-IceMan-

Grim Twilight of the Distant Future: Chapter 3

Sep 30th, 2016
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  1. Grim Twilight of the Distant Future
  2. By IceMan
  3.  
  4. Chapter 3: Inquisitions
  5.  
  6. >With the rest of the regiment pulled to the front, your defenses held against the onslaught of heretics that came for the next six hours.
  7. >Their defenses turned against them, you set up firing lanes and killing zones for layer upon layer of heavy bolters and lasguns, leaving piles of bodies among the fields.
  8. >The assault continued until the late evening, when, either by the darkening skies or lack of remaining troops, the attacks abated.
  9. >The pungent stench of gunpowder and blood-soaked earth stains the air.
  10. >A few medivacs had made it to the front line to haul away the dead.
  11. >Unfortunately, they had yet to reach your section of the line, so as you sat on an overturned barrel to use as a makeshift chair for a meal of tinned rations, you were accompanied by the hole-riddled corpse of one of your compatriots.
  12. >Surrounded by the wreckage of one of the enemy’s heavy guns, techpriest Scintillula gazes quizzically at the blasted hole remaining from the weapon’s destruction.
  13. >“Commissar. It may be of some interest for you to see this,” Scintillula suddenly says.
  14. >You take a reprieve from the bland rations to uphold her request.
  15. “What is it, cogpriest?” you ask, heading over to the techpriest, currently staring at the ground with her head cocked curiously to one side.
  16. >“Some sort of black metal.”
  17. “You called me over here for black metal?” you ask, frowning.
  18. >“No! Just - here.”
  19. >She stoops down and brushes some of the thick muck aside, revealing an indecipherable mark emitting a faint sickly green glow embedded in the onyx-colored surface.
  20. >Your finger twitches for your boltpistol.
  21. “Xenos,” you mutter, before regaining your composure.
  22. >Training quickly kicks in.
  23. “I need to vox the Lord Commissar. Scintillula, with me.”
  24. >“I assure you there is not much more information that I could give by coming with you. I had really better study these markings. They may be important to -”
  25. “You’re coming with me, and that’s final.”
  26. >She says nothing more.
  27. >You grab a voxcaster from the befuddled operator, and punch the activation rune.
  28. >After a brief moment of static, Lustris Armis comes in over the line.
  29. >“Commissar Caelitum. What news from the front?”
  30. “The enemy has abated the attack for now. However, I come with… other news.”
  31. >“Tell me.”
  32. >You look around to see who might be listening; most of your men seem to be either resting or pre-occupied with other things.
  33. “We have found xenos markings beneath the floor of the trenches,” you say, lowering your voice.
  34. >“This is quite serious, Commissar,” Armis responds, after a short pause.
  35. “Indeed. Your orders?”
  36. >“I’m sending a Salamander over right away,” he says crisply and without hesitation. “I need you back at central command anyways. You will be debriefed.”
  37. “Very good, my lord. I shall see you promptly.”
  38. >You close the connection.
  39. “Be ready for transport,” you tell Scintillula. “We’re heading back to base.”
  40. >She looks somehow disappointed.
  41.  
  42. >The command base remains a few kilometers behind the lines, though some of the empty spaces have been filled with the shorter range quad launchers and heavy bolter emplacements where once rows of men stood in damp trenches.
  43. >The Salamander wheels you up to the motor pool, where its drivers quickly disembark to refuel the promethium tanks and perform what mechanical rites they have been taught.
  44. >You soon follow, Scintillula and a pair of silent Skitarii rangers following.
  45. >As the Skitarii were not exactly under your command, you had no choice but to let them come with you, though for what purpose Scintillula had elected to bring them you are uncertain.
  46. >A few enlisted men mill about or tend to their duties around the base, all non-combat personnel: couriers, vox operators, sanctioned mechanics, and the like.
  47. >A pair of men holding short lascarbines approach you.
  48. >“Commissar Caelitum. We have been instructed to escort you to the Lord Commissar’s tent,” one says.
  49. >You nod curtly.
  50. “Lead the way then. Don’t mind the cogpriests. They have taken some interest in my findings.”
  51. >“I’m sure the Lord Commissar will be interested in their advice,” the guardsman replies, disinterestedly.
  52. >Your merry band trudges across the muddy ground towards the central command post.
  53. >The few remaining Equestrian officers huddle around a holotable, studying battle positions with the Lord Commissar.
  54. >Most of their compatriots had died traitors in the opening phases of the invasion.
  55. >The Commissariat had quickly taken over once it was clear the entirety of the Equestrian’s high command had succumbed to Chaos, and now most of the Equestrian regiments were led by a commissar as opposed to a colonel.
  56. >The better to guarantee loyalty, the Munitorum had decreed, and desertion rates had certainly dropped, though that was possibly because most deserters were dying before they escaped the lines.
  57. >Lord Armis looks up from the hologram to address you.
  58. >“Commissar Caelitum. And Magos Scintillula. You have arrived,” he says.
  59. “Lord Commissar,” you say, saluting. “How is our tactical situation?”
  60. >Scintillula shifts to the rear of the tent, discussing something in binary with a lexmechanic.
  61. >“Tenable, but only just,” he says, switching to another battle view with a flick of his hand. “Which is acceptable. The other regiments were not so successful in their attacks. Obviously, Musculus’s cavalry was almost entirely annihilated in the initial assault. Only 15 survived. Similarly, the 107th and 59th Regiments were entirely destroyed.”
  62. “No thanks to our losses two days ago, I presume,” you say.
  63. >“That may have played a role, but I think a larger factor was their leaders’ incompetence. Leading company after company into a field of stubber fire with no artillery or smokescreen is pure foolishness. It is fortunate they had support from the 19th and 85th Regiments, or their objectives would not have been taken. Even so, the losses they took leave those areas unsecured, and they may fall in the morning....”
  64. “Could we reinforce them, my lord?” you ask.
  65. >“Perhaps. The questions is if we have enough reserves. I have held the 34th and 90th regiments back. Maybe it is time to send them to the front.”
  66. “The 34th and 90th are untested, my lord,” you say.
  67. >“If we strengthen those positions, the enemy is unlikely to attack there. They should not face the brunt of the fighting. All regiments must face their first trial by fire.”
  68. “Very well, my lord,” you relent.
  69. >“Now, tell me of these xenos markings,” the Lord Commissar says.
  70. “Perhaps it would best for Magos Scintillula to explain,” you reply.
  71. >The techpriest nods and, her two guards flanking her, comes to the center of the command tent, snaking a long wire into a port on the holotable.
  72. >The blue wireframe of the battlemap switches into a three-dimensional version of the carved rune.
  73. >“This is what we found,” she says. “Do you perhaps know what it is, Lord Commissar?”
  74. >Armis rubs his chin, scowling.
  75. >“I do. And if I am correct, we are all in grave danger.”
  76. >The officers around the tent suddenly perk up.
  77. >“Who here is below security level Omega-Nine? If you are, get out.”
  78. >A few men leave, along with the lexmechanic.
  79. “I have seen this symbol only once, and I am lucky to have escaped with my life,” the Lord Commissar begins. “We were fighting a battle on Astris XI. Orks. Suddenly, a mountain disappears in a flash of green light. We thought it might be some new Ork weapon, but they aren’t that clever. And they don’t have skeletal black robots that get up after you shoot them.”
  80. >Scintillula seems to shrink somewhat, and a sinking feeling fills your core.
  81. >You had heard rumors of such terrors, but had assumed them to be only that: rumors.
  82. “This,” Armis continues, “is a Necron rune. I have heard reports of such symbols being found on many planets near the Eye of Terror.”
  83. >“So what do we do about it?” someone asks.
  84. “We finish this campaign. We keep fighting. We hope they don’t wake up,” Armis says.
  85.  
  86. >It was raining when you exited the tent, fat wet droplets smacking your face and turning the already soft ground into a viscous soup of brown.
  87. >The same pair of guardsmen escort you to your quarters, a bivouac with a low cot and a desk set inside.
  88. >As you hang up your greatcoat, you notice the Lord Commissar standing in the entryway.
  89. “My lord!” you exclaim.
  90. >“I apologize, Commissar Caelitum. Did I frighten you?”
  91. “No, my lord. A commissar is never afraid.”
  92. >“Of course.”
  93. >He pauses.
  94. >“You realize, Commissar, that I would not simply call you back to base to discuss some minor xenos findings.”
  95. “No?”
  96. >“Well, assuredly evidence of a Necron presence on this planet is certainly more pressing than I thought, but so long as they stay unawakened it should be no trouble. As I said.”
  97. “Emperor will it.”
  98. >“Indeed. Regardless, I have new orders for you.”
  99. >He sets a large stack of papers on the desk.
  100. >A large Inquisitorial I emblazens the top.
  101. >Your spine goes straight as a rod.
  102. “What is this? Am I -”
  103. >“Did you think - no, of course not. If that were true, you would already be dead, you know that right?”
  104. >His jape does nothing to lighten the mood.
  105. >“A certain Inquisitor has taken an interest in capable soldiers for a behind the lines operation.”
  106. >There were always rumors of Inquisitors hanging about when the Great Enemy reared its fearsome multiple heads.
  107. >You had already heard whisperings amongst your troops that they were afraid of being taken in for a brief interrogation from which they might not return.
  108. >Such ideas almost always remained just rumors, but you were finding things that you thought would remain rumors were more frequently changing into realities.
  109. “My lord, are you not certain that I should remain with my -” you begin to say, but Armis cuts you off.
  110. >“You know you have no choice in this matter. What His Majesty’s Inquisition wants, they shall have. You have proven yourself a capable fighter. You should consider yourself honored to have attracted their attention.”
  111. “Of course, my lord.”
  112. >“She plans to meet you tomorrow morning. So, please, be on your best behavior.”
  113. >He winks.
  114. “Of course, Lord Commissar.”
  115. >“Emperor protect you, Commissar Caelitum. The Guard could use more soldiers like you.”
  116.  
  117. >Your cup of recaf was cold by the time the Inquisitor arrived, not that it mattered much anyways.
  118. >Field recaf always tasted of dust and iron filings, with the texture to match.
  119. >It was almost a reprieve to not have to pretend to enjoy it any longer when the command tent, cleared besides your person for the arrival of the Inquisitor, suddenly began to fill with blue acrid smoke, carried by a Ministorum priest’s heavy swinging censer.
  120. >Dressed entirely in navy blue, the Inquisitor entered the tent, her tall pointed hat nearly catching on the upper canvas of the entrance.
  121. >Her long greatcoat buffeted about her ankles, and a heavy chain carrying the Inquisitorial insignia hung from her neck.
  122. >“I am the great and powerful Inquisitor Callidia Lunis, Ordo Hereticus,” she says, flipping her hair.
  123. >You snap your feet together and salute.
  124. “Commissar Solis Caelitum, at your service, my lady,” you say.
  125. >“Put your hand down, you silly girl. And none of this ‘my lady.’ I’m not a lady. And as much as I appreciate to bask in others adoration, I have much more important things to deal with,” the Inquisitor says.
  126. >You comply with her demands.
  127. >“That’s strange,” she says, tapping her chin. “There was supposed to be one more. A certain representative from the Adeptus -”
  128. >“Magos Nu-Sigma-Tau-Thirteen-Forty-Two-Prime-Dash-Mu-Nine-Zero-One-Eta-Alpha, here,” Scintillula says, scurrying in with her two guards.
  129. >Her faint mechanical wheezing fills the air.
  130. >Clearly, the techpriest was not used to rapid physical exertion, you note with a quickly hidden smirk.
  131. >“Good! Very good. And that shall complete our merry band. Allow me to introduce my compatriots,” the Inquisitor says, flourishing towards her two companions. “Confessor Lumna Stellara -”
  132. >“Emperor protect us,” the priest mutters.
  133. >You nod solemnly in response.
  134. >“- and my Logister, Luna Saltatora.”
  135. >“Commissar Solis Caelitum,” she says after a brief pause and the whirring of some arcane bit of technosorcery plugged into her head. “Born in the two-hundred forty sixth year of the forty-first millenium, on the three-hundred nineteenth day, on Equestrius. Trained at the Schola Progenium on Mare Castellia, from -”
  136. >“That will be all, Logister,” the Inquisitor says. “Do you have the information on our assignment?”
  137. >“Yes, ” the logister says. “Bringing it up now.”
  138. >She plugs a dataslate into the holotable, and a wireframe of a large fortress, brimming with tall spires, soaring towers, fearsome gun batteries, and gleaming aquilas, emerges from the projector.
  139. >“This is Fortress Nineteen,” the logister says. “It is one of many such fortresses defending Equestrius from invasion. It was the first to fall during the Chaos invasion, most likely due to internal treachery.”
  140. “What purpose does this fortress serve to us?” you ask.
  141. >“Everything. We wish to learn the nature of how the Great Enemy managed to infiltrate the Equestrian High Command so thoroughly,” the Inquisitor says. “So, we must begin at the source of this pestilence!”
  142. >You think for a moment.
  143. “Fortress Nineteen is at least a hundred kilometers behind enemy lines. How do we plan to reach it?”
  144. >“Your guard transports never could, obviously. But they do not have the resources of His Majesty’s Inquisition, nor my certain talents at acquisition. We shall have a stealth transport, courtesy of the Stygian techpriests. They have some interest in Fortress Nineteen as well.”
  145. “So we infiltrate this enemy stronghold and what? What are we looking for?”
  146. >“Anything that could be a sign of the start of this blight of Heresy,” Stellara speaks. “And to burn as many of these accursed Heretics as we can.”
  147. “Very well. I can get onboard with that.”
  148. >You check the ammunition count on your boltpistol, and drop your hand to your chainsword.
  149. “When do we leave?”
  150. >The Inquisitor smiles.
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