a great chasm rolling away from the chute on all sides, the regular three-metre steps marking the gradient of the distant shaft edges.

‘The servitors were programmed to mine progressively outwards in an even pattern, stabilising the pit at regular intervals with those diagonal columns,’ said Sebastian, indicating the crisscrossed girders of black iron. Markius shuddered, but was unsure why. Astartes were bio-engineered to withstand extreme temperatures, and his implanted multi-lung had automatically tensed to filter more oxygen. Yet, if Celestine City had been disturbingly tranquil, it was a pure, stagnant silence here.

‘It seems the even pattern had been disrupted,’ said Sören. The beam of his luminator highlighted a section of the shaft that had apparently survived the relentless excavations of the miners, forming a stepped bluff that butted in from the side of the chasm.

‘What’s that, eh?’ said Rasmus, focusing his beam on the centre of the bulge.

‘That looks like a tunnel,’ said Markius.


* * *



‘YOUR MISSING SERVITORS?’ Sören discovered the metal carcasses at the mouth of the passage. Sebastian nodded, his breath hissing from the rebreather. Markius crouched beside the golden-haired apothecary as he played his flashlight over the wrecked cybernetic constructs.

‘What do you think?’

‘Physical trauma, but not caused by falling blocks or malfunction. Something has ripped that arm right off – and the chest of this one has caved in as if punched by a battering ram.’

‘Look at that.’

‘Oh,’ Sören rubbed his angular chin. ‘That wound could have been caused by the same weapon that made the runes.’

‘A multimelta?’ Borias chimed in.

‘I am starting to doubt it is even that, Brother Borias.’ Sören stood. ‘Something we have not seen before… something very advanced.’

They peered down the tunnel. A perfect square channel, nine metres tall and wide, led to blackness. Weapons ready, the Astartes led Miriam and Sebastian into the unknown. After ninety-nine metres, it ended in a sheer flat wall.

‘What now, eh?’ growled Rasmus as the party turned luminator beams on their own faces. Markius noted the haunted look had returned to his hulking friend, and his own unease was deepening. The inquisitor’s strangely cryptic presaging coupled with the utter silence and still no sign of whatever they were looking for worried him.

Borias rapped his gauntlet on the wall.

‘I think it might be just a membrane – thin.’

‘And it looks to me as if the molecules were melted, like the symbols on the statue,’ Sören nodded. Markius glanced at the multimelta carried by the devastator marine.

‘Alright, let us try to break through.’

The party retreated a safe distance while Borias adjusted the settings of his arcane device, then trained it upon the wall. The multimelta worked slowly at first, a low hiss emanating from its wide barrel. But the relic weapon soon built up in intensity, the hiss rising into a dragon’s roar, and a beam of blinding fusion energy stabbed into the barrier. Markius watched as the fantastic energies melted the molecules of the magslate, a gradually widening disc turning white-hot. Finally, blobs of the molten substance dripped down, revealing more darkness beyond.

‘I told you it was only thin!’ Borias grinned over his shoulder. He continued working, delicately controlling the multimelta to widen the breach in the wall, until a portal large enough to admit Astartes had been scoured. He reverently shut down the ancient weapon’s beam, then whispered the deactivation rites.

‘Always the right tool for the mission,’ he patted the multimelta with affection.

They passed through, avoiding the still-glowing edges of the cut, and then were hushed by the sight beyond. Another chasm greeted them, but this was spherical, so that the magslate roof could dimly be seen far above their heads, with the luminators switched to full intensity. The regular three-metre steps rose all around them. Markius whistled. The chasm had to be three kilometres across.

He paused.

‘Brother Borias, have you fully deactivated the multimelta?’

‘Yes. That is not me.’

‘What is it, Brother Markius?’ said Miriam through the rebreather.

‘Something is… hissing.’


* * *



‘COMBAT FORMATION, BROTHERS,’ Markius said. The marines marched into pattern then advanced fearlessly into the darkness, placing themselves between the unknown and their human charges.

‘That way,’ Sören gestured beyond Rasmus to their right flank, his head cocked to one side. Their luminators now fixed to the barrels of their bolt weapons, beams of light quested into the shadows.

‘What the Throne?’ said Markius.

At first it appeared as if the floor of the chasm was moving, but the light beams revealed the rippling motion to be hundreds of… things. They resembled huge beetles, each as big as an Astartes gauntlet, and their metallic carapaces shone silver in the luminator beams. Their eyes glowed like emeralds, and the rustling of thousands of metallic legs susurrated through the darkness.

Rasmus opened fire, the report of his boltpistol momentarily deafening as it shattered the tranquility of the vast chamber. The nearest of the robot-insects exploded where the round struck the scuttling carpet, but the swarm only increased its pace in response. They scrabbled directly for the Kill-team, and some even lifted into flight upon invisible wings of energy.

Rasmus fired again, as did Markius and Sören. The bolt rounds destroyed pairs or threes of the scarabs, but hardly dented the swarm. Markius checked the specialist multi-chambered magazine of his bolter and exchanged a look with Sören.

‘We do not have enough metal storms, and vengeance rounds will not be effective,’ said the apothecary. Some of the flying scarabs had reached Rasmus, and he swung his power-axe angrily, swatting them out of the air then stamping on them with his bionic leg. Markius’s eyes widened as one of the creatures attached itself to the ceramite greave of his other leg and tiny fangs of emerald energy began cutting into the armour, before the hulking marine smashed it away. They all looked at Borias.

‘Throne damn it!’ he clutched his bullet-smooth head, ‘I left a heavy flamer back on the ‘hawk!’

‘Stand aside, My Lords,’ said a severe voice, and Markius turned to witness Sister Miriam advancing with her cane held before her, like a thrusting spear. The marines barely had time to dive aside as Miriam thumbed a switch and a roaring cone of flame erupted from the end of her cane. The chamber was lit up by the inferno, and the flames engulfed the chittering swarm of scarabs.

They died with electronic shrieks, their carapace bodies popping like chestnuts on a winter fire. After thirty seconds, the flames sputtered and died, and darkness and silence once more enveloped the chamber. Markius stared at Sister Miriam.

‘I thought you had disavowed the carrying of weapons!’

She shrugged. ‘I have become a pragmatist. But I’m afraid this had only one charge.’

Sebastian appeared at her side, his face a picture of horror.

‘What in the galaxy were those things?’

‘They are designated scarabs,’ said Sören. ‘Necron constructs.’

‘Necrons… can it be true?’ breathed Markius.

‘What xenos blasphemies have come to my beautiful Josephina?’ said Miriam. Sören threw her a thoughtful look.

‘I think this planet is not what it seems. My suspicions were aroused when you mentioned that it was ancient – but this system’s position on the galactic spiral arm would actually suggest a much younger geological age.’

‘Josephina’s star is dying,’ protested Miriam.

‘Correct. That, too, is an anomaly,’ Sören reached for his dataslate. ‘But the other five planets of this system are geologically young and unstable. I can only guess that some unknown force has artificially aged the sun – sucked out its energy.’

‘That is truly interesting, Scholar,’ Borias cut in. ‘But I think we had better get out of here and regroup.’

A whispering wind ghosted through the chasm; something out there in the dark had been disturbed.

‘I agree,’ said Markius. He led them back down the corridor towards the mining shaft at double pace, fuming. What secrets had the damned inquisitor kept from him this time? They were chased by the sounds of more susurrating scarabs mustering in the spherical chamber behind them, and increased to a run.

When they burst back into the mining shaft a fork of emerald lightning lanced out of the darkness.

‘Watch out!’ Markius called, and the Deathwatch marines dived, once more avoiding by a narrow margin as the energy beam smashed into the magslate at the mouth of the tunnel, flinging glowing chips of the crystal in all directions. Markius made sure the two mortals were back in the cover of the tunnel, then turned his flashlight into the gloom and his breath caught.

As large as a battle tank, a massive construct hovered above the chasm floor, eight gigantic limbs dangling below its arachnoid carapace. Twelve green-glowing eyes peered at them from its armoured, bulbous head. A segmented tail reared above its body, like a scorpion’s tail about to strike, and an angular jewel glowed at its tip.

‘Cover!’ called Markius and the marines scattered as another rippling stream of emerald energy raked their positions from the jewel-lance. Sören sheltered behind a cube that jutted from the chasm floor while Borias dropped into a nine-metre long trench. Markius returned fire, his bolter roaring and expelling mass-reactive missiles at the robotic monster.

The rounds punched into the silvery armour of the beast, before exploding and ripping out smoking chunks. But then more of the scarabs swarmed over the damaged areas. Before Markius’s incredulous eyes, the scarabs knitted the metal back together with energy beams from their heads, the silvery substance of the carapace temporarily flowing like mercury. He switched to armour-piercing vengeance rounds and raised his bolter to his shoulder, trying to identify a vital spot on the beast to target.

Rasmus flashed across the sights of his targeter, power-axe swinging, and Markius lowered his weapon with a curse. The big marine leapt and the weighty wedge of his energised weapon carved into one of the arachnoid’s limbs. The monstrous robot tilted in the air, disturbed by the blow, as Rasmus landed heavily below it. He had cut the end off one of the limbs.

The monster screamed, a deafening electronic shriek that filled the chasm and punished their ears. The high-pitched call ululated through the shadows. From somewhere ghostly green light bathed the chasm in reply, and Markius gasped again. Revealed by the luminescence or perhaps even creating it, hundreds of runes shone upon the magslate cubes that formed the walls of the shaft.

‘Oh, Holy Throne,’ he said.

Oval portals began glowing upon the faces of the cubes, as if the molecules were melting again, until the substance vanished to reveal dark recesses within each one. Markius peered at the nearest cube. A chilling skeletal figure stomped forwards, gleaming silver in the green light. Eyes like emeralds smouldered in its xenos skull.

A necron warrior.

The skeletoid raised an ancient rifle in its claws, peering at it as if struggling to recall how to use it, then its baleful glare swept across the chasm. The gaze settled on the marine invaders, eternal hatred burning in its eye-orbs.

‘To the elevator,’ Markius voxed. He clicked again, but heard nothing. It did not seem to be operating, so he repeated the order with a shout.

Rasmus was dueling with the huge arachnoid hovering above him, fending off battering punches from its limbs. Markius advanced towards him, Sören leaving his hiding point to flank his advance. They prepared to fire, keeping their aim well away from their fellow Astartes. Markius was now aware of hundreds of the skeletoids emerging from the cubes all around the chasm and realised the spider-robot had awakened them.

‘Keep clear!’ called Borias, and they paused.

From the trench where the devastator marine had ducked into, a familiar hiss rose into an infernal scream, and the multimelta’s beam drove into the head of the hovering arachnoid. For several moments the energies of the fusion weapon competed with the arcane xenos armour of the monster, and then it burst apart with a spectacular explosion.

‘The right tool, et cetera,’ Borias said, clambering out of the trench to join the others. ‘Let’s go!’

Markius noted several chunks of the exploded arachnoid that had landed at his feet were once again turning liquid and vibrating, as if preparing to self-repair. He turned back to Miriam and Sebastian, still hiding within the tunnel.

‘Move!’

Circling Miriam and Sebastian in a protective cordon, the marines hustled across the chasm floor. They were slowed by the humans as they laboured under the thermal capes and rebreathers. Then the first shots were fired by the awakened necron warriors. Rippling lances of green energy impacted around them, tearing smoking wounds from the magslate. Markius’s eyes widened as he understood the incredible power of the xenos rifles. They matched the multimelta in potency.

‘KT Talon to Thunder One,’ he voxed. There was no reply.

‘Scholar, I cannot raise Brother Lars. Can you?’

‘Nothing,’ said the apothecary. ‘Something has blocked the vox.’

Markius cursed his earlier bravado. No-one knew they were down here.

Markius and Sören alternated stopping and snapping off bursts of covering fire as the party retreated towards the elevator. The skeletoids were advancing towards them from all directions now, climbing down to the chasm floor and forming into disconcertingly regular phalanxes. They marched in lockstep, each individual identical to the one next to it, in complete and ominous silence. The front ranks raised their rifles.

‘Incoming!’ Markius said. ‘Keep moving.’

Emerald streams of molecular-flensing energy flashed back and forth across the chasm. One beam brushed Sören’s shoulder plastron and disintegrated the ceramite in moments. He peered at the damage.

‘Are you alright?’ said Markius.

‘It is most curious, but this is no time for analysis!’ said the handsome apothecary. They ran, urging the struggling humans to keep up with them.

From the shadows a phalanx of xenos skeletons loomed, barring their path. Without hesitation Rasmus growled and charged, his power-axe trailing a crackling corona of light. Markius drew his ancient powersword, Salvator, and rushed to his side.

The skeletal warriors were slow to bring their long-barreled rifles to bear, perhaps sluggish after their eons-long slumber, and the two Deathwatch marines ploughed into their ranks, smashing and slicing with their power weapons. Necron warriors crashed to the ground, beheaded or disemboweled, emerald eyes still glowing in silver skulls. Sören and Borias shepherded the humans into the wedge and together the group fought its way towards the elevator.

The necrons may have been slow, but they pursued with implacable order, encircling the marines with their numbers. Markius was forced to parry inhumanly strong strikes from monomolecular halberd blades mounted upon the rifle barrels.

Miriam gasped and pointed and Markius followed her trembling finger. One of the fallen skeletoids was self-repairing before their eyes, the living metal flowing to replace damaged parts. Borias placed his sidearm boltpistol at the juddering robot’s head and blew it away. Markius glanced around; more of the fallen xenos seemed to be reconstructing and standing to rejoin their ranks once more.

‘Oho. I am thinking the plan to call for back-up is not so bad after all,’ said Borias.

‘It is too late now! There is some sort of comms shroud down here,’ said Markius.

Sebastian screamed.

They turned in time to witness the young priest writhing in a gauss energy beam. In moments his body was flensed of the protective garments, then the skin and viscera, until his black skeleton disintegrated into nothingness.

Markius did not have time even to curse. Salvator diving, power-axe cleaving, and bolt-weapons booming, they battled their way through the surrounding zombie-robots and broke into a run.

They reached the elevator shed and slammed in. Borias punched the button even as Rasmus physically lifted Miriam into his protective embrace. The sister superior shivered, in shock. The lift bounced upwards with frightening speed, the suspensors shoved into reverse, and the marines only just mag-locked in time to prevent themselves being flattened to the grilled floor.

‘KT Talon to Thunder One,’ Markius tried to vox again. Nothing.

‘How?’ Miriam cried over the racket of the velocity, weeping. ‘How did they get here? Oh, poor poor Sebastian!’

‘I think they have always been here,’ said Sören. He, too, had to speak loudly over the noise. ‘I did not see it at first, as Josephina was not called such at the time.’

Markius looked at him.

‘When first discovered, the explorators designated it Barrous-Gamma-2137. The tech-priest, Magos Barrous, noted the anomalous age and theorised that this was not a planet at all: He thought it might be an artificial construction placed in the system.’

‘That is a blasphemy, long expunged from records!’ said Miriam.

‘And yet now we see the reality. I am sorry, Sister Superior, but there has been a desecration after all. And we are the desecrators!’

‘What?’ said Markius.

‘Those magslate cubes are not crystals,’ said the apothecary. ‘They are tombs! Brother Rasmus was right. We have disturbed the resting place of ancient xenos spirits. That arachnoid was defending them from our excavations.’

‘But they were not ghosts,’ said Miriam, shaking her head. ‘They were alive!’

‘No,’ said Sören. ‘Not alive. They are necrons.’


* * *



‘THIS HORROR IS beyond me,’ Miriam said, strapped into a grav-seat in the passenger hold of the thunderhawk. ‘Are they ghosts or are they machines?’

‘Perhaps it is better you do not understand,’ said Sören. ‘The technologies of the necrons are considered heretical impossibilities.’

The engines of the gunship strained in the thin atmosphere of Josephina as Brother Lars headed for orbit. Sören left the side of the distraught sister superior and took a seat beside Markius.

‘There were more of the marked cubes in the statue of the Primarch.’

Markius nodded gravely. ‘Ten thousand individual names.’

Brother Lars’ voice hissed in the vox-control mounted on the deck wall between them. ‘Kill-team Leader Markius, I have a hail for you. It is… the Vigilance.’

‘The Vigilance?’ Markius turned and twisted to peer through a window port. The sleek outline of a Deathwatch battle cruiser lurked in the void. He took up the vox-caster.

‘This is Talon Actual, receiving.’

‘This is the Vigilance. We have you plotted on our augers.’

It was the voice of Captain Lucius Augustus, the flamboyant officer of the Praetors of Orpheus chapter.

‘Where is our transport?’ voxed Markius.

‘Evacuated, when the comms shroud was detected. Please report, Kill-team Leader.’

‘Necrons,’ Markius said simply. ‘Thousands of them.’

He detected a sigh at the other end of the vox circuit.

‘Acknowledged. Come on to us, we will take it from here.’

Markius thought for a moment.

‘Is Inquisitor Zharn with you, Captain?’

A pause at the other end, then a rich patrician voice, ‘I am here, Brother Markius.’

‘You knew about this?’

‘I prayed that I was wrong, Brother Markius, but the symbol transmitted to me by Sister Miriam did raise the most terrible suspicion.’

‘And yet you sent in only the Black Shields?’

‘I had to be sure before acting openly. I am sorry, Brother Markius, but as you know relations are not… warm… between the Ordo Xenos and the Ecclesiarchy. I needed someone I knew would not be tempted to break cover and contact them. This is a shrine world, after all.’

Markius shook his head, annoyed that he had acted exactly as expected by the inquisitor.

‘What suspicions?’

‘The Ordo Spartus had been warned a long time ago that a necron tomb-world was hidden somewhere within the sector. We have been searching for centuries.’

‘Warned? By whom?’

‘That is not important now. We have finally found it. The long-threatened war has begun.’

‘What will happen to Josephina?’

‘The necrons are an implacable foe, Brother Markius. If we are to strike first, we must be decisive,’ Zharn sounded sad.

‘It is to be exterminatus, then,’ said Markius.

‘No!’ Miriam appeared at his side and tried vainly to wrestle the vox-caster from his grasp. ‘We have spent millennia building something pure and good here! All will be destroyed! There are hundreds of thousands of innocents on the surface.’

‘It is too late,’ Sören gently restrained her and sighed. He gestured to the portal, where the flickering trails of rockets could dimly be seen spitting from the black silhouette of the Vigilance. ‘The cyclonic missiles have already been launched.’

‘Look,’ said Borias, peering from another porthole. ‘You can see the Primarch statue from up here.’

The marines gathered on his side of the passenger deck. Miriam slumped into a grav-seat with a howl. Markius looked at her.

‘I cannot… I cannot witness this desecration.’


THE END


.
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Re: Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby Skeats » Sun Nov 04, 2012 12:35 am

I'm usually one to seek out flaws as much as what is good to better criticise someone's work and raise attention to where there can be improvement, but I'm having a hard time finding a flaw ;) It's an all round good story. Nicely paced to begin with, pulling the reader along a tale of intrigue and then jumping to fifth gear when the source of the mystery was uncovered. And a unique twist on perception of who is the desecrater, on two levels!

I would have liked to know what chapters the Astartes hailed from, but that's just me and not particularly integral to the story. And again, simply my preference, but I did find Rasmus' "eh?" at the end of every sentence a little irritating. But regardless, great stuff!

S
"You fight alone, you'll die alone. But if you fight by brothers, you'll live forever"
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Re: Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:36 am

Hi Skeats! Wonderful! A reader! :D

Thanks for your kind words. I hear you on Rasmus's rather limited vocabulary.

If you are are serious about wanting to know what chapter these Astartes come from, you can find out all about it in this story: viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901 ('BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS')

Best regards, (and I will try to find one of your stories to read and return the favour ;) )

K.
kurisawa
 
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Re: Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby Skeats » Sun Nov 11, 2012 5:23 pm

Great, I'll get reading then!

I've only posted the one short story, which was a little over a month ago, it's called Skalathrax: Ice and Fire.
"You fight alone, you'll die alone. But if you fight by brothers, you'll live forever"
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Re: Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby Anne Marie » Mon Nov 12, 2012 4:18 am

This Deathwatch squad has a lot of personality with each character's traits coming through clearly. It's what I always notice about your writing; you define each individual. Borias' love for fire places a good dose of humour in the story while Soren's scholar/healer attitude balances the rest of the team.

Like Skeats, I'd like to know which Chapters each marine came from. Having said that, I'm going to be reading your other Black Shields stories to follow along with this group.
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Re: Desecration (deathwatch short story, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Wed Dec 19, 2012 12:21 am

Gah! Anne, I ddn't reply to you. Sorry. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. The defined individuals comment is particularly heartening, as that was one of the main objectives in creating the Black Shields. A sort of Mission: Impossible I set myself. :lol:


K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
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