I've been writing a narrative of a Dark Heresy campaign I've been taking part in. Part one is here. This is part 4. I think it's pretty exciting. I hope you do too. Please let me know if you have any feedback, constructive or otherwise.
“Clear here.” Althea yelled.
“Clear.” She heard Lazarus yell. She was glad that he had been running rearguard. She had heard shooting from behind as she and Gus had charged forward. If they had been surprised from behind… she preferred not to think about it.
Oh cut, Gus! She turned around and saw Doc Geryk hovering over Gus’ prone form. “How is he?”
“Administering adrenolada. Will then follow up with sterasiphon to stabilize.”
“Oh,” he stammered. “Give me a few minutes. He will be mobile.”
She was pretty sure that Gus had taken most of a clip of an autogun in his chest. She had seen bigger men than Gus fall and never get up after that. But if Doc said he was getting up, well, we’ve each got our strengths.
|Our heroes run into brutes. This is right before this report starts (and right before Gus takes a full clip to the chest).|
Although she had fought many different xenos and pirates in the navy, she had never seen the like of these cruel things.
Some of them looked like regular men; others had large bulbous heads. They generally looked… scrappy. Just men. Scrappy, dirty men. Hard men.
She looked down at the corpse below her. It was inhuman, huge. The monster had stood two and a half metres when it was still walking. Thick corded muscle stretched across its broad form. It had three arms.
Lazarus walked up to it and kicked it. “There are some pretty big claws here. Think this is it?”
“Naw.” Althea shook her head. “The fop said four arms. And somehow I think he’ll know these aren’t the claws he wants.”
Lazarus shrugged. “Just seems like we might be risking bullets unnecessarily here, is all.”
“We’re doing the work of the Emperor!” Althea heard Gus’ voice float from further down the hall. “I would risk many more bullets to spread His cleansing flame!”
Doc is a miracle worker. “Gus, how you doing?”
“I can walk. Thank the light of the Emperor for the Doc.” Gus tossed aside his ruin of a flak vest.
“Good. Let’s get this four-armed dog and get out of here.”
“Perchance you may regret wishing to meet it,” muttered Doc Geryk. “These xenos make Halerian pit hounds look like plain noodles.”
“Doc, if we didn’t want to find one, we shouldn’t have bothered to come.” Althea said, resignedly. “Let’s go hunt ourselves a claw.”
But inside, her sinking feeling was getting worse. She had seen a Halerian pit hound once. It had been as big as a groundcar.
A few corridors later, they found themselves on a ledge in a large cavern. They couldn’t see the floor past their ledge – or the ceiling. The ledge extended to both the left and right. There was a thick, acrid flavour to the air. It didn’t feel like air from the outside. She flashed back to the slack hoses of their recent enemies’ rebreathers, and clutched her own.
Gus had promised that he could smell corruption from their right. Althea chuckled inwardly, but lacking a better direction, Althea led them to the right.
They moved slowly to avoid detection. After a time, Lazarus halted them. “Movement behind us.”
They took positions behind cover and Lazarus took out his sniper rifle. He took a look down the scope. “At least five of them. Autoguns.”
He continued in a few more heartbeats. “Thoughts?”
Althea considered it a moment. “Gus and I have shotguns. Doc has a pistol. You’re the only one with range. Let them get a bit closer before surprising them.”
Lazarus nodded. They sat there for what seemed like forever before Lazarus’ rifle cracked. “Target down. There are more now. Maybe eight/ten.”
Althea frowned. She didn’t like these odds.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Gunshots tore chunks out of the masonry near Lazarus’ head. He ducked under the hail of bullets but she heard him grunt. He’d been hit with something.
She hid and listened in between the gunshots until she could hear their feet pounding just around the corner. She unhooked a frag grenade, pulled the pin and swung it around the corner. She heard the explosion accompanied by screams of pain. They clearly hadn’t been expecting someone that close.
She hefted her shotgun and jumped around the corner. She saw a few bodies but didn’t have time to count them. She squeezed off a few shots and saw one of the leading figures stumble. One of the others raised his weapon and she leapt back as a swarm of bullets filled the air where she used to be.
She heard the boom of Gus’ combat shotgun and the cracks of Doc’s and Lazarus’ las weapons. She heard screams from the cultists in front of her. She threw another grenade around the corner and followed through with her shotgun, taking out a few more cultists. She thought there were maybe only five left. It looked like they were going to pull through.
She ducked back again and heard Lazarus yelling. “More of them. Behind us!”
“How many?” She yelled.
|Althea sends Gus to help the others.|
“Don’t know. I see three arms. I think they’re the fast ones, not the big ones.”
“Gus,” she yelled, “Go help them.”
“There are too many here!” He yelled.
“It’s worse behind us. Go!” She responded. He looked at her.
“I’ll be fine!”
Gus scampered to the other end of their beleaguered last stand. Truthfully, she didn’t know that she could hold off all of these guys by herself, but things were looking grim and she thought they were going to need to take risks.
She picked her last grenade off her vest (cutting Olivia couldn’t even get me enough grenades) and tossed it around the corner. She waited for the explosion and then barrelled around the corner with her shotgun held high.
Five men stood there staring at her. Nonchalant, their heads turned in unison to address her. A few of them even had grins on their misshapen faces. They must have kicked the cutting grenade down the hall. Too cutting predictable!
She leapt backwards just as their bullets tore through the space where she had been moments earlier.
This is bad. She lifted her shotgun, ready to blow off whichever head peeked around the corner first. Should’ve kept Gus here with me…
She heard a stamp next to her and turned to see a huge four limbed monster land nimbly on the deck. It was hunched, but it would have been half again as tall as Althea if stretched to its full length. Two of its arms ended in large hands, with vicious claws. The other two arms were tipped with more claws, each as long as her forearm. As Althea watched it, its large bulbous head swivelled towards her, a long tongue snaking out between sharp teeth. She could see a gaping intelligence glittering in its eyes.
Althea had assumed that the ledge was impassable, but it must not be impassible for creatures like this. Smart.
She started to raise her gun but was immediately slammed from her feet. Her brain slowly registered the boom of a shotgun followed quickly by pain – flowing, serpentine pain. Those goons had taken advantage of her brief distraction and had come around the corner with guns blazing.
She flew through the air and landed in a heap on the ground. She looked up at the goons who had shot her and saw one of them smile with filth encrusted teeth. He raised his shotgun.
Then his head promptly disappeared. The others turned down the corridor they had come from, their attention immediately drawn away. Their guns started blazing.
Althea slowly turned her head and saw the genestealer start to stalk towards the others.
“Lazarus! Gus! Doc! It’s here!” She yelled. Or at least, she had intended to yell. Instead only a quiet croak had emerged and none of them had heard over the sounds of guns.
Her vision was starting to fade. She would only have one more chance. She gathered all of her energy and tried one last time, picking the man closest to the beast – “Lazo!” She hadn’t been much louder, but she was luckier and her voice had fallen in between gunshots. Lazarus turned his head and saw the beast as it leapt towards him. He didn’t have enough time to bring up his gun, but the warning had given him enough time to fall awkwardly on his ass allowing him to narrowly avoid the grasping claws.
Her vision faded to black.
“This should help you feel better.”
Althea heard Doc’s voice coming from somewhere in the distance. She felt a brief pain in her arm.
“Please note though - you’re not actually better, you’re only feeling better. So try not to push it too much, or you’ll have hell to pay later. Again.”
Doc’s face came into focus above her own. His warm concern for a fallen comrade was familiar now. He was right. She was starting to feel better.
“How is everyone?”
“None of us are untouched, but you undoubtedly took the worse of it.”
“We killed the monster?”
“Yes, my trusty bolt pistol slew it. Although we never would have survived without Ceres and Hippolyta.” Doc gestured over his shoulder to a pair of newcomers talking with Lazarus and Gus. “Say hello to our new friends.” A pair of women greeted her.
“Who are they?”
“They claim they’re here on behalf of the xenos.”
“Ahhh. Help me up.”
Althea limped over to them, favouring her left leg. Ceres looked … dorky. She was tall and thin with a large nose. But her most notable feature was her giant mop of hair. It had been cut to neatly frame her face, but the effect reminded Althea more of a lander’s cockpit was framed by the rest of the craft. She must be an off-worlder. Althea had been on Pickman for months and not seen anyone affecting that style. She walked with a dancer’s grace and exuded confidence that was thrown in disarray by her strange drab garments.
Hippolyta, much shorter, looked dangerous. Dressed in matte black, she was compact and confident, with a sword slung over her back and a large bulpup autogun hanging from her belt. Her apparent strength seemed odd also, compared with her grey hair and the clear weathering of her skin. Althea would have to watch out for this one.
“I hear we have you to thank for being alive,” Althea said.
“Not so,” Ceres responded, smiling. “Your team fought well. We very nearly did not need to intervene at all.”
“Need to intervene? You mean, you were watching us?”
“Yes. The Watcher sent us to ensure that you acquitted yourself as promised.”
Althea felt her blood starting to boil. “Why didn’t you help earlier? We barely survived as long as we did.”
“Our mission was to assess your worth. If you seemed useful, but were threatened, we had license to step in.”
“If you had intervened a little earlier, I might still be in one piece.” Althea gestured down at her body – her flak armour was covered in blood.
“We are not your caretakers. Should you not have proved your worth, we would have let you perish.”
Hippolyta spoke up. “We should make haste. More will come soon.”
“Good to know.” Althea said to Ceres. She looked over at Gus, who had just finished tying the purestrain’s two clawed hands to his belt. It looked as if he had taken them off at the wrist with a chainsword. The front of his tunic was covered in blue ichor.
He smiled. “This is an auspicious day. The Emperor smiles upon us.”
“Hippolyta is correct. We should leave.” Doc said, sucking hard on his rebreather.
They fell in behind Hippolyta and walked out.
Gus fell into step beside her. “You sent me back to go help Doc and Lazarus.”
“Yes. Those three-arms are more powerful than the thugs I was facing.”
“You nearly died.”
“We had to take risks.”
“Althea, you nearly died and our flank collapsed.” Althea started to protest but he continued. “It would have, if those two newcomers hadn’t come. Then we would have been cut up.” He said, using her slang against her. That shut her up.
“We generally let you call the shots, but you’re not invincible and you need to do better. Not everything moves like a man, these things always know how to get behind us. I’m glad you survived. Glad we all survived.”
They walked back to the cutter in silence.
They made it to the lander without further incident and packed into the cargo hold. Ceres and Hippolyta climbed into the front next to a Sunguard pilot. Althea wasn’t quite used to the Sunguard tabs yet, but he looked like a lieutenant at least.
Hippolyta walked into the hold and placed a box on the floor. She removed the lid and they saw a touchstone. An image of the eldar xenos shimmered into being above the stone.
“I’m told that you did an excellent job.”
“Couldn’t do it without your henchmen,” Lazarus muttered. Apparently not quiet enough for the xenos to miss it.
“We manage the lairs, and occasionally they get big enough that we need to cull them. You should not feel ashamed – this lair was long overdue for a culling.” He responded.
“You ‘manage’ them?” Doc asked.
“Yes, we will use them in our fight against the Great Devourer.”
“It is beyond your ken. Just know that they must not be too weak, nor too strong. So we cull periodically. You did an excellent job on this culling. Your first culling.”
“And what do the bloodwraiths have to do with them?”
“Our pets are a separate matter. They must be protected, as they protect us. You will see in time.”
“What now?” Lazarus asked.
“You have proven your worth. Now we move forward.” The xenos’ image shimmered and then disappeared.
Lazarus leaned forward and yelled into the cockpit. “How long until we get back to the safehouse?”
“We will not be going to your safehouse.” Ceres responded.
“We must go back, my research is there.” Doc protested.
“The safehouse was burnt down. There is nothing left to go to.”
“By the light of the Emperor.” Doc leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes.
“We are taking you to the eldar.”
Althea’s stomach tied itself into knots. I cannot let them put us on the wrong side of the Vox.
Althea leaned forward, “Your xenos made us a deal. We would torch a nest and bring him back a claw, and he wouldn’t turn our hideout into a warzone. He’s breaking his end of the bargain.”
“The deal was that he would not kill you. Your lodgings were not included.”
Althea conceded the point. This Ceres sounded like a magistrate and that wasn’t a line of reasoning that she was going to win. It was worth a shot. “Regardless, the deal did not include our eternal fealty. Take us to Olivia.”
The others looked up at her. Lazarus, the only one on her side of the hold, leaned in and whispered “What do they know about her?”
She waved him quiet. It was a good question though. She knew they knew of Olivia, since the xenos had mentioned her by name. But she was gambling that they knew much more.
“Why would we do that?” Jackpot.
“Why does your master want us?”
“I’m the one asking the questions here.” Althea couldn’t see Ceres, but she could hear the annoyance creep into her voice. She was used to being obeyed.
“Fine, I’ll spell it out,” she said, unafraid that she might be making an enemy. “Your master wants us because he wants allies in his war. We’re just four soldiers. If he wants allies, he wants our boss on his side.”
“Let us talk to Olivia and we’ll get her, and our boss, onside.” She was met with silence from the cockpit.
“You think you can do that?”
The others looked at her searchingly. “Yes,” she said. Truthfully, she had no idea. But she knew that it was their only chance to keep the vox on their side.
“Sure enough that you’ll kill Olivia if she won’t agree?”
She looked around the cargo hold and the others were staring at her. Gus’ mouth was hanging open (although he had really taken a beating, so he might just be out of it). She pointed at herself, as if to say “I’ve got this.” She hoped Gus trusted her to make the right decision they would have to follow her lead if this was going to work out. The last thing I need is one of them to play hero.
Then she leaned back and closed her eyes. She felt their eyes on her, but she did her best to ignore it. She started to count her breathing the way she used to before a big race.
The Sunguard Lieutenant led them to a hab in what seemed to be a good block. It seemed Olivia did well enough for herself. He knocked on the door.
The door slid open. Olivia’s eyebrows rose as she scanned their motley crew and the Lieutenant, who she clearly recognized. Althea thought she recognized the look on Olivia’s face. It reminded her of prey who was trying to figure out if it should bolt or if maybe, if it stayed still enough, the predator wouldn’t see it.
“Please come in. Armand, good to see you. Doc, Lazarus, Gus,” she said. “Althea.”
Althea had to hand it to her, she was handling it well. She led them into her hab and offered them some caffeine, as if this house visit was the most normal thing in the world.
“So, I went by the … flat.” Olivia ventured. “What happened?”
The men turned and looked at Althea. Typical.
“I think Armand should explain that.” Althea said.
“Arson.” Armand said around a cookie he had stolen from one of the cupboards. Huh. He looks quite at home.
“We left it whole and thought we would be going back to it,” Althea said.
Olivia’s eyes narrowed at her. “Did you?”
“What do you want?” Olivia looked angry.
“We need to speak to the Voice.”
Now Olivia looked angry and scared. But she didn’t respond.
Lazarus responded to the unspoken challenge. “They already knew where to find you, Olivia. We didn’t lead them here, they led us here.” Thank you Lazarus.
“We need to speak to him. Their boss,” Althea indicated Ceres, Hippolyta and Armand, “has some information the Vox needs to know.”
“You can tell me.”
“Look Olivia, I know you don’t like me.” Althea said. “But their boss has information on this Great Devourer. Apparently it’s coming. Now I know my place, and I get the sense that this is big information. Much bigger than me, and much bigger than you. The type of information that the Voice needs to hear. This can only be the Voice’s decision. Not mine and not yours.”
Olivia stared at her and the dislike in her eyes was unmistakable. It was clear her life had just been flipped upside down and it appeared that she blamed Althea for it. Althea would have felt bad for her if she wasn’t such a cutting tool.
“I’d bet my reputation on it.”
“Reputation?” Olivia spat. “You’d be betting both of our lives on it.” She was silent a moment longer.
“I’ll arrange a meeting.”